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Uncle Orson Reviews Everything
December 16, 2002

First appeared in print in The Rhinoceros Times, Greensboro, NC.


The Bond Crisis, Trent Lott, and Holes

Who knew that a movie could become an international issue.

The North Koreans have been unperturbed about international condemnation of their nuclear weapons program.

That's no surprise.

They have been unperturbed by thousands of condemnations of the corruption and stupidity that steal from and starve their own people; of their efforts to subvert South Korea; of their sales of arms to every enemy of civilization; and of the imprisonment, torture, and killing of North Korean political dissidents.

But we have finally created something that gets under their skin.

The villains in the latest James Bond flick, Die Another Day, are North Koreans. And North Korea is mad!

According to the Melbourne, Australia, Herald Sun, the North Korean government says that Die Another Day is proof that the U.S. is "the headquarters that spread abnormality, degeneration, violence and . . . corrupt sex culture."

Yes, that's about right. We're not proud of it, but we just can't help being the best at what we do.

The North Koreans are especially perturbed because the film's villain is the insane, power-mad son of the dictator of North Korea, while the dictator himself is capable of honor and decency. This is slander of the worst sort.

The reality, as North Koreans well know, is that while their current ruler, Kim Jong Il, is in fact insane and power-mad, his late father, founding dictator Kim Il Sung, had nary a scrap of honor or decency. It is dishonest and unfair to accuse him of it, especially now that he is dead and can no longer commit new atrocities in refutation.

The makers of the Bond film ought to apologize.

Of course, it's quite possible that Kim Jong Nam, the son of Kim Jong Il, is even more insane and power-mad than his father or grandfather. After all, the Bond flick didn't say which insane son of a North Korean tyrant they were representing on screen.

When you consider that even France regards Kim Jong Nam as too weird and scary to give him a visa to enter their country, perhaps we'll learn some day that Kim Jong Il is sane after all, by contrast.

In any event, we hope that the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence is screening Die Another Day more than once in order to gain an understanding of what the North Koreans are capable of.

These days, with the CIA virtually incapable of serious intelligence gathering in non-European countries, the movie may be our government's only source of information about what's actually going on in the North Korean government.

*

Trent Lott. What a twit.

I suppose as a Democrat I should be laughing, but instead I'm shaking my head.

Here the Republicans have a President who, during his time as governor of Texas, proved that he was able to work with and for the interests of African-American citizens as well as Anglo and Hispanic ones.

His reward was that he actually got some black votes in Texas -- more than any Republican since the birth of the "Southern strategy." And he deserved them.

This, of course, terrified Democrats when George W. Bush ran for national office. Without an absolutely solid -- 90% or better -- black vote for the Democratic candidate, it's hard to imagine in what state the Democratic Party would be competitive.

So if George W. Bush succeeded in doubling the Republican share to 20% of the black vote, the Democratic Party would be in deep, deep trouble.

That's why Al Gore's supporters ran such a shamelessly racist campaign in 2000.

When one ethnic or religious group votes as a bloc, they can swing an election. And that looks and feels like power.

Except that when the other side wins, they owe nothing to that bloc.

And when a bloc is as consistently and overwhelmingly for one party as the black vote has been for the past generation, neither party actually has to do anything for them.

It doesn't pay Republicans to change their policies in order to win the black vote, because they're not getting it anyway, no matter what they do -- look at the 2000 election if you want proof.

But it also doesn't pay the Democrats to go to the wall for black issues, because they know they're getting the black vote no matter what. Therefore it makes far more sense to govern in the interest of white voters who might actually change their minds.

In other words, bloc voting makes blacks feel powerful, but it leaves them with no party in Washington that needs to take any political risks for their benefit.

So it was all the more remarkable that under the leadership of George W. Bush, the Republican Party was actually trying not to act like the party of Jesse Helms and Strom Thurmond, at least on matters of race.

Along comes Trent Lott.

Now, I think his statement was as innocent of malign intent as what a friend of mine said when emceeing at a family reunion. After calling for applause for the oldest relatives present, he quipped, "Maybe next year I'll be oldest."

He meant it to be a dumb joke about how old he was getting. He didn't think it through enough to realize that the only way for him to be the oldest would be for all those charming older people to die.

Likewise, Trent Lott probably meant, at the moment, to say nothing more than, "Strom Thurmond is such a good human being he should have been President."

Now, that's an idiotic idea, but there's usually no harm in engaging in a little hyperbole at a retirement party.

What Trent Lott forgot in that moment was that when Strom Thurmond really did run for President, his campaign, while calling itself a "States' Rights" movement, was about nothing other than keeping black people in virtual slavery throughout the South -- unable to vote, unable to control their own future, completely terrorized by and subservient to the white population.

Thurmond's campaign was an ugly thing, and if he had won (which there was never a chance of, thank heaven) it would have been the darkest blot on American politics in the Twentieth Century. (Fortunately he lost, so the darkest blot continues to be Bill Clinton's completion of two full terms.)

And Trent Lott still thinks that he can apologize a couple of times and the problem goes away.

In the next election, the Democrats don't have to run against George W. Bush. They only have to run against Trent Lott, self-chosen National Racist Buffoon.

So why doesn't Lott step aside and let someone else be Senate Majority Leader?

Because he feels like he's earned that position. He deserves it.

But you don't give the leadership of your party to the guy who "deserves" it. You give it to the person who will most benefit -- and least hurt -- your party.

The Democrats chose an absolutely ludicrous minority leader in the House. But her negatives are nothing compared to what Lott's will be from now on.

It's as if the Republicans said, "Oh, so you Democrats think you got a spokesman who'll set you up for a big defeat next time? Heck, we can do better than that."

You remember the old saying: The Democrats are the stupidest political party in America. Except for the Republicans.

*

Best Young Adult novel I've read recently: Holes, by Louis Sachar.

It's not like I'm discovering something that nobody else knows. The book already won the Newberry Medal, for pete's sake.

But I'm not recommending that you buy this for your kids. I'm recommending that you get it for yourself, and only let your kids read it if they've been very, very good.

I read Holes because my daughter brought it along to read it aloud on a car trip. Not my eight-year-old daughter, my twenty-two-year-old.

This book is simply one of the best-written novels of the year. It's funny without seeming to try to be; it's magical without being "fantasy"; it's dangerous without being dark.

Stanley Yelnats comes from a family under a curse -- they're always in the wrong place at the wrong time. For him, that has resulted in being wrongly convicted of a crime and sentenced to a camp for juvenile delinquents -- a miserable place on the shores of a dried-up lake in Texas, where they are "reformed" by being made to dig a hole in the lake bed every single day -- a hole five feet around and five feet deep.

It changes you -- especially when you grew up in a family whose ancestor once carried a piglet up a mountain every day until it grew to be a full-sized hog. A family where the lullaby he sang to the pig is still taught to each generation of children.

There is not a page of this book that isn't a joy to read. It's funny and sweet and painful and true. That's what good literature is supposed to do.

*

This year's performance of Handel's Messiah by the Greensboro Oratorio was triumphant. Wonderful soloists, a good orchestra, and a choir that sounded great.

Only two things marred the evening. One was the apparent death of a trumpeter during the last fanfare of "The Trumpet Will Sound" -- why else would he just stop playing and sit there without moving? Tragic, but one cannot expect the dead to play every single note.

The other flaw was the dolt they had get up and beg for donations just before the Pastoral Symphony. I mean, the guy had a notecard with every word written out. Why didn't he just read it, instead of stumbling all over himself trying to ad lib?

The only consolation is that maybe when people saw that this was the best emcee that the Oratorio Society could afford, they realized that the need for donations was desperate.


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