Monday, January 07, 2008

Loompanics and free speech

This post is mostly a note to myself, although it may interest others. I routinely use the publications from the late great Loompanics Press as examples in classes on free speech, and I've been meaning to collect more internet resources for the class for some time now. Right now on the Angel page for my ethics course, I only have some badly formatted and probably now dead links to old Loompanics books. I want to get a fixed batch of links in this post.

Loompanics was an independent publisher that specialized in how to books for various criminal acts, from lock picking and counterfeiting to assassination. Their staple, though was books on drug manufacturing. Sifu Tweety, at Unfogged just informed me that one Loompanics author, Steve Preisler ("Uncle Fester"), became a widely used resource in the crystal meth boom, and was subject to some media attention. (It was Tweety's comment that inspired me to try to fix some of this old info.)

The company went out of business in 2006, but its website continues to exist in a semi functional ghost form, no doubt generating ad revenue. My original discussion forum had links to the pages for their books on lock picking, counterfitting, assassination, faking your own death, and gaslighting. It looks like I can recreate all those links, except faking your own death, which was a fun one. I also had lots and lots of drug links, but I can substitute the category link and a link to Uncle Fester's more influential work. These new links will probably die soon also, so I should find a more stable way to refer to these books, but I'm not going to now.

Wow, browsing the Loompanics site, I see they once carried How to Lie with Statistics, which is a book used in real stats classes sometimes, and I've considered using in critical thinking courses.

The other reference I want to find is to a review (I swear it was by Frank Rich, but nytimes.com disagrees with me) which described the incredible voyeuristic appeal of these books, and hypothesized that most of this advice is never acted on, but read for entertainment purposes.

Ok, enough for now. I'll revisit this before I teach free speech issues again.

6 comments:

Minivet said...

Did you mean this?

Rob Helpy-Chalk said...

No, in the review I am thinking of, the author personally confessed to seeing the voyeuristic appeal. Perhaps this is just a creation of my faulty memory, though.

They really do have voyeuristic appeal, too. It is all very cinematic, like reading noir fiction.

oudemia said...

There was a very long (and good) article in Harper's circa 1999 about the shifty legal status of growing poppies (as in the pretty red flowers in your front yard). It spent a good deal of time with a Loompanics author who wrote a legal highs book or somesuch and for this reason was being charged with felony drug possession for the (perfectly legal, or is it?) purchase of dried poppy heads from a craft store.

Rob Helpy-Chalk said...

I remember that article. One of the major points was that the law was built around the assumption that you can only make opium out of exotic poppies that only grow in central Asia, when in fact, you can make opium out of any poppy you want.

This is an example of a major reason why publishers like Loompanics should be allowed to conduct their business. The free flow of information, even dangerous information, can expose hypocrisy in the existing system.

oudemia said...

Yes, that's exactly right. The author detailed many cases of straight-up lying to the public about the status of home flower cultivation vis a vis Afghani poppy fields, things like Martha Stewart's insisting that there was no relation whatever between heroin poppies and the ones Aunt Bea has next to the picket fence. When of course they're more or less the same, and if the Feds catch wind that Aunt Bea knows they are, and might be growing them for that reason, Aunt Bea could end up in stir. (See the author who bought dried poppy heads at Craft-o-rama and also wrote a book on how to make them into a sort of narcotic tea.)
The kicker is that the legal status of Aunt Bea's poppies seems to be determined by how much she knows, not even whether she acts on it.

ChuckSteak said...

Was this the article?

http://www.spunk.org/texts/writers/black/sp001672.html

"I think they are mostly spiritually restless materialists: macho contemplatives locked into day jobs." - Bob Black