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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.

Random Thoughts

No kids on Noah’s ark. Him, his wife, three adult sons and their wives. Why no children? What does this say about Genesis? It’s hardly the way to generate generations.

The meaning of “wallpaper” has changed. I tried to buy a new border to put on bedroom walls recently -- and had to go through a bunch of online irrelevance in which “wallpaper” meant electronic backgrounds.

“Someone you know has had a miscarriage.” I’ve forgotten where I saw that bit of banality, but like duh. Of course someone you know has had a miscarriage. My mother and sister had several, and I’ve had one. In fact, I think it’s likely that I know more women who have miscarried than not. It’s just that until recently, women’s reproductive lives were supposed to be mysterious.

Who invented batteries? Every school child knows Thomas Alva Edison and electricity, and they know Alexander Graham Bell and the telephone. In our modern battery-filled world, its inventor gets no recognition at all. I did a bit of research, and it’s complicated; several people can claim a share of credit. The same is true of everything, though, and the unfortunate point is that Bell and Edison were self-promotors -- and PR is everything.

Another Random Thought: Clubs for Men

The Elks Club in Columbus, Georgia, where Hubby and I often went with our brother-in-law, has closed. When I expressed my shock at this, he responded that most Elks are like him: He’s a retired Army pilot, and at 84, belongs to an era that is ending. After thinking about it, I’m sure the same is true of Legion Halls, Moose clubs, Shriners, Masons, and other such fraternities. These organizations never welcomed women, and today’s young men are more likely to want to be with women.

In sharp contrast, a thirty-something granddaughter of this Army vet and her husband, also a veteran, have opened a micro-brew place in suburban Washington. Also to my surprise, it has been a success from Day One. Part of the reason, I’m sure, is that their peers, both men and women, come to eat and drink together -- and bring their kids. The place is a world apart from the dank, dark Legion Halls of old. I’ve had brief acquaintance with several, and from Massachusetts to California, they reeked of cigarette smoke and beer; they featured usually silent men sitting alone at the bar, not at tables with others. The new micro-brew setting, with quality food and entertainment for kids, is very different.

This is a really important and largely unnoted change in cultural habits. The veterans of the World Wars, Korea, and even Vietnam did not acknowledge PTSD, nor did the military encourage them to be good husbands and fathers. When they came home, they routinely drank at private bars with each other. This isolation from the rest of the world -- especially from the emotional lives of their wives and children -- reinforced the sorrow and anger that many felt about their war experience and doubtless increased their depression.

Most were draftees, or if they enlisted, it was because that offered more options than waiting to be drafted. They were foot soldiers who did what officers told them to do, and they never were permitted to even enter the door at officers’ clubs. Such separation based on status continued in the postwar world. Veterans who had been enlisted men went to a Legion Hut or an Elks club or other place where these blue-collar guys could be with their own kind – and exclude those different from themselves.

Retired colonels and generals did not belly up to the bar in such places. Instead, they joined the local country club for golfing and/or downtown clubs for deal-making. As far as I know, those kinds of organizations – the Palma Ceia Country Club and the Center Club, for example – are doing fine, while the Elks are going bankrupt. It’s another sign of increased income inequality, and that’s sad. On the other hand, it’s also a result of an increasingly professionalized military that recognizes soldiers as individuals – and especially a sign of young fathers who choose to spend time with their families. That’s a very good thing.

News You Probably Didn’t Get

Democrats won another special election on Tuesday, taking a seat in the New Hampshire legislature away from Republicans. The week prior to that, Oklahoma had special elections for two vacant seats, and Democrats won both. This is a surprise, as Oklahoma is a very conservative state -- but its economy is a mess. That’s partly because of falling petroleum prices (remember when Newt Gingrich said that gas would be $6 a gallon if Obama was elected?), but Governor Mary Fallon intensified the pain by following the simplistic Republican prescription that lower taxes will solve everything. The state now is so short on revenue that many schools have four-day weeks.

Even conservative voters don’t want to cut that close to the bone, and they demonstrated their views very clearly: Compared with the margins last fall, these two Oklahoma seats moved from Republican to Democrat by 27% and 28%. That is the equivalent of a miracle in politics. Democrats now have won 20 of 26 special elections nationwide since Trump “won.” The media, however, gave so much attention to the Georgia congressional seat previously held by Newt that the narrow Democratic loss there probably made you think Democrats are losing everywhere. Think again.

Some Republicans are getting the message, including Steve Womack, who represents the Arkansas district where I lived long ago. I grew up listening to his father, Kermit Womack, broadcast the news on local radio. Congressman Womack now serves on the House Budget Committee, and he appears disappointed in his party’s inability to do anything -- despite owning Congress and the White House. “The budget should have been put to bed a long time ago,” he said – and even more candidly added, “It’s almost like we’re serving in the minority right now. We simply don’t know how to govern.” You got that right, Steve. When your party constantly runs against government, you shouldn’t be surprised that you don’t know how to govern.

Thoughts from 1992

One of the reasons for this inability to govern is that many conservatives insist that experience isn’t important and that the Founding Fathers were governmental part-timers. I thought of this recently because I’ve been cleaning closets and files, and I found a copy of a letter to the editor I’d written to Mother Trib in 1992. That’s a quarter-century ago, but it’s more relevant than ever. Here goes:

“A recent guest editorial urging Floridians to adopt term limits said, in part, that ‘the founders of this great nation…humbly served the public and then returned to private life.’ In fact, the proponents of term limits consistently falsify the facts with this assertion. The truth is that the nation’s founders were “career politicians” as much as any today.

“Consider, for just one example, James Madison, ‘The Father of the Constitution’ and a hero to many Republicans today. He was elected to the Virginia legislature in 1774 and stayed there through the Revolutionary War. When the Articles of Confederation were adopted, he moved on to Congress, but he was dissatisfied with the federated government’s lack of power and returned to the Virginia legislature. He worked from there for a national constitutional convention, and after fathering our US Constitution, was elected to Congress, where he remained until 1797. When Thomas Jefferson was elected president in 1800, Madison became secretary of state; after eight years there, he ran for president, finally retiring from that position in 1817. In sum, Madison – the preeminent creator of the US Constitution – was in office for 43 years, from 1774 to 1817. Only the three years between 1797 and 1800 were in “private life.”

“Get out your encyclopedia [I said in 1992, when the internet was only a gleam in Al Gore’s eyes] and look up Franklin, Washington, Adams, Jefferson, and all of the founders we hold in deservedly high esteem. You will find that they have similar biographies, with many more years in government than out. They did not overlook the point of term limits when they debated the Constitution. They discussed the topic and agreed that voters should be free to elect whom they choose, and that good public servants should not be cast out simply because they served. As Tribune columnist Ray Locker so effectively points out, ‘we have term limits. They’re called elections.’”

And by the way, James Madison, “The Father of the Constitution,” did not have children, although his wife did by her first marriage. The same was true of “The Father of the Nation,” George Washington. Which kind of brings us back to Noah’s Ark. I re-read Genesis 6-8 to be sure that I had correctly enumerated the people (and many birds and animals) on the ark. It’s repeated four times: just Noah; his nameless wife; his sons, Shem, Ham, and Japheth; and their nameless wives. No children. Also interestingly, the flood began “in the six hundredth year of Noah’s life.”

Last random thought: If you want a really funny read, find Mark Twain’s essay that explores the important question: “What if Noah Had Built His Ark in Germany?” I think it’s in The Writings of Mark Twain, in a chapter called “All About Ships.” You can google it.


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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