Thursday, June 26, 2003

HP Revisited Stick to what you know ...

Some things never cease to amaze me.

Take as an example that a "children's book" sold 5 million copies on Saturday alone. Amazing.

Another example is that kids age 3 and up love Harry Potter and what he represents. Astounding.

Then there's the fact that a former destitute transformed her life while using a character she created in her mind as a bridge to help kids love to read.

Oh, and then there's the fact that some zealots want to tear down that bridge.

"Harry Potter is a tool of the devil," they say. "Those books push children into the occult (or satanism or witchcraft - whatever. take your pick)."

Anyone that listened to my show on Monday heard a conversation that I had - first with a woman who basically stated the above - then with a man who agreed and asked if I'd read the Bible.

For those who missed Monday's show, let me explain:

I mentioned the Potter phenomenon and asked callers opinions of it. I think it's awesome that there would be so much interest in a BOOK (see previous column).

Well as goes so often, my callers aren't interested in what I want to talk about. They've got their own things going on.

But then about half way through - a little more really - a woman called and explained her point (that Potter was an intro to witchcraft). She and I disagreed and had an amicable divorce. She went her way. I mine.

Next caller (paraphrased): "I agree. There's good and there's evil. You ever read the Bible?"

Me (again paraphrased): "Yeah. I've read the Bible. It doesn't mention Harry Potter."

Caller: "Well he's evil."

As with the previous caller, I asked if he had ever read any of the five exquisite books put out by author J.K. Rowling. In a word: No.

And here's the crux. How can you make a judgment on something that you admittedly know nothing about?

A better question: How can you bear witness to an event you have not seen?

Some people are so quick to tear down that they don't even watch to see what's being built.

It's like when it's not their turn to talk, just turn around, put their hands over their ears an hum.

Then when it is their turn, they shout as loud as they can.

Look, I could understand if a parent read one of the five books in the Potter series and said, "No, this isn't for my kids. It's too (dark, violent, whatever)."

But to not read it and say the same in unconscionable.

And while we're at it, I'm sorry, but the whole notion that HP would turn kids into witches or sorcerers.

A parallel argument would be that anyone who went to see Hulk over the weekend could decide to become a big green monster with a bad temper.

And I must admit - from the previews that looked like a bad movie - but I'm not going to tell people not to go see it just because I think it looks bad from the outside.

Tuesday, June 24, 2003

Harry Potter: The literary Giant ...

Some people seem to be under the impression that "Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix" is a mere book.

They're wrong.

HP5, as many people are calling the fifth installment of the saga, is proof that the lowly art of novel writing can compete against the glamour and glory of movie making or sports.

It's evidence, in my opinion, that kids still have imaginations. Furthermore, it stands as a testimonial that parents and children alike can enjoy things together.

I came late to this whole Potter phenomenon - didn't even recognize his existence until about four years ago, when the third book was coming out.

A colleague of mine at the time (I was working at an ultra-small newspaper in Shelby, Ohio) was all jazzed up about getting this book, "Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban."

I couldn't understand her enthusiasm. I mean, it was JUST A BOOK. A children's book, nonetheless. And she was all in a tizzy - going to get it the day it came out or something silly. A book, I tell you.

Now there was one cool thing about Harry Potter at the time. He sparked great discussions because some people said he was inspiring children to be evil pagan witches or something. And I recall thinking at the time that even it was was JUST A BOOK, it was nice to see that it was creating debate.

My love for debate is nothing new, you see.

So she got the book. She read the book. And she said Harry Potter didn't turn anyone into witches or wizards.

A year later, a fourth Potter book came out. And a year after that the movie of the first Harry Potter book - "Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone" - was made.

Now movies, those are more my speed.

I had heard a lot of good things about the whole Potter phenomenon and thought that maybe I'd like to take my daughter Emily to see it. Emily was about 4 1/2 at the time.

I had heard from some people that it was kind of scary and might not be really appropriate for Emily, which kind of bummed me out.

So I decided to test it. I'd read the book to see if it would be too much for Emily.

And if the book wasn't too scary, we'd go see the movie.

I got the book shortly before the movie came out in theaters, hoping to have it read before the movie came out.

I got it read before the movie came out, alright.

And I got the second book - which I flew through, straight to book three ... and four.

I read in public a lot, and people would politely ask was I was reading. I was always very receptive to telling them.

"Oh, I'm reading the third Harry Potter book. It's phenomenal," I would gush.

Some people would light up immediately. They understood my excitement.

Other would sort of roll their eyes or snicker: "Isn't that a children's book?"

Even my wife didn't understand at first. She was all trapped in her high-brow Oprah-approved novels. And here was me reading what could have been the equivalent of "Cat in the Hat" for all she cared.

But I got her to read one. And like me, she read all four lickety split.

Now, my wife likes to read anyway. I don't know if it's a woman thing or if she's trying to escape the boredom that I offer her or what. But she's always at the library getting something new.

Me? I write for a living so reading for pleasure isn't something that I tended to do.

But after I got done reading the fourth book I was into a cycle. I finished a book so that meant time to start another. And although it wasn't quite as interesting as

Harry Potter, I've basically been reading since I began reading that first Potter book nearly two years ago.

Harry Potter changed my life.

Okay, maybe not that dramatic, but it got me reading more. And that's nothing to scoff at.

So don't tell me that "Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix" is a mere book.

Especially if you haven't read it.

Tuesday, June 17, 2003

Truth in numbers ...

A conservative talk show host rips into a tree-hugger on live TV. Meanwhile, half a world away, innocent children are ripped into shreds by a bomb made in Littleton, Colo., the town where two disturbed children gunned down their classmates and trees were later planted in the children’s honor.

Coincidence? Or ...

(Cue music)

I have no idea what that little fantasy opening does, but it seemed fitting when I wrote it.

Today we’re going to take some random facts and the numbers associated with them — mainly because there’s some irony to be found.

* 3,248 — Domestic violence reports filed in Niagara County in 2002. Considering the county has a population of about 220,000, that’s a really disturbing number. About 1.5 percent of Niagarans filed a domestic violence report. So if you’re in a store with 66 other people, it’s likely one of them called the police last year on a member of the family.

* 3,240 — Number of civilians killed in Iraq, according to a recent report by The Associated Press.

* 3,240 — Total of Israelis and Palestinians (civilians and soldiers) killed in fighting since September 2000, according to news.com.au.

Yes, I realize those two numbers are exactly the same. It’s ironic if nothing else. What do you make of it?

* 46 — American soldiers killed since President George W. Bush declared an end to the major fighting in Iraq on May 1. That’s one a day.

* $64 billion — Cost of the war as of this morning (to the nearest billion).

* $40 million — Approximate amount of the preceding number that’s coming from the Western New York area. We could have given health coverage to 17,000 kids this year for the same price.

* $4.8 billion — Worth of NYC Mayor Michael Bloomberg.

* $127 million — Buffalo’s anticipated budget deficit in the year 2007.

* $800,000 — Amount of money U.S. Rep. Darrell Issa, R-Calif., has spent trying to get Gov. Gray Davis recalled.

* 5,553 — Height of the soon-to-be Mount Reagan in New Hampshire.

* 5 — Number of years a person is supposed to be dead before a mountain is named after them, according to the federal process.

* 1984 — What America’s starting to look like, thanks in large part to Attorney General John Ashcroft and the PATRIOT Act USA.

* 57 — Percent of people who think W is doing a good job, according to a recent Quinnipiac poll.

* 1 — Number of people who wrote me an e-mail last week complaining about my referring to the president as “W,” which I thought was relatively universal.

* 43 — Another nickname for our president. (He’s our 43rd president. Most people who call him 43, also refer to his father as 41. The Presidents Bush gave themselves these nicknames).

* 43 — Number of columns I’ve written for this publication if you include my first column about Cappy, the happy mannequin in the boat on the Tri-Way Bridge.

* 36 — New York Gov. George Pataki’s approval rating, according to a recent poll by the Siena Research Institute.

* 100 million — Number of people who voted in 2000 (rounded to the nearest million).

* 5 — Real number of votes George W. Bush needed to propel himself into the White House.

* 4 — Number of months it has been since MSNBC announced it would employ Jesse “The Body” Ventura as a talk show host — a job he has yet to begin.

* 3 — Number of people who made the decision to further erode the barrier between your media and big business when the Federal Communications Commission voted to allow further media consolidation.

* Zero — Weapons of mass destruction found in Iraq as of the writing of this column.

Tuesday, June 10, 2003

Shock and awe ... for a cause ...

Recently a rapper who goes by the name Paris unveiled new album. The record, entitled "Sonic Jihad," shows a picture of a jet liner flying into the White House.

On Paris' Web site, GuerrillaFunk.com, he has a note which reads, "Upset by the cover? You should be, but for the right reasons. Read about the Bush Administration's involvement and the real motives behind the Attacks on America here."

The link goes on to claim that the president was not only aware, but involved, in the Sept. 11 attacks because he needed the United States to have an enemy in the middle east so we could go harvest opium and oil and so the White House could inflict war-time rules upon the American people to allow them to get away with dirty deeds.

While I may not be a fan of W., I must admit Paris' concept of reality sounds somewhat far fetched to me.

But it's worth noting that while nothing on his Web site states as much, I'm sure that Paris drew up his album cover in hopes of shocking and aweing people into digesting his message.

Apparently, it worked. I took note and I passed his message on to you.

But do you think the tactic of shocking - or even angering - people in order to get your message across is OK? Or do you think it's wrong to do such a thing?

There are two types of people that shock us, I believe: Those who shock us to get across their message, like Paris, for example; and those who shock us because the like the effect. It excites them to see other people get upset, offended or what have you.

I have no use for the shock-gratia-shockis types (shock for the sake of shock in bastardized Latin).

Examples galore of this type of propaganda permeates our society. Can you say Madonna? How about Howard Stern? How about 6,604 other "artists" or "talk show hosts?"

The quotation marks are meant to illustrate a point.

Welcome to the Spin Zone, Bill O'Reilly style.

O'Reilly, a self-proclaimed talk show host and purveyor of the "truth," lives to see his own ugly face on the news.

Take for example a spat that O'Reilly got into with Al Franken - at the recent Book-Expo America convention of all places.

Franken, author of "Lies and the Lying Liars Who Tell Them: A Fair and Balanced Look at the Right," (Which feature's O'Reilly's mug on the cover, I might note), dared to challenge O'Reilly's claim that he's a centrist.

Well, you don't speak ill of Bill O'Reilly unless you want to be the subject of his show for the next week or two (ask Michael Moore).

O'Reilly calls Franken an idiot and pretends to be upset, all-the-while loving the attention, which one could clearly see he loves for the sake of attention. Or shock for the sake of shock, if you would.

But shock-for-a-cause is just fine by me.

Someone who makes a ruckus to point out a society ill is justified in doing so, in my opinion.

Drawing attention to what you percieve to be the world's evils in hopes of curing those evils is simply being a good citizen.

It's unfortunate, though, that we don't reward our good citizens.

In the post 9/11 era, we aren't free to have open dialog on a variety of topics, first and foremost, the ongoings at 1600 Pennsylvania Ave.

Rather than thank those with differing opinions for allowing us to have a look from another angle, we burn their books and demonstrate outside their concerts.

Ironicly, the heat from those book burnings and concert demonstrations are likely to start a fire up under someone who will continue to carry out their cause.

Some people shout to make sure you know they're talking.

Some people shout to make sure you can't hear anyone else talking.

And some people shout to make sure you can get their message - whether or not you want to.

That's Sonic Jihad.

Tuesday, June 03, 2003

Spend your money wisely or you may not live to regret it

Last week the president signed a bill that will reduce taxes by $350 billion over 10 years.

That signature triggered a process that will result in a check for $800 — $400 for each of my beautiful daughters — landing in my mailbox over the next couple months.

That’s great!

Right?

I didn’t support the monstrous $726 billion tax cut that W. had wanted. I also didn’t support the $550 billion that the House of Representatives had approved. Nor did I support the $350 billion figure that the Senate came to, the one that ended up being the landing pad.

The fact of the matter is, this country is in dire financial straits, and while I tend to think that the less of our money the federal government has to waste, the better, the $350 billion that’s coming back to us could be better used.

I’m not wealthy. Not even close. The $800 that I’ll be getting back represents nearly 3 percent of my salary (between two jobs). It’s like a week and a half’s pay.

But I don’t need it.

So, why don’t you send the money back, Scott?

Because I no longer trust our extreme right-wing government to spend it either. If I give it back, they’ll just sign it over to Haliburton or Ken Lay — and they need it less than I do.

Or worse yet, they’ll use the money to build bombs so we can destroy the lives of good people on the other side of the world.

You know who needs the money?

The 6 percent of our nation (that’s 9 million people, folks) that are unemployed.

Three years ago, our unemployment was only 4 percent.

Now the president says that we’ll take this money that he’s sending us (with a likeness of his pretzel-eating self, I’m sure) and we’ll spend it, bolstering the economy and adding jobs — thus reducing unemployment.

Cause that’s what happened last time, right?

When I get my $800, I’m not going to fly to New York and buy hard-to-find American-made trinkets. I’m going to reduce my debt since I know that this $800 is more like a loan than anything.

In essence, this tax cut put a lien on our future and it will take years to pay the mortgage.

Just like the great Reagan tax-cut did in 1981, this tax cut will necessitate a reduction in corresponding social programs. In order to pay for the tax cut, we’ll have to give up something.

Thirteen years later, Newt Gingrich and the Republican Revolution followed up Reagan’s tax cuts by claiming that we couldn’t afford all the niceties that we had been enjoying — Big Bird for example.

So in 2016, what right-wing zealots might we have running the country? And what “unnecessary program” will they want to kill? Medicaid? Medicare? Social Security?

And we’ll all wish that we had never gotten our $800 checks.

So if you — like me — are getting a “refund check” in the near future, be careful with it. It may represent your future.