Adonis Diaries

Posts Tagged ‘Karl reMarks

Political Negotiation: How does it functions in Lebanon?

I recall many decades ago, patiently trying to finish my graduate studies, that I volunteered to help another Lebanese to set up his data base and input his data in an environmental study.

Two months later, while also involved in setting up my experiments and collecting data, this Lebanese asked me: “I want to pay you for your trouble and time invested…” I never got into any negotiation before, but I blurted out: “I volunteered to help you, so forget about the money issue…”

This graduate student insisted that I be paid, and for the form I said: “Okay, $100”. That was a pittance, given that the student is well-off, family and teaching jobs…

I recall when I came to the university 5 years ago, another Lebanese undergraduate student called up this guy and arranged that he spare me a room in his vast apartment out of town. There were no public transportation whatsoever, and I had to go with him to the university and return in his car in the evening.  I stayed for about a week.

All these years, I biked and lived in basements, and 4 part-time jobs could barely pay for my tuition: I was frequently broke and many nights I sleep with an empty stomach.

The “negotiation” was not about to end and it took another turn. The graduate student replied: “What? You have the guts to ask for payment?”  I said: “I said that I did it for free, if you want me to ask for $1,000 or ten dollars just decide…” He got even more upset: “What? Do you think that I am cheap and could not afford $100?”

Finally, he wrote up a check for $100, and I never heard from him. I think that I forgot his name. He was telling me that he was negotiating with many geology companies in California for a package over $60,000, at a time there were no jobs and no companies were hiring even graduate students…

It’s a warm spring afternoon in Beirut, the birds are chirping and Hamra street is as busy as usual. There’s a lottery salesman staring into the distance, and occasionally he takes a puff from his cigarette then goes back to staring.

An old woman is trying to cross the street, and a nearby family is watching the scene from a balcony on the second floor. A typical calm Beirut Afternoon.

Karl reMarks posted on April 19, 2013:

A man strolls into a shop and starts inspecting the bags on display with as much disgust as he can summon.  The salesman look at him then goes back to reading his newspaper. The psychological warfare has begun and neither man wants to reveal any interest.

It’s a battle of nerves, skill and composure.

The customer decides on an opening gambit. He sighs as if the bags on display have thrown him into an existential crisis, then points half-heartedly to one of the bags and asks “how much is this one?”

The salesman looks up from the newspaper: “you are a man of good taste, that’s one of our best bags. It’s 100 dollars.”

The customer draws two incredulous arches with his brows, whistles and says: “What do you think I am, a tourist? Don’t plan your retirement on this sale. I’m Lebanese, now how much is it really?”

“God forbid. Believe me, I’m only making five dollars on this sale. Come downstairs with me and I will show you the receipt. But I don’t want to make any money on this, you look like a gentleman, I will give it to you for $95.”

“I’m trying to buy a bag from you and you are performing a comedy show. I  don’t buy bags every day, I have to go to a relative’s funeral in Jordan. Do you want me to take my clothes in a plastic bag? Because of you, I will have to do that. You have no mercy.”

(Both the salesman and the customer know this is a lie, but the rules stipulate that you’re not allowed to point that out.)

“I am saddened for your loss. My condolences, this is God’s wish. Your story has really affected me, I will take a loss on this. $90 for you.”

“This is not meant to be. I am going to your neighbour’s shop, I heard that he’s a more reasonable man.”

The client makes for the door, the salesman pauses a bit then says:

“Be a patient man. How much do you want to pay?”

“$20”.

“$20? Are you trying to start a fight? That’s it, I’m fed up with this business, I’m closing the shop.”

The salesman pretends he’s about to move, but the customer decides a quick follow-up is needed.

“Look here, all my cousins will need bags. Give me a good price and I will send them here. How does $30 sound?”

“How about I give to you for $30 then take my children out of school and have them beg on the streets? Would that satisfy you? Because that’s the only way I can give it to you for $30. My last word is $80.”

“I will tell you what I will do. We will skip dinner for a few days just because you’re an inflexible man and give you $40 for it. I can’t pay one Lira more, I swear by God.”

“I will give you this Chinese one for $40, why do you need the Italian one? It’s not for you.”

“What will the neighbours say if I they saw me with a Chinese bag? You’re trying to ruin my reputation? $40 is a good price.”

“My brother, I told it cost me $95, I am already losing money on this.” Here he takes out a calculator and starts punching numbers at random while muttering some figures. Then he looks up:” Ok, just for you, I swear, I wouldn’t do this for anyone else, take it for $70. This is my final last word, not a Lira less.”

“Here’s $50, take it and give me the bag. But you’re robbing me, I swear this is illegal.” He tries to forces the money into the salesman’s hand, but the latter withdraws his hand quickly.

“God forbid. Khallas, that’s it, take it for free. I’m not taking any money. Here.” As he says that, he starts packing the bag and tries to hand it over to the customer.

“You’re insulting me. What do you think I am, a beggar? I am going to cancel this trip.”

“You are so stubborn. You have broken me, I have never met a customer like you before. Here, have it for $60 but please don’t tell anyone. They will think I am crazy.”

“$55 it is. Yalla, shake my hand and pack it for me.”

“No way. Not going under $60. I don’t know why I’m still in this business.”

“Ok, I swear by God you have exhausted my soul. $60 and you give me three of these pens with it.”

“$60 and I will give you one pen.”

He shakes his hand and takes the bag. “Have a good evening. You are a man of impeccable taste and generosity.”

“God forbid, you are the best customer I have ever had.” The customer takes the bag and walks way.

As he leaves, both men are left celebrating their victories.

Now, are you interested in understanding how political negotiations work in Lebanon?

For example, the current debate about the parliamentary election law.  Imagine that there are 20 salesmen and 20 customers and try to picture all the possible permutations of the scenario above, and repeated among all parties.

A decision can be made only when they all agree. That will give you a rough idea of the complexity involved.

Actually, make that 19 salesmen and 19 customers (number of officially recognized religious sects), but that’s my last word.

Free Opinion: The worst nemesis to all kinds of ideologies and rulers

This post is a humorous attempt at engaging seriously these stone-faced muslem ideologue and religious extreme “puritanical” factions ruling Egypt today.

Modeled after the hugely successful ‘End Poverty’ global campaign, the Egyptian government today announced ambitious plans to ‘end humor’ by 2018. The initiative will aim to eliminate humor, satire and joke-telling from Egyptian society within a tightly-controlled five-year plan. Smiling will also be frowned upon, even though it won’t be strictly prohibited.

The campaign was launched earlier today by ordering the arrest of popular TV satirist Bassem Youssef, widely seen as a symbol of the nation’s obsession with flippancy and light-heartedness.

A stern-looking government spokesman announced that this is a symbolic strike at the entire echelon of satire and joke-telling that has infiltrated Egyptian society, hinting that foreign hands have been behind the drive to paralyze the nation through the promotion of humor in a strict religious nation.

Karl reMarks posted this March 30, 2013 under “Egypt launches ambitious campaign to ‘end humour’ by 2018”
 

A government spokesman for the Moslem Brotherhood said:

“For decades, people have been promoting inaccurate stereotypes about the Egyptian people, describing them as ‘funny’, ‘witty’ and ‘can make a joke of everything’. This nefarious propaganda promoted by the travel guide industry has distorted the perception of our serene countrymen and their wives, and I am sad to say that many Egyptians have adopted this alien way of thinking“.

Denying claims that this initiative was an attempt to stamp out critique against the government, the spokesman Dr Abbas Gadd clarified the aims of the campaign:

“This is primarily about economic productivity and the nation’s image abroad. We anticipate that even a 65% drop in joke-telling would increase labour productivity (not procreating activity) by 15% and add 1% to the nation’s GDP growth.”

“I do not personally see the point of telling jokes. In fact, I have always pretended to laugh when people told me jokes but I have never heard a funny joke in my life. From now on, no Egyptian citizen will have to put up with this pressure. This is about the nation’s soul.

Look at the ancient Egyptian statues, none of them are smiling. We suspect that the Sphinx was defaced during Napoleon’s campaign to give it a hint of a smile, but the original frown will be restored soon with the help of archaeologists.”

Dr Gadd said that the government will adopt a soft touch in this campaign, but there will be strict punishments for repeat offenders.

“We want you to know that we’re on your side, we’re helping you get rid of an unhealthy addiction (telling jokes and laughing at them). This plague of humor that has spread throughout Egypt will require a huge effort to combat.

Abbas Gadd also identified practical steps that people could take, such as praying or humming the national anthem whenever they felt the urge to tell a joke.

Speaking about the controversial arrest of the satirist Bassem Youssef, Dr Gadd had a clear message:

“I think this is not (Bassem Youssef) fault, his parents called him ‘Bassem’ which means ‘smiling’ in Arabic and we all know that names have a big impact on a person’s disposition. We will recommend that he change his name and we will help find another program to present because we value his talent. Perhaps something about Islamic history or halal interior decoration.”

Dr Gadd introduced several slogans for the campaign, which will be available as T-shirts, wristbands and those car air freshners that are so popular with taxi drivers. Samples to be considered:

“Frown for Egypt”,

“Life is not a joke” and

“Smiling is not a manly trait” and several others were introduced to the press, urging them to spread the message and get on board with the campaign.

A somber mood fell on the press conference venue after the announcement, which Dr Gadd detected. He closed by saying:

“There is nothing to worry about and if you think you’ve had a bad day, I’m invited to my mother-in-law’s house for dinner, and you know what her cooking is like”.

At which point, several people laughed and Dr Gadd himself smiled. But then he realized his faux-pas and left the room hurriedly muttering something about Satan.

Note: Bassem was released the same day, but the campaign of the Brotherhood against opposition opinions is going on.

 

America The Onion to Sue Lebanon: Political system far beyond the reach of satire?

key_art_the_onion

The American satirical magazine The Onion is to sue Lebanon for unfair competition practices. Like what?

1.  For making its headlines look totally reasonable.

2.  For going out of its way to make The Onion’s headlines look ordinary by comparison.

3. For “reforms” of the political/social structure in Lebanon surpassing the absurd: Any attempt of satire sounds egregiously ridiculous in the face of these “stoned serious” representative deputies and political leaders “reforming” the system…

The Onion is demanding million of dollars in compensation, claiming that the small Mediterranean country has ‘ruined the business of writing satirical headlines’.

The magazine’s claim refers to a ‘sustained campaign of non nonsensical l but nevertheless real headlines’ over a number of years…

Karl reMarks posted this Feb. 20, 2013

The straw that broke the camel’s back was Lebanon’s adoption of a new electoral law that requires members of each sect to vote for candidates from their sect only.

A senior staff member at The Onion, Andy Mitchell, revealed the pressure that the magazine’s writers have been under in an interview earlier today. “How can we possibly satirize that? Anything we will come up with will look extremely normal. This is fucking insane.”

Lebanon is trying to create a monopoly in ludicrous headlines and I’m afraid to say it’s succeeding

Lebanese Politics: The Board Game

Michell resumed:
“The law says the Christian Maronites, and I am not quite sure what Maronites are, must vote for Maronites candidates, Shiites for Shiite candidates, Sunnis for Sunni candidates and so on. Except for Jews. Jews can vote for candidates of any sect they choose! Now if we had put that in a satirical article, we would have been accused of unreasonable exaggeration.”

“And why do they call it the Orthodox Electoral Law? There’s NOTHING Orthodox about it.

They must be pulling our leg.

No political system in the world is that twisted, not even North Korea’s.

This is obviously part of a determined effort to undermine what we and other satirical publications do.

Lebanon is trying to create a monopoly in ludicrous headlines and I’m afraid to say it’s succeeding.”

It is understood that The Onion’s lawyers will target Lebanon under anti-trust laws and ‘freakin’ common sense’.

http://www.karlremarks.com/2013/02/the-onion-to-sue-lebanon-for-making-its.html

Note 1:  Orthodox Electoral Law is to institute:

1. A proportional electoral system, a first since 1943

2. Tiny Lebanon would be considered a single district, and not 13 districts, a first since 1943

3. Apparently, you vote for 134 candidates from all sects, and not the candidates representing your religious sect. 67 of “Christians” sects and 67 of Moslem sects… And I’m wondering, how this law is criticized as sectarian if this is the case?

4. Obviously, the voter will have to do his due diligence to grasp the value of each of the numerous candidates he is asked to vote for. That should be a big hurdle, a necessary hurdle to overcome if you claim you want democracy.

Note 2: Political parties and social organizations would have to negotiate lists of 134 candidates, representing barely 2 million voters

Note 3: Every time an new electoral law is  contemplated, the main purpose is to increase the numbers of deputies in the Parliament. Sort of the leaders need to make room for their offspring to climb fast elevators to power…


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