Saturday, February 12

How Al Jazeera Shapes Political Identities

Excellent coverage on how Al Jazeera is providing an identity to Arabs, something that socialism or even Nasserism couldn't. It all ended up in a sad mishmash of fundamentalist Islam, economic illiteracy and political despotism resulting in horrific unemployment, human right abuses and corruption. I quote:

a respondent who reports watching Al Jazeera and Al Arabiya every day is roughly 15-20 points more likely to identify as Muslim than a respondent who watches these networks between 0-2 days a week. The effects on Arab identification appear somewhat smaller.

In 2006, I wrote a column on this. I quote: (echoing that famous quote, I frequently quote myself, it adds spice to my conversation Smile with tongue out)

Then we have Al Jazeera, the TV channel which burst into view with the closest thing one can think of a nuclear explosion, in the global media environment. I have previously spoken about this channel ( or But with its free speech, passionate panel discussions and open debates, independent views, wide ranging topics (frequently touching very taboo subjects such as religion, politics, terrorism, education, etc.), giving air time to dissidents, Israeli’s, and other people and groups who are normally censored out etc. In particular, it offers a voice for Al-Qaeda’s messages to the wider world in its non-censored full glory. For an Arab world starved of such open discussion, this channel and its participants are one of the most important opinion framers in this part of the world. In particular, Sheikh Yusuf al-Qaradawi, one of the regular presenters on this Qatar based channel, a graduate of Al Azhar, involved with the Muslim Brotherhood, is a very potent voice through this channel.

Thursday, February 10

6 Wealth Building Strategies While Living Paycheck to Paycheck

Dear Son

I read this article and thought of dropping you a line about where I went (right or wrong) with each of these strategies.

1. Withdraw less than what you deposit. By and large, your mum keeps us on track, but when I was young and before marriage at the age of 25, I used to sometimes go over. It is not fun, and at that time, without an overdraft, this wasn't fun. So simply had a budget on a weekly basis, and if i ran out of money, then the weekend was sitting at home reading books. You are already keeping track of your expenses and deposits, so that is good.

2. Slashing expenses. Well, now its gotten better because we have simply run out of room to keep things, lol, but generally, yes, we do try to slash expenses by keeping an eye on things we can get cheaper. Books I pretty much always buy second hand, but then that goes back to childhood when we simply couldn't afford new ones. That’s the brilliant part of books, you don't have to buy new ones, the ideas and images are the same. My recent hobby of photography is a tad expensive but then again, researching on the net allows you to purchase stuff fairly cheaply compared to shops. Buying insurance and other financial products SHOULD be checked and they can provide quite a lot of savings. Also cutting out eating out helps. We learnt to cook at home and its so much fun :) I understand you spend quite a lot of time outside now that you are a teenager and you like to buy your Nike trainers, and that’s fine as well. Just remember to be careful with your money, son.

3. Start your investment plan. We started this way back. Never pop your money simply into a savings or current account. Sweat your money, put them into an investment fund or buy stocks. Loan your money to companies who can use it to make more money and thus to you. The investments we have made is now enough for both your and your sister’s education and then some, but not enough to give you a helping hand for two house purchases for you two or if you want to setup your own business. So we have to keep on working. I only wish I had started this when I was very young and had started earning, but your grandfather is a scientist, not really living in this world and we never got going that early. You, on the other hand, have been investing since you have been 13 so that is good.

4. Purchase your own property. This is a debate which people will have, some prefer renting, some prefer purchasing. I used to hold on to the idea that its better to rent as we will be going around the world but your mum said that its better to buy. And I think that’s the best idea she had. Another couple of years and we should be free of the mortgage and then one of the biggest drains on our finances is gone. Then we can do more for you two in case you want to go study postgraduate or just take off where/when you want. We also assisted your aunt in her house purchase and also helped your grandparents in their expenses, that helps as well. Well, this is a bit too early for you right now, but your dad is thinking ahead for the time you will need to purchase your own property. So good for now.

5. Be aggressive with retirement goals. Now this is something that I cannot emphasise more. At this moment, your mother and I are putting 1/3rd of our income into retirement planning. This does mean that we go without many things such as the frequent foreign holidays that your friends and their parents go off to, we drive a 8 year old car whereas your friends have a new car every 2-3 years.But that’s fine, our holidays at home and in England are equally fun and frolic. And Henrietta Honda is a perfectly good car, she gets a full dealer service every year and we keep her nicely maintained. I want a transportation device, not something to show off to my friends. But as soon as you get your regular pay check, I am going to try to convince you to setup your own retirement fund with up to 20 % saving. Good habit to have, son.

6. Improve your skills and knowledge. This is again ok for me, you are good in studies and I am happy with your progress. But sometimes you don't show the dedication that one might require. Yes, I understand that you are exploring and you will pick up something and then lose interest. that’s fine at this age. But sometimes I do feel that you give up too easily sometimes. Don't get me wrong, your grandfather used to say the same thing to me, i picked up the guitar and dropped it, wanted to do cost accounting and dropped it. oh! well, that’s what father’s do, worry and obsess about their kids.

Maybe I should add one more thing, get a partner who shares your investment and financial perspectives (hopefully in the saving/investment sense, not in the lets spend it all mode). Money is one of the biggest reasons for divorce and stress in your life, you do not really want somebody to fitter away your hard earned money, you want somebody who shares and increases your common family wealth. Good heavens, I sound like your grandfather here.

Ah! well, homily over. Hope this helps, Son, to help you avoid my mistakes and build on things which I hopefully did ok.

Serious dating and your college education is shot

What an interesting research study. I quote:


This document reviews the controversy over the true high school graduation rate in the United States, provides a comprehensive review of the debate, discusses shortcomings of current methods, and proposes new methods that address those shortcomings. The author concludes that current methods that are widely used are flawed: High school graduation rates in the United States are well above 80 percent, with high racial disparity; the graduation rates for white and Asian students are around 85 percent, and the rates for Hispanic and African American students are around 70-80 percent. Moderate dating has a positive impact on college readiness and college enrollment; serious dating and early sex has a significant negative impact on graduation and college enrollment.

Main thing is, keep your dating to moderate and don't shag too soon. Otherwise your school graduation efforts and college enrolment is threatened. You tend to get distracted. Hmmm, I think i can agree with this research.

Wednesday, February 9

Library users 'become better readers'

Here’s an interesting article. I quote:

Children who use their local public library are twice as likely to be above average readers, a report has said. A survey of 17,000 children in Great Britain for the National Literacy Trust found they were also twice as likely to read outside class daily. Those reading below the expected level for their age were twice as likely not to use their local libraries, it said. Public libraries do not disproportionately attract children from poor or rich homes, it added

First of all, remember that this is being driven by the financial cuts to the local councils which is driving them to cut services such as libraries. Now, I am a bit ambivalent about this. On one hand, I am conscious of the fact that new technology and changes in behaviour means that amazon, ebay, smartphones, kindle et. al are driving towards e-books and direct delivery of books to home. Books are entertainment, remember, and kids do have tons of alternatives ranging from tv to computers to what have you. You really dont need libraries that much, but there is still a need. As a confirmed and total nut about books, I do love libraries, heck, i have one at home. So the disappearance hurts.

But going forward, the article sheds some light on some very sad facts, I quote:

It found that just under half (44%) of the children surveyed used their public library. Those that did not go were more than three times more likely not to read outside class and to rate themselves as not very good readers.

The most common reason for children not to go to their public library was that their family did not go. The report said: "Family engagement is well understood as a key element in supporting educational achievement, and it seems that public library use, as well as being associated with similar positive child outcomes to school library use, has in addition a particularly specialised correlation with family support for reading.

"Young people who use their public library are twice as likely to say that they talk with their family about what they are reading at least once a week and report that they get significantly more encouragement from their parents in reading generally."

Now here’s another conundrum. Going to the library does not really cost anything. But is this genetic in nature? Something about upbringing? Generalising wildly, rich people will have their own libraries, poor people are too ignorant and this is only a middle class thing? So when parents arent interested in books, why would their kids be interested in books? Sad sad sad. The end result? did you know that one in six people in the UK struggles to read write and communicate? And then we go about shutting down libraries.

Sunday, February 6

Egypt’s economic apartheid

Why Egypt revolted. Extract:

The key question to be asked is why most Egyptians choose to remain outside the legal economy? The answer is that, as in most developing countries, Egypt’s legal institutions fail the majority of the people. Due to burdensome, discriminatory and just plain bad laws, it is impossible for most people to legalize their property and businesses, no matter how well intentioned they might be.

The examples are legion. To open a small bakery, our investigators found, would take more than 500 days. To get legal title to a vacant piece of land would take more than 10 years of dealing with red tape. To do business in Egypt, an aspiring poor entrepreneur would have to deal with 56 government agencies and repetitive government inspections.

All this helps explain who so many ordinary Egyptians have been “smoldering” for decades. Despite hard work and savings, they can do little to improve their lives.

and here

• Egypt's underground economy was the nation's biggest employer. The legal private sector employed 6.8 million people and the public sector employed 5.9 million, while 9.6 million people worked in the extralegal sector.

• As far as real estate is concerned, 92% of Egyptians hold their property without normal legal title.

• We estimated the value of all these extralegal businesses and property, rural as well as urban, to be $248 billion—30 times greater than the market value of the companies registered on the Cairo Stock Exchange and 55 times greater than the value of foreign direct investment in Egypt since Napoleon invaded—including the financing of the Suez Canal and the Aswan Dam. (Those same extralegal assets would be worth more than $400 billion in today's dollars.)

I was reminded about this when I lectured on the topic of doing business in India. Egypt ranks 94th out of 183 countries. Not really that bad is it? And the graph on page 6 in the World Bank Survey says that Egypt made huge strides in improving conditions in doing business.  It cut or simplified post registration procedures relating to tax registration, social security registration and licencing. It recently launched a system to establish companies electronically. I quote:

Egypt introduced a one-stop shop in 2005. Further reforms included incorporating more agencies in the one-stop shop, introducing a flat fee structure and reducing and then abolishing the paid-in minimum capital requirement. The time and cost of incorporation were reduced in both 2005 and 2006, and by 2007 the number of registered companies had increased by more than 60%. Reductions of the minimum capital requirement in 2007 and 2008 led to an increase of more than 30% in the number of limited liability companies.

I am not convinced that this economic deprivation is indeed just the reason for the revolution. If this was indeed the case, you will be having revolutions across most of the globe outside the OECD countries. How about India? Its on 134th rank, even sunny old Nepal is above India. Take a look at this document. States run by the communists were horrible for wealth and employment creation. Generally, the canker of corruption and the dead hand of the state stops India from achieving its true potential (besides some other bits) but that explains why India doesnt have revolutions of this ilk. It is a democracy. Egypt revolted because it didn't have democracy and there was no outlet.