Who will win the World Cup?

From CNN:

Soccer-ball Although many consider football to be a global sport, a look at the history of the World Cup shows only a handful of nations have mastered it. FIFA – the game's world governing body – recognizes 208 national associations but just seven have celebrated having the best team on the planet.

South Africa 2010 will be the 19th football World Cup. Of the previous 18 tournaments, five have been won by Brazil, four by Italy and three by Germany. Argentina and Uruguay have claimed two each and France and England one apiece. So, four European and three South American countries have triumphed but the world champions have never come from North America, Asia or Africa.

It is hard to see that record changing this time, although Africa's contenders will be bolstered by the first ever World Cup on their home continent. Ghana and Ivory Coast are arguably the strongest of those countries.

More here.

Douglas Hofstadter on Martin Gardner

From Scientific American:

Martin-gardner-aut-ab I've been trying to reconstruct how I first encountered Martin Gardner. It may have happened in 1959, when at age 14 I happened to visit the home of a boy a couple of years older than myself, who I thought was extremely smart (and indeed he was—he later became a well-known mathematician on the Princeton faculty). While scanning his bookshelves, I noticed a Dover paperback with the curious title Fads and Fallacies in the Name of Science. I pulled it out and my curiosity was further aroused by the front cover, which mentioned such things as flying saucers, human gullibility, strange cults, pseudoscience, and so on. I had of course heard of things like telepathy, ESP, and such, but didn't know what to make of them. Though they seemed a bit far-fetched, they also appealed to my romantic nature. The year before, I had even half-convinced myself that I could discover my romantic fate by spinning a top and seeing where it fell on a marked board; I also enjoyed the thought that maybe, just maybe, the first initial of the girl I would someday marry was revealed by reciting the alphabet as I twisted an apple stem and stopping at that letter when the stem broke off. Why not? At that tender and rather gullible age, I had never devoted much thought to the demarcation line between sense and nonsense, science and silliness.

But in this book, somebody—clearly somebody very intelligent—was tearing one oddball belief system after another to shreds in a lucid, acerbic, yet at the same time humorous way. This “Martin Gardner” person was wielding common sense as a surgeon wields a knife—and occasionally twisting the knife with glee. It was probably the first time I had realized that systematic and critical thinking could extend beyond such precise domains as math and physics, and could demolish ideas in far hazier fields with great power. It was also the first time I had realized how very many crazy belief systems there are out there in the world, and how important it is to recognize this fact and to combat them.

More here. And also see a good obituary of Gardner in the NYT here.

Rare: Portraits of America’s Endangered Species by Joel Sartore

ScreenHunter_03 May. 25 17.42

ScreenHunter_04 May. 25 17.42

From Neatorama:

The first thought that ran across my mind when I read Joel Sartore’s book Rare: Portraits of America’s Endangered Species was that it’s a gorgeous book. Joel, a National Geographic photographer, has been on a 20-year personal mission to photograph examples of the world’s most endangered species, so you’d kinda expect that out of him.

There are currently about 1,500 known species in the world that are endangered – Joel presents 68 of them in his book, ranging from wolves to wolverines, pitcher plant to pineapple cactus; all exquisitely photographed. As an amateur point-and-shoot photographer (erhm, that’s being generous – I mostly take blurry photos of my kids), I can only imagine how long it took him to get that Eastern Hellbender photo!

The second thought that ran across my mind was that it’s a rather sad book. One of the last two Columbia Basin pygmy rabbits in the world died a few months after Joel took its photograph (you’ll read more about this below).

It took me a while, however, to realize just what Joel’s book actually meant. For me, that meaning can be summed up in just one word: hope.

More here.  And two bonus videos:

RARE from Joel Sartore on Vimeo.

Speak, Memory: Can digital storage remember for you?

Evgeny Morozov in the Boston Review:

ScreenHunter_02 May. 25 17.34 In 2006 Stacy Snyder, a 25-year-old student at Millersville University in Pennsylvania, was denied a teaching degree just days before graduation. University officials had discovered a photo of her, captioned “Drunken Pirate,” on MySpace. The photo showed Snyder wearing a pirate hat and drinking from a plastic cup, and the university accused her of promoting underage drinking. As Viktor Mayer-Schönberger tells the story in his new book Delete: The Virtue of Forgetting in the Digital Age, Snyder lost control over the photo when it was indexed by Google and other search engines: “the Internet remembered what Stacy wanted to have forgotten.”

Snyder’s story, and others like it, motivate Delete’s plea for “digital forgetting” (though it turned out that the university had other reasons to deny Snyder her certificate, including poor performance). According to Mayer-Schönberger, we have committed too much information to “external memory,” thus abandoning control over our personal records to “unknown others.” Thanks to this reckless abandonment, these others gain new ways to dictate our behavior. Moreover, as we store more of what we say for posterity, we are likely to become more conservative, to censor ourselves and err on the side of saying nothing.

For people like Snyder, Mayer-Schönberger proposes a creative remedy: enable users to set auto-expiry dates on information.

More here.

Philosophy question? There’s an app for that

From the Amherst College website:

ScreenHunter_01 May. 25 17.27 The world’s leading online resource for questions about the meaning of life, ethics and other existential matters has now launched an app for mobile devices such as the iPhone and Android phones.

AskPhilosophers.org, which was founded in 2005 by Alexander George, a philosophy professor at Amherst College, will now broaden its reach to include those who are pondering the big questions without easy access to a PC. (The app’s development was covered recently by the New York Times’ Arts Beat blog and the AppsScout website.)

“People don’t stop thinking when they leave their computer terminals,” George says. “When philosophical questions occur to people away from their desks or computer screens they’ll now have the opportunity through their mobile devices to see quickly whether other people have already asked that question and whether it’s received interesting responses.”

AskPhilosophers.org’s simple mission – to deploy a virtual team of professional philosophers to tackle the questions that have been vexing mankind for generations – has yielded more than 3,000 responses, archived on the website and arranged according to categories that include ethics, love and rationality.

More here.

eric hobsbawm, jazz man


I owe my years as a jazz reporter to John Osborne’s Look Back in Anger, which made the British cultural establishment of the mid-1950s take notice of a music so evidently dear to the new and talented Angry Young Men. When, needing some money, I saw that Kingsley Amis wrote in the Observer on a subject about which he obviously knew no more and possibly less than I did, I called a friend at the New Statesman. He arranged a meeting with the editor, Kingsley Martin, then at the peak of his glory, who said ‘Why not?’, explained that he conceived his typical reader as a male civil servant in his forties, and passed me on to the commander of the (cultural) back half of the mag, the formidable Janet Adam Smith. Her interests ranged from mountaineering to poetry, but did not include jazz. As ‘Francis Newton’ (named after a Communist jazz trumpeter who played on Billie Holiday’s ‘Strange Fruit’), I wrote a column every month or so for the New Statesman for about ten years.

more at the LRB here.

all hail the weed


What makes a plant worth our admiration? Peter Del Tredici, a senior research scientist at the Arnold Arboretum, walks up a short grassy hill near the South Street Gate and points to what he considers to be the Arboretum’s most amazing tree: the dwarf beech, a tree seemingly born from a German expressionist landscape, its knobby branches folded into a series of right angles that create a canopy resembling barbed wire. It’s one of many impressive trees in the Arboretum’s 265 acres in Jamaica Plain, which are carefully managed by a team of professional horticulturists. But on this sunny spring afternoon, Del Tredici is interested in a far less spectacular destination: an area just outside the gate across South Street known as Stony Brook Marsh, where untamed vegetation grows atop an abandoned trash heap. On one side, a brackish pond is filled with invasive phragmitis reeds. On the other, a hillside of rubble has been colonized by a haphazard forest of thin trees. Along the path, stalks of Japanese knotweed poke insistently from the ground. It’s filled with species that are often called “invasive,” “noxious,” and “weed,” the kinds of plants that conservationists rail against and homeowners consider unsightly.

more from Courtney Humphries at The Boston Globe here.

Tuesday Poem

This Side

There is light. We neither see nor touch it.
In its empty clarities rests
what we touch and see.
I see with my fingertips
what my eyes touch:
………………………….shadows, the world.
With shadows I draw worlds,
I scatter worlds with shadows.
I hear light beat on the other side.

by Octavio Paz
translation: Eliot Weinberger
from The Collected Poems 1957-1987
Carcanet Press Ltd, 1988

Este Lado

Hay luz. No la tocamos ni la vemos
En sus vacías claridades
reposa lo que vemos y tocamos.
Yo veo con las yemas de mis dedos
lo que palpan mis ojos:
…………………………….sombras, mundo.
Con las sombras dibujo mundos,
disipo mundos con las sombras.
Oigo latir la luz del otro lado.

Ways with Words 2010: The Ghosts of Vita Sackville-West

From The Telegraph:

Inheritancestory_1640859f On display in the Great Hall is a facsimile of the bound manuscript of the novel Orlando, dedicated to Vita by the author, her lover Virginia Woolf. Vita is the eponymous hero or heroine Orlando (Orlando changes sex over the four centuries in which the novel is set) and Orlando’s ancestral home is a house, like Knole, with 365 rooms. The pages are threaded through with specific references to Knole and to its past and present incumbents: the head gardener Stubbs, Vita’s father’s elkhound Canute, and so on. Vita’s husband, Harold Nicolson, features as Marmaduke Bontrol Shelmerdine, Esquire. One of Vita’s former lovers, Violet Keppel, later Trefusis, was the Russian Princess. “She talked so enchantingly, so wittily, so wisely,” is how Virginia Woolf describes Princess Sasha in Orlando. In a letter to Vita, she wrote of Violet: “I still remember her, like a fox cub, all scent and seduction.”

Orlando also nurtured the literary associations that have become interwoven with the house’s story. Orlando (or Vita) strides into the Poets’ Parlour, our dining room today, where “her old friends Dryden, Pope, Swift, Addison regarded her demurely at first” [from their portraits on the walls]. But when they learnt that Orlando had just won a prize for a poem [Vita won the Hawthornden Prize for her poem The Land], “they nodded their heads approvingly”.

Orlando was published in 1928, the year Vita’s father died; and the novel, which ends with Orlando returning to Knole, allows Vita – as Orlando – to take possession in fantasy of the house that she had been denied in fact. As Harold described Orlando to Vita: it is a “book in which you and Knole are identified forever, a book which will perpetuate that identity into years when both you and I are dead”. Vita’s mother, Lady Sackville, on the other hand, pasted a photograph of Virginia Woolf into her copy of Orlando and wrote beside it: “The awful face of a mad woman whose successful mad desire is to separate people who care for each other. I loathe this woman for having changed my Vita and taken her away from me.”

More here.

Migrating Thousands of Miles With Nary a Stop

Carl Zimmer in The New York Times:

Bird In 1976, the biologist Robert E. Gill Jr. came to the southern coast of Alaska to survey the birds preparing for their migrations for the winter. One species in particular, wading birds called bar-tailed godwits, puzzled him deeply. They were too fat. “They looked like flying softballs,” said Mr. Gill. At the time, scientists knew that bar-tailed godwits spend their winters in places like New Zealand and Australia. To get there, most researchers assumed, the birds took a series of flights down through Asia, stopping along the way to rest and eat. After all, they were land birds, not sea birds that could dive for food in the ocean. But in Alaska, Mr. Gill observed, the bar-tailed godwits were feasting on clams and worms as if they were not going to be able to eat for a very long time.

“I wondered, why is that bird putting on that much fat?” he said.

Mr. Gill wondered if the bar-tailed godwit actually stayed in the air for a much longer time than scientists believed. It was a difficult idea to test, because he could not actually follow the birds in flight. For 30 years he managed as best he could, building a network of bird-watchers who looked for migrating godwits over the Pacific Ocean. Finally, in 2006, technology caught up with Mr. Gill’s ideas. He and his colleagues were able to implant satellite transmitters in bar-tailed godwits and track their flight.

More here.

Things Fall Together: Nigeria’s literary scene in the 21st century

By Tolu Ogunlesi

Things-fall-apart A few weeks ago Nigerian novelist Chimamanda Adichie wrote a piece for Canada’s The Globe and Mail newspaper, titled: A new Nigerian-ness is infusing the nation. In it she tells of Nigeria’s recent past, during which “[t]he future was a vision of impossibilities” and “the only thing to aspire to was a foreign visa.”

Adichie then goes on to comment on the remarkable changes that have taken place in the Nigerian psyche in recent years. “There is a growing collective confidence in our future, a new restorative sense of self…” she writes, in reference to the fast-rising Nigerian pop music industry.

Interestingly, another arena that has seen significant change, and provides evidence of an impressive cultural renaissance in Nigeria, is the one in which Adichie herself occupies a vantage spot: the literary arts. On a recent Saturday afternoon, the Silverbird Lifestyle Store in Victoria Island, was cramped with guests attending the 4th edition of the monthly BookJam reading series; featuring Adichie, Kenyan’s Binyavanga Wainaina, and UK-based Nigerians Chuma Nwokolo and Sade Adeniran.

Lagos is suddenly a hot new destination for writers from all over the world – courtesy of the exploits and efforts of writers like Adichie. Her four-year-old annual Creative Writing workshop, sponsored by Nigeria’s oldest and biggest beer company (which before now appeared to be more at home with sponsoring music festivals and talent hunts) has brought Jason Cowley, Nathan Englander, Binyavanga Wainaina, Jackie Kay, Doreen Baingana and Dave Eggers to Lagos, to facilitate writing sessions. This year Ama Ata Aidoo, Niq Mhlongo and Chika Unigwe are the guest writers.

Read more »

On a Train

Justin E. H. Smith

Gargantua21171707680 It's Sunday afternoon, I'm on a so-called bullet train from Lyon to Paris, tomorrow's the Pentecost, Abbas was a bit late in getting me the reminder that I'm 'up this Monday', our trusty editor-in-chief claiming that this has been a 'weird week', and for the life of me I can't think of anything to write about. To tell the truth, it's been a weird week for me too. For one thing, I've been travelling, and when I'm travelling the ordinary functioning of my vegetative soul (which recent authors have started calling 'the autonomic nervous system') breaks down entirely. That is to say that the peristaltic motion of my intestine (which used to be an adjective meaning both 'internal' and 'internecine', and was often brought up in connection with the English civil war) switches from the biological to the geological clock, and meanwhile I start to feel like a basalt-plugged volcano.

But I'm opposed to everything the word 'gonzo' stands for, so I can't just crank out some typo-filled incoherent bullshit about n'importe quoi (already I feel uncomfortable with the dangling 'about' and 'for' I've managed to let slip by). In Marseille a few days ago I had wanted to write something about the way fashion is best analyzed not as a national phenomenon, but as a sea-based phenomenon –fashion being not haute couture, but just the general way people look, perhaps something not entirely unrelated to the lost art and science of physiognomy–, the basic fashion zones of the world being the Aegeo-Adriatico-Mediterranean, the Sargasso-Caribbean, the Balto-Norwegian, the Michigano-Ontarian, and the Pacific Rim. But then we left Marseille and I was no longer seeing so many Ed Hardy-bedecked goons, whom I had taken to calling 'meatheads', and even, in my own private French, têtes de viande (which in turn made me think of the Roma beggar-woman I saw at the Place de Clichy eating pâté de tête or headcheese with her fingers, straight from the plastic packaging), so that idea for an essay just sort of evaporated. I next thought about writing something on the future of that ill-defined activity we call 'writing' in the age of social networking, as if anyone needed to see more of that sort of stuff.

Read more »

Humane Terror, Sacrificial Horror: Suicide Bombing and Contemporary Global Politics

By Omar Sarwar

N104425_36424337_1008 Suicide bombing is one of the most passionately debated topics in academia, the government, and the intelligence community. The secondary literature on this subject has convincingly demonstrated that suicide bombing is sui generis in its historical contingency (rather than in its essence), that al-Qaeda’s practice of suicide bombing takes place in a globalized landscape which is at once moral and political, and that even the most murderous terrorists appropriate and objectify modern notions of humanity in describing their actions.

As part of my doctoral studies, I have written extensively about the the historiography of the global jihad movement. In the interest of conciseness, however, I present here a long overdue comparative review of what I believe to be the most provocative, controversial work on the global jihad, Faisal Devji’s The Terrorist in Search of Humanity: Militant Islam and Global Politics (2008), and Talal Asad’s On Suicide Bombing (2006). My hope is that this analysis will offer a starting point on this website for further discussion about the moral and political logic of jihadi violence.


The greatest merit of Devji’s earlier work on the global jihad, Landscapes of the Jihad: Militancy, Morality, Modernity (2005), is its elucidation of al-Qaeda’s eclectic approach to Islamic theological and juridical traditions, the transnational and global horizons of its militancy, and its ambition to achieve globality by way of the media. In his latest monograph, Devji succeeds in affirming the existence of a global arena bereft of its own political institutions but within which al-Qaeda acquires force and legitimacy through its search for a politics that takes humanity as its object. Nonetheless, he fails to prove the ethical (or suprapolitical) sovereignty of suicide attacks, something crucial to the peculiarly modern coloration of the jihad.

Investigating the globalization and democratization of the jihad movement and the supremely ethical (as opposed to political) character of suicide bombings, Devji holds that al-Qaeda’s militants regard Muslim suffering as a humanitarian cause that, “like climate change or nuclear proliferation, must be addressed globally or not at all.”[1] The search for humanity lies at the heart of militant action and those who profess allegiance to al-Qaeda invoke humanity as both the agent and object of an as yet unrealized global politics.[2] They believe that Muslims are not members of a religious group but “the contemporary representatives of human suffering.”[3] Thus, Devji argues, al-Qaeda’s militants target their enemies not for maintaining heathen religious beliefs or atheistic secular convictions, but for “betraying their own vision of a world subject to human rights.”[4] Claims about humanity are far more central to militant rhetoric than the scriptural material whose medieval exoticism has preoccupied so many of those studying the global jihad movement.[5]

Terrorists have assumed humanity’s historical role, which in the past was part and parcel of the civilizing mission of European colonialism.

Read more »

Psychological Science: Sigmund Freud – “A Dream of Undying Fame”

Pappenheim_1882 Anna O. was the pseudonym of a patient of Josef Breuer, who published her case study in his book Studies on Hysteria, written in collaboration with Sigmund Freud. Her real name was Bertha Pappenheim (1859?1936), an Austrian-Jewish feminist and the founder of the Judischer Frauenbund (League of Jewish Women)

Psychological Science: Sigmund Freud – “A Dream of Undying Fame”

Norman Costa

I invited Louis Breger, PhD to join me in this article devoted to a discussion of Sigmund Freud. After my two-parter, “Sigmund Freud – Personal and Scientific Coward?” [PART 1, PART 2], I received an email from Dr. Breger. A friend directed him to 3Quarksdaily.com, and my second article. He had a few things to say about my article, including a couple of critical comments.

I recognized, immediately, that Breger knew a great deal about Freud – far more than I. Breger has been Freud_darkness_cover Professor of Psychoanalytic Studies in the Humanities and Social Sciences Division of the California Institute of Technology, Pasadena, California, from 1970 to the present, (currently, Emeritus Professor.) In 1990, with a group of colleagues, Dr. Breger created the Institute of Contemporary Psychoanalysis (ICP) where he was the Founding President from 1990 to 1993.

My interest in Freud is highly circumscribed. Breger is best described as a lifelong scholar of Freud and psychoanalysis, as well as a practitioner, a trainer, and a teacher. Breger directed me to his two books on Freud. The first is an analytical biography, “FREUD: DARKNESS IN THE MIDST OF VISION”, John Wiley & Sons, 2000. The second is “A DREAM OF UNDYING FAME: HOW FREUD BETRAYED HIS MENTOR AND INVENTED PSYCHOANALYSIS,” Basic Books, 2009. The more recent book, included in the title of this article, deals with the territory covered in my writing, and so much more.

Dream_cover After looking at the encouraging reviews of his books [DREAM, DARKNESS], I read “A DREAM OF UNDYING FAME.” It is an excellent, and very readable book. I recommend it to all interested in Freud, and the history of psychoanalysis. I've not yet read the biography, but I will.

Well, I couldn't let him get away after offering only a few comments. He has too much to tell us on the subject. He possesses a great deal of knowledge, and deeply informed views from a lifetime of work. So I asked Dr. Breger if he would contribute to my Monday Musings column on 3Quarksdaily.com. Very graciously, and generously, he agreed to write something for my readers. What follows is a discussion of his latest book and my two-part article on Freud. I will have a few comments following his well done and informative piece.


Read more »

Monday Poem

“The Gulf of Mexico is a very big ocean. The amount of volume of oil and
dispersant we are putting into it is tiny in relation to the total water volume.”
………………–Tony Hayward, CEO British Petroleum, on the Gulf of Mexico oil spill

The Mean Density of a Corporate Brain Ghazal

One sees more devils than vast hell can hold,

Shakespeare said —and not just in dreams if truth be told.

Devils on TV and on the radio —even in the street
ordinary demons walk among us terrors to behold.

Just yesterday someone I know remarked that we may be indiscreet
and inconsiderate of the earth; adding smugly: We may be bold.

We may have our wonton way with her without repercussion
even if we leave her desiccated —as God’s my witness, it’s foretold.

The earth’s ours to be consumed; to be sucked utterly to death.
We have the right, he said –being the prime plums in god’s fold.

So what if the earth bleeds into the sea? The sea’s huge enough
to handle whatever comes: run-off nitrogen, sludge, black gold.

As long as skulls are stuffed with want and hearts trussed in bottom lines
it’s just routine to deal in death and decimate the earth which rolls & rolls.

If we’re dumb as Gump, blind as Lear and demonic as a corporate brain
we’ll, tout de suite, smother and annihilate even our dreams if truth be told.

by Jim Culleny, 5/23/10

The Dance of Indian Democracy

By Namit Arora

Why did democracy take root in India against all odds? What are its distinguishing features? What should we make of its attempts to combat inequalities among its people, especially via reservations? Over six decades later, how close is it to Ambedkar's inspiring vision of democracy?

Dancedemocracy The Republic of India began life as an unlikely nation. Gaining independence in 1947, India adopted a democratic form of governance, a liberal constitution, and secular public institutions (at least in intent if often not in practice). None of these sprang from a living indigenous tradition.[1] Rather, they were chosen by an elite class of Indians that had developed a taste for them via its exposure to the West, and had even acquired some experience in representative self-rule in the closing decades of the British Raj. Many observers thought the experiment was doomed to failure. Among them was the stodgy imperialist Winston Churchill, who felt that if the British left, India would ‘fall back quite rapidly through the centuries into the barbarism and privations of the Middle Ages.’ Indians were unfit to govern themselves, and needed ‘the sober and resolute forces of the British Empire.’

Doubters abounded for decades after independence. Unlike so many post-colonial nations, including those in South Asia, the continued existence of democracy in India—its fair elections and peaceful transfers of power—puzzled not just the lay observers, but it also became, according to historian Ramachandra Guha,

an anomaly for academic political science … That India ‘could sustain democratic institutions seems, on the face of it, highly improbable,’ wrote the distinguished political scientist Robert Dahl, adding: ‘It lacks all the favorable conditions.’ ‘India has a well-established reputation for violating social scientific generalizations,’ wrote another American scholar, adding, ‘Nonetheless, the findings of this article furnish grounds for skepticism regarding the viability of democracy in India.’ [2]

Villagewomen The naysayers rightly saw democracy as an outgrowth of a particular historical experience in the West, rooted in a consciousness we now call modernity. They spoke of the conditions thought to be necessary for the flourishing of democracy: an egalitarian social order, an ethos of individualism, and a culture of secular politics and pluralist tolerance. India had mostly the opposite: a deeply hierarchical social order, subservience of the individual to family and community, and a culture of political quietism, though it did have a kind of tolerance (more on this below). Only a tiny class of Indians saw themselves as citizens of a nation-state, or could lay claim to political participation. Nor had the masses agitated to be rid of the hundreds of kings in as many princely states of British India, though discontent did exist in pockets. Indians were notoriously diverse, with identities spanning caste, class, region, custom, language, religion, and more, all impediments to a shared ideal of citizenship. Indeed, how was democracy expected to survive in such inhospitable terrain?

Read more »

Committing savage satire, respecting readers and finding the odd in sex: Colin Marshall talks to Alexander Theroux, author of Laura Warholic: Or, The Sexual Intellectual

Alexander Theroux is the author of stories, poetry, essays, fables, critical studies and such novels as Three Wogs, Darconville's Cat, An Adultery and his latest, Laura Warholic: Or, The Sexual Intellectual, which came as Theroux's first novel in two decades. Rain Taxi calls the book “a massive, 878-page compendium of vituperation against contemporary society, jabs at pop culture, exposés of office politics, and exploration of life and love in modern times,” an encyclopedic novel that's “wandering, erudite, funny, opinionated, didactic, repetitive.Colin Marshall originally conducted this conversation on the public radio program and podcast The Marketplace of Ideas. [MP3] [iTunes link]

Theroux1 About the new book: you can't really understand it unless you get to know the characters, and you get to know them very well through the course of the book. The protagonist, Eugene Eyestones — tell us a little bit about him.

I've always been interested in a person that was both idealistic and something of a failure. Vladimir Nabokov once pointed out that every character is a little ramification of the author, so I've distributed some of my hostilities and fascinations and occasional quirks to him. I wanted to have him as a kind of raisonneur and a satirical point of departure for the multifarious views on life that are presented in the book. He's the thread through the book, which is not to say that he's normal or well-balanced.

You say you give him a few qualities, a few opinions of your own. Which ones are the most prominent in him that you took for yourself?

It's really hard to say, because, as Goethe once said, all writing is confession. In away, I've distributed myself throughout the book in various characters. John Keats once pointed out that Shakespeare maybe had a very empty personality, he might have been a very bland person, because he gave away his personality, the various voices that he had, to different people as various as Prospero, Lady Macbeth, you name it. I can't really say there's a one-to-one correspondence to much in Eyestones. His rooms, in many ways, echo mine: I have a lot of books, I have a portrait of Dostoevsky, blah blah blah.

But I think I can be found in other characters with equal force. There's an occasional shotgun in the corner, metaphorically speaking. My toothbrush over there, a particular vase in the room, but I can't deny that I'm in other places as well. I distributed myself throughout, and probably have as bland a personality as Keats argued Shakespeare had not to make any major analogies here, by the way.

You talk about Eyestones' idealism. He has a huge number of ideals, strongly held. What ideals of his really define him for you?

He has an elevated view of women, although a lot of people would argue, vociferously, the opposite direction. His expectations are high. The genre of this novel is a satire. Through dramatic irony, I try to present him as a corrective to the wayward world, the quark-reversal world, the nutty world, the excessive world, the secular world. His point of view I like to think is balanced, although, as I say, a lot of people wouldn't agree. Laura Warholic attacks him three-quarters of the way through the book for a lot of lunatic excesses she finds in him, but a lot of those excesses and ideals let's take one to make this clear.

He's kind of disbelieving in the possibility of democracy. Indeed, he sees it as a leveling force. I spent quite a bit of time on an essay on democracy in this book, which aims in the direction of trying to talk about couples. There's a certain kind of democracy required of people involved in coupledom. You have to settle on man and woman in these days, man and man, whatever he's kind of doubtful about the possibility of that being successful. That would be one example. There are many I could go into, but that would be one.
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Mark Twain left instructions not to publish his autobiography until 100 years after his death, which is now

Guy Adams in The Independent:

Twain_378726t Exactly a century after rumours of his death turned out to be entirely accurate, one of Mark Twain's dying wishes is at last coming true: an extensive, outspoken and revelatory autobiography which he devoted the last decade of his life to writing is finally going to be published.

The creator of Tom Sawyer, Huckleberry Finn and some of the most frequently misquoted catchphrases in the English language left behind 5,000 unedited pages of memoirs when he died in 1910, together with handwritten notes saying that he did not want them to hit bookshops for at least a century.

That milestone has now been reached, and in November the University of California, Berkeley, where the manuscript is in a vault, will release the first volume of Mark Twain's autobiography. The eventual trilogy will run to half a million words, and shed new light on the quintessentially American novelist.

Scholars are divided as to why Twain wanted the first-hand account of his life kept under wraps for so long. Some believe it was because he wanted to talk freely about issues such as religion and politics. Others argue that the time lag prevented him from having to worry about offending friends.

One thing's for sure: by delaying publication, the author, who was fond of his celebrity status, has ensured that he'll be gossiped about during the 21st century. A section of the memoir will detail his little-known but scandalous relationship with Isabel Van Kleek Lyon, who became his secretary after the death of his wife Olivia in 1904. Twain was so close to Lyon that she once bought him an electric vibrating sex toy.

More here. [Thanks to David Schneider.]