Her fellow alumni, she is sure, know the array of issues facing the country. When she runs into Reed alumni, Ehrenreich is struck by how "very impressive and terrific" they are. "My sense is always that they are involved, politically astute, and socially conscious."

That's more of what the nation needs as the government heads into scary new territory: life under a shredded social contract. The nation washing its hands of so many needy people figures into the question of America's rampant distrust of government. Social welfare creates a loyalty to government, she says: the Canadian-style health insurance plan, for instance, or programs to help you find a job when you lose yours.

In the United States, the hatred of government is not entirely delusional. Citizens are soured by evidence of corruption and the government's bias toward the rich. "Government has less and less to offer the average citizen," she says: it takes your taxes and makes you stand in long lines at the DMV. It's become a heavy hand associated with Waco, urinalysis, and prisons. It's the sting of law and order, not a comforting and cuddly helpmate.

"The U.S. government has not been shrinking," she says. "The helpful functions of government are shrinking."

That misconception, and others, demand correcting.

So, with her ability to obsess over subjects, her skill at gathering and digesting data and viewpoints, her biting wit, and her gift with words, Barbara Ehrenreich plows on against the grain.

She harbors the old-fashioned notion that science is a search for the truth.

And as she works it, so, too, is journalism.

Janet Filips is a freelance writer and correspondent for the Oregonian. She lives in Eugene, Oregon.

Barbara Bits

Barbara Alexander, August 26, 1941. Oldest of three.

Liberal Democrats. Father was a copper miner and United Mine Workers member who trained to become a metallurgist. Mother was a homemaker.

A native of Butte, Montana, but moved yearly, all over the country, finishing at University High School in west L.A.--"a stultifying high school culture."

"I liked the idea of being close to Mt. Hood for skiing. I loved the bohemian reputation. I was ready to be in a crowd of a hundred other nonconformists."


B.A. in chemistry-physics, Reed College, 1963; Ph.D., Rockefeller University, 1968, cell biology. Honorary degrees from Reed; the College of Wooster (Ohio); College at Old Westbury, State University of New York; and La Trobe University in Melbourne, Australia.

on her science education at reed
"You gained a confidence you could solve problems, find answers." on her personal growth at reed "Socially and intellectually I blossomed. Socially, I was very much a misfit in high school."

24-year-old son, Ben, who went to Brown, and 27-year-old daughter, Rosa, who went to Harvard. "And they're wonderful. Perfect." Her companion of five years is novelist John Leslie.

Books and pamphlets include
Blood Rites: Origins and History of the Passions of War (nonfiction, 1997); The Snarling Citizen (collected essays, 1995); Kipper's Game (a novel, 1993); The Worst Years of Our Lives: Irreverent Notes From an Age of Greed (collected essays, 1990); Fear of Falling: The Inner Life of the Middle Class (nonfiction, 1989); For Her Own Good: 150 Years of the Experts' Advice to Women, with Deirdre English (nonfiction, 1989); and her all-time best-seller, Witches, Midwives and Nurses: A History of Women Healers, with Deirdre English (nonfiction, 1972).

"I like to watch TV."

"I'm a slow reader. It's a result of studying science."

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