Sure, we’ve got dozens of astronauts, physicists, and demolitions experts. I’ll be damned if we didn’t try to train our best men for this mission. But just because they can fly a shuttle and understand higher-level astrophysics doesn’t mean they can execute a unique mission like this. Anyone can learn how to land a spacecraft on a rocky asteroid flying through space at twelve miles per second. I don’t need some pencilneck with four Ph.D’s, one-thousand hours of simulator time, and the ability to operate a robot crane in low-Earth orbit. I need someone with four years of broad-but-humanities-focused studies, three subsequent years in temp jobs, and the ability to reason across multiple areas of study.

For the last couple of years he’d been working on what he described as a “disastrous novel” — “La Boda de Eduardo” — but he realized, with the force of epiphany, that the attempts to graft his life experience onto a Hemingway-Carver framework were foolish. There was an experience he was living that hadn’t adequately been represented in fiction yet. Not a Kafkaesque existential deadness, but something else, something that captured “not the endless cycle of meaningless activity but the endless cycle of meaningful activity.”

“I saw the peculiar way America creeps up on you if you don’t have anything,” he told me. “It’s never rude. It’s just, Yes, you do have to work 14 hours. And yes, you do have to ride the bus home. You’re now the father of two and you will work in that cubicle or you will be dishonored. Suddenly the universe was laden with moral import, and I could intensely feel the limits of my own power. We didn’t have the money, and I could see that in order for me to get this much money, I would have to work for this many more years. It was all laid out in front of me, and suddenly absurdism wasn’t an intellectual abstraction, it was actually realism. You could see the way that wealth was begetting wealth, wealth was begetting comfort — and that the cumulative effect of an absence of wealth was the erosion of grace.”

The United States stands out among the countries of the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development, the world’s club of rich nations, for its low top marginal income tax rate. These low rates are not essential for growth — consider Germany, for instance, which has managed to maintain its status as a center of advanced manufacturing, even though its top income-tax rate exceeds America’s by a considerable margin. And in general, our top tax rate kicks in at much higher incomes. Denmark, for example, has a top tax rate of more than 60 percent, but that applies to anyone making more than $54,900. The top rate in the United States, 39.6 percent, doesn’t kick in until individual income reaches $400,000 (or $450,000 for a couple). Only three O.E.C.D. countries — South Korea, Canada and Spain — have higher thresholds.

[…]

Over the years, some of the wealthy have been enormously successful in getting special treatment, shifting an ever greater share of the burden of financing the country’s expenditures — defense, education, social programs — onto others. Ironically, this is especially true of some of our multinational corporations, which call on the federal government to negotiate favorable trade treaties that allow them easy entry into foreign markets and to defend their commercial interests around the world, but then use these foreign bases to avoid paying taxes.

General Electric has become the symbol for multinational corporations that have their headquarters in the United States but pay almost no taxes — its effective corporate-tax rate averaged less than 2 percent from 2002 to 2012 — just as Mitt Romney, the Republican presidential nominee last year, became the symbol for the wealthy who don’t pay their fair share when he admitted that he paid only 14 percent of his income in taxes in 2011, even as he notoriously complained that 47 percent of Americans were freeloaders. Neither G.E. nor Mr. Romney has, to my knowledge, broken any tax laws, but the sparse taxes they’ve paid violate most Americans’ basic sense of fairness.

ayjay

Last week, one of my college friends, who now manages vast sums at a hedge fund, visited me. He’s the most rational person I know, so I asked him how he would go about deciding whether to go to grad school in a discipline like English or comparative literature. He dealt immediately with the sample bias problem by turning toward statistics. His first step, he said, would be to ignore the stories of individual grad students, both good and bad. Their experiences are too variable and path-dependent, and their stories are too likely to assume an unwarranted weight in our minds. Instead, he said, he would focus on the “base rates”: that is, on the numbers that give you a broad statistical picture of outcomes from graduate school in the humanities. What percentage of graduate students end up with tenure? (About one in four.) How much more unhappy are graduate students than other people? (About fifty-four per cent of graduate students report feeling so depressed they have “a hard time functioning,” as opposed to ten per cent of the general population.) To make a rational decision, he told me, you have to see the big picture, because your experience is likely to be typical, rather than exceptional. “If you take a broader view of the profession,” he told me, “it seems like a terrible idea to go to graduate school.”

Perhaps that’s the rational conclusion, but, if so, it’s beset on all sides by confounding little puzzles; they act like streams that divert and weaken the river of rational thought. Graduate school, for example, is a one-time-only offer. Very few people start doctoral programs later in life. If you pass it up, you pass it up forever. Given that, isn’t walking away actually the rash decision? (This kind of thinking is a subspecies of the habit of mind psychologists call loss aversion: once you have something, it’s very hard to give it up; if you get into grad school, it’s very hard not to go.) And then there’s the fact that graduate school, no matter how bad an idea it might be in the long term, is almost always fulfilling and worthwhile in the short term. As our conversation continued, my friend was struck by this. “How many people get paid to read what they want to read,” he asked, “and study what they want to study?” He paused. ”If I got into a really good program, I would probably go.”

ayjay

The United States has dealt with American citizens who had commit acts of terrorism before. We Mirandized them, we charged them, we ensured that they had competent legal counsel, and we tried them in civilian courts where they received the typical rights and protections guaranteed to the accused. In none of those cases did this decision endanger more lives, prevent adequate prosecution, or otherwise present any threat to the country or its people.

Timothy McVeigh: killed 168 people. Injured over 800 more. Was motivated by political convictions. He was arrested, Mirandized, charged, appointed with legal counsel, and tried in a civilian court. Ted Kaczynski: killed three people. Injured 23 more. Was motivated by political convictions. He was arrested, Mirandized, charged, appointed with legal counsel, and processed through a civilian court. Eric Rudolph: killed two people. Injured at least 150 more. Was motivated by political convictions. He was arrested, Mirandized, charged, appointed with legal counsel, and processed through a civilian court.

If you recognize that the results of these legal cases were consonant with our system of jurisprudence and with justice, you cannot ask for a separate status for Dzhokhar Tsarnaev without supporting legal discrimination based on ethnicity and religion. To deny Tsarnaev the legal status conferred on prior domestic terrorists, or to support such a denial, is to abandon the most elementary commitment of modern jurisprudence, which is the equality of all people under the law. It’s to stand for legal bigotry.

Freddie is absolutely right. (via ayjay)
invisibleforeigner
Religious despair is often a defense against boredom and the daily grind of existence. Lacking intensity in our lives, we say that we are distant from God and then seek to make that distance into an intense experience. It is among the most difficult spiritual ailments to heal, because it is usually wholly illusory.

Christian Wiman, My Bright Abyss, 108. (via invisibleforeigner)

The truest thing I’ll read all day. 

My grandmother died today. It was expected. She was 91. A few days before Christmas, she went into the hospital with heartburn and emerged five or six weeks later with a diagnosis of pancreatic cancer and a failing heart. Still, it was half-surprising. She had been on the verge of death several times in the past couple of months, and I thought, somehow, that she would pull through and live another year, maybe longer.  She was the toughest woman I’ve ever met, and she had cheated death before. 
 One day, when she was about twenty, she was washing dishes in the kitchen. Her father was at the table cleaning his shotgun. He didn’t realize the gun was loaded, and it went off. For whatever reason, my grandmother had opened up a cabinet door under the sink. The pellets ripped through the door, and lodged in her knee. She spent a month in the hospital, which was far enough away from the hamlet’s tiny cluster of farms that no one visited her. In fact, the villagers thought she was dead, and when she returned, one mistook her for a ghost. If the cabinet door had not been open, she would have lost the leg and likely bled to death. Instead she escaped with a nasty scar and thirteen pellets that stayed in her knee for the rest of her life. 
A few years after accident, she met her husband, my grandfather, at a farmer’s dance. They were married, and my mother was born shortly after. I don’t know if it was a happy marriage or not. I don’t think her generation tended to concieve of things in terms of happiness. Life was a struggle, and you made the best of it. She would say, rather, that the marriage was difficult. My grandfather had started drinking when he was a boy. His father pulled him and his brothers out of school to help on the farm. If the boys worked hard, he would give them booze on the weekends. So it was that my grandfather became an alcoholic, a binge drinker. Somehow, he was still successful and ran a sawmill and a farm with one of his brothers. 
 But his alcoholism is the single most salient aspect of my grandmother’s marriage—and my mom’s childhood.  My grandmother had wanted to be a teacher, but Sweden was still a poor country. She was forced to leave school after the sixth grade to work on her family’s farm. Now, as a wife, she was a homemaker. And in her anxiety over her husband, she threw herself into house work, cooking and cleaning, even straightening the fringe on the rugs with a comb, a practice she probably picked up at the homemakers school she was sent to when she was 18. Perhaps because she didn’t like her home life, my mom spent much of her time at church and became a Christian, which led to my grandmother’s conversion. She and her sister-in-law converted—or they might say, were born again—after they had hosted a village revival meeting in one of their barns. My uncles remember my grandfather and his brother sitting out on the porch not long after, hungover, asking each other “what the hell had gotten into the women.” 
 When my grandfather died, and his brother hung himself the next year, my mother was still a teenager, and her brothers were something like ten or eleven. It was not long before my mom left for Bible school, and then for the U.S. One uncle joined the merchant marines when he was 15 or 16, and the other left the farm not long after. My grandmother continued to run the farm with her sister-in-law for over twenty years.  
 I passed my first five summers playing on that farm.  I loved the smell of diesel coming from the tractor bar, loved searching through my uncles’ old toys, loved going to the neighbor’s dairy in the mornings to fetch a pail of fresh milk with my grandmother. For me, it was an echanted place, and I had no idea about the pain that had lived there or why anybody would have wanted to leave. 
 When I was five, my grandmother sold the farm and moved to the nearest city. She also sold her car and started biking everywhere. She was almost seventy. A few years later, a bus hit her and she lost a few teeth and wound up in the hospital. She biked for several more years, until she was almost eighty, when a teenage girl on a bike ran into her head-on and she wound up in the hospital again. Her mobility declined over the last decade, and more than once she was admitted to the hospital with various, life-threatening ailments. But she was still strong. Even a year ago, she was pushing her walker through through several inches of snow to get to church. 
 I spent out a lot of time with my grandmother over the past few years. I started visiting every year after college, when she became too old to travel to the U.S. Then two and a half years ago, I moved to Sweden. As a child, I had viewed her as a sort of saint, someone who could do no wrong (and who baked the world’s best cookies and rolls). When I got older, and my Swedish got better, her shortcomings became apparent to me. She was stubborn and demanding. Like many in her generation, she was a tough parent. She was also an unyielding fundamentalist; her unease at my reception into the Catholic Church was palpable.
 But if her faults emerged, so did her virtues, which were considerably greater. I had never before considered her fortitude and her courage, which persisted throughout her life. One simply soldiered on. She was also generous. She took the money from the sale of the farm and gave the lion’s share to her children, which helped them to buy their first houses. (Until I was 22, I had never understood how, when I was six, my family had suddenly had the money to stop renting and buy a large house.) A couple of years ago, my grandmother’s sister-in-law died.  My great aunt, who was childless, had lived very simply, and it was assumed that the only inheritence would be the meager amount from the sale of her house. But a few days before the house was sold, they found a box under the kitchen sink with several hundred thousand dollars in cash. My grandmother split up the money and gave it to her children. 
 Most important, though, was that she prayed for her children and her grandchildren twice a day. I am a man of an uneven, often unsteady faith. But even on my worst of days, I cannot understimate the difference this has made, unmeasurable as it is. So when I said goodbye to her on the phone on Friday, I simply thanked her for her prayers, for the privilege of having a grandmother who prayed for me everyday. 
  

My grandmother died today. It was expected. She was 91. A few days before Christmas, she went into the hospital with heartburn and emerged five or six weeks later with a diagnosis of pancreatic cancer and a failing heart. Still, it was half-surprising. She had been on the verge of death several times in the past couple of months, and I thought, somehow, that she would pull through and live another year, maybe longer.  She was the toughest woman I’ve ever met, and she had cheated death before. 

One day, when she was about twenty, she was washing dishes in the kitchen. Her father was at the table cleaning his shotgun. He didn’t realize the gun was loaded, and it went off. For whatever reason, my grandmother had opened up a cabinet door under the sink. The pellets ripped through the door, and lodged in her knee. She spent a month in the hospital, which was far enough away from the hamlet’s tiny cluster of farms that no one visited her. In fact, the villagers thought she was dead, and when she returned, one mistook her for a ghost. If the cabinet door had not been open, she would have lost the leg and likely bled to death. Instead she escaped with a nasty scar and thirteen pellets that stayed in her knee for the rest of her life. 

A few years after accident, she met her husband, my grandfather, at a farmer’s dance. They were married, and my mother was born shortly after. I don’t know if it was a happy marriage or not. I don’t think her generation tended to concieve of things in terms of happiness. Life was a struggle, and you made the best of it. She would say, rather, that the marriage was difficult. My grandfather had started drinking when he was a boy. His father pulled him and his brothers out of school to help on the farm. If the boys worked hard, he would give them booze on the weekends. So it was that my grandfather became an alcoholic, a binge drinker. Somehow, he was still successful and ran a sawmill and a farm with one of his brothers. 

But his alcoholism is the single most salient aspect of my grandmother’s marriage—and my mom’s childhood.  My grandmother had wanted to be a teacher, but Sweden was still a poor country. She was forced to leave school after the sixth grade to work on her family’s farm. Now, as a wife, she was a homemaker. And in her anxiety over her husband, she threw herself into house work, cooking and cleaning, even straightening the fringe on the rugs with a comb, a practice she probably picked up at the homemakers school she was sent to when she was 18. Perhaps because she didn’t like her home life, my mom spent much of her time at church and became a Christian, which led to my grandmother’s conversion. She and her sister-in-law converted—or they might say, were born again—after they had hosted a village revival meeting in one of their barns. My uncles remember my grandfather and his brother sitting out on the porch not long after, hungover, asking each other “what the hell had gotten into the women.” 

When my grandfather died, and his brother hung himself the next year, my mother was still a teenager, and her brothers were something like ten or eleven. It was not long before my mom left for Bible school, and then for the U.S. One uncle joined the merchant marines when he was 15 or 16, and the other left the farm not long after. My grandmother continued to run the farm with her sister-in-law for over twenty years.  

I passed my first five summers playing on that farm.  I loved the smell of diesel coming from the tractor bar, loved searching through my uncles’ old toys, loved going to the neighbor’s dairy in the mornings to fetch a pail of fresh milk with my grandmother. For me, it was an echanted place, and I had no idea about the pain that had lived there or why anybody would have wanted to leave. 

When I was five, my grandmother sold the farm and moved to the nearest city. She also sold her car and started biking everywhere. She was almost seventy. A few years later, a bus hit her and she lost a few teeth and wound up in the hospital. She biked for several more years, until she was almost eighty, when a teenage girl on a bike ran into her head-on and she wound up in the hospital again. Her mobility declined over the last decade, and more than once she was admitted to the hospital with various, life-threatening ailments. But she was still strong. Even a year ago, she was pushing her walker through through several inches of snow to get to church. 

I spent out a lot of time with my grandmother over the past few years. I started visiting every year after college, when she became too old to travel to the U.S. Then two and a half years ago, I moved to Sweden. As a child, I had viewed her as a sort of saint, someone who could do no wrong (and who baked the world’s best cookies and rolls). When I got older, and my Swedish got better, her shortcomings became apparent to me. She was stubborn and demanding. Like many in her generation, she was a tough parent. She was also an unyielding fundamentalist; her unease at my reception into the Catholic Church was palpable.

But if her faults emerged, so did her virtues, which were considerably greater. I had never before considered her fortitude and her courage, which persisted throughout her life. One simply soldiered on. She was also generous. She took the money from the sale of the farm and gave the lion’s share to her children, which helped them to buy their first houses. (Until I was 22, I had never understood how, when I was six, my family had suddenly had the money to stop renting and buy a large house.) A couple of years ago, my grandmother’s sister-in-law died.  My great aunt, who was childless, had lived very simply, and it was assumed that the only inheritence would be the meager amount from the sale of her house. But a few days before the house was sold, they found a box under the kitchen sink with several hundred thousand dollars in cash. My grandmother split up the money and gave it to her children. 

Most important, though, was that she prayed for her children and her grandchildren twice a day. I am a man of an uneven, often unsteady faith. But even on my worst of days, I cannot understimate the difference this has made, unmeasurable as it is. So when I said goodbye to her on the phone on Friday, I simply thanked her for her prayers, for the privilege of having a grandmother who prayed for me everyday.