Sarah Wrote That

Full Romney (noun, colloquial)

/fo͝ol rämnē/

Series of statements by a politician, reverting from a position taken for political advantage to a previous, opposite position, now often held by an opponent, with a subsequent reversal, sometimes termed “clarification,” to the now intermediate position of perceived advantage.

Variations include a partial or half Romney, which lacks defined opposition except the politician’s previous statements, and a reverse Romney, in which the politician denies any difference between the various positions.

Instances have been recorded of grand Romneys, when accumulated full and partial Romneys preclude determination of any broader political philosophy.

"I am, and ever will be, a white-socks, pocket-protector, nerdy engineer, born under the second law of thermodynamics, steeped in steam tables, in love with free-body diagrams, transformed by Laplace and propelled by compressible flow."

- Neil Armstrong

A beautiful obituary in The Economist.

(via sarzha) What lovely phrases, in sound and sense.

Ads of The New Yorker, May 25, 1929

Maud Newton pointed to F. Scott Fitzgerald’s “Short Autobiography” (in drinks) from this issue, and leafing through its subsequent pages—frothy compared with today’s—I was struck by the number of ads for then-new apartments in buildings that are now “pre-war,” by the opulent assurance, and the copy that was thought to sell:

The Kelvinator is connected to the building supply pipes. The wire is plugged into a nearby electric outlet, and there is nothing more to do.

"Smart" was the adjective du jour—smart occasions, smart summer complexions, the new Central Park Casino "quite the smartest place to dine and dance in all New York." The ads were agog with summer, proclaiming nights on the St. Regis Roof—"now in the full swing of its second brilliant season"—in diction only a few degrees removed from a New York summer preview; in the same pages as “Packard men” and, in a typewriter ad, “secretaries [who’ve] learned that quiet is one of the most willing aids to health and charm.”

The Cheever Phrase

Brad Leithauser’s examples of Cheever’s artful adjectives bring me back fondly to evenings lost in that thick, tiny-printed, red-jacketed Collected Stories for the first time (italics Leithauser’s):

“a gentle and excursive mountain shower”; “I have cheerfully praised the evening sky hanging beyond the disheveled and expatriated palm trees on Doheny Boulevard”; “where one heard in the sounds of a summer rain the prehistoric promises of love, peacefulness, and beauty”; “her countenance was long, vacant, and weakly lighted

Sound and sense distort the rhythm of these sentences so fruitfully and strangely. I’m still looking behind at “expatriated” at the end of its sentence when the boulevard that should’ve been the destination whispers perfunctorily past. “Prehistoric,” by far the most complicated word in its sentence syllabically, insists on its importance as a fulcrum; we smoothly ascend on ‘s’ and then bump down on ‘p,’ ‘p,’ and ‘b.’ The sentences remain relatively close to everyday syntax, but the adjectives trill them, and, tunneling into thoughts they don’t unpack, leave the landings firm but with their force diverted back into our mid-sentence sense of the narrator—what drives him to such mentions? What keeps him from explaining?

For all such sleight of hand, I love Cheever most when he’s similarly dexterous with event and scenic detail, as in 1961’s "The Seaside Houses":

After dark we shake up a drink, send the children to bed, and make love in a strange room that smells of someone else’s soap—all measures take to exorcise the owners and secure our possession of the place. But in the middle of the night the terrace door flies open with a crash, although there seems to be no wind, and my wife says, half asleep, “Oh, why have they come back? Why have they come back? What have they lost?”

To pull off a line like that, a page or two into a story (presuming you agree that he does)? It either lands with conviction or falls flat. With Cheever it’s mostly the same conviction that leaks into his adjectives, a sense that makes him both compelling and utterly unconvincing when, at the end of “The Cure,” the narrator says of the summer suburbs, “everyone here is well.”

In writing this I discovered that, in keeping with spambots’ literary leanings, the first entry returned by a Google for “cheever seaside houses” is a Tumblr page for “/tagged/1961-the-seaside-houses-john-cheever,” with identical posts by different, cryptically named users to the same ebook download.

Greg Smith vs. Don Draper

Micheline Maynard’s comparison of Greg Smith’s Goldman Op-Ed with Don Draper’s “Why I’m Quitting Tobacco” letter gets me thinking about archetypes. I’d be surprised if Smith consciously lifted the gist of entire sections, but:

Here’s Smith, explaining how he got to this point.

“After 12 years at the firm, first as a summer intern while at Stanford, then in New York for 10 years, and now in London, I believe I have worked here long enough to understand the trajectory of its culture, its people and its identity. And I can honestly say that the atmosphere here now is as toxic and destructive as I have ever seen it.”

He goes on, “To put the problem in the simplest terms, the interests of the client continue to be sidelined in the way the firm operates and thinks about making money.”

Here’s how Draper launches his screed:

“For over 25 years, we devoted ourselves to peddling a product for which good work is irrelevant, because people can’t stop themselves from buying it. A product that never improves, causes illness, and makes people unhappy. But there was money in it. A lot of money. In fact, our entire business depended on it.”

I’m also reminded of Stanley Fish on teaching composition:

Let’s say I’m teaching the neither/nor form. I begin by producing a simple neither/nor sentence. “Neither his age nor his disability prevented him from competing.” I then ask my students to write their own sentences on that model. Most of them are able to do it, and they produce sentences with 20 different contents, but only one form.


While the content is variable and abundant — as David Berman says, “content is everywhere” — the form is unvarying. […learn] the forms; the content will follow.

(emphasis mine)

[h/t Boston Review: thenoobyorker]

A Question of Rhetorical Method


“To really love Joan Didion—to have been blown over by things like the smell of jasmine and the packing list she kept by her suitcase—you have to be female.”

-Caitlin Flanagan, in The Atlantic

No. Didion is one of the few female writers that has crossover gender appeal. I know a number of males who adore her. Something that probably can’t be said of Caitlin Flanagan.

Reading Flanagan’s piece—twice—I had the unnerving sensation of being kept late at the end of a party by someone determined to get in the last word long after the drinks have run out and the person she was arguing with, or wanted us to see her arguing with, has left for home. Mixing textual analysis with anecdote, the piece blurs the distinction between Didion’s reception in different eras, her social presence (mainly in the ’60s and ’70s), and her writing itself. A feat, to encompass the object of your gaze in such qualified admiration as to narrow the circle of her appreciation and claim her for we few, we mournful few, who know what to make of her.

But the interpretations of Didion’s words—not of Didion the social figure, which I can’t affirm or dispute—seem to me as off as the characterization of those words’ appeal (at least their later appeal).

Read on →

This is going to be the most fun election of my entire life.

Also, that Times caption: best dangling modifier ever? Unless Newt’s speeches and interviews are capable of electromagnetic pulses; then we really are doomed.


This is going to be the most fun election of my entire life.

Also, that Times caption: best dangling modifier ever? Unless Newt’s speeches and interviews are capable of electromagnetic pulses; then we really are doomed.

"a huge, irrational, metaphysical Canada"

- Russian blogger Aleksei Navalny, describing his hope for a future Russia (tens of thousands protested today).


“NPR requested help from numerous Republican congressional offices, including House and Senate leadership. They were unable to produce a single millionaire job creator for us to interview. So we went to the business groups that have been lobbying against the surtax. Again, three days after putting in a request, none of them was able to find someone for us to talk to.”

GOP Objects To ‘Millionaires Surtax’; Millionaires We Found? Not So Much (via Tumble DC 25)

I’m thrilled NPR did this piece, but I wish they’d been more systematic—maybe they have been elsewhere—and interviewed at least one tax expert and somehow more directly fact-checked this:

The [GOP] argument is that many small-business owners report company profits on their individual taxes because of the way their businesses are structured.

Summarizing a misstatement lends it an air of validity, of objectivity, that anecdotal rejoinders don’t entirely dispel.

Read on →