Posts Tagged ‘Bob Moore’

Be ForeWarned!

Thursday, September 16th, 2010

“Tis’ the season for the subliminal and the over-the-top political ads,” ForeWord Reviews’ managing editor Kimber Bilby writes today in ForeWord This Week, an e-newsletter. “And they’re definitely getting to me because I’ve chosen two politically-inspired titles for our featured FTW reviews.”  And guess what?  Notes on Democracy: A New Edition is one of them!  No kidding!  We here at Dissident Books are mighty jazzed that the good folks at ForeWord thought to give a well-timed primary-week nod to Mencken’s Majestic Missive on the Mob and its Malice. 

And we’re very flattered that Notes is coupled with what appears to be a scorcher of a book: Lt. Matt Gallagher’s Kaboom: Embracing the Suck in a Savage Little War, a memoir of the war in Iraq.  “While Gallagher didn’t hold back his opinions, there is no mistaking the biting satire of noted social critic H.L. Mencken in Notes on Democracy.”  Take a minute to read what ForeWord has to say about Notes.  And while you’re at it, check out what it had to say about Dissident Books’ other epic, Don’t Call Me a Crook! A Scotsman’s Tale of World Travel, Whisky, and Crime.

“Speaking of democracy and freedom, Banned Books week is only two weeks away,” Bilby segues.  She invites readers to send in their answers to ForeWord’s “Banned Books Survey”:

1. What is the most popular banned book in your library/bookstore?
2. Number one question you’re asked about banned books?
3. What display or event received the most attention during Banned Books Week?

Off hand we can’t think of answers to these excellent questions, but we will say that Mencken fought censorship and Puritanism all his life.  Indeed, he was no stranger to censorship.  A Boston reverend tried to ban The American Mercury, Mencken’s magazine.  The Sage of Baltimore stood up to the Puritan, went to trial, and won.  Right on, Hank!

Notes on Democracy and the Jihad on Narcotics

Friday, April 30th, 2010

Nowadays Prohibition seems rather quaint.  It conjures flickering, grainy black-and-white images of silent movie stars, flappers, and Tommy gun-brandishing gangsters.  Even Prohibition’s goal—a sober, righteous America—has a decidedly outdated smack to all but the most militant teetotaler. 

But don’t mistake the Volstead Act for a mere historical curiosity.  It was a prolonged, destructive violation of personal freedoms.  Ironically, the law fostered chaos.  As Deborah Blum explains in “The Chemist’s War,” an article that appeared last February in Slate,

But people continued to drink—and in large quantities. Alcoholism rates soared during the 1920s; insurance companies charted the increase at more than 300 percent. Speakeasies promptly opened for business. By the decade’s end, some 30,000 existed in New York City alone. Street gangs grew into bootlegging empires built on smuggling, stealing, and manufacturing illegal alcohol. The country’s defiant response to the new laws shocked those who sincerely (and naively) believed that the amendment would usher in a new era of upright behavior.

(Incidentally, for a firsthand account of fun and games under Prohibition, including rum-running, tending bar in a speakeasy, and shootouts with rival bootleggers, turn to Don’t Call Me a Crook! by Bob Moore.  As obnoxious as Moore is, one reason I like him so much is his utter refusal to be controlled, whether by oppressive bosses, rich women, or Prohibitionists.)

Despite the law, Americans continued to pursue the forbidden pleasure.  Sound familiar?  Make no mistake, Prohibition exists today.

And as with yesterday’s Prohibition, it’s not just that there’s laws proscribing pot and other narcotics.  They’re enforced with a vast security apparatus, paid for with billions of our tax dollars.  The Home of the Brave and the Land of the Free has more citizens in its prisons than any other nation, largely because of its Jihad on Narcotics.  It’s not enough that statutes are on the books: they must be enforced with the zeal of true believers and people jealous of their government salaries.

Of course, the effects are never, ever what were intended.  Just as Al Capone and his peers grew rich and powerful through bootlegging, we’ve seen the rise of well-armed gangs, narco-terrorists, and the Taliban, all flush with lucre from drug sales.

Then as now, lawmakers’ response to proscription’s unexpected consequences was the same: full steam ahead.  Indeed, the effort must be intensified.  Harass citizens?  Jail offenders?  No, that’s not enough.  Poison the juice and its imbibers.

Blum explains that when Uncle Sam stemmed the flow of smuggled Canadian hooch, gangsters stole industrial alcohol and redistilled it to make it palatable.  Industrial alcohol is essentially grain alcohol with some disagreeable additives to render it distasteful.  As crooks slaked America’s thirst with redistilled firewater, the government reacted by telling producers to pump chemicals into industrial alcohol.

Gangsters met the challenge by recruiting chemists to “renature” the purloined rotgut and render it consumable.  Washington, in all its infinite wisdom and compassion, in turn demanded manufacturers pump more poisons into the mix.

By mid-1927, the new denaturing formulas included some notable poisons—kerosene and brucine (a plant alkaloid closely related to strychnine), gasoline, benzene, cadmium, iodine, zinc, mercury salts, nicotine, ether, formaldehyde, chloroform, camphor, carbolic acid, quinine, and acetone. The Treasury Department also demanded more methyl alcohol be added—up to 10 percent of total product. It was the last that proved most deadly.

It wasn’t long until the inevitable results came in:

In 1926, in New York City, 1,200 were sickened by poisonous alcohol; 400 died. The following year, deaths climbed to 700. These numbers were repeated in cities around the country as public-health officials nationwide joined in the angry clamor. Furious anti-Prohibition legislators pushed for a halt in the use of lethal chemistry. “Only one possessing the instincts of a wild beast would desire to kill or make blind the man who takes a drink of liquor, even if he purchased it from one violating the Prohibition statutes,” proclaimed Sen. James Reed of Missouri.

Readers of Notes on Democracy will recall H. L. Mencken’s words of praise for Reed.  “Normally, no American government would engage in such business. … It is only in the curious fanaticism of Prohibition that any means, however barbarous, are considered justified,” the Chicago Tribune observed in 1927.

That’s right.  Fanaticism.  It was the driver then as it is now.  Two passages from Notes on Democracy sum it up:

Our laws are invented, in the main, by frauds and fanatics, and put upon the statute books by poltroons and scoundrels.

Under the pressure of fanaticism, and with the mob complacently applauding the show, democratic law tends more and more to be grounded upon the maxim that every citizen is, by nature, a traitor, a libertine, and a scoundrel.  In order to dissuade him from his evil-doing the police power is extended until it surpasses anything ever heard of in the oriental monarchies of antiquity.

Incidentally, if you think official and deliberate tainting of illegal substances is the stuff of nearly a century ago, think again.  In the 1970s the U.S. sprayed Mexican marijuana fields with an herbicide named Paraquat.  Blum relates that its

use was primarily intended to destroy crops, but government officials also insisted that awareness of the toxin would deter marijuana smokers. They echoed the official position of the 1920s—if some citizens ended up poisoned, well, they’d brought it upon themselves. Although Paraquat wasn’t really all that toxic, the outcry forced the government to drop the plan. Still, the incident created an unsurprising lack of trust in government motives, which reveals itself in the occasional rumors circulating today that federal agencies, such as the CIA, mix poison into the illegal drug supply.

I’m not the only one who sees a parallel between the yesterday’s and today’s crusades against intoxication and finds Notes on Democracy a valuable commentary on both.  Robert McHenry, former editor-in-chief of Encyclopaedia Britannica and author of How to Know, writes this week that

Prohibition is a comfortable 80 years in our past, of course, so we can read [Notes on Democracy's] passionate denunciation of it with equanimity, even smugness. A terrible idea, based on false premises and conducted ruthlessly, that left the country far worse off than it was to begin with. Yet simply substitute “War on Drugs” for “Prohibition,” and see what you think.

McHenry says that Mencken in Notes ”performed vivisection on the dogma underlying the American political system and revealed the offal within.”

As Mencken loathed Prohibition, he would’ve detested the War on Drugs, and not just for its infringement on liberty.  Mencken would’ve perceived democracy’s stunting influence at work:  Because addicts can’t handle wine or cocaine responsibly, the healthy are barred from enjoying them.  The same force was at work when the FCC went after Howard Stern

The censors wield their red pens, defending the weak’s delicate ears from profane words.  But what of those of us who don’t take offense at Stern’s ramblings?  How truly free are you when you can’t partake of simple pleasures like smoking a joint or listening to uncensored talk on the radio?

It all fairness to democracy, everyone knows other systems are often repressive.  Actually, they tend to be even more restrictive.  But what’s particularly galling about democracy is that by its very nature it allows and encourages small but focused groups—Prohibitionists, for example—to direct the nation.  As Mencken observes in Notes on Democracy

Some of these minorities have developed a highly efficient technique of intimidation.  They not only know how to arouse the fears of the mob; they also know how to awaken its envy, its dislike of privilege, its hatred of its betters.  How formidable they may become is shown by the example of the Anti-Saloon League in the United States—a minority body in the strictest sense, however skillful its mustering of popular support, for it nowhere includes a majority of the voters among its subscribing members, and its leaders are nowhere chosen by democratic methods.  And how such minorities may intimidate the whole class of place-seeking politicians has been demonstrated brilliantly and obscenely by the same corrupt and unconscionable organization.  It has filled all the law-making bodies of the nation with men who have got into office by submitting cravenly to its dictation, and it has filled thousands of administrative posts, and not a few judicial posts, with vermin of the same sort.

Certainly it’s possible for a determined minority to persuade a king or dictator, but it’s got just one shot, so to speak.  The potentate either approves or dismisses the petition: end of story.  But in a democracy, if the minority is driven and well-funded enough, chances are it’ll succeed, no matter how insane its goal.  Politicians need money and votes.  If a lobby offers them, it’s got your representatives’ ears more than you can ever hope.

This is not a libertarian rant.  I don’t see government as inherently evil.  Living in a community means making compromises.  But something is very wrong when there’s more resources invested into forbidding adults from indulging in whatever pleasures they choose than fostering science and culture.  As Mencken points out elsewhere in Notes, although liberty is “the very cornerstone of its political metaphysic,” democracy “always seems bent upon killing the thing it theoretically loves.”

Booklust returns and reviews “Don’t Call Me a Crook!”

Thursday, September 24th, 2009

You might recall my August 23 post (“Booklust takes ‘Don’t Call Me a Crook!’ on a trip”).  Well, Booklust is back, and has written a review of Bob Moore’s pickled, globetrotting and illegal memoirs.  We’re pretty stroked to see she gave it a rating of 7.5 out of 10–not bad!  Personally, we think Mr. Moore’s memoirs rate an 11 out of 10, but we have an admittedly biased opinion.  “I don’t know if there are any thoroughly unapologetic, charmingly devious con men out there in the world like him any more,” Booklust writes.  “The author embodied the spirit of the Roaring 20s, of a world thrilled to be done with WWI and happily ignoring the inevitability of WWII, a world that had not reached the Great Depression, and was riding high on waves of lawlessness and corruption on the cusp of the modern age. . . .  It’s hard to admire him, but it’s impossible to dislike him. He has a certain roguish, rakish charm.”

Booklust also comments wisely on Moore’s racism.  In the book’s third part, “Mitchell and China,” “Moore’s racism and bigotry shine through a little too much for my liking,” she remarks. “However, it made the book very real. I think now, a lot of historical fiction tends to glaze over the racial relations of the past, sidestepping the complications and possible negative reactions that those situations can create. But when you read books that were written in those eras, by people who lived them. . .  well, it’s just there. Innate. In the pores, as it were. Yes, it is hard to read, but it’s worse to ignore it, and worst to pretend it never happened, I think. Moore had opinions and he stuck by them, regardless of how narrow-minded or slippery his ideas were. I can’t help but respect a man who sticks to his guns. And when he does it in such a hilariously self-righteous and interesting manner. . . well, that just makes the going that much easier.”

We completely agree.  How often in movies and books about the past do you find whitewashing of discrimination and strife?  The good old days weren’t so good.  Like today, there was hatred and racism.  Like Booklust, we prefer reality to lies.

Booklust ends her review with an equally perceptive summary: “Don’t Call Me a Crook is a fun and interesting look at what life was like for the working class of the 1920s–unapologetic, realistic and true, it sheds light on what must have been a fascinating time to be alive.”  She’s absolutely right to stress that Don’t Call Me a Crook! is a proletarian memoir.  As The Scotsman (Edinburgh) pointed out, “Moore’s book is one of relatively few accounts looking at the Roaring Twenties from the point of view of a Scot who was, if hardly at the bottom of the social order, at least not born with a silver spoon in his gob.”  It might break the hearts of politically correct folks to read that a laboring man didn’t feel class solidarity (just the opposite: he wanted your job!), and saw the world through a sexist, racist, and greedy lens, but that’s their problem.  Again, we’ll take truth over fairy tales.

From Associated Press: “Cops: Man steals woman’s car on first date”

Sunday, August 30th, 2009

From Associated Press, updated 11:43 p.m. ET, Sat., Aug 29, 2009

FERNDALE, Michigan – A first date went from bad to worse when a man skipped out on the restaurant bill, then stole his date’s car, police said.

Police say 23-year-old Terrance Dejuan McCoy had dinner with a woman April 24 at Buffalo Wild Wings in the Detroit suburb of Ferndale. The woman said the two met a week earlier at a Detroit casino and she knew McCoy only as “Chris.”

The woman told police that McCoy said he left his wallet in her car and asked for keys. He then sped away in the 2000 Chevrolet Impala.

Not terribly romantic…  A descendant of Bob Moore, perhaps?  Same sense of chivalry.

For more click here.

Booklust takes “Don’t Call Me a Crook!” on a trip

Sunday, August 23rd, 2009

Booklust takes Don’t Call Me a Crook! with her on a trip to India!  Bon voyage!

How appropriate to bring the globetrotting Bob Moore on a voyage halfway across the earth…  But should you really trust him as a traveling companion?

The Washington-Baghdad-New York Musical Express (with a stopover in Noirville)

Thursday, August 13th, 2009

I took a quick trip to Washington, D.C. earlier this week.  Washington is such an underrated city.  There are no great songs about it and there are no cinematic encomiums to it the way there are to London, Paris, and New York, not to mention Los Angeles.   But Washington was, and is, a gas.  Its museums are second to none, its architecture is breathtaking, and its subway system is futuristic and immaculate.  What’s not to love?

On my train rides there and back, I listened to Choubi Choubi! Folk and Pop Sounds from Iraq, a compilation of Iraqi pop music from 1980s up through 2000The music is so good it’s outrageous.  Some of it sounds like techno with its funky, staccato drums.  The linear notes explain that while the percussion might sound electronic, and sometimes is, it’s typically a hand-drum called the khishba, also known as the zanbour (Arabic for “wasp”).  Any of these songs would sound great on a dance floor.

Choubi Choubi! also features “1970s Socialist Folk-Rock” by a singer named Ja’afar Hassan.  To my ears his songs are more like mid-1960s garage rock, particularly with what sounds like a caterwauling Farfisa.  I also really dig his enormous Dylan/Hendrix afro.

After my happy experience with Choubi!, I’ll turn to Sublime Frequencies, the compilation’s label, to satisfy further my exotic auditory needs.  (That sounds lewd.)  With titles like 1970′s Algerian Proto-Rai Underground, Radio Myanmar (Burma), and Sumatran Folk Cinema DVD, how can you go wrong?  On its website, the label says that:

SUBLIME FREQUENCIES is a collective of explorers dedicated to acquiring and exposing obscure sights and sounds from modern and traditional urban and rural frontiers via film and video, field recordings, radio and short wave transmissions, international folk and pop music, sound anomalies, and other forms of human and natural expression not documented sufficiently through all channels of academic research, the modern recording industry, media, or corporate foundations. SUBLIME FREQUENCIES is focused on an aesthetic of extra-geography and soulful experience inspired by music and culture, world travel, research, and the pioneering recording labels of the past including OCORA, SMITHSONIAN FOLKWAYS, ETHNIC FOLKWAYS, LYRICHORD, NONESUCH EXPLORER, MUSICAPHONE, BARONREITER, UNESCO, PLAYASOUND, MUSICAL ATLAS, CHANT DU MONDE, B.A.M., TANGENT, and TOPIC.

On my train rides I also read Peter Rabe’s Anatomy of a Killer.  It’s great, but sometimes I find it a little confusing.  The language itself is simple and direct, but there’s frequent and abrupt changes in perspective.  Nevertheless, so far  it’s strong noir: quick, brutal, and unsentimental. 

I also like it for its mundane settings: a Pennsylvania mining town, a bowling alley, a seedy nightclub.  I want art to transport me somewhere, anywhere–it can be someplace unfamiliar like a Baghdad tearoom, or a rundown coffee shop.  I like the trip–the destination is secondary.  Although, yes, part of Choubi Choubi!‘s fascination is its foreignness, but it couldn’t hold me on that alone.  The music itself grabbed me.

I’m reminded of why I love Don’t Call Me a Crook!  It’s a voyage through Bob Moore’s world.  Sometimes he sails to  to strange places like Alexandria and Shanghai, and other times he’s making trouble in humdrum towns like Hoboken and Glasgow.  It doesn’t matter.  It’s the trip that’s interesting: the places he sees, the women he tricks, the booze he guzzles.  What would Bob make of Choubi Choubi!?  Not a lot, I’m afraid.  It wasn’t European, much less Harry Lauder, “Land of My Fathers,” or “I Belong to Glasgow” so I’m sure he would’ve dismissed it as noise.  But that’s Bob’s problem, not mine.

Andre the Giant: Wrestling King, Booze God

Saturday, August 1st, 2009

I just finished reading this wonderful piece on Andre the Giant from Modern Drunkard magazine.  I never was that into the guy before, but now I’m a real fan.  I love him the same way I love Bob Moore: he was lusty, crazy, and full of life …  and alcohol.  Imagine if the author of Don’t Call Me a Crook! and the Gigantic Andre met for an imbibing match…  Whoa, the mind reels.  Methinks that Andre would sip Bobby under the table, but hey, that’s no disgrace.  We’re talking about Andre.

What I Found at BEA!

Wednesday, June 3rd, 2009

In the spirit of going to press (or to pixels) while the story is still hot, for the next week or two I’ll be telling you about interesting books and programs I learned of at BEA this past week.  (Yes, yes, I know could’ve begun writing of them sooner, like the very minute was told of their names!  But you have to understand, BEA was frantic!  But more to the point, I need to get into a Web 2.0 frame of mind.  That was my take-away from BEA.  Soon we’ll be speaking of Web 3.0, and even of a post-Web world.  Yikes!)  I’ve not read any of these books yet: I’m simply telling you about them because from what I’ve read on their covers (forget the proverb) and flipping through their pages they look compelling.

The Official Heavy Metal Book of Listsby Eric Danville, illustrations by Cliff Mott, and foreward by Lemmy, US$19.95, BackBeat Books, release date September 2009.  I met Eric at the booth of his publisher, Backbeat Books.  He was wearing a “Venom/Welcome to Hell” tee-shirt and I immediately exclaimed “Great band!  Great album!”  Eric is a wonderful conversationalist about all things metallic.  And his book?  It’s fantastic!  Who can resist a tome with entries like “Rock Bottom: Metalheads Arrested for Being Drunk in Public,” “The Song Retains The Name: 15 Unusual Metal Cover Bands” (I especially like “Cookie Mongoloid,” a band that plays speed metal versions of Sesame Street songs), and “Phil Campbell of Motorhead’s List of Six Things You’ll Never See in a Motorhead Dressing Room” (No. 1:  ”A coffee machine.”)  See http://www.amazon.com/gp/product/0879309830 and http://www.myspace.com/theheavymetalbookoflists.

Torture at the Back Forty: The Gang Rape and Slaying of Margaret Anderson, by Mike Dauplaise, $12.95, TitletTown Publishing LLC, released dated August 7, 2009 and Run at Destruction: A True Fatal Love Triangle by Lynda Drews, $15.95, TitleTown Publishing LLC  I met Tracy C. Ertl, publisher of true-crime house TitleTown, at the booth of our mutual distributor, Midpoint Trade Books.  She and I immediatley hit it off.  We agreed that readers of Don’t Call Me a Crook! A Scotsman’s Tale of World Travel, Whisky, and Crime should know about TitleTown’s offerings and vice versa.  I gave Tracy a copy of Don’t Call Me a Crook! and she passed to me a Torture at the Back Forty sampler and a finished copy of Run at Destruction.  They both look like very intense books.  Torture in particular looks harrowing:

The true story of the murder of Margaret Anderson, raped on a pool table and left for dead on a manure pile.  Though nearly beheaded, the single mother fought hard for her life, but in the end Margaret died….  Author Mike Dauplaise practically makes the reader feel Margaret’s breath as he recreates the night she was killed….  Dauplaise even interviewed Margaret Anderson’s convicted killer, and exposes the motorcycle-gang culture of the 1980s to reveal what was done to Margaret….

Run at Destruction seems to offer a similarly intimate, horrifying read.  Pam and Bob Bulik were teachers and long-distance runners.  Bob began an affair.   Pam ended up dead.   The book is penned by her best friend.  See http://titletownpublishing.com/shop/article_3/Torture-at-the-Back-Forty.html?shop_param=cid%3D3%26aid%3D3%26 and http://titletownpublishing.com/shop/article_4/Run-at-Destruction.html?shop_param=cid%3D3%26aid%3D4%26

Family Secrets: The Case That Crippled the Chicago Mobby Jeff Coen, US24.95/CAN27.95  I was so jazzed Chicago Review Press gave me a copy of this Sunday afternoon.  As someone who loves Chicago and is fascinated by crooks, this book beckoned to me like a painted woman to a sailor on leave after a two-month voyage.  Or something like that.  From the front flap:

Even in Chicago, a city steeped in mob history and legend, the Family Secrets case was a true spectacle when it made it to court in 2007.  A top mob boss, a reputed consigliere, and other high-profile members of the Chicago Outfit were accused in a total of eighteen gangland killings, revealing organized crime’s ruthless grip on the city throughout the 1960s, 1970s, and 1980s.

Painting a vivid picture of murder, courtroom drama, and family loyalties and disloyalties, journalist Jeff Coen accurately portrays the Chicago Outfit’s cold-blooded–and sometimes incompetent–killers and their crimes in the case that brought them down.

Sounds fascinating.  As some of you might know, Bob Moore, author of Don’t Call Me a Crook!, spent a lot of time in Chicago in the 1920s, and speaks about gangsters and the city’s rampant crime.  He even spots Al Capone’s car escorted by two “speed cops” to clear the way for the great man! 

See:  http://www.amazon.com/Family-Secrets-Case-Crippled-Chicago/dp/1556527810/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&s=books&qid=1244078423&sr=1-1 and http://chicagoist.com/2009/05/19/interview_the_tribunes_jeff_coen_re.php