Saturday, December 29, 2007

Blogging in Saudia

According to Computerworld, the blog of Foad al-Farhan has been shut down, along with its author. Apparently, Foad criticized the Kingdom for religious extremism, which is strictly prohibited, and he is now residing in a Saudi gaol.

Foad said he was "Searching for freedom, dignity, justice, equality, Shura and all the remaining Islamic values which are missing…"

This is not a search that is encouraged or allowed in this part of the world.

Computerworld did not give the address of his Arabic site.


It is said that, shortly after the Dubai Trade Centre was completed, an old Bedu and his son were riding and saw the tower in the far distance. Curious, the old man led his son up to the tower, left his son to hold the camels, and went in to investigate.

Inside, he saw several lifts, devices he had never even heard of before.

An elderly lady, wearing the usual abaya and the Gulf burka, walked unsteadily with her cane and entered a lift. (The Gulf burka is not at all like the Afghani burka, but is a cloth that looks like gold and was traditionally used in place of the veil.) The doors to the lift closed. A few minutes later, the doors opened, and a young woman, walking in the Islamic way but without a cane, and wearing an abaya and burka emerged.

The old Bedu ran outside and told his son, 'Go get your mother and bring her here immediately.'

While the above story may be apocryphal (I'm not sure), the residents of Dubai seem completely unfamiliar with lifts. Whatever direction they wish to travel, there are just two possibilities: half the time, they hit the button for the opposite direction, and the other half of the time they hit both buttons.

I have yet to see any residents of Dubai press only the 'Up' button when they wish to go Up, or only the 'Down' button when they wish to go down, unless they are on the top or bottom floor and have only the one choice.

Wednesday, December 26, 2007

Dubai Bus Stops

In summer 2006, the RTA promised that, by summer 2007, Dubai bus stops would be delightfully cool. I was told that this did, in fact, happen in Jumairah 1 last summer, but, of course, in Jumairah 1, everyone drives expensive cars.

Now, of course, no Dubai bus stop exceeds 30, and often the Dubai bus stops are comfortably in the 20s.

But also, atrange Cantonese shelters have appeared at many of the bus stops. These shelters all have a Chinese character with the 'ice' radical, presumably meaning something to do with cool. So far, most of these shelters are still wrapped in the plastic in which they were shipped.

Inside each shelter are a few posts, to which, presumably, seats will be attached at some point, where, perhaps, half a dozen riders waiting for their bus will someday be able to sit.

So it looks like, by summer 2008, some Dubai bus stops will, in fact, still be as delightfully cool as they all are now, at least for the first few people queuing for the bus.

Friday, December 21, 2007


An acquaintance (whose nationality and ethnicity may not be revealed under UAE law) dined several times a week at a 'Chinese' restaurant in Dubai.

I believe (no accurate statistics are available) that the majority of the staff at 'Chinese' restaurants in the UAE were trained at a top 'Chinese' cookery school in Mumbai. My guess is that the second largest training school for the staff of Dubai 'Chinese' restaurants is located somewhere in Manila.

I suspect my acquaintance could recognize a young lady from the sub-Continent, but he assumed that the winsome young lady who stood behind the counter at his favourite 'Chinese' restaurant must be from China.

He struggled to find a Chinese language Christmas card. Failing, he purchased a blank card and, with some help, managed to write, 'Happy New Year and Merry Christmas' using the older Wade-Giles transliteration, still used in Taiwan, but abandoned in China for the newer pinyin.

I know he spent quite a lot of time and effort on the card.

However, the young lady is a Philippina, and her understanding of Chinese is at the same level as that of my acquaintance. Had she been from mainland China, she would have been unable to read Wade-Giles (and probably pinyin, which is mainly for the waiguaren visiting China).

While I can't give the nationality of my acquaintance, I think it's safe to say that he is Oriental, though that word has little meaning in English. Some English speakers accept that the concept of the Orient was first developed by the Greeks, and use the Greek meaning of the word Orient, which is everything East of the Hellespont. Most British I've known use the word Orient to mean everything East of Calais. Americans, when they refer to the Orient, only mean far East Asia.

Still, it's refreshing to know that the knowledge of geography of my Oriental acquaintance is at parity with that of most English speakers.

Friday, December 14, 2007

Getting Around Dubai (2)

For those who drive, the traffic is a problem. For those of us who do not drive, the lack of buses and taxis is a problem.

I was waiting for a Dubai RTA 10 bus, which is supposed to run every 10 minutes. After 20 minutes, a private bus deadheading in my direction offered me a lift for €9. Since a legal taxi would have charged €6, I was unimpressed, and offered to pay the same as a regular taxi. The driver said, €8; but we eventually agreed on the regular taxi fare.

I got in, and the driver got out of the bus. I saw a legal bus go by (but didn't see the number), and tried to get out, but the private bus was designed for transporting workers, which means that it is impossible for people inside the bus to open the door and get out—only the driver can open the door.

The driver finally returned with several more riders, presumably after having gotten them to agree to pay €0.50 each, and it was clear we'd stop at every bus stop and try to fill the bus, so I got out. 'No,' he screamed, but he hadn't taken me anywhere, and I wasn't giving him any money for holding me captive (and when the legal bus fare is €0.30).

I waited another 30 minutes, during which time I saw no empty taxis and no buses (but lots of full taxis). Finally, having given up on the bus, I saw and took a regular, legal taxi. A few bus stops later, I saw the private bus, still trying to gather enough passengers to fill the bus.

Monday, December 10, 2007

Iranian Supercomputer

The US has insisted on a complete blockade of Iran, since Iran is clearly a terrorist state. Iran has been bombing civilian neighbourhoods, shooting civilians in their homes, torturing people it suspects of not supporting its policies, and building a massive nuclear arsenal. Or was that another nation in another hemisphere?

In spite of the blockade, Iran claims to have constructed a supercomputer. The Iranians claim that this computer was constructed to 'predict Iranian weather,' but, since Iranians have no need to predict their weather, this is clearly a cover for some nefarious purpose.

Iran used the 'Build a Home Supercomputer Kit,' produced in the US with some additional parts from Singapore, Taiwan, and Japan. No one in the US could have sold such a kit to Iran, at least not without a visit from the DHS.

However, it seems that a Dubai corporation that specializes in import/export was allowed to purchase the kit and resell it.

And the DHS didn't ask Dubai any embarrassing questions.


Friday, December 07, 2007

The Inscrutable Occidental

On this day, 7 December, in 1941, at dawn in Hawaii, the Japanese military engaged in a surgical strike against a US blockade. The rational Japanese mind could not begin to fathom the inscrutable Occidental response.

Beginning in the seventeenth century, Japan decided that it wanted to remain in an immutable stasis as an independent feudal state. To accomplish this, Japan closed itself off from gaijin. The emperor had issued a decree prohibiting gaijin ships from landing on the shores of Japan, and prohibiting gaijin from setting foot on Japanese soil. With the help of the Gods, the military enforced that order.

Until 1853, when the US Commodore Perry entered Tokyo harbour with four steamships.

Since the Japanese military could not prevent the American ships from landing, and since the Japanese Emperor’s decrees could not be violated, the Emperor decreed that US ships were allowed to land in Japan, US citizens were allowed to stand on Japanese soil, and Japan signed a treaty with the United States opening its ports.

At this point, since the US had ruled out Japan’s prospect of remaining an isolated feudal state, Japan decided to industrialize; however, Japan could not follow the US path to industrialization, since Japan lacked the necessary raw materials to even initiate industrialization. Japan found itself heavily dependent on foreign trade for sources of raw materials and markets for its finished products. The US proved very helpful, giving Japan access to raw materials and technology.

Japan prospered under industrialization. By the 1920s, pictures of Japanese cities resembled pictures of thriving Western cities (except for the Japanese characters). Japan celebrated the day when Commodore Perry arrived, and a grateful Japan sent a gift of cherry trees to grace the US capital. Americans were welcome in Japan.
Then, in 1930, the US blocked almost all world trade, putting 25% of the US workforce out of work, with similar consequences for the UK. Germany responded by abrogating the Treaty of Versailles and militarising.

The major Western countries didn’t seem to mind that their people were starving, but the Japanese leadership couldn’t let this happen, and, in searching for an answer, they stumbled upon the Monroe Doctrine. Sadly, they read the Spanish version, rather than the English version.

The English version of the Monroe Doctrine is that the US promised its full assistance to all of Latin American to prevent predation and recolonization by the European mercantile empires. The Spanish version is that the US demanded the droit de seigneur, the first rights to rape and pillage every Latin American country, turning the Latin American countryside into a land of feudal estates with Latin American serfs slaving for absent US feudal lords, and turning the Latin American cities into brothels.

So Japan put its people to work to liberate East Asia from all predators who were not East Asian, a liberation even more brutal than the Monroe Doctrine, as it is described by Latin Americans.

But the US and the UK had no intention of giving up their Chinese holdings, and the Japanese Navy was only 60% of the strength of the US Navy, and only 30% of the strength of the combined US-UK Navies.

However, the US and the UK had closed their factories. Their people were starving, but refused to work, instead standing in line for handouts. And, by December 1941, the UK were under seige from the Nazis, and were unable to send ships to protect their East Asian colonies and concessions.

As for the US, if the US people would not work to eat, they certainly would not work to build a Navy for the sake of a few very minor holdings on the opposite side of the world. This would make no sense at all.

Japan’s attempts to drive the Westerners from East Asia was called, in the US press, ‘The Cancer of the Pacific.’ Had Japan won the war, the Japanese name for the liberation of East Asia might have entered the history books (and would have had a very different description in Japanese than in Chinese, just as the Monroe Doctrine is very different in English than it is in Spanish).

However, Japan lost, so their attempt to make East Asia a Japanese preserve remains known as ‘The Cancer of the Pacific’ in the standard World History textbooks.

In late 1941, the US ordered a complete blockade of Japan. Washington warned the Philippines and Pearl Harbour to expect an imminent attack.

Since Pearl Harbour was impregnable, the only possible threat was sabotage by Japanese agents disguised as coolies, so the senior Pearl Harbour officers ordered the ships’ magazines secured in underground bunkers to prevent these agents from tossing lighted matches into the magazines and thereby destroying the ships. Pearl Harbour was prepared for the expected attack on the vulnerable and resource-rich Philippines, and was ready to steam to the rescue within hours of the initial Japanese attack.

Only the treacherous Japanese vipers (as they were convicted of being by US newspapers and US courts) used a new combined arms synthesis, one that had been extensively studied by the US military and ruled out as impossible to execute. The US military experts had determined, correctly, that, under wartime conditions, with ships under way and shooting at the planes, even suicidal bombers would find it almost impossible to sink a ship. However, with the US ships’ magazines safely secured in underground bunkers, the fiendishly clever Japanese were able to operate under peacetime conditions, bombing stationary ships that were not, for the most part, shooting back. The Japanese pilots took their time, aimed carefully from low altitudes, and generally managed to sink all the ships anchored at Pearl Harbour.
While the US Pearl Harbour commanders were all relieved of their posts and never given positions of authority again, the US military review found that the guilt lay entirely with the Japanese, since the Japanese had committed heinous violations of the rules of war.

The strike was against a military target of a nation that had ordered a blockade, a strike that, one would think, had some justification. Hawaii suffered only limited collateral damage to civilians, though the military target was severely damaged and thousands of US military personnel were killed. As already observed, why would a nation that refused to work to feed itself work to destroy an enemy thousands of miles away, an enemy that had struck a purely military target, a target justified by the blockade?

The US response was an immediate bombing of Japanese civilians, followed by a campaign to round up all people in the US of Japanese ancestry and send them to concentration camps. All the factories that had been closed before 7 December 1941 re-opened to produce materiel that could be used to turn all of Japan into desolate, uninhabitable, radioactive Trinitite, with devastating results for Japanese civilians. The Japanese considered these attacks on civilians to be war crimes, but losers do not get to run the trials for war crimes, this is a privilege reserved for the victors in a war. A few downed US pilots were tried in Japanese courts for war crimes and crimes against humanity and executed, but the officers of these Japanese courts were found guilty of war crimes by the US tribunals after the war and were, in turn, executed.

None of this made any sense to the Japanese leadership. They found the Occidentals completely inscrutable.

Thursday, December 06, 2007

Farook, Abu Aroos, and a Suitable Dhow

Abu Aroos means (I think) Father of the Bride, which means that Farook must play Spencer Tracy's part (I'm showing my age, most people would think it was Steve Martin's part, or wouldn't have any idea what I'm talking about).

Farook's daughter is, or is about to be, married. In this part of the world, there's a ceremony called the marriage, after which the bride goes home with her father, and another ceremony called the marriage, after which the bride goes home with her husband. Farook's daughter has been through the first ceremony, and wants her half of the second to be on a dhow.

So last night we went to look at dhows.

One place to look is along the Bur Dubai side of the Creek, where about a dozen dhows await guests for the 8:30 p.m. dinner voyage. We arrived about 7:00 p.m., and managed to view about 10 dhows before they all sailed off.

For normal dinner cruises, we were quoted prices from €20 to €25. For a wedding party, if that's what it is (Farook kept saying it wasn't a wedding party, but he didn't know the English word for the ceremony) the price is about €20 per person for a two-hour dinner cruise, and roughly another €240 for each additional hour, if the party wishes to stay more than two hours. Of course, the price varies depending on how lavish the meal is, and on how lavish the dhow is.

Farook has already checked with some people he knows, but he wanted to compare prices and features. The dhow will only be for the bride's party, which is only women, and Farook wanted an all woman crew for the voyage. Some of the dhows said this would be no problem, but others said they had to have some men, but they would ensure that the men were kept away from the women.

Of the ten business cards he collected, Farook kept three and discarded the rest.

Since he, his daughter, and his future son-in-law want the dhow trip this month, he'll have to decide soon.

He hasn't told me what he'll do to entertain the men, so I assume they'll be eating goat somewhere on dry land, far away from the women.

Monday, December 03, 2007

The Americanization of Dubai

I have heard people complaining about Dubai becoming overly Occidental, people who have travelled thousands of kilometres, hoping to see something impossibly exotic, people who have never before seen anything impossibly exotic, and who have no idea what that entails, but who are disappointed by Dubai.

Today, in my irregular constitutional, I first saw a syringe and needle. I have seen diabetic syringes in the West, as a result of the iatrogenic diabetes epidemic, but this was an intravenous syringe and needle, which I have never seen on a Western pavement.

Later, I saw a coin.

Before I came to the UAE, I had seen many coins dropped by Westerners. Farthings, dropped after paying 19s 11¾d for some item; later, new ha'pennies dropped after paying anything and ½p. And, of course, €0.01 coins and American pennies.

For my first years here, I never saw a coin abandoned, but now ¼ dirhams and ½ dirhams are becoming common on the pavement, coins that have just recently become too small to be worth the trouble of carrying around.

I can only ask myself, 'What next?'

Sunday, December 02, 2007

UAE National Day

It was 36 years ago today that six of the seven Emirates that now form the UAE agreed to become a nation.

Sometime during the following year, the seventh Emirate, Ras al Khaimah joined the initial six.

So, congratulations to this nation for 36 rather amazing years.