Tuesday, October 9, 2018

The Laughs That Linger

It’s funny, the things that stick in your memory for a long time.

Which cartoons have remained lodged in YOUR brain for decades after you first saw them?

Several come back to me repeatedly over the years -- for one of two reasons, I think. Either I liked them SO much that they were unforgettable, or for some reason I saw them over and over so they naturally found a permanent place in my mind.

In the latter category are two that my Dad pinned to the wood posts in our basement near the furnace when I was a child. Early on, he delegated me to build the wood fires that heated our home (a canny method of curbing the average young man’s natural pyromania), so I saw these two cartoons many times for several years of my childhood.

From the drawing style, I suspect they had been cut out of the Saturday Evening Post. They could have been New Yorker cartoons, but I don’t remember seeing that magazine around our house in those days.

One pictured a very sick man in a hospital bed surrounded by a conclave of doctors, and one of them is saying, “Well, seeing his name’s Harrison, why not call it ‘Harrison’s Disease’ and leave it at that?”

The other showed several hobos sitting around the remains of a campfire on which sits a pan or large tin can that has been used to cook their recent meal. And the caption was: “Well, it was a good rat, but not a GREAT rat.”

A cartoon I discovered for myself that stuck in my memory appeared in Boys’ Life, the monthly magazine of the Boy Scouts of America. I’m pretty sure I saw this before I was 10, but I don’t know where I ran across the magazine . . . either a friend’s house or the dentist’s waiting room, perhaps, because I didn’t have a subscription to any magazine of my own as a boy.

In the cartoon, a post office clerk has had to tie down a package to the scales because it contains, as the “fragile” stickers on the outside declare, helium. He says to the customer who wants to mail it, “Well, the way I figure it, we owe YOU $1.25” (or whatever the amount was). That one appealed to my sense of absurd fairness.

Yesterday morning I was mixing a packet of instant coffee, and when I reached for a mug in the cupboard, I thought: I like a large mug of coffee, but if I pick one of those, and mix a standard packet of powdered coffee in it, the drink will be weaker than if I mix it into a smaller mug.

And THAT brought back to memory a “Beetle Bailey” strip cartoon I must have seen in the Coos Bay World. “Beetle Bailey,” which focused the absurdities of life in the U.S. Army, wasn’t one of my favorites; like “The Wizard of Id” or “B.C.,” it could be hit or miss . . . and I definitely preferred the latter two, with “B.C.” getting a slight edge on the other two for slyness and wit.

(The San Francisco Chronicle, copies of which a Greyhound bus would bring up the coast to drop off mid afternoons at a store on Highway 101 in North Bend, and which my Dad would buy when I was in my teens, had cartoons that appealed much more to my expanding taste: “Hägar the Horrible,” “Broom-Hilda” the witch, and a single-panel gem called “Fenwick” -- a panel of which I’ll mention in a moment.)

Anyway, “Beetle Bailey” featured a tyrannical, short-tempered NCO, Sergeant Snorkel, who made our lazy, goldbricking, eponymous hero’s life miserable. One of the supporting characters was the mess hall chef known as “Cookie.” In this particular strip, Cookie has announced that coffee’s ready, and Sarge thunders, “Well, I hope you made it strong! If there’s one thing I can’t stand, it’s—“ and in the final panel he looks down at the metal spoon sinking steadily into the mug, “. . . weak coffee.”

I didn’t even start to drink coffee on a regular basis until I was well out of college, but for some reason I got a kick out of that cartoon.

Last one. I mentioned “Fenwick.” Sadly, though “Beetle Bailey” and “Broom-Hilda” carry on, I have not been able to locate any online record of this marvelous cartoon. Fenwick was an everyman—on the order of Ziggy, who’s far more famous, but Fenwick had a more distinct appearance. He had a small brush mustache, might a fifty-something in age, and often wore a crumpled hat and a grey jacket, if I remember correctly . . . Fenwick was what would be known in Yiddish as a “nebbish.”

Anyway, in a panel that’s often come back in memory to give me a smile, we’re mostly looking over our hero’s shoulder, and down at a letter he’s received: a commercial packet addressed to occupant, with the message:


Sunday, September 30, 2018

The Ordeal of Mark Judge

At the heart of the proceedings to place Brett Kavanaugh in the vacant seat on the U.S. Supreme Court is a man in hiding . . . a man the Republicans on the Senate Judiciary Committee have tried hard to avoid questioning in public.

Christine Blasey Ford has repeatedly identified Mark Judge as the other student from an all-boys Catholic school, Georgetown Preparatory, who joined Kavanaugh in pushing her into a bedroom at a party. She was a 15-year-old who had just completed her sophomore year at Holton-Arms, an all-girls school, and the boys were one or two years older.

Both young men were “highly inebriated,” she recalled, and played loud music to cover the other sounds in the room. Judge was present, she has stated, when Kavanaugh held her down on the bed, tried to pull her clothes off, and clapped his hand over her mouth when she tried to scream.

Ever since the story broke two eventful weeks ago, Judge has repeatedly said (through his attorney) that he doesn’t recall any such event, that he never saw Kavanaugh behave in the manner she described, and that he does not wish to comment or be questioned about it publicly.

Defenders of Kavanaugh, whether they know him or not, try to assert “that’s it.” If Judge and the other attendees at the party named by Ford say they saw and remember nothing, then there’s no need to question them. Plus, he has pleaded, “As a recovering alcoholic and a cancer survivor, I have struggled with depression and anxiety.”

On Friday morning, Senator John Cornyn (Republican from Texas), made a big deal about this: “… our colleagues across the aisle believe that the appropriate course of conduct is to drag Mr. Judge into this circus-like atmosphere and to subject his battle with alcoholism and addiction to public investigation and scrutiny and ridicule. That is cruel. That is reckless. That is indecent.”

Of course, the committee had no problem with dragging Dr. Ford into the same circus, despite her long struggle with anxiety and psychotherapy for post-trauma stress. Judge celebrated and tried to profit off his years of drinking and sex by writing several books about them; a pity he can’t see his way to talk about his past for the good of his country as well.

If we accept Ford’s account as true, then Kavanaugh is lying to protect his reputation and land a lifetime post on the nation’s highest court. It’s not difficult to see why Judge might want to avoid having to testify as well, since:

  • His honest account would show Kavanaugh has been lying simply by having been there, and Judge probably doesn’t wish destroy his longtime friend’s career.

  • If the encounter played out as Ford has described it, Kavanaugh was clearly pushing the boundaries beyond what Judge could see he should. Ford’s July 30 letter says she remembers Judge saying “stop” as well as “go for it,” and he later jumped on the bed and “the two [boys] scrapped with each other.” Whether Judge intended to help her escape or not, that was a result.

To put it simply, Mark Judge holds his friend’s future in the palm of his hand, and if Christine Blasey Ford’s account is accurate, he faces the following tough choice.

1. Tell the truth, and end Kavanaugh’s career. Clearly, the nominee would be denied a seat on the high court. I don’t know whether he would lose his current job as a judge on the US Court of Appeals for the DC Circuit. But Mark Judge would likely be subjected to abuse and execration at least equal to what Dr. Ford has suffered in the past two weeks: death threats that drove her and her family out of their home, doxxing, fake emails in her name, and an inability to do her work.


2. Lie to protect his old friend and help him land his dream job . . . but risk committing perjury and being punished for that if the truth were to come out some other way.

It may even be his conscience as well as his fear of the consequences that has driven him to go for a third option: plead ignorance and noninvolvement, and hide. “I did not ask to be involved in this matter nor did anyone ask me to be involved,” he repeated in both a Sept. 18 letter and a Sept. 27 letter after she testified before the Senate Judiciary Committee.

But one could say the same for Christine Blasey Ford . . . in terms of both the attempted assault in 1982, and the way her life has been overturned this year. “My greatest fears have been realized” she told the committee, “and the reality has been far worse than I expected.” She and her family have been “the target of constant harassment and death threats. … Since September 16, my family and I have been living in various secure locales, with guards.”

She had hoped to avoid this; she initially requested that her July 30 letter be kept confidential and her name kept secret, because she feared the infamy and abuse that indeed occurred.

But in that letter, she wrote: “I felt guilty and compelled as a citizen about the idea of not saying anything.” Once the letter had leaked, and she had been identified (how, has yet to be determined), Dr. Ford stepped up to the plate and entered a place in history.

If her account is true, Mark Judge is still trying to dodge his duty and a possible spot in history that would reflect better on him than he has thus far behaved or chosen to depict himself.

Tuesday, September 25, 2018

Abortion in Rural Oregon, Part 4: a Retired Pediatrician Looks Back

Below is the final piece in a series of features I wrote for the Roseburg News-Review when I was a full-time reporter.

I composed these in the spring and summer of 1990 to prepare readers for the November election, which featured two anti-choice initiatives: a full abortion ban, and mandatory notification of parents if a minor sought to terminate pregnancy. (Both went down to defeat.)

Not all of what I wrote was published at the time. Worse, none of the stories saw print until three months after the election (and after I had resigned from the newspaper in December 1990). I may provide that background in a separate blog commentary later.

But here is my interview with a retired physician who had practiced pediatrics in Roseburg for a decade and a half before Roe v. Wade, and was the only consistent provider of legal abortions in the entire county thereafter.

Once Dr. Harris had retired, roughly four years before my interview with him, abortions ceased to be available anywhere in Douglas County, as far as I could discern, even though women were legally entitled to them . . . and such was the case across much of the rest of the state then, and now, as well as in nearly 90 percent of counties across the United States today.

Making choice harder to exercise in practical terms is equivalent to a ban for women in financial hardship (or dependent on their parents, as most teens are). It parallels the longtime conservative-libertarian strategy of strangling government funding for environmental protection, workers’ health and safety, prohibitions against violation of work and wage laws, and so on. In practice, no money for enforcement is an effective revocation of the law, which has been a political strategy of the right since at least the Reagan administration.

Though Oregon is reportedly the only state in the U.S. that has never passed any limit on the right to choice since 1973, this year we enjoy the dubious distinction of being only one of three states who will have to vote once again on the issue. (The other two, who are considering more drastic constitutional bans on abortion rights, are West Virginia and Alabama. Six U.S. states host only a single abortion provider in the entire state, and Kentucky may lose that single one this year.)

Oregon Ballot Measure 106 would prohibit the use of public funds for abortions, which means wealthy women will continue to be able to control their family size and their destiny, but poor women will have to work that much harder to do the same. The long-term result will be more poverty, more crime, more alcohol- and crack-addicted newborns, and more government, welfare, and law enforcement to address them.

So these nearly two-decades-old stories of mine are unfortunately timely once again.

*      *     *      *      *


Having presided over more than 9,000 births and 200 legal abortions, retired Dr. Jim Harris knows a lot about the effect of pregnancy on women’s lives.

Before abortion was legalized, he helped many women with information about where to get one. He also assisted 200 others in the adoption process, a choice he much prefers.

“I feel that in most instances, abortion is morally wrong and should not be used as a method of birth control,” Harris said in an interview at his Roseburg home. “Doing the right thing is putting it up for adoption, as far as I’m concerned. You’re not giving it up, you’re providing for it to have a good situation when it otherwise would be in a horrible one.”

Harris served in the U.S. Navy in San Diego before settling in Roseburg in 1956. He practiced OB/GYN here steadily until his retirement four years ago. Although several other Douglas County physicians performed occasional abortions after Oregon legalized it, Harris did the bulk of them.

Harris said he started doing abortions about the time they were legalized. Most of his referrals, he said, came from other doctors, health care agencies, and high school counselors. “Just a few were my own personal patients,” he said.

“It’s a tolerable procedure, but it’s certainly not a pleasant one,” he said. “My assistants didn’t like to do them and I said: ‘I don’t blame you. I don’t like to do them myself, and I’m certainly not going to force you to.’ ”

One thing he remembers is the lengths to which patient and physician had to go to preserve secrecy. “Fear of others finding out about the pregnancy, the abortion, was the main concern of the patients, more than the fear of the procedure itself. Most of the time the main people they didn’t want to know about it were their parents and relatives or the boy’s family.”

Harris said he always “strongly” advised patients to inform their families, but many were afraid their folks would insist they “pay for their mistake” and make them keep the baby.

“I would hate to have legislated the requirement to notify the parents. The reason they didn’t want to tell their parents is because they’re so afraid their parents will talk them out of it. All they want is to get rid of this pregnancy. They would procrastinate too long to where it would be unsafe to abort, and end up keeping the child out of wedlock.

“I would love to have (the family) know and give support but … if she’s old enough to get pregnant, she’s old enough to decide how she wants to handle it.”

Harris is quietly indignant about people who say physicians perform abortions for the money. Nothing could be further from the truth, he said. Harris charged $175 and it was not cost-effective.

“I was losing money doing abortions. I was busy enough without the abortion business. These days, you almost have to charge every patient $50-$100 a visit just to cover malpractice insurance.”

(Specialists in OB/GYN currently average more than $30,000 a year in malpractice insurance premiums, according to Jim Fenimore of Fenimore Associates Inc., the insurance agent for the Oregon Medical Association liability program. Fenimore said rates have been dropping the past two years, however.)

It was important to have someone stand by and “hold their hand and reassure them. I’d never do it without having someone there to help and give moral support to the patient.”

Harris insisted that a loved one accompany the patient, with mixed results: “Often, the boyfriend would come in and didn’t want to stick around. He’d say, ‘When can I come back and pick her up?’ Then he never showed. We’d be closing the office at the end of the day and have to give her a ride home, which isn’t fair. Someone’s got to give her a little moral support.”

Harris refused to do welfare abortions: “I felt, ‘This is wrong; why should we pay?’ I wanted to see that they wanted it bad enough that they would pay for it themselves. I told her, ‘You have to have some responsibility for these things, young lady.’ Or the boy who was with her.

“Usually they’d call back the next day and say, ‘OK, we’ll get the money somehow.’ Which is fine, and I think that’s important.”

As a physician who enjoyed delivering babies, whether for happy parents or for adoption, Harris looks at abortion in the context of what he calls a much larger problem: irresponsible sex that increases the number of teen-age pregnancies, babies born out of wedlock, and parents who go on welfare and raise the chances the baby will end up on public support as well.

The worst solution for an unwanted pregnancy is for the parents to get married simply because the girl is pregnant, Harris said. “I can’t recall offhand any couple who married just because she was pregnant, and needed to be made an ‘honest woman,’ that weren’t divorced within a couple of years, usually with at least one more child and on welfare.”

He feels the next worst choice is to have the baby and keep it, unless the mother is self-supporting and has a loving, supportive family. “Even then it’s a tough row to hoe, and I personally know of only two situations where the girl was successfully able to have and raise the child by herself with minimal family help,” Harris said.

Harris says a lesser evil is to have an abortion and continue on in school or work and avoid pregnancy until it can be a “wanted” situation. “It has been my experience that the girl who opts for abortion and gets on with her life has as good a chance of becoming a happy, useful citizen as her peers,” Harris said. “She usually is a bit wiser and makes better decisions with regards to future sexuality.”

Harris noted that when an unwanted pregnancy turned up in the family of a staunch anti-abortionist, some of them changed their tune: “All that went out the window and they insisted their own daughter get aborted.”

Harris said he rarely saw any sign of post-abortion guilt or depression. “The only thing they feel guilty about is the fact that she didn’t have the gumption to take nine months out of her life and put the baby up for adoption. They may get depressed because of the stupid situation, but not because they killed this young life, or potential life. What the Pro-Lifers try to do is make everybody feel guilty about it and force them into that worst category.”

Harris said the best solution to unwanted pregnancy is to have as healthy a birth as possible by avoiding tobacco, alcohol, or drugs and “seeing that the baby is adopted by a responsible, loving couple.”

Harris blames the advent of welfare for pushing many women from what he feels is the best choice (adoption) to one of the worst (keeping the baby with or without the father’s presence).

“It wasn’t hard to talk the girl into the right thing. But a day or two later I’d get a call because someone had told her: ‘You can’t give your baby away! You can’t desert your child, your own flesh and blood!’ And it was often some aunt, someone who just two years before had said (to me), ‘You have to do something; we can’t have our daughter giving birth!’ (Welfare) made the difference between doing the right thing and doing the worst thing, which is keeping the baby out of wedlock.”

Ideally, Harris would like to see no welfare money paid for abortions. He said he thinks the Health Department should have an abortion clinic -- “but they never will because of picketers!” -- and charge the client something.

Adoption services should be encouraged and supported, he said. Parents who want to adopt would pay for birth and legal costs “so that the only thing the girl has to put in is time, more or less.

“The pro-lifers and the pro-choicers aren’t really that far apart in what they feel: This is a little life that has some rights and we should do all we can to give it a life. Both sides really don’t like abortions and would be happy to see that option reduced or absent. Both pro life and pro choice should spend their time working together to educate and help the pregnant girls choose better options.

“To harass politicians and try to disrupt our whole legislation system by making pro life or pro choice the single reason for voting or not voting for a candidate is unproductive.

“Life is important -- maybe more important to me than to most other people -- but what’s also important is quality of life. And the quality of life of all of us is going to suffer if we continue to let those generations of welfare patients go on. These unwanted children are the ones who most often suffer abuse, incest, and teen pregnancy later on.

“In thinking back, now that I’m several years away from the pressure and soul searching involved in doing abortions, I still have no regrets for having done any of them. Successfully doing the abortion with minimal discomfort and being able to comfort and reassure the frightened, vulnerable young lady has its rewards.

“The only greater satisfaction I had in dealing with unwanted pregnancy was to see a pregnant patient, who had previously given up a baby for adoption, happily married and ecstatic because she was going to have a baby she ‘could keep.’ On one occasion, I recall that the husband of this happy patient was the father of both the adopted and the legitimate child. He was equally thankful and happy with the second pregnancy.”

Thursday, September 20, 2018

Abortion in Oregon, part 3 . . . several women’s real-life accounts

Here is another piece of the special feature series I initiated and mostly wrote when I was a reporter for the Roseburg, Oregon daily, The News-Review. This portion (part 4 as presented on this blog) consists of the personal accounts of residents of Douglas County who had obtained legal abortions, and how they felt about the matter in retrospect.

The series was intended to illuminate the issue for voters because there were two anti-abortion measures on the Oregon ballot in November of 1990. And here we are again, with another one on the ballot for this November. You can read about the background here, but there’s more behind-the-scenes to this project, which I will share later.

For now, treat these as a light shined into many women’s experience, especially since by the time I did this story, legal abortions simply weren’t available anywhere in Douglas County, and that is apparently the case today in nearly 90 percent of counties across the U.S.

This was published on February 3, 1991. (And yes, that was months after the election, though I had proposed and written all the pieces well before voters went to the polls; that’s another part of the tale.)


(Editor’s Note: Each of these women has requested that an assumed name be used to protect her privacy. All are from Douglas County.)

“Beth” was 34, married to an alcoholic, and working full-time to support a houseful of kids ranging in age from 11 months to 10 years when she found herself pregnant again.

“We were in debt, and barely making it,” she said. “He was away for extended periods of time, supposedly working. I would say I was bringing in 80 percent of the household income.”

The side effects from birth control pills had made her switch to condoms. A doctor had discovered a cyst on one of her ovaries.

Beth said her husband forced himself upon her one night when he was drunk.

“It was simply out of the question to have the child. I would have been crazy. My doctor was concerned that I would carry it to term. That there would be some complication.

“I also knew that I loved all my kids a lot. And to put living children who are already existing under some strain, and to add to their mother’s strain and responsibility . . . It was one of those times when you don’t agonize about whether you should or ought to do something. You just do the hard thing.”

Beth borrowed the money and took a bus to Lovejoy Clinic in Portland. Though it was an early weekday morning, she found a handful of picketers outside.

“The thing that disturbed me the most was that a young girl, I’d say 16, had had to go through this crowd of people: ‘Don’t you know that you’re murdering your child? How can you…?’ Just these rabid, judgmental . . . We think that Khomeini and the Iraqis have got a bizarre look, these guys were just as fanatical.

“And the woman was just undone. I spent my time comforting her, she was crying and shaking. One of them said, ‘Tell your mother.’ She said, ‘Those people are crazy. They don’t know my mother.’

“No one in their right mind would believe that -- after someone has gotten to the point of coming up to the clinic doors, clearly with an appointment, and has gone through all of that agonizing -- what they do is going to make any difference, and save that unborn child’s life. They just want to make sure they stone that mother. It’s stoning.”

Beth got a hysterectomy shortly after the abortion, divorced her alcoholic husband a year later, and is now happily remarried.

*     *    *     *     *

Now 18, “Cindy” got pregnant five days after her 16th birthday, at the end of her sophomore year at Roseburg High School.

She had met a boy at a 4-H camp in eastern Oregon, corresponded with him afterward, and accepted an invitation to his school prom. He raped her while she was sleeping in a guest room.

Cindy decided not to prosecute. “The idea of having to go through their exams and things just didn’t . . . Enough humiliation for a while.”

She said it was not a hard decision for her.

“(The pregnancy) wasn’t something I had agreed to (so) I wouldn’t have stopped doing anything that I had done. I would ride horses and run and things like that, therefore the child wouldn’t be taken care of.”

Also, her parents were supportive. Her stepfather paid for the abortion and her mother drove her to the Women’s Clinic in Eugene.

Cindy estimates there are 30 to 50 pregnancies a year at Roseburg High, although that number is impossible to confirm. Only five to 18, she says, come to term.

“We probably come close to 10 pregnancies (a year),” says Sandy Walker, a counselor at the high school.

More than abortion, “It’s the fact that they were stupid enough to get pregnant” that teenagers want to hide, Cindy argues. “People look at them and go, ‘Oh, well, that’s what she did: She got pregnant.’ A lot of them end up falling out of the popular category.

“Their parents’ social classes are going to frown upon it, they don’t want anything happening to their parents. Especially the ones that are wealthy. They’re not worried about what’s right; they’re worried about what’s going to make them the most money or keep them where they’re at.”

Cindy works part time and attends classes at Umpqua Community College.

*     *    *     *     *

“Jeannie” calls herself a fence sitter. She had an abortion in California 18 years ago, she wouldn’t rule them out for other women, but she’s not sure she made the right decision and she voted yes on the two abortion measures on November’s ballot.

“The reason I voted yes was because I felt like it’s too easy to get them,” she said. “That was my way of saying the system is too permissive.”

Jeannie was a naïve teenager who had been raised “pretty conservatively” when she found herself pregnant.

“Kids who are raised that way don’t plan on having this activity happen. Because I didn’t plan on it happening, it just happened. (And I was) way too young to have any business having sex with my boyfriend. And then to be a mother.”

In retrospect, she wishes she had told her parents, but at the time Jeannie was too terrified.

“We didn’t have back-up systems like they do now. Teen moms can go to school and bring their kids there (but) we had nothing. You dropped out of school and you went away. I was really sensitive to bringing shame on my family, and I just chose to be very clandestine about it.”

Her boyfriend sold a car to raise the money and she went 30 miles to a clinic in a big city.

She calls the experience a sordid ordeal: “It was at night and there was a long waiting period. I had to lie to my parents.

“I think it had a big effect on me. My performance at school dropped off, and I became a little more cynical and hardened. I feel like I’ve suffered mentally from it. I kind of feel like I took a life, and I sacrificed something to better myself.”

Although Jeannie has been married since and wanted a family, the circumstances have not been right for it: “I have a fulfilling life, but there’s something missing there.”

Still, she will not be the one to tell other women no.

“We can’t put ourselves in that person’s shoes. And it depends on that person’s upbringing, whether they feel this is really something wrong, or something that’s not wrong. I can only say that I wish I’d had more counseling. I wish that it was a little more difficult (to get an abortion) so that people would have more time to think about it, because it’s a big, big event in your life, and I can’t tell you for sure whether my life is better for it or not.”

Read part 1: Abortion, past and future

Read part 2: An inquiry into the illegal past, Douglas County, Oregon

Read part 2a: Illegal abortions in Douglas County, conclusion