Rare Book MonthlyNew Letter
Letters to the Editor
Bookaday May 04, 2006
We've read your articles regarding e-bay and auctions in general and you have made some interesting and worthwhile observations. We have been selling books online for several years and have only attempted e-bay auctions once, with several Limited Editions Club books in very good condition. In addition, we have been selling antiques and ephemera at shows and markets for a substantial while longer. We have some of our own observations which supplement your own.
First, as to e-bay:
(a)there's entirely too much "stuff" out there and much of it is "trash", and this goes for all merchandise;
(b) we have observed that with e-bay available, everyone fancies themselves a "dealer". Knowledge is not a pre-requisite, just buy cheap and re-sell on e-bay and make your fortune. Alas, if this were so easy we could all be rich.
(c) despite e-bay's attempts to insure that people will treat others fairly and be treated fairly, there are too many horror stories of merchandise arriving and it is not as described and attempting to get your refund is all but impossible or such a hassle that it is not worth the time;
(d) it takes time and effort to correctly list an item and be available to answer all the questions (even stupid ones) that inevitably come up.
I know a retired gentleman who regularly lists on e-bay, but generally can't list more than 15-20 items per week because he has estimated that each item, from start to shipping, usually takes over an hour. Now, as to the effect that all of this has had on the markets (the antique and flea and show market), what we have found is that many customers come to these shows looking for the bargain to list on e-bay and expext to pay $1.29 for everything, then tell you that they have to make a profit. Well! I guess that us dealers only do this as our charitable contribution to society!! We also get the feedback that dealers don't bring "good stuff" to shows and markets because they sell it on e-bay. Nothing is farther from the truth. The dealers who work these shows and markets prefer to deal with knowledgable buyers who can see what they're buying, understand what it is and buy, or, if time permits to deal with a buyer who would like to be educated (and hopefully become a repeat customer) by a knowledgable seller. But with the atmosphere e-bay has created, many items that would be available to knowledgable dealers are no longer so, since they can all be sold on e-bay. That makes it difficult to keep everyone happy.
We occassionally find the middle ground in that we often accept consignments from prospective sellers who do not want to sell at a discounted price to a dealer, yet, are willing to wait for a sale at a price determined by both seller & consigner. That price can be reduced as necessary until, as a last resort, it can always be sent to auction. We refer to auctions as a last resort because the two major factors for a good (meaning successful for a seller) auction are, first, it has to be a decent item and, second, two people have to want it that day. It's easy to get burned at auction and we advise potential clients that unless they need the funds right away, give consignment a try.
. May 03, 2006
This is to show you that I'm actually reading material that comes from Americana Exchange. Slowly but surely I hope to use it more as time goes by. The keyword lookup was extremely helpful on a recent book so I'm beginning to see the value of your efforts.
Just to be somewhat contrary, however, I'm writing this note to comment on your recent editorial with respect to Ebay. I strongly feel that Ebay is the last site that will be helpful to the serious bookseller. For the occasional bookseller it should be most useful but to buy good books you have to pay good money. It doesn't just happen by the luck of the lottery. To sell those books on an economic ongoing regular business basis the chances that one takes by putting books up for sale on Ebay would lead to certain downfall.
It is fine for the masses but when you have to buy books you also have to hold them many times for extended periods of time. There is a very substantial investment in doing so. Oftentimes the recouping of one's investment takes months, even years, and not even the breadth of Ebay's market replaces the unique conditions that surround the sale of good books. That is why Amazon, Alibris, and Abebooks are much closer to the appropriate methodology, as is the use of serious auctions with serious catalogs and research. Who should know this better than the Americana Exchange.
Eveleigh Books & Stamps
buzzard509 May 02, 2006
I find eBay an excellent source for both buying and selling rare books. I bid about 100 items a week and win about 10% of the time but when I do win I get a great bargin. Most of the items I win I end up reselling on ebay at a big profit mostly because the previous seller was a novice or an idiot. It is pretty easy to buy items off abebooks and sell them on eBay for big profits if you are paying attention.
. May 01, 2006
I have to say that I thought your two articles discussing ebay in the scheme of used/rare book selling were very well done and very much on point. My experience has been along the lines you suggest. I have a website and biblio.com listing but mainly sell on ebay. I did want to note however that selling prices on ebay are not always lower than fixed price sites -- I have found that a significant number of buyers on ebay do not apparently consult fixed price listing venues, and sometimes material that is lower priced on abe for example will achieve high numbers of bids and higher prices on ebay. This creates an excellent resale opportunity for those who track ebay selling prices. Many strange things in particular turn up in the slightly over $100 category, often material that is very recently published but already uncommon.
AE Monthly is terrific and I always look forward to reading it!
Rebekah Bartlett, Coelacanth Books
. May 01, 2006
I wanted to thank you always for providing such a wonderful 'newsletter'! I glean a LOT of information on bookselling venues and more from each month's issue and do appreciate that it's FREE!!!!
With all the book selling sites, gouging us booksellers any way they can, it is refreshing to read all the 'truth' in YOUR articles and for FREE!
Thank you, thank you, thank you!!!
Ms. Mickey Kaz
. May 01, 2006
A few notes from a bookdealer's view
Just read Bruce McKinney's story, and wanted to comment.
I am a Dutch bookdealer, and have never sold through Ebay.
I find that as a specialized bookdealer (natural history, science, travel) I do best when I sell through internet PDF catalogues (a few printed ones for special customers) and offering books to my clients. Besides I am not dealing with ABE because they are a hassle (money and time wise). I put my inventory through Antiqbook (a Dutch company) on the net. And through them (and AddAll, Bookfinder etc.) I make enough extra sales and find new clients to send catalogues to. This works well for me.
I sometimes buy from Ebay but you have to remember that:
* It is a lot of trouble going through a lot of junk books to find a few good ones that often will be sold to others. I only have a quick look from time to time to see if there are a few highlights.
* You mostly buy what you can get (as on most auctions), not what you are looking for (the great strength of listing sites is the tremendous choice they have).
* McKinney states that many collectors (or their families) will sell through Ebay. I don't think so. My experience is that many of the better books are sold by dealers and bought by dealers! These will sell, and as always the great majority of the ''junk'' books will remain unsold or will go for a price I would not bother to pack and send a book for.
Except for a few exceptions families will not sell through Ebay. A few will find it fun and perhaps become booksellers. Most of the families want to get rid of it and do not want to do tiresome deals with loads of individual books and at the end find that half remains unsold.
* Several ''interesting looking books'' are going for more money than they are worth. If these (I presume) private customers would be checking the listing sites AddAll or Bookfinder they would find these books at lower prices!
* I am thinking of selling a few (suitable) items through Ebay, but it will remain a marginal ''sellingtool'' for me.
(Natural History / Science / Travel Books)
. May 01, 2006
Excellent advice regarding selling books on eBay but you missed one new and important aspect: PayPal's miserable new "protection policy" that forces sellers to send international orders by very expensive Global Express Mail.
Any buyer can claim not to have received his or her shipment and, unless the seller can give PayPal an online tracking number, will receive an instant full refund (and the seller a chargeback).
Global Priority does not offer online tracking. USPS's only offering with international tracking is Global Express Mail.
I sold something to an Italian buyer who would pay only for surface shipment (six weeks); he complained to PayPal seven days later that he had not received the item. Despite the circumstances PayPal immediately charged me back for the full amount and the buyer never answered another email.
So, you might answer, that's what feedback is for. You might address the issues of "feedbcak" and PayPal some time: If you give bad feedback, regardless of the circumstances, you receive bad feedback. None of us wants to hazard our "on line reputation" and feedback score, so we just bite the bullet and put the deadbeat on our "do not accept bids" list.
The advise from PayPal and eBay is to accept the risk as part of the cost of doing business. That's ok for Mr. Macy but it doesn't work out for a retired guy selling something for a hundred bucks on eBay.
Thanks again for your article. I've copied it and will give it to friends who ask for help getting started on eBay. I'll also look a little more deeply into your offering. I've ignored past emails but you certainly appear to be offering worthwhile advise.
. April 04, 2006
ABE wants to profit as a bookselling business when it is only a Listing Service.
Booksellers buy inventory, expertise and grade their books, list and photograph them, process the order and ship the merchandise.
ABE is involved only in advertising, and now in credit card processing at a steep fee.
ABE service to book dealers has diminished, as well as order revenue. Anyone can pay the fees and sell on ABE, so inexpert and wrong descriptions not only plague buyers, but reduce the veracity of sellers and their product.
I sell first edition collectable books and I liked ABE very much once. Fees have dramatically increased with no increase in service. Your statistic of perhaps 8% selling is in line with complaints of my colleagues.
We are all waiting for a new competitor to ABE so professional booksellers can switch from a once respected listing service, to a company better run and less greedy. I have severely diminished my listings on ABE, and income is the same, perhaps even better.
. April 02, 2006
re: Review of McBride's E-First Editions
In all the years we have been publishing A Pocket Guide to the Identification of First Editions and, lately, the Electronic version EFEG, we have been the subject of many a review. Without exception, every reviewer made some major error or a collection of minor ones that add up to the same thing, rendering the review welcomed, but one that, when reading it, prompted shouts of "No, no, no!" or "Well, not exactly!" or "There's more to it than that . . . ".
Ms Roberts has struck fire where others have merely made a few sparks. She got it right.
And we thank her.
Renee Magriel Roberts' review of McBride's E-First Edition Guide may be found at the following link: Click here.
N.Richards April 02, 2006
We read your ABE article with much interest. We do business with both ABE and Alibris.
ABE is a listing service. Alibris is a book buyer and reseller. The difference between the two is the same as the difference between the newspaper that advertises your car and the customer that actually buys it. The two are worlds apart. It's astounding how few booksellers understand this.
The ABE self-justification scenario has become a frequent topic of discussion in our bookshop. Part of what we find troubling is that the majority of booksellers appear to know so little about Alibris - such as their exceptional fraud-detection system and protection policies.
Did you know that most of Alibris' bogus orders are caught before they're even captured? Did you know they have entire computer systems in place dedicated to nothing but preventing fraud? Did you know that even if a bogus order somehow manages to make it through all their safeguards, the bookseller is never liable for a chargeback?
Unlike ABE, Alibris IS the end customer. They take title to the book. They OWN it. They have a vested interest in preventing fraud, because it costs THEM money.
If a book is shipped after the fraud is detected, the bookseller is still out nothing. Alibris either absorbs the cost or, if the book was shipped directly to them, they put the book in their Sparks warehouse for resale (an amazing operation, by the way). Either way, the bookseller is protected.
The sad thing is, practically no one knows any of this because they never see it. Alibris insulates booksellers from fraudulent orders. The majority of booksellers just go on about their business, oblivious to it all. It doesn't get much better than that.
Whatever ABE may claim they are about to begin doing regarding fraud, Alibris has already been doing for years. From where we sit, they do it better than anyone in the industry.
But as good as Alibris is at anti-fraud, they are utterly ham-handed at self promotion. Their PR is near-legendary, among the worst ever seen. Alibris' idea of "news" comes across as self-congratulatory, xenophobic rhetoric. At times it has been borderline nauseating to read.
Such as it is. Most of the time, they keep a low profile and just do their jobs. I suppose we respect that. Perhaps it's no surprise that Alibris doesn't regard fraud protection as being of much interest to booksellers. From their perspective, it's an in-house issue.
As for ABE, reading their new terms closely, one realizes that they will "protect" the bookseller only under certain circumstances and in accordance with the reams of legalese that characterize their every move. Sadly, they have become a model of sleaze.
If you're selling books through ABE and making money, great! Stay there! But don't kid yourself, they are no longer the company Rick Pura founded. For booksellers who smugly tout their historical lack of chargebacks, congratulations! You're in the minority. You can feel good about your freedom from crooks. Just pray it never happens to you, because you'll discover to your horror that, as far as the credit card companies go, YOU LOSE. Period. End of story.
Most merchants have experienced chargebacks in their businesses and some have had horrible experiences with orders from places like Nigeria, Indonesia and others. And, the frequency of fraudulent US- and Canadian-based orders is not going down, it's going UP. A few Google searches reveal how big a problem it is. USA Today just did a big story on online fraud. The article said less than 10% of all companies really have their acts together to counter fraud.
But don't expect ABE to be any kind of magic bullet. ABE has protected themselves, not you. The CEO interviewed in USA Today said, "A company has to be completely prepared to deal with fraud. Halfway measures won't cut it." ABE is not prepared - not by a long shot.
We'll be leaving ABE as of May 1. Never thought we'd say so, but we're not sorry to go. They were great during the "Golden Age" but those days are gone.
Just to be clear: We do not work for Alibris, we have no agenda, we have no involvement with Alibris in any way, other than they buy our books and we once visited them. Faults notwithstanding, they do their jobs well and it's high time someone said so. Our orders are steadily increasing over time and that makes us smile on payday.
There was a time we could say the same about ABE. Not any more.
-Nathan & Company
. April 01, 2006
Re: Book Decor
Unfortunately, this is not new. Thirty years ago I had an open shop in a small NH town, and we regularly had decorators come in looking for fancy bindings and decorative spines. It took a while before anyone told me what would become of these treasures - they would be glued together and run though a saw to a depth of 2-3 inches Then shelving didn't have to be so deep and take so much space out of the room. The more things change, the more they stay the same. Sorry to hear about this.
. April 01, 2006
I share your gut reaction to buying books by the foot, or "books for looks." The following notions might help:
1. We can pity those who don't read. Perhaps their situation will be improved by the mere proximity to books. Perhaps the buyers or a guest will absent-mindedly pick a book off the shelf, flip through it, and be seized by a life-altering passage. OK, maybe not.
2. More importantly, the buyers may be saving these books from oblivion - from becoming packing material, for instance. There may be gems in these boardfeet of books that won't be recognized for a hundred years. So, we can at least think of these Philistines as performing a service for the books, though they have no better sense of a book's true value than a crow has of a bracelet it uses to line its nest.
. April 01, 2006
Dear Mr. McKinney
I am an avivd reader to your "monthly", in fact, save them all. I want to comment on your article on "decor books". It is sad, sad, sad. Building customer collections whether inexpensive volumes or high end in the same author field takes work and patience - sometimes as much as 10 to 12 years and the elusive volume never found. Since 1973 I have never encountered the book world as it is today. Second printings labeled first (Runyon's "Guys & Dolls"), book is fine (since it is old) with frayed ends, foxing, etc. So your articles in general are appreciated.
Oceanside Books, Inc.
dba Mystery Bookstore
Sourcer March 05, 2006
Re: ABE and the meeting
ABE came into existence in order to serve its clients and facilitate any connections between bookdealers and book buyers. Along the way, it metamorphosed into an entity whose major interest is producing a Return On Investment for its owners. Its original raison de etre receded into a foggy background as being almost beneath its dignity. It became a profit vampire like eBay. It will keep raising fees and squeezing its income sources till they turn chalk white and and then seek new income sources. As the writer claims it is its right to carve ever greater chunks out every sale that comes near it. It is the way of our economic system. The laborers work hard to see to it that the investor class can live like royalty.
. March 03, 2006
Just a short note to express my thanks for your many even sided articles in
your monthly newsletters.
However, I feel what you failed to mention in 'ABE -- To The Summit And
Back' is what has been lost by ABE subscribers over the past year. Those
responsible for these losses and reduced services now seem to want a rate
hike (credit card processing) as a reward.
You (correctly I feel) suggest that ABE ..." make their site more effective
for their dealers. Find ways to sell more of their books. Use some of their
increased income to increase the dealers' income too."
But what I've seen on top of the latest fee increase are losses not
mentioned in your article: The Amazon and Barnes & Noble sales venues,
decreased service (I used to get my want matches sent via email, I now have
to download them from the link sent to me) and at times horrendous web site
performance, and associated lower sales as a result.
A mention of this may have assisted others to possibly understand another
reason for the angry sentiment of the proposed April 1 changes by many
. March 03, 2006
Dear Mr. McKinney,
First of all I wish to thank you very much for your splendid work in operating your Americana Exchange. Furthermore, your airing of the new increases by Abebooks in the use of their credit card system in book sales was most informative and stimulating.
The question arises concerning their obvious belief that they have a "captive audience" which will accept almost any change in order to sell books via abebooks' site. In the past year there have been at least two new bookselling sites. No doubt there will be an increase in those numbers as Abebooks adds to its profits in any way their new management can by further raising costs to booksellers.
Perhaps it would be helpful to list the various Abebooks increases in its charges since the new management took office. With the advanced computer programs in operation today, it would not be difficult to download booksellers' listings to another and more reasonable site.
C. E. Van Norman, Jr.
. March 01, 2006
Michael Stillman's article on the ABE summit was Right On. I am a very, very small book dealer, who has seen her meager profits made more and more meager by ABE's increasing profit-motivation, while my sales have dropped because of the disconnect from Amazon sales. I understand that they must make money to continue; but do they truly need that large a percentage of a book dealer's money? And why can't they promote the site more to people who might be customers if they only knew about it? Everyone I ask says they never heard of ABE.
. March 01, 2006
March Abe Article
A fine article. I have been banging my head trying to persuade UK dealers that the increased cost of using Abe is akin to having a store rent increase-which I did experience. You have to make your own commercial judgement whether or not you continue. Unfortunately there is at present no real alternative with worldwide reach.
I like your suggestion that froogle or somesuch will be an alternative whose time has come for book dealers. It requires you to have your own website, so there is a commercial opportunity for somebody to sell and maintain dealers' websites at an economic cost.
. February 07, 2006
You might want to update your current ABE article
As you certainly know, the summit stirred up more bad feelings than I thought could be possible. The word "betrayal" leaps to mind, but you probably have a better vocabulary.
I think your article deserves a little footnote, seeing as how the hopes you expressed (with everyone thinking that ABE was making a good-will gesture) turned out to be another screwing by an increasingly disfunctional site.
. February 05, 2006
I do not know if Michael Stillman was quoting Joe Rubinfine's catalogue, or if these were his own words:
"Together, they strove to tear apart the nation their forbearers had created" in reference to Robert E. Lee. I do know that Lee was trying only to defend his home state from an illegal invasion by a warmonger president/tyrant. To state, in effect, that Robert E. Lee was out to destroy the United States is offensive, irresponsible, and totally false.
Chapel Hill, NC
Those comments were my own, and I believe it is both ironic and incontrovertible that Robert E. Lee was attempting to tear apart the nation his father, Revolutionary War hero and Washington associate "Light Horse Harry" Lee had helped to create. One can argue the justness of the second Lee's cause. One can debate whether the southern states in 1860, or even whether a disgruntled state today, has a legal right to secede, or whether those bonds are, in the words of the Pledge of Allegiance, "indivisible." It is even possible to debate the the ethics of slavery, though I know of no sigificant leader today, even from the South, who argues that slavery is anything less than an abomination. However, I think it is impossible to argue that Lee was not trying to divide the nation. After all, the South seceded, and attempted to divide the Union into two separate states, the USA and the CSA. Is there any question of this? You are certainly entitled to the opinion that Lee's cause was self-defense from a warmonger-tyrant (although you cannot escape that part of what was being defended was the institution of slavery), but you cannot change the fact that the means chosen to effect this "self-defense" was to tear apart the one nation founded during the Revolution and replace it with two smaller ones.
. February 04, 2006
Always enjoy reading your monthly newsletter. As a dealer subscribing to the service ABE has provided over a number of years you might make note of the following comments: If someone else were to come along and offer some competition that i found acceptable i would drop ABE like a bad habit. They have become too greedy, the latest fiasco is now to force the dealers to do all their credit card transactions thru ABE processing at an outrageous 5.5%. ABE is not bookseller friendly at all. Most sellers depend upon the rapport they establish with their clientele, especially if they specialize in a particular area. Good booksellers depend upon repeat customers; ABE attempts to disrupt that relationship.
Orville J. Grady (Numismaitic Literature bookseller)
. February 01, 2006
I share Bruce McKinney's irritation with on-demand reprints being included in Abe's book search listings. Another thing that Abe needs to curb is where sellers list every copy of identical new books in their stock, thereby clogging up searches. It is irritating to check on an old title to find maybe 30 copies on offer, and for 20 of these to be identical listings of an audiobook or new paperback from Papamedia.com of Ithaca (the most frequent offender I encounter).
. February 01, 2006
I forget from time to time to compliment you on your efforts to
improve quality bookselling. Especially thanks for the attention to the
problem of distinguishing knowledgeable booksellers from mimics. And,
maybe something eventually will be done to separate the facsimile
reprints from the originals. I have seen many such reprints in the
libraries of professors and church ministers, and they serve quite a
worth-while purpose for those needing the text and unable or unwilling
to purchase the original. But they are definitely, as you say,
extraneous in the used and/or rare book market. When I search for used
books I feel betrayed to see brand new books show up only because they
are facsimiles of the originals.
. January 08, 2006
I have recently found in my attic a dark green clothbound book "the Collected Works of Charles Lamb" which has a facsimile of a scratched on copper likeness of him done by his friend Brook Pulham and signed by him (Lamb) underneath, plus an entire page of manuscript in his own handwriting bound into the book entitled "a dysertation upon roast pig". It is a large page and has been neatly folded so as to fit in the book. It is published by Chatto and Windus 1912. It is in extraordinarily good condition.
I also have a signed copy of "The Works of Emerson" bound in red cloth (faded and worn) which says on the flyleaf "New and Complete Works of Ralph Waldo Emerson - Riverside Edition" and published by Routledge I think in 1907.
I wonder if you can be of any help to me in ascertaining the value of these books, or how I should go about such task?
I would be extremely grateful.
Hm... Charles Lamb died in 1834, making it extremely unlikely he could have signed a 1912 edition. It sounds like someone else signed on his behalf. Undoubtedly, the original manuscript for "Roast Pig," would be of significant value, but I suspect someone else wrote your copy on his behalf as well. Your signed Emerson suffers from the same problem, Emerson having died in 1882. Your books may be worth a few dollars, but they are not going to bring in anything substantial.
. January 03, 2006
Tookie Williams Editorial
I was very disappointed to see the Tookie Williams editorial in your otherwise fine newsletter.
Please stay with information about books and our industry.
Frankly I could care less what you think about the death penalty and Tookie Williams.
Normally, we don't run articles outside of the book world, and this one really wasn't an exception. Tookie Williams made it into the pages of AE Monthly because he was an author. Indeed, this was his primary profession for more of his life than was his role as gang leader.
Mr. McKinney's comments certainly stirred some strong reactions ( see "Crime and Punishment" in the January AE Monthly - Click Here.) The article focused on two issues. First there is the death penalty itself. This brings up many concerns, the certainty of guilt, fairness of application, deterent effect, etc. On the other side, there is fairness to the victims. Many people with deep reservations about its use also question the fairness of allowing the perpetrator to live when his innocent victim is not granted that right. There is something unsettling about the state (which is us) killing someone, but it is also unsettling to say that someone who has killed another should have the right to live. Does that cheapen the victim's life?
Leaving aside Mr. McKinney's arguments that the death penalty is not applied fairly, and one need only look at such factors as race, income, background, etc., to recognize it is not, and the possibility of innocence, let's assume it can be applied fairly and with 100% accuracy. That still leaves one other extremely important point in Mr. McKinney's article that seems to have been overlooked by those opposed. This one relates directly to Mr. Williams' role as author. He was obviously an intelligent person capable of developing the same set of values the rest of us share. Growing up on the mean streets of L.A., he developed little respect for life. Had he grown up in a white suburb would he have been Tookie the gang leader when young or Tookie the author? How many people who grow up in decent surroundings become killers, particularly of strangers in robberies, compared to those who grow up in terrible conditions? We hear of wealthy people committing terrible crimes, such as in the Enron scandal, but at least they don't kill people. Their victims, unlike Tookie's get a second chance. Killing him shows our justifiable extreme disgust at his behavior. If that were my family he killed, I would probably want to see him executed too. But there's something I would have liked even more - that we prevented him from killing in the first place; that those three people never were killed. In looking at how much more violent crime emanates from bad environments, it's hard not to recognize that those deaths were probably preventable. We are totally focused on dealing with the Tookies of this world after their victims have been killed, to the point that we do little to provide the environments that would make the Tookies grow up to be authors rather than killers, and spare the lives, now forever lost, of the people who become their victims. Should not our focus be on preserving the lives of the victims, rather than showing our toughness after it's too late? However much, as the family of his victim, I might want Tookie executed, I would prefer by a factor of a hundred million times more strongly that society had raised Tookie in a way that my family members were still alive today, while Williams was busy writing books.
We are currently spending hundreds of billions of dollars in Iraq to protect ourselves from some obscure, perceived threat that a weak Sadam Hussein supposedly once posed. And yet, how many of us are afraid to go in tall buildings, or ride airplanes and public transportation? Compare that with the numbers of us afraid to go out late at night, enter bad neighborhoods, or who install alarms on our houses, lock all of our doors, live in gated communities, and the like. We are far more fearful of people who grow up like Tookie Williams and live in our midst. Yet, we seem to do so little to change those conditions so that people like Tookie become writers, an occasionally offensive but basically harmless lot, while we are obssessed about Iraq. Why do we invest so much in preventing obsure foreign threats but invest so little in preventing those we all most seriously fear? Is it that politicians can secure more votes by posturing about their toughness than by actually making us safe?