Moussa el Sader is Dead. Officially?

For years, supporters of Shiite imam Moussa el Sader had hoped he’d still be alive more than thirty three years after he went missing in Libya on August 31st, 1978.
Al Akhbar is reporting today that documents received by Lebanese government from Libya confirm that Moussa el Sader had died at the beginning of the previous decade due to diabetes complications.

In more details, the imam was taken to the Abou Slim prison in 1997 where he was put in solitary confinement. He started experiencing ailments because of his diabetes but his guards refused to give him treatment. As a result, the imam died soon after.

Al Qaddafi refused to have him buried. So he turned his cell into a fridge, akin to the one used in morgues, and guards were set up for the cell for more than a decade – until the recent Libyan revolution started.
On August 22nd, 2011 when Tripoli fell to the rebels, the Abou Slim prison was heavily bombarded. Moussa el Sader’s cell was destroyed as a result of the bombing and his body was subsequently taken out, along with the other dead people.
Some had reported seeing a man’s body with a cloak and turban being taken out of the premises.

Current efforts to search for the body are underway. The most plausible of scenarios is that the bodies taken out of the Abou Slim prison were buried at known locations due to their rapid decomposition. These sites will be soon excavated to maybe find the body of the imam and return it to Lebanon.

Moussa el Sader founded the political movement “Amal.” He was known for his calls for interfaith dialogue and his constant championing for co-existence among all Lebanese factions.
It’s sad to see his ideology so distorted by the current form of the political movement he started.

Many of us were more than certain the imam was dead. But it is only natural for people to seek closure. Hopefully the certainty of his death brings that to those who need it.

Catching Fire (Book 2 in The Hunger Games) [Book Review] – Suzanne Collins

Against all odds, Katniss Everdeen has come out triumphant from the Hunger Games. But at a price. Her last attempt at bringing Peeta and herself out of the arena alive was seen as an act of defiance by the Capitol. And they cannot remain silent.

Going back to her home district, life for Katniss is not easy. Gale, her best friend, keeps her at ice-cold distance. Peeta has also turned his back on her. It is then that President Snow drops her a visit to tell her than on the Victors’ Tour, she needs to convince all the districts of Panem, the dystopian country they live in, that her act to save both her life and Peeta’s was nothing more than an act of love – maybe it could help quench the fires of a rebellion starting to spread across Panem, a rebellion that Katniss isn’t sure she wants to quench.

But there’s a twist. Creeping up on Panem is the 75th Hunger Games, which would be made special by introducing new rules. What could those rules be? How will it affect Katniss and Peeta? And what could the 75th hunger games mean for Panem?

If you thought The Hunger Games, the first book in the trilogy, was addictive, then Catching Fire will get your heart to catch fire as it races through the pages. It is a unique and engrossing storyline; the characters you met an installment ago change as your hands flip through the pages. You cannot but feel the need to root for them. The descriptions are exquisite, thorough and gut-wrenchingly real.

The setting, similar to the the first book, is both real, fantastical and sad. The mood for this book is even darker than The Hunger Games. It is also more concise and poignant. Catching Fire has action, romance, hope, despair and, most importantly, humanity. Political themes are the underlying current of the book but they’re not flagrantly in your face, making it a dense read for adults whose imaginations want to wander off and a light read for teenagers who take it at face value.

With Catching Fire, Suzanne Collins has met the expectations she created for herself with The Hunger Games. The plot is unpredictable in many circumstances and is energetic throughout. In fact, the energy and pace keep on building right to the ending which creates a cliffhanger that will leave you shocked and searching for book three.

The main purpose of Catching Fire is to serve as a transitory bridge between The Hunger Games and Mockinjay, the third book in the series. And it does so perfectly by gradually changing the frame from the first book and creating a new dimension for the author to base the final installment in. Some might feel such transitions do not make great books. I beg to differ. You cannot read Catching Fire just to finish it. You can’t but read it to know what happens.

Within its few hundred pages, Catching Fire has, like its predecessor, humor, treason, death, love, life, loss, pain. “Girl on fire, I’m still betting on you….” How could you not?


The Twilight Saga: Breaking Dawn, Part 2 – Trailer: Bella as a Vampire

Here you go:

It looks like they’re toning down the “love story” approach for the promotion of this final movie and moving more into “Bella is now a vampire” realms.

Perhaps this is the smarter way to approach the final (and most useless) installment in the Twilight story. The final book, to begin with, has nothing going on. It’s a brick (about 800 pages) where Edward and Bella get married and have sex. She gets pregnant and delivers after a record-speed pregnancy during which she almost dies so he turns her. When she wakes up, they have more sex. The baby is thought to be a baby vampire and the rest of the movie is them preparing for a battle… that doesn’t happen. Diplomacy for the win!

Sorry for ruining it for you. Not really.

No, I won’t be watching it when it comes out.

No, it won’t be a good movie.

No, the trailer is not representative of the content of the movie.

Yes, it will make a lot of money.

In a nutshell, watching this movie will hurt your eyes and ears. Caution is advised.

The Smoking Situation in Lebanon: Blame The System, Not The Smoker

I always wondered why so many Lebanese smoke. We’ve all been through an educational system with more than one picture of a smoking-ruined lung in our biology textbook. We’ve all been through more than one lecture about the bad effects of smoking. We’ve all been through a phase where we were afraid of what our parents, some of whom smoke, would think of us if we do.

Despite all of that, many people ended up as smokers.

I am not talking here about our parents’ generation. They are the war generation to whom smoking might have been a way to cope with the stress of everyday life. But to our generation, one which is supposedly more aware than previous ones, the rates of smokers is just too high. You only need to go out with a group of people your age to notice this. My medical school class has 68 students. At least half of those are smokers. Less than half of them actually admit it when asked.

Fact. Nicotine is the most addictive substance known to man. No, not heroin. Not cocaine. Yes, nicotine. So when a smoker tells you they are not “addicted” to smoking, they are simply delusional.

Fact. Talking about lack of willpower when it comes to stopping smoking is nonsensical. Smokers have willpower the same as everybody else. It takes them way more effort, however, to be able to stop. Them not being able to stop smoking doesn’t mean they don’t have the will for it.

Fact. The more smokers you have in a given community, the higher the chance for non-smokers to fall into the habit: Peer pressure, imitation, call it whatever you want.

Fact. The easier it is to have access to cigarettes, the easier it’ll be for a non-smoker to become a smoker.

Let’s examine the situation in Lebanon. A regular shop in any given neighborhood has a stand for cigarettes displayed next to the cashier. That stand has a sticker that says cigarette packs are never sold to those less than eighteen years of age. This sticker is a formality. A fifteen year old enters said shop. This fifteen year old has an allowance of about $20 per week. Of those $20, he finds it very easy to dispose of $2 for a pack of cigarettes. This teenager goes back home and hides his pack. Later that evening, he meets up with a couple of his friends and they smoke it. The following day or week, another one of them volunteers $2 to “try” smoking until it’s no longer trying and their bodies develop a need for nicotine.

A study conducted by Jad Chaaban, Nadia Naamani and Nisreen Salti at the American University of Beirut (AUB) has found that 40.3% of people in Lebanon smoke, at a rate of 12.4 packs per month. This consumption is among the highest in the world, three times higher than Syria. To make things even “worse,” the balance for tobacco revenue and costs has our economy losing more than $55.4 million a year.

Last August, a non-smoking law was voted and its implementation was theoretically supposed to be gradually carried out. The reality, as with most Lebanese laws, is drastically different from theory. Some places, such as ABC mall, have borderline conformed to the ban. The absolute majority, however, has not. So when a smoker goes to almost any place in Lebanon, they will be inundated with cues for them to smoke, which have been proven psychologically to be the greatest trigger for smoking behavior. Those cues trigger the need in the body for nicotine. Example: a cigarette between classes, with coffee, with a drink, etc…

A few years ago, AUB banned smoking on its campus except for few select areas. This has caused many smokers to decrease their consumption. They simply didn’t have time to smoke between classes, on their breaks, on their tight schedules. What AUB did was to considerably suppress the aforementioned cues.

For the current smokers in Lebanon, it may be too late. Some have gone cold-turkey and failed. Others have succeeded. But it remains true that quitting smoking is one the most difficult things to do for smokers.

For the non-smokers, the story is much different and it is there that we must work to lessen smoking in our society. How? By making it drastically more difficult for these youngsters to access cigarettes. You know shops will not conform to the 18-year old limit. If a 15 year old doesn’t get his fix from this place, he’ll go to the next and the next until a pack is sold to him.

The first thing would be to put the cigarette stand in a place where it’s not very evident and easy for anyone to pick up a pack on a whim and make cigarette boxes a standard form: no special fonts and colors for a specific brand. Make them all the same, along with a pictorial warning covering most of the box about the dangers of smoking.

The second thing to do would be to drastically increase the price of cigarette packs. I don’t know why this is not a conceivable approach in a country where gas prices are half consisted of taxes. Meanwhile, cigarette packs have barely any taxes on them. Why not decrease the taxes on gas and increase them on cigarettes? Gas is a lively need for all of the Lebanese population. Cigarette is not. Gas should not be a privilege as it’s slowly becoming. Cigarettes should become a privilege. They currently are not.

Higher prices (say $8 a pack) and a decrease in the “cue” to buy a pack would lead to a drastic decrease in the up and coming generations to have high number of smokers. A higher price would also reflect on current smokers with a decrease in consumption. This leads to an easier implementation of smoking ban at various restaurants, pubs, public venues, etc.

When it comes to smoking in Lebanon, we tend to victimize the smoker for doing something “wrong.” Some smokers rationalize their behavior by saying that “everyone does it.” The “everyone does it” argument is faulty. Just because the majority does something doesn’t make it a good thing: just because the majority of the people in Beirut were exposed to violence in the 1980s does not make it a healthy experience. The fact remains that smoking is bad for smokers and for non-smokers. I, for one, cannot stand the smell. I am near repulsed by seeing the smoke going out of almost every bodily opening the smoker has. But it remains that it’s not a smoker’s fault as it is the system that has made it way too easy. So instead of dreaming big, like we always do in Lebanon, with a comprehensive smoking ban that reaches all the corners of the country, how about we start with baby steps for once and actually get somewhere?


The Hunger Games Breaks Box Office Records – Sets Huge Debut

$155 million.

That’s how much The Hunger Games has grossed in its opening weekend, enough to place it third on the best opening weekends list of all time, behind Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part 2 and The Dark Knight. The Hunger Games has, therefore, grossed more on its opening weekend than any other non-sequel movie ever made.

That’s even more than the $142 million Twilight: New Moon made on its opening weekend. Here you go, yet another reason as to why The Hunger Games is not Twilight.

The appeal for the movie has been attributed to an array of factors ranging from the critical acclaim the movie has amassed, the high interest fueled by an engaging marketing campaign, the fandom of the books, to the wide range of audience that have seen it: interest was high among both female and male viewers.

The Hunger Games has also become its studio’s biggest hit ever in just three days. The previous best for Lionsgate was $116 million for Fahrenheit 9/11.

The next installment in the books Catching Fire is slated for a November 2013 release. With the reception this one has gotten, Catching Fire will be a volcano.

Russell Peters in Lebanon – Show Review: Lame

Russell Peters’ show yesterday could be divided as follows:

40% of the time, he was picking on a man named Bassel.

20% of the time, he was picking on a 16 year old Saudi teenager called Khaled.

20% of the time, he was rehashing old jokes made at previous shows.

20% of the time, he was offering the audience new things.

The end conclusion is 100% of lameness.

I have watched most of his previous DVDs. So the idea I had pre-conceived about Russell Peters was that he was a good enough comedian to have a great show, albeit with a few slow moments stranded here and there. I wasn’t complaining. You can’t have it all over the top.

But what I had to go through on Saturday night at Platea Hall was definitely not something I had expected. Not in the least.

To begin with, the sound quality of the hall was horrible. Being on a limited monetary income, we couldn’t splurge to get the high-end tickets of the “lucky” front-rowers. So us, the poor commoners in the back, had to sharpen our hearing senses to be able to hear Russell Peters who seemed determined not to get the mic close to his mouth. Some had even tried to shout at him that “we couldn’t hear” but he was busy going at it with Bassel, a 38 year old man who happened to have huge eyebrows. Or caterpillars as Russell called them.

At the times when he wasn’t making fun of Bassel’s eyebrows, he was alluding to the masturbatory habits of 16 year old Khaled from Saudi Arabia. It might have been funny at first but when he interrupts a joke more than once to allude to it, it gets redundant and silly.

After feeling Khaled and Bassel became worn-out issues with the crowd, he moved on to a rehash of his previous jokes, the most famous of which is his father’s Indian heritage and accent. Car blinkers, child punishments – all retold with an Indian approach. Been there, done that.

The newer jokes, however, were not all that bad and some, especially those culturally relevant to Lebanon, were quite good. My favorite was an observation about how rampant plastic surgery has become in Lebanese society. Even the government is giving loans for people to do plastic surgery. We can’t accept ugly people here, he joked. Then a fashionably late Lebanese woman walks in. Peters looks at her and complements her breasts – or governmental breasts.

This leads me to another observation of the night. Lebanese people have redefined the concept of fashionably late and Russell Peters pointed it out. The show was supposed to start at 9:00 pm. It started at 9:30 with an opening act. Russell Peters was on stage at 9:45 and some people were still being ushered to their seats at around 10:00 pm. How hard could it be to get there on time, I have no idea.

When the opening act was better than the main show, you know something was messed up. I felt Russell Peters was unenthusiastic, disinterested, going through the motions to simply get things done and be out of there. He wasn’t really performing like he usually does. He was reciting.

I may be either too serious a person or Lebanese people are way too easily entertained because some were going gaga over the show as it ended. I’d like to think it’s the latter because I can appreciate a good comedy show when I see one. This was not one.


Lebanon 3rd on Best Places to Celebrate Easter List


A recent list published by Reuters features Lebanon as the third best place in the world to celebrate Easter. The list was compiled by “Cheapflights” and says Lebanese streets, shops and restaurants are decorated for Easter with chocolate eggs and bunnies. Selling chicks in many shops is common.
Good Friday celebrations where the Stations of the Cross enactment is spoken about. Easter Sunday is described as a big celebration and the “maamoul” sweets are also highlighted.

Easter is one of my favorite times of the year. I love the spirit of it and I’m glad that Easter in my country is apparently distinctive enough. Way to go Lebanon!

The full rankings are as follows:
1 – Argentina
2 – Greece
3 – Lebanon
4 – Scotland
5 – Spain
6 – Sweden
7 – France
8 – Germany
9 – United States
10 – Canada

The Hunger Games is NOT Twilight

I had no intention to write such a post. But when I saw people on various platforms saying that The Hunger Games is just another Twilight, I simply had to step in to say no. Just no. And I think I am a qualified person to make the comparison. How so? Well, I’ve actually read both book series before the hype for their movies set in.

1 – The Books

There is a drastic difference between the themes of the books to begin with. The Hunger Games does not have supernatural human beings, let alone vampires or werewolves that have been so ruined in their portrayal that they’ve become a common source for jokes. The main characters of The Hunger Games are not driven by their incessant need to be loved but by their primal instinct for survival. Both may be intended for young adults and have a central female character but when it comes to the plot, protagonists and reception, the two series couldn’t be more different. Twilight is a fantasy love story, while The Hunger Games is an adventure about survival. That alone create a huge difference in the central elements of the book: where characters in one search for a boyfriend, the characters in another prepare for a revolution.

This brings me to point 2.

2- Katniss Everdeen and Bella Swan:

Bella’s struggles in Twilight is to choose between the sparkly vampire Edward and the transform-at-will werewolf Jacob. Her character is also nauseatingly one dimensional, useless and completely infatuated with mundane things, making her unlikeable.

Katniss is the exact opposite. Where Bella had things handed for her on a silver platter (boyfriend trouble don’t count as life problems), Katniss has to survive a world where the government has made the people hungry, where her mother is disconnected from the world and where she has to care for her only sister. Katniss’ world does not revolve around a boy, unlike Bella.

Bella is driven by her infatuation with Edward. Katniss is driven by her need to survive a cruel world. Katniss is a character young readers should look up to. Bella Swan is not.

3 – The Movies

Both movie series are turning out to be immensely popular. The Hunger Games has grossed over $25 million from midnight screenings alone. Twilight movies have broken records. Where they differ, however, is in the drastic critical reception. The Hunger Games has an aggregate score of more than 90% of positive reviews. Every single Twilight movie has been certified rotten by critics. You can read my review of The Hunger Games here. I didn’t even find it in me to review the latest Twilight movie. Enough said.

Perhaps both The Hunger Games and Twilight can be considered as a “teen” series. How that’s a bad thing, I’m not sure. The difference remains that one is absolutely relevant to what we’re living through today: revolutions, war, famine while the other lives in lala land. The fact remains that people need to get it in their heads that not anything that rings true with young adults needs to be compared with a preceding cultural phenomenon. Twilight was compared to Harry Potter. The Hunger Games is being compared to Twilight. How ridiculous, I know. When will such unfounded thoughts end? I have no clue.

Gas Prices in Lebanon: 38,000LL and Counting. Where Do We Go Now?

The wages increase that workers got lately is being eaten away fast by dramatically increasing prices all around. But none is more prominent, perhaps, than gas prices which are nearing an all-time high at 38,000LL. It is expected to reach over 40,000LL in the coming weeks.

I remember when prices were even less than this last year and people were up in a fit against the former governmental establishment. Former minister of finance Rayya Hassan got into a byzantine debate with current minister of energy Gebran Bassil before a 5000LL fee got deducted from gas prices.

Where’s that 5000 now? We’ve already gotten it back and then some. Why isn’t anyone discussing this? Why isn’t anyone doing anything about it?

The sad fact is that half of that 38,000LL goes to the government in taxes. One of those taxes is progressive, increasing as oil prices increase worldwide. More money for our country’s coffers, surely. We’re not paying for a product. We’re paying for a privilege.

So from now on, fellow Lebanese, simply do not warm up the car when you turn it on. That’s over 5000LL of gas right there, wasted. Don’t leave the car turned on while you’re stuck in traffic. That’s at least a gallon wasted. If you’re having a hard time to find a parking place in Beirut, don’t be stingy, take the car to a parking lot. You’ll actually be saving money.

Or you know what, the weather is beautiful, spring is here. How about we take some camels and wander around Downtown Beirut? You know the tourists will be happy, it’s eco-friendly and it will fit right in with the stereotypes.

I remember the long gone days when Gebran Bassil said he’d never sign on gas price increases.

Where do we go now? to the stables, of course.