R A L P HVolume Twenty-One
The Review of Arts, Literature, Philosophy and the Humanities
The Best of Ed Zern
(The Lyons Press)These are Zern's basic theses:
- There are people who hunt and fish;
- They also drink and tell lies when they are fishing and hunting;
- Or any other time;
- They are not interested in anything else;
- Like politics, wives, children ... you name it;
- If you think they are dotty, you have another think coming.
Zern's writing is wonderfully droll. For some of us he is a lifetime addiction (I first read him in 1947). It might have to do with the names. Zern seems to know everyone and anyone in this country who spends any time at all hunting and fishing: he's constantly dropping names of people we've never heard of. Hell, I don't know --- maybe he makes them all up.
He also seems conversant with every place in America and the rest of the Western world where one can drop dry flies in a cold river, or fish from a boat, or take a shotgun to zebras, deer, woodcocks, or spend mornings shivering in a blind waiting for ducks or turkeys to happen by.
I guess some of his charm is his well-disguised intellectualism. In one of his pieces for Field & Stream --- Field & Stream, mind you --- he slips in references to Wagner (comparing his operas to big game hunting), Bach sonatas (trout fishing with a dry fly). Proust and Joyce turn up here or there, as does D. H. Lawrence (see below).
The main reason that Ed Zern is not listed up there with S. J. Perelman, Robert Benchley, E. B. White and Peter de Vries is because he wrote for the sporting set at Field & Stream instead of the smart set at The New Yorker. Yet he bests many of the more famous humorists --- with the possible exception of Perelman. Here, for instance, is his complete review of a certain lurid book you may have run across:
Although written many years ago, Lady Chatterley's Lover has just been reissued by Grove Press, and this fictional account of the day-to-day life of an English gamekeeper is still of considerable interest to outdoorminded readers, as it contains many passages on pheasant raising, the apprehending of poachers, ways of controlling vermin, and other chores and duties of the professional gamekeeper. Unfortunately one is obliged to wade through many pages of extraneous material in order to discover and savor these sidelights on the management of a Midland shooting estate, and in this reviewer's opinion this book can not take the place of J. R. Miller's Practical Gamekeeping.
The Best of Ed Zern contains over 200 of his columns along with excerpts from his six books. Unlike the humorists listed above, Zern did not, thank god, mellow with age or begin to parody himself. His later writings are just as waspish and silly as those from sixty years ago. He goes to Mont St. Michel, for example, and calls it "an island with a chapel on it surrounded by water too shallow for good fishing." Or this, one of his many Q&A's:
Q. When I became engaged, my fiancee said she understood how much I loved to hunt and fish, and promised never to interfere. Now we're married, and she nags me night and day to give up outdoor sports altogether. She says if I loved her I'd gladly stay home. If this keeps on I'm going to blow my brains out. Please give me whatever advice you can.
A: Since trajectory isn't important here, our recommendation would be a .35 Remington with 200-grain soft-nose bullet.
Or this suggested test for would-be trout fishermen:
Q. After spending considerable time and money learning to tie flies, you collect a magnificent assortment of natural blue dun and other high-grade hackle, furs for dubbing, fine-wire hooks and other materials. Shortly after you install a fully-equipped fly-tying table in your den, your six-year-old son develops a violent allergy to feathers. What action do you take?
A. Frankly, you may not get full credit on this if you suggest putting the boy up for adoption. There are several good boarding schools that accept boys of this age, or you could send him to live with relatives. Adoption is a lengthy, bothersome process.
And this from my all-time favorite sports book, To Hell with Fishing:
Some wiseguy once defined a fishing line as a piece of string with a worm on one end and a damn fool on the other.
This is a silly definition, of course --- for many fishermen use flies instead of worms. They think it is more hoity-toity. If worms cost two bits apiece, and you could dig Royal Coachmen and Parmacheene Belles out of the manure pile, they would think differently. This is called human nature.
Fly fishermen spend hours tying little clumps of fur and feathers on hooks, trying to make a trout fly that looks like a real fly. But nobody has ever seen a natural insect trying to mate with a Fanwing Ginger Quill.
Not content with putting out some of the funniest prose in American letters, Zern also does the illustrations --- except for a few by Webster from To Hell with Fishing and To Hell with Hunting. These give Zern a chance for a back-and-
forth with the pictures, a /monologue/dialogue worthy of Frank Sullivan (who ended one of his essays exchanging insults with the footnotes).
In his later books, Zern does his own drawings, and they are very waggish. It all makes me think that he might be a peculiar version of the modern Renaissance man. Not only does he write witty prose and draw pictures and know every type of gun and bit of fishing-tackle and every dismal fishing-hole and ratty hunting-lodge in the Western Hemisphere, he probably paints ceiling murals at the Sistine Cathedral and, when he has time, composes Spenserian sonnets on the side.--- L. W. Milam
Kick a DuckRecently I learned that Mr. George Plimpton's book Paper Lion, in which he describes his experiences with a professional football team while disguised as an athlete, was still selling briskly. As this had been going on for a year or so it was patent that Plimpton must be wallowing in pâté de foie gras, vintage Puligny and matched Purdey shotguns, while I am barely able to afford pastrami, off-year sneaky pete and a beat-up pump-gun. At about the same time I read an article in a weekly sports magazine in which Sam Baker of the Philadelphia Eagles was quoted as saying, when telling of an unsuccessful try for a fifty-yard field goal in a driving rain, "It was like kicking a wet duck."While I was assimilating that simile it occurred to me that although temperamentally unsuited to being abrased by linemen or contused by red-doggers, I could nevertheless experience in some degree the sensations of a pro-footballer without the discomfort and inconvenience of being maimed, and thus might, perhaps, qualify for some of the crumbs from Plimpton's platter. Hurrying to the telephone I called Duncan Dunn, whose commercial shooting preserve near Princeton raises several thousand mallards every year, and asked if I might borrow a duck."What do you want it for?" Duncan asked, and when I said I wanted to kick it he thought for a minute. "By George," he said, "you've finally hit on a technique --- I recall last year you tried a shotgun without much success. I presume you want a low-flying duck?""I don't give a hoot how it flies," I said. "I'm going to kick it on the ground.""A true sportsman," mused Duncan, and told me I could have one of his ducks for experimental purposes the next day.
Arriving the next morning I found him puttering with the pheasant pens, but he came back to the clubhouse with me and produced a drake mallard in a wooden cage. "Knowing you're a gentleman as well as a sportsman I assumed you wouldn't want to kick a female," he said. I agreed, and asked him where I'd find a faucet. "If you're thirsty," Duncan said, "there's beer in the game-cooler."
"I'm no thirstier than usual," I said. "I need the faucet to wet the duck."
"You can't wet a duck," Duncan said. "If you pour water on a duck it runs off like water off a duck. You'll have to make do with a dry duck."
"Look, Duncan," I said. "If Sam Baker had meant a dry duck he'd have said so. Whereas he specifically said a wet duck. If you think I drove seventy miles to kick a dry duck you've got another think coming. Where's the faucet?"
"I don't think you drove seventy miles to kick any kind of a duck," Duncan said. "I don't think, period. In this business, I can't afford to. On the other hand, though, I don't go around kicking ducks. There's a faucet right behind you, by the bench."
I took the mallard out of the cage, turned the faucet on and held the duck under it. It didn't seem to be getting very wet, but after a while it began to feel heavier, and while I was trying to decide if it was just my arm getting tired a car pulled into the yard and a skinny little bald-headed man got out. "My name's Pritchert," he said to Duncan. "I'm an inspector for the New Jersey League Against Cruelty to Animals. We check on shooting preserves, and if you don't mind I'll look around."
"Help yourself," Duncan said. "Be my guest. What I'd like to see, though, is somebody from the New Jersey League Against Cruelty to Shooting Preserve Operators." While Duncan was explaining some of the cruelties inflicted on him by various types of shooters, Mr. Pritchert came over and watched me for a minute. "What are you doing to that duck?" he asked.
"I'm wetting it," I said.
"That's what he thinks," Duncan said. "He's been holding it under there for ten minutes, and it's no wetter now than when he started. The only thing he's wetting is the property. Why don't you pinch him?"
"Why are you wetting it?" Pritchert asked, more suspicious than ever.
"So I can kick it," I said, changing the duck to the other hand as my arm was about to drop off.
"Ha!'' said Pritchert triumphantly, and then he stopped and thought a minute and said, "Kick it?"
"That's right," I said. "I suppose that sounds kind of kooky to somebody who isn't a writer."
"Why in the world would you suppose a thing like that?" Duncan said, and Pritchert said, "Kicking a duck is cruelty, mister. I'm obliged to warn you. You kick that duck and we've got an airtight case against you."
"If he can't kick any better than he shoots," Duncan said, "you wouldn't have a snowball's case in hell."
"Chance in hell," I said. "Good Lord. Snowball's chance in hell. Case in hell doesn't make sense."
"Well, now," Duncan said. "That's very good. You stand there holding a duck under a faucet that you drove seventy miles so you could kick it, and you're saying I don't make sense. Mama mia!"
"What's that?" Pritchert asked.
"Italian," I said. "It means his mother. It's an expression."
"Not that," Pritchert said. "That cage. Is that what you keep your ducks in? That little bitty thing?"
"What do you keep yours in," Duncan said, miffed. "A suite at the Waldorf Astoria?"
"He doesn't keep them in that," I said. "That cage was just for the one I needed for kicking."
"Look," said Duncan, "are you going to run that faucet all day? This place is a quagmire already, and that duck's still dry as a bone." It was, too, and my arms were so tired I turned off the water and put the duck back in the cage.
"Keeping a duck in that thing is cruelty," Pritchert said, "and no two ways about it."
"I agree," Duncan said. "Why don't you arrest him and take him into Trenton. Or anyway get him the hell out of here so I can get some work done." I figured things were getting out of hand, and even if the duck had been sopping wet I had sort of lost interest, and so I let it out of the cage. It hopped out and waddled over and stood under the faucet, which was still dripping. Pritchert took out a notebook and asked me my name; I told him and he wrote it in the book. Duncan said, "My name's Duncan Dunn. The duck's name is Marvin. I wish both you guys would go away."
"Marvin what?" Pritchert said, and while he and Duncan were having some sort of a discussion I got in the car and drove home. Who needs Purdeys?--- From The Best of Ed Zern
©2004, The Lyons Press
The Alienation of
Sandra McPhersonI wish I could put her in the birdhouse.
Evicted from her rented room,
she pushes a wheelchair through rain
when only prowl cars can watch her.
I am tossing, it is no dream
she pushes her belongings through night rain
to someplace wet and cold she will belong.
How have I let this happen?
I wish I could put her in the birdhouse.
Some days she bikes to work,
washes the unmovable man in bed,
cleans the quadriplegic quarterback's
cave and then his parrot's cage,
fastens baby's breath in the paralyzed
woman's hair for the opera.
Some days she comes home fired, lies
down in earphones on the floor,
and cannot cry.
If she is moth-crazy (nice Navaho for mad),
she makes reparations to the moths
by opening the night door to her light.
Then she goes up on the roof,
says it is covered with little white rocks
and mushrooms. Says: "It is so silent."
Says: "The stars are writing a bit
like you but not keeping a file on me
like you." Says: "Mother ---
Mother's crazy too."--- From Family Reunion: Poems
About Parenting Grown Children
Sondra Zeidenstein, Editor
©2003 Chicory Blue Press
Goshen CT 06756Americus: Book I
(New Directions)Dear Lawrence Ferlinghetti:What are we going to do with you? There was a time when you were the dry and funny and the somewhat mordant observer of the world --- a world you captured in your poetry like a colorful fly trapped in a hunk of ancient and loving amber.That was forty or fifty years ago, when you wrote poems about Congressman Doyle and the dog who walks freely in the street and the world being a beautiful place and waving hats and dancing.Then you grew, some might say you grew up, others might say you grew old, and suddenly you were worrying about the world, not viewing it with a sly and gentle (and sometimes almost shy) innocence, but anger, an anger not so forgiving, an anger filled with The Horrors: Kristallnacht and the Blue Rider and "fellow man killing fellow man" and a "subversive raid upon the forgotten language of the collective unconscious."I know, I know, I know: these things must be addressed --- Adolf and Krupp and sturm und drang and JFK "gunned down in Dallas" and "The weight of the world is hate." These things must be addressed; we must worry about them; we must try to change whatever it is that gave such a case of the creepy horrors to us and the 20th Century.
We know all this, deplore it as you do, but sometimes... sometimes we wish for that sly (almost shy) poet from back then, the one there at City Lights, living in the store there at the corner of Broadway and Columbus, long before it (and you) became Historic, long before you got caught in the sticky web of fame, long before that, like when you sat yourself down in front of a battered Royal with its worn black-red ribbon (almost frayed through), and you equipped yourself with a good glass of mountain red, stared at the newsprint paper you used back then, stared at the blank face of it for a moment, and then you started:
Yes the world is the best place of all
for a lot of such things as
making the fun scene
and making the love scene
and making the sad scene
and singing low songs and having inspirations
and walking around
looking at everything
and smelling flowers
and goosing statues
and even thinking
and kissing people and
making babies and wearing pants
and waving hats and
and going swimming in rivers
in the middle of the summer
and just generally
'living it up'
The dog trots freely in the street
and sees reality
and the things he sees
are bigger than himself
and the things he sees
are his reality
Drunks in doorways
Moons on trees
The dog trots freely thru the street
and the things he sees
are smaller than himself
Fish on newsprint
Ants in holes
Chickens in Chinatown windows
their heads a block away
The dog trots freely in the street
and the things he smells
smell something like himself
The dog trots freely in the street
past puddles and babies
cats and cigars
poolrooms and policemen
He doesn't hate cops
He merely has no use for them
and he goes past them
and past the dead cows hung up whole
in front of the San Francisco Meat Market
He would rather eat a tender cow
than a tough policeman
though either might do--- A. W. AllworthySarbola
(Trafford Publishing)This topical sci-fi thriller reveals all the dark secrets of academic microbiology at the University of California. Here is the hero John, a failing graduate student, in a typical session with his Ph.D. thesis supervisor and boss.
Carolyne Tanner was a smart, driven, accomplished professor of microbiology. Highly respected in her field, she had it all. "Kneel, you male student scum!" Carolyne snarled. She was dressed in her usual outfit ... black leather stiletto heels, a matching black leather bikini, and gloves. In her right hand, she held an English riding whip.My own experience in this area, admittedly limited, is that Spanish riding whips are often preferred, especially in Microbiology departments.John's supervisory committee also includes Dr. Stoole, another typical academic scientist.
He stood only 5'4" and to make his height challenge all the more obvious, his neck had one less vertebrate than most humans making it appear like his head was screwed right onto his shoulders. Rounding off the unusual features of his person was the fact that he was quite far-sighted and the coke bottle glasses he wore made his face appear almost frog-like. He was a one-man show of poor judgment, bad research, and ugly politics.[Parenthetically, I loved the author's use here of "vertebrate" where less imaginative writers would use the conventional term "vertebræ."]
Beset by these academic troubles, our hero visits the San Diego wild animal park to commune with the animals. There, a deep thought comes to him:
The earth was a gift that people just did not deserve anymore ... they blew that privilege with SUVs, war, genocide, animal research, neutron weapons, overpopulation, global warming, and pop-up internet advertising.
At this point, the obvious solution occurs to John: create a viral plague to wipe out his detestable Ph.D. committee, and the rest of the human species for good measure. Returning to the lab, he spends a brisk week whipping up a deadly recombinant virus that combines the best features of SARS with those of Ebola. John spreads it around and then goes camping.
Alas, the virus succeeds only in killing Dr. Stoole and two innocent bystanders. Insufficiently familiar with the research literature --- John was, after all, a failing graduate student --- he had chosen an attenuated strain of SARS.
As in all great metaphysical novels, this little disappointment brings its hero psychic redemption:
His SARBOLA probably failed anyway. Perhaps it was all for the better. It didn't matter really if it had failed for Mother Nature would always bat last, no matter what. It was time to go home.
After this high point, it only remains for John to reunite with his lost love Kimba --- granddaughter of the legendary Wehrmacht general Erwin Rommel, as it happens --- and after a steamy love scene the two of them sail off together, into the sunset, in a luxury yacht.
As this reader wiped away a tear, he recalled with pleasure the book's many flights of poetic language. For example, at one point it refers to microbiologists at "The Pasture Institute" in Paris, perhaps a place where over-age French researchers are put out to Pasture. But my favorite flight is the following idyllic account of the lovers:
John loved to show Kimba the things he cared about ... the plants and animals of the Santa Monica Mountains, the stars and planets that shown at night, the beaches and his classical guitar. Kimba taught him kindness and love, her poetry, and how erstwhile a young lady's body could be.
A few more efforts like this and the Trafford publishing company will learn how erstwhile a publisher can be.--- Dr. Phage
Dear Dr. Phage:
I'm curious about your nom de review. What do you eat? Wannabe writers?--- Barbara Ardinger, Ph.D.
§ § §Hello Barbara Ardinger,
Thanks for your note. I am pleased that you liked the review. We phages are reputed to eat bacteria, but I like to nibble on a little of this and a little of that. The results can be found in RALPH from time to time.I am slightly curious about the book's author. The molecular biology in Sarbola contains some errors, but it is not entirely off the wall (as in most sci fi). From this I deduce that the author has taken a course or two in modern biochemistry or microbiology, at the undergraduate level.His picture of labs and graduate work in a science department is also decidedly undergraduate. On the other hand, his hostility to academia suggests that his undergraduate career was mercifully short. Then, the business about the heroine being General Rommel's granddaughter also ought to be a psychological clue of some sort, but I can't quite make it out.
Maybe we will turn the book over to RALPH's staff psychoanalyst for further study.--- Dr. PhageThe review in question can be found at
(Vintage)In the short story "Honey Pie," Murakami tells us that short stories are not worth writing. One of the character's editor says, "If he never wrote anything but short stories, he would just keep dealing with the same material over and over again, and his fictional world would waste away." This lies buried in the third short story in Vintage Murakamia, being a collection of five.If your taste runs to people who burn down barns, monsters who create earthquakes, women who can peel themselves like an orange, and men who can peel other men like a tangerine --- then Murakami is your meat. Two years ago, at www.ralphmag.org/BQ/earthquake.html, we reviewed an earlier volume of his stories. Our conclusion: he's a good enough writer to be considered up there right along with Salinger, Hemingway, Anderson, Barthelme, and other classic masters of this exotic field.One may suspect that Murakami does have a thing about peeling, though. The lady Nakao in "Barn Burning" peels herself in mime like "a Mandarin orange." And "Lieutenant Mamita's Long Story" shows us one of his military officers get his body peeled somewhere out there where Outer Mongolia meets Manchukuo. It's a place so deserted that "through such an utterly desolate landscape, an overwhelming hallucination can make one feel that oneself, as an individual human being, is slowing coming unraveled."
The surrounding space is so vast that it becomes increasingly difficult to keep a balanced grip on one's own being ... The mind swells out to fill the entire landscape, becoming so diffuse in the process that one loses the ability to keep it fastened to the physical self.
The only change was the sun, going across the sky.
And in the movement of the sun, I felt something I hardly know how to name: some huge, cosmic love.
Well, OK. But when the narrator and Yamamoto get caught by the Mongolian border guards who demand a secret paper that Yamamoto is carrying --- and when they don't get it, they stake him down in the sun buck-naked and peel him. Live. With a "special knife, designed for skinning ... The blade as thin and sharp as a razor."
"They do a small area at a time ... They have to work slowly if they want to remove the skin cleanly, without any scratches" [the Russian commander tells Yamamoto.] "If, in the meantime, you feel you want to say something" (reveal the location of the document,) please let me know."
"Then you won't have to die. Our man here has done this several times, and never once has he failed to make the person talk. Keep that in mind. The sooner we stop, the better for both of us."
Remember that book called Peel My Love Like an Orange. Well, here it is, in fine detail. For the next two pages, Yamamoto slowly gets stripped of his epidermis as the narrator (Mamiya) and the reader (me), slowly get barfy.
If you have any doubts at all about the narrative powers of Murakami, let this resolve those doubts. It's starts on page 139. It's all over and done with on page 140. My tum and I almost gave up on page 139-½. It's one of those exquisitely awful passages that tests the mettle of the writer, not to say the innocent reader, along with poor old Yamamoto, stripped, one might say, to the bone.
After slogging though this harrowing scene, I found myself beset by doubts. Not about the Mogols and their colorful methods of extracting information. Nor about the absolute tip-top narrative ability of the author (and his translator, Jay Rubin). No, my doubts were about whether we needed this all-too capable set piece: the absolute isolation (which, I should remind you, the writer tells us, brings about "a huge, cosmic love"), the exquisite details (the way the just-peeled skin of Yamamoto's torso looks when the Mogol holds it up; how the ground was "a sea of blood;") and, later, how the narrator Mamiya returned to Japan, lived like "an empty shell:"
I can't explain it very well, but as honestly and simply as I can state it, no matter why I have encountered, no matter what I have experienced since then, I ceased to feel anything in the bottom of my heart.
"Something inside me was already dead," he tells us. Figures.
§ § §
These stories confirm Murakami as a brilliant fiction writer. There is but one reportorial piece --- about a survivor of the sarin attacks in the Tokyo subways. It doesn't play as well, perhaps in comparison to the three center-piece stories, "Barn Burning," "Honey Pie," and the aforementioned "Long Story."
The story of Mr. Frog which we praised at length from After the Quake didn't make it into this collection. Too bad. It's sweet madness would have made a nice counterpoint to your routine day-to-day entertainment that takes place alongside the Khalkha River, there in the wilderness between Mongolia and Manchukuo.--- Ajo Iriye[PARADOX-OF-THE-MONTH]The idea of a god that incarnated itself into its own creation in order to suffer the experience of being its own creation is a fantastically productive metaphor.--- Jonathan MillerThe War for Righteousness
The Great War, and
Yhe Rise of
The Messianic Nation
Richard M. Gamble
(ISI)Leading up to what was so arrogantly known as "the Great War," the American faith of choice was "Progressive Christianity." This was no minority religious ethnic: it was supported by the mainstream leaders of American spiritual life --- Baptist Minister Harry Emerson Fosdick, William Jewett Tucker (President of Dartmouth College), Washington Gladden and Lyman Abbott (Plymouth Church), George A. Gordon (Harvard University), and the leading spokesman --- President Woodrow Wilson.On the day in 1917 that the draft was instituted, Wilson said that the nation was "an instrument in the hands of God to see that liberty is made secure for mankind:"
This is a war which any great spiritual body can support, because I believe if ever a nation purged its heart of improper motives in a war, this nation has purged its heart, and that, if there ever was a war which was meant to supply a new foundation for what is righteousness and true and of good report, it is this war.
As Gamble makes clear, the Progressives had a two-fold task. One was to demonize Germany; the second was to ennoble a crusading America. Germany was the enemy of the modern religious spirit, "monarchical and feudal," a place of the "tribal god." The leaders of the German state were characterized as the "Predatory Potsdam Gang." The invasion of Belgium in 1914 confirmed the German state as the Antichrist.
One writer in the influential magazine, Christian Century, wrote that Cæsar and his conspirators had crucified Jesus, and now again, nineteen centuries later, "the Son of man is stretched upon the cross of Calvary."
His two metaphorical hands, Belgium and Poland, were "nailed to the cross," while Serbia and Armenia were "his feet streaming with blood."
§ § §
In this religo-centric view of history --- with America's God-given rôle as home of the divine --- dissent was considered to be heresy:
For an American to refuse to share in the present war, to oppose preparation for war, to induce men to avoid the draft, and to attack all forms of military preparation for the purpose of national defense, is not Christian.
"To defy the American government was to defy God," was the operative truth of the Progressives.
And surely America would prevail, for the teachings of Jesus "proved that the war was God's war." Frederick Lynch, head of Andrew Carnegie's Church Peace Union (sic) called America "the Christ Nation to the other Nations of the world." The dean of Yale Divinity School said that America stood for "moral idealism:"
May we not believe that this country, strong and brave, generous and hopeful, is called of God to be in its own way a Messianic nation...[through which] all the world may be blessed.
It is important to reëmphasize that these Progressives were not the Jimmy Swaggarts and Pat Robertsons and Billy Hinns and other ne'er-do-wells of their day. Rather, they were respectable and well-placed, the upper crust of main-stream American Christian establishment, ones who championed "practical Christianity," those who taught "social ethics" and supported the "Settlement Movement" --- houses of service to the poor, places for support and encouragement for the have-nots in the big cities.
The true villains for the Progressives were not only the Germans but the "premillennialists" --- those Christians who felt that "the world's transformation required direct divine intervention;" in other words, the Rapturists of a century ago who claimed that the war presaged the end of the world. Christian Century stated that they touted "a theology of denial and despair," whereas the Progressives encouraged "loyalty, courage, and devotion."
§ § §
Gamble takes Progressive Christianity from its "modern, adaptive" beginnings at the turn of the century, through its peak --- 1915 - 1918 --- and follows it through to its inevitable decline, when cooler heads began to realize that murdering 10,000,000 peoples in the trenches of Europe was not necessarily a viable assist to the evolution of Christianity.
Even though his story is comprehensive, there are a few problems with The War for Righteousness. One is that it is grossly overwritten. It is a viper's nest of quotes and references, ones that repeat themselves enough to drive the casual reader quite mad. We accept the fact that these Fosdick, Gladden, and Abbot types were foolish to sacralize America's participation in the Great War, claiming that with "suffering love ... Christians would help redeem the temporal world." This "Onward, Christian Soldiers" school of divinity has been and always will be the fallback for scoundrels. But to state this point again, and again, and again is enough to not only gild the lily, but drown it.
Many of us will always be baffled when the followers of the Prince of Peace hold up the killing fields as the true path to divine glory. But through numbing repetition, the War for Righteousness forces us to conclude --- as they say on the streets of New York --- that we must put this one to bed with a shovel.--- Terry Fellowes, DD, DHL
Their Own WordsIt is difficult --- perhaps impossible --- for a writer to say anything about his own work. All he has to say has been said as fully and as well as he can in the body of the book itself. If he has failed to make his meaning clear there it is scarcely likely that he will succeed in some pages of preface of postscript. And the author's mind has another peculiarity which is also hostile to introductions. It is as inhospitable to its offspring as the hen sparrow is to hers. Once the young birds can fly, fly they must; and by the time they have fluttered out of the nest the mother bird has begun to think perhaps of another brood. In the same way once a book is printed and published it ceases to be the property of the author; he commits it to the care of other people; all his attention is claimed by some new book which not only thrusts its predecessor from the nest but has a way of subtly blackening its character in comparison with its own.--- From "An Introduction to
Where Stuff Comes From
How Toasters, Toilets, Cars, Computers,
And Many Other Things
Come to Be
As They Are
(Routledge)Thirty species of mammal became extinct 13,000 years before European contact because of Native American hunters. By enforcing laws against marijuana, the U. S. government encourages imports of cocaine "because of its higher value by weight (and smaller volume)."
Humans created almost all the deserts in the world "well before capitalists started taking water away." Because of the continuing brutal post-colonial wars, Angola has one main productive industry: artificial limb factories.
Erotic imagery in black-and-white films was accomplished by "sequins, net, and lace to depict sexuality and glamour." Pre-technicolor films also encouraged black-and-white furniture, "especially in crisp deco style," which implied "luxury in furnishings."
Street-front restaurant exteriors are designed "to attract those who make their choice from behind auto windshields --- billboard architecture." Plain metal screw tops (with plastic liners of the type used on only cheap drink) "are better to keep bottled wine from going bad, but people resist buying wine that way." Paper cartons can keep the vintage equally well, "but failed in the marketplace."
Motor scooters are marketed with their engines "dressed" --- that is, enclosed. "As a matter of type form, and linked to gender, motorbikes come undressed and motor scooters dressed."
Military camouflage "came to the French Army from cubism, a form of painting that eschews literal representation but relies on precise placement of line of color." By the end of WWI, "three thousand artists were working as camoufleurs."
Chairs are unusual among world peoples, and were not allowed to be used by the conquered people in the Roman Empire.
In depicting the diners as sitting, Leonardo da Vinci upgrades Jesus and his group, who were too lowly for chairs; they would have been on the floor that night just as on other nights.
Italian place names imply class. A California company named "Giati" makes "teak and high-end garden furniture in Asia for the U. S. Market." And
The ultimate compliment may be the one paid by the BCM Babes company operating out of London that names models in its line of high-art "Non-phallic" dildoes after Italian locales --- e.g., the "Trento," "Morano," "Verona." In contrast, the same company markets its butt plugs (for anal insertion) with the names of central European cities --- "Prague," "Tula," and "Bruno."
§ § §
It probably has something to do with Ripley's "Believe It or Not." There, over the breakfast table, we were fêted, daily, with stories of 85-pound potatoes grown in Idaho, and Indian mystics who peered at the sun until their eyes burned out, and Napoleanic generals who sneezed, said "My damned cough," and because the phrase was much like the common phrase, in French, for "Fire at will," helped to massacre 350 hapless innocents in some courtyard from long ago.
Strange facts and strange unions of logic have always captivated us, and, presumably, will always do so. What we look for are unusual parallelisms --- where, for instance, the making of toasters has something to do with culture (they scarcely exist in Italy). Or, the putting of an inordinate number of young Afro-American men in prison affects fashion --- droopy bottoms and loose-fitting jeans are a result of the prohibition against belts. Now loose-fitting pants and shirts are a world-wide fashion statement.
In the right hands, these facts tend to be apolitical. Marshall McLuhan was neither in favor of nor against television programming: he was more concerned about the way it was perceived. For instance, he pointed out that very young children sat close to the televisions of the day because the definition was so poor --- a 525-line screen --- that they sought to compensate for the low definition (in the same way that a child will often look down at the receiver of a telephone to visually compensate for the poor fidelity of a 5kc cut-off).
In the same way that Stewart Brand's Whole Earth Catalogue was apolitical (he made use of extensive government and military information as much as "counter-culture" writers), so Molotch defines himself as a "political atheist." He is only concerned with what he calls "lash-ups" --- where things come together. That, for instance, the width of railroad tracks in the United States goes back to the width of Roman roads --- being the width of the posteriors of two horses, bound side-by-side to pull chariots during the time of the Empire.
It is this apolitical fact-yolking that gives us an almost aesthetic pleasure. We found similar joy in Our Own Devices (at www.ralphmag.org/CN/our-own-devices.html) by Edward Tenner. Then there was James C. Scott's Seeing Like a State (at www.ralphmag.org/seeing-stateQ.html).
Like the present volume, the latter is an astonishing, nicely written, wise, and sometimes funny disquisition on how things work: and, in addition, in Scott's book, how governments invariably screw up.
Like Marshall McLuhan turning our view of media on its head, Where Stuff Comes From is a book that congregates the various explosions (of art, of technology, of "things") into a simple if not sensible whole.--- Frank Pentrose, MA
Letter to a Son
I Once Knew
(Postmarked May 1974)
Carrie Alien McCrayChild of the mind
where have you gone?
you used to walk
your little black
dog beside you
both sloshing into
on a freshly
Home from college
we sat together
sharing the philosophies
of Dubois, King, Fanon
Thoreau and Malcolm;
you, sifting but
that shaped your own
I see you now
Tall, handsome in
your airforce uniform,
a sensitive young man
looking out the
asking of war
Is this the answer ---
then you went away
I searched for you
in many light and
where still rings
the sound of your
but did not find
I walked the
lonely paths of
war torn, drug
saw huddled in a
deep, dark corner
a stranger, his
eyes closed, his
head down on his
Who was that?
slowly your lifted
eyes told me
For one fleeting
moment you returned
the flicker of your
small light in an
But I'll keep searching,
my child of the sixties,
Knowing that there
in the eye of the
in the center
of you, is the
son I once knew.--- From Family Reunion: Poems
About Parenting Grown Children
Sondra Zeidenstein, Editor
©2003 Chicory Blue Press
Goshen CT 06756Cockroach
(Reaktion Books)When I lived in the decaying part of mid-city many years ago, my friend Jeremy showed me how cook without a stove. He'd fry up things like wieners by wiring them up. "It's as simple as a lamp," he said. "Just plug it into the wall. That's all there is to it."He'd take your regular 120-volt wall plug with a short wire attached, strip the wires away from each other, clean the ends and stick a nail on each of them. Then he'd jam the nails into the opposing ends of a hot-dog and plug the whole contraption into a socket.
After a minute or so, the wiener would be snapping and popping and sizzling, filling the room with a heavenly scent and dripping fat on my best second-hand carpet. It may not have been California Cuisine but more Missouri Barbecue; but whatever it was, it was divine.His way of dealing with animal life involved the same technique. Since we were in St. Louis, our roaches were the German variety. They must have been German Catholic as well, because they produced huge noisy insatiable families in the condos in the narrow space underneath the refrigerator.
They not only produced thousands and thousands of ugly six-legged babies, they gave picnics and dances, be-ins and had acid parties (this was the sixties after all), and, in general, drove us crazy.
What Jeremy did was to string two of the same cables that he had used for his hot-dog flambé about 1/10th of an inch apart across the narrow exit of roach condo. When Mr. & Ms. Roach and their 900 babies decided to go out for a stroll, they had to pass across the two cables. Their little bodies completed the electrical circuit: there'd be a flash, a puff of smoke, the house lights would dim, a ghastly smell --- and that was all she wrote..I suspect that Marion Copeland. author of Cockroach, would not approve. Her volume is not necessarily a paean of praise to Blattaria but she does admire their sheer staying power.
They evidently evolved 300,000,000 years ago and their ugly little bodies show up in all manner of amber drips left over from ages past. There are, at this very moment, some 4,000 living species. They breed like, well, like roaches. It is estimated that if you took all the roaches now living on earth and put them in one giant vat, not only would the vat extend over 25 or 30 miles in diameter, you and I would probably pass out at the sheer ugly slippery slithering sheening gag-power of all those ghastly bugs bunched up together.
§ § §
Unlike butterflies and birds, most scientific research is spent on figuring out ways to murder their asses. But Cockroach is less of a how-to-
do-in- the- bastards handbook and more of a jokey look at the literary and artistic manifestations of Blattariamania. Ms. Copeland seems to have tracked down every cockroach joke, story, fable, art, fact, apocrypha, and roach recipe: from the movies (Twilight of the Cockroaches, Doctor Cockroach, Mimic) to the double pun on the name of a character on Bill Cosby's TV show (cock is you-know-what; roach is the tail-end of a joint); from Kafka's Gregor to archy of archy and mehitabel; from the University of Nebraska's Cockroach Picture Gallery to Pliny's cure for "itching, scabbing and ulcers" (ground cockroach); from "La Cucaracha" to cockroach feasts, "best when fresh, beheaded, and delegged and then boiled, sautéed, grilled, dried or diced for sauces as they are both in Thailand and Mexico."
She reveals that
The New York Entomological Society holds annual insect food festivals aimed at encouraging the general public to acquire a taste for nutritious, protein-rich insects like mealworms, grasshoppers, and Thai waterbugs (cockroaches) which connoisseurs claim have the flavor of lettuce, seaweed or Gorgonzola cheese.
When I was growing up in Florida, we were besieged with a particularly gruesome roach in-law called palmetto bugs. These are cockroaches with the girth of Falstaff and the general personality of Iago. They make a particularly noxious stink when disturbed, and a googy mess when stepped on --- one of those "Oh NOOOO" moments of truth when you accidentally turn around see what you have mulched into your new carpet.
The thought of even the august New York Entomological Society having these suckers for hors-d'oeuvres makes me more queasy than you'd want to know, even though Copeland advises us "how sound eating cockroaches is since it takes only a quarter as much feed to raise a pound of roach meat as it does to raise a pound of beef." Yes but cows don't hide in the bathroom sink and scamper up at you just when you turn on the light to brush your teeth.
There is a rare mint that cockroaches don't care for, but our writer, unfortunately, doesn't reveal where we can go to get it. I'll have a standing order for a bushel, please. The only place I found where roaches cease being a bother is where I live in Mexico. Our biggest home invader is what they call "barrenderas," a local variation of the army ant. When they appear on your doorstep, you don't fight them: you get the hell out.
But there is one advantage to be garnered from their call. They --- all 2,000,000 of them --- usually spend a day or so cleaning house for you. When you return, all other creatures are gone: geckoes, lizards, rats, mice, other species of ants, roaches, and any and all freeloading visitors from the North who happened to have moved in with you.--- Carlos Amantea
While indulging in the megalomaniac act of researching myself on the internet, I came across your website about cockroaches. My alterego, among other things, is Doktor Cockroach and has been for roughly 5 years, yet until coming across yr site I'd never known that a movie had been made about me (or another doctor of cockroach spirituality).
I'm assuming you've probably never heard of me, but I am somewhat of a figure in the music & art underground (both creation & subversion). I would be interested in arranging an exchange: you make a copy of this mysterious movie (is it about me?) and i will send you some music & art i have created. I am very interested in learning more about this film and in learning more about a fellow cockroach enthusiast like yrself.--- laughter, chaos, compassion, honesty-durf
§ § §
Our reviewer responds:
The book Cockroach lists 14 movies with you as star, including "Doctor Cockroach," "Bug," "Alien," "Twilight of the Cockroaches," and "Them." I suggest you get in touch with Reaktion Books, 79 Farringdon Rd, London EC1M 3JU in the United Kingdom and ask for the book.
And although we can't provide you a copy of any of the movies (our tastes run more to 400 Blows, 8-1/2 and City Lights over Twilight of the Cockroaches,) I am sure you will find any of the fourteen available in the darker reaches of the internet. Or hell, if your kitchen is anything like ours, maybe the cockroaches there in your house will offer you a midnight showing.--- C. AmanteaActs of Love
On Indigo Road
(Coffee House Press)When you and I think of the middle west, we think of wheat fields going on forever, the autumn moon over Indiana, great refreshing thunderstorms, Mom in the kitchen and Pop out on the north forty, combines moving gracefully over the fields, horses in their stalls, children growing up rangy and wholesome, life at the barbershop and town hall, simple country folk, pious Sunday mornings in the simple church, roast chicken and apple-pie for lunch, evenings around the kitchen table with Granny tatting, Gramps puffing on his pipe, Dad reading the newspaper, and the kids on the floor reading the comics.
Good luck. For Jonis Agee it is the FedEx guy running off with the wife of the latest champion stock car driver, drivers who run into walls and can no longer walk, old people moveless in bed drooling on the sheets, meth, heroin, the girl at the café spilling too-wet grits on your table and burning the toast, kids dismantling cars parked back of the house, angry wives throwing their mans' stuff out the second story window, the girl from the Lutheran Home for Girls up the way freezing to death in the deserted cabin because her boyfriend failed to arrive, lawyers robbing their clients, handy-men who sleep with the lady of the house and leave the fix-up incomplete because they get kicked out of bed.
Now all this might be sensation-mongering if it weren't for one thing. And that is: Agee is more than competent in the construct and delivery of the short story. She can cram in a dozen details in the first page of a five-page story so that you know all the characters as if you lived in town, right next door to them, and you are right in the middle of the gossip about Duwayne who lost the front end of his Crown Vic to a Southern Pacific train ("Women just happen to Duwayne") and Fiona the Mary Kay lady ("flamingo colored blouse and slacks, her lips and cheeks matching") meeting at the Mildred Pierce Café where Nancy the owner ("sharp eyes and a mean mouth") is a terrible cook, the grits all runny, the toast burnt, and the new girl runs into the chairs and tables "like a poorly played pinball."
Turns out that once Duwayne and Fiona got the play thing going, "drinking a lot of sweet wine" so she stripped him down and painted him all over with the Mary Kay cosmetics and then took some pictures of him, which she delivers to him at the Mildred Pierce as she is taking her leave of him:
He doesn't quite remember the photo-taking part, but there he is, his head turned defiantly to the camera, a fierce, pouty expression on his face, like an oddly beautiful girl he feels attracted to.
This is strong stuff and Agee is a strong writer and of the seventy stories here, ranging in length from a half-a-page to ten pages, I would say that more than half are interesting and five are some of the best short-short fiction I've come across --- right up there with Shirley Jackson, Flannery O'Connor and Katherine Mansfield.
I've been studying these for a week or so --- coming back to them again and again, riffling through --- still not so sure how one writer can pack so much information onto a page and still make it work. Even the lesser stories are interesting as experiments, and in some, the conceits are so delicious you want to weep: the "Tire Man" and his lady who thought "my flesh was a good disguise, but Ray found me anyway:"
There were nights naked in the shallow water of the Platte River in those early days in Nebraska before we started following the dirt track wonders. August when the water was syrup-thick and warm as melted butter, we'd splash and crash around alone there in the moonlight until we finally lay down, believing the warm muddy water would keep me safe as he sloshed in and out, always pulling away at the last moment when my fat thighs tried to lock him down and my back buoyed up. But the brown water took what he spilled on my chest and sometimes when he's working late at the track of the garage these nights, I think about going back there and maybe finding those halfhuman fish soaking away the hot nights, waiting patiently for someone to come claim them.--- Beverly JusticeLincoln and Whitman
Parallel Lives in
Civil War Washington
Daniel Mark Epstein
(Ballantine)Epstein's conceit is that although Abraham Lincoln and Walt Whitman both lived in Washington D.C, at the same time and although they never met, they heavily influenced one other. Lincoln had read a copy of Leaves of Grass, and since he never forgot anything he read, Whitman's style became his style.
The poetry of Whitman Lincoln did read left its mark upon him in 1857. In that transitional year a change came over Lincoln. The change is evident in his speeches, an alternation in idiom that has never been thoroughly explained.
Epstein goes on to compare speeches from before and from after
--- the first a protest of the repeal of the Missouri Compromise' the second from 1857, attacking the Dred Scott decision. His claim: the latter is
the work of a seasoned orator in control of a rich battery of figures and metrical rhythms --- an orator who grasps the charm of poetry and its power to unleash the emotions of both speaker and audience.
As far as Lincoln's influence on Whitman, the poet evidently spent many happy hours larking about in the dusty streets of Washington, awaiting the President's carriage to pass so he could raise his hat and catch the executive eye. Further, the last few years of Whitman's life were spent giving a speech --- the same speech delivered time and time again --- on Lincoln. It was a speech that would never fail to bring a tear to the eyes of the audiences of the 1880s.
Spending a whole book on mythical near-meetings of two of the most famous Americans of the time seems a bit much. Further, this reader is not convinced that all that Epstein claims came to pass came to pass, especially with the extended descriptions of what went through Lincoln's brain as he rode through the streets on April 12, 1863. This stretches the author's visionary powers somewhat: "Such thoughts passed through his mind that morning as he rode down Vermont Avenue toward the White House."
And there once again the smiling graybeard with the beautiful gray eyes stood by the curb, his face beaming goodwill and encouragement, waiting to bestow his benediction.
"We have got so that we always exchange bows, and very cordial ones," wrote the poet.
It seems somewhat doubtful that Lincoln would be bowing to this scruffy bum hanging out on the streets of Washington, especially in the midst of a bitter and ruinous war with many layabouts, not to say his opponents, hankering to be done with him.
Given his many dreams and premonitions on his own death, and if he was eyeing Whitman at all --- he was probably wondering exactly what kind of guns the good grey poet was carrying around in his pockets.
That they "exchanged bows" is Whitman's story, but he was a notorious liar. At one point in his life he had written to a friend of his in England, reporting that he had had five lady loves and three children --- or three lady loves and five children, I forget which --- all tales constructed by him to counter the impression given in Leaves of Grass that he was bestowing kisses on every muscled workingman he came across in the low-life bars of New York.
§ § §
What makes Lincoln and Whitman worth reading is not the story of what the two of them may or may not have done to and with each other; rather, it is the host of facts about them and their world. How the public grew quickly to detest the war. How potty Mary Todd Lincoln got to be after the death of her favorite son Will. How Lincoln wandered around the White House in his nighties, eating fried oysters, gag, for a 3 AM breakfast.
How he played his political enemies --- especially the beguilingly named Salmon Portland Chase, his Secretary of the Treasury --- like a master. How Whitman used every device he could think of to plump up his own fame. What a layabout he was, and at the same time, the depths of devotion he gave to the hideously wounded soldiers flooding in to the hospitals of Washington during the Civil War.
Most of all, Epstein evokes the ebb and flood of the tides of war, such that no one knew from one moment to the next who would be the victor, right up to the decisive battle that took Atlanta on September 4, 1864.
Epstein's fantasy about Lincoln and Whitman is not much different than Whitman's convincing portrayal of the death of the President, delivered as if he were actually in Ford's theatre on that fateful night. He wasn't, but no doubt, in his twilight years, with his "Lecture on Lincoln" in such demand, he was able to convince a majority of his fans that it was so.
A more shadowy problem for some readers --- especially this one --- has to do with the poetics of Walt Whitman. Some people seem to like poems to be flat-out noisy, but for others of us, Whitman's have all the subtlety of a stock car race coupled with the lyricism of a pool-hall brawl. Many of us had the fortune to be given our daily doses of poetry in the form of Shakespeare, Milton, Blake, Keats, Byron, Tennyson and Burns long before they dumped Whitman on us. Thus, we never grew all that fond of his "barbaric yawp" (as he himself termed it).
Epstein's own tin ear seems to match that of the poet's. He insists on including most if not all of the endless, soporific, overwrought (and overweight) "When Lilacs Last in the Dooryard Bloom'd." He includes an extended analysis telling us in too many words why he feels it is such a sensitive, artful poem, comparing it favorably to the elegies of Shelley and Milton.
He then turns around and trashes "Captain My Captain," with its great (and brief, thank god) symbolic power --- the crowds calling to the dead master, urging him to rise; the exquisite switch where the captain of the ship of state becomes "My father" who "has no pulse nor will."
It is one of the poet's most sensitive, balanced, and worthy works, but apparently not to the writer. Chacun á a son gout. Epstein's appreciation of the poet's output is as eccentric as the supposed union of poet and president. C'est plus qu'un crime, c'est une faute.--- A. W. AllworthyThe hard-copy version of RALPH comes out four or five (or six) times a year, depending on income from our readers. Like its on-line version, it is published by The Reginald A Fessenden Educational Fund, a 501(c)3 non-profit organization.
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