Meet The Man Bringing Slam Poetry To The Deaf Community

May 23rd, 2017 Books

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Douglas Ridloff started composing poetry in American Sign Language when he was a teenager, after a well-known ASL poet named Peter Cook visited his high school. Fast forward 10 years, and he hadn’t done much in the way of slam poetry apart from a little dabbling. But then a friend of his invited him to an informal gathering of college students, where ASL was used to respond to challenges and prompts.

“I wasn’t interested in the first place,” Ridloff said in an interview with HuffPost. “At that time I only did ASL poetry and storytelling for fun at parties and backyard gatherings. The host who was also my friend dragged me to go to ASL Slam for the first few times, and I was sitting in the back at the bar chatting with other people and watching some performances and attempts on stage.”

Over time, he began joining in when there were gaps in performances. Gradually, he started paying more attention to the host’s approach to the craft, and began incorporating it into his own routine.

“Boom,” Ridloff said. “I found a home.”

That was in 2005, when a now-monthly gathering called ASL Slam was first founded. The show was co-hosted by ASL poets Bob Arnold and Jason Norman at the Bowery Poetry Club in New York City, where it still takes place today. Only now, Ridloff is the host. 

Ridloff says ASL Slam is mostly composed of performers from the deaf community, including native deaf individuals like himself. This marks a significant change from the program’s early years, when ASL students and others who use sign, but who are not deaf, made up a majority of the participants. 

Attendees are also likely to be people who sign, as Ridloff prefers not to have his work translated into English.

“The beauty is lost,” he said. “Think of music. If a song had its lyrics removed but the melody remains, the mood is still there, but something is lost. Or if the melody is removed but the lyrics remain, sometimes the song no longer makes sense.”

The show has gone on tour to Michigan and Austin, and overseas to France. Earlier this year, ASL Slam visited Cuba, to work closely with members of the deaf community there who are interested in creative expression.

“It was amazing to see how fast they got it and created something fresh for the audience,” Ridloff said. “They are about 50 years behind in sign language literacy. Just like the cars.”

Meanwhile, Ridloff is now performing regularly in New York City, in a medium that he says has benefits and nuances that spoken word poetry does not.

“ASL poets can create a complete poem or story by using one handshape to represent a multitude of concepts,” he said. In ASL, Ridloff explained, a single handshape can mean a different word depending on its placement of movement. The handshape for “rooster,” for example, is the same as the handshape for “car.”

“Maybe you could compare rhyming or alliteration to that concept, but that’s just something not experienced in spoken English,” Ridloff said.

People who sign ― including ASL poets like Ridloff ― also use facial expressions and other “non-manual markers” to communicate the equivalent of volume or inflection. A head tilt, nod or shake will provide tonal context for the words that are signed, marking the difference between a declarative statement and an inquiry. Raised eyebrows indicate questions; lip movements indicate superlatives. 

This, he says, contributes to the “spherical” or nonlinear nature of ASL poetry. “Spoken English can be non-linear too, but what it cannot do is exemplify three, four things at the same time,” Ridoff said.

So, for him, what began as a passing hobby has evolved into its own unique art form.

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Interactive Data Visualization for the Web

May 23rd, 2017 Books

Interactive Data Visualization for the Web addresses people interested in data visualization but new to programming or web development, giving them what they need to get started creating and publishing their own data visualization projects on the web. The recent explosion of interest in visualization and publicly available data sources has created need for making these skills accessible at an introductory level. The second edition includes greatly expanded geomapping coverage, more real-world examples, a chapter on how to put together all the pieces, and an appendix of case studies, in addition to other improvements.

The Painful Truth About The Pressures Of Academic Life

May 23rd, 2017 Books

The woman who narrates Weike Wang’s debut novel has stumbled into a quarter-life crisis. A Chinese-American chemistry Ph.D. student, she has always expected (as have her parents) that she would progress from triumph to academic triumph. A top student in high school, she was admitted to a prestigious university and excelled at chemistry.

Now, the time has arrived for her to complete her dissertation research and claim her graduate degree. But that isn’t happening.

She labors in the lab for hours, hovering over her experiments like an anxious mother, but the results don’t come. Without results, she can’t complete her research; but she can’t force the results to come. Though maybe she could spend a little more time in the lab, right? Holidays? Weekends? Nights? Would more investment of time help her to perfect her flawed hypotheses? Would a little patience allow her to come naturally to her “eureka” moment?

Her live-in boyfriend, redheaded wunderkind Eric, is a year ahead of her and already fielding job offers from his preferred academic institutions. The creative side of chemistry comes naturally to him. Maybe, he suggests to her, that life just isn’t for her. Maybe she topped out at speedily and proficiently replicating known reactions: She’s a technician. “Who does chemistry think he is, God?” she yells in response. “If I want it to be my thing, it will be my thing.”

It’s not the only question she’s avoiding. Eric has proposed to her. “Ask me again tomorrow,” she replies. “That’s not how it works,” he responds. For a while, though, that is how it works ― she goes to the lab, walks their dog, cuddles with him at night, and he waits for her to say yes. She and Eric met in graduate school, and when he eventually told her he loved her, she shut down: “I don’t know what to say. I don’t say anything he wants to hear.” She can only be vulnerable obliquely, by spending time with him, touching him, and, eventually, giving him a burrito with the right words written on the wrapper. Now, with marriage on the table, she is again balking at openly acknowledging the depth of their entanglement.

Nor can she acknowledge that, when it comes to her research, she’s hit an unyielding wall. Instead, one day, she calmly smashes a set of beakers on the floor. She takes a leave from the program. When her parents ask about her progress with her Ph.D., she lies.

In Chemistry, the beleaguered narrator finds herself replaying her relationship with her parents over and over ― with Eric, whose proffered love and commitment make her happy yet uneasy, and with the discipline of chemistry itself, which constantly withholds satisfaction and accolades in a way she finds familiar yet miserable. Her father, who overcame a poor rural background in China to become a successful engineer in America, expects nothing from her but success as a chemist; her mother was often miserable in the marriage, but finds common cause with her husband in relentlessly pushing their daughter to scientific stardom.

This narrator manifests a statistically significant problem. Like many young Asian-American women, she’s crushed beneath the weight of parental expectations. Recent studies have shown that Asian-American women have higher rates of suicidal ideation and attempts, depressed by, among other factors, the overwhelming pressure to succeed. It’s not that simple, though: Chemistry’s protagonist has suffered because of her parents, but also because of what her parents have suffered, her identification with the difficulties they have faced to make a life in America. When Eric insinuates that her mother should speak English with him, though he has been learning Chinese, she’s furious. Her mother might have hurt her, but she is protective, too, of the woman who has walked such an unwelcoming path. She’s caught in between, unable to fully identify with her mother, or with her loving, oblivious boyfriend.

Life, and even chemistry, have proven messier than the narrator allowed for as the book progresses. Her best friend, married and expecting a child, might seem to embody the right answer to her Eric dilemma, but that friend’s marriage and baby don’t provide a simple happy ending. Letting go of him doesn’t offer a simple, neat conclusion either. No matter how hard and determinedly she works, the chemistry Ph.D. may not be in the cards for her. There’s no straight line from hard work and potential to perfect success, which means she’s not equipped with the tools she needs for adulthood after all. Wang’s novel depicts a smart woman confronting an unplanned roadblock in her carefully engineered path, then feeling her way toward a terrifying unknown.

The tight first-person can feel somewhat claustrophobic and familiar ― a cerebral depressive slowly unraveling in front of herself ― and much like the protagonist’s Ph.D. project, Chemistry doesn’t astound with its originality of concept or virtuosic language. But the work has its quiet, unassuming power, as the narrator’s clinical approach and outsider eye infuses the story of her mental breakdown with both wry humor and pathos. 

The Bottom Line:

Weike Wang explores a young chemist’s reckoning with her own limits and possibilities in this capably crafted, thoughtful novel.

What other reviewers think:

Kirkus: “Though essentially unhinged, the narrator is thoughtful and funny, her scramble understandable. It is her voice—distinctive and appealing—that makes this novel at once moving and amusing, never predictable.”

Publishers Weekly: “A clipped, funny, painfully honest narrative voice lights up Wang’s debut novel about a Chinese-American graduate student who finds the scientific method inadequate for understanding her parents, her boyfriend, or herself.”

Who wrote it?

Chemistry is Weike Wang’s first novel. She has published short fiction in journals such as Redivider and Alaska Quarterly Review. Wang graduated with a bachelor’s degree in chemistry from Harvard, where she also received a Ph.D. in public health. She holds an MFA from Boston University.

Who will read it?

Readers who enjoy deep first-person psychological portraits, and fictional examinations of mental health struggles and the travails of academia. 

Opening lines:

“The boy asks the girl a question. It is a question of marriage. Ask me again tomorrow, she says, and he says, That’s not how this works.

“Diamond is no longer the hardest mineral known to man. New Scientist reports that lonsdaleite is. Lonsdaleite is 58 percent harder than diamond and forms only when meteorites smash themselves into earth.”

Notable passage:

“The PhD advisor visits my desk, sits down, brings his hands together, and asks, Where do you see your project going in five years?

“Five years? I say in disbelief. I would hope to be graduated by then and in the real world with a job.

“I see, he says. Perhaps then it is time to start a new project, one that is more within your capabilities.

“He leaves me to it.

“The desire to throw something at his head never goes away. Depending on what he says, it is either the computer or the desk.

“I sketch out possible projects. Alchemy, for one. If I could achieve that today, I could graduate tomorrow.”

By Weike Wang
Knopf, $24.95
Publishes May 23, 2017  

The Bottom Line is a weekly review combining plot description and analysis with fun tidbits about the book.

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#Ebook Deal/Day: Applied Network Security – $17.99 (Save 50%) Use code DEAL

May 23rd, 2017 Books

Get “Applied Network Security” today using code DEAL and save 50%!

This sale ends at 2:00 AM 2017-05-24 (PDT, GMT-8:00).

Arduino Cookbook

May 23rd, 2017 Books

This cookbook is perfect for anyone who wants to experiment with the popular Arduino microcontroller and programming environment. You’ll find more than 200 tips and techniques for building a variety of objects and prototypes such as toys, detectors, robots, and interactive clothing that can sense and respond to touch, sound, position, heat, and light.

Streaming Systems

May 23rd, 2017 Books

Expanded from co-author Tyler Akidau’s popular series of blog posts “Streaming 101” and “Streaming 102”, this practical book shows data engineers, data scientists, and developers how to work with streaming or event-time data in a conceptual and platform-agnostic way. You’ll go from “101”-level understanding of stream processing to a nuanced grasp of the what, where, when, and how of processing real-time data streams.

Let’s Make Neil Gaiman Dramatically Read The Entire Cheesecake Factory Menu

May 22nd, 2017 Books

The Cheesecake Factory’s menu is the In Search of Lost Time of the restaurant industry, in that it is far too long and probably includes a madeleine or two. 

Neil Gaiman is a very famous author (American Gods, Stardust, Coraline) with a notably soothing British accent, who has nothing to do with the Cheesecake Factory but has been dared to read its convoluted bill of fare anyway.

How’d this happen?

It all began with writer/comedian Sara Benincasa, a self-professed cheesecake addict, whose Twitter bio now reads “Neil Gaiman Will Read The Entire @Cheesecake Menu If We Raise $500K For @Refugees.” 

In a Crowdrise campaign launched today, she outlined her mission to coax Gaiman into performing a dramatic reading of the menu ― which, according to Benincasa, consists of at least “8,000 pages,” representing what we feel is a very reasonable estimate.

The campaign states plainly:

I asked Neil Gaiman if he’d do a live reading of the Cheesecake Factory menu if I raised $500,000 for a charity of his choice. And because he’s not just a great artist but a great person, he said yes. He chose UNHCR, the United Nations Refugee Agency. I want to hit this goal by World Refugee Day on June 20. 

Why? Well, why not?

Gaiman has already agreed to comply with the absurd Cheesecake challenge. If, you know, his fans are capable of scrounging together half a million dollars before June 20.

So far the campaign has raised just over $1,400, so Gaiman’s readers certainly have some donating to do. Go ahead, make your strange, seemingly arbitrary, Cheesecake-laced literary dreams come true here.

And don’t forget the incredibly necessary hashtag: #neilcake.

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Here’s Your First Look At The Dragons In ‘Game Of Thrones’ Season 7

May 22nd, 2017 Books

It appears Dany will no longer be asking, “Where are my dragons?” Because you can’t miss them.

In a new photo from “Game of Thrones” Season 7, courtesy of HBO and Entertainment Weekly, we see Drogon doing his thing. And dude is big. Director Matt Shakman previously told EW that “the dragons this year are the size of 747s.” He wasn’t lying.

It seems Emilia Clarke’s Daenerys Targaryen is in the middle of her conquest for Westeros and Drogon is just on a path of destruction ― as it should be.

Of course, in the image we only see Dany riding one dragon. Where are the other two?

Yes, this photo’s purpose could just be to hype up the size of the dragons, but the absence of Viserion and Rhaegal may be intentional. There are theories out there that others, including Mr. Jon Snow (Kit Harington) or even Tyrion Lannister (Peter Dinklage), could become dragon riders. Perhaps they’re hanging out with the other two while Dany is raining down fire with Drogon? Or maybe they’re all just making s’mores off screen? Either way, that’s something HBO probably wouldn’t want to spoil in a press pic.

It’s looking more and more likely that other dragon riders may appear, though.

Regardless, the new picture of Drogon is fire.

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Danielle LaPorte’s White Hot Truth Soothes Self-Help Fatigue

May 22nd, 2017 Books

Has your self-help turned into self-criticism?

The self-help struggle is real. Collectively we search for the truth, our path, and purpose from the outside in. We seek answers from psychologists, psychics, and priests without slowing and softening to the wisest guru of all: Ourselves. During my sultry conversation with Danielle LaPorte about her newly released book, White Hot Truth, she shed some light, because, as she says “it’s all about the light,” on how she became her own guru.

Danielle vividly explained the moment when she realized she was at a “jarring juncture: the conflict between sincere spiritual aspiration and the compulsion to improve.” As she opened her day planner and saw upcoming appointments with a shaman, psychotherapist, and astrologist, along with scheduled massages and yoga classes, she had a revelatory moment where she realized “all of this self-helping was becoming a bit of a burden and impinging on my ability to create with a capital C. Spirituality was becoming just another thing on my f*ing to-do list.”

Through breathy prose she broke down how she questioned her spiritual quest and transformed her to-do list, thus creating freedom and fluidity. With her lyrical lathering in full force (by the way, I highly recommend the audio version of the book; you can thank me later) I noticed my shoulders settling into their natural position, less like accessories for my ears, more gliding down my back like wings. My breath eased its way into a gentle rhythm as I physically released the anxiety of my own daunting self-help regimen.

What is this feeling overcoming me as this diva I’ve admired for years (and secretly channeled in moments of insecurity) – thanks to her rockstar books like The Desire Map and The Firestarter Sessions – reveals her process and progress (because, as she says in her Canadian accent, “everything is progress”) to me? Ah, yes, it’s relief! Relief that there’s another way. Relief that we can still be self-evolving, spiritual seekers, without stressing ourselves out on the regular. Without drowning ourselves in green juice cleanses and repeatedly clearing our chakras. We can liberate ourselves from the perpetual spiritual striving through discernment and self-love. Finally!

“It’s Not How We Seek Spiritual Growth; It’s Why We Seek It.”

Many of us, myself included, are drawn to the vast sea of self-help. Investing copious amounts of cash to feel free. We sign up for the lightworker retreat, past life regression, and some oh-so-necessary karmic healing. Yet, ultimately—I’m speaking from my own decades worth of psychotherapy, angel card readings, and psychic sessions—it wasn’t ever quite what my soul needed to truly heal. Why? Because everything I thought I could find ‘out there’ was already inside me. I’d become dependent, tethered actually, to the feedback from others that only I could best offer myself. What once was a young woman chained to an eating disorder like a dog on a leash, was now someone addicted to guidance from experts. Looking to strangers to tell me about…me. Someone who could only get quiet and still in a yoga studio. I was missing the point.

It’s painful to be lost, for sure. However, suffering is waiting for someone else to bring you home when you knew the way all along. You don’t need to wait until next Wednesday at 2 p.m., or head to an ashram to get clarity about your path, because, as Danielle says, “the best self-help is self-compassion.” Guess what, it’s free!

Self-Help or Self-Hate?

When Danielle described, in her alluringly poetic way, that underneath all of our self-helping is a whole hell of a lot of self-hatred I heard myself silently screaming, “Hell ya, sister! Preach!” I mentally scanned the thousands of self-help books I’ve purchased in an attempt to transcend whatever self-imposed trap I was caught in. Books with promising titles like, 10 Steps to Radical Self-Acceptance, left me feeling frantic as they gathered dust on my nightstand. Why do I continue to buy into the notion that a book, sermon, or healer holds the key to unlock the door to my evolution? Probably because it seemed easier.

Without question, I’m devoted to spiritual growth, healing suffering (my own and others), and tending to my psyche and soul. There’s nothing inherently wrong with these soul goals, unless, they disempower you, or require you to disown your deeply held inner wisdom. Seek the counsel of others as a conduit to connecting with your truth, not as a means to adopt others’ truth about you.

Compulsive Self-Improvement   

Danielle believes, “We are driven by the compulsion to improve. We all look so healthy on the outside, but we’re really actually pretty neurotic on the inside.”

Danielle is clear that she didn’t ditch her spiritual to-do list entirely, she’s found a more useful sequencing of priorities. “Self-referencing is a lifelong journey. I meditate daily, pray, or engage in some sort of contemplation. It’s like brushing my teeth, it has to happen.” Therapy continues to be on her agenda, but it’s evident she’s no longer reliant on it to make a decision.

White Hot Truth is the permission we all need to check in with ourselves deeply, with reverence, and to listen to the wisdom of our bodies and souls. We don’t have to throw the baby out with the bathwater. Keep the yoga class if it serves you. Call the astrologist if you’re in the mood. But let’s stop the perpetual insanity of striving to perfect what was never intended to be perfect. Let’s greet ourselves—our messy, sometimes arrogant, or inconsiderate selves—with compassion, gratitude, and unabashed acceptance. We have everything we need. Already. We are wholly (or holy) enough even when we feel dreadfully inadequate. Beautiful even when we feel broken. The solution is not out there, my love, it’s right here inside. Go talk to the part of yourself that knows. Find her in the trail alongside the river. Find him in the pauses, those quiet moments in between. Sit in your own company and dwell there long enough to remember yourself. That’s the way home. Those are the moments where we hear the truth. Lean on others for support, yes, but don’t let their interpretation or analysis be your sole compass.

Get White Hot Truth!

Hungry for more?

*Part 2 in this blog series will be published on Tuesday, May 23rd, 2017

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No, Authors Should Not Be Constrained By Gender Or Race In The Characters They Create

May 22nd, 2017 Books

This was the headline:

Spy Author Anthony Horowitz ‘Warned Off’ Creating Black Character:

Author Anthony Horowitz says he was “warned off” including a black character in his new book because it was “inappropriate” for a white writer. The creator of the Alex Rider teenage spy novels says an editor told him it could be considered “patronising” … Horowitz, who has written 10 novels featuring teenage spy Alex Rider, said there was a “chain of thought” in America that it was “inappropriate” for white writers to try to create black characters, something which he described as “dangerous territory”.

Dangerous territory, indeed.

What are we to make of this? Is an author limited to only writing characters within their race? What about gender? Religion? Age? Ethnicity? Sexual orientation? Where do the boundaries stop?

The old adage, “write what you know,” is a thesis that implies a writer should limit their imagination to the parameters of their own life and experience. But does that maxim still hold true today? Certainly in these times of viral accessibility, contact, research, knowledge, and interaction with people, places, and things far outside our own proximity is as every-day as 24/7 updates from the farthest corners of the globe. Our ability, consequently, to gain perspective sufficient enough to write outside one’s own “house” is not only doable, but, perhaps, universal and insightful, presuming one does it well.

But is it “patronizing”? Are we, as writers, simply not allowed to write outside, say, our culture, regardless of how well we might do it? Has society become so compartmentalized, so hypersensitive, politically correct, and wary of triggering repercussion, resentment, or misinterpretation that reaching beyond our own skin ― literally and figuratively – has become verboten to us as creative artists?

Interesting questions, these; particularly when you consider that men have been writing about women since time immemorial without particular societal concern that they couldn’t possibly know, couldn’t authentically muster, the requisite experiential perspective. It was a given that they could get the job done; accepted without debate. Yet the specificity, the sensitive and unique nature of being female, could be considered as disparate from the male experience as being black is to a white person, but that hasn’t stopped male authors, from Vladimir Nabokov to Wally Lamb, from creating their women of note.

Which is fair. Because the explicit job of an author is to climb inside the experience of LIFE, real or imagined, to tell compelling stories that reflect the incalculable diversity of detail, nuance, thought, and emotion of any variety of people, places, and things. And the creative mind can find and translate authenticity whether writing about Martians, coquettish teens, dogs who play poker, or characters who exactly mirror the author‘s gender or race.

I’ve had my own experience with this interesting conundrum: my last novel, Hysterical Love, was told through the first-person point-of-view of a thirty-three-year-old man, and it goes without saying: I’m not one of those. Yet I felt completely capable of infusing my story with authenticity by relying on my skills of observation, as well as my experiential knowledge as the sister of five men, the mother of a son, the wife of a man; my years on the road with rock bands, and the immersive research of being a close friend to many, many men throughout my life. I’ve been told I pulled it off, even by the men who’ve read it, so my conviction proved out.

But is the divide between cultures, races, wider than that of gender diversity? Does a white writer delegitimize their prose by including black characters? Is the reverse true?

I don’t think so. I think it depends on the writer, the quality of their work; the depth and sensitivity of their depictions. Those are my initial responses. But I also understand the question:

About two years ago I had an article up at HuffPost titled, “No, White People Will Never Understand the Black Experience,” a piece that became a flashpoint for much conversation on the topic of race. It was written in response to events of the time, particularly the egregious injustice of Sandra Bland’s arrest and subsequent (and inexplicable) jailhouse death, and the cacophony that arose amongst, amidst, and between parties on both sides of the racial divide as a result. My own thesis, my perspective on the tangible limitations we each have in perceiving and assessing the realities of life outside ourselves, is made clear by the title alone. But while there’s obviously much more to that debate, here and now we’re discussing the issue as it relates to the job of being an author and I have some specific thoughts on that.

Inspired by the many responses and conversations that ensued after the aforementioned article, as well as others written on the topic of racial conflict, bias, and injustice, I took one of the stories referenced, about an interracial couple’s experiences with police profiling, and developed it into a character-driven novel called A NICE WHITE GIRL, a title that reflects commentary made within some of the conversations I had.

This “sociopolitical love story” is told through the intertwining points-of-view of a black man and white woman dealing not only with pushback to their new and evolving relationship, but the ratcheting impact of police profiling that ultimately leads to a life-altering arrest. It’s a story that’s human, gut-wrenching, and honest, built on the foundation of my own experiences in a long-term interracial relationship earlier in my life, as well as journalistic research and interviews, personal interactions, even friendships with members of the black community. Given a commitment to creating the characters outside my demographic as authentically and sensitively as I possibly could, without watering them down or pandering to political correctness, I believe I served both my story and its cultural demands well. Did I?

Every author relies on, taps into; mines the wealth of thought, opinion, perspective, and acculturation of their own unique life experience. Certainly that’s true. But as artists, as observers and chroniclers of life by way of prose, we go beyond that pool of reference. We reach out, we expand; we explore plot lines and include characters that stretch our imagination, that dig deep into worlds, events and experiences, imagined or real, that can pull us onto less traveled roads that might demand the challenge of research, of specific observation, even outside consultation. We take these extra steps, even for fiction, because we want to infuse our work with inherent realness. Particularly when writing characters outside our culture. That was certainly the demand I faced when embarking upon this latest novel.

But I am a white woman who’s written a book with a black male character, inclusive of his mother, his sister, and various friends. I’ve depicted their family life, their interactions, relationships, thoughts and feelings. Do I not have the creative right to do that? Will I be seen as patronizing, insensitive, off base, and inappropriate? Will this make my book too controversial for representation, for publishing, for sale? Will it garner derision and disdain from members of the black community? Even members of the white community who may resent the harshness with which I depict some of the police?

I don’t know. Maybe. But it was a story I felt passionate about, compelled to write; that took the many debated aspects and elements discussed in my articles and put them into fictional form, with imagined characters who embodied and borrowed from people I knew, from conversations I’d had, from ideas, agendas, politics, and passions that had been conveyed to me by real people expressing essential and sometimes controversial perspectives. I was determined to honor them by candidly, honestly, and without apology, telling the story.

But perhaps, as Anthony Horowitz was told, I’m entering territory that is off-limits, that puts me at odds with those who might frame me as presumptuous and patronizing. “A nice white girl” who’s stepped outside of culturally acceptable boundaries.

I hope not, because I, like Mr. Horowitz, see that as “dangerous territory.”

Just as brilliant male authors have gorgeously written female protagonists; as female novelists have conjured male characters ringing with truth; as writers of one ethnicity have honestly depicted another; as fabulists have invented entire worlds of imagined wonders, authors must be limited byNOTHING. Not a thing. They must be free to create without fear of cultural naysaying, societal judgment, threat of reprisal, or the discomfort of crossing cultural boundaries.

The only mandate to which they’re obligated is GOOD WRITING. Writing with wit and clarity. Honesty. Authenticity. Sensitivity and depth. Engaging prose, compelling plots, and visceral emotion. And, if need be, if determined helpful, the use of “sensitivity readers” who can ascertain if the writer got the cultural references right.

But just as Idris Elba could certainly make magic as James Bond, as Anthony Horowitz could create an intriguing black spy for his books; as I can write characters both male and of a culture outside my own, so must every author of merit and worth be allowed to view the entire panoply of life as fuel for their imagination. Anything else is antithetical to the mission of art… and stymying art serves no one. Not the writer, not the reader, not the myriad members of our diverse world hungry for stories that reflect their lives. Art is imagining; creating, mirroring, and provoking… all of which can and must be achieved by artists free to explore without the limiting effect of creative and cultural boundaries.

Photo by Anete Lusina @ Unsplash


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#Ebook Deal/Day: Python Deep Learning – $21.99 (Save 50%) Use code DEAL

May 22nd, 2017 Books

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May 19th, 2017 Books

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As Global Policy Moves To Expand Digital Rights, U.S Faces Crucial Fight Over Equal Access To The Internet

May 19th, 2017 Books

By: Karin Deutsch Karlekar and Christopher Hamlin

In 2013, inventor of the internet Tim Berners Lee reflected, “When you make something universal … it can be used for good things or nasty things … we just have to make sure it’s not undercut by any large companies or governments trying to use it and get total control.” In what seemed like a momentary delay of his prediction—and a win for internet freedom advocates—in late April, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit denied the telecommunications industry’s request for an appeal of a 2016 decision that upheld the net neutrality regulatory framework. In 2015, the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) had reclassified the internet as a utility much like regular phone service (where, for instance, the phone company can’t block a call because they don’t like the caller). This allowed for stronger enforcement of existing net neutrality rules that prevent internet service providers (ISPs) such as Comcast, Verizon, and AT&T from arbitrarily price-gouging or discriminating against legal content, users, or platforms by slowing or preventing access to them. The landmark ruling is now under threat as the FCC—under its newly appointed chair, former Verizon lawyer Ajit Pai—took an important vote on May 18 to weaken federal oversight of ISPs by no longer applying the Title II “common carrier” classification of the Communications Act to ISPs.

This proposed fast-track roll-back of the 2015 protections represents the latest move by the new administration to strip consumer internet access and privacy protections adopted in the Obama years, which included preventing ISPs from selling your browsing history without permission and expanding broadband subsidies for the poor. Pai’s adamant predisposition against a more enforceable framework for net neutrality is concerning, and he may have violated a legal statute by taking an FCC policy position before allowing a public comment period.

Despite the traditional U.S. role as an advocate for individual freedoms around the world, the FCC’s reversal on this issue is also at odds with modern global attitudes and governance on the right to unrestricted, affordable digital access. A 2014 CIGI-Ipsos survey of 23,376 internet users from 24 countries found that 83 percent of them believe that affordable access to the internet should be a basic human right. In 2016, this evolving consensus was enshrined by the United Nations Human Rights Council as a non-binding resolution, which denounced “measures to intentionally prevent or disrupt access to or dissemination of information online” as a human rights violation, given that “the same rights people have offline must also be protected online.” This includes the right to freedom of expression under Article 19 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.

Governments across the developing and developed world have already begun to codify this concept domestically or to invest in projects that operationalize it. Germany, Costa Rica, Estonia, Finland, France, Greece, and Spain have all had some form of legal right to broadband access for years. That says nothing of the multitude of nations with laws to protect net neutrality, including the European Union. Most recently, in March, the Indian state of Kerala declared that access to the internet is a basic human right, promising to provide free access to all its citizens. This promise is increasingly easier to make as privately funded projects such as Google’s Project Loon partner with governments to provide affordable, universal internet access to its citizens through the use of high altitude balloons. At the same time, Facebook’s Free Basics application has brought free internet to 25 million people across the world.

However, last February, India’s telecom regulator banned the free Facebook application over concerns that it undermined net neutrality by favoring certain services over others. Along this vein, it is interesting to consider that China consistently outpaces democratic India in providing its citizens internet access, yet it also consistently ranks as one of the most oppressive on internet freedom indexes. This begs the questions: Can internet access truly be considered a fundamental right—affording the respective essential benefits to be labeled as such—if it means sacrificing uncensored access to all legal content? And what constitutes a healthy regulatory relationship between the governments and ISPs that determine that balance?

Chairman Pai contends, alongside ISP giants, that regulating the telecommunications industry like a utility makes it less attractive to investment, resulting in telecom cutbacks on the capital expenditure that bridges the digital divide by allowing them to build out infrastructure to low income and rural neighborhoods. Addressing this reasoning, industry leaders of the Internet Association, including Facebook, Google, and Amazon, have instead underscored net neutrality’s importance to the competition and innovation of their industry. They have also pointed to evidence that shows many ISPs have actually expanded their investment in network infrastructure build-out and innovative technologies like fiber optics, while those that decreased investment had been undergoing major restructuring deals. Perhaps it should also come as no surprise then that last month more than 800 tech start-ups made the case to Chairman Pai that gutting the legal framework preventing service discrimination impedes not only consumer choice, but also their ability to “start a business, immediately reach a worldwide customer base, and disrupt an entire industry” through the unfettered marketplace of ideas.

This echoes arguments of free expression advocates, including PEN America, who believe Americans stand to lose essential capabilities for free expression and critical information sharing. Having taken part in the large-scale 2014 advocacy campaigns that persuaded the FCC to reclassify net neutrality protections in the first place, PEN America is concerned that telecom giants may once again receive the discretionary legal power to scrutinize information in their networks and discriminate against the delivery of certain content or its creators. Equally concerning is the potential creation of “pay-to-play” slow and fast lanes, in which only those willing to pay a premium to have their content reach its audience will enjoy that unrestricted right. The right to know, to free expression, and to association are core freedoms that are put in jeopardy through the creation of this power dynamic. It has the potential to establish a system of privatized censorship that restricts the flow of free thought necessary to the work of the writers and readers that PEN represents.

Over the past half decade, the internet has become such an internationally recognized foundation for expression, as well as political and commercial interaction, that it has broached the realm of essential “public commodities” such as water, electricity, or telephone service. Allowing private industry to selectively inhibit citizens’ ability to use that commodity is detrimental to standards of living in many modern societies, and moderate government regulation may therefore be inherently necessary to protect its citizens’ democratized access to it. The current administration can stay on the path of newly established international norms—and even rise to lead their continued modernization—or inch closer to the trend of authoritarian governments of crafting policy frameworks that serve to limit access. As the FCC vote represents the first step in this anti-democratic process, we reiterate the call not to reverse the gains made in ensuring equal access to this essential means of communication and interaction.

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How One Sandy Hook Mom Found Peace After The Most Unthinkable Loss

May 19th, 2017 Books

Friday, May 12 would’ve been Emilie Parker’s 11th birthday. The little girl loved art, reading and cheering people up when they were sad. On December 14, 2012, she and 19 other children were killed in the Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting. 

More than four years after the horrific tragedy, Emilie’s mother, Alissa Parker, released An Unseen Angel: A Mother’s Story of Healing and Hope After Sandy Hook, a powerful book about finding joy and compassion in unexpected places.

On the eve of Emilie’s birthday, Parker spoke with HuffPost about the book, her family’s journey and the way her outlook changed after she lived through every parent’s worst nightmare. 

An Unseen Angel is dedicated to Parker’s two younger daughters, 8-year-old Samantha and 9-year-old Madeline. The author told HuffPost she initially started writing the book just for the two girls.  

“They were very young when Emilie died, and I knew they wouldn’t remember very much,” she said. “I wanted to preserve this story for them so that as years passed, they would be able to go back and see what happened.”

As she wrote about the outpouring of compassion and support from family, friends and strangers after the unspeakable tragedy, Parker realized her story might be able to inspire others. 

“There’s so much negativity and darkness surrounding what happened at Sandy Hook, and this was a whole different perspective,” she explained. “It’s the lighter side, the side that shows how good humanity is. And I just wanted to share that with people.”

The title of the book stems from Parker’s belief that her daughter Emilie is an “unseen angel,” always with her as she goes through life and witnesses the beauty of the world and humanity. This message ties in with the book’s theme of healing through faith.

Though Parker grew up in a Christian household and always considered her religion to be an integral part of her life, she said she didn’t feel comfortable expressing it with others until the aftermath of Emilie’s death. Spending time with the parents of other kids who died in the Sandy Hook shooting helped her open up.

“I was with a large group of people who were all grieving from the same exact moment,” she recalled. “We had all different faiths, all different experiences, and we yearned to learn from each other and hear what the other one had experienced, what worked for them, what they believed, and all those barriers just broke down.”

She added, “I realized how much there was to learn from other people, other faiths and how important it was for me to be able to share my belief system with others because there’s so much we can learn from each other.”

A little more than a year after the shooting, Parker and her family moved back to the Pacific Northwest, where they had lived for a short time when the girls were younger.

She and her husband, Robbie, worked to move forward with their lives, focusing their energy on raising Madeline and Samantha. Still, there are certain times of year that can be particularly challenging. 

Emilie was born on the Friday before Mother’s Day in 2006, and the Parkers brought their first baby home on the actual holiday.

“I remember just being so overwhelmed with the idea that on my first Mother’s Day, I got to bring my child home with me,” the mom recalled. “And so I had this kind of special connection to the holiday because it always fell kind of around the time that I became a mother, when Emilie was born.”

In the months after the tragedy at Sandy Hook, Parker noticed that Emilie’s birthday would fall on Mother’s Day that year. In that moment of realization, she felt a pain in the pit of her stomach.

“It had always been so special to me, and I didn’t want that tainted,” the mom said. “I felt like so much had been taken away from me, and I didn’t want that joy that I felt to be taken away from me.” 

Getting through the double whammy of Mother’s Day and Emilie’s birthday at the same time was incredibly tough and emotional, but Parker said she worked hard to focus on the blessings of being a mom and the time she had with Emilie, rather than the horror of what happened to her.

“I’ve had to train my brain to not wander and think about the past and future and be overwhelmed with the emotions that those thoughts always bring me,” she said. “I try to be present in the moment, to focus what is happening right now and what joy I’m seeing.”

The Parkers tend to go away as a family around Mother’s Day. On Emilie’s birthday, they try to do something she enjoyed, like going to the beach, and the mom usually gives each of her girls something that belonged to their big sister.

“Because they were so young when she died, I put away a lot of her toys and things she had into these little boxes for the girls. So when it’s her birthday, I pull something out that she would’ve wanted them to have, that’s age appropriate for the season in their lives.”

The birthday tradition is just one of the ways the Parkers keep Emilie’s memory alive for her sisters. “We try to be really natural about the way we talk about Emilie with them. I never wanted them to feel like anything was either forced, or on the other hand, taboo,” the mom told HuffPost. 

“I didn’t want them to feel competitive with her memory, so I was really conscious of making sure we only brought her up when it was appropriate and not force stories,” she added. “But I also didn’t want them to feel like they couldn’t bring her up whenever they felt it was appropriate either.”

For the most part, keeping this balance has been effortless, Parker noted. The parents also created a memory box for their daughters. Whenever they think of a memory or story about their big sister, they write it down and put it in the memory box. 

“It’s been fun for them to have a place to put it,” the mom said. “It’s almost like there’s this anxiety ― you feel like you’re going to lose the story, so when they had a place to put it, it was a release for them.” The girls have filled the memory box a couple of times, so their parents took the papers out and a made a little book for them. 

Madeline and Samantha were also among the first people to get a copy of An Unseen Angel, though they haven’t read the entire book yet. 

“We’ve made it clear to them from the very beginning that we’ll tell them whatever information they want to know about Emilie,” Parker explained. “They ask the questions, which we answer, but there are certain things that they have made clear to us that they’re not ready to know about.”

Specifically, the girls don’t yet want to know the details of how their sister was killed that day. So when they received the book, their mother told them which sections to skip to avoid those details. “I told them that when the day comes that they want to read that and want to know a little bit more, we could sit down and have a conversation and read it together,” Parker said. “They’re comfortable with those parameters for now.”

The horrific events at Sandy Hook Elementary School are mired in an extra layer of torment. Though many public tragedies spawn conspiracy talk, the conspiracy theory movement around Sandy Hook has been particularly insidious, having reached a wider audience in part thanks to Infowars founder and notorious President Trump ally, Alex Jones.

Many so-called “Sandy Hook truthers” have targeted the Parker family specifically ― using photos of Emilie’s younger sisters as evidence that she’s still alive, accusing her parents of being “crisis actors” and referring to the young victim as EmiLIE. 

Emilie’s mother said they refuse to let this vile phenomenon affect them.

“We’ve really tried to focus on our truth,” Parker told HuffPost. “I’ve never done anything with the idea that I’m trying to convince them of anything. I’m just living my truth. And I realize that we live in a country where freedom of speech is very valuable, so I have to accept that that’s the consequence of living here. And that’s OK. I just have to let it go and realize they don’t have power over me.”

To say Alissa Parker has demonstrated incredible strength would be an understatement. One of the more striking parts of An Unseen Angel is her account of meeting Adam Lanza’s father and finding the courage to forgive the man who killed her daughter. 

“I think the thing that I hadn’t expected in talking to [Peter Lanza] about his son that I gained from it was my viewpoint and how I saw the shooter,” Parker recalled. “Up to that point, he was the monster who did the most horrendous thing I could ever imagine, and that was it. That was all. And I was comfortable with that.”

“After speaking to his father, this entire picture of his life unfolded before me. He no longer was just that monster. He was a person who struggled with really intense difficult things throughout his whole life, where the system failed him, he failed himself, his parents failed him, over and over again,” she added.

Though this realization didn’t take away Lanza’s accountability in Parker’s eyes, it brought her to a place of empathy and eventual forgiveness. 

“It showed me to have more compassion for his entire life and to understand that he was the sum of all of these experiences, not just a monster that day,” she explained.

“In some ways it made me think about other people who might struggle with similar things and how we tend to vilify people who are capable of doing these things,” Parker continued. “I didn’t want to take that attitude toward those who have struggled. I wanted to have a positive, loving, compassionate attitude ― to say, ‘I want to be there to help you. I want to be there to be a solution to your struggles, not make you feel more isolated or more alone.’”

Ultimately, An Unseen Angel tells a powerful story of anguish, loss and healing that most parents would never want to imagine having to endure.

Beyond sharing her personal journey, Parker hopes her book can inspire readers with its message of resilience. “Whether it be losing a loved one and grieving or going through a difficulties like losing a job, there are so many ways that we all can take these experiences and see how we can adopt these lessons in the challenging times in our lives,” she told HuffPost. 

“When we go through difficult, dark times, that there’s always hope, and there’s always light around us,” she added. “It’s just choosing to let it in that’s not always easy.”

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Here’s Nicole Kidman As A Punk-Rock Alien In ‘How To Talk To Girls At Parties’

May 18th, 2017 Books

All anyone should need to know about “How to Talk to Girls at Parties” is that Nicole Kidman plays a punk-rock alien. Done. Logline perfected. Coming soon to a theater near you. 

If you’d like more info, watch the teasers that Elle Fanning, Neil Gaiman and John Cameron Mitchell debuted on Instagram ahead of the movie’s Cannes Film Festival premiere. Fanning plays one of Kidman’s fellow Sex Pistols-inflicted aliens, with whom a shy 1970s London teenager (Alex Sharp) falls in love.

Directed and co-written by Mitchell, “How to Talk to Girls at Parties” is based on Gaimain’s short story of the same name. It opens later this year. 

Holy punking fuck! Take a leak at your first peek of HOW TO TALK TO GIRLS AT PARTIES

A post shared by John Cameron Mitchell (@johncameronmitchell) on

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In Trump’s America, Frustration Is So High That ‘Headdesk’ Is A Verb

May 18th, 2017 Books

Merriam-Webster defines “headdesk” as an internet neologism “used to express frustration or exasperation.” 

Apparently, it also describes the dictionary’s reaction to having its helpful language advice once again ignored by President Donald Trump.

On May 8, Trump issued another of his memorable misspellings, tweeting, “Ask Sally Yates, under oath, if she knows how classified information got into the newspapers soon after she explained it to W.H. Council.” Oops, wrong council/counsel, pointed out indefatigable word defender Merriam-Webster

Just 10 days later, however, Trump was at it again, this time with a weird mashup between the two spellings in a now-deleted tweet: “With all of the illegal acts that took place in the Clinton campaign & Obama Administration, there was never a special councel appointed.”

Catch that? The has become an e, but unfortunately it’s still right after a c. That’s not a word!

This time, Merriam-Webster was too exhausted to reiterate its previous correction, simply following up on the May 8 thread to relay their reaction:

Apparently a facepalm just wasn’t enough. 

According to Merriam-Webster, “headdesk” is derived from the literal slamming of one’s head into a desk out of frustration or annoyance. The abbreviated term arose online, initially in late ‘90s forums, and has been popularized on social media and other digital communications as a quick, colorful way of conveying one’s irritation.

“The word headdesk is used most often interjectionally, or a parenthetical comment on something,” the dictionary notes, but with outrage and frustration becoming a constant feature of the political scene, it’s no wonder we’re increasingly using it as a verb or even a gerund.

Merriam-Webster has been headdesking over Trump’s reckless disregard for the English language for some time. Given all the troublesome news coming out of the White House ― the least of which may be its spelling woes ― we should probably all get comfortable with the word, and its application.

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#Ebook Deal/Day: SQL and Relational Theory – $16.99 (Save 50%) Use code DEAL

May 18th, 2017 Books

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Jordan Peele Is Going To Create A Jim Crow Horror Series For HBO

May 17th, 2017 Books

Jordan Peele is taking his unique brand of horror to HBO.

The writer and director of “Get Out” will be the executive producer behind “Lovecraft Country,” a just ordered drama series based around a Matt Ruff novel about a 1950s road trip through the Jim Crow South.

On his website, Ruff describes the 2016 novel this way:

Chicago, 1954. When his father goes missing, twenty-two-year-old Army veteran Atticus Turner embarks on a road trip to New England to find him, accompanied by his uncle George—publisher of The Safe Negro Travel Guide—and his childhood friend Letitia. On their journey to the manor of Samuel Braithwhite—heir to the estate that owned one of Atticus’s ancestors—they encounter both the mundane terrors of white America and malevolent spirits that seem straight out of the weird tales George devours.

Atticus discovers his father in chains, held prisoner by a secret cabal, the Order of the Ancient Dawn—led by Braithwhite and his son Caleb—which has gathered to perform a ritual that shockingly centers on Atticus. And his one hope of salvation may be the seed of his—and the whole Turner clan’s—destruction.

A chimerical blend of magic, power, hope, and freedom that stretches across time, touching diverse members of two black families, Lovecraft Country is a devastating kaleidoscopic portrait of racism—the terrifying specter that still haunts us today.

J.J. Abrams is signed on as another one of the show’s executive producers, but it’s Mischa Green, creator of the period drama series “Underground,” who will be running things. 

When I first read ‘Lovecraft Country’ I knew it had the potential to be unlike anything else on television,” Green said in a statement provided to Deadline.

“Jordan, JJ, Bad Robot, Warner Bros and HBO are all in the business of pushing the limits when it comes to storytelling, and I am beyond thrilled to be working with them on this project,” she added. 

Peele has become one of the hottest stars in entertainment following the success of “Get Out,” a surprise success of a racially charged horror film that has pulled in a 99 percent rating on Rotten Tomatoes and more than $200 million at the box office

He recently signed a deal with Universal Pictures to write and direct another “Get Out”-like film and produce many others. That’s good news for all of us. 

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Reese Witherspoon Is Talking To Author Of ‘Big Little Lies’ About A Season 2

May 17th, 2017 Books

And the plot thickens.

In the final episode of “Big Little Lies” the audience learns the truth about a mysterious murder involving five moms from Monterey, California. But fans of the popular HBO mini-series, which ran from February through April, still have one crucial question: Will there be a Season 2?

The first season already burned through the entirety of the book by Liane Moriarty that the show is based on. The series, though, does end with a seemingly beautiful moment among leading ladies — Reese Witherspoon, Nicole Kidman, Laura Dern, Shailene Woodley and Zoë Kravitz — that feels more like a cliffhanger than a conclusion.

On Wednesday, Witherspoon, who also acted as an executive producer on the series, provided a little more information about continuing the story during a visit to “The Ellen DeGeneres Show.”

When DeGeneres asked about a second season, she said, “We hope so. I mean, I feel like it’s — Nicole [Kidman] and I produced as well, so we’ve been talking to the writer Liane Moriarty, who wrote the book, about just new ideas of what these characters could do. But it seems like people just love the characters, so hopefully we can go on.”

Yet, even if Witherspoon and Kidman do convince Moriarty to continue the story, it doesn’t mean everyone involved in the project will be on board.

Director Jean-Marc Vallée told the The Hollywood Reporter in April he’s not interested to doing another season.

In regards to the cliffhanger ending, he said: “It’s up to the audience and their imagination to figure out.”

Yet, he did also tell Vulture that another season would provide one great perk: “The show ended on a high note ― why drag it on, other than to see the remarkable cast reconvene?”

That’s reason enough for us!

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