Wednesday, July 29, 2009

The upside of summer

Peak morning rush hour into Knowledge Village.

There's parking space available around town too.

Tuesday, July 28, 2009

Failing in the basics of journalism

I get more and more irritated that the media here think it's acceptable to publish half a story.

Simply print whatever an official says without asking obvious questions to provide clarification for their readers.

There's another example in 'Gulf News' this morning:

"Expatriates who are working in the UAE and are on vacation abroad will have to produce a medical certificate that proves they are not infected with H1N1 virus before returning to the country. The move will be implemented from August."

What certificate? Where do we get it from? Do the medical services around the world know of such a requirement and do they have such a certificate? Is a doctor's letter acceptable? What languages are acceptable, does it have to be translated into Arabic?

At which point do we have to produce the certificate, on boarding the aircraft? Are the world's airlines geared up for this? Do they even know about it?

Or if the point of entry is where we have to produce it, if we come through the e-gate who do we show it to? If we don't have a certificate are we denied entry? If we are, where do we go?

Mrs Seabee has to go to the UK for a couple of days of meetings in September. Is she supposed to add time to her trip to make an appointment with a local GP so that he can issue a 'certificate'?

Will the GP even know what she's talking about?

From writers to editors there's a constant and serious failure to do a basic professional job and provide information. What they actually do is create uncertainty and confusion.

It isn't rocket science is it, it's a fundamental basic of journalism, yet they fail on a regular basis.

Now having published this half information 'Gulf News' is duty bound to answer the questions it raises. Don't hold your breath though.

I suggest that it's a statement from an unauthorised 'official'. It was neither questioned nor checked and tomorrow another 'official' will deny it.

Whatever, it's sloppy, unprofessional and unacceptable journalism. But that's par for the course.

The half story is here.

Afternoon update

WAM, the official Emirates News Agency, is carrying a report: "'The news about this issue is completely untrue,' said Dr. Ali bin Shuker, Director of the Ministry of Health and Chairman of the Technical Health Committee for Combating Swine Flu.

You can find it here.

Monday, July 27, 2009

It ain't just Dubai...

Yesterday's Sunday Times had an article headlined 'Dubai expatriates unable to meet liabilities', not inaccurate but highlighting Dubai as though it was somehow unique in having people who can't meet their commitments.

"During Dubai’s boom years, expatriates from around the world took advantage of cheap credit and a booming economy to live a luxury lifestyle. Easy credit arrangements meant that they could buy penthouses, motorboats and expensive cars with little or no scrutiny from lenders. When the economy slowed, many foreign workers lost their jobs or had their salaries cut and became unable to keep up with their payments."

Today's Financial Times has a couple of articles which put all that in some perspective. They tell us the reality, that people around the world did exactly the same thing, not just those living in Dubai.

I could rewrite the first sentence in the Sunday Times article to make it more accurate:

During Dubai’s the world's boom years, expatriates people from around the world took advantage of cheap credit and a booming economy to live a luxury lifestyle.

The FT gives an example:

"Mick Longfellow is teetering on the edge of financial chaos. A dedicated teacher married to an equally hard-working nurse, living in a modest house in Newcastle in the north-east of England, the pair spent the past decade treating themselves to gadgets, gizmos and home upgrades.

They put in new windows. They bought the biggest television and sound system their living room could accommodate. They changed their cars every year or two. With two children to spoil as well, they were living on credit - lots of it. There were store cards, car loans, personal loans and credit cards.

Now, amid the recession, those lenders want their money back. "The bank just closed down our overdraft. That was the killer blow," says Mr Longfellow. But with the family's debts running to £30,000 ($49,200, €34,600), far more than their annual disposable income, repayment is going to take a very long time.

It is a sad blow for the Longfellows. But multiply one family's debts by the millions of people across the world who are in an even worse state, losing jobs and homes, and the scale of the problem is clear.

The second article says:

Lenders in Europe bracing themselves for a rising wave of consumer debt defaults as the credit card crisis that has caused billions of dollars in losses among US banks spreads across the Atlantic.

The International Monetary Fund estimates that of US consumer debt totalling $1,914bn, about 14 per cent will turn sour. It expects that 7 per cent of the $2,467bn of consumer debt in Europe will be lost..."

As I said, it's not unique to Dubai. All over the world money was cheap, credit was easy, banks pushed people to take large loans, credit card companies threw cards with high limits at people, credit checks hardly existed. That's why the world, not just Dubai, is in the mess it's in.

But back to the Sunday Times article. It includes a quote from a Mr Nuseibeh repeating the myth "Many of the British expatriates in particular tried to hang on as long as possible to life there and sadly many have ended up writing bounced cheques, having their passports confiscated so they cannot leave the country and really living in appalling conditions in bedsits shared with maids, or even in cars parked in car parks."

A request. Would anyone living in a car in a car park, or anyone who knows anyone living in a car in a car park, please tell me where so that I can go and verify the so-called fact.

This nonsense started in the seriously inaccurate Johann Hari article a few months back and it's become part of the folklore.

Sunday Times article.

Financial Times articles here and here.

Sunday, July 26, 2009

Coming to a store near you...

Something I've noticed cropping up fairly regularly on forums is women's clothing in Dubai, with sneering references to Dubai retailers stocking last year's fashions.

On my visits to important fashion capitals in Europe I must admit to not noticing any difference whatsoever. This year's, last year's, they all look like they're wearing much the same stuff to me.

But according to the sneerers we're out of date, no style, a dumping ground for last season's fashion which didn't sell in the super-smart, up-to-date UK & Europe.

Actually, in the UK a couple of weeks ago I was struck by how badly people are dressed. There's been a noticeable plummeting of standards over the past few years.

Mind you, there are some really classy young fashionistas there too, so expect this stylish look to be in your Dubai retailers in a year or two:

Thursday, July 23, 2009

Oh good, another clarification!

An old one has popped up out of nowhere again.

One that we kept getting wrong, misunderstanding the very clear and concise statements and actions of officials.

Then we misunderstood the subsequent clear and concise clarifications from other officials.

So now we have another clear and concise clarification, clarifying all the previous clarifications.

We can be in doubt no longer. Everyone knows, as officials keep telling us.

Sorry, I should explain I'm talking about Dubai Municipality's 'one villa one family' rule.

Just to remind you so that you're clear about it all:

The campaign was launched in April 2008. It was officially called 'one villa one family'.

By July there were reports that: "Families living in shared villa accommodations in the Jumeirah-1 and Abu Hail areas have been asked to vacate under Dubai Municipality's ongoing 'One Villa-One Family' campaign.

Since the launch of the campaign in April, almost 2,400 eviction notices have been served to families living in villas in the Rashidiya area, and water and electricity supply to 280 villas have been disconnected."

In September I reproduced this DM advertisement which clearly states that within thirty days from that announcement it was obligatory to vacate multi-families.

On October 3, 2008: "The Municipality’s 'One Villa, One Family' campaign kicked off this week with inspectors combing through villas in Al Rashidiya area, an official said."We study every case individually. However, the rule we enforce is one family per villa."

In November we read that: "Dubai Municipality is cutting power and water to as many as 200 villas a week in an attempt to evict people who are sharing homes, but some of the tenants are defying authorities and illegally reconnecting services, a senior official said yesterday."

Naturally we stupidly misunderstood it all. We misinterpreted all that as meaning that there was a 'one villa one family' law and that it was being enforced.

It obviously needed clarification so that we really understood the situation, which we received on February 1st, 2009:

"There is no "one villa, one family" rule in Dubai and the campaign against overcrowded villas has been misunderstood, a top civil official said on Sunday.

Hussain Nasser Lootah, Director General of Dubai Municipality said the municipality did not have any problem with more than one family living in a villa, provided it was big enough."The municipality has started a campaign against overcrowding in villas to ensure the safety and security of residents."

I was relieved that it was clarified for us at long last. There was no 'one villa one family' rule, it was simply a safety issue.

But then with so many previous examples of how we keep misunderstanding even the simplest statement from helpful officials, that obviously needed clarification. Just to make sure we all understood.

So that 'everybody knows'.

We have it today in The National:

"Dubai Municipality will intensify its one villa, one family campaign next month, and warned yesterday that families and landlords could face stiff fines for breaking the law. Hussain Nasser Lootah, the municipality’s director general, said penalties could hit Dh50,000 (US$13,000) for violators.

'We made this announcement two years ago, and it was made very clear that sharing villas would not be allowed,' Mr Lootah said. 'Now we have given enough time, and there will be no more exceptions.'"

I'm going to lie down now...

If you think I'm making it up I have an earlier posting on the subject, with links to the clarifications and all that. It's here.

And today's clarification in The National is here.

Politically correct Britain

These traditional biscuits are called Gingerbread Men.

Or they used to be before the thought police took control.

Wednesday, July 22, 2009

Changes needed

There are stories in the papers today which caught my attention although they have no real connection other than that they contain things I really don't like and which really need changing.


The first is that two senior former Nakheel Australian executives have been charged after a corruption investigation. They were arrested when they were accused of attempting to bribe a public official.

I have no way of knowing the truth of the issue, and that isn't the point. My beef with it is that they've been in jail without charge since they were arrested in January.

Holding people in jail without charge and without a strict limit on the time they can be held is totally indefensible.

Whether it's at Guantanamo Bay, in a Dubai jail or anywhere else, it's simply unacceptable but we see it far too often here for all kinds of alleged offences.

The presumption of innocence until and unless proven guilty must be paramount. It really is an area of the law which needs urgent top-level attention.


Then there's the murky Etisalat spyware story. They sent BlackBerry users a patch to install to 'improve performance'. It caused all kinds of problems but the real story is that after investigation BlackBerry have said that "etisalat appears to have distributed a telecommunications surveillance application"

At least the media here is giving exposure to the scandal - I've seen prominent stories in 'Gulf News', 'The National' and 'Khaleej Times' - and so is the international media.

A statement says: "RIM confirms that this software is not a patch and it is not a RIM authorised upgrade. RIM did not develop this software application and RIM was not involved in any way in the testing, promotion or distribution of this software application."

I have two problems with the story, one obviously being the alleged spying on users.

The other is that Etisalat has not commented on RIM’s statement.

Typical of the attitude of companies here, 'we do what we want to do and we don't have to explain anything to anyone'.

So, as usual, with this scandal there's no transparency, no explanation, no information.

Who authorised distribution of the patch? Was it official policy or a rogue group? Where did the patch come from? How secure is the BlackBerry for use in the UAE?

This goes much further than inconveniencing individuals, it's another huge blow to Brand Dubai's reputation as an honest and safe place to do business. If companies have any doubts that their confidential commercial information is secure they'll stay away, and Dubai's future depends on them operating here.

The only way to give confidence to business is to have complete transparency. There needs to be an urgent statement that an immediate enquiry by an outside independent consultant is under way. Whatever the outcome the results must be published in full and responsible heads must publicly roll because this is either a monumental error or a deliberate spying campaign.


The last story is from Sharjah where young men are being detained by police for wearing jewellery which is then being confiscated.

Apparently there's an eight year old 'decency' law that says men are not allowed to wear bracelets or any fashion accessories in Sharjah malls.

I don't even begin to understand what that's all about but I'm not querying the law itself.

What I have a problem with is that it seems to be another of those vague, sweeping generalised laws which are open to interpretation depending on the whim and the mood of the official.

What exactly is a 'fashion accessory'? When does a watch become one, when it has diamonds on it? When does a wedding or signet ring become one, does it depend on size or weight or design? Is a man's tote bag a fashion accessory?

That obviously depends on the individual opinion of the officer.

And I wonder what happens to the confiscated jewellery.

The other infuriating thing was the statement by 'a senior CID official', something we've heard so many times before:

"Men are not allowed to wear such accessories. Everybody is aware of that."

Everybody is aware. Yeah, like we were all aware of the ID Card deadlines and the Salik system.

Enact a law in secret, shelve it for years, don't tell anyone anything but suddenly start punishing them for breaking it.

The National's Nakheel story.

Khaleej Times' BlackBerry story.

Gulf News' Sharjah story.

Tuesday, July 21, 2009

Dubai bashing from the Sunday Times

There's yet another article following the fad for Dubai bashing, this one in the UK Sunday Times.

I'd missed it because we were flying back to Dubai during Saturday night, so thanks to Andy the Redundancy Porsche Man for the heads up.

Andy's featured in the article and having obviously given some assistance to Rod Liddle the author I should say in passing that I thought he was depicted somewhat ungraciously.

Once again it's an article concentrating solely about what's wrong, with no balance, but at least it isn't the sort of inaccurate and often patently untrue and sensationalist garbage we've seen from Johann Hari recently.

Even something that's contrary to my experience and with which I fundamentally disagree, I can't fault because the writer is honest in his statement because he says it's what people told him.

"...The British expats I spoke to believed, without exception, that the Emiratis are utterly useless, corrupt and indolent..."

Other less professional writers would have said "all British expats" while Rod Liddle specifically quotes the few Brits he spoke with. I have no reason to doubt that they said exactly as he reported, I've heard the same huge generalisation from a couple of Brits myself.

(Incidentally, those same Brits would be ropeable if they were all categorised in the same derogatory way, as Hari depicted British expats in 'The Dark Side of Dubai' )

In his note to me Andy describes the article as 'harsh' and you'll probably agree if you read it, here.

Back from the English summer.

Back in humid dusty Dubai after two weeks in humid wet England.

We missed this year's English summer by less than a week, it was a sunny 31C a couple of days before we arrived. Although overall it was showery we did get the whole variety of weather with rain, showers, clouds, bright warm sunshine, cold wind. They don't give humidity levels in the weather reports but it's always unrelentingly high and very uncomfortable.

The countryside is always beautiful though and I love the history.

Not only that but I enjoy the food.

English cuisine has an unfair reputation I think, it's not the cuisine that's the problem but the way it's generally been cooked. The trend has been to overcook everything, so the veggies are soggy, the meat leathery, the fish dry.

They're coming to grips with it though and now you can get well cooked food it's demonstrating what great combinations the dishes are.

That's always been the key to the cuisine I've thought - fish, chips & peas; roast beef & Yorkshire pudding; liver, bacon, onions and mash.

We ate mainly in country pubs - steak & ale pie, venison, gammon & eggs, that sort of stuff.

The best meals of all though were home this home made steak & ale pie with potatoes, peas, runner beans and broad beans which were growing in the garden half an hour earlier. Nothing tastes as good as that.

As usual I have hundreds of photos to sort through and I'll post a few of the more interesting ones over the next few days.

Two weeks without a computer, two weeks with no news of Dubai so it's into the blogs to see if I missed anything...

Saturday, July 04, 2009

I'm not here

Mrs Seabee has to go to the UK on a business trip and as she can add a few days vacation to the end of it I'm tagging along.

We're off tomorrow morning for a couple of weeks. Timed perfectly to miss the heat wave and run into cold wet weather according to the forecast.

The heat wave that's caused official alerts, the media full of dire warnings, was because of temperatures as high as 32C in parts of the south-east of England, where we'll spend some time. That would have felt coolish after the high forties we've been having here, but the forecast is for high teens to around twenty celcius. So I have sweaters in my luggage.

We laugh at what they consider hot but I must say that with the high humidity they generally have, and with everything so small and cramped - not to mention just about no air-conditioning - it feels more uncomfortable than the temperature reading would suggest.

We'll have time in Cambridge, Hertfordshire and York so we'll probably have all kinds of weather thrown at us.

If we get the rain that the forecast seems to suggest we will then I may be stuck indoors and have time to get on the computer. If I do there may be an update on here.

If not, see you around July 20.

Thursday, July 02, 2009

Another bizarre Oz story

A silly story for the end of the week.

We regularly get bizarre stories coming out of Australia and here's a new one that particularly fascinated me.

It comes from the Western Australia Department of Environment & Conservation, who were caring for a carpet python. That's one of these:


They found it when they were out in the bush on routine woylie monitoring operations south-east of Perth.

A 'woylie' you ask?

A woylie is a small nocturnal marsupial which was reclassified as endangered after populations declined by 90 per cent from 2001.

That's one of these:

Photo: Sabrina Trocini

A released woylie with a radio tracking collar had been swallowed by the 2 metre long python, which obviously cared little that it was eating an endangered animal for lunch.

The officers tracked the radio collar to inside the python and took it back to be cared for because it would need to help to regurgitate the collar.

But then.

A thief broke into the centre and stole the python.

An appeal for its return had no effect, so the big guns were called in.

"The investigating team decided to use a plane to track the snake after an appeal for the thieves to return the python did not have the desired effect and ground-tracking efforts were unsuccessful.

After considerable assistance from the Australian Government Department of Defence and Air Services Australia to secure the required military and civil aviation clearances, the plane was flown to Perth from Manjimup (300 kilometres from Perth, the state capital) and started the search on Thursday afternoon and soon picked up a signal.

"They got us within 60m - we were able to pinpoint a Heathridge house with hand-held tracking devices and told the police who went in to recover the snake."

Apparently the residents were rather shocked when the WA police turned up.

I wonder what the total cost was to rescue the python?

The WA DE&C website story is here.

Family sponsorship minimum salary to be raised

According to a report in 'Gulf News' the laws regarding family sponsorship are to have some radical changes.

I could be jumping the gun here because if this goes true to form there'll be a 'clarification' tomorrow.

But, today, quoting the Director General of the Naturalisation & Residency Department they report that the minimum salary requirement will be raised to Dh10,000 a month. There will also be a requirement that the family will have independent accommodation.

The new decisions will come into effect when the laws are officially amended.

The NRD says that the decision was made after a Ministry of Interior study on the negative effects of of families living here without sufficient income and suitable accommodation.

They say the minimum wage had to be raised in line with the increased cost of living.

It's a difficult one isn't it.

It makes sense to ensure that people should earn enough to keep their families, pay for health costs, rent and school fees. It also makes sense that they should live in reasonable accommodation.

But with so many salaries way below the new minimum an awful lot of families are going to be separated, and that can't be good.

I wonder, too, whether families who are already living here but were sponsored under the previous minimum salary requirement will be able to stay. Let's say the sponsor is earning Dh8,000 a month. That was enough to bring the family, but now it isn't. What happens to them?

The reporter presumably didn't ask that obvious question because there's no mention of the problem in the report.

The 'Gulf News' report is here.

Wednesday, July 01, 2009

I declare summer officially here

Back in May I noted the arrival of pre-summer, hot water coming from from the 'cold' tap.

But humidity was low, so it doesn't count as the start of the Dubai summer.

Today I had proof that the real summer is here.

As I walked from an air-conditioned building into the sunshine I put my sunglasses on.

Instant steam up for zero visibility. The first time this year.

Heat and humidity. Summer's here.

Stylish labourers

I came across this gang of labourers this morning, looking very stylish in their straw hats.

Wearing their own clothes too rather than the usual uniform...a private group perhaps?

Today being July 1st the midday break rule comes into force and I have a question (not sarcastic, I really would like to know).

Several parts of India and Pakistan, where many of the labourers come from, have summer temperatures up in the forties celcius. Do they have a midday work break there?