Posts Tagged ‘Violence’

Ingredients for Painful, Wasteful Conversations

©2017 By Bob Litton

Quandary over a visit

¶A former drinkin’ buddy and his wife, from Austin, are planning to be here next Frtday for a brief visit before they continue on to Nevada. We’ll share a supper together.
¶I must confess to a deepening sense of trepidation. You see, my friend is a Republican, while I generally vote for Democratic candidates. I have voted a slightly split ticket — back many years ago — when our two major parties’ offerings more nearly favored “Tweedle-Dum and Tweedle-Dee”. In those years, not knowing much about some of the statewide candidates, I relied on what they submitted as positions and qualifications to the League of Women Voters, a non-partisan organization whose main purpose was to encourage all citizens to participate in the electoral process. On a few occasions, the Republican candidate seemed to me to be more qualified. I don’t know if my friend ever voted for a Democrat.
¶As most North Americans are aware by now, our body politic has become more polarized over the past several decades: I would say since Ronald Reagan was first elected president. The polarization has intensified since Barach Obama’s and then The Creature’s (I can’t endure writing his name) elections. Now many of us cannot even discuss national politics civilly; and we often carelessly refer to those who voted opposite to us as “idiots”, “half-wits” or “numb-skulls”. (That is what is called the ad hominem argument or approach: attacking the person rather than the issue.) I’m not a professional historian; but, from the little I have read about our horrendously bloody Civil War, I believe our current dialectical dilemma parallels what happened back in the 1850s and 1860s, when fathers broke contact with sons and brothers shot at each other.
¶Over the past couple of weeks, I have pondered the options left to me when I meet my friend and his wife at a local Chinese restaurant. I would like to restrict our conversation to reminiscences of the years when we two university students went bar-hopping and of the adventures we had. However, that avenue is barred by the fact that my friends had not even met each other yet, much less become each other’s spouse; the wife would effectively be left out of the conversation, and that wouldn’t do.
¶We could talk about their continuing their journey after leaving Alpine. I wrote above that their destination is Nevada, but I am only assuming that on the basis of an email conversation we had a couple of months ago when he said they intend to go there so he could learn how to handle an AR-15 rifle. My fur bristled when I read that, and we had a brief email debate about whether an AR-15 had any use other than slaughtering people. It was a civil debate: How could it be anything else through emails? If we renew the topic at the restaurant, though, we might lose our control and resort to blows (or he might pull out his AR-15); and neither of us is any longer physically fit enough to engage in fisticuffs.
¶Perhaps I’ll end up just taking along a few poems to read at the supper table. No telling what kind of reaction that will arouse. But, regardless of what I do that night, here I will vent my political rage.

* * * * * *

Why we no longer can civilly argue

¶Valid exceptions can be pointed out regarding what I will say here. Exceptions can be made to virtually every generalization; that is an eternal fact of life. Still, such a case should not inhibit us from generalizing when the move is justifiable within the context of whatever subject we are discussing. And we should be prepared to respond with some specifics whenever our generalizations are challenged. This is one of the problems we encounter when trying to engage in any “civil” discussion about politics or religion.
¶I think that is why religion and politics are tacitly verboten in U.S. bars — in West Texas bars anyway. All you are likely to see on the TV’s in the taverns are athletic events, and all you are likely to hear is country-and-western music, either piped-in from the Internet or on a juke box. Nevertheless, last Friday I had an interesting conversation about politics in a local bar with a woman of about half my age whom I had seen there before but never met. I don’t recall how we managed to get on the topic, but we soon discovered that our attitudes were consonant, so we had no problem continuing our conversation without bristling. However, that, too, was a problem because, as I pointed out to her, we were “preaching to the choir”.
¶‟I should be talking about this with someone who doesn’t agree with me,” I said.
¶‟But they are in such a thick shell that they won’t listen to you,” she replied.
¶‟I know, so I am quiet and the bile builds up.”
¶Several of the national politicians, from Obama on down, have said we must try to regain civil discourse; but I am too affected by our situation to maintain my mental equilibrium; I am prone to fumble my facts or exaggerate my assertions when I get that way. And all of us humans, I believe, are too impatient with calm, deliberative, clearly reasoned argument to tolerate it for even a short period. We resort to “talking over” our interlocutor and wandering off in a huff, muttering epithets.

* * * * * *

The Creature in the White House

¶What my new acquaintance and I had been discussing, as you have probably discerned by now, was the Creature in the White House, which is what I prefer to call the being who can be found there when it’s time to sign illiterate Executive Orders in a photo op tableau. (Again, I cannot stand to write his name.) I read one newspaper article this morning that said the Creature left for his Mar-a-Lago mansion — which he has dubbed his “Winter White House” — shortly after signing one of those documents Friday or Saturday.
¶Reports from Politico, CNN and the Washington Post indicate that each of the Creature’s weekend jaunts to his southern castle costs U.S. taxpayers about $3 million dollars and he has made three trips there so far this year. The WP cited a tweet from Bruce Bartlett, a former aide to Ronald Reagan, who reportedly said that the Creature is on track to spend $1 billion in four years vacationing at Mar-a-Lago and housing his wife in New York City. The media report that protecting the wife and son in New York City is adding $1 million a day to the national bill. Back when the Creature was only the Republican nominee, the report was that the protection and traffic control in downtown Manhattan was costing the City $500,000. I don’t know if that $500,000 is part of the $1 million now cited by the national media or a separate expense item. I do know that many New Yorkers are not happy about their being held responsible for paying the bill; nor are the citizens of Palm Beach County, Florida, happy about their having to fork up part of the payment for hosting the Creature and his minions.
¶And all of this is being spotlighted at a time when it could not be more topical, for now the Congress and the American public have been flabbergasted by the Creature’s national budget proposal, which decimates many social, scientific, and arts programs in order to build a wall to nowhere and a wasteful military. Again, according to the WP article I read (March 18), the Congress could fund the U.S. Interagency on Homelessness for three years if the Creature had just stayed in the White House these past three months. The Creature’s PR aides and congressional henchmen are shuffling the budget proposal around like a pea shell during TV interviews, claiming we shouldn’t judge it yet because it’s only one leg of a three-legged stool (the other two legs will appear sometime in the future).
¶I wrote three letters to President Obama during his eight years in the White House. He, or perhaps one of his aides, replied to the first two, above his signature. I was not surprised that he did not reply to my third letter, because the election was over, he was about to move out and had a lot of last-minute business to attend to, and had solicited comments on his presidency from voters all around the country. The likelihood of his responding to all those letters was minimal.
¶But one paragraph of that third letter, dated Dec. 23, 2016, is pertinent here:

I know you have urged the citizenry not to despair but to remain hopeful, optimistic, and to give your successor a chance to do his best for the country. But what I have seen in the media the past few weeks indicates that is just not going to happen. The only possibly positive future I can foresee is one of these two scenarios, neither of which is initially positive: (1) your successor will be blocked by Congress or the Supreme Court from remaining in office because he will refuse to dispose of his enterprises, or because investigative reporting will reveal that he is guilty of some felony; (2) our government will collapse from the weight of the structure being eaten away by the worms your successor has nominated to “direct” its various departments. So, I am not optimistic, I am not hopeful, and the only thing I can even faintly wish for is that one of those two scenarios happens as soon as possible.

¶It is because I have begun to realize that only the second of the two scenarios described in my letter is likely to happen — because of the polarization and self-delusion of Congress — that I have returned to my blog posting. I don’t enjoy writing polemics, but I am an American who once loved my country. My country is being disemboweled and in other ways is being destroyed by a maniac in the White House, supported by a depressingly large number of other Americans. How can one love a pile of wreckage? I had to ventilate.


P.S. I don’t know if or when I will return to this blog. Take my word for what you think it’s worth.



Sports and Games


A foot race at the Olympic games in classical Greece (Bing Images)

© 2016 By Bob Litton

Back in my pub-hopping days one of the denizens at a Dallas bar described me as “that heavy dude”. He wasn’t referring to my physical frame but rather to my tendency to limit my conversations to serious topics. He had a fairly broad notion of what is considered as “serious”.

The immediate spur to his remark was my lament that all the local “watering-holes” seemed to be turning into sports bars, with multiple TV sets scattered throughout. One bar I used to frequent now has five TV sets on the walls of its two rooms, but the only time more than one person watches them is on Sunday afternoons in the fall when the gladiator contests known as American football are being  flushed through the cables. And they are attention-hogging during the endless days of the national championship events. Of course, baseball’s World Series and the triple-crown horse races draw a small bevy of viewers also. But mostly the TVs are there for “ambience” and to make you feel comfy when you’re the only lounger in the place.

I quit going to bars recently — even gave up beer — but primarily for reasons other  than the distraction created by those constantly blinking images on TV screens. Still, the sporting events were a significant part of my withdrawal. I’m just not a fan of sports, particularly of the contact sports such as football and hockey and especially the “extreme” sports that look to me like glamorized street-brawling.

Funny thing, though, is that, when the only stool available at the pub’s bar is directly in front of a TV, I get drawn in. If it’s a contact event I instantly begin to silently root for the “underdog”. If it’s a solo event, such as golf, I become hypnotized by the ball’s behavior. The ball takes front-and-center status only when it’s either  in a sand pit or lands on the green, especially on the edge of the green: that’s when the drama starts; it is rescue and putting time. I quietly gasp in awe as the seemingly self-determined white globe rolls serenely past the hole then does a U-turn, returns, and plops in (I’ve actually seen that). Now, that’s entertainment! But it’s all provided by the ball; I don’t give a hoot about the golfer; don’t even pay attention to his name.

To me, golf is not a sport. True, there is calculation, concentration and occasional slight exertion (at tee-off) involved, but no strenuous action by the body. No, golf is strictly a game.

This is where it gets complicated: What is the difference between a game and a sport? The terms are often used interchangeably by the players and the commentators. Both are contests, but in my view a game is a contest between calculations (aka “strategies”), while a sport is a contest between skills and endurances. There is a degree of calculation in sports, I acknowledge, but it is not what draws the fans and it is not the primary element in winning, while in games it is all that matters.

I read that over the past few years players of chess, poker and bridge have petitioned the International Olympics Committee to include those games in the quadrennial show. What’s next, tiddlywinks?

I also read that the field sports people also want to be included. I don’t know what the IOC has against their inclusion. Could it be that they require too much space? Or perhaps it is because those sports are not sufficiently universal. I am glad that auto-racing is not an Olympic event; it is really just a contest of mechanics’ skills and draws viewers who basically only came to see wrecks and perhaps be treated to the sight of a body being toted off the track on a gurney.

To me, the truest sports are those such as boxing, wrestling, soccer, tennis, swimming, and tumbling, where the human body is fully tested for strength and vigor; and the brain is tested for strategy and constant calculating. Also, in boxing and wrestling the “violence” is minimal and no harm to the opponent is intended; the victor wins on points, not on knockouts.

I recognize that my view of the Olympics differs from the original events in ancient Greece. The Greek city-states put a lot of pressure on their athletes: if a contestant dared come home without a laurel wreath, he was shamed; if he came home a victor, on the other hand, he was treated royally and became a celebrity. Also, the boxing events were bare-knuckled and bloody, pretty much like our modern “extreme sport” boxing.

I wonder if the IOC will ever include TV sports-watching in its lineup of events. I might try out for that, although I have no doubt that I wouldn’t even survive the preliminary trials.


Fragile Civilisation

© 2016 By Bob Litton. All Rights Reserved.

I have been viewing again some DVDs about the course of Western Europe’s cultural history since the fall of the Roman Empire; I bought the set a year ago. They constitute the 13-part documentary titled Civilisation: A Personal View by Kenneth Clark, which was produced by BBC-2 back in 1969. While still a graduate student at SMU, I enjoyed the series when it came to the U.S. the following year. The personable, humorous and brilliant Kenneth Clark immediately became my newest hero.

My description of  this Scotsman, Kenneth Clark (1903-1983), contains the adjective “humorous”, but I don’t mean by that that he was a comedian or even that the primary tone of Civilisation is light-hearted: it is in fact often melancholy, even at times somberly prophetic, for the theme of the narrative is how the trend of civilisation in Europe has not been an unswervingly upward slant but has declined several times since 476 C.E. (the generally accepted date of Rome’s conquest by the Germanic chieftain Odoacer) and has even slipped into darkness once for several hundred years. Nonetheless, Clark’s comments frequently are interlarded with understated wit, a quality which has characterized many British intellectuals over the centuries.

But wry wit is not my theme: rather I want to align myself with Clark’s emotional concern about the impending fate of the West today—Europe’s of course but America’s as well. During at least two of his presentations (or lectures, if you prefer), Clark alludes to the very possible extinction of what he chose to call today’s “civilisation”. (This spelling, by the way, is not a typographical error; the British spell “civilisation” with an “s” while we in the United States spell it with a “z”; I have elected to employ the British spelling throughout this essay.) Without being specific, Clark alludes to recent events as portents of another dip in humanity’s cultural development. I still don’t know what he could be referring to: the Cold War? modern art? mechanization? materialism? political corruption? Here and there in the episodes he mentions all those and other fault-lines, as well as the constant, congenital “fragility of civilisation”. But if there is any single danger to current civilisation that he considers our immediate nemesis, I am not certain which it is.

Early in the first episode of Civilisation, Clark conceded that he couldn’t define civilisation…“yet”. Then, playing on the cliché about the philistine who at first demurs when asked what to him is “fine art”, Clark adds “…but I know it when I see it.” He later makes the same remark about “barbarism”. Soon thereafter, however, he lists several attributes of his subject: “intellectual energy, freedom of mind, a sense of beauty and a craving for immortality”. Still further on in the series, Clark adds stability, confidence, prosperity, order, and broad participation in society. And even further on, Clark describes a civilised society as “intelligent, creative, orderly, and compassionate”; but these latter qualities are not simply what create civilisation, they are also what are necessary to sustain it. Nomadic peoples, such as the Vikings for instance, although supremely confident and adventuresome, could not develop a civilisation, according to Clark’s definition, because they were unstable and saw no value in maintaining anything other than their tools for survival: in the case of the Vikings, their ingenious ships. And the highly cultivated society of 17th century France could not last because the portion of the population which participated in it was too small.

I perhaps should mention “light”, since Clark asserted that light “can be seen as the symbol of civilisation.”  He is referring to the light of reason, education and accumulated knowledge as well as to the light that was so typical of Dutch painting during the 17th century and to the light studies in 19th century French Impressionism. His appreciation of light is almost mystical.

Although Clark does not name any singular major threat that confronted mid-20th century Western Europe, he does specify what caused the luster of previous cultures to fade: fear of war, plague and the supernatural; boredom; exhaustion; and insularity.

At the end of Clark’s cultural tour he confesses himself to be a “stick-in-the mud”, by which he means that he holds onto several values and beliefs which have been abandoned by some other modern intellectuals. Peace, he says, is preferable to violence, and knowledge is preferable to ignorance. He adds that he cherishes courtesy and compassion. And above all he advocates for the recognition that we humans are a part of Nature’s big picture, not separate from it, and that we should view other animals as our brothers and sisters, much as Saint Francis of Assisi did.

Now, to the present. I have my own personal issues with which to cope, issues that no one other than I can resolve. But I also share in many, and in some ways starker, issues that confront Americans as a whole and others that are faced by everyone on this planet, whether they are aware of them or not. What makes these problems seem especially intractable is that they are typified by paradoxes and dilemmas.

Recently, for instance, I heard an interview on National Public Radio in which the interviewee was author of a book about the psychological disturbances that afflict many military service people when they return home from places like Viet Nam and the Middle East. These disturbances we have classified as “post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD)”. The author, who is himself a veteran of the Iraq conflict, claimed, however, that that classification is inaccurate, at least in his case. He said that the problem evolved not from having been in a combat situation but from leaving it. Coming home to a “stable” environment had made him feel marooned, so to speak. On the battle field he had been in the company of men who depended on each other every second for their survival; when he got home, he felt isolated because of the separateness and indifference he saw all around him. In another NPR interview, a woman who had survived the horrors of the ethnic war in Bosnia during the 1990’s said she was ashamed to admit it, but she now yearns for those days because people cared for each other at a very deep level. During that same interview, mention was made of how the murder and suicide rates in New York City steeply declined immediately after 9/11.

I cannot accept the notion that the cohesion of society—of civilisation—depends upon war and other calamities.

For any of you who are interested, you can view Kenneth Clark’s Civilisation: A Personal View documentary on YouTube…at least as of May 29, 2016.




World Not Made In Our Image

© 1980, 2014 By Bob Litton

NOTE TO READERS: This essay was originally published in the Monahans News under my “Just Between You and Me” column for March 20, 1980. It relates to the events surrounding the assault on the American embassy in Iran. However, while looking over this and other old writings in my files, I was struck by the uncanny resemblance to our current involvements in Afghanistan, Iraq and Syria.

* * * * * *

The American temperament developed long before the Revolution.  In fact, some might well argue there could not have been an American Revolution without such a temperament.*

However, America did not really have an articulate voice until Walt Whitman.  And, for me, what was most peculiarly American in Whitman’s expression was his insistence on being a person of contradictions.  He did not blush at such an admission, but rather proclaimed it.

I think that quality of being an American makes it easier for me to accept contradictions within myself, especially in regard to my attitude toward my country.  Right now, for instance, I am both proud of the U.S.A. and embarrassed for us.

I am proud because, in spite of aggravation and incitement, we did not react with military force against the Iranians when they took over our embassy there.  Some claim, and probably correctly, that such assaults don’t happen to the Soviets because nationalistic terrorists realize the Soviets would not hesitate to sacrifice their own countrymen in order to save face.  To a degree, that is what they are doing now in Afghanistan.

To argue that we should do likewise—i.e., act like brutes to achieve at least a grumbling respect—is to say we ought to forgo our notions (or ideals?) of developing a civilized world.  If a person who cherishes his own honor succumbs to a temptation to act dishonorably because he realizes his opponent has no intention of acting honorably and therefore is likely to prevail, then he who compromises will have already lost part of the contest, because he will be allowing the opponent to dictate the terms by which it is to be fought.

I’m not claiming we have not acted as brutes before.  We have.  But, we are also growing as a nation, and I choose to look on certain sorry episodes in our history as teething stages in our maturation.  The very fact that we publish those episodes is an index of our maturation.

The embarrassing aspect of the Tehran captivity is that we are allowing the Iranian militants to siphon every ounce of publicity possible out of it.  In a manner similar to our mercurial economic news, newspapers grab up every new note of hope and disillusionment.  It seems that every time the Iranians see their great moment slipping from page one to the inside pages they pull some new publicity stunt to retrieve their position on page one.  AND WE LET THEM DO IT!

I suppose such manipulation is unavoidable in a nation with a free press; and, as much as it disgusts me, I would rather put up with the manipulation than lose the first amendment.  Still, I often feel like screaming at my countrymen, “Quit expecting other peoples to play by the rules.  Quit expecting them to keep their commitments.  Quit expecting honor from them.  But, never stop expecting those qualities from ourselves.”

— The Monahans News, March 20, 1980

* For more detail on “American character traits”, see


The Perils of Journalism

Bob Litton in office at Monahans News in 1980

The author in his office at the Monahans News in the early 1980s. He believed it was always advantageous to look severe–or serious at least–when visitors intruded on his daily cogitations.

© 2014 Photos and Text By Bob Litton. All Rights Reserved.

Most of the folks who have read my blog posts over the past two years are aware that my only “professional” jobs were as a journalist and sometime school teacher. (I’m not sure whether Food Stamps and AFDC eligibility caseworker for the State of Texas fits into the professional category, since only two years of college, with any major, were required for that position.) And as for carpet sales, I put too many years into that; it was always a stop-gap measure while I tried to figure out what I really was capable of doing.  Anyway, I have always considered journalism as my true calling, despite its hazards.

Yes, life in the newsgathering world can be risky: Just recall the numerous reporters and photojournalists who have been imprisoned or killed in the Middle East, in Mexico, in China and in North Korea. But we have a dangerous situation here in the United States, too, although not as extensively nor as intensively, yet, as in other nations.

Years ago, I was very subtly threatened by a county sheriff. Oh, that was an adventure! The sheriff had been caught by the feds using funds designated for prisoners’ meals for his own benefit; he was placed on probation and was allowed a much smaller pay check, I suppose until he restituted the funds he had pilfered. All that occurred before I took up the job of reporter for the small daily in that West Texas town. However, while I was working there, the county attorney took me aside one day and informed me that the sheriff was regularly soliciting contributions of five bucks each from county employees. I didn’t know what the county attorney expected me to do about the situation; it looked to me like a job more appropriate for his office.

Then one day, I got a telephone invitation from the sheriff’s secretary inviting me to a little get-together over at the courthouse. I went. Inside, I was directed to an average sized meeting room where a bunch of the deputies and the secretary were sitting around looking at a birthday cake; it just happened to be the sheriff’s birthday. Although not especially small, that room, filled with all those people, looked cramped. I couldn’t believe I had been summoned away from my desk for a birthday party! I suddenly felt trapped; it reminded me of that scene in The Adventures of Robin Hood where Robin (Erroll Flynn) “crashes” a Norman feast, toting a dead deer over his shoulders, and engages King John in a bout of threats and insults before he is attacked by a roomful of the sheriff’s henchmen. I was not as bold as Robin, but I managed to sit through the rigmarole, which included a speech by the sheriff in which, at one point, he subtly threatened me in a manner that could be defended as jocosity. I can’t remember the exact words but it was something about finding me out on a dirt road.

That incident did not happen in Monahans, but in Pecos. However, I faced a few threats in Monahans as well. In most cases they were not threats of physical harm, and one, in fact, did not appear to be directed toward me individually but against the newspaper building or City Hall, which was right across the street. I had been out gathering news one afternoon, and, on my return, another staff member told me that a small explosion had occurred out in the street. The concussion had broken the pane of one of the newspaper’s plate glass windows; City Hall had no windows facing the street there. However, a young woman walking down the sidewalk had been frightened nearly out of her wits.  I wrote a column for the next edition castigating the anonymous prankster — if in fact it had been only a prank. Borrowing the term from a Marlon Brando film (One-eyed Jacks), I called him a “gob of spit” and invited him to sue me for libel. The next day, I was getting my haircut, when our local barber opined to one of his other customers waiting in a chair, “I don’t think anybody is going to take Bob up on that invitation to sue.”

On another occasion, the threat was more direct.  One young man whom I had listed in the “Police Report” as being charged with DWI came to my office and asked me why I had put him in the report. I explained to him that I reported all arrests for any offense from public intoxication on up. He left, but the next day I noticed him across the street, lurking in an alleyway and half hidden by the corner wall of City Hall. He was gazing at the newspaper building. I called the police station and asked the sergeant who answered to go out the back entrance and come up the alleyway behind my presumed potential assailant. Before he could do that, however, the suspect came across the street and into the newspaper office. The sergeant followed him and stood in my office, against the window, while my visitor voiced his negative opinion about me and “Police Report”, then left. A few months later, I heard that the visitor had shot a Border Patrol agent to death in El Paso, where he had reportedly moved. My informant told me that he had been acquitted of murder, manslaughter or whatever.

Backing up a bit in time, one day during the first month of my term in Monahans, the citizens were shocked by two deadly motor accidents in a single day. The first collision occurred on the Kermit highway just a few miles north of Monahans. Two pickup trucks collided head on, while the morning sky was clear. Two men in the southbound truck were killed; as was the driver, alone, in the northbound truck. I drove out to the site to photograph the scene and get a report from the investigating officers. One of my photos — remarkably evocative in the narrative and the artistic senses — revealed the single driver’s leg in front of the seat, twisted abnormally and protruding through the open door of his truck. One of the investigating officers told me that a letter found in the latter truck led him to believe the driver had been reading while driving.

I had the issue before me of whether to publish that photo: to do so would bring it home to the public that vehicles are not the only things damaged in a collision, but their occupants as well; to not publish it would spare the deceased’s family the additional pain of viewing their relative’s painfully unpleasant last moment spread on the front page. I decided not to publish, although I have pondered that event since then several times and have concluded that I should have done so; it might have caused readers to be more cautious. A state trooper at the time urged me to pictorially publish a subsequent violent scene, saying, “We have feelings, too. We don’t like viewing those accidents, but we have to.”

I was still struggling with my decision on that accident when, at dusk, another accident happened on the west-bound lane of a street not far from the newspaper office. An elderly woman, who police believed might have been blinded by the setting sun’s glare, rammed her car into trailer that was parked on the side of the street; she died. The woman and her car had been cleared away by the time I got there. The investigating officer speculated that the setting sun’s glare had blinded the old lady.

The next day, a state trooper came to the newspaper office and asked me to write a column urging people to keep their eyes on the road while driving. I did so, rightfully supposing he had been referring to the first accident described above. However, after the paper was distributed that Thursday, the grown grand-daughter of the woman who died in the second accident came in and upbraided me for insinuating that her grand-mother “had her head up her ass”. Of course, that had not been my meaning at all, but I did not dispute her accusation: she was angry, grieving, and seemingly not rational enough for any explanation. Also, I did not know but what the old lady might have been distracted or too old to be driving. But it did not end there, the grand-daughter tried to get her two male cousins to beat me up, which, after discussing the matter with me, they declined to do. Then, a year or so later I saw her in one of the bars; and when she noticed me she started whispering to a young man on a stool beside her. He glanced around at me, then turned to her and shook his head, indicating “no”. That was the last time I saw her.

On a lighter note, I was enjoying beer and a pool game one Saturday afternoon at Charlie Chailland’s Game Room when we heard a crash outside. A few minutes later, a policeman came inside and said to me, “Bob, looks like you’ve got a new car coming.” I followed him outside and saw where a “nipple up trailer” had become disconnected from the truck that was hauling it (while the truck was turning left) proceeded across the street, and struck my Ford Pinto. The neck of the trailer had ploughed through the driver’s side door and hit the hump right above the transmission. If I had been in that vehicle I would have lost at least one leg. Fortunately, the nipple up service was owned by one of our local auto dealers. We settled for a couple of hundred dollars above the Blue Book value of my car and a new truck at wholesale price.

While all that negotiating was going on, however, I needed something to carry me from one news event to another; so I bought a bicycle. One day during this interim, the newspaper publisher and I decided to do a little “horsing around”.  So we unplugged my phone, gathered my .30-.30 rifle and my notepad, and went out into the street for a photo shoot. However, we did not publish that particular photo, but another one…minus the rifle and the phone…shown below:

Bob on the job after a trailer wrecked his car

Not all journalistic risks are actual; there are also those fantasy hazards. One day, for instance, a Star Wars character copy-cat wandered into town promoting something, although I do not remember just what. We chatted awhile and then horsed-around awhile, pretending that Darth Vader was doing the local editor in. Our conversation was pleasant and I suppose interesting but not interesting enough for me to put in the paper; I don’t think we published this photo there, so this is a first time publication of Darth Vader attacking Bob. A few months later, I read in another periodical that this Darth Vader wannabe (or perhaps another just like him) had been ordered by New Mexico authorities to cease their promotion game or face civil action:

bob and darth

Well, so much for the perils of reporting. You might be able to gauge from the above why I suffer from just a slight case of paranoia.

Be cautious out there..especially if you’re a journalist. Okay?


Bob’s Wee Art Gallery, Part II

©2014 By Bob Litton

A couple of days after publishing my last post, it dawned on me that I had left out three other creative exercises — and these truly juvenilia. I am not sure it is sensible of me to publish them here, where they can be broadcast worldwide, since they are as puerile as they are. However, some basic elements in my nature have goaded me into doing so: (1) I wanted to preserve them as long as possible from becoming any more deteriorated than the browning, crumbling pages reveal; (2) there are a few notable saving graces in them (which I will point toward as I go along); and (3) I am shamelessly vain (hence the title of my blog).

But first, I should provide some back story for each.

The other day, I heard part of an interview on our local NPR station in which a male interviewer and a female child psychologist were discussing “rambunctiousness” (aka “horseplay”) among preteens. The psychologist claimed that a certain level of violent activity was part of normal development and should not be immediately tamped down, as many parents are inclined to do. At the time I was listening, I was driving from my apartment to a café and thus caught only a middle portion of the dialogue, so I did not hear the upshot to the discussion: What level of violent behavior is healthy? I tried to locate that interview on the Internet later but was unsuccessful.

The psychologist’s comments dredged up memories of my own childhood, especially of my fondness for “shoot’em ups” (i.e., B-westerns) and Erroll Flynn’s The Adventures of Robin Hood. I also recalled the days when our school’s music teacher allowed us to pick the songs we wanted to sing in our song book: I always wanted to sing martial songs such as the “Caisson Song” or “The Marines’ Hymn”. Then there were the radio shows: Mother and I were fans of “Gangbusters”, possibly the most violent program on the air during the 1940’s.

Such a dose of violent entertainment appears to have affected my artistic endeavors then, as I will demonstrate with these six faded pages of an unfinished comic book I started sometime during my seventh and eighth years. Please pardon the egocentrism reflected in the main character’s name. I will point out some salient — I boldly assert saving — elements later. Note that you can enlarge any panel — or even any small portion of a panel — by clicking on the desired area. A little “⊕” magnifier will appear which you can use to focus on a smaller area and click again for further enlargement. Neat, heh?:







Now, folks, this is an unfinished work of art, kind of like one of Michelangelo’s sculptures. By some people it would be called a “cliffhanger”. But let’s look at some of its artistic features. On the first page, note the detailed dash board in the bank robbers’ car  (2nd panel). Then observe the pencil and note paper stuck behind the driver’s seat, and the handkerchiefs neatly folded and tucked into the bank robbers’ coat pockets (3rd panel). Then contrast the doubting question from one of the crooks to his boss (5th panel) “Do you think they can do the job clean, boss?” with the action inside “…take that and that…bang, bang, bang!” (6th panel) Genuine “Gangbusters” material!!!

(By the way, these fellows’  hats are supposed to be fedoras, not panamas!)

On page 2, we see one robber with a small bag of money (which we can identify as such because it has a “$” printed on it), still shooting, only this time in the direction of his partner (panel 2). Next we have some more exciting “bang, bang” and even a police car siren: while at one point (panel 3) the cops are gaining on the robbers, in the next our hero (that would be me) is suggesting to the police chief that they turn around because “you’ll never catch them” (panels 3 and 4). Panel 6 is a masterpiece of what we artists call perspective: a bird’s eye view of the police car doing a U-turn while the robbers continue on.

On page 3, we are treated to a nice closeup of the police chief, whose profile bears a striking resemblance to Chester Gould’s Dick Tracy. Now that’s odd! You would think Detective Litton would look more like Tracy. At the bank, we see Litton examining the dead teller’s body, while the chief and two other officers, dressed in 19th century vintage uniforms, stand by. Next, after a cursory search of the teller’s pockets, Litton surreptitiously picks up a cigarette stub (panel 3). And, “meanwhile”, the robbers make it to their hideout in a car that needs a brake job (panel 5). Notice how the house is fully equipped with an air-conditioner, a broken window pane, and even a liquor bottle lying on the roof. Note also (panel 6) how the cigarette-smoking robbers, playing poker, have knobby noses, indicating they have been in more than a few fist fights. (My brother Elbert had previously taught me that you can always discern a felonious character by his knobby nose.)

On page 4, we see Litton confessing to the chief, who now has a name, “Pat”, that he has been withholding evidence…at least for a little while. He tells Pat about the cigarette (which he pronounces “cirgrate”) and suggests they have it examined for fingerprints, and then tells the chief he would like to work the case solo (panel 3)…but he doesn’t explain why. However, Pat is extremely accommodating and only adds one proviso: bring in the killer. The lab scene (panel 6) is interesting for its vials and tubes, especially the one on the top shelf. Nice detail for a seven or eight-year-old!

On page 5, we discover that this department’s forensics expert is more punctual than many of our modern day fellows; he has not only found a fingerprint but has also identified the smoker (panel 1). But now the chief is having second thoughts about Litton, brave soul though he be, facing odds too superior in going against “Big John”  by himself. In panel 3, we glimpse Litton going out the door, his head six times as large as his hand and his hat twice as large as his head. (Litton has always had a problem with a big head!) Then he does a quick about face and tells the chief to send backup to 3234 River Bank Street if he isn’t back by 6 o’clock. One wonders where he got this particular address. In panel 5, we have another terrific perspective shot when a taxi responds to Litton’s whistle. A bit of comedy is offered us when Litton gives the taxi driver the address and then tells him ahead of time to “keep the change”.

On page 6, we discover that an elderly couple, including a man with a cane, live at that address, not Big John. Not to worry! Big John, the old man informs us, lives in “the next house down” (panel 2). After walking a few yards from one house to another, Litton complains, “Boy, are my feet hurting.” He classifies the next house as one of the species “hideout” (panel 3). And then he notices a car — the getaway car! — parked near a building that looks more like a church (panel 4). But Big John spots Litton through the broken window…uh, oh! (panel 5). Litton is ready for action with a drawn six-shooter (panel 6), but, as he opens the door and starts the syllable “Rea…?” (Explanation: He was trying to say “Reach!”) he is conked on the head by one of the robbers. Meanwile, as it approaches 6 o’clock, Police Chief Pat Whatever declares it’s time to go assist Litton (final panel). Note the book case with several volumes (Chief is a voracious reader!) and the gun rack with three shotguns in a row. Nice details, n’cest-pas?

Well, I hate to leave you in suspense, folks. You might come back next week for another exciting episode, but I wouldn’t count on it. I honestly don’t know why I did not finish that comic book, but I would surmise that it was because I couldn’t figure out how to save Litton.

* * * * * *

Now for exhibit Number 2: My experience as a song-writer.

Actually, although I liked to sing songs in music class, always volunteering to sing some cowboy songs (like the theme from High Noon), I was usually embarrassed when the teacher summoned us up to the piano, one by one, to test our tones against the piano keys’ tones. I gathered very early that I “couldn’t carry a tune in a basket”, but that didn’t stop me from volunteering on “talent show” days. That is what renders the following anecdote ironical.

In 1950, when I was ten years old and in the fifth grade, the Dallas Symphony Orchestra’s then conductor, Walter Hendl, joined with the Dallas Independent School District to sponsor a song-writing contest. If my memory is accurate, the DSO held a “youth concert” every year, especially during Hendl’s tenure there (1949-1958). I cannot recall if 1950 was the only year the DSO and DISD held a song-writing contest, but it is the only one I recall. The teacher, in announcing the event to us, said we were limited to five subjects, of which I can remember for certain only three: school, play, and sleep. I believe the other two might have been our nation and work, but I’m not sure. For some forgotten reason, I decided to give it a try; so later, in art class, when I was supposed to be drawing pictures with my Crayolas on manila paper, I spent the time writing a poem which I titled “In my Sleep”. And, supposing that the more colorful the rendering the better my chances, I used different colors for the letters. I gave it to the music teacher the next day, and she very sensibly transposed it to a type-written page. A few weeks later, the teacher informed me that my poem had made it to the “finals”; and soon afterwards she told me it was the winner.

The second part of the contest was to compose music for the lyrics. As you probably have already guessed, this was my weak point. Nonetheless, the teacher worked patiently with me, coaxing a tune out of me, which she transcribed to a sheet of music paper and sent in to the contest judges. I was not surprised on being told weeks later that an elementary school class in Oak Cliff, a suburb of Dallas, had won the musical composition portion of the competition.

My own music, the teacher informed me, had been adjudged “too jazzy”. I thought that was odd, not that I had been bested, but that my tune had been deemed “jazzy”. I didn’t much care for it either, but “jazzy”? It was too lively in the latter half, certainly, for it was supposed to be a song lauding pleasant dreams, but not “jazzy”. Part of the problem was that I had aimed to match the music to the individual lines; and, after the eighth line, the lyrics were pretty martial type stuff, as you can discern here:

 In My Sleep

When the clouds have hurried by
And the evening moon is nigh
To my bed I fairly fly
And there I sleepy lie.
Castles of dreams will come into sight,
Lands of wonder every night.
To the many lands I go,
To bold deeds long ago.
Dreams of battles and marching soldiers,
Story books and picture folders;
Dreams of cowboys and painted Indians,
Pirates and sailors and Mounted Canadians.
I never fuss; I never weep
When I must go to bed and sleep.

The last two lines — nicely composed iambic tetrameters — retreat from the marching tone and even close the rough sonnet with a couplet on “good behavior”.

As an adult, looking over that sheet music, which I kept with me until a year ago, I thought, These are a boy’s day dreams, not suitable subject matter for a restful night! However, it was the music, not the lyrics, that eventually moved me to destroy the composition. The first eight lines and the last two I still find commendable when considering that I was only ten years old at the time. Over the years, I asked a few friends to attempt playing the song on their pianos; they couldn’t get very far. I wondered how my fifth grade teacher had managed any better.

On the day of the “youth concert”, a young girl from the Oak Cliff school and I waited in one of the stage wings until Maestro Hendl summoned us to front center stage to take our bows. Then the orchestra played the music, and the auditorium full of school children sang. I liked the music that Oak Cliff class had fitted to my words. I suspected that the whole class, or at least several youths in it, had done the actual composing; and that the girl beside me was simply representing the class; but perhaps she indeed was the sole composer. It was a nice moment for both of us. That was the only reward we got for our creative efforts: standing there on stage as a whole auditorium full of Dallas children sang our song.

A couple of years ago, I tried to obtain the Oak Cliff class’ music from the archives of the DSO and the DISD, but both places professed not to have any record of it. Odd!

* * * * * *

And last, there was the animation film I made when I was 15 or 16 years old. Again, some back story.

In the mid-fifties, Walt Disney produced two documentaries that aroused ambition in me to be a nature photographer. One was The Living Desert (1953) and the other was The Vanishing Prairie (1954).

I must have talked about those two films a lot, because my mother gave me an 8mm movie camera for Christmas. I wasted several rolls of film photographing various dogs, but I also did some of creditable “scenes” of a couple of friends and me creating our own B-western…with special effects: an arrow being aimed in one shot and sticking in a log (behind which one boy was shooting his BB gun) in another shot; and of smoke (i.e., flour) exiting the barrel of the Red Ryder air rifle.

A more ambitious project, however — perhaps too ambitious — was my drawing, on about twelve sheets of paper, a tennis player swatting his serve. The scene, as shot, lasts only a very few seconds; you have to have a quick eye to perceive it was even on the screen. However, in 2010, an artist friend of mine copied it with his camera phone and, after playing it three times at normal speed, reproduced it in slow motion once and posted it on YouTube:

My mother had kept, for many years, the several rolls of film I had made with the camera; and I had practically forgotten about them, when I received a boxful from my sister-in-law back in 2010. I was disappointed that the film of the “cowboys and Indians” was not included, but I was pleasantly surprised by how well I had done with the tennis animation. The frames are a bit jerky, all right, but the player’s body proportions are amazingly well-maintained. Also, the changing position of the man’s legs is convincingly consonant with what one might expect it to be. Frankly, I am surprised I had enough patience to draw all those frames.

To all of you who stuck it through to the end of this lengthy post, I thank you, thank you very much!


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Our Violent Nation

By Bob Litton

When I was a child in grade school during the 1940s, there was no obvious need for electronic detection devices or armed guards patrolling the hallways, at least not in my hometown of Dallas.  Ironically enough, there was some alarm about the possibility of an atomic bomb attack; photos exist of children in my generation huddled under their classroom desks, as though that would help protect them.  Also, our general acquaintance with violence in films was quite sanitary, and the reality of a weapon’s effect was diminished by the absence of visible blood.  Our cowboy heroes shot the guns out of the outlaws’ hands, and the Indians galloping around the wagon train’s circle simply fell off their horses.

Of course, in the real world there was actual violence, especially during the decades immediately prior to our own and in the larger cities of Chicago, New York, and Las Vegas. And even in Dallas, the decade before, there had been the days of Bonnie and Clyde.   In the Dallas of the 1940s, there were reports of the escapades of gangsters Benny Binion, Herb Noble and Cecil Green;  but those guys seemed to concentrate on killing each other,  not children in the schools.  I do recall one episode of a man being shot in the back of the head while viewing a movie at the Capitan theater;  my brother Elbert was there that night and claimed that the bullet whizzed right over his own head.   Nonetheless, these were incidents most of us children never witnessed, although we might have heard our parents talk about them.  And the only images of bodies evidencing bloody ends were those in the Police Gazette, which my father read.

In the 1960s, things changed.  Fictional violence on television and in movies became more constant, ubiquitous and explicit.  Racial protests and consequent beatings were televised, and the Vietnam War was brought home daily through our TV sets.

In 1965, a French/Italian group produced The 10th Victim, which depicted a fictional international club known as the “Big Hunt”.  A participant could win fame and fortune by surviving five rounds as hunter and then five rounds as prey.  According to the Wikipedia article on this film, “…big wars are avoided by giving individuals with violent tendencies a chance to kill in the Big Hunt.”

That was followed in 1967 by Bonnie and Clyde, “…one of the first films to feature extensive use of squibs — small explosive charges, often mounted with bags of stage blood, that are detonated inside an actor’s clothes to simulate bullet hits.  Released in an era where shootings were generally depicted as bloodless and painless, the Bonnie and Clyde death scene was one of the first in mainstream American cinema to be depicted with graphic realism.” (Wikipedia)  When I first saw Bonnie and Clyde, I was shocked by the graphically realistic ending, but I also applauded it because it shunted the chimera of “painless and bloodless” violence.  Now, more than half a century later, I’m not sure my approval was justified.

The previous year, the nation was shocked when Charles Whitman, atop the University of Texas tower in Austin, shot and killed 11 persons on the campus below after having already killed his wife and mother at home and four persons within the tower.  A group of varied medical professionals later concluded that a tumor in his brain might have caused his violent behavior.

In 1968, another film — this one patterned on the UT-Austin massacre — was released, contemporaneously with the assassinations of Robert Kennedy and Martin Luther King, Jr. Its title was Targets, and it included a cameo role for Boris Karloff as a retired horror film star.  Although the main character in Targets, a Vietnam veteran, does kill his wife and mother before going out on a spree of killing anonymous victims, his shooting takes place not on a college campus but first on an oil storage tank at a refinery and then from the stage of a drive-in theater.  Karloff appears on the stage for a guest appearance, after the film is over and just before the killer arrives.  As Wikipedia describes the film’s finale, “…the old-fashioned, traditional screen monster who always obeyed the rules confronts the new, realistic, nihilistic late 1960s ‘monster’ in the shape of a clean-cut, unassuming multiple murderer.”  Karloff slaps the killer down and then utters sardonically, “Is this what I was afraid of?” (Rotten Tomatoes)

I will spare my readers mention of all the Clint Eastwood and Bruce Willis films of similarly violent content.  I think we can all admit that we have surfeited now on decades of bloody films and television.

Presently, the nation is finally locked in a real debate over what to do about gun violence, especially in our schools.  This debate is a positive event…if it leads to anything effective.   As is the case with other major social issues that are being debated — immigration, birth control, marijuana, sexual orientation — both sides have valid arguments.  I have a “side” regarding gun violence, although I don’t have much in the way of a totally effective solution to offer.

It is true that the U.S. Constitution’s Bill of Rights contains an amendment that allows for gun ownership by individuals…because a well regulated militia is necessary to the security of a free state.  The picture I see the writers of the Constitution having in mind is of a musket perched above the citizen-farmer’s fireplace which the farmer might take down to go out and hunt bear, deer, and squirrels; or the citizen might take it down to respond to his local colonel’s call for volunteers to go out and fight the Indians or the British.  I don’t see our forefathers imagining an AR-15 or an AK-47 hanging above the fireplace for the angry citizen-farmer to take down and go pulverize his neighbor for stealing his chickens.

The National Rifle Association folks like to argue that mental illness, not gun ownership, is the problem.  And it is true that in the cases of Whitman and the Korean student, Seung-Hui Cho, who killed 32 persons at Virginia Tech in 2007 — both of whom had sought medical help before going on their rampages — mental illness was a primary factor.  However, in the cases of Eric Harris and Dylan Klebold at the Columbine massacre and Adam Lanza at the Sandy Hook massacre, the role of mental illness cannot be determined because all three never sought psychiatric help.  And I find it a bit implausible that Harris and Klebold, if both were supposedly mentally ill, could have cooperated in carrying out their scheme.  There was some speculation about the influence of bullying; and on that ground I can see some substantiation of the point.  I think it is possible that both wanted revenge on the bullies; and, to show the magnitude of their rage, they increased the number of their victims.

But there is another type of mentally disturbed person: the one who kills or attempts to kill others simply to draw attention to himself or herself or out of vengeance.  Among these are John Hinckley Jr., who wounded President Reagan in 1981 in order supposedly to win the admiration of Jodie Foster; and Mark David Chapman, who shot John Lennon to death in 1980 because Lennon had reportedly made a remark about being “more popular than Jesus” and had recorded a couple of songs (“God” and “Imagine”) which had incensed Chapman.  Hinckley claimed insanity; Chapman pled guilty. Hinckley was placed in a psychiatric facility; Chapman was sentenced to life in prison.

Anyway, the NRA has to-date rebuffed any proposals for background checks, and how can one determine mental health status without a background check? Moreover, psychiatrists and other health care providers are resistant to divulging the comments of their patients because of confidentiality concerns.  This is understandable, since without a confidentiality guarantee many mentally ill people will not seek help.

The NRA has also claimed that the vast majority of gun-owners are law-abiding citizens who are careful about how they keep and use their guns.  But, lo and behold, what happened last January 19 — “Gun Appreciation Day”: a total of five gun enthusiasts were accidentally wounded at gun shows in Raleigh, NC; Medina, OH (a suburb of Cleveland); and Indianapolis, IN!

Then there is the NRA’s complaint to a Senate Judiciary Committee that immediate background checks would cost gun dealers a lot of money, create a huge pile of paperwork, and result in yet another bureaucracy.  Wow!  That definitely is too great a burden!  Much better to allow half-wits and crazies to buy guns and shoot up schools than mess with all those regulations and forms.

The NRA — and others — say that the only rational way to handle the school safety issue is to make expert shooters of teachers, principals, bus drivers and/or assign police officers to patrol the schools’ hallways.  What happened to the argument about expense?  Frankly, I was shocked to read that many teachers are willing to pack pistols.  Has anybody wondered about the possibility that a teacher — regardless of the amount of firearm training he or she has had — might accidentally misread what a student is doing, think he is threatening somebody, and shoot him.  Or what if there is a genuine threat, but the teacher misses the culprit and hits another student, or a bullet ricochets off a wall and injures or kills someone. Beyond the possible unintentional deaths and woundings, the school and the teacher could be wide open for a lawsuit.

As I wrote above, I don’t have any sure-fire solution to this gun problem, although I kind of like the Big Hunt idea in that movie The 10th Victim.  (But, I realize it is unrealistic and innocent bystanders might get hurt.)   I only know that random violence was virtually non-existent when I was a child, and that single fact leads me to the conclusion that my country has become a nation of crazies — and not all of the crazies are the murderers I wrote about above.  We are a Violent Nation.



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