Tuesday, February 28, 2006

Dodgy Jobs

My previous post probably requires (or deserves) a bit of explanation, specifically, the dodgy jobs (there are a few more, but these were ones that popped into my mind):

Kitchen Hygiene Operative, Butlin's, Clacton
This was a student summer job after my first year at Polyversity. Deeply thrilling, it was: I was part of a crew that cleaned the football-pitch-sized kitchen at this 'holiday camp' three times a day. I remember having to climb inside six-foot diameter, double-skinned stainless steel soup kettles to clean them, sqeegeeing acres of floor, and being stripped naked by my friendly colleagues on my last day there.

Temporary Prison Probation Officer, Liverpool
Slight misnomer there: another student summer job, working for a building co-operative in Liverpool. One of their projects was the conversion of part of Walton Cemetery into a City Farm. Some bright spark had the idea of getting tame prisoners from the jail next door to help out with labouring, and I was the mug who was put in charge of that. I actually had to sign a receipt each day when I picked half-a-dozen crims up from the jail, and the wardens would get really upset if I didn't bring them all back at the end of the day! I only lost one guy for a few hours: it was his birthday and he snuck off to the pub...

Dehydrated Vegetable Packer, Batchelor's, Sheffield
The vegetables were dehydrated, not me. Yet another student job, this one while I still lived at the fambly home. Batchelor's had traditionally bussed in casual labour from our village during the summer when they had gigatons of fresh veg that had to be dehydrated and packed for rehydration and canning during the rest of the year. Put me off canned peas for life, so it did.

Cleat Bender, British Aerospace, Weybridge
After completing a one-year Foundation Course in Art and Design, I decided to take a couple of years out of education (the term 'gap year' had not been invented then). I did an assortment of jobs, but BAe was one of the most 'interesting'. My actual job title was 'brake press operator'. I'd done this job previously in a factory that made steel office furniture - but everything I did there involved putting 90° bends into pre-cut sheets of mild steel, and I would have to do 100 an hour or so. BAe was completely different. In this press shop, you worked on small batches of metal. Maybe a couple dozen in a batch. They were always small pieces - cleats: the brackets you use to fix a bit of skin to a rib of an aeroplane. And the angles were also bizarre, things like 77.2°, or 16.75°. Usually the material was mild or stainless steel, but I remember once doing some titanium: this had to be heated in a furnace and then rushed down to the press shop in an insulated box on wheels and pressed while hot. You only got one chance at this - if the angle wasn't right first time, it was binned (I never knew the value of titanium at the time!).

But it was a hugely boring job: I would get maybe 2 or 3 batches of stuff to do each day, and it would usually take half an hour to do each batch. Drove me nuts, it did.

The things we do for money!


Hmm, Timski from White Sun of the Dessert has tagged me. I'm supposed to answer some silly questions, and if I don't I'll turn into a frog. And if I do, of course the person what tagged me will giff me a gazillion dirhams. Won't you Tim? Yepp, thought so.

Here goes then:

Four jobs I’ve had:
- Kitchen Hygiene Operative, Butlin's, Clacton
- Temporary Prison Probation Officer, Liverpool
- Dehydrated Vegetable Packer, Batchelor's Sheffield
- Cleat Bender, British Aerospace, Weybridge

Four movies I can watch over and over:
- Blade Runner
- Shrek2
- Amelie
- Men In Black

Four places I’ve lived:
- Brighton, UK
- Bristol, UK
- Liverpool, UK
- Riyadh, Magic Kingdom

Four TV shows I like:
- West Wing
- Scrubs
- Top Gear
- don't really watch a lot of telly, sorry

Four places I’ve vacationed:
- Sorrento, Italy
- Ottowa, Canada
- Barcelona, Spain
- Casablanca, Morroco

Four of my favorite dishes:
- Steak and Kidney Pie
- Fish and Chips
- Chicken Korma
- Spaghetti Bolognaise

Four sites I visit daily:
- Google
- Dubai Planet
- The Religious Policeman
- Toot

Four Books I’ve Read This Year:
- Black And Blue by Ian Rankin
- No Going Back by Martin Kirby
- Thud! by Pterry Pratchett
- Nostradamus Ate My Hamster - Robert Rankin

Four bloggers I’m going to tag with this:
- Deepak Morris
- Al Ain Taxi
- Kaya
- Chevygirl

Monday, February 27, 2006

Secret Good News From Etisalat

Ever since I got broadband installed in the house, my life has been blighted by a monthly trip to an Etisalat 'Business Centre' where I have had to stand in line for extended periods of time for the simple purpose of giving them money. Before I got broadband, I was able to pay for my various accounts using one of their clever cash payment machines. But while these machines could accept payment for dial-up accounts, broadband was a non-no.

So, imagine my surprise this afternoon: the barftuds had cut off my damn mobile, and I urgently needed to make some calls. I went to a cash payment machine, and lo! It now accepts payment for broadband! Maybe this has just happened. Or maybe it happened a year ago. I don't know, they never bothered to tell me.

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Sunday, February 26, 2006

New Companies Law Soon

Gulf News reports that the long-awaited revision of the UAE Companies Law could be with us by June.

The new UAE companies law, that is expected to allow 100 per cent foreign ownership of companies, will come into force in June this year, said a top official.

I am sure that this is completely unconnected with the current DPW imbroglio. Not. One of the more lucid arguments coming out of Merkinland is 'how come an Arab company can buy into our ports, but we can't buy into theirs?'

All good stuff.

Saturday, February 25, 2006

Dear America

With all the baloney about DP World controlling some ports in the US, I replied to a comment on Secret Arabian. An American commenter had expressed curiosity about exactly how 'free' trade is in the UAE. He'd heard that foreigners could not have full control of their businesses. Here's my reply:

Foreign ownership of companies in the UAE goes like this: generally, you need a local partner, and that partner will own 51% of the business. In Free Zones, however, foreign individuals and companies can own 100% of their business. There is no corporate or income tax in the UAE.

It is likely that the 51/49 ownership rule will be relaxed or revoked in the next few years. Free Zones in Dubai include Jebel Ali port (an enormous industrial area), Internet and Media Cities, Airport Free Zone and Dubai Healthcare City. There are many other Free Zones in the pipeline in Dubai, so whatever kind of business you want to invest in, you will be able to do it without a local partner.

Dubai realises how important FDI is, and that is why they are setting up all the Free Zones (I'm sure Dubai would love to abolish the local partner thing altogether, but that's a UAE Federal law, so it's not so easy).

In terms of Middle East reaction to the cartoons, the UAE has been very moderate. There have been protests and there is a boycott of Danish goods (misguided in my opinion), but there is one thing you absolutely have to understand about the UAE. It is the most liberal country in the region.

It supports the West in numerous ways. It is staking its future on being the friendly face of the Middle East: anyone (who has the money!) can come and live and work and do business here. It is not in the interests of this country to encourage terrorism or extremism in any form. You need to remember that the country is only 30 years old, and what it has achieved in that short time is absolutely mind-blowing.

No response from the anon American yet.

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Friday, February 24, 2006

The Ports Thang

Amazing how stuff gets out of hand isn't it?

When objections to DP World's takeover of P & O, and specifically half a dozen US ports, began to surface from various US politicians, I was, frankly, amazed.

That one of the objectors is Hillary Clinton, whose husband is a regular fixture on the speaking circuit here in Dubai, is truly astonishing. And despite the fact that the role of DP World is restricted simply to management of the ports in question - they will neither own them nor be responsible for security - supposedly educated and responsible Senators are still jumping up and down about it.

I understand that this is mere political posturing, and was greatly heartened by a letter from an American published in today's Gulf News

To our friends in Dubai: We in the US are about to go through a political rough spot, as happens. Conservatives, supporters of the Bush administration, are furious at the sale of P&O to DP World....Many ugly things will be said to distract from the main point that we want progress in specific areas. It's disappointing, yet predictable, the "race card" is being played so early in the process. Please bear with us.

And now DPW are delaying the US bit of the deal so that the US politicians can score points off each other.


Thursday, February 23, 2006

Stormy Weather

The view from my apartment five minutes ago (8 a.m.). The sky is almost black, the thunder and lightning and extremely heavy rain have just started. Thankfully I don't have to drive anywhere today. The rain we had a couple of days ago resulted in an incredible 500 accidents in Dubai alone!

Update: the storm lasted 10-15 minutes, during which time our balcony was under two inches of water and threatening to overflow the threshold of the door. The drain on our balcony has never worked, and it was only some frantic bailing by BetterArf and a flowerpot that saved the day.

Some shopkeepers at Ibn Battuta Mall were less fortunate. The whole area around Geant (but not Geant itself) was awash with water. When we went down at 11am there were some very glum-looking shopkeepers surrounded by wet-look stock. And some of the roads around the mall are under about five inches of water.

Wednesday, February 22, 2006

I Got Lurpak!

Only a little bit. BetterArf and I went to the local food and bev establishment this evening for dinner. Beside the bread were some individually-wrapped portions of Lurpak. I immediately stuffed them into my pocket, and we asked a waitress to bring more. This establishment is also selling a lot more Carlsberg than it used to. Good on 'em.

By the time I got home, of course, I had forgotten all about my pocket full of molten Danish butter. Yeukkh!

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This Will Probably du

The UAE's new telecom operator is now out of the closet and its name is 'du'. I was utterly unsure about the name yesterday when it hit the papers, but today I've got over the surprise. I had hoped we would get a fruit-based name, but this will du. It's catching, see!

There's a good interview in 7Days with Osman Sultan, the CEO of du, who comes across as a smart cookie. He's not an engineer, his background has been in customer-facing roles. And if there's one thing that Etisalat has traditionally been ultra-hyper-mega crap at, it's dealing with customers. So already, I'm likin' it.

Then there's this: EITC (du's official name) took over the telecoms arm of TECOM last month. TECOM is the management company for Dubai Internet City, Dubai Media City and Knowledge Hamlet. TECOM itself had earlier swallowed up SahmNet, which was Emaar's telecoms arm for residents of The Hills, The Lakes, The Greens, The Meadows, The Puddles etc. Osman Sultan has said they will be re-vamping the 'customer interface' for these customers as soon as possible.

This is great, for us and for du. They get to practice on a smallish bunch of customers before rolling out the system to the whole country. And for us in the Cities it means that if we have a problem with connectivity there is now the possiblity that they will send us a technician who has actually seen a computer before, can solve the problem without lengthy calls to whoever it is back at the office who keeps the brain, will not suggest formatting the hard disk and will not leave until the job is done.

It will also mean that I will never again receive an email entitled 'Hazardous Condition Warning'. This is the standard email that TECOM telecom sends out whenever there's going to be a spot of downtime. Honestly, I almost died the first time I got one of these - they might just as well have said 'bomb alert, you are dead, sorry'.

And maybe they can sort out a billing system that users can understand. For VOIP telephone and fatband Interweb at my office in Media City I pay a fixed monthly fee (which is still way too much). I get a bill every month, and it sometimes has extra bells and whistles for mysterious stuff ('2 paperclips: attendance at site for 16-year-old trainee who wasted two hours of your time and still didn't solve the problem: posting 1 letter to Lithuania'). What it never has is any kind of accumulated balance, so if I don't pay one month it doesn't remind me about that outstanding amount, it just tells me about the amount for the previous month. They've never actually cut me off (and I'd have to kill them if they did, given the huge security deposit that they're not paying me any interest on). But it's irritating when somebody finally realises that there's a bunch of outstanding bills and they suddenly insist that they must be settled in the next ten minutes.

Anyhoo, I digress.

du, bring it on.

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Tuesday, February 21, 2006

Du What?

Du mobile, du broadband, du texting, du buy. Hmmm. Du is the long-awaited brand name of Emirates Corporation For Telephones And That Internet Thing And Faxes And Telegraphs Establishment (Branch) (Satwa) PJSC.


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Monday, February 20, 2006

Lurpak Again

I can't believe the Danish cartoons controversy is not only still going on, it is being used as an excuse for a lot of wanton violence, rioting and needless deaths. 11 in Pakistan, 16 in Libya, etc. For what? To make a point - 'we are upset'. Possibly more accurately, 'our Imam told us to be upset'.

Abu Ardvaark did an interesting post on the topic a few days ago. He described a report he had seen on Al Arabiya TV about "a new petition issued by 41 leading Islamist personalities on February 13 calling for a resolution of the cartoons controversy through the passage of an international law criminalizing insults against Prophets (Mohammed, Jesus, and Moses are the ones named)".

I posted this comment in reply to that:

"No, no, no!

You cannot bind secular countries into observance of the sensibilities of the gazillion religions and sects that exist on earth. So why would you single out one for special treatment?

I appreciate that many people were whipped up into a frenzy of 'I am offended'. But the solution now demanded is just utterly unworkable. It seems to me, and I say this with the greatest of respect to all true Muslims, that many extremists in the Islamic world are trying to use this issue to inflame conflict. And if the ridiculous notion of criminalising blasphemy against all religions were to come to pass, I would be looking for another planet to live on.

The 'offended' are now demanding apologies from the Danish government AND people. Come on! Regret has been been expressed, but you will absolutely not get a full apology from a Government whose laws unequivocally state that it cannot be held responsible for any offence committed by its subjects.

How hard is that to understand? I believe that both the cartoonists and the newspaper have apologised: these are the people responsible, so why not just accept that and get back to normality?

Islamists may mock 'freedom of speech', but it is a right that has been fought for over centuries in the West and it will not be compromised by a bunch of religious fanatics."

Also, I note with regret that our supermarket chains here in the Emirates are still boycotting Danish products. It would be interesting to see what would happen if one of these chains was brave enough to put these products back out on display. I for one would be filling my freezer with Lurpak. I already have a lifetime's supply of Lego (the greatest thing ever invented for kids of all ages).

What gets me about this is that foreign media are saying 'people of the Emirates are fully supporting the boycott of Danish goods' when what they actually should be saying is that 'people of the Emirates are being denied the chance to buy Danish goods'. Bit of a difference. Boycotts don't work the way you want them to. Arla Foods, the innocent victim in all this, are losing $1.5 million every day in the Gulf. Quite soon they will have to decide whether to tough it out, or close down their Middle East operations, resulting in the loss of 800 jobs in Saudi Arabia and 200 in the UAE. Did Arla Foods draw or publish the cartoons? Did they have anything to do with them at all? No they did not.

Does any right-thinking Muslim think this company should be penalised in this way for something they had nothing to do with? Or, for that matter, the government and people of Denmark? Somebody tell me...

(Oh, and I just found this - please read it).

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Friday, February 17, 2006

When Is A Highway Not A Highway?

A highway is not a highway when a lot of people jump up and down about it, apparently. The recent furore about the Parallel Roads Project, connecting West Dubai to Old Dubai, has raised a whole bunch of interesting issues. Terminology, accountability and responsibility are just a few of them.

Let's start with terminology. When news of these two new roads broke a few weeks ago, they were described as 'highways'. It was said in the local press that they would feature clover-leaf interchanges at regular intervals. So this description brings to mind a couple of huge roads with traffic moving at 120 kph. What we in the UK call 'motorways'. Nothing wrong with that, except these two roads will run slap-bang through the middle of a bunch of tranquil residential communities. Not just any old communities, though, these are some of the pioneering developments where, for the first time in the Gulf, foreigners of any nationality can buy, and have bought, their own homes.

It has been said that Emaar, the developer of some of these communities, were told about the plans two years ago. And they never told the residents about it. Obviously not - it would damage their future sales prospects, and probably their all-important share price. So for two years Dubai Municipality (who had responsibility for roads which has now been passed to the new Dubai Roads and Transport Authority) were developing these plans, possibly assuming that because they had heard no squeaks of protest from the mushroom-like residents that everything was tickety-boo.

The excrement collided with the air-circulating device when the RTA announced the projects publicly a few weeks ago. Affected residents were up in arms. They have been offered a meeting with Mr Al Tayer, boss of the RTA, but he has said that it is too late to change the plans.

An article in yesterday's Gulf News casts a slightly different light on the matter.

"It is an artery road just like Jumeirah or Al Wasl Roads and not a highway," said Engineer Maitha Mohammad Bin Adai, Director of Roads Department at the Roads Transport Authority (RTA).
She said there will be signals and standard cross sections to ensure easy traffic flow. The maximum speed on this road will not be more than 80km/h.

So, not highways at all, just a couple of badly-needed arterial roads. If that's true, then that is good news. But I can't help wondering. Why were the roads described as 'highways' in the first place? With clover-leaf interchanges? Was that the original plan? Or did the reporters get it wrong?

Why, after two or three weeks are we now told that these are merely arterial roads and not highways? Is the RTA back-tracking in the face of public opinion? (Not a bad thing, I just want to know).

The point here is that Dubai's Government have always just gone ahead and done what they wanted to. If there has been any kind of consultation then it has been done on the quiet at majlises or whatever. And this has been a great advantage to Dubai in its early development, especially as so many of the projects have taken place on virgin sites. But now you have a different scenario. You have many thousands of foreign residents who have bought into the Dubai Dream. Surely they expect a little respect and consideration when developments are being considered that will directly affect the value of their property and the quality of their lives?

Even though they will never get a UAE passport (most would probably not want one), they still should have rights - more rights than the transient expats who have not bought property here. And the right not to have the leafy avenue outside your front door turned into a six-lane motorway without serious compensation should be one of them.

Darn Tootin'

You see the new little button in my sidebar? 'I'm on Toot' it says.

'What's Toot, then?', you say.

Toot is a kind of a blog aggregator for the entire Middle East. Every day they hand-pick a bunch of stories that they like. There's also an automated RSS feed thingie. And every month you can vote for your fave blogs. So if you enjoy Adventures in Dubai, get on over there and vote for me! And if you don't, don't.

Oh, and Adventures in Dubai was mentioned twice in Emirates Today's Blog Bites.

Smug git, moi? Quick, somebody widen the doors!

Bride and Brejudice

We went to see the latest remake of Jane Austen's Pride and Prejudice yesterday. It stars Keira Knightley (bonny little thing), Matthew Macfadyen, Brenda Blethyn (screamingly funny) and Donald Sutherland. Dame Judi's in there as well, typecast as a scary auld woman. It has superb photography, realistically earthy sets, costumes to die for and a witty script. What more could you ask?

I lurved it.

Wednesday, February 15, 2006

The VATman Cometh

Great, just great. The International Monetary Fund have convinced the GCC countries that it would be really good if we had Value Added Tax. The GCC told the UAE to sort it out. The UAE have delegated the job to Dubai Customs. Dubai Customs have hired the IMF as a technical consultant.

At this time of rampant inflation, do we really need another tax? And in this era of high oil prices, most GCC countries already have more cash than they know what to do with.

But look on the bright side: this is a GCC-wide project, so the possibility of all parties reaching agreement in under ten years is extremely unlikely.

Tuesday, February 14, 2006

I Lurve You All

Happy Valentine's Day!

Monday, February 13, 2006

Flight of the Phoenix

Eeeeh, I don't know. Our local video shop (make that DVD shop - there ain't no tape in that place) does a special deal if you rent something on a Monday. Only Dhs 6. Cool.

Now, BetterArf's normally in charge of this, because she understands technology and I don't. She came home from work this afternoon and mentioned that we had 2 DVDs that needed to go back or we'd be charged for another week's rental. We'd only actually watched one of them. I volunteered to take them back and she said 'get some more'.

OK. So I'm in the vid shop, looking for a couple of movies. We've seen a lot of them, but I pick out two likely suspects. I take them to the desk and he says 'look, these are the display copies, you have to take the ones behind them on the shelf'. Shit, I didn't know. And then he says 'they're both due back tomorrow'. Ah, well I'll just take one then.

And the one that I took was 'Flight of the Phoenix'. The recent remake and probable box-office flop.

I kind of remember the original which I'd seen on telly when I was maybe 11. Even though it was in black'n'white and had old-fashioned actors in it, I thought it was brilliant (actually it was made in 1965, in colour). A kind of memory of it has stuck with me to this day, even though I only saw it the one time. I remember it being really exciting and full of suspense and totally triumphant at the end when they get the thing off the ground.

And that was made in The Olden Days. Without computer graphics and that. So imagine how great it could be as a modern remake.




The remake is complete and utter poo. The characters are less than one-dimensional, the script sucks, the entire thing is a total waste of time. There isn't a single person in this film who makes you care about them. Ekkk. Will they live or will they die? Don't care.

So I'll take it back tomorrow, and I won't rewind it.

Google Number One!

Keefieboy is number one in Google for the phrase "disingenuous tosh".

Way hey!


Sunday, February 12, 2006

Abu Zaby, Ash Shariqah, Dubayy Calling

Ever been on an American website where you're maybe trying to order something online and when you tell them you're in the UAE you get all these bizarre spellings for the different Emirates? Well, now I know where they come from. FIPS 10-4 is the culprit. It's the US Federal Information Processing Standard. Version 10-4. It lists all geopolitical entities in da world, and gives them a little code.

Unfortunately nobody seems to have told them that the English transliteration of the names of the Emirates have not been spelled the way they think since, like, forever. Remarkably, for an online publication, there doesn't seem to be any way to contact them to get it fixed. And in fact the real FIPS website doesn't even have the full list.

But you can see it here.

Beyond Belief!

I read this article in Emirates Today about how the new Emirates Corporation For Telephones And That Internet Thing And Faxes And Telegraphs Establishment (Branch) (Satwa) PJSC will be competing with Etisalat a little bit on price. Not very heartening, chaps. But my eyeballs popped out of their sockets when I read the concluding paragraph:

Mohammed Omran, CEO of Etisalat, said: “We have never really acted as a monopoly. We have been competing indirectly with the rest of the Gulf, but now the competition will be direct.”

If that makes any kind of sense to any of you good people out there, please explain it to me!

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Dwarf Bread

I like Arabic bread, but there is a problem with it: it only comes in two sizes, small and gigantic. The small stuff is about 5 inches across, and generally has the flavour and texture of sweetish white fluff. The big stuff is close to a mile across and has a nice chewy texture but it would take us a week to get through a whole packet. So most of it generally languishes in the freezer for a while, or sometimes we save a bit of time and energy and bin it immediately.

A few days ago I thought I'd have a go at making some myself, with the intention of making medium-sized pieces. Hmm. Complete screw-up. I made authentic Dwarf Bread. Now if you're a fan of Terry Pratchett you'll have a good idea of what Dwarf Bread is about. And if you're not, why not? OK, the Dwarfs of the DiscWorldTM, have traditionally baked round flat bread that
a) you can eat, and
b) you can use as a weapon. It's rock-hard, and the perimeter can be sharpened to a lethal edge. That's what I made.

Oh, and by the way, did you know that Dubai has its very own Dwarf Bread Factory? It's in Al Quoz and it's called Strategic Foods. I don't know what they do exactly, but every time I drive past it my head fills up with thoughts of Dwarf Bread and other stuff that might be too dangerous to mention here.

Friday, February 10, 2006

Rose Tinted Glasses Revisited

On 15th January I posted an article in response to a newspaper column explaining why young Emiratis like to drive fast. Today I have been contacted by Taryam Al Subaihi, the author of the original piece in Emirates Today who missed the whole shebang as he was away on a break. He says:

Well well well. What a healthy blog. I must say, i have enjoyed many of your comments. As I cannot address each of you, if you those of you who found that article dissapointing, please email
It would also be a pleasure to discuss any other opinions about the column or newspaper.

Read my original post and comments.


RTFM? Read The Fking Manual. Or, if you're a bloke - don't.

BetterArf just got herself a USB hub so that she doesn't have to crawl around on the floor whenever she wants to connect her camera or hairdryer or USB toothbrush to the 'pewter.

The hub came with a manual, so she's been reading it. But she's just asked for technical support from moi.

'I've plugged it in like it says and there's a red light on it!'


'The manual says it should be a green light!'

'Manual, hah! I bite my thumb at your manual! Specifications are subject to change at any time without notification. Plug something in.'

'It works.'


Next; a little cordless mouse. The receiver plugs into the USB hub. But nothing's happening. I reboot the machine (give it a good kicking). Still nothing. Dammit, it's Windoze 2000 - might have to install a driver.

Me: 'is there a CD in the box?'

'No. But there is a manual. And a battery.'

'Ah, let's put the battery into the rodent then shall we?'

Worked first time. Smug git, moi?

Bye Bye MinInf!

It has been announced that President Khalifa has approved the Cabinet re-shuffle submitted by recently-appointed Prime Minister Mohammed.

Key Changes:
The dissolution of the Ministry of Information and Culture. Information to become the responsibility of 'independent media authorities' (Gulf News) . Culture to be handled by a new Ministry: Culture, Youth and Social Development.

The appointment of Mariam Mohammad Khalfan Al Roumi as Minister of Social Affairs, who becomes the second woman in the Cabinet.

Abolition of the Ministry of Communications and the Ministry of Agriculture and Fisheries whose responsibilities will now come under the new Ministry of Environment and Water.

Sheikh Mohammed retains the Defence portfolio, and Sheikh Sultan bin Zayed al Nahyan becomes Deputy Prime Minister.

Interesting. I wonder about these 'independent media authorities' though.

Wednesday, February 08, 2006

More Good News

The sweaty citizens of Dubai (completely inaccurate - the runny residents would be more like it) are soon to enjoy the benefits of air-conditioned bus shelters. An advertising company - of course, what other organisation could do such a thing - has been given a 10-year Build/Operate/Transfer contract to provide this facility (Emirates Today). They will initially be managing 500 out of Dubai's 1,500 bus stops. Locations are not yet decided, but if it's advertising-driven you can bet that Sonapur / Al Quoz / Al Ghusais won't be on the list.

It's all very fine, very high-tech. But I was thinking a while ago, when this concept was first mooted. Air-conditioning only really works in closed environments. The flimsy, uninsulated glass and metal structures that we use for bus shelters now (and that the new operators are proposing) are not really suitable - the energy cost will be very high.

So why not have a look at the traditional architecture of the region. Wind towers should work superbly well. You need some solid mass in the structure (absorbs the coolness of the night and slowly radiates it during the day, thereby offsetting the solar heat gain), but the wind towers deflect any breeze downwards and get the air moving. Operational energy cost: nil.

Or have a look at other alternative cooling methods (evaporative cooling is an excellent one). Combine that with solar power and you might be able to provide cool bus stops that do not require the construction of a new power station (exaggeration!). Operational energy costs: a fraction of air-conditioning.

Either way, it troubles me that the ad company are saying they'll have stuff like recycling bins at these shelters, implying that they have some interest in the environment, when their actual solution is such a serious energy guzzler - and it's actually completely the wrong solution.

Some Good News

The miserable gridlocked residents of West Dubai are to get not one, but two, shiny new roads running parallel to the Sheikh Zayed Highway. Unfortunately both of them will converge on the Trade Centre Roundabout, and one of them, astonishingly, will run slap bang through the middle of posh, leafy suburb Emirates Hills. Yikes.

Apparently 136,902 new cars were registered in Dubai last year, bringing the total to 500,000. And there are 214,583 cars which are not registered (Emirates Today). Which begs the question - if they know exactly how many cars are unregistered why can't they do something about it? And is nobody worried that an unregistered vehicle is also an uninsured one?

Friday, February 03, 2006

Where's My Lurpak?

OK, I was trying to keep my head down on the Danish cartoon fiasco. But I cannot ignore it any more, it's too important. This issue will probably go down in history as the week when the West and the Islamic world finally realise that they simply will never understand each other. I don't care to speculate about what might happen hereafter.

I do know this: if a similar act had been perpetrated against a Western target (Christ with a bomb on his head, for example) the response in the West would be a chuckle, a shrug of the shoulders. Doesn't matter. Not much bothered.

One of the basic issues here is that the West is largely secular. Religion is important to some people, but it is nothing like as demanding as being a devout Muslim. Western countries are no longer governed by ancient religious tracts, they are governed by humanism and rationality. To quote Voltaire:

I may not agree with what you say, but I will defend to the death your right to say it.

And for every single European, this is something we know in our bones. Going against this, for a European, seems to be the exact equivalent of somebody making a joke about the prophet Mohammed. Don't go there. OK?

Nothing much happened back in September when these cartoons were first published, but the leader of the Danish Muslims wanted to whip up a bit of global attention. He printed a booklet containing reproductions of the published cartoons plus a few others that were far more offensive. One of them showed Mohammed (pbuh) with the face of a pig. You'll agree, even if you live on Mars, that that is pretty fucking offensive, but it was nothing to do with the Nyllens-Posten series. Anyhoo, our mullah goes to see the top boys in Egypt and Saudi and wherever else, and shows 'em the booklet. They're a bit upset, but nothing happens...

...until the Hajj tragedy in Makkah, when suddenly the Saudi Government press machine needed to deflect world attention from their never-ending incompetence, and so they turned their attention on the cartoons.

Now we have a boycott of Danish goods throughout the Arabian Gulf. Not as in individual customers not buying Danish goods, but supermarket chains pulling the stuff off the shelves. 'Excuse me, I want to buy a lot of Lurpak'. 'Sorry sir, it's in the cold store, we are supporting the pointless boycott of Danish products'. Hmmm.

So we now have the ridiculous situation where the Prime Minister of Denmark has offered an apology to the Muslim World. He was totally wrong to do so. Correction: apparently he has not apologised. He would be totally wrong to do so. It is not his responsibility. In a free country, the press can say what the hell they like. If that libels anyone then the libelled party has a proper legal path to seek redress. The Prime Minister is in no way responsible for the actions of individuals in his country.

Back to the Muslims. One of the issues is the so-called prohibition on any kind of image of the Prophet. Shi'a and Sufis don't even believe in that. It's not in the Quran, only a suspect Hadith: Westerners just don't get it, really, is it the end of the world to draw a picture of anybody? Is it?

Of the twelve cartoons, (setting aside the idea that any kind of representation of the Prophet is supposed to be haram) only two of them can really be considered offensive. If you have not seen the cartoons, go here.

I'm really sorry that this has happened. But here's the thing. Westerners can and will say and publish what they want in their own countries. They have full, sovereign, legal authority to do so. They are not required to observe the sensitivities of Jews, Muslims, Hindus, Buddhists or even Christians. They are not even beholden to the sensitivities of their own government (who, after all, are only elected short-term representatives) or of any other government. Unfamiliar with the concept? See this...

Freedom of men under government is to have a standing rule to live by, common to every one of that society, and made by the legislative power vested in it; a liberty to follow my own will in all things, when the rule prescribes not [if not illegal], and not to be subject to the inconstant, unknown, arbitrary will of another man.
- John Locke (1632 - 1704) Political Philosopher and Genius

As long as you are not directly inciting violence against members of a particular religion or slandering any individual then it's OK. I, as a Westerner, I know this in my bones.

And so I am deeply disappointed by the local reaction to this controversy. It is unreasonable, it is directed at the wrong people (not just an apology is demanded locally, but an OATH from the Danish PM that this would never happen again - as if he could even think of doing such a thing). It just highlights two utterly different ways of looking at the world that can probably not be reconciled.
The west: we can say what we like.
The east: no you can't.

Dammit, it was all going so well. My bones are aching.

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Wednesday, February 01, 2006

I've Got A Chicken And I'm Gonna Use It!

Offspring sent me a text yesterday. It said 'I've got a chicken, what should I do with it?'

My first thought was 'take it across the road, feed it on corn', stuff like that. I called him back and told him.

'No', he says 'it's dead'.

'You killed it already?'

'No, it was dead when I bought it!'

Ah, an eating chicken. So, I told him how to roast a chicken. Then he wanted to know how to make stock. So I told him. And gravy. And cheese sauce. Sheesh! 'Twas the same with me when I'd left home. Always phoning my mother. How do you make pease pudding? Roast potatoes? Yorkshire puddings? Boil an egg? Etc. This was in the days when cookery was not a popular obsession and food was something you got from the local fish 'n' chip shop. There were a few cookbooks available, but not the plethora that we have these days.

Anyhoo, it's always better to get the real gen from your parents.

Coming soon 'Keefieboy's English CookBook'. Probably not.

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