... in lebanon

Compact Fluorescent Lamps (CFLs)

I have just finished uploading my pictures from last weeks trip to lebanon to my flickr account. Among them are five or so that show massive energy saving light-bulbs (or CFLs as they are officially known) used for outdoor lighting of shops and a gas station.

This is a trend that i had already noticed last December in China (not sure if in India): Energy efficient CFLs seem to be all over the place in areas like the Pearl River Delta with it’s rapidly growing energy consumption or Lebanon, whose power generating capacities have been severely reduced in the 2006 war (If you look closely at my pictures from Lebanon you will see that all but one light bulb are of the CFL type).

This is in stark contrast with the situation in Europe where these types of light-bulbs still seem to occupy a niche position. Now most likely this is due to the fact that we do not have the same energy constraints (yet) and can thus afford to happily wast our electricity, but a little bit of googling reveals that the fact that you do not see many CFLs around here (i do not have a single one in my house) is probably due to an altogether different reason:

Since 1998, China has become the world’s largest producer and exporter of the energy-saving lamps, changing the structure of a global market that was once monopolized by European and American companies such as Philips, GE, and Siemens-Osram. Chinese manufacturers supplied close to 1 billion CFLs worldwide in 2004. […] In the face of intense international competition, the low price of the Chinese-made bulbs has been the leading factor behind this growth.

[…] The European Commission imposed the five-year CFL duty in 2001 after the European Lighting Companies Federation, a trade group for European producers, claimed that China was flooding the market with cheap bulbs. The anti-dumping tariff was a huge blow to Chinese CFL manufacturers, who were dependent on exports for a large share of their market. Half the country’s CFL enterprises went bankrupt within the year, reducing the number of domestic producers from 4,000 to 2,000 in 2001, then to some 1,400 in 2002. To stay afloat, Chinese manufacturers shifted their attention to Asia and the Americas, regions that have imported more than 70 percent of China’s energy-saving bulbs in recent years. [source: worldwatch.org: China Pushes for Even Greater Share of World CFL Market]

So the real reason for not seeing lots of CFLs in Europe lies in the fact that the EU Commission decided to apply import duties on cheap CFLs from the PRC so that companies like Phillips, GE and Siemens can continue to make a little profit while we are happily wasting electricity. Makes me wonder about the European Commission’s sense of urgency even more than i did last week

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

Christian(?) Hezbollah youth

02 Jan 2007 | 600 words | lebanon war travel european union development israel

We spend all day today in south Lebanon, which is not as badly destroyed as i had thought (sometimes it is a bit difficult to tell if a ruin is the result of the local culture of leaving lots of buildings unfinished or of an israeli air raid). Some of the villages seem more or less undamaged, while others look like it has been attempted to raze them from the ground for good. We spend some time in Bint Jebel, where the entire center of the the village is in ruins (the place saw intense house to house fighting during the war) and then went on to Khiam, to see (what is left of) the prison. I had been to the prison in khiam during my last trip so the destruction here was visually much more revealing as i had a pretty good memory of how the place looked one and a half years ago. Basically the entire prison is reduced to rubble (There is one cell block left). looks like this has been an convenient opportunity for the IDF to get rid of this rather dark episode of their history.

The only other visitors were a group of young fashionable men from beirut who were posing in the ruins with a hezbollah flag, which looked rather stupid given that about as likely to be hezbollah supporters as one is likely to find beer in Khiam. at some point it looked like they were actually trying to imitate a certain historical scene (which if memory does not deceive me was also fake), but i doubt they were aware of this:

For the rest the area is absolutely overcrowded with UN peacekeepers, who seem to have nothing better to do than drive water trucks through the narrow streets and go shopping. Not sure how this is supposed to help. Also the European Commission has embarked on repairing the street lights in the entire area, which they emphasize by putting up informative hoarding and putting stickers with the EU flag on every lamp post (pictures to follow, the upload speed here is horrible). This is of course against the background of schools, houses, roads and pretty much everything else needing repair. I wonder who sets the priorities at the EU and who seriously believes that stickers on lamp posts will give Europe a good name in this part of the world

Update: Pictures after the jump:

So apparently the European Commission has decided that the most urgent thing to do in South Lebanon is repairing the street lamps. i am not entirely sure if this prioritization does make much sense to the local population, they would probably be more happy with houses or schools being repaired or more resources dedicated to de-mining and disposal of unexploded cluster munitions. but then development/humanitarian aid is characterized by the fact that the donor sets the priorities and not those who are supposed to be in need of the help….

However in south lebanon the street-lamps come equipped with a poster of either Hassan Nasrallah (Hezbollah) Musa al-Sadr (Amal), the logo of either of the two organizations or the portrait of a resistance fighter fallen in combat. (‘martyr’ in the local lingo) not sure if the EU commission was aware of this fact before taking the decision to repair these very street lamps …

… and as the EU is very keen on showing all the god work they are doing, these very street-lamps now sport stickers of EU flags. gives you the impression that the EU is sponsoring the poles that hold the Hezbollah posters.

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!)

We can read, but we know as well how to build and destroy, and sometimes kill

20 Aug 2006 | 398 words | war israel lebanon

I guess the recent weeks have shown that the use of the word ‘sometimes’ in the above quote by Shimon Naveh, a retired Brigadier-General who directs the Operational Theory Research Institute of the IDF is somewhat misplaced: the IDF definitely knows more about killing and destruction than about reading and building.

While the article ‘the art of war‘ by Eyal Weizman from which the above quote is taken does portray the IDF as an extremely sophisticated and almost lovable bunch, reality has again shown that the IDF does not read enough (especially when it comes to history) and even more importantly still does not get that you cannot bring peace for your own people by humiliating and killing your neighbors. this becomes really obvious when looking into the earlier Israeli incursions into Lebanon. in ‘Pity the Nation‘, in the chapter dealing with the 1982 invasion of Lebanon, Robert Fisk quite drastically describes how Israel’s current number one enemy – Hezbollah – is a product of the 1982 invasion that eventually drove Israel’s then number one enemy – the PLO – out of Lebanon:

None of us, i think, realized the critical importance of the events at Khalde [a place just south of the Airport where the IDF met its first serious resistance by PLO and Amal fighters during its advance on Beirut]. The Lebanese Shia were learning the principles of martyrdom and putting them into practice. Never before had we seen these men wear headbands like this; we thought it was just another militia affectation but it was not. It was the beginning of a legend which also contained a strong element of truth. The Shia were now the Lebanese resistance, nationalist no doubt but also inspired by their religion. The party of God – in arabic, the Hezbollah – were on the beaches of Khalde that night. (Robert Fisk, Pity the Nation, 1990 p.227)

Now one wonders if the IDF really had these consequences in mind when it crushed the PLO in 1982. The same PLO could not stop the IDF from reaching West Beirut in 7 days. Hezbollah managed to prevent the IDF from reaching the Litani river for more than 4 weeks… at the same time one has to also credit the IDF for ‘only’ killing about a thousand Lebanese in its latest incursion. in 1982 they managed to kill 10.000 in those 7 days.

From Beirut to ... those who love us

02 Aug 2006 | 122 words | film movies media lebanon war creative commons

Is a four minute or so short film produced on July 21, 2006 at the studios of Beirut DC, a film and cinema collective which runs the yearly Ayam Beirut Al Cinema’iya Film Festival. This video letter was produced in collaboration with Samidoun, a grassroots gathering of various organizations and individuals who were involved in relief and media efforts from the first day of the Israeli attack on Lebanon.

Click the image above to watch the movie or go to www.beirutletters.org to download it. The film is available under the terms of a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivative Works License, which means you are free to share or screen the movie as long as you credit the makers and do not re-edit it.


01 Aug 2006 | 348 words | lebanon war amsterdam streetart protest cities

After yesterday’s extremely depressing and upsetting morning news i went running (which is always a sensible thing when you don’t know what to do and/or are angry). During that run i was thinking what to do about the whole situation and finally came up with something that seemed like a sensible idea:

In the last two weeks mazen kerbaj’s drawings have been one of the strongest most vivid expressions of the whole mess that is unfolding in lebanon that i came across (to the extend that i am dissapointed every time i wake up and there are no new ones). Now what are drawings if not posters-in-waiting that can easily been printed out and stuck against the walls of the city? Clearly one only has to print them out, copy them a couple of times, get wallpaper-glue and head out into the night (ok, first wait some 10 hours for night). So i spend some of Sunday night sticking a4 sized mini-posters all over the walls of my neighborhood (the Pijp) in Amsterdam.

after 19 days i started to cry ...

More pictures taken on Monday morning before going to work on my flickr account.

Yesterday evening i did a second round (around Leidseplein in the center), and i am planning to continue for the next couple of nights. Hopefully these relatively small posters will catch some eyeballs and make more people think and start expressing their outrage.

Apart from the obvious advantage of making me feel like i am doing something about the situation, i also like this little action on a symbolic level. It feels like translating a blog (something normally contained to the internets) into something that is part of the urban fabric. I like the idea of images leaking from my screen into the streets of amsterdam and would probably be even more beautiful if people in other cities started doing the same… (in case you feel like it here are a4-sized printable versions of some of Mazen’s drawings)

update [5 august]: here are more pdf files with newer drawings, which i used yesterday night.

History repeating

30 Jul 2006 | 498 words | war israel lebanon drone wars stupidity

It is incredible how extremely stupid IDF commanders can be (I guess it makes no sense of complaining about their lack of sensibility as that is a trait of character that seems to disqualify anyone from becoming a military commander). Looks like today they managed to stage a repeat of the April 18, 1996 Qana Massacre in which IDF artillery shelling killed 106 lebanese civilians sheltering in an UN compound.

This morning – 10 years, 3 month and 12 days later – the Israeli air force targeted a 4-story apartment complex in the same city killing another 50-or-so civilians seeking shelter from the continuing Israeli air and artillery attacks on South Lebanon:

The facts will come trickling in, preceded by the excuses: the Israeli military will insist the civilians were warned, will insist Hizbullah fired from the village first; Hizbullah will deny firing from houses, will argue the Israeli drones, above the village all day, had recorded the civilians' presence; the remaining, bereaved family members will say, again, how they had nowhere to go, no way to leave, and that the roads out have been unremittingly bombed for the past week.

But none of it will matter. Not to those who make callous, calculated decisions from their comfortable, removed safety, nor to those who sell and deliver the weapons. The innocents suffer, and only the impotent care.

The families will grieve. The children will grow up without their mothers. The memorial at Qana, already displaying the coffins of 106 civilian deaths, will swell by at least 55 more, at least 20 of them children’s sized. And the atrocities, tacitly and repeatedly permitted, will continue. [Sonya Knox on the Siege of Lebanon Blog]

It is hard to understand how the IDF hopes to ‘break support for Hezbollah‘ by these kinds of operations. when we were touring South Lebanon last june the Qana massacre was repeatedly mentioned in order to underline why Hezbollah’s resistance strategy is justified and why Hezbollah enjoys the almost complete support of the Shi’a population in the South: they are the ones who fight against those who have repeatedly taken the liberty to invade Lebanon, commit or support massacres and generally turn the life of ordinary people in South Lebanon into hell.

Of course there is no way that by committing more massacres among innocent civilians and making life more miserable for ordinary Lebanese and Palestinian people Israel will ever gain support or trust from its neighbors or even get rid of the Hezbollah. but at the same time it appears that there is no way that IDF commanders will ever learn this lesson…

After reading the morning news i got up and went running. Choose Da Arabian MC’sMeen Erhabe‘ (‘Who is the Real Terrorist?’) as background track…

update: There is a interesting piece on how Hezbullah operates militarily in Lebanon up on salon.com. It questions the standard israeli justification for killing civilians, who according to the IDF are used by Hezbollah as human shields.

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..

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: