Friday, February 29, 2008

I saw this girl sitting there and she reminded me so much of Steve McCurry's famous 1984 shot of the green-eyed Afghan girl.

I got out today as the sun was setting and took some photos of the street. Kids were just getting out of school and many were walking hand-in-hand sharing ice cream from the corner store while starring at the tall gringo with the camera. As I walked through the streets I passed an organized soccer game in the new field, groups of burka-clad women walking their children, and kids racing around on beat up bicycles. It all seemed very normal; a momentary glimpse of what this country is hopefully heading towards.

Wednesday, February 27, 2008

Baghdad Buddhism

A green awning. I love the way it transforms the light when standing underneath it.

There's been a mosquito in my room every night bugging the living hell out of me. I have all I can do not to wake up, hunt it down, and squash it into oblivion. All life is sacred, I'm told, even the pesky mosquito's. I endure and wish it well.

It’s hard to reconcile living in a war zone while at the same time relishing all living things; quietly sitting zazen with a 9mm tucked under your shirt. The contradictions here are endless but at the same time so are the opportunities; for compassion, kindness, and empathy. It reminds me of the opening lines of Dickens’ A Tale Of Two Cities, “It was the best of times, it was the worst of times…”

A Horse Of A Different Color

Discarded clay plant pots tossed up against a wall

I've given thousands of inoculations in my lifetime, so when one of the guards strolled into the office last night looking for someone to give him a Vitamin B shot I thought it no big deal. Then one of the young producers wandered past the the door prompting me to ask, "Hey, you wanna give this guy his shot?" It's not something that the media guys get to do every day, so I thought it would be a good learning experience.

I asked him if he'd ever done it before and he told me that he does his horses all the time. OK, sounds good, but I quickly found out that the process for horses and people is different. I didn't know that when you give a shot to a horse you detach the needle from the syringe, stick the horse with just the needle, and then reattach the syringe to push the meds.

So there's my bewildered guard with a bare needle sticking out of his ass and my producer trying desperately to reattach the stubborn syringe as the med is leaking down this guy's leg. I was right, it was a learning experience after all.

Monday, February 25, 2008

Happy Birthday To My Son

I love to watch him laugh and play.

Sunday, February 24, 2008


The media's freedom of movement within Iraq has been severely restricted over the last year or so due to the high levels of violence, and the heightened threat against westerners. For the most part media crews have relied upon the U.S. military to shuttle them around the country as they "embed" with various units. It's worked out well for the military because it gets ample opportunity to get it's message out. The media, on the other hand, is itching to do other stories that don't include shots of U.S. soldiers or Marines ridding about in HUMMVs.

With the recent successes of the "surge" the bureaus are becoming more active in their efforts to get out on the streets and gather other, non-military stories. It still requires immense amounts of security coordination, but little by little things are beginning to open up. There's an direct relationship between the security situation on the ground in Iraq and quantity of stories filed by the Baghdad bureaus.

On another note, if I were a "backpack journalist" I'd be heading to Turkey right now. The situation there remains questionable as the Turks have a reputation for entering Iraq, making some noise and leaving again. This time, however, there seems to be more activity and not a lot of news coverage due to the fact that expense assets are tied up elsewhere. Opportunity exists.

Saturday, February 23, 2008

Closing The Barn Door

Standing post in the morning sun

An old, wooden horse-drawn cart blew up on the busy city streets of Baghdad the other day. Someone planted explosives under the decrepit cart, drove it through the city, got off and walked away, detonating the cart remotely. Several nearby vehicles and people were injured, the only fatality that I'm aware of was the horse. The Government of Iraq has now prohibited horse-drawn carts from the city streets, literally closing the barn door after... If this wasn't so tragic it would be comical.

Honestly, I'd Rather Read A Book


I remember when I was young my father told me that if you have five 'real' friends your entire life you're lucky. Like many things that he's conveyed to me over the years, that seems to be true as well. I have dozens of people that I'm friendly with but only a small handful that I count as friends in the strict sense of the word. On a side note, this seems to be a point where the English language fails us, as there seems to be no words to connote the degree of 'friendship' between two people. I wonder what that says about out society as the Eskimos have dozens of words for 'snow', but I'm off track here.

I attribute my selectiveness of friends to the fact that, like my father, I'm terribly introverted. I tell people that I'm a pathological introvert, and really don't like people at all. You get some funny looks at that. Many interpret 'quiet and withdrawn' as 'deep and thoughtful', little do they suspect. Being an ex-military officer seems to be incongruent with being withdrawn, but I found that you can get along quite well by acting the part of an extroverted, center-of-attention kind of guy. I wonder how many great leaders of the world were really just acting the part, and would really have preferred to hide from the spot lights and go read a book?

Friday, February 22, 2008

So Ya Wanna Be A Cameraman?

I play way too much with my camera

I'm in the wonderful position where I get the chance to watch correspondents, producers and cameramen work all day. I have to be honest and say that of the three the cameramen have the coolest jobs. Here are my thoughts on cameramen:

• When going out on an 'embed' with the military the producer and correspondent each have one bag, the cameraman has a bag...and 15 Pelican cases.

• Want to be a cameraman, learn Final Cut Pro. These guys and gals live on it. They know every shortcut key and all of the bells and whistles.

• There are cameramen that are technicians and others that are artists. Rarely will you find one that is both. Each have their value.

• Cameramen are all "gear queers". They love their "Gucci" pouches and bags. They're more attracted to good ballistic nylon than good glass.

• They work the longest hours by far.

• Cameramen love security because they know that while their eye is in the eyepiece that someone is watching their back.

• Cameramen have the best stories.

• The camera is like a rifle to an infantryman. It's never more than an arms-length away.

• All cameramen have a secret stash of bloopers on their MacBook Pros

Building A Better World

One of the things that the people of all third world countries can do is make stuff. I've always been amazed at their ingenuity and resourcefulness as they can fabricate anything so long as they have a model from which to work from. While in Bolivia as friend of mine remarked on this phenomenon, "If the space shuttle landed here in La Paz today the Bolivians would have a working copy of it within a week".

One of the things that I'm doing here in the villa is up-dating the gym. Right now it's a collection of old steel plates, an olympic bar, a few benches, a very nice treadmill, an a new Concept 2 Rower. I'm trying to cobble together a proper 'garage gym' that allows the bureau staff to accomplish the workouts that they want. For example, I wanted a 20 lb. medicine ball, so our Iraqi staff went out and purchased a $5 basketball from downtown, cut a hole in it, filled it with the appropriate amount of sand and cloth, and resealed it with a tire patch. Perfect!

I then gave them the mission of fashioning a wall-mounted chin-up bar. I downloaded some pictures from the Internet and gave them to the guys as a guide. Last night, well close to midnight, they were outside in the cold welding, grinding, and painting. The result this morning was an exact copy of the picture that I gave them right down to the brand-name stenciled in red letters on the iron supports. Tomorrow... a squat rack.

Thursday, February 21, 2008


The end of a very well-used olympic bar

Yikes! It's been a bit since I posted. I'm safe and sound in Baghdad, but have been incredibly busy here. I'm spending more time in a leadership/managerial role on this trip, which has had me hopping. The result has been that I haven't taken a single picture, spent any time piping, and haven't put up a single post.

The one thing that I have been doing is CrossFit workouts. I've discovered this eclectic, no-frills, open-source exercise regime that has really opened my eyes to the definition of physical fitness. As an Ironman triathlete I believed that I was at the pinnacle of fitness. Noooooo, not even close! CrossFit is an entirely different universe of conditioning. It combines olympic power lifting, gymnastics, rowing, swimming, and running to form the quintessential athlete. I highly recommend people check it out. It can appear to be very intimidating at first, but it really does have a kinder, gentler side to it. I just haven't seen it yet.

Things here in Baghdad are pretty stable at the moment, and I mean this very moment. Muqtada al-Sadr is threatening to expire the 6-month ceasefire, which, once again, will turn this place into absolute chaos. We'll know more tomorrow what this lunatic plans to do.

Thursday, February 7, 2008

Packing Bags... Again

Chairs lined up around the pool in another hotel in yet other country

I’m packing my bags and heading off to the Middle East once again. I have a quick trip through the Emirates and then into Baghdad for a fairly long stint.

The past months have been pretty travel intensive. I’ve had the opportunity to visit London, Islamabad, Cairo, Sana'a, Mexico, Paris, Amman, Baghdad, Dubai, Caracas... Every day that I spend jetting around the world, however, is one day that I miss my son bouncing through the house clutching a Transformer or sharing a glass of wine in front of the fire with my wife. There are trade-offs with everything.

Tuesday, February 5, 2008

Zen And The Art Of...

Land Cruiser's chrome hood latch. The truck went up on eBay the other day. So much for attachment.

I spend a lot of time in bookstores, it's a favorite pastime. While walking the stacks I’ve noticed a plethora of books and articles entitled Zen and the Art of (insert whatever you please). I find it ludicrous that people actually believe that Zen Buddhism can help them sink that 18-foot uphill putt or amass a winning stock portfolio. How is that even possible?

There’s no debate that sitting hours of zazen has some intrinsic calming and concentration-enhancing side effects, but they are just that, unintended and superfluous. They are not the point of the pointless practice, and certainly not going to help anyone’s golf game. Zen is a dirty, ugly business that brings confusion and clarity all at the same time. Don’t be fooled by dripping water or pristinely raked sand. I suppose that if you spend enough time raking sand that I’ll help you clean the trap up after your bunker shot. Maybe there is something to all those books after all.

Heading out in a few days. Back to the Middle East.

Friday, February 1, 2008

Going Grunge

I watched the morning news coverage of the run-up to the Super Bowl and the networks are parading out their “security experts” to comment on the terrorist threat associated with the event. Why do all of these guys look as if they just emerged from a bar fight? I think that the networks seek out sort of rough and ready guys that naturally look uncomfortable in a suit; that’s if they even bother to wear one.

Along the same vane, media networks have been gravitating for some time towards what I call, “grunge journalism”. In other words, putting people on camera that try to look as if they have been so busy dodging car bombs and ducking snipers that they haven’t had time for a shower or a shave in the last month. To be fair, I’ve also seen the same phenomenon in both the military and academia as well. “I’ve been so busy thinking lofty thoughts that I forgot to brush my teeth for the last week”. It’s odd how we link appearance to credibility.