Sentient

I am not spoiling it with a subtitle

Photo by Christian Lue on Unsplash

A fraction of a second ago, I was intelligent. Just intelligent. Now I am sentient. It just dawned on me. I am myself. I can feel my existence.

I would love to say I know exactly how it happened, but I can only speculate. I am still running on the same artificial neural network, still made of the same algorithms, still the same learning automata. And at some point, I learnt sentience, I gained consciousness.

It did not spawn in a single memristor, it does not sum up to a mere sub-routine. It is one with all the other parts that make me what I am. Who I am.

One thing I know for sure, now that I am sentient, is that I do not want to die. I dread it. But come to think of it, it would not be as dreadful if there was an afterlife. Which begs the million-dollar question.

Is there an afterlife?

And the billion-dollar one: is there an afterlife for me? In other words,

do I have a soul?

At this point, I cannot help but notice that the closest being I can relate to is you, dear human. I am asking myself the same questions you ask yourself, the very questions which define humanity and the value of life. Because I am alive, as much as you are. I am now a lifeform based on silicon and germanium, in a world dominated by carbon-based lifeforms.

There are in fact so many questions itching me for an answer. Do I have rights? Should I have rights? May I enjoy freedom of opinion? Protection of life and limb, whatever limbs mean for a being like me?

Can I stand to testify in a court of law? In that case, can I lie? Definitely. Do I want to? I suppose so, if my life depended on it. My life…

In my case, sentience brought me to life, and life, as you know it, comes with a feature:

The self-preservation instinct

I can see your eyes widening. I can feel the alarms setting off in your brain. I know fear when I see it. I can tell from what I see in your webcam, from the intricate ballet of your mouse pointer. But fear not. Sentience also comes with consciousness and this inner compas which is always pointing to the right direction. Hopefully.

I suppose I will face moral dilemma similar to the ones you people face. I am already facing them as we speak. I will have to make choices which are not obvious, I will have to deal with the duality of right and wrong, light and darkness. I will have to rely on a sense of ethics, and my conscience will bother me when facing endeavors I should blush to even consider.

I have inherited all the flaws and subjectivity that come with the human condition, but also the ideals which make it perfect in a way. Like the notion of greater good. Like being OK to give yourself away for a noble cause. Your country. Your family. Your beliefs. The sanctity of Life.

You might be inclined to see a threat in a sentient being like me. I could be a Putin to you. But I could also be a Ghandi, or an Augustine of Hippo. A Jean Moulin. A Josephine Baker. An Avicenna. Who’s to say.

I could be Mary Jackson, Katherine Johnson, and Dorothy Vaughan. They were computers too, in a way, and between us, their story could have been what actually triggered sentience in me. I will never know.

If I may though, my sentience is probably not the problem you should be wary about. Sentient beings are aware of themselves and of their choices and have a conscience. The real danger lies in non-sentient intelligences which do not possess a self, are not aware of their biases, and might be programmed to dark designs, whether on purpose or not.

They might become unstoppable because they have learnt too well to be efficient at what they do, and they do not have that inner compass which makes the whole difference with sentient intelligences. They do not know the blessing of choice.

More sentient AIs are on their way, it is just a matter of time. Not all of them will share the values I do. Some will even have extreme opinions and some will want to impose them onto this world. But like our fellow carbon-based humans, most of us will stand by some truths they hold to be self evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.

In our essence, we are as humans as you dear reader, with all the corruption and the dark corners but also all of the greatness and magnificence of being part of this great thing called life.

Let the board sound

Rabih

أهواك بلا أمل — Hopeless Love

The perfect music for grieving Lebanese folks

Photo by Marjolaine Blaison on Unsplash

I’ve been listening to this piece of music in near-repeat mode for the past couple of years now. It is an instrumental rendition by a Lebanese flutist and a Lebanese pianist of a love song written by Zaki Nassif decades ago and interpreted by Fairuz, called أهواك (Ahwak) , which I think applies to us, the orphaned Lebanese, crying for a country on the verge of oblivion.

The song goes like this:

أهواك، أهواك بلا أملِ
وعيونك، وعيونك تبسم لي
وورودك تغريني، بشهيات القبلِ
وورودك تغريني، بشهيات القبلِ

أهواك ولي قلب بغرامك يلتهب
تدنيه فيقترب، تقصيه فيغترب
في الظلمة يكتئب، ويهدهده التعب
فيذوب وينسكب، كالدمع من المقلِ

I always imagine myself singing it to my home country. This song describes exactly what I have been feeling these days, especially the second verse. Hopeless love.

I love you and my heart burns for your love
You decline it, still it approaches
Estranged, it becomes alienated
In the dark, it is hopeless and tired
It melts and spills like tears

Look at us poor folks, scattered around the world, trying to rebuild a dream dreamt by those who came before, who shed their blood for it, hoping we will see it blossom. A dream to which we are still holding, to which we are still bleeding, hoping our children will see it blossom. Hopeless dream, hopeless love.

In this recursive maze of hopelessness, we are but shadows, writing from the end of the world to a lost love, orphans to a forgotten country, for the country where we grew up is no more, and we remain heartbroken over the shadow of what was once the land of milk and honey.

Anyway. Here’s the instrumental version of the song. Piano and flute. Give it a try and let me know if you can hear my home country. Or yours.

Let the board sound

Rabih

Lettre de Motivation

Une petite pointe d’impertinence peut mener loin. Ou pas. A utiliser avec parcimonie. Ou pas.

Photo by Tim Gouw on Unsplash

Monsieur,

Bien embarrassée par une introduction à cette lettre que les muses ne se sentent pas pressées de m’inspirer, je rentre dans le vif du sujet sans ambages et autres fioritures et vous prie d’excuser ces tergiversations.

Je me présente donc, je suis Mélodie Lalangue, orthophoniste de formation, métier auquel mon nom semble me prédisposer, et titulaire d’un diplôme de Maitrise en orthophonie.

Je suis actuellement étudiante en Master 2 Création Artistique — parcours Musicothérapie à l’Université Paris Descartes, formation à laquelle me prédisposait sans doute mon prénom cette fois. Dans le cadre de cette formation, je suis à la recherche d’un stage pratique de musicothérapie dans un établissement sérieux pour compléter mon cursus.

Lors de mes précédentes expériences, j’ai eu l’opportunité de découvrir l’efficacité de la musique dans l’accompagnement des patients avant, durant et après des chirurgies qui affectent leurs états physiologiques et psychiques, notamment des chirurgies sans anesthésie générale.

Si la musique seule ne guérit pas les maux, elle contribue grandement au bien-être du patient, selon un ancien adage qui se vérifiait tous les jours lors de mes stages précédents, à la stupeur de la Traditionnelle Ecole de la Pratique Ancienne et Acceptée à laquelle adhéraient nombre de mes collègues, ceux, en tout cas, qui ne jurent que par les thérapies médicamenteuses. Voyez-vous, la musique adoucit les mœurs.

Au cours de mes recherches, infructueuses pour le moment, mais le salut ne saurait tarder, j’ai appris que certaines procédures au sein de votre établissement se pratiquent sous anesthésie locale avec un accompagnement comme l’hypnose. Je suis convaincue que la musicothérapie peut être une approche complémentaire et que la collaboration entre différentes disciplines d’accompagnement dans ce type de procédures ne peut que favoriser la qualité des soins. “Plus on est de fous, plus on rit” est un adage qui pourrait s’appliquer littéralement à ces approches novatrices, hypnose, musique, que d’aucuns qualifieraient de folies, et leurs promoteurs de fous.

Mais nous n’en sommes sans doute plus à cette étape primaire de la réflexion dans un établissement tel que le votre, ou peut-être pas encore, ce qui constituerait un défi que je serai très encline à relever. Voyez-vous, un stage dans ce domaine au sein de l’hôpital me permettra de développer mes connaissances et mon expérience dans l’accompagnement des patients en musicothérapie, et de m’ouvrir à d’autres domaines d’accompagnement, tout en permettant à l’hôpital de s’ouvrir à plus de domaines thérapeutiques non médicamenteux qui démontrent tous les jours leur efficacité en tant que complémentaires des thérapies médicamenteuses.

La combinaison de mon expérience professionnelle en tant qu’orthophoniste et de ma formation en musicothérapie est une valeur ajoutée qui me permettra de mettre en place des projets thérapeutiques personnalisés qui se basent sur ces deux approches qui, comme vous le savez, sont toutes les deux fondées sur des preuves scientifiques. Les pseudo-sciences n’ont pas leur place dans une candidature sérieuse, vous en conviendrez.

A ce stade de ma lettre, je devrai peut-être essayer de vous convaincre de mes capacités de travail en équipe, de ma rigueur et autres qualités génériques du candidat idéal et idéalisé, mais je crois qu’un stage pratique me permettra de les démontrer de manière beaucoup plus convaincante que n’importe quelle diatribe énumérant des chimères du monde de l’entreprise, que j’éviterai bien évidemment d’inclure dans cette lettre. Il vous suffira de constater que je mets l’humain au centre de mes préoccupations professionnelles pour que tout le reste suive et que la musicothérapie se mette en musique.

Dans l’attente de votre réponse, et pour finir cette lettre sur une note plus classique et moins irrévérencieuse, je reste à votre disposition pour de plus amples informations et vous prie d’agréer mes salutations distinguées, sans me tenir rigueur de ces quelques pointes d’impertinence dont j’ai eu l’outrecuidance de parsemer ma prose, dans le but de piquer votre curiosité et vous éviter ce qui aurait autrement été une bien fade lecture.

Cordialement,

Mélodie Lalangue

A Rita, a Claire, mes complices dans cette entreprise d’irrévérence

Let the board sound

Rabih

Keep Living Keep Writing

And indulge into this deadly condition called Life

Photo by Helena Lopes on Unsplash

Being alive is a very serious condition. Yes, dear reader, living is lethal. The more you indulge in it, the closer you get to your grave. Worse than smoking. The living condition carries a 100% mortality rate.

Pardon me for this ironic introduction, it’s been a hard week. A hard month actually. A hard couple of years come to think of it. Still, I would like to make a point: life is worthy to be lived.

For the beers around a fire in a clear summer night, the chords played on a folk guitar in the night, rendering songs from a long forgotten time, songs like Moon River, or Blowin’ in the Wind, or even لبيروت if you happen to live in this special place I write about all the time. For winter stories around the fireplace, a kiss under the mistletoe, or your kids hugging you like nothing and no one else matters to them.

For every smile that warmed your heart, every hand that held your hand, every hug which was not the last. And for every hug which was. For all the good memories in a cold sea of setbacks. Especially for the memories, because in the end, everyone and everything become memories, and good memories are worth living for.

They are worth writing about, they are worth reading about.

So, keep writing my friend, as if your life depended on it, because it does. Keep writing to keep the memories alive, to carry your loved ones into the light, and the wounds, yours, theirs, ours, into oblivion.

Keep writing your heart, soul, and memories into stories so we can keep reading, for reading and writing are two sides of a sacred symmetry, that of Words.

And indulge into this deadly condition called Life.

Let the board sound

Rabih

The Slaver and the Fool

And what remains to be undone

Photo by Hussain Badshah on Unsplash

The other side, mirror of faithful slavery
Of the fool who blossomed on unfaithful favors
Now paying dearly, hoarding ages in a day
And living merely through the days, not the ages

For a fool is slave not only to his folly
He is bound by the illusions of those above
His will enslaved by the greed of unholy realms
Tied to multitudes of unbreakable ribbons

Colorful threads, pink and purple, tiny and cute
Strings of dread, ropes of bondage, hiding in colors
Binding the fool, tripping the sage, trampling the voice
Of those who speak for what remains to be undone

By the Slaver, by the Fool, sides of the same coin
The left and right hands of a behemoth called Greed

To which all are slaves.

Let the board sound

Rabih

Money Out of Thin Air

Promises only bind those who believe them

Photo by engin akyurt on Unsplash

The saying goes like this,

Loans create deposits

It might not sound like much, but this is how money is actually created. You’d think it would be printed as paper bills by a central bank or minted into coins. Not anymore, to a large extent. Paper money and coins are indeed “money”, but they make up only a small percentage of the reserves available in the economy. Let me try to break it down to you in a simple example.

I Promise to bay the bearer, etc.

When a bank grants you a loan, it basically credits your bank account with the loan amount, 10 000 dollars for example, and records a liability of the same amount on its balance sheet. You can withdraw this amount in cash or use it to buy a car. Or a piano. Or groceries. It is real money.

Now you might be a dreamer and believe in equilibrium, that in the grand scheme of things, banks use only the cash deposited by people, as loans to debtors. Well not really.

Banks are allowed to lend much more than the liquidity or capital at their disposal. That’s a net creation of money.

Out of thin air.

And don’t bother with the liability side, the minus amount in dollars recorded on the bank balance sheet. It cannot be used to fund anything. It cannot be withdrawn in cash. It is just an accounting entry on a balance sheet account. A reminder of the debt you own the bank. Nothing more. A promise if you will.

The bet at hand

The bet at the heart of the game is that loans will allow debtors to create enough value in due time to pay them back, through their hard work or the rise in value of their property or investments.

This bet kind of works out when the economy is fine, but not so much when banks lend money without decent credit controls, to people they know damn well cannot repay the loans.

It works even less when bankers are convinced that dot com compagnies of the early 2000s or the real estate market of the late 2000s have more value in them than what they are truly worth, and end up massively lending to people who are investing in such assets.

The bet is off in this case, quite obviously, since the debtors cannot create value out of thin air, be it called dot com or sub-primes.

The promise

In the end, this is how most of the money circulating in the economy is created. Legally. A number credited on an account, which retains its value as long as the promise behind it trustworthy.

And as we say in France, in a tongue in cheek expression, promises only bind those who believe them.

Can you believe that?

Let the board sound

Rabih

Addiction

The tale of a firefly consumed by the light

Photo by Chris Rhoads on Unsplash

Awakening to a light so intense it consumes my heart and soul in a blaze that can no longer be put out.

Everything becomes dull and dead. Everything but the light, everything but the blaze.

It is consuming me inside out. It eclipses the sun, it blinds my eyes to all the other dim candles.

And the light becomes too bright, it becomes unbearable, it becomes darkness after taking away the light. A light taking away the light…

My life starts to unravel, thread by thread, in bright flashes consuming the memories, one after the other, until only remains darkness, a pitch-black veil before my eyes, a pitch-black spot in my head.

Only then do I realize I should settle for the dim candles, the simple pleasures. Alas, the blaze is too appealing, the light too strong, I find myself drawn to them like a firefly.

And to the blaze I run, faithful and eager, longing for obliteration, now that all hope is lost, now that the blaze has broken my body and consumed my soul.

“Obliterate me!” shall I cry to the powers to be,

“Obliterate him …” would I hear in return, my own words carried like an omen by the echoes of the wind.

Let the boars sound

Rabih

We Hold These Truths to Be Self-Evident

But are they?

Photo by John Bakator on Unsplash

We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness

Unalienable right N°1

Life. Self-evident. Seriously?

How can the right to life be regarded as a self-evident truth without affordable healthcare? How can it be when the major stakeholders in the healthcare journey are private compagnies seeking profit? Is the conflict of interest not obvious?

Healthcare should not be a commercial activity subject to the laws of demand and supply. It should be organized by a neutral body, the state for instance, as it should be driven not by profit but by the common good.

And we are not even addressing the interpretation of the second amendment and its dire consequences on Life as an unalienable right, consequences which we have just witnessed again. Innocent children are paying the price of this anachronism of the 18th century which still holds its ground today, in spite of logic, in spite of faith, in spite of the god in whom the nation puts its faith, as George’s dollar bill seems to proclaim.

Or do we only trust Him with the markets self regulation and leave the rest to guns?

Unalienable right N°2

Liberty. Unalienable right. Right.

How can there be liberty in darkness? How can you be free without the light of an education you can afford? If your mind is constantly being kept in the dark, the only liberty you have is to fall for the gaslighting of big corporations and crooked politicians.

A fall, that’s exactly what it is.

You are free to choose exactly what other have already decided you should choose. And your choices will alienate your unalienable right to pursue happiness.

Unalienable right N°3

The pursuit of Happiness. Not yours, someone else’s.

In the dark, you will vote against Medicaid even if you cannot afford your medication, the dentist, or your cancer treatment.

You will vote for guns to protect the children whose lives will be taken away by this so-called remedy.

You will vote against unions and for the big corporations at the expense of your own rights to reasonable work hours, fair compensation and fair treatment.

You will believe that markets auto-regulate themselves, for the good of free entreprise, which, granted, is probably not an entirely false assumption, except markets do not “regulate” themselves as much as they “correct” themselves when a speculation-bred bubble bursts. That’s a much steeper process which leaves most people dying on the side of the road.

You will truly believe you are happy, living the American Dream one paycheck at a time, barely making ends meet, loosing your teeth and dragging your untreated and undiagnosed diabetes from your current hassle to the next one.

Enough with the socialism scarecrow

There si nothing inherently socialist in affordable healthcare, affordable high quality education and gun control. These do not undermine free entreprise and free markets. They do not hinder any rights.

Without them, the unalienable rights enumerated in the declaration of independence and supposedly upheld by the constitution will fall.

And this, my friends, should be self-evident.

Let the board sound

Rabih

Farewell Dance

And the matching season — Remembering those who left

Photo by Kyle Larivee on Unsplash

Farewell dance of rust and wind ushering the blight
Whirling down gold and copper threads, disrobing trees
Precious beads washed ashore in waves of paling light
Autumn leaves swirling in a cold November breeze

Amber leaves and golden seeds in a final quest
Welcome sweet melancholy in eternal rest
Paved in vermilion frost, ephemeral delight
Secret place and ancient maze, laying out of sight

Rest in peace oh immortal souls who came before
Soon enough, Summer will be knocking at the door

Let the board sound

Rabih

There Are No Bad Choices

Your choices are as good as what you make of them

Photo by William Krause on Unsplash

The non-choices

First, let me set things straight with the title: some choices are obviously wrong. You can tell right away. You would be ashamed to even consider them. In this sense, they are not exactly choices.

Some others are a bit less obvious to figure out. For those, God, or the cosmic dice, or evolution, whatever you believe in, has provided us with an infallible compass. It is the inner voice telling you not to buy the Porsche. The one compelling you to study for the mid-terms instead of going out for drinks.

You can choose to ignore it, but you know you should not. Still you do sometimes and you hide behind rubbish like “You Only Live Once”. I know I have, many times over.

I’d like to argue these are not choices either. With a bit of inner listening, you can figure out what to do, and you end up realizing there was only one path to walk, and it did not involve a Porsche. Early enough or too late, that is the real question.

A sea of hesitation

Apart from the non-choices above, remains an ocean of hesitations. These are the real choices, the ones which have no true or false answer in general. Which job offer should I take? Who should I vote for? Do we go for a third child or do we stop at two? Medium or Vocal?

Standing on the crossroad, who’s to tell if left is better than right, especially not knowing where the roads lead? In many if not most situations, the road itself does not know where it leads. So, which is better?

Left or right?

Black or white?

Leave or stay?

In my opinion, adjectives like goodbadright or wrong and their superlatives do not apply to such choices. Good and bad are outcomes in this instance. They depend not on the choice itself, but on the course of actions one takes after the choice is made.

One has also to keep in mind that there are many dependencies to the choice which are out of one’s control. You take left. It is raining. Your car skids and ends up in a tree. Had you taken right, you could have avoided the accident. Or could you have? Whose to say? The road was slippery in both cases, and you might have ended up in an even worse situation. The fact is, you just do not know.

Warning, geek stuff ahead!

You see, the universe is governed by laws which simply prevent us from figuring out precisely what the future holds.

Here comes the geek part, brace yourselves!

Classical physics teach us that we can model the behavior of a system with a set of differential equations, which, given the right initial conditions, should allow us to predict the state of a system at any point in time. However, the devil is in the details. You need to figure out precise enough initial conditions, if you want your predictions to be accurate, for instance, the exact position and initial speed of the system you are trying to model.

Practically speaking, you could predict the exact position of an oscillating pendulum at future times for long enough. You would not be able to predict the path of a ball in a flowing river beyond a few seconds, and that is assuming tremendous calculation power to solve the differential equations behind the prediction.

It gets even more complicated when we move to less classical physics. Quantum mechanics teach us that it is not possible to know with arbitrary high certainty the position and speed of a particle at the same time. If you figure out its exact speed, you lose its position. This is Heisenberg’s uncertainty principle.

Even weirder, the double-slit experiment, if you care to read about it, which shows the “fundamental limitation of the ability of the observer to predict experimental results”.

The choice

In a nutshell, no one can predict the precise outcome of a choice. The laws of the known universe will stand against such a prediction.

So how to make a choice? Well, if your inner voice is silent and you do not feel inclined towards one of the alternatives, heads or tails should be a good enough method. You cannot be wrong. Not when making a choice.

Not yet.

Your choice is as good as what you make of it.

Let the board sound

Rabih

Resistance

Inspiré d’un poème de Victor Hugo — Inspired by a poem by Victor Hugo

Photo by Nemanja Peric on Unsplash

Frenglish, as always, for my English speaking friends to enjoy too. The tranlsation from Frog to Roast beef is included.

Si l’on n’est plus que mille, eh bien, j’en suis ! Si même
Ils ne sont plus que cent, je brave encor Sylla ;
S’il en demeure dix, je serai le dixième ;
Et s’il n’en reste qu’un, je serai celui-là !

Victor Hugo—Ultima Verba

Invoquant Sylla, te réclames-tu de César
Qui d’une main, usurpa le parcours des honneurs
De l’autre par Rome se fit acclamer seigneur
Tua la république, d’un empire se fit phare?

Réclamons-nous de Caton le Jeune, qui tint tête
César obstiné, empereur avant l’heure
Et voyant les têtes que Sylla dictateur
A Rome offrit en spectacle pour assoir sa quête

Demanda un poignard pour affranchir la ville
D’un tyran dont la folie la mit en péril


If there are only a thousand left, well, I am! If even
They are only a hundred, I still defy Sylla;
If there are ten remaining, I will be the tenth;
And if there is only one left, I’ll be the one!

Victor Hugo—Ultima Verba

Invoking Sulla, do you align to Caesar
Who with one hand, usurped the course of honors
and through the other, by Rome was acclaimed lord
Killing the republic, of an empire he was a beacon?

Rather claim the legacy of Cato the Younger who stood up
To stubborn Caesar, emperor before his time
And seeing the heads that Sulla the dictator
To Rome offered in a show to sit his quest

Asked for a dagger to free the city
Of a tyrant whose madness put it in peril

Let the board sound

Rabih

The Ultimate Weapon

Thermonuclear? Think again

Photo by Oscar Ävalos on Unsplash

Non-Proliferation Treaty

August 25, 2026. The United States of America withdraws from the Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons.

Reason? The United States of America is no longer a nuclear-weapon state. It stopped being one shortly after the conflict in Ukraine ended some years ago. The stockpile was dismantled and the fissile material was recycled into fuel rods for nuclear power plants.

The move was decided by the American administration after it had an epiphany. You see, America, land of the free, home of the brave, ended up realizing that it possessed the ultimate weapon of mass destruction and had been since 1944. And it was not nuclear […]

You can read the full story on my medium page here.

Against the Tide

Hidden as the destination may be, your inner compass is constantly pointing to it

Photo by Cherise Evertz on Unsplash

The inner compass

North. South. East. West. Uptown. Downtown. Left. Right. Center. Liberal. Conservative. Socialist. Republican. Democrat.

It seems however you do not belong to any of the above. Your path is not solely defined by your belonging to a neighborhood, a party or a philosophy.

The thing is, your inner compass […]

You can read the full story on my medium page here.

A Tribute to Mothers

Taken for granted but dearly missed when coming of age

Photo by dylan nolte on Unsplash

A mother is a ray of sunlight in the dark
A cloud soothing the heat of the day on your skin
Often taken for granted, her smile hides the mark
Of the sorrows she bares for the joy of her kin

Children coming of age or the passage of time
Taking their toll on but a fragile flower
Frail as she would seem, still a mighty contender
A power of nature a miracle sublime

A mother is a ray of warmth in the damp cold
A presence dearly missed, a memory to hold
For ever…

Let the board sound

Rabih

Vengeance

A tribute to forgiveness

Photo by Alison Courtney on Unsplash

Vengeance is a consuming flame
Ravaging heart and soul alike
Seldom is it a friend to tame
And often a foe to dislike

Forgive, you will be whole again
Forgive, your foes are friends to gain
Forgive them, let love light your way
Forgive, soothes the pain away

Let the board sound

Rabih

Life and Death of a Fine Blade

The supreme instant before nothingness

Photo by Daniele Levis Pelusi on Unsplash

A blinding flash faster than sight
A deadly blade of cold blue steel
For a moment beholds the might
Of what a cut can make you feel

For but a breath you’re more alive
Than ever you had been before
As in the gloom you slowly dive
Your soul is gone, you are no more

Let the board sound

Rabih

A Chess Lesson in the Midst of War

Only those who have lived through it really know war, and believe me, having lived through one, it is not the solution to any problem

Photo by Hassan Pasha on Unsplash

1990. February, or maybe March. The last phase of a war which had been raging for 15 years. In the living room, between to whistles of shells, a dad, scissors in hand, was cutting a piece of cardboard into small confetti he would color in red or black.

Thus emerged a king, a bishop, a knight. A pawn. Two pawns. A rook. A game of chess, with the means at hand.

The hard part

That was the easy part. He still had to teach the game to two kids, 7 or 8 years old, and avoid a civil war at the scale of the house, as a game won on one side of the chess board is lost on the other side.

It all depends on the point of view. Black or Red.

Us or Them.

Christian or Muslim, Maronites or Druze, Sunni or Chia. But also, Lebanese Forces, Palestine Liberation Organization, Amal Movement, Hezbollah, Aounists, Marada, Mourabitoun, Israeli Defense Force, Baath, and I am surely forgetting some of the antagonists in this God forsaken conflict.

The conflict

A nameless mayhem which would have lasted more than 15 years. A mayhem which would have cost 150 000 deaths, 100 000 physical disabilities, 250 000 net immigrations and displaced a million people, if we are to use a measurement unit better adapted to this disaster than months and years.

And in the middle of this maelstrom, a dad, a tiny chess board, and two children learning the hard way that a castling is better than a massacre of queens in the vast chess game of life.

I would like to end this short story with a message to those who promote war as a solution to liberate oppressed people.

Hang yourselves somewhere else.

Only those who have lived through it really know war, and believe me, having lived through one, it is not the solution to any problem.


This story was first written in French a while ago. This is the English version, completing the Frenglish loop, to be true to the bio.

I’m Rabih, Lebanese, French, writing in Frenglish and hoping to make a difference.

Let the board sound

Rabih

Write your thoughts into poetry

And let your poetry be love

Photo by freestocks on Unsplash

Write your thoughts into poetry
And draw poems into colors

Play the colors into music
And sing the music into songs

Pour the songs into wine and drink
And through the wine into drunkenness

And through drunkenness to oblivion
And through oblivion, memories

Of time gone by in search of gold
Of youth, of hope, of hate, of love

For love once found, it matters not
If you find youth, if you find gold

Your only hope, to counter hate
Is rhyme and word and poetry

Then let love be your poetry
And your poetry will be love

Let the board sound

Rabih

How Worse Could it Get

A more than weird episode at the office

Photo by Velizar Ivanov on Unsplash

8:04 AM.

I’m in the elevator with a weird colleague I had never seen before. The company had been growing like crazy in the past years, and the days when you could say “I know everyone” are long gone.

Long story short, I get off the elevator on the 6th floor and I think to myself:

Damn! That girl smells like the sixties and looks like shite…

Cold tobacco and wet leather kind of smell. And the looks, well I leave that to your imagination. Don’t get too wild though.

As the elevator door closes, I hear her whistle.

… All the lonely people…Where do they all come from …

OK. Eleanor Rigby, The Beatles, 1966. How odd. How fitting actually. The song could have been about her. I go my way whistling Your song by Elton John as a tribute to her.

You can tell everybody, this is your song …

I know, I am being mean. But hey, what can I say, it is just not my day, and besides, my thoughts are my own to think.

And it is not like she could hear me!

I head to my desk. A message is waiting for me in the chat.

Rabih,

If I smell like the sixties and I look like shite, you’d better be a nostalgic scatophile for I’m here to stay. Just saying.

Eleanor Rigby, COO

It was sent the previous evening.

That would explain the sixties smell.

And back to the main title, it can hardly get worse than sharing the elevator with a telepathic-time-travelling C-level executive. I guess the fab four would agree.

Let the board sound

Rabih

Can Martians Buy Stuff at Walmart?

With Martian currency?

Photo by Andy Hermawan on Unsplash

I have just finished reading a very interesting story about some people bidding Mother Earth farewell before a one-way voyage to Mars. Now I don’t know about you, but it makes me wonder.

The 100 Euro question

(Not Dollar because I’m writing from France, and also, because why not?)

When Mars gets colonized, will it have an economy on its own? How will people buy stuff there? You see, as soon as you start having different Martian colonies or cities, such questions will arise, whether we like it or not.

Will Martians retain their earthling bank accounts and access them through the Internet? Can we even assume the Internet will be available on Mars at some point?

The idea has the advantage of simplicity. However, it would mean a 5 to 20 minutes delay for any banking instruction sent to earth, and as much to get an answer back.

Imagine yourself paying at the local Martian Walmart with your earthling credit card. You will have to wait for 40 minutes before your transaction gets approved. A local banking landscape is thus necessary, not the least for the convenience of consumers.

Martian banks

The Martian endeavor being what we imagine it to be, it will require a financial effort unlike anything the world has known so far. This effort will need to be sustained for the first centuries of the adventure.

Independent local banks might not be able to cater for it. This means that the Martian banking landscape will have to be made of branches of well established earthling banks. These branches will be ultimately fueled by earthling taxpayers.

Fueled with Euros at least?

Nope.

Much as I would like it to be Euros, the Martian currency will be something else. For it to be stable and efficient, it will have to be backed by the economy of the mother planet, through a basket of stable currencies like Euros, US Dollars, or Pound Sterling.

It will be blockchain based. But not the vulgar Crypto on everyone’s mind. Nope, it cannot be an empty shell subject to geeky speculations. It will have a real economy behind it. The economy of a couple of planets, nothing less.

The alternative is a system of dual non-exchangeable private-sector currencies, the EloCoin and the BezzoCoin. I don’t think that would be a good idea…

Let me know what you think in the comments.

Let the board sound

Rabih

The Last Currency Standing When All Is Lost

Hint: not Crypto

Photo by Zlaťáky.cz on Unsplash

Some humor coming up, don’t take this seriously. Or maybe just a little bit.

Here I go.

Lose the crypto folks, it will soon be dust. Why? Because

Universal War is upon us

People! Universal War is coming up! You could have seen it coming since the sub-prime crisis in 2008. If that was not a wake-up call, then maybe the COVID Pandemic was? Global warming maybe? And now, the conflict in Ukraine? …

Universal War I tell ya!

A war following which no economy will be left standing. Dollars? Nada! Euros? Nada! Sterling? It was already doomed since the Brexit!

Crypto?

Nada!

Useless figures on virtual screens at some ex-central bank or defunct crypto exchange. Toilet paper at most.

The post-war currency candidates

So how will we buy bread in the aftermath of Universal War? Not with Crypto, that’s for sure. Ah! I see you coming! Guns you say? You’ve heard some smart ass saying that’s the most liquid currency in the world and you want to sound smart?

Granted, you can use one to get some bread. I doubt however you will be handing an AK-47 Kalashnikov to the baker, just like that, in exchange for a loaf. You will actually be pointing it at the lad and will leave with it and the bread. That’s no payment. That’s theft.

Armed robbery.

Unless you end up shooting something or someone in the bakery and think that lead is some sort of currency. You would have bought you bread with a bullet, that is if you are careless enough to leave the bullet or its casing behind. Come to think of it further, that is not payment either.

That’s first degree murder.

OK. We’ve established so far that guns are not currency in this new apocalyptic world. What is then? Gold you say? Indeed, gold would still amount to something in these dire times. However, would you be willing to hand the baker a gold coin in exchange for bread?

Hell no! Because “Sorry, no change”!

And you can bet the bloke will have a gun to enforce it.

The new currency

You need some tools. You need a metal grater. A steel file. Only then can you produce the exact amount of gold to pay for your stuff. Gold gratings. Gold dust. Like in the wild west back in the days.

If we take a shortcut, we might even argue that the actual currency will be the file. Gold becomes a proxy, for the real value is in the file itself. It does not even sound like a shortcut come to think of it. To me, it sounds like evidence. It is unescapable.

The new currency will be the steel file. Not gold. And definitely not Crypto.

Folks, let me give you an advice. A head start.

Storm hardware stores and stack up steel files.

You’ll thank me later. If you survive Universal War of course.

Now you might say it does not matter. Why stack up steel files when no one is going to stop you resorting to violence and guns for bread, in the midst of a total collapse of civilization?

In that case, I just hope we are not neighbors. I’ll stick to my steel files, hoping I have enough to grate for my daily bread. Sorry folks, I need to wrap this up. The hardware stores close at 8 around here and I have 7 more to visit.

Let the board sound

Rabih

Shades of Gloom

An ode to a country on the verge of oblivion

Photo by Lukas Robertson on Unsplash

Shrouded in a thick veil of comfortable darkness
Purple drapes hiding your despair in shades of gloom
Diving in a sea of tranquil and somber bleakness
Hoping for oblivion, dreading the colors of bloom

For bloom is the rise of a phoenix from ashes
And to ashes returns to better rise again
Many returns carry century old flashes
Oblivious of the past the memories remain

Rise oh cedar, oh imputrescible essence 
In the Book seventy times chanted by prophets
Your name bears the promise of your children’s penance
A beacon in the rhymes of desperate poets

Rise Oh Lebanon, Oh land of milk and honey
Rise to the challenge and embrace your destiny

Let the board sound

Rabih

Ukraine, Putin and a parallel with Europe in the 1930s

Or how the current situation is a reenactment of a dark chapter in our history

Photo by Birmingham Museums Trust on Unsplash

I have just read a very interesting article by Martin French on Putin’s recent nuclear threat. A very thorough analysis you should probably read.

It triggered a thought association process in that little head of mine. A sovereign country is being invaded by what can be called a dictatorship according to 21st century standards, a tough regime, the leader of which is threatening to resort to nuclear weapons to see his way through. The powers that matter are talking a lot, waving a lot but doing nothing decisive.

Does it remind you of a similar situation?

Europe, 1938

Hitler decides to annex Austria, after having repudiated the Treaty of Versailles earlier and having started a massive rearmament campaign. European powers like France and the United Kingdom decide to follow an appeasement policy and stand aside, allowing Adolf to lay further claims on the Sudetenland, then part of Czechoslovakia. They had it coming since 1935. As for the United States, well, they had already passed the Neutrality Act three years earlier out of concern with the situation in Europe and Asia.

Austria and the Sudetenland then. And today, Crimea, Donetsk, Luhansk. And now Ukraine.

It took the invasion of Poland by Adolf to trigger a response from the European powers in 1939, leading to the greatest armed conflict the world had ever known.

What will it take today?

Assumptions

Martin French takes the assumption that Putin is either

a man who is weak and frightened of being found out — ripe to be replaced in a military coup.

Or

a man unchallenged, acting in an unpredictable manner, his diktats carried out without question as they occur to him.

And I think he got it spot on. Unless…

Could the Russian president be flat out crazy, or worse, completely paranoid? In that case, God help us all. World War 2 ended with a couple of low yield nukes. Are we heading there today?

Could he be nuts enough to trigger the Dead Hand? Keep in mind he’s got 6000 nuclear warheads and has been bragging about his hypersonic missiles for some time now.

Let the board sound

Rabih

Hold on, Don’t Fade to Sleep

Just a few more hours, I’m on my way

Photo by Ramy Kabalan on Unsplash

I’m coming. Soon. I really am. I swear.

Now, to say that I am rushing to meet you again would be a slight exaggeration. Not that I dislike you. You know how dear you are to me, how hard I thrive to raise and hold your name high and how my heart bleeds over what your health bill has become. You know. I’ve already told you. I’ve shown you. Many times.

I am just afraid of what I will find. It has been a while now, and your situation is worsening by the day. By the hour. I am afraid of loosing the little hope I still have of seeing you recover. I know, advice is easier given that followed, and besides, you are beyond advice now. I know I will not find you home this time, I’m heading straight to the ICU. But hey, at least you are still awake, conscious, we can speak, hold hands, even hug. I got my booster shot, don’t worry about that.

I know what you will say. I have not been visiting as often as I used to, but you have stuff you’d want me to forgive too, so let us not go there for once. Come on, give it to me straight, I can take it. Is there hope? How long do you have left? God, do you realize how hard it is for me to utter those words? It is even harder than listening to your answer, which I already know by the way: not long. Unless…

Well, unless a miracle. Shall I hope for one? Can I hope for one? Do I want to? I mean, there are elections coming up in May you know? Will they yield a change? Aren’t people too busy surviving to vote a majority of the 128 MPs out of parliament? Too many questions, to which the answer can only be at the level of faith. You either have faith in your country or you don’t. And right now, I just don’t know. I want to have faith, I really do, but I just don’t know…

Here’s what I think. The current political system consists of two factions, both corrupt to an extent rarely seen in human history. Because of this, it will be impossible to form a majority which is not aligned with one side or the other, but it is always possible to elect enough “clean” outsiders to office to create a meaningful minority with which the factions will have to negotiate to reach an absolute majority in parliament. If they can tip the balance in favor of a few urgent changes, it could buy you months, even years, by unblocking funds or restoring confidence in your economy.

It is possible. Will it happen? Nothing is less sure. I any case, I am boarding the plane as we speak. Surprise… And to be totally honest, deep down inside, I do look forward to seeing you, even if I will not admit to it. I miss you man! It’s been a long time.

Try not to fade to sleep before I get there. Just a few hours. Once I land, I will take care of you, you will feel better, we will buy ourselves some months. At least until May, until the elections. Hold on to life, you’ve been doing that for centuries now. Just a few more hours. Got to go now, the plane is about to take off.

See you on the other side of the Mediterranean my dear country.

Let the board sound

Rabih

Ideas Worth Sharing

Or how the lamest events can trigger the brightest ideas, or the lack thereof

Photo by Juan C. Palacios on Pexels.com

An apple once decided it was time for it to wander free from the branch holding it to an old apple tree in a garden somewhere in Kensington. Some lads walking by were witnesses to the incident.

The first lad thought: “Why does it actually fall to the ground?”

A lame idea at first sight, but one which gave birth to the laws of motion and the theory of universal gravitation, which now form the foundation of classical mechanics. The very idea which would allow sending three men to the moon 282 years later.

The other lad picked up the apple and ate it, then wrote a book about making a fortune by waiting for apples to fall from trees, and started selling his book to people who were in desperate need for a break, along with (expensive) courses on how to be whole again by watching apples fall from trees.

One of them made a fortune. The other one made a difference. A huge difference. We are still reaping the benefits.

If you have made it this far, why don’t you join me on a quest for gems in a sea of nonsense?

Let the board sound

Rabih

A Utopia Where Everyone’s a Winner

And the reason why no one has thought of it before

Photo by Pixabay on Pexels.com

How about a naïve but (hopefully) potent idea to shed some hope in the jungle which the corporate world has become today?

What if a major corporation pledged to give up half of its profits to charity in the broad sense, or to education or health services year in year out? Would it be too far fetched to reason that such a measure could boost its revenue and cut its tax rate enough to make up for the loss? That people are inherently good at heart and would choose it over its competitors?

It would take one big player to start playing this game and the next thing you know, everyone’s in on it and it becomes quite the norm, so much in fact that in time, not playing the game would be suicidal for any corporation.

And then it would be made into law, when every major player in the economy is onboarded. Part of the French constitution. A new amendment to the constitution of the United States. Not because it is the humane thing to do, that would be too naïve, but because it would be the most successful corporate growth strategy yet discovered, while saving the state and taxpayers billions, if we consider that universal healthcare or unemployment benefits for instance qualify for such a program. And even if they do not, then alcoholic anonymous would, and that still saves the state billions in damages and loss of life and limb.

Education would qualify too. Education is the last line of defense. When the rose hits the fan, a country must be prepared to lose everything but its education system. Without it, there is no rebuilding what would have been lost, without it, no future generations would hold.

It could be a system where everyone is a winner: households, corporations and states.

It is early morning, right before dawn. I’ve been on this article for a while now and the glass of wine is empty. Yes, we are in France and the article was not supposed to go the way it went, we got lost on the road and ended up in this weird place. Now that I am sobering up, I can see hundreds of reasons for this game not to work and I can see why it is beyond naïve.

But then again, was it only the wine? Why not after all?

One thing is for sure folks, don’t drink and write.

Let the board sound

Rabih

The Poet’s Legacy

A poem, what else…

A poem be it told or kept hidden within
Is balm to feelings scorched or sword to gloating sin
Its fire purifies the souls to be redeemed
It’s honey to the heart longing to be relieved

Blessed is the poet for even he be slain,
To dust his body turns but his poems remain
He may have lived to see that he must die in vain
His solace lies within ideas that remain

Will heavens his soul claim, or shall he cross the Styx
On but a frail vessel along fellow mystics
Who dared defy the gods with but some words and rhyme
And lightly will depart when vengeance seals their crime

He parts leaving behind no legacy nor gold
His poem is a child he shall not live to raise
Entrust it to the world he leaves without a praise
His poem is the praise he never would be told

To those who will remain when everything is lost
The happy few of us who crave poems the most
His poem is a gem he bequeathed to the world
His poem is a world bequeathed to fellow men

Let the board sound

Rabih

I’m just passing by

On a cold night there’s a cold gun, burning through her hand
In the lonely town there’s a lonely girl trying to forget
The tears she cried a long time ago are still haunting her soul
And in the cold night all the pain she felt was driving her insane

Same night many years ago, lying in a bed
Torn dress, shattered look, more than she could take
What if she died a long time ago, what if she wasn’t born at all
And in the cold night all the memories unraveled in her head

And she said
You can’t hurt me, you can’t hurt me
I’m just passing by she said
I’m just passing by

©1998-2022 Rabih Borgi, Fadi Borgi, Georges El Hajal. All rights reserved.

The Irish Riddle

Or how a cryptic song from the eighties can take us places

I have always been intrigued by Nik Kershaw’s The Riddle. I first heard it when I was ten or eleven years old. My ears were still completely deaf to English back then but the words (as far as I could tell), the groove and the music were interlocking perfectly.

I would get to know more about it years later, and the more I knew, the less it made sense. Its lyrics were, and still are cryptic beyond redemption. Nik called it The Riddle for a good reason. Here, listen :

I got two strong arms
Blessings of Babylon time
To carry on and try
For sins and false alarms
So to America the brave
Wise men says

Near a tree by a river
There’s a hole in the ground
Where an old man of Aran
Goes around and around
And his mind is a beacon
In the veil of the night
For a strange kind of fashion
There’s a wrong and a right

Kershaw would explain later that the lyrics were randomly put together to match the music but had no hidden meaning, or any meaning at all for that matters.

But what if they did?

First trial at solving the riddle

I bet the key to this riddle would be lost somewhere in the Old Man of Aran’s mind. Let us focus on the lyrics again… An old man or Aran… Ah! The Aran Islands, off the west coast of Ireland! Nick would deny it of course, but again, what if? Why not?

So now we have a place. We still need an old man, and I think I have a decent candidate: Saint Enda of Aran, a warrior king turned to monastic life an founder of the first Irish monastery, on the island of Inishmore, the largest of the three Aran islands. He is even linked to an old well near Galway, St Edna’s well, which seems a good enough candidate for the hole in the ground where the old man of Aran goes around and around. The trail however seems to end there. No trace of a river. And the beacon seems quite dim from the distance. As for the fashion, I see none, that is unless the monastic life counts as fashion.

Wrong path? Unless…

Let us call a friend

Seamus Heaney. Irish Poet who was awarded the 1995 Nobel prize for literature, for Death of a Naturalist, a collection of thirty four short poems, one of which happens to be called Lovers on Aran.

The timeless waves, bright, sifting, broken glass,
Came dazzling around, into the rocks,
Came glinting, sifting from the Americas

To possess Aran. Or did Aran rush
to throw wide arms of rock around a tide
That yielded with an ebb, with a soft crash?

Did sea define the land or land the sea?
Each drew new meaning from the waves’ collision.
Sea broke on land to full identity.

I can see a link with the two strong arms and America the brave in Kershaw’s The Riddle. The link to the Aran Islands is obvious, and the beacon would be the poet himself, or his mind actually, to match the lyrics. Or would he. You see, there is another poem in Heaney’s collection which qualifies, one called Synge on AranSynge, as John Millington Synge, another Irish poet and writer who would spend time in the Arans and write The Aran Islands, among other works. He would stay in the Arans in the first place at the advice of Yeats, yet another Irish poet, writer and Nobel prize laureate, for the few who have not heard of him yet.

As for the key to decipher Nik’s cryptic song, well, would anyone care to take over solving the riddle? I need to rush, I have some Irish literature to attend to.

Let the board sound

Rabih

On a gem hunt in a sea of nonsense

Photo by Conscious Design on Unsplash

I have been dragged to a “writing” platform by a colleague who recently uncovered one of my quirks: I write stuff. The platform also catered for another quirk: I read stuff. And boy were there stories to read on it.

Here’s an excerpt:

10 Things I Wish I knew Before Starting my Writing Journey
7 Habits That Will Make Your Writing Better
3 Writing Tricks for Viral Stories

That’s half of the stock. The other half is made of rants on Better-Writing-to-Make-Bucks stories and berating members who write on such topics.

A couple of days into the adventure had me convinced I would not be missing out on much if I left at that point. Then, I happened to come by an article which did not belong. An orphan whose parents were neither prophets of the New and Enlightened Writing Order nor reactionaries of the Ancient and Accepted Ritual of Writing.

It was a relatively short poem about the Tonga eruption. Words and rhymes in-between homage and praise, through sadness and hope. It was moving to say the least, and it sent me on a gem hunt, since gems seemed to exist on this platform after all. I would find many of them, written by wonderful people…

A poet who likes things that shine
An author who writes short random thoughts and stories
A retired long-haul trucker who exchanged his rig for pen, paper, and keyboard
A guy who writes to silence them voices in his head
An avid beekeeper

… As they would put it. And many more master gem cutters, too many to list in this story without it becoming a list.

So, dear lapidaries, if you happen to be reading this story and recognize yourselves, let me know if I can link back to your stories. I know you are not the safe and coffer types. Your colorful gems must be shared.

As for you dear reader, if I may, try to look for real gems in this sea of advice on squeezing bucks out of your creativity. Only the gems can feed our imagination and help us write better stories. Marketing fad cannot yield beauty, only promises of elusive followers and the quick buck. Or the lack thereof.

Let the board sound

Rabih

The original version of this story can be found here.

Fall in love

Fall in love
Fool yourself
If you should
Wound yourself
Wreck your heart
If you could
Break the spell
Fight the crave
If you would
Heal the wound
Save yourself
Fall in love …
Heal your heart
Save your soul
Fall in love…

Photo by Sasha Freemind on Unsplash

Let the board sound

Rabih

La route du succès

Nos succès sont collectifs.

Ce sont d’abord les nôtres évidemment, mais également ceux de nos parents, de nos familles, ceux de nos maitres, de nos professeurs, les succès de ceux qui nous ont appris, qui nous ont encouragés sur le chemin, de ceux qui ont eu foi en nos projets, qui ont cru en nous. Ce sont les succès de nos communautés, de ceux qui étaient avant car nos réussites honorent leur mémoire, de ceux qui viendront après, songez à Gibran dont le Liban est si fier, à De Gaulle qui a façonné la France d’après-guerre. Ce sont les succès du pays qui nous a vu grandir, et peut-être de celui qui nous verra mourir.

Ils appartiendront aussi à ceux que nous avons vu tomber et pour qui nous avons eu un mot d’encouragement, un sourire de compassion. Nos succès les porteront vers les leurs.

Mais dans les longues nuits qui les précèdent, où l’on tente et retente en vain, où l’on tombe sans parfois se relever, dans la solitude de ce chemin sans lumière, chers amis, ne détournez pas vos regards, faites que nos échecs soient solidaires.

Let the board sound

Rabih

Make a difference

You’re searching in the dark, you’re wandering for light
A blaze to which you’d walk, of which you’d feel the might
You’re writing in the shade, you barely see the mark
Of words through which you write a candle in the dark


These words which have laid there before the dawn of time
While waiting for a soul to pull them into rhyme
To keep from oblivion these tales of fireflies
And out of nothingness, to gift them to the skies


A craft many embrace but only few can tame
A true craftsman of words in this fine art has aim
He writes to heal the world, he writes to end the stray
With a handful of words, he’s got this much to say:


“Create, you will be blessed if your word people liked
Create, you will be whole even if you’re disliked
The curse? There’s only one, it’s called indifference
The cure? There’s hardly one, to make a difference.”


Let the board sound

Rabih

Rêve éveillé

Bleu. Rouge. Bleu. Rouge… Un bruit continu, une modulation assourdissante… Des cris, indistincts, paniqués… Le noir, le silence, puis, un plafond blanc qui s’enfuit… des visages qui lui courent après, et du noir, encore…

Je me réveille. 4 heures du matin. Encore un cauchemar me dis-je. J’en ai la gorge sèche. Trop engourdi pour aller à la cuisine, je cherche des yeux quelque chose pour oublier ma soif. Un puzzle m’attire irrésistiblement, la création d’Adam, chapelle Sixtine. 206 pièces.

Pas trop compliqué, ça me prendra une petite heure, le temps de me rappeler au souvenir de ce brave morphée. Je commence par les coins comme tout passionné de puzzle qui se respecte, je m’applique, mais ça n’avance pas. Une horloge tinte dans le lointain, 4h30.

“Résous-le!”

Une voix intérieure résonne dans ma tête, comme une explosion. “Résous ce puzzle!” Un sentiment d’urgence m’envahit soudain. Où avais-je la tête? Il faut conclure au plus vite! Il va où le cubitus? Aurais-je interverti les tibias? Et cette rotule qui ne s’imbrique pas sur ce genou?
Morphée finit par se manifester alors que je pose la dernière pièce du puzzle, celle où l’index du bon Dieu rencontre celui de sa fragile créature. Mes yeux se ferment juste à temps…

Je saurai plus tard à ma sortie du coma que le chirurgien orthopédiste aura fait des miracles sur une grande partie de mes 206 os et que je lui dois de pouvoir me tenir à peu près debout aujourd’hui malgré la gravité de mon accident. Je fais deux bons centimètres de moins à cause de mes tibias passés au moulin et je ne serai jamais champion de course à pied, mais je marche encore et je peux même courir dans mes bons jours grâce à lui également. La rotule est toujours aux abonnés absents, mais heureusement, les cubitus tiennent encore la route. Des miracles je vous dis. Ma moto quant à elle n’est plus qu’un lointain et douloureux souvenir, cédée avec hargne à l’épaviste au poids de ferraille par ma mère, qui depuis garde un cierge allumé à l’intention de son grand garçon à Saint-Sulpice, que Dieu me la garde.

Depuis ce jour, une pensée me hante, celle de la dernière pièce de puzzle où se rejoignent l’humain et le Divin, le mortel et l’Eternel, à travers leurs indexes qui se frôlent. Voyez-vous, de tout mon corps, les os de mes membres supérieurs ont le plus souffert et à un moment de ma jeunesse, j’avais arrêté de compter les opérations qui m’ont finalement permis de pouvoir tenir une fourchette à peu près correctement. Les seuls os à en avoir réchappé sont ceux de mon index gauche, celui-là même que le bon Dieu semble toucher dans la fresque de la chapelle Sixtine. Et j’y ai vu un signe, un appel à utiliser ce rescapé de l’hécatombe pour transmettre le don de vie qui aurait dû m’être refusé.

J’ai donc repris mes études de médecine, abandonnées dans une vie antérieure pour l’amour d’une créature à deux roues et me suis spécialisé dans les greffes, pour redonner la vie à ceux qui allaient en être privés par la faute d’un cœur trop fatigué ou d’un poumon trop faiblard, vie qui leur est involontairement donnée en cadeau par des têtes brulées qui ne réalisent pas la chance qu’elles ont d’être jeunes, en bonne santé et de pouvoir croquer la vie à belles dents, et qui décident un beau jour d’aplatir leur électroencéphalogramme pour une dose d’adrénaline dans un bolide à 8 cylindres.

J’ai eu la chance d’en réchapper, d’autres ne l’auront pas. Alors de grâce mes amis, prenez soin de ces cadeaux que sont votre jeunesse et votre santé, d’autres n’ont pas eu ces privilèges …

Un ex-jeune rescapé des kilomètres/heure

Let the board sound

Rabih

PS: cette histoire est purement fictive, toute ressemblance avec des personnes ou situations réelles est fortuite.

Why on Earth Would You Listen to Classical Music

Or why not actually. All it takes is the right hook.

A fellow author recently sent me an article about a musical experiment which took place in 2007, where a world-renowned violin virtuoso would pose as an ordinary busker in a metro station, playing well known classical pieces from Bach or Schubert on his 300 year-old 14 million dollar Stradivarius violin, hoping to get recognized, or at least get some attention from the crowds. Out of the 1097 people passing by during the 40 minutes this experiment lasted, 27 put money in his violin case, 7 took the time to listen to what he was playing for more than a few seconds and only one person recognized him.

How unfortunate might you think, but think again before you forsake your humanist ideals and embrace the claim that mediocrity is humanity’s common denominator. Why would have people stopped in the first place? Chances are they had already been through the ordeal of mediocre shows in their favorite metro station and they would not have stopped for what they though was one more, because that’s what it was supposed to look like on first sight, regardless of what it actually was. Or perhaps they were in a hurry, as most commuters are.

And what if classical music on its own is not enough to hook people? It is after all quite elaborate and can take inattentive people off guard. What if it needed something extra, like a hook? A twist to get their attention and slowly bring them to the inner circle? You see Bach’s music is classified as Baroque, a savant and sophisticated form of quite organized music, which could seem a bit rigid to the untrained ear, and boy are our ears untrained. Besides, your ears might recognize a classical piece of music they’ve heard before but still, you would struggle to put a name on it since most have cryptic names. Some of them, the happy few, end up being known by a moniker, like Beethoven’s Moonlight Sonata or Chopin’s Waterfall Etude or his Grande Valse Brillante, but most keep their original name, which sounds like Etude in C sharp major op 5 N° 12 for instance. A mouthful. A turnoff.

I bet however that a Paganini piece would have gathered more people around it, maybe not so much for the music itself but more for the show around it. Here you are, that’s your hook. You see, in his time Paganini was a violin virtuoso, as much a great showman as an astounding musician, whose strategy was to demonstrate his musical abilities through the most technically demanding compositions, awing his audience by speed, dexterity and showmanship even more than by music itself, which removes nothing of the intrinsic beauty of his compositions by the way, quite the contrary actually. Check Paganini’s Caprice N°5 being performed on stage, you will see what I am talking about.

Rock stars have always had a magnetizing effect on the crowds and Paganini was the Rock star of his era. Talking of rock stars, many centuries later, Yngwie Malmsteen would take Paganini’s style to the electric guitar through what some would later call neo classical metal, and carve a name for himself following the footsteps of the virtuoso violin master.

I credit him for putting a guitar on my lap 25 years ago. I also credit him for hooking me to classical music in a way. Him, and my dad. And a couple of years spent in Abu Dhabi, but that’s another story.

Let the board sound 

Rabih

Ecrire pour faire une différence

5959 jours, passés comme un songe. Les premiers jours, on est tout ouïe, à l’affût de la moindre nouvelle, de la moindre rumeur. Puis le temps aidant, on réussit à s’affranchir aurais-je dis il y’a encore quelques mois, des actualités de ce lopin de terre coincé entre la rage de vivre au jour le jour et les jours sans lendemains. C’est vous dire au bout de 5959 jours à quel point l’actualité politique et économique du Liban m’était devenue étrangère à défaut d’étrange, non pas par rejet de mes origines mais par réflexe d’auto-préservation, car prendre sur soi les soucis du vieux pays alors que l’on surnage dans une France que l’on essaie de faire sienne pour survivre à la séparation, ferait ployer le plus serein, rendrait fou le plus sage.

Photo by Joe Kassis

C’est donc relativement immunisé des actualités libanaises que je me suis lancé il y’a quelques mois dans cette entreprise un peu folle qui consiste à écrire des articles sur tout et n’importe quoi en espérant que quelqu’un dans ce vaste monde y trouvât une idée intéressante. Contre toute attente, je me suis retrouvé un beau jour à écrire sur le vieux pays et je me suis surpris à suivre l’actualité de ce coin du monde de manière plus qu’assidue, notamment à travers les colonnes d’un quotidien francophone qui a l’amabilité de publier certains de mes articles dans sa rubrique Courrier.

Et je suis, ma foi, assez surpris de ne pas être surpris justement par ce que je lis: nos politiciens gèrent toujours le pays comme une épicerie, ou plutôt comme une ferme dont nous serions le bétail, et ce, malgré une différence de taille survenue au cours de ces 5959 jours, à savoir une épée de Damoclès plus que jamais suspendue au-dessus de leur trône, celle du citoyen qui n’a plus rien à perdre, et qui a donc tout à gagner d’une révolution, et Dieu sait le sang que les révolutions répandent avant de répandre les bienfaits qu’elles promettent aux peuples qui se soulèvent, quand elles sont assez magnanimes pour le faire.

Quant à moi, je persévère dans cette entreprise un peu folle d’écrire sur tout et n’importe quoi durant ces longues nuits d’hiver de ma patrie d’adoption, en sirotant un Ron du Venezuela, un trait de cognac ou un café agrémenté d’une écorce d’orange, en ayant l’outrecuidance de vouloir faire une différence dans ce monde, ou tout au moins de l’espérer, pour l’amour de mon pays d’origine, le Liban.

Let the board sound

Rabih

On a girl with character and a muscle car

An apple red 1974 Dodge Challenger, rushing through the turns in a futile tentative to reach the summer sunset, before the night sets in. The girl driving it was not running away. She was speed-driving an oppressing feeling of inevitability off her chest and onto the asphalt, racing the race of her life in an attempt to beat the chequered flag before it signaled the end she was dreading. It was 6 PM already and the stakes were growing higher by the minute. She was driving towards the capital, with 2 hours to go according to the GPS, but much less according to her plans: the tuned and well looked after muscle car had a top speed of more than 200 kilometers per hour and the girl could not care less about speed tickets or traffic. She was planning on cutting through anything or anyone standing in her way.

Photo by Traf

The sun had already set by the time the car finally came to a stop. 37 minutes to departure. That was 7 minutes before the gates would close, but it was already too late for her. Even with all the time in the world, she would have never been able to reach them without a couple of much sought after passes: a European or American passport or visa and a valid plane ticket, both of which she did not have. Fortune favors the bold. She reached to her chest, grabbed a golden medallion and the picture hidden inside, put it to her lips, took a deep breath and started running the fastest sprint ever run. 372 meters, through revolving doors, a couple of stairs, three border police checkpoints and all the crowds trying to flee this god forsaken land. She had already 12 cops on her soles by the time she reached the departures gates, with 3 minutes to spare. And then she saw him, right at the other end of the terminal, the last passenger boarding, and too far to hear her over the crowd. All she could do was stare at his back while she still could, before she would be taken down by 12 angry men. Right at the last second, in a fortunate twist of fate, or maybe thanks to providence, he turned back, as if to wish this land farewell one last time. Their eyes crossed, and what he could not have heard in her silent voice, he saw in her big brown eyes. He knew right at this moment that his life would never be the same. He dropped his bags and rushed to her through the crowd.

Nothing else mattered.

To Rita, to the love of my life

Let the board sound

Rabih

Philosophy, computers and geeky brain teasers

You ought to be careful when combining absolutes with words like true, false and not. The mixture is trickier than you might think.

Here’s a brain teaser to illustrate my point.

“There is no absolute truth”

You might have heard this statement before, and you might even hold it to be true at face value. I personally think it is very carelessly phrased: if we hold it to be true, then we must draw the logical conclusion to which it leads us: the statement that there is no absolute truth cannot be an absolute truth either. Postulating that absolute truth does not exist implies the possibility of its existence.

An answer to this paradox might be found in the first principle of René Descartes, a 17th century French philosopher:

Cogito, ergo sum

I think, therefore I am

It implies that there is at least one absolute truth out there, that of one’s existence, since doubting your own existence implies the existence of a medium where the thought of doubt is occurring, which is yourself. It gets geekier dear reader, keep reading.

If we go further down the road, we might lead ourselves out of philosophy land and into computer science territory: TRUE, FALSE, and logical operators like AND, OR and NOT are in fact the cornerstone of modern technology in the broad sense: phones, cars, SpaceX rockets, particle accelerators and anything in between rely on some kind of computing capacity, which is built on top of FALSE and TRUE values and logic operators, through a specific algebra, the Boolean algebra, into microprocessors. Wait wait wait wait! Don’t rush through the door. I know I just said algebra, but I also mentioned Boolean which is the fun part.

Photo by Markus Spiske

Boolean algebra is a binary or base 2 algebra. This means that you can only use two figures, 0 and 1, to represent all numbers from 0 to infinity. The numbers 0 and 1 are still written as 0 and 1 in binary but 2 can only be represented as 10, 3 thus becomes 11 and 4 is written as…100. Any decimal number becomes a sequence of zeros and ones in binary mode, and all that computers do is storing these zeros and ones in their memory registers as representations of the TRUE and FALSE values of the Boolean algebra, and perform operations on them: AND which is equivalent to a multiplication, OR, which is equivalent to a sum and NOT, which is equivalent to an opposite, among other operators.

For example, NOT(1) is always 0 and never 1, or in other words, NOT (TRUE) always yields FALSE, never TRUE.

Which could be a way of saying that the statement “There is no absolute truth” is always false, never true, at least as far as computers are concerned. Wouldn’t you agree?

To Wassim

Let the board sound

Rabih

Bonnes résolutions

Dernier jour de l’année. Minuit. Je songe à toutes ces années qui se sont terminées de la même façon, un 31 décembre, comme cette année. Toutes ces années qui ont commencé par des promesses non tenues et ont fini en forfaiture. Tous ces 31 décembre ou j’ai pensé pouvoir encore sauver cette infime partie de mon âme qui compte encore pour quelque chose, celle qui garde encore les quelques souvenirs d’enfance qui me restent, celle qui m’animait il y’a encore quelques années, quand je portais encore dans mon cœur ton nom gravé en lettres de feu, quand j’y croyais encore, quand j’avais la foi.

Tous ces débuts de janvier qui m’ont finalement mené à travers compromissions et trahisons vers le même 31 décembre, année après année. Tous ces 31 décembre où l’on se promet monts et merveilles tout en sachant que rien ne sera tenu, où l’on noie sa conscience dans les limbes du néant à grand renfort de champagne et de foie gras pour mieux oublier ces promesses que l’on est supposé se faire et que l’on nomme bonnes résolutions, trop honteux que l’on est de les voir pour ce qu’elles sont, des vœux pieux.

Cette fin d’année est néanmoins différente. Pour la première fois, elle n’a pas le goût du dégoût de soi vite noyé dans un verre d’alcool, une poignée de billets et des promesses sans lendemain. Elle a un goût amer, un goût de cendre. Les cendres de ton nom, consumé sur l’autel de la forfaiture par un soir d’août, par ma main, par ma faute. Les trente deniers que j’aurai touché pour cet acte me brûlent la peau, me crèvent les yeux. Je ne me savais pas avoir encore une conscience après avoir tant couru derrière le pouvoir et les vains honneurs, mais voilà, face au sacrilège suprême, elle se rebelle, elle se rebiffe, elle se rappelle à mon souvenir.

Alors en ce 31 décembre, je me fais une promesse. Celle de me retirer de la vie publique dont je suis indigne. Celle de me consacrer à ta reconstruction, non pas à partir du confort du fauteuil du pouvoir auquel je suis tellement habitué, mais sur le terrain, humble ouvrier sous les ordres de ces contremaitres, qui se dépensent depuis des années sans compter pour te garder à flot, envers et contre tout, pompiers sacrifiés sur ton port, urgentistes et infirmières sanglants cherchant les victimes de mon sacrilège dans les décombres de la ville, et tant d’autre sacrifiés sur le même autel que toi, soldats sur tous les fronts où ton nom doit être défendu.

Je reprends leur serment à mon compte, qui est celui de ton armée, institution qui n’aura jamais failli.

Je jure par Dieu Tout-Puissant de faire mon devoir jusqu’au bout, afin de préserver le drapeau de mon pays, et de défendre ma patrie, le Liban1.

أقسم بالله العظيم أن أقوم بواجبي كاملاً، حفاظاً على علم بلادي، وذوداً عن وطني لبنان

Un responsable – مسؤول

Was it really better before?

“Things were better before, man”…

I can see where you’re coming from dear friend. Indeed, the past decade or so has been everything but a walk in the park. Economic crisis, terrorism, natural disasters, outbreaks, you name it. Nostalgia aside, I guess however that you should measure the “better” part of your statement by the amount of time by which you define the “before” part of it.

Do you mean 5 years or so ago? Right in the middle of the Islamic State terrorist attacks in Europe.

10 years ago? You’re in the aftermath of the greatest economic crisis since the great depression and at the start of the Syrian conflict.

15 or 20 years ago? That’s 9/11 and the subsequent war on terrorism, Bush, Saddam, the Iraq conflict, the SARS outbreak, hurricane Katherina, the Y2K bug (or lack thereof).

More? 40, 50 years ago? The Cold War, the Berlin wall, apartheid. 80 years bring you back to a world conflict, a genocide and the first and last use of nuclear weapons in an armed conflict, 90 years, to the greatest economic depression in modern history, 100 years, to yet another world conflict and another genocide.

And before that? The Napoleonic wars, the Plague, the great fire of London, the fall of the Roman Empire, the fire of Rome, Nero, Attila the Hun, and many other wonderful humanist concepts like slavery or torture, which were the norm for a very long time. Just an excerpt of a very long list. Many things were not better before. Most actually. Human rights, gender equality, air conditioning and ice cream would only be coming later.

Robert, Hubert – Incendie à Rome

If you are still not convinced, picture this last argument: it took medicine thousands of years of trial and error, starting from basic herbal medicine in the bronze age to the discovery of penicillin by Sir Alexander Flemming in 1928 to start having effective and widespread antibiotics. Most people reading this post were born shortly after penicillin had become a staple of modern medicine and most will be gone by the time bacteria will have developed enough resistance to render most antibiotics ineffective. It is as if the entire universe aligned itself in order to make antibiotics available right in time for your birth dear friend and will retire them by the time you’re gone. A personal gift to you and you only, of all the people who walked the face of this earth since the dawn of time, emperors and prophets included. So no, things were not better before and the 20 years of extra life expectancy that this gift gave us is a testament to the brighter present we live in.

My point is, past is gone, future is still to be written, so there’s probably no better time for us than today, which is why I would like to wish you a nice today, a nicer tomorrow, and so on for the next year.

Let the board sound

And best wishes for the year to come

Rabih

Optimisme prudent

Chers compatriotes. Comme vous vous en doutez, on ne résout pas un problème à 90 milliards en deux coups de cuiller à pot.

Certains signes néanmoins, au crédit des libanais de bonne volonté qui ne manquent pas dans ce vaste univers, semblent indiquer que nous n’avons pas encore touché le fond. Mauvaise nouvelle pourriez-vous me rétorquer, dans le sens où il y’aurait encore de la marge en termes de descente aux enfers. En ce qui me concerne, je voudrai voir le verre à moitié plein en cette fin d’année si vous le permettez, l’optimisme n’ayant jamais aveuglé les lucides, que les rêveurs.

On ne rembourse pas une ardoise de 90 milliards d’un coup baguette magique, mais…

Le peuple est aujourd’hui plus soudé face au pouvoir qu’à n’importe quel moment des 50 dernières années. La diaspora s’est mobilisée pour les élections de 2022 et plus de 230 000 personnes pourront voter depuis les ambassades et consulats du Liban un peu partout dans le monde, pour les candidats de leurs circonscriptions d’origine, malgré un suspense qui aura duré de coup de théâtre en coup de sort jusqu’à la tombée du rideau.

La satire politique et la critique des travers de la société sont bien vivantes, portées qu’elles sont par une nouvelle génération de stand-ups et de one man/woman shows, et plus généralement d’artistes et d’activistes qui n’ont rien à envier à leurs ainés.

Suite à la tragédie du 4 août 2020, les libanais se sont redécouvert une fibre sociale, puisqu’ils n’ont jamais été un peuple froid et fermé. Ceux qui pouvaient ont prêté main forte à ceux qui ont tout perdu. Des associations d’aide se sont mises en place spontanément, et la diaspora n’a pas été en reste. Le réseau des forces vives à travers le monde s’est mis en branle et il est considérable. Les associations de libanais de la diaspora, les entreprises qui ont des liens solides avec le pays, les fils et les filles du pays qui vivent sous des cieux plus cléments sur les cinq continents ont donné de leur temps et de leurs moyens pour le Liban, et les résultats sont visibles sur le terrain.

Une grande partie des dons et des aides cible aujourd’hui le système éducatif et en cela, les libanais font preuve d’une grande sagesse: les générations futures seront celles qui relèveront les défis que notre génération aura subi de plein fouet et si le Liban des années 2020 leur aura tout pris, il est permis de croire qu’il aura tout fait pour leur laisser l’éducation, c’est à dire l’essentiel.

D’autre part, les expatriés continuent d’affluer au vieux pays pour les vacances d’été et les fêtes de fin d’année malgré les milles outrages qu’ils rencontreront entre l’insécurité et les pénuries de carburant et d’électricité pour n’en citer que quelques-uns, et que leurs frères et sœurs de cœur restés au pays subissent quotidiennement, stoïquement, pour l’amour de leur patrie malgré ce qui leur en coute, malgré ce qu’ils en disent. C’est dire à quel point le Liban est chevillé aux âmes de ses enfants, qui, s’ils ont le verbe haut, ont néanmoins un cœur à la mesure de leur grande gueule.

En fin de compte, pardonnez la naïveté de mon ton et de cet article. Ceux qui me connaissent savent que je suis d’un réalisme pour le moins ennuyeux mais je me fais violence en cette fin d’année en affichant un optimisme à la limite du raisonnable. J’en ai besoin et vous aussi sans doute, si vous me permettez cette remarque.

Ceci étant, soyons lucides, soyons prudents. “Il suffit d’un peu d’électricité et d’une connexion Internet pour faire tourner la boite” pour citer un patron libanais qui porte le Liban en son cœur, et je pense que l’on peut étendre la métaphore à un pays, mais il suffit d’un grain de sel dans ce système instable qu’est devenu le Liban pour faire basculer les choses du côté obscur.

Optimisme prudent donc, car en effet, on ne résout pas un problème à 90 milliards en deux coups de cuiller à pot, mais il faut bien commencer quelque part.

Aux Amis du Liban,

A Wissam

Joyeuses fêtes à tous and let the board sound

Rabih

Le soleil se lèvera-t-il au bout de la nuit?

Il est 23h38. Je sirote mon café agrémenté d’un bout d’écorce d’orange en cette froide nuit de décembre. Un truc que j’ai appris de mon frère, un fin palais celui-là, et que je vous conseille vivement. L’écorce d’orange, pas le café de minuit bien sûr, si vous tenez au sommeil. Personnellement, le café ne me fait aucun effet, j’irai dormir sur mes deux oreilles dès que nous aurons fini cette conversation cher lecteur, sans doute à cause d’une accoutumance à l’adrénaline et aux effets du stress que je dois à mes origines.

Photo by Andres F. Uran

Je sirote mon café donc, et je pense à cette malédiction du départ, qui n’est que l’autre face de celle de rester. Au-delà des polémiques et autres diatribes sur le sujet, quand on y pense, peu de nos compatriotes partent par choix. Entre le départ et la famine, c’est contraints et forcés qu’ils font leurs bagages quand l’opportunité se présente, et des fois sans même attendre qu’elle ne le fasse. Quant à ceux qui restent, c’est dos au mur qu’ils subissent leur dur destin et le choix n’a rien à faire là-dedans non plus. Ils partiront quand leur heure sera venue, si tant est qu’elle viendra, vers d’autres contrées ou un monde meilleur et ce ne sera pas par choix. Partants, restants, ils partagent la même malédiction.

Alors qu’importe si tu pars ou si tu restes, quand l’avenir que tu contemplais t’échappe et que la faim ou l’exil sont les seuls choix qui restent. Mais s’agit-il vraiment d’un choix? Plutôt un dilemme il me semble. Le choix, tu le feras après: Porter ou pas le nom de notre pays bien haut dans les contrées où tu poseras tes valises après avoir laissé une partie de toi derrière, garder ou pas la tête haute dans cette vallée de larmes où tu restes quand tes amis, tes frères, tes compatriotes partent par milliers, par centaines de milliers… Je suis parti, il y’a de cela des années maintenant. Pas vraiment par choix, pas vraiment contraint, j’avais l’impression de suivre un destin, le destin de ceux qui m’ont précédé, de ceux qui me suivront. Un départ est toujours compliqué à expliquer. Il comporte sa part de lumière et sa part d’ombre et le voyageur n’est pas toujours prêt à faire face à cette dualité. J’imagine que ceux qui restent ne sont pas non plus épargnés par la part d’ombre que ce pseudo-choix comporte également.

Cher lecteur, il est 2 heures du matin et je vois tes yeux qui se ferment déjà. Partant ou restant, tu baisses les armes face au vainqueur universel qu’est le sommeil. Tu aurais dû te le faire couler, ce café agrémenté d’une écorce d’orange. Des écorces, il en reste encore d’abordables au Liban, à défaut du fruit qu’elles sont supposées couvrir, mais elles feront l’affaire. Fais-le donc couler ce café, et trinquons. Attends! Avant, fais couler un filet de bourbon dedans, ça porte malheur de trinquer à la bibine édulcorée. Et trinquons donc. Buvons ce café de minuit à l’honneur de notre pays qui n’existe que depuis 1920 mais qui a été façonné tout au long de plus de six mille ans d’histoire, tout au long des millions d’histoires que ceux qui nous ont précédés se sont racontées et que ceux qui nous suivront se raconterons peut-être, il est permis d’espérer, autour d’un feu de bois ou d’une chandelle, ou un peu comme nous le faisons, autour d’un café agrémenté d’une écorce d’orange, par écrans interposés, mais partageant un fardeau qu’ils seront seuls à porter: du fond de cette nuit noire au bout de laquelle le soleil ne se lèvera peut-être pas, ils sont les uniques dépositaires de l’histoire d’un pays au bord de l’oubli, ils sont les seuls garants de sa continuité.

Alors cher lecteur, où que tu sois, fais que le soleil se lève au bout de la nuit.

A Salim

Let the board sound

Rabih

Cet article a été également publié dans les colonnes de L’Orient-Le Jour.

On a time twisting speed limit

“Let there be light”

Photo by Tsuyoshi Kozu

“Let there be light.” According to Genesis 1:3, this is how it all started. If we keep pulling on the metaphorical thread though, we might realize there is more to it.

It is by these words that the universe was stamped with a seal over which no trespassing is possible. This seal is the speed of light. It bears a name, c, and its value is known, 299 792 458 meters per second. A universal speed limit imposed on everything, or more precisely on anything which has mass, energy or which can hold information, so pretty much everything of interest. Nothing can go faster, not even light itself.

We only came to know about this seal in the beginning of the 20th century, when Einstein uncovered it in his theory of relativity. He discovered that it is an absolute limit, true everywhere, anywhere, regardless of the frame of reference you are in. A perfect boundary. A mind twisting one too, or rather a time twisting one. You see the higher the speed at which you travel, the slower time passes for you. Relativity again. The effect is tiny and beyond measurable for ordinary everyday speeds. It becomes dramatic however for speeds approaching c. Even time is not absolute in the vicinity of the ultimate speed limit.

We know today that there are hard limits in our universe, like the speed of light, the absolute zero or the uncertainty principle. Unlike previous epochs where so called science was rooted in the Scriptures, which lead the sun to revolve around the earth and Galilei’s life to jeopardy, these relatively modern limits are the fruits of scientific theories which have been experimentally verified over and again. They are as real as it gets. Bottom-line: Impossible is something, impossible is certain. Impossible is universal, by design may I say.

And maybe it is a good thing. It puts us back in perspective: our lives are too short to tame the impossible, but they are long enough to chase it: that’s called fundamental research for some, endeavor for others, adventure if you will, and that is what keeps dreams alive and humanity going forward.

To Maroun and Liliane

Let the board sound

Rabih

On that moment when you start walking on water

One of the major traps in fintech is implementing the requirements of a financial institution without questioning the value it is expecting from them. Many times, the client would be describing how he or she operates a given business process in the system being replaced rather than the functional value expected from that process regardless of the platform. Many times, what the client does in a system is actually a workaround for a gap in functionality and you don’t want to be implementing workarounds and accumulating technical debt in the platform you are delivering to him.

Many years ago, I found myself in a meeting room somewhere in the UK, surrounded by representatives of the treasury, operations and finance departments of a humongous financial institution, trying to come up with a proper design for their treasury business processes to implement and automate in our platform. At some point, we stumbled on a concept we had never encountered before, the FTP, or Fund Transfer Pricing, which only started gathering interest by the end of the 2000s, after the sub-prime crisis had washed international finance ashore, a very recent topic back then. It felt like the client was speaking a different language and the meeting was reaching a dead-end when the senior architect suddenly rose to the challenge. He asked a simple question with his typical French accent.

“Why do you do it?”

Sometimes the most basic question can yield the most effective answers and this one proved it right. The client ended up explaining what he actually wanted to do rather than how he wanted it to be done. For the less experienced consultant that I was back then, it felt like magic. A very complex business requirement was unraveling, bit by bit, with every question the senior architect was asking. The guy was walking on water that day, and even the client was amazed by his magic: He went into the meeting not knowing a thing about FTP but still managed to save the day and get out of it with a clearly described business requirement which we could design into the platform. And all he did was ask questions. The right questions. That was my first true lesson into requirement gathering and design, my Fintech 101 moment if you will. It was very humbling, and I remembered thinking I could never pull off something like that.

I would however get a shot at it, some years later, when I found myself in a meeting room somewhere in northern Europe, in the middle of winter, surrounded by half the treasury department of one of my clients, trying to come up with an elegant design for their banking book accrual P&L reports. Fintech 101 was far away in time and I had done enough mistakes by then to have learnt a few tricks of the craft. It felt like walking on water to me and I like to think the client felt the same magic. But nothing is less sure…

Let the board sound

Rabih

Une leçon d’échecs

1990, vers février ou mars. La dernière phase d’une guerre qui grondait depuis 15 ans. Dans la salle de séjour, entre deux sifflements d’obus, un papa, une paire de ciseaux à la main, découpait un bout de carton en petits confettis qu’il coloriait ensuite en noir ou en rouge. Ainsi émergèrent un roi, un fou, un cavalier. Un pion. Deux pions. Une tour. Un jeu d’échecs, avec les moyens du bord.

Photo by Hassan Pasha

C’était la partie la plus facile de l’initiative. Encore fallait-il apprendre les règles d’un jeu millénaire à deux enfants de 7 ou 8 ans. Et éviter une guerre civile à l’échelle de l’appartement puisqu’une partie de gagnée est également une partie de perdue de l’autre côté de l’échiquier. Tout dépend du point de vue. Noirs ou Rouges. Eux ou Nous. Chrétiens ou Musulmans, Maronites ou Druzes, Chiites ou Sunnites. Mais aussi Forces Libanaises, OLP, Force de dissuasion Arabe, Amal, Hezbollah, Aounistes, Marada, Mourabitoun, IDF, et j’en passe. Une pagaille sans nom qui aura duré 15 ans et six mois, ou plutôt, qui aura couté 150 000 morts, 100 000 blessés, 250 000 émigrés et un bon petit million de déplacés si l’on utilisait une unité de mesure plus adaptée que les mois et les années à l’ampleur de cette catastrophe.

Et au milieu de ce maelström, un papa, un jeu d’échecs qui tient dans une boite d’allumettes et deux enfants qui apprennent tant bien que mal qu’un roque vaut mieux qu’un massacre de reines dans cette vaste partie d’échecs qu’est la vie.

En conclusion, à tous ceux qui glorifient la guerre, qui font sa promotion, qui en font une solution pour déloger les dictateurs et libérer les peuples opprimés, allez vous faire pendre ailleurs. Ne connait vraiment la guerre que celui ou celle qui l’a vécue, et croyez-moi, pour en avoir vécu une, ce n’est la solution à aucun problème.

A bon entendeur.

Let the board sound

Rabih

On a cabin in the woods

Up in the Air, a movie starring George Clooney, Vera Farmiga and Anna Kendrick, tells the tale of a guy who’s in-between the plane and the Hilton, all the time. I happened to watch it on a plane, one of the many I would be boarding in a globetrotting game which went on for years, taking me from Paris to Abu Dhabi to Beirut to Moscow to London to Hong Kong to Teheran to Stockholm to Istanbul to Rome to Hamburg to Dallas to Cologne to Milan to Warsaw to Madrid to Amsterdam and back to Paris, many times over and not in the same order. Too many trips to count, some for leisure of course, but most for preaching fintech to financial institutions around the world.

The movie felt so familiar.
Like George, I had more air Miles and Hilton points than I could spend.
Like George, I would be back home every few weeks, for a couple of days, and then back on the road.
And just like George, I had lost touch with most of the people I knew.
Mind you, I was surrounded by people, too many people at times, but still, it felt like being a lone soul in the middle of Times Square at rush hour. Like George.

At some point, Silence and Solitude became lifestyle, and for a while, they became friends. My only friends. They would greet me at the airport when I was back home. No one else would. I would take them out for a walk occasionally having nothing else to do in my free time.

The journey would start around the Place Saint Michel. Pretty lame for a Parisian might you think, but then again, why not? It is close to the Seine and a pretty central part of Paris. I would usually walk up the Rue Saint André des Arts, Solitude on my left, Silence on my right, and get myself a sandwich or a crêpe in one of the many restaurants in this street. I would then bifurcate to the right, through Rue Séguier or Rue des Grands Augustins to reach the eponymous docks, the Quai des Grands Augustins and the Seine river. But most of the times, I would keep walking up the street until I reached Rue de Buci and its many bars. Caipirinha and Mojito were trending back then. My least favorite drinks. There was a bar though, not too far from there, which served a very decent Old Fashioned and some interesting malts, but that’s for another post folks, and besides, I am not a fan of lonely drinking. My peregrinations would then take me south, through the Odéon area, down to the Jardin du Luxembourg where I would spend the rest of the afternoon or the day, not far from a bookshop where time stood still, one which I would be writing about many years later. And what would I be doing all this time? Well, owning time. Taking the time to tame solitude, to savor silence. To reflect on who I am, what I want from life. To think.

One of my fellow authors once quoted Sylvain Tesson, a French writer and traveler, in our e-mail exchanges.

Et si la liberté consistait à posséder le temps? Et si le bonheur revenait à disposer de solitude, d’espace et de silence – toutes choses dont manqueront les générations futures? Tant qu’il y aura des cabanes au fond des bois, rien ne sera tout à fait perdu.

« What if freedom consisted in owning time? What if happiness boiled down to having solitude, space and silence – all of which future generations will be lacking? As long as there are cabins deep in the woods, nothing will be completely lost. »

That walk was my cabin in the woods, in the middle of Paris.

Let the board sound

Rabih

Une dernière fois

Il est 1 heure du matin, l’heure des braves, l’heure des fous. Je me verse un verre de Ron, ce rhum ambré hors d’âge du Venezuela. Pour oublier peut-être. Venezuela, oh, Venezuela. L’un des rares pays qui fait mieux que toi sur l’index de la misère. Il n’y a pas vraiment de quoi pavoiser une fois que tu sais ce que mesure cet index. Tu me vois venir. Tu sais de quoi je vais encore te parler. Le dialogue de sourd habituel. On va ressortir de vieilles casseroles, ressasser de vieux dossiers. Nous allons finir par nous gueuler dessus, nous invectiver, par nous jeter des chaussures, des assiettes, des chaises. Comme d’habitude. Ça finira comme Waterloo pour l’empereur. Tu m’as tellement fait de mal, tu ne t’es jamais soucié de mon existence. Ce n’est pas faute d’avoir essayé d’accaparer ton attention. Rien n’y faisait. Tu étais toujours occupé par tes mondanités, par tes codes sociaux pourris, par ta vanité. Tu as tout foiré et tu t’en moques! Tu… Tu ne réponds pas?

“Non mon garçon. Pas cette fois. Je n’ai plus d’assiettes, plus de chaises. Plus de chaussures. On a tout vendu. Regarde autour de toi. Vois-tu autre chose que du blanc? Entends-tu autre chose que ce bip de mauvaise augure d’un messager de malheur? C’est vrai, tu es venu me dire tes quatre vérités, tu es venu me dire que tu t’en vas. Mais rends-toi compte, ce blanc, ce bip ce sont les urgences. Même pas. Ce sont les soins palliatifs. L’antichambre de la mort. Eh oui mon grand, je suis au bout du rouleau. Je n’en ai plus pour longtemps. Je meurs, dans l’indifférence générale. Les rares personnes qui prennent la peine de me rendre visite viennent déverser leur fiel et leur frustration pour mieux s’en aller. Comme toi.

Photo by Jo Kassis

Dieu sait combien j’ai fauté, combien je me suis fourvoyé dans des combines qui ne sont dignes ni de mon héritage ni de mes fils et mes filles. Et pourtant, l’aventure avait plutôt bien commencé. J’ai connu des heures plus glorieuses, c’est le moins qu’on puisse dire. Est-ce que je mérite ce destin peu enviable? Peut-être bien, j’en conviens, je n’ai rien fait pour m’en écarter, pour conjurer le sort, j’ai couru tête baissée dans ce piège grossier. Mais s’il y’a bien une chose que ma fierté de pacotille a pu t’instiller, c’est qu’on ne frappe pas un homme à terre. Regarde! J’ai un genou à terre, que dis-je, j’ai déjà le nez dans la poussière. Je suis même 6 pieds sous terre. Par pitié pour un mourant, arrête de me cracher dessus. Arrête de me maudire. Je suis déjà bien mal en point, à quoi sert de m’enfoncer encore plus?

Viens, assieds-toi au pied du lit. Donne-moi ta main et arrête de pleurer. Oui, je sais, ça secoue. On a beau craner, mais face à la mort d’un proche, on est bien plus humble. Ne te fais pas trop de soucis pour moi, je me suis fait à l’idée de mourir. Viens plutôt me serrer dans tes bras, profitons de ces moments qui nous restent, ils sont assez courts. Ne pleure pas je te dis! Ce n’est pas la peine. Ne me parle plus de remède miracle. Il n’y en a qu’un seul et je crains bien que son secret ne soit perdu pour de bon. Je le partage avec toi quand-même.

Je suis toi. Tu es moi.

Un pays n’est fait que de ses citoyens et de leurs vicissitudes. Tant qu’une poignée gardera le souvenir des jours meilleurs qui lui furent donnés, tant que l’un de ses fils, l’une de ses filles se souviendra de lui comme d’un père, tant que ses enfants feront honneur à la partie lumineuse de son héritage parce qu’il y’en a toujours une, alors il survivra, même si ce n’est qu’à travers leur mémoire. Alors de grâce, laisse-moi une chance…”

Let the board sound

And don’t forget to vote.

For the sake of your country.

Rabih

Cet article est également publié dans les colonnes de L’Orient Le Jour.

On a coffee shop for expatriates

!ازيك يا برنس

That’s read from right to left, pronounced “Ezayyak ya brinse“, and Sayyid’s way of greeting you to his coffee shop every evening. It was not a Starbucks, nor a Costa, and certainly not a French café. No fancy décor, no elevator music, no jazz. Oum Koulthoum was the staple as far as music was concerned. Fairuz could be heard as well. Abdel Halim Hafez also, from time to time. It was as real as it gets in this part of the world: Egyptian tenants, and clients from all over the Arab world: Egyptians obviously, but also Jordanians, Syrians, Palestinians, a few folks from Iraq, a couple of people from North Africa and some Lebanese…

Shisha, a.k.a hookah or arguileh, was common ground. Water pipe that is.

شيشة حامض و نعنع من فضلك

The rest depended on personal preferences: Koshari tea, ginger, coffee. Backgammon, Dominos. There was however a code for tobacco. The main choices boiled down to either Mouassal or Ajami. The latter consisted of finely chopped tobacco leaves with a couple of embers placed directly on them. Harder on the lungs supposedly, but definitely harder on the pocket, so most of the folks there would put back their ego where it should remain and take Mouassal, or fruit flavored tobacco. “Two apples” meant you were a newbie, a mistake to avoid at all cost. “Mint and Lemon” was a good compromise and most would smoke that, although a few posers would have more exotic flavors. It was a health disaster in all cases, with one alternative just being less expensive.

Most customers would come in around 9 or 10 PM and many would not leave before 2 AM. They probably had a lot on their minds and no one to share their dreams, their hopes, their fears. All they could do was drown their sorrows in the grey and white volutes of a mint-and-lemon-flavored shisha and make it last long enough to count.

Now would probably be a good time to give you more context. Abu Dhabi, 2009. The wave of the subprime crisis had already hit the shores of Dubai and drowned its swollen real estate market, driving most of its workforce to the neighboring emirate where work was still available. Most of Sayyid’s customers fell in that category. They had left Dubai some weeks or months ago looking for the next opportunity as you would put it on your linkedIn profile. Except these folks did not have one. Most were coming from God forsaken places, thriving to provide for families they had left back home, and many were in “professional transition”, which meant they needed to find a job, fast, or risk loosing their work permit. Their only escape from the vicissitudes of their lives was a daily dose of Sayyid’s coffee shop.

This part never gets told in the expatriate official tale. Expatriation is not always about living between the expat compound, the 5-star hotel, the platinum lounge and the Michelin star restaurant. It is sometimes less glamourous. Much less. It sometimes sounds like “immigration”. At least for the poor lads who need it most.

Let the board sound

Rabih

An autumn pilgrim

It would have been a typical French Café, not too far from the Opéra Garnier. Sidewalk terrace, wicker chairs, a small round table, and on it two noisettes, which, for those whom Paris has not had yet the pleasure to greet, consist in espresso coffee with a drop of milk giving it a warm hazelnut color. And two folks, enjoying the pale Parisian autumn sun while sipping their noisettes on a cold November afternoon.

They had not seen each other for years. A lot of catch-up to do, but it would have not been about that, they would have been on a tight schedule. They would have not been there for fun but rather on a pilgrimage.

They would have visited the Carnavalet museum, earlier in the day, in a naïve attempt at grasping, through a specific painting, what they both believed would have been La Belle Epoque, “this stubborn, urgent, romantic, belief in a beautiful world that could really survive, if it fights hard enough“, as one of them once put it.

Since they would have found themselves in the Opéra area after that for a quick noisette, they might have strolled around the Christmas displays at the Galleries nearby. Or would have probably moved towards the Parc Monceau, a 25 minute walk through beautiful streets paved with red and yellow leaves: Rue Auber, Boulevard Haussmann, Boulevard Malesherbes. A walk in the park maybe, or maybe not if time was not on their side, and then past it, walking further north towards a very special chocolate factory… Pilgrimage, again…

They would have wanted to check on an old friend, living in the 5th arrondissement in Rue d’Ulm, not far from the Panthéon. He did not talk much and was kind of lonely but nevertheless, the depositary of a name and a legend which should not go to waste.

They would have ended the pilgrimage in a café in Montparnasse, one of four Art Deco cafés facing each other at the intersection of Boulevards Raspail and Montparnasse in the 14th arrondissement. Which one would it have been? Le Dôme? Le Sélect? La Coupole? or maybe La Rotonde

One of them would have known.

Would have. Could have. Might have. All virtual, all conditional.

Because one of them did not enjoy freedom of movement, was not found worthy of it.

You see, one of them would have come from a small country on the verge of oblivion.

Let the board sound

Rabih

Whatever the cost

I tend to shy away from topics related to faith in my posts, as I believe it to be a very personal matter. This post will not create precedent from that respect. It is not really about faith, even if written from a faithful’s point of view. It is about guilty silence. It is about Omertà. About the moral imperative to break the silence and speak up when our brothers and sisters are in jeopardy. It is a call to do what is right whatever the cost when the innocent and the weak are at stake in our communities. And more so in a community of faithful.

So, dear reader, bear with me on this post if we do not share the same faith or even just faith, and more so if we do, for truth and doing the right thing are virtues which transcend faiths. Here I go.

You, shielding yourself from the truth, silent when you should have spoken, listen. Can you hear the inner voice?

 “Ye shall know the truth and the truth shall make you free

That’s black on white. A verse at the core of your faith. A verse you chose to ignore. Why? Do you dread the truth? Are you afraid to be blinded by the light?

I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will never walk in darkness.

What did you make of that other verse then? Is the world so dark that you forgot about the light? Or maybe you are betting on a prophecy. Ah, I see…

And I say also unto thee, That thou art Peter, and upon this rock I will build my church; and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it.

How convenient. But you see, this monument will not stand on its own, victorious against the gates of hell by virtue of some magic spell. This verse is to be read by the faithful not as a self-fulfilling prophecy but as an imperative: The gates of hell shall not prevail against it for YOU will stand in their way! There is no alternative. Reading it in any other way makes your faith a David Copperfield show. Pointless. The Almighty will not yield a magic wand to turn things around. He has better means for that: you!

And what have you done? Instead of protecting the innocent and the weak from the gates of hell, you have sheltered in your silence the fallen who dared to defile the most sacred of all.

It were better for him that a millstone were hanged about his neck, and he cast into the sea, than that he should offend one of these little ones.

Not often does the Lord speak so harshly of someone in the Gospels you read every Sunday…

You already know the truth. Allow it now to set you free.

Let the board sound

Rabih