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Dissertation

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The Passion of Gamaliel.

“The correspondence is intimate and frank — and perhaps the most sexually explicit ever by an American president. Even in the age of Anthony Weiner sexts and John Edwards revelations, it still has the power to astonish. In 106 letters, many written on official Senate stationery, Harding alternates between Victorian declarations of love and unabashedly carnal descriptions.”

The NYT publishes excerpts from the recently-unearthed love letters of Warren G. Harding, obviously a big character in my dissertation. “The president often wrote in code, in case the letters were discovered, referring to his penis as Jerry and devising nicknames, like Mrs. Pouterson, for Phillips.”

Oof. Poor guy. Politics, scandals and Teapot Dome aside, Harding was an eminently likable fellow, with a keen sense of his own limitations. It’s hard not to feel embarrassed for him, even 90 years later, that these are now out there among the public.

The silver lining for the Hardings, I suppose, is that at least Mencken never got his hands on these. Suffice to say, he was no fan of the president’s prose. “H]e writes the worst English I have ever encountered. It reminds me of a string of wet sponges; it reminds me of tattered washing on the line; it reminds me of stale bean soup, of college yells, of dogs barking idiotically through endless nights. It is so bad that a sort of grandeur creeps into it.”

Gone with the Whiskey.

“The memo..[is] candid in its assessment of the writers’ strengths and weakness. Of William Faulkner, who had written a few screenplays in the early 1930s, the anonymous memo author notes that he was now living in Mississippi but ‘can fly anywhere in his own plane.’ On the downside, Faulkner was ‘not very reliable in his plane nor his habits.'”

But has he taken a stab at the rasslin’ form? Rebecca Onion of Slate birddogs this memo to David O. Selznick on possible Gone with the Wind screenwriters. The quip above reminded me of Mencken’s review of Lewis’s Elmer Gantry, from the dissertation: As good as Babbitexcept the last 30,000 words, which you wrote in a state of liquor.”

Celtic Red (or Green for Gene.)

“I had never met Debs…[but] ever since he came there he is considered a man that is actually a saint or a Jesus Christ because when the night comes and the work is over, he goes into the yard where all the men, the criminals, come around him, and for each one he has a word to tell them. For each he has word to awaken in them a human spirit, the feeling that has been lost for years and years… I am sure it is actually a crime to keep a man of that type behind iron bars.”

Also in recent NBA news and by way of a grad school friend: Larry Bird may be the “Basketball Jesus,” but he wasn’t the first Christ figure from the Hoosier State: Former Celts Bill Walton and Larry Bird visit the Eugene Debs Museum. “Walton and the Birds spent a full hour and a half visiting all three floors of this great museum. This was not a step in, step out visit for them.”

Walks like a Progressive…


In case you enjoyed the last go-round in August with Jay Ackroyd, I recorded another stint on Virtually Speaking this past week about Uphill All the Way, who the progressives were, and the shift from progressivism to liberalism — this time with Stuart Zechman. And since I invariably feel like I’m not being altogether lucid when speaking in public, consider this also another plug for the written word and Uphill, still online in full.

Virtual All the Way.

Hello all: Back on the mainland as of 48 hours ago. In case the Election of 1924 talk of a few months past whetted your appetite for more radio ramblings about the dissertation, I discussed Uphill All the Way and 1920’s politics last night with Jay Ackyroyd of Virtually Speaking. Embed above — enjoy.

Tales of Wonder.

By way of io9, an impressive collection of vintage sci-fi pulp art. (You can still make your own here.) Note the editor above — Hugo Gernsback, sci-fi pioneer and the Man in the Mask. (He also appears briefly in Uphill All the Way.)

Online All the Way.

Hello all. So after a month or so of significant work — hence, the relative quiet around these parts of late — I have followed up on my earlier promise/threat and transformed all 1200+ pages of my dissertation into Uphill All the Way, the online edition.

The text was actually already available online in PDF form through Columbia’s Academic Commons, which is one of the reasons I thought converting it for better HTML presentation was a good idea. Now, hopefully, one can peruse the chapters more easily (or someone can skip around to the parts they are interested in.)

I don’t know if this is reassuring or depressing, but reading through it all again over the past month and change, I was once again struck by how much of this story resonates with recent events. Long before the disappointment of the current administration, ostensible progressive Woodrow Wilson had cracked down on civil liberties and broken the heart of the world at Versailles. Before Bradley Manning and Edward Snowden, there was Eugene Debs and Sacco and Vanzetti. Before Austerity, there was Coolidge “Parsimony”. Before Katrina, the Great Mississippi Flood. Before Holder, Palmer. Before today’s continuing fight over evolution, Scopes. Before the recent news of forced sterilizations in California prisons, breaking just this past weekend, there was Buck v. Bell.

Instead of the Tea Party, there were 100% Americans and an Invisible Empire. Instead of fretting about “Obamacare” and “Kenyan Socialists,” conservatives rallied against the Sheppard-Towner Act and a Catholic in the White House. Instead of a War on Drugs, there was a Noble Experiment.

Then as now, civil liberties, corporate corruption, and immigration reform were major issues of the day. Then as now, the Supreme Court was a roadblock to positive change. Then as now, a culture of prosperity masked inequality and deep injustices in American life, and an ascendant business class aimed to leverage its considerable political influence to stamp out workers’ right to organize.

In the 1920s just as much as the 2010’s, progressives struggled to organize in opposition, and began to seriously question the two-party system. Then as now, many lost heart in the possibility of change. And, then as now, the push to make a more just and progressive America was, as always, Uphill all the Way.

Enjoy!

Alabama Casts Its 24 Votes…

Personal plug: If your interest was piqued by what I wrote about the 1924 Democratic Convention here, I was interviewed last week by Backstory on the MSG disaster for their episode on gridlock. (The segment I’m featured in starts at 33:30 — I’m the guy who sounds like Mike Mills from R.E.M. I should probably work on my radio skills.)

Also, FWIW, my dissertation is now downloadable as a PDF from Academic Commons. At some point, I’ll probably convert it here for easier web reading, like I have previous history writings — on Herbert Croly, Al Smith, Harvey Wiley, colonial taverns, William Borah, etc. But that’s a project that’s down the queue at the moment.

At Least Homer Read It.

Social Media friends and Flickr followers have probably already noticed that my actual doctoral diploma arrived in the mail last week. (Speaking of which, there’s a good economics dissertation to be written on the bizarrely high cost of professional framing.) On the same day, I also received this sweet congratulations gift from my girlfriend Amy: A print of the estimable Professor Frink examining Homer J. Simpson’s (lack of) brainwaves as he peruses the old dissertation, while Berk and I look on.

FWIW, this particular piece of awesome was drawn on commission by former Simpsons illustrator Gary Yap, who can be found on Etsy for custom works. He also apparently perused my Flickr feed and/or GitM for our look and general inspiration (Note the back of the book and Berk eyeing the Roomba.) I wonder if he made it as far as the shelves of old Simpsons toys, currently collecting dust and resale value in a Chesapeake, VA attic. In any case, very cool.

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