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Quite the World, Isn't It?

Two days, two indie bookstore closure announcements

Two neighborhoods in southern California are about lose what can best be described as community cultural centers -- their neighborhood bookstores. In Pacific Palisades yesterday, Village Books announced that after several years of struggling, it would close. This morning, Laguna Beach's Latitude 33, which had been looking for a buyer, announced it's gone by the end of summer.

Independent bookstores have been fighting for survival for a number of years, first challenged by the emergence of chains like Border's (now in bankruptcy) and Barnes & Noble, and now by the convenience and prices of online outlets like Amazon (which bear lower relative overhead than brick-and-mortar stores). Add in a few years of record-setting recession, and survival becomes even more perilous.

This is a shame on a lot of levels. For the reading public, independent bookstores are community centers. It's where we meet up - on purpose or providentially - with others who share our interest, with new practitioners of a craft we love, and with unanticipated ideas.

When you go to Amazon to find a book, almost invariably you get just what you're looking for because you went to the web site with a title, or author, in mind. You find that item, click a few times and are done.

When you go to a bookstore, you find the book as well, but you also have serendipitous encounters with other books and writers, encounters that you miss by buying from your living room. Yes, it's faster, and you save money (lord knows I've done my share of the damage by doing just that). But you also miss that chance encounter with the new. It's like reading a newspaper online versus in print, where every page turn brings you something unexpected, instead of a curated set of headlines and links on a home page.

As a result, our lives, and our engagement with the world around us, slowly become more insular. We get challenged less, so believe in what we believe with more fervor. Something akin to intellectual torpor sets in as we keep returning to the same shelves in the marketplace of ideas. And we, as a society, are worse off for it, another stroke of damage from his secular religion of ours, the quest for a bargain.
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Truth wins out at White House photo ops

A few weeks ago, when President Obama announced that U.S. special forces had found and killed Osama Bin Laden, he did it from behind a podium in the White House on life TV. After the television camera was turned off, and under a long-established practice, the media handlers ushered in news photographers and Obama returned to the podium and pretended to give the statement again, so the still photographers could make the image. They were barred from the live speech over fears that the clicking from the cameras would be picked up by the president's microphone

In other words, the photos that ran in most newspapers around the country were a fraud, and few noted that fact in the cutline.

Journalism has enough problems with credibility without adding to it with such absurdities as pretending a staged photo op is a live picture. Oddly, it was the White House that decided to suspend the practice, not the photographers assigned to the beat.

But the Washington Post's Paul Farhi reports this morning that the photographers have worked out a new protocol. They'll be "pooling" such events in the future, which means one photographer will be allowed to shoot it, and will share the pictures with his or her colleagues, with no restrictions on their use.

A reasonable solution, and one that should have been obvious back when they all agreed to play this little charade. Now if they can only do something about the White House Correspondents Association dinner.

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