Twelve More Picks from
Our CoEditors
In 2012, we will be publishing
The Noisiest Book Review in the Known World,
a collection of the best writings
from RALPH's first fifteen years.
The editors offer some more
of their favorite readings,
poems, articles and reviews.

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Dream Whip #14
Bill Brown

    Sadness sticks around. It's like your most reliable friend. You can be yourself around sadness. It'll drive across country with you and it won't complain if the food is bad or the motel has roaches. But happiness is a different story. It's always ditching you. Leaving you stuck with the bill. There's no one you'd rather spend your time with, and happiness knows it.

You could call this a travel book but as I went through it, I thought of it as a chance to go around the United States and into the depths of England, France, Italy, Germany, Austria, Slovenia and Croatia with a scintillating companion. Brown is one of those travelers who will put up with anything: being a sponge on friends, being ashamed of being a sponge on friends, waiting for Amtrak (five hours late), riding a freight barge from Detroit to Canada, living in seedy noisome hotels, motels, and cars.

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The Art of
War on Land

David G. Chandler
Clausewitz didn't say, "War is the continuation of politics by other means." He said,

    War is nothing but a continuation of politics with the admixture of other means.

Subtle difference --- but key. On the other hand, Chandler tells us that all warfare must be divided into five parts: Grand Strategy (Let's destroy the Germans), Strategy (We'll invade the beaches at Normandy), Grand Tactics (We'll mass a huge flotilla of men and machines), Minor Tactics (We'll get to the beaches and then move inland as quickly as possible) and Logistics (However, all this depends on the weather). All this, Chandler reminds us, needs to be decided before even the first ship is launched.

Wars were much more easy-going in the past. The Assyrians (1380 BC) had two operating strategies: their soldiers were required to be monsters, and their main purpose was to get loot. On the other hand, Napoleon said that "The Channel is a mere ditch, and will be crossed as soon as someone has the courage to attempt." He never made it to England, but he did get to Moscow and, in the process, brought war home to the people by introducing universal conscription and by having his soldiers "live off the land" (a polite phrase for robbing the poor peasants).

He divided his army into "large self-contained formations" which moved quickly to surprise the enemy. Instead of marching as a disciplined mass to the next encounter, his soldiers would be dispersed, go off, lollygag about, forage some wine and truffles, and then would, at the appropriate time, come together for the attack. This made for speed, and the famous French military stomach, on which, according to him, they traveled.

In attack, Napoleon was fond of massed batteries, and favored envelopment when attacking a weaker opponent. He also collected massed, all-enveloping piles, which tormented him to distraction at Waterloo. You cannot develop grand strategy on the battlefield if you can barely stand to stay on your horse for more than a couple of hours. Thus, he may not have been all that able ere Elba because he forgot his daily dose of docusate sodium.

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Tumbling After
Pedaling Like Crazy
After Life Goes

Susan Parker
Suzy Parker lives with her husband Ralph in North Oakland, California. They spent many years hiking, rock climbing, and biking (they met during an extended bike trip through Baja).

A freak bicycle accident in Berkeley in 1994 caused Ralph to fall and break his spine at the high C-4 vertebra, which renders him a complete quadriplegic (no use of legs, feet, torso, bowel, bladder, arms, or hands). Tumbling After is Suzy's story of what happened to her, and to him, over the succeeding years.

Ralph was a scientist by trade --- a nuclear physicist --- a meticulous man who did the shopping, cooked the meals, and kept the house in apple-pie order. After the accident, he is a man in a wheelchair, who uses a mouth-stick to perform a variety of activities, including use of the computer. He can talk and sing and shout and cry and think and sleep --- but little else...

This is a pretty hum-drum review and I am going to stop it right now because this Tumbling After is a gem. If you are interested in quadriplegics or chance accidents out of the blue or disability rights or the secret lessons the body has to teach us get this one and settle in with it.

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García-Lorca's Afro
Elizabeth Gold
I had come in to the fourth grade summer school class with Federico García-Lorca's "Sleepwalking Ballad" ("Green green I want you green...") all set to get the students writing poems about color. The poems they wrote were good, some of them, although I can't remember them now. Their poems were eclipsed by what happened next, when I was gathering my books together, getting ready to go.

"I met García-Lorca once," Kevin, the natural comedian in the front row, suddenly said, with an air of airy adult nonchalance.

"Did you?" I asked. That's pretty amazing. He died over thirty years ago."

Kevin pretended not to have heard me. "Oh yes. Oh yes. I met him --- oh --- about ten years ago."

The class began to snicker, but Kevin's face was perfectly deadpan.

"Really? What did he look like?"

"He had a great big afro. Like my grandfather," he said, and as the class cracked up, he added, inspired, "That's where he kept his money. He just picked it out of his hair."

"That's where he kept his dog leash," someone added. "When he wanted to walk his dog, he just reached into his afro."

"That's where he kept his chicken! When he was hungry he reached into his afro!"

By this time the whole class was shouting all the diffrerent things that García-Lorca kept in his afro, and I was writing them on the board as fast as I could.

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Mrs. Caliban
Rachel Ingalls
(Harvard Common)
He's human, but not too human. He's pure, like Doestevsky's Idiot, or Melville's Billy Budd. Once, he walked through the city at night, made up, with a wig, like a drag queen: "I've figured out the make-up. The secret is to wear a color that's different from most of the people who live in the area," he says.

And love. He is learning about love, man-love, woman-love:

    They made love on the living-room floor and on the dining-room sofa and sitting in the kitchen chairs, and upstairs in the bathtub. And they talked. Most of the talk consisted of asking and answering questions. She asked him, "Where do you come from? Does everyone make love so many times in one day?"
    "Is it too much?"
    "No...It's perfect..."

(Even though he's a frogman --- perhaps because he's a frogman --- it becomes de rigueur that they make love in the bathtub.)

It's a gentle love tale, and it works because of the tension of reversal. Instead of monster pursuing lady, trying to drag her into the swamp or up some tall building, she pursues him, tries to keep him from being nabbed by the police; in the process, she teaches him about love and the life of humans.

And there'll come a time when they go to the beach, their favorite beach (where they have often disported in the night's warm waters), and he will have to go away, and she'll return again, after he's gone, in her car, sitting there in the parking area at the edge of the beach --- waiting, hoping that he will loom out of the sea once more, please: the monster that we thought we had to fear, only she learns (as the reader has learned) that the monster out of the sea is a funny and a wise one. Of course she loves him: he is a gentle frogman, from a gentle culture, a culture where "We don't give names... Everyone knows. We recognize each other."

Who can resist the tall staid green giant who dotes on avocados, or who swims with her on his back across the surface of the sea at breathtakingly high speeds, or who wants to "borrow a baby" so he can see what it looks like? Gentle, understated; so much so that finally, as we mull on it --- we come to realize that our own gentle Dorothy has had a breakdown, and in the process, as part of the process, made Larry up, created him, entire, out of the whole-cloth --- her whole-cloth --- created this great lovable green frogman complete...out of her own imagination. Quietly the delusion came; quietly the delusion went away...

And then her life went on as before.

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Pulling at
Broken Strings

Laurie Lee

I remember coming home in the middle of the war, arriving about two in the morning. And there she was, sitting up in her chair, reading a book with a magnifying glass. "Ah, son," she said --- she didn't know I was coming --- "come here, take a look at this...." We examined the book, then I went up to bed and fell into an exhausted sleep. I was roused at some dark, cold hour near dawn by Mother climbing the stairs. "I got you your dinner, son," she said, and planked a great tray on the bed. Aching with sleep, I screwed my eyes open --- veg soup, a big stew and a pudding. The boy had come home and he had to have supper, and she had spent half the night preparing it. She sat on my bed and made me eat it all up --- she didn't know it was nearly morning.

So with the family gone, Mother lived as she wished, knowing she'd done what she could: happy to see us, content to be alone, sleeping, gardening, cutting out pictures, writing us letters about the birds, going for bus rides, visiting friends, reading Ruskin or the lives of the saints. Slowly, snugly, she grew into her background, warm on her grassy bank, poking and peering among the flowery bushes, dishevelled and bright as they. Serenely unkempt were those final years, free from conflict, doubt or dismay, while she reverted gently to a rustic simplicity as a moss rose reverts to a wild one.

Then suddenly our absent father died --- cranking his car in a Morden suburb. And with that, his death, which was also the death of hope, our Mother gave up her life.

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The Truth about Dogs
An Inquiry into the Ancestry, Social Conventions,
Mental habits, and Moral Fiber of
Canis Familiaris

Stephen Budiansky
There are 55,000,000 or so dogs in the United States. We spend around $5,000,000,000 a year to feed them. Five billion dollars is roughly ten times what we spend on annual food shipments to the starving children in Africa, India, and South America. Our annual vet bills for dogs reaches $7,000,000,000 which is roughly thirteen times what we spend on annual food shipments to the starving children in Africa, India, and South America.

Dogs bite a million people a year in this country, at an annual cost to us (medical, insurance, lawsuits) of a billion dollars, which is roughly twice what we spend on annual food shipments to the starving children in Africa, India, and South America. And our dogs aren't biting that guy sneaking in the bedroom to steal the family jewels: dog bites are like shooting people. Most bites (and bullets) are "friendly" --- eg, they are aimed at someone nearby, a member of the pet-owning family, say; the mailman; the guy from next door jogging down the street; a neighbor's kid.

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To the Crank Letter Editor.
In re: Your review of Stephen Budiansky's
The Truth About Dogs.

Who IS that dork?

Most of his rabid misinformation about dogs could be more aptly applied to the anklebiters of his own species.

Sheesh what a parasite!

--- Paco,
aka The Yellow Dog

Presidential Doodles
Two Centuries of Scribbles,
Scratches, Squiggles &
Scrawls from the Oval Office

David Greenberg
The most vulgar are ones Reagan sent to Nancy, including one written on a paper stamped "IF THIS GETS INTO THE HANDS OF THE RUSSIANS, IT'S CURTAINS FOR THE FREE WORLD." The note scrawled under this says,

    I love you mucher & mucherthanthat. You are my cuddely [sic], wuddly [sic] little pink-Honey Pot.

It's signed "XXXXX Guess Who?" All this doodled, presumably, during a cabinet discussion of Russian / American nuclear capabilities or some other nonconsequential matter.

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Ants at Work
How an Insect Society
Is Organized

Deborah Gordon
(The Free Press)
She wanted to "track colony age with maps that could be used to follow labeled colonies from one year to the next."

    We started out using a triangulation method, until I figured out that no amount of trigonometry would change the fact that if the location of one colony is measured as its distance from another, error will accumulate at an astonishingly high rate. We also wasted a lot of time bickering in the hot sun about sines and cosines....

    Such calculations became difficult at the hot end of the morning, and some people seem to have a bias toward calling east west, or north south, leading to endless arguments later in the afternoon when we tried to put the newly measured colonies on the map and found them in strange places way off the site.

Even for those of us with little or no enthusiasm for ants, there are astonishing facts buried, like desert seeds, all over Ants At Work. If she survives the first migration, and lives through the first hard years, the queen will live for a full fifteen years, although the lifespan of her spawn is but a single year. Younger colonies have different patterns than the older ones --- and those three or four years old tend to be more aggressive in fighting over territory and hellraising in general.

Busybodies like Gordon can bring seed and dump it in one of the foraging paths, but often, it will not affect the established patterns. If a small number of the patrolling ants are plucked up and spirited away, the colony will continue as before; but there is a crucial number that causes the whole colony to shut down. Strange ants plopped down in the middle of the colony may be ignored, unless they are from nearby colonies.

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Suggested Photo Spots
Melinda Stone
Igor Vamos
(Boise State/
Hemingway Western Studies)
Stone and Vamos, through some bad genes, or black magic, have managed to locate twenty of the ugliest places in the United States --- and to memorialize them with photos, maps on how to get there, and thumbnail --- dirty thumbnail --- descriptions. This for Great Falls of the Mohawk Cohoes, New York:

    In the early 19th Century these were roaring falls that rivaled Niagara as a tourist destination. Later their drop became the driving forces for Harmony Mills, the largest water-powered mill ever built. In the 20th Century, the river was diverted for hydroelectric power, leaving barely a drip. Tourists now stay away, proving that it is the water that brings visitors to a waterfall.

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The Vivisection Mambo

When she takes the sword, kisses the blade just so
And places it gently in my gut and slides it up:
I think on the lace she wears to the dance,
   And before her, breasts like great engines
   Pushing love around the ball, into all of us.

She does bite the blade, doesn't she? By my
White god I miss her, and her thighs lurking there
At the edge of my taste, the knowledge that she
In her ripe estates of lavender could so easily
Abandon those of us who love her god knows
Forever, a great streaming out forever.
    She pushes love around the floor, ruffling the panes.
    What in god's sweet name can she possibly mean?

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The Benefits of Chronic Pain
An Interview

Q: As a Buddhist priest, which do you find to be the more salutary, misery or agony?

A: Agony, of course, is more dramatic. Not only can you describe horrendous circumstances to your friends without fear of interruption, but you can also write it down in books, and people will thank you for suffering so that they can have the experience vicariously. Misery is another story. People avoid us miserable ones, possibly tired of the complaining, the twisted features, the special diets. As a Zen priest, the basic thing that has been helpful to me is other people's misery. It makes them willing to come keep me company.

Q: How come you never hear about anyone getting enlightened while receiving a nice relaxing massage?

A: Actually masseurs and masseuses tell us this all the time, and it's absolutely true. You do get enlightened from having a relaxing massage. But just as Dogen wrote in "Only Buddha and Buddha," (though he was not exactly addressing the post-massage experience), we don't realize that the very next moment (when you put your clothes back on) is enlightenment too.

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The Wrong Stuff
Phil Scott
(Hylas Publishing)
Flying follies don't only belong to the long ago. Northrop produced the XP-79, which resembles a flying wing with yaws. It had "two Westinghouse 19B turbojets of 1150 lbs. thrust each." Harry Crosby got to test it over Muroc Dry Lake on September 12, 1945. After fifteen minutes, Crosby and XP-79 went into a tailspin. Neither survived.

There are over a hundred turkeys shown here, including Da Vinci's "Great Bird" (which does look like a turkey) and Howard Hughes famous "Spruce Goose" (which does not look like a goose). The Wright Brothers' 1904 "Flyer" puts in a brief appearance. Scott reveals that it was shown to twelve reporters "who got to watch the machine run down the rail and plop off the end without raising a single inch." It was the 1905 machine, looking just as crazy as all the rest, that finally got off the ground.)

This is fun, and the layout of the book is a dream: huge photographs, all the facts you need. There are some ominous turkeys towards the end, including, gasp, the Convair X-6 which would cruise, said the Aircraft Nuclear Propulsion people, by means of a contained nuclear reactor.

Unfortunately, it was to generate 1800 degrees of heat which would bake the crew to toast and get the nearby maintenance people all aglow. In the case of a crash, would irradiate every plant, tree, dog, cow, bush, and human within miles. For some quirky reason, the geese --- or, better, the chickens in the U. S. Air Force planning department canceled the X-6 in 1953, before it could fly and fry us all.

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It's 'Nudnick,'
Not 'Noodnick'
Q: How would you describe the form you work in? You've called it "the sportive essay" in a previous interview.

A: I classify myself as a writer of what the French call feuilletons --- that is, a writer of little leaves. They're comic essays of a particular type.

Q: Are there any devices you use to get yourself going on them?

A: No, I don't think so. Just anguish. Just sitting and staring at the typewriter and avoiding the issue as long as possible. Raymond Chandler and I discussed this once, and he admitted to the most bitter reluctance to commit anything to paper. He evolved the following scheme: he had a tape recorder into which he spoke the utmost nonsense --- a stream of consciousness which was then transcribed by a secretary and which he then used as a basis for his first rough draft. Very laborious. He strongly advised me to do the same ... in fact became so excited that he kept plying me with information for months about the machine that helped him.

Q: Hervey Allen, the author of Anthony Adverse, apparently had the voices of his ancestors to help him. All he had to do was lie on a bed, close his eyes, and they went to work for him.

A: I fully believe it, judging from my memory of his work.

Q: How many drafts of a story do you do?

A: Thirty-seven. I once tried doing thirty-three, but something was lacking, a certain --- how shall I say? --- je ne sais quoi. On another occasion, I tried forty-two versions, but the final effect was too lapidary --- you know what I mean, Jack? What the hell are you trying to extort --- my trade secrets?

Q: ...merely to get some clue to the way you work.

A: With the grocer sitting on my shoulder. The only thing that matters is the end product, which must have brio --- or, as you Italians put it, vivacity.

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Our Secret Eats
Almost every person has something secret he likes to eat. He is downright furtive about it usually, or mentions it only in a kind of conscious self-amusement, as one who admits too quickly, "It is rather strange, yes --- and I'll laugh with you."

Do you remember how Claudine used to crouch by the fire, turning a hatpin just fast enough to keep the toasting nubbin of chocolate from dripping off? Sometimes she did it on a hairpin over a candle. But candles have a fat taste that would taint the burnt chocolate, so clean and blunt and hot. It would be like drinking a Martini from silver.

Hard bitter chocolate is best, in a lump not bigger than a big raisin. It matters very little about the shape, for if you're nimble enough you'll keep it rolling hot on the pin, as shapely as an opium bead.

When it is round and bubbling and giving out a dark blue smell, it is done. Then, without some blowing all about, you'll burn your tongue. But it is delicious.

However, it is not my secret delight. Mine seems to me less decadent than Claudine's, somehow. Perhaps I am mistaken. I remember that Al looked at me very strangely when he first saw the little sections lying on the radiator.

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