Monday, December 17, 2007

YAL

I attended the Young Arab Leaders (YAL) Kuwait’s Chapter get together and it was an interesting gathering with good group of people. The meeting was headed by the Chapter’s head Maha Al-Ghunaim and great discussion ensued.


Someone mentioned how Qatar was advertising that Kuwait was the past, Dubai the present and Qatar the future of the region. So how do we put Kuwait back on the map? It was pointed out that Kuwait breads industry leaders such as Zain (now that they are moving out!), NBK, Agility, Al Shaya group to name few. Kuwait’s private sector is its greatest asset. Only if the government realized that!

Wednesday, December 12, 2007

One Year Later



I just realized it's been a year since I first posted. So I dedicate this post to you my beloved reader. Looking back it's been fun and good learning experience, but life is not about looking back but the future. So accept this flower from me and let's look on together to a rosy future cause flowers have no backs ;)

Monday, November 26, 2007

Unread Books

The first section explores the four categories of unread books, into at least one of which Mr Bayard places every book he mentions. These are the “books unknown to me”, the “books I have skimmed”, the “books I have heard about” and the “books I have forgotten”. No exceptions are admitted, even for books he himself wrote.

Closed books | The importance of not reading | Economist.com.


The above is a book review of How to Talk About Books You Haven’t Read. A book about not reading books! The author talks about four categories of unread books. Then the reviewer draws the similarity between books and people:



Your reviewer's mind wandered, as she explored ways of not reading this book. Surely, she thought, books are like people, who can be unknown to us, or heard of, or “skimmed” (perhaps met) or forgotten, but never truly known? But that is to leave out love—for people and for books.


Even though the author tries to make a case for not reading books -ironically through writing one– because they fall into one of the four categories, he misses out on the books we fall in love with which makes the whole experience worthwhile. Books and people have so much in common after all!

Saturday, November 24, 2007

Islamic Car

MALAYSIA'S struggling national carmaker, Proton, claimed this week to have identified a huge gap in the world's car market. It believes there is demand for an “Islamic” car. The idea stems from desperation, but it is not as batty as it first seems.

Proton | Lost compass | Economist.com.


Very interesting! The article continues:



As planned, its “Islamic” car will feature a compass to indicate the direction of Mecca, a box in which to store a copy of the Koran and a compartment for a headscarf. This, Proton seems to think, is a formula that no other carmaker can match. That seems unlikely.


Now can you imagine that? I hope they don’t cover up the windshield!

Tuesday, November 20, 2007

Legends Meet


World number one Roger Federer beat seven-time Wimbledon champion Pete Sampras in straight sets in an exhibition match in Seoul on Tuesday.

The 26-year-old Swiss star won 6-4 6-3 in 61 minutes in the first of three matches between the pair this week.

Monday, November 19, 2007

Ratatouille



Remy is a young rat in the French countryside who arrives in Paris, only to find out that his cooking idol is dead. When he makes an unusual alliance with a restaurant's new garbage boy, the culinary and personal adventures begin despite Remy's family's skepticism and the rat-hating world of humans.


Ratatouille (2007).


A great animated movie that I enjoyed very much. Here are few things I learned from it:



  • Anyone can cook: if you put your heart into something you can do it. Don’t let anyone tell you otherwise.

  • Don’t be judgemental: you can forge great relationships in life if you don’t pre-judge.

  • It’s not what you do but how you do it: preparing a meal is more than putting together ingredients; it’s the passion that goes into it.

  • Ratatouille is a traditional French dish!

Sunday, November 18, 2007

Yes Master!

Swiss Roger Federer reacts after defeating Spaniard David Ferrer during the final of the 2007 Tennis Masters Cup Shanghai in Shanghai, China, Sunday, Nov. 18, 2007. Federer won 6-2, 6-3, 6-2.

Masterful Performance! Roger overcame an early upset to win the tennis season ending title. Winning is great; overcoming loss is master!

World Series Champs


My cousin Ahmedi got me this wonderful souvenir from Boston. Go Red Sox!

Friday, November 16, 2007

Welcome Side Effect

This was not all that surprising. Previous research had detected similar inverse correlations between allergies and brain tumours, suggesting that a welcome side effect of allergy was resistance to cancer. But this new study went further. It looked carefully at the time in the patients' lives when their allergies were active, and it found that this timing was crucial. Dr Wigertz noted that the absence of allergy was correlated with the time when a glioma first formed. That was true even in people who had previously had allergies which had then cleared up.

Cancer and allergies | Win some, lose some | Economist.com.


As an allergy sufferer, I never thought it was a good thing to have. It’s surprising how bad things could turn out to be good after all or have positive side effects. I guess it helps to remember this when something bad happens: despite the pain, it could prevent bigger suffering.

Wednesday, November 14, 2007

Not So Agile!

The real focus of the government's investigation seems to be PWC, which is suspected of pocketing refunds received from American food suppliers which should have gone to the army. Officials claim that it failed to shop around for the best value. They also say that it favours The Sultan Center, a Kuwaiti retailer which partly owns PWC, over other sources of fresh food in the Middle East.

American food companies | War and apple pie | Economist.com.


Agility (formerly PWC) faces trouble with US authorities. Well the good news is it’s not the Kuwaiti government this time around that is giving them trouble!

Wednesday, November 07, 2007

Decency Please!


JOAQUIM CHISSANO, a former president of Mozambique, has got a nice top-up to his pension by winning the first Mo Ibrahim Prize for Achievement in African Leadership. In fact, it may be the largest prize in the world, worth an initial $5m over ten years, then $200,000 a year thereafter. And Mr Chissano won it as much for what he didn't do as for what he did.


The prize, dreamed up by Mr Ibrahim, a Sudanese-born British businessman who sold his mobile-phone company, Celtel, to a Kuwait-based firm, MTC, two years ago for $3.4 billion (£1.8 billion), is to encourage good leadership and governance in a continent that he thinks has been blighted by dictators and crooks for too long. The prize's magnitude may reflect the depth of the problem. The judges, who include Mary Robinson, a former Irish president, and Kofi Annan, a former UN chief, do not expect to award it every year.


Africa | A politicians' Oscar | Economist.com.


MTC (Zain) does good, indirectly, through their purchase of Celtel. I suggest Zain sponsors similar award here in Kuwait for ideal politicians.. or maybe ideal is a stretch and should settle for minimum decency! 

Friday, November 02, 2007

The Case for Monogamy?

To test that idea, Tim Clutton-Brock of Cambridge University and Kavita Isvaran of the Indian Institute of Science in Bengalooru decided to compare monogamous and polygynous species (in the latter, a male monopolises a number of females). They wanted to find out whether polygynous males had lower survival rates and aged faster than those of monogamous species. To do so, they collected the relevant data for 35 species of long-lived birds and mammals.

As they report this week in the Proceedings of the Royal Society, the pattern was much as they expected. In 16 of the 19 polygynous species in their sample, males of all ages were much more likely to die during any given period than were females. Furthermore, the older they got, the bigger the mortality gap became. In other words, they aged faster. Males from monogamous species did not show these patterns.

The point about polygyny, according to Dr Clutton-Brock, is that if one male has exclusive access to, say, ten females, another nine males will be waiting to topple the harem master as soon as he shows the first sign of weakness. The intense competitive pressure means that individuals who succeed put all their efforts into one or two breeding seasons.

Evolution | Live fast, love hard, die young | Economist.com.


Here you go the case for monogamy! I wonder if the shorter life span of polygynous males is due to male competition as the study reasons, or keeping up with [the garga of] all the female mates :p  

Monday, October 29, 2007

Red Sox Nation!


The Boston Red Sox sweep the Rockies for World Series victory!

Friday, October 26, 2007

Two Saudis

Supporters of what is to be called the King Abdullah University of Science and Technology, or Kaust, wonder whether the king is simply building another gated island to be dominated by foreigners, like the compounds for oil industry workers that have existed here for decades, or creating an institution that will have a real impact on Saudi society and the rest of the Arab world.

“There are two Saudi Arabias,” said Jamal Khashoggi, the editor of Al Watan, a newspaper. “The question is which Saudi Arabia will take over.”

The king has broken taboos, declaring that the Arabs have fallen critically behind much of the modern world in intellectual achievement and that his country depends too much on oil and not enough on creating wealth through innovation.

Saudi King Tries to Grow Modern Ideas in Desert - New York Times.


A great and much needed move by the King of Saudi Arabia to establish a much needed world class science and technology institution in the Arab World. The $12.5 billion project will hopefully have impact beyond Saudi Arabia extending into the whole region. Where most of the world energy reserves sit, there is a great lack in educational resources targeted towards that sector.


The new graduate institution with it’s moderate environment will have a social impact as well which could tip the social order in favor of openness and enlightenment.

Wednesday, October 24, 2007

Message from Dr. Phil

I seriously started writing this post then I felt it turned into bunch of crap so I stopped! But I am going to post it anyways.. What the heck! Here you go:


Enough about fixing Iraq. What about fixing you, me or any of us for that matter? Just like nations people can go through their own internal struggles leading to pain and chaos.  How do we fix it?


– Make peace with yourself: just like the Mandella quote "you make peace with your enemies, not your friends", you should start with making peace with yourself. Acknowledge  your weaknesses and shortcomings first. Then try to get over them. An alcoholic who does not acknowledge he has a problem is bound to stay this way. Your weakness is you enemy. You make peace with it by acknowledging it. (that’s where I stopped.. Kinda lost track of the point.. so feel free to finish it!). 

Tuesday, October 23, 2007

Fixing Iraq

McGuinness said Mandela telling him "you make peace with your enemies, not your friends" had a profound effect on him.

"It sounds simple, I know," McGuinness said. "But when he said it, it meant something. He was asking us to do something he had done himself."

Fixing Iraq, without us - The Boston Globe.


Interesting article in The Boston Globe about fixing Iraq without the US taking a central role. The key is in taking lessons from Northern Ireland and South Africa. Both nations achieved peace after turmoil.


Among the points is to get leaders from different groups talking to each other informally. To get the people involved in the process. To allow opposing parties to confront each other. 


 

Lap Dancing

However, this should result in an evolutionary arms race between the sexes, as men evolve ever-heightened sensitivity to signs of female fertility. Dr Miller thought lap-dancing clubs a good place to study this arms race, because male detection of female fertility cues would probably translate into an easily quantifiable signal, namely dollars earned. He therefore recruited some of the girls into his experiment, with a view to comparing the earnings of those on the Pill (whose fertility was thus suppressed) with those not on the Pill.

The results support the idea that if evolution has favoured concealed ovulation in women, it has also favoured ovulation-detection in men. The average earnings per shift of women who were ovulating was $335. During menstruation (when they were infertile) that dropped to $185—about what women on the Pill made throughout the month. The lessons are clear. A woman is sexier when she is most fertile. And if she wishes to earn a good living as a dancer, she should stay off the Pill.

Human evolution | Hidden charms | Economist.com.


Better know your lap dancer!

Monday, October 01, 2007

9/12

We can’t afford to keep being this stupid! We have got to get our groove back. We need a president who will unite us around a common purpose, not a common enemy. Al Qaeda is about 9/11. We are about 9/12, we are about the Fourth of July — which is why I hope that anyone who runs on the 9/11 platform gets trounced.

9/11 Is Over - New York Times.


That was Thomas L. Friedman of the NYT talking about a hopeful nation not a scared one that can’t get over the events of 9/11. A nation of 9/12 that is mindful of the tragedy but moves beyond it to embrace openness and liberty.


You can draw an analogy of the above in our personal lives. How often do we get boxed in by our own tragedies? How dare we let our own 9/11s shape us and stop us from being who we are? No doubt we should learn from our mistakes, then move forward to 9/12.

Monday, September 24, 2007

Corruption at Camp Arifjan


Pentagon officials are investigating some $6 billion in military contracts, most covering supplies as varied as bottled water, tents and latrines for troops in Kuwait, Iraq and Afghanistan.

Graft in U.S. Army Contracts Spread From Kuwait Base - New York Times.


Interesting report by the New York Times putting Camp Arifjan in Kuwait at the center of army contracts scandal with the involvement of Kuwaiti companies.

Wednesday, September 19, 2007

Tyranny of the Majority

It is not quite true to say, as do most Europeans, that democracy can never be imposed at the point of a gun. The US did so in Japan and west Germany. But it required patience, commitment and resources that were not apparent in Iraq. It also demanded recognition that modern democracy - better described as liberal democracy - has two distinct strands.

The Bush administration's error was to think that elections were enough. The president talks still of popular sovereignty and individual liberty as if they are interchangeable. They can be; they can also be inimical. Voting represents only one side of the democratic bargain. Without the rule of law - the "liberal" bit in liberal democracy - you have majoritarian tyranny. That was something the French discovered after 1789.

FT.com / Home UK / UK - After the neocons: people will still vote for democracy.


Many Middle Eastern democracies have come to the same discovery. When you lack rule of law that protects civil liberties and the democratic process, then democracy is doomed.

Saturday, September 15, 2007

Low Oil Prices

Imagine a world in recession, where oil costs $50 per barrel. Which economies would be most affected? There are obvious losers. In Saudi Arabia, the largest oil producer, oil accounts for 90 per cent of exports, which in turn represents almost two-thirds of the economy’s output.

Indeed, members of the Organisation of the Petroleum Exporting Countries are more dependent on oil now than when prices fell sharply in 1985-86 and 1997-98. Exports plummeted in value after the Opec basket price fell from $27 a barrel to $13.50, and from $18.70 to $12.30, respectively. But in 1985 and 1997, oil exports were just 21 per cent of Opec’s gross domestic product, compared with 36 per cent now.

FT.com / Lex - A world of $50 oil.


In Kuwait oil revenue accounts for nearly half of GDP! Bad news indeed when world recession and declining oil prices come around.

Wednesday, September 12, 2007

The Good and Not So Bad



In an interview after winning his 4th straight US Open tennis title and 12th Grand Slam title, Roger Federer was asked how he kept his game up and managed through good days and bad. He responded by saying that as he started out his performance fluctuated widely between really good or really bad days. With training and experience he narrowed the gap so that even when he plays bad its not so bad while maintaining his good games.


This pattern could be observed in markets too. Notice the emerging stock markets with their volatile performance. You get the really good years then the really bad years. However, in more advanced markets such as Europe and the US, performance is more stable, i.e. less volatility in financial terms.


As we start this holly month of Ramadan may God bless us with good days and less bad days -but that will take some training and experience!

Sunday, September 09, 2007

Zain Inside?











Nice new logo for MTC. Kind of reminds me of Intel logo. Maybe they should go with the slogan: Got Zain inside your phone?

Tuesday, September 04, 2007

Rain Song

Rain Song, a beautiful poem by the late Iraqi poet Badr Shakir Al-Sayyab. Even though written for a different time, it could not be more true for the war torn Iraq of today. Just like the poet before us, we pray for rain to wash off the spilled blood and bring in a new dawn for Iraq and peace everywhere.



Drip.....
Drop..... the rain . . .In the rain.
Iraq will blossom one day '

I cry out to the Gulf: "O Gulf,
Giver of pearls, shells and death!"

The echo replies
As if lamenting:
'O Gulf,
Giver of shells and death."
And across the sands from among its lavish gifts
The Gulf scatters fuming froth and shells
And the skeletons of miserable drowned emigrants

Who drank death forever
From the depths of the Gulf, from the ground of its silence,
And in Iraq a thousand serpents drink the nectar
From a flower the Euphrates has nourished with dew.

I hear the echo
Ringing in the Gulf:
"Rain . . .
Drip, drop, the rain . . .
Drip, drop."

In every drop of rain
A red or yellow color buds from the seeds of flowers.
Every tear wept by the hungry and naked people
And every spilt drop of slaves' blood
Is a smile aimed at a new dawn,
A nipple turning rosy in an infant's lips
In the young world of tomorrow, bringer of life.

And still the rain pours down.


Poetry - Badr Shakir al-Sayyab - \Rain.


 


 

Sunday, August 19, 2007

Night

What if God fails you? What if you fail yourself? What if humanity fails? Elie Wiesel’s  Night is a tale of such failures of great magnitude. It is the author’s testimony to the events of the Nazis’ concentration camps.


He speaks of the day they were lead away from the ghetto where they lived that was dedicated for Jews:



The streets resembled fairgrounds deserted in haste. There was a little of everything: suitcases, briefcases, bags, knives, dishes, banknotes, papers, faded portraits. All things one planned to take along and finally left behind. They had ceased to matter.


A man tells the young Elie and his father what was in store for them in Auschwitz the concentration camp:



“Over there. Do you see the chimney over there? Do you see it? And the flames, do you see them?” (Yes, we saw the flames.) “Over there, that’s where they will take you. Over there will be your grave. You still don’t understand? You sons of bitches. Don’t you understand anything? You will be burned! Burned to a cinder! Turned into ashes!”


He speaks of the horror of witnessing a child’s hanging and losing faith in God:



But the third rope was still moving: the child, too light, was still breathing…


And so he remained for more than half an hour, lingering between life and death, writhing before our eyes. And we were forced to look at him at close range. He was still alive when I passed him. His tongue was still red, his eyes not yet extinguished.


Behind me, I heard the same man asking:


“For God’s sake, where is God?”


And from within me, I heard a voice answer:


“Where He is? This is where– hanging here from this gallows…”


He speaks of his sorrow of not having answered his ailing father’s calls:



The officer came closer and shouted to him to be silent. But my father did not hear. He continued to call me. The officer wielded his club and dealt him a violent blow to the head.


I didn’t move. I was afraid, my body was afraid of another blow, this time to my head.”


The author was among the survivors. Yet he was never the same. Failure came in many shapes and forms: failure of God to protect his creatures; failure of humanity to prevent this great evil from taking place; his own failure to answer the calls of his father.


We often confront failure in life. The pain could be great and it may seem we are living the night’s darkest hour. But no matter how long pain persists and bleak night gets, there will always be the break of dawn.

Friday, August 10, 2007

Summer Reading 2

I have two books remaining in my summer reading list:


My Name is Red, by Orhan Pamuk: I heard so many good things about it and I look forward to reading it. The setting takes place in 16th century Istanbul. It is a thrilling murder mystery intertwined with cultural, religious and romantic tales. The author won the Nobel Prize for literature in 2006.


Night, by Elie Wiesel: I am inspired to read this book through the book contest announced by the people at the Buzberry blog -which is a great idea! The book recounts the author’s experience as a young Holocaust survivor. The author has been awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 1986 and is a professor at my alma mater Boston University.


Happy summer reading!

Tuesday, August 07, 2007

Footbath


DEARBORN, Mich. — When pools of water began accumulating on the floor in some restrooms at the University of Michigan-Dearborn, and the sinks pulling away from the walls, the problem was easy to pinpoint. On this campus, more than 10 percent of the students are Muslims, and as part of ritual ablutions required before their five-times-a-day prayers, some were washing their feet in the sinks.

The solution seemed straightforward. After discussions with the Muslim Students’ Association, the university announced that it would install $25,000 foot-washing stations in several restrooms.

Universities Install Footbaths to Benefit Muslims, and Not Everyone Is Pleased - New York Times.


Having studied in the US, I very much admire their tolerance and accommodation to all belief systems. Yet it seems not everyone is happy about the latest accommodation to Muslims.

Friday, August 03, 2007

Summer Reading 1

During a visit to London earlier this year, I stopped by Al-Saqi bookstore and bought a number of Arabic books. I look forward to such visits to the Arabic bookstore in London and to shop for books without any censorship! I saved the books for summer reading and following are some samplings:


عرس الزين، الطيب صالح


A short novel about an eccentric character in a Sudanese village. This character is the laugh of the village yet at the same time brings some sort of harmony to the community. The character, Al Zain, ends up marrying the most coveted girl of the village amid everyone’s bewilderment. [link]


في بلاد الرجال، هشام مطر


I found out later that this novel is originally published in English (In the Country of Men). It’s about a child telling his story growing up in Libya. One angle of the story revolves around his mother being forced to marry his father due to conservative repression. A forced relationship that grew into a loving one. However, the main angle of this novel is being subjected to political repression and violence from the child’s perspective.

Saturday, July 28, 2007

Thursday, July 26, 2007

Running for MP



Caricature by Jaafar Rajab, Al-Rai newspaper

5,000 KD salary for being a Major Pain in the ... that's not bad at all!

Saturday, July 21, 2007

Getting Things Done

The danger is that executives running public companies end up spending so much time dealing with shareholders, regulators and campaigners that they neglect the business. Indeed, these different “stakeholders” may well demand different, and irreconcilable, things. Entrepreneurs, the type of people who like to “get things done” may not want the hassle.

Public v private equity | The business of making money | Economist.com.


The above quote is from an article comparing public vs. private companies. It reminds me of an analogy: Kuwait vs. Dubai. Kuwait is the example of a public company hurdled by attempting to please so many constituencies and ultimately neglecting the business. Dubai is the entrepreneurial star that is just getting things done. Democracy is great, but sometimes you just want to get things done without the hassle!

Monday, July 16, 2007

Currency Appreciation


The GCC currency regimes are coming under the spotlight. There is increasing pressure for change as a result of rising inflation and a growing international call for imbalances to be addressed. Over time, we estimate that the region’s currencies need to appreciate by 37% in order to reduce their excess savings.

In the shorter term, we estimate that the UAE or Qatar will move to peg to a basket of currencies this year. We currently hold a long AER, KWD vs. short USD position in our discretionary portfolio. Moves to tighten policy also have global implications. In tandem with policy tightening elsewhere, this should place carry trades under pressure. The moves would be generally USD-negative.


Merrill Lynch, Global FX Strategist Report, July 2007

Saturday, July 14, 2007

Everybody Hates Chris


I wanted to be class president because I wanted everyone to believe in me, but the only way I became president is by believing in myself.


Chris from Everybody Hates Chris


I remember watching this funny episode where Chris was running for school president. His geek friend prepared a polished speech for him. His opponent, the school bully, stole his speech. So Chris had to face the crowd with no prepared speech. He just spoke his heart out plain and simple: things that mattered to him such as the quality of the Jello served in the cafeteria or the boring school trips. It turns out that’s what mattered to others as well and he was elected school president by speaking his heart out and keeping it real.


 

Sunday, July 08, 2007

Rogi Makes History



Rogi, otherwise known as Roger Federer, made tennis history today by matching Bjorn Borg’s 5 consecutive Wimbledon titles. This came after an epic match against his nemesis Rafael Nadal. Both players played top notch tennis that was witnessed by Borg the legend himself.

I remember in my childhood how much I admired Borg and it’s so good to see Federer today match his record after earning so much admiration from fans all over the world. Go Rogi!

Tuesday, July 03, 2007

The Waiting Place



 


The Waiting Place...

...for people just waiting.
Waiting for a train to go
or a bus to come, or a plane to go
or the mail to come, or the rain to go
or the phone to ring, or the snow to snow
or waiting around for a Yes or a No
or waiting for their hair to grow.
Everyone is just waiting.

Waiting for the fish to bite
or waiting for wind to fly a kite
or waiting around for Friday night
or waiting, perhaps, for their Uncle Jake
or a pot to boil, or a Better Break
or a sting of pearls, or a pair of pants
or a wig with curls, or Another Chance.
Everyone is just waiting.

NO!
That's not for you!

Somehow you'll escape
all that waiting and staying.
You'll find the bright places
where Boom Bands are playing.

With banner flip-flapping,
once more you'll ride high!
Ready for anything under the sky.
Ready because you're that kind of a guy!


Oh, the Places You'll Go.


Quote from one of my favorite books Oh, the Places You’ll Go by Dr. Seuss. Works for me every time I am feeling down or just stuck..

Sunday, July 01, 2007

Book Burner

I used to be a book burner, but when I think about Salman Rushdie now, I believe the freedom to offend is a necessary freedom.

Comment is free: I used to be a book burner.


That was Inayat Bunglawala, the Assistant Secretary-General at the Muslim Council of Britain, commenting on the awarding of a knighthood to Salman Rushdie. Salman Rushdie has caused an uproar with Muslims after publishing his book The Satanic Verses in 1988 that got him a death fatwa from Ayatollah Khomeini.


Inayat remembers how he opposed the book, even burning it and participating in demonstrations against it. However, with time he came to a different realization..



In the intervening years I have managed to travel to Egypt, Sudan, Pakistan, Malaysia, Indonesia, Turkey and elsewhere and it is always with a sense of warmth that I return to the UK. Our detractors had been right. The freedom to offend is a necessary freedom.
Moreover, Islam has flourished wherever there has been a free atmosphere. I continue to strongly disagree with the way Rushdie caricatured early Islamic heroes of mine, but banning the book was not the answer.

Saturday, June 30, 2007

The Whole World Is Watching

When everyone has a blog, a MySpace page or Facebook entry, everyone is a publisher. When everyone has a cellphone with a camera in it, everyone is a paparazzo. When everyone can upload video on YouTube, everyone is filmmaker. When everyone is a publisher, paparazzo or filmmaker, everyone else is a public figure. We’re all public figures now. The blogosphere has made the global discussion so much richer — and each of us so much more transparent.

The Whole World Is Watching - New York Times.


Above is a quote from an article by Thomas L. Friedman of the New York Times. Technology enabled people to make their voice heard. And as technology becomes more and more affordable it gives power to the masses to have a say. Hopefully this will lead people, and especially those with power and influence, to act with care because now they can be exposed more easily.


Lately a story of an American teacher in Kuwait who was subjected to acts of vengeance was made popular through the blogsphere. Wouldn’t the person think twice before subjecting others to such acts had they known they would be exposed? Let’s hope so.


 

Wednesday, June 27, 2007

Gender Change in Kuwait

According to Al-Watan newspaper, Human Watch Organization wants gender change ban to be lifted in Kuwait [Link]. Now I am not sure how this gender change goes, but I am assuming it only goes one way (male to female) and not the other way around since I am not aware of the ability of modern medicine to install artificial joints! So to think out loud here are the top five reasons why someone would want a gender change in Kuwait:

• Now that everything is segregated thanks to our Islamist MPs, you are sick of sitting on the same side of the aisle.
• You want to be able to be seated in the family only section of restaurants.
• You are tired of throwing your phone number at girls and want to receive numbers for change.
• You want to cover up head to toe and scare off your baby brother.
• And finally, who needs to be a man now that women can vote too!

Tuesday, June 26, 2007

Crying Out for Help

I am personally aware of a very sad story about an American teacher in Kuwait. The teacher, Katherine Phillips, is Al-Bayan Bilingual School Middle School Deputy Principal. She is the victim of an influential parent who has effectively detained her in Kuwait. Her only crime was to suspend the influential parent's son for fighting! This is a normal procedure but the parent threatened her and is carrying out his threat. Her full story can be found in International Schools Review site. She is crying out for help.

Sunday, June 24, 2007

Fun Facts

Here are few fun facts from the book Freakonomics:



  • Timber cutter is the most dangerous job in the United States, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, with a 1 in 200 chance of being killed over four years’ time.

  • The typical prostitute earns more than the typical architect. (Sorry architects out there!)

  • It costs about $25,000 a year to keep someone incarcerated in prison.

  • Switzerland has more firearms than just about any other country on per capita basis, and yet it is one of the safest places in the world.

  • A Swimming pool in a house is 100 times more likely to kill a child than a gun in a house.

  • The per hour death rate of driving as opposed to flying is about equal. (Even though there are more accidents in driving, people spend more hours driving than flying so the the per hour rate evens out.)

  • A study shows that more than 50% of resumes contain lies.

 

Thursday, June 21, 2007

Safat Blues

For some reason my posts are not showing on safat anymore. I tried to contact them but couldn't get through. Any clue anyone? (Let's see if this post shows up).

Latest posts:
French Open
To Believe or Not to Believe
Women in Labor Law
Give Them Spoons

Wednesday, June 20, 2007

Give Them Spoons

The make-work bias is best illustrated by a story, perhaps apocryphal, of an economist who visits China under Mao Zedong. He sees hundreds of workers building a dam with shovels. He asks: “Why don't they use a mechanical digger?” “That would put people out of work,” replies the foreman. “Oh,” says the economist, “I thought you were making a dam. If it's jobs you want, take away their shovels and give them spoons.” For an individual, the make-work bias makes some sense. He prospers if he has a job, and may lose his health insurance if he is laid off. For the nation as a whole, however, what matters is not whether people have jobs, but how they do them. The more people produce, the greater the general prosperity. It helps, therefore, if people shift from less productive occupations to more productive ones. Economists, recalling that before the industrial revolution 95% of Americans were farmers, worry far less about downsizing than ordinary people do. Politicians, however, follow the lead of ordinary people. Hence, to take a more frivolous example, Oregon's ban on self-service petrol stations.

Lexington | Vote for me, dimwit | Economist.com.


Give all government workers out there spoons!

Tuesday, June 19, 2007

Women in Labor Law

There is much dismay from the recently approved adjustments to Kuwait’s labor law concerning the treatment of women. Women are not supposed to work after 8 pm and are not allowed to join hazardous jobs according to the adjustments. This clearly conflicts with women’s free will.


Now what is not apparent is that the adjustments are not entirely new. The original law prohibited women from working at night, and the adjustment only specified the definition of night to be after 8 pm. The original law included the same hazardous jobs provision, so it’s nothing new.


What people did not realize is that even before such adjustments the law conflicted with women’s free will but no one knew about it; neither was it implemented. That does not mean that the adjustments should pass by unnoticed or or un-opposed. The entire labor law should be overhauled to be fair to women as well as to address the bigger issue of encouraging the private sector and overall development.

Monday, June 18, 2007

To Believe or Not to Believe

Looking at the recent crop of books on God and religion, it is hard to avoid the conclusion that whether people end up like Mr Gosse or like his father depends on whether they have an intrinsic feeling for religion or not.

Is there a God? | To believe or not to believe | Economist.com.


 I was astonished by the number of recent publications on the topic of God, for and against. So if you are interested here is a list of some of those books:


Against:



For:



The above quote talks about a father and son. Gosse was taken by his father to the top of the hill in order to protect him from being influenced by those who did not believe. This did not work and the son ended up steering clear of religion while the father stuck with his. So whatever argument you choose, more likely it will be a reflection of whether you have feeling for religion or not.

Tuesday, June 12, 2007

French Open


That’s Federer in the French Open finals and more important it was me taking the picture! Even though I was lucky enough to attend the final while being away on business -yeah right!– it would have been even better had he won. After three grueling hours the winner of the men’s title will earn as much as the women’s title holder due to the latest push for equal prize money.

The rational behind equal prize money is gender equality which is understandable in normal circumstances. However in tennis men play longer and draw larger viewership. This would justify earning more than women. Some counter this argument by saying women are willing to play longer -men play best of five sets while women play best of three. Whatever the case might be equality does not necessarily result in fairness. Sorry Roger next time!

Tuesday, June 05, 2007

Risk Taker

Once Onassis the Greek shipping tycoon made a peanut seller an offer. He grabbed a handful of peanuts and asked the seller to guess if the peanuts in his hand were odd numbered or even. If he guessed right Onassis would pay him a bundle otherwise he would take away his entire stock. The seller dismissed the offer. Onassis tried to convince him showing him a bundle of money that he would get if he guessed right. The seller dismissed him again. Onassis tried again pointing to his fancy car and yacht to prove that he is serious. The seller dismissed him yet again.


Onassis confronted the seller with his wasted opportunity: had he taken the risk and guessed he would either get it right and gain a bundle, or if he didn’t get it right it would be reasonable to conclude that a wealthy man such as Onassis wouldn’t really take away his stock. It was a win win situation only ruined by the seller’s failure to take the risk. I read this story a while ago in one of the daily newspapers -that are popping up everyday! So go ahead and be a risk taker!

Sunday, June 03, 2007

Note to Self

I’m on a high right now. Not the recreational type but a mental one. I just went through a professional examination, the grueling type, and regardless of the outcome (pray for me!) the experience was worthwhile. I jotted few notes to self while I am still in this state of mind to remember:

- Challenge yourself every once in a while: Get out of your comfort zone. Give yourself that kick in the behind. It will cause some pain but it will awaken that thing inside of you and open your eyes to a new reality or the reality you missed while deep in your comfort.
- Once you get that vision of your new reality, a vision built on you potential not your limitation, act on it fast before you fall back to your comfort zone.
- Follow your heart: remember the constant dilemma about heart vs. mind? The answer is heart, but makes sure it is your heart that you’re listening to –it’s called the gut feeling.

Monday, May 28, 2007

The Japanese Way

TOKYO, Japan (AP) -- Japan's agricultural minister died Monday after reportedly hanging himself just hours before he was to face questioning in parliament over a political scandal, officials said.

Japanese minister commits suicide - CNN.com.


Only if our politicians did the same, no one would be alive by now!

Saturday, May 26, 2007

Haze of Wealth

KUWAIT: Sharing strong sentiments on the region at the 8th GCC Banking Conference, James Wolfensohn, Former World Bank President said, "I think the challenge is to take advantage of not the oil resources but of your people, don''t look through the haze of wealth; that is the subject I want to bring to your notice, and this is something I feel personally,"

The Daily Star - Kuwait Edition - Published by Alwatan.


Wolfensohn had interesting things to say at the conference. He pointed out that the biggest challenge facing the Middle East is developing its human resources and alluded to the negative effects of wealth in spoiling the youth and slowing development.


The former World Bank President found it strange how the region takes pride in projects in the trillions of dollars, while in Kuwait 90% of the workforce is employed by the government and incorporating a private company takes more than 450 days due to government bureaucracy, which is more than 10 times the average time it takes in developed countries. [Al-Qabas] He emphasized the need to liberalize the economy and improve education. I hope the audience was listening!

Thursday, May 24, 2007

KD Unchained



Good cartoon by Adil Al-Qallaf from his website about lifting the KD US Dollar peg.

Sunday, May 20, 2007

Told You So

KUWAIT, May 20 (KUNA) -- After approval by the Cabinet in its session Sunday, the Kuwaiti Dinar's exchange rate against the US Dollar is to be based on a basket of main currencies, which was the previous system abandoned since January 5, 2003, said Governor of the Central Bank of Kuwait Sheikh Salem Abdelaziz Al-Sabah today.

Kuna siteStory pageKuwaiti Dinar exchange rate against USD based on b...5/20/2007

Just like many had predicted and as I mentioned in previous posts.

Saturday, May 19, 2007

How to Procrastinate

I have been procrastinating lately; here are top five ways to do so:



  1. Click on Next Blog>> link on the Navbar above.. Keep doing it.

  2. Change the color of your blog’s header box (in case you have not noticed I did, inspired by my much admired The Economist  I must admit).

  3. Wash the dust off your car after the sand storm.. do it again.

  4. Read all local newspapers which are popping up everyday. Do we really need all those newspapers in this digital age? Are they financially viable? It makes you wonder about the real motivation.

  5. Sing along: min 7obna laha.. Rather than appealing to peoples altruism to reduce consumption wouldn't it be more effective to appeal to their pockets and lift the subsidy on electricity and water?! With all due respect to the lovely girls and boys performing the song. 

Happy procrastination whatever it is that you are avoiding!

Wednesday, May 16, 2007

Mergers and Marriages

Daimler’s shareholders have been desperate for the divorce papers to be signed. The unhappy union should be a warning to others: compatibility matters in business as well as love, and a happy wedding day is not a guarantee of a happy marriage.

FT.com / Comment & analysis / Editorial comment - Mergers, like marriages, fail without a meeting of minds.


As we see a rush of merger and acquisition (M&A) activity in the local market, it would be worthwhile to be reminded of the difficulty of making such transactions successful. It is said that mergers are triumph of hope over experience -the same applies to marriages some argue sarcastically. Despite experience that points to bleak outcomes, mergers continue in the hope of success. Such is the fate of Daimler Chrysler.


Daimler Chrysler tied the knot back in 1998 with a $36bn price tag for Chrysler. Few days ago this came to an end and the knot was untied at a price of $7.4bn. Separately some analysis shows that Daimler would not receive this amount and it will actually end up paying. This is a rude awakening to merger dreams. So before you tie the knot, business or otherwise, make sure you have a meeting of minds, without which mergers, like marriages, are doomed.


 


 

Sunday, May 13, 2007

Toastmasters

I attended a presentation held at Kuwait Economic Society to introduce Toastmasters club. The presentation was given by club member Mr. Abdullah Al-Mahdi who did a wonderful job in introducing the concept. Basically Toastmasters club is made up of 20 to 30 people who meet once a week. During the meeting the members learn the skills of conducting meetings, give speeches and get evaluated.


So far there are few clubs in Kuwait but the number is growing through word of mouth. Joining requires a small fee as it is a non profit organization after all. It’s a great concept and it teaches valuable skills to communicate better and become more effective.

Saturday, May 12, 2007

Politics of Oil

A study by PFC Energy, the respected consultancy, shows world oil supplies might well fall behind growing demand in the long term as political factors limit production capacity increases in key producing nations.

FT.com / World - Politics and easy profits signal global oil crunch.


The study, as reported in the Financial Times, describes how key national oil companies, Kuwait’s is one of them, are not making proper investment to insure sufficient oil supplies in the future. This is due to either not seeing the need to make such investments with the windfall from current fields or political factors preventing entry of technologically advanced international oil companies.


The report lists Kuwait and Russia as stagnant producers, on the other hand lists Saudi Arabia as an expanding producer. The report points to the political infighting preventing entry of international oil companies to Kuwait.


When will the political infighting end to bring about desperately needed assistance from international companies to develop our oil fields? While it is ambitious for national oil companies to be compared with international oil companies, why isn’t Kuwait’s KPC up to the standards of other national oil companies such as Saudi’s Aramco? Important questions without answers.

Tuesday, May 08, 2007

Sacred Texts

We are living through an age when insistence on the literal truth of sacred texts (which zealots assume to be self-evident, and exclusive of all other truths) ranks high among the causes of conflict in the world. St Paul's adage that the “letter kills, but the spirit gives life” has never been more true. But when it is understood properly, the letter can also give life.

Sacred texts | Life-giving letters | Economist.com.

Saturday, May 05, 2007

How to Let Happiness Find You

But there is a final point that the long philosophical tradition of debate about happiness and the good life shows, and it is this: that the surest way to unhappiness is to try to pursue happiness directly. This is because happiness only ever comes as the outrider to other things that are in themselves independently fulfilling and rewarding.

Happiness is like the dot of light in a very dark room that you can only see out of the corner of your eye, but which vanishes when you look directly at it.

Instead of looking for happiness, therefore, one should look for achievement in a worthwhile field, or service to a noble cause, or the good of one's family or community, or the personal pleasure that comes from creative endeavour.

As surely as night follows day, happiness will attend success in any of these efforts. Learning the value of these things is what constitutes an education in happiness; applying the lessons thus learnt is what offers the best chance of finding it.

Telegraph newspaper online.

Wednesday, May 02, 2007

Swiss Democracy


The swiss are good at many things such as cheese, chocolates, watches, tourism and Roger Federer (pictured for tennis fans out there!). As I spend time in Switzerland on a business trip -well more like 'away from business' trip!– one oversighted aspect struck me which is Swiss democracy. Can you think of the name of the Swiss president (if there is one) or prime minister or any politician for that matter? Probably not. Neither can the Swiss. This is true democracy; power to the people while politicians remain nameless.


Take this story: a fellow arrives at the airport and asks the Swiss taxi driver to take him to the hotel. On the way he tries to make conversation with the driver. He asks about politics, the economy, and other issues. The driver did not know much and remained focused on the road. So the fellow having failed at the attempt to start a conversation started admiring the cleanliness of the car and driver until he arrived to his destination on time. Then it struck him: just few days ago he was on a trip to an Arab country. He remembered the bad shape the taxi he took there was in and the driver who was smoking endlessly. The driver talked endlessly too: from politics to economy to you name it.. he knew it all. While the Arab driver was busy smoking and talking he lost his way and our fellow arrived late to his destination! This is the difference between them and us: we know it all except where it matters which is knowing what we do and being good at it.  

Saturday, April 28, 2007

Show Me the Money

The United Arab Emirates Central Bank Governor on Thursday ruled out any immediate revaluation in the UAE dirham and said that Kuwait had committed to keeping its currency trading band unchanged.

The Daily Star - Kuwait Edition - Published by Alwatan.


We were having a debate last week at work on what to do with our USD deposits. This is in light of the speculation that the KD will be revalued up against the dollar. So your dollars will be worth less should this happen. Even though the Central Bank of Kuwait keeps saying that it is sticking with its policy of fixing the KD to the dollar, there is much speculation as the dollar continues to decline dragging the KD with it unnecessarily.


In a previous post I argued against pegging the KD to the dollar. The pegging is part of GCC plan to unify currencies by 2010, which is now in much doubt. In an environment of increasing oil prices and budget as well as trade surpluses, the KD is artificially weakening because it is tied down by the dollar. And because the KD is weakening it takes more of it to import goods leading to inflation. The market seems to believe that this will not last for long and the KD will be revalued; hence the shift of dollar deposits into KDs. The Central Bank keeps denying and discouraging speculation by lowering KD rates (so those shifting their dollars to KDs will deposit at lower rates). So back to our USD deposits, we followed the market (but shhhh don't tell the Central Bank).

Wednesday, April 25, 2007

Bloggers Unite

THEY call themselves pyjamahideen. Instead of galloping off to fight holy wars, they stay at home, meaning, often as not, in their parents' houses, and clatter about computer keyboards. Their activity is not as explosive as the self-styled jihadists who trouble regimes in the region, and they come in all stripes, secular liberal as well as radical Islamist. But like Gulliver's Lilliputians, youthful denizens of the internet are chipping away at the overweening dominance of Arab governments.

Egypt | Bloggers may be the real opposition | Economist.com.


“Workers of the world, unite”, is a rallying cry of socialism. Despite the fate of socialism, it called for power to the powerless masses. Today the powerless masses in the Arab world are making their voice heard in spite of governments’ clamp down. Bloggers unite! Let it be our rallying cry.

Sunday, April 22, 2007

Kuwaiti Inventors

Kuwaitis get Gold, silver medals for new inventions at Geneva exhibition GENEVA, April 22 (KUNA)

For everyone out there working quietly: your achievements speak louder than all the cries for past glories. You are the ones who truly give meaning to the saying better to light a candle than to curse the darkness.

Saturday, April 21, 2007

Easter Everywhere

But she nails the central question — of her memoir and perhaps of her life — with an extraordinary quote from Simone Weil. “One has only the choice between God and idolatry,” Weil wrote. “If one denies God ... one is worshiping some things of this world in the belief that one sees them only as such, but in fact, though unknown to oneself imagining the attributes of Divinity in them.” Hence the title “Easter Everywhere.”

Easter Everywhere: A Memoir - Darcey Steinke - Books - Review - New York Times.


What is the world coming to? Last week was a bloody one. Massacre in Virginia Tech University. Bombing in Iraq. Terrorism in Morocco. What’s next? War in Iran?! Such situations highlight the human condition at its worst: death, war and misery. And brings a yearning for the divine to alleviate the suffering.


Darcey Steinke, the author of the memoir Easter Everywhere, wonders if the misery she feels is a result of the absence of God in her life. It makes an interesting account coming from a skeptic and novelist of titles like Suicide Blonde. As we watch helplessly the bloody events unfold around us, or feel the hollowness of our own souls, even a skeptic would be comforted by a prayer for peace and happiness.

Wednesday, April 18, 2007

MTC Trading

As of the time of writing this there has been MTC trading worth KD 1,710,000,000. This is an unprecedented amount of trading for the entire Kuwait Stock Exchange ever and the market has not closed yet. The real surprise however is that no one has any clue what is going on?! Everyone is speculating.. Shares being sold to Emarati investors.. Saudi investors.. It's anyone's guess..

Why is the market silent on this?! This is a record trading volume, yet the investment community is left in the dark. It seems large shareholders of MTC and Wataniya before that have gotten into the habit of making big deals while leaving other shareholders behind with the blessing and silence of Kuwait Stock Exchange authorities! When will this come to an end?!

Tuesday, April 17, 2007

BP Lecture

In a presentation at Kuwait Economic Society, Mark Finley BP’s Energy Economist spoke about future prospects for the oil market. As to future price of oil, he noted that it is difficult for anyone to predict. This is determined by several factors: one is technological advances in prolonging the depletion of oil resources. The more technology reduces oil consumption, or helps in extracting more reserves, the more resources will be available; hence reducing energy prices. Another factor is market power of OPEC that allows it to influence prices. Finally higher taxes imposed on energy consumption will lead to higher prices. He mentioned how historically technology has played a major role (so if this trend continues and technology trumps once again then this points to lower long term prices).

The other interesting point he made, which is the hot topic nowadays, is how to combat the environmental consequences of energy consumption. He pointed out that people don’t really consume energy but light, heat and mobility. And the challenge is to achieve this in an environmentally friendly way. The two options on the table are carbon trade system and carbon tax. He prefers carbon trade system as it embodies a market mechanism which is the most efficient in allocating energy consumption. I enjoyed the lecture.. it was alota fun ;p

Sunday, April 15, 2007

Kuwait Warming

"The era of procrastination, of half-measures, of soothing and baffling expedients, of delays, is coming to a close. In its place, we are entering a period of consequences."
Winston Churchill

After watching the documentary An Inconvenient Truth, I was alarmed by how real global warming is and the urgent need for action. Add to this the implication on our local environment and our economy that is dependent on producing fossil fuel, oil, which is one of the main contributors to global warming.

Scientists now agree that global warming is real and if we don’t act now the consequences will be devastating. So what will happen to our local environment in Kuwait and how will we cope if the world reduces its reliance on oil? What can we do within our means to act against global warming? Even though the issue is dead serious, I will offer some foolish answers:

1. The government is already ahead by fixing the official temperature not to exceed 50 c; this way we will not be affected by global warming.
2. As sea level increases, our islands will sink. This is a relief to the private sector which is developing those islands as it will be taken away by Mother Nature and not the government.
3. As countries turn food into fuel to reduce dependency on fossil fuels, and because we have sufficient fossil fuels that no one wants, we do the reverse and turn it into food. So when you order Shawarma for example you will have the following options: regular, premium or ultra.
4. I can’t think of #4 blame it on global warming!
5. Finally after experiencing summers in Kuwait we can only say one thing about global warming: bring it on!

Tuesday, April 10, 2007

Leaders and Dictators

What’s the difference between leaders and dictators? Is it better to have an orderly dictatorship or a chaotic democracy, as in the case of Iraq? Is speedy progress under strict regime preferred over slower progress with democracy, as in the case of China vs. India? Is our relative democracy in Kuwait putting us at a disadvantage in achieving economic progress compared to other GCC countries?

If slower progress is the price of democracy, then it’s a price worth paying. We should embrace our constitution and our democratic institutions despite the negatives. Democracy is not a perfect system but it’s the best around especially when built on the right foundation of education and respect for minority rights. Under such system progress could take longer but it’s long lived. Such is the difference between leaders and dictators: leaders are empowering so that success is not based on individuals but the collective.

Saturday, April 07, 2007

Without You, There Is Nothing


I got a wonderful sogha (souvenir) from my cousin Ahmidi coming back from China. It’s a figurine of a duck squad climbing a cliff. It shows how the ducks are helping each other and relying on each other to make it over the cliff. I loved the gift and the message that came along with it. Thanks cuz you have the kindest heart (despite the annoying attitude). I love you man (even though you annoy the crap out of me at work and I don’t hide it).

The message that came along with it is in Chinese with the English translation:
"Without you, there is nothing,
Without me, there is nothing.
We move in unison,
Step by step,
Heart to heart.
Without one, the other ceases to be."

Wednesday, April 04, 2007

Doing Well and Doing Good

I had the pleasure of attending the Young Arab Leaders (YAL) event at the Babtain Library for Poetry where Mr. Abdulaziz Saud Al-Babtain was the guest speaker –at his own library so to speak. He is very charismatic and enjoyable character and he had a lot to talk about. Since the event was meant to inspire young leaders, he talked at length about his personal experience and the success he worked so hard to achieve.

He had few stories to share. One was during his honeymoon as he strolled the streets of Cairo he saw an ad for a product. He thought to himself how those on pilgrimage to Mecca recouped the expenses of their trip by engaging in trade while they were there. So he turned to his young wife and took her permission to meet with the distributor of that product to talk him into granting him the agency; this way they could recoup the honeymoon expenses he mused. In another story he courted an Afghan he saw walking outside his office and took him to lunch at a fancy restaurant thinking he was a merchant - restaurant was called Golden Beach or something which was the fanciest place around at that time. During lunch he realized that the Afghan was only a tailor so he paid the bill and left at once! Well the moral of the stories is to chase opportunities and never let them pass by.

The event and Mr.Babtain’s talk was very inspiring. Not only did he do well but he did good too which is apparent in all his charity and cultural efforts. He mentioned how early on in his life his focus was to accumulate wealth but after a certain point he wanted to share this wealth by doing good. Even though he was open about his business, especially the cigarette agency, I would have loved to hear how he reconciles selling cigarettes with his social responsibility.

Sunday, April 01, 2007

Foolish Observations

Well I won’t fool you on April fools day but I’ll share with you my foolish observations on blogging in Kuwait:

- Why is almost everyone anonymous?! Most Kuwaiti blogs I encountered are. In a random sample 90% of Kuwaiti blogs are anonymous –true identity of author not available or disguised- while for international blogs only 30% are anonymous (yes I made this up but I am guessing it’s true and it’s April fools day so I can make stuff up!). Why are we –yes me included- hiding our identity? I understand why some would but what about the rest? For me I blame it on herd mentality –I followed the rest! Maaaaaaa’ :p

- Why do we blog during office/school hours? After running extensive regression analysis on blogging habits in Kuwait, I can say with 95% level of confidence that 60% of blogging (writing and reading) happens during office/ school hours, 25% late evening/night and the remaining 15% in between (again foolish statistics but my point stands nevertheless). What does this say about our work ethics?! And most blogs tout reform! I know a good place to start..

Have a foolish day!

Wednesday, March 28, 2007

KIPCO's Sellout

Why is KIPCO selling its assets? First they sold Wataniya Telecom to Qtel then Sadafco. I am not sure what’s the status of Showtime which they were hoping to sell for a while now. What’s next? And what is this all about? There are few theories. The official response from KIPCO is that it is normal disposal of investments for attractive returns and realignment of strategy. But this did not stop the speculation. Some say KIPCO is attempting to divest out of Kuwait in light of increased political pressure and scrutiny because of its close connections (owned by the son of the Emir). Others take the divestment to be a negative outlook on the Kuwaiti market which worries many.

So is a negative outlook justified? According to recent Merrill Lynch report the answer is no. The chart below shows forward P/E ratios and current account balances relative to GDP. Accordingly Kuwait’s stock market is one of the most attractive in the region. This is based on large relative current account surplus (driven by oil revenue) which indicates higher potential economic growth. In addition, valuation is relatively inexpensive based on forward price earnings ratios. So why is KIPCO selling out? That’s anyone’s guess.


Sunday, March 25, 2007

Corporate Governance

I attended a presentation on corporate governance organized by the Investment Companies Union in Kuwait. For those of you involved in a family business or any business for that matter and interested in learning more about corporate governance, there is an excellent resource in the website of Dubai’s Hawkamah, the Institute for Corporate Governance (makhalaw shai dubai!).

As I mentioned earlier a friend was frustrated with his family business. He thought implementing proper governance would diminish the power and control of the family leader and hence there will be opposition to it. But research shows that family businesses have very slim chance of surviving beyond the third generation, and most end up in court! So it’s time to educate the family leader and all members of the importance of proper governance which is the best way to insure continuity into the future.

Thursday, March 22, 2007

Family Business

It's surprising how much similarities exist between our bigger society and the smaller one – which could be work, family or other. A friend tells me about his family business. He is absolutely frustrated. In the bigger society there is a lack of direction, especially as other countries have made strides such as Dubai and Qatar. In the smaller one, my friend tells me, the business lagged while other families made great progress. The bigger society sustains itself not by adding value but exhausting resources under the ground. Just like the smaller one which relies on its existing resources without meaningful contribution.

In the bigger society there is mismanagement, corruption, lack of productivity, lack of qualification, disguised unemployment and the list goes on. The smaller society is no different. I asked my friend why don't they do anything about it by implementing proper corporate governance and institutionalizing the business. He laughed back and said: but that's how the family figurehead keeps control of the business and ensures dependency of all others! How similar!

Monday, March 19, 2007

Munaqaba at the Gate

Airports reflect the image of societies. Kuwait's is no different. The polarization of Kuwait's society is apparent in the airport. As I prepared to leave, my documents were inspected at the immigration counter by a munaqaba (veiled). Isn't this a security concern if she was a passenger with niqab? Is it absolutely necessary to have a munaqaba in this position? Worse still she was on the phone talking about dinner!

Upon arrival back in Kuwait I was welcomed by the extreme opposite. I started wondering if pieces are going to fall off her face or finger nails detach in my passport!

Two extremes in Kuwait Airport paint -literally- a picture of society. Whether behind veil or make up, the true face is disguised.

Friday, March 16, 2007

The Tipping Point


Ever wondered how crocs (pictured above) caught on to be best sellers? Or anything for that matter be it a book, a song or even a hair style (or goatees for guys)? This is what The Tipping Point: How Little Things Can Make a Big Difference by Malcolm Gladwell attempts to answer. According to the author, “ideas and products and messages and behaviors spread just like viruses do.”

Epidemics such as the flue for example depend on the people who transmit them. Certain people have a higher chance of transmitting the virus than others (your barber for example working on the goatee sees a lot of other people). This is called the Law of the Few. Another factor is how strong the virus is (the Stickiness Factor). And finally the Power of Context, which could be the weather or close proximity of people, all leading to higher spread of the virus.

The author applies those three agents of change to analyze various phenomena in the world around us and how to go about reaching a Tipping Point. This is a useful tool to understand local trends such as the rise of political Islam. It is said that this book influenced Tony Blair back in the day when the conservatives were in power. Tony Blair and his liberal labor party managed to reach a Tipping Point. Can we do the same?

Wednesday, March 14, 2007

Story

I heard an interesting story in the final day of the Private Sector Conference organized by Kuwait Chamber of Commerce and Industry. Quoting British historian Alan Rush, historically the ruling family has always been suspicious of the merchants and viewed them as competitors for their power, asserted one speaker. This goes back to the days when the ruling family collected taxes and subsequently the merchants had a wider say over governance of the country.

This historical clash explains the diminished role of the private sector today. Even though oil wealth replaced taxes and hence the reliance on merchants, the suspicion continued. One bright spot in this historical clash was during the era of Sheikh Jabir Al-Ahmed as Minister of Finance. According to the tale there was a struggle within the ruling family at that point to appoint the crown prince. The Emir then Sheikh Abdulla Al Salim wanted to appoint his brother. While Sheikhs Fahad Al-Salim and Abdulla Al-Mubarak competed for that position they were unpopular within the ruling family. The ruling family and the British had Sheikh Jabir Al-Ahmed in mind.

Feeling the threat, Sheikh Jabir Al-Ahmed allied himself with the merchants and that was the golden era of the private sector. Unfortunately this did not last. As the struggle within the ruling family abated, the relationship with the merchants went back to its old suspicion. Unless this changes the private sector will continue to play a marginal role in the economy. No wonder the private sector commands only a third of GDP the lowest in the Gulf, and even compared to a socialist country such as China where it stands at two thirds.

Monday, March 12, 2007

The Bottleneck

It was interesting observing the blame game in the Second Private Sector Conference organized by Kuwait Chamber of Commerce and Industry under the title Economic Reform: Repeated Talk and Delayed Decision (الإصلاح الإقتصادي: كلام مكرر وقرار مؤجل).

There was a lot of pointing fingers: the government, the parliament, the private sector, the Chamber, even individuals unwilling to engage in productive work and preferring government jobs. One interesting observation was made by Mohammad Al-Shaya of the retail Al-Shaya Group. He observed that 55% of his company's staff in Saudi are nationals, 65% in Bahrain but the number is much less in Kuwait. He also observed that the number of female nationals working for his company in Saudi exceeds that in Kuwait. This is due to Kuwaitis' preference for desk jobs in the government or certain sectors such as banking and investment that carry prestige.

It was so good to see Dr. Ahmed Al-Rubai speak again after his absence. He slammed the government for wrongfully dealing with the private sector, especially that some of those private sector companies are gaining international prominence.

There is no doubt that economic reform is a shared responsibility between all parties concerned whether it is government, parliament, private sector and even individuals. However, as the saying goes, the bottleneck is always at the top of the bottle!

Saturday, March 10, 2007

Seeing the Light

I made fun of one Member of Parliament’s (MP) call to implement Sharia law in Kuwait. The reason I quipped the call is the apparent transformation of the MP. But don’t people have the right to transform themselves? So he saw the light what’s wrong with that?

I must say the whole thing took me by surprise and I reacted the way I did. What if he saw a different light and reached personal enlightenment through kabbalah; would it be justified to call for the implementation of kabbalah?! I am happy for the MP and congratulate him on his sincere, I hope, personal growth. However he should keep his new convictions to himself and not deprive others of the same journey he took.

Wednesday, March 07, 2007

Joke of the Day!

Sorry could not help it! Dimitri transforms himself!

دميثير يطالب بتطبيق أحكام الشريعة الإسلامية

كتب محمد الخالدي:
طالب النائب خلف دميثير بـ «تعديل المادة الثانية من الدستور، لتكون الشريعة الإسلامية المصدر الرئيسي للتشريع في الكويت».
وقال دميثير في تصريح صحافي امس ان «اقتراحا كهذا ليس محصورا بالكتلة الإسلامية فقط، بل ان مجلس الامة معني بكامله بهذه القضية».
وزاد: «أتمنى تعديل المادة الثانية من الدستور لقناعتي التامة بأن المستقبل سيكون مخيفا للاوضاع الاجتماعية ولن يتم انقاذ هذا المجتمع إلا بتطبيق الشريعة الإسلامية بشكل صحيح»، مشددا على ضرورة «انقاذ شبابنا وأبناء وبنات هذا الوطن من هذه الهجمة التغريبية».

تاريخ النشر:الوطن الاربعاء 7/3/2007

Tuesday, March 06, 2007

Project Kuwait

When you ask an economist how is the wife, the response would be: compared to what? Or so goes the joke. This was the opening line of Prof. Paul Stevens of the Centre for Energy, Petroleum and Mineral Law and Policy –phew long name! - at the University of Dundee in Scotland speaking at Kuwait Economic Society. The subject matter was the price of oil and in his view the current price is high compared to historical levels –not the highest but still high- and will continue to be so for the near to medium future.

The prediction is for the price to be at the $50-60 level for the next 5 years or even longer. One reason for this is the insufficient investment in the oil sector to increase capacity. Remember Project Kuwait? (Development of Kuwait’s north oil fields) This project has gone nowhere due to political scrambling. This will have negative long term implications as the world will intensify its search for alternative energy with the aid of technology and move away from high geopolitical risk areas where oil reserves are concentrated. It would be worthwhile to remember that the Stone Age did not end for lack of stone.

Sunday, March 04, 2007

Poor Minority!

KIPCO Group and their clients/affiliates got a sizable bounty from selling their controlling interest in Wataniya Telecom to Qatar’s Qtel: 48% premium above market price on date of agreement to be exact. But some missed out on the party. That is the minority shareholder: the other 49%.

If you happen to be one of the minority shareholders –i.e. no relation with KIPCO- and got over the initial excitement of the transaction only to see your share plunge in the aftermath you would probably think it is not fair. Apparently KIPCO invited its clients and affiliates to tag along on the deal and share in the prize. Some regulations and shareholders' agreements in other countries make this a law. The minority shareholder has a tag along rights when an offer is made to acquire majority share. Had this been the case Qtel would have been obliged to invite all shareholders to the offer and split the control premium. You and I definitely would have been better of. But just like in politics, markets don't always respect minority rights.