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.

Johan Hultin Self-Funded Trip to Find 1918 Flu Virus in the Permafrost

(p. B9) Dr. Hultin’s quest to find victims of the 1918 flu was sparked in 1950 by an offhand remark over lunch with a University of Iowa microbiologist, William Hale. Dr. Hale mentioned that there was just one way to figure out what caused the 1918 pandemic: finding victims buried in permafrost and isolating the virus from lungs that might be still frozen and preserved.

Dr. Hultin, a medical student in Sweden who was spending six months at the university, immediately realized that he was uniquely positioned to do just that. The previous summer, he and his first wife, Gunvor, spent weeks assisting a German paleontologist, Otto Geist, on a dig in Alaska. Dr. Geist could help him find villages in areas of permafrost that also had good records of deaths from the 1918 flu.

After persuading the university to provide him with a $10,000 stipend, Dr. Hultin set off for Alaska. It was early June 1951.

. . .

He removed still-frozen lung tissue from the victims, closed the grave and took the tissue back to Iowa, keeping it frozen on dry ice in the passenger compartment of a small plane.

Back in the lab, Dr. Hultin tried to grow the virus by injecting the lung tissue into fertilized chicken eggs — the standard way to grow flu viruses. He was caught up in the excitement of his experiment, he said, and had not thought about the possible danger of introducing a deadly virus into the world.

“I remember the sleepless nights,” he said. “I couldn’t wait for morning to come to charge into my lab and look at the eggs.”

But the virus was not growing.

He tried squirting lung tissue into the nostrils of guinea pigs, white mice and ferrets, but again he failed to revive the virus.

“The virus was dead,” he said.

Dr. Hultin never published his results but bided his time, working as a pathologist in private practice in San Francisco and hoping for another opportunity to resurrect that virus.

His chance came in 1997, when, sitting by a pool on vacation with his wife in Costa Rica, he noticed a paper published in Science by Dr. Jeffery K. Taubenberger, now chief of the viral pathogenesis and evolution section at the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases.

It reported a remarkable discovery. Dr. Taubenberger had searched a federal repository of pathology samples dating to the 1860s and found fragments of the 1918 virus in snippets of lung tissue from two soldiers who had died in that pandemic. The tissue had been removed at autopsy, wrapped in paraffin and stored in the warehouse.

Dr. Hultin immediately wrote to Dr. Taubenberger, telling him about his trip to Alaska. He offered to return to Brevig to see if he could find more flu victims.

“I remember getting that letter and thinking: ‘Gosh. This is really incredible. This is amazing,’” Dr. Taubenberger said in an interview this week. He thought the next step would be to apply for a grant for Dr. Hultin to return to Brevig. If all went well, Dr. Hultin might go back in a year or two.

Dr. Hultin had a different idea.

“I can’t go this week, but maybe I can go next week,” he told Dr. Taubenberger.

He added that he would go alone and pay for the trip himself so that there would be no objections from funding agencies, no delays, no ethics committees and no publicity.

. . .

Using the tissue Dr. Hultin provided, Dr. Taubenberger’s group published a paper that provided the genetic sequence of a crucial gene, hemagglutinin, which the virus had used to enter cells. The group subsequently used that tissue to determine the complete sequence of all eight of the virus’s genes.

. . .

Before results from the study of the Brevig woman’s virus were published, Dr. Hultin asked the villagers if they wanted the village to be identified in a news release and a journal article. They might be besieged by media. “Maybe you won’t like that,” he warned them.

The Brevig residents came to a consensus: Publish the paper and identify the village. Dr. Hultin was listed as a co-author.

For the full obituary, see:

Gina Kolata. “Dr. Johan Hultin, 97, Whose Work Helped Map 1918 Pandemic, Dies.” The New York Times (Friday, January 28, 2022): B9.

(Note: ellipses added.)

(Note: the online version of the obituary was updated January 28, 2022, and has the title “Johan Hultin, Who Found Frozen Clues to 1918 Virus, Dies at 97.”)

Gina Kolata devotes a chapter to Hultin’s search for the 1918 flu virus in her book:

Kolata, Gina. Flu: The Story of the Great Influenza Pandemic of 1918 and the Search for the Virus That Caused It. New York: Farrar, Straus & Giroux, Inc., 1999.

Technological Progress Helped Create Cosmopolitan Europe

(p. C7) Cultural history is frequently written as if circumscribed by national borders, with each country laying claim to a discrete social and intellectual way of life. Dismayed at this tendency, Orlando Figes, a noted historian of Russia, found himself wondering whether the forces of transnational integration weren’t at least as decisive as those that would drive cultures apart. In his new study “The Europeans” he aims “to approach Europe as a space of cultural transfers, translations and exchanges crossing national boundaries, out of which a ‘European culture’—an international synthesis of artistic forms, ideas and styles—would come into existence and distinguish Europe from the broader world.

. . .

His monumental work is the product of thorough and extensive research, largely in archival sources and in several languages. The author has a remarkable capacity to keep a huge quantity of factual material present in mind, and to bind it moreover into a coherent story. Woven through the biographical narrative is a detailed account of the transformations in technology, mores and law that created the new cosmopolitanism.

Chief among these was the rapid construction of railways, such that in France alone, for example, well more than 8,000 miles of track were laid down between 1850 and 1870. Railway travel gave people the time and comfort to read newspapers and fiction, which they could procure in the dozens of station bookstalls set up by merchants like W.H. Smith. “The train,” Mr. Figes notes, “was smoother than a horse-drawn carriage on a bumpy road, enabling passengers to read a book more easily.” Literacy had increased dramatically, and the rotary press, invented in 1843, facilitated the production of a vast quantity of printed matter, distribution of which deep into the provinces was in turn driven by the ramifying network of trains.

. . .

The spread of gas lighting, invented in the 1790s, made it possible for people to read comfortably in the evening. It also enabled them to play the piano at home, and of course piano technology had kept pace: The instruments became easier to play, and cheaper as well. In 1845, by the author’s estimation, 100,000 people in Paris were playing the piano, of which there were 60,000 in a city of about one million people.

For the full review, see:

Dan Hofstadter. “Engines of Progress.” The Wall Street Journal (Saturday, October 19, 2019): C7 & C9.

(Note: ellipses added.)

(Note: the online version of the review has the date October 18, 2019, and has the title “‘The Europeans’ Review: Engines of Progress.”)

The book under review in the passages quoted above is:

Figes, Orlando. The Europeans: Three Lives and the Making of a Cosmopolitan Culture. New York: Metropolitan Books, 2019.

Charles Morris Uncovered “Tantalizing Nuggets” on Innovation and Entrepreneurship

In researching my Openness to Creative Destruction, I found two of Charles Morris’s books very useful, providing thought-provoking analysis and compelling examples. The two were The Dawn of Innovation and The Tycoons.

(p. A24) Charles R. Morris, a former government official, banker and self-taught historian of economics who as a prolific, iconoclastic author challenged conventional political and economic pieties, died on Monday [December 13, 2021] in Hampton, N.H.

. . .

Mr. Morris wrote his signature first book, “The Cost of Good Intentions: New York City and the Liberal Experiment” (1980), after serving as director of welfare programs under Mayor John V. Lindsay and as secretary of social and health services in Washington State.

The book was a trenchant Emperor’s New Clothes analysis of how the Lindsay administration’s unfettered investment in social welfare programs to ward off civil unrest had delivered the city to the brink of bankruptcy, and it pigeonholed Mr. Morris as a neoconservative.

But as a law school graduate with no formal training in economics, he defied facile labeling.

While his 15 nonfiction books often revisited well-trodden topics — including the Great Depression, the nation’s tycoons, the cost of health care, the Cold War arms race and the political evolution of the Roman Catholic church — he injected them with revealing details, provocative insights and fluid narratives.

“The Cost of Good Intentions” (1981) was less a screed about liberal profligacy as it was an expression of disappointment that benevolent officials had become wedded to programs that didn’t work. He concluded that the best and the brightest in the government, as well as complicit players on the outside, had figured that if a day of reckoning ever came, it would not be on their watch.

. . .

He would . . . belie Thomas Carlyle’s characterization of economics as “the dismal science” by injecting tantalizing nuggets.

Reviewing Mr. Morris’s “A Time of Passion: America 1960-1980” (1984) for The Times Book Review, Michael Kinsley wrote that “some of the most vivid moments in this book come when he stops the rush of history to describe incidents from his own time as a poverty-program and prison administrator.”

“He truly has been ‘mugged by reality,’ in Irving Kristol’s famous definition of a neoconservative,” Mr. Kinsley added, but concluded, “Overall, his book radiates a generosity and good will that set it apart from the typically sour neoconservative creed.”

. . .

“I think we’re heading for the mother of all crashes,” Mr. Morris wrote his publisher, Peter Osnos, the founder of PublicAffairs books, early in 2007, adding, “It will happen in summer of 2008, I think.”

Mr. Osnos recalled that after the book was published, “George Soros and Paul Volcker called me and asked, ‘Who is this Morris, and how did he get this so right, so early?’”

For the full obituary, see:

Sam Roberts. “Charles R. Morris, Author Who Disputed Economic Dogma, Dies at 82.” The New York Times (Wednesday, December 15, 2021): A24.

(Note: ellipses, and bracketed date, added.)

(Note: the online version of the obituary was updated Dec. 15, 2021, and has the title “Charles R. Morris, Iconoclastic Author on Economics, Dies at 82.”)

The books by Morris that I found especially useful were:

Morris, Charles R. The Dawn of Innovation: The First American Industrial Revolution. Philadelphia, PA: PublicAffairs, 2012.

Morris, Charles R. The Tycoons: How Andrew Carnegie, John D. Rockefeller, Jay Gould, and J. P. Morgan Invented the American Supereconomy. New York: Times Books, 2005.

UNO Center Study Finds “Vast Majority” of Jan. 6th Rioters “Were Not Affiliated with Organized Groups”

Nice photo of Gina Ligon, director of NCITE, in Mammel Hall blocking our view of Jun Kaneko’s “Mr. Papercliphead” sculpture (my name for it, not Kaneko’s). (Source of photo: Omaha World-Herald article quoted below.)

(p. A3) UNO’s National Counterterrorism Innovation, Technology, and Education Center (known by the acronym NCITE) was less than a year old when rioters bearing banners of then-President Donald Trump stormed the Capitol as Congress certified Joe Biden’s victory in the 2020 election. But it has given new focus to the work of NCITE, which was established in 2020 with a 10-year, $36.5 million grant from the Department of Homeland Security to be the agency’s research hub.

“I’ve never seen so many resources and such consistent energy toward understanding the domestic terror threat,” said Gina Ligon, the center’s director. “(The Jan. 6 attack) has made what we’re doing more urgent.”

. . .

“My first thought was that it was this organized, top-down militia that got everyone spun up,” Ligon said.

That’s not the way it turned out.

A study released last week by George Washington University’s Program on Extremism — part of the NCITE consortium — showed that just 11% of those arrested so far were members of known extremist organizations.

“The vast majority were not affiliated with organized groups,” said Seamus Hughes, the program’s deputy director.

The study also dismissed any notion that large numbers of rioters were down-and-out “skinheads” associated with past far-right groups.

Instead, the analysts found a diverse group ranging in age from 18 to 80, representing 350 counties in 45 states. Most (87%) are male, and most had jobs. There were business owners, real estate agents, a yoga instructor, a state legislator and even a musical theater actor.

Although some press attention has focused on the arrest of current or former military service members, only 11% had ties to the military.

For the full story, see:

Steve Liewer. “UNO Experts Find Surprises in Capitol Riot Arrest Data.” Omaha World-Herald (Monday, Jan. 10, 2022): A3.

(Note: ellipsis added.)

(Note: the online version of the story was updated Jan. 13, 2022, and has the title “UNO Counterterrorism Experts Find Surprises in Capitol Riot Arrest Data.”)

At His Toga Birthday Party FDR Dressed “Imperiously” in Wreath and Robe as Caesar

(p. C6) Again and again, artists and artisans have reworked ancient images, turning emperors and imperial women into role models or cautionary tales. Whether central to the debate or only hovering at the edges in a ghostly manner, the ancients have always been there. Such is the argument of Mary Beard’s “Twelve Caesars: Images of Power From the Ancient World to the Modern.”

. . .

Among the book’s many striking illustrations and images is a photo of Franklin D. Roosevelt celebrating his 52nd birthday in January 1934 with a toga party in the White House. Wreathed and wearing what might be a triumphator’s robe, arms folded imperiously, FDR is surrounded by more than a dozen family members and friends dressed variously as senators, matrons and legionaries. What does this Busby Berkeley-esque scene mean? It might have been a sardonic joke from FDR’s staff and friends to respond to critics who charged that the president was becoming a dictator.

For the full essay, see:

Barry Strauss. “Power in Profile.” The Wall Street Journal (Saturday, Oct. 2, 2021): C6.

(Note: ellipsis added.)

(Note: the online version of the review has the date October 1, 2021, and has the title “‘Twelve Caesars’ Review: Power in Profile.”)

The book under review is:

Beard, Mary. Twelve Caesars: Images of Power from the Ancient World to the Modern. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 2021.

Nazi Regime Was “Really Bad at Industrial Production”

(p. A6) The failure of Nazi Germany’s nuclear program is well established in the historical record.

. . .

In their quest to produce an atomic bomb, the Germans wanted to use a method in which uranium is submerged in heavy water, Professor Brown said. But the Allies dealt those plans “a big blow” when they bombed a plant in Norway that was the only place the Germans could get the key ingredient, she added.

Additionally, to succeed in its efforts, Nazi Germany would have needed large factories to produce bombs, vast tracts of land to test them and security from the threat of aerial attacks so that enemies could not spy on them, Professor Brown said.

Adam Seipp, a history professor at Texas A&M University, said Nazi Germany lacked the resources because it was “really bad at industrial production.”

“It’s one of the reasons they lost the war so catastrophically,” he said.

For the full story, see:

Jesus Jiménez. “New Podcasts Add to the Conversation in Cuba.” The New York Times, First Section (Sunday, September 12, 2021): A6.

(Note: ellipsis added.)

(Note: the online version of the story was updated Sept. 11, 2021, and has the title “Could Nazis Have Built Bomb? Lab Tracks a Clue.” The sentence starting with “Additionally” appears in the online, but not the print, version of the article.)

“Creatively Destructive Innovation” Is Continuous in Book Publishing Industry

(p. A13) In 2000 the RAND Corporation invited a group of historians—including me—to address a newly pressing question: Would digital media revolutionize society as profoundly as Gutenberg and movable type? Two decades later, John Thompson’s answer is yes, but not entirely as predicted. And our forecasts were often wrong because we overlooked key variables: We cannot understand the impact of technologies “without taking account of the complex social processes in which these technologies were embedded and of which they were part.”

Mr. Thompson provides that context in “Book Wars” (Polity, 511 pages, $35), an expert diagnosis of publishers and publishing, robustly illustrated with charts, graphs, tables, statistics and case studies.

. . .

My warning to the RAND corporation was to avoid succumbing to the “Two Big Bangs Theory”—the assumption that there were only two world-changing events in the history of print, in or around 1450 and 2000. With books, change is a constant. In the last two centuries the publishing trade has dealt with one creatively destructive innovation after another—mechanized printing and papermaking, railway bookstalls and distribution networks, linotype and offset printing, photomechanical reproduction, paperbacking and books-of-the-month. The movies opened up vast new possibilities (and revenues) for novelists, who increasingly wrote with the screen in mind, as Ernest Hemingway did when he insisted on casting Gary Cooper in “For Whom the Bell Tolls.” And television supercharged book publicity, climaxing (so far) with Oprah. While Mr. Thompson is entirely right to conclude that the transformation of publishing in the past 20 years has been bewildering, that’s nothing new. In a dynamic capitalist economy, the dust never settles.

For the full review, see:

Jonathan Rose. “BOOKSHELF; Publishing In a Protean Age.” The Wall Street Journal (Monday, August 9, 2021): A13.

(Note: ellipsis added.)

(Note: the online version of the review has the date August 8, 2021, and has the title “BOOKSHELF; ‘Book Wars’ Review: Publishing in a Protean Age.”)

The book under review is:

Thompson, John B. Book Wars: The Digital Revolution in Publishing. Cambridge, UK: Polity Press, 2021.

Critical Race Theory Rejects Enlightenment Rationalism and the Declaration of Independence

(p. A15) . . ., relatively few Americans—including those who regularly denounce it—know much about what critical race theory is. It originated in law schools in the 1970s and has since become a sprawling movement. To find out more about it, I turned to “Critical Race Theory: An Introduction,” co-written by one of the movement’s founders, Richard Delgado. He writes that critical race theory “questions the very foundations of the liberal order, including equality theory, legal reasoning, Enlightenment rationalism, and neutral principles of constitutional law.”

. . .

Because the Declaration of Independence—the founding document of the American liberal order—is a product of Enlightenment rationalism, a doctrine that rejects the Enlightenment tacitly requires deconstructing the American order and rebuilding it on an entirely different foundation.

For the full commentary, see:

William A. Galston. “How Adherents See ‘Critical Race Theory’.” The Wall Street Journal (Wednesday, July 14, 2021): A15.

(Note: ellipses added.)

(Note: the online version of the commentary has the date July 13, 2021, and has the title “BOOKSHELF; ‘Tata’ Review: From Homestead to Hegemony.”)

The book co-authored by a founder of critical race theory that is mentioned in the passage quoted above is:

Delgador, Richard, and Jean Stefancic. Critical Race Theory: An Introduction. 3rd ed. New York: NYU Press, 2017 [1st ed., 2001; 2nd ed., 2012].

Leading American Scientists Endorsed False Soviet Denial of Anthrax Lab Leak

(p. A4) YEKATERINBURG, Russia — Patients with unexplained pneumonias started showing up at hospitals; within days, dozens were dead. The secret police seized doctors’ records and ordered them to keep silent. American spies picked up clues about a lab leak, but the local authorities had a more mundane explanation: contaminated meat.

It took more than a decade for the truth to come out.

In April and May 1979, at least 66 people died after airborne anthrax bacteria emerged from a military lab in the Soviet Union. But leading American scientists voiced confidence in the Soviets’ claim that the pathogen had jumped from animals to humans. Only after a full-fledged investigation in the 1990s did one of those scientists confirm the earlier suspicions: The accident in what is now the Russian Urals city of Yekaterinburg was a lab leak, one of the deadliest ever documented.

Nowadays, some of the victims’ graves appear abandoned, their names worn off their metal plates in the back of a cemetery on the outskirts of town, where they were buried in coffins with an agricultural disinfectant. But the story of the accident that took their lives, and the cover-up that hid it, has renewed relevance as scientists search for the origins of Covid-19.

It shows how an authoritarian government can successfully shape the narrative of a disease outbreak and how it can take years — and, perhaps, regime change — to get to the truth.

“Wild rumors do spread around every epidemic,” Joshua Lederberg, the Nobel-winning American biologist, wrote in a memo after a fact-finding trip to Moscow in 1986. “The current Soviet account is very likely to be true.”

Many scientists believe that the virus that caused the Covid-19 pandemic evolved in animals and jumped at some point to humans. But scientists are also calling for deeper investigation of the possibility of an accident at the Wuhan Institute of Virology.

There is also widespread concern that the Chinese government — which, like the Soviet government decades before it, dismisses the possibility of a lab leak — is not providing international investigators with access and data that could shed light on the pandemic’s origins. Continue reading “Leading American Scientists Endorsed False Soviet Denial of Anthrax Lab Leak”