Book Reviews

            Lusty Lords of the Levee

Bathhouse John Coughlin did not see himself as a piece of disgusting shit. He saw himself as the founder of a new political order in Chicago. Basically, the creation of a country out of a former Indian wilderness seems a simple function of money. Everybody seems to respect the way money works. Alright, now we are off to the races developing what was then the interior of the country. I have verified it. This was before I realized I didn’t need cars. Then, I had one. I was driving around Ohio and also New York—that kind of thing. What I noticed were plaques commemorating the cities, towns and when they had been founded or created. Towns in Ohio go back to the l790s. In Chicago, a town developing itself anew,. A fucking FIRE wiped it out in 1871. Here we find the revered historical figure of John Coughlin, on his formative years, as child of Irish storekeeper: “Why, money didn’t mean anything to me. I’m glad that fire came along and burned the store. Say, if not for that bonfire I might have been a rich man’s son and gone to Yale—and never amounted to nothing!” This man is not revered today for his originality or his distinctive attitude.

I don’t think this man is all bad, I don’t. (And they really did talk like that in them days. You can verify it. Read “Maggie, Girl of the Streets.” This is an early novel of Stephen Crane. He was a good writer who would soon be famous for “The Red Badge of Courage.” Stephen Crane is one of the really good writers.)

Not only that but he was a good professor of economics, too, I’d say. The whole behavior pattern is interesting. Coughlin was not exactly respectable but I just keep getting the impression he isn’t/wasn’t all bad. Funny about that, huh? Well I know I am not going to be popular for sayin’ that.

Anyways, here is the economic theory of revered “Professor,” who is today among our most despised individuals and for whom we are, today, much, much too good. Not much for sublime and elevated culture, he used to enjoy cheating the trolley.

The self-righteous trolley driver would get all in a huff. For one of his young riders did not put enough fare in the box. That fare was a nickel, and the “prank favored by the Chicago boys in the late 70s” was that his friends would hand him short fare, only a few pennies. “[T]hese, a fraction [or some fraction] of the required five-cent fare, John would hastily deposit in the receptacle and the driver would invariably shout: “Hey, you, not enought!” [“t” added by some weird guy] You see there was only one single person to collect fares. For the driver was also conductor. “But he could not very well leave his horse to argue with the ponderous passenger [Coughlin a little on the big side].” De economist John shouts: “Th’ papers say there oughta be conductors! Whyn’t ya put on conductors if ya think we’re cheatin’?” Was it cheating? In retrospect it is kind of hard to say. maybe you agree. (And yes, they really did  talk that way so you’re just going to have to put up with it.)

So it really is the case that if Coughlin had become a “respectable person,” he wouldn’t have amounted to much. But try telling that to the newspapers.

If life is this perfect pristine paradise that some wish it to be, then yes someone like Coughlin is just shit. But what if life is a pile of shit? Then Coughlin isn’t so bad anymore. As for economic theory: What is it that makes for the decision to spend a little more? What causes the economy to add the job of conductor? Well, here’s de answer. It’s arbitrary. According to the recent one-volume R. Skidelsky book on Keynes, “Return of the Master”, Keynes, subject of the bio, had a view that an economy is not based on certainty, but rather uncertainty. What seems clear, to me, is that every dollar that is spent is also a dollar earned, or at least taken by somebody.

You can blow the bubble up as big as you like. Fuck the whole thing though, know what I mean? No: You do not know, and that is good. You self-righteous prig: You just stay that way—and support civilization. Civilization loves you madly; it needs you badly. Fuck off!

(Lusty Lords of the Levee. Original title in 1943.) (Now called: “Bosses in Lusty Chicago, the story of Bathhouse John and Hinky Dink.” I used the IU Press version; third printing, 1971; authors: Wendt and Kogan, intro. former Senator Paul H. Douglas. As Douglas says they acted “as the very human friends of people in poverty and trouble.” I guess I am trying to say  that, maybe so.)

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Anthony Wild’s book is coffee, or it is about: “Coffee; a dark history.” Wild here presents a sober and somber view of geo-political entanglements for the trade in coffee parallels our darling planet’s own passage. Over time. -from wilderness to an industrial capitalism that currently bespeaks an age of the whole globalization type of era. This swing into the global encompasses a contradiction.

The “dialectical contradictions” that live within encompass the global paradox. Here my idea is that everything is contradiction. For example, even as I sit here writing, I have just now, with computer as witness, consumed a bowl of Mexican-grown blackberries—or some kind of berries like that. But whatever I gained in pleasure not to mention in nutritive value, I lost in money. This it follows that the container, with berries with, that I purchased from the store, was two or three dollars; so, I lost and I gained. But in any case, it is not straightforward. Rather more like a contradiction—two things at once. Back in the natural it is work, to pull berries off a stem of a berry tree or berry bush, but that kind of work is natural. It is innocent work, but by contrast it is the global economic thing that operates as a contradiction.

A plastic container of blackberries is like a Potemkin village. Workers toil, markets set prices. Everything is a contradiction, life is like that.

It wasn’t always this way. No! Not when the human race was free and that too was when the coffee grew, wild. On trees. As mankind became enslaved to its contradictions, the dialectical contradictions involved in the coffee beans were slowly domesticated and the drug was used to stimulate the human neo-cortex to ever-greater feats of ingenuity and creativity as it struggled within its cage of contradiction.

And now a word from our sponsor, the Folgers Coffee Company…



In Melville’s time, scirveners are persons who write, in law offices. They write longhand, the ‘typers’ not having been yet created. Scriveners write longhand. Melville is not optimistic, idealist, or humorous—about business life in New York, circa 1850s. The story is “Bartleby.” It is a work of art. It seems that Melville had a knowledge of shipping, and as well business life. This is rather like Joseph Conrad, I would think so. Turning our minds to those of a dismal view of life, we might list as follows: Stephen Crane, Ambrose Beirce, and, Conrad: All make that list. Here, The final destination is not humor but rather literary, a very serious depiction of what life really is like, how it really is. He faces us up to what life really is, not an optimistic or upbeat version of the bourgeois existence.

Since the genre is “fiction,” it is not a scholarly treatise. On some level persons want to treat others kindly. This is one of the themes, in Melville’s version of life. There is a short, helpful note appended at the beginning by Dover Press that calls this “Christian charity” (thrift editions, 1990).

So Melville takes it seriously. The story is written in the 1850s. There is a lot of scientific advance. But none of it is going to make anyone happier. Melville’s is not the kind of literature that asks one to escape into a fantasy life


Why Liberals Win…

AT one time, quite a few persons believed in alligators, and wrestling them. Today, this is considered not cutting-edge enough. Cowboys who said the view of the Left was correct—the correct view?—have now become capitalists.
At the same time there were quite a few persons who declared the Right was the correct sort of view and you were better off with that. Around the corner of time we can still see old president Reagan. He overthrew the Soviet Union. All he had were his charismatic good looks, plus a tilt of the arched eyebrows. A lot of these former Left type people have now come around. They acknowledged that the socialist countries everywhere were dropping like flies, and subsequently there was a period in which capitalism looked pretty good for everybody. At that juncture, the conservatives had been fortified 12 ways. Capitalism, it was declared, had the upper hand. This lasted only a decade or so. This great motherfucking world capitalist-globalist system did not hold up any better than socialism did the day before. And now, as long last, we face global warming, and possible crisis, which is a problem, if it will melt the whole planet.
The party’s over, motherfucking capitalists: And your lethal cops cannot help you. They are shooting people in the street, calling it justified. Who are they shooting? Some enemy? Some persons – regardless of race – just don’t believe in your damn system, that you conservatives hold so dear.
So, they deserve death? So they think. For that is what the conservative “leaders” (e.g. Obama) tell us. They live in a charmed, upper-class world. The average person knows about reality. No, we do not like what the police do to us. But we are supposed to have no power, and only rich persons count. This process of tilting to an extreme is, after all, what the conservatives do. The imbecile tilts further and further Right; he goes totally insane.
Let us call an end to it. Or else, become English and “put paid” to it. Then there is the author Stephen Prothero. In his book “Why Liberals Win the Culture Wars,” Prothero tries to make a buck, and simultaneously give us details of how this “culture war” dialectic works. It works itself out historically in what are sometimes termed “culture wars” and it seems to be a process that can be traced back, historically. Unfortunately Prothero does not explain why we must endure this over, and over, and over again. But, what I get out of it is this. Liberals have to win. There isn’t any other choice. The future of the US/America is in a good liberalism, not a conservatism of any sort. This is also a problem of economics, and the equitable distribution of wealth. It has absolutely nothing to do with alligator-wrestling, but I just could not help myself. I needed to have some fun. The book is about a very interesting process that is continually at work in recent (200-yr. old) Western history.
All these persons—who are we that are involved in this? Who are the persons involved? It is all of us ‘People’ who are thrown together, in one country, and we have to work things out. We call the system “democracy,” and it is an ongoing, dynamic process.


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