Tuesday, February 27, 2007

School Daze

A school (which will remain nameless) has a problem with students cutting classes. Classes run from 9:00 a.m. until 12:30 p.m., then there is a break for lunch, meetings, conferences, etc., and classes resume at 1:30 p.m.

The principle announced a mandatory meeting for all students during the break, where she harangued the students that they must not miss classes, that the only excuse for missing a class was illness, attested by a physician. Meetings with faculty, she explained, must be scheduled when one does not have class. Attendance at the school social events and sporting events is only permitted if the student does not have a scheduled class at the time of the event. Even meetings with the principal are only to be scheduled when the student does not have a class.

However, this being the Middle East, the meeting started late and continued throughout the entire period of the 1:30 classes.

Monday, February 26, 2007

English Vowels (and consonants)

Among English speakers, it is fairly easy to identify the place of birth and social class of speakers by the vowels and consonants that they use, at least according to Professor Higgins.

This is particularly true in England, where the working classes are denied the use of upper class consonants, so the English working classes, when discussing the British climate, are required to say, 'In 'ertford, 'ereford and 'ampshire, 'urricanes 'ardly ever 'appens.'

In 1775, a British flag vessel was docked in Boston Harbour. Some people who called themselves freedom fighters, but whom the British called terrorists, disguised themselves as Red Indians, and crept aboard the vessel. Once aboard, they broke into the officers' quarters and stole a chest with all the upper-class consonants. They broke the chest open, and distributed the consonants to all the American colonists (who shared them with the Canadians).

As a result, every American (and Canadian), from the bourgeoisie down to the lumpen proletariat can say, 'In Hertford, Hereford and Hampshire, hurricanes hardly ever happen.' (Not that they would say that after Katrina.)

But search as they might, the boarding party could not find any vowels. The could locate neither the chest with with round vowels used by the upper-class officers, nor the chest with the flat vowels used by the working-class enlisted men.

And so, to this day, Britishers (not to mention Aussies and New Zealanders) wince when they hear their children mimicking the vowels they hear on American TV programs and movies.

Friday, February 23, 2007

English Language Newspapers in the North

I like to get my own copy of the Gulf News everyday. Since taking a job in a Northern Emirate, this has been a problem. My employer has a copy, but I can't work the Sudoku on that copy.

The grocery on the ground floor of my building had a copy one day. The next day I asked, 'Gulf News?' and they said, 'Finished.'

The following day I came down at 7 a.m. and found no papers. 'Gulf News?' I asked. 'Finished,' was the reply.

The next day, I watched as the newspapers were unloaded. Only Arabic. 'Gulf News?' I asked. 'Finished,' was the reply.

So 'Finished,' doesn't mean they had some but sold them all, it means the delivery person ran out before he got to my grocery. Or didn't get any at all.

For some reason, Gulf News doesn't send many copies up to the Northern Emirate. The few copies arrive late (after I'm at work) and are all sold out early (before I get off work).

In Dubai, shortly after I arrived, newspapers knocked on my door offering subscriptions. Not in the Northern Emirate.

But, if I liked, throughout the Northern Emirate it is alwasy easy to get the Arab News, so beloved of The Religious Policeman.

Only I don't like their Sudoku or comics as well as I like those in the Gulf News.

Thursday, February 22, 2007

Electric Dreams

I like to keep a clock beside my bed with a lighted dial. Batteries aren't strong enough to light up the clock, so it has to plug in. Only clocks that plug in rely on the electric company to keep time.

Before the Dubai power outage and refurbishment of the electric grid, my clock gained about 5 min every day. After the refurbishment, it kept perfect time.

Then I started working in a Northern Emirate.

And once again, my clock gains at least 5 minutes a day.

If only the rest of the Northern Emirate would gain time as fast.

Sunday, February 18, 2007


There is about a 10% chance that Bush will manage to get himself impeached, joining the other two impeached presidents. Most people don't understand what, exactly, an American impeachment is, including the people who do it. It is nothing more than a recommendation, by the lower house of the US Congress, that the upper house investigate the president. When it has been used, it was a demand that the president be ejected from office, something the lower house has no right to demand, or even suggest. All the lower house can do is say that the upper house should investigate the president, and this recommendation is called an impeachment. The upper house is not even obligated to conduct the investigation if they feel the lower house's recommendation is without merit.

Clinton, of course, had what some call sex (but he didn't) with a very young subordinate, a crime for which his government prosecuted many other men. He then gave answers at an investigation which the lower house considered lies under oath (but he didn't). He then got caught. At this point, he apologized profusely and promised never to do such a thing again, but the lower house still passed a poorly worded bill of impeachment. The upper house, for reasons which escape me, then agreed to a full investigation, and found that Clinton was completely innocent of any crimes or misdemeanours. But he had still been impeached by the lower house.

Many people mistakenly believe that, if the upper house fails to find the president guilty and eject him from office, he has not been impeached. He has. Since an impeachment is such a minor thing, one would think it would have been used more than just twice. But it has been reserved for cases when the lower house was determined (but ultimately unable) to get rid of a president.

Bush, if he wants to prove the absolute power of the presidency, could deliberately violate conditions put upon him by the lower house, and anger them to the point of impeachment, knowing that the upper house will either refuse to investigate, or find him completely innocent if they do investigate.

I give the possibility of Bush getting himself impeached only a 10% chance, since Bush can easily avert the anger of the lower house by at least partially acceding to their demands, or at least apologizing for violating them. In addition, the lower house might not wish to further strengthen the presidency by another meaningless impeachment.

But there is enough animosity between Bush and the lower house that there is a slight chance that it could happen.

Friday, February 16, 2007

Death in a Northern Emirate

The Northern Emirate apparently produces a substantial percentage of the UAE supply of goats, judging by what one sees while driving through the Emirate. And there are no fences (the place I work does have a goat guard to keep the goats from following the cars into the compound).

With normal Gulf driving, I have now seen two goats who met their fate from a speeding vehicle just in my short visit. I just hope the one that died on the path I have to walk to and from work is removed before Sunday.

Wednesday, February 14, 2007

Current Reading

I saw the end of the movie 'The Secret Garden' on TV, and decided to read the book, which I've been seeing for several years at my local book store. I straggled over, but they had no copies available.

However, I decided not to pass up tempting tomes yet again, so I picked up a few books. These books cost about €1.25, or 17s3d each.

One was The Thirty Nine Steps, originally 10¢ in the US, or 6d in the UK. This is one of the very few books that was better after Hitchcock turned it into a movie. In the book, the steps are just steps leading down from (or up to) a villa in England. In the movie, Hitchcock made the steps into something much more sinister. In the book, the problem of the steps was posed to the narrator by a man. Another of Hitchcock's improvements was to have the problem posed by a beautiful femme fatale.

A second book was The Importance of Being Ernest. I had been unable to answer a question (I've forgotten what the question was) but the answer was 'Miss Prism.' I had seen the play (on TV) many years ago, but decided to get the script. After reading the script, I wouldn't mind seeing the play again.

The third was Sir Richard Burton's Arabian Nights as adapted by Jack Zipes. (I suppose Sir Richard did his 'translation' after Elizabeth Taylor left him.) I remembered reading and enjoying the Nights as a schoolboy. Sir Richard's version is quite different from what I read in school. It is also quite different from a fairly literal translation I saw in Al Ain. I'm afraid, after trying to read the literal translation, if I'd been the Sultan, I'd have had Scheherazade executed after the first night. Or possibly sooner. Zipe's version of Burton's version, on the other hand, has kept me up for several nights (not quite 1,000 yet), since I can't put it down. I understand Burton added several good stories to those actually found in the Arabic original, and Zipes left out the less entertaining ones. Zipes' adaptation changed some of the Victorianisms in Burton (e.g. Wazier to Vizier) and deleted a lot of the less compelling bits, but the bits Zipes keeps are mostly from Burton's original translation. In any case, it's a very entertaining book.

Arabia sounds like it had even more going for it at the time of the Nights than Dubai has now. Which is saying something.

Sunday, February 11, 2007

Ambulances in Sharjah

First, the Dubai taxi driver took me 10 km out of my way. I complained, but he just said 'No Englishi.' So, when he drove past the bus station, I got out and took the bus to Sharjah.

When I got to Sharjah, I found myself stuck in traffic. I heard the siren of an ambulance, and my driver started honking until the car in front pulled onto the pavement, allowing us enough room to pull off the road and onto the pavement. With a space cleared, the ambulance pulled up next to us. And stopped.

In the West, in the interests of expeditiously getting the patient to the hospital, ambulances normally ignore traffic laws. Not in Sharjah. The ambulance stopped for all red lights, and did not exceed the posted speed limit. We drove side by side for several kilometers, during which time the ambulance had its lights flashing and its siren blaring. Finally, the ambulance turned one direction to go to the hospital, while I continued to my original destination.

Wednesday, February 07, 2007

Fortune Telling

I was sitting outside a restaurant when I noticed two ladies sitting inside with a deck of cards. I have seen many men sitting in shisha parlours playing cards, but never women. However, after passing the deck back and forth a few times, one lady began laying the cards out, and I realized what I was watching.

In the West, one occasionally sees a sign (usually in the less reputable sections of a city) that says 'Fortunes Told.' (After Clinton abolished welfare for mothers with small children, the City of New York proposed putting all its former welfare mothers to work as fortune tellers.)

I have never seen such a sign advertising fortune telling anywhere in the UAE, nor have I seen anyone plying such a trade in Dubai (though it probably happens somewhere, but more surreptitiously than in the Northern Emirate where I was sitting).

The nature of fortune telling is such that I couldn't really get any closer to get a better look, but as best I could see, it looked like any normal cartomancy.

I'm not certain what the legal status of fortune telling is in the UAE, or if the laws are local rather than federal.

But this was the first time I've ever seen cartomancy practised in front of a large window.

Perhaps I should go back to the restaurant and ask the lady about the DFM, freehold property, and the future price of oil.

Tuesday, February 06, 2007

Gulf Cup

A friend from another Gulf country said,

'You see UAE win Gulf Cup?'

'Sorry, I'm not really into football.'

'UAE cheaters. When my country play UAE, every time miss goal. When Oman play UAE, every time miss goal. UAE use jinn as goalkeeper. This haram.'

I'm not sure about Gulf rules for football, but apparently, a team is only allowed one goalie, and it is against the rules to have both a human goalie and a jinn. (I assume there were jinni in the outfield as well as at the goal. Perhaps someone could make a movie?)

As usual, I just report what I hear, without judgement.

Monday, February 05, 2007

The 7% Solution (3)

Predictably, since the Rent Freeze of 2007, rental prices for new tenants in Dubai have gone up by at least 5%, and sale prices for existing freehold properties are down by about 5% from before the freeze. (This decline is a first, after more than a year during which the prices of freehold properties increased by almost 5% a month.)

In a normal real estate market, values are determined by rents (including owner occupied homes, since, if rents are very low compared with buying, most people will rent, until the cost of buying aligns with the cost of renting). Also, in a 'normal' market, most investors purchase with borrowed money, so, if a rental property sits vacant, the investor can't make the payments and the property is foreclosed and sold at auction.

Here, however, the enlightened policy of the West–i.e., randomly confiscating money from Middle Eastern accounts–has many Middle Eastern investors reluctant to invest outside the region, so some of the $70 a barrel oil money was used to buy Dubai property for cash, as a safe place to park the money. There is no pressure on these properties from lenders, and, as long as prices were going up 5% a month, there was a good return, even on vacant properties.

Oil is now trading below $60, and the Dubai freehold properties are going down 5% a month.

Will this lead to a collapse in prices? Or will people figure (for now) that a single month's 5% decline must be weighed against more than a year of 5% increases?

Friday, February 02, 2007

Taxis in a Northern Emirate and Wikipedia

According to Wikipedia, as of 2001, all taxis in the Emirate where I'm working were required to install meters. This is true. However, the meters were set at an incredibly low rate, and most taxis refuse to use them.

If the metered fare is €1, the fare for passengers who don't ask in advance will be at least €4. The fare for passengers who demand to know the fare in advance will be a 'mere' €2.

I tried to add this information to Wikipedia.

As was in the news, Wikipedia blocked all of Qatar. Likewise, Wikepedia has blocked most (all???) of the UAE (from changing, not from reading).

So most of us confirmed pedestrians can't get the full story from Wikipedia.