The Review of Arts, Literature,      
      Philosophy and the Humanities       

The Best of www.ralphmag.org
Volume Thirty-Four
Summer 2009

Eskimo Architecture
Dwelling and Structure in
The Early Historic Period

Molly Lee, Gregory A. Reinhardt
(University of Alaska Press)
When you think of Eskimo Architecture, you probably visualize blocks of ice piled atop each other to form a round dome with a little hole in the top. Wrong.

There are Eskimo architects who have been heavily influenced by American and European schools of art and design. For instance, the Netsilik Eskimos have constructed a miniature replica cathedral --- some twelve feet tall --- of Le Mont-Saint-Michel, made out of ice blocks, dew-drip snow and blubber. The Kuuvanmuit of Kobuk River have demonstrated their admiration of Frank Lloyd Wright by making a 10% scale copy of Fallingwater, complete with icy stream, cold air and leaks.

The Chukchi have long worshipped the Eiffel Tower, and by means of whale-bone, sealskin, and ptarmigan beak have constructed a 50-foot replica in Northern Siberia. And one group of Innuit, using special glazed ice cut from the Noyatog River, have constructed a four-sided exact copy of New York's IBM building. They use the structure for storing dead reindeer and penguin feet.

Incidentally, Eskimos don't use ice blocks for structures. They use blocks of newly-fallen snow. These are technically called "Canadian Eskimo Snow Houses." According to the author, these houses are built in November or December and usually last the winter. In the spring they just melt away, which is what is something we would like to see in the 150-unit Las Gaviotas housing development down the street.

Each snow block designed for igloo building measures 30 by 20 by 6 - 8 inches. After stacking these, a vent is cut in the top and a door is set in the side. The whole is then closed tight to keep out the wind, the cold, and the thousands of anthropologists from American universities who crowd villages like Kinngait, Thule, and Shaktoolik to interview the Inuit on their favorite foods, family entertainment, and sex life.

Lamps are used to warm the space "but also glaze the dome's interior surface with a windproof shell of ice." A window of freshwater ice is mounted in the snow house facing south, and is "hauled along by sled from camp to camp all winter long." A snow house eight feet in diameter can be built in an hour and could accommodate five to six persons, fifteen dogs, or my rotund but rascally Uncle Ferd.

The authors have culled material from four Arctic subregions: Greenland; the Central Arctic; the Northwest Arctic and Bering Strait; and Southwest Alaska, the Bering Sea, Siberia, and the Gulf of Alaska. There are almost 150 drawings, sketches, and photographs, showing examples from the four regions. I just made up all that stuff at the beginning about Mont-Saint-Michel being made from ice, bone, and blubber but don't tell anyone.

--- Lolita Lark


Songs of Love, Moon & Wind
Poems from the Chinese
Kenneth Rexroth, Translator
(New Directions)
We always believed that Ezra Pound's translation from Riyuku, "The River Merchant's Wife" was his most exotic and sensual poem bar none ... better than most of his original works. [See a copy at www.ralphmag.org/pound.html].

Translations, as we all know, are but a gestält --- one man's sensibility stuffed into another's, with a concurrent freedom from responsibility. Pound's near-peer, Kenneth Rexroth, was even more unimpressive as a poet, but was as fine a critic, and a translator of considerable merit (although his knowledge of Japanese and Chinese was not extensive; he played it by ear).

Songs of Love, Moon & Wind consists of eighty poems drawn from 3,000 years of Chinese poetry, and touches on every image we've come to expect in classic oriental verse: cold, loneliness, mountains, mourning, the moon, Spring, Fall, time leaking away, drunkenness. And most of all, a delicacy of expression:

    Spring flowers, Autumn moons,
    Water lilies still carry
    Away my heart like a lost
    Boat. As long as I am flesh
    And bone I will never find
    Rest. There will never come
    Time when I will be able
    To resist my emotions.

This ease and elegance will puzzle those of us who remember Rexroth's antics from the fifties. He was famous in the San Francisco scene not only for his radio commentaries for KPFA --- which were soporific at best --- but for his appearance on stage, muttering his poems, a few jazz musicians wailing in the background.

The subtlety of these eighty translations betrays a richer side of his character, a side that is worthy of our attention and affection. Delicacy, gentleness, slight self-mockery:

    Reading in the heat of noon
    I grow sleepy, put my head
    On my arms and fall asleep.
    I forget to close the window
    And the warm air blows in
    And covers my body with petals.
--- Wah Eng


    Note: New Directions has published Written on the Sky, a companion volume. It consists of some ninety Rexroth translations from the Japanese. It is equally worthy ---
    All day I hoe weeds.
    All night I sleep.
    All night I hoe again
    In dreams the weeds of the day.


RALPH and Sunglasses
To: carlosamantea@yahoo.com
Subject: Nice Website
I recently found your website by simply browsing online for other good websites like yours. I run my own website called HiSunglasses.com, and I am trying to link to other sites I think my visitors might like to visit once they are done on my site.

Since my website is visited by 1,000's of online shoppers daily, I am positive many of my visitors would be interested in visiting your site once they leave mine. I figured you wouldn't mind if I link to your site since we are not competitors, and you would could have increased traffic. Please let me know if this is OK with you? Do you think you can link back to my website also? T

--- Murris
info@hisunglasses.com

§     §     §

Hi, Murris:
I couldn't think of an unlikelier pairing: a testy, geezer-filled, off-the-wall, sometimes otiose if not puerile on-line book review magazine ... and a purveyor of sunglasses.

Although sometimes, when I look back at some of the reviews we published in our infancy --- truly puerile --- then I think that many of our editors and writers ought to be wearing sunglasses: not to keep out the light, but to evade the literate public.

Yours in obscurity,

--- Carlos Amantea


Labor Pains and
Birth Stories

Essays on Pregnancy, Childbirth,
And Becoming a Parent

Jessica Powers, Editor
(Catalyst Book Press)
For Erin Lassiter, the pain of labor was like "nothing I had ever known before." Kiersten Shue remembers it as "being ignited by flames." Karen Deaver recalls it as "all-consuming, focused, and brilliant."

Carmen Smith says "My baby fits me like a key." Sabrina Porterfield had twins in Finland (and didn't speak Finnish). Sarah Briggs feared that labor would induce another of her manic episodes. Michelle Richards said that when she was finally offered an epidural, "at that point I would have let the night custodian administer it."

Having a baby is no piece of cake. Richards had a two-year post-partum depression. Many of the 29 writers here recall improperly trained nurses, uncomprehending family members, angry doctors, incompetent midwives, crying husbands, and hours and weeks --- and sometimes months --- of waiting. Anne Winterich spent seven weeks in and out of a hospital 3,000 miles from home because of something called "partial placenta previa." Deaver recalls pushing for so long that her body "now felt more like a strip mine than a private garden."

We are reminded in a couple of these stories that --- in a single twenty-four hour period --- there are 300,000 children being born into the world. If there are two words to describe the truth of becoming a mother, one is pain; the other is waiting.

The editor wisely piled up the best writing at the very beginning of the book; things do peter out less than halfway through. For the three men represented here, we would give a star to William Pierce who, in eight pages, best conveys the helplessness of the father, being quickly demoted to the position of an extraneous other in the hospital setting. His nightmares unfold: returning home alone; losing "only one of them, not the other ... and I blamed myself." Finally,

    we reconfigured our lives to raise a child whose brain the twin snake of provincialism and stubbornness had deprived of oxygen.

None of these, fortunately, came to pass.

Above all, we must give three stars to Jennifer Mattern for writing so well, so wittily, about the bane of so many would-be mothers: fat. Her fat and the child's fat. "If this baby gets any bigger," says her doctor, "you'll be on a fast track to a C-section."

    I am quite pleased. I, who, cannot keep a plant alive for more than three months --- a trimester --- am growing within me a gigantic hothouse tomato of a baby.

"I will take first prize at the county fair ... My doctor will make a special appearance with her thin, unsmiling family to present me with the key to her suburb." I knew she had it in her, she says:

    The crowd will cheer as I nurse my infant in our pen, the one usually reserved for the prize hogs.

--- Pamela Wylie


Lonely Planet's
Best in Travel 2009

850 Trends, Destinations, Journeys &
Experiences for the Year Ahead

Geoff Howard, Editor
(Lonely Planet)
Lonely Planet's top ten cities include Zurich, Switzerland (for the street parades), Warsaw, Poland (the world's first public library opened here in 1747), Shanghai, China ("the world's longest laundry chute"), and Mexico City (try to forget the 10,000,000 cars).

The surprise is Beirut, Lebanon. Fifteen years ago, it was under siege. To remind you of this, the "Most Bizarre Sight" listed here is the Holiday Inn, which once was a "prime sniper post."

    The hotel still dominates the Beirut skyline, complete with gaping mortar holes, fluttering shreds of bedroom curtains, and resident flocks of pigeons.

There are some ridiculous lists in Best in Travel. "Top ten places to steal a kiss" (the city of Kissing in Bavaria; Kissimmee, Florida, home of Disney World; the grave of Oscar Wilde in Pêre Lachaise ... which we wouldn't exactly think of as the best site for a happy buss).

Then there's "Best places to have a midlife crises:" The jewelry shops of Dubai? The home of the British Grand Prix, Silverstone? Seedy Macau ("Gamble away your kids' Inheritance?") Why not the birthplace of neurosis, Vienna?

For those in a better frame of mind, there are nine "Happiest Places." Bhutan in the Himalayas has a chart for something called GNA ("Gross National Happiness.") Perhaps that's because television only arrived there in 1999. Friends of ours do agree that Montréal, Canada should be at the top of the glee pile: there is a comedy festival every July, and marijuana is smoked openly, without shame or fear. Iceland comes in at #5, but this was published before the króna disappeared into a pile of dust last year.

And Denmark? "Academics drawing up a world map of happiness recently found Denmark the most cheerful nation on earth," but don't tell that to native son Søren Aabye Kierkegaard, who may have helped give birth to gloomy Existentialism. You might also want to avoid Happy, Texas. It is "the town without a frown."

There are some unlikely places to visit. Under "Top ten destinations" we have political edgy Algeria ("astonishing Roman cities, landscapes and oases of Saharan legend"), Kyrgyzstan ("the Switzerland of Central Asia" with "the world's only three-story yurt,") and Bangladesh. Bangladesh?

Despite being "the most densely populated country on earth," it is in the process of "banning all gas and diesel vehicles," and has mandated the end of all plastic bags "replacing them with environmentally kosher jute bags." The editors call it a "big-hearted nation" with a "most bizarre sight: a rush-hour traffic jam consisting entirely of hundreds upon hundreds of bell-clanging bicycle rickshaws."

Best in Travel is a pleasant change from the typical tourist guide. It's user-friendly, has --- as it reports in its title --- 850 choices for destinations, is filled with gorgeous photographs, and refuses to be too serious. In the "Top 10 Regions," you will find the Bay of Fires, Tasmania, Australia. The population is 300, beachside camping is free, and the language is "Australian."

--- Lolita Lark


[READING]
The Benign Indifference of the Universe
I, too, felt ready to start life all over again. It was as if that great rush of anger had washed me clean, emptied me of hope, and, gazing up at the dark sky spangled with its signs and stars, for the first time, the first, I laid my heart open to the benign indifference of the universe.

To feel it so like myself, indeed, so brotherly, made me realize that I'd been happy, and that I was happy still. For all to be accomplished, for me to feel less lonely, all that remained to hope was that on the day of my execution there should be a huge crowd of spectators and that they should greet me with howls of execration.

--- From The Stranger
Albert Camus
Stuart Gilbert, Translator
©1946, Alfred A Knopf


Feldwebel Zorn's
Motorcycle
Feldwebel Zorn told me in the winter of forty-four that this mess
Was coming to an end, the whole World knew it but the Germans, he was leaving and was not coming back
With any luck, next month he would board the ship freighting glass
And if he survived in the hold without water, food, and light, he'd drink rum with fishermen in Havana
And he would be called Francisco Garcia Goethe, fine, I said, you know that your words
Are going in the grave with me, I know you don't need my advice, so farewell
You misunderstand me, Sulc, I'm not a boy who needs to confide, nor am I a fool to brag
I need someone to leave my Zündapp with, and you know your way around machines and you understand this little male
Weakness, this that I'm leaving the world behind, but I can't leave my motorcycle, so if there's any luck
And we all save our skins, I'll be glad to come back to Sarajevo and get it, with a bottle of rum for you
And a straw hat for your Missus, fine, I told Feldenwebel Zorn, I'll wait for you --- Francisco
Forty years have passed, I've never heard of him, he's not among the criminals of war
He's not among Castro's compañeros with beards, he's not in letters or postcards
Just the Zümdapp, in the corner of my shed, among the wardrobes, bicycles, and automobile tires
Grease keeps it from rust, moths, flies, and ants have died in it, this sticky trap
In which there's no salvation, either for them, or for me

--- Senaden Musabegovic (b. 1970)
Translated from the Bosnian by Ulvija Tanovic
From New European Poets
Wayne Miller, Kevin Prufer, Editors
©2008, Graywolf Press


Hijos del Pueblo
Gender, Family, and Community
In Rural Mexico, 1730 - 1850

Deborah E. Kanter
(University of Texas Press)
To those of us in love with the world south of the border, depósito is the place where you go for cases of Corona, Tecate, or Victoria beer. Two hundred years ago the word had a somewhat different connotation. It was a storage place for members of the community who had strayed from the patriarchal society's view of the rôle and status of women; women who for whatever reason had opted out from tending hearth and children, being humilde. It was a home-prison for women who dared to defy the prevailing sexual (male) world-view.

The depósito could be the house of a priest. It could be a room in the house of a respected member of the community. It might even be in the house of one's own family. One could be incarcerated there for weeks or months.

In a hundred or so cases studied by the author (in Tenango del Valle, Mexico) the prime reason for such sequestering was "engagement ... to safeguard a woman before her wedding." Before their marriages, indio men were required to labor in the house of the bride. It was called montequitl, and

    The intimate contact fostered by montequitl and similar customs probably led priests to shelter Indian brides.

In one case documented by the author, an unlucky husband-to-be labored for nine months before marriage was permitted ... while his bride was shipped to some far-off priest's abode where she was forced to knit, and clean, and tend to his every want.

There were other reasons for being stuffed in a depósito. "Incest," is one listed, along with "Priest's anger, whim," "Divination," and "Sexual incontinence." However it was defined, according to Ms. Kanter, such incarceration came, over the years, to be more punishment than protection.

There is much detail here (it appears to be a PhD thesis that blew up), so much so that the myriad case studies may drive the casual reader to soporiferousness, if not ennui. The picture that Ms. Kanter gives us of life in Tenango del Valle in the 18th and 19th century (before during and after the revolution) is one of acceptance, indios living peacefully along with the peninsulares (Spaniards) and the mestizos.

Which is dramatic contrast to a modern visitor's experience of present-day Toluca there in the Tenango Valley. The city seems to be a collection base for the 100,000 or so buses that serve near-by Mexico City. The smog may be on a par with, if not superior to, that of its big neighbor. The police are the most driven in the entire country, for the mere appearance of a gringo license plate on a car passing through drives them to a frenzy of impertinence and greed.

For the most paltry infringement of the law, a visitor is forced to the side of the road and presented with a demand for 5,000 or 10,000 pesos (fifty to a hundred dollars). If one demurs, a burly cop will push you aside and drive you to their "grua" --- the holding tank for errant gabachos. The last time this happened to me, I took the advice of my AAA handbook and once we arrived in the far dusty car-strewn yard, I parked myself in front of the car, refused to be suckered in to a mordida (bribe).

Their response: they backed up a tow-truck with such alacrity that I had to dodge out of the way before they pulverized what's left of my midsection. It was only with the sudden appearance of my 5,000 pesos that all was forgiven, and I was again on my way, having considerable help in expunging the swelling that had bedeviled my right hip pocket.

The depósito, according to a study cited by Kanter, transfers "a deep Hispanic tradition of female enclosure to the New World."

    Mary Elizabeth Perry argues that ideally all women in early modern Spain were to live in one type of enclosure or another: the parental home, marriage, convent, house of correction, or house of prostitution.

"Enclosed women, living under male authority, were thus protected. Men in the streets then would be safe from 'loose' women."

--- Carlos Amantea


Œdipus the King
Sophocles
Ian Johnson
Translator

(Richer Resources)
At a traffic jam in Phocis, Oedipus gets in a fight with a driver who banged his phaeton. When an old man in the carriage tries to whip him, Oedipus pulls him out, knocks him down, stomps him and three others. It's the first case in recorded history of genuine road-rage.

Meanwhile, back in Thebes, the Sphinx won't let people get in or out of town until they answer her riddle, "what creature goes on four legs in the morning, two at mid-day, and three in the evening?" (If they don't answer correctly, she eats them). Oedipus solves the puzzle and Thebes is free.

But now there's a new curse: people are dying, no one is happy, they haven't invented Paxil or Zoloft yet ... it's worse than living in Hoboken, or South Chicago, or Orange County. Someone has to figure out what's wrong.

Oedipus --- now the king --- sends out for a prophet. When the seer comes, the old man says I know the answer to Thebes' problem. Great, says Oedipus, tell all. "Let me go home," says the old man. "I want out of here." No, you have to tell us, says Oedipus. Leave me alone, says Teiresias. Oedipus says, "If you don't talk, we're going to hurt you."

"And you're going to hurt you too," says Teiresias: "You yourself are the very man you are looking for ... Do you know the family you come from?" says the sage. "Must I tolerate this insolence," says Oedipus: "Get out, and may the plague get rid of you."

    There once lived a man named Oedipus Rex
    You may have heard about his odd complex
    His name appears in Freud's index
    'Cause he loved his mother

    His rivals used to say quite a bit
    That as a monarch he was most unfit
    But still in all they had to admit
    That he loved his mother...

    §     §     §

Oedipus is thus a western hero. He comes to town, a town in chaos, and by playing it smart, manages to put everything back together. Let's say he is a Greek John Wayne, the existential cowboy fixer. Unfortunately, he turns out to be a scab-picker, too; one who just can't leave it alone.

Jocasta, the queen, is merely trying to get on with her life, being his spouse, and here's Oedipus (husband #2) --- the puzzle-solver --- wanting to know all the details about who killed Laius (husband #1) at Phocis. He also wants to know who took him out in the woods when he was a baby, bound his feet, was told to leave him to die.

Jocasta tells him to let it be. "Do not keep investigating this," she says. Do not do this ... you poor miserable man. He doesn't get the message, will not stop pestering. Thus the drama.

And the question becomes more general. Is it possible that all of us should not, perhaps, be trying to unraveling things? Maybe we don't need to be nagging, asking Who am I? There might be some things in life we just should not know? Can ignorance be a form of blessedness? What worms wriggle out when you ask all those questions?

§     §     §

Oedipus finds a peasant "from the fields" who knows the facts about his birth, and his binding. He wants him to tell all about why he --- Oedipus --- was dumped in the mountains. The old man doesn't like this line of questioning, says "Why ask about that?" Can't you keep quiet? Oedipus says the old fool will start talking "once we start to hurt you" and "you're going to die if you don't tell the truth."

Oedipus finally figures out what he's been needling all these reluctant witnesses to reveal. He gets the picture, and when he does ... that's it: he blinds himself. He has seen too much, wants to see no more. The master of riddles has mastered one riddle too many.

    Yes he loved his mother like no other
    His daughter was his sister and his son was his brother
    One thing on which you can depend is
    He sure knew who a boy's best friend is

    When he found what he had done
    He tore his eyes out one by one
    A tragic end to a loyal son
    Who loved his mother.

Sophocles plays this fatal hide-and-seek for all it's worth, doling out the drama until you want to scream. As Oedipus finally does, "Aaaiiii, aaaiiii ... Alas! Alas! How miserable I am." Creon, his brother and now gack his son ... tells him to cool it, to stop putting on such "a show." If we are going to spill family secrets, he says, let's not do it "in such a public way." Think of your family, he is saying. Think of how we feel about this nutty scenario, bro. Just stop needling people. Enough is enough.

    So be sweet and kind to mother
    Now and then have a chat
    Buy her candy or some flowers, or a brand new hat
    But maybe you had better let it go at that

    Or you may find yourself with a quite complex complex, and
    You may end up like Oedipus...
    I'd rather marry a duck-billed platypus
    Than end up like old Oedipus Rex.

--- "Oedipus Rex"
Music and Words
©1960 Tom Lehrer

§     §     §


RE: Order
To: lolitalark@yahoo.com
Dear Sales Manager ---
My name is Mr Terry Lord with the Terry & Sons Company and i am sending this email to your business in regards to the order some {twyford wc}And i will be needing 100 pieces of them so i will like you to email me back with the pickup price including tax on that 100 pieces and also let me know the forms ofpayment and credit cards that you do accept so that we can proceed with the order.
--- Mr Terry Lord
terry.noah_bussiness@yahoo.com

§     §     §

Hi, Terry:
Thanks for your generous order. You say that you want to order "100 pieces." 100 pieces of what? Since our business is publishing reviews, readings, articles and poems, do you need 100 pieces of these; and, if so, which?

We have, for example, in the review department, tart reviews, admiring reviews, so-so reviews, reviews of books of especial merit, and occasionally, notices of real stinkers. Which would you like?

We could send you pieces of our poetry --- we have almost 500 online, dating back to 1994. Do you want pieces of sad poems, serious poems, jokey poems, funny poems, poems with or without rhyme or meter? And, do you only want snippets of these --- or the whole kit-and-kaboodle?

We are, we confess, pleased with your order --- it's our first --- but I must say it put our order lady (who is very disordered) in a tizzy and will continue to be so until you make your needs and desires a little more specific.

--- L. Lark
Ed


World Made
By Hand

James Howard Kunstler
(Atlantic Monthly Press)
James Howard Kunstler has published nine books of fiction, but is best known for his works of social criticism focused on (but not limited to) American patterns of urban settlement. These books, The Geography of Nowhere (1993), Home From Nowhere (1996), and The City In Mind (2002), were brilliant, often corruscatingly funny deconstructions of the aesthetics, planning, and sociology of our automobile-centered suburbs and metropolitan centers. The themes were essentially those of the "New Urbanism" school of people like Andres Duany, and excerpts from the books became required readings in many departments of Urban Planning.

In The Long Emergency (2005), Kunstler went on to the more disturbing subject of Peak Oil and its ramifications. Since the industrial economy of the last 200 years was based on spending off the earth's one-time endowment of fossil fuel, there is bound to be big trouble once depletion of that endowment takes effect, a stage which is very near or has already begun. From this point of view, our Happy Motoring suburban consumer society is just the endpoint of a vast misallocation of resources which is on the verge of extinction anyway. Kunstler put it this way in his blog a year ago: "One thing the public doesn't get about the housing debacle is that it is not just the low point in a regular cycle --- it is the end of the suburban phase of US history. We won't be building anymore of it, and those employed in its development will have to find something else to do."

    Now, unfortunately the whole point of the housing bubble was not really to put X-million people in so many vinyl and chipboard boxes, but rather to ramp up a suburban sprawl-building industry as a replacement for America's dwindling manufacturing economy.

"This stratagem ran into the implacable force of Peak Oil, which not only puts the schnitz on America's whole Happy Motoring / Suburban nexus, but implies a pervasive trend for contraction in everything from the daily distances we can travel to the very core idea of regular economic growth per se --- at least in the way we have understood it through the age of industrial capital."

The Long Emergency of 2005 went into great detail about both the coming troubles (which seem to have arrived already) and the new economic life that would, with much difficulty, emerge. World Made By Hand is the same forecast in novel form. Character development and plot aren't the book's long suits, as in most speculative fiction. Nonetheless, I found it an absorbing read because of the way the new world is imagined in meticulous detail: austere, intensely local, low-energy and low-tech, based on farming, handicrafts, and human and animal labor.

The novel's setting is a fortunate part of the country, rural upstate New York north of Albany. Life in the 2020s has returned to an approximation of what it was in about 1800, and an abundance of trout has returned to the Hudson River.

The breakdown of law and government generates the plot elements of a wild western, with the good guys forced to confront lawless bands. In addition, Kunstler introduces a touch or two of magic realism, events that cannot be other than fantasy.

I found this jarring, out of alignment with the book's principle tone of down-to-earth practicality. Surely, Kunstler doesn't mean to tell us that there will be plain magic to help us through the Long Emergency, which otherwise demands, in his telling, endurance, courage, ingenuity, and human solidarity. In contrast to Kunstler's sharp, breezy polemical style, his writing here is low-key and lyrical.

The lyricism applies to nature, to the everyday world, and strikingly often to food. Every few pages, there are passages like these: "I made a pot of rose-hip tea, which was our chief source of vitamin C, and fried up three slices of Jane Ann's brown bread with plenty of butter in a cast iron skillet."

    Plenty was left and it was swimming in a cream-thickened sauce with new onions and peas along with some cornmeal dumplings flecked with thyme.

>"He had a napkin tucked into his collar and seemed pleasantly preoccupied with the fried chicken, corn bread, pickled okra, and other delicacies that the sisters had packed for his supper."

So, our larders in the World Made By Hand will be like they are now after a visit to the local farmers' market, and the fishing will be better too. Maybe it won't be so bad, except for the fact that dentistry will be practiced without Novocaine.

--- Jon Gallant


RE: Pest Control
To: carlosamantea@yahoo.com
My name is Emma Edwards. I've just visited your website www.ralphmag.org and I was wondering if you'd be interested in exchanging links with my website. I can offer you a home page link back from my website which is http://www.pestcontrolnowonline.com As mentioned, your link would be placed on the site home page, not on any "links" pages which may be buried in the site somewhere. I'm sure this exchange would be benefitial for both of our sites, helping towards increasing our visibility in search engines. If you are interested, please add the following information to your website and kindly let me know when it's ready. I'll do the same for you in less than 24 hours, otherwise you can delete my link from your site.
Title: Fly screens
URL: www.premier-env.co.uk
Description:
Fly screens for windows and doors.

I hope you have a nice day and thank you for your time.
--- Emma Edwards
Web Marketing Consultant

§     §     §

Hi, Emma:

Thanks for your note, but we had better not bite, even though we are tempted.

Pest-control ... of course! We are more or less in the pest-control business ourselves. Trying to control the flood the waterfall the avalanche of annoying repetitive ear-buzzing soul-nipping heart-robbing bad books that seem to have taken over the world of publishing. If we could only put a screen up, one that would stop these pests...

If we only could!

--- L. Lark


Strand
An Odyssey of
Pacific Ocean Debris

Bonnie Henderson
(Oregon State University Press)
In 1995, Bonnie Henderson volunteered to help the non-profit volunteer organization, Coastwatch ... and was given a mile of coastline. Not to build condos or a shopping mall, but to watch over. Mile 157 was hers.

She was to walk it at least four times a year and report to the Oregon Shores Conservation Commission if there were any radical changes, any proposed developments, or "anything threatening the public's access to Oregon's publicly owned beaches." This book, Strand, grew out of her stewardship, six chapters on what was happening to or around or about her fiefdom.

One chapter is about the murre, small, penguin-like birds that live on the Washington and Oregon coastline, nesting on the rocky outcrops on the shore. A second chapter tells us more than perhaps we would ever want to know about bird-bodies. Seems there is a dead bird organization in the Pacific Northwest, the Coastal Observation and Seabird Survey Team. COASST consists of four-hundred volunteers who pace the beaches looking for little corpses. If they appear due to an oil spill, the guilty shipowners have to 'fess up ... then pay a fine to clean up the beaches and compensate for the croakers.

    Insurance companies add up the number of a particular species believed to have died as a result of a spill, multiply it by its predetermined value, add that to the value of other dead organisms also found to have expired in that event, and the case is closed.

It is not bird-watching, the author tells us, where you have "the bird's behavior and voice as keys to its uniqueness." It's, rather, the dead, which have to be painstakingly identified and counted. It's not easy.

    A dead bird has no behavior, no voice. The plumage may survive, but often the bird is in pieces, missing body parts or, at best, disheveled.

COASST trains observers by means of a booklet on how to identify and count the number of those who have passed over into bird heaven. Then the insurance companies --- only in America! --- pay for the difference: those who would have died through normal entropy vs. the extra ones that died through human error.

There are five other chapters. There's one on gomi, the small glass balls that for centuries were used to buoy Japanese fishing nets; one on whale watching, and a digression on the smallest of them, the Minke; there is a chapter on shoes ... how a Nike Havoc floated out of a storm-riven container ship (along with 60,000 others) and ended up on Mile 157; and an absolutely riveting account of the sinking, thirty years ago, at Mile 157, of a fishing boat, called the Sanak.

I mean riveting: you are there on the sixty-foot black-cod fishing boat as it rams the beach at two in the morning (the captain was asleep), the crew going nuts as the craft began to founder, the rescue by the Coast Guard helicopter.

Henderson's writing is the can't-put-'em-down reality writing (the stuff the New Yorker used to specialize in). And she does research that connotes a master, serious journalist. For instance, in "Havoc, Size 11," Henderson flies off to China, goes through Nike production line, finds out how they make shoes, how they fit them together, how they hand-sew them, how they put them in containers, how they ship them out of Hong Kong, how the container ships at times run into typhoons, how those waves can loosen the containers tied to the deck, how the whole ship (in this case, the American President Line China,) gets beaten senseless, how containers fall into the sea, how a container --- called a TEU --- begins to rip apart, how the shoes inside drift out, how some of them drift into the Eastern Garbage Patch, thousands of square miles of floating trash in the middle of the Pacific, while some of them end up at Mile 157, where, one day, as Henderson is walking her watch, she finds this Nike Havoc, not worn at all, that has floated in with the tide.

Henderson knows how to write dispassionately and clearly. Her enthusiasm for the usual and trivial (how to construct a shoe; the different types of glass floats) mixes well with her fascination for the dramatic (how a Coast Guard helicopter sets out on a rescue; what happens to a container ship in a hurricane). There is the unexpected: how ebay has distorted the market for the Japanese gomi; there are the words of an expert on floating debris ... oceanographer Curtis Ebbesmeyer: "My view is that plastic is eventually going to end humanity."

And there is the nakedly comic: 29,000 rubber duckies spilled out of a container in the middle of the Pacific (most are still floating around the vast ocean); adventures with some highly regarded scientists in a launch in the Straits of Juan de Fuca, collecting "whale poop." It's a wonderful ride along the whole Strand.

--- Pamela Wylie


Godzilla in Mexico
Listen carefully, my son: bombs were falling
over Mexico City
but no one even noticed.
The air carried poison through
the streets and open windows.
You'd just finished eating and were watching
cartoons on TV.
I was reading in the bedroom next door
when I realized we were going to die.
Despite the dizziness and
nausea I dragged myself to the kitchen and found you on the floor.
We hugged. You asked what was happening
and I didn't tell you we were on death's program
but instead that we were going on a journey,
one more, together, and that you shouldn't be afraid.
When it left, death didn't even
close our eyes.
What are we? you asked a week or year later,
ants, bees, wrong numbers
in the big rotten soup of chance?
We're human beings, my son, almost birds,
public heroes and secrets.

--- Roberto Bolaño


Atiende esto, hijo mio: las bombas caían
sobre la Ciudad de México
pero nadie se daba cuenta.
El aire llevó el veneno a través
de las calles y las ventanas abiertas.
Tú acababas de comer y veías en la tele
los dibujos animados.
Yo leía en la habitación de al lado
cuando supe que íbamos a morir.
Pese al mareo y las náuseas me arrastré
hasta el comedor y te encontré en el suelo.
Nos abrazamos. Me preguntaste qué pasaba
y yo no dije que estábamos en el programa de la muerte
sino que íbamos a iniciar un viaje,
uno más, juntos, y que no tuvieras miedo.
Al marcharse, la muerte ni siquiera
nos cerró los ojos.
¿Que somos?, me preguntaste una semana o un año después,
¿hormigas, abejas, cifras equivocadas
en la gran sopa podrida del azar?
Somos seres humanos, hijo mío, casí pájaros,
héroes públicos y secretos.

--- From The Romantic Dogs
Laura Healy, Translator
©2008, New Directions


Bonehead English
How to Make Students Shine
(Despite Themselves)
When I got hired on at our local Catholic University, I was beside myself. "At last," I thought to myself, "A job." Four years of graduate school was finally paying off.

I wasn't too concerned with the prevailing devotional spirit of the school. I would have said Pater Nostrodamus or whatever they called it if they were going to let me in the door. Hell, I even would have gone to Confession, even confessed the lesser of my sins if it would help me hang onto my job. Butter wouldn't melt in my mouth.

I was given the title of "Adjunct Professor," an impressive title with little to go along with it. My office was half-a-hallway. My desk was old, wooden, and bruised from many years of being tormented by adjunct professors tormenting their students.

One of the classes they gave me to teach was beginning journalism. The second was English 101, which, I found out later, was commonly known as "Bonehead English." I was told that my students had "some problems" --- that is, they had flunked the basic English comprehension test given to all incoming students.

Since I was an inveterate journal-keeper myself, I immediately hit upon the idea of diaries. During our four months together, I told them, they were to keep journals. They were not to bother about grammar or spelling or punctuation: that wasn't their (or my) job.

"Just write about what's going on in your life. Write it all: memories, dreams, reflections, plans, problems, loves, hates. It's your baby," I said. "I'm only interested in your word count."

"Take the journal with you everywhere," I told them. "In the school cafeteria, in your dorm, on the bus, in the park --- even other classes if you don't get caught."

I explained that once a month we'd have a word count: they would estimate the number of words they had written, would announce the result to the whole class. "Some would think it was competition," I explained. "I'd rather think it was a chance to show your affection for words."

I said I would take a look at their journals from time to time, but emphasized that whatever they wrote was between them and the page. "I'm not there to comment on your life; I'm there to teach you English. What you write down is confidential."

I let them know that their other work was important but these journals were the core of the class, and that those who had the most numbers of words would do best and that their diaries would count for at least half of their final grade.

§     §     §

Let me tell you what was weird about these journals. First off, I found that they turned out to be practically free of grammatical or spelling mistakes. Compared to the two or three formal papers I had them do ("Hamlet," Pride and Prejudice, Great Expectations) they wrote with a minimum of errors and a maximum of what the professionals call "communications skills."

Second, most of them produced prodigiously. Most put out 3,000 to 5,000 words a week. By the end of the semester, some of them had come up with over 100,000 words --- equal to The Great Gatsby, in quantity if not in quality.

But wait. This was Bonehead English, right? Yet with a couple of exceptions their stories were fun, or funny, or sad --- and in a couple of cases, downright gripping.

Now, so many years after the fact, I can still remember three of the best. One lovely young girl (she swept into class like a breathless, red-cheeked princess) was carrying on a torrid affair with a young gentleman, in a secret apartment a mile from campus. They had good times together --- and a good time hiding it all from their parents, and from the school. (It was, after all a Catholic School, trying and failing to act in loco parentis).

They also gave me a kick because I was allowed to read their pillow talk (he called her "Heffalump," she called him "Pooh-bear.") I learned about their fights and their making up --- he made fun of her mum, who was short and fat; she didn't like his moustache. Most of all, the diary, written flowingly and well, let me see two young people filled with what we in those days thought of as an innocent passion.

The second surprise journal came from the hands of the captain of the school football team. The clichés didn't work here. He was a serious young man, worried about his life, and the world, and his future. His ended up being near the top in number of words --- I think he did almost 140,000.

And his family! His father --- he was a famous magnate in town --- was a rich and brutal drunkard, a swiving scoundrel. When he wasn't making money, he regularly swatted his wife and (until he came of age) his one son.

Parent's Weekend was a disaster. Not the writing: the event. Mother and son were desperate to keep the old bastard from ruining their time together, but he managed to fall out of his chair at dinner and damn near kill them driving back to the school.

And finally, there was Antonio, from Mexico. He wrote perfect English but his writing was a pain. He wrote in a script so small I had to practically crawl in the notebook with a bright light to get through it.

After struggling with it for a couple of sessions, I wrote a note in his book complaining about his handwriting. This created an interesting dialogue. He wrote a testy response under what I had written. He said his teachers were always bitching about his writing, and he wasn't about to change at this late stage. I responded to his response, told him that change was possible even after age twenty.

He may not have suspected that my complaint about his writing was selfish, for I wanted to read everything he had to say. His dreams were wonderfully weird and his life was a hoot. Each weekend he would tank up and go find a hooker downtown or head over to Mexicali to get laid. His exploits were sordid and funny and equal to some of the best of Richard Burton or, at least, Joyce's "Nighttown."

He also gave wry critiques of my class. In those days I had given up coffee, was drinking a fetid dark liquid yogurt for breakfast. I would swill this stuff regularly, in front of all. He knew to rack up points even as I was teaching. He wrote that the vision of me and my concoction at 8 AM made him quite ill. I think the word he used was "barfy."

Antonio ultimately won the big prize. We added everything up in the last class. He topped the list at 165,000 words. All crammed into one tiny journal.

I loved the whole moil. I also came to love my students. Most of them wrote without shame. I remember thinking how lucky I was to be reading their secrets while pretending to teach English. With my ecstasy of discovery on how to get laggard students to write sensibly and well, I was prepared to ask to teach more classes in English 101. I figured that one day the Journal Sweepstakes that I had invented would make me famous --- would change forever the way writing was taught at American universities.

Unfortunately, my journalism class sunk my big prize forever. The class met each Wednesday at noon, and each week I would order up thirty copies of a local or national newspaper for us to study.

We'd look at style of writing, layout, depth of reporting, feature vs. news stories, and, in general, the "feel" of the newspaper. We did "The New York Times," "The Wall Street Journal," "The Los Angeles Times," "USA Today," "The Washington Post," and ... woe! ... "The National Enquirer."

"Look how it's laid out," I told them, referring to the latter. "The language --- nothing but the most simple, the best of 6th grade prose. No index, so you have to page through the whole thing. The placement of the pictures, the tone, the feeling. It does what it sets out to do: to titillate, to excite, to appeal to simple folk with simple stories. Perfect for the checkout stand."

They loved that class. "Now they're learning real journalism," I thought. But when they came to put out the annual April's Fool's Day satire issue --- which I neglected to vet beforehand --- I found that they had taken my words to heart.

They put a picture of Author (not Arthur) Hughes, the President of the school, on the first page. His visage was neatly cropped to show him consorting with a lovely, toothy, busty cheerleader. The head nun, Sister Sally Furey, a good and straightforward lady (the two times I had met her I had gotten somewhat fond of her): they decided to award her a prominent "National Enquirer" inspired hobby. They set her a-dancing. On a bar. At Pacer's Club. The local strip joint. Down on the Midway.

I read that one and kissed my fame --- and my ass --- goodbye.

§     §     §

I handed the notebooks back at our final meeting. Antonio got his, as did our Football Captain. But the Princess never showed up, and I never saw her again. I have held onto her notebook all these years. It turned up a few days ago when I was cleaning out my closet.

I read a bit about Heffalump and Pooh, thought about them some. Are they still together? Does she still complain about his beard and he about her mother? Did they go on to have a passel of Kangas and Tiggers and Roos?

Too, I wondered if she would ever come back to reclaim that part of her love and her joy that she gave so generously, to him, and to me, so long ago?

--- L. W. Milam


Sailing / French Kisses
To: poo@cts.com
Subject: Your Review --- "Sailing To The Far Horizon"
Hi Carlos,
I'm curious. What sailing experiences have you had?
Jim Allen
jim@azbw.com
Publisher Arizona Boating &
Watersports News Magazine

§     §     §

Hi, Jim:
When I was ten-years-old my brother took me sailing in his old leaky wooden ten-footer, "The Honorable Admiral T. Head." We were out there on the windless St. Johns River for eight hours, back and forth, back and forth, with all the shit and the water-hyacinths for eight hours (Jacksonville had not yet created a sewage system; the river was the sewage system.) I thought I would go bonkers, but my brother --- a stolid sort --- didn't seem to care.

That was the last time I went sailing unless you count as "sailing" the five days I spend on the old French Line Liberté in the fall of 1959 going from New York to Le Havre. Now that's sailing! (French beer! French food! French kisses!)

--- Carlos Amantea

The review that may have inspired this letter can be found at
www.ralphmag.org/DC/sofia.html


Near Death in the Arctic
True Stories of Disaster and Survival
Cecil Kuhne, Editor
(Vintage Books)
It's great summer reading, these twelve tales, most from the salad years of Arctic and Antarctic exploration, from the 1890s to the 1930s. There are the famous (Richard Byrd, Robert Peary, Robert Scott, Ernest Shackleton, Roald Amundsen) and the not-so-famous (Apsley Cherry-Garrard, Fridtjof Nansen, Valerian Albanov, Frank Arthur Worsley).

Before the coming of satellites, sturdy airplanes, and heavy-duty transport, Arctic and Antarctic exploration was life-threatening. What was it with these guys? For, as Cherry-Garrard wrote in 1924:

    Polar exploration is at once the cleanest and most isolated way of having a bad time which has been devised. [See www.ralphmag.org/worst-journeyL.html]

These were trips that took you to the edge, the real edge. You and your companions (if you had any left) came to be enmeshed in a cold and deadly world, with fog, icy seas, frost-bite, isolation, starvation, depression as the givens.

On the book Resolute, one of our critics said

    Arctic explorers were, if you ask me, dotty. With great sums of money, endless manpower, great (and expensive) vessels, they sailed into the unknown ... and got their limbs nipped off by frost, came down with scurvy, spent months entombed in the dark, in the ice, fought with (and at times murdered) each other, and, not so rarely, died ... presumably, of cold, if not of sheer animal boredom.

"How would you like to spend ten months in a mouldy boat (or tent)," he concluded: "in the near-dark, staring at the same glacier, day after day?"

A man like Robert Scott inspired passionate world-wide affection, but he made serious mistakes from the very beginning of his final and fatal exploration. You come into the South Pole region fully equipped; you do not bring horses; you don't collect rocks when you are trying desperately to survive.

Scott blamed his death on the weakness of his companions, and the weather, ignoring the fact that at the same exact time the Norwegian Roald Amudsen succeeded in reaching and returning from the South Pole with no loss of life whatsoever. At no point did Scott take the blame on himself.

Apsley Cherry-Garrard's story of Scott's expedition, The Worst Journey in the World, has been rightly deemed one of the great travel books of all time. His description of "polar exploration" tells us that "It is the only form of adventure in which you put on your clothes at Michaelmas and keep them on until Christmas, and, save for a layer of the natural grease of the body, find them as clean as though they were new. It is more lonely than London, more secluded than any monastery, and the post comes but once a year ... Take it all in all, I do not believe anybody on earth has a worse time than an Emperor penguin."

Part of The Worst Journey is excerpted in Near Death, but it is not necessarily the best part: too much is devoted to faithfully defending that nincompoop Scott. Cherry did survive, and one of the best parts of his tale occurs at the end. This good-tempered man, who had suffered through three trying years at the South Pole, is attempting to gift the penguin eggs that he collected (and that damn near killed him) to a functionary at the London Museum of Natural History. The curator is disinterested; Cherry is beside himself; the reader is enchanted.

§     §     §

Besides Cherry, the great writers in Near Death are David Lewis on his solo sail around the southern continent, Ernest Shackleton with his fascinating detail of lights, shadows, and mirages, and Richard E. Byrd. His Alone (See our review at www.ralphmag.org/CO/richard-byrd.html) is one of the great classic travel books of all time, right up there with the Odyssey, Sailing Alone Around the World, and Madame Helena Petrovna Blavatsky's The Caves and Jungles of Hindostan.

Byrd's book is a masterpiece but a puzzler (what the hell was he doing out in the wilds of Antarctica, all by himself, with no help, forty-six years old?), a detective story (what in his cabin is slowly killing him?), a psychological thriller (is he crazy?), and, above all, an excellent exercise in adventure writing.

What the hell was he doing out there in the bitter cold icy no-man's-land, in 1934, on his own? Well, he was probably doing the same that Shackleton, Scott, Amundsen, and Peary were doing: pushing the limits. Why? For the same reason that you and I, sometime in our lives, will venture into some forbidden region (of the soul, of humanity): just to see if we can do it, just to see if we can make it.

Some of the worst writing here is by Robert Falcon Scott. As one of our early reviewers wrote on his last trip in these pages:

    One gets the feeling that the whole kit-and-kaboodle was undertaken with a minimum of good sense and a maximum of what could charitably be called hubris. The choice of the Terra Nova --- an ancient and leaky vessel --- to take the party south from New Zealand was the first mistake. Everything flowed from that: the disasters that occurred in the earliest part of the journey --- including a lack of fresh water, lack of huskies, lack of appropriate space for the ponies --- all helped to foment the disasters that followed.

§     §     §

A new voice, one perhaps a little less demented --- but not by much --- is David Lewis. For some bizarre reason, he chose to set forth in 1972 to sail around the entire Antarctic, in a "small, steel-hulled yacht dubbed the Ice Bird." His tale of lousy weather, huge waves, a few excruciating misjudgments, and misfortune in general can be as gripping as the stories of Byrd, Shackleton, and Worsley. Lewis ended up battered, frost-bitten, tossed about by huge waves, adrift for thirteen weeks ... long after all had given up on him. "Earning membership of humanity --- must earn it every day, to be a man," he explains. Well ... maybe.

There is little to be lost by reading all of Near Death in the Arctic. At times these fools inspire the reader to ... dare I say it? ... want to make his or her own foolish journey, out there in the wild. At worst, we get to improve our vocabulary, for the two poles give us their own words: "Nunatak" (the eskimo devil), "brash" (aggregated blocks of ice), "leads" (channels of open water cut through the ice), "rubble ice" (just like it sounds), and my favorite, no definition given by Scott: "toothed sastrugi."

--- A. W. Allworthy


Diamonds
To: lolitalark@yahoo.com
RE: Exchange

I was checking out your website and saw you had good information about diamonds [www.ralphmag/DU/diamond.html].

I'd like to place a few links on that page. I can send you over exactly what I'm looking for. If you decide it's a good fit we can work something out :-)

I am only interested a few words or maybe a simple words linked in your content( i don't like ads that are eyesores ).

I am sure we can work something out as far as financial compensation that will be fair.

Hope to Hear back from you!

All the best!

--- Kyra Winters
kyra@dimacc.org

§     §     §

Hi, Kyra:

Thanks for your e-mail, though we are hard-pressed to see what would be so attractive about a review which points out some of the foibles of the diamond: a scarcity that is made so by naked manipulation of the marketplace, not to say the manipulation by outsiders of the politics of certain countries unlucky enough to have diamond mines buried in their midst.

We get invitations for links all the time, from the most bizarre sources. One wanted to do dark glasses, another bathroom fixtures, and one we recall, was interested in clothing for dogs.

We apologize for not being able to help you. We are, alas, committed to being non-profit, and take pride in the fact that none of our pages are sponsored by anyone except our exasperating balance-sheet.

--- L. Lark
Ed


A People's History of
Poverty in America

Stephan Pimpare
(The New Press)
  • "Payday loan brokers" are taking over as 'the emergency resource of choice' for the poor. Five years ago there were 16,000 of these in the United States, and they have grown exponentially since. The "annualized rates of interest" amount to "350 to 1,000 percent."

      Those who use check cashiers instead of bank accounts are charged as much as 3.5 percent for each check they cash, and pay $1.50 (and more) per money order; they are more likely to be younger, less educated, poorer, black and Hispanic.

  • Funds for the poor serve as a check on the morals of the lower class. "American relief has functioned to regulate the sexual, reproductive, and labor market behavior of vulnerable populations," and several critics have stated that "the principal function of relief is to regulate the low-wage labor supply and to placate disruptive poor and unemployed people."

  • To be poor was a crime. In colonial times in America, poverty could land you in jail. "Even to be accused of poverty means the denial of your most basic liberty, and to be driven deeper into need by your punishment." In 19th Century New York, most who were imprisoned for non-payment of debts

      were incarcerated for small sums; some were prostitutes who owed money to their brothels; others were sailors guilty of nothing, accused by their captains and incarcerated only to ensure that when he next needed them to set sail they would be available.

  • The homeless, those who spend their nights in shelters, usually end up in public libraries, "because they want to sit down and recover from the chilly dawn or use the restrooms. Fast-food restaurants, hotel lobbies, office foyers, shopping malls, and other privately own businesses and properties do not tolerate their presence for long." Ask any urban library administrator, and

      he or she will tell you about the struggles of America's public librarians to cope with their unwanted and unappreciated role as the daytime guardians of the down and out. In our public libraries, the outcasts are inside.

  • Slavery was considered by some to be a form of welfare. A certain George Fitzhugh argued that slavery "was welfare program enough ... and it worked so well for 'Negroes' that it could and should solve the subsistence problems of poor whites as well."

  • According to the Brookings Institution, "poorer households paid higher interest rates on mortgages and car loans than did others, and paid more for cars, insurance, groceries, furniture, and appliances." The author suggests,

      Perhaps we should think of this as a poverty tax.

  • Before the Civil War, prostitution was a "greater portion of the New York economy than shipbuilding, furnace making, hatmaking, boot and shoemaking, butcher shops, bakeries, printing, or breweries. As many as 10 percent of all women under thirty years old in turn-of-the-century New York prostituted at some point, historian Timothy Gilfoyle estimates:"

      Like peddling, scavaging, and ragpicking, prostitution turned something with little value into something with cash value. When work was slow or money slack, milliners, servants and peddlers alike resorted to prostitution,

Facts and quotes like this abound in A People's History of Poverty in America. The author calls it a "bottom up" history, a document of the "heroic effort of mere survival." Among "advanced" nations, the United States is first in general poverty, childhood poverty, elderly poverty, CEO pay, health-care costs, income inequality and incarceration. "Men in Bangladesh stand a better chance of surviving to age sixty-five than black men in Harlem," the author reports. The American poor worry about their stomachs, but politicians and those with power and the religious folk worry more about what they are doing in their bedrooms, not how well they (or their families) are doing.

The thesis on which this book is built is simple. When the poverty-stricken in this country need to feed themselves and their children, they are faced with two dismal choices --- get help from a system that treats them like trash ... or go to work with wages so low that they will be even poorer on payday.

"By current, official measures, more than one-third of poor Americans are children under eighteen years old, more than 10 percent are over age sixty-five, and nearly 40 percent of the adult poor are disabled,"

    that is, most poor people are "deserving" or "involuntarily" poor due to old age, youth, or infirmity.

The image of most is the "welfare queen" or "Welfare Cadillac." President Nixon asked Johnny Cash to sing this song at the White House, but, instead, Cash performed "The Man in Black:"

    And why does my appearance seem to have a somber tone
    Well, there's a reason for the things I have on
    I wear the black for the poor and the beaten down
    Livin' in the hopeless, hungry side of town.

A People's History of Poverty in America is strong stuff, enough to make a grown man cry for his nation and the 37,000,000 who live below the poverty line. The introduction, titled "The Indignant Poor and the Constants of Relief," says it all.

--- Richard Saturday


Falling Wings
TO: lolitalark@yahoo.com
RE: Me Is Friendly
Hello, my dear friend!
She said "I'm afraid of falling..." and he whispered "I have wings"

Me is friendly, sweet, love sports! I like someone who enjoys company, caring, kind. I like to relax as well as go out and have a good time. I am strong in my convictions and love for his family.

Do you like it? Tell me!

My partner is creative and entertaining, and serving others. He loves to travel to new places around the world and spending time outdoors. He has a good sense of humor and enjoys laughing and making others laugh.

--- Tani
chenjdd@snhd.com.cn


Red Mutiny
Eleven Fateful Days on
The Battleship Potemkin

Neal Bascomb
(Houghton Mifflin)
The faithful would have you believe that the sailors of the Potemkin were filled with revolutionary fervor when Captain Golikov (also known as "The Dragon") told them that he was cutting off their bathing privileges. But their fervor had more to do with the fact that when lunch was served, it was borscht pot pie aswarm with maggots. As bad as Russian cooking gets, it usually doesn't includes worms in the main course.

Eat the borscht or be damned was Golikov's message to the sailors. If they didn't do as told, he would shoot thirty of them. They would have none of it. Shots were exchanged; Golikov was taken prisoner. Suddenly, a crew of 300 owned their own battleship.

Afanasy Nikolayevich Matyushenko had been elected chairman of the "Potemkin's Sailors Council." Golikov was brought before him. "The captain represented the very system that had oppressed and exploited Matyushenko throughout his life."

    Now the Potemkin was theirs. Matyushenko could easily arrest Golikov, as they had the other captured officers and lock him away until they decided what to do.

But he deferred to the sailors, "The crew must decide," he said. And the crew voted to kill the captain.

The uprising was born of fear and hate for a system that made the crew (mostly poor serfs) hostages to the officers (mostly upper class). The common sailors were treated no better than slaves. The revolt that brought the Potemkin into their hands, in turn, created more violence, not the least in the streets of Odessa. When the battleship arrived and anchored on 15 June 1905, the city went into ecstasy. The ecstasy turned violent, and the police were quick to quell it. It turned into a police riot.

The sailors' problem was this. If they intervened in Odessa, they would probably murder thousands of innocents. They had other problems: what do you do when you find yourself adrift with a 12,800 ton brand-new state-of-the-art twin-screw tub awash in guns and torpedo tubes?

There was too the small matter of the Russian navy, eager to chase them around the Black Sea beyond Sevastopol and Yalta. There were the 22 boilers that had to be filled with coal. How about food? Worse, the sailors are not at all sure they want to be in the vanguard of an upcoming Revolution. Then there's the name: Everyone called it the Potemkin. Its real name was Knjas Potjomkin Tawritscheski (Prince Potjomkin of Taurien). Imagine Eisenstein using that as the handle for his movie.

The crew dawdled about the Black Sea for eleven days and finally they took the Potemkin to Constanza, Romania where they did what they should have done at the beginning: they opened the petcocks and adjourned to shore. King Carol the First (and Last) gave them asylum and the Romanians (who didn't much care for Nicholas II) feted them with piroski and maggot-free borscht.

Afanasy Nikolayevich Matyushenko went off to America. After two years, he returned to Russia where he promptly got nabbed and hung. Within two decades, the Russian director Sergey M. Eisenstein immortalized the rebellion and the Richelieu Steps of Odessa where the Cossacks murdered hundreds of those who had risen up to celebrate the arrival of the battleship.

Bascomb's book is a careful reappraisal of an event that was used by revolutionaries everywhere to further their cause, though there was no clarity of purpose in the uprising. Despite this, there is a real tension in the story of those eleven days ... the bitter conflicts; the virulence of the forces of the Tsar; the indecision of the "revolutionaries." Overall it is a fascinating study of a flagging mutiny, one that came well before its time. The story of the confrontation between the Potemkin and a dozen or so other ships of the Black Sea fleet --- hundreds of sailors unwilling to fire on their own --- is grippingly told, still manages to defy belief.

--- Nick Hoppin, USN Reserve


Presidential Doodles
Two Centuries of Scribbles,
Scratches, Squiggles &
Scrawls from the Oval Office

David Greenberg
(Basic)
The editor has winnowed through endless presidential papers to come up with nothing more important than doodles. He explains that we won't be getting many from the early presidents because goose quill pens were cranky and not something that you would fiddle with, at least until 1823 when the metal quill pen was invented.

And then there was the matter of paper. It wasn't until the early 1830s when techniques for mass producing writing paper were invented. On top of that, the very idea of official documents being collected together in a "Presidential Library" didn't even exist until Franklin Delano Roosevelt designated Hyde Park, New York as his official library (he even, according to Greenberg, doodled a preliminary sketch of how the library should look).

Some presidents didn't want their doodles handed out for public consumption. George Bush the senior hid his under "executive privilege," as did Nixon. Contrariwise, Herbert Hoover doodled everything and his are some of the most interesting or maybe weirdest in the book.

Don't feel bad if you don't know what a doodle is. In 1970, Norman R. Uris compiled a book of them by celebrities. When asked for a sample, Israeli Prime Minister David Ben-Gurion replied, "I don't know what is a 'doodle.' I did not find this word in the Oxford Concise Dictionary."

There are fifty or so that appear here. Some of the ugliest are by Benjamin Harrison (ghastly 'jack-o-lanterns') and Lyndon Johnson (hideous multi-faced women). Herbert Hoover's are strange if not overwhelming spider-webs). The saddest is by John Kennedy (an elegant sailboat done the night before his murder).

The most surprising in the book is by, of all people, Ulysses S. Grant: a draft horse complete with feedbag (it may not be a doodle though: it was a watercolor completed when he was at West Point).

The funniest are from Theodore Roosevelt, sketches for his children, including one, a picture of two dogs with campfire, with the note, "We have a great many hounds in camp; at night they gaze solemnly into the fire." The most vulgar are ones Reagan sent to Nancy, including one written on a paper stamped "IF THIS GETS INTO THE HANDS OF THE RUSSIANS, IT'S CURTAINS FOR THE FREE WORLD." The note scrawled under this says,

    I love you mucher & mucherthanthat. You are my cuddely, wuddly little pink-Honey Pot.

It's signed "XXXXX Guess Who?" All this doodled, presumably, during a cabinet discussion of Russian/American nuclear capabilities or some other nonconsequential matter.

--- Linda Webster


Where the Sea
Meets the Desert
Antony and Cleopatra swam at Mersa Matruh
In the clear blue shallows.
Imagine the clean sand, the absence of litter ---
No plastic bottles or scraps of styrofoam packing,
No jetsam at all except the occasional corpse
Of a used slave tossed off a galley ---
And the shrieks of the dancing Queen as the hero splashed her
While her cheer-squad of ladies-in-waiting giggled on cue,
The eunuchs holding the towels.
With salt in her eyes did she wrinkle the perfect nose
Of which Pascal would later venture the opinion
That had it been shorter (he didn't say by how much)
History would have been different?
They were probably both naked. What a servant saw
Did not count. They might even have boffed each other
Right there at the water's edge like a pair of dolphins
Washed up in the middle of a mad affair,
With her unable to believe the big lunk would ever
Walk away from this, and him in his soul
Fighting to forget that this was R&R
And there was still the war.

There is always the war. The Aussies in Tobruk
Could hear the German bombers at El Adem
Warming up on the airfield
For the five-minute flight that is really the only distance
Between bliss and blitz.
Ears still ringing from kookaburras and whipbirds
Were heckled by Heinkels.
When Antony eyeballed her Coppertone tits and bum
He was looking at Actium.
Shake it, lady.
Shake it for the Africa Korps.
Where the sea meets the desert there is always,
There is always the war.

--- Clive James
From Opal Sunset
Selected Poems, 1958 - 2008
©2008 W. W. Norton


Understanding Gregory Bateson
Mind, Beauty, and the Sacred Earth
Noel G. Charlton
(SUNY)
"Wow," I think, when this one comes. "Gregory Bateson. Mind, Beauty, and the Sacred Earth. Who could ask for anything more?"

For Bateson was the master's master. He was doing anthropology in Bali, long ago (pre-WWII), without filter: he and Margaret Mead taking endless photographs, thousands of feet of motion pictures, collecting art and culture that affirmed the culture rather than distorting it through western lenses.

It was Bateson who helped to create the concept of family systems and the idea of the "double bind," wherein the most extreme schizophrenics could be seen for what they were: products of family interactions building a cement of contradiction ... words saying one thing, body language the opposite.

There is a film of a famous sequence of mother and son, taken by Bateson's team --- the boy a long time resident in a hospital for the insane (as they were characterized in those days). Mother comes in the visitor's room; son goes to hug her; she turns away, avoiding the hug; he pulls back. She then turns to him and says, "What's wrong? Aren't you glad to see me? We always show affection in our family." They say he had to be placed in restraints for weeks afterwards. The perfect double bind, caught on film for posterity.

§     §     §

So here we have an extended look at Bateson and his theories. Yet Charleton's book represents its own double bind ... in that most readers, I think, won't be able to make head nor tail of it.

For example, the author spends no little time explaining that the reason that there is no distinction between Epistemology and Ontology in Bateson was because there was none. "For him, they were one and the same." Uh ... well ... OK.

Then this on Bateson's "logical categories:"

    A class cannot be one of those items which are correctly classified as its nonmembers. The class of chairs excludes tables and lamps --- these are part of the class of nonchairs. The class of chairs cannot be a member of itself and so is also not a chair --- but must be distinguished from the class of nonchairs. The class of nonchairs is of a higher logical type --- is a wider, more general concept --- than the items like tables and lamps that are correctly to be seen as being in the class of nonchairs.

Here's ecology:

    There is a natural tendency for human minds to conserve their limited capacity for conscious operation by sinking into the unconscious primary process are all those activities for which the limiting conditions are normally unchanging.

There are a few posies that manage to struggle up from the dungheap:

  • The body, Bateson suggests, is "really the subconscious mind."

  • "A name is not the thing named." ("Bateson says that this is the mistake of eating the menu card instead of the meal.")

  • Evolution is "a mental process."

  • On pollution: "You decide that you want to get rid of the by-products of human life and that Lake Erie will be a good place to put them. You forget that the eco-mental system called Lake Erie is part of your wider eco-mental system --- and that if Lake Erie is driven insane, its insanity is incorporated in the larger system of your thought and experience.

  • Finally, "No man can go to bed with the same girl for the first time twice."

    For those who have an allergy to fustian writing, see Bateson's own Steps to an Ecology of the Mind. You can find an excellent excerpt at www.ralphmag.org//batesonP.ht.

  • --- Pamela Wylie


    Joys and Fears of Onanism
    [Cryptic Letters of the Month]

    To: carlosamantea@yahoo.com
    RE: denger
    how iam doing the onanism and what is the denger about it?
    --- Batbot Pooh


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