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Hell, Damn, And Spit

Here’s the deal: Ted Rall will always be an irritating mystery to me.

On the one hand, he does solid, provacative, cartoon-based reportage from places most people would never think of going. On the other hand, he often seems to be provacative purely for the sake of being provacative, making illogical, self-contradictory agruments in online fora. On the other other hand, in person he’s thoughtful, engaging, funny, and interesting. At the same time seeking to support the cartooning talents of the future as trying to roll the industry back to the past, espousing positions both populist and elitist, seemingly more interested in the argument than the solution, my solution for a good long while now has largely been to ignore him.

And now he’s going back to one of the most dangerous corners of the earth, and taking friends along with him:

I’m leaving for Afghanistan the second week of August. I have three goals:

  1. Go to Taloqan in Takhar Province, to revisit the place where I spent much of the fall of 2001 during the battle of Kunduz.
  2. Visit the site of the construction of the Trans-Afghanistan Pipeline project between Turkmenistan and Pakistan. This is supposed to be north of Herat.
  3. Travel to the remote western deserts near the Iranian border where U.S. forces and reporters rarely venture or report from.

We’ll be “in country” one month—that’s the limit set by most media outlets for reporters covering rural Afghanistan, and with good reason. It’s a hard place to travel, not just from a security standpoint but also because of the harsh climate and poor food and lodging, not to mention lack of basic infrastructure (running water and electricity).

We’ll fly into Dushanbe, Tajikistan, obtain permission from the Tajik Ministry of Foreign Affairs to enter the restricted 100-kilometer zone along the southern border with Afghanistan, then drive overland to Taloqan, and head west and then south before crossing the border into Iran.

Travelling with Rall will be fellow cartoonists Matt Bors and Steven Cloud, who apparently didn’t get enough of Central Asia on the Mongolian Death Fun Drive.

I don’t know Bors and I don’t know Rall well, but Cloudy is a friend of mine; although we joked about pre-arranging an epitaph in case he didn’t return from his previous adventure to lands unknown (Steven Cloud, killed by Gypsies, in accordance with prophecy.), I didn’t actually believe that his trip would result in more than border hassles and some damn fine stories. It was also far less likely on that trip that he would be travelling through places where he might be shot by accident or intent.

Like most people, I like to think of myself as being as good a person as my dog believes me to be. I try honestly not to wish ill fortune on anybody, and as much as Rall has pissed me off in the past, I don’t hate him. I wonder how smart travelling through that part of the world (which has a tradition of summertime = war time stretching back largely interrupted for four or five millenia) will turn out to be. I hope that the reporting and whatever insight it provides is worth the risk. And from the bottom of my athiest heart, I wish Cloud, Bors, and Rall the safest of travels in an unsafe series of places. Come back to us whole and well Ted, so you can get back to pissing me off over things that ultimately don’t matter.

On to lighter things.

Thanks, Gary, for your good wishes. We’ll try not to do anything too crazy over there, and promise to come back safe and sound. It’d be a shame to lose Bors and Cloud, anyway!

As for the personality critique: Yeah, well, I’m a mass of contradictions. Isn’t everybody?

By the way, it’s worth mentioning here that this trip was made possible by donations by online donors via

Good luck Ted and Crew. I hope things go well for you and you find something that can help the rest of us better understand what’s going on over there. Be true, come back safe.

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