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Rakoff and Hitchens on Death, with Nothing Afterward

Rakoff and Hitchens on Death, with Nothing Afterward

David Rakoff, the dusky-voiced writer of mordantly funny personal essays, died earlier this month from what he once called “a touch of cancer.” In his last essay collection, Half-Empty , Rakoff wrote, “I am still not moved to either pray or ask “Why me?” explaining later, in an interview with NPR ’s Terry Gross, that “the universe is anarchic and doesn’t care about us…Since there is no actual answer as to why me, it’s not a question I feel entitled to ask.” A similar sentiment appears in Christopher Hitchens’ posthumous collection Mortality . After being diagnosed with esophageal cancer, the vitriolic British essayist wrote, “To the dumb question, ‘Why me?’ the cosmos barely bothers to reply ‘why not?’”

In their early careers, the two could never have been categorized together. Rakoff was an observer of farce but never a participant, bemused but never outraged, sacked with that particularly Jewish tendency towards self-flagellating neurosis and skittish retreat. Hitchens, a longtime columnist for Vanity Fair and professional shit-disturber, was a bullish libertarian who never wavered from his paroxysmal rhetoric and who got into the ring as much as he announced from the sidelines. Rakoff was the prophet of anxiety, Hitchens of bombast; Rakoff questioned, Hitchens told. While both were atheists, Rakoff’s writing on religion found light in believers’ humanity in spite of their dogma, whereas Hitchens openly condemned all religious doctrine.

In their end-of-life writing, however, both men struggled with the same question of how to await death in a godless world. In doing so, they reinvented the way we write about death, which is no longer the province of sublime exaltations and solemn majesty. Gone are the ethereal martyrs dying with smiles on their faces as they meet God. Death, for blessed heretics like Rakoff and Hitchens, is neither graceful nor dignified. They don’t fear it—since there’s nothing afterward, there’s no reason to be afraid—but they resent it. And that both memoirs drip with resentment only makes them more powerful, resentment being one of those gloriously facile emotions that make us humans and not saints.

Hitchens and Rakoff transform death into something prosaic, focusing on their most earthly assets: their bodies. Without the promise of an afterlife, they treat death with the same exhausted disdain as they would any of life’s other hassles. Their memoirs are tactile as they describe the physical impact of cancer, shudder-inducing as they recount the quotidian losses of minor daily dignities, a little bit gross as they describe some of the messier side effects of treatment, and blessedly human as they whine and gripe about the often hilarious, often gut-punching inconvenience of meeting one’s demise.

For the sake of journalistic integrity, I should confess that Rakoff and I had a personal connection. Not one that he knew about, but a one-sided, aching friend-crush on my end. I read Rakoff, an obscure, perhaps off-puttingly melancholy humourist, the way many twenty-something women my age read Joan Didion: with a combination of idolatry and identification. I saw him as my idealized self—an anxious introvert like me, but one with the Riesling-dry wit and cool-headed self-awareness that I lacked. I wanted to hang out with him, sure, but more than that I wanted to be him.

My own narcissistic, imaginary relationship with Rakoff aside, he’s been a champion for the anxiety-spectrum-disorder community by normalizing negative thinking in an era when it’s seen as a character flaw. He wrote that, as a child, he was afraid of everything: “dogs, heights, subways, crowds, snakes, the dark, elevators, tunnels, bridges, spiders, flying, loud noises, roller coasters, amusement-park midways, the ruffians who hung around same, horror movies, fireworks, rock music that seemed to glorify chemical abandon, balloons blown up too big, changing lightbulbs, athletes, going down into the basement.” As an adult, that translated into “defensive pessimism,” a worldview in which, by girding yourself for the worst-case scenario, you’re better equipped to handle the actual outcome (and pleasantly surprised when it’s not as bad as you predicted). He spoke of “contentedly worrying,” which sounds like an oxymoron, but isn’t. In Rakoff’s case, and in my own, worry is comforting and somewhat invigorating. If I’m not worrying, there’s something wrong.

Considering the structure of Half-Empty —which opens with a manifesto on defensive pessimism—its final essay, recounting his diagnosis and subsequent treatment, feels like an inevitable bookend. Rakoff feels it, too: his defensive pessimism has finally run its course, and the worst possible outcome is, in fact, the outcome. “The diagnosis carries with it not a sense of relief, really…so much as a kind of egocentric ‘of course.’ It fits with an inarticulate but ever-present sense that I have done something wrong; an infraction, inadvertent but inescapable and deep as oak roots, marring my permanent record permanently.”

In the 19th century, death wasn’t so bleak, and writing about death was statelier, with the same bittersweet ring of acceptance as if describing someone leaving a job for a higher-paid gig. The dead will be missed, but they’re going somewhere better. Wordsworth’s Lucy, for example, ends up in heaven. Same with Tennyson’s A.H.H. and Shelley’s Adonais (whose name is a stand-in for God). Upon learning of his illness and being told that his arm and shoulder would have to be amputated, Rakoff tries to latch onto this outdated notion of martyrdom, and to revel in how much fun it was. He remembers two of his favourite 19th-century fairy tales. The first, Hans Christian Andersen’s “The Girl Who Trod on a Loaf” tells of a monstrous child who descends into hell, meet’s Satan’s bubby (“not surprisingly, a total fucking bitch,” says Rakoff) and eventually gets to heaven after repenting. The second is Oscar Wilde’s “The Happy Prince,” about an unbearably virtuous statue and his friend, the sparrow (also pure of heart), who suffer for the sake of others and get escorted by God’s personal envoys to the pearly gates. Rakoff, the gay New York Jewish son of psychiatrists from Toronto, swiftly dismisses any possibility of heavenly ascension. “Is it any wonder, then, that I should feel destined for great things?” he asks after his diagnosis. “And by great, of course, I mean terrible.”

Hitchens, who has, of course, been outspoken about his atheism, comes, not surprisingly, to the same conclusion. “Random caprice will still determine whether or not you receive a heavenly reward,” he writes plainly. He takes pleasure in needling the Internet trolls who say God is punishing him. “Why not a thunderbolt for yours truly, or something similarly awe inspiring? The vengeful deity has a sadly depleted arsenal if all he can think of is exactly the cancer that my age and former ‘lifestyle’ would suggest that I got.”

In the absence of God, Hitchens focuses on the bodily impact of his cancer, fixating on the agonizing loss of everything that makes him human—his weight, his hair, his sex drive, his voice. He describes the injections to reduce pain in his extremities, which end up going numb entirely. The cancer is not part of his body; he repeatedly calls it a “blind, emotionless alien,” a foreign enemy that he refuses to acknowledge as something he created.

Rakoff, like Hitchens, parses the physical losses that come with his cancer, the indignities and the pain, but he laments the betrayal of his body rather than outsourcing the problem. The most devastating news he receives with his diagnosis is that his arm and shoulder will likely have to be amputated. In preparation (and in true defensive pessimist form), he starts living his life without it, learning to type, cook, and get dressed without an arm. Mostly, though, he’s distressed by the aesthetics of the amputation. It’s a wondrously shallow and intensely honest preoccupation: “I imagine that the rest of my life I will see the tiniest involuntary flinching on the faces of people as they react with an immediate and preconscious disgust at the asymmetry of my silhouette.” He eventually learns that the arm won’t need to be amputated, but on a recent episode of This American Life. Rakoff revealed that he had lost the use of the arm during treatment. There it hung, already dead, a preview of what was to come.

Both writers dispense with the notion of the grace of God, or of making peace with death. As they lose their bodies, they furiously record the insecurities, complaints, and gripes that come with cancer—they refuse to dignify it as anything more than a bitchy, demanding houseguest. Rakoff, as he’s being treated, says he wants to “get on with the business of one’s life”; he and Hitchens find meaning in the petty frivolities of life as it is being wrested away from them. In doing so, they’re able to live until their last moments and face death in character: Hitchens with defiant bravado, and Rakoff with disciplined resignation.

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10 of the Funniest American Essayists of Our Time - Flavorwire

10 of the Funniest American Essayists of Our Time

Like many of you, this week we were saddened to hear of the death of phenomenal and darkly comic essayist David Rakoff, who had been battling cancer for many years. To celebrate his life and the great literature he left us with, we’ve put together a list of some of the funniest modern essayists, who like Rakoff, are following in the giant footsteps of Mark Twain, Dorothy Parker and James Thurber as America’s great humorists. We’ve tried to limit ourselves to purely contemporary writers, but since we’ve lost several hilarious and essential voices all too recently, we’ve cheated just a bit. Read through our list after the jump, and since these are only our personal preferences plucked from a very long list, be sure to add your own favorites in the comments.

Rakoff was probably the most melancholic comedy writer of this or any time, his essays often as charmingly cranky as many of his peers’, but laced with a deeper, if lightly applied, sadness that made even the funniest hit home, especially when he wrote about his real life struggles with cancer. As Hilton Als reflected at Page-Turner . “[Rakoff’s work] combined the best aspects of reporting—a gimlet eye and an open heart—with a philosophical point of view that skipped ahead of any claim of self-indulgence.” He will be missed.

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David Rakoff Loses His Battle With Cancer, Fans React

David Rakoff Loses His Battle With Cancer, Fans React

Popular essayist David Rakoff lost his battle with cancer on Thursday at the age of 47. The frequent "This American Life " contributor was known for finding humor in tragedy.

Rakoff won his battle with Hodgkin's lymphoma at just 22 but endured was diagnosed with a malignant tumor in 2010, believed to have been caused by the treatment for his earlier cancer.

Rakoff wrote about facing mortality in his book "Half Empty ."

"I try to comfort myself with the first-person accounts I've heard of those who die on operating tables and come back: the light, the warmth, and the surge of love from one's dead ancestors urging you forward."

The unmistakable tone of his writing resonated with many. Fans of the award winning writer have taken to Twitter to express their grief.

"Oh no oh no oh no oh no. David Rakoff passed away. My heart is breaking and the literary world is missing a bright light," wrote musician Sarah Bareilles.

"Devastated. David Rakoff was a great, loving, supportive friend -- to me and so many others. Absolutely heartbroken by his death," wrote author Dan Savage.

"Heartbroken to hear about David Rakoff. This piece was one of the most moving pieces of writing I've ever heard: thisamericanlife.org/radio-archives. ," tweeted MSNBC host Christopher Hayes who linked to his essay "Speak Now or Forever Hold Your Peace."

A tumblr devoted to Rakoff, which offers a compilation of his greatest quotes, has also been created.

One of the most touching reactions to Rakoff's death came from journalist Edward Champion. The post, featured on Reluctant Habits. offers a thoughtful account of his life and work.

In it, Champion recalls past interviews with the "Half Empty" author notes that he was gracious, always keeping him well fed during their meetings and apologizing for stopping the interview each time he needed to take medication.

"Last night, David lost his battle with cancer," writes Champion. "But we still have the three books, the many 'This American Life' appearances, and David's quiet suggestion that a comic yet realistic dignity is an extraordinary defense against life's cruel setbacks."

According to the official "This American Life" website, Rakoff's final book (a novel written in rhyme) is set to be released in 2013.

Ira Glass - s Favorite Part of David Rakoff - s Last Writings - The Atlantic

Ira Glass's Favorite Part of David Rakoff's Last Writings

By Heart is a series in which authors share and discuss their all-time favorite passages in literature.

When David Rakoff died last year at the age of 47, he'd turned away from his trademark nonfiction to focus exclusively on a different form: rhyming poetry. The acclaimed essayist--known for tempering stark reflections with a generous spirit and rakish humor--completed a novel in verse just weeks before the malignant sarcoma in his shoulder killed him. This final product of Rakoff's fascination with meter and rhyme, titled Love, Dishonor, Marry, Die, Cherish, Perish. has been released by Doubleday this week.

Rare in our day despite its history of distinguished practitioners (you know, Homer, Chaucer, Derek Walcott), the novel in verse is already an odd duck--in The New York Times. Rakoff's editor admitted his hesitation about the project. But Rakoff's book is truly singular. In galloping tetrameter, it spans 100 years and several linked casts of characters. Deadpan portraits drawn by the artist Seth stare out at the reader between chapters. There is so much bound up in the novel's singsong verse: stories about AIDS and Alzheimer's, altruism, art, lives linked together by buried incidents that spring up again to bear unexpected fruit. (The book's narrative structure has tragic resonance for a writer whose initial course of radiation, taken at age 22 to stave off lymphoma, likely caused the sarcoma that killed him many years later.)

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Unsentimental to the core, it is strange that Rakoff was drawn to heroic couplets, the locked-in A / A / B / B rhyme scheme he masters here. The form is often associated with the kinds of banalities Rakoff, recipient of the James Thurber Prize for humor, liked to eviscerate: Hallmark cards and corporate jingles, failed children's poetry, and corny jokes. And crass wedding toasts--when Rakoff mocks one in a section that channels a bridesmaid's voice, the author's finely tuned verse goes all stilted and tin-eared. For its predictability and dogged lack of deviation, rhyming poetry tends to be synonymous with bad, bad, bad.

So why would Rakoff choose a much-abused and much-maligned rhyme form? Maybe to illustrate how tied we are, as humans, to banality. Dead before age 50, Rakoff knew all too well that even historic lives end in gloomy, fluid-stained beds (just listen to the chilling monologue he wrote for the Oscar-winning short film The New Tenants ). He knew, after years of painful treatment, that vain attempts to cheat death only make us more absurd. We're locked, predictable as clanging rhymes and measured meter, to the fact of our birth and fate, so Rakoff locked the last, best insights of his life inside a hackneyed form. If we can accept some serious measure of ingloriousness, he seems to say, then there is room for beauty, laughter, wisdom, and a kind of grace.

In this series, contributors celebrate the writers who have meant most to them. So to welcome Rakoff yet again to our shelves and Kindles, I reached out to Ira Glass, host of Public Radio International's This American Life. Rakoff's voice, silky but coiled with deadly wit, was a fixture on the show. Glass watched Love, Dishonor, Marry, Die, Cherish, Perish come to life--his friend read from drafts of it on the program in 2003 and 2009--and he shared the story behind one of the novel's most memorable and moving sections.

Ira Glass: Even as a little kid, I thought about death a lot. I grew up in the '60s, watched my Uncle Lenny get sent to Vietnam, and was sure I'd be going soon enough as well. As best as I could tell from TV, being a soldier looked a lot like doing sports and I sucked at sports. So I was certain I'd suck at being a soldier too. As a result I spent many nights of my childhood lying in bed before falling asleep, trying to imagine my imminent death, what it meant to not exist any more. I'd try to picture all of eternity continuing without me. I was a speck. I was nothing. I was gone. Forever. I can't believe this is a very unusual childhood experience.

As an adult, my nightly obsession with complete obliteration has faded, but I still have a weakness for any writing that returns me to my childhood bed, pondering what's to come. I love Billy Collins's poem "The Afterlife" where he posits that "Everyone is right, as it turns out. You go to the place you always thought you would go." Some, Collins writes, stand "naked before a forbidding judge who sits with a golden ladder on one side, a coal chute on the other," some evaporate into units of pure energy, some "are approaching the apartment of the female God, a woman in her forties with short wiry hair and glasses hanging from her neck by a string."

Shortly before he died, my friend David Rakoff wrote a very different sort of dispatch from the edge of the abyss. At the time, David had cancer and was playing out the endgame of trying one treatment after another, none of them working as well or as long as we all wanted. He was writing a novel in rhymed couplets. In this passage, he describes what it's like to know you have very few days left. He gives these thoughts to one of the book's main characters, Cliff, who at that point in the story is dying of AIDS.

I wish I had something smarter to say about this passage than this: I find it deeply relatable. I'm guessing that someday I--and maybe you, too--will have exactly this experience, pretty much exactly as he describes it. Ready for the hilarity? Just kidding. Here we go:

It was sadness that gripped him, far more than the fear
That, if facing the truth, he had maybe a year.
When poetic phrases like "eyes, look your last"
Become true, all you want is to stay, to hold fast.
A new, fierce attachment to all of this world
Now pierced him, it stabbed like a deity-hurled
Lightning bolt lancing him, sent from above,
Left him giddy and tearful. It felt like young love.
He'd thought of himself as uniquely proficient
At seeing, but now that sense felt insufficient.
He wanted to grab, to possess, to devour
To eat with his eyes, how he needed that power.

But, just like a child whose big gun is a stick,
Cliff was now harmless, he'd gotten too sick
To take any action beyond rudimentary
Routines that had shrunk to the most elementary:
Which pill to take now, and where is your sweater?
Did the Immodium make you feel better?
Study your shit to make sure you'd not bled,
Make sure the Kleenex is next to the bed.
"Make sure," "be prepared," plan out every endeavor
Like a scout on the stupidest camping trip ever.
The facts were now harder, reality colder
His parasol no match for that falling boulder.
And so the concern with the trivial issues:
Slippers nearby and the proximate tissues
He thought of those two things in life that don't vary
(Well, thought only glancingly; more was too scary)
Inevitable, why even bother to test it,
He'd paid all his taxes, so that left. you guessed it.

I know the day David wrote this. He told me. It was March 11, 2012. He had five months left to live. On that day, he and I and my wife went to see the Monica Bill Barnes Dance Company perform at the 92nd Street Y. Rakoff--who'd danced when he was younger--adored them. He told me later, that's where the line about "eat with your eyes" comes from.

I know the day David wrote this. He told me. It was March 11, 2012. He had five months left to live.

Fortunately, he got to do more than eat those dancers with his eyes. Monica, who runs the company, created a dance for Rakoff that he performed in a show we did onstage two months later.

It wrecked me every time I saw him practice or perform the piece, and it wrecks me now when I see the video. Every time he did it, he and all of us who were close to him knew it was one of the last times he'd get a chance to move like that. That's a weird thing to have in your head as you watch a performance. Like the person's already gone but they're standing right there in front of you, now bending, now gliding into a turn, now raising an arm in arc to the sky.

Just last month I saw Monica Bill Barnes perform the dance, do David's part, as a solo onstage. I know every step of the piece so well from seeing it so many times, it was like watching his ghost take over someone else's body and move it around the floor. I know how melodramatic that sounds, but really, he suddenly seemed so there. It chilled me.

I'm so glad he finished the book. I'm so glad he got to do that last dance. What else are you going to do, when you know you have so little time left? Dance a bit. Write a bit. Think about your future only glancingly. More is too scary. Which is, I suppose, not so different from what the rest of us do, starting when we're little kids, for most of our lives.

I Was a Muslim in Trump's White House

When President Obama left, I stayed on at the National Security Council in order to serve my country. I lasted eight days.

In 2011, I was hired, straight out of college, to work at the White House and eventually the National Security Council. My job there was to promote and protect the best of what my country stands for. I am a hijab-wearing Muslim woman––I was the only hijabi in the West Wing––and the Obama administration always made me feel welcome and included.

Like most of my fellow American Muslims, I spent much of 2016 watching with consternation as Donald Trump vilified our community. Despite this––or because of it––I thought I should try to stay on the NSC staff during the Trump Administration, in order to give the new president and his aides a more nuanced view of Islam, and of America's Muslim citizens.

Why Nothing Works Anymore

Technology has its own purposes.

“No… it’s a magic potty,” my daughter used to lament, age 3 or so, before refusing to use a public restroom stall with an automatic-flush toilet. As a small person, she was accustomed to the infrared sensor detecting erratic motion at the top of her head and violently flushing beneath her. Better, in her mind, just to delay relief than to subject herself to the magic potty’s dark dealings.

It’s hardly just a problem for small people. What adult hasn’t suffered the pneumatic public toilet’s whirlwind underneath them? Or again when attempting to exit the stall? So many ordinary objects and experiences have become technologized—made dependent on computers, sensors, and other apparatuses meant to improve them—that they have also ceased to work in their usual manner. It’s common to think of such defects as matters of bad design. That’s true, in part. But technology is also more precarious than it once was. Unstable, and unpredictable. At least from the perspective of human users. From the vantage point of technology, if it can be said to have a vantage point, it's evolving separately from human use.

When Evidence Says No, but Doctors Say Yes

Long after research contradicts common medical practices, patients continue to demand them and physicians continue to deliver. The result is an epidemic of unnecessary and unhelpful treatments.

First, listen to the story with the happy ending: At 61, the executive was in excellent health. His blood pressure was a bit high, but everything else looked good, and he exercised regularly. Then he had a scare. He went for a brisk post-lunch walk on a cool winter day, and his chest began to hurt. Back inside his office, he sat down, and the pain disappeared as quickly as it had come.

That night, he thought more about it: middle-aged man, high blood pressure, stressful job, chest discomfort. The next day, he went to a local emergency department. Doctors determined that the man had not suffered a heart attack and that the electrical activity of his heart was completely normal. All signs suggested that the executive had stable angina—chest pain that occurs when the heart muscle is getting less blood-borne oxygen than it needs, often because an artery is partially blocked.

What on Earth Is Going On With the Stock Market?

Millions of Americans are worried that Donald Trump is an ominous figure. Investors have another theory: maybe not.

Donald Trump so permeates the collective consciousness of the country that it is hard to imagine now living in a world without him. But there is one place where the president seems to be relatively invisible—the U.S. stock market.

The Dow, S&P, and Nasdaq have set record highs in the months after Trump’s election. On Thursday, the Dow has its tenth consecutive record closing in a row, at 20,810. This is happening, despite the fact that investors seemed terrified of a Trump presidency in the general election campaign. Trump came into office promising to antagonize America’s allies and economic partners while crushing the international establishment. None of this is particularly favorable to multinational corporations. Even worse, Trump’s first few weeks in office were a maelstrom of hasty lawmaking and furious backtracking, exactly the sort of behavior one might consider a threat to the all-important “certainty” that markets ostensibly crave. What’s more, mainstream economists are nearly united in their certainty that Trump’s core policies, like scrapping free trade agreements while severely limiting immigration, would be bad for the country.

Kansas Republicans Sour on Their Tax-Cut Experiment

The state legislature nearly reversed Governor Sam Brownback’s signature policy after a voter rebellion. His economic legacy, one GOP lawmaker says, “is going down in flames.”

It was only two months ago that Governor Sam Brownback was offering up the steep tax cuts he enacted in Kansas as a model for President Trump to follow. Yet by the time Republicans in Congress get around to tax reform, Brownback’s fiscal plan could be history—and it’ll be his own party that kills it.

The GOP-controlled legislature in Kansas nearly reversed the conservative governor’s tax cuts on Tuesday, as a coalition of Democrats and newly-elected centrist Republicans came within a few votes of overriding Brownback’s veto of legislation to raise income-tax rates and eliminate an exemption for small businesses that blew an enormous hole in the state’s budget. Brownback’s tax cuts survive for now, but lawmakers and political observers view the surprising votes in the state House and Senate as a strong sign that the five-year-old policy will be substantially erased in a final budget deal this spring. Kansas legislators must close a $346 million deficit by June, and years of borrowing and quick fixes have left them with few remaining options aside from tax hikes or deep spending cuts to education that could be challenged in court. The tax bill would have raised revenues by more than $1 billion over two years.

The Bow-Tied Bard of Populism

Tucker Carlson’s latest reinvention is guided by a simple principle—a staunch aversion to whatever his right-minded neighbors believe.

Tucker Carlson is selling me hard on the swamp. It is an unseasonably warm afternoon in late January, and we are seated at a corner table in Monocle, an upscale Capitol Hill restaurant frequented by the Fox News star. (Carlson, who typically skips breakfast and spends dinnertime on the air, is a fan of the long, luxurious, multi-course lunch, and when I requested an interview he proposed we do it here.) As we scan the menus, I mention that I’ll be moving soon to the Washington area, and he promptly launches into an enthusiastic recitation of the district’s many virtues and amenities.

“I’m so pathetically eager for people to love D.C.,” he admits. “It’s so sad. It’s like I work for the chamber of commerce or something.”

The Meaning of Kim Jong Nam's Murder

His death has punctured the myth of the Kims' holy bloodline.

As the first son of Kim Jong Il, the late leader of the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea, Kim Jong Nam always posed a threat to Kim Jong Un, his half brother and North Korea’s current leader. Before falling out of favor with his father and going into exile soon after, paving the way for Kim Jong Un’s ascent, Kim Jong Nam was the heir apparent. With the execution in 2013 of Jang Sung Tak, the second in command and the eldest son’s staunchest supporter, Kim Jong Nam was unprotected, with little hope of ever returning home.

On February 13, Kim Jong Nam was murdered in Kuala Lumpur airport by two hired killers. The fascination surrounding the killing has centered on its sensational circumstances: that one of the killers smeared a poisonous toxin, reportedly VX gas. across Kim’s face; that one of them wore a T-shirt with the acronym “LOL” printed across the front; that the other reportedly mistook the hit for a comedy stunt. Malaysian police have detained five people allegedly connected to the killing, and remain on the hunt for others—including several North Koreans—linked to it.

Paul Ryan's Tax Plan May Not Do What Trump Says It Will

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For as loudly as Donald Trump complains about foreign trade, it’s hard to pin him to specifics. Does he prefer a 20 percent tariff on Mexican imports? Or a 45 percent tax on companies that move jobs overseas? Or… something else?

On Thursday, the president made his position a bit more clear. In an interview with Reuters, he praised a proposal by House Speaker Paul Ryan to broadly tax imports but remove taxes on exports, a core component of the Republican “Better Way” blueprint.

Ryan wants the “border adjustment” as part of a larger refactoring of the American tax code, something fiscal conservatives have sought for a long time. But Trump doesn’t appear to care about tax reform. He just wants domestic job growth.

A Doozy of a Lawsuit Over Self-Driving Cars

Waymo is suing Uber, and says a former employee stole nearly 10 gigabytes of secret files.

A stunning claim of stolen trade secrets may be the first big intellectual property battle of the self-driving car era.

Waymo, the self-driving car company that began at Google, is suing Uber and the self-driving truck company Otto, which Uber acquired last year. Waymo said in a federal lawsuit filed on Thursday that one of Google’s former software engineers, Anthony Levandowski, installed special software on his laptop so he could download more than 14,000 secret documents—totaling nearly 10 gigabytes of “highly confidential data”—from the company’s server when he still worked at Google. Waymo claims in the court filing that Levandowski then reformatted the laptop in an attempt to wipe it of evidence, then never used the laptop again.

The Politics of Retelling Norse Mythology

Neil Gaiman’s remarkable new book has triggered a debate about who, exactly, owns pagan tales.

Myths are funny. Unlike histories, they are symbolic narratives; they deal with spiritual rather than fact-based truths. They serve as foundations for beliefs, illustrating how things came to be and who was involved, but they’re often sketchy about when or why. There’s a brief scene from Neil Gaiman’s new book Norse Mythology that does a remarkable job of capturing just this: the wonderfully nebulous sense of being in illo tempore— the hazy “at that time” of the mythic past. It begins, as many creation myths do, with “an empty place waiting to be filled with life,” but in this instance some life already exists. There’s Ymir, whose enormous body produces all giants and, eventually, the earth, skies, and seas. There’s Audhumla, the celestial cow, who licks the first gods out of blocks of ice. And there are three brothers—the gods Ve, Vili, and Odin—who must devise a way out of this timeless nowhere:

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