All-Time Hits
From the Early Days of
We went through the first fifty issues of RALPH
(those published between 1994 and 1999),
and plucked a dozen or so funny, interesting, or
groundbreaking reviews, essays, poems
and readings to remind our readers
(and ourselves) of the original
if not capricious ways
of our infant magazine.

In Flanders Fields
Leon Wolff
Whiter than the whitewash on the wall,
Whiter than the whitewash on the wall,
  Wash me in your water
  That you wash your dirty daughter
And I shall be whiter than the whitewash on the wall.

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The Tijuana Titanic
The Titanic should be setting sail shortly, and I hope to be on board at the launching. The grand ship, filled with lights and music and glamour, setting sail to another Byzantium. The hundreds of us in our tuxedos and formal gowns, so elegant, there in the first class ballroom, holding our glasses of 1911 vintage Champagne, with the band playing "Just a Bird in a Gilded Cage" and "Casey Did Dance with the Strawberry Blonde."

How glorious it will be to sail past San Diego and Long Beach and Dana Point, all bright lights and music, forging ahead into the foggy darkness, racing along at twenty-five knots, to collide, finally and inevitably, with an errant ice-cube calved by the Santa Barbara Yacht Club Cocktail Lounge.

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Colors of the

Da Chen
(Random House)
Given this sad history, and the bleakness of the lives of those who were considered enemies of the Maoist state, one would expect Da Chen's story to be a tragedy, on the order of Hunger, The Grapes of Wrath, or Black Boy. But this is a tale of defiance, and The Colors of the Mountains ends up as a triumphal novel. Further, with its comic style, it quickly turns to a picaresque bildungsroman, closer to Mark Twain than John Steinbeck. This, for example, is the description of Da riding a bike with his friends, going over to the nearby village of Putien to see their first movie:

    Sen's bike was a museum piece. It rattled in places where it shouldn't have and was mute where it should have made noise. It was, nonetheless, mounted with a long backseat. There were five of us; we rode that bike the acrobatic way. One pedaled, two straddled the backseat, and one sat sideways on the handlebars, barely giving the pedaler room to see. The fifth passenger ran behind and helped push the heavy load uphill. Every two miles we changed seating arrangements, so that both runner and pedaler would get a rest. It was pathetic to see the old bike groaning under all that weight, slogging through the rough, muddy road with almost flat tires.

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The Windsor Style
Suzy Menkes
(Salem House)
The Duke and Duchess (called, once, by an errant radio announcer, the "Duck and Doochess of Windsor") weren't exactly Yesterday's Fun Couple, although they did have their moments: He would call newspapers "noospapers" with the American inflection, and would answer the telephone: "Hallo! It's the Dook here."

    "I just love your pansies," said a guest at the Moulin de la Tuilerie, looking at the Duke's herbaceous borders.

    "In the garden or at my table?" replied the Duchess.

Once, Wallis wrote a friend that the Duke "stayed until 3AM and played the bagpipes for them and stood on his head." 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.

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The Doctor Smells
Michael Ingall
After a while, it becomes a part of me. Only when I return after a weekend away do I notice it. I stop wearing gloves. I begin to eat lunch at the cadaver box, sometimes laying my sandwich down on his muscles, to get the use of two hands. One day, the project is the removal of the erector spinae muscle that runs along the length of the back, beside the vertebrae. In cattle, it's filet mignon, the instructor informs us. Sure enough, as I tear it from its attachments to the bone, the marinated muscle looks like chunks of rare steak. It is eleven-thirty, and, to my horror, my mouth is watering. I am becoming a doctor.

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14 - 18 --- Understanding
The Great War
Stéphane Audoin-Rouzeau
Annette Becker
(Hill & Wang)
With chilling humour, historian John Keegan recounts how he once offended the curator of a war museum: "I constantly recall the look of disgust that passed over the face of a highly distinguished curator of one of the greatest collections of arms and armour in the world when I casually remarked to him that a common type of debris removed from the flesh of wounded men by surgeons in the gunpowder age was broken bone and teeth from neighbours in the ranks. He had simply never considered what was the effect of the weapons about which he knew so much, as artifacts, on the bodies of the soldiers who used them."

Reticence in discussing violence is particularly unfortunate in the case of the Great War, for one important characteristic of this four-and-a-half-year conflict is its unprecedented levels of violence --- among combatants, against prisoners and, last but not least, against civilians.

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A Woman of Rome
Alberto Moravia
Translated by Lydia Holland
(Steerforth Italia)
Moravia has magically created a woman with a saintly personality, one that makes her assume good in those who are least good. By this means, Moravia paints her almost as a saintly figure, one who can say to herself, when finding out that her first love is cheating on her,

    I suppose he had been weak rather than wicked, carried away as he was by desire, and that the fault, if fault there was, lay with my beauty, which made men lose their heads and forget all their scruples and obligations.

We've all heard the cliché of the saintly whore with the heart of gold. In the hands of Moravia, it stops being a cliché, takes another form. She pulls all men into her, sees them all with a dispassionate warmth that leads us to believe that perhaps she is one of the divine, a Mary Magdelaine, the Sweet Mother of Jesus, our Lady of the Streets. Her forgiveness is what sets her apart; no, better --- it is her clear her ability not to judge those who deceive and steal from society, or, at times, from her.

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Three from 1995
You don't want to read Pesticide Alert. Not only will it make your hair curl --- it might make it fall out. Twenty-five or so of our favorite fruits and vegetables listed, along with a description of the most common pesticides discovered on or in them.

For example, strawberries show pesticide residues in 63% of the samples taken from supermarkets. Over half of the celery tested showed detectable chemicals, including Chlorothalonil which can have "chronic health effects including kidney, thyroid, stomach and liver changes." Then there's Acephate (Orthene) which showed "reproductive toxicity in one animal study." Can these chemicals be washed out? Yes, for Dicloran, Ethanox, TBZ; no, for Methamidophos, Methomyl, Phosdrin.

What's so scary is that all of our favorite, health-giving fruits and vegetables are included --- Spinach, Carrots, Green Beans, Cauliflower, Broccoli, Corn.

What's even more scary are the figures on contamination of imported produce (30 percent of domestic samples of cucumber showed residues; 80 percent of imported ones were contaminated). The problem is an addiction, the addiction to pesticides on the part of the consumer (as well as the producer) --- because we demand pretty peaches and spotless bell peppers.

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Heart of Spain:
Robert Capa's Photographs
Of the Spanish Civil War

Leslie A. Martin, Editor
It was a terrible war, right? All wars are terrible, but the Spanish Civil War, which lasted less than three years, and killed, wounded, or drove out almost a million people, is one that still resonates in our hearts. It was, as they say, the curtain-raiser on WWII --- and to those of us who believed in the wonder of human freedom and the hopes of democracy --- the end, the loss of the Republic, was a bitter denouement. It's probably impossible for those who weren't alive, or at the age of reason, between 1936 and 1939, to comprehend how this one gripped us.
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To A Former Mistress,
Now Dead
John Updike
Dear X, you wouldn't believe how curious
my eyebrows have become --- jagged gray wands
have intermixed with the reddish-brown, and poke
up toward the sun and down into my eye.
It hurts, a self-caress that brings tears
and blurred vision. Aches and pains! The other day
my neck was so stiff I couldn't turn my head
to parallel-park; another man
would have trusted his mirrors, but not I;
I had the illusion something might interpose
between reality and its reflection, as happened with us.

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The Book of the Grotesque
Sherwood Anderson
For a time the two men talked of the raising of the bed and then they talked of other things. The soldier got on the subject of the war. The writer, in fact, led him to that subject. The carpenter had once been a prisoner in Andersonville prison and had lost a brother. The brother had died of starvation, and whenever the carpenter got upon that subject he cried. He, like the old writer, had a white mustache, and when he cried he puckered up his lips and the mustache bobbed up and down. The weeping old man with the cigar in his mouth was ludicrous. The plan the writer had for the raising of his bed was forgotten and later the carpenter did it in his own way so the writer, who was past sixty, had to help himself with a chair when he went to bed at night.
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Sex and Violence and
The Federal Communications Commission
Each broadcast licensee would be required to keep a log of all programs in which contained, in all or in part, sexual innuendo, lewd and lascivious acts or descriptions, violence, and/or drug use. The FCC would create a fee schedule appropriate to such broadcasts.

At the end of each fiscal year, station operators would forward a list of programs which fit these categories, and remit the appropriate dollar amount to the Commission, to become part of its general fund.

I presented a suggested schedule of fees, with the caveat that it was not complete. "I am sure that the FCC," I said, "with better investigative resources than my own, can come up with a more comprehensive list." For instance, even now I'm not exactly sure how one should categorize some of the more exotic acts of violence, such as one I saw not long ago on Los Angeles TV, in which a woman was shown in the buff, in a shower, being eviscerated by a portable electric drill.

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