Monthly Archives: June 2004

Bahrain and Qatar

I spent the last few days in two truly amazing countries – Bahrain and Qatar …

The first thing one notices is how nice the people are … the people are incredibly friendly – always wanting to help … and how quickly one’s stereotypes about the region quickly disappear …

Off the coast of Saudi Arabia, Bahrain sits in the Persian Gulf like a large jewel. It is connect to Saudi by a long, 20+ kilometer causeway/bridge. Bahrain has a very diverse economy, extremely educated population, and lots of people eager to work. A country of only 400K Bahrainis and 300K ex-pats, it contains a hodge-podge of diverse cultures which interact with one another on a regular basis. I spent some time at Bahrain University which has 20,000 students and increasing academic standards – especially in computer science.

Flying into Qatar (just a 30 minute plane ride from Bahrain) one sees tremendous building in the capital city of Doha. Also a country of less than 800K (with about 200K Qataris), one finds incredible buildings and highways – all built in the last few years. While there I visited University City – a new project sponsored by the Emir of Qatar to educate the entire gulf region. Here we saw mini-campus run by Texas A&M, Carnegie Mellon, Cornell University, and others springing up. Also – Doha’s beaches are gorgeous and the hotels are all brand new and opulent.

I was there in late June – and though the heat was crushing, it was tolerable (though I recommend skipping July and August in the gulf).

Though security is a problem given the proximity of both these countries to Saudi Arabia, I actually felt incredibly safe. Taking precautions is certainly advisable, but I wouldn’t avoid the region (remember – I was there during an extreme rash of kidnappings and killings in Saudi but still felt very safe).

Unfortunately, I missed a chance to go to Dubai as I had a meeting in San Francisco that I could not get out of. But I hear Dubai – though much more over-the-top (like Vegas or Disneyland) – is also a site to see.

I was there for business – but I hope to have an opportunity to go back as a tourist and spend more time talking with the locals. Doha, especially, seems like a wonderful winter get-a-way.

Books: The Golden Ratio: The Story of Phi, the World’s Most Astonishing Number

The Golden Ratio: The Story of Phi, the World’s Most Astonishing Number by Mario Livio

This is a good book referred to me by Michelle Forrest. Yearning to know more about the number “Phi” (an irrational number that is roughly 1.618) I picked up the book. Being a math guy, I appreciated the history of how Phi formed and why it is such an incredible number.

Though this book is not as good as Fermat’s Enigma and definitely not as good as Against the Gods by Peter Bernstein (see reviews at http://www.summation.net/reading.html) … so read those books first … it is entertaing as it goes over why phi is so important — but also explains why people overinflate the value of phi. Worth reading.

Books: Why We Buy: The Science Of Shopping

Books: Why We Buy: The Science Of Shopping by Paco Underhill

this is a fabulous book. Underhill is incredibly enlightening.

how does one shop? why does one buy? how can stores better serve their customers?

the book stems from over 20 years of observations of shoppers made by Underhill and his staff. it is chock full of interesting examples, counter-intuitive recommendations, and funny tidbits.

if you are interested in why humans do what they do, get this book. in fact, i see this book as the sequel to Influence: The Psychology of Persuasion by Robert B. Cialdini.

Summation: I highly recommend this book.

America the Vulnerable by Steve Flynn

Next month, Steve Flynn, a fellow at the Council on Foreign Relations (and often mentioned in this blog) will release his newest book: America the Vulnerable — How Our Government Is Failing to Protect Us from Terrorism

this is a very scary book. it will bring up a lot of very important homeland security (especially port security) weaknesses.

overview:

Three years after September 11, we are still dangerously unprepared to prevent or respond to anotherattack on American soil. Faced with this threat, the United States should be operating on a wartime footingat home. But despite the many new security precautionsthat have been proposed, our most serious vulnerabilities remain ominously exposed.

summation: buy this book (to be released on July 20)

and some good quotes:

“If officials in Washington would read just one book, this is it. It should scare us into action.”
–Fareed Zakaria, author of The Future of Freedom

“America the Vulnerable will grip you, intrigue you, frighten you and inspire you. Flynn is a genuine expert.”
–Norman Ornstein, resident scholar, American Enterprise Institute

“This book had to be written. Flynn’s threat scenarios are chillingly persuasive. His urgent prescriptions are compelling.”
–Gary Hart, former U.S. Senator, co-chair, the United States Commission on National Security for the 21st Century

“Stunningly detailed. Unsettling but necessary reading for all Americans deeply concerned about the future security of our nation.”
–Warren Rudman, former U.S. Senator, co-chair, the United States Commission on National Security for the 21st Century

“A critical read for both our political leaders and every American citizen.”
–Jeffrey E. Garten, Dean, Yale School of Management

Support for free trade is falling

I was at a foreign policy conference over the weekend and one of the biggest concerns expressed was the rapid decline in support of free trade in America. Surprisingly, this decline in support is falling fastest among richer Americans:

poll shows that among Americans making more than $100,000 a year, support for actively promoting more free trade collapsed from 57% to less than half that, 28%

Very scary. this is a big cause of concern as it will hamper the variety of free trade deals in the works.

See the article and Poll: Free trade loses backers

Books: Just and Unjust Wars

Just and Unjust Wars, by Michael Walzer, is in its third edition. This is a seminal work of brilliance and one of the most illuminating book I have read in a very long time. if you are interested in foreign policy, I highly recommend this book.

And though the book was written 25 years ago, it still has much bearing today (especially since the US has become so interventionist). this book will really make you think about Iraq.

This book tries to describe:

(1) when is war justified

(2) how the conduct of a war can be just or unjust

Some much better links to help you learn more:
* an interview with the book’s author
* an interesting review
* another review

Books: How to Be President: What to Do and Where to Go Once You’re in Office

Amazon.com: How to Be President: What to Do and Where to Go Once You’re in Office (by Stephen P. Williams) is a delightful insight into the actual lifestyle of a US President. Like how does a President order pizza? You’ll find out that toilet paper is free but the President has to pay for his own deodorant. And though the President is not expected to do his own laundry, the taxpayers don’t pick up the bill (he gets a bill every month that he must pay).

My assistant, Sally Dorfman, got me the book and I found it delightful (and a very quick read).