Dear Lebanese Government, Can You Not Add New Fines & Increase Taxes When You’re Offering Nothing In Return?

Over the past couple of weeks, the Lebanese government has devised two ways with which it will be taking away the hard-earned money of Lebanese everywhere: new taxes and new traffic fines.

In absolute value, taxes and fines are not always bad news. My uncle in California was telling me how the state voted to actually increase sales tax because the extra revenue would go into infrastructure enhancement. But that’s California, and we’re in Lebanon where the government is currently convening to vote on a budget for the first time in 12 years when the deadline for the electoral law they’ve been slacking off about for the past 8 years is in 2 days. This is to say that while Lebanon is a pretty country, its governance is shit. This isn’t a matter of debate.

It comes as a surprise, therefore, that there’s current talks about increasing the tax on alcohol over 500%. While the initial tax is super low (60 liras on beer) and therefore a 500% increase is not that significant (300 lira is still okay), it’s the idea behind the tax increase that matters here: where will the money go and what’s the point of it?

The tax increase in question will have even worse effects on those who sell it, with repercussions on the consumer, and it comes at an odd time given the rising anti-alcohol sentiment in certain Hezbollah-controlled areas.

Yes, alcohol is a luxury item, and luxury items should be taxed, but there’s a degree of accountability to trace how our tax money goes and if it’s going to good use. As far as the Lebanese way goes, I’d say that extra 500% on alcohol would go towards more chopper rides for Gebran Bassil and friends. That’s how our tax money is used, ladies and gentlemen: to allow our politicians to enjoy their lifestyles and maintain them as high as possible. Isn’t it ironic, therefore, that there’s actual tax increase discussions when parliament and the government low-key passed increases in compensation for families of past MPs. Moreover, let’s not pretend this is to improve the health of the Lebanese populace. If they cared they’d have taxed cigarettes but those are not religiously controversial items.

The other new added source of income for the government is with them installing red-light enforcement cameras across the Greater Beirut area. How those cameras work is as follows: when you reach a red light, you’re supposed to stop. YES, THIS IS BRAND NEW INFORMATION. Anyway, when you stop at that red light you’re supposed to stop BEFORE the pedestrian crosswalk because those stripes in the middle of the road are supposed to be used by, you know, pedestrians crossing the road. The current state of the country is not like this at all.

tmc-red-light-cameras

I’m all for extra traffic fines in the country. Lord knows our driving is horrendous and needs as much measures for it to be improved as possible, but how can you improve driving through negative reinforcement when the notion of what you are trying to reinforce has never been taught in the first place? As in, Lebanese drivers are not taught how to obey traffic laws in the first place so how are they to be aware that they’re supposed to stop before a crosswalk?

Our driving tests go as follows: you show up after having paid that astronomical $300+ fee, with whatever you paid extra for that wasta, you do that computer exam about street signs and are helped by whoever is present there because they just want to be done with it, and then go do your practical test which involves you parallel parking and then going in reverse in a manual-transmission car which has been modified so much that to drive it, you don’t even have to use the pedal.

So how can you expect drivers whose only experience with actual “official” driving is that corrupt and silly to suddenly be aware of rules that are strictly applied in countries that have way more detailed and elaborate driving tests?

This is most obvious with the fact that with a trial run of the new cameras, they collected fines every 8 seconds. But I digress.

The question is: how am I supposed to stop at a crosswalk if I can’t even see the crosswalk in the first place? How much actual investment from the fines that are already incurred has gone into the roads around Beirut to make sure that, say, those roads are up to standard you want to put the drivers to?

Have all those parking fines they’ve been collecting since enforcing the paid parking system around Beirut improved our sidewalks? No. Did it improve our roads? No. Did the speeding tickets they’ve been collecting for ages now, with increasing values since that new law they passed, contribute to better roads and infrastructure? No.

So where the hell is all the money going? No one knows.

Does our government know that there are more rules for “civilized” driving around Beirut that have to be applied as well, such as, at the top of my head, enforcing the fact that the direction of lanes (as in lanes with a left arrow or lanes with straight arrows, etc..) should be obeyed could cut down on so much traffic, as in when someone from the right lane decides they want to go to the left and cuts off the entire left lane in doing so?

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The problem with such new measures, whether new taxes or new fines, is that they’re always half-assed and poorly thought out. They’re never the first step in actually improving the system to begin with and always come at a cost to us as citizens. You want to put on cameras to make sure people stop properly at red lights? How about you make sure those people can properly drive in the first place by making sure our driving test process isn’t a joke and that the roads they’re supposed to drive on are up to far? You want people to pay more taxes on alcohol? How about you make sure the alcohol in the market is up to par?

In short, you want us to pay more taxes and fines, you have to pay up first in services and improvement. And to be honest, at the rate we’re going, that’s not asking for much.

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Liquid Cocaine Isn’t Banned in Lebanon

 

Lebanon is anything but dull. If you thought you can have a week pass by without some form of mini scandal, you were definitely mistaken.

This week, Lebanon is all about liquid cocaine and sexy nuns. Pretty out of the box, isn’t it?

I have to admit that Liquid cocaine is one of the shots that I liked when I tried. What I didn’t get, however, was why people were actually worried that such a thing could remotely get banned in Lebanon. People, people have you seen other similar entities that our government tried to ban and failed miserably?

If you don’t remember, here’s a memory-pick-me-up: the smoking ban! Have you found yourself in a restaurant you thought was smoke free only to get surrounded by a smoke of nicotine and other carcinogens? Have no fear, there’s a law being broken right there.

If there’s anything to conclude about our country’s state, it’s that such “bans” never take hold because people choose to simply not abide and there’s nothing anyone can do about it. When it comes to this particular alcohol mix, however, there’s no reason to be afraid as the ministry of tourism has clarified that it pertains to a drink called “Cocaine,” whose picture you can find below, and which is not even sold in Lebanon.

Cocaine is the name for an American energy drink brand. Red Bull must be pretty happy about this. All in all, meh, this turned out to be so anti-climatic, don’t you say?

Cocaine Drink

Therefore, with the weekend coming up, have no fear. Your favorite shots are here to stay.

Tripoli’s Best Cafe: Ahwak Ben Tafesh Threatened By Extremists

Ahwak Ben Tafesh Tripoli - 1

I remember when I first went to Ahwak ben Tafesh in late 2012. I was reluctant to visit. I figured the place was definitely over-hyped. Why would I want to visit the go-to place of Tripoli’s liberal crowd?

How wrong was I?

I remember being captivated by the restroom. It was filled with graffiti, the most surprising of which was a sentence scribbled at the top right corner saying: “your lack of scientific knowledge is not proof that god exists.” Someone later on scribbled out the word god. I guess blasphemy is somewhat haram even on bathroom tiles. But these exchanges are all kind of peaceful and refreshing.

Ahwak Ben Tafesh Tripoli Lebanon

I’m not a coffee person so I don’t visit Ahwak for the beverages which are, based on my modest experience, quite good. What they serve, however, and I find exquisite is their carrot cake. It’s homemade and all kinds of awesome. Simply put, it got my carrot cake-hating brother to become a fan. Now isn’t that saying something?

Soon enough, Ahwak became a regular stop in my increasing Tripoli visits. During my latest stop, I was greeted by the main worker there enthusiastically, asking me about my extended absence. I had become a customer. This visit in question was this past Saturday, post Iftar in Tripoli. The place was packed. Some were discussing religion, it was Ramadan after all. Others were discussing politics, which is of vital importance in Tripoli, a city torn apart by the military ramifications of these politics.

Across the street from Ahwak, religious people were exiting the Mosque after the Ramadan Tarawih were done. The women were wearing long flowing robes as they walked by the cafe goers, returning home. The men huddled together, possibly talking about fasting. It was a peaceful scene. It was a beautiful time.

Ahwak Ben Tafesh Tripoli - 2

But that didn’t last.

On Sunday July 14th, around 11:30PM, the cafe goers at Ahwak were surprised to see a bearded man who had been released from jail a few days ago storm the place with a few of his henchmen. They sacked the place searching for the presumed alcohol that Ahwak served, which is non-existent. They were disappointed not to find any. But they didn’t stop there. Before leaving, after having terrorized every single person in that cafe, they told the employee that the adan from the mosque off the street will ring higher and higher to drown out the infidels in this cafe across the street.

The thugs then rode their vehicles away. They had done their damage. They will never be caught or questioned.

We can voice our support however we want to the owners of the cafe at hand. But what good does it make when it’s their business that’s in danger, when some ignorant dimwits might – at any given moment – stop the place from existing because it doesn’t fit with their retarded view of how Tripoli ought to be?

What good does it make to say that this too has passed when this might repeat in a worse fashion, at another cafe or store, at Tripoli or any other city in this country? What good does it do to milk a silver lining out of this when the people causing such mayhems are protected by even bigger thugs who might be MPs, ministers, prime ministers or has-been politicians wanting to reclaim their glory days?

Till when should the overwhelming majority of the people of Tripoli, which finds these people to be disgusting and repulsive, suffer and have their reputation suffer just because someone decided that personal liberties contradict with his view of the world?

This isn’t about alcohol. This isn’t about Sharia. I’m sure most of the people in Tripoli will rise against Sharia implementation in their city or this country before any of us blog, tweet, Facebook or do anything about it. However, what protects cafe places like Akwak which, in them being different, give a better view of their city – a nicer view? What protects the people whose only weapon is a few coffee beans and some divine cake when they face men whose weapons are presumably protected by some divine entities? Till when should the people of Tripoli worry about going for a coffee or grabbing a burger or doing anything just because someone out there with means finds it unacceptable?

Ahwak, I am one of your infidels. And I’ll see you soon.

The Problem With Banning Pork and Alcohol At Some Lebanese Restaurants

Gino Raidy’s encounter at ZWZ’s Hamra Branch went viral across Lebanon’s internet community very fast. His shock that a restaurant like ZWZ, infamous for his Halloumi bacon sandwiches, would actually have a branch that wouldn’t serve anything non-conformant with Islamic sharia sparked some huge debate as is evident by the extensive response to his post which you can read here.

It is beyond perfectly understandable that such an issue would be considered by many as infringing on their basic freedom of eating whatever they want to eat. It is also beyond ironic that ZWZ Hamra might as well be the go-to restaurant for Lebanese pub-goers who drink themselves away a few meters away in Hamra’s infamous alleyway and other pubs.

So why would Islamic sharia be up and running in one place and completely shattered in another place? ZWZ’s diplomatic reply to the matter alluded to their leasing conditions: the person from whom they got their lease doesn’t allow pork and alcohol on the premises of his building and ZWZ had to conform.

The question, therefore, asks itself: couldn’t have ZWZ opened elsewhere?

The answer is: most probably not.

It’s easy to preach regarding the matter but the fact of the matter remains that landlords have the upper hand in cosmopolitan places like Hamra (despite what Homeland’s producers want you to believe) because of the extremely high demand for property and the low supply. Whatever a landlord wants, a landlord gets. And most companies have to deal with is as such despite their better judgement.

The fix for this is, obviously, stricter governmental regulations. But in a country where such an issue comes at possibly the lowest of importance in woes, such regulations will not be enforced anytime soon.

The issue, though, is not in disassociation with the general mood of the country.

This vigilante sharia applying is unacceptable. I’m not entirely sure if it’s legal as well. Is it allowed for someone to enforce something on their own property that is not legal across Lebanon? My gut tells me no. But Lebanese law has these sporadic eccentricities that make it baffling. And regardless of whether it’s legal or not, what is actually legal in Lebanon and is actually applied?

The only urban planning law that I know of pertaining to this matter is banning alcohol sales within a certain radius of any prayer house, including Churches. Christian areas do not conform with it while places like Tripoli apply it to the letter. You would be lucky to find a place in Tripoli with a carton of booze under the counter which they dispense to their most loyal customers only.

What is sure, however, is that this vigilante sharia is creating an even bigger divide in a country that doesn’t need more divisions to begin with, even among Muslims themselves because it’s not really about religion but about ideology. Banning alcohol and pork, which slowly turns places in a country that falls more on the liberal side in this deeply conservative region, slowly disassociates regions from each other: turning some more extreme while others become more liberal, the cultural and sectarian divide growing even bigger. The conservatives, subsequently, become more conservative. The less conservative folk become less so and the merry goes round. The clash between these ideologies would grow stronger.

Perhaps it is ZWZ’s right not to serve alcohol and pork on some of its premises. But when there’s no regulation to dictate this, the question asks itself: what’s the limit for this sort of “freedom” for restaurants? When does imposing restrictions on others, even those who share your religious views, crosses the line of freedom? And is it truly permissible to say that, due to the presence of alternatives, discussing the presence of Sharia-abiding restaurants should not be allowed?

 

Lebanon Taxes Cigarettes and Booze

The proposed amendments to the smoking ban in Lebanon have fallen in parliament. The ratifications proposed by Antoine Zahra, Samer Saadeh and Nadim el Gemayel were not even accepted by their own parliamentary blocks. The restaurant syndicate has lost – and our lungs have won. (Details – in arabic).

Sami el Gemayel’s argument was exactly the same one I told to MP Samer Saadeh (here). You cannot verify which restaurants have more than 60% of their income from tobacco-related products, which makes any ratification prone for serious corruption.

As a step further, the government is proposing tax increases on tobacco and alcohol. Some people are, of course, not pleased with that. Such as MP Samer Saadeh.

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Blown Away (Single Review) – Carrie Underwood

Dry lightning cracks across the sky, those storm clouds gather in her eyes. Daddy was a mean old mister, mama was an angel in the ground. The weatherman called for a twister. She prayed blow it down.

To an incessant heartbeat-like drum, Carrie Underwood’s newest single opens. Blown Away, the second single off the album of the same title, is the darkest song on the album in question and a drastic departure from anything Underwood had given before, be it musically or lyrically.

As Carrie Underwood’s voice breaks in a delivery echoing the character’s need for peace, the song shifts into an ethereal production where Underwood goes into a multi-layered lower register to sing the song’s most haunting line, which confirms what the opening verse makes you think of.

There’s not enough rain in Oklahoma to wash the sins out of that house. There’s not enough wind in Oklahoma to wash the sins out of that past.

Carrie Underwood may have not been the victim of abuse but she sings Blown Away with so much conviction that it’s hard to think her life wasn’t the struggle she portrays. As she feigns power to sing the song’s chorus, you can’t but hear a faint cry in her voice as she pleads to have her problems blown away by the impeding twister.

Shatter every window till it’s all blown away. Every brick, every board, every slamming door blown away. Till there’s nothing left standing, nothing left to yesterday. Every tear-soaked whiskey memory blown away, blown away.

As the tornado nears her house, the character in Underwood’s song hides away in the cellar of the house, leaving her “daddy laid there passed on the couch.” As she listened to the screaming of the wind, the song exemplifies the amount of hurt the girl has been put through in her life.

Some people called it taking shelter. She called it sweet revenge.

As Underwood shifts between impeccable falsettos and power-singing in her delivery, she delivers an excellent song that is unlike anything else on any form of mainstream radio today. Carrie Underwood is not only singing about whiskey-soaked abuse memories, she’s also telling the story of a daughter leaving her father’s breathing body to the mercy of a wind that knows no mercy, all to a chilling production.

The country-pop production is another instance in which Underwood pushes the envelope further for country radio after a country-rock first single in Good Girl. In Blown Away, the dramatic production proves necessary to bring full effect to a song that desperately cried for such an epic dramatic feel, be it on the thundery chorus or the chilling pre-chorus.

Chris Tompkins and Josh Kear, the creators of Underwood’s biggest hit Before He Cheats, have given her the song that might just rival that. Some country audiences will be rubbed the wrong way with the theme of this song but with something this incredible, Underwood shouldn’t care the least. In fact, she should be proud pf that because it’ll be the mark of how great a song this is. With Blown Away, Carrie Underwood has yet again thrown caution to the wind and let her guards get blown away.

Blown Away is a song you can’t resist getting blown away with.

10/10

Listen to the song here:

And watch a sneak-peek into the music video here:

Buzz Vodka Mix: Khalleh l Jaw Wel3an – Hilarious Lebanese Ad

The frontman of Lebanese band Meen Fouad Yammine is part of the ads for Buzz Vodka Mix and I just watched his newest offering for the brand & it’s simply hilarious.

Yammine’s initial ad, which spun several parodies, is the following:

His partner in the previous ad has also went solo:

Overall, some successful ads Buzz has going for it here. My favorite is the latest one by Fouad Yammine. I couldn’t stop laughing after watching it.

I gotta try this Buzz drink.