Philo's Lebanon Log.
the incoherent ramblings of a Lebanese expatriate
24 March 2008The things you learn.
I used to have a romantic idea that when one approaches death, that person becomes wiser or starts to look at life with detachment... I used to think that one understands things better somehow.
I have recently found out that this is far from the truth. When one is close to death, that person is mainly scared and confused, trying to understand what illness they have and what medication can allow them to eat or sleep or not have too much pain.
03 February 2008Childhood memories.
Today, I read a touching article by Kim Ghattas, the BBC correspondant in Lebanon until recently. In this personal article, she relates how her family has blocked memories of the war in order to carry on with their lives. The touching thing is how current events recall the ones in our memories and bring back feelings and reactions we had forgotten. I don't remember the very beginning of the war in 1975 but from what I have read, it is not very different from the current situation: A low level tension that refuses to defuse. Crippled institutions. Foreigners and foreign intervention. Politisation of the economic situation and demonstrations that lead to killings.
People say that the current situation will not lead to war, because no one wants war. But some people want war. They may not be the major visible players, although even that is not certain, but someone started shooting last Sunday. It seems that the Shi'a groups wanted to contain the violence last week but will they still do so next time? And the next? How many murders do you have to have before ordinary people get fed up and start wanting war in order to defend themselves?
Talking about amnesia, I am amazed at how some of the most fundamentals of a modern state are forgotten. The majority and the minority fight about shares in the government. What happened to the separation of powers between the parliament and the government? Then there are calls for a direct vote of the president. Maybe it's not a bad idea (although it probably is), but what happened to the constitution? How can the parliament be shut down for a year, the presidency vacant, and the government crippled?
Just take a small step back from the noise on TV and notice how ridiculously stupid everyone is being. This is why I think we're heading to war.
25 December 2007Merry christmas!
Changes at every level. Some of them are bound to be good. With a little bit of luck, some of them will be absolutely excellent and none will be horrible.
24 December 2007The circus.
What a year it has been! More than a year, what disastrous three years they have been. I am not talking about myself, but about the poor non-country called Lebanon. Non-country because it won't last. What we're seeing is the shriveling shell of something that used to represent modernity, tolerance, intelligence. We are now in a situation where none of the branches of government work, all paralysed by a crisis that no one controls and from which no one is able to get out. All this until someone from the outside (God save us) decides to step in to save the situation.
Everyone shares responsibility in the blame. I would like to say that to the current politicians who are like dwarfs running around the circus ring, hitting each other on the head. They pretend to be actors in their state and the children like it, but in reality they are just the comic act before the tiger eats the guy with the whip.
15 August 2007No winners or losers.
A formula that comes back very often in Lebanese politics is "no winners nor losers", meaning that we will end our fighting without anyone feeling that they have lost the bout. In the Hezbollah-Israel fighting, the formula is a little different. While Hassan Nasrallah has been constantly repeating the words "divine victory" for a year, I would like to suggest to him something a bit different. I would like to tell Mr. Nasrallah that this is a situation where both parties have lost. Losers and losers.
Holding back the Israeli army is certainly no small feat. In that, Hezbollah has outdone Syria who is in a state of constant defeat. The Golan has been occupied for fourty years! But Syria is hardly who I want to compare myself to and doing better than Syria does not constitute victory. If we are to talk about victory, I would like to know what we have gained.
Since last year's war, the Lebanese economy has taken a huge blow: we (Hezbollah and the government) had to go to foreign countries and beg for reconstruction money. The political situation is at a complete gridlock; even the parliament is closed down. Terrorists are operating in our country and the army is marginalized. Hassan Nasrallah lives in hiding and doesn't even attend mass rallies. Everyone I know who is under fourty years old is considering leaving the country. Belle victoire... If victory leads to this, what would have defeat looked like?
Hezbollah is blinded by two things. They are first blinded by an absolute hate to Israel and the US. After thirty years of Israeli occupation and barbarism, one cannot blame them. I have similar feelings towards the policies of those two countries, though not as strong as theirs. But Hezbollah are completely blinded by this approach to Middle east politics and neither peace nor prosperity is an option in their logic. The only applicable path is a long war of attrition which will lead to the reshaping of the Middle East, either as a US colony or as an islamic empire.
The second basis of Hezbollah's approach is a total submission to Iran, those who provide the top weapons and the reconstruction money, as well as providing the dogma and Wialyet el Faqih. It is no surprise then that the Hezbollah-Israel war came after about a year of Israeli threats to attack Iranian nuclear power stations. Indeed, the only winners in last year's war with Israel were Syria and Iran in their geopolitical conflict with the US and Israel. Admittedly, the war's outcome has constituted a major push for those two countries in the face of US hegemony. In that context, it is no wonder that Hezbollah is well armed and well funded.
So where do I stand on all of this? Here are a few things that seem
obvious to me:
19 May 2007Of international character.
I am a person of international character. I am also a person of character, not to mention my personal status. Which has changed recently. Paris is still gorgeous and the lovely spring we've had has made it even nicer. This year has been good to me so far, with four articles accepted or published (and we're just in May), in addition to my secretive marriage. I feel on a little cloud, were it not that the world was going to hell.
Actually, the world is perfectly fine. Almost nothing is worse today than it was 100 years ago: Pollution was worse, healthcare was worse, political instability and wars were worse, people were poorer, more racist, more insecure, and died younger. Not to mention that people didn't know anything about lasers and microchannels 100 years ago. So the world is doing so extremely well, the only problem being overpopulation: granted that I live in the center of one of the biggest cities in Europe, but I can never look outside my window and not see cars and trucks and people. Everywhere!
Last week I also saw an extreme-right-wing march. That doesn't mean Le Pen and his croonies, but skin heads marching with black flags, torches and sticks. So I came home and listened to Bach's partitas.
Also in the news today: ten billion dollars to improve education (and research) in the Arab world. A lot of money if it is used properly. Will it go towards teaching the Coran or towards teaching Soft Condensed Matter? In any case, it's a pretty good sum of money, until you compare it with the annual budget of a respected university (e.g. MIT or U. of California, for example). It's a shame that the money had to come from one person instead of from countries, banks, or foundations. But anything is good, let's hope it is put to good use.
3rd March 2007Bennesbeh la bukra, shou?
This is probably the best play that Ziad Rahbani has written. It is an extremely poignant social commentary about the poor, uneducated, workers and how they try to get by. Add to that globalization, in a hotel that attracts foreign tourists, and musicians and poets. Also add "isma3 ya rida", the beauiful song about hyper-inflation and learning English on the BBC world service!
Sometimes I feel I am like Zakariya. A good guy, not too bright but good hearted, who can't keep up with the world around him. The problem Zakarya has (and I sometimes have too) is that he is under stress from all sides. His wife, of course, but also his boss and his work, poverty... Not to mention his son who is constantly failing at school and who almost killed the teacher.
Zakariya's real problem is that he cannot keep up with the world around him. Too many stresses and he is struggling to keep up. This in addition to the country that is falling apart.
8 February 2007Hate and its creation.
I don't know who started "it" and it doesn't matter. What matters is how people start out as neighbors and end up hating each other. If your brother killed my brother, I don't care whose fault it was, I will hate your brother. This is how civil wars feed on themselves, since everyone commits stupid acts. We are not quite there at this point in Lebanon, but the creation of hate is starting and the polarization of the society is increasing. It used to be muslims vs. christians and it was quite polarized. Recently, this has changed and now it is sunnis against shiis, maronites among themselves.
How does a war start? It starts by some hooligans throwing molotov coctails on their neighbors.
How does it sustain itself? It sustains itself when each side has committed enough stupidities that a normal person is now willing to throw molotov coctails.
In the end, it doesn't matter who started it because there are a lot of dead and the country is in ruins.
But before all this, there is the escalation. Someone, for some reason, decides that the current situation does not suit them and they decide to pick a fight. So just for the record: Today, the Israelis claim to have found newly planted bombs along their border and Hizbullah have recently restarted putting their flags along the border. The same day (today), Syria claims to be the one who can bring about peace in Iraq. The previous day (yesterday), a high ranking Iraqi accused Syria of fostering the terrorist groups.
But I am sure that the events are unrelated.
28 January 2007Conquered.
I was looking at the pictures on the tayyar web site and one thing that struck me is how similar people are to each other. None of them is recognizable from the other, as seen from Europe. Only the flags distinguish them, but those completely fall during battle. These people do not realize how much alike they all look and how they are all in exactly the same boat. Sinking the boat will sink them all.
It's a little bit like when you hear about the Tamoul fighting the Singh in Sri Lanka and they all live in the same shitty conditions. Can you recognize a Tamoul from a Singh? You want to tell them how ridiculous they look fighting among each other, in that beautiful country, instead of working together to improve their general condition.
Another thing that struck me in the pictures is how close they are physically to each other. This picture below was especially telling: The two groups (who may live in the same street!) are 20 meters from each other and waving sticks and stones, threatening each other like baboon tribes.
This picture reminds me of one of the initial scenes from the movie Gladiator, a scene that really touched me when I saw the movie. In it, the "barbarians" are standing across a small river from the roman army, getting ready to fight. They are carrying sticks and stones, and some other ridiculous weapons, against the well equiped and organized roman army. Seeing this, the lieutenant (Quintus) says to the general (Maximus):
QUINTUS: People should know when they're conquered. MAXIMUS: Would you, Quintus? Would I?The people of Beirut don't realize that they are all conquered, on all sides.
27 January 2007From bad to worse.
Many reasons why I haven't been writing in my blog lately, but one important reasons is how things keep getting worse and worse in the old country. I am not sure when this downwards spiral started, but somewhere around the renewal of Emile Lahoud (October 21st 2004, below), some kind of regional hurricane has been devastating this poor country.
At first, I was thinking about Syrian domination of Lebanon, and this was another symbol. Then "the west" got involved (resolution 1559) and the polemic got even more heated. Then February 14th 2005, the bomb that killed Hariri. I was never pro-Hariri, but I am definitely anti-Assad and killing Hariri was for me a shock. Then came the other murders, among whom Gebran Tueni and Samir Kassir. People in Lebanon already forgot about Samir Kassir. They also forgot about the bombs that were placed in Brummana and Jounieh and Ashrafieh. They also forgot about the attacks on the Danish embassy and Mar Ncoula church in Ashrafieh by "foreign bearded men".
Now they are fighting against government corruption.
Hizballah now provokes Israel in order to justify its arsenal. I firmly beleive that Hizballah provoked war and destruction of its own populations in order to keep its weapons. Why do they want their weapons? Imagine if Israel were to attack Iranian nuclear plants, the way they attacked the Iraki plants in the 80's (or 90's?) What would Iran's response be if they didn't have Hizballah in South Lebanon, armed and ready?
It's a huge mess. You see why I haven't written in ages?
Now I am writing because it's a huge mess and getting worse. Seeing the photos on the washington post, one understands. The guys fighting in the street don't remember the 1975 war. Those who do remember are frustrated (everyone is frustrated) and don't have very strong motivation to stop the youths from throwing rocks and sticks (and the occasional molotov coctail) at each other.
It's going to get worse. There is no chance it will get better. Even if it gets better in the short run, it will get worse in the longer run. If I were in Lebanon, I would be making my bags.
I don't know who will win in the end but it won't be the Lebanese.
May 21st, 2006To-do list: write blog entry.
I have found that writing a to-do list is extremely useful, when I have too many thing on my mind. For instance, lately I've been swamped with different projects, including teaching, three students in the lab, preparing a conference, writing articles and grant proposals, etc. As you can see, each one of these activities is quite different from the others and it is very easy to concentrate on one and forget the others, or to completely forget what deadlines are looming, etc. So I write a to-do list and the main pleasure comes from crossing out items that have been done.
However, to-do lists also have two negative aspects. The first is when the list is written, to look at it and think "holy shit!" I mean, how do get around to doing all the things when your list increases faster than the speed at which you can type? (by the way, my to-do lists are on paper, not online). However, somehow things get done and the list helps me focus on the most important things which is a good thing. The other problem, however, is more fundamental and more difficult to deal with: I am starting to realize, after years of making to-do lists, that no matter how much I cross things from the lists, there will always come another list with its own set of things to be done. It is sysiphus in its most basic 21st century form. Make a hole, fill it. Make it again, fill it again.
On a (not completely un) related matter: I've been reading a very good book: "the measure of reality" by Alfred Crosby. It is about how western society invented our way of thinking about the world by quantifying it. For example, during the European middle ages, an hour was an approximate amount of time, not always of a fixed length. Then clocks appeared and suddenly the concept of one our was a well defined, reproducible, passage of time. This had major effect on the music of the period which now had a well defined rhythm. The same could be said for space, with the invention of methods of perspective and the effect of measurements on paintings and drawing.
It's a very interesting book because it raises several questions in my mind. The first (on a Lebanese blog) is to ask what was the parallel in the Eastern Mediterranean, both previous to the European renaissance and also during that time. For instance, did Fakhreddine's preferential trade with Genoa also involve importing Western ideas of quantification, or was it more limited to physical goods? It is said that Italian architects built the Beiteddine palace, so it would not be surprising if the exchange involved an intellectual part, but how much? Also, what about the rest of the area? Where was Ottoman thinking at that period and how did the muslim world start to move in the direction of modern quantification?
But more fundamentally, the book raises a more intriguing question for me, namely that of how my (and your) thinking is clouded by the veil of the accepted norms. For someone living in 13th century Paris, there were inviolable truths that one could base his worldview on. Most of these truths (for example that the king should be king) turned out to be completely wrong. How about the turths I hold on to? For example that the universe came out of the big bang, or even that science is a good descriptor of the world? I would have no idea how to function without a scientific description of the world around me, but I can imagine a system in which scientific thought plays a minor role compared to other forms of thought. However, it is true that we are currently blinded by the leaps in our technological advance, and that many people expect technology to solve all of their problems. This, I am certain, will not be the case.
But technology can lead to wealth, which can lead to a feeling so close to happiness that only an expert can differentiate the two. This is according to Woody Allen. So for that, check out these people who want to improve technololgical footprint of Lebanon. Too bad they didn't advertise their conference enough for me to know about it before it happened! Also check out this promising (I am always optimistic) site.
March 29th, 2006Self-destruction and the phoenix.
I have strong associations with three countries.
In all this, some are doing science and art. Take a look at the ZWYX web page on Art and things like that. I met the zwyx guy once on a plane, he was quite nice.
Take a look also at this new book that came out. The author lives between countries and wonders how his personal value is fluctuating.
Take a look also at this art gallery that has some nice expos. In Beirut and in Hamburg. What do Beirut and Hamburg have in common?
I am around even though this is my first blog entry in ages. Doing science... good science. Some administration (bad) and teaching (depends). Also traveling a lot in Europe. Soon it will be Easter and my parents will be visiting. Catch you all later.
So what about the phoenix? Maybe the US will recover from Bush. Maybe the French will wake up to the new world. Maybe... do I dare hope for Lebanon?
February 1st, 2006No beginning, no end, but bifurcations.
A long time ago, I read that there were no beginnings and no ends in real life. I was never very convinced by this argument, and even less so now.
In physics, people talk about "saddle-node" points. These are points that look like a horse saddle: In one direction you go up and in the other you go down. So the payoff if you win is big, but it's a difficult (unstable) way to go. And if you lose, the consequences are dire.
The whole region is on a saddle-node bifurcation right now. It is completely irrelevant to ask who's fault it is, what is relevant is to see how to not start to skid down the downward slope. Even though you don't have to reach a clear critical point (beginning or end), it is clear that the situation in the future will be different from what it was in the past.
In arabic, we call it "3ala kaff 3afrit", or "on the palm of a devil".
(oh, and happy new year!)
December 20th, 2005Railroad tracks.
When I was a teenager, one day we had to look at a series of pictures and to determine which one for us denoted "hope" for the future. There were pictures of babies, machines, many things I don't remember. But I saw a picture of train tracks going into the horizon and I couldn't believe that anyone might pick anything OTHER than that picture for hope. No one other than me picked that picture.
When I was really little, we would always somehow go out for a short ride in the car with my parents on Christmas eve. Inevitably, Santa would come to our appartment during that time. I guess it was disappointing to not get to see the man himself, but on the other hand, it was the presents that counted. Not to mention the fact that Santa is a pretty scary guy and avoiding immediate contact with him is not such a bad thing, as long as his regalos role is fulfilled.
We used to get one present each. Maybe a small present each and a big present for the three of us. Then maybe my uncles would give us another small thing. We would come back from the useless car ride and find the presents already under the tree and it was A-OK.
As an adult, I find that I have always had very few material possessions. Maybe I'm too extreme, but I find buying, caring for, and moving things to be all very difficult. I travel with a small suitcase because anyway, regardless of the length of my stay, the number of clothes that I own is small. I like luxury but I find that simplicity, the availability of space and time lead to the luxury than I can afford and that I apreciate. I find that publishing a good paper is worth so much more than buying a pair of trousers that the second becomes completely unimportant compared with the first.
This is all very difficult for the people around me to understand, as much as it is difficult for me to understand why they are so keen on "objects". I am looking for TGV to take me where I want to go, presto! but others don't see things the same way it seems.
November 8th, 2005Taking responsibility, taking action.
Everyone knows by now about the violence that has spread through the Paris suburbs and into other cities in France. I hate these random acts of vandalism because they make me sound like a right-winger, but here goes: Those stupid bastards are hiding behind the fact of being immigrants or arab or muslim to act like thieves, vandals, or simply like gangs. These assholes live in a country that gives them free schooling, free healthcare, three years of unemployment pay when they can't be bothered to go to work! They pay almost no rent and have access to one of the best public transportation systems in the world. They are in good health and are free to move everywhere in the European Union they might want! And then they have the gall to complain that the government doesn't do enough for them and that this justifies them burning their neighbor's car!
If these slime burned rich people's cars (after thinking about it), you might say that this is class struggle, although this doesn't even justify violence in France. Instead, they burn the cars in their own neighborhoods, out of pure spite for the people around them who are making an effort. They burn buses and schools so that their neighbors can't get ahead of them.
Instead of justifying the fact that these people burn cars because they don't receive enough help, I want to think about the family who is trying to make it in these circumstances! I want to think about the father who needs his car to go to work in shitty conditions just to support his family and how the scum of the earth have burned the car. Nothing justifies this! These people, and no one else, are responsible for their own actions. If they failed in school (which was free), it's their fault. If their buildings are dirty, it's their own damn filth.
In contrast, I often pass at the intersection between Rue Broca and Blvd du Port Royal, in the 5th arrondissement. I say intersection, although that is not a good way to describe it; the boulevard crosses on a bridge above the small street. In the last few months, an older homeless man has put a bed under that bridge, on the Eastern side of the street. Then a few weeks later, this side seemed to suit him less and he moved his bed to the Western side. Then, next to his bed, some furniture started to appear. A bedside table, a small closet with drawers... This guy was almost always in bed, often reading. Maybe he was some kind of left-bank intellectual who went coucou at one point and was now an alcoholic... Anyway, the bed is under a streetlamp, so he always has enough light to read, day or night. A couple of days ago, when passing there, we saw that this guy had a visitor! It is not uncommon to see a homeless man with a homeless another, or with a homeless woman from time to time. But in this case it was different: The visitor was a well dressed, well shaven man, sitting on the bedside and making conversation with the our intellectual friend. It is impressive how this man has made a comfortable home for himself under the bridge, to the point that he now receives "a few friends" there.
But the real story about taking responsibility was in today's Le Monde about the little Palestinian child who was killed by Israeli soldiers last week. His parents decided to donate his organs and hiw two lungs and his heart were transplanted to other children: Two jews and one druze. What an absolutely fantastic act of rebellion and humanity! Humanity, of course, but also rebellion against the bastards with guns, telling them that their way of seeing the world is sick and that there are so many other ways to deal with the other.
The story gave me chills. Read about it at the BBC here.
October 25th, 2005Small is beautiful.
There are two topics that are on my mind today. The first one is that Lebanon is a small country. For some reason, when Algeria or Russia or someone else wants to vote on a certain UN resolution blaming Syria for murdering Hariri, what they see is the West interfering in Arab affairs. They don't see that the Syrian government (probably) murdered a Lebanese leader because he refused to submit.
It has always been the case that the Lebanese are considered only half-Arab and only half worthy of Arab support. In the past, one would have said that it's the Muslim Arabs vs. the Christian Lebanese, but now the argument doesn't hold anymore! A Alaoui regime has murdered a Sunni and when small Lebanon looks for external support, the Arab league shies away from blaming Assad. This shows that it's not a religious issue; it's a cultural/political issue which psychologically blocks a Tunisian from upsetting the Syrians in favor of the Lebanese. It is also a geopolitical story where small countries get sold and bought.
The second issue is my girlfriend (whom I love dearly!) asking me who I like, if I have such negative opinions of all my (historical) neighbors (cf. September 27th below). The answer is that I like EVERYBODY! Some of my best friends are blacks/jews/lesbians/biophysicists/rich. I have no problem with a guy who a kippa or a kafiyeh, as long as he doesn't come dropping bombs on my house! I also insist on having the freedom of speach, freedom of work, movement, and freedom to party and get drunk.
Some will say that my own community dropped bombs on my house (I do remember the destructive Aoun/Geagea war in 1989). Some would say "a la guerre comme a la guerre," that you can't blame the Israelis/Syrians for shooting back when they are shot at. I will answer that it's true and that there is no way to win for a moderate Lebanese, vs the Middle East.
I will also answer that nothing justifies a terrorist approach to international relations, whether it is the Israelis bombing hospitals or the Syrians murdering prime ministers or the Palestinians (or whoever the hell it is) murdering Samir Kassir. I am not a political analyst. It doesn't interest me to understand the intricacies of the Assad approach to world diplomacy, or the inner workings of the Syrian socio-political hierarchy. What interests me is to live in peace and to know that if I work really hard to produce something (culture, wealth, lifestyle), no one is going to try to take it away from me. Regardless if that "no one" is black, blue, or purple.
October 19th, 2005Impending.
Everyone is waiting, now, for the report that should be published on Friday by the UN commission. 48 hours they say on the radio, "within hours" on the other station, etc. If you were to drop a needle, you would hear its sound as it touches the ground. Well, that is if you get over all the media noise that is surrounding the whole affair.
Washington and Paris are planning a new anti-Syrian resolutions. They want "regime change" and all that, and all we want is some peace and quiet so we can live our lives. And some money too; a donor conference would be a good thing. 40 Billion US dollars would be just fine, thank you very much.
What will happen after the report comes out? Syria will be in the line of fire... What about within Lebanon? a trial? a couple generals murdered?
Dealing with the Hariri killing is important but we haven't yet dealt with the civil war, which cost us a lot more. Maybe this is the chance to deal with it, or maybe it will get swept under the historic rug. Forever.
I am going home early tonight. A 10 hour day only.
October 13th, 2005Music and science.
At the recent "nuit blanche" here in Paris, a collegue of mine got together with a composer and a designer to create an installation combining music, design, and... vortex rings.
The bottom line is that science is beautiful. Especially in fluid mechanics, one produces images of beautiful structures which one might describe as being "organic". In that same vein, I've just finished installing my new microscope, a Nikon TE-2000 inverted microscope with a few goodies. I particularly like the visualization through the phase-contrast lighting. I've never seem such beautiful colors in microchannels before. Now I need a color camera.
October 4th, 2005The right and the left.
Today is strike day in France, which means this is the day when public employees punish the common man for depending on them.
Recently we hear a lot about raising the purchasing power of the French. So this strike is about raising my purchasing power, which is in the end a right wing idea. It is no surprise that the leftist groups are the ones calling for the strike.
Actually, it seems to me that the whole "purchasing power" debate was started by the major supermarket chains (E. Leclerc for example) who bombarded us with ads about how the French need more purchasing power. So now the stupid unions are copying big corporations even in their political slogans.
1984. No right, no left, just big brother.
On another topic, the physics Nobel prize today: it is starting to look more and more like a technology prize rather than a physics prize. It seems unfortunate to me that more human-scale physics gets overlooked and replaced by technologically oriented science.
September 27th, 2005On the road.
After a European tour which took me to more than ten cities in four countries, I am back in Paris. And glad to be back. The two conferences were met with great success. The vacation was also great fun, with pintxos in San Sebastian and Barcelona, pasta and gelati in Roma, Fish and Chips in Oxford and Foie Gras in Grenoble. Life is good.
Good? Things in Lebanon are amazingly dark. On the one hand, you are tempted to beleive those who say that "this is the end of the bad period". On the other hand, you are also faced with a string of bombings and of murders. Daily news of weapons traffic, of Syrian threats on prime time TV. The rest of the news is an empty shell of talk and talk. Hot air, as it were.
I stumbled on this on the BBC web site. This is what the Jordanians did in order to have peace starting in the 70's. They resisted Palestinian militias, a Syrian invasion, Israeli bombings. Sounds very much like what happened in Lebanon a few years later, except that the Lebanese were too weak to resist.
Syria, Israel and Palestine. Lovely neighbors.
August 30th, 2005Mr Green did it with the candlestick in the library.
Four men detained as "suspects" by the UN team. The atmosphere is electric; for the first time, the assassins might be uncovered. Maybe. Innocent until proven guilty, it is true, but suspects nonetheless.
"Everyone knows" who killed Kamal Joumblat or Bachir Gemayel or Rafic Hariri. It's just that until all this happened, nobody could speak about it because those who are now in custody were the ones who could raid your house in the morning and take you away. They didn't do that much, mind you, they preferred more subtle intimidation techniques like beating up peaceful demonstrators in front of the justice palace (Aug. 9 2001).
O fortuna , I had written when Samir Geagea was put in prison in 1994. I was in Lebanon then and it seemed unimaginable to see a man with his following (not to mention his weapons) go to prison without a single shot being fired. Today, fortune turns again, like the moon in the sky.
The job is far from completed. There are still bombings every month, to let us know that things are still not in our hands. Heads of groups in the current parliament are in Paris because they're worried they're going to be killed. Trucks are stopped or allowed to cross depending on Assad's mood swings. Corruption, Hezbollah, Nabih Berry, Michel Murr... many people still haven't answered some very very simple questions. It's not over but maybe it's started.
August 19th, 2005Gaza withdrawal.
It is impressive to see the images of the Gaza forced withdrawal, for example on the Washington Post web site. Maybe a quarter of the images show people crying heavy tears because they have to leave. (Note also that the fluids they are shedding are tears and not blood, contrary to typical images of Palestinians). I wonder, if for a single moment, any of these settlers (or anyone at the Washington Post) gave a thought to what the Palestians must have felt when they were evicted in 1947-1948, 1967, or more recently by the still active settlement policy.
For one thing, I do not understand how the settlers could live in fancy, modern houses, in fortified settlements surrounded by slums and Palestinians living in poverty. How could the settlers not see that their actions are direcly causing the misery of hundreds of thousands of people? What selfish people are willing to live like that?
I've often complained about the idea of "the chosen people". My friends in the US tell me that I am just jealous, but I see little difference between "the chosen people" syndrome and "the superior race" syndrome. Both of these concepts are fundamentally racist and both are/were actively used to justify the thriving of one group at the expense of another. Israelis (and apologists) who are not willing to admit that have another problem: the ostrich syndrome.
August 17th, 2005Neither French nor Spanish.
I just returned from vacation in the Basque country, visiting Saint Jean de Luz and San Sebastian, as well as smaller towns. Beaches. Mountains. Pintxo bars and cerveserias and a nice sea food restaurant on the lake of Saint Pee sur Nivelle.
During that time, Israel started forcing its colonialists to leave Gaza. I wonder why they are leaving Gaza... I mean what is the real reason in Sharon's mind? Lately we see maps of the Palestinian controlled areas in 1947, 1967, and now. It's a slow but certain reduction of their vital space. At some point the only solution will be to either expell them all or tp integrate them as Israeli (second class) citizens. Interesting and daring article in last week's Economist about that.
In Lebanon, Murr TV was allowed to reopen. Remember that it was closed by the then interior minister Michel Murr as a retaliation for his daughter losing the parliamentary elections to his brother. What a loving family! I guess power corrupts. But isn't it impressive how quickly the major bias in the laws is being corrected after the Syrians left? Aoun back in Lebanon, Geagea out of prison, MTV reopening, everybody friends again.
What else has happened in the world? I was away and I couldn't keep track.
Next week I'll be in Oxford. I'm doing a tour of the prestigious European universities.
August 1st, 2005Brothers.
In today's annahar, the word "brothers" and "brotherhood" appeared many times to describe the relationship between the Lebanese and Syrian people. I guess that if this feeling of brotherhood really existed, they wouldn't need to say it so often.
The problem with our relation with Syria is that even the Syrian people themselves are living under the military security regime (41 years of "emergency rule"-- quite an emergency!). So how can anyone in Lebanon evere hope to have a better relation with the Assad regime than that of any Syrian with her dictator?
With regard to the embargo that Syria is imposing on the Lebanese and the visit of the Lebanese prime minister to Damascus, Annahar reported three major points that worry the Syrians:
As for the Lebanese media being anti-Syrian: That is not exactly the right question to ask in a country where the press freedoms are respected, is it? In democracies the leaders go to great lengths to work the press. In Syria, if the press goes out of line, journalists are put in prison. The fact that Assad feels threatened by what Ghassan Tueni or Rafik Khoury might write seems completely ridiculous! There are other ways of dealing with the press than through your secret service and embargos.
Finally, the alleged weapons traffic story is a bit fishy. Who's traffiking what weapons and to where? The arms traffic that worries me more is the one headed to Hezbollah from Iran through Syria, not vice versa. Maybe there should be more arms flowing the other way, that way they can start working on liberating the Golan Heights.
In short, the problem is not only the typical problem of two adjacent countries; it needs to be understood by the fact that one of the countries is a dictatorship that sees itself more and more isolated and more and more anacrhonistic. Maybe in that regard, the medium/long term prospects can only be positive for my Syrian brothers.
July 27th, 2005The Lebanese Global Village.
In yesterday's news (I'm more than a day behind), the Lebanese cabinet's declaration on which it should or shouldn't get parliament's approval.
I read with some interest parts of the ministerial declaration. Not so much the long and fairly detailed political or economic parts, which we all know and love, but more the parts on the media, culture, youth and women's rights, and the Lebanese universal village, as it is called in the document. I have to say that the writeup impressed me in its level of detail and candor, and also in the breadth of subjects that it touches.
For instance, it states explicitely its support for the reopening of the MTV station which was shut down a few years ago for blatant political reasons. It also discusses in length its support for freedom of expression, and for supporting the media without directing it. The same is said in support of artists and writers, with the document stating that culture is not a luxury or a secondary product, but an essential reason of Lebanon's existence and a window through which the world sees us. This is quite mature for Lebanese politics!
I would have liked to write more, my dear readers, but I am about to miss my train. I will be back shortly.
June 28th, 2005Wanna vote?
I got a flyer for a symbolic vote for representatives in France of the Lebanese living here. Check out their web site. I cannot decide what I think of all this.
I was given the flyer when I attended a commemoration of Samir Kassir at the Institut du Monde Arabe It was a touching, tribute, especially the short speach by Ghassan Tueni and the longer "open letter" by Farouk Mardam Bey. Leyla Shahid (the official spokesperson of Palestine in France) was there, as was Dominique Vidal, editor in chief of Le Monde Diplomatique. Tueni's speach was short, given in a very low voice, and poignant. It was the speach that a father-figure would give about his son's death.
None other than Mardam Bey (of Syrian origin) mentionned the political situation directly.
June 21st, 2005Another murder.
There was a (conspiracy) theory going around after Samir Kassir's murder that he was murdered because he was having an affair with someone's wife. These rumors were suggested by the fact that the TV stations announced that there was a woman in the car with Kassir, but then they denied the reports and seemed to be covering up a story. Usually these stories are taken up by honest people who are simply trying to make some sense out of the course of events, especially if they are pro-Syrian at heart.
So of course, the obvious question behind today's murder of George Hawi (another leftist anti-Syrian) is who he was having an alledged affair with?
I am being unfairly sarcastic about a situation that is not at all funny. As a matter of fact, we knew that the de-Syrianization was not going to happen automatically, so now we are seeing what the Syrians will do before they leave. Maybe they want to make sure that before they leave, they will have eliminated those who pose a direct threat to them.
On a separate note, I was invited to my friend R.'s wedding in Rome this coming fall. Woopdedoo!
June 20th, 2005Business as usual.
It's impressive, regardless of where we stand, how quickly alliances shift in Lebanon. I was happy that Aoun returned, but I am less happy that he decided to team up with Michel Murr, or with Sulaiman Frangieh. What's up with that, man!? On the other hand, we cannot complain of boredom as long as we have such an eloquent elite as Aoun, Berri, or Jumblat. Their tirades will go down in social history books.
It's summer in Paris and lots of friends are visiting. That's one of the main advantages of living in Paris, compared to Austin, for example. I love this city, but I am starting to also feel a strong rapport with Barcelona where waitors are less unfriendly and the beach is nicer.
Tomorrow is the Fete de la Musique. Might go to see some friends of friends in the XIeme arrondissement.
June 11th, 2005This, from today's l'Orient-le Jour, by Fifi Abou Dib. It really touched me and I wanted to share it with you:
Deja le mois de juin, bientot les grandes vacances, nous n'avons pas senti l'annee passer. De traumatismes en exaltations, de chocs en reprises, de deuils en compensations, notre equilibre en a pris un coup, et l'optimisme est notre plus grande audace. Pourtant c'est la que reside l'ame quand on croit avoir tout perdu. Que ferez-vous pour proteger la votre ? mon voisin tourne autour de sa voiture en quete d'un oisillon. Et le garagiste plante un bouquet en plastique rouge dans un piquet du trottoir. Dans ces petits riens, tout l'appel de la vie, et l'ineffable poesie de l'attente.In Lebanon, we like to brag about our sometimes unreasonable optimism. Maybe it's not sepecific to Lebanon and maybe anyone in the same situation would have to be optimistic or die. The fact remains that the day (in 1988?) after a night of heavy Syrian artillery pounding our regions, people were out in church to celebrate palm Sunday.
I am now reading Kassir's "La guerre du Liban".
June 8th, 2005They killed Samir Kassir.
We were all shocked and struck with grief when we heard the news about Hariri's assasination. But I was much more hurt by the assasination of Samir Kassir. As my father said, Hariri transmitted his money and his power to his son and life goes on. But a thinker and a writer such as Kassir is not easily replaced and his loss is all the more dramatic.
My friend Rafic said that Samir Kassir had gone too far; Syria's worst fear is that it may be destabilized from within Lebanon and a stated goal of S.K. was the destabilization of the Syrian regime. So the bastards killed him.
I had heard Kassir give a lecture recently (see March 22nd, below). He was impressive, not in the way that an Edward Said might impress you, but in a different, more immediate way. He talked in very concrete terms about the current events but with a lucidity that one only gets after having poured much effort. He was not a theorist but an activist and that may be why he was killed.
The disheartening thing is how quickly his murder will be forgotten.
May 26th, 2005Sorry guys, life is catching up with me.
This morning, during my monthly shower, I was thinking that I need to think about something other than work. Lately I've been completely engrossed in my work and when I am not working I am completely engrossed in vegetating. This means that I've been stuck in the spiral which doesn't allow you to actually thinkg about anything other than a particular subject; it doesn't mean that you're always working, but that you are not able to do anything else.
Luckily I have a vacation coming up soon...
Tomorrow I teach. I've been preparing for tomorrow's class but I am having trouble motivating myself to do it seriously. At least it's a subject I know a little bit, as opposed to some other subjects I have to teach. Next year "they're" removing my lab course, unfortunately. It's the course that I enjoy teaching the most. But if the department decided I am needed elsewhere... after all, this is a military school!
Actually I could have insisted on doing the course, but I don't want to sound like I'm whining.
See? I'm writing about work.
I saw Star Wars a few days ago, at the Max Linder. It was not bad. A bit too many light-sabre fights, when I would have preferred a few more flying ship fights. Right now I am listening to Fairuz singing about the bus taking her to Tannourine, a very nice village in Kesrouan.
Well... it's time to finish preparing the class and going back to Paris for a beer or dinner or something like that.
May 12th, 2005Democracy.
It seems that the opposition groups decided to have common electoral lists in all regions of Lebanon. This, in principle, is a good thing. It means that the pro-syrian groups will have a more difficult time getting seats in Mount Lebanon or the Chouf. The situation in the south is different, as there is a good chance the Amal/Hezbollah duo will sweep. In the North and the Bekaa, I am not sure...
Anyway, that's not the point. The point is that Joumblat and Aoun and Saad Hariri and Mrs. Geagea will meet and decide who is the opposition candidate and who is not. So if they want to exclude someone, it's their choice. If these four names don't mean much to you, note simply that Aoun, Mr. Geagea, and Joumblat are among the people associated with the largest number of deaths and destruction during the Lebanese war. Hariri means money. It's pretty amazing, isn't it? 15 years after the official end of the war, I am still supposed to be represented by Aoun and Geagea. There is no leadership that emerged from the post-war era, and certainly not among the Maronites.
One might say that, at least, Aoun, Geagea and Hariri are not the old feudal families. Unlike Joumblat or Gemayel or Frangieh. Is that a sign that the traditional feudal families are playing a lesser role? Have they been supplanted, in the Maronite community at least, by the warlords? Among the Shi'a, the "new ruling class" is very stable, be it in Hezbollah or in Amal.
Anyway... all this is mental masturbation. It's such a horrible disaster in Lebanon that I am not sure why I even care... politics there often seem completely hopeless. Back to physics now.
May 5th, 20057 may 2005.
I am not "aouni", i.e. a supporter of Michel Aoun. But what are my choices? Do I chose Aoun or Berri? Aoun or Jumblat? Aoun or Gemayel? Aoun or Murr? Aoun or Hezbollah? Aoun or Frangieh?
There are certainly those whom I would rather see in power. In particular, a man of vision and integrity is Nassib Lahohud (not to be confused with his cousin). The number of those people is very small though.
So Aoun is returning, as the saying goes, on the 7th. I am not a Aouni and I wasn't in Lebanon when the hundreds of thousands of people spent their time at the presidential palace in 1990. Anyway, many of those people are disillusioned and depressed now. But him returning does feel like a little victory. Much more than Samir Geagea's possible liberation, Aoun's return is a powerful validation of the concept of a strong and independant Lebanon. The Lebanon that Bashar Assad wanted to "break on the heads of Jumblat and Hariri."
Bad news for the elections. I won't be there for the vote, and the vote will take place based on the 2000 law, which was taylored to allow the current set of fine politicians to get to power. This means that the current junta has a better chance to remain in power. But incremental change is not always a bad thing. If the 2005 elections are better than the 2000 elections, and the 2010 elections are better than the 2005 elections, things will be better.
Finally, note that Marwan Hamadeh (who's someone that I particularly respect) stated that "of course Lahoud won't finish his term as president". Maybe the real question is whether Bashar will finish his presidential term.
April 29th, 2005The year of Physics.
This year is the international year of Physics. Officially, it's to mark the 100th anniversary of Einstein's three major papers: on Brownian motion, special relativity, and the particule/wave duality of photons (I think)... But the real reason for celebrating the world physics year is to give back some glitter to Physics. It is no secret that Biology is the real frontier science right now. Furthermore, since the dot.com boom in the 90's, the number of students interested in actual science (rather than a quick buck) has decreased dramatically worldwide.
Maybe because of this, I will be able to find a PhD student for the coming year! Or at least a post-doc, i.e. an out-of-work physicist, who needs something to do for a couple years.
April 28th, 2005Fly and vote.
I don't know much about this, but I got an email today about purchasing group tickets to Lebanon in order to get cheap fares and participate in the voting. A website, http://www.fly.2lebanon.com/ has been created to organise this. I have a feeling that the people organising the flights are none other than the fine people of the Lebanese White Pages, which is a super website.
I am back from Barcelona and Sevilla. I spent a bit of time in airplanes, but as usual with Antonia, we also spent a lot of time in restaurants and tapas bars. Sevilla is superb! The tapas are absolutely great. We didn't go to the main touristic site: Alcazar, because the lines were too long. It was 30 degrees during the day, which compares very favorably with Paris, but which also predicts some horribly hot summers.
Another notable activity in Barcelona was the asadao (barbecue) with the Latin Americans there. Motivated by a group of Uruguaians, we acquired a barbecue grill and 1/2 kg of meat per person, and we had our little fiesta on the roof of a friend's house, in el corazon de Gracia. It was also highly a satisfying experience.
Now it's time to go home..
April 21st, 2005What tense?
There's a short story I want to write about a guy who sees the same people over and over again. Actually, it was supposed to be a short film but I don't know how to make movies so I want to write it up. The problem is that I don't know which tense to write it in, if I should tell it in the past tense like a story or if I should tell it as if it were happening right now. Difficult decisions in life.
Like the decision of who to put in the government or what electoral law to adopt. I learned the sad news that Ghassan Salame won't be able to join the government because of his teaching duties at Sciences-Po. That's a real shame, because he's a man with a lot of vision and lucidity.
I'm also having the crazy idea of taking some courses again... maybe doing a Master's degree in political science or something like that. Do you think it's crazy?
This weekend: Barcelona and Sevilllaaaaaaa. Very exciting. Tonight: dinner with the in-laws.
April 13th, 2005Thirty.
Thirty years ago, according to my parents, they didn't sleep at night; they were out on the balcony looking at the bullets flying over Beirut.
April 7th, 2005Roed-Larsen.
Who is Terje Roed-Larsen? You can follow the link to know where he grew up, but my question is about how he will be remembered. I have read about how Rustem pasha participated in the expansion of Beirut or how general Henri Gouraud proclaimed the state of Greater Lebanon. What will our grandchildren read about Terje Roed-Larsen?
I remember not long ago Bashar beik refusing to see Roed-Larsen during the latter's trip to Damascus. In keeping with Arab hospitality traditions, R-L was made to "wait outside". Now things seem to have changed. Bashar has established that he is "not Saddam Hussein" and that, well, troop withdrawal didn't have to take months but could be done in weeks.
So today, Annahar quotes R-L saying: "The elections will take place and resolution 1559 will be implemented". Even if annahar might be sensationalist in this, such affirmations are notable from the kid who had to wait outside in the beginning!
So in fifty years, will textbooks remember R-L as the Norwegian who changed the course of events in Lebanon?
April 6th, 2005What next?
If you haven't yet read the Fitzgerald report, read it now. You can find it at L'Orient le Jour (in French).
Now it's explosions galore. I think a simple way to end the explosions is for the US to drop a bomb on Damascus for every explosion in Lebanon. I'll bet 10 Euros that this will stop the series of bombings.
Now if only we can get our zealous prez and others back in town to form a government, we can get back to the unfinished business of the Cedar Revolution or the Independance Intifada.
March 22nd, 2005Lecture/lecturer.
Yesterday I went to a lecture by Samir Kassir, organized by the students at Polytechnique. Afterwards, we stayed for a little drink with the speaker. You don't get to have an honest discussion with one of the main members of the opposition every day, over a glass of champagne.
He said many things that were interesting, of course. He spoke of the Syrian presence in Lebanon as a "protectorate". He also spoke about this protectorate in the past tense, stating explicitely that it's over for real. He also said that we should dissipate any doubt: There were shi'ites, as well as people from all the other communities, in the anti-syrian demonstrations in Beirut. He quoted "1.1 or 1.2 million people" based on topographical measurements.
What else did he say? He said to me "there won't be a new war" because of what is happening. I hope he's right. The question was also raised about who might be the next president... We shall see, shan't we, Mr. Kassir?
March 16th, 2005Vote!
I've never voted in Lebanon. It's time I got a chance to.
Petition here for expatriate votes.
Pictures from the demonstration are circulating widely online. Everyone I know has been sending/receiving pictures. Here's one for you.
March 14th, 2005Zoom out.
Lots of pictures, but I can't get enough of them. My friends warned me that this one was going to be big. One million people in Martyr's square. A lot of things happening, people are excited, hopeful.
The Syrians are withdrawing. Can you imagine driving from Beirut to Baalbak and not having to deal with them? With a little luck, they'll all be gone by the next time I got to Baalbak.
March 9th, 2005Well said, Mr. Plantu.
March 7th, 2005Have you seen this?
Every picture from the Lebanese protests seems to show a girl showing the V sign. Well, we'll see what the Hezbollah protest looks like.
I am very very upset at Hassan Nasrallah's speach. At a time when the opposition is clearly and continually talking about uniting the people, Nasrallah actually talked about dividing Lebanon (taksim), to bring back memories of the war. It seems that Hezbollah are still living in the 80's, that they haven't moved on with their ideas/ideologies. I used to be ambivalent about that movement but now I am 100% against them.
I feel like saying to Bachar Assad and his cronies: Look around you, man. The whole world is moving forward and the only ones moving backwards are North Korea and Syria. Don't drag us backwards with you.
March 4th, 2005Liars and cheats.
Unsurprisingly, I've been following up with the news carefully in the last couple of weeks to keep track of what is going on in Lebanon. What kills me in the news is when the "loyalists", i.e. the Lebanese people who support the Syrian presence in Lebanon, call for dialogue. It is disheartening that they are now calling for a national dialogue, when they are the ones who have reduced the government and the parliament to puppets of Syria.
Dialogue is something that the maronite bishops had called for about three years ago. What did the loyalists answer?
Dialogue is something that should happen in parliament when a new president is to be elected. What did the loyalists do? They renewed the term of the current puppresident, under pressure from big brother.
Finally, recall that Dialogue is what the Beirut declaration called for last July (see July 23rd entry below). What was the government's answer? They threatened the hotel owners if they allowed the press conference to occur.They have the audacity to call for dialogue when they feel the heat, after they have played their last card by killing Hariri (whoever it was that killed Hariri). These people should go on trial for insulting our intelligence.
On a lighter note, check out this very funny picture from the protests.
We surprised you, noooooo? (the "no" is in the Syrian dialect)
February 23rd, 2005Panta rhei
There is a real feeling here in Paris that the intifada is unstoppable, and the it's just a matter of time before things change in lebanon. The Americans and the French want to show how much they agree in world politics by opposing a common front to the Syrians. At the same time, the Syrian government seems powerless and so does the Lebanese government. This, from today's Washington post:
Where will this amazing Lebanese intifada go next? The answer may lie partly with the Shiite militia, Hezbollah, which is probably the most powerful political organization in the country. Hezbollah officials and leaders of the opposition have been trading signals this week about whether they can form a united front. What's clear is that the Lebanese are fed up with the status quo and that Hezbollah -- like all the other parties -- must adjust to change.Today in the news, preliminary reports that the Karami government wants to avoid a no confidence vote in Parliament by resigning before Monday.
So now, the greek statement may be replaced by the latin question: quo vadis?
p.s.: Can someone please explain to the Syrian intellectuals that Syrian-Lebanese relations have been poisoned long ago? Not only by the Syrian army and military intelligence in Lebanon, but also by Syrian workers who cause problems. Does anyone remember the murders and ensuing riots in Burj Hammoud last year?
February 21st, 2005Pluralism.
Who knows what will happen now. The Lebanese opposition is calling for massive demonstrations which might lead to the fall of the current government and the withdrawal of the Syrian army, while the government is stating that it will not tolerate any acts of violence. While not tolerating violence is normal, I do not trust the current government not to provoque the violence itself. Beirut is boiling right now, even though you don't hear about it much in western media.
The opposition, for the first time is ages, is plural. That means that it englobes muslim and christian and druze leaders. One major actor is missing, though: the Shi'a. Both Hezbollah and Amal have taken the side of the government. My opinion on the Shi's is the following: If the popular uprising works, then both Amal and Hezbollah must be excluded from the power-sharing. If it doesn't work, then both Amal and Hezbollah are guilty for it. The popular base for the opposition movement is already very large and it would have been unstoppable if either of the Shi'a parties joined it. But their siding with the government (especially Hezbollah) shows that they are calculating their moves from base self-preservation motives rather than nationalist motives. This significantly lowers the respect that I had for Hezbollah (my respect for Amal already low). It turns out they are not interested in Lebanon's wellbeing, but they're simply interested in their own advancement.
Ghassan Tueni, in today's Annahar, answers Hassan Nasrallah much more eloquently than I would have been able to, for those who read Arabic.
February 16th, 2005In the news.
Lebanon is in the news right now. Lebanon makes it in the mainstream western media whenever there is either (a) a catastrophe or (b) a direct implication to Israel. At least that's what I convinced my collegues of recently, and the question was why the Israel part? My answer was that Israel is a European problem and therefore the Europeans are interested in it.
This time it was the catastrophe motive.
Catastrophe theory is when a small change in the forcing of a system makes it very quickly swing into a different equilibrium state. I am not sure that the Washington post pundits underestand that, but they're saying it in their own language.
The main question is what the other stable equilibrium is. Are you an optimist or a pessimist?
February 15th, 2005Death and destruction.
The moral of the story is that they can kill whoever they want whenever they want. It's not a surprise, is it? Just because Marwan Hamadeh escaped doesn't mean that there are no more bombs available.
My family is OK. Got a good scare, but OK. Now we're all scared, but not in the same way; we're now worried about the future.
February 11th, 2005Tarab.
It's been a long time since music had its place in this blog, no? I used to write about music all the time. Well, there's a concert by the group ATTARAB this Sunday, but there are no more tickets available. Too bad, it seems like a really nice group of people. Most of them are science geeks of some sort or another, and they get together to play arabic music.
Other music news: Jack Gregg had to leave Lebanon after 10 years there. So the number of professional jazz musicians in Lebanon has diminished by maybe 20%. Now there are four. I don't know him or why he left, but it seems like visa issues. Silly.
Other music news, you ask? Well I'm listening to Mouse on Mars right now. What great music! These guys have depth in their music. A couple weeks ago I listened to the surnatural orchestra, and it was a really fun show! Twenty musicians in disguise playing a mixture of free jazz and klezmer music. Tomorrow: a concert of modern music at Radio France. I don't know anything about the composers, but all the better!!!
Finally, it's the same old tune in Beiruscus. I don't know who's right or wrong, but I know that things are bad bad bad.
February 7th, 2005Corporate.
I saw the movie the corporation, about the role that international corporations play in our society. This movie held the kind of left wing discourse that we are used to, but in a much more intelligent way than Michael Moore's movies, for example. As a matter of fact, it was made by the guy who made "Manufacturing Consent", Noam Chomsky's audio-visual rant about the world. I loved both movies, as any good MIT graduate would (Chomsky's a prof. at MIT). The Economist reviews the movie.
A lot of things in the movie are rather shocking. For instance, the fact that the US now allows patents on non-human living organisms. This is amazing, no? I can patent my cat, for example. Another shocking thing was the ugly bitch (Lucy Hughes) who was talking about how children are targeted in advertising, and encouraged to nag their parents. She said about 20-40 % of purchases related to children would not have been done if the children hadn't nagged. So let them nag! I wonder what the bitch would think if I told her kids that America was a "bad" state that caused the death of millions of people. In other words, if I pumped into her kids' head different a certain visiion of what is cool and what is not, would she simply say I was playing my social role?
But maybe the most shocking thing in the movie was the story about Bechtel owning the water supply in a region of Bolivia. Bechtel actually owned the rights to the rainwater. Let me repeat : Bechtel (a private company) could charge you money for drinking the water that fell from the sky. Can you imagine that? Well that's how it was. Bechtel's site presents their version of things, which I didn't completely read. However, they list that they founded a consortium with one spanish company and five local companies. I bet 1 Euro (1.28 dollars today) that those local companies were run by local politicians, who had nothing to lose and everything to win from the operation.
Well, crazy stuff.
I am not a communist. As a matter of fact, I am more right-wing than most of my friends and collegues here in France, but that still keeps me more left-wing than my friends and collegues in the US. But I come out of the movie thinking that I don't want my children to grow up as slaves to McDonald's; I don't want them to associate "being cool" with some brand of jeans or some pop star. I would like them to see the deep value of things and not just the 5 second clip they see in a 30 second commercial. Yet, you can't do anything about it. You cannot protect your children from advertising unless you go live on a desert island. Maybe I can sue McDonalds for lying to my (fictitious) kids by claiming to them that it's fun to eat a big mac.
February 2nd, 2005sick.
Je suis malade. Completement malade. I think it's a stomach thing, so I'm going home to rest up.
January 31st, 2005Modern music.
I am listening to William O. Smith playing very strange clarinet. I found this musician when I was surfing looking for what my friend Jesse Canterbury was up to these days, and I found that he was recording with B. Smith. That's a big deal for Jesse, whom I played with when we were lads in Austin. Now he's recording with a big shot!
I'm also playing better music than before. If I put all the new jazz pieces I know one after the other, I could almost play a short recital. Popular favorites like My funny valentine, You don't know what love is, and others. Also, a less known piece which I think is wonderful, Footprints.
I am worried that my teacher is molding me to become just another jazz pianist who can play standards at jam sessions with a bassist and a sax player. So in order to avoid such mediocrity, I make an effort to introduce in the pieces I play periods of dissonnance, lack of rhythm, refusal to follow the chord signatures, etc. I guess the trick to get away with this is that you have to also be able to play the serious stuff where you follow what's written on the page. But jazz, unlike classical music, allows you to also play shit which completely ignores what Thelonious Monk had in mind.
Now I feel like playing with people again. Someday my prince will come.
Other news: Irakis voted yesterday. When expectations are so low, even 50% turnout is a victory, and this was one of these things. What will happen there now? I guess that if the anti-US win, the elections will be invalidated, in the way Yasser Arafat was put aside even when he was elected by his people. Is democracy what these people need?
In Lebanon, elections soon as well. L'Orient-le jour talks about a historic chance for the opposition to gain ground; they even talk about a second war of independence. But that newspaper has always been a bit sensationalist.
January 17th, 2005Sorting.
I had a very productive day: I spent it all sorting things on my desk and on my bookshelves. I realized that I had things that hadn't moved since 2003. I guess that means I've been here since then. As a matter of fact, I am in my third year at this fine institution, and in my fourth year in Paris. No wonder people don't tell me that I am new here anymore.
The funny thing is that every place I've lived before (since I left the parental home), three years later I was seriously thinking about moving on to the next step. Now, three years later, I am starting to think about how to buy a house (and a Ferrari). It's not easy buying a house in Paris on an academic salary, so I might as well not get myself worked out about it, but we all dream.
At work, we are measuring simple things but we're learning a lot from these simple measurements. Making pictures again, which will hopefully lead to a serious publication. Tomorrow I see a surgeon to prepare for him cutting into my foot. My left foot. So many things to do, so little time.
I finished the William Boyd book. I feel that after reading it, I have a different look at old people... I feel that maybe I should respect them more, since their life is difficult like the life of LMS in the book.
January 11th, 2005Revolution.
The main difference, I've realized, between France and England is the French revolution. London, where I spent the good part of the first week of 2005, is remarkably similar to Paris. And yet, it somehow smells different, tastes different... For a while, I wasn't able to put my finger on the main difference, but now I realize it was the French revolution, which evened out a lot of the class differences and paved the way for the social welfare state that we live in currently. Of course, there are many other differences, but somehow the ability of every french person to admire (and discourse on) art, the widespread of small individually-owned stores and restaurants, and all that, is probably a direct result of a certain revolution that took place 200 years ago. This is probably why it is better to live in Paris and visit London (see below).
Ecole Polytechnique, the very prestigious engineering school, is also a direct result of the revolution. It was founded to give a high-level education to deserving students, regardless of their class status. It was partially hijaked by Napoleon who wanted particularly to form military engineers, but it has not deviated much from its noble meritocratic ideals. This is not what Oxford and Cambridge are like, where 90% or so of students come from expensive private high-schools.
I am currently reading the book Any human heart by William Boyd. It's the (fictitious) journal of a guy who lived from 1906 to 1991, i.e. through the 20th century. The book is very good as you see the fortunes and misfortunes of this man. It also reminds me remarkably of a friend who has been hailed professionally all his life and who knows everyone but who, as he gets older, is finding himself poor and with many problems. o fortuna!
In this novel, William Boyd (through the voice of his protagonist) states: "the only point of keeping a journal [is] to concentrate on the personal, the diurnal minutiae, and forget the great and significant events in the world at large. The newspapers cover that anyway." The only point of a blog is... to comment on the great significant events at large? I suppose that very few are interested in what I ate for breakfast today. A blog is a journal that is inherently for others to read... Discuss.
January 6th, 2005Happy new year.
After a week in London, the general concensus is that it is better to live in Paris and visit London than it is to live in London and visit Paris. It's good to be back here, in the city of light and a million bistros. It's also good to be sleeping in my bed and looking out my window, and all that. Someone recently told me that the appartment I rent is so expensive I could never be able to buy it. And it's only two rooms, a bedroom and a living room.
The new year and I have a couple resolutions. The main one is to be less stressed out. I think that involves organizing myself better, better managing my time. But I think it also means that I need to accept that others around me are not me and do things differently. It also involves:
Right now, it's time for my train back from work. Hasta luego!
December 21st, 2004Winter
It snowed this morning in Paris. Not enough to make it fun, but enough to cover things with a thin film of white snow. I had a friend in college who used to say "even dogshit looks nice when covered with 2 inches of snow". That would be five centimeters here. In the meantime, I recently also learned a Lebanese proverb that says: "deb el talj w bayyan el khara", which is pretty equivalent to the above statement.
This is probably the last leblog of 2004. What a year it's been! When I think of all the things that have happened, all the places I have been and all that; Barcelona, Beirut, Bordeaux, Dusseldorf, Marseille... This will have been the first year since 1988 that I don't go to the US. It's strange when you think about it this way.
2005 will be good. It starts off with a trip to London with A., just to see the sights and smell the smells. I am especially looking forward to the smell of indian food.
Christmas is also around the corner. I have to finish the x-mas present business. I also have to get a "buche" for the x-mas dinner w/ my uncle.
Well here we are. Best wishes for christmas and the new year, and I'll be seeing you in the new year.
December 16th, 2004Scientific presentation.
Tomorrow at 11am in Marseille, I have to explain how to breathe in a lung that is filled with sludge. When you drown, or when you are born or things like that. The only problem is that I don't know anything about the physiology. I need to find a book or something like that.
Then I have to enjoy Marseille with A. and with hopefully good weather.
December 10th, 2004The end of the year is near.
It's cold in Paris and that ain't fun. Right now I am reading a book called the known world by E.P. Jones. It's a novel whose action takes place in the mid 19th century, in the southern US. It's the story of slaves who were emancipated and who, instead of simply living as free men, become slave-masters themselves. The book is very grim and tells many depressing stories, but its strongest point is that it raises many questions about morality, racism, and other thorny issues.
The person around whom the story revolves is born into slavery but is bought out of it years later by his parents. After he becomes a free man, he thrives as a shoemaker and lives his period's american dream: own a house, a horse, a plantation, and a few slaves. A powerful scene takes place when his father learns that he has bought his first slave and takes a cane and beats him with it. "This is what it feels like to be a slave", he screams at him. At this point, the young man takes the cane and breaks it on his knee, replying "This is what it feels like to be a master". It meant very little to be free if you were black in the Southern US at the time. On the other hand, if you were black but owned slaves, it was a different story because you were constantly reminded that you were somebody's master.
But the strangest thing about the book is that it uses (and forces me to use) the word "own" when talking about people!
December 3rd, 2004Planet Mars.
That's how the French like to call their second largest city, Marseille. I'm going there in two weeks and that's just fine with me. Going to give a seminar, but the I'll get there the day before and stay two days later. It will be sunny, I can already feel that. On the other hand, it's true that I will have to give a seminar on how to breathe in a liquid filled lung, which is my newest story that I'm telling people. The paper should be submitted before christmas, I do hope!
In other French cities, I live in Paris. As a matter of fact, I live, on a 70 dB street of Paris, which means that the noise during the day on my street is about 70 dB. That's pretty damn loud, so it's a good thing that I am not often there during the day. How do I know the noise level? check out this map which shows the Parisian nosie levels. Where I was before was about 62 dB during the day, which for me was lower because my house was in an internal court
Ah, the wonders of technology!
November 24th, 2004Loves me, loves me not.
Some days I feel like a complete idiot. I find myself in the lab facing one of my students with absolutely no answers, completely helpless. The responsibility is all the more difficult to bear now that I am a mature 32 year old! Then other days I have a breakthrough and I feel like the smartest man in the world. Of course, this happens to everyone who tries to do something (except to the actual smartest man in the world), but it doesn't make it any easier. Moreover, these days it's been happening with increasing frequency: a good day followed by a bad day followed by a good day, etc. Today was a good day!
The time spent at home or in the train is a very important period in this process; it is the time during which I figure out answers to nagging questions, away from the youngster's pleading eyes.
But tonight, all this will be faraway. Actually, it is I who will be fraway, in sunny Barcelona where the sun is shining and the women are kind, smart and beautiful. So I'll see you guys when I come back next week!
November 22nd, 2004More pretty pictures.
Things are going well enough at work that pretty pictures come out easily. The difficulty now is to interpret these pictures, which is no simple task. My students today produced some nice photos and a couple of movies, which are very exciting. We ran some very nice experiments.
It's independence day in the old country. For me it was always a special day because my birthday is the day after, and since we didn't have school, we were able to celebrate my birthday a day early without classes! The downside is that my friends were typically not available for partying. I also usually liked to see the military parade. Yesterday I was thinking about the Lebanese army's military parade and comparing it with my recollection of the USSR's military parades. Wow! There was enough military power in the USSR parade to invade Lebanon and kill all three million Lebanese.
This year I am working on the 22nd and the 23rd... but on the 25th and 26th I will be partying on the Iberic peninsula. La vie est belle.
November 19th, 2004When I grow up...
I want to be a fireman. No, a strip dancer. No, a rock star!!
Actually, I wanted to be a scientist when I was a kid. I liked other things in life, but I really liked drawing machines, especially military planes and tanks. So here I am, spending my time doing science and engineering. Not bad, eh?
In high school, I started reading Sartre a lot. I still remember very fondly his play "le diable et le bon Dieu" or his trilogy "Les chemins de la liberte". Reading Sartre (and others like Marx) made me want to become an "intellectual". In the US that's a dirty word, but in France it's OK to say it.
Today I saw in l'Orient-le Jour an article about the Michel Chiha foundation, which reminded me of my intellectual dreams. I guess he was one of the intellectual fathers of Lebanon, in addition to being a politician (Member of Parliament), a journal owner, and rich. He was in bed with the Pharaons, the Khoury, the Helou, and other post-colonial post-feudal families.
On the web page is a list of his writings. They cite thousands of editorial pieces, after he bought "Le Jour" in 1937. One thing that struck me in his writings is the lucidity that he had starting in 1944 on the Palestine question. He defends Palestine in 1948 against the division that was imposed by the United Nations, and warns that the mistakes committed in the middle of the 20th century will haunt "our grand-nephews" in the middle of the 21st century.
I wonder if he would have defended the Palestinians in 1969 or in 1975 when the war broke out. I imagine not because he was first and foremost a Lebanese nationalist.
November 18th, 2004Lille, etc.
Yesterday I gave a seminar in Lille, which is a nice town. I got to see the science university and the metro, in addition to freezing for 15 minutes in the train station while waiting for the TGV to Paris. I slept in the train.
Work is going well, but on Monday I decided that I am working too hard and that I need to slow down. I decided that when I realized that:
All this being what it is, A. says I should work because if I don't work now, when will I? The good news is that I will see her in BCN soon and she is banking on me not working while I am there.
Well there it is. A blog entry where I complain about my work. What else do you want me to write about? At least I've been making pretty pictures at work:
October 21st, 2004Holy shit!
Time is flying past me at horrible speed. I can't write anything these days, not even friendly emails to my friendly friends.
A new instability in the horizon; maybe someday it will have my name. Some people want their children to carry their names, some want an instability or an equation to do the same.
W. is back with a vengeance. Naghmeh says there is no difference with Kerry. That's why I votrd for Nader a long time ago. Maybe she's right.
The onion has a fantastic title: God puts his tool back it the White House. For those who don't get the joke, you should know that "tool" is slang for penis.
Well, I still have three work emails to write, so ta ta for now. Sorry for the stupid blog entries.
October 21st, 2004Canned decisions.
In today's an-Nahar, several references to "Syria will not interfere" in the choice of prime minister. Right. That means they dropped Hariri. What is impressive is the level of detail in an-nahar's recounting of what happened. The only way they could have gotten this information is either if Hariri or Berri themselves leaked it, or if their chauffeurs are "bavards". The Nahar article also included their list of probable ministers, basically insinuating that the cabinet is ready and the only necessary step is to open the can.
Anyway, the fact is that we are now days/hours away from having a new prime-minister and a new cabinet. At least until the next parliamentary elections in 6 months.
In this continuing saga, there are no good guys. The newspapers are full of praise for Hariri because they're agains Lahoud's Syrian-inspired tactics, but the truth is that the general mood in Lebanon has been steadily decaying for 10 years, and Hariri shares a large part of the blame. There are no good guys, as long as there is a Murr in the cabinet.
On a completely different subject, I saw 2046 yesterday. It did not disappoint. I recommend it to anyone who wants to be transported elsewhere.
October 19th, 2004Jobs.
So many women looking for jobs where their husbands work. I guess we still live in an old fashioned world. Today a friend's girlfriend finally found an architecture job in Paris, through my lebanese connection. Let's hear it for the mafia!
All this scares A., my girlfriend. She worried about having difficulty to find a job where I am because, let's face it, I can't be choosy about where I work. There are about 5 cities in Europe which can offer me a good job, which really limits the options. Plus who wants to live in Lausane!? Not that I am looking to move, mind you, but you never know what life brings in the long term.
How about working in Beirut? Forget about it... for now.
October 8th, 2004
Below is a letter that I wrote to the editors of salon.com in response to their article nanotech angels In the article, the author (Howard Lovy) tries to make a parallel between a misinterpretation of nanoscience and some kind of jewish sect.
One cannot judge Salon.com for publishing articles about Kabbalah or other Madonna fetishes. However, to misrepresent such ideological drivel as scientific discourse is misleading and dishonest. "Nanotech Angels" is filled with nonsensical statements such as "the smaller you got, the more order broke down", or "In its [the universe's] core, it [what is?] is energy, waves, strings." Energy, waves and strings are well defined scientific constructs with properties that can be described and tested. Furthermore, they are defined in the context of "humankind's way of representing space and time" which H. Lovoy thinks is flawed. Allow me to note the article's main flaw: Nanotechnology is an exciting new field where new and interesting phenomena are observed. However, this in no way implies that the phenomena are not described by our current physical theories. As a matter of fact, quantum mechanics describes objects which are far smaller than a nanometer or a buckyball. There is nothing magical or "miraculous" about what is observed at the nanometer scale and therefore no need to seek scientific enlightenment from religion. If one wishes to draw parallels with religion, one has to first understand properly the science. Finally, note another misrepresentation in the article: Buckminster Fuller was not a nanoscientist; he was an inventor.
October 8th, 2004
this is an entry that I started on October 4th, but that I never got around to finish.El Che.
I saw Diarios de motocicleta a few days ago: The "road movie" which follows Ernesto Che Guevara on the motorcycle trip he took at age 23 covering more than 10,000 km in South America. Apparently, this is the trip that shaped him into a revolutionary, leaving behind his bourgeois background. This blog entry is not a critique of the movie, which is enjoyable even though it doesn't hold its promise.
This is a critique of myself watching the movie. Some people, like Che, have a revolutionary and a leadership reaction when they see the problems surrounding them. They become great and suffer tragic deaths. Others, like yours truly, are disgusted by the state of affairs. We busy ourselves with secondary issues like the modeling of pulmonary flows. We appease their moral unease by convincing ourselves that the science (or medicine or teaching or art) we do is for the greater good of mankind. We tell ourselves that we will also have a lasting effect on humanity through the people we touch in their daily lives and that this is also a good thing.
October 5th, 2004I was in hospital last week.
* Do you know if it's serious?
September 18th, 2004This is not a hoax.
My friend Z.'s brother had an accident. they are looking for help.
September 14th, 2004Quiet.
A quiet evening at home. It's the day of the holy cross and any excuse is good to send firecrackers and such noise-producing devices. It's also the anniversary of the death of Bashir Gemayel; coming home this evening, I saw a convoy of beat up cars waving the Kataeb flag on the highway.
September 12th, 2004In the old country.
I just spent a weekend away from home. First a night in the Bekaa and then a day in the jord, at 1600 m. altitude.
In the process, I missed most of the anti-crise festival (see below), but I don't regret taking some time to breathe some clean air.
Right now I am writing this entry after I was able to hack my computer into accepting the ppp connection; however, I am connected with a throughput of about 1kb/sec, so I have to wait about 3 seconds to see the letters I am typing on the screen.
Tomorrow, another day in the mountains. Then maybe I'll rest for a couple days.
p.s. there is no hope in Lebanon. People are living by ignoring the "situation" and enjoying the tomatoes, the grapes, the figs, etc. I ate enough figs to make up for all the previous years when I missed the season.
September 1st, 2004Anti-crise.
Sometimes the news is so depressing that I just stop reading it. I think I'm getting close to that point and I think that for my own wellbeing, I need to stop reading/listening to the news. Because in the end, who cares who's president in Lebanon or how many nepalese are killed in Iraq?
But for these crisis times, check out the "festival anti-crise", run by these fine people at Zico house. The dates : Sept 10th-13th.