Wednesday, December 31, 2008

Wishes for the New Year

This year had its share of the good and the bad. Just like every year I suppose. Except that the good was exceptionally good and the bad exceptionally so.

Two events come to mind. On the bad side everyone, everywhere and everything suffered in the financial crisis. This once in a century tsunami according to former Fed Chairman Greenspan. But with every crisis comes an opportunity like the Chinese say, and the opportunity for change.

Change came in big. The US elected its first African American president. Regardless of how Obama fares, his mere election is euphoric. It sent shock waves to all and awakened the sense that change is possible. The unthinkable is possible. Dreams are possible. So let the new year be the year of change and may your dreams come true.

Lastly while we are fortunate to live and dream of a better year, naked aggression has robbed many of their lives and dreams. Our thoughts and prayers go to the people of Gaza. May God bring us all peace and prosperity.

Monday, December 29, 2008

DOWn Prime Minister

 

Kuwait canceled a $9 billion joint venture with Dow Chemical Co., the biggest U.S. chemical company, following weeks of opposition from lawmakers.

Bloomberg.com: U.S.

It is unfortunate how this project got canceled. I don't think it was undone due to lack of merit of the project, but rather due to opposition. The continuous wavering of the Prime Minister time after time has gone too far. Time to step DOWn!

Thursday, December 25, 2008

Madoff Victims from Kuwait

 

Other investors for whom Toub is listed as the agent include the Public Institute for Social Security, apparently a reference to the Kuwaiti government agency; the National Bank of Kuwait; and Safra National Bank of New York, controlled by the Safra family of Brazil.

Madoff fraud rippled around the world - International Herald Tribune

Some of the victims of the Madoff Ponzi scheme which lost $50 billion of investors funds are apparently Kuwait's PIFSS and NBK (not sure if NBK is on behalf of clients or their own investments). Interesting enough the same article cited above from the International Herald Tribune also appeared in the New York Times but did not mention PIFFS.

Other investors for whom Mr. Toub is listed as the agent include the Safra National Bank of New York and the National Bank of Kuwait.

Madoff Scheme Kept Rippling Outward, Across Borders - NYTimes.com

Let's hope our retirement funds are safe!

Monday, December 22, 2008

Money Under the Mattress

CBB539 

A time for financial risks | When the golden eggs run out | The Economist

This is how $100 saved monthly over the past 10 years would have fared. You would have been better off leaving you savings under the mattress than putting it in equities. But don't bet on keeping your savings -or what remains of it- under the mattress. This might be the time to invest wisely.

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

The Meaning of Work

 

Over the past decade, the rich, professional classes have developed an increasingly unhealthy attitude to their jobs. We took our jobs and our fat salaries for granted and felt aggrieved if our bonuses were not even bigger than the year before. We demanded that the work be interesting in itself and, even more dangerously and preposterously, that it should have meaning.

FT.com / Columnists / Lucy Kellaway - Money is the new secret of a happy job

Hard times remind us of the real purpose of work: earn a living. So I guess we should stop searching for satisfaction, or God forbids, a meaning for now!

Monday, December 08, 2008

Finance 101

 

Saudi Arabia’s top cleric has used his annual sermon to Muslim pilgrims assembling for hajj to urge Muslim countries to renounce capitalism and form an Islamic economic bloc that adopts interest-free finance.

FT.com / Middle East / Politics & Society - Saudi cleric cites crisis to press for sharia

Is capitalism and interest based finance the root of the current financial crisis? Is "Islamic finance" the solution? Maybe the cleric should have clarified the meaning of Islamic finance and how it works. There is a saying by Mao the Chinese leader that it does not matter if the cat is white or black as long as it catches mice. If Islamic finance catches mice all the better. I suspect it is easier said than done.

Sunday, December 07, 2008

Kaplan's Dream

 

That an unskilled dreamer could teach professionals how to bring off a masterpiece is a fantasy that many share but few presume to achieve. Mr Kaplan, after his first performance, said: “I had a feeling that people in the audience were urging me to fulfil my dream. They were up with me on the podium that night, playing baseball for the Yankees, writing the book they never wrote or getting the girl they never got.”

Desperately seeking Mahler | The Economist

In 1965 Gilbert Kaplan was an economist at the American Stock Exchange.  With $150,000 of borrowed and saved money he founded Institutional Investor a monthly magazine that became essential reading for financiers and reached wide distribution. By the end of the 60s  he became a millionaire.

Around the same time he founded his publishing business, he was taken by a friend to an orchestral rehearsal. He instantly fell in love. He later took time off work to study music. Ultimately his passion for music turned him into a notable conductor. It was a dream come true. An encouragement to everyone with a dream to follow their passion.

Saturday, December 06, 2008

Uneducated Masses

 

The PAD, arguing that the masses are too “uneducated” to choose sensible leaders and resist vote-buying, wants to restore the semi-democracy of the 1980s, increasing the influence of the army, palace and royalist bureaucracy and diluting the popular vote.

Desperate times in Thailand | Desperate days | The Economist

Democracy in Thailand brought corrupt politicians. This is what one party in Thailand, the PAD, claims. So they have staged protests and blocked the airport demanding doing away with elected politicians and to retreat from democracy.

Similar demands are voiced here in Kuwait. While it is true democracy can have unfortunate consequences; it is more so unfortunate to do away with it all together. The solution is to improve on democracy rather than retreat from it. This can be achieved by better education, improved election laws and party system.

Wednesday, December 03, 2008

Say A Prayer

Dear Sister,

I wish you a spiritual Haj journey. I am certain you received many requests for prayer from friends, family and even random people. I will add one to those.

May God bless our family. Even though there are times when we can't stand them, they are the reason we are standing. 

May God bless our Friends. True friends are like diamonds, they are forever. Sometimes we seek friends who are popular or make us feel good. True friends aren't necessarily popular and will be honest with you even if it does not make you feel good. That's why they are diamonds in the rough.

May God bless our country. Despite all the negatives, it's where we belong. Our country is generous to us. Only if we were generous in return. Thank God for the blessing of safety and comfortable living. To many in other countries such things are luxury. We are blessed. Let's not waste our blessing.

Finally God bless you. May what you wish and pray for come true. Even when things don't go your way, have trust there is a better way. Whether you call it luck or blessing, without hard work it ain't coming. Go ahead say your prayer. May your life change for better.

Friday, November 28, 2008

Heroes and Chaos

 

Liz McCartney is dedicated to helping Hurricane Katrina survivors in St. Bernard Parish, a community just outside New Orleans. Her nonprofit St. Bernard Project has rebuilt the homes of more than 120 families.

CNN Heroes - Special Reports from CNN.com

It seems the world is coming to an end.

The financial markets tumbling everywhere. Economies shattered.

Terror in India.

Lawlessness in Thailand.

Political mess in Kuwait.

It was refreshing watching the CNN program that picked 10 heroes for their service to their local communities. For all the mess that is going on there are decent people working quietly to make the world a better place. They are true heroes.

Thursday, November 20, 2008

Pirates of Kuwait


I wanted to write something about the pirates of Kuwait. Just like they have always attempted to rob us of our freedom, liberty and everything worth living for, today they want to take away our democracy. Take a good look at them and those who stand behind them. It's a pity if we forget when we get to vote -if we get to vote again!

I found my thoughts expressed exactly in today's الله بالخير. You know how the saying goes..

Monday, November 17, 2008

The End of Blogging?

 

Gone, in other words, is any sense that blogging as a technology is revolutionary, subversive or otherwise exalted, and this upsets some of its pioneers. Confirmed, however, is the idea that blogging is useful and versatile. In essence, it is a straightforward content-management system that posts updates in reverse-chronological order and allows comments and other social interactions. Viewed as such, blogging may “die” in much the same way that personal-digital assistants (PDAs) have died. A decade ago, PDAs were the preserve of digerati who liked using electronic address books and calendars. Now they are gone, but they are also ubiquitous, as features of almost every mobile phone.

Blogging grows up | Oh, grow up | The Economist

Remember when blogging was the new thing and only few blogs were around? Blogging back then was the thing. Today countless blogs are created and abandoned. Even the early adaptors are getting tired. Are the days of blogging over? It seems technology has moved on. So I guess our days as bloggers are numbered. But this will not be the end of it, just a transformation.

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

How Bad Could it Get?

 

“Right now, the US economy is contracting very rapidly. We are looking at a period of global slowdown, and a global slowdown in economic activity that affects everyone who participates in global markets,” he told investors. “This is not like 1987 or 1998 or 2001. The contraction going on is bigger than that. We will in fact look back to the 1929 period to see the kind of slowdown we’re seeing now.”

FT.com / Companies / Financial Services - Merrill chief sees severe global slowdown

It seems like yesterday when prices of everything were inflated and so are egos of traders in the stock market. All of a sudden there is a crash and no one knows what is going on. While the deflating of prices and egos is welcome, where will it stop? No one seems to know.

Monday, November 10, 2008

Advice to Obama

Brent Scowcroft offered his advice to Obama on a show on CNN with Fareed Zakaria: solve the Palestinian Israeli conflict and the rest of the Middle East will come in order. Not because of the importance of this conflict to the rest of the Middle East, but because it forms a psychological barrier. Once it is resolved there will be hope for everything else to be settled. Just like the election of Obama broke a psychological barrier in the US and generated hope that anything can happen.

Wednesday, November 05, 2008

We Can Too

As I listened to Obama's victory speech I couldn't help coming to tears. As the crowd repeated after him yes we can, a voice inside of me echoed we can too.

Voters in America brought about the change they desperately needed. They voted for hope over fear. They crossed racial divide and chose youth over experience. They took a chance to get a chance for better future. This is what makes America great and admirable to friend and foe. Change happens to those who dare to dream it. We can too.

Saturday, October 25, 2008

The Need for Confidence

 

Confidence, or what Keynes called “animal spirits”, is vital for economic health. It takes confidence for businesses to hire workers or invest in machinery and equipment; managers need to believe the economy will be strong enough to make such investment justified. It takes confidence for savers to put their money in the bank, on the assumption the bank will be around to return it to them. It takes confidence for consumers to take out loans to buy houses or cars, on the assumption they will be employed long enough to pay the money back.

The importance of maintaining confidence | Weaken the sinews | The Economist

As markets continue to plunge everywhere, officials in Kuwait continue to insist that all is well. The world is going through a financial crisis and we are not isolated. Wouldn't it be better if officials admitted this and pulled all the resources to ensure the safety of our financial system, even as a precautionary measure?

Thursday, October 23, 2008

Organ Transplants

 

In Britain, just as in America, news reports have sapped confidence in the transplant business. In recent weeks, eyebrows were raised after it emerged that part of a liver obtained through the National Health Service was used for a private patient, a Kuwaiti boy, at King’s College Hospital in London. The surgeon involved was cleared of any wrongdoing after explaining that he had given most of the liver to an NHS patient, while reserving the left lobe for the boy, who was critically ill.

The need for body parts | The gap between supply and demand | The Economist

The Economist explains the increasing demand for organ transplants and the lack of supply (willing donors). Some ideas to solve this problem are gaining support such as paying donors.

I found the following history about organ transplants interesting:

The first successful transplant of a body part—a cornea—was done in Austria just over 100 years ago. It took another half-century before the first live kidney transplant, between identical twins in America. More “firsts” followed: the pancreas (in America, 1966), liver (in America, 1967), heart (South Africa, 1967), lung (Canada, 1983), hand (France, 1998), face (France, 2005) and penis (China, 2006).

Yup you got the last part right!

Tuesday, October 21, 2008

Change for President

For what it is worth, I am officially endorsing Obama for President of the USA. Why would any international citizen care or have an opinion of the US election? Two reasons. First, the whole world is on the receiving end of US foreign policy so it matters who's in the White House (even though US policy towards the Middle East is consistently biased towards the strategic relationship with Israel).

Second, what happens in the US election sends a message across the world. It is for this reason I favour Obama. The charismatic Obama stands for change -for the better it is hoped. The US and the world is in need of such change. In this part of the world we dream of change that is often beyond our reach, which makes the message from the US even more meaningful.

Sunday, October 19, 2008

Insult to be Arab or Muslim

 

Mr. Powell also told reporters on Sunday that he was troubled that a number of Americans believe that Mr. Obama is a Muslim, although he did not directly link that supposition to the McCain campaign. At a recent town-hall style meeting, Mr. McCain told an audience member who said she thought that Mr. Obama was an “Arab,” “no, ma’am, he’s a decent family man.”

“These are the kinds of images going out on Al Jazeera that are killing us around the world,” Mr. Powell said. “And we have got to say to the world it doesn’t make any difference who you are and what you are. If you’re an American you’re an American.”

Powell Endorses Obama - The Caucus Blog - NYTimes.com

It is really sad that being an Arab or a Muslim came to be an insult. That is thanks to extremism and terrorism that tarnished the reputation of all Arabs and Muslims. It is not enough to just fight terrorism after it happens. Extremism is growing strong in our society and within the political system. It is time to stand up for our freedom and salvage our reputation before extremists turn the country into a Taliban state.

Friday, October 17, 2008

Go Red Sox!

 

The Red Sox stunned the Rays by rebounding from a seven-run deficit in the seventh to win, 8-7, in Game 5 of the American League Championship Series. Seemingly dead, the Red Sox unfurled a miraculous rally in the last three innings and now trail three games to two in the best-of-seven series. It is still a vibrant series, a series in which the Red Sox, who were nearly dead, have snatched the momentum.

Red Sox 8, Rays 7 - Down by 7-0, Red Sox Force a Game 6 - NYTimes.com

It's this time of the year. The Red Sox seems to always come from behind after giving its fans a scare. Go Red Sox!

Wednesday, October 15, 2008

Israeli Companies

With its perennial lack of water and an overabundance of sun, Israel has long been a global leader in water and solar technologies. An Israeli kibbutz company, Netafim, invented the first drip irrigation systems, while Luz Industries Israel developed the first commercial solar-thermal power plants. Now Shai Agassi, an entrepreneur who formerly was a top executive at SAP, the German software company, is leading the global charge to put electric cars on the road.

LexisNexis News - Latest News from over 4,000 sources, including newspapers, tv transcripts, wire services, magazines, journals.

Israel -or as some call it around here the Zionist Regime- is a place of many disadvantages. It lacks water, energy and surrounded by hostile countries. Instead of lamenting their luck they turned every single disadvantage into an opportunity to excel. They have become leaders in those fields. Regardless of ideology, Israel offers a good example, while our Arab countries squander their abundant resources.

Monday, October 13, 2008

The Race for Tallest Building

 

Saudi Prince and billionaire Al-Waleed bin Talal says he will build the world's tallest building, planned to be over a kilometer (3,281 feet) high. The tower will be built in the Saudi town of Jeddah and will be part of a larger project that will cost $26.7 billion, (100 billion Saudi riyals) said the Prince's firm, Kingdom Holding Company.

Saudi prince to build tallest building - CNN.com

It seems there is a race in the region to build the tallest building. First there is Burj Dubai which is work in progress. Then as announced in Dubai's Cityscape RE show there will be another Dubai tower to rival the Burj. Now Al-Waleed has entered the race.

This reminds me of a quote from somewhere that I could not retrieve. I thought it was Martin Luther King. Basically it is about how we took to the space and learned to fly and still can't seem to walk straight and treat each other fairly.

Saturday, October 11, 2008

Quotas for Women

Around 110 countries have rules helping women to get elected, joined in recent years by such feminist-friendly places as Afghanistan, Iraq and Sudan. On September 5th Angola had its first election with a new quota in place that says 30% of candidates must be women. Yemen is discussing a similar measure.

Sexual equality in politics | Women rising | The Economist

Perhaps it is not a bad idea to have quota for women in parliament here in Kuwait. The downside of any quota system is that selection will not be entirely by merit. Some women will make it at the expense of more qualified men. But this has to be balanced with the bigger downside of lack of representation of women in parliament.

The lack of representation of women is a result of past discrimination and removal from the political process. Until women are on equal footing with men, a quota system to ensure their participation should be a welcome idea. At least we will get to see unbearded members of parliament!

Thursday, October 09, 2008

You Tube Islam

This is no joke. Al-Watan TV had a news clip on the subject and I could not believe it until I check it for myself. I must say good for whomever came up with it. Rather than making noise to block the other You Tube they came up with their own version. No points for creativity -I have a feeling some copy rights are infringed. Anyways I'm sticking to the other You Tube.

Tuesday, October 07, 2008

All Is Not Well

The government came out insisting yesterday that all is well in the financial market. The market keeps plummeting. Till when the government is going to insist on this line and not intervene? Even if all is well as claimed, confidence is lost in the market.

Immediate action is required mainly on two fronts. First, the central bank needs to wake up and actively inject liquidity into the banking systems as well as loosening restrictions on lending. The second, while the Kuwait Investment Authority rushed in markets abroad to save some financial institutions, it should look at opportunities at home and save the financial market.

I am not usually a proponent of government intervention, but in this case the cost of not doing so would be far reaching. Time to stop living in denial before it is too late and the cost is much higher to fix things.

Sunday, October 05, 2008

Don't Get Tech

The highlight my Eid holiday is introducing to my parents- hold your breath- DVD players. It all started when my father asked for a way to play CDs then I realized he meant DVDs. So I ended up getting him a portable DVD player that never left his sight like a kid with a new toy. Then my mom got jealous. So I gave her my old DVD player that I explained needs to be attached to the TV for viewing -just like VHS video I explained.

The whole episode was amusing to me as we take technology for granted and can't imagine people living without it. But apparently my parents are not the only ones who don't get tech. The government keeps attempting to censor the Internet -latest attempt with YouTube. Unless you are my parents, you will find a way around any censorship on the Internet. Just like my parents, it seems the government and their Islamist backers need to catch up with technology.

Tuesday, September 30, 2008

Unlucky 7

House rejects $700 bn bailout package
Dow plunges 777 points
That is 7% drop in one day
Largest in two decades
Lucky 7? Not really!
Does 777 remind you of something?
Yes our emergency service number
Well one thing for sure
Let's hope the rescue to the Dow does not take forever!
Happy Eid everyone.. At least it's memorable!

Monday, September 29, 2008

Your Zakat

“WE RUN a business here—but instead of selling cars or candy to kids, we’re selling hope and leadership,” says Nancy Lublin, the chief executive of Do Something, a non-profit group which promotes volunteerism by teenagers. On September 17th she is launching an initial public offering (IPO) to raise the $8m needed to double Do Something’s activities by 2011, by which time it plans to be engaging with around 21m of America’s 32m teenagers.

The business of giving | Non-profit capitalism | The Economist

In the month of Ramadan and as we approach Eid, Muslims feel charitable and pay large sums in the form of Zakat or charity. But did you ever think where your money goes? Does your Zakat or charity even reach the people it is intended to? Do our non profit organizations have a clear mission and are they held accountable to it?

Bait Al-Zakat, which is a government entity, is the most credible organization and they publish annual reports on their activity. But still there is no real verification process. What we lack are two things. The first thing is the interest of the donor to follow up on their money and that it actually went to the right people. Often donors just pay and to them the good deed is done. Second is the existence of independent verification agencies that give ratings and accreditation to charitable organization. This way people will have some comfort when giving to Zakat or charity.

Thursday, September 25, 2008

Happy Birthday Mohammad

Mohammad my nephew turns (72 or 73 according to his mom!) today. 

Dear Mohammad,

I wish you the best on this day.
Here are few words I don't expect you to follow,
but I sure hope you live your life to the fullest,
and not just follow.

As I write those words,
the world is in trouble.
Financial markets tumbling,
cause of the burst of the bubble.

Some thought the US was the greatest.
How could the empire be brought to its knees?
The Dow took a nosedive,
and Nasdaq started to sneeze.

Now let me tell you the difference between us and them.
Around here they don't let you fail.
Simply because you are born this way.
Whether you are young and strong or old and frail.

We live in a land where failure is not an option.
Neither is success.
Conformity is the rule.
Collective failure is the result. What a mess!

Don't let my words discourage you.
Go on to succeed or even fail.
Always remember to be positive.
In the end you will prevail.





Tuesday, September 23, 2008

Secret of Success

Men who grow up thinking women should stay at home may be labelled "old-fashioned" - but could end up well ahead in the salary stakes.

A US study, published in the Journal of Applied Psychology, suggests that they will consistently out-earn more "modern-thinking" men.

On average, this meant an extra $8,500 (£4,722) a year.

BBC NEWS | Health | Men with sexist views 'earn more'

This explains the success of Islamic finance! For the "old-fashioned" they perceive the world in white and black so I guess the decision making process for them is much easier. This makes them better decision makers, even when wrong, and therefore earn more. While those who are liberal minded see the different aspects of an issue and the decision making process is much harder, even though they are closer to reality. That's why they make better writers and artist; less so business people. That is at least my theory to explain the income gap.

Sunday, September 21, 2008

Too Little Risk

The most acute long-term risk is, in fact, too little risk. Unless you’re saving a huge chunk of your income in cash, you’ll need consistent exposure to more risky investments like stocks to produce a suitable retirement balance. Keep your stock allocation lower if you must for a few months to sleep at night, but don’t get rid of it altogether.

Your Money - Taking Control of Your Financial Risks - NYTimes.com

Perhaps after last week you want to forget all about stocks. This is a reminder that in the long term the risk is justified. Aside from expecting the government or your family to care for you, saving is the first step to securing your financial future. Once you built up your saving, investing wisely is the second step. While taking on too much risk is not advisable, too little risk could be as bad. One rule of thumb for allocation to stocks is to subtract your age from 100 and use the result as upper limit. So if you are 30 do not exceed 70% in stocks, with the rest in bonds or other asset classes.

Tuesday, September 16, 2008

Oil Pirce and Nasdaq

Perspectives Research Magazine. 3rd quarter 2008. Article by Jacob Schochli.
Interesting corollary showing the similarity between oil price and the Nasdaq index in the 1990's. Will oil price follow the same path of the tech bubble burst? It seems to be heading in that direction.

Moral Hazard

"We've re-established 'moral hazard,'" said a person involved in the talks, referring to the notion that the government should eschew bailouts, since financial firms might take more risks if they're insulated from the consequences. "Is that a good thing or a bad thing? We're about to find out."

Ultimatum by Paulson Sparked Frantic End - WSJ.com

This was in reference to the Federal government in the US allowing one of Wall Street's major financial institutions, Lehman Brothers, to fail and file for bankruptcy. Financial markets tumbled all over the world.

In Kuwait the stock market did not fare any better tumbling for the past days wiping out gains accumulated over many years. One culprit is the extension of the international financial crisis resulting from the burst of the housing bubble in the US. This led many foreign institutional investors to cash out of emerging markets in an attempt to solidify their financial position, which led to this sharp decline among other reasons.

No one is enjoying this mayhem but there are important lessons to be learned. Most important is the concept of moral hazard. People put their money in high risk expecting no downside. If things go sour they expect the government to intervene as they do now. This encourages risky behavior. However, if they get their fingers burnt, more than fingers at the current rate, then they will behave more carefully in the future. When the wind is blowing even turkeys fly. It's time to come back to earth.

Saturday, September 13, 2008

War and Peace Vol.1 cont.

Continuing from previous post, I would like to highlight some aspects I enjoyed in the first volume. I am no literary critic so I will not do the subject justice. As I embarked on reading I was eager to find depth and meaning somewhere in the many pages of this book. I was not disappointed.

"Tout comprendre, c'est tout pardonner."
To understand all is to forgive all.

This books deals with numerous characters - one of the book's challenges. Those characters come in different shapes and forms. Friends and enemies. Young and old. Heroes and villains. Rich and poor. As we get to understand the different characters, somehow the divide that keeps them apart seems to disappear. I feel this is one of the tenets of this book.

It is our understanding of the basic human elements behind people that shatters the perception and unite us in our humanity. Even though the book was set in a different time and place than ours, the author succeeded in making a connection. Maybe I could not relate to 19th century European social or war scenes, but I definitely made a connection with the human traits so articulately displayed.

As Tolstoy himself admitted, history has heroes and villains, yet work of art should only have people.

The blurring of the divide extends beyond personalities. As the plot shifts between the social and the war scenes, the psychology of the characters go in the opposite direction. In the social scene you feel anything but peace. And in the middle of war you get peace:

"the thought that he could be killed or painfully wounded did not occur to him. On the contrary, he felt ever merrier and merrier."

So we find war in peace and peace in war. Such is the irony of life that comfort could breed discontent, while happiness is born out of hardships.







Thursday, September 11, 2008

Games at Work

In a forthcoming book called “Changing the Game”, David Edery and Ethan Mollick argue that many skills and lessons from the gaming world are applicable in the business world. The smartest firms, the authors argue, will not only allow game-playing in the workplace, but will actively encourage it.

Business.view | Playing for profit | Economist.com

Who said playing games at work is a bad thing?! And if you happen to be stock trader perhaps it's better to play games than play the market and lose your shirt!

Tuesday, September 09, 2008

King of Queens


What a way to end the season! Roger Federer wins the 5th consecutive US Open title in Flushing Meadows, Queens NY after a tough year, at least by his own standards. This is the first major title for Roger this year compared to three major titles last year (13 overall).

Earlier he lost the long held number 1 ranking. Many started counting him out. He proved them otherwise. Still the best!

Research Suggests

Telling someone you fancy 'I really like you' could make him or her find you more attractive, research suggests.

BBC NEWS | Health | Declaring love boosts sex appeal

If you are ever bored at work, just think that researchers actually conduct studies to come up with conclusion such as this. Before researchers beat me to it I'm going to come up with few groundbreaking results of my own:

- Research proves that if you are nice to people there is a good chance they will be nice to you.
- Extensive research finds that when you compliment someone this could lead them to blushing.
- Research suggests that humidity could lead to discomfort (influenced by the weather).
- If you don't have anything to blog about just come up with bogus research.. research suggests.
- Research shmesearch someone tell those people it's called Common Sense!

Sunday, August 31, 2008

War and Peace Vol.1


Mission accomplished. I have set a target to finish the first volume of this great novel by the end of the summer. What a joy it was. Definitely beyond expectations. I was expecting to struggle through it and not enjoy it so much. To the contrary it was challenging but in a mind stimulating way. I reflected on every page and enjoyed the writing, history, and philosophy all put together in a great work of art.

The first volume consists of three parts. Part one introduces the social scene among the Russian aristocracy in 1805. Part two introduces the war scene as the Russian and Austrian armies prepare to confront the French. Part three the two scenes get entangled and climaxes with the Battle of Austerlitz
which was a decisive victory for the French. More to follow.

Friday, August 29, 2008

Better Country Than This

And for the sake of our economy, our security, and the future of our planet, I will set a clear goal as president: in 10 years, we will finally end our dependence on oil from the Middle East.

BBC NEWS | Americas | Obama speech - full text

Can we do the same? Can we set a clear goal to end our dependence on oil? In Kuwait and most Gulf countries oil is the source of our livelihood, so are we ready for the day when and if Obama's goal becomes reality?

In his nomination acceptance speech, Obama declared that "We are a better country than this." Despite the stark reality, he projected hope. He sent a clear message of "change" from "broken politics." Perhaps the US and Kuwait are entirely different countries with different realities, yet the challenges we face are not too different. While change appears to be underway in the US, let's keep the hope alive around here because we too are a better country than this.

Wednesday, August 27, 2008

Seven Years

China did not build the magnificent $43 billion infrastructure for these games, or put on the unparalleled opening and closing ceremonies, simply by the dumb luck of discovering oil. No, it was the culmination of seven years of national investment, planning, concentrated state power, national mobilization and hard work.
Op-Ed Columnist - A Biblical Seven Years - Op-Ed - NYTimes.com


Those were the words of New York Times writer Thomas Friedman on the spectacular success of the China Olympics. It is interesting that he should mention the dumb luck of discovering oil. As we contemplate the dismal state of everything -so it seems- in our country, despite the dumb luck of discovering oil, the Chinese Olympics offers few hints. A good start would be to reconsider the delegation that was sent to the Olympics that had more administrators than players and came back empty handed! How many years will it take us to get our act together?

Tuesday, August 26, 2008

Sony Reader vs Amazon Kindle

I bought a Sony Reader Digital Book few years ago when it was first introduced. I used it back then as I was traveling, but did not use it again until lately. I did not feel I was ready to let go of the touch and feel of a physical book. I was forced to use the digital reader lately because the book I am reading is too hefty to carry around for travel. So it came in handy which made me more open to letting go of physical books.


Lately Sony released a new version of the Reader Digital Book which is even slimmer and more stylish. Even though Sony is the first comer in digital books, Amazon came up with Kindle which is gaining popularity and could become to books what ipod is to music. After some research about the two products I came to the following verdict:


– Sony Reader offers more stylish and slim design. The functionality is better. You can download books through Sony store similar to itunes store concept by connecting to your PC. It accepts documents of different formats such as word and pdf.


– Amazon Kindle offers better connectivity (wireless download in the US) and access to larger library of books. It has more tools such as dictionary and wikipedia directly through the web. Also you can highlight text and attach notes.


The main attraction of Amazon Kindle is more bells and whistles and larger library. Yet the hardware design and functionality are lacking. I am sticking to my Sony Reader for now.

Tuesday, August 19, 2008

Lowering Drinking Age

College presidents from about 100 of the nation's best-known universities, including Duke, Dartmouth and Ohio State, are calling on lawmakers to consider lowering the drinking age from 21 to 18, saying current laws actually encourage dangerous binge drinking on campus.

The Associated Press: College presidents seek debate on drinking age.


If the objective is to control excesses is it better to ban something all together or legalize it and control it? It seems prominent US colleges have discovered that it is better to legalize drinking at a lower age and control it, rather than the current situation where it is illegal under the age of 21 driving many to excessive drinking in the dark.


If we ever get over the strong religious sentiments and politics in Kuwait it is easy to see the logic of such argument even though this is debatable, in the US as well. Because alcohol is banned in Kuwait, those who wish to drink pay a high price which hurts them economically, or use low quality substances or even drugs that cause bigger damage. Lifting the ban on alcohol in Kuwait at this point is difficult at best. More practical why not the government turn a blind eye on those bringing moderate quantities with them from abroad.

Wednesday, August 13, 2008

Be Unhappy

There are two good reasons to appreciate emotions other than happiness. The first is that few of us are likely to live our lives in bliss. By making happiness holy, we dismiss the overwhelming majority of human experience as nothing more than an also-ran. The second is that dissatisfaction is the driver of human endeavour – and not just in the luxury goods industry.

FT.com / Books / Essays - The up side of down.


It turns out unhappiness is not so bad after all. According to the article which reviews several books on the subject dissatisfaction is necessary. If we were satisfied with what we have there would be little reason for new products and services; hence little economic development.


Also discontent is the source of so much creativity in art and literature. Where would the works of Shakespeare be without tragedy? Or Turkish soap operas for that matter. To visualize this try thinking of a friend who always seems to be jolly and happy; doesn’t it get a little annoying? It’s OK not to be happy all the time, but try not to drift far off cause that is no fun either!

Monday, August 11, 2008

Lucky Day

The Olympic opening ceremony here in Beijing will start on the 08.08.08 at 8:08:08 pm - that's quite a few eights! Eight has always been my personal lucky number. And eight is considered one of the luckiest numbers in Chinese tradition because of its unique pronunciation. So being here in China on this specific date and time, celebrating my birthday during such an amazing event... It is almost impossible to find the right words to describe this feeling.

Roger Federer - News Detail.


Happy birthday and may the force be with you!

Wednesday, August 06, 2008

European History for You


My good friend Jacques noticed the book cover of War and Peace (above) shown on a previous post. Jacques, among his many skills, is a history expert, especially European being French. As I embarked on reading this great book I asked for Jacques' assistance and indispensable insight.

Jacques posses a challenge to readers: on the book cover, on top there is a one-headed eagle, below is a two-headed eagle. What does this mean? Notice the book is about Russia and the war with Napoleon led France. The first to get the answer is the winner. They can claim their prize from Jacques -or I will on their behalf in the form of dinner and hearing the full version of the answer straight from the expert.

Monday, August 04, 2008

Till The D Word Do Us Apart

A friend is going through a painful divorce -not sure if there is such thing as a pleasant one. I thought of few tips to comfort him coming from a person who knows a thing or two about the subject.


– You are not bad. Neither is she. It is not about good or bad. If that was the case and with the divorce rate the way it is -I don't have the statistics but it’s high– there would be a lot of bad people out there.


– Don’t blame yourself. Yes you made mistakes, and so did she. We all make mistakes. Assuming those mistakes are not major ones -such as throwing your mother in law out of the window or something– a mature relationship can work through them.


– Don’t get into the what if game. I am sure you wonder what if you have done things differently. You would probably end up with the same result so don’t go there! When you are in the ‘wrong’ relationship, anything you do would come out ‘wrong’.


– Meet God. In times of difficulty we tend to get closer to God. I always do in a plane -literally I guess! There is nothing wrong with becoming more religious in such times. But try to keep a balance and aim for a lasting transformation not just a temporary one followed by a sharp reversal -like hitting the bar the minute the plane lands!


– Learn to forgive. Hope to be forgiven. There is no point in carrying all that weight on your chest. Life is short. We don’t always get second or third chances. Take your time but ultimately put this behind you and move forward. After every ending, there is a new beginning..


 

Sunday, August 03, 2008

Qat for You

I had only been in the country a few minutes when I noticed a man with a gigantic growth bulging out of his cheek. The swelling was enormous, it was so bulbous it practically had its own heartbeat.

BBC NEWS | Programmes | From Our Own Correspondent | Kicking Yemen's qat habit.


Before you get the wrong idea, it is qat that is bulging out of the cheek! Qat is a plant very popular in Yemen. When chewed it acts as a mild stimulant. What is new is that the Yemeni government is trying to crack down on this habit.


The government claims that qat is bad for its people leading to health problems and loss of productivity. Critics respond that one in three Yemenis is unemployed anyway and qat is an important part of the economy. While the government in Yemen is attempting to curb qat, the government in Kuwait is cracking on internet ‘crime’. Both governments are walking a fine line and could use much wisdom to protect both personal freedom and the public good.

Tuesday, July 29, 2008

Running Mate


Of the two, Mr McCain has the easier choice. Lexington would plump for Mitt Romney, a youthful-looking 60-year-old with plenty of executive experience—a former governor of Massachusetts who rescued the Salt Lake City winter Olympics from disaster. He goes down well with many conservatives. And he is a businessman with credibility on Wall Street and an impressive record of re-engineering failing corporations. True, he is a Mormon with unreal hair, and he and Mr McCain don’t like each other much. But running for the White House is not a road trip.


[…] given this wealth of choices Mr Obama would do well to be careful: he needs someone with a delicate combination of executive experience and personal gravitas. Mr Biden likes to shoot his mouth off. Mr Nunn is anathema to liberal activists who are already furious with Mr Obama’s move to the centre. Mr Richardson is too gregarious for his own good. Mr Gore may be too big for the job, in every sense. The three remaining candidates—Messrs Warner, Bayh and Kaine—may be a little on the dull side. But given Mr Obama’s race and charisma, a boring white man may be exactly what he needs.


Lexington | Cobbling together a dream ticket | Economist.com.


The Economist’s recommendation for the running mate of both the Republican and Democratic candidates. Let’s see how it folds out.

Sunday, July 27, 2008

Farewell Yousef Shahine

One of Arab cinema's most admired figures, he made his first film in 1950 and tackled authoritarianism and religious fundamentalism in his work.

BBC NEWS | Entertainment | Egyptian film legend Chahine dies.


A prominent Arab film maker passes away. He showed us how to best fight authoritarianism and fundamentalism: through art and culture. Art and culture are the light that sheds away extremism and the breath of fresh air upon which liberty thrives. May his soul rest in peace.

Saturday, July 26, 2008

The Last Lecture

"I mean I don't know how to not have fun. I'm dying and I'm having fun. And I'm going to keep having fun every day I have left. Because there's no other way to play it," he said in his Carnegie Mellon lecture.

'Last lecture' professor dies of cancer - Education- msnbc.com.


Professor Randy Pausch, author of best seller book The Last Lecture, dies. He leaves us with a strong message to achieve our childhood dreams and have fun, because in the end we might not have as much time as we think.


Often we are advised to live as if it was our last days. The Last Lecture offers a genuine perspective as its author was fighting terminal disease. I have yet to read the book and I look forward to.


 

Saturday, July 19, 2008

Happy Birthday Mandela

Nelson Mandela, the man credited with ending apartheid in South Africa, has marked his 90th birthday by calling for the rich to do more for the poor.

"If you are poor, you are not likely to live long," he said at his village house in Eastern Cape province for a birthday interview.

BBC NEWS | Africa | Mandela at 90 makes call for poor.


Nelson Mandela, one of the greatest figures of our time, celebrated his 90th birthday with a call to bridge the gap between the rich and poor. Mandela played an instrumental role in bridging the gap between whites and blacks in his country after years of suffering under racial discrimination.


He was imprisoned himself for 27 years and later became the country’s first black president. After he was inaugurated as president he walked towards a white policeman, his former captor, and shook his hand telling him "today you have become our police". The policeman was reduced to tears.


 

Tuesday, July 15, 2008

Economics of Love

AS my fine professor of economics at Columbia, C. Lowell Harriss (who just celebrated his 96th birthday) used to tell us, economics is the study of the allocation of scarce goods and services. What could be scarcer or more precious than love? It is rare, hard to come by and often fragile.

Everybodys Business - Lessons in Love, by Way of Economics - NYTimes.com.

This is an interesting article in which the author offers lessons in love by the way of economics. Let me try to add a lesson or two to the mix:

– Elasticity: in economics elasticity measures the response to price change. If demand for a product is elastic then a price change will cause a change in demand. If demand is inelastic then price change (usually up) will not lead to change in demand (usually down). Necessities such as water or petrol to some degree are fairly inelastic; even when prices go up, people have to consume them.

So is love elastic or inelastic? As much as we would like to believe that love is unconditional, healthy relationships don't take love for granted and treat it as an elastic product that will be affected by how much is put into it (the price).

– Compliments and substitutes: in economics a product or service can have compliments (car and petrol) and substitutes (car and public transportation). A compliment sometimes is necessary, and if it is not available you may have to use a substitute (if you run out of petrol you may have to use public transportation). Love however, has many compliments but no substitutes. So make sure you always compliment it with care, kindness and affection lest you lose it.

Oh one more note to self and this applies to both love and economics: talk is cheap, so put your money (and action) where your mouth is!

Wednesday, July 09, 2008

Real Champ

[Y]our press conference comment that you learned nothing from the match is not true, or at least it should not be true. As you said, this loss is devastating, the most devastating of your career. In life, we all face such devastation at some point or another. We lose someone we love, or we fall short in some way or another. I speak from experience. These feelings are part of the human experience. So you have learned something--at the very least, you have learned what it is like to lose something very near and dear to you. Yes, it is devastating. There is no other word to describe it. You will never be the same again, and the pain will never leave you alone. The next lesson is to learn to somehow go forward in spite of the pain. This is a lesson that many never learn. You have the opportunity to learn this lesson now, and show the world what a real champion is.

Roger Federer - News Detail.


A Federer fan’s comment following the epic Wimbledon final. It felt like watching a great movie with a sad ending. Like watching the Titanic. Probably down the line what will be remembered is what a great movie it was not how it ended. Same goes for the match.

Friday, July 04, 2008

Bad Example

Once one of the main proponents of democratisation, he has cooled on prospects for expanding the electoral system beyond municipal councils, fearing the rise of Islamist sentiment and ruefully watching the political paralysis in the Gulf’s most democratic state, Kuwait.

FT.com / Comment & analysis / Comment - Man in the News: Hamad bin Jassim Al Thani.


 


In the old days we were the good example to follow for Gulf states. Then we became insignificant. Now it appears we are the bad example to avoid!

Tuesday, July 01, 2008

War and Peace


I have embarked on a literary challenge. It is described as one of world’s greatest novels. Probably one of the longest too (1000+ pages long)! In a way it is four books in one. It is Leo Tolstoy’s masterpiece War and Peace.


My desire to read this novel is probably as complex as the novel itself. In a time of instant gratification and magazine literacy, I yearned for more! It just seems we are feeding on microwaved instant dinners, and I wanted a proper meal cooked and enjoyed to the fullest!


In Internet age we are aware of so much at our fingertips, yet experience so little with our lives. I wanted to read something that would fill the void that comes with comfort. We have found comfort but not meaning. This meaning is only as deep as our experiences are. We cannot click our way through it. It comes with the good and bad, ups and downs, happy and sad, war and peace..


So wish me luck in my endeavor. Until then.


Sunday, June 15, 2008

High Oil Prices

The first two oil shocks banished oil from power generation. How fitting if the third finished the job and began to free transport from oil's century-long monopoly.

The oil price | Recoil | Economist.com.


This explains Saudi’s scramble to increase its output to record levels and call for emergency meeting for oil exporting countries. The record high oil prices are counter productive to both producers and consumers. While consumers suffer higher expenses, producers risk lower future consumption due to shift to alternative sources of energy or breakthrough in technology.


The question to be asked is what causes high oil prices? The natural answers points to supply and demand. Increasing demand by emerging economies and limited supply causes the increase in price. But there is a lot of finger pointing to speculators. What is the role of financial speculation in oil prices? Some attribute speculation to 40% of the price of oil and the rest due to supply and demand. This is hard to prove since speculators do not take actual delivery of oil which is the argument that their effect is minimal. No matter what the cause is, oil producers should be on alert as high oil prices are not necessarily good news. 

Friday, June 13, 2008

Rowling's Harvard Speech

On this wonderful day when we are gathered together to celebrate your academic success, I have decided to talk to you about the benefits of failure. And as you stand on the threshold of what is sometimes called 'real life', I want to extol the crucial importance of imagination.

Rowling's Harvard Speech Doesn't Entrance All : NPR.


I had to read J. K. Rowling’s (famous author of the Harry Potter series) speech to Harvard’s graduating class of 2008 twice to really appreciate it. The first theme of her speech was on the benefits of failure.



So why do I talk about the benefits of failure? Simply because failure meant a stripping away of the inessential. I stopped pretending to myself that I was anything other than what I was, and began to direct all my energy into finishing the only work that mattered to me. Had I really succeeded at anything else, I might never have found the determination to succeed in the one arena I believed I truly belonged. I was set free, because my greatest fear had already been realized, and I was still alive, and I still had a daughter whom I adored, and I had an old typewriter and a big idea. And so rock bottom became the solid foundation on which I rebuilt my life.


The second theme was on the importance of imagination, not only for works of literature but to feel for those who are less fortunate than us and hopefully extend a helping hand. 



You might think that I chose my second theme, the importance of imagination, because of the part it played in rebuilding my life, but that is not wholly so. Though I will defend the value of bedtime stories to my last gasp, I have learned to value imagination in a much broader sense. Imagination is not only the uniquely human capacity to envision that which is not, and therefore the fount of all invention and innovation. In its arguably most transformative and revelatory capacity, it is the power that enables us to empathize with humans whose experiences we have never shared.


She ends with an insightful Roman wisdom.



As is a tale, so is life: not how long it is, but how good it is, is what matters.

Sunday, June 08, 2008

On Losing


This post is on losing. It is inspired, if there is such inspiration for loss, by the crushing defeat of Roger Federer in the French Open final today. Being a Federer fan, in case you haven’t noticed, I was shocked with such a poor result and so disappointed. I know it sounds silly but I feel emotionally entangled with his performance! So I reacted with anger and the first thought that occurred to me was wow maybe with this result he should join the juniors’ competition next year! Then I thought heck let him join the girls competition and let Nike make him a nice pink dress!!!


After a while I started thinking more rationally. Losing big is not the end of the world. Some of us have their fair share of big losses. It is no reason to despair, because if anything it means you are out there trying. As long as you believe in and enjoy what you are doing, one day success will come along, and even if it does not it is no loss.


Despite Federer’s big loss today he remains the number one tennis player in the world. This applies to the rest of us: even when we experience loss or failure we remain number one to our families and loved ones. I also realized that being number one is not to best everyone else; it’s doing your best!


So go on Roger be your best and I am sure you will get the best of it all. As far as I am concerned, I will watch sport for entertainment and not to get worked up. I need to save my energy for things that matter so that I too can do my best! 

Monday, June 02, 2008

Free Dress Day!

French fashion designer Yves Saint Laurent has died at the age of 71, hailed as a 20th century cultural innovator who revolutionized the way women dressed.

French fashion king Yves Saint Laurent dies - Yahoo! News.


In memory of the French fashion designer, Islamists Members of Parliament here in Kuwait decided to lift their ban on western dress and not walk away during the next session of parliament at the sight of our fashionable female ministers.


However, some women activists threatened to conduct eulogy session for the French designer. The ministry of interior threatened all fashionistas attending with charges on the basis of breaking the country’s uniform. Also it is rumored that the deceased French designer was behind the hijacking of our traditional values and dress code that is inspired by a black tent covering women from head to toe.

Tuesday, May 20, 2008

Don't Give Up on Democracy

This is not an attempt to steal Marzouq Al-Ghanim’s campaign slogan– don’t give up on your country! A lot of people felt despair, especially on the liberal side, about the election result. The result was much in favor of religious as well as tribal candidates. There is much to say about the result beyond the dismal appearance.


The most organized Islamist group, Hadas, did not do well. The gain came in the less organized and less politically savvy Salafi movement and independent Islamists. I did not think the liberals fared that bad. In 2nd district three out of four Tahaluf candidates won, which is a good outcome I thought. In the 3rd, Aseel’s performance gives pride to liberals and women. Saleh Al-Mullah made a breakthrough. So there are some positives on the liberal side. Tribal candidates scored the biggest win. In the end it was a true reflection of our society, whether we like it or not.


As Churchill said, “Democracy is the worst form of government, except for all those other forms that have been tried from time to time.

Saturday, May 10, 2008

Sounds Familiar?

Ever heard of Nauru? It is a tiny island nation in the Pacific Ocean. This island relied on a natural resource: phosphates that was formed by many years of seagull-dropping on coral. Foreign companies came to mine and money started rolling in to the islanders making the island briefly in the 70s one of the world’s richest in terms of income per head.


The story continues as described in an article in The Economist:



As the money rolled in many islanders chose to remain unemployed, cashing the royalty cheques while foreign workers dug out the deposits. Nauruans literally grew fat on their earnings; rates of obesity and diabetes soared. But strip mining has left the island a barren, jagged wasteland. The wealth it generated was squandered in a number of disastrous investments, as Nauru tried its hand as an early sovereign-wealth fund, and got its fingers burnt. It tried to reinvent itself as an offshore tax haven, and took to hosting all manner of shady banking nameplates.


The story does not end there. The island does not have a functioning government and becomes host to detention center for people seeking asylum in Australia. Australia is now closing the detention center and taking away an important source of income for the island.


As I read the story I could not help reflecting on our situation.. This sounds too familiar and I hope we manage to reach a better outcome.

Tuesday, May 06, 2008

Our Mess and Their Mess

A few weeks ago, my wife and I flew from New York’s Kennedy Airport to Singapore. In J.F.K.’s waiting lounge we could barely find a place to sit. Eighteen hours later, we landed at Singapore’s ultramodern airport, with free Internet portals and children’s play zones throughout. We felt, as we have before, like we had just flown from the Flintstones to the Jetsons. If all Americans could compare Berlin’s luxurious central train station today with the grimy, decrepit Penn Station in New York City, they would swear we were the ones who lost World War II.

Who Will Tell the People? - Thomas L. Friedman, New York Times.


Things go wrong even in the world’s supposedly most advanced place. Look at the current state of leadership in the US. Thanks to W the US is in a mess domestically and abroad. I guess we don’t have to feel that bad after all about our own mess. Even the source of this mess is not that different, as explained by Thomas L. Friedman:



We are not as powerful as we used to be because over the past three decades, the Asian values of our parents’ generation — work hard, study, save, invest, live within your means — have given way to subprime values: “You can have the American dream — a house — with no money down and no payments for two years.”

Thursday, May 01, 2008

Lesbos or Mytilini


Campaigners on the Greek island of Lesbos are to go to court in an attempt to stop a gay rights organisation from using the term "lesbian".

BBC NEWS | Europe | Lesbos islanders dispute gay name.


Funny story! Inhabitants of the Greek island of Lesbos are trying to prevent the use of the word “lesbian” that implies sexual preference. The government embarrassed by the name is trying to rename the island after its capital Mytilini (which sounds awfully close to the Arabic word for homosexuals)! I guess one way or another the islanders are screwed (no punt intended).


Buying Insurance

Today's dangers are different. Saddam is gone. But the Gulf states are threatened by the chaotic politics in Iraq and by the rivalry between America and Iran for influence in the region. In their volatile part of the planet, the sheikhs cannot buy perfect security. But they might consider investing a bit more of their windfall in stabilising Iraq and the broader Middle East, not just in their fabulous pleasure domes.

Gulf economies | The rise of the Gulf | Economist.com.


The Economist published a very interesting report in it’s latest issue on the Gulf economies and the effects of the oil boom. In it a reminder not to lose sight of the environment around us. No matter how unpopular, putting money and effort to insure stability in the region is essential. Without it our own stability would be threatened.

Monday, April 28, 2008

Chew on This!

M&M's candy maker Mars Inc has teamed up with billionaire Warren Buffett to buy No. 1 chewing gum manufacturer Wm Wrigley Jr Co (WWY.N) for $23 billion, creating the world's largest confectionery company.

Mars and Buffett to buy Wrigley for $23 billion - Yahoo! News.


$23 billion for a gum company. This is a little over KD 6 billion. Unless I got the math wrong, it is a whisker over the market cap of KFH, the highest in the Kuwaiti market. Keep chewing!

Saturday, April 26, 2008

Structured Life

I knew a man who lived a lovely bohemian artist life into his 50s, embracing poverty in the interest of freedom, and then was offered a nine-to-five job by his brother-in-law and took it and found it liberating to have at last some structure in his life.

This is true. Freedom is hard work, and art is lonely: You sit at an easel by yourself and await inspiration and time can get very heavy. He found it a huge relief to put on clean clothes every morning and be at an office by nine and complete a string of tasks and feel part of a team.

The joys of a structured life - International Herald Tribune.


Think of this before you quit your day job!

Sunday, April 20, 2008

Prime Performance


After a slow start for the year, Federer captures his first title in Estoril Open. Lately I have learned that achieving peak performance is not exactly a good thing, cause there is only one way to go from there: down. Better yet is to achieve prime performance which is consistently performing at high level. Best wishes for a prime season Roger!

Saturday, April 19, 2008

How to Defeat Extremism

“Syria has a long history as a cosmopolitan and commercial place; its traditions are tolerant and diverse,” he said. “This is what prevented the victory of the Islamists in the 1980s.”

The violence of that period eroded those traditions, he said, tincturing the whole society with intolerance and brutality. “We haven’t had a setback like this in 1,000 years,” he added. And though the Muslim Brotherhood, the group that led the armed rebellion in the 80s, is banned, Islamic fundamentalism “has grown and penetrated our society, especially among the young.”

“All this has harmed Syrian society so much,” he said sadly. “If what happened in the 1980s were to happen again, I think the Islamists would win.”

A Bloody Era of Syrias History Informs a Writers Banned Novel - New York Times.


Those were the words of Syrian author Khaled Khalifa. His latest novel “In Praise of Hatred” is a finalist for International Prize for Arabic Fiction, even though banned in Syria. His comments above show that the path to defeat extremism is not brute force, but tolerance and diversity. This explains why extremists wish to turn back the clock and impose an intolerant and single minded society.

Friday, April 18, 2008

Angel's Whisper

It’s easy to wrong


much tougher to right


I did not want to be part of this


it just did not feel right


 


I am getting tired of living upside down


why do we have to care for the world


and ignore those around?


 


I know I should be there for you


celebrating your day


I wish I had felt part of it


maybe that’s for another day


 


I gathered myself


and put a smile on my face


this is your day


and I will embrace


 


To tell the truth


I wouldn’t have come near


but only made it


for an angel’s whisper in my ear


 

Wednesday, April 16, 2008

Toughing it Out

An unflinching Trevor Immelman won the Masters by toughing it out, by staring down all challengers, by laughing at bad breaks and by doing what his lifelong golf idol told him to do.

He listened to a voice mail message left by his idol, his fellow South African Gary Player, on Saturday night. It helped Immelman prepare for what he would see, feel and do on Sunday in the crucible of the back nine at Augusta National.

"You know, it gave me goose bumps," said Immelman, 28. "He told me that he believed in me and I need to believe in myself. And he told me I've got to keep my head a little quieter when I putt. He said I'm just peeking too soon.

"He told me to just go out there and be strong through adversity, because he said that adversity would come today, and I just had to deal with it."

He dealt with it.

Immelman stays tough to win Masters - International Herald Tribune.


Whether it’s golf or other life challenges, true words on toughing it out. Just when tiger lurks behind the woods.. believe in yourself and let your best come out. This will see you through the day.

Saturday, April 12, 2008

If You First Don't Succeed..

“If I’m being frank, it is hard,” Roddick said. “But at the same time … the good thing about tennis is you pretty much start over at the beginning of every day. Even after some of my tough losses, I think I’ve always been pretty clear that I would get up the next morning and keep going. You know, I’ve had a pretty good career doing that so far.”

Roddick tries again against nemesis Federer - Tennis - Yahoo! Sports.


Roddick ended up winning this time around (not that I am happy about it!). But life is truly like a game of tennis; don’t let losses hold you back. Everyday is a new day and success can be yours.

Wednesday, April 02, 2008

On Chesil Beach


They were young, educated, and both virgins on this, their wedding night, and they lived in a time when a conversation about sexual difficulties was plainly impossible. But it it never easy.


With this powerful statement, On Chesil Beach by Ian McEwan opens. And the door is never closed. It is no cheesy novel. It has been short-listed for The Man Booker prestigious prize. It struck me how talking about this young couple in England of the 1960s could be so similar to our Islamic societies today.


A girl is brought up with a certain attitude towards sex, then a magical transformation is expected to occur all of a sudden upon marriage.



Here was a boundless sensual freedom, theirs for the taking, even blessed by the vicar – with my body I thee worship.


But when that moment arrives, fear gets in the way.



She took his earlobe between forefinger and thumb and gently tugged his head towards her and whispered, ‘Actually, I’m a little bit scared.’


[…]


He said at last, ‘I think I am too.’


And it does not end up like the fairy tale marriage is made out to be. In the end there is anger and resentment.



His anger stirred her own and she suddenly thought she understood their problem: they were too polite, too constrained, too timorous, they went around each other on tiptoes, murmuring, whispering, deferring, agreeing. They barely know each other, and never could because of the blanket of companionable near-silence that smothered their differences and blinded them as much as it bound them. They had been frightened of ever disagreeing, and now his anger was setting her free.


Then comes the sober reflection after time has passed and anger subsided.



Love and patience – if only he had had them both at once – would surely have seen them both through.


 

Thursday, March 27, 2008

A Speech We Can Learn From

For we have a choice in this country. We can accept a politics that breeds division, and conflict, and cynicism. […]

We can do that.

But if we do, I can tell you that in the next election, we’ll be talking about some other distraction. And then another one. And then another one. And nothing will change.

That is one option. Or, at this moment, in this election, we can come together and say, “Not this time.”

Barack Obamas Speech on Race - New York Times.

Obama gave this speech in the aftermath of the racially offensive sermon of his reverend. Even though the speech is triggered by race it goes beyond that to address the issues facing the US or any country going through election for the people who will shape its future.

So back home, will it be politics as usual or will we see something fresh? Will the issues that effect us and our future be addressed: creating jobs, improving education and health care, and rising to our true potential? Or is it going to be all about misuse of public property, salary increases and divisive politics. I hope the voters can come together and say, “Not this time.”

Monday, March 24, 2008

Behavioral Investing

Snake Bite Effect - When people experience a loss, they feel that they should take less risk with the money they have left because they feel they will continue to be unlucky. This may not be true, if the investment fundamentals and growth potential has not changed.

Behavioral Investing.


 


I must admit I was bitten in the financial markets recently [Marekets Are Killing Me!]. I noticed when investing in individual stocks, there is the tendency to constantly check on them and how well or bad they are doing. So in volatile markets, like the one experienced in the US recently, this means trading those stocks prematurely with adverse consequences -like I experienced.


So I have been thinking about how to invest for the long term without going directly into individual stock to avoid the constant urge to follow the markets. I did some research on Exchange Traded Funds (ETFs). It is a great way to get exposure to the market or sector (say financial) by investing in a single ETF that gives you diversification within the market or sector (it is comprised of a number of stocks in the financial sector) as well as liquidity (you can trade ETFs just like stocks). This makes it easier to focus on long term investing rather than suffer from volatile markets.

Thursday, March 20, 2008

Rachel Corrie

I never heard of her until now. Rachel Corrie an American peace activist died at the age of 23 while protesting in Gaza 5 years ago. I thought her story was unusual and inspiring. She believed in the plight of the Palestinian people and wanted people to hear the other side of the story. When a person dies in a developed country it’s all over the news. But the extermination of many in less fortunate places pass by unnoticed.


Rachel was killed by an Israeli bulldozer while protesting its use to destroy Palestinian houses in Rafah. The American peace activist in her life and death screams out the agony of the underprivileged, and their hopes and aspirations that the world fails to notice.



We have got to understand that people in third world countries think and care and smile and cry just like us.
We have got to understand that they dream our dreams and we dream theirs.


Rachel Corrie, aged ten, recorded at her school’s Fifth Grade Press Conference on World Hunger.


 


 

Wednesday, March 19, 2008

The Gay Taxi

Who said Kuwait wasn't liberal?!

Tuesday, March 18, 2008

Markets Are Killing Me!

Can you believe what is going on in the US markets?! Well at this point all markets, including Kuwait, are acting up -more like down! But what is happening in the US is especially disturbing. I am a big fan of financial stocks and have always admired Bear Stearn. It is absolutely shocking for me -and a lot many I am sure- what happened to it lately. I remember at some point it was trading close to $160 and that is not even a year ago. Now it got sold to JP Morgan Chase for $2 to save it from bankruptcy!


Think of Enron, Arthur Anderson, MCI Worldcom and many other big names that went under just like that. Those corporations took years, even decades to build, and all is lost in an instant. It’s a reminder of how efficient the market is in cleaning up bad practices and excesses. There is a lesson for companies, and individuals alike, to constantly look within and assess themselves before they are swept away and all that is built is lost..

Sunday, March 16, 2008

The Power of Now

I got my hands on The Power of Now by Eckhart Tolle after it was recommended to me thinking it was about time management. I got the audio version purchased from the itunes store which is great. It is a good way to fill the gap while you’re waiting for a plane or at the gym..


Anyways it turns out not exactly about time management but great reading (listening) nevertheless. It’s about how to be fully focused on the moment and not let the past or the future get in the way. I know it sounds a little.. well bite me, but I found the insights helpful and practical.


Try to stop the voice in your head. The constant thinking. You don’t need all the thinking - don’t get it wrong this does not mean doing stupid things rather to be conscious and present without constant thinking. Imagine you are engaged in your favorite sport or hobby when you are in the zone and not thinking and everything comes out naturally and smoothly. I think in a nutshell this is the idea behind this book: to try to make every moment of your life similar to this experience.

Thursday, March 13, 2008

Words of Wisdom

She also offers some advice for those experiencing hard times.

"I made it. I'm still here and I love who I am. If I never went through the hard times, I would not be able to appreciate the good ones," Dupre writes.

"Cliche, yes, but I know it's true. I have experienced just how hard it can be. I can honestly tell you to never dwell on the past, but build from it and keep moving forward."

Spitzer's 'call girl': I'm no monster - CNN.com.


For a New York Governor and ex Attorney General of the city who made his name fighting crime and greed, to be caught hiring a call girl and lose everything is unbelievable. One thinks how can he risk everything for passing pleasure? But again this is human nature and it will not be the last. Take Bill Clinton and so many others in high places who put everything on the line for such pleasures. Even though what Spitzer engaged in was unwise, here the call girl offers some words of wisdom and good looks to go with it (so not all lost for nothing!).

Monday, March 10, 2008

There Will Be Blood

The film, which is loosely based on Sinclair's book, is a study of frontier capitalism at its rawest. It is set in the badlands of the West—all scrub and rocks—where the people are too poor to buy bread and the only solace lies in the wonder-working power of Pentecostalism. The discovery of oil suddenly pours wealth into the community, but also brings all the usual sins of greed and envy. The local preacher is consumed by the dream of building a huge church.

Lexington | Blood and oil | Economist.com.


A great movie that I highly recommend. It shows the darkest side of capitalism which in search for money destroys everything of value. Also the darkest side of religion that is all about greed and misleading people. Now we know that in religion There Will Be Money!

Wednesday, March 05, 2008

Ahmad Al-Rubai

No words can do this man justice. A true loss to Kuwait. May God bless his soul, help his family and help all those who loved him and were inspired by him. 

Saturday, March 01, 2008

The Right to Mixed Education

Separating schoolboys from schoolgirls has long been a staple of private and parochial education. But the idea is now gaining traction in American public schools, in response to both the desire of parents to have more choice in their children’s public education and the separate education crises girls and boys have been widely reported to experience.

Single-Sex Public Education - Children and Youth - Schools - Gender - New York Times.


America is listing to our Islamists' doctrine in education! What’s happening to the world?! Actually single sex education is not a bad idea. A lot of the highest ranked schools and colleges in the US are single sex. From the above article this is a widening trend in the US. Does this mean the Islamists around here are right? That is possible but it’s beside the point. Even when they are right, they have no right to impose on all. Let people decide what is best for them.

Thursday, February 28, 2008

The Reluctant Fundamentalist

I would highly recommend the The Reluctant Fundamentalist by Mohsin Hamid. It is relatively short and telling work of fiction. It revolves around a Pakistani youth studying and later working in the best of places in the US. He gets involved in an emotionally challenged relationship with an American girl. Then comes 9/11 and throws everything out of balance. The main character becomes torn between his roots in the East and the Western dream he came to live.


I liked the narration of this work of fiction which is in the first person form: the main character tells his story to a companion in a local cafe in Lahore.


There are few passages that I really liked (without giving it away). He describes his relationship with his girlfriend:



It occurred to me that my attempts to communicate with her might have failed in part because I did not know where I stood on so many issues of consequence; I lacked a stable core. I was not certain where I belonged– in New York, in Lahore , in both, in neither– and for this reason, when she reached out to me for help, I had nothing of substance to give her.


He describes the stages of romantic breakup:



There is in such situations usually a moment of passion during which the unthinkable is said; this is followed by a sense of euphoria at finally being liberated; the world seems fresh, as if seen for the first time; then comes the inevitable period of doubt, the desperate and doomed backpedaling of regret; and only later once emotions have receded, is one able to view with equanimity the journey through which one has passed.


In one instance the main character hears words from another person that “plunged [him] into a deep bout of introspection.” I must say anyone reading this book will get his or her share of introspection. A great read!