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Below the Beltway

Gene Weingarten
Washington Post Staff Writer
Sunday, October 21, 2001 8:30 AM

I have somehow developed the reputation of an intemperate fanatic, a petty demagogue who will stop at nothing to flog some trivial pet peeve. Nothing could be further from the truth.

Sure, from time to time I may have chastised drooling halfwits who say "infer" when they mean "imply," or those congenitally insincere people who do that fluttery thing with their eyelids when they talk to you, or lard-butts who sit with their legs splayed at right angles in a crowded subway, or mortally constipated feebs who wear socks with sandals. For these perfectly reasonable views, I find myself vilified. But nothing has drawn as much unfair criticism as my alleged quote unquote crusade against the use of digital watches.

Yes, I have castigated certain politicians for dishonoring America by wearing on their wrists those cupcake-size plastic monstrosities, ungainly cubes of liquid-crystal dishonesty that purport to deliver to-the-millisecond certitude about something as unknowable as time. I have urged these individuals to reconsider their choice of timepiece. I even once mailed the vice president of the United States a more presentable watch, one with the timelessly graceful design of a circle swept by hands. (Never got so much as a thank you.)

All of this was classic advocacy journalism. But demagoguery? I, a loyal American, think not.

Demagoguery blatantly appeals to emotion, whereas my arguments appeal only to logic and reason.

Before purchasing a product or a service, for example, it is logical to ask for references from reputable individuals. Not only is this a testimonial to quality, but it offers reassurance that the sort of person who buys this product or service is the sort of person with whom one wishes to identify. This is the theory behind celebrity endorsement advertising, which has long been an honored part of the American mercantile system, which is second to none.

Consider the unretouched Associated Press photograph at the center of this page. Perhaps the makers of digital watches might like to use this picture to advertise their wares:

Reflecting the Sophisticated Tastes of the Modern Genocidal Maniac.

But maybe I am being hasty. One dare not draw too many conclusions from a single photograph, dare one?

Goodness, what have I before me here? It is a story from the Toronto Star, dated March 20, 2001, covering the trial of a noted Middle Eastern terrorist, Ahmed Ressam, accused and later convicted of plotting bombings in the United States. It seems Mr. Ressam was arrested with explosives, detonators, batteries and a Casio digital watch.

Coincidence? Let's ask Vincent Cannistraro, former head of counterterrorism at the CIA. I happen to have him on the phone.

"The Casio digital watch is a signature of bin Laden," he said. "It's pretty much in the jihad terrorist handbook. They use it for triggering devices."

Cannistraro, needless to say, wears a watch with hands. "It's more elegant," he said.

So there you have it, Mr. and/or Ms. American consumer. Two testimonials. In making your watch-purchase decisions, are you gonna go with a heroic foe of global terrorism from McLean, Va., or a Mr. O.b. Laden, late of some cave in Afghanistan?

Here's my point: If you are the owner of a digital watch, perhaps you might want to rethink that petrochemical bunion on your wrist. Perhaps it might be time to assassinate it in as colorful a way as possible, and buy a new one of classic face-and-hands design.

Your country will thank you, for helping to reinvigorate the economy.

Your city will thank you, for helping to stamp out a visual scourge on its streets.

Your friends will thank you. They've been wanting to tell you for years.

And I will thank you, for acknowledging the wisdom and righteousness of my campaign, and thereby helping me fight an unjustified reputation as a cranky, judgmental zealot with no sense of proportion.

Next Week: Pretentious jackasses who pronounce the "t" in "often."

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