The reality seems to be sinking in for the likely Republican nominee, but the moment is less triumphant than precarious.
ROCHESTER, N.H. -- W. Mitt Romney stands on the brink of his world-historical moment.
All but assured of a glide path to the Republican presidential nomination after Tuesday's New Hampshire primary, Romney has begun to openly contemplate the import of what he is about to achieve.
"I have to tell you, this chance to run for president of the United States," he said at a campaign rally here Sunday afternoon in what appeared to be an impromptu detour from his stump speech.
"I never imagined I'd do it," he continued. "I mean, this is just a very strange and unusual thing to be in the middle of. I was just a high school kid like everybody else, with skinny legs."
It was tempting to dismiss this throwaway line as the sort of "pious baloney" for which Newt Gingrich had so pitch-perfectly mocked Romney just hours before. But who, in Romney's loafers, would not be having approximately the same thought? Becoming the major-party nominee for leader of the free world would be a major crossroads in anyone's life, even someone who's been the governor of a state and a zillionaire CEO.
There can be little doubt it is all about to fall into place for Romney. Oh, sure, he still has five competitors trying their best to keep him on his toes, and they will do their best to bring down his winning margin in New Hampshire and derail him on the unpredictable turf of South Carolina, which holds its primary next, on January 21.
But no non-incumbent Republican candidate has ever won both Iowa and New Hampshire; Romney is poised to do that, and could well sweep South Carolina, too.
Even if one of those dominoes fails to fall, his campaign -- a cheerful, efficient operation -- is built for the long haul and the remote contingency, ready if need be to slog it out to the California primary in June.
"The Romney camp has always assumed something will happen down the road -- a surprise, an upset, something unexpected," a senior Romney campaign official said. "This campaign is built to withstand any of that."
Yet the paradox of Romney is that at the very moment his primary victory seems assured, he seems more precarious than triumphant -- flashing back to when he was a skinny-legged high schooler, flashing forward to his current position on the brink of the improbable. It is still not easy to conjure the mental picture of him accepting his party's nomination, much less being inaugurated president. The prize is both within his grasp and tantalizingly unrealized.
Romney's scriptedness and lack of apparent human qualities have been so widely noted that one begins to feel sorry for the man, who keeps having to answer frankly rude questions about why he isn't warmer. But on Sunday, he appeared to be considering the place in history that, having eluded his revered father, will finally, after so many years of scraping and clawing, accrue to him.
He had gathered his family around him -- his wife Ann, three of their five boys, two daughters-in-law and five of his 15 grandchildren. He stood in an ornate old opera house in this southeastern New Hampshire town, rows of supporters sitting behind him in front of an enormous American flag. A former rival, former Minnesota governor Tim Pawlenty, and a local political celebrity, Sen. Kelly Ayotte, introduced him, jointly symbolizing his anointment-in-progress. As he often does, Romney handed the microphone for a bit to Ann, a stately multiple sclerosis survivor who has an earthiness her husband lacks.
"We are going to get across that finish line on Tuesday!" she said, adding, "You know, Mitt's been successful at everything he has done."
Ayotte, in an interview afterward, said Romney draws energy from the crowds and from having his family with him. "I think he's feeling very good," she said.
Romney's speeches at this point in the campaign are nearly all pabulum, an attempt to avoid embarrassment or offense by saying almost nothing at all. This just in: He doesn't agree with the president, whom he believes to be well-intentioned but clueless, particularly on economics. He is concerned that the country not be taken in a European, anti-capitalist direction, preferring free enterprise.
"There's nothing wrong with spending your entire life in politics, but it's kind of a bubble," said Romney, who has been traveling on private airplanes and a bus with his name on it, and sleeping in hotels, for weeks straight. "And outside that bubble is where I lived my first, I don't know, 25, 30, 40 years of my career."
Romney said he had learned from signing both sides of a paycheck and worrying over a payroll and budget. "A couple of times I wondered whether I was going to get a pink slip," he ventured -- immediately prompting the New York Times to demand proof that he'd ever actually experienced such a fear.
Romney's speech ends with a recitation that is both utterly weird and radically inoffensive, the parsing of obscure back verses of "America the Beautiful." He makes a literally conservative appeal, saying that he does not want to change or shake things up, as so many candidates vow to do: "I don't want to fundamentally transform America," he says. "I will restore America."
The crowd of a few hundred people filed out in orderly fashion. As usual with Romney's large, polite crowds, interviews revealed them to be by and large supportive without being passionate. "He's the best of what we have," shrugged Nancy Corning, 65, of Dover, a semi-retired education professor who plans to vote for Romney on Tuesday. In addition, many were from over the border in Massachusetts, and some said they might support other candidates in the primary less than two days away.
No one cries at Romney's speeches. Men do not pump their fists; women do not get stars in their eyes. For a politician, he is called upon to kiss remarkably few babies, and the people who seek his autograph are more often autograph collectors than Romney fetishists.
But none of that will matter when, in the coming weeks, the other candidates' mathematical prospects begin to dwindle and they start getting hounded to explain what they're still doing in the race.
Romney's New Hampshire adviser Tom Rath shrugged at all the angst about the candidate. The passion of the Republican electorate, he said, will follow its votes.
"People talk about the head following the heart," he said. "I think, in this case, the heart will follow the head."
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.
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.
I traveled to every country on earth. In some cases, the adventure started before I could get there.
Last summer, my Royal Air Maroc flight from Casablanca landed at Malabo International Airport in Equatorial Guinea, and I completed a 50-year mission: I had officially, and legally, visited every recognized country on earth.
This means 196 countries: the 193 members of the United Nations, plus Taiwan, Vatican City, and Kosovo, which are not members but are, to varying degrees, recognized as independent countries by other international actors.
In five decades of traveling, I’ve crossed countries by rickshaw, pedicab, bus, car, minivan, and bush taxi; a handful by train (Italy, Switzerland, Moldova, Belarus, Ukraine, Romania, and Greece); two by riverboat (Gabon and Germany); Norway by coastal steamer; Gambia and the Amazonian parts of Peru and Ecuador by motorized canoe; and half of Burma by motor scooter. I rode completely around Jamaica on a motorcycle and Nauru on a bicycle. I’ve also crossed three small countries on foot (Vatican City, San Marino, and Liechtenstein), and parts of others by horse, camel, elephant, llama, and donkey. I confess that I have not visited every one of the 7,107 islands in the Philippine archipelago or most of the more than 17,000 islands constituting Indonesia, but I’ve made my share of risky voyages on the rickety inter-island rustbuckets you read about in the back pages of the Times under headlines like “Ship Sinks in Sulu Sea, 400 Presumed Lost.”
ISIS did not merely blast apart old stones—it attacked the very foundations of pluralistic society.
If the ruined ruins of Palmyra could speak, they would marvel at our shock. After all, they have been sacked before. In their mute and shattered eloquence, they spoke for centuries not only about the cultures that built them but also about the cultures that destroyed them—about the fragility of civilization itself, even when it is incarnated in stone. No designation of sanctity, by God or by UNESCO, suffices to protect the past. The past is helpless. Instead these ruins, all ruins, have had the effect of lifting the past out of history and into time. They carry the spectator away from facts and toward reveries.
In the 18th century, after the publication in London of The Ruins of Palmyra, a pioneering volume of etchings by Robert Wood, who had traveled to the Syrian desert with the rather colorful James Dawkins, a fellow antiquarian and politician, the desolation of Palmyra became a recurring symbol for ephemerality and the vanity of all human endeavors. “It is the natural and common fate of cities,” Wood dryly remarked in one of the essays in his book, “to have their memory longer preserved than their ruins.” Wood’s beautiful and meticulous prints served as inspirations for paintings, and it was in response to one of those paintings that Diderot wrote some famous pages in his great Salons of 1767: “The ideas ruins evoke in me are grand. Everything comes to nothing, everything perishes, everything passes, only the world remains, only time endures. ... Wherever I cast my glance, the objects surrounding me announce death and compel my resignation to what awaits me. What is my ephemeral existence in comparison with that of a rock being worn down, of a valley being formed, of a forest that’s dying, of these deteriorating masses suspended above my head? I see the marble of tombs crumble into powder and I don’t want to die!”
Heather Armstrong’s Dooce once drew millions of readers. Her blog’s semi-retirement speaks to the challenges of earning money as an individual blogger today.
The success story of Dooce.com was once blogger lore, told and re-told in playgroups and Meetups—anywhere hyper-verbal people with Wordpress accounts gathered. “It happened for that Dooce lady,” they would say. “It could happen for your blog, too.”
Dooce has its origin in the late 1990s, when a young lapsed Mormon named Heather Armstrong taught herself HTML code and moved to Los Angeles. She got a job in web design and began blogging about her life on her personal site, Dooce.com.
The site’s name evolved out of her friends’ AOL Instant-Messenger slang for dude, or its more incredulous cousin, "doooood!” About a year later, Armstrong was fired for writing about her co-workers on the site—an experience that, for a good portion of the ‘aughts, came known as “getting dooced.” She eloped with her now ex-husband, Jon, moved to Salt Lake City, and eventually started blogging full time again.
In continuing to tinker with the universe she built eight years after it ended, J.K. Rowling might be falling into the same trap as Star Wars’s George Lucas.
September 1st, 2015 marked a curious footnote in Harry Potter marginalia: According to the series’s elaborate timeline, rarely referenced in the books themselves, it was the day James S. Potter, Harry’s eldest son, started school at Hogwarts. It’s not an event directly written about in the books, nor one of particular importance, but their creator, J.K. Rowling, dutifully took to Twitter to announce what amounts to footnote details: that James was sorted into House Gryffindor, just like his father, to the disappointment of Teddy Lupin, Harry’s godson, apparently a Hufflepuff.
It’s not earth-shattering information that Harry’s kid would end up in the same house his father was in, and the Harry Potter series’s insistence on sorting all of its characters into four broad personality quadrants largely based on their family names has always struggled to stand up to scrutiny. Still, Rowling’s tweet prompted much garment-rending among the books’ devoted fans. Can a tweet really amount to a piece of canonical information for a book? There isn’t much harm in Rowling providing these little embellishments years after her books were published, but even idle tinkering can be a dangerous path to take, with the obvious example being the insistent tweaks wrought by George Lucas on his Star Wars series.
Learning to program involves a lot of Googling, logic, and trial-and-error—but almost nothing beyond fourth-grade arithmetic.
I’m not in favor of anyone learning to code unless she really wants to. I believe you should follow your bliss, career-wise, because most of the things you’d buy with all the money you’d make as a programmer won’t make you happy. Also, if your only reason for learning to code is because you want to be a journalist and you think that’s the only way to break into the field, that’s false.
I’m all for people not becoming coders, in other words—as long they make that decision for the right reasons. “I’m bad at math” is not the right reason.
Math has very little to do with coding, especially at the early stages. In fact, I’m not even sure why people conflate the two. (Maybe it has to do with the fact that both fields are male-dominated.)
It’s not just Trump: With Ben Carson and Carly Fiorina on the rise, Republicans are loving outsiders and shunning politicians.
For the first time in a long time, Donald Trump isn’t the most interesting story in the 2016 presidential race. That's partly because his dominance in the Republican polls, while still surprising, is no longer novel and increasingly well explored and explained, but it’s also partly because what’s going on with the rest of the GOP field is far more interesting.
Some Republican candidates are promoting a policy change that would hurt workers by disguising it with a pleasant-sounding phrase.
Americans like their Social Security benefits quite a bit: They oppose cuts to them by a margin of two to one. Even Millennials, who won’t be seeing benefits anytime soon, feel protective of Social Security, according to a poll from the Pew Research Center.
One way to effectively cut Social Security benefits is to raise the age at which they kick in. And yet, when asked specifically about raising the retirement age, Americans are mixed.
Perhaps confusion arises because “raising the age of retirement” sounds like a nice jobs program for older Americans, or an end to forced retirement. I sympathize with that position: Anyone who wants to retire later and work into old age should have a job. But that’s not what raising the retirement age would entail—the fact is, raising the Social Security retirement age represents a reduction in benefits: Because the monthly payments a person receives grow bigger the later in life he or she retires, raising the age cutoff reduces the total amount of money paid out.
The man who made computers personal was a genius and a jerk. A new documentary wonders whether his legacy can accommodate both realities.
An iPhone is a machine much like any other: motherboard, modem, microphone, microchip, battery, wire of gold and silver and copper twisting and snaking, the whole assembly arranged under a piece of glass whose surface—coated with an oxide of indium and tin to make it electrically conductive—sparks to life at the touch of a warm-blooded finger. But an iPhone, too, is much more than a machine. The neat ecosystem that hums under its heat-activated glass holds grocery lists and photos and games and jokes and news and books and music and secrets and the voices of loved ones and, quite possibly, every text you’ve ever exchanged with your best friend. Thought, memory, empathy, the stuff we sometimes shorthand as “the soul”: There it all is, zapping through metal whose curves and coils were designed to be held in a human hand.