Good-time Charlie Wilson has inspired him to tell his story


WASHINGTON -- If you're of a certain age and have lived inside the Beltway for a certain number of years, you have a Charlie Wilson story. Here's mine:

Charlie was involved in the House Bank scandal. At least I think it was the House Bank scandal, because as the book "Charlie Wilson's War" -- and movie of the same name -- make it apparent, he was involved in more than one scandal.

Anyway, most of us wags thought the "Liberal from Lubbock" was finally cooked. It turned out we were wrong. Charlie pulled it off again, managing to get re-elected.

Soon after the election, some of the boys and I were hanging around in the Speakers' Lobby right off the House floor when all 8 feet of Charlie came strolling in. We congratulated him on another political Houdini move, and some one asked him how he did it.

"Well, fellas," he said, "my opponents failed to take in two key demographics."

I bit, and asked him just who they were.

Before strolling off, he told us: "Winos and people who dig chicks."

For the past few weeks, I feel like I've been involved in a guerrilla action myself. It's not anywhere near as heroic or history-changing as Charlie's war in Afghanistan, but I still feel much like the characters Tom Hanks and Philip Seymour Hoffman portray in the Universal Pictures film.

I've been hunting for a Wii. Me and a gazillion other people are clamoring for an elusive hunk of electronics. Fortunately, I scored my Wii, and my children will think I'm a pretty cool parent for at least two minutes and 37 seconds.

Funny thing about that Wii. I looked at my TV. It's a Quasar. Something told me that I was probably going to have a little trouble fitting a 21st century gadget in a 20th century TV -- the technical equivalent of the antediluvian era.

It's an old story: One thing leads to another. So now, instead of plunking down money just for a Wii, I'm plunking down more money for an HDTV.

Funny thing about HDTV, I've been writing about it for 15 years. I've finally bought one. It was kind of strange putting Quasar out on the street with a "Free. It works!" sign on it.

A farm boy named Philo Farnsworth came up with the idea that you actually could end up making electrons march in a straight line by looking at the south end of a north-going mule with one eye, and watching a harrow carve furrows in the Utah dirt with the other. He thought you could send movies through the air, and that's what we've been doing during the tempestuous half-century love affair Americans have had with television.

I will forever be amazed that it actually worked, and it worked so well for so long. I knew when I plugged in the new set that it would be fantastic. I actually saw some of the first digital HDTV programming. I remember being cooped up in some soulless hotel in Tyson's Corner for days when former FCC chairman Dick Wiley came up with a "grand alliance" that got people off the dime. I don't think there were any real digital HDTV sets then. Now I have one.

Since I've admitted to misanthropy before, I'll admit it again: I still like my TV the old-fashioned way. I liked Philo's idea, and I'm still having a tempestuous love affair with my TV. Only I jilted Quasar.

What does this have to do with Charlie Wilson? I could justify this by pointing that "Gunga Dan" Rather introduced Charlie to the Afghanis on TV. That, however, would be a lie. I just wanted to tell my Charlie Wilson story. Happy Holidays!