Does Ed Meese have a personal computer? If so, there's an outfit in Provo, Utah, called Electronic Text Corp. that has published a software package the attorney general would absolutely love. For that matter, so would Robert Bork, the former federal judge and Supreme Court nominee.
Meese and Bork are proponents of a theory of Constitutional interpretation called "original intention."
This school of thought holds that the correct way to resolve difficult questions of Constitutional law is to figure out what the "original intention" of the founding fathers would have been if they had faced the same question back in 1789 or thereabouts. To do that, a judge or lawyer has to sift through literally thousands of pages of writings and speeches given by several dozen founding fathers to find out which of them had anything to say about the issue in question, what it was they said and what context they said it in.
In short, Constitutional interpretation under the "original intention" theory poses an enormous research task involving lots of digging through voluminous quantities of text. To state that in computerese, what we have here is a "text retrieval" problem.
And when you're talking text retrieval, you're talking about an amazing program by Electronic Text called WordCruncher. It's a pretty stupid name, but the program has lots of smarts.
WordCruncher is a fast, powerful program that digs through thousands and thousands of lines of text and finds any word, phrase, group of phrases or whatever. It will report back every instance of the word you're looking for -- and by hitting a single key, you can see the word in complete context.
If you want to specify a particular context -- for example, find the word "prayer" every time it appears in the same sentence as "school," "schools" or "public schools," WordCruncher can do that kind of search in a jiffy.
In addition to the basic WordCruncher program ($300), Electronic Text Corp. also puts out a number of preindexed text libraries for WordCruncher to crunch ($80 each).
I recently obtained a WordCruncher "Bookshelf" collection called "The Constitution Papers." This hefty offering -- it comes on 10 floppy disks and takes up 3.3 million bytes on your hard disk -- is a fairly complete collection of the founding fathers' thoughts and sources.
"The Constitution Papers" contains not only the U.S. Constitution and many of its ancestors (all the way back to the Magna Carta) but also numerous documents offering full gloss on what the authors of the Constitution had in mind.
You get the Federalist Papers, of course, and a nice sampling of debate and legislation from the first few Congresses, plus the constitutions of each of the 13 original states, and lots of other stuff.
In short, a personal computer and this package should be enough to send Meese, Bork or any of the other "original intention" proponents straight to hog heaven.
But you don't have to be a student of the Constitution to find valuable uses for WordCruncher. For anybody who would like to dig through lots of text, this piece of software is a gem.
The basic WordCruncher package comes with an indexing program that lets you create your own text libraries to browse in. (First, though, you have to get the text into your computer, either by typing or with an automatic scanner). Any lawyer who deals in litigation could use this thing to trace contradictions through thousands of pages of depositions.
If the special prosecutor probing Irangate isn't already WordCrunching all the conflicting explanations put forth by North, Poindexter, Reagan, et al., then somebody should buy him this program right quick.
WordCruncher takes a lot of disk space and some powerful hardware to work at its full potential. I found its speed acceptable on a standard IBM-XT; it really flew, though, on my 16-megahertz 80386 machine. For ease-of-use I'd rate it fair -- and the indexing program rates lower than that. The program is not for playing around; you have to make a commitment to it, but you will be repaid.
WordCruncher is a useful, interesting program. But it's more than that. It is a symbol of what I think will be a dominant theme in the software business in 1988: Great advances in text-handling software.
"Text crunching" is going to be one of the hottest areas of personal computing over the next year or so, as software publishers rush to produce programs that do for words and ideas what the spreadsheet has done for numbers.
There will be all sorts of indexing, text retrieval, idea organizing and text management programs coming on the market. Next week's column will discuss in greater depth this major new wave in software for 1988.