It’s been more than a few days since I heard the news. I stumbled across it by accident by having to find someone on Facebook. A place I avoid like plague. A place where clicking on ‘like’ or ‘friend’ apparently means something to a large sector of the unwashed…or is that brainwashed? …who spend inordinate amounts of time thinking they are making social contact.

Same day reports and comments made up the top new notifications, and I figured somehow in my guts it was true. A friend and brother, Obayda Habbal was dead. All those RIP comments, like someones death is an abbreviation on a Looney Tunes tomb stone…..and oh my God, all the ‘likes.’ A fucking Wile E. Coyote wake online.

It’s taken a few days. No one gmails to share the news. They click ‘like’ and move on. But I can’t do that.

Ubayda was one of my closest friends for the years I was in Syria. He got me back to playing guitar, I made him perform in plays by George B. Shaw in local theatres. He turned me on to that movie with the stupid ass title Fight Club, I introduced him to Tom Waits.

Things people share, by word of mouth and trust of intention; saying you, my friend will ‘get this’ ….this is something of value, I know you will understand. It went beyond that, as the years went by and life got vile and wonderfully demented at the same time. Hours, days, the projects, the impromptu guitar concerts on street corners at three am , down the street from Abu Rumaneh…….or clubs like Sixties. Arabic coffee and long long chats with Mazen at Dawn music of why certain guitar solos were immortal, downloading sheet music tabs. Rehearsals, performances, but also just a whole shitton of dinners , coffees, long late night rambles when even the restless dead in that dark house in Jisr al Abyad were silent. It was, to steal another man’s words. A long , strange trip. Things like that happen two, three times in a lifetime maybe.

Things changed, we got older…..the gang of four or five of us that would hang out in the damndest places in Damascus sifted down. People moved out, moved on. Lives changed, then those odd three am phone calls in a world where every call now seems like it’s placed at three am.

And war came. And everyone chose sides it seemed. And one day the news broke that Obayda was ‘disappeared.’ A sterile word meaning they were held in a limbo no one could call, or even Facebook. And war went on. And spread. And got more evil than anyone could have imagined. It seems Syria was going to show Lebanon how a proper civil war ought to be run.

Not too long ago, words penned under another reasoning kept coming back to me. And now the news, tabloids and all, and the governments around the world, and the million refugees here in Lebanon, and well, all of us, kind of simultaneous like? Realized. This wasn’t going to be a Darth Vader confrontation. The words still burn in my skull:

There’s nothing in the streets, looks any different to me,

And the slogans are replaced by-the-by

And the parting on the left, is now parting on the right,

And the beards have all grown longer, overnight…

I tip my hat to the New Constitution,

Take a bow for the New Revolution,

Smile and grin at the change all around,

Pick up my guitar and play,

Just like yesterday,

And I get on my knees and pray

We don’t get fooled again…….

Don’t get fooled again.

Seems we did though. Meet the new boss, same as the old boss…but when I moved from Syria about ten years ago, I recall having Obayda keep my acoustic, which I sorta traded for his first electric. And all I can think? Is that for varied reasons, both those guitars gather dust. Obayda can’t play, ever again. And I don’t want to at the moment.

And I can’t click ‘like.’ That’s such feeble, braindead space monkey shit in times like this. Just say No, Just click, ‘like’. Friend me. All kinds of foul shit these days and all kinds of people we used to be turning into toadies of Google and Zuckerman.

All kinds of bodies coming home in boxes. For the lucky few. What kind of mass graves will be found when this is all over? Can I even imagine a time when it’s over as the fear grows and spreads in Lebanon? Questions, questions, stupid ass questions.

Somedays, it seems we have all failed so miserably. So miserably as to almost be perfect failure. We get fooled on so many levels in so many ways, over and over and over.

Just click ‘like.’

That movie with the stupid ass title that galvanized an X generation keeps returning to me too. Sometimes it seemed I play Jack to Obayda’s Tyler, sometimes the opposite. And the idiocy quotient of the world ramped up till it’s all , I dunno, for lack of a better word? Shit.

Which is a stupid ass space monkey answer. Best I can do at the moment.

I can’t shake either, the image of Pahlanuik’s space monkeys idiotically chanting that, in death, members of Project Mayhem have a name.

His name is Obayda Habbal. His name is Obayda Habbal. It’s better than the tweets and likes and clever quips of a new dark age. It is after all a full sentence at least. Maybe that’s some kinda of tradition to maintain? Talking in full sentences. Saying hard to say things. Knowing when the words fail, and trying to fail ever better.

Yeah, in death? People have a name.

His name is Obayda Habbal.




Once, several years back, I ran a list of words used by bullshit journalists to make their job easier. Words that lose meaning fast but save time. You might consider the following in light of the civil war in Syria. Feel free to comment and add your own.

ACTIVISTS: from the beginning of the conflict in Syria? ‘Activists’ have become some new breed of human being. These were the people supplying a lot of on the ground footage. Such footage was always ‘unverifiable’ first off. Secondly, does someone taking phone cam pictures make them an activist?  Or writing what they saw. And why the proviso that it is not up to some international standard of journalism?

Add to that the fact that acvist is usually reserved for people who demonstrate and protest wrongs in their society or world. The term activist then, implies that these people are the ‘good guys.’ Poliitcal good guys. I’m not going to argue that points

Just not good enough for us to believe them. Suggested  proper  words: ‘civilian’ or ‘Free Army supporters” or “Assad supporters. Though most of them meriting  government support or bear the golden stamp of SANA approval.  SANA, to be frank, is not an independent news agency. It is the government’s press outlet.

STRONGHOLD: usually called an attack on a Hizbullah ‘stronghold’ The word stronghold conjures automatically a central base of military forces.  As it stands, the Dahya in South Beirut,or  Hermel, and Ba’albak, is reported along the lines of “Hizbullah Stronghold Hit’  These places may be predominantly Shia.  Hizbullah offices may be in that particular block. Very often  Press Offices, Arhve Centers, Charity organizations and naturally, poliical offices.  What of the civilians, pro and anti Hizbullah, subjected to the engines of terror. As the situation deteriorates, will we start seeing Christian Strongholds…….Lebanese Forces strongholds, Sunni Strongholds? That makes it much more palatable to news readers around the world despite the fact that very often it is the civilian population being rocketed. It’s safe, its good strategy, to target military centers of your enemy. Targeting neighborhoods of Shia, Druze, Sunni or Christian? is not usually a military target.  Can’t you be a  bit more to the point ? And more human?

AN OFFSHOOT OF SHIA ISLAM: ie, the Allawis. Do your homework people. More apropros might be a heterdox sect arising from Orthodox Shiism. As it stands, this offshot adds fuel to the fire on the ground that somehow they are the same thing. If they were the same thing , former Syrian Mufti Ahmed Kuftaro would not have needed a fatwa to assure people that the Allawis are considered a sect within the confines of Islam. Its simple word crunching to readers who now see a very grey and volatile situation boiled down to a Sunni/Shia war.

SUNNI: Sunni’s have usually made a point to distance themselves from the extremists sects known as Salafi, Wahhabi, or Takfiri, depending upon who you speak with. Again. Get it right. Sunni extremists are far more misleading than the term Salafi, often freely used by Salfists themselves. Among the real scholars of Islam in Sunni circles? The Salafis are a corrupEyted, relatively new innovation in Islam.

REGIME: An oldy, but goodie. Just a bit too colorful to label a regime as black, evil and dictatorial. Assad’s government is a regime. The US government is ? A ‘government’….go figure. Iran is naturally a ‘regime’. Turkey is not. Say the latest news reports on their crackdowns on dissent. Egypt   it appears, may be in between regimes. Most regimes are autocratic rule. Nearly all of them are reserved for what George Carlin once called ‘brown people’. Or in his particular rant, people we white people can bomb.  Is Saudi a regime?The pieces of Afghanistan? North Korea versus South Korea? China? Russia? Pakistan? Sri Lanka? Jordan?

Especially in light, from a US-centric point of view, that country has often stopped at nothing to keep their favorite ‘ regimes’ in power.

Define your terms people. Otherwise we are in for another long bout of lazy, bullshit journalism that only several years ago all ‘copypasta’ed’ the infamous “worst fighting since the 1975 to 1990 civil war to describe Lebanon’s unrest. A few journalists out there do bother to use appropriate language.  Most don’t .    If you can’t come up with an accurate phrase by deadline time? I suggest you find another job.



Alright, the phones are ringing off the hook here at The Beirut Times, emails flooding in-boxes, its a bloody mess. It seems some people are not happy with the sombre, sober newsy kinda look here.

My first thought, honestly? Is to say ‘Fuck ‘em if they can’t take a joke.’ It’s also my second thought. Then I realize how much of our lives we spend pandering….yes PANDERING to the whims of others. If we want to get anywheres that is.

So, in the spirit of pandering to the Facebook Generation and their cornflower blue lives? We have decided to give you what you want. You’re used to that. You get cranky when it doesn’t happen. You send emails to my imaginary office threatening to cancel imaginary subscriptions….so be it. As the demotivational meme on the Net has it : Life is not about how much money you make. It’s about trite little sayings that sum up all of life, alongside pictures of cats.

Here’s your goddamn cat. The BT Beiruti Cat; Enjoy


Now back to our regularly scheduled program.


Someone linked me to this piece on John Sclazi’s WHATEVER blogsite.  Scalzi says it better than most anyone I’ve read to date……..A bit of a long read, but worth it.  Though it has a lot of references to life in the economically tanking US of A?  I think most is now playing on a street corner near you.


Being Poor

September 3, 2005UncategorizedJohn Scalzi

Being poor is knowing the exact price that everything costs.

Being poor is getting angry at your kids for asking for all the crap they see on TV.

Being poor is having to keep buying $800 cars because they’re what you can afford, and then having the cars break down on you, because there’s not an $800 car in America that’s worth a damn.

Being poor is hoping the toothache goes away.

Being poor is knowing your kid goes to friends’ houses but never has friends over to yours.

Being poor is going to the restroom before you get in the school lunch line so your friends will be ahead of you and won’t hear you say “I get free lunch” when you get to the cashier.

Being poor is living next to the freeway.

Being poor is coming back to the car with your children in the back seat, clutching that box of Raisin Bran you just bought and trying to think of a way to make the kids understand that the box has to last.

Being poor is wondering if your well-off sibling is lying when he says he doesn’t mind when you ask for help.

Being poor is off-brand toys.

Being poor is a heater in only one room of the house.

Being poor is knowing you can’t leave $5 on the coffee table when your friends are around.

Being poor is hoping your kids don’t have a growth spurt.

Being poor is stealing meat from the store, frying it up before your mom gets home and then telling her she doesn’t have make dinner tonight because you’re not hungry anyway.

Being poor is Goodwill underwear.

Being poor is not enough space for everyone who lives with you.

Being poor is feeling the glued soles tear off your supermarket shoes when you run around the playground.

Being poor is your kid’s school being the one with the 15-year-old textbooks and no air conditioning.

Being poor is thinking $8 an hour is a really good deal.

Being poor is relying on people who don’t give a damn about you.

Being poor is an overnight shift under florescent lights.

Being poor is finding the letter your mom wrote to your dad, begging him for the child support.

Being poor is a bathtub you have to empty into the toilet.

Being poor is stopping the car to take a lamp from a stranger’s trash.

Being poor is making lunch for your kid when a cockroach skitters over the bread, and you looking over to see if your kid saw.

Being poor is believing a GED actually makes a goddamned difference.

Being poor is people angry at you just for walking around in the mall.

Being poor is not taking the job because you can’t find someone you trust to watch your kids.

Being poor is the police busting into the apartment right next to yours.

Being poor is not talking to that girl because she’ll probably just laugh at your clothes.

Being poor is hoping you’ll be invited for dinner.

Being poor is a sidewalk with lots of brown glass on it.

Being poor is people thinking they know something about you by the way you talk.

Being poor is needing that 35-cent raise.

Being poor is your kid’s teacher assuming you don’t have any books in your home.

Being poor is six dollars short on the utility bill and no way to close the gap.

Being poor is crying when you drop the mac and cheese on the floor.

Being poor is knowing you work as hard as anyone, anywhere.

Being poor is people surprised to discover you’re not actually stupid.

Being poor is people surprised to discover you’re not actually lazy.

Being poor is a six-hour wait in an emergency room with a sick child asleep on your lap.

Being poor is never buying anything someone else hasn’t bought first.

Being poor is picking the 10 cent ramen instead of the 12 cent ramen because that’s two extra packages for every dollar.

Being poor is having to live with choices you didn’t know you made when you were 14 years old.

Being poor is getting tired of people wanting you to be grateful.

Being poor is knowing you’re being judged.

Being poor is a box of crayons and a $1 coloring book from a community center Santa.

Being poor is checking the coin return slot of every soda machine you go by.

Being poor is deciding that it’s all right to base a relationship on shelter.

Being poor is knowing you really shouldn’t spend that buck on a Lotto ticket.

Being poor is hoping the register lady will spot you the dime.

Being poor is feeling helpless when your child makes the same mistakes you did, and won’t listen to you beg them against doing so.

Being poor is a cough that doesn’t go away.

Being poor is making sure you don’t spill on the couch, just in case you have to give it back before the lease is up.

Being poor is a $200 paycheck advance from a company that takes $250 when the paycheck comes in.

Being poor is four years of night classes for an Associates of Art degree.

Being poor is a lumpy futon bed.

Being poor is knowing where the shelter is.

Being poor is people who have never been poor wondering why you choose to be so.

Being poor is knowing how hard it is to stop being poor.

Being poor is seeing how few options you have.

Being poor is running in place.

Being poor is people wondering why you didn’t leave.


Two men inspect their damage house after two rockets hit their area in a Beirut suburbs

The political and military brinksmanship of the last fortnight may have just reached critical mass with Sunday’s rocket attack on the Dahya, a day after Hizbullah frontman Sayyid Hassan Nasrullah committed his party to a direct and public role in the Syrian War.


May 26, 2013

We can’t say we didn’t see it coming. It’s been a  hardcore waiting game now for weeks. Between the growing border crisis in the Hermel region, and sectarian mudslinging and provocation between the countries numerous splinter factions; it was clear that some kind of war would be delivered to our doorstep.  It was a ‘when’ , not an ‘if’ question.

While Tripoli has seen escalations in fighting between pro-Asad and pro-Syrian Free Army supporters, it burst onto world headlines in the past week as the city burned in reaction to the crucial battle being fought across the border in Qusayr.  A battle that saw Hizbullah fully acknowledge their role in backing Syrian President Bashar al Asad and his troops.

World attention, and policy makers meanwhile, have been growing increasingly uneasy about the nature of the ‘rebel’ factions fighting for Syria.  The influx of foreign military aid and jihadis as well as the swiftly changing face of the rebellion in places like Aleppo, made for nervous second thoughts about ousting Asad.  The most organized and zealous of the rebel forces were clearly the  Salafi-Islamist splinter groups. Sharia law was being implemented where the jihadi presences were strongest. When one of the leading Islamic militias openly claimed allegiance to Qaeda?  International politicos begin mouthing the word ‘ blowback’ and calling their stockbrokers. An image of  jihadi elements dominating  any new system of rule in Syria tended to piss on the cornflakes of a lot of people.

There are a lot of unanswered questions in the wake of the rocket attacks this morning in the Dahya district of Beirut.  The Lebanese Armed Forces quickly discovered the rocket launches outside the city near the Mount Lebanon governate.  The rockets, identified as GRAD rockets point up the role many nations have chosen to play in the spreading conflict.  Whether or not they were recent  Russian made or the more widely dispersed Cold War models was not stated.  Since Russia has firmly committed to Asad in the conflict, and Hizbullah is also an ally of the embattled regime; it seems likely the weapons were of an older make.  International players have turned the Syrian conflagration into an international one as the US, Saudi Arabia, Qatar and others have aligned with rebel forces in varying degrees, while Iran, the Lebanese Hizbullah and Russia favor Asad and his troops.

It was only a matter of time before the isolated pockets of street battles, political backstabbing and the occasional car bomb would begin its escalation to what may very well break Lebanon in pieces -yet again-  according to sectarian divides.  The engine of war is primed, this time to pit the often Western backed Sunnis against Iranian backed Shia.  Lebanese politicians were quick to advise caution and circumspection in the wake of the attacks, pointing out that to give into knee jerk retaliatory reprisals would only play into the hands of those vested in weakening Lebanon.  President Suleiman and caretaker Prime Minister Najib Mikati urged caution in the coming hours and days; fully aware that the latest escalation could quickly degenerate into fighting reminiscent of the country’s  fifteen year civil war.

While Louay Meqdad, spokesman for the Free Syrian Army, denied FSA involvement,  a less cautious member of the FSA , Ammar Awawi claimed responsibility citing it as a warning to Lebanon to reign in  Hizbullah for its involvement in the Syrian conflict. His comments were dismissed by FSA Brigadier Selim Idriss.  The fact that the FSA may have a sufficient presence in Lebanon to pull off such an attack doesn’t bode well.  Nor does the possibility that it is a homegrown jihadi assault. This, as the saying goes, cannot end well.

Whether or not this latest volley in fast spreading conflict is really the final straw or just another in a series of acts that ratchet up local tensions till the inevitable descent of the region into all out war remains to be seen.  It might be safe to borrow another less poetic metaphor than straw and camel’s backs, though.  No matter how you slice it, it’s “Mr. Shit? May I introduce you to Mr. Fan?” time.



beirut 1991 (91A6-215)

Welcome to the Times, a blog out of Beirut covering local, regional and international stories in no discernible order or style. From headline news, to cultural memes; IT news to just plain Lebanese Weird?  Keep telling yourself, its only a blog…its only a blog.  Comments and contributors welcome. To contact the Administrator for links, info and related blog matters, look no further.