The daily lowdown on books, publishing, and the occasional author behaving badly.
- More than 500 authors from around the world, including five Nobel Prize winners, have asked the United Nations for an international bill of digital rights. In a joint statement, Don DeLillo, Ian McEwan, Tom Stoppard, Margaret Atwood, Martin Amis, Günter Grass, Michael Ondaatje, Orhan Pamuk and hundreds of other authors condemned state surveillance, writing, "A person under surveillance is no longer free; a society under surveillance is no longer a democracy. To maintain any validity, our democratic rights must apply in virtual as in real space." The statement continues, "WE DEMAND THE RIGHT for all people to determine, as democratic citizens, to what extent their personal data may be legally collected, stored and processed, and by whom; to obtain information on where their data is stored and how it is being used; to obtain the deletion of their data if it has been illegally collected and stored." The petition comes after the heads of Google, Apple, Facebook, Twitter, AOL, Microsoft, LinkedIn and Yahoo published an open letter asking Congress and President Obama "to take the lead and make reforms that ensure that government surveillance efforts are clearly restricted by law, proportionate to the risks, transparent and subject to independent oversight."
- The traditional Nobel Lecture in Literature has been replaced by a video interview with the 2013 winner, Alice Munro. She says, "I want my stories to move people, I don't care if they are men or women or children. I want my stories to be something about life that causes people to say, not, oh, isn't that the truth, but to feel some kind of reward from the writing, and that doesn't mean that it has to be a happy ending or anything, but just that everything the story tells moves the reader in such a way that you feel you are a different person when you finish."
- The New Yorker website has unlocked Joan Didion's 2000 portrait of Martha Stewart: "This is not a story about a woman who made the best of traditional skills. This is a story about a woman who did her own I.P.O. This is the 'woman's pluck' story, the dust-bowl story, the burying-your-child-on-the-trail story, the I-will-never-go-hungry-again story, the Mildred Pierce story, the story about how the sheer nerve of even professionally unskilled women can prevail, show the men; the story that has historically encouraged women in this country, even as it has threatened men. The dreams and the fears into which Martha Stewart taps are not of 'feminine' domesticity but of female power, of the woman who sits down at the table with the men and, still in her apron, walks away with the chips."
- Charles McGrath describes the process of judging the National Book Awards: "It's not humanly possible for an individual, no matter how well intentioned, well disciplined and critically astute, to read 407 books with the care and consideration they deserve. ... So you do the best you can. You don't skim exactly, but you race, driving your eyes across the page, in the process forgoing much of the ordinary pleasure of reading. I sometimes thought of it as chain-sawing through books, tearing into them, grinding them up, leaving a wake of fluttering pages and bits of binding. Maybe that's why my retina ripped."
During a memorial service at South Africa's largest soccer stadium, President Obama delivered a 20-minute eulogy that compared Mandela to Gandhi, Martin Luther King, Abraham Lincoln and America's founding fathers.
Mandela, Obama said in Johannesburg, was the "last great liberator of the 20th century." But he was not only a man of politics, but a pragmatist and flawed human being who managed to discipline his anger to turn centuries of oppression into what Mandela liked to call a "Rainbow Nation."
We've embedded audio of Obama's eulogy below, where we've also pasted text of his speech as it was prepared for delivery. Obama strayed a bit from that. We'll put up a transcript once we get it:
To Graça Machel and the Mandela family; to President Zuma and members of the government; to heads of state and government, past and present; distinguished guests - it is a singular honor to be with you today, to celebrate a life unlike any other. To the people of South Africa - people of every race and walk of life - the world thanks you for sharing Nelson Mandela with us. His struggle was your struggle. His triumph was your triumph. Your dignity and hope found expression in his life, and your freedom, your democracy is his cherished legacy.
It is hard to eulogize any man - to capture in words not just the facts and the dates that make a life, but the essential truth of a person - their private joys and sorrows; the quiet moments and unique qualities that illuminate someone's soul. How much harder to do so for a giant of history, who moved a nation toward justice, and in the process moved billions around the world.
Born during World War I, far from the corridors of power, a boy raised herding cattle and tutored by elders of his Thembu tribe - Madiba would emerge as the last great liberator of the 20th century. Like Gandhi, he would lead a resistance movement - a movement that at its start held little prospect of success. Like King, he would give potent voice to the claims of the oppressed, and the moral necessity of racial justice. He would endure a brutal imprisonment that began in the time of Kennedy and Khrushchev, and reached the final days of the Cold War. Emerging from prison, without force of arms, he would - like Lincoln - hold his country together when it threatened to break apart. Like America's founding fathers, he would erect a constitutional order to preserve freedom for future generations - a commitment to democracy and rule of law ratified not only by his election, but by his willingness to step down from power.
Given the sweep of his life, and the adoration that he so rightly earned, it is tempting then to remember Nelson Mandela as an icon, smiling and serene, detached from the tawdry affairs of lesser men. But Madiba himself strongly resisted such a lifeless portrait. Instead, he insisted on sharing with us his doubts and fears; his miscalculations along with his victories. "I'm not a saint," he said, "unless you think of a saint as a sinner who keeps on trying."
It was precisely because he could admit to imperfection - because he could be so full of good humor, even mischief, despite the heavy burdens he carried - that we loved him so. He was not a bust made of marble; he was a man of flesh and blood - a son and husband, a father and a friend. That is why we learned so much from him; that is why we can learn from him still. For nothing he achieved was inevitable. In the arc of his life, we see a man who earned his place in history through struggle and shrewdness; persistence and faith. He tells us what's possible not just in the pages of dusty history books, but in our own lives as well.
Mandela showed us the power of action; of taking risks on behalf of our ideals. Perhaps Madiba was right that he inherited, "a proud rebelliousness, a stubborn sense of fairness" from his father. Certainly he shared with millions of black and colored South Africans the anger born of, "a thousand slights, a thousand indignities, a thousand unremembered moments...a desire to fight the system that imprisoned my people."
But like other early giants of the ANC - the Sisulus and Tambos - Madiba disciplined his anger; and channeled his desire to fight into organization, and platforms, and strategies for action, so men and women could stand-up for their dignity. Moreover, he accepted the consequences of his actions, knowing that standing up to powerful interests and injustice carries a price. "I have fought against white domination and I have fought against black domination," he said at his 1964 trial. "I've cherished the ideal of a democratic and free society in which all persons live together in harmony and with equal opportunities. It is an ideal which I hope to live for and to achieve. But if needs be, it is an ideal for which I am prepared to die."
Mandela taught us the power of action, but also ideas; the importance of reason and arguments; the need to study not only those you agree with, but those who you don't. He understood that ideas cannot be contained by prison walls, or extinguished by a sniper's bullet. He turned his trial into an indictment of apartheid because of his eloquence and passion, but also his training as an advocate. He used decades in prison to sharpen his arguments, but also to spread his thirst for knowledge to others in the movement. And he learned the language and customs of his oppressor so that one day he might better convey to them how their own freedom depended upon his.
Mandela demonstrated that action and ideas are not enough; no matter how right, they must be chiseled into laws and institutions. He was practical, testing his beliefs against the hard surface of circumstance and history. On core principles he was unyielding, which is why he could rebuff offers of conditional release, reminding the Apartheid regime that, "prisoners cannot enter into contracts." But as he showed in painstaking negotiations to transfer power and draft new laws, he was not afraid to compromise for the sake of a larger goal. And because he was not only a leader of a movement, but a skillful politician, the Constitution that emerged was worthy of this multiracial democracy; true to his vision of laws that protect minority as well as majority rights, and the precious freedoms of every South African.
Finally, Mandela understood the ties that bind the human spirit. There is a word in South Africa- Ubuntu - that describes his greatest gift: his recognition that we are all bound together in ways that can be invisible to the eye; that there is a oneness to humanity; that we achieve ourselves by sharing ourselves with others, and caring for those around us. We can never know how much of this was innate in him, or how much of was shaped and burnished in a dark, solitary cell. But we remember the gestures, large and small - introducing his jailors as honored guests at his inauguration; taking the pitch in a Springbok uniform; turning his family's heartbreak into a call to confront HIV/AIDS - that revealed the depth of his empathy and understanding. He not only embodied Ubuntu; he taught millions to find that truth within themselves. It took a man like Madiba to free not just the prisoner, but the jailor as well; to show that you must trust others so that they may trust you; to teach that reconciliation is not a matter of ignoring a cruel past, but a means of confronting it with inclusion, generosity and truth. He changed laws, but also hearts.
For the people of South Africa, for those he inspired around the globe - Madiba's passing is rightly a time of mourning, and a time to celebrate his heroic life. But I believe it should also prompt in each of us a time for self-reflection. With honesty, regardless of our station or circumstance, we must ask: how well have I applied his lessons in my own life?
It is a question I ask myself - as a man and as a President. We know that like South Africa, the United States had to overcome centuries of racial subjugation. As was true here, it took the sacrifice of countless people - known and unknown - to see the dawn of a new day. Michelle and I are the beneficiaries of that struggle. But in America and South Africa, and countries around the globe, we cannot allow our progress to cloud the fact that our work is not done. The struggles that follow the victory of formal equality and universal franchise may not be as filled with drama and moral clarity as those that came before, but they are no less important. For around the world today, we still see children suffering from hunger, and disease; run-down schools, and few prospects for the future. Around the world today, men and women are still imprisoned for their political beliefs; and are still persecuted for what they look like, or how they worship, or who they love.
We, too, must act on behalf of justice. We, too, must act on behalf of peace. There are too many of us who happily embrace Madiba's legacy of racial reconciliation, but passionately resist even modest reforms that would challenge chronic poverty and growing inequality. There are too many leaders who claim solidarity with Madiba's struggle for freedom, but do not tolerate dissent from their own people. And there are too many of us who stand on the sidelines, comfortable in complacency or cynicism when our voices must be heard.
The questions we face today - how to promote equality and justice; to uphold freedom and human rights; to end conflict and sectarian war - do not have easy answers. But there were no easy answers in front of that child in Qunu. Nelson Mandela reminds us that it always seems impossible until it is done. South Africa shows us that is true. South Africa shows us we can change. We can choose to live in a world defined not by our differences, but by our common hopes. We can choose a world defined not by conflict, but by peace and justice and opportunity.
We will never see the likes of Nelson Mandela again. But let me say to the young people of Africa, and young people around the world - you can make his life's work your own. Over thirty years ago, while still a student, I learned of Mandela and the struggles in this land. It stirred something in me. It woke me up to my responsibilities - to others, and to myself - and set me on an improbable journey that finds me here today. And while I will always fall short of Madiba's example, he makes me want to be better. He speaks to what is best inside us. After this great liberator is laid to rest; when we have returned to our cities and villages, and rejoined our daily routines, let us search then for his strength - for his largeness of spirit - somewhere inside ourselves. And when the night grows dark, when injustice weighs heavy on our hearts, or our best laid plans seem beyond our reach - think of Madiba, and the words that brought him comfort within the four walls of a cell:
It matters not how strait the gate,
How charged with punishments the scroll,
I am the master of my fate:
I am the captain of my soul.
What a great soul it was. We will miss him deeply. May God bless the memory of Nelson Mandela. May God bless the people of South Africa.
A French court has sentenced the head of a company that sold tens of thousands of defective breast implants to four years in prison on charges of aggravated fraud. Poly Implant Prothese was once among the world's leaders in supplying implants. But its product was found to have a high rupture rate.
From Paris, NPR's Eleanor Beardsely reports:
"The Marseilles court convicted Jean-Claude Mas, the founder of the company, and three colleagues.
"PIP's sale of faulty implants caused a global health scare in 2011, with an estimated 300,000 women in 65 countries affected. PIP used sub-standard silicone gel, causing many implants to rupture.
"With more than 5,000 women registered as plaintiffs in the case, the trial was considered one of the biggest in French legal history.
"The health scare came to public attention in 2011, when the French government recommended that women have PIP implants removed due to an abnormally high rupture rate."
PIP eventually went bankrupt and has been dissolved, making it a challenge for thousands of women affected by the faulty implants to receive compensation. Today's ruling said that a German product certification company, TUeV, was also a victim of the fraud. An earlier ruling by a different French court had ordered the firm to pay damages in the case.
As the AP reports, "TUeV, a leader in the industry which was charged with checking the quality of the implants, has deep pockets."
Lawyers for Mas, 74, say he plans to appeal. He has admitted to using silicone that wasn't cleared for medical use. But he denies engaging in fraud at the company he founded in 1991.
"According to government estimates, more than 42,000 women in Britain received the implants, more than 30,000 in France, 25,000 in Brazil, 16,000 in Venezuela and 15,000 in Colombia," the AP says.
Public interest in the case has been intense, forcing the two-month trial in Marseilles to be held in a large exhibition center instead of a courtroom, according to Reuters.
Standing in a steady drizzle at dawn, Lerato Maphanga took a black marker to a whitewashed wall that's serving as a condolences board outside Nelson Mandela's old home in Soweto, South Africa.
"Thank you, Tata [father], rest in peace," she wrote Tuesday. Then she signed it, "Born Free," a reference to the black South Africans born after apartheid ended in the 1994 election that made Mandela the country's first black president.
South Africans piled flowers on top of flowers at Mandela's modest, red-brick home in Soweto, the huge black township where Mandela lived before he was sent to prison for 27 years. His many admirers also packed buses and trains as they headed to the country's biggest soccer stadium to honor him at a memorial service. And once there, they sang and shouted and ululated, with some making themselves hoarse before the event began.
The country paused to bid farewell Tuesday, but there was nothing somber about it. South Africans have had plenty of time to mourn Mandela, who stepped down as president in 1999. He last appeared in public three years ago and was on his deathbed for months before finally succumbing Thursday at age 95.
"I don't think we should mourn, we should celebrate," said Maphanga, 19, a first year accounting student at the University of Johannesburg.
She was accompanied by her mother, Flora Maphanga, who was pregnant with her daughter when she went to vote in that historic 1994 election. Flora Maphanga says she has told her daughter many stories about the apartheid era, such as the 1976 student riots in Soweto that delayed her final high school exams for months.
"I also tell her she has it so good now," said the elder Maphanga, who works in the police department. "You can go to good schools and choose any career you like. I didn't have those options."
The daughter replies: "I believe her because I study history."
Apartheid is now a history lesson for South African college students. However, the traditions on display for Mandela's memorial haven't changed at all over the years.
On a standing-room only bus headed to the service at FNB Stadium, Matthew Mkhud led the passengers in a spirited series of tribute songs, such as "Mandela Is Calling."
"I was supposed to be at work today, but my colleague said we had to go to be part of history," said Mkhud, who works in information technology. "We can work tomorrow."
After leading several foot-stomping songs while simultaneously filming the scene on his iPad, Mkhud needed a break."Sorry comrades, I'm out of breath," he said.
Soon the singing resumed, lasting all the way to FNB Stadium, the 95,000-seat soccer arena that has played a prominent role in South Africa's recent history.Mandela packed the place in 1990 when he held his first rally just two days after he was released from prison.
The circular stadium, which is covered with earthen-colored panels to resemble an African gourd often used for cooking, also hosted soccer's 2010 World Cup. Mandela made his final public appearance at that event.
And Tuesday, Mandela was the reason that dozens of world leaders, including President Obama and three former U.S. presidents gathered in a steady rain on an unseasonably chilly summer day.
The South African government and media had predicted the stadium would be overflowing and barred private cars from the venue, requiring the crowd to arrive by train or bus.
The warning may have discouraged some, along with the rain that was forecast to last throughout the day. In addition, Tuesday was not declared a holiday, and many opted to go to work, as evidenced by the usual morning traffic jam from Soweto into nearby Johannesburg.
The stadium was a little more than half full when the service began at 11 a.m.local time.
That didn't dampen the enthusiasm of Eugene Kobuwe, 34, who had driven 150 miles from the small town of Zeerust to attend with a friend.
"I came to honor a man who took the country in the right direction at a time when things could have gone badly wrong," Kobuwe said. "I'm not sad. I'm not going to cry. I just wanted to pay respect to a man who did a remarkable job."
He then recalled his favorite Mandela story. It took place in 1990, shortly after Mandela had been released and when Kobuwe was just 10 years old.
Political unrest had sent black families fleeing to Zeerust. Mandela showed up in an effort to calm the tensions and reassure the displaced families.
"I really didn't know anything about him, but I could just feel the vibe from all the adults," Kobuwe said. "You just knew this was an important man. That's when I began reading everything about him."