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Published Articles by Doris Weatherford

The Only Non-Controversial Part of the US Constitution

Last week I used "BBQ" as a reminder of things I wanted to write about.  I covered birds/bees and books before running out of space for "q."  It was there to remind me of the only part of the US Constitution – or more technically, the Bill of Rights – that never has been litigated, challenged or even debated.  Now largely forgotten, the Sixth Amendment forbids the quartering of troops in civilian homes.

 

"Quartering" itself has largely lost its meaning.  We think of it as a unit of division, as in cutting an apple into four parts.  As a coin, it is half of a half-dollar.  The former usage is a verb, and the latter a noun.  It also is used as an adjective, as in a quarter moon.  Its most brutal connation was in medieval days, when enemies were "drawn and quartered."  The quartering is terrifyingly clear, but I've never been entirely sure what "drawn" conveyed.  Maybe when horses drew the victim into quarters.  That happened.  Four horses pulling in different directions…

 

In military terms, "quarters" means the place where soldiers live when they are off-duty.  Although Hubby lived in a "BOQ," or Bachelors Officers Quarters, prior to our marriage, the military now is just as likely to use "billet" (pronounced bill-it, not bill-lay) for soldiers' housing.  Actually, most troops these days don't live on base (the Air Force and Navy's terminology) or on post (the Army's).  Instead they work there, but live in apartments or houses ala civilians.  Except for new recruits and those who train them, the military largely has taken itself out of the housing biz.

 

That was not the case when American colonies were part of the British Empire.  Unwilling to spend money to supply their troops, the British government assigned them to specific homes.  Especially in Boston, civilians were forced to provide shelter and food and probably laundry.  This was a direct burden on women – and the Sixth Amendment that forbade the practice may have been the first legalism to protect women from exploitation. 

 

I think it also may have been the first to at least subliminally attack the perennial problem of sexual harassment.  Imagine a wife or daughter who has to live in close proximity to a man whose hormones probably are in overdrive.  Men – the founding fathers – doubtless noticed.  They have may acted more to keep their female possessions than any other factor, but they did act.

 

I thought about this after reading the entry on the Sixth Amendment in The Dictionary of Legal Bullshit by Randall Young.  For me, he's a bit too conservative and too cynical (often interconnected viewpoints, you know), but the book is fun.  Everyone, especially lawyers, should enjoy it.

 

ODDS AND ENDS

 

I read that book and many others while visiting my daughter in Virginia.  The weather was weird, with both oppressive heat and cold rain.  I think it was rain that provided a natural phenomenon that neither of us ever had seen or even heard of.  She has a large cedar tree in her front yard, and after the rain stopped, it sparkled as if it had hundreds of tiny white Christmas lights.  This went on for at least fifteen minutes, and I have no explanation.  If Hubby had been there, he probably would have offered a scientific thesis.

 

Another surprising thing.  If you assiduously read newspaper comics the way I do, you've been seeing that the Hispanic teenager in the strip called "Baldo" has been wrestling with his name.  It is short for "Baldomero," and he was bemoaning the lack of role models with that name.  I thought of writing to the cartoonist about Tampa's Baldomero Lopez – and the next day, the kid's father told him about Lopez. 

 

A graduate of Hillsborough High and the US Naval Academy, he was a lieutenant when he jumped onto a thrown grenade during the Korean War.  He was blown to bits, but saved the lives of his men.  He posthumously won the Congressional Medal of Honor, and Lopez Elementary School in Seffner was named for him.  My daughter was among the kids in enrolled in its first year, and I helped with the school's dedication.  I'm so glad that a cartoon is spreading the word.

 

A third idea.  Some writer – I'm sorry that I don't remember who – recently said that "the Stone Age didn't end because we ran out of stones."  Similarly, the Petroleum Age won't end because we run out of oil and gas.  It's true that the industry has been fronting this view since they conspired to run up prices during the Carter administration, but there still is plenty in the ground – to say nothing of the seas.  The Stone Age ended because we had a better idea in the development of metal, and the dominance of oil will end because as we explore better methods of producing energy.

 

WHERE IS THE GHOST OF MARGARET CHASE SMITH?

 

I trust you remember her.  She was a senator from Maine in the 1950s, following only Hattie Caraway of Arkansas in the 1930s as a female senator elected more than once.  The 1950s, you know, were very similar to today, as Republican Senator Joseph McCarthy of Wisconsin terrorized the nation and his colleagues with right-wing rhetoric.  Many careers, especially in the arts, were ruined as he pursued so-called communists.  Like Donald Trump, McCarthy kept other senators in line by threatening to run candidates against them in Republican primaries.

 

This didn't work with Maine voters and Margaret Chase Smith.  As an admiring Democrat, Eleanor Roosevelt, wrote after the 1948 election, Smith "had run against her party organization, most of the money in the state…, and won the primary with more votes than all three of her masculine competitors put together."  But this was a special election to replace a retiree, so she had to run again in 1950. 

 

By then, McCarthy was near his acme in attacking anyone perceived as leftist.  He cowed the State Department and even the Pentagon, but not Senator Smith.  The Republican primary was only a few months away when, on June 1, 1950, she again took on the powers in her party.  In a speech on the Senate floor, she denounced its anti-democratic ways.  Known as "A Declaration of Conscience," it remains an important historical document.  "The American people," she said, "are sick and tired of being afraid to speak their minds."

 

Maine voters rewarded her candor, and she trounced her McCarthy-endorsed primary opponent with an astonishing 82% of the vote.  The general election in November set another precedent:  it was the first in which two women ran against each other for the Senate.  Democrats nominated Lucia Cormier, who was their House floor leader, but Smith won with relative ease.  That was a strong factor in returning the nation to tolerance and moderation.

 

So, given this history that is famous in Maine, I nominate Susan Collins of Maine to take on Kentucky obstructionist Mitchell McConnell and other cowardly Republicans who seem terrified of Trump.  They echo his divisiveness and hatred, and Margaret Chase Smith would again declare her conscience. 

 

GOODBYE TO ANOTHER TWO GOOD ONES

 

Katherine Griffin, who recently died at age 92, was a big reason why Jimmy Carter became president in 1976.  National pundits were just beginning to pay attention to Florida as a bellwether state, and Katherine was an early supporter.  Her origins were humble, but she paid attention to politics and was a natural organizer.  Her husband, Curtis Griffin, was deputy chief of the fire department, and her sisters, Edith Pharr and Barbara Fugate, also were active Democrats – but it was Katherine's gentle but determined ways that stood out. 

 

She was very gracious to me in the primary stage of the 1980 presidential campaign, when I made the worst political mistake of my life.  Although I had worked for Carter in 1976, I supported Ted Kennedy against the incumbent president in 1980.  The result was division in the Democratic Party, and we got twelve years of Ronald Reagan and George the First before another Southern Democrat, Bill Clinton, put an end to that. 

 

Local Democrats were closely divided between Kennedy and Carter, and I remember others who lost their cool when we counted and recounted paper ballots at the courthouse.  Katherine remained calm and kind, and when we both went to the National Democratic Convention in New York that summer, she showed none of the animosity that often accompanies political opponents.  She welcomed me into the general election campaign, and I greatly regret that we lost.  Jimmy Carter remains a much better role model than any other past president.

 

The other recent death that affected me was Mabel Bexley.  Forever young, the newspaper said that she was 82 when she died.  Mabel had a lot of talent in other fields, but in Tampa, she was a feminist pioneer.  After working at Women's Resource Center, which was dedicated to women getting out of prison, she spent nearly two decades heading The Spring.  One of the nation's first shelters for victims of domestic violence, it grew exponentially under her leadership.

 

Domestic violence still was a controversial topic in the 1980s, but Mabel led law enforcement officers to recognize its serious effect on society, and attitudes now are much different.  I recall especially the breakfast fundraisers that she held at Christmas time, when hearts are open.  I've forgotten the exact name of this event, but I remember that it included the word "peace."  Victims of violence spoke to how The Spring had changed their lives, and a thousand people got up early to attend. 

 

Yet I'm glad that the days of begging for donations is largely over.  Instead, violence within families is treated as any other violence, and the state provides regular revenue for this societal need.  Maybe the day will come when we teach our children to avoid any anti-social behavior, and harming another person – especially an alleged loved one – will be a thing of the past.

 

doris@dweatherford.com

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