Dialectic: The Aims of Institutional Repositories

Being asked to be a "Vision Speaker" leaves me only slightly less queasy than being called a "thought-leader" (what an awful phrase that is!), but there I was in Albuquerque this past June, kicking off the annual NASIG conference.  Fortunately, I was in good company. Heather Joseph, from SPARC, opened up day 2, and James J. O'Donnell, my favorite Renaissance man, spoke eloquently and with real vision on Sunday. (And yes, Jim, I realize that the Renaissance is several centuries more recent than your heart's true professional home).

The videos of the talks are now up on the NASIG YouTube channel.  Next spring the lightly edited transcripts will be published as part of the conference proceedings.  I think we each had some worthwhile things to say, but if you're only going to take the time to watch one of them, I'd recommend Jim's, just because his delivery is so good. 

For my part,  I argued that efforts to fill IRs with copies of peer reviewed papers that are already available OA somewhere else, such as the publisher's site or a repository like PubMed Central, are misguided.  Such efforts, which consume a considerable amount of energy for some IR managers, have not achieved their intended benefits, and they divert resources from other activities that would have a much greater benefit.  I suggest that we take a deep breath, reassess what's working and what we're trying to achieve, and, for at least some IRs, shift priorities. 

Here's my transcript and slides.  (And many thanks to Kate Moore for doing such a fine job with the transcript).

Download Dialectic-The Aims of Institutional Repositories TSP with Bibliography

Download NASIG June 2016


Once In A Lifetime

"Is this really the last time?" SG asked me during one of the breaks.  

Somebody else at the party says, "I heard this is the last one!  Tell me you'll be back!"

How should I know?  The first time we talked about gathering The Bearded Pigs in Memphis we thought it'd be a once in a lifetime event if we could actually get everyone's schedules to mesh.  Then we went back six years in a row.  Every time we gave it everything we had, 'cause it might never happen again.   Marriages came and went.  Loved ones died.  People retired.  Age and illness took their toll.  After Boston in 2013 we decided to stop playing the annual MLA gig.  But I never said the band was finished.

After I blew a fuse in my spinal cord I couldn't play guitar anymore.  But I could still sing and Boston was one of our best performances ever.  Russell picked up my rhythm guitar parts and on we went.  More of the same in Memphis a month later.  Then Sue fell ill.  The pigs rested in their various thickets.

Last year we had dinner in San Antonio with Singarella.  He was grieving Sue's loss, but he'd been thinking maybe it was time to have us come to Memphis again.  He was thinking of The Band's Last Waltz.  I told him I'd check with BeardedPigs_WaltzPoster_FINALhim again at the end of the year.  If he was still in the mood, I'd see if we could pull everybody together.  If we could, we'd call it, "When Pigs Waltz."

The next evening, at the Armadillo Ball, Boutch gave me his traveling harmonica, the one he kept with him on the road.  He said, "Maybe you won't be able to play guitar again.  But don't ever stop making music."  A few months later, Boutch was dead, too.  So I learned to play the harmonica.

TomCat pointed out that we've never quite had the same configuration twice, the same people on the same instruments.  And in Memphis, SG was back, for the first time in years.  It was like he'd always been there.  TomCat played mandolin.  I played harmonica.  A new band every time.  Cogman was in Germany, but really, he was in Memphis, too.

On Thursday, we were terrible.  That was as it should be.  Friday we started to fall into place and by Saturday night the pieces all fit.  I even played guitar on "Helpless" (Tambourine Grrl softly harmonizing, "You're not...")  I called songs that only one or  two of us knew and somehow we played them.  I have no idea how this happens.  I just know that when we get The Bearded Pigs together, it does.

We put pictures of the gig up on Facebook.  Someone commented that it was "the end of an era."  Nonsense.  

So no, I don't have plans for when we're going to get together again, but I'm not foolish enough to say this was the end.

For each of us, when we step into each new day, the rest of our life will be very long or very short.  If it's very short, the future doesn't matter.  If it's very long, anything is possible.



...gently, as if you loved her

Tomatoes, apples, the day he fell from a tree, the fifty years of dogs,

dogs and children and the far wide country.

The poem ends,

Seize the day gently as if you loved her.

Carpe Diem, we say, ready to do battle, steeling ourselves to march into the world once again, to bend it, to grapple with the fears and insecurities, to make of our lives something wonderful in the face of all of the adversities, inward and outward, that cover us in the hours before dawn, making us fearful to ever risk getting up again.  Seize the day, we tell ourselves, gritting our teeth and putting the game face on.

But then comes an age where one can become quietly grateful, if one pays attention.  Now we might be astonished at the depth of memory, cherishing our losses, amused and amazed that

So far the days keep coming.

So far.  When Harrison wrote the poem he knew his days were coming to an end. He knew the days that remained would be stuffed with doctor visits and physical pain and at every turn the reminder of loss.  He still found time to write as he always has, astonished with wonder at finding himself in this world.

Jessica Lange, getting ready for her Tony award winning role in the current revival of "Long Day's Journey Into Night" said she was eager to step into Mary Tyrone again, after playing her last in 2000.  "...at this point in my life, there’s so much more loss that I just knew that, if I came back to Mary, there would be much more resonance."  So much more loss.  So much more to work with.

Lynn and I were at the Coyote Cantina a few weeks ago.  She'd pushed me there, in Lightnin' McQueen, the trusty wheelchair, from the train station half a mile away.  Then I'd struggled my way up the few steps to a shaded table overlooking the streets of Santa Fe on a lovely Saturday afternoon.  I was alarmed at how flushed her face was, but we ordered margaritas and the cool drinks soothed and relaxed us and her color came back to normal.

And I was amazed and grateful that we were there, a spot we'd each been to in the past, thinking of each other, but never there together.  Although in my memory she's almost there with me, because I would've written her a letter from here on one of my road trips, telling her what I was eating and that I'd checked into the St. Francis hotel after several days camping in the Utah high desert and that I'd be bringing my guitar to El Paseo later on for the open mike.  I can see her sitting there.

"Are you sure we haven't been here together?"  And she just laughed at me because we've had versions of this conversation before, me so sure she was sitting across from me at a particular place in time, but then the evidence of the notes proving that it was just me and the pen and the paper conjuring her up.

But not this time.  Not this day and this place.  Improbably, here we were, together in a place I would never have expected to get to again. Loss and gratitude, bound inextricably together, welling up, as they do, until they have to leak out of the corners of your eyes.

The days are fragile, just as we are now.  Easily broken, yet stronger than we think.  Seize them with all of the tenderness you can muster.  Love them. Gently.


Voting for the President's Library

We were crossing the Arkansas River again, from our hotel in North Little Rock to one of the downtown restaurants. Off to the left, the cantilevered torpedo of the Clinton Library was gleaming. Where are the Bush libraries, we wondered. I grabbed my phone -- College Station for 41, Dallas for 43. Obama's will be in Chicago. I'm sure it will be lovely.  I yawned.

I mused dreamily about possible futures. And then my librarian heart soared. Think of it! The Trump presidential library!

People say we need to think about the Supreme Court picks. Sure. But justices come and go and they never end up voting the way you want them to anyway. Let's think of posterity.

I'm optimistic about a Hillary presidency.  She'll make some modest progressive steps.  The healthcare system will be improved.  We might get real immigration reform.  College will become more affordable and there'll be a lessening of student debt.  More renewable energy.  More unsuccessful attempts at gun law reform - but at least she'll try.  These are all fine things.  But what about her library?  What about history!

Since she grew up in Chicago it might end up there -- where it'll have to compete (again! fer chrissakes) with Barack's legacy.  Or maybe they'll put it in Chappaqua, and you can take the train up from midtown. And it'll be sober and serious.  There might be a tiny room or two devoted to the scandals and the umpteen investigations and congressional hearings that never managed to find any significant wrongdoing.  Maybe in the gift shop you'll be able to buy a deluxe copy of those transcripts of her Goldman Sachs speeches that seemed so salacious during the campaign but turned out to be only mildly embarrassing examples of inconsequential political pandering.  It'll be great for presidential historians and policy wonks.  But except for the homeless guy with the Remember Benghazi! placard who spends the summers camped out front there won't be much drama.  Not much of a tourist destination.

But the Trump Library! Oh, just think of it. In the middle of Manhattan, a wee bit taller than the Empire State Building. (As an example of his magnanimous humility he won't let it exceed One WTC, although he will point out how some of his fans begged him to go there). Gold plated of course. The letters of his name descending three stories at a time.

Think of the exhibits. The models and diagrams and plans for the wall that was never built, underneath the oversize check from Mexico that was never sent.  A separate gallery for each of his wives.  An entire floor used for miniature golf.  The international relations bikini room. 

Most popular of course, the interactive exhibit where you too can sit at Trump's desk, as holograms of world leaders and congressional enemies shimmer in front of you -- "You're fired!" you say, again and again, basking once more in the mogul confidence of the great man.

I can't resist it. Of course, Trump's presidency will be a disaster. I'm counting on the fact that in his far too long four years his inability to actually get any of his grandiose (can I actually call them) proposals through Congress or the courts will keep us from complete ruin. It won't matter to the narrative of his library though. When you walk through those doors and glide up the escalator commemorating the day he announced his candidacy, you'll be able to believe again, if only until you walk back out into the wreck of post-Trump America, that there was that shining moment when we convinced ourselves that the huckster was actually going to make America great. Again.

Tiny Improvements Are Good

K., my neurologist, scolded me. Gently. He never stops smiling, the chiding is in his eyes.

"Once a month isn't enough."

"I know. My goal has been once a week, but I haven't been able to manage it."

"Busy at work?" One eyebrow up slightly.

"That, and the holidays. And all of the usual excuses that one comes up with." He grins. Point made. I will redouble my efforts to get to the pool once a week.

This was my six month assessment and it confirmed my subjective impressions. Improvements in strength and sensation. Slight reduction in spasticity. I'm bending at the knee more when I walk. Tiny, tiny improvements. This is good.  He thinks the lower back and hip pain that bedevils me periodically is sacroiliitis, brought on by the awkward way I've been putting weight on the right side these three years. An injection of corticosteroids should help.

That it's not a direct effect of the transverse myelitis is a great relief.  One of the constant dangers of a chronic condition is that you start to see it as the cause of every difficulty you're having.  Lynn cautions me about not identifying myself with my condition.  It affects every moment, but I can't let it be the substance of every moment.  The pain in the hip is suddenly easier to bear when I no longer worry that it's a manifestation of the damage in the spinal cord.

Since the spasticity and the spasms are improving, I'm going to start to cut back on the baclofen a bit. I'm hoping that will reduce the slight fogginess, the mental heaviness I often feel. It's a sensation of my head being encased in some kind of translucent capsule. I can think my way through it, but it can require considerable effort. Less baclofen might help. But it might also increase the spasticity, so I'll need to monitor that. Adjust as necessary.

K. continues to present cautious optimism. "Given the likely extent of the damage to the spinal cord, you're not going to regain full function, but improvements should continue."  As long as we're trending in the right direction, I'm happy with the tiny steps.  "Take your time," people tell me as they hold a door open for me.  I always do.  I have plenty of time.

Daily exercises.  More physical therapy.  The pool.  The things I do, not the things I am.

Voting in Alabama

One of the advantages of voting in Alabama is that you can vote your conscience without worrying that you're going to tip the election in an undesirable direction. When I voted for Ralph Nader in 2000, my liberal friends in other parts of the country, who might have preferred Nader over Gore but were frightened at the prospect of a Bush presidency, were torn. I had no such dilemma. W was clearly going to take Alabama no matter what I did.

I was convinced by Nader's argument that there was so little difference between the Democrats and Republicans in the degree to which they are beholden to the moneyed oligarchs that neither Gore nor Bush would effect the kind of changes the country needed. It was an idealistic, impractical way of looking at the choice but it didn't matter. I happily voted for Nader, secure in the knowledge that my vote would make no difference whatsoever. (As it turned out, Nader's argument was deeply flawed. Correct he may have been at the macro level but it's hard to imagine Gore making the kinds of horrific foreign policy blunders W did).

Despite the lack of effect, I always vote in the election. I don't always vote in the primaries and I don't know if I will this time, although Sanders vs Clinton at least seems to have elements of a real choice. I'll vote for somebody next November. It won't be the Republican nominee, although that's who will take the state.

I am eager to see how the primary voting starts to play out. It's certainly been the most entertaining run-up to the actual voting that I've ever seen. I haven't looked at any recent Alabama polling but it's not too hard to predict. Trump is wildly popular.  Cruz will do well because of the evangelical streak. Bush will do better here than his national polling indicates. The traditional Republican establishment remains very strong in Alabama.

Whether Trump holds at his 30-ish percent of likely primary voters probably depends on how he does in the earlier contests, and how many candidates are still standing. Despite the state's reputation, the racist, nativist streak that is so appalling in a segment of Trump's constituency isn't dramatically worse here than in other parts of the country. When I moved from St. Louis 20 years ago I found it refreshing that racial issues were explicit, compared to the covert and deeply entrenched institutional racism of Missouri. The crowds and the fervor that Trump sparks all across the country (not to mention the various hot spots of civil unrest that we've seen in the past couple of years) make it clear that hatred of the "other" and a manipulation of the power structures to keep "them" out are not restricted to any particular locale.

It's a mistake to think that Trump's support is restricted to that racist, nativist subset. That element of the population has always been there. If you break down the numbers Trump's supporters represent a minority of a minority of likely voters, which is already barely a majority of eligible voters. What Trump has done is give those people permission -- indeed encouragement -- to vent. It makes them feel fabulous and hopeful and deludes them into thinking they are more numerous than they actually are. Deep in the core of those numbers are the people who genuinely believe that they speak for a vast unheard majority of Americans who will sweep Trump into the presidency, to the shock and awe of mainstream politicians and media as well as the hated liberals.

More interesting to me than those flag-waving idiots are the more thoughtful supporters who rally around Trump because they have become disgusted with the compromising, corrupt and ineffectual politicians that, they feel, have abandoned the real promise of America in order to serve themselves and their masters. In their view of the American political system they are not so different from those Nader supporters of sixteen years ago. The system is corrupt and has utterly failed. It needs to be torn down and President Trump is the guy to do it. The fact that he has no remotely coherent plan to replace it is beside the point. He has fabulously satisfying slogans. He's successful in the ways that matter the most to Americans and he's beholden to no one.

What fascinates me about this element of Trump support is how little these people are interested in the practicalities of government. But maybe that's part of the point. The voter's job isn't to figure out how things should be improved and then identify a candidate who seems best able to carry that out. The voter seeks to identify the candidate who most explicitly speaks to their fears, frustrations and desires, put that person into office and trust them to figure it out. And among the Republican herd, Trump has been touching that nerve much better than anyone else. I've always said that the democratic electoral system that we follow always gives us the president we deserve, and I'm confident that will be the case this time. It still seems highly unlikely to me that Trump will be the Republican nominee, and the electoral map is such that it'll be very hard for a Republican to win the election in any case. But the next few months will clarify things. Carson, Fiorina, Kasich will all be out soon. Huckabee, Santorum and Paul were never really in it in the first place.

Whoever the Republican nominee turns out to be, they'll carry Alabama by a huge margin. I wonder who I'll vote for. Maybe Nader?

"Joy As An Act Of Defiance"

"Rock 'n' roll is a life force.  It's joy as an act of defiance." That's Bono explaining why it is necessary and important for U2 to get back to Paris as soon as possible to do the concerts they had to cancel after the attacks.

Terrorism drains joy from the soul. Replaces it with fear and suspicion. When we give in to that we are doing exactly what the terrorists need us to do.  

As Scott Atran and Nafis Hamid explain so very well in a recent New York Review column, the theorists of radical Islam are driven to destroy the corruption of the modern materialistic world and create "a new-old world of universal justice and peace under the Prophet’s banner."  Their tactics are not mindless nihilistic violence.  They are "part of a conscious plan designed to instill among believers a sense of meaning that is sacred and sublime, while scaring the hell out of fence-sitters and enemies."  They are intended to provoke a particular reaction that will rip the veil of illusion from the spiritual impoverishment of the West.  As prominent voices throughout the United States proclaim that we must do "things we haven't considered before," that we must all arm ourselves, that all Muslims are a threat, and on and on, it is apparent that the strategy is working fabulously well.

I was raised to believe that "liberty and justice for all" was the truth of America, that the dream really was a dream for everybody.  As I grew older I became more aware of how often we, as a country, and as individuals, fail to live up to that ideal, but I have still always believed in its potential.  When Americans are at our best, we are that shining city on the hill.  We are capable of astonishing acts of kindness and generosity.  In those moments, when we live up to our ideals, we deserve to be known as the country that people all around the world want to be a part of, we deserve to be the example that patriots everywhere want to model their own countries after.  That's when I'm proud of my country and the people who are a part of it.  There is no contradiction in feeling that pride while still wanting us to be better.

The jihadists believe that I am either a fool or a liar.  They believe that this talk of freedom and equality is a charade, that the system is created only to sustain the power of the powerful, to keep the weak in their place, where they will supply what is necessary to sustain the culture.  These horrific acts of violence are very specifically designed to generate a response, to send a message to those who they would call back to the fold.

 Did you think that if you went to the United States they would embrace you? Did you believe their chatter about liberty and justice for all? Did you think you were really going to have a share of the wealth and power that they dangle in front of you? All lies.

See now their true colors. See how quickly their fear turns loose their hatred for you. They have always hated you. When they felt they could control you and keep you down they tolerated you because they needed your labor. But they have no souls.  They are easily frightened and when they are frightened they become vicious. 

Some of their leaders claim to be appalled at the violence turned towards immigrants.   They say 'this is not who we are.' But they are as deluded as you have been. This is exactly who they are. You have no place there. There is nothing for you. See how quickly they shout their readiness to abandon their so-called principles in order to round you up, beat you, chase you from their shores. They have nothing for you.  Come home.

I imagine the leaders of the caliphate watching the bellicose rhetoric unfold, grinning at each other in amazement.  Even better than they'd hoped.  

On my university campus here in the deep South I see young women with headscarves on the sidewalks, walking to class, laughing together like college kids everywhere.  I think they are incredibly brave.  How often do they get jeered at?  When will someone, feeling emboldened by the rhetoric of some congressional leaders and too many presidential candidates, take it a step forward and commit some retaliatory act of violence?  When some young Muslim girl is standing in the dorm room, before the mirror, getting dressed, does she hesitate now before putting on the scarf?  Does she decide, maybe not today?  Maybe she was born in Indianapolis, of immigrant parents so proud to have made it to this country, to raise their children as Americans.  Maybe she spent her life having her mother tell her, when she came home from school crying at the taunts, to ignore them, to stand up for who she is, a real American.  Maybe her father convinced her that the true America would cherish and protect her.  Maybe she believed that.  Is her belief starting to weaken?  Is she beginning to wonder if the hatred and fear that seems more and more to be trained on her is the real America after all?

Yes, it's a war.  When U2 goes on stage tonight in Paris they'll be wielding a potent weapon.  The arena will shake with hope and the belief that the goodness of people will prevail as long as we don't let our own fear subvert that goodness.  They'll use rock 'n' roll as an act of defiance against those who seek to unleash the worst in our selves.

Each of us needs to be a joyful warrior.  Generosity and kindness are the weapons that we all can wield. Yes, yes, we need to be vigilant.  We need to be cautious.  Defeating the jihadists will require multiple tactics, some military, some political.  But those tactics will not prove the jihadists wrong.  We can only do that if we truly live the American dream, if we make the quest for justice and freedom, the realization of the words on the Statue of Liberty and the principles of the Constitution our daily touchstones; if we protect those ideals with all of the joyful fierceness we can muster.  If we don't, if we allow fear to replace joy with hatred, if we let the quest for security eviscerate personal liberty, if we scapegoat and demonize Muslims and immigrants, then not only do we lose the war, we prove that the jihadists were right about us all along.




I'm On An Anthropological Expedition

"Of the dozen cases of possible research misconduct I've looked into in the last ten years, I was able to retrieve the original data in exactly two." This from a colleague (I won't say with which university) bemoaning the state of current data management practices. When I quote this to some of the Data Wranglers here they're not at all surprised.

On the other hand, when I mentioned it to another colleague, a historian, she was rather shocked. In her field, keeping meticulous records and clear documentation of every statement of fact that goes into an article or book is standard practice.  That there's a research world that has such an apparently casual attitude towards the data is foreign to her.

But in the biomedical research world, as the hapless teddy bear researcher in the brilliant NYU Library video says, all the data you need is in the article.  You do your experiment, you extract the data you need for your article, you move on, leaving your data behind.  ("So many boxes!")  Changing that mindset is just one of the fundamental hurdles.

Each investigator looks at the world through the lens of their own practices, as if all of science and scholarship behaves the same way. I move through it like an anthropologist, trying not to let my own biases about the world color my perceptions of what the natives are doing and why.

When I embarked on this full-time gig fourteen months ago as the mysteriously titled Director of Digital Data Curation Strategies I believed I had a very good high-level understanding of the issues involved. I'd been dabbling in this space for many years, through the Open Access wars, my involvement with the Scholarly Publishing Roundtable and an increasing understanding that open access to data held far more potential for revolutionizing science than open access to journal articles. I knew that addressing the challenges at the institutional level would require bringing people together from all across the institution, that it wasn't a library problem amenable to a library solution. Indeed, it wasn't a problem localized in any unit of the university.  Given the way our research institutions are organized, there isn't a unit within the typical university that obviously has primary responsibility for figuring this out.  Most often, it's librarians who have taken the lead, but they can only touch a portion of the problem.

I still believe that I was correct. I did have a very good high-level understanding. But I did not imagine how delightfully complex it would be once I started to dig in.

I'm starting to get to know some of the #datalibs and a fascinating, brilliant and passionate tribe they certainly are.  I'm learning a lot and enjoying that tremendously.  

My perspective is a little different, though.  I remain the quasi-outsider, observing through my anthropological lens.  Since I'm no longer in the library, I'm not preoccupied with building a library service and marketing it to my research community.  In Charleston, one of the panelists in the "Making Institutional Repositories Work" session was explicit that once you have developed a solid institutional repository service, the next step is to engage with the faculty to see what problems the IR can solve.

At the monthly Data Wranglers sessions, and in the numerous conversations I have with individuals throughout the campus, I'm mostly trying to listen.  I want to understand what the problems are first.  What do investigators need in terms of services & infrastructure to comply with the data management requirements of funders and publishers?  How do we develop institutional policies that assist researchers rather than creating more administrative headaches?  How do the needs of the social scientists and historians differ from the epidemiologists and brain mappers?

If we can map that out, then we can start to identify roles.  What can the Office of Sponsored Programs take on?  How do the libraries contribute?  What do we need in terms of IT infrastructure?  How do we incorporate effective data management practices into the various graduate and post-doc training programs?  We'll probably identify the need for an institutional data repository of some sort at some point.  But we haven't gotten there yet.  I have much more field work to do.




Mr. Lucky posts to his timeline: If only we had a seasonally appropriate story about middle eastern people seeking refuge and being turned away.

Nicely done, I think, and indicate approval.  As do a couple of others.

But very soon, not surprisingly, comes the dark side. "Why are they all young men? What about women and children first? Think about it."

Absurd, of course. I'm a librarian, so immediately I go looking for facts.  I quickly find them from the UN High Commissioner for Refugees. 50.5% women, 38.5% under the age of 12. I post that.

Did I expect the dark side to express gratitude and surprise?  Well, no.

He just says, "Sure they are."

Mr. Lucky bans & blocks him. This is good for Mr. Lucky's page and the friends who hang out there, but the dark side remains.  Unmoved.

How do we know what we know? How do we know that we can trust it?

My way of knowing is constructed from a set of principles developed in Europe over several centuries, starting with the Greek invention of symbolic logic and the beginnings of an empirical approach to science, a way of looking at the world that comes to fruition in the so-called Age of Enlightenment.

That way of looking at the world leads me immediately to search for verifiable objective facts, to balance competing narratives using logical principles, leavened by appeals to trusted authority.

But that's just one way of looking at the world. It "works" in the sense that it provides an epistemological underpinning for Western science & engineering that enables us to manipulate the world pretty effectively to improve health and physical comfort -- along with building extremely effective tools of destruction.  Those of us who follow this path believe that it gives us an accurate picture of the world.  It leads to true knowledge. (It is, however, pretty useless for answering questions about morality or the meaning of life.)

So what of someone who rejects all that? What if one's epistemological principle is to rely on intuition and how one feel about the world? Rather than building knowledge empirically, using logic, construct it from emotion, a sense of tribe, an appeal to religion, history and family. Knowledge comes from who one is and the place one occupies in the world.  Perhaps the goal is not to test knowledge, but to keep it safe.   Use information to reinforce a construct of the world that is organic and that rejects western logic altogether. Make judgments about facts in an entirely different way -- accept those that reinforce one's views and reject those that challenge them. Rather than an appeal to some objective reality, to logic or science, measure facts against the reality that one already knows to be true. Proceeding in this way makes my views ever stronger, makes my hold on reality -- my reality -- that much more solid.

I can't argue against this using my tools of logic and empiricism.  My appeal to the UNHCR is useless. Since my antagonist already knows that the refugees are all young men, the facts that I present are evidence that the UNHCR cannot be a trustworthy source.  I think my facts will undermine his beliefs; instead, his beliefs invalidate my facts.

The rationalist says, "You're entitled to your own opinions, you're not entitled to your own facts."  And so the rationalist looks at the comment threads in frustrated bewilderment, throwing more and more facts, never wavering in the belief that eventually facts and logic must win.  They must. Otherwise, how is knowledge even possible?

And yet, it is apparent that for many people, belief comes first.  Then one chooses one's facts.  The rationalist has no way to counter this.  I can say this is illogical.  My antagonist counters, That's your problem.


The Despicable Senator Cruz

Throughout our re-watching of The Day of the Doctor last night I kept thinking of the bellicose Senator Cruz arguing that we needed to accept civilian deaths in Syria and Iraq in order to defeat ISIS. Most disgusting is his claim that by trying to adhere to international law on the avoidance of civilian casualties, Obama "does not wish to defend this country."

This will be very popular with Cruz's fans, many of whom would be happy to make no distinctions among the people of Syria and Iraq in any case.

The plot of The Day of the Doctor centers on the Doctor's guilt at having wiped out Gallifrey in order to end the Time War. He made the utilitarian calculation that killing those billions of innocents was justified in order to spare the many more billions who might die in the wider war if it could not be contained. Then he spent four hundred guilt-filled years regretting it.  He has the chance to undo that decision, and he takes it.

The dilemma is a classic one. What lives are you willing to take in order to prevent greater harm?  We see it play throughout the history of war. The U.S. chose the destruction of innocents in Dresden and again in Hiroshima and Nagasaki. We still argue about it.  Was it better that we kill all of those innocent, suffering men, women and children in order to end the war?  

At the Nuremberg trials we began to understand what happens to a culture, and to the people who are a part of it, when you choose the path that leads to dehumanizing the "other."  There's no easy solution, and in war, innocent people die, But we try to recognize that the easy acceptance of "collateral damage" (that soul destroying phrase) places us on the same plane of barbarism of those we are trying to subdue.

Cruz appeals to the barbarism that is still within us, to the fear and the tribalism that will make it easy to accept those civilian deaths in order to save ourselves from this "threat to Western Civilization."   But our response, when it leads to torture, loss of civil liberties, dehumanization of those we see as not like us, and a willingness to easily accept the destruction of innocent life, profoundly threatens the values on which that civilization has been built.

I don't know what the solution is. I'm not a tactician.  Clearly ISIS is not amenable to a diplomatic solution. They need to be fought militarily and more aggressively than we have figured out how to do so far.  But I have no patience for the internet armchair generals who will rage in comment threads and on twitter about what we "obviously" have to do, and who will boast about their willingness to be tough enough to kill as many children as it takes.  Idiots, who will never have to stand for the consequences of their choices.  

I am not willing that we should descend to their level of barbarity and ignore the humanity of those who are caught on the ground. I want to see leadership that will find a solution, difficult as it is, that doesn't destroy our values on the pretext of defending them.  Unlike the Doctor, we don't get a second chance.