Wednesday, June 25, 2008

So where is that heat wave?

Two days ago, the weather girl of one of the Lebanese TV stations showed it would be a whopping 37C on Thursday. That would be extremely hot for Beirut. I once downloaded he temperature data from the website of the Beirut airport and the maximum was 37C, which happened only once in the covered period of 20 years. Most common maximum temps in summer are 32-33C.

Today, it's hot but not that hot. What makes it bearable in Beirut is the breeze. So what gives with the expected 37C for tomorrow? Well, rest assured. The Accuweather website shows a high of 26C only for Thursday! The forecast was off by 11C.

Photo 1: No heat wave, only a cool 26C expected for tomorrow

BTW, check the expected temperature at the end of the forecasting period: 35C! Yup, it's going to be bad, real bad! Just for fun, check this graph for the coming days/weeks and you'll notice the temperature always goes to extreme highs towards the end in summer and to extreme lows in winter. They must be accommodating their Lebanese customers who thrive in a climate of fear mongering!

See below for the following expected temperatures for the coming period:

Photo 2: Feel free to PANIC: heat wave expected 15 days from now!!!

Tuesday, June 24, 2008

The end of the Doha truce

For those who were optimistic that the truce reached in Doha last month would put Lebanon back on track, the recent events must have come as a surprise: everybody was so optimistic and didn't we expect a new government to be formed within "a few days"? Berri was certainly right with his analysis a few days ago that the cabinet should have been formed within the first week.

Not that Suleiman seems to be worried. According to the president-elect, he is "not in a hurry to form a cabinet", the reason being that the government is "the doorway to national reconciliation and not to national dispute". In other words, he intends to adhere to that good old Lebanese tradition of no winners, no losers. By pushing forward too rapidly, he might lose the opposition in the process.

Berri in the mean time has suggested to form a transitional government, which is code-speak for having another round of presidential elections a year from now. It sure would be nice for Aoun as it would give him another shot at the presidential seat. Given his high age, waiting another six years for Suleiman to step down will be next to impossible.

Not that such a transitional government is too likely, mind you. The Constitution does not mention any deadline for forming a new government. In theory, Suleiman can be president-elect indefinitely.

One can only wonder what the purpose was of the fighting in Tripoli during the last two days. Was there a purpose or was it just some local resentment boiling over, a possible pay-back for the events in May when pro-Syrian groups in and around Tripoli were attacked by Future movement supporters. Given the fact that it were Hezbollah supporters who started the fighting, it would be logical to assume an invisible hand steering the events.

Hezbollah has gotten under increasing pressure recently to give up their weapons in case the Shebaa farms will be either liberated or placed under UN command. A few years ago, Hezbollah used to state that this liberation was the condition under which they would disarm. However, they have changed their mind. Not only has Hezbollah announced they will keep their weapons regardless of the outcome of the Shebaa issue, it has added a new condition, namely that all the Palestinians should return home; which is code-speak for never ever ever I promise I swear.

Just for good measure, Hezbollah has accused the government to conspiring against Hezbollah. In all reality, it seems the positive atmosphere of Doha is no longer here. Worrisome articles of a mass weapons influx in Lebanon, Hezbollah expanding its territory, possible another round of clashes in the Bekaa and the actual fighting in Tripoli add to the renewed feeling of doom. But please don't tell the tourists.

Monday, June 16, 2008

So why did Hezbollah use their weapons?

There's this question that still needs answering: why did Hezbollah rock the boat back in May? After all, things were going just swell for the Party of God. Downtown was comfortably occupied, a political solution was not anywhere in sight and the government of the hated Siniora was brought down to its knees.

Hezbollah's violent overtaking of West-Beirut changed all that. Downtown is booming once again, leaving the Hezbollah followers empty-handed and quite possibly increasingly angry as most of them can't even afford a coffee in the expensive restaurants. A political solution is within reach and March 8 is talking to Siniora with all the due respect they can muster. So what exactly did Hezbollah gain?

As Michael Young has pointed out, by using so much violence against their fellow Lebanese, Hezbollah has effectively rendered itself toothless. Sure, last week saw the warning by the Opposition of escalation if the new government wasn't formed soon, but no one is taking this seriously. It's hard to imagine another round of airport blockade or another battle in West Beirut. In fact, the Opposition's warning could be read as a heart-felt plea for PM Siniora to start sooner rather than later!

So now that the dust has settled and the last echoes of Hezbollah's weapons have faded away, it's time for that simple question: what, exactly, has Hezbollah won by its actions back in May?

Wednesday, June 11, 2008

Syria ready to finish off Hezbollah?

Rumors about Syria wanting to get rid of Hezbollah have been spreading increasingly since the killing of Hezbollah strategic mastermind Mughnieh in Damascus. Now, good ol' shaky Abssi (back from the dead) has vowed revenge against those who started the sectarian war that has lead to the takeover of West-Beirut, saying that suicide bombers would not spare God's enemies wherever they are.

Assuming Syria's sponsoring Fatah al-Islam, it seems natural to conclude that Assad has had it with Hezbollah. They must be wanting that peace with Israel pretty badly.

Addendum: a friend wanted to add another argument in favor of the idea that Syria is trying to ditch Hezbollah, namely the "new documents" that president Suleiman apparently has received that would provide additional support for the claim that the Shebaa Farms belong to Lebanon. A plausible theory would be that these documents came from Assad. Is this Syria's way to make Hezbollah even more irrelevant?

Addendum II: someone pointed out another event that supports the theory that Syria has had enough of Hezbollah, namely the cancelling of the national strike by the Labor Union on May 7. Interesting enough, I had written about this angle, but subsequently forgotten about it.

Monday, June 9, 2008

La guerre des autres; or...THE MEDIA DID IT!!!!!

Nothing in Lebanon is ever the fault of those actually responsible. Accountability has been trdade down a long time ago for accusability in this country: don't worry about who did what, rather focus on who to blame the easiest.

As a mere theoretical example and for illustration purposes only, let's assume we have a political party laying siege to half the capital through military means, would we blame this party for using arms against fellow Lebanese?

Hah, that one's easy: of course not! How about spreading the blame: all politicians are to blame leaving no one in particular to pinpoint the blame upon, you say? Good thinking, you're getting the hang of it. But, but, but, we'd rather see someone or something actually receiving the blame, we don't want any loose ends.

So how about the press?! Let's blame them for the violence, the hatred and the destruction Lebanon suffers from. The press is weak, always divided and, most importantly, they can't fight back because they depend on us, the readers for their existence. This means they care for us, unlike politicians who do fine without us. In fact, they'd prefer to have as little as possible to do with the ones voting them in office.

Good, so the press it is. Now that we have established our victim, let's see what we should accuse them of. Not that it really matters all that much because usually the accusation alone suffices for most Lebanese, but let's wrap things up nicely. No loose ends, remember?

This one is a bit tricky. Sure we can accuse them of being biased, but whoever said the press needs to be neutral, right? So let's first come out and claim just that: the media are supposed to be neutral. If we say this loud enough and repeat it frequently enough, people will accept this preposition without a problem. After that, we'll be able to blame them for being biased.

"Too obvious, Riemer. No one's gonna buy that!", you say? Well, think again. And sure to ignore the quote of professor Nabil Dajani who had the nerve to say that "The Lebanese media is only reinforcing existing attitudes and accentuating them, but not forcing them". Tsk, too much common sense is not a good thing, especially when it would lead to the clearly unwanted conclusion that perhaps the Lebanese get the press they deserve...oops!

Friday, June 6, 2008

Learning English the hard way

The Lebanese impress many a foreigner with their superb mastery of languages. In fact, quite a few Lebanese are more fluent in English or French than in their own (step)mother tongue Arabic. That's even more amazing considering the study material. Take a look at the below pictures, that come from a Strawberry Shortcake picture book so little kids learn English while they play.

The first picture is innocent enough, even making the Arabic sound more flowery in English. Quite a feat since Arabic is known for its beatiful and colorful expressions.

Photo 1: The Arabic says: Strawberry loves to study", the translation in English is certainly more flowery:-)

Photo 2: A study that loves, a candy that provides...notice your mind understanding already!

Photo 3: Now try to figure out this one...and don't peak at the Arabic!

Photo 4: Increasingly difficult to translate: the Lebanese friends I asked had no idea what 'hamadryad' means, but were able to tell me that the Arabic text says that kitties are very happy in the spring. They must have heard about the Doha Truce!

Photo 5: What??? Strawberry getting kinky??

Photo 6: Ah, that explains all!

Wednesday, June 4, 2008

It’s official: inflation Lebanon reaches 35%

The Lebanese Central Administration of Statistics has published the inflation figures for the first quarter of 2008, see L’Orient of last weekend (link already gone). They confirm what all Lebanese already knew, namely that the inflation is seriously out of control. The costs of food and non-alcoholic drinks, e.g., have increased with over 35% on annual basis.

One can only hope that our beloved leaders will take actions to bring the inflation back under control. A very good first step would be to allow supermarkets to compete with one another in Lebanon. Ever noticed that most prices are pretty much the same every supermarket you go to? Experts have told me that no one is competing with one another.

There’s this unwritten agreement to keep the prices as high as possible. This results in profit margins between 15 to 40% for most items whereas in, say, The Netherlands, margins are typically less than 2%. Dutch supermarkets compete heavily with each other and often sell various items at a loss. These items, the so-called loss leaders are used to get customers inside the store who then would also buy other, profitable items.

Not so in Lebanon. The best offer you can get are those bundled offers whereby they literally bundle a free item to another item with adhesive tape. This is the result of strict agreements with the distributors who set the prices and bundling is a way to circumvent it. In comparison, the Dutch supermarkets are free to sell items at any price they want which results in significantly lower prices.

A first step would be easy to do for the next government: curtail the power of the distributors by allowing supermarkets to compete on prices. If, say, Spinneys wants to sell Coca Cola at a (near) loss, then by all means it should be allowed to do just that. Given the average profit margin of 25% for Lebanese supermarkets, imagine how many customers a new player could attract by accepting only a 5% profit margin.

Until the Powers That Be read this blog (and they just might!), we’ll simply have to keep forking over up to 40% profit to the supermarket owners.

Tuesday, June 3, 2008

One photo, all the Lebanese problems

Now with downtown open again, the sight of the Lebanese parliament at Place d'Etoile against the backdrop of the Al-Amin mosque explains the problems with Lebanon: with religious buildings being taller, bigger and certainly considered more important than the Parliamentary building, it's no wonder peace will always be the next step.

Photo 1: Al-Amin mosque in Downtown Beirut with on the left (somewhat out of sight) the Parliamentary building

And please, don't get me wrong. I have nothing against Sunnis, it's just that this huge mosque makes the buildings of the Lebanese state so insignificant. If the Lady of Lebanon church was not at Harissa but in Downtown, it would have made a similar picture.

Monday, June 2, 2008

ABC ad gone wrong

The latest ad of ABC's shopping mall is either very humble or just plain wrong. Take a look at the text of the ad below:

"Step into a world of glamour and style where the ordinary becomes extraordinary and the standard becomes spectacular"

Hrm...shouldn't that be the other way around, namely that the extraordinary is standard at ABC? It's like a car rental company saying that their compacts are called full-size from now on:-)

Photo 1: Recent ABC add...humble or just plain wrong?