Thursday, September 30, 2004

WSJ reporter's private email on IRAQ

The Wall Street Journal's Farnaz Fassihi is the author of an email winging its way around the internet. This first came to my attention via Poynter Online, an online resource for Journalists.

Fassihi subsequently confirmed this actually was from him, and her editor stated "Ms. Fassihi's private opinions have in no way distorted her coverage, which has been a model of intelligent and courageous reporting, and scrupulous accuracy and fairness."

Here is the actual email from WSJ reporter Fassihi's e-mail to friends:

From: [Wall Street Journal reporter] Farnaz Fassihi
Subject: From Baghdad

Being a foreign correspondent in Baghdad these days is like being under virtual house arrest. Forget about the reasons that lured me to this job: a chance to see the world, explore the exotic, meet new people in far away lands, discover their ways and tell stories that could make a difference.

Little by little, day-by-day, being based in Iraq has defied all those reasons. I am house bound. I leave when I have a very good reason to and a scheduled interview. I avoid going to people's homes and never walk in the streets. I can't go grocery shopping any more, can't eat in restaurants, can't strike a conversation with strangers, can't look for stories, can't drive in any thing but a full armored car, can't go to scenes of breaking news stories, can't be stuck in traffic, can't speak English outside, can't take a road trip, can't say I'm an American, can't linger at checkpoints, can't be curious about what people are saying, doing, feeling. And can't and can't. There has been one too many close calls, including a car bomb so near our house that it blew out all the windows. So now my most pressing concern every day is not to write a kick-ass story but to stay alive and make sure our Iraqi employees stay alive. In Baghdad I am a security personnel first, a reporter second.

It's hard to pinpoint when the 'turning point' exactly began. Was it April when the Fallujah fell out of the grasp of the Americans? Was it when Moqtada and Jish Mahdi declared war on the U.S. military? Was it when Sadr City, home to ten percent of Iraq's population, became a nightly battlefield for the Americans? Or was it when the insurgency began spreading from isolated pockets in the Sunni triangle to include most of Iraq? Despite President Bush's rosy assessments, Iraq remains a disaster. If under Saddam it was a 'potential' threat, under the Americans it has been transformed to 'imminent and active threat,' a foreign policy failure bound to haunt the United States for decades to come.

Iraqis like to call this mess 'the situation.' When asked 'how are thing?' they reply: 'the situation is very bad."

What they mean by situation is this: the Iraqi government doesn't control most Iraqi cities, there are several car bombs going off each day around the country killing and injuring scores of innocent people, the country's roads are becoming impassable and littered by hundreds of landmines and explosive devices aimed to kill American soldiers, there are assassinations, kidnappings and beheadings. The situation, basically, means a raging barbaric guerilla war. In four days, 110 people died and over 300 got injured in Baghdad alone. The numbers are so shocking that the ministry of health -- which was attempting an exercise of public transparency by releasing the numbers -- has now stopped disclosing them.

Insurgents now attack Americans 87 times a day.

A friend drove thru the Shiite slum of Sadr City yesterday. He said young men were openly placing improvised explosive devices into the ground. They melt a shallow hole into the asphalt, dig the explosive, cover it with dirt and put an old tire or plastic can over it to signal to the locals this is booby-trapped. He said on the main roads of Sadr City, there were a dozen landmines per every ten yards. His car snaked and swirled to avoid driving over them. Behind the walls sits an angry Iraqi ready to detonate them as soon as an American convoy gets near. This is in Shiite land, the population that was supposed to love America for liberating Iraq.

For journalists the significant turning point came with the wave of abduction and kidnappings. Only two weeks ago we felt safe around Baghdad because foreigners were being abducted on the roads and highways between towns. Then came a frantic phone call from a journalist female friend at 11 p.m. telling me two Italian women had been abducted from their homes in broad daylight. Then the two Americans, who got beheaded this week and the Brit, were abducted from their homes in a residential neighborhood. They were supplying the entire block with round the clock electricity from their generator to win friends. The abductors grabbed one of them at 6 a.m. when he came out to switch on the generator; his beheaded body was thrown back near the neighborhoods./CONTINUED BELOW

PART II WSJ reporter Fassahi's e-mail to friends /2 9/29/2004 2:47:12 PM

The insurgency, we are told, is rampant with no signs of calming down. If any thing, it is growing stronger, organized and more sophisticated every day. The various elements within it-baathists, criminals, nationalists and Al Qaeda-are cooperating and coordinating.

I went to an emergency meeting for foreign correspondents with the military and embassy to discuss the kidnappings. We were somberly told our fate would largely depend on where we were in the kidnapping chain once it was determined we were missing. Here is how it goes: criminal gangs grab you and sell you up to Baathists in Fallujah, who will in turn sell you to Al Qaeda. In turn, cash and weapons flow the other way from Al Qaeda to the Baathisst to the criminals. My friend Georges, the French journalist snatched on the road to Najaf, has been missing for a month with no word on release or whether he is still alive.

America's last hope for a quick exit? The Iraqi police and National Guard units we are spending billions of dollars to train. The cops are being murdered by the dozens every day-over 700 to date -- and the insurgents are infiltrating their ranks. The problem is so serious that the U.S. military has allocated $6 million dollars to buy out 30,000 cops they just trained to get rid of them quietly.

As for reconstruction: firstly it's so unsafe for foreigners to operate that almost all projects have come to a halt. After two years, of the $18 billion Congress appropriated for Iraq reconstruction only about $1 billion or so has been spent and a chuck has now been reallocated for improving security, a sign of just how bad things are going here.

Oil dreams? Insurgents disrupt oil flow routinely as a result of sabotage and oil prices have hit record high of $49 a barrel. Who did this war exactly benefit? Was it worth it? Are we safer because Saddam is holed up and Al Qaeda is running around in Iraq?

Iraqis say that thanks to America they got freedom in exchange for insecurity. Guess what? They say they'd take security over freedom any day, even if it means having a dictator ruler.

I heard an educated Iraqi say today that if Saddam Hussein were allowed to run for elections he would get the majority of the vote. This is truly sad.

Then I went to see an Iraqi scholar this week to talk to him about elections here. He has been trying to educate the public on the importance of voting. He said, "President Bush wanted to turn Iraq into a democracy that would be an example for the Middle East. Forget about democracy, forget about being a model for the region, we have to salvage Iraq before all is lost."

One could argue that Iraq is already lost beyond salvation. For those of us on the ground it's hard to imagine what if any thing could salvage it from its violent downward spiral. The genie of terrorism, chaos and mayhem has been unleashed onto this country as a result of American mistakes and it can't be put back into a bottle.

The Iraqi government is talking about having elections in three months while half of the country remains a 'no go zone'-out of the hands of the government and the Americans and out of reach of journalists. In the other half, the disenchanted population is too terrified to show up at polling stations. The Sunnis have already said they'd boycott elections, leaving the stage open for polarized government of Kurds and Shiites that will not be deemed as legitimate and will most certainly lead to civil war.

I asked a 28-year-old engineer if he and his family would participate in the Iraqi elections since it was the first time Iraqis could to some degree elect a leadership. His response summed it all: "Go and vote and risk being blown into pieces or followed by the insurgents and murdered for cooperating with the Americans? For what? To practice democracy? Are you joking?"


Posted at 04:18 PM in War/Defense | Permalink | Comments (1) | TrackBack

Wednesday, September 29, 2004

Spot the Outlier (Gallup)

Once again, we are forced to play "Spot the Outlier"

via Polling Report

Yes, its Gallup. It turns out that the once estimable opinion outfit are now run by a bunch of religous zealots. Perhaps that explains why they were so wrong in 2000 in their Presidential polling data.

The unanswered question is why they have any credibility with the media today.

Posted at 02:09 PM in Politics | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack

Catalyze Joy

Another thought from Hugh "cartoons drawn on the back of business cards" Macleod


via Gaping Void

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Tuesday, September 28, 2004

The Latest Spammer: USPS

Guess who is the latest company to embrace Spam?


Why its the US Postal Service!

Makes sense . . . Maybe they get some new clients . . . Maybe they make email -- their prime competitor -- a little less usable.

Images from an email recieved this morning . . .


Shame on them!

P.S. I never signed up for anything at the USPS -- so I assume they either troll for email names, or buy lists.

Posted at 03:16 PM in Web/Tech | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack

US killing more Iraqi Civilians than Insurgents

Iraq has offically become a total clusterfuck:

"Operations by U.S. and multinational forces and Iraqi police are killing twice as many Iraqis - most of them civilians - as attacks by insurgents, according to statistics compiled by the Iraqi Health Ministry and obtained exclusively by Knight Ridder.  
According to the ministry, the interim Iraqi government recorded 3,487 Iraqi deaths in 15 of the country's 18 provinces from April 5 - when the ministry began compiling the data - until Sept. 19. Of those, 328 were women and children. Another 13,720 Iraqis were injured, the ministry said."
This is very likely to end far more badly than my worst expectations.

Click for larger graphic

Graphic courtesy Knight Ridder Newspapers

While most of the dead are believed to be civilians, the data include an unknown number of police and Iraqi national guardsmen. Many Iraqi deaths, especially of insurgents, are never reported, so the actual number of Iraqis killed in fighting could be significantly higher.  
During the same period, 432 American soldiers were killed.  

Iraqi civilian casualties mounting
Knight Ridder Newspapers, Posted on Sat, Sep. 25, 2004

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Monday, September 27, 2004


Saw something on the Discovery Channel on the Shelby GR-1.

While everyone is all gaga about the new Mustang (which is pretty cool), check out this beastie:

click for larger photo

click for larger photo

Its a pretty bad ass lookin set of wheels . . .

Via Car Design News

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Sunday, September 26, 2004

Cingular: Buh-Bye!

It seems in NY. most carriers will give you 15 days to try out their service. Thanks goodness! Our experience with Cingular was awful.

I was a relatively happy Sprint subscriber (with a Samsung N400 phone); Their cell quality was good (more on that later). Cingular was a different story:

1. Call quality was very disappointing -- this is first and foremost my biggest complaint -- hissy, phase shifting / rolling sound. Terribly substandard. Also, calls take a few moments to "lock in," which is annoying. The phone is a Motorola V220 -- I can't say how much the phone or the network gets assigned the blame, but the combo is unimpressive.

2. Dropped calls -- constantly losing people. Halfway thru, and the call is gone. Happened repeatedly.

3. No roaming charges? That's cause there was no roaming. I got too many "Call failed" to count. And to add insult to injury, I am sitting right next to either an AT&T customer (in Woodbury and in Oyster Bay) who were getting perfect reception, or a Verizon user on the train, and there hones were working fine.

No call -- yet my seat mate was chatting away? Inadequate, to say the least.

The 2nd line was for my wife, who drives back and forth to work. In the event of an emergency -- car trouble, etc., -- I need to know that the phone will absolutely positively work. The failure to roam is a deal killer for me. It is completely unacceptable. I'd rather pay the roaming charges, and have the call got thru. (This also smells like false advertising -- Look at us! No Roamimg charges!).

4. My initial Cingular phone service took 3 days to get turned on -- we were carrying both the new Cingular and old Sprint phone: one for incoming, and one for outgoing service. That was, until Cingular stopped working alltogether for 3 more days. It took a 90 minute visit to the store to have my SIM cards replaced. No fun. (they should owe me money).

Finally, let me add that all these places where I used the phone that sounded so awful -- were the exact same places I always called from -- the wife from the train (in the station!) on the way home, the car at nite and on weekends, walking down the street near my office in NYC. Literally, the exact same places as before.

To Cingular's credit, the process of cancelling the 2 year contract within our 15 day trial period was relatively painless. Brought the phones back, got a receipt from them, easy.

Lastly, if you are curious how we became Cingular customors -- for however briefly -- its over on the other side of the blog: Customer Acquisition versus Retention: A case study in costs

Posted at 06:18 AM in Web/Tech | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack

Saturday, September 25, 2004

Sunday NYT magazine on Political Bloggers

There's an in-depth story in the Sunday magazine section on Political bloggers.

The focus is really on Daily Kos, Wonkette, and Talking Points Memo. But Bopster Stirling Newberry gets mentioned towards the end of the piece.

Its not yet online, but us NY residents already have a hard copy -- I've always thought that's what Steely Dan meant by "celebrate Sunday on a Saturday night".

As an aside, I'd like to address something else mentioned in the article: The newfound monies the top tier of bloggers have been getting. I sincerely hope Josh, Anne Marie and Markos recognize the cyclical nature of elections and public interest in discussing them. (In other words, bank some money).

Like the man said, "this too, will pass."

If the challenger wins, there will still be a group of hard core readers after November 02, but I suspect page views will drop immediately after the elections, and especially on the left leaning side of the blogosphere. If the incumbent retains office, then a drift downwards may occur, until we get closer to 2006, and then cycle strongly back up towards 2008.

Just some food for thought . . .

Posted at 10:33 AM in Media, Politics | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack

Thursday, September 23, 2004

iPod's guilty little pleasures

What sort of crap do you have lurking hidden on your iPod?

That's the question a recent article (found in The Arizona Republic) asked:

"Those saccharine pop tunes and schmaltzy ballads cloaked from friends? There's no excuse anymore. No blaming it on a CD that had just one song you liked. No claiming it belonged to your wife, husband or friend.

You selected each and every tune. Like it or not, these are your greatest hits.

Now, let the melodic mocking commence."

OK, I'm guilty as charged. Not only do I have a slew of really embarrassing guilty pleasures on my pod, but they have actually found their way on to various mixes I've made. That means, no excuses.

How about you? What embarrassing ditties would your close friends be aghast about -- if they knew? Since our last interactive musical discussion -- Greatest American R&R Band -- was so much fun, let's take another swipe at it:

          What are the most horrendous, embarrassing, guilty pleasures on your iPod?

I'll start the HD spinning with my hidden collection of pathetic guilty pleasures ('tho music snob that I am, I foolishly believe my guilty pleasures are superior to most people's -- indefensible as that position might be).

These lists go from least (10) to most (1) embarrassing.

Generally embarrassing pop orotherwise awful commercial song:

0911ipod 10. Semi-Charmed Kinda of Life, Third Eye Blind
9. Undone - The Sweater Song, Weezer
8. Horndog, Overseer
7. Hey Leonardo (She Likes Me for Me), Blessid Union Of Souls
6. I Touch Myself, Divinyls
5. Closing Time, Semisonic
4. Complicated, Avril Lavigne
3. (I Hate) Everything About You, Ugly Kid Joe
2. She Hates Me, Puddle of Mudd
1. Mmmm Bop, Hanson

These are the utterly embarrassing songs on my "Gym Mix" : Ipod_01a3lf56x564i

10. I'm Just a Girl, No Doubt
9. Groove Is In The Heart, Deee-Lite
8. Take It Off, The Donnas
7. Fantastic Voyage, Coolio
6. Murder On The Dance floor, Sophie Ellis Bextor
5. Good Vibrations, Marky Mark
4. Steal My Sunshine, Len
3. That Don't Impress Me Much, Shania Twain
2. I Just Want to Make Love to You, Foghat
1. Rico Suave, Gerardo

And lastly, a mix I named "Bad radio from my Youth" -- and it is utterly ghastly:

10. Bad Time (for Being in Love), Grand Funk Railroad
9. Keep On Loving You, REO Speedwagon
8. Day After Day, Badfinger
7. Without you, Badfinger

A two way tie of simply awful for 3rd place:

6. (Shake, Shake, Shake) Your Booty, K.C. & The Sunshine Band
5. Keep It Comin' Love, K.C. & The Sunshine Band
(I've actually grown to like some other KC stuff, but these 2 -- shudder -- sheesh!)

A three way tie totally lacking any redeeming qualities for 2nd place:

4. Cover of the Rolling Stone, Dr. Hook & The Medicine Show
3. When You're in Love (with a Beautiful Woman), Dr. Hook
2. Sylvia's Mother, Dr. Hook

Last, and actually least, a song beyond bad:

1. Coconut, Harry Nilsson

There, I've outed myself and my misspent youth . . .

Update: Monday, September 20, 2004 11:12 PM
There are some interesting comments on this issue over at kottke, which is where I originally saw the pointer for this. Since then, there have been over 100 entries of guilty iPod pleasures, including what must be the playlist from Hell.

Check it out . . .

iPod guilty pleasures
Don Fernandez
Cox News, Sept. 11, 2004 12:00 AM

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Supersized ships squeeze under bridges

way cool photo"


Supersized ships squeeze into port
Gregory Richards
The Times-Union, September 23, 2004 - 01:23 AM

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