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Doris writes a weekly column for LaGaceta, the nation's only trilingual newspaper, which has pages in English, Spanish, and Italian.  Begun in 1922 for Tampa's immigrant community, it continues to thrive more than a century later.  Her column is titled "In Context," as it aims to put contemporary issues in the context of the past.

Historians Get the Last Word

By the time you read this, the 2018 midterm elections will be over. I’ve made my predictions about this being a sea change in American history, with the election of unprecedented numbers of Democratic women, and won’t readdress that. I could be wrong – I was with the Kavanaugh nomination – but I think enough progressive people are sufficiently committed to change that this year will signal the end of the white patriarchs who have reigned in Washington since the nation began. Women and racial minorities are going to prove themselves the true majority. I think.

But the past week was such a hard one that I have to comment on it. I never thought that I would be grateful to Attorney General Jeff Sessions, formerly a US senator from Alabama – but I want to thank him now for refusing to be goaded by the president. When Sessions showed some respect for law and due process, the White House bedroom sent out early morning tweets that repeatedly insulted Sessions. Trump clearly hoped he would resign, and that worked when others of his original choices showed any independence. But firing Cabinet members who have been confirmed by the Senate didn’t work out for Andrew Johnson in the 1860s, when he followed Lincoln into the White House, and Trump apparently had enough sense to see that if he tried to rid himself of Sessions by force, even Republicans senators -- who recently had Session as a colleague – would resist. He held off, merely taunting the attorney general and frequently insulting its enforcement arm, the FBI.

So, when upwards of a dozen bombs were mailed to Democratic leaders, the FBI quickly stepped in and caught the bad guy. They had a record on him for earlier threats, and his social media posts were openly, hatefully vitriolic about Democrats. He particularly scorned minorities and women: Indeed, of the thirteen known targets, just three were white, non-minority men. It’s clear that he detests all liberals, but most of all, those who are female or ethnic minorities. And – surprise, surprise –he lives in South Florida.

Both his postings and the testimony of a former lawyer tell us that the 56-year-old white man is only semi-literate, so I hope the FBI asks more questions. I’ve no doubt that he is a loner, as are most psychopaths – but it takes great research skills to track down the home address for such people as the Obamas in Washington and the Clintons in New York. With the exception of CNN headquarters, all of these packages were addressed to private residences. I’m quite sure I couldn’t find that information, and I’m wondering who did. If I were the FBI, I’d start with the known radical right in South Florida: radio conspiracy theorist Rush Limbaugh and especially Roger Stone, the dirty trickster for Richard Nixon who recently has been in the employ of Russians.

Finally, although my heart is sick, I am compelled to say a few words about the mass murder in the Pittsburgh synagogue. Most victims were my age or older; many had lived through the Holocaust and World War II. In this case, there is no doubt about the guilt of the gunman: He proclaimed his prejudice as he fired on the congregation. Again, he was influenced by authoritarians who have made Jews their scapegoat for centuries, blaming them for political or economic woes. As commanders of both church and state, czars and other monarchs sent their armies to massacre Jews and burn their homes, not even bothering with an excuse. Moreover, clergy from the Russian and Greek Orthodox churches blessed these armies; in western nations, the Roman Catholic Church assisted in state terrorism such as the 1492 purge of Jews in Spain.

A recent change in religious attitudes has been the proud promotion of Israelis by some fundamentalists Christians – but many still detest the Jew next door, especially if he is a peace-loving liberal. And no, “both sides” don’t do this. There is no equivalency between shouting at someone in a restaurant or elevator and killing someone because they are Jewish or gay or black. I quoted Nobel Peace Prize winner Emily Balch a while back, but I’ll do it again. She was a founder of the Women’s International League for Peace and Freedom, and she spent World War II in neutral Switzerland, where she helped Jews and others fleeing from Hitler and Mussolini’s fascists. To those who accused her of taking sides, she said, “Neutrality in the sense of treating aggressor and victim alike is morally impossible.” In the name of morality, this killing has to end.

Something Different

• Had you thought about the decline in palm readers? When I was growing up in the South, you could find one every ten miles or so. My first clue that they were not able to predict the future was that their homes invariably were poor: If they truly knew what was going to happen, I thought, every Wall Street investor would be beating a path to the door, and it would be a mansion. Yet some of the mothers of my close friends believed in these women – and yes, the readers almost always were women, as were their poor paying clientele. Those mothers have passed on, as has the profession. It did not die because of regulation, I suspect, but because the next generations were less superstitious. Or are they? As I look at the number of paranormal movies these days, maybe it’s just the medium that has changed. Pun intended.

• I see that after Hurricane Maria’s devastation, the governor of Puerto Rico is – at last – making a pitch for statehood. It never has made sense for these people to be US citizens, yet unable to vote in presidential elections. I also was surprised to learn in a memoir I’m reading about the Civil War and Reconstruction (more on the memoir another time) that Washington, DC briefly was organized as a territory in the 1870s, with many people believing that it would and should become a state. If both of these happened, it would mean 104 US senators instead of 100. The District of Columbia has more residents than two states (Vermont and Wyoming), so in the name of fairness, we could manage that.

• Did you notice that NRA influence in this year’s elections is way down? That’s influence as measured by money, with the NRA raising just $1.6 million this year, compared with Gabby Gifford’s anti-gun PAC, which has $3.6 million. It could well be that the NRA is funneling funds through back channels, but this year’s official spending is just one-tenth of what they spent in 2014, the last midterm year. It appears that not only are contributions down, the organization also has what one pundit called “a popularity problem.”


I find relief from politics in the e-mails of my friends Mike and Elizabeth Coachman. Both are retired professionals, excellent photographers, and witty writers – and they send long e-mails with gorgeous photos of their travels, accompanied by short and often funny captions. They live in Pasco, but have spent the past summer in Canada, taking their RV from Prince Edward Island through Nova Scotia, Newfoundland, and New Brunswick. They should be home soon, and if any program chair is looking for a delightful speaker for your group, that would be Elizabeth. A physician, she also can tell you about previous summers she spent traveling to research her book on Dr. Mary Safford, a pioneer physician who retired to Tarpon Springs.

But the reason for this introduction of the Coachmans is to explain “Pugwash.” One of their recent photos featured a sign in Nova Scotia that welcomed travelers to the Village of Pugwash, proclaiming it to be the home of “Thinkers Lodge” and “world famous for peace.” The Coachmans added this caption: “Despite its name sounding like a laundry service for small dogs…, this was the site of an international conference organized for scholars by Bertrand Russell in 1957.” You may remember that Hubby is a philosopher with a deep interest in science, and because he is a great admirer of Russell, I checked out the Pugwash Conference.

Russell, who was an English nobleman, joined with famed Albert Einstein, whose physics led to the atomic bomb, in assembling some of the world’s greatest thinkers for a conference during the darks days of the Cold War on how we humans might avoid nuclear annihilation. Cyrus Eaton, a successful businessman who was critical of militarists, paid for the event, and that was why it was held in his birthplace, the tiny village of Pugwash. Accommodations there probably would not satisfy today’s leaders, but these were scientists and philosophers who often are indifferent to their surroundings.

Twenty-two brilliant people attended, staying in a two-story brick house now designated as “Thinkers Lodge.” The largest group – seven – were from the US, but the majority of those were recent immigrants. In addition to Albert Einstein, a Jew born in Germany, they included Leo Szilard, Victor Weiskoff, and Eugene Rabinowitz, Jewish men who respectively were born in Hungary, Austria, and Russia. Without these and other immigrants, including the Italian Enrico Fermi, there was little to no chance that Americans would have had the scientists capable of making the war-ending bomb. Hitler made a huge, huge, mistake in forcing them to flee.

Three men attended from Japan, which had suffered the effects of the nuclear age a decade earlier, and three from the USSR, which had been an American ally a decade earlier but now was our chief enemy. Two each represented the UK and Canada, while five others came from other countries. Two women were in attendance, but they are not among the female scientists I know, and this will have to be another research project. The conference’s “main objective” was “the elimination of all weapons of mass destruction (nuclear, chemical, and biological) and of war as a social institution to settle international disputes.” Pugwash conferences still are held, but not in the village of Pugwash. These scientists committed to peace keep themselves rather quiet -- for the obvious reason of unreasonable people with guns.


Doris Weatherford writes a weekly column for La Gaceta, the nation's only trilingual newspaper. With pages in Spanish, Italian, and English, it has been published in Tampa since 1922.
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