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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.

Start (and Stop) With a Smile

Especially if I’ve had a bad day, I read P.G. Wodehouse before going to sleep. It makes me smile, and I drift off more easily. A quick synopsis, in case you don’t know Wodehouse’s humor: His focus is on empty-headed, upper-class Brits during the Roaring Twenties. Jeeves, butler to Bertram Wooster, regularly untangles the complex knots in which these aristocrats find themselves. Bertram is a young gentleman with no visible means of support, yet inexplicably has no money shortage – despite his domineering Aunt Agatha, who follows him from continent to continent, despairing of his future.

Although Bertie has plenty of the good stuff, many of his titled friends are stony broke, and plots often revolve around ways to fund their expensive lifestyles. Yet, in a story I read the other night, Lord Chuffnel (Chuffy) refused to accept a loan that Bertie offered because, as his lordship said, “I owe nothing to anyone – except tradesmen, of course.” It suddenly struck me how often this attitude appears among upper-class people. It’s the Leona Helmsley view that “only little people pay taxes.” It’s the Donald Trump dismissive “business plan” that has forced countless contractors to sue for their expenses in building his buildings.

In fact, it occurs to me that our usage of “entitlement” probably has its origins in the behavior of “titled” people – the nobility whose values often were less than noble. They took it for granted that they could exploit their tenants, servants, and the merchants who supplied their needs and wants. Many of the cheated people doubtless accepted this because, of course, the amount was so small compared with his lordship’s wealth that he couldn’t be expected to remember to pay his debts. And so the rich get richer.

Words and Words

“Church pitches its deal for city” was the headline in the Times recently. I’m tired of reading about Scientology and Clearwater, so I skipped the content – but isn’t the usage of “pitches” interesting? I don’t know if the headline writer enjoyed presenting us with these opposite meanings or if the language was merely a mistake, but it amused me. “Pitches” can mean to try to sell something in a positive way, or it can mean to give up on a plan and pitch it into the idea wastebasket. I don’t know which it was, but I fear it will be back.

Not funny, but another item on word usage and mangled language. White House press secretary Sean Spicer deservedly got into trouble recently for saying of the Syrian government’s use of chemicals against Syrians: “You had someone as despicable as Hitler who didn’t even sink to using chemical weapons.” Spicer made it worse by trying to clarify, saying that Hitler didn’t spray chemicals from airplanes on his “own people” and that modern Syrians are “innocent.”

So it’s more acceptable to gas people to death in deliberately built death chambers? And German Jews were not Hitler’s “own people” and were not “innocent?” The president’s spokesman also seems ignorant of the fact that Germany used chemical weapons – especially the dreaded mustard gas – two decades earlier during World War I. But no one should expect that a Trump appointee actually has read any history or should be able to speak clearly, even though that is his well-paid job. The jargon he favors is clear just in his usage of “you had someone…” No, I didn’t have someone. And I won’t.

Such a simplistic approach also ignores lessons of the past in other ways. We are supposed to assume “chemical weapons” are horrifyingly new, but how does this really differ from the “weapons of mass destruction” phrase that Dubya used to get us into an earlier war? Actually, it does differ importantly in that we finally had to acknowledge that Saddam Hussein didn’t have any weapons of mass destruction --or at least those of us who live in a world of facts came to that conclusion after the cheerleading diminished.

If you did a poll on the street, though, most people wouldn’t be able to say with certainty whether or not any “yellow cake uranium” – the phrase of that time – ever was found. And people would have trouble separating the war with Iran from the war with Iraq or Afghanistan or any of these adventures into which we have poured billions of dollars and the lives of too many young Americans -- to say nothing of the many more lives of other human beings. To use the well-turned phrase of journalist Sebastin Junger, when the White House argues for more war, it “simply is inviting you to join a conspiracy of wishful thinking.”

Vote Vets

I’m not sure how I got on the e-mail list of this group, but I recommend that you look it up online and get yourself on, too. Its leaders are retired military officers who understand the dangers of current cowboy policy in Washington. I’m really proud of these men: Despite a lifetime of following the chain of command, they have developed the courage to question the commander in chief. Their almost daily e-mails are well worth the couple of minutes it takes to read them. This is especially true as fewer and fewer Americans have any personal experience with the military.

I have, by proxy, with Hubby, two brothers, two brothers-in-law, and many nephews, nephews-in-law, a niece-in-law, and a great-nephew who joined the Army or the Air Force. We haven’t had anyone in the Navy since Hubby’s father in World War II, but these others have served around the globe in theaters from Asia to Europe to the Middle East. The most senior, my 82-year-old brother-in-law, did three tours as a pilot in Vietnam; when then were going to send him for a fourth, he decided he’d rather fly a Kansas crop duster. It was his oldest grandson who was our last. He came home from the Middle East accompanied by a starving dog, and no one has signed up since.

It dawned on me that this may be in part because of the recent expansion of health care. Of this particular family, Soldier I served in the Philippines, Germany, Vietnam, and the Dominican Republic – and to a fairly large extent, it was because he and my sister had six children, two of whom needed specialized health care that the Army supplied. Soldier II of that family served abroad only when he was single; after he married a woman with epilepsy, he stayed within the US – but his career was very much married to her health and the free care she got because of his service. Soldier III, their son, was our last – and he left the Army at about the same time that the Affordable Healthcare Act became the law of the land. Now no one is risking their lives because they can’t afford to do otherwise.

But back to Vote Vets. I thought about this after reading a recent post from a Vietnam veteran. He said if he had known then what he knows now, he never would have gone to that crazy Asian war (which, by the way, we unequivocally lost), but that the only thing that might tempt him is the excellent health care he continues to receive from the Veterans Administration. Hubby and our whole crew feel the same. Not so much me because even though we also made sacrifices, the VA under-serves wives -- but that’s another point.

This point is that Vote Vets is very concerned about Trump administration plans to privatize the VA. Privatization, with its axiomatic profit for investors, is not what we promised our soldiers. Again, words matter. Repetition of the “privatization” clique has convinced way too many people that anything private is better than anything public, but that simply isn’t true. It’s just another way for the rich to get richer.

And finally

This is the third consecutive week that Patrick has permitted me to run a photo from the previous week’s news, captioned with “What’s Wrong With This Picture?” Wouldn’t it be progress if I didn’t see such an image next week? Let’s hope.


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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