All-Time Hits
From the Pages of

<Listed below are 25 readings, poems, letters, and reviews which continue, over the years, to get the most hits by RALPH readers.

They are listed in order of their appearance in the magazine, from 1994 to the present.

§     §     §

Song to Onan's Complaining Hand
Manuel del Cabral
I am the passion of the condemned.
Not the bedroom game that makes lives.
I am the lover of those who don't love.
I am the wife of les miserables.
I am the moment before suicide.
Only of love, but never alone;
limited by skin, I pull out people...
My fingers fill me with angels,
fill me with untouched passion.
It seems to me to be the silence of heroes.
I don't work solely with flesh:
It goes more with the digit of my office.
In my labor there is a higher worker,
A Quixote who drowns himself between my fingers,
a lover that I never hold.

Wind & Sand
Lyanne Wescott
(Eastern Acorn Press)
We were telling one of our friends that the reason we liked Orville and Wilbur Wright so much was because when they weren't repairing bicycles and flying around the sand dunes, they were sleeping with each other --- and we ain't talking about keeping cold bodies warm on a winter's eve on Kitty Hawk. Outside of that juicy fact (nowhere mentioned in this most respectful guide to their lives and works), they were drudges of the old school --- painfully, oh so painfully reworking plans, planes, and parts.

ProSlavery: A History of the Defense of Slavery in America
Larry E. Tise
(University of Georgia)
For more than two hundred years, the pro-slavery elements used the Bible in their defense --- along with the concept of the Ennoblement of the Heathen --- that slaves' lives in America were in every way superior to their lives in Africa, especially since here they were subjected to "Christian influences."

The author of Proslavery is careful not to define 18th and 19th century religionists as racist per se --- but the core of the book is an analysis, by means of computer, of the background, activities, and teachings of 275 leading pro-slavery ministers of the day.

The surprising revelation is that they came from all over the United States, not just the South. Further, that they came from all religions --- Presbyterian (almost 30 percent), Episcopalian (20 percent), and Baptist (17 percent); as well, Unitarian, Roman Catholic, and Jewish.

Wanda Felix
By 1921 Roscoe "Fatty" Arbuckle was one of the highest paid actor/directors in the motion picture business. But on September 5 of that year, during a weekend party he was throwing at the Saint Francis Hotel in San Francisco, the water in the goldfish bowl turned murky. Virginia Rappe (Rap-pay), a girl attending the party, ran screaming from a bedroom, took sick and died four days later. On September 17 Roscoe Arbuckle was arraigned in San Francisco charged with the rape and murder of Virginia Rappe.

Mosquitoes, Malaria, and the Panama Canal
David McCullough
Until the Cuban war comparatively little had been known about mosquitoes. It was not until 1895, for example, that a full account was published of even the common North American variety. The general impression was that all mosquitoes were more or less alike. At the time Reed and his co-workers identified Stegomyia fasciata as the yellow fever mosquito, no studies had ever been made of the insect's natural life history. So this too had been part of Gorgas' task at Havana and consequently he and his associates had discovered astonishing peculiarities that were of enormous value.

The Rituals of Anorexia Nervosa
Mara Selvini Palazzoli
If we define the family as a self-governing system based on rules established through a series of trials and errors, then its members become so many elements of a circuit in which no one element can be in unilateral control over the rest.

In other words, if the behavior of any one family member exerts an undue influence on the behavior of others, it would be an epistemological error to maintain that his behavior is the cause of theirs; rather must we say that his behavior is the effect of past interaction patterns. The study of this type of family transaction is therefore the study of fixed behavioral responses and of their repercussions.

Dual Micturation in Dublin
Were they indefinitely inactive?
At Stephen's suggestion, at Bloom's instigation both, first Stephen, then Bloom, in penumbra urinated, their sides contiguous, their organs of micturation reciprocally rendered invisible by manual circumposition, their gazes, first Bloom's, then Stephen's, elevated to the projected luminous and semiluminous shadow.

The trajectories of their, first sequent, then simultaneous, urinations were dissimilar: Bloom's longer, less irruent, in the incomplete form of the bifurcated penultimate alphabetical letter who in his ultimate year at High School (1880) had been capable of attaining the point of greatest altitude against the whole concurrent strength of the institution, 210 scholars: Stephen's higher, more sibilant, who in the ultimate hours of the previous day had augmented by diuretic consumption an insistent vesical pressure.

Why Anti-matter Matters
Douglas Cruickshank
We're finally starting to get somewhere. What the turn-of-the-century avant-garde began, contemporary physicists may finish by the turn-of-the-millennium. Unfortunately the guy who would probably be most gratified checked out in 1907. I'm referring to the recent breakthrough in creating atoms of anti-matter, and also to the late playwright, poet, artist and freelance scoundrel Alfred Jarry (born 1873) who, among other accomplishments, was Pablo Picasso's weapon supplier. (Picasso used the pistol to shoo away bores, but we'll get to that later.)

Kiss My (Left) Foot
L. W. Milam
They tell of the fascination of the ancient Chinese with certain parts of women's bodies. According to one writer, merely seeing it "produced in the male an indescribable degree of voluptuous feeling. It was not rare," [the correspondent continued], "to find Chinese Christians accusing themselves at confession of having had evil thoughts on looking at it." (All quotes are from The Soong Dynasty by Sterling Seagrave (Harper & Row, 1985)

We are not talking about buttocks or breasts or private parts. No. We're talking about feet. In 19th Century Chinese pornography males were shown "voluptuously fondling" woman's feet.

The World's Most Dangerous Places
Robert Young Pelton
Robert Young Pelton, not to be confused with the late actor Robert Young, has been to them all, and wants you to know how awful they are, even though there is a wryness in his often harsh words: under Iran, we get "Ayatollah Not to Come;" Pakistan is "Dodge City with Skiing;" India: "Kashmir Sweat."

The Making of McPaper: The Inside Story of USA Today
Peter Prichard
(Andrews, McMeel and Parker)
Being as this is America, we take everything, including our deficiencies, and turn them into capital commodities. A whole subculture has grown out of the care and feeding of the unlettered and unschooled of our nation. This growth industry includes social workers, bureaucrats, probation officers, and teachers who tend to the needs of the benighted.

Even so, it's difficult to keep up with the demand, for the near-illiterate come to us, in great and greater numbers, courtesy not only of migration, but the media. Television has helped to create a great unwashed, untutored mass; it, in turn, has become the main source of entertainment, distraction, maintenance, and selling to, by, and of those who cannot read. In the average American home, the television set is going seven hours a day; in the homes of the poor and the unlettered, the figure is more than double that. Some have even suggested that the reason the crime rate among the poor in America is so high is not because there are the poor per se: the poverty-stricken in India or Egypt or Nairobi have far fewer survival assets, yet they seem not to be so hostile.

Rather, it is thought that the marginally literate take their values from the one tool that surrounds them ad nauseam --- that is, commercial television. And what values they are! American television offers the demeaning of relationships as the norm; inchoate rage is seen as the human condition; murder and brutality are offered as a viable solution for all problems; consumer goods (especially the more exotic and more expensive) are pictured temptingly; the more bizarre religious miracles are sold like Cheez-Whiz; consumption is seen as a cure-all, presented so that the most regular and noncritical of television's consumers will adopt the values, desires, and beliefs brought into their squalid living rooms by the greatest teaching machine of all times.

Dr. Laura: The Unauthorized Biography
Vickie L. Bane
(St Martins)

    There are several frightening things you hope never to hear in life. The first might be, "It's malignant." But the next up would have to be, "Nude pictures of Dr. Laura are now available for download."
--- Go Network's "Mr. Showbiz"

Five hundred years ago, she would have been called "a common scold." More recently, she has been called "dictatorial," "rude," "overemotional," "a pain in the ass," "a fraud," "Laura the Hen," "A Psychological Bag Lady," and "Our National Mommy."

"I pretty much preach, teach, and nag," she told a reporter from the Washington Post. "It's not pop psychology at all. If anything, it's a new genre..." she said.

Victorian Painting
Christopher Wood
Robert Braithwaite Martineau (where do they get these names?) paints "The Last Day in the Old Home" --- the feckless son has gambled away the title to the homestead: the landlord is smiling, the mother weeping. Eyre Crowe does factory girls, but they look terribly happy considering they're working in a sweat-shop that would make those of Los Angeles look like paradise. Gabriel Rossetti, the Pre-Raphaelite Dante, offers us a picture of his namesake of Divine Comedy fame. Henry Wallis shows Chatterton the poet in a passionate falling-out-of-bed suicide pose.

Sam Goody Then . . . and Now
Matthew Lasar
It is the Sam Goody records franchise buried in the basement of Nordstroms. I inspect the displays dedicated to the likes of entirely manufactured personŠ such as Ricky Martin and Brittany Spears. I pick up some inexpensive but useful items --- cassette tapes, a CD case --- and bring it to the teenager at the cash register, who invariably smiles and asks me how I am.

"Did you know," I say with a hopeful expression, "that I used to know Sam Goody?"

"Really?" comes the response, sometimes with interest, sometimes out of politeness. "What was he like?"

"He was a dreadful human being," I reply.

The Chocolate Soldier
P. J. Mierly
Some called it "The Slim Disease" ---
Thrushes in the springtime,
Cat-scratch in the fall.
Meningitis by morning,
Lymphoma in the afternoon,
Salmonella at night.
And for our last winter together:
Candidiadis, Kaposi's, and...ah...
My brainless dementia.
The uniform vocabulary of our dying
Was quite lovely, wasn't it love?

Three by Hilaire Belloc

Henry King
The Chief Defect of Henry King
Was chewing little bits of String.
At last he swallowed some which tied
Itself in ugly Knots inside.

Physicians of the Utmost Fame
Were called at once; but when they came
They answered, as they took their Fees,
"There is no Cure for this Disease.

"Henry will very soon be dead."
His Parents stood about his Bed
Lamenting his Untimely Death,
When Henry, with his Latest Breath,

Cried, "Oh, my Friends, be warned by me,
That Breakfast, Dinner, Lunch, and Tea
Are all the Human Frame requires..."
With that, the Wretched Child expires.

The Wife of Bath
Geoffrey Chaucer
Carlos Amantea, Translator

But, dear God, when I remember being young, and having such a time, and having my world in my own way and in my own time --- it still tickles me. Even now it gives my heart such a boot.

But getting old! Oh me! It poisons everything. It takes away your beauty, it robs you of all life's kicks.

Ah --- let it go. The hell with it. There's nothing else to say: they've robbed me of the flour. What's left --- the dregs --- let's see if I can still sell. I tell you, we'll be merry, no matter what. [Pause] Now, let me tell you about Husband #4.

The End of
The Imperial Japanese Empire
Richard B. Frank
Those who argue that American policy makers recognized that Japan was near surrender when they chose to unleash atomic weapons rest the core of their case on selected excerpts of these diplomatic exchanges [between Japan and the Soviets in the summer of 1945]. The first important defect with this critique is that it simply ignores the fact that there were two streams of decrypted Japanese messages. Military Ultra showed without exception Japan's armed forces girding for Armageddon. If, as American leaders correctly believed, the Imperial Army held the dominant position in Japan, then the Ultra reports carried an unmistakable political import... In face of this evidence, it is fantasy, not history, to believe the end of the war was at hand before the use of the atomic bomb.

Let Us Now Praise Famous Men
James Agee, Walker Evans
(Houghton Mifflin/Mariner)
If you have never read Agee you might consider the possibility of dropping this review and calling up the American Book Exchange or Powells to get a copy of Let Us Now Praise Famous Men so that you don't have to waste your time in having me tell you what a fine piece of work it is. Barring that, let me say that it's the work of a young man (twenty-seven) who knows words and knows how to use them and wants us to see and hear and smell and feel what it is like to be intimately involved with three families who are certainly not famous but certainly are poor --- "dirt poor" as we used to say.

Moko Maori Tattoo
Hans Neleman, Photographer
(Edition Stemmle)
It's a question of face, isn't it?..."the face we prepare to face the world..." It is the part of us that presents the Me to Everyone Else.

Many women of the west painted their lips and cheeks, shaded their eyes and eyelashes, and hung decorations from the ears. This was supposedly to enhance one's beauty, make one more interesting or desirable. But if I am Hindu, a third eye painted above the bridge of my nose is not for sensual purposes, it, instead, tells the world of my religious beliefs.

Contrariwise, if I am a young American, sticking pins in the eyebrows, a jewel through the nose, a ring in the lips --- I am showing all who meet me that I am different, and that I am willing to go through pain to assert that difference.

All these have one element in common: the third eye, the lipstick, the rings can all be removed. But there is no going back with the facial tattoo of the Maori. It is a painful process of design which states publicly one's passionate belief in one's people, and their ways, and their religion and history.

An Honorable Defeat:
The Last Days of the Confederate Government
William C. Davis
One of our favorite writers has summed up the American Civil War as follows: "It's at the top of the love list for many amateur historians. In terms of sheer quantity of red juices leeched into the ground (see the introduction to Edmund Wilson's appropriately named Patriotic Gore) the war between the North and the South was a dandy.

As the recent Touched By Fire points out, it was also a grossly unfair war --- if wars by their very nature can be considered to be 'fair' or 'unfair.' There were nine million inhabitants of the South (one-third of whom were black) --- as opposed to twenty-two million in the North. In addition,

    Telegraph, factory and farm figures were all six to seven times greater in the North than in Secessia, and except along the Maryland-Missouri border, the unseceded states were little disturbed by actual combat. Washington possessed foreign recognition, functioning credit and fiscal structures, and existing government institutions.

It was the first 'living-room war' (photography had been discovered some fifteen years before). It contained all the necessary elements of tragedy --- family against family, ancient feuds brought out in the open and resolved by legalized murder --- the rivers of blood that Civil Wars always seem to inspire.

It was nakedly and shamelessly futile: slavery was on the decline, and would have gone out of existence by the start of the 20th Century from determinism (the economic structure of the industrial revolution and the ownership of humans are incompatible).

Given this imbalance --- it should have been a quick in-and-out war. But, as with World War I (for which, technologically, it was the precursor) it went on and on, draining resources, ruining the land, killing almost 650,000 men, wounding another 200,000. The tolls for death and disfigurement were four times greater than those of World Wars I and II.

Paris, 1919: Six Months that Changed the World
Margaret MacMillan
(Random House)
Paris 1919 is one of the best general interest books of historical fact and whimsy. It covers one short period, and is filled to the brim with the weird and waggish people who participated in one of the strangest gatherings of all times. This is historical writing equal to Barbara Tuchman at her best. If we did stars here at RALPH, we'd hand this one a


out of a possible


Lusitania: An Epic Tragedy
Diana Preston
She was a gorgon of a ship, 785 feet long, with a beam of 85 feet, four boiler rooms, four propellers, designed for 2200 passengers and a crew of 850. The Lusitania could go twenty-five knots, and after it was launched in 1906, it was the fastest passenger vessel afloat, being able to cross the Atlantic in just under five days. She burned 1,000 tons of coal a day, and had four smokestacks, one of which was fake: the more funnels, it was thought, the faster the ship.

The disaster occurred in 1915, as a result of being hit directly mid-ship by a torpedo fired by a German U-Boat (officially the U-20). The Lusitania sank in eighteen minutes. Of the 1,959 passengers and crew, 1,198 died of injury, drowning or exposure, including 49 children. As the author notes dryly,

    Compared with daily casualty figures at the Front, the Lusitania fatalities were tiny. But world reaction to what had occurred off the Irish coast Friday 7 May 1915 was enormous.

The Night Torn With Mad Footsteps:
New Poems of Charles Bukowski
(Black Sparrow)
Bukowski manages to plumb the fear that all of us have that what we think of as society is not working, that our hopes and dreams do not lead to a gated home in the suburbs with children in the schools, mom in the kitchen, dad at the office, and all's right with the world --- but, instead, broken people slopping around in the lousiest parts of city center, drinking Wild Turkey, tattooed fat-bellied men trying to beat up on other tattooed, fat-bellied men or beating up their tattooed girlfriends or wives or whatever, chasing them around their filthy fourth-floor walk-up apartments late at night, reviling each other more and more noisily with each drink (taken straight from the bottle) until finally at four or five in the morning, exhausted with the labor of their wars, they throw up, fall into their beds and drift off into a drunken slumber where they snore until next afternoon where they rise up hotly out of the sweaty, jism-encrusted beds (no sheets; no pillowcases) and, without bothering to shower or even wash their hands they pry open a can of Chicken-of-the-Sea tuna with a pocket-knife and pick it out and stuff it in their mouths and somehow score a case of Mickey's Wide-Mouth and embark yet again on a noisy window-breaking, door-smashing, furniture-wrecking, glass-strewn night of noise and vituperation and snittery. That's America, Bukowski-style.

RALPH and the Other "Ralph"
Dear Lolita,
Westward Ha! is my favorite book and I enjoyed reading your perceptive review of this neglected masterpiece. I was so impressed that I immediately decided to take out a subscription to your journal.

But it seems that all the "links" on your web-page have expired. When I entered Ralph Magazine into a search engine I was directed to an Australian "Girlie" journal. Not exactly what I expected.

Could you send me subscription information for your journal (not the Australian one...)?

--- Sincerely,
Jonathan Brodie

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