Interview with Adam and Todd
Reported 2002-5-5 19:42 by Negative Nancy
from Somnambulant Narrow Realities
So about six
months ago, I was chilling in Chang Mai, Thailand with ICBINJ, perusing
the Bangkok Times over my banana pancake and Big Chang breakfast
when I spotted this article reprinted from the LA Times. It was
about some kooks from California (where else?) who were claiming
to have been to the front lines in Afghanistan
in mid-December and had recorded the whole feat on their website.
"Holy Fuck!" I thought, "Now That's web journalism. Who are these
And then I
read a bit more, and was thinking, "This sounds like something Adam
& Todd would do. Wonder what those guys are up to these days?"
Really, I really thought that, I'm not just saying that in retrospect
cause it makes a better story -- since it WAS my friends Adam &
Todd. Not only was it my two buds mentioned in some random Siamese
reprint of an old LA Times article, but they were gonna be in Bangkok
at the end of the month -- perfect for a little eight-year reunion
and some serious catching up. I caught up with them at the elegant
Chateau de Merry V, a few blocks off Kho San Rd and I was all set
to do a groovy in-person, up-close-and-personal, hard-hitting interview.
there had to be some Big Chang Beers, and then there were a few
more -- like I said, a lot of catching up to do -- and then we were
in a taxi headed to the Morgan Beat Dance Club. By the time we'd
installed ourselves on one of the crowded balconies and got our
hands on a bottle of Mekong wiskey and a bucket of ice, I sorta
forgot my questions. By 2AM I'd also forgotten my name and passport
The next morning
I woke up two countries away in Vietnam, shackled to the mast of
a sanpan. A large Vietnamese woman was insisting that she'd bought
me fair and square for a pack of smokes and some sat-phone time,
but I managed to purchase my freedom with a pair of blue jeans and
the gold from my belly button piercing. I had to walk to Hanoi with
no pants on, but that's another story. To make up for it, Adam &
Todd agreed to do an interview via email. And here it is:
So the obvious question that everyone wants to ask WHAT
THE FUCK were you thinking when you decided to go to
the front line?!?
wanted to see if somebody would shoot at me, and what I would then
think about that. Would something awaken? Something turn on? Or
would it just be another scene I would passively watch?
used to do performance art with an East-German friend and
hundreds of pounds of raw meat.
It was a desire to witness
first-hand something on a scale of enormity difficult to process
every day we consume newsblahbs of death and destruction
with our donuts and coffee without reacting. We assimilate all of
this information without digesting it, filing it away into some
convenient niche in the colon of our personal worldview construct.
One motivation was to observe
these things as directly as possible, instead of hand-me-down images
and sound-bites. Free from the unseen hand of editors, producers,
and bias some full-length raw experience, no special edition
Todd, You wrote some about your motivations
but when did it first occur
to you that this is what you were going to do?
When people told me I was crazy and/or stupid I realized it was
a good idea.
Back home, I check cnn.com
five to six times a day and have done so since its inception. In
the two seconds it takes for the site to load, I am filled with
anticipation and expectation. Watching events [of September 11th]
play out, I knew that I was going to go to Afghanistan. The first
person I called was Adam, though I didn't tell him we were going
until we were at the border and it was too late for him to say no.
on the move through the sultry Bangkok night
Adam: I think when
I started buying Yashica Mat-124 G in mass around Rawalpindi, Pakistan.
They all had slight mechanical flaws in their mechanics. I thought
they would be the perfect camera for the topography of the area.
Nobody would assume that Pakistan had a large market of cameras
for public consumption.
how come you guys are the only ones in the Whole Wide World who
pulled a stunt like this? Could anyone buy themselves a 100 baht
press pass in Bangkok and show up a few week later hangin' with
the Sky News Team?
if they can bullshit as well as we do. To be honest I expected to
encounter other kindred nutcases in the field, but Adam and I were
indeed the only ones. The price of admission kept many freelancers
away, but we just haggled fiercely with the mujahadeen
commanders as if we were buying souvenirs in a bazaar. The press
passes helped us avoid some additional bribes, but really, it took
a lot of confidence and big big smiles.
think some others tried. We heard from the guys on the street that
they had been turned away. Word around town was they didn't want
to pay. I even bought you one. I think it's in the mail, if it doesn't
get flagged by the USPS.
locals think we are idiots.
I was reading a recent article
about Pakistan and Afghanistan and the reporter made it to the
but didn't cross, saying, "The Taliban were asking for large cash
bribes to take reporters on shepherded tours across to Kandahar,
and I didn't feel like paying up that day." What do you think of reporters
Platinum card must have been maxed out.
You talk about the book Passage
to India and the idea that there are some cultural gulfs that you
just can't cross. Do you think that your Website is going to bring
some sort of reality to the average Western Web surfer?
way in hell.
sort of reality? We really just did it to take sexy pictures of
ourselves on tanks. Although we've been called self-aggrandizing,
I would not delude myself to think we could break through the hardened
shells of comforting misconceptions maintained by inhabitants of
the "First" World. For most of our small audience, we are already
preaching to the converted.
How were you received by locals
on your way to the front line?
locals think we are idiots. I'm not sure. They treated us well but
behind it all they laughed at us. It's a natural reaction though.
Laughing at the others. Westerners are a funny bunch you know.
As long as we smoked out with them, and not there to smoke 'em
out for Dubya, we were "okay."
one on the left wanted to get shot. The one on the right tagged
along to take photos
It would be hard to generalize
how we were received. It really depended on the motivations of whom
we encountered. In Pakistan, people on the street treated us with
respect and hospitality. The government officials and mujahadeen
saw us as income, and mostly ignored us once it was apparent we
weren't going to throw around bricks of cash. We never hesitated
to admit we were Americans and never faced any direct hostility
because of that. Men would tell us that they were...
our government, particularly their policy in the Middle East, but
they did not hold us accountable for that. Instead they called us
"brother" and did what they could to help us. An approach
in a part of the world we are led to believe is filled with irrational
there a strong feeling on either side of the border of Good Guys
and Bad Guys?
The protagonist doesn't even take off his cap while feeding
his daughter at home, and certainly only fucks missionary.
far as local opinion on whom to blame for their boundless misery,
it varies. The Afghanis are very aware of the non-absolute "gray
areas." Here is a gross oversimplification: They liked
the public works projects and programs initiated by the Soviets,
but resented foreign rule. They liked the mujahadeen for ejecting
the Soviets, but grew to fear and loathe the oppressive warlords
they became. They liked the Talibs who kicked out the Warlords because
they brought peace and security, but were definitely not happy with
their legal implementation of Islamic law. America has been both
friend and foe - supplying weapons one year, raining down Cruise
missiles the next. Dropping from their planes identical yellow food
packets and yellow cluster bombs. Pashtuns are known for their
honor and hospitality, and as long as you haven't come to try to
tell them what to do, are quite friendly.
is the Western Media misrepresenting the average Afghani and Pakakistani?
Western world signed off on these people a long time ago. They are
all predictably malignant comic-book villains and hate-filled fanatics.
For a while there was a flood of
stories about the Happy Liberated Afghanis and all these woman running
around nekkid and men shaving their bodies in joy over being
Saved By America -- did the people you met feel like America was really
helping them? Is there any reality to the idea that we are freeing
suppressed people and not just dropping War Turds from the sky to
make us feel better?
intrepid reporter - somewhere in Thailand - drunk as usual.
probably would have appreciated more our government's initial doomed
plan of causing a change of guard in the Taliban by more moderate
elements. The amount of "collateral damage," AKA dead Afghan civilians,
has really undermined our propaganda message of being the good guys.
As far as the infamous burqah, with or without the Taliban, the
women are in no rush to take it off, we have never been made to
understand that it's a *cultural thing* because we refuse to accept
that they would *want* to wear it. It would result in cognitive
dissonance, which really pisses us off. We are so confident in the
superiority of Individuality and forget that the majority of the
world does not share those values.
do you think is going to happen to Afghanistan after the bombing
is over? Any thoughts on visiting again in a year or five?
think they will enter a golden era of peace and prosperity. The
Nintendo Age. I gave one of my business cards to a young guard at
the Eastern Alliance compound in Jalalabad, and told him that when
he was done Jihading, when they had Internet at every corner, to
drop me a line. He didn't understand the words from my mouth nor
the smirk it was twisted into.
The bombing is going to
end? Operation Enduring Freedom, Operation Anaconda, Operation Harpoon.
I think they will run out of strong assertive codenames before they
run out of operations.
We just returned from a
tour through Vietnam, and if there were not so many good movies
made about it, you would never guess there was an enormous war there.
Afghanistan could go the same way, and might be if like Vietnam,
we entirely left them alone for twenty years while they sorted their
own mess out. The people there are mostly easy-going farmers who
like to make music, dance, and smoke copious amounts of hashish.
The majority, the ones not profiting from ongoing war, would certainly
welcome peace. Instead of transitioning to eco-tourism or something,
they could make buckets of money taking tourists on war-tours. See
the Al-Qaida caves! The Bamiyan Buddhas! The Ministry of Vice and
Virtue! The soccer execution stadium!
You haven't got much press Back
Home, except for that yahoo at the LA Times who appears unable to
report his way out of a wet paper bag. Would you say that there
are still some "real" journalists out there, or is American Media
pretty much a farce?
You don't want to find out you have a bit-rate synchronization
issue in Jalalabad.
of the journalists we met, particularly Nick, Lisa and Martin of
the Sky News team, were very decent people. Cynical former idealists
turned realists, much like us. Having a job with a corporate entity
to answer to, they all have become too comfortable with compromise.
Doing the work desired of them, complaining about it later over
their tea and power bars. Their professional malaise contributed
to the respect they conferred to us - they admired our lack of accountability
and do-it-yourself approach. The downside to our "street-cred" is
that the more you "keep it real" the less of an audience you will
attract. The photojournalist who admittedly inspired me to commit
to this endeavor was an Italian named Ralph Ciriello. His work was
the most legitimate hard-core shit I have ever seen. He was shot
dead in the streets of Ramallah last week by Israeli soldiers.
How did the recent CourtTV interview go?
They rented a studio on Sunset Blvd. for me and sent a limo, but
my compensation was a plug for the site.
They wanted me to talk
about how titillatingly dangerous it was to work in the region,
in relation to the Dan Pearl kidnapping. Unfortunately, I told them
the truth of the experience, which disappointed them. I did have
some provocative comments about working the frontline to make, but
they moved on to their other guest who had a stunning suit and salon-job,
but I cannot believe ever set foot in either country.
know you've gone over this before, but what's your reaction when
people just don't believe you did what you did?
The media follows the company line of propaganda and perspective
much more then they would like to admit even to themselves. They
just do it in a systematized way to engender legitimacy. All of
the civilian deaths by US bombing are always "unconfirmed" and "alleged"
while they scrambled to play that obviously doctored "smoking gun"
video of Osama. Being treated with doubt, suspicion, and disrespect
leads me to believe we are doing something right!
was such a nice, quiet boy
with me for a minute-- what's the connectivity like Over There?
How did people respond to you huffin' a digital camera and laptop
all over the place? What was your biggest tech issue and how'd you
deal with it?
with you for much longer then a minute.
Our Sony digital camera
uses their proprietary "memory stick" format, fortunately our Vaio
has an integrated reader that makes dumping images fast and easy,
even under fire. The camera was a great multi-purpose rig, and served
some very useful roles that were not intended by the engineers.
The ability to display images on the rear-panel LCD made instant
friends, smoothing difficult situations and misunderstandings. Those
"lesser-developed peoples" really went nuts over it - in Amritsar
we had mothers lining up with their babies for a chance to be blessed
by our Western mojo.
Also, the integrated Firewire
port on the Vaio allowed Adam to grab video from his mini-dv, alas
also a product of the Sony mega-zaibatsu. Going mono-corporate with
our tech was helpful in a world of competing implementations of
"industry standards." You don't want to find out you have a bit-rate
synchronization issue in Jalalabad
with no phone and no Internet, let alone a BestBuy.
Between these three compact
lightweight pieces of equipment, we could do almost everything the
big news outfits require trucks loaded with crates of equipment.
A full digital studio in a backpack.
What we couldn't do, our
Achilles' heel actually, was get online. Our charms and hashish earned
us a few minutes of sat-phone time, but we really needed our own
to consider our Death Star to be Fully Operational. This was only
an issue in Afghanistan -- anywhere else with basic infrastructure
had some sort of inexpensive net-café, and I designed our site to
be easily maintained from remote bandwidth-challenged locations
with archaic browsers. Unfortunately, we are usually sharing a sub-38.8k
or worse connection with 10 to 20 (40 to 60 if you count the lap-sitting)
locals feverishly downloading the sweet fruits of pornography.
on a self-tweaked version of "post-nuke," a freeware engine i grabbed
off sourceforge.net. PHP renders the frontend while MySQL manages
the data in the background. Between the included tools and some
others I authored, we were able to manage content, resolve problems
and make changes anywhere from Bangkok to Peshawar.
is Life. Life is Meat. I'm veg, but find raw flesh incomparably
beautiful and powerful. It's a primal thing. I used to do performance
art with an East-German friend and hundreds of pounds of raw meat.
real question we're dying to ask-- did you see Geraldo?
and he smiled at me. I tell Todd that I was touched by an Angel.
from one of his bogus "frontline" remotes, he passed us in his fancy-fancy
4x4 while we were proceeding to the front on foot. He was surrounded
by mujahadeen and offered a fey smile. He was acting like this was
no different then Al Capone's vault. I heard he was so paranoid
and delusionally concerned that Al-Qaida would target him he packed
a gun, a serious no-no for a journalist. He was a good source of
comic relief/disgust in camp.
What did you miss most? Was there
anything you really had to go without, or could you pretty much
scrounge up chicks, smokes, booze, etc, everywhere you went?
once bought a kite, just to see it fly
International Playboy doesn't reveal his secrets. I will say this
- Even in the most Islamic of Republics, money can procure anything
one needs or wants or both.
We took two backpacks into Afghanistan consisting of our digital
gear, a minimal medkit, water-purification tabs, a loaf of bread,
and lots and lots of cigarettes. Cigarettes are like a universal
currency, except during Ramadan (my bad).
you encourage other people to try what you did? What advice/warnings
would you give them?
money. Go for it.
you prefer using travel agents, taking tour buses, and always having
a hot shower, stay home and read the site. If you have any important
expectations on how you should be treated or the service you should
receive, stay home and read the site. If you can think on your feet,
don't mind your own stink, and have a boundless sense of humor then
by all means, make your own damn site and send me the link! Seriously
though, one of our points is to say, "Look, we left our somnambulant
narrow realities to go to these places, AND WE'RE OKAY!" The world
is a big interesting place, and not nearly as dangerous as
(you) would like to believe. Every non-American I meet loves to
mention a statistic: that less then one in ten Americans
hold a passport. We encourage anybody to go check it out.
Two tips: If
there are recent tank treads on the ground, there are probably no
landmines where they cover. Don't kick the funny yellow metal balls
with the fins.