I’m not a great fan of limericks. By a curious accident, however, we have on our living room wall an original autograph letter—itself a limerick, answering a request for a limerick—by one of the great limerick makers of the last century, the English priest and writer Ronald Knox:
“I don’t believe in God, but I miss him.” The first words of English novelist Julian Barnes’s hauntingly beautiful memoir, Nothing to Be Frightened Of, suggest that this is not going to be your typical atheist’s manifesto. There will be no shots across the bow à la Richard Dawkins, no overblown criticisms of religion’s deleterious influence à la Christopher Hitchens.
It’s the day after the election, and I am clicking around on one of the many interactive maps of the nation available on the Internet. I’ve found one that shows, in reds and blues, how every single county in the nation voted. You click on a state and the data for each county appear, down to the very last vote.
I did not own one for ages. The first reason was personal: driving the car was a kind of Sabbath for me, with nothing to do but listen to music and watch the scenery. Why muck that up with a ringing telephone? The second reason was ecological: if I detested the microwave towers that were springing up all over the countryside, then why participate in their proliferation?
There are times when the world, instead of being the solid stage on which we conduct our affairs, instead of enveloping us in its massive givenness, seems to totter at the cliff’s edge. The news announces financial meltdown, the friend who seemed forever young dies, the best plans and provisions crumble. What does the future hold?
Jason Trigg, a recent MIT graduate in computer science, may represent a new breed in his generation. He’s taken a job at a Wall Street hedge fund company to make as much money as he can—so he can give away as much as he can. His favorite charity is the Against Malaria Foundation, which estimates that a $2,500 donation can save one life. Trigg, who lives with three roommates, figures he can do more by contributing to good causes than by actually working in them. Rather than going on a mission trip to dig wells in Africa, he can contribute funds to have more wells dug. Trigg attributes his career choice to philosopher Peter Singer, who regards earning-to-give as the most ethical career choice (Wonkblog, washingtonpost.com, May 31).