Every family has one or two things weird about it. In the town where I grew up, one of our neighbors didn't watch TV. Another ate fish for Thanksgiving. One only ate food served on homemade pottery, which they made on a wheel in their basement.
I first learned of this in the fourth grade after moving to Pelham from New York City. My brothers and sisters and I came home with bright orange trick-or-treat-for-UNICEF boxes, and were shocked to see our kinder-than-kind father shake his head upon seeing them.
UNICEF, it was explained, gives money to Marxist countries, and that money props up their leaders militarily, prolonging the misery under which millions of people are forced to live. We don't support that. We don't collect.
To a 9-year-old that's heady stuff. It mostly went right over my head, in fact, because after explaining things to my teacher the next day, I returned home from school holding another orange box.
"Surely your parents don't understand," she said handing me the thing.
"Surely you don't understand my parents," I thought.
That box went back, too, along with a new message: If you'd like Billy to collect money this Halloween, he'd be more than happy to, but for CARE. They'll send it to nice countries with children in need.
Roars of laughter from my classmates -- and alarmed looks from the teachers in the hallways followed. Their reaction was nothing, though, compared with how parents looked on Halloween night as we explained at their doorways, through Aquaman and Harriet the Spy Masks, why we wouldn't be taking their nickels -- just the Tootsie Rolls, thank you very much.
Those UNICEF boxes come to mind every time I see yet another terribly produced North Korean propaganda video promising the annihilation of America. If you haven't seen them yet, you really should Google them. There seems to be a new one out every week.
My favorite depicts Americans living on wild birds and snow. The only real food showed in the clip is provided to the wretched U.S. population courtesy of the Democratic People's Republic of Korea and its cartoonishly plump supreme leader, Kim Jong Un. It's much better done than the one where the U.S. Capitol is destroyed by North Korean rockets, or the one featuring the nuclear attack on American cities with imaginary North Korean intercontinental ballistic missiles.
The snow video is particularly hard to watch, though, once you realize why it was made. Other North Korean propaganda videos are clearly designed for U.S. consumption. The snow video was made for starving North Koreans, who have zero access to outside information.
In essence it says, "If you think things are bad here, just thank your lucky red stars that you don't have to live in the U.S. where they're eating snow."
That's probably more than lots of North Koreans had to eat in the late 1990s, when between 240,000 and 3.5 million are thought to have starved to death, many of them senior citizens who simply stopped eating so that young people could live, according to reports at the time.
After that famine, known as the Arduous March, North Korean leaders went headlong into building a nuclear weapons program with money they could have been spending on food production. The strategy was simple: Every time the grain bins run low, trot out the weaponry. That seems to be what's happening now, which can only mean that things are dire for the North Korean populace. Again.
William F. B. O'Reilly is a Newsday columnist and a Republican political consultant.