i want to spend the end of the world with you

•July 15, 2010 • 2 Comments

I wasn’t always like this.

Raised amid the heady revolutionary dreams of the 60s, I held true to that vision for a shockingly long time. I worked diligently to change the world, in the usual and the less usual ways. Eventually I saw that people weren’t interested in changing their minds based on information, and so could no longer stare into the gaping maw of the end of the world.

Medical school seemed like a great way to bury my head in the sand for a while. But Aldo Leopold spoke absolute truth when he wrote “the price of an environmental education is to live in a world of wounds.”

Welcome to the end of the world.


all you need is love — and rage

•February 8, 2012 • Leave a Comment

On March 3, 2004,  I was out to dinner with some friends, preparing to give a talk at a local bookstore. Sitting next to us in the restaurant were two distinguished looking men (read: middle aged) wearing black dress suits and looking really, really happy.

I couldn’t help myself. I had to ask them.

“Excuse me,” I said. “Did you just get married?”


They’d been together for 18 years. They were at the county courthouse the very morning Multnomah County caught the early wave of legalizing same-sex marriage.

It was one of those peak moments, when everything seems joyous and filled with light. When even a Dr. Buzzkill can believe — not just feel — that everything can be right in the world. The thought of their smiles, and their eager answers to my question, their happy inclusion of me into an important moment in their lives and our history, it all still brings tears to my eyes.

When the server came back I told her the guys’ happy news. (My dinner partners had given up on me at this point.) She pointed to two young women sitting at the bar.

“They just got married, too!”

The women were as different as you can imagine from the guys. They were young, pierced and styled in grunge. But they had the same angelic chorus aura around them. I went up to congratulate them. They’d been together just about a year, but had never spent one day of that time apart.

My big brother, who lives in Israel, is smart and well read and politically savvy. He’s cynical, like me, but understands first hand what it means to go to war, what it means to be under attack, what it means to live a life much less cushy than the one I’ve been privileged to have here in the US. I tell you that so you’ll have context for this next statement: During the second Intifada, when bombs were falling blocks from our family’s homes, he said to me, “I still believe that love is the most powerful force in the universe.”

And he is right.

None of us really expected the legal right to same-sex marriage would last, at least not immediately. And sure enough, Multnomah County along with other cities and states around the country quickly retrenched and outlawed it again. Oregon voters went on to pass a constitutional amendment specifically retracting the right of gay citizens to marry the love of their lives. (I made countless phone calls before the election, begging people not to diminish our state by enshrining discrimination in our constitution.) So did the citizens of California.

Which is why I’m writing today. Because today love and law and rage conquered. The Ninth U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals today said you can’t take rights away from one specific group of people — that’s called discrimination. 

The court’s Judge Stephen Reinhardt summed it up this way:

Proposition 8 serves no purpose, and has no effect, other than to lessen the status and human dignity of gays and lesbians in California, and to officially reclassify their relationships and families as inferior to those of opposite-sex couples.”

You’ll hear that this ruling was intentionally narrow and doesn’t apply nationally. That’s a smart move, given the current Supreme Court. And same-sex marriage is still on hold in California until the Supremes choose their next step.

But the wave is rising, and eventually love will conquer. New York City, Washington DC, the states of Massachusetts and Vermont all recognize same-sex marriages. Washington state’s legislature is poised to follow suit, as are many other places despite the nation’s general rightward death march. Even Oregon will return to sanity.

Because my big brother, with his great and shining heart even in the face of hatred and bombs, is right. As folk singer Danny Dolinger puts it in his song Dollar and a Quarter, “Look me in the eye and tell me, how can you say no to love?”

p.s. I proudly officiate weddings.

are we awake yet?

•February 1, 2012 • Leave a Comment

Today’s top news: Breast-cancer fighters defund breast-cancer prevention.

If you’ve ever seen a pink ribbon signifying support for breast-cancer research and prevention, you can at least in part thank Susan G. Komen for the Cure. But today the giant organization turned its back on women by defunding Planned Parenthood.

Why? Ostensibly because Planned Parenthood is under Congressional investigation for what may actually turn out to be some mistakes. But in reality the funding stopped for the same reasons that motivated a right-wing Congress to investigate the organization in the first place: Planned Parenthood dares to offer women — and low-income women — abortions.

Never mind that the math is off: PP uses just 3 percent of its money for abortions. The issue is that right-wing extremists are pushing an anti-woman agenda so broad it’s mind boggling for those of us who grew up under the (dwindling) protection of Roe vs. Wade.

Do you really doubt it? Probably not, if you’re reading what I write. But just in case, consider this quote from Karen Handel, elevated last year to be Komen’s senior vice president for state and federal advocacy: “‘[S]ince I am pro-life, I do not support the mission of Planned Parenthood.” Context? An unsuccessful run to be Georgia’s Republican gubernatorial candidate.

Apparently right-wing groups have been pressuring Komen for years. It’s likely not all Handel’s doing (she’d supporting PP funding in Georgia before she made her guv run.) Wherever the pressure came from, though, Komen has caved — and in the process reminded us that huge nonprofit corporations are not about their issue, they’re mostly about their own survival — like any other corporation.

As one person put it on Komen’s Facebook wall: “If we needed evidence that the radical anti-choice movement is willing to sacrifice the lives of women for what they claim is a pro-life stance, this is the smoking gun.”

Speaking of Komen’s Facebook wall, there’s a lot going on there and a lot of it is wrong. Here are some facts if you want to brave those dangerous waters:

• Abortion does not cause breast cancer. That’s science.

• Planned Parenthood primarily offers affordable health services for women and men, many of whom can’t afford anything else. Whatever you think of abortion, that’s just a tiny fraction of what they do.

• What do they do? Well, with the help of Komen’s money since 2005 they offered 170,000 clinical breast exams, the critical first step in breast-cancer prevention.

• Critics will point out that PP doesn’t offer mammograms. I’m a primary-care physician in private practice, and I don’t offer mammograms, either. What Planned Parenthood and I do offer, though, is a way to help women get mammograms — it’s called a referral, and most women need them in order to get further screening. Planned Parenthood, with Komen’s help, gave out 6,400 of those since 2005. Skeptical as I am about irradiating breasts in the name of prevention, I still look forward to the day when my practice can match a small fraction of those numbers.

Is this, as someone wrote on my Facebook wall, “another victory against basic freedoms”? I’ve been around long enough to see Roe v. Wade go from a victory to a high-water mark, steadily and constantly eroded since passage. My response to that poster: “It’s not a victory, it’s a wake-up call. Another wake-up call. Are we awake yet?”

So wake up.

Support Planned Parenthood. Don’t support Komen. Do this with your time or your money or both.

If you’ve participated in Komen’s Race for the Cure, tell Komen to take you off their lists. A friend of mine with inside knowledge of the organization says “They’ll get the message.”

If you’re pro-choice, make sure your elected officials reflect and support your views. If they’re generally on side, thank them, call them, keep them honest. If they’re not, get rid of them. This means pounding the pavement, making phonecalls, registering voters and giving money if you have the means. It may mean showing up for demonstrations, or organizing them. It may mean running for office yourself.

Take care of yourself, including getting screening for yourself. Breast cancer is not just a women’s disease, guys. Make sure your loved ones get screening, too. Get your screening at Planned Parenthood.

Tell all your friends and family what’s going on. Get them to join you.

And tell Komen what you think, by phone, fax, email or Facebook. Here’s what I said on their Facebook wall (“liking” not required.) Apologies to my mom, who undoubtedly wants none of this.

“My mother had breast cancer. She found it early and is now 11 years out with no recurrence. She is pro-choice, and I’m proud to follow in her pro-choice footsteps. Your decision to defund Planned Parenthood’s prevention program will hurt the women you are funded to help, and put my mother’s happy outcome out of reach for them. Shame on you.”

Are we awake yet?

Read more:

Mother Jones article on all of this: http://motherjones.com/mojo/2012/01/komen-drops-support-planned-parenthood-breast-cancer-screenings

National Cancer Institute fact sheet on abortion and breast cancer: http://www.cancer.gov/cancertopics/factsheet/Risk/abortion-miscarriage

facts don’t matter

•July 15, 2010 • Leave a Comment

Earlier this week, a political consultant friend of mine posted this Boston Globe article on his crackbook page. It’s a spot-on analysis of how facts don’t matter, going over research showing that people are unswayed in their opinions by pesky stuff like the truth.

This article really hit me personally, because it specifically enumerated the reasons I had to quit journalism after 12 years. I got into the field with the optimistic idea that people, given facts, would act upon those facts to improve the world around them. First I found that people didn’t read the paper, even people like activists who most needed to. Then I realized that it wasn’t just about reading, it was about opinions. People seem more interested in having opinions than having informed opinions, and didn’t even seem to care about facts that bolstered their positions.

But I couldn’t go on personally doing that work, staring, as I say, into the gaping maw of the end of the world. Not when no one cared, not when facts no longer mattered. I’m desperately glad, though, that there are people who can.

The reporters covering environmental issues are some of the very best, smartest and most diligent people I know. Of course there are some hacks out there. But there are also great people doing great and important work. For instance, there’s the Society of Environmental Journalists, which just won the prestigious Gulbenkian International Prize for its work educating the populace about biodiversity issues. Or there are the folks with InvestigateWest, offering cutting-edge, investigative reporting in the post-newspaper-apocalypse era.

Think about your own relationship to facts that don’t support your opinions. Please prove me and the researchers in the Globe article wrong. And please support environmental and all good investigative journalism. There’s not much hope, but this may be our best hope.

gulf spill pictures

•July 15, 2010 • Leave a Comment

This amazing blog page offers pictures you may not have seen before of the ongoing devastation in the Gulf of Mexico from the BP oil spill. I hope they won’t mind me reposting some of the pictures here. Definitely not for the faint of heart, as you can see.