May 08, 2005

Where I Left Off

I’ve been out late with Mom tonight, since it’s Mother’s Day and all. So I don’t have anything prepared for the blog.

What I do have, for those of you who still want to read about what’s happening over in Lebanon now that I can’t be there to cover it, is a link to this blog – the Lebanese Political Journal.

The head writer, who goes by the anonymous handle Lebanon.Profile, gave me great tours of Beirut, Mount Lebanon, and the Shia regions in the south of the country. I couldn’t have asked for a better, more fun, or more informed guide. He has forgotten more about Lebanon than I currently know. And I learned more about the place from him than I can even begin to get into here.

He has the skinny about what’s going on now, as well as some pretty solid analysis of what it all means. Some of his references may be obscure to you. But after hanging out with him for a while they aren't obscure to me anymore. And they won't be obscure to you either if you hang out at his site long enough.

If you regularly read Middle East blogs, this is one you need to bookmark.

Posted by Michael J. Totten at May 8, 2005 10:02 PM

Thanks for the praise and the link!
Might I add that there are few journalists/bloggers like Michael Totten. Most journalists show up here to file a story or two. The collect a bunch of anecdotes, string them together, and leave saying, "My, what an interesting place. I'll never be able to wrap my head around it."
Michael had the gumption to try and he accomplished. That's not an understatement.
Beirut's streets are hard to master. Michael (and this is not a joke) now knows Beirut streets better than Beirut taxi drivers.

Posted by: lebanon.profile at May 9, 2005 04:57 AM

“Most journalists show up here to file a story or two.”

Thank God that bloggers like Michael Totten are able to keep this story alive. The United States cannot afford to be indifferent concerning the recent events in Lebanon and the rest of the Middle East. Altruism has nothing to do with it. Our very survival may hinge on the outcome. The isolationist mindset of a Pat Buchanan is senseless in a world getting smaller everyday.

Should Lebanon be perceived as our problem? The heck with such abstract debates. These problems have, on a practical basis, become ours whether we like it or not. We can’t run away from them.

Posted by: David Thomson at May 9, 2005 06:49 AM


I'd be curious as to your further opinions about these journalists to which you refer. Do you consider them to be intellectually honest? Do you feel they let their biases get in the way of the story? If yes, what bias/agenda do you observe?

I'm curious to hear it from you, because here at home this is something of a raging controversy, so your outside and presumably agenda-free opinion would be of some value.

Posted by: spaniard at May 9, 2005 09:12 AM
For an interesting addition to the "Is Journalism Fatally Biased and In Need of Annihilation?" Discussion, check out this:
Wilkins and Coleman surveyed journalists for the first time using a decades-old model for assessing one's morals, a test given to more than 30,000 people representing numerous professions.

According to the researchers, journalists are significantly more ethical than the average adult — eclipsed only by seminarians, doctors and medical students.

"We did not really think that journalists would come out as high as they did," said Coleman.


Nurses, orthopedic surgeons and members of the Navy are among the groups that trailed journalists. Junior high school students scored lowest, with 20.0, just below prison inmates, with 23.7.
Posted by: The Commenter at May 9, 2005 12:26 PM

Junior high kids worse than prison inmates. Ha ha, what a big shocker that one is.

Posted by: Michael J. Totten at May 9, 2005 01:43 PM



Not that morals has anything to do with bias though. In fact, I would venture to guess that they justify their bias precisely because of their morals.

Posted by: spaniard at May 9, 2005 03:41 PM


That presumes bias. One morning, before work, I turned on the news and caught a blurb about explosions at the British Consulate in New York. I think, WTF?

So I quickly turn on CNN to see if I can find out more. What do I learn? That Paula Abdul is being accused of having an affair with a contestant on American Idol.

Out of desperation, I flip on Fox News. What do learn? That Paula Abdul is being accused of having an affair with a contestant on American Idol.

That is when I decided, for now and forever, that the media is biased.

It is biased in favor of idiots.

Posted by: The Commenter at May 9, 2005 07:25 PM

lebanon.profile, can I ask you a few questions?

1. What is the most important thing an American should know about Lebanon?

2. Who is your favorite historical figure?

3. If you had to spend the day on the beach alone what would you read, listen to or think about?

4. If you had to spend the day on the beach with someone else, who would it be?

Posted by: Mike at May 9, 2005 08:25 PM

Dear Michael,
I feel very honored to see the esteem you have for our blog.
Your site is extraordinarily professional and well-organized, one of the best blogs i have ever known.
I'm glad you loved our beautiful land of the Cedars, and i'm sure Lebanon.Profile was the ideal guide!

Best wishes from Jounieh (Did you visit my nice city?),

Lebanese Political Journal

Posted by: Cedar-Guardian at May 9, 2005 10:58 PM

Cedar, I had a few questions for lebanon.profile, would you mind checking them:) Two posts up.

Posted by: Mike at May 9, 2005 11:35 PM


I did visit Jounieh, and took the cable car up to Harissa. A lovely place, truly.

Posted by: Michael J. Totten at May 10, 2005 09:45 AM

Sorry for the long absence.
Nearly all of the journalists who come here already have some sort of bias. They think they know about Hezbollah and Syria and the Christians.
Most journalists who have read a bit about the war dislike the Christian groups. Robert Fisk paints a fairly nasty picture of the Christian parties, and they seem pretty fascist on first viewing. But then one comes to understand what they stand for and that it is really not that extreme.
Other journalists come with biases for and against Hezbollah. I am amazed at how many American and European journalists come to praise Hezbollah and disregard their military and terrorist activities (notice how I separate the latter two).
These journalists focus on Hezbollah building hospitals and then refuse to cover Hezbollah's katyusha rockets aimed at Israeli cities and Hezbollah's support of militant groups that sponsor suicide bombs in Palestine.
Other journalists come with the belief that Hezbollah is the ultimate evil, which it is not. They sponsor some heinous activities, but when German visitors say that Khiam prison reminds them of a concentration camp, it means something. Khiam was Israel's main prison in South Lebanon where they tortured and murdered people. I know a woman who was imprisoned there for ten years, beaten regularly, and tortured along with many others.
A visit to Qana also puts things into perspective. It was the site of a UN base where Israel massacred over a hundred refugees and UN soldiers and then said it was a simple mistake even though a spy drone was recorded on camera as having just flown over the area.
This said, to come back to the point. Most journalists have their opinions pre-constructed to fit into some argument that is going on in their home country. Often the journalists supporting Hezbollah are on the left. Middle of the road and right wing people always think they have to go with Israel.
Other people like to tie what is happening in Lebanon in with Palestine. I would strongly advocate against this.
When one gets here one realizes that it's not that easy.

Posted by: lebanon.profile at May 10, 2005 10:02 AM

The most important thing people should know about Lebanon is that it is a multiethnic society with no group retaining dominance. It is one of the last vestiges of empire because the sects initially came together to live amongst each other instead of swapping populations (like Turkey and Greece) or forming a bunch of tiny continues that are united (like Yugoslavia).
The country is not really religious, as any visitor can tell. And it feels kind of strange grouping it in with other countries in the Middle East. Lebanon probably most closely resembles Cyprus.
Ouf! Favorite historical figure? Mmmm... I'd have to say the Annale historian Marc Bloch. He was both an academic and a freedom fighter who lost his life as a Jewish member of the French resistance. The Historian's Craft (which he wrote in prison without notes) is one of the finest works on history available. His works on Feudal Society blur the definitions of feudalism, but are stellar academically. His work Strange Defeat is a fantastic account of the French lose to the Nazis.
That's a man who did something with his life in every sense of the idea.
Beach reading is hard. It's difficult to concentrate and the book would get dirty. I'd probably read a magazine, if I read anything.
Normally, when I'm on the beach alone, I walk, listen to the waves, and think about eternity, nothingness, and the joy of transience. (I know that sounds absurd, but, not being religious, one has to find a place to pray. We're also kind of terrified being alone here in Lebanon. I think deep and somewhat depressing thoughts when by myself. I feel far more comfortable being alone when I just get tired of all of the people around me, but that does not happen often. I'm not the only one here who feels this way).
Spending a day at the beach with someone? That's a big question. Do I pick someone crafty who'd be really interesting to talk to? Isaiah Berlin or Bill Clinton. Or someone really gorgeous? Salma Hayek or Elissa. I'd probably choose Elissa for just the two of us. Bill Clinton if there were a bunch of people (but Elissa would definitely not be around).
I think Clinton is probably the most interesting person in the world to spend a free hour with. Maybe Henry K., but I doubt he would be nearly as fun.
(BTW, why the questions? It's an interesting exercise, and I might post this on Kevin Drum's Washington Monthly blog in the getting to know you post).

Posted by: lebanon.profile at May 10, 2005 10:20 AM


thank you for that excellent response. I don't blame one side or the other for their biases and preferences, we all have them. It's only the notion that some pretend not to have them, and pass on their bias as "straight news" that bothers me. I wish we did have straight news, but we don't. Never did.

Posted by: spaniard at May 10, 2005 10:46 AM

I had no specific reason to ask. Last one, who is hotter Shakira or Hayek?

Posted by: Mike at May 10, 2005 04:01 PM

lebanon.profile: "We're also kind of terrified being alone here in Lebanon.....I'm not the only one here who feels this way".

Why? What do you mean? Elaborate please...

Posted by: Caroline at May 10, 2005 05:24 PM

1. An American should know that Lebanon is not just another arab (Gulf-Style) country where we just see deserts, camels or women in chadors! We are a multi-confessional society, living in 10452 square kilometers of paradise! Just see some of the pics Michael Totten took while he was here.....our country is just amazing! It combines sea, sun, ski, snow, mountains, coasts etc....On the political level, we are ways better than our surrounding! We are much closer to western democracies than to opressive regimes!
...Do you also know that Khalil Gibran, James Zogby, Ralph Nader, Shakira or Rony Seikali are all Lebanese?

2.My Lebanese favorite historical figure would undoubtely be president Bachir Gemayel, who was assasinated in 1982 by pro-Syrians because he fought for the cause of his country against Palestinian and Syrian hegemonies.

As for my international favorite historical figure, Pope John Paul II would top the list: he was really rare!

3. On the beach, i would read a good philosophical book (i usually do so); Jean-Jacques Rousseau and Jostein Gaarder are my favorite philosophers.

4. A day under the sun with Haifa Wehbé (maybe the most gorgeous Lebanese woman now!!) is more than a dream...hehe...Claudia Schiffer would also be welcome...

As for an "interesting" meeting; i'd love to have some time with German Chancellor, Gerhard Schroeder; and especially with Pope Benedictus XVI (not on the beach! hehe)

Posted by: Cedar-Guardian at May 10, 2005 10:39 PM

Hayek all the way (damned be Ed Norton). Shakira is short and tubby - not to say that she isn't short and tubby in a very beautiful way.

I don't know about the loneliness thing. I think it's cultural more than anything, since people who lived outside of Lebanon during the war have it too.

Posted by: lebanon.profile at May 11, 2005 05:16 AM

As for an "interesting" meeting; i'd love to have some time with German Chancellor, Gerhard Schroeder


Schroeder? That's an odd choice.

Posted by: spaniard at May 11, 2005 07:20 AM

Cedar-Guardian: "Do you also know that Khalil Gibran, James Zogby, Ralph Nader, Shakira or Rony Seikali are all Lebanese?"

Also Michael Nouri (of Flashdance fame), Paul Anka, Yasmine Bleeth (Baywatch), Tony Shalhoub (Monk) and Kathy Najimy!

Posted by: Caroline at May 11, 2005 07:31 AM

Thank you for responding cedar. I hope things are going well in the land of the hot women. By the way, I read on that you have a male/female ratio of 1/3 because of the economy. You end up being stuck with a beach, ski slope, a wide variety of people and too many women. I wish I was there;)

Spainiard, please respond to the original questions. Comment #8.

Posted by: Mike at May 12, 2005 10:33 PM
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