Friday, January 30, 2009

The tour guide thing

We've had friends from Oz in town the past couple of days, so I've been doing the tour guide thing.

I've always enjoyed doing that wherever I've lived, one reason being that you look at the place from a different perspective when you're showing people around.

Things you normally walk past without a glance you stop at, and not only take time to look but also talk about them, maybe learning a bit more about them yourself in the process.

Peter & Vanessa are an architect and a town planner respectively, so there's plenty to interest them in Dubai. Their first visit was eighteen months ago and they were comparing the amazing speed of development with the lack of speed for even the smallest job in Oz.

We packed a fair bit into the two days. Took them here...

...and straight on to here, a real contrast maybe twenty minutes or so apart...

Took an abra across the Creek of course, the difference in safety regulations being a point they made but which we're used to. No safety rails around it, two lifebelts for twenty-one people on board, the abra stopping by thumping into the dock, no tying up nonsense, just jump the half metre between abra and dock.

Lots of other little bits and pieces caught their attention too, things we take for granted and hardly notice. Like a Ladies Banking section...

That made me wonder about the use of pink for ladies - a pink sign on the ladies' banking section, pink ladies only taxis. Is it pink for girls and blue for boys everywhere in the world I wonder?

The Walk at JBR has all sorts of DFS related stuff going on - we were planning to go for a pizza at Scoozi yesterday evening - the best pizza in town folks - but it was traffic gridlock.

I have no idea what was going on but all the roads into The Walk were blocked off. Naturally there was no warning anywhere so thousands of vehicles which could and would have avoided the area were jammed solid. It took me an hour to get out of it.

We guessed the blocking off might be for a street parade or something but I didn't see anything in this morning's papers.

Tuesday, January 27, 2009

Empost ID card pre-registration registration to relaunch

The ID card scramble to get a system that works in place is still going on.

Would it be harsh of me to suggest that perhaps the system should have been organised before the new advanced deadline was sprung on a surprised population. Five million-plus people were suddenly told we had to cram into 26 offices over a few weeks, six offices in Dubai to cater for 1.5 million people, or face severe sanctions.

The numbers simply didn't compute. Too few offices, too many people, too little time.

The latest update is about not the actual process of getting your ID card or even the registration to do that, but the pre-registration to try to organise an appointment to get it done.

Got that?


More mobile units for ID card registration will be set up by the Emirates Identity Authority (EIDA), to ease the rush for expatriate registrations.

"As a large number of expatriates are yet to register, we are trying to open new channels to reach out to the applicants, apart from EIDA centres." Emirates Marketing and Promotions (EMP), a subsidiary of Emirates Post Holding, is one of the options.

Details in Gulf News, here.

I hope I'm right.

Another landmark from the (my) old days in Dubai.

Lincoln Beach Villas on Jumeirah Beach Road, a bit out of town in those days but highly desirable. They were occupied by expats on the full salary package which included good accommodation with all bills paid.

Those were the days.

A few people are still on those packages but they're becoming rarer and rarer.

Anyway, passing by this morning I was horrified to see construction/destruction.

On closer inspection it seemed as though it was actually renovation going on.

I do hope so, rather than the usual demolition of anything over twenty years old.

Monday, January 26, 2009

Here's the solution

Checking through the search engine phrases people had typed which led them to 'Life in Dubai' I came across this one:

Search Engine Host

Search Engine Phrase
is there a solution to life

Newcastle Upon Tyne

What's going on in the northeast of England that a Geordie is asking that, I wonder. Something to do with the local obsession, their football team perhaps?

I actually have the answer because in Bur Dubai the other day I came across a company which can obviously help...

One of my least favourite buzzwords again.

I've ranted about it before, when I've come across marketing solutions, yacht solution, experiential solution, human capital solutions but this one seems to offer solutions to everything.

Sunday, January 25, 2009

Andy's Porsche and blogging

The Redundancy Porsche Man, Andrew Blair, was on Dubai Eye radio this morning, interviewed by Jess and our blogger pal Alexander.

He started by saying that his media exposure around the world began with a Dubai blogger posting a photograph of his Porsche with its message.

That of course was this very blog and you can see the photo I posted a week ago today.

The big exposure was when the UK Daily Telegraph subsequently printed the story and Andy said he'd been swamped with calls, including one from a South Korean tv station.

The discussion on Dubai Today ranged across not only Andy's story but the international nature of the internet, the new medium of blogging, laws relating to it all and so on. That led me to think about what's ended up as this post.

For those of us who blog, whether it's news and opinion or just personal diary stuff, it's something we need to constantly keep in mind and my post about Andy's Porsche is a good example.

I saw the car with its message and thought it was a great image on several levels.

I thought it was a sign of the times in Dubai, which is the caption I put on the post. I thought the fact the graffiti was on a Porsche added to its value. I thought it demonstrated either a spur-of-the-moment rage at being fired or creative job wanted advertising - or perhaps both. I thought it made an interesting photograph.

So I took the shot and within fifteen minutes I'd published it on 'Life in Dubai'.

We do these things automatically these days, but just think about that. Almost instantly the photograph could be seen by anyone anywhere in the world with access to the internet. Millions and millions of people in probably every country on the planet.

We know that the mainstream media monitors blogs, we know that other bloggers and surfers pass around things they find too.

What we post on our blogs, the social networking sites too, really has no borders. Once we publish it it's there for the world to see.

If they find it interesting the exposure can be surprising. For example I had no idea my Porsche photo and the story behind it would arouse so much interest.

The photo's been picked up and posted by various Yahoo and Facebook groups from, for example, the USA, the UK, Malaysia. It's been put on the BritishExpats website forum, the Dubai4X4 website forum, on several other English and Arabic blogs. They've shown good netiquette by doing the right thing and crediting the photo, so their readers click on the link and visit 'Life in Dubai'.

The interest in the story is amazing. For example Dubizzle has a live feed from this blog and I've never had as many visitors from Dubizzle as I'm getting for this. Hundreds a day. Almost as many visitors are coming in on my two Andy Porsche posts as as to the 'Life in Dubai' main page.

Now people are hitting the search engines to find the story. Some of the search phrases they're putting in which have led them here:

andy porsche redundant dubaithoughts
andrew blair porsche uae
andrew blair dubai 2009
porsche redundant dubai Andrew Blair
andrew blair 28, porsche dubai,
Porche redundancy dubai
redundant project manager dubai porsche
...and so on.

By the way, 'porsche redundant dubai Andrew Blair' came from someone in Skopje, Macedonia.

Then there's one who perhaps misunderstood:

dubai porsche made redundant

And an ominous one Andy? The Northcliffe Newspaper Group in Leicester is looking for:

Dubai police Andrew Blair

Stand by for some more coverage in the UK press!

My point really is that we should keep in mind the borderless international nature of the internet, the wide readership our ramblings can have. Not just locally, although that's where the majority of my visitors live, but from anywhere. Although because of the Andy Porsche posts I'm getting many more visitors than usual, so far this has been a normal day for spread with visitors from 27 countries across the world from the US to New Zealand.

That's not big-noting myself by the way, it's perfectly normal and applies to blogs in general.

It's not something I think about when I'm banging away at the keyboard and I guess most bloggers will probably be the same.

But maybe we should just keep it in mind when we do the final read before hitting the 'Publish Post' button.

Saturday, January 24, 2009

News from the parallel universe

Today there's another example of people living in a parallel universe which I post about every so often.

We live here but there's another parallel universe populated by people such as bureaucrats and company spokesmen.

As mobile phone owners we all get spam don't we?

There's a report in Gulf News about the ludicrous levels it's reaching.

Mobile subscribers and marketing executives say that while the rise of SMS marketing is a cause of subscriber frustration, the boiling point is often reached when a glitch in the system causes one subscriber to receive the same message up to 200 times.

Most of those complaining about spam messages have been etisalat subscribers.

So the spammers have Etisalt's subscriber base, right?

Lebanon-based marketing company El Barid has a database of 1.25 million etisalat subscribers, according to International Sales Manager Alain Haddad.


But that's only in the real world. If you live in the parallel universe:

An etisalat spokesperson rejected the allegation that the company's databases have been leaked, calling them "highly inaccurate and baseless".

"etisalat's database is not accessible, sold or shared with any third party, for any reason whatsoever. etisalat maintains that its customer database is confidential and only limited concerned staff from the organisation are authorised to maintain it," he said.

The story is here.

The case of angels vs hotel

Every so often we get a story in the 'must cut that out and put it in the scrapbook' category.

One pops up in Gulf News this morning.

A gentleman is in court for refusing to pay a Dh900 hotel bill for a three night stay.

He's refusing to pay for more than one night and his reasoning seems faultless to me:

"God almighty took away my soul then resurrected me again. During this experience, which happened upon His will, I saw prophets and angels who told me that I only stayed one night in the hotel."

Al Slammer for a month said the judge, at which the cheery accused saluted everyone in the same way he greeted them when he first entered the courtroom.

The full story is here.

Friday, January 23, 2009

Luxury for expats

You may remember my post back in July quoting the HSBC survey which claimed: “The United Arab Emirates is the most luxurious place for an expat to live”

Maybe this is an example of what the respondents meant - just look at the luxurious furniture the tanker drivers in Jebel Ali enjoy...

Thursday, January 22, 2009

The redundancy Porsche

Remember this shot I posted a few days ago?

I thought that was the end of the story, but there's a follow up.

The UK Daily Telegraph has an interview with the owner, one Andrew Blair.


According to the report:

Driving home through rush hour traffic with "made redundant today" and "project construction manager" on the rear of his vehicle, Mr Blair prompted calls from more than a dozen potential employers.

Good luck Andy.

The Telegraph story is here.

(Thanks to ZeTallGerman for the heads up and the headline)

Rent situation explained

After an inevitable couple of days of confusion following the first incomplete announcement we now seem to have clear clarification of the rent freeze/increase issue.

On the surface there's some confusion because we have both a freeze and a 20% cap on increases, but it's actually explained reasonably well.

Gulf News has a very good report with details, many examples of average rents and an interactive map on which different areas' rents can be checked.

It also has the wording of the full decree issued by Sheikh Mohammed Bin Rashid, which is very useful.

The appropriate rent for an area is based on the new Rent Index issued by RERA, the Real Estate Regulatory Authority. In turn that's based on rent information submitted by landlords and tenants to the RERA website Last year registration was voluntary, from the beginning of this year it's been compulsory but my guess is that many leases have not been registered.

Put simply, if the 2008 lease is being renewed and it has a rent within 25% of the index it can't be increased. If the rent is more than 25% below the index there's a sliding scale of maximum percentages by which it can be increased based on how much below it is, the maximum being 20% for rents which are 56% or more below the index.

It's a good start but I think renters have will have to be a bit patient with it, because it's going to take a while to get it all up-to-date and working efficiently.

What we have as the basis for the whole calculation is an index based on a small number of the actual leases out there and based on last year's rents, which are now way out of date. The report says, for example, a two bedroom apartment in Mirdif is shown in the index at Dh120,000 to Dh130,000 while the actual rent now is around Dh90,000.

Article (4) (2) of the decree says that RERA "shall review and update the Rent Index of the emirate of Dubai periodically" and that obviously needs to be done quickly and frequently, I would say at least quarterly. For it to truly reflect what's happening they also must ensure that all leases are registered.

Not everyone will be happy of course because the index will in the present climate almost certainly be showing lower rents each time it's updated. What you pay will be based on what the index says on the day you sign, so people signing later in the year can expect to pay less than those signing at the beginning.

Not perfect but it does address one of the major problems companies and individuals have struggled with over the last few years, and one of the biggest contributors to our high inflation rate. It's one of those times when market forces couldn't be left in control and government intervention was necessary.

Check out the full information in Gulf News. The main report is here and it has links to the other pages.

Wednesday, January 21, 2009

I hope we never lose it

What the world sees of Dubai is all the new glitz and glamour, and the kitsch, the excesses like Versace Hotels' refrigerated beach.

Not only tourists but also a surprising number of expat residents are only aware of the new developments. Shopping means modern malls, dining out means in five-star hotels, such as you find at Festival City:

But that's not all there is to the city. Thankfully we can still wander around parts of the old Dubai, such as Bur Dubai where I was yesterday.

Small streets, small local shops, cafeterias, hustle and bustle, a sense of a real city with real people. I love the old parts of town.

Then I drove through Nad Al Sheba where even older Dubai was evident, with the scrubby desert landscape that was all of 'New Dubai' only five or six years ago:

The camels being transported in the back of the truck over speed humps didn't look all that safe to me, so I hope they won't need to visit...

I really hope we never lose this stuff.

Tuesday, January 20, 2009

Blogging becoming respectable?

There's an interesting development in the relationship between mainstream journalism and bloggers reported in Gulf News this morning.

Blogging has been, still is, much derided. A bunch of ignorant egotistical loonies ranting on, or sad people bearing their souls and giving us far too much personal information.

But it's gradually changing and people seem to be starting to accept us.

Gulf News has a full page on the State of the Press, the 'annual report on the evolution of press freedom'.

In it they report:

Bloggers and operators of cyber news sites, facing legal actions in the UAE, will become the first in the world to receive legal support from the Journalists' Association, provided they abide by the ethical and professional rules of the profession.

Mohammad Yousuf, secretary general of the association, told Gulf News the move came as a gesture from the association to improve the quality of blogging in the country and enhance the credibility of internet sites.

He said the association views the growing importance of blogging and cyber space as a "Fifth Estate" in the UAE and would like to ensure clean, credible and transparent environment of blogging activities in the UAE.

Surf around the blogosphere and you'll find just about everything it's possible to find. That includes the very personal diaries that were the origin of blogging, the keeping-in-touch-with-family blogs, mind-boggling extremist blogs of every persuasion, pornography blogs, comedy blogs. There are also plenty of news and opinion blogs.

Since I started blogging I've believed that those of us doing primarily news and op-ed blogs, although we're not trained journalists and we're not in the mainstream media, should keep laws and propriety in mind when we publish anything. After all, we put the stuff out there for anyone in the world with access to a computer to read.

'Life in Dubai' like many other blogs has links to it on several international mainstream media sites, is quoted in the mainstream media, is running at more than 12,000 visitors a month from around the world. That puts a responsibility on us. In those circumstances the laws of libel, for example, must surely apply to us as much as they do to the mainstream media.

Using that example, if we do libel someone we should expect to be treated the same as anyone in the media. But the other side of that coin is that I also think we should have the same protections as anyone else in the media.

I agree with what Mr Yousuf is reported as saying, except one small sentence.

Those who continue casting their views under vague identities will not be able to seek the association's help.

Using a nom de plume, such as Seabee, is not unusual or sinister and we each have our valid reasons for doing so. Many mainstream writers do the same and newspaper editorial writers are completely anonymous.

I've long believed that blogs can be a great source of information, can give the view from the street. In situations such as Gaza over the past three weeks, bloggers provide information and photographs which no-one else can.

Like all media you have to keep your brain in gear when you're reading the stories, don't blindly believe all you read, be aware of the perspective of the writer. Read a number of different blogs on a subject to get a broader perspective, just as you should with the mainstream media - imagine using Fox News as your only or main source of information!

If you're a blogger you should read the Gulf News story, which is here.

No rent increases in 2009...unless...

Once again it's needed The Big Boss to step in to sort out a confusing situation and a problem damaging Dubai's future.

Dubai's future relies on its commercial success but ridiculously high rents have put an increasing burden onto employers, making the cost of doing business here increasingly uncompetitive. High rents are also making employees question whether Dubai is an attrractive place to live and work, which also hits the commercial sector.

For example, rent for a two bedroom apartment in a less-than-luxury Dubai Marina block is at AED180,000pa. Per month that's over US$4,000 or €3,000 or UK£2,750.

We've had the rent cap, which was at 5% last year, and have been waiting for this year's announcement.

A week ago the CEO of RERA, Marwan Bin Galita, said "We don't need a rent cap this year. We need to freeze everything. 2009 is a tough year and we shouldn't interfere with rents too much."

That caused some confusion - What would be frozen, last year's rent cap? Would there be a new rent cap? If so, what would it be? Does 'not interfere' mean leave it to the market?

Now we know the answers. As Ruler of Dubai Sheikh Mohammed Bin Rashid has issued Decree No 1 for 2009. It applies to residential and non-residential properties, not allowing any increase in rent in 2009 for tenants who renew contracts signed in 2008.

However, it gets a little complicated because if similar properties have an average rent according to RERA's rental price index which is more than 25% higher, then the landlord can increase the rent.

Well that's how I interpret the reports, but you'd better read for yourself if you think it affects you. EmBiz247 has it here.

Let's hope it works because rents were really out of control.

Monday, January 19, 2009

Dubai news - good, bad and we coulda guessed it.

We coulda guessed it.

After the chaos caused by the ID registration system being launched before it was ready we're now told that the system is to be 'revamped'.

Late last year the Emirates ID Authority suddenly brought the deadline for registration forward, put an immovable deadline on it, nothing was ready, the website didn't work, there were few forms to be found anywhere, there weren't enough offices, only ten offices took appointments but even with them most applicants couldn't make one, the capacity to register the numbers in the time given was nowhere near sufficient.

Situation normal then, something major launched long before it was ready. It's not unusual, we often get it , Salik being another perfect example.

Panic, confusion, long queues, people wasting whole days unsuccesfully trying to register, complaints poured in to the media.

Inevitably we then had the usual clarifications which confused the issue even more, U-turns, backtracking, then changes to the previous adamant statements, such as the 'fined if you don't' scare.

Then they tried to fix the problems with the system which should have been fixed before it was launched. More capacity for the website and corrections to some of the mistakes on it, general availability of the registration forms, moving of the deadline.

Still chaos.

We could have predicted that some months later we'd be here with an announcement that the ID system is to be 'revamped'.

There's a new appointments system. There's an online tracking system for applications, to be launched within a month. There's a new application form, more user friendly with more guidelines. There's an increase in the number of offices offering appointments.

Get it right before you launch it? Not a hope. Thought, planning and administration conspicuous by their absence.

The details are in Gulf News' report here.

Then there's bad news which is another smack in the mouth for Dubai's vision of becoming a major international commercial centre.

You may know about the spat between Tecom and an American investor, Capital Partners, over a 38 acre plot of land in Internet City. The company sued Tecom for $1 billion, as reported here by the Financial Times. The dispute went to arbitration.

But now Reuters have released a story which says:

A U.S. private equity firm once hailed as a major foreign investor in Dubai says it has been shut down without warning following a dispute with the government of the Gulf Arab trade hub.

Managing Director Jonathan Wride is reported as saying: "Tecom stated that we no longer exist and thus are not entitled to wind up or liquidate, which is in direct conflict with Tecom's own regulations and UAE law.

"It is of critical ... importance that international companies can continue to operate in Dubai, safe in the knowledge that the UAE law will be upheld."

Ain't that the truth.

If this story gets wide coverage, as could well happen, it isn't going to do much for brand Dubai's reputation.

The full Reuters report is here.

But now to the good news, although I'm sceptical about it.

Police's Traffic Department will place traffic patrols on all the roads, with an average of one patrol every one to two kilometers as part of a new mechanism to reduce accidents.

Every one to two kilometres?

We need it, I wish it was true, but I really don't believe we have enough police officers to do it.

Maybe tomorrow we'll get a 'clarification' with a realistic figure, but it does at least indicate an increase in traffic police action.

That story is in Gulf News here.

Sunday, January 18, 2009

Looking good...

One of the things that in my opinion is done well in Dubai is the roadside landscaping.

I took these photographs over the last three or four weeks and some of the gold and red flowers are now being replaced, which they usually do with red, white and blue petunias.

The colourful landscaping even helps to soften the look of construction areas...

Sign of the times in Dubai

Saturday, January 17, 2009

There's medals and medals

If anyone deserves a medal this man does:

He's the splendidly named Captain Chesley B Sullenburger 111.

The man who safely landed an Airbus with 155 people on board in New York's Hudson River.

What I think is an astonishing photograph shows just what he did:

Reuters photo

All 155 people walking out of the aircraft into waiting rescue boats.

Mind boggling.

But more than that, he's described by a friend as one of the last American gentlemen.

I can believe that because he demonstrated old-fashioned values, values which are so important in a civilised society but which are much derided these days.

Ability, professionalism, responsibility, concern for others.

Not only did he safely bring the plane down, he made sure the passengers and his crew evacuated safely - then he twice walked the length of the aircraft to make sure that everyone was safely out. Only then did he leave the aircraft.

I thought such values were all-but dead but Capt. Sullenberger restores my faith that maybe we haven't totally lost them.

Anybody want a role model? Forget entertainers and footballers and 'celebrities', this is the kind of role model we need to get society back on track.

I don't know what awards he'll receive but whatever they are they aren't enough.

But then there's the other side of awards.

Just a few days ago the worst-ever American president presented his country's highest civilian honour, The Presidential Medal of Freedom, to two of his cronies.

Photos: Ron Edmonds/AP and Reuters

Tony Blair, ex-UK Prime Minister and John Howard, ex-Australian Prime Minister.

Both almost equally awful as leaders of their countries as Bush has been. Three men who demonstrate values which are the opposite of Capt. Sullenberger's.

The White House spokesman said: "The president is honoring these leaders for their work to improve the lives of their citizens and for their efforts to promote democracy, human rights and peace abroad"

Oh really?

They supported Bush's catastrophic adventures in what was childishly named the Coalition of the Willing, causing untold damage to the world and to their own countries' reputations and standing.

BLiar, all spin and no substance, an unwarranted belief in his own importance and influence, the lies about Saddam and nuclear weapons, incompetence at home and abroad. Eventually, in spite of winning elections and thus keeping them in their lucrative jobs, his own MPs got sick of him and threw him out.

The world knows less about him so let me tell you about John Winston Howard.

Like Bush, Howard pursued extreme right wing policies and seriously damaged the reputation of a great country. Even more than Bush and BLiar, he was exposed many, many times lying to both parliament and the people. His strategy was wedge politics, dividing people as much as possible making it easier for him to retain power.

He put selfish personal ambition and the drive to hang on to power above all else. Above his party, his country, the people.

Like Bush he appointed a whole bunch of incompetent and extremist people to his government, several of them even more vindictive than himself. Australians will remember ministers such as Vanstone, Downer, Ruddock, Reith.

Often asked questions which would have been embarrasing to answer Howard's stock response was 'I find that question offensive' and he'd stalk off.

We had his mistreatment and vilification of asylum seekers, his so called 'Pacific Solution' sending them to spend years in prison camps in small island nations we paid to take them.

We had the deliberate lies and doctored 'evidence' of 'children overboard' when Howard condemned the “sickening behaviour” by asylum seekers of throwing children overboard into the ocean. In fact they were fleeing a sinking ship, parents trying to save their children first as confirmed by the Australian navy's HMAS Adelaide. It was just before an election so he used the lies in his campaign, based on 'not the kind of people we want here' and 'we decide who comes to this country'.

We had black-clad goons wearing balaclavas accompanied by very large dogs attacking striking wharfies on the docks, something Australians never thought we'd see.

We had the mistreatment of individuals through Howard's misuse of his draconian terrorism laws, such as Doctor Haneef, which I posted about earlier, here, demonstrating the spite and malice of his government.

He made lying by public figures acceptable, he made it acceptable to take no responsibility, he made it acceptable to blame others, he led the charge in our plummeting standards of decency and honesty, he made it acceptable to claim credit for things which in reality were other people's doing.

He encouraged a climate of selfishness, paranoia, of bigotry and racism.

He took the country to war against the wishes of the majority, he subjugated Australian policy to that of the administration in America.

He frittered away our money on vote-buying handouts while the country's infrastructure fell apart.

And his main claim to success, the booming economy and low interest rates, was almost entirely due to his predecessors and world events and nothing to do with Howard or his Treasurer Costello.

The boom began two years before he won power, started by IR changes the previous government put in place not by Howard's policies. It continued with the demand from China and India for Australia's raw materials - nothing to do with Howard but he claimed credit for the booming mining sector.

The boom continued because his government used the same disastrous strategy as most of the world, with the government living beyond its means, in effect running up credit card bills with no thought for tomorrow, by keeping interest rates artificially and unsustainably low, by encouraging the population to keep spending beyond their means. Huge trade deficits were built up, budget surpluses were frittered away buying votes by giving billions in handouts to voters before elections instead of the money being invested in the country's future.

Eventually the electorate realised what an appalling leader we had and his party was decimated in a general election. The final ignominy was that Howard lost his own seat in that election.

Three leaders without whom the world would have been a much better place, thankfully now gone but the damage they've done will be with us for a long, long time.

If only we'd had leaders for the last decade with Capt. Sullenberger's attributes.

Thursday, January 15, 2009

Lightning's different results

Reports on the same day about storms in Dubai and Sydney demonstrate the difference results they can create.

In Dubai we had thunder and lightning, around Sydney they also had thunder and lighning.

With our storms we have temperature around 21C. In Sydney's west they have over 43C.

In Dubai they came with heavy rain and flooded roads. Around Sydney it caused bushfires which are causing a lot of damage.

Photos Jessica Drake and Kim Roper. Sydney Morning Herald

The Sydney Morning Herald report is here.

Rental Index confusion.

Surprise, surprise! The long awaited and eagerly anticipated rental index has been released to serious criticism.

Gulf News reports that it has no residential prices or criteria mentioned and reports an analyst as saying that it " incomplete, flimsy and likely to cause even more confusion in the marketplace as the index is almost incomprehensible."

Another industry insider says it seems to be just the beginning, "almost a pre-index."

The report goes on: "While this must be the first attempt at an index, the lack of solid data is going to cause further mayhem in a sector already riddled with confusion."

It seems to be consistent with the normal procedure - ill-prepared 'information' issued before it's complete causing more confusion than clarification.

So as usual we can expect weeks of further 'clarifications', each probably contradicting the last one, backtracking, U-turns. Meantime the rental free-for-all will continue, endangering Dubai's commercial future.

Gulf News' website doesn't have their story but Zawya reproduces it here.

It's wet out there!

Driving from Dubai Marina into Media City this morning was a clear run, although Sheikh Zayed Road towards Jebel Ali was a car park.

I was actually surprised at how little traffic there was on the other roads and Knowledge Village car park was all-but empty.

Then I realised why - after last night's huge storms you were all trapped somewhere else on flooded roads.

Wednesday, January 14, 2009

US foreign policy is run by?

A rare moment of honesty in the world of politics.

The New York Times reports a speech made by Israeli PM Ehud Olmert :

In an unusually public rebuke, Prime Minister Ehud Olmert of Israel said Monday that Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice had been forced to abstain from a United Nations resolution on Gaza that she helped draft, after Mr. Olmert placed a phone call to President Bush.

“I said, ‘Get me President Bush on the phone,’ ” Mr. Olmert said in a speech in the southern Israeli city of Ashkelon, according to The Associated Press. “They said he was in the middle of giving a speech in Philadelphia. I said I didn’t care: ‘I need to talk to him now,’ ” Mr. Olmert continued. “He got off the podium and spoke to me.”

The only surprise is that the bragging about Israel's control over American policy in the region, obviously designed to gain votes in the upcoming election, publicly acknowledged what has long been known but officially denied.

The spin doctors must be in a panic on this one - the Israeli PM telling the US President to get off the podium to speak to him now, which he does.

The report is here.

Tuesday, January 13, 2009

Black is White. Up is Down.

War is peace. Freedom is Slavery.

George Orwell. Nineteen Eighty-Four

There's a parallel universe out there and an awful lot of people live in it.

I've just been watching BBC news and in a report from Gaza they said that 100 humanitarian aid trucks were being allowed into Gaza by Israel.

Lise Doucet interviewed an Israeli army spokesman who told her that it was unprecedented for a country which was being attacked to allow aid to be sent to its attacker.

I swear that's what he said.

George W Bush was at it too, in his final press conference.

He became angry with reporters who raised some of the main criticisms of his presidency, especially when questioned about the damage he's done to America's reputation.

"I disagree with this assessment that, you know, that people view America in a dim light. I strongly disagree with the assessment that our moral standing has been damaged."

He also said that those who say the federal response to Hurricane Katrina was slow are wrong. Obviously in his parallel universe the response was good.

He summarised his presidency as 'good and strong.'

"Too much cold sir"

I agree with the comment the street cleaner made as I walked past him earlier this morning.

Fifteen celcius it was then.

And for me it's also too much gray, too much cloud.

Two consecutive days of cloudy, gray, wet weather is too much. I need the warm sunshine and blue sky back.

Monday, January 12, 2009

Proposal for federal freehold visa rule

There are reports that the federal government is reviewing property-linked residence visas with the aim of having a national approach rather than different rules for different emirates.

I've posted about this in the past because it's been a misinformation and moving-the-goalposts issue.

'Misinformation' because many developers and real estate agents included the word 'guaranteed' in relation to the visa. It never was guaranteed, it was quite rightly subject to the applicant meeting all the requirements of the Immigration Dept.

'Moving the goalposts' because no authority stopped the offer from being made. Some people bought property on the basis of being able to live here but several years down the track were told that the rule had changed in Dubai and Ajman.

Now a report in Gulf News tells us:

The UAE federal government is reviewing the issue of freehold property visas linked to foreigners' ownership of properties in different emirates, a top Dubai Government official told the media on Saturday.

"The Advisory Council [of Dubai Government] has submitted a proposal to the Federal Government on the issue of property-linked visas to review," Nasser Bin Hassan Al Shaikh, director-general of Dubai Government's Department of Finance, said at a media briefing on the sidelines of the government's 2009 budget announcement.

"Since a number of emirates have developed their own freehold visa arrangements, there are thoughts at the federal level to streamline the process and announce a unified guideline for all the emirates."

That doesn't tell us whether the proposal is to allow or stop property-linked visa, but hopefully it's to allow them to approved applicants.

But it does make sense to have a federal rule applying throughout the country because residence visas allow holders to live in the UAE, we are not restricted to one emirate.

I recall that when Ajman decided to stop allowing the visas an offical said in effect that they were losing track of people because visas were issued but property was being on-sold and the original owner then had a visa to which he was no longer entitled.

The answer is patently not to stop offering visas but to simply link the paperwork. In the same way that an employer cancels the visa of an ex-employee, the master developer sponsor would cancel the property-linked visa upon sale of the property.

The Gulf News report is here.

Sunday, January 11, 2009

Dubai driving tips

I've been answering questions on internet forums from people about to visit Dubai who have various queries about hiring cars, the road system, driving and so on.

That prompted me to think that it might be helpful to outline here some of the rules which apply in Dubai but which may be unfamiliar to visitors.

I suppose the most basic question is which side of the road do we drive on.

We have left-hand drive cars so we drive on the right.

However, in Dubai if there is a line of traffic waiting and you believe you are more important than the other drivers, that your time is more valuable than theirs, please feel free to drive on the left.

We have roundabouts on various roads. As already explained, we drive on the right side of the road, so we drive to the right through roundabouts.

This does not of course apply to self-important drivers, who may feel free to drive to the left through roundabouts to jump the queue.

Like many other countries we have hard shoulders for emergency brakedowns and so on.

This may be ignored if you are a driver of the self-important variety, in which case you may feel free to use the hard shoulder to get to the front of the queue.

Now to road signs.

In Dubai we use the standard international road signs with which you will be familair.

For example, a large arrow pointing right means you must go right. A red circle with a white horizontal stripe means No Entry.

However, in Dubai these may be ignored if you feel they inconvenience you in any way.

A large arrow pointing right, as already explained and as you will be familiar with, means you must turn right. A left pointing arrow which has a red diagonal line through it means you must not turn left. Often they will be used together.This means you must not turn left but can only turn right.

In Dubai you may ignore these if you find them in any way inconvenient.

A word of warning - if you ignore the No Entry and No Left Turn signs you are likely to meet oncoming traffic head on.

On no account should you reverse, turn round and drive the correct way along the one way road. The correct course of action in Dubai is to pull to the wrong side of the road and insist that the cars driving in the correct directon squeeze past you.

We also have the internationally recognised pedestrian crossings, known as zebra crossings in some countries. Dubai's traffic law says that pedestrians have right of way and traffic must stop for them.

Be aware that in Dubai if you stop for a pedestrian the car behind will not be expecting it and will run into the back of you. This will push you into the pedestrian, so the end result is an injured pedestrian and two damaged cars. In Dubai the pedestrian waiting at the crossing is to be ignored.

Oh, and parking. There are clearly marked designated parking spaces, No Parking signs and so on.

However, in Dubai you may feel free to take two parking spaces, or park in any way in any place which is convenient for you.

I hope this has been useful for people planning to visit us and drive on our roads.

Saturday, January 10, 2009

I do get bemused

The longer you spend in Dubai the more likely you are to spend your twilight years in a Home For The Bewildered.

I came across this in Ibn Battuta Mall today...

Please don't touch the turtle which isn't there.


Fake, but I like it.

Hadn't been there for a long time, mainly because of the frustrations caused by the traffic, but I ventured to the Burj Dubai district the other day and looked around Old Town and Old Town Island.

Look, I know it's all brand-new fake-old, but I think it's done well and I like it. It has a good feeling about it, you're away from the traffic in most of it, there are shops and restaurants open, landscaping's coming good.

Remember there was nothing here a very short time ago, just a desert area. And Dubai really has very little that's genuinely old. It was a tiny place huddled around the Creek, small buildings made of mud and coral, wind towers the tallest structures.

If you're going to build communities you need the basic shop and apartment spaces which are the interior of buildings. The outside of those buildings can be anything - modern shapes clad in glass, copies of historic European buildings, ultra-modern shapes clad in new materials. Or you can design them to reflect the region. Whichever you choose it's man-made, in a way it's fake.

I like the idea of using designs which reflect the region and its history, which is what Old Town and Old Town Island are.

The entrance to Old Town Island has a large gateway typical of so many Arab cities - not unlike the walled cities which were standard historically in Europe.

Through that first gateway and there's a really nice square, beautifully landscaped, with another gateway at the end.

Through that gateway and the old-style theme continues.

Across the main boulevard to Old Town which again reflects the old architectural style of the region.

Not that it matters to them, but a thumbs up from me for Emaar.

Friday, January 09, 2009

Mooring the chopper.

Dubai Festival City

Thursday, January 08, 2009

Bailout fun

I know it's a serious business, but The Big Bailout does have a funny side.

Human nature being what it is, being the cause of the crisis in the first place, greedy eyes are looking hungrily at the pot of gold being dangled.

"You're giving away money, I want my share" is the general approach.

I've been having a giggle at reports of hundreds of special interest groups, including the bizarre, preparing their claims for US taxpayers' money. It's been referred to as a feeding frenzy with applicants including state governors, property developers and local sports teams.

Now today there's a classic reported in the Daily Telegraph:

US porn industry seeks multi-billion dollar bailout

Porn baron Larry Flynt is seeking a $5 billion bailout from Washington to rejuvenate the industry, which he says is suffering because of the economic downturn.

The Hustler magazine founder has teamed up with fellow adult entertainment mogul Joe Francis, creator of the Girls Gone Wild video series, to approach Congress for the same kind of financial assistance recently approved for car manufacturers.

The pair have asked the 111th Congress, which convened on Tuesday with the economy at the top of its agenda, "to rejuvenate the sexual appetite of America" with a bailout.

Go here for a laugh.

That's Christmas over then

A whole row of Santa's little helpers bringing the Christmas festivities to an end...

And an ignominious end for the tree...

Tuesday, January 06, 2009

Beach romp final, final word

Shock horror! Surely not! I can't believe it!

"It's a fair cop, we dun it" says Vince.

And there I was believing them when they denied it all, Vince sent that tear-jerking letter to 7Days, they promised to get married...

But safely back in freezing England, Vince spills the beans to that fine example of quality journalism, the Daily Mirror.

In true tabloid form, from the original 'poor Brits face six years jail' reports they've now turned on him:

Shoe-horned into a cheap suit which does nothing for his corned-beef complexion and double chin, Vince Acors is no obvious romeo.

Charmless, overweight and unaccountably full of himself, he cuts an unedifying figure as he lopes in, winking at the hotel receptionist with a leery grin.

But, incredibly, this is the self-styled stud who narrowly escaped six years in jail for his drunken antics on a Dubai beach.

I love the way the tabloids do that, play a 'human interest' story for all it's worth for a while, then turn and bite the subject.

The Mirror's readers must have been tut-tutting at the prospect of jail for the poor dears, now they're tut-tutting at their antics.

That's the tabloid world for you, rags and readers alike.

Anyway, back to Vince.

Probably the thing I dislike most about the way Dubai has changed is the people it now attracts.

These days there are far too many like Vince and his new-found friends:

I’m a red-blooded bloke who’d spent 13 hours gorging on limitless champagne, vodka and lobster.

Michelle was slumped in the corner, looking very drunk and rather miserable.

I’d been drinking solidly since 12.30pm. When the free champagne ran out at 8pm, the group of 30 moved on to a club.

But on the beach, under the stars and with a bellyful of Moet, I was game.

I’d been drinking for 13 hours, there wasn’t an awful lot of thinking involved.

(At the police station) She was telling everyone exactly what she thought of them. She was still completely p***ed.

Michelle spent the time on her mobile ringing her friends, but they were all too drunk to help.

He goes on to brag about his exploits, here and elsewhere, and to slag off Michelle.

A class act.

The story is here.

Is this legal?

Remember the spate of stories in the international media last year about people being jailed in Dubai for carrying 'drugs' which are perfectly legal almost everywhere else?

Stories like this from The Times:

Britons heading to the United Arab Emirates have been warned that carrying some foodstuffs and common over-the-counter medications could warrant a four-year prison sentence.

Among the banned substances are foods containing poppy seeds; melatonin, which is taken to ease the effects of jetlag; codeine, a common ingredient in pain relief medication, and any trace of drugs such as cannabis, however small.

The warning was issued by the charity Fair Trials International, which assists people facing trials abroad, following a spate of arrests of visitors to Dubai and Abu Dhabi.

The charity's chief executive Catherine Wolthuizen said: “We even have reports of the imprisonment of a Swiss man for 'possession’ of three poppy seeds on his clothing after he ate a bread roll at Heathrow.”

So what are Spinneys doing selling these?

The Times' story is here.

Saturday, January 03, 2009

Bush has learnt nothing

I've been listening to George W Bush talking about Gaza.

I wasn't going to post about him again but I can't resist.

The man continues to astound me. He's learnt nothing.

He's learnt nothing after two catastrophic terms, eight years of not only extreme ideology and a complete lack of understanding but also of the administrative incompetence that would be expected of a struggling third world country's government.

Mistake after mistake after mistake but he sounds exactly the same as he did at the beginning of it all.

The first impression was that his scriptwriter is still away on Christmas holiday because the speech was simply reading the press release issued by Israel's fantastic PR machine. A transcript of the speech is here.

Had he been the leader of a small country it wouldn't matter to anyone but his own citizens. But his decisions affect all of us across the entire world, have affected us, continue to affect us.

And the effects have been so catastrophic that I'm afraid it will take much longer than the incoming administration has to get us back on track

Just think about just a few of the disasters that are his legacy:

- the erosion of international institutions, the contempt for international treaties, the scrapping of the Geneva Convention that led to Guantanamo, the US kidnapping people around the world, 'extraordinary rendition', the CIA's black holes, the officially approved use of torture.

- the huge increase in terrorism, the war we're losing in Afghanistan, the catastrophy that is Iraq, Osama Bin Laden and Al Qaeda still operating.

- illegal spying on Americans, the apparatus in place for it and the culture of doing it.

- the erosion of America's standing in the world, unbelievable after the bonus he had to begin with after 9/11, when there was a huge surge of goodwill towards America.

- the worst financial crisis for generations with world-wide recession probably going into depression, a record number of Americans, nearly 32 million, relying on food stamps.

- incompetence in many government departments - the preparation for and response to Hurricane Katrina, the lack of oversight of financial institutions.

I could go on but it's too depressing.

What a combination. The arrogance of all ideological extremists coupled with a lack of knowledge and lack of curiosity, who surrounded himself with similar people.

And here he is at the end of it all sounding exactly the same as he did before he made such a mess of the world.

Comments are now open for the infantile name-calling which I'm expecting...

Thursday, January 01, 2009

Driving was almost a pleasure...

Off for coffee this morning about nine and it was a bit of a challenge in places, although the worst of the fog was thinning by then. At least there wasn't much traffic about.

But then at about ten o'clock Sheikh Zayed Road was a pleasure to drive along.

I'll repeat that because it's so nice to say: SZR was a pleasure to drive along.

A nice smooth multi-lane highway, almost no traffic and hardly a moron to be seen.

We went to have a look at Dubai Mall, Old Town and Burj Dubai because I haven't been there for a few months. More on that in another post...

Sun vs Fog

It's after 9am, the sun's been up for a while and it's at the top of the buildings in Jumeirah Lake Towers, but the fog's been so heavy the last couple of mornings that the sun's struggling to burn it off.