Seth Leibsohn, who, when he isn't busy as a Claremont Institute fellow, produces William J. Bennett's popular radio show, "Morning in America," tells The Beltway Beat that to the best of his knowledge it all began with a 10-year-old girl from Montana.
Shelby Dangerfield painted her right index finger purple in January and promoted the idea to her friends in Billings - "in solidarity with the people of Iraq who braved much worse than the Montana winter to have their fingers painted purple as they voted in their first free elections," Leibsohn explains.
Recently, a caller to Bennett's radio show suggested that as many Americans as possible paint their right index fingers purple this week to show support for Iraqis as they return to the polls for crucial parliamentary elections.
The radio host, who was education secretary under President Reagan, not only ran with the idea, he posted it on National Review's blog. From there, former House Speaker Newt Gingrich, the Foundation for the Defense of Democracies, and Americans for Victory Over Terrorism (a project Bennett heads for Claremont), all jumped on board and launched purplefingerforfreedom.org - as Bennett paraphrased William Shakespeare, to give the "whole idea a habitation and a name."
"Bennett wrote an open letter to store owners and managers nationwide asking them to put purple ink at their checkout counters for their customers, and National Review Online picked that letter up and published it - as did many in the blogosphere," Leibsohn said Monday. Soon, the Fox News Channel endorsed the purple-finger campaign.
"A Miami artist who listens to Bennett's show sent her painting of Arab women voting with their purple fingers to the site, as did a fireman and his child from Jacksonville, and so many other Americans.
"While we can't say how many Americans will be painting their fingers purple this week, we can say that a child, the Internet and radio can still be the most powerful forces in the culture, perhaps even in politics," says Leibsohn, adding the Washington Times to the mix Monday.
WILD WEST 2005
We're not kin, but thanks to the many readers who forwarded to this columnist a recent London Sunday Telegraph piece about Roger McCaslin and the AK-47 he carries for protection.
McCaslin isn't fighting in Iraq or Afghanistan. Rather, he's fighting for survival deep in the Sonoran desert of southern Arizona, where he owns a silver mine. His enemy: drug runners on the Mexican frontier.
Telegraph reporter Philip Sherwell traveled across the pond to visit McCaslin and his small mine, which sits on a knoll of red earth and scrub near the Mexican border.
"As he careered along the rock-strewn gully towards his silver mine," he writes, "McCaslin first checked his bowie knife, then his pistol, and finally his Kalashnikov. From the road, he had already noticed that something was wrong."
Observed the miner: "The gate's broken and the door on the trailer's open. They've been here, I know it. I just hope they've moved on - for their sake."
"Welcome to the Wild West 2005," says Sherwell, "where modern-day cowboys still guard their land from interlopers - but using AK-47s and four-wheel drives instead of Winchester rifles and horses."
The mine, he points out, sits amid a network of trails used by heavily armed Mexican trafficking gangs to smuggle people and drugs into the United States.
"Notoriously porous, the border has reached new levels of lawlessness this year as smugglers, known as 'coyotes,' have become increasingly brazen, willing to fire on anyone - from border patrols to the likes of McCaslin - who gets in their way," he writes.
McCaslin's regular job is as a wrangler at a nearby Arizona dude ranch, where visitors saddle up for rides through the desert. Imagine the tourists surprise when the 50-year-old cowboy recounts several gunfights he's had with the "coyotes", including one occasion when he and his business partner came under fire at dusk as they barbecued steaks.
"They started the war when they started shooting at us," said McCaslin. "One time, my partner definitely hit one of them. The guy got away, but I doubt he got far. His friends . . . probably just left him out there somewhere."
PASS THE BONES
Those were the Washington Redskins cheerleaders - and their dogs - co-hosting a Sunday-night event with AnimalAttraction.com, an online dating site for pet lovers, at Tommy Joe's in Bethesda.
The cheerleaders and their pooches mixed and mingled with other pet lovers, helping raise money for the Washington Animal Rescue League. The dating site was founded by Dan Cohen, former vice president of sales and ticket operations for the Washington Redskins, who later started a sports and entertainment consulting firm.
The unofficial theme of the night: "Meet guys who love dogs, not guys who are dogs."
The world will be able to see for itself on Jan. 31 whether this week's pivotal parliamentary elections in Iraq are a success.
That's the day President Bush delivers his annual State of the Union on Capitol Hill, and "it is my fondest hope that . . . maybe in this chamber - in a seat in this chamber - might be a legislative leader or two of the newly elected Iraqi Parliament," says Rep. Mike Pence, Indiana Republican.
Although actual numbers fluctuate, an amazing 7,000 candidates from no fewer than 325 political parties or organizations are seeking office in Iraq. (And to think that here in the United States, especially in Florida, election officials have a tough time counting the votes for only a handful of politicians.)
OUT OF ORDER
President Bush has mixed up the sequence of his three major addresses on the Iraq war.
At least that's the opinion of Ohio Rep. Dennis J. Kucinich, one of the Democratic presidential candidates who challenged Bush in 2004.
"On May 1 of 2003, the president stood on the deck of an aircraft carrier and gave his 'mission accomplished' speech. Last week, he gave his 'secret plan for victory' speech. Yesterday, he gave his 'making progress' speech," Kucinich said last week.
"I think I know the problem here. Whoever has been writing the president's speeches . . . badly mixed up the sequence over the last few years. First, he was to give his 'plan for victory' speech, then he was to give his 'making progress' speech, then he was to give his 'mission accomplished' speech."
BACK TO THE BACK
"Trashing him along racial lines isn't just an attack on the Republican Party or on him personally. It's an attack on everything Rosa Parks stood for - or rather 'sat' for - on that bus that launched a movement to free African-Americans from racial discrimination and intimidation." - Washington pundit Cheri Jacobus, a regular contributor to the right-leaning political blog "The Loft," writing about Maryland Lt. Gov. Michael S. Steele, a Republican candidate for the Senate who, as she notes, has been portrayed in blackface by a liberal Web site, called an Uncle Tom by a high-ranking Maryland Democrat elected official and had Oreo cookies tossed at him during a debate.
Homeland Security adviser Fran Townsend emerged from a White House "avian flu tabletop exercise" this past weekend, which she attended with Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff and other Bush Cabinet officials and cautioned that the pandemic flu threat is nothing to sneeze at.
"I'm a mother - I've got two small boys - and you can be sure I take this seriously," she said in the driveway of the White House. She also assures the American public that President Bush, in the event of a pandemic, has made saving lives his No. 1 priority.
CAST MEETS JOE
Sen. Joe Lieberman, Connecticut Democrat, hosted an intriguing cast of characters on Capitol Hill last week - from the popular musical "Les Miserables," which opened last week at the National Theatre.
Among the players visiting with the popular senator and later treated to a VIP tour of the U.S. Capitol were a talented pair of 9-year-old girls - Meg Guzulescu and Rachel Schier (the latter from Connecticut) - who take turns playing the role of Young Cosette and Young Eponine, along with 9-year-old Austyn Myers and 8-year-old Anthony Skillman, who share the role of brave Gavroche.
They were accompanied into the hallowed halls of Congress by Eric Briarley (ensemble, also from Connecticut), and the extremely gifted actress and singer Joan Almedilla, who plays Fantine.
It was Almedilla, in the presence of U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan and the New York Catholic archbishop, Cardinal Edward Egan, who recently recited poems at the United Nations written by the late Pope John Paul II. Theatergoers will recall that she played Mary in the Broadway national tour of "Jesus Christ Superstar."
And earlier this year she took time out from her myriad acting and production responsibilities to direct a California benefit for the victims of the tsunami in South Asia.
This is the final Washington engagement of "Les Miserables," which runs through Jan. 21.