Thursday, December 30, 2010

Things I'm Thankful For

     It occurred to me that I'm writing a lot of pretty negative stuff here, and I want to balance that a little.  There are, after all, a lot of things I've been given that are true blessings and I'm thankful for them.  Here is a short list. 
     It occurred to me recently that for most of my life, I've had a job that I liked doing.  I currently work, however irregularly, as a reference librarian, and I really like it!  It is the work I like best of my jobs so far.  Programming was fun, and pretty satisfying.  I loved being part of a Catholic institution at U. D.  But as a reference librarian, I help people directly and immediately.  I love the thanks I get, right away.  Most of the work at UD was too much time alone with a keyboard; it got lonesome.  But at the library, I get the psychic reward right away; I hope that this lasts a good long time. 
     I was born to a very good family, both immediate and extended.  I hear so much in this culture about disfunctional families, and I see stats about the breakdown of families, and I am so glad that I have no personal experience of it. 
     Betty wasn't very easy to catch, but I'm soooo glad I caught her.  We have so many good times together; our tastes mesh so well.  We hardly disagreed on child-rearing, even.  She also was born to a good family; I love her family as much as mine.  It hasn't always been easy, but it has always been good. 
     Tom and John are two different men, and were two different boys, so it pleases me no end that they get along with each other so well.  And it is so good to see some of the things about them that Betty and I worked to give them.  And Tom found a wife who suits him at least as well as Betty suits me. I profoundly hope that John can do as well. 
     These are the immediate thankfuls.  I'm running out of time here, so maybe next year I'll list some larger ones. 

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Is Everything Miscellaneous?

     Been reading "Everything is Miscellaneous" by David Weinberger recently. It's pretty good; it helped me understand some things about the Web/Internet that I hadn't understood, or hadn't appreciated, before. One thing is Wikipedia. He showed how its community generated entries, when controversial and fought over, will eventually come to a consensus on the entry and the vocabulary to describe it. Of course, this pushed my centrist, compromising, consensus-builder buttons big time. But even after slowing down and thinking it over, I still agree that this technique will produce valid knowledge at least as often as reliance on experts. God knows "experts" have pulled some amazing stunts in the past; that's a source of material for lots of web sites and stand-up comedy routines. But Weinberger, like most writers on new technology, seems to take the technology he writes about (the WWW) as the only source of all truth, beauty and goodness. He seems to me to say that in this brave new world knowledge itself is different and better. He throws around the phrase "third order", short for third order of knowledge, with great gusto; the Web has made all things new.

     Not that Third Order doesn't make a lot of sense. The first two orders of knowledge can be summarized as data (descriptions of the real world) first, and metadata (data describing data) second. Both of these orders have definite limitations. Weinberger's favorite example of metadata is the Dewey Decimal Classification, especially as implemented in the good old card catalog. These two, while they are vast improvements over simple lists of books, have definite limits to their usefulness. He describes these limits as inevitable consequences of their physicality. I find it a persuasive argument. The card catalog is especially convincing. When I was young it was how you found anything in the library, and it had limits. Subject terms have to be assigned by an educated professional, and if too many books have too many subject terms, the catalog swells to unusability. Conversely, when you kept the catalog to a manageable size you inevitably left out a lot of useful information. Plus, having studied indexing myself, I know that the best educated expert in the world can’t anticipate everyone’s needs.

     It is certainly true that new information technology has enabled a drastic increase in what is possible and what is practical. On the Internet we are not hobbled by many of the physical limits on how we link things, and how we label them. But he sometimes seems to me too rapturous about what these changes and new powers mean. He almost seems to say that reality itself has been re-created. To be fair, he explicitly denies that in the last chapter, but his re-definition of "knowledge" is still much too sweeping for my taste.

     Probably my biggest beef with the book is the chapter in which he states that meaning is now a social process. I don't buy that, at least not without a whole lot of nuancing and limitations. It reminded me of a humorous article from many years ago, when I was writing SPSS jobs for UD faculty research projects. SPSS stands for Statistical Package for the Social Sciences. It had commands to perform statistical calculations specially designed for social science research. You would usually start with a GET FILE command, to fetch the file of data you wish to analyze. Surveys and other such data-gathering instruments and techniques usually have gaps, where for instance a respondent declined to answer a question. In such cases you would enter a special number, and then tell the system to treat occurrences of this number as missing, not real data. The command ASSIGN MISSING did this.

     This article started out by observing that sometimes, sociological research just doesn't go well. You blow through a whole pile of grant money, and nothing correlates, regresses, or lines up with anything else. So he invented some new SPSS commands for when this happens. Instead of GET FILE, use FAKE FILE. You enter the variables and the coefficients you want, and the system generates a data set where everything fits the way it should. Way easier and cheaper, right? But this is a data set with no meaning. So, use the ASSIGN MEANING command. After each variable name, enter a description of its meaning. There; perfect research every time. Of course, the journal editors or referees might balk at "fake data." So you describe your data set as "stochastically inferred data." Problem solved!

     I can't hear anything about "assigning meaning" without flashing back to that article, and I just can't take the concept seriously. But this post is long enough; maybe I'll ruminate sometime about meaning, and what it means.

Saturday, October 23, 2010

A Question of Balance

It struck me recently in a Facebook discussion with one of Betty's cousins (technically a first cousin once removed, if anyone cares)  what the real problem with the current conservative "small government" idea is.  The problem is checks and balances, arguably the wisest thing our Constitution writers ever did.  In the problems of their day - big states vs. little, legislative vs. executive, etc. - they set up a system where neither side had control.  The bicameral legislature and other structures made it very difficult for one side to dominate the other.  One side could not tyrranize the other.  This concept is a very large factor in the success of our republic so far.  Indeed, it is a major reason that our government is not even larger than it is now. 

But we have a problem now.  Business, specifically "Big Business", is now effectively out of control.  In the recent banking crisis, the government bailed out several of the largest banks, because if they went out of business the ensuing chaos could have ruined the entire American economy.  They were making high-risk loans, and why not?  It wasn't their risk.  Either the borrowers repaid, or the government covered the loss, lest the entire country collapse.  The automotive industry got a similar bailout, for a similar reason.  So the Fortune 100 are immortal; if they screw up, no matter how stupidly, they have the U. S. Treasury to fall back on. 

Someone, somehow, has to provide a balance.  In the late 19th century, as America transformed from primarily agricultural to primarily industrial, we had a similar situation.  Corporations and industrialists simply went to Congress or the state legislature with bags of cash, and went home with empty bags and favorable legislation.  Bosses and supervisors followed their employees to the polls and directed them how to vote.  These abuses were overcome, but only with great difficulty.  Not coincidentally, the labor unions began organizing in this time.  After the Roosevelt era reforms, labor unions were strong enough to be a counterbalance to corporate power. 

But now, the unions are too weak to be an effective balance to the corporations.  This is unfortunate; Big Labor is the most economically sensible balance for Big Business.  So what is left?  Only Big Government.  This is hardly ideal, but I see no better alternative.  Benito Mussolini himself said that Corporatism was a more accurate name for his system than Fascism.  I really don't like living in a system where a CEO can move a headquarters, disrupting thousands of lives, just because he wants to. 

Thursday, October 7, 2010

The Class War in the USA

{Okay, back to hell-in-a-handcart rants.}

It has been a tactic of the fright-wing demagogues to shout “class war!” whenever someone notices that the middle class is shrinking, and that this shrinking is encouraged by government policies. Is class warfare a bad thing? Yes, especially when it is in progress and my side is losing, because we have been convinced that the war isn’t happening. People have been convinced that policies that help the rich get richer are somehow magically good for them too. What is frightening is the persistence of this belief even after the experience of the 21st century so far.

The zero decade had massive parallels to the 1920’s – uncontrolled financial system, bubbles in land and stocks, rapid introduction of new technologies, growing acceptance of formerly unacceptable behavior. The teens are shaping up as a replay of the 1930’s – massive unemployment, economic stagnation, a growing sense of fear in the employed and of hopelessness in the unemployed. I just cannot shake the fear that the late teens or early 20’s will see a replay of the 1940’s. And this time with nukes. Yes, I fear that the end of civilization, or even life as we know it, is again a real possibility.

The class war? It is a major contributor to the trajectory I see our society moving along. It is happening because the upper class, like nearly everyone else in this country, has no awareness of history. Yesterday is old news; last year is antiquity. Henry Ford was far from perfect as a human being, but he did one of the best things anyone has ever done for America. He paid his workers much more than he needed to. He was no altruist; he did it for perfectly selfish capitalist reasons. But, unlike so very many business people, especially now, he thought past the next quarter’s balance sheet. This high pay rate did two long-term things for Ford and his company. They could get the cream of the workforce, which forced other manufacturers to follow suit. And with the extra pay, workers could afford luxuries, which at the time a Ford car definitely was.

The result was that Henry Ford got fabulously rich, richer by orders of magnitude than he would have been had he not paid his workers so well. And the workers, indeed the whole country, got much richer. Of course the real world never runs smoothly; the consequences also included the boom of the 1920’s and crash of the 1930’s. But after the reforms of the Roosevelt administration, enabling the rise of the big industrial labor unions in the 1950’s, the middle class grew to a near majority of the population. Even with the Cold War and the Vietnam war, the 1950’s and 60’s were a happy time in America. Many of the good things of that era, most notably the civil rights movement and the War on Poverty, were made possible by the affluence of the large, stable and comfortable middle class.

The oil shock of the early 70’s followed by the inflation of the late 70’s, on top of the Vietnam defeat, shook the confidence of the country. The upper class, meanwhile, had felt put upon by the Roosevelt reforms that kept relatively tight control over financial institutions. When Ronald Reagan was elected, the campaign began to convince people that government was the root of all evil. This could not have succeeded if all Americans were not so ignorant of history. The rich did not realize that a big and healthy middle class made them richer, and that a regulated financial system gave them greater security. The middle class forgot their parents’ stories of the Great Depression; they forgot that while labor unions were far from perfect, overall life was better with them than without. And large numbers of the poor bought the line that social conservatism and economic conservatism were the same thing.

The result of these factors is the devastation of the middle class. While most of the loss of high-paying low skill jobs is the result of foreign competition, the widespread disrepute of labor unions is a major factor. But now the educated middle class also sees itself in danger. I’ve gone into this elsewhere. Ariana Huffington is one of the few known people who have seen the likely end of this trend: the USA as a third world country, where the rich have nearly everything and everyone else is poor.

Ironically, the loss of the middle class will reduce the wealth of the wealthy. The rich in third world countries have less than the rich in developed countries with a healthy middle class. Why? The middle class is the class that spends money, and thus keeps the economy moving. If no one has any spare cash after food, clothing and shelter, then economic activity ends there. The supply-side vs. demand-side debate of the eighties was easily the silliest public discussion since the founding of the republic. You need both; that this isn’t obvious to anyone astounds me.

Many people have said that for a lot of acquisitive people it really isn’t about the money; it’s a grand game and money is how you keep score. Such people are much less interested in what they have than in having more than others: where do I rank? These are the people who don’t mind a class war and the end of the middle class. Whether I get more or everyone else gets less, I win! Only relative wealth matters, not absolute. This attitude, and those people, will be the death of the USA as a major country.

Thursday, September 30, 2010

Traditional Rock

On the radio today, classical WDPR, I heard an interview with the Blue Man Group, who have a performance in Dayton soon.  During the interview the music that accompanies their performance was mentioned.  One of the troupe referred to it as rock - "well, maybe not traditional rock." 

Dear Lord, I must be old.  Rock is now traditional.  Chuck Berry, Mick Jagger, Paul McCartney - give it up; get your rockin' chairs ready.  You're trad now.  Though, I suppose, since so many of the originators of the genre are dead, maybe it's just as well.  We can just ignore how young most of them were at their deaths. 

In a way, it's kind of healthy, and I've seen few enough signs of cultural health these days.  Young people, including young musicians, know and have some appreciation for the rock masters of the Eisenhower through Nixon years.  When I was young, it wasn't done to admit to any taste for or appreciation of our parents' music.  It was yet another not-so-smart attitude from the Baby Boomer generation, and I'm glad our kids did not continue it.  Thanks, youngsters! 

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

The Right is Insane, the Left is Impotent and there’s Nobody in the Center

Before Microsoft Windows, the classical example of insanity was repeating an action and expecting it to have a different result. Now, of course, a PC service tech won’t even listen until you’ve repeated it twice at least.

This has had an unfortunate effect on American politics. Now, even those few people who know a little of history are likely to ignore it. People now hold economic and political opinions as revealed dogma; only truly evil people would disagree.

The American right wing is advocating a continuation, even an expansion, of the very policies that put us in the current predicament. The policies that produced the 1930’s have also produced the 2010’s. The American left is divided into a hand-wringing moderate wing, and a socialist nut-squad who cannot see that their ideas as well have been tried and failed.

In party terms, the Republicans have a moderate, center-oriented wing but it is being bludgeoned into submissive irrelevance by the true-believing right. The Democrats have a moderate, center-oriented wing but it keeps trying for bi-partisan solutions, apparently unaware that “bi-partisan” requires two sides trying to come together. At least the Democrats are not yet controlled by their maniacs, but they have accomplished so little.

It seems that currently the right-wing crazies outnumber the left-wing nutcases by a fairly large amount. So the right may wind up in control of things when our balance is completely gone. And that, as Arianna Huffington is saying, will result in the USA becoming just another third-world country – the richest few will control everything, and we will no longer have a large middle class.

All summer without a post and I come up with another h-in-h rant. I’m sorry. I’ll try to have something more cheerful for the next post. I’d better; I have another gripe almost ready to go.

Tuesday, May 18, 2010

Shortly after the last post, Betty and I flew out to Oakland, CA to visit Tom and Kelly for a week. That was an incredibly good time. Best, of course, was time with my first son, and his marvelously witty wife. We would have liked more time with Kelly, but what we had was high quality. It's kind of unfortunate that she has a day job again, but that's show biz. Pay yer dues, kid. She is making progress. Tom says that she often makes more from her performing than it costs, and people are beginning to call her with offers. Good luck, babe!

We, of course, did most of the usual Bay Area tourist things: cable cars, Fisherman's Wharf, Golden Gate Park and Ocean Beach. Also Berkeley's Municipal Pier and Sausalito. But easily the best tourist thing was Muir Woods. Going there from Oakland, we didn't take the famous Golden Gate bridge; that would involve lots of city driving through San Francisco. Coming from the I-580 bridge and going cross-country to Muir Woods reminded us a lot of West Virginia - tight curves, steep hills and no guard rails. Who needs guard rails? Most places the trees won't let you roll all the way down those 300 or 400 foot drops. And the trees are immense, and the whole place is beautiful. We walked around the path in awe; the feeling was the same as hiking in WV woods, or the Smokies. Sure, the Grand Canyon is awe-inspiring in its way, but we grew up in tree country and have Druids in our remote ancestry.

Tuesday Betty wasn't feeling good, so Tom and I went to Alcatraz and the City Lights bookstore. It was so good - SO GOOD! - to have that much time with Tom. He really is fun to be with, and I already miss him as much as I did before we went. But City Lights was good. I found a postcard with a Lawrence Ferlinghetti poem, and thought it would appeal to Jim Costanzo. I was right; after we got back he called and told me it was possibly the best thing he had ever had from family. Made me very happy!

The big surprise, though, was that I really liked San Fran and the whole Bay area. I had such a stereotype of California as the land of the flake and the home of the nutcase. But I found friendly, mostly normal people. Not only that, they walk on sidewalks and use public transportation as a normal way to go places. Add in the odd, non-chain shops and entertainments and you have most of what I like about New York City with little of what I don't like - dirt and fear. Sure, Ohio is still home, but if you see someone on a bus in Dayton it's an even money bet that they either can't afford a car or their driver's license is suspended or revoked.

So, even if Tom and Kelly end up elsewhere, I would like to go back sometime. (Of course if they stay around there I'm for sure going to go back.) I'm not quite ready to join Tony Bennett yet, but I'm closer than I ever expected to be.

Wednesday, April 21, 2010

Now Fearful

{continued from Not Hopeful.}

What has inspired my fear is the “Tea Party” movement. It looks like simply unfocused anger, apparently fed by two deep-seated fears. One is the well-founded fear that America is no longer supreme in the world. The movement seems to include those who fear that the USA is no longer able to do anything we want, that no one can compel us or forbid us, and those who fear that the USA is no longer a moral leader. Few will admit these fears openly; thus I have to insert weasel words – “apparently”, “seems”. I could be wrong. Indeed, I profoundly hope that I am wrong. Because this kind of nationalism is a terrible danger, as World Wars I and II surely demonstrate. This has a frightening resemblance to the kind of inferiority complex in Germany that contributed so heavily to those horrible wars. The loss of moral leadership is harder to admit, at least in so many words. We’re losing the sense, never fully justified, that America was admired, not just envied.

The other basic fear is more personal: a fear that our lives are not under our own control. Certainly government has the power to exercise more control than anyone could tolerate, even if it is not currently doing so. But this fear also has an economic and personal component. It is not just fear of excessive taxation, or excessive economic regulation, though that is the public face of it. It is also the fear that maybe my life is not at all under my control. A certain type of rugged individualism is a major factor in the American psyche. If I try hard, I will succeed, and if I don’t succeed I didn’t really try. This has, for many people, the force of a religious doctrine. Unfortunately it is really not correct. If I don’t try, I won’t succeed; that part is clearly true. But human history has uncounted examples of people who tried as hard as anyone, and completely failed. Logically, effort is a “necessary but not sufficient condition” of success.

The conservative emphasis on personal responsibility is not, in itself, a bad thing. Indeed no system lasts long when people need not take responsibility for themselves. But the real problem is opportunity. Can people effectively take responsibility for their lives? The rugged individualist ethic goes deep in our national culture and psyche. I feel that this is because until the 20th century, it was possible to live your own life completely. Just head west till you found a place you liked, and plant a crop or hunt. It might not be easy, or comfortable, but for all but disabled men it was doable. This hasn’t been possible for a long time now, but the attitude persists among us. We are all limited in our choices.

Growing one’s own food is a live option for very few of us. For better or worse, the vast majority of Americans live in a money-only economy. If we want food, clothing or shelter, we buy them. And the thing about money is, you don’t have it until someone gives you some. What we call “earning” money is really trading something we have that is not money (merchandise or labor, most commonly) for money. This means that to get, say, food, we need to find someone with money. We must convince them that we can give them something they want and to give us money in exchange for it. Then we find someone with food, and convince them to take our money in exchange for their food. (I’m making this sound like a more complex version of bartering. It is, but it’s a vast improvement; that’s a subject for another time.)

This gives us two problems to solve: we must sell something, and we must buy something. But the system does not guarantee that either will be possible. We may not be able to find anyone who will pay for anything we have, and we may not be able to find anyone who can sell what we want to buy. Indeed, there may not be anyone who will pay for what we have, or sell us what we need. The second case is what happens in a famine. In this country that is hardly a serious risk any more. But the first happens all the time, for a lot of people and a lot of reasons. Here is my favorite example: In the nineteenth century, telegraph operators were respected skilled workers. It took time and practice to learn the Morse code and acquire speed in transmitting and receiving messages. Such men were in demand; they received a good amount of money for their work. But then came the telephone. The demand for telegraph operators dwindled and died. Men who had been respected middle-class wage-earners had to acquire a different skill or join the underclass. The examples in my own life are Fortran (me) and Cobol programmers. And the older one is, the harder it is to acquire a new marketable skill.

So here we have modern American conservatives. They are committed to the belief that good people always succeed in America, and they know that they are good people. If someone fails, they must try again until they succeed. But by now, a majority of Americans has either lost a job, through no fault of their own, or has a close friend who has lost theirs. This is particularly true among the well-paid but low-skill jobs, which are now getting very scarce. (The post from May 2009 has more detail on this.) And what should be happening, isn’t happening. They cannot find anyone who wants what they have, no matter how valuable the searcher knows it is and no matter how hard they work at looking. That’s not supposed to happen to good people. And it’s hardest for the middle-aged. If they acquire a new skill, they are competing with fresh young workers for entry-level jobs. Employers who should look at their proven record of good work instead look at the lower salaries that young, childless workers are happy with.

This has the effect of a failure of one’s religion. The bedrock I’ve been standing on isn’t rock after all; my life is not what I thought it was. I thought that if I worked hard I was safe, but I worked hard and I’ve been tossed out in the street. The lifeline came loose in my hand. Probably the most common reaction to this experience is the conviction that somebody screwed up the system, and they must be stopped. It must be somebody’s fault, and it sure ain’t mine! And the search for the scapegoat begins.

{a third installment will probably follow}

Tuesday, March 30, 2010

No Longer Hopeful

I have gone beyond unhopeful to fearful about my country. It has been bad enough that so many people, left and right, ignore everything that they do not already agree with. That truth is neither sought nor valued. That the right says “everything American is the best”, and the left says “anything American is defective at best.” Both of them disregard any contrary evidence. And most of all, that the center, the moderates, are shrinking in number and almost totally without influence. I am a moderate, a centrist, myself, so both sides ridicule me as belonging to the other side, no matter how loudly I say that I am center. Though if anything, the intransigence of the right is pushing me slightly left of center.

I will probably be pushed back to the center soon; intransigence inspires intransigence. I began losing hope when I saw the beginning of an unstable oscillation between left and right. When George Bush, without even gaining a popular majority, rammed through a legislative program which was supported only by the far right, just because he could, I first got worried. In former times a president in such a position was politically very cautious; the “thin mandate blues” prevented extremist actions. But W went on as though every American loved his policies. The federal budget was nearly under control, which I thought could only be explained by divine intervention. Well, he sure took care of that.

That’s when I began to worry that “the center cannot hold” was not poetry any more. I once read an article which explained the pronounced tendency towards political instability of Hispanic countries. This author noted that the Spanish language has no equivalent to the English word “compromise”. The nearest equivalent has a strong connotation of “sell out”. Thus everyone’s position must be all or nothing, and in practice it boiled down, more often than not, into government by the strongest only because he is the strongest. In this country we once had the “spoils system” for filling government jobs, after someone, maybe Andrew Jackson, pronounced “To the victor belong the spoils.” Eventually the country got tired of the chaos of a completely new government after each election, especially when a president (Garfield) was murdered by a man who didn’t get a government job. But with the calls to repeal the new health care reform, we are sliding toward a system of a whole new set of laws after each election.

This way lies madness.

{more along this line will follow.}

Sunday, January 24, 2010

Memoirs, so far

Well, the memoirs are started. I have the title, front matter, an intro and 3 (almost) pages of early memories. At this rate, it'll be quite a while, but life may change. The last six months, it seems like every time I think "Ah, now I've got the time" or "Ah, now I've got the cash" I don't. The title is Not Always Well Spent. I don't remember where I first heard that phrase, but for quite a while now it has struck me as a good summary.

The subtitle has been trickier; I've thought of several and waffled between them. No way to tell yet how it may come out. Currently it's "A memoir of a life when America was at its peak." I'm not sure; it may be a little too political to describe me, or at least this memoir as I currently conceive it. I do feel that it describes the times themselves quite well, though. Tonight I'm leaning towards "A life at the front of the Baby Boom", or maybe "A Boomer's life." We'll see. I do like subtitles on non-fiction works, so this work will have one.

Thursday, January 7, 2010

And the New Age begins

Okay, "New Age" is overstating it. It's a new phase in a continuing life. I've taken to calling myself "semi-retired." I'm no longer looking for a full-time job. In fact I don't even want one any more. I'm hoping for a 2/5 part-time reference job to come open at Dayton Metro Library, and with that I would consider myself set indefinitely. Of course only God knows how long I will be able to work, and He is keeping that datum confidential. That's cool. But my hope is to be actively working until age 70, give or take a couple of years. If I can do that, working 20-30 hours a week, I'll have time for plenty of fun stuff.

My idea of fun stuff has changed lately, though. 8 or 10 years ago, I thought in terms of progamming - making games, web sites, that sort of thing. But after the layoff, when I took some web programming courses at Sinclair, I realized that I don't have enough of what Betty calls "design sense." Then I went to Library school and completed my Master of Library and Information Science degree. (Man, I LOVE writing the whole thing out like that!) I am now a Master! But in the course of that coursework, I found out something new - I can write!

This is not exactly new. In my undergraduate work, especially at Miami U. when I was doing mostly Common Curriculum courses, I wrote some stuff I was rather proud of. I sometimes wonder if any of it survives in our attic. If not it may be just as well; memory tends to put a brighter polish on things than they had on their own. But I didn't love the process of writing. At least part of this was deadline pressure. I had to turn in some stuff that I knew would be better with a few more days to work on it. Later at Wright State, when I had free electives to choose, I went for either science or philosophy, not English.

Looking back, I wonder how much difference it would have made if I had had modern technology. I particularly remember a paper at Miami on Chaucer's The Pardoner's Tale. As I was near the end, I realized that Chaucer had slipped in an excuse for the Pardoner's bad behavior, and used that for a conclusion. Going back to moderate my castigation of his hypocrisy would have meant retyping the whole essay. So I got (justifiably) taken off for changing directions so abruptly at the end. With a word processor, I might have had the time to correct things. But that was the days of typewriters - once you type it, buddy, there it sits. Correcting a sentence meant correcting a page. And adding a sentence meant retyping everything that came after it.

So when I finally started on a for-real master's degree, I was worried. Sure, I could write better than almost any computer geek I knew, but that's a really low standard. A large majority of them may be smart, even ingenious, where logic and technology are concerned, but very few can put together a coherent sentence. Going in to Library school, knowing that most of the students were liberal arts majors, especially English and History, I was afraid of being in over my head. When Prof. Boon told me that she liked my writing, I was stunned.

So three things have combined to change my attitude toward writing. Having graduated, I can write without deadlines. Technology has made editing and polishing much easier and faster. And most important, someone who knows writing thinks that I can write well! So I'm planning to spend a fair amount of my new free time in writing. I just started my memoirs; that always seems like an easy way in to writing. Write what you know, they all say. More to come, God willing.