Adonis Diaries

Archive for August 2011

Kids burned by phosphorous bombs: Usage not internationally illegal yet?

Here is a story I read of the account of the credible British journalist investigator Robert Fisk, during Israel invasion of Lebanon in 1982 and sealing off the Capital Beirut. He wrote in his book “Affliction of a Nation” (Lebanon civil war from 1975 to 1989):

“I visited the Barbeer Hospital with Terry Anderson as we were making our routine visits to hospital and grave yards for accounting of the fallen dead after savage shelling from land, sea and air. We met on July 21 the tiny female physician Amal Shama3, a graduate of John Hopkins and Duke University. This hospital has “welcomed” 200 dead casualties from June 4 to July 10 and was being frequently shelled by Israeli army.

Amal was confronted with news cases of burns that few physicians were familiar with. She recounts: “I dipped the two twin burned babies of just 5 days old in a bucket in order to extinguish the flame.  Half an hour later, the new-born were still burning.  In the morgue, the kids burned for hours.  Next day, as I held the calcined babies to bury them, and suddenly, their body reignited again.”  Amal accounted for 19 phosphorous burn cases between June 6 and July 29, 1982.

Alia, the mother of the twin, was dispatched to the hospital with 11 members of her family and her was suffering from severe burns, as a shell hit their shanty in the Palestinian camp of Bourj Barajneh and spewed white smoke.  Alia had already lost three other kids and was spitting constantly and the right side of her body was burned and her lungs contained particles of phosphorous,  a sure diagnostic that she is a goner.

Physician Amal said: “The Israelis know this is a hospital, but they kept shelling it for five days, preventing us from exiting the hospital.  We lived in the stench of decaying bodies.”

Amal urged me to find out the kind of chemicals used in these bombs, the phosphorous bombs, so that she might figure out an efficient way of handling these cases of burns, at least a way of putting out the flames emanating from the bodies.

I contacted The Times and Michael Horsenel replied : “Phosphorous have been used since WWI in bomb shells for Howitzer-109 and 150 mm, and hand grenades. The German port of Hamburg in Germany was put aflame during WWII:  The Nazi police force used to shoot the injured civilians in order to alleviate their suffering. These bombs are manufactured in the USA, England, and Germany… The US consider phosphorous bombs as regular ammunition…”

In the afternoon, Terry returned to the office and started typing a letter, awfully angry, tears of despair coming down his cheeks: He had witnessed the death of the 3 year-old Ahmad.  He was mumbling: “By God, why this had to happens?”  Anderson had a 7 year-old daughter and loved children.  Terry wrote: “Ahmad Baytam is 3 year-old and suffering from phosphorous burns.  Ahmad is tied down to bed with thin ropes. Physician Amal Shamaa held the stethoscope on his chest and began pressing with her powerful hands while the attendant nurse blew air in Ahmad mouth.  Ahmad is dead. Amal said: “His lungs were contaminated. He was inhaling phosphorous.”

In June 25, a team of US television crew shot footage of the Babeer Hospital and victims of phosphorous burns, and the hundreds of kids dying of shell splinters. Israel censured the damaging scenes.  The US TV kept blank the censured seconds to demonstrate to viewers that these footage were censured.  From then on, TV crewmen sent their footage via Syria, and three US TV even paid what Syria owed for renting the satellites emission.

Beirut had 600, 000 inhabitants and Israel cut off water and electricity supplies, lying through its teeth that it never did such things as President Reagan and the European community condemned these practices.

In June 27, the Red Cross counted 10,112 civilian victims in Beirut.  Folley, Aftimos and I had  counted 250 dead just in the last two days. (The battle of Beirut would last another two months and the death toll would climb to over 50,000, in Beirut alone the toll was 40,000.  Two weeks earlier, Israel fighter jets dropped special bombs in the city of Saida that pierced the floors of buildings and detonated in basements, where people huddled. The Red Cross accounted for 2,000 civilian dead casualties, mostly women and kids, trapped in basements).

Israel was also using two kinds of cluster bombs on camps and civilian quarters, also delivered by the US administration and the US Navy.  I had sent the identification numbers of the non-detonated cluster bombs to The Times (You may read the issues of July 20, 1982).  There is the cluster bomb targeting tanks and guided by radar and the other kinds that kids played with as they found the metal balls spread on the ground, and ended up getting badly injured, mutilated, or killed. The US has supposedly delivered these bombs to Israel under conditions for usage. For example, targeting tanks and military vehicles…,” (but Israel had the habit of forgetting under which terms military hardware were delivered).

In August 5, Israel bombs targeted a wide range of institution around the Hamra Street, institutions of of all kinds, cultural, hospitals, embassies, dailies… Every 10 seconds, a phosphorous shell would hit the offices of the daily “L’Orient le Jour”, the offices of “American United Press”, the office of the Prime Minister, the headquarter of the Middle-East airline, the Bristol Hotel, the Commodore Hotel, the movie center Piccadilly, the American University Hospital, Jewish synagogues…

In September 1987, I met the US plenipotentiary ambassador to Lebanon Philip Habib during this period, at Ditchly in England, and asked him of Israel barbarity of that day in August 1982, he said: “I was at the Presidential palace in Baabda and watched it all. I called up Sharon he he relied: “What I am saying is not true” I let the phone outside the window for him to listen.  That son of a bitch of Sharon said: “What I am seeing is a virtual scene.  What I am seeing and hearing is not the reality.”

For example, even in July 2006, Israel shelled 2 million cluster bombs in south Lebanon in the last three days as a truce was about to be signed. Israel purpose was to scare people to returning to their homes. Six years later, only a third of these cluster bombs have been detonated and the world community is disheartened of extending more funds for eliminating the “infected areas” and caring for the kids being injured playing with the “lovely bombs”.

In 2009, Israel used phosphorous bombs in Gaza.  Nothing changed in the behavior of Israel acting against human rights and international conventions.

Since 1982, foreign correspondents refrained from accepting Israeli information as credible and valid to be published without further investigation.

Note: Robert Fisk was at the time the correspondent of the London Times in the Middle-East, but used the facilities of the Associated Press to dispatch his reports, every day. He is currently the correspondent of the British daily The Independent.


Is your spirit of resistance crushed? America youth: Fight back!
Do these practices strike a chord among the youth in America?
1. Student-Loan Debt,
2. Psychoanalyzing children, categorizing mental kinds of pathology in children, and Medicating Noncompliance,
3. Focusing on obedience and compliance in Schools,
4. “No Child Left Behind” and “Race to the Top programs,
5. Shaming Young People Who Take Education seriously,
6. Surveillance methods and technology as normal behavior,
7. Eight hours in front of Screens of television, internet, computer, cell phone…
8. The daily subjugation to Fundamentalist Religion and Fundamentalist Consumerism
I have published articles on each one of these reasons that are meant to cow youth in America from getting on the march for serious changes.
I find it interesting to abridge and re-edit an article published, in July 3,1 by Bruce E. Levine in AlterNet “Eight Reasons Young Americans Don’t Fight Back: How the US Crushed Youth Resistance”
“Traditionally, young people have energized democratic movements. So it is a major coup for the ruling elite to have created societal institutions that have subdued young Americans and broken their spirit of resistance to domination.

Young Americans—even more so than older Americans—appear to have acquiesced to the idea that the “corporatocracy” can completely screw them and making them feel helpless to do anything about it.

For example, a 2010 Gallup poll asked Americans “Do you think the Social Security system will be able to pay you a benefit when you retire?”

In the group of 18- to 34-years-olds, 76 percent of them said no.

Yet despite their lack of confidence in the availability of Social Security for them, few have demanded it be shored up by more fairly payroll-taxing the wealthy: Most appear resigned to having more money deducted from their paychecks for Social Security, even though they don’t believe it will be around to benefit them.

How exactly has American society subdued young Americans?

1. Student-Loan Debt. Large debt—and the fear it creates—is a pacifying force. There was no tuition at the City University of New York when I attended one of its colleges in the 1970s, a time when tuition at many U.S. public universities was so affordable that it was easy to get a B.A.  You could earn a graduate degree without accruing any student-loan debt.

While those days are gone in the United States, public universities continue to be free in the Arab world and and most developing States.  Schooling are either free or with very low fees in many countries throughout the world.

The millions of young Iranians who risked getting shot to protest their disputed 2009 presidential election, the millions of young Egyptians who risked their lives earlier this year to eliminate Mubarak, and the millions of young Americans who demonstrated against the Vietnam War all had in common the absence of pacifying huge student-loan debt.

Today in the United States, two-thirds of graduating seniors at four-year colleges have student-loan debt, including over 62 percent of public university graduates. While average undergraduate debt is close to $25,000College graduates average closer to $100,000 in student-loan debt.

During the time in one’s life when it should be easiest to resist authority because one does not yet have family responsibilities, many young people worry about the cost of bucking authority, losing their job, and being unable to pay an ever-increasing debt.

In a vicious cycle, student debt has a subduing effect on activism, and political passivity makes it more likely that students will accept such debt as a natural part of life. (See note 1)

2. Psycho-pathology analysis of children and Medicating Noncompliance. In 1955, Erich Fromm, the respected anti-authoritarian leftist psychoanalyst, wrote, “Today the function of psychiatry, psychology and psychoanalysis threatens to become the tool in the manipulation of man.” Fromm died in 1980, the same year that an increasingly authoritarian America elected Ronald Reagan president, and an increasingly authoritarian American Psychiatric Association added to their diagnostic bible (then the DSM-III) disruptive mental disorders for children and teenagers such as the increasingly popular “oppositional defiant disorder” (ODD).

The official symptoms of ODD include “often actively defies or refuses to comply with adult requests or rules,” “often argues with adults,” and “often deliberately does things to annoy other people.”

Many of America’s greatest activists including Saul Alinsky (1909–1972), the author of Reveille for Radicals and Rules for Radicals, would today certainly be diagnosed with ODD and other disruptive disorders. Recalling his childhood, Alinsky said, “I never thought of walking on the grass until I saw a sign saying ‘Keep off the grass.’ Then I would stomp all over it.”

Heavily tranquilizing anti-psychotic drugs (e.g. Zyprexa and Risperdal) are now the highest grossing class of medication in the United States ($16 billion in 2010).  A major reason for this, according to the Journal of the American Medical Association in 2010, is that many children receiving anti-psychotic drugs have non-psychotic diagnoses such as ODD or some other disruptive disorder (this especially true of Medicaid-covered pediatric patients).

3. Schools Educate for Compliance and Not for Democracy.

Upon accepting the New York City Teacher of the Year Award on January 31, 1990, John Taylor Gatto upset many in attendance by stating: “The truth is that schools don’t really teach anything except how to obey orders. This is a great mystery to me because thousands of humane, caring people work in schools as teachers and aides and administrators, but the abstract logic of the institution overwhelms their individual contributions.”

A generation ago, the problem of compulsory schooling as a vehicle for an authoritarian society was widely discussed, but as this problem has gotten worse, it is seldom discussed.

The nature of most classrooms, regardless of the subject matter, socializes students to be passive and directed by others, to follow orders, to take seriously the rewards and punishments of authorities, to pretend to care about things they don’t care about, and that they are impotent to affect their situation. A teacher can lecture about democracy, but schools are essentially undemocratic places, and so democracy is not what is instilled in students.

Jonathan Kozol in The Night Is Dark and I Am Far from Home focused on how school breaks us from courageous actions. Kozol explains how our schools teach us a kind of “inert concern” in which “caring”—in and of itself and without risking the consequences of actual action—is considered “ethical.” School teaches us that we are “moral and mature” if we politely assert our concerns, but the essence of school—its demand for compliance—teaches us not to act in a friction-causing manner.

4. “No Child Left Behind” and “Race to the Top.”

The corporatocracy has figured out a way to make our already authoritarian schools even more authoritarian. Democrat-Republican bipartisanship has resulted in wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, NAFTA, the PATRIOT Act, the War on Drugs, the Wall Street bailout, and educational policies such as “No Child Left Behind” and “Race to the Top.” These policies are essentially standardized-testing tyranny that creates fear, which is antithetical to education for a democratic society.

Fear forces students and teachers to constantly focus on the demands of test creators; it crushes curiosity, critical thinking, questioning authority, and challenging and resisting illegitimate authority. In a more democratic and less authoritarian society, one would evaluate the effectiveness of a teacher not by sanctioned standardized tests but by asking students, parents, and a community if a teacher is inspiring students to be more curious, to read more, to learn independently, to enjoy thinking critically, to question authorities, and to challenge illegitimate authorities.

5. Shaming Young People Who Take Education Seriously. 

In a 2006 survey in the United States, it was found that 40 percent of children between first and third grade read every day, but by fourth grade, that rate declined to 29 percent. Despite the anti-educational impact of standard schools, children and their parents are increasingly propagandized to believe that disliking school means disliking learning.

That was not always the case in the United States. Mark Twain famously said, “I never let my schooling get in the way of my education.” Toward the end of Twain’s life in 1900, only 6 percent of Americans graduated high school. Today, approximately 85 percent of Americans graduate high school, but this is good enough for Barack Obama who told us in 2009, “And dropping out of high school is no longer an option. It’s not just quitting on yourself, it’s quitting on your country.”

The more schooling Americans get, however, the more politically ignorant they are of America’s ongoing class war, and the more incapable they are of challenging the ruling class.

In the 1880s and 1890s, American farmers with little or no schooling created a Populist movement that organized America’s largest-scale working people’s cooperative, formed a People’s Party that received 8% of the vote in 1892 presidential election, designed a “sub-treasury” plan (had it been implemented would have allowed easier credit for farmers and broke the power of large banks) and sent 40,000 lecturers across America to articulate it, and evidenced all kinds of sophisticated political ideas, strategies and tactics absent today from America’s well-schooled population.

Today, Americans who lack college degrees are increasingly shamed as “losers”. For example, Gore Vidal and George Carlin, two of America’s most astute and articulate critics of the corporatocracy, never went to college, and Carlin dropped out of school in the ninth grade.

6. The Normalization of Surveillance. The fear of being under surveillance makes a population easier to control. While the National Security Agency (NSA) has received publicity for monitoring American citizen’s email and phone conversations, and while employer surveillance has become increasingly common in the United States, young Americans have become increasingly acquiescent to corporatocracy surveillance. Why?

Beginning at a young age, surveillance is routine in their lives. Parents routinely check Web sites for their kid’s latest test grades and completed assignments, and just like employers, are monitoring their children’s computers and Facebook pages. Some parents use the GPS in their children’s cell phones to track their whereabouts, and other parents have video cameras in their homes.

Increasingly, I talk with young people who lack the confidence that they can even pull off a party when their parents are out of town, and so how much confidence are they going to have about pulling off a democratic movement below the radar of authorities?

7. Television. In 2009, the Nielsen Company reported that TV viewing in the United States is at an all-time high if one includes the following “three screens”: a television set, a laptop/personal computer, and a cell phone. American children average eight hours a day on TV, video games, movies, the Internet, cell phones, iPods, and other technologies (not including school-related use).

Many progressives are concerned about the concentrated control of content by the corporate media, but the mere act of watching TV—regardless of the programming—is the primary pacifying agent (private-enterprise prisons have recognized that providing inmates with cable television can be a more economical method to keep them quiet and subdued than it would be to hire more guards).

Television is a dream come true for an authoritarian society: those with the most money own most of what people see.  First, Fear-based television programming makes people more afraid and distrustful of one another, which is good for the ruling elite who depend on a “divide and conquer” strategy. Second, TV isolates people so they are not joining together to create resistance to authorities; and regardless of the programming, TV viewers’ brainwaves slow down, transforming them closer to a hypnotic state that makes it difficult to think critically.

While playing a video games is not as zombifying as passively viewing TV, such games have become for many boys and young men their only experience of potency, and this “virtual potency” is certainly no threat to the ruling elite.

8. Fundamentalist Religion and Fundamentalist Consumerism.

American culture offers young Americans the “choices” of fundamentalist religion and fundamentalist consumerism. All varieties of fundamentalism narrow one’s focus and inhibit critical thinking. While some progressives are fond of calling fundamentalist religion the “opiate of the masses,” they too often neglect the pacifying nature of America’s other major fundamentalism.

Fundamentalist consumerism pacifies young Americans in a variety of ways. Fundamentalist consumerism destroys self-reliance: It creates the basis for people to feel completely dependent on others and who are thus more likely to turn over decision-making power to authorities.  This is the precise mind-set that the ruling elite loves to see.

A fundamentalist consumer culture legitimizes advertising, propaganda, and all kinds of manipulations, including lies.  When a society gives legitimacy to lies and manipulative tendencies, it destroys the capacity of people to trust one another and to forming democratic movements.

Fundamentalist consumerism also promotes self-absorption, which makes it difficult for the solidarity necessary for democratic movements.

These are not the only aspects of our culture that are subduing young Americans and crushing their resistance to domination. The food-industrial complex has helped create an epidemic of childhood obesity, depression, and passivity.

The prison-industrial complex keeps young anti-authoritarians “in line” (now by the fear that they may come before judges such as the two Pennsylvania ones who took $2.6 million from private-industry prisons to ensure that juveniles were incarcerated).

As Ralph Waldo Emerson observed: “All our things are right and wrong together. The wave of evil washes all our institutions alike.”

Note 1: In August 21, 2011, published this “education” article in The Atlantic “When Will the Bubble Burst? Student Loan Debt Swells 511 Percent”

“It’s no secret that American students are being crushed by student loans. We’re on track to cross the $1 trillion mark in total student debt, exceeding household credit card debt, sometime later this year. That sounds pretty insane, but thanks to our colleagues at The Atlantic we can see just how far out of hand the situation has spiraled.

The magazine tapped data from the Federal Reserve Bank of New York and found that total student loan debt increased a whopping 511 percent between the first quarter of 1999 and the first quarter of 2011:

We all know how much havoc the housing bubble wreaked on our economy, but it turns out the growth of student loan debt was twice as steep as the growth of mortgages and revolving home equity from 1999 to the peak of the housing bubble in 2008.

One thing is for sure: if mass numbers of students start defaulting, or if they stop spending on other things because their money is going to paying off loans, a day of reckoning is surely coming. The only question is when?

Note 2:  Is the youth in America practically illiterate and are foreign to what is going outside their close surrounding?  Youth in Europe and in the Arab World are revolting, and successfully.  The latest ugly riots in England were preemptive warning to the government with the strong message: “You may balance the budget, but not at our expense”

“Planet of the Orient”: Who is Um Kulthum?

Is she the fourth modern Pyramid?

Is her silk handkerchief, tightly held in her left hand, the symbol of her singing genius?

It is November 1967:  Five months earlier, Egypt of Gamal Abdel Nasser suffered a crushing defeat by Israel.  Um Kulthum is in Paris for two concerts at the music-hall Olympia:  She is to receive 100,000 Francs for each night of performance, the highest in the history of this music-hall, and to be disbursed to Egypt’s funds of reconstruction.  Air bridges of countless charter planes and private planes are flocking from the Gulf Arab Emirates States.

Um Kulthum writes to President Charles de Gaulle: “I salute in you your action in favor of justice and peace”.  De Gaulle had suspended delivery of Mirage jet fighters to Israel after its preemptive war in June 1967 against Egypt, Syria, and Jordan.

For an hour, Um Kulthum has been sitting among the 18-member orchestra, waiting for the start of the concert.  King Hussein of Jordan, the painter Carzou, Marie Laforet, ambassadors, personalities, and journalists are among the audience.

Um Kulthum is sitting on a chair and begins with “Love of the nation” then stand up in her green jellaba and sings “Restore my liberty, free my hands…” and resume with “The ruins”.

Three songs that stretched for six hours. The audience is described in dailies as “fanatics” of tarab, chanting “Allah” and “Ya salam”

Um Kulthum (Thuma) Ibrahim el-Sayyed el Baltagui, nicknamed “Al Sitt” or “Kawkab al Shark” was born in 1900 in the rural town of Tamay el Zahayra in the Delta of the Nile, the district of Dakhalia. Her father spends his time taking care of the mosque, and interpret religious folkloric songs during wedding ceremonies (mawalid). Her mother Fatima encourages Thuma to learn to read and write and at the age of 7, Thuma is dispatched to her uncle in El Sinbillawayn (Mansoura district) to resume her schooling.

Around 1914, Egypt in under British colonialism, and Thuma’s father discovers that she has an angelic voice, psalmoding Koranic verses and joined her to his small ambulatory group.  Um Kulthum is decked in a Jelabiya as boys and her voice is spreading in the Delta as captivating and the singing group is solicited extensively.

At 16 of age, the famous oud player Zakaria Ahmed and the famous singer cheikh Aboul 3ela heard Thuma singing in the Eid el Fitr in El Sinbillawayn and ask Thuma’s father to encourage her to go to Cairo so that they train her and expand her horizon.

In 1921, Um Kulthum sees Cairo for the first time: She is to sing to a noble and rich house for a wedding. At first, the host would not accept this poor girl dressed as a peasant (felaha) to sing in his house.  The wife beg to differ.  As Um Kulthum sang, an angel hovered over the audience.

For another year, her protectors Zakaria Ahmed and cheikh Aboul 3ela write to Um Kulthum. Thuma had to wait till 1923 to be taken in charge by her music professional protectors.

Thuma learns the dawr, profane songs, and sings poems of Hafez, Abu Nawas, el Mutanabbe, Rubayyat of Omar Khayyam…  Her voice emits 14,000 vibrations (frequency) while a normal voice is about 4,000.

Sadek Ahmad becomes her impresario and advertises Thuma, to the ire of her conservative father.

In 1925, Ahmed Rami, famous song writer, listened to Um Kulthum and fell in love: He wrote over 100 songs just for Thuma.

Um Kulthum is practically a lesbian and in love of Fatima Abdel Razek.  Thuma recorded her first album in 1925 “The lover is betrayed by his eyes” and sells over 15,000 copies.

Thuma is demanded everywhere in the Arab World and she obliges. The Turkish musical style is abandoned and replaced by popular Egyptian taktoukas.  Um Kulthum is heard on radio Masr and she acted in a few movies.

Um Kulthum built a villa of two stories in the street Abou Feda in Zamalek.  Her family declined leaving the village to living in Cairo.  Only her relative Sayyeda accept to join Thuma and becomes her confident and helper.

Thuma’s mother died in 1937.  In 1948, Thuma is suffering from her eyes and needs surgery of the neck (goitre).  She is sent to the USA for professional surgery.

July 23, 1952, a military coup brings Gamal Abdel Nasser to power. The new leader calls Thuma and tells her: “I wish you resume your career: You are the link that unite all Egyptians.  Millions have need of your voice…”

Um Kulthum is being treated by surgeon professor Hafnaoui and ends up marrying him. As she said: “When we bare our body to the physician, we are nude in front of man…”

In 1960, Nasser bestowed medal of honors to Um Kulthum and Mohammad Abdel Wahhab.  The Rais Nasser says: “Abdel Wahhad, I celebrate your art, but I cannot forgive you for not associating with Um Kulthum…” Abdel Wahhab replies: “It is my greatest honor to compose songs for Um Kulthum…” and Abdel Wahhab would compose three songs to Thuma such as “You are my life” (Enta oumri).

Um Kulthum died on February 3, 1975 from renal deficiency. Million of Egyptians carried her gasket to Midan El Tahriri and on to Tuma’s mausoleum in Al Bassatine.

Note 1: Article extracted from a chapter of the French book by Gilbert Sinoue “12 women who changed the history of the Orient”

Note 2: It is reported that Jihan, wife of president Anwar Sadat, was terribly jealous of Um Kulthum as the leading women in Egypt and the Arab World.  Jihan did her best to castrate Thuma into seclusion at the end of her life.

How America criminalised poverty

From TomDispatch, part of the Guardian Comment Network, Wednesday 10 August 2011

Note: Occasionally, I like to republish interesting articles before I butt in for a few comments. This article explains the reactions to the book Nickel and Dimed 2001

    • Homeless person, Washington DC
A homeless person sits wrapped in a blanket near the White House in Washington DC. Photograph: Robyn Beck/EPA
“There’s just no end to it once the cycle (of poverty) starts. It just keeps accelerating.”says Robert Solomon of Yale Law School

“The viciousness of State officials to the poor and homeless is breathtaking, trapping them in a cycle of poverty.

A Florida woman wrote to tell me that, before reading it, she’d always been annoyed at the poor for what she saw as their self-inflicted obesity. Now she understood that a healthy diet wasn’t always an option. And if I had a quarter for every person who’s told me, he or she now tipped more generously, I would be able to start my own foundation.

How to define poverty?

Three months after the book was published, the Economic Policy Institute in Washington DC issued a report entitled “Hardships in America: The Real Story of Working Families”, which found an astounding 29% of American families living in what could be more reasonably defined as poverty, meaning that they earned less than a barebones budget covering housing, child care, health care, food, transportation, and taxes – though not, it should be noted, any entertainment, meals out, cable TV, Internet service, vacations, or holiday gifts..

I completed the manuscript for Nickel and Dimed in a time of seemingly boundless prosperity. Technology innovators and venture capitalists were acquiring sudden fortunes, buying up McMansions, like the ones I had cleaned in Maine and much larger. Even secretaries in some hi-tech firms were striking it rich with their stock options.

There was loose talk about a permanent conquest of the business cycle, and a sassy new spirit infecting American capitalism. In San Francisco, a billboard for an e-trading firm proclaimed, “Make love not war,” and, down at the bottom, “Screw it, just make money.”

When the book Nickel and Dimed was published in May 2001, cracks were appearing in the dot-com bubble and the stock market had begun to falter, but the book still evidently came as a surprise, even a revelation, to many. In that first year or two after publication, people came up to me and opened with the words, “I never thought …” or “I hadn’t realised …”

To my own amazement, Nickel and Dimed quickly ascended to the bestseller list and began winning awards. Criticisms have accumulated over the years. But for the most part, the book has been far better received than I could have imagined it would be, with an impact extending well into the more comfortable classes.

Even more gratifying to me, the book has been widely read among low-wage workers. In the last few years, hundreds of people have written to tell me their stories: the mother of a newborn infant whose electricity had just been turned off, the woman who had just been given a diagnosis of cancer and has no health insurance, the newly homeless man who writes from a library computer.

At the time I wrote Nickel and Dimed, I wasn’t sure how many people it directly applied to – only that the official definition of poverty was way off the mark, since it defined an individual earning $7 an hour, as I did on average, as well out of poverty.

29% is a minority, but not a reassuringly small one, and other studies in the early 2000s came up with similar figures.

The big question, 10 years later, is whether things have improved or worsened for those in the bottom third of the income distribution.

For example, the people who clean hotel rooms, work in warehouses, wash dishes in restaurants, care for the very young and very old, and keep the shelves stocked in our stores. The short answer is that things have gotten much worse, especially since the economic downturn that began in 2008.

Post-meltdown poverty

While I was researching my book the  hardships encountered– the skipped meals, the lack of medical care, the occasional need to sleep in cars or vans –Mind you that those occurred in the best of times. The economy was growing, and jobs, if poorly paid, were at least plentiful.

In 2000, I had been able to walk into a number of jobs pretty much off the street.

Less than a decade later, many of these jobs had disappeared and there was stiff competition for those that remained. It would have been impossible to repeat my Nickel and Dimed “experiment”, had I had been so inclined, because I would probably never have found a job.

For the last couple of years, I have attempted to find out what was happening to the working poor in a declining economy – this time using conventional reporting techniques like interviewing. I started with my own extended family, which includes plenty of people without jobs or health insurance, and moved on to trying to track down a couple of the people I had met while working on Nickel and Dimed.

This wasn’t easy, because most of the addresses and phone numbers I had taken away with me had proved to be inoperative within a few months, probably due to moves and suspensions of telephone service. I had kept in touch with “Melissa” over the years, who was still working at Wal-Mart, where her wages had risen from $7 to $10 an hour, but in the meantime, her husband had lost his job.

Caroline, now in her 50s and partly disabled by diabetes and heart disease, had left her deadbeat husband and was subsisting on occasional cleaning and catering jobs. Neither seemed unduly afflicted by the recession, but only because they had already been living in what amounts to a permanent economic depression.

Media attention has focused, understandably enough, on the “nouveau poor” – formerly middle and even upper-middle class people who lost their jobs, their homes, and/or their investments in the financial crisis of 2008 and the economic downturn that followed it, but the brunt of the recession has been borne by the blue-collar working class, which had already been sliding downwards since de-industrialisation began in the 1980s.

In 2008 and 2009, for example, blue-collar unemployment was increasing three times as fast as white-collar unemployment, and African American and Latino workers were three times as likely to be unemployed as white workers. Low-wage blue-collar workers, like the people I worked with in this book, were especially hard hit for the simple reason that they had so few assets and savings to fall back on as jobs disappeared.

How have the already-poor attempted to cope with their worsening economic situation?

One obvious way is to cut back on health care.

The New York Times reported in 2009 that one-third of Americans could no longer afford to comply with their prescriptions and that there had been a sizable drop in the use of medical care. Others, including members of my extended family, have given up their health insurance.

Food is another expenditure that has proved vulnerable to hard times, with the rural poor turning increasingly to “food auctions“, which offer items that may be past their sell-by dates.

And for those who like their meat fresh, there’s the option of urban hunting.

In Racine, Wisconsin, a 51-year-old laid-off mechanic told me he was supplementing his diet by “shooting squirrels and rabbits and eating them stewed, baked and grilled”. In Detroit, where the wildlife population has mounted as the human population ebbs, a retired truck driver was doing a brisk business in raccoon carcasses, which he recommends marinating with vinegar and spices.

The most common coping strategy, though, is simply to increase the number of paying people per square foot of dwelling space – by doubling up or renting to couch-surfers.

It’s hard to get firm numbers on overcrowding, because no one likes to acknowledge it to census-takers, journalists, or anyone else who might be remotely connected to the authorities.

In Los Angeles, housing expert Peter Dreier says that “people who’ve lost their jobs, or at least their second jobs, cope by doubling or tripling up in overcrowded apartments, or by paying even 70% of their incomes in rent“.

According to a community organiser in Alexandria, Virginia, the standard apartment in a complex occupied largely by day labourers has two bedrooms, each containing an entire family of up to five people, plus an additional person laying claim to the couch.

No one could call suicide a “coping strategy”, but it is one way some people have responded to job loss and debt.

There are no national statistics linking suicide to economic hard times, but the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline reported more than a four-fold increase in call volume between 2007 and 2009, and regions with particularly high unemployment, such as Elkhart, Indiana, have seen troubling spikes in their suicide rates. Foreclosure is often the trigger for suicide – or, worse, murder-suicides that destroy entire families.

“Torture and Abuse of Needy Families”: TANF, or Temporary Assistance to Needy  Families

We do of course have a collective way of ameliorating the hardships of individuals and families – a government safety net that is meant to save the poor from spiralling down all the way to destitution.

But its response to the economic emergency of the last few years has been spotty at best. The food stamp program has responded to the crisis fairly well, to the point where it now reaches about 37 million people, up about 30% from pre-recession levels.  Welfare – the traditional last resort for the down-and-out until it was “reformed” in 1996 – only expanded by about 6% in the first two years of the recession.

What’s the difference between the two programs, Food stamp program andWelfare ?

There is a right to food stamps. You go to the office and, if you meet the statutory definition of need, they help you. For welfare, the street-level bureaucrats can, pretty much at their own discretion, just say no.

Take the case of Kristen and Joe Parente, Delaware residents who had always imagined that people turned to the government for help only if “they didn’t want to work”. Their troubles began well before the recession, when Joe, a fourth-generation pipe-fitter, sustained a back injury that left him unfit for even light lifting. He fell into a profound depression for several months, then rallied to ace a state-sponsored retraining course in computer repairs – only to find that those skills are no longer in demand. The obvious fallback was disability benefits, but – catch-22 – when Joe applied he was told he could not qualify without presenting a recent MRI scan. This would cost $800 to $900, which the Parentes do not have; nor has Joe, unlike the rest of the family, been able to qualify for Medicaid.

When they married as teenagers, the plan had been for Kristen to stay home with the children. But with Joe out of action and three children to support by the middle of this decade, Kristen went out and got waitressing jobs, ending up, in 2008, in a “pretty fancy place on the water”. Then the recession struck and she was laid off.

Kristen is bright, pretty, and to judge from her command of her own small kitchen, probably capable of holding down a dozen tables with precision and grace. In the past she’d always been able to land a new job within days; now there was nothing.

Like 44% of laid-off people at the time, Kristen failed to meet the fiendishly complex and sometimes arbitrary eligibility requirements for unemployment benefits. Their car started falling apart.

So the Parentes turned to what remains of welfare – TANF, or Temporary Assistance to Needy Families.

TANF does not offer straightforward cash support like Aid to Families with Dependent Children, which it replaced in 1996. It’s an income supplementation program for working parents, and it was based on the sunny assumption that there would always be plenty of jobs for those enterprising enough to get them.

After Kristen applied, nothing happened for six weeks – no money, no phone calls returned. At school, the Parentes’ seven-year-old’s class was asked to write out what wish they would present to a genie, should a genie appear. Brianna’s wish was for her mother to find a job because there was nothing to eat in the house, an aspiration that her teacher deemed too disturbing to be posted on the wall with the other children’s requests.

When the Parentes finally got into “the system” and began receiving food stamps and some cash assistance, they discovered why some recipients have taken to calling TANF “Torture and Abuse of Needy Families.”

From the start, the TANF experience was “humiliating”, Kristen says. The caseworkers “treat you like a bum. They act like every dollar you get is coming out of their own paychecks”.

The Parentes discovered that they were each expected to apply for 40 jobs a week, although their car was on its last legs and no money was offered for gas, tolls, or babysitting. In addition, Kristen had to drive 35 miles a day to attend “job readiness” classes offered by a private company called Arbor, which, she says, were “frankly a joke”.

Nationally, according to Kaaryn Gustafson of the University of Connecticut Law School, “applying for welfare is a lot like being booked by the police“. There may be a mug shot, fingerprinting, and lengthy interrogations as to one’s children’s true paternity. The ostensible goal is to prevent welfare fraud, but the psychological impact is to turn poverty itself into a kind of crime.

How the safety net became a dragnet

The most shocking thing I learned from my research on the fate of the working poor in the recession was the extent to which poverty has indeed been criminalised in America.

Perhaps the constant suspicions of drug use and theft that I encountered in low-wage workplaces should have alerted me to the fact that, when you leave the relative safety of the middle class, you might as well have given up your citizenship and taken residence in a hostile nation.

Most cities, for example, have ordinances designed to drive the destitute off the streets by outlawing such necessary activities of daily life as sitting, loitering, sleeping, or lying down. )It is the same tactics at every generation).

Urban officials boast that there is nothing discriminatory about such laws: “If you’re lying on a sidewalk, whether you’re homeless or a millionaire, you’re in violation of the ordinance,” a St Petersburg, Florida, city attorney stated in June 2009, echoing Anatole France’s immortal observation that “the law, in its majestic equality, forbids the rich as well as the poor to sleep under bridges.”

In defiance of all reason and compassion, the criminalisation of poverty has actually intensified as the weakened economy generates ever more poverty. So concludes a recent study from the National Law Centre on Poverty and Homelessness, which finds that the number of ordinances against the publicly poor has been rising since 2006, along with the harassment of the poor for more “neutral” infractions like jaywalking, littering, or carrying an open container.

The report lists America’s 10 “meanest” cities – the largest of which include Los Angeles, Atlanta and Orlando – but new contestants are springing up every day. In Colorado, Grand Junction’s city council is considering a ban on begging; Tempe, Arizona, carried out a four-day crackdown on the indigent at the end of June. And how do you know when someone is indigent? As a Las Vegas statute puts it, “an indigent person is a person whom a reasonable ordinary person would believe to be entitled to apply for or receive” public assistance.

That could be me before the blow-drying and eyeliner, and it’s definitely Al Szekeley at any time of day. A grizzled 62-year-old, he inhabits a wheelchair and is often found on G Street in Washington DC – the city that is ultimately responsible for the bullet he took in the spine in Phu Bai, Vietnam, in 1972.

He had been enjoying the luxury of an indoor bed until December 2008, when the police swept through the shelter in the middle of the night looking for men with outstanding warrants.

It turned out that Szekeley, who is an ordained minister and does not drink, do drugs, or cuss in front of ladies, did indeed have one – for “criminal trespassing“, as sleeping on the streets is sometimes defined by the law. So he was dragged out of the shelter and put in jail.

“Can you imagine?” asked Eric Sheptock, the homeless advocate (himself a shelter resident) who introduced me to Szekeley. “They arrested a homeless man in a shelter for being homeless?”

The viciousness of the official animus toward the indigent can be breathtaking.

A few years ago, a group called Food Not Bombs started handing out free vegan food to hungry people in public parks around the nation. A number of cities, led by Las Vegas, passed ordinances forbidding the sharing of food with the indigent in public places, leading to the arrests of several middle-aged white vegans.

One anti-sharing law was just overturned in Orlando, but the war on illicit generosity continues.

Orlando is appealing the decision, and Middletown, Connecticut, is in the midst of a crackdown. More recently, Gainesville, Florida, began enforcing a rule limiting the number of meals that soup kitchens may serve to 130 people in one day, and Phoenix, Arizona, has been using zoning laws to stop a local church from serving breakfast to homeless people.

For the not-yet-homeless, there are two main paths to criminalisation, and one is debt.

Anyone can fall into debt, and although we pride ourselves on the abolition of debtors’ prison, in at least one state, Texas, people who can’t pay fines for things like expired inspection stickers may be made to “sit out their tickets” in jail.

More commonly, the path to prison begins when one of your creditors has a court summons issued for you, which you fail to honour for one reason or another, such as that your address has changed and you never received it. OK, now you’re in “contempt of the court“.

Or suppose you miss a payment and your car insurance lapses, and then you’re stopped for something like a broken headlight (about $130 for the bulb alone). Now, depending on the state, you may have your car impounded and/or face a steep fine – again, exposing you to a possible court summons. “There’s just no end to it once the cycle starts,” says Robert Solomon of Yale Law School. “It just keeps accelerating.”

The second – and by far the most reliable – way to be criminalised by poverty is to have the wrong colour skin.

Indignation runs high when a celebrity professor succumbs to racial profiling, but whole communities are effectively “profiled” for the suspicious combination of being both dark-skinned and poor. Flick a cigarette and you’re “littering”; wear the wrong colour T-shirt and you’re displaying gang allegiance. Just strolling around in a dodgy neighbourhood can mark you as a potential suspect. And don’t get grumpy about it or you could be “resisting arrest“.

In what has become a familiar pattern, the government defunds services that might help the poor while ramping up law enforcement.

Shut down public housing, then make it a crime to be homeless. Generate no public-sector jobs, then penalise people for falling into debt. The experience of the poor, and especially poor people of colour, comes to resemble that of a rat in a cage scrambling to avoid erratically administered electric shocks.

And if you should try to escape this nightmare reality into a brief, drug-induced high, it’s “gotcha” all over again, because that of course is illegal too.

One result is our staggering level of incarceration, the highest in the world.

Today, exactly the same number of Americans – 2.3 million – reside in prison as in public housing. And what public housing remains has become ever more prison-like, with random police sweeps and, in a growing number of cities, proposed drug tests for residents. The safety net, or what remains of it, has been transformed into a dragnet.

It is not clear whether economic hard times will finally force us to break the mad cycle of poverty and punishment.

With even the official level of poverty increasing – to over 14% in 2010 – some states are beginning to ease up on the criminalisation of poverty, using alternative sentencing methods, shortening probation, and reducing the number of people locked up for technical violations like missing court appointments.

But others, diabolically enough, are tightening the screws: not only increasing the number of “crimes”, but charging prisoners for their room and board, guaranteeing they’ll be released with potentially criminalising levels of debt.

So what is the solution to the poverty of so many of America’s working people?

Ten years ago, when Nickel and Dimed first came out, I often responded with the standard liberal wish list – a higher minimum wage, universal health care, affordable housing, good schools, reliable public transportation, and all the other things we, uniquely among the developed nations, have neglected to do.

Today, the answer seems both more modest and more challenging: if we want to reduce poverty, we have to stop doing the things that make people poor and keep them that way. Stop underpaying people for the jobs they do. Stop treating working people as potential criminals and let them have the right to organise for better wages and working conditions.

Stop the institutional harassment of those who turn to the government for help or find themselves destitute in the streets.

Maybe, as so many Americans seem to believe today, we can’t afford the kinds of public programs that would genuinely alleviate poverty – though I would argue otherwise. At least, we should decide, as a bare minimum principle, to stop kicking people when they’re down.” End of article

This article is hugely important to me.

If I wrote my diary it is mainly to recollect the miseries I experienced living in the USA for 20 years, to face the conditions, and have a closure.

I earned a PhD in Industrial engineering, but graduated in 1991, at the peak of a recession during Bush senior.

Worse, I had no residency to even hope for a decent job, since I had no relative for support or to back me up.

I recall periods of utter helplessness.  I was living in Kensington (Maryland) and people who knew me assumed I had AIDS or a terminal disease, simply because I looked it.  I spent my last $10 visiting a local dispensary to be told that I am suffering from malnutrition.

At least, I had a professional opinion that I have no terminal disease…I was not entitled to food stamp or welfare programs either (I think), otherwise I would have jumped to the occasion since I turned every stone for survival sake.

I returned to Lebanon: I would not die of hunger or in a ditch like a dog, or in the one room basement frequently flooded and humid

Note 1: George Orwell described this situation very accuretly in

Note 2:  You may read

Intellectual harassment: TEDxSalon 3, in Beirut

August 25, 2011, 9:30 pm at Monroe Hotel, Beirut

The third TEDx saloon is the last before the one-day TEDxBeirut to be held in Berytech (Mansourieh) on Sept. 24.  In TEDxBeirut, 20 speakers will take the podium, among them many Lebanese speakers who were selected according to a strict selection process.  A candidate speaker had to submit a one-minute video. I did send my video. I was eliminated from further consideration.  I was not sent a notice or an explanation: I knew the result by reading the names of the dozen who were selected to go through the second phase. (I guess that video was not meant to judge on the relevance of the topic, but to screen those with potential to be coached without much trouble and trained in two sessions, or looking presentable and young enough, kind of “thirtysomething”).  As one of the first video submitter, I was entitled to a free entrance to TEDxBeirut.

To attend the third TEDxSaloon, you had to register on-line to reserve one of the 350 seats.  The session was well planned and organized, discussion session was eliminated to be replaced by the “game” of drawing your neighbor with a pencil.  (The beautiful Crystelle S sitting next to me was hard to draw: She had not a single facial defect to caricature, and my lousy, and ugly drawing was not explicitly an issue since I explained my case…) The technology applied was excellent and we witnessed the showing of the website live, the picture of the auditorium with audience raising their hands.  You can send comments and suggestions on that website….

The first speaker was a female in neuroscience (I cannot recall names, a certain Boyle).  She was 37 of age when she had a brain stroke in her left hemisphere. She recovered in 8.5 years from the stroke.  The surgeon removed the blood clot as she was experiencing Nirvana state of releasing her spirit… She explains:

“I felt a gripping pain, like eating ice cream, and the pain would subside briefly. I got on my treadmill and had the sensation that I had no body, that my body was decomposed into molecules…Time was out of the equation, it was no longer a factor: I was living the present, the moment.  I felt the energy field of the environment flowing through me, my sensory capabilities expanding, the notions of past and future were irrelevant…

I stepped into the shower and my left brain kicked in briefly saying: “Lady, you are in trouble…” My right hand was a stump and useless.  I tried to call my assistant and had trouble seeing the numbers.  Going through a thin stack of business cards took over 45 minutes. As I phoned the digits, I could recall the number I already pressed, and I used my stump of hand as a locator of the digit to be pressed.  I had this fantastic revelation that I am experiencing live a case of stroke, in all its minute details…

In the hospital, I felt kind of floating… She explained: “Our two brains are fundamentally separate with specific tasks.  The left brain functions in serial fashion using time, duration, recall, cause and effect reasoning…The right brain functions in parallel processing, receiving all the sensations, converging to perceiving the moment, the present…(read note 1)

The second speaker revealed that critical ideas, the Ereka syndrome, are: first, generated from close interactions and communication among peer professionals, the disorganized “coffeehouse gathering”, and second, the Ereka syndrome is basically the culmination of a long process:  The idea was clear and already formed, but lacked the proper model, example, framework, and mechanism  to gel.   The speaker gave the example of how the idea of GPS was generated as the first Soviet Sputnik was put in orbit in 1957…

The third speaker said that life is basically a play process, being creative in participating in games…Like a female chimpanzee grabbing the testicles of the male and both turning around in circle…

The fourth speaker warned against taking the habit of working on the laptop positioned on your lap.  Your testicles will experience local warming and the sperms will be debilitated.  For example, the Danish might witness demographic decrease if computer laptops are used extensively on their lap…

Note 1: I may conjecture from the experience of Boyle on brain that the individual susceptible to reach Nirvana state have their primitive brain still not entirely atrophied. They can , with training, work on the nerves to constrict the blood vessels to the left hemisphere and permit most of the blood to irrigate the right hemisphere, lighting up like a Christmas tree.  Isn’t what psychedelic drugs do?

Note 2:  I have listened to countless TED speakers and wrote many articles on specific topics.  I even wrote detailed summaries on many books that TED speakers published.  I realized that: First, speakers allotted more than 15 minutes to expand on their ideas, substantially conveyed adequately their concerns. Second, speakers with less than ten minutes were deemed “less famous” for that honor (sold less books or products or their institutions and enterprises were not worthy ten minute-talk). Third, speakers allotted 5 minutes were considered the intellectual tabloids:  They talk about their single idiosyncratic variable that explains complex man-made systems, are the jokers, the funny intermission break-time, and those selling their “unique” products that are very expensive to acquiring…

Day 2. Volunteered two hard days of work: Where is this Kawzah (South Lebanon)?

Posted in August 27, 2011

Note: In Context. It is a small village in south Lebanon, this Kawzah, barely 50 families still hanging on, and a tiny St. Joseph church looking neglected from the outside, though fine and shining in the inside.

The church needed a face lift in repainting walls white, the iron fences and doors black, and planting a few plants in the miniature wild garden…and mainly collecting the dirt and a good hosing down of the yard…

Kawzah is mainly two hills: One of the hills is occupied by the UN contingent of Ghana.

Lebanon is the guest of a dozen UN contingents in the south, presumably to providing security to the offensive State of Israel.  The money for this volunteer program is from an old grant signed with Italy in 2007.

Sunday August 21, 2011

It is 11 pm on a clear night. We are departing from Maroun el Ras, the highest small town overlooking Israel (altitude 1,000 meters) and which resisted Israel “preemptive war” in July 2006 for a week.

We entered Bint Jbeil, the capital city of western South, and prevented Israel to enter it, even after being totally demolished. Apparently, Hezbollah was Not ready to confront Israeli advance to that town, and half a dozen Communist fighters took strategic positions on buildings and delayed the advance until Hezbollah fighters arrived and took over the battle.  The Emir of Qatar contributed and rebuilt the city.

We drove through Rmeish and witnessed two humongous wedding parties.  Rmeish has three luxurious wedding restaurants, and 12,000 of its inhabitants flock in summer time.

In winter, Rmeish population is barely 6,000, (an estimate according to the hearsay of the people), still the largest “Christian town” in this southern region.

We passed the wedding that the volunteers from Debel and Rmeish were attending, and headed to another complex Sky Plaza (with an olympic swimming pool) where another wedding was going full blown.

We sat for dinner, overhanging the wedding party.  The restaurant claimed that it has no “a la carte” menu (tonight?), but regular mezze ( an arrangement of a dozen small platters of a little of everything Mediterranean dishes).  We ordered Lebanese beer Almaza.

We were 8 sitting at the table, but hunger was satisfied quickly. It appears that Ihab, Marwan, and I tasted from each dish and saved the honor of the eaters. We were kind of ripe for bed.

Chelsea just dropped her head on the table and was having a night dream.

It was time to pay the bill. Ihab was asked to pay his share.  He was beside himself and told me: “Food was supposed to be free of charge to volunteers.  We were entitled to a dinner. I have only about $5 left in my pocket…”  I agreed with him.

We were home by 12:30 am.

The air-conditioned room allocated to males was displaced to a non-conditioned.

We were expecting a cool night as promised, but our luck deteriorated in this humid night.  I had two alternatives: Cover up my face from mosquito bites and sweat it out, or doze on the balcony, much cooler. Cedric moved his “bed” to the saloon, facing an open door.

Ihab was plainly hot and suffocating.  I kind of overheard him saying that his bunk should have been by the open door and not by the wall:  I was prompt in being first to selecting my bed, though it didn’t make much difference.

As Cedric was just getting to sleep, Ihab woke him up to complain again of the unfairness of paying for the dinner at the restaurant.  I woke up at night, and here is Ihab complaining again.

I stepped outside to the balcony and Ihab followed me. I went back to bed and Ihab joined me.  I think we didn’t sleep much that night.

I woke up around 5:30 am and shaved and then got back in bed and covered my face.  You think mosquitoes give up after 6 am, or after 7 am.  This was not the case.

Around 6 am, Ihab was feeling too hot to staying in bed.  For an hour, Ihab kept zipping and unzipping his small bag. The process is zip, ramage inside the bag, kratch, kritch…zap, and this noise continued for ever, including re-arranging the plastic bag.

I thought: “Either the zipping mechanism is going to break down, or Ihab is going to be surprised of finding gold in the bag…” It was the turn of Cedric to wash and re-arrange his bags.

Around 7 am, the party was having a nice, village-type breakfast, fresh products, real olive oil, jams, cheese, tea, fruits…

We arrived at the church in Kawzah by 8:15.  The volunteered kids were already there and eating manakeech.

Frankly, the piece of mankouch that I tasted was not tasty and was hard to chew on, but the hungry kids were not complaining.

The scene looked “exhausted”, Not ready for work:  The girls were waiting nonchalantly.

I decided to clean up the debris, dirt, plastic hand gloves, just to to have a good visual of the battle field.  Emilie gathered us in groups again:  Priority was to make the church surrounding as white as possible.

By 9 am, we were surprised to witness the Rmeish volunteers step out of the bus:  They had barely slept from a night-long wedding partying.  Mass started at 9:30 and many had an excellent excuse to attend mass instead of working.

The priority shifted toward rendering the outside wall white instead of brown dirt. Michelle galvanized the Rmeish volunteers by working on the ego of their “leader”: “If you work, they will join you“.  It worked, and the outside wall was kind of whiter within two hours.

After 2 pm, we focused on scrapping the ground of paints, white and black. We had four hand scrapers (mejhaf) and I worked pretty hard scrapping, kneeling and stooping.

Mario was the hardest male volunteer and climbed on the roofs to paint white the borders.  Three girls worked very hard, among them was Manuella who took over from me hosing down (shatef) the saloon:  She had one finger blistered by the end of the task.

A water truck arrived and a complete hosing down of the yard was undertaken.

The job was done by 3:30 and we settled in groups talking.  The volunteers of Rmeish and Debel complained that the government has this policy (for the last 30 year, of castrating them from higher offices in public service positions).  Why?

Debel and Rmeish are considered potential hotbed towns for spies to Israel:  They have been recruits in the Lebanese army detached to the south, which allied to Israel for over 25 years against the Palestinian Resistance and later against Hezbollah.

Elie said that the highest rank he could dream off is sergeant in the internal security forces (darak).  Elie said that the only ways to keeping in touch with relatives and families living in Israel was through the Christian churches.

Many Lebanese who fled to Israel in May 24, 2000 returned to Lebanon. A few who returned faced military court, served short prison terms and where released.

(It is to be noted that Hezbollah never entered any of “Christian towns” in order to avoid quick revenge, as it happened in France as the Germans vacated Paris, and waited for the lebanese army to take care of the situation)

I said to Elie that they should keep knocking on all doors and not just wait for any quick changes in policies toward the Christian Lebanese in the southern villages. I said that the current government will be more receptive to their demands if they get out of their shells and connect.

(My contention is that they should open lines of communications with Hezbollah: The successive Lebanese government never considered the south as part of Lebanon, kind of hopeless case, since independence in 1943)

Around 4 pm, tables and chairs were brought by a caterer, along with food to be cooked fresh.

It was the usual: shish tawook (chicken), shish pork, homus, baba ghanouj (mashed eggplant with sesame sauce), and imported German beer, which made me sick an hour after we finished.  I had gas pressing on my chest and stomach for over 3 hours.

We danced dabkeh and I participated vigorously.  The volunteer of Debel insisted that we prolong the party and we arrived at a natural grove, surrendered by five ancient oak trees.  There is an underground cave dug in stone with 12 burying grounds dug in the stone inside.

The people in this region disseminate the myth that Jesus and his disciples, who actually lived in that region for 20 years before Jesus ventured to upper Galilee to preach his message, made this cave a dwelling place in period of persecutions.

They claimed that Israel, on purpose, tried to bomb this place during the preemptive war of July 2006.  My contention was “if they are hiding, why do they have to dig in the stone to sleep instead of arranging a more comfortable place?”  I think this grove was the burial ground of a rich family.

Well, I was in bad shape to participate in the conversation, but I shared a cup of whiskey. There was a swimming complex ten meters up and I was glad to pay a visit to the toilet.

By 8:30 pm we were heading back home.  It took over 2:30 hours to arrive in front of the ministry of social affairs. Cedric had decided to join the car of Hala in order to have a reprieve from Ihab’s repeat stories.

Emilie was feeling sleepy and hungry for a dish of real salad.  We had to wait 20 minutes for Hala to arrive: They paid a visit to the nearby office of Cedric to check the WC.

Cedric drove half asleep and we were lucky to be home at around 12:30 am.

Note 1:  Emilie teaches Arabic at a private school, and work on contract with the ministry of social affairs for volunteer programs during summer.  She is also a member of YMCA and participate almost every year to YMCA conventions and training sessions. (I think it was Emily who congratulated Cedric for having such an uncle ready to volunteer in hard work)

Note 2:  Hala, the chief program coordinator, works on contract with the ministry of social affairs.  When she saw me she said: “I have seen that face”.  It turned out that she was studying computer engineering at LAU Byblos during the period I was teaching courses in Industrial Engineering.  She has a friend of a few Industrial engineers whom took a few courses with me.

Note 3:  Read Day One

Day 1. Volunteered two hard days of work: In Kawzah (South Lebanon)?

August 27, 2011 

It is a small village in south Lebanon, this Kawzah, barely 50 families still hanging on, and a tiny St. Joseph church looking neglected from the outside, though fine and shining in the inside.

The church needed a face lift, repainting walls white, the iron fences and doors black, and planting a few plants in the miniature wild garden…and mainly collecting the dirt and a good hosing down of the yard…

Kawzah is mainly two hills: One of the hills is occupied by the UN peace contingent of Ghana. The money is from an old grant signed with Italy in 2007. (see note 1)

Volunteering two hard days of work for a stupid church?

Not my cup of tea: It would have never crossed my mind to beautify a church, since the concept of religion is anathema to me, a dangerous exclusive concept that was not intended to bring peace and equitable behavior to mankind.

Maintaining a church was not my goal for this adventure: I wanted to get acquainted with the western region of south Lebanon and get to meet the youth…

Cedric woke me up at 6:15 am:  We had to drive to the ministry of social affairs in Badaro to join a bus, for about a 3-hour trip.

My niece Chelsea came along: She just had two days of scout camp, and barely had enough hours of sleep.  She made up the loss in sleeping in the car all the way.  This was the case of Cedric too: He had two hours of sleep.  And I wonder, are volunteers lacking sleep serious about working?

We brought sleeping bag on account that we were to sleep in a vacant school.  No bus was waiting for us.

Instead, Emilie the project coordinator was waiting (see note 2 in Day Two).

Since over 40 volunteers were expected to arrive from the neighboring villages to Kawzah, it was advantageous to cut down on expenses. Consequently, we waited for the chief coordinator Hala to arrive and drove in two cars.

As we were waiting, a tall and chubby guy showed up carrying a small bag and a large plastic bag.  His name is Ihab.  Ihab began his marathon of talk:  He was waiting since 6:30 am for this bus to show up, and then he walked around the corner and met us.

Hala arrived with Michelle.  Michelle had barely two hours of sleep since she spent last night dancing in a bar in Gemmayzeh till 5 am. Chelsea joined the car of Hala.  Cedric and Ihab and I accompanied Emilie.

We stopped at a Bohsali sweet shop by Tyr and waited for Hala.  Ihab explained that the portion of the highway from Saida to Tyre was not constructed because late Rafic Hariri PM decided to build a Mosque in the name of his father, just where the highway was planned to pass. The reverse trip on the highway is fine all the way, and passes by the Main Street of Saida and by the mosque.

Ihab never stopped talking: He has this urge of cutting in every conversation as he recalled a story to tell.  Usually Ihab starts with a long introduction and then forget the main topic.  Ihab keeps repeating his stories.  It is kind he has a Markov memoryless dysfunction Markov Chain process is a mathematical probability method where an event cannot remember the previous event, it has no links whatsoever…

Iqbal is a professional “search and locate” of volunteer associations and NGO that provide expense-free adventure in transport, food and lodging for free work.  This trip was supposed to be free as announced.

Iqbal claims that he has been volunteering for these kinds of associations since 2001 and has visited most of Lebanon.  He claims that he established his own NGO, but it is not taking off, due to his “control freak” attitude.

Although Emilie has done this trip once before, we had to ask for directions for added confirmation:  We were already 30 minutes late for the appointed schedule.

We arrived at 10:30.  The dozen gallons of paints were there, but not the tener bottles for thinning and cleaning paints. The paint rollers and garden equipments were ready, but the plan for beginning the work was still in the “planning phase”.

There was a confusion of how to start, since the expert artisans had not received direction to guide and train the troops.

We were divided into three groups. White T-shirt were distributed. I decided to join the group of wall painters and took the initiative to rub and clean a wall, and then started to paint.

The tone was set and people began to get involved at work.  The sun was scorching and it was hard work at noon time.  It is not possible to work between 11 and 3 pm, but that what we were doing.

It was a field day for the children who enjoyed painting, but they refused to rub and clean the iron first. 

You had more paints on the ground and on shirts and hands than on the iron fences.  You cannot believe the quantity of hand plastic gloves that were wasted: You think they were candies.

The kids also poured more white paints on the floor in the adjacent one room construction than on the walls.

An older person in kaki short hollered to the kids to never touch on paints anymore.  The kids just found another area to bypass the eyes of the kaki-shorted individual. The next day was dedicated to cleaning the mess that the children did!

We had a break around 1:30 pm because food was not ready.  I overheard someone saying that 100  “tawook” (chicken) sandwiches and 100 kafta will be delivered.

I said that quantity was far more than needed and the guy said: “These hard working young men need plenty of nourishment”.  Half of the sandwiches ended as leftover.

We had Pepsi and Miranda for drinks.  Someone asked for hot water for his Nescafe, and I said: “There are plenty of warm potable water, but not that hot for your purpose.”

I told the curator of the church to think of allocating a toilet for this crowd.  One of the doors in the previous municipality quarter was thus opened to give way for a decent WC.

We resumed work around 3 pm, but the energy had gone and we dragged on till 5 pm.  We were supposed to have dinner and an evening of partying (sahra), but the volunteers from the villages of Rmeish and Debel had a wedding to attend to.

The sahra was cancelled to next day afternoon as we finish our job.  Marwan was appointed by Tony to lead us on a tour of the villages of Ain Ebel, Bint-Jbeil and Maroun el Ras in the evening after we had our showers.  The school to sleep in was substituted to a house.

Tony welcomed us to his house in Debel.

The extended family was waiting for us.  It appeared that the houses of Tony’s brothers and sisters, and parents were adjacent to one another, sort of an enclave for the clan. I was kind of apprehensive of shaking hands with the women, but Tony said: “Go ahead, it is alright”

Since everyone was kind of shy, I took advantage to using the shower first.

After my quick wonderful shower, Rita was serving fruits in the open balcony.  (Na3eman Adonis). Hala and Michelle used the shower of Tony’s brother home. Such a clear night: It seemed to me that all the stars in the sky were concentrated on top of me; so many stars, and so close to one another.

I learned that Tony and Marwan spent three years in Naharya (Beach town in Israel/Palestine) after Israel withdrew from Lebanon in May 24, 2000 without any preconditions or negotiation. 

Marwan must have been a child then and joined his parents to Israel, supposedly fleeing the wrath of Hezbollah for  them joining, facilitating,  and participating in Israel occupation of south Lebanon for 25 years.

Tony did a six month prison term in the infamous Roumieh prison, after he returned to Lebanon. Six months in Roumieh, a prison designed for 1,500 prisoners and currently holding 4,000 prisoners is a brutal prison term: Drugs flow freely in that prison and conditions are very bad.

Marwan joined us on the vast balcony.  Alex, the 11 year-old son of Tony kept lighting firecrackers.  Michelle is scared of firecrackers and I told Alex to bring a book so we can read. Alex said :”7el 3anni” (keep away from me) and resumed firing.

Is this need to hearing loud cracking noises a new gene that grew out of 15 years of brutal civil war?

Seems people who were not born during the civil war (1975-1990) need hearing bombing to feel that life is back to normal!

This summer, firecrackers turned out to be of the very powerful kinds and the ministry of interior prohibited firecrackers.  Two weeks of reprieve for our ears was all that resulted: Firecrackers of heavier caliber surfaced to “disturb the peace”.

Debel is built on a hill, and it is surrounded by 7 hills, two of the hills are part of Kawzah and the others are part of Debel, though nothing is built on them.

I asked Marwan if there is any river crossing the tight valley and he said that only one potable fresh source is available down the valley, and water flows into a small lake (berkeh).

Marwan said that he heard that, in early days, water depth reached the neck of camels, but now water reaches you waist.  Marwan resumed: “Once a year, the village of Debel descend to clear and clean the water source area, but the residents of the village of Anouf throw all kinds of waste in there” (Marwan meant that the Chias of that village do not respect the environment…)

As everyone had his shower by 9 pm, we drove in two cars and passed Ain Ebel, Rmeish, Bint Jbeil, Yaroun, and Maroun al Ras.

We could see the dozen lighted Jewish colonies.  A few colonies use yellow lights and others blueish.  I presume the older colonies use older yellow lighting bulb.  I noticed red lights, spaced a mile away.  Marwan said the red lights might be used to delimit boundaries; it does not explain that the red lights reach deep into the colonies.

There is a new fantastic and new resting place up there in Maroun el Ras, facing down the Jewish colonies.  Families spend their days and evening in individual booths, equipped with a water fountain and a grill.

Each booth is named after an Iranian district with details on the districts, such as area, population, where it is located on the map…One handicap though:  The toilets are Arabic style, which means you have to stoop on your heels.  I can do that for three minutes, but then if my bowel movement is not that ripe, I might end up sitting on my shit… (The night is not over. Expect continue of Day 2)

Note 1:  Italy had signed grant contracts with the ministry of social affairs in 2007, but it will not renew any grants before 2013 for budget cuts, sort of cutting expenses on foreign aids, a million here and a million there so that Italy air force may purchase an extra fighter jet in order to play the game of cat and mouth with presumed “rogue States“.

It is the same story with Spain, France…Italy has one of the largest UN contingent in South Lebanon.  Italy has donated a bus to the nearby village of Debel, a couple of miles from Kawzah. The bus purpose is to provide transport of elder people for tour trips and occasional events such as wedding and tasting of food of student cooks…I used to organize these kinds of tour for elderly people in San Francisco…

Note 2: Read day two

No women representation? “The Arab League represents half the Arabs…”: Who is Hoda Sha3rawi?

In “Letters from Egypt, 1863“, the British Lucie Duff-Gordon wrote that the Christian copt of higher Egypt were far more stringent in wearing the veil than the Moslem women.

Wearing the veil was a symbol of higher social status, regardless of religion, even in the Arabic Peninsula during the Prophet Muhammad time.

Wearing the veil was a tradition inherited from the strict Christian Byzantium Empire that ruled the Near East from 325 AC to 650.

Summer 1923 was a turning point for women liberation in Egypt:  Hoda Shaarawi was returning from a women conference in Rome, and stepped out of a train in Cairo.  As she landed, Hoda removed her veil and threw it on the ground saying: “No more veil”.

Her companion Saiza Nabarawi imitated the gesture and all the women waiting in the train station followed suit.

Note 1:  The Arab League does not represent the “Arabs”.

It represent the stability of the regimes of dictators and absolute monarchs.  With the fall of the oligarchies in Tunisia, Egypt, Libya…we expect the representatives to the League of the “liberated States” to be capable and acknowledge the engaged women.

The “Arab States” will be democratic or not, depending on the engaged women.  We expect the women representatives not to be exclusively the mouth speakers of their respective governments, but to shoulder the aspiration of all women, according to the UN definition of human rights, and human development indicators, and be the vanguard to what is meant by democracy, fair and equitable election laws…

Note 2:  Article inspired from the French book “12 women of the Orient who changed history” by Gilbert Sinoue.  I have reviewed a book on Hoda Shaarawi by another author (maybe Fatima Mernisi)

Note 3:  Iqbal, mother of Hoda and second wife to Muhammad Sultan, was Circassian by origin (from the Caucasus region). Russia invaded the Caucasus to expand on the detriment of the Ottoman Empire.

Iqbal was sent to Istanbul and at the age of 10 was dispatched to Cairo,  Her uncle Youssef Sabri was a military officer, but the wife of her uncle refused to admit this poor relative.  Consequently, Iqbal was raised by relatives of her mother.

Iqbal was behind Hoda getting education and enjoying liberty for expressing opinions and getting involved.

“Manipulated of the World, Unite!:”  Clarification and resolution
Since antiquity, the main task of any ruler was to discover the best and most efficient means to manipulate the masses for his own interest.  It is dawning on me that can be an interesting social platform for serious discussions on important topics, if the comments are expanded and developed.  For example, on August 19 at 10:36pm, Jamil Berry wrote on in French: “Un slogan unificateur de la terre entière pourrait désormais être” Manipulés du monde ; unissez-vous ” by paraphrazing Karl Mark “Workers of the World, Unite”

I commented: “How can we be aware that we have been manipulated, if secrets are not made public and we refuse to read and listen? Usually, individuals recognize a manipulation when it is too late. In the meanwhile, they refuse to take seriously warnings and pieces of intelligence: We think that we are always more clever and more informed than those nuts of “engaged people” who have nothing better to do than “complain

Jamil Berry replied: Dear adonis . I do agree with you . First of all let me thank you for the 2 long chapters you wrote on your blog about my book . You have had a very pertinent analysis and i’m very proud being your friend . However manipulation is the only today’s language of geopolitics . We assist to the rise of generations educated and formated by the 2000 tv channels all around the world . Medias become the LIE sanctuary . An example ? Did you hear of read any jewish bad accusation against Strauss-Khan (DSK) ?..

Adonis replied:  “The current mass uprising are responses to decades of tacit manipulations. The social platforms made the masses more in tune with timely information, with pertinent timely interactions among the events…kind of allowing to join the dots in an efficient manner…getting very knowledgeable of massive and timely interactions around the world…

Jean-Michel Lambert commented in French: “A tout prendre, et bien que j’ai horreur de cette sensation, je prefère etre manipulé, que de faire partie des manipulateurs!! Entre naiveté, et cynisme, j’ai choisi! Mais par ailleurs, pas mal de personnes denonçant les manipulations se révélent au final etre manipulées elles memes!! Et puis, ne vaut il pas mieux etre confrontés au diffIcile choix de faire le tri dans les informations qui nous parviennent…vraies ou fausses, que de subir stoiquement celles distillées par la pensée et le media unique??? En bref, j’aime autant avoir le droit de choisir la manipulation subie!!! C’est déja une liberté en soi…Non?

Latifa ElKihal commented: “Je reste très dubitative sur cette question qui est pourtant très actuelle. D’abord , tout est manipulateur , même les bibelots et les paysages. La manipulation est d’abord une séduction. qu’elle soit innocente ou mal intentionnée . On se laisse séduire et manipuler …Nous sommes des adultes et nous avons le libre arbitre. Enfin , nous pensons l’avoir , mais nous ne sommes et ne resterons hélas que des arbitres d’angle , comme ceux des terrains de foot . Et donc nous avons besoin de lire , pour nous éclairer. Les intellectuels , qui incarnaient avant une certaine honnêteté intellectuelle sont devenus, pour la plupart d’entre eux, des « faussaires » ….Je vous donne un exemple : Toute la presse parle de la rentrée littéraire et on annonce déjà les bests- sellers de la rentrée . L’express , le monde , le Figaro , Libération…et toute cette presse salutaire en fait l’éloge, et publie les extraits et les compteurs de vente ont déjà explosé et ça génère un argent fou. ( j’ai lu ce matin le rapport Forbes sur les chiffres de ventes aux USA sur Livres hébdo , les chiffres sont incroyables !)..Ce sont les médias qui décident qui sera best seller ; et il va l’être , quelque soit son contenu !!! Des intellectuels col blanc , bien coiffés et très médiatisés qui s’expriment sur toutes les crises politiques . Des intellectuelles soldats ….Un spectacle désolant et hallucinant ! Je n’aime pas céder à l’idée du complot , mais je commence à étouffer dans cette sphère culturelle mensongère . Je commence à beaucoup me méfier de ce genre d’attitude . On nous vend tout et n’importe quoi dans un monde de consommation . Des brosses à dents , des shampoings , des voitures et même des analyses et des pensées prêtes à penser …Pascale Boniface fait son coup de gueule en défiant ce système, et en publiant à contre courant son livre « Les intellectuels faussaires » sorti en Mai 2011.  C’est édifiant , son article est sur l’… Je n’ai pas encore lu ce livre, on en parle si peu !! Je compte le faire et je respecte ce genre d’individu qui met à nu ce système de manipulation de la pensée des masses . Mais le public n’est plus dupe et on est déjà en plein crise morale intellectuelle …

Latifa ElKihal commented: “Mais cette immoralité intellectuelle se trouve menacée à long terme par la prise de conscience des masses manipulées . La blogosphère qui s’impose de plus en plus, tente de contrer ces manipulations . Il y’a des blogs dignes d’intérêt où on lit régulièrement des analyses de grande qualité . Les médias , se trouvent aussi contrés par cette palette numérique qui permet d’un côté une grande diffusion des infos et articles, et d’un autres côté elle permet en temps réel de critiquer , de disséquer et de discuter toute l’actualité . Les maisons d’éditions et leurs dictats seront un jour contournées . Aux USA l’autoédition est entrain de fleurir . C’est plaisant de voir les nouveaux auteurs s’auto-éditer ..On assiste de plus en plus à une nouvelle liberté d’expression qu’aucune politique ne peut contenir ni censurer et qu’aucune ligne éditoriale ne peut dicter ou manipuler …Là aussi tout n’est pas bon et il faudrait séparer le bon grain de l’ivraie . Et nous avons désormais de nouveaux éclaircissements à portée de main qui nous aident à se faire une opinion encore plus éclairée et à développer l’esprit critique …”

What do think?  States will always manipulate the citizens: Manipulating opinions is its main job, using all the means of pressure and power in its hands, all the money, news medias, richest classes, university intellectuals… How can citizens recognize a manipulation? How can citizen associate and focus their attention and confrontation?

Media mogul, Rupert Murdoch’s News of the World has folded shop after serious investigation on illegal wire tapping on personalities and bereaved families, and buying off police officers for reports…

Julian Assange made a break through in WikiLeaks by publishing secret reports…

Dictators are falling in Tunisia, Egypt, Libya..and soon absolute monarchs will vanish.  International financial conglomerates are experiencing the squeeze because governments have tried to save the liberal capitalist philosophy and are failing miserably facing the ire of the common people, tired of paying the bills of those who recklessly flaunted all laws and regulations…




August 2011

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