April 27, 2006

'Kaavya' gone sour?

I wonder if Kaavya Vishwanathan's current problems have to do with the fact that she is an Indian born to Brahmin parents living in the USA?

Young author admits borrowing passages

By Hillel Italie, AP National Writer April 24, 2006

NEW YORK --A Harvard University sophomore with a highly publicized first novel acknowledged Monday that she had borrowed material, accidentally, from another author's work and promised to change her book for future editions.

Kaavya Viswanathan's "How Opal Mehta Got Kissed, Got Wild, and Got a Life," published in March by Little, Brown and Company, was the first of a two-book deal reportedly worth six figures. But on Sunday, the Harvard Crimson cited seven passages in Viswanathan's book that closely resemble the style and language of the novels of Megan McCafferty.

"When I was in high school, I read and loved two wonderful novels by Megan McCafferty, `Sloppy Firsts' and `Second Helpings,' which spoke to me in a way few other books did. Recently, I was very surprised and upset to learn that there are similarities between some passages in my novel ... and passages in these books," Viswanathan, 19, said in a statement issued by her publisher.

"While the central stories of my book and hers are completely different, I wasn't aware of how much I may have internalized Ms. McCafferty's words. I am a huge fan of her work and can honestly say that any phrasing similarities between her works and mine were completely unintentional and unconscious. My publisher and I plan to revise my novel for future printings to eliminate any inappropriate similarities.

"I sincerely apologize to Megan McCafferty and to any who feel they have been misled by these unintentional errors on my part."

The book had a first printing of 100,000 copies.

Little, Brown publisher Michael Pietsch told The Associated Press on Monday that he did not think Viswanathan's borrowings were caused by the pressures of being both a student and an author.

Pietsch also declined to blame Viswanathan's collaboration with 17th Street Productions Inc., a book packager that specializes in teen narratives and helped her develop the story.

"Every word in that book was written by her, for better or for worse," he said, adding that work on a new edition would begin "tomorrow."

Viswanathan, who was 17 when she signed her contract with Little, Brown, is the youngest author signed by the publisher in decades. DreamWorks has already acquired the movie rights to her first book.

Viswanathan's novel tells the story of Opal, a hard-driving teen from New Jersey who earns straight A's in high school but who gets rejected from Harvard because she forgot to have a social life. Opal's father concocts a plan code-named HOWGAL (How Opal Will Get A Life) to get her past the admission's office.

McCafferty's books follow a heroine named Jessica, a New Jersey girl who excels in high school but struggles with her identity and longs for a boyfriend. McCafferty is a former editor at Cosmopolitan who has written three novels.


Associated Press Writer Andrew Ryan contributed to this story.
© Copyright 2005 The New York Times Company

April 24, 2006

Defying Definition!

Can I call you a friend?
Because you’ll listen
to my ravings and ranting,
however inane
Because you’ll hear
the sorry unsaid.

Will I call you a friend?
Because you don’t see
my philanderings;
innumerable may be.
Because you don’t look
for those promises unkept;
that lack of sensitivity.

May I call you a friend?
Because you matter;
though senselessness pervades.
And I look around for you.
Because you’re the hold
while life rushes out from under my feet.

April 19, 2006

The Honor Code

The Honor Code is taken very seriously in American Universities. In traditional "honor code schools", there are honor pledges, student-organized honor systems, unproctored exams, and the requirement to turn in suspected cheating incidents. Some schools do not have a traditional honor code, but they usually have a set of rules or some writing that articulates the fundamental rights and responsibilities of all students. However, this code may not be universal because I am aware that there are Universities across the world that do not hold their students accountable for honoring this code.

Professors in traditional "honor code schools' such as Princeton hand out a Final Exam and leave the room. Students are then expected to take the assigned time and then hand in their papers to the Prof in his office. There have been times when Profs allow you to select a date and time when you want to take the exam. On the date and time you select, the Prof gives you the exam and you can choose to do your exam at a location of choice. Absurd as all of this may sound (to some), the Honor Code works!

There have been some stray cases where students have tried to either test the code or else disregarded it for whatever reason, and the consequences have been predictably disastrous. Once a student pleads guilty, he usually receives a suspension from the university and community service hours. The harshness of the punishment would depend on the severity of the violation, the previous credibility of the accused student, and whether the act was premeditated. A blatant violation of this code could make for an immediate expulsion, and would show up as a permanent record on your academic credentials.

In a world that is often accused of being morally defunct, the Honor Code and its observance reasserts my faith in the integrity of human kind.

April 14, 2006

Pen a 'Fib'

There are numerous 'days' and 'months' that we honor such as the World Health Day, the Hispanic Culture Month, International Women's Day, and many many more. This month is apparently the "National Poetry Month" and the "National Mathematics Month". What better way to commemorate both of these creative fields of study than by inventing a new poetic form that was born out of a mathematical progression!

Gregory Pincus, a fellow blogger, did just that; coined a new form of poetry called "Fibs"; a six line poem that uses a mathematical progression, the Fibonacci sequence, to dictate the number of syllables in each line. This form has generated a lot of interest not just within the blogger world but also among math lovers who feel a need to dabble in poetry. To quote a 32 year old researcher in AT&T Labs the "Fib" attracted him because it reminded him of "what a computer scientist would call the 'resource constraint'". On the other hand, Annie Finch, a poet and teacher loves the form because it offers a new constraint, and poets "love constraints that allow the self to step out of the picture a little bit. The form gives you something to dance with so it's not just you alone on the page".

The "Fib" is reminiscent of the Haiku which also derives its form from a syllabic pattern (5, 7, 5), and is also a short poem of only three lines. The "Fib", however, is a six line poem with a syllabic pattern based on the Fibonacci progression that starts with' 0 and 1 and then continues to add numbers that are equal to the sum of the previous two numbers'. The syllabic sequence in a "Fib" would thus read like this: 0-1-1-2-3-5-8. The 0 signifying that each first line in a "Fib" is silent (so in fact the "Fib" is a seven line poem).

Here's a "Fib' by Motoko Rich of the NYTimes:

and rumour
But how about a
Rare, geeky form of poetry?

Here's my tribute to poetry, a genre that transcends form, but could live within it as well.

Not always.
Poetry is born
in each individual heart.

Care to share your "Fib"?

April 13, 2006

"Gilead" By Marilynne Robinson

Just finished reading "Gilead" the Pulitzer Prize winner by Marilynne Robinson.

First of all, I have to admit that I almost put the book down after reading the first twenty pages or so. It's not the kind of book that I would choose to read. I started on this one since I had nothing better to read on my spring break. Religious reads are not among my favorites, and this does happen to be about a preacher in Iowa during the late 50s. I somehow managed to trudge along, reading some twenty odd pages every time I picked up the book. However, after I was about half way through the novel, it suddenly dawned on me that I was now reading the book out of interest, and also that it had stopped mattering to me that the main protagonist was a preacher. The novel had gone beyond an ailing preacher writing a letter to his seven year old son about how he'd grown up in a religious environment. It now brought in various elements of human drama, that between a gun-toting abolitionist father and an ambivalent son; another centered on spousal jealousy in the face of death, yet another between a pacifist father and a questioning son. Conflicts quite universal that are indicative of ideological polarities that exist within American society, and which could draw in any reader regardless of his age, nationality, and his religious affiliation.

A reading that started of as a chore ended up being a 'different' read by the end of it. One particular statement in the novel was rather thought provoking:
''Do you ever wonder why American Christianity seems to wait for the real thinking to be done elsewhere?''

April 08, 2006

Public School Education in the USA, a Profitable Business?

Quality education is dependent wholly on the amount of money spent per pupil by a district. This is a myth that has perpetuated the American psyche. “If money buys good public schools, New Jersey and New York are buying the best, according to the U.S. Census Bureau, which said both states spend more than $10,000 per student each year, far above the $6,835 national average.” (USA Today). Yet, in a worldwide testing of high school seniors in mathematics and science the USA ranked 18 out of the total number of 21 countries that participated. A dismal performance, indeed, for a country that spends unimaginable amounts to educate its children, and this performance must have sent a message to any thinking individual that money alone was not going to revitalize our school system. As Whitman said after passing the CEIFA Act in 1996 that we need to focus on “textbooks instead of checkbooks” in order to make education ‘thorough’ and ‘effective’.

School finance though an important factor in providing quality education to our children, its importance has been grossly exaggerated. A well rounded and competitive curriculum, a competent faculty, a motivated and determined student body, and a supportive parent body are some of the other factors that make for a quality education, and some of these don’t carry a price tag.

As an educator one feels that imparting knowledge to our students and helping them develop life skills is no longer the focus of public education. The focus is now on how to manage the school budget in a way such that the voting public will not vote down the next school budget. “One way to gain control over the budget adoption process is to try to anticipate public concerns about the school budget”. (Dr. Hartley, Univ of Connecticut). So now it is the voting public that determines how much money is to be allocated to improving school education. The matter is no longer in the hands of educators, but money minded citizens whose only concern is that their property taxes not be raised. In this scenario, is it a surprise that we are among the lowest ranking schools in the world? Quality education is no longer a priority.

Education and educators have been sidelined to accommodate political and financial agendas, but nobody admits to that. Public school education is like any other business where the budget and the budget makers and managers call all the shots. Legislature such as the “No Child left Behind’ act, or the promise of a ‘thorough’ and ‘effective’ education have in no way improved the quality of our students who are still unable to compete globally. Are we then living a lie? Our children are in fact already ‘left behind’ due to the lack of a ‘thorough’ curriculum and its ‘effective’ implementation. Schools boards and administrators are busy politicking for more funding, believing that the academic environment of the school can be bolstered by pumping in more money into the system. Superintendents, who have a far nobler mission at hand of providing and managing an academically charged environment to mould the million dollar minds of tomorrow, see themselves as CEO’s managing million dollar budgets instead. Supervisors and administrators may talk about good teaching practices to enhance learning, but when it comes to class size, the ‘enhanced learning’ takes a back seat. The school budget does not allow for a new teacher to be hired, so class size has to be compromised, and quality education is once again put to the back burner.

"A child's education should be determined by the size of their dreams, not the numbers of their ZIP code," said Sen. Christopher Dodd, D-Conn., who heads the Subcommittee on Children and Families. "We need to fundamentally change the way we deal with education in this country so that all children have the same opportunities and chance for a successful and productive life." Despite attempts like the QEA and the CEIFA to bring parity in our public school education, the gap between the wealthy and the poor districts has only widened. It is obvious then that money alone isn’t the determining factor for a quality education.

School finance plays an integral role in the upkeep of a school district, but it cannot be the master manipulator and take over the role that is realistically an educators. The children are in school to educate themselves, to gather knowledge, to learn to apply the new knowledge in various contexts, and to acquire skills that’ll make them globally competitive. To make this possible there are qualified and experienced educators hired by schools to bring about teacher-student and student to student interaction, the two dynamic interactions that determine a quality education, the prime goal of public education. All other interactions, those involving administrators, supervisors, and other non-teaching staff, play a secondary role; a supportive or maintenance role, one that is ultra efficient, unobtrusive, and friction free. School finance, as it exists in today, is none of the three. It is extremely obtrusive in that it rears its head at every school meeting. It is also not efficient in that money has always to be ‘found’ when a teacher makes an additional request for books or technology to meet the needs of her students. As for school finance being friction free, that is definitely not the case. The school budget being so contingent on property tax makes for battle ground between tax payers and the school budget. The scenario is no different between the state and the school districts.

School finance has taken on a larger than life role in the running of a school district, and in doing so it has undermined and deprioritized education. As an educator one can see where all this is leading to. In fact the first few reports are already in; we rank in the last five among high school students, we are doing poorly in our standardized tests as well, and as a nation we are losing the competitive edge we had in the past in the field of education and technology; ‘job outsourcing’ is a blatant example of this. Money may make the wheel go round, but not in the case of our education system; money alone is not going to set the near-stationery wheel of public education in motion, and our administrators and budget makers have to accept this truth.

April 05, 2006

A unique moment!

On Wednesday at two minutes and three seconds after 1:00, the time and date will be

01:02:03 04/05/06

That won't happen until the year 2106 and every 100 years thereafter!

April 03, 2006

Strutting her stuff

Mark the awakening!
Hearken the entrance...
Carried in so sudden
on a breeze so tender.
Lulling all senses,
in awesome wonder.
Full skirted Forsythias
do billow their yellow;
midst blushing pink and lilac
all waiting to follow.

It's show time in the yonder sun,
one by one...
The dancing daffodils up first
fluttering ‘n nodding their exit anon.
Who's next?
Daisies, tulips, forget-me-nots,
awaiting an entry under any pretext.
A feast of hue and a riot of color
A display unreal, a surreal splendor!