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I'm sure that some people would read these lines (and many others in the book) and think the narrator is deliberately being dispassionate, and that that is part of the point. And maybe it is. But I don't think he is particularly stiff or even cold. (For stiffness that feels very novelistic, read Ishiguro's butler narrative, The Remains of the Day.) I don't even think he's really much of a narrator, exactly, but is instead a very modest, disembodied sensibility trying to stay out of the way and just show what life is like in a place that most outsiders know little about.

And maybe, really, this isn't a novel at all. Maybe it is a collection of fiction. I generally don't understand it when a writer says "the town is a character" in his or her book. But in the case of Every Day is For the Thief, Lagos has been injected with more character than the narrator, who prefers not to call attention to himself, but instead to slip along, practically unnoticed, and take poignant snapshots of the strange and singular city around him. The separate sections of this book don't read like chapters, exactly, and they don't gather force, though they are consistently engaging and interesting.

So is the novel worth escaping from? Is it sort of a cushy and familiar prison for writers? There are times when perhaps all novelists, myself included, feel afraid that without knowing it they are making their work more conventional in order to accommodate that old "and then she said this to him, and then this happened" nature of the form. It's probably a good idea to deliberately get outside of that once in a while.

Maybe, for Teju Cole, an eloquent writer who seems to be perfecting an on-the-move and not entirely categorizable subtype of fiction, the idea of writing a traditional novel feels about as exciting as spending a night trapped in darkness and unremitting heat.

Read an excerpt of Every Day Is for the Thief

It has been 102 years since it was written on board the Titanic, describing a pleasant Sunday spent on the cruise ship that was headed for disaster. The letter fetched 119,000 pounds (about $200,000) at auction in England Saturday, surpassing expectations by $30,000.

"Well, the sailors say we have had a wonderful passage up to now," the letter from a passenger to her mother reads in part. "There has been no tempest, but God knows what it must be when there is one."

The unique artifact is believed to be the the only surviving letter written aboard the doomed ship on April 14, the day the Titanic hit an iceberg. More than 1,500 people lost their lives when the ship sank.

From London, Larry Miller reports for NPR's Newscast unit:

"The letter on Titanic stationary was written by survivors Esther Hart and her 7-year-old daughter, Eva, eight hours before the Titanic hit a North Atlantic iceberg and sank.

"Addressed to Hart's mother in England, she wrote they were enjoying the wonderful journey, that she was over her sea sickness, that she had gone to church service that Sunday morning and enjoyed the hymns.

"She wrote the ship was moving so fast they'd be arriving in New York early. The letter survived because it was in the pocket of her husband's coat, which he gave her to keep warm before the Titanic sank. While mother and daughter made it to a lifeboat, Hart's husband went down with the ship.

"Also at the auction: a Titanic second-class menu and a metal plate from a lifeboat."


People are storing more and more stuff online: photos, music, personal documents — even books. The business of cloud storage is growing 30 percent a year, Forrester Research says. But if you're storing your digital belongings in the cloud, you should know you're giving up some rights.

A year ago, I talked to Kyle Goodwin about one of those scary computer moments — he was saving important videos from his business to an external hard drive.

"Right in the middle of a save, I knocked it off my coffee table and it hit the floor and it's destroyed," he said.

Goodwin was flipping out. The core of his business was taking videos of high school sports events and selling highlights back to the families of the players. Six months of work was on that hard drive. But he had a moment of relief when he remembered he had backups in the cloud. So, he went to look at his storage website.

All Tech Considered

Searching The Planet To Find Power For The Cloud

Here's a measure of Maryland's Democratic tilt: Even an epic failure in launching the state's health care website isn't enough to derail the political fortunes of the official responsible for it. The Affordable Care Act is that popular.

Lt. Gov. Anthony Brown, who was assigned by Democratic Gov. Martin O'Malley in 2010 to oversee the health care law's rollout in Maryland, remains the Democratic front-runner in the June 24 primary. His still-formidable standing is a testament to his political talent, but also to his chief rival's tendency for self-inflicted damage.

Doug Gansler, Maryland's attorney general, has made Brown's alleged managerial incompetence a central theme of his campaign. To further his point about Brown's managerial chops, Gansler earlier this week did something rare in American politics — he trivialized a veteran's military service.

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The weather is warming and vacation season approaching.

And, just as predictably, the price of gasoline is rising. It does that every spring as refineries switch to more expensive summer blends.

But this year, the seasonal price bump is getting an extra bounce. Gasoline is costing consumers about 5 percent more than last year at this time, even though oil supplies are abundant. Why?

Experts say U.S. retail prices are nudging higher in large part because Gulf Coast refineries are sending more gasoline to other countries.

"We think there's definitely an impact on gasoline prices, especially coming from the exports to Latin America," said John Galante, an analyst with Energy Security Analysis Inc., a consulting firm.


U.S. Taps New Energy Sources, And Potential Geopolitical Clout

India's Bollywood film industry is known for romantic, over-the-top musicals that increasingly are reaching a world-wide audience. To highlight the international appeal, the industry holds its annual awards ceremony every year outside of India.

This year, Bollywood, its glittering stars and its legions of fans, have come to Tampa, Fla. It's the first time the International Indian Film Academy (IIFA) Awards have ever been held in the U.S.

At nearly all of the events held this week in downtown Tampa, the soundtrack has been throbbing Indian pop. At an outdoor dance concert, several thousand people — mostly Indian-Americans — gathered at a park on Tampa's waterfront.

DJs provided the music and there were food vendors, families on blankets and even a flash mob courtesy of a couple of dozen young people breaking out into a choreographed dance routine.

In the past, these Bollywood awards have been held in international cities like Bangkok, Amsterdam and Singapore. Tampa, although on one of Florida's most beautiful bays and experienced with hosting large gatherings, isn't exactly an international capital.

Tampa Mayor Bob Buckhorn says one selling point for IIFA was how well the city did two years ago hosting the Republican National Convention.

"They wanted to introduce the Bollywood brand to the United States," Buckhorn says. "It had never been here before, so they picked a city where there's a big Indian-American community, with the biggest media market in the state of Florida. So it made sense for a lot of reasons, and one thing we know how to do is put on a big show."

But even the mayor concedes, Bollywood awards are nothing like a GOP convention.

"The Republican convention looked like me: a bunch of stuffy old white guys in suits," he says. "This is nothing but glitz and glam and lights and music and beautiful people."

Indian-Americans and some non-Indian fans have flocked to the Bollywood events this week. Tickets to Saturday night's awards spectacular at Tampa's baseball stadium go from a hundred dollars into the thousands. More than 20,000 people are expected, and IIFA estimates the worldwide TV audience in the hundreds of millions.

But there are also red carpet events this week, where fans can see their favorite stars up close. One of those stars is Anil Kapoor. He is well known even to Western audiences for his role in Slumdog Millionaire, emphatically not a Bollywood musical. Kapoor was everywhere in downtown Tampa this week; dancing, cutting ribbons and doing his best to charm fans and the media.

"Congratulations to all the people of Tampa Bay. Tampa Bay, we love you, you're the best," he said to excited fans.

To attract the stars of India's film industry to Tampa, it takes more than charm — it takes money. The city and IIFA got significant financial help from a local philanthropist, Kirwan Patel. Patel is a Tampa cardiologist who admits he's not a huge fan of Bollywood films, but he says he jumped at the chance to help bring a wellspring of Indian culture to his hometown.

"Culture and art is a great medium to cross barriers of race, religion [and] ethnicity," Patel says. "And I felt that this is a good way of promoting a cultural spirit of India and introducing it to the United States."

At all the Bollywood events this week, the cultural spirit of India was irrepressible.


The Marshall Islands, the Pacific chain where the U.S. carried out dozens of nuclear tests in the late 1940s and 1950s, has filed suit in the Hague against Washington and the governments of eight other countries it says have not lived up to the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty.

The Guardian says in the "unprecedented legal action" brought before the International Court of Justice on Thursday "the Republic of the Marshall Islands accuses the nuclear weapons states of a 'flagrant denial of human justice.' It argues it is justified in taking the action because of the harm it suffered as a result of the nuclear arms race."

Besides the U.S., the Marshall Islands is also suing Russia, China, France and the U.K., which have all signed the non-proliferation treaty, or NPT, as well as four other countries who have never signed — India, Pakistan, North Korea and Israel, which has never acknowledged possessing nuclear weapons.

In court documents, the Marshall Islands argues that the 1958 NPT, which did not come into force until 1970, amounts to a compact between nuclear haves and have-nots. Non-weapons states essentially agreed not to try to acquire nuclear weapons in exchange for weapons states moving toward disarmament, the Marshalls claims.

According to the Guardian:

"Although the size of the arsenals are sharply down from the height of the cold war, the Marshall Islands' legal case notes there remain more than 17,000 warheads in existence, 16,000 of them owned by Russia and the US – enough to destroy all life on the planet."

On the decision to shoot from above

Part of my want as a maker in creating these was to put myself in the position of the characters who were eating these meals. By shooting them from above, that was the closest I could come to a first-person perspective on the meal.

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The Green Mountain State is poised to become the first to require food companies to label food products containing genetically modified ingredients.

Vermont Gov. Peter Shumlin tweeted he will sign a bill state lawmakers passed Wednesday mandating that foods with GMOs be labeled as having been produced with "genetic engineering." The bill would also make it illegal for foods with GMOs to be labeled "all natural" or "natural."

While Maine and Connecticut have already passed GMO labeling bills, those bills contain clauses that keep them from going into effect until surrounding states pass similar rules. Vermont's bill would go into effect on July 1, 2016.

For the past few years, consumer advocates have been ratcheting up the pressure on states and the federal government to require labeling, arguing that information about GMOs is essential if we're to make informed decisions about what food to buy.

Meanwhile, the food industry has resisted the idea of labeling, arguing that GMOs are safe and labeling costs would be passed onto consumers.

The Salt

What's The Most Important Thing Food Labels Should Tell Us?

Students at Danwon High School in Ansan, South Korea, began the difficult process of resuming classes on Thursday, eight days after a ferry disaster claimed the lives of more than 200 of their classmates.

According to South Korea's Yonhap News, the seniors (or third-year year students):

"Made way ... for a hearse carrying the body of a fellow female student killed in last week's ferry sinking. The car drove around the campus, giving the girl a final tour of her high school. ...

"Awaiting the returning students were signs of last week's tragic accident. Pieces of colorful paper posted on the school gate bade farewell to their fellow students and wished for their safe return. Bundles of chrysanthemums, a flower for mourning, were laid at the school entrance.

"Students hurried around the campus in silence, making way when the funeral car" passed by.

After two straight weeks in which the figures tracked near their lowest levels in seven years, the number of first-time applications for jobless benefits rose more than expected last week.

The Employment and Training Administration says there were 329,000 such claims filed, up by 24,000 from the previous week's slightly revised figure.

Reuters says that even though the latest number was above expectations, "the rise probably does not suggest a shift in labor market conditions as the underlying trend continued to point to strength.... The increase probably reflects difficulties adjusting the data for seasonal fluctuations given a late Easter this year and the timing of school spring breaks."

Bloomberg News makes much the same point: "The Easter holiday period made it more difficult to adjust the data for seasonal variations. ... Looking beyond the swings, firings have slowed, which probably means employers are gaining confidence the world's largest economy is strengthening."


Cannon Michael runs an 11,000-acre farm in California's Central Valley. His family has been farming in the state for six generations.

Michael's multimillion-dollar operation usually provides a wealth of crops including tomatoes, onions and melons. But recently, he's pretty pessimistic about work.

"It is going to be a year that's probably, at best, maybe break even. Or maybe lose some money," Michael tells NPR's Arun Rath.

Michael says about one-fifth of the land will lie fallow this year. So come harvest season, he won't be able to hire as many people to work the fields.

The reason that Michael and farmers all around the valley are cutting back is California's severe and ongoing drought.

"Without surface water, it's all a big strain, and people are finding whatever means they can to survive," he says.

Running On Empty

Nearly half of the country's fruits, nuts and vegetables come from California, a state that is drying up. According to the U.S. Drought Monitor, the entire state is considered "abnormally dry," and two-thirds of California is in "extreme" to "exceptional" drought conditions.

Earlier this year, many farmers in California found out that they would get no irrigation water from state or federal water projects. Recent rains have helped a little. On Friday, government officials said there was enough water to give a little more to some of the region's farmers — 5 percent of the annual allocation, instead of the nothing they were getting.

Michael says his farm has been a little bit luckier because of its long history here. His family has what are called "senior water rights" and a stronger guarantee to the region's water.

Those water rights mean they're getting 40 percent of their normal water allotment, and sprinklers are still spraying water across some of the soil, but the farm has still had to cut back.

Many fields remain fallow or are growing a placeholder crop to keep the soil from eroding. Thanks to the drought, much of Michael's wheat crop isn't suitable for human use, so it's already been cut to make hay for livestock. Michael says because of this, they're also buying less equipment, like big tractors that can cost upward of $400,000.

"We had ordered one last year in October in anticipation of using it this spring ... [and] based on the outlook this year, we just can't take it," he says.

Stories like this are playing out throughout the Central Valley. With less water, farmers are making fewer big purchases, fallowing hundreds of thousands of acres and hiring fewer farm laborers. All of this means they're putting less money into the local economy.

No Crops, No Work, No Money

Economists say it's too early to accurately predict the drought's effect on jobs, but it's likely as many as 20,000 will be lost.

That might not sound like a lot, but many of those workers are already living paycheck to paycheck in communities that depend on that work.

Related NPR Stories


Unlikely Partnerships Spring From California Water Crisis

The U.S. is providing more arms and training to the moderate rebels in Syria, under a growing secret program run by the CIA in Jordan. Sources tell NPR that secret program could be supplemented by a more public effort in the coming months involving American military trainers.

The change in strategy comes as the White House sees Syrian leader Bashar Assad growing in strength, and continuing to strike rebel strongholds.

Another factor: Russian leaders appear unwilling to help end the three-year-old civil war and are continuing to provide weapons to Assad. Finally, al-Qaida fighters and their allies are expanding in Syria, a development that some believe could threaten the U.S. homeland.

The ramped-up covert program is an attempt to further pressure the Assad regime and its allies to reach a political settlement, not necessarily to achieve a military victory by rebel forces.

Skeptics doubt the U.S. effort will help much, given the weakened state of the opposition and the inroads made by al-Qaida fighters. The moderate fighters being supported currently have relatively little influence on the ground.

Still, the U.S. plan calls for both small arms and more powerful weapons such as TOW missiles, which can penetrate tanks and other armored vehicles. Rebel forces were pictured last week with some of the first TOW missiles, and sources say that the effort will expand throughout the next year. It's uncertain if the U.S. is sending the TOW missiles through Saudi Arabia, which is also supporting the rebels.

There is a debate within the White House whether to supply rebels with shoulder-fired missiles, which could target Syrian helicopters. There are fears those missiles could fall into the hands of al-Qaida, and produce a threat to commercial aircraft and allied warplanes in the region.

The White House has said little publicly about the new, expansive effort to help the moderate rebels.

"The United States is committed to building the capacity of the moderate opposition, including through the provision of assistance to vetted members of the moderate armed opposition," said National Security Council spokeswoman Bernadette Meehan, when asked recently about the TOW missiles. "As we have consistently said, we are not going to detail every single type of our assistance."

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Thousands of nonviolent drug offenders serving time in federal prison could be eligible to apply for early release under new clemency guidelines announced Wednesday by the Justice Department.

Details of the initiative, which would give President Obama more options under which he could grant clemency to drug offenders serving long prison sentences, were announced by Deputy Attorney General James Cole.

Cole listed six factors the Justice Department will use to "prioritize clemency applications" as part of the administration's effort to address long mandatory minimum sentences meted out after the crack-fueled crime wave of the 1980s. Those mandatory minimums were revised under the 2010 Fair Sentencing Act, designed to reduce the disparity between sentencing rules for crack and powder cocaine.

Inmates seeking clemency, he said, must meet the following criteria:

-They are currently serving a federal prison sentence that is longer than current mandatory sentences for the same offense.

-They are nonviolent, low-level offenders without "significant ties to large scale criminal organizations, gangs or cartels."

-They have served at least 10 years of their sentence.

-They do not have a "significant criminal history."

-They have demonstrated good conduct in prison.

-They have no history of violence before or during their current imprisonment.

"For our criminal justice system to be effective, it needs to not only be fair, but it also must be perceived as being fair," Cole said in a statement. "Older, stringent punishments that are out of line with sentences imposed under today's laws erode people's confidence in our criminal justice system, and I am confident that this initiative will go far to promote the most fundamental of American ideals – equal justice for all."

Long mandatory minimum drug sentences were revised under the 2010 Fair Sentencing Act, which was designed to reduce the disparity between sentencing rules for crack and powder cocaine. In comments Monday, Attorney General Eric Holder said the difference in prison terms being served by drug offenders sentenced before the act, and those sentenced after, is "simply not right."

The administration announced that Deborah Leff, acting senior counselor at the Justice Department's Access to Justice Initiative, will head new office overseeing the clemency program. The Access to Justice Initiative was established in 2010 to promote fairness in legal representation and sentencing "irrespective of wealth and status."

Cole said that in the interest of providing a "thorough and rapid review" of the expected wave of new clemency applications, he has asked lawyers throughout the Justice Department to help review new petitions.

Inmates, the administration said, will be notified in coming days about the expedited clemency program, and how to access pro bono lawyers through a working group called Clemency Project 2014. The group, formed after Cole asked lawyers to help with the clemency initiative, includes federal defenders, as well as representatives from groups including the American Civil Liberties Union and the American Bar Association.

While the move has been hailed by groups working for fairness and sentencing, and also additional changes to mandatory minimum drug sentences – including bipartisan efforts on Capitol Hill – some prosecutors have expressed skepticism about the clemency initiative.

"Americans want to rest assured knowing that 10 years means 10 years, and life in prison means life in prison," says Scott Burns, head of the National District Attorneys Association. "Prosecutors' fears are that our low level of serious crime in America will begin to rise – and nobody will monitor the cost of re-arresting and re-prosecuting offenders when they commit new crimes."

The already slim chance that anyone might still be alive aboard the South Korean ferry that sunk a week ago was all but extinguished Wednesday with the news that divers have found no air pockets in key areas of the ship.

That word came as the number of bodies recovered from the Sewol edged above 150. As of mid-afternoon Wednesday in South Korea, "152 people had been confirmed dead while 150 others remained missing," Yonhap News reports. The water where the ship went down just off the southern coast of South Korea is said to be about 160 feet deep.

More than 320 of the estimated 476 people who were on board when the ferry capsized and sank were students from a high school in Ansan, near Seoul, who were traveling to a resort island. Most of the 300 or so people who likely died were teenagers. Officials have said that 174 people were rescued before the ferry flipped over.

According to CNN:

"Divers have found no air pockets on the third and fourth floors of the sunken ferry Sewol, South Korean authorities said Wednesday. ... Searchers had been focusing on the third and fourth levels of the five-floor vessel, as they believed many of those still missing were likely to be there. Most passenger bedrooms are on the fourth level of the now upended ship."

The daily lowdown on books, publishing, and the occasional author behaving badly.

Gabriel Garca Mrquez left behind an unpublished manuscript when he died last week at age 87, Cristobal Pera, editorial director of Penguin Random House Mexico, told The Associated Press. Pera added that Marquez's family has not yet decided whether to publish it. Meanwhile, the Spanish newspaper La Vanguardia published an extract of the work, tentatively titled We'll See Each Other in August (En agosto nos vemos). In the excerpt, a middle-aged woman named Ana Magdalena Bach has a fling during her annual trip to a tropical island to put flowers on her mother's grave. She stays at a hotel overlooking a lagoon full of herons. Ana, though she's married, meets a man at the hotel and begins an affair with him. The excerpt has a strong sense of place — Garca Mrquez's descriptions are lush with flowers and tropical life – and a ripple of eroticism travels through it, from the touch of perfume Ana puts behind her ear at the beginning of the chapter to the thunderstorm during her encounter with the man from the hotel.

David Foster Wallace's estate and his former publisher have come out in opposition to the making of the forthcoming film The End of the Tour, which is based on Wallace's conversations with journalist David Lipsky. In a press release, the David Foster Wallace Literary Trust wrote, "This motion picture is loosely based on transcripts from an interview David consented to eighteen years ago for a magazine article about the publication of his novel, 'Infinite Jest.' That article was never published and David would never have agreed that those saved transcripts could later be repurposed as the basis of a movie." It added that "there is no circumstance under which the David Foster Wallace Literary Trust would have consented to the adaptation of this interview into a motion picture, and we do not consider it an homage." Wallace committed suicide in 2008.

The Miguel de Cervantes Prize, the most prestigious literary award in the Spanish-speaking world, will be awarded to Mexican author Elena Poniatowska on Wednesday in Spain. Previously won by Jorge Luis Borges, Octavio Paz and Gabriel Garca Mrquez among others, the prize is worth 125,000 euros (about $173,000).

A previously unpublished story by Shirley Jackson, the writer best known for her story "The Lottery," is printed in The New Yorker. "The Man in the Woods" is a short, sinister story about a man named Christopher who walks through dark woods to find an isolated house surrounded by trees, "the forest only barely held back by the stone wall, edging as close to it as possible, pushing, as Christopher had felt since the day before, crowding up and embracing the little stone house in horrid possession."

Comedian Megan Amram has a book deal for Science...For Her!, which she calls "a fun, flirty, Cosmopolitan-like textbook that is tailored to you, ladies." On her website, Amram describes the book as "a science textbook written by a lady (me) for other ladies (you, the Spice Girls, etc.)," and adds that "it has been demonstrated repeatedly throughout history: female brains aren't biologically constructed to understand scientific concepts, and tiny female hands aren't constructed to turn most textbooks' large, extra-heavy covers." Amram's book may be a parody, but it's not that all that far from reality: A 2013 book titled Girls Get Curves: Geometry Takes Shape combines math tips with advice on "how to attract guys," and uses handbag shapes to explain quadrilaterals.

"You have no legs and your name is alliterative." "A coachman treats you saucily." "You are either ruddy, stout, or flint-eyed." The Toast has some tips for telling whether you are in a Charles Dickens novel. (Full disclosure, I've written previously for The Toast.)

The sponsor of a bill to make the Holy Bible the official book of Louisiana has withdrawn the measure ahead of a full vote in the state House of Representatives, saying the proposal has become a distraction.

As we reported last week, a mix of Republicans and Democrats had moved the largely symbolic bill, sponsored by Rep. Thomas Carmody of Shreveport, out of committee on an 8-5 vote.

The measure had been scheduled for a floor vote on Monday, but Carmody said he told the constituent who asked for the bill that he "was going to go ahead and return the bill to the calendar [on Monday] and concentrate our efforts on those things that are much more important."

The Times-Picayune reports:

"In introducing the legislation, Carmody always maintained he was not taking steps to establish a state religion, but rather to educate people. Critics have accused him of foisting faith inappropriately into the government sphere. Others thought such a designation would trivialize the Bible and its importance.

"Initially, Carmody had just been intending to designate a specific, historic copy of the Bible, which he thought could be found in the Louisiana State Museum, as the official state book. But lawmakers amended Carmody's legislation two weeks ago to propose making any copy of the 'Holy Bible' the official state book."

In a high-rise office in Rosslyn, Va., Adam Parkhomenko is selling campaign paraphernalia for a campaign that may or may not happen.

"Bumper stickers, magnets, and then we have everything from T-shirts, we have baby onesies that we're almost out of now," says Parkhomenko.

Parkhomenko runs a group called Ready for Hillary. It's more than a Clinton fan club: It's a superPAC, a list-building superPAC.

The next presidential election is more than two years away. Nevertheless, an unprecedented amount of infrastructure is under construction for a Hillary Clinton campaign that is still a matter of speculation.

"Ready for Hillary is focused on the grass-roots piece of organizing, and making sure that all throughout the country, if she does this, that there's an army of grass-roots supporters behind her from Day 1 that are ready to go," Parkhomenko says.

This kind of bottom-up grass-roots organizing was not a strong suit for Clinton's 2008 campaign. But the shadow campaign developing in advance of a possible 2016 sequel is focusing on the ground level. Ready for Hillary raises small donations by selling baby onesies and holding small-dollar fundraisers.

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No one can send up sexism with a punchline quite like Amy Schumer.

"A lot of the women's magazines are supposed to like, be confidence building, but they really just scare...you so you buy the products in them," she says in one stand-up routine. "Like, they all will put Jessica Alba or someone like that on cover. And she's super sexualized no matter what magazine. And you're like, 'Good Housekeeping? Why is this even here?'"

But Inside Amy Schumer gives the New York native a chance to turn those sharp stand-up routines into a larger swipe at society's casual sexism.

In one moment from the show, she tries to play a shoot-em-up video game as a female character, only to see that character stopped from going into battle and sexually assaulted, then pelted with questions like "Do you wish to report it?" Then: "Are you sure?" And "Did you know (the assailant) has a family?"

It's a simultaneous slap at the boys' club of gamer culture and the military's terrible response to sexual assaults. In another sketch, she's a beautiful-but-awful tennis star. But the TV announcers aren't really interested in her athletic ability.

"I think the most incredible part about (her) game is how she manages to stay so thin, but still have such large breasts," says one match announcer, as the soundtrack to a cheesy soft porn movie plays in the background. Wonder if Anna Kournikova's ears were burning?

Schumer sells all this cutting-edge comedy with a knowing attitude. She's a smart aleck who talks about sex with the kind of explicit glee usually reserved for guys.

One great example involves a bit about her encounter with a reporter from TMZ. "He asked me, like a slut question, because I'm the 'it' girl for that," she said, laughing. "He asked me about a product called Instead. It is a product for women, you buy it and you..."

Wait a minute. Maybe I shouldn't say too much more about that on a family-friendly website.

Anyways, the calculation at Comedy Central seems obvious: Use sex jokes to get the mostly young, mostly male audience to pay attention, then school them with some eye-opening comedy about sexism and stereotypes.

But for me, that combination also inspires a little guilt. It grabs my attention, I laugh and then I feel a little ashamed for how well the sex talk reeled me in.

There are times when Schumer misses the mark. In one moment from the first episode of this season, she finds out an old sex partner has herpes, she pleads for help from God and he arrives ... in the form of superstar character actor Paul Giamatti.

"Let me be honest with you," Giamatti-as-God says. "You did get herpes. You already have it. For me to undo your herpes, I have to create balance in the universe...I'd have to kill off an entire village in Uzbekistan."

"Yeah ... whatever you think is best," she says, blankly. "Do it." Later, she offers to have sex with God if he'll undo her herpes and he refuses because he's gay.

It's wry and very weird. But Schumer's also working a stereotype: the ditzy slut. And that comes dangerously close to the biggest risk in modern comedy: A comic tries satirizing a stereotype, but just encourages it.

Schumer walks that line brilliantly, but there are others who haven't. Like Family Guy creator Seth MacFarlane, who discovered just how difficult that kind of humor is during the Academy Awards last year when he sang a big production number called "We Saw Your Boobs."

It was delivered with an "ain't we naughty" kind of attitude. But you waited for MacFarlane to at least nod toward a larger point about the movies' double standard for topless actresses. And he never did. So a serious issue was passed off as harmless fun.

Schumer is too smart to make that mistake. Instead, there's a delicious tension between her attention-getting sex jokes and the social commentary she drops once we're paying attention.

I can't wait to see how guilty she makes me feel next time.

The daily lowdown on books, publishing, and the occasional author behaving badly.

In a book out Tuesday, retired Supreme Court Justice John Paul Stevens proposes six amendments to the U.S. Constitution, including measures aimed at preventing gerrymandering (that is, redrawing district lines for political advantage), abolishing the death penalty and allowing limits on the amount of money that political candidates and their supporters can spend on campaigns. Other amendments would promote stricter gun control and abolish states' sovereign immunity. The 94-year-old Stevens writes in the preface to his book, Six Amendments: How and Why We Should Change the Constitution, that of his proposals, "the first four would nullify judge-made rules, the fifth would expedite the demise of the death penalty, and the sixth would confine the coverage of the Second Amendment to the area intended by its authors." He added that he is confident "ultimately each will be adopted."

For the grumpy prescriptivists of the world, there is now an extension for Google Chrome that replaces the word "literally" with the word "figuratively" on the webpages you visit. (Though you're fighting a losing battle, dear purists — the word's more colloquial, emphatic sense — as in, "I'm literally going to kill the next person who comments on my use of the word 'literally' " — was recently added to the Oxford English Dictionary.)

On Monday evening, state Rep. Thomas Carmody shelved a bill to make the Holy Bible the state book of Louisiana, saying the issue had become a distraction. Carmody initially tried to designate a particular copy of the Bible from the Louisiana State Museum as the state book, but the bill's language was eventually changed to refer to the King James Bible, and then just to "the Holy Bible." Critics, including the Louisiana ACLU, called the bill discriminatory and complained that it blurred the line between church and state.

The novelist Salman Rushdie remembers Gabriel Garca Mrquez, who died last week at age 87: "The trouble with the term 'magic realism,' el realismo mgico, is that when people say or hear it they are really hearing or saying only half of it, 'magic,' without paying attention to the other half, 'realism.' But if magic realism were just magic, it wouldn't matter. It would be mere whimsy — writing in which, because anything can happen, nothing has effect. It's because the magic in magic realism has deep roots in the real, because it grows out of the real and illuminates it in beautiful and unexpected ways, that it works."

Claudia Rankine has won the $50,000 Jackson Poetry Prize, an annual award given "to an American poet of exceptional talent who deserves wider recognition." Rankine's poems are an interesting melding of essay and poetry — one of her prose-poems, "Don't Let Me Be Lonely [There was a time]," begins: "There was a time I could say no one I knew well had died. This is not to suggest no one died. When I was eight my mother became pregnant. She went to the hospital to give birth and returned without the baby. Where's the baby? we asked. Did she shrug? She was the kind of woman who liked to shrug; deep within her was an everlasting shrug. That didn't seem like a death. The years went by and people only died on television—if they weren't Black, they were wearing black or were terminally ill. Then I returned home from school one day and saw my father sitting on the steps of our home. He had a look that was unfamiliar; it was flooded, so leaking."


At first, Hari Kondabolu's comedy was mostly about catharsis: "I was doing some work in detention centers and meeting families who had family members who were going to be deported," he tells Fresh Air's Terry Gross. "It was really powerful work ... but it was incredibly hard and performing at night was a relief. It was cathartic. It was just a way to get things out."

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"The conduct of the captain and some crew members is wholly unfathomable from the viewpoint of common sense, and it was like an act of murder that cannot and should not be tolerated."

Yonhap News says that was the word Monday from South Korean President Park Geun-hye as she spoke with senior aides about last week's ferry disaster, which is feared to have killed about 300 people — most of them high school students who were on a trip to a popular resort island.

CNN has a slightly different version of the president's words, though they convey the same message:

" 'The actions of the captain and some of the crew are absolutely unacceptable, unforgivable actions that are akin to murder,' Park said Monday in comments released by her office. She said she and other South Koreans were filled with 'rage and horror.' "


Twice Juno Schaser asked for a raise. Twice she was turned down, she says. If her group of female friends is any indication, it's a common experience.

" 'At least they'll respect you for trying,' " a friend told Schaser, a 23-year-old museum publicist.

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