Wednesday, June 17, 2009

Chaptette 19: Insignificant Differences

So, two Muslims, a Jew, a lapsed Lutheran, and a Dean (religion, unknown) walk into a Doha shisha joint....

You might be able to tell who is who from the pictures. Muslims, clearly, wear dark shirts. The non-Muslims apparently favor khaki. Each side has its uniform, so we can tell each other apart!

My last dinner out in Doha was simply, incredibly, delightfully marvelous. From left to right around the table sat Ibrahim (a Palestinian-American), Hilmi (Sri Lankan), Mark (Lutheran-American), Craig (American-American, I think...Wait! Is Craig on the left of Mark, or the right? It's hard to tell), and John (Dean-American; I usually don't give last names, but his is just too rich to omit: Christ. Well, "Crist" if you want to get technical about it, but if I were an author I would have added the H, just to complete the religious circle we have going here). To "hammour" me (humor me, get it! bada bing!) that's what we ordered all around (yeah, we got totally "hammoured"!) [NB: Hammour is a popular local fish.]

And we talked. And we laughed. Hilmi has worked in conflict zones all over the world, and is now doing charity work in Doha. Ibrahim directs a large project for an American education non-profit; they are training teachers in Qatar. Ibrahim also has a Ph.D. in conflict resolution, and that's how he, Hilmi, Craig all know each other: they are all professional peacemakers.

And fine company. I learned more about Islam in our two hours together than I had learned in my entire life, safe to say. One key point: like Baptists, Muslims have no central authority, no highest leader, for the faithful. Each believer has a direct connection to God. Each cluster of believers has its own views about dogma, its respected leaders, and so forth. I learned much about "fatwas" (Islamic legal pronouncements, most typically concerning behavior) -- and how different scholars/leaders issue different fatwas, which are often in conflict, sometimes reversed, etc. Sort of like the Southern Baptist Convention (as I understand that mysterious, foreign religion). Equally important: this may come as a surprise, or maybe not, but these guys were hilarious....and very, very smart...and genuinely friendly, curious, lively, engaging, and kind.

After dinner, we smoked shishas. To respect my people, I ordered apple-flavored tobacco. I also had turkish coffee. And a Red Bull. And Meth. And crack. No wonder I have trouble sleeping.

Leaving the Souq, I see the lights of the Islamic Cultural Center in the distance. You can study Arabic there, for free. Maybe next time I will.

Tuesday, June 16, 2009

Chaptette 18: Calculations and Interpretations

(74-70.5)*2.2*3500/150 = 179.67

The students in my "Quantitative Methods for International Politics" class -- at least some of them -- are freaking out now. The semester ends in two days, and they have to complete some online quizzes, a problem set, and a small research project. The research projects I graded last night and returned today were highly variable (mean = 81.something, standard deviation = 18.something. In other words, the class average was a low "B" grade, but the scores were all over the place. The highest was 100, of 100. The lowest? 18).

When the class began, the students were freaking out for a different reason. Statistics is often feared because it contains...numbers...formulae...greek symbols...and calculations. As it turns out, these are not the difficult part, as one can always look up a formula and use a computer to do the calculations. That's cookbook stuff. The difficult part is interpretation.

First, a digression. Even cookbook recipes can sometimes be hard to follow, and it is easy to make mistakes (I remember from my Boy Scout days when a fellow tenderfoot thought the pankcake recipe called for 8/4 cups of water, rather than 3/4 cups. The resulting flapjacks were just a bit runny.) On the most recent project set, a fair number of students made similarly catastrophic mistakes. When I levied heavy point deductions, they protested: Hey! I got the rest of the problem right! Why are you taking off so many points?

My response: You are rushed to the emergency room, and the doctor has to decide whether you've had a heart attack. If you have, you'll need the full emergency room barrage. If you haven't, the doctor will give you antacids (for the heartburn), advil (for the muscle ache), and fluid (for the dehydration). In fact, if you have had the heartattack, and the doctor does the wrong test and gives you the wrong answer, you will not exactly be reassured by the doctor telling you that "Hey! I did everything right after the misdiagnosis!"

As you can see, I'm in full-bore teaching mode now. I better snap out of it before I see my family, or I'm going to drive them crazy.

Now, back to the calculations and interpretations. Take the formula at the top of the page. The first part of it ((74-70.5)*2.2*3500)) came to me right after I got off the treadmill this morning. As I have every morning since I've been here, I weighed in: 70.5 kilos (155.1 pounds). When I got here, I weighed 74 kilos (162.8 pounds). In the last month, I've lost 7.7 pounds. At 3500 calories per pound, this means I've burned almost 27,000 calories more than I've ingested. That's the math.

The interesting part, at least for me, is in finding the meaning of this: how did it happen? Ok, class, let's break it down: a) I've consumed less; b) I've burned more. But which is it, and why?

In thinking how I've ingested calories, I considered my diet. Hmm, I'm always eating good healthy breakfasts, which I often skip back home. Implication: Almost certainly more calories for breakfast. Hmm, I'm eating big (varied, and generally wholesome) lunches almost every day in the cafeteria. Implication: On average, I'm probably getting more calories for lunch.

Then it comes to me: There's no beer here! Quickly, I look up the needed information ("the typical beer has about 150 calories") and plug it in to the formula at the top, dividing the total excess calories I've burned by 150.

The result: 27,000 calories equals about 180 beers.

The 180 beers I haven't drunk in the past five weeks. Here's what happened next:

Inside Mark's head:

Inside Mark's head:

Inside Mark's head: Whoa, that's a LOT of beer.

Inside Mark's head: I want one.

That can't be the entire explanation. Can it?

No, the weight loss must involve the exercise side as well as the eating side. (Picture of my actual brand of running shoe below! You owe me, Brooks!)

In fact, I have been exercising more, either riding the bike or running on the treadmill virtually every day. But again, Sherlock, the question is Why?

The answer is obvious, and obviously wrong. I exercise because I want to be healthy, and because I like it, and because it allows me to do other things. Ha! The sophisticated scholar knows not to trust such simplistic rationalizations, especially when a person explains his own life with them.

The correct answer, Part 1: Vanity. Yes, you heard me. Vanity. You think health clubs put mirrors on the walls so individuals have "proper" form? Have you noticed that, now that I'm writing about me, this blog is getting pretty -- oh, so very pretty -- long?

The correct answer, Part 2: It's like this. As a youth, my Boy Scout Manual dispensed such wise advice (as I recall) as, um, when a boy gets those "urges" he should take a cold shower or exercise, or something like that, to distract the mind.

Cold showers are literally impossible here. My apartment must store its water supply in Hell, as when I turn the shower on it is cool for about 5 seconds (as pipes in my apartment are cool) before it scalds. My Hobbesian showers are nasty, scaldish, and short.

The other "healthy" alternative is exercise. Eureka! So that's why I'm riding and running so much....

The Doha Diet: Subtract beer, add vanity and unrequited lust, lose weight fast!

See? That's the difference between mere calculation and astute interpretation.

Sunday, June 14, 2009

Chaptette 17: Variance

Who said "Variety is the spice of life," anyway?

a) Winston Churchill
b) Abraham Lincoln
c) Mr. (or is it Ms.?) McCormick
d) William Cowper

The answer, you correctly guessed, is "Who cares?"

If you care about spices, though, the Souq Waqif is the place to be.

There, you can actually say, "Nadim, how about two scoops of [spice name here]? To go, please."

Here is where knowledge of variety and spice would help. I think I can identify the cumin, and perhaps the turmeric, but after that I get a little woozy. Or is it sneezy. I do love looking at the Spice Range, though, and I imagine a little Harrison Ford (in his Raiders of the Lost Ark stage) climbing up and over one of the mounds in search of [nefarious enemy name here].

The spices in my apartment: Salt. Black pepper. Garlic. Soy sauce if that counts. Mint, parsley, and cilantro, if we count herbs.

This next picture doesn't exactly fit in, but I like it anyway: the vibrancy of the nuts, seeds, sweets, the mystery of the abaya (robes). I feel a bit sheepish about posting this, as some women in abaya refuse to be photographed, and I want to honor their preference. Since their faces aren't showing, I hope I am sufficiently respecting their privacy.

Craig and I visited the fruit market on Saturday. All the fruits and vegetables are imported, from it seems every country, in every variety. I bought some figs, but didn't like them. Let me know if you want them.

The wholesale fish market stank, literally. Here, the word "literally" means literally, unlike those who use it to mean figuratively ("I literally lost my head today!"). Craig and I almost bought some hammour (like a grouper, minus the Jimmy Buffet attitude), but since nothing was on ice we took a pass. Outside, under the awning, an entire school of shrimp shuckers were kneeling and peeling.

I like the guy photographed below. Don't you? He reminds me of a stoic watermelon.

Friday, June 12, 2009

Chaptette 16: Probability

The probability that you will be born a Qatari is approximately 0.00445 percent, or something like 4 out of 100,000. Pretty slim odds, eh? Not as bad as Powerball, but a whole lot worse than the odds that you'll get, say, an offer for 12 FREE CDs (if you buy 1 now and commit to buying 3 more each year for the next three years, plus shipping and handling).

Don't let my statistical precision fool you. The probability that you will be born a Qatari is exactly "zero", unless you actually are a Qatari, in which case the odds prove to be pretty decisively in your favor. The point is: being born a Qatari is a pretty rare event.

If you did win that particular genetic lottery, material life is going to be pretty good to you. Qatar has either the highest or second highest per capita income, or gross domestic product per person, and all that other stuff, in the world: they all mean that Qatar is in the money. And these figures usually are calculated something like "all the Booty (in the pirate sense) that Qatar has, divided by all the people living in Qatar". That formula is clearly false, however, as the more relevant calculation is "Booty/Qataris" or, as we in the profession call it, the B/Q ratio. THIS ratio is pretty high; there's a lot of money to spread amongst the locals, and the money is spread pretty widely.

The chances that a person will not be born Qatari are overwhelming. Even in Qatar, the odds of being Qatari are pretty low: I think they are about 3-1. (Perversely, the other type of booty/Qatari ratio is also minuscule). The non-Qataris don't get there share of the share the wealth, so they have to work hard to make a living. All the manual labor and service jobs are done by non-Qataris (mainly, I think, Philipinnos, Malaysians, Indians, and so forth.

I don't really know much about what their life is like here. All the workers I have met personally have been unfailingly polite and nice, but then again while I'm here I suppose I'm seen as working for The Man. But I do have eyes and legs and, yes, sometimes I even walk outside my garden compound. Virtually all the homes/apartments are behind security/privacy walls, so it is difficult to see much about what's going on inside. Laborers have less privacy and security.

These pictures are from the lot right across from Samrya Gardens, where I live. If you look closely, you might see some of these details: a makeshift weightlifting (is not enough being lifted at work?), TV antennae and satellite dishes, a basketball backboard, construction rubble -- ok, that's a gimme -- and my apartment in the background, as I walk back home pondering about probabilities under the setting son.

Chaptette 15: Qatar from the Air

I am wondering if individuals relate to their blogs the same way they relate to their lovers. Some blogs, it seems, at first are filled to overflowing, the words spilling out, page after page, day after day...the writer simply can't get enough of the blog. Then, the postings gradually diminish in frequency, intensity, length, and passion, although they may have an occasional burst of energy.

Other blogs continue to grow in skill, enthusiasm, and interest. Yet others are the steady ones: no single blog may seem very exciting, but you sure can count on them to post, day in and day out.

Some appear for only a few days before vanishing. And some -- maybe like this one -- are simply inscrutable. But, then again, so are some relationships.

Or maybe I'm just trying to come up with something to blog about.

Here's an idea: let's take an aerial tour of Qatar. I flew over it at a very low altitude (about 18 inches above the ground) and at a very slow speed. You see here what I saw there. Qatar also looks like this from 30,000 ft, but I couldn't jump that high and hold the camera still. I hope you enjoy the oasis I found, and I hope you can find it in one of these pictures.

Tuesday, June 9, 2009

Chaptette 14: Doha Downer

Nothing like a summer sinus infection.

One benefit: a neologism, I think.

Sunny optimist that I am, my new term is "Qatariffic" as in "That's just qatariffic!" (Go ahead, skeptics: google it. You won't find any prior citations.)

Here's the context. After (figuratively) licking the camel's shank, rubbing my eyes with his tail, and inhaling his eructations, I felt like a "Camel Light" (gratuitous cigarette reference).

In medical terms -- and I am a "Doctor" -- I picked up a sinus infection. As usual, I wallow in bed for awhile, basting myself with self-pity every few minutes. I've had sinus infections many times, however, and I know what works (in addition to self-pity): Amoxil or Zithromax. Trying to find a real doctor seems like a lot of time and energy, especially when at the end Herr Doktor will say "You have a sinus infection and need Amoxil or Zithromax." I decide to cut out the middle-man, as I've heard that pharmacies will provide meds without a prescription.

I trudge across the dessert for forty years to get to the drug store. (I'm watching The Ten Commandments now, and it does seem like the Hebrews had a tougher go of it than I am.)

Me: I have a sinus infection. Can you give me A or Z?

Pharmacist: I can't give them to you without a prescription. Do you have one?


Me: (Sad puppy eyes)

Pharmacist: Ok, here's a box of 500 MG Amoxil for you. Oh, and do you need a prescription cortisone inhaler, too?

Me: (Happy puppy eyes)

So I now wait for the drugs to work. I hope they kick in soon, as I know my students must be eager to learn more statistics.

My assessment?

My experience with the health care system here was Qatariffic!

Monday, June 8, 2009

Future Chaptettes

Good afternoon....I've been down with a cold of late, and earlier I "pulled" a post at the advice of some friends here. So the blog has been silent. Ahh, fleeting life!

Some forthcoming chapters may include (feel free to send me a topic):

Qatar Couches: A pictorial tour.

Touring Qatar in 3 hours or less.


Markets of Fish and Fruit.

Friday, June 5, 2009

Chaptette 13: Random Patterns -- The Museum of Islamic Art

A thousand times a thousand words is insufficient.

Chaptette 12: Predictions

Today, I'm writing about the future, mainly, but I'll makes some predictions about the past. The latter will be more accurate, likely.

Do you enjoy cardamom-spiced coffee? If so, I'll be glad to bring you some. I hadn't had it before -- it's a local custom -- but the vendor was quite enthusiastic about selling it to me, along with dark roast ground for a french press. So I bought a half kilo. (For those who are unfamiliar with the metric-pound conversion, just imagine a moderately small brick of hashish.) I'm always glad to try new experiences, but small doses would be a good way to start. When a visitor comes to Arkansas, for example, it probably makes sense to try a little scrapple before going to an "all you can eat" scrapple restaurant.

I should have been able to predict what would happen to me when I attempted to pick up my rental car yesterday. I took a taxi to the right office at the right time. I show my email printout with my confirmation number and the statement that I had paid in full by credit card. They have no record of this. So they call the central Doha office, which asks me to email the record to them. (I had reserved online from the home office in some other country.) As I didn't have email access at this office, I asked why they couldn't have the home office email them. For reasons that any traveler will understand, this was impossible. In the time honored tradition, I began speaking more slowly and more loudly, so that I could be better understood. Phone calls were made; faxes were sent. Finally, it was determined that I didn't have the appropriate driver's license, so the entire (lengthy) process was moot. I was instructed to go to the Traffic Bureau and get my international license, but the bureau was closed today, tomorrow, and the next day.

When I taxied back to my office, one of my students told me: "Oh, just go to any travel agent. For about $20, you can get your license."

At last, I feel like I'm in a foreign country. It was almost worth the hassle.

Actually, this cardamom coffee is beginning to grow on me. As with most vices -- if, as some religions believe, caffeine is a vice -- I'm determined to keep trying it until I enjoy it.

About dusk today I'll take a taxi to the Islamic Art Museum (designed by I.M. Pei -- Doha is architecturally ambitious -- and holding an incredible collection; see the top picture) before walking along the Corniche, the curved path along the harbor (second picture). I'll find a cafe, drink another 10 cups of spiced coffee, spend some quality time with a Shisha (known in the US as a "hookah"; third picture) and then, accelerating on caffeine and nicotine, I'll enter the Souq Waqif and begin bargaining in earnest for souvenirs. My red eyes will show my ruthlessness. I'm demanding the hardest bargain, and won't stop until the merchants give me the price they want....

So: What would you like me to shop for?

Thursday, June 4, 2009

Chaptette 11: Chi Square Test

So, a classicist, a poet, an economist, a conflict resolutionist, and a statistician walk into a bar.....Yes, these are my Georgetown colleagues.

It wasn't just a bar, however; it was Khazana, the finest Indian restaurant in Doha, run by Sanjeev Kapoor, the only Indian "celebrity" chef, and located near the Souq Waqif (old market, which is not old, as it was totally rebuilt in recent years) and the Corniche. The bar didn't serve liquor, no, no, no, no no! but it did make the most incredible fruit cocktails: I had the pepper lychee lassi (yes, it does sound like an rare-breed dog). Wow. The lassi is the yoghurt, the main liquid in this and many other drinks and sauces. So, before we dine, let's all hoist a toast of yoghurt fruits and spices!

The meal's first highlight: the classicist's son was wearing a Redskins football jersey. Recognizing the number, I said "Hey, Clinton [Portis]"

He said: "See, Mom, I knew someone would recognized this jersey here." (Special thanks to my Laura for helping me refine my love/hate relationship with the 'Skins.)

After that: dish after dish of aromatics, breads, rices, hammour curries, chandi kaliyan, mutton patiyala kababs (you busted me: I'm not that sophisticated, so I had to look a couple of the names up). Wow.

Better, still the company. I can't remember the last time I sat down with colleagues who were classicists, poets, and so forth. It hasn't happened, I don't believe, on any "non-business" dinner in the many years I've worked at Georgetown. And this is just Sunday. By Thursday, I'll have broken bread with others three more nights.

Food, and friends, bring together the most essential, and with luck the most luxurious, elements of the human experience. Sensational food, and smart, friendly, lively conversationalists....what is the Indian word for it? Nirvana?

That was Sunday. Monday? Dinner for 10 in a "singles and strays" (maybe not the most apt name, until I remember that "technically" I'm single and "actually" I'm a stray, so, well, ok) ex pat group at a different Indian restaurant. Pim, who amazingly worked 20 years at Georgetown (I never met her there) before quitting and heading to Qatar sits on my left; across from me sat Deanna and Steve, two lovely Australians who came to Doha via Washington DC, and who obviously adore each other. Emily and ??? took me home. Emily, from Wisconsin, met ??? from Istanbul through some internet bulletin board (she was interested in Turkey; he was interested in her). Two weeks later, he flies to the US to meet her; soon thereafter, she flies to Turkey, where they decide "Why wait?" and fly back to Wisconsin to meet her parents. Blissful, three married years later. Curiosity, openness, instincts (and, who knows? Perhaps some Turkish food!) brought them together over the 1000s of miles.

Tuesday night? An egg sandwich, solo, in my apartment. Wednesday? A German couple (colleagues and neighbors) hosted me with chicken liver, carmelized onions, dare I say the world's most perfect beer, then thai curried shrimp with jasmine rice. Oh. My. Our brilliant host's name is Kai (which rhymes with Chi, which is the hypothesis test mentioned in the chapter title, which allows me to tie this all back to statistics), who is married to Katrina, an equally brilliant architect. He hails from West Germany; she from East. She specializes in designing "green roofs" which are much in demand in the US (praise to Mayor Daley!) but not so desired in the land of 10 million air conditioners. Kai and Katrina met a week after the Berlin Wall came down, and their foundation remains solid.

Tonight: Chinese/Thai food back in Souq Waqif, again with delightful Deanna and Steve, as well as two Americans (one who works for the State Department, the other in investment banking). Highlight: Zen, the petite blond investment banker, tells the story of how she gets out of her car and pops a Pakistani in the nose for cutting her off. The punch bloodied her knuckles. I think that she, and perhaps other investment bankers, may not be entirely what we call "risk averse".

I thought I was going to talk about food, but the friends and couples proved more interesting. Right now, I'm satisfied. Tomorrow, I'll be hungry for more again.

Wednesday, June 3, 2009

Chaptette 10: The Null Hypothesis

My Doha Diary takes a brief intermission to consider a political issue. If politics is not your thing, you know what to do.


First, statistics. When we test hypotheses, we assume the "null" hypothesis is true unless compelling evidence exists to show that it is false. It's like a court of law, which assumes that a person is innocent unless the state proves "beyond a reasonable doubt" that the person is guilty. This presumption is part of the American creed, as it should be. Just about the worst thing the government can do is to deprive of us of our liberty and, no, I don't include taxes and regulations in this category: I mean the government imprisoning us when we're innocent.

Last week -- this may have slipped your notice -- the Supreme Court ruled 5-4 to weaken our legal protections.

Here's the deal: From countless law and order shows, we all know about our Miranda rights ("You have the right to remain silent....You have the right to legal counsel...Anything you say might be used against you in a court of law" and so forth). Because not everyone questioned by The Man will really understand what this means and how important it can be to them, the Supreme Court ruled in 1986 that a prisoner "could waive his rights to counsel only in the presence of a lawyer, or by initiating contact with the police" ( In short, it's a very good idea to have your lawyer asking you "Do you really want to waive your right to counsel? Are you sure you really know what you're doing here?"

Last week the Supreme Court changed its mind on this. Justice Scalia, writing for the majority, concluded (apparently, without much evidence) that the requirement to have a lawyer help a person decide whether to waive the right to a lawyer was unworkable and -- get this -- the "marginal benefits are dwarfed" by the chances that guilty persons would go free.

Now, writing for the minority (of one, me), here are my conclusions:

1. Would conservatives please stop complaining about activist judges? An "activist" judge is one who overturns existing precedent or democratically adopted policy. But judges, whether liberal or conservative, do this all the time: Scalia did it here. For all practical purposes, the working definition of an "activist" judge should be: "A judge who disagrees with me."

2. Ensuring that prisoners have lawyers to advise them -- even if it is to waive their right to a lawyer -- protects the guilty? What kind of comment on the legal system is this? The main question of the court is to determine who is guilty, so we want to make sure that everyone has legal counsel not so much to protect the guilty as to protect the innocent. (I haven't checked, but the NYT argues that a wide array of Republican and Democratic law enforcement officials and judges supported the existing policy, because it ultimately makes law enforcement more effective.

If you're read this far, thanks. Here's one (well, two) final thoughts. Let's say two people are charged with some heinous crime, and we know that one is innocent and the other is guilty, but we don't know which is which. Let's say we are going to try them both together, and we'll either acquit both or convict both.

What would you do?

I think Scalia would say: "To protect the public, we must convict both. That's the price of security."

I would say: "We don't protect the public by convicting the innocent. To preserve liberty, we must acquit." (Ok, we might want to watch both of them in the future...)

He might respond: "What if it was your son who was killed?"

I would answer: "What if it was your son who was sent to prison?"

The lecture is over. Next chaptette: food, or something else fun.

Chaptette 9: Significant Differences?

A quick (but highly relevant) statistical lesson: When we compare groups statistically, we usually want to learn whether the differences (or similarities) are "statistically significant" and 'substantively significant". Statistical significance concerns whether the differences are "real" -- that is, whether the groups are actually different or not. Substantive significance involves whether the differences are large enough to care about, or small enough to be trivial. So differences can be statistically significant, but substantively trivial, and so forth.

Class dismissed.

When I arrived in Doha, I assumed (probably like most Americans) that Islamic women (and also men, but more on this later) were really different from American women, at least in terms of their dress. American women are "free" to wear whatever they want, while Qatari women are "restricted" to wear abaya/shayla (black robe and veil; I might not have the terms quite right). Freedom is good, right? Score one for the US, right?

Now, I'm not so sure, for a couple reasons. First, pretty much everyone in both countries will agree that individuals shouldn't be able to wear anything they want anywhere they want. Outside of Arkansas (sorry, neighbors!) we probably think that daisy dukes, tube tops, wife beaters, spandex, etc, are not appropriate for wearing to weddings and funerals. Second, almost everyone agrees that individuals should be able to express their individuality through their clothes.

So Americans and Qataris agree that there should be some standards about appropriate dress and that individuals should be individuals. The differences are more about what standards and what individuality are appropriate.

Americans have more freedom of clothing expression but, really, we all know what is expected of us and most of us conform to it. My Georgetown students can basically wear whatever they want to class, but the range is really quite small: jeans, tops/shirts, sneakers/flipflops, etc. Georgetown students clearly have an informal uniform, and almost everyone complies with it. I can't speak so much for white collar women, but for white collar men we express our unique selves with minor variations in the print of our neckties and the width of our pinstripes.

Ethnic Qatari women do generally wear abaya/shayla in public -- yes, the uniform is all black -- but the variation in pattern and ornamentation is virtually infinite. The stock pictures I've posted here give the idea. And the men -- wearing all white -- also have the widest variety of minor details that express individuality. Kind of like American men and their neckties.

I'd feel different about this if Qatari men could wear whatever they wanted and Qatari women had to wear abaya. But since both men and women wear culturally appropriate clothing, it feels pretty egalitarian to me (but I'm only talking about clothes here).

And in conclusion -- yes, I have to bring it back to the beginning -- the differences in dress, and the attitudes about clothing between Americans and Qataris are statistically significant, but I think substantively pretty small.

Sunday, May 31, 2009

Chaptette 8: Normal Curves and Straight Lines

Doha bathrooms have bidets. Even the GAS station bathrooms have them! I'm really not part of the "blame America first" crowd, but public bathrooms in the US could use a serious upgrade ("We're, um, 'Number 1'?") The toilets themselves typically have two flushing buttons. Ok....

Because of its conservative Islamic tradition, public bathrooms are strictly segregated by sex.

My laundry machine both washes and dries. For the life of me, I couldn't figure out how to use it. Yeah, right, like you can do better. Look at the
front of that machine, and tell me you know what those buttons are for and what the icons mean. I studied them, as if I were translating ancient hieroglyphics (the scholar asks himself "Does that icon represent "no socks"? "add softener?" "take a shower?") I wish the buttons had just been labeled with Arabic, so I could look at them and say "I don't know Arabic". "Universal" icons just made me feel "uniquely" stupid.

My washer is much better. It doesn't clean dishes very well, but at least I understand it. You push one button and it helpfully shows a display: "English?" You push another button and the screen reads "Normal," "Rinse" and so forth. I need to get it to talk with the washer/dryer.

The pictures clearly show that appliances in Qatar are asymmetrical, and pictures don't lie.

The microwave? Like all its tribe, it is a machine of many buttons. As with every microwave, I only need one: I keep pushing the "add 30 seconds" button until whatever I'm cooking explodes inside. Then it's done.

The electrical plugs are pretty cool. They have three prongs and one generally shoves in a universal (!!) three prong adapter; this accepts any power cord, the slut. All outlets do have an "on-off" switch, so the outlet is not hot until you turn it on. This seems like a pretty good idea to me, after I figured out why the iron wouldn't work, my laptop wouldn't charge, etc. unless I turned the power on. But now I know this: I'm almost Qatari!

The pool is simple operate. Jump in. The first two weeks I was here, the pool was not chilled. In fact, the water temperature was exactly 98.6 Fahrenheit, which made me feel like I was swimming in....oh, never mind. But you wouldn't want to swim in it. Today, it was delightfully cool, and breezy. It only lacked women without veils and drinks not from fruit juice bottles. (Surely some literary style allows for repetitive elements running through the chapters, right?)

Here I am, trying to figure out how to use my appliances.

I would have posted a picture of my camera, too, but it is not autophotographical.

Friday, May 29, 2009

Chaptette 7: Null Set

I awoke this morning with much on my mind. Better go for a long, leisurely, bike ride to nowhere. This time, no goals, no "nice" numbers, just riding. I didn't even peek at the bike's display panel.

Much. (64.45 minutes at an average speed of 27.6K/H)

Afterwards, lacking the normal vices, I decided to lie out by the pool (it was only about 8.30 a.m.) without any sunblock. I sneer at you, behavioral risk!

Several years ago, at a routine physical exam, I made this pitch to my doctor: "Hey, look, when I was a kid I played lots of tennis, worked on a farm, and served as a lifeguard. I'm sure I've been exposed to 98 percent of the sun that I'll see in my life. At this point, do I really need to worry about sunblock?"

What she said: "Yes."
What I heard: "Don't be a moron."

When we were at The Ritz yesterday, I decided to check out the pool scene there. When I got here, I had fantasies about walking to the beach every morning, going for a little swim, and just enjoying the waves. Yes, that is a fantasy. Even though Doha is on the Gulf, there are no good public beaches here, so if you want the beach experience you buy a day pass from one of the luxury hotels and use their beach/pool. So I had a good reason to check it out. The pool area was glorious: waterfalls, flowers, little reflecting pools, palm trees, and pretty much what you might expect that Brangelina might expect. My synapses really started crackling when I discovered that there were women not wearing veils and drinks not poured from fruit juice bottles. Exit stage left. Besides, it costs 250QR (about $70). That seemed like too much to get wet.

Afterward, Craig and I went to the City Centre Mall: that's where the ice skating rink and a movie theater are. No Qataris were skating, perhaps because they all wear sandels (men) or shoes (women), without socks. Only one Arabic movie was showing, and it didn't have subtitles. I didn't want to see any of the US films (yes, ALL the other 8 or so movies were from the US) so I read and walked around until he got out.

Random Facts:

1. City Centre is to Villagio what Dollar Store is to Gucci.

2. All Qataris wear black (women) and white (men). A few women were fully covered (veils, gloves) with no body parts visible at all. A few more wore face scarves with holes for the eyes. Most wore headresses with exposed faces. All the men wear the long white shirt and white headresses with black ties, but there is an infinite variety in their exact cut and style: I assume that Qataris can determine status differences from such things.

3. The easily-identifiable Americans looked just like they do back home: sloppy.

4. I've never been in a place where it is SO obvious who is native and who is not. Even at football games at Razorback stadium, at least SOME locals don't wear Hog hats.

5. I bought a camera.

6. Smoking is allowed. It's now hard for me to believe, but US malls used to be filled with smoke, too. How easily our definition of what is "normal" can change.

7. You can make facts up and post them on the internet. It's easy to do!

I'm thinking of all my family and friends today, and I'm missing them.

Chaptette 6: ((Pen)(insula)r)

Qatar is a peninsula, and a very insular one, a hitch-hiker's thumb sticking out of Saudia Arabia into the Persian Gulf. Not island enough for you? Not to worry: Doha's building its own island, The Pearl ( Craig, David and I visited there this afternoon.

How insular is it here? Craig met David at the Doha airport; David has just been hired to direct the undergraduate program at UMASS-Amherst that Craig attended. David is here for a conference (on the rule of law in arabic culture, or something like that). It's being held at The Ritz (we do like our 5-star hotels here) near The Pearl. We walk into the Ritz, and who do we meet? Michael, here on a Fulbright, who turns out to be the guy I met yesterday at the library and sent to get the security guard after the staffer collapsed. Oh, yes, David knew Michael, as he had also been here on a Fulbright. So, like a pearl, our circles are small.

I'm tempted to attend the conference on the rule of law -- all the regional Major Domos will be there. More importantly, I'm not sure how laws are viewed here. Yesterday in my quant class I showed clips from the fabulous movie "12 Angry Men" -- I won't go into an entire teaching moment here, but essentially it's about hypothesis testing (is the accused innocent or guilty?). The class looked slightly puzzled when I noted that in the US the rule of law means, in part, that an individual is innocent until proven guilty. Well, I'm not sure whether the class was puzzled or merely skeptical: I gather that here the Qataris are generally assumed to be innocent and the immigrant workers guilty. Nothing like that would EVER happen in the US.

It didn't in the (did I mention fabulous?) movie 12 Angry Men. (Go. Rent. It.) As Hollywood shows it, 11 men quickly vote to send a young man to the electric chair for killing his father, until the Man in the White Suite (Henry Fonda, as an architect) gradually convinces all 11 others to acquit through the power of his calm analysis, reason, and argument.

But then I read "An Innocent Man" (John Grisham), his non-fictional account of how several men were sentenced to life (or given a death sentence) on the basis of the most flimsy, fabricated evidence, the wildest stories of jailhouse snitches, and coerced confessions....

Oh. Maybe the US and Qatar have more in common than I thought...For what it's worth, Qatar is one of the safest countries in the world. Ok, maybe the US does not have THAT in common.

Thursday, May 28, 2009

Chaptette 5: Nature and the Machine, Part Deux

Forty percent of Qatari children are obese (thank you, western culture!) and just under 20 percent of Qatari adults have diabetes (a lower rate than in Saudi Arabia, the UAE, and perhaps some other countries). This is pretty understandable. Given the heat, Doha is a "mall" culture, and when you're there why not stop by the food court and have a little snack, eh?

If I airlifted you into the Villagio mall at midnight, and dropped you into the food court, you would not know if you were in Doha, Tyson's Corner, or the Northwest Arkansas Mall. Ok, maybe you'd know you weren't in the latter. Villagio is best known for having a canal running down the center and, yes, you can hire a gondola ride. The sky (aka ceiling) above the canal is a light blue, with fluffy white clouds. Hmmm. I haven't seen a real cloud since I've been here.

Villagio does have different wings. I briefly walked through what I call the Cartier wing, where all the Rodeo Drive shops would be located, if the residents of Rodeo had more money. Sports cars are on display. One in particular caught my eye until I calculated that I would have to teach my quantitative methods course 300 times in a row to afford it (if no taxes were taken out of my check, which would be true if I lived here. That's right: Qataris pay no taxes of any kind. I state this with authority as a fact, and I challenge you to prove me wrong...).

Right now I'm one of the few ex-pats who does not have a car. Everyone else rents one. I wish I could say that I walked or biked places, but I don't. It's too hot and there's almost no place to walk. Streets in my neighborhood are lined with apartment complex after complex; each has a security gate and guards. I miss walking, as I've always found it the best way to explore a new location (and old ones, for that matter). Anyway, I'm bumming rides and relying on the kindness of strangers. If I did have a car, I'm sure I'd use it often, and mingle, read, write, and watch less. Thank you Mark, Craig, Vehia, John and the Fox Cab Company for the lifts.

Historically, weather has controlled civilizations and not vice versa. Welcome to Qatar. By law, if the temperature rises above 50 Celsius (122 Fahrenheit), outdoor work must stop. It seems that the locals have found a miraculous way to ensure that the temperature never actually rises that high....

Chaptette 5: Nature and the Machine, Part 1

Doha has at least two ice-skating rinks. One is in a mall, and I'm eager to see it. I'm imagining Qataris in their long black or white robes, gliding smoothly like spirits through air....I wanted to post a YouTube video of the rink here, but I am informed that "This video is not available in your country." I'm guessing the Qatar government is sensitive about appearances.

The other ice rink is in my apartment. I discovered this when I stepped out of the shower onto the floor's glassy marble tiles....

Let me put it this way: My axel turned into a camel.

I witnessed another fall yesterday. I was in the library checking out DVDs for the weekend (Spartacus and The Searchers; more on this later) when a librarian screamed something like "oh my god". One of the staffers had collapsed on the floor. Boy Scout neural pathways kicked in, and I raced over, instructed someone to call 911, except there is no number like that here, or at least no one knew what it was.

Where's the phone book? I opened it, quickly scanned it, found some sort of emergency number. Remembered I didn't know Arabic, and just in case the emergency person only spoke that language, I told another bystander what to say when he called.

No answer. No answer at other numbers he called. So he took off to find a security guard, who might be able to help.

I checked Ira, the staffer who had collapsed. She was unconscious but was breathing and had a strong pulse. She woke up and began vomiting, so I rolled her on her side so she wouldn't inhale it. Gradually, she came to, but was pretty incoherent. After it seemed she was stable, I left because I had to get ready for class and gave them my cell number (as if I knew what to do other than a few simple things). I was assured by then that an ambulance was coming.

Ira is ok and was being held for observation.

Four hours later, one of the emergency lines called back and inquired as to whether there was a problem, perhaps?

Emergency procedures are now being reviewed.

Medical care might not be hot on the scene, but security is otherwise good in "Education City". All drivers entering hand over their driver's license at the first security checkpoint. The GU building has probably two or three security guards at each entrance, and you need a passkey to open the doors. There has never been any kind of incident in the City, as far as I know.

Chaptette 4: Patterns and Randomness

We were less the Four Horseman of the Apocalypse and more the Four Riders of the Nautilus. Craig (GU colleague) was running on the treadmill, Susan (South African, Samrya neighbor) was climbing on the Stairmaster, Margarette (unknown origin, probably northern Europe, neighbor) was riding the recumbent bike, and I was on the regular bike. We four looked straight into the mirror comprising the entire opposite wall – if you’ve exercised at a health club, you know this look -- not turning our heads to notice the others. Four sweaty westerners wearing “workout” attire inside; four laborers actually working outside in their heavy overalls. We were riding/running/climbing fast and going nowhere; they were weeding the garden and cleaning the pool. I wonder if we looked like hamsters on a wheel?

There are no doubt many ways to ride an exercise bike, but here are two of them. I could ride as fast or slow as I wished for as long as I wanted (until I was tired, or bored, or jacked up, or whatever). This seems like a pretty good idea. I never do that. Instead, I ride as if I were some sort of machine. My pattern: Pick some “nice” numbers, and meet them. So today I rode 30 minutes, at 100 revolutions per minute, which “took” me 15 kilometers. Very neat. I never ride 27 minutes, at 84 RPM for 11.7K or whatever. Why not?” Somehow this order makes me….satisfied. Until I remembered that I was only being neat in the metric system: under English measurements, I’m riding some weird number of miles. Oh well. Measurements are paradoxical: what appears as a pattern under one system seems random under another.

Do you know Qatari etiquette? When I first got here, I shopped for groceries at the local Mini Mart, and my man Farook there would help me get what I needed. He even said he would be glad to “hook me up” if I didn’t find what I needed. Seriously: he must have been listening to Michael Steele or something. (I was tempted to say “Really? How about Absolut, Marlboros, and “Tiffani”?) Anyway, the Mart has little selection and high prices, so I’ve started grocery shopping at a huge Carrefours. Now I slink by Farook, who is usually smoking cigarettes in the shade outside the shop. Do I need to tell him I ditched him for lower prices and more choice?