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  • prequel

    "Top blog/Renato Obeid's World/Today's pick: This rambling weblog is worth reading not so much for its satirical posts but more for its insight into the minutiae of life in Lebanon, including the etiquette of road accidents and how to hire a taxi.” -Jane Perrone, The Guardian

    Thursday, November 25, 2004  
    Storm’s in, cable’s out (the pirate cable man hides under the bed and turns off the transmitter at the first sign of bad weather –what kind of pirate is he!?!) so I’m watching a very politicised “children’s program” on a local fundamentalist television station (the only one available now).
    The show’s puppet character, a sparrow, is, according to his signature tune, “smart, cute, likes cartoons and fasting” (it rhymes in Arabic - it's only saving grace) and receives drawings from kids depicting themselves and he “in a helicopter fighting the Zionist enemy”.
    Today he was asking kiddies to identify an “occupied Arab country”.
    I don’t think he’s cute at all – I think he’s a toady puppet!
    There’s also a quiz show that involves veiled chador-clad adolescent girls answering questions entirely to do with the Koran and a cameo by a five-year-old girl, in mufti not wearing a veil or chador (slut!), reciting, by heart, a sura from the Koran.
    Years ago, I watched a live broadcast on this very channel of some rabble-rousing pep rally – as the broadcast ended and the credits rolled, the incidental music playing in the background was none other than an instrumental version of the “Marines’ Hymn" (you know, "from the halls of Montezuma to the shores of Tripoli"), the very same marines whose country (the USA) they had just condemned to death in their chants.
    Nothing new here, I often see news footage of youths protesting against America whilst wearing t-shirts emblazoned with “USA” etc.
    One of my all-time favourite programs used to be on this channel too (I don’t know if it’s still on), it took a Western, usually American, film and deconstructed it by running a very ironic and dry voiceover over it pointing out the so-called stereotypes, racial vilification, colonialist and chauvinistic mentality etc of the “imperialists”.
    During the dramatic ending of one of those films, “Navy Seals”, where Charlie Sheen and a handful of his buddies have rescued an American hostage in Beirut and are escaping, the wry voiceover asks us “do you really believe that five Americans can take on all of Beirut?”
    Another amusing program is one where historical figures played by actors in period costume (e.g. Theodor Herzl, the father of Zionism, gets a lot of attention) are put on trials for their alleged crimes.

    My favourite foreign broadcaster is some Polish broadcaster (whose name I can’t recall) where foreign films are dubbed into Polish by one guy doing all the voices in the same monotone deadpan voice.

    There is no religion in heaven.
    Just as there isn’t, for example, an Australian Embassy in Australia.
    Religion is merely the earthly often self-styled and alleged representation and manifestation of God.
    Paradoxically, religion can often lead us away from God, distract us and wrap us up too much in the minutia of it all.
    The essence of most religions can be summed up in a couple of words – Christianity can be summed up in “do unto others as you would have them do unto you” and Islam can be summed up in “God is great”.
    Even a non-Muslim like myself can agree with this because it’s universal – God is great, we’re not so let’s just shut up and let God “speak” for himself.
    God is indeed great, thus He doesn’t need the likes of you and I to speak for him.
    Who am I, who are you to speak in the name of the Almighty?
    Any mortal claming to speak for God is but an impertinent blaspheming impostor.

    4:30 am

    Wednesday, November 24, 2004  
    President Emile Lahoud begins his second term.

    *As reviewer Vivian Mercer famously summed up Samuel Beckket’s two-act play “Waiting for Godot”.

    12:00 am

    Monday, November 22, 2004  
    - live handshaking
    Had breakfast whilst watching live handshaking coverage on Lebanese television – the President, Speaker and Prime Minister receiving congratulations on the occasion of Lebanese Independence Day at the Presidential Palace (it’s still going on as I write this hours later – on every channel!).
    Who said the Lebanese aren’t a sporting people?

    We were even treated to a magic show of sorts during the broadcast a couple of years ago - faced with a veiled chador-clad well-wisher, the then President, Elias Hrawi, produced a big white handkerchief, as if from nowhere, covered his hand with it and, voila presto, shook hers!

    So, it’s a veritable who’s who in Lebanon at the handshaking tournament at the Presidential Palace today.
    Speaking of which, I was leafing through a past edition of “Who’s Who in Lebanon” at someone’s house not too long ago and noticed that some of the entrants (apparently the not so accomplished ones) had a special category in their entries “credit cards” (and then a list of the credit cards they held).
    I don’t know about you but I’m certainly impressed!
    Strange customs!

    1:35 pm

    Thursday, November 11, 2004  
    Yaser Arafat, the man widely blamed for starting the 1975 to 1990 Lebanese Civil War, died in Paris today – “thirty years too late” according to a friend of mine but one day too early as far as I’m concerned (my birthday’s tomorrow).

    6:00 am

    Wednesday, November 10, 2004  

    *With a landmass of 30,278 sq km, this Western European nation is about the size of Belgium (the usual unit of comparative measurement).

    6:53 pm

    Monday, November 08, 2004  
    Today I conquered the mountain.
    I didn’t climb it like Hilary but walked down it – I walked down to Jounieh.
    It took me an hour.
    Not exactly Mount Everest but the symbolism and significance of my “feat” is important to me - I’d always considered Mount Harisa as some sort of Alcatraz Island, i.e. inescapable on foot, and had demarcated the Manazar Restaurant (about ten minutes walk down the mountain – as far as I go on my walks) as the end of the On Foot World.
    Today I went beyond.
    Here’s the blow-by-blow breakdown.
    -Half an hour to get to the petrol station.
    -Forty-five minutes to get to the manouchie place in Ghadir.
    -Fifty minutes to get to the pharmacy in Ghadir.
    -And the final leg of the marathon – through the city streets to the finish line at Fahed Supermarket (just like the Sydney to Melbourne Marathon ends at the Westifeld shopping centre).
    I’d always though that it would take longer, two hours at least, but it didn’t, so there you go.
    When you walk in the mountains you feel like a giant and the trees are your stilts.
    I caught a taxi back home (there’s no way I’m ever going to walk up the mountain).
    The taxi driver tried on the usual "by God it’s far'' and the money’s not enough routine when we got here.
    My reply to that old chestnut used to be something like “it’s still the same distance away as it was five minutes ago when I told you where I was going and we both agreed on a price – it’s still where it’s always been and where it always will be, they haven’t moved it further away in the past five minutes just to rip you off”, but I didn’t say all that this time but tried something I’ve been using to great effect recently – namely “It’s a matter of principle (I’ve always used that but here comes the clincher…), are we not men? Did we not agree on something? Should we not abide by what we agreed on like men?”
    I haven’t used that one that often yet but the times that I have used it it’s worked perfectly – the killer application for Arab taxi drivers, appeal to their honour as men.
    I recommend it to everyone, except to women.
    Despite what the taxi driver thinks, Mount Harisa is a little bit smaller tonight.

    7:30 pm

    Saturday, November 06, 2004  
    The man the late Edward Said likened to the title-character in Gabriel Garcia Marquez’s “The Autumn of the Patriarch”*, Palestinian President Yasser Arafat, lies in a coma in a Paris military hospital.
    Although Mr. Arafat is on a life- support machine, I think that it’s too early to write off one of the few men to ever survive a plane crash (just one of many close escapes).
    Reports of his death (President Bush even went as far as saying “may God rest his soul”) may indeed be greatly exaggerated; we’ve heard it all before.
    In 1992, when I was attending a Christian university here in Lebanon, the not sadly received news that Arafat’s plane had crashed in the Libyan dessert spread across the campus – it was all over for one of Lebanon’s most unpopular ex-residents.
    Except that it wasn’t, he emerged alive but bruised and shaken**, picked himself up and dusted himself off as he’d so often done before and was to so often do again.
    Whilst the man who launched a million civil wars (including our own) wasn’t greatly mourned by my classmates when he “died” that time and won’t be greatly mourned in this country in general when and if he dies this time, celebration would be premature, not to mention inappropriate – we should all mourn the eventual passing (when and if it happens – you can never be sure with Abu Ammar) of the last secular Palestinian leader (that is the last secular Palestinian leader with a modicum of popular support) if only because what might ensue might be infinitely worse.

    *This comparing of the phoenix-like Arafat to the novel’s archetypal isolated eternal dictator, who lived for over two hundred years, was caustically true when Said made it in the 1990’s and became even truer in this decade when Arafat had used up a couple more of his lives and when even his surroundings (his almost destroyed Ramallah compound) came to look like Marquez’s protagonist’s rundown and abandoned presidential palace.
    **The two pilots and his bodyguard died in the crash so it must have been serious – how often do pilots not survive the plane crashes they usually cause (particularly smart alec fighter pilots who crash their planes into crowds of people at air shows and emerge without a scratch)?

    3:00 am

    Wednesday, November 03, 2004  
    America Decides 2004
    - Dude, where's my Karzai?
    The pro-American Afghan interim President Hamid Karzai has been declared the winner of last month's Presidential "election".
    That concludes our live coverage of
    America Decides 2004
    - Dude, where's my Karzai?

    10:06 am

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