No matter how safe Walter White may have made the cooking of meth look on Breaking Bad, the real life process is dangerous and potentially deadly, even to those not directly involved.

“Chemicals such as acetone, phosphine, hydrochloric acid, lye, sulfuric acid and ammonia are all released into the home during the cooking process,” said Jeremy Shelton, a Certified Microbial Consultant who routinely tests homes across America’s Southeast for exposure. “The chemicals used are extremely dangerous and can cause serious respiratory problems, cancer, and in some cases death.”

Unfortunately, state regulations vary when it comes to the requirements of disclosing the history of former meth houses, as well as the clean up of such homes, so those buying or renting in a residence formerly used as a meth lab might never know about its past.

“I’ve dealt with everything from the unsuspecting homeowner who has unexplained respiratory issues and migraines, to apartment complexes who have had a meth lab in a single unit where we test that unit and the surrounding units,” Shelton said.

But now there is a way for potential renters and buyers to glean some insight into the pasts of their current, or potential residences.

The founders of DiedinHouse.com, which provides reports to homeowners and renters who want to know if someone has died in their home, has now added a new report that allows renters and homeowners to find out if their home was formerly reported as a site for cooking meth.

“It’s important for buyers or renters to know what they are moving into,” said Roy Condrey, founder of DiedinHouse.com.

Consumers can visit the site, input their address and pay $11.99 to get a report that includes details of a death or meth activity having occurred in the home.

It’s still early and Condrey says he has less than 50,000 reports of former meth homes across the US, however, he expects the numbers to continue to grow due to the meth epidemic sweeping the country. From the data reported thus far, Condrey said the top number of reported meth homes are in the following states.

Missouri
Oklahoma
Indiana
Tennessee
Arkansas

The company is also providing a new service for renters and buyers who might want to get a bargain on a formerly “stigmatized” home.

“We can now provide a list of stigmatized addresses to buyers an renters who are looking for a bargain and claim to not care if the property is stigmatized,” Condrey said.

http://hotpads.com/blog/2015/04/living-meth-house/?utm_source=hotwire&utm_medium=email&utm_campaign=hotwire

Thanks to Jody Troupe for bringing this to the It’s Interesting community.

A new drug that gives people superhuman strength, but leads to violent delusions, is gaining attention.

The drug, which has the street name of Flakka, is a synthetic stimulant that is chemically similar to bath salts. Flakka is fast developing a reputation for what seem to be its nasty side effects, including a tendency to give people enormous rage and strength, along with intense hallucinations.”

Even though addicted, users tell us they are literally afraid of this drug,” said James Hall, an epidemiologist at the Center for Applied Research on Substance Use and Health Disparities at Nova Southeastern University in Florida. “As one user recently reported, it’s $5 insanity.”

From what it is to how it may work, here are five facts about Flakka.

1. What is it?

Flakka, which is also called gravel in some parts of the country, is the street name for a chemical called alpha-PVP, or alpha-pyrrolidinovalerophenone. The chemical is a synthetic cathinone, a category that includes the mild natural stimulant khat, which people in Somalia and the Middle East have chewed for centuries. Chemically, Flakka is a next-generation, more powerful version of bath salts. Flakka was banned by the Drug Enforcement Administration in early 2014.

2. What are its effects?

At low doses, Flakka is a stimulant with mild hallucinatory effects.

Like cocaine and methamphetamine, Flakka stimulates the release of feel-good brain chemicals such as dopamine and norepinephrine, Hall said. The drug also prevents neurons, or brain cells, from reabsorbing these brain chemicals, meaning the effects of the drug may linger in the system longer than people anticipate.

3. What are the dangers?

The danger comes from the drug’s incredible potency. A typical dose is just 0.003 ounces (0.1 grams), but “just a little bit more will trigger very severe adverse effects,” Hall told Live Science. “Even a mild overdose can cause heart-related problems, or agitation, or severe aggression and psychosis.”

Because of the drug’s addictive properties, users may take the drug again shortly after taking their first dose, but that can lead to an overdose, Hall said. Then, users report, “they can’t think,” and will experience what’s known as the excited delirium syndrome: Their bodies overheat, often reaching 105 degrees Fahrenheit, they will strip off their clothes and become violent and delusional, he said. The drug also triggers the adrenaline-fueled fight-or-flight response, leading to the extreme strength described in news reports.

“Police are generally called, but it might take four or five or six officers to restrain the individual,” Hall said.

At that point, emergency responders will try to counteract the effects of the drug in the person’s system by injecting a sedative such as the benzodiazepine Ativan, and if they can’t, the person can die, Hall said.

In the last several months, 10 people have died from Flakka overdoses, he said. (Users of PCP, Ecstasy, cocaine and methamphetamine can also experience the excited delirium syndrome.)

4. How is it sold?

According to Hall’s research, alpha-PVP is often purchased online in bulk from locations such as China, typically at $1,500 per kilogram. Doses typically sell on the street for $4 or $5, and because each dose is so tiny, that means dealers can net about $50,000 from their initial investment, as long as they have the networks to distribute the drug.

5. Why are we only hearing about it now?

Evidence suggests the illegal drug has only recently come on the scene. Crime lab reports from seized drugs reveal that seizures of alpha-PVP have soared, from 699 samples testing positive for the drug in 2010, to 16,500 in 2013, according to the Drug Enforcement Administration’s National Forensic Laboratory Information System.

About 22 percent of the drug seizures that tested positive for alpha-PVP came from South Florida, according to the data.

http://www.livescience.com/50502-what-is-flakka.html

Earthworms have been raining down from heaven over large areas of southern Norway, leaving biologists and meteorologists scratching their heads.

Biology teacher Karstein Erstad was out for a ski in the mountains outside Bergen on Sunday when he came across the unusual phenomenon.

“I saw thousands of earthworms on the surface of the snow,” he told The Local. “When I found them on the snow they seemed to be dead, but when I put them in my hand I found that they were alive.”

At first he thought that they had perhaps crawled though the snow from the ground beneath, but on reflection, he rejected this idea.

“In many places, the snow thickness was between half a meter and a meter and I think they would have problems crawling through the cold snow.”

Since Erstad’s discovery was reported in Norway’s NRK news channel, corroborating reports have flooded in from across southern Norway, with sightings of worm rainfall in Lindås and Suldal near Bergen, and as far away as Femunden on the Swedish border.

“People have now observed the same phenomenon in many places in Norway,” Erstad told The Local. “It’s very peculiar, I don’t know why so many people have discovered it. I don’t know if there have been some special weather conditions lately.”

Erstad has found reports of the worm rainfall phenomenon taking place in Sweden in the 1920s.

“It’s a very rare phenomenon,” he told The Local. “It’s difficult to say how many times it happens, but it has only been reported a very few times.”

http://www.thelocal.no/20150416/earthworms-rain-from-sky-over-southern-norway

Price, who heads up the Seattle payment processing firm Gravity Payments that he founded, has pledged to make sure all of his staffers make at least $70,000 annually in the next three years.

To do that he’s cutting his $1 million salary to $70,000, and dipping into the firm’s annual $2 million in profits.

This will double the pay of about 30 of his workers and will mean significant raises for an additional 40.
Price told employees of the new pay policy at a meeting Monday. For several moments there was stunned silence before people broke into applause and high fives said Phillip Akhavan, a merchants relations worker whose $43,000 salary immediately jumped 16% to $50,000.

“It took us a moment to understand what he was saying,” said Akhavan. His first call was to his wife, who he said didn’t believe him at first.

Nydelis Ortiz, a 25-year old underwriter who only started work there in January called her parents with the news. The family had struggled with homelessness after they moved to the states from Puerto Rico when she was a girl, and Ortiz, who also is now paid $50,000 said she now makes more than both her parents combined.

“My mom cried when I told her,” she said. Her $36,000 salary was one of the lowest in the company.

Jason Byrd, 38, had struggled to get by in Seattle on his $40,000 salary as a technician. “This gives us so much freedom to just do our jobs and not have to worry about money,” he said. He said he’ll save some of his extra pay, and try to pay down some of the $42,000 he owes in student loans. “I almost bought a new Jeep today, then I decided I’ll keep driving this one until it dies,” he said.

Price said he’s the majority owner of the privately-held firm, which he started in his college dorm room 11 years ago. His older brother, who gave him seed money to get started, is the only other stockholder.

“My brother Lucas reacted with caution and questions, but not objections,” said Price. He’s single so he didn’t have to explain his pay cut to a spouse.

Price decided to hike his employees pay after he read a study about happiness. It said additional income can make a significant difference in a person’s emotional well being up to the point when they earn $75,000 a year.

He’d also been hearing employees talk about the challenges of finding housing and meeting other expenses on their current salary, and decided there shouldn’t be such a big gap between his pay as CEO and that of his workers. He described the raises as a “moral imperative.”

Price told CNNMoney he isn’t the only CEO looking to close the income gap. He’s heard from almost 100 other CEO via email and text who say they support his move. “I don’t know if we’ll see enough to move the needle, but i think people of my generation are committed to making a change.”

Price said he’ll stick with the reduced paycheck until he can restore Gravity’s profits.

“My goal is to get back to previous profit levels within two to three years,” he said.

Price said the 50 workers who already earn more than $70,000 were nearly as excited about the news as their lower paid co-workers.

“They are happy that the folks that enable them to be high earners — their team members — will be taken care of,” Price said.

Customer reaction has also been positive.

“They love our service level and think the team deserves it,” he said.

One thing he didn’t expect: “We are all surprised at the coverage this is getting,” Price said.

http://www.stumbleupon.com/su/31DlLA/uz3Yp3-Y:WMTsH3BV/money.cnn.com/2015/04/14/news/companies/ceo-pay-cuts-pay-increases/index.html

by CHRISTOPHER NULL

THE WHISKEY RENAISSANCE has the world clamoring for well-aged hooch, but the so-called brown spirits—whiskey, brandy, rum—have one widely-publicized problem. It takes time, and lots of it, to make them. Or at least to make them taste good.

The booze industry has been looking for shortcuts to the aging process virtually since its inception, ranging from dumping extra oak chips into barrels of whiskey to artificially heating and cooling them to rapidly simulate the passing of seasons. While some of these tools have had modest levels of success, many have been complete failures. In fact, even Jesus weighed in on the dangers of trying to hasten the processes of nature when he said, “No one puts new wine into old wineskins; or else the new wine will burst the wineskins and be spilled, and the wineskins will be ruined.” (Luke 5:37)

If Bryan Davis has his way, that’s all about to be totally upended, sacrilege or not. Davis has come up with a method of producing spirits that taste like they’ve been aging in the barrel for 20 years, but his process only takes six days. Davis doesn’t accelerate the aging process like so many of the methods that have been tried in the past. Rather, he shortcuts it by taking new distillate and running it through his proprietary chemical reactor. Davis’s device forces the creation of the same key chemical compounds that give a well-aged spirit its unique character. Give him a week, and Davis says he can create a booze that tastes decades old.

The transformative effect Davis’s technique could have on the spirits industry cannot be overstated—not only from a production standpoint, but also in the challenge it presents to long-held attitudes about the craft of distilling. It’s something that takes time, and lots of it, to be done correctly. By all but removing time from the equation, Davis could end up rebooting the entire culture.

Of course, that’s only true if Davis’s system actually works as well as he claims. Those of us who’ve tasted the results are already believers. Whether or not the rest of the spirits world will raise their glasses in praise remains to be seen.

The Young Science of Making Old Spirits

Formerly employed as an art teacher, Davis decided to get into absinthe distilling when the U.S. production ban lifted. While living in Spain he made a well-regarded bottling called Obsello beginning in 2006. By 2009 the absinthe market was starting to tank so he set his sights on more traditional, aged spirits. He sold Obsello, relocated to the states with his girlfriend and business partner Joanne Haruta, and started Lost Spirits as a self-described “skunk works” on the shores of the Pacific in Monterey, California.

Lost Spirits at one time boasted a completely wooden still (these work with steam rather than direct heat) and a water cooling reservoir that doubled as a gloriously heated swimming pool after each production run. Lost Spirits initially turned out heavily-peated American whiskeys designed to taste like the spirits you find on Scotland’s Islay, and bottlings like Lost Spirits Leviathan generated a cult following among peat freaks.
Leviathan spent just a short time in barrel, but Davis wanted to figure out a way to reduce the time even further—preferably to nearly zero. Explaining his interest in the subject, Davis says “it just seemed like something doable and with a massive benefit and need. I didn’t—and still don’t—think the craft spirits movement could survive without someone hacking the process.” Aging in barrels for years requires a massive amount of capital that few small distilleries can afford. Reducing that time ultimately became a bit of a quest for Davis, and he started tinkering with the science of aging as a hobby around 2008, immersing himself in researching the chemical reactions that take place inside the barrel and partnering with a biochemist to understand the magical ways that wood and alcohol interact.

A breakthrough came in 2010, when Davis says he finally figured out how to force “oak catalyzed esterification,” a key part of the maturation process.

Like any foodstuff, aged spirits are complex beasts, with every step of the production process contributing to the final product. Fermentation and distillation are the quick and relatively easy parts. It’s inside the barrel where things undergo the mightiest of changes, and where spirits like whiskey and Cognac develop their characteristic nuances.

New-make distillate is distinguished by short-chain molecules called carboxylic esters and short-chain fatty acids. In a white dog or unaged whiskey, these have aromas that include overripe fruit and paint thinner and vinegar. Drinkable, but rarely worth savoring by the fire. Still, you need these chemicals to start with, because the interaction between these compounds and the wood in the barrel results in two processes: extraction and esterification.

Much as it sounds, extraction involves the pulling of new chemicals from the oak, including phenol, benzoic acid, and vanillin. When you taste notes of sawed wood, burnt toast, smoke, or vanilla in a whiskey, it’s largely due to extraction of these compounds from the barrel, literally aldehydes and phenols leaching into your drink. Extraction isn’t all that difficult, but alone it doesn’t really impact a spirit that positively. (Inhale the essence-of-lumberyard aroma of a craft whiskey that was aged for six months and you’ll get the idea.)

Davis says that the more complex part of the barrel aging process is esterification, which is when alcohol and phenol or weak acids bond together. The result of this reaction is the creation of medium- and long-chain esters, which are responsible for the flavors and aromas of honey, floral elements, and nutty notes—the classic character of a nicely aged spirit. Meanwhile, “off” flavors dissipate during the process as the short-chain acids vanish in the reaction. Says Davis, “Butyric acid, a common acid found in white rums, has the characteristic aroma of vomit. However, when it is esterified with ethanol, the resulting ester, ethyl butyrate, has the aroma of a pineapple.” Sounds great, but the process can take years or decades, depending on the climate in which the barrel is stored.

It’s All About the Esters

The trick then is to encourage esterification in a short time period, and that’s the core science behind Davis’s Model 1 reactor. The reactor accomplishes this in three stages, taking white distillate and chunks of oak as inputs. The first stage forces the esterification of short-chained fatty acids in the white spirit, turning them into fruity, short-chained esters. Phase two literally splits apart big polymer molecules in the oak, extracting the compounds needed to complete the esterification process. This pulls out the aldehydes needed for the final step, but also some unpleasant medium-chained acids. In the final stage, those acids and phenolic compounds are forced to esterify, with simple esters being made to bind and combine into longer-chained esters that would normally be associated with a very mature spirit.

What comes out the other side is not necessarily an aged spirit, but rather one that bears the same chemical signature of an aged spirit. Davis uses mass spectrometry to compare old spirits with products put through his process. Spikes on the chromatogram correspond to compounds that appear in the highest concentrations in the spirits.

Davis simplifies all of this, saying, “Our trick was to develop a system that breaks the wood polymers apart in the same proportion as classical aging. Then force the esterification.” But that’s really all that Davis can say publicly about the process until his patents are finalized. In a nutshell, he is catalyzing the same chemical reactions that happen in the barrel, rapid-fire.

Reviving Dead Spirits Through Science

A few years ago, while developing the Model 1, Davis switched from whiskey to rum production. (Bags of sugar are easier to come by.) Lost Spirits Colonial American Inspired Rum, released in December 2014, was the first commercial product to fully undergo the Lost Spirits accelerated aging process, and the reviews were glowing (including one from this critic). Bottled at 62 percent alcohol, it’s a bracing, navy-strength rum with intense coffee, dried fruit, and chocolate notes, with a gentle smoky finish.

Colonial tastes a lot like very old, overproof rum—The Black Tot is often mentioned—which is of course the whole idea. The chromatograms that compare this rum to very old stock (like Port Mourant 33 Years Old) are uncannily similar. Spikes on both graphs show that both products contain significant doses of ethyl octanoate, ethyl propanoate, and isovaleraldehyde, among a dozen or so other compounds. Both spirits spike in the same places, though Colonial’s are often a bit smaller—an effect Davis chalks up to the limitations of his technique.

“It tops out after about 20 years,” he says. “If you let it keep running after that, things quickly go out of balance.” Davis says that’s because the Model 1 does not allow for any substantial evaporation: Put in 100 liters of white dog and you get back about 98 liters of aged spirit. Without the “angel’s share”—equating to about 50 percent evaporation in a 33 year old rum—it just doesn’t seem possible to push a spirit any further.

The Model 1 can process 555 liters of spirit every week. The software is cloud-based, controlled by an onsite iPad but managed by Davis. Davis requires a $20,000 deposit to lease a reactor, which will cost $4,000 a month to rent. After an initial run of five to be shipped this summer, he wants to produce 50 reactors a year.

Davis says he wants to promote higher quality spirits, save time and money for distillers, and allow for rapid prototyping. Now a distiller needn’t wait 20 years to see if a new mashbill produces a spirit worth drinking. “Distillers will be able to immediately see what a spirit aged in, say, chestnut wood tastes like,” he says.

Davis also says the goal isn’t necessarily to increase subterfuge in an industry that already suffers from a high level of artifice. “Transparency is important. Quality is more important,” says Davis. “I hope we can help a bunch of distilleries to show an amazing value to consumers. My beta testers (so far) have said they desire to be up front about it. If this becomes a major issue I may well intervene. Until the patent expires, this is under my company’s control. As long as I have the driver’s seat I intend to see an open and transparent market.”
One of Davis’s big goals is that the reactor will make it possible to revive, well, “lost spirits” that are no longer in production, like the beloved but defunct Wray & Nephew 17 Year Old Rum, built not through poring over old recipe books and notes but rather by simply recreating their chemical signatures in the lab.

Prior and Future Art

The distilling world is awash in companies that are trying to leverage technology to rapidly age spirits, but Davis dismisses them all as primitive at best, charlatans at worst. Perhaps the closest to Lost Spirits is a company called Terressentia, which uses ultrasound and oxygenation to purportedly induce the production of long-chain esters like Davis. Products made with the company’s TerrePURE are commercially available and are often labeled as such. “Based on their patent, Terressentia is where we were five years ago,” says Davis.

Meanwhile, Davis has his own believers lining up. He formally and publicly unveiled the Model 1 at the American Distilling Institute Annual Spirits Conference in Louisville, Kentucky, on April 1, as inauspicious a choice of release date as possible for such a machine. After his presentation, he says he received 27 inquiries and signed up nine beta testers to fill his five openings. He’s now holding a waiting list for future customers.

http://www.wired.com/2015/04/lost-spirits/

by David Brooks

ABOUT once a month I run across a person who radiates an inner light. These people can be in any walk of life. They seem deeply good. They listen well. They make you feel funny and valued. You often catch them looking after other people and as they do so their laugh is musical and their manner is infused with gratitude. They are not thinking about what wonderful work they are doing. They are not thinking about themselves at all.

When I meet such a person it brightens my whole day. But I confess I often have a sadder thought: It occurs to me that I’ve achieved a decent level of career success, but I have not achieved that. I have not achieved that generosity of spirit, or that depth of character.

A few years ago I realized that I wanted to be a bit more like those people. I realized that if I wanted to do that I was going to have to work harder to save my own soul. I was going to have to have the sort of moral adventures that produce that kind of goodness. I was going to have to be better at balancing my life.

It occurred to me that there were two sets of virtues, the résumé virtues and the eulogy virtues. The résumé virtues are the skills you bring to the marketplace. The eulogy virtues are the ones that are talked about at your funeral — whether you were kind, brave, honest or faithful. Were you capable of deep love?

We all know that the eulogy virtues are more important than the résumé ones. But our culture and our educational systems spend more time teaching the skills and strategies you need for career success than the qualities you need to radiate that sort of inner light. Many of us are clearer on how to build an external career than on how to build inner character.

But if you live for external achievement, years pass and the deepest parts of you go unexplored and unstructured. You lack a moral vocabulary. It is easy to slip into a self-satisfied moral mediocrity. You grade yourself on a forgiving curve. You figure as long as you are not obviously hurting anybody and people seem to like you, you must be O.K. But you live with an unconscious boredom, separated from the deepest meaning of life and the highest moral joys. Gradually, a humiliating gap opens between your actual self and your desired self, between you and those incandescent souls you sometimes meet.

So a few years ago I set out to discover how those deeply good people got that way. I didn’t know if I could follow their road to character (I’m a pundit, more or less paid to appear smarter and better than I really am). But I at least wanted to know what the road looked like.

I came to the conclusion that wonderful people are made, not born — that the people I admired had achieved an unfakeable inner virtue, built slowly from specific moral and spiritual accomplishments.

If we wanted to be gimmicky, we could say these accomplishments amounted to a moral bucket list, the experiences one should have on the way toward the richest possible inner life. Here, quickly, are some of them:

THE HUMILITY SHIFT
We live in the culture of the Big Me. The meritocracy wants you to promote yourself. Social media wants you to broadcast a highlight reel of your life. Your parents and teachers were always telling you how wonderful you were.

But all the people I’ve ever deeply admired are profoundly honest about their own weaknesses. They have identified their core sin, whether it is selfishness, the desperate need for approval, cowardice, hardheartedness or whatever. They have traced how that core sin leads to the behavior that makes them feel ashamed. They have achieved a profound humility, which has best been defined as an intense self-awareness from a position of other-centeredness.

SELF-DEFEAT
External success is achieved through competition with others. But character is built during the confrontation with your own weakness. Dwight Eisenhower, for example, realized early on that his core sin was his temper. He developed a moderate, cheerful exterior because he knew he needed to project optimism and confidence to lead. He did silly things to tame his anger. He took the names of the people he hated, wrote them down on slips of paper and tore them up and threw them in the garbage. Over a lifetime of self-confrontation, he developed a mature temperament. He made himself strong in his weakest places.

THE DEPENDENCY LEAP
Many people give away the book “Oh, the Places You’ll Go!” as a graduation gift. This book suggests that life is an autonomous journey. We master certain skills and experience adventures and certain challenges on our way to individual success. This individualist worldview suggests that character is this little iron figure of willpower inside. But people on the road to character understand that no person can achieve self-mastery on his or her own. Individual will, reason and compassion are not strong enough to consistently defeat selfishness, pride and self-deception. We all need redemptive assistance from outside.

People on this road see life as a process of commitment making. Character is defined by how deeply rooted you are. Have you developed deep connections that hold you up in times of challenge and push you toward the good? In the realm of the intellect, a person of character has achieved a settled philosophy about fundamental things. In the realm of emotion, she is embedded in a web of unconditional loves. In the realm of action, she is committed to tasks that can’t be completed in a single lifetime.

ENERGIZING LOVE
Dorothy Day led a disorganized life when she was young: drinking, carousing, a suicide attempt or two, following her desires, unable to find direction. But the birth of her daughter changed her. She wrote of that birth, “If I had written the greatest book, composed the greatest symphony, painted the most beautiful painting or carved the most exquisite figure I could not have felt the more exalted creator than I did when they placed my child in my arms.”

That kind of love decenters the self. It reminds you that your true riches are in another. Most of all, this love electrifies. It puts you in a state of need and makes it delightful to serve what you love. Day’s love for her daughter spilled outward and upward. As she wrote, “No human creature could receive or contain so vast a flood of love and joy as I often felt after the birth of my child. With this came the need to worship, to adore.”

She made unshakable commitments in all directions. She became a Catholic, started a radical newspaper, opened settlement houses for the poor and lived among the poor, embracing shared poverty as a way to build community, to not only do good, but be good. This gift of love overcame, sometimes, the natural self-centeredness all of us feel.

THE CALL WITHIN THE CALL
We all go into professions for many reasons: money, status, security. But some people have experiences that turn a career into a calling. These experiences quiet the self. All that matters is living up to the standard of excellence inherent in their craft.

Frances Perkins was a young woman who was an activist for progressive causes at the start of the 20th century. She was polite and a bit genteel. But one day she stumbled across the Triangle Shirtwaist factory fire, and watched dozens of garment workers hurl themselves to their deaths rather than be burned alive. That experience shamed her moral sense and purified her ambition. It was her call within a call.

After that, she turned herself into an instrument for the cause of workers’ rights. She was willing to work with anybody, compromise with anybody, push through hesitation. She even changed her appearance so she could become a more effective instrument for the movement. She became the first woman in a United States cabinet, under Franklin D. Roosevelt, and emerged as one of the great civic figures of the 20th century.

THE CONSCIENCE LEAP
In most lives there’s a moment when people strip away all the branding and status symbols, all the prestige that goes with having gone to a certain school or been born into a certain family. They leap out beyond the utilitarian logic and crash through the barriers of their fears.

The novelist George Eliot (her real name was Mary Ann Evans) was a mess as a young woman, emotionally needy, falling for every man she met and being rejected. Finally, in her mid-30s she met a guy named George Lewes. Lewes was estranged from his wife, but legally he was married. If Eliot went with Lewes she would be labeled an adulterer by society. She’d lose her friends, be cut off by her family. It took her a week to decide, but she went with Lewes. “Light and easily broken ties are what I neither desire theoretically nor could live for practically. Women who are satisfied with such ties do not act as I have done,” she wrote.

She chose well. Her character stabilized. Her capacity for empathetic understanding expanded. She lived in a state of steady, devoted love with Lewes, the kind of second love that comes after a person is older, scarred a bit and enmeshed in responsibilities. He served her and helped her become one of the greatest novelists of any age. Together they turned neediness into constancy.

Commencement speakers are always telling young people to follow their passions. Be true to yourself. This is a vision of life that begins with self and ends with self. But people on the road to inner light do not find their vocations by asking, what do I want from life? They ask, what is life asking of me? How can I match my intrinsic talent with one of the world’s deep needs?

Their lives often follow a pattern of defeat, recognition, redemption. They have moments of pain and suffering. But they turn those moments into occasions of radical self-understanding — by keeping a journal or making art. As Paul Tillich put it, suffering introduces you to yourself and reminds you that you are not the person you thought you were.

The people on this road see the moments of suffering as pieces of a larger narrative. They are not really living for happiness, as it is conventionally defined. They see life as a moral drama and feel fulfilled only when they are enmeshed in a struggle on behalf of some ideal.

This is a philosophy for stumblers. The stumbler scuffs through life, a little off balance. But the stumbler faces her imperfect nature with unvarnished honesty, with the opposite of squeamishness. Recognizing her limitations, the stumbler at least has a serious foe to overcome and transcend. The stumbler has an outstretched arm, ready to receive and offer assistance. Her friends are there for deep conversation, comfort and advice.

External ambitions are never satisfied because there’s always something more to achieve. But the stumblers occasionally experience moments of joy. There’s joy in freely chosen obedience to organizations, ideas and people. There’s joy in mutual stumbling. There’s an aesthetic joy we feel when we see morally good action, when we run across someone who is quiet and humble and good, when we see that however old we are, there’s lots to do ahead.

The stumbler doesn’t build her life by being better than others, but by being better than she used to be. Unexpectedly, there are transcendent moments of deep tranquillity. For most of their lives their inner and outer ambitions are strong and in balance. But eventually, at moments of rare joy, career ambitions pause, the ego rests, the stumbler looks out at a picnic or dinner or a valley and is overwhelmed by a feeling of limitless gratitude, and an acceptance of the fact that life has treated her much better than she deserves.

Those are the people we want to be.

David Brooks is an Op-Ed columnist and the author, most recently, of “The Road to Character,” from which this essay is adapted.

http://www.nytimes.com/2015/04/12/opinion/sunday/david-brooks-the-moral-bucket-list.html

A French climber has scaled one of Dubai’s tallest skyscrapers, relying on just chalk and sticky tape on his fingertips to help him up the 75-story high Cayan Tower in the emirate’s glitzy marina area.

Alain Robert, 52, completed climbing the 1007-foot (307 meter) high structure in just 70 minutes on Sunday. He had no harness and little space for his feet on the ledges of the tower, which twists as it ascends.

Robert, who is often described as “The French Spider-Man,” is no stranger to scaling tall buildings.

In 2011, he climbed the world’s tallest tower in Dubai. Using a rope and harness to comply with organizers’ requirements, it took him just over six hours to scale the 2,717-foot (828 meter) tall Burj Khalifa.

http://hamptonroads.com/2015/04/french-spiderman-scales-dubai-skyscraper