Archive for January, 2017

The Death of Democracy

©2017 By Bob Litton. All Rights Reserved.

¶Last Friday (January 20), I published a post which I titled “A Morning for Mourning”. I did not write anything beneath the title but rather posted a photo of three funeral wreaths hanging on a door, and a quote from our nation’s second president John Adams’ inaugural speech.
¶I had been reading Adams’ turgid prose in preparation for a possible article about how the varying tenor of American society can be sensed by studying the inaugural speeches from George Washington to the present and how most of the subsequent addresses had followed the outline of Washington’s first. I was struck by four sentences in which Adams warned Americans about the possibility that the “purity” of our elections might be infected by a political party or by a foreign power. His remarks seemed prescient to me.
¶I drafted that post on January 19, but I postponed publishing it until a few minutes past 12 a.m. on January 20. Later, I watched that day’s episode of PBS News Hour with Judy Woodruff, and I was surprised (and a bit annoyed) by one of Ms. Woodruff’s guest’s remarks — a comment that seemed to me to be a reverse spin on my own.
¶Ms. Woodruff  had several guests that evening: New York Times columnist David Brooks; syndicated columnist Mark Shields; Amy Walter of the Cook Political Report; Barry Bennett, who had been an adviser for Ben Carson and, later, Donald Trump; political scientist Lara Brown of George Washington University; Karine Jean-Pierre, who had been a senior adviser to during the 2016 elections; and Mark Schlapp, chair of the American Conservative Union. (Don’t worry: I do not intend to quote all of these people, only a few briefly, particularly Mr. Schlapp.)
¶Ms. Woodruff  began the colloquium by asking “What is the main take-away from this day?”
¶Mr. Brooks said he had been wondering “How big is this nationalist moment?”
¶Mr. Shields remarked, “I just stand in the midnight in America, American carnage, which is, I think, soon to be a cancelled TV series, but I just have never heard language quite like it or a tone quite like it in an inaugural address.”
¶Mr. Schlapp, saying he wanted to respond to Mr. Shields’ remarks, commented, “I think the demonstration of the economic pain and the unrest and unease about what’s happening overseas is high. And, really, what struck me about the address — about the speech — is that he is connecting to the political moment. The political moment is not about morning. It’s about —a little bit about — M-O-U-R-N-I-N-G, and the fact that there is nothing wrong with a Republican connecting to the fact that a lot of Americans are hurting.”
¶I underlined some terms relating to “time” or, in this context, an “event in time”. Some people might think of it as a “trend” or even a “phenomenon”; Mr. Brooks went on to say that that was what he was trying to figure out.
¶Significant as that question is, however, my immediate interest in the time words is how Mr. Schlapp views the “moment” as a period of “mourning”. Now contrast his description of mourning the pain and unease with my implied reference to the impending death of democracy in America and, by extension, the rest of the globe.
¶I hope my readers can discern the reason I was surprised and a bit irritated upon hearing Mr. Schlapp’s comments. Certainly I am ready to acknowledge that a lot of people in the U.S. are unhappy with their lot, although I also believe that many of them are unhappy for the wrong reasons. For example, the shift away from coal to renewable energy sources has been apparent for decades now, yet many of the coal miners, instead of learning some new trade, keep holding onto the dream that their industry can be revived and sustained for decades more; they remind me of the buggy whip makers. But Mr. Schlapp primarily irritated me by his application of “mourning”; for, while he was suggesting that we should be mourning the loss of jobs, my intent had been that we should be mourning the day democracy died in America.
¶Thus, this post needed to be published.
Those of you who wish to see the video of the January 20 PBS broadcast can find it at this URL:


A Morning for Mourning: January 20, 2017


Artwork Credit:

“In the midst of these pleasing ideas we should be unfaithful to ourselves if we should ever lose sight of the danger to our liberties if anything partial or extraneous should infect the purity of our free, fair, virtuous, and independent elections. If an election is to be determined by a majority of a single vote, and that can be procured by a party through artifice or corruption, the Government may be the choice of a party for its own ends, not of the nation for the national good. If that solitary suffrage can be obtained by foreign nations by flattery or menaces, by fraud or violence, by terror, intrigue, or venality, the Government may not be the choice of the American people, but of foreign nations. It may be foreign nations who govern us, and not we, the people, who govern ourselves; and candid men will acknowledge that in such cases choice would have little advantage to boast of over lot or chance.”

—From  President John Adams’ inauguration speech in Philadelphia, March 4, 1797


Confession of a Grouchy Classical Music Lover


Photo Credit: Patrik Goethe

©2017 By Bob Litton. All Rights Reserved.

¶I have written about my classical music preferences and biases previously, but I want to return to the topic now with hammer and tong. So, beware, faint of heart.
¶Firstly, the instruments. On the negative side of the ledger I enter the violin—at least the violin when played as a solo instrument; when the violins are part of a mass involving other instruments, as in some of Tchaikovsky’s fairy tale ballets or in Samuel Barber’s “Adagio for Strings”, they are pleasing enough to my ear. When the piece has been composed specifically for a single violin or a duet, then the often scratchy sound irritates my ear, much as when a chalk is dragged across a blackboard. I used to appreciate Vivaldi’s “Four Seasons” very much; now they only irritate me, possibly because they summon up in my mind all those phony smiling faces of the Baroque era but more certainly because they sound so much alike.  Unfortunately for me, compositions featuring violin solos seem to dominate the playlists of most classical music stations. But that perception could be due simply to my sensitivity to annoyances.
¶Heading the list of favorite instruments come the classical guitar and the English horn: I can’t break the tie. Both of those instruments have prominent parts in Joaquin Rodrigo’s “Concierto de Aranjuez”. Most of the other string and wind instruments I can appreciate, too, particularly the cello and the flute; sorry, but I can’t recall any particular compositions, besides Sergei Prokofiev ‘s “Peter and the Wolf”, where those instruments are focal. (But that’s just an index of my musicological ignorance; not a fair picture of our international repertory.)
¶Other instruments which can be pleasing when employed moderately are the coronet and the drums.
¶What it all boils down to, I guess, is that I generally prefer the quieter compositions, such as works the Impressionists Paul Ravel and Claude DeBussy gave us. Richard Wagner’s mystical preludes to “Lohengrin” and “Parsifal” also appeal to me. None of the louder compositions — especially Ludwig von Beethoven’s heavy, repetitive symphonies —appeal to me; yeah, I go against the general consensus there. (When I want something louder and faster I’ll tune in to a country-and-western station.)
¶Nearly all the adagios, especially the second movement of Rodrigo’s “Concierto de Aranjues” and Barber’s “Adagio for Strings” easily fit into my comfort zone. The majority of classical music fans list those two pieces among their favorites, so I am “with the crowd” there at least. In fact, I can’t think of any composition finer than “Aranjues”.
¶It will probably strike the regular readers of my blog posts that I favor adagios because I am a melancholic, so it is natural that slower and moodier pieces would appeal to me. However, one does not reach seventy-seven years without learning that nothing is black and white. My tastes have changed over the years. For instance, I used to really enjoy George Frideric Handel’s entertainments for King George of England: you know, “Fireworks” and “Water”; now my awakened class-consciousness is repelled by them. Same story with Antonio Vivaldi’s “Four Seasons”.
¶Of recent, I have found myself appreciating Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart more than I did back when I was in my twenties and thirties. Poor Mozart got off to a bad start with me because of a radio program to which I used to listen, the theme music for which was “Eine Kleine Nachtmusik”. For some reason I can’t recall, it irritated me. During the same period, I saw the film “Elvira Madigan”, a depressing, romantic story that featured the andante from Mozart’s “Piano Concerto No. 21”; the concerto’s part in that film was so prominent that it gained the popular sub-title “Theme from Elvira Madigan”. Now, however, I have begun to favor Mozart because so much of his music is melodic and cheerful, especially when compared to Beethoven’s; a person can hum more of it.
¶I suppose I should apologize to any readers who don’t gain much from reading the above. True enough, there is not anything enlightening or entertaining in the content. But this “confession” is really just a “note-to-self”. I seldom attract any comments on my posts and only a few “likes” here and there, so I imagine I am writing mostly to myself anyway. By this point — four years into my blog-posting — I have begun to accept that reality. After all, I seldom read other bloggers’ posts either. And I think writing to one’s self is preferable to talking to one’s self (something I also do too much).
¶So, goodbye, Cyberworld. Have a pleasant 2017.


Portrait of a Sociopath

NOTE TO READERS:  Happy New Year! (Might as well be optimistic…or pretend that I am.) Today I will step aside and let a couple of other people assume the space at my keyboard: David Porter, MA, LADC; and Christine Hunter, MA, RCC. They authored an article about Antisocial Personality Disorder [DSM-5 301.7 (F60.2)] that was published on the website, which is where I have excerpted part of it for reprinting here (the site invites readers to share). The reason I have brought the article to my blog is that it seems to me to describe a prominent national personality. See if you can detect whom I mean.

* * * * * *

APD (Antisocial Personality Disorder) is a DSM-5 (Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, fifth edition), diagnosis assigned to individuals who habitually violate the rights of others without remorse (American Psychiatric Association, 2013). People with Antisocial Personality Disorder may be habitual criminals, or engage in behavior which would be grounds for criminal arrest and prosecution, or they may engage in behaviors which skirt the edges of the law, or manipulate and hurt others in non-criminal ways which are widely regarded as unethical, immoral, irresponsible, or in violation of social norms and expectations. The terms psychopathy or sociopathy are also used, in some contexts synonymously, in others, sociopath is differentiated from a psychopath, in that a sociopathy is rooted in environmental causes, while psychopathy is genetically based.

The term antisocial may be confusing to the lay public, as the more common definition outside of clinical usage is an individual who is a loner or socially isolated. The literal meaning of the word antisocial can be more descriptive to both the lay public and professionals: to be anti-social, is to be against society; against rules, norms, laws and acceptable behavior. Individuals with Antisocial Personality Disorder tend to be charismatic, attractive, and very good at obtaining sympathy from others; for example, describing themselves as the victim of injustice. Some studies suggest that the average intelligence of antisocials is higher than the norm. Antisocials possess a superficial charm, they can be thoughtful and cunning, and have an intuitive ability to rapidly observe and analyze others, determine their needs and preferences, and present it in a manner to facilitate manipulation and exploitation. They are able to harm and use other people in this manner, without remorse, guilt, shame or regret.

It is widely stated that antisocials are without empathy, however this can be disputed, as sadistic antisocials will use empathy to experience their victim’s suffering, and derive a fuller pleasure from it (Turvey, 1995). This is depicted in the classic work “A Cask of Amontillado” by Edgar Allan Poe, as the main character entombs another man alive “…then I heard the furious vibrations of the chain. The noise lasted for several minutes, during which, that I might hearken to it with the more satisfaction, I ceased my labours and sat down upon the bones.” (Poe, 1846 ). Some research also suggests that sociopaths and psychopaths do have degrees of empathy, but with an innate ability to switch it off at will. (Meffer, Gazzola, den Boer, Bartells, 2013). This connection to empathy may give hope to future successful treatment as it suggests individuals with APD may be trained.

Symptoms & Criteria for Antisocial Personality Disorder

According to the DSM-5, there are four diagnostic criterion, of which Criterion A has seven sub-features.

ADisregard for and violation of others rights since age 15, as indicated by one of the seven sub features:
1. Failure to obey laws and norms by engaging in behavior which results in criminal arrest, or would warrant criminal arrest
2. Lying, deception, and manipulation, for profit or self-amusement
3. Impulsive behavior
4. Irritability and aggression, manifested as frequent assaults on others, or engages in fighting
5. Blatantly disregards safety of self and others
6. A pattern of irresponsibility and
7. Lack of remorse for actions (American Psychiatric Association, 2013)

The other diagnostic Criterion are:
B. The person is at least age 18
CConduct disorder was present by history before age 15
D. T
he antisocial behavior does not occur in the context of schizophrenia or bipolar disorder (American Psychiatric Association, 2013)

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