Jewish World Review June 20, 2003 / 20 Sivan, 5763
Move over, Hillary. Here comes a better work of fiction
Last week was Hillary's time to put a fictional spell on the book world; this week it's Harry's.
As if you didn't know, as if you couldn't help but know, "Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix" -- all (almost) 900 pages of it -- goes on sale worldwide at 12:01 a.m. Saturday.
It's the fifth book in J.K. Rowling's shockingly popular series about the nerdy schoolboy wizard who has more powers than a Norse god and has made its creator a $450 million fortune.
Everything you need to catch up on Pottermania and how Rowling has captured the hearts and minds of millions of kids in 55 languages and 200 countries is in Time's cover story, "Why Harry Potter Rules."
Written by Nancy Gibbs, who weighs the many virtues of Harry and his adventures against the silly/cranky complaints of his religious and secular critics, the article begins and ends with the bittersweet story of Rowling's long-term, long-distance relationship with a 6-year-old cancer patient from upstate New York.
It's easy to forgive Gibbs for her exuberance in praising Rowling's natural understanding of 13-year-olds, for not pandering to or patronizing her readers, and for getting them to do something increasingly rare in the age of the disc and monitor -- read a book.
As Gibbs says, Rowling creates characters that are inspirational yet not perfect and real. And although some conservative fundamentalist religious folk still treat Harry like he's the Devil Boy incarnate, one Southern Baptist church mesmerized its younger members by using Harry Potter's life to impart Sunday school lessons, complete with teachers in wizard hats.
Back to the real world, where fallible adult politicians rule, a form of entertainment many believe is more sinful than a boy with magic powers is becoming more popular -- state-sponsored legalized gambling.
According to Forbes magazine, as states such as Pennsylvania face budget deficits, they are turning to legalizing slot machines and other forms of gambling to raise revenues.
Trouble is, Forbes says in "Jackpot!," the wise political elders who run states such as Pennsylvania are giving away these valuable betting monopolies to their pals and contributors who run horse racing tracks, not auctioning them off to the highest bidders.
By taxing slot machine winnings at 35 percent, Forbes' Ira Carnahan says, Pennsylvania will rake in $750 million a year. But by auctioning off eight gambling licenses instead of handing them out to the "lucky" racetrack owners, the state could raise an estimated $2.1 billion more before the cranking and plastic cup rattling even begins.
Other states are being as stupid/criminal as Pennsylvania, Carnahan says, noting they are giving away gambling licenses worth nearly $8 billion instead of auctioning them off the way oil drilling rights, radio frequencies and other valuable government-owned rights regularly are.
In Nevada, at least, they did it the smart way. Clark County put the slots monopoly at Las Vegas' McCarran International Airport up for auction, and the winning bid will give the airport 70 percent of the slots' gross winnings (which can be $200,000 a year), compared to the state's usual 6.25 percent take.
It's the kind of fiscal black magic the bosses who run soon-to-be-bankrupt Pittsburgh International Airport might need to practice.
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JWR contributor Bill Steigerwald is an associate editor and columnist at the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review. Comment by clicking here.
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© 2002, Bill Steigerwald