R  A  L  P  H
 The Review of Arts, Literature, Philosophy and the Humanities 

Volume Twenty-Two

Late Fall 2004

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Franz Kafka
It's beyond me why an author would have the hero of his tale turn into a beetle when he could just as well transform him into a poodle, a cuddly kitten, or at worst, a butterfly. But, then again, there's no accounting for taste, is there?

After he becomes a bug (one paragraph --- no scientific explanation offered) Gregor Samsa is forced by the author to spend the next ten pages of "Metamorphosis" trying to get out of bed. He spends the subsequent ten pages thinking of how he is going to get to work in his new bug-body.

Since he's a salesman, his extraordinary appearance might have an adverse effect on his monthly sales figures. Here he is a six-foot beetle with 24 tiny legs, trying to sell time-life insurance to some poor sucker there in 1920s Vienna.

Finally, when he figures out that he's a bug, Gregor insists on crawling across the ceiling and sleeping under the bed. He also refuses to eat anything besides rotten fruit, aged vegetables, and putrid meat-pies. His good Austrian family is, as you would expect, grossed out by all this.

They try to keep him hidden in the bedroom so he won't be scaring the wits out of the paying boarders --- but no --- at night naughty Gregor has to sneak into the living-room to listen to his sister playing the violin. A beetle infatuated not with the Beatles but with Bach.

Naturally, his appearance causes a hubbub. The boarders flee, his Mum almost has heart-failure, his father throws an apple at him, and his sister drops her violin.

Fortunately, there is one sensible character here: the family maid. She pokes Gregor with her broom-handle and informs him, as if he didn't already know, that he is nothing but a common dung-beetle, and should mind his manners. He takes this as an insult, goes into a regular sulk, refuses to eat his putrescent meat-pie, and up and dies.

Maid sweeps him out with the garbage, Mum and Dad and Sister head out of town on a trolley where sister blooms, metamorphoses into the butterfly he should have become. The family is content, at last, to be done with this wall-crawling scamp.

They say that Kafka is a "seminal" writer, whatever that means. If "Metamorphosis" is any sample, his chances of getting on the USA Today "Top Best Seller List" are about as good as me winning the Miss America contest or the finals in the Savannah Open. Fiction about someone turning into a dung-beetle may appeal to the Stephen King regulars, but for my money give me The Lovely Bones any day of the week.

--- Leslie J. Wurner

Un Oiseau Chante
Un oiseau chante ne sais ou
C'est je crois ton âme qui veille
Parmi tous les soldats d'un sou
Et l'oiseau charme mon oreille


Écoute il chante tendrement
Je ne sais pas sur quelle branche
Et partout il va me charmant
Nuit et jour semaine et dimanche


Mais que dire de cet oiseau
Que dire des métamorphoses
De l'âme en chant dans l'arbrisseau
Du cœur en ciel du ciel en roses


L'oiseau des soldats c'est l'amour
Et mon amour c'est une fille
La rose est moins parfaite et pour
Moi seul l'oiseau bleu s'égosille


Oiseau bleu comme le coeur bleu
De mon amour au coeur céleste
Ton chant si doux répète-le
A la mitrailleuse funeste


Qui claque à l'horizon et puis
Sont-ce les astres que l'on sème
Ainsi vont les jours et les nuits
Amour bleu comme est le cœur mème

A Bird Is Singing
Somewhere out there a bird is singing
I believe he is your own soul waiting
Somewhere among the rag-tag infantry
And his singing delights me


Everywhere he delights me
All the time the whole week long
Listen he is singing right now and tenderly
On the barest branch of an invisible tree


How can I make words show
A strange change of soul
Into notes and branches
A change of heart into sky and roses


Somewhere out there the war is a bluebird
Who loves me and I love a girl
More perfect than all roses
The poor war is alone


Bluebird blue as the sky-blue heron
Of my girl whose heart is the sky
Sing it again start now
And sing right through the gunfire


On the horizon machine-gun fire swells
The sky is strewn with starlight
Days pass and nights go by
Blue love blue as the heart itself

--- From The Self-Dismembered Man
Selected Later Poems of Guillaume Apollinaire

Donald Revell, Translator
(Wesleyan University Press)

Michelangelo and the
Pope's Ceiling

Ross King
John Lee, Reader

(Books on Tape)
Michelangelo was a handsome and noble young Florentine who spent many of his happiest hours flat on his back, alone with his paintbrush, doing the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel which, when unveiled, got him immense praise and made him rich beyond compare.

That's what I thought until listening to this reading of Ross King's Michelangelo and the Pope's Ceiling. Now I know the truth. That:

  • Michelangelo was no noble-looking prince. Not only was his family impoverished, he was homely --- jug-ears, flattened nose, ungainly body. And he was a grouch of the first order. Raphael, who didn't care for him at all, said that he reminded him of a "solitary hangman."
  • Pope Julius II, the one who commissioned the Sistine Chapel fresco, was continually nagging at Michelangelo to get on with it. That is, when he wasn't running off to wage wars against the French, the Papal states, or his one-time allies. He was also unbearably slow on payments to the artist;
  • When he began work, Michelangelo didn't know squat about the intricate art of frescoing (he saw himself mostly as a sculptor). So he hired on an army of assistants to help him get going, and was so uneasy about his earliest efforts --- Noah and the Flood; the Drunken Noah --- that he tucked them away in a not-too-visible corner of the ceiling;
  • When he wasn't dickering with the Pope over getting paid, or hiding out because he thought that Pope Julius' mignons might be wanting to poison him, Michelangelo was arguing long distance --- by post --- with his family of loafers and spendthrifts. Sometimes he would have to drop his work to pop over to Florence to get everyone in line;
  • Rather than encouraging Michelangeloto be an artist from early on, his father and uncles boxed him mercilessly on the ears whenever they found him doodling with pen and paper (his family considered artists to be lower class);
  • Michelangelo didn't do the frescos in the reclining position, nor did he do them alone. He and his helpers prepared and painted the vault from the standing position (albeit leaning back a bit);
  • He had many assistants --- to scrape, prepare the wall for plaster, to mix the paints, and to carry up supplies from the floor sixty feet below. He did a few of the later characters free-hand, but most were detailed in "cartoons" --- the preparatory drawings. Often, all the work had to be done while services were going on below;
  • He stuck in jokes here and there on the vault, thinking --- in that pre-binocular, pre-video time --- that they would never be spotted from below. A dwarfish angel is seen giving "the fig" (the finger) to one of the sibyls. And Michelangelo's own face appears as that of Jeremiah --- the tortured lamenter of the Old Testament;
  • The famous finger of Adam receiving the touch of life from the divine is not by Michelangelo at all. The ceiling cracked in the mid-16th century, and this particular segment of Genesis collapsed and it had to be redone by another artist;
  • All them nekkid Michelangelio-esque bodies didn't sit well with some of the ecclesiastics. The successor to Pope Leo X --- Adrian VI --- planned to get the whole enchilada scraped off, but, fortunately, he died before he could put his plan into action.

§     §     §

Ross King not only writes knowingly about the frescoing of the Sistine Chapel and about classical and contemporary (14th - 16th Century) art and artists --- he offers exquisite details on the art of frescoing, how to cast bronze statues, and the continual and often alarming (to Michelangelo) bickering between popes, papal states, independent Italian republics, French armies, Spanish soldiers-of-fortune, and Swiss freebooters.

King is no sourpuss. He lets us in on the rich eccentricities of the characters of the times --- not only Michelangelo Buonarroti, but Raphael Sanzio, Leonardo da Vinci, and most fun of all, Pope Julius, "Il Terrible." Indeed, Julius II reminds us of a lusty character out of Rabelais --- a fearsome hunter, a noisy warrior, an intemperate fighter, an opinionated crackpot. He was forever hitting on people when he was angry (or ecstatically happy).

The strangeness of all this is that this noisy, syphilic-ridden rowdy selected the young and inexperienced Michelangelo from all other possible artists to do the fresco in the Sistine Chapel, the holy of holies, and continued to support him even when Michelangelo was being his most obstreperous.

The great figures --- over 300 in number --- that ended up on the 12,000-square-foot vault represent a radical departure in 15th-16th Century artistic tradition. They've been characterized as "twisted, muscle-bound supermen," placed by the artist in some of the most agonized postures possible.

Too, there is the astonishing variety. The ceiling of the Sistine Chapel has been called a "portfolio" for succeeding artists. There are not only five Biblical prophets and seven sibyls (seers drawn from classical literature), there are angels and dwarfs and common folk: the latter being the supposed family of Jesus.

There are classic Old Testament scenes --- the parting of light from dark, the giving of life, the flood. Then there is the eating of the forbidden fruit where, as King shows, both Eve and Adam seem to be helping themselves, spreading, apparently, guilt equally among the two of them.

The writing here is fine. John Lee's reading is perfect. Not only is Michelangelo and the Pope's Ceiling an excellent study of a crucial time in western art, it is an equally powerful study of two passionate, even perverse characters. Perhaps, suggests the author, the key to it all was that Michelangelo and Pope Julius II were very much alike.

§     §     §

I heard this one --- all seven tapes --- from beginning to end to prepare this review. Then I listened to it all over again, just for the hell of it, for the sheer description of a grandiose portrait of a grandiose time. And for the narcissistic pleasure of hearing de Medici's name, and Ghiberti's name, (and my own), repeated over and over again.

--- Lorenzo W. Milam



I hope I'm hoping I'm doing this right or have the right place for that matter.

My name is Layne Flack I was in Australia for the Crown poker championships. I did a photo shoot and possibly small interview for Ralph magazine. This event took place 3rd to 17th of Jan.  2004. If possible could I get a reply if any on the issue this was in or if it was every published in any of your issues.

Thank you for your time and efforts

--- Layne Flack

Our editor responds:

Unfortunately, you have the wrong RALPH. There is one, a semi-nudie mag out of Australia, with a different e-mail address, and a different world-view. If you get in touch with them, tell them they are driving us crazy.

Churchill at War
His "Finest Hour"
In Photographs
1940 - 1945

Martin Gilbert
(Imperial War Museum/Norton)
Churchill at War offers us over 200 black-and-white photographs of Winston Churchill. Here we have pictures of early war years through to the last triumphs of 1945.

The feeling is one of a good man going about diligently to boost the spirits of the soldiers, the sailors, those in the home front, those working in the factories, those on the docks and even at the front lines in Africa, Russia, and, later, France and Italy.

Churchill gives off a stoic charm --- a man who was going to be damn sure that people didn't give up, that they knew this was not only a war of leaders and factory-owners, but a war of the people. Here he is on board a battleship in convoy just returned from Russia. There we see him with some dockworkers. Then he puts in an appearance at a munitions factory (obviously with regret at having to put out his ever-present cigar).

We see him laying the first bricks of an anti-aircraft battery. He is shown in the co-pilot's seat of a "flying boat" returning to England. Here he is meeting with Montgomery and Eisenhower and Roosevelt and the man he detested almost as much as he detested Hitler, Josef Stalin.

Then, as quickly, he can be seen eating and drinking with the crew of the 615 fighter squad. A mere six days after the first landings at Normandy, Churchill went ashore to mix with the troops and give speeches of congratulations. In June of 1944, he appears at an anti-aircraft battery in Kent attempting to bring down a V-1 flying bomb, and a day later, he is at Caen, France to view the destruction of a town recently freed from the Germans.

In the days that followed, he returned to the newly liberated France over and over again, at times in places of real danger, with the message: "If you are going to risk your lives, I want to be there too, risk my life as well ... because we are in this together."

Which sets one to thinking: what would it be like if those out of the executive branch of the government (Bush, Cheney, Rove et al) were to risk their lives by going to Iraq to offer convincing proof to the troops that this is not just a war for the financial gain of Halliburton and Lockeed and IBM and Dow --- but, rather, one which involves a caring commander-in-chief. What a novelty it would be to let the average soldier know that their risks are the risks of the Chief Executive, their agonies in the field are his as well. Despite the fact that he evaded service to the country so many years ago, how novel if he were willing to put his life on the line at the present moment.

This scenario, as my Granny would say, probably comes under the heading of Fat Chance.

§     §     §

For some odd reason, the editors of Churchill at War and the IWM chose Master Prolix, Martin Gilbert, to provide the text. Fortunately for the reader, his desultory introductions can be passed over quickly. Perhaps the production supervisor figured if they did a reverse burn on the text (white letters on black) it would make it damn near impossible to read, much less understand. It worked.

By contrast, the pictures are wonderful. Churchill walks like a duck, has general appearance of a black bear, complete with cigar and cane. His overall appearance is one of dignity and deep affection for his beloved country in its glorious fight against a mad and poisonous enemy.

--- Ignacio Schwartz

Sailing Alone Around
The World

Joshua Slocum
Alan Sklar,

(Tantor Media)
In other reviews, we've spoken fondly about Sailing Alone Around the World. We offered the idea that it was a marvel of wisdom from an old salt who said that he was more comfortable with a tiller in hand rather than a pen. What remains with us over a hundred years later is his stalwart good cheer, the grand visions he had, his good sense, and his startling humility.

Slocum's journey took him more than three years to navigate some 50,000 miles in a small bark. Always, he showed surprise that people would honor him for his lonely heroics, invite him into their homes, ask him to stay and visit. He was obviously a larger-than-life character, one whom you and I might well have enjoyed meeting (and, presumably, sailing about with).

One question not answered in his autobiography is why he did it. One can enjoy one's own company, but there does seem to be an edge of madness to one who took self-sufficiency to such extremes. Certainly this is true of his final voyage: he disappeared somewhere between his home port and the Amazon River. The New England strain of stubborn independence might well have been overdone in his desire to venture where none have gone before.

Tantor Media offers us here seven CDs with a brief introduction and a complete reading of the classic. However, no matter how worthy the concept, it's a puzzle that Tantor has chosen a reader whose very style contradicts the salty wit and reclusive self-sufficiency of the great sailor.

Alan Sklar has one of those deep, glaucous made for FM-radio voices, one you would expect to find on your local E-Z Listening station, or perhaps on the telephone, hammering an infinitely repeated message when you are holding for your HMO emergency line such that you want to strangle the tape machine (and the speaker).

We think the best choice for this particular odyssey would have been a restrained, slightly sly, slightly ironic reader from New Brunswick ... a man with a touch of the seaspray in his voice. It's a pity, for this is fascinating stuff, the vigorously detailed work of a man who was able to go vast distances, alone with --- and in a state of great affection for --- what Joyce called the "white breast of the dim sea / And all dishevelled wandering stars."

--- Richard Radovich



I love your summary of Bart Schultz' writing style in his new book on Henry Sidgwick:

    ...someone who writes like this should be trucked off at once to the Philosophy Department at Montana State University or the Autonomous University of Uganda and, once under house arrest, forbidden all access to computers and the internet --- even typewriters --- until he or she promises to write language that you and I can grok without giving ourselves over to brain damage.

Bart summarily blew off all his old lifelong friends years ago when he deemed us unnecessary in his life, so I'm sure my old buddies will definitely get a kick out of your review.

--- Dean Milano

The original review
can be found at

Do-It-Yourself Coffins
For Pets and People
Dale Power
Dale Power offers a choice of six caskets for your average home-kit coffin builder. There are three full-sized varieties for people and three miniature sizes for pets. The people coffin comes in several dimensions --- 5'8", 6'0", and 6'3" --- along with three wood styles: Pine, Plywood, and Poplar.

The people coffins are none but the most primitive, using spline or biscuits, one-inch wood, finger joints, and dado cuts. In the fanciest, there is a simple decorative molding.

The pet coffins are finger-jointed, with mitered corners and decorative appliqué. In some, the outsides are stained "using long strokes to simulate planking." The author suggests that until needed, one can use people coffins for a blanket box or any other type of dry storage. Those that are constructed with legs can be used as coffee tables.

Power is, if we may coin a phrase, deadly serious. There are line drawings of the various coffins, with exact measurements. There are almost a hundred detailed photographs of the construction process, including spraying of the lid with textured stone finish spray "for something different," and the installation of cotton batting and silk lining (which will, he tells us, involve some light sewing) and a small pillow.

The author does say, in the introduction, that "coffin making has always been a grave matter." However, considering that your local funeral home will stick you for anywhere from $1,000 (for the basic) to $15,000 (for one of the gaudy models), I'm thinking this might not be a bad investment. Just in case.

One carpenter friend of mine says that even the largest of Power's casket with fine lining shouldn't set you back more than $100 and, as a storage cabinet, certainly will be a delightful, provocative conversation piece for your guests.

--- D. D. Winters

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

Jane Seddon
Each day listed here has a title and a generic date: "Snake in the Grass" appears on Month 1, Day 20. "Knock Her Socks Off" is Month 5, Day 23. "Armchair Quarterback" falls on Month 7, Day 21. This last begins, "It's first and ten. Get into the huddle with your partner and work out the play. We don't want a false start or pass interference tonight."

"Early Bird Gets the Worm" (Month 3, Day 25) enthuses, "Ladies, get out your lip balm. This is a fellatio position, so your lips need to be nice and soft!" "Finger Painting" (Month 4, Day 24) begins in didactic fashion, "Guys, this is a position where you get to manually stimulate your partner."

"Taking Care of Business," (Month 5, Day 19) moves us into the economic world of Adam Smith (and, possibly, the Invisible Hand): "This is a business transaction that will be very profitable for both of you!"

Then there is the nuts and bolts approach in "Trusty Mechanic," (Month 6, Day 7). "Time for a tune-up!" Month 12, Day 29 is "Hard Up." Here we get a bit ribald, some fun-punning, too: "Guys, this is no time for playing hard to get!"

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 this country, 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 around for "A-Spinning in the Grave" but alas, it was nowhere to be found.

--- George Bell Ball

A Tonight's Lecture:
The Effects of Head Wounds on
Foot Soldiers: a Case Study

Government scientists are experimenting with cats
to determine the effects of head wounds on foot soldiers. The cats
are strapped to special tables, their heads in a vise,
and shot with military assault rifles. The effects
are noticeable. Without their heads, the cats become dis-
oriented, have trouble breathing, and no longer function fully as cats. The government scientists speculate
that head-wounded foot soldiers experience similar discomfort.

The cats are kept in cages for observation.
They lose their appetites and often become depressed,
reflecting post-traumatic stress syndrome as well.
The lecturer stops. The congressmen are incredulous,
shake their collective heads. War is hell! They'll
approve the development of better headgear for foot soldiers.

§     §     §

The McPoem
I must confess that I, too, like it:
the poem that's filed up flat and fast with condiments
on a sesame seed bun. Steamy, grease-spattered,
and juicy, fluent with salt, piping hot
from the grid, glazed with bubbling oil.
A poem you can count on always to be
the same --- small, domestic, fun for the whole
family. Economical. American. Free

of culinary pretension. I used to have to ride
ten miles or so out to the suburbs to find
one back in 1956 when poems were
more expensive, reserved for connoisseurs.
Now everyone is welcome to the griddle.
(I also like toads, and all this fiddle.)

--- From Long for This World
Ronald Wallace
©2003, University of
Pennsylvania Press

    [Robert Baden-Powell had consulted with his mother about this section's inclusion in the first edition of Scouting for Boys as published in 1908. He reluctantly removed it under strong advice from his publisher.]
I have told you of the dangers of drink and of smoking which, if indulged in boys, are certain to make you unhealthy in the end and therefore useless as a scout. A good many of you will never feel the want of these so you won't have any difficulty in keeping away from them.

But there is another practice which [is] perhaps more dangerous than either of them and it is one which is sure to tempt every one of you at one time or another. I speak quite openly. People are much too apt to make it such a secret that many boys never hear the truth and suffer in consequence.

You all know what it is to have at times a pleasant feeling in your private parts, and there comes an inclination to work it up with your hand or otherwise. It is especially likely to happen when you see a dirty picture or hear dirty stories and jokes.

Well, lots of fellows from not knowing any better, please themselves in this way until it often becomes a sort of habit with them which they cannot get out of.

Yet I am sure that every sensible boy, if he were told in time of the danger of it, would have the strength not to do it.

So I want to warn you all about it.

The practice is called "self-abuse." And the result of self-abuse is always --- mind you, always --- that the boy after a time becomes weak and nervous and shy, he gets headaches and probably palpitation of the heart, and if he still carries it on too far he very often goes out of his mind and becomes an idiot.

A very large number of the lunatics in our asylums have made themselves ill by indulging in this vice although at one time they were sensible cheery boys like any one of you.

The use of your parts is not to play with when you are a boy but to enable you to get children when you are grown up and married. But if you misuse them while young you will not be able to use them when you are a man: they will not work then.

Remember too that several awful diseases come from indulgence --- one especially that rots away the inside of men's mouths, their noses, and eyes, etc.

So for all reasons be on the look out against this temptation, it is easier to stop it at first than when it becomes a habit. The next time you feel the desire coming on don't give way to it; resist it. If you have the chance just wash your parts in cold water and cool them down. Wet dreams come from it especially after eating rich food, or too much meat, or from sleeping with too warm a blanket over your body or in too soft a bed or from sleeping on your back. Therefore avoid all these.

Avoid listening to stories or reading or thinking about dirty subjects.

You will soon find that the temptation will not worry you so much. Be strong and don't give way to it.

If at first you find a difficulty about it don't be afraid to go and talk openly to your officer about it and he will tell you what to do.

Restrain yourself while you are young and you will be able to restrain yourself when you grow up. It is at present a disgrace and a danger to England that from want of self-restraint among men and women thou- sands upon thousands of children are born every year for whom there is no work and no money --- and so we get such an enormous crowd of poor people and unemployed. I walked round the other day with some of the unemployed to see if they were really anxious to get work. They were. They tried several places but no hands were wanted. Then one of them made the remark which seemed to me very true.

    There's not enough work to go round. The truth is there's too many of us in this world.

--- From Scouting for Boys
The Original 1908 Edition

Robert Baden-Powell
©2004, Oxford University Press

Waiting for the
End of the World

Richard Ross
(Princeton Architectural Press)
Richard Ross has a fascination with what were once called "fall-out shelters," and here he has sought out thirty-two of them, including those from strange far-off worlds like China, Russia, Switzerland, Montana, and, the weirdest of them all, Utah.

Some of them weren't even built in this century, so they weren't necessarily fall-out shelters, unless you call Christian invasion an undesirable fall-out. The Muslims of Acca in what is now Israel built one in 1100 A.D. just to protect themselves from the depredations of those bloody Crusades sent down by the religious fundamentalists of the day. Even further back, in 2,000 B. C. the Hittites of Cappodocia carved a shelter in the hills. The stone was such that it could dissipate the smoke of their cooking fires to help them avoic discovery.

There's a lovely one in St. Petersburg Russia that has been turned into "The Trendy Griboyedov" nightclub. There's a drain-pipe shelter a-building (at $1,000 per linear foot) in Salt Lake City, although the author tells us that since it is not very deep, it will have "limited effectiveness."

Thirty-five years ago, the Chinese built an entire "underground city" in Beijing which, we are told, could accomodate 350,000 people. On the other hand, the subway stations of Moscow look considerably more beautiful than the Lexington Avenue Line, were used as shelters during WWII. The author even found in one veterans of the Russian Chechyna War, singing "historical patriotic songs" and asking for donations.

The most lurid of them all is to be found hidden behind the wallpaper of the Greenbriar Hotel in White Sulphur Springs, West Virginia. It was built in the early 1960s and was set aside so the president and his staff and all members of the U. S. Congress could fly in during nuclear attack on the Capitol. It could hold up to 1,800 people. Mr. Ross claims it was a big secret until an exposé that appeared several years ago in the Washington Post, but this is nonsense. Most of us knew about it, knew that in case our government blew it, they --- those who blew it --- would survive, even though the rest of us would be little heaps of dust.

When I heard of this, I wrote a letter to my congressman. I asked if he would let me know when they were going to evacuate for Greenbriar because my girlfriend and I would like to come along. I assured him that we wouldn't take up much space, wouldn't eat too much nor in any way inconvenience our roommates.

I said we would bring our own sleeping bags and sleep on the floor if it were necessary and that if they permitted, I would bring my guitar. I said that it should not be cause for concern, for it was an acoustic guitar. "I never sing or play loudly," I reported. "Perhaps I would be allowed to sing a few patriotic songs from time to time ... to keep everybody's spirits up."

--- C. A. Amantea

Images of Beckett
John Haynes, James Knowlson
This Beckett looks like something of a cross between an eagle and a deranged King Lear. That, and his Mohawk haircut years before it became the style, do make for startling photographs, many of which are offered here.

According to Knowlson, Beckett was fun to talk to over a pint of bitter, but woe if you asked him the meaning of Molloy or Waiting for Godot. When one of the actresses in Endgame asked if "she really did die in her bin," he responded, "So it seems, but no one knows." He figured that his job was to write them, not explain them.

He would spend his weekends watching rugby or golf on television. He was a chess fan. He would speak charmingly, for instance, of the interregnum "between the weaknesses of childhood and the senility of age." He was a depressive and at one time took lithium. In his early years, he was under the care of the psychiatrist W. R. Bion.

Beckett hid out in France during WWII and worked with the French Resistance at a time when to do so was a genuine threat to life and limb. At the end of the war he worked with the Red Cross Hospital in Saint-Ló.

He was a student of early film, and knew well the works of Chaplin, Keaton, René Claire, and Eisenstein (at one point he even offered to work with Eisenstein. What a pairing that would have been, no?) Black-and-white served him well: the sense of his plays is not one of color and light but of sharp contrasts of light and dark.

When he directed his own plays, Knowlson tells us that he was obsessed with gesture, which he believes came from "visual images of the Old Masters." He had an encyclopaedic knowledge of and passion for these paintings, able to remember after years certain details, such as a figure of "a boy urinating against a wall" in Ruisdael's "The Halt."

He was not fond of publicity, and didn't like having his picture taken, but Knowlson makes a good case for his forever doing favors for friends --- doling out money, getting jobs, and permitting them freedom to photograph his craggy "Aztec-eagle" face.

Usually, I'm not too fond of biographies of writers. Those who want to spend their time reading books about Faulkner, Hemingway, Proust or Beckett would be better off, in my view, spending time with the author, not the critic. Richard Elmann's book about Joyce or the recent spate of books about Nabokov are excellent examples of volumes that demean rather than define their subjects.

Images of Beckett may be an exception. Knowlson obviously knew and cared for the playwright and chose not to feed off this friendship during his lifetime. Indeed, there is a touching moment when Knowlson says,

    As someone who (to my acute embarrassment) found himself bursting into tears at a dress rehearsal of Footfalls, I find the notion of Beckett as an arid, inhuman formalist extremely difficult to accept.

Beckett was a stunning artist, and more's the pity that Knowlson omits discussion of All That Fall, the astonishing radio play first produced by the BBC under the direction of Donald McWhinnie in 1958. Years after the fact, lines from that one are still popping up in my head, and I suspect it is one of the great radio dramas of all time.

In his attempt to make Beckett more humane, the author tends to ignore the obsessions that drove Beckett and drove him so fatefully. The actors trying to work with him began to join in his lunacy when they were forced to deal with his microdirection. Too, he was convinced that he had "never truly been born" --- a line that appears in All That Fall. God knows what he meant by that.

This is a worthy volume, fascinating, not heavy-handed, and the pictures from Beckett's various plays, not to say his astonishing face, are a trip.

--- L. W. Milam

The Wrong Stuff
Phil Scott
(Hylas Publishing)
There's Le Bris Albatross from 1857 looking more like a V-1 rocket with wheels complete with droopy wings and tail. Jean-Marie Le Bris had horse and cart pull him and his contraption at high speed across a meadow. The rope wrapped itself around the cart-driver, lifted him in the air, at which time Le Bris aborted the flight.

Flight #2 aborted itself and broke one of the inventor's legs. The author writes that the reason it was such a drag was because Le Bris "failed to solve the problem of longitudinal equilibrium --- along with lift and drag."

Gianni Caproni built the "Ca.60 Transaero" in 1921. The fuselage was a giant boat, it had eight wings (with an area of 9,000 feet), eight engines, and the whole looks like something cooked up at Disneyland that you might want to go out in. If it were carefully tethered. It weighed in at 55,000 pounds. It flew, Scott tells us, once, from Lake Maggiore.

"After reaching an altitude of 60 feet the flying houseboat took a nosedive and broke up when it hit the water." Where it sank. And, presumably, lives to this day, giving flying lessons to fish.

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.

--- Walter Perry, USAF, Ret.

Ms. Moffett's First Year
Becoming a Teacher in America
Abby Goodnough
(Public Affairs/Perseus)
At the age of forty-five, Donna Moffet decided to give up her legal secretary job and go to work for the New York City public school system. She was part of a new experiment to send 350 gifted amateur teachers into the worst public schools in the city. The program was called the New York City Teaching Fellows program, and this is her story of trying to teach reluctant and bored first graders, teach them by the book.

It's just what you would expect. She's given a bunch of misfits for her first grade class. She has run-ins with suspicious administrators who don't like, and don't think they need, some la-dee-dah Teaching Fellows program. There are the disinterested parents, some of whom will not even respond to requests for meetings.

At one point, after a particularly bruising brush with the students on the one side and a stony-faced vice-principal on the other, Donna is ready to throw in the towel. And, I have to say, at this point, any sane reader should be ready to throw in the towel, too.

There isn't much around to make us fall in love with or even care for Donna, or her students, or most of all, the author. Goodnough wrote all this as a reporter for that MEGO [mine eyes glaze over] daily grind, the New York Times. She wrote for "Education," the MEGO-squared section, a writing sinecure not exactly bubbling with light and fun.

Ms. Moffett's First Year is a wonky report on a silly experiment to rescue the New York's public schools from the state legislature, the teachers' union, and the school bureaucracy. All agree that changes --- deep changes --- are necessary. Students may already be starting the process of burning down the school buildings (excellent sentiment), but, unfortunately, many of the old ones --- both buildings and administrators --- are still around.

The state and local authorities are busy dumping even more money --- your money, my money --- into that proven blowhole of a decaying institution instead of passing a few laws that would allow the teachers to beat the shit out of recalcitrant, noisy, and out-of-control students.

Perhaps the school system could invest in a few dozen new rulers: When I was a student in the Bronx, fifty years ago, a swift swat across the knuckles was all that was needed to keep us interested in the proceedings. Our Ms. Daugherty was not at all interested in back talk, and she certainly wasn't stupid enough to try to plead with us to behave. She also didn't have to put up with the likes of a prison-guard clone vice-principal looking over her shoulder because she didn't need one.

She could handle us just fine: A whack or two was all that was required to keep us on course. In the principal's office downstairs, the back up, a wooden paddle called a "fanny-warmer" was always available in times of dire emergency.

Too bad that Goodnough isn't a enough of a visionary to suggest this most appropriate solution. It's so simple, and being simple, everyone overlooks it. My advice: stop bringing in martyrs like Ms. Moffett to plug the failings of the teachers' union and the dead weight of bureaucracy. Get the state legislature to establish ten schools, ten model schools based on the standards that were in use fifty years ago. Give several hundred worthy teachers the power to kick ass and run the classrooms as they should be run. Accept students only if the parents sign agreements to allow the teachers to be in charge. Do not permit anyone from the teacher's union or any school board members or bureaucrats to get in the front door. Ditto reporters from the tendentious Times.

Just let the teachers teach, and at the end of the year, compare the accomplishments of the students in our Retrograde Model School with those of the remainder of the school system --- private and public. Let the best one win.

Outside of this, if you want the real skinny on teaching in New York --- one that's wise and has some life to it --- read Elizabeth Gold's Brilliant Intervals of Horrible Sanity reviewed at www.ralphmag.org//CS/briefs.html#gold

--- Lawrence Singer

The Family of Pascual Duarte
Camilo José Cela
(Dalkey Archive)
First you must know that I would rather live with the mice in my bathroom than set out any trap that will croak them by snapping their little necks --- much less that sticky stuff that leaves them pinned to the paper, crying in a weaker and weaker voice until they at last expire.

And the last time I went to see Bonnie and Clyde, I had to get up and leave when they started killing people: It was that shot in the face of the guy through the car window that did me in. I knew worse was to come.

And one time, in a parking garage, in Dallas, in 1975, I saw a black guy stomping the face of another black guy, and all I could do was blow my horn and then get the hell out of there before he could come and stomp my face.

I was thus probably the wrong person to be set up to do the review of The Family of Pascual Duarte. From the very first page, it bears the smell of expertly described poverty and failure and hurt and bitterness --- all so inevitable that you just want to lay back and take another Excedrin-PM.

Pascual isn't a bad guy. He's just born into the wrong world, at the wrong time, with the wrong parents (drunk bludgeoning father; drunk bludgeoning mother) and the wrong siblings (sister a whore and a thief; brother an idiot who dies at age twelve), a simple fellow who ends up with the wrong wife and two children who don't last: Child #1 --- spontaneous abortion; Child #2, a lovely, smiling son who dies at age eleven months from "the air."

It may remind you a bit of Gone With the Wind --- although this is far better writing than Mitchell ever thought of: writing that is spare, plain, arid, like the country and the people it is to describe.

Too, it brings to mind Anna Karenina, Native Son, Madam Bovary: the creepy inevitability of people who are bound to fail, to fail miserably.

Everything, but everything is stacked against poor Pascual, and mid-point, where his blind angry despair was just beginning to get to me, I passed on this one because things were bad and you just knew that they are going to get worse, and the author --- the Nobel Prize winner Camilo José Cela --- was merciless, milking the horror of a simple man's life of horror for all it was worth.

He doesn't do this in an easy or cheap way: It's all right there. But I've had enough for this month: a terrible backache in a brand new spot (just over the left rhomboid), my best friend just died, my roommate's dog stopped walking and after falling over repeatedly, had to be put to sleep --- and so I apologize, I just don't think I am up for more woe right now. If you know what I mean.

Let me say this, though. If dead babies and drunken parents and spontaneous abortions exquisitely rendered don't bother you, then this is the one for you. You'll be suffering with one of the better writers we have going.

By the way, when we went to have the dog put to sleep, it was done and over with fifteen seconds after the vet stuck the needle in poor Rover's hind leg. "Amazing," I thought.

"It's so good," the vet told us, "that when my pals in the profession want to do themselves in, this is exactly what they use."

He wouldn't tell us what it was.

Which is, things being what they were, just as well.

--- L. W. Milam

Hugh Gregory Gallagher
1932 - 2004

The long day wanes; the slow moon climbs; the deep
Moans round with many voices. Come, my friends,
'Tis not too late to seek a newer world.
--- "Ulysses"
Alfred, Lord Tennyson

You always know when the pain
has gotten to be too much.
You simply pass out.
--- Hugh Gallagher
on his first year
in the hospital,
1952 - 1953

They tell me that in his last hours he complained about being put in "the Japanese Wing" of the hospital. I know exactly what he meant. He and I often found ourselves being shuttled off somewhere we didn't expect to go, often in the wrong wing, on the wrong day, with the wrong set of operating instructions.

The first time we met was in the spring of 1953 at Warm Springs Foundation in Georgia, in the ward that was to be our home for the next five months. They put Hugh in the bed across from mine, and he looked over and saw that I was doing the New York Times crossword puzzle. He didn't know that I could never get much beyond the second definition, that it was all show. Even so, he told me later: "When I saw you and the New York Times, I knew everything was going to be OK."

If we had to be somewhere with polio fifty years ago, Warm Springs was the right place. It was one of the most genteel rehabilitation centers on earth, a place of fun and life and impressive care. We had come from dingy little hospitals all over the country and suddenly we were in the palace of the gods --- with good and dedicated physical therapists and support staff, a graceful campus, wonderful food: a place which changed forever our feelings about ourselves, and our disease, and the man who had made this paradise possible.

We had fun there --- me and Hugh and Margot and John and Leumel and Gary. Hugh and Joe Mack once organized a testimonial dinner dedicated to fungus. They wrote songs, made long speeches about the skin condition that affected those of us who didn't have the power to reach down to dry between the toes. The theme was "There's a Fungus Among Us."

Speaking of themes, Hugh reported to us with glee that the official song of the National Infantile Paralysis Society was

    When you walk through a storm
    Hold your head up high
    And don't be afraid of the dark...
    Walk on, Walk on
    With hope in your heart
    And you'll never walk alone...

He was also the first to note that when they brought comedies for the weekly showing at the Warm Springs movie house, we were laughing but no one could tell because most of us had lost our diaphragm muscles, the muscle that the able-bods use to laugh, sneeze or cough. The only way you could know that we thought Red Skelton was funny was not by the sound of laughter but by the shaking of our bony shoulders.

§     §     §

It was fifteen years after Hugh left Warm Springs that he made disability rights not only his agenda but also the agenda of America. It happened when he was working as legislative assistant to Senator Bob Bartlett of Alaska.

At the time the Senate Office Building had no ramps, no curb cuts, no bathroom facilities for people on crutches or in wheelchairs. In the mornings, Hugh waited patiently in the Senate garage for someone to help him and his wheelchair up the curb. Sometimes it would be a janitor or a legislative assistant. A couple of times it turned out to be Wayne Morse or Robert Kennedy ("Very shy," Hugh said of Kennedy: "He said nothing as he set down his diet coke and notebook and helped me up the curb.")

At other times, there would be his personal bęte noir, Senator Margaret Chase Smith. She was not there to help him up. Rather she would literally chase him out of the garage. "This space is for Senators only," she would grumble, oblivious to his wheelchair and to the reality of his life. Years later he would remark, "I suppose she thought the rules of the Senate garage trumped the problems of the state of Maine."

Hugh was a man who wore his dignity lightly, but there came times when dignity turned to indignity. He was indignant that while working on matters of state, as he once wrote, he had to beg for help to get up the stairs, into the bathroom, or "pee in a coffee can."

In 1968, he and Bartlett cooked up the Architectural Barriers Act which stated that all buildings "designed, built, altered, or leased with Federal funds" would be required to have ramps, curb-cuts and access to all facilities. It was their radical view that accessibility was a basic civil right for all.

The ABA sailed through the Senate on unanimous voice vote, passed the House as quickly, and was signed into law by President Johnson. And suddenly Hugh and I and everyone else in United States who moved about on crutches or in a wheelchair got a boost up.

I don't think it was much commented on at the time, and I think that was the way he wanted it. He wasn't much for prizes or acclaim. When his great grandson --- the Americans with Disabilities Act --- was passed in 1990, there was much foo-foo-raw on the grounds at the White House but he didn't join in the festivities. He loved working behind the scenes; loved seeing things that should happen happen; cared little at all for the encomiums.

< He did enjoy the trappings of power, though. While he was working for the Senator, a lobbying group for chiropractics sent several of their members around to lobby for a tax-break. The official assigned to Bartlett's office came in, patted Hugh on the head, and told him that if he had been able to work with him earlier he'd now be out of his wheelchair, climbing the mountains. "He must have wondered later whatever happened to his tax-break," Hugh mused.

§     §     §

In New Mobility magazine for July 2004, there was a quote contrasting the disabled with what we have come to call "the temporarily abled." "My impression," a man named Hilton reports, "is that able-bods are mentally and physically 'soft.' Put head-to-head with an experienced, seriously disabled person in a daily living environment, even the toughest of them would crack within hours."

This brings to mind Gallagher's wonderful book about Roosevelt, FDR's Splendid Deception. My favorite section tells us what inspired him to write it. "This is what puzzled me so about the biographies of Franklin D. Roosevelt: the man was a paraplegic, yet this important fact is given very little attention. FDR's disease and seven years of convalescence are treated as an episode in an early chapter in these books and never mentioned again. This is absurd and unreal."

    A visible paralytic handicap affects every relationship, alters the attitudes of others, and challenges one's self-esteem. It requires meticulous minute-by-minute monitoring and control to an extent quite unperceived and unimaginable by the able-bodied. This condition of being handicapped generates a range of emotions, whether expressed or not, that must be dealt with, not just at onset, but continuing throughout the rest of the patient's life.

"The central key to understanding FDR's personality and motivation --- the impact of his handicap --- has been all but ignored by historians," he concluded.

§     §     §

Gallagher had great passions. I would guess that I am not violating his privacy by revealing to you that he lived in the thrall of passion for the last thirty years of his life. I knew some of them, knew their names. Like the Iliad and the Odyssey, Richard II and Henry IV, Swan Lake and Petrushka. Tchaikovsky, Homer, Stravinsky, Herodotus, Marlowe, Shakespeare.

Especially Shakespeare. He used to complain bitterly that when he was very young his mother would read to him from Winnie the Pooh. "Why didn't she read Shakespearian sonnets to me?" he wondered. Instead of poetic tributes to the 'Noble Young Man,' and 'The Dark Lady,' it was

    The more it snows (TiddlyPom)
    The more it goes (TiddlyPom)
    The more it goes (TiddlyPom)
    On snowing.

His special love was Tennyson, and he could recite, from memory, countless lines from "Ulysses" and "Tithonus:"

    "The woods decay, the woods decay and fall,
    The vapours weep their burthen to the ground,
    Man comes and tills the field and lies beneath,
    And after many a summer dies the swan."

§     §     §

Gallagher was my buddy but sometimes I like to think that he was my twin as well. We went through so many things together: euphoric success, total breakdown, irresistible aging. We would talk on the telephone a dozen or so times a month. Our conversations would range over thoughts and acts and misdeeds and regrets and sorrows and joys and pleasures and woe.

I especially recall the weekend he found he could no longer transfer from bed to chair by himself. What some may think of as just another hitch was to him a profound tragedy for it threatened the one thing he most feared: losing the ability to be independent, to be on his own, to be free of the helping hands. He spent that particular weekend alone, in his house, grieving profoundly, grieving yet again over an irreplacable loss.

The day he discovered the extent of his illness he called up several of us. I was out, so he only got my answering machine. "Lonzo," he said --- he was the only one in the world I would ever tolerate calling me that --- "Tell Lonzo that I am dying. I'm calling people to tell them I am dying."

Ah, Hugh. No fiddling around. The doctors have told you what's going to happen and you call your friends and tell them. You do not do that for an extra jolt of love or compassion but because these are the facts. You are dying and it's common courtesy to tell those who love you.

I called him back. He told me he was "busy dying." He said that he had gotten to the "Ah-me" stage. Ah, me. Not lashing out at the gods, not immersed in self-pity, not even questioning. Just "Ah ... me."

Over the years Hugh was in terror, as most of us disabled are, that in his final years he would be forced to spend his last cent on doctors and hospitals and end up in a nursing home. In my call I said that I guessed he no longer had to worry about that. "Now you can squander," I said. "Where will you go?" He said he was going to go to St. Petersburg.

"St. Petersburg, Florida?" I said. I always figured that as the retirement home of Nurse Ratched.

"No, no," he said, "St. Petersburg, Russia. To the Hermitage Museum. I've been meaning to go for some time now. And afterwards we're going to have dinner in a pre-Czarist restaurant."

"This is the first time I've been mortally sick, Lonzo. My telephone is tired," he said, "and I'm tired too." And that was the last time I heard his voice.

§     §     §

On the 14th of July, I woke to the sound of a mourning dove, perched in the bay tree just outside my window --- a bird I had never heard in the many years I'd been living in this part of California.

It only stayed around for a couple of days ... and then was gone. Which made sense. I figured Hugh had other lands to visit, other suns to conquer. I saw it as an honor not only to know him for this last half-century, but to hear from him right there at the end, before he took off.

Just like Hugh, I thought. To fly down to let me know that everything was OK ... that he was on his own again. Coming back one last time to let me know that I shouldn't be fretting about him anymore.

--- Lorenzo W. Milam

[This essay also appeared in
New Mobility Magazine]


Dear Sir:

What does President Bush have to do with Gettysburg or the Civil War. Can't you keep your "I hate Bush" to yourself.

I will not be buying this book because of your little political spill pushing it.

If you like President Bush, why don't you leave. I am sure you would love Cuba.

--- Grow up,
Mike Johnston

The review in question can be found at

The Roads of the Romans
Romolo Augusto Staccioli
(Getty Museum)
One of my English friends, one quite fond of antiquity, claimed that he couldn't stand the Romans. They were just like Americans, he said --- much given to starting wars willy-nilly, in love with money, forever and a day disrupting the world with their awful schemes, and too fond of blood sports.

"Greece," he said. "Fourth or fifth century. That's where I would have liked to have been born. An afternoon in the marketplace, arguing with the likes of Socrates or Plato. Evenings in the coliseum, watching Oedipus Rex or Antigone. Nights at the baths, listening to poetry and drinking wine. Those people knew how to live."

He may have been right about the Romans. Pushy, aggressive --- and all those freeways. At least the contemporary equivalent.

According to Staccioli, the road system extended all the way from Rome to northern Britannia, east through Hispania to the coast, west to Cappaocia (present day Turkey), south though Aegyptus, Carthage (Tripoli) to Banasa in what is present-day Morocco. The total --- as much as 100,000 km of highway.

These roads were constructed of crushed rock or, in many cases, flat stones laid down with appropriate edging. Slaves did the hard work, helped by the Empire's soldiers. Then as now boredom was a problem for soldiers on duty in the occupied lands, so they were put to work (like now) in urban renewal and road building.

Many of these highways were in use up to 200 years ago; there are places where you can still see them, along with arches and place markers.

S V M  M . P . X  D C C C X X X X

Some ancient bridges still exist, some are still in use, including three over the Valle d'Aosta, Italy. The Romans also constructed complex tunnels, carved by hand out of pure rock, such as the Crypta of Cocceius that runs more than half a mile through the hills of Naples. Average width and height runs close to fifteen feet.

These roads are lovely to contemplate --- but more fun is to think of them as a means of transport, open to all:

    merchants and adventurers, emigrants and exiles, physicians, teachers, students, healers, quacks, pilgrims, the sick, lecturers, preachers, explorers pleasure seekers, self-educators, brigands, criminals, prostitutes, theater troupes, gladiators, peasants, seasonal laborers, free men and slaves.

But living near one of the roads --- especially in the large cities --- could be nothing but insomnia inducing. Not only were people selling stuff, or having parties, or robbing others, or drinking or screaming, or dumping all their trash (and sewage), but they were powerfully noisy day and night, for the wagons of the day had iron wheels and the stones were in no way even nor quiet. Not unlike being stuck in an apartment near the Henry Hudson Parkway, the Loop, or the San Diego Freeway.

--- B. J. Wilkins


At the end of his days, ill in his hospital bed with the curtains drawn, Michael Redgrave assumed the noise in the ward was, as Alan Strachan writes, "the buzz of an anticipatory audience." At one point his daughter Vanessa told her father it was not really a theatre but a hospital. Reality had its position by the bed but reality is never alone.

A while passed and Michael looked up at his daughter Lynn. "By the way," he said, "how's the house?" She told him he had a capacity audience and made sure he knew his name was above the title.

--- From Andrew O'Hagan's review of
Scarlet Dreams (Weidenfeld)
in the London Review of Books
5 August 2004



The book tht inspired this letter can be found at

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