September 10, 2006

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.

Portland from Freemont Bridge.jpg
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.

Ken Silber.jpg

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.

Mary and Fausta.jpg

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.

Adam Bellow and Morgan.jpg

Doubleday editor Adam Bellow chats it up with Morgan from Overheard in New York.

Adam Bellow at Good Restaurant.jpg

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!)

Morgan at Good Restaurant.jpg

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.

Judith Weiss and Eric Deamer.jpg

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.

Left side of table Good Restaurant.jpg

Mary in Discussion.jpg

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.

Jersey City from Manhattan.jpg

Jersey City 2.jpg
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).

Sean and Pat Mt Ranier.jpg

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.

Mt Ranier From Distance.jpg

Mt Ranier and Forest.jpg

Top of Ranier from Trail 1.jpg

Hiking Trail Mt Ranier.jpg

Mt Ranier Ridge in Clouds.jpg

Mt Ranier Top in Clouds.jpg

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.

Posted by Michael J. Totten at September 10, 2006 07:24 PM


I never knew Portland looked so ... urban.

It looks like a city. It's not at all what I remember looking at as I drove from the airport to Clackamas.

Posted by: Charles Malik at September 10, 2006 11:56 PM

It's obvious you really care about the people you meet.
Also about the places you go. And the things you do, and say.

And you usually have good ideas -- although lately you've been doing far more wonderful reporting than pontificating.

Still, your promise of more on the ME environs made me think of the Clash (who I often sing at Karoake, but haven't gone in a month) "you always tease, tease, tease..."

Posted by: Tom Grey - Liberty Dad at September 11, 2006 12:22 AM

Great pictures Michael...

Posted by: Lira at September 11, 2006 02:34 AM

Great pictures, and great blog!

Posted by: Fausta at September 11, 2006 06:09 AM

What beautiful views of Mt. Rainier. It would be hard to come down from that place.

It was great that you could stop by New York - Judith put an excellent party together. I was enjoying myself, despite my inexplicably grim expression. Maybe the conversations were serious at that point.

From Don in the previous thread: I think the best way to make all the photos available in decent quality is to publish a book based on the blog, with a CD stuck in the back carrying the photos.

I'm not the only one saying that your photos should be published.

Posted by: mary at September 11, 2006 08:49 AM

Charles Malik:
If you came to Portland and all you saw was CLACKAMAS I am truly, truly, sorry. Come again! We'll give you the grand tour!

Posted by: Lindsey at September 11, 2006 09:18 AM

That's what you get for going to Clackamas, Chuck! I told you Portland is a city, not just a squalid suburb...

Posted by: Michael J. Totten at September 11, 2006 09:21 AM

Welcome back home Michael.

Be sure to let me know next time you swing by the Los Angeles area. There's a beer with your name on it awaiting!

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Posted by: Oxford International Review at September 11, 2006 11:21 AM

my inexplicably grim expression
I just hope it wasn't something I said!

Posted by: Fausta at September 11, 2006 12:43 PM

I just hope it wasn't something I said!

:-) No, it was great to see you, which is why the grim was inexplicable

Posted by: mary at September 11, 2006 02:52 PM

Welcome home! I have sibs in the Portland area and I've always liked the Portland "vibe." It has a distinct personality much like San Francisco.

Thanks for the Overheard in New York tip... I've now added that to my regular list of blog reads...

Posted by: Heather at September 11, 2006 03:07 PM

One of these days someone will take a good picture of me. Jeez, Michael, is that the best you had?

(Other pix are great. Pardon me if I don't post mine.)

Posted by: Yehudit at September 11, 2006 06:44 PM

nice pics.

Have you noticed, to wax poetic, the white whale of possible coexistence in Israel/Palestine, moving close again to the surface of recent events?

You could really hook me on this blog with some more event-based commentary - recent events have made it clear that the next month or two - and in some ways, the next 48 hours - will set the arc of Israel-Palestine relations for years to come.

As Oslo, the 2000 riots, and Operation Defensive Shield changed the paradigm, here comes another period of decision.

Posted by: glasnost at September 11, 2006 06:47 PM

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.

Sounds like you need to get out of Portland. Seattle is a bit 'provincial', Portland is downright insular. ;-)

What beautiful views of Mt. Rainier. It would be hard to come down from that place.

Those look to be pictures of the mountains around Mr. Rainier. It's kind of difficult to take a picture of the mountain itself while you're on it. ;-)

ps: Michael, if I'd known you were in my neck of the woods, I would have invited you over for the BBQ.

Posted by: rosignol at September 12, 2006 12:19 AM

Uh, Rosignol? Those are pictures of Mt Rainier. Not pictures around Mt Rainier. None of the mountains around Rainier are that big. Don't you know your own mountain? And you say Portland is insular. Geez, man!

The first pictures are of Rainier from a distance. The later pictures are taken while standing on the mountain itself.

Thanks for the belated bbq invite...

Posted by: Michael J. Totten at September 12, 2006 12:42 AM

Oooooooo I'm jealous, both because you got to meet some of my favourite bloggers and because you got to meet them in New York City (I miss the big apple! :) Many thanks for this great write-up of the gathering and looking forward to your further thoughts and experiences here in Holy (S**t!) Land Central.

Posted by: Yael at September 12, 2006 01:46 AM


As I watched the fat man in a t-shirt and hat decorated with silk flowers cross the street downtown yesterday, I reflected upon the value of living in a relatively provincial city. I realized that this sort of thing goes on all the time in Portland. The great thing about small, provincial PDX is that wearing a pretty floral bonnet is all this guy had to do to make his statement. In core urban regions the fat dude has to be screaming nuts to penetrate the layers of jaded cool of the other residents.

I'm trying to convince Michael that he can maintain a decent quality of life in Portland, visit all the great cities of the world whenever he wants, and drive around in a new sports car stopping every mile to throw $5 bills down the storm drain for less than it will cost him to live in New York. He's looking at the real estate prices and thinking that is the whole expense report. I'm guessing that his lovely wife does the shopping and handles the utilities. I'm also hoping that a wine country trip this month will extract his mentation.

Posted by: Patrick S Lasswell at September 12, 2006 10:15 AM

Rent is a huge percentage of the monthly expense in NYC. At least 50% often more. Taxes are high but everything else costs the same as anywhere else. Gourmet restaurants are somewhat higher than other places, but good cheap ethnic food is the same.

Owning a car is much more expensive, but unless you live in the outer boroughs you don't need one. You can rent one for out-of-town trips. Monthly Metrocard is $76, much less than total monthly auto expenses.

But it's that rent.

Posted by: Yehudit at September 12, 2006 07:57 PM


What's with all the nice words and beautiful photos of the Pacific Northwest? Didn't you get the memo? It rains all the time up here, all the time, I say. Or, at least that's what it does when it's not drizzling...


Posted by: Kirk Parker at September 14, 2006 01:19 PM

I've been meaning to get over to your blog for a while. Thanks for the cordial, chatty round-up and Pac NW tour.

Posted by: Jeremayakovka at September 14, 2006 02:10 PM

And here's a public "thanks!" to Michael (and Sean) for their hospitality to TG and myself...even if Sean did try and kill us by making jokes while we ate. And crossed streets. And pretty much everything else.

We stayed longer than we planned and less time than we would have liked.


Posted by: Armed Liberal at September 17, 2006 10:27 PM

Michael that's a GREAT pict of T.A. uhem only I can call Sean that... But this post is a year old I just wanted to comment on the pictures and hope to see you, T.A and Scott soon. I have a collection of cans going and some 25 lbs test line ready! wink

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