From Hanover, N.H., five things we learned from Tuesday's Republican debate on the economy
HANOVER, N.H. -- Five takeaways from the GOP debate:
1. So much for the big Perry comeback. Coming off a streak of debate performances so notably shaky that they threatened to torpedo his high-flying campaign, the Texas governor needed to rally in a big way. His advisers promised he was getting more practice -- and more sleep -- in order to turn things around.
It didn't work.
Perry stammered through his answers, missed obvious gimmes and seemed strangely absent from much of the discussion.
Late in the debate, Perry got perhaps the biggest fat pitch of the night: a question about Solyndra, the bankrupt solar-energy firm that has become conservatives' touchstone for Obama administration incompetence. Instead of teeing off on the president, environmentalists and pork-barrel spending, Perry replied, "Well, I don't think the federal government should be involved in that type of investment, period. If states want to choose to do that, I think that's fine." It was the perfect cue for the moderator's follow-up on similar projects funded by a controversial Texas investment office -- and though Perry has been defending that for years in debates back home, he had trouble clearly explaining it.
Early on, Perry noted his short time in the race compared to two-time candidate Mitt Romney: "Mitt has had six years to be working on a plan. I have been in this for about eight weeks." It seemed like he was making excuses -- and not very convincing ones considering his nearly three decades in public life.
With all the training he's supposedly done, Perry's campaign now faces a proposition that, if true, would be insurmountable: It's not the preparation that's the problem. It's the candidate.
2. Romney is in command. The former Massachusetts governor has an assurance, deftness and poise that have eluded him at the beginning of his presidential-candidate career more than four years ago. Maybe it's practice. Maybe it's the delicious feeling of his solidifying front-runner status. Maybe it's the lingering glow, and instructive aggressiveness, of his big endorsement from New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie earlier Tuesday.
The Mitt Romney of 2007 tended to get impatient and flustered when confronted. This Romney stays cool and doesn't take slights personally. Most important, he seems to be in his comfort zone: He's not afraid to be the smart guy, the geek, the Harvard Business School guy. That's what he's running on now. The voters who prefer heart to head have been written off as unwinnable.
Romney was willing to venture into very dangerous territory -- defending the Bush administration's much-reviled financial-system rescue. He name-dropped academic economists both alive (Greg Mankiw) and dead (Milton Friedman). He spoke in favor of progressive taxation. He mounted a nerdily stirring justification of complexity against Herman Cain's 9-9-9 tax plan, which he deemed overly simplistic: "Herman, I have had the experience in my life of taking on some tough problems, and I must admit that simple answers are always helpful, but oftentimes inadequate."
Romney even went on offense on health care, his biggest conservative heresy, touting himself as the only candidate to propose a reform plan for once Obamacare is repealed, as they all have sworn to do.
3. They're gunning for Herman Cain next. Cain has floated to a healthy second place in numerous national polls, picking up steam based on his personal charisma, his business background and Perry's crash to earth. His "9-9-9" plan was mentioned so often in the debate you'd think it was American voters' No. 1 concern rather than an obscure -- and, it turns out, intermediate -- plot to dynamite the tax code.
Cain showed how he got this far: He's quick on his feet and likable. To a moderator's assertion that his plan wouldn't raise enough tax revenue to fund the government, he replied -- without snapping or growling -- "The problem with that analysis is that it is inaccurate," drawing a big laugh. He patiently endured the other candidates' condescension, such as when Jon Huntsman said he "thought [9-9-9] was the price of a pizza when I first heard about it." After the debate, Cain appeared in person in the spin room, drawing a huge media throng and showing he's able, and unafraid, to face questions.
But Cain also showed signs he'll have trouble as the probing deepens now that he's in a competitive position. He named as his chief economic adviser an Ohio wealth manager who is not a trained economist. He said he had two candidates in mind to head the Federal Reserve, but refused to name them. And his praise for Alan Greenspan, coupled with his onetime service on the Federal Reserve Board of Kansas City, are likely to alienate some of his tea-party supporters as they come to light.
4. It's crowded in the second tier. With Romney seeming to pull away from the pack and hope fading for Perry, the would-be giant-killer, a vacuum has been created, and we know how nature feels about those.
Even as the media were rushing to anoint Cain as the new No. 2, there was a sense he wouldn't own the spot for long based on the boom-and-bust cycles of Perry and Michele Bachmann before him. Bachmann also had a good debate, showcasing her command of policy with answers that drew on her experience in Congress. So did Newt Gingrich, whose campaign is staffing up in key states and hoping for a rebirth. So did Rick Santorum, who's proven over and over that he's the field's most adept verbal combatant, skilled at spotting the logical flaw in an opponent's argument -- and fierce in calling him on it. So did Ron Paul, who got served softballs on Fed policy without getting drawn into his less orthodox views on foreign policy. Even Huntsman, who's been gaining in New Hampshire, had a decent debate.
"There is a sort of intramural going on between all the non-Romney [candidates]," observed Perry strategist Dave Carney. "Very few Cain people are going to be for Romney when it comes down to it. ... All voters are shopping around right now. They'll light on a name, but most of them are not going to lie down in front of a bus for anybody."
5. Broad agreement on economics. After the last few intensely acrimonious debates, Tuesday's was marked by broad comity -- probably because it was exclusively focused on economic issues.
Sure, there was sniping. But the social and cultural issues that cause so much intensely personal friction, like immigration and religion, weren't in the mix. And foreign policy, where the candidates have real disagreements, didn't much enter in either, though Romney's plan to confront China on trade drew a substantive rebuke from Huntsman, the former ambassador to Beijing.
For the most part, though, they endorsed each other's points, extended each other's arguments and echoed each other's ideas. At one point at the end of the debate, while Gingrich was talking, Bachmann chimed in to feed him lines that would help his argument, smiling and nodding, "I agree, I agree."
This is, after all, the field of candidates who all agreed that they would not raise taxes even if offered a bargain whereby 10 times as much would be cut from government as the amount of new revenue raised. When it comes to economics, they may disagree about the means, but they agree on the ends -- reduce the size of government, don't raise taxes.
And of course, they agree on the ultimate end: Get rid of a once-popular president made vulnerable by a staggering economy.
In the name of emotional well-being, college students are increasingly demanding protection from words and ideas they don’t like. Here’s why that’s disastrous for education—and mental health.
Something strange is happening at America’s colleges and universities. A movement is arising, undirected and driven largely by students, to scrub campuses clean of words, ideas, and subjects that might cause discomfort or give offense. Last December, Jeannie Suk wrote in an online article for The New Yorker about law students asking her fellow professors at Harvard not to teach rape law—or, in one case, even use the word violate (as in “that violates the law”) lest it cause students distress. In February, Laura Kipnis, a professor at Northwestern University, wrote an essay in The Chronicle of Higher Education describing a new campus politics of sexual paranoia—and was then subjected to a long investigation after students who were offended by the article and by a tweet she’d sent filed Title IX complaints against her. In June, a professor protecting himself with a pseudonym wrote an essay for Vox describing how gingerly he now has to teach. “I’m a Liberal Professor, and My Liberal Students Terrify Me,” the headline said. A number of popular comedians, including Chris Rock, have stopped performing on college campuses (see Caitlin Flanagan’s article in this month’s issue). Jerry Seinfeld and Bill Maher have publicly condemned the oversensitivity of college students, saying too many of them can’t take a joke.
The neurologist leaves behind a body of work that reveals a lifetime of asking difficult questions with empathy.
Oliver Sacks always seemed propelled by joyful curiosity. The neurologist’s writing is infused with this quality—equal parts buoyancy and diligence, the exuberant asking of difficult questions.
More specifically, Sacks had a fascination with ways of seeing and hearing and thinking. Which is another way of exploring experiences of living. He focused on modes of perception that are delightful not only because they are subjective, but precisely because they are very often faulty.
To say Sacks had a gift for this method of exploration is an understatement. He was a master at connecting curiosity to observation, and observation to emotion. Sacks died on Sunday after receiving a terminal cancer diagnosis earlier this year. He was 82.
A new study pinpoints the Facebook status updates that irk us to the point of no return.
In the 1997 movie Romy and Michele’s High School Reunion, the two title characters, worried that they haven’t done anything noteworthy to share at said reunion, decide instead to lie and claim they invented Post-it notes.
Their story quickly unravels, of course, but had the movie been made a decade later, even the very concept of the ruse would have been impossible. Everyone would have known about Romy’s daily slog at the Jaguar dealership through Facebook.
Or would they?
The ebb and flow of Facebook friendships has become fruitful territory for social scientists in recent years. At least 63 percent of people report having unfriended someone on Facebook, but what prompts these digital rejections can tell us a lot about both the nature of real-life friendship and about how we manage our online personalities.
Thicker ink, fewer smudges, and more strained hands: an Object Lesson
Recently, Bic launched acampaign to “save handwriting.” Named “Fight for Your Write,” it includes a pledge to “encourage the act of handwriting” in the pledge-taker’s home and community, and emphasizes putting more of the company’s ballpoints into classrooms.
As a teacher, I couldn’t help but wonder how anyone could think there’s a shortage. I find ballpoint pens all over the place: on classroom floors, behind desks. Dozens of castaways collect in cups on every teacher’s desk. They’re so ubiquitous that the word “ballpoint” is rarely used; they’re just “pens.” But despite its popularity, the ballpoint pen is relatively new in the history of handwriting, and its influence on popular handwriting is more complicated than the Bic campaign would imply.
Wine snobs, string quartets, and the limits of intuition
Several months ago, this author sat at a classical music concert, trying to convince himself that wine is not bullshit.
That may seem like a strange thought to have while listening to Beethoven’s Symphony No. 7 in A major. But Priceonomics had recently posted an article investigating The Price of Wine, part of which reviewed research that cast doubt on both consumers’ and wine experts’ ability to distinguish between quality wine and table wine or identify different wines and their flavors. It seemed a slippery slope to the conclusion that wine culture is nothing more than actors performing a snobbish play.
Listening to an accomplished musician while lacking any musical experience resulted in a feeling familiar to casual wine drinkers imbibing an expensive bottle: Feeling somewhat ambivalent and wondering whether you are convincing yourself that you enjoy it so as not to appear uncultured.
Today’s college students can’t seem to take a joke.
Three comics sat around a café table in the chilly atrium of the Minneapolis Convention Center, talking about how to create the cleanest possible set. “Don’t do what’s in your gut,” Zoltan Kaszas said. “Better safe than sorry,” Chinedu Unaka offered. Feraz Ozel mused about the first time he’d ever done stand-up: three minutes on giving his girlfriend herpes and banging his grandma. That was out.
This was not a case of professionals approaching a technical problem as an intellectual exercise. Money was riding on the answer. They had come to Minneapolis in the middle of a brutal winter for the annual convention of the National Association for Campus Activities (NACA), to sell themselves and their comedy on the college circuit. Representatives of more than 350 colleges had come as well, to book comics, musicians, sword swallowers, unicyclists, magicians, hypnotists, slam poets, and every kind of boat act, inspirational speaker, and one-trick pony you could imagine for the next academic year.
Grasses—green, neatly trimmed, symbols of civic virtue—shaped the national landscape. They have now outlived their purpose.
The hashtag #droughtshaming—which primarily exists, as its name suggests, to publicly decry people who have failed to do their part to conserve water during California’s latest drought—has claimed many victims. Anonymous lawn-waterers. Anonymous sidewalk-washers. The city of Beverly Hills. The tag’s most high-profile shamee thus far, however, has been the actor Tom Selleck. Who was sued earlier this summer by Ventura County’s Calleguas Municipal Water District for the alleged theft of hydrant water, supposedly used to nourish his 60-acre ranch. Which includes, this being California, an avocado farm, and also an expansive lawn.
The case was settled out of court on terms that remain undisclosed, and everyone has since moved on with their lives. What’s remarkable about the whole thing, though—well, besides the fact that Magnum P.I. has apparently become, in his semi-retirement, a gentleman farmer—is how much of a shift all the Selleck-shaming represents, as a civic impulse. For much of American history, the healthy lawn—green, lush, neatly shorn—has been a symbol not just of prosperity, individual and communal, but of something deeper: shared ideals, collective responsibility, the assorted conveniences of conformity. Lawns, originally designed to connect homes even as they enforced the distance between them, are shared domestic spaces. They are also socially regulated spaces. “When smiling lawns and tasteful cottages begin to embellish a country,” Andrew Jackson Downing, one of the fathers of American landscaping, put it, “we know that order and culture are established.”
The new drama series, which follows the Colombian kingpin’s rise to power, feels more like a well-researched documentary than the gripping saga it wants to be.
Netflix’s new series Narcos is possibly arriving at the wrong time: The doldrums of summer aren’t really the ideal moment for a narratively dense, documentary-like look at the rise and fall of the Colombian drug kingpin Pablo Escobar. Narrated in voiceover by DEA Agent Steve Murphy (Boyd Holbrook), the early hours of Narcos feel like a history lesson, though an visually sumptuous one.
As Netflix continues to expand its streaming empire, it’s making a concerted effort to appeal to worldwide audiences, and Narcos fits neatly into that plan, alongside last year’s expensive critical flop Marco Polo. Narcos was shot on location in Colombia and stars the acclaimed Brazilian actor Wagner Moura as Escobar. It takes full advantage of its setting, loaded with sweeping helicopter shots of the Colombian jungle where Escobar founded his cocaine empire, filling a power vacuum left by various political upheavals in late-’70s South America.
The Islamic State is no mere collection of psychopaths. It is a religious group with carefully considered beliefs, among them that it is a key agent of the coming apocalypse. Here’s what that means for its strategy—and for how to stop it.
What is the Islamic State?
Where did it come from, and what are its intentions? The simplicity of these questions can be deceiving, and few Western leaders seem to know the answers. In December, The New York Times published confidential comments by Major General Michael K. Nagata, the Special Operations commander for the United States in the Middle East, admitting that he had hardly begun figuring out the Islamic State’s appeal. “We have not defeated the idea,” he said. “We do not even understand the idea.” In the past year, President Obama has referred to the Islamic State, variously, as “not Islamic” and as al-Qaeda’s “jayvee team,” statements that reflected confusion about the group, and may have contributed to significant strategic errors.
Residents of Newtok, Alaska voted to relocate as erosion destroyed their land. That was the easy part.
NEWTOK, Alaska—Two decades ago, the people of this tiny village came to terms with what had become increasingly obvious: They could no longer fight back the rising waters.
Their homes perched on a low-lying, treeless tuft of land between two rivers on Alaska’s west coast, residents saw the water creeping closer every year, gobbling up fields where they used to pick berries and hunt moose. Paul and Teresa Charles watched from their blue home on stilts on Newtok’s southern side as the Ninglick River inched closer and closer, bringing with it the salt waters of the Bering Sea.
“Sometimes, we lose 100 feet a year,” Paul Charles told me, over a bowl of moose soup.
Many communities across the world are trying to stay put as the climate changes, installing expensive levees and dikes and pumps, but not Newtok, a settlement of about 350 members of the Yupik people. In 1996, the village decided that fighting Mother Nature was fruitless, and they voted to move to a new piece of land nine miles away, elevated on bedrock.