The Bronx Blogger

Thursday, August 25, 2005

Michael Yon's latest dispatch

Michael Yon is an embedded writer and photojournalist in Mosul, Iraq. He has just weighed in with his latest dispatch from the front lines.

And front line really means front line in the case of Michael Yon. His latest report is one of the most dramatic dispatches I have ever read from a war reporter. Go read the whole thing.

Read more!

The moon and Mars

I just got back from the roof with my son.

Earlier this evening we were at the Costco store in Yonkers where we noticed a new shipment of telescopes, the Meade DS-2090-AT-TC Refracting Telescope. The telescope comes equipped with a 90mm lens, an Autostar computer-guided slewing motor, a 26mm and a 9.7mm eyepiece, a light but sturdy aluminum tripod, and several other odds and ends.

The price for the telescope is $199. Since the Autostar control device is worth about $80 or $100 just by itself, $100 or $120 seemed like a very good price for a 90mm refractor, and I decided to buy it. And since Costco has an excellent return policy, there was no risk of wasting money by making the purchase.

Once back at home, I assembled the telescope. Telescope assembly was pretty straightforward, except that the instructions provided were more confusing then they had to be. My son and I took the elevator to the top floor of our building and carried the scope up to the roof.

It is clear out, but a little hazy, with a three-quarters waning moon, and Mars shone brightly only a few degrees or so from the moon. I tried to get the moon in position, but for some reason it just wouldn't focus. I was just getting a featureless white smudgy blur.

After fifteen minutes of frustration, I tried switching from the 26mm eyepiece to the 9.7mm eyepiece, but that didn't help. And then I noticed that the eyepieces weren't even staying in place properly. It turned out the 26mm had unscrewed into two pieces, with the silvery metal end lodged in the eyepiece slot. When I reassembled the eyepiece, I trained the telescope on the moon, and there it was! With a little bit of focusing, it looked clear as a bell (with a thin false orange band around the perimeter). The 26mm eyepiece, combined with the optical tube's 880mm focal length, yielded a 34x magnification, which meant the moon looked as if were looming only 7,000 miles away, with mares, mountains, craters in plain view, and the long shadows along the sunset twilight line adding dramatic depth to everything. My son was thrilled and delighted. He was actually pretty pleased just to have seen the bright white smudge before, so seeing a real live sharp image was very special indeed.

The scope has a small red-dot finder mounted on the optical tube. I used the moon to align the finder properly, and used the finder to get the telescope to point at Mars. There were a few faint stars in the field of vision which provided a nice pinpoint contrast to the small but perceptible disk of Mars.

When I switched to the 9.7mm eyepiece in order to get the 91x magnification, the image quality was actually worse. Mars was bigger, but more wobbly and distorted, due to poor weather conditions for viewing.

But when I used 91x enlargement on the moon, the view was great. The moon was hanging out only 2600 miles away! We could move the telescope over the surface of the moon as if we were standing in front of a large window and turning to look this way and that. My son was very impressed with that, even though he was now tired enough to want to call it a night. Perhaps he'll have dreams of touring the solar system tonight.

[The 9.7mm eyepiece view of the moon didn't have the band of false orange color, but it did have a very slender, faint band of purple instead.]

Some of you out there have probably heard that Mars is very close to the earth right now, closed than it has been in hundreds of years. So if you want to take advantage of that, the Meade refracting telescope at Costco seems to be a quick and easy way to go for it. I didn't use the Autostar computer-guided thingie tonight, but I'm looking forward to it. They've upgraded the catalogue of trackable celestial objects from an old total of 1,400 objects to a new total of 30,000 objects.

Read more!

Thursday, August 18, 2005

A Bit of Satire

I've posted comments in the comment threads of a few blogs that have addressed the merits of teaching something called Intelligent Design theory.

Many people have a problem with how children learn about evolution in science class. They want children to learn about theories that challenge the idea that natural selection is responsible for all the variety and complexity of life on earth.

Intelligent Design is a theory that is often proposed for inclusion in science classes as a way of counter-balancing the theory of evolution through natural selection. It proposes that some rational agent, some intelligent being or mind, intervened in the history of life and somehow directed or added to the flow of natural evolution.

President Bush himself recently gave support to the teaching of Intelligent Design while he was answering reporters' inquiries about the controversial topic.

I have a somewhat nuanced position about it myself.

On the one hand, evolution through natural selection is a scientific theory that has established itself well beyond a reasonable doubt.

On the other hand, millions of people believe in either creationism or Intelligent Design, so it doesn't hurt to teach those theories in public school in the context of, "Here is what a lot of intelligent people believe, so what do you make of that?" However, creationism and Intelligent Design definitely should not be part of a science curriculum, especially in a public school, because neither theory is a scientific theory.

Explaining why Intelligent Design, or creationism, is in fact not a scientific theory is not hard to do. Even though Intelligent Design wants really hard to be a scientific theory, it doesn't come close to succeeding.

But explanations have a way of making people's eyes glaze over, especially when someone is predisposed to disagree with you.

So instead of offering an explanation of why Intelligent Design is an un-scientific theory, I will instead post a link to the following late-breaking news story:

Physicists Announce Breakthrough in Quest for Unified Force Theory

In case the link eventually grows stale, I've reproduced the article below.

This story puts into words far better than I could just why Intelligent Design doesn't pass muster as a scientific theory. And the photo that is used as an illustration is pretty good too.

I was directed to the story by a item posted by Glenn Reynolds on his blog, Instapundit.


Evangelical Scientists Refute Gravity With New 'Intelligent Falling' Theory

KANSAS CITY, KS—As the debate over the teaching of evolution in public schools continues, a new controversy over the science curriculum arose Monday in this embattled Midwestern state. Scientists from the Evangelical Center For Faith-Based Reasoning are now asserting that the long-held "theory of gravity" is flawed, and they have responded to it with a new theory of Intelligent Falling.

"Things fall not because they are acted upon by some gravitational force, but because a higher intelligence, 'God' if you will, is pushing them down," said Gabriel Burdett, who holds degrees in education, applied Scripture, and physics from Oral Roberts University.

Burdett added: "Gravity—which is taught to our children as a law—is founded on great gaps in understanding. The laws predict the mutual force between all bodies of mass, but they cannot explain that force. Isaac Newton himself said, 'I suspect that my theories may all depend upon a force for which philosophers have searched all of nature in vain.' Of course, he is alluding to a higher power."

Founded in 1987, the ECFR is the world's leading institution of evangelical physics, a branch of physics based on literal interpretation of the Bible.

According to the ECFR paper published simultaneously this week in the International Journal Of Science and the adolescent magazine God's Word For Teens!, there are many phenomena that cannot be explained by secular gravity alone, including such mysteries as how angels fly, how Jesus ascended into Heaven, and how Satan fell when cast out of Paradise.

The ECFR, in conjunction with the Christian Coalition and other Christian conservative action groups, is calling for public-school curriculums to give equal time to the Intelligent Falling theory. They insist they are not asking that the theory of gravity be banned from schools, but only that students be offered both sides of the issue "so they can make an informed decision."

"We just want the best possible education for Kansas' kids," Burdett said.

Proponents of Intelligent Falling assert that the different theories used by secular physicists to explain gravity are not internally consistent. Even critics of Intelligent Falling admit that Einstein's ideas about gravity are mathematically irreconcilable with quantum mechanics. This fact, Intelligent Falling proponents say, proves that gravity is a theory in crisis.

"Let's take a look at the evidence," said ECFR senior fellow Gregory Lunsden."In Matthew 15:14, Jesus says, 'And if the blind lead the blind, both shall fall into the ditch.' He says nothing about some gravity making them fall—just that they will fall. Then, in Job 5:7, we read, 'But mankind is born to trouble, as surely as sparks fly upwards.' If gravity is pulling everything down, why do the sparks fly upwards with great surety? This clearly indicates that a conscious intelligence governs all falling."

Critics of Intelligent Falling point out that gravity is a provable law based on empirical observations of natural phenomena. Evangelical physicists, however, insist that there is no conflict between Newton's mathematics and Holy Scripture.

"Closed-minded gravitists cannot find a way to make Einstein's general relativity match up with the subatomic quantum world," said Dr. Ellen Carson, a leading Intelligent Falling expert known for her work with the Kansan Youth Ministry. "They've been trying to do it for the better part of a century now, and despite all their empirical observation and carefully compiled data, they still don't know how."

"Traditional scientists admit that they cannot explain how gravitation is supposed to work," Carson said. "What the gravity-agenda scientists need to realize is that 'gravity waves' and 'gravitons' are just secular words for 'God can do whatever He wants.'"

Some evangelical physicists propose that Intelligent Falling provides an elegant solution to the central problem of modern physics.

"Anti-falling physicists have been theorizing for decades about the 'electromagnetic force,' the 'weak nuclear force,' the 'strong nuclear force,' and so-called 'force of gravity,'" Burdett said. "And they tilt their findings toward trying to unite them into one force. But readers of the Bible have already known for millennia what this one, unified force is: His name is Jesus."

[from The Onion, August 17, 2005]

Read more!

Thursday, August 11, 2005

Salman Rushdie Says Says the Religion of Islam is Too Rigid

Salman Rushdie is the author who was sentenced to death in abstentia by the religious authorities of Iran in 1989 after his book, "The Satanic Verses" came out.

This past Sunday, the Washington Post published a column by Mr. Rushdie titled "The Right Time for an Islamic Reformation". It's short, and raises some interesting points.

I'm not sure what to make of Mr. Rushdie's recommendations. Does anyone know what should be done?

Read more!

Tuesday, August 09, 2005

Bush Post Repeat

[Note: This was originally posted on February 7th. I'm posting this piece on the front page again in order to highlight it for a comment thread I'm currently participating in.]

Bronx Blog Backs Bush, says Bush Beats Bad Bozos' Butts

I live in the Bronx and grew up in the Bronx.

When I was a wee boy, my neighborhood starting burning up. It got to the point that when I was seven years old, our family moved from where we were in the West Bronx to a nicer, not-burning-down neighborhood in the East Bronx. That neighborhood in the West Bronx was where my mother had grown up, but the switch was definitely a good move because the quality of life in the old 'hood was only getting worse, not better.

The decline of our neighborhood co-incided with the decline of many neighborhoods throughout the Bronx and New York City. And the decline of whole sections of New York City co-incided with similar declines in many other cities across the U.S.

The decline was a multi-faceted thing. Crime rose, arson rose, schools sprouted many problems, families on welfare increased, city services such as the subway system started to get worse and worse.

All this made a great impression on me. It made me very curious as to how things worked, and how things didn't work. It made me skeptical of authority, and skeptical of complacency.

I learned that individual persons could easily contribute to creating problems larger than themselves.

Eventually I also learned that individual persons could also contribute to solving problems larger than themselves. And I also learned that governments and businesses alike could be part of the problems or part of the solutions.

With the power to either participate in the solutions to our problems or to participate in the causes of our problems comes a definite amount of responsibility. We each have the power to choose to use our influence and our resources for good or for bad, and we are responsible for our choices.

That's why I follow and care about politics. We all get to choose our elected officials, and influence the votes of others. It's such a corrupt and dishonest business, though, especially in New York, that it's easy to walk away in disgust and try not to pay too much attention to it.

When I first heard that George W. Bush was going to run for president, I didn't know a lot about him. I voted for his dad in 1988, but I was so disappointed by Bush senior that I voted for Ross Perot in 1992. I didn't hold Bush senior's record against W, but I didn't have any particular reason to be positive about him either, except that he wasn't Bill Clinton or Al Gore.

I think I ended up liking him because he came out for tax cuts and for a humble yet strong foreign policy, and because he wanted to fix public education and was open to the idea of using school vouchers. But even if I hadn't ended up liking him, I would have desperately wanted just about anyone to win against Al Gore.

By the time election day came in November, I still thought that Bush had a good agenda. But more importantly, he seemed to understand the need we had for a president that would be a moral, decent person. This would be the best thing by far about Bush if it were true, and I was greatly relieved when he finally became president-elect.

By the time September 11, 2001, came around, I already was falling in love with President Bush. I didn't know how he would respond to the attacks. But I did know that in the past he had found himself in very stressful circumstances with long odds and come out on top. So I was anxiously optimistic that if there were anything we could do, then President Bush might be able to figure it out.

I was 200 yards away from the World Trade Center when the jihadi hijackers attacked them. Several people that I knew were murdered and pulverised, although none of them were close friends. The building I was in was not evacuated until 11:00 am, and I didn't get home to the Bronx until 7:oo pm.

I had been close to the WTC the first time it had been attacked, back in 1993, by jihadis with an exploding rental van. That had been very disturbing, but once the FBI had snagged the bad guys, it quickly seemed to turn into some manageable kind of business. The bombers seemed more bizarre than threatening, once we knew what they were up to.

But the September 11th attacks were way different. Up to 5,000 people were dead and 5,000 families torn apart, the skyline had a conspicious smoking hole, and somebody somewhere had just successfully declared war on the whole country. Hundreds of firefighters and other emergency personnel, as well as many altruistic office workers had died heroically. Nobody knew what our enemies would do next. And nobody knew what we would, could, or should do next (actually some people did know, or at least had a very good idea, but nobody I knew knew).

Over the next two weeks or so, daily reality took a holiday. And President Bush reassured me and many others that we had found a common purpose and that we would find a common way to deal with things.

If someone reading my account disagrees with me, that's fine with me. I know people had all kinds of reactions, and that is all part of the reality. But I am writing here of my own direct personal experience, and my own evaluation of that experience. I'm not going to pretend I experienced things I didn't experience, and I don't think anyone should expect me to.

I think one thing that some people overlook when they downplay the importance of 9-11 for our foreign policy is that 9-11 is the day that islamo-fascism declared war on our country.

We can pursue Al Qaeda and dismantle it. We can punish the Taliban for supporting Al Qaeda. But that will not stop the islamo-fascist movement. Doesn't even come close.

We need to unleash our secret weapon. It's been in development a long time, and not all the bugs have been worked out. In fact, it's so dangerous, hard-core S.O.B.'s like Henry Kissinger and Richard Nixon were often reluctant to use it.

Our secret weapon is liberal democracy. Democracy, with safeguards for minority and individual rights.

If we can infect the Middle East with democracy, and help the freedom bug take over, then islamo-fascism will become as menacing as Italian fascism is today (i.e. not very menacing).

The old dominant school of diplomatic strategy, known as real politik or realism, said that standing by friendly tyrants was more important than pushing very hard for democracy. The new "realism", which has been formulated and promulgated by President Bush, says that the promotion of democracy and freedom is a very high priority national security interest.

Is it possible that the new realism is misguided and wrong and counter-productive?

Anything is possible, but it is not very likely that democracy will prove to be a bad bet. Time will tell. I am optimistic.

It's important to stop the islamo-fascists as quickly as possible.

But it's not obvious what the best way to do that is, and we can only pursue one course of action at a time. So we always need to evaluate what we're doing to see if what we're doing is the best thing to do.

And what makes the war even more compelling a topic to analyze is that it has been so controversial. Here in the U.S., tens of millions of people line up on both sides of the campaign in Iraq. The numbers on each side have changed with the flow of good news and bad news from the battlegrounds.

And as go the fortunes of war, so seem to go the fortunes of President Bush.

President Bush deserves a lot of support. He deserves a lot of gratitude.

He is a trustworthy politician. That's like being a sprinting snail, or a sluggish jet-plane, in terms of defying the conventions of one's peers.

And as if it wasn't enough for him to be a trustworthy politician, he has also proven himself to be a highly competent leader and decision-maker.

If I were president, there are some things I would want to do differently from President Bush. But I suspect there are many more things that I would simply mess up compared to how President Bush is handling them.

I feel lucky that President Bush is our president. Because of that, I am very grateful to him, and I try to take every opportunity to stand up for him and defend his integrity and his record.

Read more!

Monday, August 08, 2005

Comments Switched from Blogger to Haloscan

Haloscan commenting and trackback have been added to this blog.

All comments up till now seem to have been lost. I'll try to recover them. Sorry about losing the comments.

Read more!

Saturday, August 06, 2005

What Is True, and What Only Appears to Be True?

The Belmont Club is a very strong blog about the War on Terror and about international affairs in general. The proprietor of the blog uses the pseudonym Wretchard.

Today he has posted a very strong essay about Joe Stalin and how he was about to conduct a purge, perhaps his greatest purge ever, when he suddenly died under suspicious circumstances in March 1953.

Stalin may have been assassinated just as he was getting ready to consummate one of his greatest crimes. But that is not the point of Wretchard's post.

He connects Stalin to the current War on Terror and poses an important question about the religion of Islam.

Go check it out!

Read more!

Steven Vincent's execution disrupts his last symposium

The online magazine has just published a symposium evaluating the U.S. coalition's efforts to rebuild Iraq.

The managing editor of FrontPage, Jamie Glazov, moderated a panel of six experts, including Steven Vincent. Before the symposium was able to run to its conclusion, Steven had been abducted and shot to death, and the balance of the symposium was canceled.

I strongly recommend reading the whole transcript of the symposium. Here's a pair of quotes where Steven counters and rejects Jeffrey White's characterization of the coalition's enemies as "insurgents". Jeffrey White is a retired government intelligence analyst who is currently an active think-tank consultant. Mr. White gives advice to the government and to defense contractors.

Jeffrey White: I do not think we get very far by trying to stick a "terrorist" label on the insurgency.

What we are looking at is a composite insurgency, one which combines elements of "resistance" against the "occupation", armed opposition to the Iraqi government, and terrorism, largely but not completely driven by foreign Jihadis and their Iraqi allies. Labelling all those involved in the insurgency "terrorists" is both inaccurate and dysfunctional. Precision in language is critical to precision in thought. We can not get it right in Iraq if we employ sloppy or emotive language.

We have been through "regime dead-enders", are now using the nonsensical "anti-Iraqi forces", and slap a terrorist label on people who are determined, ruthless, and inventive in prosecuting their wars. We also need to stop characterizing what is happening in overly simple ways. The insurgents do not attack indiscriminately, as I heard on TV this morning. They know who they are attacking and killing, sometimes by name, as in targeted killings of "collaborators."

These attacks are the antithesis of indiscriminate action. Violent, sometimes tragic, death and injury are what we see, but they serve various insurgent operational goals. Again, we need to be clear in our minds about what is going on. Let's start thinking clinically for a change.

[ ... ]

Steven Vincent: What's the question? What our personal views of the "insurgency" might be? Then I must admit I found Mr. White's comments a bit chilling.

Perhaps I've been in Iraq too long, but they sounded to me like a doctor telling a cancer patient his tumor is a form of "resistance" against the "occupation" of his body. And though Mr. Munthe is correct in parsing the jihadists from the Saddamites, his points strike me as discriminations that make little difference beyond tactical considerations. Emotions--outrage, contempt, wrath--are exactly what we need to carry on the fight against the anti-Iraqi terrorists.

These are, after all, cold-blooded killers who propose no programs, no alternatives, no vision of a "better" Iraq.

Are the Sunni paramilitaries anti-colonial "patriots?" Why, then, do they kill 20 times more Iraqi citizens than U.S. soldiers? Why don't they join with the Kurds and Shia in a national government and ask the U.S. to leave? What is the point of their bloodshed? From Tikrit to Basra, I have asked pro-fascist Sunnis these questions and have never received an adequate answer. Perhaps its time we consider that there is no answer, that the killing has no point, beyond archaic notions of tribal honor and revenge.

We want to believe that the paramilities have some sort of rational--or at least reasonable goal, as if they were continuations of the anti-colonial guerrillas of the last century. But those days are gone. The true horror of the war being waged against Iraq--whether by Baathi-fascists or Islamofascists--is its utter pointlessness, a fact that robs the dead of even the dignity of martyrdom. This is terrorism.

And the proper response is "clinical" analysis, coupled with Old Testament wrath.

I was directed to the FrontPage symposium by an item on the Power Line blog.

Read more!

Friday, August 05, 2005

Matthew Gets Cable

The cableman, Angel, came, installed the T.V. cable, installed the computer cable, switched the phone line over to the internet, and left about a half hour ago.

It was all pretty painless, and now I'm downloading and uploading stuff through the internet much, much more quickly. It's very nice, I highly recommend it.

[That's it, no more to read.]

Read more!

Wednesday, August 03, 2005

Islamists execute a good person, Steven Vincent

Steven Vincent was an art critic and New Yorker who witnessed the deaths of thousands of people in the World Trade Center attacks four years ago.

He decided to become a free-lance investigative journalist.

He ended up in Iraq documenting first-hand what the Iraqi people were doing and thinking in the aftermath of our invasion. He wrote a book about what he observed, In the Red Zone, that came out last November.

His book was particularly valuable inasmuch as he was one of the few American journalists in Iraq not to be embedded with coalition troops. He made a point of seeing and speaking to Iraqis where they lived and worked. His goal was to make an unfiltered Western/American/New York City appraisal of this very foreign nation and culture.

Steven went back to Iraq this past summer and did research for what was going to be his second book on Iraq. He intended to write a thorough-going expose of the situation in Basra and the southern Shiite-dominate region of Iraq. He wanted to bring attention to problems in the south of Iraq that largely go un-reported in our mainstream media.

Last night, Steven and his translator, Noor Al-Khal, were abducted off the street in Basra and subsequently shot and dumped outside. Noor Al-Khal is hospitalized in serious condition, but Steven was killed.

His murder was perhaps in retaliation for an op-ed of his that appeared in this past Sunday's New York Times. The op-ed is highly critical of "Islamic extremists and their Western-trained police enforcers" in Basra. His murder may also have been meant to keep him from writing his forthcoming book about Basra and southern Iraq.

I met Stephen last November one week after his book In the Red Zone was officially launched.

I had the opportunity to talk with him about Iraq and his book and President Bush. He related personal anecdotes about his bold journeys and he gave me his impressions of some of the various Iraqis he got to know. When I asked him about general strategy in Iraq and in the War on Terror, he carefully outlined his conclusions. He impressed me with his ability to entertain opposing ideas and his ability to modify his beliefs as he uncovered more and more information. He told me what he thought the worst difficulties in Iraq were likely to be.

When I was done talking to him, I found myself in the position of disagreeing with him on some important points in Iraq. I had not told him that I disagreed with him. I just made sure to question him about those points so I could extract the most benefit from his analysis and experience.

But it was definitely a strange experience for me. It was the first time I had personally discussed the war with someone and seriously disagreed with him, but still held the other person's opinion in extremely high regard. I had such high respect for Stephen's differing views that I determined to find out a lot more about our area of disagreement. I wanted to re-evaluate my own opinion and see if it was truly justified.

Perhaps in another post I'll talk about where we didn't see eye-to-eye. For now I'll just mention that it was such a big issue for him that it made him lose confidence in President Bush's leadership.

Stephen made a huge impression on me as a person. He was a serious, grounded person with a lively curiousity and respect for other people. He knowingly and willingly risked his life because he had a right to find out what was going on, and he was damned if anyone was going to intimidate him from doing what needed doing.

I hope the bastards who kidnapped him and shot him will regret having done so. Maybe Steven's death will be an event that brings about serious unintended consequences for his murderers.

I miss Steven and wish I had seen him again. The world has lost a very special and noble person.

Update: Here's a great post at the Mudville Gazette military blog.

Update, 8/4/05: The Belmont Club international affairs blog has a post on Steven's murder.

I left the following comment there (comment #63):

I met Steven Vincent last November.

Here's a short post I wrote today in his memory.

He risked his life for all of us, and now he's gone. Actually, he did more than risk his life, he pretty much ended up sacrificing it, like a canary in the Basra coal-mine.

We all owe a debt to him.

Update, 8/4/05: Here's a link to Steven's blog, which shares the name of his book on Iraq: In the Red Zone.

The piece below is today's New York Times article about Steven's murder:

American Journalist Is Shot to Death in Iraq,
Story by Edward Wong

BAGHDAD, Iraq, Aug. 3 - An American journalist writing about the rise of fundamentalist Islam was shot dead overnight after being abducted in the southern port city of Basra, American embassy and Iraqi officials said today. The journalist's translator was also shot and is in serious condition at a Basra hospital.

The body of the reporter, Steven Vincent, from New York, was found this morning. He had been dumped outdoors after being shot several times, and his hands were tied with a plastic wire, and a red piece of cloth was wrapped around his neck. He and his translator, Noor al-Khal, were kidnapped on Tuesday evening in downtown Basra by masked gunman in a pick-up truck as they left a moneychanger's shop near Mr. Vincent's hotel, police officials said.

The gunmen may have been in a police vehicle, The Associated Press reported, citing a police official in Basra.

Mr. Vincent was a middle-age freelance writer who recently had articles published in the Christian Science Monitor and the National Review. He told other journalists he was gathering material for a book on Basra. On Sunday, The New York Times printed an op-ed he had written about Basra, in which he sharply criticized the British government for allowing religious Shiite parties and clerics to take control of Basra and populate the security forces with their followers.

Since the start of the war, the British military has been charged with maintaining order in Basra, a heavily Shiite city run by religious parties.

Mr. Vincent is the first American reporter to be attacked and killed in the current Iraq war. Others have died from vehicle accidents or illnesses. In August 2004, an Italian journalist was abducted and murdered as he drove south of Baghdad to report on a Shiite revolt in Najaf.

"We of course are deeply saddened by it and have already notified the family and have extended our deepest condolences," said Pete Mitchell, a spokesman for the American embassy. "We're working very closely with Iraqi officials in Basra and with the British government to determine who might be responsible for this heinous crime."

Mr. Vincent was married and lived in the East Village of Manhattan. A short, wiry man with a penchant for cigars, he had been staying in the Merbid Hotel in downtown Basra for much of the summer. He was a fixture in the dining room, where he often had conversations with other journalists who were passing through.

Unlike most reporters working in Iraq, Mr. Vincent traveled without any security guards. He and Ms. Khal often took taxis to do interviews. But he also said he was reluctant to spend too much time in public areas such as restaurants or the Corniche, the city's popular riverside promenade.

He told this reporter in mid-June that he had worked as an art critic in New York until the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001. That and the Iraq war prompted him to travel to Baghdad in 2003, a trip that resulted in a book called "In the Red Zone" and a Web log about his experiences. Mr. Vincent had been writing in his blog the entire time while he was in Basra.

Mr. Vincent was particularly incensed about the sharp divide between men and women in the Islamic world, and about the increasingly religious mores in Basra that forced women to wear full-length black robes in public. He said he fully supported the Iraq war, believing it was part of a much larger campaign being waged by the United States against "Islamo-fascism." But Mr. Vincent said he was also disappointed by the failure of the United States and Great Britain to enforce their visions of democracy here in Iraq, instead allowing religious politicians to seize power across the south.

Conservative Shiite parties have strengthened their hold on Basra since the January elections. They include the Supreme Council for the Islamic Revolution in Iraq, which was founded in Iran and wields enormous power in Baghdad, and the Fadilah Party, started by Ayatollah Muhammad Yacoubi, a hard-line cleric. The organization of Moktada al-Sadr, the young cleric who has led two rebellions against the Americans, also has great influence in Basra.

In his op-ed in The New York Times, Mr. Vincent wrote that "it is particularly troubling that sectarian tensions are increasing in Basra, which has long been held up as the brightest spot of the liberated Iraq."

Policemen, he said, were responsible for carrying out many of the assassinations of former Baath Party officials, in revenge for the oppression of the Shiites under Saddam Hussein.

"Unless the British include in their security sector reform strategy some basic lessons in democratic principles, Basra risks falling further under the sway of Islamic extremists and their Western-trained police enforcers," he wrote.

Mr. Vincent did not limit his reporting to the city of Basra. He traveled to towns outside the area, including Fao, a fishing port to the south, near the Iranian border. Along with other reporters, he recently accompanied the governor of Basra, Muhammad al-Waeli, on an inspection of an island in the middle of the Shatt al-Arab river, which runs alongside Basra to the Persian Gulf.

In late June, Mr. Vincent said he was lonely and getting tired, and that he appreciated the company of other foreign reporters who were passing through the hotel. But he said he wanted to stay in Iraq to see whether the National Assembly in Baghdad would approve a new constitution by Aug. 15, and how that might affect Basra. He said he intended to take a break in New York and return to cover national elections scheduled for December.

Several journalists staying at the same hotel last week recalled talking to Mr. Vincent about his work.

"He was kind of secretive about the specifics of what he was working on," said Thanassis Cambanis, a reporter for The Boston Globe, which is owned by The New York Times Co. "He told me he was leaving within weeks. He said he felt he had gotten most of the research done for his Basra book, and he was wrapping things up."

The Committee to Protect Journalists, based in New York, said that as of June 28, at least 45 journalists and 20 media support workers have been killed while covering the war in Iraq since March 2003. Many of those killed have been Iraqis. Insurgents have been responsible for most of the deaths, though some killings have been due to American fire.

[Fakr al-Haider contributed reporting from Basra.]

Read more!

Monday, August 01, 2005

Horn of Arabia: American Soldier Becomes Iraqi Sheik

Army Staff Sgt. Dale L. Horn, from Fort Walton Beach, Florida, has been made a sheik of the people of Al Qayyarah, Iraq.

Here is a story about Sgt. Horn from The Salt Lake City Tribune:

U.S. soldier's aid to Iraqis earns him title of sheik.

I was directed to this story by Glenn Reynolds of Instapundit.

Read more!