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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The Lebanese Rocket Society (Documentary) – Review

The Lebanese Rocket Society

Brought to us by Joana Hadjithomas and Khalil Joreige, The Lebanese Rocket Society is a documentary about a phase of Lebanese history that exists between both of our civil wars, from 1960 to approximately 1966, in which a group of Lebanese students at Haigazian University launched rockets as part of a series of scientific experiments.

The above is not science fiction, as I had thought on many occasions when many blogs and newspapers wrote about the society over the past few months, despite it being quite difficult to believe given where we are technologically in Lebanon today.

The Lebanese Rocket Society‘s premise is bittersweet. For its main purpose, it makes you proud that these students not only decided to build a rocket, but also chemically made the fuel the rocket is supposed to use because only superpowers possessed it and were not going to dispense quantities of it to Lebanon. The students even built the radar sensors that they equipped the rockets with after a brief miscalculation which sparked a UN-debaccle with our neighboring Cyprus. Yes, we haven’t been nice neighbors all the time apparently. The Lebanese Army eventually helped them in their scientific experiments for the students were heading into financial difficulties with their ambition growing bigger.

The mere fact that the Cedar-named rockets were all built from scratch is a testament to the ingenuity and the creativity of these young Lebanese students. Too bad such advances are purely science fiction not because such brains are lacking but because of our country’s circumstances.

The most interesting parts in the documentary were, without a doubt, the sections where real-life footage from the many launches that took place were incorporated. The archive is unimaginably great and seeing it is worth the price of admission alone. It’s always interesting to dig up 20th-century material about Lebanon that is not of tanks bombing buildings and of a torn-out Holiday Inn hotel.

The documentary seeks out Manoug Manougian, the student who started it all, currently a math professor at a university in Florida. Manougian shares the archive he kept of what he calls one his life’s proudest moments. You can check out his personal page here.

The directors also find Harry Koundakjian, the photographer who documented the Lebanese Rocket Society’s experiments, as well as former Haigazian president John Markarian. However, even though the other participants in the society’s experiments are mentioned, nothing is said about them nor are they mentioned again beyond the movie’s opening scene, which I thought did their work a disservice.

Moreover, The Lebanese Rocket Society goes off-topic often, notably with an entire sequence about the importance of the Arab Spring, as well as many other political subtle messages passed on notably about the importance of the Arab unity under Abdel Nasser. I still have no idea how the entire documentary’s premise fits in the mood of revolutions and freedom and whatnot spreading across Egypt, Libya, Tunisia and Syria but the notion is present.

I also felt it was very misleading that – despite their army source telling them the army had a panel discussing the possibility of turning the rockets into weapons by having one floor of the rocket filled with bombs – the directors were adamant that these rockets were a scientific experiment and build the entire documentary on that premise. It was quite clear that the rockets couldn’t have been possibly done if the army hadn’t helped and if the army wanted to make weapons out of them, they would have been turned into weapons.

The Lebanese Rocket Society ends with a 10 minute or so animated sequence which asks the question: what if Lebanon hadn’t stopped the rocket experiment?

To answer the question, the directors believe we would have a metro network running under Beirut, oil rigs off our shores, an entire space program rivaling that of the U.S.A. (down to basically ripping off Nasa’s logo), etc.

The sequence, in my opinion, did the movie a grave injustice and it shouldn’t have been included at all. It was already established that the rocket experiment was stopped because Lebanon was asked to by higher authorities in countries North, South, West and East. One of the documentary’s strongest scenes was one where a drafting compass drew a circle from Lebanon to where our rocket would have reached. Sinai was accessible. It was already established as well that the rockets were not, eventually, a mere scientific experiment as the students involved kept repeating. Those students didn’t know any better, obviously, but the army did. How does that set up for a future as bright as the one they tried to portray?

Nothing is better than some Lebanese future pick-me-up every once in a while, but at least don’t have it that separate from all the facts the documentary had presented over the course of the previous 80 minutes, especially that the presentation of those scientific facts was very systematic and documented.

I personally recommend people watch The Lebanese Rocket Society when it’s released in cinemas on April 11th despite its shortcomings because it is a documentary that showcases a different side of the Lebanon that we thought we knew, one that has been erased from the collective memory of the country as a whole – all supported by some old footage that will leave you baffled.

3.5/5

Science Facts & Billboards

A friend recently brought my attention to this link which contains 25 billboards by a Vancouver organization called Science World and I found the billboards to be insanely creative. So I figured I’d share some of them with you.

 

You can check out the rest of the billboards here.

And to make things a little more interesting, I’m going to explain the last billboard more. When you are scared, your body activates part of your autonomic nervous system called the sympathetic nervous system. This system is responsible for the three Fs (flee, fight and mate – you can substitute that last one with its F equivalent).

So the sympathetic nervous system prepares your body to either flee or fight in the same way. Part of this preparation is to cause pupil dilation in order to take in as much light as possible.

P.S.: you also see better when you’re aroused.

 

Lebanon, What Have We Done Lately?

The I-bomb was dropped in a medical school class today.

Sitting there, actually paying attention for once, the American doctor was giving a lecture about various neurological conditions, one of which is Multiple Sclerosis.

MS is a disease that we don’t quite fully understand yet, similarly to many other diseases of the brain, and we don’t have much of it in Lebanon for one reason. And this reason was illustrated by research done by our neighbors to the South.

Israel.

The word was dropped and those who weren’t paying attention suddenly perked up.

“Multiple Sclerosis has environmental factors relating to the weather. People who live the first 15 years of their life in warmer climates, such as Lebanon, have a much less predisposition to develop MS than those who live in colder climates. Immigrant studies were done in Israel regarding this issue and while we don’t understand the mechanism of why this happens, we are certain weather is a factor.”

As the lecture ended, I was wondering why isn’t Lebanon the country that gets to have its name mentioned by foreign doctors who come to other foreign countries to give guest lectures? Why isn’t my country the one with universities hell-bent on finding new breakthroughs and new discoveries in science and medicine and things that matter?

“Researchers in Lebanon have found a very important correlation between this factor and that disease” – said no one ever.

Then I realized, we’re too busy sending out useless drones to Israel that do nothing except boost our self-esteem and get some of us to freak out over potentially rubbing the thin-skinned bully to the South the wrong way, fight over an electoral law that will get us nowhere and sink deeper into an abyss of ignorance.

What have we done lately? Absolutely nothing worth mentioning.