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Librarian Blog

A remarkable statistic

When I was in high school in the '60s, I just assumed that everyone in America was going to stick it out like I was and get a diploma.
As Paul Simon contended in one of his tunes, I did learn a lot of c--p in high school, but that was just what I was expected to consume so as to get out.
I don't know how much c--p is perpetrated on kids today across America, and perhaps none is at all. But, in record numbers they are perservering and graduating. Right now, according to new data from the Census Bureau, 90 percent of the people 25 and older have a high school diploma.
That's a record.
And it's a record in every kind of American.
I hope this is a good thing and not just a numbers game.
I hope that graduating from high school means something, although I worry that it does not mean today what it meant when I crossed the stage 52 years ago.
I hope graduation means going through a gate that leads to more education, a good job and a happy and productive adulthood.
I worry, though, that trends that have been clear for years will continue and graduation willl actually mean less and less as we go along.
I guess I should not be so quick to be dismissive, but ...

This is your brain on ...

If you've been on a college campus recently or at a shopping mall or heavily trafficked downtown -- or maybe just in a restaurant -- you could not have missed the fact that young people are absolutely addicted to their cell phones.
I use the term "addicted" advisedly.
But, numbers cited by Ken Budd in an article in the most recent AARP magazine seem to make "addiction" seem plausible if not altogether likely. "Americans, on average, touch their phones an astounding 2,617 times a day, according to market researcher Discount," he writes. Fifty percent of people check their cell phones in the middle of the night.
Budd builds a pretty solid case: A great many Americans would rather look and interact with their cell phones than with anyone or anything else.
The result is a reduced attention span and an increased level of frustration as well as a decrease in the ability to do sustained work or focused work or, in other words, to concentrate.
Budd doesn't go into the longterm consequences, but they are not hard to imagine: A nation that thrives on soundbites and Twitter and the glitter of celebrity while denigrating thoughtful and reasoned approaches to the matters of the world. Sound familiar?

A matter of punctuation

Big news today out of big business. Specifically this: Wal-Mart Stores Inc. is changing its official name to Walmart Inc.
The company says it's dropping "stores" from the name because it yearns to be more than a store. It wants people to think of it like they think of Amazon.
I don't think that's the real reason, though.
I think it is about that little bit of punctuation that splits Wal from Mart in the name as it is now.
Officially, that is a hyphen.
But as a sign of how poorly most people have been educated about punctuation marks, most folks call it a dash. A dash is actually a little longer than a hyphen, and in Microsoft Word, you have to put two hyphens together to get a dash, and if you want the dash not to look like it is just two hyphens but actually a longer hyphen you have to do some extra typing steps.
What it's called matters because a hyphen and a dash are not the same thing at all. The hyphen connects things. The dash acts, usually, quite like a colon, a little mark that's losing its footing in the English language, too.
It's irritating to have someone tell you that his email is something like "This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it." by calling the little line in there a dash when it is in facat a hyphen. If you actually put a dash into that address you will not ever reach Joe Blow.
I've seen Wal-Mart spelled a number of ways over the years. Doesn't seem to matter how. People still find their way to the store and buy stuff.

Lying is easy

I've been reading about this kid in London who invented a restaurant and then fooled TripAdvisor into thinking it was real and now spills his whole tale in The Washington Post.
He called the place the Shed at Dulwich. He built a whole imaginary world around The Shed -- the menu, the staff, the place, etc.
And he sold the bill of goods to TripAdvisor, and then had friends and family do fake reviews so that the place sounded so astounding that it leapt to the top of the listings for joints to eat at in London.
And so, there you are.
Another liar takes people for a ride and then brags about it.
What's up with this business of giving liars a big round of applause because they managed to do what they set out to do with people who were just being people -- gullible, willing to believe, naive.
Pimp yourself to the suckers and you turn up the winner with your 15 minutes of fame.
Truly, folks, I guess this fits with the post-moral culture we have enshrined here and abroad.
The truth: something only nitwits and fools believe in.

Sifting through the chaffe

Back in the spring, we saw a spate of articles about how to deal with fake news, a plague upon our intellectual landscape.
One of the best ideas, at least in concept, was put forward by the Trust Project at Santa Clara University in California. The idea was that news would be vetted according to a set of ethical/practical standards and each article so vetted would get a nice Trust Project insignia showing that it was trustworthy, not fake news.
I read in March that the Trust Project designator would be available for use by mid-summer.
I have heard no more about it.
I wonder if the project ever really got underway or whether it got bogged down in the details, which could easily happen if you're looking at complicated issues and your standards can seem arbitrary. The bestowing of a Trust logo on a particular work would seem to be imposing a super-editor on top of regular editors, and scofflaws and fake newsers would just take the logo anway. 
I don't see a Trust Project logo on anything, but, then, I haven't exactly been looking.
I wish the Santa Clara folks well, but I think they are embarked on a lost cause. It may just be too much trouble to make sure the truth gets out and lies get suppressed.
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