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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.

"Beer is the Answer"

The title of one of Hubby's books that I removed and then replaced on his shelves is "Beer is the Answer:  I Don't Remember the Question."  I probably bought it for him, but never read it until recently.  Its bartender jokes reflect the sexism of bars, and there's just one that I want to share with you.  That is because it is from the unelected president who occupied the White House after Richard Nixon threw his vice president, Spiro Agnew, to the wolves, and Gerald Ford replaced Agnew.  When Nixon resigned rather than face impeachment, Ford, a Republican, became president.  He narrowly lost to Democrat Jimmy Carter in 1976.


So Gerald Ford was the source of the joke.  "The three-martini lunch," he was quoted as saying, "is the epitome of American efficiency.  Where else can you get an earful, a bellyful, and a snootful at the same time?"  Haha.  I stopped smiling as I recalled that First Lady Betty Ford was an admitted alcoholic.  She had followed the conventional route of marrying a Michigan football star and bearing four children, but by the time her husband was a big deal in a nearly all-male Congress, she was desperately unhappy.  He seemed to have no cognizance of that at all, and instead, offered a joke about mid-day drinking.


"The three-martini lunch" also was a feminist phrase at the time, as organizations such as NOW began working to transform the economy in the interests of women and their children.  We used the slogan as an example of how executives (almost always male) could write off their vices on income taxes, while claiming that it would stretch the federal budget too much if child care could be written off.  These and similar efforts for equality still are ongoing, and the frat boys in office still do their best to block feminist kick-starts.




In all that has been written about disgraced former Governor Andrew Cuomo, I've seen very little about the book deal that was widely publicized last year.  Crown Publishers gave him a $5 million advance for a book on his (self-proclaimed) successful handling of the pandemic in New York.  They should have known better:  HarperCollins wrote a check for almost a million for an earlier biography that sold about 3,000 copies, plus a whooping 13 – count 'em! -- audiobooks.  That meant a loss to HarperCollins of about $200 per printed book.  It was a colossal failure by any standard, and the new book, with its much larger advance and sales of about 45,000, is another inexcusable business decision. 


The thing about advances is that the author never has to repay them:  royalties, if any, are added after the book has sold enough copies to equal the advance.  I predicted an enormous loss for Crown, and several weeks prior to Cuomo's resignation, raised the question in the Authors Guild's daily chatroom.  To my surprise, only one of my fellow authors agreed.  The others defended publishers, saying they knew what they were doing. 


They informed me of the hoops that editors must jump through to justify profitable publication, and one guy even offered a complex mathematical formula, which I suspect his publisher forwarded to him.  Not bothering to look up my bio, they treated me as if I were an ingénue instead of someone who has been nationally published since 1986.  Except for the older man who agreed with me, they didn't seem to grasp that we midlist authors support the others, much like the middle class supports both the upper and lower classes in America.


They also ignored the second and perhaps more important point:  books by politicians often are a legal form of bribery.  More than one – Democrats and Republicans – have gotten huge advances despite low sales, even with their extraordinary PR opportunities.  The truth, unfortunately, is that many publishers are owned by large conglomerates that may be looking for losses they can write off and/or are buying political favors.  I'm thinking particularly of the late Cabinet-member George Shultz, who got a $5 million advance decades ago for a book that never came close to profitability.  Or readability.  If I had been in charge of its marketing, I would have considered advertising the tome as a sure cure for insomnia.




·      "Ironic" is perhaps the most difficult word in the English language to replace with a synonym.  Although a thesaurus offers some, a native speaker knows they aren't exactly what she had in mind.  Therefore I loved "ironic" applied to the fact that the most frequently stolen book is the Bible.

·      Please help me in stamping out the use of "grab" in reference to food.  Even reviews of elegant and expensive restaurants encourage us to "grab a bite."  A local writer recently used the word for eating at St. Pete's new museum on American Arts and Crafts.  That's a place you would go in a grabbing hurry, right?

·      There's lots of too-soon talk about a reversal of Roe v. Wade next year.  If it happens, it will have to be announced prior to the 2022 congressional elections, and I wonder if anti-choice Republicans have thought seriously about the likely effect on their female voters?  They may be surprised to find that young women (and men) who grew up with this 1973 decision may see its reversal as a realistic threat to their personal freedom, not a score in a political game.

·      I'll bet that the greatest sales plunge of a single product in the pandemic economy is lipstick.  There's simply no need to wear it under a mask.

·      The New York Times gave an unfortunate amount of feel-good PR to this year's announcement of grants from the National Endowment for the Humanities.  A total of 239 museums, libraries, historic sites, and other cultural institutions from Hawaii to Puerto Rico will share S28.4 million.  Just a little over $28 million among 51 jurisdictions!  How miserly!  Maybe Andrew Cuomo and the estate of George Shultz could kick in.

·      While writing this late on Monday, I got an e-mail from Mike Pompeo headlined, "Sorry to bother you on a Sunday."  Those Republicans, always there with the efficiency.  Ala road tolls and unemployment filing here in Florida.




My Virginia-based son-in-law is hiking the Appalachian Trail this summer, and he recently posted a photo on Facebook of a historical marker in upstate New York that was news to me.  It seems that when George Washington's army was there in the winter of 1776, they created a station to vaccine soldiers against smallpox.  The ruins of this early clinic still are there.  Please enlighten the MAGA guys!  A mandate from a not-yet government, more than two centuries ago!  Volunteer soldiers took the jab, followed the flag, and were the real patriots.


My Minnesota nephew and his wife posted Facebook pictures of a baby squirrel they had rescued.  Years ago, I found a motherless squirrel and unsuccessfully tried to feed it with an eyedropper.  The younger generation had better sense and took their little guy to an animal shelter.  Animal shelters did not exist when I was a child, at least not in the Ozarks where I grew up.  Too often, squirrels were for shooting and frying.  My family never was poor enough to resort to that, but we did eat another member of the rodent family, the loveable bunny rabbit. 


My German grandparents would have scorned the idea of feeding a squirrel with an eyedropper.  Thinking about that, I decided that the change in attitude towards animals is one of the greatest unacknowledged achievements of the twentieth century.  After WWII, a lot of people with broken hearts saw the connection between cruelty to animals and brutality to people.  That altitudinal change is transformative.  We are increasingly kinder.


Such attitudinal change rarely is quantified and chronicled, but it should be.  One example:  Hubby always scorned Ann Landers and her sister, "Dear Abby," but I championed them as a worth reading.  Abby still runs under the banner of her daughter, Jeanne Phillips, while the Washington Post syndicate has added "Ask Amy" and Carolyn Hax.  I long ago got over any embarrassment about reading such "fluff." Instead, I promoted advice columns to the status of ongoing cultural commentary.


I see that MS Word refuses to recognize "Hax," which I think is yet another indication of male dominance in the electronic world.  Carolyn Hax has been published for as long as the Internet has existed, but many men still aren't comfortable with discussions that center on personal relationships.  That won't matter in the end, as these women and others create profound change in human society. 


From table manners to gay marriage, they explicated new and important ideas, making the forbidden acceptable across generations.  Family problems that were only whispered about when I was young now are publicized in print, and no one is embarrassed.  Indeed, if I were teaching the social history of modern America, I might begin with Dear Abby's first columns in 1956.  There is no better way to demonstrate our societal evolution.



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