Twenty-One Hits
During the last three months, RALPH has enjoyed over a million-and-a-half hits. Hits: the on-line poems, letters, reviews, art, readings, or articles being downloaded somehow, somewhere, by someone: to be read, researched, recognized, reviled, loved or loathed by that army of unnamed viewers, those ghostly internet multispace beings floating about out there in hyperspace, those of you who may be occupying the nebulous spacious voidless void.

Below you'll find a summary of these, the most sought-after pages, along with their links. These are the twenty-one documents called up repeatedly by readers. (The list is compiled by our server as a daily "Hit List.")

We have given up trying to explain why any of these have come to be so popular. We put up something that we think is wonderful, and it may get no more than twenty or thirty hits a day. We put up a so-so, and suddenly it goes through the ceiling. It is, like life itself, a mystery, the mystery beyond all mysteries.

--- The Ed

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."

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Moon Dog Song
Angel Perez
I was out tonight, pissing on the moon
The yellow full moon. The man across the way
Was picking up dogshit with a shovel
Stuffing it into a Safeway bag.

Venus is in bloom tonight.
There are a thousand or so comets
Searching across the southern sky.
I pretend that they are friends visiting
From Antares coming to visit me
Coming to visit me
To visit me with love
From the cold and wandering star
They call Antares.

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Aching for Beauty
Footbinding in China
Wang Ping
(University of Minnesota)
What the mothers would do is this: when the daughter was still young, they would take a cloth and twist it around her child's feet until they were bent down and the toes began to curl up and backwards towards the heel. It would be an excruciatingly painful experience (sometimes it would last for several years; the cloth would be tightened every week or so). The mother would never relent, for she knew that it was the secret to her daughter's, perhaps the whole family's, security and hope for the future.

Now you and I know that a woman's foot, which had been twisted and scarred by the binding, would not be something you and I would find especially sexy. But for the men of China, for almost a thousand years, there was something precious about this, the lowest part of the body, shrunk down to two or three inches, done so in such a way that is was useless for walking, for moving about. Feet that were twisted and torn, exuding their own peculiar smell, and the men were struck with passion. They called it the "golden lotus," in honor of the flower before it bloomed.

The feet were carefully hidden, so that when men were finally allowed to see it, to touch it, to kiss it, to caress it, to suck nuts from between the twisted toes (often the whole dipped in tea) --- they would go bananas.
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Skin Deep
Tattoos, the Disappearing West,
Very Bad Men, and My Deep Love
For them All

Karol Griffin
When Karol Griffin was fifteen, she was traveling west with her parents through Canada. They stopped at a gas station in Kamloops, and she saw a man resting on a "long, low chopper." Her heart stopped: "He was a wild, magical man. A creature." It might have been his lanky legs "poured into tight black jeans," but it was more probably a tattooed snake that

    curled around his biceps and disappeared into his armpit. The tattooed snake undulated as he pulled a bandanna from his pocket and wiped the sweat from his neck. I stared past the horrified look on my mother's face and caught his eye through the heat waves rising from the asphalt. He looked right at me. Into me, it seemed. The snake rippled and flexed as he patted his thigh and cocked his head, daring and inviting... My mother told me to get into the car this instant.

That must have been what did it. As she says in the subtitle, she loves the old west, tattoos, and "very bad men."

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cubism constructs a cathedral of artistic liver paste

expressionism poisons artistic sardines

simultaneism is still at its first artistic communion

futurism wants to mount in an artistic lyricism-elevator

unanism embraces allism and fishes with an artistic line

neo-classicism discovers the good deeds of artistic art

paroxysm makes a trust of all artistic cheeses

ultraism recommends the mixture of these seven artistic things

creationism vorticism imagism also propose some artistic recipes


Dada passes everything through a new net.
Dada is the bitterness which opens its laugh on all that which has been made consecrated forgotten in our language in our brain in our habits.
It says to you: There is Humanity and the lovely idiocies which have made it happy to this advanced age


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Daily Sex
365 Positions and Activities
For a Year of Great Sex!

Jane Seddon
Each entry shows a little thermometer off to the side, with "Cold," "Warm," "Hot" and "Sizzling." Unfortunately, there is no Ache-o-Meter on the facing page for those of us on the dark side of the half-century mark, those of us who might not be able to manage "Head Over Heels" or "Flagpole Sitting" without a visit from the Jaws-of-Life.

Some readers might find this "Guys!" business a bit much. Not "Men!" Not "Studs!" Not "Hunks!" Just "Guys." As in "Watch out, guys!" or "Okay, guys. Do you remember how much you enjoyed the Popsicle activity in month one?" (Yeah, it left me with chilblains of the upper jaw.) After a few pages of this, I was feeling down in the mouth. In fact I browsed around the contents page looking for "Down in the Mouth." It seemed a natural.

This neo-soft fun-porn clambake also left us musing on Judge Charles Woolsey. He's the one who wrote the decision opening the door for Ulysses to be distributed in the United States, in 1932. It pretty much guaranteed books freedom from the feds (in those days, the force of comstockery lay with the U. S. Postal Service).

His decision kept the postal inspectors from rummaging through the mail and ferreting out "scandalous" literature. But sometimes this all-American go-for-it rough-and-tumble clambake sex makes us long for the good old days. It also might even send the good judge a-spinning in his grave. I looked through my copy of Daily Sex for "A-Spinning in the Grave" but alas, it was nowhere to be found.

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The Ceramics
Of China

5000 B.C. to 1912 A.D.
Gloria and Robert Mascarelli
(Schiffer Publishing)
I'm guessing one would have to be somewhat deranged to take up collecting ancients ceramics of China. First off, these babies cost a small fortune. The simplest, cheapest would be your not-too-exciting "Export butterfly pattern plate and creamer" running $125 - $150. A middle class objet d'arte might be an 18th Century "small dragon dish" ranging from $3,000 to $3,500.

The heavier items include a Tang Dynasty "sancai glaze figure," a rather portly fellow, dressed fit to kill, standing atop a "glazed demon" who, despite being used as a footstool, looks not so much the worse for wear. These "lokapala" run you slightly less that a half-a million. Samollians.

Second problem, at least for this observer, is that most of these art pieces --- bowls, beakers, figurines, spirit jars, vases, chargers, boxes, horses, camels, pigs, camels, and spirits --- are not all that attractive. Do you want to have a "Rare Northern Qi European Warrior" on you bedtable, especially since the color is faded, the face is beastly, and the general form can best be described as dorky?

Each to his own taste. If for some reason you find yourself attracted to a Han Dynasty kneeling chef with cleaver and smile ($3,500 - $4, 500) or a pot-bellied "cocoon" jar from the same period ($4,000 - $5,000), this is your chance.

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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.

She was built by the Cunard Company, who had been transporting people across the Atlantic since 1840. She was underwritten by the English government, a product of the need to compete with France, Germany and the United States for domination of the seas. She was named by a Professor G. G. Ramsay who recalled the "evocative names of such ships as the Umbria, Etruria, Campania, and Lucania." Cunard named the Lusitania after Roman Portugal.

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.

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Let Us
Now Praise
Famous Men

James Agee
Walker Evans

(Houghton Mifflin/Mariner)
Let us now praise famous men and our fathers that begat us. The quotation is from Sirach --- also known as Ecclesiasticus --- one of the Apocrypha of the Old Testament. The irony of the words is obvious and biting, for Agee is describing, minutely, the least famous, the poorest of the poor, the men (and women, and children) who lived in and around central Alabama in the middle of the depression, in the summer of 1936.

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.

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This is what life does. It lets you walk up to
the store to buy breakfast and the paper, on a
stiff knee. It lets you choose the way you have
your eggs, your coffee. Then it sits a fisherman
down beside you at the counter who says, Last night,
the channel was full of starfish. And you wonder,
is this a message, finally, or just another day?

Life lets you take the dog for a walk down to the
pond, where whole generations of biological
processes are boiling beneath the mud....

So life lets you have a sandwich, and pie for your
late night dessert. (Pie for the dog, as well.) And
then life sends you back to bed, to dreamland,
while outside, the starfish drift through the channel,
with smiles on their starry faces as they head
out to deep water, to the far and boundless sea.

--- From Our Post-Soviet History Unfolds
Eleanor Lerman
©2005 Sarabande Books
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Observations on the History and
Habitat of the City's Most
Unwanted Inhabitants

Robert Sullivan
Despite what you may believe from personal experience, your common rat has a maximum weight of two pounds, and can grow no more than twenty inches in length (with tail). But they can fit through any hole which is greater than 3/4 of an inch because that is the size of their head-bone. The rest of their bodies, the knee-bone, the back-bone, the hip-bone, are able to be squashed up like a .... like a, well, like a squash.

The brown Norwegian rats as opposed to the smaller and noisier black rats which are very fond of my attic are the most populous if not popular. And they didn't come from Norway.

They probably started out in Southeast Asia, moved up with the traders in their caravans though the Middle East, took the boat to Denmark, then north to Norway (who got all the blame) then East to Great Britain and the United States. That's all right, that thing about calling them Norwegian Rats. The English blamed the Gauls for syphilis, called it "The French Pox." And in Germany, the German cockroach is known as the French (or Russian) cockroach. It's nationalism in action.

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Treasury of

The Fatal Bullet
Rick Geary
(Nantier Beall
The best retelling of the murder of James A. Garfield was recorded fifty years ago by Bascomb Lamar Lunsford, the collector of Appalachian folk music. The record is long gone, but I can still remember him reciting, in his gravelly North Carolina mountain voice, "They say you are feeling mighty poorly, Mr. Garfield."

The second best retelling --- better than any of those history books they tortured us back at Garfield High --- is this seventy-two page comic book by Rick Geary.

The facts are all there: that Charles J. Guiteau was well known in the White House; that he had harassed Garfield and Secretary of State Blaine endlessly during the summer of 1881 to be Consul to Paris; that he was presented with endless chances to murder the President (no Secret Service in those days); that once shot, Garfield lingered on in great pain from July 2 to September 19th (and was probably done in by incompetent medical help); and that Guiteau was the first of the Unabomber-style publicity-hound assassins --- in other words, using the death of others to get one's doubtful message across (the newspapers and magazines printed many of his writings).

It's an odd, a very odd way to get one's political thoughts heard, and Guiteau made it even more appalling by intoning such lines as "Life is a fleeting dream, and it matters little when one goes," and, "I presume the President is a Christian and that he will be happier in paradise than here," and, "I have no ill-will toward the President. His death is a political necessity."

Of course, Guiteau affected the operations of the United States far more than Garfield did. One man with one gun and two bullets created, single-handedly, the dratted Civil Service System which presents us with all those 8 am - 4 pm G-11 Civil Servants who will do anything to keep from answering our questions. He also started us on the path of separating our elected officials from the common folk. Which, if you doubt, just you try to get an appointment with your Senator or Representative --- much less your President --- to tell him what you think of his government.

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S. N. Dasgupta
(Open Court)
Dr. Dasgupta has an interesting chapter on the practices of the Yoga sect --- interesting not only because that sect attains to heights of imbecility unsurpassed even in India, but also because its blowsy nonsense has made many converts in America. They are chiefly concentrated in Los Angeles the damned, and include thousands of unhappy and half-witted women who have passed through the stages of High Church Episcopalianism, Christian Science and the New Thought. The essence of the Yoga revelation is that an adept, by the double device of thinking profoundly and breathing deeply, can throw off the trammels of the body and become a sort of gaseous angel, purged of sin and as happy as the boy who killed his father.

This benign process goes on in Los Angeles in dark rooms heavy with incense, the while the police outside chase bootleggers and mop up the blood of murdered movie Lotharios. The banker's widow from the Mortgage Belt, closeted in such shade with a yogin, comes out flapping her wings and convinced that her rheumatism is much better. The yogin on his part, feeling the feathery weight of a $10 bill in his hand, returns from the empyrean to enter it upon his books. The thing threatens to spread: the yogins, working eastward, have already reached the western suburbs of Dallas and Kansas City.

And why not? The United States is the original home of suckers. It houses more ecclesiastics than even Italy or Spain, and they are of much higher virtuosity. Once the principles of Hindu mysticism were known among us, it would flourish as the devil-chasing of Billy Sunday, or the Four-Square Gospel of Aimée Semple McPherson, D.D. All that is needed is propaganda. Unfortunately, Dr. Dasgupta's book is too intelligent. It must be translated into Brisbanes.

--- H. L. Mencken
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Bertha Alyce:
Mother exPosed
Gay Block
(University of New Mexico Press)
At the very beginning of this, there are opening photographs of two of her mothers' friends, bitching about the fact that Gay has to do this book at all: "The only question I have is, Why are you writing this book?" says Jean Kaufman, ancient, serious, white perfectly set hair, rheumy eyes, Virginia Slims in hand. "I don't know whether there was something you felt you had to be forgiven for, which flashed through my mind. Maybe you have some guilt?"

"I can't understand it," says Sabina Block, another of her mother's friends, huge thick octagonal glasses, huge earrings, tight mouth. "I can't understand this project. I used to understand you pretty good, Gay. This is nuts! It really is."

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Edward Curtis:
The Master Prints
Dan L. Monroe, Editor
(Arena Editions/PGW)
It's another story of works of art being stored away and not discovered until recently. But they were not hidden away in an attic or basement or at the garbage dump, just about to be destroyed --- but in a museum. In this case, the Peabody Museum at Salem. In his "Appreciation" of Edward Sheriff Curtis, Clark Worswick tells us, "The museum, like its treasures, was a secret known only to the few."

The trove consists of 180 platinum prints of American Indians taken at the turn of the 20th Century. Approximately half of the found photographs are presented here, in lovely reproduction. Most are full face, full page close-ups of men, women, and children; there are a few of men in traditional masks, or in ceremonial dance; and a scattering representing men or women at work threshing wheat or weaving.

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

She can be heard three hours a day in almost every corner of America. They tell us that her audience exceeds 18,000,000, on 450 radio stations, and over 50% of her listeners are men. 50,000 or more people try to call in each day. Her syndicated show recently sold for $71,500,000.

Her themes are protect the child, practice family unity, use sexual restraint, stop making excuses, and don't interrupt me. "Tell me what you think, not what you feel," she says. "Everything I say is true," she says.

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Georgia O'Keefe and
New Mexico

A Sense of Place
Barbara Buhler Lynes
Leslie Poling-Kempes
Frederick W. Turner

(Princeton University Press)
Georgia O'Keefe certainly had fun with her oils, if we are to judge from the reproductions here. There are the usual O'Keefian conversions of (in this case) mountains and hills into what one of our critics has called the "vulva-ey." But O'Keefe was not just focused on the groin. "Cedar Tree at Lavender Hill" contains what either might be a knot of wood or a pigeon with its clutch of eggs. "Sand Hill" offers a shy rump and a pair of rustic male nipples. "Black Place III" shows a O'Keefian record-breaking four-and-a-half buttocks.

On "Lavender Hill" she's managed to mount three eyes along with a couple of withered breasts. "The Chama" resembles Matisse's naked dancers on the upper walls at the Barnes Foundation. "The White Place" presents a penis or two, "Red Hills" a couple of fat knees, and "Red Hills II" sports an embarrassingly shaded pair of buttocks (someone has been sitting around too long!)

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Highwire Moon
Susan Straight
(Houghton Mifflin)
The lives of the indocumentos can be terrible and remorseless and soul-destroying, but there are also moments --- at least in the lives of the people I know who live in that world --- of joy and life and fiesta and music and poetry.

If Straight wants to see that world as nasty, drug-infested, and brutish --- that is her choice. If she wants to stick in a set of improbable deus ex machinas to prop up her story, that, too, is her choice. But if she wants to put it between covers and call it art, we have to demur.

In our readings we have the right to expect a mix of sorrow and wonder, of tragedy and delight, of horror and ecstasy. It's called life. To see our journeys as unremitting horror, speckled with some of the most improbable happenings this side of Disneyland, is not only distorting, it makes the discerning reader feel --- as Jerome K. Jerome would have it --- too much put upon.

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A Funny Thing Happened
On My Way to Old Age

Life Changes After 50
Stanley C. Baldwin
Despite the thirty-five photographs of geezers dancing cheek-to-cheek, throwing their arms in the air, Stanley C. Baldwin, it turns out, is not a happy camper. He reveals, in A Funny Thing, several facts-of-life in the darkening world of Wrinklelandia not often highlighted in the mailings we get so regularly from the AARP.

His primary beefs are the usual ones: getting things tangled up (like extension-cords), dropping things, fretting over whether to buy butter rather than oleomargarine. There is as well a hint of anger over the most heinous sin of them all: being shoved off to the edge by a society that does not value our wisdom nor our years.

The author turns out to have another cross to bear. He's a practicing Christian. Despite his "walks with God" and his personal ship-of-state "under the command of the Lord Jesus Christ," there is a note of despair in his writing, even a touch of blame. Thus, when he finds himself in a pickle, who does he finger? Satan.

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Photographs by
Nancy Crampton

Forward by Mark Strand
(Quantuck Lane Press)
104 writers turn up here, along with quotes from interviews or their own text. Forty-five of these are from Paris Review interviews, and are as obtuse as you could want. Writers writing about writing come out sounding loutish, mirror-looking-at-the-mirror stuff.

From reading what the writers say in Writers, we learn that the rule of thumb is this: second-rate writers talk about themselves, inevitably dropping in the name of one of their titles in case we don't know who they are. The great writers don't because they don't have to waste our time (or theirs). The only extended quote really worth its salt is from S. J. Perelman, from a very dry, very droll interview that appeared in Paris Review. Among other things he said: "In this very large country, where size is all and where Thomas Wolfe outranks Robert Benchley, I am content to stitch away at my embroidery hoop."

And then there is Roth. Crampton notes: "I make up my mind to shoot Philip Roth on one of the local country roads" in Litchfield County, Connecticut. "After the third or fourth road, Philip says, 'Nancy, the road didn't write the book.'"

The photographs? Revealing; indeed, they say perhaps too much about their subjects. The most angelic is James Baldwin (he's wearing a white djellaba.) The most pained face of them all belongs to William Maxwell.

  • Most Sly: Kurt Vonnegut
  • Most Arch: Edna O'Brien
  • Prettiest (Standard, American): John Irving
  • Prettiest (Ivy League): Mark Strand
  • Most Show-Off (With Fedora): Harold Brodkey
  • Most Vampirish: Margaret Atwood
  • Most Merry: Stanley Kunitz
  • Most Hearty: Gabriel García Márquez, Harold Bloom (tie)
  • Most Hunky: James Jones
  • Most Arty: Joyce Carol Oates, Anne Sexton (tie)
  • Worst Teeth: Joseph Heller, Robert Penn Warren (tie)
  • Most Decadent: W. H. Auden
  • Most Fatuous: Alice Munro
  • Most Neurotic: Robert Lowell
And the Most Surprising: Truman Capote (quite lively --- although he was to die three months later). The Most Lively of Them All ... by a league, completely in his own league ... and getting twelve shots as a result: Studs Terkel.

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