What do 150 issues of an on-line magazine look like? The answer is, well ... zilch, a blip, a squirt of space-time-space, an electronic nothing, a fusion of bytes as quickly gone as when you don't see it. Or do.

With a hold-in-the-hand magazine (which we once were) there was a solid, stolid stapled sheaf. You could keep it over there in the rack, pick it up, finger the pages, leaf through it, smell the ink. A solid something. A print magazine is like that.

But this electronic thing, the one gathered through a billion bits lashed together out of nowhere nanospace? Is it a magazine or a delusion? Is it a trick invented by The Electronic Gods merely for electronic readers? Think borks, or neuons, philathons, or whatever they are called, those billions of infinitesimal bits swarming at and through us at breakneck speed, spinning though the earth (and us) even as we speak ... ranging in from some far black-haunted corner of the universe, hurrying thereafter towards another ZAP far black-haunted corner of the universe. And none of us know when or if they have come and when or if they have gone, and even if they are still coming or going, a Niagara of electronic nothing-spots.

§     §     §

We have a great affection for this electronic blip we know of as RALPH. Once, when our original fly-by-night server went bankrupt, RALPH and all its memory (and memories) got bought up by another equally dotty server. The electronic storage bunker went spoiled, something or someone robbed the memory bank of all its holdings, and for a full ten days RALPH was nowhere to be found (except in that little chiplet located somewhere upstairs in what medical professionals call, technically, the cerebral brainpan cuspidor).

After ten or twelve dozen calls to our server, our voices pitched at reasonably high volume, RALPH was resuscitated --- just as suddenly, just as mysteriously --- but we can never forget how bereft we felt ... that our beloved magazine could simply POOF be nowhere and nothing without prior warning. It wasn't just distressing, it was unthinkable.

As a result of this disaster, we have, in the last two months, undertaken to preserve, permanently, all back issues of the on-line magazine. So far we have printed out over 3,000 pages (we've made it to early 1999). We estimate the whole will run to 10,000 - 12,000 pages of hard-copy. The Library of Congress, the British Library, and the International Periodical Institute will be offered reproductions of all 150 issues of RALPH for unbelievable sums of money.

In this, our 150th issue, those of us who put out the electronic whiffery have taken a moment to compile what we believe to be the most representative articles, reviews, poems, readings and letters, a sampling of the twelve years we have been gathering these particular roses: what we believe to be the good, the thoughtful, the wise, the wily, the wonderful, the sometimes woeful.
--- Lolita Lark
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In Flanders Fields
The 1917 Campaign
Leon Wolff

In this landscape nothing existed but a measureless bog of military rubble, shattered houses, and tree stumps. It was pitted with shell craters containing fetid water. Overhead hung low clouds of smoke and fog. The very ground was soured by poison gas. Not one building was intact. Only mounds overrun with scrub grass, interspersed with old brick and fragments of wood, showed where many houses had formerly stood.

In the center of this incarnation of ruin lay the dead city of Ypres --- "Wipers" it was always called --- obliterated, crushed like a pile of discarded baby's toys left out in the rain. Yet this mournful corpse, like a skeleton in a nightmare, seemed to live; for though it no longer possessed a normal spirit it was a turmoil of military activity. The traffic on the roads and in the shattered market place was enormous and without end, though the town was shelled day and night, and since 1914 had been bombed more than any other target on the Western Front. Major General John Monash, commander of the 3rd Australian Division, in a war letter to his wife described the scene thus:

    . . . streams of men, vehicles, motor lorries, horses, mules, and motors of every description, moving ponderously forward, at a snail's pace, in either direction hour after hour, all day and all night, day after day, week after week, in a never halting, never ending stream...ploughing its way slowly and painfully through the mud...a reek of petrol and smoke everywhere.

    Here comes a body of fighting troops, tin-hatted and fully equipped, marching in file into the battle area, to carry out a relief of some front-line division. There follows a string of perhaps one hundred motor lorries, all fully loaded with supplies; a limousine motor-car with some division staff-officer; a string of regimental horse- and mule-drawn vehicles going up to a forward transport park; some motor-ambulance wagons...a long string of remount horses, marching in twos...a great 12-inch howitzer, dragged by two steam-traction engines, returning from the workshops after repair of injuries received; more infantry, thousands of them; more ambulances, more motor lorries...

Wind & Sand
Lyanne Wescott
(Eastern Acorn Press)
Their time in North Carolina wasn't just a winter of fun experiments with the first motorized airplane. They spent a total of eleven years being eaten alive by mosquitoes, begging money from the family, and painstakingly experimenting with gliders, then, later, gliders with motors.

What was unusual was that the two of them, with no scientific background, used the scientific method: rigorous experimentation, elaborate notes, and --- so important for this grand book --- extensive photographs.

After the epochal flight of December 17, 1903 --- they returned to Dayton where over the next few years, they continued to fly around a small local field, totally ignored by newsmen, journalists, and writers of the time. The sole exception was one Amos Root, editor of Gleanings in Bee Culture. Orville's letters and journal entries are art in their own, unh, Wright:

    During the time the engine was being built we were engaged in some very heated discussions on the principles of screw propellers. We had been unable to find anything of value in any of the works to which we had access, so that we worked out a theory of our own on the subject, and soon discovered, as we usually do, that all the propellers built heretofore are all wrong, and then built a pair of propellers 8-1/8 ft. in diameter, based on our theory, which are all right! (till we have a chance to test them down at Kitty Hawk and find out differently.) It's astonishing that all those secrets have been preserved for so many years just so that we could discover them.

Orville, obviously, shared the view of Thomas Edison: all important answers grow, solely, from important questions.

Paris Painters
Everett Gee Jackson
Lowelito always seemed to have art magazines with reproductions, mostly in black and white, of the paintings currently being created in Paris. He especially liked Matisse, even though he could not tell from the reproductions what colors Matisse had used. I kept noticing that in those magazine reproductions of paintings, buildings were represented as leaning in all directions, almost so far they should fall down. Some of those paintings might have been by Marc Chagall, the Russian painter living in Paris. Lowelito said the buildings were leaning that way because the artist had complete freedom. He said the artist could lean his buildings any way he pleased, because once they got into his painting they belonged to him.

Pulling at
Broken Strings

Laurie Lee

In trying to recapture the presence of my Mother I am pulling at broken strings. The years run back through the pattern of her confusions. Her flowers and songs, her unshaken fidelities, her attempts at order, her relapses into squalor, her near madness, her crying for light, her almost daily weeping for her dead child-daughter, her frisks and gaieties, her fits of screams, her love of man, her hysterical rages, her justice towards each of us children --- all these rode my Mother and sat on her shoulders like a roosting of ravens and doves. Equally I remember her occasional blooming, when she became secretly beautiful and alone. And those summer nights --- we boys in bed when the green of the yew trees filled the quiet kitchen, and she would change into her silk, put on her bits of jewelery, and sit down to play the piano.

She did not play well; her rough fingers stumbled, they trembled to find the notes --- yet she carried the music with little rushes of grace, half-faltering surges of feeling, that went rippling out through the kitchen windows like signals from a shuttered cage. Solitary, eyes closed, in her silks and secrets, tearing arpeggios from the yellow keys, yielding, through dusty but golden chords, to the peak of that private moment, it was clearly then, in the twilit tenderness she created, that the man should have returned to her.

A Brief History of...
About the same time, Herman Cortex arrived from Toledo, Spain with his mounted band called the Conquistadors. He landed on the coast and soon enough heard about Acapulco Gold which made him very greedy. He and the Conquistadors and their horses marched on the Aztec capital to meet Quacktemoc. On the way, Cortex dallied with a native woman named Malpractice, who became the expedition's lead singer.

In his capitol, Quacktemoc and a vast crowd of Aztecs with their greasy locks and marimbas awaited the legendary visitors from across the sea. When the Spaniards finally arrived in Mexico City, they were astonished by its canals, its beautiful floating gardens, and its municipal bus system which carried many more people than the buses in Toledo or Akron. Quacktemoc was astonished by his visitors' ability to speak Spanish without having to consult their Berlitz phrase books. The Aztecs, too, were astonished by the Spaniards' guns, their amplified electric guitars, and the fact that they could sing and play while riding horseback. The horses, too, were astonished by the Spaniards' awful lyrics, and one night they bolted. This was later referred to as "La Noche Triste."

Although the Spaniards were outnumbered 100 to 1, their sound system easily drowned out their opponents' marimbas, and the Aztecs fled in disarray. Quacktemoc was left a helpless prisoner of the Spaniards, and they forced him to listen to their lyrics until he begged for mercy and offered to fill the entire hall with Acapulco Gold. Overcome with gratitude, Cortex converted the Aztec king to Christianity on the spot, and then garroted him. After this, the Aztecs revolted, but it was too late, and Cortex and his band conquered all of Mexico from Gotamala in the south, Walla Walla to the north, and as far east as Atchison, Topeka and Santa Fe.

The Windsor Style
Suzy Menkes
(Salem House)
Nancy Mitford was one of many not amused by their antics:

    He looks like a balloon, she like the skeleton of some tiny bird, hopping in her hobble skirt.

The Duke and Duchess had four pugs, which they fed out of solid silver bowls. Pugs are those noisy dogs without the good sense and breeding to keep their tails down where they belong so that when they turn around the other way you find they're staring at you with this one great, black...puckered...unh...orb.

    "She was a fantastic house guest," says Anne Slater. "When they used to stay with my mother-in-law on Long Island, she would bring her four dogs. They weren't always totally housetrained, but she trained her staff to clear up after the dogs."

Outside all the pugs, kilts, jewels, and journeys hither and yon, Menkes describes some startling moments in café society hi-life:

New Year's Eve, 1953: a noisy nightclub party is carousing at El Morocco to see out the coronation year of the Duke's niece Queen Elizabeth II. "Bring one for the Duke," shouts the Duchess merrily, as paper crowns, cardboard travesties of majesty, are handed out an silver trays and the flashbulbs record the moment. "The coronation's over," she calls to the photographers as she leads the sheepish ex-King out into the chill Manhattan night.

Presence in
The Flesh
The Body in


The only strangers that can get us to take off all our clothes without protest are doctors and prostitutes (or, under protest, someone with a gun or a knife.) Lovers and morticians can get us to strip, too, but the former aren't usually strangers, and the latter get to our bodies when we are beyond caring.

Young is concerned with showing us the techniques that are used to keep the patient's dignity quiescent while he or she is being dehumanized in the physicians office. The writer is concerned, for example, with the structure of the clinic: cubicles, offices, desks (patient on one side, secretaries on the other --- desks which "guard" the entrance to the inner rooms.) And then there are the uniforms white jackets, or green or pink or black uniforms.

You and I will take off part or all of our clothes (often with the exception, she notes, of socks) while physicians will add a layer of clothing: a knee-length white coat. Listen to her observation on this discrepancy:

    The archeology of these artifacts is suggestive here: the layering of an outermost and predominant role over a complete social person as opposed to the reduction of a complete social person to a diminished role.


    Physicians make their initial appearance already in costume for their role, whereas patients change costume in the course of the performance.

§     §     §

One of the strengths of Presence in the Flesh is that the author uses exact transcripts --- with special markings for clarity --- made during routine medical examinations to show how the doctors (in their role) and the patients (in their roles) use words and gestures and other artifacts to establish and maintain what she calls "the presence of the self." There are dialogues given here which convey a rich sense of drama, security (and insecurity) --- words, too, created to deflect from the situation. This, from an actual pelvic exam:

    Dr C:   Let me check you below see how you feel.
    Ms J:   Something's hard right there occasionally.
    Dr. C:  Really?
    Ms J:  But I don't know what --- it goes away.
[Dr. C moves round to sit on his stool at the foot of the examination table and gloves himself. His nurse turns on the spotlight and aims it at the patient's vaginal opening]
    Ms. J:   It's not like it stays there and it's anything to worry about. Least I don't think so.
    Dr. C:  [As he touches her vulva] Still riding your horse?

Tornado Alley:
Monster Storms of
The Great Plains

Howard B. Bluestein

If you live in the middle of Oklahoma, say in a town like Enid, Yukon, or, God knows, Chickasha --- you'd better get the hell out. You can expect around nine tornadoes a year, the most in the world. Dimmit, Texas, Medicine Lodge, Kansas, and Anadark (Anadark!) OK are scarcely any better: seven a year, on average. Plant City, Florida, along with Tylertown, Mississippi and Saraland, Alabama can only manage to squeeze out five a year, but for some of us who keep our affection for tornadoes under tight control, this is enough.

The worst months are May and June, and the worst time is just before sunset. The worst place to be is where you look up at it and there it is looking down at you, whistling at you. (Some say that when you are right under it, it may also rattle, whine, or sing "You're the top.")

The clouds associated with tornadoes, Bluestein tells us, have certain characteristics. Our favorite is one called "Mamma." No --- it's not our Mum, exactly, but, rather, a weird, delicious set of underhangings of a cloud formation that look --- bless me --- just like a mass of mammaries, a giant army of breasts just hanging there, waiting to drop something on us. Usually it's not milk, but one of those evil looking spirals that, according to the author, in their center may reach in excess of 700 miles an hour.

If you have to have the misfortune to be in, say, Oklahoma City on May 31, 2000, at 5:33 in the afternoon, watch out for shelf clouds, wet microbursts, penetrating tops, and anvils. These all, it is said, are predictive of up-coming tornadoes --- although the author admits that he is sometimes hard pressed to identify any of these formations.

Tornadoes have been studied to a fare-thee-well by the U. S. Government through the aegis of the National Severe Storms Laboratory --- which has a reputation for being quite severe when tornadoes show up without an official government storm permit. Through the aegis of the NSSL, it was found that thunderstorms of a special type (supercells) will produce hail and "are prolific breeders of tornadoes." Pre-tornado characteristics can also be spotted with Radar, and with this, NSSL and its predecessor organizations were able to begin a program of prediction and warnings, giving heart-failure and little comfort to the denizens of what has now come to be called "Tornado Alley."

The author gives us extensive charts and graphs and lovely photographs of tornadoes and their Florida beach-side cousins, waterspouts. In fact, there is a dandy photograph of a spout on page fifty-five which Bluestein casually notes he took from his hotel room balcony in Key Biscayne, Florida, "while attending his first professional conference." Obviously he loves his subject, and his subject loves him.

Without Vodka
Adventures in Wartime Russia
Aleksander Topolski
There is prison literature and prison literature --- but outside of Jack Black's You Can't Win, I can't think of one that gets one so immersed in the subject that we feel ourselves right in the pest-hole, with the stink of the latrine, the lice (three kinds --- head, body, groin), the cold, the bodies pressed together --- and always, the watery soup, the 600 grams of bread or less, the occasional treat when one was able to bribe a trusty to bring in something special.

But a story about prison or death or sorrow cannot dwell on horror for three or four hundred pages. There must be a remission for the poor reader. Without Vodka gives us such, becomes a classic because there is an innocent hope that made it possible for Topolski to survive those years, a hope that guides his words even now, sixty years later.

Often, the diversions come from the details: some funny, some weird, some scary, some wildly imaginative, most interesting in their own right: How to kill lice, how to construct chessmen from well-chewed pieces of bread, how to give a tattoo to a fellow prisoner with India ink pens (he was a professional draftsman), how to hoard bread, how to hide things from the guards, how to divert the prisoners who want to beat up on you, how to light a cigarette:

    With deft fingers suggesting years of practice, he looped one end of the string over his big toe, freeing a hand to hold a matchbox packed with charred cotton cloth. A few twirls and pumps and the button was soon a blur. He tilted his toe to touch the spinning button to the cast-iron radiator. Sparks flew. Some fell onto the charred cotton cloth making it glow. He blew gently on it and with a few drags lit his cigarette. It was all done within seconds. The button had to be porcelain or mother-of-pearl, he explained, in order to make sparks.

From Here to
Tierra del Fuego

Paul Magee
(University of Illinois)
Magee tells us in the Preface that this is (officially) an "ethnohistory of the white colonial subject traveling through time to Terra del Fuego." Thus this is hardly a travel book, and I have my doubts that it is even an "ethnohistory," whatever that might be. It is, rather, a brilliant and insightful and often witty (and often poetic --- and always exotic) discussion of, among other things, the purpose of postage stamps, nationalism (and the deadly nature of it), "primitivism," neo-colonialism, fetishes, the tomb of the Unknown Soldier, monuments, in general, surrealism, time-travel, Freud, Marx, the Marx Brothers, "abstract things," "remembering the future," and why we travel. Or as he asks, early on, in chapter headings worthy of Esquire's "Dubious Awards" annual, "Would Michel Foucault Go to Tierra Del Fuego Just for the T-Shirt?"

French tourists flock to Ushuaia, one of the towns in Tierra del Fuego, in droves. Turns out

    there is a TV program in France called "Ushuaia," which features people engaging in "extremes" and visiting "crazy" places....We laughed at how ridiculous these tourists were, flying all the way around the world, just to say that they had stepped into their own stupid documentary.

Of course, the people laughing include one who calls himself an ethnohistorian, who has come to the End of the World to figure out why people come to the End of the World. Magee says as much: "To laugh at these French clowns ... is, for the ethnographer, to become them." The ethnohistory he is preparing will "be all the more critical if I translate their travel discourse back into the broken English I speak when I play at not being myself."

The American People
In the Great Depression

Freedom from Fear
David M. Kennedy
The great stock market crash of 1929 probably did not cause the Depression; more than likely, it was the direct result of World War I and, strangely, the fall of an obscure bank in Vienna, the Kreditanstalt. President Hoover was most probably a Keynesian. --- the deficit he produced in 1932 took up almost 60% of federal expenditures --- a record never matched by any administration before or since.

Before Roosevelt came to office, the federal government was positively minuscule --- at least in comparison with the state governments and their budgets. The first three bills of FDR's "one hundred days" were the Beer-Wine Revenue Act (anticipating the end to Prohibition), the Economy Act (which, ironically, cut $500,000,000 from the federal budget), and the Banking Act.

The latter was put together so hastily that Congress voted not on it, but a rolled up newspaper: there hadn't been time to print up a copy for the legislators. It was, as Kennedy points out, levered together in eighty intensive hours by new Roosevelt advisors working with Hoover's previous appointees. They had, according to Raymond Moley, "forgotten to be Democrats or Republicans" because the nation's banking system was teetering on collapse --- five thousand banks had gone under in the previous years.

The most radical and far reaching of FDR's programs was the Social Security Act, which not only served as a national insurance program, but, too, got older people off the job market. The radical nature of the Social Security Act came, says Kennedy, from viewing old age insurance not as a civil right but as a property right. At the same time, it was cleverly sold to the public not as a form of taxation, but as a "contribution."

Security was the key to the New Deal: "job security, life-cycle security, financial security, market security,"

    however it might be defined, achieving security was the leitmotif of virtually everything the New Deal attempted.

However, the original Social Security Act did carry a bias. Farm laborers, domestic servants, and workers in establishments with fewer than ten employees were omitted, even though FDR had promised to Francis Perkins, his Secretary of Labor, "We are going to make a country in which no one is left out."

I'm an Angel
Yevgeny Yevtushenko
I'm an angel

I've stopped drinking.
                               I love my wife.
My own wife ---
                     I insist on this.
Living so like an angel,
I almost quote Shchipachev.
This is a shriveled life.
I've shut my eyes to all other women.
My shoulders feel peculiar.
                     Wings must be sprouting!
This makes me anxious.
And the wings keep sprouting --- what a nuisance!
                                                   How awkward!
Now I'll have to slit
my jacket in appropriate places.

A Letter to Poetry
We understand that Poetry magazine has just been awarded $100,000,000 to better American poetry.

We here at RALPH are delighted at your windfall, and wish you the best of luck as you disperse this largess in a fashion that will not force the poetasters of America into acts of terrorism. We would like to help.

In our one-hundred-fifty issues, we have published almost 750 new and distinctive poems --- plus dozens of reviews of books of poetry coming out of New York, and the university and small presses.

However, over the past months, our offices have become disheveled, our staff sullen, and our hopes are turning wan and troubled. Our poetry editor has informed us that to work at RALPH may be a tonic to his heart but that it is toxic to his personal life. He is vexed because he cannot continue to support wife, three noisy children, and two noisy mortgage payments on the minidollars we offer him every week.

We've been told that the drop in funding for our non-profit foundation is due to an oncoming sickness in the Dow Jones Industrial Average and an atomic explosion in the price of houses. As you may know, the DJIA has been moving east and west but not north over the past many months as the price of your one-room fixer-upper in the slums has quintupled over the last decade. Our benefactors who are dependent on these perambulations of what they laughingly call "the free market" have apparently gone south since they don't return our telephone calls anymore. We must presume that they have forgotten that the business of recasting American letters requires a bit of cash flow.

Therefore, we would like to apply to you for a one-time grant of .0001% of that which Ruth Lilly of Eli Lilly Co. donated to your organization.

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