Friday, April 27, 2007

A Tag Thing

Al Ain Taxi has tagged me. I have to tell you five things you (probably) didn't know about me. Here goes.

1) I used to be a lap-dancer at a Working Men's Club in South Yorkshire.

2) I am a Grand Master of the martial art Okidoki.

3) I don't like beer.

4) I admire Mahmoud Ahmedinejad and George W. Bush.

5) I tell lies.

Now I have to tag 5 other unfortunates.

1) Jayne With A Why

2) MamaDuck

3) Half Man Half Beer

4) Madame Cyn

5) Grumpy Goat

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Monday, April 23, 2007

Sheikh Mo My Hero

I've been neglecting local news recently. INWP. So what's been happening? Continuing carnage on the roads. Ram-raid jewel heist. Lots of buildings going up in smoke. The public beach beside Jumeirah Beach Hotel being closed and then re-opened at the behest of Sheikh Mo.

But the best thing to happen recently was Sheikh Mo presenting the UAE Strategic Plan for the next five years and absolutely pasting the Ministries of Education, Justice and Labour. I've had personal dealings with all these Ministries and every word that Sheikh Mo said about them is true: they are hindering the development of the UAE rather than helping it and they need a wholesale re-evaluation of what their roles should be and how they should go about doing them.

The Ministry of Education puts parents through hell if they are insolent enough to want to transfer their child from one school to another. Their current plan is to unify school term, examination and holiday dates. Well, in the government schools, yes, you can do that. But they also want to do it to private schools. These private schools follow the curricula of many countries: British, Indian, French, Japanese, whatever. They must conduct exams on the same dates as in the host countries. Therefore the preparation for those exams is scheduled so that students are ready to take them at the right time. Exactly how and why the MinEd thinks these exam dates can be changed to suit their whims is utterly beyond me.

Justice. Well, there's a lot I could tell you, but I won't. However I did bump into an acquaintance of mine a few days ago. 'Haven't seen you for a while, you been away?'. 'Yes,' he says, 'been in jail.' Now, in the real world, you'd be shocked to hear these words and you'd back away and probably not want to have anything to do with the convict. But here it is not at all unusual: farting in lifts, being drunk, gesturing rudely, swearing, can all get you a month's holiday. And apparently half the people in jail in Dubai are there for debt / bounced cheques: as the Chief of Police said - the real criminals in these cases are the banks.

In my friend's case, he was incarcerated because two labourers decided to commit suicide by running out in front of his car on Sheikh Zayed Road. He was doing somewhat less than the speed limit, and he never drinks alcohol. By some amazing twisted logic, he was deemed to be at fault. But, small consolation to him, the law was changed after his case. Anyone killed or injured while trying to cross a motorway now has only themself to blame.

The Justice system in the UAE is desperately in need of a fundamental review. Judges are not well-trained, they are often on limited-term contracts and they are not independent. The civil laws are written ambiguously and are open to misinterpretation (I'm not even going talk about Shari'a!). Judicial procedures are opaque and you really need to think twice before suing anyone - it's entirely possible that you could end up being the one in the wrong. Interestingly, Sheikh Mo mentioned that there should be an official English translation of the laws.

As for the Ministry of Labour - Sheikh Mo was criticising their approach to getting Emiratis into work. I would also say that the sooner we get rid of the sponsorship system and allow free movement of labour, the healthier the economy will be. But that's another post.

So, it's great to see Sheikh Mohammed tackle these issues, and on a Federal level as Prime Minister. Having lived here for more than a dozen years, if I've learned one thing, it's this: if Sheikh Mo wants it to happen, it will happen. And quickly.

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General Drivelly Update

You may have noticed that my blogging has been a bit infrequent of late. I put this down to a combination of various phenomena: TBTB (Too Busy To Blog), INWP (Interweb Not Working Properly) and CBA (Can't Be Arsed). CBA is a subset of INWP.

If you've been paying attention, you'll know that what Itisalot laughingly call my 'broadband' connection at home has not been working properly for months now. A long visit by an Itisalot 'engineer' only made matters worse. The technician uninstalled my Norton Internet Security and downloaded AVG. After an hour or so of scanning the gazillion files on my laptop, AVG found a worm The technician said that that was the culprit - all I had to do was wait for the scan to finish and let AVG kill the worm and all would be well. Well, it wasn't.

A few days later I re-installed Windoze. The only effect that this had was that every time I boot-up (what an appropriate phrase) the laptop, it tells me it's found a new PCI controller and an Ethernet card. It can't install the software for them, of course, because these devices are already installed. I can no longer connect to the InterWeb at my office: when I'm working there I have to throw files onto a memory stick to transfer them to another PC that is connected to the net. Arse pain in the it is.

And at home I still cannot use FTP, nor can I connect to https:// sites. But worst of all, I cannot log on to Blogger to post my lovely blogs! So I have to do the memory stick thing to my old laptop. Arse pain in the it is.

So the prospects of me having to do a complete re-format of my laptop looms large. Actually if I'm going to do that I might think about getting Windows Vista, although I'm told that one result of that could be that some of my software might not work any more. Hmmm. Probably not then.

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Saturday, April 14, 2007

Demographic Time-Bomb

There's an interesting editorial in today's Gulf News. The piece is written by Abdulkhaleq Abdullah, Professor of Political Science at the Emirates University, Al Ain. He says:

8 out of 10 people living in the UAE were born abroad. If the current double digit annual economic growth continues, the percentage of non-citizen will reach 90 per cent by 2015.

Henceforth, by 2025, the citizens of the UAE will constitute zero per cent of the population.

A county with a zero percentage citizens is unprecedented in modern history and will make a new entry in the Guinness Book of Records.

I guess his estimate for 2025 is meant to be a joke, or it might mean 'so close to zero as makes no difference'. Actually it does make a big difference: there could never be a condition where the local population reaches zero (well, there could, but we won't go there). His projections are a bit flawed: the current massive imbalance is a result of the decision to buildeverythingallatonceasfastaswecanquickbeforetheoilmoneyrunsout, rather than the traditional way of spreading it out over, say, a few centuries. In 5 - 10 years the current crop of projects will be finished and the last of the workers will be packing up and going home, having made their fortunes in the Emirates. So unless there's a fresh crop of mega-projects that haven't been announced yet, we can expect a dramatic fall in the population - maybe more than 50%. But, to counterbalance that, we will then have an influx of new residents who have bought into new residential properties and will be planning on staying forever - or at least having a holiday home in the sun forever. And they will be wanting some say in what goes on, some form of extended right to residency (rather than the current debacle whereby if you do not have residency by virtue of working here, the master developer will fix you a visa), and all kinds of things that permanent residents in other countries are entitled to. I'm stopping short of asking for actual citizenship: the Government won't even give that to Bedu who have lived on this land for hundreds of years.

The writer does not mention the tourism and business travel population; the Government is hoping to attract huge numbers of these people and this will endlessly distort the local demographic. But his point is valid. Emirati citizens represent a small minority of the population, and that proportion is going to get even smaller. This is an inevitable result of the Government's dramatic growth strategy, but we are not hearing anything from the Government about how they plan to deal with the problem. I suspect they don't think there is a problem. If that is true then they are mistaken. Property-owning foreigners will not accept a total lack of representation for very long - witness the recent 'rebellion' by property owners at the Green Community when the land-owner tried to raise annual propery maintenance charges by 300%.

When expats came here purely for work, the situation was different. Everyone knew what the deal was: you came. you worked, you left. Admittedly it could be hard on kids born here to expat parents (and there are many thousands of them) because they feel that the UAE is their home. But now we have foreigners who own their own businesses, maybe own their own home (but not the land it is built on) who want to feel a bit more welcomed.

The sad fact is that if every single expat left tomorrow, the UAE would collapse totally. And it would stay collapsed for all eternity. The reliance on cheap foreign labour and highly-skilled foreign labour is so total that it doesn't bear thinking about. The Emiratis need to decide: are we going to be a self-reliant people, or are we going to work in partnership with other people to help us run our country. If it's the latter then the 'other people' are due a bit more recognition than they are currently getting.

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Saturday, April 07, 2007

That Iran Thing

I've been a bit too busy to comment on the kidnapping of 15 British sailors and Marines by the Iranian Government, but I think Ahmedinejad just proved that he is not someone who can be trusted, or who has any kind of clue about how Westerners think.

I know quite a few Iranians here in Dubai and they are without exception lovely people, but I guess they are the smart ones who had the means to escape from the craziness of their current government. They certainly do not behave anything like the crackpot Ahmedinejad, the ladies do not cover themselves up, and all in all they are perfectly normal people who enjoy a beer and a good time.

I've not seen the movie '300' either, but I do believe that Persia/Iran has a stupendous history and culture, and what is happening there now is a complete travesty.

Occasionally you see articles in the press about why it is almost impossible to negotiate with Iranians. They are obsessed by face (this is important in most Eastern cultures too - loss of face is about the worst thing that can happen to you, short of actually dying). Whereas Westerners might suffer from a bit of pride, they can also admit that they have been wrong without dying of shame. It's a big, big difference. So an Iranian negotiator considers that you have already lost face by the simple reason that you are willing to negotiate. Bare-faced lies are also crucial to the art of negotiation.

The parading of the captives making forced 'confessions' on TV was disgusting. What has now been released about how they were actually treated is vile. Ahmedinejad's statement that they were being pardoned as a 'gift to the British people' was ludicrous, and today's demand for a bit of goodwill - help to get 5 Iranians held by the US released - from Iran's UK Ambassador is just one prod too much. I'll be surprised if he's not on a plane home by the end of the week.

Incidentally, Betterarf reckons the Brits would have been released a few days earlier, but the tailors that were hired to make the appallingly bad grey suits that the Brits were sent home in were all on holiday for NowRooz.

Happy Easter y'all.

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Tuesday, April 03, 2007

April Foo(g)l(e)

Two days ago I logged into my GMail account. This innocuous page normally contains nothing of interest, but on this day it carried an announcement of a new product: Google Paper. Basically it's a service whereby you forward your emails to Google, they'll print them off for you and mail them to you.

I thought this was a bit bizarre, but I do know people who really really do not understand how email works: these things are printed off by their secretaries and arrive on their desk just the same way as any other document. I thought nothing more about it until I noticed that the login page had changed again, and it includes a link to their April Fool joke. Here it is


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Sunday, April 01, 2007

I Want to be a Taxi Driver

The old Bimmer/Bummer/Beemer has been off the road for quite a while now, so we've been amassing lots of Frequent Near-Death-Experience Points in assorted taxis. Seriously, we added it up, we've been spending about dhs 1,000 a month for the privilege of booking taxis that never arrive, being driven on Sheikh Zayed Road by guys who think the stopping distance at 120 kph is half a metre and folks who got off the plane yesterday and do not know the way from anywhere to anywhere else.

Let it be said at this point that we've had lots of rides with competent drivers, and a few with outstanding ones. But you remember the scary ones, don't you.

I'm prompted to write this because our driver this morning was clearly an impatient headcase. He had been trying to overtake a particular car all the way down the dirt-track at the east side of The Gardens. I don't know why. But as we slip onto SZR, our driver hits the gas and is accelerating towards that car. They slide onto the highway at the same time, but neither can get into the second lane because of an approaching tanker. Nevertheless our driver is still accelerating. When the distance between him and the car in front is a couple of metres we scream at him to slow down. He does, but the laws of physics mean that we actually get to within less than half a metre of the car in front (and yes, the car in front was a Toyota). Our driver is seriously miffed. His manhood has been hurt. What is he supposed to do? There is tanker in next lane! Slow down, we say in unison. He really doesn't like this

I had thought of keeping a diary of all these taxi trips, just for fun or for legal purposes. Stuff like...did the taxi turn up at a reasonable time?...did the driver wear his seat belt?...did he answer his mobile phone without a hands-free?...could he actually drive safely?...did he have any kind of clue about where things are?...was the car not too smelly?... etcetera.

I know that taxi drivers get an appallingly crap deal. I mean it's worse than crap, it forces lots of them to work stupidly long hours to make their daily quota, and that endangers the lives of passengers. But I don't think that excuses them from having a few skills:

1) Being able to drive. Safely. Sensibly.
2) Being courteous to passengers.
3) Knowing the layout of the city.
4) Not having dead things rotting somewhere in the car.

Not a lot to ask - one month's training max. But I doubt that many of them get any training at all.

I reckon I could do it. But not for the money that's on offer.

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