Tuesday, February 21, 2006

Sticking By It

Andy Murray just won his first major tennis tournament in lifting the San Jose Open title. All the newspapers in the UK were abuzz with this new 'British' tennis phenomenon. Funnily enough, when he was a marginal player (maybe I should just say "younger" as he is only 18), the Scottish referred to him as 'British' and the English referred to him as 'Scottish'.
It warms my heart to see people sticking to their principles with the Scottish now referring to him as 'Scottish' and the to the English, he is now 'British'.......everyone loves a winner!

Which reminds me, I was in Montreal when Ben Johnson won his gold medal at the Seoul olympics in '88, making him the fastest human ever. The whole country went haywire with every newspaper (including the quebecois press) trumpeting the Canadian's pre-eminence in the champagne & caviar event that is the men's 100m.
Of course, when he lost the medal for doping, he became a "Jamaican immigrant" who disgraced himself. Loser.

David Irving, a British historian, has been jailed in Austria for denying the Holocaust. He was convicted on the basis of statements he made at a rally in Austria in 1989. He knew he would be arrested if he went back to Austria and yet he still did - many cynics have said that it is because he needed the publicity for his new book.
Many people are outraged at such an offense against freedom of speech while others believe that he knowingly broke the laws of an independent state and should therefore be tried accordingly. It's a thorny issue following so closely on the heels of the cartoon debate, which is still raging.

As a sample of opinions, on the one hand Karen Pollock, chief executive of the UK's Holocaust Educational Trust says: "Holocaust denial is anti-Semitism dressed up as intellectual debate."

On the other side is Deborah Lipstadt an author and intellectual whom Irving had tried to sue for libel who says: "The way of fighting Holocaust deniers is with history and truth. I don't believe we can win battles through censorship."

I don't believe that muzzling someone will keep them quiet or prove a point. It is essential that we be allowed to speak our minds, no matter how distasteful or ugly the content. Libel and slander laws are in place precisely to protect the abuse of this freedom.

Back at home, Patriarch Sfeir has said that a military man should not be President of Lebanon. He wouldn't clarify or quantify his statement but I'm glad to see a responsible separation of religion and state because it would be irresponsible for a spiritual leader to comment on matters political - especially on matters concerning such an important issue. If he continues in this vein, he'll be endorsing civil marriage soon...

And finally, today the big matches start in the Champion's League but the really important one is tomorrow when my lovely Chelsea host Barcelona in their first game. Now that's going to see some sparks fly.


Monday, February 20, 2006

And Again

Pierre Dakkash "vowed" to be an independent MP upon his candidacy. Now he's everybody's bitch.

Hamas are up in arms (figuratively speaking this time) over Israel's decision to freeze their monthly $50 million tax duty stipend. Gee, didn't see that one coming.
So let me get this straight...they give you $50 million a month and you, in return, promise to blow them up? Cushy job.

This photo from L'Orient-Le Jour today of Palestinian security forces in the streets of Rafah.
What exactly is going on?
Maybe they're just Johnny Cash fans, really pleased with the new government.

And if you're still in the mood to offend religious sensitivities, go here.

Mondays always were slow days.

Enjoy yours.

More To The Point

Cartoon by Pat Oliphant.

Sunday, February 19, 2006

Sunday Reprieve

Every time I get annoyed with everything going on here, I always end up being reminded of what a beautiful place it is. Again in the Cedars this weekend, it's just sublime. It is possible, if only for a little while, to be in Lebanon and not worry about politics, the economy, pollution, or any other day-to-day worries and concerns. Sleeping surrounded by total silence is something Beirutis don't get enough of and waking up to it is something that never happens. The view.....? Well, enough said, especially in Winter.

And since I'm being frivolous and enjoying it here's some incontestable logic:

So there. It must be true.

My lovely Chelsea play Colchester today in the FA Cup's only remaining David and Goliath match, but I have learnt my lesson. I shall never take anything Chelsea for granted again (that's to appease the football deities before our match against Barcelona next Wednesday...)

And so to lunch.

Enjoy your Sunday.

Wednesday, February 15, 2006

Go Back, Jack, Do It Again

And so the junta has been given a second chance.
The Lebanese people (minus almost the entire Shi'ite community and Aoun's orangeshirts) gave the March 14th movement another chance by acclamation.

What a sight to see - Jumblatt and Saad Hariri holding hands with Samir Geagea and all three bathed in the adoring light of hope from the crowd. What a great photo-op. What a great soundbite, Lebanon united.

I, for one, am not convinced by all the happy-clappy smiles and words. As soon as they were out of each other's sight they were figuring out how to turn it all to personal advantage and stab each other in the back. Sure, great things were said - we want the truth behind the Hariri killing, Lahoud must resign, Hezbollah must disarm, Syria must leave us alone, Lebanon first - but these were exactly the same things that were said almost a year ago.

What has changed?
Why should I believe that this year is going to be any different? I gave my acquiescence to the current government on the promise that the revolution would carry on through every stratum of public and private sectors. The results are in and they are not too promising.

Living the unique Lebanese experience has made us eternal optimists. During the war, not a single one of us could believe that it would get any worse and so we were always saying that the next year would be better. The next year swung around, things got worse and never mind, next year will be better.
I've lived that way too many years to want to live like that anymore - WE don't have to accept that anymore. We can't keep on living in the hope that next year will magically bring all of our hopes and dreams to fruition. We do have the right to demand that our elected leaders provide a modicum of leadership, an iota of governance, a simple step towards the future (no pun intended).

I need a beer. Enjoy your hump day.

Monday, February 13, 2006

It's Just Another Day

If you're not feeling particularly thrilled about Valentine's Day in general, this site has an e-card to suit you. Here's a few of my favourites:

Happy VD.

Then & Now

I'm finding it really hard to drum up any enthusiasm in myself for tomorrow's rally. Nothing stirred inside as it did a year ago - the bickering, posturing and general political lethargy has left me feeling a little empty.
However, I will pay my respects to a man who, however flawed, did try to do something positive for Lebanon.

His son, Saad Hariri has been away for 6 months in fear for his life and returned the day before yesterday because he wanted to be with the Lebanese "on this black day." Jumblatt must be higher up on everyone's shit-list and yet he is able to foxhole it in Mukhtara, so why isn't Saad here? You'd think that as the figurehead of the March 14th movement he (and his handlers) would want to be at least in the same country as the folks they represent.

Aoun seems to be as loopy as ever and is in danger of becoming a real caricature of himself. Even when his supporters say "he's crazy, but crazy like a FOX!" doesn't make him any less away with the fairies.

Lahoud is STILL President.

I find it really difficult to listen to Nasrallah whenever he says anything, because I don't want to live in a Hezbollah-ized Lebanon (and that, ultimately, is his aim) and because I don't subscribe to his conspiracy theories.

And the current government has simply proved its impotence (or incompetence) by successfully doing absolutely nothing. Anywhere else in the world, a government that allowed last week's consulate attacks to happen would have been out the next day. Doing nothing is also criminal.
It is focusing so hard on not pissing anyone off that it has managed to piss everyone off. These times demand strong centrality so for God's sake, take a stand on something.

So forgive my antipathy, fellow citizens, but I won't be out on the streets tomorrow.

Enjoy your Valentine's Day.

(and thanks to 3dflags for the flag)

Sunday, February 12, 2006

Pride Before A Fall

In a frightening response to my lovely Chelsea hubris, reality disintegrated yesterday. A noise was heard last night that deafened those who were really listening. That noise was a gash appearing in the space-time continuum and an alternate universe broke through for as long as it took Middlesborough...... yes, Middlesborough.....to thrash Chelsea 3-0.

It was like watching a different team, as if the real Chelsea were being held hostage in their changing room and Bognor Regis Town stole their strip (and apologies to Bognor Regis Town supporters - if there really are any.)

Now while I accept that occasionally even the greatest teams have little upsets (witness Manure FC, LiverPoo, Arse-nal and Barcelona in the last couple of weeks - that's the beauty of football) and that it won't affect us lifting the title again this season, what really pissed me off was watching it in a pub that had just shown the LiverPoo game. A few straggling Scouser (and a lone Everton fan - but he was big & could take care of himself) fans had remained to watch the rugby and had taken the piss relentlessly. Upon my return from the bathroom, my end of the bar erupted into applause for me as Middlesborough had popped in their third in my absence. Bastards. Utter bastards.

England then went on to win their game against Italy in the 6 Nations battle that was anything but prosaic, with Italy leading at halftime.
Ireland came back from a first half drubbing by France (29-3) to knock the wind out of the French. Shocking errors gifted the ball to the French until almost midway through the second half when the Irish pulled themselves together and steamrolled through a very nervous French team. Unfortunately, in a gripping second half game, the men in green simply ran out of time to finish at 43-31.

It's a beautiful morning here in the Cedars and now all I have to do is face the traffic on my way back down to Beirut - never a pleasant prospect but necessary nonetheless.

Enjoy the rest of your weekend.

Friday, February 10, 2006


I'm getting more and more disappointed in our country's leaders. It's incredible how political power, or even the mere temptation of it can reduce our leaders to fickle, backstabbing, shameless peons.
Collectively, our leadership should win the next Nobel prize for chemistry.
Their accomplishment?
Turning the gold of the March 14th movement into shit.

All that goodwill generated by 1.5 million citizens, gone. Lebanon Profile of the Lebanese Political Journal has it right when he says: "The worst thing we have done is let the politicians coopt our movement."
There has to be a new breed of Lebanese citizen - one who, in spite of sectarian affiliation, will seek accountability from all across the political spectrum. Is this just howling at the moon?

The cartoon debacle has taken a new turn. While I stand solidly in favour of freedom of the press, some newspapers have decided to reprint the cartoons again this week despite the violence they have caused in some countries. This to me smacks of irresponsible sensationalism and a desire to sell newspapers rather than a true commitment to upholding the lofty (and often blurred) ideals of freedom of expression. It appears that there is no end in site, the gap between the two camps expanding at a vast rate of knots.

A good article on the BBC website titled Bloggers: an army of irregulars shows the power of blogging and why it shouldn't be underestimated - a good read.

In other news, my lovely Chelsea have had a stunning week, firstly taking down LiverPoo on Sunday in a match where we could have left our goal unattended and the Reds still wouldn't have scored (oh wait, we did & they didn't). Then on Wednesday, we proceeded to demolish another Merseyside team in the FA Cup.
Everton, funnily enough the first team this season to stop Chelsea's winning streak, went down 4-1 which is also starting to look like a good number for Chelsea when playing Scousers. We play Middlesborough tomorrow which, unless reality disintegrates by then, will bring us one match closer to getting our grubby little hands on the trophy. Again.

Tomorrow also brings the 6 Nations again with a cruncher between France and Ireland and a more prosaic game between England and Italy.

Enjoy your weekend.

Sunday, February 05, 2006

Another Day In The Neighbourhood

What apparently started as a peaceful demonstration against the Danish cartoon controversy rapidly deteriorated into a thugfest. Demonstrators gathered outside the Danish consulate in Tabaris in Beirut, waving flags and banners with such choice niceties as "Freedom go to hell" and "Voici le conard (sic) qui a ose insulter le Prophete" along with a photo of a man I assume is the cartoonist in question.

It was a massive demonstration which descended into a chaos that the security forces wouldn't or couldn't contain.
There are reports of people being beaten up by the mob in Sassine Square (well away from the Danish consulate) and pictures on the news of people randomly destroying cars and buildings that again had nothing to do with the Danish consulate.
A co-ordinated group smashed the windows of the building housing the consulate and proceeded to enter it and torch anything they could find, whether it belonged to the consulate or businesses who had their premises there. There was something disturbing about the pictures I watched on the news, a randomness of the targets they chose. Cars were smashed and overturned, windows of homes stoned and even a church attacked.
Outside my home I watched a car stop among the crowd to rearrange its passengers - a family with sloganed bandannas around their heads carrying huge flags. The grandmother was put in the front seat next to the father, the mother moved into the back while the teenaged kids were sat in the trunk and told to wave the flags, chant and give the 'V' for victory. A nice family outing.

A few religious figures were seen trying to physically restrain some of the rioters but were brushed away by people caught up in a mob mentality. Frightening stuff.

Some flag burners (who probably haven't quite understood the necessity of having the correct flag) were even filmed Bic-ing a Swiss flag (ah, what the hell, it's close enough - never liked their knives anyway).

The powers that be will of course disavow any knowledge or participation, probably trundling out the old "who can control the people?" line.
For a people who so want to be respected internationally or at least taken seriously we don't seem to be doing anything to help our cause. I'm dismayed and disappointed by such a display and the inability or lack of desire of the government to clamp down. If I was a pessimist, I would say that it had all been orchestrated.
Good thing I'm not.

On a brighter note, the England rugby first XV put in a thoroughly convincing performance against Six Nations Grand Slam winners Wales. The Welsh team were impressive from the start but a resurgent England showed their true class.
Ireland won the opening game of the tournament against a formidable Italy who appear very disciplined and determined at last. Although Italy took an early lead and gave Ireland a few scares, they was no real danger of an upset.
Today my lovely Chelsea play LiverPoo but with the mood in town at the moment, methinks I shall stay home to watch it instead of propping up a bar.

Enjoy the rest of your weekend.

Friday, February 03, 2006

Taking The Mickey

Cartoon fever getting way out of hand now. There were plenty of good arguments going on over at the Beirut Spring comments, each interesting and worth a read.
Fundamentalism and fanaticism in anything is something I despise as it doesn't allow for dialogue or tolerance. Freedom of expression is one of the fundamental freedoms distinguishing democracies from dictatorships and should be upheld at any cost.

I'm not condoning the cartoons nor am I condemning them but Europe has a long tradition of lampooning religion and this is one of the things that make it so much more tolerant.
The contemporary equivalents of a Spanish Inquisition have no place in modern society but the fear of being politically incorrect or worse, being labeled intolerant, is driving so many countries to be browbeaten and back down on issues that made them what they are - and this by the very minorities who moved to those countries in search of a better life in the first place.
Voltaire famously said: "I disapprove of what you say, but I will defend to the death your right to say it."
Right on.

Shiite ministers from Amal and Hezbollah returned to Parliament yesterday ending their almost 2-month long Cabinet boycott. This was achieved after Prime Minister Saniora said: "We have never called and will never call the resistance by any other name but the resistance and it is a national resistance and we will not use any other expression to describe it but national resistance."

He added: "The government is completely committed to the ministerial statement and the article that acknowledges the national resistance role in liberating Lebanese lands. It is a big role and we never called this role other than national resistance."

So it's the national resistance, is it? Monty Python may have writing credits for that. Supposedly, this will get Hezbollah of the hook from Resolution 1559 by declaring them a 'resistance movement' not a 'militia'. They still have guns and they are still not the army - use all the nuances you like, it doesn't change the fact that Lebanon's greatest source of instability at the moment is from the 2 heavily-armed non-army factions - Hezbollah and the Palestinians in the camps.

Front page of the Daily Blah today has a photo of a giant shark fished off the coast of Tyre, titled 'Jaws comes to Tyre' (such wit). The blurb underneath said it was a blue shark and one 'veteran' fisherman said that this kind of shark is usually found only in the Atlantic and Indian oceans and so must have "lost its way."
Idiots. There's got to be an opening for a fact-checker there.
Now, I'm no marine biologist but I can tell you at first glance that the shark was not a blue shark at all, but a European basking shark. Toothless, plankton-eating, gentle giant of the sea. You can swim next to them, touch them, play with them and they wouldn't even look at you. The Tyre fishermen named the shark "Morina".
I've renamed it "Still Dead".

And by the way, it's also an endangered species. Way to go, guys.

This weekend brings two great sporting clashes in the guise of Wales vs. England in the rugby union Six Nations tournament (I know Ireland are playing too, but only against Italy.....Ireland vs. England is the last game of the tournament!). And on Sunday, my lovely Chelsea host LiverPoo in the Premiership. There's also a nasty rumour going round that I may soon be in the possession of a Chelsea season ticket. Maybe their 3 back-to-back draws are the result of them not hearing my voice in the stands. I hope I can stand the excitement of it all.

Yesterday, even German great Franz Beckenbauer said that England are the best team in Europe and can win the World Cup. Am I annoying yet, Dylan?!

Enjoy yours.