R  A  L  P  H

  The Review of Arts, Literature, Philosophy and the Humanities  

Volume Twenty-Six

Late Late Spring 2006


What Goes Up
The Uncensored History of Modern Wall Street
As Told by the Bankers, Brokers, CEOs, and
Scoundrels Who Made It Happen

Eric J. Weiner
(Little Brown)
The funny structure of What Goes Up might put people off at first. The quotes and interviews are broken into bits, and arranged chronologically into thirty chapters, including "The Go-Go Boys," "The Thundering Herd," "A License to Print Money," "Dawn of a Bull Market," and "The Technology Age."

What's surprising, at least to this reviewer, is that --- in most cases --- it works, and works well. Each chapter starts off with the editor's short summary that sets the stage. For instance, in "Killing the Golden Goose," we discover the sordid truth of the Reynolds Tobacco-Nabisco merger, or better, shotgun marriage. Then there is the subsequent attempt to void this disastrous union.

Weiner gives a brief, and goes right into interviews with RJR Nabisco president and chief executive officer E. Ross Johnson, pitting him against the scornful words of Henry Kravis, head of KKR (the leading LBO organization of the day).

Although the gossip and backbiting can get tedious, it tells exactly of a typical Wall Street inflammation of financial egos, a disease that damn near wrecks the companies (and lives) of several of the principals.

§     §     §

The best chapter in the book, by far, is titled "Black Monday," being a chronology of the week before and the days after Monday, October 20, 1987. On that day, the stock market was down 500 points on the Dow, an astounding drop for a single session, exceeding those of 1929.

As the story is carved out by the author, many of the characters come to tell of living with the second of what Adam Smith labeled the main ingredients of being an heavy investor in the market: Greed on the Upside, Fear on the Downside. Only in this case, Fear was transformed for many on the long side into Naked Terror. Including the fair-haired-wunderkind of the 1980s, Peter Lynch, manager of the Fidelity Magellan Fund.

Lynch happened to be in Ireland, on holiday --- and his fund, in one single trading day, went down in value by two billion. That's 2,000,000,000 rutabagas. What would you do if you woke up of a Tuesday to find that your baggage had so been lightened?

But the drama of Black Monday revealed here, and the messages for the average investor, are:

  1. Falling out of bed comes out of the blue;
  2. At such times, the specialists who are supposed to "make the market" merely walk away from their telephones, letting the stocks go into free fall;
  3. Terror becomes universal --- from the most sophisticated to the most innocent young novice.

In 1987, there were three decisions from on high that may have saved us from another 1929. The first was one by the Board of Governors of the NYSE that the market would not be shut down; specialists could choose to close down trading in selected stocks from time to time, but the market as a whole would stay in session during business hours.

The second was the announcement from Alan Greenspan, brand new to his job at the Fed, that the government would assure complete liquidity to banks to cover any extraordinary demands to cover losses.

Finally, and much less well-advertised, there was an announcement from the Securities and Exchange Commission that all large corporations who wished to do so could implement, immediately, plans to buy back company stock. (SEC rules normally require an extensive, much-delayed filing for such moves; the government broke one of its most inviolate rules).

All this may have been what did the trick. Large corporations effectively merged with the United States government to cover the asses of large investors who, over the past three years, had played havoc with the stock market, using it as their own personal lake to troll for large, and often illegal, catches.

My own personal favorite quote out of the debacle was one that came from Michael Labranche, head of a NYSE specialist firm, who talked about the real fear, after Monday's close. Which was, what would happen on Tuesday?

It was not assuring:

    By midmorning we were testing the low levels of the day before. It actually became worse than the day before because at one point before noon IBM had one million shares for sale and no bids. They just shut it down. That was like the bellwether stock. There were a bunch of other stocks that stopped trading, too. I remember thinking, "That's not good. That's really not good." It was just quiet. Silent.

The market did come back, surprisingly, and quickly. The last word, the one we might choose to trust, trust most of all, came from the mouth of Jerry Corrigan, then-President of the New York Fed:

    Anybody who tells you that they know exactly why the market came back is full of prunes.

--- A. W. Allworthy


[LETTER]
Middle School Children and
My Bloody Life
Sirs:

I am a middle school teacher and some of my students are interested in reading My Bloody Life. I have not read it yet but it is a title that they just brought up to my attention. Is it something proper for this age kids?

--- Gabriela
Sanoja@aol.com


Hi, Gabriela:

You may be asking the wrong peoples, for we here have a rare view of what kids know and don't know by the time they reach middle school.

We figure that those in that age group have a direct knowledge, far more than their parents would ever begin to guess, about the realities of gang life, drugs, the world.

Schools, as you know, are now run like prisons --- with guards, fences, gates, IDs, and elaborate regulations. And, like prisons, they are also a great source of knowledge of the truth of what we used to call "The Underworld." Between classes, in the hallways, at the lockers, on the way home ... the truth is being purveyed to those who are curious, and (despite the way most schools are programmed) continue to be curious.

In addition, your charges have spent half of their waking lives in front of the television set. Television, as you already know, is the great teaching tool of our times, and American television delivers several powerful messages.

The commercials teach that by owning things --- cars, stereos, computers, a better shampoo --- one can beat the odds, can make it in this world.

The dramas and "reality" programs prove that all serious interrelations between people --- and within families --- are a joke. The cop/adventure programs, on the other hand, prove that life is short, nasty and brutish ... and that violence and the mere possession of arms will make one honored if not feared by one's society and one's peers.

Finally, the music programs (MTV and the like) promote the ideas that drugs are a gas, girls are easy, bodies are for writhing, love is sex (and vice-versa) and that fame --- no matter the form, no matter how obtained --- is there for the taking.

§     §     §

It is crucial, however, that you protect your students' parents from the fact that their children know, and know intimately, these truths. You must be especially careful of the students who have parents of religious bent. It is essential for your own safety and well-being that they believe their children are innocent flowers, who, through prayers and constant church-going are well protected from not only the realities of the birds and the bees, but, as well, from the reality of American life ... such realities as the astounding hurt of American street life, combined with the worst hurt of them all --- the trauma of living in a society that preaches love, tolerance, and forgiveness and practices something completely different.

We must thus protect the parents of middle-school children. For that reason alone, I would suggest that you do not assign My Bloody Life for in-school reading. The book is an unflinching picture of American urban life. It tells, without stinting, why so many of our young are forced by economic determinism into a world of easy violence. It tells simply, without fudging, the central role of sex as a power locus for children who, in 21st century America, have no other escape route, especially through the institutions adults have set in place: school, camps, political, social, and religious organizations.

If you assign this book, adults who watch over the school curriculum will sweep down to make your life a nightmare. They have a deep reaction to anything that verges on reality. And your students don't need this or any book like it to tell them what they already know.

For everyone's safety and protection, most especially your own, your students' parents must be kept in the dark.

--- Lolita Lark
Editor


[POEM]
Song of an
Unexpected Love
No one understood the perfume that came
From the dark magnolia of your womb;
No one knew how you tortured
The hummingbird of love between your teeth.

A thousand tiny Persian horses slept with the moon
In the plaza of your forehead,
While four nights I bound
Your waist against the snow.

Between the wall and the jasmines,
Your gaze a pale branch of seeds,
I looked into my heart to give you
The ivory letters that say always,
Always, always: garden of my agony ---
Your fugitive body forever,
The blood of your veins in my mouth,
Your mouth now without light for my death.
--- From Diván del Tamarit
by Federico García Lorca
Carlos Amantea, Translator


Master of the Sea
José Sarney
Gregory Rabassa
Translator

(Aliform)
This is no simple tale of fearless fisherfolk who go out despite storms, rocks and tides to make a living. With the swirling spirits and visions of vessels out of the past, it comes to feel more like a Greek epic, with jealous gods and conniving humans battling it out in a spate of love, hate, spite, jealousy, fear and general bedevilment:

    Right then and there the sardines were no longer sardines, they were lights like the sparklers on Saint John's Eve, lighting the whole sandspit of Guarapirange as they covered it like a great cloak that dazzled and stirred up the sea with fire. At the end of the night, far off, between the darkness and the light of the sardines, they saw a torch of yellow fire in the stove-black distance. And Christório had no doubts, declaring, "It's the Ship of the Dead..."

Anatão Christório may be a master of the sea, but he is also a man. He lives with his wife and her sister, but the witch Maria das Aguas comes to him on the happy island, Banco Feliz: "She was naked, holding her dress in her hands to dry after it got soaked in the crossing. Out of that salt body emerged a seagull ready to perch, the tips of its black wings folded and its breast puffed out."

    Christório looked at her body and saw that it had an earthen color. All of a sudden it turned white. He got closer and it was dark again. Her breasts were pointing to the sea, two eyes, small black beaks surrounded by broad purplish rings. The eyes had an undefined mystery about them. They held the revelation that she might disappear. All over her body was an awakening of the female that kept growing, spreading to her hair, her hips, her broad sex anchored between plump thighs, and there was a smell of water about her that Christório judged to be the perfume of enchantment, because as he smelled it he lost his speech and a silence invaded his soul, covered his ears, halted the wind, and he trembled as though he were isolated from everything, with no air or color, a taste of the infinite and the heights, and he only became aware of himself when he saw that he was wrapped around her, clutching, dominated by unending pleasures. He'd never thought that a woman would be able to have that taste and sweet smell, something that wasn't just possession but a feeling of vastness.

§     §     §

This is no simple doughty tale of a fisherman surviving in the cays and rocks and islands and loves and fantasies of Northern Brazil. And author José Sarney is no simple doughty writer who suddenly makes the world of dreams, fish, and madness live. For he is somewhat of a fantasy himself. O Dono do Mar was published in 1978; seven years later, Sarney was elected President of Brazil.

Eh? A great writer ending up as head of the sixth largest country in the world? (His was the transition government from a military dictatorship.)

Can you imagine the President of the United States being revealed to have written a lusty funny tale of fishermen and monsters and passion, the story of a man with a wife who at the end of the forty years with him can say,

    Let's forget about time Cristório. It doesn't exist here and still we count it. Let's get rid of days and nights, months and years and leave everything as though it was only Sun and Moon. Time's something people get into their heads. They invent it.

Could you and I dream of having a president who could write like that, tell us that time is something people have just made up? Or that "He'd never thought that a woman would be able to have that taste and sweet smell, something that wasn't just possession but a feeling of vastness?"

Wouldn't having the leader of our ship of state write like that make us deliriously happy?

--- Laura Knudsen


State Houses:
America's 50 State Houses
Susan Thrane
Tom Patterson
Photographer

(Boston Mills Press)
The most traditional looking state capitols are in Texas, Vermont and Virginia (Jefferson was responsible for the one in Richmond). The best ceiling mosaic can be found in Nebraska.

Pennsylvania has a fine Renaissance Revival dome. The capitol that took the longest to build was in dilatory South Carolina. The worst cupola (blue!) is in South Dakota. Gaudy but nice gold-plated doors can be found in Arkansas. The purest dome we found points skyward in Wisconsin, but it is Vermont --- white Vermont granite, that is.

The lunkiest turn-of-the-century edifice was constructed in Idaho --- looks like a train-station. The drabbest rotunda is in Hawaii: a parking garage with a hole in the ceiling. The classiest staircase is in Vermont.

The funniest statue is in Salt Lake City, that of Philo T. Fransworth, the putative inventor of television. The weirdest mix of architecture (International Style + Zuni) is to be found in New Mexico.

The Senate chambers in Alabama look like Mission Control, Florida's capitol looks like Stonehenge mixed up with a high-rise office building. The prettiest lighting --- bronze standards and graceful insets --- can be found in Olympia, Washington.

The most tediously square cheese-block building is in Alaska. The most sensible of them all is in Nebraska, because they got rid of the crapulous, needless, wasteful, cancerous, bilious, unnecessary second house in 1934. (The word is "unicameral" and should be the operating system in all fifty states, not one.) One of the tallest capitols can be found in Baton Rouge, a project of the indefatigable Huey Long.

One of the weirdest is in Oregon: "classical," they call it, but it is a flat-top "ribbed lantern" with a ridiculous scale topped off by a gawky "pioneer" statue.

North Dakota's capitol looks like a grain silo from outside, but the moderne insides are a delight. One of the worst --- inside and out --- is in Arizona. They took the dome of the old capitol and slapped it atop a Holiday Inn and called it "The State House." New York's is an awful mix of Victorian styles. It took four architects to complete it, all muddled up with Tammany financing. One of our favorite domes is in Texas.

Connecticut's they tell us is "secular gothic," but it's lopsided and funny-looking, as are Charles Bulfinch's various constructs in New Hampshire and Maine and Massachusetts (he didn't know how to shape a dome).

The research in State Houses is impressive. The author tells us that the oldest capitol is in Maryland, the second oldest Jefferson's in Virginia. I remember the very proper looking capitol in Austin, but what the photographs don't show is that it is an island: a building with acres and acres of asphalt shimmering and sweating around it. The most oppressive and doughty is in Montana.

There are 400 color photographs here and god knows how Tom Patterson got to shoot them. There isn't a legislative assistant, representative, lobbyist or con-man in sight. What the hell did he do: disguise his camera as a shotgun?

It's virgin stuff; and the pompous grandiosity of it! This lovely volume makes you know, if you didn't know already that the major task of state legislatures is to be sure they have all the creature comforts that they may ever want, along with structures to buffalo the lumpen into thinking that with all this beauty and space and those domes towering over all of us that they certainly must know what they are doing, there in Tallahassee, Charleston, Salem, Jefferson City, Denver, Topeka. Quick, what's the capital of South Dakota?

In Kansas, Ms. Thrane tells us that the law-makers had problems with John Steuart Curry's murals, "emphasizing the freaks in its history," like John Brown, the anti-slavery nut, "who did not follow legal procedure." The dome featured sixteen of his panels, busty Grecian women in the altogether; when the Republicans took over the ladies were replaced by "four allegorical murals --- Knowledge, Power, Peace and Plenty.

It's Pierre. The capital of South Dakota, that is. And North Dakota?

--- C. D. Walker


[LETTER]
RALPH:

Subject: Correction to review or something

"Gaudy but nice gold-plated doors can be found in Arkansas."

Um. Not.

The front entrance doors are made of bronze, which are 10 feet (3 metres) tall, four inches (10 cm) thick and were purchased from Tiffany's in New York for $10,000. The cupola is covered in 24 karat gold leaf.

Source: Wikipedia.

We are not tacky but the doors are polished by state prisoners.

And when is Geezer in Paradise coming out? I will order several copies.

--- Thanks.
jane x anderson
qrt2@swbell.net


Johann Sebastian Bach
And the Aliens
Johann Sebastian Bach was writing, in essence, 20th Century Music in the 18th Century.

Many of his later musical works, such as the Musical Offering, are so quirky that they would be quite in place in a work of Stravinsky. For example, Cantata #21 has a weird duet between soprano and viola that uses sequences that Stockhausen would have been comfortable with.

How strange Bach's music must have sounded to the ears of the doughty parishioners, those who came into church merely to pay obeisance to their Lutheran god. It was a church sparsely attended by stuffy old Germans, and it was cold and drafty and hard-benched, and, like most European churches of the time, it smelled dreadfully of dead body --- for the recently dead were buried posthaste, without benefit of preservatives, at the sides and back of the church. The services went on for three hours.

And there was Bach up at the front, with this full orchestra made up of the townspeople, and a wheezy organ, with its just barely off-key notes, and the kid, down below, working on the bellows --- and occasionally falling asleep, so that Papa Bach would have to motion to Herr Schmidt, the tenor, to go down below and roust him. Schmidt and the others had resigned themselves to this weird music, which they could barely make it through, with these choral progressions that must have sounded to them like Toru Takemitsu does to me.

I suspect these essentially small town burgers were thinking, "Well, it's in the church, and he's the kapellmeister, so it must be OK." And what he was putting over on them was the most peculiar combination of instruments, strange unions of voice and organ and recorders and trumpets and violins --- such a randy choice of sound that must have given them serious pause. "Well," they are saying, "I suppose Herr Bach knows what he is doing."

And little did they suspect what he was doing to their heads, what the fugal form was doing to their brains. The conscious mind can concentrate on only one voice or instrument at a time, so, all the while, Bach, the great trickster, was slipping several other musical lines over on them --- a baritone, a 'cello, or the lower pipes of the organ were carrying on a completely different sequence of melody and harmony, moving in and out in profound counterpoint with such richness that could lead even a stolid Hun soul to tears.

I wrote to a friend of mine who is a student of the history of music, asking if he could tell me something about the roots of Bach --- where he came from, what his training had been, what background would lead him to the exquisite musings of "Ich Habe Genug" or "The English Suites" or "The B-minor Mass" (being the part of the Catholic service that survived in the Lutheran Church).

My friend wrote back,

    In reality, Johann Sebastian Bach was an extra-terrestrial being from the planet Ixneria, whose spaceship happened to crash-land here around 1650. He obviously constructed a flawless cover story, inasmuch as all the standard biographies suggest nothing out of the ordinary, except a family background of third-rate musicians, and a tiresome career-path of churches and aristocratic courts. But the aliens told me the real story when they abducted me, some years ago.

--- A. F. Faber


Bach and the Bees
If Bach had been a beekeeper
he would have heard
all those notes
suspended above one another
in the air of his ear
as the differentiated swarm returning
to the exact hive
and place in the hive,
topping up the cells
with the honey of C major,
food for the listening generations,
key to their comfort
and solace of their distress
as they return and return
to those counterpointed levels
of hovering wings where
movement is dance
and the air itself
a scented garden
--- Charles Tomlinson
From Skywriting
©2003 Carcanet Publishers


Making a
Better World

Public Housing, the Red Scare, and
The Direction of Modern Los Angeles

Don Parson
(Minnesota)
After World War II, the Los Angeles City Housing Authority was conceived and ended up being run by a bunch of old lefties who worked in the slums --- social workers and the like in run-down places like Bunker Hill. They thought that low-cost, racially integrated housing would improve the lot of the very poor, so they got the Feds involved (along with, alas, that old bugaboo, "eminent domain"), and built several thousand units ... and then they got hit by the two Joes: Josef Stalin and Joseph McCarthy.

Public housing had not been all that popular with the business community and the real estate people (they saw it as socialistic) and the Red Scare was a godsend, especially since the head of CHA, Frank Wilkinson, plus a few of his top aides, were old-time rads.

Within two years, Los Angeles public housing was dead, but the real estate people had learned a couple of very important lessons. One was, when your enemy is a liberal, or has an unseemly affection for the poor and the minorities, call him a communist. In the America of the 1950s, you are thus able to be rid of him forthwith.

The second lesson was that eminent domain, coupled with acres of federal funds, could be used for damn near any project one can dream up. Like tearing down what some people saw as slums --- and the poor folk thought of as home --- then buying up the land at bargain prices with U.S. Housing Authority (viz., our tax) dollars, then you can start building first-class, high-rise offices for the new banking and monied classes.

All this was achieved under what was formally known as Title I (in 1949) --- later modified as Title III --- and it was a bomb. Literally. It was as if the government of the United States decided to do a Dresden on the poorest parts of the largest cities, then turned around and sold the vacant lots to banks, realtors, and larger corporations at a 50% discount.

The original purpose of public housing (to house the poor, the war workers, the veterans) was, largely, Parson proves, subverted by the Big Red Scare. The left, liberal, union coalition fell apart under the microscopic hunt for subversives by the City of Los Angeles, the House Un-American Activities Committee and the California Un-American Activities Committee. The deputy mayor of Los Angeles, Orville Caldwell, speaking on the interracial aspects of public housing, offered the opinion that "Negro people who could not find housing ought to go home, and that they should write to their friends and tell them not to come to Los Angeles."

    Now they come here and get into some war industry, and then comes Saturday night and they find lots of money in their pockets. They don't know what to do with it. They get liquored up, stuff themselves with marijuana, and then they become a serious problem. And from the housing standpoint, we haven't the facilities to take care of them.

With the decline of "community modernism" comes what the author calls "corporate modernism." Title I, he opines, "effectively financed the destruction of American cities."

Bunker Hill, the oldest part of Los Angeles, near downtown, was filled with luxurious old mansions which had gone to pot. 80% of them had been built around the turn of the century. The city defined it as a "blighted area," the police cooked up some crime figures (it wasn't more crime-infested than most of the rest of city) and the bulldozers came in. Within ten years, the Bunker Hill Redevelopment Plan was in place, with scheduled completion in 2015, including

    a twenty-four acre residential plaza containing 3,100 modern apartments; a sixteen-acre commercial plaza of high-rise office buildings that would employ some 50,000 persons; and twenty acres of sites for motels and a hotel.

Sixty acres for the middle and upper class; zilch for the poor.

Making a Better World will make your heart ache if you have a fondness for old homes and Victoriana. There are also some excellent vignettes. Charles Bukowski, John Fante, and Raymond Chandler all wrote purple prose about the old Bunker Hill, the latter reporting, "They are all rooming houses now, their parquetry floors scratched and worn through the once glossy finish and the wide sweeping staircases are dark with time and with cheap varnish laid on over generations of dirt."

    In the tall rooms haggard landladies bicker with shifty tenants. On the wide cool front porches, reaching their cracked shoes into the sun, sit the old men with faces like lost battles.

Of the California Redevelopment Agency, which emerged from the California Housing Agency, Parson says, "The public housing and urban renewal programs shared many of the same characteristics --- government administration and eminent domain infringing on private property rights --- which had been orchestrated by the press so that the former was labeled Communistic or socialistic.

    Despite the bitter and frequent denunciations of the CRA and urban renewal by small property owners for precisely these reasons, the press never broadcast such opinions to the extent of the slurs hurled at the CHA during the public housing war.

He concludes: "In this manner, modern Los Angeles, shaped by urban renewal and insulated from popular participation in political alternatives, might be described as nothing short of the spatial expression of the Red Scare."

--- F. J. Baker, AIA


The Sancy Blood Diamond
Power, Greed, and the Cursed History of
One of the World's Most Coveted Gems

Susan Ronald
(Wiley)
The Sancy diamond, the subject of this book, started out at 106 carats and was later cut down to 55.252 carats. But it's not the girth, according to author Ronald, it's the real or fabricated history. (There are jewels that are much heftier than the truly famous, such as the Sancy, the Hope, or the Koh-i-noor; we like the mystery).

They all hark back to Golconda, the fabled treasure valley in India, where poisonous serpents huddled over the trove. The treasure hunters, it was said, would throw hunks of meat down from the hills. Jewels would stick to the bloody carcasses, birds would pick up these jewel-encrusted lamb-chops and fly out --- and then be downed by the hunters, who would thus be up to their gazoos in ... diamonds.

Apparently the biggest diamond ever found was the Cullinan. I say "apparently," because the field of gem-lore is heavy with secrets. People who have got themselves a two-hundred-carat diamond are not out there advertising their wares, much less their home addresses and telephone numbers.

The Cullinan turned up in South Africa, in 1905, at 3,105 carats. After it, no one can seem to agree which was or is the biggest, nor the best. It may be academic, since most of the heftiest diamonds get chopped into smaller gemlets.

The Cullinan remains the largest diamond found, but it was sliced into 105 bits. Diamonds can even change their names when they change owners, or are cut up. Two of the Cullinan's largest children were designated the "Star of Africa" at 530 carats and the "Lesser Star of Africa" with 317 carats.

After that, the biggest may have been the Excelsior, with 995 carats, and then the Incomparable, at 890 carats. The Star of Sierra Leone is said to have 969 carats, and the Great Mogul 787. Then there is the "Unnamed Brown," named after my aunt Fiona Brown, a blowsy darling of the Boer fields. I tell you, the world of jewels is remote and mysterious. Just like Auntie Fiona.

Who knows the truth, especially when it comes to the very ancient stones ... like the Great Mogul or the Nizam? Ancient gems were weighed and measured in old carats, or, according to Ronald, "ratis, mangelin, tandulas, sarsapas, masas, and surkhs." Tandula? Sarsapas? Masas? Beautiful words, no?

The most famous diamonds are uniformly dinky by Cullinan standards, and even more confusing. The Koh-i-Noor suffers from a bad case of spelling, turning up in Google and other places as Kah-i-Nur, Koh-i Nor, and Whos-That-Nerd? Its schizophrenia may have resulted from being old and famous, changing owners (and names) too many times, being cut down from 186 carats to a mere 105.6, even though it was one of the few non-sexist stones, inasmuch as it was said to bring death and misfortune to men, but riches to the ladies.

The Pitt diamond, originally owned by William Pitt the Elder, known in England, where he held forth, as "Diamond Pitt," weighed in at 400 carats. It was ultimately cut down to 141, and renamed the Regent.

The Hope was also known as the "French Blue." It started out at 115 carats, and was brought down to 69. It was one of the gems we love to hear about, causing owners to take bankruptcy, commit suicide, go mad, or become neocons. One owner, Evalyn Walsh McLean, would walk the streets of New York with the diamond strapped to her dog's collar, which wasn't so looney. Who, even in New York, would mug an old lady for her dog-collar?

Still, the Hope is supposed to have mystical powers. According to Susanne Patch of the Smithsonian Institution, some believe that Marie Antoinette and Louis XVI were cut down to size because of the blue diamond's curse. Or maybe it was because of those noisy, all-night, ghetto-blaster parties at the Tuileries. The next owner was Henry Philip Hope. According to the legend, the Hopes went bankrupt, lost all hope, even the Hope, their namesake jewel.

The next owner was Ms. McLean's dog, and occasionally, the lady herself. "Though McLean wore the Hope diamond as a good luck charm," reports Ms. Patch, "others saw the curse strike her too. McLean's first born son, Vinson, died in a car crash when he was only nine. McLean suffered another major loss when her daughter committed suicide at age 25. In addition to all this, Evalyn McLean's husband was declared insane and confined to a mental institution until his death in 1941."

    After such a history of calamities, Harry Winston Inc., donated the Hope to the Smithsonian Institution on November 10, 1958.

So far, the Smithsonian has demonstrated few problems of bankruptcy, suicide, or madness, though it may be suffering from a slightly more malevolent force: the oversight of the U. S. Congress. The latter goes into throes of apoplexy when the Institute mounts an even slightly controversial exhibit, such as taking note of the fact that in 1945 the American Air Force fried up over 200,000 men, women and children in Japan. Such honesty is not only a curse, it is, by edict of the U. S. House of Representatives, considered to be against all principles of honesty in the Land of the Brave.

§     §     §

The Sancy, sometimes called the Sauncy, also was reputed to carry a curse, creating bankruptcy and death for owners such as Charles I, Antonio de Crato, and Nicholas Harlay. It has also afflicted the author of the present volume, causing her to suffer from history-ectomy with complications of extensive logorrhea.

Instead of scientific fact which could tell us, for example, the mysteries of the creation of diamonds, the art of cutting, and the reasons for the exuberant lunacy in their pricing (there are millions of diamonds afloat in the world) ... instead of this, Ms. Ronald has chosen to hand us a waddling, long-winded reprise of the history of continental Europe from the fourteenth to the eighteenth century, most of it only tangentially involved with the Sancy.

If you want regurgitated history, you would be better off consulting your Cliff Notes, or even that big bore Martin Gilbert. For example, this is Ms. Ronald at her blood-curdling, eye-rolling best:

    The new duke of Burgandy was quite different from his father. On hearing the news of his father's murder, Philip uttered a blood-curdling cry. A shadow fleeted across his face, and his eyes rolled back in their sockets. Philip was in shock, and his court mourned and wept as much for his reaction as for the loss of the mighty Duke John.

--- Lolita Lark


[READING]
Patzcuaro
Mexico
At the end of this journey we were deposited in a twilit Indian town. Low roofs of mellow red, propped by elaborate carved beams, hung over steep cobbled streets, and the one-storeyed houses looked very old. They must have been built after the Conquest, but are best described as Medieval Indian.

The town was dusty, poor and silent. There was no wheeled traffic and nobody wore shoes. It was a mile's walk to the lake shore and the inn, and looking back one could see the red, weathered roofs of Patzcuaro spread upon the hillside like a fan.

In a way, it was beautiful. It was not our way. The lake, set in an expanse of shrub and stone, was the colour of clay; reedy, forlorn to make one cry. The inn was a frame bungalow. There was a verandah wired with mosquito netting, a barman in a spotty white jacket, a ping-pong table and no guests.

Our room was unswept, there was a rusty shower-bath that dripped and someone's hairpins on the warped chest whose drawers we did not explore. Everything was damp.

We spent the evening sitting on the verandah the barman had said to stay in because of the miasma, and anyway there was nowhere to sit out-of-doors drinking tequila in speechless gloom. The food tasted of swamp.

At last we went to bed. The muslin nets smelled and had holes, insects whirred and our thoughts ran on malaria. In the morning I walked into the town to send a telegram to Anthony care of American Express, Mexico City, telling him not to join us at Lake Pazcuaro.

Now, there are two kinds of countries, the countries in which sending a wire is nothing you hand in a shilling or a quarter, and a form, and walk out again and the countries in which it is hell. They're out of forms, they're out of ink, the pen scratches, you've been waiting at the wrong guichet, your destination does not exist, the post-mistress pretends she cannot read. The worse the postal service, the better the climate, wine and food. Without such compensations, Patzcuaro beats any telegraph office between the Bosphorus and the Mexique Bay.

--- From The Sudden View
A Mexican Journey

Sybille Bedford
©1953 Harper & Brothers


Sunday Afternoon on a
Highway in New Jersey
"It's really sad when you can't get laid and you're a girl," I said to my friends on the way to the abortion clinic.

They didn't hear me though, because they were vogueing in the backseat.

"Turn it up Cheryl baby," said the one who was pregnant.

Trucking down the highway with the windows open, the radio full blast in the late 1980s.

Young. Wild. Crazy.

One of them began to spray Debbie Gibson's Electric Youth perfume.

I was sure that the condoms I had carried in my purse for months had fermented. They say they last a few years, but I didn't believe it.

"Sometimes I feel like it's just not worth it anymore," I added, flicking the condoms out the window. They didn't notice.

The other girl took out a monster-sized can of hair spray. I was now surrounded.

"I'm glad school's finally over," said the Electric Youth girl whose period was two weeks late but she was not yet worried.

I gripped the steering wheel harder. With my right hand I reached into my purse and grabbed my lighter, played with it a bit, adjusted the flame.

"You know when a bunch of guys get together, they're like going out for pizza. We're going to the abortion clinic," said one of them.

Her hair did not move in the wind.

--- Cheryl B.
From Reactions5
New Poetry

Pen & Ink Press
England


True Happiness
Cultivating a Life of Unconditional Joy
And the Power to Benefit Others

Pema Chödrön
(Sounds True)
These CDs were recorded during a yarne at Gampo Abbey monastery in Nova Scotia. Pema Chödrön is a beloved figure in the world of American Buddhism, featured at retreats and in the bellwether magazine of the movement, Tricycle. She's the author of The Places that Scare You and When Things Fall Apart.

Her thoughts on the sacredness of life can be a bit trying for those of us who live in the malarial swamps of the insect belt. For instance, if we find a fly in our soup, Pema Chödrön suggests that instead of cursing the waiter or the calling up the kitchen help, that we gently put la mosca outside, in the fresh air, where it can revive. We are not impressed; in fact, we much prefer Evans-Wentz's time-honored method: put the beestie out of its misery, at the same time inviting it to return to life in a slightly more beautiful --- if not tasty --- form.

Still, Pema Chödrön's faith in humans (and her listeners) cannot be gainsaid; and her beliefs on how to attack kleshas can be choice. She urges continuing meditation on those troubles that dull the mind and drive our lives, for --- she says --- "under the doubt and fear you will find sorrow. And underneath that, the sky."

Sounds True has some other disks in their collection which could perhaps be more enlightening for beginners. One of the best is The Roots of Buddhist Psychology with Jack Kornfield. He's funny, insightful, and leads you into mindfulness in a, uh, very mindful way. Another, which we found especially diverting, and wise, was Jakusho Kjwong Roshi's Breath Sweeps Mind. It starts off so casually that you think he might be in a fog, or a frog; instead, it turns out, he's so good you want to invite him and his crew over for a weekend of meditation, study, and some saki Martinis.


--- Francine Winters


Establishing Congress
The Removal to Washington, D. C. and
The Election of 1800

Kenneth R. Bowling
Dondal R. Kennon,
Editors

(Ohio)
When, in 1790, much to everybody's relief, it was decided that the United States government should abandon Philadelphia, it was known officially as "the removal." Then when they discovered that they would be going to Foggy Bottom, a general wailing and gnashing of teeth arose, people falling to their knees, begging the gods to prevent such a disaster. It's been a disaster ever since.

The wailing did no good: the people of Maryland and Virginia were hell-bent on selling off the swamps and miasmas to the organizing committee responsible for choosing a new locale for the national's capitol.

The very word "capitol" --- a spelling stumbling-block to many a sixth-grader, not to say the rest of us, was, according to Establishing Congress, coined by Thomas Jefferson. It referred to the Temple of Jupiter Optimus Maximus or Capitolinus in Rome.

Historian C. M. Harris tells us that Jefferson was much taken by Roman architecture, was heavily involved in the design of the building, believing that "the rectilinear, peripteral temple form should serve as a modern republican archetype." It was, Harris goes on, "Palladian in organization," with "a Pantheon dome."

Speaking of spelling, or spelling of speaking, the Potomac River appears on early maps as Powtomac. No matter --- it was a soupy, scrofulous creek. And it was soon made even more scrofulous, for the new citizens dumped the leavings from their legislating, their rendering plants, their animals, and their water-closets therein.

The first president of our nation died in 1799. Congress wanted to bury Washington in Washington but John Augustine Washington --- a feisty nephew --- would not part with the old man's bones. It was a damn good thing that he refused: the drawings of proposed mausoleums show structures that could best be described as Trump Retrograde.

There was much to-do in the Sixth Congress as to exactly who should run the District of Columbia --- the states who had donated the land, a separate locally elected government, or the Federalists. Those who have power are usually reluctant to part with it, so the subsequent 200 years of plunder and mismanagement of the District can be laid squarely at the door of the outgoing, sour-faced Federalists (they barely lost the election of 1800).

In the first hundred years, members of Congress usually stayed in boardinghouses, known colloquially as "messes," not referring to the quality of the foodstuffs, but rather the etymology being from Lower Latin, missus. It has nothing to do with the ladies; it means "the courses of a meal." For some of us the word "boarding-house" brings up the memory of an ancient daily comic strip called "Our Boarding House with Major Hoople," in which the Major was eternally ejaculating "Egad, Marta." We trust that Marta was the one who ran the boardinghouse, or even Martha Washington, great-aunt of the recalcitrant John Augustine, keeper of the sacred bones.

In those days, congressmen slept with each other, rather than their wives. Most respectable wives of senators and representatives wouldn't be caught dead in the District of Columbia, much less sleeping with their spitooning, cigar-chomping husbands. They chose to stay in civilization ... in New York, say, or Boston, or Richmond, or Charleston. They also knew that if they repaired to the new capitol, they would be caught dead, what with typhoid fever, malaria, yellow fever and other notorious diseases emanating from the fens of the District.

The representatives slept with each other not because they had gone gay, although the word (and the concept) did not exist then, but because in 1800, the official date for the move to Washington, the capitol city turned out to be alarmingly short of living space. Thus senators and representatives slept in the same rooms, often in the same bed, in boarding houses with names like The Little Cottage, Captain Coyle's, Frost & Quinn's, Robert Peacock's, Mrs. Turnbull's.

The chapter in Establishing Congress titled "entertaining Congress" makes nothing of the not-so-subtle pun available to those of us with dirty minds, but the thought of some of our present-day representatives being forced to share bed if not breakfast with each other does make one long for the old days. Can you imagine Ted Kennedy snoring next to prissy Trent Lott, ruffling up his impeccable hairdo?

Speaking of beds, Establishing Congress is not exactly a hot-bed of fun writing. It is, after all, nine historians out to show off to each other at a conference sponsored by the Capitol Hill Historical Society in 1989. It does have its moments, though. For instance, the election

    was the most notable as a vigorously fought affair that involved intrigue, manipulation on the basis of the narrowest self-interest, and a close, uncertain outcome that was not resolved until well after the votes had been cast --- and counted.

2000? No, says historian John H. Aldrich. "The current one was less controversial and the associated campaign was assuredly less negative than that of two centuries ago."

--- Andrea Gardner, MA


Roses Are Red
One of our correspondents wrote us recently:

"I picked up a delightful book in a West Norwood London bookshop about three blocks from Raymond Chandler's spectacular public school a few years ago. It was entitled Lord Berners, The Last Eccentric by Mark Amory. It was about Gerald Berners who looked like Humpty Dumpty and was a composer, painter, writer and millionaire bon vivant. He had an estate where the pigeons were dyed different colors and where Oswald and Diana Mosley holed up after they were released from their respective prisons after the war. Here's a wonderful poem by him:"

Some people praise red roses
But I beg leave to say
That I prefer red noses ---
Red noses are so gay.

À Kempis says we must not cling
To things that fade away.
Red noses last a lifetime
Red roses but a day.

Red roses blow but thrice a year,
In June, July and May.
But those who have red noses
Can blow them every day.


A Perfect Story
"Cuando despertó,
el dinosaurio todavía estaba allí."

"When he woke up,
the dinosaur was still there."

--- "The Dinosaur"
Augusto Monterroso
Reputed to be the perfect
one-sentence story
TLS 2 December 2005


[READING]
Paul McCarthy
Interview
The excerpt below appeared in Bomb Magazine, Summer 2003.
Subscriptions are $22 a year and up,
and are listed at
http://bombsite.com/
subscriptionam06.html

Q. What's the difference between an art student today and the young'uns of the '70s and '80s? How has thinking about art changed? How has UCLA changed as a school? And while we're at it, what do you think about curators' obsession with youth?
A. Penis clam envy. The students are a congregation. It's a religious experience --- the galleries, the museums, are religious temples. The galleries are all on the prowl. Who'll get picked? Artists declare themselves regularly as misunderstood. It's a pot of victims. As painters, they face a rectangular canvas each day, themselves, the canvas and the studio. It's an old problem, with a history and a tradition. There is an old feud boiling, painters versus conceptual artists. The doctrine of painting and beauty versus the doctrine of Michael Asher. It's all locked up in this age-old flickering. Then there is technology --- the Unabomber, theory, fear of theory. The artists affect theory versus theory affects the artists. Who controls the castle? It's a laugh a minute.
Q. You were afflicted with a pretty strong case of dyslexia. Reading and writing has always been an arduous process for you. You mainly consume art books, not novels... Whenever you use text in your drawings, the words are misspelled and twisted up; it seems more about sound, a textured phonetic thing rather than words with a relatively fixed meaning. You take language that is already slippery and grease it up even further, shoot it out of the esophagus and let it fly into the air as if it were a material.
A. Repression and annual animal communication --- dyslexia is a boring subject. A more interesting subject is the fourth grade. One of my earliest memories of a drawing by a fellow artist was a pair of glasses rendered on the top of my desk at Woodstock Elementary School, fourth grade, second floor, middle of the room. I don't know who did the drawing --- a pencil drawing etched into the wood. I have no interest in conventional language, only when it is an appropriation to illustrate something else. Language is architecture as an institution for repression. I/we can't talk seriously. It's a grid of snakes. A tic-tac-toe grid. Verbal tic-tac-toe. Who has the janitor by his toe? Marvin Marick had a huge hose. During seventh grade in the boy's shower room, Gerald Cook clenched Marvin's hose, his penis, and pulled him through the locker room.
Q. (marvin's penis)Paul, why do you think about me? I'm touched.
A. Because it was a tragedy, you, the penis, in Gerald Cook's hands was stretched. Gerald pulled you, Marvin, screaming through the shower and locker room and out onto the basketball court.

Q. (marvin's penis) Paul, after all these years, why are you still thinking of me?
A. Sexual traumas. I remember it as sexual theater, theater and architecture: the shower room, the locker room and the gym. The lighting. How it was played out with the other boys in the room and the architectural space, a labyrinth of hallways and doors, moving into a large open space-institutional separation based on gender and function.
Q. (marvin's penis)I am honored that you've elevated me to such a high cultural position. The penis is inherently tragic, isn't it?
A. No more than any other Tom, Dick or Harry.
Q.I like how you think of sexual trauma as an architectural problem.
A. I think of architecture as a frame and/or stage for trauma. As a frame and/or stage, architecture contextualizes and effects trauma.
Q. Isn't conventional language just a medium?
A. Yes, a medium --- for science, for theory, for advertising soup.
Q. The first 30 years of your art practice was a private solitary act. Things are more complicated now. You're an industry. You employ lots of people. You've got a dozen projects going on at the same time. Deadlines and commitments up the wazoo. It's getting kind of hectic, as they say. You could ease the pace if you wanted to --- it's your life and career --- but you choose to keep it in high gear, pedal to the metal. Have things gotten out of hand, or is it all exactly where you want it?
A. Sometimes I know why, how, this, that. Sometimes I don't. I collect telephones. Send me your phones. Some days I like my shoes. Some days I hate them. Not enough time to think about him or her. Pushing the wrong button signifies a squint. If you squint it muffles my voice --- wipe yourself on the carpet, and yoga is good for you. Hold your knees and scoot forward...
Q. Talk about holes. They've appeared in your work consistently for 30 years. Holes drilled or dug up, holes to peer through, gawk at and poke, holes like empty eye sockets, portraits to consciousness, the edge of a frame, a camera's lens. You made this metaphor about cultural control, what you can see and what you can't. Please explain further.
A. Holes are access from one space to another --- outside to inside --- inside to outside-inside to inside. Round and square holes, body holes and architecture holes, mouth, ears, eye sockets, rectum, vagina, penis hole, front door, back door, windows. Holes are also openings to sleeves, deposit chambers and pockets. Donuts and rods, as sexual mechanisms, rub devices. Drilling holes, making a hole with a drill bit. it's about sex and confusion.
Q. Earlier you mentioned that your scripts are "improvised, repeated and become language appropriation trying to be mediated into the other." What do you mean by that? Along the same lines there was this gem, "repression and annual animal communication," when I asked about your use of spoken and written language. That seems like a bull's-eye. Please elaborate.
A. Appropriation often comes first. The blah blah, the other, is often the objective. Communication and self-realization as hacky hack.


In Defense of Animals:
The Second Wave
Peter Singer, Editor
(Blackwell Publishing)
The main thesis here is, surprisingly, not people's disgusting need to chow down on pigs and cows and chickens (although that is a factor) but, rather, the concept of Utilitarianism ... that in all things we should be "fair, just, and benevolent." Jeremy Bentham's dictum was It is the greatest good to the greatest number of people which is the measure of right and wrong.

In Defense of Animals offers an extended discussion of how this should be applied to animals, suggests that the greatest happiness for the greatest number should apply, equally, to non-humans. Singer calls this "speciesism," urges that you and I should be kinder to those who are close to us on the evolutionary scale, such as bonobos.

There are eighteen essays divided into three sections, "The Ideas," "The Problems," and "Activists and their Strategies." The first part concerns Utilitarianism, then goes on to consider how humans and animals suffer equally. Part two delves into the central question of "Speciesism," or "drawing the parallel with similar forms of irrational discrimination such as racism, sexism, and ageism." After Darwin, we are told,

    there has been no justification for the moral gulf we impose between ourselves and our evolutionary relations ... [since] many nonhumans can suffer pain and distress in the same sort of ways that humans do.

There are reports "from the field." Matt Ball gives annual figures of the number of animals slaughtered each year in the United States for eating (10,000,000,000), and reports on the living conditions in "factory farms," where we find

    layer hens with open sores, covered with feces, sharing their tiny cage with the decomposing corpses of fellow birds; pigs sodomized with metal poles, beaten with bricks, skinned while still conscious; steers, pigs, and birds desperately struggling on the slaughterhouse floor after their throats are cut.

Finally, we have the activist reports. Miyun Park and friends go on a raid a factory farm in Cecilton, Maryland, run by ISE, awash with 800,000 hens. The vigilantes sneak in at night with video camera to document the "battery cage facility," taking time to liberate eight chickens before they are chased off. "The selected hens we came to call Jane, Rose, Lynn, Petra, Harriet, Christina, Eve and Jackie" end up in various houses and apartments in nearby Washington, D.C.

How they got away with this --- not the kidnappings, Lord knows, but the housing in urban areas --- I'll never understand. Full disclosure requires that I tell you that several years ago I elected to raise chickens in my backyard in what is a very bird-unfriendly, unnamed city in Southern California.

I was informed on by a neighbor. He claimed that Chauntecleer woke him at six a.m. I was raided by the police, my beloved rooster and kindly hen (Chicken Lickin') were denounced as "public nuisances." I was hauled before a magistrate, threatened with a fine, and forced to swear that I would at no time in the near future raise feathery creatures in my back yard.

§     §     §

The big problem with In Defense of Animals comes down to a matter of balance. According to UNESCO, 35,515 children worldwide die of malnutrition every day. That's over thirteen million children --- mostly infants --- dying of hunger every year. For me and most of my friends, speciesism demands that we care for our own: namely, human beings. Chickens, pigs, dogs and cats must come later.

In "Living and Working in Defense of Animals," Matt Ball reveals that PETA (People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals) now has 750,000 members, and "spends millions of dollars trying to improve the treatment of animals in North America and Europe." At the same time, Adam Mynott of BBC news recently reported from Kenya, "When the camels start dying, that's when it's getting bad," says Captain Wachilu, a young Kenyan army officer in charge of the government food distribution in the Wajir region.

    His assessment is impossible to disagree with.
    He sends out five trucks a day to different villages dotted across Wajir.
    They are loaded with maize, rice, milk-powder and cooking oil.
    Every few kilometres alongside the rutted, dusty tracks, the convoy trundles past the carcasses of dead animals.
    The bodies of cows, goats and the occasional camel which have succumbed to starvation and heat have been picked at by hyenas and vultures.

Where is PETA?

Mynott continues, "dozens of children have died."

    Wajir District Hospital has a tiny paediatric ward.
    Fifteen of its 20 beds are occupied by malnourished children.
    In the past few weeks, six infants have died at the hospital from hunger-related ailments, and some of the some children lying with their mothers in the ward look desperately unwell.
    Muslima is 15 months old.
    She arrived at the hospital three days ago suffering from vomiting, diarrhoea, dehydration and malnourishment. She weighs just 4.9kg.
    In Macoror village, Yunis Mohammed Hassan is looking after three of his children while his wife has taken two others to hospital.
    "I used to be a rich man," he said. "I had 160 cattle. Now I have 2. I have no money, no work, my children are sick. What do I do?"
    They say that hunger has killed 32 people, mostly children, in their village alone, suggesting that the official figure of 40 deaths so far nationwide could be a gross underestimate.

Where is PETA?

Or to put it more simply --- are we to care for the suffering chickens before we care for our suffering children?

Lolita Lark


Science
The country's full of flies. I hang a bag of pesticide
from a tree so that the cow can walk back and forth and rub.

There is a glacier in the mountains above town.
fall and tumble, but every year the ice recedes.

Some laugh to see slugs copulate, hanging by threads from trees.
Others say this is not so much funny as perverse.

The honeybee's enemies nestle in her hair. Hungry,
they tickle her mouth. She feeds them sweet nectar.

Angels, pictured as both male and female, engage in neither
photosynthesis nor hererotrophic acts, and reproduce asexually.

There is a star so magnetic that at the distance of the moon
Its attractive power would rearrange the molecules in our bodies.

Archaeologists believe that certain delicate phials
found in Roman ruins were meant to hold tears.

--- From Some Church
David Romtvedt
©2005 Milkweed Editions

A review of
Some Church
can be found at
http://www.ralphmag.org/DW/briefs.html


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