Arid Afghanistan can't hold a camel to local Wal-Mart

June 14, 2005|by TIM ROWLAND

Just so we're all on the same page and we have our information straight, here is the deal as I understand it: Police Chief Arthur Smith had a choice between Hagerstown and Afghanistan - and he chose Afghanistan.

Ouch, talk about rejection. I mean, I know the H-town isn't always on the cutting edge of hipness and intellectualism, but come on. Afghanistan? What, was Bolivia booked?

When you find yourself posing on the front page of the local newspaper with a nomadic tribesman and camel, there have to be some other venues you've missed. I mean of the three, the camel looks the happiest, and by quite a bit.

In January, Smith took a temporary leave of absence from his chiefdom to depart for a then-undisclosed location, under contract with the U.S. State Department, as the government attempts to do whatever it is attempting to do over there.


He isn't at liberty to say exactly what he's doing, although he said the worry among Afghanis "is that we'll leave too soon."

Imagine that. Overseas, they're scared the U.S. government will leave them alone and over here we're scared that it won't. Maybe that's the best place for the U.S. government. It can move its operations to Afghanistan, pass some emissions bills and some seat belt laws and everybody's happy.

Afghanistan. Look, there are Third World countries and there are Third World countries. Nepal has its scenery. Morocco its intrigue. Afghanistan, to hear the news magazines tell it, just has a ton of barren landscape and a bunch of raving religious lunatics. It's like Waco, without the feds blasting Aerosmith songs at the compound.

And in fairness, Chief Smith does acknowledge there are things about Hagerstown that he misses, including "paved roads, drinking water and Wal-Mart."

Paved roads are nice, but hey, I grew up in West Virginia. Drinking water, definitely. But Wal-Mart? What use would an Afghani have for a Wal-Mart - does the family goat need sweat pants?

In my mind, this is two strikes: Posing with a camel and waxing nostalgic about Wal-Mart. When the chief comes home, better keep him away from Target or his heart won't be able to take it.

It sounds as if, however, the Afghanis have a few things they could teach Americans about good behavior. They are quick to forgive their enemies. They are hospitable to outsiders. And they, to my knowledge, have never dragged their classmates through a dead pig.

Such was not the case with a large group of Chambersburg, Pa., high school students who were charged with disorderly conduct for an annual ritual gone too far, after they dragged some of the classmates through a pit that was filled with all kinds of hideous stuff, including a dead pig, hog manure and Howard Dean.

This was part of a stunt that traditionally involved an egg fight at Buchanan State Forest, but devolved into a stunt so sick and so disgusting and so humiliating that the students involved were immediately called upon to help out at Abu Ghraib.

No, that wasn't it. They were called to appear before Judge Richard Alloway, who began the hearing, as court proceedings so often do, by saying, "What's with the dead pig?"

To this, a young man stepped forward and said, "The pig was not killed by us."

Now, before I became a stepdad of a teenage girl, I would have thought to myself "Hmmm. Dude says he didn't kill the pig. Well, OK, no harm, no foul. Case dismissed."

But now that I am a quasi-parent, I am wise to the ways of TAS, or Teenager Argument Strategy. TAS has a number of subcomponents, but a key element is to reframe the debate by answering a question that wasn't asked, in a way that allows one to profess innocence.

Notice that who killed the pig wasn't the issue. The issue was dragging chums through the chops. Sorry, but I'm on to this strategy.

I hear the kid and the Anna Jarvis in High Heels go through this routinely:

"You only got a 'C' on your science project."

"But I turned it in on time."

"Well, all right, that's good, but ..."

"You wanted me to turn it in on time, right?"

"Yes, but ..."

"Well, I was just doing what you asked me to do."

"But ..."

(Sound of door slamming, followed by blasting of iTunes.)

Obviously, being wise to the teens' strategy doesn't do any good from a practical standpoint, but to me there is a comforting distinction between being hoodwinked and knowing that you are being hoodwinked. In a pig's eye.

Tim Rowland is a Herald-Mail columnist.

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