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Black Lamb


Now in its 14th year of publication, this magazine was created to offer the discerning reader a stimulating selection of excellent original writing. Black Lamb Review is a literate rather than a literary publication. Regular columns by writers in a variety of geographic locations and vocations are supplemented by features, reviews, articles on books and authors, and a selection of “departments,” including an acerbic advice column and a lamb recipe.


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Archive for the 'Ross' Category

The Black Lamb Review of Books XIV

Volume 14, Number 3 — June 2016

June 1st, 2016


Welcome to Black Lamb‘s annual book issue, featuring reviews and articles about books and reading from our thirteen-plus years of publication. Here you’ll find everything from Proust and Charlotte Bronté to Oprah and archaeological adventure novels, not to mention books about classical mythology and classical protest singers and essays on such semi-forgotten writers as Richard Bissell and Isaac Stephenson.

You’ll also have an opportunity to savor the youthful reading adventures of several of our contributors as well as a piece on reading in prison. And of course, we include, as always, our column of Honorary Black Lambs and our delicious lamb recipe. Enjoy!

Posted by: The Editors
Category: Black Lamb Review of Books, Books and Authors, Ross | Link to this Entry

I miss Jimmy

Animals can be as dear to us as humans — even more dear

May 1st, 2016


I miss Jimmy, who died in July 2013, more than I miss my deceased brother, more than I miss my dead mother and father.

jimmyI suppose this makes me some sort of monster.

When I knew that poor little Jimmy was dead, I wept, I lost sleep, I wandered around stunned. I did none of these when my brother Ken died of AIDS, when my mother expired after a long illness, or when my father breathed his last in a hospital bed at ninety-three. But I still find myself on the verge of tears when I think about Jimmy. My cat, Jimmy.
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Posted by: The Editors
Category: All Animal Issue, Ross | Link to this Entry

The Thirteenth Anniversary Issue

Volume 14, Number 1 — January 2016

January 1st, 2016


When I began publishing Black Lamb back in January of 2003, I had no fixed idea of how long it would go on. Then, as the years accumulated, and as writers stayed and/or left, I found myself printing thirteen years of monthly issues, incorporating more than thirteenball3,000 original essays and almost 2,000 images, many of them drawn especially for Black Lamb.

But we are now in 2016, and print journalism is, if not dead, at least limited to those with major bucks (The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal, The New Yorker, Harper’s, etc.), and we small fry have to face the muzak: go online or go paperless.

So we’re going paperless. It’s a hell of lot cheaper.

Henceforward, Black Lamb will exist only online. We begin our internet manifestation with the first issue of our fourteenth year, incorporating some recently written articles as well as a number of superb specimens from our copious archives.

Wish us long life! •

Posted by: The Editors
Category: 13th Anniversary Issue, Ross | Link to this Entry

Super début

September 1st, 2015


by Susan Altstatt
Fithian Press, 2015

Fourteen-year-old Miranda “Andy” Falconer is a wonderful creation. Intellectual and intelligent, she’s also resourceful as hell and wise beyond her years. In serious teen-aged love with rock star Tommi Rhymer of the band Belshangles, she contrives, on the spur of the moment, to kidnap her beloved after a concert and keep him captive for two weeks in a remote mountain cabin so that he can break his heroine addiction.

Susan Altstatt’s book — it was a semi-finalist in the 2014 Amazon Breakthrough Novel Awards — is the story of this unlikely but crazily believable abduction. Along the way, poor Andy has to carry her hero, who has passed out, into the cabin, and then, when he wakes up, withstand his wrath and physical violence, outrun him when he tries to escape, see that he is fed and kept warm, and generally cope with his drug withdrawal, which takes more than a week.

This is Altstatt’s first novel, but you’d never suspect it from the writing, which is assured, almost cocky in its confidence. Both of the main characters are fully drawn and full of surprises. Rock star Tommi, although glamorous and scarcely educated, is intelligent, thoughtful, and articulate, and the ancillary dramatis personæ — Andy’s mother and father, her friend Skye, Tommi’s partner Harlan — make brief but vivid appearances. The plot unspools in conventional chronological order, and glimpses of the pasts of both characters are smoothly integrated. There’s not a bit of awkwardness in the showing or telling anywhere; this is an almost absurdly well-written first novel (or second or third, for that matter).

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Posted by: The Editors
Category: Ross | Link to this Entry

Those huddled masses

Are we protecting the worst and expelling the best?

August 1st, 2015


She came here for love. She fed a generation of hungry Americans. She created and lavished care on a beloved institution in Portland, Ore. So why did the United States Immigration and Naturalization Service want to kick Rose-Marie Barbeau Quinn out of the United States of America?

The short answer is that according to INS definitions, she was an illegal alien, having been born and raised in Canada. Although a Portlander and homeowner since 1976, Mrs. Quinn hadn’t jumped through all the right hoops at the right time.

Rose-Marie Barbeau met Mike Quinn in 1967 at the Vienna State Opera. He was a week younger than she. The opera was Richard Wagner’s Parsifal. Quinn later joked that it was inevitable that they met — the opera went on for six hours. For the next ten years, in various cities in Europe, they were never apart, even at work. They both took jobs at Phillips of Holland in Vienna, then at an exchange program for American students in Austria, and finally, for four years, at the Atomic Energy Agency, where Rose-Marie did clerical work and Mike worked in the library.

In 1976 they moved to Portland, Quinn’s hometown. As culture devotees, the American and the Canadian found Portland’s nightlife barbaric. There were the symphony, the opera, and the ballet, true, but afterwards, everyone just went home. There wasn’t a single late-hours cafe or restaurant where you could eat, drink, and discuss the performance you had just attended.

In February 1978, she and Mike put down $21K, borrowed $12K more, and opened a quasi-bistro or Gasthaus — Rose-Marie always called it simply “the pub” — the Vat & Tonsure. While opera recordings played in the background, Rose-Marie cooked. Mike ran the business and stocked the wine cellar. Actors, lawyers, opera singers, politicians, symphony musicians, civic leaders, and citizens hungry for a taste of Europe quickly made it one of Portland’s most popular hangouts.

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Posted by: The Editors
Category: Ross | Link to this Entry

Vive la différence!

Why did "condescension" become a pejorative term?

March 1st, 2014


The poor word has had a hard time of it. Once a proud descriptor, whether as noun, adjective, or verb, it has dwindled to a mere gibe. What had previously signified a praiseworthy act now means a rude, even a detestable, one.

The Oxford English Dictionary locates the derivation of “concescend” in the Latin roots meaning to “go down with.” As a verb, it lists two principal meanings: “to stoop voluntarily and graciously,” and “to depart from the privileges of superiority by a voluntary submission; to sink willingly to equal terms with inferiours.” As a noun, we have the delightfully worded “voluntary abnegation for the nonce of the privileges of a superior; affability to one’s inferiors, with courteous disregard of rank or position.”

This is the denotation; the connotation is quite different. In Roget, “condescend” is listed under “878. Pride.” “Condescendence” and “condescension” are grouped with “self-esteem,” “self-respect,” “self-importance,” “vanity,” and “haughtiness.” Nothing very “gracious” or “affable” here. As a verb it is listed alongside “act proudly,” “deign,” “stoop,” “look down one’s nose,” “strut,” “swagger,” and “show off.” As an adjective, with “dignified,” “noble,” “imposing,” and “stilted.” Like its cousin “patronizing,” “condescending” has taken on an almost entirely negative flavor.

The terms that annoy some well-meaning people in the OED’s definitions are “superior,” “inferiour,” “rank,” and “position,” precisely the words that denote differences among us. Our post-Sixties posture of “political correctness” [sic] discourages us from thinking in hierarchies. The intellectually deficient individual is no longer “disabled,” merely “differently abled.” Whole ranges of people are labled “special,” requiring “special education,” rather than more specifically categorized. Merely to hint that some people may in fact be stupid, thick, or not playing with a full deck is to risk being ostracized or, at best, accused of being “mean.” The bell curve is out, out, out! Even simple categories of human characteristics, along with hierarchies, are impermissible. No more fatsos (they have weight-related diseases), loudmouths (they’re bipolar and forgot their meds), string beans (bulemia), or goofballs (ADHD).

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Posted by: The Editors
Category: Ross | Link to this Entry

The All-Politics Issue

Including a crucial principle to consider

October 1st, 2012


With November’s election staring us in the face, it’s extremely tempting to throw up your hands, admit that nothing much is likely to change no matter who is elected, and firmly exercise your right not to vote.

Besides, as Kevin Baker pointed out in the October issue of Harper’s Magazine, “Why vote? When your vote counts for nothing”:

For more than a generation, this has been the central truth of American politics: How you cast your vote has almost no relation to what any candidate actually intends to do. This is not simply a liberal complaint. Conservative voters (sort of) elected George W. Bush president in 2000 because he promised fiscal prudence, limited government, and an end to “nation building” in foreign lands. What they got was a president who, almost from day one, busied himself running up record budget deficits, passed an enormous new prescription-drug entitlement, and attempted to build a model laissez-faire democracy in Iraq.

Before Bush, Bill Clinton ran on a pledge to “put people first,” promising tax cuts for the middle class and welfare reform that would supplement benefits with job-training programs. Mr. Clinton had barely taken the oath of office before the tax cuts were deep-sixed in favor of reassuring the bond markets and a balanced budget became one of the administration’s important goals. By the end of Clinton’s presidency, Glass–Steagall and many of the other safeguards that had served to protect us from financial chicanery since the Great Depression had been removed, and welfare had been largely turned over to the states to do with as they saw fit — a major part of the safety net thereby whisked away.

As with all the most pernicious trends in recent American politics, the move to uncouple campaigns from any true intentions came into its own during the Reagan years. After decades of echoing the catchphrase of his economic adviser Milton Friedman that “there is no free lunch” and advocating a smaller government, President Reagan tripled the national debt — once again, exactly the opposite of what nearly all his voters were counting on him to do.
Since at least 1980, Americans have been unable to prevail on their leaders to do much of anything they promised. For all the masses of volunteers who worked to get out the vote for their candidates, for all those who gave what money they could to the campaigns and came out to hear stump speeches — in numbers, during the last presidential election, that had not been seen for more than a generation — the payoff was nothing.

So voting’s a mug’s game, at least voting for president. And if voting’s pointless, then so is arguing about political issues. Still, in the interest of self-expression if nothing else, I’d like to nominate an ideal to strive for, however hopelessly: fairness.

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Posted by: The Editors
Category: All Politics Issue, Ross | Link to this Entry

Shamuses, horses, & queers — oh, my!

June 1st, 2012

The Black Lamb Review of Books IX


As editor, I have often taken advantage of our mid-year book issue to comment on my own reading since the previous Christmas, and this issue is no exception. Between that holiday and the New Year, I reread Jaimy Gordon’s She Drove Without Stopping (1990), a novel that had mightily impressed me when I read it shortly after its publication. Then I gobbled up her The Lord of Misrule, which won the National Book Award in 2010. Ms. Gordon can write: She Drove is rather a tour-de-force, demonstrating a lively narrative gift with a fresh use of language. Misrule is a brilliant, vivid evocation of the world of small-time racetrack claiming races: the characters, the horses, the barns. At the center is a female who doesn’t belong, Maggie, who spends a season or two experiencing the crookedness, violence, and fascination of the track. Gordon’s writing, garnished in a few places by “literary” quotations and often by bits of writing that say “See how much I’ve read?”, is nevertheless remarkable. Her use of slang and Negro dialect and low-class elocutions seems sometimes extremely authentic and sometimes superimposed. This is a very curious book but above all a genuine page-turner, centered on four races, four horses, and a very well delineated cast of characters.

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Posted by: The Editors
Category: Black Lamb Review of Books, Ross | Link to this Entry

Life & death in an age of medical miracles

April 1st, 2012

The All-Medicine Issue


The reach of medicine has changed, in my lifetime, beyond all recognizing. The advent of penicillin and other antibiotics, the eradication of polio, even the demise of smallpox have occurred over the last sixty years. With these advances have come open heart surgery and other cardiac procedures, organ transplants, and entirely new ways of viewing and treating mental illnesses. We also now have ways to keep people alive almost indefinitely.

Because of these life-saving tools, we have altered our attitude to various life-ending procedures. Assisted suicide is now accepted, although controversial. And abortion is widely available, without stigma. We’ve also changed our attitude to who should decide about such forms of death. Where once doctors pronounced people terminal in their own homes, individual citizens are now routinely asked, not told, in hospitals, when to pull the plug, when to shut down the respirator.

What was once thought ghoulish — the desecration of a corpse — is now considered almost mandatory: what right have you to deny others the use of your organs once you have stopped using them? This new wrinkle on political correctness flies in the face of most religions’ views, which demand dignity for the physical receptacle of the soul of the deceased. Can it really be niggardly to deny others the use of your recently functioning entrails? Apparently so; apply for a driver’s license and watch the eyebrows of the clerk when you tell her you will not agree to be an organ donor.

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Posted by: The Editors
Category: All Medicine Issue, Ross | Link to this Entry

Cruel, but not unusual

July 1st, 2011


In the May 18 issue of The Wall Street Journal, I read an article — on the editorial page — that in its way was perfectly innocuous. Still, it made me angry.

P. Michael Conn, a professor of medicine at the Oregon Health and Science University’s National Primate Center, and James Parker, an ethicist also based in Portland, Ore., wrote a short piece on the fancifully named Daniel Andreas San Diego, one of nine men left on the FBI’s “Ten Most Wanted Terrorist List” after the death of Osama bin Laden, and the only one who’s an animal rights activist rather than a Muslim extremist. Messrs. Conn and Parker seem to find it disturbing that public opinion polls give Mr. San Diego a fifty-percent approval rating, as compared to the almost infinitesimal support shown for guys who aid al Qaeda, hijack airplanes, or attack American ships. Conn and Parker think the animal-rights “terrorist” belongs on the list.

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Posted by: The Editors
Category: Ross | Link to this Entry

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