Michael Hastings, 1980-2013

We're learning tonight that Michael Hastings -- the 33-year-old journalist whose 2010 Rolling Stone profile of a remarkably unguarded Gen. Stanley McChrystal cost the top commander in Afghanistan his job -- died in a tragic car crash on Tuesday morning in Los Angeles. Hastings may be best known for exposing McChrystal's critical views of the Obama administration, but he also painted memorable portraits of Gen. David Petraeus and American prisoner of war Bowe Bergdahl (a blunt, aggressive, and controversial reporter, Hastings also got in the occasional sparring match with the State Department).

Earlier in his short but accomplished career, Hastings covered the Iraq war for Newsweek, eventually writing a book about the death of his fiancée, Andi Parhamovich, in a car bombing in Baghdad. A year before Parhamovich was killed, Hastings wrote an article for Foreign Policy on the importance of cell phones in the war-torn country. As we remember Hastings's work, his dispatch is worth a read:

The single most important tool in Iraq is not a Kalashnikov rifle or an armored Humvee, but a cell phone. U.S. and Iraqi officials usually have at least two on them at all times. Mishaan Jabouri, a Sunni politician, lists seven telephone numbers on his business card, four of them cell phones. Iraq's landline telephone network was largely destroyed during the 2003 invasion, so officials rely heavily on mobile phones to communicate. "It's a very dangerous situation, and Iraqis are extremely worried and anxious," says Naguib Sawiris, CEO of Orascom Telecom, which runs Iraq's largest cell phone provider, Iraqna. "They need to communicate, to know whether their wife or son came home from work safely."

That has made cell phones, along with air conditioners and automobiles, one of the hottest commodities in the country. The three companies that landed exclusive licenses in 2003 are reaping huge profits. Iraqna, for instance, which covers primarily Baghdad, posted $160 million in revenues in the first half of 2005, quadrupling its subscriber base to 1.1 million. "It's a very lucrative, risky investment," says Wael Ziada, a Cairo-based telecom analyst.

But the success of Iraq's cell phone network is remarkable not for its huge financial returns, but because cell service in Mesopotamia is so bad. Networks are plagued by outages. Insurgents blow up cell phone towers. And when insurgents aren't destroying the infrastructure, the U.S. military is jamming Iraq's networks to stymie fighters who use cell phones to detonate bombs. U.S. convoys are routinely equipped with at least one classified system for jamming cell phones. Before big events, such as an election or referendum, it's normal for the military to block cell phone signals on a larger scale. (American personnel often have a more reliable back-up phone that runs on a private, secure cell network operated by MCI on a Department of Defense contract worth more than $30 million. The numbers come with the 914 area code from Westchester, New York.)

Still, phone shops are as ubiquitous as kabob stands, and investment keeps pouring into Iraq. One provider, MTC-Atheer, recently announced it was investing an additional $430 million in the country. Further proof that, even in the world's most dangerous market, the demand for technology can still trump terror.

Paul Morigi/Getty Images for The Guardian


The Strange Letter That Has France Asking, 'Use Me?'

On Monday, France's Le Monde newspaper published a letter that has left many amused -- and others utterly confused. Investigators found the handwritten, undated letter, allegedly from current IMF chief Christine Lagarde to former French President Nicolas Sarkozy, during a search of Lagarde's Paris apartment in March, and it's now been leaked to the press.

France 24 posted a translation of the note, which Le Monde has dubbed "La lettre d'allégeance":

Dear Nicolas, very briefly and respectfully,

1) I am by your side to serve you and serve your plans for France.

2) I tried my best and might have failed occasionally. I implore your forgiveness.

3) I have no personal political ambitions and I have no desire to become a servile status seeker, like many of the people around you whose loyalty is recent and short-lived.

4) Use me for as long as it suits you and suits your plans and casting call.

5) If you decide to use me, I need you as a guide and a supporter: without a guide, I may be ineffective and without your support I may lack credibility. With my great admiration,

Christine L.

The backstory here is pretty complicated. The authorities searching Lagarde's apartment were investigating her involvement in a 2008 settlement paid to Bernard Tapie, the former head of Adidas, while Lagarde served as France's finance minister under Sarkozy. Tapie accused the state-owned bank Crédit Lyonnais of defrauding him and Lagarde recommended the case go to arbitration, where Tapie was awarded more than $500 million. Critics have charged that the award was too generous and likely resulted from Tapie's close relationship with Sarkozy's government, while Lagarde has denied any wrongdoing.

The five-point letter has revived interest in the controversial case and left many in France scratching their heads. Slate's French edition took the historical route, going back to the Middle Ages and questioning whether the letter should be interpreted as an oath of allegiance or as a pledge from a vassal.

Le Huffington Post, for its part, compiled a list of funny French Twitter responses, including one person who compared the letter to something a 13-year-old girl would write to Justin Bieber. One tweet noted it was lucky the letter wasn't intended for former IMF chief Dominique Strauss-Kahn, who has been embroiled in several sex scandals.

Traditional media outlets aren't sitting this one out either. The news magazine L'Express is asking readers to imagine how Sarkozy might respond to Lagarde's letter They'll publish the best submissions on Friday -- and they're asking readers to avoid any vulgar language, s'il vous plaît.

Antoine Antoniol/Getty Images