Of Books, Compassion and Cruelty

Yesterday I got caught up in a Facebook argument about public libraries and care for the homeless.

Well, I sort of got caught up – sort of, as usual I missed most of it, because a) I was hanging out here with you reprobates b) the time normally devoted to writing was devoted to sleeping.  The entire family had a very odd upper respiratory thing and the symptoms ranged from the mildest – my husband – which just induced a lot of sleep to the heaviest – mine – which on top of feeling like I was carrying a three ton weight around, gave me the absolute worst headache I’ve ever had.  As a champion headache let me assure you this one was a doozy.  So I sort of got zombified for most of the day (today I seem to be “up” to my husband’s level yesterday of feeling like I’d like to sleep rather a lot.  Husband is bright eyed and bushytailed and at work, so I’m hoping that will be me tomorrow.  Fingers crossed.) and missed most of the argument, which was fine, since William T. Quick was making the points I would otherwise have made.  He’s at the more libertarian end of the spectrum (by which I mean more Libertarian) from me and you know libertarians, no two of us ever agree on anything, but on this basic thing we were like two bodies with but one soul.

This discussion got me thinking, and btw, you are warned this might be the world’s longest blog post because I’m zombified and therefore can’t write short to save my life.

It started with a fan linking a bunch of us to a site about libraries.  What he said was sort of true of me, though not really.

I have a very odd relationship with libraries.  First, to begin with, unlike most of you, I didn’t fall in love with a public library in childhood.  I didn’t, because there were none.  Portugal has a system of public libraries, and in fact, if you look on line, there is a picture of a very ornate library in Portugal.  When that was making the rounds of the net, all my friends linked me with “wow, you must know that place inside out.”  Well… um… the place was in fact in either Lisbon or Coimbra, which most of the time I was growing up were a tediously long train journey away.  So even had they been libraries as Americans view them, I probably wouldn’t have visited them that often.  And I’ll confess I was, briefly, for a few months, familiar with the Porto branch of the same library system.

The reason I was familiar with it, will explain to you why I wasn’t more familiar and the difference between Portuguese libraries and American ones.  I spent a few months, every free moment after school, in that library tracing the fluctuations of currency through the sixteenth century in Portugal.

See, the libraries in Portugal are repositories of original material – some of it very old.  If you want to do anything that requires primary sources you go to the public library.  The entire system is the equivalent of the section of libraries here devoted to local history and documents.

As in those, you can’t check books out, and quite frankly, you wouldn’t want to.  The few fiction books in there are those considered of historical and/or literary value.

There are of course other libraries, most of those being rather small and confined and private.  Most parish houses have a lending library at least for young people.  A lot of youth clubs have libraries.  Schools from middle school up have libraries.

Unfortunately, it is all tainted by the rather nose-in-the-air attitude that culture is something that’s too good for the common folk and also that the common folk must be protected from “trashy novels.”

With the best good will in the world – and remember I’m the kid who read Thomas Mann at eight simply because I was bored out of my gourd and those were the only books I could get my hands on (in the attic) which hadn’t been read yet.  Same reason I read Camus at 11 – I found myself hard pressed to discover anything in most of those libraries that I wanted to read.  Most of it was moral tracts and improving works, and it was therefore as dusty as it deserved to be.

I think I once found a book about a Portuguese Queen in my Highschool library which was only half bad.  I “think” because I might have dreamed it.

By the time I’d started tutoring I’d come to the conclusion not the only difference but a considerable one between me and most of the people I tutored was that they’d grown up without fun books.

This was particularly bad when the kids I got were geniuses (most of them were.  Not all) born to families of poor-but-honest-and-definitely-pious peasants.

Portugal is an odd country.  It is said that every Portuguese has a book of poems stowed away somewhere that will never see the light of day.  This is probably true – at least to some extent.  I would be very shocked if the guy up the street who forced his family to live in medieval squalor and farmed by medieval methods had one, but you never know.  Those romantic poets can get weird.

At any rate, most Portuguese will at the very least pay lip service to books.  It was a shock to me when I came to the states and people saw me reading and asked me what I was studying for.  In Portugal a lot of people read in the train, though for working class young men, in my day, that was usually comic books.

However, a certain class of people… let’s called the wanna-be middle class, views it as their duty to keep their kids – particularly their daughters – from being corrupted with “trashy” stuff.  Portugal being a country with two feet, two ankles and heck, at least up to the chest in the past, “trashy” is anything written in the last hundred years, which hasn’t been given the imprimatur of either “intellectuals” or “the church.”

My family was always weird, in that mom disapproved of books about imaginary stuff (I think younger son takes after her, though he likes the meatier SF and some mysteries.  He prefers books about how things work/worked, and real history and stuff) but dad was addicted to who-dunnits and adventure books (Captain Morgan and Sir Walter Scott were his.)

Dad had spent all his pocket money since he was eleven or so (and this is a man who walked over an hour to school because buses were too expensive) in the used bookshops (known in Portuguese by the rather romantic and I suspect Arab-origin name of Alfarabios.  Normal bookshops were librarias (places containing books.)  I have no idea what Alfarabios means, etymologically, but like bazaar or kiosk it has a romantic taste in the tongue, a suggestion of something exotic and strange.)  Those weren’t very common when I was growing up in Portugal, because culture taints buying used with the same sort of low-class feel as selling your stuff in pawnshops.  But dad was broke, and he had to read.

His library was augmented by inheritances from his grandmother and great grandmother both of which I’m given to understand though nothing of feeding the family on vegetable soup for a week so they could buy the new chapters of the novels they were following.  (These were sold in chapters, with a hole on top, hanging from a loop of string attached to a pole.  The bookseller came through village hawking his wares, and sold novels to people a chapter at a time – they probably couldn’t have afforded a whole book at once.  They sold fun stuff – I think our Sir Walter Scott was originally bought that way – and villagers bought it, and once they had a book, they’d save and send it to be bound up.  This system had ended LONG before my time, but the expression “string literature” for cheap, accessible, exciting adventures stayed in the language.  My dad often teased me with it when I was little and devouring Enid Blyton by the yard.)  Then as my brother and I started reading, we started poling our birthday and Christmas money to buy paperbacks: science fiction and mystery, mostly.  And since my dad still devoted most of his money to books – it was his secret vice.  Other men blew money away on drink.  He spent it on books – we learned to coordinate and strategize purchases.  This meant, yes, that my brother and I often bought dad the books we wanted to read for his birthday and read them very carefully and wearing gloves before we wrapped it for him.  It meant also that when going to the book fair, which takes place in large cities for a couple of weeks in summer, outdoors, in tents, and where books are usually offered starting at half price (and old stock that was in the back MUCH cheaper) we had to compare lists.  “Okay, I’m looking for this, this and this are they on your list?”  We also would do the first walk then call home and ask the others if they (if they’d gone before) had already bought x y or z.  This was hard learned.  The year I turned fourteen and had some money I’d made (it might have been the year I ran a neighborhood newspaper) and my brother had money form tutoring, we went to the book fair separately and ALL THREE OF US brought home the exact same books, which was a total waste of money.

But, anyway, when I realized a lot of the peasant kids I taught needed more fun books, I begun starting libraries or enriching the ones that existed.  I convinced my Portuguese and English teachers to back me up in adding an SF section to the Highschool library, for instance.  It required them to convince the librarian that translations and science fiction at that could be “worthy”.  It leaned heavily to Bradbury, but I snuck in some Heinlein under the radar.  I also started lending libraries in two groups I was involved with.  Whether they lasted past my improvement Bob (Heinlein) knows.

Coming to the States was a shock to the system.  First of all, my host family had no books in the house.  None.  I don’t mean to imply they were stupid, they weren’t.  But their entertainment ran to TV and magazines.  I suppose dad had technical books but there was no reading-as-fun.  This was odd even amid neighbors.  Dan’s family down the road always had books lying about.

But just as I started to go on a jag of withdrawal, my host mother said something like “Well, for heaven’s sake, why don’t you go to the library?”  I was still new and didn’t want to be rude, so I didn’t tell mom that I didn’t want that KIND of boring.  Instead, I let her take me to the public library.  And I fell in love.

Books.  Not just fun fiction, but fun non-fiction.  Who knew people would write things like the life of Shakespeare and other history, and books about quasars in ways that common people would want to read them?  (They came to Portugal, too, eventually, but at that time popular non-fiction was news to me.)

Yes, it was sort of like locking a kid in the candy store.  I ended up volunteering at the library because that way they’d trust me to take more books out, and besides, I’d discover stuff I’d never seen before.

Then I went back to Portugal and, shaky from withdrawal and also wanting to keep my English up, discovered that American tourists, bless their wealthy hearts, often abandoned the books they’d brought over to read over summer (understandable, since that meant they had more room for stuff bought cheap in Portugal.)  I’ve read more thrillers and beach romances than I care to admit to, but it kept both the English and the reading bug sharp.

Back in the states, newly wed and frankly broke, I both developed an unhealthy relationship with a used book store called The Bookworm in Rockhill, South Carolina, and I learned to drive PRIMARILLY so I could drive to the library.  In Charlotte we routinely borrowed books from three branches, and when I was bed-ridden with Robert, Dan took our biggest three suitcases (the ones we took when traveling to Portugal) down to it, with strict orders to fill them to the top and the order of SF, Mystery, historical, nonfiction consisting of biographies, history and science.  I think he bought out MOST of the sale and all in those categories.)

Then we moved to the Springs and we were somewhat beyond broke.  I’d also abandoned 2/3 of my books when moving from the Carolinas (truck space) which left me HUNGERING for books.  Yeah, I had the local bookshops free-bookshelf where they put the books they didn’t think they could resell.  I used to go early in the morning, with Robert in a carriage, to snag the most readable stuff.  But there is only so much gothic romance a woman can read.

So I used the library.  We lived downtown, in a student apartment, and the library was thirty minutes walk away.  I used to make that walk every other day and the pouch at the back of the carriage was full of books for the return trip.  The library was also where I sought refuge on weekends, when Dan was watching the kids, to get a little bit of writing done (longhand.  No laptops.)

This was the period where my relationship to the library (practically living there) was the one described in the stuff the fan posted.

When we moved away from downtown that relationship became more distant.  I still did some library sales (it was at one of those I found Dwight Swain) when I was aware they were happening, and I still went to the library when the preliminary hints of an idea started bothering me.  Say “something about Africa.”  This allowed me to read forty or fifty books for free before I decided if the idea worked.

The last time I read the library out of books in one section was … must be 6 years ago (I was homeschooling the kid.  Might have been seven) when I was considering the idea of a series about women of the War of the Roses.

A little earlier, while we were working on the other house to get it ready to sell, I borrowed audio books at the rate of two a day.

But even then it wasn’t as essential as it had been, once upon a time.  I could now find the precise book or books I wanted on Amazon and often very cheap even with shipping.  This became more so with electronic books and the possibility of sampling a lot in the free section.  Also the preliminary reading on some theme or other can be done on line.

So, a year ago I needed to find information on a particular Romanian ruler, whose name evades me now.  I found hardly anything on line – a page or two – and usually just mentions in the books I could get hold of.  So I thought “library.”

My older son and I set off on an expedition.  It will show you the kind of hopeful idiot I am, that I took a shoulder-sack, convinced we’d fill it.

I should have known better.  The last time I tried to WORK at the library – four? – years ago, I couldn’t, because the place was full of homeless AND social workers interviewing them at a volume usually reserved for public speaking in a crowded room without microphones.

But they still had books!

A year ago… not so much.  Oh, there were still SOME books, most of them put in places they shouldn’t be and a lot of them missing that should be on the shelf.  BUT half of the space was taken up with music, games, videos and other things that, last I checked, weren’t BOOKS.

The library was also serving as an informal, ersatz homeless shelter, which made me afraid of going to some of the lower levels and looking for stuff.

I found not one book to check out, not even a tangentially relevant one.  I won’t be going back.  And while I’m sure the suburban libraries are better in terms of not having patrons urinating in the corner, I can check the stock on line and they too seem to be going video/game/music.

However, the festivities on line started with Bill Quick saying that his own library was unusable being full of homeless.  I concurred.

Enter the bleeding heart brigade, saying that if we had better services for the homeless this wouldn’t happen.

Bill immediately pointed out he lives in San Francisco, possibly the city with the BEST homeless assistance services.  And I pointed out that Colorado Springs is known in the region as having some of the best assistance services (many of them private) from soup kitchens to shelters.

We were then accused of being heartless and wanting to sweep poverty and need under the rug.

So…  I know it took me this long to come to the point, but I wanted you to realize what libraries as they used to be in America can mean not just to me but more so to people who have no books at home, and the theory of comparative scale of use.  (Also I’m ill and writing long is much easier than writing short.)

First let’s start with the fact that homelessness as it exists in America isn’t poverty.  In fact part of the problem with it is that it ISN’T poverty.  Look, regardless of what you’ve seen on the movies or tv, most homeless are not families fallen on hard times.  Yes, there are some of those now, but most of those while technically “homeless” aren’t living in your local park.  They’ve just taken over mom and dad’s basement, moved onto a friend’s living room or whatever.  Terrible – I’ve been JUST short of that at least three times in my married life – and humiliating, but NOT “stand in the park and wheedle on yourself.”

90% of the homeless in America and the hard core ones are people with mental health issues, people with drug abuse issues and people who have found they can live without having to do anything for it, and can be “free” and outside society.  I’ve overheard conversations in the park, and I suppose that most of the people who “dropped out” in the sixties are dead, but a lot of them are alive and going from soup kitchen to free clinic, with a bit of begging in between.

Yes, there are entire families in this system, including homeless children – but for them to stay in it, the parents need to have some sort of serious issue.  Otherwise, even if they can’t find work, there is assistance available to get them at least into public housing, which, nightmarish though it is, it’s not living in the park.

I’m not going to pretend this doesn’t happen to normal families too – see where I came very close to that level and more than once too – but normal families usually tend to bounce back.  They go through a few months of mess and horror, and then they claw back to some semblance of normality.  (This might change as our economy dives and programs of necessity get cut.  The ones for the DESERVING poor will be cut first, of course, since they rarely riot.)

The problem with this is that when people get appalled at the conditions the homeless live in and start offering “homeless services” there is an entire network, not just of homeless but of social workers who direct the homeless to the cities with better services.

I swear to you and I’m not even joking that right now there are plenty more homeless on Colorado Springs streets than in Denver, despite the Springs being much smaller.

The Springs also has its soup kitchens and other services downtown and within easy walking distance of each other.

This means downtown businesses are closing, except for bars and restaurants which can control access.  And that the library is of course a place to camp in the cool/warm during the day.

It means more than that.  We moved within easy driving distance of downtown, because when we lived downtown when we first came to Colorado Springs, I used to take walks every day.  When we moved to our little mountain village, without these, I gained ten pounds a year.  I used to love walking downtown, dropping by the deli and the three bookstores (only one left, and it’s MOSTLY a restaurant now) checking out the other little shops which ranged from yarn to weird import crafts.

Now those are gone.  Worse – the last two times I walked downtown alone (i.e. without commanding the muscle, aka older son to go with me) someone FOLLOWED me and I had to employ stuff from my childhood to lose them.  Once it was a large and addled looking male, and yes, he was following me.  And once it was TWO large and addled looking males.  For the icing on the cake – not related to this, but from a blog entry – I clicked on the sex offenders registry.  Yes, I know, a lot of people there are there because someone accused them and was never proven.  Our local one at least has notes on whether it’s accusation, trial or conviction and also whether the crime was against children or adults.

The downtown zipcode is FULL of registered sex offenders who’ve done hard time and who have committed their crimes against adults.  The faces are very familiar from my walks, and yep, one was the guy who tried to follow me.

Which means, if I walk I take the boy with me.  Even then at least once some guys tried to flank us.  You see, the vagrancy laws are not being enforced AT ALL because the city is “compassionate.”

Let’s talk about compassion – most of the shops downtown were mom and pop operations and many had been there since after the war.  But when customers are afraid to walk around (and when the stupid meters with requirements you move every two hours makes it impossible to park close by and just go around the more popular area, because city planners don’t understand you don’t shop downtown like at the mall) and when you can’t keep homeless from coming in and peeing on your books, the stores either move elsewhere and close.  Which, arguably destroys wealth.

This same “compassion” makes it impossible for women and children to walk downtown in their lawful pursuits.  This same “compassion” makes the library which could help a lot of kids fall in love with books as we did, and meet other people who like books (even if they are reading them mostly online) into a dangerous no-go zone.  This same compassion is emptying the smaller office buildings that don’t have doormen.  The office I rented, which was the only one I could afford, eventually became unusable.  These are the times they are, and a lot of small businesses are going under, so when I moved in the office building was half full.  Only you know how it is…  small businesses, we worked odd hours.  Sometimes when I was there there was only me and two or three other people in a building with forty or so offices.

And then other people started moving out.  I didn’t understand why until the day I was alone on my floor and I came across a clearly homeless guy in the hallway.  I’d seen them there before, they usually roamed in and roamed out, and you walked past them.  Only this one was… well… feral.  There was no human in the eyes.  I barely got into my office ahead of his jump for me, and then I was stuck there until I was sure he was gone (which took a lot of looking through the bulls-eye) which was about four hours, and the room didn’t have either water or a bathroom (those were down the hall.)  I had the presence of mind to play one of my audio books – with male voices – loud enough to sound like I had a guy in there with me (I talked in between) and he moved off very fast.

After that I didn’t use the office and let it lapse when the rental ran out.  That building is now completely empty and for sale.  Is that compassionate to the owner who is btw an immigrant and not particularly wealthy?

Is it a matter, as someone once preached at me, of my wanting “poverty and deprivation swept under the rug?”

Oh, h*ll no.  If these homeless people were the kind of down at heel families or working-class people the movies depict them as, I’d feel sorry for them, but I would NOT want them swept out of the public view.  Poor people – no matter how much maligned poverty is by being accused of causing crime or whatever – don’t usually try to attack people and rape them, poor people aren’t evil.  They’re just poor.  I know.  I’ve been poor a lot and some of my best friends are poor.

But instead, most homeless are … feral.  The sort of people who don’t recognize the social compact and don’t care about the rules of society.  At best they are insane and unpredictable (read My Brother Ron by Clayton E Cramer, for a look at what many, many of the homeless are like) at worst they are drug addicted and … how do I put this?  Contemptuous of those of us who play by the rules, have jobs, and make an effort for a living.

And that’s the problem.  The problem is most cities and private charities misdiagnose the issue.  They look at their mounting unemployment and they think “we must do something to help these people.”  Heaven knows that’s true and getting worse.

But then comes the non-judgmental gospel of the age, where you can’t judge, and you can’t ask what these people were doing, require that they keep clean, require they see a psychiatrist in order to get food.  No, you can’t do any of that because that would be discriminatory.  So you just give freely and as much as possible.

And the vultures come.

I pity the REAL “homeless due to need” families that have to raised kids in that kind of hell.  They should get help, but they shouldn’t be forced to get it next to sex offenders, chronic drug abusers and people who frankly couldn’t give a d*mn about getting out of that situation and getting better.

And I pity the businesses who have to cope with this invasion by feral humans, supported by other people’s money but not feeling the slightest obligation to other people.  And I pity the children who will never get to experience public libraries or the guidance of a friendly librarian.  And I pity the women and teens who can’t simply take a stroll downtown.  And I pity the owners of downtown buildings who aren’t wealthy enough to hire doormen.  I pity the drug addicted/mentally ill (often a covalent group) who don’t find guidance or help in keeping up with their medications and becoming functional again.

Compassion?  I’m full of it.  But not for those who are feeding the beast of dependence.  Not for those who make it possible for people to live off society but not in it.  Those false bleeding hearts just want to feel good about themselves.

And by being kind to the cruel and parasitical they are much more than cruel to the kind and helpless.

186 responses to “Of Books, Compassion and Cruelty

  1. > but the expression “string literature”

    OK, maybe the “make long ears” from your last post wasn’t a Portuguese phrase, but this one clearly is. Awesome.

    • String lit is a great expression!

      • I ASPIRE to being string literature…

        • There are some writers who I don’t much like as people, but who I admire as profit maxizers (cough Gamma Rabbit cough). Some of these folks have started releasing novels in fragments as they’re written – 99 cents per episode.

          I love this idea. In my day job I’ve found that subscription based services are a lot more profitable than selling the whole enchillada once. The problem that makes it hard for me to do this with my own writing: I am not now (and may never be) at the point where I can lock down chapter 1 as “good enough to ship” until the whole thing is done. I want to keep tweaking, tightening the plot, putting Chekov guns for chapter 50 on the mantle in chapter 2, etc.

          So I think I’m doomed to not be a profit maximizer in the fiction space – and may, given my preferences, actually be a profit minimizer. 😉

          • BobtheRegisterredFool

            The writers of Naruto, Bleach, and One Piece seem to have done some fairly substantial deep foreshadowing working in serials.

          • So write the whole thing, but sell it chapter by chapter when it’s all done.
            Unless you tattle on yourself, who’s to know if you wrote it yesterday or last year, and why should anyone at all care?
            My biggest problem with writing anything is that once I know what happens I lose all interest in writing it down. Outlines–heck, even an ending goal–are the enemy.

            • So, be a pantser. If you friend Kate Paulk, she’ll mentor you. Probably. If you’re nice. She’s an EXTREME pantser.

              Writing the novel chapter by chapter leads to a mess of editing (She says, glaring at Witchfinder on her desk.)

              • Some of Dickens’ novels had problems with inconsistencies because of the serial nature of how he wrote them.

                Thanks for mentioning my book, My Brother Ron. There are so many tragedies that deinstitutionalization of the mentally ill caused. And the biggest tragedies aren’t even what it has done to the rest of our society, but to the mentally ill themselves.

                • Yes, I’m finding that the serialized novel is a pain to fix because of that.

                  Your book, sir, was like a bucket of cold water and horrible to contemplate. There are several forms of mental illness — not that severe — in mom’s family, and I could imagine having a family member go through this. And yes, I agree with you, the loss of your brother is an injustice to himself and a tragedy to your family.

                  I read your book because of a link from some blog, and it turned out to be one of those that will stay with me forever.

            • > I know what happens I lose all interest in writing it down.

              I am not a pantser by nature. My spices are filed alphabetically.

              So I made a complete outline of my novel.

              And despite my inclination and my plans, the novel got away from me and turned into something much much bigger.

              I’d suggest that even if you THINK you know how it all plays out, the mere act of writing it down is likely to show you that you’re wrong…and then you’ve got the fun of figuring it out on the fly!

              • He, he, he, that’s why my “one volume, one shot, little project” is now a trilogy that will likely turn into a four-part series. Honest, it just growed!

                • Yeah, when I started on my next project after ‘To Truckee’s Trail’, it was going to be this nice mid-sized romantic novel about the German settlements in Texas; about the Adelsverein organization, and Baron von Meusebach’s peace treaty with the Comanche … but before very long it had ballooned into a trilogy with as many words as Lord of the Rings, and the whole thing has since birthed a two-book account of live in early Texas and in the Republic years, not to mention the sequel which is the current WIP … I hate to think of how long and how many volumes there would have been if I had REALLY let myself go!

          • RELEASE it chapter by chapter after it’s done, not as you’re writing it! Write the next one while you’re releasing the first one 🙂

          • I know the feeling. I have an Idea, which could be described as producing a sequence of stories with an overall arc, or as a very episodic novel. I am reluctant to work on the first stories before I have outlined the whole shebang.

          • That’s pretty much what I was doing with the Dr. Mauser Stories in my DeviantArt account. I started writing shorts, and it started turning into a series, and now I’m trying to piece it together into a proper novel, and yet, I’ve been posting the chapters as I go. Although it will have to come down when it’s finished unless I want Amazon to force me to give it away.

  2. Camp of the Saints comes to mind.

  3. ::stands on chair and cheers!!::

    How right you are! The other side of the coin, too, is that people whose jobs *depend* on there being homeless for them to ‘care for’ (bureaucrats, social workers, etc) are not going to put themselves out of a job by helping people get *off* the “homeless” rolls. They are encouraged to add ever more people to the food stamp/homeless/government aid morass.

    Our streets are full, and the mental hospitals where they can get help in making certain they take their medication are empty.

    The earlier “compassion” that emptied those mental hospitals has fed into this crisis.

    • Exactly — and the emptying of the mental hospitals was yet another of those well-intended things that turned out badly. To be sure, there were major problems with many of the older mental hospitals, including serious abuses. But turning the patients out without making sure that the halfway houses and other community mental health supports were in place *first* was a recipe for disaster.

      Persons with serious mental health issues can live at home and even thrive *if* they have a strong social support network to make sure they stay on their medicines, get to their appointments, etc. (I say this as a close relative of someone with a serious mental health issue, who had to go through a period of hospitalization and ECT, but who has made a good recovery — but ours is a tight-knit family with the wherewithal to make sure the family member in question takes his medications and gets to his appointments so that a recurrence will be caught before it spirals out of control). However, persons with serious mental health issues who are simply turned loose with a package of medicine and instructions to come back for their next checkup in two months are going to end up the nightmarish feral homeless, for the simple reason that they don’t have it together enough to keep it together by themselves. In the absence of a family who can make sure they do the necessary things to treat their condition, they need some form of institutional care to make sure they do.

      And many of the people with addiction issues, whether alcohol or street drugs, often are self-medicating mental health issues — which means that part of cleaning them up is going to have to be identifying their problems and getting them on the correct medicines to address their neurochemical issues. Otherwise, as soon as they get back out of the detox facility, they’ll go right back to the same old stuff. And a lot of them may well be such that mental health care may mean some form of structured institutional care (mental hospital, group home, etc) for the rest of their lives, if their families can’t or won’t care for them. (and sadly, there seems to be a strong genetic component to many mental disorders, which means that often their family members are barely functional themselves, and trying to care for a completely dysfunctional family member would pull them under).

      • BobtheRegisterredFool

        I’d add that anything strong enough to have utility in self medication is probably strong enough that it makes other problems in addition to the original ones. Practicing psychiatry on oneself is stupid, even if one has the background.

        • Amen to that one. The side effects of many psychiatric pharmaceuticals prescribed by a doctor are nasty enough that with many of them (particularly for schizophrenia and similar disorders), drug and dosage changes have to be done on an inpatient basis. It’s simply not safe to do it without close observation of the patient’s reaction to the change for several days, because sometimes it can take a few days for the brain to adjust to the new dosage (or new drug) and show any unpleasant side effects.

          To attempt to do it on oneself, with street drugs of unknown potency and reliability, just shows how desperate these people are, and how disordered their thinking is apt to be. (That said, with depressive disorders, the drug of choice for self-medication is usually alcohol, so at least one is able to buy a substance of known quality and purity from a reputable seller. But it’s still a poor substitute for proper antidepressants, and there’s no monitoring for liver damage or the other things heavy drinking can do to the human body).

          • Hey, you’re talking about Stephen Green and me there. We’re dosing just FINE! 🙂 (Just don’t get us together. Because we talk politics. And then “Alcohol poisoning walking” comes to mind.

          • Also on dosage and all that — my friend Kate Paulk (no, I’m not violating secrets) is chemically sane. I.e. without meds she’s really really badly off. I’ve learned a lot through talking to her. things like, if they accidentally mis-medicate you you can go insane in interesting ways. Also, the last thing you want to do is try to diagnose yourself when you’re out of your mind… But I’ll let her talk on this when she gets home from work.

            • Kate Paulk

              Absolutely. Take my meds away and I’m a basket case. With them I can do a reasonable approximation of normality.

              Mis-medication and self-diagnosis get ugly… I came very close to an ER call for mental issues because of a bad prescription where my reaction to the meds included continual dizziness/vertigo and ramped up my issues to where I’d catch myself looking at the veins in my wrist and wondering if I could open them with the paperclip on my desk. Stopped that medication and the problems went away – I was quite scathing about that doctor who neglected to get a full history from me and who didn’t bother to check that the meds she’d prescribed were compatible with my other meds. Apparently that’s not enough to count as malpractice though.

              • Oh geez Kate– I have had problems with meds that were incompatible, but not to your extreme… except for when my prednisone was over 100 mg daily for 6 months. I was suicidal, paranoid, and schizophrenic on that drug at that dosages. I can safely say it was not fun and I don’t ever want to do that again.

    • I beg to disagree. The mental hospitals are not merely empty. They are closed which is something significantly worse. Were they empty, the police would have someplace to send the mentally ill ferals when they commit crimes. Right now they frequently don’t.

      • The problem is that there’s not much of a slope from using the power of government to lock up the truly insane to using it to lock up one’s political enemies (You’d have to be crazy to vote for X). Given the recent news out of DC and Denver, I simply do not trust anyone with the power to force someone into a mental hospital.

        Though I have been kicking around the idea of getting rid prison sentences of defined length and replacing it with a system of tiers, from maximum security through halfway houses, where you have to put in a minimum amount of time with good behavior before you are sent to the next lower tier, and you can only be discharged from the halfway house. That would tend to keep the mentally ill in the system, since they probably wouldn’t be able to go very long without some kind of violation.

        • Yes, that part worries me too. As do drugs.

        • BobtheRegisterredFool

          I think some or all of the druggies, whether or not they had anything wrong with them to begin with, now count as mentally ill.

          Can we afford the confined beds to house all of the drug offenders? Many would say no.

          Can we give government a free hand to deal with the druggies without giving them a free hand to deal with others as they see fit? I would say no. (I deeply regret that. I’ve been looking at it for years seeking another way, a way to do it, but, sadly, it cannot be allowed, and that is more important then being rid of the druggies.)

    • Listening to the radio yesterday… they had a gov’t commercial claiming that one in five Washington State families had been to a food pantry in the last year.

      I find this… highly questionable.

      That said, I think I know how they got it– and, oddly, from one of the folks who is wrestling with smacking against her compassion being taken advantage of; lady volunteers at a chain of food pantries, and one week she was shuffled to a couple of different ones– put in a couple of hundred miles of driving that week for this volunteering— and recognized a lady with a couple of kids at each one. Long story shorter, said woman with kids’ “day job” was driving to the food pantries and picking up a week’s worth of groceries at each.

      I just realized I didn’t ask the volunteer lady if she’d looked at the kids close enough to make sure they were the same ones each time, but I wouldn’t be surprised if they weren’t. You get more groceries depending on how many kids you’ve got, and physically having them there would beat lying on the paperwork, plus you can get paid for watching the neighbor’s kids…. if you’re a single woman, that can be big money.

      Volunteer lady started paying attention, and noticed when she filled in that she was recognizing several of the folks at multiple outlets…..

      Figure that there are, oh, one in a hundred folks that use the pantries who are systematically exploiting the system by acting like they’re a two-parent household with two kids, when they’re actually single with no kids. That’s a ten percent boost in adults using the pantries, and 5% increase in families in need, utterly fabricated. Then figure that there’s going to be some rounding up to protect folks’ jobs. Then figure that SNAP is probably figure in, too. It grows fast.

      • The charities in the main regional city got together and all but one pooled their funds and set up a internal network. Now if you go to get food, or school supplies, you have to bring ID, and if you try and double dip, you are politely but firmly shooed away. It might not work on a larger scale.

        • That would at least make a big part of the problem over here more obvious, but yeah… probably not scalable.

          (Illegals get a lot of mileage out of charity, and they’re more likely to have multiple IDs.)

  4. And “My Brother Ron” is available on Kindle for only $1.49! http://www.amazon.com/My-Brother-Ron-Deinstitutionalization-ebook/dp/B008E0LRQE/ref=sr_1_1?s=digital-text&ie=UTF8&qid=1370533649&sr=1-1&keywords=my+brother+ron

    Thanks, Sarah! I had not realized the subject of homelessness and libraries intersected in such a sad way…

    • Clayton has been spending significant money out of his own pocket for a publicist – in order to get on radio shows and talk about his book and this issue. I know he shopped the book around, couldn’t get it published and self-published – all because he felt passionate about the subject.

      I’m not saying Clayton’s going to miss any meals but he’s definitely not making any money.

      • And I’m not saying the book is a masterpiece of writing — there were places it could have been managed differently — but as it is, told clearly and artlessly and given the subject, it will … hit you like a lightening bolt.

        • I found it moving. I’d known Clayton via email, Usenet newsgroups, etc. since the early ’80’s when we were both working in S/W in Southern California but didn’t know the story.

          • Again, it’s an amazing book, even if it’s not a crafted and polished piece. It might be better because it’s not crafted and polished. It really gets across “This could happen to you!”

  5. Argh … you just posted this to troll me into a rant on libraries, didn’t you?

    • No. I didn’t even know you had one. But rant on, undead feline, rant on…

    • Yes! And we got popcorn! Don’t disappoint us! (You can have popcorn, too.)

    • Rob Crawford

      An… acquaintance(*) of mine who is such a book nerd she named her daughters Arwen and Juliet was a librarian for years, in cities (relatively) big and small. Just the stories I heard were enough to make me swear them off.

      (*) Complicated enough to make SQRT(-1) look simple.

  6. I had a homeless person stay with me for several weeks a while back. I had no issue with taking the person in, but it became evident that they were not going to leave on their own, and had stopped taking/run out of their meds. I had to take them to a halfway house, which was not an easy decision, but it was the only way the person was going to get help, I couldn’t do anything more. Then, the halfway house sent the person to the next state over, because the help for her was more available to the indigent than it was in my state. So I have seen it in action.

    • Rob Crawford

      The sad thing is, people think they’re “helping” by passing these people along to places they’ll be indulged more.

      • I had only intended to give the person couch space (small house, it was all I could offer) for a week. *shrugs* There came a point when I just couldn’t do more, and I was worried about their health. (Yes, I know my pronouns are awkward, I’m doing that on purpose)

    • In Gastonia NC it’s called “Greyhound Treatment.”

  7. I got my library card as soon as I could print my own first name.

    I started writing because my parents made me return all my books to the library just because we were going on vacation, and I was undergoing word withdrawal.

  8. Misplaced compassion seems to be something else that’s just in the culture today.

    Compassion for the homeless, which is good and right, but no compassion for the small business owners being driven out by people who want no part of the social compact on the micro level.

    Compassion for, example, certain Middle East groups, but not for the nation that’s on the receiving end of the aforementioned groups’ rocket and mortar attacks on the macro level.

    It really is all of a piece, isn’t it?

    • Rob Crawford

      Those business owners are trying to make a PROFIT!!! And they probably employ people, which means they’re EXPLOITERS!!!

    • Something I see every day– compassion for the drug addicted, but no compassion for those who get a disease like Vasculitis from no fault of their own. It is a mess to get any help and many of us have to get lawyers to get SSI– and other benefits. So far I haven’t had to go that route– knock on wood.

      • Compassion for people whose problems are no fault of their own does not win you moral brownie points. How can you feel great about yourself for pitying those that just about anyone could pity?

      • SSDI is another rant of mine.

        • yea– you probably would believe the kind of people who get accepted into the program. I am truly amazed.

        • I remember when people could get help from their church, family, or community. It is not something that happens often now– *sigh Maybe because the family doesn’t have enough to sustain them either.

          • No. It’s because the family can’t FORCE them to take help. Seriously. Again, read My Brother Ron. My church runs the largest soup kitchen in the springs, but it doesn’t “discriminate” based on behavior or “deservingness”

            • Ah– I was thinking of those people who have diseases through no fault of their own, who can’t get help without a fight.

              The mental illness thing I saw the change in services for them in the 80s. I don’t remember what year was the massive dump on the streets, but it wasn’t good for anyone. We had the “tramps and bums” ‘er homeless long before then though.

              • Rob Crawford

                There was no “massive dump on the streets”. The states each scaled back their programs over a couple of decades.

                • Yep. By the eighties the hospitals were mostly empty so they were closed, which means the dems run around saying “Reagan closed the mental hospitals.” (Four Pinocchios)

                  • In the 70’s we lived in California while Reagan was governor. He did close the mental hospitals there. Perhaps that’s what the Dem’s are referring to. A big flap resulted. But then the state discovered how much cheaper it was and all was well.

                    • I wonder how empty those mental hospitals were. I’m not going to “saint” Reagan. Again, he was at best a social democrat (which is better than we’ve had in a while, think on) but the truth is that the “let’s let the mad people out of the asylum” push was on the other side. See One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest.

                    • Throughout my political awareness the Left has routinely pushed bad policy — from Vietnam to George W. Bush’s $300 tax rebates — which failed horribly and for which they blamed Republicans (see also: recent arguments that the Kermit Gosnell clinic demonstrates the need for a more liberal abortion policy.)

                      It would be easy to employ common sexist stereotypes to depict conservatives as the “male” party, forever attempting to appease the idiotic demands of its female partner, the liberals — and always catching the blame for the easily anticipated failure of those liberal schemes. It would be easy but it would be wrong. Call them, instead, the Ricky and Lucy of electoral politics.

                    • Although it was nearly 40 years ago, and my memory is not as good as it was, I remember the count being in the thousands. I have no idea how many beds California had at the time.

                    • A lot of the mental hospital issue arose from efforts to raise the standards for being able to commit someone involuntarily. Among the things Clayton did was try to find actual events that corresponded to all the claims made of people being committed who should not have been. He wasn’t able to substantiate them.

                    • That sounds right enough that I want to disbelieve it….

                      (Most of the non-self-violent and not-just-weird crazy folks I know are really obviously going to get someone else dead. Like, trap your mom and grandma in their bedroom for hours until your dad gets home, multiple times, type dangerous. It’s easy to see the horror in “but someone may call me crazy and abuse me;” it’s harder to recognize “there are some nice, big, strong, physically healthy adult men who are bat shit freaking psycho in a way the movies don’t reflect.“)

                • That’s why I can’t remember lol– it was a gradual massive dump.

                  • Please, please. Please! In the context provided, referring to the abandonment of the homeless to go feral in our cities as a “massive dump” represents a temptation toward punning that would cause too many poople to recognize me for the cruel, heartless, uncompassionate and downright mean person I am.

                    Could we perhaps avoid further fecal-related metaphor for the residency-deprived?

          • Government provided services tend to crowd out the various voluntary providers, in part because the government is indiscriminate.

        • Paul (Drak Bibliophile) Howard

          Nit Pick, SSDI can be very useful. My problem made it extremely hard to get a new job (in my field or otherwise). I’m currently drawing on SSDI.

          • My rant would not be about who should or not get it but about the stupid bureaucracy.

          • Exploitation of a meritorious service tends to delegitimize it for all, discrediting its purpose by its failure to focus on only the “worthy.”

            And yeah, suggesting the concept of “worthy” should be involved will get you damned by the more heart than brain crowd.

  9. I touched on this, tangentally, in a blog entry at my mil-blog a couple of years ago:
    “One has only to look at a place like urban San Francisco, where the soft power of community disapproval of certain behaviors has been disarmed, and civil authority made powerless, to see what happens in their absence. There has long been bitter complaining by residents, business owners and tourists about homeless people— often deranged, usually unkempt and aggressively pan-handling, living, sleeping, eating and defecating in the streets and sidewalks—- not exactly what wants to contemplate in an urban vista, even though one might very well feel quite compassionate about the homeless, and generous in rendering assistance. Any sort of organized call to do something about the homeless is met with aggrieved accusations of being anti-homeless, and being selfish and heartless about those poor homeless who have no where else to go, et cetera, et cetera. And that public space continues to be noisome and uninviting; since the problem cannot or will not be fixed to anyone’s satisfaction and those residents or travelers who do not want to deal with aggressive and deranged panhandlers will quietly go elsewhere. Just so do responsible residents of a neighborhood under threat of being overtaken over by drug traffickers and gang-bangers, if neighborly disapproval of such goings on is not backed up by civil law, impartially applied…”

    Whole meditation here: http://www.ncobrief.com/index.php/archives/the-use-of-public-spaces/

    • There is no such thing as “soft power”. There is only Power, and whether or not someone is employing it effectively.

  10. Apparently an “alfarrabio” was originally just a used or cheap book, and alfarrabios sell alfarrabios. The word was derived from copies of translations of the works of Al-Farabi, an Arab/Persian philosopher who is apparently ranked second after Avicenna. Dante quotes him. Portuguese universities must have had interesting curricula.

    • Stuff I learn! ATH is CULTURE.
      Actually by the time I came along we were trying to mirror American universities and I suppose by now it’s wall to wall grievance studies. BUT it does have an old tradition, since (at least we were told that) the university of Coimbra, upon which the other public university systems are founded, was created just after the one in (I think. It’s been long) Salamanca, and is supposed to be the second in Europe.

      • Hi Sarah,
        A small correction. The store is called an alfarrabista not alfarrábio. I wasn’t sure of the proper name either and had to look it up. For some weird reason I thought it had something to do with alfarroba. And that would be really strange since that’s a sort of fruit. :0)

        Regards,
        Rui Jorge

        • You are correct. I’ve been here too long and genders and plurals are sliding away from me.

          I always thought alfarroba was a sort of eggplant? But being from the North, we eschewed the word as much as the fruit/vegetable/bread? because it was from the south. So, there.

          • Hi Sarah,

            I do understand that. I still live here and do get a bit confused from time to time. I spend way too much time in English mode, and the transition to Portuguese can be tricky. :0)

            Ah. I see that you still have a northerner’s bad understanding of geography. The proper south of the country is here in the islands. What you call south is at best the center. :0)

            According to http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ceratonia_siliqua alfarroba is a sweeter relative of the pea with a curious history. Over here they used to be sold (maybe still are) dried as a traditional treat, like dried figs. I don’t remember if they’re any good. I only ate them when I was quite young, but I don’t have any bad memories of it, so they’re probably not too bad.

            Regards,
            Rui Jorge

            • OH! That is Carob. Which just goes to show you I go to Algarve but don’t talk to people in Portuguese 😛 Yeah, my husband loves Carob beans, and in Algarve they’re pretty much free…

      • Wayne Blackburn

        Odds got culture?

        How… Odd.

  11. The central library in my region’s main city started having movies in the afternoon to lure the “homeless” out of the stacks, so they wouldn’t disturb the people trying to use the library as a library. The staff are very fast to shoo unaccompanied adults out of the kid’s section, thanks be, but it can get a little interesting in the adult section, even though police officers wander through for an hour or so at a time. Now that library has become the go-to point for applying for social assistance (because it all has to be done on computer, natch). Is the library important to the community? Oh yes. Is it important because it is a library with books and bookish resources? Eh, maybe, but it’s slipping.

  12. I left CS in the ’80’s. Sad to hear it’s gone downhill that way. I used to hang out at the dog track and at Cloud 9 bar nearby and never had a worry as to my safety.

  13. Without civic virtues and common civic ideas, civic spaces quickly disappear or become dangerous. What did we think would happen?

    In Ohio, public libraries started about as soon as settlers got numerous enough; before then, it was pretty common for settlers to loan around all their books to each other, and for new settlers with new books to be popular.

    However, the most dedicated readers were in Ames County, where they got so bored that they founded the Western Library Association. When it became clear that pooling money wouldn’t be enough, the settlers decided to collaborate on hunting furs that winter, and use the proceeds for books. Those who had hunted enough were seen as having donated enough to become charter members (technically it was a subscription library – only member families could use it, though plenty apparently managed to scrape up the funds).

    They sent the furs to Boston with a settler. He sold the furs for $73.50, then consulted the Harvard librarian and others. The proceeds bought 51 books’ worth of sturdy hardbacks that’d be good reading for the frontier. Eventually they got up to 400 titles. Later the library became obsolete (normal public libraries and easier to get books), but it served its purpose well. The original library books currently reside at the Ohio Historical Society.

    • Apparently the Coonskin Library was beat out by the Belpre Library (founded by Israel Putnam in 1795) and the Cincinnati Library (1801?) but those were also subscription libraries (very Regency, but also practical for funding further bookbuying or maintenance).

    • Suburban — but part of it, beyond the civic virtues, is that we’re not enforcing the… Gods of the copybook headings virtues. Without generous public subsidies and material help that doesn’t discriminate between “Worthy” and “unworthy” poor, these people would either clean up, seek help or, well, yes, die. (Most of the ones without disabling problems would clean up or seek help. The ones with disabling problems might have to be “tracked down” and put in care.) BUT we’re in fact attracting new generations to a life where they have to give nothing and can indulge in “feral” living with no consequences. Most humans are lazy. The problem will only grow.

  14. Yea– I am starting to see feral homeless here in our area. They knock on the windows of my car and I show them my phone as I dial 9-1-1. They leave quickly on their expensive bikes.

    • Oh, yes, there’s an organization here which gives them bikes. “So they can find work” — somehow that’s not how it works.

      • Also I wonder what percentage are using the bikes as transportation for drug deliveries. I noticed that last year– Plus they disappear during winter.

  15. I have a friend who is a social worker, who really does try to get her clients on their own two feet again. She says you can usually tell what mental illness they have by which drugs they abuse–they are essentially trying to self-medicate.

    Even in places with very good “services” they don’t get used as much as you might think. Apparently even homeless people don’t like homeless people. The addicted ones don’t like the shelter rules (no drugs, booze, etc.) and it only takes one violent individual to ruin everybody’s day. So they avoid the shelters unless it’s so dire it’s worth the risk.

    I live in a relatively low-crime area and our library doesn’t have a homeless problem that I’ve noticed. However there have been TWO incidents in recent years of predators attacking children in the restrooms. Not sure what’s driving that.

    • This is what I meant — we need to get rid of the “no rules, no judging” thing, and yes, the mentally ill need treatment. Again, read My Brother Ron. It’s heartbreaking. I have a friend dealing with a child with mental problems. the way things are structured, once they’re adults, you almost can’t save them. I read my SIL’s mental health books in the seventies (she’s an MD, and Portugal uses American books) and this was all driven by the American left thinking that we used mental hospitals like the USSR did, and we were just repressing the “discontents of capitalism.” That was at the base of it all and it’s now completely out of control.

  16. I fear the homeless problem will sort itself out once they become sufficiently rude … we will simply re-prove Heinlein’s statement that an armed society is a polite society.

    I fear this because this cleanup after the “compassionate” is going to come at a cost .. genetic, physical, emotional. both before the “compassionate” decamp and after the rest of us start treating that little .38 or .44 as “normal outdoor attire”.

    Mew

    • And not just for the homeless, Mija. This will also affect the ones who really can’t cope because when there’s compassion fatigue things turn NASTY.

      • BobtheRegisterredFool

        I think I tried to articulate that to a barfly, that recreational drug users draw on the store of tolerance that keeps the naturally mentally ill from being murdered or 19th century asylums. I was asked not to discuss mental health issues with them.

    • scott2harrison

      Minor rant about “An armed society is a polite society.”.

      Surprisingly this is not because if you are rude, someone will shoot you. It turns out to be because people that are armed are politer because they know that if they get into a fight it could be deadly to the other person an they do not want that on their conciences. They found this out when they did intensive studies in Florida right after it became a shall issue state.

    • Rick Boatright

      Already happened. Glock on my hip, walther in a marilyn on my wifes uh er thorax.

  17. An abbreviated rant since I am on phone….

    We have borrowing privileges at two city, two county and one regional library system in our metro area. We spend some time in libraries…
    These systems uniformly are dropping in quality and it isn’t because of money IMO (among other things the local libraries all refuse to accept direct donation of clean, quality books for their collection). The systems have decided that their mission is to be a homeless shelter and video store. I could rant for days about the political stupidity (remember the silly nonsense after PATRIOT Act about borrowing records?) or their belief that the patrons have a right to watch porn on library computers….
    But the stupid fads in organizing/shelving alone get me going on a Lewis Black style rant. One downtown library can’t correctly shelve SF vs fantasy – by which I don’t mean it isn’t put back, I mean they tag the book with a genre sticker that’s wrong a fifth of the time. Clue: the publisher wrote a genre on the spine. Heck, I have seen that library split a series between genre…. arrrgh.
    A regional system declared war on the Dewey system so no one can find a book there but by random chance – so it is easier to use the catalog to “hold” a book than search shelves. I watched a staffer search for one of my holds and laughed at the random search pattern walked.
    And it is nonsense that no one is reading, the wait list for popular new books can go back months deep at the two larger systems.

    • Rob Crawford

      Re: Dewey system. Does anyone else wonder how the Library of Alexandria organized their collection?

      • Yes, in the sequel to my novel I will be touching on that, and I think I may just have to make something up, unless one of you has an idea to point me at for research?

        • Look, how many books did the library of Alexandria have? Five thousand? that would be considered a lot for the time. I probably have more than that in the house and I organize them by “let me see” as in “let me see who was reading that last…” It’s when you get over five thousand that things get… interesting.

          • Rob Crawford

            Wikipedia — salt as needed — rightly says it’s impossible to say for sure, but quotes historical claims of hundreds of thousands. Figure tens of thousands as a reasonable number.

            Every ship that put into port was searched by customs agents and had any books on board seized. The average sailor was likely illiterate (but I think they were at least functionally literate) but the officers weren’t. This went on for 300-400 years. They may have had lots of duplicates, but even those need organizing.

            • They were seized _and copied_, and then given back. (I forget if they gave back the copy or the original.) Let’s be fair, here.

              • Rob Crawford

                They gave back the copy. Though, considering how long it would have taken to hand-copy a book, I wonder how often that resulted in “Oh, Captain Mykos set sail before we could get the copies back to him.More for the Library!”

          • bernardbrandt

            The Catholic Encyclopedia indicates that, depending on the era, there were between 200,000 and 500,000 scrolls at the great library of Alexandria, for more info, (and for a rather interesting history) I suggest

            http://www.newadvent.org/cathen/01303a.htm

            The problem with asking how many books were there is that one is playing the apples and oranges game there, and as that eminent philosopher, Rocket J. Squirrel, has remarked, ‘That trick never works.’ More particularly, the records kept at Alexandria were papyrus scrolls. The Catholic Encyclopedia article on Manuscripts indicates that the scrolls could range between 30-150 pages in length. For more information on that account, try this:

            http://www.newadvent.org/cathen/09614b.htm

            As an aside, I have learned that the latin word for scroll is volumen, which comes down to us as volume. Thanks for asking the question. I’ve learned something thereby.

            • The codex after all was introduced early in the Christian era. And the Christians went Oooooo goodie! and pounced, and the pagans stuck their noses in the air.

              I’m not kidding. Archeological digs find libraries where 90%+ of the pagan works are scrolls, and 90%+ of the Christian ones are codices.

          • Oh, lord. I have a book on the subject. It could have been a substantial library, it could have been one big, cherished bookshelf. And we really don’t know who destroyed it, the early Christians were the popular target after Sagan blamed them exclusively. Muslims were more likely, and, sorry, but the Romans using the scrolls for fuel is the most likely explanation of all.

        • Actually there’s a fair amount of info on ancient chapter headings and the ancient signs for signalling different sections of books. Roger Pearse’s blog has gone into a lot of that. As for ancient library organization formats… I do think I’ve read where Alexandria was divvied up into rooms with different subjects, but I don’t recall the source. I don’t remember much about the ancient Roman libraries’ organization either.

          • Rob Crawford

            Joel Rosenberg’s “Guardians of the Flame” series had a Library of Alexandria parallel that was organized that way. The chambers were focused on subjects, and the librarians were experts on a given chamber.

            • Asinius Pollio’s library (allegedly the first public one, although you had to get out to his villa in a resort town outside Rome first — to his credit, he invited lots of scholars to stay at his villa) had a wing for Greek lit and a wing for Latin lit. Further, deponent Pliny saith not.

              • But most Roman bathhouses had libraries. The smaller ones just had a few popular books and classics, but some of the big ones had pretty darned good libraries, often a floor up from the baths. (And having all that heat in the building probably made it a popular place to hang out and study in the winter. Dampness might be a problem though.)

                • Rob Crawford

                  The Baths of Caracalla had a library divided into Latin and Greek sections. They also had people reading/performing poetry for those too involved to read.

                  I’d bet the dampness wasn’t that much of a problem — the libraries were in different buildings than the baths themselves. Those particular “baths” covered over 30 acres.

                  • Well, yeah, if it was next door or across the “quad,” I guess there’s no dampness at all! (Other than that you’re living down by the Tiber in a series of ex-swamps and hills, that is…..) You’re right, I tend to think of the single-building thing.

          • Rob Crawford

            Oh, another thought — it wouldn’t have just been the “libraries”. There was the Tabularium, too, with all the official records. ISTR that the mustering-out papers for the legionnaires were kept there, so just imagine how many documents they had there!

  18. Harry the Horrible

    Sorry you had to encounter that. There is a reason I won’t live in an urban area. They are too full of people being “compassionate” with other people’s money, livelihoods, and safety. If I have to do, I drive in, do what I need to, and get out. Otherwise, I just drive through and keep going.
    If the state of Colorado allows it, you should consider a concealed carry permit.

    • Wayne Blackburn

      They are too full of people being “compassionate” with other people’s money, livelihoods, and safety.

      This made remember what I saw the other day. I doubt it specifically plays too much heck with other people’s safety, but it sure does with their money and livelihoods: Some idiot posted a picture on Facebook saying, “A Danish student explains how she will graduate with savings instead of debt. The government pays tuition and provides students with $900 a month. The opposite of America.”

      Then, when I ranted about how they want to take my money and pay someone to go to school, someone who may not take anything that will lead them to a job, I caught hell from some of my friends who should have more sense.

      • What you should have pointed out — the Danish then are taxed up to their hair roots for the rest of their lives, a taxation level that depresses employment. So the debt will come when the Danish student has trouble finding work…

  19. I’ve written here several times about my son, Joe, who is, thanks to many YEARS of searching, finally in a group home that a) makes sure he takes his meds on time, every day; b) bathes at least every other day; c) does his laundry for him and makes sure he has clean clothes and d) only gives him enough spending money at any one time that he can buy a few things he wants, but not drugs or alcohol. The facility also gives him three GOOD meals a day, and has outings at least twice a week — more than we could supply. That particular facility has 64 people living there, many like Joe. There is a waiting list of around 400 people for any openings. The last opening was four months ago, when one of the inhabitants died of a stroke. Before that, it goes back almost two years. EVERYONE in the facility has lived in Colorado Springs for ten years or more. There is a need for other facilities that supply the same services, but none or being built — it’s not profitable enough to justify and pay off the start-up costs.

    I can echo the sentiments of Sarah about what’s happening to downtown. We very seldom do anything but drive through the downtown area. Unfortunately, much of what’s happening to downtown is also spreading to some of the suburbs, especially to anywhere that has lower than average rent. Several of the apartment buildings in the area have had to institute rules that only the tenant and up to two guests may inhabit a particular apartment (one renter found five families living in one two-bedroom apartment). The East Library here in the Springs hasn’t been overrun yet with homeless, and that’s the one we use most often. It also has about the largest selection of books for check-out, plus my wife’s audio-books and Timmy’s videos.

  20. For all too many, compassion equals enablement. It allows people to ignore the costs of a problem while still feeling virtuous about themselves. The truly compassionate “teach men to fish” while the faux-compassionate just throw a fish at them every day.

  21. BobtheRegisterredFool

    I know there is a spike in the homeless population in a certain area from shutting down down a big mental hospital.

    As Leigh says, they shut down a bunch of the mental health hospitals in the name of compassion. Maybe also, as Sarah says, politics. But 1950s and modern pharmacy means nicer options than were available in, say, the nineteenth century. People interpreted that to mean that we didn’t need so much resolve anymore. Resolve is, was, and will always be very important when it comes to mental illness.

    ‘Treat them as I would want to be treated’ is perhaps an excessively harsh standard. Now, things are probably too soft on net. If I had a good, easy solution I would try to see it implemented.

  22. bernardbrandt

    Libraries. Ya hadda go and mention libraries.

    I’ve infested Southern California for more years than I would like to remember, and have likewise disgraced the interiors of more L.A. libraries than I could count. It used to be that California libraries were well-stocked and quietly run, to the place where the (homeless) Eric Hoffer was able to educate himself to the place where he could write The True Believer, and several other really good books.

    Even in my day, I could, by walking a mile or three, get to at least four libraries that gave me my fill of S/F, Fantasy, General Literature, Poetry, History and Science. These no doubt warped my sensibilities, and those of a good number of other young’uns.

    Alas, no more. As I am no longer able to buy my own books, I’ve tried all of my old haunts. Most of the classic books I could find have either been sold off, or transferred to the downtown L.A. library under the ‘Reference’ sections. Apparently the new librarians, who have gone through the mill of multi-culti, P.C. and other B.S., have deemed them to be ‘unnecessary’.

    At my local stomping ground of San Pedro, I only go in when I have ordered (online, thank God) a book on reserve, and it has come in. If I hurry, I am able to speak briefly to the quite helpful and intelligent staff there, and avoid the smells or the assaults of the homeless who lurk there.

    So, for the time that I can still afford internet, I have a rich life on Google Books, scribd, and other sources of public domain and free books.

    But I don’t blame the homeless. In addition to the malicious, the bewildered, and the lost, there are a fair number who have just slipped through the cracks, in this current Great Recession, to which I see no end.

    I’m just hoping that I don’t join them soon.

    • All of us are hoping not to be homeless. BUT if it should happen, remember there are resources, and be not too proud. (And yeah, I’m speaking to myself too.)

  23. I currently live in Aurora, CO, a few blocks from the main library, and I refuse to go there unless there is literally no other choice. Part of that is because the selection sucks. Another part is because it shares a parking lot with the police department, court house and is across the street from the social services building. There are cops stationed on both floors and I still refuse to use the elevator. The whole place smells nasty. It’s even worse at the main library in Downtown Denver.

    I grew up in Lakewood and would ride my bike to the library every day during the summer. At first with my mom and brother and then on my own when I was big enough. Then I got a car and they paid me to put books away. Maybe working there made me feel like the library was mine and I wanted to take care of it. So much of what I’m seeing now is a “Hey, it’s not mine, what do I care if my kids trash it” kind of attitude that comes mainly from the poor people in my area.

    I understand being poor. There have been more bad years than good in the last 10 but it was impossible to get help. We were college educated, married and white. There was no help for us. I can’t even remember how many places I called when, through a seriously bad fluke series of events, we were both out of work with a new baby and all of our families were having cash flow issues. I ended up on the phone with the Saint Vincent de Paul office in our area and was just in tears, telling them I was about to be homeless with an infant, we had no food and I didn’t know anywhere else to call. The secretary got my info and said she’d have somebody get in touch with me. The treasurer came by a few hours later with groceries and wrote a check to the apartment complex for the next 2 months out of his own pocket. Yep, I send them money every chance I can get.

    I know a lot of libraries are trying to justify their existences but turning them into daytime homeless shelters is not going to do it, especially when the families who can go somewhere else do.

    • Thank you for telling me that; I’ve been wondering if the stuff we pass on to St. V’s is even going to the folks that we’d hope it’s helping….

      • They were the only people to actually listen when I called. Everybody else said they were out of money or we had to go in and volunteer for a certain number of hours to get put on a waiting list (?) or that they didn’t do that kind of thing but they’d be happy to give us some donuts if we came to church that Sunday. I remember calling my pastor, my parents pastor, my husbands pastor and being told we just don’t do that.

        Everybody I’ve ever worked with at St. V’s has been good people and they’re the first to get money, time or items from me when I have them.

      • I have a catholic friend to donates to them regularly. I have only ever patronized their stores, but am very impressed with them, while not as cheap as the Salvation Army or some independent thrift stores, they are very well organized, with more helpful and knowledgeable staff than any other thrift store I have been in. And since my friend vouches for how the money is spent I don’t mind paying a little extra, not only do I get better service, but I feel the money is going to a good cause.

  24. I grew up with libraries, both public and private. My parents were the custodian of several hundred books, because Dad was the oldest, had the most clout in the family, and we were relatively centrally located. We always had books, from references (encyclopedias, textbooks (anyone need a quick look at “Teaching Vocational Agriculture”? – we had it), biographies, histories, and LOTS of fiction. Everyone in our family read, from my grandparents down through three or four generations.

    I started hitting the public libraries when I was seven, and still do occasionally. Lately, I’ve been satisfied with what I can download online. Since my book budget is about $0.34/Year, I’ve sought out all the FREE books I can find. That’s enough for me to read 20 books a day for four or five years, so I’m not really deprived. I’ve finally gotten around to reading the Edgar Rice Burroughs books I somehow missed in my early years, and catching up on a few favorite authors from the ’50s through the late ’70s (before things began to get really BADLY politically correct).

    The local public library is antiquated in how they handle audiobooks and online books. They really need to get it together. After explaining it to people for the 47th time, I’ve given up. They are so set in how they handle indie and online books they might as well have been running the Library of Alexandria. Insanity prevails, and I will go elsewhere to read.

  25. Arwen Riddle

    I am a librarian but I don’t think I could work in most public libraries. I’ve heard too many horror stories. Besides, I am happy for now as a cataloger. Our local public library is nice though.

    • The Provo Library is alright, but I like Springville’s better (at least the new one, never tried the old one). Nice facilities, decent selection, and *very* helpful staff. Are you on campus, then, if you don’t work in the public library?

      • Arwen Riddle

        No, I work at a private company that does cataloging for libraries and publishers.

  26. This same “compassion” makes it impossible for women and children to walk downtown in their lawful pursuits. This same “compassion” makes the library which could help a lot of kids fall in love with books as we did, and meet other people who like books (even if they are reading them mostly online) into a dangerous no-go zone. This same compassion is emptying the smaller office buildings that don’t have doormen.

    *snide, but not at any of the regulars here that I know of*
    But they didn’t harm you physically! They have rights, too! If you don’t want them pissing on your merchandise, you should defend it– and libraries should be private with private defense!

    *end snide*

    This is a breakdown; it should be possible to go downtown, in daylight, without needing protection just to be sensible.

    • It always seems to me that the governments that spend the most time and money on providing social welfare always seem to also be the ones that spend the least actual effort on the most fundamental function of government: keeping the peace.

      • Truth.

        It’s much safer to give goodies to the violent and enforce strict rules on the law-abiding.

      • There are only so many hours in the day and only so many dollars that can be milked from the taxpayers. Wouldn’t you rather spend them on making yourself feel good rather than your actual job?

  27. Pingback: False Compassion and Easy Grace | Head Noises

  28. I haven’t noticed these problems with the Chicago Public Library (CPL). While they vastly overstock ‘socially relevant’ books in favor of those which get checked out, they do stock a fair amount of popular books. I can’t really react harshly to it’s use as a free internet access point and A/V library, as I’ve used those functions (the video portion quite a bit).

    I’d say it’s more useful that it was in the 90’s. Their stocking issues were, if anything, worse then. Also, searching for anything in the system rather than that particular branch was frustrating. It’s gotten relatively painless, if you work on how to work the system. Their computer system could use an upgrade, being fairly decent for a decade ago, and not really set up for browsing. I’m also a bit miffed that they took the rotating paperbook racks (organized by genre) out of the branches.

    I also haven’t noticed any of the problems with homeless people / addicts. I’d probably attribute this to the Daley Machine (even if the current mayor isn’t technically a Daley) being accused of many things (corruption mainly), but never being unable to notice which side of the bread has butter on it.

  29. Wayne Blackburn

    …writing long is much easier than writing short.

    Pfui. I have the exact opposite problem. I have to stand back and work out what background something needs to be understandable, and when something needs to be expanded on, then go back again and put it all in order, if I’m not going to make it short. 😛

    • BobtheRegisterredFool

      I think I have both.

      In the state I want to call normal, I essentially can’t write, it is like pulling teeth. Strictly speaking, it hasn’t been normal since my twenties, when it became more associated with stress, lack of food, shortness of sleep, having spent so much time reading or listening that I can’t do anything other than quiver and process things, or otherwise dysfunctional.

      When I have mental energy, mental/verbal functioning, and inspiration, the writing flows well, and I can’t get enough.

      When I have partial or malformed inspiration, but otherwise have the energy and the function, I can throw many words in the general area, but few are on target.

      When it is energy or function I am short on, I stop being able to get words down range before I get all my hits in on the targets.

      Either way, I will either rush things and throw a partial work, or I will hold it for revision, which often enough means abandoning it for lack of further interest, or for changing my mind about whether I want to say it.

    • Some people’s metier is short, some long. Mine, like yours, is short. The years it took me to work up to a novel length. . . .

      Here’s my theory why.

      • I started out at a novel — well, I thought it was a novel. But for being banged on a broken typewriter and my being a stranger in English, still, it was pretty long at 40k words. I can write shorts and decently enough, as my publication record shows, but it takes much much longer. With posts it’s different. I do these posts sometimes appallingly stream of consciousness, because I do them half-asleep. It’s that or not at all. Sometimes, rarely, I get a few scheduled, but most of the time, I’m writing to feed the blog dragon. To organize my thoughts and outline the post in advance takes long than it takes to write stream of consciousness.

        • My first novel snuck up on me in disguise as a novelette. I was frantically trying to keep it short, under the Unpublishable Void, the stretch of lengths that are unpublishable for reasons for length alone in traditional formats. (I was doing this in 2001.) Finally, when I realized that my first ending wouldn’t work, I gave up and put in everything. (My second ending didn’t work either. I had to conjure up a third to make my hero happy.) It weighed in at 23,000 words. Then I did two more revisions that put in what I had left out, trying to keep it short. That got it up to 50,000 words, that is, technically a novel.

          Then I went off and worked on other stuff and learned more about novels. Then I came back and did a couple more revisions. Then I went off and worked on other stuff and learned more about novels. Then I came back and did three or four more revisions.

          It’s finally in the Baen slush.

  30. I live in Oregon — I see two examples of how to *actually* help “disadvantaged” folks.

    http://streetroots.org/ .is one — rather than panhandle, have them sell something.

    The other is the law against self-serve gas — yes, it’s “make-work”, but would you rather they got “de we’fare”?

    I’m not sure who explained this, but: Folks who’ve worked for something always value it more than something they’ve been given. The cases above do that — instead of a handout, give them something approximating a Job and an Income, so they have a shot at bootstrapping up to something more.

    For the “ferals”, tho’, there’s only one solution: The Final one….

    • I have to argue with the (not full service, they do absolutely nothng but pump your gas) no self-service gas in Oregon. I would HAPPILY pay extra to pump my own gas, since the worthless culls doing the pumping are either to lazy or to stupid to do it correctly, much less effeciently. Besides if you hae ever drove across rural Oregon, especially Eastern Oregon, if you are from any oher state where you are used to pulling into a small town station at night and filling up with a credit card and going merrily on your way, you will find sleeping in your rig until they open at 7:00 in the morning simply so you can have some moron lollygag around and finally get your rig suffiecently fueled to make it to the next town by 7:30 highly irritating.

  31. I think, and have had several Librarians agree with me, that the reason “Public” Libraries are considered normal in the U.S. is the number that were created by Andrew Carnegie. He would offer a town a library building, and set up a fund for the Librarian’s salary, but required that they buy the books themselves. That ensured that the locals viewed the resulting Library as “theirs”. He did this literally thousands of times.

    I lived in Baltimore for a while. I’m sorry to say that the Enoch Pratt Free Library had gone downhill badly since Mencken’s day. For one thing, some absolute moron had convinced them to trade in their card catalogue for one on microfilm. not microfiche, microFILM. Consequently, it seldom got updated, and they had very little idea of what they actually had on the shelves. Mencken is doubtless spinning in his grave.

    I’ve never had much trouble with feral homeless, but I’m 6’2″, bearded, male, and have peaky eyebrows. I don’t look like a victim, I look like bad news on burnt toast with a side order of fried toadstools.

    • Most Americans do not realize how unique our public library tradition is.

      • Rob Crawford

        If they acknowledge Carnegie’s role in it, it might distort their Pravda of the “Robber Barons”.

        • They usually write off Carnegie’s role as an effort to buy absolution for his terrible, horrible, no good, very bad exploitation of the honest, stalwart laborers who sweated blood in the inhuman conditions of his dark satanic mills. Pennies on the dollar, they sniff. As if his workers had the time to visit his libraries!

          ‘Cause farm-workers, we all know, had oodles of leisure time for reading..

          • Of course it might have had soemthing to do with the fact that Andrew Carnegie liked books and wanted to provide better opportunities for reading that he never had. At least that’s what he said in his autobiography.

      • Hell, most people have no grasp of just how subversive of The Usual Order the entirety of American society is. And the “Radicals” try very hard to make sure that this remains so, because anybody who grasps the revolutionary nature of the United States will also realize how much the “Radicals” radicalism is a return to the tired old model of the State keeping The Peasants In Their Place.

  32. OT. The USAian/ Libertarian alphabet is ready. I’ve sent it out to those who requested it, plus our esteemed hostess and Free-Range Oyster. And I’ve corrected the typo. If anyone else wants a copy, contact me at AlmaTCBoykin at aol dot com. Sarah, I used the hotmail addy.

  33. Growing up the local library was in the bad part of town but it was still on the inside crisp clean and quiet. Many of us walked there after school. Returning home to visit some years ago and many years since growing up I found this had changed and the mentality had changed. Bad neighborhood as I said but even “back in the day” even as a kid you could walk through the park and talk with the homeless and many if not all there were pretty decent folk often with some good stories to tell. I can only say I have reached a new low living around New Orleans. Even in the area I am which is a mostly upscale suburb since it is at the junction of major interstates I can not put fuel in my truck without being hustled by the homeless, hipsters or just for the sake of hustling. Anything I could say about the locals down here, the mentality and the work ethic.. or lack of one would probably come off as racist but out of the “who dat” (this place has made a mockery of both the english, french and if you can consider it as such ebonics languages and merged the worst of them) we have coined the term “givesme dats.” While downtown is quite historical you do not want to go there without a native who knows what streets to go down and what not. Not to ramble while the library was a nice place full of musty books and peace and quiet… now the library is here sitting on my lap with a 17″ screen. The building full of books except for historical value maybe is a dinosaur of the past.

  34. snelson134

    ” I barely got into my office ahead of his jump for me, and then I was stuck there until I was sure he was gone”

    Sarah, this would not have been necessary in TX, because you could have carried concealed and/or had a gun in the office) and shot the bastard.

    This is why self-defense is a civil right, folks.

  35. The URL for my blog is enemiesofthelibrary.blogspot.com. Actually, I have always loved libraries and hated most librarians since I was a little kid. Old biddies want to keep me from reading what I want to read.

    OT, but I got here from Vox’s place, and was pleasantly surprised to find some of my old internet buds here, such as Sergeant Mom, Bad Cat Robot, Wing and a Whim (well, her husband’s an old internet bud). Great minds think alike, eh?
    Now, if only Faye Kane were to show up… yes, she and I have corresponded.

  36. Laura Runkle

    Family Promise is a program that involves networked houses of worship to work with homeless families with children. It’s *not* no questions asked. It has goals, and plans, and the idea is to find work and pay for shelter and develop saving habits, complete with paying off bills. It works, but boy is it a lot of work. The chronically scarily mentally ill? Different thing entirely.

    • Too few people distinguish between “being compassionate” and “enabling self-destructive behaviour” — which generally means they are doing the latter (aka: taking the easy path.)

    • That sounds like a wonderful program. The chronically and scarily mentally ill are hurting these families more than anyone else. And again, they’re not getting any help, just being enabled to stay crazy.