Sunday, September 30, 2007

Non-Linearity

We get so often lost in debates of who did what to whom and for what. Politicians killed with morbid regularity, blown up with many innocent bystanders around them. The survivors are quietly holed up in the Phoenicia, waiting to meet again in another (useless) parliamentary meeting, while their bosses negotiate (fruitlessly) to get out of the impasse.

What Now, What Next?

In the midst of all this, “we the people” are split in three camps; the “what next?” camp, and the “here and now” crowd… A more extreme part of the latter camp prefers a “don’t give a flying f@(k” attitude. And I guess they have a point; whether your find it exciting or unnerving to be part of history in the making, there is no sense worrying about it...

History”, as DeGaulle once put it, “is made by the meeting of an event and a will”. Call it the French version of our "Mektoub"... On March 14th, a sequence of events, amplified by those who had the arrogance to think they hold sway on destiny, met head on with a diffuse and collective Lebanese will. Politicians misunderstood it back then, and they still do.

This was not the first time something comes in from left field, if not to change events, at least to formulate people’s wills and aspirations. History is full of such stories, and one of the most entertaining ones is the one about the genesis of the “Star Spangled Banner”, the US national anthem.

A song is born

Once upon a time there was a London "gentlemen's club" was founded, named after the Ancient Greek poet Anacreon, who sang the praises of Bacchus. The club, basically a drinking and debauchery venue, was founded in the mid to late 1700's, and held regular meetings at the Crown and Anchor Tavern in the Strand, in London.

This being England, the activities were “formalized”, while they focused on dinner and live entertainment; they played a "constitutional song" as they began festivities.

This being the British, they had a “formal song”, "Anacreon in Heaven", written by Ralph Tomlinson (club president?), and the music was written by Stafford Smith in between boozing parties. The song became famous among the English language cultural "underground" scene of the period, much like the "alternative" music and culture scene today.

During the war of 1812, one Mr. Francis Scott Key was imprisoned on a British ship, part of the fleet that was bombarding Fort McHenry in Baltimore, Maryland. Back then, the British had deployed some high-tech rockets for the time, which must have screamed like Katyushas. The fort resisted after the heavy bombardment, and rather than raising the white flag, they kept flying the star spangled banner.

The poet was so thrilled that when he wrote the words, he set them to the tune that may have most uplifted him back then. Not surprisingly, it was a song about booze and women...

In a way, I guess most of those who survived “close calls” would agree on the therapeutic values the two greater Greek gods; Bacchus and Venus.

That is unless, like Zeus, you’d rather fancy Ganymede…

The Song, and the Catch, and the Laugh…

Maybe Francis’s song took off because it plays well on the American "subversive" culture, as well as their common cockiness (some call it Arrogance). In an entertaining way, this goes to show the "non linearity" of History, and the lack of direct causality of its events...

It applies to us in a way. Our leaders have tied themselves in so many knots that whether “win” or “lose” depends little on our will, and much more on “luck”…

So why worry? Enjoy life while you still can. Let “Voice, Fiddle, and Flute”, (and derbakke) "no longer be mute”. While this may not evitabile fulmen of our greater sister’s ire, you’ll have a good time for a while; “You've the Sanction of Gods, and the FIAT of JOVE”, as long as you forever “entwine the Myrtle of VENUS with BACCHUS'S Vine”.

If we’re going down fighting, might as well enjoy the ride.

And who knows, there may yet again be another event that could meet our collective will. And until then, we'd spare ourselves trying to understand the idiotic dialog of the puppets who claim to rule us


Wednesday, September 26, 2007

What Now?

It is often told that, upon exiting the Constitutional Convention, Benjamin Franklin story was asked by a group of citizens what sort of government they had created. His Answer;

"A republic, if you can keep it."

The Work is Yours

Note the “You” in this sentence.

This is a key word; once a system of government is set, its continued survival depends on the will of the people to maintain it.

The Romans once had a republic, but then decided to trade their votes for the “panem e circences” provided by powerful Tribunus. They had actually made a pretty good deal; rather than ceding some power to the Plebeians, Rome’s elites were effectively monopolizing the republic’s power. So giving up an ineffectual vote for circus games was a pretty good deal.

Res Publica Libaniensis

Today, the world has no democracies; only representative republics. Rather than giving people a direct say in the affairs of the state, representatives are elected that do that.

The upside is a more balanced system, shielded from the perceived excesses of the Athenian democracy.

The downside is that, once in power, those guys will do their darnest to remain there, even at the risk of toppling the entire system. At the end of the Roman republic, the absence of a voting mechanism meant that a civil war would come to sort out the two potential dictators vying for Ceasar’s “chair”, Octavius and Marcus Antonius.

This “Trailer Trash” soap opera has implication for the region, but most immediately for Lebanon, where the elites are always conspiring to render our vote useless.

Some arrangements work, others less so…

With politicians shifting allegiances, piling up betrayals and aligning mistakes, the Lebanese can be forgiven for turning to the “panem e circences”; after all, Venus’ myrtle is far more alluring…

But all the languorous moves of our national “Sacerdos Vestalis” will not hide the rising tensions


Sunday, September 23, 2007

Hasta Mañana...

Football was a gentlemen’s game played by hoodlums until one day, in Rugby, England, some players deviated from the rules of the “beautiful game” so much, that the other side had little option but to “play along”… As the old rules were broken, new ones were created, and the game of Rugby was created; a hoodlums’ game played by gentlemen.

Repentiti

In Lebanon, the repentiti who dominate our democracy do not all play by its rules and some are even moving beyond the “rules” of the past civil war. As the assassinations go on, the other “side” will one day decide to play along as well, and a new “game” will emerge.

On one hand are the Syrians and Iranians who have too much at stake to let their lackeys off the hook, and the Americans who desperately need a measure of local success to show for all their troubles in Iraq.

On the other hand are the Europeans who are afraid for its poorly protected peacekeepers, the Saudis who long for their oil outlet and their Levantine Riviera.

Ghanem would have been an ideal candidate; he could have been presented as “compromise” that surrenders nothing from March 14th, but against whom Syria and Iran’s lackeys could not easily object. A proposal they could only refuse at the expense of “plausible deniability”…

Playing Chicken?

Under the current conditions, any compromise by one side will be surrender to the other.

And any straight refusal could lead to confrontation, for which they are all still not fully prepared. So they all temporize and buy time, hoping that either conditions will change to their advantage, or that the other side will “blink first”.

Since this all comes to a head in the presidential elections, they are likely to keep postponing the reckoning. For now, the repentiti appear determined to postpone the inevitable. By the formal rules of the democratic game, they can postpone till November. Chances are that they will.

So, , we'll remain on the business end of it all, and between now and November;

Mañana



Thursday, September 20, 2007

Dialogue... of the Lambs

Ah, “dialogue”… Hallowed by thy call...

In Lebanon, rather than a means to an end, it has become an end in itself… I was never good at conflict negotiations, but the “dialogues” that I overheard in my childhood allowed to develop a few ideas of my own as to how it can best be carried out.

Common Ground

A dialogue is essentially a “reciprocal conversation”; the Ancient Greeks had a concept of “flowing-through meaning”; it is composite word made up of dia (across), and legein (speak). This “speaking across” may not be part of its modern definition, but the concept is still far better than the all too common Arab habit of “speaking at”.

One prerequisite to dialogue is a measure of common goals. Herein lays a problem with modern Lebanon;

A first problem is that the “partners” do not agree on the meaning of “nation”. With sectarian groups more powerful than states, some see a “nation” as an “umma of believers”, other as a grand “sectarian alliance”, and yet others as some great “ethnic conclave”…

A second issuer is the lack of common values. It is hard enough when those who value life may not agree on its exact definition, and do not concur on what should be given priority. It is harder when a strong party to that “dialogue” is not interested in life or liberty as an end in themselves, and not even in a great “Jihad”, but in “martyrdom” as the ultimate end.

While most Lebanese long for it, a modern secular democracy appears far from the minds of their leaders. It is also far from the minds of far too many people, many of whom believe that the God who gave us life and granted us reason did so only so that we can deprive others of their life, even at the expense of our own.

Common Language

Another prerequisite of “dialogue” is the use of a common language. Consider your local high school bully; for all the PC crap being marketed around, anyone with a functioning memory understands that there is no sense of “talking” to bullies.

Unless you use the right “words”. Whenever engaged in a “dialogue” with a bully, it helps to use Universal Sign Language, augmented by a little Touch Therapy. One may not always impress one’s point upon them, but they will learn to value your input, and even avoid future “conversations”.

A scene from the movie “Thirteen Days” on the Cuban Missile Crisis can best illustrate this issue of “language”. When told by Admiral Anderson to “Get out of our way”, since his Navy “has been running blockades since the days of John Paul Jones”, McNamara explains to him;

John Paul Jones... you don't understand a thing, do you, Admiral? This isn't a blockade. This, all this, is language, a new vocabulary the likes of which the world has never seen. This is President Kennedy communicating with Secretary Khruschev”.

So, after the current assassination, we can still say Yes to Dialogue.

But How?

This leads us to a question; how do you respond when faced with such arguments?

When faced by murderers who blackmail you, and ally themselves with liars and hypocrites who know no rules, how do you “dialogue”?

When your own “allies” are faster with words than with deeds, how you back your “dialogue”? How do you leverage such an exposed position?

When those who should be on your “side” are far too willing to follow Panglossian demagogues, how do you convince them that “evil is [not] essential to the order of the world”?

The fact that most of those who claim March 14th would not survive Zadig’s dance is far from relevant in this context; when the house is on fire, you don’t inquire about the water’s PH… There’ll be time enough to clean anything that did not burn…

Lambs and Wolves

Even if one is intent on “dialogue”, one general direction would be to talk to each one with “their” language. Even those who preached the Gospels knew how to be “lambs amongst lambs, and wolves amongst wolves”.

Do not misunderstand me; I am not necessarily advocating an “eye for an eye” in the retaliatory sense, but in its original, “egalitarian” meaning. To those who decided to skip the benefits of the enlightenment, only lex talionis Works. After all, we can only treat others as good as they treat us…

A “golden rule” for “Black Arabists”, if you will…

This would serve a good guide in such “dialogues”; old hands in Lebanon would often point out that the judicious use of leverage can avoid wider violence; the power perceived is then power achieved.

It helps that you’re not alone in your fight, and your ideals have much support among your people.

But it does not help if you’re acting like a lamb, and “run” into hiding when the wolf attacks. When faced with hyenas, the lion has the teeth to back his roar…

And bear in mind that wolf’s goals are not limited;

He is in for the long haul…

…He’s after the entire flock.

Bomb Lebanon!

We know who killed MP Ghanem, and why. What else can I add to what’s been written? How can one convince the mentally challenged who still think Syria could not have done it?

Why bother? Let’s just take their “side” for a while:

Times have changed,

People are getting worse,

They won't obey their rulers,

They stand up to us and curse!

Should we blame incompetence?

Or reform society?

Or stop putting up morons on TV?

No, Bomb Lebanon, Bomb Lebanon!

With all their freedom-hungry eyes,

And their refusal to buy our lies,

Bomb Lebanon, Bomb Lebanon,

We need to form a full assault,

It's Lebanon's own fault!

They won’t help me,

For my stunted growth,

They slowed my juicy rackets,

And now they’re off to get my head!

That Lebanese pol once,

Had my picture on his self,

Now stands up and tells me to fuck myself!

Well, Bomb Lebanon, Bomb Lebanon!

It seems that everything's gone wrong,

Since March 14th came along,

Bomb Lebanon, Bomb Lebanon,

They're not even a real country anymore,

Who needs a doctor or a lawyer learned and true,

When rage boys’re ready to bray on cue,

What can we tell the masses?

Should we fix the system?

Or undertake the reforms for progress?

Heck no! Bomb Lebanon, Bomb Lebanon,

With all their Cedar hullabaloo,

And that bitch Haifa too,

Bomb Lebanon, Shame on Lebanon...

For...

The smut we must stop,

The hope we must bash,

The Laughter and fun,

Must all be undone,

We must Bomb them and cause a fuss,

Before somebody thinks of bombing us!!!!


Wednesday, September 19, 2007

Discrimination

There are days when I find it hard(er) to understand Israelis.

One day, racists who are bent on violently acting out their xenophobia are deal the justice they so rightly deserve… Lawyer permitting. Short of them being tarred and feathered, and dragged outta Dodge, that was the right thing to do.

And please, not that “Disaffected Youth” crap. I am pretty sure they knew what they were doing (unlike other morons), and it’s far too new age for us simplistic Levantines. Not that I have nothing against New Age.

…whatever tinkles your crystals

Another day, racists who are vocal about demeaning other people and “transferring” them out of their homes can be tolerated, and even given the red carpet treatment into his country’s government.

And please, let’s not split hair about this;

This is discrimination….

Among "types" of racism!



Clarification/Background (Wednesday, Sept. 18th, 2007)

A valid point is raised “Yes to Partition”, that I am “using “transfer” in a misleading way”.

This is an accurate assessment. However, while I understand the basic premise behind Lieberman's suggestion of partition, I would want to point out that the projected perception matters in those things matters at least as much as the arcane facts.

To take an example from Lebanon; Gemayel's statements after the Metn elections; I am sure he did not mean that the Armenians were not Christians or Lebanese, but his attack on the Tachnag was so bad that perceived in this manner. He will be forever tarred with this, and Armenians would be forgiven if they considered him a racist. Heck, they actually gave him more votes than they ever did, in spite of Tachnag.

In politics, even in international politics, Perception becomes reality and matters far more than other "objective" considerations. Politicians should know better when they mouth off inconsiderately.

Going back to the matter at hand; in the context of the Arab-Israeli conflict, Israel's ultimate interlocutors are the Palestinians themselves. The nature of the Arab world is such that the rest of us can only make peace when this issue is resolved to their satisfaction.

Because of this, their perception of Avigdor Lieberman matters supremely, at least as much as Israel's perception of Hamas & Friends.


Sunday, September 16, 2007

Faust's Bills

Big troubles for such a small country as ours…

In many respects, we are here because of the nature of our “system”; rather than “sharing” the pie with one another, different leaders found it more cost-effective to bring in “outsiders”, and leverage that support against their internal rivals.

This system “worked” for them for a while. Things were good during the heydays of the civil war, when all militias combined racked in more than USD 80 Billion over 15 years. Nice racket, if you can get it…

Comparatively, peace was not as good; the “take” between 1992 and 2000 had to be shared with Syria, leaving Lebanon with more than USD 40 Billion in debt. Officially, at least; the real damage will soon prove to be twice as large.

That’s if we get around to auditing the books; the Faustian bargains our leaders made is such that all bills are coming due, and all at the same time

Syria’s Bill: No More Retreat…

Even before 2004, it was clear that Hariri, Shehabi, and Joumblat would be “on Bashar’s anti-corruption hit list”. It was already clear in 2004 that a Alawite regime could not endure on the long term with a powerful Sunni figure in next-door Lebanon, especially one now intent on “kicking it out” of the place.To ensure his rise to power, Bashar had to neutralize internal enemies by anti-corruption campaign. To consolidate his power, he had to weaken outside adversaries, or eliminate them. We need to keep in mind two salient facts;

First, the Alawite regime’s survival in Syria cannot be seen outside Lebanon, especially not with such a powerful Sunni figure. That cash cow is far too valuable for them to give up, and its influence far too corrupting for them to allow to live on.

Second ,The Assad’s survival among the Alawites cannot be seen outside Damascus. This time, the enemies are too close to home for comfort. But the Alawites are still circling the wagons around the regime for now.

So the Syrians are now stuck; they have retreated so much, there is little ground they can give anymore. Syria’s internal weakness may well be such that Bashar cannot afford to follow Kaddafi’s example.

With this in mind, the Assad’s next move is predictable; they can only accept a Quisling as president of Lebanon, and will push their allies to the limit.

Pity the huddle masses gathered in Beirut on March 8th; the demands of their masters will now require a lot more than braying to celebrate the great Hafez’ anniversary. Now that the master’s weakness has been exposed, it will be up to the servants to make up for it.

Iran’s Bill: Tumbs?

For Hezb, all this Iranian investment allowed it to become a prime fighting force. Put in perspective, however, the other militias got far more from their war rackets than Hezb did; it is just that Hezb’s discipline and organization allowed to improve on Bashir’s and Joumblat’s model, and thus create a true army, and a true state. But in the process, Hezb may have made more enemies than they could handle…

Regardless of the needs of Lebanon, and the professed lofty aims of resistance; the Iranians did not invest all that precious cash to see it go away if 1559 is applied. For all their competence, however, the Mullah’s have an inherent weakness; for lack of someone to tell them what time it is, Hezb’s Iranian masters started believing their own propaganda.

At worst, the children of Khomeini may be intent on a great Armageddon to bring about the return of the Mahdi. This is how the Persian are “selling” this to their Arab cannon fodder.

At best, the Mullahs are still realists; after all, they have to keep that Gulf “Persian”, and may well be intent on leveraging one asset to secure another, far more important prize.

For this reason, Iran’s next move is not so obvious; those guys invented chess, after all. But with deadlines approaching, we’ll soon find out whether this pawn moving up front is indeed being sacrificed, or is part of the main assault. And the Iranians will soon find out that the Lebanese rarely follow a script.

America’s Bill: Bombs Ahoy!

The Americans are indeed in a quagmire in Iraq; having come in uninvited, they find that they cannot leave uninvited.

That does not mean they are out of the game, there is far too much oil at stake… And the Vietnam misadventure should serve as a cautionary tale not only Americans, but also to their regional opponents. Sure, the Americans lost in Vietnam. But the country’s neighbours did not fare too good; they had time to mess up Laos and Cambodia before they did…

And those modern-day idol worshippers in Lebanon need to keep in mind that rouge, yellow, or orange, a Khmer is Khmer…

In Lebanon, the American’s next move can be easily determined; they want Hezb out of business, Aoun in retirement, and they will push for a president they can “work with”. They cannot allow their potential failure in Iraq to turn into a certain failure in Lebanon, if that means they have to kill the patient to kill the disease.

In a way, it’s a good thing the French are involved, as they can help moderate America’s ire… But let’s hope Bashar does not learn from Kaddafi’s example.

The Saudi’s Bill: Property Rights!

The Saudi motives are complex, but one thing is certain; they may have allowed the Hariri assassination to slide, had Bashar known how to guarantee their interests. But as that pipeline to the strategic Zahrani refinery kept being delayed, and so is the link to a revised IPC, the only way for Iraqi Sunnis to see some profits from Kurdish oil, and the best way for Gulf Arabs to go around Syria… In the meantime, more Saudi oil had to find its way to costumers through Eilat and Ashkelon, since Suez and SUMED are already running at full capacity. Then Bashar got too close to the Iranians, who have no interest in diminishing the importance of Hormuz.

It is no wonder the Saudi royals have been growing ever more visibly impatient with the Assad clan, whose standing in the way of business… This is even more galling to the Saudis that the Assad clan’s lackeys are also trying to muscle in on many other businesses. Look back at period between 1992 and 1995, when “the Lebanese people committed $75 billion and mortgaged the future of generations to receive $6 billion in authentic public investments”, most of which went to “the few clean streets in Downtown and the Beirut airport”. Where do you think the Hariri government of the time found all this cash?

Those campers in the tent city may be on Lebanese soil, but they are really on private property.

The eviction notice will come soon.

Let’s hope it will not be addressed to Lebanon