Thursday, March 29, 2007

Call from Farook

The law in Dubai is not well known, certainly not by me. Only Arabic versions are legally recognized, not the English translations with which I am familiar.

Apparently, however, buildings zoned as residences may only be occupied by people holding a residence visa. People with tourist visas should stay in hotels.

So Farook, who holds a valid residence visa, leases apartments (at apartment rates) and sub-leases (at hotel rates) to people whose occupations do not qualify for a residence visa.

From time to time, the Dubai police sweep the residences and arrest those living there with tourist visas. Sometimes, they also arrest those who illegally leased them their apartments. Fortunately, Farook has a friend inside the police who tips him off before a raid, and Farook has just been tipped off that a raid will be conducted sometime week after next.

So this morning he called to ask me how to word an eviction notice to all his (non-Arabic speaking) sub-tenants, stating that they must vacate after six days.

After the raid, he will invite them all back, and most will gratefully accept.

Farook has a very good tipster inside the police. He has been accurately forewarned about all 30 of the last two raids.

Wednesday, March 28, 2007

Change of Seasons

This past winter was my first in a Northern Emirate. My first winter in the UAE was spent in Al Ain and Dubai; subsequent winters were spent in Dubai. The Northern Emirate seemed much wetter, but I've heard this year was much wetter throughout the UAE, so a single data point may not be a reliable indicator.

One thing I noticed was that the desert here was green, with a tuft of frog hair on the sands. Just a few days ago (yesterday?), the frog hair was a delicate green, being about as thick as the hair on a man who is balding, but not yet bald.

Today, the the frog has died, and the green has turned to brown.

Tuesday, March 27, 2007

Incense and Tolerance

While working in a Northern Emirate, I sometimes have to work late (and early) and stay in a small room until I have enough of a break that I can get back to Dubai.

The sewage system is that the sewage drops into a trap under the room until a truck comes by to empty the trap. So I feel the need to burn some incense when I have to sleep in that room.

Being basically indolent, I prefer stick incense, since it's easier than the kind that requires lighting charcoal and dropping in the incense bit by bit (while swinging the censer and chanting, which takes far too much energy).

To avoid a mess, I purchased, in addition to the stick incense, a stick incense burner.

Arabian tradition is big on incense, but generally uses chunks of incense (or fragrant wood) which are dropped into a bowl filled with burning charcoal.

Stick incense is (mostly) from regions east of Arabia. And religions east of Arabia.

I was burning the incense strictly for utilitarian purposes, but I admit that the package of incense and the incense burner had inscriptions indicating that the incense was suitable for use in infidel religious ceremonies.

I returned to my room late last night to find my incense burner smashed.

So, since I refuse to remain in that room without incense, and since I haven't found any other place to sleep, I shall have to replace the incense burner. Preferably with an unbreakable one.

Sunday, March 25, 2007

The Dangers of Blogging in the UAE

While few people read this blog (e.g. a young lady can post, 'I went out last night but my date was terrible,' and get 692 comments, but I can't) one of my few readers seems to have some clout.

I once complained that all the legal buses from Dubai to Sharjah had disappeared, so I was forced to take one of the illegal ones, which are much less comfortable, and which (since they must evade police blockades) take longer.

The next day, all the illegal buses were gone, and where they had once stood, a member of the constabulary was keeping watch against any such violations. Not that they were taking any revenue from the non-existent legal buses, but someone noted that I had reported that a flagrant violation of the law was being ignored.

So I had reduced myself from having an uncomfortable, illegal way to get to Sharjah (for €1) to having no way other than a taxi (for €10).

Which has discouraged me from reporting other obvious examples of flagrant violations of the local laws.

Saturday, March 24, 2007

Change of Seasons

The UAE has a four-season climate: warm, hot, unbearable, and summer. And we're now changing from pleasantly warm to hot.

The palm trees all have young dates just starting to fill out, tiny green dots on long stems.

The people who only winter here are thinking of leaving, now that the temperate zones are becoming pleasant.

And the rest of us are remaining here and watching the DFM fall.

Thursday, March 22, 2007

Assessing The War on Terror after Four Years

Sometimes, an assessment has multiple assessors, and sometimes they assign widely variant grades.

The US War on Terror certainly has assessors who have assigned President Bush, Jr. grades from A to F.

The assessors with any real power have assigned it a grade of a C.

  1. The first objective was the 2002 elections. For this, the continued destruction of Afghanistan, already reduced to rubble by many years of war, was sufficient to convince the US electorate that President Bush, Jr. was doing a great job.

  2. The second objective was the 2004 elections. For this, reducing Iraq to rubble was sufficient to convince the US electorate the President Bush, Jr. was doing a great job.

  3. The third objective was the 2006 elections, where, I’m afraid, continuing to bomb Afghanistan and Iraq failed to persuade the electorate.

  4. The fourth objective was venal profit for friends of President Bush, Jr., and Halliburton has made so much profit that it has been forced to relocate to the tax haven of Dubai to avoid taxes, so again, President Bush, Jr.’s friends are grateful to him for a job well done.

Three out of four is a 75, or a solid C for the War on Terror under the American grading system. Not great, but certainly a passing grade.

Other assessors used different marking criteria, but these assessors have no real power. Some of them have advocated:

  • Making life better for the Iraqis;

  • Securing cheap oil;

  • Serving accepted standards of International Justice;

and similar items. Based on his complete failure to achieve any of these objectives, these assessors have assigned President Bush, Jr. a grade of F. However, since these objectives are of no concern to anyone with any real power, they have a weight of zero on real world assessments.

Finally, one Iranian assessor, apparently grateful that Bush began bombing Iraq just in time for Iran’s biggest festival, blames the ignorance of the US electorate for Bush’s failure at objective number 3, and drops it from consideration, giving President Bush, Jr. a perfect score of 100%, for an A+.

Tuesday, March 20, 2007

Dubai Property

Grape Shisha has called the Dubai Property phenomenon a 'long tail,' though this isn't the usual use of the term.

Yesterday, I took a friend who wants to buy some property (or at least a residence visa) to Dubai Properties and Emaar.

A salesperson had told him that there are developments that give a residence visa within a week of placing a small deposit on a property, and he was thinking of investing.

Our enquiries at both Dubai Properties and Emaar indicated that it is not possible to get a residence visa so quickly in Dubai: the property must be completed, and the owner must have taken possession. (It is not clear if there are residence visa deals in other Emirates that provide immediate visas after a small down payment, or if the salesman was promising more than he could actually deliver.)

In Dubai, the earliest one can get a visa through Emaar or Dubai Properties is at least 5 months after signing a contract to buy a property.

Not long ago, Emaar was advertising 'only 5% down.' When we asked, Emaar said that is subject to many conditions. Actually, if all conditions are met, it's 'only 4% down.' But the Emaar saleslady said it might be difficult to meet all conditions, which are set by local lenders, not by Emaar.

When Emaar first started, they demanded 30% down, and 70% upon completion. Now they demand 80% down and 20% upon completion. (The 80% is actually spread over a period of a few months, but is due well before promised completion, which is usually long before actual completion.)

In spite of this, when we asked, Emaar said almost every development was sold out, though they had a few flats available with poor views in the less desirable developments, but even these would all be gone in just a few more days.

Over the last two months, Emaar has raised prices for the developments near the Burj Dubai from about €200 per square foot to around €300 per square foot, saying that there is very strong demand for the properties in those developments.

The 50% increase seems at odds with the secondary market, where prices are dropping since the imposition of strict rent controls.

When we went by Dubai Properties, they said they had lots of flats available, priced the same per square foot as Emaar. They did not show any of their developments as 'SOLD OUT' the way Emaar did. And, when we asked about a tower, they said they had flats available on every floor. And there are a lot of floors.

So investors are wondering, 'Is this the top of the Dubai Property Bubble?'

My friend told me that he went to invest with Emaar a year ago, but a fellow countryman confided that, as many properties were going to come on line in 2006, prices were certain to fall quite a bit, so he decided to wait. Only prices didn't fall. Emaar and Dubai Properties developments rose by more than 50% during 2006, as did properties on the secondary market before the rent control announcement of December 2006.

But, after such a rise, are we finally at the top of the bubble?

The DFM certainly seems to be discounting the value of the developers.

If almost all of Emaar developments are already sold out, it looks like there is still a lot of upward pressure.

But Emaar has been know to declare a development 'SOLD OUT' when there were many units still unsold, as part of their marketing strategy.

In which case, the 'upward pressure' is a manufactured marketing ploy.

And the early 2006 promise of an immediate drop in Dubai Properties may finally be approaching a year late.

Or not.

Saturday, March 17, 2007

Guantánamo Interrogators Vindicated

The confession of Khalid Sheikh Mohammed completely vindicates the incarceration and interrogation techniques at Guantánamo. Under aggressive interrogation, Khalid confessed to masterminding the 9/11 bombings, the Bali bombings, and actually committing the murder of Daniel Pearl. His interrogation has shown that he helped Timothy McVeigh in Oklahoma City, and that he was on the grassy knoll in Dallas. The Guantánamo investigators have solved the mysteries of the Black Dahlia and of Jack the Ripper, and also identified who helped John Wilkes Booth in the Ford theater. They have proved that Khalid Sheikh Mohammed masterminded the death of the two princes in the butt of malmsey during the reign of Richard III, and that he set up the music stand, provided the music, and set the fires while Nero fiddled.

If allowed to continue unimpeded by the Democrats, the Guantánamo investigators should soon implicate Khalid in the flood that sent Noah, his family, and all his pets into confinement on the family arc for 40 days, and we strongly suspect Khalid will be proved to have provided some really bad fruit to Eve.

And the investigators are just getting started.

Friday, March 16, 2007


In movies and stories from before the second half of the 20th century, when only a paltry few plutocrats rode in private cars, most characters had to use public transport. One common story was of characters oversleeping, missing their exit, and having no easy way to get back to their destination, therby starting their tales.

I was similarly asleep, and woke up to see what looked like my destination. I take the inter-Emirates bus and try to depart at the penultimate destination, a Dubai bus stop where I can get a bus or a taxi to complete my journey. The final destination is a few hundred meters distant, at the inter-Emirates bus shed, a long walk with baggage back to where the Dubai busses and taxis ply their routes.

Only, while it is not true that all bus stands look identical, at least two of them do, and I got off about 20 km too early. The driver seemed puzzled that I was getting off so soon, but I didn't want to be carried all the way to the shed, so I got off.

Just after the bus departed, I realized where I was.

But I'm afraid no romantic or Gothic tale started, just a delayed trip back to Dubai.

Thursday, March 15, 2007

From the movie to the book

I normally watch either MBC 3 (when it's in English) or the English SpaceToon channel. Of course, I remember when the TV cartoon shows were new. Heck, I remember watching some of the cartoons when they were only a few months old (that's how long it took them to get out to the countryside cinema where I could see them) and were shown as part of the cinema package, along with the newsreel and short subject, and when Mel Blanc was still alive to provide the voices.

Not long ago, on one of the two channels (I forget which) I saw an animated movie called 'The Secret Garden.' I'd heard females raving about the book for years, but had managed to avoid it; however, I enjoyed the movie so much that that I had to buy the book.

The movie was about a 10 year old girl who could talk to animals, and who was trying to save her cousin from an evil doctor who was trying to poison him. She would discuss the situation with the animals, and they would help her try to thwart the evil doctor's plans.

The book has a doctor, but he's not evil, and while the girl talks to the animals, and they seem to listen, actual communication is somewhat limited: It's all very well for the girl to tweet, and the birds to tweet back, but they can't really discuss plots and counterplots very effectively.

So it's probably just as well that the book is lacking in nefarious plots and counterplots.

Since I've been spending my free time reading, I haven't had time to watch any more animated movies, but, once I've finished The Secret Garden, I suppose another movie will send me running out to buy another book.

Monday, March 12, 2007

The Hungry Goat

Where I grew up, most houses are surrounded by a barbed wire fence to keep the livestock away from the garden. There is a drive to the house, and where it passes through the fence, there is a guard, variously called a cattle-guard, a cow-stop, or a cow-trap.

Only here in a Northern Emirate, I haven't seen any cows (though I've been told there are some on the road leading out of the Emirate). All the livestock that I've seen wandering around the compound where I'm working have been caprine. So the relevant device at the entrance to the compound must be a goat-guard, though it almost trips me up as I leave the compound, so I guess it's almost (but not quite) a dubai@random-guard.

Today, the goat-guard seemed to be effective: a hungry goat stood in front of it all day long, bleating pitifully, as it gazed longingly at the contents of the compound's extensive gardens of succulent hollyhocks and other flora.

I guess it's gotten tired of stripping the thorny local trees and emptying the local bins. And I can't say that I blame it.

Wednesday, March 07, 2007

Used Museum for Sale

Abu Dhabi has been announcing for some time that it is buying the Louvre. Being basically polite, no numbers have been mentioned.

According to the New York Times, the number is US$1,300,000,000, i.e., $1.3 American billions.

This will go on the recently enlarged island of Saadiyat just north of the main island.

No word, however, on how Paris will spend the money, but they figure they have to do better than just keeping a nuisance that attracts da Vinci Code fanatics.

Tuesday, March 06, 2007

Investment Opportunity

I recently received an e-mail offer to buy a teak plantation in Latin America. The plantation was founded by a Mr. Chan, who had developed it into a very profitable business. The late Mr. Chan always said that he came to Latin America from Canton, but, when asked, his grandson always gives the modern name for where the family came from, Guanzhou.

The e-mail says that, since the old Mr. Chan's death, the family no longer wishes to operate the plantation, and is selling it off.

I have heard of this plantation, and the problem is that harvesting has been stopped by the endangered species act. It seems there is a very rare, endangered bear that lives entirely on teak shoots and leaves.

The Chan family claimed the bear was extinct, but investigators found footprints, and this bear has a very unusual footprint. The Chan family maintained that the footprints were of a native American boy, which the actual bears' footprints do closely resemble, but investigators say they have proof that there are still bears in the teak plantation, and have prohibited any further operations, as the bear is very shy, and any human activity could result in its extinction.

The Chan family finally gave up and put the plantation up for sale, using any means possible to find investors, including a mass e-mail campaign. They conceded when investigators finally produced photographs of a bear nibbling on a teak tree.

The title of the photograph was, of course, "Boyfoot bear with teak of Chan."

Monday, March 05, 2007

Taxi to Choitrams

I found that Choitrams carries the Gulf News, so I asked the taxi 'Choitrams, please.'

'Which Choitrams?'

'How many Choitrams are there in this Emirate?'

'Only one.'

Sunday, March 04, 2007


A saleslady from my bank called at 9:00 a.m. At 9:00 a.m., if I'm not working, I'm still asleep. As it was, I was at work with no one around, so I let her talk. 'Would you like accident insurance? It covers everything from a cut finger to, heaven forbid, a major accident.'

'I need to see it in writing.'

'OK, but we have to charge €3 to send you the policy. If you don't like it, just call us and we'll refund your €3.'

So I said, 'OK.'

'Please wait.'

People started to gather, but waited since I was on the phone. Ten minutes passed while I was on hold. Finally, another sales lady came on the line.

'Sir, if you are interested in our insurance, we have many more financial products. Let me tell you all about them.'

'I'm busy now. Good bye.'

So I don't know if I'll be getting the €3 policy or not. I hope not. If it comes, I intend to cancel and get my €3 back.

Moral (for salespeople) a) if the sucker agrees to buy your overpriced, worthless product, don't put him on hold for ten minutes before agreeing to take his money; and b) don't press your luck. Especially at 9:00 a.m.

Thursday, March 01, 2007

Not so Backward

I have mentioned that, wandering about this Northern Emirate, one sees flocks of goats walking on two legs stripping the foliage off the lower parts of the trees and shrubs, or removing the top layer from the garbage bins.

Today, however, I saw my first goatherd. Rather than trudging along with a crook, he was mounted on an off-road motorcycle. Which is certainly a better way to herd the goats.

If rather less carbon-efficient.