Dear Lebanon, There’s No Such Thing As A “Guillain-Barre” Virus

When you think the Lebanese press circle couldn’t sink lower, they surprise you. Be it with their super horrible reporting which happens often, to them jumping on anything they’d deem as a scoop to lately causing the entire Lebanese population to panic over something called “Guillain-Barre” virus that’s ravaging the country.

I have no idea who told them about that so-called virus, but this is bullshit.

I first saw the story on MTV. And like the good media that they are, everyone else immediately jumped on the story because clearly we have nothing else to worry about in Lebanon so let’s add a horrible-looking virus flying in the air among us that can kill us at any moment.

Behold the credibility:

It’s the apocalypse I tell you, MTV-style.

In their defense, MTV did ask a doctor about it. And he gave them a more or less correct answer of what Guillan-Barre actually is. But I suppose MTV decided that the explanation was too non-dramatic and not-attention grabbing, so they figured they’d make up an entirely new virus strain and get Lebanese across the country to panic.

Let’s get a few things in order:

There’s no such thing as a “Guillain-Barre” virus, but there is something called a “Guillain-Barre” syndrome. That is to say there is no virus floating in the Lebanese air that will paralyze you, but there is a very well-documented syndrome called “Guillain-Barre” that is quite rare, albeit present, that affects the nerves and whose effect, when diagnosed and promptly treated, is almost entirely reversible.

This is what Guillain-Barre syndrome is:

Following an infection by a virus or a bacteria, some people develop antibodies that end up attacking their own nerves. The most common pathogen isolated in patients who have developed Guillain-Barre is a bacteria called “Campylobacter Jejuni” (don’t try to pronounce it).

As such, this syndrome is autoimmune (your own body attacking itself) and inflammatory (there’s an inflammation taking place) that targets myelin in your peripheral nervous system. Myelin is a form of insulation that covers nerve endings leading to much-faster propagation of messages. Damaging myelin leads to very slow nerve conduction, if not minimal conduction altogether.

This manifests in tingling in a person’s feet at first that propagates upwards to their legs and thighs, then hands and arms. Ultimately, a person would also stop being able to move their limbs altogether. The disease is progressive and ascending.

The main life threat of Guillain-Barre comes in it affecting a person’s respiratory muscles, that is to say since it ends up paralyzing muscles across the body, it might also paralyze the muscles that you need to breathe which causes a person to end up in respiratory failure. Don’t freak out, however, because this is a sign of a late progression of the disease and most people do not reach this stage and are managed well before it.

There’s no way to know if a person will develop Guillain-Barre or not. It doesn’t matter if you’re Lebanese, Sudanese or Vietnamese: the processes that cause a person to end up with the syndrome are under study. Being infected with a bacteria or a virus does not mean you will end up with this syndrome. It’s an extremely rare disease. However, it is manageable.

Since Guillain-Barre syndrome involves your own body attacking itself, treatment essentially alters this process of attack by blocking it or decreasing it. I have no idea about the cost of treatment, but it works well at stopping the progression of the disease and bringing back any person towards a full recovery.

Lebanese media want you to think Guillain-Barre is a death sentence. It’s a disease with a fancy name that most people know absolutely nothing about, so why not turn it into yet another Lebanese panic-du-jour to make people rush to their doctors and wonder if their seasonal allergies come spring time will get them paralyzed in a few weeks?

I have seen Guillain-Barre often. The patients I have seen were all okay. A neighbor and family friend was so unlucky she had Guillain-Barre twice. She made a full recovery both times and is now a fully functional woman in her thirties with absolutely no care in the world.

My advice is as follows: do not trust MTV, LBC, OTV, etc., when it comes to medical information. In the age of the internet, it is your duty first and foremost to make sure that what they’re saying is true or not. As a rule of thumb, they’re full of it most of the time. Deal with them as such.

Shame on MTV and whichever media outlet jumped on the story without fact-checking it. Google is your friend. Or, you know, a 3rd year medical student would’ve told you that you’re wrong.

Shame On LBCI and Lebanese Authorities For Cleaning Fadel Shaker’s Image

I don't usually use the acronym "LOL" but I feel it's entirely appropriate to the use of the word "قضية."

I don’t usually use the acronym “LOL” but I feel it’s entirely appropriate to the use of the word “قضية.”

Fadel Shaker is the Islamist who cried wolf.

It’s difficult to imagine Shaker as anything other than the bearded Islamist who did a 180 degrees flip from a blasphemous man living in the sin of his songs to one who suddenly saw the light and only wanted to sing to Allah, the one imprinted in our collective memory as Lebanon, who’s been present for only 3 years.

History goes back to 2012 when Shaker popped up in Downtown Beirut at a rally for Assir’s Islamists, harmless and fluffy as they were at the time. I remember how outraged people were at the time: what had he done? Why was he doing that to himself? I even did a meme (link).

Kiss Ahmad el Assir on the forehead he did, bringing Assir into the forefront of the Lebanese news cycle in the process. The rest is history. Flashforward 3 years later and Fadel Shaker is reborn. Do you think his middle name is now Jesus (Or Issa as he’d rather be known I’m sure)?

The beard is gone. The clothes have been replaced with a suit. The shabby looking man of 2012-2014 has suddenly reverted back to his state of pre-2012. How do we know all of this? Because Lebanon’s prime TV station, LBCI, secured a super exclusive interview with Fadel Shaker in which he tried to do the following:

  1. Claim his innocence,
  2. Claim his involvement with Al Assir was simple “sympathy,”
  3. Claim that his relationship with Assir was strained,
  4. Claim that it wasn’t him who killed Lebanese army soldiers,
  5. Essentially kiss Bahia Hariri’s behind, calling her their “big sister” and commanding her efforts into preventing further decompensation of the situation.

Rumors about him trying to secure a deal to get out of the Palestinian camp of Ain el Helwe have been swirling for months through negotiations via intermediaries with the Lebanese authorities to secure his safe passage in return of him leaving his Islamist present behind.

In July 2014, he gave an interview to Lebanon24 (link) in which he essentially said almost verbatim what he told the LBC reporter who strung a report that turned Fadel Shaker from the Islamist to a pop star ready to take the microphone and sing next to Yara (if that’s not haram, I wouldn’t know).

The details of Fadel Shaker’s deal, according to Al Akhbar (link), are as follows:

  • He’s been trying to sort his situation ever since he ended up in Ain El Helwe in 2013,
  • His situation became increasingly difficult as he ran out of cash and his wife controlled his assets,
  • His “difficult situation” forced him into compromises,
  • Through a concert contractor called Imad Qanso, Fadel Shaker got into contact with Walid Ben Talal as well as Layal Al Solh who became his intermediaries with the government,
  • Layla Al Solh managed to get Shaker a deal with the Lebanese army that requires him to 1) return to his basic form and stop the fiery speeches against the army, 2) hire a lawyer to help him in his upcoming “trial” and 3) publicly cut all ties with Al Assir,
  • He got a lawyer called May Alkhansa, close to Hezbollah, after promising her “he hadn’t spilled one drop of blood,”
  • LBC was agreed upon to be the TV station to handle his rebirth, through a pre-prepared interview.

And despite all of this, I don’t blame Fadel Shaker for saying what he did. I don’t even blame Layla Al Solh and Walid Ben Talal for trying to get him off the hook. The latter is Saudi, so what did you expect? And his aunt is nothing more than his voice box, sadly.

The entities to blame here are 1) LBCI who, in typical Lebanese fashion, put the exclusivity of a news scoop ahead of what that scoop means, although in LBCI’s defense no Lebanese TV station would have said no, and 2) Lebanese authorities who are actually going through with such a deal.

By doing that report, LBCI – with all its influence – became nothing more than a mailbox to months long negotiations taking place behind closed doors between Shaker and Lebanese authorities in order to seal the deal and make sure Fadel Shaker turns out unscathed.

That report, being a rehash of a 2014 interview and with Fadel Shaker being prepped for the questions for weeks now, shows that there’s no substance to the content and no attempt at confronting Shaker regarding the terrible things that he did. LBCI shouldn’t have let him use their station to pass his agenda unchallenged, and contemplate the potential of him filling stadiums with fans again.

On the other hand, Fadel Shaker possibly facing trial means nothing. How long did Bilal Deqmaq stay in prison? How long did any of the Islamists caught up with Al Assir stay in prison? Will a few days in prison be enough? No.

By going into these negotiations with a terrorist just because “he saw the light,” our army and whichever authorities involved are saying that the blood of our army members is useless, that calling them pigs is okay and that all can be forgiven if you’re important enough to get away with it. Typical Lebanon.

Shame on Lebanese authorities who are ready to ignore everything just to come about to some deal.

How dim-witted do they think we are not to remember what he has done?

This is him calling the Lebanese army pigs and bragging that his gang killed two and wounded four:

This is him declaring jihad in Syria:

This is what he said of Ahmad el Assir:

“But then there was the assassination of former prime minister Rafik Hariri in 2005, with four Hezbollah militants accused by the international prosecutors. In May 2008 Hezbollah militias attacked Sunni Muslims in Beirut. To crown it all, they support [Syria’s president] Bashar al-Assad. Sunnis feel frustrated and they have no one to protect them. The sheikh [Assir] speaks the truth.” (link).

This is what he said of Lebanon (and the world’s) Shiites:

“In Syria they kill our Sunni brothers and destroy our mosques. They are prepared to kill all the Sunnis, all the way to the Gulf. They’re infidels, not Muslims. It’s not true the Qur’an is their book. They’re liars, they say one thing and do another.” (link).

This is what he said of his 2012-2015 path:

“That wasn’t my true calling. Thanks to the almighty, I now lead a religious life. I’m at peace. But I have no regrets about the past. It’s my duty to combat oppression and defend people who share my faith.” (link).

This is him in various loving positions with Ahmad el Assir and other terrorists:

Fadel Shaker is a 46 year old man without any disabilities who took decisions of which he was whole-heartedly convinced. If this had been a non-famous person, he would’ve been convicted and thrown in jail. He may have not killed (no one can know) but that doesn’t make him any less of a criminal.

The king of romance is planning a comeback. It’s no longer his “duty to combat oppression and defend people who share his faith,” everyone else be damned. And Lebanon’s very own LBCI is spear-heading that comeback. Perhaps they are dying for another Elissa duet?

The fact of the matter is the only romance he should be singing is to his cell mates in Roumieh, bending over, calling them allah. But that’s not what LBCI or the Lebanese authorities want. In Lebanon, justice is served only to those who are weak enough not to challenge it.

Why MTV’s “Banana Song” To Increase Culture In Lebanon Is A Big Failure

The only banana picture worth sharing

The only banana picture worth sharing

I was asked last week why I didn’t address the “banana song” that everyone was talking about. My answer was simple: it was something I didn’t feel should be propagated. Any kind of publicity is publicity, and I wasn’t going to be yet another blog exposing it to more people, not that it needed my help in doing so. Blog clicks and views be damned.

Yesterday, MTV announced that the whole thing was a marketing ploy orchestrated in collaboration with Impact BBDO to highlight how easily Lebanese fall for such flashy headlines and brainless news content instead of pursuing “culture.”

Certainly, the cause behind the mortifying song is noble, and kudos to those behind it for managing something that got almost everyone talking, even if it were to bash or criticize or to share it among friends for finding it hilarious.

But having everyone talk about it doesn’t mean the purpose of the campaign was successful. The campaign’s goal, to boost culture among the Lebanese populace, feels empty and hollow. I mean, isn’t MTV one of the leading Lebanese TV stations promoting lack of culture and decadence?

They say a picture is worth a thousand words. How about 14 pictures about the content that MTV has been advertising on its channels for the past 4 days?

I don’t know about you but news about selfies and skin products don’t qualify as propagating culture in my book.

MTV’s lack of “culture propagation” also extends to their shows: when has Adel Karam hosted an artist on his show that promotes culture? His most successful episode was with Haifa Wehbe.

What was MTV’s attempt at keeping you glued to your TV sets on a Saturday night? Maya Diab in barely-there clothing singing karaoke.

How did MTV try to sell Dancing With The Stars in its first season? By using May Hariri.

Of course, MTV isn’t alone in this practice of culture-lacking Lebanese media approach. Here are some screenshots thanks to LBCI, OTV and Al-Jadeed:

Isn’t it ironic that the same TV station wanting to fight decadence has been actively promoting it for months and years based on the rule that “الجمهور عايز كده?”

Do they even know that people massively clicking on a link isn’t indicative of its quality and that people tuning into a TV show doesn’t mean that said TV show is of decent quality?

Does MTV also think that the people who shared the video and who are targeted by the campaign would suddenly wake up and find themselves needing to pursue some Picasso instead of a Miss Lebanon selfie and some Beethoven instead of Haifa, especially that there’s absolutely no Lebanese TV stations that serves such a level of “culture” to begin with, in a country where such a thing isn’t remotely primed in the first place?

The Lebanese population is being actively dumbed down by TV stations who then come sweeping in with a marketing ploy to show us that we easily fall prey to gimmicks, while doing absolutely nothing about the problem in the first place. Don’t ridicule people with a silly “music” video when your TV station makes absolutely no effort at advocating for the campaign you’re supposedly championing.

If you want to fight decadence and promote culture, then do it, don’t preach it. Offer some culture to your viewers that isn’t gimmicky. Educate them. Give them news articles that would stimulate their minds, that don’t start with a  “بالصور ” or ” بالفيديو ” headline.

Don’t expose the music of the highest bidder when there’s so much better pieces floating around the Lebanese scene but without the needed money to give them airtime. Don’t give acting roles to models when there are countless theatre students in the country who can’t make a living.

If you want to promote culture, don’t shy away from investigative journalism that could highlight and maybe change a lot of what’s happening in this country just because a politician owns shares in your establishment. How many issues has MTV and other Lebanese TV stations forcefully ignored because they’re not “catchy” enough, because they deem aren’t newsworthy enough, because they want to kill them upon arrival for a reason or another? How can you promote culture if you’re deciding what is cultural and what isn’t?

The simplest analogy to this whole issue that I can think of is the following: MTV promoting culture is akin to Al Manar promoting secularism or Tele Lumiere promoting atheism. In other words, it’s bullshit. In a week or so, when people get over bananas, MTV will go back to what it does best and it will all be “بالصور ” or ” بالفيديو .”

 

Upcoming Lebanese Doom: Hassan Nasrallah “Hosted” on Basmeit Watan

You can see it now, the headlines of tomorrow: riot spreads across the land… because of a caricaturization.

LBC has guts. They’ve been expanding their forte over the past several months with excellent reporting and productions. They have now set the bar higher for everyone else once again by doing something that they did a while back to some grave consequences: they got Hassan Nasrallah to be caricatured on their satire show “Basmeit Watan.” They also mentioned a prophet.

The following is the video of the episode:

Hassan Nasrallah’s supporters have already cut off roads around Beirut in protest.

I guess everyone tunes in when the subject matter is this juicy. I mean, come on, you can smell the drama coming off from hundreds of kilometers away. It’s not like Lebanese mentalities have evolved in the years since Hassan Nasrallah was “hosted” last in order to fathom such caricatures. If anything, the country has gone way backwards in its extremism.

The YouTube comments on the video in question are hilarious. The following is a screenshot:

Screen Shot 2013-11-09 at 12.16.02 AM

 

Screen Shot 2013-11-09 at 12.43.43 PM

I wondered for a while if I just don’t get it. Then I decided that I do. I understand that Hassan Nasrallah is important to his people from a religious perspective, being theoretically a descendent of the prophet Mohammad and whatnot. I understand that a country like Lebanon where religious figures are taken in high regard is not the place to turn those people into satire.

I also know the following. Mr. Nasrallah is as active on the political scene as any other major Lebanese politician, if not more. Mr. Nasrallah is much more active politically and militarily in the Lebanese setting than any other politician and religious person in the country. Mr. Nasrallah is also the head of a party that is not, as its name claims, holy. Why should he get the prerogative that others do not get? Where do you draw a line that should not be drawn when it comes to criticism?

No Lebanese public figure should be above being portrayed in a show such as Basmeit Watan. No Lebanese public figure is holy enough not to be criticized. No Lebanese figure that toys with our lives in any way whatsoever gets to be put on a pedestal, as far as I’m concerned, and kept there until God knows when.

I couldn’t care less if Basmeit Watan or any other show portray the Pope, the Patriarch, my non-existent favorite politician or anyone else. What I do care about is that there are people in my country who think a silly TV show is enough reason for them to take it to the streets, do riots, cut roads and cause mayhem. What I do care about is the fact that the country has not changed one bit between Nasrallah 1.0 and Nasrallah 2.0. What I do care about is the fact that, in 2013, people still think holding religious office makes you immune to any form of criticism.

What’s sad is that our Lebanese priorities are reflected in the riots taking place today over a silly TV show instead of what actually counts. It’s sad that there are people who think Basmeit Watan portraying Nasrallah makes LBC an “Israeli Jewish parasite.” It’s sad that there are people who think such a portrayal is somehow a victory for Israel. Such logical fallacies exist in Lebanon, it seems.

Hezbollah, how about you take your men off the streets? Isn’t there some war we shouldn’t be fighting in to take part of? Isn’t there some government that should be formed but isn’t? Isn’t there a country that should not be run to the ground and have its streets cut off and liberties killed off in vain?

Lebanon To Get Its First HD TV Channel Tonight With LBC

LBC HD Logo

 

I was recently invited to a meeting with LBC officials who discussed with us their future plans for Lebanon’s leading TV station. One of those plans was an ambitious undertaking that involved flipping the switch on one aspect of Lebanese TV that is, as of now, completely obscure to almost all of us: HD TV.

Even though most of our TV sets are now equipped with the ability to handle such standards, none of our TV stations offered them. This will change tonight with LBC offering an HD TV channel for its viewers, which will be accessible through the following frequencies via LBC Blogs:

Digitek HD & SD formats: Frequency 12420 – Symbol rate 28175 – Polarization = vertical.

Econet HD & SD formats: Frequency 12480 – Symbol rate 31250 – Polarization = horizontal.

Perhaps it’s a shame that we’re just getting around to this technology in 2013 when it’s been around for a long time in most countries we look up to. However, I still maintain that when it comes to media, Lebanon is a pioneer in the region. And we have set the bar for our media pretty high so anything less than optimal reporting gets immediately bashed (link). Despite some gaffs here and there, I still believe what many of our outlets have to offer regional offerings in quality, though that’s not saying much since standards around here are pretty low. Hopefully other TV stations – or just the ones I watch when I have time – follow suit soon.

I’d have liked to have such a channel launch happen in a week where LBC didn’t mess up with their most recent Kalam Ennas episode (link) but I can’t be too picky. The channel will launch tonight following the start of Star Academy’s new season. Blast from the past anyone?

How Can I Get Credible News in Lebanon?

Q: How do you know a person’s political/sectarian/whatever affiliation?

A: Just look at the news they read/watch/get exposed to.

With near 12 hour shifts at the hospital, I’m having less and less time to be exposed to all different news sources in order to get the gist of what’s happening in this country. For a while, this didn’t bother me. I figured the less I know about current politics, the better. My parents were also happy I wasn’t going to get myself in trouble.

The sentiment didn’t last long. You just can’t logically remain disconnected from what’s happening here. Many Lebanese people are in the same boat: they don’t have time to read different sources and settle for one.

It was either I settle for the rhetoric that I enjoyed the most and made me sleep better at night, like a lot of people out there, or I simply don’t. I chose the latter. So I subscribed to a bunch of news services that sent me daily bulletins. Some send these bulletins several times per day as an agglomeration of articles from different sources. It eventually became a habit of mine to click on the flashy headlines, read the first few sentences and try to guess the source. I have an accuracy rate north of 95%. Move over Layla Abdul Latif. Is that how it’s supposed to be?

The other day, a friend of mine sent me something he figured I should write about: a former MP cutting down parts of the Cedar forest for his son’s wedding. I scanned through the article and then checked the source. It was Al-Akhbar, a newspaper that had that very same day turned a “scoop” they got of Samir and Sethrida Geagea allegedly divorcing into one of the worst articles I have ever read.  I immediately dismissed the news. I wasn’t going to touch that with a ten foot pole. The following day, the news turned out to be true because it was reported with pictures by several other sources.

Our news services rehash news in different ways when it’s a slow day and they’re bored. On August 4th, MTV reported on a “quarrel” in Tripoli during a public iftar at Al-Nour roundabout using the same material they used in a report from March 12th of that same year.

When it comes to  Tripoli, our news reporting was as horrible as it goes as well. When the fights were new, they were all over them. Then they got bored – and they figured everyone else should be bored as well. So they stopped reporting. Despite nights during which 1000s of mortar shells were dropped on the city, our media remained silent.  My friends had thought the worst thing happening in the country at that time was the electoral law debate. And, in the off-chance that they actually report something, they make it sound like the city is the Lebanese brand of Kandahar, in its own mood of civil war.

On April 1st, MTV ran with some news that was their take on April Fools. Other news services in the country didn’t bother double-checking and simply jumped on the story. As their attempt to save face later on, they said they contacted several entities in order to double check and whatnot. Odds are they didn’t. But who cares? There’s no accountability when it comes to our news anyway.

How does MTV report oil prices going up? “Gebran Bassil has raised oil prices.” How do they report them going down? “Oil prices have gone down.”

How does OTV report the same thing? “Oil prices have gone up; Gebran Bassil has brought oil prices down.”

How does Future TV refer the Syrian regime? “Shabbi7at el Assad.

How does Al-Manar address the Free Syrian Army? They are eaters of hearts, brains and other body parts.

How does a newspaper like Al-Diyar still exist? I don’t know.

How can I get the news without doubting every single sentence that I read? How can I get the non-editorialized and sensationalized version of all the pieces that should inform me about what’s happening in this country? How can I get news intros that are not written in an Arabic language whose words hold twenty five different meanings in each letter?

I can’t.

Nemr Abou Nassar vs LBCI

A lot of people absolutely adored Nemr Abou Nassar’s recent 20 minute rant against LBC and the situation in Lebanon that LBC somehow represents through their misrepresentation of an award show.

After all, aren’t the best kinds of pep talks those carried about by people financially better than 95% of the Lebanese population and with a second nationality to fall back on, just in case?

LBC has now replied to Mr. Nassar with what I think is an absolutely brilliant example of professionalism. For the first time, you have a Lebanese TV station acknowledging a mistake happening and taking the blame for it. Now LBC, my hat is off to you.

Hello Everyone,

Many of you rightfully expect LBCI’s transparent and honest answer to Mr. Abou Nassar’s video.

Like most would agree, LBCI succeeded in exporting Lebanon to the world with unparalleled levels of professionalism. This did not happen by coincidence or magic, but as the result of the perseverant work of hundreds of professionals. And it happened because we believe in our country, in its talents, and in all men and women dedicating themselves for Lebanon, whom we reassure of our unwavering support.

We do not (thank God!) pretend to be perfect. Mistakes happen with all corporations, and we believe the successful institutions are those who draw lessons to avoid repeating them. Let us be clearer: LBCI takes full responsibility of the mishaps that took place and regrets their impact on all the people involved. We salute the efforts of Dr. Sfeir and For Lebanon and sincerely hope that our apologies will be accepted.

The performance, which is not reflective of our standards, was due to the fact that the filming was outsourced in all good faith by LBCI to an external team, which did not perform up to expectations. Again, we are not trying to put the blame on someone else as we fully acknowledge our lack of proper selection. And we are willing to do everything possible to repair the harm that was inadvertently made.

What is an unforeseen sub-performance should not be dealt with as a premeditated wrongdoing, or as a hidden agenda targeting local talents. Though we fully understand the frustration, linking this incident to malevolent intentions is taking things out of proportion. We cannot stress enough how much LBCI supports Lebanese talents from all genres and languages and our track record in this case cannot be brushed aside because of a blunder. An unjust accusation cannot be an answer to a non-premeditated mistake.

Many people can testify that LBCI has broken many partnerships with organizers who did not abide by our standards in term of respecting the people attending the event, thus speaking of intentional sabotage is simply not an option. Criticizing what is wrong is what we do, and we support numerous points that Mr. Abou Nassar has raised, but we are against dramatized criticism which turns into a witch hunt.

We hope that a new page will be opened, and that we will continue to collaborate with all our valued talents to serve our common cause which is Lebanon, as we are all fighting in the same ranks. Mr. Abou Nassar ensured a good coverage for the event and helped in clearing the organizers’ reputation which we also hold dear. We join our voice to his to also thank them for their efforts, hoping to put this unintentional incident behind us

If only other institutions in this country can be this professional in the way they handle criticism.