Pictures of Lebanon from the International Space Station

On Christmas Day, the International Space Station (ISS) wanted to show a different side of the region where Christmas came to be. For a place known to be war-torn, with blood-filled conflicts taking place every day, the astronauts at ISS wanted to show the world exactly how peaceful we looked from up there on a day that is all about peace, a time that is about anything but.

The pictures in question have been around for days now but they haven’t made the round yet. One explanation could be the caption with which they shared the pictures was the following:

Israel – completely clear – on Christmas morning from the International Space Station. Astronaut Barry Wilmore woke up early on Christmas to reflect upon the beauty of the Earth and snap some images to share with the world.

Obviously, that’s a big no-no around these parts. But seeing as how small the region is, a picture of space cannot contain one country alone, and I thought the way Lebanon looked on Christmas day from space, peaceful as it it, is always something nice to look at, which is quite is ironic given the situation and the additional rage we got from hellish traffic during that period.

For those who aren’t familiar with Lebanese geography, in order to find Lebanon just spot the snowy mountains. We are the only country in the region to have them. Those are the Cedar mountains in the North of the country. I’ve said over and over again that our best winter resorts are up there, but Beirutis just don’t believe me. Now you have proof.

Our country is the area around those mountains, with the very crooked coastline, from the Akkar in the North to the Naqoura tip in the South. The Eastern part is tougher to delineate.

You can also see Palestine, the Dead Sea, as well as parts of Syria.

The ISS has made it a habit of sharing wonderful pictures of Earth from space. A few weeks ago, upon a request from a Lebanese Twitter user, the ISS shared with him a picture of Beirut from space:

Beirut from ISS

You can check out pictures of other places on Earth on their Facebook page.

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How Lebanon Is Bracing Itself For Ebola

Earlier today, my phone buzzed with a breaking news notification about a patient being investigated for Ebola at a, as of now, unnamed Beirut hospital. An hour or so later, as I had figured, the patient turned out to have malaria. But that didn’t stop people from freaking out about the disease’s possibility of invading Lebanese territory. I mean, it’s only a matter of time anyway as Ebola is the only thing, possibly, that hasn’t strutted across our borders yet.

At an almost 30% chance of having Ebola spread to it, Lebanon is not at bay. 30% is a lot in medical terms. However, that isn’t to say that nothing is being done regarding the issue or that it’s being ignored as we’ve ignored almost every other pertinent matter that could potentially affect this country. I guess when it comes to health, people pay more attention.

In a matter of weeks, Ebola has become something that we, as medical professionals (or soon to be medical professionals), had to keep at the forefront of our minds as we saw patients in ERs or in any other setting for that matter for patients who have fever or a constellation of indicative symptoms.

Back in the old days, we’d start by asking about associated symptoms to try and draw a picture of a syndrome, a viral illness or any possible etiologies that made sense give the season, the condition of the patient, etc. Nowadays, we start by asking: have you had any recent travel history, sir?

Our cut-off to rule out Ebola in someone who presented from an endemic area, few as those people are, is about 3 weeks. I’ve seen people panic that they’ve encountered someone who visited Lebanon from Nigeria 3 months ago and are currently presenting with fever. No, it doesn’t work that way.

The Ministry of Health, in its capacities, has circulated memos to Lebanon’s hospital to educate employees, nurses and doctors about Ebola and about the proper ways to handle patients suspected with the disease. I have taken pictures of the memo in question, which you can find as follows:

When it comes to our airports, however, the story is entirely different. Sure, there’s probably not a massive influx of Lebanese coming from West Africa, but even with the global worry regarding the virus, there’s been basically zero measures at our airport to screen passengers or attempt to keep ebola in the back of their minds, just in case, especially in passengers from Sierra Leone, Guinea and Liberia. I guess there are more important airport-related issues at hand, such as fixing that A/C.

The media, on another hand, isn’t doing a terrific job either at spreading awareness regarding the virus or educating people on it in order to decrease mass hysteria and help catch suspected cases earlier, in case they happen to be there as unlikely as that is.

In a way, Lebanon is better prepared for Ebola than it is for any of our average crisis. Our hospitals are well equipped and can handle such cases extremely well. We have excellent equipment and doctors and, believe it or not, excellent medical management – at least at Beirut’s major hospitals that is.

The status of Ebola and Lebanon can be summarized as follows: there are more people in Lebanon that have been attacked by MP Nicolas Fattouch than have had Ebola.

Da’esh Is Coming: Lebanon To Ban Porn

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Move away Game of Thrones, Lebanon is in full swing to make sure the ground is fertile – no pun – for our very own dark aged winter.

After minster of Justice Achraf Rifi decided there’s nothing more important than to go after those who burned the ISIS flag in Achrafieh, our ministry of telecommunication, spear-headed by Abdul Menhem Youssef, is aiming to stop Lebanese citizens from watching porn, by banning ISPs and Internet providers from letting citizens access a select number of sites, which are:

1) teenport.com,
2) metart-gallery.com,
3) smallteenpussy.com,
4) xnxx.com,
5) xivdeos.com,
6) teensnow.com.

Didn’t you hear, people? Our government is all about making sure the collective morals of the Lebanese community remain intact. After all, is there anything other than porn in Lebanon today that could be leading to the massive and tangible decline in manners?

Oh wait.

In the grand scheme of Lebanese things, we have other liberties being violated than the freedom to have a wider array of porn websites. As it stands, other porn websites will still remain available for whoever likes to feast their senses and bodily fluids, but what precedence are we setting with such measures, especially at a time like this when there are much, much graver things that warrant bans?

At the top of my head, before banning porn, the ministry of telecommunication should ban access to every single video on the internet showing anyone, especially Lebanese army personnel, being killed by Da’esh.

The ministry of telecommunication should also consider banning websites or platforms whose sole purpose is to perpetuate the message of ISIS, effectively making sure gullible minds don’t fall prey to it.

Between the arrest of 27 men recently for engaging in homosexual acts at a local Beiruti Hammam, and the current war against porn websites, one cannot but wonder what is this ongoing onslaught by the Lebanese establishment against sex lately?

If I were the Lebanese minister of telecommunication, I wouldn’t ban any porn websites. I would propagate them, aggressively so, hoping that some youth out there would get the release it needs to ease the horned up tension among the Lebanese populace. It’s not a coincidence that the more liberated a society is, sexually, the more peaceful it is.

But forget about all that, today Lebanese telecom ministry is telling Da’esh and its likes, with perhaps small but significant steps: Let them cum.

When Lebanon Fails Its National TV Station: BeIN Sports Suing Tele Liban

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Breaking news: BeIN Sports, formerly known Al Jazeera Sports, the Qatari TV station that has bought the rights for every single major sports tournament till kingdom come is suing Tele Liban over it broadcasting this year’s World Cup games.

Soon after the 2014 World Cup began, Lebanese people found themselves unable to watch the tournament. The government had failed to kiss up to Qatar enough to get the World Cup for free. Talks with Sama, the major Lebanese politician-owned company with exclusive rights for BeIN sports in Lebanon, failed to go through. We reverted to either buying the World Cup subscription, which did not work most of the time because the service was abysmal, or to managing with Turkish, French and, well, Israeli TV stations in some parts of the country.

But the Lebanese government wouldn’t have it, of course. How could Lebanese people have their God-given right of watching the World Cup taken away from them? So our government paid $3 million to Sama to make sure such a thing does not happen. The ramifications of that payment were as follows:

  1. Cable owners in Lebanon would be able to broadcast the World Cup to their subscribers using BeIN Sports, TF1 or any other station at their disposal,
  2. Tele Liban, the TV station the government is in charge of, gets screwed over as the government completely disregards it in favor of those cable owners,
  3. Sama nets in pure profit for their exclusive rights,
  4. The Lebanese politician in charge of Sama gets a whole lot of money while pretending to do the Lebanese people a favor.

Tele Liban, however, wouldn’t have it, so it decided to broadcast the games anyway outside of the $3 million deal. The first day of its defiance was literally Turkish before they had their very own commentator. In doing so, Tele Liban managed to fill the huge gap in World Cup viewing that the government’s deal made, especially in rural areas where cable owners have not set ship yet and where a World Cup deal would be the most beneficial.

As a result of its defiance, Tele Liban – with its minimal capacities and reach – is now finding itself in a lawsuit by BeIn sports because it broadcast the World Cup games over which BeIn has copyright in Lebanon. I guess we have our government to thank for failing to do the minimum and make sure its very own TV station is protected in this matter.

Instead of paying $3 million to make sure Tele Liban gets to broadcast the games, our government has effectively made sure Tele Liban is in the tough spot it is now. Those $3 million are definitely badly spent. Should we have paid it? My answer is a definite hell no. Those $3 million could have done the following:

  1. Equipped our security forces against the current rise of terrorism,
  2. Provided districts such as Akkar with much needed infrastructure to prevent its sons and daughters from dying on Indonesian rafts,
  3. Enhance the living standards of people in Bab el Tebbaneh and Jabal Mohsen,
  4. Contribute towards the fiber optics project to improve our internet,
  5. Go towards water-centric project to prevent the typical summer drought in Beirut,
  6. Go into public transport programs that could prevent people from being randomly attacked by taxi drivers,
  7. Tighten our grip over our border and therefore increasing our security,
  8. Work towards slightly fixing our electricity crisis,
  9. Improve the non-existent roads in my home district,
  10. About three hundred other thing that could come to mind.

Watching the World Cup is not the right our politicians want to fool you into believing it is, just so you can ignore their gross shortcomings in every other regard. That expenditure, however, could have been at least slightly conceivable hadn’t it gone to the benefit of cable owners, SAMA and BeIN, at the expense of Tele Liban, which spent a whole lot of resources in rebranding because it was promised it would broadcast the World Cup.

What will happen to Tele Liban now? Odds are it’ll get stuck in a mess of legal troubles, which it probably can’t handle against the Qatari onslaught coming its way. I doubt our government will take any measures to protect it. Do they want to upset Qatar? What a joke. Can they go against the politician running Sama’s influence in Lebanon? Let’s not be foolish. They threw Tele Liban under the bus once, watch them as they leave it to get squashed by a tank.

The entire problem when it comes to the World Cup and other tournaments is with Al Jazeera (now BeIn) having basically unlimited copyright over Lebanon. Have no doubt, such an ordeal is to be repeated every single football tournament. Watch as we forgot how difficult it was for us to watch this World Cup come Euro 2016 time. Then watch as we forgot that as Russia’s 2018 World Cup rolls by. FIFA is a greedy entity, sure. But there’s a definite slacking in securing our own broadcasting rights. Till when will our government sit by as that Qatari company sustains its hegemony over Lebanon’s broadcasting rights? Why is our country lumped under the auspices of BeIN sports – and subsequently at the mercy of a company like Sama – for every single major tournament? Why can’t we do as other countries do: just tune in to any of our TV stations and watch the World Cup game?

I forgot that this is Lebanon and it’s always, always complicated. Forza Azzurri! Oh wait.

 

Congrats Lebanon, We’ve Successfully Begged A World Cup

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After weeks of suspense, the country can rejoice today with the news that our long forgotten national television, Tele Liban, will broadcast the FIFA World Cup, set to begin in Brazil in just a few hours.

After months of kissing Qatar’s ass once again, our government officials have succeeded in procuring this wonderful gift upon the Lebanese populace. No, you won’t have to pay any Liras to watch your favorite team attempt to win that cup. How awesome is that? How privileged are we to have a government care for us so much that they had no problem in begging Qatari princes for the rights to broadcast the World Cup for the entirety of this country free of charge?

How privileged are we that our government had no problem in making sure the company that procured the rights for the World Cup in Lebanon gets royally screwed over just because we simply refuse to pay?

Thank you Qatar once again. Thank you Qatar for providing us with jobs. Thank you Qatar for building our bridges, putting asphalt on our roads, investing in our infrastructure, funding whichever parties agree with your politics and making sure we remain in the sports loop. How can one not be thankful for that?

Unpopular opinion over here, but watching the World Cup is not a right. It’s a privilege. It’s sad that our government has worked tirelessly to secure the World Cup when we have so many more important things they should be working for. But we’ve never been a country of priorities. What we have been for a long time, however, is a country built on begging, read شحادة.

We’ll know tomorrow how it feels to watch yet another World Cup we begged to watch. Mabrouk everyone. And mabrouk Tele Liban – you will become the “it” TV of every Lebanese for the next 30 days. Enjoy it while it lasts.

Update: According to new reports, BEIN Sports has not granted Tele Liban the rights for the World Cup. This is becoming a ping-pong game if you ask me.

Why You Should Give “The Fault In Our Stars” A Shot

The Fault in our Stars

Let’s consider this a break from a state of Lebanese depression.

The new “it” movie that everyone’s talking about, based on John Green’s novel of the same title, is The Fault In Our Stars. Teenage girls have already lined up in theaters to weep their eyes out, jokes ensued. Others have already dismissed the movie as yet another teenage drama they will not bother with.

And here I am to tell you that “The Fault in Our Stars” is something worth giving a shot to. No, it’s not because it’s an epic love story that transcends time and place as movie or novel tag lines tend to say, but because it’s such a simple story in itself, told in a remarkably real way, that it can’t not resonate with you.

Popular culture has always found a way to turn cancer into a simple matter that entails losing one’s hair, vomiting in a bucket because of the chemo and ending up unscathed at the end. The truth of things, however, is anything but.

As someone whose mother battled the disease and survived, I know how it is to see someone get weakened by those treatments, seeing them waste in front of you because of the drugs saving their lives. As a medical professional, I know how it is to deliver cancer diagnosis to people. I know how it is to see children in front of you wearing a Superman cape as they exit their chemo sessions. It’s not Hollywood, it’s real life that happens every day right next to your workplaces and homes, in locations you don’t give a second look at.

The Fault in Our Stars” gets cancer. It may not employ the most precise of medical jargon all the time, but its portrayal of cancer is one that I wouldn’t feel horrified reading. It tells the story of the disease the way it is. There’s no sensationalization, no glamorization, no poetic justice. It’s not full of errors, cliches and whatnot. It shows cancer the way it is: a disease that ruins lives, leaves people impaired and takes away loved ones. But a disease that doesn’t put life on pause.

The might of “The Fault in Our Stars” is in how it communicates the topic of cancer in the way that it does.  Hazel Grace and Augustus Waters are not the cliche Hollywood fiction power couple going about their days as they await to be cancer free. They are not a saccharine representation of thyroid cancer or osteosarcoma. They are not people who just exist with cancer. The cancer stories of Hazel Grace and Augustus Waters are as real as a story of a relative you’d tell to a friend over coffee. This authenticity when it comes to the disease at hand is unparalleled. I’ve personally never seen it in fiction before. And it’s heart-warming to read.

It’s easy to dismiss “The Fault In Our Stars” as another cliche love story aimed at hormonal teenage girls and their pockets. Sure, marketing the movie and book as an out of the box love story is the surest way to ensure profitability, get girls and their tear ducts functioning in hyper-drive, but the story in itself isn’t just about love. It’s the story of two people who might as well have been patients at the hospital I’m working at and who could have been battling osteosarcoma or thyroid cancer.

The book also deals with the issue of teenage sex in a way that is so casual and yet so intimate at the same time. It tackles sex as it is: a reality. That’s a rare thing to read or watch currently, in a culture of either over-sexualization or lock it away and don’t talk about it. The book finds the middle ground between the two extremes and handles it exceedingly well.

The Fault in Our Stars” is not a perfect book. Given the mania around it, it’s also beyond easy to dismiss it as a current fad that will fade away when the mania subsides, and perhaps it will. But as it currently stands, regardless of young love, death and getting susceptible people to weep uncontrollably, “The Fault In Our Stars” deals with old themes in a very new way. You may look at it as sick people in love, rendering it meaningless and silly. Or you can look at it as the lives of people who happen to be sick. I chose the latter because those lives are so realistically written they could easily jump off that page.

The Fault In Our Stars” is not an easy read or an easy movie to watch. It may seem contrary to popular belief to believe so, but I – for one – had dismissed it straight out of the bat a few months ago when I first started hearing about it. I was very glad I gave that book a shot. It’s not a literary masterpiece but its topics are crucial for discussion. It’s the closest you’ll ever get, hopefully, to see such diseases in their most realistic forms. Such things exist. Be part of them, even if in fiction.

I’ll be reviewing the movie later this afternoon.

Religion & Politics: What Happened At The Sagesse – Riyadi Basketball Game

Here’s another concept that it seems to be tough for Lebanon to grasp: sportsmanship.

For the second time in two consecutive games, Lebanon’s top 2 basketball teams were found at each other’s throats as the games they were playing ended. You’d think someone would have learned from the first round but it seems we were too foolishly optimistic. One can not hope for any form of civility in this country, even in sports.

The stories over what happened are numerous. The one that was relayed to me by a relative who was at the game is the following: Towards the end of the 4th quarter, when it was obvious that Sagesse had won and tied the tiers 2-2, the players had apparently an agreement to pass the remaining seconds with the score unchanged. Dewarik Spencer, Sagesse’s player, then decided to score a two-point basket at the last second which angered Lauren Woods, who plays with Riyadi, leading to an altercation between the two men as is obvious in the following video:

Subsequently, the very civil crowds attending the game decided to join in on the fun. Next thing you know, the players had joined in on the fighting while LBC’s Gayath was lost for words commenting on the absolutely beautiful scene in front of him. But does the story of the fight, regardless of sides, even matter?

A player participating in the beating

A player participating in the beating

The fight, however, is not that of a simple two points scored.

Prior to the game at hand, Sagesse’s fans were circulating the following picture online to flex their muscles. Who can beat them if Jesus was on their side?

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These are Lebanese Forces Civil War headlines

The chants by Riyadi’s supporters at the previous game are the other side of the coin. It felt like 1997 all over again when the fights were a constellation of sectarian-political causes. Christians versus Muslims. Lebanese Forces persecuted as they were at the time versus Future Movement, then working with the Assad regime.

Our Lebanese time machine still works. We always find ways to put ourselves back in time, because who doesn’t like familiarity?

It’s weird how these two teams, belonging to two political parties that are currently in bed with each other, still manage to hate each other as much as they do. You can’t help but wonder what would have happened had Riyadi been a Shiite-centric party with Hezbollah funding? Count your lucky stars people the party of god has not ventured into basketball yet.

The main problem at hand is not that Lebanese Christians hate its Muslims (and vice versa) or that the Lebanese Forces and the Future Movement cannot eradicate the history both of them share by a few years of alliance.

The problem is that these problems, held at bay with Lebanon’s fragile politics, are finding their way to erupt at something as meaningless in the grand scheme of things as a championship basketball game. What do these people have left for when something major actually happens? Will they bring out their tanks and missiles and work their way through the argument then?

The problem is that our sports are so infiltrated with politics they’ve lost the true meaning of what sports should be: something to bring people together in a friendly competition. If you support Sagesse, one can assume with a high degree of accuracy that you are Christian and prefer the Lebanese Forces politically. If you support Riyadi, one assumes you’re Sunni and a fan of Hariri. Is that how it’s supposed to be? Isn’t sports about supporting the team you believe has the best game not the one which satisfies your sectarian itch?

The even bigger problem is that people are proud of the fights at hand. Sagesse’s supporters call Riyadi’s supporters tatar. The reverse is also true. If you check both teams’ Facebook pages, you will find a slew of hateful speech towards each other that struts the lines of sectarianism and civil war rhetoric quite proudly. Here are a few screenshots, with next to no voices of reason:

It hasn’t even been long since the world basketball federation lifted the ban on Lebanese basketball for the clear infiltration of the sector by our horrid politics. The many months the sector spent in limbo, not knowing whether it would be able to launch again or not, were not enough to teach anyone a lesson.

No one learned, fight after fight, that there’s a tangible need to raise ticket prices. No one learned that there’s a dire need for new regulations that limit politics and political money, effectively removing that extra player each team has on court. It’s not a surprise though that there are no lessons learned because since when do we as Lebanese actually do that?