Maslow’s pyramid of needs… as expressed by this photographer in Syria

I listened yesterday to a Western photographer, whose name has been kept secret out of concern for his safety and who has been working in the government-controlled part of Deir ez-Zor, Syria, give an interview on the BBC. In the ten-minute interview, the photographer talked about living in this city, with a population of some 200,000 people, that has been under siege by ISIS. He is obviously a brave man. The conditions seem appalling and the assignment perilous. Tough as it was, however, he stressed he was living in a privileged position. He then proceeded to list what he meant by privileged. He started off by citing food, water, +2 hours of electricity per day. In addition, he said that he had access to the sole Internet connection in the city. He finally added that he was also privileged because he had bodyguard protection. 

Maslow's Pyramid of Needs in Syria

I thought the order in which he talked about his privilege to be quite revealing, no? Despite living in the heartland of the most barbaric of terrorist groups, this cameraman puts internet connection above having bodyguards! A revisiting of Maslow’s pyramid of needs may be in order?

You can hear this BBC podcast here until 13 July 2015!

Global Gender Gap 2008 Report – Who’s on Top?

The World Economic Forum have just released the results of the Global Gender Gap Report 2008.

Yin & YangThere are a few suprising facets to this WEF report, now in its third year, authored by Ricardo Hausmann, Director, Centre for International Development, Harvard University, Laura Tyson, Professor at University of California, Berkeley, and Saadia Zahidi from the WEF.  First, what strikes me is the tremendous dynamism in the results — from one year to another a country can change by more than 30 places (as France did jumping from 51st to 15th).  Secondly, the list of sponsoring companies for the research includes a number of banks, consultancies and a car company hardly known for women’s equality as well as the employment services company MANPOWER.

Gender Gap
Those quibbles aside, the research shows that there is a “…a strong correlation between competitiveness and the gender gap scores.”  And the report indicates once again the strength of the equality movement in Scandinavia, with Norway coming out on top this year ahead of its neighbouring Scandinavian countries.   Here is the list of the top 10 for 2008.  Noteworthy for being absent from the top 10 (I should say again) are the United Kingdom (13th) and the United States (27th, behind Cuba) which scores highest in “economic participation and opportunity.”  And, fairly astonishing for being in the top 10 are the Philippines and Latvia.  The report voluntarily overweights the importance of having female leadership — as a way of providing visible role models (which clearly boosted the Philippines).  How much credit for France’s rise goes to Ségolène Royal (and Carla Bruni)?.  A

Global Gender Gap Index

Rank 2008
1
2
3
4
5
6
7
8
9
10
Country

Norway
Finland
Sweden
Iceland
N. Zealand
Philippines
Denmark
Ireland
Netherlands
Latvia

Score*

0.824
0.820
0.814
0.800
0.786
0.757
0.754
0.752
0.740
0.740

Rank 2007
2
3
1
4
5
6
8
9
12
13
*0 to 1 scale: 0=inequality, 1=equality

The report establishes the following “top line” numbers, indicating that on balance things are tending to get better, although there were nearly twice as many countries where the gap was widening in 2008 versus 2007 as opposed to the prior year.  The big conclusions of the report are that the world has again shown progress in closing the gaps in economic, political and education; however, it has actually lost ground on the health gaps.

Gender Gap 2008 Report

The criteria for selection are worth citing:
Male & Female Signs“The Report examines four critical areas of inequality between men and women:
1. Economic participation and opportunity – outcomes on salaries, participation levels and access to high-skilled employment
2. Educational attainment – outcomes on access to basic and higher level education
3. Political empowerment – outcomes on representation in decision-making structures
4. Health and survival – outcomes on life expectancy and sex ratio”

Meanwhile, tailing off the bottom of the list are a host of countries without need for comment: Saudi Arabia, Chad and YemenIndia (113rd) landed basically on par with Iran (116th).  Japan wallowing in at 98th is a blemish…especially when you find higher up Mongolia (40th), Kyrgyz Republic (41st) and Russia (42nd).  Italy lies at 68th, not exactly brilliant.  Meanwhile, I thought Turkey (123rd) might have ranked higher.

Here is the writeup from the BBC and from TIME (with a good and lively analysis).  If nothing else, the research and report allow for some debate and exposure to this very important issue.

King Abdallah II opens MEDEF “Think Big” 2008 Conference

King Abdallah II at MEDEF Thing Big 2008 Conference

The kick off of the MEDEF’s Université d’Ete 2008 “Voir en Grand / Think Big” was made this afternoon at the Polytechnique campus outside of Paris. Laurence Parisot, President of the MEDEF, introduced his Majesty King Abdallah II of Jordan who gave a 20-minute speech (before going off to meet with President Sarkozy). The King’s speech lauded the efforts of France in the Middle East and said that France remains one of the most important partners for Jordan. King Abdallah is clearly a trail blazer. Dressed in a conservative red tie, he introduced himself in an elegant French, then passed into English for the main speech. Abdallah has his own website (see KingAbdallah.jo) and emphasized the importance of private enterprise in the development of his country. King Abdallah clearly exemplifies Think Big.

Two messages delivered by King Abdallah that struck me (paraphrased below):

* More than half of Jordan’s population is under 18 years old. A young demography, highly educated, with energy for change.
* Until Palestinians are given a home, there will continue to be a fragility in the trust between the Muslim World and the West. Otherwise, there will continue to be instability in the region. What struck me was that there is only tension with the West. Frankly, it seems a straightforward answer — if a little over-simplified.

As Ms. Parisot stated, King Abdallah is a visionary — with bold ambitions. Ms. Parisot mentioned the singular project that Jordan is joint-running with Israel to create a canal between the Red Sea to the Dead Sea. The project which is due to begin in 2011, will include draining the Red Sea into the Dead Sea — what a concept. The project will then enable hydroelectric power as well as the supply of desalinsated water (850 million cubic metres/year). Read here for the wikipedia entry.

Comments and Thoughts after Visit to Dubai 2008

OUR VISIT TO DUBAI FOR FAMILY HOLIDAYS

Dubai - 20% of world's active cranesRarely does one get a chance to see a city in the making, especially if you have lived all your life in “old” Europe and/or the East Coast of America. For those in the Shanghai’s of the world, it is perhaps current currency. Dubai was my first such experience, where there are an enormous number of cranes constructing the city in front of your eyes. According to a number of sites (for one, see here), 20% of the world’s active cranes are in Dubai City. You wonder if or how all the empty spaces will be rented out at the promised exorbitant rates. But, you do get the feeling that Dubai is the new promised land…

Dubai - Camel, the desert and modern technologyFashioned with verve, ambition and purpose, Dubai is a fascinating place to visit. For such a lightly populated city, it has many surprises, especially in terms of its diverse architecture. Dubai is a hybrid of many cities. At times, you see can the Las Vegas inspiration (all along the road to Bab Al Shams you can see large detoured billboards representing the type of resort to be constructed by the Al Bawadi Group over the next 8 years). The project involves the building of 12 enormous themed tourist attractions (as in “Andalusia” photo to the right below, or Asia Asia, Europa, Musica, Americas, etc…) that speak to Dubai’s international appeal. Then there is the NYC feeling of the monster skyscrapers–albeit with Dubai - Andalusia Theme Attraction en route to Bab Al Shamsa greater density of interesting architecture–along Sheikh Zayed Road. Down at the Dubai Marina, you might as well be in Dubai - Modern Skyscraper with Arabic TouchMiami. That said, Dubai also has its own markings, including the Arabic finishing touches on many of the skyscrapers, and wonderfully decadent hotels lining the beach (numerous 7* locations, if not necessarily 7* in service, certainly in price). To make sure you aren’t in the West, you also have the painted camels (ex cows) dotted around the city and beach (see down below for one fine example).

The Dubai airport is an experience unto itself. The diversity of people lining up at immigration takes a page out of the United Nations yearbook. It would even have been proportionate representation except for the relative under-representation of the Chinese. The airport, which is open 24/7, is just bustling with activity. Its duty free stores are the most active in the world–the liquor stopover is elemental for all Dubai residents as it is impossible to buy liquor in town.

Our first port of call, after profiting from the “inside the airport” 88-room NH Hotel, was the delightful Bab Al Shams desert resort (part of the Jumeirah Group). Along the way, you go through the Desert Gates (pictured below).

Dubai - Desert Gate en route to Bab Al Shams
The authentic outside-in-the-desert dinner at the Al Hadheerah, replete with horse show, camel riding (photo on right) and a variety of dancers, was a lovely first ‘night out.’ You can also have your personalised henna painting or partake in a traditional Shisha. Altogether, we spent two fairly slothful days at Bab Al Shams, including a one-hour camel ride — a warning to those who don’t know: a camel’s girth is huge and for your legs, therefore, riding a camel can Dubai - Al Hadheerah Desert Restaurant Camel Showbe a tortuous experience. As I mentioned above, on the way to and from Bab Al Shams, you see at once the desert of the past and the Dubai of the future. With all the themed resorts along the road (due to be built between now and 2014 — see here for virtual vision of the future projects), Bab Al Shams desert resort will likely become some day Bab Al Shams downtown resort.

Moving to the city, we next stayed at the Jumeirah Beach Hotel, where we had a lovely experience, benefitting from the splendid family activities available (especially the Wild Wadi 12-acre water park). The beach facilities and amenities, the multiple pools and ever-available buggy services were just perfect. We also enjoyed a very lively dinner at our friends Peter and Isabelle who live in Jumeirah 1 [thanks!].

The mega hotels in Dubai, dotted along the beach, are impressive. The standout architectural novelty, Burj Al Arab Hotel (below in the distance), comes complete with helicopter pad (cum tennis court) on the 25th (top) floor and a panoramic restaurant/bar on the other side that will cost you $500/pp on average for dinner. In typical extravagance, the hotel offers helicopter or Rolls Royce airport transfer for a ride that only takes 20 minutes (without traffic) or costs 40 Dirhams (c. 7€ or US$10)
by regular taxi.

Dubai - Medinat Jumeirah Hotel + Burj Al Arab
At Madinat Jumeirah, down the coast, is an Arabian-style sprawling complex with 3 different hotel environments (Mina A’Salam, Al Qasr and Dar Al Maysaf). There are nearly 600 rooms & suites, 29 summer houses and 7 royal villas (each with a private pool). And with each of the estimated 30 pools in the complex, there is a lifeguard (by law) through to 10pm. With guards sitting even at the private swimming pools, there is not much room for skinny dipping and it certainly is an intrusion on romance. We enjoyed a lovely abra ride around the Madinat creek, a visit to the “souk” (aka another big name mall) and dinner at an Arabic/Lebanese restaurant (one of 45 restaurants located in the Madinat complex).

Dubai - Painted Camels instead of CowsAside from the muezzin and ever present veiled women, you get a sense of the formalism in Dubai after reading the newspapers. When reporting on the country’s ruler, you can read on any one page of the Gulf News up to ten times the full moniker of “Vice-President and Prime Minister of UAE and Ruler of Dubai, his Highness Sheikh Mohammed Bin Rashid Al Maktoum” (which, once you have written it once, you can apparently reduce to Sheikh Mohammed for short). Of course, you will also see multiple references to Abu Dhabi President His Highness Sheikh Khalifa Bin Zayed Al Nahyan, not to be confused with General Sheikh Mohammed Bin Zayed Al Nahyan, Crown Prince of Abu Dhabi and Deputy Supreme Commander of the UAE Armed Forces. Sure makes one appreciate terms like Sarko and GW.

Burj Dubai Tower - Projection LookAmong the curious sights, you will see buses after 5pm in rush hour, packed with exhausted Indian construction workers, their heads bowed in sleep, leaning on the headrest of the seat in front. Earning a paltry 700Dhs per month for non-stop 12-hour gruelling days, they are at the low end of the totem pole (and are frequently treated as such by the locals). There are apparently 20,000 workers at the Dubai Burj Tower alone, working day and night. We were driven onto the construction site of the world’s highest building by our driver — unheard of access in western countries. But it is an impressive sight to see cranes functioning some 629 metres (today’s current height) up above you. The building’s completion date varied according to the person with whom you were speaking. And its final height has been kept under veil as well (some figures point to surpassing 800 metres– wikipedia says 818 m).

I have two astonishing mental images to share with you (not photographable). First, was one of a fully veiled woman driving an SUV with dark windows. The second was when a young (25-years-old) Emirati drove up beside me (seated in the taxi passenger seat) at around 60kmh and, burnishing a big smile, faked turning his SUV into the right flank of the taxi. Very pointed.

Deira Dubai by NightSpeaking of DTA taxis, which were nationalized in 1997, there are 12,000 of them in Dubai — apparently not enough for the peak hours and, because of the heavy traffic, invisible in downtown Deira (the other side of the Creek – night time photo to the left)… But, virtually all the taxi drivers were polite and service oriented.

As for taxi economics — a topic which continues to interest me (a hangover from «Freakonomics»?) –I found one willing driver, Mohammed, who revealed all. If a car (whether the driver is solo or partnered) earns Dhs12,000 in a 30-day month (i.e. the car must rack up Dhs400 every single day 7/7), the driver earns a 35% commission. With the metre feeding directly into HQ, every move of the taxi is recorded. All the petrol and insurance, etc., is taken care of. Therefore, a solo taxi driver can, if he makes the quota, earn Dhs4,200/month or about $650USD.

As usual, each “foreign worker” sends home any excess cash. And, of course, a majority of the Dubai residents are “foreign workers.”

There is a very clear cultural division (of labour) when it comes to the jobs. Here is what we discovered:
* The non-officer Police are from Yemen.
* The Taxi drivers are Pakistani (also heavy trucks) or Indian [all of the ones we had were from Kerala]; any female taxi drivers are Filipina.
* Personnel in the hotels are mostly Filipino and Sri Lankan.
* The technical jobs are also won by the Filipinos.
* You will find Bangladeshi as waiters.
* And, as for the Emirati–those that have to work–you will find them at the airport and as officers in the police force and army.

Dubai - A city with verve but still under construction
Dubai is a modern marvel (perhaps a lovemark unto itself!). In the image of the monumental Burj Dubai Tower, its future is inspiring, but not ensured. It sometimes feels like a house of cards — but, it has every chance of success based on the sense of service and its prime location in the world. I would be an even bigger fan if there was not always a latent feeling of oppression. Then again, you can get the same feeling, in different parts of town, in pretty much any city. It is a worthy visit — just don’t forget to budget for it.

Emirates Airline: Superlatives for flight to Dubai

Emirates Airline Lovemark?Emirates Airline Customer ServiceWow! I felt like I actually rediscovered the pleasure of traveling yesterday. And, ironically, I did so going on holidays in the economy class of Emirates Airline, on a brand new Boeing 777-300ER. Expectations were totally outpaced. I was left utterly and positively surprised, almost regretting the fact the flight was ONLY seven hours long… That sums up what I have to say about my very first Emirates Airline flight, EK074 from Paris to Dubai.

Ensconced in row 21 with the family, I can only shake my head at the extent of the superior performance that Emirates Airline (EK) provided. If I were a competitor of theirs, I would be worried. From a business standpoint, when you take efforts to know what the ‘competition’ is doing or offering, you can get a wicked surprise. I suspect that if American Airlines (United Airlines has a best-in-class partner in Singapore Airlines) or Air France (which generally I enjoy very much) have fully checked out the state of advancement of Emirates Airline, they should be scurrying to invest. The boom in oil prices and the economies in the Middle East are obviously helping EK. In 2007, according to the Gulf News (Apr 20, 2008 article by Abel Ali), Middle East passenger traffic was +11.7%, and up a record +19.2% in December. EK’s ability to invest in state-of-the-art planes (just to absorb rising demand), as well as their efforts on customer service (and the training that goes behind it) will create a significant competitive advantage due to the life cycles of planes and the difficulty to change a corporate culture (not to mention a hideous industry climate?). In the case of EK, according to their website, they have been growing at 20% annually and have recorded every year since its 3rd year of conception (it was started in 1985).

In any event, this type of gap in performance will make a difference in my next booking. I have to believe that a superior Emirates Airline product will contribute to the success of Dubai, benefiting from its opportunistic location as a hub. [The airport works 24/7 and was absolutely bustling with activity when we landed at 1 a.m.]

EEmirates Airlines ICE Entertainment Systemvery economy class seat on this new Emirates Airline plane offers:
* A complete on-demand set of films (multiple categories), games, sitcoms and news… (As good as any good Business Class). Called ICE, the entertainment system has a digital wide screen option.
* A USB socket (never saw that in any business class before) — that anticipates a usage of the personal console as a personal computer.
* Electrical outlet (which is far from a gimme in business)
* A slick multi-size cup holder
* Coat hook on the side (so the jacket doesn’t hang between your legs). Smart.

Among the multiple surprises, we were allowed to fire up the videos while on the ground (I therefore didn’t even notice that we took off 30 minutes late). And we were able to watch the video throughout takeoff and landing. Unheard of, normally.

The kids were offered a whole kit of goodies — hand puppets, teddy bear, crayons, books and more… Between the goodies and the personal entertainment system, the kids felt like they were in Disney…

The kids also got a special dinner, including a Mars bar and a toothbrush…

The main screen featured the viewing from a camera attached to the airplane nose. It was not the first time I have seen this, but I say it is part of best practices. For the remainder of the flight there was a simulated following of the flight over the various geographies.

At the same time as Alexandra said she liked the crackers, I mentioned to the flight attendant that the Shiraz wine was good. Both of us were promptly re-served without even asking. Another surprise.

Even dinner was a result. With a choice between lamb and chicken, Yendi and I both chose the lamb stew (“tender cooked pieces of lamb served in a rich coriander jus”) which turned out to be a wonderfully zesty (and spicy) dish. I suspect that unadventurous palettes might have stumbled.

As I went past the business class seats, I noticed that they featured the same poorly located headphone socket as the one on the KLM flight I took a couple of weeks ago (prior blog post). So, not everything is perfect…

Moral of the story:
* innovation works (in different forms)
* great training of the staff is visible (and great recruitment, too, on YouTube)
* better to keep an eye on the competition

I will report back after the 3 other flights that we have on EK to see how consistent the service is (knowing that Dubai-Nairobi is surely an inferior route). Will see if it deserves lovemark status!

Anyway, here’s to making travel a childish pleasure. Anyone else know of an airline that can surprise thus?

Do you know about any other company taking an industry by storm?

Americans in Iraq in WWII


Came across this braniac posting that a book written in 1943, “Instructions for American Servicemen in Iraq during World War II,” has been re-issued. Among the great pieces of advice: don’t refuse a second cup of coffee, or the third. But it is customary to refuse the fourth. I had no idea that the Americans were present in Iraq in the WWII. Truly, WWII was as www as anything we might find on the net.

Russia’s History Revision

There is surely a lot that can be said about American history books, so right off the cuff, I want to suggest that ‘our’ kitchen may not be clean. However, when you combine Putin’s call for greater patriotism and national pride, the recent psychiatric ‘hospitalization’ of the outspoken journalist Larissa Arap, along with the apparent and accelerating revision of modern day Russian history books, it does not make me breathe easily about Russia. The Figaro’s headlining article, 2 August 2007, entitled “Moscou réhabilite l’ère soviétique” is either an example of European media playing the role of scare monger (to help justify an increase French military budgets?) or is just plain scary. That there are positive things to say about Russia’s role, under Stalin, against the Germans in the WWII, there is no doubt. But, anything suggesting that Stalin himself be rehabilitated is an outrage. The inside article on page 2 refers to the banning of Professor Doloutski’s history books which refer to the liberal politician Iavlinski or worse yet the “shameful war with the Chechnya”. While I can understand the need to be proud, the need for freedom of press and intellectual criticism is vital — a lesson the US must heed as well. It would seem that the liberals and intellectuals in Russia are sending clear warning signals.

The Figaro article suggests that Putin is trying to increase his legitimacy by invoking a positive picture of the USSR Communist era. In light of the many changes happening in geo-politics, Putin’s actions speak of a move away from the West. To what extent the West continues to let Putin act freely will surely have a major influence on the outcome of the Middle Eastern imbroglio.

Asia Cup 2007 – West Beats East (aka Iraq beats S. Korea)

On 25th July, Iraq beat South Korea, one of the cup favorites, in a nail-biter, where the 0-0 regulation time score led to a penalty shoot-out win 4-3 in the semis. (BBC report). A country deprived of joy for four years, Iraq has the potential to hoist its first ever continental cup. It will be Iraq’s first visit to the Asia Cup finals. And, Iraq is not without merit in the football world. It is worth noting that Iraq scored a similar penalty win (4-3 penalties after 2-2 draw) over Syria in the Third West Asian Games in 2005. And, more recently, Iraq lost to Iran 2-1 in the 2007 West Asia Cup final in June.

This latest Iraqi victory was sadly met by 2 car bombings killing 51 people and wounding 90 more. Yes, politics and sports meet again. And what should have been a rallying cry spilled into yet another bloodbath. The team is, without doubt, a magical multi-ethnic team, with a Kurdish winger, star Sunnite forward (Qusai Munir) and a Shiite goalie (Abbas, who managed to save one of the penalties). But, the national team and leading members of the football organization have been peppered with kidnappings, death threats and more over the last couple of years. Is there any hope that such outlandish in-house violence may create a pan-religious rallying cause to curb the violent antagonists.

On 29th July, the final in Kuala Lumpur will be played against Saudi Arabia who, no less surprisingly, beat Japan 3-2 to make an Arab final as opposed to a Far Eastern Asian final between two long-term foes. It was Saudi Arabia’s first victory over Japan in the Asia Cup, and they evidently deserved the victory.

Personally, I would be thrilled if an Iraqi victory in the Final on Sunday managed to galvanize some kind of truce.

Sarkozy blesses Libya – Open Arms …Fire.

I have to say something like “it’s like it’s been all over again.” The picture of Sarkozy with Mouammar Gaddafi, hiding behind dark glasses, in Le Figaro on 26 July 2007, is striking because of the timing after Cecilia-to-the-rescue activity for the condemned nurses the day before, as well as the flashback to Blair’s picture (prior comment) six weeks ago. This visit also seals the return into the European arms (so to speak) after Italy PM Prodi’s visit, and courting from Germany and Britain. Sarkozy signed 5 fairly substantial agreements including cultural, university and scientific cooperation. But the real kickers are the nuclear program as well as help on Defense. A quote from Sarkozy on the front page of Le Monde, 27 July 2007, is quite powerful:”Si on ose dire que le nucléaire civil est reservé à la rive nord de la Méditerranée et que le monde arabe n’est pas assez responsable pour le nucléaire civil, on l’humilie et on se prépare à la guerre des civilisations.”(**English below). Sarkozy’s language is a dose of uncommon realpolitik…trying to woo the Arab world and set the stage for his Mediterranean “league.”

———————

**In English: “If one dares to limit civil nuclear capabilities to the Northern coast of the Mediterranean and to say that the Arab world isn’t responsible enough to handle it, one is humiliating them and, what’s more, preparing ourselves for a war of civilizations.”