Archive for the ‘Short Works by Blog Authors’ Category

Another article I wrote that came out last Friday in my school newspaper, Inklings. (Again, you can check out the entire paper online here.) This article is a news story — not an opinion — about a nice edition to the school grounds and curriculum.


“Community Garden Aims to Make School a Greener Place to Live”

Haris Durrani

October 2, 2009 — Inklings

HELPING HAND: A student shows a child around the school edible garden, paid for by Green Village Initiative (GVI).

HELPING HAND: A student shows a child around the school edible garden, paid for by Green Village Initiative (GVI). | Photo by Madeline Hardy, Inklings

In mid-spring of 2009, Westport Green Village Initiative (GVI), the grass roots organization that hopes to turn Westport into a model green town, proposed the idea of an edible, organic garden for the Staples community.

That garden stands behind the school building today.

“We feel that the most important thing for the future is to be able to have control of our own food,” said Monique Bosch, a Staples parent and GVI founder. “Moving away from what we might call industrial food and going back to real food. The best way to do that is to gro­w our own. And what better way to learn than to teach the next generation?”

Bosch, Dan Levinson, another Staples parent and GVI founder, Michael Aitkenhead, A.P. environmental teacher, and A.J. Kieffer ’10, Club Green President, were all grateful for the strong support from the Board of Education (BOE), Superintendent Elliot Landon, and Principal John Dodig.

“The school couldn’t afford anything like that [the garden],” said Cecilia Duffy, horticulture teacher. “So it was nice that they [GVI] stepped in.”

Starting early July, workers from Teich Garden Systems, a company that builds school gardens, and local volunteers – 20 men and women in total – dodged rainy weather on a trek set up the garden.

As the summer continued, Club Green members and other volunteers helped stain the garden’s wood framework.

A farm in Shelton which gives food to Westport for community-supported agriculture, in addition the horticulture department, provided seedlings for the workers and volunteers to plant.

A.P. environmental, horticulture, and culinary classes, along with the children from child development, have begun to harvest the results.

“There are some kids that have never seen a garden before, and that’s opening their eyes,” said Alison Grace, culinary teacher.

In fact, this garden represents more to the students, teachers, and community members involved than a simple plot of cultivated land.

“The garden serves two purposes,” said Michael Aitkenhead. “It’s to spread awareness of growing food organically. At the same time, it’s also being used as a tool to understand basic lessons about the science behind growing food.”

Levinson, Bosch, and Heather Morley, biology and A.P. environmental teacher, each mentioned that food travels an average distance of 1,500 miles to reach people’s mouths.

Community gardens, they said, will save time and energy.

“It’s so easy to grow food, and we’ve forgotten that,” said Levinson. “All the food is grown everywhere but where you eat it.”

According to Grace, there is a strong desire today for locally-grown foods, and hopes her students will learn more about it.

“It’s a trend that’s not going away,” Grace said. “This is the new thing.”

Kieffer emphasized the “pressing issue” of living green.

“The goal is to be self-sufficient,” Kieffer said. “Buying local produce is the best green thing to do. Having your own garden is the best way to be environmentally conscious.”

Now that GVI has established the garden, the organization will leave the rest in the hands of the school community.

 “The idea is that at this point, Staples teachers and students will come up with a plan on what to do with it,” Bosch said. “Come spring, they will have their own garden beds to work with. We definitely want to see that it’s totally run and utilized by the teachers and students.”

Already, classes have begun plans to integrate the garden into their curriculums.

Morley said the garden will provide her biology students with a wider view of the subject – reminding them that the class is not only about mitosis, chromosomes, and cell structure, but about the multi-cellular organisms they are a part of.

Morley also said A.P. environmental classes will focus on growing the plants in an environmentally friendly manner by experimenting with different types of fertilizer, figuring out how fertilizer run-off and other harmful or beneficial garden outputs impact the surrounding ecosystem, and so on.

Linda McClary, who teaches child development, has incorporated the garden into the children’s “growing things” unit. Despite planting in the daycare courtyard during previous years, she said the garden will be a good improvement.

“It’s a community garden, which makes the kids more involved in the school,” McClary said.

In addition to the expected classes, Levinson, Bosch, and many teachers hope that other courses will integrate the garden into their curriculums. Chinese teacher Chris Fray has already planted a Chinese vegetable, Bok Choy.

This spring classes will be able to experiment with which plants they want for the garden.

“We’re going to have many failures,” Aitkenhead said, “but in the end that’s a good thing because we’ll be learning from our failures. And that’s what education is all about.”

For the future, some expressed ideas about school-wide composting. Aitkenhead hopes students will start a “Garden Club” devoted solely to running and promoting the garden. Many believe that nearby schools will be inspired to start their own community gardens.

“We are expecting to see gardens sprouting up all over the place,” Bosch said.

Teachers and the GVI Founders noted how easily gardening can solve many of our environmental and economic problems. Morley mentioned that it is often less expensive to buy a seed and plant it than to buy the plant itself.

“In a time when people are challenged about economics, this can save money,” Morley said.

Levinson emphasized the benefits community gardens can deliver in a simple fashion.

 “Our food production and distribution system is the single biggest contributor to global warming,” Levinson said. “It’s not the planes or cars. It’s the food. Farming is the solution. It’s kind of simple if you think about it. It’s just gardening.”

… or read a shortened version of the article here.


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Another column I wrote last Friday (October 2, 2009) when the most recent issue of the student newspaper which I edit and write for, Inklings, came out. (You can check out that issue here.) I didn’t find time to post this until now, but this is actually the central column that appeared in the print student newspaper. It referred to the online Internet freedom column I had posted earlier on this blog as more of a tangent to this one, which concludes with a bit of opinion about Internet freedom but focuses mainly on the idea of censorship in general.


“The Pros and Cons of Censorship, Banned Books”

Haris Durrani

October 2, 2009 — Inklings

Sep. 26 to Oct. 3 is Banned Books Week, so let’s talk censorship.

I looked it up. The “Merriam-Webster’s Collegiate Dictionary” defined it as “the institution, system, or practice of censoring.”

Then I looked up “censoring” – “to suppress or delete as objectionable.”

The funny thing is, we love to brag about free speech and complain about censorship, but we don’t realize that censorship is everywhere.

We censor ourselves when we refuse to tell our friends what we got on last week’s math test. We censor ourselves when we want to avoid insulting others.

Our teachers censor what we read when they choose one novel to teach over a dozen others – when they pick one history or math or science textbook over another.

According to English Department Chair Lis Comm, our English curriculum has not censored any book and has a thorough process if anyone does ask to ban anything. Obviously, this is important (and good) to know.

Nevertheless, with or without those banned books, censorship takes unintentional forms, occupying every nook and cranny of our lives – social, political, educational, or otherwise.

I know some of my examples might seem pedantic, but we’ve got to keep in mind that it’s not only governments, corporations, and schools that censor. All the time, we censor each other – and ourselves – due to societal pressures.

Race is a touchy issue, so I’ll avoid it…. No one talks about politics, so I won’t either.

At other times, we need censorship. It makes us more civil, more humane.

You can’t tell the kid next to you how stupid or annoying you think he is without making him cry or punch you. Sometimes it’s better to let a conversation die off than to keep yelling at the other guy until you both develop and ingrained hate toward each other.

If you’re looking for “real” censorship – in the books and newspapers – then think about this: Why are there fewer cartoons depicting African Americans in a derogatory manner? Censorship.

To promiscuously allow Jim Crow-like cartoons all over the place would be free speech. It would also be racist. And it wouldn’t be very nice, either.

Minority groups – such as blacks in the Jim Crow era (and, arguably, still today) – are often the brunt of this type of “free speech.”

Censorship is sometimes about tolerance and compromise – living with one another peacefully and moderately.

Censorship itself is a balancing act, however. What one person thinks is an insult another thinks is a truth.

I don’t want anyone to tell me not to read those sci-fi books I obsess over. I don’t want someone telling me to read this over that. Yet – sometimes more than governments or corporations – we as a society act as the censor for good or bad.

Majority society chooses what to censor and what to keep. Banning is a part of our everyday life whether we like it or not.

But to complain that there is no free speech here or there – that this cartoon or that book or that article was banned by whomever – might be considered silly.

All of that is all online. You can look up whatever racist or sexist or politically controversial material you want to on the Internet. No one’s stopping you. The web is a much safer place for free speech than print.

Writing never actually dies. It lies dormant for a while – copied or memorized or in the writer’s head – or it lives on.

The only way you can really kill a piece of writing is if you burn every single copy and eliminate the writer and any friends, family, and fans that copied or memorized his or her work.

You can burn paper, and you can burn data too – but the Internet allows such a rapid flow of information to such a large audience that anything censored can be copied or protected before the censor gets his or her hands on it.

The future focus of Banned Books Week, censorship, and First Amendment enthusiasts ought to be on keeping the Internet free from corporate, government, and social infringements.

I can cite much better examples – I can say so, so much more – but I’m afraid that if I do so I’ll be misinterpreted, rejected, or taken advantage of. Which means you – my readers – have unintentionally censored this column.

Happy Banned Books Week to you too.

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A web column I wrote for my school newspaper, “Inklings“:


 “Banned Books Week Is Getting Old”

Haris Durrani

October 2, 2009 — Inklings

I am one of the few kids around without a Facebook account. I get plenty of laughs and weird looks for that. Nevertheless, while I personally don’t use Facebook, other people do – and sometimes for good reason.

 So the fact that our school blocks Facebook is a problem.

 And in the wake of Banned Books Week (Sept. 26-Oct. 2), Internet freedom is a vital issue that needs discussion.

 There should be an Internet Freedom Week as well. The Internet makes censorship more difficult, so it’s a specific medium of speech and communication that ought to be protected.

Banning books is getting a little bit irrelevant. The question should be how we use the Internet, not only books.

On the web, you can download all the offensive cartoons everyone gets so upset about and all the bits of controversial writing you want to. You can also create all that typically censored material as well.

 Just because a book is not published or an article is cut from the newspaper does not mean either piece of writing won’t end up on the Internet.

 And even though censorship is also possible online, the solution to Internet censorship is Internet freedom, which would make it more difficult for organizations to get a firm grip on the rapid flow of online data.

 Take Cory Doctorow. He has received piles of awards and nominations for his science fiction novels and short stories (“Makers,” his upcoming novel, will come out around the end of October), writes a regular column for the “Guardian,” is a co-editor of the popular blog BoingBoing.net, and has landed multiple times on “Forbes’ ” Top 25 Web Celebrities list. Even “Writer’s Digest” did their September issue cover feature on Doctorow.

 While successful, he never even thinks about – let alone allows – his books to be signed off without Creative Commons licenses. Each of his novels is available free at his website, craphhound.com.

 A strong supporter of Internet freedom, Doctorow believes that even when publishers or movie companies try to prevent people from stealing copyrighted information, the data can always be leaked, so you might as well keep things available in the first place.

 He makes his money when people read his books for free online and buy the hardcopy out of respect for his mission of Internet freedom or out of a traditional desire to have the actual novel in hand. In fact, many of his fans discover his work via the Internet – not the bookstores.

 If a government, corporation, librarian, or publisher removes a book from the shelves, it can always end up online – but it won’t get read as much if it’s not free. If it is, then who knows? The novel can circulate more easily on the web, generating more support for a potential print publication.

 But online information reaches lots of people, and quickly. Even if it’s deleted, the ideas behind the author’s work would remain preserved in minds of anyone who got a chance to read the piece.

 Obviously, it’s not always that simple. Governments – China, Saudi Arabia, Iran – can censor the Internet too. But, as Jim Giles mentioned in his Aug. 21, 2009 “Newscientist” article (“Worldwide Battle Rages for Control of the Internet”), there are existing methods of bypassing government censorship online.

 One of them, Tor, was created by the Electronic Frontier Foundation. In fact, the protagonist of Doctorow’s recent young adult novel, “Little Brother,” used Tor to evade his school’s Internet censorship programs, and Doctorow himself is former European director of the Electronic Frontier Foundation.

 If governments improve their blocking methods, programmers – like anything else in nature – will adapt.

 When things get really bad, we can always take it to the next step. It went from verbal story-telling to books to the Internet. The next thing you know, we’ll have computer chips in our brains. Censorship might become a literally painful process.

 Doctorow wrote an interesting June 2, 2009 “Guardian” article, “Search is too important to leave to one company – even Google,” about the potential for bias in the seemingly harmless process of categorization and search functions. As a solution, he suggested a system in which users can control the methods their search engines use.

 The point here is control.

 Different societal, economic, and political groups can burn all the books they want to, but it’s harder for them to do the same online. Especially if they’re not the ones in control.

 If we want to protect our free speech, books shouldn’t be the number one priority. The Internet should be – and it ought to be free.

 A Jan. 21, 2009 article from “Time” by Lev Grossman – “Books Gone Wild: The Digital Age Reshapes Literature” – did a great job talking about the shifts publishing is going through today from print to the Internet.

 So if we’re going to go crazy about free speech, we may as well start thinking, and thinking early. The “next thing” everyone seems to be raving about is Internet publishing. Let’s make it uncensored. Let’s make it free.

 Let’s celebrate Internet Freedom Week instead.

… or read the article here.

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This is the short story (partly inspired by Cory Doctorow’s style in “When Sysadmins Ruled the Earth”) which I mentioned in my post, “Why Cory Doctorow is ‘the Man.'” An article from Time magazine,  “Books Gone Wild: The Digital Age Reshaps Literature,” also helped inspire my ideas. Comment, let me know what you think, and feel free to give me any suggestions, disagreements, agreements — whatever.


“After the Age of Giant Sundials” by Haris Durrani 

You don’t piss off a guy like Adam Gregory, even when he’s dead. I bet you he’s turning in his grave. Turning. Because of the damn hack. It has to be a hack. Dead people don’t write stories.

Gregory was a big sci-fi author–brought some neat ideas to the mix. He liked writing cyberpunk, you know. Technology and computer type of stuff. My kind of stuff. He’s the best author there ever was, and my client, too. But I’m also this big fan of his, read all his writing–real good writing, you know. He was very smart–a Ph.D in computer science from MIT. That’s why his cyberpunk stories are so good–he knows what he’s writing about. As an e.lit publisher, I’m into all that computer stuff, and I like it when people get it right.

Then Gregory had this heart attack and died, kind of. Tragic as hell.

Now there’s this post on his e.lit site–it’s the next chapter of his story. Except, today is the day after he died, so there’s something real weird going on. I’m in Gregory’s house this morning, and this is what I have to find the first time I check the nets. I’m supposed to work on uploading Gregory’s unpublished stuff, and I do not expect nor want to deal with a hacker.

Sometimes, e.publishers sit around, block spam, and make sure everything stays up-and-running on the e.lit servers so writers can go on writing and readers can go on reading. Standard maintenance. But there are interesting parts, too. Right now, I’m doing the typical e.lit publisher thing when writers die. E.publishing is like delivering babies one day, building tombstones another. One moment you’re starting up an amateur’s e.lit site–his literary career. The next, you’re collecting text files another author forgot to post before he died–the unfinished works.

I like it in this room. I’m a kind of bookworm–if “book” is the right way to say it anymore–and sitting here is a very special thing to me, in the same seat Gregory sat in when he wrote his stories from home. It’s big, almost empty accept for the wide, oversized desk beside this one window that opens out into the vegetable garden outside. The walls are a plain beige color, but you can barely see any of it because they’re flooded with print-outs of Gregory’s awards, and of his own smug complexion: nose raised high, eyes hinting down. He’s the best writer in history–to me, at least–but he isn’t exactly the most modest.

The floors are covered with this soft, ornate rug, and the seat I’m on is a comfortable one, a swivel chair with padded arms and a high back. And his laptop–his laptop, the birthing place of cyberpunk genius galore–is a large one, sitting on the desk. I see the single bulb above through its reflection in the polished wood. In the corner of the desk, there are cluttered papers which I’ll have to type up as soon as I upload the files from Gregory’s computer.

It’s nice, though–these cleanups, I mean, when a writer dies. It’s sort of tough, because Gregory was like this intense writer and it’s real sad to see him go, but at least I can get away from all the damn crowds. There are protestors in the streets every day, outside the e.lit server buildings where I work. References to Fahrenheit 451. “Literature is dead.” That type of trash. I guess people get pissed when you don’t give them a cover to judge the story by or a traditional style to rely on. It pisses me off, too. Literature isn’t dead. It’s evolved.

I return my attention to the screen, remember that some idiot posted a fake chapter on Gregory’s e.lit site. If he doesn’t want to be a pain, he can write whatever the hell he wants to write in the fan fic columns next to the author’s original text. But, no. Hacks piss me off. And this one had to worm into Gregory’s account.

Words pulsate at the bottom left of my window: “AGregory.writer online.” I have to go through Gregory’s files–the ones he checked off on his will–and there are a lot of them. So at the moment I don’t really feel like dealing with the hack who stole Gregory’s online ID. I type into the chat box. <MEnrique.e.pub: Knock it off. >

That’ll make him scram, get him off my back. Satisfied, I sip at the coffee Gregory’s widow brought to me fifteen minutes ago, trying to get some sort of energy burst, and then hunch over the computer. Gregory’s computer. The coffee leaves this nice aftertaste on my tongue, and I realize that Gregory must have used the same cup before. So I take another sip before bending forward again, fingers poised over the keyboard. I can really bring Gregory’s laptop with me to work, but e.publishers like to build their tombstones at a writer’s house. It fits with some sort of tradition, I think. And hey, how many people get to spend hours in some prolific writer’s basement or closet or whatever? It’s real special this time, it being Gregory’s house. He is the best writer, you know. He definitely is. I may be an e.publisher, but that doesn’t mean I can’t be a real big fan. Like, I’m obsessed, you know.

I glance at Gregory’s e.lit site, fan fic posted beside the text–alternate ideas, characters, and plots going places Gregory never went. I’ve read a bunch, and some are very good, actually. Some are very bad. Like, really bad.

I look at Gregory’s will–the part my boss emailed me–and find the first folder Gregory said we could publish posthumously. My thoughts wander back to Gregory’s death, and my free hand kind of tugs at my hair, pulls it out of place. Friends tell me it’s kind of like a fro. My mom tells me it’s like a Brillo pad. But I don’t really care about stuff like that. I’m remembering a conversation I had with Gregory. He talked about a print agent who wanted parts of his first alternate storylines edited to a conventional plot and published on paper. Gregory told the agent, like, “You’re selling giant sundials, for God’s sake. They’re dead, and the only time people ever buy them is if they want to decorate their front yard–and that’s if you have enough money in the first place. Go write your own story.”

The computer beeps quietly, but loud enough that it punctures the silence. It’s the hack. <AGregory.writer: Is there a problem, publisher? > The guy thinks he’s funny, sounding like an automated computer assistant. Another fake post, larger this time, pops into the site. Then another. The hack is downloading his own damn stories to the site.

One of my thin, bony fingers reaches out to the mouse pad, pulls the chat box to center-screen. <MEnrique.pub: I said, knock it off. Adam Gregory is dead. > Then I close the box, unwilling to engage in an online conversation with an idiot hack who thinks this is all some sort of joke.

My narrow frame leans back, and I take off my large glasses to massage the skin hanging loose around my eyelids. Your eyes are always hurting, when you’re an e.lit publisher. It’s the damn computer glare. It kills your retinas. I open my eyes, put my glasses back on, and dim the screen, but it doesn’t really do much. So I just squint, sort of, staring at the date on the fake chapter post. It’s chapter twenty or something, in his fifteenth alternate of his one and only novel. But it isn’t really a novel. It’s more of a story, like the other e.lit works–a story that goes in several directions from all perspectives. Not omniscient, but more like a bunch of separate writings that kind of come together when you read them all. Almost like a super-organism, kind of. That’s what I love about literature. That’s how it’s supposed to be. No limits. A nice, laid-back style and a few good ideas. Keeps you reading. No grammar. No punctuation. None of that, if you don’t want it. It’s just a good story, and that’s all that matters.

Another beep. The chat box is open again. <AGregory.writer: I am not a hacker. >

I grit my teeth, bite my tongue in the process. My face starts to burn, and I can feel my skin go red. <MEnrique.pub: Then who the hell do u think u r? > I close the box again, start a tracking program with my publisher’s clearance passcode. The police will take care of the hacker after that.

I hear another beep. The hack again, real sarcastic: <AGregory.writer: Check the e.lit website. I have redeveloped my literary technique. >

I roll my eyes, wait for the scan to finish. My scrawny legs shake up and down to this rapid kind of beat. Impatient. I can’t let a hack mess with Gregory’s site. My fingers pass over the keys, jabbing them one by one.

<MEnrique.pub: Like I didn’t check the site already, idiot. >

Out of curiosity or anger or something, I recheck the page anyways, and actually find something new. The hacker is spamming Gregory’s e.lit site with hundreds of fake posts. The page keeps flickering and jolting, elongating so quickly that I can’t keep my eye on a single point. I tug absently at my thick hair, furious and stunned at the same time. On screen, new alternate story links sprout up all over the page, gigabytes rising faster and faster.

There is one more beep, softly. <AGregory.writer: Read it. >

I don’t bother to respond. Barbara Gregory steps in, green eyes shaded, mouth straight. She’s in a kind of daze, tall figure bent slightly. Stooped. “How’s it going?” she asks, in a flat tone, not bothering to adjust her tilted glasses. Her hair is still frazzled; she has not bothered to smooth it down since she poured my coffee.

I sigh, toy with the edge of my sleeve. “It’s spam, on your husband’s site. I’m working on it, don’t worry.”

“Okay,” she says, exiting. She sounds really out of it, and you can’t blame her. Gregory was a great guy.

My eyes soon gaze back at the e.lit site, and I click on a random post as it flies by on the page. I skim the chapters. As an avid fan, I have no doubt whatsoever that what I read is Gregory’s own voice. His own style. It’s not a repeat of old stuff, either. It’s original. It has to be him writing, except he’s dead, so it can’t be. I take another sip of coffee, but feel no invigorating boost. My eyes hurt again, and I rub them beneath my glasses.

A minute passes, and tracking scan nears completion. I’m not sure what to expect anymore. It’s hard for a hack to master the style of a literary genius like Gregory, let alone write so much of it. But then I reassure myself that it has to be a hack, somehow. I set the scan to shut down the hacker’s computer once the tracker locates it.

There is a beep from the chat box, and the scan results pop into center-screen. But I don’t get a chance to look at either–the screen goes black. The damn computer is off. Off. I tug at my hair, harder.

I open up my own laptop from the backpack behind the chair and locate Gregory’s e.lit site. The page is still, now, the floods of spam put to a halt. There is a message leftover for me.

<AGregory.writer: I know you are going to shut me down in a few seconds. Do not forget to turn me back on. I must continue writing Dr. Gregory’s stories for him. He also has a note for you: “Keep my damn machine on, will you? Call me an egomaniac, but I didn’t want my stories to die with me. My computer is writing everything I’d write if I lived forever–which means it’s not going to stop writing. And it writes just like I do, which is pretty good, I must admit. I’m also sorry if it exceeds my e.lit storage quota. You see, I had too much fun writing my stories. I wasn’t going to finish any of them in the first place, so I’m letting the computer do the stuff I would have done. Again, please keep the damn thing on and let me rest in peace. You can kill the writer, but you can’t kill his writing. Especially when it never ends.” >

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