Friday, June 30, 2006

Remember "A Rose for Emily"?

Today on CNN: Police find skeleton in home of woman, 80.

When I read this headline on CNN this morning my first thought was William Faulkner's short story "A Rose for Emily".

Talk about creepy!

Tuesday, June 27, 2006

The End of Harry Potter

Big Harry Potter news today on CNN (Rowling hints Harry Potter might die) and FoxNews (Rowling Says Two Characters Will Die in Final Harry Potter Book). The second headline is more accurate. For the video and/or complete transcript check out the two fan sites of which J. K. Rowling approves: Muggle Net and The Leaky Cauldron.

Speaking of web sites, Rowling has a very nice web site with trivia and other fun things, but it doesn't include what we really want to know: when she'll be done writing the last book! (She really doesn't need a news section since any comment she makes is quickly snatched up by the media and reported as news.) According to The Leaky Cauldron, Rowling will probably finish the last book next year.

The new movie, Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix, also won't be out until next year. I was hoping for the movie this year, to make waiting for the last book a little easier. Darn!

Sunday, June 25, 2006

What I'm Watching: The Da Vinci Code

Last Thursday I saw The Da Vinci Code for the second time. I hardly ever see movies at the theater any more, so that alone should tell you how much I liked it. It's very well done and follows the book closely. The cast and directing are excellent and Sir Ian McKellan (as Sir Leigh Teabing) nearly steals the show!

I've asked a couple of friends who have seen the movie but haven't read the book if they had any trouble following the plot. They did not, but of course it's even more fun it you have read the book.

Speaking of the book, here is my two cents: I don't know why people are so worked up over a book of fiction. Everywhere I look churches are having meetings to discuss The Da Vinci Code. I'd feel better if I thought they were actually reading it and making up their own minds, but I suspect that (like my aunt's church) it's just the minister telling his congregation why they shouldn't read such heratical lies.

They are missing two crucial points: 1. It's a work of fiction, and 2. Just because Dan Brown wrote it does not mean that he believes it or that he is promoting the destruction of Christianity (as some Evangelical denominations and Catholics seem to think).

How do I know it's fiction? Duh. It's in the fiction section in the bookstore. If it were real it would be in the religion or history section. Also, take a look at the copyright page (on the back of the title page). The keywords section lists the book as fiction; it also includes the usual disclaimer that "All of the characters in this book are fictious, and any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, is entirely coincidental."

What about the "Facts" page at the beginning of the book? Well, those facts are basically true. There was a Priory of Scion in 1099, Opus Dei does exist, and Brown describes the architecture of the settings well. Other than that, assume any details are fiction.

The "Facts" page is a way to get the reader's attention. It's no different than the author claiming to have found the enclosed manuscript under mysterious circumstances (or inherited it or whatever) and publishing it. This is just the author having fun with the reader by pretending that the characters and events are real, but that doesn't mean they are real.

For example, two of my favorite mystery authors, Laurie King and Elizabeth Peters, use this technique in their popular series. Does this mean readers think Sherlock Holmes, Mary Russell, Radcliff Emerson, and Amelia Peabody were real? Heck no! We know it's just good, wholesome fun and enjoy it.

Maybe average readers of The Da Vinci Code don't recognize this literary technique because they don't read much. They pick up the book because they've heard so much about it and assume it's all true, and overlooking the fact that it's in the fiction section.

The thing that makes The Da Vinci Code so controversial and such a best-seller is the inclusion of a theory about Jesus. One of Dan Brown's previous books, Angels and Demons, is similar to The Da Vinci Code and is about a cover-up by the Vatican. It's very good but not nearly as controversial as The Da Vinci Code. Why not? No radical Jesus theory. Throw in a controversial theory about Jesus and you've got an instant best-seller. (Remember the movie The Last Temptation of Christ?)

The irony is that the main thing some people object to in The Da Vinci Code, the idea that Jesus and Mary Magdalene married and had a child, isn't even Dan Brown's idea! He even explains in the text that it comes from Holy Blood, Holy Grail (by Michael Baigent and Richard Leigh, who sued Brown and lost). Their book sold well but wasn't an international cultural phenomena like Brown's. Why? Probably because it's in the non-fiction section. (It probably should be in the fiction section since serious Biblical scholars and historians don't see it as a reliable source. I haven't read it, so I personally can't vouch for it one way or the other.)

The Da Vinci Code should be read for what it is: an interesting, entertaining, and well-written thriller. I enjoy it for those reasons but I also like the fact that it makes readers think and probably even read other books.

Wednesday, June 21, 2006

At Last! Coffee I can Stand

I've always thought coffee was proof that God has a sense of humor. How could something that smells so wonderful taste so awful?! The only way I can drink it is to load it down with sugar and milk -- and if I'm going to do that, I'd rather waste those calories on something I actually like.

Finally, someone has added something that makes coffee palatable: Coca-Cola. Meet Coke Blak:

"Coke Effervescence With Coffee Essence!"

I've tried it and while it's not quite as sweet as regular Coke, it's too sweet for me. (I am used to Diet Coke.) It is good though. I'm just hoping it will be so successful they will come out with Diet Coke Blak. :)

How NOT To Start a Life Together

Want to better the odds of a happy life together? Here's now not to start a relationship:
  • Lie to your parents
  • Run away from home (extra demerits if involves a foreign country; treason if it involves a city or country that supports terrorists)
  • Drop out of high school and work delivering for your dad's convenience store
  • Spend five hours a day looking for an American wife on the Internet (be sure to use "psycho" in your screen name!)
  • Base your choice of a spouse on that person's taste in music
Sound familiar? The more I read about Katherine Lester and Abdullah Jimzawi, the more amazed I am at their stupidity.

The latest news is that he's heartbroken (
Palestinian Anguishes Over MySpace Romance) and she could be charged as a runaway (Teen involved in Web romance charged with being a runaway).

The sad part is that they probably really are surprised by the ramifications of their actions. And why isn't anyone concerned that naive American girls are targets for men who want to enter the US by marrying a citizen? Debbie Schlussel thinks so: read her blog entry on Muslim marriage scams. (Thank you dr/tbb who posted this in the comments section of my first post on this story.)

Disclaimer: I know that not all Muslims are terrorists seeking entrance to the US, so don't bother lecturing me in political correctness. I'm concerned about the radical minority who are terrorists. Remember September 11, 2001?

Friday, June 16, 2006

Stephen Hawking Quote

Today on FoxNews: a great quote from Stephen Hawking:
He urged people with physical disabilities not to give up on their ambitions.

"You can't afford to be disabled in spirit as well as physically," he said. "People won't have time for you."
What a great attitude from someone with such a debilitating disease! He also talked about his speech software. Of course, his disease wasn't the point of the article but he was very open when answering questions about it.

For the complete story read: Hawking: Pope John Paul II Argued Against Studying Origin of Universe.

Thursday, June 15, 2006

'It's a Wonderful Life' Most Inspiring Film

Today on FoxNews: "George Bailey's brother proclaimed him the richest man in Bedford Falls. Now the story of the despondent businessman, who got a chance to see how ugly the world would be without him, has been proclaimed the most inspiring American movie."

No surprise there! Like millions of others, I love this film. I don't even know how many times I've seen it and I still cry every time I see the end. That's quality movie-making.

My favorite sentimental and not-so-subtle quotes:
Clarence: Strange, isn't it? Each man's life touches so many other lives. When he isn't around he leaves an awful whole, doesn't he? ... You see, George, you really had a wonderful life.

Harry: A toast to my big brother George, the richest man in town!

Dear George,
Remember, no man is a failure who has friends. Thanks for the wings!
What about you? What are your favorite quotes, scenes, moments? Feel free to leave a comment... and don't feel like you have to wait until Christmas to enjoy this wonderful film!

MySpace or Bad Parenting?

I'm sure that by now you've heard about Katherine Lester, the 16-year-old who lied to her parents about needing a passport for a trip to Canada, then hopped on a plane for Jordan to meet and marry 20-year-old Abdulla Jinzawi, some guy she met on If you don't already know, MySpace is popular on-line social network for teenagers.

I don't know who is more stupid here, Katherine or her parents. I know teenagers think they know everything while being amazingly naive, but this takes the cake. According to the latest news on this story, Family of Mideast Man Upset By MySpace Teen Bride's No-Show, she was supposed to sign a marriage contract as soon as she got off the plane, convert to Islam (wear a head covering, etc.), and live with Abdulla and his family in Jericho. This girl clearly has no idea of the cultural and religious mores that she would be expected to live by, or the danger of simply being an American in the Middle East. (Disclaimer: I know not all Muslims are terrorists; I know that not all Muslim/Middle Eastern cultures treat women as property/second class citizens; however, life in Jericho would be very different than life in Michigan and Katherine probably doesn't realize how difficult returning to the US might be if she changes her mind later).

Katherine's parents and family are stunned. They had no idea what she was planning, or how she could simply get on a plane and end up in the Middle East. Duh. Flying doesn't have an age requirement. Aren't they more concerned about where she got the money for the ticket and hotels? Didn't they know what she was doing on the Internet and who she was talking to? I know that since I'm not a parent some people will say I don't have right to criticize, that parents can't watch their kids every minute, etc. Based on observations of my friends with children, I beg to differ. Parents can and should know what web sites their kids are visiting and who they are talking to.

Katherine's parents obviously didn't do that. They must have also missed the April 9 episode of Dateline: MySpace Invader: A police detective shows teens and their parents that they're not as safe on MySpace as they think. They also clearly never visited MySpace, nor read its Safety Tips for users or Tips for Parents (which includes a link to remove their child's profile from MySpace).

If Katherine's stupidity was unbelievable, her parents' was even worse. No wonder the family is hiding from the media! All I know is this: if she belonged to one of my friends (or my brother!) she'd never be allowed to use the Internet again.

Thursday, June 08, 2006

Survey: College Kids Like iPods Better Than Beer

According to an AP story today College Kids Like iPods Better Than Beer.* Apple should be proud. Seriously. Considering the number of college students who devote their time to drinking, this is a major accomplishment. And iPods are much safer than beer. iPods are unlikely to cause binge-drinking and other alcohol-related stupidity (drinking and driving, falling out windows, alcohol poisoning, etc.) Hoo-ray Apple! Good job! Keep those iPods coming!

* This link goes to the FoxNews version. Boycott the CNN version with its hideous apostrophe error ("Undergrad's" instead of "Undergrads")!

Sunday, June 04, 2006

Bird Flu Strikes Florida

Here's another e-mail joke that was so good I had to share. I'm glad someone has a sense of humor about this!

My theory: the danger of bird flu, like SARS, is greatly exaggerated by the media. For reliable information about it go to the Center for Disease Control.

Saturday, June 03, 2006

Podcasts vs. Lectures

In "Podcast Lectures for Uni Students" the BBC describes how "a lecturer at a West Yorkshire university has abolished traditional lectures in favour of podcasts." I find this idea simultaneously intriguing and horrifying.

I love listening to podcasts and would probably really like it if one of my teachers did this. One of my favorite podcasts, Podvet, is designed for veterinary students and other people who love animals. (Warning: if you visit this site you need to know there is at least one graphic photo of a dog's injuries. You can avoid this by subscribing through iTunes.)

As an instructor, however, I hate the idea of making podcasts. I can't stand listening to a recording of my own voice! I also get the impression that while creating a podcast is easy (especially on a Mac), editing can be time-consuming and hosting it can be expensive, especially if you need to keep buying more bandwidth. At our U that probably wouldn't matter since I'd post any audio files in Blackboard where only my own students could access them, but apparently bandwidth is a common problem with many podcasts.

In short, I'll continue to enjoy listening to podcasts, but don't expect to see them added to my classes any time soon!