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The Great Book Blockade of 2009
May 15, 2009 2:54 AM   Subscribe

University of Iowa Creative Writing professor Robin Hemley on Guggenheim Fellowship in the Philippines first broke the news through a McSweeney's dispatch that the Bureau of Customs in the Philippines has begun to tax imported books, in direct violation of the Florence agreement. Concerned netizens rally against the government by spreading the news, causing #bookblockade to get trended on twitter. Neil Gaiman's tweet. More and more updates. An update from Robin Hemley.

An excerpt:

Customs Undersecretary Espele Sales explained the government's position to a group of frustrated booksellers and importers in an Orwellian PowerPoint presentation, at which she reinterpreted the Florence Agreement as well as Philippine law RA 8047, providing for "the tax and duty-free importation of books or raw materials to be used in book publishing." For lack of a comma after the word "books," the undersecretary argued that only books "used in book publishing" (her underlining) were tax-exempt.

"What kind of book is that?" one publisher asked me afterward. "A book used in book publishing." And she laughed ruefully.

I thought about it. Maybe I should start writing a few. Harry the Cultural and Educational Potter and His Fondness for Baskerville Type.

Likewise, with the Florence Agreement, she argued that only educational books could be considered protected by the U.N. treaty. Customs would henceforth be the arbiter of what was and wasn't educational.

"For 50 years, everyone has misinterpreted the treaty and now you alone have interpreted it correctly?" she was asked.

"Yes," she told the stunned booksellers.


If you want to help: please write Unesco and/or follow the 7 days of Action.
posted by drea (22 comments total) 15 users marked this as a favorite

 
Wait, books aren't educational?

I guess they don't need textbooks, then.

Or phone books.

Or those damned For Dummies Guides.

Or dictionaries, encyclopedias, and the like.
posted by LSK at 4:08 AM on May 15, 2009


Throwing the book at books. Classy.
posted by trip and a half at 4:34 AM on May 15, 2009


The single amusing aspect of this debacle is that it's partly the fault of Twilight.
posted by brownpau at 4:41 AM on May 15, 2009 [3 favorites]


Hrm, what's an appropriately snarky tag? #Faillipines?
posted by adipocere at 5:00 AM on May 15, 2009


!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

This makes me SO MAD.
posted by ocherdraco at 5:08 AM on May 15, 2009 [1 favorite]


Suddenly there is a market for precalculus textbooks with plots and character development.

What about poetry? Does that count as educational? Maybe someone will do versions of all the bestsellers in blank verse.
posted by Ritchie at 5:23 AM on May 15, 2009


Fucking comma.
posted by Darned account name at 5:34 AM on May 15, 2009


Suddenly there is a market for precalculus textbooks with plots and character development.

In the olden days, wasn't it common for porn in the US to be semi-disguised as educational material to get around US laws against one-handed books? I would expect something like that to happen in the Philippines. Picture books that supposedly teach you photography or painting techniques. How to Photograph (And Meet!) Naked Women with Large Breasts Monthly. Fiction edited to supposedly teach you how to write. A solid industry could be created in producing pseudo-scholarly editions of stuff like Stephen King books about scary doggies and scary clowns and scary towns and scary cars.
posted by pracowity at 6:05 AM on May 15, 2009 [2 favorites]


For lack of a comma, education was lost.
posted by Lemurrhea at 6:24 AM on May 15, 2009


A solid industry could be created in producing pseudo-scholarly editions of stuff like Stephen King books about scary doggies and scary clowns and scary towns and scary cars.

This may be the best critique of Stephen King's oeuvre I've ever seen.


posted by trip and a half at 6:27 AM on May 15, 2009


Don't know if it's still the rule, but as of at least a few years ago you weren't allowed to bring anything with Chinese writing into Indonesia. Books, magazines, food wrappers... nothing! Not quite the same, I know. But southeast Asia has a weird relationship with the written word.
posted by Civil_Disobedient at 6:30 AM on May 15, 2009


I am imagining a dachshund with a red rubber nose behind the wheel of a Linc that's trolling down the streets of Kennebunkport.
posted by seanmpuckett at 6:30 AM on May 15, 2009 [1 favorite]


Ok, I stand corrected. There is clearly a comma.

From the agreement:

1. The contracting States undertake not to apply customs duties or other charges on, or in connection with, the importation of:

(a) Books, publications and documents, listed in Annex A to this Agreement

[...]

Annex 1
Books, publications and documents

(i) Printed books.

(ii) Newspapers and periodicals.

[...]
posted by Lemurrhea at 6:37 AM on May 15, 2009


@Lemurrhea the non-comma in dispute, I believe, is the one in Philippine Law RA 8047.
posted by drea at 7:43 AM on May 15, 2009


Who gives a fuck about an Oxford comma?
posted by daHIFI at 8:42 AM on May 15, 2009 [1 favorite]


> Who gives a fuck about an Oxford comma?

I've seen those English dramas, too. They're cruel.
posted by tarheelcoxn at 8:46 AM on May 15, 2009 [1 favorite]


Why do they need books, they still have twitter, don't they? #kidsgetoffmylawn

P.S.:
Why would you tape my conversations?
Show your paintings
At the united nations
Lil' Jon, he always tells the truth
posted by Antidisestablishmentarianist at 9:13 AM on May 15, 2009


The only way this is going to be solved is if the American publishing industry floods the Capitol with incensed lobbyist demanding a retaliatory tariff.
posted by MiltonRandKalman at 1:13 PM on May 15, 2009


The single amusing aspect of this debacle is that it's partly the fault of Twilight.

Well the treaty does specify educational, scientific, and cultural materials, and unless there was some scientific data in Twilight...
posted by BrotherCaine at 6:21 PM on May 15, 2009


Updates: An editorial from a Philippine broadsheet sharply worded: "A Nation of Idiots" and with a sound interpretation.
posted by drea at 3:00 AM on May 16, 2009


Politicians are fail.
posted by kldickson at 12:20 PM on May 17, 2009


Breaking News (!):Taxes on book imports lifted
I still want those people who had the bright idea of taxing books get a tongue lashing from UNESCO.

I just wrote the Customs Undersecretary Estela Sales to suck on that.
posted by drea at 5:07 PM on May 24, 2009


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