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WE'VE MOVED! Click here: http://www.hartwilliams.com/blog/blogger.html

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Thursday, November 24, 2005

You don't suppose that Bush is going to pull one of his patented rubber turkey surprises for Thanksgiving, do you? You know, show up with "our brave troops" and display the latest military-drag Commander-in-Chief outfit and accessories addition to his wardrobe?

It's not at all possible that this week Condi Rice was doing an advance tour for it, I realize.

But -- given this cult of the photo-op and their need to grab the spotlight away from ... well, scandals too rife to enumerate -- repeating some trick from the previous stage show isn't beyond them. (Heck, it's their modus operandi.) They DO tend to repeat themselves beyond the life of the magic trick, after all.

So, might there be another rubber turkey surprise visit to the troops in Iraq or Afghanistan?

Could be. We should know by halftime of the Dallas game.

Happy Thanksgiving, no matter what your turkey happens to be.

Wednesday, November 23, 2005

I read a lot as a kid -- not just books, but periodicals as well. Because I read TIME magazine, I noticed a story on the ore-ship the Edmund Fitzgerald, and noticed again several months later when Gordon Lightfoot turned that story into a song that's seemingly become a classic. I like the song, so it's a happy story.

But there is a horror in this line of inquiry as well. My parents subscribed to READERS DIGEST, which I always found rather trite, but I'd browse them for the three or four stories that might actually be interesting to me.

And there was one of those punchline stories, the low-rent version of O. Henry about a fellow getting out of prison and ashamed to return to his hometown. I read the story and thought it was syrupy and corny and tried to forget it, focusing instead on "I Am Joe's Philtrum" before setting that issue down forever.

About a year later, I heard a dreadful tin-pan-alley song on the top-40 radio that dominated the airwaves. After deciding that the song was awful as music, I realized that it was that same dumb story about the convict.

I hoped that it would go away. But I was horribly, awfully wrong. It did not go away. It became a big hit. And for nearly a year, I would have to plug my ears whenever that dreadful ditty polluted my acoustical environment.

And then, for years, it went away.

But no, the performers got their own TV show, and don't cha know? they ALWAYS sang that awful song based on that awful story to conclude the show.

They were finally, mercifully, cancelled.

And more years of bliss.

But then, the Ayatollah Khomeni returned to Iran, after years of exile in Paris. And the Shah was deposed, with the greatest high-tech arsenal in the Middle East falling into the hands of the Revolutionaries, and our Embassy staff was taken hostage for 444 days.

ABC News began a nightly newscast, marking the days that the hostages had been held. This newscast was anchored by Ted Koppel, and it's run, from that time, for twenty five years now.

That song came back during Koppel's first year on Nightline. Some addled midwestern couch potato had remembered it, and for some reason, it became the "anthem" for our collective national hope that the hostages would soon be returned.

And I began to understand that "Tie A Yellow Ribbon ('Round The Old Oak Tree)" had purposely and malevolently dogged me from the first moment that I read it. It passed into cornball valhalla. When the first Gulf War was fought in '90-'91, it became permanently enshrined as some kind of patriotic song of homecoming, and either Americana has horrifically poor taste, else I am opaque to the muses of the rubes.
Americana, who art in the Heartland
Hollywood be thy name.
Thy kingdom come,
thy will be dumb,
On Earth as it is in Peoria
And I was struck, staring at a magnetic yellow ribbon on the back of an SUV -- with a "Bush-Cheney 04" sticker leering derisively from the window -- that Koppel's Nightline career started with our utter incapacity for understanding the peoples of Persia and Babylon, and a quarter century later, we STILL have no real understanding.

We've managed to establish an Islamic Republic in Iraq, and, for the first time since that hostage crisis, Iran is a regional power again, politically, religiously, militarily. And, soon, atomically.

How had that yellow ribbon dithered so disastrously since it was first tied for returning embassy hostages a quarter century ago?

At the time, Iran was our "great friend" and grand ally, with our latest tanks, guns and fighter jets in the happy Shah of Iran's armed-to-the-teeth forces. Saudi Arabia were friends, but we had the "central square" in the great cold war game of chess in the Middle East.

And then it went south. All those U.S. lend-lease aircraft and weapons were in the hands of the Ayatollah's incomprehensible fanatics. We were thrilled by (and secretly backed, with the USSR) Iraq's eight-year-long war with Iran.

We chuckled to ourselves at the Soviet Union's quagmire in Afghanistan, as we watched their nation slowly churn a death odometer after a rapid conquest. They had laughed at us over Vietnam, and now we were watching them slowly bleeding in Afghanistan, whose holy warriors, the "Mujahadeen" were amply financed and stealthily supplied with the latest hand-held stinger missiles by us.

So how did it get to this? We occupy Afghanistan AND Iraq, the former Mujahadeen are now Al Qaeda, Iran has more influence within Shia-majority Iraq than they ever had before, and, seemingly, the Shia-Shia bond may be stronger than old blood feuds between two nations that spent a huge chunk of the 1980s slaughtering each other. Or perhaps not.

But that Yellow Ribbon is on just about every other bumper now, and we've got 170,000 troops hostage to Iraq and Afghanistan, with no date in sight for their release, repatriation and all those bands playing that awful song.

So, it must be a weird feeling for Ted Koppel to sign off after a quarter century, still covering the top story, which seems to be about our foreign policy blundering in old Mesopotamia and Persia.


Even that awful song may finally pass away before we manage to get this one right, it seems. Good grief.

hart williams
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