Wednesday, August 30, 2006

What Did Gettysburg Learn from Katrina?

It's hard not to be thinking about Katrina these days. I just visited over at Majikthise where Lindsay loaded up her photos of NOLA and Baton Rouge from last year. NPR has been dominated by reminiscings of Katrina and where things stand. Even my textbook for Intro to WS rewrote the introduction to include an analysis of the FEMA and Gov't failure to respond to Katrina and its aftermath.

What still haunts me about this episode from our very recent past is the simple truth that had the victims--those left behind in NOLA--of Katrina been middle-class White people, the government failure would have never occurrred. Racism.

This weekend my little town is holding a Community Unity day to draw attention away from the KKK, who are doing their thing on the battlefield. One of the posters reads that this day is committed to celebrating diversity. I don't doubt this intention. I just wonder what it means to my little town to celebrate diversity and how much of an effort will be made to forge a community that will not let the less fortunate be left behind in a tragedy. I hate to be the skeptic . . .

How immune are any or our towns--large or small--to the crushing and dehumanizing forces of institutionalized racism? Sure, most of the town will gladly show up to protest the overt forms of racism that only fringe groups still celebrate. But to what extent will most supporters of this unity day actually fight or act concretely to transform the the lives of impoverished in our community--African-Americans, Latinos, emigrees from Russia or Bosnia, etc. Pushes for economic development price most working people out of housing in the borough. NCLB programs penalize students who are struggling to learn English. Health Insurance is unobtainable for most working class people. Well paying jobs are scarce for people who didn't get a good education. Schools underserve the most needy populations. The list is so long and unfathomable that most people give up and choose to fight the obvious: the KKK.

Useful Longing

I was recounting a short story that I recently read in the New Yorker to friends last night and figured I would write about here since they seemed to appreciate the insight. The story is called "How Was it to Be Dead," by Richard Ford. Spoilers ahead, so if you are dying to read this story first, then read my post later.

The story revolves around the reappearance of a man who walked out on his wife and children after returning from Viet Nam. He winds us an arborist on Mull (Scotland). "Wally's trauma, fear, resentment, and elective amnesia had carried him as from the Chicago suburbs, from his wife and two kids . . ." Wally returns by way of a website dedicated to finding him and asking him to return home for his parents 60th wedding anniversary. His wife--who has longed believed him dead and subsequently remarried--quite happily--walks into the house to find him. The story is narrated by the second husband and the drama revolves around Sally's decision to invite Wally to stay with her and the narrator. By the end of the story, it is clear that Sally is going to leave her happy marriage for Wally, move with him to Mull, and even admits that she doesn't think she loves him anymore.

The narrator, with some distance from the sting of being left by Sally for Wally, reflects on her fate: "I feel, in fact, a goodly tincture of regret for Sally. Because even though I believe that her sojourn on Mull will not last so long, by rechoosing Wally she has embraced the impossible, inaccessible past, and by doing so has risked or even exhausted useful longing . . ."

I can't explain exactly why I find this idea of useful longing so powerfully captures something very real about our lives, but my suspicion was confirmed when I shared this idea and saw how well it resonated with my friends. Perhaps not all of us, or many of us, still long for some inaccessible past, but I do. Better yet, I think I have had the fortune--although it is most likely not fortune but survival from enough pain--to leave the impossible, impossible. What we long for, it seems to me, is something that never really was in the first place. It is a fantasy we construct to represent what we might have been or had. It does seem true that this longing is also something quite invigorating, as long as it remains that . . .

Tuesday, August 29, 2006

Sex and Women=Still the Dark Continent of Our Thought

Obviously abortion and abortion politics preoccupy me at the moment. I have been thinking, in particular, about the following three comments that were posted in response to the Joplin Globe articles.

"Yes, a woman has a choice. But that choice comes before the act is done. A woman has the choice to abstain (which in those days I believe was the general practice) and today there are all sorts of pills and devices to keep a woman from getting pregnant. But once the act is done, her choice should end. The good doctor was a murderer and should not be praised for what he did. What has happened to the morals of this society?"


"The title to this story should be: 'God giveth life but man taketh away.' There is no reason for abortion - just a selfish excuse. Most of the fathers of unwanted babies would take them and raise them, and if not the father, the grandparents would take them in a heartbeat. This is proven with all the grandparents who are raising their grandchildren now. Then there is always adoption. Some people want children - hard to believe, isn't it? Women should come with instructions that say: 'For natural birth control, cross legs tightly and remain in this position.' "


ROHO writes:
I am very much a "vocal anti-abortion proponent" as described in wayne roberts' comment. We WANTED children and purposed to have them, AFTER we were married. We've been a big part in helping to raise all of our Grandchildren (who were also very much wanted). And we have taken in children as foster Parents. I would say to wayne roberts: It's easy for you to have a calloused heart (hatred for children)and an opinion on abortion because your Mother chose NOT to abort you. Killing babies just to avoid taking the responsibilty to care for them is a selfish, cruel, condemnable act. If some people are going to run around having sex like dogs do, then they should be spayed and castrated like dogs. That would solve most of the problem.

I have highlighted the particular sentences that disturbed me. These are among the most ruthless criticisms of not only our work in Grove, but also the practice of Doc Henrie. What leaps out is the sort of assumptions being made about the type of woman who needs an abortion.

I have found that the most vocal opponents of abortion are those who believe that the woman seeking one is irresponsible and irrepressible. The question is how did this particular image of the woman-seeking-abortion came to stand in for all women who are seeking abortions? I have to approach this question carefully, because I do not want to grant the point that an irresponsible and irrepressible woman should be saddled with a pregnancy that she is not fit to carry out. I also question the very premise that such a female, tout court, exists. [Here is where my straightforward liberal credentials kick in (See Maynard on this point over at Creative Destruction).]

If young women are putting themselves at risk for pregnancy and recklessly engaging in risky sexual behavior, there are multiple players that bear some responsibility. First of all, nowhere in the comments above do I see any consideration of the responsibility of men to prevent pregnancy. For example, "sad" suggests that there are pills and devices "to keep a woman from getting pregnant," but no specific mention of what men should do or how they should behave. ROHO does seem to be a bit more gender-neutral, but his solution is to "spay" and "castrate" irrepressible young people. The metaphors and language used by these posters betrays a sickened portrait of human sexuality, with a heavy emphasis on women's sickening behavior: "cross legs tightly and remain in this position." I cannot help but worry, profoundly, about the character of people who would utter such things--whether in private, among their buddies, or in public forums. What underlines this characterization of the woman-seeking-abortion is heartless and hateful background assumptions about the nature of women.

And, as long as there are deeply entrenched attitudes that women are sickening sexual fiends--particularly if they "open their legs" or "run around having sex like dogs do"--then we will find ourselves coping with the social problem of women engaging in risky sexual behavior. This is another of the "multiple players" that bear some responsibility here. Sure, men and women of all ages engage in reckless sexual practices from time to time. Women, however, bear the stiffest consequences of that behavior.

But, what are the social conditions in which we find young people engaging in risky sexual behavior? It seems important to remember that many parents are utterly incapable of having a grown up conversation with their children about sex--without resorting to silly names for body parts, outright lies, stiff admonitions against sex without explanation, or finally, condemning an judging attitudes toward their children who find themselves with intense sexual urges. Then, consider, that young people grow up in a culture that is inundated with sexual messages and outright pressure to be sexual for social approval. A young girl, for example, who defies cultural expectations to look and act feminine--coy, flirty, helpless, pretty--is ostracized. A man who refuses to objectify women is gay.

We have a whole mess on our hands when it comes to typical views about sex. Sex, like women, still persists as the dark continent of our thought.

Monday, August 28, 2006

Colbert and Stewart at '06 Emmys

If you missed this hilarious Stewart-Colbert tag team during the Emmys last night, go over to Crooks and Liars to see the footage. Poor Barry Manilow.

More from Joplin Globe

Sheila Stogsdill sent me a link to this summary of the internet dicussion over the Doc Henrie story in the Joplin Globe last week. I find the fall out from the story fascinating. The first time I noticed the comments, I was horrified. Now, with some distance, I am starting to see how it is that folks can write these comments. In fact, the internet editor, Dave Woods, argues that Stogsdill's article "immediately separated the Globe's online viewers into two camps - pro-choice and pro-life." This assessment, to my mind, perfectly illustrates the generational shift in thinking about abortion since Roe. The women and men who lived in America before Roe, especially in poor, rural towns, simply accepted abortion as a feature of life. It may not have been part of public conversations. It may have been something frowned upon. But, it happened, and people knew it happened. What Dr. Henrie did was protect women from predatory back-alley abortionists, who profited off the illegal nature of abortion.

Sunday, August 27, 2006

Back To Teaching

I have been scrambling like a madwoman trying to get my courses together for this fall. Tomorrow I enter the classroom again after a semeter hiatus. I rather surprised by how difficult this transition back to teaching has been. I have already fallen ill with a cold after a whirlwind week. Now I am hoping I don't get the jitters in front of a classroom of new faces.

Sorry for sparse posting. I should be back in action this week. Good luck to everyone else about to enter the classroom tomorrow.

Saturday, August 26, 2006

Remembering Sherri Finkbine

IsThatLatin alerted me to the BBC's page, where it reprinted a story from August 26, 1962--both Women's Equality Day and the year that Doc Henrie went to prison--about Sherri Finkbine's trip to Sweden to get a legal abortion. Ms. Finkbine already had four healthy children and discovered that her fifth child would be born with serious defects due to her taking Thalidomide to counteract morning sickness. Read on to learn more of the story.

The first prison notebook of Doc Henrie's that I opened had a clipped out article of Finkbine's story pasted on a page. I think that it was exactly these kind of stories that fueled his anger toward what he called the hypocrisy of anti-abortion laws. During his time in prison he transformed into a passionate activist for repealing the abortion laws and died one year before Roe.

Happy Women's Equality Day

National NOW sent along this message today, which asks women and men to sign a petition in order to continue to advocate for women's equality.

NOW encourages you to celebrate and advocate in honor of Women's Equality Day! Sign our petition to prospective 2008 presidential candidates NOW or read on...

On August 26, 1920, after 72 years of lobbying and protest, women finally won the right to vote in the United States.

In 1971, the late, great Rep. Bella Abzug convinced Congress to designate Aug. 26 as Women's Equality Day. Women's lives have changed dramatically since 1920 and even since 1971. By organizing, voting, speaking out and demanding change, we have made incredible leaps in every arena. But, we still have a long way to go.

Tell the presidential candidates that...

Until women earn the same wages as men . . . until reproductive justice is assured . . . until racism and sexism and violence are eradicated . . . until lesbian/gay/bisexual/transgender people have equal rights . . . until women are included in the U.S. Constitution . . . women's equality will not be realized.

While the 2008 presidential election might seem far off, the prospective candidate list is already filling out and the likely frontrunners aren't hard to spot. Today is not a day too soon to begin urging each potential candidate to make women's equality a major component of their campaign.

We cannot have another eight years of women's rights being pushed back, and our hard-earned progress stopped in its tracks by leaders dedicated only to their rich cronies and ultra-conservative backers.

Sign the petition!

We CAN make women's equality a reality by ensuring that it is a centerpiece of the 2008 elections. Let's start NOW by securing a commitment from the likely presidential candidates that they will address issues crucial to women and girls achieving their dreams.

By adding your name to our petition, you will lend strength and weight to this mission. Together, we will let candidates from all political parties know that if they want the women's vote -– they better speak to all of the issues important to both women and men.

You can help make our effort even stronger by forwarding this Women's Equality Day message to friends and family members. Do it NOW!

Thursday, August 24, 2006

The FDA approves Plan B for OTC

Finally some good news. The FDA did in fact approve OTC sales of Plan B for women 18 years or older. I can't emphasize enough how important these sorts of steps are in an era where many of women's rights are being challenged or retrenched. What should be common ground between the pro-choice and pro-life side--reducing the number of abortions performed in this country--all too often gets completely trumped by hyberbolic rhetoric on both sides. While my sympathies will always lie with the Pro-choice crowd, I get impatient when pro-choicers forget to emphasize that abortion rates fall when greater reproductive rights exist for women. Moreover, reproductive freedom encompasses far more than abortion rights. Women are fighting for better pre-natal care, comprehensive sexual education, access to family planning services that are affordable, and quality day care.

When you empower women to make better decisions about their bodies and when you treat them as part of the decision making process and not fill their heads with a bunch of abstinence-only--shame-based--sex education, all families benefit. Educating women and freeing them from shame about their bodies makes for better mothers.

Wednesday, August 23, 2006

Shame and Sex

When I was growing up, I had it in my mind that when my mother was my age--in the early 50s--the world was more wholesome. I am not sure how I got that idea, other than the fact that I spent many hours in front of the TV in the late 70s and early 80s watching reruns of shows from the 50s. The families in those shows seemed incongruous with the families I knew.

My mother's parents--my grandparents--always lived near by and represented to me real examples of Mayberry. They were from Minnesota and Iowa. They loved playing cribbage, good fun consisted of drinking pop and eating popcorn, and their values were solid Christian ones.

Only when I got older did I realize that my mother worried intensely about me when I was in high school. She thought perhaps there was something wrong with me because I never had any boyfriends. I showed no evidence of a rapacious libido and I was content to spend time with my female friends. Was I gay? My mom never confessed any of these worries to me until I was much, much older. This conversation started after I had read her diary and learned a bit more about her own childhood. She certainly wasn't the model child. By gosh, she had actually snuck out of her house and stayed out until 2 am. I couldn't believe it. She also had lots of boyfriends, being a beautiful woman. I had tried to be a good girl, to live up to my mother, and instead, she was worried that I was just plain frigid.

I thought of this today while ruminating on an email conversation that I had with a 70 year old woman who was part of the repeal movement in the Bible Belt. She expressed her fear that women 45 and older simply don't know how desperate times were before Roe. She knew of a woman who sought out an abortion from a "back alley" doctor, and woke up from her anesthesia to find him raping her. She knew of other stories where women were manipulated into having sex with their abortion doctor because he threatened to tell others what she had did. And, she told me about women she knew who self-aborted, almost died, and found themselves in Catholic hospitals. She said you might as well have painted a scarlet "A" on her forehead; they treated her like a sinner and wheeled her out of the hospital with no more information than she had before on how to prevent a pregnancy.

While mulling over these stories, I thought back to what the Mayor of Grove said about young people today. She was articulating something that is present in the minds of many folks who fervently oppose abortion today. The idea is that since abortion became legal, and birth control available, and sex education made its way into public school curriculum, young people have lost their morals. The idea is that in the 50s young women knew how to properly behave. They wouldn't let a boy get "fresh," and they certainly wouldn't consent to sex before a wedding ring. People in the 50s had "morals." This is what I always thought about my mother, and by and large, it is true. But, my mom wasn't asexual. She had yearnings, desires like any other young person falling in love for the first time.

But, for some reason, we have constructed the 50s in our imagination as a lost era; a time when people had values. Men were men, women were women. Sex was restricted to marriage. Abortion didn't exist. These are the fantasies that we have about that era. And I really want to emphasize that these are the fantasies that WE--those of us 45 and under--have of that era. The reality is far bleaker, especially for many women who lived through the pre-Roe era.

I think that the Mayor of Grove was expressing something quite understandable. Who among us doesn't worry, from time to time, that young people are thrown into a highly sexualized and sometimes predatory time? Certainly many parents--whether they be liberal or conservative or somewhere in between--worry that their children will start having sex, get hurt, get pregnant, or be harmed by some molester. Sex seems to be everywhere.

And, frankly, it is quite easy to blame this on the 60s, the sexual revolution, and the women's movement.

Many people want to find a cause, the one thing responsible for this time of sexual chaos, and all too often people attribute this to the damn feminists and hippies. But something I kept asking the Mayor to consider was that in the 50s, Doc Henrie was performing approximately 500 abortions a year. Women who weren't getting abortions, might be sent away to relatives with a story that they had a heart condition and needed to be near a good hospital. They would give birth and then return home, and no one would peep.

Shame. Shame about sex is what gave shape to the fantasies that we have of the 50s. It wasn't that people didn't have sex back then, rather it was that the shame of having others find out was powerful enough to drive you to get an abortion. You might perform it on yourself. You might kill yourself rather than have others find out that you had been having sex. Shame lead to untold numbers of deaths, and probably untold numbers of abortions.

Many pro-lifers believe that abortion rates will drop if you ban it. But, if you pay attention closely to the reality of the 50s--not the fantasy--you will realize that probably nothing is more likely to shoot up abortion rates and female suicide rates than prohibiting abortion, contraception and sex education. The fact is that our own times, which seem to be full of sexual dysfunction, are probably not a whole lot different than the 50s, except in one way: women don't have to be as ashamed of themselves now. If you find yourself pregnant, you really do have the option of keeping the child, being a single mother, and continuing on in your community. You have that option because shame is no longer the single most important force directing your life.

Legalizing abortion, making contraception available, and teaching comprehensive sexual education doesn't make young people have more sex. It just brings out into the open what generations before tried to bury. We have to confront, wide eyed, a part of our human nature. We are sexual creatures. Nature gives us a healthy sexual appetite, especially when we are young. What culture is supposed to do is help us make better decisions about when to give in to our impulses. The abortion debate is over what cultural practices are better at helping us redirect those sexual impulses in ways that don't harm us.

What is clear to me is that any cultural practice that uses shame as the guiding force to redirect young peoples' sexual impulses is dangerous. If you are someone who truly believes that abortion is murder, then it behooves you to fight against a culture that makes young women feel horrifically ashamed--to the point of self-mutilation--when they find themselves pregnant and not married.

Monday, August 21, 2006

If Abortion Was Killing It Would Be a Non-Issue

One of the comments that a Grove woman made that stuck with me had to do with her concern over her Catholic Obstetrician. Now, Norma is a prominent figure in the Republican party in OK. She is not someone who I would picture saying something so intriguing about the dangers pregnant women faced or continue to face (which admittedly shows my own prejudice and false assumptions). I asked her to say more about what was concerning about her doctor's Catholicism. She said she was worried that if it came down to her or the baby, he would choose the baby. I pressed on.

"What was his answer?"

"He said I would try to save both."

"Did you ask him again?," I followed up.


Then she said, "I could always have more babies if something happened to me."

I have been puzzled by this exchange ever since. So, today I asked a colleague what she made of this. And, she told me about the stories that surrounded Catholic doctors and hospitals in the 50s. Her mother was an Obstetrics nurse in a Catholic hospital and explained that many people worried, back then, that the physician would save the child over the mother. I guess everyone knew of some story involving a motherless child, now raised by a grieving father. I had no idea that this was an abiding concern for many young mothers. And this story reminds me again, how we need to look at the abortion issue from the lens of a time before Roe, a time before birth control, and a time before women had the kind of social and economic power they do now.

I was mulling over this story when I saw a man driving this car in Baltimore.

Right before I saw this car, bedecked with Pro-life rhetoric and a Maryland Right to Life special license plate, I was thinking about how distinctive peoples' reasoning seems to be about abortion. Basically, my point was if most people really believed that abortion was murder (which is the specific moral wrong that those who object to it from a religious standpoint assert), then abortion would quite simply be a non-issue. I mean, c'mon. No one tolerates or even likes a rapist or child pornographer. But, you can not only like, but love a woman who had an abortion. You might disagree with what she did. You might find it morally repugnant. But, except for a select few, you can't imagine people absolutely wanting to rip apart a woman who terminated a pregnancy.

I wanted to ask this gentleman, driving the car with the "Real Love Rejects Abortion," and "Abortion Kills Babies Worldwide," what he would think of Norma's story about fearing her Catholic doctor. Is abortion really killing? Would you need to advertise so strenuously this extreme view if most people thought it was killing? I mean, can you imagine bumper stickers on cars that said "Rapists Suck." Or "Rapists Destroy Women's Souls Every Day." No. Of course not. But, the Pro-life movement thinks it is perfectly reasonable to construe abortion as killing. This kind of pithy sound byte approach to moral argument is painfully mistaken to me now, after embarking on this project. For example, the bumper sticker refers to abortion being a practice that kills 400 babies a day. What a unforgivable way of potraying difficult and distressing decisions that women across the globe--many of which are victims of brutal rapes or are starving. I used to just be annoyed at this pro-life rhetoric. Now I am just plain disgusted and embarrassed by its simple-mindedness.

I wonder what Norma's reaction would be to those bumper stickers? When I asked her what she would do if OK passed a bill to ban all abortions, even those necessary to saving the mother's life, she said: "Well, I wouldn't really like it. But, it wouldn't affect me and I would try as best as I could to honor it since it would be a law."

Again, I am perplexed. How can one tell this personal story of fearing your OBGYN doctor, and the fact that he might let you die to save your child, and then acquiese, albeit reluctantly, to a law banning abortion. The fact that she could make this decision and honor the activities of her political party only further illustrates to me how odd moral reasoning is over abortion. For her to forget her own fear and shrug it off and say, "well, I would try to honor the law as best as I could" is baffling. It is as if abortion is not a real thing. Or, that she can be of two minds: if the law bans ABORTION--the political football of our time--then I will honor it. But, if a young mother is scared of her physician choosing to save the baby at the expense of the mother, well, that is horrific.

More Loot Pictures

Sorry that I haven't been around for the past two days. Things have gotten a bit hectic already. I am not sure I am fully prepared to start teaching next week. Anyway, here are more pictures, as promised, of birthday loot.

To the left is a picture of the New Yorker cartoon that Za got framed for me. Apparently you can order this from Cartoon Bank. I am trying to decide if I should put this up in my office or keep it at home. It is so awesome. It might provoke good conversations in my office eh? *I* told me that she uses it for an exam question.

Now, I must show you one of the cards I got from Za.
In this one, Za drew in my tattoo. And, yes, I do ask him this dorky girlie question all the time. He puts up with it, and I admit each time that it is a depraved sickness that I need to cure.

Finally, by popular request, here is my adorable beagle, Marty, looking healthy and festive.

Saturday, August 19, 2006

Birthday Loot, Part 1.

Za bought me a digital camera for my birthday and he surprised me with a cake and other presents last night. So, now that I have figured out how to use this camera, I thought I would upload some pictures of my loot.

First, I got a Jayne Cobb action figure doll. On the back of the package it reads: "His softer side is well hidden under an arsenal of firearms, blades, explosives and probably much more."

I promise to upload more pictures of loot later.

News Story on Our Grove Trip

I am off to D.C. today for some R and R. But, before I go, I wanted to share with you the article that Sheila Stogsdill published on our trip in the Joplin Globe. Here is the link. I am eager to hear any of your reactions . . .

Friday, August 18, 2006

Grove Redux, Final Part

If you just landed on this blog for the first time in a long while, you missed my 5 part series on Grove, OK and its famous, outlaw abortion doctor. To help you catch up:
Missives from Grove, Part 1
Missives from Grove, Part 2
Missives from Grove, Part 3
Missives from Grove, Part 4
Missives from Grove, Part 5

I have finally returned from my trip and can't help but replay, over and again, the conversations I had with the town folks of "Old Grove." The story about the abortion doctor from the Bible belt has really shattered any of the familiar categories of our abortion debate. One of the observations I made, almost immediately, was that the categories of "pro-life" or "pro-choice," simply didn't fit; to characterize any of these people--men and women who range from 66-94--as one or the other is an anachronism. The polarizing, mutually exclusive categories manufactured by pundits and politicians are far from capturing the complex relationship that these people have to the moral question of abortion. In fact, abortion is not an abstract question to any of these people. Nearly everyone we spoke to knew of someone who had an abortion performed by Doc Henrie. Most of our interviewees could conjure up a face, a story, a tale of tragedy, when he or she thought of abortion.

After the third interview, the reporter working with us said: "What I am having a hard time getting my mind around is that I have to look at this story not through 2006 eyes, but 1956 eyes." I have thought about her comment many times and I think contained within it is something profoundly wise about how all of us might need to revisit the question of abortion. Ada, Dr. Henrie's nurse, said countless that there is no way you could look at what Henrie did in black and white terms--her very expression. She said: "Honey, life isn't that way and life will never be that way." Henrie didn't have the luxury of time to figure out the moral rightness or wrongness of abortions. He didn't see a moral issue in front of him. He saw a young rape victim. He saw an incest victim. He saw a mother who already had 10 kids and couldn't afford another one. He saw the daughters of the local ministers wanting to "save their name." Other doctors all around Delaware County sent Henrie patients because he was the only one willing to perform abortions and risk arrest. The Mayor, Carolyn Knuckolls said: "The reason that he did the abortions was because he didn't want some girl who wanted an abortion to go to some skid row place with no sanitation by someone who was a quack."

When you listen to these peoples descriptions of the Old Grove--the sleepy little fishing community before the newcomers come in--what becomes clear is that this is a lost era. You simply cannot understand this story, understand why this man willingly risked arrest and endured moral opprobium, until you are willing to put yourself in that place and that time. You may protest that these women could've put their children up for adoption, until you learn that such options simply did not exist. You could imagine the churches taking these women in and finding foster parents, until you realize that only farmers who desperately needed more farm hands would take one or two kids, if you were lucky. These people couldn't even pay for a doctors visit or the birth of their child, so it's hard to imagine that they could handle the expense of finding a parent who could care for a child they could'nt feed, nor tend to because of their own dire poverty. You might also remember that the birth control pill didn't exist and sex education was unthinkable. As Helen Crawford said, the eldest resident of Grove we had the pleasure to speak with, "In those days, people didn't know how to prevent pregnancies." Before Henrie showed up, you went to your midwife who would give you some kind of concoction, not knowing if you would even survive this home remedy.

The Mayor emphasized that Henrie never lost a single patient. This, of course, runs counter to the "official story," printed in the papers of the time. Henrie went to jail because his last patient died. And yet, at least three people said that he never performed that abortion; Ada said "he was framed." Henrie would never peform a surgical abortion either. The only time he ever performed a D and C was if a woman had miscarried. Doc Henrie relied on a non-surgical technique, now called a lamniaria. He would dialate the cervix, which would cause cramping and then a subsequent miscarriage. Women would arrive on a Friday night and stay in his clinic--a clinic which he built and paid for himself to treat the people of Grove--and stay until the miscarriage had occurred. He and his nurses would attend to them and ensure that they did not contract any infections. He also refused to perform abortions if the woman was past the first trimester. What is also of interest is that Henrie often refused to perform abortions in some cases. He always heard the patient out, and if he could, would convince her to keep the child.

To better understand why this town allowed Henrie to perform these abortions, and why they too were as discrete in protecting the identity of the women from their community who went to see him, you have to look at this from the standpoint of Old Grove in the 1950s. The women who showed up in his clinic were daughters, sisters, mothers, aunts, friends, and lovers. These women belonged to Grove and Grove took care of them. This simply was not an abstract question in any case. You weren't allowed to judge these women with scorn because they were, after all, people you loved and knew. The kind of absolute and unforgiving judgments and condemnation of women who seek abortions is an anathema to a tight knit community, where everyone knows everyone, where peoples' struggles are not isolated or ignored, and where children are under the guidance and care of all.

Only now, where we lived dispersed among each other, isolated, disconnected and thereby more capable of construing "others" or"those people," do we witness a swell of pro-life rhetoric, condemning all who seek abortions as "murderers," as "immoral," and as "sinners." We actually are far enough removed from the details of others lives that we feel entitled to judge them. "These young people today have no morals." "If people are starving now, it's their own fault." The erosion of community opens up the possibility of total, absolute and irreconciliable black and white moral positions.

What bothers me the most, as I try to witness this story not from my 2006 perch, is how much more tolerant, pliable and open these people were in the 50s. They had to be. They literally depended on each other to survive. Sure, you don't like what some of them think, what some of them do, but you can't afford to wholly discount them. You cannot walk by and ignore them. You know that "there before the Grace of God go I." And here we are now, in 2006, in a sea of anonymity. Helen said: "I don't even know any of my neighbors anymore. Grove is not the same place."

So, if I can entice others to care about this story as much as I do. If can, more importantly, help you look at this not through 2006 eyes, then I think we have a lot to learn from this story.

Thursday, August 17, 2006

Missives from Grove, Part 5

If you moved to a little town like Grove, sitting on a beautiful and undeveloped lake, in the 1950s, you might get ideas about doing something with this untapped resource. Today we interviewed the widow of the man who owned the Grove Sun newspaper at the time that Henrie was arrested. One of her most poignant remarks was that the people of this town "just didn't know what they had." She and her husband rolled into town in 1953 only to discover that there were no places to live. "There were no properties, no places to rent, hardly any buildings." The people in Grove walked around with no shoes, the roads weren't paved and there was no Chamber of Commerce, no Library and no Civic clubs like the Masonic temple.

As we talked to Ms. Wiley, it was clear that she thought Grove was simply living in the 19th century. People like the Wileys, who were starting to move into Grove in the mid 50s got the idea of attracting business and initiating economic development. But, there were some definite obstacles to such plans. For example, there was this county doctor named Doc Henrie who provided abortions for anyone in the town or from other states, who would travel to get an abortion. If you walked into the main square of town on a Friday night, right next to the Community Center, you would see cars lining the block, two deep, with license plates from California, New York, Washington and Kansas. About 500 people traveled through Grove a year seeking out an abortion. And, there sat Doc Henrie's clinic, wedged in between the church and the city officials.

If you were a young, ambitious couple settling in Grove during the economic boom time of the post WWII, you might find it quite unsettling to discover that the country doctor had more patients than just the poor farmers and generations of families living in Delaware county. The Wileys were certainly ashamed of Dr. Henrie and what he was doing. No one they knew would ever visit this osteopath if they needed a doctor. What did he know anyway? A new doctor had just arrived in town and with new comers and some of the affluent town folks was trying to start up a real hospital. But, Dr. Henrie and his unsavory business simply stood in the way.

Don Wiley, the editor of the Grove Sun, wrote an editorial about Doc Henrie after he left Grove for the penitentiary. The article was entitled "The Shame of Grove," and basically argued just that: Dr. Henrie was bad for Grove's reputation. Now, we asked Mrs. Wiley if she disapproved of abortions. She explained that she was a life long member of the First Christian Church and we knew her eldest son is a minister for Campus Crusade. She said "not necessarily." So I sat there for a few minutes trying to make sense of what it meant to call Dr. Henrie the shame of Grove, if abortion wasn't a horrible sin. And, all of a sudden it hit me like a Mack truck. You couldn't really attract new business into Grove, develop the lake area and convince retirees from the big city to spend their twilight years in this sleepy little fishing hole if it housed a big "abortion mill." How embarrassing.

Folks like the Wileys represented middle class, suburbanite values. You just don't have an abortionist who gives vitamin shots to farmers and delivers their babies at all hours of the night if you want to draw in respectable middle class folks. Dr. Henrie was just a symbol of how backward this little town was.

Before Doc Henrie headed off for the penitentiary, folks from all over Delaware county made their way into Grove to be there for his send off. The town had a pot luck and ice cream social. Mothers brought all the babies that Doc Henrie delivered and surrounded him for a picture that never made it into the Grove Sun. Mr. Wiley thought the whole event was a publicity stunt, set up by Doc Henrie. It was part and parcel of his larger than life ego and need to be affirmed and loved by the townspeople, Wiley thought. Another young journalist named Mike McCarville ran a 5 part series on Doc Henrie a year later in the Daily Oklahoman, suggesting that Doc Henrie was a pied piper, whose charismatic personality cast a spell over these poor and uneducated farmers.

We talked to a couple of women who were at that picnic, the current Mayor of Grove and a farmer from Southwest City, Mo. Neither had any sense that this town send off was a publicity stunt planned by Doc Henrie. Nadine, the chicken farmer, said that she drove up with her three babies from Tulsa to be there to see Henrie. Nadine is also the same woman who believed and continues to believe that Doc Henrie was going to hell if he didn't quit doing abortions.

When we asked Mrs. Riley if she remembered the picnic, she smiled and stared at us with a sort of smirk. We pushed a bit to find out what she didn't want to say and then she said: "The whole thing was a comedy." And she smiled. You see, for Mrs. Wiley and other newcomers like her, the idea that the whole town would gather at the community center to send off their doctor to prison--celebrating or bemoaning this moment--was just plain declasse.

So the story of why Doc Henrie finally got caught turns not on a religious conviction that abortion is a sin. He did not get run out by the preachers. And the good Christian people of Grove didn't shun him. Doc Henrie was finally arrested and charged by the local county attorney because it was time clean up this outlaw town of its abortionist and turn this little hamlet into a respectable resort town.

Over and over again in our interviews we heard the residents from "old Grove," the men and women whose families had lived there for generations, bemoan how much this little town had lost its close knit community. In the 40s and early 50s, if you lived in Grove, you might be struggling--starving even--but the town looked after each other. At the heart of this little town was a country doctor on a mission. He was determined to heal these people. He wasn't just interested in curing what ailed them physically, but he cared about every aspect of their lives. He paid for the kids to go to college, he gave jobs to young women and men who might want to be nurses or doctors, he went in on chicken farms with poor farmers, and he gave people who found themselves in trouble another chance.

Doc Henrie's mission was to lift people out of poverty. And he went about it by treating them one at a time. No one was ever left behind in Doc Henrie's Grove.

The new folks who showed up in the mid-50s, however, had different ideas about how to deal with poverty. Dr. Halterman, the dentist we spoke to said, "in the old days when people were poor they were starving, if people are starving now, its their own fault." The close knit community, wherein everyone was accounted for and looked after, turned into a fractured town with really rich and really poor people. Grove became a town where those who want help help themselves. Halterman represents a shift in thinking among the better off in Grove. When Doc Henrie was around, it didn't matter if you were a Baptist or a Methodist, it didn't matter if your father was a businessman or a poor farmer, this was a community and everyone looked out for each other. When new people with new ideas and money showed up, wanting to shape this tiny town into what they were used to in Witchita or California, the community fragmented. The solution to poverty was more jobs, more money coming into the county, decent roads, a real doctor, and some respectable civic institutions.

Alas, the story of the abortionist from Grove isn't really a story about abortion after all. This is a story about power, politics, and economic development. This is a story about middle class Eisenhower Republicans rolling into a town populated by barefoot Okies and looking to civilize them. This is a story of colonization and development of natural resources. And, this is not just a story about Grove, but about small towns scattered all over this country.

Wednesday, August 16, 2006

Missives from Grove, Part 4

You know, if you listen to people in their 70s and 80s talk about abortion for long enough--whether they are totally untroubled by it or find it to be sin--you can't help but thinking about how distinctive this particular sin is for folks. What I mean is the cognitive processes going on when people talk about abortion--even if they don't judge others for having them--as if it is something not quite right or shameful. The idea, as everyone well knows, is that to abort a fetus (or unborn child) is, perhaps, something like killing. Now how strongly someone feels that abortion is killing depends on how they view a fetus.

Today we spoke to a citizen from Grove who was a member of a charismatic Christian denomination who loved Dr. Henrie, but thought what he was doing was a dark sin. She recounted a conversation that she once overheard Dr. Henrie have with her mother. Her mother said: "Dr. Henrie, you know that what you're doing is is wrong." And, reportedly, Dr. Henrie responded: "Yes Marie, you think so. And, I will probably spend eternity in hell if I keep doing this. But those babies are not going to end up being thrown away . . ." As I finished the interview with this woman, I asked her if she thought that Dr. Henrie finally got things right with God. She responded "I pray for him that he did get it right. It will be mighty hot for him if he didn't." Now, this same woman said that Dr. Henrie was the kindest, gentlest, and most compassionate man. She also added: "I miss him. Even today I miss him. Because he was a doctor. Dr. Henrie doctored you."

I thought about this exchange more than any others. The reason it sticks with me is because it illustrates something unique about how people deal with those who get abortions or those who might provide abortions. Let's remember that abortionists, in the eyes of this woman, are murderers. And, face it, women who get abortions are murderers. In fact, the Mayor of Grove said: "The ones that came to get abortions were more guilty than Dr. Henrie was." What are these women guilty of? Murder. It is murder to terminate the life of an unborn child. When children are taught about the sinfulness of abortion, it is taught to them as an example of God's commandment to not kill. Dr. Henrie, to this devout Christian who prays that Dr. Henrie didn't end up in hell, was a murderer. Now, she certainly doesn't really process it quite that way. If you lived down the street from a man who you knew had murdered people, you couldn't possibly speak of this man in the kind of glowing, loving terms that she did. Not only did she praise him, but she remembered whole phrases that he uttered. The only person whose phrases I remember as completely as she remembered Henrie's is my father.

It is hard to imagine that any of these people would speak fondly and lovingly about Dr. Henrie had he been a serial killer or a rapist. So whatever kind of killing they think abortion is, it isn't of the magnitude of murdering born children or rape. One thing I wish I had asked some of these interviewees is what they think should have happened to the women who sought the abortions? Should they have been put away for murder? The mayor said: "The clergy didn't approve but they closed their eyes. This was before pro-life and all that. Because of the good he did in the community, people closed their eyes to the abortions." Can you imagine that same sentence being uttered about a serial killer? Or a child molester? What sort of horror is abortion that the clergy closed their eyes to it?

We spoke to the county sheriff who was sent to arrest Dr. Henrie in 1962. Before he gave us what details he could remember of the investigation and trial, he said: "He was a good doctor." Later he pointed out how much charity he did for the town and how much he was respected. In fact, in almost every interview, the subjects have pointed out that even if people thought what he did was wrong, on balance, all the good he did wiped it out. Again, I ask, can you imagine that sort of calculus for a rapist? Why is abortion more tolerable, more capable of being forgiven or at least overlooked when we take the measure of a man's life? I find this compelling.

I want to pause and think a bit about what the Mayor said about today's generation in Grove compared to the 50s: "The younger generation now has no morals to them. If they did they wouldn't use the language they do, wear the clothes they wear, and they wouldn't live with the men that they do." But, paradoxically, this same generation is more staunchly opposed to abortion now than the women of her generation were. I asked her to elaborate. She said that young people now think nothing of being pregnant and living with some guy who won't take any responsibility for it. What did women do if they got pregnant and they weren't married in the 50s? They went to visit Dr. Henrie.

I find these paradoxes fascinating. It resonates with impressions of my students. So many of them espouse conservative politics. Like the Mayor of Grove, they decry the lack of personal responsibility, the decline of the family, the lack of work ethic. Many of my students have voted for W and identified with his "values." And yet, these same students wear clothing that would've been unthinkable in the 50s. They also engage in reckless and irresponsible behavior--unprotected sex, binge drinking, sex and immodesty of all sorts. So, why do these young people, who act, talk and dress in a way that suggest little in the way of the wholesome, Christian values that the right wing espouses--why do they vehemently oppose abortion? Part of the answer to that question can be found in the homespun wisdom of Ada, Dr. Henrie's nurse: "People ought to clean up their own back porch before telling someone else to clean up their back porch."

In some sense, the "strong father" of conservative politics, particularly in the Bible Belt, serve as the only moral compass that these people have. There is no inner moral compass. To have an inner moral compass that allows one to make smart decisions about ones' life, decisions that require one to sacrific short-term pleasure to long-term goals and dreams, requires education and self-esteem. People need to be able to trust themselves and their own abilities to evaluate what they should do and how their choices will effect their lives. Without an inner compass, cultivated by education and self-assertion, all you have to direct you is external rules, dictated by religious institutions. If you screw up and break one of those rules, you can still be forgiven if you come back and repent. But, I wonder how much this external moral compass ever shapes the character of these people in ways that education--that is good education--would. To what extent does the strong father model help to shape young people into self-reliant and autonomous people?

One of Dr. Henrie's greatest passions was to help young people in this town get educated. He planned on building libraries. He encouraged and financially helped them to get an education. And, the reason why is obvious. Only with an education, he believed, would they begin to make responsible decisions that allowed them to achieve long range goals. And by education, he didn't mean a rigid set of rules that said "don't do X"

Tuesday, August 15, 2006

Missives from Grove, Part 3

You want to know what the difference between Grove 1956 and Grove 2006 is? In 1956 abortions were illegal, but you could get one from Dr. Henrie and no one thought much of it. No one picketed his clinic, and no one was rousing his parishioners to run this sinner out of town. In 2006 you have to drive 76 miles to Tulsa to get a legal abortion, and risk being harmed by zealous pro-lifers who threaten to bomb the clinics. The town would riot if comprehensive sexual education were taught in the schools. Just last year the ministers from two towns shut down an "exotic" club. In 1956 when abortion was illegal, you could count on getting a safe, compassionate one from your local doctor and not necessarily have to pay a dime. In 2006, when abortion is legal, you risk picket lines, pro-life terrorists, and powerful ministers blocking your path, and prohibitive cost.

This is only a fraction of what we discovered today when we interviewed 6 people from Grove, who were all over the age of 70. While we assumed we would hear at least one Grove citizen tell us that people were upset with what Dr. Henrie was doing or the churches were rousing their parishioners against him, instead we heard, over and over again, he did what he did to help people and because he loved them. Dr. Henrie always had time for his patients. He listened to what they needed and he tried to help them anyway he could. He acted from a place of profound compassion and selflessness.

We heard this uttered from people who belonged to the Assemblies of God, Baptist, and Methodist churches. Probably most of the people we spoke to were Republicans. One woman was put up by the party to run for national office in the 1990s, only to have the party change their mind once they learned she was not morally opposed to abortion in all cases. Not one person we spoke to--and remember, these are all church going people from the Bible Belt--thought Dr. Henrie was wrong or immoral for what he did.

What began to take shape in these conversations was that in the 30s, 40s, 50s, and early 60s, abortion was nowhere near the polarizing political issue that it is in 2006. People knew it happened. You might go to the midwife. Or, you would try to perform one on yourself, or you knew a man like Dr. Henrie.

Abortion has become the explosive political issue it is--one that polarizes people and consolidates political power--only after the New York successfully repealed its anti-abortion (Comstock) laws. When Republicans saw the political power they could tap--especially when Catholic priests and other conservative ministers started telling their parishioners to vote Republican--abortion became the hotly debated issue that it now is. [This is my theory, btw, not something these people said; this is my attempt to make sense of this].

We also heard from everyone that we interviewed that the only reason Dr. Henrie was finally indicted and subsequently convicted was because new doctors showed up in town wanting to cut into his business. Dr. Henrie was powerful competition because everyone in the town loved this man and were loyal to them. So, some doctors, jealous and ambitious, banded together to get the county attorney to go after Henrie. The entire town was shocked when their beloved doctor was put on trial. And, when he was convicted--because he plead guilty--they were shocked to see him off to jail. 1,000 people threw him a picnic to show him their love and appreciation. Many of them, including his nurse Ada, visited him regularly in jail and brought their children along. This man had spent his own money to put countless poor and needy children from Grove, like Ada, to school and they were loyal to him until the end.

The local dentist, who put up Dr. Henrie's bond, said: "Doc would tear up a car to get to someone who couldn't pay him a damn cent." After he uttered these words, he teared up and could barely speak for a moment. I wondered why. The more he talked, I think I figured out why. Dr. Henrie was a man who gave of himself so completely and totally to others that as this dentist remembered him, and thought about his own life, he felt that he just didn't measure up.

I could spend hours writing this entry and I am going to stop for now to get my sleep and keep strong for a round of interviews tomorrow. The reporter who has been working with us said, at the end of the day, "I have never taken this many notes about a story in my life." We are all blown away by the story we are uncovering here.

I can't imagine what it would be like to have the whole nation be able to listen to these people from Grove, OK talk about this man, how much he cared about his patients, how compassionate he was, and how complicated and "grey" abortion is. None of them--who grew up in a time when people quite simply couldn't afford to feed another child--could bring themselves to condemn a woman who made the choice to terminate a pregnancy.

I am going to sleep now. But, I will be back with more stories from Grove tomorrow.

Stay Tuned Folks

I am halfway through my first day of interviews and it has been unbelievable. I will devote a bit of time tonight to describe some of the things that my subjects have said about Dr. Henrie. But, I want to take a moment to say that today is my birthday. And, while I was disappointed to have to spend my birthday in OK, I honestly cannot think of a more thrilling way to have spent this day.

The stories these people from Grove have told me are amazing.

We started with a 94 year old woman named Helen Crawford, who said: "All the laws men wrote." Then we talked to her daughter, Linda, who told us why she admired and respected Dr. Henrie. Then we spoke to one of Dr. Henrie's nurse, Ada, who repeatedly pointed out that those who criticized Dr. Henrie were people who thought in black and white and were happy to give advice to women whose shoes they had never walked in.

Right now we are setting up for an interview with the doctor who posted Dr. Henrie's bond.

More later.

Monday, August 14, 2006

Missives from Grove, Part 2

We are halfway through our second day in Grove. So far Goddess and I have been getting a sense of the place and picking up our student who will act as our cinematographer. Tonight we will meet with a local reporter, who has become our "informant." Thanks to her, we have found many towns people willing to talk to us about Dr. Henrie. So, tomorrow I will have richer stories to share than I do so far.

I imagine that most of the people we talk to will tell us that they did not agree with what Dr. Henrie was doing. This is a small, conservative town. As I said yesterday, there are 18 religious denominations in a town of 5,000 people (the only "liberal" denomination is the Episcopal Church). From what we can tell about the landscape, there is a lot of poverty in Grove (which was true in Dr. Henrie's time). Part of what originally interested me in this project was Henrie's belief that performing abortions was, in fact, a moral response to crushing poverty and lack of knowledge regarding birth control and/or family planning. Too many families simply couldn't feed another mouth. That was a different time, however.

Now we have birth control options more widely available as well as legal abortions. I wonder if Dr. Henrie would've chosen to perform abortions in a time like ours. It certainly was not the focus of his practice. He treated the whole town and even, his son tells me, their animals. He paid attention to their stories, he knew the whole family, and where they worked or didn't work. He was involved with all aspects of his patient's lives. And it is from that intensive connection with these people that he made the decision to perform abortions.

Abortion was not an abstract issue for this man. He saw people in desperate situations and in their hour of greatest need. From well within that context, fully aware of the most intimate details of their lives, he made the decision to do what he did. At least, this is the story he left behind in writing. Tomorrow we will find out how well others agree with his own assessment of his life.

I have been thinking a lot about my motivations for participating in this research. I have not had an abortion. I have never been intellectually interested in abortion. I have taught moral issues classes in which we debate abortion, but that was always a perfunctory duty in such a class. I have always been pro-choice, but clear that abortion is not something I would ever want to experience. Armed with knowledge of birth control and empowered by parents willing to have painfully honest conversations about sex, I have prevented unintended pregnancies. And yet, here I am in Grove, OK researching the life and works of a turn of the century abortion doctor. What has lead me here? It is so far from my manuscript on psychopharmacology and gender. It is far from abstract debates on the question of the moral permissibility of abortion.

I can't quite come up with an adequate answer. But, I find myself continually pulled into this story and far away from my other work. Part of what draws my interest is the synchronicity of events that has taken place around this work. The family contacted me when they read my blog--something I wrote last August after I was struck by a few paragraphs discussing Dr. Henrie's work. I couldn't fathom how it came about that a man from a town with evangelical revivals, a man who once intended to be a minister, would make a choice to break the law--over and over again--and perform abortions. I couldn't fathom how Grove, OK a tiny town full of 1,000 people--mostly farmers--would be the home of this man. I couldn't fathom that this man would turn into a political advocate for legalizing abortion (in 1964).

The more I think about this story, the more I realize that what really captivates me is the fact that what lead him to perform abortions were the very qualities in him that had once inspired him to become a minister. It was by ministering to his patients that he made the choice. He saw himself responding to real people in dire circumstances. He was healing them.

That description--"he was healing them"--will probably horrify most people opposed to abortion. A fetus is not an ailment, right? But healing is more than treating diseases. It is attending, carefully, faithfully, and with integrity to another's distress. I imagine that sometimes abortion would not have been the right response. But, sometimes it is. And, to assume that abortions are wrong in every case, in every circumstance, is the privilege of those who are far removed from the distress of an unwanted pregnancy or a dangerous, life threatening pregnancy.

Alas, I will find out more about the man tomorrow and dutifully report back.

Sunday, August 13, 2006

Missives from Grove, Part 1

Goddess O'Universe and I have just landed in small, sleepy and dusty town called Grove. This is the town where Dr. William Jenning Bryan Henrie had his medical practice. He delivered everyone in this town over 44 and in this same town, with 18 religious denominations, he performed 5,000 abortions. I have written before about Dr. Henrie here, here, here and here.

We are scheduled to interview a number of people who knew Dr. Henrie: former patients, the mayor, fellow physicians, friends and family. We don't yet know what sort of portrait of this man will emerge. I imagine we will hear all sorts of interesting stories and hear from folks who were outraged with what Dr. Henrie did. The process of recovering the history of this man is rather thrilling and has taken me to some places I never expected to visit. When I was talking to a reporter from Grove, she warned me that I would be a "fish out of water" here. So far, that seems about right. But, I am all the more intrigued by this story now that I see the town in which Dr. Henrie practiced. This is really the last place on earth that you would imagine to house a pre-Roe abortion doctor.

As I have mentioned before, the entire town threw him a picnic before he left for his jail sentence. What is also fascinating about this man is that he originally set out to be a minister. How one moves from being a minister to an abortion doctor is a hell of story and I hope to get a better sense of his path.

Stay tuned for my missives from Grove coming at you all this week.

If you have found this post because you googled Dr. Henrie's name and you knew him and have some stories to tell, please, please email me at

Saturday, August 12, 2006

Wafa Sultan Debating Islamic Cleric

PA NOW's listserv alerted me to this video footage from Al Jazeera. Arab-American Psychiatrist, Wafa Sultan, debates--with passion and intelligence--a Muslim Cleric from Algeria.

What is of particular interest to me is her desire to take on the Muslim faith from a secular standpoint. She represents the liberal (read: liberal democracy) position on religion, first articulated by J.S. Mill in On Liberty. One should also consider how all religions have the seeds of a fundamentalist, radical movement contained within. She emphasizes how religion serves as a belief system that creates "Others" and non-believers who are to be castigated and punished for heresy.

Above I linked to this SFGate Story that illustrates what an unsung feminist hero Wafa Sultan is.

Friday, August 11, 2006

Emotional Vampires

I have been preoccupied with thinking about vampires. Ok, no, I don't mean the Halloween-esque Vampires. I don't mean the fictional creatures that suck your blood. I mean the sort of people that emotionally drain the life force out of others.

Years ago I watched a great Star Trek Next Generation episode ("Man of the People") wherein a character, who was a diplomat, strikes up a relationship with Deanna Troi. We learn through the episode that what keeps this diplomat so calm and peaceful is that he dumps all of his fears, anger, and bile onto his lovers. We see Deanna dramatically aged and ill; she will die if they do not separate the two of them.

The episode really resonated with me. I have served, multiple times, as the receptacle of negative emotions and felt wiped out, immobilized, and trapped. This happens when you direct all your attentions to a needy, insecure and shy partner who demands that you remain at his or her side and prop him or her up at all times. In these destructive relationships, I witnessed my own desire to be around others, to laugh, to be playful, and to explore simply vanish. My vampires drained me into a shadow of my former self. And, I am struck, as I now evaluate this retrospectively, how enhanced they were. While I was becoming unrecognizable to myself, my "lover" was never better. After playing this role one too many times, and feeling utterly trapped, I finally made a promise to myself to never be another vampire's victim again.

Unfortunately, I see others fall victim to this kind of personality all the time. I started thinking a lot about the characteristics of emotional vampires. They tend to seek out empathetic, caring, and self-sacrificing people. Their "marks" are more driven by pleasing others than taking care of themselves. The vampire quickly determines the insecurities of his or her mark: suffers from depression? low self-esteem? The idea here is that the vampires use these insecurities to keep their lover dependent or to manipulate them to do their bidding.

For example, let's say that our vampire hates being in big social events because her anxiety levels run too high. But, the vampire has chosen her new lover because he is at ease in social groups and makes others at ease. Opposites attract! But, our vampire nonetheless still hates social situations and so plays upon her new lover's desire to put others at ease and keep social situations running smoothly. How? By coaxing him into staying at home with her out of his desire to not make the social situation awkward (she will not integrate well with the group) and to keep his lover happy (she loves staying in and watching movies). This scenario tends to play itself out in different ways over and over again. After weeks and months of this, our formerly extroverted man has become a recluse. She doesn't need to change anything about herself--learn how to interact better with others or take risks. And, the more depressed and depleted her man becomes, the better. If he has less energy, he won't try to encourage her to try new things or change her life.

From the outside, friends of our trapped man wonder why he doesn't just leave? What's up? How can he be happy isolating himself from all that he loves? He doesn't. But, he also doesn't have the energy anymore to leave. Why? Because all of his insecurities are magnified by the masterful manipulations of the vampire. He thinks this is what he wants to do. He is too depressed to make a change. And, his friends start bailing on him one by one, only sealing his entrapment.

Vampires are scary.

Thursday, August 10, 2006

Hope You're Not Flying Soon

So, we are on Orange alert today after British Intelligence foiled a terroist plot. W's pledges to keep the world safe from terror are just plain ridiculous at this point. Al Qaeda is still active. Hezbollah's power and prominence is growing in the Middle East. The threats to the United States are anything but neutralized.

This President and his administration have quite simply made the world more dangerous and frightening. If I start hearing Tony Snow spin this foiled terrorist attack as an example of why W is working for the American people, I will vomit.

Crap. I have to fly out on Saturday as does my mom. My flight leaves at 6 am. I guess I have to get there at 2 am now and empty out all liquids from my carry ons if I hope to make my flight.

Wednesday, August 09, 2006

Horowitz is being sued

It's about time someone challenged Horowitz in court. From SF Gate, Stanford Professor and Middle East Scholar Joel Beinin is suing David Horowitz.

Stanford University's Joel Beinin is used to criticism for his views on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, but when a conservative commentator put the professor's photo on the cover of a booklet titled "Campus Support for Terrorism,'' it started a whole new war.

Beinin, a prominent Middle Eastern scholar, filed suit in March -- turning his ideological clash with Editor in Chief David Horowitz into a legal one.

Horowitz removed the photo from later printings, but Beinin said the harm had already been done and is demanding unspecified damages. With the United States at war in Iraq, Beinin said, it's a scary time to be labeled a supporter of terrorism.

"Horowitz is -- if not a coordinated part -- part of a broader attack against people who speak out against Bush's Middle Eastern policies," said Beinin, past president of the Middle Eastern Studies Association. "If you don't fight back and allow the Horowitzes to do and say what they want, it pollutes the political environment to the point where you can't have intelligent discussions about what we do in the world."

While he believes what Horowitz did was libelous, Beinin isn't suing on those grounds. Instead, he selected a more clear-cut legal challenge -- copyright infringement for unauthorized use of his photo.

I get the strategy here. And, I am not qualified to determine if this is a good strategy or not. I am just glad to see someone doing something to take back Academia.

Tuesday, August 08, 2006

Can You Be Friends With Your Boss?

This question is a broader version of the one that Metapsychologist asked in the comments section to my post from yesterday. He was more interested in the question, can faculty socialize with the Provost, Dean, or even President? I absolutely adored our last Provost and would have jumped at the chance to have him over (I never throw parties anymore because I have a tiny house). But, perhaps this is unusual? It is interesting to rethink the question, can you you be friends with your students in terms of another power imbalance, can you be friends with your boss. Now, for faculty who have tenure, the power dynamics shift a bit. But before that, the Provost is, basically, your boss. I have noticed that my brother's professional success has come from his ability to befriend his bosses. His special skill is to be able to talk to bosses the way he would talk to anyone, thereby showing his true colors rather than the cowed personalities we often have in the face of our bosses.

Can we think of this type of power imbalance in the same way that we think of the student-faculty or patient-therapist relationships? I have to say, it is quite interesting to sort out these relationships and see what others think.

Monday, August 07, 2006

Can You Make Friends with Your Students?

After my post that confessed my wish to be able to go shopping with my therapist, my reader, Metapsychologist, made an analogy to student-faculty relationships wherein there are power imbalances. His point was that you can be "friendly" with your students but never friends. I want to mull this over more. My first take on this is that he is right, except when your students cease to be students and are now adults in the world. But, while they are students, I do think it is unwise for all parties involved to be friends with students. But, before I write a decisive post on this issue, I would love to hear from my readers on this. Whether you be a teacher or a student, should faculty befriend students? More importantly, share with us your reasoning for your answer.

Sunday, August 06, 2006

Commemorating Hiroshima, August 6, 1945

While there are many things to be said and debated about regarding Truman's decision to drop the A-bomb, very few of us would deny the horrific toll such destruction took on the Japanese, and particularly the children. Bombs might achieve military objectives, but they also destroy landscapes, wildlife, and endanger the health of generations. Today I was riveted by the children's story of Sadako Sasaki, Sadako and A Thousand Cranes. Sadako who fell ill with "atom bomb disease," (leukemia) and died at age 11 (1955). She was 2 years old when the A-bomb decimated Hiroshima.

While she was sick, Sadako's best friend told her the old Japanese legend that if she folded a thousand origami cranes, she would be well. Inspired by this story, she continued to fold these cranes, in hopes that she would recover. After she died, her school friends decided to build a monument in honor of Sadako. This statute has come to represent the hope for peace.

At the base of the statue the children inscribed: "This is our peace, this is our prayer, Peace in the world."

May this also be our mantra as we navigate these explosive times. Let the crane and Sadako remind us that the children deserve a better world.

Go here if you would like instructions on how to fold a crane, a practice that also enhances the same qualities required for peace making.

Frightening and Depressing: News from Baghdad


And, now for depressing:

The failure of the Iraqis to halt the slide into chaos in Baghdad undercuts the central premise of the American project here: that Iraqi forces can be trained and equipped to secure their own country, allowing the Americans to go home.