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Tuesday, August 31, 2004

SKILEB.com - Skiing and Snowboarding in Lebanon

SKILEB.com - Skiing and Snowboarding in Lebanon i came across this site while looking through the menajet.com site (a mideast version of easyjet). thought it was quite interesting especially since i am a ecstatic fan of lebanon and its sights! haven't delved into the details of this skileb site but it seems that they feature more than skiing. might be useful for you adventurous types. we don't need more armchair tourists!


Wednesday, August 25, 2004

Kuwait plans to allow GCC citizens to own real estate

"Kuwait plans to allow GCC citizens to own Kuwaiti real estate and to allow non-Kuwaitis to buy shares in local companies"
i am skeptical as usual and justifiably so given the disappointing record of reforms. we're still reactive when it comes to anything that furthers progress and i don't expect the near future to bring anything better especially not with oil prices going into the stratosphere.
i actually watched an analyst (don't know him so cant vouch for his credibility) say that he expected oil to go to 80$ sometime in the long-term but not likely in the next year. regardless of the timeframe, oil at $80 anytime in this decade will most definitely cause severe dislocations in price inflation that i shudder to imagine. that is why i think there will be meaningful attempts to minimize consumption either directly or indirectly by the main consumers. i heard some statistics the other day that said the Arab oil embargo of the 70's brought many salutary and unexpected benefits to developed nations in the form of prudent consumption, etc. i don't doubt that if the trend continues there will be similar consequences (that i support from a humanistic perspective)

Emaar plans to create floating offices at Dubai Marina!

Emaar Properties announced it would create floating offices as on-water facilities for marine enthusiasts at the Dubai Marina, the region's premier waterfront life-style development.

Conceptualised by Emaar's marina specialists, the floating offices will be the first of their kind in the Middle East and will be integral to the new 100-berth waterfront marina, now under construction and due for launch shortly.

They will be located at the water's edge and will allow people to shop for their boating needs, including the latest in marine gear, boat products, fashion and food.

Monday, August 23, 2004

maybe it's not such a bad thing....

THE NEW INDIAN EXPRESS. BANGALORE - Man electrocuted while using cellphone
Kollam, Aug 10: A youth was electrocuted while ‘using the mobile phone instrument on Monday night at Chavara, near Kollam. He was identified as K. Viswajith (31), who was working as sales manager of a private insurance company in Kollam.
He is survived by wife Rejitha and a son. Viswajith was electrocuted when he aft ended a call on the mobile phone which was kept for charging. The body was cremated after conducting the postemortem

i know some people i would like to do that to! FYI - i got this as a scanned email of the actual newspaper clipping so it appears geniune. verrrry strange!

Sunday, August 22, 2004

servile sods....

its become a hackneyed argument but the topic of imported/temporary labor in kuwait continues to be an important one. for anyone that hasn't heard of it (probably many), "Walls Built on Sand" by Ann Marie Longva is an interesting and detailed demographic and psychographic study of the people that give up their lives to work in Kuwait. the views are interesting and it reads like an academic text peppered with some gripping anecdotes.

i'm thankful for any such works and its the only one i know of covering the subject.

Thursday, August 19, 2004


i'm quite amazed at the response to bill clinton's latest self-indulgent biography but i guess i should have expected it given his notoriety. the man's greatest credit to civilization has been to turn the world "lewinsky" into a verb and alienate half his support base therefore paving the way for dubya to mosey on in to the white house.
one thing he did do right - i think - was his appointment of robert rubin as treasury secretary. i've been reading his autobiography "in an uncertain world" and appreciate his sharp insight into some of the major crises of his time. in fact many of them have never been heard of because he did his job so well as to avoid their potentially devastating repercussions. the man worked selflessly and gave up a highly lucrative career on wall street to pursue his interest in public policy and social contribution. his modesty is also quite striking both in his personal and professional life. he seems at times oblivious to the impact he makes in people's lives prefering to objectively analyze cause and effect. he no doubt understands the importance of his contributions but nevertheless keeps his refreshing veil of modesty.
i keep hoping we can get a bunch of similar minded reformists to pull us out of our rut of rhetoric and  recrimination. we instead have people that view their public positions as commercial opportunities for personal gain with no end. the mentality is manifestly obvious and encouraged in every new government recruit all the way up the system.
"for every bad borrower, there's a bad lender"

Monday, August 16, 2004

Kuwaitis are so used to complaining about the weather. "it's too hot" or "waaay ghbaaar!" (damn dust) or even "its too cold" (beleive it or not in the winter!). on that note i've been complaining that i don't have hot water in the shower for the last few days! in the middle of what's likely the hottest inhabited spot on Earth.... (i called the plumber - don't think he's seen this problem before). i think they may have installed one of those water coolers (yes we have them in kuwait!) and run them through both pipes. i do have to admit that i am getting used to it though... i once had a kook of a teacher that used to bathe in ice water every day - he said he was a former navy seal and got used to it with the training.. i think he was just a moron...

anyways to get to the point here - take a look at the price florida is paying for its weather... charley sure got angry! Hurricane Charley

skype and IP telephony...

i've been using a service called skype for making calls to friends in the US, lebanon and some undesirable countries and the connection has been unbelievable. its freely downloadable at skype.com and for calls to another skype user its free. they also have a service called skypout through the same interface to dial to non-skype users (ie regular phones).
i was skeptical about skype's claim that they are better than conventional phones but when i made a call yesterday to the US without any special hardware (not even a headset or mic) it was like we were in the same room! if anyone uses it then please share your experience.
there is another interesting and cool service that i haven't used called vonage(.com). in short it allows you to have a virtual landline - any phone number in the world can call you without software, internet connection, etc. i think so far they can issue numbers in most of the US as well as the UK and other telecom developed countries. this is the first of a wave that's quite shocking as conventional carriers morph into pure IP-based providers - the implications are quite startling!

Friday, August 13, 2004

identify YOURSELF!

you, me, us, they, I - all words made to differentiate. i had this discussion the other day with someone and i'm always surprised at the different reactions it evokes...
by calling myself an Armenian for example, i am not simply pointing to my geographic origin but putting out a sign saying this is what i believe and think is right and so i am different (and most times that means better) than the other guy. now the comparison factor is at many times useful - its the impetus for the individual to strive towards bettering himself and those that depend on him.
note the word "strive". it implies some sort of effort or work. the problem arises when the inert and unproductive components of society (individuals, groups or countries) use comparison as a shield for resisting change. the say i am Cymruain, for example, with all the implied traits of that nationality. this causes an unconscious mental motion to defend the "home turf". put out the markers. dont smile at the neighbors lest they think they are one of us. well what it gets to in simple terms is the creation of unrest and discrimination. by allowing these rifts to form for sometimes trivial reasons, people overlook the fact that at some point the advantages and disadvantages are shared. its just been hard to see that throughout man's history.
to follow on a recent theme - globalization and connectivization can and will bring more of an awareness to the average individual of the consequences of every thought, frown, laugh and slap that they engage in. its one benefit - we won't be able to hide behind our identities. think about it - one day almost every action we could possibly do could be predictable. i for one hope that is far off but the implications are staggering - we will be computed...
i'd like to end this with a book and writer that i greatly admire. he's formed many of my opinions and i recommend him highly. amin maalouf and the only non-fiction book that i've read by him "on identity". its a short yet impressive gem.

i'd saved this quite a while back and just came across it. for those of you who haven't seen it. no comment:

At a Kuwaiti Feast, a Lot To Chew Over
By Peter Carlson
Washington Post Staff Writer

Thursday, September 11, 2003; Page C01

There was no booze in the ballroom of the Four Seasons Hotel in Georgetown last night because the Kuwaitis don't drink alcohol. But there was plenty of food -- tabbouleh and hummus, huge trays of beef shawarma, tuna and salmon sushi, and silver bowls piled high with shrimp as big as bananas. And a roasted lamb that looked like a lamb, complete with cute little legs, the front ones tied around its cute little head.

Out in the middle of the ballroom stood the guest of honor, a man who had spent the morning meeting with President Bush -- His Highness Sheik Sabah Ahmad Jaber Sabah, the prime minister of Kuwait.

Prime minister? Isn't Kuwait ruled by a hereditary monarch called the emir? Did we somehow miss the news about a hard-fought election for prime minister of Kuwait?

Maybe Ken Minihan knows the answers. Minihan, a former U.S. Air Force general, now works for the American-Kuwait Alliance, a group that promotes business ties between the two countries, the group that sponsored this party. Gen. Minihan, how does one get to be prime minister of Kuwait?

"I haven't a clue," he says, then hustles off to join the receiving line.

Maybe Rima Sabah knows. She's Lebanese by birth, but she's married to Salem Abdullah Jaber Sabah, who is Kuwait's ambassador to the United States. Mrs. Ambassador, how does one get to be prime minister of Kuwait?

She pauses, her brow furrowed in thought beneath her long, frizzy blond hair.

"Hold on," she says, "I don't want to give you incorrect information."

She grabs Tahani Terkate, who is the media attache in the information office of the Kuwaiti Embassy, and asks her how somebody becomes prime minister of Kuwait.

"He was appointed by the emir," Terkate says.

The emir, she adds, is the prime minister's brother.

And now the prime minister is standing in the ballroom, wearing flowing white and black robes and a white cloth called a dhutra atop his head. He has a big white smile below his thick black mustache. He looks younger than his age, which is 74.

He is pleased, he says through a translator, that the Iraqi government that conquered and occupied his country in 1990 has been overthrown.

"We have helped in getting rid of this regime," he says, "because we feel that the Iraqi people and the Kuwaiti people were both victims of the same regime."

How many Kuwaiti troops are fighting in Iraq? he is asked.

"None," he says through the translator. Kuwait has sent only humanitarian aid to Iraq, no troops.


"We didn't think of sending anybody to Iraq to fight," he says. "We think it would be very sensitive for Arabs to fight Arabs, particularly Kuwaitis."

At that, Ambassador Sabah suggests that the interview is over.

But His Excellency Sheik Ahmad Fahad Sabah is eager to talk. He is Kuwait's minister of energy. He is wearing a dark suit and holding a copy of a book called "Bush vs. the Beltway," which was just presented to him by its author, Laurie Mylroie.

He is optimistic, he says, that Iraq can become a democracy. "It will be a very democratic country very soon," he says, smiling.

And what about Kuwait? Can it become democratic soon?

He looks stunned. "We are a democratic country," he says.

But what about that deal where the emir appointed his brother prime minister?

"This is the institution that was approved by the Kuwaiti people," he says. "Ask any Kuwaiti for his opinion. I believe there is agreement by everyone in the country."

He pauses. "Until now," he adds. "I don't know about the future."

John McLaughlin, the boisterous TV pundit, is standing near the bowls of shrimp, eating heartily. Between bites, he ponders why Kuwaiti troops are not fighting in Iraq.

"I think they're being encouraged by us to stay out of the fray, lest we make a complex situation more complex," he says. "I don't know of any Arabs who are fighting alongside us, do you?"

He hands his tray of shrimp remnants to a waiter who is passing by.

"I'm not a military expert," he says. "Although I rise to the occasion when the tube is on."

© 2003 The Washington Post Company

Thursday, August 12, 2004

great discourse on group dynamics....

the Wisdom of Crowds by James Surowiecki. just read it. he makes the point - in short - that diverse groups of people (crowds), regardless of how uninformed they are, are the best way to get the best answers and make the wisest decisions. i liked it and to be honest (as i "read" this in audible format) i kept drifting from time to time so i will definitely go through it again albeit selectively.

the book contains a ton of anecdotes and examples (and i got the abridged edition too!) like the fact that 40% of Americans polled during the height of the cold war thought the Soviet Union was a member of NATO but then goes on to prove that this is immaterial in the larger scheme of things.
it actually got me thinking about how the theory would stand up in a place like kuwait? i had somewhat assumed that the country's democracy was vibrant yet its individual constituents lacked the decision-making skills (i.e. education) to make wise decisions. there is also the tendency to value selfish short-term interests over the more salient long-term interests of the society which the author also touches on in a way (via his Enron example). i think his book has quite a few useful insights on tweaking any consensus-based system....

Wednesday, August 11, 2004

i want to be a taxidermist...

yesterday i visited this gorgeous late 19th century house in beirut with my father. we were with a real estate advisor that was showing us a bunch of properties and we ended up at this beautiful french-islamic colonial villa on a promontory overlooking the Raouche. while admiring its rundown beauty my father noticed the humming of the air conditioners. just as he mentioned it we saw this lady staring out the window at us and realized the house was inhabited when we had no idea - we'd assumed it was an abandoned relic! she comes out and with a friendly smile greets us as we apologize for inadvertently trespassers on their property. just then a car pulls in and out comes a elegant yet modestly dressed lady that looks like she's in her fifties... she greets us warmly and, after the usual pleasantries, insists that we come inside to take a look at the place.

it turns out that they've been tenants for 40-odd years and have immaculately preserved the place. I really can't describe the inside - it was like touring an ancient palace and reminded me of the Domabache Palace in Istanbul. utterly breathtaking! and since it was lived in what i enjoyed were her old family pictures and portraits as well as the family's coat of arms - apparently our dear host was from a very distinguished/aristocratic lebanese family. she was also from a very artistic family - her brother was a famous architect and others were painters and sculptors and their work was all over the place. the ceilings seemed 6 meters high or so and were finely painted with gorgeous pastel hues with obvious signs of age. she then took us onto the terrace and it was probably one of the most memorable vistas i had ever seen! all the way down there was rich foliage with ancient trees and patches of rubble and out ahead you could see way out to see with the waves hitting the rocks all around the Raouche.

to my delight our gracious host turned out to be a book publisher focused on heritage books about lebanon. she collected images and artifacts to feature in books that were published the three main languages of lebanon - arabic, french and english. she was also reprinting ancient out-of-print editions by the early orientalist explorers of the 19th and early 20th centuries. her aim was to develop more appreciation of the country's varied history and make the material accessible to the average reader (some of those old originals were on the market for $20,000 a pop!). i could have spent the whole day there - i think i'll be ordering a bunch of her works after seeing what care and passion she had for her work!

even more of a surprise was when she talked about the tenant on the second floor. "he's a kuwaiti and his name is..." where she couldn't recall his last name wherein my father smiles and fills in the blank! it turns out his uncle lived in the place for twenty years or so including when my father went to school there in the late 60s/early 70s. he'd even once visited his uncle in that same house and it was slowly coming back to him that this was actually the same place... "i thought it looked familiar.." it's like he'd stepped back in time 35 years - it was still the same old place and apparently his uncle was still paying the rent for the second floor although he hadn't been there in years! (i need to ask him for the keys - such a waste not to live there)

our hosts' generosity didn't end there. she had just married of her daughter and gave us a gorgeous custom-made cup and saucer from the wedding as well as an old copy of the herald tribune where they'd featured the house and here publishing and preservation work. i still can't believe her hospitality towards a bunch of strangers - truly made my trip to beirut worthwhile!

it was very encouraging to see her passion and caring for her work - i so wish we could do the same in kuwait!

Sunday, August 08, 2004

"the destiny of nations depends upon their manner of eating" - more pertinent in this age than ever!

Saturday, August 07, 2004

getting high on OPM.....

since i'm on an economic bent here i will touch on a recent trend that's becoming more and more apparent.... companies have hit upon a great moneymaker: using Other People's Money to make a quick buck..
to elaborate - company A (usually a listed company) has a stellar year with great profits and cashflow.. at the same time the financial markets are going wild and hungry for opportunity especially given that there aren't too many attractive local investment opps. the board of company A sits around the nice expensive conference table debating how to take advantage of this great climate! buHmood tells buGhazi that they should set up new companies to further profit from the growth. they say hey lets get this shell company (or set it up from scratch), put in a million KD and bring in another 19million from a public offering. now it doesn't matter what this company does/they don't care. they just know that if they dress it up nicely and put a secretary and an office boy at the door it should somehow find its calling and make some money! the fallacy is in the motive. there should be a dual objective of making money as well as making lives easier somehow (inventing a product, providing a needed service,etc). the problem is their brains are blank - or more aptly said they are stuffed with banknotes and notions of more....
now some people may wonder why these companies don't set up a fund and offer it to investors as a pooled vehicle. the following will also explain why the company model is such an attractive proposition:
- they can charge around 5% for setting up a new company as placement and structuring fees. in the hypothetical 20million KD company above - thats a nice million KD (so in effect they've invested their 5% in the company for free).
- no minimum investment limits - kuwaiti law requires that the sponsor of a fund invest 5% of the capital. this does not exist with a new company private placement. they could put in naught and still make money of the fees.
- they can run the company as a small fiefdom (for a while at least) - since they develop and place the company they are in the best position (regardless of their ownership stakes) to influence the management of the company. they can achieve this by not selling too large a stake to any one investor and so have virtual proxy authority over the owner base. this allows them to reward themselves and friends with seats on boards with other people's money! capitalism at its best?
- this is a corollary of the one before - they get to drive the new company's business to benefit their mother company. this creates a bias, a conflict of interest and a violation of fiduciary duties (if they exist) in most cases. if you want to picture it for those of you that know the way govt corruption is in kuwait - its basically the minister that sends contracts his friends' way. a nudge here, a tug there and a few million for the buddy and I.
- the final and probably most important point - the company can be listed (sometimes quite quickly!).\
the end result is that the poor schmuck that put his money in as an ordinary investor (the little guy with 10,000KD of savings) may not see his money back or maybe just some of it because of a bunch of bums that wanted to vacation in st. tropez or st. barts.... he could get lucky but there are more enjoyable ways of gambling (i.e. Monte Carlo and Las Vegas).
i like seeing action and initiative - it makes me think that others are thinking (have you ever realized how little people actually "think"). the problem is its too short term oriented. no one cares about building value. an employee is just there as a warm body and transitory. in short there's no corporate culture to talk about - except on of greed begetting greed.
i will end this on a positive note. there's a budding young generation that's intent on changing things - but will they achieve critical mass before its too late? they're optimistic, talented, motivated (with the right reasons) and hopefully ethical. where there's a will there's a way...

is MTC overvalued?

a friend working at a local investco relayed  a bit of advice from his local market guys - sell mtc! i said why when a recent valuation had pegged a fair value at 3.7KD (its currently 3.1 or so). said its on a technical level. anyways its not like im a big trader or anything. i beleive telcos in kuwait and the region and certain other parts of the world have humungous growth potential (not to mention that they are phenomenal cash generators)! its a nice strategic investment - dont think i will touch it for now... he was advising based on technicals though and may be right in the short term but im not looking to trade really...
public disclosure - i own or have previously recommended owning the following -> MTC, watania telecom, public warehousing company, commmercial facilities company and global investment house. all as long term strategic holdings (dont have the time to daytrade).

oil's up and the market's dancing....

well there seem to be a number of conflicting developments that could potentially affect the local economy mainly:
- high oil prices - $45 a barrel.. it seems like just yesterday that the american were bawling over oil at $35! now they just wish it would stabilize at 40! one always has to be thankful i guess. well what this means given the likelihood of high to somewhat high prices over the next year is that kuwaiti foreign reserves will just keep building up and given a rather overprudent approach to spending it should be another bumper year.. (in other words there will be huge contracts galore and a money glut that may make the last year look pale in comparison - where's greenspan with his irrational exuberance now?)
- interest rates have (rather rightly) been raised 50bps. this is much tamer than the previous point. relatively speaking this will not do much given that deposit rates still look paltry when compared to the gains to be made by investing in the products of the previous point (oil induced spending it can be called).
no wonder business class to kuwait has been sold out for the last year with no slowdown in sight... the carpetbaggers are back!

Friday, August 06, 2004

slow and subtle awakening....

i hope i'm not being too optimistic here but i think we may be seeing the seeds of a cultural awakening in kuwait. a number of encouraging signs:

- i was just on the gulf road and saw the beautifully renovated colonial style structure that is the old "medical employees residence" (or so it says on the gorgeous restored sign). looks like a lot of care was taken with this - not the usual shoddy job. if you're looking for it, it's adjacent to the new and starkly contrasting diabetes centre.

- art galleries abound! regardless of the motives (profit or pleasure) behind them this is definitely a positive omen. from what i've seen so far the main instigators are usually art and design lovers under 30. they've been organizing regular events and trying to develop original local talent (however little it may be).

- the publishing industry is mushrooming it seems albeit with questionable quality. what i find lacking in this area is the lack of journalistic standards (as well as half-decent spellcheckers!). most of the them though are society focused rags but we have to start somewhere i guess. and of course the inevitable crime and intrigue mags have to pop up although i never thought i'd see enquirer style articles in kuwait! (we have to pay the price somehow i guess)

the main problem remains that we are too xenophobic in the areas that matter - knowledge, social introspection and culture. when we finally decide to let the rest of the world visit this country maybe eventually we can get a bit of diversity and new ideas!

testing mailtoblogger functionality

OIL AT $44 a barrel....
well since i'm already sending this - let me comment on the super-significant developments of the last few days re. oil prices. it truly is a double-edged sword. kuwait will definitely benefit along with the cartel in the short-term but if this could have adverse effects on the global economy leading to some long term systemic effects.
i'm just stating the obvious and posing the question - what are the consequences and which scenario is ultimately better from kuwait's perspective?
and on the topic of the price itself... how do you ever predict it? its almost futile to make accurate predictions given the myriad of factors involved and given our current data-processing ability (we still don't have computers powerful enough to digest all the possible inputs). we may get there someday but we're still far from it....

Thursday, August 05, 2004

so the new companies seem to be moving in finally. BNP paribas was not who i expected to be first but anything is good at this point. we need to move the tepid waters and bring some new ideas/energy into this economy. we need competition. we need good management. in short - we need a lot of what the converging global economy has that has passed us by. but can we get our place on the ark before the flood?