How Much of the Internet Is Fake? Turns Out, a Lot of It, Actually.

Photo: Artwork by Ayatgali Tuleubek

In late November, the Justice Department unsealed indictments against eight people accused of fleecing advertisers of $36 million in two of the largest digital ad-fraud operations ever uncovered. Digital advertisers tend to want two things: people to look at their ads and “premium” websites — i.e., established and legitimate publications — on which to host them.

The two schemes at issue in the case, dubbed Methbot and 3ve by the security researchers who found them, faked both. Hucksters infected 1.7 million computers with malware that remotely directed traffic to “spoofed” websites — “empty websites designed for bot traffic” that served up a video ad purchased from one of the internet’s vast programmatic ad-exchanges, but that were designed, according to the indictments, “to fool advertisers into thinking that an impression of their ad was served on a premium publisher site,” like that of Vogue or The Economist. Views, meanwhile, were faked by malware-infected computers with marvelously sophisticated techniques to imitate humans: bots “faked clicks, mouse movements, and social network login information to masquerade as engaged human consumers.” Some were sent to browse the internet to gather tracking cookies from other websites, just as a human visitor would have done through regular behavior. Fake people with fake cookies and fake social-media accounts, fake-moving their fake cursors, fake-clicking on fake websites — the fraudsters had essentially created a simulacrum of the internet, where the only real things were the ads.

How much of the internet is fake? Studies generally suggest that, year after year, less than 60 percent of web traffic is human; some years, according to some researchers, a healthy majority of it is bot. For a period of time in 2013, the Times reported this year, a full half of YouTube traffic was “bots masquerading as people,” a portion so high that employees feared an inflection point after which YouTube’s systems for detecting fraudulent traffic would begin to regard bot traffic as real and human traffic as fake. They called this hypothetical event “the Inversion.”

In the future, when I look back from the high-tech gamer jail in which President PewDiePie will have imprisoned me, I will remember 2018 as the year the internet passed the Inversion, not in some strict numerical sense, since bots already outnumber humans online more years than not, but in the perceptual sense. The internet has always played host in its dark corners to schools of catfish and embassies of Nigerian princes, but that darkness now pervades its every aspect: Everything that once seemed definitively and unquestionably real now seems slightly fake; everything that once seemed slightly fake now has the power and presence of the real. The “fakeness” of the post-Inversion internet is less a calculable falsehood and more a particular quality of experience — the uncanny sense that what you encounter online is not “real” but is also undeniably not “fake,” and indeed may be both at once, or in succession, as you turn it over in your head.

The metrics are fake.

Take something as seemingly simple as how we measure web traffic. Metrics should be the most real thing on the internet: They are countable, trackable, and verifiable, and their existence undergirds the advertising business that drives our biggest social and search platforms. Yet not even Facebook, the world’s greatest data–gathering organization, seems able to produce genuine figures. In October, small advertisers filed suit against the social-media giant, accusing it of covering up, for a year, its significant overstatements of the time users spent watching videos on the platform (by 60 to 80 percent, Facebook says; by 150 to 900 percent, the plaintiffs say). According to an exhaustive list at MarketingLand, over the past two years Facebook has admitted to misreporting the reach of posts on Facebook Pages (in two different ways), the rate at which viewers complete ad videos, the average time spent reading its “Instant Articles,” the amount of referral traffic from Facebook to external websites, the number of views that videos received via Facebook’s mobile site, and the number of video views in Instant Articles.

Can we still trust the metrics? After the Inversion, what’s the point? Even when we put our faith in their accuracy, there’s something not quite real about them: My favorite statistic this year was Facebook’s claim that 75 million people watched at least a minute of Facebook Watch videos every day — though, as Facebook admitted, the 60 seconds in that one minute didn’t need to be watched consecutively. Real videos, real people, fake minutes.

The people are fake.

And maybe we shouldn’t even assume that the people are real. Over at YouTube, the business of buying and selling video views is “flourishing,” as the Times reminded readers with a lengthy investigation in August. The company says only “a tiny fraction” of its traffic is fake, but fake subscribers are enough of a problem that the site undertook a purge of “spam accounts” in mid-December. These days, the Times found, you can buy 5,000 YouTube views — 30 seconds of a video counts as a view — for as low as $15; oftentimes, customers are led to believe that the views they purchase come from real people. More likely, they come from bots. On some platforms, video views and app downloads can be forged in lucrative industrial counterfeiting operations. If you want a picture of what the Inversion looks like, find a video of a “click farm”: hundreds of individual smartphones, arranged in rows on shelves or racks in professional-looking offices, each watching the same video or downloading the same app.This is obviously not real human traffic. But what would real human traffic look like? The Inversion gives rise to some odd philosophical quandaries: If a Russian troll using a Brazilian man’s photograph to masquerade as an American Trump supporter watches a video on Facebook, is that view “real”? Not only do we have bots masquerading as humans and humans masquerading as other humans, but also sometimes humans masquerading as bots, pretending to be “artificial-intelligence personal assistants,” like Facebook’s “M,” in order to help tech companies appear to possess cutting-edge AI. We even have whatever CGI Instagram influencer Lil Miquela is: a fake human with a real body, a fake face, and real influence. Even humans who aren’t masquerading can contort themselves through layers of diminishing reality: The Atlantic reports that non-CGI human influencers are posting fake sponsored content — that is, content meant to look like content that is meant to look authentic, for free — to attract attention from brand reps, who, they hope, will pay them real money.

click farm

The businesses are fake.

The money is usually real. Not always — ask someone who enthusiastically got into cryptocurrency this time last year — but often enough to be an engine of the Inversion. If the money is real, why does anything else need to be? Earlier this year, the writer and artist Jenny Odell began to look into an Amazon reseller that had bought goods from other Amazon resellers and resold them, again on Amazon, at higher prices. Odell discovered an elaborate network of fake price-gouging and copyright-stealing businesses connected to the cultlike Evangelical church whose followers resurrected Newsweek in 2013 as a zombie search-engine-optimized spam farm. She visited a strange bookstore operated by the resellers in San Francisco and found a stunted concrete reproduction of the dazzlingly phony storefronts she’d encountered on Amazon, arranged haphazardly with best-selling books, plastic tchotchkes, and beauty products apparently bought from wholesalers. “At some point I began to feel like I was in a dream,” she wrote. “Or that I was half-awake, unable to distinguish the virtual from the real, the local from the global, a product from a Photoshop image, the sincere from the insincere.”

The content is fake.

The only site that gives me that dizzying sensation of unreality as often as Amazon does is YouTube, which plays host to weeks’ worth of inverted, inhuman content. TV episodes that have been mirror-flipped to avoid copyright takedowns air next to huckster vloggers flogging merch who air next to anonymously produced videos that are ostensibly for children. An animated video of Spider-Man and Elsa from Frozen riding tractors is not, you know, not real: Some poor soul animated it and gave voice to its actors, and I have no doubt that some number (dozens? Hundreds? Millions? Sure, why not?) of kids have sat and watched it and found some mystifying, occult enjoyment in it. But it’s certainly not “official,” and it’s hard, watching it onscreen as an adult, to understand where it came from and what it means that the view count beneath it is continually ticking up.

These, at least, are mostly bootleg videos of popular fictional characters, i.e., counterfeit unreality. Counterfeit reality is still more difficult to find—for now. In January 2018, an anonymous Redditor created a relatively easy-to-use desktop-app implementation of “deepfakes,” the now-infamous technology that uses artificial-intelligence image processing to replace one face in a video with another — putting, say, a politician’s over a porn star’s. A recent academic paper from researchers at the graphics-card company Nvidia demonstrates a similar technique used to create images of computer-generated “human” faces that look shockingly like photographs of real people. (Next time Russians want to puppeteer a group of invented Americans on Facebook, they won’t even need to steal photos of real people.) Contrary to what you might expect, a world suffused with deepfakes and other artificially generated photographic images won’t be one in which “fake” images are routinely believed to be real, but one in which “real” images are routinely believed to be fake — simply because, in the wake of the Inversion, who’ll be able to tell the difference?

Our politics are fake.

Such a loss of any anchoring “reality” only makes us pine for it more. Our politics have been inverted along with everything else, suffused with a Gnostic sense that we’re being scammed and defrauded and lied to but that a “real truth” still lurks somewhere. Adolescents are deeply engaged by YouTube videos that promise to show the hard reality beneath the “scams” of feminism and diversity — a process they call “red-pilling” after the scene in The Matrix when the computer simulation falls away and reality appears. Political arguments now involve trading accusations of “virtue signaling” — the idea that liberals are faking their politics for social reward — against charges of being Russian bots. The only thing anyone can agree on is that everyone online is lying and fake.

We ourselves are fake.

Which, well. Everywhere I went online this year, I was asked to prove I’m a human. Can you retype this distorted word? Can you transcribe this house number? Can you select the images that contain a motorcycle? I found myself prostrate daily at the feet of robot bouncers, frantically showing off my highly developed pattern-matching skills — does a Vespa count as a motorcycle, even? — so I could get into nightclubs I’m not even sure I want to enter. Once inside, I was directed by dopamine-feedback loops to scroll well past any healthy point, manipulated by emotionally charged headlines and posts to click on things I didn’t care about, and harried and hectored and sweet-talked into arguments and purchases and relationships so algorithmically determined it was hard to describe them as real.

Where does that leave us? I’m not sure the solution is to seek out some pre-Inversion authenticity — to red-pill ourselves back to “reality.” What’s gone from the internet, after all, isn’t “truth,” but trust: the sense that the people and things we encounter are what they represent themselves to be. Years of metrics-driven growth, lucrative manipulative systems, and unregulated platform marketplaces, have created an environment where it makes more sense to be fake online — to be disingenuous and cynical, to lie and cheat, to misrepresent and distort — than it does to be real. Fixing that would require cultural and political reform in Silicon Valley and around the world, but it’s our only choice. Otherwise we’ll all end up on the bot internet of fake people, fake clicks, fake sites, and fake computers, where the only real thing is the ads.

 

By , December 26, 2018, first appearing on New York Magazine: Intelligencer
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HIGHLIGHTS OF BOOKS ENTERING THE PUBLIC DOMAIN IN 2019

Rejoice! Works created in 1923 are finally entering the public domain in 2019!

Don’t really know what that means? I didn’t either! Copyright law is weird and messy and super confusing! Smithsonian Magazine and the New York Times break it down for us:

“The sudden deluge of available works traces back to legislation Congress passed in 1998, which extended copyright protections by 20 years. The law reset the copyright term for works published from 1923 to 1977 — lengthening it from 75 years to 95 years after publication — essentially freezing their protected status. (The law is often referred to by skeptics as the “Mickey Mouse Protection Act,” since it has kept “Steamboat Willie,” the first Disney film featuring Mickey, under copyright until 2024.)”

There’s an added level of confusion that comes in when authors or publishers didn’t secure or renew copyright. Or when a new edition appears with a new copyright for an introduction or illustration. Oh, and all this applies only to American works with American copyright.

Got it?

For 20 years, we’ve been missing out on books, poems, films, songs, and articles entering the public domain. When a work is in the public domain, it’s free for use by anyone, whether it’s inspiration for song lyrics or a new, cheaper edition of a book. Or a retelling, like good ol’ Pride and Prejudice and Zombies. Google Books and Kindle will be loading up with free digital editions of these books.

LibriVox, an app for free public domain audiobooks, and Serial Reader, an app that breaks public domain works into daily bite-sized chunks, also should have an exciting year ahead of them. I can’t wait to see what they do with the new collection headed their way.

So long as Disney doesn’t rewrite the law again, we will now get yearly dumps of greatness as a New Year’s present. Hooray for us!

Here are some highlights of books from 1923 entering the public domain in 2019. Synopses are from Goodreads, because I haven’t read any of these yet. Goodreads has a complete list of books entering the public domain, and Duke Law has a list of everything entering the public domain in 2019. Note: This list is very white.

 

FICTION

A Lost Lady by Willa CatherA LOST LADY BY WILLA CATHER

Marian Forrester is the symbolic flower of the Old American West. She draws her strength from that solid foundation, bringing delight and beauty to her elderly husband, to the small town of Sweet Water where they live, to the prairie land itself, and to the young narrator of her story, Neil Herbert. All are bewitched by her brilliance and grace, and all are ultimately betrayed. For Marian longs for “life on any terms,” and in fulfilling herself, she loses all she loved and all who loved her.

The Murder on the Links by Agatha ChristieTHE MURDER ON THE LINKS BY AGATHA CHRISTIE

A millionaire dies…

‘One can see by his face that he was stabbed in the back’ said Poirot.

But the strangest feature of the case was where they found the body — in an open grave!

Hercule Poirot had answered an appeal for help — but he was too late!

MURDER — bizarre and baffling — had come to the Villa Genevieve.

kangaroo by dh lawrenceKANGAROO BY D.H. LAWRENCE

Kangaroo is D. H. Lawrence’s eighth novel, set in Australia. He wrote the first draft in just forty-five days while living south of Sydney, in 1922, and revised it three months later in New Mexico. The descriptions of the country are vivid and sympathetic and the book fuses lightly disguised autobiography with an exploration of political ideas at an immensely personal level.

A Son at the Front by Edith WhartonA SON AT THE FRONT BY EDITH WHARTON

Wharton’s antiwar masterpiece probes the devastation of World War I on the home front. Interweaving her own experiences of the Great War with themes of parental and filial love, art and self-sacrifice, national loyalties and class privilege, Wharton tells an intimate and captivating story of war behind the lines.

Jacob's Room by Virginia WoolfJACOB’S ROOM BY VIRGINIA WOOLF

Virginia Woolf’s first distinguished work, Jacob’s Room is the story of a sensitive young man named Jacob Flanders. The life story, character and friends of Jacob are presented in a series for separate scenes and moments from his childhood, through college at Cambridge, love affairs in London, and travels in Greece, to his death in the war.

 

NONFICTION

The Prophet by Kahlil GibranTHE PROPHET BY KAHLIL GIBRAN

The Prophet is a collection of poetic essays that are philosophical, spiritual, and, above all, inspirational. Gibran’s musings are divided into twenty-eight chapters covering such sprawling topics as love, marriage, children, giving, eating, work, joy, and sorrow.

 

 

POETRY

Tulips and Chimneys by EE CummingsTULIPS & CHIMNEYS BY E.E. CUMMINGS

Fresh and candid, by turns earthy, tender, defiant, and romantic, Cummings’s poems celebrate the uniqueness of each individual, the need to protest the dehumanizing force of organizations, and the exuberant power of love.

 

New Hampshire by Robert FrostNEW HAMPSHIRE BY ROBERT FROST

New Hampshire features Frost’s meditations on rural life, love, and death, delivered in the voice of a soft-spoken New Englander. This compilation includes several of his best-known poems: “Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening,” “Nothing Gold Can Stay,” and “Fire and Ice” as well as verse based on such traditional songs as “I Will Sing You One-O.”

The Harp-Weaver and Other Poems by Edna St. Vincent MillayTHE HARP-WEAVER, AND OTHER POEMS BY EDNA ST. VINCENT MILLAY

Edna St. Vincent Millay burst onto the literary scene at a very young age and won the Pulitzer Prize for Poetry in 1923. Her passionate lyrics and superbly crafted sonnets have thrilled generations of readers long after the notoriously bohemian lifestyle she led in Greenwich Village in the 1920s ceased to shock them. Millay’s refreshing frankness and cynicism and her ardent appetite for life still burn brightly on the page.

 

SHORT STORIES

THREE STORIES AND TEN POEMS BY ERNEST HEMINGWAY

Only 300 copies were made in the first and only printing of Hemingway’s first book. These three stories represent all that remained of Hemingway’s early work after the suitcase full of his manuscripts was stolen in the Gare de Lyon.

THE LURKING FEAR AND OTHER STORIES BY H.P. LOVECRAFT

Twelve soul-chilling stories by the master of horror will leave you shivering in your boots and afraid to go out in the night. Only H.P. Lovecraft can send your heart racing faster than it’s ever gone before.

MRS. DALLOWAY’S PARTY: A SHORT STORY SEQUENCE BY VIRGINIA WOOLF

The landmark modern novel Mrs. Dalloway creates a portrait of a single day in the life of Clarissa Dalloway as she orchestrates the last-minute details of a grand party. But before Virginia Woolf wrote this masterwork, she explored in a series of fascinating stories a similar revelry in the mental and physical excitement of a party.

CALL TO ARMS BY LU XUN

Call to Arms is a collection of revolutionary Chinese writer Lu Xun’s most famous and most important short stories. Featuring “A Madman’s Diary,” a scathing attack of traditional Confucian civilization and “The True Story of Ah Q,” a poignant satire about the hypocrisy of Chinese national character and the first work written entirely in the Chinese vernacular.

By , Janaury 3, 20

The State of Net Neutrality

A coast-to-coast roundup of efforts to restore the open internet

net neutrality

The Federal Communications Commission’s (FCC) Restoring Internet Freedom Order (RIFO) took effect June 11, 2018, overturning the net neutrality rules the agency established with 2015’s Open Internet Order. Since then, many individual states and other entities have taken it upon themselves to try to restore net neutrality protections. The following is a review of those efforts—successful, failed, and in progress—around the US.

More than 35 states have introduced legislation to protect net neutrality, although only four (California, Oregon, Vermont, and Washington) have passed laws. Several governors have also issued executive orders related to net neutrality.

The details of state net neutrality actions vary significantly, but common provisions are:

  • prohibiting all internet service providers (ISPs) in a state from blocking lawful content, applications, services, or devices; impairing or degrading the speed of lawful internet traffic based on content, application, service, or device; engaging in paid prioritization of traffic; or unreasonably interfering with a user’s ability to select, access, or use broadband internet service
  • requiring ISPs to meet the net neutrality provisions above to be considered for state contracts (in some cases, these acts apply to contracts for municipalities as well)
  • requiring ISPs to transparently disclose their network management principles
  • establishing certification systems or registries of ISPs that meet net neutrality requirements
  • issuing resolutions urging the US Congress to implement net neutrality requirements but having no regulatory power on their own

“Having 50 different approaches to net neutrality is not optimal for anybody,” observes Larra Clark, deputy director of public policy for the American Library Association’s Washington Office and the Public Library Association. However, in addition to providing net neutrality in the states where they’ve been implemented, state activities are valuable in advocating for meaningful protections nationally.

“States taking these leadership roles makes it more likely that the FCC will come to the table and the telecommunications companies that have fought us on this issue will work to find a compromise,” she says.

State legislation passed

California

On September 30, Gov. Jerry Brown signed Senate Bill (S.B.) 822, requiring ISPs in the state to comply with net neutrality principles and disclose network management practices. The bill goes beyond the Obama-era regulations by also limiting certain forms of “zero rating,” in which ISPs favor certain information by not counting content or websites they own against data limits.

The bill’s author, Sen. Scott Wiener (D-San Francisco) called it “the strongest in the nation.” However, the US Justice Department filed suit against the law the same day Brown signed it. This suit has been postponed, and California has agreed not to enforce its law until the D.C. District Court decides on the state attorneys general suit on RIFO.

Brown also signed Assembly Bill (A.B.) 1999 on September 30, requiring broadband networks created by local governments to follow net neutrality.

Oregon

Gov. Kate Brown signed House Bill (H.B.) 4155 on April 9. The law prohibits public bodies from contracting with ISPs that do not abide by net neutrality.

Vermont

May 22 Gov. Phil Scott signed S.B. 289, requiring state agencies to contract only with ISPs that practice net neutrality, directing the state Secretary of Administration to develop a process to certify ISPs that practice net neutrality, and directing the state attorney general to study the extent to which the state should enact net neutrality rules. It also requires ISPs to disclose their network management practices. The law followed Executive Order 2-18, issued February 15, that required state agencies to contract only with ISPs that follow net neutrality.

Even though the scope of this law is narrower than California’s, industry groups filed suit to block it October 18 in the US District Court in Vermont.

Washington

Gov. Jay Inslee signed H.B. 2282 on March 5. The law requires ISPs to practice net neutrality and to accurately disclose network management practices.

Executive orders

In addition to Vermont, governors in the following states have issued executive orders related to net neutrality. Each of these orders requires ISPs to follow net neutrality principles to receive state contracts.

Hawaii

Gov. David Ige issued Executive Order 18-02 on February 5.

Montana

Gov. Steve Bullock issued Executive Order 3-2018 on January 22.

New Jersey

Gov. Philip D. Murphy issued Executive Order 9 on February 5.

New York

Gov. Andrew Cuomo issued Executive Order 175 on January 24.

Rhode Island

Gov. Gina Raimondo issued Executive Order 18-02 on April 24.

Bills introduced but not enacted

Alaska

Neither of the proposed bills requiring ISPs to practice net neutrality (H.B. 277 and S.B. 160), nor House Joint Resolution 31 and Senate Joint Resolution 12 urging the US Congress to overturn the FCC’s order, were acted on in committee.

Colorado

H.B. 18-1312 would have required ISPs to follow net neutrality to receive money from the High Cost Support Mechanism, the state’s implementation of the FCC’s Connect America Fund, which provides funds for deploying broadband in rural areas. The bill passed the house but failed in the Senate Committee on State, Veterans, and Military Affairs.

Connecticut

The senate passed S.B. 366, requiring ISPs in the state to practice net neutrality and disclose network management practices. However, the house did not vote on the measure. H.B. 5260 and S.B. 2, which would have required ISPs to adopt net neutrality policies to qualify for state contracts, both failed in committee.

Georgia

Neither of the bills related to net neutrality introduced in the house or senate progressed out of committee. S.B. 310 would have required all ISPs to follow net neutrality, while H.B. 1066 would have prohibited the state from contracting with ISPs that don’t provide a certification of net neutrality.

Hawaii 

S.B. 2644, which would require ISPs to follow net neutrality and disclose network management practices, passed the senate unanimously, but its house companion, H.B. 2256, stalled in committee. The similar S.B. 2088 was deferred in committee.
In addition to requiring net neutrality, H.B. 1995 would have established a task force to examine the costs and benefits of a state-owned public utility to provide broadband internet service. Two of three house committees recommended passage of the bill, but the Finance Committee did not act on it.

Idaho 

H.B. 425, which would require ISPs to comply with net neutrality, was not acted on in committee.

Illinois 

H.B. 4819, which would have required state contractors to comply with net neutrality and other ISPs to notify consumers of any deviations from those principles, passed out of the House Cybersecurity, Data Analytics, and IT Committee, but the house re-referred it to the Rules Committee and did not vote on it.

Two other measures did not advance out of committee: H.B. 5094, which would have required ISPs in the state to abide by net neutrality, and S.B. 2816, which would have required ISPs to follow net neutrality to qualify for state contracts.

Iowa

Neither Senate File 2286 nor House File 2287, which would have required ISPs to provide service in accordance with net neutrality, advanced out of committee.

Kansas

H.B. 2682, which would have prohibited state contracts with ISPs that do not follow net neutrality, died in committee.

Kentucky

The Small Business and Information Technology committee did not act on H.B. 418, which would have required state contractors to practice net neutrality.

Maryland

H.B. 1654, which would prohibit state agencies from contracting with ISPs that do not follow net neutrality and require ISPs to notify customers about the types of personal data they collect and disclose, passed the house, but the senate did not vote on it. The similar H.B. 1655, which would also authorize local governments to grant franchises for broadband internet service, did not pass out of committee.

S.B. 287, which would require the state to only contract with ISPs that follow net neutrality, did not pass out of committee.

Massachusetts 

Senate Order S2263, establishing a special senate committee on net neutrality and consumer protection to review RIFO, was adopted January 18. The committee issued its report March 23 as S.B. 2376. This report accompanied S.B. 2336, a bill that would have required ISPs to follow net neutrality.

S.B. 2336 was replaced by S.B. 2610, which would direct the state Department of Telecommunications and Cable to create standards for a Massachusetts Net Neutrality and Consumer Privacy Seal to identify ISPs that abide by net neutrality and provide consumers with an easy way to opt out of providing third parties access to personal information. It would also establish a registry of broadband service providers in the state and list their network management practices and privacy policies. The bill passed the senate July 19 and has been referred to the House Ways and Means committee.

H.B. 4151, which would have required ISPs to follow net neutrality, was replaced by House Order 4684, authorizing the Committee on Telecommunications, Utilities, and Energy to study documents concerning several bills, including those on net neutrality. This order also covered H.B. 4222, requiring ISPs to follow net neutrality and establishing the Massachusetts Internet Service Provider Registry to provide service quality and pricing information to customers.

Minnesota

Two bills have been introduced in both the house and the senate that would require ISPs to follow net neutrality and prohibit state agencies and political subdivisions from contracting with ISPs that do not. None of the bills—S.B. 2880, S.B. 3968, H.B. 3033, and H.B. 4411—has been acted on in committee.

Missouri

H.B. 1994, which would require ISPs to follow net neutrality and publicly disclose their network management practices, was not acted on in committee.

Nebraska 

Legislative Bill 856, which would require net neutrality, was indefinitely postponed.

New Jersey 

S.B. 1577 and A.B. 1767, identical bills that would require all ISPs in the state to abide by net neutrality, have not been acted on by their respective committees.

A.B. 2131, which would prohibit the installation of broadband telecommunications infrastructure on public rights-of-way or underground facilities owned by public utilities or cable television companies unless the ISP follows net neutrality, was favorably reported out of committee. The senate has not acted on the identical S.B. 2458.

A.B. 2132, which would require state agencies to reject all contract bids from ISPs that do not follow net neutrality, was reported out of committee. The senate companion, S.B. 1802, has not been acted on in committee.

A.B. 2139, which would require cable companies that provide internet service to follow net neutrality principles, passed out of committee.

New Mexico 

H.B. 95 and S.B. 39 would amend the state Unfair Practices Act to require ISPs to follow net neutrality; both have been postponed indefinitely.

S.B. 155, which was similar to those bills but would also allocate $250,000 to the state attorney general in FY2018 and FY2019 to review RIFO and to file or join a lawsuit challenging the decision, was also postponed indefinitely.

New York

A.B. 8882, which would direct the state Public Service Commission to develop a plan for monitoring broadband ISPs and create a certification for ISPs that comply with net neutrality, passed the assembly June 19. Under this bill, only certified ISPs would be eligible for state agency contracts. The senate has not acted on its version, S.B. 7183.

Other bills have not made it out of committee, including: S.B. 8321, which would require net neutrality, provide regulatory control by the state Public Service Commission, prohibit zero-rating of certain content in a category but not the entire category, and require ISPs to comply with net neutrality to be granted permission to attach broadband infrastructure to utility poles; S.B. 7175 and A.B. 9057, which would require state agencies to contract only with ISPs that adhere to net neutrality and appropriate $250 million to a fund to establish municipal ISPs; and A.B. 9059, which would establish a commission to study and report on potential implementation of net neutrality rules.

North Carolina

Neither S.B. 736, which would have required ISPs to follow net neutrality, nor H.B. 1016, which would have applied only to state contractors, passed out of committee.

Oklahoma

S.B. 1543, which would have required state agencies to contract only with ISPs that follow net neutrality and created a fund to support municipalities attempting to create their own ISPs, was not acted on in committee.

Pennsylvania

H.B. 2062, which would have required ISPs to abide by net neutrality, did not make it out of committee. The same fate befell S.B. 1033, which also would have prohibited state contracts with ISPs that don’t follow net neutrality and required ISPs to disclose network management practices.

Rhode Island 

S.B. 2008, which would have required state agencies to award contracts only to ISPs that follow net neutrality, passed the senate June 19. The House Corporations Committee has not acted on it.

That committee recommended that H.B. 7076, which would require ISPs to follow net neutrality and require the state Division of Public Utilities and Carriers to annually certify ISPs, be held for further study. It made the same recommendation for H.B. 7422, which would require net neutrality and obligate ISPs to disclose their network management practices.

South Carolina

Neither H.B. 4614 nor H.B. 4706, which would have required ISPs to follow net neutrality and disclose their network management practices, passed out of committee.

South Dakota

The Senate Commerce and Energy Committee voted February 6 not to send S.B. 195 to the full senate, killing the measure. The bill would have required ISPs to abide by net neutrality and disclose network management practices to receive contracts from the state.

Tennessee

Several bills were introduced but did not pass out of committee, including H.B. 1755 and S.B. 1756, which would have required ISPs to abide by net neutrality and disclose their network management practices, and prohibit state agencies or local governments from contracting with ISPs that do not follow net neutrality; S.B. 2183 and H.B. 2253, which would have prohibited state governmental entities from contracting with ISPs that do not follow net neutrality; and H.B. 2405 and S.B. 2449, which would have created a task force to study issues relating to RIFO.

Virginia

H.B. 705, which would have required ISPs to practice net neutrality, stalled in the Commerce and Labor Committee.

S.B. 948, which would have required ISPs to practice net neutrality and prohibited them from knowingly disclosing personally identifiable information about customers, did not pass out of committee.

West Virginia 

Neither H.B. 4399, which would have required ISPs to practice net neutrality and disclose network management practices to receive state contracts, nor S.B. 396, which would have applied to all ISPs in the state, passed out of committee.

Wisconsin 

The assembly voted against taking up A.B. 909, which would have required ISPs to follow net neutrality and limited disclosure of personally identifying information. Senate counterpart S.B. 743 did not pass out of committee.

Neither S.B. 740 nor A.B. 908, which would have applied only to state contractors, were acted on by committee.

Resolutions

California 

In February, Senate Resolution (S.R.) 74, urging the US Congress to reinstate the 2015 rules, passed.

Delaware

Senate Concurrent Resolution 44, expressing the state assembly’s opposition to RIFO and urging the US Congress to enact legislation preserving net neutrality, passed the senate in January.

District of Columbia

A round table hearing was held in January 2018 on Proposed Resolution 22-0691 opposing RIFO. While it was cosponsored by all 13 members of the council, no vote has been taken.

Georgia

House Resolution 1161, a resolution that would have encouraged state agencies to establish policies requiring contract recipients to adhere to net neutrality, was introduced, but it did not progress out of committee.

Illinois

S.R. 1196, which would have urged the US Congress and the Trump administration to advocate for permanent adoption of net neutrality rules, did not advance out of committee.

Michigan

S.R. 131, which would have urged the governor to issue an executive order requiring ISPs with state contracts to abide by net neutrality, has not been acted on in committee.

Missouri

House Concurrent Resolution (H.C.R.) 84, which would urge the US Congress to pass legislation restoring net neutrality, has not been acted on in committee.

New Mexico

Senate Joint Memorial 17, urging the US Congress to review RIFO, passed, but the house postponed action indefinitely.

Ohio

The Committee on Federalism and Interstate Relations did not act on H.C.R. 18, which would have urged the president and US Congress to protect net neutrality and open internet access.

 January 2, 2019, first appearing on American Libraries Magazine

19 GOLDEN GLOBE NOMINATIONS THAT ARE BOOK ADAPTATIONS

The Golden Globe 2019 nominations are out, and they only strengthen my personal belief that books make for good TV and movies. Nineteen (!) of the nominations is major categories have been adapted from books of a variety of genres this year, and we’re here to give you a rundown. (All quoted descriptions are from Goodreads.)

SHARP OBJECTS
sharp objectsBased on the novel the same name by Gillian Flynn, Sharp Objects has been nominated for Best Television Seriesand Best Performance by an Actress in a Limited Series or Motion Picture Made for Television (Amy Adams). The show is A+ spooky with some excellent performances, including Adams’s portrayal of a complicated and flawed heroine.

 

THE ASSASSINATION OF GIANNI VERSACE: AMERICAN CRIME STORY
Based on Maureen Orth’s book Vulgar Favors: Andrew Cunanan, Gianni Versace, and the Largest Failed Manhunt in U.S. Historythe movie has been nominated for five categories, including Best Television Limited Series or Motion Picture Made for Television.

 

THE HANDMAID’S TALE
handmaid's tale margaret atwood elisabeth moss novel cover sci-fi horror booksBased on Margaret Atwood’s dystopian novel of the same name, The Handmaid’s Taleswept the Emmy’s last year as well, and has been nominated for two categories, with Elizabeth Moss in the running for Best Performance by an Actress in a Television Series – Drama. We are absolutely devastated by the world the show portrays, and yet we can’t look away.

 

BLACK PANTHER
Yes, yes, this was a 2018 release! Based on the superhero Marvel comics, the movie was the second-highest-grossing film of 2018 and became a global phenomenon. It has been nominated for Best Motion Picture – Drama.

Image result for black panther

 

FIRST MAN
Based on the book First Man: The Life of Neil A. Armstrong by James R. Hansen, the Ryan Gosling movie has received two nominations.

 

MARY POPPINS RETURNS
Based on the series of children’s books by P. L. Travers, Mary Poppins, the new movie, starring Emily Blunt, has four nominations, and hits theaters in ten days’ times. Watch the trailer here.

 

 

THE ALIENIST
Based on the novel of the same name by Caleb Carr, the psychological thriller-drama starring Dakota Fanning, has two nominations.

 

A VERY ENGLISH SCANDAL
Based on John Preston’s book of the same name.
“In 1979, Jeremy Thorpe, the rising star of the Liberal Party, stood trial for conspiracy to murder. It was the first time that a leading British politician had stood trial on a murder charge. It was the first time that a murder plot had been hatched in the House of Commons. And it was the first time that a prominent public figure had been exposed as a philandering homosexual.” The TV series stars Hugh Grant.

 

DUMPLIN’
Based on the YA novel by Julie Murphy, the upcoming musical comedy is highly anticipated. “Self-proclaimed fat girl Willowdean Dickson (dubbed “Dumplin’” by her former beauty queen mom) has always been at home in her own skin. …until (she) takes a job at Harpy’s, the local fast-food joint. There she meets Private School Bo, a hot former jock. Will isn’t surprised to find herself attracted to Bo. But she is surprised when he seems to like her back.” Watch the trailer here.

 

IF BEALE STREET COULD TALK
Based on James Baldwin’s novel of the same name.
“Told through the eyes of Tish, a nineteen-year-old girl, in love with Fonny, a young sculptor who is the father of her child, Baldwin’s story mixes the sweet and the sad. Tish and Fonny have pledged to get married, but Fonny is falsely accused of a terrible crime and imprisoned. Their families set out to clear his name, and as they face an uncertain future, the young lovers experience a kaleidoscope of emotions-affection, despair, and hope.”

 

SPIDER-MAN: INTO THE SPIDER-VERSE
avengers infinity warBased on the Marvel superhero, this animated film is highly anticipated and releases in a week’s time. It is set in a multi-verse, where Spider-Man gets to team up with other Spider-Men and Spider-Women. Watch the trailer here!

 

 

OUTLANDER
Based on the novels by Diana Gabaldon, the TV show is in its fourth season, and has been bagging awards every year. Featuring a time-travelling romance, it has been nominated for Best Performance by an Actress in a Television Series – Drama (Catriona Balfe).

 

KILLING EVE
Based on Codename Villanelle, a series of novellas, this Sandra Oh-starrer has been nominated under Best Performance by an Actress in a Television Series – Drama. And tune in to the Golden Globes to see Sandra Oh co-host with Brooklyn Nine Nine‘s Andy Samberg!

 

THE WIFE
Based on the novel of the same name by Meg Wolitzer, The Wife is a wise, sharp-eyed, compulsively readable story about a woman forced to confront the sacrifices she’s made in order to achieve the life she thought she wanted. But it’s also an unusually candid look at the choices all men and women make for themselves, in marriage, work, and life.”

 

CRAZY RICH ASIANS
Crazy Rich Asians by Kevin KwanBased on the first in the romantic comedy trilogy by Kevin Kwan, this movie was one of the few bright spots of 2018. Starring Constance Wu (who is nominated for Best Actress in a Motion Picture – Musical or Comedy, the movie has also been nominated for Best Motion Picture – Musical or Comedy. Spend some (imaginary) money in our quiz here to find out which CRA character you are!

 

BLACKKKLANSMAN
Based on Black Klansman, a memoir by Ron Stallworth, the biographical comedy-drama has been highly acclaimed. Based in 1970s Colorado Springs, the movie follows the first African-American detective in the Colorado Springs police department, who sets out to expose the local chapter of the Ku Klux Klan.

 

BOY ERASED
Based on Garrard Conley’s 2016 memoir of the same name.
“The son of a Baptist pastor and deeply embedded in church life in small town Arkansas, as a young man Garrard Conley was terrified and conflicted about his sexuality. When Garrard was a nineteen-year-old college student, he was outed to his parents, and was forced to make a life-changing decision: either agree to attend a church-supported conversion therapy program; or risk losing family, friends, and the God he had prayed to every day of his life.” The lead actor, Lucas Hedges has been nominated for Best Actor in a Motion Picture – Drama.

 

BEAUTIFUL BOY
Based on the memoirs Beautiful Boy: A Father’s Journey Through His Son’s Addiction by David Sheff and Tweak: Growing Up on Methamphetamines by Nic Sheff. Timothee Chalamet is nominated for Best Actor in a Supporting Role in any Motion Picture for his performance in the movie.

 

CAN YOU EVER FORGIVE ME?
Based on Lee Israel’s 2008 memoir of the same name, the movie is an biographical comedy drama film, starring Melissa McCarthy.

 

A BONUS

Mirai”, a Japanese animated film, has been nominated for Best Motion Picture – Animated, and was novelized by Yen Press in English. The book released this October.

By , December 

World’s Highest-Paid Authors 2018: Michael Wolff Joins List Thanks To ‘Fire And Fury’

Michael Wolff is the first nonfiction author on the list in 11 years.PHOTO: RALF JUERGENS/GETTY IMAGES. DESIGN: NICK DESANTIS, FORBES STAFF

“Once a day, I cast my eyes heavenward and say, ‘Thank you for Donald Trump,’” Michael Wolff said last spring.

He has good reason to thank the president. Without Trump, Wolff would not have made this year’s rankings of the world’s highest-paid authors.

After The Guardian published leaked quotes from Wolff’s explosive tell-all Fire and Fury in January, Trump’s attorney sent the author and his publisher Henry Holt a cease-and-desist letter, alleging the book contained libelous and defamatory information. Trump, unsurprisingly, also attacked Wolff on Twitter: “Michael Wolff is a total loser who made up stories in order to sell this really boring and untruthful book.”

Far from deterred, Henry Holt took advantage of the free publicity and moved up the release date of Fire and Fury. The “really boring and untruthful book” flew off the shelves, topping 1.7 million copies sold across hardcover, e-book and audio formats in its first three weeks. In our 12-month scoring period, it sold 1,015,000 hardcover copies in the U.S. alone, in addition to tremendous e-book, audio and international sales.

Thanks to Fire and Fury—and Trump—Wolff earned an estimated $13 million from June 1, 2017, to June 1, 2018, before taxes and fees, placing seventh among publishing’s top moneymakers. The only newcomer and nonfiction writer on the list, Wolff supplemented his massive royalties with seven-figure deals for a sequel to Fire and Fury and the film and television rights; a series is in the works with Endeavor Content.

James Patterson is back on top after J.K. Rowling nabbed the title of highest-paid author last year. GETTY

The world’s 11 highest-paid authors sold 24.5 million print books combined in the U.S. during our scoring period, logging $283 million. The prolific James Patterson takes first place, earning $86 million and selling 4.8 million books in the U.S. alone, according to NPD BookScan, which tracks 85% of the domestic print market.

Patterson’s earnings are likely to surge next year thanks to The President Is Missing, which was released just outside our scoring period. The political thriller, co-written with Bill Clinton, has sold more than 660,000 copies since its June release.

This is the 10th time that Patterson has ranked first in the list’s two-decade history. Patterson’s secret to his success is persistence; 31 publishers turned down his first book, but he refused to give up. “Don’t take ‘no’ when your gut tells you ‘yes,’” Patterson told Forbeslast year.

J.K. Rowling still made $54 million without releasing a new Harry Potter book. SAMIR HUSSEIN/WIREIMAGE

J.K. Rowling takes second place with $54 million, a $41 million drop from last year, when she briefly took the top spot from Patterson. The Harry Potter scribe’s book sales plummeted without a new book about The Boy Who Lived, but Rowling earned plenty from back-catalog sales—Rowling sold 2.9 million copies in the U.S.—as well as theme parks and the Harry Potter and the Cursed Child productions on Broadway and in London’s West End. Although the latest Fantastic Beasts film was poorly received by critics and will almost certainly end up the lowest-grossing Harry Potter film to date, the franchise is far from over; three more Fantastic Beasts movies are planned, for a total of five.

The king of horror, boosted by the success of It, has several television adaptations in the works. GETTY

Stephen King rounds out the top three with $27 million. The king of horror sold 2.7 million domestic books, boosted by the success of the movie version of It, adapted from his 1986 novel of the same nameKing nearly doubled his earnings by collecting an eight-figure paycheck from the film, which grossed $700 million worldwide on a $35 million budget. The clown-centric movie became the highest-grossing R-rated horror movie at the domestic box office, and the sequel, planned for next fall, could break that record again.

This year, The Girl on the Train author Paula Hawkins went missing from the list. The British author first made the rankings in 2016 with earnings of $10 million from her debut novel, but her latest thriller, Into The Water, failed to live up to its predecessor. In the U.K., the paperback edition of The Girl on the Train outsold Into the Water by nearly 100,000 copies last year.

We close the covers on Hawkins—for now, at least.

After all, everyone loves a comeback story.

METHODOLOGY

All earnings estimates are from June 1, 2017, through June 1, 2018. Figures are pretax; fees for agents, managers and lawyers are not deducted. Earnings estimates are based on data from NPD BookScan and Box Office Mojo, as well as interviews with industry insiders, including some of the authors themselves.

The World’s Highest-Paid Authors Of 2018

10. E.L James (tie)

Earnings: $10.5 million

10. Rick Riordan (tie)

Earnings: $10.5 million

8. Nora Roberts (tie)

Earnings: $12 million

8. Danielle Steel (tie)

Earnings: $12 million

7. Michael Wolff

Earnings: $13 million

5. Dan Brown (tie)

Earnings: $18.5 million

5. Jeff Kinney (tie)

Earnings: $18.5 million

4. John Grisham

Earnings: $21 million

3. Stephen King

Earnings: $27 million

2. J.K. Rowling

Earnings: $54 million

1. James Patterson

Earnings: $86 million

By Hayley C. Cuccinello, December 14, 2018, first appearing on forbes.com

‘JUSTICE’ Is Merriam-Webster’s 2018 Word Of The Year

justice-2060093_1280

Photo by WilliamCho on Pixabay

The dictionary publisher says the word justice is used in phrases such as racial justice, social justice and obstruction of justice — which has its own, popular entry.

December 17, 2018, first appearing on Books : NPR

 

9 Books About the Contemporary Immigrant Experience in America

“No one gets to choose when or where to be born, but what happens after that is what you can imagine.” — Abdi Nor Iftin

The term “immigrant” did not come into being until the late eighteenth century, when it was coined to describe the situation in the new nation of America, where people were leaving their homelands to come to the American continent. In recent times, the terms “migrant,” “immigrant,” and “refugee” are no longer used as terms that imply respect for those brave enough to leave one land in order to find something else in another. Almost as soon as he became president, President Trump declared that immigrants from certain countries were not going to be allowed into the country. He has denounced entire countries and religions, as if each person in a country were represented by the actions of their governments. In just the last few months, we have seen immigration policies at the Mexican border that seem unimaginable; American border guards forcefully separate parents from children as a means of “discouraging” those whose desperation has led them to try to cross the border without proper paperwork. The cruelty of such a move is hard to fathom, and reports indicate that bereaved parents are committing suicide or falling into deep depression as a consequence.

My own parents brought me to America when I was a toddler. My parents came to this country when my father was twenty-four and my mother was just twenty — ages that startle me — because my father had decided that there were no opportunities for him in his homeland. From the moment they landed, like all immigrants who hold jobs, my parents paid into the Social Security system, paid their taxes, volunteered in their communities — my father coached boys who eventually played for the U.S. Olympic and World Cup soccer teams — and were good neighbors. While some may hold them up as “model” immigrants, the truth is that the overwhelming majority of immigrants act in these ways. While the president may point to the tragic cases where an immigrant has committed a heinous crime, those crimes are the exception.

Immigration is not easy. My parents’ struggles to adjust went on for years. There were not television shows about being a recent immigrant, and no literature existed that would have helped them to feel less alone. And yet, they didn’t return to where they had come from. They stayed here, raised their children here, learned to celebrate American holidays, and made American friends. For them, the overall experience of immigrating was an increase of joy in their lives, exactly what the immigrant wants: a chance to change their circumstances so that joy is possible.

The attitude of many Americans is that immigrants have to do all the work. They are the ones that have to learn our language, our customs, our culture, our political system. Despite the fact that, (with the exception of Native Americans, who were here first, and enslaved peoples from Africa brought here against their will), every other American is descended from someone who came to America looking for something. And yet, many Americans want to shut the door to anyone else who wants a chance to live here. And they don’t seem all that interested in the stories that immigrants can tell them not only about the lands whence they came, but also their perceptions of America.

Literature is a place where immigrants, and the children of immigrants, can tell their stories. Some of these stories reveal the horrors of war-torn lands left behind. Others chronicle the experiences of those who live in America and who work to reconcile the cultures they grew up in with their adopted cultures. No two immigrant stories are the same, even if they reflect common experiences. The books below offer stories that originate with people who decided to come to America. Their stories are poignant, exciting, adventurous, pious, and reveal to the reader vital truths about the human experience. Each book that chronicles the story of immigration adds to the American story.

The cover of the book A Place for UsA Place for Us
Fatima Farheen Mirza
Rafiq and Layla came from India to America, where they raised their three children. Their Muslim faith made up the roots that supported the children’s healthy growth. Layla raised Hadia, Huda, and Amal with a love that none of the children ever doubted. While the children know that Rafiq loves them, too, he tries to provide them with a paternal discipline that will allow them to grow up strong in their faith and good in their hearts.

As the novel opens, Hadia is getting married, finally, after rejecting for years the marriage offers her parents presented to her. Sister Huda has refused to marry until Hadia marries, and Amal, who has been estranged from his family for three years, shows up at the ceremony in response to Hadia’s invitation. As the night progresses, however, a lifetime’s worth of family secrets emerge, and by the end of the night, hearts will be damaged.

Fatima Farheen Mirza has written a tale of an American family where attachments among its members are tested by internal and external pressures. She captures, in gorgeous prose, the ways in which parents come to terms with the inevitable aging of children, and children struggle to interpret gestures that parents intend in love, but which injure growing hearts. Mirza writes from multiple perspectives within the family, giving readers knowledge that family members hide from one another.

It’s been a long time since a novel has inspired tears in me. But I found A Place for Us to be one of the most moving novels that I have read in a long time.

 

The cover of the book Citizen IllegalCitizen Illegal
José Olivarez
José Olivarez burst onto the poetry scene in Chicago with his participation in “Louder Than a Bomb,” the poetry festival for Chicago’s students. His poems range in mood — funny, angry, contemplative — as he details his life as the son of Mexican immigrants. The collection is a celebration of Chicano culture, and an exploration of the experience of occupying Mexican spaces, American spaces, and the spaces in which they merge.

His recurring poem “Mexican Heaven” offers various scenarios in which St. Peter greets the recently dead; the scenarios imagined by Olivarez made me laugh out loud. He offers odes to cheese fries and Scottie Pippen, and a poem about Vaporub that caused its mentholated scent to fill my nose. In “Mexican American Disambiguation,” readers get a lesson in nomenclature, the multiple ways that immigrants can identify themselves depending on who is calling their names. And readers are also introduced to the ways that his father tried to keep his son on the straight and narrow.

Olivarez offers a variety of instances in which he feels “seen” and “unseen.” In poems about family trips to the mall, he writes of the terror of being transparent when you’re trying to hide your identity. In Citizen Illegal, the title itself points to the double consciousness of the immigrant, which can both double a person or cleave them in half. His poems offer readers multiple ways to experience these feelings.

 

The cover of the book The Girl Who Smiled BeadsThe Girl Who Smiled Beads
Clemantine Wamariya and Elizabeth Weil
Clemantine Wamariya was six years old when she and her sister, Claire, set off to escape the terror of seeing neighbors killing neighbors during the 1994 Rwandan genocide. Over the course of the genocide, 800,000 Rwandans died, after months of radio broadcasts and other activities urged the elimination of their fellow citizens. For six years, she and Claire occupied various refugee camps throughout the African continent with no knowledge of what had happened to their parents.

At age twelve, the two Wamariya sisters were granted asylum. Clemantine went to live with an American family who tried to provide her with a space to heal and to grow. But Clemantine became aware that others’ perceptions of her were clouded by the events in Rwanda, such that they could only see her as broken and in constant need of assistance. She rejected the attempts to label her as a victim, and details the steps she took to reclaim her sense of her whole self.

She also provides views on words such as “genocide,” which she sees as a sterile word that cannot convey anything about what it signifies. She also writes of her encounter with Holocaust survivor and human rights campaigner Elie Wiesel, which led to an appearance on Oprah Winfrey’s show, and the enormous changes in her life after that fateful appearance.

The Girl Who Smiled Beads breaks down the distance between American perceptions of the events in Rwanda and Americans themselves. She offers a view of the world that is at once hopeful and wise. And she writes of her relationship with her parents and what was lost when she was forced to leave her house and neighborhood.

 

The cover of the book The DisplacedThe Displaced
Viet Nguyen
Viet Thanh Nguyen won the Pulitzer Prize for his novel, The Sympathizer. In this collection of essays and stories by immigrants and refugees, he treats readers to a multiplicity of perspectives and amazing writing about the experience of needing to leave one’s home. Among the contributors are Aleksander Hemon, Ariel Dorfman, and Porochista Khakpour.

Khakpour riffs on William Carlos Williams’s “Thirteen Ways of Looking at a Blackbird” to offer “Thirteen Ways of Being an Immigrant.” In her essay, she writes of being a small girl who desperately wants a “Cabbage Patch Kid.” She knows that Cabbage Patch Kids are out of reach for her poor Iranian immigrant family, until she receives a lesson in Americanness about what kinds of Cabbage Patch dolls are worth less than others. Hemon writes about what it is like to be from a “refugee nation,” and notes that nearly one-quarter of Bosnians have fled their homes. Each of those Bosnians have their own individual story, one that overlaps with other stories in places, but which remain unique in their totality. Hemon feels compelled to try to tell as many of these stories as he can.

Ariel Dorfman left his native Chile during a time when American interference led to the killing of many Chilean intellectuals. In his essay, “How Succulent Food Defeated Trump’s Wall Before It Has Been Built,” he details a trip to his local grocery store, where foods from nearly every country in Central and South America occupy space on the shelves. And it’s not just food that identifies itself on cans or bags listing a foreign country where it was created. Dorfman also talks about the foods such as potatoes, pineapples, and bananas that were originally “found” in South America by conquistadors, but which are as much a part of the American diet as the taco bowl Trump crassly used to celebrate Mexican culture.

Each story told by an immigrant helps to fill up the empathy chasm the Trump administration takes advantage of in order to separate children from their parents without mass protests. The more Americans realize that immigrant stories are American stories, the less the hate-mongers will be able to get away with. Proceeds from the book’s sales will go to support the work of the International Rescue Committee.

 

The cover of the book America Is Not the HeartAmerica Is Not the Heart
Elaine Castillo
The Philippines is a land of many languages, all of which make an appearance in Castillo’s marvelous family novel. In addition to both Spanish and English, Ilocano, Tagalog, and Pangasinan are also spoken in the Philippines. Multiple languages mean that there are multiple ways to have communication issues, especially when that communication is among family members or between lovers.

When Hero arrives from the Philippines to stay with her uncle and his wife in San Francisco, she leaves behind a history that she would prefer not to talk about. Roni, her young cousin, pesters Hero to tell her why her hands are ruined. What happened to her hands? And what happened to Hero? Her uncle doesn’t ask her those types of questions, but his American-born daughter has a different attitude toward what is appropriate for people to share with one another.

As Hero begins working at a restaurant, her world expands to take in a cast of characters who show her how to live as an immigrant. Soon, however, she learns the ways of love, and unexpected passion complicates Hero’s life further. Castillo depicts these changes in Hero’s life in close detail, bringing the reader into the life of a woman who has always pushed people away.

 

The cover of the book The Far Away BrothersThe Far Away Brothers
Lauren Markham
As stories continue to pour in about the heartbreaking situation at the Mexican-American border, where young children — as young as infants — are ripped out of their parents’ arms and sent to detention centers, it behooves all Americans to learn more. Last year, Signature reviewed Valeria Luiselli’s book about her experiences translating for unaccompanied minors in immigration courts. Now, Lauren Markham brings readers the individual stories of identical twins Ernesto and Raul. The Flores twins arrive in America after arriving from El Salvador, which they have left because the streets have become deadly for young men and young women. The boys have an older brother who agrees to care for them.

Markham presents readers with the details of El Salvador life, where gang violence and lawlessness have taken over the streets. The government has lost control, and Markham shows how U.S. involvement in El Salvador’s internal affairs in the 1980s has not helped in the establishment of a stable, effective government. The gang, MS-13, which originated in Los Angeles but then set up in El Salvador after its members were deported there, “selects” young people for membership. If those young people refuse, they are murdered.

The brothers arrive in the United States thousands of dollars in debt after paying a coyote to take them north. They get jobs with their temporary residency permits, and send much of it as they can home so that their parents may pay off the debt. Markham provides a close-up view of the brothers’ attempts to settle in the U.S., and what happens when they go to Immigration Court to see whether their petitions for asylum have been granted.

At a time when Attorney General Jeff Sessions declares that the draconian, inhumane policies toward immigrants will continue at the border; when Immigration Courts are overwhelmed by the large numbers of young people fleeing broken countries; and when the president stirs up his followers by lying about immigrants’ participation in criminal activities, Americans have a duty to learn the facts about the immigration process. Immigrants find themselves used as fodder rather than treated like human beings. Markham’s book provides readers with human faces to associate with the word “immigrant,” and gives readers knowledge in an age of disinformation.

 

The cover of the book The Incredible True Story of Blondy BarutiThe Incredible True Story of Blondy Baruti
Blondy Baruti with Joe Layden
Blondy Baruti’s story of coming to America is the stuff of movies, which is where he ended up after leaving the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC). Baruti has appeared in films like “Guardians of the Galaxy,” and the story of how he arrived in America is remarkable. Baruti was born in Kinshasa, the nation’s capital. At two years-old, Baruti was felled by a virus that nearly killed him. His survival was considered a “miracle” by his family and by hospital physicians, who had not expected him to live.

Those familiar with DRC history know that for much of the 1990s and into the new millennium, the country was riven by a brutal civil war that claimed upwards of seven million lives. When Baruti was nine, the war came to his town. He and his mother and sister went into hiding, walking into the wilderness and following the Congo River. For months, they walked, covering hundreds of miles in their effort to reach a safe place.

How Baruti made the transition from child in the wilderness to Hollywood actor is a tale told with a great deal of enthusiasm. His is a happy story, and Baruti’s love for his adopted homeland comes through in his prose. For readers looking for a classic American story about overcoming adversity and achieving dreams, Baruti’s story of survival and success is a winner.

 

The cover of the book Half GodsHalf Gods
Akil Kumarasamy
Akil Kumarasamy chronicles the lives of three generations of a Sri Lankan family who come to America to escape civil war. The stories are not told within a novel, but rather, in linked short stories, which allows Kumarasamy to present snapshots of members of the family as they move through a variety of places. In “Shade,” a grandson rides with his Tamil grandfather in his truck as they drive to the seaside. The grandfather has lost a lung, but continues to smoke. The grandson tries to envision Sri Lanka, but his grandfather bats aside his questions, and frustration leads to a rebellious act.

Among other family members is an actor who reflects on the roles that he’s offered in films while out on a blind date with a woman his sister-in-law has fixed him up with. Mohinder, Dilraj, and Nalini conduct a ménage a trois until tragedy interrupts their happiness. And as Nalini’s mother lays dying in Colombo, she reflects on the violence she has witnessed, and thinks of what will become of the family members who have no choices.

These and other stories capture moments of great beauty in the family members’ lives. The fragmented nature of their story, symbolized by the multiple short stories, allows readers to appreciate the ways that dislocation from one’s native land can break up reality. It’s a kaleidoscopic view in which the picture changes depending on from whose perspective the story is told.

 

The cover of the book Call Me AmericanCall Me American
Abdi Nor Iftin
“No one gets to choose when or where to be born, but what happens after that is what you can imagine.” Abdi Nor Iftin says this in the epilogue of his book, a piece of wisdom he offers to the rest of us. Born in Somalia, he finds a new way to talk about the American Dream, the myth that anyone, anywhere, despite the circumstances of their birth, can make of themselves whatever they can imagine. Isn’t that what what those who argue for the “bootstraps” version of personal development are saying? So why would any American who believes this then want to deny immigrants the chance to pursue their own version of the dream?

Somalia has been a site of chaos for decades. It is contested territory, where various terrorist factions battle for supremacy. Young men born in Somalia are subject to the same pressures to “join” these groups as those born in El Salvador who are told they must join gangs like MS-13. Boys are approached from very young ages and are threatened if they do not join. Abdi Nor Iftin resisted, and when civil war broke out, he continued to attend school. His travails in the streets, his protection of his family members, and the constant presence of danger is eloquently conveyed to the reader.

He escaped to Kenya, continued his education — including learning English — and applied to come to the United States. Those who believe that the U.S. does little to stem the flow of immigrants will be surprised by his account of the multiple levels of criminal checks, background checks, and various forms of paperwork that piled up as this one young Somali man waited to hear.

His story is one of hope. But his hope is combined with doing everything “right” that America asks people to do if they want to come to the United States. Few communities in America have been willing to take in Somali immigrants, especially those who may require some transitional help as they become acclimated. To read Abdi Nor Iftin is to gain tremendous respect for someone so dedicated and driven, but it’s also a huge reminder that not everyone is endowed with his sense that if he stuck it out, good things would happen. And the truth is, even with all the good intentions and hope in the world, it still doesn’t happen for the vast majority of people who apply to come to the United States.

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