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 theravive.com, 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.

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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)

Life Among the Ancients


Bingo chip> Photo Credit: Leo Reynolds

©2016 By Bob Litton. All Rights Reserved.

¶Well, it’s December 29 again. That day of the year when I change the digits while filling out some questionnaire on the line that asks for my age. The numbers now are “77”. Isn’t that supposed to be a lucky number? No, no, I’m confusing Double Seven with “4” plus “3”, “2” plus “5”, or “1” plus “6”.
¶Ignorant as I am, I Googled “77” to see if it has any meaning besides a highway sign, a TV show, or a whiskey concoction; and, lo and behold, what did I find in a numerology blog but this supposed personality trait: “77 → Intelligent, inventive and spiritually wise.” Wow! That’s awfully flattering, but such spiritualistic readings usually are. And in Dawna Hetzler’s blog I found this explanation: “Seven is the number of completeness and perfection (both physical and spiritual). It derives much of its meaning from being tied directly to God’s creation of all things. According to Jewish tradition, the creation of Adam occurred on October 7th, 3761 B.C. (or the first day of Tishri, which is the seventh month on the Hebrew calendar)…. (He) turned seventy seven—double sevens. (He) must feel exuberant knowing (his) age is the number of completeness and perfection (both physically and spiritually).”*
¶Decades ago, I learned that there is a lot of difference between intelligence and common-sense. Intelligence might be an admirable attribute, but common-sense is more likely to put a roof over one’s head and food into one’s tummy. By the time I had graduated from high school I suspected I was sorely lacking in the latter, so, while I was studying Chinese at Yale, I went to the campus bookstore and bought a paperback biography of Alexander Hamilton. In a letter to my girlfriend back in Dallas, I mentioned that I was reading about Hamilton; and she responded, “It’s nice that you’re reading that book, but why?” I was too embarrassed to explain that I was hoping some of our country’s first Treasury Secretary’s touted common-sense might rub off on me.
¶“Inventive” is, to me, an ambiguous adjective. In its most common use it means able to create something uniquely useful out of raw materials: I never saw myself as an inventor. However, “inventive” can also be used as a synonym for “resourceful”, which denotes the ability to apply one’s wits toward solving a problem with extraordinary elements, material or non-material: now, that I can honestly claim to have done a few times.
¶“Spiritually wise” perhaps might be a positive attribute, but to apply it to one’s self seems, to me, a bit arrogant. I will acknowledge that much of my thinking time is spent on spiritual matters, particularly my relationship with the Holy Spirit. And some people in the past have characterized me as “an astute observer”, “insightful” and “wise”; but their perceptions were based on really minimal evidence; they had not witnessed the moments of my folly. Anyway, I freely and gratefully acknowledge that any “spiritually wise” comments I have uttered proceed not from me but from the Holy Spirit, which I hold dwells within anyone who accepts him/her/it. Sometimes, H.S. surprises even me.

* * * * * *

¶As the late comedian George Carlin noted in one of his sketches, children, eager to be older so they can be taller and supposedly freer from parental constraint, will push their age by saying “almost six” when they are only a few months past their fifth anniversary. And a rather tired old joke is that line about “she’s still 29 and always will be”.
¶We can have all the facelifts we want. They won’t change our internal structure or the way we emotionally react to the passing of time. Some of us manage to stay “happy” or at least “content” for many years beyond the point when others of us falter under regrets and diminishing horizons.
¶I am one of those who have been melancholic almost from childhood. Actually, melancholy can be a pleasant emotion sometimes. I remember how I used to get spiritually inebriated on a winter day when the sunlight pierced the ether at an angle lower than at other times of the year. Emily Dickinson was also affected by that “certain slant of light”, although she received its effect much more negatively than I. Strange, but then, Emily was weirder than I am.
¶As for the diminishing horizon, that has struck me particularly hard. Part of the problem is that I have too many interests: art, poetry, philosophy, theology, history, politics.  Every once in a while, I get excited about a sub-topic of one of those fields and say to myself, “I’ll read up on that (or engage in that) and become a notable expert, ‘blowing away’ every observer with my brilliant performance.” I have a bad habit of hopping from one interest area to another, hardly ever finishing a project to the degree it deserves. Then I am struck between the eyes, so to speak, by the realization that I don’t have the years needed to accomplish such sublime goals.
¶Then there are the regrets connected to personal relationships. Someone I read recently (but can’t recall who) said that indulging in regrets is destructive to the psyche. That well may be, but it’s practically impossible to retard the sudden bolts of regret that strike one’s mind. What is odd about them in my case is that many are about piddling slights, such as not replying to a letter when a reply would have been a deserved courtesy to the correspondent. Many other regrets, of course, relate to psychological or financial injuries I have inflicted; in most cases it is no longer possible to make amends because the hurt ones are no longer alive, or I don’t know where they are. As John Greenleaf Whittier wrote in “Maud Muller”,

For of all sad words from tongue or pen,
The saddest are these, ‘it might have been’.

* * * * * *

¶The worst of aging is “ageism”. This is a current issue in the United States, not exactly on a par with racism or sexism but still controversial. Now is not the time for delving into the general debate, which has more to do with jobs than with socializing. Since I am retired, the job issue holds only an academic interest for me; I am affected more by the social impact of aging, such as those occasions when I irritate customers behind me in the grocery store or café  while I try to count my dollars and coins.
¶There are a few positive benefits in graying. Most young folks will hold a door open for you, especially if you have a cane. They will also surrender a stool for you at a bar if the place is crowded. The problem with that is, in my case at least, they will try to herd you to a stool next to some other old codgers — to corral you in with your generation. I use the terms “herd” and “corral” on purpose because the two other elders at my favorite “watering hole” are a retired Border Patrol agent in his late 90’s and a retired cowboy in his late 80’s. Don’t interpret me amiss: both these fellows are decent, well-mannered gents. The problems are that neither one can hear very well, so talking with them is a chore from the get-go; and I have begun to resent being ushered to a stool beside or between them as though nobody else will be interested in my conversation. It could be that, in fact, no one will be interested, but I’m not ready to face that possibility yet. I will never forget the first time, during my early 30’s, when a young man in a Dallas pub addressed me as “sir”; it was like a flick of cold water in the face.
¶Well, I have to go see if that cake over there can support seventy-seven candles.
¶Happy New Year!


 ∗ Ms. Hetzler used the feminine pronoun (without mentioning any antecedent). Since I am male, I have changed the pronoun to masculine for context’s sake. Thus the parentheses.

A Prophet Already?

Dear friends —

Apparently, I have indeed become a prophet!

Just compare this report from the New York Daily News with my blog post of November 17, “What Price Glory?”


Merry Christmas and have a fun and Progressive New Year!


Idle Thoughts

©2016 By Bob Litton. All Rights Reserved.
Recently, I told a friend I would try to compose a “cheerful” blog post, since the last few have been just a step or two above depressing. But it is difficult to write such a piece if one doesn’t feel cheery. Nevertheless, I’ve got to put something down, else people will think I’ve done myself in, and call out the police and the ambulance. So, even though the first few paragraphs are perhaps bland if not comforting, the last will invite you to see my favorite Christmas ecard, which I posted last year.

* * * * * *
¶Well, fall has come in and blown away rather quickly around here. Two weeks ago, the leaves on the non-bearing pear trees had just begun to change from green to red, yellow and brown, when a cold front blew in…and I mean blew in…and whirled many of those beauties to the ground. Why some remained on their twigs, I’ll never understand; but there hadn’t been enough anyway to compare favorably to last year’s crop. Did you see my blog post last year with the photo of the leaves I collected on my desk and had Chris photograph?  O, it was a beautiful scene outside for at least a week last year! I knew it wasn’t going to be as grand this season, because the apartment complex’s manager had a crew come over last summer to cut away a bunch of the trees’ limbs.
¶Still, I say, that wind was very unkind; and it was the same today, with gusts up to 60 mph rattling around my residence. I stayed in my apartment all day-long, watching old TV shows on the Internet, escaping into a fictional world. It wasn’t an escape into cheeriness, though, because one of the shows was ABC’s  “Body of Proof”, starring Dana Delaney as a brilliant medical examiner who solves many murder mysteries by examining rather horrifically beat-up, shot up, or burned up bodies, the sights of which viewers are not spared. Very gruesome show…but engrossing! That series lasted only three seasons (2011-213). The other show was “Commander-in-Chief”, also on ABC, starring Geena Davis as the first woman to become President, after her predecessor dies of an aneurysm. Donald Sutherland, as Speaker of the House, plays her nemesis; not a “villain” in the classic sense of the term, but a political ideologue whose own conception of the Constitution is so extremely opposed to this female upstart that he attempts to undermine her with some dirty tricks. That show lasted one season (2005-2006) but it is worth watching, especially at this time, because it resonates with our current real-life experience. I invite you to view it yourselves, and to help you do that I am including here the URL for reaching “Commander-in-Chief” on your computer:

* * * * * *
¶Now we can get to light stuff. Those of you who were reading my posts regularly for a good while might recall the ecard I posted last December 22: “A Christmas Tree”. Well, I’ve decided to send it again. Although I have drifted (or grown) far from Christian theological dogma, I still retain a strong fondness for its mythology and especially the older Christmas music; you know, the particular songs that make up the usual repertoire of carolers.
¶Note that this particular ecard requires that you click on the angel to get it started. I should also point out that sound is very integral to it, so activate your speaker or put your ear phones on first.


Profile #1: Don and the “Bwō Cháng”

©2016 By Bob Litton. All Rights Reserved.

¶One thematic idea that has occurred to me was to write a series of “profiles” about people who have deeply affected me during my life, for good or ill and sometimes both. Both good and ill aptly describes the person who will be the first subject of a profile here: Donald L.  I hope you readers will find the portrait below edifying or amusing or, again, both.

* * * * * *

¶Don L. was in the same “flight” as I during our basic training at Lackland Air Force base in San Antonio. Don was about the same height and build as I, a slender six feet, but he had black, slightly curly hair; while mine was sandy brown with only a cowlick to disturb the front. I wouldn’t have imagined him a cologne model, but he was at least as good-looking as I; anyway, I doubt that any young lady would have declined if he asked her to dance with him or to go out on a date. There was an intensity in him that I didn’t catch onto at first; it wasn’t as primary a feature then as it would become a couple of years later. There were about sixty of us airmen in the flight, and I had minimal contact with Don during that time; he was at one end of the barracks and I at the other. I can recall only three incidents in which he compelled my interest.
¶The first was on base orientation day, when one of our two training sergeants, S/Sgt. D. marched us to some of the facilities we might wish or need to visit: the chapel, the cleaners, the Airmen’s Club, and the bookstore. While we were in the bookstore, Don bought a German language self-study book. A few minutes later, as we stood in formation out in front of the bookstore, Sgt. D. chewed him out for buying the book; I wasn’t sure why, although I surmised it might be because WWII had ended only thirteen years previously. Then there was the conning possibility: the very next year, newspapers reported a scandal at Lackland AFB in which airmen and airwomen had been treated as “pigeons”, i.e. subjects for fleecing by some on-base businesses. However, Sgt. D. wasn’t above fleecing either; he conned us trainees out of fifty cents each to buy some super-duper shoe polish — polish that never appeared, not for me anyway.
¶The second occasion for my noticing Don in a direct way was while we happened to be walking from the cleaners on base back to the barracks. We chatted off-handedly, and he confided to me that he was a Germanophile—fond of German culture, including Friedrich Nietzsche, Richard Wagner, Thomas Mann, and even Adolf Hitler. At the time, the only one of those names I recognized was Adolph Hitler. During our conversation on the Lackland road, I argued weakly with Don about the Nazis because I was ignorant about all the other Germanic figures that entranced him; but before our acquaintance was but a memory I would learn much about them from Don and my own reading.
¶The third event that brought Don closer within my orbit was when Don and I were sent to a building on the base where we and perhaps a hundred other airmen were told we were “the cream of the crop” and were to be tested to determine our language-learning abilities. Based on the results of our tests, some of us would be sent to Yale University to study Chinese, and the rest would go to Syracuse University to study Russian. The week after that, Don and I were told to go to yet another building, where we and other selected airmen spent at least a week being taught some basic Mandarin Chinese and tested. When we were finished, we received our orders to report to Yale University’s Institute of Far Eastern Languages to begin our intensive study, in November 1958. I was somewhat disappointed because I had imagined that if I went to Syracuse I would get an assignment in Europe—Parisian cafés, Pamplona bull-runs, etc. China was a very dark place, almost invisible, in mid-20th century American minds. It wasn’t until Nixon and Kissinger visited Mao Tse-Tung in 1972, that China’s colorful culture appeared in American TV, newspapers and magazines.


A 1958-59 seminar at Yale’s Institute of Far Eastern Languages. This group is part of Don’s and my class,
but neither of us appear in the photo.

¶Since Don’s last name and my own began with the same letter, we were assigned the same dorm room along with another airman named Dale L., an airman from Pittsburgh. I didn’t like this Dale fellow at all; but the causes of our disconnect don’t fall within the purview of this profile, so I will ignore him.
¶Don and I, however, developed a strange kind of “odd-couple” relationship, sometimes a bit antagonistic but often almost brotherly. We walked around town together occasionally, but mostly had discovering conversations in our room. He related to me his fascination with Thomas Mann, suggesting that I read in particular Mann’s short story “Tonio Kröger”. He also bought an LP album of selections from Richard Wagner’s Die Walküre. Those I could appreciate, but I still found his admiration for Hitler disgusting. For whatever reason—and it was not sexual—a strong affinity was developing between us, although at Yale it was still in its embryonic stage.
¶At this point, I need to introduce a Chinese term that plays a major role in my relationship with Don over the next five years: that term is “bwō cháng” (transliterated using the Yale romanization; in Wade-Giles, it is “pwō ch’áng”; in Pinyin, it is “pō cháng”). The phrase translates as “wave length”. Our class was introduced to “bwō cháng” near the end of our first eight months, when we concentrated on military terminology.
¶ Don was among those who stayed another few months (four, I believe) to learn more Chinese characters; I and several others received our “diplomas” after eight months. (I had contracted chicken pox shortly after Christmas and spent a week or two in the dispensary, so I left Yale a “straight-B” student.)
¶My initial orders indicated I was to go to the Philippines; but by the time I reached San Diego a few months later—after a brief detour to Fort Meade, Maryland, to learn the technical aspects of my assignment—I learned that, no, I was to fly in one of those old twin-engine DC-7’s to Okinawa.
¶I was assigned to the Group HQ on Kadena AFB. My duties, as I soon discovered, had little to do with the Chinese language. I was told that, because there was a surplus of Chinese linguists and no translators were needed at the group level, I was to perform clerical tasks. Initially, that meant stuffing paper burn bags with secret documents, toting them out to an incinerator, and burning them. I was disgusted by the whole bureaucratic mess and wrote a letter of protest, which got some higher-up’s attention only months later. After a few months, I was engaged in cryptanalysis work, receiving reports from the field and trying to extract usable intelligence from them.
¶But back to Don. I really thought I would never see him again, for I assumed his assignment would take him to Taiwan or South Korea. One day, however, he showed up at Kadena, although his base was a field station at the other end of the island. I can’t recall whether he first appeared in my barracks room or at the base library, where I spent a lot of my free time reading.
¶The barracks room visit, I recall, was unfortunately timed, because, although it was mid-afternoon on a Saturday, I was on my bunk near the end of a marathon sleep after a long night of wine-drinking and seeing three movies in the nearby town, Koza. I could hear one of my roommates explaining to Don how I had been asleep a long, long time. But I was still too drowsy to want to get up, so I just let Don go on his way.
¶Later, I went up to where Don was stationed, and we went to see a movie about Franz Liszt—“Song Without End” (1960)—at the station’s movie house. Liszt, as most classical music fans know, became Wagner’s father-in-law.
¶But the most memorable incident happened the day I was sitting at a table in the Kadena library reading a book. All at once I subconsciously sensed a presence nearby, and then a hand clapped me on the shoulder. A warmth extended from my shoulder all over my back: it was the strangest feeling I had ever experienced, but I have felt it several times sense when I hugged certain women, and a kind of coolness when I have hugged others. I turned and there was Don standing just behind me. Later, when I read Bertrand Russell’s account of his first meeting Joseph Conrad, I felt confirmed in my belief that two persons of the same gender can have strong affinity without its being sex-based or even inducing physical warmth. It was primarily an intellectual/spiritual connection.
¶Don and I met only a few times on the island, but, unfortunately, I don’t recall the substance of most of our conversations there, just a couple of Don’s remarks. Once, when I had brought up the subject of our odd affinity, he acknowledged it and dubbed it the “bwō ch’áng”. I liked the analogy. Another time, he said to me, “Litton, sometimes when I think about you, I positively blush.” Although I felt slightly flattered by that comment, I didn’t ask him why; it had a certain aura of potential homosexuality about it, and I knew I wasn’t designed that way, nor did I believe Don was. It might, in fact, have been love, but I didn’t think Don was aware of the difference between philia and eros; while I had been in DeMolay, where brotherly affection was cultivated.
¶While on Okinawa I bought an LP album of Wagner’s Das Rheingold, with Georg Solti conducting the Chicago Symphony Orchestra. When I listened to it, in stereo, I was entranced. At least as far as Wagner was concerned, Don had influenced me positively about German culture.
¶After I had returned home and been discharged from the air force, I spent a semester at SMU and didn’t do well grade-wise. While at SMU, I read “Tonio Kröger” and the rest of Thomas Mann’s short stories as well as his novel Buddenbrooks. I wrote to Don, who had returned to his home in Seattle, asking if he could host me a brief while as I searched for a job there. After checking it out with his mother and grandfather, he sent me a positive reply. How recklessly carefree that train ride to Seattle now seems to me! I don’t mean the ride itself, but the risking myself into the unknown with very minimal resources and uncertain prospects. Maturing certainly drains one’s capacity for adventure.
¶Don met me at the train station, and we rode a bus to his grandfather’s house, a two-story structure in a block of houses set on a hill. His mother greeted me warmly, telling me that Don had informed her that I was of the same socio-economic class as they, although she didn’t express it so academically. If I recall aright, I didn’t meet his grandfather immediately and can only dredge up a vague vision of seeing him sitting in a chair in a back bedroom; perhaps he was handicapped and couldn’t move elsewhere; I don’t know. That night, I did meet Don’s sister, who also resided there; she was nearly his own age, but whether older or younger I never inquired.
¶One night, Don and I walked to a lake within the city, where we tossed some stones and talked a little about his fascination with Nazism. I asked him why he admired a racist philosophy. His replied actually shocked me: “Litton, you don’t know how much fun it is to hate!” I also asked him why he drank so much beer.
“Do you realize you are going to die?” he asked.
“I know it.”
“I know you know it, Litton, but do you realize it?”
I had never thought about the death question very deeply, and I sensed that I hadn’t enough self-awareness yet to respond, so I just let his question remain unanswered.
¶On a more positive note, one day while we were engaged in a conversation concerning some subject I cannot recall, Don remarked, “I think about these things, Litton, but you will do something about them.” I have since regretted my failure to follow that up by asking him to be more specific.
¶Don was working as a page at the public library. As soon as the next business day (probably a Monday) came, I took the bus downtown to look for a job, carrying a hefty sack lunch which Don’s mother foisted on me. When I told her I could pay for my own lunch, she replied with words I would hear from her a couple of times afterwards: “It just doesn’t add up in dollars and cents.” Seattle’s employment market was a good deal thinner than Dallas’ at that time, so I felt lucky to have found a job within the first couple of days of my search; it was a stockman’s position at a hobby-and-craft wholesale business. The owner, a cordial and honest man in his thirties, told me the day he hired me that he was reluctant to hire anyone right then because he might have to lay me off, and he hated doing that, but he took me on with no guarantees.
¶In fact, a few weeks later, he did let me go, although not personally. However, that was not as unfortunate as the fact that he also let another young man go, and that youth was to have been my roommate in an apartment on which we had just paid a deposit. The apartment owner gruffly declined to refund our deposit. So, I wished my erstwhile “roommate” good luck and went to Don’s house to tell him the bad news: I couldn’t afford to stay any longer.
¶I had already checked on the train fare prices. “If you can loan me ten dollars, I can return to Dallas,” I said, as we stood by the bus stop. “If not, then I’m off to San Francisco.” He pulled a ten out of his billfold. When I bent down to pick up my military-issued duffel bag, the handle broke. Was that a bad omen? I wondered. Occasionally since that day, I have fantasized how my life might have turned out differently if Don had not had the ten to loan me or if I had not asked for it.
¶After I had returned to Dallas and to SMU, Don and I resumed our correspondence. But I am a very wordy letter-writer, and Don was brief in the extreme as well as hypercritical. One time, I wrote him a letter using many of the 300 Chinese characters I had learned at Yale. I also included a satirical cartoon depicting a man in a Nazi uniform, holding a swagger stick and looking over a fellow who was sitting in front of an easel and drawing on it. (I was majoring in art at the time.) A cartoon “balloon” above the Nazi’s head contained the letters “Click, click!” (Don had some kind of nervous tic that occasionally caused him to utter clicking noises.) In a separate section of the drawing’s page, I conceded that my artistic ability was not in commendable condition and I perhaps should give up the effort. In his reply letter, Don wrote that I should give up writing in Chinese, too.
¶I haven’t related all the instances of Don’s hypercriticism, but there were several. Finally, after I had sent him a copy of a very brief story I had entered in a short story contest sponsored by SMU’s student literary magazine, he replied by panning my story for its inadequate characterization and anti-intellectualism. He concluded with one of the most cliché-burdened sentences I have ever seen: “For poor writing, your story takes the cake palms down. Hope you can get it back before the judges see it.” In a fit of angry exasperation, I wrote back saying, in part, “I’m tired of your vapid little notes to me.”
¶And that was the end of one of the most interesting relationships of my life. I have softened over the years and now wonder how Don’s own life turned out. He had told me he was going to return to the university he had attended before joining the air force, and probably major in Chinese. Apparently he lost interest in German. Hope he finished and benefited from that education.
¶One question Don asked me while I was a guest in his grandfather’s house—another one of those questions and remarks directed at me throughout my life which I did not respond to—was, “What do you want from me?” I did not answer, and now I wish that I had, for the answer was what I was all about at the time: “I want to discover what the bwō cháng is, but it seems to have faded away before I could find out.”


“What Price Glory?”

By Bob Litton

¶Returning to my keyboard for this brief post is very difficult for me: the lingering post-election depression is too heavy. I am here primarily to assure whatever regular readers remain that I am still alive and going through the daily motions. There are several topics I could write about, but I’m going to concentrate on just one and leave the others for another day…hopefully.
¶For the second time in sixteen years we Americans have desecrated the temple of democracy by falsely employing that antiquated device called “the Electoral College”. For those unaware of it, the Electoral College is a system for indirect voting, for choosing not the president but representatives who will presumably vote for the president at a later date; it is what makes our country a republic rather than a pure democracy.
¶Al Gore lost to George W. Bush in 2000 because of the “college”: Gore actually received the larger number of popular votes. This year, Hillary Clinton has apparently lost to Donald Trump in the same way. The popular votes are still being counted, believe it or not; as of today (November 17), four million votes remain to be counted in Michigan, Utah and the state of Washington. According to “International Business Times”, citing the independent “Cook Political Report”, Clinton leads Trump by more than a million votes and, judging by the trend in California, her margin of victory could eventually reach more than two million. Here are the current numbers: Clinton = 62,829, 832 / Trump = 61,488,190. Other than the snail’s pace in counting votes, the only problem is the Electoral College, for not all the electors are absolutely bound to vote for the candidate their constituencies have indicated. Democracy as a system of government has been tainted by these absurd results: Recall that Russia’s Vladimir Putin pointed to the 2000 election fiasco and declared democracy a nonsensical system if that was an example of how it works.
¶Yes, I hold the Electoral College system primarily responsible for Trump’s so-called “victory”, but there are other contributing causes. Clinton blames FBI director James Comey because he announced finding a new batch of emails belonging to Clinton’s campaign manager, some of which were to—or referred to—Clinton, a few weeks before Election Day. Other people blamed the pollsters, who kept publishing numbers indicating Clinton was in the lead (although slightly) up to the last minute; and they were all wrong; yet that supposed lead might have kept some Democrats away from the voting booths because of a false sense of certainty, and they might have spurred on some last-minute voting by sluggard Republicans and Independents. And lately, even Facebook has received some blame because it allowed false news reports to be disseminated across the nation and beyond. But let’s not forget the least forgivable contributor of all: a large body of stupid Trump followers who reportedly “took Trump seriously but not literally”. Yes, all of those other sources probably contributed, but I still maintain that the primary culprit is the Electoral College.
¶So, what are we left with?
¶Donald J. Trump as President-Elect.
¶All the negatives about Trump (I hate to even write his name)—his narcissism, his misogyny, his racism, his xenophobia, his bigotry, and his lying—have been reported ad nauseam, so I won’t delve into that. No, I consider his most dangerous feature is his belief in his exceptionalism, his sense of entitlement. The people and many in the press let him get by without the usual medical exam report and any release of his federal tax returns. Now he remains ensconced in his New York City hotel suite rather than taking up residence in Washington, D.C.—even though he recently cut the ribbon on a new hotel only blocks away from the White House—and has caused traffic snarls on Fifth Avenue because of security measures. (I can’t prove it, but I believe that Trump is roosting in NYC, his hometown, because he sees that as a way to punish the voters there who did not vote for him; more than 80 percent of them reportedly voted for Clinton).
¶And now he wants to have some of his progeny employed as his personal staff in D.C., a new craving that brings up the question of nepotism. He wants them all to be given security clearances. As of yet, very few in Congress or in the media have become alarmed by these extraordinary, self-centered moves of his. I personally think the fellow wants to establish a dynasty in the White House like the Kim family in North Korea or the Bush family here. He might even eventually seek to have himself crowned as our first monarch. Admittedly, Hillary in the White House would have constituted a quasi-dynasty also (a screwball lateral rather than a vertical one).
¶Trump has joined the club of the “Bully Boys” or the “New Strongmen” that has developed in Russia, China, North Korea, Turkey, and the Philippines. His slogan has been “Make America Great Again”, and the fools have lapped it up. But…What price glory?
¶I cannot stand to watch or listen to the man on TV. Even his demeanor (his Mussolini-like facial expressions and pinching fingers) are annoying. And how can anyone not discern the insincerity in his eyes and intonations? Despite Clinton’s and Obama’s urgings to accept the braggart as our “leader” and to give him a chance to prove himself worthy, I refuse to do so. Like all those other Americans marching in the streets of big cities across the country, I declare: He is not my President!

When “Principle” Becomes Treason

©2016 By Bob Litton. All Rights Reserved.

“You can fool all the people some of the time, and some of the people all the time, but you cannot fool all the people all the time.” — An adage variously attributed to French Protestant apologist Jacques Abbadie (1684); Encyclpopédie editors Denis Diderot and Rond d’Alembert (1754); and American Prohibitionist William J. Groo (1885). Its attribution to Abraham Lincoln began in some late 19th century newspaper articles and is now considered questionable. But, whatever its original source, I deem its use in this epigram appropriate; and I certainly wish that the “some” of our generation were not so numerous.

¶A policeman many years ago said to me, “You can’t reason with a drunk any more than you can with a crazy person.” That remark, as well as its corollary—“preaching to the choir is a waste of time”—have largely kept me from engaging in political arguments over the years. Most Americans discuss serious topics, like politics and religion, only with people with values and attitudes like our own: a phenomenon known colloquially as “preaching to the choir”.  So, perhaps it is a sign of maturing in our national psyche that both tendencies have become fodder for sociologists and political columnists nowadays.  Thus, I suppose readers of the following commentary with any comprehension will be “choir members”. Despite the seeming pointlessness of engaging in that echo situation, I am publishing it anyway.
¶We have awakened to the dire reality that our self-governance has been strangled by self-interest and extreme political partisanship, and we are baffled by the absence of any certain way of breaking the chokehold. When, we wonder, did the ability to get things done in Congress begin to ossify? Was it the shameful period of Richard Nixon’s “enemies list” and Watergate and his resulting resignation? Was it the national fracturing during the extended war in Vietnam? Was it the confusing “rabbit trails” responses to 9-11 and the conflicts in the Middle East? Was it the sudden perception of corruption in our banks, religious institutions, schools, and other former pillars of society? Was it the contrasting perceptions of birth control and climate change? Was it the election of a man of mixed race to the presidency? Was it all of these events combined?
¶Personally, I think it was all of the above, but I would also add the overwhelming and exhausting rapidity of change, not just in the United States but in the world as a whole. And there is the major role—both positive and negative—played by “social media”. It is simply too much for us to cope with at once. Yet there is a sizable minority—approximately 30 to 40 percent—of our voting age population who believe we can return to the “good ol’ days” when the U.S. was the dominant center of manufacturing, when Caucasians constituted the majority of the population, when religious dogma dictated our home and sex lives, and when “people of color” knew their place…and stayed there.
¶I am more liberal than some people, more conservative than others. Although I lean mostly to the left, I think conservatives have had a very positive and necessary role to play in our political system. The problem is that too many modern “conservatives” are not what they claim to be: they instead are “reactionaries”. Let me clarify that remark by revealing my definition of a real conservative, i.e. one who believes nothing should be changed unless and until altered circumstances clearly warrant a change. A conservative capable of reasoning about disputed issues will know when to be adamant, when to compromise, and when to acknowledge his/her error. The goal of a conservative politician—and of a liberal politician as well—should always be the maintenance and improvement of his community’s well-being; it should not be the maintenance of his elected position and his party’s hardline agenda. Some degree of principle is necessary for good governance, but ideology should not be the basis of principle. The Constitution is a living guide, not a halter.
¶And now, since at the latest the surge of the Tea Party, we have had a breakdown in comity in the U.S., as exemplified by the Congress; with the expulsion of many of the moderate Republicans, little to nothing gets accomplished in Washington…unless you want to call forcing a shutdown of government and ignoring judgeship nominations “accomplishing something”. Sen. Mitch McConnell and former House Speaker John Boehner both announced early in President Barack Obama’s first term that they intended to make that term his only term. Near the end of Obama’s second term, McConnell declared that the Senate would not even allow a hearing for Obama’s nominee for a Supreme Court seat. And, confronted with the possibility that Hillary Clinton would succeed Obama, McConnell and his henchmen (Richard Burr (R-NC), Ted Cruz (R-TX), and John McCain (R-AZ) have vowed they would keep the Supreme Court count at eight seats for the next four years; that contradicts their previous rationale for prohibiting a judgeship hearing until after the election to allow “the people’s voice” in the choice of a judge. And now they and the  House Republicans are determined to block all initiatives President Clinton might propose. In other words, the Republicans are ready and willing, just because of their ideological halters, to prevent any legislation—laws, budgets and regulations—that would benefit the people . The Republicans also accused Obama of being ineffective as a leader and at the same time of being a dictator because he has used “executive actions” to get urgent matters resolved while they absented themselves from Washington. What hypocrites!
¶For the above and other reasons, I have developed a very negative view of Republicans overall. I hate to “paint with a broad brush”, but now I see Republicans as either con artists (if they know what is going on) or as willing gulls (if they don’t know what is going on). Some of their leaders, such as McConnell, Ted Cruz, and Richard Burr, I think should be tried for treason or at least for dereliction of duty. They are willing to destroy my country just because, for eight years, we had an African-American in the White House and might have a woman in the White House come January. Phooey!


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