Posts Tagged ‘Blogging’

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 Drama of Self: The Tipping Point



©2016 By Bob Litton. All Rights Reserved.

I’m curious: Do you see yourself as a character — in particular, the protagonist — in a screenplay? Ever reflect on the plotline, its beginning and all scenes since then, trying to figure out the other characters’ parts and the probable denouement? Or am I the only one so deeply solipsistic as to be constantly gazing on the internal screen? No, that can’t be the case, else the word “solipsistic” would never have been coined; they don’t make up adjectives applicable to only one person. Still, I find it difficult to imagine other people’s dramas, whether they be adventurous epics, tragedies or comedies, except as they tangentially affect my drama.

Many of us bloggers, I believe, use our blogs as candid diaries — electronic volumes open to the cosmic universe instead of little books hidden away in secret drawers. We can use them as depositories of our thoughts and feelings (mostly feelings), pretending that they are locked up in our computers, at first only peripherally aware that they are actually scattered across the planet and beyond. But then another part of us wonders how invisible and generally non-responsive readers perceive our outpourings. Mostly, all we can glimpse are their national flags. We are, then, self-analyzing split personalities.

So, desiring to be more honest than I have been during most of my life, I intend to relate the story of how I believe my solipsism became the major theme of an imaginary biopic; if one cannot repress a congenital tendency, then perhaps he at least can relieve the pressure by allowing it full expression, like steam from a teapot.

Going back to childhood meditations and actions, though I truly believe the habit really began that long ago, is beyond my capacity; the images are too fractured and vague. A clearer scene is more available in my nineteenth year, while I was in the air force and stationed on Okinawa, largest of the Ryukyu Islands. That was when I began to read very serious books for the first time; when, under the influence of the late British philosopher Bertrand Russell, I developed a longing to resolve all paradoxes; when I began to question my beliefs and especially every action’s motive. As a psychiatrist two years later put it, “You look at both sides of the coin and the edge too.”

An anecdote that quite well illustrates my message here concerns a book discussion group that one of the chaplains on the base initiated. As I recall, there were about a dozen of us airmen and civilians sitting in a circle at the first meeting, when the chaplain reviewed some nonfiction book and invited the rest of us to offer our comments. Then the chaplain explained that his performance was essentially a pattern he wanted us to follow when reviewing our own reading choices in future meetings. I, the eager fool, volunteered to present a review at the next meeting, a week later.

I had already been reading two books alternately: Arthur Koestler’s Reflections on Hanging, a critique of capital punishment; and some book whose title I cannot recall, a collection of historical narratives about various heinous crimes committed in England. While reading them I became aware of the dichotomy in my reactions to the books’ subjects: when reading Koestler my feelings reacted against capital punishment; when reading the other book my revulsion could be so strong in some cases that I believed no type of punishment could be harsh enough for the perpetrators: they were all hanged. That experience got me to musing over how much I was susceptible to weirdly and quickly varying attitudes, how my values could shift radically in just a short time, from the setting of one book down and the opening of another. Was my value system really that fragile and unstable? I wondered if this phenomenon was true of others, so I decided to try an experiment.

I do not recall the details of my mode of presentation, only that I alternated between summarizing various parts of each book and interpolating quotes here and there. I didn’t realize how long it was. I guess the chaplain felt the room was getting stuffy, for while I was reading he got up, went to a window and raised it. Shortly afterwards, one man, only a few years older than I was, interrupted me by asking, “Are we going to get a chance to discuss this? It sounds like a bunch of morbidity to me.” Another fellow murmured something about people who “should have gone to college”. I don’t remember how I responded or even that I did; I felt deflated and defeated; my lack of response was way too predictive of future encounters; I probably just said, “I’m sorry you feel that way.” The whole episode might have turned out better if I had begun the presentation with an explanation that I was conducting a psychological experiment; but, on the other hand, to have done so would probably have compromised the validity of the result.

When no succeeding review was announced, I went to the chaplain and asked him what was up. He replied that he had discontinued the book review sessions because too few people were participating.

During all my life since then I have from time to time pondered how we can act decisively in murky situations and dilemmas when our ideas and feelings react against each other. Just what is the “tipping point”, as it has come to be nominated?


For more commentary on this topic, see my Dec. 15, 2013, post “To Be Or…Catastrophe!”


Thank you for visiting my blog, which I am dropping for art and health’s sake. I will leave it in cyberspace for anyone who might want to browse through the 43 months of archives.



Spammers disguised as “Referrers”

Dear “Followers” and any other interested readers —

I had planned to interrupt my “sabbatical” next Sunday for a special “Mothers Day” piece. However, a recent problem with my blog stats page, and the steps a friend took to help me solve it, has engendered in me the impulse to share this solution with those who visit and read my posts.

The problem involves Search Engine Optimizations (SEOs). These are computer geeks around the world who seek to bring search engine entries up to earlier pages in a search engine. They can do this by pretending to be “referrers” on bloggers’ sites. When the blogger, curious about the strange referrer, clicks on the referrer to find out more about him/her, that click bounces back to the spammer’s site and counts as a “hit”, thus multiplying the spammer’s site’s activity record–thus edging it up closer to the search engine’s top page.

This problem occurred on my site a couple of years ago with a spammer called “Semalt”. I wrote a blog post condemning the SEO practice, and shortly thereafter the false referring by Semalt stopped.  Now, however, the wickedness has begun again; only, this time, the name “Semalt” is not used directly; rather, the new names are “key-words-monitoring” and “free-video-tool”. But from what I have learned through reading a few informative sites on Google, I sense that both are really just aliases for Semalt. The blocking methods I found either were too advanced for my blog program and/or were too technical for me to employ, so I called my friend Chris and asked for his help. As usual, he graciously complied.

Then, acting on the supposition that some of my “Followers” might be experiencing the same problem, I decided it might be helpful to forward Chris’ response to them. Here it is:

Hi Bob,

I’m sorry this upsets you so much, but unfortunately neither of these options are relevant for sites like yours.
You are getting your analytics directly through and not Google Analytics, so those instructions won’t help you.
And sites do not allow custom plugins like the one in the other link. Those only work if you have a custom installation of WordPress (often referred to in contrast to, where you have to pay for web hosting and a domain name.
I found these instructions specifically for, telling you how to mark spammy referrers as such:
That’s the only recourse I’ve been able to discover for your situation.



As I stated above, I will return briefly next Sunday, Mothers Day in the USA.
For now, have a good week.


By Bob Litton

“But why, then, do you write?”
“Well, my dear sir, to tell you in confidence, I have found no other means of getting rid of my thoughts.”
“And why do you wish to get rid of them?”
“Why I wish? Do I really wish! I must.”
“Enough!  Enough!”
— Excerpted from Friedrich Nietzsche’s The Gay Science, Book Second, §93, translated by Thomas Common (Nietzsche’s meaning of “gay” is “joyful”, not “homosexual”).




Wha’d I tell you? It’s been only a month and here I am again, typing out a blog post. And what have I been doing in the meantime? playing Solitaire, just like the indifferent lover in Karen Carpenter’s song. So, leaving off the blog did not equal leaving off the computer. I am gathering the notion that my only viable alternatives are chains or a lobotomy.

Actually, though, I did learn a few lessons through my time among the cards: that playing Solitaire-to-win requires perserverance, and that I am an impatient student; that although Solitaire is basically a game of chance—more so than Free Cell anyway—there often is some wiggle room for strategy; that it is extremely frustrating when a bunch of small-digit cards (2’s and 3’s) or the royalty cards dominate the bottom row when they are first spread (nothing more useless than a “2”, and yet two or three of them often appear face-up when the cards are laid out); that the prospect of losing is essential to enjoying the game; and that Solitaire is addictive, so much so that I ran back to my blog to escape it.

* * * * * *

Hail to thee, mockingbird and cicada 

Well, it’s summer now in my little hamlet. Most of the pecan, pear and oak trees survived a severe wind and rain storm here a couple of months ago; a few large limbs crashed, and even some old trees and a few young apple trees had to be put to sleep. But the vast majority of trees have leafed out fully. The daytime high temperatures range from the mid-eighties to the lower nineties so far; they will probably dance around the low one-hundreds before the summer is over.

A mockingbird croons occasionally—too seldom, as far as I am concerned. The mockingbird population in this part of the state is minimal compared to North Central Texas, where I come from. I love to hear the clear, varying notes of the mockingbird: it is the adopted mascot…of, say, my Solitaire team.

Perhaps I just never noticed the local cicadas before—though I find that hard to believe—but for the first time in thirteen years here I have been hearing their loud clicking, what we called the locust’s song during my childhood. You know, of course, that there is a big difference between the cicada and the locust, for the real “locust” is actually the grasshopper of biblical scourge fame. The cicada’s mating and alert calls are not “pretty” like the mockingbird’s, but they are amusing at least.

To us kids in Dallas, the cicada was one of the fun events of summer. They are funny to look at—though they can be scary under magnification—and they are easy to catch. We used to climb up a small tree and grab one off a limb, tote him to earth, tie a thread noose around him, and then toss him into the air, where he would swirl around to our great amusement, just like a tiny kite or a model plane. But, like I said, I had not heard one in decades until this summer; I had come to believe that the oil companies had exterminated them.

I had also come to believe that the oil companies drove the fireflies (a.k.a. “lightning bugs”) into extinction, for I haven’t seen any of those in decades either. However, a really dark night is required to see the alternating beams of a lightning bug, and, even in this remote place, we live in virtually endless light. Also, I am no longer a creature of the night, retiring about 9 o’clock each evening, provided the neighbors will allow it. And twilight lingers after nine.

* * * * * *

“Should” should be dropped from dictionaries  

You realize, don’t you, that with each year gained in age comes a complementary ability to spot flaws in individuals, in society…dang it!…in the world itself. Well, I haven’t escaped even that undesirable aspect of accumulating years. Sometimes, however, it is difficult to tell whether a particular flaw in our environment is new and truly awful enough to warrant castigating.

I am inclined to believe that one among many modern phenomena deserving of a good thrashing is our use of the word should and its synonyms: ought to and need to. Now, I admit that I use these terms frequently enough, especially when engaged in soliloquies about what I have failed to do, have overlooked, or am scheduling.

That is bad enough, but when I see the term used extensively and every day on the Internet programming sites, I get really annoyed by it all: “Ten foods you should not eat”, “Twenty places you should visit before you die”, “Why you need to explain to your children the reason they have no daddy but two mommies”, etc. Often, there is a whole page lined up with such article titles. It all brings to mind images of “Big Brother”.

Now, don’t chastise me! I know I have used in this post the very word I want everybody to expunge from their vocabularies. Just goes to show: I will never meet the qualifications for “Big Brother”, although there is still the opportunity open to me for the presidency of this great nation.


Au revoir, mes amis

You know what? It is darn near impossible to guesstimate how many people regularly visit my blog. (I like that word “visit”, by the way, because it does not absolutely imply reading…or reading all the way through, anyway.) So, I have no idea how many people this notice will affect: I assume at least a dozen, six of them my friends, and the remaining six being residents in the United Kingdom, the Netherlands, Canada, Australia, Germany, and France (from whence visitors’ flags most often appear when I post a new essay, poem, and other stuff). Over the past 2-1/4 years, 138 WordPress bloggers have signed up as “followers”, but I suspect that more than half of them have drifted away for any one or more of several good reasons. But it all boils down to this situation: I am addressing here the non-followers because, if I do not write some explanation, they might become curious—maybe even concerned—when they cannot view any new post after continual visits: I do not want them to waste their time.

Now, I know I have abandoned the blog at least twice in the past for brief periods, although on one of those occasions I at least covered my rear by saying I was taking a “sabbatical” for an indeterminate period. Let’s face it: I do not have much will power, and I confess I am addicted to blogging, in fact to the Internet itself, maybe even to this damn computer. However, all this sitting in front of a computer and typing is taking a toll on my body and my psyche: I need to get outside for exercise and sunshine. So, I am hoping I can be resolute this time.

I do intend to keep my blog operative for two reasons, the lesser reason first: (1) Once you shut down a WordPress blog, you cannot reopen it; and (2) some readers occasionally revisit certain older posts. A few of the most popular of the older posts are: “Secular Epiphanies” (a runaway favorite), “Favorite Bars” (rather long but vibrant), “Pocahontas’ Legacy: A Serendipitous Anecdote” (a surprising hit), “McGuffey’s Eclectic Reader vs. Dick and Jane” (everybody can relate to this one), “Surviving the Survivalists” (heavy stuff but brief at least) and the three posts about the young Dutch singer Amira Willighagen, starting with “A ‘Shout-out’ for Amira” (she, not my writing, was most of the draw for these posts). I would not want to deprive the world of those masterpieces.

I want my regular readers to be assured that I much appreciate them, and I really have enjoyed watching all those small national flags pop up on my blogsite (about 170 at last count). As I mentioned above, I do not know if I have the will power to leave off blogging for very long. I hope I can, for the sake of my physical and mental health.

Au revoir, mes amis,
     Le Flâneur

Interlude: Thank You, Everybody

From Bob Litton

This blog site, The Vanity Mirror, was inaugurated on January 3, 2013. Since then I have published 84 posts, attracted 105 “Followers” who are (or were) WordPress bloggers themselves, as well as five non-blogging friends who became “Followers” by signing on via their email addresses. Even more exciting has been luring readers (or at least “glancers”) from more than sixty flag-bearing entities around the world. (I write “flag-bearing entities” instead of “nations” on purpose because not all are independent nations; some are colonies, territories or city-states.) It is flattering to think of oneself as, if not a “world-renowned writer”, at least a “world-perused writer”.

I believe the time has come for me to issue a blanket “Thank You” to all my readers, even those who visited my site only once. (Was that really enough?) Now, I realize that it is customary among many in the blogging community to thank every individual reader/follower for clicking on the “Like” button and/or signing up as a “Follower”. However, I have chosen not to do that. In fact, as of right now, so late in my blogging career, I have declared myself a “Follower” of only one site, and even that was more from impulse than determined choice. (I won’t take up space explaining that today.)
Although I have clicked the “Like” button on several other bloggers’ posts over the past twenty-two months, I commented only four times, and most of those comments were responses to other folks’ comments on my posts.

Yes, part of the reason I have been slightly indifferent to other writers’ intentions is pure-dee laziness, albeit a justifiable laziness, I believe. Several bloggers boasted hundreds, even thousands, of “Followers”: How could anybody find time to keep up a correspondence with such a kite’s tail?

I have always checked out each new “Follower”, as WordPress recommends, to see if I could feel any connectedness with them. Did we have the same interests? Were they talented enough themselves to be judges of my writing? I discovered that I simply did not have any great interest in the blog sites of a few (culinary arts, auto-racing, military history, etc.) About a dozen others, mostly people in their twenties concentrated in Canada, were trying to push what I considered a pyramid scheme: I didn’t want any part of that. I was really surprised to find that several others just didn’t have anything on their blog to read! From reading many comments on other blog sites, I have concluded that much of this “Like”/”Follow” routine is just a way of getting other people to visit your blog and maybe even follow it out of a sense of quid pro quo: No, thanks! But, returning now to a more positive tone, I have noticed — especially recently — that some bloggers’ sites have been substantive and related to my interests; and I have clicked the “Like” button on those and even followed the one I mentioned above.

I certainly hope I haven’t ruffled any sincere readers’ feathers with this “thank you”. Rest assured, I did not intend to appear snooty, just honest.

Bob Litton

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