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  • Ted Mann 9:33 pm on July 26, 2006 Permalink | Reply  

    Guests of the Ayatollah Gotcha 

    I just finished reading Mark Bowden’s “Guests of the Ayatollah: The First Battle in America’s War with Militant Islam,” an extraordinary narrative of the Iran hostage crisis. Although it took place when I was out of toddler-dom (November 1979 till January 1981), I have next to no memory of the events, and Bowden’s story kept me riveted through all 700-plus pages. In part, it was my sheer awe at his being able to reconstruct the memories of dozens of hostages, hostage takers, and other involved players more than three decades after the event. Much as I aspire to be Bowden’s kind of long-form journalism, I don’t think I have an ounce of his organization and talent.

    OK, now that I’ve heaped on the praise like Paula Abdul, I should confess that the book wasn’t quite as speedy a read as Black Hawk Down. While the section about the Dessert One disaster — Carter’s failed Delta force rescue mission, which ended in a helicopter and plane colliding in the Iran dessert in the middle of the night — was completely enthralling, some of the sections about the hostages read like, well, an account of 444 endless days of mind-numbing captivity. Also, I should mention that I actually met Bowden when he was deep in the throes of working on the book — five years ago. He was kind enough to buy me lunch outside of Philly, shortly after I’d moved down there and contacted him out of the blue for career advice (using the Atlantic Monthly internship by way of an introduction). He was extremely nice and supportive, suggesting that I get a job at a newspaper (hey, only took me four years to follow through on that!), but made no mention of how insanely long his books took to write. At any rate, I guess it’s good that he’s still working at a faster clip than guys like Gay Talese.

    Still, the book is totally worth reading through to the end. It indirectly makes a very persuasive argument that sometime diplomacy doesn’t work (at least, not as fast as it should), and if you wait for the U.N. to act on international disasters may spend a lot of time twiddling your thumbs.

    My favorite part was actually Bowden’s account of Iran today, drawn from four visits to the country. My favorite anecdote comes from his last trip, when he tried to brind a documentary camera crew into the old U.S. embassy — now a museum dedicated to glorifying the hostage crisis — and was told that no moving pictures could be shot. Afterwards, three guards came out after him, apologizing for their country, giving him the thumbs up, and saying Yeah George W. Bush, and in halting English, “OK for George W. Bush.”

    This struck me as odd when I read it, smack at the end of the book. But then I saw a comment on Bowden’s Guests of the Ayatollah blog:

    Thumbs up, to an Iranian, is the equivalent of giving someone the finger. Look at the caraciture of Carter on page 294. The revolutionary and the oil barrel are both giving Carter the thumbs up. It doesn’t mean he is doing a good job.

    The revolutionary guards at the end, offering a thumbs up and a “YAY GEORGE”, are pulling your leg. A non-American, offering unqualified praise of any US president, let alone George W. Bush, should’ve raised your
    suspicions.Thumbs up, to an Iranian, is the equivalent of giving someone the finger. Look at the caraciture of Carter on page 294. The revolutionary and the oil barrel are both giving Carter the thumbs up. It doesn’t mean he is doing a good job.

    The revolutionary guards at the end, offering a thumbs up and a “YAY GEORGE”, are pulling your leg. A non-American, offering unqualified praise of any US president, let alone George W. Bush, should’ve raised your
    suspicions.

    While Bowden responded “I did not mistake their meaning,” I gotta say, that poster’s interpretation sounds a whole lot more plausible to me.

     
  • Ted Mann 10:16 pm on July 19, 2006 Permalink | Reply  

    And Lo, the Lord Smote Scarsdale 

    The weather in Westchester has been bizarre and unnerving this last week. After an extremely rare tornado ripped through the county last week, yesterday night gave us golfball-sized hail, an intense 15-minute strobe-light lightening storm, and a forest’s worth of downed trees in Hartsdale, Scarsdale, and White Plains.

    I’ve seen trees struck by lightening before, but never ten on one street, taken out one after another as is systematically being smashed to bits by a very angry Zeus. On my brother’s street, in White Plains, a giant oak tore a tree in half, which in turn took out the electrical wires. That was just one of dozens of roadblocks on my way to work this morning.

    I was so worked up after my usual 15 minute commute to The Journal News turned into a two-hour ordeal that I called the newspaper’s tip line to share/vent/bitch about all the stuff I’d seen on the roads. Much to my surprise, one of my comments actually ended up here, leading off an impromptu blog that TJN set up to cover the storm.

    The pictures of the storm (and last week’s tornado) are pretty amazing, though I suppose that’s just because I live here (people in the midwest are probably thinking, pshaw, what’s the big deal, turkey!). At any rate, here are some of the more striking visuals:
    roof
    house
    wires

    hail

    tornado

     
  • Ted Mann 9:37 pm on July 19, 2006 Permalink | Reply  

    Moorestown: From First to Worst? 

    An addendum to yesterday’s post, in which I made reference to how Moorestown, NJ, was ranked as the best place in the country to live in by Money Magazine. It turns out that was in 2005, and Money’s 2006 rankings were just released. It turns out that this year Fort Collins, CO, is numero uno. And where did Moorsetown move down the 2006 list? It didn’t even make it.

    So, I guess if we move to Jersey we’ll need to set out sights on Parsippany-Troy Hills (17), Edison (28), Wayne (32), or Cherry Hill (47). Alas, the highest ranking of any town in New York is Ramapo (49), over in Rockland County. Which would be very attractive to me, if only I could get over the nagging association to a rest area on the New York Thruway.

     
  • Ted Mann 11:32 pm on July 18, 2006 Permalink | Reply  

    The Bold and the Betrothed 

    Last weekend we headed down to Philly for our friend Meghan Leary’s wedding to Matt Essman. It was a beautiful wedding, which fully capitalized on the box office success of “Pirates of the Carribean” by holding the ceremony and reception at the Independence Seaport Museum. Though there were no actual pirates or mateys on hand, the groom appeared to have lost a good hundred pounds, as if to imply that he’s spent the last few months on an all-seaweed diet. Meghan looked equally svelte and pretty, but more importantly, she pulled off her DIY projects like a pro. Speaking as someone who’s attempted (and probably failed) to create everything from favors to dinner menus, every single handmade element of Essman nee Leary’s evening was impressive.

    We had such a good time seeing all our college friends over the weekend. Among the highlights: a Cracker Barrel breakfast with Craig and Christy; exploring Moorestown, NJ, the “best suburb in the United States” (according to Money magazine), with Parisa and Mike; talking wedding planning with Neha and Justin, all the while showing the restraint to not lobby for the outcome of a certain wager I have with Gabe; and revisiting the story of Craig’s kitchen demolition with Korey, Gwynne, and the rest of the gang.

    One of the things that a few people complained to me about was how I haven’t updated TurkeyMonkey in eons (well, a month, but who’s counting). I think it was Craig who said, “I keep checking back and all I see is that Mentos soda rocket thing.” To which I responded — and will continue to respond — “Well, did you build one like I said to?” Of course, he hadn’t. Which brings me to a very sad conclusion: If I can’t convince people to build a simple Mentos and Diet Coke soda gyser, what’s the point of blogging anyway? So please, everyone, for the sake of the blogosphere, go build a soda gyser! Won’t cost you more than two or three bucks. And when you see that ten foot tower of cola, you’ll be glad you did. (Disclaimer: Please use diet coke. Under no circumstances do I endorse diet pepsi, which will yield five feet tops.)

    Seeing as how I don’t really have much more to report from the past month, I’m going to do what I always do when I’m blog blocked: Plug one of my recent stories. In this case, it’s my article in the current Rockland Magazine about actor Stephen Baldwin (“The Book of Baldwin,” July 2006). In addition to being an all-around wacky guy, Baldwin is also a born-again, evangelical pentecostal yahoo with his own skateboarding ministry. As if that weren’t interesting enough, he launched a grassroots campaign with Rockland’s religious faithful to stop a porn store from opening in Nyack. Although there were no laws or zoning rules barring the shop, per se, Baldwin and company succeeded in shutting it down for good.

    I really enjoyed writing the story, even though Baldwin refused to grant me an interview. It was one of those cases where you write around the celebrity, and in a weird way, I almost thing the story is more telling than if Baldwin had given me a half-hour of publicist-approved rhetoric. In addition to being an interesting character, I hope it also gives some insight into how the evangelical movement isn’t just confined to far away places like Texas and Colorado, but it’s also taken firm root in the New York suburbs, too. Even our fair blue states have veins of red coursing through them.

    One last plug: my friend Gwynne came out with me to one of the Nyack town hall meetings where Baldwin and the villagers protested the store, and two of her pictures appear in the story. Many thanks, and many congrats to Gwynne. I’m sure these are just the first of many published pictures to come.

     
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