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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.

Too Much Michael

         I'm surprised at myself for saying this, but I've had enough of Michael Cohen.  Of course I appreciate the truth that he is telling – but didn't we know all about his sleazy and stupid former boss years ago?  The confirmation is nice, but please, news people, there are other stories you should be covering.  Yet almost every time I walk past the (usually muted) TV, the headlines are all Michael, all the time.  Every talking head in America seems to feel the need to repeat what every other talking head talked about.


         And of course, the trip to Hanoi was pointless.  Well, actually, it had a point:  to distract us from Michael.  The clueless clown in the White House had no intention of seriously negotiating with North Korea; he just wanted to get out of DC.  I was surprised that he cut the trip as short as he did, thereby forcing his best defenders to acknowledge that nothing was achieved.  Even the brutal authoritarian Kim Jong-un demonstrated more curiosity and willingness to learn: our media barely mentioned it, but he toured Hanoi after the Trumpster took his marbles and went home.   On a 60-hour train trip, Kim also visited Singapore and Beijing, apparently viewing factories and making friends all the way. 


         Nor did our media say much about the decision to meet in Hanoi, the capital of our former enemy in Vietnam.  A few outlets made the PR point that Hanoi can demonstrate to Pyongyang that a functioning city can be built from the ashes of American bombs – but I think Koreans already know that.  And have done it.  Check out photos of Pyongyang on the internet, especially those from British reporters; it doesn't look nearly as impoverished as our politicos would have us believe.  Indeed, it looks a great deal like Seoul, complete with dense population and cloudy/polluted skies.  It's hard to see that allegedly differing economic systems in any of these places, including Vietnam's Hanoi and Saigon, have made any real difference.  Capitalist or communist, it's all modern.


         Meanwhile, major news stories go unreported because – apparently like our president – the national media has the attention span of a gnat.  What's happening in Venezuela, which was close to civil war before we were distracted by Michael?  Is or isn't the UK going to change its mind about leaving the EU this month?  What about Israel, where the longtime prime minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, is under indictment for bribery and fraud while also running for re-election?  (By the way, did you realize that, like our dear leader, Netanyahu is on his third marriage?)  And Kashmir, which was Cashmere when I was a child.  The region is caught between Pakistan (generally Muslim) and India (generally Hindu), and the regular warfare there is a direct result of the division of the British Empire after World War II. 


"What will we do if Peace Breaks Out?"


         In the same years that Britain was closing down its empire, we went into war in Korea, fighting against our former allies, Russia and China, on this surrogate scene.  We had defeated nearby Japan, our true Asian enemy in World War II, but we pretty much ignored the fact that Koreans hated their longtime rulers, the Japanese.  Koreans expected true independence after Japan's loss in World War II, but that didn't happen and still hasn't.  The animosity against Japan remains in both North and South Korea, but the "get over it" policy we successfully used with Japan never applied to Korea.


         I guess I was a weird kid.  I used to go down into our Minnesota basement on evenings when my dad tinkered with tools, and I listened to the radio with him.  Even though I was just in the third grade, I remember specifically listening to the 1952 Republican convention.  I was interested in the nomination choice between Robert A. Taft and Dwight D. Eisenhower – as well as a Minneapolis rally that promoted Douglas MacArthur and promised chocolate milk.  I thought it would be great to go there. 


Eisenhower's slogan, "I shall go to Korea!" was an important factor in his victory.  He went, but like World War I, the war ended in an armistice, not a negotiated treaty.  Indeed, purists at the time refused to call it "the Korean War" and instead used "Korean Conflict" because it hadn't been declared by Congress.  Since then, Congress has not declared war in Vietnam and countless other places where Americans have fought and died.  It has abdicated its constitutional obligation, leaving those momentous decisions to military officers. 


They and especially their good buddies in the defense industry do not want clear-cut declarations of war, nor, truthfully, an informed public.  They are not evil and some are my family members, but keeping conflict going – preferably covertly -- is the way they make their living.  When Hubby was in the Army Security Agency during the Vietnam War, a popular motto at the Pentagon was: "What will we do if peace breaks out?" There is, in fact, so much that we could do to improve life for ourselves if the billions spent on war were allocated differently, but few of us ask that question anymore.


Anyway, I have no reason to believe that the snake-oil salesman in the White House knows much of this or any other history.  But nearly seven decades after the shooting stopped, we still have no official end to the Korean War.  You'd think he at least could have talked with Kim about that.  And you'd think he would have included a representative of the government that is our supposed ally, South Korea.  He didn't bother because this was all about nothing.  Except getting a few minutes away from all Michael, all the time, and time on television is the only thing that really matters.


Remember "Hello in There," the Joan Baez song?  "We lost Davy in the Korean War; still don't know what for; it don't matter anymore…"  We lost nearly 40,000 American lives in Korea.  Go visit the somber memorial to them in Washington and ask yourself, "For what?"  For a war that still is not formally ended, for troops that still are there, and a conflict that accomplished nothing for world peace. 


Ditto with Vietnam.  Not even an armistice there, let alone a treaty.  We lost; we flat out lost.  If you doubt it, check out the photos of people trying to scramble onto the helicopter that was the last to leave the roof of our embassy there.  Almost 60,000 Americans dead, tremendously more Asians, and heartache that still pains many of us.  And now we treat Hanoi as a tourist destination.  Not that I would have it otherwise now, but it never should have been this way.


"A Grease Spot on the Road:"

Here at Home, A Hundred or so Years Ago


         I recently took some out-of-state guests to the Plant Museum at the Tampa Bay Hotel and found a book in its gift shop that was new to me.  It is excerpts from letters that Pauline Palmer wrote to her mother between 1908 and 1926 – but it's Pauline's mother-in-law who interests me.  Bertha Honore Palmer headed the Women's Division of the Columbian Exposition in Chicago during 1892-93, and she did a magnificent job.  She traveled the world to find exhibits by women and managed a big board, with two women from every state.  The building in which business was conducted was designed by a woman, and all of its art and music was by women.  Millions of people were exposed to feminist ideas for the first time.


Even though she was a millionaire many times over, Bertha Palmer (or Mrs. Potter Palmer, in the era's usage) also sat on the stage with Democratic presidential nominee William Jennings Bryan when he delivered his famous "Cross of Gold" speech.  (If you don't know it, look it up.)  Late in life, she bought a tremendous amount of land here in southwest Florida and made herself unpopular with the area's ranchers because she fenced it to protect her cattle-breeding experiments.  She also designed and built a house at Osprey that included her own utilities.


         Many of the letters by her daughter-in-law, Pauline Palmer, are from Europe or other vacation spots, but those of most interest to us are from here.  Members of both the Honore and Palmer families settled in the Sarasota area in the early twentieth century, and Pauline's first letter was written at Tampa's De Soto Hotel on November 9, 1910.  Letters from the Belle Haven Inn in Sarasota follow the next winter, and then after a sojourn in Europe, Pauline and her husband, Potter Palmer II, called "Min," began their own home on Sarasota Bay.  She wrote to her mother in Chicago on January 27, 1913:


         "It is lovely down here and like summer.  We are very busy, clearing away trees between us and the bay… It's such a different life that it is difficult to adjust oneself to it immediately, catching rattlers as an everyday occurrence, food coming or not…and a general disinclination on everyone's part to work…  'Necessity is the mother of invention' was first thought up in a wild woods like this, where you can't get anything.  Did I tell you it took ten days to get tin candlesticks?  And I haven't a garbage pail yet!"


         In early March, she said:  "All the orange trees are in blossom, and the air is so sweet.  [When you come] the entire country will be one mass of wildflowers.  All the vines blossom, so you will think you are in Italy."  World War I, which began in 1914, interrupted leisure travel to Italy or anywhere else, and in the spring of 1918, Palmer commented:  "Life has gotten very simple during the war, and I find it pleasant."  She summarized her days in a way that other Chicago socialites would find appalling:  "I have been reading Horace, doing a little knitting, chasing turkeys and chickens…"


The Sarasota family welcomed a cousin, Julia Dent Grant that winter.  I wrote about the first Julia Dent Grant, the wife of President Ulysses S. Grant, a couple of weeks ago and was pleased to discover this connection.  The younger Julia was a happy companion for Pauline Palmer, as she wrote in April:  "Julia and I are going up to Tampa for the night – without any men.  We feel very gay and 'frisky,' as Julia calls it.  How frisky we will feel after we arrive is another matter, as it is 80 on my porch, and it is only nine o'clock.  So I may never write you again, as I shall be a grease spot on the road."



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