R  A  L  P  H
  The Review of Arts, Literature, Philosophy and the Humanities 
Spring, 2001

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A History
Of Celibacy

Elizabeth Abbott
Elizabeth Abbott admits that she started her celibacy research as a joke. Her friends called it "The Dry Season," and her working title was "Celebrating the Unnatural."

But after six years of research, she realized it was "a key element of human existence." Religions promoted it. Disease required it. Ancient poetry celebrated it. The commitment to work, or to the divine, or a mere abhorrence of the sexual act made it far more than a joke. "Celibacy announces itself among the graying population of self-proclaimed reborn virgins," she says. "It peeps out through the gaunt boniness of anorexic women dedicated to mastering their bodies, and in the chaste handshakes of gay men who have forsworn the deadly risks of AIDS-haunted sex."

There are thirteen chapters in A History of Celibacy, running from the Greeks, Paganism and Early Christianity through "The New Celibacy" --- with a series of subheads which tell us that the author is not handing out a dry treatise on sex, or lack of it. Some of these, indeed, read like mots on passing Tee-shirts: "Celibacy One, Lust Zero," "Semen as Patriotic Elixir," "Vatican Declares Celibacy a Brilliant Jewel," and this on Joan of Arc: "Cross-Dressing for Military Success."

It's a merry romp, chock full of many little-known facts, such as,

  • Franz Kafka was the rare male anorexic, "he fantasized about gluttonous binges, larded his writing with over five hundred food-related passages, and savored the sight of other people eating;"
  • Tolstoi's Kreutzer Sonata is a bitter diatribe against "marriage, lust, romantic love, and sexuality," but shortly after publication, Tolstoi "violated his vow of chastity by forcing himself on his wife;"
  • Impotence in ancient Rome was caused by lead in the aqueduct system, and several poets, including and Petronius and Ovid, spoke of their declining sexual prowess with some irony, the latter writing,

    Yet when I held her I was limp as yesterday's lettuce
    a useless burden on an idle bed;

  • Hinduism, Buddhism, and Jainism "extol celibacy as one of the highest expressions of earthly existence, a crucial element in the lifelong endeavor to extinguish human passions and the longing for possessions." These religions, like Christianity, viewed women in a "negative and suspicious" way:

    Women are depicted as seductive temptresses, voraciously erotic and morally weak. Their lustful nature makes celibacy an even greater challenge for men, who also have to overcome their own wayward impulses.

  • In one subchapter, Abbott describes the peculiar 19th Century freedom for women to "indulge and express their intense affection for their women friends." The very concept of lesbianism has tainted the freedom of women to participate in what were termed "Boston marriages...committed and usually chaste romantic relationships between women." She points out that these were socially acceptable, because of "their society's innocence or ignorance about female eroticism;"
  • Eugenics --- "Coerced Celibacy" --- was practiced with a vengeance in the Third Reich, and almost 400,000 people were sterilized, many by castration. But America was almost as enthusiastic:

    By 1929, twenty-four American states, notably California and Virginia, has enacted sterilization laws to prevent future genetic defects. By 1958, 60,926 people had been neutered, with police hunting down escapees and forcing them back to undergo the procedure;

  • In Thailand, over a hundred women have drugged their unfaithful husbands and "hacked off their penises." Abbott says that "authorities consider the problem so serious they have formed a Penis Patrol. This patrol is summoned whenever another victim awakes to discover his genital region bloody and minus its most crucial member." The women are subject to ten years imprisonment, but, she concludes,

    the cutting edge of this story is that they are prepared to serve their time as long as they make their point by nipping their husbands' infidelities in the bud.

§     §     §

As this last proves, this is no solemn history of a fascinating and often controversial subject. She can be genuinely amused by its excesses and silliness. However, there are times when Abbott misreads her sources.

In her chapter on medieval "courtly love" --- which she defines as "an exalted state between a man and a superior women he both respects and adores with quasi-religious fervor" --- she ignores the literature of the time. It was possible for both man and woman to be boringly married, and yet --- with another lover --- to be a "courtly lover." And in her chapter on Leonardo da Vinci, she claims that because of an earlier scandal, he --- like Lewis Carroll and John Ruskin --- was actively celibate. But people (especially those who have gone through the shock of such a scandal) turn secretive, are not about to reveal their passions, write about their night life --- even for subsequent generations.

In all, Abbott has written a fascinating book, which includes the fascinating bit of information that she herself has become celibate:

    After vicariously experiencing --- celebrating is a better word -- the sense of liberation so many other women have derived from voluntary celibacy, I embraced it as a conscious choice.

--- Lolita Lark


Today I went to Billy Wong's funeral. He was 47, one of my patients at the program for deinstitutionalized patients where I work. His name wasn't actually Billy (all the names in this piece are pseudonyms). It was Ngang Hee Wong. But no one could pronounce it, so everyone called him Billy.

In addition to his schizophrenia, he was very ill medically for many years. He had high blood pressure, diabetes, liver failure, and serum cholesterol and triglycerides so high (we are talking 600 here) that his serum, after his blood was centrifuged, wasn't clear straw in color, but cloudy like buttermilk. He chain-smoked four packs/day (generic brand, of course). At one sitting, he could eat a large bag of Fritos, a large bag of Doritos, and a large bag of Cheetos. All this before supper, which consisted of a TV dinner and 8 cigarettes. He was a challenge to the case manager who assisted him twice a day in shopping, nutrition, hygiene, etc.

He would enter my office, his thin black hair slicked down with its own natural oils which had been present for at least two weeks. His eyes were swollen shut with fluid from his liver and kidney failure. He wore a checkered sport jacket, a striped shirt, and plaid pants. The third Czechoslovakian brother. He was a wild and crazy guy. He smiled a lot.

"Doctah Gingoo, how ah yoo? Doctah Gingoo, vampire (plural for vampire) come my room. Vampire from Hong Kong. Say bad things. Do bad things. Doctah Gingoo, I open big Chinese restaurant. Make rots of money. Doctah Gingoo, medicine work rear good."

He was a gentle man. Everyone loved and accepted him. His family took him home for dinner at Christmas every year, but otherwise they left him to us. They were an assimilated Chinese-American family, all except Billy's mother, who spoke no English.

Earlier this week, Billy was standing at the dining room table, eating a bag of Doritos so quickly that his pants fell down around his ankles. But, as the ad says, "Bet you can't eat just one." He kept on eating. Then he fell to the floor in front of his two roommates (also my patients). They called 911. The police, seeing a Chinese man lying dead with his pants around his ankles, began to give the third degree to the two roommates. Finally, they understood and left.

The funeral took place at a funeral parlor on Broad Street, although the family lives mostly in West Warwick. A number of staff and patients from the program were there. None of them had ever seen me in a suit. Everyone just sat in the pews, while Billy's mother wept loudly for about 25 minutes. Billy was lying in an open coffin at the front of the room. He looked beautiful. The Catholics went up and kneeled and said a prayer. But there was no service. Just everyone listening to Billy's mother wail. Finally, I walked out into the foyer and asked the usher, "Will there be a service?"

"No," he said, "the family just wants to sit here. Then we'll go to the cemetery." I guess it was a wake.

I went up to the family and introduced myself. They all stood up for Doctah Gingoo and shook my hand, murmuring thanks. And I left.

--- Michael Ingall, M. D.

Tim Powers

    "Good," she said softly over her shoulder. "You were born to this." Born to this, he thought, had childhood dreams about this, nightmares.

The Great Game, Kipling called it, meaning Secret Service, Special Operatives, SIS, M15. When he was but a tad in English public school Andrew Hale, our hero, is inducted to the world of espionage by James Theodora. You remember Theodora: "his weathered jaw and nose were prominent like granite outcroppings on a cliff face." Old Granite-face asks the boy if he can kill a bluebottle fly "with your will alone. Can you kill the fly just by looking at it?" I dunno, says the kid. Then Theodora turns and stabs a letter-opener "into his own left thigh." Dr. Strangelove meets Her Majesty's Secret Service.

Kim Philby turns up (he has a stutter), as does the KGB and the Communist Party. Hale is paired up with the lovely Elena --- Elena Ceniza-Bendiga no less --- in Paris, during the Nazi occupation. They dig up some radios with which to broadcast to Moscow, they walk down the streets of Nazi-occupied Paris with radios in hand, no one noticing, and he has a mystical experience (the angels of the aether?) while sending Morse Code from a garret. They do the spy-love beast-with-two-backs thing and afterwards Elena Ceniza-Bendiga gives him the politics-over-love lecture, lest passion get to be too much of a bother to their political quest:

    Tears still streaked her face, but her expression was blank. "I would sooner try to...live on the river bottom, and breathe water like the fishes, than disobey my masters."

Ah, to have the doubtfree set of the Comintern:

    "If it is their will that I be shot in the Lubyanka cellars in Moscow, then that is my will too. You and I will not see each other again, I think."

"To breathe water like the fishes..." "You and I will not see each other again, I think..."

There, too, are secret operatives to be dealt with in Egypt:

    "Do you visit Cairo often?" Hale asked.

    "Dogs can hear things that people cannot," said din Jalawi, staring down at the radio console.

And then, a moment of the Middle Eastern truth --- in the style of Edward Fitzgerald, or perhaps King James of Biblical fame, din Jalawi says,

    "When thine enemy extends his hand to thee, cut it off if thou canst, else kiss it."

Declare is chock-a-block full of these literary runes, as well as fallen Catholics, a whole kingdom of fallen angels, seductive nuns in Palestine, the Dead Sea Scrolls, T. E. Lawrence, and, and I quote, "gritty Cold War espionage." However, alas, some of us can't get het up by novels that have as much trouble getting out of bed as this one.

As far as I can see, the most that Powers is able to do is to set us to worrying about our peers in the book-bobble trade. Amidst the many plaudits fore and aft, Declare declares that it's printed on acid-free paper, but...is it possible that our review copies were printed on acid-infused paper that did something funny to the likes of Dean Koontz, William Gibson, the folks at Kirkus, Publisher's Weekly, Library Journal, The New Yorker? All of them claim to have gone gaga over this 500 page slumgullion of overwriting and terrible plotting. If there was a free hit somewhere around page fifteen, they may have got the trip of a lifetime. Me? All I got was this lousy tee-shirt that says,

Cut it off if thou canst,
else kiss it.

--- Ignacio Schwartz

The Man

The Story of
His Transformation

Eknath Easwaran
Given where he started from --- a poor lawyer in South Africa --- his works and life were astonishing. Satyagraha, non-violence, was his primary tool, beginning with his work for Indian rights in South Africa. Fasting, simplicity, profession of love for all, even --- especially --- the enemy.

    It is not nonviolence if we merely love those that love us. It is nonviolence only when we love those that hate us. I know how difficult it is to follow this grand law of love. But are not all great and good things difficult to do? Love of the hater is the most difficult of all.

He was at his best when he was fighting against the centuries of class intolerance in India. His work on behalf of the "untouchables" was noble, and profound, and a profound failure (but no less noble for that). It was fortunate for him that his other major battles were waging their struggle against the British colonialists. It would have been different if it were Germany. In 1937, Hitler told Lord Halifax, "Shoot Gandhi, and if that does not suffice to reduce them to submisssion, shoot a dozen leading members of Congress; and if that does not suffice, shoot 200 and so on until order is established."

His life-long project of getting the British out of India worked, but created it's own bad karma. The partition in 1947 produced in a three-month seige of violence that took at least a million lives, and disrupted the homes and stability of 15,000,000 people. I'm guessing there were far better ways to accomplish his noble goal.

Gandhi the Man is a loving picture book. Is Mahatma Gandhi the Greatest Man of the Age? asks the peace advocate Kirby Page at the beginning of it. Maybe --- but when you add it all up, it might have been best to leave the British on hand to keep the various factions of India from murdering each other. It's the Christ paradox all over again. Too much blood flowed and continues to flow in his good name.

We come, over time, to suspect that the greatest saints do not need noise and power and martyrdom to manifest their good works. They can proffer their beliefs without endangering lives, nor creating violence. The true saints are probably the unknowns --- the thousand Secret Buddhas, hiding in caves as we speak --- or Mark Twain's gentle shoemaker, who lived and died humbly, anonymously, peacefully. So much so that the gathered angels greet him upon his arrival in heaven with a standing ovation.

--- A. W. Allworthy

[A Letter Concerning
Our Review of
Dancing Alone in Mexico.]

Dear Ms Lark,

What kind of idiots do you have writing book reviews? In her report on my book Dancing Alone in Mexico, Ms L.A. Bloom admits she's slipping into senility. I think she's already there. I assume, L. A. is a woman as are most writers who use only initials. Or perhaps she can't spell her name. She certainly can't spell Frida Kahlo's which is spelled incorrectly as "Frieda" throughout.

Say what she wants about my "tedious," "fact-choked," "wooden," "rigid" writing, but it's totally unfair to point out errors that are hers and not mine. I was just in Mazatlán. The ferry boats are still crossing the Sea of Cortez. No matter how unconventional, Frida and Diego's relationship was indeed "a love story. " They were even married twice, if that doesn't say something. When she was cremated, the devastated Diego ate a handful of her ashes and vowed that when he died their ashes would be combined and buried in the same urn. As for what Edward G.Robinson paid for Frida's paintings and where his wife was entertained, all that comes from preparation and research, a little of which might benefit your critic.

Maybe her work was turned down by "Travel and Leisure," but whatever problem L.A. Bloom has with professional travel writers who write for "a bourgeoisie clientele with fat credit cards," I haven't the foggiest idea why she decided to heap it all on me. I wish I had a fat credit card. Then I'd go to Mexico which I love. She obviously doesn't.

--- Sincerely,
Ron Butler

The original review of Dancing Alone in Mexico
can be found in "The Folio,"
Late Fall, 2000

Decoding Soviet
Espionage in

John Earl Haynes,
Harvey Klehr

The United States began collecting diplomatic messages of other countries shortly before WWII. In 1943, came the first attempts to decode those to and from our ostensible ally, Russia. Unlike German and Japanese messages, the Russian code was almost unbreakable --- being encoded as it was a "two-part" ciphering system with a "one-time pad." (The heavy coding was indicative of a country whose main operating system was terror, fear and paranoia.)

It wasn't until after the war that enough of the messages had been read enabling us to feed our own paranoia. They revealed that the Soviets had and were continuing to draft and train spies in America, were operating an espionage system that had penetrated into the upper levels of the White House, and, most ominously, our experimental military and atomic bomb facilities.

According to Haynes and Klehr, insiders such as Whittaker Chambers passed along proof of the workings of the Comintern to American intelligence services, but the information was generally ignored. After all, Russia and the United States were allies in the war against the Germans. In the post WWII tensions, enough of the messages released to top officials by Venona convinced the powers that be that the agents of the Soviets represented a genuine threat to our national security.

The fact that there was intensive Soviet spying in the United States throughout the 30s and 40s is heady stuff. For those of us who lived in the early days of the Cold War, it brings back sharp and troublesome memories --- names of people who, many of us were convinced, were being pilloried by what we thought of as a witch-hunt: most especially, Julian and Ethel Rosenberg and Alger Hiss. How depressing to learn now that their innocence was most probably a delusion, that their information-seeking on behalf of the Russians is not only probable but proven, and that the hysteria of those years had no little basis in fact.

There were, apparently, hundreds of spies operating in the United States. They were alarmingly successful in transmitting diplomatic, military and atomic secrets to Moscow. The confirmation of this comes from several sources: not only from the documents of the Venona project itself, but KGB records now being released by the Russian Foreign Intelligence Service. To lay to rest any lingering doubts that we old conspiracy-theory haters may have, Haynes and Klehr list three key proofs:

  • Origins of the historical documents are incontrovertible. "Chief cryptanalysts, linguists, and investigators in the project are known," they report. Some have made themselves available to historians. "Venona could only be a forgery if it had been supported by a massive conspiracy involving hundreds of people," they explain.
  • There are simply too many sources that prove the Venona information is the real McCoy, so to speak. These include "voluntary statements from defectors from Soviet intelligence, reluctant testimony from persons under legal compulsion, and candid discourse gathered by listening devices, as well as information available in published works." In addition, there is the presence, now, of "a range of public and private archives."
  • Soviet-era intelligence archives are being opened, and the 1999 book, The Haunted Wood: Soviet Espionage in America --- The Stalin Era confirms not only the information extracted by Venona, but identifies sixty-seven people who were known to be involved in espionage.

We who lived through those public thrashings of so many years ago carry about many painful memories, keyed by words like HUAC, McCarthyism, "5th Amendment Communists," "Internal Security," "traitors in our midst" --- not only names like Hiss and the Rosenbergs, but others of the ilk of Elizabeth Bentley and Whittaker Chambers. If Haynes and Klehr are to be believed, it is possible that the secrets the Russians received from their intelligence sources had a lasting effect on the character of the Cold War, and that all those ghastly people --- Joe McCarthy, John Rankin, Martin Dies, Westbrook Pegler, and J. Edgar Hoover --- were basing their brutish activities on some form of reality. The pain is that it may be true; the agony is that the methodology that McCarthy, Hoover et al used was made all that much more urgent by a true threat, one that the rest of us could scarcely believe.

§     §     §

Venona with all its plodding, contains some real surprises. A KGB code book discovered in Finland was handed over to our espionage service (the OSS) in 1944; at the behest of the State Department and through the offices of FDR, this was returned to the KGB, no copies being kept. This probably set the stage for an extraordinary act of arrogance by the United States military: that the very existence of the Venona Project was hidden from President Truman (the Commander-in-Chief of the military) by decision of the Army Chief of Staff.

There is too the revelation that Harry Dexter White, Assistant Director of the Treasury Department, was personally able to keep a delivery of badly needed gold from the Chinese Nationalists to support their toppling finances, and that this reneging probably did much to defeat the Nationalists in their war with the Communists in 1948. In addition, we are told that the Russians were able to retain half of Poland (the result of the Nazi-Soviet Pact of 1939) because a certain Lauchlin Currie, Administrative Assistant to FDR, revealed to the KGB that the president would not oppose it, no matter what he said in public. (Rep. John Rankin of Mississippi, a bibulous segregationist, actively protected Currie when he was fingered before the HUAC because he, Rankin, was convinced that "the New Deal, liberalism, racial equality, and communism [were] a Jewish conspiracy," and knew well Russia's grim record with regard to its Jewish nationals.)

The book Venona is fat, probably too much so, and contains a lengthy appendix of those who "had covert relationships with Soviet Intelligence Agencies." Names are named, as that awful Joe McCarthy used to say (there are 349 of them). Some that are listed seem a bit on the edge. To claim that I. F. Stone was guilty of "flirting with the KGB" and could be considered as a "fellow traveller" (oh that phrase!) seems rather irresponsible. Any journalist worth his salt will communicate with the devil himself if he thinks that there is information that he can use for the benefit of his readers. I. F. Stone was no fool. He talked with anyone who came his way, KGB operative or not. I met with him once merely by calling the number of his "Weekly" and asking for an appointment. He was a good man, and would loathe the cant that would pin one to the wall for merely talking to the enemy.

--- L. W. Milam

The Race to
The White Continent

Voyages to
The Antarctic

Alan Gurney
The ships had grotesque names --- Infernal, Vesuvius, Fury, Beelzebub, Terror, and Erebus (the last being the dark and gloomy passage to hell). It was during the 1830s that France, England, and America sent expeditions to find the Antarctic, and, it was hoped, to land, to see what it had to offer. One American, Cleves Symmes, said that the earth was hollow, "habitable within, containing a number of solid concentrick spheres, one within the other, and that it is open at the poles 12 or 16 degrees." He went on, "I engage we find warm and rich land, stocked with thrifty vegetables and animals if not men..." He travelled widely, and his flamboyant speeches helped to influence the U. S. Congress into appropriate monies for investigation of the southernmost regions.

What the various explorers found was something else again. The sailing boats were not prepared for the fog, the hurricane force winds, the towering icebergs, being caught up in what one terrified explorer wrote was like a

    "Steam Engine in a large factory that sets all the machinery in motion," the moving parts in this case being icebergs, growlers, and floes. "An ocean or rolling fragments of ice, hard as floating rocks of granite." At one point everyone thought the battering so ferocious that the ships would be holed and sent to the bottom.

Conditions aboard boat could be so onerous that on one journey, the explorers were "driven from their cabins by voracious cockroaches that ate leather and skin from feet and even drank the inkwells dry." Food? Joseph Banks wrote of the bread served aboard boat,

    Our bread indeed is but indifferent, occasioned by the quantity of Vermin that are in it. I have seen hundreds nay thousands shaken out of a single biskit. We in the Cabin have however an easy remedy for this by bakking it in an oven, not too hot, which makes them all walk off, but this cannot be allowed to the private people who must find the taste of these animals very disagreeable, as they every one taste as strong as mustard or rather spirits of hartshorn. They are 5 kinds, 3 Tebebrios, 1 Ptinnus and the Phalangium cancroides; this last is however scarce in the common bread but was vastly plentiful in white Deal biskit as long as we had any left.

Why did people put up with such horrors to go to the one place in the world which offered nothing but ice, cold, fog, frostbite, terror and penguins? Wealth --- of course: it was thought that new whaling grounds could be found (it was the oil of whales that kept the mid-19th Century world greased and lighted). Adventure? That too. Most of all, it was the spirit of competition between nations to find new lands to exploit.

It turned out to be a bad business for most who made the journey, but Gurney makes it a treat for the us readers next to a warm fire. He is an amiable writer, and this volume is jam-packed with facts about sailing ships, what they carried, how they maneuvered, and the personalities of those who invested in them and captained them. We especially recommend his casual descriptions of the sea-going world; of, say, the 19th Century New York Harbor, with its

    forest of masts, of bowsprit and jibbooms stretching over jostling crowds of spitting, bristle-chinned roustabouts and longshoremen, cursing draymen, drunken sailors, stall owners pushing wheelbarrows loaded with bags of oysters and clams, luggage-laden porters shouting a way for elegantly dressed gentlemen fastidiously flicking canes at the more noisome objects in their paths, loungers on bollards, clerks and bookkeepers gulping gin and oysters, pickpockets and thieves.

If you travelled to England on one of the regular packetboats, it would take sixteen to eighteen days, and if you went first class,

    you had fresh eggs from the hen coops, fresh milk from the cow stabled over the main hatch, fresh meat from the pigs and sheep penned on deck under the longboat. Travel steerage, and you brought aboard your own bedding, food, utensils.

Those who suffered the most on the exploratory trips were, of course, the common sailor who lived in dark, dank, smelly, rat-infested quarters, and who, even when returned to shore, would end up in a port where he could "drown his sorrows, have his picket picked, or collect a dose of the clap or the pox with equal facility."

--- Fred Longwether

[Great Reviews of the Past]

What the
Irving Robertson
(The Moody Bible Institute)
He wore a bristling beard, cultivated a paunch, and the hearty innocent manner of a high-geared drummer in the pulpit; he was, indeed, always far more the business man than the theologian, and I suspect that he often regretted his abandonment of the shoe profession for the sacerdotal shroud.

According to all reports, Dwight L. Moody, founder of The Moody Bible Institute of Chicago, was a genuine kick-in-the-pants. H. L. Mencken, writing in the American Mercury, said that he

    established soul-saving as Big Business, just as surely as John D. Rockefeller established oil-refining, or old Phil Armour the assassination of hogs, or Pillsbury the milling of flour.

Mencken, hardly a lover of religious folk of the fundamentalist persuasion, seemed to feel some affection towards this man who was so aggressive in conversion that he had been labelled "Crazy Moody:"

    When he started out an evangelist had no more dignity and social position among us than a lightening-rod salesman or a faro-dealer; when he finished he was on terms of intimacy with such august characters as John Wanamaker, Morris K. Jesup, and General O. O. Howard.

§     §     §

The daily newspapers of a hundred years ago were far more sensitive to evangelical fraud than the press of today. In those days, evangelicals worked cities and towns out of their "revival tents," much in the style of a visiting circus. Since they relied on word-of-mouth of the faithful to fill the benches, they never had --- nor used --- their assets to advertise. The highly competitive press of the day was always eager for scandal, especially of religious drummers, and they well knew of the mountebanks that filled the pulpits. (It is a significant contrast to today's media. The fall of Jim Bakker and Jimmy Swaggart did not come to light in in-depth, investigative journalism by the press, certainly not from television news. They were exposed by members of their own religious organizations who --- through greed or disgust --- blew the whistle on their obvious improprieties.)

With all their hungry reporters, not a single newspaper of the day claimed that Moody used his enormous collections for anything outside of building churches and assorted good works. The sartorial styles and expense accounts of a Jerry Falwell or a Pat Robertson would be unthinkable to this "servant of Christ." He made millions, and he gave away millions.

This is not to say that he was a namby-pamby. Mencken reports:

    He discharged the obvious with all the explosive effort of an auctioneer. Also, he knew how to weep, and how to make others weep. His pathetic stories --- of drunkard's children, wives, sisters, aunts, grandmothers, etc., of atheist soldiers dying on the battlefield, of heroic missionaries garroted in the slums --- were famous in their day, and kept the country damp.

Critics --- not the least Mencken and his fellow journalist Robert L. Duffus --- stated that what set Moody apart was his openness, his enthusiasm, his expansiveness. Says Duffus:

    Once he stopped a man on the street and asked, as was his custom, "Are you a Christian?"
    "lt's none of your business," the offended pedestrian replied.
    "Yes, it is," insisted Moody.
    "Then you must he Dwight L. Moody," said the man.
    The story goes no further, but anyone familiar with Moody's methods will be sure that that stranger eventually went to heaven, whether he wanted to or not.

Mencken, in reviewing the biography D. L. Moody (Macmillan; 1930), describes Moody's startling rise in the panoply of religious leaders:

    He began, like the rest of them, by trying to paralyze his customers with fright, but an English evangelist, the Rev. Harry Moorehouse, showed him that it was a bad scheme, for when they ceased to shiver they tended to slip back into sin. Moreover, being harrowed was unpleasant, so the more timid who were precisely the more likely Bible fodder, remained away.

In his early days, Moody was an impressive figure --- tall, thin, earnest, scarcely unwilling to stop his good works even to sleep. His followers stated that he "saved a million souls from descending into hell." The exact count could be disputed; a later fire-breather, Billy Sunday, never claimed more than 50,000.

§     §     §

In light of this, it is passing strange indeed to pick up Irving Robertson's What the Cults Believe. The book is one of several score published by the Moody Bible Institute of Chicago. We suspect that the good Dwight L. would rage and storm at their lack of charity, the very un-Christian pettiness in the author's world view. It's a good thing the Moody folk don't believe in channelling, because if "Crazy Moody" were about, even in spirit, he would be on their backs about the persistent attention to what is wrong in the world of contemporary religion, rather than what is right with it. He was never a carper.

Robertson, for starters, has a very peculiar idea of what constitutes a "cult." Some might be able to agree with him on Scientology: L. Ron Hubbard and his E-meters, reincarnation, and personal gods (namely L. Ron Hubbard). We might even buy into plugging the Unification Church of Sun Myung Moon into the category of Cult, what with Moon's mass marriage ceremonies and his tales of personally chewing the fat with the Divine --- a lunacy that we always thought was the private preserve of the likes of Oral Roberts.

What the Cults Believe might be stretching the word "cult" a bit when the book includes The Worldwide Church of God, "The Wooooorld Tomorrow" --- with our favorite radio preacher of all time, Garner Ted Armstrong, the divine ambulance-chaser who has helped us to while away many a long drive with his bizarre discourses on Prophecy and Truth. And the Christian Scientists? Good Lord. Can you see those dear old ladies out of the Christian Science Reading Room even for a moment considering a nip on a cup of Kool-Aid in the jungle -- much less one laced with poison?

Robertson goes so far as to stick it to the Unity Church, with their bland and gentle and laconic "Truth," and, as well, The Rosicrucians (founded in 1313!) The Mormons? They may be tedious and sanctimonious, but we'd be hard pressed to stuff them in the same box as the Hari Krishnas. Robertson even manages to pillory those nice Jehovah's Witnesses who ring our door-bell on Sundays with their soft-spoken rock-hard faith, entertaining us on the front porch for hours. (The only thing we find strange about them is that they are crazy enough to buy Jesus' arguments against killing. They absolutely refuse to fight in wars, to murder children and the old in the name of the Divine. Thank God the Moody folk aren't that crazy.)

It seems to us that by involving themselves in such intra-secular backbiting the Moody folks have not only gotten mean and testy as they get richer --- they are telling us how much they've lost touch with Dwight Moody's Christian humility, gentleness, and acceptance. By hanging their fellow theomaniacs on a meathook marked Cult, they are forgetting their own controversial past, most certainly the charity of their founder. Dwight Moody, says Robert Duffus,

    had nothing of the Ku Kluxer in him. He made a life-long friend of the Catholic Bishop of Chicago and he earned the gratitude of his Catholic neighbors in Northfield by contributing an organ to their new church.

(To appreciate the sheer munificence of this, one has to remember that eighty years ago, Catholics were thought by the main-line Baptists, Presbyterians, and evangelicals as being infidels somewhat to the left of the fire walkers of Fiji and the flesh-eaters of Borneo. For Moody to befriend them was charity indeed; for him to share his largess with them was close to saintliness.)

We would be so bold as to suggest, in light of their own gracious past, that the Moody people consider taking a leaf from the Yogas --- who Robertson so roundly denounces in What the Cults Believe: to join in praising all who seek the divine, no matter how flagrant, no matter how bizarre, no matter how dilatory. At worst, they could learn from Corinthians that

    Charity suffereth long, and is kind; charity envieth not; charity vaunteth not itself, is not puffed up, Doth not behave itself unseemly, seeketh not her own, is not easily provoked, thinketh no evil...now abideth faith, hope, charity, these three: but the greatest of these is charity.

--- R.E Rountree

Joan Didion
(Modern Library)
Many years ago, Joan Didion was elected as the interpreter for those of us who couldn't figure California. We thought we needed a critic/reporter who could tell us what was going on in the Haight, explain Charles Manson and Howard Hughes, unravel murder mysteries in unlikely places like San Bernardino and Lancaster, reveal the truth about that extension of California, Las Vegas.

Didion was the one: she served as translator, explainer; it was she who dug into the entrails to tell us what was really going on. When she was at her best, she wrote like a dream; even when she was at her worst (snippish, snarly and cruel) there was always a line or two to capture and bemuse one.

With this volume, Modern Library is reissuing the first of her essays, the ones that gained her fame after her novel, Run River. For the best of the bunch, one could ask for no more than the tribute to John Wayne. We have the fantasy tough guy pitted against a not-so-tough guy dying of cancer. Didion tells of her affection for him born of Saturday afternoon movies when he loomed tall in the saddle, where she first saw John Wayne,

    Saw the walk, heard the voice. Heard him tell the girl in a picture called War of the Wildcats that he would build her a house, "at the bend in the river where the cottonwoods grow."

Those of us who grew up in the age Saturday afternoon movies would ultimately want to go beyond Hedda Hopper, even beyond the stuffiness of New Yorker profiles --- and we found in writers like Tom Wolfe and Joan Didion those who could fool with the language ("Saw the walk, heard the voice") and interject bits of themselves in the tales and --- somehow --- put us in the same room with John Wayne at the beginning. And the ending.

In this case, it means being present at the shooting of his last film, number 165, in Mexico City, The Sons of Katie Elder. And although we scorned the formulas that made him famous and rich, we can be still touched by the omega: "It did not seem possible that such a man could fall ill, could carry within him that most inexplicable and ungovernable of diseases."

This twelve page paean to that romantic idol is a marvel, the contrast of the cool words being shot for the screen and the not-so-cool portrait of the man on the set, dying, surrounded by Las Vegas types and their commonplaces,

    They communicated by sharing old jokes; they sealed their camaraderie by making gentle, old-fashioned fun of wives, those civilizers, those tamers. "So Señora Wayne takes it into her head to stay up and have one brandy. So for the rest of the night it's 'Yes, Pilar, you're right, dear. I'm a bully, Pilar, you're right, I'm impossible.'"

    "You hear that? Duke says Pilar threw a table at him."

Not a word between them about what is killing him. And why should there be? He was, after all, the one who said "A man's gotta do what he's got to do;" one who told interviewers, "How many times do I gotta tell you, I don't act at all, I re-act." When he announces his sickness, he says, at one point, "I licked the big C." Although he didn't, even though we wanted to believe that, pistols in hand, he had flung open the hospital doors, came out shooting down all the baddies.

§     §     §

Her paean to John Wayne is Didion at her best. She is on the set with those natural cynics --- actors --- and she doesn't have to act, just re-act. There are further writings about strange California murders, and Howard Hughes, and travelling to Guymas. But she's not so good with the Haight-Ashbury in 1967, and she's at her worst with Joan Baez.

Why? It's probably that despite the joy that came out of that Summer of Love --- laughing and singing and dancing naked and "be-ins" and all those foolish noisy trips we took --- if you looked, and looked hard enough, you'd find dingbats, people shooting smack, kids feeding acid to their kids, people saying genuinely stupid things like, "You can get a high on a mantra...but I'm holy on acid."

These were juveniles, we were juveniles, --- we did and said juvenile things. If you were Didion, and wanted to look hard enough, you went beyond the facile reporting of Time magazine ("hippies scorn money --- they call it bread...") to find the uglies that were to be found all over the place. If you wanted them to be.

Her take on Haight-Ashbury is the title story of the volume, Slouching Towards Bethlehem. Even from her vantage point --- up there in the air somewhere --- it does seem a bit of overkill to equate kids doing and saying stupid things to that famous line out of Yeats' "The Second Coming,"

    And what rough beast, its hour come round at last,
    Slouches towards Bethlehem to be born?

Yeats wrote out of the despair of a 1930s Europe going mad, going straight towards the apocalypse of World War II. This is a far cry from kids doing PCP or dropping acid, or worse, offering it to Didion: "Norris says it would be a lot easier if I'd take some acid." How does she respond? "I say I'm unstable." Some of us might venture the opinion that it would have been a lot easier on all of us if she had done what Norris told her to do.

If she did so, she might have lost some of the ill-contained anger that powers her writing, leads her to describe with gratuitous and probably unnecessary irony Joan Baez and her Institute for the Study of Non-Violence.

If you and I had to put up with Didion sitting in our living-room, recording our conversations for a few days, we'd probably say something as silly as, "Frankly, I'm down on Communism," or "Burning draft cards doesn't make sense, and burning themselves makes even less" --- which gives Didion the chance to snarl,

    To encourage Joan Baez to be "political" is really only to encourage Joan Baez to continue "feeling" things, for her politics are still, as she herself said, "all vague."

She quotes from one of the singer's concert programs, "My life is a crystal teardrop. There are snowflakes falling in the teardrop and little figures trudging around in slow motion. If I were to look into the teardrop for the next million years, I might never find out who the people are, and what they are doing." Silly? Perhaps. Sentimental? No doubt. But it gives Miss Priss a chance to fire off one of her most bellicose put-downs,

    Although Miss Baez does not actually talk this way when she is kept from the typewriter, she does try, perhaps unconsciously, to hang on to the innocence and turbulence and capacity for wonder, however ersatz or shallow, of her own or of anyone's adolescence.

"When she is kept from the typewriter..." "...however ersatz or shallow..." At these moments, we want to suggest that Ms. Didion might just be pushed away from the typewriter herself.

We have our own fond memories of Joan Baez. In our contacts --- both in public and in private --- we found a lady of direct honesty: one who sincerely loathed violence, one who seemed unmoved by all the offers that could have turned her into just another commercial. We remember especially being touched by her personal war against war. It makes us wonder why Didion wants so badly to make her appear a simple-minded dolt.

The answer is, we suspect, the same reason that she tells Norton, "I'm unstable." Or, to pull a title from one of the less interesting essays, I just can't get that monster out of my mind. The Didion monster. The one that has forced her, over the years, to turn mean-spirited around the edges. The one that can make her write like an angel (sometimes) but the one that turns fear into anger, makes her feel like she is going around the bend. And it's not a bend in the river "where the cottonwoods grow."

--- Lolita Lark

Bob La Follette

The Righteous

Nancy C. Unger
(University of North Carolina)
He could be vicious with his enemies. And he never forgot a slight. Sen. Frank B. Kellogg, of Minnesota, a hunch-back, tried to get him ousted from the Senate during WWI because of his anti-war sentiments. La Follette waited; then, five years later, in St Paul, he spoke:

    God Almighty through nature writes men's characters on their faces and in their forms. Your Senator [Kellogg] has bowed obsequiously to wealth and to corporations' orders and to his masters until God Almighty has given him a hump on his back ---- crouching, cringing, unAmerican, unmanly.

La Follette was one of a few startlingly original people to arrive on the American political scene. He was born in Primrose, Wisconsin. He served three terms in the U. S. House, was elected governor of Wisconsin in 1896, and spent nineteen years in the U. S. Senate. His major battles were over the right for women to vote, the direct election of U. S. Senators, direct primaries, initiatives, referendums, and ecological preservation of federally owned land. He was in favor of all these; most had been enacted within a decade of his death.

He won the love and respect of the voters by his constant battles on behalf of the common people against large corporations. He was also a bit of a screwball. He was 5' 5" and wore his hair in a pompadour to hide it. During a filibuster in the Senate, he claimed that his enemies were trying to poison him. He had the U. S. Postal Service watch his mail, convinced that his letters were being opened and read by his enemies. He would fall ill at the drop of a hat, and --- according to Professor Unger --- probably suffered from what we now call "bipolar disorder." His physical sicknesses (nerves, "stomach problems," hives, fainting spells) were often timed to make it possible for him to postpone meetings with people he didn't care for --- Teddy Roosevelt, President Wilson, William Howard Taft.

His speechifying was legion: it was a time when declamation was a high art, and he could go on and on (and on) for hours without taking a break. His ability at oratory was such that he could hold audiences spellbound while he was reading, for example, the voting records of his fellow Senators. His speaking style is best described as 19th Century Florid. For example, when he was asking appropriations to feed the starving Germans after WWI, he said,

    Envision our good old Uncle Sam dispensing charity to the starving peoples of Europe; their hands stretched out to him shrunken with hunger and starvation, little children about his knees, pale, emaciated, their hands so thin you can see through them...Think of charity represented in the person of this figure that stands for American benevolence and philanthropy turning away a starving child because it is of German heritage.

"Charity," he concluded, "is the very spirit of the Christ life. Charity represents and stands for all the principles of His teachings."

§     §     §

When running for office, after the first years, he usually won by huge margins. Even when he ran for President in 1924 on the Conference for Progressive Political Action (CPPA) ticket, he garnered almost five million votes, seventeen percent --- a stunning figure, especially when compared to other third-party attempts in the 20th Century. However, his self-righteousness caused him no end of problems. In Philadelphia, in 1912, at a conference of editors of newspapers and magazines, he began at eleven P.M. and rambled on for two-and-a-half hours. Elocution was far less interesting to them than it was to the common folk, especially after several drinks. He taunted them, said they were tools of the monied interests. When some of them began to leave, he mocked them savagely.

For one who knew his audiences as well as he did, and was as talented a speaker --- his strange behavior created suspicions that he was going bonkers, which may have been the case. Sometimes he would be absent from his political duties for months, recuperating in California or Florida or at John Kellogg's Battle Creek Sanitarium in Michigan. When people asked what was going on, his wife would usually say that he had "the grippe."

The most daring act of his career was his attempt, with a small minority of like-minded Senators, to keep the United States out of World War I. The Germans were no help in this: their unrestricted submarine warfare in 1916 and 1917 caused loss of many innocent American lives on the high seas. When President Wilson asked for authority to arm merchant ships, La Follette saw it as a dangerous step towards war, and fought it bitterly. His loyalty was impugned. Theodore Roosevelt said that the Senator was a skunk "who should be hung." One newspaper referred to those who opposed the bill as "La Follette and his little group of perverts."

After the sinking of five ships, Wilson asked for a declaration of war. La Follette opposed it in a four-hour speech in the Senate which created an uproar. One of his colleagues said that he was a "pusillanimous, degenerate coward," that he was "a better German than the head of the German parliament." A cartoon published in the New York World showed an iron hand pinning a German cross on La Follette's breast.

With the coming of war, he claimed that the greatest loss to America would be in the loss of freedom of speech --- and he was right: those who opposed the war were pilloried, German-Americans were humiliated, and the loss of national liberties extended into the post-war period with raids and deportations of those who were considered "subversive." In retrospect, La Follette's perspicacity was astonishing. He claimed that war had solved nothing, and he correctly predicted (in 1923) that another one --- just as destructive --- would be not long in coming.

§     §     §

Professor Unger makes much of La Follette's loss of his father at an early age, spends much time discussing one of his oft-delivered speeches on "Hamlet." She concentrates on what might be termed the quasi-Oedipal echoes in La Follette's adoration of his father and subsequent loathing of his step-father:

    Hamlet, proud, sensitive, refined, affectionate...is, without warning, confronted with this wicked marriage, and consumed with mortification because of his mother's conduct. He is shocked, benumbed, appalled.

Unger also claims that the standards that La Follette and his wife imposed on their own children drove one son, Robert LaFollette, Jr., to suicide, in 1953.

Well, maybe. The character of La Follette, Sr. and his history of accomplishments were and are dramatic enough to make these suppositions, in the final analysis, not all that important. His name, by the way, is from the French. It's related to the English word "folly," and can be translated, roughly, as "reckless."

--- Leslie Seamans

[Another Interesting Letter]

In a recent "Letters" column, we published one from Elizabeth Gips, known to her many fans as "Granny Wisdom." For years Elizabeth has been a part of the Enlightened Geezer Network in and around Santa Cruz-Santa Clara, California. Shortly after sending us the following, she went into the hospital (she suffers from emphysema), and when, after a few days, she was released, we sent her a response and appreciation.

§     §     §


I don't know about my article, but you certainly published the testy of all testies with Mencan. Menkan, Mencham, Mencken, oh, my mooshy mind.

His anti-Semitic, anti-gay anti-everything shows up because the pictures don't come up and the link is no good!!

I'm tripping out breathing less and worse. I go through all sorts of changes every day. Could be worse but it sure could be better!


"We clutch at truth to keep from dancing in the Void"

§     §     §

Dear Madam:

Your testy letter about H L Mencken appears at


We would like to agree with you that he was racist, sexist and homophobic, but he was also the only columnist in America of his time willing to take on that awful Rev. Billy Sunday, the Baptists, and Southern Senators like Bilbo and Talmadge. Also, he spent the last five years of his life unable to move or speak (or write) as a result of a stroke. Thus we figured that the karmic chickens came home to roost, and he probably was forgiven all those sins. (He wasn't unaware of his weakness for hyperbole; remember --- one of his finest series of writings was called Prejudices.) We feel about him as we do the whole human race, especially men of letters. When we find out that the great Ignazio Silone was, they say, probably on Mussolini's payroll, and that George Orwell kept a list of radicals for British intelligence, we are forced to acknowledge that despite the appearance of saintliness in their writings, that they too, were humans, with human foibles, and human weaknesses. This does not make them more loveable --- but it also doesn't make their writing any less pertinent.

Someone wrote us an e-mail, said you were in the hospital, and the tone of it, sounded as if they feared for your life. Perish --- if you will pardon the expression --- perish the thought. Don't they know that anyone who on the brink of the emergency room who could still write RALPH such a testy letter is far from the final main (as Faulkner called it). Your impatience with doctors, sickness, hospitals, and medications --- outside the spiritual ones --- convinces us that you will not depart this vale lightly, nor any time soon. This is just a guess on our part, but the toughness that we have come to know and love as part of your character will, we suspect, prevail for many more moons.

--- Yours in Truth,

Song of an
No one understood the perfume that came
From the dark magnolia of your womb;
No one knew how you tortured
The hummingbird of love between your teeth.

A thousand tiny Persian horses slept with the moon
In the plaza of your forehead,
While four nights I bound
Your waist against the snow.

Between the wall and the jasmines,
Your gaze a pale branch of seeds,
I looked into my heart to give you
The ivory letters that say always,
Always, always: garden of my agony ---
Your fugitive body forever,
The blood of your veins in my mouth,
Your mouth now without light for my death.

--- From Diván del Tamarit , by Federico García Lorca
Translation by Carlos Amantea

Box 7272
San Diego CA 92167


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