R.I.P. Lebanese Legend Sabah

Sabah

You’ve killed her a thousand times over with those senseless jokes, the rumors and then some more jokes when the rumors were debunked. But this morning, Lebanese singer Sabah passed away at the age of 87.

My earliest memory of Sabah is being a kid hovering around my mom’s waist as she sang her song “Sa’at Sa’at” while she cooked, or, if she felt playful, went about a round of “Jib el Mejwez.” Today, my mom is the one who reaches my waist, but she still sings those songs when she cooks, and they’ve become engrained in my mind as a result too.

With over 50 albums in her decade-long career, she is on the same rank as some artists that many consider worthier of more clout, such as Fairuz and Um Kulthum.

More senseless things happen daily that’s for sure, but Lebanon lost one of its giants today and that is something that should be acknowledged, whether you liked Sabah as an artist or not. Of course, Sabah is also yet another example of a Lebanese patriot who is under appreciated by both her government and her countrymen: you only need to look around to see the same people making fun of her over the years suddenly remembering that yes, she is human, and that humans die, as corny as that sounds.

Sabah’s death marks yet another nail in the coffin of true Lebanese artistry, at a time when Lebanese singers gave the world and their country true art, not some rehashed Turkish tune or some mysognistic song about how women are only supposed to stay home.

Earlier this morning, as I told someone the news, their reaction was “finally.” I, for one, hope the collective Lebanese population does not share that sentiment about Sabah passing away. I also hope the jokes, at least today, do not find their way onto the timelines and twitter feeds.

Rest in peace Sabah. May your songs live in the memory of those who love them forevermore. I believe that is the greatest honor that an artist could have and you’ve done that exceedingly.

Fail: Lebanese Media Gives Oprah Cancer

So much for credible news reporting.

Our newspapers have a lot on their plates. Not only do they have a pretty screwed up political situation to wrap their heads around, dismal infrastructure to cover (link) and, well, opinions to dish out like aspirin pills, but they also have a need to keep their readers very well up to date with what’s happening and the who’s who of Hollywood and American pop culture.

Al Balad newspaper and Oprah go way back. A couple of years go, they flashed her picture for an article about Opera, the web browser:

Oprah Opera Al Balad

Today, they’re at it again with what can only be considered a hit article at almost 4000 shares: Oprah has cancer. She will be dead in 12 weeks. And all her money is going to her fans.

Those three statements are bold. You’d think one of Lebanon’s leading newspapers would try to go in depth of each and every single one of them. Cancer. Dead soon. You get money, you get money, YOU ALL GET MONEY.

Guess again. The following are screenshots before the likely take-down of the article, along with a picture of Oprah weeping because, you know, she’d likely be sad because she has cancer:

Layalina and Beiruting.com were also quick to jump on the bandwagon. Anything for Facebook likes and website clicks.

A quick google news search of Oprah reveals the following top results:

Oprah

 

You’d think someone like Oprah getting cancer would be top Google news. Anyway, then I decided to give them the benefit of the doubt and make sure to include the term “cancer” in my search query:

Screen Shot 2014-11-16 at 7.38.31 PM

 

The result is even less important news than before, not that the results before were of any importance either.

Lebanese media is going downhill. Even more renowned newspapers such as Annahar have been very prone to ridicule lately. Check the Twitter feeds of all major news outlets and you’ll find stories being flashed around for dogs with elephant trunks, kangaroos fighting, a Polish woman waking up at the morgue after she was thought dead.

You’d think a newspaper like Al Balad would at least make sure breaking such a story would at least involve making sure it exists in American sources. Guess again. I wonder, if our news outlets make such horrendous mistakes covering such obvious news stories, how badly are they handling the very important reporting that needs to take place in Lebanon?

Lebanon and Rain: غير مطابق

I bet the above pictures look familiar. You saw them happening yesterday, didn’t you? Beirut’s airport being flooded, the tunnel leading to the airport being flooded and trapping cars for hours, etc…

Except the above pictures are not actually footage from yesterday’s Lebanese apocalypse. They are the same pictures I posted on this blog in 2012, around the same time of the year, when Lebanon had its first rainstorm of the season. Here’s the link (click) if you don’t believe me. And they happened again in 2013, and again yesterday.

It’s the same story every year. Whenever those dark grey clouds gather and those raindrops indicating the summer-long drought will soon be over, everyone and their mother is absolutely taken aback by how horribly our roads and infrastructure handles the year’s first downpour.

It’s akin to our ministry of public affairs and the various municipalities around the country being like the blue fish in Finding Nemo: no short term memory whatsoever. Every single year, they are absolutely dumfounded that their jurisdiction is nowhere near equipped to handle a few millimeters of rain. A state of utter shock ensues. It rained? In November? Oh my god, it can’t be!

I wonder: how much resources would it take the ministry in question to make sure the gutters are clean, the roads are equipped and that the country wouldn’t be in near-apocalypse mode when it rains?

Perhaps the energy that goes into the thought process in question is too much and too unnecessary. This is what happened in Lebanon yesterday:

  1. It rained,
  2. The airport’s road got inundated,
  3. The tunnel leading up to the airport road got flooded,
  4. Horrible traffic ensued,
  5. Water piled up to 0.5 meters in certain areas, flooding houses. It wasn’t a monsoon,
  6. Electricité Du Liban’s generators got disconnected off the grid, leaving the country in electrical blackout,
  7. News surfaced that City Centre was closing down due to the electricity cut. This was later denied.
  8. Cinema Abraj in Furn El Shebbak was flooded (check picture below), in what looks like a typical Hollywood movie that cinema was probably screening at the time.

The following are pictures that took place yesterday:

On the bright side, we can now say the four month drought in Beirut is officially over.

We live in a country that cannot handle two hours of rain, and some think we are equipped to handle the graver issues facing our great Lebanese nation of eternal beauty. It is said that a picture is worth a thousand words. Ladies and gentlemen, how about several pictures, two years apart, that are exactly the same in content?

Welcome to the country of utter and absolute corruption regarding which you can’t do anything. And if you thought that this year would end up in a lesson to our government to pull it together and prevent floods in 2015, you thought wrong. As they say: فالج لا تعالج. The following is a picture of Lebanon’s first rain in 1965:

First Rain 1965 Lebanon St. Georges

Lebanon’s “Bad” Restaurants: How The Ministry Of Health Messed Up

Earlier today, minister of health Wael Abou Faour decided to go on a press conference and out high-profile restaurants and supermarkets across Lebanon that are, according to him, selling Lebanese customers “bad products.”

I was sent the following pictures that detail what are “bad products,” incompatible as they supposedly are with the ministry’s standards:

This isn’t about naming and shaming the restaurants and supermarkets in question. Actually this is far from it. If you’re reading this expecting an angry blog post about Roadster or Hallab, then you’re very mistaken. What this will be is a rant about the utter lack of maturity and professionalism that the ministry has handled this with.

For starters Mr. Faour, what’s the point of a high profile press conference to name and shame restaurants without actually listing how those restaurants failed to meet the standards checked by the ministry? No, I’m not talking about what the “products” in question, but about how exactly those products failed to meet the standards.

This brings me to point #2. What are the ministry’s standards for evaluation exactly? You’d think a big ass conference that is bound to cause such a stir would at least start with that: on what basis were those places evaluated, what scientific measures did the samples go through to be assessed, how reputable are the labs where those samples were taken, how qualified are the doctors who actually oversaw what was taking place to begin with. None of this actually happened.

Mr. Faour’s press conference was yet another example of the fact-less, crowd-pleasing, let-us-get-the-biggest-buzz-possible Lebanese mentality of handling things: the less everyone knows the better; why do people need more information to be critical anyway? Faour knows best, and he knows where you should eat and where you shouldn’t.

In the next few days, everything you will hear about will be the restaurants named by Mr. Faour. There will probably not be any other piece of news that is worthy of airtime. People will freak out and panic and call for boycott all based on nothing but an empty list by a ministry known for its inaptitude. I mean, just look at the hospitals that are run by its teams. I’m rotating at one currently, so I would know exactly how miserable and despicable the conditions are over there. But isn’t this government, ministry and country all about half-assed measures?

Many of the restaurants that Faour named have standards that the ministry can only dream of reaching.

ISO-22000. This is an international certification that a few of the restaurants in question on Faour’s list have. To ensure that this certification is not revoked, those restaurants have to submit to regular quality checks. The ISO certification is internationally recognized for its high level of standards, and is applied in countries where governments are always vigilant and do not, like ours, wake up from a deep, deep slumber every now and then in order to fight for the gastroentereological rights of Lebanese citizens. That is a standard I trust, not some shady ministry measure aimed purely to create a scandal and boost a minister’s popularity.

I suggest you do the same for now.

This Is A Blogpost About Someone Of 1/10th Lebanese Origins Who Did Something Somewhere

It is that time of the year again, which is basically every other day, for some person you hadn’t known existed to become the talk of the Lebanese town because of something he or she did somewhere most of us dream of living in, just because that person is Lebanese.

In this paragraph, I will discuss the lineage of the person in question. Of course, it doesn’t matter if the person is as Lebanese as Lebanese people having elections, but a Lebanese origin Chromosome is a Lebanese origin chromosome and this cannot be ignored.

After establishing that whatever percentile of Lebanese-ship this person fits in, I will draw out the family tree. In the case of many Lebanese who make it abroad, that family tree brings us back about three or five generations back to the time when our grandparents hadn’t been gametes yet, but no matter. Lebanese blood never runs cold – even after several generations out in the wilderness of those countries that those of Lebanese origin will never find home.

In this paragraph, I will discuss what that person did to make him the point of national Lebanese pride, and how whatever he did will definitely reflect positively on the fabrics of Lebanese society in his home country, leading the way to a tangible decrease in sectarianism and political tension. Of course, that person could as well have gotten married to a celebrity (Amal, I’m looking at you. It’s not like there’s anyone other than you), but what do you mean getting married to George Clooney won’t bring us a president?

I will now move on to discuss immigration and how it has shaped this country for the past three hundred years, far longer than the idea of “Lebanon” possibly even existed. I will become the go-to expert on the socio-political causes that have made immigration such a tantalizing option for many Lebanese families to leave this country. From Ottoman rule, to French hegemony, to Lebanese sectarianism and the Civil War nobody understands to current times of political bankruptcy.

This effectively leads the way to the most massive name drop of all time. OF ALL TIME. I will start with Gebran Khalil Gebran and go on and on about “The Prophet,” a book I have probably not read, to Hassan Kamel Al-Sabbah, the inventor they bombarded us with back in 5th grade, and the conspiracy theory that it was the CIA that killed him because of his brain, up to Shakira in which case if I were from Zahle I’d go on and on about how her vocal capacities are definitely due to her ancestor drinking lots of water from the Berdaouni, all the way to Amal Alameddine, of course, who hooked George Clooney simply because she came from Baakline. I mean is there any other reason for those big fat Lebanese nuptials (in Venice and London)?

My conclusion (I can’t believe I wrote such a small blog post) will be all about Lebanon, the little country that could, that has sent millions upon millions of people to shape the world as we know it. With the mountains close to the sea, with our unparalleled nature, with our joie-de-vivre of lifestyle, with our unmatched capital, it’s really baffling to see that this little country of ours hasn’t ascended to the throne of THE BEST COUNTRY IN THE WORLD. But it’s only a matter of time because, as you know, someone out there of 1/100th Lebanese origin is bound to make that happen and Lebanon will be the only thing he or she will think of when they do.

What’s Worse Than Lebanon’s Lawmakers Stealing Our Right To Vote

June 20th, 2017. Save the date, for it will be the time Lebanon’s current parliament extends its mandate for the third time in a row. Some people like the taste of power. Those who like power in Lebanon can’t get enough of it.

Apart from the ramifications of the extension, many of which you will probably be hearing about until elections happen in who-knows-when, here are a few observations about myself amidst this political fuckery:

  • I’m a soon-to-be 25 year old who, according to our laws and regulations, is basically equipped with full legal responsibilities and whatnot, but I’ve never – ever – voted for anything, and by the looks of it will never do.

Contrast this with my American cousins whose ages range from 20 to 26 and who have voted at least twice so far in the past 2 years alone, the last of which was yesterday. Those Americans… they fight ISIS here, Al Qaeda in Afghanistan, and they still manage to hold elections every other two years. Teach our politicians, why don’t you?

  • By extending its mandate till 2017, Lebanon’s lawmakers have made sure that I, along with a substantial portion of Lebanon’s youth, will never – ever – get to have a say in who becomes a parliament member.

I will immigrate and be out of the country by 2016. Ironically, I will most likely be attending (but sadly not participating) in the American presidential elections that year, but at least I’ll be able to say that the past 6 years, in which I should have witnessed, in theory, a presidential election, two parliamentary elections and municipality elections, haven’t been election-less, although I have witnessed the Syrian presidential elections on my territory; I guess the situation wasn’t bad enough for that not to happen.

Most of the people I know are against parliament’s mandate extension, and so am I. But somehow, after thinking about this for about the fifteen minutes that it deserves amidst this country’s sewage-like level of politics, I realized that the bigger travesty of this parliament’s extension is that our MPs, or all 95 of them who attended, were so full of themselves that they didn’t see anything wrong with extending their mandate for an extra two years and seven months.

The biggest and sadder travesty that occurred today is also the fact that those same parliament members who have failed to ensure quorum since that first round of presidential elections way back when, have found quorum for the sole purpose of ensuring they can fail to gather quorum for the next two years and seven months, while getting fully paid for their lack of services.

The saddest aspect of today is that there are still Lebanese out there who can’t think for themselves and who think that their politicians of choice were correct in voting the way they voted today or in not attending today’s session, as if those voting for the extension did so unpredictably and those who didn’t attend, while being in the government and making sure none of the regulations needed to make sure parliamentary elections take place are passed, have also effectively supported the extension from the get-go and were searching for the best way to go around mass Lebanese (Christians mainly) scrutiny.

Ironically fitting for Mr. Bassil and his party's MPs to "want to fight the power from inside," don't you think?

Ironically fitting for Mr. Bassil and his party’s MPs to “want to fight the power from inside,” don’t you think?

Today has also revealed exactly how silly, stupid, ridiculous and retarded this whole debacle is with the realization that there are Lebanese people who will actually be voting for parliament members in Kuwait on November 7th (this Friday) and in Sydney, Australia on November 9th (this Sunday) because, as of now, we are all still voters who are supposed to vote for parliament soon, pending the publication of today’s decision in the Official Gazette. What will the votes of those Lebanese amount to? The answer is exactly the same as all our votes: toilet paper for our MP’s behinds.

IMG_8187

But I digress. There are, believe it or not, worse things taking place today thanks to those very lawmakers that should be noted, especially today:

1 – Presidential Elections:

Get this: 97 MPs gathered in parliament today, making up more than 2/3 majority required to vote on major bills, in order to extend their mandate. Those MPs voted 95-2 on the bill in question. However, for the past 6 months, those same MPs have not only failed to gather quorum for presidential electives, many of them have actively campaigned against ensuring such a quorum. By ensuring no president is elected, those MPs have made a nice bundled argument for themselves on the necessity of another mandate extension is required to avoid that dreaded void. If you think about it, it’s a nice little Lebanese catch 22. It’s not that they’re too smart; it’s that they’ve become so accustomed at fooling everyone that they make it seem like what they do is for the best of the Lebanese population they’re busy screwing over day in, day out.

It’s okay, though, who needs a president anyway.

2 – Elections Law

When those 128MPs got to power in 2009, they all agreed that a new electoral law was a necessity to be done in those 4 years during which they would serve their country and citizens. The reality was a vacation for the first two years, a wake up call on year 3, a few months of hectic sprints in year 4, jumping from one absurd law to another more absurd law (you do remember the Orthodox proposal, of course, however long ago that seems right now) until they realized that the whole issue was too tiring and decided to postpone for themselves the first time, saying that they will use those extended 18 months to work on a new law.

How many hours have those MPs spent in those 18 months working on a new electoral law? Approximately 0.

In fact, not only is the lack of an electoral law after more than five and a half years a tragedy, but any electoral law that will arise from this parliament in question will be tailor-made to please everyone and, effectively, keep the status quo as is. Do you really think they’d agree to what’s fair if fairness meant they’d be kicked out of Nejmeh Square?

3 – What If Elections Happened On November 16th?

Let’s assume, however, that our parliament decided that the democratic process was, contrary to actuality, important. Let’s assume that they swallowed their overgrown prides and decided to campaign for our votes in about 11 days and try out for the Guinness World Record for shortest election delay ever. Now that’s something we can teach those Americans. Let me give you an example of the broad array of candidates that I could have voted for in Batroun:

2014

2014

 

The names sound familiar? That’s because you know them all. Gebran Bassil (name #2) is THE Gebran Bassil. Boutros Harb (name #4) is my current MP and the minister of telecom. Antoine Zahra (last name) is the LF-go-to-spokesperson for fiery speeches and my other MP.

Now contrast the above list with that of those who were running for elections before parliament underwent its first extension in June 2013:

2013

2013

I would advise a game of “spot the difference,” but it’d be essentially futile as there are basically none. If elections were to happen on November 16th, our tax money would be spent to make sure that those same MPs, across all Lebanese districts, get not a two year and seven months mandate that is illegal, but a four year mandate that is legal. It’s not just because they made sure we vote based on a law that preferred them, but because we are left without a choice and because the bulk of those who vote, as in the people that exist outside of Twitter and Facebook (they exist!), do not vote the same way we do. And, because who the hell are we kidding, many of us as well would vote for the same people again, just because of familiarity.

4 – They’re Working Overtime

So what has our parliament done in the 18 months of its first extension? They worked of course. Overtime. They worked to ensure that a president is not elected (read point #1). They worked to make sure that the workers’ benefits and whatnot are not voted on, that a quorum is never reached. They worked overtime to make sure that Lebanese students who presented their official exams this year never get results and end up with certificates of passing, the tales of which our parents had told us back when they were going through school during the times of the Civil War.

They worked overtime to make sure a proper bill protecting women from domestic abuse isn’t passed. What we got instead was a maimed piece of legislation, aimed to please this religious leader or that, but still managing to keep our women under the thumbs of their husbands or partners.

They worked overtime not to work on an electoral law, not to legislate a stance from the Syrian war, not to basically do anything except get paid for doing no work in overtime.

5 – The Divide Is Christian/Muslim, not M14/M8

Perhaps the most dangerous aspect of the past several months on the Lebanese scene is the fact that the game has changed from being a March 14 versus a March 8 game, to becoming full blown Christian blocs versus Muslim blocs over the essential issues in the country, at a time when the Christian-Muslim divide, in Lebanon and elsewhere, is at an all time high.

As Ramez Dagher, on his blog Moulahazat, put it:

What is scary here isn’t that Lebanese politicians lie and steal and deceive and postpone elections. That, we already know. What is truly scary here is that 25 years after Taef, we are starting to witness an obvious rapprochement between the Christian parties while a rivalry between the Muslim blocs and the major Christian ones is becoming more apparent by the day. Every time there’s an important law debated in parliament – Such as the electoral law or the extension law – the rift is yet again Christian/Muslim instead of M8/M14: 10 years after the creation of these alliances , it seems that they were more based on an electoral than ideological ground.

If there was one beautiful thing about the March 8 and 14 alliances, it was that they were religiously diverse. And now – with ISIS on our gates and with vacancy and dysfunction everywhere in the political establishment – is literally the worst time to lose that.

Conclusion:

Too long, didn’t read – the summary to you is as follows: Living in Lebanon is living in shit, but at least we have the biggest platter of hummus, fattouch, lemonade cup, biggest burger, longest falafel sandwich and we’ve officially wed George Clooney to one of our daughters. You’re welcome for the realization.

Can We Get Over MTV’s “Digital” Drugs?

binaural beats mtv digital drugs

Because there’s absolutely nothing newsworthy reporting in Lebanon. Because everything is peachy, happy go lucky, the birds are chirping, the economy is booming, the tourists are coming in droves. Because our news services, notably MTV, have so much air time and so little things to report about, they decide to come up with absolute horseshit to get the Lebanese public into yet another state of panic.

The latest fad: Jdid, jdid… MTV…. Digital drugs.

I saw the headlines a couple of days ago. It sounded exactly like those Upworthy Facebook links you never bother to check. I didn’t click. Then the news kept on growing, and people kept on talking, and parents kept on panicking and I’m sure the news service that “uncovered” such an abomination is proud of itself for leading the viral mania.
A quick google search shows you that such a topic has existed since 2012, but never gained traction. I wonder why that could be.

I figured 7 years of medical school, including heavy duty courses in addiction that cover substances ranging from caffeine to hardcore drugs, including psychiatry clerkships where my colleagues and I never encountered such addicts, were not enough. I’ve seen alcoholics. I’ve seen heroin addicts. I’ve seen people who smoke marijuana by the kilos. But I had never, ever, seen someone addicted to something digital, in the cloud, to an MP3 file.

So I decided to learn, because that’s what science and medicine are: an ever-evolving field where stagnation even if with immense knowledge means you fall behind quite easily, so I hit up my favorite scientific databases. How nerdy.

I tried all different combinations of “binaural beats” and “hallucination.” No results.

I tried “binaural beats,” and “addiction.” Zilch.

But here’s what binaural beats do:

  • They were discovered in 1893, which makes them ancient, and are commonly used in meditation practices.
  • They consist of two tones at slightly different frequencies (get on your high school physics stat), presented separately to the left and right ears, and are perceived by the listener as a single tone. The end result is a perceptual phenomenon known as the binaural auditory beat (get on your high school philosophy perception notes pronto).
  • Scientific research on them has shown that they can affect psychomotor performance and mood, but nothing exists yet on their hallucinogenic effect.
  • There are plenty of things out there that could cause sensations of relief, elation, happiness, affect a person’s psychomotor performance and whatnot. Your favorite songs can make you feel happy. Making love to your partner can affect your mood. Eating chocolate can relieve stress. Practicing yoga has been shown to have tangible effects on the brain.

    There are also plenty of things that haven’t been banned that can cause hallucinations. Many medications that we give at hospitals have such a thing as their side effect. If you lock someone in a room alone for a period of time, they will end up having hallucinations. All of us also get hallucinations around sleeping time. Those are called hypnagogic or hypnopompic. Perhaps they’d want to ban those too?

    What’s also been proven is the existence of a placebo effect. If you give someone a substance and tell them it should do X and Y to them, many will report having felt X and Y occurring. That substance might as well be sugar, and they wouldn’t know. Placebo studies are crucial to the introduction of any new medications to the market. They are required to assess whether that new entity you want to sell is better than what’s already out there, or better than the non-medicated form. It also means that there could be a component to those “subjective” binaural beats reports of “having their mind blown away” that doesn’t scientifically exist.

    Kudos to MTV for bypassing years and years of possible scientific research to come to conclusions that are years ahead of any possible credible scientific paper on the matter. Kudos to those experts as well, flaunting all their expertise at us, good on them for being such professionals at what they do.

    Science Journal? Meh. Nature? That’s even worse. No, MTV is the new leading reference for scientists and doctors everywhere. Now please, educate me more.

    Ladies and gentlemen, this is nothing more than what happens, every other year, when a Lebanese TV station decides to re-address satanism and its association with heavy metal. You get “experts” saying that they’ve “proven” that listen to heavy metal music causes a person to deviate from holy religious norms and worship the devils. Those people will then engage in coital activities at cemeteries and commit blasphemy against churches and mosques or whatever. Of course, it’s more often than not pure and utter shit. But people panic anyway, because that’s what media feeds upon.

    I’m not saying binaural beats should be ignored, but who the hell is MTV to decide they should be banned when scientists haven’t studied them yet or have come up to conclusions on their merits, on their hallucinogenic effects, on their effects on brain matter?

    You know MTV, instead of covering such unfounded things like this, and using your power to lend credibility to scientifically unfounded crap, why don’t you give more airtime to other facets of addiction in Lebanon that are more abundant and much, much more accessible and much more scientifically proven to mess people up? Or why don’t you give more airtime to Lebanese areas that exist beyond your “live love Lebanon, let’s bring the tourists over” mantra? Trust me, that’s where the real problems in this country lie.