Monday, July 30, 2007

Harry Potter is not the epitome of literature

I'm going to go out on a limb here. Harry Potter is not deserving of the hype that it has received. I'm saying this as a person who has read every book and will probably see every movie.

I'm writing this in response to what I see as alarming. There is a phenomenon of Harry Potter being listed as a favorite on Facebook. This strikes me as wacky. Are these people actually reading these books and thinking that they love these books as their true favorite, or are they actually just enjoying this pulp because they're easy to read, and they're just one of the few things that they have read? Is the truth so depressing: that that an alarmingly high number of people just don't have the time to read much, and consequently consider these books, just a few books really, as their favorites? The fact that The Catcher in the Rye is another favorite is similarly alarming, considering that this is a book mandated widely for classes in high school, and which seems to appeal to so many for the shallow reason that Salinger wrote it in slangy conversational prose. The Catcher in the Rye is truly a fantastic book, but I don't jump to that conclusion for the pathetic reason of suffering being too intellectually lazy to appreciate proper grammar for communication.

I should say that I can find redeeming qualities in the Harry Potter series. There is definitely a little bit of rare and good language used to expand the vocabulary for any reader of the book, language not used in everyday conversation, but keep in mind, this is a very little bit. There are somewhat complex plots and subplots, and the dialogue makes the reader discern subtleties, but this stuff isn't original. These stories are fine for an adolescent who is developing a habit of reading, in a context of decent escapism mixed with those situations, good and bad, with which everyone can identify.

With that said, I see a serious problem when the content of this series seen as the epitome of literature, especially considering that these books have repackaged ideas and themes from earlier, if not better, works. There's nothing wrong with this practice alone. Many celebrated fairy tales have many earlier, different versions. The Harry Potter series provides fun, light reads I suppose, but these novels are forgettable for a person who actually takes the time to read more books than those ones where the motivation for their reading arises out of curiosity from the inexplicable explosion of popularity. There's no doubt in my mind that the licensing to Warner Bros. also pushed Harry Potter's popularity to an undeserving level. For however popular those early books were, the ones that came later in the series gained popularity they didn't deserve, popularity not achieved by the merit of the texts themselves, but the associated synergy of media. How many times in history have other books had the parties and thrilling premieres and hype surrounding them before anyone read them? I count zero. This blinded devotion to the texts before anyone had read them reeks of the fact that these books were formulaic. People could get excited about them because they knew what they were getting before they read them.

Now, in all honesty, I enjoyed the ride, but I'm glad that this series is finished. I think that the conventional wisdom that J.K. Rowling got kids to start reading again should be questioned heavily before accepted. Reading one book per year for seven years doesn't form a healthily habitual thirst for knowledge and information. Let's take all this energy put into Harry Potter and diversify what we read.

If you're interested in what I've said here, another blogger from a respectable magazine has some thoughts.

Sunday, July 29, 2007

Farm Subsidies Do Not Serve Their Intent

This is an issue that I've followed a little bit. I have found farm subsidies to be counterproductive and harmful, but now it has been brought to my attention that they don't even accomplish what they are promoted to do, to provide a safety net for independent farmers. That's not what's happening.

Thursday, July 26, 2007

Beware of "Keep the Change"

I haven't seen any of the advertisements on television for Bank of America's Keep the Change program, but while at the bank today, I received the pitch.

In case you're unfamiliar with this program, I'll explain. The teller told me that if you have a checking account and a savings account, which I do, you would be eligible to enroll in the Keep the Change program. It works like this. Every time you swipe your debit card to pay for an item, you pay more for the item, rounding up to the nearest dollar. The extra money you pay goes into your savings account, which the bank then doubles. Let's say you buy a sandwich for $5.20. You pay with your debit card $6.00. That extra $0.80 is put into the savings account, and then the bank gives you another $0.80 in that account!

It sounds like a great deal. I told the teller that it sounded too good to be true. I didn't sign up, but I was interested, so I took a pamphlet for perusal later.

Alas, it was too good to be true. After checking the fine print, I discovered that Bank of America will only match at 100% that extra fraction of a dollar you're paying for three months. After that, it's only 5%. This is the very definition of false advertising. There was no asterisk beside any of the points in the pamphlet that said that they would match that extra change, 100%. Well they do, but only for three months.

Now, it still could be worth it, but for those of us who have limited budgets, all that extra money adds up, money that you can't spend, unless you want to go through the hassle of constantly keeping track of how much extra money you had to pay in a transaction and transferring it back to the checking account with the debit card. Is it worth the hassle for 100% for three months, and then 5% after that? I've given you the facts. You decide.

Obesity is contagious

Obesity has been found to be contagious. It sounds pretty stupid I know. It sounds to me as if it might be contagious in the same way that drinking alcohol for fun is, which is to say, not at all. These sensationalist headlines are getting more and more ridiculous. People can take responsibility for themselves, and must not use the nonsense of an excuse that this is contagious like influenza.

A Joke

How many surrealists does it take to screw in a lightbulb?


I found this on a gadget from iGoogle.

The Big Lebowski Action Figures

These may be the most important action figures ever made.

Wednesday, July 25, 2007

Fair Wages for Unfair Wages

Because I made fun of Republicans the other day, I should now chastise those unabatedly irritating self-aggrandizing liberals. They've been into some shenanigans like paying homeless people to protest about unfair wages. This is without benefits! How could they?

Excuse me, what is an unfair wage? In a free society there is no one holding a gun to someone's head saying that they have to work at any particular company. A truly fair wage is one agreed upon by both the employer and the employee. What could be fairer?

Tuesday, July 24, 2007

Top GunBound player kidnapped for his account

The fact that a gamer was kidnapped at gunpoint for his account would be interesting enough, but this was the best player of a specific game, a game that I wasted far too many hours on a while back, titled GunBound. It's fascinating to me that an account like that would be the target for theft, let alone a crime in the physical world. What is so valuable about that account, other than the fact that it is the highest rank? What applicable meaning would it mean to have it, and furthermore, what would one gain from it by stealing it? It's not like the kidnapper would then suddenly have the skills that the true owner acquired from actually ascending to that rank. It's not like that account could be sold for real money, especially if it was reported to Softnyx, and since it hit the news, I couldn't imagine that that didn't happen. The whole thing stinks, but this is a signal of a fascinating time we're in where a computer gamer can accumulate something, anything valuable enough to attract a grave crime in the real world.

Soda is bad for you? Get out of here!

So apparently there is this new study that has been put out, linking the consumption of about one can of soda per day to metabolic syndrome, and it doesn't matter whether or not this is diet soda.

Now a quick glance at Wikipedia informs me that metabolic syndrome is a pretty broad condition. Pinning metabolic syndrome on daily consumption of soda is like pinning any one specific thing to obesity, or heart disease.

Just so you know, the article clarifies that metabolic syndrome isn't one thing, but consists of "high blood pressure, high cholesterol, excess fat around the abdomen and glucose intolerance." Could it be that maybe, just maybe, the soda is a signal for other factors that would lead to this? Correlation is not synonymous with causation. A doesn't necessarily affect B, and B could even affect A. For this situation however, it's more likely that C affects both A and B, where C is the fact that someone indulging in soda daily may have other unhealthy habits. That's what my money would be on, especially since it doesn't matter whether or not the soda was diet or not. Realistically, most people who are serious about the health usually avoid all habitual soda consumption. The diet stuff isn't much better. The full effects of aspartame and sucralose are still disputed, and caffeine is just bad, no matter how you drink it. People conveniently forget that caffeine is a highly addictive drug that causes high blood pressure.

At the same time, a person can be quite healthy and drink soda occasionally, but that person should also keep in mind that regular sodas, not diet sodas, consist of water that has basically reached its saturation point of sugar. Your pancreas, liver, and heart hate you every time you down a gulp of Mountain Dew.

This was also an observational study. It wasn't hard science. Dig beyond sensationalist headlines, and you'll find a tiny bit of journalistic integrity left saying, "But not really." The article has this bit, " However, because this was an observational study, Vasan's group could not discern any evidence that drinking soft drinks actually caused the metabolic syndrome."

So there you have it. This article is garbage, but for the fact that it was a slow day for news, it spread virally through the media.

For full disclosure, even though I try to avoid soda, root beer is my kryptonite. I do however, avoid all caffeine. Coffee to me has always tasted disgusting, and I steer clear of soft drinks that have caffeine for the simple reason of abstaining from any unnecessary drugs. Seltzer is always good, unless you pour it all over your keyboard.

Sunday, July 22, 2007

Harry Potter Party

When is the last time anyone ever saw a bookstore like this? If you've been to a premiere of a Harry Potter book before, maybe you have, but I have not. I decided to attend with a couple of friends for this opportunity that only arrives once in a lifetime, for the final book.

Draft College Republicans!

Take seven minutes or so to watch a dude make Republicans look totally idiotic, even if it's a feat that's not so difficult to accomplish.

Tuesday, July 10, 2007

Find out who has donated to presidential campaigns

By law, a record of each campaign contribution must be made available to the public. I know that you can check contributions on the New York Times website. I haven't made a contribution, but just to let you know what kind of nut I am, I am considering contributing to Ron Paul's campaign.

Monday, July 9, 2007

Wacky Food Review of P.B. Loco: Dark Chocolate Duo

This stuff is the first of these peanut butters that I've been reviewing that actually has a different color than that of normal peanut butter due to the added featured ingredient. It's smooth like peanut butter, but it's darker, brown from the dark chocolate. I opened the container and smelled inside. This smelled of very dark chocolate, bitter even. I like that, but I know some people don't. This isn't your normal milk chocolate like you find in a Hershey bar. This is the good raw bitter stuff. When tasted, it's sweet, so it's not like you're biting into a cacao plant, but it's quite dark indeed.

Monday, July 2, 2007


Sometimes, it's pretty cool to look twice at a concept. Take comedy for example. Has anyone really given thought to how amazing it really is? I don't study this stuff, but as far as I know, animals don't experience any kind of emotion like amusement or humor. It's all instict. Their brains aren't developed enough to process such an event. Of course, we still haven't pinpointed every single feature of animal behavior. We haven't translated dolphin language, and we can only communicate with apes by sign language, if we teach it to them. Apes are probably the most interesting being our closest animal relatives. A simple search on Google doesn't return anything about how apes or monkeys of any kind can experience humor, but it does give lots of things that derive humor from apes themselves.

I know that there has been scientific research to suggest that people who laugh generally find happiness. There are health benefits. I'm talking about real, genuine laughter, not nervous laughs or some kind of character trait. When deeply considered, it's pretty fascinating that our brains can analyze a situation, all sorts of different ones, and derive some pleasure from it. It's fairly inexplicable. You can describe why something is funny, but it's difficult to describe how something is funny.

Even the mechanism of laughter is completely bizarre. It's strenuous breathing with odd jaw movements, or a simple little breath with a mouth movement, or even just a sound, but everyone can recognize laughter.

I don't really know where I'm going with this, but I just figured that readers of this blog should take some time to stop and appreciate the simple things. If you're interested, you should check out Wikipedia's pages on comedy and laughter.