September 12, 2005

From Portland to Beirut and Beyond

At the end of September I’m moving from Portland, Oregon to Beirut, Lebanon for six months. I’ll rent an apartment and use the city as a base to visit the rest of the region, starting with Syria, Iran, Egypt, and Jordan.

I need a break from domestic politics. So I’m setting out to write about The World instead. The first places I’m going to visit after I secure my apartment are the very places the State Department tells me not to go anywhere near: Hezbollah’s militarized state-within-a-state in Beirut’s southern suburbs, and the wretched Palestinian refugee camps of Sabra and Shatilla. Then I’m going to Damascus so I can experience a real live Baath Party police state up close and in person.

I am not an unbiased observer, and I have no intention to write bloodlessly neutral “he said, she said” AP-style wire pieces. But I will try with all my heart to get it right and be fair.

Tech Central Station will publish my work four times per month instead of only twice. I intend to write for other publications as well, and I already have some tentative work lined up with a handful of newspapers, magazines, and online new media.

There is still room, though, for some more assignments. If you’re an editor interested in Middle Eastern political reporting, travel writing, and “muddy boots” analysis, please send me an email at michaeltotten001 at gmail dot com.

The blog will still be up and running the whole time. I do not intend to abandon it. Hardly anyone I know of has blogged from so many different countries, and I’m not going to pass up the opportunity.

If you feel so inclined, now would be a good time to hit my tip jar. I’ve never asked for money from readers before, and I sure could use it now. My income is modest, to put it mildly, and filing stories from the Middle East is no way to get rich.

Aside from packing my bags, I’m ready to go. I’ve had enough of opinionated bloviating for a while and I’m looking forward to adding to the world’s knowledge, even if ever so slightly, rather than merely adding to the world’s noise. Starting two weeks from now, everything I publish should be more worth writing and – I hope you’ll agree – more worth reading, as well.

Posted by Michael J. Totten at September 12, 2005 01:53 PM

Good Luck an be careful! Been browsing your site for about two years now and have really enjoyed it, and look forward to your take on everything that's going on in the Middle East. I wish I had half the time to spend on blogging that you do. Keep up the good work!

Posted by: Leathan Lund at September 12, 2005 02:08 PM

Good luck to you. I'm glad you're making the effor to add to knowledge and understanding.

Hopefully you won't have to write for Tech Central Station much longer though.

Posted by: Jim Jones at September 12, 2005 02:16 PM

Cool! Looking forward to it!

Posted by: cardeblu at September 12, 2005 02:28 PM

Well, as far as I'm concerned, most everything you've written up 'til now has been worth reading; your opinions have never been mere rants.

I can't wait to read your missives from the Middle East. Good luck, and (despite all the dire warnings from the State Department) have a wonderful time.

Posted by: rose nunez at September 12, 2005 03:00 PM

Good luck Michael.

Posted by: Eric at September 12, 2005 03:06 PM

Wow. A big middle finger to the folks who were calling you a chicken hawk just a few threads ago. Must have been hard to restrain yourself. But to state the obvious - stay safe - and watch where you point your camera, especially in Hezbollahville. One brash blogger I enjoy writes after every post, "Like what I write? Then pay me for it!" I don't remember you ever asking before but now that you mention it - Yes, I do, and Yes, I'd be glad to!...:-)

Posted by: Caroline at September 12, 2005 03:21 PM

Congratulations on an exciting and courageous decision, Michael. I've always thought that your muse is the most lyrical when you're writing about travelling and politics on the ground. Have fun, be safe.

Posted by: double-plus-ungood at September 12, 2005 03:51 PM

Be safe, Michael.

We live in uncertain times and I am grateful for your efforts to bring clarity to the table. I hope you find what you are looking for.....but sometimes I wonder if recent events are tetonic in nature and it will take years to fully understand them.

Posted by: Sweetie at September 12, 2005 04:29 PM

Wow. And I was merely considering a few days stay in Beirut, trips to Damascus not on the itinerary.

I understand your desire to get away from domestic politics. I feel surrounded by these discussions and I don't even participate in any.

Good luck. I'm looking forward to your reports.

Posted by: Peter G at September 12, 2005 04:32 PM

Congrats Michael. I hope it doesn't change your blog too much. It's about the best on the net just as it is.

Posted by: Carlos at September 12, 2005 04:41 PM

Good luck and good reporting!

Posted by: Stephen at September 12, 2005 04:49 PM

Best Wishes. An excellent choice, if only to get away from the "noise" here. It has become an echo chamber of futility.

Hope you find the 6 months to be everything you hope and more.

Posted by: dougf at September 12, 2005 05:13 PM

As you go through Lebanon, Egypt, and Syria, be sure to look for the "praktike was here" graffitti ...

Posted by: Swopa at September 12, 2005 05:41 PM

Good luck. And a safe trip.

Posted by: Eric Blair at September 12, 2005 05:52 PM

That's so cool! You learn so much about a place by living there. I can't wait to read your posts.

Don't forget to listen to those French and Arabic CDs. The Pimsleur CDs (available at Barnes and Noble) seem to focus on Syrian Arabic, which might come in handy.

Good luck!

Posted by: mary at September 12, 2005 06:11 PM

You are making my move from Forest Grove to Guangzhou seem like a cakewalk.

Best of luck to you...

Posted by: GZ Expat at September 12, 2005 06:28 PM

Michael, I am so full of admiration for you. I remember reading about the weird feelings you got when you visited the Hezbollah section of Beirut. Please be careful!! We need you. You are the American Hitchens.

Posted by: Maggie at September 12, 2005 06:43 PM

Godspeed, Michael.

Posted by: Patricia at September 12, 2005 06:59 PM

Wow! That's fantastic. Hopefully you will be observing, noting and cataloging the entirety of the emerging Arab democracy movement - good, bad, ugly, explosive, beautiful, hopeful, and historic. Good luck. Be CAREFUL (duh). Between you and Michael Yon, there'll be little need for those MSM "journalists" with their state-sponsored interpreters.

Posted by: Jealous Jenny at September 12, 2005 07:22 PM

Good luck and Godspeed. I'll hit the tipjar soon.

Posted by: Joe at September 12, 2005 07:30 PM

Dear Michael,

Please, please, please take me with you! I'll do anything! I'd kill. Please ask me to kill!


The Commenter

Posted by: The Commenter at September 12, 2005 07:36 PM

Good luck Michael and enjoy the experience.

Might I suggest you visit Israel as well, especially since you'll be flying over it several times? (it will certainly contrast sharply to the other countries on your list)

However if you plan to visit Syria and Iran, I wouldn't dream of entering those countries with an Israeli stamp in your passport, that could spell serious trouble for you... better leave Israel till the end of your journey.

Posted by: Jono at September 12, 2005 07:51 PM

Best of luck on the career move. In my opinion your previous writings from Lebanon was one of the best pieces of journalism since the elections. I am certainly looking forward to reading about your experiences and insights. Just go easy on the Arak:).

Posted by: DT at September 12, 2005 07:51 PM

I plan on living my life vicariously through yours, Michael....

good luck and please do some photo-blogging of those wonderful and beautiful Lebanese...

(ie, lots of babes, please).

Posted by: john pike at September 12, 2005 07:54 PM

Commenter: Please, please, please take me with you! I'll do anything! I'd kill. Please ask me to kill!

Instead of going around killing people, how about you just buy yourself a plane ticket? I'll be more than happy to show you around the place if you actually show up. Beirut is a good time.

Posted by: Michael J. Totten at September 12, 2005 08:22 PM

Wow Michael!

What a gutsy and courageous decision, and a smart one. You're so right about how little we need more bloviating about domestic politics and how much more we need the kind of stuff you're going to be doing, a pity more people don't follow your lead, or at least stop with the bloviating about domestic politics. Good luck and be careful. I look forward to reading your stuff.

Posted by: Eric Deamer at September 12, 2005 08:25 PM

And your wife is letting you? What a gal!

Posted by: Al at September 12, 2005 08:31 PM

Good Luck Michael, I wish i was going to Beirut too, but for another reason. Ric, my close friend who lives in the Christian section of Beirut.

Posted by: Pamela at September 12, 2005 08:41 PM

Sorry, Simpsons reference.

Posted by: The Commenter at September 12, 2005 08:43 PM


Good luck, my friend. I think its great what you're doing. I too have felt the desire to get away from the domestic political scene. I'll chip in what I can. Again, good luck on your "sabatical."

Posted by: Rafique Tucker at September 12, 2005 09:53 PM

Good luck. My advice would also to be studying colloquial Levantine Arabic (more or less the same form is used in Syria), which despite some claims to the contrary isn't especially difficult from an English point of view.

In my experience (East Europe and Latin America) the picture I get of societies thru English vs. the language of the society is very different and I don't imagine the middle east is any different.

My only other advice (which I profer as if you wanted it) is to give yourself mulling time. Don't be too quick to decide what and why somebody is saying something. Also, don't mistake hospitality (which Arabs have in great heaping abundance) with trust (a much rarer commodity that takes a long time, and the support of others, to build up). Americans are used to ignoring or downplaying that distinction but it's absolutely vital in large swaths of the world.

Posted by: Michael Farris at September 13, 2005 12:18 AM

Two comments were deleted. The first was an astounding piece of idiocy posted by a banned troll. The second was a response to the banned troll.

Posted by: Michael J. Totten at September 13, 2005 12:59 AM

Best of luck.

I admire your decision and think it will be fruitful for you.

Posted by: BTD Venkat at September 13, 2005 02:46 AM

Good luck and Godspeed.

Posted by: Damian P. at September 13, 2005 02:47 AM

Good luck! You write it, we'll read it. Your intelligence and courage (intellectual and physical) are greatly appreciated.

Posted by: D at September 13, 2005 03:17 AM

Good luck to you, Mr. Totten. Consider querying some of the airline magazines associated with carriers that fly to the region. I understand they pay well.

Also, if you get the time, pop down to the Gulf States. I've only been to Kuwait, but I understand the contrast between different countries (especially with Bahrain and Dubai) can be remarkable. (But DEFINITELY go on an expense account. I mean, damn.)

Posted by: Mark Poling at September 13, 2005 03:24 AM

Hey, that's great. I think I was one of your first readers, and I still log onto your site first before visiting the others. It's become almost a nightly ritual, and I don't believe I've missed a single post! Which is amazing considering how chaotic my life has been.

So, take care, because after all this time I feel like I know you. Apart from that, I value your clarity, humour, sarcasm, and compassion.

Can't wait to read the new stuff. And I'm happy to contribute to the tip jar after all you've done to keep me sane!

Posted by: Fish at September 13, 2005 04:52 AM

Now I remember why I put this blog on my must-read list.

Posted by: TallDave at September 13, 2005 06:31 AM

Sounds like a great adventure. Enjoy.

Posted by: markytom at September 13, 2005 07:01 AM

Good luck Michael. Look forward to reading, as always.

Posted by: biwah at September 13, 2005 07:08 AM

I'm a firsttime visitor, but wanted to wish you good luck! I've spent a lot of time there, and just got back from Beirut myself last month. I'm a doctoral student in Middle East history, but I much prefer hanging out in Hezbollahland in the south to messing around in archives. You'll have a great time!

Posted by: masterfraud at September 13, 2005 07:55 AM

Fair winds and following seas to you, Michael.

Posted by: crionna at September 13, 2005 07:57 AM

Good luck from a Yank in Australia and a regular reader. Going right into the storm - good for you. There is history to be recorded and, reputations, to be won - particularly with the intelligentsia and MSM living in an obsolete worldview. The field is wide open for someone with an open mind and your abilities. Godspeed and come back.

Posted by: lgude at September 13, 2005 09:20 AM

Go with God, and be safe...we will be thinking of you.

Posted by: Scott at September 13, 2005 09:31 AM

Good luck and have fun! I'll be reading to see what's going on!

Posted by: BeckyJ at September 13, 2005 09:41 AM

I don't believe in luck; instead, I'll hope you have a good journey.

And remember: strength, discipline, will.

Posted by: rvastar at September 13, 2005 09:58 AM

God speed to you! Be careful, my friend (if I am allowed to speak so familiarly)--you're going places where "mere words" can line you up in the cross-hairs of some very nasty folks (you know this, I'm sure). Looking forward to your reports.

Posted by: malm at September 13, 2005 10:22 AM

Great! Please don't forget to pack your good digital camera, too.

Posted by: Solomon2 at September 13, 2005 10:37 AM

I can't wait to hear how things are going over there. Love your posts, and your pictures. Make many!

Posted by: Paul Brinkley at September 13, 2005 11:12 AM

Whoo Hoo!!!! Imagine that! Someone blogging about things that they are seeing and doing, as opposed to the latest headline from Hannity and Huffington!!! What is the blogsphere coming to?!

In all seriousness Michael, what you're planning to do, sounds like the most intelligent use of blog bandwidth since blogging became a national pastime. Good for you!

I'll do a couple rituals to Eris in hopes that she'll stay away from you for the whole trip.

Ratatosk, Squirrel of Discord
Chatterer of the Words of Eris
Muncher of The ChaoAcorn
POEE of The Great Googlie Mooglie Cabal

Posted by: Ratatosk, Squirrel of Discord at September 13, 2005 11:48 AM

Ummm - Tosk? Mind if I ask you something? Who is Eris? And do you really do rituals to this, ahem, deity? And are you aware that "The Great Googlie Mooglie" sounds like something straight out of the film "Divine Secrets of the Ya-Ya Sisterhood"? You know - that film starring Sandra Bullock, Ashley Judd and Ellen Burstyn?

Posted by: Caroline at September 13, 2005 03:05 PM

Perhaps she is not real, but only in the outer self?

Googlie Mooglie is the deity of the search gods moving Bill aside and Bryn into the slot.

As they go, so goes she and her ilk. Rather totish of them, I say.

Posted by: Harfoldia at September 13, 2005 07:28 PM

You be damned careful, man. You should be back about the time we finish drying out.

Posted by: Dave at September 13, 2005 07:42 PM

Hey Mike-- How about dropping in on Iraq and letting us know how the democratic project is going? I'll chip in a few bucks for some body armor if you head that way. Peace.

Posted by: Drydock at September 13, 2005 09:20 PM


Who is Eris?

Eris was the name that the Greeks gave to the Goddess of Chaos, Discord, Confusion and so forth (The Romans called her Discordia). She's probably best known for her antics during the wedding of Peleus and Thetis. As the goddess of Chaos, she wasn't real popular at parties and got skipped on the invite to the great party on Mt. Olympus.

This made Eris angry, for who ever heard of a good party where there wasn't a little chaos?! She brought forth the Golden Apple, which had inscribed on it "Kallisti" which means "Belongingv To The Prettiest One". She then rolled the Golden Apple into the Great Hall. Immediately, a fight broke out between Hera, Athena and Aphrodite, each claiming that they were the prettiest one and thus rightful owner of the Apple.

The fighting continued until Zeus brought the human Paris to Mt. Olympus and told him to decide which of the Goddesses were the prettiest. HEra promised that he would become the most powerful man in the world, Athena offered him incomparable skill in battle, Aphrodite promised him the most beautiful woman in the world.

Paris chose Aphrodite and Aphrodite gave him the love of Helen of Troy in return. The rest is history and involves wooden horses and lots of death.

Interestingly, Eris gets painted as a conniving little bitch in the usual telling of that story. However, we Erisians point out that in Greek wedding traditions of that time, one would often call the bride "the most beautiful one" or "the prettiest one". From this many Erisians claim that Eris gave the gift, clearly to the bride, however the flaws of the other goddesses (expertly exploited by Eris) actually brought about the Trojan War.

And do you really do rituals to this, ahem, deity?

Yes, I do rituals to Eris. In fact, I've been granted visions while engaged in ritual to Eris, and a number of times (at least within my neurological system) I have experienced what appeared to me as a manifestation of Eris whom I conversed with.

And what do you mean by "ahem deity"? ;-)

And are you aware that "The Great Googlie Mooglie" sounds like something straight out of the film "Divine Secrets of the Ya-Ya Sisterhood"?

Perhaps, however it is also the divinely revealed name of the Cabal which I preside over. Upon concecrating the sacred vessel which we use in ritual to the Five Fingered Hand of Eris, the first words out of my mouth (following the huge cloud of smoke) was "Great Googlie Mooglie!" Hence was named the sacred water vessel and from it each new initiate may accept the blessing of Eris.

Perhaps you might enjoy a look at our holey scriptures at:

I am, at least, as sure of the existence of Eris as I am of the existence of Yhvh or any other deity. I worshipped YHVH for ~23 years and "directly experienced" him... then I started with Eris. Direct experiences became commonplace and intense, as opposed to the rare and questionable feeling from YHVH.

It may be that none of these exist outside of ones neurolinguistic/neurological system. However, I wouldn't likely tell Her that.

Ratatosk, Squirrel of Discord
And Other Assorted Titles

Posted by: Ratatosk, Squirrel of Discord at September 14, 2005 11:00 AM

OK Tosk. I checked out your site and your "holey" scriptures. Hilarious! I'll have what you're smoking.:-)

Posted by: Caroline at September 14, 2005 11:41 AM


If you're ever in Columbus... I'll make you part of the Cabal!

Eris never allows us to turn away weary travellers seeking comfort from her Hand.

If you're interested in a slightly more serious version of the philosophy, email me. ;-)

Posted by: Ratatosk, Squirrel of Discord at September 14, 2005 01:37 PM

Tosk - if there's a "serious" version of this philosophy, I for one, want to know about it. (Sure I'll email you - maybe Harfoldia will too). Funny that you mention Columbus, Ohio and 'weary travellers' in the same post cause frankly, when I think about Columbus, Ohio, 'Motel 6' comes to mind, which conjures up visions of a stoned cabal (whatever a cabal is) doing weird things in a Motel 6 off the Ohio interstate, sort of like that orgy scene in Eyes Wide Shut - where the password, IIRC, was "Fidelio" :-). Oh - and now I notice that the gentleman who wrote your holey scripture, Mr. Robert Anton Wilson, is a member of "International Arms and Hashish, Inc." LOL!

Posted by: Caroline at September 14, 2005 02:50 PM

Motel 6 is from the Anti-Bob, since it does not comply with the Law of 5.

Actually, Robert Anton Wilson only wrote the foreward to the 5th edition of the PD. The Bulk of the Principia was written by Malaclypse The Younger (aka Greg Hill) and Lord Omar K. Ravenhurst (aka Kerry Thornley).

Bob came a couple decades later and while he didn't write the bulk of our Wholey holey scriptures, he has acted like our version of the Apostle Paul... he brought a spotlight to Discordianism, he brought a stronger philosophy to Discordianism and he made a lot of money.


Old Bob is also the founder of the "Guns and Dope" political party. Their motto is "Guns for people that want guns, no guns for people that don't want guns. Dope for people that want dope, no dope for people that don't want dope. Like what you like, enjoy what you enjoy and don't take crap from anyone."

I also believe that the Guns and Dope party is trying to replace a large section of the California legislature with ostriches. I for one think this would vastly improve the California legislature and would recommend that the other 49 states do the same.


Posted by: Ratatosk at September 14, 2005 03:58 PM

Sure Tosk. Whatever you say. By the way - the one thing I actually HAVE managed to figure out at this point, in the wake of this insightful discussion on Discordianism (besides the likelihood that this has some vague connection to libertarianism), is the secret password to the orgy at the Motel 6 on the Columbus, Ohio interstate:

"Googlie Mooglie".

Hope to see you there Tosk. You bring the dope. I'll bring the gun (and the handcuffs) :-)

Posted by: Caroline at September 14, 2005 05:03 PM


I didn't know ytou were that kind of girl! ;-)

Sombunall Discordians are libretarians, some are liberals, some conservative... I even knew one that was a republican (it wasn't his fault, he spent quite some time institutionalized for mental issues). Mosbunall Discordians work very hard to not agree with mosbunall other Discordians. However, in politics I think the overall trend is toward viewing politics as a great place to pick up chicks, or at least pull a few good pranks on the poor silly people who are actually serious about politics.

Not that I would ever do that ;-)

I'll respond to your email in a bit. ;)

Posted by: Ratatosk, Squirrel of Discord at September 15, 2005 07:49 AM
Winner, The 2007 Weblog Awards, Best Middle East or Africa Blog

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