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Jamal is from all over the place—Panama, Venezuela, Miami, South and East and West Lebanon. We met at a cafe in Beirut in March 2006. I had been reading—and was very amused by—his blog, which offered a satirical take on Lebanon’s sectarian political landscape, and pretended I wanted to interview him.
We soon began to collaborate producing radio features for a Pacifica affiliate in the US, and spent much of the 34-day war with Israel together (at a cafe in Hamra). I wouldn’t have survived that war without the Ghosn family’s generosity. Jamal risks getting bored without mischief, which is why he keeps me around. We have been running a nepotistic racket for the past eight years, and always find a way to get the other person a gig. Together we have passed through the halls and television studios of numerous media outlets. Jamal used to write the questions for the Arabic version of Jeopardy. He was managing editor for the English edition of the Beirut-based daily Al-Akhbar—a partner in the Wikileaks consortium. Recently, he left Beirut for Buenos Aires to dedicate himself fully to writing.
Jamal is a very astute political analyst and a bit of a math genius, but is decidedly shit at bets, which I—though far less knowledgeable—win every time. Over the years, he has paid for his folly in costly steak dinners, which is, I suspect, the real reason behind his move to Argentina. Here’s a new bet for you, Jamal: Given that Israel invades Lebanon during World Cup summers in which Germany failed to beat Italy (e.g. 1978, 1982, 2006), what will happen this year?

Aerial Nationbuilding

Jamal Ghosn about Air Rage
01.08.14
3 min
Post

You can spend 12 hours on a flight with a stranger resting their head on your shoulder and not exchange a word with them beyond the required formalities. Sharing geography doesn’t make you friends. But when an airline turns a 2 hour flight into a 5 hour jail sentence on a grounded plane, you make a lot of friends. This is the amazing power of having a common enemy. It brings people together.

Many a nation exist merely because they have an enemy. It can be an imaginary enemy, but that doesn’t keep these nations from having flags and anthems. They even have historic tales that the national bonds were predestined and will never be broken.

But this post is not about them. It’s about my new nation.

Santa Barbara Airlines Flight 1340 was supposed to depart from Simon Bolivar International Airport at 11:30 am local Venezuelan time. Its scheduled arrival time at Tocumen International Airport was 1 PM Panama City time.

A week before the flight I received an email, followed by a phone call, to inform me that the flight has been rescheduled. It would depart at 3pm instead. That’s an unpleasant 3 and a half hour delay, but how professional of them to let me know ahead of time?

By 3:15 pm passengers had filled every seat on the plane. I was very tired and fell asleep shortly after I sat in my seat. At 4pm, I woke up to a bit of commotion on the plane. You never want to wake up to that, but I had a window seat and I realized we were still on the ground. I still wasn’t sure what was going on, but I could tell the air conditioning wasn’t going on at all.

4:15pm, we got off the plane in Caracas. It was a long ordeal, so I’ll skip the details, but people weren’t happy.

At 8:40pm, the plane touched down in Panama City.

At 9:15pm, we were somewhere near the end of the runway “waiting for a gate.” And that’s when you start making friends.

You discover that you have other things in common–beside the common enemy–with the family of 5 sitting next to you. It turned out we have a common background. We also found out we have common interests. We bonded. At this point, the enemy tried to drive a wedge between us.

It was around 9:50pm–and we were still on the plane–when a muffled voice announced the names of the passengers whose luggage had stayed behind in Caracas. The enemy wanted the luggage-less to resent the privileged ones. But at this stage we were one nation united in hate of Santa Barbara Airlines.

After 90 minutes on the Tocumen tarmac, we were released. Celebratory gestures were exchanged by the passengers at Gate 28.

The next day, I was walking in Panama city’s “old” quarters. It’s genuinely old if you turn a blind eye to the mocha frapuccinos, Peruvian fusion cuisine, and Pecha Kucha events. In one alley, I saw a man walking towards me. We both smiled and as he passed by we exchanged a high five. “We finally made it!” I was sitting in seat 18E. I don’t know this guy’s name or anything else about him. But I know his national ID number. It’s 12B.

Iron Dome Cures Baldness

Jamal Ghosn about Israeli Propaganda
25.07.14
3 min
Post

The 30-second TV commercial is losing its marketing supremacy. In the internet age, new ways of cross-platform advertising are used to lure customers. Product placement in movies and shows has become an attractive option for advertisers. TiVo can let you skip commercials but not the product logo in the movie’s money shot. You can pirate the movie, but you can’t skip the salesmanship.

I would venture to say that real war gets almost as much viewership as war movies. So that gives marketers an opportunity to sell.

Major news networks may have done some horrible things, but they haven’t had the audacity to this honest:

“This decapitated child is brought to you by Warprofiteerco. We didn’t invent death, we just bank on it. Warprofiteerco also happens to be the sister company of BSBC News.”

That just sounds wrong.

Since corporate sponsorship of war news is not socially acceptable yet, salesmen of death are left with product placement.

In Israel, the military censors have direct control over what gets published in Israeli media and at least one newspaper in New York. The Israeli military also happens to be a major trader in the global weapons’ market.

Israel launched a war on Gaza and dubbed it: Operation Protective Edge. What madman comes up with this shit?

In the past 2 weeks, many news items streaming out of the military censor’s office start with the words “The Iron Dome intercepted…”

“A 90% success rate” brags the press release published here and here.

Now, each interception attempt costs up to $100,000, while the incoming rocket usually costs less than a $1000.

It’s not cheap, but 90% success is pretty damn good. Except, this rocket scientist thinks the “90%” is actually less than 5%.

Shooting up piñatas from rocket launchers is almost as effective as the Iron dome. It’s a lot cheaper. Most importantly it makes it rain chocolate and lollipops.

But who cares if the product works? We already have at least one sucker paying for it.

Product placement works.

On September 1, Poland hosts a major military expo. Iron Dome’s Israeli manufacturer Rafael should be in Hall E of the Targi Kielce Exhibition Center. A week later, they’ll move their traveling sales show to Baku, Azerbaijan.

Here’s the product brochure:

"Combat Proven" is new "As Seen on TV"

The “Combat Proven” might as well read “As Seen on TV”.

And look at the slogan: Now, We’ve Got You Protected.

Again, what madman comes up with this shit?

A Molotov Cocktail on the House

Jamal Ghosn about Venezuela
27.06.14
4 min
Post

The Maintenance Required light in the car’s dashboard should be universally ignored. Its purpose is to irk you and to plant a seed of doubt in your head. Soon after it lights up you start “hearing noises” and then it’s only a matter of time before a car advertisement finishes the job.

One dashboard indicator that should never be ignored, however, is when that capital E lights up.

I hadn’t driven a car in months. It’s my least favorite mode of transportation and not because of its carbon footprint. I just happen to be a fan of the old-fashioned foot footprint and I try to leave mine along the paths I take. Mud paths do the job, but my eyes light up when I see a Wet Concrete sign. The size 45 shoes with worn out grooves are mine. Sorry. I actually had to look inside my shoe to look up its size. It seems as an enough number to remember, but I never do.

Last week a car was left in my custody. It was a Honda and it had the Maintenance Required light on. Puerto Ordaz in eastern Venezuela is not a walking-friendly city. It’s a planned city that was built 60 years ago to house workers in a mining industry that extracts ridiculous amounts of wealth from the Earth core under Venezuela. As with most modern planned cities, wide avenues and hard to access public spaces are incorporated in the design to compartmentalize working class people.

A few months ago, anti-Chavista protesters would block one of these wide avenues on a nightly basis. The protest movement faded but occasional protests still take place. Burning tires is the obstacle of choice for those attempting to block roads. Tires aren’t highly flammable. They are actually doused in gasoline to get the fire going. But once they do catch fire, tires produce a steady plume of thick black smoke that rise to the sky in what I assume is a message of anger. The laws of gravity dictate that what goes up must come down. At that point anger turns into a higher laundry bill for the residents of the area.

I decided to take advantage of the car I had to get to know the city better.

At some point the dashboard E lit up, so I drove up to a Petróleos de Venezuela pump. My choices were either 95 or 91 octane. Half and half was not option. Do you know the right octane level for your car? I still remember that mine is size 45.

I suspect that the No Cellphone sign at the gas station is as bullshit as the no cellphones on an airplane rule, but I did turn off my engine and I did not light a cigarette while the dude pumped my gas tank full.

The pump is slow so let me tell you more about what’s been happening in Puerto Ordaz. Yesterday, a brand new public transport bus was torched allegedly by anti-government protesters. It was the third such incident since I arrived here last month. A series of youtube clips document one of these arson acts of resistance. “Acts of resistance” have also destroyed a number of traffic lights around town. The surviving traffic lights have a built-in countdown timer. I wish this gas pump had a countdown timer. It does have a Total Cost gauge, but it doesn’t seem to be moving much.

5 Bolivars. That was the total I owed for full tank of gas. One US dollar is 50 Bolivars, so that’s 10 US cents for a full Honda tank of gas.

I’m all for government subsidizing the basic needs of citizens, but this seems a bit extreme. I drove off feeling that I had just robbed the Venezuelan people.

This also means that the opposition’s pyromania is subsidize by the socialist government they are trying to burn down.

Keep the Party Alive

Jamal Ghosn about World Cup
15.06.14
2 min
Post

Most people don’t like a partypooper. The only people who do are those who would like to partypoop but are too constipé to do it themselves.

The World Cup of Football is always a big party. Even when its games were held in Pontiac, Michigan it was still a party. This year the matches are held in cities whose names alone get you swaying with how musical they sound. Belo Horizonte…Fortaleza…Curitiba…Salvador de Bahia…and of course Rio de Janeiro. So, basically, think of the biggest party you’ve been to; multiply it by the biggest number you know and then raise it to the Lambadath power and you’ll get how big the party in Brazil is.

So how do you raise awareness about real abuses and unjust evictions without sounding like a bitter partypooper? Especially since FIFA is big shit, and it’ll be hard to out-stench it.

Also let’s not lose sight that Brazil is a country that has made huge strides when it comes to economic growth and combating poverty over the past decade. Healthcare and Education naturally follow the same trend. The government must be doing something right, but try convincing someone who lost their home that.

I don’t know how you can be heard at a party that won’t be pooped. But I have a solution that would make football fans happy, justify Brazil’s massive investment in stadia, and, most importantly, it would forever take FIFA and its bribery process out of the picture.

Hold every World Cup in Brazil!

I know people are looking forward to see Vladimir Putin posing with the trophy in 2018. He can do still that on Copacabana Beach. Hey, if he does it there, it’ll be more likely that he’ll do it topless. Everybody wins.

The alternative is to continue burying heads in the sand.

God's Singing Quartet

Jonah Go Down to Mosul

Jamal Ghosn about Iraq
10.06.14
2 min
Post

News is breaking today that the Islamic State in Iraq and al-Sham (ISIS)–an al-Qaeda affiliate funded by allies of the Democratic West–took full control of the Tigris river city of Mosul. Mosul has its own rich history, but the ruins on the edge of the city go further back. There sits what was once the city of Nineveh. Some 2700 years ago, the capital of Assyria was the largest city on earth.

Even back then, cosmopolitan areas proved elusive to God. There’s something about people mixing that makes them less prone to having imaginary friends. Jonah was handpicked by God for the mission of reining in the big city debauchery of Nineveh. God sent Jonah his message via a singing quartet. Unfortunately, the original message was recorded on Betamax and thus forever lost. But God learned his lesson–turning Jonah into a whale of a lesson in the process. From then on God would only use Youtube.

The audio is a bit choppy, but the message is clear. Jonah shoulda obeyed the Lord.

The question is if Jonah was asked again today to go “save” Nineveh, would he volunteer to swim in the gastric juice of the big fish? Because sure as hell it beats whatever ISIS might have in store for the man who disobeyed God.

Just Beg For It

Jamal Ghosn about Slavery in NCAA
07.06.14
3 min
Post

One of the defining moments of transition into adulthood is when a person stops asking parents for money. Some sense of pride kicks in and makes it difficult to ask for compensation for the mere fact of being an offspring.

Of course, shit happens and circumstances may force the once proud to swallow that pride and ask for money, and even beg for it. A genuine beggar, who does it out of need, is a defeated human. I am not going into the reasons behind it, which could be individual or societal, but the sympathy a “defeated human” generates makes the act of begging possible as it tends to pay off in cash.

Naturally, where there’s an opportunity to make money there are opportunists willing to make it. It starts at an individual or a small business level with “defeated human” acts that prey on genuine sympathy or hypocritical piety. Those going after the latter tend to congregate outside houses of worship.

Then there is institutionalized tax-deductible begging. My alma mater masters that type of begging. Since I graduated from the University of Miami 15 years ago, not a week goes by where I don’t receive at least one email from “the U” in which they ask me for money.

This past week the begging cycle was peaking with the end of the school year, so the University resorted to using multiple senders in order to bypass spam filters.

Unlike the “defeated human” model, the University doesn’t swallow its pride when begging. It flaunts it. “Hell yeah I spent all the money you gave me and I want more!”

It uses the image and accomplishments of alumni as well as those of exploited athletes as motivators for U to dish out cash to “the U”.

Three decades ago the U’s football team invented school pride. Actually, it went beyond the school’s fancy campus to involve an entire marginalized community in the ghettos of Miami. Pride evolved into swagger.

The U’s football players didn’t beg for acceptance by the racist culture dominant in the US back then. They ran, rapped and tackled their way onto the scene.

Over the past 3 decades, and partly due to the U’s swagger, US college athletics became very popular. Since it’s the US we’re talking about, popular means it’s also automatically big business…big corrupt business that exploits star athletes.

Universities used unpaid athletes to create school pride and then banked on monetizing it. The University of Miami trademarked swagger, and alumni–desperate for pride–paid up.

In one email received during the end-of-school-year blitz I am informed that the sum collected by the Momentum 2 campaign has surpassed $1.3 billion from 137,000 donors.

Nasser Al Rashid, a Saudi billionaire, contributed $10 million of that sum. A century ago, the Rashids used to rule the bulk of the Arabian Peninsula before they were ousted by the Sauds, who were backed by a British Captain that goes by the name of William Shakespear…without the e…but that’s a different exploitation story.

Let’s get back to the U.

The University of Miami, just like all the other universities, does not pay its sports stars. The creators of swagger get compensated with shitty cafeteria food and free higher education. Free higher education? Hmmmm…What a novel concept?

I guess if you didn’t see anything wrong with paying exorbitant amounts of cash for university education in the first place, then there’s no reason to think that you wouldn’t continue to pay forever just to purchase pride.

When Syrian Men Dance

Jamal Ghosn about Syria
29.05.14
3 min
Post

The “History repeats itself” saying comes in dozens of variations attributed to a lot of smart people. A lot of not so smart people will hang on to that principle and fish for historic parallels to try to prove a point. Here’s such an attempt. Baabda, Fayyadiyeh, and Yarzeh are a troika of towns just outside Beirut on the mountainous road to Damascus. Baabda houses Lebanon’s presidential palace, Yarzeh its Ministry of Defense, and Fayyadiyeh a large military base. There are also a bunch of bakeries, gas stations, and trees that double as urinals since many travelers use that stretch of the highway as a first pit stop on what could be a longish road trip. Technically, the eastbound lane can take you all the way to the Pacific coast of China, but realistically the longest trips undertaken by casual travelers end in Amman, Jordan. Truckers and religious pilgrimage buses reach the shores of the Persian Gulf. Of course, here I’m talking about in times of Peace. In times of war, most sane people tend to stay off the road. The 1975-1990 version of the Lebanese civil war ended after General Michel Aoun, head of one of the multiple Lebanese Armies and Governments at the time, lost his last stand in these 3 towns. Thousands of Syrian men armed with tanks and fighter jets took control of Baabda, Fayyadiyeh and Yarzeh, and danced in victory celebrations while carrying portraits of Hafez al-Assad. The General left the presidential palace in Baabda and sought refuge at the nearby French Embassy. He would later be exiled to France. Today, twenty five years later, the smog that hovers in this area just above Beirut is thicker, but that same dude is back from France and is a leading candidate to fill the top vacancy at the presidential palace in Baabda. Also today, and also twenty five years later, tens of thousands of unarmed Syrians–mostly men–filled the streets of Baabda, Fayyadiyeh, and Yarzeh, and danced while carrying posters of Bashar al-Assad, Hafez’s son. They went to cast their vote in the Presidential elections at the Syrian Embassy there. The crowd was called the largest Syrian gathering outside Syria. Ever. Unlike twenty five years ago, the tanks and fighter jets today are doing their thing on the other side of the border. It’s not exactly history repeating itself. It’s more of a bizarro universe remake of events. But hey, it’s desperate times. If this image ended a war once, it can do it again. With any luck, 25 years from now the Syrians– just like the Lebanese today–will be without a President.

Coup Denial on the Nile

Jamal Ghosn about Egypt
22.05.14
2 min
Post

A Second Presidential election in two years will take place this week in Egypt. For the sake of drama, let’s pretend the winner of this battle–with 95% of the vote no less–was not decided long before the removal of President Mohammad Morsi from office a year ago. The currently jailed Morsi was the Muslim Brotherhood candidate whose election a year earlier capped the popular uprising of January 25, 2011 with a democratic victory for the long-persecuted Islamic movement. The Muslim Brotherhood were always a challenge to Egypt’s ruling military establishment. While Gamal Abdel Nasser used to mock the movement in the 1960s, his successors saw the rise of the religiously-themed political phenomenon as a threat. They saw it threatening enough for them to feel obliged to feign devoutness and strut religious cred. Anwar Sadat marketed himself as the Pious President and took on the name Mohammad upon ascending to the presidency. Hosni Mubarak followed suit becoming Mohammad Hosni Mubarak after inheriting the throne from the assassinated Sadat. They needed to prove they were as Muslim as the Brotherhood and nothing proves devotion like tagging a Mohammad onto your name. Rumor has it that the founder of Islam himself had little success launching the religion under different aliases until Mohammad, finally, got the ball rolling. Mohammad Morsi did not have to change his name. That presidential feature came built-in with him. Also, Morsi was not threatened by the Muslim Brotherhood. He was their crème de la crème. It was with him that the Muslim Brotherhood was going to vindicate their 80+ years struggle to reach power. Well… It didn’t quite work out. The military couped its way back to the helm, massacring hundreds of Brothers along the way. On Monday, the military’s Abdel Fattah al-Sisi is running against coup legitimizing stooge Hamdeen Sabbahi. With Mohammad no longer en vogue, the winner will take on the name Mubarak.

Chairman Mao and the Kardashians

Jamal Ghosn about Hollywood Barinwashing
13.05.14
2 min
Post

On Uriarte street in the Palermo Viejo neighborhood of Buenos Aires there’s a family-owned Chinese food-by-the-pound restaurant. The food is displayed in a buffet setting without any labels. I suspect most customers don’t bother learning the names of the dishes as they pile spoonfuls of food in their take-away plastic containers. The food is less than spectacular, but it’s cheap. The sole decorative indication of the type of cuisine served in this tiny establishment is an A4-sized portrait of a balding Chairman Mao that hangs high in the center of the bare back wall.

A few blocks away and closer to the tourist trappy plaza Serrano, the same neighborhood becomes coolly known as Palermo Soho. A burger joint there serves 4 types of burgers: American, Mexican, Jamaican, and French. The walls around the place though are predominantly Gringo. There’s plenty of Madonna magazine cutoffs. The movie posters are as follows: Quentin Tarantino’s Pulp Fiction featuring John Travolta, Star Wars Episode IV featuring Luke and Leia Skywalker, Rocky featuring the back side of Sylvester Stallone triumphantly pumping his fists, and Bruce Lee. Music posters include Hendrix, The Ramones, and Louis Armstrong among others. The shelves have KISS and Spiderman figurines, as well as that Bob Sponge Square cartoon thingie. A trio of bobble-heads nod out of sync. They are The Hangover’s Alan’s Zach Galafiniakis (please tell me I got the spelling right), Doogie Howser in the role of Barnie Stinson, and Big Bang’s Sheldon (who is reportedly too popular for the people’s republic). The walls are also filled with writing, but the biggest and most legible words are the Swahili words made famous by Disney: Hakuna Matata. Other Memorabilia soaking in the smell of grilled meat and fries include Hippie insignia, a caricature of Bill Clinton, a “No Kardashians Allowed” sign, and an autographed A4-sized portrait of Seinfeld’s soup Nazi that sits on a shelf over the cash register.

China is set to overtake the US for the world’s top economy title sometime in the next decade. Can you name 10 Chinese political or cultural figures? I’ll give you one to get started… Chairman Mao.

Toilet Humor

Jamal Ghosn about Public Transport Etiquette
11.05.14
3 min
Post

Let’s start with some basic toilet humor.

I hesitated at first to write about this topic. I know many of the readers of this site are German and I’m not sure how tolerant they are of this childish form of jokes. It turns out one of the children songs recognized in the German Folk Song Archive is called the Scheiße song. So I guess I’m good to go. Let me share with you a facebook query I posted last week.

A metro etiquette question:
We don’t have a metro in Beirut so I’m not sure what is acceptable behavior and what’s not. An 80+ year old man gets on and there are no empty seats, so I offered him mine. He thanks me and says he’s getting off at next stop. Next stop, he gets up, thanks me again and gets off the train. A 20 year old boy, who witnessed the whole sequence of events, rushes to take the vacated seat. Fine, I snooze I lose. I also happened to have black beans for lunch. So, I placed my butthole within an inch (2.54 centimeters) of the kid’s nostrils and let one rip. Did I break metro protocol or did I just break fair wind? Coincidentally, Buenos Aires is Spanish for fair winds.

The real question here is why isn’t there a metro in Beirut?

It’s hard to look at the news coming out of the Arab world these days and try to make sense of the whole picture. With things spiraling out of control, attempts to pinpoint the cause of the problems turn into fingerpointing with plenty of blame to go around. This is why it’s important to go back to the basics.

One of the main pillars of the modern city is public transport.

In 1931, Tramway lines covered 12 kilometers connecting various Beiruti neighborhoods.
Between 1965 and 1968, the Tramway system of Beirut was removed. Seven years later a civil war split the Lebanese capital into East Beirut and West Beirut. A look closer within these side would uncover that barriers were erected separating neighborhoods, streets, and even alleys.

The civil war was declared finished in 1990.

In 2005, fifteen years after Beirut was reunited, I came across 2 older ladies in Hamra (West Beirut), who were fascinated by the changes the neighborhood has gone through since their last visit there 40 years earlier. I asked them if they had been out of the country, but the shocking answer was that all this time they had been living 2 kilometers away in Achrafieh (East Beirut).

That’s 4 metro stops. That’s a trip that certainly doesn’t take 40 years. Most commuters would’ve got up and offered their seats to these 2 ladies.

Beyond Lebanon, in 1908 a railway system connected Damascus to Medina in the Arabian Peninsula. Haifa and Acca on the Palestinian coast were also linked to that line. In 1920s, the Palestine Railways ran a daily service from Sudan to Beirut.
Since then, multiple sets of national borders, visa requirements, and Apartheid walls have made that terrain untravelable for humans.
Coincidentally, the ease of travel for fossil fuels over and under that same territory has improved by leaps and bounds.

Cocoincidentally, a superpower that has a major fossil fuel fetish and a knack for butting in emerged over that lapse of time.

So why can’t I fart on the metro in Beirut? Basically, someone has been going to great lengths to stir shit up and keep people from enjoying each other’s farts. It just hasn’t been going there by train.

Aerial Nationbuilding

Jamal Ghosn about Air Rage
01.08.14
3 min

Iron Dome Cures Baldness

Jamal Ghosn about Israeli Propaganda
25.07.14
3 min

A Molotov Cocktail on the House

Jamal Ghosn about Venezuela
27.06.14
4 min

Keep the Party Alive

Jamal Ghosn about World Cup
15.06.14
2 min

Jonah Go Down to Mosul

Jamal Ghosn about Iraq
10.06.14
2 min

Just Beg For It

Jamal Ghosn about Slavery in NCAA
07.06.14
3 min

When Syrian Men Dance

Jamal Ghosn about Syria
29.05.14
3 min

Coup Denial on the Nile

Jamal Ghosn about Egypt
22.05.14
2 min

Chairman Mao and the Kardashians

Jamal Ghosn about Hollywood Barinwashing
13.05.14
2 min

Toilet Humor

Jamal Ghosn about Public Transport Etiquette
11.05.14
3 min