Only now do we learn the story of a former Reagan administration official who can speak firsthand of the significance of the recent shoe-throwing incident in Baghdad, when Iraqi TV journalist Muntadhar al-Zeidi hurled his heavy size-10s at a ducking President Bush.
As Americans are now educated, striking somebody with a shoe is a tremendous insult in the Arab world – the target likened to the dirt beneath the shoe’s sole. Mr. al-Zeidi even went a step further, calling Mr. Bush a "dog," an animal considered by many Arabs to be unclean.
About five years ago, this Reagan official who shall remain unnamed joined a group of 15 or so friends at one of the Washington-area’s more popular Moroccan restaurants, which to this day features belly-dancing every night at 8 p.m.
Having loosened his shoes for comfort during his meal, the official became so energized by the belly dancer’s performance that for reasons he can’t explain he suddenly tossed one of his shoes onto the stage.
"He thought he was being funny," says a friend and fellow diner, a well-respected Washington lawyer who requests anonymity. "He had no idea it was an insult."
But the instant the shoe landed at the belly dancer’s feet, he continues, "the music stops, the dancer storms off, and our entire dinner party is immediately thrown out the door."
"They were screaming at us, ‘Get out! Get out! Get out! Get out!’ pointing their fingers to the door. We didn’t know it at the time, but we learned later that night that throwing a shoe is an extreme insult. We all got a quick lesson in Arab culture."
President Bush made a good point when shrugging off the recent shoe-throwing incident in Baghdad — compliments of Iraqi journalist Muntadhar al-Zeidi — by saying that such outbursts are to be expected in a free and open society.
Certainly if Saddam Hussein‘s iron fist still ruled Iraq, and Mr. al-Zeidi dared untie his size-10 shoes and hurl them in the direction of the Iraqi president and his visiting foreign guest, the scribe would have been dragged screaming and kicking in stocking feet to the beheading chamber and his skull split open, crown to chin, with a dull blade.
MIKA AND DONNA
MSNBC’s Mika Brzezinski was fortunate to be left standing after being mugged of $6 outside her Washington hotel Thursday morning while waiting for her chauffeur-driven car to pick her up for the 6 a.m. broadcast of "Morning Joe."
We won’t forget the time former Health and Human Services Secretary Donna E. Shalala, one of the kindest Cabinet members to ever serve under President Clinton, was retrieving her hard-earned dollars from an automated teller machine in one of Washington’s better neighborhoods.
"Give it up! Give it up!" a pair of bandits warned the pint-size secretary, who quickly dropped to the fetal position and began screaming at the top of her lungs.
Miss Shalala once played shortstop in Cleveland’s Pigtail League, coached by none other that New York Yankees owner George Steinbrenner. He once said he wished he had eight other players like Miss Shalala on the team.
She didn’t give her assailants a penny — and lived to tell about it.
DAVID AND RUTH
Welcome to the nation’s capital. If the constant terrorist threat isn’t enough to fret over, the millions of visitors arriving next month for President-elect Barack Obama‘s inauguration should realize that the District of Columbia has more than its share of assaults and killings.
So many that a "Crime Emergency" was declared in 2003 by an overwhelmed Metropolitan Police Department, and it only got worse in 2004. On the last day of April, Supreme Court Justice David H. Souter, one of the top judges in the land, was attacked and beaten by an angry group of young thugs while jogging around the streets of Washington.
Which made Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg’s purse-snatching outside the infamous Watergate Hotel petty in comparison.
BUCK THE TREND
Hats off to Rep. Howard P. "Buck" McKeon, California Republican, who has surprised a second group of students — this time from Mesa Intermediate School in his congressional district — with tickets to the Jan. 20 inaugural ceremony.
Of the 198 tickets that were distributed to the congressman, he has now given 72 away to students and teachers so they can witness history firsthand, as he put it. Mr. McKeon earlier presented 40 tickets to a history teacher and students from the Academy of the Canyons in Santa Clarita, Calif.
"I realize giving so many of the inaugural tickets away to students is a bit unusual, but this is a historic time for Americans as we swear in the country’s first African-American president," said Mr. McKeon. "I’ve warned the students about the cold temperatures in Washington, D.C., in January, but I feel certain their excitement will keep them warm."
Tickets are "sold out" for the Oprah Winfrey show to be broadcast live from the Opera House of the John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts one day before President-elect Barack Obama takes the oath of office Jan. 20, but you can always watch the former Baltimore TV personality on the tube.
Miss Winfrey began her career as a reporter and co-anchor for Baltimore’s WJZ-TV. According to her Black History biography, the station sent her to New York "for a beauty makeover, which Winfrey believes was her assistant news director’s attempt to ‘make her Puerto Rican.’ She also attributes the makeover to an incident when she was told her ‘hair’s too thick, nose is too wide and chin’s too big.’ "
Miss Winfrey worked in Baltimore for seven years before moving to Chicago.
SHOES AND STOCKINGS
It’s time to step down into the basement of the White House for the traditional reading of the holiday poem titled, "’Twas the Night Before Christmas: 2008 White House Press Basement Version," read aloud this year by Salem Radio Network correspondent and distinguished poet Greg Clugston to assembled reporters and guests that included CBS’s Bill Plante, ABC’s Ann Compton and deputy White House press secretary Scott Stanzel.
Without further ado:
‘Twas the night before Christmas and in the White House,
Not a creature was stirring, not even a mouse.
Stockings were hung in the West Wing with care,
In hopes that January 20th soon would be there.
The president was asleep, all snug in his bed,
While visions of Texas danced in his head.
Can’t wait to leave D.C., so cold and callous,
For the comfy confines of a new home in Dallas.
Barney was napping next to the nightstand,
Eager to bite another journalist’s hand.
Both Bushes settled down for long winter naps,
Hoping to avert the automakers’ collapse.
What a year it had been, with its twists and its turns,
From Jenna’s summer wedding to meltdown concerns.
From the pope’s springtime visit and his "awesome" speech,
To the shoe-throwing incident — a security breach.
There were stimulus checks to boost buyin’ and sellin’,
Then came the book from disgruntled McClellan.
In the campaign, Republicans were bailin’,
Bush was kept far from McCain and Ms. Palin.
Suddenly, there arose on the lawn such a clatter,
Dubya jumped up to see what was the matter.
When, what to his wondering eyes did he see?
But a limo coming — from Treasury.
Out stepped Hank Paulson in a red Santa suit,
Complete with white beard and shiny black boots.
He was armed with a checkbook to fix the recession,
Handing out billions for every subprime transgression.
"Now Fannie! Now Freddie! And now A-I-G!
"On Bankers! On Wall Street! And Detroit’s Big Three!
"We’re pumping in cash for liquidity,
"And boosting long-term viability."
The phone rang inside and Bush answered in time,
A call from Chicago — Obama on the line.
"Sorry it’s late. What an imposition."
"No problem," said Bush. "Just part of the transition."
Barack bemoaned Blagojevich; boy, what a creep —
The audacity, the hair, the (bleep, bleep, bleep).
Facing last-minute jitters, Obama needed advice,
The war, the economy, anything would suffice.
And I heard Bush exclaim, without blowing his fuse:
"Merry Christmas to all! Watch out for the shoes!"
Closing the chapter on the 110th Congress, we call attention to those distinguished members who died in office:
Rep. Charlie Norwood, Georgia Republican – Feb. 13, 2007
Rep. Juanita Millender-McDonald, California Democrat – April 22, 2007
Sen. Craig Thomas, Wyoming Republican – June 4, 2007
Rep. Paul E. Gillmor, Ohio Republican – Sept. 5, 2007
Rep. Jo Ann Davis, Virginia Republican – Oct. 6, 2007
Rep. Julia Carson, Indiana Democrat – Dec. 15, 2007
Rep. Tom Lantos, California Democrat – Feb. 11, 2008
Rep. Stephanie Tubbs-Jones, Ohio Democrat – Aug. 20, 2008