The Book Stalls of Al-Mutunabbi Street

Al-Mutanabbi Street Starts Here: Marking the Anniversary of a Disaster in Iraq
For my part, I think it’s important to try to remember all of it, to remember as much as we can reasonably hold in our hearts and minds.
by
Claudia Lefko

A car bomb exploded on Al-Mutanabbi Street in Baghdad on March 5, 2007. Thirty people were killed and an estimated one hundred others were wounded. Car bombings were common in Iraq in those terrible an terrifying years. So many bombings over so many years, they barely made the news here in the US.

But the bombing on Al-Mutanabbi Street got the public’s attention. The street is a cultural, literary and intellectual hub famous for its print shops, book stores, book stalls and cafes. The bomb destroyed the famous Al-Shabandar Cafe, killing four sons and a grandson of the owner, Mohammed Al-Khashali, the cafe’s owner, the great-great-great-grandson of the original 1917 owner. The dead and injured might respectfully be considered as collateral damage here, because the target—what was targeted for destruction—was ideas, culture, words and books, freedom of expression. This struck a nerve. People, maybe especially activists, artists, poets and writers, took notice, San Francisco poet and bookseller Beau Beausoleil responded by organizing Al-Mutanabbi Street Starts Here, an ongoing project calling on writers and artists around the country and the world to respond on the anniversary of the bombing each year. This year, the eleventh year of the project, there will be some thirty readings and exhibits in cities around the country and around the world: in New York and San Francisco, in Baghdad, Paris, London and Dublin; in New Delhi, India and Craigieburn, a suburb of Melbourne, Australia to name a few.

“Why remember? Why commemorate this particular event when there has been so much mayhem, death and destruction in Iraq over the last three decades.”

I’ve heard people wonder about this project. Why remember? Why commemorate this particular event when there has been so much mayhem, death and destruction in Iraq over the last three decades. After affirming the value of life , the significance of so many lives lost and altered, someone in the audience will inevitably and rightfully suggest that an act of destruction targeting a community or a country’s history, culture and ideas is more worrisome. Such an act, poses an existential threat. Yes, fair enough.

For my part, I think it’s important to try to remember all of it, to remember as much as we can reasonably hold in our hearts and minds. Understanding what has happened to Iraq and Iraqis over the last thirty years helps to understand Iraq as it is today, and Iraqis. It’s easy to forget, and many people have forgotten, their minds and hearts filled with concerns about other—new and ongoing—wars.

George Bush the senior launched the First Gulf War on January 19, 1991; four days later the US and allied forces announced they had flown more than 12,000 bombing missions. That massive bombing campaign essentially destroyed the country. In his report some weeks after the war “ended” UN Under-Secretary-General Martti Ahtisaari wrote: “Nothing that we had seen or read had quite prepared us for the particular form of devastation which had befallen the country… Iraq has, for some time to come, been relegated to a pre-industrial age, but with all the disabilities of post-industrial dependency on an intensives use of energy and technology.”

On February 13, 1991—on the 28th consecutive day of intense bombing in Baghdad —a “bunker-busting smart bomb” crashed through the roof of the Al-Amariyah bomb shelter killing an estimated 400 women, girls and young boys. Men and older boys—fathers, grandfathers, brothers and sons—had left for the night, leaving their wives, mothers, sisters, sons and grandsons in imagined safety.

The second Gulf War and the invasion of Iraq began on March 20 , 2003 with the now infamous Shock and Awe campaign. Whatever was left of infrastructure, electric grids and water systems was further damaged or destroyed in this second assault on the country.

My own short list barely scratches the surface of infamous events and dates, but it gives you an idea. Still, despite decades of tragedies, miraculously but of necessity, life goes on. Al-Khashali rebuilt the Shabandar Cafe and reopened it for business in 2008. He told reporters, he didn’t want to “…dwell on the past.”

“Life is returning in Baghdad, but it is not the same life. It is changed beyond belief and beyond recognition…”

It’s difficult to imagine the strength needed to undertake rebuilding given the enormity of his losses that day. But time, as everyone knows doesn’t stop for these tragedies; it moves on. Evidence of death and destruction is cleaned up. Rubble is removed, people’s bodies are buried and put to rest. Buildings are rebuilt. Order is restored.

Life is returning in Baghdad, but it is not the same life. It is changed beyond belief and beyond recognition, not for young people, but for Iraqis who came of age before the 1991 war, who survive and continue to live and work in the country—by choice or by default. Education in Iraq was mandatory for both girls and boys, and free through university. Now, this country, once recognized for having one of the highest literacy rates in the world is facing significant illiteracy, especially for women and girls. A country that once had free health care and a top-notch system of hospitals and clinics, with excellent medical schools, is struggling with crumbling hospitals and outdated equipment, struggling to train doctors and nurses and to keep them working in a still- dysfunctional Iraqi medical system; struggling to meet the basic medical needs of its people. Suffering goes on and on and on, for the most-part out of sight and out of mind of the international community.

Think about Iraq and Iraqis on March 5, remember Al-Mutanabbi Street. Think again on March 20. Try to remember what has happened to Iraq and Iraqis, to Syria and Syrians—to the world—as a result of that invasion. Make a vow to work to put an end to war, an end to war-making technology and research, an end to the preparation, governmental consent and execution of war—demand an end to all wars around the globe.

(Article reprinted from www.CommonDreams.org)

FBI Targeted Black Independent Bookstores

The Atlantic Magazine Exposes Massive FBI Operation

A major piece in The Atlantic Magazine, by Joshua Clark Davis, has exposed the FBI’s operations against Black and African-American bookstores.  Launched in 1968 by J. Edgar Hoover, the still mainly secret program sent out squads of Feds to snoop on Black-owned book shops, to find out how “extremist” they were.  To read this entire story CLICK HERE.

The FBI played dirty tricks on the Black Panthers and other Black Power groups.  Hoover sent his men to infiltrate the various groups,  One particular book, by Earl Anthony, called “Spitting in the Wind” tells the story of how the FBI blackmailed him to be an informant, and supplied him with drugs (marijuana) instead of pay.  His job was to spy on the Bllack Panthers.

Mr. Anthony, in his book, also relates how the CIA. worked with the FBI to “turn” the Black Power movement to “Pan-Africanism”.  The CIA wanted to re-focus attention of Black Americans from domestic problems and discrimination and push them to be involved in their African Heritage.  This included recruiting young Black men to fight in various CIA sponsored secret wars in Africa.  To this end, Mr. Anthony was sent to Africa to meet various leaders and provide information on the Pan-African movement. Meanwhile, at home in the US, Pan-Africanism was given a boost,  with many festivals and events that diverted attention from the grinding poverty and cultural problems that were being addressed by The Black Panther Party and other domestic self-help organizations.

This book is fairly scarce, as the publisher was driven out  of business by a lawsuit against another book they had published on the Robert F. Kennedy assassination.

Should Barnes and Noble Go Back To The Malls?

The Stock Popped at Over $30 in 2006 But Has Been on a Long Slide Ever Since.

Should They Embrace an Old Strategy For a Come-Back?

by Paul Hunt

Dateline: Los Angeles,

February 2, 2018

Barnes & Noble is in trouble. The stock price, as of today, has dropped below $5.00 to $4.65. Contrast this with their monopoly competitor amazon.com, which has topped to $1,429.95 per share. Some, maybe most would say that this is an unfair comparison, because we don’t know exactly what book sales at amazon really contribute to their overall well-being. There has always been a great suspicion over the years that book sales have lost a lot of money, even though the stock kept creeping up. Now that amazon sells everything on earth to everyone on earth, the money is pouring in to their coffers. They have also signed significant sweetheart deals with the C.I.A. and the U.S. Defense Department, worth potentially billions of dollars.

So the big question for Barnes & Noble is: What the heck to do? They need to do something, because their path at the moment is leading them into the swamp at the bottom of boot hill. Their position in the retail market is shrinking badly, not necessarily because of them doing bad things, but mostly because rents in the good markets are skyrocketing and pricing them out, forcing B & N to close their superstores in some of the most lucrative cities.

One crazy idea would be to go back to the malls. At one time they had hundreds of bookshops in the malls across America. Maybe it is time to rethink this. Many malls, even in great markets like Los Angeles, may now offer reasonable rents, because the malls themselves are having trouble keeping big chains, many of which were sucker-punched by the exploding on-line sales and slaughtered by the amazon colossus.

Barnes and Noble might be able to maintain a presence in the big cities where they have lost superstores, like Pasadena, Encino, and Santa Monica, California, by opening smaller stores in the area malls. The key to this strategy would be three-fold:

First, it would still give them a presence in the great retail book markets.

Second, by having lots of book signings and events, they could keep retail traffic flowing to their stores in the malls, where another benefit is usually abundant parking.

Third, they integrate their online efforts to be mutually supporting to both their online communities and retail stores, something they already do quite well, but when the superstore closes it kills the symbiotic relationship.

Is there still time? Their stock price has been falling fast. They are closing some great locations due to high rents, and thereby losing market share. Their efforts to put wine bars and restaurants inside some stores is misguided to say the least. Some would say just stupid. If you want to look for a business that is harder than selling books it has to be the restaurant business, where a 90% failure rate is a standard.

In the past, the used book stores were a great fit with the bookstores that sold new books, be they independent, the old Crown books, Pickwick, B. Dalton, Waldenbooks, Borders, or Barnes and Noble. With everyone now scrambling for the crumbs dropped by amazon, it’s time for some bold moves. Amazon is always engaged to pushing even its own vendors to the side, by their “Fulfillment by amazon.” program. They eventually want a monopoly on all book sales in the world, both new, used and remainders. It will take a mighty effort of thousands of independent bookselllers to fight this. Will the last national big chain of bookstores, Barnes and Noble be able to survive this onslaught? Or are we all doomed to live in the monopolistic fantasy of Bezos world? Amazon.com is now recognized by many business experts as the most ruthless business corporation that was ever in existence, surpassing the British East India Company.

Jeff Bezos, amazon’s “Oligarch”, is the richest person in history, his recent wealth estimated at over 118 billion dollars. That’s a pretty damned big deal, folks. The book business is only a small part of amazon, now being overshadowed by selling everything on earth at its online platform, Amazon now is in the grocery business, with Whole Foods Markets, has investments in google, air bnb, the Washington Post, movie and television studios, Audible, the largest producer and retailer of audio books, Twitch, online gaming, IMDB internet entertainment database, Kindle, Echo, Zappos (shoes), Abebooks.com (used books) and much, much more. If the independent booksellers can devise strategies to push back, it will give the rest of the world’s business community some hope that they too might be able to survive.

The Bookseller’s Bell of Doom Rings For Barnes and Noble in Santa Monica, CA

Huge Rent Increase Forces Flagship Store to Close Its Doors

by Paul Hunt

 

Dateline: January 11, 2018

Today was the sad ending for the beautiful Barnes and Noble book store in Santa Monica.  At the end of a 20 year lease, they faced a large rent increase that made the profitability of the store impossible,  Everyone has heard of the expression “Greedy Landlords”.  In many areas, the wonder is that there is any room left for ever more rent increases before the commercial and retail locations just shut down.  The rent-increase euphoria that has seized the corporate real estate world is mind-boggling.  They must be led by younger folks, with no past memory.

Midnight Special

There are many factors driving this insanity.  Remember the old Midnight Special book store on the Prominade?  The store was a leftist carnival, a literary beacon for the Progressives.  The building was owned by an old guy who was, let’s say, beyond “progressive”.  He kept the rent down and let the store flourish.  I don’t remember any store quite like it, and if you dug politics you were in socialist paradise.  Then the old ownier died or went into a long-term care facility.  The owner’s “kids” (not so young as the owner was in his 90s as I remember), got an offer they couldn’t refuse.  A major clothing company offered to pay around $45,000 per month rent.  The Midnight Special was paying about $5,000 at the time, so  guess what happened?  The “kids” got a windfall.  The progressives got the capitalist boot.  The kicker is that the clothing company, Levis, did not look at it as a retail store.  They considered it as a “billboard”, a place to showcase their jeans.  Compared to a two-minute television commercial in the Los Angeles market, the retail space is cheap, even at the outrageious price they are paying. So how can any bookstore compete with that?

Here is a blast from the past, an old timer shouting out to the current real estate corporations.  I am probably not the only one who remembers the Third Street Prominade in the 1980s.  Most of the stores were empty or filled with third rate shops, none special or exciting.  The Prominade was dead.  It was packed with homeless people.  It was a little scary, with a lot of crime. Think it can’t happen again?

Bad Times in San Jose

The bad times are forgotten by the next generation, especially if they didn’t have to live through them as adults.  Back in the 1960’s there was a terrible recession in California.  I had a sales job that took me around the State.  L.A. was “economic bad,” but when I got into San Jose, I was floored.  Miles of businesses were gone, hundreds of them empty, closed down.  Supermarkets gone, huge shopping malls gone, car dealers gone.  Miles of recession devestation, an economic disaster. Driving down the main drag was like driving into the end of a Zombie movie.   So be advised, it can and might happen here.

The Barnes and Noble store in Santa Monica was a beautiful bookstore.  It had three levels, elevators, escalators, great lighting, and a stunning design.  The event room on the second level was the best I have seen in a book store, a mini-auditorium where many great authors came to discuss their works and sign books.  We filmed there on occassion.

In other articles on BookStoreMemories, we have covered some of the issues that have impacted B & N:  the online monopoly amazon.com being the main culprit, the destroyer of bookstores.  But  B & N has itself made many past mistakes that go into the mix. We are nevertheless sad to see Barnes and Noble close their Santa Monica store, it was a wonderful store and a great place to shop.   There is now a literary hole in the soul of Santa Monica.

Video Tour of Barnes & Noble Booksellers on the last day, Click Below:

 

Wall Street Site Questions Barnes & Noble

B & N Revenue Plunges From 6.75 Billion to 3.89 Billion Yet Still Paying An 8% Dividend – Big Shareholders Suckiing Out $$$$ ?

Seeking Alpha, a critical wall street and financial website, has questioned Barnes and Noble’s continuous dividend payout yielding 8%, asking if this is sustainable during recent huge drops in revenue.  Read the entire article, CLICK HERE.

Some comments on Barnes and Noble and Amazon for historiical background as follows (not part of the Seeking Alpha article):

B & N in past years made more bottom line money on the game business they purchased. The game sector, which was around 10% of revenue threw off about 90% of the profit. This has changed, but shows that their costs of selling books was always higher than the thousands of independent booksellers that they muscled out of business with the superstore fad. They failed to exploit their lead in the game business, which is now mainly online. They also failed years ago to play fair with the used book market when they had a chance to make a great deal with a company called abebooks. So guess who finally swooped in to buy abebooks? You guessed it, amazon, which now has a basic monopoly on online used book sales. B & N’s partnership with European giants in barnesandnoble.com also went south with huge losses until they were forced to buy out their Euro partners. 20 years of bad decisions has led to this moment. Is the high dividend just the mechanizim for big shareholders to suck the carcass dry?

Pickwick to B. Dalton to Barnes & Noble to Gone Forever.

Nobody wants to look under the hood of the B & N engine, where you would find that the 8 cylinder engine is down to 4. For instance, in Southern California, they have closed many of their best store locations. Gone is B & N from Pasadena in the Old Town District, gone is B & N from the Encino area of Ventura Blvd. And don’t forget the huge loss they got when they bought B. Dalton books, which operated 798 stores in malls across America. Their mis-management closed all of them, including the big Hollywood Boulevard Store that was called Pickwick Bookshop that B. Dalton had bought. How soon you all forget the decades of bad management, probably over 1,000 stores closed, the thousands of employees laid off, the financial losses to shareholders, the mess with the European media giants in BarnesandNoble.com. The question is really: Was B & N a stock fraud for the last 20 years, or just the worst management ever seen?

Barnes and Noble does a lot of things right. They have great selection. They have a nice clean website. They have a lot going for them with Nook, self-publishing, and many other strategies. They have nice Starbucks cafes, wi-fi, and good locations. So how can they improve and survive? Various articles point out the disaster from bad upper level management. Add to the list the recent dumb idea of in-store beer and wine restaurants.

They can turn some things around by having more in-store celebrity author events, use video marketing on social media, live stream the events from their stores with easy ordering from home couch potatoes, and everything to get folks into the stores where impulse buys will help the bottom line. For the stay at home crowd, they should compete with amazon by selling used, rare and out of print books. They did this at one time, with thousands of great vendors who dropped shipped. The program could be re-started to compete with amazon. It went away due only to bad management at the top level. Amazon has a lot of flaws and weakness in the way they treat their vendors. By being fair, B & N could lure many thousands of them away from amazon and add a huge income stream. Forget the beer, go with the books.

Amazon, which has a monopoly on used book sales in the U.S. and a stranglehold on new book sales, continues to erode sales at Barnes and Noble. Even President Trump has recently commented on amazon’s more than cozy deal with the U.S. Postal Service.  What he failed to mention was not only does amazon get special postage rate deals, but it also has the post office delivering mail on Sundays in selected cities.  This has got to be a loser for the Post Office, it totally obliterates the economy of scale needed for sustainability.  What is interesting is to go way back in the history timeline to the 1950s.  The Post Office delivered mail twice a day during the week in Los Angeles, and I assume, most other cities.  What happened to that?  We always think our civilisation as getting better every year, when the truth is far different.  Not only has the Post Office deteriorated, closed thousands of offices, etc., but now they seem to be tied into a losing deal with the amazon monopoly.

Let’s hope tha 2018 will bring some sanity back to the world. It’s just my opinion, but: Amazon is a monopoly and should be broken up.  Google should be seized by the U.S. Government and the search engine made a national public utility.  Barnes and Noble needs to get its act together, it has opportunities and possibilities, but the prognosis for them is somewhat grim.  Happy New Year everyone!

What do you think?  Bookseller and Book Lover comments welcome!

Update January 4th, 2018.   Barnes & Noble, Inc. (NYSE: BKS) today reported that total holiday sales for the nine-week holiday period ending December 30, 2017 as declining 6.4%.  Comparable prior year store sales also declined 6.4% and online sales dropped 4.5%.  The stock price tanked to $6.50 per share.  A grim picture indeed.  The question now becomes can Barnes & Noble survive at all?  Is there even any time left for a new management turn-around plan?

 

 

Update on The Magic Door IV Bookshop

Good News – The Magic Door Bookshop Still Open

by Paul Hunt

I recently talked with JoAnn Kaiser to get an update on the story we ran back in July, 2017 called Conspiracy Dudes, Scary Scientology Greet Thetans, and Murder Above the Bookstore. The good news is that JoAnn is going to keep the book store open for the foreseeable future.  She is pulling a lot of great books from Dwain’s storage and so a lot of new arrivals are being put on the shelves.  She has been getting help from a few wonderful folks who volunteer to help her. So make a special trip to her shop and support her by buying some great books.

Regarding the young man who murdered Dwain, he was 17 1/2 at the time he committed the crime.  Now he is 18 and will be tried as an adult.  More good news as far as I am concerned.  I don’t wish to seem mean-spirited in any way, and I understand that the Kaiser’s knew the man since he was a toddler.  He may have a mental disorder, but my opinion is that booksellers are an endangered species, and woe be it to anyone who disturbs that delicate balance. My best wishes to JoAnn Kaiser and all that she has been through.

Dwain and JoAnn Kaiser

Magic Door IV 

155 W 2nd St
Pomona, California
Phone (909) 472-2991
Hours are 1pm to 8pm, Tuesday through Saturday and 2pm to 8pm on Sunday.

 

The amazon.com Puerto Rico Pancake Mix Affair

Hurricane Maria Causes Negative Review and Unreasonable Expectations

by Paul Hunt

 

Where’s My Pancake Mix?

The crazy systems at amazon.com are sometimes so baffling  that you have to wonder about the faceless technocrats who implement them.  Any dealer knows that at amazon, the customer is always right, even if the customer is a cheating, lying thief, or worse.  The competitive system for book dealers and pancake mix sellers is so strong, and so weighted to “the customer” that the entire universe of sellers live in constant fear of getting bad reviews.  The way amazon has done this is through their “star” system.  They have figured out that if one dealer has five stars, and another has three stars, the volume of orders will go to the company with the highest number of stars.  This is to force the dealers to do anything to get a high star rating, even if an incident occurs that is totally due to an unreasonable customer.

I’m not saying that booksellers or other dealers on amazon are perfect.  There are always two sides to a story.  Sometimes customers are really justified in their complaints.  Often it is for merchandise that is defective or not as described, or a late shipment.  We live in the Now.  We want something and we want it NOW.  If amazon customers don’t get it NOW, they flip out.  Patience is something from the last century, not applicable to 2017.  The irony of this behavior is that it only seems to apply to merchandise.  Where’s all the complaints about the sixteen year long war in Afghanistan?  The schizophrenic public is only upset when the NOW is about something they ordered on amazon.

This story is not about books, it’s about a missing box of pancake mix.  It is the extreme of the customer complaint syndrome on amazon, but all who sell on amazon will identify with it.  It begins on Sunday September 17th when an amazon dealer, The Shelburne Country Store, receives an order for pancake mix to be shipped to Puerto Rico. The next day, Monday, the order is sent Priority Mail.  It can’t get any faster than that.

Unfortunately for the person who ordered the Pancake Mix, Hurricane Maria hit the island on the 20th, which ended mail service along with anything else.  The Island was basically destroyed, as we have all seen on television.  The customer, though, was not happy.  The pancake mix had not arrived.  She fires off a complaint to amazon that reads: Item has not arrived yet. I guess is due to Hurricane MARIA.  Please Check. She also leaves a ONE STAR unhappiness review for the seller, Shelburne Country Store.  WTF?  Like the little shop in Vermont has any control of mail not being delivered in the worst Hurricane to hit Puerto Rico since 1928.

Hey, we shipped it already.

On October 2nd, the customer managed to sent another missive to amazon:

All incoming mail is available to Puerto Rico. Customers are receiving mail via pick up at Post Offices throughout the island or by limited delivery service by carriers. The following shows where customers can pick up mail or where delivery has resumed.

After checking some information on the internet, Shelburne Country Store replied:

I checked up on that last night. i am actually amazed at how quickly the Post office can recover. That said, the delivery so far is only for packages that were already on the island. Today is the first day that they will start to receive packages that were delayed in New Jersey.

I just have a tough time with a customer who feels this is a review of the seller. Time to be a duck, let it roll off, and move on….

The customer is still not happy. It is amazing that the Post Office is functioning at all, and in due time, the package of pancake mix will be delivered. Maybe other things are more important than pancake mix.  Like water and life saving medicine.  Meanwhile, the seller is stuck with the one star rating for this unreasonable expectation.

Another seller had a similar experience when Hurricane Irma blew into Florida on September 10.  The seller, Sarcastic Redhead, tells about her amazon experience:

We had an item that was due to be delivered to the keys. The buyer bought it just before the hurricane thinking it would not be as bad as it was. Her house was wiped out. It is still sitting in a warehouse in S Florida. I have contacted everyone from the post office there, the liaison’s office and consumer affairs. The said it is in S Florida in warehouses with all the rest of the mail and they are working through it. 

The buyer’s home was wiped out so we wanted it sent back to us so she could repurchase. She could not find our phone number so she left negative feedback (then found it and called us). I contacted Amazon EIGHT TIMES to get this removed as sellers were SUPPOSED TO BE protected for this (I referenced the notification and even sent a screenshot of it). I couldnt get more than a form response saying it wasnt covered under feedback removal guidelines. I marked it urgent, asked to escalate to a supervisor – nothing, nada, zilch. Now the buyer was kind enough to have removed it but customer service would not. 

Dont assume they will follow their own policies – they wont.

These strange tales about amazon’s baffling customer support system illustrates what can happen when a monopolistic corporation puts in place a system that is defective toward their own sellers, and leaves little room for any adjustments.

The NOW generation has gotten tremendous power through amazon’s star system.  And even if it is an unrealistic expectation due to a Hurricane, the seller is liable to get a bad Star Rating and lose thousands of dollars of orders because they have one star less than their competitors.  We can’t wait to see what happens when amazon replaces the faceless technocrats with faceless Artificial Intelligence robots in the customer service department.  Maybe amazon will send out a drone strike against the sellers who drop to three stars or less.  Hey, just kidding about that.   Not.

 

The Barnes and Noble Censorship Two-Step Dance To Oblivion Starring Milo Yiannopoulos

The Big Book Chain’s Self-Defeating Censorship Throws Huge Chunks of Cash to Their Dreaded Enemy amazon.com

by Paul Hunt

Sometimes you just have to shake your head in disbelief and wonder just how stupid some of the executives at big corporations can be?.  How did these morons ever rise to their positions?  Why do executive boards continue to pick guys to run a book company who have no experience in the book business?  More importantly, why hire a CEO who has no understanding of the field the company is in?

Barnes and Noble has had a series of mis-steps in the last couple of years.  The previous CEO decided that what was needed was for the bookseller to open up restaurants and bars inside their stores. They thought it would be nice to have folks sipping wine and browsing through the stacks.  A bad idea if there ever was one.  The stores are big on children’s books and young adult books, the last thing they need is a bunch of drunks or tipsy fobs populating the aisles.  They have opened several “test” locations but I think that idea will be a wash out.  The executives behind that bold move were canned and a new crowd brought in.  Things have gotten worse.

The flamboyant Milo Yiannopoulos has a new book out, called Dangerous.  Say what you want about this ever fascinating, outrageous self-promoting and offensive author, but he is a popular guy in some quarters. He was so controversial that a big gang of thugs did major damage to U.C. Berkeley do keep him from speaking.  The home of the Free Speech Movement.  Yeah, right.  No more “free speech” in that neighborhood. Enter the big bookseller Barnes and Noble.  Not to be outdone by the Berkeley street gangs, they have refused to stock Milo’s new book “Dangerous”.  This move of censorship opens a big area of discussion, and disgust with B & N.

How many times have we been down this road?  How many Henry Millers have caused crushing censorship?  How many displays in public libraries across the land to make controversial material available?  How many headline-grabbing legal battles?  How many years has the American Bookseller’s Association put on their famous “Banned Book Week” promo?  Booksellers know why.  It’s in our basic bookselling genes to have available the many different ideas of our culture and in fact all political and cultural ideas put out in books.  So B & N won’t stock the book “Dangerous”  They will “order” it for you, but not actually have it on their shelves. This is the big achievement of the new regime at B & N, censorship by refusing to stock a controversial book, in this case, a book called “Dangerous”.

The word in Wall Street circles is that B & N may be up for sale.  Maybe one of the reasons is that they don’t have anyone leading the company who knows a damned thing about selling books, or the ethics of bookselling, or why booksellers and libraries should have books that are not necessarily “popular”.  So who is reaping the benefits of this lunacy?  Amazon, of course.  “Dangerous” has sold over 100,000 copies online, and is a best seller in many parts of the book world.  The cash is flowing into amazon.com coffers.  Does B & N somehow think that people are going to flood into their stores because they are NOT stocking “Dangerous” ?

Meanwhile, that wild and crazy guy Milo, is putting on one of the best promo campaigns you will ever see.  TV appearances, street guerrilla theater in front of the other sad sack in this case, Simon And Schuster publishers, who pulled out of the book deal with Milo and is now being sued, has lost face, and has lost a small fortune.  Simon and Schuster, now owned by CBS, which also owns Pocket Books, Scribner’s Sons and Athenium, seems to have caught the censorship disease first, even before B & N. The drama goes on every day, with Milo on Facebook, Milo in the News, Milo taking shots at B & N for not stocking the book, Milo dancing in the streets of New York with his followers. Sales of his book get better and bigger.

All of a sudden, the financial analysts and bean counters are trying to figure out if B & N stock is worth more than eight bucks a share.  And oh, BTW, amazon.com is selling for over $1,000 per share. Looks like another brick and mortar headed for boot hill, in this case helped along by their own insane doings.

Conspiracy Dudes, Scary Scientology Green Thetans and Murder Above The Bookstore

Verification Failed -Time Has Expired

by Paul Hunt

Kenn Thomas

This latest mini-adventure started with a Facebook posting by Kenn Thomas, an author of various books on my favorite subject, (after Gnosticism}, which would be conspiracy theories and conspiracy facts. For many years I ran a bookshop called Atlantis Books, which specialized in books on various conspiracies throughout history. We also had a huge video library of tapes covering UFOs, Deep State Politics, Ancient Mysteries, Alternative Medicine, and Alt Politics of all kinds. I had sold a lot of Kenn’s books, so when I ran across his FB postings, I decided to follow him.

Jim Keith

In June, he posted something about Jim Keith, one of the great writers of conspiracy titles. I disagree with some of his conclusions but his books are always fascinating, he was an excellent researcher, going to small town newspaper archives across America and really digging into his subjects. Nowdays, with the internet, so-called researchers never crack open a book or look through newspaper archives. If it’s not on the internet, it doesn’t exist. Don’t get me wrong, there’s a lot of great information on the net, much of it now being monetized by information companies, but it has made many of the “researchers” lazy beyond belief. Most of the so-called “content creation” that is done for websites is just rehashed from other web sources. Most of the big newspapers and media are also into this, and they have a new twist, called “content curation”, meaning they get someone else’s info and “curate” it by adding a few things and then using it as fill on their own news sites and TV. Hey, it saves a lot of money: fire all the reporters and hire some fast typists who are paid by the job. Get the L.A Times (or fill in the blank) into the profit. Who needs a bunch of rowdy reporters jamming up the news room, turning in expense sheets, and causing law suits and controversy. This detracts from the yellow brick road to profit.

Jim Keith would be disgusted with this kind of behavior. If he were alive, that is. He fell off a stage at Burning Man in 1999, and died in the hospital from a knee injury. There’s a lot of information about his strange death, a healthy guy who spent a lot of time blasting the CIA and the Deep State. Check it out on the internet, it’s too long for this discussion, but there was never a proper investigation into his death that satisfied those who watch the murderious activities of the CIA and the Deep State, those wonderful fellows who run torture prisons around the world and “render” (kidnap) their enemies from anywhere in the world and dump them into hidden prisons in Poland.

So when Kenn Thomas posted something about Jim Keith on Facebook back in June this year, it triggered a memory of an interesting story about Keith. I wrote Thomas and said I would write it up and email it to him. He said OK, but never got it, probably went into his spam folder along with the offers of millions of dollars from the former Treasurer of Nigeria. Here’s the story that I sent to Kenn, who is also a fan of Jim Keith. It is not very flattering, but hey, we were all young once, and the late 60s were drugs and rock and roll, right?

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The Magic Door Bookshop, Pomona

One night, a few years ago, around 9 or 10 pm, I stumbled across an amazing book store in Downtown Pomona. I was with a friend and we immediately parked and went into the place, called The Magic Door. I believe it is still up and running, and has a Facebook page.

Dwain Kaiser

I rummaged around and found a couple of Jim Keith books. The owner, Dwain Kaiser, quizzed me about them, and after some chatter he told me that he had known Jim Keith, and had roomed with him when they were in college. He said a bunch of guys rented a big house and shared it to save money while in college.

Jim Keith was assigned to sleep in an upstairs room. At this time (I’m guessing late 60s) Jim was deep into Scientology, and avidly reading all of Hubbard’s work. During one winter, his upstairs room was really cold, there wasn’t any heat in it. Jim started telling everyone that he was having problems sleeping, and that Hubbard had talked and written about an entity, a big blue – green demon Thetan which was visiting Jim almost every night. He was so distrought that he couldn’t sleep in the room anymore.

He convinced the rest of the tenants to let him sleep downstairs, so he carved out a spot where he slept right next to the warm floor heater. All was well until one day Jim raced off to school, leaving his blankets on the heater. They caught fire filling the house with dense smoke. The Fire Department arrived and put out the fire before it consumed the whole house. While there, they also noticed a lot of pot and other drugs laying around, which they relayed to the police.

A short time later, the Narcs raided the house and arrested everyone for drug possession, except for Jim Keith who was gone on a trip. The guys had to hire lawyers and fought the case but ended up being fined, although I don’t remember if Dwain said any of them had to serve any time in jail. Jim Keith kept a low profile and slipped out of the fracas, which he had totally caused by seeing L.Ron Hubbard’s blue – green Thetan demon and moving downstairs to sleep next to the heater.

You could probably get hold of Dwain to verify this, I hope I got it right, just from memory, I didn’t take any notes. Jim Keith’s blue-green demon may have been caused by drug use, or Scientology mind control, or just an excuse to get downstairs to get warm. We’ll never know, although if caused by drug use it would be nice to know exactly which drug, so as to avoid use under any circumstances. Scientology was vehemently against drug use, so I vote for the warm heater scenario. Knowing that Jim loved Burning Man, I submit that into evidence, also.

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Checking back on my email, I sent Kenn the story at 11:31 a.m. on July 2nd. I told him that he could check with Dwain Kaiser at The Magic Door to verify it and maybe embellish it. Little did I realize that gave Kenn Thomas only about 14 hours to contact Dwain. Since Thomas said he never got the email, the point is moot. Dwain Kaiser was brutally shot to death just after midnight on July 3, 2017.

Dwain Kaiser was a really cool guy. I greatly enjoyed my conversation with him. His store was full of good books, and his wife JoAnne was working with him the night I was there. What a damned shame that he was murdered, evidently by a teen-ager who was living with the Kaisers in the apartment above the Bookstore. If the book store closes it will leave a huge hole in the cultural center of Pomona.

It also left me with a weird feeling. Why did all that pop into my mind just before he was killed? If one of us had called him, would it have changed anything? Change the time-track? Prevent the murder? Dwain Kaiser was big into Science Fiction. He would understand what I’m saying.

So Dwain Kaiser has now gone through another Magic Door, the Door of Mystery and entrance into the Spirit World, where he joins his friends, Jim Keith and Jerry Smith, another former Scientologist and Conspiracy writer.   Maybe the three of them will be able to solve the greatest Mystery to face all humans. Please dudes, if you reach a conclusion, let us know.

Jerry Smith, friend of Jim Keith and Conspiracy Writer

I’m posting some important links below, to Dwain’s website (the store is still open for a while), Jerry Smith’s website and other relevant stuff.  May  all your Thetans be pink and fluffy.

Magic Door Facebook Page:  Click Here

Jerry E. Smith Webpage:  Click Here

Kenn Thomas, Steamshovel Press Click Here

Kenn’s book Trumpocalypse Now!: The Triumph of the Conspiracy Spectacle Paperback is available at amazon.com.

Feral House Publisher: Click Here

Feral House still has Jim Keith’s “Octopus” conspiracy book, as well as some Kenn Thomas titles and many other wild and crazy pop culture, alt culture and conspiracy titles.

Los Angeles Bard Duane Thorin Passes

Booklover, Song Writer, Musician

He Wrote “Occupy Your Car” the Classic Song About Homeless Folks and the Economic Meltdown

by Paul Hunt

Duane Thorin

Duane Thorin had music in his heart from birth. He loved to sing, play the guitar, entertain. But the path to that musical life was paved with obstructions and suffering. It was only when he was crushed by the 2008 meltdown like millions of other folks that he somehow rose from the ashes of despair to be able to live his dream of music, storytelling and song and make his mark on the Southern California cultural scene.

I first met Duane in the 1990’s when he was a frequent visitor to my bookshop in Burbank, Magnolia Park Books.  At the time that I met him, he was installing swimming pools in middle class areas of San Bernardino and Riverside. Those were the years of the housing boom. The government and the banksters were pushing everybody who was breathing, and some who were possibly not even existing in this dimension, to buy a house. Out in the hinterlands of San Berdoo, there was a huge housing boom. They were springing up in every desert plot and sandy hill that was available. Mortgages were rubber-stamped, and the middle class, eager to participate in the great American dream, poured into the area.

The families that bought these new digs got settled in, but then they got a taste of summer. It’s not Death Valley, but it is boiling hot out that way. The moms and pops had to hear their kids whining about it every damn day. The summer boil. No school with air conditioning. No nice grassy back yards like in the Westside of L.A. Just sand dunes. What to do? Paying the mortgage was tough enough, no way for a real swimming pool like in Beverly Hills. So how about an above-ground pool? They are just big enough and deep enough to keep the kids wet, a place to play in the yard at least part of the brutal summer days. Once the parents bought the pool, they would be given a referral to a guy like Duane who would come out to your place with a crew and actually install the thing on your sandlot.

Duane relaxing at the old Cliff's Bookshop in Pasadena. Photo by Paul Hunt

Duane relaxing at the old Cliff’s Bookshop in Pasadena. Photo by Paul Hunt

Duane was a big sturdy guy. Although he had worked in the entertainment world part of his life, several years booking acts into the Ice House in Pasadena, he still had to make a living. I don’t remember how he ever go into that business, but he did. Part of the lure of it was work like a dog all summer and make enough to live the rest of the year. The reward during Fall and Winter was to do the things that he really loved to do, singing, music, reading. But installing pools out in San Bernardino in the middle of summer is brutal work. The area had to be leveled, the rocks, snakes and lizards moved out, and then the pool put together so that when it was filled the water would stay inside.

He always had a tough time keeping a crew, the work was hell, long days when 100 degrees was the lowest it ever got, burning your skin off. Take your salt pills and drink gallons of water ’cause you’re going to sweat until you end up looking like a prune. Duane would come into my shop and occasionally dragoon some unemployed book – lover to work for him in the pool biz. If those guys lasted a week it was a miracle. Most were skinny and pale, night owls with an aversion to sunlight. I used to joke about it with him, telling him he was killing my customers. He said he was just trying to put some money in their pocket for an honest day’s work. Usually they were done in one or two days, and after a couple weeks of recuperation they looked forward to something a little less physical, like working at a Starbucks. Anything other than the sheer brutality of that scalding sun.

At times, even Duane had to back off for a few days. The pressure from the pool companies was intense. They would sell scores of pools and they depended on Duane to put them up. He had all his equipment loaded into a trailer, which he would pull out to the customer’s property. A difficult pool installation might take more than one day, sometimes several days. He would get a cheap motel and the crew would have to sleep there until the job was done. Just before the economy crumbled, an omen had popped up: his main guy, a really hard working Latino, was arrested and sent to prison for something. Duane was upset about that because he depended on him. It meant hiring 2 guys to replace him. The work load was intense, the phone always ringing, more jobs than he could ever handle. But it all came to a dead stop with the 2008 financial crash.

The big Meltdown hit everyone. The middle class was devastated. The poor class swelled with new members. Millions lost their houses, their savings, their way of life. San Bernardino looked like a big ghost town. Within a couple years, the City was sending guys out to the neighborhoods to spray green paint on dead lawns on the abandoned properties so they would look lived in. The pools were a big problem. The happy days of children splashing in the pools became the nightmare of the City, as the thousands of abandoned pools, now with stagnant algae packed water, became a breeding ground for billions of mosquitoes. City crews spent months draining the pools that Duane had built. We joked that maybe the thieving bankers visiting their now empty houses would get a well deserved dose of malaria in the process.

Duane Thorin 2013

Back in the bookstore, I saw Duane on almost a daily basis. We became fast friends. He was talented, intelligent, funny and literate. His business had collapsed but he lasted a couple years on his savings. I had to close the book store about the same time, and move into my van. At some point, he ran out of money totally. There was no work in L.A. The homeless population was swelling, thousands of families living in cars and vans. He lost his apartment, but I found him an RV which he got parked on a friend’s property, a lovely couple living in the mountains of Altadena. Through this crushing defeat, Duane Thorin was reborn. It wasn’t easy, he and I were often together at food banks. We hung out at coffee houses. The weird thing was that he was free. Free to change. Free to pursue his dreams.

He now had time to devote to his music. He sang at coffee houses, ran open mic nights, sharpened his skills with his guitar, hustled some music jobs, wrote songs. He was killer at it. His creativity exploded.

He also had time to do something that he wanted to do for years. His dad, also named Duane Thorin,  had been in the Korean war. He was captured by the North Koreans and thrown into a jail with other G.I.s. He managed to escape and was free for some time, trying to make it back to friendly lines, but was recaptured due to another G.I. making a stupid mistake. Duane’s dad was one of the only Americans to ever escape from the North Koreans. His recapture meant that torture and punishment would now be his life, and the North Koreans turned him over to the Red Chinese.

Escape From North Korea

Duane had made a recording of his dad telling his story before his death, and wanted to get it out, so I helped him to produce a CD of the original recording. It’s an exciting story, although agonizing to re-live the captivity.

Duane, was very patriotic, and wanted folks to remember what those who served for us had to go through. Listen to Duane singing the National Anthem. It will floor you.

Duane’s career soared in the last few years. He was in demand as a singing coach and manager, he arranged and ran the musical entertainment for private celebrity parties, he sang at venues around the southland and wrote songs. We were blessed to have Duane’s music video, Occupy Your Car, and his original song about Walmart moving into a small town.


The songs are so powerful because Duane lived through it. He knew what it was to live in a car. He could write his songs from his heart, drawing on his own personal experiences. His good friend Donna has filmed and recorded Duane for years, and we are blessed with the preservation of his music.

Chef Duanio

His sudden death last week was a shock. He seemed healthy, in good humor, and leading the life he always dreamed about, the musical life. He had created a character called Chef Duaneo, an Italian Chef who sang opera. Duane had so much fun with that, and Chef Duaneo was a hilarious musical show that played around town.

L.A. has lost another great voice, a bard, a troubadour.
Duane Thorin joins some other noted musicians who have passed recently. I can’t help thinking that Heaven’s gotta be rockin’ right now.

This is a revised version of a story that I wrote two weeks ago for www.GypsyCool.com. –Paul Hunt