Tuesday, December 30, 2008

And Still the Drums Keep Beating

I've put this up before, but it appears it's worth putting up again, and again. I'm not entirely sure when this poem will stop being relevant.

Enemy Drums

I woke up to the sound of drums,
But it wasn't music, they were bombs,
Yet with precision was the rhythm of their sound,
Every two seconds, three would hit the ground.

Four of my neighbor's five children died,
And the only one that had survived,
Buried his siblings all day long,
Wondering what it was they did wrong.

The sound of bombs muted our own,
And this was no longer for us a home,
But there’s no escape from where we are,
The helping hands and hearts are far.

But it wasn’t that which choked our souls,
To hear the news was like eating burning coals,
Three were wounded from the enemy’s side,
While a hundred of my neighbors died.

Yet the story of those three was written in one big page,
Condemnation was bitter and it was told with such rage,
And the hundred were mentioned in half a line,
All tears for us just had to be dried.

We’re dying but terrorists is what we’re called,
They play their drums, but we’re appalled.
The voices of hundreds who died unheard,
Pleads of wailing mothers deferred.

The news, it burns, it tells their story,
And it seems as though they suffer with glory.
But in our land we’re slaughtered and killed,
And their lust for murder is never fulfilled.

So hear my voice or let me die,
Listen to my truth and decide if it’s a lie,
But don’t keep me waiting for too long,
I’m dead very soon, and I’ll take you along.

I’m a rat in a cage, tortured without end,
The torturer kills and for help he will send,
He'll cry like a victim and torture again,
Strong are his allies and feeble are my friends.

Not a word of those four children was said,
They’re sleeping in their graves, their killers in their beds.
Those innocent dead are criminals in the world’s eyes,
And still the drums keep beating with lyrics made of lies.

Tuesday, December 23, 2008

7 ½ Reasons Why I Hate My Lovely iPod

Every time the word iPod is mentioned in a conversation someone has to interrupt, sigh and say dreamily: 'I love my iPod', as if this line were as mandatory the Ezzat Abou Ouf appearance in every new Arabic movie released. The truth is that the iPod is one of the most overrated devices known to man. Most people have been brain washed into thinking that the best MP3 players are produced by Apple Computers, so much so, that the word MP3 player has been conveniently replaced by iPod.

This couldn't be farther from the truth and it might startle some to read that the super expensive iPod they just bought isn't the best player in the market and that he could have bought something better for a lesser price. There are many MP3 players out there and have surpassed iPods in many aspects.

For example, the player with the best features as reviewed by CNET is from Creative; Sony has the player with the longest best battery life, not iPods and much to the dismay of iPod owners who take pride in quality, Creative provides the players with the highest sound quality. Although iPods look sleek with appealing simplicity, beneath their shiny exterior are enormous shortcomings that have been masterfully camouflaged solely by good marketing.

I need an MP3 player that works as storage and a player simultaneously, one that can record and tune in to the radio. I'd like to features that make my life easier since I'm already carrying the damn thing with me all the time. Is that too much to ask? Apparently Apple thinks so.

Since MP3 players are very personal, let me list a summary of reasons why I personally hate iPods:

1- No Radio

Other MP3 players can tune in to a radio station, why not mine?


2 - No Voice Recorder

Whether you're interviewing someone or want to record a business meeting, or just someone who wants to create voice memos, you'd like to be able to do that using your MP3 player that you already carry around. Not with the iPod.


3- Unintuitive Media Transfer

Why can't I just drag my music to the iPod? I do that with most other MP3 players. Heck I even do that with the iPod when I want to use it as storage, why then must it be so difficult to transfer an MP3 to my iPod? Even techies find it tedious and that really says something!! Which brings us to…


4- Either Player or Storage

Once it's on the pod it can never go back. If you transfer a song to your iPod you can't copy it back to your PC, it's not an option, not in a straight forward manner anyway. You can transfer the song as a file using your explorer but then you can't play it on your iPod. You have to choose between using your iPod as storage or as a player.


5- Very Proprietary

Proprietary software, gadgets or formats are the reason why I have a stack of Sony's failed Betamax tapes unable to play them except on an old Sony VCR. It is also the same reason why some of you might have a stack of the now defunct mini discs also by Sony (but Sony and proprietary gadgets is another story).

iPods are reminiscent of such a disaster, without the proprietary iPod cable I'm completely lost. I can't charge my iPod nor connect to a computer. A standard cable can connect your camera, your hard drive and your MP3 player to the computer and is widely available with other products, this kind of connection is provided by Sandisk's Sansa players for example. If Apple chooses to discontinue these cables then you're in a jam and might have difficulty finding places to buy these cables if you value an old iPod.

But even with the proprietary cable packed you still need iTunes, you can't simply copy music that you like from a friend's PC to the iPod. You either need your laptop or iTunes everywhere you go. As if that's not enough, you need to register your iPod on any new iTunes on a new computer which means you have to carry around more software and information.

Most people I know have suffered from iTunes in one way or another. Even though iTunes is freely available the internet there's no version of iTunes under Linux.


6- Lacks Other Features

To record a radio program is obviously not available and transferring a video to iPod is a hassle. You can't transfer a video of your choice, the formats supported are limited. But that's not all, there are some innovative features provided by other MP3 players that have probably not even been considered in iPods. Some MP3 players have a memory slot of SD cards for example, others create a playlist for the most played songs automatically.


7 - More for Less

 With such a limited feature set, you end up paying much more for much less.


7 ½ - Pretentious

This is the most subjective of all of my reasons, and that's why I will count it as half a reason. People don't look for features, they just simply pick the iPod knowing that Apple products are hard to pick up just anywhere in Egypt. There is a halo around the iPod which no one wants to desecrate only to sound like a fool. I know the choice can be a result of not knowing better or just not seeing enough MP3 players, but to accept that iPods are the best based on reputation is dogmatic to say the least and something I find resentful.

iPod users have faced many more problems while using the iPod for example updating the firmware, conversions and battery life. Most iPod reviews are about look, feel and usability. But in all fairness to the just defamed iPod, the concept of 'the best' is subjective. One might prefer lack of features of the iPod (aka simplicity) and another might actually enjoy tediousness of using the non intuitive and proprietary method of connecting the iPod to the computer.

But in the end, anyone half as frustrated as I am with the overrated iPod will be happy to know that they have a choice and it's nowhere close to just settling for the next best thing.

*Expanded from the form published on The Daily News Egypt


Please observe the numerous negative comments at the end by hardcore iPod users, highly entertaining.

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

A Note From The Underground

Apparently the coins I have aren't real money. This is a note from the underground. But let's start at the beginning. Out of Ramsis I decided to take the metro to my place. I had a 20 pound bill and some coins amount to 1 L.E. so I decided to use the coins consisting of a 50 pt coin, four 10pt coins and two 5pt coins to buy a metro ticket. All of this amounts to 1 L.E, the price for a metro ticket

When I went up to the ticket booth and handed the employee my coins amounting to 1 L.E, he protested and refused to take the money. The reason he protested was that I had given him coins to purchase my ticket. He told me that this wasn't money and that there was no way he could give this to someone as change. He directed me to his manager upon my request and I started my discussion.
I said, "I want to buy a ticket".
He responded, "I can't give this money to a customer, I'm sorry I can't accept it."
I said, "But this is money."
He said, "Who says this is money?"
I replied, "The Arab Republic of Egypt says that it's money. Who are you to not accept it?"
"How can I give this change to someone? Would you accept this sort of change?"
"I would," I said, "You just have to deliver this change to the right people, right?"
"No," he said, "The smallest bill I deliver is a 5 L.E bill, so this is unacceptable."
"Where's your manager?" I asked.
"He's on the other side, take the next staircase right," he said indifferently.
I went to the police station and asked for the person in charge, I had time and I wanted to get to the bottom of this. I asked them how it was possible that people working in the Metro, which is a public form of transportation, not accept the coins issued by the Arab Republic of Egypt. I used the full term, the Arab Republic of Egypt and sounded like an idiot using it but I didn't care, I had coins that were issued by the government and I wasn't going to let some employee at a booth tell me I wasn't allowed to use them.

The people in the police station were complacent. They really didn't care at all about my problem. It was too trivial and too inconsequential for them. Apparently I seemed so infuriated and unrelenting that the guy who seemed to be in charge told the other plain clothed policeman to handle it. "This is nonsense of course," he said nonchalantly, "this is money and should be accepted."

The plain clothed policeman simply went over to another booth and asked for a ticket with my change, problem solved. This wasn't the solution that I'd hoped for. I don't want to be the exception to the rule. I'd rather that the metro people took the money or the government stopped making these bloody coins.

But such is the case of our country. The man at the booth silently took the money and gave the officer a ticket. The officer then looked at me sordidly and said, 'Kol Sana Wenta Tayeb', which means may every year find you in good health. It was Eid. Before I walked off completely he added, "This is the principle of the Pharoahs, people need to be intimidated to do their job."

It was very sad because it was very true, all solutions are exceptional. People aren't willing to do what's right without the intimidation. The gap between the government and the people is growing wider.

I went back to that manager and told him I bought the ticket. "Have you no fear of God," I asked. Since he had a beard he was deeply offended and thought he'd get back at me. "Have you no fear of God, for giving me all these coins?" he asked.  What ensued was an exchange of words all very un-insulting and full of blame. I blamed him for not taking the money since they were what the government gave us and he blamed me for trying to pass around this money (as if it were counterfeit).

I don't know now if I acted correctly claiming my ticket with this money. It seems that these coins mean nothing to the people anymore. The guys in the booth care nothing for it and they've stated explicitly that people on the metro want nothing of it either. Are we rich enough to discard the small change? In Europe I still get the change of 1 cent when buying things from a supermarket.

What startled me most is that the government or something like public transport doesn't accept the money produced by the State. The good news is that a State divided upon itself cannot stand, the bad news is that till it falls, its people suffer. This has been a note from the real Egyptian underground. The summary is that small coins don't really work underground.

Thursday, December 11, 2008

Birell Promotes Stupidity

I just finished watching a much talked about Birell ad and I'm completely disgusted. Never have 28 seconds so fully summarized the entire problem with Egyptian men in Egypt as did this advertisement. The advertisement shows a beautiful girl saying hello to one of four guys, the remaining three look back at him with disgust when he says she has a great personality. The advertisement tells us that the girl's personality is the last thing you can comment on if you're a man. 

Don't get me wrong, I'm not that touchy about humorous sexist remarks, I can laugh at them as much as the next male chauvinist pig (I found the one about Tamer Hosny singing at the wedding funny for example). The problem with the advertisement isn't only that it was extremely sexist, stupid and not even funny; the real problem is that the situation was too real for comfort, reflecting an existing attitude with the result that any hint of sarcasm or humor was simply unreachable. In effect the advertisement is just a documentation of real life situations that I myself as a man experience, and much like those real experiences this advertisement nearly caused me to puke.

There is as much humor or wit in the ad as there is alcohol in Birell, which is needless to say ZERO. It's sad how Birell is trying to imitate the alcoholic beer ads abroad but just as the product is lacking in the most lively component, the advertisement lack in intelligence all of its bitter taste none of its wit. The result is a despicable mindless advertisement that can only be found to be amusing by idiots. 

I feel insulted as a man because this advertisement tells me that I have to be a complete bonehead if I am to be a man and to only think of a body when thinking of a woman; to treat a woman as a person is not manly apparently. Well I'd rather not be a man if that's what a man is expected to be. 

But seriously though, who are they kidding? Could anything be more pathetic than a bunch of kids trying to be men by drinking non alcoholic beer? Ever thought of a real beer advertiser looking at this ad? I'd bet he'd be thinking, be a man, drink REAL beer. I could do the same and call them a bunch of sissies, but rather than revert to their juvenile ways I would rather point out their hypocrisy since drinking beer isn't the macho standard. 

The reason why Birell exists should have been to enjoy the taste of beer without necessarily getting drunk after drinking a few. Either that, or come as close as possible to being a real man (drinking beer) without invoking Islamic guilt. Now, if morality is so important, what kind of message are they spreading by encouraging young kids to be mindless and think of women as sex objects? So it's okay to think of sex with a woman but not to drink alcohol? What a skewed sense of morality, and indeed this is exactly what's wrong with our society. Morals are skewed in young minds that have been shut down in the face of dogma.

People choose a moronic attitude towards anything where ever a norm has already been established. They choose not to think when it comes to women, they choose not to think when it comes to religion and slowly this attitude of stupidity is seeping into aspects of every day life. The end result will cause the Birell ad to be almost prophetic, young mindless kids pretending to be men and eventually running the country.

There is already a mounting pressure in society for conformity; the pressure of being a man through the eyes of society is evident through this ad. Many of the men I met are just that way, extending their moronic and dogmatic views to women's sexual appetite, virginity, language and so on.

Double standards are certainly the easiest key to identifying an inactive mind. The same people who put pressure on men to act like 'men' and ignore a girl's personality claim to value their mothers greatly. It seems that even the concept of a mother is objectified in a society too mindless to realize that mothers are female and were once girls whose personalities were demanded to be ignored. 

I'm not sure if I can demand an apology from Birell for insulting men and women that way, because in a sense their defense can be that this is reality. I think it's wrong for media to promote these ideas not on the grounds of any censorship but based on the common sense that when things are illogical and insulting, they just shouldn't be allowed on television.

Wednesday, November 26, 2008

The Gov That Failed

What has the government done ever since it took hold of our lives in '52? That new revolutionary government had failed in every aspect and yet it holds on to power. It is evident then that this power is selfish and does not and will not serve the people. To all those deluded into thinking that our government is anything but a failure, they have my deepest sympathies.

The government we have is the most hateful of all governments, and if it were a true democracy, it would never have existed. I will not call our government a mafia, lest they put a contract out on my head, but I will compare their actions to a mob. They want to serve no one but themselves and in their selfishness they've contradicted the reason for their own existence.

I thought once of writing a letter to each one of them, and very sincerely, but I realize now that it was very juvenile. Their humanity has ceased to exist. When I look at a police officer I see a mafia boss not a citizen on patrol. When I look at a minister I see a thief and when I look at a congressman I see a deviant.

We're in a jungle like in that movie, The Beach. We're surrounded by the drug dealers who care for nothing but their profits. It's funny how so many people are still asleep. It's funny how they're like battered beaten wives who stick to their husbands. This country's government doesn't deserve my loyalty, it hasn't earned it. The country itself has been betrayed by its keepers.

I'm ruled by oppressors. Luckily I'm writing this in English. These bloody oppressors don’t even want people to call them what they are. Why is it that I feel this way? It's simple, I don't like bullshit and there would be too much of it if I endorsed the charade that's going on around me called government. I have always had a very good sense with who to trust or believe and I know for sure that the entire government is full of lies.

It's a government that failed, and its failure is what we must endure. I wish I could fend it off and I wish there were some way to eradicate it, but it's there to stay.

Friday, November 14, 2008


All that you touch
All that you see
All that you taste
All you feel.
All that you love
All that you hate
All you distrust
All you save.

All that is now
All that is gone
All that's to come
And everything under the sun is in tune
But the sun is eclipsed by the moon.

Eclipse by Pink Floyd

I know not how to describe great events that I happen to witness. I fail as a writer to bring anyone closer to what events around me may have inspired. This is perhaps because I myself am seldom inspired by what goes on around me. I lack the vocabulary of words to describe the material things that happen around me. I don't know all the different shades of colors nor the proper names for the types of clothing and worse yet I don't know the names of sounds and I can't describe the visuals and the imagery that surrounds me. 

Come to think of it, there's not much there is that I take pleasure in when it comes to events, books and arts. My taste is limited to a handful of writers, musicians and film makers. My tastes are simple, moderate and predictable, very much like me. I dislike naivety and I possess a bitter distaste for needless sophistication. My tastes reflect those of a normal human being somewhere within the wide range of a simpleton and an aristocrat. 

I have no tolerance for things that do not communicate to me. Mindless entertainment is not my thing. I haven't seen enough great things to want to move beyond what is objectively good and venture into the absurd and incomprehensible. I'm already overwhelmed by things I already do understand and that's why I can't appreciate as yet the things that try to go beyond. 

Like I said it might be because I haven't seen enough, but more likely than not it's because I process things too analytically with my mind. That's why things have to make sense before I can appreciate them.

I suppose I could be at a disadvantage for not being a 'feeler', but there's a plus side to my nature. To be able to take in feelings through the mind's channel is to be able to express my feelings through the same channel. 

So despite my inability to express well the events that surround me, my gift, I've often felt, was to express the feelings inside me. I possess a vocabulary of thoughts, not words, that deciphers and expresses my feelings and that's where I’m at an advantage.

Forget the plethora of lucid and decorated words that fill the pages of a paper or magazine. They are words used as pathetic fallacy to bring us closer to the hypnotic effects of an art piece or performance. They are a disguise to be objective about how art makes us feel by attributing the imagery to the art work itself rather than our inner feelings. The truth will always remain in what we feel and how we feel things.

I don't care much anymore for what I say or how I say it. There's beauty in finding our own way of saying something that's already been said. I fail to see the point of having someone write your words except if you really want to share it with the world and bring them closer to you. 

I'm told sometimes that I say so little about myself when I express my thoughts. I try to talk in general rather than talk about specifics. I'm not sure how it's possible to observe this while I pour my heart out through my thoughts. Which is better to say, that I have too much work or that I'm overwhelmed from the world to the point of breaking?

To me the latter says more, does it really matter that work is doing this to me or just plain old life? Is it important to talk about the life, the kind of work I do, the kind of subjects I studied, or is it more important to talk about what I love to do, what I've learned and what effects life has had on me.

In my thoughts are a thousand pieces of my soul, I'd rather pour out the pieces of my soul than pour out the pieces of my material body. In my thoughts are feelings around which my world revolves. 

Yet now, words fail me, thoughts fail me and I'm not fully able to describe what I best describe. I'm left with little words and little thoughts to explain my own self now and how I feel. The rhythm in my head has stopped, and the words don't flow as they once did. In my head the sentences don't form at the right beat, there's an irregular latency that spoils any harmony that used to exist. The words don't travel all at once as they did.

I'm at a loss for words, the kind of words that would best explain what I'm thinking and feeling. I know I'm thinking though, but there's a rock mingled with the thoughts inside my head as they all float together. The thoughts are thought, but then damaged by the rock, never fully making their way out of my head. 

Is that how it feels not to know what you're feeling? Like a maze with the truth at its exit, a truth about your thoughts and feelings. Only you've lost your orientation and the plan to exit the maze got jumbled up.

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

A Moment in a Million Years

The lights are slowly fading down
There's no one else, just you and me
Nothing ever changed
I see your faces in the crowd
It seems I know each one of you
For all my life
I wish this night could last forever
But it's time to go

I saw you laugh, I saw you cry
All for one and one for all
Nothing ever changed
The way you sang just blew my mind
It gave me chills from head to toe
What a glorious night
To me it could have lasted forever
But it's time to go

A moment in a million years
Is all I've got for you
A moment in a million years
To make some dreams come true
A moment that I won't forget
Until the day I die
A moment in a million years
Called life

The bus is waiting right outside
To hit the road and once again
I leave you all behind
I chase another dream tonight
And by the time you'll be home
I'll be far away
I wish this night could last forever
It's time to go

A moment in a million years
Is all I've got for you
A moment in a million years
To make some dreams come true
A moment that I won't forget
Until the day I die
A moment in a million years
Called life

Words and Music by Klaus Meine

When someone dies whom you've known just over the internet, there's no news and no way to tell. There's just an absence that cannot be explained. Many people I know have disappeared, how many of them are still alive?

I don't know what this song is about, but it's about a certain kind of end. A moment in a million years called life, that's what we have. What do we do? Make the best of it?

Monday, November 03, 2008

Body of Lies

"So what do you prefer to eat?" Di Caprio asks two young Iranian children living in Jordan. They answer, "Burgers and Spaghetti." In the film theatre, both of my friends on either side cringe at the same time after hearing the answer; it's so like Hollywood they say when I ask them later. I didn't understand what's too Hollywood exactly, the film or our lives.

For some reason or another I was the only one who saw this as a reflection of reality. The irony is that both my friends are ardent fans of reality being represented accurately in movies; I'm not dead set on it. It really got me wondering why two of the biggest fans of reality rejected it. Did they not really think it was a real answer or was there something more to it?

In all my life around the Arab world, I've found that this statement about burgers and spaghetti almost always true. This is what young kids love; this is what I loved as a child, they just simply taste good. Obviously there's more to cringing than a matter of taste.

The disdain was most likely at America trying to force its values, its culture and its tastes down our throats, and while this may have been true in the past, what my friends may have chosen to ignore is that it has now become a reality. America is very alive in the Arab world with its burgers and its vision.

But the only real problem with America is that it's loved and hated at the same time. In the movie Body of Lies this sentiment is accurately portrayed. One of the terrorists has got a PhD and speaks five languages; he wants to go to America, that's reality.

America is a land that enables you to succeed based on your skills and hard work, that's why it is loved.  But as the terrorist tries to bargain, the CIA agent cuts him loose to see who'll kill him. To Americans we're no longer people, we're no longer the needy and poor whom they had invited to join them, they've closed their doors, and turned their backs on the world and that's why we hate them.

Our love comes from wanting to have a place like America to live in, a place that has all its virtues. Our hate comes from our anger at their ignorance and rejection of the entire world; it's at their self absorption. Russel Crowe is an epitome of what America has become, a loving father and a kind family man who takes care of his own and attends their soccer matches and tries to spend time with them in a superficially loving manner, but when dealing with families thousands of miles away he is a completely different man, both ruthless and hurtful. He has shut down his sympathy and compassion for others and everyone is a tool or a pawn in the game he plays.

Di Caprio tells him, "Be careful about calling yourself America." But he is America, in all its intelligence and splendor, in all its deceit and indifference, in all its greed and power thirst. Crowe is a charming and yet spiteful man. He's charming because he's Russel Crowe, but we have an inner desire to love him and forgive him if only his actions would meet his charm… but till that happens (and it never will) it's love and hate.

Crowe sits from his base of operations, remote and disconnected from what's going on, only understanding what his modern technology brings him. He cannot understand that sometimes you can do nothing but wait, and that sometimes you cannot buy your way, or torture your way into success.

There is some value in the movie that chose not just to make the same old statement about a useless war with very hurtful strategy, it chose to describe a piece of reality in a more updated fashion. Perhaps it will never match any reality we know of, but considering that less than 2% of Americans have ventured outside their own state, it has brought an image of the Middle East that's a little closer to reality from what the majority would see in other movies or their largely biased Fox news.

There are a few things that appealed to me about the movie and perhaps being a simple minded Arab, they appeared to be real. When portraying an Iraqi working with Di Caprio, the young man barely had an accent. That was particularly interesting considering that all Arabs in the past have were made to have an accent even if they spoke English fluently. To have an Arab working with the Americans who showed no traces of an Arabic accent was very bold and yet so accurate. Consider the multitude of Egyptians who can speak English without an accent, there are so many of them and yet, without the accent you couldn't be an Arabic speaker. This is a shift in paradigm, just like when they decided that Egyptians could be portrayed without the need for a desert, the pyramid and camels.

There were many other items of authenticity in the movie, one of which was the cyclone club in Dubai that was visited by people on their business visits and making use of its prostitutes. There was also the fact that the American's weren't necessarily always the smartest, they were surpassed by the head of Jordanian intelligence played brilliantly by Mark Strong. There was also the values of friendships and personal relationships that were highlighted, and a rejection of technology that cancelled out these inter personal relations.

The portrayal of several events seems to have been well researched and it marks a change in the way Hollywood approaches the Middle East. There's an attempt, albeit just an attempt, to find out more about what's really going on, what Arabs are like and how in-over-their-heads Americans really are.

Why then did my friends dislike this movie? The simple fact is that anything associated with America's foreign policy and operations is hateful. There's just too much American crap around us now and America is still at it, trying to keep pushing the lie till it becomes true. My friends seemed to think that the movie was pro American in some way or the other because the hero was American, but looking back there wasn't a single good point about the Americans that was portrayed. Americans were remote, ruthless and did not comprehend the world they've forced themselves into. They were in over their heads and they didn't give a damn about the Arab world. They were incompetent and outsmarted and eventually taught a thing or two.

America with all its evils does not realize that the world is waiting for a chance to love it again because of the good it had advocated in the past. In both world wars it has been important for the triumph of a good side and has preached some of the greatest values. The problem is that America falls short on implementing any of its values and all that they have preached has become a body of lies. They are fading into oblivion and even that remote desire to forgive America for all the hate it has spread is turning or has turned into an unfriendly ghost that no one wants to be haunted by.

Saturday, October 25, 2008

Almost Two of Everything

The truth is something to look for in this world. But why? I'm not certain as to why truth is so important. What do we gain when we find out a truth? What makes a truth more valuable than a lie? 

Even without knowing why, we all believe that it is. The world has presented us with the notion that truth is of the utmost importance, but still, why? This remains, in a way, not so explicitly answered.

The only thing I can think of is that the truth gives us something back. In most cases it's not just the gratification and satisfaction that we've found out something that's true, but something beyond that. It has to be something that only a truth can give. I wonder if a truth that gives you back nothing is even worth pursuing.

If we assume that the only truths worth pursuing are the ones that give us something, then perhaps that's where we can start.

How about lies? Some lies give us nothing, but are they to be viewed as sinister? Lies take away something from us. But there are some lies can give us something perhaps greater than the truth. Why do we not seek lies then, just this kind that gives us a lot?

Some truths take something from you and some lies give you something important to you. But why then do we still consider truths greater than lies? What does the fact that something happened or something truly exists, or something will happen, have to do with value?

The truth is that it all comes down to what we believe rather than some empirical formula. Deep inside, we must believe that truth, the actual existence of something is inherently worth so much more than something that does not exist and has never existed. To value truth is to have faith, a kind of faith in a value that cannot be seen but perhaps only felt. 

That's not to say that there aren't some fairly obvious benefits to most of what's true. Most of what was or is true gives you something you can retain to for the future. The truths of yesterday and today help solidify our steps into tomorrow. 

Most truths are that way, the truth about someone's feelings can help set expectations for the future and help prevent some kind of harm, and it may even create some kind of happiness.

The truth about some things in the past helps us learn from what has happened or gives us reasons and motivates us. The truth about the existence and nature of God gives us guidelines on how to best live our lives. This is why people are obsessed with the truth; it gives us information to process so as to determine which decision we should take to lead ourselves to a better life.

(I wonder if a lie that would give these results would be just as much worth the truth.)

Yet just as often as we forget why the truth is invaluable, we also forget to seek it. It makes sense for those who have no hope for better to abandon the quest for truth altogether. The truth gives you nothing that you don't want to take. Perhaps that's why we're puzzled sometimes by various people, many of which know the exact same thing and yet their reactions are different in light of the same knowledge. At the end of the day, it's what you do with the truth that matters and those who will not do anything with it will stop to seek it.

I've only just noticed that we have almost two of everything. We have two eyes, two ears, nostrils, hands and legs. We have two of most things and plenty of fingers. I've noticed that we only have one mouth. One mouth with one tongue with which we should eat, drink, talk, taste, kiss and sometimes breathe. 

I know I've noticed nothing new, it's no revelation, but noticing that so many of the things we have in twos don't have multiple functions got me thinking. I deduced that perhaps we were meant to use our functions in proportion to their availability. 

To have two eyes means to look at the world and see as much as we can. We're meant to look ahead and forward to what's to come. To have two ears means to listen for everything around us. We're meant to listen, not just to one side, but to both as has been pointed out to us by the presence of ears on either side of our head. We're meant to listen all the time. Ears don't have lids or plugs, they're always open. When we're working with both our hands we should listen, when we're moving using our legs we should listen. We have two lungs to breathe and we should use them to live. We should do more of that for which we have more.

But when we speak, we should not utter even half of what we see and hear, but less. We eat and we drink and we breathe and we speak with one mouth. We should be wise in using our mouths to follow the wisdom that nature has tried to implant in us.

And yet all everyone does is speak these days. They talk and talk without ever listening, without ever seeing. They block their ears with seals of their own making and shut both their eyes to all they see happening. They probably decided they don't want to take in anymore from the world, and only want to give their words to the world. But who will be there to listen if everyone is speaks? What good will words be to others who have blocked their ears too? 

What could people give from within if they have not absorbed anything from without? The funny thing is that those people who talk without listening are not worth listening to.  The more people speak nonsense the more others block their ears, and the more people block their ears the more they speak nonsense. It's a vicious cycle that knows no end.

The eyes, the ears and the senses are meant to take in all that is from the world; good, bad, truth and lies, and then process it all. We are to funnel all that is around us to our brain making doubly sure that we've absorbed it.

We have a brain to filter what is wrong from what is right, truth from lies, beauty from ugliness, good from evil. Our senses bring in everything for the brain so that it can arbitrate. It seems to me that only after all of this has been done should we speak. We should speak sparsely, only after understanding, or often, as to ask for more sounds, visuals and input and when we speak we should try to speak only the truth. We should speak of a truth around us, a truth that we've experienced and a truth that we've reasoned and possibly observed. The truth is hidden amidst a chameleon of lies. We should first try to notice the ever fixed truths that have not been desecrated by imposters and only then should we speak. Only then does that which we speak of have any value. 

A thought that is born of our sight, vision, hearing and processing is that which is worth speaking. How can one then speak the truth when one has blocked the senses that are to let it in? How can someone be content with a few chameleons that swept in and then claim to utter a word of truth?

Our senses are the feedback sensors like those found in a navigation system. It is through them that we detect our diversion off a desired course. How can one follow the right way when one's senses are shut down? How can one know what's right if one's ears are plugged? How can one compare truth to lies if one has let nothing in?

Yet we all speak and rarely listen. We use our rarest resource extensively and choose to forfeit the use of our ample resources. Our bodies were not just designed physically but metaphysically to adapt to the philosophy of life, to take in more and give sparingly. 

I wonder if nature was aware of our metaphysical needs with regards to truth, lies, understanding and speaking when she caused us to evolve. I wonder if nature knew that lies would distort the truth and that man would need to listen and be wary of those who defile the truth around him. I wonder if nature realized that man would need to distinguish between what is false and what is true and then utter his findings with care. I wonder if nature knew the difference between knowledge and truth and if she knew that we would value truth over knowledge and that we would always seek that which already is. I wonder if nature knew that the quest can't be settled with facts and that the more we know the more we will seek.

I wonder if we'll ever learn the lessons that were innately and intelligently integrated within our bodies. I wonder if we'll ever learn to study all that is around us and teach back only that which we find to be true.

Sunday, October 19, 2008


When I was younger, I had so much more time to blog... 

More like I had more time to copy what I write long hand onto the computer...

I want to be young again so that I can blog again..

Monday, September 29, 2008

In All Fairness

A commentary on Ibrahim Eissa's court sentence

I never understood why people always felt it apt to say, "We can't comment on the court's ruling or Egyptian judicial system." It's a bit for show, because in the end, why is that the only thing we can't comment on or rather, what else are we even allowed to comment on. I think it's because the rulings represent justice, and to comment on the ruling would be to accuse the whole system we have in place of injustice. If that were the case, then I think we should all be commenting on our judicial system.

Yesterday, Ibrahim Eissa's trial ended with a 2 month sentence that he was to serve. Unlike the rest of the country the real question that concerns me is fairness rather than justice. I have not followed the case in a legal manner that qualifies me to make a comment on justice, nor have I studied law to give me a unique perspective as to what has really happened. Like all of us, I believe that there was a grave injustice, not by the laws of the country, but by the laws of humans. A prison sentence for the truth delivers a message smack across our face to tell us what this country really values. Egypt values the games of the jungle, survival of the fittest. Morals like truth and integrity are always on the losing end, and lies and deceit is what is preached. Our country is telling us that you can't win by being truthful or honest or straight. Our judicial system is like a game with rules that don't necessarily reflect morality.

I've commented on justice, but like I said, I'm not the right person to comment on this fully, but as a human I have the undisputed right to comment on fairness. I suppose speaking out for fairness will be something I can get imprisoned for, so I'd better hurry up and speak now before the government realizes that there remains some sort of virtue in the country.

Assume for one fraction of a second that you're as blinded by laws and bias as government and the judiciary. I know it's difficult, but you need to pretend you do not have a brain and that you are in your safe place. Of course it would involve you to pause reading this and pretend you're a vegetable, but it's doable, believe me. Some people have been doing this all their lives. With that in mind, invoke a small piece of your brain to think for a little as to the fairness of passing a judgment like this. I say imprison Eissa, but bring to trial all those in government that have cause our economy to suffer blows more than that day when Ibrahim Eissa wrote what he wrote. If we do that, I believe half the government will be in prison for more than a hundred times the duration of Eissa's sentence.

Assuming Eissa was lying, then give him a year or two, but only if you sentence every government official to seven times that much. I guarantee that if this was applied, we'd have a great government for a lifetime to come. I think much much more than half the government will spend the rest of their days in a prison.

If justice was to fine someone for double parking, then fairness would be to fine everyone for this. Picking just one person to fine for double parking when all others have is crooked, but fining that one person for parking correctly is a complete disaster.

I'm all for justice, but apply it fairly. Apply justice to those who deserve it. Our country deserves a justice that has not been served.

In a movie called Night at the Roxbury, two brothers had an idea for a night club. They'd call it inside out where the streets would be the inside of the club, and fancy cushions and red carpets would be on the outside. It's a very stupid movie, with an idea so ludicrous that it can only be in a comedy movie. Are we in a comedy movie? The good people are inside prisons and the crooks are on the outside. The crooks are running the show. This can't be a comedy though, it's far too tragic.

The government has written a coded letter to all of us, and being sort of science man I've decided to decipher it for all of us.

"Dear citizens," it says, "we're glad that you found the accommodation with us very disturbing, we target your discomfort in every possible way. Don't try to leave the country, you're our prisoner, any such attempt will be swiftly reprimanded and punished, and don't forget the drowned youth, and the victims of 'Al Salam'. If you have any valuable possessions like morals, ethics, or virtues, you are to deliver them along with truth, pride, courage and dignity to the corrupt officer nearest to you. They will be thrown out to sea and can never be reclaimed.

"If you have any questions or comments, please feel free to discuss it with us, after which you shall be beaten or imprisoned depending on your social status and our desire to teach you a lesson."

Forgive the rush job, I'm still new at this and still deciphering the code. Believe you me, there are more messages, more codes and they shall be soon translated. It's a sad shocking message they send to our children, but the children will be even more ruthless than their parents I suppose.

In all fairness- . There's just no way I can compete this sentence. There's just no fairness in a Mafia that intimidates a neighborhood. There's no fairness in a country that masks its bullying with a façade of legal actions.

The Eissa trial sends out a message, like Daniel Day Lewis in Gangs of New York. It sends a message from our very own Vito Corleone (without the charm). It's a message of hope, a message of love, a message of justice, but above all, it's a message of fairness.

Saturday, September 27, 2008

Thrown in the Water

I'll make my point concise. The people in Egypt are bad, but the government is worse. The government says that the people aren't doing what they're supposed to be doing, and they're right. People have become lazy, irresponsible, selfish and just plain ill mannered. But the government took every measure to make absolutely sure that this is how people ended up, and they've succeeded and that's why they're worse.

The plain truth is that no one has a sense of responsibility, no sense of ownership, and the government wants people to have all this at their own will, when it's convenient. People are told to step up to the plate. That is the equivalent of throwing someone in the water, who had barely ever seen in his life his reflection upon its surface. And worse yet, expecting him to swim.

We're told to swim by a government that has denied us water to bathe with. We're told to rise from our wheel chair by a government that made sure we're paralyzed. We're told to fly off a cliff without the wings that could have been.

The average Egyptian man is taught to be spoon fed, and never to take responsibility, both by his family and the government.

Momma's gonna check out all your girlfriends for you
Momma won't let anyone dirty get through
Momma's gonna wait up until you get in
Momma will always find out where you've been

In short:

Momma's gonna make all of your nightmares come true
Momma's gonna put all of her fears into you

… and the horror of it is that the man starts a family, holds a position in the government and in life and is asked to be responsible. Even a dictionary can't help begin to explain what it means to be responsible.

But even worse off are the women, they're the closest thing to puppets in our society. From birth they're told what to do, and how to be. They can't even begin to comprehend a life free of slavery, so much so, that they don't feel they're enslaved. They become programmed like robots. This is 'Haram', a sin, or this is right. By the end of their grooming they'll tell you all the Haram/Halal things as if they were printed in their DNA, but they will not be able to disclose as to why, they just know it. They're responsible to be what is expected of them, the picture perfect girls that society expects them to be. They can do whatever they want however and as long as they're not caught, that's no problem. There is no responsibility here, just an image to be kept.

When they grow up it really turns worse, so much worse. That girl turning into a woman is asked to start a family. The already clueless husband expects his wife to be some way or the other. It's a disaster though, because the girl find herself in charge of a family together with a pampered man who doesn't know anything either. They both create the cells of an irresponsible society.

The true disaster is yet to come, when the woman, who has known nothing of responsibility so far, is almost solely responsible for her children. That's all the water you can ever get thrown into, and judging only by history, we can see that she's no swimmer at all. What kind of things does the woman teach them? She has had no experience of her own, she really knows nothing in the world and she's expected to pass down that knowledge to her children. She becomes the new Momma, and so it goes.

This is as concise as it gets. Each point alone is an expandable disaster. I haven't even mentioned the incompetence of people at the jobs they do, the kind of education that abjures responsibly. I haven't even mentioned the selfish manners, or what happens when irresponsibility is present in those who are theoretically responsible for the rest. The point is simply, how do you expect to make someone a swimmer if they've never been near the water? Why blame them when they drown after you've thrown them in the water?

In the words of Kurt Vonnegut… So it goes.

Friday, September 19, 2008

Another Malesh

Phone call to Alpha Scan

Me: I'd like to come in for an MRI on my shoulder, when can I do that?
Him: You have to come in and schedule an appointment?
Me: Do I have to come in personally?
Him: No you can come in or you can send someone to make the appointment for you.
Me: Can't I just book by phone?
Him: No, because we have to get a deposit and schedule a time.
Me: But I have medical insurance, I won't be paying anything.
Him: But we have to see the approval form.
Me: Why do I have to come in two times in order to get the MRI prescribed for me?
Him: (pause) Malesh.
Me: Malesh is not an answer, I'm asking why I have to come in twice needlessly.
Him: These are the instructions left by the administration.
Me: Thanks, goodbye.

Phone call to Cairo Scan

Me: I'd like to come in for an MRI on my shoulder, how can I do this?
Another Him: Can you come in tomorrow?
Me: Yes sure, what time?
Another Him: Come in at 3:15, and you'll be taking the test at 3:30.
Me: That's all?
Another Him: Yes…Which insurance company? Name? age? Which shoulder? Etc…

Which of them should I choose to go to I wonder…


Don't be too rigid, lest you break...

Saturday, September 06, 2008


This post has been a long time coming but had not materialized till just now. Maybe I just wanted to make it super clear, to make sense of those irrational things that keep happening, but have failed and that's why it took me so long. It started out as one story I wanted to tell, and then I wanted to write another, and then another and I realized that they were all related and have something to do with one another. The thread that ties them all is 'Acceptance', or perhaps rather, the lack of it.

It's about the different worlds we live in contained within the same one. They are different worlds because they have different rules and sadly focus on our differences. It's easier now to blurt out my conclusion before conveying the facts that lead me to it, but even with a conclusion some questions remain unanswered and I've yet to experience more so as to determine their answer. The conclusion is simply this, I find myself belonging to a different world and I find no arms extended from other worlds to accept my own. I'm not talking about the usual alienation I feel in the presence of those around me. Those around me belong to the same world I'm in no matter how remote they seem. We can communicate and feel that remoteness, and that itself is progress and there's always a chance that there will be some kind of common ground.

What I'm talking about are those people who live in different places with an entirely different education and background culture. There are no bridges between us and we're not living in a Utopia where communication is possible. It's not that anyone's better either, it's just that we're different. The way of life we have now has turned our worlds into a jungle of many species. We cannot say that Giraffes are better than Elephants, but they just don’t seem to mix. The sad part about all of this is that this is against all civilization stands for.

Okay, I'm rambling, but why shouldn't I when everything has gone crazy anyway? … The dogma and culture around us has alienated us from one another. We've concentrated on tribalism, on the differences that separate us rather than the similarities that join us. We've worked so hard in making our similarities negligible next to our differences.

The key is acceptance of which I've found none. There is no acceptance between us anymore, even between one street and the next. Who can accept the other these days? Good people; but not all people are good. Not all people can see past their tribalism and their fixed notions.

We live in a world where the first one to say something automatically becomes right, and the next few in line have difficulties proving themselves right. As children we're taught not to question though our questioning would have been our strongest asset. We're taught one thing and then taught that all others are wrong. The child's mind has become a competing ground in a race to corrupt it. Adults are passing on their corruption to children and sealing off the intake.

I was downtown a few weeks ago to buy something. The store had faulty equipment and after examining it I decided not to buy it. An old man in a Galabeya was sitting there. He seemed to have observed my untrimmed big hair and my casual wear. Apparently the owner of the shop and he said, "Why don't you buy that you Khonfos." Khonfos means Beatle, which is what they called funky kids back in the seventies on account of the Beatles and their hair. I thought he was joking but I didn't smile. People around were smiling… almost waiting for my reaction. I was calm. I asked him why he said so… he told me because of my big hair. I realized he just wanted his goods sold and might have interpreted my careless appearance into some kind of weakness that he could bully into buying his goods. I told him that at least I was wearing trousers, and to look at himself. He sort of got irritated; he said that he was dressed like a man. I told him his Galabeya looked like a woman's night gown. Men that I know wear trousers, so he shouldn't really be talking about how I look.

I think the man was too shocked and annoyed that I'd answered him back and he lost his temper. He started shouting and screaming at me saying that I wasn't a man and that I was gay and so on. I told him that if he didn't want to be insulted, next time he spoke he should watch his mouth and talk with some respect. He was about to assault me, and the workers tried to push me out of the shop gently as the man was coming at me, then we shouted and pushed each other. The people in the shop weren't smiling anymore… no one was smiling, no one but me.

Looking back on this I realized I hadn't gone the best way. It's easy to get someone angry and it's real easy for someone like me to calmly return an insult, but I didn't want anger to be the reaction I invoked. After I'd gone out of the shop I realized I should have aimed for shame. I should have told the old man in a Galabeya that a true man would not insult his guest. I know that this would have sort of shamed him, because that's how people are, extremely rude but would not ever acknowledge it.

Anyway, I realized that it wasn't his fault that he could not accept anyone else. His idea of a man was entirely skewed. He didn't realize that to be human, one must accept those around him.

It's not just him that's so remote… which brings me to the next set of incidents. There were people who wanted to do charity by filling bags with food for the poor to hand them out during Ramadan. The best prices were things that were unpackaged and so we decided to get together somewhere and do the packing ourselves. Some guys did not accept that guys and girls work together. It was something entirely dogmatic and counter productive, especially that logistics needed to be altered to accommodate for this change. I fought against it for a while, I tried to point out how ludicrous it was to alter all the logistics just for something that didn't make sense. It was entirely meaningless specially that all those people worked together in the same company, so it made no sense to consider this to be wrong.

My main problem was that men, as they always did in the past, were alienating women. "It's a man's world," they declared and that was just something I found unacceptable. I gave up fighting when the women agreed or rather demanded that this be the case. The women decided to alienate themselves from the men as well. There was just no point in fighting for something that both worlds agreed to. I'd have to move the fight over to education and culture and it's not something I'm capable of doing at the moment. The problem at the heart of it all was acceptance. The men didn't accept the presence of women in their world, not in an innocent way anyway, and the women didn't accept men in theirs. They were women hiding behind veils of senseless perceptions, and the men wanted them to stay there. They accepted only their alienation and nothing more.

Things didn't get better with the next incident. During handing out of the charity bags to long lost neighborhoods, one of the guides, a Muslim sheik was supposed to point those organizing the charity to the homes of poor folk. Some of those participating in the charity were Christian. In fact one of them was an initiator of the whole motion. When the young Muslim Sheikh got in the car with that Christian who was driving, he stormed out refusing to show the organizers where those homes of poor people were on account of that one Christian.

Is that not the heart of acceptance, to accept a human being in a common cause? Charity!! What could be more common to people than that? It's not that everyone didn't accept, other Sheikhs apologized profoundly condemning that action. One of them, an old very kind man, proceeded personally to point the rest as to where those poor people were. But what if he hadn't? Why should people suffer on account of one person's bigotry?

Going through these poor streets, that made those in Heena Maysara look like a luxury resort, I realized how alienated we've become from one another, how distant we've become and how different we've become. Is there any possible bridge?

As I got on the pick-up to help deliver those bags, the young kids looked at me like I was some kind of exotic animal, with my big hair and my jeans and T-shirt. I didn't mind, they weren't taught to accept anyone else. To them it was like bringing the zoo to them.

Now I'm someone who has dealt with numerous worlds throughout my life. I've dealt with people who are very poor, and some who are very rich. I've managed to gain a lot of friends whose status varied along a vast spectrum of wealth. Some were poor, and some were rich, but I think even with all that experience, I've never been thrown so hard into the sea of alienation. It's not that we were only different, it's that we have so many different standards and so many different rules. Goodness is different, evil is different, even madness is different.

Which brings me to my unresolved question, what do I do? I'm against change. I won't cut my hair or dress differently just to belong somewhere if I don't have to. I mean sometimes it's needed, but I don't have to, and so I won't. But what do I do? Do I try to bring myself closer to their world by at least not pushing it? Do I try to bring my world closer to others so that they can accept me or just learn to accept?

After the incidents I had almost decided that it was better to steer away from worlds that were not my own. I'm not a snob, but I don't need to pretend that I can belong to some people who are really poor or those who are filthy rich, it just won't work out. Do I just stick to safe places? Like those princes and princesses who shop only at Gucci who would pay 2000 dollars for hundred dollar shoe. Would that be me being a snob, saying I'm better than everyone else, or is it just self preservation, preservation of my way of life?

There are no bridges that are apparent, that's for sure, that's the fact… but do we build one? What has happened to have us all drift apart? Not just rich and poor, men and women, those of faith and those without? They've said that Arabs have good morals and ethics, but I've never seen that. We're taught to lie to ourselves, never question, never accept. That's more adulteration than not preserving our chastity.

I've yet to answer the question in my mind, but I do know that there's no tolerance around me. But it never really was easy to attain this, because the hardest thing in life remains to accept.

Friday, August 22, 2008

Why So Serious?

Never before has Batman ventured outside the fictitious borders of Gotham city into our reality in order to fight evil. In The Dark Knight he does. He goes to Hong Kong to bring a criminal to justice and in effect he tells us that this Batman is not confined to the remote boundaries of fiction anymore, the dark hero has crossed over to our reality. Batman has left the imaginary realm of Gotham city or more accurately has tried to bring both the city and himself closer to us.

This dark knight is far from being an entirely fantastical superhero inside a Hollywood movie. He has broken away from fantasy and visited upon topics that are very close to us; topics that reflect the world we live in. Chris Nolan gives Gotham city what no one before him has dared to give; Normalcy.

There's more to the Dark Knight than just a battle of good versus evil, there's a question of what one must do to fight evil. How dark you must go in order to fight evil and not loose your goodness. Batman is faced with the troubles that are not in our law books or clearly defined in our general ethics. Bruce Wayne is ever so present in this movie and he realized that he's not a hero and neither is his alter ego. He is someone who must do what it takes to fight darkness even if it is to lose himself entirely.

Perhaps this is why there's an emphasis in the entire movie that he is not just another superhero, he's a vigilante and all the criticism that applies to someone who takes the law into his own hands applies to Batman. He is not all about taking the right way, but he is about taking the necessary way, even if it renders him an immoral criminal. He is the man who must make the difficult decisions that nobody dares to make at the expense of his image. The whole movie has treaded forcefully on many borders of morality, and the image of Batman as a hero is compromised.

In case you haven't followed yet, the last two Batman movies are not extensions to the Batman superhero created by Tim Burton in 1989, the first of both gave us a message so clear that we don't want to believe, Batman 'Begins'… Chris Nolan writes off all previous Batman movies and declares that a new Batman begins.

"Why do we fall?" asked in Batman Begins. "So we can learn to pick ourselves up," is the answer. The Batman with Clooney was certainly the biggest fall and I think The Dark Knight has picked himself up again with this one.

I've always liked the Batman concept but despised the movies, most of them anyway. It was as if the movies camouflaged Batman or made up for his normalcy to give him the superhero effect. What I mean is that out of all the superheroes, Batman has no special powers, he only relies on gadgets and the likes. Most other movies have dehumanized Bruce Wayne and turned him into a clear cut action hero who knows how to choose what is right. His alter ego makes very little mistakes with respect to morality and is never presented with a task too great.

Directors were trying so hard to create a magical mystical image of Gotham that would transport us to a comic book hero's world and cover up for the fact that Batman has no special abilities. The result was a certain remoteness from all that was happening and disconnection from all who Batman was and he was about.

In this movie, Batman and Bruce Wayne melt, they complete one another and they're far from perfect. Their morality and their capabilities are questioned. Batman acknowledges that if things change, Gotham will not need a Batman, and he is contrasted by the White Knight, Harvey Dent, who is in fact a hero and does things the right way. Wayne believed it was Dent's time to rise to the occasion, just as much as Dent believed that Batman was just the right vehicle leading up to the change.

The characters in old Gotham city were previously one dimensional and the plot was so thin decorated by theatrics and lunacy. Never has commissioner Gordon been so real as he was brought to life by the outstanding Gary Oldman. Commissioner Gordon rose in ranks due to his integrity and his valor, a kind of valor reserved only for our masked hero in previous films. He managed to take a bullet and even managed to save Batman's life. Gordon has choices as well, to let the truth disappear and to lie in hope of attaining a greater good.

The new Gotham is a more terrifying place than the crazy one that we were presented with earlier. It's not that the old Gotham was less dangerous, on the contrary, it was a sad scary place, it's just that there was no one in it worth caring for to start with and nothing in it that Batman alone can't handle. This contrast is evident between the films when in 'Batman Forever' the riddler and two face present Batman with a choice to save the woman he loves or his sidekick. He manages to save them both. The joker presents the new Batman with the same choice, but this time it's done right, Batman can't save them both. They're both the same and he's not an idealist, he chose the woman he loved.

Batman isn't enough for the new Gotham City. There's just too much work for one man even if he is a super hero. That's what makes it scary, because villains are smarter and people are multi dimensional and can be cared for. In the old Gotham people didn't have the will to fight back, in the new one, people have the will but lack the power. The terrifying thing is Batman's need for people, he needs them more than his gadgets and his darkness.

Batman is more real because he's more human. He needs his life to be saved and his identity protected. Bruce Wayne does not magically disappear into his alter ego, he's the man beneath the mask and the movie makes sure we're painfully aware of this fact. The caped hero is aware of his need for others. Batman, Gordon and Dent are involved together in doing what's right, it needs them all. It's not a one way street for a change, each of them has an opinion which is quite a change from past movies.

With all characters in Gotham brought to life, it is only natural that the transformation of the Joker to be something entirely grotesque and scary. The joker is not funny, he takes his chaos seriously. He is clever and entirely immoral. The manifestation of evil of the old joker into Chris Nolan's joker reminds me of Jim Carrey's Mask when it was worn by the villain, his evil was magnified around a thousand times and his capabilities amplified. It was as if Ledger has found this mask and with it found a way to elucidate evil and madness and present them too us vividly.

A lot has been said about the Joker, both as a character and as a performance. To repeat what has been already said would serve him no justice. It is entirely shocking what Ledger has done. It was as if the joker's make up has covered both the identity of the joker and its performer.

"Excessively spontaneous yet focused and calculated, Ledger as Joker is an unpredictable, gripping beast," says the daily news.

The Joker is real, he tells us that evil is something that we should be scared of, that even our heroes cannot fight alone. He is extremely charming and appealing as is most evil, but his ends is utter destruction.

The Joker is the movie, and at the end, the Joker won. Everyone of the trio standing up in the face of evil has had to sway from the path of absolute right in order to combat the Joker. In the end regardless of whether they stopped the Joker or not, they've all lost. But to be fair, the Joker lost as well, though I doubt he cared.

In our world there's no absolute right and no absolute truth and we do the best we can. It's not the act itself that's good or evil, but our intentions, but images must be kept. The world expects goodness without any sacrifice, but those who must provide it have had to make these sacrifices. This is what we're told.

The movie puts all the good people against insurmountable odds, constantly, until they give way. This is evident when Batman asks Lucious Fox to spy on people and asks Commissioner Gordon to lie to people. However, despite their moral bends, the Joker is beaten by the people. There's a subtle difference between bending our morals and breaking them. It's evident with Harvey who had given himself no choice but the right way until he broke. Individuals can make mistakes but the general morality in Gotham is not completely lost. No normal person would be so devoid of morals even if it is a prisoner on death row, only a lunatic like the Joker can smile in the face of chaos.

Friday, August 15, 2008

How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love Our Failed Education System

Nothing of significance can be revealed when I say that here in Egypt we are artistically and culturally challenged. Anyone who has caught a glimpse of the kind of mainstream art we’re presented with can admit to that. Anyone who has met an average westerner who has been taught something or another about art, or can play an instrument or at the very least have some musical or artistic background information will acknowledge how far behind we are.
With that being said, I have nothing up my sleeve but a simple attempt to express that which we all already know. We have art deficiency and those of us who are trying or have overcome this horrid state of ignorance deserve a salutation for their hard work, for it is undoubtedly hard work in this day, age and country that we live in to appreciate art much more create it.
We don’t need ‘No Education’
In an event in Al Sawy, independent film maker and war photographer Ibrahim El Batout while on the stage was asked a by someone in the audience what we need to produce good independent films. Do we need more freedom? More resources? Less oppression?
El Batout spoke up immediately and said, “I know that they say oppression is good for art, but there’s an amount of freedom that an artist needs so as to create, without this freedom he will not be able to create.”
But then after a moment’s pause, he contemplated; and then added, “But even places like Iran face great oppression and yet they manage to produce good films.” He went on to think out loud saying that artists who face oppression around the world can create good art and at the same time artists without problems and lots of freedom also produce. He concluded, “I don’t really know why we’re not making any good films or what it would take.”

El Batout’s answer reasoned that oppression alone cannot cause us to be in this dismal state we’re in and he was right. There’s something more other than oppression that hinders us from producing art, and it’s something more subtle and more dangerous. It’s something more intricately intertwined with our culture and something more permanent and more robust; it’s our education.
Lost in Translation
Something has been lost in the translation of the word education from English to Arabic. The meaning of the word education in the dictionary is the act or process of imparting general knowledge, developing the powers of reasoning and judgment, and generally of preparing others intellectually for mature life.

The word education in Arabic is Ta’leem, and the word for Science is E’lm which is the root of the word Ta’leem. The trouble is that the word ‘education’ in Arabic will therefore literally mean “the act of imparting scientific knowledge”… end of transmission. The remainder of the definition found in the English dictionary has been totally discarded and even its simple beginning damaged. The word knowledge has been replaced by the word ‘Science’ and the most important parts of the definition, such as developing of powers of reasoning and judgment or being prepared intellectually for a mature life have all been eliminated. You see, in the reality that most of the Arab world does not perceive, education is not just a matter of stuffing information into a human’s mind, but something far more delicate and complex, something so less direct than just facts and information that can easily be looked up on the internet; and in Egypt we have none of it.
In the British School that I went to briefly somewhere in the gulf I was taught to bake, draw and swim, all that just coming out of kindergarten. In an interview with Alaa Al Aswany for the art review he commented, “In France I was taken to two schools to meet the students because part of the French education is to meet writers. In France you can't complete your primary education unless you meet writers.”

Children are taught to have direct interaction with artists and art, to have an opinion on the work of someone and to even have an opinion on their character. What are Egyptians taught?

A Negative Bias
The emphasis on the knowledge of science rather than arts, history or politics deprives the average student of having a well rounded personality. In effect, education destroys our children rather than build them up. Education impedes our students rather than help them advance.
The fact of the matter is that Egyptian education does not teach its victims how to reason, and eventually they end up having no means to reach an opinion of their own; it does not teach its victims how to judge, and so they have clue as to how the process of forming an opinions works. They’re taught how to go with the flow, and effectively how to end up down the drain. They’re taught how to be led and how to follow the blind. Simply, they’re taught how not to learn. That is why when confronted by something artistic that might have an element of originality and creativity in it we don’t have enough education to understand it or judge it or like it. We only learn to reject what we have not been spoon fed.
Sarah Mokhtar, a young college student coming just out of high school says, “The strange things is that I’ve always loved art, and I believe I could have been good at it if I was able to develop it or if someone helped me out, but in School there weren’t any classes.” Sarah and many others like her are faced with the problem that art is not socially valued. In some schools art classes are elective, and rarely anyone picks them because of the social stance on the value of art, and because even if they do pick it, they won’t learn much.
Most of our children are told to first pursue a scientific career and perhaps think about art afterwards. Unfortunately creating art is viewed as doing nothing by our society, that despite the process of art production being an act of creation which is the most sublime form of activity.
Many I’ve known were very talented artists but were pressured by their parents to follow a scientific career like engineering or medicine, like my friend Mina. The social pressure is almost unbearable and the dependent youth succumb and by the time they’re done their 7 year sentence for medical school, all the passion that comes with young age would have been drained. But even those that manage to go to art school end up dissatisfied (see Learn Art or Die Trying article published in Issue x)
In an earlier interview with Alaa Al Aswany for the Art Review, he had remarked, “Our problem with the educational system is not that it’s neutral towards culture, but that it is in fact against any culture. That is why I give credit to the new generations that are interested in reading because they’ve had to do everything on their own. Everything in the Egyptian government’s education system detaches us from culture.”
One Taste
This negatively biased stance of our education system is the main reason that our taste in art has declined greatly. While sophists may argue that no one has the right to judge that a taste has declined since art is a matter of preference, no one can argue that such a lack of variety in tastes can be viewed as anything else but a sign of decline.
Looking at popular music these days, the majority of songs have very similar arrangements, very similar structure and almost always talking about love and heartbreak. The movies that are being produced are either mostly silly or with story lines taken from almost culturally irrelevant foreign films.
There always seems to be one mainstream taste manipulated by forces with enough power to turn us all into zombies, blindly heading towards an irrational common goal or idea. We’ve learnt to judge art superficially and to choke artists that are trying to break away from the mold.
Regarding the bias against people being cultured or thinking for themselves, Dr. Alaa Al Aswany remarks, “I don’t think it’s a coincidence and that this is intentional. Someone in command is clever enough to know that if people have enough information, people will turn against the government.”

Joseph Brodsky the Russian poet and Nobel prize winner was sent to prison for five years on charges of 'parasitism' in Russia because he claimed his job was writing. In Russia all able bodied people were to be employed until the age of retirement, otherwise they would be considered as ‘parasites’. What's intriguing is that the government considered poetry and writing so useless that they didn't consider it a job at all… unless it served their own interests.
The rejection of things that are not suitable to government tastes that we’re facing is very similar to the indoctrination of culture and art in the communist era where only art that praised the regime was accepted and all else was rejected. The permission to air only that which pleases the government in combination with the power of censorship (which might be carried out indirectly) is an adult targeting extension to the flawed education provided to youth.
Meanwhile Egyptian TV floods us with mindless series that talk about absolutely nothing, showing off expensive cars and villas and presenting drama that doesn’t reflect much of reality.
People who attempt to produce art with different ideas are put down even when they have creativity and originality. The recipient masses don’t help either, for with their deficient education and culture they cannot support something new. Effectively, nothing artistically valuable and original is produced and nothing is demanded either and we enter a vicious cycle of decline.
How could art ever work out if there are no proper channels in the country for anything much less art. No matter how brilliant your art is, it has no legal channel for seeing the light. The way that the Unknown Soldier (Algundy Almaghool) relic in Nasr City was built is almost sad. It was a design that won an award and upon president Sadat’s chance encounter with the news, he asked why is this not being built, let’s build it. That the only channel for a work of art to see the light is a presidential order upon a chance encounter provides a very bleak outlook on what’s to come.
Fear Factor
But perhaps the most forceful impediment implanted within our children through their education is fear. I know we’re not in the gruesome times of Nasser where people were imprisoned for making any comment that was against the regime, but even with all that gone, there’s a bitter residue that still won’t part.
We’re taught that politics is dangerous and we’re forbidden from expressing any ideas that seem to be political, but since most things in life are related to politics, we end up with a fear of expressing almost everything we feel in our lives. The only things we’re allowed to express are things that don’t matter. Perhaps that’s why everyone has learnt to sing shallow songs and produce and watch lusty clips.
Yes, this sort of immorality is safe, it’s safe for the decision makers and our children have to pay the cost of their safety. I’ve always thought that the government had a duty to take risks and sacrifice for the safety of its children, but it appears that I had it figured wrong.
A while back, I recall there was a news story on an Egyptian student asked to write composition along with her class. Unlike the rest of her school mates she chose to express herself genuinely and in effect criticized the government for a reality she experiences every day. The poor girl was failed and she was reprimanded. She was failed for expressing something she believes is true. What kind of education would have her fail for expressing her thoughts, is that how our children are judged? What happened to grading her on style, grammar, idea development?
She got off the hook eventually through yet another presidential intervention but only after appealing to the press and this horrid injustice was exposed. One cannot but wonder what her fate may have been had she not gone to the press, and whether there are others like her who were not lucky enough to have their voices heard.
Al Batout also confirmed fear instilled in people by the government, when asked by someone what must you do to create an independent film in Egypt, he remarked that the bottom line is that to create films you have be ready to get arrested and be imprisoned, pragmatically speaking.
Is there hope?
We live in a system that claims to know best, and rather than disowning culture and arts altogether, it embraces them in its own monocratic way. We might have been better off without the fake interest in art that serves their purpose alone, but this indoctrination presents one of the biggest and most hidden obstacles to art.
I have no conclusion as a result of what I expressed. That art has suffered a great blow and that our general public has become programmed to follow the media’s premeditated agenda is an inescapable fact. But, that the amount of youth that are trying hard to get involved in the art scene, open their eyes and break the mold is also undeniable.
Our world is full of Sarahs seeking art without having been given a chance and full of Minas who are talented but cannot put their talent to use, and many others who have not chosen to study elective art subjects, and those who have but gained nothing. But on the other hand we have artists who are trying hard to make it and present something original from within them.

So is there any hope?

First Published in The Art Review