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

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RALPH: The Review of Arts, Literature,
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The Truth
About Dogs

An Inquiry into the Ancestry,
Social Conventions, Mental Habits,
and Moral Fiber of Canis Familiaris

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

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

One of the great problems in large cities is dried dogshit, mixing with the dust of the streets, the smog of cars --- forming a toxic, lung-damaging pollution. Humans can be infected by sixty-five different diseases through dog feces, urine, or saliva. American dogs have an annual crap production of two million tons, which is more than three times etc etc. Budiansky says,

    Two million tons is a difficult figure to comprehend. By way of comparison, the United States each year produces 3 million tons of aluminum and 4 million tons of cotton.

Then,

    The 4 billion gallons of dog urine generated each year in the United States...could fill all the wine bottles from a full year's output of the vineyards of France, Italy, Spain, and the United States combined.

Dogs probably took up with humans some 15,000 years ago. The author's most startling statements have to do with the nature of that relationship, telling us things that might appall dog-lovers. (This is not an Oprah style chatty book; the notes at the back of the book take up fourteen pages).

Budiansky doesn't call the relations between dogs and humans mutual love, protection, or a medicine for mutual loneliness. The word he uses is "parasitical,"

    Parasites can never launch a direct assault, as most all organisms have active defenses to fend them off. Parasites instead are evolutionarily guileful, and the most successful ones are Trojan horses that play on the foibles or features of their host. We humans are possessed with a surprisingly suspicious and calculating mind that is always plotting stratagems and imagining the stratagems of others..[but] it is hard to deny that we feel a very fundamental, innate, unlearned, and in that sense quite irrational attraction toward cute little things, especially helpless cute little things. Dogs take advantage of this no end. They play us like accordions.

Almost every myth that you and I have heard over the years Budiansky explodes.

  • House-breaking dogs? When you come home and find poop on the rug, it is useless to beat Rover. Anything that happens seconds after the event doesn't register, he doesn't make the connection. All he will learn to do is to fear your return.
  • Dog's barking to wake up their owner, save him or her from the burning house? Most dogs bark at anything, and it just so happens that some bark at burning houses. They also can bark at, as we well know, their owners coming home, their owners leaving home, the neighbors coming home, the neighbors leaving home, any passing car, you sneezing, me laughing, the wind, the moon, the stars.
  • When your dog hears the siren and howls, it's not because it hurts his ears: he just thinks it's another member of the pack, and he is going along with it to affirm membership. Dogs closest relatives are wolves, and many of their actions are vestigial. Wolves howl --- always shortly after waking up, and the howling has been proved to reinforce the "cohesion of the pack" according to Erik Zimenin, who wrote about the declining wolf population (caused in great part by Canis familiaris.)
  • Dogs protective of their pups? When a puppy is separated from its litter mates, it makes a distress cry. The mother will go over, pick up the puppy by the scruff, bring it back to the nest. Loving parent, right? But if you record the puppy's cry, set the tape-machine around the corner, and play the tape back, the mother dog will go over, pick up the tape recorder, and carry it back to the nest.

§     §     §

Most of our blindness to the machinations of this noisy, ingratiating, and often dangerous parasite have to do with projection. How can we not be influenced by a creature that appeals so to our protective instinct? Those eyes. The head placed lovingly on your knee. Lying down next to us. Rolling over. Peeing on your foot.

When I was travelling last year --- a five day car journey --- my companion insisted, against my vehement protest, on bringing along a German shepherd puppy, just six weeks old. The first day, I ignored the puppy, and my companion. The second day, I told my friend that the puppy would probably be more comfortable, up at the front of the car, with us --- rather back in the drafty camper shell. The third day, the dog had found a comfortable nitch next to me, would rest its head on my wrist, look up at me with pure adoration. I was loath to move, afraid of waking it, of breaking our rapport. The fourth day, I would have fought a major war against anyone who wanted to hurt my baby, and I told my friend that the puppy belonged to both of us. The fifth day, when the puppy died (we never found out why; the veterinarian said it was probably the drastic change of climate) I mourned my lost friend ridiculously. To this day, I remember that head on my arm, those eyes looking up into my own, the tiny shadow his body made when we finally laid him in the ground; my own tears.


--- S. J. Baker


Carl Heinrich Graun
A Candleflame on
The Tavern Wall

Christolf Wolff, in his gigantic tome on Bach (Norton), includes a diagram from 1800, the "sun of composers." In the center is Bach. Around him, three rays: Franz Joseph Haydn, George Friederick Handel, and Carl Heinrich Graun. Graun? Who Graun? Are we missing something?

Carl Heinrich Graun was one of those artists, like Per Luigi Zucchini or my uncle Sid, whose fame flickered all too briefly, a candleflame on the tavern wall. A boon companion of King Frederick the Great of Prussia, Graun celebrated the king's conquest of Upper and Lower Silesia with the first Ode to Joy --- Joy Maedelbachen Graun being his Graunmother. In return, Frederick wrote the story-board for Graun's celebrated, autobiographical operas Lohengraun and Das Rheingraun. They were produced in off-Berlin but flopped so badly that they were moved to off-off-Baden-Baden.

Here the composer's fortune improved. The city of Baden-Baden had just been overrun by rats, which packed the streets, took over the gutters, ate up the sidewalks, and refused to get out of the bierstuben. But the rodents were so enchanted by Graun's music that they flocked to the opera house to hear his new song cycle Die Liederhosenlaudenflauffen, BMW 240. The rodents were rendered quiescent by the music, so that the city building department was able to squash them with a steam roller. The composer immediately memorialized the great day in his new opera, Die Flattermaus, which was a popular success with the townspeople. The critics compared Graun to the greatest masters and the grateful city of Baden-Baden appointed him Kapellkapellmeister-meister. It was during this time that he produced his greatest secular Cantata, Ich bin ein Doppelgänger, BVD 36-long.

After this triumph, Graun produced a symphony of some note (possibly E-flat, although it is hard to be sure), the moving Theme and Variations on 'Graun Grow the Grässes-Oh?' and a cycle of quartets. Unfortunately, his balance was not what it had been and he fell off the cycle going around a corner and had to switch to a tricycle. Next, he began his famous experiments in edible counterpoint, which he illustrated in his Tafelmusik, BFD 1212, for various ensembles of coldcuts. Works included the Openface Sonata for pastrami and headcheese, a set of trio sonatas with basso continuo and potato salad on the side, and the merry Sauerkraut Dances. These too were a great success with his public, which ate them up.

In his Golden Years, Graun dropped music entirely to work on developing new foods for senior citizens. His crowning achievement was the cereal Graunola, the popularity of which keeps his name alive today. If you ever visit Baden-Baden, you will find a statue of Graun in the Rathausplatz, with a band of rodents (after whom the square is named) dancing happily about, nipping at his toesies.


--- J. Gallant &
L. W. Milam


The Book of War
25 Centuries of
Great War Writing

John Keegan
(Penguin)
It begins, naturally, with the Peloponnesian war and ends with writings on the Gulf war. In between, there are the Hundred Years War, the Crimean War, the Civil War, the War to End All Wars, and Thurber's War Between the Sexes. The writers include Thucydides, Xenophon, Victor Hugo, Stephen Crane, Rudyard Kipling, Studs Terkel, Winston Churchill, and Ernie Pyle.

WWII wins the total number of entries with nineteen articles. If you, like most historians, consider WWI and WWII a continuation of the same conflict, 20th Century European wars take up half of the book. We think it's all right to be Eurocentric --- but, if so, you shouldn't be calling your tome The Book of War, especially if you are going to be ignoring the many worthy writings on some not-so-obscure wars.

We get one brief entry on the Crusades, and only from the Arabic side --- yet for that part of the world, because it's appalling cruelty, the invasion of the Christians is still very much on the minds of people who live there, and it still has an effect on relations between the Western powers and middle Eastern governments.

Colonial wars were also champions in gratuitous cruelty, with a stunning loss of life --- but outside of the Indian wars, they are scarcely touched on. The one war from the 19th century that cost the greatest loss of life --- an estimated 20,000,000 --- is not even mentioned: that being the Taiping Rebellion in China, between 1860 - 1864. At about the same time, during the War of the Triple Alliance (1864 - 1870), the population of Paraguay went from 1,400,000 to 221,000 (Brazil, Uruguay and Argentina lost another 1,000,000 men.) Maybe the editor couldn't find any writings of interest on these conflicts; or maybe he didn't try.

--- Elizabeth S. Roper, PhD


Zen Sex
The Way of Making Love
Philip Toshio Sudo
(Harper/San Francisco)
    The yin-yang principles of tension and release underlie every dramatic art form. The art of lovemaking is no exception. Play with the yin and yang, and build that sexual tension to the breaking point. When the moment comes: Let go.

Philip Sudo tells us that among the zen masters over the centuries there was a Ikkyu Sojun from the fifteenth century whose schtick was love, sex, passion. His poems were quite graphic, viz: "When my jade stalk wilts, she can make it sprout!/How we enjoy our intimate little circle."

Ikkyu's words form much of the thrust, if you will, of Zen Sex --- brought together in chapters like "What is Zen Sex?" "The Way of Anticipation," "The Way of Accepting," "The Way of Union." Along this moist path, Sudo quotes not only from the master, but Plato, Chinese Cosmology, "Poets of Asia," the Tao Te Ching, Mu-nan (1602-1676), Shoju (1642-1721), the Japanese tea ceremony, and, lord help us, Deepak Chopra, Kahlil Gibran, and the "Serenity Prayer," God, grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change...etc., etc., blah blah blah.

If you suspect, as I do, that Sudo has arrived at the landing with a garbage scow loaded with wood-shavings, car parts, pop bottles, old tires, and broken furniture left over from many of the philosophies of the ages, you're right. If you are wondering if we should get on board, we'd have to say it would make about as much sense as, for instance, trying to figure out the sound of the one hand.

Zen means a great many different things to many different people, but ideally, it is an aesthetic view of life which demands harmony and restraint. To fill up the bean-bag with passion, sexuality, making babies and hot nights panting on the larder floor seems not quite in keeping with the single-minded non-involvement of meditation and its mental discipline. To put it another way, Sudo has drifted somewhat far from cold mornings in the lotus position, and rather closer to the hot temples of popsex to be found on afternoon television: If you find your sex life to be the same old same-old....If you don't have a sex partner and would like to have one in your life.... With those kind of italics, it's not the mindset that we think of when we contemplate Soto, Rinzai, or Obaku.

The best that can be said for Zen Sex is that it has interesting illustrations. They're called shunga or "spring pictures," Playboy shots from Japan from 200 years ago. Admittedly, like everything else in this thin volume, they have absolutely nothing to do with self-realization and more to do with selling a few more copies of Zen Sex. But they are jolly good, even though the reproduction stinks.

We would suggest that Sudo, fresh from his successes with tomes like Zen Guitar and Zen Computer, abandon this effort to jam an honorable religious system into the old squeeze-box, and, instead, just give us a full volume of the shunga, blown up to a respectable size, in full color, so that us old bastards, without our specs, can figure out what the hell is going on in that gray area between those intertwined Oriental bodies. That would be something to make us forget this satori nonsense right off.


--- A. Senzaki


The Redwoods
Of Baja California
Those of us who came of age in the 60s have a fondness for Visions. We often look back on them with great pleasure (and, too, sometimes a bit of terror). They make great conversation pieces, and --- on days when the world seems tedious and careful --- we hark back to the times when we lay there on the sofa, bent out of shape by what were then quite legal mind-expander brain medicines, where we could, for instance (I swear this actually happened) watch an army of Chinese course through the house. There were many of them, although --- being Chinese and all --- they were quite circumspect, even considering the fact that they were marching though my living room without my permission.

They were moving through four abreast. I figured out that they were there to prove something I had read years before in "Ripley's Believe It Or Not." It had to do with the fact that if all the Chinese in the world marched four abreast past a certain point, they would never stop passing, for, as they were ageing and dying, they would be having their babies, which too, would eventually join the march up the patio, through the living room, and out the back door. The march would never end, because there were and would continue to be so many of them. (As far as I know, they are still marching through there. It's just that I can no longer see them.)

Now you can see why some of us look back, with such fondness, on the sixties.

Those of us who went through such experiences never quite lost that ability to have a vision or two every now and again. I have a couple that come to visit me quite regularly as I drive. One comes to me early on a foggy morning; the other, late at night. Promise me you won't tell the people at the DMV.

The daytime visitations are in the form of stray pieces of the Eiffel Tower that appear on the horizon. It's morning, and my companions and I have risen up much too early in order to make good time to, say, the town of Rosario. If it is early enough, just after sunrise, and with just the right amount of fog (not too much to blind us, but not little enough to let the sun through) if you'll look over there to the far horizon, you'll see various pieces of the Eiffel Tower rising up at various angles out of the ground, going heavenward.

There is no Eiffel Tower per se --- just a leg over here, a strut over there, a support to the left, a cross bar to the right. They all have that characteristic late-19th-century industrial look: the dark supports with the rivets and the cross bars and the heavy lugs.

That's the morning vision, which I always enjoy (and will be glad to point out to you the next time you and I are travelling together just outside of El Dorado.) Then there are the redwoods, which come only late at night --- when we are well outside the lights of the cities, when, perhaps, we shouldn't be driving at all.

When it's quite dark thousands of them turn up, towering up on both sides of the road. If another car appears, with its bright headlights, they will disappear. Once we are alone on the road again, however, they reappear, hovering up into infinity in the dark sky above.

The first time the Redwoods appeared to me was several years ago when we were heading north from Múlege. It was ten or so in the evening, and we had been driving for fourteen hours, and suddenly when we passed into a forest, I thought, "This is great. They've finally figured out to grow Redwoods in one of the most barren pieces of land on earth." No water, no soil to speak of --- and here they have thousands, perhaps millions of board feet of pure forest, towering over us, on both sides of the road.

"Wow!" I said.

"Wow?" said my companion, someone I had known for years.

"The redwoods," I said.

"The redwoods?" he said.

"How do you think they get them to grow here in the middle of one of the most barren pieces of real estate in the world?"

"Right. Redwoods. In Baja. How do they do it?"

"There must be a million dollars worth of them, right here in the middle of nowhere. Wow."

Well, fortunately, my companion had journeyed with me on several of those 60s flights. We had travelled together to the center of the earth. We had flown, several times, out to Saturn, to observe the rings first-hand. We had once actually journeyed together into his brain (what a zoo!) Then we got up and went to a supermarket (an epic journey it was, too) to admire the bottled pickles and dried chickpeas.

So when my companion heard me muttering about the redwoods, he wasn't tempted call in the thought police at all. He just thought of it as a pleasant reminder of pleasant eons we had spent, some years ago, admiring the black holes of space and the Del Monte Party Pickles. And soon enough he had fallen back to sleep, leaving me alone in my wet, shady, forest of the night, passing by, rapidly, on both sides of us, stretching way into the future.


--- Carlos Amantea


Prozac Backlash:
Overcoming the Dangers of Prozac, Zoloft,
Paxil, and Other Antidepressants with
Safe, Effective Alternatives

Joseph Glenmullen, M.D.
(Simon & Schuster)
    Canst thou not minister to a mind diseas'd;
    Pluck from the memory a rooted sorrow;
    Raze out the written troubles of the brain;
    And with some sweet oblivious antidote
    Cleanse the stuff'd bosom of that perilous stuff
    Which weighs upon the heart?
--- Macbeth, V, III

It began on March 26, 1990 on the cover of Newsweek. The Pill of the Year was not Madonna in Dick Tracy, not Kevin Costner in Dances with Wolves, but a solitary green and white capsule that promised a cure for the human spirit. Not to be outdone, Time countered a few weeks later with a report from the prestigious McLean Hospital of patients who became agitated, assaultive and suicidal on Prozac.

Next, the heavy artillery --- Oprah, Geraldo, and Phil. These scientific savants of sensationalism brought forth survivors of Prozac who testified that, "Prozac made me kill my Mama!" Headlines began to appear in newspapers: "Subway Killer Was On Prozac!!"

Never mind that hundreds of thousands of patients with painful depression were returning to productive lives. Never mind that 99% of those who commit murder are not on Prozac. What kind of headline is that? "Blowtorch Murderer Was Not on Prozac?"

The volleys from the writers began in 1993. Peter Kramer, a psychiatrist from Providence, published Listening to Prozac in 1993. But people heard what they wanted to hear. The hopeless hoped for a cure, and they took Kramer's thoughtful reflections on the usefulness of Prozac (and other drugs like it) in certain clinical situations as a promise that their dreams would come true. The hateful misread Kramer's fear that Prozac would become a panacea for the human condition as a conclusion that Prozac would usher in the age of "cosmetic psychopharmacology," making those who took it as glib and charming as the staff on "The West Wing."

The next salvo came from Peter Breggin, M.D., a psychiatrist who answered, in 1994, with Talking Back to Prozac: What Doctors Aren't Telling You About Today's Most Controversial Drug, a venomous diatribe against the evils of Prozac. (He also came forth with a book in 1998, Talking Back to Ritalin: What Doctors Aren't Telling You About Stimulants for Children.)

A desperate Elizabeth Wurzel (1994) put a finger down her throat and came up with Prozac Nation, a narcissistic ramble down the rabbit hole, bragging like a frat boy of her sexual exploits and drug-induced stupors, and a resurrection through Prozac, as she became the toast of "New York Magazine" and "The New Yorker," until they both let her go after a mercifully brief series of critical reviews.

And now, at last, comes Joseph Glenmullen, M.D., a Harvard psychiatrist who strikes fear into the hearts of lotus eaters. Like Breggin before him, he bases most of his conclusions on individual cases he has seen.

The case history is a time-honored tradition in the teaching and learning of medicine. Most teaching in hospitals takes place at the bedside when the "case" is presented to the senior physician by the lowly intern or medical student. And the ultimate learning experience takes place at the clinico-pathologic conference. A case history is presented to a sage who must undergo a medical auto-da-fé, coming to a diagnosis before an assembled multitude. The coup-de-grace is administered by the pathologist, who reveals the findings of the autopsy that he has just performed on the patient. But coming to a conclusion on the basis of one or two cases, however dramatic the impression they may make, is not a basis for scientific or clinical validity.

I remember well the first psychotic patient that I encountered in my first year of psychiatric residency. In the admitting area, she poured out her vitriol at me, spit flying from her mouth: "Look what I got! A lousy first-year resident! I come to the University Hospital, and I get a fucking first year resident! And look at you! You're a midget! My Charlie is six-feet-six! Do you know what kind of a schlong a man that big has?" I felt the blood draining from my face. My attempts at soothing her rage served only to inflame it. My chief resident strolled by, and with an amused glance, whispered to me, "Give her Mellaril." I ordered Mellaril, 200 mg. I hoped she'd die. Instead, within a day, she was pleasant, apologetic, and coherent.

"It's a miracle," I told my chief. For the next two weeks, every patient I admitted --- old or young, agitated or depressed --- got Mellaril 200 mg. But there were no more miracles. Gradually I began to learn to use other drugs and to tailor them to the needs of the individual patient.

Make no mistake about it --- Glenmullen's purpose is to frighten. On the second page, he says,

    In recent years, the danger of long-term side effects has emerged in association with Prozac-type drugs, making it imperative to minimize one's exposure to them. Neurologic disorders including disfiguring facial and whole body tics, indicating potential brain damage, are an increasing concern with patients on the drugs. Withdrawal syndromes-which can be debilitating-are estimated to affect up to 50% of patients.... Sexual dysfunction affects 60% of people. Increasing reports are being made of people becoming dependent on the medications after chronic use... there is evidence that they may effect a "chemical lobotomy" by destroying the nerve endings that they target in the brain... And startling new information on Prozac's precipitating suicidal and violent behavior has come to light.

I, a Harvard graduate, a board-certified psychiatrist with 25 years of experience, a faculty member at the Brown University School of Medicine, tell you that these statements are full of exaggeration and distortion, designed to frighten and not to inform. A number of a psychiatric researchers far more prominent and experienced than I agree. Glenmullen has lined up a host of references in extensive footnotes. He quotes many prominent physicians, among them the writer-surgeon Sherwin Nuland, in support of his position.

And you, poor reader, who do you trust? Who do you believe? My advice: call your local chapter of NAMI (National Alliance for the Mentally Ill), an organization of families of those with psychiatric illness. They don't love psychiatrists and they don't hate them. They owe no allegiance to pharmaceutical companies. They believe in both medication and psychotherapy. They are aware of the controversies about Prozac-like drugs (SSRI). You can also visit their website at

http://www.nami.org

If you must read one of these books, read Kramer's. Whether or not you think his opinions about Prozac are correct, you will agree that he is a wonderful writer. You will not be able to say that about Glenmullen.


--- Michael A. Ingall, M.D.


Our Man
In Vienna

Richard Timothy Conroy
(St. Martins)
Richard Timothy Conroy served in the U. S. Foreign Service for several decades --- in Zurich, then Belize, and finally Vienna. The present volume deals with the time he spent in the latter, starting in 1963. As he says in his preface, he was in Belize, "one of the ends of the earth," and ended up in Vienna which has "for centuries been one of the centers." It was a paradise for one like Conroy who is a man who revels in culture and music and the plastic arts. (Our Man in Vienna is enlivened with several of his sketches of the churches and buildings in and around the city.)

Those of us who have had contact with U. S. State Department officials when we're abroad --- if we can ever get them to let us into the doors of those armed bunkers where they hold forth --- usually find people who excel in being impossible to deal with. They represent the richest, the most heavily armed country on earth --- and if you think they are going to come down to your level, you have another think coming.

With this background, I was fully prepared to dislike Conroy and his book, but he is such a merry wordsmith that by page fifty I was prepared to drop everything and head out to Washington to visit the Smithsonian Institution where he hangs out now and thank him for jollying up my weekend. Obviously, he is a man who has found as much to dislike about the Foreign Service as I have (he thinks he was shipped to Belize because one of his superiors didn't care for him). The miracle is that he stayed with it as long as he did, and that he didn't let its fabled stuffiness drive him crackers.

The tales --- and Our Man in Vienna is a series of vignettes --- are set up with a maximum of efficiency and a minimum of waste. This one, for example, explains why you and I have found that consular officials are forever turning us over to someone else. A Dane, Mr. Rideout, has just come in for a visa and tells Conroy that he is hearing voices, via an internal radio,

    "You can hear the radio now?" I asked, to make sure I'd heard it right.

    "Clear as a bell. Sometimes, like on a plane, it comes over the PA system, like 'Fasten you seat belts, please, and will Mr. Rideout please kill the lady on his left.' Other times, like if I'm out on the street, it comes right out of the air."

    "And you do it?"

    "What?"

    "What the voice says."

    "Oh. Sometimes --- sometimes I almost think I'm going to have to."

    I took Mr. Rideout over to talk to Mr. Townsend. "You might want to tell your story to our consul general. He's a lot more experienced than I."

Mr. Conroy has developed the subtle writerly ability to offer us shorthand comments, ones that tell us a great deal about himself without hitting you on the head with it. His taste in music, for example.

It is, by my lights, dandy; like me, he's a fan of Couperin, Rameau and Bach. And also, like me, he deplores the warhorses. He squeezes in that fact by telling us about one visitor, a lady who was reputed to be what we used to call a "moll." Her name was Virginia Hill. She became rather famous in testimony before the U. S. Senate about her connections with certain unsavory types. She left the U. S. shortly after her testimony, but later came to Vienna seeking a visa to return. Conroy tells us some about Virginia Hill's past, including the fact that many years before, she appeared at one of the Chicago fairs:

    When she turned seventeen, she went to Chicago to make her fortune at the Chicago centennial fair, the Century of Progress. Sally Rand had opened there at the end of May 1933, in the Streets of Paris attraction, dressed (it is said) in nothing but her fans and dancing to Debussy's Clair de Lune, a particularly icky piece that mysteriously survived its birth in 1890, but which nevertheless had the advantage of leaving the audience free to concentrate on the dancer instead of the music.

§     §     §

Conroy's descriptions of working as consul should be a powerful emetic for idealistic young folk who are drawn to "the Foreign Service." His story of the pettiness and infighting around him, his misery at have to work under impossible stuffed-shirts, his descriptions of his own --- often futile --- attempts to be fair to those, who, after all, just want the freedom to travel, make one wince. Often he will say things, like, "The State Department wouldn't like that; maybe they would bust me back to a consular assignment."

Conroy wisely takes the edge off of his feelings by writing in a sardonic style that can best be compared to the late Raymond Chandler. Or maybe one of those English teachers we had in college who viewed the world with a deep interest tempered by a profound sense of the folly of it all.

Conroy's style shows a natural, dry wit. As a bonus, he has a wonderful propensity for the Shaggy Dog Story. As we all know, people who work in the State Department Visa branch want to know where people were born. Sometimes it isn't very easy. This on the wife of one of the consular officials in Vienna:

    Ida's parents lived in Istanbul, a city that absolutely everybody knows was founded as Byzantium around 66 B. C., renamed Constantinople when Emperor Constantine made it the capital of the Eastern Roman Empire in A. D. 330, sacked by the Crusaders in 1204, and taken by the Turks in 1453. The Turks changed the name to Istanbul in 1930 several years after Ida was born.... Thus Ida was barely born in Constantinople, or would have been had her mother not decided that Vienna was more suitable for her lying-in. So Ida was really born in Vienna, but from the strict point of view of nationality was no more Austrian than she was Turkish, or Roman or Byzantine. She was a Spaniard. Is that all clear? I thought so.

--- Leslie Seamans


{To Die}
Oh, I know I too shall and be as when I was not yet, only, all over instead of in store. That makes happy, often now my murmur falters and dies and I weep for happiness as I go along and for love of this old earth that has carried me so long and whose uncomplainingness will soon be mine. Just under the surface I shall be, all together at first then separate and drift through all the earth and perhaps, in the end, through a cliff into the sea, something of me.

--- Samuel Beckett
Submitted by N. Keith


The Impeachment of
Andrew Johnson

Chester G Hearn
(McFarland)
Someday take a gander at photographs of Charles Sumner, Andrew Johnson, and Thaddeus Stevens and tell us which of them you would want running the country. Right. None of the above. But after the end of the American Civil War, and with the death of Lincoln, there wasn't much choice. Most of the good men had either been murdered on the fields, or run out of government. All that was left were the scoundrels: Andrew Johnson on one side and Congressmen Sumner, Stevens and Ben Wade (known as the Radicals) on the other.

Radicals. What does it mean? According to my beloved Webster's, it means one with "views, practices, and politics of extreme change." After that war, with most of a million young men dead on the fields and the country in turmoil, who wouldn't want some change?

The Radicals had, in fact, lost patience with the American form of government. They wanted to trade it in on a new model. During the war, Stevens, Sumner et. al. had tried to impeach Lincoln, and, when judicial decisions went against them, the entire Supreme Court. After the war, when Johnson started vetoing some of their prize legislation, they decided to go after him.

And why not? The Radicals wanted to give land to the freed slaves --- to be taken from white southern plantation owners. They wanted a Freedman's Bureau that would set up hospitals, health care, and schools --- along with civil rights --- for these ex-slaves. Johnson wouldn't go along with either of these, and, worse, he vetoed one of the Reconstruction bills that would have enfranchised Blacks to vote. But it was the veto of the Freedman Bureau bill in 1867 that got the Radicals all het up.

What a pity the impeachment didn't work out. The American system of government always has been and always will be a rat's nest stew. The judicial working against the legislative, the legislative sabotaging the executive, the executive trying to sneak things over on the judicial. It was a lousy system when it was stolen from the British in the 18th Century (who subsequently had the good sense to evolve away from it) and it was in even worse shape after a war which, indeed, may have been caused by its ridiculous inefficiencies.

When you have a government always at loggerheads with itself, what happens? Those with money and connections step in and buy the legislation they want and can well afford. The rest of us never manage to get up to the lunch-table. (These days, all political business is done by "Political Action Committees." When those are outlawed, there will be --- guaranteed --- something else to take their place.)

§     §     §

Now Sumner was a little funny in the head, admittedly. In those days we had something called freedom of access to the government, and ten years before, a cousin of a disgruntled congressman ran out onto the floor of the Senate and bonked him upside the cupola with a cane (ah, those halcyon days!) They say he never entirely recovered, but he was sane enough to know that the only thing to save the republic was a parliamentary form of government, much like that of mid-nineteenth century England.

He and Stevens and Wade figured that if they could impeach Johnson, they could get the double whammy: the vote, land, and health-care for the Blacks, and a parliamentary form of government for the rest of us --- where you wouldn't have some hot-head like Andrew Johnson going off and making trouble for the peace of the republic. (If you have any doubts about this, look at what the next President Johnson did, a hundred years later, when he decided, on his own, to wage a full-scale war against another country, some 10,000 miles across the globe. Under a parliamentary form of government this foolishness would never have come to pass.)

Stevens, Wade and Sumner were so miffed at Johnson that they tried to load the deck --- came up with eleven Articles of Impeachment. Despite their hard work, on the 16th of May 1868 one Senator Edmund Ross of Kansas defected from the Radical pack. The vote was 34 to 16 to impeach --- one less than needed. The Radicals lost and the rest of us lost as well. The chance for our country once and for all to abandon this three-hydra-headed system of government, to replace it with a strong executive and a powerful party system, was lost forever --- and we ended up with a political system as klutzy as ever devised by a free and sober people.

If you doubt the truth of what I am saying, spend a day or so watching and listening to the floor debates on C-SPAN. Then compare these yawners to the rich, robust debates --- complete with shouting, insults, and wonderful questioning --- that take place in the Parliaments of England, Canada, Australia, or New Zealand. Then you might feel the pity of it --- the pity of what we could have had, if the Radicals had only prevailed; the pity of what we have lost.

By the way, Hearn finds the Radicals to be abhorrent. His praise of Johnson is overwrought. His writing is little better than a high school text-book, but, The Impeachment of Andrew Johnson makes exciting reading anyway. Why? Not because of the author's style (there is none) --- but because of the fascinating subject matter.


--- A. F. Webley, MA


Airstream
The History of the Land Yacht
Bryan Burkhart and David Hunt
(Chronicle Books)
A few years ago I bought an used 1974 Land Yacht. "After all," I thought, "if Stewart Brand can live in an Airstream, I can too." It was thirty feet long, and managed to compact everything into a 200 square foot living area --- stove, sink, refrigerator, dining nook, bedroom, bath, shower and toilet. I liked the thought of living on the road, having a complete house, me a turtle, wandering here and there, always protected against the elements, with everything I needed nearby.

I haunted the trailer stores, learned about 12-volt systems, Shur-flow pumps, black-water holding tanks, towing weight, three-way refrigeration systems, and cooking with butane. I learned about trailer brakes vs. car brakes, sway bars, handling on the road, and experimented with the trickiest operation in the known universe: backing a trailer into a narrow stall. (I learned from this last that we can put a man on the moon, and genetically engineer food --- but that there is no safe way to back a trailer up without giving the driver heart-failure. I mangled much of the right, or starboard, side of my new used Land Yacht on my second day on the road trying to maneuver out of a gas station in Bisbee, Arizona).

Since then I have owned a variety of trailers --- tent-trailers, fifth-wheels, toy haulers, HiLos, and what I consider the best of them all --- a 12-footer that was no more than a bed on wheels. But, over the years, I have never bought another Air Stream. Despite the sleek metal look, and the imprimatur of Brand --- they are designed to drive the owner crazy. All that chrome doesn't weather well unless you are willing to spend a lifetime polishing it. That sleek Moderne rounded look means that you lose valuable storage space in the upper shelves and at the front and back.

And --- something I've never read in any Airstream literature --- if there is anything goofy in your electrical wiring, either within or without, the goddamn thing shocks the hell out of you when you go to unlock the door. As one mechanic said to me while he was trying to replace my 12-volt pump --- "I dunno. Airstream always seems to put things in places so that they are nothin' but a pain in the butt to service."

The History of the Land Yacht contains a great deal of cant about the Airstream and its founder, Wally Byam. It is a 150 page encomium to the two of them, rich with photographs and drawings and reproductions of ads. Byam started off in the 20s designing trailer kits: you'd buy the plans and build your own. (Some of the most interesting photos are those home-made ones built before Wally got into the assembly line business). At all times, Byam had a hell of a good sense of publicity. After WWII, Airstream owners, in coöperation with the company, started travelling Caravans. Owners of the trailers would come together to go someplace else --- the more unlikely and distant the better.

The History is filled with photographs of a host of shiny carapaces tooling past the Pyramids, in front of Mont-St. Michel, or invading South America, Africa, Russia, the Far East. As one of my friends from Point Barrow, Alaska once reported, "It was like a plague of locusts when the Airstreamers came to town. They cleaned out every store in town."

The founder is pictured as a wonderful, self-made eccentric, with his "Wally Byam Creed," a hokey mix of the Jerusalem Bible and "The Reader's Digest:" In the heart of these words is an entire life's dream. To those of you who find in the promise of these words your promise, I bequest this creed...my dream belongs to you:

  • To lead caravans wherever the four winds blow...over twinkling boulevards, across trackless deserts...to the traveled and untraveled corners of the earth.
  • To refine and perfect our product by continuous travel-testing over the highways and byways of the world.
  • To strive endlessly to stir the venturesome spirit that moves you to follow a rainbow to its end...and thus make your travel dreams come true.

Byam unfortunately had this thing for unseemly political figures who greeted him and his ardent followers on his journeys --- the white leadership in South Africa and in Rhodesia, Haile Selassie of Ethopia, Fulgencio Batista of Cuba. These pictures of the Airstreams in perfect formation on the road, or parked in perfect circles, surrounding Wally in pith helmet and folding camp chair with microphone in hand lecturing to the faithful makes us think it might be another circle of hell to have journeyed with him and Mr. & Mrs. Normal American on, for example, the eight month Caravan from Cape Town to Cairo in 1959. Somehow they did it, somehow they survived --- and Airstream, too, is still around, driving people bananas.

--- Lois W. Reddie


Emanuel Swedenborg's
Journal of Dreams

Commentary by Wilson van Dusen
(Swedenborg Foundation)
Emanuel Swedenborg was an engineer from Sweden who, at age fifty-six, began to turn away from wheels and gears, began to have visions of the divine. His new world was peopled by angels with whom he conversed fairly regularly (pink and blue angels, according to William Blake). From them, he built a commentary on Christianity which was characterized by a direct search for god as "the perfect man." If god is man, then man is god. All questions were to be resolved by the scriptures, with Swedenborg as the interpreter.

Swedenborg's change came about in 1743 - 1744, and his visions came to him through dreams. He, being a scientific type, carefully recorded them. We have 286 of his dreams, reproduced in full here, with commentary by psychologist Wilson Van Dusen. Van Dusen points out that, if nothing else, this is probably the only full recounting of one man's dreams from so many years ago. (In those pre-Freudian times, dreams were not viewed with the same regard as now.)

What is particularly fascinating about Journal of Dreams is not so much Swedenborg's night visions, for most people's dreams are so personal as to be almost meaningless. Rather, it is the editor's excellent understanding of the dream process. In fact, Van Dusen's Introduction is one of the best primers extant on how dreams occur, what they mean for the individual, and how one should look at them. Because he is so eloquent --- as eloquent we think, as Emanuel Swedenborg, and a hell of a lot less daffy --- one can see a system of dream-vision which makes sense to the average reader.

    Once you get used to the peculiar language of dreams they become a personal guidance system with a superior overview of the nature of one's own life. As a clinical psychologist, understanding my own dreams is a prerequisite for working on a client's dreams... Dreams are valuable guidance system. Should I be in error with Swedenborg's dreams, I would expect my own personal guidance system to tell me so. I need my own dreams to monitor my understanding of his. This might surprise you. But when you are working on something, especially when it is close to your life concerns, your dreams will tell you how well you are doing.

As some of the rest of us have discovered over the years, dreams are a feedback system, and a very sensible one. The key is learning one's own code. Dreams are a part of the brain communicating with another part of the brain, an interior movie house, free but without popcorn. At night, we are allowed to watch the fireworks, all created by us. Words are not the medium of dream communication --- rather, it's pictures, with a rich system of personal symbols:

    Dreams are mostly composed of dramatic pictorial representations... its natural mode of thought is this dramatic language of correspondences --- dramatic because it is inclined to make statements by showing actual incidents involving us. It speaks in terms of dramatic events which correspond to elements in the inner life and the experience of the person.

He refers to the source of dreams as "the dream maker" (Nabokov referred to it as "the Dream Machine.") They are, Van Dusen says, a function of free will. The Dream Maker presents curious incidents that we can "try to figure out or not," as we wish. The Dream Maker is "in a position to know all the memories, experiences, hopes and fears of the dreamer." Thus he (or she, or it) is a cool and unbiased commentator on our days and lives --- something necessary for our personal balance and adjustment. (It's been found in experiments that if people are awakened again and again to prevent dreams, the subjects turn a bit psychotic, not to say testy.)

§     §     §

The whole of Swedenborg's dream book, with the comments by the editor, is rich and, at the same time, rather curious. Van Dusen makes some astute guesses about the philosopher's mental state. For instance, on dreams #7 and #8, Swedenborg says he is in a trance for most of the day, in "wakeful ecstasies." Van Dusen thinks the writer may have stumbled across pranayana, breath control as used by the yogas.

    To my mind this is the single most important, unusual thing that Swedenborg did; it led to an immense flowering of inner experience.

Buddhists (most especially Suzuki) have long seen Swedenborg as an inspired Buddhist naïf, one who came to Eastern religion with no training and no readings of the literature of the Buddhists. Like them, Swedenborg abandoned the notion of sin; he saw us as making our own decisions about divinity, but without the guilt and schizophrenia of Christianity.

He saw the divine in all of us: you and I and the rest of humanity are angels. We don't die --- for we were never born. We just wake up, grow wings, and assume our natural state. Our divinity is present within us at this very moment, and we can activate it at our will.

As they used to say in The Whole Earth Catalogue, we are as the gods, and we might as well get used to it. When we discover our divinity --- needs, desires, and wants become unimportant. The only need we will manifest will be the need to be kind, generous, gentle, and humane --- to avoid hurting others. For we soon learn that to harm others is but to harm ourselves.

--- A. W. Allworthy


No One's Perfect
Hirotada Ototake
(Kodansha)
Hirotada Ototake was born in 1976 with tetra-amelia, a cogenital condition that left him with almost no arms or legs. His parents determined that, as much as possible, he would live a "normal" life. This means that he was given no special treatment either at home or at school, and ended up participating in schooling and sports. He played basketball, pulled himself around on his behind for the 50-meter dash, and had his friends take him up Mount Kobo.

Oto is obviously a smart cookie, and his willingness to take on anything to get him through school and into the prestigious Wasada University is inspiring. His coming-of-age story, No One's Perfect has become an instant best-seller in Japan. According to the publisher, it has sold over 4,500,000 copies --- the second largest selling book in that country in fifty years. This is even more amazing, they tell us, in light of the fact that in Japan there is a powerful prejudice against fumanzoku --- lit. "not all there."

Oto has become a celebrity in Japan and many other parts of the world, and it's easy to see why. He is daring, alive, charming and --- apparently --- never sad. He undertakes to work and to play with minimal help, always with a smile, always upbeat. In fact, he reminds us of that old song,

    Where never is heard
    A discouraging word
    And the skies are not cloudy all day.

There is no doubt that he has done a yeoman job in breaking the barriers of prejudice in Japan. Still, I am going to suggest, spoilsport me, that many of us in the world of disability are going to have trouble with his unfailingly bright view of the world. I can't help thinking that Oto, like the rest of us, has periods of self-doubt, of anguish. There have to be times when he cannot accomplish something he holds dear --- perhaps some intimate physical act that he chooses not to tell us about.

He tells us, for example, that girls "weren't beating down his door," then says,

    No matter how brave a face we may put on it, the hard fact is that people with disabilities do have a handicap in love.

Now, we think, at last, he will tell us something of the sadness of being different --- most especially for one at that tough age, just after puberty, when those tiny differences get magnified out of proportion. But...no:

    I think the important thing is not to turn your disability into an excuse. True, when your heart's just been broken, it may be the first thing you think of... but was that the real reason it didn't work out?

The key here is the change of case. Before, it was "I thought..." and "I was on top of the world..." It was "I think" and "I began to have confidence..." Now all of a sudden it's your disability, when your heart's been broken. In psychology this is known as displacement. At what might be a moment of revelation of his humanity becomes, instead, a preachment:

    I don't suppose a disability is actually an asset in too many people's eyes, but don't let that stop you. In the end, it all comes down to what you, as a person, have to offer.

Instead of an honest revelation, what we have here is a manual for stiff-upper-lipism. No One's Perfect becomes, thus, rather imperfect. In fact, Oto turns out to be just a bit too loveable. He's not only the perfect boy that all parents want, he's the disabled kid that the non-disabled love: always smiling, always looking on the bright side.

God knows, I don't want to spit in his soup --- I certainly wouldn't wish misery on anyone in his situation --- but the lack of agony in this book leaves me decidedly on edge. When at one point he is being wheeled down the street and he passes some kids who shout "What's that?" and "Gross!" --- are we to suppose that Oto has no reaction at all? Is such possible? Are we to believe in all his twenty-five years he has never had even one dark night of the soul --- wondering, "Why me?"

The Japanese, as the rest of the world, want to be convinced that one who has to crawl up stairs and scramble up into chairs is always merry, never blue. Thus his popularity. But --- with or without arms and legs --- if Oto is completely happy, then he is either one in a million, or he is a saint.


--- L. W. Milam


Good-Bye My Friend
Pet Cemeteries, Memorials, and
Other Ways to Remember,
A Collection of Thoughts,
Feelings, and Resources

Michele Lanci-Altomare
(BowTie)
All the neighborhood kids had dogs, cats, or rabbits. Me? I had ducks. Stop laughing. What other pet, on hot summer days would go swimming all day down at the lake with you?

My ducks were white Pekins, and since they looked exactly alike, and since they marched around the yard in single file, quacking, my sisters dubbed them "Pete" and "Repeat." Turned out they were female but --- no matter --- they were still "Pete" and "Repeat" to the one who loved them. After a year or so, they started, each day, to offer up their ultimate sacrifice, one or two of their babies for me to scramble, with bacon and toast, for breakfast.

They met me at the gate each afternoon, when I came home from school, followed me to the doorstep. At six in the evening I fed them and shut them up in their duck house for the night. We always got up early each morning to investigate the new wet fine green world, tracking through the grass, quacking (I had a good strong quack, too.) When I took the leaky rowboat out in the lake, they would swim along beside me, making circles, making contented duck muttering noises.

We also, alas, had a Chesapeake Bay Retriever. You know about hunting dogs and birds. One day, in the spring, when I was late coming home from school, Rover decided to make sport with Pete and Repeat. The two got panicked, ran too fast, tried to get away from him. Rover had to jump them to hold them down, and a little blood was spilled, and then more, and when I finally arrived, the oak and ficus were filled with white feathers. Pete had been torn limb-from-limb, Repeat was savagely wounded, fated soon enough to die.

I was inconsolable, curled up in my bed, telling my family to leave me alone. I was wishing I had never been late: my school-friends and I were playing stick-ball; I didn't want to leave; I should have left, I should never have been late.

Now I hated my school-mates, wished the dog were dead, wished my two white and cheerful friends were back with me again, through the fields again. I fell asleep and dreamed of snow falling on their little house. If there had been a pet cemetery in my small town, I would have insisted that Mom buy me a plot, erect twin headstones, the sad names carved boldly in marble.

§     §     §

Who would ever guess that there are so many Pet Cemeteries? Lanci-Altomare lists 125 of them in the United States, with names like "Harthaven," "Pet's Rest," "Trail's End," "Pet Haven," "Garden of Love," and, gulp, "Final Paws" and "Paws in Heaven." New York and Pennsylvania lead the list with twelve, Florida has ten. There are also several crematoria. There is help for the grieving on the internet, and twelve colleges --- including Cornell University and the University of California at Davis --- have "Pet Loss Support Hot Lines."

The Craig Road Pet Cemetery in Las Vegas is pictured with a memorial to a dog named Duke:

    Burying a beloved pet can be nearly as emotional as burying a human family member. No one knew this more than Duke, who sensed the proper decorum as he attended funerals and greeted visiting families. If the family wanted to relieve the stress with play, Duke was there to fetch stones for as long as they would throw them. If they wanted quiet, he understood. If they needed a furry head to pet, his was always there.

He died in his sleep on March 30, 1999, and his tombstone says, "Guarding Heaven's Gates, DUKE, Our Faithful Caretaker."

In some cemeteries, people leave behind a stick --- "a fetch stick," to let their pet know "they were there to visit." "The Peaceable Kingdom" in Hartsdale, New York, is the final resting place for nearly 70,000 pets, and one headstone shows J. Edna Hoover: The Greatest Little Girl to Walk this Earth on Two of Four Legs. The cat once known as Tisha Roberts at the San Diego Pet Memorial Park proclaims, I Am Too a People --- and at the cemetery in Las Vegas, a rabbit named Charles Clayton has his picture graved in stone, next to the words, You'll Be the Thump in My Heart 4 - Ever. It's signed, Luv, Jennifer.


--- Ignacio Schwartz


Nightwood
Djuna Barnes
(Modern Library)
Djuna Barnes died in 1982, in a tiny apartment, in Greenwich Village, a recluse, hounded by a public she detested. Of all her novels and plays, Nightwood, published in 1936, has attracted the most interest. Modern Library thinks enough of it to send it out here, again, to a waiting world. It was praised by the likes of Graham Greene and Edmund Wilson. Elizabeth Hardwick claims that it is "accomplished with a high, cool, and loyal belief in the possibilities of words in place and out of place... instruments of revelation." T. S. Eliot (whose introduction is included in this volume) said, "It is so good a novel that only sensibilities trained on poetry can wholly appreciate it."

Well, I guess that leaves out all us poltroons with our low-life poetic taste: give me "Barrack-Room Ballads" and "The Cremation of Sam McGee." I turn to Ms. Barnes' work and run into passages like this --- and wonder where these "experts" are coming from:

    Be as the Frenchman, who puts a sou in the poorbox at night that he may have a penny to spend in the morning --- he can trace himself back by his sediment, vegetable and animal, and so find himself in the odour of wine in its two travels, in and out, packed down beneath an air that has not changed its position during that strategy.

Or,

    The America, what then? He separates the two for fear of indignities, so that the mystery is cut in every cord; the design wildcats down the charter mortalis, and you get crime. The startled bell in the stomach begins to toll, the hair moves and drags upward, and you go far away backward by the crown, your conscience belly out and shaking.

We learn from the descriptive notes up front that we are dealing with a book on lesbian love (Robin, Nora, and Jenny), and that although it was frank for its time, it was not pilloried in the same way as The Well of Loneliness. I'm guessing that Barnes was not abused for her frankness because no one could figure out what she was muttering on about. At its best, she writes like deSade (in style, not in content) on an off day. At its worst, it reeks of the lumpy noodling of gothic novels like Melmoth the Wanderer and The Mysteries of Udolpho.

We imagine a graduate student in English at Tulsa State will soon enough be writing a thesis on "The Parallel Uses of Carter Mortalis as Symbology in Nightwood," or "The Humble sou as an Attribute of Dissonance in the works of Djuna Barnes." For the rest of us, our only prayer is that the recrudescence of interest in this occlusive author will not be seen as A Brave New Wave for imitators in what's left of American Literature.

--- Lolita Lark


{NICE LETTERS
OF THE MONTH}

Dear Ralph:
Thank you for sending me the Lolita Lark review with its very straight shots. There may have been a note that was supposed to be with it but it apparently wasn't enclosed so I'm not quite sure who to thank. But it's heartening to know, to be reminded, of readers paying that kind of attention, caring, and saying so. A couple of years ago when I read in San Diego there seemed to be many there who read poetry as something alive and vital to them, and it was heartening to be there. Thank you again.
--- Sincerely,
W. S. Merwin
Haiku
Hawai'i


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