R  A  L  P  H
    The Review of Arts, Literature, Philosophy and the Humanities 

Volume Twenty

Early Winter 2003


The Lost King of France
Revolution, Revenge, and
The Search for Louis XVII

Deborah Cadbury
(Fourth Estate)
The French Revolution started when Louis XVI called up the Parlement because of a minor cash-flow problem, a shortfall of 72 billion gold francs. The Parlement responded by changing its name to the Real Estate Agents (The Estates-General). They met in the Salle des Menus Plaisirs (the Room of Pleasant Meals) and told Louis that if he would do something about Marie-Antoinette he could save a few ducats and possibly his head.

Austria and France had just concluded a very long war, called the Seven Year's War even though it went on for nine years due to inflation. Wars lasted much longer in those days --- no nukes and missiles and smart-bombs, just muskets and pikestaffs --- and this one went on so long it caused the people to get cranky especially in August when it was time for everyone to leave Paris for les vacances in St. Tropez.

Marie-Antoinette was from Austria, so she spoke French with a guttural accent, couldn't keep the king's books balanced (she was known as Madame Déficit) and took her good time in providing an heir. "Peuple" the People magazine of the day suggested that perhaps it was Louis XVI's fault. "His matchstiçk is always lîmp and curlèd up," they reported.

It was also claimed that Marie-Antoinette said "Let them eat cake." This is a canard (or, as present-day menus term it, a canard a l'orange). What she actually said the first time was "Let them eat crêpes." Later, as nostalgia for Vienna overtook her, she was heard to cry "Let them eat sachertorte," referring to the most beloved of Viennese pastries. The Paris mob thus referred to Marie as "l'Autrichienne" (the Austrian Dog, later made into a famous movie by Luis Buñuel and Salvadore Dali).

The Real Estate Agents then changed their name to the Third Estate which was immediately dissolved by the National Assembly which in turn formed the National Guard open to all young men who wanted to avoid the draft in the upcoming Napoleonic Wars. They marched on the Bastille and embarked on an urban renewal program --- that is, they tore it down and built a parking lot.

They then marched on the Hôtel de Ville for lunch and took along Bernard de Launay ("Looney Bernard") who had been head chef of the Bastille Snack Bar. With a cook-off to see who could make the best coq au vin, the chef of the Hôtel, M. Désnot, won with his le coq d'or --- a dazzling confection in which the fowl was stuffed with gold ducats before being reduced and deglazed. Le Coq d'Or was later made into a popular song by Rimsky and his demented half-brother Korsakov.

Meanwhile Louis and Marie Antoinette were holed up at Versailles with Louis XVII --- affectionately called Dauphin ("Daffy") --- and Marie Thérèse. They were busy hiding from the revolution and making locks which was the king's hobby while he wasn't being king. Unfortunately he forgot to lock the door and the citizens of Paris stormed in vowing to "fry Marie-Antoinette's liver" with butter, white wine and fine herbes.

The royal family was immediately transferred to the Tuileries (The Toolshed) to await the verdict of the National Assembly which in the meantime had changed its name to the "Insurrectionary Commune." Collectively, they were known as the sans culottes ("The Flashers.") Anyone dressed like nobility --- that is, with pants --- was hunted down and given a head job so they could be carried around on pikes.

Maximilien Robespierre, founder of the Terror Party, announced that the king, queen, Marie Thérèse and Daffy should stay in the Tour d'Argent since it had been demoted to two-stars by Michelin but later they were moved to the Great Tower of the Temple where the head cheese was said to be divine, "vaut le voyage."

The French Revolution finally ended up in the hands of the Flashers and because of his modesty, Louis decided to run away with his family to the Netherlands. They dressed up in fright wigs and capes and drove off in a deux chevaux. French transportation being what it is they got stuck in a traffic circle near Jersey City. The Assembly then ordered Louis and family back to Paris, and since the revolutionary urban renewal project had destroyed the Bastille, the royal family was forced to go back to the Toolshed.

The Assembly decided to change its name to the "National Convention" so they could meet during hot summers and make long speeches and puff on cigars. They called each other "Citizen" which helped because there were so many delegates they forgot each others names so they just said "Moyen Citizen" and everyone would answer.

This was too much for the royal family, who thereupon invited the English, the Austrians, the Spaniards, the Russians, the Prussians, the Frisians, the Thracians, the Nicians (from Nice), and the Sardines (from Sardinia) to invade France and overthrow the Flashers, or at least force them to put their pants back on.

Finally, the king was invited to stand up and address the National Convention, which had in the meantime changed its name to "The Insurrectionary Commune." Louis disguised his belief in the Divine Right of Kings by doing a stand-up routine, replete with in-law jokes and double-entendres, but the Communards were unamused, and showered him with eggs, bruised tomatoes, and tartes au citron.

Chrétien de Malesherbes (Christian the Bad Vegetable) defended the king's routine, Phillippe Egalité (Philip the Eggnog) denounced it, and the Convention as a whole decided that it was intolerably long, and sentenced him forthwith to lunch. Louis said that he "would rather die" than eat with a bunch of raincoaters, so they gave him a tumbrel ride to the Place de la Révolution, where a new machine invented by Dr. Guillotin whittled him down to size --- roughly 4'11". Afterwards he and his head were transported in carts to the cemetery at Madelaine where Proust had his first inspiration, and there they rest peacefully to this day.

After the beheading the people shouted "Vive la République" and "Vive la nation," and then adjourned to the Deux Magots, an existentialist café and sports bar on the Rive Gauche. Over glasses of Pernod, they debated the virtues of the Jacobins versus the Girondins, the two leading soccer teams of the day.

When the Jacobins won the match, 3-2, the mob poured into the street and elected Jean Paul Marat to the Assembly. By this time, the Assembly was tired of assembling and changed its name to the Revolutionary Tribunal. Marat and Robespierre demanded that the Tribunal should now do away with the queen.

Some members of the Girondins team, including the Duc d'Orléans, said they should give her a break, or at least breakfast but Robespierre claimed that she had been consorting with the enemy, put on entirely too many raves, and, come to think of it, the Tribunal was getting a little soft and perhaps it should be whittled down to size too. The Girondins were convinced and Marie-Antoinette was charged with defaming French pastries (or lèsé-pâtisserie), aggravated consorting, and speaking French with a guttural accent. She was quickly found guilty, deprived of all her Viennese pastries and sentenced to a short interview with Dr. Guillotin.

Meanwhile, Georges Danton wanted to have a committee of his own, so the communards set him up with the Committee of Public Safety so he could put in stop signs, turn signals, and other items to make the revolution run more smoothly.

Heads were rolling but Robespierre wanted more so he established the Reign of Terror and, for no reason whatsoever, named himself the "Goddess of Reason." He gave new names to all the months, instituted the metric system, and decreed that parking was limited to alternate sides of the street on odd and even days. In a trice General Securité, his wife Homéland Securité, and the entire Tribunal shouted "Down with the tyrant" and Robespierre was denounced as being hors la loi, hor de jeu and hors d'oeuvre.

He ended his days riding around Paris in a tumbrel, shouting "Liberté, Egalité, Crudités!" and after a while he lost his head, too. In the meantime, the Tribunal changed its name back to "The Directory" and went into the business of publishing Parisian telephone books consisting mainly of obsolete names, erroneous addresses, and wrong numbers.

--- Jean Le Phage
L. W. Milam


Stiff
The Curious Lives of
Human Cadavers

Mary Roach

(Norton)
Ms. Roach gives over twelve chapters to different aspects of the ultimate fate of all of us: that is, the one day that you and I will be, as they say, on the other side of the grass. But "This book is not about death as in dying," she tells us. "This book is about the already dead."

There are chapters on the black boxes from airplanes, what bullets do to bodies, and experiments with crucifixions. There's the stinky question of decay; there's a historical survey of medical dissection. There is a bit on head transplants, and, uh, the history and etiquette of eating defunct humans.

Then there is the question of "buried alive" --- the great fear for the Victorians: before they were laid away, some left instructions for little strings to be placed on their nerveless fingers attached to bells. Just in case. There are ruminations on disposing of all those bodies that keep turning up world-wide each year, and, finally, a confessional: what, after all this research, will Ms. Roach do with her own bod at the magic moment of what we used to call "cacking."

There are several ways to handle such a morbid subject but, thank god, our author has chosen to treat it with wit. On the subject, for instance, of the Chinese tradition of consuming afterbirth, she reports a few web-sites devoted to preparing it for consumption. for it is rumored "to relieve delirium, weakness, loss of willpower, and pinkeye."

    The Virtual Birth Center tells us how to prepare Placenta Cocktail ... Placenta Lasagna, and Placenta Pizza. The latter suggests that someone other than Mom will be partaking --- that it's being cooked up for dinner, say, or the PTA potluck --- and one dearly hopes that the guests have been given a heads-up.

"The U. K.-based Mothers 35 Plus site lists 'several sumptuous recipes,' including roast placenta and dehydrated placenta."

Roach is not only a joker, she's also an intrepid, sometimes demanding, reporter. She goes to a hospital where organ transplants are done, visits the harvesting room. Patient H has been brain-dead for a few weeks and the doctors have permission to take the livers, kidneys, and heart. The author has a peek inside the chest cavity just before the heart is pulled, and reports,

    I've never seen one beating, I had no idea they moved so much. You put your hand on your heart and you picture something pulsing slightly but basically still, like a hand on a desktop tapping Morse code. The thing is going wild in there. It's a mixing-machine part, a stoat squirming in it's burrow, an alien life form that's just won a Pontiac on The Price Is Right. If you were looking for the home of the human body's animating spirit, I could imagine believing it to be here, for the simple reason that it is the human body's most animated organ.

Roach's writing manages to hold an agile mix of reportage along with personal observation and beguiling amusement. She invites herself to a shooting range where different armaments are shot into "human tissue stimulant" to discover the effect --- e.g., a bullet's performance, the relevant destructibility of different gauge shots. Since live human thighs are hard to come by for such experimentation, the U. S. government is sponsoring experiments (at Oak Ridge, Tennessee) in this arcane field. The thigh of choice is an artificial one, made of "tweaked Knox dessert gelatin."

After watching the experiments, Roach --- being the inquisitive type --- calls Kind & Knox to find if they "included human tissue simulant on its list of technical gelatin applications." No response.

    You would think that a company that felt comfortable extolling the virtues of Number 1 Pigskin Grease on its Web site ("It is a very clean material"; "Available in tanker trucks or railcars") would be okay with talking about ballistic gelatin..."

§     §     §

The author has a bit of a trouble cranking this one up, as if she isn't so sure herself where she wants to go. But once we dig in, we are not only given mountains of information on corpses, but, as well, on the body in general, and the strange and wonderful experiments being conducted on our behalf. Roach herself develops in the book: comes towards the end to reveal herself as a jolly, naughty, and sometimes perverse character in her own paean to the dead.

At the University of Tennessee Anthropological Research Facility, they have an area where they spread donated corpses out in the sun to observe the process of decay. As M. Lee Goff told us in his excellent book, A Fly for the Prosecution: How Insect Evidence Helps Solve Crimes, it is the key to medical forensics: exactly which stage a corpse has come to when discovered --- either through rot or through bug-munching --- will indicate the time of death.

Roach's pointed observations are, deliciously, if I may use that word, on the edge. Her guide, Arpad, explains that bacteria in the mouth and the genitalia make for considerable swelling. He says, "In the male, the penis and especially the testicles can become very large."

    "Like how large?" (Forgive me.)
    "I don't know. Large."
    "Softball large? Watermelon large?"
    "Okay, softball." Arpad Vass is a man with infinite reserves of patience, but we are scraping the bottom of the tank.

And, in China, she visits Hainan Province where, according to a scandalous newspaper article, one Hui Guang, who worked in a crematorium, "was caught hacking the buttocks and thighs off cadavers prior to incineration and bringing the meat to his brother who ran the nearby White Temple Restaurant." There they were served to the customers, buns on buns as it were.

Our writer, apparently, has neither shame nor couth. She and her translator visit the local crematorium, are introduced to the director, a woman "who was not smiling, had not smiled since she entered the room, had possibly never smiled..." The translator

    relayed the story of Hui Guang, explained that I thought he might have been employed here, and that I wrote for a magazine and that I hoped to find him and speak to him. The director crossed her arms and her eyes narrowed. I thought I saw her nostrils flare. Her reply went on for ten minutes. Sandy nodded politely through it all, with the attentive calm of a person being given a fast-food order or directions to the mall. I was very impressed.

The director, needless to say, was "very ...astonished... feels it is a really sick story. And so she cannot help you." Mr. Roach comment: "I would love to see a full transcript of the director's reply, and then again I wouldn't."

§     §     §

This one is a killer; if you are dying for facts, they're all about:

  • The body is 73.8% water.
  • One doctor tried to weigh the soul by keeping those dying on a scale, claimed that at the moment of popping off, we lose 3/8 of an ounce.
  • One of the ecological damages of cremation is all that mercury in the teeth gets vaporized drifting off into the atmosphere.
  • If an airplane is going to crash, the best place to be is in first class.
  • And the best thing to be is a young man: in crises, they always strong-arm everyone else out of the way to make it to the emergency exits.
  • The Mexican painter Diego Rivera and his friends "Pooled our money to purchase cadavers from the city morgue ... We lived on this cannibal diet for two months and everyone's health improved."
  • There is a company in Sweden named Promessa which is trying to convince the world that a "freeze-dry ecological funeral" is kinder to the earth than your standard burial or cremation.
  • In Sweden, the is no rest for the weary: after a few years, they bury another corpse on top of you.
  • In her considered opinion it behooves all of us to leave our bodies to medicine.
And if I do [she concludes] I will include a biographical note in my file for the students who will dissect me (you can do this), so they can look down at my dilapidated hull and say, "Hey, check this. I got that woman who wrote a book about cadavers." And if there's any way I can arrange it, I'll make the thing wink.
--- Leslie R. Peters


[LETTER]

Dear Lolita Lark:

Congratulations: You have written the first negative review of my book So Many Books, So Little Time. I'm so pleased you hated it so much, although I wish your criticisms weren't as lightweight (counting the I's on a page! In a memoir! How inventive!) as you believe my opinions are.

If you read closely, you'll see that there are several references to, say, Norman Mailer and his work; the "dancing bear" quote would have made more sense to someone who had read the earlier mentions. Ditto, In Cold Blood, which was on my original to-read list because I had never read it or seen the movie, as I admit, but which I did read during the year, as I discuss in the chapter on Oeuvres. Methinks perhaps you read the book even less carefully than you think I wrote it.

But never mind. I welcome lively discussion. Perhaps you'd like to go back and read the sections on schadenfreude. That is clearly something you know something about.

--- All best,
Sara Nelson
sara.nelson@smbslt.com

See Folio #19 for the complete review.


George Washington
A Collection
W. B. Allen, Editor
(Liberty Fund)
This one is a fatty, 675 nicely annotated pages. It begins with "The Rules of Civility and Decent Behavior," all 110 of them, including

    Kill no vermin, or fleas, lice, ticks, etc. in the sight of others; if you see any filth or thick spittle put your foot dexterously upon it; if it be upon the clothes of your companions, put it off privately, and if it be upon your own clothes, return thanks to him who puts it off.

There are "Fragments of the Discarded First Inaugural Address, April 1789," carefully annotated by the editor, and, from our reading of it, well off discarded as it does run on and on and on. One of Washington's problems --- to which he agreeably confesses --- is that of prolixity. He just couldn't stop putting out the words. And as we wandered though these 235 documents, letters, speeches, and proclamations, we were wondering how the good man even had the time to run the country, much less do extensive surveying, fight the Revolution, manage Mount Vernon, and offer exhaustive advice to the likes of Alexander Hamilton, Thomas Jefferson, Marquis de LaFayette, Patrick Henry, John Jay, and the many other august personages of the time.

Washington comes off as a gentleman, and one with a good heart. Concerned for the welfare of others, never abrasive, quick to defuse explosive situations, always courteous even to those who made his life troublesome..

The document with which this volume ends, "Last Will and Testament, July 9, 1799" is a show-stopper. It does ramble, but the detail, my god, the detail.

Certain shares go to the Liberty-Hall Academy, the "gold headed Cane left me by Doctr. Franklin" goes to brother Charles Washington, "To my compatriot in arms, and old and intimate friend Doctr. Craik, I give my Bureau (or as the Cabinet makers call it, Tambour Secretary)," to nephew Bushrod Washington a certain land

    Beginning at the ford of Dogue run, near my Mill, and extending along the road, and bounded thereby as it now goes, and ever has gone since my recollection of it, to the ford of little hunting Creek at the Gum spring until it comes to a knowl, [etc. etc.]

This is a man who was part of the land, knew it, knew it well in all its meets and bounds.

And the slaves. Ah, there is the rub, isn't it? The Father of his Country, Statesman, President ... what is he to do with "all the Slaves which I hold in my own right?" Give them their freedom? Well, OK, but only after Martha dies, because to do so beforehand,

    tho' earnestly wished by me, be attended with such insuperable difficulties on account of their intermixture by Marriages with the Dowler Negroes, as to excite the most painful sensations.

Even at the very end, we suspect, the amiable general knew of the weaknesses he had with words --- that he loved them too much --- so when he reflects on what he has just written, he comments,

    But having endeavored to be plain, and explicit in all the Devises, even at the expence [sic] of prolixity, perhaps of tautology, I hope, and trust, that no disputes will arise concerning them; but if, contrary to expectation, the case should be otherwise ... My Will and direction expressly is, that all disputes (if unhappily any should arise), shall be decided by three impartial and intelligent men, known for their probity and good understanding...

"Even at the expence of prolixity, perhaps of tautology..." Ah, George. Who couldn't help but love one who would coin such a phrase, and --- at the same time, out of delicacy --- at those embarrassing moments, tell us to be sure to place our foot "dexterously upon the thick spittle" to protect the sensibility of others.

--- J. R. Pringle


Live a Little,
Laugh a Lot

Barb Bancroft

(Wellworth Publishing)
I'm a sucker for fact books. It probably grew out of the years at the breakfast table trying to avoid getting punched by my brother Bob or sassed by my sister Patricia. I found that they'd leave me alone if I sat at the far corner and concentrated on my Wheaties, "Little Orphan Annie," "The Katzenjammer Kids," "Our Boarding House (With Major Hoople)," the "Toonerville Trolley," "Smokey Stover," "Hambone's Meditations" and --- most of all --- Ripley's "Believe It or Not."

Problem with the latter was the very brevity of it. A Hindu fakir staring at the sun until his eyes cooked out. A house built of beer cans. A cow with three heads in Texas. A Venezuelan fisherman who hauled in a ninety-foot jellyfish. A dog who nursed a litter of cats. Just the facts. I wanted detail.

I should have waited around for Ms. Bancroft and her chunky little book of 350 or so pages. Under the heading, "So you think you're sleeping alone?" she tells us things that we might not want to know: that dust mite droppings in 44,000,000 homes are "enough to trigger allergies." Mosquitoes? They sense that lactic acid exuding from your skin and the carbon dioxide you are exhaling; they also like "the breath of ox --- grass fermenting in the stomach." So now there is a machine you can turn on that "has an audible heartbeat, gives off a small amount of heat and ... emits an odor just like ox breath" so they'll stick it to the zapper instead of you. (Mosquitoes also prefer birds over humans, so those mites we brought over in our ships and airplanes have handily destroyed most of the indigenous species of Hawaii.)

Spermicides? Harvard Medical School tested five different soft drinks, found that "Coke Classic" was the winner by a landslide. It killed sperm five times faster than New Coke,

    although the Coca Cola corporate offices refuse to endorse their product as a spermicidal agent...

Kitty litter in the sewers is now infecting sea otters. Toothbrushes can carry strep infections. Toilet seats are generally cleaner than the cutting boards that you use in the kitchen. Men produce sperm until they die, but those of a 20-year-old "can swim up the 5-inch Fallopian tube in fifty minutes," whereas the sperm of a 70-year-old geezer like me "takes 2-1/2 days." Pant-pant.

Sexually transmitted diseases (STDs) in the 65-plus age group "have increased by more than 300 percent according to a report by British researchers in The Medical Post." And for those thinking of going on a diet: "A 412-pound woman fell head first out of bed, knocked herself unconscious, and was suffocated by her own bosom."

    "Her enormous breasts had fallen down over her face in such a way that she couldn't get air through her nose or mouth," a police officer said.

--- H. B. Wrangle


[READING]

The day Rosie Burdock decided to take me in hand was a motionless day of summer, creamy, hazy and amber-coloured, with the beech trees standing in heavy sunlight as though clogged with wild honey. It was the time of haymaking, so when we came out of school, Jack and I went to the farm to help.

The whirr of the mower met us across the stubble, rabbits jumped like firecrackers about the fields, and the hay smelt crisp and sweet. The farmer's men were all hard at work, raking, turning and loading. Tall, whiskered fellows forked the grass, their chests like, bramble patches. The air swung with their forks and the swathes took wing and rose like eagles to the tops of the wagons. The farmer gave us a short fork each and we both pitched in with the rest.

I stumbled on Rosie behind a haycock, and she grinned up at me with the sly, glittering eyes of her mother. She wore her tartan frock and cheap brass necklace, and her bare legs were brown with hay dust.

"Get out a there," I said. "Go on."

Rosie had grown and was hefty now and I was terrified of her. In her catlike eyes and curling mouth I saw unnatural wisdoms more threatening than anything I could imagine. The last time wed met I'd hit her with a cabbage stump. She bore me no grudge, just grinned.

"I got summat to show ya," she said.

"You push off," I said.

I felt dry and dripping, icy hot. Her eyes glinted, and I stood rooted. Her face was wrapped in a pulsating haze and her body seemed to flicker with lightning.

"You thirsty?" she said.

"I ain't, so there."

"You be," she said. "C'mon."

So I stuck the fork into the ringing ground and followed her, like doom. We went a long way, to the bottom of the field, where a wagon stood half-loaded. Festoons of untrimmed grass hung down like curtains all around it. We crawled underneath, between the wheels, into a herb-scented cave of darkness. Rosie scratched about, turned over a sack, and revealed a stone jar of cider.

"It's cider," she said. "You ain't to drink it though. Not much of it, any rate."

Huge and squat, the jar lay on the grass like an unexploded bomb. We lifted it up, unscrewed the stopper, and smelt the whiff of fermented apples. I held the jar to my mouth and rolled my eyes sideways, like a beast at a waterhole. "Go on," said Rosie. I took a deep breath.

Never to be forgotten, that first long secret drink of golden fire, juice of those valleys and of that time, wine of wild orchards, of russet summer, of plump red apples and Rosie's burning cheeks. Never to be forgotten, or ever tasted again.

I put down the jar with a gulp and a gasp. Then I turned to look at Rosie. She was yellow and dusty with buttercups and seemed to be purring in the gloom; her hair was rich as a wild bee's nest and her eyes were full of stings. I did not know what to do about her, nor did I know what not to do. She looked smooth and precious, a thing of unplumbable mysteries, and perilous as quicksand.

"Rosie . . ." I said, on my knees, and shaking.

She crawled with a rustle of grass towards me quick and superbly assured. Her hand in mine was like a small wet flame which I could neither hold nor throw away. Then Rosie, with a remorseless, reedy strength, pulled me down from my tottering perch, pulled me down, down into her wide green smile and into the deep subaqueous grass.

Then I remember little, and that little, vaguely. Skin drums beat in my head. Rosie was close up, salty, an invisible touch, too near to be seen or measured. And it seemed that the wagon under which we lay went floating away like a barge, out over the valley where we rocked unseen, swinging on motionless tides.

Then she took off her boots and stuffed them with flowers. She did the same with mine. Her parched voice crackled like flames in my ears. More fires were started. I drank more cider. Rosie told me outrageous fantasies. She liked me, she said, better than Walt, or Ken, Boney Harris or even the curate. And I admitted to her, in a loud, rough voice, that she was even prettier than Betty Cleed. For a long time we sat with our mouths very close, breathing the same hot air. We kissed, once only, so dry and shy it was like two leaves colliding in air.

At last the cuckoos stopped singing and slid into the woods. The mowers went home and left us. I heard Jack calling as he went down the lane, calling my name till I heard him no more. And still we lay in our wagon of grass tugging at each other's hands, while her husky, perilous whisper drugged me and the cider beat gongs in my head.

Night came at last, and we crawled out from the wagon and stumbled together towards home. Bright dew and glow-worms shone over the grass, and the heat of the day grew softer. I felt like a giant; I swung from the trees and plunged my arms into nettles just to show her. Whatever I did seemed valiant and easy. Rosie carried her boots, and smiled.

There was something about that evening which dilates the memory, even now. The long hills slavered like Chinese dragons, crimson in the setting sun. The shifting lane lassoed my feet and tried to trip me up. And the lake, as we passed it, rose hissing with waves and tried to drown us among its cannibal fish.

Perhaps I fell in --- though I don't remember. But here I lost Rosie for good. I found myself wandering home alone, wet through, and possessed by miracles. I discovered extraordinary tricks of sight. I could make trees move and leap-frog each other, and turn bushes into roaring trains. I could lick up the stars like acid drops and fall flat on my face without pain. I felt magnificent, fateful, and for the first time in my life, invulnerable to the perils of night.

When at last I reached home, still dripping wet, I was bursting with power and pleasure. I sat on the chopping block and sang "Fierce Raged the Tempest" and several other hymns of that nature. I went on singing till long after suppertime, bawling alone in the dark. Then Harold and Jack came and frog-marched me to bed. I was never the same again.

--- From The Edge of Day
Laurie Lee
©1960 William Morrow & Co.


[POEM]
Cartalk: A Love Poem

The cars I drive
don't look like much I will admit,
but mostly they've got engines that won't quit
this side of a nuclear explosion.

The Shitbox Mystique: when new friends
point at dents, concerned, and ask,
"What happened to your car?" I answer,
"It was like that when I bought it."

When I met Carol she was driving
a pretty good car,
except for the air-conditioner,
which used to make the engine overheat.
Carol also brought into my life
her son Seth and her mechanic, Peter ---
that's another feature
of the Mystique,
your mechanic
becomes part of your family,
we see more of Peter than we do of Seth,
we invited him to our wedding ---
though I'll admit, Peter wasn't actually
in the wedding and Seth was.

Now Carol likes nice things,
but what with college bills and all,
a couple years with me
and her blue Subaru
went downhill fast
and I got to see a new
side of her, that her idea of a good day
is breaking down outside a gas
station.

Eventually her engine started
overheating even without
the air-conditioner; in fact
the only way to keep the temperature
out of the red zone on a hot day
was to turn the heat on.
I don't think Carol's mother
ever really bought
the unlikely physics of that
I think she thought we were
trying to make her and Ed
go home to California.

When you've got
two people driving shitboxes
you get to make some interesting decisions ---
like which one to take to Connecticut.
One has no windshield fluid
because the plastic thing leaks
and Peter hasn't been able to find
a used one that fits;
the other has something really scary
going on with steering...
but we take it anyway,
because on the map
the road to Connecticut
looks pretty straight.

Sometimes I get home from work
and Carol's ecstatic.
"Jack, I met the most wonderful
towtruck driver today. We towed
the car to Peter's,
and he brought me back
all the way to the door.
We had the most incredible conversation!
He's a very unusual person."

Right, Carol; like you're not.
A couple years with me she's on
a firstname basis with every
towtruck driver in Middlesex County.
Triple-A has us on speed-dial.

One time we were driving
somewhere together and she reflected,
"You know, if your first marriage
had worked out better, you
wouldn't have been available
for me. And vice versa."

I thought what a classic she is,
the miles look good on her.
But both of us came as is,
with dented fenders, and random
detritus in the trunk, and I said,
"It's as if we both broke down
outside the some gas station
at the same time."

And she smiled
and then she laughed,
and then we both laughed,
a long soft asynchrcinous laugh
like the ticking of an engine it will take
a nuclear blast
to stop.

--- From Say Goodnight, Grace Notes
Jack McCarthy
©2003 Em Press
709 Marion St.
Joliet, Illinois


Passing Trains:
The Changing Face of
Canadian Railroading

Greg McDonnell
(Boston Mills)
Do you remember so long ago you'd be on the train and you heard the grinding of the brakes and you'd wake up because all was still and you would lift up the shade next to your hole-in-the-wall bed and there just feet from you would be this out-of-nowhere depot with a few yellow light bulbs hanging down with their little black hats swinging in the wind over the snow-tracked platform and there would be nothing or no-one only an empty baggage wagon with its own load of snow pulled up against the dark wall of the station the frost edging the crusty windows the door closed against the night and you lying there in your bed with the fresh white clean crisp sheets and out there in the thin light the cold and desolation of some godforsaken town in Montana or North Carolina or Saskatchewan (Big Horn, Rocky Mount, Portage la Prairie) and you all alone with your vision thanking god that you are in and all that out there is out knowing that in a few moment's time if there is no glacier from god descending over this great long jointed train (and you) because you know you'll be gone from this isolated freeze-dry bone of the night-place in just a few moments, a place you hope you will never have to experience you safe and warm in your traveling capsule so safe from the wind blowing (blowing so hard the car rocks)...

...and then suddenly can you hear now the first pull of the engines catching up the cars and the whistle from so far up there to let you know that you are saved yet again not having to live in the ice-night of Spartenburg, Hardin, Medicine Hat, as now you are leaving it behind to its own icy fate as the lights pass one behind one behind now one now going faster one and then suddenly there at the very end of the platform a figure bulked earflaps and hat heavy coat comically this huge gloved bulked being against the last pangs of North Battleford, Livingston, Hickory now going by so quickly in his hand the lantern the three-ringed windows of green and red and yellow he now alone gone there left behind in a last frieze of air's breadth swirling the loose snow around now gone left behind there in Mount Airy, North Carolina, Bozeman, Montana, Swift Current, Saskatchewan.

--- W. W. Emerson, III


[GREAT REVIEWS OF THE PAST]

The Bible in Translation
Ancient and English Versions

Bruce M. Metzger

(Baker Academic)
One of the earliest versions of the Christian Bible was translated from either Greek or Hebrew into Syriac --- a language akin to Jesus' Aramaic. It came from the hand of Tatian, and appeared around A. D. 170.

Latin versions from North Africa were in circulation around A. D. 200, and were the root for later versions, most importantly, the Latin Vulgate, created two hundred years later by Jerome. Jerome who? We don't know, but we are fairly sure it wasn't Jerome Kern, nor even Jerome K. Jerome.

Jerome went to Antioch --- the city, not the college, dummy --- in 373, and was called upon by Pope Demasus to do the translation. He did this in record time, not without some failings. In a North African Church at Oea, during the reading of a Scripture lesson:

    ...when the congregation heard that Jonah took shelter from the sun under some ivy jerera, with one accord they shouted "Gourd, gourd," cucurbita, until the reader reinstated the old word lest there be a general exodus of the congregation.

Despite the insult "Gourd, gourd" which would have downed a lesser man, Jerome persisted, and his version was the recognized text of Scripture for a thousand years throughout Western Europe. Despite being referred to as "The Vulgate," it was a far cry from being a Playboy version of the Bible --- the word merely means that it was written in Low Latin, the Medieval version of Valley Talk.

The first English Bible was a translation by John Wycliffe in 1382. Pope Martin V --- no relation to Mary, Dean, or Rowan & --- found it wanting, and since the offender had already died, he had Wycliffe's body dug up, burned, and cast in the Lutterworth River. Which is nothing to what they did to translator #2, William Tyndale. His version came out in 1525, and in it, God is introduced as "the Lord thy surgeon," Joseph is referred to as that "luckie felowe," and the serpent says to Eve, "Tush, ye shall not die."

Tush indeed. The authorities were so miffed at these fritterings that they had Tyndale strangled, which should have discouraged any others from undertaking similar projects. But we translators are a hardy bunch, so there appeared, in short order, the Coverdale (1535), the Great (1535) --- so called because it was so fat, and Taverner's (1539) --- whose use was restricted to pubs and bawdy-houses.

One version appeared in Switzerland in 1560, and is referred to the "Breeches" Bible because of the line from Genesis,

    They sewed figge-tree leaves together and made themselves breeches.

The King James version appeared in 1611 and in the earliest edition, the word "not" was left out of the 7th Commandment, so it came out "Thou shalt commit adultery." The printers were fined, not strangled, which demonstrates the onward and upward course of history, but because of the unfortunate wording, Western man went into moral decline for the next 500 years and you and I are the obvious product of this.

§     §     §

People had better sense than to mess with the King James version until the 20th Century, at which time, in a word, all hell broke loose. Metzger tells us that between 1952 and 1990, "twenty-seven English renderings of the entire Bible were issued." Included in this was the Revised Standard Version of 1952 which, because of the politics of some of the contributors, was called "a heretical, communist-inspired Bible" by a pastor in Rocky Mount, North Carolina. He then baked the RSV with a blow-torch. This too might be considered a sign of progress since none of the contributors were braised, bruised, strangled, or thrown in the Lutterworth River.

The Revised English Bible appeared in 1989. According to Metzger, it was a prim little thing. Josh. 15:18, speaking of Achsah --- where previously it had read that "she broke wind" --- was decorously altered to read "she dismounted." Ezek. 21:7 previously stated, "all men's knees run with urine;" that became "all knees will turn to water." When the New Revised Standard Version appeared in 1990, there were other changes. Psalms 50:9 had previously read, "I will accept no bull from your house" which was changed, for obvious reasons, to "I will not accept a bull from your house." In a slap at pot smokers, 2 Cor. 11:25 went from "Once I was stoned" to "Once I received a stoning."

One Eugene Peterson of the Christ Our King Presbyterian Church in Bel Air, Maryland translated Matthew 5:41 as "If someone takes unfair advantage of you, use the occasion to practice the servant life. No more tit-for-tat stuff." And the Sermon on the Mount appears as:

    Our father in heaven,
    Reveal who you are.
    Set the world right;
    Do what's best ---
         as above, so below.
    Keep us alive with three square meals,
    Keep us forgiven with you and forgiving others,
    Keep us safe from ourselves and the Devil.
    You're in charge!
    You can do anything you want!
    You're ablaze in beauty!
         Yes. Yes. Yes.

To which we reply, "Gourd! Gourd! Gourd!"

--- A. W. Allworthy


Skin Deep
Tattoos, the Disappearing West,
Very Bad Men, and My Deep
Love for them All

Karol Griffin
(Harcourt)
    Wipe a folded paper towel across the top of a tube of deoderant and smooth a film across the skin. The deodorant makes the stencil image stick .... Dip the needles into a tiny cup of black ink; press the foot pedal as the machine is lowered to the skin. Carve the needles along the stenciled line, wiping away the excess ink with a paper towel twisted between the fingers of the hand holding the machine. The skin gives slightly before the needles push through... Dip, press, pierce. A thousand times a minute.

When Karol Griffin was fifteen, she was traveling west with her parents through Canada. They stopped at a gas station in Kamloops, saw a man resting on a "long, low chopper," and her heart stopped: "He was a wild, magical man. A creature." It might have been his lanky legs "poured into tight black jeans," but it was more probably a tattooed snake that

    curled around his biceps and disappeared into his armpit. The tattooed snake undulated as he pulled a bandanna from his pocket and wiped the sweat from his neck. I stared past the horrified look on my mother's face and caught his eye through the heat waves rising from the asphalt. He looked right at me. Into me, it seemed. The snake rippled and flexed as he patted his thigh and cocked his head, daring and inviting... My mother told me to get into the car this instant.

That must have been what did it. As she says in the subtitle, she loves the old west, tattoos, and "very bad men."

She tried a normal marriage to, well, a somewhat normal man. He was a San Francisco lawyer. It didn't last long. He wasn't, one is led to believe, bad enough. The ones she likes have to be into tattoos, dope, too much whiskey, driving fast on the wrong side of the highway, heisting things, and occasionally beating up on her. The last one we get to meet, John,

    decided I must have been the person who tipped off the cops. At least that's what he said while he was beating the shit out of me and his unborn child .... He picked me up by the neck and slammed me into the side of my car. When that wasn't enough to make me cry, he pulled out a .357 Magnum.

But this rough type is but one of her two loves. The one that owns her, completely, is tattoos and tattooing. There are whole long, involuted, poetical passages in which the magic of it gets communicated to the reader, with a breathlessness that is more than compelling.

She paints a portrait for us of her with the tattoo machine, doing her first tattoo, on the leg of her newest man, Rick:

    Then the thrill set in, a combination of fear and uncertainty and adrenaline mingled with glee and uncontrollable excitement. The thrill coursed through me like electricity, and the pulse of my own blood pounded in my throat. I looked down at the tattoo machine I was holding, and my hand felt like it belonged to someone else, cold and distant.

"Before long, I was lost in the sensation, and the vibrations from the machine sang along the nerves of my hand and flickered up the insides of my wrists," she concludes. The sensuality of it: we become part of her skin, our pores infused with the ink, the smell of the shop, the blood, the vaseline used to soften and hold the image.

§     §     §

Skin Deep is an autobiography, yes: but it is also a textbook --- a very funny textbook --- about those who go into the tattoo business, or who come in to get tattooed, and the art of tattooing itself. We get to visit with many of the characters who come into Ms. Griffin's parlor in Laramie. The one that sticks in my mind is Michelle, "a big girl, the kind of big that's on the far side of Rubenesque by even the most charitable stretch of both imagination and euphemism."

    A lifetime of self-conscious embarrassment had kept her out of tanning salons and swimmming pools, and she wore clothing that covered as much as possible all year long, which meant that her skin was translucent and soft, more taut than skinny people's skin, a dream canvas.

"A dream canvas." Most everyone else would look at her and think "fat." Griffin finds, instead, a home for graceful art. Michelle wants hummingbirds, "as many as it took, from the bottom of her shoulder blade, up and over her clavicle, down the side of her breast."

    There was no black ink at all in Michelle's tattoo, no discernible outline. Each hummingbird was a different part of an Impressionist spectrum, and they were beautiful, hues of blue and green, red and orange, vivid against her pale skin.

Let's forget about the author's taste in men with funny eyes and big fists; let's forget her regrets about what is happening to Laramie, the upscale tourist stuff and corny parades and dude ranches; let's forget about the trailer trash and flipping cars and going 90 on the highways. Let's think tattoos.

As she tells us, after getting her own first tattoo, "I have become a work of art." And as Slade, the one who tattooed her, the man who taught her most of what she knows about tattoos, says, "You make your choices and you stick with them."

Ms. Griffin ends up being more than any stock western character. She's feisty, and dopey, and I swear to you, she is making me think about getting a tattoo on my run-down seventy-year-old body. There on my pendulous tum, perhaps. Something nice and colorful from groin to heart. What am I waiting for? I should be on the horn to her right now. This canvas is going to be laid in the grave in a few years. What am I waiting for?

She'll have help me pick my picture, say, a fine Chinese dragon crawling up my bod, replete with reds and blues and yellows. She'll shave me, "even if the hairs are few and baby fine," she'll explain. She'll make a stencil on the thermofax machine, get the needles ready, fasten the tube into the machine. Wipe some vaseline on my belly, all the way up to my bursting heart. "Perfect," she'll say, fibbing nicely. Stretch the skin with her hand, "leaning into the body with a pressure that is both comforting and intimidating."

You have to sit still, she'll say. Lady, I ain't going nowhere. Not at my age. You expect me to be jumping out of my skin? I've been around the block. Want me to tell you how many needles they stuck in me over the many years in so many doctor's offices and hospitals. I ain't no spring chicken, you know.

I watch her dip the needle into the blue ink. "The skin gives slightly before the needles push through," she tells me. Colors added from darkest to lightest. "Red here, blue there, yellow blending from orange to green." Ow. What am I doing here? Being brave, right?

Because, you see, I'm her slave. She is turning my old geezer body into a work or art. You think I am going to blow it by moaning and groaning while she is doing a Chinese Renoir on the most prodigious part of me? Hell no. I'm tough. She's tough. We're tough, joined together at that holy moment when she is turning my body into something else again, something that I've never had in these seven decades, something that will surprise and delight and amaze my friends, and never ever leave me.

"What got into you?" they'll ask. "What do you expect?" I'll say. "If you had a choice between Canasta and shuffleboard in Miami or getting a dragon on your frontside from one of the masters, which would you choose, I ask you?"

--- L. W. Milam


Gettysburg Battlefield
The Definitive Illustrated History

David J. Eicher, Editor

(Chronicle Books)
The American Civil War can be seen as a particularly dreary movie. It ran for four years, destroyed 600,000 lives, turned half of the country into a wasteland, and sewed the seeds of bitterness that, in some places, still lives. As historian Stephen Oates wrote,
    The South was not only defeated, she was annihilated. Half her men of military age were dead or wounded, two-fifths of her livestock wiped out, more than half her farm machinery demolished, her major cities in ruins, her railroads and industry desolated...two-thirds of her assessed wealth, including billions of dollars in slaves, destroyed.

He concludes,

"And, as some commentators have noted, its victory was of 'base coin:' blacks were freed, but not given equal rights and education for more than a century."

Despite these appalling facts, the popularity of the war knows no end. Fifty or so books dealing with its origins, course, and conclusion spill from the presses each year. Those who live in such towns as Bull Run, Chancellorsville, Manassas, Cold Harbor, Appomattox, Harper's Ferry and Gettysburg reap a rich harvest on the bodies of our forefathers. Massed faux armies gather with guns, uniforms, cannons, tents, haversacks, flags, and horses to honor these wanton battles. Of this phenomenon, one historian has written,

    The most interesting battle was given at Gettysburg. Gettysburg has since been turned into a Theme Park and Civil War fans come to visit dressed up in "Yankee" and "Rebel" uniforms. Using genuine modern antique bayonets, muskets, and cannon balls, they battle it out with each other. Afterwards, they sicken with cholera, gangrene, and the pox, and die like flies.

The cast of characters involved in the war came from the worst of cheap melodrama. One writer, while reviewing A Photographic Picture of the Civil War, stated:

    [It] made a hero out of one who should be considered one of the most misdirected, moody rapscallions in American history --- Abraham Lincoln. And historians have unjustly vilified one who was the most noble and self-effacing, namely Jefferson Davis.

And as for Ulysses Grant, H. L. Mencken wrote:

    He was not, in point of fact, a man of any great competence, even as a soldier. All the major strategy of the war, including the final advance on Richmond, was planned by other men, notably Sherman. He was a ham as a tactician, and habitually wasted his men. He was even a poor judge of other generals, as witness his admiration for Sheridan and his almost unbelievable underrating of Thomas and Meade. If he won battles, it was because he had the larger battalions, and favored the primitive device of heaving them into action, callously, relentlessly, cruelly, appallingly.

Mencken concludes:

    Thinking was always painful to Grant, and so he never did any of it if he could help it. He had a vague distaste for war, and dreamed somewhat boozily of a day when it would be no more. But that distaste never stayed his slaughters; it only made him keep away from the wounded. He had no coherent ideas on any subject, and changed his so-called opinions overnight, and for no reason at all. He entered the war simply because he needed a job, and fought his way through it without any apparent belief in its purposes. His wife was a slaveholder to the end.

§     §     §

The original ideal, ostensibly to keep the country united, was a fallacious one. The war put an end to a sectional evolution that could have been immensely beneficial to the future, tolerance, and the ease of America: that is, the division of the country into the northern and southern tier of states.

Had this been allowed to happen naturally, the continent would ultimately have come to be divided into several more appropriately-sized countries. In addition to the Northern states and the Confederacy, there would've been the Republic of Texas, the Mississippi River states, the West Central states, the California, and the Washington/Oregon Territory.

Since smaller nation-states are uniformly more efficient, more encouraging of civil liberties, less subject to the inefficiency of grandiosity, we would have ended up with six or seven nations which would have grown independent politically --- but which would have been nicely married in language and commerce, and, perhaps, war-making. Best of all, instead of bedeviling the rest of us, the Bush family would have ended up with but one small territory --- the Republic of Texas --- to rule.

One thing we notice about the romanticisers of the Civil War. They pay little or no attention to the psychological, emotional, and human desecration that resulted from its pursuit. Call up its images on any search-engine, and there you'll find maps, and a scattering of blurry photographs, and shots of the leaders: tintypes of Gouverneur K. Warren, George E. Pickett, Robert E. Lee, George C. Meade. But there are few photos of the real carnage --- no hint of the 50,000 men who were killed, wounded, and listed as "missing."

Imagine so many thousands of souls sent to meet their maker in the course of a mere three days. And no matter the gloss put on it by Lincoln's drab little no mea culpa speech, it was pure butchery at its worst --- a dry run for the blood-letting that was to envelop the twentieth century.

If you want the real picture, bones and all, you'll find them here in this magnificent volume. There are over three hundred photographs --- ancient and modern --- along with portraits, maps, and thoughtful commentary by fifteen historians. The most fascinating photographs are those of the carnage: scattered shells and clothes, dead horses, broken cannons in the mud, overturned carriages, fallen trees, and everywhere bodies and parts of bodies, twisted and turned and eviscerated, peering blankly, swelling open-mouthed, turning black in the sun. The photographers were there bravely taking pictures only a few days after the battle. One can imagine the raw stench and the wonder that so many were sacrificed for such a puny cause.

The romantic words are now a part of our vocabulary: Cemetery Hill, Plum Run, Devil's Den, Granite Farm, Rose Woods, Valley of Death, Slaughter Pen. The photographs of the surrounding countryside in the grainy shots are here gently mirrored by those taken a century-and-a-half later. Black-and-white vs. color, muddy roads vs. asphalt highways, body-strewn fields vs. flowering, tree-lined hills.

Gettysburg Battlefield is a monumental book in all senses of the word ... one of the most unflinching in showing the dreadful harvest on these bitter fields.

--- Ignacio Schwartz


[LETTER]
Dear Ms Lark,

I read your review of Gandhi - the Man with interest.

I have to admit to a schoolboy interest in the young girls he slept with so chastely.

I wonder --- does it say in the book what their names were?

It would be interesting to contact them to find their side of the story.

--- Thanks a lot
Gary Dexter


The review of Gandhi the Man can be found at
http://www.ralphmag.org/AJ/gandhi.html


A Round-Heeled Woman
My Late-Life Adventures
In Sex and Romance

Jane Juska
(Villard)
In Praise of Older Women came out in 1965, shocking some prudes who were still lodged in the Eisenhower do-it-in-the-dark routine. The book consisted of the recollections of a young Andras Vajda and his experiences with women who were supposed to be knitting snoods rather than doing a quick tumble in the hay.

His memories were more than amiable, and his main point, as I recall, was that you get a bushel-basket of love and a box-full of appreciation when you give your affections to the over-forty set. He also said they know a hell of a lot more ways of pleasuring a man than any Playboy Bunny.

I found out by looking though Google that In Praise of Older Women is still a hit and still in print. I also found out to my dismay that there are a plethora of sites devoted to "Nasty XXX Nannas," "Hot Nude Grannies," "Mature Mammas that Love to Do the Nasty: More content than you can shake a stick at." I also found for my etymological research a new synonym for old folks, although I doubt that "Dufferdom" will turn up any time soon in a volume of the good Rev. W. W. Skeat.

Ms. Juska has chosen to write an extended tome on just this subject: not Skeat, god knows, but on one in the clutches of dufferdom who has the temerity to place an ad in the New York Review of Books:

    Before I turn 67 --- next March --- I would like to have a lot of sex with a man I like. If you want to talk first, Trollope works for me.

Sixty-seven answers came in, and during this wonderful ramble with A Round-Heeled Woman, we get to meet seven of them, including noisy Danny, Jonah who steals, Dr. Robert who has too many aches and pains, John who wants her to stop being so pushy, and, at last, lovely Graham. Who turns out to be half her age, much to the disgust of some of her friends and family. All of which goes to show that Harold and Maude did not clear the air nor the world of ageism/sexism prejudice.

§     §     §

This sex business is just part of the story; in fact as I read on, I realized that Ms. Juska is using this let-me-tell-you-about-my letch-side as a come-on so that we can read about her not so boring life. There are years of fat (she wore muumuus for several decades), growing up a proper doctor's child in Ohio, living a hippy's life in Berkeley, mixing amphetamines and scotch for years to get her through the days (and nights). There is also a career of championship teaching --- grade school, high school, teaching teachers, and in some of the most affecting passages, teaching writing to prisoners at San Quentin.

There is no little lust here, talk about G-spots and getting felt up in public by some of her would-bes and as always, her absolute non-stop, unrepentant, wild-eyed adoration of men's asses: one thing she learned from her first (and last) husband was appreciation for asses. They used to watch live football games from the end zone and discuss at length the various attributes of the glutes of the various players.

But Juska is just no simple foozle of a lust-bunny. As she says in her ad, she's nuts about Trollope. In fact, one of her orgasms (she claims) occurred in the rare book room of the very hard-to-get-into Berg Collection in New York City, where she is able to hold in her hands the manuscript of Trollope's novel Miss MacKenzie. She was afraid all the while that she would wet it (with her lachrymal glands, I should hasten to say), "for it would not do, would not do at all, for tears to stain these pages."

There, too, is Bach (she finally learns to love him by joining a chorale) and Shakespeare and Chaucer and Flaubert and Cheever and Eliot and Steinbeck and --- most of all, Philip Roth. In The Dying Animal, she reminds us, piano playing David Kepesh masturbates to

    Beethoven, Mozart, Haydn (Bach does not make this list), Schumann, and Schubert, which has got to be kind of hard if you think about it: playing music like that requires both hands.

Anyone who can bring off this silver-threads-among-the-gold high-passion throb act should have us hanging on her every word. The bonus is her mastery of simple, good, funny writing.

One of her loves eschews her kisses, which grieves her deeply. She goes off to recover at the very respectable Whitney Museum:

    There every piece of sculpture was phallic or vaginal or both. I had never seen so many sensual constructions in my life: what wasn't erect was cavernous; what didn't stick out sucked in.

And anyone who can contemplate the photograph of a potential lover noting that he resembles "someone in the witness protection program. Or Richard III" ---- and yet ends up driving up to his place in the woods ("Ted Kaczynski had a house in the woods" she observes) certainly deserves a gold fig-leaf cluster medal of bravery beyond the call of simple passion.

This seeking love business when you are part of the rocking-chair set is no bed of roses. There are as many tears and broken hearts as there are rollicking moments in the sack, and as we go through her life and her new career, we find ourselves rooting for her, wanting her to just cool it, stop pushing so hard, let it come on its own. Just show her age. If such is possible.

--- Lolita Lark


Empire
The Rise and Demise of
The British World Order and
The Lessons for Global Power

Niall Ferguson
(Basic Books)
Part of the fun of it comes from the facts, dozens and dozens of contrary facts that the author delights in:
  • Those buccaneers of the Spanish Main were little more than common thieves --- dutifully commissioned by the kings and queens of England.
  • The Seven Years War was "the nearest thing the eighteenth century had to a world war."
  • The Pilgrims thanked God for the fact that 90% of the American Indians had died of disease before they arrived: "The Hand of God," said the Governor of Carolina, has been "eminently seen in thinning the Indians to make room for the English."
  • Paul Revere didn't shout "The British are coming!" but "The regulars are out," (Americans were still British in 1775);
  • The Declaration of Independence was signed on 2 July 1776 (Thomas Jefferson misdated a letter announcing the event).
  • "In economic terms, the continental colonies remained of far less importance than those of the Caribbean," which may be one reason the war to hold on to them was not persecuted more vigorously.
  • The English criminals who got shipped off to Australia between 1787 and 1853 were mostly nabbed for petty offenses; thus "Australia literally started out as a nation of shoplifters."
  • The Indian Mutiny of 1857 was no mutiny, but "a full-blown war."
  • And rather than being over lard-coated cartridges, it was Indian's fear of English attempts to "Christianize India."
  • Africa today "is a far more Christian continent than Europe ... and there are more Anglicans in Nigeria than England." Why? Because of "the development of effective quinine based prophylactics against malaria. That made being a missionary a far less suicidal vocation."
  • John Newton, the author of the popular hymn, "Amazing Grace" was a prosperous slave trader.

Ferguson spices his history with juicy bits of gossip, quotes from current journals and newspapers, and even satiric songs of the era. When Cecil Rhodes embarked on war with Lobengula in Matebele, his troops used a new "secret weapon:" the Maxim which could fire 500 rounds a minute. In 1893, in the battle of Shangani River, 1,500 Matebele warriors were killed while only four British died. The English Liberals penned a bitter satire on the victory, which Rhodes' men --- the Chartered Company Volunteers --- then cynically adopted as their anthem:

    Onward Chartered Soldiers, on to heathen lands,
    Prayer books in your pockets, rifles in your hands.
    Take the florious tidings where trade can be done,
    Spread the peaceful gospel --- with a Maxim gun.

    Tell the wretched natives, sinful are their hearts,
    Turn their heathen temples into spirit marts.
    And if to your teaching they will not succumb,
    Give them another sermon with the Maxim gun...

    When the Ten Commandments they quite understand,
    You their Chief must hocus, and annex their land;
    And if they misguided call you to account,
    Give them another sermon --- with a Maxim from the Mount.

Ferguson is the author of The Pity of War and The House of Rothschild. I'll probably be moving on to read them soon but, I have to confess, I'm dragging my feet on Empire. I'm still in the post-WWI period. Why? Because I don't want it to end. It's that good.

--- A. W. Allworthy


[PARADOX-OF-THE-MONTH]

The Spiritual Happiness of the
Sultan of Spain
"I have now reigned about 50 years in victory or peace, beloved by my subjects, dreaded by my enemies, and respected by my allies.

"Riches and honors, power and pleasure, have waited on my call, nor does any earthly blessing appear to have been wanting to my felicity.

"In this situation, I have diligently numbered the days of pure and genuine happiness which have fallen to my lot.

"They amount to fourteen."

--- Abd Er-Rahman III
Sultan of Spain, 10th Century
As quoted in
Secrets of Spiritual Happiness
Sharon Janis
(Cold Spring Press)


Platform for
The California
Governor's Race

Over the last few years, Sacramento has proved itself to be an intolerable drain on state resources. It will be exchanged for Las Vegas which has proved itself over the years to be financially sounder and certainly more fun.

As a further step toward fiscal responsibility, we will appoint John Ashcroft to be head of the California Budget Department. This will have a dual purpose: it will bring a faith-based approach to California's monetary problems and at the same time will get him out of Washington, D.C., a major relief for everybody concerned.

For the same reasons, we will recruit other members of the Bush team to serve here. Donald Rumsfeld will be appointed as state Poet Laureate. Other officials will be brought in to head the California Avocado, Asparagus, Artichoke, Rice, and Table Grape Commissions: Admiral Poindexter at Avocado, Richard Armitage at Artichoke, Dick Cheney at Asparagus, Condalezee Rice at Rice, Paul Wolfowitz at Watercress. This should lead us to a program of energy independence through vegetables.

All flat, hot, dull cities of California --- Oakland, Anaheim, Burbank, Bakersfield, and San Jose --- will be declared a public nuisance and thus ceded to whomsoever will take them.

To solve California's water problem, Darrell Issa and will be drafted as general of the California National Guard with instructions to annex Oregon and Washington for their water, Alaska for its glaciers, and the Yukon Territory as far as Great Bear Lake for its bears.

Because of the major tactical error made in 1848, we will return southern California to Mexico, at no cost. The new California border will run from Half Moon Bay (one Half Moon for the north, the other for the south), thence eastwards dividing Coalinga, Chowchilla, Dinkey Creek, Stovepipe Wells, Lee Vining, and Scotty's Junction, terminating at Pahrump (Pah to the north, Rump to the south).

At the same time, Pittsburgh, California will be returned to Pennsylvania and Loleta, California will be placed off limits to men over forty.

OTHER PLANKS
--- Smog: The California Smog Commission will be empowered to erect plants in large cities to manufacture air. In addition, it will build a series of large fans on the Whipple, Chocolate, and Big Maria Mountains to blow our befouled air into Arizona and Nevada.

--- Puke Politics: The very name may make people think we do not take our electoral processes seriously. Therefore, it will be changed to RALPH POLITICS --- as in "to ralph" because

  1. "Ralph" is more decorous,
  2. It will permit the state to officially commemorate Ralph Waldo Emerson, Ralph Nader, Ralph Kramden, and Ralph Roister-Doister,
  3. RALPH is one of the funniest magazines on the internet.

--- Bilingual Education: To be fair, alternative classes will also be offered in Fulfundi, Igbo, Uzbek, and Tiv.

--- Medical Marijuana: Marijuana will only be permitted to be used after death or dying. This should keep California out of the doghouse with the Justice Department, although one can never be sure.

--- Traffic Congestion: All freeway stoppages and traffic congestion that last more than four hours will be paved over. This will

  • Reduce the number of cars in California,
  • Create 1,000,000 more jobs, and
  • Elevate our highways for better sight-seeing.

--- Fruit and Vegetable Border Checks: The Agricultural Department employees stationed at the borders will be sworn in as part of Homeland Security. This will serve to keep California safe from biologically engineered fruit, vegetables, and animals such as broccoli rabe, the recombinant rutabaga, and any politicians who may wish to clone themselves.


--- J. Gallant
L. W. Milam


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