Clarence Thomas
Fighter with Words
David R. Collins
This is evidently a study book for those who move their fingers and lips at the same time when reading --- perhaps some of the very administration officials who have planned and executed our recent adventures in Afghanistan and Iraq.

Judge Thomas is presented here as one who suffered mightily getting to the Supreme Court. With clear understatement, the author tells us that

    Clarence Thomas is a fighter. He doesn't fight with his hands and feet. He fights with his words.

Then, oblivious of the delicious ambivalence, Collins writes, and I invite you to mull the double meaning herein: "He has fought with words all his life." After reading some of his rulings from Mars --- mainly, the continuing, and tragic evisceration of the once great Bill of Rights --- we could also say that he is at war with whatever human values they tried so hard to give him back when he was growing up in Pin Point, Georgia.

After early schooling, Clarence decided to become a priest. Alas, it never came to pass. Instead, he was sent off to live with his grandfather. Gramps is reported here to have said, "I'll put up with no foolishness." This leaves this critic suspecting that the old man is now spinning in his grave so rapidly he is but a pale blur. As far as we know, one might say that Thomas' judicial decisions are a monument to sheer Brute Foolishness.

Grandad also told Clarence to "Make God the center of your life." Later decisions flowing from the Federal Court of Appeals and in the Supreme Court make one wonder which God was being addressed. Ahura Mazda? Thor? The dual divines of Pythagoras? Kali?

When George Bush #1 nominated Thomas to the supreme court we are told that Clarence "felt as if he were dreaming." Given subsequent events, this might be a reasonable explanation for his whimsical approach to the law.

Anita Hill pops up briefly at the end of this tome.

    She had worked for Clarence in Washington. "He said and did wrong things,'" Ms. Hill said.

Ms. Hill said more than that, but this is supposed to be a book of inspiration for children, not a sourcebook for students of the lurid. "Clarence shook his head in anger," we are told: "Clarence knew how to fight back with words."

Just so. He was confirmed by one vote (not mentioned here) so now "he listens to others fight with words." He may not hear, we suggest, but he acts. "I will always lift my voice to fight hate and ignorance," he is reported to have said. This voice-lifting, apparently, does not apply to his own.

--- Lolita Lark

The Firefly
Of Birds

Christopher Perrins,

I usually think that the creatures of the sea and air and land see me as no more than an invitation for chow time. That's why I cultivate skin the color of grub and do my gardening at Piggly-Wiggly. For me a trip to the wilderness is an hour at the Tavern-on-the-Green in Central Park.

So if I fall for even one of the nature books from Firefly, it must have something special to offer.

RALPH has so far reviewed seven of their recent titles, including Amphibians, Weird Nature, Hummingbirds, Creatures of the Deep, and Volcanoes.

Firefly is thus putting out, in rapid order, a rich collection of nature fact books, with enough drawings, charts, photographs, and words to compound our knowledge of deep sea creatures, monsters of the deep, volcanoes, hummingbirds ... and now, with The Encyclopedia of Birds, birds in general.

This volume weighs in at 600 or so pages and features over 200 bird species, utilizes the services of some 150 different experts and, we would guess, weighs a few kilos more than any of the creatures illustrated save the Roc, Moa, Elephant Bird, Ostrich, Rhea, Emu, Cassowary, and Penguin.

Let's take a typical entry: the Booby. The Masked Booby wears a mask so people will think it is a shrike, a bustard, or a wren. On the six pages devoted to this species, there are seven photographs: one of the Brown Booby which is in disguise because it is not brown, but black and white. The Blue-footed Booby looks like it just got out of walking through an inkwell, the Red-faced Booby appears as if it just told the wrong joke to the wrong party.

Booby chicks look as cute as a button. In reality, they are as cute as a scorpion. Siblings tend to attack each other as mother looks fondly on, and a Booby expert from Castle Douglas, Scotland --- J. Bryan Nelson --- writes in a caption, it is

    brood reduction ... the older and stronger chick can be seen attacking and forcing its sibling out of the nest where it will die. This sibling 'murder' ... increases the probability of rearing at least one fit offspring.

According to Mr. Nelson, the only Booby which is not aggressive is the Abbot Booby, named after the famous comedian, Bud Abbot.

In the Booby "Factfile," we find that the female is often bigger than the male, and the call is a grunt or a shout. While not shouting or grunting, Boobies eat squid and offal and the biggest enemy of Abbot's Booby on Christmas Island where it spends the holidays is the Yellow Crazy Ant.

My favorite birds outside of Boobies have eponymous names. Thus I am in love with the Phalarope even though Alan Payton thought they were too late and, too, the Curassow and Eudyptes --- names far more beautiful than the actual bird or its song. For example, the Hypocolius gives out with "a sharp mewing cry," and the Curassow offers "A variety of raucous moans and calls, booming notes and whistles, often repeated."

Then there is the less sonorous Auk (which goes "auk-auk-auk") and the Tapaculo which the author (John H. Horsfall) mistakenly translates as "Cover your Bottom." Sorry John --- in Spanish "tapa" refers to a stopper that could, if required, cork one of our most private of orifices, the "culo." "Most species are difficult to see," Horsfall tells us, which might be where the name came from.

The Oystercatcher doesn't run very fast because oysters don't run very fast. The Rails are there to get ridden on, or perhaps to get rid of: the author points out that twenty-two species are extinct, and four are Critically Endangered.

Grouse are perpetually cranky, the bitterns filled with bile, the Gannets run a terrible newspaper chain, and Rhea was my aunt. I always wondered why they named her after such a homely creature and, futhermore, I am not sure she was of the Greater or a Lesser Rhea family. She was Greater in ours, weighing in at 300 pounds on a 5'4" frame.

The True Tit is not only honest but full of the milk of human kindness, the gnatcatcher has terrible taste in food and the Palmchat talks to the trees (but they don't talk to him). The Screamer goes to raves, given by ravens, no doubt, and Skimmers can be found in most large American corporations.

The Babbler usually appears on daytime AM radio, and the Tyrant Flycatcher never takes no for an answer. The Penduline Tits are always hanging around, the Australian Chat turns up at your place usually for cocktails (or wagtails --- they are called in Australia where they live) , and Todies are usually served hot and mulled, around Christmas. We are not even going to mention the main characteristics of the Flowerpeckers.

--- Sybil Seriemas

How I Earned
The Ruptured Duck

From Brooklyn
To Berchtesgaden
In World War II

Leo Bogart
(Texas A&M)

    The original Ruptured Duck was a cloth insignia depicting an eagle inside a wreath. It was worn on uniforms above the right breast pocket by WWII servicemen and women. It was issued to service personnel who were about to leave the military with an Honorable Discharge. It also allowed them to continue to wear their uniform for up to thirty days after they were discharged since there was a clothing shortage at that time. This showed the MP's that they were in transit and not AWOL. Well, the boys thought the eagle looked more like a duck; and, because it meant they were going home, the popular saying was, "They took off like a Ruptured Duck"...hence the nickname.

Leo Bogart was inducted into the U. S. Army in 1942, and because of his language abilities --- German and Russian were spoken in his home --- within two years, he had become part of military intelligence. The first part of the book finds him in training in various parts of the United States, and, from 1944 - 1946, serving with intelligence in Europe.

The early pages are filled with the enthusiastic writings of an obviously bright and innocent young man who had never been south or west of New York. He is suitably baffled by the organizational decisions of the military, appalled by the poverty he finds in Appalachia, enamored of Joplin, Missouri, and often thinks how nice it would be for him to be sent overseas.

At Fort Dix, he sees the whole thing as "fantastically ludicrous."

    The incredibly foul-mouthed perverted terrorists who are our non-coms; the soldiers who laugh at the guy who reads the newspapers, who read comic books at the Service Club at night and lie blankly on their bunks at day, who ride each on wheelbarrows, emitting the noises of choo-choo trains ... the whole thing has the elements of a colossal joke.

Finally, Bogart is sent to England (where he spends many an evening at the opera) and then, after the invasion, France, Belgium, and ultimately, Germany.

Here his writing become less gung ho, more introspective. Instead of his cry from earlier days --- "The sooner I and a lot of the other boys go over to do our jobs the sooner the war will be finished" --- his mental set is changed by seeing first-hand the ravages of war, the effect not only on European cities, but most poignantly, the children and displaced persons. In Germany, Bogart reflects on the many well-fed folk. The Germans, so long the conquerors, fared much better than the French, the Belgians, the Poles, and the Russians. He often ponders on the very nature of their heartlessness:

    It would make things a lot easier if the Germans had all grown horns and turned blue in the last twelve years. The trouble is that they look just like Americans, Frenchmen, Hollanders, Belgians, or Luxembourgeois, and that as one sees them in their personal lives, one is forced, however unwillingly, to recognize that they laugh and worry and love and suffer and gossip in ways that are too deeply rooted in Western man for ideologies to alter.

Bogart is most affected by the slave laborers --- people uprooted from the East to work in German factories and farms, "fed rotten cabbages and flogged like animals." Almost by accident he finds that one of the places he and his company were stationed was called "a home for idiot children" ... but was actually used for murdering the inmates.

On the day of victory,

    Prague radio is broadcasting an opera, while Paris gives forth with a tumultuous Mozart piano concerto. Our windows stand wide open and the light shines forth. How wonderful! All over Europe the windows open again and their bright warmth making the night cheerful and friendly!

To know the formal history of WWII, one would consult books written by H. R. Trevor-Roper, Samuel E. Morison or Winston Churchill. To know it as a soldier did, one would read Normal Mailer or James Jones. As a footnote, and a fine footnote to the strange world of the U. S. military and the last days of Nazism, one could do no better than to spend an evening with How I Earned the Ruptured Duck.

--- E. J. Edgars

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