Adonis Diaries

Archive for January 15th, 2012

On “The Corniche” of West Beirut

The Corniche or paseo of West Beirut is known as “Corniche el bahar (sea)”, “Corniche el manara (Phare)”, “El Raoucheh (rock)”.  It used to be called during the French mandate (1920-43) the “French Avenue“, and it is equivalent to the strolling boulevard of the British in Nice.

Muriel Rozelier wrote in her “A life of a Pintade in Beirut“:

“I am walking The Corniche.  It is 5 pm, and my female friends are out of their work offices and meeting me at the Corniche, at Hajj Daoud shop for a cocktail on the pontoon to dip our feet. To get to this cliff road, I have to walk amid heavy traffic and loud honking: Silence is a rare commodity in Beirut.

I cross the district of Ouet-Ouet, mostly of Shias and old houses, and traverse the district of the Joumblatt, and joins the superb alleys of Ain Mreisseh before reaching this 2-mile stretch of walkway from Hajj Daoud and McDonald to the outdated Luna Park.

The sun is hesitating to dip into the sea. The crowd is already loud and dressed in all kinds of cloths and colors. Many are nibbling on “termos” and sunflower seeds, drinking coffee as they criss-cross amid bicycles and roller riders.

Many are slumped on folding chairs, smoking the narguilleh, listening to old songs of the 50’s, or the latest of George Wassouf (the equivalent of the French singer Serge Gainsbourg)…

The women of West Beirut are here: wearing miniskirt, hijab, gelbab, sponge short, transparent waxed water proof coat (to sweat profusely),…

The women are gathered in clusters, walking briskly, leisurely, or jogging singly and in two, listening to their MP3, Louis Vuiton cap on the head, Louis Vuiton veils, Dolce and Gabbana jogging shoes

You think these ladies are here for the daily exercise,  but mostly they are “mazaher” for show-off.  A lady from the Gulf Emirate exclaims, arms wide open: “Oh my God. This is real civilization“.  And I am wondering what in this Corniche is bluffing her.

The rule: Make sure you look busy and focused on your walk.  You have to look that you don’t care about the males solicitations, otherwise, this favorite location will lose its sense of permissiveness..

After 10 pm, the couples of lovers converge to the Corniche, and these 4*4 tainted window passing slowly… Ambulatory merchants are increasing in number, selling pistachios, termos, Coffee Express, orange juice, cigarette, chocolate bars, “foul” or fava beans, and gardenia necklaces…

During the long civil war (1975-1989), the Corniche was the place to find supplies in all kinds of drugs, whores, and young gays…

Currently, the lovely old houses have been torn down, to making room for new tall buildings, no less than 25 floors, blocking the sight to the sea: You have to pay to have a view to the sea.  These buildings are owned by Saudi and Gulf Emirate citizens and Lebanese expatriates, and they are almost totally empty! (Read note 3 on Solidere chartered company)

Women of Beirut have a dignified style, a showing off humor, a resistance to improbable events in life.  Women of Beirut hold in their palm the destiny of Lebanon, this “pseudo-State”, giving Lebanon life and flesh.

If you believe Lebanon is an exquisite location to spend your vacation, it is mainly due to the women who draw daily the geography of intimacy…

Note 1:  I recall that 4 years ago, I used occasionally to go with one of my nieces to the Corniche. We parked the car at the entrance of BIEL, rent bicycles and ride about 4 miles back and forth, to end up turning round and round in the open space in front of the McDonald and the bust of Gamal Abdel Nasser.

It appears that the crowd is not here for open spaces and visualizing the vast horizon of the “open sea”, but to congregate in the narrower locations in order to mingle and enjoy a crowd bath…

I had more difficulty than my niece enjoying these difficult rides among the babies and delinquent adolescents…

Note 2:  You may read a previous post

Note 3: On the reconstruction of Beirut city-center

More drone attacks. More “collateral” casualties of babies and civilians: Glenn Greenwald 

Shouldn’t Presidential contenders in the US give more priorities to the “Unconstitutional” activities done during the two Bush Jr. Administration and that are still going on with Obama? Like indefinite detention in Guantanamo prison and the pursuing of drone attacks that are killing more civilians than the listed targeted 2,000 “terrorists” in Pakistan, Afghanistan, Yemen, Somalia…?

In a previous post, I published the lengthy article of Glenn Greenwald on the evil of indefinite detention, like in the Guantanamo prison camp, Bagram prison (in Northern Afghanistan) and elsewhere.  I am splitting this article into two parts and reporting the sections on the collateral “damages” on civilians done by the US drone attacks…

Glenn Greenwald wrote: “As the US is heading into Election Year, there is an increasingly common and repellent tactic being employed by some Democratic partisans against those of us who insist that issues like indefinite detention (along with ongoing killing of civilians in the Muslim world) merit high priority. The argument is that to place emphasis on such issues is to harm President Obama (because he’s responsible for indefinite detention, substantial civilian deaths, and war-risking aggression) while helping competing candidates (such as Gary Johnson or Ron Paul) who vehemently oppose such policies.

The argument to demanding that issues, like indefinite detention and civilian deaths of drone attacks be prioritized in assessing the presidential race, is to subordinate the importance of other issues such as abortion, gay equality, and domestic civil rights enforcement on which Obama and the Democrats are better. Many of these commentators strongly imply, or now even outright state, that only white males are willing to argue for such a prioritization scheme because the de-prioritized issues do not affect them.

There are numerous glaring flaws with this divisive tactic. For one, it relies on a full-scale, deliberate distortion of the argument being made: Demanding that issues like indefinite detention, civilian deaths and aggressive war be given high priority in the presidential race does not remotely advocate the de-prioritization of any other issues.

For another, many women and ethnic and racial minorities – as well as gay Americans — are making similar arguments about the need for these issues to receive substantial attention in the election.

More important, it’s irrational in the extreme to argue that self-interest or “privilege” would cause someone to want to prioritize issues like indefinite detention and civilian casualties given that the civil liberties and anti-war advocates being so accused are extremely unlikely themselves to be affected by the abuses they protest.

It isn’t white males being indefinitely detained, rendered, and having their houses and cars exploded with drones — the victims of those policies are people like Boumediene, or Gulet Mohamed, or Jose Padilla, or Awal Gul, or Sami al-Haj, or Binyam Mohamed, or Afghan villagers, or Pakistani families, or Yemeni teenagers.

When you spend the vast bulk of your time working against the injustices imposed almost exclusively on minorities and the marginalized — as anyone who works on these war and civil liberties issues by definition does — it’s reprehensible for someone to deploy these sorts of accusatory tactics, all in service of the shallow goal of partisan loyalty enforcement. Those who were actually driven primarily by privileged self-interest would want to de-prioritize these issues in a presidential campaign, not insist on their vital importance.

And that is this real point here: what’s so warped about those who employ this tactic for partisan ends is how easily it could be used against them, rather than by them. The authors of the three accusatory examples linked above (Carpentier, Pollitt, and Matthews) — as well as most of those Democrats who have now sunk to explicitly arguing that such matters are unimportant — are white and non-Muslim. To apply their degraded rhetoric to them, one could easily say:

Of course they don’t consider indefinite detention, invasions and occupations, and civilian slaughter to be disqualifying in a President or even meriting substantial attention in the presidential election — of course they will demand that everyone faithfully support a President who continues to do these things aggressively — because, as non-Muslims, they’re not the ones who will be imprisoned for years with no trial or have their children blown to bits by a U.S. drone or air strike, so what do they care?

I don’t employ or endorse that wretched reasoning, but those who do — such as the authors of the above-linked accusations — should have it applied to them and their own political priorities; they deserve to reap what they are sowing.

Indeed, The Washington Post today has an excellent article by John Tirman on the millions of civilian deaths which the U.S. has caused over the last several decades and how steadfastly those civilian deaths are ignored in U.S. political and media discourse.  One primary reason that these deaths receive such low priority is because Americans are unaffected by these casualties and can thus easily de-prioritize them as aberrational:

This explains much of our response to the violence in Korea, Vietnam, Iraq and Afghanistan. When the wars went badly and violence escalated, Americans tended to ignore or even blame the victims. The public dismissed the civilians because their high mortality rates, displacement and demolished cities were discordant with our understandings of the missions and the U.S. role in the world.

These attitudes have consequences. Perhaps the most important one — apart from the tensions created with the host governments, which have been quite vocal in protesting civilian casualties — is that indifference provides permission to our military and political leaders to pursue more interventions.

(John Tirman, the executive director and principal research scientist at the MIT Center for International Studies has released a book on that topic).

It’s much easier to view these policies as non-disqualifying and to insist on their de-prioritization in favor of other policies because their white, non-Muslim privilege means that they aren’t the ones who are going to be indefinitely detained, assassinated without due process, or have their homes and children targeted with drones and cluster bombs. Muslims have a much harder time so blithely acquiescing to such abuses — as do non-Muslims who are capable of protesting grave injustices even when they’re not directly affected by them.

Again, that is not a form of reasoning I accept or use — there may be all sorts of reasons why one would want these policies to be de-prioritized or at least not be seen as disqualifying beyond selfish, privilege-based indifference — but those who spew those kinds of smears should understand how easy it is to subject them to those accusations.

Ultimately, it really isn’t that complicated to understand why many people consider these issues to be so imperative. Those struggling to understand it should go read Lakhdar Boumediene’s Op-Ed. Or this story and this Op-Ed about a 16-year-old boy and his 12-year-old cousin whose lives were ended when the 16-year-old was targeted (in secret and with no checks) with a drone strike in Pakistan. Or these newly documented findings of ongoing abuse of detainees at Bagram. Or the dozens of Yemeni women and children killed by a U.S. cluster bomb. Or the secretive process by which the current President has seized the unilateral power to target even U.S. citizens for assassination.” End of quote

Retired US army officer Dave Grossman examines in his book “On Killing” the mechanisms that enable the US citizens, not just to ignore, but even cheer such killings.  There are several levels for turning a blind eye on crimes against humanity: first, cultural distance (“such as racial and ethnic differences that permit the killer to dehumanise the victim”); second, moral distance (“the kind of intense belief in moral superiority”); and third, mechanical distance (“the sterile, Nintendo-game unreality of killing through a TV screen, a thermal sight, a sniper sight or some other kind of mechanical buffer that permits the killer to deny the humanity of his victim”).

The Guardian reported: “Thus western liberals who fall over one another to condemn the death penalty for murderers – who have, incidentally, had the benefit of lawyers, trials and appeals – those same liberals fall quiet as their State-sponsored murder and kill with total impunity foreigners and US citizens of Moslem background such as nuclear scientists (Iran), terror suspects (Yemen, Pakistan, Somalia…), and alleged militants in faraway lands.

Human-rights lawyer and anti-drone activist Clive Stafford Smith said: “targeted killing is just the death penalty without due process”.

Note 1: Glenn Greenwald published the article “The evil of indefinite detention and those wanting to de-prioritize it”

Note 2: The NYT has published an Op-Ed from another released, innocent Guantanamo detainee, Murat Kurnaz, that is just as harrowing and moving. It isn’t the people who are demanding these injustices receive high priority who have to answer charges of race-and-privilege-based self-interest and indifference; if anyone should answer those scurrilous charges, it’s those insisting that these abuses are not disqualifying and can and should be de-prioritized in the 2012 election.

Mark these 10,000 hours of practice-sessions: And become a top expert in anything you wish to be

Apparently, up till late 1990’s, mankind brain required about 10,000 hours of practice-sessions in any skills or field of work before the person become top in his passion.

There are million upon million of geniuses, but a few of them are known to the general public.

Townspeople know the “geniuses” among them, but to be recognized worldwide, and acquire the standing and stature of a top genius in any field, like music, sport, computer programming, dancing, singing, architecture, fashion designer…you have got to accumulate around the 10,000 hours in practice sessions before you reach the age of 20 or so…

Thus, the main hurdle is to overcome 3 concurrent requirements, meaning if one is not satisfied then you will not reach the top in your field:

First requirement: you must have a great passion for something, and be willing to consistently practice for many years, the hard way.

Second, the community and family support must be available to allow you the necessary investment in time and money in practice sessions, such as acquiring additional intelligent social skills and negotiating abilities…

Third, you must be born within short-span particular years, and living in the proper environment:  The external factors are many and must converge to provide the extra nudge and facilities… For examples:

Example One.   What these people share: Bill Gates, Bill Joy (Sun Microsystem and creator of JAVA language), Paul Allen, Steve Ballmer, Steve Jobs, Eric Schmidt (Novel and Google), Scott McNealy, Vinod Khosla, Andy Bechtolshein…?

These people are top in the computer and communication business and were extremely lucky to live in an environment and were born at the proper period to put in the 10,000 hours in practice, learning programming and the computer and communication technologies.

These people were born between 1954 and 1956, and as the Time-Sharing facility on main frame computers introduced the teletype in 1965,  they could bypass the time-consuming card-punching technology which would have been a major handicap into accumulating the 10,000 hours in practice.

These people enjoyed the facility of living at walking distance to major universities that could afford to purchase top of the art computer systems and powers and make it available 24 hours a day.  Many enjoyed the luck of attending private junior and high schools that acquired sophisticated computers for the period.

These people who were the best computer programmers and were urgently needed by the companies around the communities, happened to be around as personal computer hit the market in 1975 and they could use the instructions to building their own prototype and own computer language….These lucky geniuses didn’t have to finish university studies, and they could tap on ready technology investment money funds to start their own computer and communication companies…

Example two.  The Beatles have accumulated the 10,000 hours, for most its band members, before conquering the USA by storm in 1964.  They were very lucky to be invited to play and sing in Hamburg between 1960 till late 1962:  They played 8 hours a day, 7 days a week in Bruno’s strip joint that was opened 24 hours. Every time they returned to England from their extended gig in Hamburg, they put in just a couple of hours and had to make up for lost ground on their return to Hamburg and perfect their stage presence and their coordination as a group.

Example three.  Mozart was lucky to have a father musician who allowed his son to put in 10,000 hours of practice sessions, composing concertos piano and orchestra since the age of six.  As Mozart reached about 23 of age, he could produce the master-works N9, K291…Prior to this age, Mozart was composing mainly arrangement works, corrected by his father.

I don’t think that mother is “bright” (this assessment is not based on any IQ tests), but she learned to be a great seamster (cutting patrons and sewing dresses) when a child and kept doing this for many years and purchasing clothing magazine for her business, and she is an excellent cook.  Certainly she accumulated the 10,000 hours, but not before reaching 20.  A few people might consider mother as a case of “mild autism syndrome“?

I contend that those born in the late 1990’s, with the advent of Internet, fast audio-visual communication, and social platform available to kids to use and apply, the new kids will be enjoying an upgraded qualitative brain connectivity that will reduce the number of total practice sessions, in fields related to audio-visual, and also permit fast accumulation of training hours within less than 7 years.

In any case, pass the score of 130 in IQ test, your analytical abilities are good enough to going into graduate studies and getting a Nobel Prize, with consistent hard work and accumulating this 10,000 hours of practice.

It appears that doing well in Math is related to attitude:  The more persistent and resolved to solve a problem, the longer your engaged attitude, the better you are in math.  People used to work in rice fields that require constant and hard effort all year round do better in math than other people…

Note 1: I recall that I knew not a single word of French at the age of 12, before I joined a private French school.  My aunt, living with us, started to buy me exciting French books, and I started to read French books for at least 6 hours a day, seven days a week. Within a year, I wrote far better than any French-born students in my class, and the teachers would not believe that the essays were mine.

Mind you, I didn’t write anything beside my homework, or read aloud, or spoke fluently French: I just wrote better.

Another proof that it is not feasible to write well before you make the routine of reading a lot, and consistently.  Reading is necessary for sound verbal delivery, but it is not sufficient: Verbal intelligence is related to another part of the brain and requires other set of learning and practice.  I do lack verbal intelligence.

Note 2: This post was inspired from a chapter of “Outliers” by Malcolm Gladwell.




January 2012

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