The Review of Arts, Literature,      
      Philosophy and the Humanities       

The Best of
www.ralphmag.org

Volume Thirty-Seven
[Issues 201 - 204]
Late Fall 2010


A Bomb in Every Issue
How the Short, Unruly Life of
Ramparts Magazine Changed America

Peter Richardson
(The New Press)
People who lived through the 50s and early 60s of the United States have no idea how very dull it was. It was as if the country had blown up into a giant Dubuque. J. Edgar Hoover, John Foster Dulles and awful senators like Pat McCarren of Nevada and Theodore Bilbo of Mississippi ran the whole show.

If you resisted the prospect of nuclear war, the wasteland of America with radioactive cities ... you were considered to be unpatriotic. If you had questions about our involvement in Korea, they'd tap your telephone and audit your 1040. It was a jingoistic mess.

Where could you turn? Well, you could ship out ... as did the blacklisted writers who went to Europe or to Mexico. Or you could seek out the few sympathetic writers and outlets for companionship: The Nation, The New Yorker, Saturday Review, Harper's, The Atlantic Monthly, and, on occasion, The New York Times or The Washington Post.

For those who lived in New York or the Bay Area, there was WBAI or KPFA, but such was the temper of the times that you felt that you should keep the volume down, like the dissidents in France, Germany or Italy who listened to the BBC during WWII.

It was a sad time for the nation, but in 1962, Ramparts magazine appeared on the scene. It was supposed to be a "liberal" Catholic journal, under the aegis of the fretful Edward M. Keating. But under the direction of Robert Scheer and Warren Hinckle, it became one of the great political journals of America. For six or seven years, it ventured into the previously taboo areas: black power, Viet Nam, sexism, the power blocs that ran the nation, ecology, the vices of the CIA, the assassination of JFK, and the draft.

Ramparts did all this with style, flare, and drama. Most importantly, it gave other American magazines and newspapers the information to investigate the wrongs of America. It was a great magazine, it's a great story, and Richardson does it justice ... but with one failing.

He spends too much time on the black power nexus and politics that, at times, ventured beyond the pale. Ramparts featured Eldridge Cleaver, who wrote about Huey Newton and the Black Panther Party with sympathy ... at a time when the blacks scared the hell out of the rest of the world of journalism.

They were an important part of the Ramparts story, but by concentrating on them and their chaos, their saber-rattling, and their various acts of frustration, Richardson is making it hard for the reader to visualize the fine blaze of reason that the magazine represented.

As an old boozer, I recall with special relish the very short-lived Ramparts Weekly, a beautifully produced newspaper (as distinctive in layout and design as The Wall Street Journal). One issue dedicated itself to how to drink while driving. To have your martini while tooling down Interstate Five or Ten, you might have to give up the frosted glass and maybe even the olive. Be sure to have a place under the seat where you could stow the shaker in case of attack (by the Highway Patrol).

And always keep a tube of Pepsodent handy for use before rolling down the window to speak with a representative of the ossifers of the law hic.

--- Robert Eiger


When We Were Countries
is an anthology of "Poems and stories by outstanding high school writers, 2010."
If you need a gauge of the difference between their generation and our own, this is it.
You and I would write stores about our summers at camp
or baseball fantasies or our funny uncle or our wonderful hometown.
These kids are writing about death and drugs and riots and reincarnation.
In this volume of almost two hundred stories and poems,
there is little sentiment ... and much direct comment on the frailties of the world.
It is published by Hanging Loose Press.

When I Die
Dress in black for a month.
Dress in black on my birthday every year.
Bring me flowers to make up for
the roses you didn't get me on my Sweet Sixteen.

Say a prayer for me.
Bend down and kiss my cold cheek.
That is what kissing me on
a February morning would have felt like.

Give my mother a hug.
Don't let any of our friends date my sister.
Teach my brother how to play ball.
Whatever you do, don't talk to my dad.

Keep all the bad love poems
I wrote for you.
Use them to woo your future wife.
Name your daughter after me.

--- Carol Chou

§     §     §

Cremation
He came back
in a perfectly sealed, tan rectangle,
which my mother promptly placed
under the kitchen sink.
There was talk of an urn,
a cool blue,
perhaps in the shape of a dog.
But no one would open the plastic container
to see what was rattling inside
(was it his teeth or what?),
and no one wanted to breathe death
in willingly through the nose
when it is already camped out
on the pullout couch.
So he is under the kitchen sink,
beside the bleach and the 409.
Sometimes I forget
and think he's the toolbox ---
this dog who kept us up at night
with his sweet singing.
--- Pia Aliperti
From When We Were Countries
Poems and Stories by
Outstanding High School Writers
Mark Pawlak et al, Editors
© 2010 Hanging Loose Press


Dining on the B&O
Recipes and Sidelights
From a Bygone Age

Thomas J. Greco
(Johns Hopkins)
Dining on the B&O at first appears to be nothing but a hundred or so recipes from the Baltimore & Ohio Railway's dining cars ... but it is more, far more. It is an excellent window into the dining habits of Americans before they wised up.

There are dishes that you and I wouldn't be caught dead eating today, much less preparing. "Oysters with Macaroni." "Fig Fritters with Almond Sauce." "Creamed Ham and Turkey on Toast." "Corn Bread Pie." "French Peach Pie" (with Meringue.) "Turkey Divan" ("4 tablespoons butter, 4 tablespoons flour, 2 cups turkey stock ... add one cup of milk, one cup of cream and three tablespoons sherry wine ... sprinkle with Parmesan cheese.") Oh my tum.

But oh does it look good. And the prices: On the Royal Blue Line, you could get blue point oyster cocktails, roast beef or broiled black bass, lobster salad, ice-cream, and Roquefort or Edam cheese with crackers ... all for a dollar.

The B&O "was noted for its dining car cuisine and service," Greco tells us. The railroad "believed that if it provided superior dining and impeccable courtesy, it would attract passengers, shippers, and investors." The author reveals that freshly cooked meals were served on all the B&O lines from 1842 until 1971. Then, like all other railroads in the United States, they finally figured it was cheaper to ship pigs rather than serving them fried to the paying customers in the dining-cars.

Since I was very young during the last days of real railroads, I can barely recall the glory days of the club car and dining facilities. I do recall traveling north with my father once or twice on the Seaboard Air Line or the Atlantic Coast Line with the wonderful scenery --- rusty factories, people's back yards filled with junk, rattly bridges over the rivers, clanging railroad crossings, and the telephone lines going up up up ... then bang! battered by the passing pole, swooping down again to pause and pause and rise again.

I recall eating breakfast on that run ... a giant platter of giant hotcakes served in the morning, on the old Silver Meteor. No concerns about sugar in the blood in those days: six or eight hotcakes smothered in melted butter, along with warm maple syrup, six hunks of grease rich bacon and a big cold glass of milk.

Meanwhile --- my father --- to die of congestive heart-failure five years down the line --- was shoveling down four eggs fried in butter with white Merita Bread toast, a plate-full of half-fried bacon strips, along with three cups of coffee laced with heavy cream. Let us mourn his passing ... and the passing of those luxurious trains, and the many guilt-free meals passing through our innocent duodenums.

§     §     §

Dining on the B&O is not only heavily loaded with bad cholesterol, gilt and guilt, it has dozens of pictures and drawings and sample menus, along with nightmare photographs of those heavy fat meals, shot in vulgar color: a plate, for example, crammed with southern fried chicken (four pieces), boiled new potatoes, beets with butter, bacon, and corn fritters. Oh yum. Has anybody seen my heart medicine?

--- C. A. Amantea


[LETTERS]
A Light that Reaches to Heaven
Bible Banners
TO: carlosam25@yahoo.com
carlosamado@yahoo.com
carlosamantea@yahoo.com
carlosamariom@yahoo.com

RE: i'm writing to find love

I greet you

From every human being there rises a light that reaches straight to heaven. And when two souls that are destined to be together find each other, their streams of light flow together, and a single brighter light goes forth from their united being. One would think that no one woman's heart and brain could stand all the things that are crowded into one day. Where do these thousands of thoughts, wishes, sorrows, joys and hopes come from? Day in, day out, the procession goes on. But how light-hearted I was yesterday and the day before when I did not understand what I really want and what for I have to devote my life. It is you, my honey, and my best friend ever, love of my life. Help me to find you www.romantic-love-girls
--- Lenna
baldwin@rickshaw.com

§     §     §

RE: Placing our banner on your site

From: lena.gurin8@gmail.com

To: carlosamantea@yahoo.com

Dear Webmaster,

My name is Lena and I am a member of online marketing team who handles a site that deals with Bible Books, Maps, Biblical Geography and History.

I have visited your website and would like you to consider placing our banner in your website. We are open for other options as well.

Competitive compensation is offered.

An answer would be greatly appreciated.

Please feel free to contact me with any questions.

Best Regards,

--- Lena,
Online marketing team
lena.gurin8@gmail


Hi, Lena:

And thank you for your enquiry.

The editors at this magazine are extremely careful to avoid books that depict gratuitous violence and other anti-social patterns. It is our understanding that the book you wish to advertise extols slavery, incest, and other anti-social acts.

For instance, Deuteronomy 21:18-21 says of a "rebellious son" that he shall be stoned "that he die." Psalm 137:9 speaks of "the happiness of him who doth seize, / And hath dashed thy sucklings on the rock!" In 1 Peter 2:18 we find "Slaves, submit yourselves to your masters with all respect, not only to those who are good and considerate, but also to those who are harsh." Genesis 19:32-36 tells the story of a daughter who "went in, and lay with her father" and

    Thus were both the daughters of Lot with child by their father.

Once you square away these problems, unfortunately, we would still have to forbear "competitive compensation" because ours is a bona fide non-profit organization.

--- Ed


Signs You Are Ovulating
Colors seem brighter.
You start to confuse your elbows
with your chin, your knees.

You find yourself robbing bodegas
during your lunch break.

Nightingales hover inches from your head
when you step outside. The bird shit
is difficult to get out of your hair,
though you try vinegar.

When you come home from a late night
at Bar None, an elephant is waiting
at the subway station to escort you home.

Every night, gods break into your bedroom.
You push away the swan, tie his neck into a knot.
You hide under the bed to get away
from the black bull, who gores
your hello kitty pillow.

Finally, you soak your underwear
in Raid to ward off
the stubborn stream of gold light
that pours in your window
like insistent neon.

In the morning you wake up
to the sound of the possible people
talking softly inside you.
You turn up your radio
to drown out the noise.

As you apply mascara
in the bathroom, your eyes slits,
a crow hops onto your shoulder,
and whispers, right here, now.

--- From Saints & Cannibals
Christine Hamm
©2010 Plain View Press
Box 42255
Austin, Texas 78704


Résistance
A Woman's Journal of Struggle and
Defiance in Occupied France

Agnès Humbert
Barbara Mellor,
Translator

(Bloomsbury)
Résistance is everything you and I could want in an autobiography. The author is a smart, funny, gentle, brave, insightful French woman who ends up in jail for four long years.

In 1941, she and some friends decide to put out a newspaper --- strictly illegal in Nazi-occupied Paris. For them it's a bit of a lark, but then they get caught in a German dragnet. They lock her up, first to Cherchi-Midi prison in Paris ... then ultimately in Germany.

§     §     §

There's prison literature and prison literature. Most of it can be as boring as prison itself. But Résistance is different: Humbert is hardy, foolhardy, smart ... and such a sterling character you want to call her up on the telephone just to tell her to cool it.

She is breath-takingly brave. In her trial, when the prosecutor asks if she knows who wrote the anti-Nazi newspaper, "'Why yes, of course,' I reply, 'I know exactly who wrote it.'"

    "So?" he asks, with an expression of triumph in his evil little eyes like lottery balls. "So...?"

    "So, what would you do in my position?"

He wants her to rat on her soul-mates, that's what he wants, and as he waits for her to do so, he smiles.

"You're smiling, so I'll do the same. I'll smile too."

"You do not want to change your mind in any respect?"

"Absolutely not."

"Well, bringing you here was a complete waste of time, then!"

For almost a year, she's been in a dirty little cell with no vista of trees or streets or greenery of any kind, so she replies that it was not a waste of time at all: "By no means. I saw the place de la Concorde, and I am grateful to you for giving me this pleasure before I leave France." And so she gets shipped off to Germany.

§     §     §

Not only is the writing in Résistance good, we grow quickly to care about Humbert. Fear and curiosity are her constant companions, and they become ours too. She's such a spark that we fear that she's going to get whacked just for being so defiant. We are curious to see just exactly how she survives.

Every book of survival comes with a Moment of Truth. It is the moment one learns what it will entail to survive. In this case, it's that moment when Humbert realizes that despite her good-humor and wit, she is faced with something truly grotesque: jailers that are capable of great and appalling cruelty. It's the moment when she realizes that she is without recourse, that she's in a place of no escape, and those running the show are dyed-in-the-wool, no-kidding, without-a-doubt beasts --- capable of any and all violence, to the body; to the soul.

She (and the reader) get transported to a nightmare world where there is no escape, a world manned by brutes --- the women jailers are equally brutish --- who will deprive you of food and water; who will beat you and kick you if you do not follow their exact (and often insane) orders; who will work you hard for eight or ten or twelve or twenty-four hours. Worst of all, no matter how sweet intelligent or gentle their charges, the enforcers don't give a toot if they live or die.

One of the most painful moments finds Humbert being marched down the streets of a town in Germany to her new prison. There are "other women, ladies on the pavements, who are wearing pretty dresses with an air of spring about them."

    This feeling like sadness that rises in my throat, choking me, is just absurd. Why should we blush at being paraded through the streets of Krefeld like this?

It is because of what she has seen. They pass a dress shop. It has a large mirror, and "I catch sight of myself in it." It's the first time, after being in prison ... beaten, starved, humiliated ... that she has seen herself.

    That old crone, limping along in her preposterous clumping shoes and with her hair scraped into such a grotesque style --- that old crone is me. I have to raise my right hand to convince myself that the reflection in the mirror is really me. Yes, it must be me: the old crone in the dress-shop mirror is holding up her right hand, just like me.

In the previous, pre-Nazi world, Humbert worked in the Musée des Arts et Traditions Populaires in Paris. She was an art historian, wrote a study of the 18th Century artist, Jacques-Louis David.

But in Krefeld, Humbert's job is to work eight to sixteen hours a day, seven days a week, with machines that make artificial rayon.

The machines are described exactly (not unlike the exactitude of David's paintings). They use "viscose," a substance that "looks like buckwheat honey and has the consistence of glycerin," but is viciously poison, produces terrible burns. "Like phosphorus, it sticks to the wounds it causes and is impossible to remove, eating the flesh away to the bone. Usually you do not realize you have been splashed with viscose until you feel the pain. By then it is too late."

Hundreds of women slave laborers spend hours bent over these machines. All of them have suffered burns, their lungs clogged by the poison. They often go blind. Some of her fellow workers drink down the "viscose" just to die and be done with it.

But there is justice (at last!) The British bomb the factory; she silently thanks them. She is then shipped on to Wanfried, Germany.

The warders there are not exactly angels, but it is 1945, everyone knows that the end is near. When the Americans arrive (at last!) who is put in charge in the town? "It is all we can do not to dissolve into giggles. A few days ago we were slave laborers, and today here we are requisitioning buildings in the face of total apathy from the Germans; it is a complete farce."

    We go to the town hall to inform the mayor of what we have done, and to order him to be at Wasserburg at nine o'clock tomorrow morning, bringing with him social workers and nurses, so that they can all receive my instructions (about caring for refugees and the wounded).

It's a stunning ending to a stunning piece of literature. Forgiving? Humbert cements her place in our hearts with her ability to forgive (almost) all. After all this, after all the beatings and gratuitous pain handed out by so many Germans, as she is leaving, at the end of four years as prisoner to the Nazis, she gives a big hug to the mayor of Wanfried. Why? Because after a few weeks getting to know him she knows that he was just another German dolt. She comments, "Who would have thought that one day I would embrace a German, and a member of the Nazi party to boot."


The Best American Travel Writing 2009
Simon Winchester, Editor
(Mariner)
The best writing here comes from the places you'd expect: The New Yorker, National Geographic, Harpers, and Outside. The wordiest comes from just where you expect it, too: The New York Times, The Virginia Quarterly Review, Slate.com, and Ski Magazine, whatever that may be.

Calvin Trillin tells us of the ups and downs of seeking out the best BBQ: "Many Texas barbecue fanatics have a strong belief in the beneficial properties of accumulated grease." Paul Salopek reveals what it's like getting lost in the Sahel, that band of grassland that separates the North African desert from the jungles to the south. He also tells us of watching a flogging:

    Sudanese magistrates in pale blue leisure suits rendered their verdicts according to hudud, the Islamic punitive code, and police meted out sentences on the spot with an ox-hide whip.

"I had never seen anyone flogged before. They forced us to watch."

Matthew Power agrees to go down the Mississippi with an old friend, and gets caught in the paradox of his anarchist buddy, in his raft trying "to escape the strictures of society," but who, it turns out,

    had made himself a property owner, and subject to the same impulses of possessiveness and control as any suburban homeowner with a mortgage and a hedge trimmer.

Within a few days, to coin a phrase, Matthew bails out.

James Dickey's son writes a semi-familial mea culpa for his father making the Chatooga River so famous that the federal government had to step in and declare part of it off-limits ... even to those who live around it. Dickey, Senior, gave us a picture of locals as "violent, inbred rednecks" which, for some reason they resent. One old-timer says "the worst thing that ever happened to this area was that ... that Deliverance."

Dickey, Junior, says,

    Half of me wanted to apologize to him for something...

leaving us trying to figure out which half he is apologizing for: My memory of the movie doesn't cast up any shots of proud, wholesome, fully-all-there mountain folk.

Two stories are from the pen of Patrick Symmes, and both are classics. This includes his trials of building a cabin in lower Argentina ("It's important to have some failures in life") and a captivating tale of getting around forbidden Naypyidaw, the new capital of Burma: even playing golf there. They made him wear a special pink golf shirt which "dyed my belly a sweaty pink."

    On [hole] eight, I took a penalty rather than play my ball off a mound of snake holes.

Frank Bures' article on "penis disappearance" is too weird for words, and Roger Cohen's "The End of the End of the Revolution" in Cuba, does go on endlessly. It's from the New York Times Magazine which often, also, seems to go on endlessly.

--- Lolita Lark


[MORE LETTERS]
RE: Dada Manifesto

To: carlosamantea@yahoo.com

Dear Ms. Lark,

In one of the issues of RALPH magazine, you published a Dada manifesto from January 21, 1921. Could you please tell me where was it published in print?

Thank you in advance for your precious help.

--- Radu Stern
1806 St. Légier
Switzerland

§     §     §

Dear Radu:

Thanks for your email.

Beats the hell out of us. Even Wikipedia can't find it (we tried.) We also looked at listings for the American Dada Association (ADA). Nothing.

Which may be a clue. As you probably know, the word "Dada" was dreamed up by Tristan Tzara. It meant, he said, "nothing."

--- Ed


[GREAT REVIEWS OF THE PAST]
America's Famous and Historic Trees
From George Washington's Tulip Poplar
To Elvis Presley's Pin Oak

Jeffrey G. Meyer
(Houghton Mifflin)

My theory of trees is you plant them and if they don't up and die, then you have a friend for life. My batting average runs about 20-80 --- eg, one out of five that I stick in the ground manages to survive.

I also have this thing about cutting them down, no matter how obnoxious and pushy they become. There's a ficus I planted in my back yard some time ago but in the last few years that son-of-a-bitch has developed huge hairy tap-roots, even though it's a scrawny little runt. If it smells water or sewage within a hundred yards, the mother starts making its way underground stealthily, and soon enough it's hugging your pipes with its hairy arms so that one day you flush the toilet and all comes back like a bad dream.

So I call in Henry the Plumber and he says "The camphor tree again?" and I say "Yes," and he comes out in his 1978 black Suburban packed with wrenches and pipes and anvils and things and he gets down the pick and shovel and digs a trench that would be a credit to the Somme and starts unthreading those King Kong root-hairs from the pipes. He covers it all up again which works fine for a year or so until the toilet starts talking back to us again.

Jeffrey G. Meyer, author of America's Famous and Historic Trees likes trees too, but he does something about it, rather than just bitching at his plumber. He takes his time, wandering around to discover the history of America's older and more gnarly specimens, then he snaps pictures (seventeen here in color) and tells you and me why they are important and how we can plant one just like it or, if we are hungry, how we can use it for our next meal.

Husk black walnuts off your walnut tree, he says, then roast them in the oven for fifteen minutes to make the shells easier to crack. (Put on your gloves to do it; they are black.) Cook them up with wild rice, butter, mushrooms, onion, green pepper and garlic. And while you are about it, put a fence around your walnut tree and hire a Doberman to protect it, because "sawlogs" of black walnut go for $5,000 each and there are people out there who actually go out and kidnap trees while no one is looking.

Meyer, who hales from Jacksonville, has something to say about many historic and lofty trees, including Patrick Henry's Osage Orange (1791), Frederick Douglass' White Oak (1877), Amelia Earhart's Sugar Maple (1897), and Elvis Presley's Pin Oak (1967). [See Presley, Fig. 2 below].

When Meyer went to Graceland, he looked for different things than the rest of us. I'd be checking out the Jungle Room, the Monkey Chair, the Hall of Gold, and Hound Dog II, but Meyer is eyeballing the magnolia, elm, beech and oak along the driveway --- most of all, the Pin Oak (also known as water oak, or Spanish oak).

It is said that as the Presley funeral party passed the tree, one of its branches broke, and fell thrashing, weeping to the ground. (I just stuck in that weeping business.) Meyer explains that it is highly unusual for this to happen because:

    it's a poor self-pruner; the lower branches don't fall off when they die but slowly droop until they wrap around the tree, forming somewhat of a net protecting the trunk below. So the little surprise the pin oak dropped on Elvis' funeral was decided uncharacteristic of this species, and certainly a bit of natural punctuation to the event.

If you want a bit of Graceland in your own backyard, Meyer tells you how exactly how to do it, which includes gathering the pin oak acorns, drying them, moistening them from time to time, and then planting them in potting soil.

There are seventeen tall stories not unlike this one in America's Famous and Historic Trees, with some bodacious and worthy ancient trees pictured --- such as the Treaty Live Oak in Jacksonville. That was where the Timucuan Indians sat to do their treaties, which didn't help much, since all the Indians were able to salvage from their agreements with the whites were the loss of all their land (and trees) and ultimate extinction. The Treaty Oak itself is a beauty: its limbs extended out, resting on the ground, as if it were all tuckered out, weary and sad, from all those broken treaties.

Jacksonville was named for President Andrew Jackson, but before that , it had been called "Cow Ford." It lies at a narrow juncture on the St. John's River, and you could take your Holsteins across at that point and not drown their fool heads in the dark waters of the only northward-flowing river in the United States.

I once wrote the local newspaper, the Florida Times-Union, and pointed out that since Andrew Jackson was such a disreputable boozer, as well as a representative of the new republic who murdered Timucuans and other Indians willy-nilly ... that we would be doing a service to the image of Florida and the nation (not to say Native American history) if we could somehow get the city's name changed back to Cow Ford. Which, when you think about it, isn't such a bad name for a place where the bovines lumbered across the waters so peacefully.

The Florida Times Union, a notoriously stuffy rag, never even replied to my very funny suggestion.

--- L. W. Milam


The Bug Club
There are more than 50 languages spoken in Uganda, but English is the country's official one. However, over the years, Ugandans have made an English that is largely their own, and in doing so have imbued it with poetry and considerable charm, a trait they possess in abundance.

To do something methodically, cautiously, is to do it "slowly by slowly."

"How's there?" is an inquiry as to the general state of things in the place you just came from.

"How's here?" asks about the situation in the place you are standing

And if you want to know how things have been going for someone in the recent past, they will likely respond, "Somehow."

§     §     §

In its glory years of 1959-1960 I was a member of the Hayward Public Library Bug Club. I've always had an affinity for insects. The wonderful woman who ran the Bug Club was Gladys Conklin, the children's librarian. She also wrote children's books --- about bugs. One of them, I Like Bugs, was dedicated to me and a friend, "the 6-year-olds in the Bug Club."

Many years later Mrs. Conklin, which is what I always called her, got Alzheimer's disease. One day the garden gate was accidentally left open and Mrs. Conklin wandered out. She was never seen again.

She would be happy, I think, to know that I am in Africa, which has plenty of bugs. Some are very strange looking and some are very large, others are exquisitely beautiful and some look good to eat. I've dined on the grasshoppers here.

When I lived near Kampala, I had a conversation with Grace, mother of Elijah, about eating insects. It went like this:

Me: I ate some grasshoppers today.

Grace: And...

Me: Pretty good, tasted like almonds.

Grace: I've never had almonds.

Me: They taste like grasshoppers.

Grace: I want to eat a scorpion. They look so good.

Me: But they're poisonous.

Grace: You take the poison part off.

Me: I knew that.

§     §     §

Then there are the bugs that don't get eaten. They get taken for a ride.

Walking home today, I came across two schoolgirls going down the road. As I passed them, I saw that one of the girls had a big grasshopper sitting on top of her head. "Can I take a picture of you and your pet," I asked.

"Her?" she said, pointing up to the grasshopper: "Sure, I forgot she was up there."

I took the shot, showed it to the girls, riotous laughter ensued. I think I heard a tiny snicker come from the grasshopper. Perhaps her name was Mrs. Conklin.

--- Douglas Cruickshank


Glaucoma
Love Poem
Soon you'll be reading to me
Do my banking for me
(Slipping checks past me?)

You'll be my look-out at the beach
Tell me who is passing:
The girls in bikinis,
The boys in muscles,
The old who can still separate dark from light,
And above all, the sun expiring
A turquoise dot at the very edge
Of seeing (that I must no longer see).

You'll drive my car
And not only be my vision
But ears and heart and love.
The visions I once had
When driving alone at night
(When you were driving me mad?)
The great redwoods arching overhead
Who now will pass without my permission.

Don't grieve for me
Don't say "courageous" or "brave;"
Brave only comes to those who have a choice.
Besides they say those without eyes
Can hear every sound.
You'll never escape from me.

You'll read to me for hours a day
The tales I could never see before
With mine own naked eyes:
The Æneid, Dickens, Tolstoi,
The Iliad (Blind Homer!)
Canterbury Tales, Dante
Paradise Found and Lost (Blind Milton!)

You'll lead me by the hand to bed...
A hearth for my cooling ages;
You'll speak to me of the darkening hours:
Ask if my soul is warm, warm enough...
If this night is dark enough...
And the two black coals of the sun.

--- Reneé Gisell


Flawless
Inside the Largest
Diamond Heist in History

Scott Andrew Selby,
Greg Campbell

(Union Square)
    "We make no pretense that we are not
    seeking to manage the diamond market,
    to control supply, to manage
    prices, and to act collusively
    with our partners in the business."

    --- Nicky Oppenheimer, Chairman de Beers
    Consolidated Mining Company, March 1999.
If you are going to write about "the largest diamond heist in history," it should be as breathtaking and as suspenseful as the robbery itself. And Flawless is just that. I picked it up, expecting another yawn story of another yawn great train robbery --- but six hours later, I found myself half-way through the book, rooting (get this!) for Leonardo Notarbartolo and his buddies. After all their preparations --- two years worth --- I wanted them to get the hell in and the hell out of the Diamond Center there in Antwerp, which had been the subject of so many meetings, planning trips, studies, clandestine videos and mock-ups.

I was with them when they were scheming to defeat the double magnets in the vault door, working on how to vitiate the motion and heat sensors, planning on how to unplug the locks into and out of the garage, and wanting to be sure that the two security guards were somewhere else on that fateful night of February 15-16, 2003.

What is it that attracts us to these unlikely rogues from Turin? Perhaps it was their very homeliness: how they liked to spend time in the cafés over their coffee; how attached they were to their families; how they plotted and schemed like the professionals they were; how they protected and gave ultimate trust to each other. Most of all, perhaps it was their vow. "Any thug could stick a gun in someone's face and make off with his money and diamonds, but crooks like that were at the bottom of the food chain... Sans armes, sans haine, et sans violence. (Without guns, without hatred, and without violence.)"

Now that's my kind of thug.

§     §     §

The two authors know their stuff. Like the heist-meisters, they make themselves masters of detail, of timing, of chance ... coming to know the people in the Diamond Center and the detectives who later unraveled everything, getting it all in the right place at the right time.

They follow Notarbartolo into his dingy rented room in Antwerp, go into the Diamond Center with him, to his shabby office ... studying every detail for two years, taking videos of every inch between office, vault and the get-away garage. They artfully add in the other details: the diamond trade as a whole universe, the specifics of Antwerp (historical, contemporary), and --- most important of all --- the brotherhood of the diamantaires. Like the Turin gang, they are loyal, depend on associates' words, utilize family and history to protect each other.

There are so many secrets of the diamond trade revealed here: where they come from, how diamonds are bought and sold based so much on faith --- your word is honored among the diamantaires who all know each other. (You don't screw your brothers ... because they'll never take you back if you do.)

Then there is the matter of the "black" diamonds ... those that don't go on the government books. (It is thought that many that were stolen were never reported to the officials because so many were black.)

There are many more scintillating details here. There are the many blind spots built inadvertently into the Diamond Center. There is the construction of the big safe itself, with its great LIPS vault door. There are explications of how to undo the massive magnets in the door, the ones that contain alarms that go directly to off-site security offices.

There are the ways a motion and heat detector operate --- and how to defuse them (with hair spray!) There is, most of all, the delicate tension in spending time finding the weak links: you work like the diamond insurance security people; you seek the flaws. If you want to get into the safe after hours, you forge your tools and take advantage of luck and fearlessness (and holidays: it was Valentine's Day weekend ... a diamond's best friend).

And if you blow it, it is because you forgot one tiny detail: in this case, after you and your gang spend six hours in the vault (at night and on the weekends, the cameras lie unattended), looting 109 safe-deposit boxes with the most exotic tools possible, and, then, as you make your way out of the vault, out of the garage, onto the street, out of Antwerp, out of Belgium, you don't think of the one simple flaw: that one of your operatives will dump all the refuse of your job --- bags and bags --- in a place that will be discovered within a few hours, and after a mere twelve hours, the Diamond Police will be on your ass. You can be fast and precise and careful, but with one mistake they are on your case.

It's a rich story, in every sense of the word, and if you ever want to do a diamond heist, let me suggest that you read Flawless. It will at least advise you on how to discard your sandwiches (eat them all up: they contain your DNA), your receipts (with their names and addresses and dates; burn them) and your rubber gloves (DNA too).

After a few hours with Flawless, you will certainly be prepared. Especially for the day when you bust out of the garage, go back to the apartment with your cache of diamonds, "so many that their weight strained the seams of the bag."

    They were poured carefully onto the rug. There were thousands of rough and polished diamonds. They picked up some emeralds which they threw away. "Even though this little collection of emeralds still had some value ... at that moment, in comparison to what else they had, it was rubbish. It's like having an envelope with tens of thousands of dollars and one with small coins," said one investigating detective.
--- Richard Saturday


Oscar Wilde in America
The Interviews
Matthew Hofer,
Gary Scharnhorst
Editors

(University of Illinois)
Oscar Wilde spent a year in the United States in 1882. He traveled from Boston to San Francisco and all points in between to preach arts and aesthetics and beauty and culture. He gave 150 lectures, in towns great and small, and claimed to have reached 200,000 people.

He also gave a hundred or so interviews to magazines and newspapers. There are forty-eight reprinted here, including ones published in such disparate journals as the New York Tribune, Philadelphia Inquirer, Boston Globe, Dayton Daily Democrat and the Halifax Morning Herald.

The fascinating thing for those of us in the 21st century is not the diversity of the writing, but its sameness. It is as if the writers had studied at the Victorian School of Uniform Journalism, reporting, dutifully, how they got up to his room, what Wilde looked like, what he was eating and drinking and wearing, how his face looked, how he lounged back on his bear-skin rug, how many cigarettes he smoked, his hair.

The questions they asked? It is almost as if they had also been given The Uniform Script: "What do you think of America?" "Why do you love sunflowers?" "What do you think of American artists?" "What do you think of America?"

But there is Wildean fun here, along with a fascinating undercurrent. Every one of his interviewers, it seems, in their portraits of him, made use of the word "feminine" or "effeminate." One speaks of his "lisp." The Rocky Mountain News reporter said

    His face is long and oval in shape. He wears no beard or mustaches, his mouth is rather large and the lips are full and as bright colored as a girl's.

Obviously Wilde's reputation had preceded him. He had been subject to ridicule in Gilbert & Sullivan's operetta "Patience," where he appeared as --- spare us --- "Bunthorne." Obviously, long before 1953 (the date of the introduction of the world "gay" to our culture), America was waking up to the fact that there were men who lived by a different set of rules, and they (or at least one of them) were not shy and slim and retiring, hiding away. All reporters spoke with a certain anxiety if not puzzlement at Wilde's manly, six-foot frame.

Some of these reports carry an undertone of menace, and some a genuine pleasure in visiting with him. The ideas that Wilde expounded, and the reporters' view of him --- filtered through these reporters' words --- give us a peek into the late 19th century vision of those who are exotically if not dangerously different from your Victorian navvy.

Once in Wilde's hotel room, the reporter for the Charleston News and Courier "caught himself whistling the refrain which has of late become so popular,"

    Oscar dear, Oscar dear,
    How utterly, flutterly utter you are;
    Oscar dear, Oscar dear,
    I think you are awfully wild, ta-ta.

And Wilde responded to his all-to-obvious gay-baiting by making a pointed answer to a question about "the love of the beautiful:" "I wish all other speculations were as harmless and as innocent." (The reporter states: "this was a propos of nothing.")

Another reporter, from the Halifax Morning Herald, is obviously smitten with Wilde, finds him "communicative and genial." Like all reporters, he notes Wilde's hair falling to his shoulders, which "when not looked after goes climbing all over his features." The poet uses the opportunity to talk about Americans who have managed to irk him: "I came out here, never having spoken in public in earnest about my message, strongly feeling what I was saying, and I talked seriously to those people."

    They heard me and went away and talked about my necktie and the way I wore my hair. I could not understand how people could do such a thing.
They say that Wilde was one of the world's all-time great conversationalists, that to hear him was to be smitten with him. Obviously, some of these reporters had steeled themselves because of his style, his ingratiating manner ... and their own fears.

To those who were respectul, he opened up. We must regret that in the year 1882 there were no tape recorders nor DVDs so we could get to hear this nimble, playful, articulate, charming in-your-face aesthete express himself in his own words, with his own Irish/Oxonian accent.

Still, there are here enough of the Wildeisms that we can get a taste of his wit:

  • When asked about his "private life," he said, "I wished I had one."
  • On being questioned about what he would speak about when he gave his lecture on "The Decoration of Houses," he replied, "Well, it wouldn't be fair to tell you before I delivered my lecture. The subject covers an immense amount of ground, and I shall begin with the door-knocker and go to the attic. Beyond that is Heaven, and I shall leave that to the Church."
  • On the Mississippi: "I think no well-behaved river would overflow as it has done, though I am quite willing to admit its beauty."
  • When he received a telegram asking to lecture on aesthetics in Griggsville, Illinois, he responded, "Begin by changing the name of your town."
  • When asked about his visit to Colorado, he said, "I spent a night in a silver mine. I dined with the men down there. They were great, strong, well-formed men, of graceful attitude and free motion. Poems everyone one of them. A complete democracy underground. I find people less rough and coarse in such places. There is no chance for roughness. The revolver is their book of etiquette."

And finally, after heading home: "America is the only country that went from barbarism to decadence without civilization in between."

As we read of him here, we would be remiss not to note that, despite the harsh prejudices of the times, he was courageous, willing to meet all comers, no matter how hostile, saying, "next to a staunch friend, the best thing that a man can have is a brilliant enemy."

We also can't help thinking of the tragedy that was to come, fed by his astounding pride. In a mere thirteen years, he would be overwhelmed by British Puritan moral code, laws enacted to destroy lives that many thought repulsive. His punishment would to strip him of everything --- money, power, fame, joy, and, they say, most tragically, his wit.

He would languish in Reading Gaol for two years, such that when he was released in 1897, he was a spectre, with only three years left to live, going off, most pathetically, with the man who had helped to destroy him.

--- C. A. Amantea


[READING]
The Dark Diceman
Just by imagining the clump it seemed to me that I could hear whispers secret surges smell the beating of hot blood under wild unsecret flesh watching against red eye-lids the swine untethered in pairs rushing coupled into the sea

and he we must just stay awake and see evil done for a little while its not always

and i it doesnt have to be even that long for a man of courage

and he do you consider that courage

and i yes sir dont you

and he every man is the arbiter of his own virtues whether or not you consider it courageous is of more importance than the act itself than any act otherwise you could not be in earnest

and i you don't believe i am serious

and he i think you are too serious to give me any cause for alarm you wouldn't have felt driven to the expedient of telling me you have committed incest otherwise

and i i wasn't lying

and he you wanted to sublimate a piece of natural human folly into a horror and then exorcise it with truth

and i it was to isolate her out of the loud world so that it would have to flee us of necessity and then the sound of it would be as though it had never been

and he did you try to make her do it

and i i was afraid to i was afraid she might and then it wouldnt have done any good but if i could tell you we did it would have been so and then the others wouldnt be so and then the world would roar away

and he and now this other you are not lying now either but you are still blind to what is in yourself to that part of general truth the sequence of natural events and their causes which shadows every mans brow even benjys you are not thinking of finitude you are contemplating an apotheosis in which a temporary state of mind will become symmetrical above the flesh and aware both of itself and of the flesh it will not quite discard you will not even be dead

and i temporary

and he you cannot bear to think that someday it will no longer hurt you like this now were getting at it you seem to regard it merely as an experience that will whiten your hair overnight so to speak without altering your appearance at all you wont do it under these conditions it will be a gamble and the strange thing is that man who is conceived by accident and whose every breath is a fresh cast with dice already loaded against him will not face that final main which he knows before hand he has assuredly to face without essaying expedients ranging all the way from violence to petty chicanery that would not deceive a child until someday in very disgust he risks everything on a single blind turn of a card no man ever does that under the first fury of despair or remorse or bereavement he does it only when he has realized that even the despair or remorse or bereavement is not particularly important to the dark diceman

and i temporary

and he it is hard believing to think that a love or a sorrow is a bond purchased without design and which matures willynilly and is recalled without warning to be replaced by whatever issue the gods happen to be floating at the time no you will not do that until you come to believe that even she was not quite worth despair perhaps

and i i will never do that nobody knows what i know

and he i think youd better go on up to cambridge right away you might go up into maine for a month you can afford it if you are careful it might be a good thing watching pennies has healed more scars than jesus

and i suppose i realize what you believe i will realize up there next week or next month

and he then you will remember that for you to go to harvard has been your mothers dream since you were born and no compson has ever disappointed a lady

and I temporary it will be better for me for all of us

and he every man is the arbiter of his own virtues but let no man prescribe for another mans wellbeing

and i temporary

and he was the saddest word of all there is nothing else in the world its not despair until time its not even time until it was

--- From The Sound and the Fury
©1956 William Faulkner


A Colossal Failure of Common Sense
The Incredible Inside Story of
The Collapse of Lehman Brothers

Larry McDonald, Patrick Robinson
(Ebury Press)
You want to know who to blame for credit crash of 2008 - 2009? Well, among others, it would be Richard S. Fuld, Jr., Alan Greeenspan, and Bill Clinton.

Fuld? He was the Chairman of the Board of Lehman Brothers right up there to the end, when the whole thing bobbled over, taking him with it, but leaving behind for his troubles some $31,000,000 in bonuses (for 2007) and four houses.

Greenspan? You remember him ... the guy with the smelly cigar and the jowls, peering out at you from the TV, the head of the Federal Reserve, the guy who as of June 30, 2003 set the price of money so low --- 1% --- that anybody and his mother could get a loan.

Clinton? He should have known better. After all, he did get a degree in PP&E (philosophy, politics, and economics) from the College of the Great Hall of the University of Oxford England. Despite that, in 1999, he signed a bill to repeal the Glass-Stegall Act, the depression-era law that separated investment banks from commercial banks.

By getting rid of Glass-Stegall, investment banks would no longer be forbidden from using customers' money (your money, my money) for foolish gambles in funny money ... "derivatives" known in the trade as CDOs, CLOs, RMBSs, SIVs, LBOs, MBSs. All being paper cooked up by those guys on the third floor at Lehmans, along with others at Goldman Sachs, American Express, Citibank, Bank of America.

The whole mess started with NINJAs --- loans for those with no income, no job, no assets, loans to people with nothing to pay back the loans on their houses, which were then bundled together to sell to the sheep out there, all stacked with AAA credit ratings from the big-three rating agencies (Moody's, S&P, Fitch).

§     §     §

All this muckery is explained with great clarity by author Larry McDonald. He started off as a hot-shot trader in "debt instruments" (bonds, convertibles) at Lehman a decade before the sky fell in. Did he love his work? He claims that he looked up at the Lehman Building at 575 - 7th Avenue in Manhattan with tears as he come to his first day on the job at 6 a.m (you have to be an early-riser to buy and sell stocks and bonds).

Tears, too, on his last day of work, when he got shitcanned, shortly before everything fell apart. How much longer would he have been willing to work there. "1,000 years" he tells us ... again, wet in the eyes. These guys do get moist.

Colossal Failure is a gripper from start to finish, and I couldn't get it out of my hands (nor off my mind). Why? It has all you need for a good novel, a novel with strange characters like Fuld, Greenspan, Timothy F. Geithner (Secretary of the U. S. Treasury) and Ben Bernanke, Present Chairman of the U. S. Federal Reserve ... and possibly Larry McDonald the author himself.

How much did he love trading? Well, he only mentions the fact, and then only as a one sentence aside, that during the time he worked for Lehman (and on this book) he did, it turns out, get married, and that it lasted but a year. Obviously, as my psychiatrist would say, a guy "who divorced his family and married his job."

If you want to know what caused the demise of credit in one of the biggest bubbles in the history of finance and investments, this could be it. McDonald is excellent at spelling out the differences between weird stuff like CDOs (collateralized debt obligations) and CLOs (collateralized loan obligations).

You want to know about "commercial paper?" Look no further than page 258.

    Commercial paper is the quickest, cheapest, and easiest way for them [blue chip corporations] to raise a fast loan that is not regulated by the SEC.

These loans, he tells us, are good for thirty to forty days. You and I need not apply.

And here you can find out the difference between a million and a billion dollars: "$1 million stacked up in $100 bills is a couple of feet high. A billion is more than three times as high as the Washington Monument."

One of the reasons that I couldn't put this one down has to do with the fact that I've suffered so gravely in the stock market. See these scars? Scar #1 is because when I am long and the stock "falls out of bed" (in the parlance of the market) I get scared ... then I get snookered. Thus, I bought Red Hat (I thought I knew "open source" software) when it went from 10 to 8 and I bailed out (now it's at 31).

Scar #2 is because I didn't have a clue about what I was doing. I find from reading this book is that if you want advice from Wall Street, you have to do one thing. Be rich. All the high-priced advice from the experts at Lehman (fixed income, convertibles, distressed-debt, high-yield credit, emerging markets) you have to have the do-re-mi. Then they come to you (one of McDonald's jobs was to visit very wealthy clients across the country, tell them the latest in Lehman's in-depth research).

And the duplicity! Evidently Lehman's books were cooked right there at the end: they had off-shore accounts in the Caymans. That's where you stick your "debt instruments" that you don't want anyone to know about.

Finally, there is the matter of tears. McDonald sprang a few when he got his job, a few more when he lost it. Those other characters he worked with did some tearing up when they got fired or there at the end when the ship went down. You thought they were crying because they loved their great old company (born in 1844 or so). Nonsense.

They were weeping because as the ship went down, so did much if not most of their assets, what they call golden handcuffs, stock and options handed out to them when the company stock was trading in the 60s and 70s, stock not to be sold until a certain date down the line, too late alas, as the whole beanbag began to tumble, now their assets plummeting to zilch. I'd be crying, too.

--- Sarah Weaver


Lonely Planet's
Best Ever Travel Tips
Tom Hall, Editor
(Lonely Planet)

Travel Tips offers ten sections, including "Money," "Health," "Safety & Security" and even "Eco-Travel." Some of the suggestions are obvious. Hide a few dollars in your belt in case you get robbed. Backpacks can get ripped off, but even more tempting is your laptop. The best advice is to disguise it --- wrap it up in a paper bag or one of your articles of clothing. Crucial documents --- passports, visas, licenses --- should be scanned and uploaded to a "web-based email or file hosting service."

This book weighs in at a modest 100 pages, and all of the pages have a hole at the top. In fact, the whole booklet looks like the tag wired to the handle of your grandfather's trunk just before it got turned over to Railway Express.

Here are some of the more interesting suggestions to be found in Travel Tips:

  • The CIA world factbook "is an accidentally great reference tool for every country in the world." Find it at
    www.cia.gov/library/publications/the-world-factbook
  • Try for free wi-fi at airports by finding a wall adjoining an airport lounge --- you can often pick up wi-fi signals intended for elite flyers inside.
  • The cardinal rule [on street food] is that heat makes things safe. If it's hot food then it matters much less what else is going on .... If you've seen it come out of the fire, it may be more reliable than what comes out of the kitchen of a five-star hotel.
  • Seeing movies in foreign countries is better than taking a break watching sport on TV back in your hotel room. How else will you know [for example] that if only a few people show up in some Vietnamese cinemas they will be expected to sit in the same row, side by side?
  • And this revelation by Frances Gordon, Lonely Planet author, on travelling alone: After a friend backed out on a journey considered by her father to be "too dangerous for two young females,"

      I went and I learned a secret I have never forgotten: solo female travellers attract far many more kindnesses, invitations and favours than sole male travellers or groups.

    One piece of advice in Travel Tips I found to be not so bright: "It's perfectly feasible to call your doctor at home for a diagnosis or second opinion over the phone." Right. When I am home, I have to book this guy six to eight weeks ahead of time: he'll be just sitting in his office there at the in-patient clinic waiting for my call from Ouagadougou asking why I can't hold down my latest meal of fried plantains. Good luck.

--- Richard A. C. Greene


Chroma
A Book of Color
Derek Jarman
(Minnesota)
Chroma consists of nineteen essays on the seven primary colors, plus gray, white and black ... although technically white isn't a color (being all of them) and black is no color at all (being the absence of light and color.) He slips in silver and gold (and alchemy), offers a chapter on perspective, shadow and light, translucence, and iridescence.

The writing is choice, precise, and shows a wonderful inquisitive mind, one that is not only painterly, but scientifically, if not philosophically inclined --- with appropriate quotes from da Vinci, Goethe, Morienus, Albers, Wittgenstein, along with droll comments on arts, artists, and tastes. Such as, "I once met an excited Frenchman in a supermarket; he had packed a dozen loaves of white sliced bread for his friends in Paris."

Or, noting that the ancients painted their statues with various bright colors, "All the ancient monuments are ghostly white, the statues of Greece and Rome were washed of their colours by time. So when the Italian artists revived antiquity, they sculpted in white marble unaware that their exemplars were once polychrome."

"Into the Blue" is perhaps the most interesting chapter, for after comments on "once in a blue moon" and the "Pictish Britons" who painted themselves blue, suddenly Jarman himself injects himself into the reverie: "I step into a blue funk." Then,

    The doctor in St Bartholomew's Hospital thought he could detect lesions in my retina --- the pupils dilated with belladonna --- the torch shone into them with a terrible blinding light.

Jarman has AIDS, so, when we get to the color blue, the book on painting and light and color takes a pause to live with him living near St Bartholomew's. "The virus rages fierce. I have no friends now who are not dead or dying. Like a blue frost it caught them. At work, at the cinema, on marches and beaches. In churches on their knees, running, flying silent or shouting protest."

Jarman is going blind. He calls AIDS "A sense of reality drowned in theatre."

    I caught myself looking at shoes in a shop window. I thought of going in and buying a pair, but stopped myself. The shoes I am wearing at the moment should be sufficient to walk me out of life.

The University of Minnesota Press published Chroma this year, but Jarman died, in a sad and blue funk, in 1994.

--- Lolita Lark


[READING]
Masaccio's Madonna:
The Page Three Girl
The underpainting of many Renaissance paintings is green, which gobbles up the pink, so the face of Masacccio's Madonna has taken on the green hue of a ghost. She holds the tough little Messiah on her knee, while he reaches out to seize a bunch of purple grapes. She is sitting on a bishop's throne of marble, from behind which peeping perspective angels peer at us. There is no more maternal Madonna.

What is maternal? Practical, perhaps? You can see that she could get angry with this child, and you can imagine her boxing its ears. She is not one of Rapael's or Botticelli's Parisian models, more a Page Three Girl with a green face, who has to work hard at some other job. In spite of the mistreatment, her son could grow up a treat. Even though her husband Joseph is not his father and is not in the picture. Is this a one-parent family that contradicts all of the unattainable ideals?

--- From Chroma
Derek Jarman
©2010, University of Minnesota Press


Let's Get Free
A Hip-Hop Theory of Justice
Paul Butler
(The New Press)
It all starts out with Paul Butler being arraigned in court --- despite the fact that he's a federal prosecutor there in the District of Columbia. His arrest (for threatening an old lady) raises eyebrows, but is a great device for getting the rest of us involved in the primary thesis of Let's Get Free.

That is, that America is drowning in law-and-order. 14,000,000 Americans are arrested every year. Over 500,000 people are currently in jail for non-violent drug offenses. By putting them in prison, we expose them to professional, often violent criminals. The result: more violence.

    Department of Corrections data show that about a fourth of those initially imprisoned for nonviolent crimes are sentenced for a second time for committing a violent offense.

"Whatever else it reflects, this pattern highlights the possibility that prison serves to transmit violent habits and values rather than reduce them."

Butler doesn't like the American Way of Prisons. Nor does he like the fact that "Since 1989 more people have been incarcerated for drug offences than for all violent offences combined." He also doesn't like prosecutors --- although he was one himself (and, apparently, a very successful one). He also doesn't like snitches, reveals that Anthony Tait, a member of the Hell's Angels, "made almost one million dollars for three years worth of snitching for the FBI."

What does Butler like? Despite the fact that most of us find it altogether too noisy, he is in love with something called hip-hop. He quotes from Angie Stone, "To everyone of y'all behind bars/You know that Angie loves you." There are also the Lost Boyz, whoever they may be, who sing "To all my peoples in the pen, keep ya head up."

    This kind of warm acknowledgment of the incarcerated is commonplace in hip-hop, and virtually unheard of in other popular cultures, which largely ignore the more than two million Americans in prison.

When hip-hop artists sing of their brothers in prison, it just isn't words: black family members --- fathers, brothers, sons --- are almost a third more likely to be sent to prison than whites. People like Nas are thus singing through a culture war: "If I ruled the world, imagine that.../I'd free all my sons, I'd love 'em..."

The other side of American society that Butler loves are jurors. This affection was born of his experience working with cases in the District of Columbia where retired people --- many of them black --- would appear for jury duty, "dressed up like they were going to church." He also has a plan for future jurors, a plan that some might find disturbing ... although perfectly legal (it's lodged in the Constitution, hidden, like most of the slavery clauses, behind a few innocent words).

In the fourth chapter of Let's Get Free, Butler comes up with the central tenet of his revolutionary idea, one known in the legal trade as "nullification."

All juries have the power to "disregard the law." If they don't like the statute they are supposed to enforce, or if they think the law unjust, or if they think the prosecutor is a stinker, all juries in the United States --- federal, state, or local --- have the right to set the accused free, no matter what the judge or the prosecutors say. He experienced this himself when working for the other side.

The juries would look at "this young man in chains," and their thoughts would not be "criminal." They would be with other similar young men "who helped the old lady next door take her groceries up four flights of stairs..." Or they would remember "when he was ten years old and so excited because his daddy was going to pick him up and he waited on the porch, and waited, and his father never came." Those memories are crucial to trials, he says, regardless of the law.

The system responds to legislative fiat "by locking young men in a cage. But for once these jurors had some power over the law, and when they got a little power they used it the best way they knew how."

Most of us don't know about nullification; in fact in some states it is illegal for attorneys or judges to reveal it to us. But it's part of the Constitution, and Butler wants us all to use it when we get called up for jury duty. He thinks juries can thus say "enough" to unjust and arbitrary laws and sentencing and prosecutorial misconduct built on cases created by snitches.

"Nullification is the new-school form of civil disobedience," he says. He even has a special name for those who have the power to put an end to arbitrary prosecution and courts gone wild. He calls them "Martin Luther King jurors."

--- E. W. Washington


[GREAT POEMS OF THE PAST]
The River Merchant's Wife:
A Letter
While my hair was still cut straight across my forehead
I played about the front gate, pulling flowers.
You came by on bamboo stilts, playing horse,
You walked about my seat, playing with blue plums.
And we went on living in the village of Chokan:
Two small people, without dislike or suspicion.

At fourteen I married my Lord you.
I never laughed, being bashful.
Lowering my head, I looked at the wall.
Called to, a thousand times, I never looked back.

At fifteen I stopped scowling,
I desired my dust to be mingled with yours
For ever and for ever and for ever.
Why should I climb the look out?

At sixteen you departed,
You went into far Ku-to-yen, by the river of swirling eddies,
And you have been gone five months.
The monkeys make sorrowful noises overhead.

You dragged your feet when you went out.
By the gate now, the moss is grown, the different mosses,
Too deep to clear them away!

The leaves fall early this autumn, in wind.
The paired butterflies are already yellow with August
Over the grass in the west garden;
The hurt me. I grow older.
If you are coming down through the narrows of the river Kiang,
Please let me know beforehand,
And I will come out to meet you
    As far as Cho-fu-sa.

--- Riyuku
Translation ©1936, Ezra Pound


[GREAT REVIEWS OF THE PAST]
The Last of the Mohicans
James Fenimore Cooper
Robertson Dean, Reader
(Books on Tape)
I remember the 1945 film version well because it went on endlessly ... some thirteen or fifteen episodes ... but since we didn't have television in those days what better way to spend the hot Florida Wednesday afternoon than in the high-ceilinged room watching a movie of men going about spying on lovely ladies in long dresses ... faces heavy with paint (both ladies and Indians).

The Indians wore buckskin and carried tomahawks. When they were not skulking about the woods they crept up on the palefaces in their large dark forts. All this came to us in black, dark gray, gray, light gray, or white ... for the world, at least the wild world of ERPI Classroom Films, all was but black and white.

We never could figure out where the plot was going, nor why. And now and so it is, I find out, with the book itself. Maybe more so. There are dozens of tribes represented here --- Mohicans, Hurons, Delaware, Lenape, Mingos, Mengwe --- and they are all at war with the French, or the English, or with each other, but never with the forest; only the palefaces have trouble with the forest; they certainly cannot read its signals.

The vocabulary of this novel is the one that built Cowboy-and-Indian of our youth: tomahawks, happy hunting grounds, redskins, pale-faces, hawk-eyes, wampum, forked-tongue, scalping, totems, wigwams. Every wheeze that blew through the lore was engendered by Fenimore Cooper, a man who just couldn't stop cooking up these stories (there are not only the five Leather-Stocking tales but some thirty other books that he spawned in his long, wordy life).

It is 1757. You and I and the characters are scrambled up in the French and Indian Wars of the period. Immediately after the massacre at Fort William Henry, lovely, long-tressed Cora and her lovely sister Alice find themselves kidnapped by a Very Bad Man ... a Huron by the name of Magua. Demon Rum --- supplied by the Dutch --- has made him Bad. And Mad. By hook or by crook, he plans to get Cora into his teepee.

He takes the two of them up somewhere between the Adirondacks and the Green Mountains to his tribal home north of Valcour Island. They are being tracked by sharpshooter Hawk-eye and his faithful Delaware Indian companions Chingachgook and Unca, the last being the last of the saintly Mohicans. There is also a not-too-bright English soldier, Duncan Heyward (beloved of Alice), and a bumbling teacher named David who comes along for comic relief and may be Fenimore Cooper's version of a gay, 18th-Century musician.

It is a long, arduous journey, ending up at a huge tribal meeting of the Delawares where the fate of the ladies and their kidnapper will be decided.

Cooper's language can be as long and as arduous as the journey. Here is an example, taken from the council of Indians:

    In a collection of so serious savages, there is never to be found any impatient aspirant after premature distinctions, standing ready to move his auditors to some hasty, and, perhaps, injudicious discussion, in order that his own reputation may be the gainer. An act of so much precipitancy and presumption, would seal the oldest and most experienced of the men to lay the subject of the conference before the people. Until such a one chose to make some movement, no deeds in arms, no natural gifts, nor any renown as an orator, would have justified the slightest interruption.

At one point, it is put to Tamenund, the 100-year-old chief, as to whether the villainous Magua will be allowed to take Cora for his squaw-lady. The chief declares, "Girl, what wouldst thou! A great warrior takes thee to wife. Go --- thy race will not end." Saucy Cora shakes her long dark locks, breathes deeply with her lovely white bosom, and lets Tamenund know what she thinks of that idiot idea: "Better, a thousand times, it should," exclaimed the horror-struck Cora, "than meet with such a degradation!"

The old Indian turns to Magua: "Huron, her mind is in the tents of her fathers. An unwilling maiden makes an unhappy wigwam." An unhappy wigwam!

    Magua advanced, and seized his captive strongly by the arm; the Delawares fell back, in silence; and Cora, as if conscious that remonstrance would be useless, prepared to submit to her fate without resistance.

"Hold, hold!" cries Duncan, the dullbulb Englishman. Colonialist that he is, he offers "gold, silver, powder, lead --- all that a warrior needs, shall be in thy wigwam. Her ransom shall make thee richer than any of the people were ever yet known to be."

But Magua, knowing a good thing when he has it in hand, can't be bought: "he wants not the beads of the pale-faces." He moves to pull Cora off into the sunset and into his teepee, to whatever ghastly fate awaits her there.

Fortunately, the last of the Mohicans, Unca, declares war on Magua and follows the two into the forest, and before the Huron can force Cora into unspeakable (if not primitive) acts, kills him ... and dies in the process. So much for redskins who want to live above their station.

It is, as I say, easy to make fun of Fenimore Cooper. His characters have more names than you might find in a Tolstoi novel. The brave scout Natty Bumppo (sic!) is also known as "Leatherstocking," by the Indians as "the Long Gun," "Pathfinder," "Deerslayer," or "Hawkeye." The characters are forever winding themselves up in speeches that go on to such length that they threaten to disappear in the forest amongst the moss and woodpeckers. (Characters are also, without any shame whatsoever, ejaculating: "'The Lenape are rulers of their own hills,' he ejaculates.")

Still, it is not unpleasant to roam the forests with Hawkeye and Unca, chasing after poor Cora and Alice. The reading we have here is by Robertson Dean, and it is a dilly: measured, well-paced, even regal. The Last of the Mohicans was published in 1826, in the days before books came to be more commonly available. They were written to be read aloud, preferably to the kids, safely under the covers, at bedtime. With this Books on Tape version, you are there, in bed, or driving the car, or, best, in the silent baleful forest, as much a character in this book as Chingachgook and son Unca and the brave, clear-eyed, ringlet-infested Cora, half black, it turns out (she was born on a Caribbean isle to a slave mother). She is certainly no slouch in the stout-heart department: at one point, Leather-stocking ejaculates, "I would I had a thousand men, of brawny limbs and quick eyes, that feared death as little as you!"

    I'd send the jabbering Frenchers back into their den again, afore the week was ended, howling like so many fettered hounds, or hungry wolves.
--- Marianne Wescott, PhD


[GREAT LETTERS OF THE PAST]
The Dominican Republic,
Lies and History, and
The Fessenden Review
RALPH:
I don't like the comments about the men in Dominican Republic ... so what if they brag and have time in there hands to attend to cock-fighting and chomp cigars. That is none of your concern and don't worry about other people's culture and way of life get your own and, by the way, Americans don't have any culture or real historic background. Why don't you write about that? You can title it the fantasy American world how Americans made up history.
--- Milengua
milengua@worldnet
The review that inspired this letter can be found at
www.ralphmag.org/dominican.html


Subject: Please take this site off the web

RALPH:

I am a history teacher. First of all this is simplifying history. Putting down so many american lives to two songs per war is ridiculous.

I do not know if you realize this, but

$950,000,000,000,000,000,000,000

exceeds the worlds supply of money. Do not put this information out, because students may look at this information and take it as fact.

Additionally, Not all soldiers want to just go to war. Some soldiers want to serve their nation, or find a better life for themselves.

Expand your wine savvy and get some great new recipes at MSN Wine.

http://wine.msn.com
--- Tom Washington
tomwashington@XXX.com


Hello hello hello!

>I don't know what has been wrong with me all these long years that I have been on-line and never once did a search on The Fessenden Review, but today, I finally came to my senses.

Good. We wish we could come to our senses too.

>I am so absolutely ecstatic to have found you! I was a loyal subscriber to TFR and still have every edition.

Someday, surely, they will be auctioning them at Southbys. Or at the near-by Veterans' Thrift Store.

> I must catch-up on almost a decade of RALPH.

We hope you are able to. We can hardly remember the issue from last week.

>Welcome back and where do I send the check!

Best to send it to us, not to The New Yorker.

--- Nikki
KuriousNik@earthlink.net


Hi there:

I'm from Hotdog film magazine in the UK, and we're after a little picture of Fatty Arbuckle for one of our features. There is a great one on your site of him with police card --- credited to the Bison Archives. I can't find a website or contact details for Bison Archive or Marc Wanamaker --- could you pass them on to me please? Or even better would we be able to use the image on your site as long as we credited him? It's quite urgent because of deadlines so please let me know.

--- Thank you for your time,
Janine Kay, Picture Editor
janine@paragon.co.uk

§     §     §

Dear Janine:

We are agog that there is a magazine around called HOTDOG. We thought RALPH was pretty silly because back in college, "to ralph" meant "to upchuck." There's no accounting for taste in either direction, is there?

Anyway, we borrowed the mug shots of Fatty from the San Francisco Museum, at

www.sfmuseum.org/photos15/fatty.jpg

I think they would appreciate your giving them credit and if you are really a hotdog, we would like a bit of credit ourselves if there is any room left there between the relish and the pickles.

--- Ed


Beaning Mr. Kopex
Coach Tinker said, "What I'm trying to instill in these individuals is to want a bigger pie," and he leaned in even closer and looked at Mr. Kopex's foot, which had blossomed like an orchid. "You might want to tape that," he said. "Keep moving it around so it doesn't stiffen up on you."

Presently Mr. Speers and the student trainer eased themselves under Mr. Kopex's arms and began to walk him very slowly back in the direction of school.

Tinker had another quick look at the circle Mr. Kopex had drawn in the dirt, then scrubbed it out with his shoe and turned away from the world of geometry and all its inhabitants. He clapped his hands and blew his whistle. "Let's go, let's go, move it..."

Tinker could not stand to waste practice time.

And all around Spooner the throwing and catching resumed, and Russell Hodge pounded the plate again and cocked the bat and waited for Spooner to feed him the ball.

He had never pitched from a mound before --- even the roof of Major Shaker's chicken house was flat --- and as he threw he experienced a sensation like stepping into an unseen swale in the road.

The baseball headed east, just missing the wire backstop, passed a foot over Tinker's head, curving slightly to the north, and vectored on out in the direction of Mr. Kopex, who was holding his injured foot behind him and a few inches off the ground and using Mr. Speers and the student manager as crutches. It hit him, of course, as Spooner already knew it would, struck him exactly on the knob of the heel of the hammer-toed, orchid-blossomed bare foot that Russell Hodge had just mangled with his line drive.

Mr. Kopex dropped to the ground again, bringing the student manager down with him. He cried out, "Oh, for the love of Christ," and it sounded like he was begging for mercy, but of course if what you are looking for is mercy, high school isn't the place for you anyway.

Tinker stared at Spooner, trying to remember who he was, then turned to the outfield and called for a new pitcher. And then headed out to tend to Mr. Kopex again.

One of the second stringers fielding balls in the outfield jogged in to throw batting practice. Spooner watched the kid coming, realizing he'd just gone through all the chances he was ever going to get.

He picked a ball out of the basket and motioned Russell Hodge back to the plate. When he looked again, trying to judge how much time he had left until Tinker returned, Mr. Kopex was writhing in the dirt, in a circular motion around his foot, which seemed strangely fixed to one point, as if somebody had pinned it to the ground with a compass from geometry class.

Russell Hodge pounded the plate and stepped in, pointed his bat at Spooner, aiming at him down the barrel. Spooner laid his fingers carefully across the stitches before he threw, putting a little extra pressure on the middle finger so that the ball would tail to the right, and as a result, the pitch hit Russell Hodge in his deaf ear instead of the mouth.

The sound was like breaking the seal on a pickle jar. Russell Hodge curled on the ground, holding both ears, as if the volume of the world was suddenly turned way too high. The thought passed at a strange, leisurely pace through Spooner's brain that he'd killed Russell Hodge.

His first whift of celebrity.

He stayed where he was, looking for signs of life, not really sure if he wanted to see any or not, not even sure if he'd hit him on purpose --- if the thought had been there before he let the ball go or if his arm had just taken over. It hadn't been an accident the way hitting Mr. Kopex was an accident, though. Spooner had known when the ball left his hand where it was headed...

§     §     §

Tinker knelt beside Russell Hodge and gently rolled him onto his back. "Everybody get back," he yelled. "Give him air."

But there wasn't anybody close enough to suck up Russell Hodge's air. Most of the players took one look and were inching as far away as they could get. Russell Hodge lay cockeyed in the dust with his eyelids half open, staring off into the blue.

Tinker looked around, frightened. He lifted one of Hodge's eyelids, stared for a moment and then let it go. He took Hodges mouth in his hand, puckering the boy's lips, and moved his head slowly back and forth. All right, Hodge," he said, "let's shake it off." But even Tinker --- who privately was still of the opinion that running a few laps on a broken femur wasn't as bad as it looked on paper --- even he knew better than that.

He rocked back on his heels, looking at Russell Hodge, and then went forward again and gently fitted his hands under the body --- two hundred pounds if he weighed an ounce --- and took him up in his arms and stood, and then walked slowly east, back in the direction of school, casting a surprisingly long shadow for a fellow of his height.

§     §     §

Tuesday morning Dr. Baber came on the loudspeaker to announce that Russell Hodge was still in the hospital with a brain injury, but doing well and expected to make a full recovery. A cluster of troublemakers booed from the back of Señor Rosenstein's second-year Spanish class, where Spooner was at the time, and were sent to Dr. Baber's office for detention slips. The two cheerleaders in the class both wept in gratitude, and one later claimed to have prayed for his recovery.

Tinker had spent all night and most of the day at Russell's bedside, and, in the way these things sometimes turn out, news of this simple act of concern went a long way toward repairing his reputation among those who had criticized him after the Lemonkatz affair, and also served as a cooling-off period in another matter, as only last Friday Tinker had caught a student named Richard D. Peck lying under the bleachers reading Othello when he was supposed to be taking the sit-ups portion of his national youth fitness test, and threatened to kill him.

Peck's family had already notified the school board of its intention to sue.

That afternoon found Spooner standing alone as warm-ups began, Mr. Kopex's glove curled under his chin like a baby's head. He felt no guilt about stealing the glove, which he viewed as no worse than grave robbing --- grave robbing being one of the terms Spooner still misunderstood at this stage of his matriculation, thinking it meant taking something old or unwanted. Kopex had been in the hallway on crutches when Spooner saw him earlier that day between classes, overwhelmed by the movement. and jostling and noise, fighting for breath, sweat soaked and old overnight. No, Kopex wouldn't want the glove anymore, wouldn't even want it around the house where it could fall out of the closet and remind him of what had happened.

Spooner was thinking of Mr. Kopex and the glove --- grave robbing wasn't stealing, but it must have been something because he kept thinking about it --- when Coach Tinker appeared at his side. "Spoonerman," he said, and Spooner jumped at the sound of his voice, "I know you're worried about Hodge."

Spooner nodded, although the only specific worrying he'd done about Russell Hodge was that he would get out of the hospital and kill him.

"The best thing you can do," Tinker said, "is go out there and give it a hundred and twenty percent. That's what he'd want."

Two questions at once: Did this mean Hodge was dead, and was Tinker, after everything that had happened, still going to let him pitch? Spooner hadn't expected another chance. He was now two pitches into his career in organized baseball, after all, and one had taken out the heart of the school's math department --- Mr. Kopex's heel was cracked, while the roof of the foot, where Hodge's line drive had drilled him, was only bruised --- and the other had possibly killed the greatest all-around athlete in the history of the Prairie Glen High Golden Streaks.

"How is he?" Spooner said. The truth was Hodge dying still didn't strike him as the worst way this could end.

"Who?"

"Hodge. Is he dead?"

Tinker gave Spooner a little elbow in the ribs, as if he had just told him a joke or wanted to point out a set of tits. It left Spooner's ribs tender all week. "Don't worry about old Hodgie," he said, "he'll shake it off. You just throw the baseball. Keep us in it until he gets back."

Tinker divided his players into two teams that afternoon and put Spooner on the mound to pitch to both sides.

They played three innings before it rained, Spooner getting used to the mound, to the movement of a new unscuffed baseball, to the sense of the players behind him in the field, depending on what he did. The center of attention. He walked two batters and struck out the other eighteen he faced. No hits, no runs, nobody hurt except the catcher, Ken Jonny, a perfect toad of a kid who, although apparently designed without a neck, was in fact hit twice in the neck when balls skipped over his mitt and under his face mask.

--- From Spooner
Peter Dexter
©2009 Grand Central Publishing

For our review of Spooner, go to
www.ralphmag.org/FX/spooner.html


[MORE LETTERS FROM THE PAST]
Hello,

I happened to visit your site 'www.ralphmag.org,' the official website of "Ralph." I understand that your site presents the Review of Arts, Literature, Philosophy and the Humanities. The content of your site is fabulous. The review of Popular Music from Vittula is very impressive. The Outlaw Sea was wonderful. I appreciate the fact that you have made a significant effort to provide a lot of relevant information about art reviews in the site.

I visited quite a lot of sites, and would like to kindly recommend a professional makeover for your entire web site (http://www.ralphmag.org). I work at ADDR.com, and would like to offer you to redesign your complete web site absolutely free of charge. You will only be asked to pay for the monthly hosting, which is only $9.95/mo. There are no other fees, and there is absolutely no risk from your end. If you are not satisfied with our work, you will not be asked to pay anything. Please let me know if you would be interested in this offer (in fact, I can't imagine why you wouldn't be). Take a look at http://www.addr.com/free-design for details. When signing-up, please indicate Eva Dale (that's my name :-) ) in the "How did you hear about this offer?" field.

Thanks, and I look forward to hearing from you!

--- With Best regards,
Eva Dale

§     §     §

Dear Eva:

Thank your for your thoughtful comments about RALPH.

I should tell you that we have never stopped working on our layout, tweaking it here and there, adding a bit of color here, taking it away there, fretting about spacing, wanting to be spacious --- but not too much so.

We've been doing this for about fifteen years now and we think the layout of RALPH is just dandy. The reason: no screaming-meemies, no show-off graphics, no scrolls, no blinks, no blops, no puff-ups, pop-ups, pop-overs, or whatever they are called.

Just simple letter-press, simple black-and-white (mostly) photographs, with type colors and background colors we made up ourselves from the huge variety available in HTML. (It's somewhat like mixing paints, or making mudpies --- we love it.)

The "professional makeover" you suggest would probably make us look like everyone else on the web, or at worst, like the other RALPH, that rave-and-beer mess coming out of Australia.

We favor being original, and we think we well might be, with our plain vanilla 19th Century letter-type format, our doughty layout, our antique perspective on placement of words and figures which, we would hope, might make what we want to say consistent with the way we say it.

To put it another way, if it was good enough for H. L. Mencken, then it's good enough for us.

--- Ed


Attention: Webmaster of ralphmag.org 

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--- Thank you in advance,
Patrick Devereaux

§     §     §

Dear Patrick:

Good Lord! "The 153,421 most visited site on the Web." We are impressed that we are one of your "top sites," although to us the number 153,421 sounds much like what we used to call "damning with faint praise." We had always thought that with our 2,500,000 or so hits a year that we were at least up at 153,420.

As far as using you for "our own promotional, marketing or advertising campaigns," please be informed that our promotional and marketing campaigns consist in prodding our slug-a-bed reviewers to get their goddamn copy in on time so that we can meet our deadline ... all the while nagging our army of friends of RALPH, numbering at least in the tens of hundreds, to mail in their $25 ASAP so we can have the beans to pay our lone secretary so she can pay what is left of our server's bill on time so they won't suddenly up and cut off our water.

As far as our competition goes, we have yet to find any competition, except for the kids who compete with us for our old-fashioned wood-burning computer, so they can use it to play their dreadful computer games, taking up endless hours on-line so that we are restricted, by them, solely to working the hours between midnight and six, when they are, presumably, asleep and free of the cares of the world.

--- Ed


[WHERE WE'RE AT]
This hard-copy version of RALPH comes out two or three or five times a year --- mostly in the late spring, summer, and early fall --- depending on contributions from our readers and the whereabouts of our peripatetic editors.
Like its on-line cousin, it is published by The Reginald A Fessenden Educational Fund, a 501(c)3 non-profit organization.
You are invited to subscribe to keep us alive. All contributions are tax-deductible by determination of the IRS and the State of California.
Correspondence can be sent to
poo@cts.com

RALPH
Box 16719
San Diego CA 92176

Dear RALPH:

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