Ronald Reagan, a Cuban, a Mormon, Me, and the Deauville

I recently ran across a front-page story in the New York Times about the disrepair, and likely demolition, of Miami’s famous Deauville Hotel. It brought back memories.

Toastmasters International was going to have its annual convention in Miami immediately following the Republican Convention there in 1968. My father was an officer of Toastmasters, eventually the international president. We went down early since a friend of my father was able to get us tickets to a day of the Republican Convention. We heard a speech by Senator Everett Dirksen of Illinois, a well-known orator.

My father was supporting Richard Nixon. In an act of minor rebellion, at age 16 I asked him if I could go to the Ronald Reagan headquarters at the Deauville Hotel and volunteer for a day. He said OK.

I reported to the head of Youth for Reagan, Dan Manion. My first job was to attend a rally to greet Reagan’s arrival at the Deauville. I remember Reagan smiling and waving as he exited his limo, while we chanted: “Give a yell, give a cheer, Ron-ald Rea-gan is here!’

For most of the day, Manion assigned me to work with a Cuban and a Mormon to haul cases of cheap wine from somewhere in Miami to the California delegation at the Deauville. (The Cuban had a pickup truck.) We were a diverse trio. I do not remember the details of our conversation, but I remember its warmth and camaraderie.

Reagan lost the nomination to Nixon, but he did not give up, and we did not give up either.

Over half a century later, I still smile when I remember that day. Dan Manion became a federal judge; I talked with him at my father’s funeral in April 2000. I never saw the Cuban or the Mormon again, and would not recognize them if I ran into them. But I hope that life has been good to them and that they remember that day as fondly as I do.

The article that I mentioned above on the decline of the Deauville Hotel is:

Patricia Mazzei. “A Historic Miami Beach Hotel Falls Prey to Neglect and Time.” The New York Times (Tuesday, January 19, 2022): A1 & A11.

(Note: the online version of the story was updated Jan. 20, 2022, and has the title “A Grand Miami Beach Hotel, and Its History, Might Be Torn Down.”)

Warren Harding Fostered Economic Growth by Reducing Government

(p. A15) Poor Warren G. Harding, burdened with the distinction of being America’s pre-eminent presidential bottom-dweller. In surveys on White House performance, Harding invariably ranks dead last, with almost no prospect that he will ever climb the rankings as others have done—Dwight D. Eisenhower, for example, or Ulysses S. Grant.

Historians have variously described Harding as “a prime example of incompetence, sloth, and feeble good nature,” “the most inept president” of his century, “lazy,” “a black mark in American history” and “quite the bumbler.” Is this an accurate appraisal? Ryan S. Walters answers with a defiant no. In “The Jazz Age President: Defending Warren G. Harding,” the author even indulges in a few flights of outrage at what he considers the “rumors, lies, smears, and innuendo” that have been “used to wreck” Harding’s reputation.

. . .

When Harding became president in 1921, the nation was struggling through one of its greatest crisis periods, beset by soaring inflation followed by debilitating deflation, bloody racial and labor strife, ominous episodes of domestic terrorism, and the fallout from Woodrow Wilson’s harsh wartime assaults on civil liberties. Harding’s first priority was the economy—the gross national product was down 17%, stock values were cut nearly in half, unemployment was at 12% and farmers were devastated by plunging prices. Harding reduced government spending, slashed individual taxes (the marginal rate had reached a high of 77%), increased tariff rates, and shrank the size and intrusiveness of the federal government.

All this flouted the progressivism that had dominated American politics since Theodore Roosevelt’s presidency of 1901-09. But Harding’s efforts worked, setting in motion a decade of economic expansion unequaled in American history. The economy grew at an average of 7% a year between 1922 and 1927, and the nation’s wealth soared to $103 billion in 1929 from $70 billion in 1921.

. . .

Harding was a man of little intellectual sophistication, with a gentle nature, hardly any pretense and almost no guile—in other words, the kind of man who is often underestimated and easily ridiculed. But he harbored serious convictions and a degree of common sense that served him well.

For the full review, see:

Robert W. Merry. “BOOKSHELF; A President Revisited.” The Wall Street Journal (Monday, April 4, 2022): A15.

(Note: ellipses added.)

(Note: the online version of the review has the date April 3, 2022, and has the title “BOOKSHELF; ‘The Jazz Age President’ Review: Correcting the Record.”)

The book under review is:

Walters, Ryan S. The Jazz Age President: Defending Warren G. Harding. Washington, D.C.: Regnery History, 2022.

Almost Half of College Students Feel “Uncomfortable” Expressing Their Views on Controversial Issues

(p. A19) In the classroom, backlash for unpopular opinions is so commonplace that many students have stopped voicing them, sometimes fearing lower grades if they don’t censor themselves. According to a 2021 survey administered by College Pulse of over 37,000 students at 159 colleges, 80 percent of students self-censor at least some of the time. Forty-eight percent of undergraduate students described themselves as “somewhat uncomfortable” or “very uncomfortable” with expressing their views on a controversial topic in the classroom. At U.Va., 57 percent of those surveyed feel that way.

. . .

The consequences for saying something outside the norm can be steep. I met Stephen Wiecek at our debate club. He’s an outgoing, formidable first-year debater who often stays after meetings to help clean up. He’s also conservative. At U.Va., where only 9 percent of students surveyed described themselves as a “strong Republican” or “weak Republican,” that puts him in the minority.

He told me that he has often “straight-up lied” about his beliefs to avoid conflict. Sometimes it’s at a party, sometimes it’s at an a cappella rehearsal, and sometimes it’s in the classroom. When politics comes up, “I just kind of go into survival mode,” he said. “I tense up a lot more, because I’ve got to think very carefully about how I word things. It’s very anxiety inducing.”

This anxiety affects not just conservatives. I spoke with Abby Sacks, a progressive fourth-year student. She said she experienced a “pile-on” during a class discussion about sexism in media. She disagreed with her professor, who she said called “Captain Marvel” a feminist film. Ms. Sacks commented that she felt the film emphasized the title character’s physical strength instead of her internal conflict and emotions. She said this seemed to frustrate her professor.

Her classmates noticed. “It was just a succession of people, one after each other, each vehemently disagreeing with me,” she told me.

Ms. Sacks felt overwhelmed. “Everyone adding on to each other kind of energized the room, like everyone wanted to be part of the group with the correct opinion,” she said. The experience, she said, “made me not want to go to class again.” While Ms. Sacks did continue to attend the class, she participated less frequently. She told me that she felt as if she had become invisible.

. . .

We cannot experience the full benefits of a university education without having our ideas challenged, yet challenged in ways that allow us to grow. As Ms. Sacks told me, “We need to have conversations about these issues without punishing each other for our opinions.”

For the full commentary, see:

Emma Camp. “Self-Censorship Is Stifling Campuses.” The New York Times (Wednesday, March 9, 2022): A19.

(Note: ellipses added.)

(Note: the online version of the commentary has the date March 7, 2022, and has the title “I Came to College Eager to Debate. I Found Self-Censorship Instead.”)

Most Journalists No Longer Aspire to Objectivity

(p. B1) In 1979, two journalists got into an argument. More than four decades later, they haven’t settled it.

The subject of their disagreement was journalistic “objectivity,” a notion that goes back at least to the 1920s, when some of the more high-minded newspapers and magazines were trying to distinguish themselves from the scandal sheets and publications led by partisan and sometimes warmongering publishers.

In one corner, Alan Berger. In 1979, he was a 41-year-old media columnist for the Real Paper, an alternative weekly that had emerged from a rift at its predecessor, Boston Phoenix. Before he started watch-dogging the press, Mr. Berger had grown up in the Bronx, attended Harvard University and taught a class at M.I.T., in French, on the poet Charles Baudelaire.

His target in the debate over objectivity — which has come roaring back to life in the political storminess of recent years — was Tom Palmer. Back then, Mr. Palmer was a 31-year-old assistant national editor of The Boston Globe, meaning he belonged to the establishment and was thus a ripe target for the Real Paper.

. . .

(p. B4) His former protégé, the national correspondent Wesley Lowery, argued in a widely circulated New York Times opinion essay that objectivity mirrored the worldview of white reporters and editors, whose “selective truths have been calibrated to avoid offending the sensibilities of white readers.” Mr. Lowery, who ended up leaving The Post for CBS News, suggested that news organizations “abandon the appearance of objectivity as the aspirational journalistic standard, and for reporters instead to focus on being fair and telling the truth, as best as one can, based on the given context and available facts.”

That same argument has found an embrace at some of America’s leading journalism schools, as well.

“We focus on fairness and fact-checking and accuracy, and we don’t try to suggest to our students that opinions they have should be hidden,” said Sarah Bartlett, the dean of the City University of New York Craig Newmark Graduate School of Journalism. “We embrace transparency.”

. . .

Mr. Palmer also never quite let the argument go. He appointed himself a kind of genial in-house watchdog at The Globe, eventually known for his persistent emails to reporters and editors he thought had allowed their liberal views to infiltrate their copy.  . . .

Needless to say, he remains unpersuaded by the arguments against his cherished ideal. They “were dead wrong back then,” he emailed me, “and I believe are dead wrong even more so today.”

“Journalists are simply not smart enough and educated enough to change the world,” he continued. “They should damn well just inform the public to the best of their abilities and let the public decide.”

He also said, ruefully, that he believed his side was losing. The notion of objectivity “was declining before Trump, and that era removed it from the table completely,” he wrote. “I have doubts it will ever come back.”

For the full commentary, see:

Ben Smith. “A 1979 Fight Over Ideals Is Still Going.” The New York Times (Monday, October 11, 2021): B1 & B4.

(Note: ellipses added.)

(Note: the online version of the commentary was updated October 11, 2021, and has the title “Two Journalists Started an Argument in Boston in 1979. It’s Not Over Yet.”)

New York Times Columnist Finds that Trump’s “Truth Social” Platform Is “Less Restrictive than Twitter”

(p. B1) Truth Social, Mr. Trump has said, would “stand up to the tyranny of Big Tech.”

The app’s surge in popularity this week caught the attention of Mr. Musk, a self-proclaimed free speech absolutist. In several tweets, the billionaire noted that Truth Social was “beating Twitter & TikTok on the Apple Store” and blamed Twitter’s rules on (p. B6) speech for birthing the alternative apps.

. . .

To test the app’s claims about political ideology, I published a Truth with a New York Times Opinion article that was critical of the Republican Party, and other posts with news articles about the Jan. 6 riot and how Truth Social’s prospects could be hurt by Mr. Musk’s takeover of Twitter. None of the posts were flagged as problematic. That suggested the app wasn’t discriminating based on politics, just as it had said it wouldn’t.

I also found some accounts that were not allowed to post on Twitter — like The Babylon Bee, the right-wing satire site that was suspended for misgendering a transgender Biden administration official — posting regularly on Truth Social. It was another sign that the app was less restrictive than Twitter.

For the full commentary, see:

Brian X. Chen. “Upgrade Frees Trump App, But Glitches Hold It Back.” The New York Times (Thursday, April 28, 2022): B1 & B6.

(Note: ellipsis added.)

(Note: the online version of the commentary has the date April 27, 2022, and has the title “Truth Social Review: Trump’s Uncensored Social App Is Incomplete.”)

The Elite Experts Who Have Failed, Tend to Censor the Heterodox Outsiders Who They Fear

(p. 8) When you have a chronic illness and struggle to get better, you try to maintain a certain equilibrium by distinguishing yourself from all those other sick people, the ones who are trying truly crazy things while you are proceeding sensibly and moderately along the path to health.

. . .

These exotic treatments, from acupuncture to IV vitamin C to magnet therapy and more, weren’t the core of what helped me eventually gain ground and improve — strong and various doses of antibiotics played the central role. But they were the most educational part of my slow, still-continuing recovery, in the sense of what they revealed about the complexity and strangeness of the world.

The strangest of them all was the Rife machine.

. . .

Naturally, it worked.

What does “worked” mean, you may reasonably ask? Just this: By this point in my treatment, there was a familiar feeling whenever I was symptomatic and took a strong dose of antibiotics — a temporary flare of pain and discomfort, a desire to move or rub the symptomatic areas of my body, a sweating or itching feeling, followed by a wave of exhaustion and then a mild relief. I didn’t get this kind of reaction with every alternative treatment I tried. But with the Rife machine I got it instantly: It was like having a high dose of antibiotics hit the body all at once.

Of course, this was obviously insane, so to the extent that I was able I conducted experiments, trying frequencies for random illnesses to see if they elicited the same effect (they did not), setting up blind experiments where I ran frequencies without knowing if they were for Lyme disease or not (I could always tell).

. . .

When I set out to write about the entire chronic-illness experience, I hesitated over whether to tell this kind of story. After all, if you’re trying to convince skeptical readers to take chronic sickness seriously, and to make the case for the medical-outsider view of how to treat Lyme disease, reporting that you’ve been dabbling in pseudoscience and that it works is a good way to confirm every stereotype about chronic ailments and their treatment: It’s psychosomatic … it’s all the power of suggestion … it’s a classic placebo effect … poor Ross, taken in by the quacks … he’ll be ‘doing his own research’ on vaccination next

    .

    But there are two good reasons to share this sort of story. The first is that it’s true, it really happened, and any testimony about what it’s like to fight for your health for years would be dishonest if it left the weird stuff out.

    The second is that this kind of experience — not the Rife machine specifically, but the experience of falling through the solid floor of establishment consensus and discovering something bizarre and surprising underneath — is extremely commonplace. And the interaction between the beliefs instilled by these experiences and the skepticism they generate (understandably) from people who haven’t had them, for whom the floor has been solid all their lives, is crucial to understanding cultural polarization in our time.

    On both sides of our national divides, insider and outsider, establishment and populist, something in human psychology makes us seek coherence and simplicity in our understanding of the world. So people who have a terrible experience with official consensus, and discover that some weird idea that the establishment derides actually seems to work, tend to embrace a new rule to replace the old one: that official knowledge is always wrong, that outsiders are always more trustworthy than insiders, that if Dr. Anthony Fauci or the Food and Drug Administration get some critical things wrong, you can’t trust them to get anything right.

    This impulse explains why fringe theories tend to cluster together, the world of outsider knowledge creating its own form of consensus and self-reinforcement. But it also explains the groupthink that the establishment often embraces in response, its fear that pure craziness automatically abounds wherever official knowledge fails, and its commitment to its own authority as the only thing standing between society and the abyss.

    This is a key dynamic in political as well as biomedical debates. The conspicuous elite failures in the last 20 years have driven many voters to outsider narratives, which blend plausible critiques of the system with outlandish paranoia. But the insiders only see the paranoia, the QAnon shaman and his allies at the gates. So instead of reckoning with their own failures, they pull up the epistemic drawbridge and assign fact checkers to patrol the walls. Which in turn confirms for outsiders their belief that the establishment has essentially blinded itself and only they have eyes to see.

    What we need, I’m convinced, are more people and institutions that sustain a position somewhere in between.

For the full commentary, see:

Ross Douthat. “How I Became Extremely Open-Minded.” The New York Times, SundayReview Section (Sunday, November 7, 2021): 8.

(Note: ellipses added.)

(Note: the online version of the commentary has the date November 6, 2021, and has the same title as the print version. The passages that are underlined above, were in italics in the original. In the underlined passages I use a hyphen were the original had ellipses.)

The passages quoted above are from a commentary adapted from Douthat’s book:

Douthat, Ross. The Deep Places: A Memoir of Illness and Discovery. New York: Convergent Books, 2021.

China’s “Establishment of an Absolute Political Totalitarianism”

(p. A1) The young woman in Beijing began her post complaining about mobs gathering online, where recluses vent misogynistic insecurities from the safety of desk chairs. As provocative as it was, it might have passed unnoticed except that she added another beat.

She mocked the toxic masculinity of users imagining themselves as Dong Cunrui, a textbook war hero who, according to Chinese Communist Party lore, died valiantly during the civil war that brought the party to power in 1949.

For that passing reference, the woman, 27 and identified in court only by her last name, Xu, was sentenced last month to seven months in prison.

Her crime: violating a newly amended criminal code that punishes the slander of China’s martyrs and heroes. Since it went into effect in March, the statute has been enforced with a revolutionary zeal, part of an intensified campaign under China’s leader, Xi Jinping, to sanctify the Communist Party’s version of history — and his vision for the country’s future.

The Cyberspace Administration of China, which polices the country’s internet, has created telephone and online hotlines to encourage citizens to report violations. It has even published a list of 10 “rumors” that are forbidden to discuss.

Was Mao Zedong’s Long March really not so long? Did the Red (p. A6) Army skirt heavy fighting against the Japanese during World War II to save its strength for the civil war against the Nationalist forces of Chiang Kai-shek? Was Mao’s son, Mao Anying, killed by an American airstrike during the Korean War because he lit a stove to make fried rice?

Asking those very questions risks arrest and, now, prosecution. “It is a sign of the establishment of an absolute political totalitarianism,” said Wu Qiang, an outspoken political analyst in Beijing.

China’s Communist Party has long policed dissent, severely restricting public discussion of topics it deems to be politically incorrect, from Tibet to the Tiananmen Square protests. The new law goes further. It has criminalized as slander topics that were once subjects of historical debate and research, including Mao’s rule itself up to a point. Since March, the law has been used at least 15 times to punish people who slight party history.

. . .

The campaign has inspired vigilantism, with internet users calling out potential violations.

The Jiangsu branch of China Unicom, a state-owned telecommunications company, came under investigation after a public uproar started when its Weibo account posted a recipe for fried rice on what was Mao Anying’s birthday. It is not clear whether the company faces criminal charges, but its account was suspended.

For the full story, see:

Steven Lee Myers. “Mocking China’s Heroes Can Lead to Jail Time.” The New York Times (Wednesday, November 3, 2021): A1 & A6.

(Note: ellipsis added.)

(Note: the online version of the story was updated Nov. 15, 2021, and has the title “Shutting Down Historical Debate, China Makes It a Crime to Mock Heroes.”)

Disney’s “Goo Goo Gai Pan” Simpsons Episode is Censored or Self-Censored in Hong Kong

(p. B4) HONG KONG—The absence of an episode of “The Simpsons” from Walt Disney Co. ’s streaming service in Hong Kong is raising concerns about rising censorship in the Chinese territory.

Disney launched its streaming service, Disney+, earlier in November in Hong Kong featuring an array of programming owned by the entertainment giant, including 32 seasons of the animated comedy series.

Yet one episode is missing from “The Simpsons” lineup: Titled “Goo Goo Gai Pan,” the episode from season 16 centers on a trip to China by the show’s namesake family. Along the way they encounter a plaque at Tiananmen Square in Beijing that reads: “On this site, in 1989, nothing happened.”

The episode also features a reference to the iconic “Tank Man” photo, in which a man stands in front of a column of tanks after the military moved in to crush student-led protests on June 4, 1989.

It isn’t known if Disney removed the episode under pressure, or whether it decided itself to leave the episode out of its lineup when it launched the Disney+ service in Hong Kong earlier in November. Representatives for Disney didn’t respond to requests for comment. A spokeswoman for the Hong Kong Office of the Communications Authority, which oversees broadcasters in the city, declined to comment.

The episode’s absence fuels concerns about rising censorship in Hong Kong, and the extent to which Western companies are under pressure to assist in the effort or to self-censor following the imposition of a sweeping national security law by Beijing last year that has stamped out dissent across the city.

For the full story, see:

Dan Strumpf. “Missing ‘Simpsons’ Episode in Hong Kong Fuels Censorship Fears.” The Wall Street Journal (Tuesday, November 30, 2021): B4.

(Note: the online version of the story has the date November 29, 2021, and has the title “Disney’s Missing ‘Simpsons’ Episode in Hong Kong Raises Censorship Fears.”)

“Intolerance Leads Not to Progress, but Stagnation”

(p. C10) . . . this past year I revisited the works of Friedrich Hayek, the great 20th-century expositor of classical liberalism. His most sweeping work is “The Constitution of Liberty”—a legal history as much as a defense of freedom—which includes a timely case for tolerance. We cannot foresee the particulars of human progress, which means “we shall never get the benefits of freedom, never obtain those unforeseeable developments for which it provides the opportunity,” if freedom “is not also granted where the uses made of it by some do not seem desirable.” Thus intolerance leads not to progress, but stagnation.

For the full review, see:

Raymond Kethledge. “12 Months of Reading; Raymond Kethledge.” The Wall Street Journal (Saturday, Dec. 11, 2021): C10.

(Note: ellipsis added.)

(Note: the online version of the review has the date December 10, 2021, and has the title “Who Read What: Business Leaders Share Their Favorite Books of 2021.”)

The book praised by Kethledge is:

Hayek, Friedrich A. The Constitution of Liberty. Reprint ed. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2011.

China’s “Surveillance State” Is “the Perfect Rendition of George Orwell’s 1984”

(p. C13) Kai Strittmatter, the author of “We Have Been Harmonized: Life in China’s Surveillance State,” lived in China first as a student and then as a journalist. Full of interesting anecdotes, his book vividly depicts China as the perfect rendition of George Orwell’s “1984” via its implementation of “Smart Cities,” where surveillance cameras and AI algorithms watch and modify every citizen’s every action.  . . .   If we let China run the world, we may all be harmonized.

For the full review, see:

Desmond Shum. “12 Months of Reading; Desmond Shum.” The Wall Street Journal (Saturday, Dec. 11, 2021): C13.

(Note: ellipsis added.)

(Note: the online version of the review has the date December 10, 2021, and has the title “Who Read What: Business Leaders Share Their Favorite Books of 2021.”)

The book praised by Shum is:

Strittmatter, Kai. We Have Been Harmonized: Life in China’s Surveillance State. New York: Custom House, 2020.

At the University of Austin, the Intellectually Diverse Will Discuss, Rather Than Censor, “Provocative Questions”

(p. A16) A group of scholars and activists are planning to establish a new university dedicated to free speech, alarmed, they said, “by the illiberalism and censoriousness prevalent in America’s most prestigious universities.”

The university, to be known as the University of Austin, or UATX for short, will have a soft start next summer with “Forbidden Courses,” a noncredit program that its founders say will offer a “spirited discussion about the most provocative questions that often lead to censorship or self-censorship in many universities.”

The university then plans to expand to master’s programs and, in several years, to undergraduate courses.

. . .

The prospective university’s board of advisers features some of the most prominent iconoclasts in the country, including Lawrence H. Summers, the former Harvard president; Steven Pinker, a Harvard linguist and psychologist; David Mamet, the playwright; and Glenn Loury, an economist at Brown.

. . .

“I think new models for a university are important,” Dr. Pinker said, “because current universities are locked into a strange business model: exorbitant tuition, a mushrooming bureaucracy, and obscure admissions policies that are neither meritocratic nor egalitarian, combined with plummeting intellectual diversity and tolerance for open inquiry (which is, after all, a university’s raison d’être).”

For the full story, see:

Anemona Hartocollis. “Organizers Plan New University They Say Will Defend Free Speech.” The New York Times (Tuesday, November 9, 2021): A16.

(Note: ellipses added.)

(Note: the online version of the story has the date Nov. 8, 2021, and has the title “They Say Colleges Are Censorious. So They Are Starting a New One.”)