Previous month:
May 2007
Next month:
July 2007

June 2007

Terror returns to London

Picture_2 The United Kingdom's terrorist alert level was raised to its highest level this evening after a third attempted terrorist attack in two days. Britain is now on critical alert, meaning that a terrorist attack is "imminent".

The latest incident occurred this afternoon when two hell-bound idiots crashed a flaming SUV into Glasgow International Airport in Scotland.  This follows yesterday's shockers that two car bombs had been discovered in central London.  The news has dominated newspapers and television.

Uk_tg That said, Londoners don't seem to be changing their patterns. Restaurants, bars and clubs are still packed with revelers. London's annual gay pride parade still went off without a hitch. And this evening, the Two Crabs and friend "A" went to an Independence Day festival and fireworks display at RAF Ruislip, a joint British-American Air Force base in northwest London. Security was understandably tight. U.S. Marines searched our bags and all guests were frisked and probed by metal detectors. But despite the security alert and the nonstop torrential downpours, despite that we were hanging out at a potential target, hundreds of people attended the festival.  British and American families, couples, singles, kids, packs of teenagers came out to enjoy the carnival rides, live pop bands, BBQ, beer and fireworks show (timed to Star Wars music!).  After returning to Central London, the Two Crabs stopped in Oxford Circus. It was nearly midnight but the streets were still packed with pub-goers.  Got home about 1am tonight and our neighborhood is still rocking. 

Thankfully, these terrorist attacks all failed. The car bombs were discovered by pure dumb luck. The flaming SUV fizzled out into smoke.  Although the plot appears to be growing hour by hour, Londoners seem to be taking it in stride. Life goes on. The Wimbledon tennis matches are still being served.  Tomorrow I'm covering the Concert for Diana, one of the year's most-anticipated events in London. And next week, the Tour du France comes to the streets of London.  Thousands of tourists are still in town.

Londoners have always been resolute in the face of adversity, from the World War II blitzkrieg to the IRA bombing campaign of the 1970s and 1970s, to the 7/7 bombings in 2005.

For now, we can only watch and wait, and hope nothing more materializes out of the current terrorist attempts. But if the terrorists' goals was to strike fear into Britons, they failed. Miserably.

Things that go boom in London

Pretty scary day in London today. A massive CAR BOMB was found and defused in Piccadilly Circus (above), the heart of London's West End theatre district.  Piccadilly Circus is the equivalent of New York's Times Square. It's a very touristy, very busy area that is packed with crowds of people day and night.  It's the height of tourist season in England.  Had this bomb gone off, the death toll would have been catastrophic.  Understandably, the British TV channels and radio stations are providing wall-to-wall coverage of the news, which right now, isn't much.    Still no word on who may have planted this bomb. IRA? Al Qaeda? Eco-terrorists? Home-grown thugs? Who knows.

UPDATE: British officials say the crude car bomb was a Mercedes packed with nearly 100 liters of gasoline, gas cylinders and nails. The car was parked in front of the Tiger-Tiger restaurant/bar on Haymarket Street just off Piccadilly Circus. Had it exploded, "hundreds" of people would have been killed and injured.  The car bomb was discovered by dumb luck, by an observant ambulance crew who noticed smoke inside the car. Officials further say that this bomb has the hallmarks of Al Qaeda.

Blair Brown The timing of this attempted bomb plot is interesting.  For those who haven't heard, Britain has a new prime minister. After 10 years, Tony Blair (left) is out. And GORDON BROWN is in.  PM Brown is not as charismatic or "TV friendly" as Blair. The frumpy Brown has been described as an "Atlanticist" because of his pro-American ideologies. He even spends his summer vacations in Martha's Vineyard. You can't get much more American than that!  Also next week is the second anniversary of the 7/7 bombings that killed 52 people on London transport in 2005.

Capt1fab10fe7d9549cbb168e08e36443f0 The SPICE GIRLS have reunited after nearly 10 years on hiatus making babies and embarking on failed solo ventures.  They are playing various cities around the world this December and January. No word on why Victoria "Posh Spice" Beckham smuggled two hard melons into the press conference. Personally I was always partial to Ginger Spice.

Finally, the other news in London this week is WIMBLEDON.  Unfortunately, there hasn't been much tennis to watch because it's been raining for about six days straight. During the rare breaks in the rain, only a few matches have been played.  Most of the time, the courts have remain covered by tarps.  Judging by the empty seats at the courts, there seem to be lots of no-shows by fans fearful of the rain.  Obligatory Maria Sharapova photo:


After escaping from Baghdad, I spent two glorious days in Dubai, visiting with my old Broadside pal, who shall heretoforth be known as "JJ".  Dubai is like Las Vegas of the Middle East, but without the gambling or strip clubs.  But it has everything else. Gaudy, tacky, glamorous, ostentatious, glitzy and extravagant are a few adjectives that come to mind. Every hotel, every club, every restaurant is trying to outdo the other. Talk about keeping up with the Joneses. 

JJ and I dined at "Pisces," which has won voted best seafood restaurant in Dubai several years running. It's located inside the Madinat Jumeriah resort, a giant complex that is a combination shopping mall-luxury hotel--entertainment venue.  And the food at Pisces? FAN-FRACKING-TASTIC!  Some of the best seafood I've had...ever...anywhere!  Mr. Crab had the sea bass; JJ had the scallops; plus a spicy tuna appetizer and a bottle of Chilean white wine. Yum yum yuM!   It ain't cheap. But damn was it worth it!

Img_6113The photo above of Dubai Creek and downtown Dubai cityscape was shot from my hotel room.  And you wanna talk over-the-top? Check out this shot of the Burj Dubai construction site (right).  When completed in late 2008, the Burj Dubai tower will be the tallest building in the world. As of June 24, the tower stood at 492.9 meters (1,617 feet) and 136 stories.  The tower will eventually rise to at least 700 meters (2,296 feet) and about 160 stories. By comparison, the tallest building in the world is currently the Taipei Tower at 1,671 feet.  The exact height of the Burj Dubai is being kept secret until the last minute, over fears that another tower could surpass it! 


I'm home!

Hiya!  After another fun-filled tour in the warzone of Baghdad, I'm back home in London.  It was raining and 60 degrees Fahrenheit when I landed in London Saturday morning. It was the first time I had seen rain in about 30 days. In fact, it's now Sunday evening and it's been raining for about 36 hours straight.  Last night we hit our favorite local pub, forgot our umbrella and, of course, the skies opened up in a torrential downpour. Thunder, lightning, sheets of water blowing sideways. It was bad. We decided to wait out the storm and have another pint. And another. And another.  Five pints, two burgers and four hours later, the rain finally let up enough for us to walk (stumble) home.   It's chilly, barely 58 degrees now and drizzling.  Yes sir, typical London weather.

Mercer released it's annual list fo the world's most expensive cities. And this year, London jumped from 5th to 2nd place due mainly to the stronger British pound versus the U.S. dollar.  (As of Friday, 1 British pound equals $1.99.)  And for reasons that I cannot even begin to fathom, MOSCOW is now the world's most expensive city. Go figure.

The Top 20 world's most expensive cities 2007:

1. Moscow
2. London
3. Seoul
4. Tokyo
5. Hong Kong
6. Copenhagen
7. Geneva
8. Osaka
9. Zurich
10. Oslo
11. Milan
12. St. Petersburg (Russia)
13. Paris
14. Singapore
15. New York City
16. Dublin
17. Tel Aviv
18. Rome
19. Vienna
20. Beijing

The Children of War

Img_6049 Biking in Baghdad
Originally uploaded by TwoCrabs.

Baghdad has been under a mandatory curfew since the June 13 bombing of a holy Shiite mosque in Samarra. As a result, all traffic has been banned from the streets of Baghdad, to the delight of children and families.

It was quite a scene to see hundreds of Iraqis walking down the middle of the normally-crowded streets, toddlers on Big Wheels, kids playing soccer. Whereas American kids might yell "CAR" whenever a vehicle was approaching, these kids were yelling "HUMVEE!" whenever an American military convoy approached.
This little girl was quite the ham, and kept circling and begging me to take her photo!

Last week, Gen. David Petraeus, commander of all 160,000 U.S. troops in Iraq, was criticized for telling USA TODAY that there were "astonishing signs of normalcy" in many parts of Baghdad.  Sen. Harry Reid and others claimed Petraeus was out-of-touch with reality.  But the fact of the matter is, Petraeus is right, to a point.

It always surprises me how many Americans and Westerners think that Baghdad is one giant war zone like a scene out of a Hollywood war movie. They imagine scenes from the D-Day invasion of Normandy from "Saving Private Ryan", or perhaps the "Tet Offensive" battle scene in "Full Metal Jacket."  Even some of my own friends and families think that I'm hunkered down in a bunker 24-7 while bombs and bullets are flying over my head. That just isn't the case.

Img_6055 In many parts of the country, life goes on. Schools are open. Markets and restaurants are thriving. Wedding parties led by elaborately-decorated cars cruise down the strip on Thursday nights, sometimes accompanied by fireworks at the reception hall near my house. Kids still play like kids, whether it's the middle of the road during the curfew, or the dusty trash-strewn field by the canal. Families stroll through the Baghdad zoo and theme park on weekends. People go about their mundane errands of everyday life.

I'm not downplaying the violence in Iraq, because we are still at war. It's impossible to travel to many parts of Baghdad or Iraq for fear of being killed by either IEDs, car bombs, mortars, rocket attacks, Al Qaeda, Mahdi Army militias, Iranians, kidnappers, sectarian violence, coalition military operations, gangland wars, random street thugs. Pick your poison.

We are at war. But it's a much more complex than most people can possibly imagine, and nearly impossible to explain in a concise television soundbite.  Perhaps the best way to describe the Iraq war is "random". 

The war is simultaneously everywhere and it is nowhere.


Img_6008 Img_6012

Independence Day in England

The U.S. Embassy in London has released a list of UK-based events commemorating Independence Day. Incidentally, you can sign up for the Embassy's monthly newsletter for American expats by sending an email to "[email protected]" with the word "subscribe" in the subject line and text.

Img_5635 Independence Day Events in the UK

Several Independence Day events are taking place on and around the 4th of July.  Many American and American-themed restaurants throughout the UK will also be serving 4th of July lunches and dinners on that Wednesday.

Independence Day Celebrations 2007 at RAF West Ruislip (West Ruislip stop on the Central Underground Line) will take place on Saturday, June 30, 2007 from 1:00- 11:00 pm.  Entry is free.  There will be Fun Fair rides, food vendors, and Arena Shows (Motor & Quad Bike Stunts, Pipe Band, Regiment Bands), along with live and DJ music.  There will also be a fireworks finale at 11:30 p.m.  Contact Vincent Ennever at 01494-795649 or [email protected] for details and more information.

The American Society in London is hosting an Independence Day Fireworks Supper Party, on Sunday, 8 July 2007 at Winfield House, the residence of the U.S. Ambassador, in Regent’s Park from 8:00 pm to 10:00 pm.  There will be fireworks at dusk (please note that smart dress, jackets are required).  Tickets are £65.  Spaces are limited, so applications must be received no later than June 22 by post without exception.  Send applications marked “R.S.V.P. - Independence Day Fireworks – EMBASSY, 8 July 2007” along with a check payable to “American Society in London” for £65 per person, and include your name, telephone number, address and email, along with the full names of the people attending, with ages for any children, to Lynne Manek, The American Society in London, 63 Woodfields, Stansted, Essex CM24 8AL.  For further information on American Society membership and on this event, please email [email protected].

St. Paul’s Church on Bedford Street in Covent Garden will be the site of a 7:30 pm concert by the New London Singers ( They will be singing songs of American themes and from American composers.  Last year this event took place in St. Martin-in-the-Field, but the Church is currently under repair.  For tickets, priced at £14, contact the St. Martin-in-the-Field Box Office at 020 7839 8326, or tickets can be purchased at the door beginning at 1830 (6:30 pm).

The American Museum in Britain (, located in Bath, is hosting an American Independence Day Picnic on July 4 in the evening.  The picnic begins at 6:00 pm on the Terrace Lawn and will feature bluegrass music and American folk dancing.  Food is available for purchase including BBQ, but families can bring their own. Admission is £2 for adults and £1 for children; Museum members get in free.  The Museum is also hosting American Independence Day Drill Displays on June 30 and July 1. The Displays are a living history exhibit of what life would be like for British Soldiers in 1776. 

Sulgrave Manor, the ancestral home of George Washington’s family, located in Oxfordshire, will be holding an Independence Day celebration on Sunday, July 1 from 10:30 am – 5:00 pm.  Activities will include a small circus, music and dance, and the appearance of an American bald eagle.  Tickets are £7.50 for adults, £3.50 for children; family tickets are available for £20.  For more information visit

Democrats Abroad UK is having a picnic on July 1 from 12:30 pm to 3:00 pm in Regents Park, in Marylebone Gardens just off Chester Road.  The picnic will have face painting for kids and other games; Democrats Abroad encourages everyone to bring their own food.

The North American Connection (NAC), based in the Midlands, will host its annual celebration of Canada Day (July 1st) and U.S. Independence Day on Saturday, July 7th, from 2pm to 5:00pm. Entrance is £5.00 for adults, £2.00 for children 4 to 12, and free for kids under 3. If you are interested in joining the NAC and wish to meet new faces, contact Debbie Feiler via email at [email protected] for further details.

“The Discovery” Tour 

In order to commemorate the 400th anniversary of Jamestown, a full life replica of one of the ships used to transport English colonists to Virginia, “The Discovery,” will be touring the UK this summer.  For a schedule of the tour and more information on the celebration of the founding of Jamestown, visit

Killing time in Baghdad

The curfew in Baghdad is still in effect after Wednesday's bombing of the Shiite mosque in Samarra. We're still under lock-down in the media compound, which has given me a lot of time today to surf the net, especially YouTube!  Here's my favorite video of the week. (Note: I am not endorsing a candidate. Just posting a funny video!).  It stars a scantilly-clad model/actress Amber Lee Ettinger as a young woman obsessed with Barack Obama.  The makers of the video are the same people behind the infamous Saturday Night Live skit, "Dick In a Box" starring Justin Timberlake!

Stop the presses!

Today, the revered Shiite mosque in Samarra was bombed, destroying its minarets. It's the same mosque that was bombed in February 2006 that set off the wave of Sunni vs. Shiite sectarianism and put Iraq on the brink of civil war.

Shortly after it happened, the Iraqi government announced an immediate curfew in Baghdad, banning all vehicle traffic in the Iraqi capital until further notice as of 3pm Baghdad time. That's all fine and dandy, except I was in the Green Zone when this curfew was announced, attempting to land a huge interview that was supposed to happen at 12:45pm.   But my interview subject was late. I'm sitting in a waiting room watching CNN, drinking several bottles of water, watching the clock. 1300. 1315. 1330.  At this point, I had to make a choice:  cancel the interview and hope I can reschedule to get back to the hotel before the curfew starts, or stick around and hope the interview happens and risk getting stuck in the Green Zone for several days, without my laptop or so much as a toothbrush. Being the risk-taker, i rolled the dice and chose the latter. And it paid off -- big-time. At 1:45, my source appeared.  The interview was a huge "get."    But as he's speaking, I'm looking at my watch. 1400. 1415. 1420. Finally at 1420 (2:20pm) I decided to cash my winning hand and politely ended the interview. Not only that, but I had to pee like a racehorse.

After thanking interview subject profusely, me and my military "minder" had to practically sprint to the car so they could drop me off at the exit. The driver dropped me off at an exit I don't normally use. And as I was walking down an unusual stairwell, I hear a voice yell in English, "HEY YOU, COME HERE."  I look up and a U.S. soldier is pointing at me and motioning for me to follow him. I go up and show him all my military-issued identification cards and US passport, explaining that I'm just trying to leave. "You can't walk across this area. You're coming with me."  Ok now it's about 2:40pm and I'm crapping my pants while this 18-year-old punk private lectures me about walking by his post and for talking on my cellphone. He takes me into a nearby tent and there's a sergeant sitting on a stool with his feet up on a desk. The private starts to explain why he's detained me and the sergeant looks at him like he's a retard. The sergeant barely glances up at me and waves his hand at me, motioning that I can leave.  Idiot. 

So I get to the exit. Hundreds of Iraqis who work in the Green Zone were also trying to leave the base at the same time. I got out, walked into the street and NO DRIVER. I could not find my drivers anywhere.  Here I am, standing on the streets of Baghdad, surrounded by people who may or may not be friendly, dressed in western clothes. Now I'm crapping my pants.  So I walked back into the checkpoint, behind the tall cement blast walls and found a quiet corner away from everybody where I could use my cell phone and speak English.

So I called my security detail. No answer. I called one of the drivers. No answer. Finally got a hold of a second driver. "WHERE THE FRACK ARE YOU!" I yelled to the poor guy.  It turns out two of my Iraqi staffers had gone home to beat the curfew. "I coming now!" he said. I stayed behind the blast walls, sitting with a group of women chatting amongst each other, all carrying plastic bags full of food. A minute later my guy calls. "I outside! I outside!"   I RAN to the car, jumped in and we sped off down the highway.

We got back at the media compound with two minutes to spare before the curfew.  I spent the next 10 hours writing several stories for the website and newspaper, pumped up with adrenaline rush that comes from breaking news and landing exclusives. On days like today, I remember why I got into journalism.  At the end of the day, it all came together.

Whenever I'm stressed or freaking out that things are going wrong, I always fall back on a motto I live by:  "Things always work out. They always do..."

Miss Baghdad

Greetings from Baghdad. Sorry for the lack of posts. I have been SWAMPED with work, which is actually a good thing because it makes the time go faster.  I've been suffering from a bad case of writer's block, and cabin fever.

It's no picnic working in Iraq these days. You can't walk outside your base. You can't walk down the street to grab lunch or an ice cream. You can't drive around town without an armed escort. My entire world in Baghdad is a 50x50 square meter, heavily-fortified compound. Except for the occasional day trips to the Green Zone for press briefings,  I spend most days cooped up a three-room apartment, with just CNN and my iPod to keep me company. 

The good news is I'm a short-timer. For OPSEC (operational security) reasons, I can't divulge the exact date of departure. But I will soon be flying back to the land of the big PX.

In the meantime, check out the latest Baghdad photos on Flickr. This spectacular photo of a Black Hawk helicopter passing by a golden setting sun was shot from my apartment balcony.  It reminds me of the poster for "Miss Saigon." It was shot with a Canon 30D digital camera with 300mm lens and a bit of post-processing for color correction.  Just wish I had snapped it about a half-second earlier, and used a tripod!

Here's one more parting shotImg_5946 :