Monday, July 28, 2008

The Twilight Blogosphere

1. For starters, the New York Times has been running a sporadic series about people who posted blogs that were actually read, and who then felt that their privacy had been breached. For those who feel compelled to write such items as 'The King is a Fink,' but who would prefer that no one know about their screed, the traditional way was to write on paper in secret code. and then keep the papers locked up where no one could find them.

Of course, the most famous example of such writings was rather easily found and quickly deciphered, or so the scholars tell us, though I am not completely convinced that the scholars didn't just invent Mr. Pepys' tales of what he'd seen based on unencrypted accounts, and, since no one else could break the cipher, no one could question the scholars' deciphered publication of the diary.

Today, of course, the person who feels compelled to write, but who doesn't want anyone to read his Jeremiads, can simply type into a document and encrypt the document electronically. Writing a blog and then feeling violated when someone reads it seems strange to me. But the New York Times says that bloggers who find themselves unexpectedly read have every right to be irate.

2. Anyone who bothers reading the sporadic comments to this blog has seen (since I've left them there) several commercial spam posts. Anyone who has tried to comment will also have seen that I try to block spam comments with the blogger CAPCHA, which should require human intervention for every post, something that doesn't seem to be happening. I am confused.

One possibility is that desperate people in marketing are just typing in keywords like Dubai and manually posting their company's ads on every blog that shows up. The other possibility is that Blogger is selling access to spammers, allowing them to post comments on millions of obscure blogs such as, e.g., Dubai@Random. As of current date, this remains an unsolved question.

Thursday, July 24, 2008

Errands with Farook

Farook came by this morning and took me with him on a few errands. First, we went to the Jaddaf dry-docks in order to pick up Farook's middle son. ‘My son very clever. He study interior design at university, and for summer he put ad in newspaper and get very good job in planning. I forget name. What is English name for job in planning?’

I had no idea. Farook fished in his pocket, pulled out a piece of paper, and handed it to me: ‘Al Barsha Flat, 2BR, 055-1234,’ I read to him. ‘No, not that, this.’ The second piece of paper said, ‘Autocad.’

Autocad sells for a bit over $1,000, but in Dubai, if one knows the right people, one can obtain a full copy for about $5. I didn’t think his middle son knew Autocad, and remain unconvinced that he is, indeed, an expert, but in Dubai, as in the West, a 20 year old who says he is an expert designer with Autocad is much more employable than a 50 year old with 28 years design experience, the last three using Autocad. So now Farook's middle son is designing kitchens using Autocad for a store in the Jaddaf dry-docks.

Once we’d picked up the son, we drove to Sharjah, where the son’s car is in the body shop after the son had an accident (his fault). Farook got the manager of the shop to open up the air-conditioned waiting room, and we went inside to wait while Farook's son stood outside by his car talking on his mobile. After about half an hour, Farook gave up and we left his son at the body shop to wait until the car was repaired. ‘He must learn from waiting here by himself,’ Farook said as we drove away.

The next stop was at a car rental place. Farook had rented a car for his son to drive to work while the son’s car was being repaired, but now that the son’s car was (almost) ready, it was time to return the rental. The man who owns the rental shop has another job, so it is necessary to call him when one wishes to rent or return a car.
While we waited, we wandered into a small phone shop. I noticed accessories for iPhones, though they only work in the UAE if a) one pays the outrageous ATT (or European iPhone partner) roaming charges; or b) one hacks the iPhone to take a local SIM card. A policeman standing behind the counter said, ‘UAE have lots of iPhones, but most people prefer Nokia.’ Which, under the circumstances, is not surprising.

When the man from the car rental agency finally arrived, we straggled over to his office, and I saw a large Arabic/English sign:


I think 500 had been X-ed out.

We next went to Farook’s office: ‘I want you test new girl I hire, see if she know computer.’ We knocked on the office door, but received no answer and Farook didn’t have his key. We went out and got Farook’s key and returned after about half an hour. Again we knocked, and again no answer. ‘Maybe she dead in office. You think police make trouble for me if we find her dead?’ But before I could answer, Farook opened the door to his office, we went in, and his new hire was nowhere to be seen, though the A/C was on, something Farook never allows when the office is empty. So he pulled out a plastic bag from behind the battered couch he provides for customers, and in the bag were a screwdriver and about a dozen locks. Farook then changed the lock to his office. This is his method of terminating employees who go AWOL while leaving the A/C on.

Finally, we went to lunch at a traditional Yemeni restaurant. It’s one I used to recommend, but prices are up 50%, and the salad, once included with the lunch, is no longer offered. Farook said we went there because I used to like it, but he says he now prefers a different Yemeni restaurant that still includes salad with lunch.

Friday, July 04, 2008

Lunch at Ostadi

I was looking at the New York Times advice on what to do in Dubai, and of the items listed, the only one I could afford was lunch at Ostadi Special Restaurant, on Mussalla Road, which is the road that leads from the Bur Dubai Ramada Hotel toward the Creek. The restaurant is about half way between the Ramada and the Creek. According to the New York Times, this is a traditional Dubai restaurant, run by people from the traditional Arabic village of Shiraz.

The recommendation turned out to be an excellent one, with great food and great service, though for a bit more than they charged the New York Times, who seem to have gotten free soup, water and tea, for which we were charged. The entrée was Dh 20 ($5.40), which the article said was the total cost of their lunch; however, our total was Dh 34 ($9.20), still well worth the price.

Given the surroundings, the conversation turned to what Bush intends to do in the short time he has remaining: attack Iran within the next month or so, attack Iran by proxy within the next month or so, wait until after the election to attack Iran, or just rattle sabres without any actual military action.

The Israeli attacks on Iraq and Syria to prevent the development of WMD were like the tiger repellent I keep in my flat: When asked, 'Why do you need a tiger repellent in your flat,' I always respond, 'Just note that you don't see any tigers in here.' So, while neither Iraq nor Syria had the capability to develop WMD, the Israeli government can take full credit for their failure to do so. It is not at all clear that an attack on Iran would be as successful.

The local news assumes such an attack is inevitable, but this is a position I do not share: Bush sent inadequately supplied US troops into Iraq to collectively avenge 9/11. The American public has shown little concern that no Iraqis were involved—after all, the 9/11 hijackers were Arabs and the Iraqis are Arabs. From 2001 until 2005, the US voters gave Bush carte blanc to punish Iraqis supported by no-bid contracts, which, I hope, has enabled him to surpass Grant and Harding in the history texts as the most corrupt president the US has ever seen, given the way he was able to use 9/11 to enrich all his friends (and, one assumes, though the evidence is strictly circumstantial, himself). And, after the voters sent him a rejection in 2006, Bush invoked the acquittal of Clinton to continue an Imperial Presidency that cannot be challenged by the Courts or the Legislature. (Mercifully, there is no way Bush can continue past 20 Jan 2009.)

But there is no obvious way that Bush can manage any profit from an attack on Iran the way he did with Iraq, so I suspect he will limit himself to rattling sabres. But if Bush figures out how to make money from an attack before 20 Jan 2009, I think he'll give it a try.

Tuesday, July 01, 2008

100% Genuine, Authentic Faux

Over the course of a long and mis-spent life, I have been to many 'Old Towns'--cities that have been around for centuries, with the oldest parts set up as museums where actors try to reconstruct life as it was back when the city was new.

But only in Dubai have I seen an 'Old Town' built in the 21st century.

English has a word for the authentic version of the Dubai Old Town, and that word is 'medina.' The word was only used by English speakers travelling through the Maghreb, where the French had built towns with European architecture around ancient Arabic villages. The 'medina' was the old, pre-French, Arab part of the town.

But in Dubai, the developers have put up yet another fake traditional village, and called it 'Dubai Old Town.'

The first fake souk that I saw was in the Madinat Jumaira, where I would take new arrivals in summer. The Madinat Jumairah has a section described as a 'traditional Arabic souk,' with the traditional Arabic Starbucks, and the traditional Arabic Prada, and all air conditioned. I would explain that real souks have similar architecture, but are not air conditioned, and so are not really feasible for new, European arrivals in summer. (I took visitors who arrived in winter so see some of the souks that are as authentic as Dubai can manage.)

Then Wafi, already a faux Egyptian shopping mall, added a fake souk under the main Mall.

And now Dubai Old Town has traditional-looking-but-ultra-modern (TLBUM) housing, and a TLBUM souk.