Occu-Buy! Buy! Buy!

I’ve spent the past few days trying to sell off sections of my dad’s library, with little success. I thought I’d hit the jackpot when I found several 19th books, only to be told, somewhat apologetically, by a dealer in San Francisco that the memoirs of European adventurers in Africa are somewhat out of fashion these days. Fair enough. But it’s not just colonialist/imperialist literature that’s taken a hit. The rare and antique book markets have seen prices declining for years, and surely it’s telling when the International League of Antiquarian Booksellers (ILAB) is urging would-be investors to collect books for love and not for profit. Even the local used bookstores I’ve spoke to are inundated with more books than they can house and sell, and libraries are giving books away. This is not a good time to be trying to unloading hundreds of books.

By now you’re thinking this is about to turn into a spot of hand wringing about the state of literature, or publishing, or how Amazon is destroying the world. It’s not! I have something much better: rock-solid, well-researched investment advice*.

According to the dealer I spoke with in San Francisco, the most coveted items in his shop aren’t books at all but pamphlets put out by radical groups in the 1970s. You could be forgiven (just) for snickering to yourself that you’d expect nothing less from such a dealer. But the collectors of our more recent radical movements are already out, with several major institutions getting in on the act. Occupy ephemera is where it’s at. Even the City of Los Angeles recognized the moment and decided to preserve the murals curated by occupiers at city hall. You probably won’t have many chances to build an archive alongside the guy from the Smithsonian, but this could be one.

The ILAB’s advice to buy what you love applies here, as well. Aside from a few blockbuster items, the people who pay most for an old book or the ephemera of a movement are the ones with a personal connection to it. 99% is a lot of the population, after all, and a lot of them may be in the market for a momento.

*Not intended as a factual statement.

Only half the story

Last fall, Mac McClelland was in Haiti reporting for Mother Jones on the aftermath of the January 2010 earthquake. She caused a tempest in a tweetpot after live tweeting a day spent with a young woman seeking medical care after being gang raped in a camp. It was, as you would imagine, a horrific story. Reading it as it happened, in 140 character installments, was a bit like what I imagine getting kicked in the stomach repeatedly feels like. 140 characters doesn’t allow room for context, or room to breathe.

McClelland got a lot of criticism for telling the story the way she did. She was accused of a lack of journalistic integrity, rudeness, sensationalism, taking advantage of her subject and a lot else besides. If you trust a good journalist to be one across multiple media, much of it didn’t have much merit, though I’m not aiming to write a defense of the morality of the endeavor.

But I thought it was kind of great.

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I already agree with you, please don’t make things up

Matt Stoller has a new article on the evils of prison privatization, which I wholeheartedly agree with. An industry which considers a risk:

reductions in crime rates or resources dedicated to prevent and enforce crime could lead to reductions in arrests, convictions and sentences requiring incarceration at correctional facilities

pretty clearly does not have the best interests of, well, anyone at heart. Stoller’s article makes many familiar (and correct!) anti-privatization points, and frames his piece in response to a WSJ article about modern day debtors’ prisons from March. According to that article, there have been more than 5,000 arrest warrants signed for failure to pay debts, from January 2010 to March 2011 and interviews with judges across the country have said that “the number of borrowers threatened with arrest in their courtrooms has surged since the financial crisis began.” With that a springboard, Stoller asks

What is behind the increased pressure to incarcerate people with debts?  Is it a desire to force debt payment?  Or is it part of a new structure where incarceration is becoming increasingly the default tool to address any and all social problems?

Wha? There’s no indication in the article that there has been increased rate of warrants issued for debtors, only that more threats of arrests have been made since the start of the financial crisis. When more people have gotten into trouble with debt. Also, the WSJ quotes the owner of the largest publicly traded debt-buying company as saying they are specifically not looking to incarcerate people for nonpayment of debt.

With so many good arguments to marshall against privatization, I don’t get why Stoller chose this dubious one, based on a months old article at that. Surely this new report from the Justice Policy Insitute, released just this week, would have been a better hook.

The WSJ piece may be a more surprising and high-profile springboard than a think tank report, but when you have to misconstrue it to make your point, you’ve taken a wrong turn.


For every visiting academic who never stirs out of his bolt-hole in Westwood and comes back to tell us how the freeways divide communities because he has never experienced how they unite individuals of common interest…there will be half a dozen architects, artists or designers, photographers or musicians who decided to stay because it is still possible for them to do their thing.

-Reyner Banham

Not like other cities

Overheard in LA:

I know, it’s raining! Isn’t it exciting?

-Mother to small child