Interview with a label: Priapus_D

Posted June 16, 2011 by seleucid
Categories: Uncategorized

Hey there people, back from imposed hiatus.

I was thinking of the most positive thing I can do for the country, and I found out that nothing could help us more than unity. We are getting to a point that the cacophony that we’re calling debates is becoming a much bigger danger to the country than any sort of police brutality. So in that spirit, I’m starting a new project: Interview with a label.

In this blog series I’m going to ask Syrians their opinions regarding different talking points in the country, and then finish it with the labels they get filed under.

The point of this series is to show that what we have in common is much more important than what divides us.

 

My first interview was with twitter celebrity @priapus_D. Hope you like it.

 

1-Where do you see Syria in one year?

I see three options: 1. In civil war 2. going back 20 years 3. cosmetically reformed

 

2-In brief, what were your positions regarding the revolutions of Tunisia and Egypt?

I was with them, especially the Egyptian one, I was hoping that the events there might be progressive and create a civil state, day by day I feel that I was wrong.

 

3-What’s your opinion on the government response to protests?

In my opinion the government response was stupid but moderate.

 

4-How do you feel about the media wars in Syria, the blackout, and the conduct of local and regional media?

Completely disgusted.

 

5-Are you with or against article 8, assigning the Baath party as leader of the nation and the people?

Against.

 

6-Are you with or against the information ministry, and its job of guiding public debate

In principle & long term I am with their removal.

 

7-Syrian riot control groups are known for being heavy handed, using plainclothed policemen, mass arrests, visible brutality. Do you consider it necessary, or do you think the current riot control tactics must be modernized?

Although their tactics are sickening but I think that the chaotic and barbaric situation on the ground requires some deterrence, but for sure those ottoman style Daraks need to be modernized.

 

8- Syria uses many extra-legal forces, units considered outside the government structure. For example there are thugs, paramilitary, businessmen. Do you think these forces are necessary? Or should be dismantled or incorporated into the official system?

I think that most of those forces are acting on their own trying to protect their own interests. Violence is noticeable every where in Syria and I believe that all forms of violence by civilian groups should be stopped.

 

9-Are you with or against holding government officials and security under state law?

With.

 

10- Many Syrians have been jailed for publicly stating the opinions they hold, under laws such as weakening public spirit, and enticing strife. What’s your position on the prisoners of opinion?

I believe that every one under custody should get a fair civil trial.

 

11-What’s your position regarding external pressure on your own country.

I oppose any kind of foreign pressure.

 

12-What’s your opinion regarding the Syrian economy? What would you like to see?

More emphasis on capital goods and production sectors of the economy and less emphasis on services and consumption.

 

Priapus_D has been labeled a regime apologist, heartless Kissingerist and a defeatist.

The Hospital

Posted February 19, 2011 by seleucid
Categories: Uncategorized

I went to my first day of internship with the wide-eyed curiosity/zero responsibilities combination of a toddler. My white lab coat meaning every ward was accessible, every patient smiling and responsive. I geeked the hell out of the place in the first couple of months (which made me hit the intern limit a bit too early).

My internship is in a public hospital, a place where the gradual remission of socialism has turned major operations from free to heavily subsidized. Where high government budget makes lots of cool gadgets you wouldn’t expect available (surgeons having the ability to overindulge in multiple “clips” each costing over a thousand dollars, in a country where the average wage is 240$). I also witnessed its incompetence, how the lack of hospital beds had doctors choosing between two serious cases who was “worthy” and who had to be sent limping back home. I saw one month waiting lines on subsidized CT scans.

You arrive hearing the stories. An underground of nihilism and apathy, where corruption and nepotism reigns, and human suffering is a nuisance nudging you out of your daily lethargy.  I guess cultural hyperbole explains why your first impression is usually really good, and the positive curve stays with you. God bless low expectations.

Public hospitals, especially in the major cities, are one of Syria’s “government hotshots”, institutions that get a lot of funding thrown at them, and a lot of attention dedicated in order that they function properly. Most of the dirty work is of course done by interns, who instead of becoming demotivated, actually prefer not asking the patient for a cash deposit every time they need a new blood test (and let’s face it, the interns never see the cash anyway). They’re geeky, drone-like, stressed till wits end. But in no way can I call them apathetic. It’s like scrubs with the Dr. Kelso factor ruled out

No insurance you say? Shovel him out

 

But I didn’t understand how essential this system is until I did a stint in a Syrian Private Hospital. Your first disappointment is the moment you walk in: A private hospital is usually a small business venture, so the building shrinks, the equipment become much more archaic, and the only customers there are people who are ready to pay five-fold to not mingle with the commonfolk (fun fact, if your case is too tough, you get sent to the free public hospital). But then I found out about the sick underbelly of this business.

Medical insurance is a fledgling enterprise in Syria, only three years old. Therefore operations, diagnostics and check ups must be paid cash and up front. In the private hospital I saw what it means when the well being of your patient is a concern among many. I saw tricks, dupes. I saw a system that works more on prestige than practicality. My last straw was when I saw a doctor deciding to perform an invasive surgery on a person with widely disseminated lung cancer, a hopeless case. When he said that he wasn’t even going to tell him or the family that he had cancer, I walked away in disgust. I’ve never set foot in a private hospital since.

In a region where most of the laws are mishmashed relics left behind by temporary occupations, you can’t rely too much on the court to stand up for the little guy. Arabs usually get the short end of the capitalism stick.

Syria has made me skeptical about capitalism in general. Of course I know the free health care thing is only floating on oil money, I have been witnessing it dying in front of my eyes as the oil runs out. But it was good to experience being a part in an institution with no interest in making a profit. It taught me that the main goal of a system (in this case good PR) is a very important part of its overall functionality. I have my eyes always open for something better.

The problem is however, with the nerdy interns, and the elitist doctors, there is something essential that is lost. Syrian hospitals have the patients best interest in mind, but the patient has no say in the decision making process. Constantly looked down upon as simpletons unable to comprehend that which ails them, they are patted, prodded, inoculated, cut up, while obviously confused and having no idea what is happening. Yes, there are people who insist on being told what’s going on, but they are seen as a nuisance. Choice is never given, and a patient refusing care is considered proof of  their perceived infantile mentality. I have seen people stay an entire week in the hospital without having the faintest idea what their condition is.

To be honest, talking to the patients is the best part of my day. They’re much more “real” than people of my class, their way of thinking is much more rational. I experimented with explaining to them, never once did they fail to comprehend a simple direct presentation of their case. I’ve always had this positive belief of the capabilities of any human, something which every class discrimination apologist  has failed to shatter.

The challenge in the coming days is to make Syrians believe in each other, infuse in them the idea that any responsibility or freedom given to the people will not automatically result in a crazed self-annihilation berserk. I understand why its easy to hate the private system, but scary to tinker with the public one. But I do believe that with a little power in their hands, the people will keep on doing what they know is best for them, no matter what the fears gripping us whisper in our ears.

This allegory is dedicated to #Jan25, and all the hope it represents.

Being Green, Syrian style: Water

Posted December 24, 2010 by seleucid
Categories: Syria

Tags: , , ,

If you mention local environmentalism to a Syrian, you get pretty much a reaction of helplessness, and they can’t be blamed. Green campaigns as seen on the internet and foreign media don’t resonate with anyone (we don’t have the infrastructure or similar problems), and knowledge of local environmental needs is virtually non-existent.

This post is exactly for that, with data specific to Syria, I’m going to try my best to raise awareness of the most pressing issues, and how in many simple lifestyle changes, you the citizen can help local nature in more ways than you know of. Let’s start with..

Water:

The most vital resource in the region, and obviously the most scarce. Water is predicted to surpass oil as the cause for world conflicts in the 21st century, and guess which highly volatile countries are squandering their last remaining sources.

Now imagine the Arab leaders sharing this cup together

 

The facts:

Syria has enough renewable water to provide 800 cubic meters for each person annually (A country is considered water scarce once it goes under 1000 cubic meters, which we did five years ago). Of course that is not only water for drinking, cooking, cleaning, showering and such, but also water to irrigate your carbs and veggies. Actually, that’s where 90% of our water quota goes, with 2% to industrialization and 8% to personal use. Right now, Syria uses 25% more than what renewable water can provide, which means ground level water is being depleted at an alarming rate, a blunder that will cost lives in the upcoming decades.

How you can help:

First start with personal use. 8% of 800 is 64 cubic metres annually, and you should try to stay under that. Water bills are bi-monthly, so your bill must be at most 10 cubic meters for each household family member. Please go check this, and tell me the results. Our family average is fifteen per person now, and going under ten is going to be hard. But remember, every time you go over ten, you’re using up from a tanker that won’t be refilled. You now are aware, act accordingly.

To be honest, I don’t think going significantly under 10 per person is possible (the US average is 20), but as you realize, even if you go insane and cut it to 5, then you only cut your water use from 100+% to 96%. Therefore we must take a look at the number one place our water is used and wasted, agriculture.

Syria has a policy of food self sufficiency, which means that if we happen to be under siege some day, the country has to have the capability of producing enough food for the people (Ironically, at the last drought, we lost the capability to do even that, and we’re importing wheat for the first time). The way it’s being done is that we subsidize most of the farm requirements: seeds, diesel for pumps, fertilizers, and water. Water until a while ago was subsidized so hard it was virtually free, and that resulted in many bad habits to keep on, like flooding irrigation, and the trend of growing tropical fruit locally.

That place in the middle of the red looks perfect for growing avocados!

The government has started a campaign for reduced water irrigation systems which optimally can reduce a crop’s water need in half (making your 90% go down to 50). There are things we can do too. First, boycott all locally produced water intensive crops, like rice and tropical fruits. You can buy Somalian bananas instead of Syrian ones, we just have to accept that some crops aren’t meant to be grown in a desert! Then if you have the option to choose the farm, choose to buy from ones with the best water reduced irrigation methods, preferably drip irrigation.

More of the being green series will be up soon 🙂

Further reading:

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Water_politics_in_the_Middle_East

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sustainable_agriculture#Water

Urban exploration: Aleppo

Posted December 5, 2010 by seleucid
Categories: Aleppo

Tags: ,

Ever since my internal med rounds were shifted to the middle of nowhere ,or as my brother calls it, ma7al ma fi6es ilja7sh, I’ve been trying to make the most of it. From crazy ass highway biking plans “I don’t know how to bike” to walk/jogg-ing all the 7 km back home, there’s always been an adventure.

I was fortunate enough that I get out at noon, when the warmer-than-usual winter sun will make my walks all the more exciting, and glean to my eyes places to explore. Every day I tried a new route, discovering abandoned and working factories, streets where cotton strands fly around, dusty neighborhoods with kids running everywhere. It’s amazing to feel like a tourist in your own city, to get to see a place many call home, to know that Aleppo means different things to different people.

Under the pretense of finding a route safe for biking, I found myself trying a longer crazier road today. That’s when I saw this, and the idea bulb in my brain flickered.

Immediately I went down, and begun exploring the way, seeing how far I can go. Turns out it was pretty far.

What I found is a rural haven in the midst of Aleppo’s highways, a lost piece of ground where crops are planted and goats and cows are herded, in a background of deteriorating towers and car junkyards.

As you might have figured out, I did find the perfect biking route I was searching for. Fortunately, it turned out to also be the perfect place for jogging and long walks, and a starting point for many of my following explorations. Hell I bet I can even race a car down that cement road grease style

Well we do have the cars in Aleppo... all I need is some mousse and a chick with neon trousers

Every city is beautiful, and has the potential to surprise you much more than you realize. We’re blessed to be living in an age with so much information at our fingertips, and we are masters at utilizing it. Check your city on google maps, and go somewhere you know nothing about. Wander around aimlessly, familiarize yourself with everything around you. Some days will be duds, but if you live in a city as magnificent as Aleppo, you’ll find your special spot sooner than you think, and you’ll fall in love with it.

Oh and I geo-tagged these pics for the curious Aleppine. Don’t forget to get your camera and share.

The Box Experiment

Posted November 12, 2010 by seleucid
Categories: Uncategorized

While surfing youtube the other day (which I’ve recently managed to pry open), I found an interesting video that I’ve been thinking about ever since.

Here are the links http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=pIAoJsS9Ix8 http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=nHuagL7x5Wc

The video starts as showing the sophistication of the chimp mind, and comparing it to that of a human child. A black plastic box is brought, and demonstrated in front of the chimp are the moves it has to make to get a hidden reward. A complex series of pushes, pulls, taps, that have to be done so the reward can be taken. The chimp does it flawlessly, and so do the children who are put through the same experiment.

The second part is much more sinister. The black box is replaced by a transparent one. Through it, you can see that there’s an obvious wooden obstacle between the top of the box and the reward at the bottom. Meaning, none of the movements you are doing at the top have any effect on the outcome. The biggest shock happens. The children, knowing the movements are pointless, keep doing them anyway, as they are exactly told. The chimpanzee however, goes “ahh hell”, ignores all the movements, and goes straight to the prize.

Conclusion: A chimp is smarter than a human baby.

Even bigger conclusion, our focus on imitating each other when children  and learning through that, while kinda “anti-existentialist?”, is the reason we have society and culture in the first place, the reason we are the dominant species on the planet. Yes, sheeple built society, and you oh so aware and omniscient being, have the intellectual capacity of an ape.

We like being in groups where we all do the same thing, think the same way. We like imitating, and being imitated, it’s the way our species show a connection. It’s how nearly any social group or movement is founded. Does it make it a skill? Does this make people like me, who can never fit in or accept making something we see pointless, at a disadvantage rather than how we imagine ourselves to be?

I used to believe using rationality to cherry pick what you naturally see right from multiple sources is the way to go, but this video is making me rethink the whole idea.

What do you think, should imitation be celebrated?

Stereotypes of the Syrian female: Marriage

Posted October 19, 2010 by seleucid
Categories: Social

Tags: , , ,

I can’t say I’ve seen all cultures of Syria “not even close”, but from what I’ve seen I’ve come to this conclusion. Judging by their opinion on what is the number one issue in their lives, Syrian females can be grouped into three broad categories:

1-The “Marry me ASAP”:

Come on! Before I get too old!

With these girls it’s not who they marry, it’s how fast they can do it.  At age eighteen (or sixteen) she’s out of school and bam! Three months later she’s engaged/married to the first barely eligible suitor. It’s as if  they’ve taught her the hymen spontaneously drops at age twenty.

Are these girls happy? I can’t tell you, mainly because I can’t greet them in the street anymore. If you even think of waving their way you’ll get a hundred eye gestures to keep away for the love of dear Moses. Relying on indirect sources, I’ve found out that three changes are characteristic:

-They turn into breeding machines: They shoot out quick, and they shoot out many.

– They get old real fast: Fashion, hairstyle, activities, etc. Her mom is her BFF. She stays at home a lot, TV viewing hours quadruple. College of course is not an option

-They become literally incapable of making an autonomic decision: Either the husband, mother, mother-in-law, or in extreme cases the father decides. And don’t you dare put her in a situation where she has to, her brain will explode I tell you.

2- The “I wanna live a while”:

Yayyy

Those are the vast majority. They wanna go to college and enjoy it, have a social life, go on trips with the youth club. The first couple of college years can be about cute, overly dramatic relationships, but usually after age 22 they’re searching for Mr.Right. They also have a dream about working in some sweet little girly job.

Don’t let them fool you, although these girls like flirting with freedom, they are never free. They have this special path, wide or narrow, which they can’t deviate from. Conformity is nauseatingly widespread. They dress the same as each other, talk the same as each other, avoid the taboos, don’t dare do anything unless they know at least four of their friends have done it before. Standing out is anathema. The career also is a fling. None of them take it seriously, or try to upgrade. The career is expected to be discarded as soon as the ring is on the left finger.

I don’t know, type 2 looks like type 1 to me with a little more friends and memories. But that’s a major improvement I guess. I admire them, in a society where all the cards are against them, they make most with what they have.

3- The Shark:

Are you hitting on me?

This girl might not be sure what she wants, but she knows exactly what she doesn’t, a guy with a humongous ego, a bubble for a brain, and a family from hell dictating every minute detail of her life. She’s confident, independent, fresh. She takes her job very seriously, and is making a decent salary out of it. Since she will still be living with her parents (even guys are still not into renting their own place here. I have no idea why), she usually has a lot of extra cash, which she spends spoiling herself. Clothes, jewelery, parties… Sharks are very social, and travel in packs. You can usually find them in the trendy cafes after type two’s curfew has passed.

Many type threes want to get married or have a family, so if you ask them they might say they didn’t get what they wanted in life. Why they didn’t find that sophisticated, caring, liberal family guy is beyond me. Maybe we’re all assholes, maybe we know society is in our favor, and feel we’re entitled to the submissive relations it gives us. Maybe we don’t want equality.

In my opinion type three is much happier than she gives herself credit. She has broken the chains, she has defined herself, she is free to explore the world “many get business trips, or you can just go with the extra cash”. The sharks I know all are late twenties- early thirties, and they are my idols. They are trend-setters, and many young girls will look at what they do and decide the rules must change.

Aim for a good ta3neeseh women, marriage doesn't seem that appealing

Tribalism

Posted October 1, 2010 by seleucid
Categories: Arabs, Politics, Social

Tags: , ,

Less than two hundred years ago, an adorable concept called romantic nationalism emerged. It was based on having a feeling of shared brotherhood with people in your close proximity. People got all worked up, started making national flags, collecting national songs, folk stories, dishes. It’s amazing how powerful something that started as a hippie fad got when it got the right forces to back it.

The concept of nation is…. fluffy (I’m not saying that’s bad, I mean I’m a cosmopolitanist, I’m the king of fluff). It also resulted in a truckload of complicated problems, whether in the Balkans, the Caucasus, or even in our own backyard. It does have a lot of unappreciated positives: it makes some shared basics familiar to any confused outsider, it gives you one authority you can then comfortably tweak, it’s also very good for personal freedom. In a nation, as long as you’re not hurting citizens or jeopardizing national security, you’re free to live life as you see fit, theoretically speaking.

That happens because in the pure romantic definition of nation, you are a brother whatever you do. You are part of this beautiful ecology all freedom fighters love, and just by being there, you are special. This mentality is an escape from a much more powerful and primal sense of identity… Tribalism

“Oh you mean the 3asha2er… yeah they’re bad”. Bullshit! We’re all tribes in denial and we know it.

Let’s observe for a minute how tribes function:

– A common set of morals, guidelines and traditions passed on from generation to generation. You accept all this baggage since birth.

– Just belonging to a tribe gives you numerous advantages correlated with your tribe’s power and ranking, as long as you stick to the morals

-Practicing one of the tribe’s taboos will strip you of all advantages and result in your disowning and banishment

Yup, I just described any of the over dozen sects we have :).

It’s cute to watch, especially in a multi-sectarian background. People you know are militant atheists go berserk when a family member dares to think about crossing a line. We might think we’re progressive, free thinkers, our own masters. Truth is, we’re all slaves to the perks of belonging to our tribes.

Break one of the golden rules, and it’s banishment! To you and your family till the fiftieth generation! Nobody will give you their women anymore, you can’t attend the tribal ceremonies. You are officially uprooted.

Don’t get me wrong, I love my tribe. I think we’re steadfast people who have been through so many hardships, and survived with our heads high. I’m connected with them. But when you start thinking about how to make your tribe more powerful, how to get them into higher positions, to support tribe restaurants and stores… I mean seriously?

This is why the region has no hope. From the ignorant to the most educated, we understand tribes and tribes only. Just look around you, examples are abundant. Any war or tension in the region, it’s not about ideologies, people lost interest in that long ago, tribalism is the only driving factor.

It’s like everyone is still waiting for the other to snap out of this. Judge yourself, how much of your lifestyle is dictated by your affiliation? And the boogie man they wave over us, is it really that scary? If there are more out than in, the punishments will get less severe, and you’ll have a community whatever you do. We just need enough people to have the guts.

Things like this, we should have gotten over them in the late sixties you know…