Michael Totten

What I Did on my Five Day Summer Vacation

It cost me nothing extra in airfare to stop in New York for a couple of days on my way home from the Middle East. So I stopped. I always get New York envy, wishing I lived there instead of out in the provinces, so to speak. The Pacific Northwest, though, is without a doubt the one relatively “provincial” place where I most prefer to live if New York or Los Angeles aren’t in the cards. Quality of life is very high here and doesn’t cost all that much. At least it doesn’t cost me all that much since I was lucky/smart enough to buy a house before prices reached halfway to the moon.
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Portland, Oregon
Here is a picture of Portland (home) that I took two days ago, a few hours before Marc Danziger (aka Armed Liberal at Winds of Change) showed up with his wife TG two-thirds of the way through their motorcycle road trip from Southern California up to Canada.
I spent ten hours or so on Labor Day in New York hanging out with various bloggers, journalists, and editors from the area. Tony Badran (aka Anton Effendi) from Across the Bay met me for beers in Greenwich Village with a small cigar jutting out the side of his mouth. Tony told me he got Lee Smith hooked on those things when they were hanging out in Beirut back in the day. But Lee has since downgraded to Marlboro Lights or some other weenie brand of tobacco. Lee insisted I “pinch Tony’s fat Levantine ass and tell him I miss him.” I declined the pinching portion of the request. And anyway Tony is not at all fat, just for the record.
I didn’t take a picture of Tony (didn’t even ask, actually) because every Lebanese blogger I’ve ever met is cagey about revealing their true identity for various reasons. Not everyone is worried about the Syrian car bombers — many have far more mundane reasons for preferring to keep their identities private, much like many American bloggers I know. But Tony is a little more, er, outspoken about the criminal behavior of the Assad regime, and he’s a bit more publicly known than the rest as it is. He works for the Foundation for Defense of Democracies, after all, and I decided not to “out” him any more than he’s already been outed. Michael Young at the Daily Star blew his blog cover (Anton Effendi) long ago, and pretty much everyone who knows his blog already knows his real name.
After spending a few hours discussing the Byzantine minutiae of Lebanese and Syrian politics we headed over a few blocks to the Good Restaurant where a NY blogger shindig was scheduled.
Not everyone who showed up has a blog, which is the norm for these things.
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Here is science writer Ken Silber. Last month he and I both appeared in the same issue of Reason magazine. I wrote about the Kurds in Iraq and he reviewed the Flock of Dodos documentary about the ongoing argument between evolutionary biologists and the “Intelligent Design” crowd.
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Mary Madigan (from Exit Zero and Dean’s World) and Fausta.
I had not met Fausta before, but I met Mary last time I was in New York, and she guest-blogged for me during my first trip to Lebanon.
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Doubleday editor Adam Bellow chats it up with Morgan from Overheard in New York.
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Adam’s father, if you didn’t already know, was Nobel Prize-winning author Saul Bellow. It was good to finally meet him. He and I are working on a project together which will be formally announced here shortly. (No, it’s not a book. Not yet anyway. Although if “book” was your first guess, it was a good guess!)
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Morgan wins the prize for Most Modest Person of the Evening. He acted genuinely surprised when he found out pretty much everyone at the table reads his blog.. Dude, your blog is like six times more well-read than mine. It’s one of the most well-read in the world.
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Judith Weiss, lead writer at Kesher Talk, and Eric Deamer, formerly The Young Curmudgeon.
Judith organized the whole deal, picked the restaurant, and gave everyone directions. Just a few days before I met her in NY (for the second time) I had drinks on the beach in Tel Aviv with Benjamin Kerstein, one of Judith’s co-bloggers and founder of his own Diary of an Anti-Chomskyite. The blogosphere is big, but it also is small.
Several blog readers showed up as well. I can’t remember everyone’s name. (Sorry!) But those who read blogs rather than also produce their own are just as interesting and engaging dinner companions as anyone else. It was a pleasure to meet you all.
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Judith, Mary, and I stayed out later than everyone else, just like the last time I visited the city and met up with a bunch of people. We left Good Restaurant and lingered at an outdoor table at another place down the street until they shut it down and forced us to leave. Then we walked to the edge of Manhattan overlooking the river toward Jersey City.
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Jersey City from Manhattan
I was too tired to do much of anything work-related after I made it back home to Portland. So I just cooled my heels in the city with Marc Danziger and his wife (no picture, sorry) before heading off to Mount Rainier with Sean LaFreniere (left) and Patrick Lasswell (right).
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I’ve known Sean since I was a kid. And I worked with both Patrick and Sean for years in the high tech industry before the collapse, before all three of us switched careers years ago.
I went to Northern Iraq with both of these characters — with Sean on my crazed road trip from Turkey, and with Patrick on my consulting gig earlier this summer.
There is nothing quite like walking part way up the side of a mountain when you need a bit of decompression.
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I never thought I would actually be hit by a suicide bomber or a Katyusha while I was in Israel. But there’s something to be said for knowing the odds of such a fate, at least at a given moment, are zero. (A mega-gigantic volcanic eruption, on the other hand, was imperceptivity greater than zero.)
Now that I’m rested and recharged, I’m ready to write up the remaining material I brought home with me from Jerusalem and the Gaza environs.