1920

The Year of the Six Presidents

[Amazon Link]

I got this book via UNH Interlibrary Loan (thanks, Wesleyan U!) because (back in July) Jonah Goldberg did a couple episodes of his Remnant podcast with the author, David Pietrusza. It sounded interesting, so…

And it turns out the book isn't exactly fresh: it's from 2007. But he's writing about 1920 and that era, and I suppose that subject hasn't changed much since 2007. As we're coming up on the centennial of that year:

Pietrusza's main topic is the 1920 presidential election, but it ranges wide beyond that, as it discusses the issues and personalities that made the year so memorable. The subtitle is "The Year of the Six Presidents", and they are:

  • Woodrow Wilson, the incumbent. Despite being enfeebled and ill, he entertained fantasies of running for a third term, despite his unpopularity in the country and in his own party. Nobody seemed to take him seriously on this.

  • Teddy Roosevelt. Very popular, despite having torpedoed his party's chances in 1912 by running on the "Progressive" ticket. Bad luck, though: he died of a blood clot in his lungs in 1919. (President Wilson's reaction to the report of TR's death was apparently ghoulish. Not a nice guy was Woody.)

  • Herbert Hoover. Very popular due to his feats in relieving famine abroad and at home. As with Eisenhower, it wasn't exactly clear what his politics were, even his party was nebulous. In 1920, though, his desire for the presidency was low, and he managed only 5.5 votes for the nomination on the first ballot at the GOP convention. (He went on to be Harding's Secretary of Commerce, and brought us dreadful regulation of the radio spectrum.)

  • Warren Harding, the eventual winner. He backed into the GOP nomination on the tenth ballot, mainly by being someone that nobody especially hated (unlike contenders Leonard Wood, Hiram Johnson, Frank Lowden, et. al.). As we know, Harding had an, um, colorful personal life. And there's a great story about his wife throwing a piano stool at his mistress.

  • Calvin Coolidge, nominated for veep, and assuming the presidency in 1923 on Harding's death. Probably the best one of the six, but that's me.

  • And Franklin D. Roosevelt, who the Democrats nominated to run on the doomed ticket with presidential nominee James M. Cox. Another "colorful" character, he was dynamic, charismatic, unfaithful, dishonest,… Pretty much the whole deal

Pietrusza has an eye for good anecdotes, and details the issues of the day: League of Nations, women's suffrage, suppression of dissent, Navy scandals in Newport RI and Portsmouth NH (!), Sacco and Vanzetti, etc. There was even a "birther"-style controversy, as Harding was alleged to have an African-American ancestor in his family tree somewhere.

Various kind of socialism were in vogue, and the adventures of Eugene V. Debs are chronicled. A big admirer of the newly-formed Soviet Union, he made Bernie Sanders look like Ronald Reagan! Well, not quite, but…

One quibble: the final section of the book contains a "whatever happened to" concerning the dramatis personae appearing in the text. There's an intriguing entry for Alexandra Carlisle Pfeiffer. Problem: if you want to know what she did, the index won't help you. (I can tell from her Wikipedia entry that she seconded the nomination of Calvin Coolidge for vice president at the GOP convention, but I'm not sure that's in the book.)

URLs du Jour

2019-12-10

  • I really don't write much about woke academic silliness, because after a point… well, as an old website once said: "Fish. Barrel. Smoking Gun." It's too easy.

    But the College Fix does that stuff, and there's a local angle here. Academic paper: For black women in physics, ‘social prestige asymmetries affect epistemic outcomes’.

    A new academic paper by a physics professor clams that, for black female physicists, “white epistemic claims about science—which are not rooted in empirical evidence—receive more credence and attention than Black women’s epistemic claims about their own lives.”

    The paper, written by University of New Hampshire professor Chanda Prescod-Weinstein and published in the feminist academic journal Signs: Journal of Women in Culture and Society, examines the way in which “Black women physicists self-construct as scientists and the subsequent impact of epistemic outcomes on the science itself.”

    Thanks to the magic of grep, I can tell you that we've mentioned Prof Prescod-Weinstein a couple times on the blog. Once last year when she was at the University of Washington, Seattle, she opined on the colonization of Mars (worrying specifically whether "we can avoid reproducing deeply entrenched colonial behaviors as we seek to better understand our Solar System.") And just last month when she was quoted in Wired about the term "people of color", fretting that its use doesn't "excavate the historical importance and necessity of multiracial antiracist solidarity."

    Clearly an up-and-comer.

    As previously stated, she's currently an Assistant Professor in Physics at the University Near Here, and also "Core Faculty" in the Women's Studies Department. I shouldn't kvetch: in my truncated physics career, I never came close to obtaining either one of those positions. But the paper contains sentences like:

    Through the recognition of white empiricism, a bifurcated logic that serves white supremacist traditions in science while deontologizing marginalized Black women physicists, I propose that the Black feminist theory intersectionality should change physics—and not just through who becomes a physicist but through the actual outcomes of what we come to know.

    OK. Well, if any of that helps figure out dark matter, I suppose I'll be convinced. Until then…


  • At Reason, José Cordeiro writes that Socialism Killed My Father. The opening three paragraphs tell the story:

    I was working in Silicon Valley when my mother called me from back home in Caracas with some alarming news: My father had experienced sudden kidney failure. I immediately flew from San Francisco to Miami, where I had to wait two days until I could get one of the few flights left to Caracas. Since the election of Hugo Chávez in 1998 ushered in successive waves of nationalization, inflation, and recession, international airlines—American, Delta, United Airlines, even carriers from next-door Colombia and Brazil—had been steadily reducing, canceling, and eventually abandoning all routes to my once-prosperous country. I slept in the Miami International Airport with many other desperate Venezuelans. Finally I was able to purchase a ticket for an exorbitant sum from Santa Barbara Airlines, a Venezuelan carrier that has since gone bankrupt.

    Fortunately, my father was still alive when I arrived in Caracas, but he required continuous dialysis. Even in the best of the few remaining private clinics, there was a chronic lack of basic supplies and equipment. Dialyzers had to be constantly reused, and there were not enough medicines for patients. In several parts of the country, electricity and water were also rationed, including in hospitals. Given the precarious economic situation, and thanks to our comparatively advantageous financial situation, we decided the best course of action would be to leave Venezuela and fly to my father's native Madrid, where he could get the treatment he needed.

    But because of the decimated air travel situation, we had to wait three weeks for the next available flight to Spain. The few airline companies still operating in Venezuela had reduced their flights dramatically because of Venezuelan government controls. Sadly, the Caracas dialysis couldn't hold out that long. Just two days before he was scheduled to leave his adopted country, my father died because of its disastrous policies. I still remember it vividly. I cannot forget.

    I'm not sure how that could have happened, given that Articles 83–85 under Title III of the 1999 Venezuelan Constitution "enshrine free and quality healthcare as a human right guaranteed to all Venezuelan citizens". Why it's almost as if calling something a "right" doesn't mean you're going to get it.


  • Buzzfeed reports the latest example of journalistic bravery: British GQ Put China's President And Thailand's King On Its "Worst Dressed" List, Then Removed Them Online So As Not To Cause Offence.

    Sources said management would have stood by the list if “it was a hard-hitting piece of journalism,” but considered it instead a “light-hearted list meant for a UK audience”. Condé Nast, which also publishes Vogue, has local editions of both magazines in China and Thailand.

    In a statement to BuzzFeed News on Friday, a Condé Nast spokesperson confirmed the world leaders had been scrubbed from the worst-dressed list over concerns that it “would travel globally and grant traction” without necessary context.

    "We are conscious that digitally published stories travel globally and can gain traction where they lack the necessary context and can cause unintended offence,” the Condé Nast spokesperson.

    The king of Thailand Maha Vajiralongkorn and China’s president Xi Jinping still appear in the Brit edition of GQ. Where, I assume, Chinese and Thais will be less likely to see it, and it probably would have been too expensive to pulp.

    I would imagine that this is kind of embarrassing to honest journalists working for Condé Nast. If there are any left.


  • George F. Will notes the latest in the decay of the Republican party: Marco Rubio joins the anti-capitalist conservatives.

    Trying to give intellectual coherence to the visceral impulses that produced today’s president, Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) is joining anti-capitalist conservatives. Those who reject this characterization are unaware of how their skepticism about markets propels them to an imprudent leap of faith.

    In a recent Washington speech, Rubio said America has “neglected the rights of workers to share in the benefits they create for their employer.” Careless language — workers are not sharing America’s bounty? — serves Rubio’s economic determinism, which postulates a recent economic cause for complex and decades-long social changes. Economic “negligence” has, he asserts, “weakened families and eroded communities,” diminished churchgoing and PTA participation, and increased substance abuse. If only the explanation of, say, family disintegration — a social disaster since the 1960s, before economic globalization — were monocausal.

    It is utterly mystifying to me that simply by winning a few elections, politicians imagine that they can run large businesses better than the people who actually have skin in the game. Rubio is simply a recent example, but sort of unusual in that this disease is more prevalent on Team Blue.


  • Allen C. Guelzo writes at City Journal about the New York Times effort to revise American history to give us all a massive dose of guilt-trippery: The 1619 Project Is Not History; It Is Conspiracy Theory.

    There is one sense in which the 1619 Project’s attempt to rewrite U.S. history in the image of slavery is right: America’s founding was like nothing else seen in the history of human societies. But not because of slavery. Instead, it was because the American republic modeled itself on the Scientific Revolution of the seventeenth century by trying to find a natural order in human politics, rather than fall back upon the artificial and irrational hierarchies that governed how the ancients had understood both the physical and political universes. Our Declaration of Independence stated as a self-evident truth of nature that “all men are created equal”; our Constitution prohibited all titles of nobility and required virtually all offices to be matters of public election rather than inheritance or class. The American republic would be a theater of those who, like Abraham Lincoln and Frederick Douglass, could be “self-made men,” and the solutions to the problems of their day would be generated by a host of voluntary associations, working from the bottom up, rather than through government, from the top down.

    Yet, nature is not always kind or predictable, and neither is the path of the republic. The temptation has always existed to slide back into the comfortable abyss of hierarchy, whether it be the racial hierarchy of slaveholders in the Civil War or the newer hierarchies of bureaucracy and socialism. It is that temptation to backsliding which the 1619 Project wants to insist is the real story; but this is like taking the stage crew out from behind the curtain and insisting that they’re the real musical.

    Economic arguments against liberty and capitalism have failed, so the statists are getting pretty desperate to find new ones.