The Pain That Isn't There

So many of the dishes I enjoy cooking require a fair amount of chopping.  Like last night's hash -- potatoes, some leftover smoked brisket, an onion, a poblano pepper.  All cut into half inch dice.  A lot of chopping.  Since I don't have much fine motor control it's inevitable that I cut myself.  Not often, but frequently enough that I can't say it's rare.

One of the advantages of the spinal cord damage that transverse myelitis has left me with is that the cutting doesn't hurt.  I hardly feel it.  It's more likely that the hand holding the knife registers that I've cut into something that isn't the celery stalk I'm trying to focus on without noticing that the ring finger of the hand holding the celery has curved underneath the stalk just as I'm pulling the knife along the center.  (This was a few months ago prepping the soffritto for my bolognese).  The blood clues me in.  It's a nuisance.

It isn't that my hands are numb.  Far from it.  I have lots of sensation.  There's the constant buzzy tingling in both hands from above the wrist to the tips of my fingers, as if I'd slept on the elbow wrong and the hands are just waking up.  Occasionally there'll be bursts of sensation at the tips of a finger, a little explosion seeming to have just gone off on the surface of the skin.  Random sharp pains at the wrist or the thumb joint come and go.  None of these are "real."  That is, they're not an accurate reflection of something physiologically happening in my hands.  They're the artifact of the garbling of the signals those nerves are trying to send to my brain through that inch or two of demyelinated spinal cord just below my neck.  As if the individual wires in a cable had the insulation stripped off and the signal was short-circuited on its way up the line.  The stiffness, the effort required to bend the fingers or to straighten them again is the garbling going the other way -- my brain trying to control the fingers, but unable to get a clear signal to the necessary nerves.

Given all of the work going into that miscommunication in both directions I'm hardly surprised that when I cut myself the nerves don't seem even to try to send the shock of that sensation up to the brain.  There's too much already in the way.  So I feel the pain that isn't there and don't feel the pain that is.  I try to be careful.

The twenty or twenty-five minutes a day of guitar practice is going well.  I'm working on the ring finger of my left hand.  I need D-major-1 a D major chord in almost everything I play, and bringing that finger around to the D note on the 2nd string has been taking about an extra beat.  But I discovered the other day that if, when I'm bringing the index and middle fingers around to their positions, I tighten the muscle across my left shoulder blade, the ring finger keeps up.  For now, I have to remember to consciously trigger that muscle, but give me a few thousand more repetitions and it should become routine.  I suppose, in the old days, I used all the muscles in my arm to form chords, but it was subtle and automatic enough that I never really noticed.

Among the very many things I've learned in the last five and a half years is how stunningly complex the movements of a healthy body are and how little conscious thought is required.  The intricate mystical ballet of muscles and nerves combining to have fingers do everything from playing the piano to brain surgery to a fifteen year old girl talking on an airplane to a blind and deaf man.  Marvelous.

In my world, none of it is automatic anymore.  Everything has to be done with intention.  Let the attention waver for a moment and blood wells up from the tip of my finger.  But find the right muscle to flex and I can hit that D chord.

 

 


Against the Grain column

Katina and the crew at Against the Grain have graciously (or recklessly?) given me leave to write a column for each issue.  The first one (April issue) is up now.

I've written a small handful of pieces for them over the years and Katina has always encouraged me to do more.  Last fall I was inching toward my official retirement date.  I knew I wanted to do more writing, touch on some topics of professional interest, some more personal.  And I need deadlines.  I thought maybe Katina would be willing to let me write regularly for ATG.  That's six deadlines a year.  As the Charleston conference approached, I considered how to pitch it to her.  I thought she'd be receptive but I didn't want to be presumptuous, or set up a situation in which it'd be awkward for her to turn me down.

I went to the Vendors' Showcase, and she was the first person I saw.  We talked a bit about how we were each handling retirement.  I said I was intending to do more writing and before I could say anything else she quickly said, "Would you like to do a column for Against the Grain?  You could write about whatever you want."

So much for me trying to figure out how to pitch it.  I'm calling the column "Epistemology."  The things that are of most interest to me these days (both within the world of scholarly communication and beyond it) often have to do with notions of what we know and why we think we know it and how we come to have the beliefs we have about what we think we know.  And that's epistemology -- the study of knowledge.

In this first piece I go back to some of the issues I wrote about previously concerning beprexit, and try to put those into a broader context.  In the June issue, I tackle blockchain and technophilia.  I haven't decided what to focus on next, but the deadline is June 25, so I'd better get on it.  I'm open to suggestions.

 


Retirement -- The Score So Far

Lynn says I shouldn't joke that I'm "failing at retirement."  She fears it calls up images of me sitting vacantly in a rocking chair, despondently wondering what I'm going to do now.  "No, no," I tell her.  "I always explain it's that I'm ridiculously busy."  I'm having a good time.

Josie stayed overnight on Tuesday.  Lynn tells me she asked the next day (while I was on a Zoom call), "Why does Nonai have all of these conference calls?" "Well," she said. "He's got a lot of projects."

As my plans started to jell early last summer, I'd tell people I was retiring from UAB, I wasn't retiring from my life.  My retirement goals were to stay involved with some of my professional projects, gradually move my exercising from 20 minutes a day to an hour, do more writing, play more guitar, do more cooking, see what happens next.  I was anticipating leisure and long quiet days.

I needed to retire because my body couldn't keep up with the demands of my full-time job, even though I was working from home a couple of days each week.  It took me a long time to accept that.  It was reassuring, then, when at the end of December I was approved for Social Security Disability just seven weeks after applying.  Some 65% of applicants are denied after the initial application and then have to wait many months (20 on average) for their appeal to wend its way through the process.  That the evaluators looked at my file and took next to no time to agree, "Yes, this guy is seriously messed up," eased some of that lingering sense that maybe I should've just tried pushing harder.  Huh, I thought.  I guess I really am disabled.

I'm up to about 35 minutes a day of exercise now, trying to cautiously increase it.  Too little and the spasticity gets worse.  Too much and it's harder to ignore the aches.  I keep trying to nudge that balance point further.  My goal is still the hour a day.  At my recent 6-month checkup my doctors said they don't need to see me again for a year (unless there are symptom changes that alarm me).  I'll keep taking the baclofen to help moderate the spasticity and the various tremors & spasms. The pain I can tolerate.  Beyond that it's all a matter of exercise, physical therapy, and neuroplasticity.  Dr. B says, "You're motivated."  Indeed I am.

Lynn and I split the cooking. I do the evening dishes, she washes the glassware.  The most challenging thing about kitchen work is getting through packaging.  Who knew opening all these bags and jars and boxes with all their clever seals and zips and tags and spouts depended so much on the fingers' fine motor control?  Only rarely do I need to ask Lynn for help, but I know I always have to allow extra time for container wrangling.

Throughout the fall I wasn't picking up the guitar nearly as often as I thought I ought to.  I remembered what it was like when I had my hands.  To stand behind the microphone and sing while my fingers slid along the strings.  The tactile beauty and pleasure of it.  Now I struggled just to hold onto the pick.  I could form many of the chords, but the stiffness kept me from moving seamlessly among them.  Not enough strength for the barre chords.  Not enough diaphragm strength to sing my way through a song even if I could fumble my way through the music.  I knew that if I was ever going to get it back I'd have to put in the work, but it was painful and frustrating and most days I settled for running out of time doing other things, telling myself I'd do better tomorrow.

Josie was beside herself with anticipation the week before Christmas.  One day when I picked her up from school I asked her what she was most looking forward to.  She surprised me by saying she was excited about the present she had for me.  And on that morning she gave me a little paper gift bag and inside was a plastic envelope with 20 guitar picks with her picture on them.  On the back of each one it says, "Love you always! Love, Josie."  Since that day, unless we've been out of town, I think I've only missed three or four days.  I'm improving.  I'm singing again.

And then there's the projects.

I told Katina I needed deadlines so now I'm doing a regular column for Against the Grain.  She said, "Write about whatever you want."  My first will be in the April issue and I just turned one in for June.

There's the committee, led by Kevin Read, that's working to develop an open data policy for the JMLA.  We've just published an editorial on it and should have it mostly wrapped up before the MLA annual meeting in late May.

I turned down a consulting gig with a small independent publisher.  They're doing work that I think is quite good and what they wanted from me was something I think I could've done well.  I considered it, but decided I couldn't fairly commit the amount of time it would take and I didn't want to feel as obligated as I would have with somebody paying me.

Glenn asked if I'd be willing to chair the OSI Summit group, and Clare asked if I would at least run the first couple of meetings of the Metadata 2020 Definitions project.  I eventually agreed to both, but only if it was clear I was doing them on an "interim" basis.  I know, I know -- it's a fiction, but I like it.  It makes me think I can walk away whenever it stops being fun.

So the JMLA, OSI, and Metadata 2020 projects account for the many conference calls -- typically using Zoom or WebEx combined with Google docs.  Some weeks now I have more meetings than I typically had in any given week the last couple of years I was working for UAB.  But now I take them from my study.  Handy that the technology seems to be maturing just as I've needed it.

I wouldn't have considered retiring this soon if it hadn't been for the short circuit in my spinal cord.  (Which is not to say that on the difficult days I didn't sometimes fantasize about it).  I wasn't ready to "slow down."  I've always felt there's still so much more for me to do.  But now that it's here, now that it's been thrust upon me, it feels like a gift, despite the circumstances.  My unimaginable life, mysterious and fascinating as ever. 


Transparency Designed to Suppress

The irony is that Pruitt's proposed rule for Strengthening Transparency in Regulatory Science comes cloaked in the language of open data and replicability reform while developing a tool that will be quite effective in suppressing the use of any scientific results that the EPA Administrator finds inconvenient.  I'd seen the various editorials raising the alarm about what seemed to be in the works, but it wasn't until last Tuesday that the proposal was finally posted on the EPA website.  Yesterday (April 30) it was officially published.  It's quite impressive.  If one wasn't aware of the tangled history leading up to this proposal one might be fooled into thinking that it is indeed simply building on the trend towards open data policies that journals and funding agencies have been developing for several years now.  The document repeatedly references open data policies at leading journals like Nature and Science and PLoS One and the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences as models for the kind of policy it's proposing.  But where the clear intent and effect of those policies is indeed to make science more transparent, the intent and effect of the EPA's rule is to give the Administrator an efficient mechanism for ignoring scientific studies that won't provide support for the kind of regulatory rollback that Pruitt is clearly engaged in.

The rule requires that studies dealing with dose response data (i.e., studies that address the effects of particular levels of pollutants) can only be used as evidence for significant regulatory decisions if all of the data is made available in a fashion that facilitates independent review and analysis of the data.  Open data advocates might be expected to cheer.  Isn't this the kind of policy that so many of us have been working towards?  But wait -- those journal policies are designed to be prospective and to encourage researchers to plan for data sharing as they develop their protocols.  No one has suggested that work that has already been done is somehow less valid because it was published at a time when data sharing wasn't the norm.  No one has suggested that we can't make use of solid peer reviewed literature in making decisions and developing policies.  Not even the most radical advocate of open data and the need for replicability has advocated ignoring well established science because it hasn't been, or can't be independently verified.  Not until now.

The privacy exemptions are exceptionally clever.  Section 30.9 gives the EPA Administrator the authority to grant exemptions if he or she believes that it isn't "feasible" to make the data publicly available or to conduct an independent peer review.  Which, of course, gives the Administrator the authority to refuse to grant such exemptions.  It also lays out a clear roadmap for industry in developing research supporting the conclusions which industry prefers, the data for which the Administrator will have the authority to grant an exemption for.

The rule itself is quite short -- five columns in the Federal Register version, following the fourteen plus columns of the preamble, which lays out the justification for the rule and makes the case that it is simply building on the "scientific community's moves toward increased data sharing" (as the accompanying press release puts it).

I have to admire it from a creative writing standpoint.  It's quite breathtaking in its brazenness.  For years Senator Lamar Smith has been inveighing against EPA's "secret science," introducing legislation intended to achieve this result.  Steve Milloy, tireless opponent of "junk science" has been its strongest advocate.  Fortunately, the legislative approach has gone nowhere.  But now it's about to be done, without needing to bother with the messiness of Congress.  Thirty days for public comment is all that's required.

Open data advocates should be outraged.  The scientific community is pushing back.  But I have no confidence that it will be enough.


The Path

Fahrney's, the magnificent pen store in DC (where I've obtained most of my fountain pens for over 20 years) is having a contest in honor of next Tuesday's National Handwriting Day.  This is what I'm sending:

Dear Fahrney's,

    You ask about my attitude to New Year's resolutions.  The last  time I made one would have been 2001.  I resolved that in the coming year I'd write one good essay.  I'd recently been named editor of the Bulletin of the Medical Library Association, for which I wrote four editorials a year.  When the New Year came around again, I felt that at least one of those 2000 word essays had met my criteria, so I had no need for more annual resolutions.

    This is not to say that I've achieved everything I want to.  Far from it.  But  the struggle to be the best man I can be Fahrney is a daily one.  If I only took stock of my successes and failures once a year, I'm afraid I would be a rather sorry mess.  So for the last four decades, since my early twenties, I've started my day with a bit of writing, sometimes at the keyboard, but more often with pen and paper.  I comment on the day just past and outline what I hope to manage in the day to come.

    The Lakota believe that every person has their own path to walk and one tries to walk it the very best they can, sometimes slow and deliberate, sometimes dancing.  There is no destination, there is only the path.  My daily writing is my attempt to make sure that my feet are where they need to be.

    Thanks for asking,

    Scott

Handwriting is difficult now.  Slow, and usually a little painful, but rewarding all the same.  My hands feel stiff, weak, and they are always tingling, as if being rained on by tiny pins.  In the first months after transverse myelitis I kept writing in a journal, but my handwriting was slowly becoming more cramped and less legible.  By September of 2013 (10 months after I was felled), I could no longer manage the journal.  I didn't have enough strength in my wrist and arm to hold my hand steady when I got to the edge of the page.  I started writing on single sheets of G. Lalo medium.  With my hand resting solidly on the desk, I could keep the pen steady enough.  For over a year I kept the journal that way.  Lynn bought me a beautiful lidded box just the right size for stacking the finished sheets.  After a time I graduated to large Moleskine journals; still pretty flat, but raised up a bit.  Josie would give me notebooks for Christmas or my birthday, fairly skinny ones, but thicker than the Moleskines and over time I could manage those as well.  This past September, I went back to the small Roma Lussa journal that I'd abandoned four years earlier and began writing there again.  A couple of weeks ago, having filled that one up, I started in a fresh, full sized Roma Lussa, my favorite journals for many years.  It's still slow, it's still painful, the last few lines of each page get shaky as I struggle to keep my hand steady, but I manage.  It is extremely satisfying.

It's part of what it means for me to walk my path.  Around 1990, as my marriage was breaking up, I came to realize that at some point in the preceding years I'd stepped off my path.  I didn't go in the wrong direction, I didn't get lost.  It was as if I was just standing to the side of it.  Not moving.  Maybe afraid, maybe uncertain, maybe confused about what the path meant and where it was leading.  It took some time, and some work, to return to what I'd understood years before, that all that mattered was to walk my path as best I could.  To invest each step with as much truth and humility as I could muster.  To find the beauty there.

Is there an irony here?  That the metaphor that I've used to guide my life is one of walking, and here I am now unable to walk at all unaided?  No.  The metaphor just gets richer.  The universe is showing its sense of humor.  Isn't it true that whenever we take our very best and truest and most significant steps, we do it only with assistance?  We may take each step very much alone, but we are always bouyed up by the countless others who make our lives possible.  

Each morning, with coffee clearing sleep away, a fountain pen in my quivering hand, I still dance along my path.

 


It Wasn't About #Oprah2020

Years ago, when Lynn was doing a lot of public speaking, she'd give inspiring, fact-filled, entertaining talks where she'd outline tactics for meeting the challenges of managing electronic information and the key roles librarians ought to play.  Inevitably, among the people coming up to the podium to talk to her afterwards would be a few saying some version of, "That was wonderful!  Can you come and talk to my administrators?"  Back in our hotel room, she'd be exasperated.  "I've given them the information they need!  I've given them the tools!  They don't need me, that's their job!"

I'm feeling that same exasperation reading all the chatter about the pros and cons of a Winfrey presidential run.  Certainly, if she chooses to run, she'll be a credible candidate.  I don't know if I'd support her, but I'd listen carefully to what she had to say, comparing it to what will surely be a very full field of competitors.

But in January of 2018, that isn't the point.  It's depressing that this is all so many are talking about after the speech.  It certainly isn't what she was talking about.

She was reminding us that there's a lot more work that all of us need to do.  That it was 35 years after the first black man received the DeMille award before the first black woman did -- a signifier of how deep our racism and sexism still runs.  That Rosa Parks went to bat for Recy Taylor 11 years before she sparked the Montgomery bus boycott -- and that she was not successful in getting justice for her.  We've made great progress towards fulfilling MLK's dream, but more than 50 years after that speech, the events of the last year certainly demonstrate how far we still have to go, how fierce the backlash continues to be.

The power differentials that have allowed sexual harassment and assault to go on so often unchallenged for so long are deep in the culture.  #metoo has been inspiring and reassuring for many and that's a good thing.  But remember that Rosa Parks was not just a weary maid who couldn't take it any more.  She was a trained activist who was carefully chosen to spark what her colleagues hoped would be a lever for significant cultural change.  She was part of a movement that was carefully thought out, that had a strategy and that was in it for the long haul.

Oprah said, "Their time is up."  But that's aspirational, in the way King's dream was aspirational.  She said she wants all the girls watching to know that "when that new day finally dawns" it will be because of a lot of "magnificent women" and some "pretty phenomenal men, fighting hard to make sure that they become the leaders who take us to the time when nobody has to say 'Me too' again."

That they become the leaders. The young girls watching, because of the work of all of us watching and listening and talking and figuring out how to fight to make that change.

These are generational changes, not accomplished during one season's exhilarating moments of partial awakening.  

"Oprah2020" is a fine cathartic emotional response at a time when many are hungry for inspirational moments.  I feel it myself.  But putting Oprah -- or anybody -- into the White House isn't going to make the change we need.  Fixating on it is a diversion.  What's needed is the steady work of each of us.  Every day.  For the long haul.  For the generations to come.

 

 


There’s Nothing Quite Like @CHSCONF

The short answer, obviously, is: Katina. 

I’m standing at the refreshments table with a colleague who’s just told me this is the first time she’s come to the Charleston Conference.  I say, “There really isn’t any other event quite like it” and she asks, “What makes it so different?”

She hasn’t seen the differences yet.  When you’re standing in the middle of that ballroom, surrounded by exhibit tables staffed by eager, smiling sales reps making their pitches, the Vendor Showcase looks much like any other exhibit hall at any other library conference.  But that’s just the first day. 

On Vendor Showcase day, the buyers and sellers may be on opposite sides of the tables, but after that wraps they’re equals.  Librarians,  publishers and the other vendors of products aimed at librarians are all full program participants.  They’re all speakers and listeners and questioners, in the conference rooms, the bars, the hotel lobbies, the receptions, the restaurants.  (Oh yes, the restaurants! It’s Charleston.)

Back in 1980, unable to afford to go to ALA, Katina Strauch, then at the College of Charleston, invited a couple dozen people to join her for a day of discussions about “Issues in Book and Serial Acquisition.” They had a good time, so they did it again the next year and a few more people came.  By the time I first went, in 2002, there were hundreds of people packed uncomfortably into the anachronistic Southern elegance of the Francis Marion hotel and the adjoining conference center.  A couple of years later, the conference center closed, so Katina and crew expanded into two other nearby hotels, sending attendees scurrying across Marion Square or up along Calhoun.  Now, with the Gaillard Center nearby, the physical crowding has been greatly relieved, even though attendance is bumping up against 2,000.  The intellectual crowding dizzies more than ever.

There’s no association or membership organization behind it.  It’s just Katina and the brilliant crew of Conference Directors and staff she’s assembled over the decades.  They’re nimble, creative, highly professional.  Beholden only to their vision of the conference they can innovate in session design, be flexible in handling themes and content.  It’s extremely well run (much of the credit for that going to Exec Director, Leah Hinds), and the range of topics covered is staggering.  The tagline is still there – Issues in Book and Serial Acquisition – but it is so much more than that.

I went that first time because Ramune suggested I propose something – she was trying to get more medical librarians to go.  I’d just written a JMLA editorial about the retraction debacle surrounding the deletion of an article from Human Immunology and the letter that had been sent to subscribers asking them to remove the article from the print copies.  I put together a presentation outlining the issues.  I was particularly critical of the policy that Elsevier had drafted after the fact to address possible similar situations in the future.  During the Q&A, Michael Mabe, then working for Elsevier, stood up and said, “I drafted that policy.”  We had a lively exchange – lively exchanges being very much a hallmark of the Charleston Conference.  We became friends and when Michael moved on to head the STM Association he opened many doors for me in the publishing world, for which I will always be grateful.  It was also at that first meeting that I met Anthony Watkinson (aka the Connector – he seems determined to make sure that every interesting person he knows meets every other interesting person he knows).  More gratitude.

The web of connections grew.  I think now of the people who’ve been so influential in my life and in my understanding of the complexity of  the world of scholarly communication; so many of them people I met at Charleston or through someone that I met at Charleston.  It’s the opportunity for making those sorts of relationships that’s a big part of what makes the Charleston Conference so different, too.

I don’t go back every year, but most years.  I’ve done some concurrent sessions, a plenary or two, hosted some panels, been interviewed for the Penthouse series.  These last couple of years, though, I haven’t wanted to be on the program.  My neurologically challenged body doesn’t handle the stress as well as it used to.  The ratio of work to fun in putting together and delivering something that I’m proud of is no longer in my favor.  So now I go to mingle with people I’ve come to know, meet new people, have my brain tickled by ideas.  It never gets old (although we do).

It comes back to Katina.  Certainly there are many people who deserve a lot of credit for making it what it’s become.  But it’s her curiosity about the field, where it’s going, how it works, and the people who comprise it, that infuses the spirit of the conference and makes it the uniquely challenging, stimulating, and energizing event that it is.  For anyone interested in the future of scholarly communication, the business of scholarly communication, and the myriad ways people are trying to shape that future, it shouldn't be missed.  There isn’t anything else quite like it.


Such Convenient Accusations

I feel kinda sorry for Joe Barton.  Time was, a guy with a sleazy personal life and multiple affairs could become Speaker of the House.  It’s not like Barton was accused of actually assaulting or even harassing anybody.  (Although I did feel somewhat assaulted after seeing the photo that did him in).

In the current climate you just can’t get away with things. It’s not just assault or harassment that’ll bring you down.  Now the catchall term “sexual misconduct” is in vogue.  The fact is, Barton just wasn’t useful anymore.  He didn’t retire politely when he lost his committee leadership post. He kept hanging around.  And he wasn’t doing a very good job managing the GOP baseball team.  A pissed off former girlfriend and a grotesque nude selfie was exactly what the Republican leadership needed.  So long, Joe.

They haven’t been as lucky with Roy Moore.  Barton was apparently capable of being embarrassed.  Not our Roy.  (Remember, I live in Alabama.)  The tortoise from Kentucky was quick to believe the women this time.  But Mitch hadn’t ever wanted him in the Senate.  Big Luther was reliable, he could be counted on.  But who knew what the Judge might do? 

Coming from Alabama himself, Mitch can’t really be expected to be that offended by a 30 year old dating teenage girls.  But the 14 year old – that’s a story you can use.  It’s not Weinstein worthy, of course, and there haven’t been any tales of salacious behavior after Moore’s marriage (to a woman 14 years younger), but Mitch is an expert at spin.  Riding the current wave of cultural disgust was easy as pie.  Does anyone imagine that he actually gives a damn about the women?

I am a little puzzled, though, by Moore’s tactics.  Why come out so strong and claim that he doesn’t even know them?  Certainly he’d have to deny the story about the 14 year old and the one from the woman who accused him of physical assault, but those’d be easy to brush off.  Why bother to deny his dating history when it’s so easy to check?  That wouldn’t have bothered his voters.  Debbie Wesson Gibson was one of the women in the original story.  She said she’d dated Moore when she was 17 and he was 34.  She never accused him of anything inappropriate.  It was a happy memory.  She’d invited him to her graduation, they exchanged Christmas cards after she got married.  So she was shocked and hurt and angry when Moore started claiming that he’d never dated any of the women, didn’t even know any of them.  I guess he figures that in the current fact-free political environment a vehement blanket denial is a more effective tactic even when it’s easily shown to be false.  He’s probably right.

What is truly outrageous about the whole Moore thing is that the Republican establishment didn’t oppose him for twice defying the Supreme Court when he was Alabama's Chief Justice. They didn’t find it problematic that he thinks Muslims shouldn’t be allowed to serve in Congress and that there are whole communities in the Midwest currently under Sharia law.  His venomous hatred of same sex couples, his insistence that the first amendment only protects Christians, and his belief that his Bible supersedes all laws wasn’t sufficient to raise an eyebrow among the leaders in Congress.  Apparently these are all acceptable views for a Republican Senator.  Or at least acceptable enough.  But “sexual impropriety” – now there’s something they can work with.

It still hasn’t been enough, though.  And they need that vote.  So Trump’s endorsed him and the RNC is back to pumping him with cash.  The most important thing is to make sure the Democrat doesn’t win.

But McConnell’s still not quite giving up.  Even though he’s leaving the matter “up to the voters of Alabama” he’ll start an ethics investigation if Moore gets elected.  That might give him what he needs to push Moore out.  Then he’ll have Governor Ivey appoint a safe replacement.  Probably Big Luther.  The tortoise will have what he wants.

And then Moore will run for governor of Alabama.  He’ll probably win.

 


What Does His Daughter Think?

"I want my daughter to grow up in a country, she's 15 years old, where she is empowered and respected wherever she goes and wherever she works in whatever she does."  That's Paul Ryan, in an interview with Steve Inskeep of Morning Edition that was aired last Friday morning.  I had just dropped my 12 year old granddaughter off at school.

Inskeep has just asked Ryan about the charges of sexual harassment that are being made against members of Congress and Ryan's coming out strong on the absolute necessity of holding people accountable.  "[N]owhere should that be more obvious and apparent than working here in Capitol Hill," he says.  "[W]e should set ourselves to standards that we expect of other people and we should set high standards for ourselves so that we can be role models and set examples..."  That's the kind of thing you want to hear from the Speaker of the House, isn't it?

Inskeep mentions that Ryan called on Roy Moore to withdraw from the Senate race.  Ryan is quick and firm in his response, "That's because I believe those allegations are credible."  And then, of course Inskeep says (and didn't you see this coming, Paul?), "What is the difference between his case and the case of President Trump, who was also accused by a number of women and also denied it?"

Ryan stutters, slightly, but recovers quickly.  He's focused on Congress, he says.  He hasn't spent time "reviewing the difference" in the two cases, he says.

Inskeep presses, referring to a speech Ryan gave in 2012, supporting Mitt Romney and talking about his high character being above reproach.  Inskeep wants to know if Ryan believes the President is meeting that high standard.  But Ryan's back on firm ground now.  He says it's no secret that he's had his differences with the President,

"But what I see is a president who is fighting for the things that I'm fighting for. I see a president who's fighting for an agenda that will make a positive difference in people's lives. Is this president unconventional? No two ways about it. He's very unconventional. But if we make good by the American people by actually improving their lives and fixing problems and finding solutions that are bothering them, that's a good thing."

The strong comments about setting high standards and being role models and being held accountable have wisped away as if they'd never been said.  Trump is merely "unconventional."  And since he's helping Ryan get what Ryan wants, a little "unconventionality" is just fine.

He's certainly setting an example.  So is his President.

I wonder what the 15 year old thinks of her Dad when she listens to him dodge and dissemble like that.

I wonder if he worries about it.


#Beprexit and then what?

I expected the news that Elsevier had acquired Bepress to raise a larger kerfuffle in libraryland than it did. Certainly the people who tweeted or posted or emailed about it were deeply alarmed, if sometimes a little hazy about the actual implications. (No, this did not mean that journals on Bepress platforms had become Elsevier journals. Bepress repositories were not going to be forced to put up paywalls.)

But there wasn’t as much alarmed reaction as I thought there might be, given the depth of dislike and distrust of Elsevier in many pockets of libraryland.  Angst reigned for two days and that was about it for social media.  I’m sure the outrage was shared by many who didn’t chime in, but in this age of easy likes and retweets, I expected more.

There was another two day flurry a month later when the librarians at UPenn announced Operation Beprexit, their very cleverly named intention to leave Bepress for parts unknown. They're calling for librarian and research colleagues to join them on the journey to an infrastructure of open source, academia led, noncommercial solutions.  They’re taking a measured approach, setting up a committee to examine campus needs and open source options.  Nothing hasty.  I’m sure many in libraryland will be watching their progress with interest, but again there was rather less social media chatter than I expected. 

If I were a Bepress customer, I’d’ve greeted the news of the acquisition with cautious optimism. It’s always wise to approach mergers and changes of ownership cautiously. Even when they’re well thought out and well-designed, there can be bumps in the road and sometimes outright disasters. But when one looks at how Elsevier has handled the Mendeley and SSRN acquisitions, there’s plenty of cause for optimism. The Elsevier leadership obviously doesn’t want to do anything to damage those aspects of the acquired companies that have made them successful. They want to keep the teams in place, keep them moving in the same strategic directions.  At the same time, there’s an opportunity to more closely integrate them with other products in the portfolio. Most significantly, what Elsevier can provide is cash – they can reach into those deep pockets for development investments that would be out of reach of those small, if agile and creative companies on their own. Barring some stupid moves on the part of various managers and executives involved (always a possibility — no matter who the owner is), Bepress should continue to grow into an even more useful partner for librarians and their institutions than it has already proven itself to be.

But... but... but… Elsevier!

Yes, well, like it or not (and, for the record I do not) we live in a capitalist world where it is the for profit companies that have the resources, talent and organizational skills to build the tools that can be used to implement the kinds of workflows and analytics that librarians and researchers want.  Elsevier has done a very good job of positioning itself to be a major player in this space.  And despite its reputation, Elsevier has also done more than most organizations in providing immediate unfettered access to the Version of Record.  This is utterly unsatisfactory to those who want commercial companies out of scholarly communication altogether, but you can’t really argue that Elsevier is anti-OA.  They’re just not supportive of OA approaches that might put them out of business.  Go figure.

Librarians (the vocal OA partisan librarians, that is) complain that Elsevier’s interests and the interests of librarians are irrevocably at odds. All the company cares about is profit, they say, while librarians are focused on maximizing access. It’s a caricature caused, at least in part I suppose, by the fact that most librarians’ only exposure to people from Elsevier comes when trying to negotiate a license.  In that narrow transaction, the specific interests in getting the best deal certainly do have the two sides at odds. But viewing a company like Elsevier through that narrow lens is as myopic as publishers who see librarians as nothing but purchasers of content and are oblivious to everything else that we do. Companies stay in business only when they align themselves in supporting the interests of their customers. And most of the people in publishing that I know are in that business because they believe that the work they do has real social value and that the better they get at developing systems and services that address the real needs of their customers the more successful they'll be, the more successful their customers will be, and the better off society will be in general.

While some librarians’ angst is driven by an irrational hatred and fear of Elsevier, at least some see this as the time to take a stand against corporate dominance of the tools of scholarly communication.  A scholarly communication ecosystem managed entirely within the academy, with no need or room for commercial players, dedicated to no cost sharing of the products of research globally, remains the holy grail for many librarians who’ve dedicated their work lives to scholarly communication issues.  Many of them thought the OA movement would weaken the commercial publishers.  They look at Elsevier's continued strength with considerable alarm.  For some, the Bepress acquisition was the last straw.  Now’s the time to take a stand.

I’m sympathetic to the idealism underlying this.  I think it would be good, in the long run, for librarians and researchers to have more control over how the ecosystem develops.  So I wish the librarians at UPenn the very best.  I’m glad they’re taking a deliberate approach to looking at the options.

Still, I remain deeply skeptical of efforts to create an entirely separate ecosystem without engaging the people in commercial publishing.  These are talented and committed people with a wealth of knowledge about how scholarly communication systems actually work.  It’s the people who work in publishing who understand what it takes to develop and deliver high quality, well-vetted publications.  They understand the needs and desires of authors and readers, the challenges of developing useful peer review systems, the technical opportunities for moving beyond text, the minutiae of checking for error and fraud.  Certainly they have their blind spots, but that's why all of the other stakeholders need to be tightly engaged.  We count on the others to help us past our own blind spots.

The challenges society faces in opening access to scholarly information are vast.  They are technical, political, social and cultural.  The players include researchers, teachers, students, librarians, funders, members of the public, university administrators, people in publishing companies large and small, commercial and not-for-profit.  We all see the problems and solutions a little differently.  We all have unique insights.  We all have our own interests to protect, while we try to pursue the greater good.  We will continue to argue and fight and disagree as we struggle our way towards solutions.  That's okay.  That's what it takes.