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December 2004
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February 2005

Snow In Atlanta

When the birthday girl paused in her dancing to place her tiara on the head of the slender southeast Asian-looking man sitting next to us with his boyfriend, Lynn leaned over to me and said, "Someone from New York would never understand how normal this is here."  We're in Georgia.  We start 'em out with tiaras.

We were at Eclipse di Luna in Atlanta, a trendy tapas restaurant, tucked way back in a cul-de-sac in Buckhead.  The place was jammed.  We were sitting side-by-side at a low table, facing the bandstand, where the Latin jazz groove was keeping more than birthday girl moving to the rhythms.  We took our  time, Lynn ordering one dish whenever we'd finished the last -- a little cheese plate, some ribs braised in balsamic vinegar, roasted asparagus with shaved machengo, lamb meatballs, spicy potatos, a dish of ginger ice cream at the end.  From time to time Lynn would look at her cocktail glass in wonder, "This is best mojito I've ever had!"

We'd driven over from Atlanta that morning, so that Lynn could bring her red Jag to the dealer that she'd bought it from for its 10,000 mile service.  We'd decided to take advantage of that need to do an Atlanta weekend, which we've been talking about ever since I moved to Birmingham nine years ago.  We arrived around 1:00, and went straight to Son's place for lunch -- a classic southern meat-n-three that John T. Edge claims might have the best fried chicken in Atlanta.  John T. is the finest food writer of his generation, and his judgment is impeccable.  Son's grandson, toddling around the place (they said he'd been walking just two weeks), took a shine to me, and started to wail when I left.  Lynn was highly amused.

The sleet started up as we left Eclipse di Luna, and when I looked out the window this morning the streets and sidewalks and lawns were lightly covered with snow!  The forecast claims there'll be more freezing rain through most of the day.  Suits us just fine.  We took care of the car yesterday afternoon and have no responsibilities today at all.  We have a lovely room in the Grand Hyatt, with a great view towards downtown.  We bought a couple of interesting whiskys at Tower liquor on our way into town.  There's a little french brasserie down the street that's run by the same folks who do Le Bernadin in New York.  It'll do nicely for lunch.


Bearded Pigs in San Antonio

Brenda Dreier, MLA's extremely efficient conference manager, says she doesn't think it'll be any problem setting up the Bearded Pigs gig in San Antonio.  Monday evening, 8:00 to 11:00, following the International Visitor's Reception, probably in the same room.  This year, however, in order to avoid any contretemps with the hotel (after being accused last year of "trashing the room") we'll have a cash bar, and take donations.  If the donations cover the costs associated with the room and whatever we have to rent, we can turn the rest over to the MLA scholarship fund.

Brenda says she'll have something definite for us on the room in about two weeks.  I guess I'd better see about setting up a Bearded Pigs blog.


NLM Bashing

I like and respect Valerie Rankow and the work that she has done for MEDLIB-L, so I was mildly disappointed when her anti-NLM rant appeared on the list last week.   It seemed out of character and I put it down as a moment of poor judgment fueled by frustration.  That it was corrected later in the day, with the cause of Valerie's annoyance shown to be a simple mistake, should have put an end to it.

But of course it didn't.  It just gave cause for the usual suspects to spew forth their tedious whining.  Then I got annoyed and couldn't resist tossing in my own contribution.  I didn't expect it to change anyone's mind, but I felt I owed it to so many respected colleagues at NLM to try to inject a bit of sanity.  As expected, it generated a bit of agreement on the list, a couple of private messages thanking me, and even more fuel for the disaffected.  A couple of the comments, particularly the one from the ever reliable Dalia Kleinmutz, were quite pointed.  I expected nothing less from her (but I wonder what it must be like to live with such a bleak, paranoid and twisted view of things.  I suppose she would just proclaim that I can't possibly understand how really difficult things are in her part of the world). 

Those sorts of comments represent email discussion lists at their worst.  Protected by distance, people feel free to whine and vent whatever frustration is currently grinding them without any concern about any consequences.  It fills up the lists with noise.  I suppose that in some sense it's therapeutic for them (and, clearly, some of them need a LOT of therapy), but it does no good at all for the rest of the community.

MEDLIB-L actually does quite a lot of good in the way that solo librarians can use it to get actual work done.  In that, it has been a far more useful tool than many lists that end up collapsing under the weight of shoot-from-the-hip commentary from a small number of contributors (the CNI-Copyright list comes immediately to mind).  But, like most lists, much of the discussion falls slightly below that of typical barroom conversation.  Most contributors seem to quickly type whatever first comes into their heads, without feeling any need to carefully construct an argument, or to worry too much about getting the facts straight.  At least in a good barroom conversation, if it's flowing well, wit becomes important, and if you're with a good conversationalist, they can spur you to be more careful with what you say and to engage in more effective rhetoric.  This is missing on the lists.  So rather than conversation, I suppose, it's more like the dyspeptic misanthrope, muttering into a stale beer, sitting alone at the bar.


It's Getting Too Crowded

I came across a young deer on my evening walk.  When I first saw it, up ahead in the pool of streetlamp light, I thought it was a greyhound; the solid body, the long slim tapering legs.  Then, as I got a little closer, I realized what it was.  It heard my footsteps and clattered off to the side, running between the houses.

The county has initiated a house to house rabies vaccination verification program.  During 2004, there were five confirmed rabies cases -- 2 bats and 3 raccoons, so they've decided they need to contract with someone to check that all of the dogs and cats in the county have been properly vaccinated. 

The growth in this part of Shelby County continues to quicken.  Every mayor of every little municipality wants a big mall.  The traffic is already almost impossible to deal with.  I don't see any way that the county infrastructure can keep up with the development, and there is no incentive on the part of anyone to try to slow the growth.  It's a real shame, because this is such a beautiful area.  But just in the few years that we've been living here, you can watch that beauty being dismantled piece by piece.

A few weeks ago, I saw four or five deer up on the hill behind the gas station while I was filling up.  There will be more such sightings, and then the county will have to figure out what to do about too many deer (along with the rabid bats and raccoons) finding their way into back yards.  There'll be a big controversy with heated language on both sides.  It won't matter in the long run.   The deer will die one way or another.  The notion that we need to take a radically different approach to growth in the county will never even come up.


No Sticks

Among the many absurdities one might have witnessed in Washington yesterday, I was particularly amused by the ban on sticks for the protesters' signs.    The justification (as it was for everything) was homeland security.  C'mon.  Have you seen the sticks that one uses for a handheld sign?  I suppose you could (as our mothers would warn) poke the eye out of the protester standing next to you if you started waving your sign around with too much enthusiasm, but I am having a really difficult time figuring out how you would use one of those sticks to commit a terrorist attack.

I presume that the people who promulgated the rule knew that it was ridiculous.  But homeland security has given them the power, and if you're responsible for security, obviously you want total security -- no loopholes.  I'm sure that managing the Secret Service, for example, has always been extremely frustrating because of the compromises that one has to make in an open society.  But now, since we are giving up being an open society, one no longer has to make those risky compromises.  The stick on the sign of the protester is now equivalent to the improvised explosive device smuggled in by a suicide bomber and we will treat all threats with the same degree of seriousness.  We are now a very serious nation.

The Washington Post reports a case in which someone carrying oranges had them taken away because they were a "throwable device."  Large sections of bleachers were empty because those who had tickets were not able to make their way through the security lines before the parade passed by.   It's hard to know who to feel sorrier for -- the well-meaning and completely marginalized protesters, or the Bush supporters who didn't get to see their guy pass by because they were caught in the same security net.

Bush gave a stirring speech, repeating the word "freedom" over and over.   If he is to be believed, he sees no conflict between the erosion of civil rights, the imposition of detention without charge or trial, the justification for torture, the disrespect for the rule of law both at home and abroad, that characterizes this administration, and his stirring rhetoric of freedom.  His most solemn duty, he said, "is to protect this nation and its people from further attacks and emerging threats."   We must be saved from oranges.

The scenes around the capital yesterday made it clear -- to preserve our freedom, he will put our liberty in chains.  The election made it clear that we will welcome it. 


What are we trying to solve?

Phil points out the obvious and incontrovertible conclusion of the data presented in the ARL spreadsheet -- a shift to a producer-pays from a reader-pays model is going to shift an increased portion of the burden for funding scholarly publishing to the research intensive institutions.   I have not seen open access advocates address this issue directly; rather, it seems there is an attempt to ignore or avoid the conclusion, and I think this is a serious tactical mistake.

Many librarians have been drawn to supporting open access out of the belief that a shift to some version of open access would reduce the financial pressures that we have found increasingly frustrating in recent years.  I see no reason that this should be the case. (This is not to say that we might not be able to do a better, more efficient, and less costly job of scholarly publishing -- only that open access, by itself, doesn't introduce those efficiencies).  The ARL spreadsheet helps to put some concrete numbers to that issue for a particular subset of libraries.   As Goodman pointed out in a recent post, it's not the library's money, it's the institution's money.   The ARL numbers make the case that research institutions will need to find additional sources of funding in an open access world; I would suggest that in the non-research institutions, the administration will have a long list of potential uses for any savings, and library directors are going to have to fight just as hard for their share of the pie as ever.   

If, then, "interest" is defined strictly as reducing one's costs, the answer to the first of Phil's specific questions is, "No, the producer pays model will never be in the institution's self-interest."  But, I would argue, this defines "interest" far too narrowly.

The benefit of open access is not cost-savings, it is ACCESS -- and we need to do a much better job of articulating what the benefits of enhanced access really are.  The AT@ has been doing a pretty good job of trying to get very complex issues boiled down into publishable soundbites in their attempt to argue that this is a case of the public's need to know.  But I'm not really persuaded that there is a significant cohort among the general public so desperate for the embargoed content of the American Journal of Pathology (12 months embargo; complementary articles available by request from the publisher), that we should be clamoring quite so self-righteously that the American Society for Investigative Pathology should bear the risks of immediately up-ending their economic model in order to move to a producer-pays model.  We need to do a better job of explaining how better access is going to be a benefit to the students and faculty in our institutions.  We need to do a better job of articulating exactly what problem open access is intended to address.

This morning, at the bi-weekly Deans meeting, I sat next to the editor of the Journal of Immunology.  When I go to the basketball game this weekend, I'll swap editing stories with the editor of the aforementioned American Journal of Pathology.  I see in a note in my mail this week that my wife's oncology surgeon has just been named editor of the American Journal of Surgery.  I could go on.  My point is that I know that these people are as interested in expanding access to the journals they are responsible for as anyone on this list.  They are also, however, deeply, and very appropriately, concerned about the financial implications.  What do these shifts mean for their societies?  What do they mean for the institutions that they are a part of?

Those of us who believe that the electronic technologies provide the opportunity to expand access far beyond what we could have dreamed a decade ago need to do a much better job of making the case.  And part of that comes from acknowledging that for certain segments of the scholarly community, these shifts will involve greater costs and greater risks.   I think it is perfectly reasonable and appropriate for the research intensive institutions to take on a greater share of this burden.  It seems to me to be perfectly in keeping with the role that we play in society in so many other areas.  But it will require balancing priorities and looking hard at the funding issues.  Another discussion I was involved with yesterday concerned how we might come up with some additional full scholarships to get a few more of the highly-qualified under-represented minority students we're interested in into our medical school.  These are $20k and $30k packages, annually.  They're on the same table as the costs of scholarly information.  These are tough choices.

It seems as unlikely to me that a producer-pays model (in whichever of the current flavors) will come to dominate scholarly publishing as that the traditional subscription model of periodically produced issues will sustain over more than half a decade to come.  The ground is shifting too fast.   I would suggest that if we are to participate in creating a world in which the promise of the new technologies is met we need to do a couple of things:

1) Recognize that "open access" is not a means to solving library funding problems. 

2) Quit acting as if the society publishers are the bad guys.   

The community need as much experimentation as we can manage.   And librarians need to do a much better job of reaching out to those highly influential individuals on our campuses who are involved in their society publishing programs.   We have many shared interests.  We need to build on them.


Executive Fiat

One has to admire the style with which Bush addresses the torture question.  You can see the exasperation in his face, hear it in his voice, as he says that of course we will abide by the laws concerning torture.  It's as if he's saying, "What the hell kind of a guy do you think I am?"

And then we read in the New York Times today that language, approved by the Senate (96-2), that would have explicitly extended to the intelligence community the same restrictions on the use of torture that are now in place for the defense department, was removed in conference committee following a letter sent by Condoleeza Rice objecting to that language. 

This is, of course, a far from isolated incident.   There have been so many reports over the last year indicating the importance that this administration places on being able to insure that they can use whatever extreme measures they feel are appropriate, in whatever settings they deem necessary.   

But Bush is determined to obey the law.  If the law gets in his way, he won't break it.  He'll just change it, or get some justice department lawyer to interpret it in the way he wants.

It's breathtaking.   I suppose that all Presidents find the laws to be a nuisance from time to time, but I don't think that any of them have been as effective as Bush at steamrolling them.


An Evening at Fox Valley

Aunt Mona is sitting across the table from me shaking her head.  She's trying to express the frustration that she feels that her younger brother, Ed, couldn't manage to make his second marriage work, when his wife was such a smart and wonderful and sophisticated woman, who was just perfect for him. 

"The whole family loved her," she says, with 22 years worth of bewilderment in her voice.  "I just don't understand how he could let her get away..." 

I try to explain it from my perspective...  "Look, Ed was great at a lot of things... marriage just wasn't one of them.  He still turned out to be a great father to their daughter..."

Mona nods, and acknowledges that's true.  Still, I know that she's thinking of Ismael, the husband she was madly in love with for the 35 years before his sudden death eleven years ago, and she's sad that her brother didn't know that kind of love.

The fact that I've been married to Ed's ex-wife for the last decade, and that we are having this conversation midway through a family dinner on the day after we've buried Ed might, I suppose, raise an eyebrow of the casual observer, but it seems quite natural to me.   This is the way this family is.

We're at the Fox Valley Restaurant in Helena.  It's been Ed's favorite spot for over fifteen years, ever since the place opened.  From the time that Marian was about eight, until she was in her late teens, she and her dad had dinner here at least once a week.   He was here on his own for dinner three times a week or more beyond that, until his health started to hold him back in the fall. 

Every year on Marian's birthday, the four of us -- Marian, her mom, Ed and me -- came here to celebrate.  Those were wonderful evenings, and I looked forward to them with great anticipation.  My favorite, I suppose, was Marian's 21st.  Her Mom and Dad were so proud of her, and they each had, perhaps, one more glass of wine than they might normally have had, and got, perhaps, somewhat sloppily sentimental about what a splendid job they had done raising their daughter.  Marian was a little embarassed, on my behalf, but I thought it was wonderful.  What they had done was remarkable, and they were right to be proud.

Ed was as close to Sue, the owner of the place, as he was to anyone.  (Mona has some thoughts about that relationship as well, which she will be happy to share).  In his last decade, he was certainly as at home at Fox Valley, and as comfortable sitting at the bar talking with Sue, as he was anywhere or with anyone.  Restaurants build their personalities around their regulars; that's what gives them life and character, defines their spirit and lifts them beyond being just a room where anonymous strangers come to get a meal.  Ed and Fox Valley had shaped each other and become inseparable.  At the visitation, Sue had looked wistfully toward the coffin and half-whispered, "I can't imagine a world without Ed Earnest in it."

So she invited the family to come and have dinner.   And what a dinner it was.  There were close to twenty of us -- his four sisters, one of his brothers (one had had to get back to California), two brothers-in-law, a sister-in-law, one ex-wife, one pregnant daughter, and several nieces, nephews... and at that point I lose track of exactly who is related to who and in what way...  not that it matters much to this group.  Oh, yes, and there's the husband of the ex-wife; the stepdad of the daughter.

In its quiet way, Fox Valley has become one of the premiere fine dining restaurants in the Birmingham region.  All those years ago, Sue bought a traditional southern steam table restaurant, and, almost surreptitiously, turned it into one of the finest restaurants in the south.  As it says on their website "come casually dressed or dressed to the nines and feel equally at home."   I've often wondered if some of the good ol' boys who used to go there before Sue took it over ever realized that after awhile they were eating haute cuisine.  (Best not to tell them.)

So we had superb food and wonderful wine and fabulous conversation.  There were a few tears, there were stories told, there was a lot of laughter.  There was a new baby to pass around, and a little three year old who proclaimed herself, "the most beautiful girl in the world," and made everyone fall in love with her.  I cannot imagine a finer way of honoring the man.

Marian and Lynn and I lingered until last, and hung out by the bar talking with Sue, and with Mikey the cook, and with some of the other folks.  They'd ordered a nameplate for Ed's chair, a simple brass plate with his name on it, affixed to the back of the bar stool that he'd usually sit at when he came in at the end of a long day of figuring out how to rescue another couple of troubled kids, to have a drink before dinner.  Sue told us that they'd put the plaque on that afternoon and then, "right about a quarter to five, which is when he'd come in, the sunset was just over the ridge and the light came through and reflected off the plate and it was blinding.  I had to move the chair."  She grinned, and we hugged her, and went out to our cars.


Birth and death

It became apparent  the Marian's dad was not going to survive to see the baby.  The due date is February 26, and by Christmas he was back in the hospital again and the doctors were ready to declare him terminal.  The family was trying to work through the hospice arrangements. 

Marian's obstetrician was about to install a new 3-D ultrasound machine and Marian hoped to get some pictures of Josie to show to Ed.  The machine was to go into service on January 5th.  Lynn talked to the doctor.  Marian had already had all of the ultrasound scans called for, so insurance wouldn't be able to cover it.  Lynn said, we'll pay for it.  So they set Marian up with a 4:00 appointment.

That's the same time as Lynn's radiation treatment, so she asked me if I could meet Marian there.  (I've been "on call" as backup to go with Marian to any of her appointments, but this was the first time I was needed).   I arrived a little before 4:00, Marian came in a little after, and by 4:10 she was settling in on the table.  And then we saw the most amazing pictures I've ever seen in my life.  For the next thirty-five minutes or so, we watched the screen entranced, laughing and pointing, as Josie smiled and frowned and rubbed her eye and waggled her fingers and, generally, put on quite a show.  The tech was delighted, Marian was thrilled, I was simply astonished.  We walked out with a dozen or more snapshots, and the whole sequence on videotape.

I walked Marian to her car and then headed to mine.  She called me back.  Her phone was ringing.  I walked over to the car; it was her Aunt Vicky.  Marian had the cell on speakerphone. 

"Are you with someone, Marian?" Vicky said. 

"Scott's here." 

"Let me talk to Scott." 

"Did it happen?"   

There was a pause.  "Yes, he's gone, honey.  Now let me talk to Scott." 

We told her that we were on speakerphone and that I was right there.  She told me to hold on to Marian and told us that Ed had drifted off to sleep and had passed away at 4:10.  She said it was very peaceful.

We got into my car to go back to the house to meet her Mom so that they could go together to Tuscaloosa to sit with the family.   She called Danielle and told her the news.   When she got off the phone she said that Danielle had told her that Ed must have wanted to be there in the room with her, watching those pictures.    We decided that was something worth believing.