February 11, a world wide day of online protest to stop the ongoing rape of privacy by the world’s greatest fascist state. Oops, I meant, superpower…er…..yeah….same difference.  Today is the first day of the rest of your privacy. Or something like that.  I say we go for it


DEJA VU : Another Colorado Shooting, Another Blast From the Past

This song is just too prescient for its own good?  To update the motif,  as the Middle East burns, it may serve well to note the sentiment in the film “The Butler” about the African American experience in the US.  Says the protagonist: Americans always turn a blind eye to our own. We look out to the world and judge. We hear about the concentration camps, but these camps went on for 200 years in America.

In Lebanon, we may be developing a fear of parked cars- AGAIN.  Car bombs = Not Good. And a vicious reminder of the civil war from Hell.  But we are still not scared of malls and cinemas and primary schools.  Yet.


Unless of course, you really do. Syria’s refugees face unlivable conditions, and Lebanon becomes bitter as the quality of life for all goes down the toilet.  A proud country’s sense of sudden entitlement comes face to face with another countries limits of hospitality.


Did you ever have to relocate, move, find new digs, really fast? Do you remember what you took with you, against all logic? Those few bags, no doubt, had things in them that a better use of space and logic may have suggested, canned beans…a kilo of rice…..a carton of cigarettes?

When you arrive cross border, you realize you have a lot of books, or cds, or sentimental objects; birthday gifts, photo albums, favorite articles of clothing that are useless for the new climate…..join the club.

Keep in mind you don’t have to be a political refugee of any kind. Often the same world greets the homeless across the globe, as greets the refugee.

When a civil war tears your life from its moorings, and you have twenty four hours or less to fill a bag, one bag, what do you bring? This should be some kind of therapy technique, if therapy ever dealt with real life. In real life, that book is worth a thousand sweaters. That photo album is worth a weeks worth of food.

If you arrive, ,lucky to have that one bag, as opposed to the ‘clothes on your back’ approach some refugees take, you wonder….what didn’t you take…. and why don’t you have a sweater … Now?

Now is relative. A planned exodus is not a hasty exodus, is not a sudden exodus known as me and my family or friends may die in a few hours, we’re leaving, fleeing, praying for the best, clothes on our backs style…

Now? the first shockwave of winter through Lebanon. Alexa. In Beirut, the storm was a total wuss…..ooh, gusty winds, oooh I’m scared. But when temps drop in tent cities around the country? Well….living in a tent in nearly freezing temperatures with possibilities of shelter collapse or flooding? When I’ve been in similar situations the stupid shit I bought with me? Helped me get through, to be honest. The next horrorshow , however, is when those lucky enough to have packed one bag to flee cross borders and away from wholesale death? See those precious few things drifting downstream in a flood of sewage water while the temperature keeps dropping and ….and….

You start to wish you had filled your bag with a hundred kilos of canned food. Too late. Anyways, your life is now bumping and floating downstream in a new born river comprised mostly of human waste. Does it matter now? Canned food or photo albums? No.

The axe blow to the psyche in either case is catastrophic. The little of your life you brought with you, or the few hardcore survival thingies you had? Are gone. It’s time to hope the UNHCR or someone will have an answer by the time the flooding reaches the height of your four year old.

When total catastrophe strikes, or a recent series of them , strike? You have to wonder what the futile point is of all this. People losing much, much less decide to snuff it, to end their lives. I doubt the thought is far from the mind of most Syrian refugees living in tents, on a daily basis? But then you say, fuck it. Live. If only in defiance of how bad things can get and how callow people really are in the face of funding, actual concern, political facesaving and related bullshit. Fuck em all, live anyway, despite their predictions and promised aid packages due three months after this current freeze has you shivering under four UN blankets, in a plastic tent which sounds like its being raped by Godzilla, and oh yeah, the storm is gonna get worse, says the weather report….

And now that Winter is Coming? We’ll see a tragedy only aired every ten years or so that’s big enough to grab media attention, and then made into an award winning Hollywood movie, another Hotel Rwanda.

The refugee crisis, without doubt, is fucking Lebanon up royally. The raised rents and population influx, many of whom live off the streets, is making this little country nervous. More than nervous. How many times do you have to pass someone on the street begging or selling useless trinkets and hitting that cliché sympathy line: Ana min Suri?  Good for you, life is rough enough here, and being Syrian doesn’t make you special or any kind of martyr in the Middle East. Rather, its just your turn in the life horror quotient, okay? Lebanon? Been there, done that.

Then you feel like shit for being such a prick, but there’s the sudden increase in the prices of fuel , gas, food and a whole lotta things. Then there are the new bunkers being built for Syrians in poor Lebanese villages where, it seems, the sudden refugees get an instantaneous upgrade to poor Lebanese. Let’s be blunt ? Ana min Suria? doesn’t cut it as an excuse for a handout. It might have but a minority have made life impossible for a majority of refugees of late.

 The whole black abaya look with sleeping infant? Whose infant, how many mgs of valium do you dose the baby with, why did you pick that corner for your daily ‘work’? I was warned against helping those ‘poor souls’ way back in Aleppo in 2001. Most people here in the region know the scam. A truckload of village women in pious black garb with sick infants stake out street corners and naive people give them money.  The bigger picture from locals?   If you don’t have a baby, you rent one for a price. load it up on valium or the like, so it doesn’t cry all day while you beg. Days end, a truck comes from the village again, everyone takes their cut (except for the infants perhaps) and its repeated day by day like a full time gig.  Syrians pointed this out to me, and since then, its obvious. Same people , same corner, same docile baby….all this beggar shiftiness, really destroys those out on the streets needing a one time fix, or a few dollars to eat…often, those are the ones NOT begging, by the way? Too many beginners mistakes in the beggar racket, methinks.

Lebanese are becoming infuriated by the sense of entitlement and the dismay as street beggars walk in their overpriced rented shops to grab at customers.  The shopowner / over-the- top beggar balance is slipping out of control.   These people have a business and it is most likely sinking. Just because of economics without the added complication of customers staying away because they are likely to be subjected to a Mumbai slum desperation.   No one  wants to go in a shop to be physically assaulted by beggars.  Damn right the shopowners are furious and yet? till now, have displayed an amazing sense of self control.  Things were already wonky with the Lebanese economy even before the  massive exodus.

And many Lebanese add gasoline to the fire.   The upper class from Syria comes in , needing a place to live? and the local slumlords double and triple the rents.  Which means Lebanese or Syrian, we face the fact that rent and basic necessities are doubling almost overnight.   Panic sets in. It’s only logical. 

Anyone underestimating the humanitarian disaster unfolding may want to look at historical precedents. If I recall, the Lebanese exodus during the war didn’t really target one area. True, many , many Syrians opened their doors then. Many, many, many Syrians were gracious hosts. In fact, it’s hard to find a level of hospitality to match traditional Syrian hospitality. Really hard.  But it wasn’t the main destination of those who could leave Lebanon, and did. The refugee crisis in Rwanda as a counterpoint?  The UN ended up  actually feeding  and clothing  the ones most responsible for the genocidal  violence, housing and aiding them in neighboring Zaire…not one of the UN’s best laid plans. Iraqi refugees into Jordan and Syria seemed to have fewer speed bumps, when one day you woke in Damascus to find a lot of blue collar jobs were being done by Iraqis , or? The former Baathist elite settled in Amman with their millions.

This Syria thing is a thorny creature. It makes Jordan periodically shut its borders to refugees and pretend they don’t do that. Let’s face it thought, in dealing with Jordan? Jordan First! is a dismal ands small souled motto. Means Jordan gets to beg for international handouts before anyone else, and has no room for people in need or those who threaten the already precarious economic disaster known as the Hashemite Kingdom.  Jordan makes refugee camps the size of small towns. Za’ataar is the third largest city? Well, that’s Jordan for you.  All nations need to look after their own first.  It’s different to advertise the fact and to deny closed borders while asking for international handouts.

It all makes everyone worry about how it’s all going to turn out. Then you have Lebanon. Which likes to blame their vicious civil war on the Palestinians in the camps back in the day. As one Unified Command leader in Shatilla once said to me: And what of the civil war in the fifties, the previous civil war? There were no Palestinians to blame then….

The refugee population is now nearing the 25% mark in Lebanese demographics. A strange demographic in most any place; 25% of the population? The streets and street vendors are not immune from the crying, coattail grabbing, pushy refugees demading cold cash simply for being a refugee. The shoe shine boys in Hamra? Too many are obsequious enough till you give them several dollars. And they are shocked. Fifty dollars, yo? These deluded street boys and girls forget one thing. Lebanon already had poor people. Lebanon doesn’t need for its customers to avoid store fronts or workspaces that have become  beggar magnets. Walking into work one day, someone accosts me, in the building, showing me their needs from a medical center. Excuse me? You follow people into office buildings now, to get what “you deserve” or need? Coming into retail outlets where many of us are debating between this or that because we can’t afford both , and then being accosted with a Syrian beggar, which drives the shop owner half insane? Yes, Lebanon is pissed off.

Down the street, more pragmatic refugees are being denied working for a living from this strange entitled class of Ana Min Suri who think the world should support them, and support them well? Wish I expected fifty dollars from six minutes work, to be honest. I’d be clinically insane grant you, but I’d feel much better about my self worth. You start to classify, against better humanitarian instincts, whether helping someone out will lead to being recognized and targeted by the con artists who feel they deserve more, and be hit up twice or three times more than anyone else.  The killing , sinking feeling comes from the fact that people who aren’t into the fine art of begging, and who have to? are getting lumped in with all the pros.  Newborn pros, who won’t accept your charity in less than denominations of tens.

What passed for a rough winter storm, in Beirut at least, may be measured in the days to come as it clobbered tent towns and refugee squats in greater Lebanon. Snow, ice, winds, floods….none are kind to cheap cloth or plastic tent dwellings or unfinished buildings converted into homeless shelters. It’s bad enough in Beirut to be honest, if you don’t have that condo, that generator, that closet full of designer winterwear. The gap, mind you, has always been there, between rich and poor, resident versus immigrant, white versus blue collar. But in times like these, those gaps will probably lead to some bitch’s brew of anarchy, rage, crime, despair and hopelessness. Hopeless is considered the deadliest of sins. It makes us do things, things that people with hope would not. How close does the Middle East want to approach that point of no return, where too many populations have nothing to live for , and no reason to go on. It’s this demographic that panders too often into nihilistic extreme religion. We’re seeing that now.

It’s hard to blame Lebanon for getting bitchy about this refugee thing. It’s harder still, it seems  to convince humanitarian orgs to do something efficient and right and to get the full backing of their respective donors. And while those organizations try to gain funding, you find a wall of bureaucratic and geopolitical theory getting in the way of translating money into food and shelter.

Answers? I have none. None that would be implementable as the world turns. Predictions I have a lot of. Things will get far worse before and if they get better. From the middle east point of view? There’s a bad moon on the rise.

Just wish that meant something this week to people who are watching their tent being uprooted by the wind, or watching their clothes and photo albums from a previous life, get turned into sewage.

When the shitstorm really hits its stride, I’m pretty sure we will all be fully aware of how bad it is, and maybe? Why it was allowed to be that way? By then, though, it may be too late.

And for those refugees in the Beqaa, and other border regions? That life chill factor may be damn near unliveable. Life below zero. Do the math. Then? either try to change the equation? or deal with the zero sum game it implies.



Absolute capitalism corrupts absolutely ?  Watch as the world’s sole ‘SuperPower’ descends into the jaws of hell and depravity. Again.The Shadenfreude at moments like this is delicious. Go sheeple, go! Now, is there a hole for me to get sick in?,0,6022172.story

It gets better?


See me? Feel Me? Touch Me? Heal Me?

Share the love guys, you could be kicked to death over an iPad in the coming hours.

In response to many American friends and acquaintances who ask in all sincerity? Beirut, OMG, how could you live there, OMG…..

The alternative is what? Walmart and Gommorrah?  That twisted wreckage you call a free country? Maybe changing the motto on the dollar to “In God We Shop”?   Look on the bright side, if you missed the holy shopping pilgrimage, you can still find a random elderly person and punch them in the head for no reason, and post the phone cam images to YouTube. Yes, you too have something to live for.  Question is? is it worth it?    Whoever thought we’d see the fall of Rome twice in two millennium. You go boys!

We know the economy is bad everywhere, but when retail starts to flag here, people just do fifty percent sales on Winter Clothing in…..OMG! Winter.   I swear though, when imported cigarettes reach the two dollar mark in Lebanon, I may just quit.

Enjoy your freedoms. If that’s what you think they are.



Putting aside for just a moment, triumphs like Douei’s West Beirut, or Gibran at his best , or the myriad poets and writers and company, that either fled from other countries or are native born? Why do all today’s workshops, plays, musicals, dance pieces and art exhibits insist on rehashing much of the same old , same old , adolescent twaddle?

One of the exercises I give to my writing classes, is to write about themselves, or an issue that resonates with them, with two rules. It must be true. And you cannot use the words, ‘dream, soul, reality, love, fear or pain.’ Makes you describe and illustrate shit without the idols that two bit poets with artistic aspirations NEED….when they are thirteen, maybe? Otherwise, describe love, pain , soul , reality convincingly? Or get a job at McDonalds. Yeah, time for a day job, yo.

Please, not another show about social norms in Lebanon and being free of them. It’s been done to death. Twenty years ago. Ziad Rahbani is Ziad Rahbani for a reason. No more gallery exhibits that keep oozing the words ‘ homeland, soul, suffering, identity’ …….man up people, and make us feel that shit instead of substituting big ass -isms and overused words.

Having spent some time in the arts scene in Lebanon, it was seriously time to back off when the brain storming over coffee became a vague unfocused mission aiming at THE TRUTH. Revealing my SOUL and HEART in an ongoing fap session with real life. When actually hunkering down and doing a real project fell apart. When every session was a fantasia of juvenile fantasies and BIG ideas, and you just know, the audience won’t care. They’ll listen, they’ll clap politely and pay their bar tab. And forget anything really mattered in the course of that evening.

Show me a band in Lebanon that can hold its own in the world. Not a band that is wow, totally progressive in Lebanon and nowhere else. Given the progressiveness of Lebanon, I have seen things here that are actually ahead of much of the world. No shit. Often in terms of advertising, finance, retail, service industries and well……..a whole hellava lot of Lebanon in general. Time to shake off the inferiority complex and start applying that energy to the potent forces of art? Or is that asking too much?

Georg Buchner wrote a play called Woyzeck, in his native Germany in the mid 19th century. It’s hard to find an equally expansive and brilliant play today. Many of today’s playwrights  in world lit? Have made inroads. Name one current Lebanese dramaturge making waves.

Musically, I’m not seeing the shockwave of anything resembling the Clash, NIN, Peter Gabriel, or the Beatles. Or Fayruz or Marcel Khalifi when they blazed trails.Or Elvis or Edith Piaff? Or? well, anyone who made a difference. Mashrou wa Layla is so damn local kitsch it will never go anywheres; same goes for Lazzy Lung and the likes. Too student loft trite.  Keep it pop, keep it cool and happy, and keep it , gag, Lebanese. Lebanese is not a synonym for happy. In a small country, a lot of lives go down here and they run the gamut from tragedy to miniseries to short story to poem, and its rich enough, or more than rich enough for the cubits of land it occupies.

The arts scene, while enthusiastic? Is predictable, specious and bland ….nine times out of ten. Get with the program . Provide the next-gen theater of cruelty, the next dance movement ( without girls swinging their long hair around or the daabke?) the next wave of visual arts, or at least a vision running neck and neck with other equally competent bases alongside artistic peers? Is that too much too ask? Unless people are happy with getting the ‘sympathy fuck’ award for best third world movie/song/novel.

Marquez revolutionized the novel with 100 Years of Solitude, as did Joyce before him, and Dostoevsky and Pushkin before them? Take careful note that these works did not require obligatory native dance sequences or bland abstract palettes on canvas called : My Country, My Soul.

Again, the arts scene here is enthusiastic, and probably sincere. It’s just not grown up enough to match the country it came from , to be honest. Against my will, I will always include West Beirut among the cinema experiences that really shook me, with velvet gloves. Its in my top five, often top three of films to see before you die.

More is the shame in light of the complexity and power of Arabic. Instead of reaching for the stars, we are more likely to see SHOO FI , MA FI? THE MUSICAL these days, then anything live, dangerous and important. Prove me wrong.

Given the last thing, in the Arab world that still rocks the casbah is/was Ziad Rahbanni? Well, people have a lot of catching up to do to be taken seriously. Love or hate him, his work was pretty much online with world consciousness and the times he wrote them for. That was then, this is now.

Meanwhile, millions ( it must be millions, it’s everywhere) the vox populi seems to live off the fifty thousandth viewing of an Adel Imam scream-fest in Egyptian Arabic. Overall?  really cheesy stuff on first viewing, not to mention, on a regular basis. People know this, and yet its easier to cull an Adil Imam joke from the fifties to get a laugh, instead of providing real, human funny moments. Which happen every day, and ? They happen without rules, or formats or copypaste entertainment. Its a touchstone of who the hell I want to waste time talking to: Someone rolling on the floor laughing (AGAIN) at the millionth viewing on TV of an Egyptian schlock comedy? Or someone who finds new and relevant things worth a laugh, or ? A sob of recognition.

Its not that I , or anyone really, could consider the US as a source of inspiration these days. They produce as much dreck, if not more than the Lebanese. But the world has turned to Indie filmmaking and the Net can be your friend in terms of spreading music and graphics and the like, to a worldwide audience.

One reason I came to Beirut was the fact they HAVE arts. I’m reminded of the joke about Jordan. Where I spent five miserable years. “Whats the difference between Jordan and Labneh? A: Lebneh has LIVE CULTURE.

But the reality today in Lebanon seems to be a lot of wanna-bes with money and only vague platitudes to be repeated till the curtain falls.

A recent case study: A French movie got banned here ( which in Lebanon, is not that easy) because it was an explicitly gay romance. And yet a dance/theater piece opened this week, dealing in part with a gay couple , without qualms. Don’t blame the censors, since there is often far less censorship here than many Western countries. You have a message, deliver it. If the communique is blocked? Work around it. One of the most revolutionary plays in theater, especially US theater, was Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf by Edward Albee. Then it was just an over the top , eloquent , but deeply malevolent piece about relationship issues with that perfect dialog you wish you had on call but always think of the day after the fracas. Rumor has it, though Albee denies it, that the two married couples in the play? Are all men. Albee was gay you see. I think he still is.

But his blistering night of theater was delivered via a couple relationship the audience would accept on basic principle. It then savaged the vision of that preconception and so called ‘basic principle.’ Having met Albee, I agree, it was NOT the ‘secret’ of the play. Secrets were not needed. It was human.

I don’t know. I’m just thinking the next step in Lebanese art, which remains lightyears ahead of most of the competition in the region? Is to be real, to be universal. To celebrate, yes, but also to castigate the life around us if it is wrong, a remembrance of hurt, or an ethical conundrum. Show the pains, yes. Offer pathetic and platitudinizing final curtains? No. Without, and here is the rub, just throwing out words and revolution songs of a dead age, or expecting every viewer to view family in a traditional arab sense and find that real life doesn’t offer that “Brady Bunch” reality, the Mariah fix? We wallow in sentiment and preciousness. Think of a painting exhibit where people can choose to paint realistically or not. Pouring water on a prepped watercolor sheet, and swirling waters with paints is not art unless you’re thirteen. Yeah, and you usually call it something , something storm, cuz the colors kinda make nice cloud shapes when you just swill it about. If you’re twenty five and pissing on a canvas and using Nescafe as a color? Been there done that, and PLEASE DON’T CALL IT ‘HOMELAND is MY HEART’ or similar bullshit? Playing Bob Marley on oud, is not always a step forward. TV shows like Adil Imam films or bad US sitcoms of insults? Fuck off.

And we won’t talk about dance pieces where women wave their long straight hair around, okay? We’re Lebanon, we’re not the Gulf. Oh ,wait, we just talked about it, didn’t we?

When all is said and done, Lebanon has usually been a cauldron for creative forces. I can’t count offhand the serious contributions made not only in Lebanon but world wide, by this country’s best and brightest over the ages. I can however call “FOUL” when it degenerates into derivative , abstract and usually pretentious and underwhelming displays of teenage emotion from adult artists.

Life is about balance; in or out of it. Art mirrors life most times if it is effective. And by mirror, I mean that it portrays it with or without a sense of ‘reality’ but rather through someones reality filtered into the mainstream. Like the teaching lesson at the start of this rant………rule one: it has to be true.

Not true as in dates , times and names. True to the artist. The viewer. Oh yeah, and it has to be free of that precious sense that words like dream, reality and soul that say nothing without some serious backstory.

Somewheres along the line , Lebanon got lazy. And its ‘arts’ scene often makes that painfully obvious in the glowing and adjective ridden prose of junior journalists on the arts desk. When’s the last time someone made enough of a wave to ignite negative and contradictory reviews? I can’ t recall. Too many adjective ridden, glowing reviews of cliché ridden monstrosities chock full of ‘social import.’ Gag.

I fear artists from other countries might think twice before fleeing to the artistic freedom offered here these days. Probably because they’ve seen the latest crop of painful , melodramatic and highly symbolic pieces.

Strange to note that a play in Syria, called Hamra? May be hitting the mark about Beirut’s cultural hub whereas Lebanese artists have sunk in a swamp of sentimental bullshit? Just a thought.

The only words that come to mind , when it comes to the Lebanese art scene? This species has amused itself to death. And is damn proud of that sad fact.

Ezra Pound spent many years shrieking : MAKE IT NEW! I’m not an optimist, or a radical for the sake of being radical, so I will just ask: Make it interesting, and alive and honest. Is that too much to ask?

News about News: Why the West won’t Trust “Citizen Journalists” in Syria



An excellent story from New Republic, on the changing face of reportage. Time to rethink what constitutes a journalist , and what separates Journalists from Propagandists. Or whether such distinctions are, or were, ever possible.  The tone is balanced, but the underlying itch is how the world tends to relegate citizen journalists as activists and to demand corroboration and verification.

How far is this kind of amateur coverage of events different than the newest nonce phrase : ‘ An official who cannot be named because they are not authorized to speak to the press” ???  When double speak is the lingua franca, where do we go from here?

The information may want to be free, but it’s got a helluva way to travel before that happens.

“I read the news today, oh boy….about a lucky man who made the grade,

He blew his mind out in a car, he didn’t notice that the light had changed……”

-Lennon & McCartney

“A Day in the Life”