Monday, August 28, 2006

Eye Candy

I sat in a meeting a couple of days ago to assess an environmental action plan to address the oil slick pollution caused by the bombardment of the fuel tanks of the Jiyyeh power plant.

It was an ad-hoc committee meeting assembled to “brain-storm” on actions to be taken to clean up the oil that washed on the shores all along the Lebanese coast.
Needless to say, I abhor such meetings or such activities, especially that 90% of the time the people on such committees who are supposed to brain-storm often come with nothing to “storm with”. But, the person who called for this meeting is a good friend of mine and I didn’t want to upset her, so I was among the first people to show up.

People started trickling in little by little and soon we were about 7 or 8 persons sitting around a nice, modern furniture table in one of those fancy new buildings in Downtown Beirut where the NGO in question has offices. Then a young woman entered the room as if she’s walking on a modeling isle.

The guy sitting next to me leaned over and whispered:
- “Isn’t she an eye candy!”
I felt like leaning back towards him and saying that for the last six months I’m on a strict “sugar-free” diet but then decided against it and just nodded in “fake” agreement.

The meeting started and conversation soon turned into the details of the action to be taken to clean up the oil that washed on the rocks of the shore. The most effective way it seems is to manually clean the rocks using a special solvent agent which reacts with the oil and dilutes it.

The conversation was going on on how and where to get the solvent and what quantities were needed.

At this point, about 40 minutes into the meeting, “Candy” has said nothing and showed pretty much no interest in what was going on.

I asked to speak and drawing on my background in chemical engineering, I warned that although solvents could be very effective in such cases, a special attention should be drawn to the fact that we are operating in a sea environment and the high level of salt in the waters could hinder the solvent’s efficiency and care should be taken to order solvents capable in working in salty environments. Naturally, these solvents are much more expensive then the regular ones I added.

The discussion livened and arguments were advanced on how much should the budget be to cover the extra expense for the solvents. Another 10 to 15 minutes passed by.

Then, Ms. “M&M Mars” motioned to speak. There was silence around the table and then she said:
-“Isn’t there a way to take the salt out of the water?”

There was silence around the table and I think I heard a few chuckles.

I leaned towards the guy sitting next to me and whispered:
“Beware of eye candy, it causes intellectual diarrhea!”

Saturday, August 12, 2006

Just A Thought

We are all born Mammals.
It is our suffering that makes us Human ...

Friday, August 11, 2006

An Open Letter to ………..SPAMMERS

In better times, I would have ignored your messages and just deleted them into my trash folder. But lucky you, since July 12 the nature of my daily workload dramatically changed so I am taking the time and having the pleasure of answering your messages.

1) On sexual enhancement products and other goodies:
I have received several messages inquiring if I am suffering from an “erectile” problem.
Well, I live in Beirut now and I am obviously suffering from a “projectile” problem. If you have a pill to cure that, I will buy it by the truckload.

Other messages inquired if I am having a problem “getting it up”. Well I am having a problem “getting it for my car”. Gas that is.
Do you have a pill for that? I did not think so.

One of you sent me this message which for the sake of intellectual property and integrity I’m copying and pasting here:
“The greatest thing about SOFT CIALIS is the security that you are on "automatic pilot", relaxed, carefree, with no worries about a sudden loss of erectile powers, no matter what kind of interruptions (kids knocking at door, dog barking, ill-fitting condoms) may be thrown your way.”

Oh yeah, what about if they throw an F-16 rocket my way, will I still be on automatic pilot? And if Israeli war ships are bombing the southern suburbs of my city does that qualify as an interruption without a sudden loss of “erectile powers”?What happens to my “erectile powers” if I zap to a press conference by Amir Peretz (1) or an interview with Nayla Mouawad (2) [Hounik el Knock out!!!].

Another enlightened one sent me this masterpiece:
“Hi, Hope I am not writing to wrong address. I am nice, pretty looking girl. I am planning on visiting your town this week. Can we meet each other in person? Message me back at
Oh I can’t wait to meet you, I know a very nice café in Haret Hreik (3) where they serve a killer cocktail named “Mirkava-on-the-rocks”. My treat of course.

2) On stock brokers or should I call them stock spammers:
First, if you want any of us to actually read your spam use a bigger font!!!
Second, do you think we take those stocks or those companies you are pushing seriously? If you do then I have a couple of stocks to sell you myself.

Ticker: D.I.C.K. this stock is Hot. And if you get in touch with the guy from above who sells Cialis tabs your stock is bound to go UP!!! That’s my little insider tip for you.

Ticker: F.C.K.U it should be obvious what this company does. So Enjoy!!!
If there ever was an orgasmic stock this is it.

To close this section, I am sharing with you guys what a wise man once told me and never understood until lately: the safest way to double your money, fold it over and put it in your pocket.

3) On African relatives of warlords or princes who want a safe haven for their gazillion Dollars.

Ok, I got to admit this is done with the intelligence of a lamp post! I mean come on I’ve seen smart bombs coming with better scenarios than what you guys are cooking up.

So you are the son of the late prince Claude de Gerkmiof (great family name by the way, I wonder what your grandfather pass time was?) now prince Claude, may God rest his soul, has managed to plunder 10 million dollars worth of diamonds and got shot trying to flee and now he’s a beacon for freedom fighters all over the world and you my friend are worried sick about his “legacy” and that it might go back to the government to be stolen by some other warlord.

You want me to be involved somehow because you got my name from I don’t know what American company who compiles email lists and you think that I have nothing else to do but accommodate your requests.
Well there is one thing I can do for you and I sincerely hope it would be of help. I still have a few stocks of F.C.K.U company which I am willing to unload at a joke of a price. Interested???

Man, it is unbelievable how thirty days of war make you forget the soothing therapy of giving people a piece of your mind. I am gonna do this more often.

(1) Israeli Defense Minister. He gives the song “you sexy motherfucker” a whole new meaning.
(2) Lebanese Minister of Social Affairs. Her ID card lists her under the gender female. I, on the other hand, cannot concur.
(3) The central part of the Southern Suburbs of Beirut. Or what used to be the Southern Suburbs of Beirut.

Thursday, August 10, 2006

This Is Why I Love Beirut

I love Beirut because she is the underdog and manages always to win. Through the rubble she emerges again and again every time more beautiful than before.

I love Beirut because I can read the “Agenda Culturel” (1) while eating “Fatteh bi Laban” (2) at Abou André (3)

I love Beirut because of the American saxophonist who plays twelve variations on “Bint Al Chalabiya” (4) as if he just finished a music course with Assi El Rahbani.(5)
I love Beirut because of the oud (6) player who makes Ravel quiver of excitement in his grave hearing the oriental rendition of Boléro.

I love Beirut because the bigger its temples of worship get the more secular its population becomes.

I love Beirut because at Masrah Al Madina a group of recently high school graduate females acted out a play about female masturbation called “The Secret Life of a Woman” (Hayat el Mar’a al Sirriya) and at the end of the play they distributed flyers about the subject to all the audience, male and female.
In any other Arab country, running such a play would bring the dictator down.

I love Beirut because you see the “frenchy-coocoo” chick, along with the pierced nose left winger WOUMAAAN, the veiled religious one with a ton of makeup on, and the slut who is two inches short of wearing a fig leaf as a business suit.

I love Beirut because of the BMW driving, cigar smoking, gel wearing prick who thinks he makes the New York Stock Exchange tick.
I love Beirut because of the bearded, pony-tailed artist/journalist who writes for left wing publications.
I love Beirut because of the guys who claim they are Lebanese university students and try to sell you scented trees for your car during traffic stops. These guys wouldn’t know a book if it drops on their head.
I love Beirut because of the nerdy types Engineer/Software developer dudes who are working on the first water fueled engine or the next Google search engine.

I love Beirut because of the “full-of-shit” politicians who make watching the news hilarious.

I love Beirut because of the sunsets at Raouche. The People on Corniche.

I love Beirut because they have delivery service for practically anything. Anything.

I love Beirut because in my neighborhood everybody knows my name.

(1) a bi-weekly cultural events agenda that never ceases to increase in volume making Beirut “The” cultural capital of the Arab world.
(2) A Chick peas, toasted pita bread and yoghurt dish
(3) A Cult restaurant serving low cost vegetarian dishes
(4) A very old folklore tune
(5) A very famous and very prolific music composer and theater playwright who died in 1986.
(6) Middle Eastern equivalent of the luth.

Wednesday, August 09, 2006

Here is Better.

I love Saturdays. Even more in Summertime. Though I am self-employed and I am passionate about my work, I look forward to Saturdays so I can get to do the things that need you to be in a certain relaxed state of mind: listening to music, reading all those bookmarked articles in your favorite magazines, finishing those last few chapters of the book of the month, doing some design work …
You get the drift, usually the stuff that does not get your adrenaline pumping.

My family, friends and even my ex-wife know that on Saturdays I am not available before lunchtime. I made an agreement with all of them that I would be there for them anytime of the week except on those 4 or 5 hours of a Saturday morning and I begged them if they have to die not to do it during those sacred hours because … they will be on their own.

Since the beginning of the hostilities I pretty much stuck to my routine especially that the bulk of the neighborhood left to the trendy ski-resort town of Faraya and left me quasi alone to enjoy the “peace and quiet” and the abundance of parking spots. So besides the sounds of F-16 rockets falling over the southern suburbs the neighborhood was very quiet making my Saturday morning routine even more enjoyable.

This past Saturday I woke up at 5:00 AM, the Israeli pilots had finished their “nightshift” at around 3:30 AM and gone home to the wife and kids after bombing the living daylights of what is left of the southern suburbs (in “self defense” of course).

The power was on. I flipped my laptop and realized that even the Wi-Fi was receiving an extremely decent signal. Sweet. I prepared what amounts to a full gallon of coffee, hooked my Ipod to the Receiver and had Miles Davis ripping through his rendition of “Summertime” through the neighborhood like an Israeli fighter jet releases its flyers over the city.
I logged on and started opening IE windows like crazy. The whole spectrum of newspapers in the area from Al-Diyyar/Nahar/Safir (1) to Haaretz (2), passing by The NYT, LA Times and the Google News website of several thousand newspapers.

Then at about 8:30 AM I thought I heard my doorbell, but Fairouz’s jazzy Kifak Inta was so loud that the doorbell ring merged through the harmony. Five minutes later, I hear a crisp “knock-knock-knock”. For sure I was not expecting company. So I got a bit worried to tell you the truth. I paused the music and went to the door.

I open and find her! All 142 centimeters of her. She beams that large smile at me and says:
- “Heelo Mister”
- Damiantee, what are you doing here? Didn’t you leave the country already? [Damiantee is my Sri Lankan cleaning lady. She comes by every Wednesday and Saturday to clean the house and do my laundry. I have not seen her since July 12 and assumed that she left]
- No Mister, “Hone” [Here] is better.
- Damiantee I know you don’t watch the news but can’t you hear the bombs? The situation is very bad. You should go back to Sri Lanka for now.
- No, No “Hone Ahsan” [here better].
- Why didn’t you leave with the others?
- Tamil Tigers.
In better times, I am a news junky and would have picked up the reason, but I swear that I heard her say Detroit Tigers and thought to myself: hmmm, I did not know that Damiantee is into Major League Baseball.
I said: chou fi? [what’s going on]
- They are fighting with the government and a lot of people are getting killed. I don’t want to go. “Hone” better.

Somehow I was proud of this woman. She has made the decision that either in her own native country she might die or in Beirut and decided it is better to do it in Beirut!
In my “republic”, she gets the highest Medal of Honor. In my house, she is most definitely getting a raise.

I let her in, put my music back on and go to my laptop.

Two minutes later she comes back horrified.
-Mister, house “bery, bery” dirty.
-Well what do you want, we are at war. Besides, I don’t know where you put the cleaning stuff. [Trying to make her believe that I was gonna clean!!!]

She goes back in and starts her work. I go back to the balcony with a soothing sense that things are slowly getting back to normal.

Stan Getz is now playing “Tonight I shall sleep with a smile on my face.”

(1) Major Lebanese Newspapers
(2) Major Israeli Newspaper

Saturday, August 05, 2006

A True Story

For the last 6 or 7 years the bulk of my environmental work has been in South Lebanon. I got to know the area pretty well and practically lived with its people on a day-to-day basis.

I was devastated to see them go through the atrocities committed against them. I decided that I will not sit idle and I will do whatever I can to be of help. One of the villages I worked at recently was completely devastated and its population fled to Saida. They had so little time to leave that most of them just left without packing anything.

I am constantly in touch with their municipality president and have been sending them stuff from Beirut to Saida via a very courageous truck driver who knows me only from my phone number. I keep calling him and telling him to go here and there and pick up stuff: sponge mattresses, baby diapers, food items, etc … and lo and behold he always manages to get them to Saida both to my amazement and that of the village municipality president. We have nicknamed him “Olmert Buster” and call him OB for short.

Yesterday, during my daily call to the prez he said they have about 25 babies less than one year old and they are in desperate need for specialty milk.

I call a friend of mine who works for a relief agency and state my need. He said that they are out of that kind of milk but points me to the only company left with stocks of that particular item.

I call them up and the following conversation ensues:

Me: Hello Ma’am, my name is xyz and I was told you have milk for babies less than one year old. Are you still carrying inventory?
Saleswoman: What’s your name again sir?
Me: xyz
Saleswoman: who are you associated with? [Inta ma3 meen?]
[I hesitate a bit and then say]
Me: Politically, I am with the National Democratic Party of Uruguay.
Financially, I am associated with the CAC-40, that’s the French Stock exchange and not some “caca – rente” as most people think.
Socially, I am a member of the Universal Organization for the Advancement of Brain Usage among People.
[I expected a laugh from the other end of the line, but nothing happened. I mean I know we are at war, but the bridges to our sense of humor have not been bombed yet]
Saleswoman: I am sorry sir we cannot sell to individuals only to organizations.
Me: [insisting on getting a laugh out of her] Does the Organization for the Liberation of No-where-istan ring a bell to you?
Saleswoman: Just a second sir. [She gives the phone to another lady]
[I decide that these people are way over-stressed and that my jokes won’t do but Lexotanil (1) would – so I back off]
Saleswoman 2: Sir, we are forbidden by law to sell to individuals.
[I completely loose it but keep my voice down and firm]
Me: Ma’am a friend of mine is the municipality president of a devastated village they have 25 babies less than 1 year old who desperately need this milk. I don’t know what law you are talking about but at this point I am willing to accept full responsibility for breaking it. I need those 50 cans of milk even if after this whole mess is over I have to go to prison for them.
Give me your fax number and I will send you an acknowledgment that I bear the full repercussions of my actions.
Me: Sister, we are at war here and under siege, please think about it just a bit, this law should not apply in war time. It doesn’t make sense. What if it was you and your baby in that situation, how would you feel if you were told that we could not get you the milk because of some stupid law.
Saleswoman 2: [without hesitation] that will be $309 for 48 canisters.
Me: You got it. Thank you. Someone will come by, pay you and pick them up.
[I hang up]
I am seriously considering starting the Universal Organization for the Advancement of Brain Usage among People.

(1): Number one Tranquilizer on the Lebanese Market.

Thursday, August 03, 2006

A Trip to the Supermarket

I live alone and my last trip to the supermarket was on July 12 at night. Hezbollah had snatched the two soldiers that morning and things went as usual in Beirut that day. Or so I thought.

Fast forward to August 3rd and it is amazing how things can flip around and you find yourself with plenty of time on your hands.
Usually during times of crisis one has the tendency to get nostalgic: for the last couple of days, my thoughts hovered around the killer “Mjadra” (1) my grandmother used to make like an Apachee helicopter hovers around a suspected missile site. So, with plenty of time on my hands I decided that today I will be making Mjadra.

As I mentioned earlier, I live alone since a “breakout-and-exit” from the golden cage of marriage six months ago. I live in a very nice apartment but also a very empty one since I was overwhelmed with work and had no time to fully equip the place.
So I run a quick inventory of my kitchen and find 4 coffee mugs, some cutlery, some dishes, a few glasses and about 2 dozens espresso cups. So much for Mjadra unless I can work up the miracle of cooking it in a Nescafe Mug!!!

With all the siege talk going on, I decided that a trip to the supermarket is way overdue. I arrive there expecting people to be all over the place. I was happily surprised. It was busy but civil. So I grab a basket and start “walking down the isle” with the “you-know-what-tune” humming in my head.

I first encounter one of those really annoying “frenchy-coocoo” young mothers whose son was misbehaving and she kept coming back at him in French:
- “Non, ….. laisse ca, …. Mais arrête …. Attends un peu" [No, leave that … stop …wait]And I kept thinking: “Lady, we are under siege here, would you cut the child psychology crap, slap the little rascal, get your groceries and get the F …. 16 out of here, the place is crowded as it is”.

I don’t say anything and decide to switch isles.

I am in the canned food isle and see one of those heavy-set mountain women with the red cheeks filling her cart like there was no tomorrow and there was her 7 or 8 year old son clinging to the cart as a treasured possession. She is going about her business like “a laser guided smart bomb”. When her boy tried to utter something he immediately got whacked for it. BAM!!!
I mean here is someone who appreciates the gravity of the situation but she made Dr. Spock (2) spin in his grave. Easy Ma’am, the boy is already tense from just watching the news, no need to add to his collection of childhood induced phobias.
I take a closer look on her shopping cart which has about 650 items by now and I am saying to myself “I would not venture into the parking lot with that cart if I were you. With all the F-16’s whizzing by, they would think you have a Zelzal Missile (3) hidden underneath that Mount Everest of groceries.”

I decide to speed things up just to be ahead of the mountain woman on the cashier’s line.

I am in the ice cream section and decide to load up on my favorite stick. I start grabbing them by the truckload. I look at the label closely and see something that I have never noticed before: It says “Diet Jumbo Vanilla/Chocolate”.
Diet Jumbo??? Isn’t that like a contradiction in terms? I mean most of us go on a diet just to go down a couple of notches on the “Jumbo” scale. I decide that that’s a matter I will bring up with the marketing department of that company in better and later times. For now, I am racing against the F-16’s to get to my apartment safe and sound.

I grab other items and decide that I’ve had enough and head to the check out lines. I stand in a short line and look at my groceries and realize that there are no solid foods in that basket. Then, a horrific thought crosses my mind: “What if they decide to bomb Farrouj el Lala or Marroush (4)? I will starve to death.” But another soothing thought quickly comes by: “Don’t worry, there is always Falafel Sahyoun (5).”

I leave the place having a sense of guilt about my nutrition. I mean, come on, we are under siege with no cease fire looming at the horizon thanks to the logic of Mr. Blair and rancher Bush, who has time to think about nutrition?
Besides, under siege, nutrition takes a back seat. Under fire, it is missing in action. Under siege AND under fire, it becomes a casualty of war or as the US military so aptly calls it “Collateral Damage”. [I am amazed at the ability of these guys to enrich the English language lexicon].

I unpack my groceries and draw the following assessment:
- I have enough diet ice cream to get me through the summer
- I have enough Diet Coke to last me till next Spring
- Enough Lavazza espresso coffee to last a lifetime

Siege? what Siege?

Bring it on.

(1): A lentils, rice and onion puree. Mjadra is a staple of Lebanese cuisine.
(2): Dr. Benjamin Spock was an authority in pediatric medicine and child psychology.
(3): The largest missile in Hezbollah’s arsenal.
(4): Cult chicken sandwich places in Beirut.
(5): “Ze” Falafel place in Beirut.