... in beirut

An evidence-based approached to airport security

03 Jan 2010 | 306 words | airtravel beirut lebanon security

It seems that Beirut International Airport has a refreshingly evidence-based approach to flight security. When standing in line for the second security checkpoint (the one between the duty free area and the actual boarding gates) the security guards produced a half liter metal can from the backpack of the passenger two persons ahead in our line. When he failed to get the lid open with his hands, the teenager directly in front of us handed the security guard a pair of scissors, which he used to open the the can, which turned out to contain black powder (the owner stated that it was paint).

Next the security guard used the tip of the scissors to spoon a small amount of the back powder out of the can, produced a lighter and tried to set the small amount of black powder on fire, which did not result in anything and so the security guard pours a larger amount of the powder on an steel table and tries to light it again which still does not result in an explosion of any kind.

Subsequently, the text on the can is studied some more, the lid it put back on it and the can is returned to its owner (and the scissors to the teenager who had been impatiently waiting all along):

Turned out that the guy with the can of paint was actually traveling on our flight to istanbul and while i was sleeping for most of that flight i certainly did not notice any explosions there either.

[p.s: this is the same checkpoint where, back in 2006 instead of confiscating my beloved multitool they put it in a plastic bag, asked me to write my name and gave it back to me requesting to hand it over to the flight crew for the duration of the flight.]

From the comments (i am not a audio equipment salesperson)

25 Jul 2008 | 232 words | africa lebanon beirut business

Apparently there is a number of confused people reading this blog and checking my flicker account (or it some clever new form of comment spam that i am failing to understand). in any case these people seem to be (a) interested in audio equipment and (b) confusing me with the persons pictured in photos i have taken:

Two weeks ago a certain Williams Robert from ‘Ghana West African’ left the following comment on a post containing this picture:


Please let us know if you have any of these models of Bus campaign, we will like to have, our some parties need us to supply the campaign Bus soonest, please confirm as we hope to hear from you soonest.

Thanks and remain bless

and about a week ago samia_begum1997 left the following comment on this photo from the shatila refugee camp on my flickr stream:

i have been since i was 10 years old trying to get hold of hitachi TRK8190E ghetto blaster and i havn’t had much joy i have seen in your photo file that you have two of those ghetto’s sitting on a chair “doing nothing” please would you let me know if you would sell one urgently please leave contact deatails thanks…………………

I really love the part about ‘sitting on a chair “doing nothing”‘ although i certainly fail to discern even a single TRK8190E in this guys inventory…

Déjà vu

11 May 2008 | 92 words | beirut lebanon drone wars

Had a bit of a bad feeling when i was reading that nat was going back to Beirut for some festival and that there would be a general strike in Beirut on the 7th of may. Turns out that my bad feelings were justified. Nat is (or at least was, the last thing i had heard from her was that the germans where bringing her to Damascus) once again stuck in cairo, and mazen is drawing again.

& for some fucked up reason these things always correspond with nice weather in Amsterdam.

The war is over...

31 Mar 2007 | 134 words | war israel lebanon beirut advertisement banking photos

… and everybody is talking about the next war. seems to somehow involve iran, the US, israel, the valet parkers, Syria and Lebanon, but there is neither real agreement about the constellation nor does anyone come up with a credible motivation for someone to attack the others or the other way around (except maybe for the US to attack Iran). Meanwhile last summer war has once again (see here for last years favorite ad) been picked up by the advertising industry, this time in the form of an billboard-advertisment for a teenagers credit card, which seems to be inspired by this years world press photo (which caused quite a bit of confusion after it won the award):

Bank Audi teen master-card billboard in downtown Beirut

World press photo 2006 by Spencer Platt, Getty Images

I love life...

06 Jan 2007 | 215 words | beirut lebanon politics branding dead people

Is the PR campaign by the march 14 camp against the ongoing demonstration by the opposition in downtown Beirut. They argue that the ongoing protests are strangling Lebanon’s economy to death and because of that those who love life should rally behind them (the slogan also is a reference to the martyrdom culture entertained by Hezbollah). These days large parts of the city are covered with i love life stickers (in arabic, english and french) and there are i love life x-mas trees at random locations. This afternoon in cafe De Prague in Hamra, someone had this cigarette box:

The sticker on the left reads i love life in arabic and the text on the main part (كلنا للوطن - we are all for/to the nation) are the first two words of the national anthem. Makes a nice contrast with the rest of the worlds obsession to put warning labels on cigarette boxes.

Of course this focus on loving of life does not mean that the good old Beirut tradition of sticking portraits of dead people to the walls has suddenly disappeared. People simply started to combine their admiration for life and for the dead:

In this case the dead man is Pierre Gemayel, the former industry minister, assassinated on the 21st of november 2006.

Beirut safer than Berlin...

05 Jan 2007 | 229 words | berlin lebanon beirut security

The German government advises against trips to lebanon unless you have important business or family matters to attend and recommends to stay well clear of political gatherings and the south of the country. It seems a bit exaggerated especially as the ongoing protest by Hezbollah and their allies in downtown is about the most peaceful demonstration i have ever seen. Most dangerous thing that has happened to me was being forced to sit down with a couple of Lebanese teenagers from boston to smoke the narghile and look at their phone screen-savers depicting Nasrallah in x-thousend different poses:

For the rest you need some tolerance towards armed men, as there are soldiers in full battle gear almost everywhere, plus you might want to consider not getting too drunk with all the razor wire on the sideways. At many times the army presence borders the absurd especially when you step out of one of the bars in rue Gourand and are suddenly in the middle of 10 battle ready soldiers patrolling both sidewalks and forcing the party crowd to step into the street risking to be run over by the endless column SUVs crawling down the road. So unless you are a giant pink rabbit or a chick that likes sitting on giant white rabbits you are probably safer in beirut than in berlin:

Berlin, march 2006

Beirut, january 2007

TXL --> BEY (revisited)

31 Dec 2006 | 531 words | beirut berlin lebanon airtravel

This post does not really make sense (in the sense of being one coherent entity) but rather shares a couple of observations that have nothing to do with each other. Fortunately i can tie them together by pointing to my first ever blog post (the ones that appear to have been posted earlier have actually been inserted at a later point in time) which was also written on the plane to from Berlin to Beirut.

What i wrote then also holds true for the behavior of the passengers on tonight’s flight (the crew is a bit more relaxed this time). Looks like flights from Berlin to Beirut are my favorite ones when it comes to social dynamics and the general behavior of the passengers. Of course there probably is a rather obvious explanation for the good vibe on this plane. Basically the whole plane is full of families and young people flying back to their ‘home’ country (or that of their parents) probably after not having been there for a long while. Couple that with the late hour of the day, the consumption of alcohol and the general excitement about seeing relatives and friends and you will have behavioral patterns that do not fit well with the rigidity of an economy class cabin. Tarek says that ‘they can turn an airplane in a souk in seconds’.

The only thing which is different today is that much of the conversations resolve around politics and a couple of people have asked me if i am not afraid to go to Beirut at this time, which as far as i can tell i am not. In contrast Lufthansa seems to be a afraid, as they do not allow their crews to have a lay over in Beirut because of ‘the political situation’, so the same crew has to operate both the in and outbound flight (10 hours in total).

For the rest i have just finished reading Steven Johnson’s ‘the ghost map‘ which is an absolute must read if you still read books. The whole book is a brilliantly written celebration of bacteria, map making, city dwelling and interdisciplinary collaboration (Commons based beer production for heather). and while i am recommending entertainment here i might just as well add that you should watch this little gem of a educational video on you tube.

Correction: i was lying, i did not finish ‘the ghost map’ on the plane, as i did not read the epilogue until today and this epilogue is worthless. Johnson suddenly starts talking about terrorism in an extremely annoying, hysterical and self righteous fashion (he is an Amercian after all). reading this made me question the whole book, so do not read the epilogue if you want to do yourself a favor.

Finally i hope to be posting quite a bit over the next few days, but in case i am not you might want to take a closer look at these two blogs (if you are interested in current events in Beirut): remarkz (more frequently updated) and anecdotes from a banana republic (much more entertaining! go read her observations about Walid Jumblat and Angela Merkel at the end of this post!)

BBC doing a live 'laptop link-up' from south lebanon

23 Aug 2006 | 330 words | beirut media war

The BBC is currently doing a rather interesting live conversation with a a panel of inhabitants of the south lebanese village of Al-Khiam (which is notorious for the torture prison the israeli supported SLA did run there from 1985 to 2000). the villagers are answering questions that can be posed to them via the BBC-news website.

While the BBC website claims that the conversation is live, at least the questions seem to be relayed to the panelists very selectively and all of them are subject to moderation before they appear on the website: at the time of writing 11 questions had been answered by while 259 had been posted by readers.

Most of the submitted questions (and for sure those recommended by other readers) seem to be intended to provoke the panelists into anti-hezbollah statements claiming that Israeli conduct during the war was somehow morally superior to the conduct of Hezbollah. This leaves the impression of being a well coordinated action by Israeli war supporters (something the Israeli foreign ministry is known to actively stimulate). However this does not keep the panelists from praising the ‘Islamic Resistance’ and the furthest they go in criticizing them is the – now familiar – ‘bad timing’ argument (that Hezbullah should not have captured israelis at the beginning of the tourist season).

These issues aside it is encouraging to see a big broadcaster to experiment in this way with the possibilities offered by mobile internet access and it actually seems to allow these villagers to directly engage with a public that has a highly filtered perception of what has happened in south Lebanon in the last couple of weeks.

An a related note: the complete recording of the live webcast we did one and a half weeks ago is now available for download in four parts. In retrospective this was a truely amazing event. make sure that you also check out this drawing by mazen kerbaj, depicting how the whole thing looked in Beirut.

Wonderful beirut

29 Jul 2006 | 28 words | lebanon war beirut

Just found this postcard (i think it is originally form a series of postcards) when i was emptying my paper recycling bin. makes me very sad & angry..

Back to Berlin

03 Jun 2005 | 6 words | beirut berlin travel mediterranean

Cornice, Ras Beirut 3 June 2005

meanwhile... is the personal weblog of Paul Keller. I am currently policy director at Open Future and President of the COMMUNIA Association for the Public Domain. This weblog is largely inactive but contains an archive of posts (mixing both work and personal) going back to 2005.

I also maintain a collection of cards from African mediums (which is the reason for the domain name), a collection of photos on flickr and a website collecting my professional writings and appearances.

Other things that i have made online: