September 29, 2006

Talking, Not Writing

I have been making my living as a writer of one kind or another for years, as a technical writer, travel writer, opinionated bloviator, journalist, and reader-supported blogger. It's the only real skill I have, so thank God I've made it work. Otherwise I'd be waiting tables or tending bar. Sometimes, though, I need to talk instead of write. That’s what I’ve been doing for the past couple of days.

I spent a few days in New York and a few days in Washington. Doubleday editor Adam Bellow was kind enough to give me the spare room in his Manhattan apartment. He and I spent two days on and off working out a verbal agreement for our next project. The first project he and I put together – which isn’t a book, exactly – should be announced in a couple of days. Our second project will be a great deal larger and more significant if everything works out and, well, you can probably guess what it is.

Lebanese blogger Tony Badran called me as I was getting ready to leave New York for Washington. So I turned the car around and spent the afternoon with him and Paul Berman (author of Terror and Liberalism) in the Cobble Hill neighborhood of Brooklyn. Paul took us to a Jordanian Bedouin restaurant and guided us through the menu. Tony may be an “Arab,” (the quote marks are on purpose, long story, ask Tony) but Jordanian Bedouin food is not exactly the sort of thing you’re likely to find in the hip and sometimes snobbish establishments of Beirut.

Paul suggested Tony, Lee Smith, and I join forces on the Internet. We should write, edit, and archive articles in one place instead of in several. See Lee? See Tony? I told you guys we ought consider something like this. Berman came up with this all on his own, apropos of nothing. It isn’t just me.

Then it was time to head down to Washington for the Pajamas Media panel at the National Press Club. I went for the socializing, the networking, and the shop talk more than for the panel. Lots of us did. The panel, for me anyway, was what made the important parts possible.

Those of us who sent an RSVP picked up name tags at the door. I’ve always thought name tags were a bit dorky, but they had an interesting effect at the pre-panel cocktail party. I’d walk around the room making eye contact with various people. I recognized some by their faces. Others I didn’t. Few people recognized me. They looked at me the same way everyone else in the world I don’t know looks at me. Then they saw my name tag and something clicked. They knew who I was by my name, but not my face.

It happened over and over again, and it happened to lots of us. It was pleasant but odd. Nothing like that ever happens in regular life. It can’t. The only time I walk into a room and everyone recognizes me is when I walk into a room full of my friends. But then they know me by face. Even the most famous writers in the world won’t have that kind of experience except when specific people are artificially herded together in one place. Journalists and bloggers make up a geographically fragmented community. Sometimes it's nice to be in one room.

Me in DC 4.jpg

Since few people recognized me, here’s what I look like. At least this is what I looked like on the night of the PJ event. I don't wear a tie every day.

Fausta and Judith.jpg

Just before the event I visited the Washington Memorial with Fausta (left, and yes that’s her real name) and Judith Weiss.

Roger at NPC.jpg

Here is Roger L. Simon, with his new hairless Kojak look, at the podium introducing the panel discussion of how partisan is too partisan?

Blumenthanl and Hall at NPC.jpg

Democratic pollster Mark Blumenthal sits next to Jane Hall of Fox News on the panel.

Miniter in PJs.jpg

Richard Miniter wore a pair of silk pajamas. But he wasn’t the most casually dressed at the event. His jammies cost 3,000 dollars.

Nick Gillespie.jpg

Reason magazine editor Nick Gillespie wore a “D.A.R.E to keep kids off drugs” t-shirt, which is a bit like me wearing a Hezbollah t-shirt. (As a side note, though, I did pick up a Hezbollah t-shirt in Baalbeck. My brother bought a Hezbollah flag. Because it was funny! That doesn’t mean I would wear it, especially not in Beirut or Jerusalem. Nick would get the joke, but a Lebanese army officer saw us buying that stuff and sadly shook his head in disappointment.)

Apostolou and Robbins.jpg

Brookings scholar, friend, and all-around good egg Andrew Apostolou (left) showed up for the shmoozing and had to leave early. Andrew visited me in Beirut and, because he is not American, was allowed to visit the Lebanese border when Hezbollah was planning its latest assault. The (Lebanese, not Hezbollah) military intelligence officer in Saida wouldn’t let me leave Lebanon’s sovereign territory because he said it was too dangerous.

Bellow and Adnesnik.jpg

Adam Bellow (left) chats it up with Oxblog’s David Adesnik.

Gerard at NPC.jpg

PJ editor Gerard Van der Leun, who sort-of recently relocated from Los Angeles to my part of the country.

Glenn at NPC.jpg

Glenn Reynolds moderated the event. Michael Barone of US News and World Report is to his right.

Glenn and Austin.jpg

Some of us went out for food and drinks after. Here is Glenn again with Austin Bay.

Claudia and Sandra.jpg

Here are Sandra Rozanski (left) and Claudia Rosset. Claudia and I were also in Beirut at the same time, but we didn't meet until we both went to Washington.

Posted by Michael J. Totten at September 29, 2006 11:10 AM


I must admit I was one of those that didnt recognize you until I managed to get a glimpse of teh nametag. It was a pleasure meeting you and I was happy that I wasnt the only one at the event with a goatee.

Posted by: Val Prieto at September 29, 2006 11:41 AM

Hey Mike,

Really enjoy your blog, I've been reading it for a while now and have to say I've learned a lot. Keep up the good work.

Posted by: Vince DeLacy at September 29, 2006 12:31 PM

I thought you looked pretty much like your photo at the top of your blog...

Posted by: Ratatosk at September 29, 2006 01:05 PM

Great pictures, Michael!

Posted by: Fausta at September 29, 2006 02:02 PM

Jeez, I don't think even I would have recognised you! Nice tie Shmindorff ;)Don't forget we "little people" who knew you when....
Come home soon!

Posted by: Lindsey at September 29, 2006 03:20 PM

Yo, Vince DeLacy! Geez, man, it's been a while. Years, I guess, by now. Good to see you here on the blog. I didn't know you read this thing, ever. Let's have a beer in a week or so after I get back.

Posted by: Michael J. Totten at September 29, 2006 08:16 PM

Hi Lindsey. You're not a "little person." I have known you more than half my life. How could I forget? Geez!

Posted by: Michael J. Totten at September 29, 2006 08:19 PM


Great idea, we can catch-up then. Drop me an e-mail and I'm there.

Posted by: Vince DeLacy at September 29, 2006 10:35 PM

Great post; but your own foto is probably the lowest quality one there -- the only one somebody else took?

The bigger foto certainly looks like the smaller one you used to have, but your newer (year now?) profile foto isn't enough for recognition.

I'm glad you're great writing is getting recognized; even faster than your face.

Posted by: Tom Grey - Liberty Dad at September 30, 2006 12:33 AM

"I'm glad you're great writing is getting recognized; even faster than your face."
Argh -- I was glad you are (you're) getting recognized; but edited it to be your (not you're) great writing. Perhaps preview would have helped -- but then I have to enter two security codes.

My kids are bothering me with swords this Sat. morning in Slovakia, where you never visit. Though you'd be very welcome.

Posted by: Tom Grey - Liberty Dad at September 30, 2006 12:46 AM

Michael, great post! I'm glad you had the opportunity to meet up with all these great folks. I envy you. Keep up the great work.

And congratulations on your projected new ventures, both the non-book project and the, er, non-non-book project.

Posted by: Asher Abrams at September 30, 2006 12:47 PM

A belated welcome home and thanks for the pictures. And I thought I was finally in the big time, guest-blogging at Protein Wisdom!

Posted by: The Sanity Inspector at September 30, 2006 01:57 PM

Flubbed the close-bold tag, sorry. Where's the do-over button?

Posted by: The Sanity Inspector at September 30, 2006 01:58 PM

Really enjoy the blog. I would just add a small Lebanese perspective;

The "a Lebanese army officer" who saw you buying the flag knew it meant more than just a "funny" purchase. I can easily imagine what this guy is thinking when he was shaking his head, knowing that he will soon have to fight them, or be killed by them...

The only way I can explain this is: the Fanatical mind of people like Hezb works differently from us; fanatics tend to read too much into things, and give significance to matters that we do not even see. They really think that they have succeeded thanks to God.

The "DARE" T-shirt is only political. The Hezb flag is much more; it has become a holy relic.

Posted by: Jeha at October 1, 2006 03:33 AM

Well, I thought you were all taller.

Posted by: Raphael at October 14, 2006 09:14 PM
Post a comment

Remember personal info?

Winner, The 2007 Weblog Awards, Best Middle East or Africa Blog

Pajamas Media BlogRoll Member


"I'm flattered such an excellent writer links to my stuff"
Johann Hari
Author of God Save the Queen?

Andrew Sullivan
Author of Virtually Normal

"Brisk, bracing, sharp and thoughtful"
James Lileks
Author of The Gallery of Regrettable Food

"A hard-headed liberal who thinks and writes superbly"
Roger L. Simon
Author of Director's Cut

"Lively, vivid, and smart"
James Howard Kunstler
Author of The Geography of Nowhere

Contact Me

Send email to michaeltotten001 at gmail dot com

News Feeds


Link to Michael J. Totten with the logo button


Tip Jar


Terror and Liberalism
Paul Berman, The American Prospect

The Men Who Would Be Orwell
Ron Rosenbaum, The New York Observer

Looking the World in the Eye
Robert D. Kaplan, The Atlantic Monthly

In the Eigth Circle of Thieves
E.L. Doctorow, The Nation

Against Rationalization
Christopher Hitchens, The Nation

The Wall
Yossi Klein Halevi, The New Republic

Jihad Versus McWorld
Benjamin Barber, The Atlantic Monthly

The Sunshine Warrior
Bill Keller, The New York Times Magazine

Power and Weakness
Robert Kagan, Policy Review

The Coming Anarchy
Robert D. Kaplan, The Atlantic Monthly

England Your England
George Orwell, The Lion and the Unicorn