The U.S. Visa Cancellation of Lebanese Citizens

It’s a joyful moment for many when they get that American embassy employee to smile at them and tell them their visa request has been finally approved. I wouldn’t know since I’ve never had that happen to me.

For many, it is believed the struggle to get into the United States is almost done – what can go wrong now that you’ve got the paper work? Nothing, right?

Wrong.

For 3000 Lebanese, visiting the United States has become an impossibility for reasons no one knows. The people whose visas got cancelled belong to different Lebanese sects and religions: Christian, Muslim, Sunni, Shiites. They belong to different societal strata: businessmen and regular joes.

The U.S. Embassy in Lebanon has denied such numbers  (link), asserting that it is within the authority of the American State Department to cancel visas if information came to light after their issuance that would make the person in question inadmissible in the United States. But isn’t it also the right of Lebanese citizens, whoever they are, to know what those information are?

The most prominent example of canceled visas is the Hallab family in Tripoli, which has affected all four owners of  Hallab. For those who don’t know, the Hallab family owns and runs Asr el Helo (The Palace of Sweets). Some were forbidden from going for their medical checkups while others were told, upon leaving the United States on their way to Lebanon, that this would be their last visit. Even calls for Lebanese officials who, until very recently, used to be fully acting prime ministers to help with this issue proved to be completely useless.

Furthermore, it has been brought to my attention that Hallab, the sweets shop, is currently cautious about exporting its goods to the United States. The family is currently in a legal debacle in order to try and see how the visa cancellations affect the export.

But is there even any logical why the Hallab family’s visas are canceled? I can think of none. They do not harbor nor support terrorism and Islamist movements. They do not fund radicals who might find their way to American soil.  And yet here we are.

Another businessman whose visa got cancelled is Khaled Rifai who owns the Tripoli branches of GS, Springfield, Polaris and Bossini  as well as an insurance company. Khaled Rifai and the three Hallab brothers, who are a mere fraction out of many that includes Lebanese students, were not given any reason as to why their visas got cancelled. Better yet, their cancellation got almost no media coverage in Lebanon to begin with. I guess the media blackout over Tripoli extends to such incidents as well.

Who do we blame for this? I guess we can blame the politicians who have willingly turned the country into a playing field for everyone who wishes to start a game of tug of war. We can blame our useless passport, the most expensive and least efficient in the whole world. We can blame the current situation. We can blame whoever we want, point our fist at Awkar and pretend being outraged will get us somewhere.

But the truth is there’s absolutely nothing we can do but remain under the mercy of such embassies, vying for the next visa to take the bunch who doesn’t live in their version of Lebanese lala land out of here. I guess it comes with the territory of being where we are, what we are and who we are.

There’s nothing we can do but take it.

Haifa Wehbe’s New Album MJK is #1 on US iTunes

I may not like her but I think this is impressive. Haifa Wehbe is the first Lebanese artist to hold a #1 position of any sort on US iTunes. Granted, it is the #1 World Album which means it’s not exactly selling in the buckloads like the #1 All-Genre album (incidentally, that’s Blown Away by Carrie Underwood, whom I really, really like. Obviously.)

I actually had no idea she had new music out. But her international fans are buying. Good for her, I guess. Nice exposure. On the all-genre chart, however, her album doesn’t come in the top 200, which is expected.

Other places where MJK (what does that mean?) is charting are:

Kelly Clarkson Endorses Ron Paul For US Presidency – Receives Twitter Backlash

I may not be a fan of her latest album, Stronger, but I definitely appreciate the guts it took Kelly Clarkson to come out and support a conservative candidate for the US Republican ticket – and ultimately, the presidency.

Like Ron Paul or not, like Kelly Clarkson or not, everyone is entitled to an opinion and ridiculing them because of their opinion is not really the way people should behave in the 21st century where your opinion has become more public than anyone thinks. A tweet, deleted a few seconds later, can have its screenshot taken and forever be present in the digital age.

But no matter, back to the Kelly Clarkson issue. The pop singer tweeted the following a few hours ago:

The rest of the tweet goes as follows: “I love Ron Paul. I liked him a lot during the last republican nomination and no one gave him a chance. If he wins the nomination for the Republican party in 2012 he’s got my vote. Too bad he probably won’t.”

Immediately after, Clarkson started receiving hate tweets because of her views, some of which are too indecent to be posted, well, anywhere. So Clarkson tweeted again:

“I am really sorry if I have offended anyone. Obviously that was not my intent. I do not support racism. I support gay rights, straight rights, women’s rights, men’s rights, white/black/purple/orange rights. I like Ron Paul because he believes in less government and letting the people (all of us) make the decisions and mold our country. That is all. Out of all of the Republican nominees, he’s my favorite.”

And then subsequently, when people who were bashing her did not relax:

 “Man my eyes have been opened to so much hate tonight. If y’all ever disagree with something I say please don’t feel the need to attack me. I will listen to what you say and any articles or viewpoints you have when you say it with respect. Being hateful is not a healthy way to get people to see or hear you. I was raised to respect people and their decisions and beliefs and I hope you will grant me the same decency. If you don’t agree with me simply unfollow me. It’s really that easy. I hope you don’t because I would love the chance to hear what you have to say but if you’re so blinded by hate you can’t seek peace and progress then that is your unfortunate prerogative.”
But enough with the introduction. The whole point of this post is not to be pro-Ron Paul or against Ron Paul. It’s simply a defense of free speech, one that I frankly expected people of the country that calls for this type of freedom the most to at least know what it means.
Freedom of speech does not entitle you to bash or harass another person just because they have an opinion that differs from yours. Freedom of speech allows you to respectfully disagree and voice your concern or idea to that person in a respectful debate.
And the ironic thing is, I’m a Lebanese preaching this.
The other point behind this post is to say that Kelly Clarkson, though admittedly republican, voted for Obama in the last elections. And yet, this particular point doesn’t seem to be addressed by many. I wonder why is that so? Is it maybe because being a Republican artist in the US is frowned upon as uncool while being a Democrat is revered? There is definitely a double standard here. If Clarkson had endorsed Obama, I’m more than certain this whole debacle and this subsequent post that I’m writing wouldn’t have existed in the first place.
Third, many reply tweets to Kelly Clarkson mentioned that Ron Paul was anti-gay and a racist person, mostly basing their ideas on the following “quotes” attributed to Paul:
“The rate of AIDS infection is on the increase again. From the gay point of view, the reasons seem quite sensible. First, these men don’t really see a reason to live past their fifties. They are not married, they have no children, and their lives are centered on new sexual partners… because sex is the center of their lives, they want it to be as pleasurable as possible, which means unprotected sex. Third, they enjoy the attention & pity that comes with being sick.””If you live in a major city, you’ve probably already heard about the newest threat to your life and limb, and your family: carjacking. It is the hip-hop thing to do among the urban youth who play unsuspecting whites like pianos.”

 These quotes are misleading because 1. They were never written by Ron Paul and 2. They are part of an infamous newsletter that he absolutely denies writing.
Ron Paul is obviously anti-gay, as are many US politicians, but there are definitely more important issues, such as the economy, that are in the forefront for many Americans, including many homosexual men and women. Call me old-fashioned or conservative but I think having a home to raise your family and a job to sustain them, as well as a secure environment for their proper upbringing, are more important than which gender gets to marry which other gender. I’m not advocating for or against gay marriage. I’m simply saying there are more important things that a person can base a vote upon.
Finally, kudos to Kelly Clarkson for speaking her mind and stating her opinion. Back in 2008, when people were “baracking” the vote, somehow when all celebrities endorsed Obama, no one was taken aback. But when you stray away from the “media-approved” political path, you get bashed.
At the end of the day, celebrities all have an opinion and a right to state it. Whether you like their opinion or not, whether you approve of them voicing it or not is a different matter altogether.

Lebanon’s Independence Day

Most countries around the world celebrate their “Independence Day” with ecstatic joy. To all of those countries, it is a reminder of their struggle to break free from superpowers that were using their land, their people, their resources…

In Lebanon, November 22nd has become a national mourning day of some sorts. What are the people mourning? The French citizenship that could have been.

What is the notion of Independence and why do many Lebanese find it easy to ridicule the independence of their country? Contrary to popular belief, I feel proud on November 22nd, just as I feel proud about Lebanon any day. My country has grave flaws but regardless of those flaws, it exists.

The reason it’s so hard for many Lebanese to see their country as independent is because the notion of independence is grossly overestimated. No country in the whole world is truly independent from other countries. Example? The USA has a national debt of over $14 trillion, a big chunk of which is to China. Why do you think the US is struggling to fix its national budget nowadays? To fix the economy? Partly yes. But mostly to lessen this national debt and its dependence on other countries, such as China.

The difference between people in the US and Lebanon is that they have national pride that does not waver while we have a national pride as firm as water. The difference between us and them is that, even though they do have poverty and even though some of their States have horrible internet and even though the 3G provided by many of their carriers is not good, they feel proud to call themselves American. How many of us feel proud to call ourselves Lebanese?

You do know that the problems in countries such as the US, France, Switzerland, etc… are very similar to our problems? You have villages in the United States whose only source of livelihood is the production of crystal meth. You have places in France, like Lebanon, where it’s so corrupt that the police doesn’t dare enter. And then you have Switzerland, a country that, despite the great diversity of its people, managed to find a way to get them to coexist.

The problem in Lebanon? Our problems are magnified because of our country’s small size.

Some of us blame our politicians. We say they got us into this predicament. But simply put, our politicians arise from our society – they are inherently part of us. We voted for them and got them where they are today. But our “Independence” day is not our politicians’ to take. It is for all of us as a nation to celebrate: the sacrifices of our forefathers against the French Mandate to establish the Republic of Lebanon.

Others still call for a French (or any other “decent” country) mandate, wishing we were still under one. You know, if our forefathers found the situation under the French to be absolutely peachy and happy, I’m pretty sure they wouldn’t have fought to get Lebanon out of the mandate. Perhaps you should contemplate what all these superpowers are secretly doing in African countries where their influence is much more penetrating, where they still control national resources and lead the people of those countries to kill each other?

At the end of the day, it is hard for many to see Lebanon as independent because we live in a very, very difficult region. I look around and see Syria where Bashar Assad is killing his people left and right. I look to the South and see Israel/Palestine, both of which want a piece of my land as well and both of whom tried to get it as some point. And then I consider all those Arab countries and see that for a small country like mine, I’m sure of utter importance to them. Why is that? Why is it that many countries around the world can’t wait to get their hands on something related to my country? No, it’s not overwhelming pride. It’s an observation. Perhaps because they know that, as divided as we are, it makes it much easier for them to put their hands on our resources, our people and our land?

Our Independence is wasted by none-other than us: the people who let other countries wage their wars on our land. And amid everything that’s happening in the region around us today, perhaps we should be less critical and more vigilant against all of these countries with messed up systems that are ready to move their fights inside our borders.

You don’t want to call it independence, fine. Call it Lebanon’s National Day. But regardless of terminology, you should at least feel a stinge of pride that you have a country and, despite all its problems and the problems thrust upon it, it exists.

Someone Like You (Single Review) – Adele

Adele - Someone Like You - Single Cover

Adele recently announced Someone Like You as her US follow-up to her mega hit: Rolling In The Deep.

Already released in the UK as a single off her international multi-platform monster of an album, 21, Someone Like You got to #1 after a brilliantly heartbreaking show-stopping performance at the Brits. Why review the song now? Well, what better opportunity to write an extensive praise of such brilliance than when this unconventional choice for US radio is preparing to hopefully become a hit there as well?

Someone Like You is a song about the regret that you feel but cannot share. It’s a deeply personal song about all the words Adele couldn’t say to the person to whom this song is meant. Someone Like You starts with things Adele heard about him. He settled down, found a girl and married her. She tries to feign courage by asking him why he’s shy, since it’s very unlike him. And then she confesses that she she had hoped by turning out of the blue, uninvited, and by seeing her face, he’d be reminded that for her, it’s not over.

And then Adele sings the heartbreaking chorus: “Nevermind, I’ll find someone like you. I wish nothing but the best for you two…” You can feel the desperation in her voice as she sings those lines. Her voice breaks when she wishes nothing but the best for them two. And then she begs: “Don’t forget me, I beg. I remember you said, sometimes it lasts in love but sometimes it hurts instead.”

The song proceeds to the path of memories. “You’d know how the time flies, only yesterday was the time of our lives… we were born and raised in a summer haze, bound by the surprise of our glory days,” alluding to a summer romance that took place between the two before she apologizes again about showing up out of the blue uninvited, hoping that when he had seen her face, he’d be reminded that it’s not over.

Someone Like You is not a song about Adele being bitter. It’s about her being in love – so in love, in fact, that she can let the person go and wish nothing but the best for him, regardless of how much that might hurt her.

Someone Like You is a hypothetical song that Adele is singing to herself, not her former lover’s face. She’s imagining herself standing in front of him and giving her heart away. The whole scenario of how he would act and how she would response is in her head, sort of like the countless times when we imagine scenarios and play them out in our imagination before trying to act on them. But she knows acting on the plot she set up with “Someone Like You” is not the correct thing to act on. She cannot show up out of the blue and have such a confession for him. It would be wrong from her part. So even though she wants him to remember her and even though she still loves him, she hopes, in the song, to hopefully find someone like him, someday, to make her feel that sensation of love. With whom she can share her memories, her moments and her life.

Rolling In The Deep was a song that basically said: “you’re leaving? fine. Go. I don’t care.” With Someone Like You, Adele is crawling back slowly to her former lover, acknowledging that she’s not as strong as she thought – “who would have known how bittersweet this would taste?”

On Someone Like You, Adele delivers a brilliantly chilling vocal performance that is so full of nuances that it delivers the lyrics without much effort. There is a sense of vulnerability with her delivery that channels the pain she’s feeling when she was recording this masterpiece. And she makes it look so easy. How so? Every single performance she has delivered of this song was even better than the album version. Her Brits performance got this song to go to #1 in the UK almost overnight due to the massive sales she generated after bringing people to tears.

What’s more of a testament to the strength of this song is that it’s deeply personal. The lyrics were written in a way not to let it seem open-ended. It was written for a specific person, with no intention of making it something that everyone can relate to. At least that’s what Adele said. But everyone related to Someone Like You because everyone found something that struck a cord within the specific vulnerability conveyed among the lines of that song.

With Rolling In The Deep, US pop radio took a bold step in the correct musical direction. It gave a deserving and great song the chance to be a huge hit and it ended up staying at #1 for 7 weeks at the Hot 100. With Someone Like You, one only hopes pop radio would also give a gut-wrenching ballad the chance to be something big. Simply because Someone Like You is one of the greatest songs released this year.

Listen to the album version of Someone Like You here:

And the Brits live performance:

Transfomers: Dark Of The Moon – Review

It’s not hidden from anyone that I really enjoyed the first two Transformers movies. So when the news that a third one was being prepared surfaced, I was both excited and cautious. After all, the other previous movies were a sight to see, a true cinematic experience in everything bombastic so I was positive this one would be at least as visually satisfying. But there was no Megan Fox in it and how far can you stretch a story about aliens and robots that turn into cars and vice versa without stretching it too far?

Transformers: Dark Of The Moon is probably my favorite movie of 2011 so far. If Thor had ignited this year’s summer movie season, Transformers 3 is burning and torching the field left and right, up and down. And then down. And then up. Just for good measure.

Shia LaBeouf returns as quirky Sam Witwicky, the guy always at the wrong place and time when it comes to this alien species of Autobots and Decepticons. He’s all grown up now, freshly graduated, and searching for a job. Megan Fox dumped him and he replaced her with an even hotter girlfriend named Carly, portrayed by Rosie Huntington-Whiteley, a newcomer British actress. Carly has a job, working for her shady employer, played by Patrick Dempsey, who is more on the McDreary side than the McDreamy side here. And let’s just say, Sam Witwicky has got some kick ass luck when it comes to hooking the undeniable hotties of the world.

But the story of the movie starts decades before Sam was even born and builds on the conspiracy theories revolved around man’s landing on the moon. In the early 1960s, an Autobot spacecraft crashed on the dark side of moon. It was discovered soon after by the humans, launching the space race between the US and USSR. In 1969, Neil Armstrong lands on the moon. He utters his famous words and then everyone loses contact with him. That is everyone except 35 people in a locked NASA room. They investigate the spacecraft and return back home. Soon enough though, missions to the moon are canceled and all of the info is buried in Sector 7.

But the Autobots discover a fragment of that spaceship in Chernobyl and set out to recapture their long lost leader from the wreckage. But the Decepticons are more deceptive this time. They have infiltrated the human rankings like they’ve never before. They have allies in the least excepted of places and their plan is devilishly well-woven.

Transformers 3 is such a gloriously visual movie that you are transfixed from moment one and left as such well into the credits. Granted, I love the Paramore song so that’s why I stayed, but still. It’s a two hour and a half movie that leaves you staring at the screen for most of that duration. We can talk forever about those visual effects. Absolutely stunning. Glass-shattering, robots transforming, things exploding, people flying and frying… everything was so meticulously done with the utmost consideration for detail. The creators of this movie knew their strong suit would be the visuals and they did well by excelling in that regard.

Speaking of the duration, the storyline around the 1969 landing and the spaceship on the dark side of the moon could have definitely been cut down by about ten minutes, shortening the movie by a little amount. But I’m not complaining, I loved every minute of it.

The storyline is drastically different from the first two in the sense that you don’t need to have watched the first two movies to understand what this one is about. It starts off from scratch, serving at some sort of reboot for a franchise that some felt was sagging with its previous outing. I still do not get, however, how mankind is still oblivious to the fact that such alien species roam around us. Haven’t they effectively almost destroyed a bunch of capital cities in the previous movies? And why does Sam have to be leading a crappy life (girlfriend aside) whenever each movie starts? The character actually wonders if the government should give him a job, right at the beginning of the movie. And I have to agree. The storyline could use some tweaking for continuity and logic but it works for what it is.

On the acting side, you can say that most of the actors and actresses in the movie are, in biological terminology, linker sequences. How so? they help bring the movie together but their overall role is somewhat useless. Or if you don’t want to be harsh, you can question its use or think it is somewhat in the eye of the beholder so to speak. Is there much use for Shia and the new hottie Rosie in this movie? You might say they serve as some sort of catalyst. But that’s pretty much it. Even if you take them out, you’d still be left for a very solid movie. They just add to it. After all, one of the opening scenes has Rosie strutting around in underwear. Just saying.

Overall, Transformers 3 is an awesome addition to the franchise that carries it. It is a highly, highly (yes, twice for emphasis) movie that allows you to sink right in. It is huge in the sense that it submerges you with its grand sounds that accompany the eye-popping visual effects. Michael Bay presents a movie that is much better than the previous Transformers movie, although I still stand by Revenge of the Fallen being a good movie as it was. Some great actors were featured in very minute roles, such as John Malkovich in about five minutes of screen time as Sam’s employer and legend astronaut Buzz Aldrin has a cameo at one point. He was one of the original astronauts who landed on the moon. At the end of the day, Transformers 3 is a movie that you know you’re going to watch because of its metal-crunching and awesome action sequences. You do not expect to go there for some heavy mental stimulation. And for what it’s worth, it delivers brilliantly.

Apple Now Selling Unlocked iPhones in the U.S.

Rejoice iPhone lovers. Apple is now selling unlocked iPhones in the US, which makes buying them a whole lot cheaper and easier. How so? Most of us have family/know someone in the U.S. And most iPhones we use originate from there, previously requiring the user in other countries to “illegally” unlock their iPhone in order to use it. Well, those hurdles no longer exist. And I am very happy about that.

Just launched on the online Apple Store, the iPhone 4 is selling at $649, without taxes. Factor in a maximum of 10% in taxes and you get a device that costs $700, much less than the price Lebanese retailers charge or other countries around the world ask you to pay.

Although the price tag is a little higher that a contract-free US iPhone, it’s definitely worth it. I know where I’m buying the upcoming generation iPhone from.

Now the question that begs itself: will those who bought a contract-free iPhone be allowed to have their phones legally unlocked?