Wednesday, June 30, 2010

It's quiet out there

There's nothing going on is there?

The UAE blogosphere is very quiet but that's just a reflection of the lack of anything much happening in the real world.

Every summer's the same, but this one probably quieter than we've had for many years because of the global economic meltdown.

Apart from the development/construction slowdown which has hit us the holiday exodus is well under way, the roads are quieter, the restaurants have fewer customers, the people still here are staying indoors. There's no news of activity from the commercial sector so there's nothing happening on the stock market. Outside workers have their midday break so construction stops - in fact at that time of day the whole city seems to be in pause mode.

Apart from the handful of sweating tourists I've seen, staggering around in the heat and humidity realising why they got such a cheap package deal, everywhere is quiet.

I haven't even seen what the UK's Observer newspaper reported to its readers: "Middle-aged men in responsible jobs – accountants, marketeers, bankers – who for 10 months of the year are devoted husbands, transform in July and August into priapic stallions roaming the bars of Sheikh Zayed Road."

Anybody else seen the herds of priapic stallions stampeding up and down SZR?

Ridiculous article in the Observer.

BTW, I didn't post on the Observer column because Alexander did it so well here on his blog Fake Plastic Souks.

Saturday, June 26, 2010

Yes, but when?

Sheikh Mohammed Bin Rashid's CNN interview is getting plenty of exposure, especially the 'everything we started, we are going to finish' comment.

I don't doubt it, but the real question for residents suffering from construction fatigue is when.

An example is the Al Sufouh tram line. Nothing's happened for months.

The roads in front of JBR and all the way past Media City, after years of construction, were finished. Then they were dug up. Re-finished. Then dug up again for the tram line.


We're left to negotiate several kilometres of abandoned road works.

That's something that clearly hasn't been affected by the meltdown, digging up areas which have, at great expense and to the huge relief of users, been completed.

The same areas are dug up over and over again.

It seems to me that hole digging's one of the very few jobs-for-life these days.

CNN interview.
Projects will be finished.

Friday, June 25, 2010

Learning from mistakes?

Major factors behind the global economic meltdown:

Historically low interest rates held for a very long time.

Vast amounts of money spent or committed by governments.

Banks' tele-sales people pestering consumers with phone calls offering credit cards.

The financial industry creating 'complex financial instruments' (actually worthless pieces of paper), sold to each other and unsuspecting investors for huge amounts.

Huge salaries and bonuses for bankers and other business executives, based on short-term (this year's) profits and share prices.

Retailers offering big-ticket items at big discounts with no deposit, nothing to pay for several months and financing at very low interest rates.

How we're dealing with the global economic meltdown:

Historically low interest rates held for a very long time.

Vast amounts of money spent or committed by governments.

Banks' tele-sales people pestering consumers with phone calls offering credit cards.

The financial industry creating 'complex financial instruments' (actually worthless pieces of paper), sold to each other and unsuspecting investors for huge amounts.

Huge salaries and bonuses for bankers and other business executives, based on short-term (this year's) profits and share prices.

Retailers offering big-ticket items at big discounts with no deposit, nothing to pay for several months and financing at very low interest rates.

Insanity: doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results.
Albert Einstein

Thursday, June 24, 2010

It's a woman's world, Oz

So we have a new Prime Minister in Australia, Julia Gillard.

Yes, Julia. Our first female PM.

Overnight the ruling Labor Party decided to remove their leader, the then PM Kevin Rudd, and as they elected Ms Gillard to be the party's new leader she becomes Prime Minister.

Although she's the first female PM, women have already made their mark in our political system, although they're not really known outside Australia.

The country's Governor-General, Quentin Bryce, for example:

In my home state of New South Wales, the Governor is Marie Bashir:

We have a female premier running the state government too, Kristina Keneally:

Sydney has a female Lord Mayor, Clover Moore:

Our neighbouring northern state of Queensland has a female Governor and Premier too.

I only mention it because the image of the country is that it's generally a blokey, macho, male-dominated place and to learn that women are in these positions may come as something of a surprise to people.

And, of course, because the media is going to be full of the gender thing.

Actually, I think it's irrelevant. Ability and talent are what matter as far as I'm concerned. Is this person going to be a good PM, not a good female PM - any more than it mattered how her predecessor Kevin Rudd performed as a male PM.

By the way, also a reflection of Australia is the background of the women I've mentioned. Some were born in Oz, the new PM was born in Wales, our Premier was born in the USA, the NSW Governor was born in Oz to Lebanese immigrants.

Oh yes, and like ten or fifteen percent of couples the PM and her partner are not married.

Apart from all the political excitement, things back in Oz are normal according to Sydney local radio I'm listening to.

Whales are frolicking off Bondi beach, a truck has jacknifed on the only road between Sydney and my home town, causing traffic chaos, and the football team didn't progress beyond the group stages of the World Cup.

Tuesday, June 22, 2010

Dontcha just love 'experts'

They're all too eager to talk to the media for their fifteen minutes of fame, the 'experts'.

When they're confidently and authoritatively telling us what will happen in the future - that is, guessing wildly at what may happen - as they so often do, there should be a mandatory warning on the reports. Like the cigarette health warning.

You know, along the lines of This report contains unsubstantiated guesses about the future. Please take with a pinch of salt.

Today's winner in the 'guessing about the future but getting it hopelessly wrong' game is under a wonderful headline in Gulf News.

The lead story on the front page is: Heatwave no cause for panic.

That'll cause panic then.

Continuing in the panic mode the report includes this: In Saudi Arabia, a local newspaper quoted a meteorologist, warning that temperatures could this week soar to 80 degrees Celsius in the sun in desert areas. Dr Khalid Al Jama'an said that temperatures would also soar in cities.

The winner of the wrong prediction expert pronouncement.

The highest temperature ever recorded in the world - and there's some scepticism about it - is 58C (136F).

Gulf News did report on page 3, under the much more sensible heading of: Prolonged, hotter than usual summer forecast, that 80C was impossible.

Don't panic!
Hot summer.

Monday, June 21, 2010

A very strange mascot

Mascots, especially those designed to appeal to children, are almost always furry, chubby, cuddly.

I don't know whether the Dubai Summer Surprises mascot, Modesh, is as popular with kids as the media would have us believe, but he's not furry, not chubby and, to my mind, not cuddly.

In fact he's always reminded me of Australia's witchetty grub.


Photo: Sydney Morning Herald

No, really...

You might have heard of the witchetty grub, it's one of the most disgusting items in our bush tucker larder:

Photo: Cornell College

By the way, if you're not in the UAE you may not know about Dubai Summer Surprises.

It's promoting the summer sales, with all the major malls and some 6,000 shops offering huge discounts, activities & entertainment, raffles with prizes like luxury cars and thousands of dirhams.

It's just started, runs until August 7 and it's not a bad time to visit, with airfares and hotel rates at their lowest for the year too. A cheap holiday with shopping bargains and the chance to win a prize.

Just one thing. I should draw your attention to the reason for it.

The weather.

That's why it's the low season, that's why we need the attraction of DSS.

The weather report said today would be about 46 celcius (115F) with humidity from 55% to 90%.

And it's only early summer.

DSS official website.

Friday, June 18, 2010

There's one rule for us...

Residents of all Emaar complexes across the emirate are forbidden from draping their country's colours from balconies, windows, garages or in gardens.

When 7DAYS contacted Emaar’s customer care centre to ask for a flag-ban amnesty as football fever sweeps the UAE, an adviser said: "They are not allowed even in the World Cup - I’m sorry to burst your bubble."


I can see why flags might be banned. They can be unsightly, they can be distracting to motorists.

We do want to keep the place neat and tidy and safe don't we.

Just as well flags & banners are not allowed in Emaar developments then...

Err, unless you're Emaar. In which case you can put up as many advertising flags as you can find room for.

Or a commercial enterprise, in which case you can put temporary advertising flags at the roadside.

So maybe the ban really applies to national flags then?

Not if you're a hotel in an Emaar development.

Oh I see. It's not a ban on flags and banners, it's a ban on private residents displaying flags and banners.

Thursday, June 17, 2010

World Cup. Boredom & droning

I'm a football fan. I love watching the game.

But so far this World Cup has given me only two things. Boring games and the monotonous drone of vuvuzelas.

I think the second has something to do with the first, too.

Mind you, there are also footballing reasons behind the boring games.

The globalisation of the game, for example, means that more and more teams are at much the same level.

The major leagues are full of overseas players - Brazilian playing Ivorian, Korean playing Spaniard week after week in the English Premier League for example. The handful of stand-out players are spread across a number of teams, their teammates are all pretty much at the same standard. So there's not a lot to choose between many of the teams and they're cancelling each other out.

That's made worse by the fact that most teams use the same game plan, which in major tournaments is distinctly defensive, because coaches tend to be sheep, slavishly following each other in using whatever the latest trend in formation and tactics is. (Note how many make their substitutions on the hour mark for example, however badly someone is playing from the kick off).

Then there's also the unusually high number of top players absent through injury or out of form. So many with any flair, the talent to beat opponents, are missing or below par.

But there's more than that, which I put down to where the games are being played.

First the vuvuzela.

The problem is not the mind-numbingly boring monotone drone, annoying as it is.

The problem, IMO, is that the noise has nothing to do with the game that's being played, doesn't relate to it in any way, contributes nothing to it. In fact it adversely affects the game.

Think about the noise from a crowd at a football match. It usually ebbs and flows. It comes in waves that reflect and influence the game.

Fans scream, shout, sing and chant when their team is attacking, boo the opposition when they're attacking, go quiet in the quiet moments, applaud sportsmanship or a particularly good move. They're involved, they support and encourage their team.

We're not getting any of that with the World Cup games. We just get one boring monotone drone for ninety minutes.

The crowds seem to be not following the game, not getting involved, they're more interested in making their own unrelated noise.

That surely must be having a bad effect on what should be the rhythm of the games.

Then there's the much-criticised 'Jabulani' ball.

It certainly seems to be behaving as though it's much lighter than usual, bouncing about like a balloon.

It's probably not all the fault of the ball though, it's probably a combination of factors such as the thinner air at higher altitudes, maybe drier, bouncier pitches as well as the new ball.

You'd assume the makers took the geographic factors into account when they designed the ball - but I wouldn't bet on it.

Still, I'm sure I'll hang in there watching, and hoping for exciting, close-fought, skillful games.

The eventual winner? We've had Brazil scraping through against North Korea, Switzerland beating Spain, more draws than wins - anyone can win this time.

Tuesday, June 15, 2010

Midday break begins today

The midday break for outdoor workers, from 12.30 to 3pm, begins today. It ends on September 15 so it includes Ramadan.

The workers will have been looking forward to it I'm sure, because temperatures are already in the forties celcius and yesterday's humidity was about as bad as it gets - it was around 95% according to weather reports.

The Ministry of Labour says most companies obey the law on the break but even so they say that 'over 650' companies were fined for non-compliance last year.

They've given a phone number to which any member of the public can anonymously report violations. It's 800665.

Sunday, June 13, 2010

Paid for but not delivered.

A service paid for by consumers isn't delivered. The non-supplier says it's not his fault, doesn't mention compensation.

Shock! Horror! Surely not!

In reality it's not an unusual situation in this area by any stretch of the imagination.

This time it's the exclusive World Cup TV coverage supplied by Al Jazeera Sport to the region.

Or more accurately, partly supplied.

There are reports from across the region of people who've paid hard-earned money to watch the games but not getting what they've paid for.

Almost half of the opening match between hosts South Africa and Mexico was lost. Next day about half the Argentina-Nigeria match was also lost.

Frozen screens, garbled pictures, wrong language was what the punters received for their outlay.

"We're being sabotaged" say Al Jazeera.

Hackers have been mentioned but the fun stuff comes with the conspiracy theories.

Al Jazeera Sport have blamed Nilesat, accusing them of 'an act of piracy by causing intentional disruption'.

Egyptian Radio & Television Union, which owns 40 percent of Nilesat, responded with their own conspiracy theory - that Al Jazeera might have decided to punish Nilesat 10 minutes after the first disruption by claiming that its causes were unknown and requesting its viewers to move to other providers, such as Arabsat, Hotbird and Noorsat.

Nasser Al Khelaifi, GM of Al Jazeera Sport, says that Al Jazeera is working with "a number of international specialised companies" to track down the culprits and that he was confident they would be be found soon.

That's nice.

Meanwhile, the problem needs to be sorted out so that people who've paid to watch the matches can actually see them. In full. In the right language.

I assume it's far too much to hope that a discount based on what's not delivered is in the pipeline.

There are plenty of reports in the region's media, here are some:
Gulf News.
Arab News.
Arabian Business.

Saturday, June 12, 2010

The non payment problem

The CFO of Arabtec, the UAE's biggest builder, was talking the other day about cash flows improving when the $8 billion support Dubai's government says it will, conditionally, give to Nakheel eventually means the company can start paying some of its bills.

Forget the slowdown, forget winning orders - the major problem businesses here have been facing is non payment of bills.

Almost as bad has been the 'you want payment you give us a 30% discount' contract-breaking arrogance from the big companies. But that's another story...

The most pressing issue was getting money to the major developers to help them pay their bills, get money flowing through the economy, keep projects going, save sub-contractors from bankruptcy, keep people in jobs.

It's happening but it's all taking far too long.

And although the $8 billion to Nakheel will help, it's really only a drop in the ocean.

A couple of stories I've listened to in the past few days illustrate the problem. Both companies doing well, providing the service they were contracted to provide, meeting deadlines, invoicing the agreed amounts.

The clients haven't kept their side of the deal though. Athough they received what they'd ordered they haven't paid for it.

(Isn't that illegal in the UAE?)

One is a small architectural firm. Non payment of invoices has meant they've had to fire all their staff with just the owner hanging on. The decision was whether to write it off as a lost cause and leave Dubai or hang in as long as possible hoping to collect the amounts due.

Hang in there was the decision, which has sort-of paid off. The bills will be paid, but only with a huge, and completely unjustified, discount. Take it or leave it. Discount or nothing.

It's not only a disgraceful way to do business, in my opinion it's nothing less than fraud.

The other is someone working for a sub-contractor. They've been working in the usual chain, for a main contractor who in turn is working for the developer.

He's just been told he's out of work, along with all his colleagues.

They've been working on five towers in one of the prestige developments. The main contractor hasn't been paid for a while so he's called a halt to work on the towers. The developer doesn't pay, no-one gets payed all the way down the chain.

Since the economic meltdown began I've heard many 'experts' saying that a downturn can be good because it clears out the dead wood, gets rid of the cowboys, that the good companies survive.

Partly true, but it also means that many good companies go to the wall, simply because they don't get payed for the good work they've delivered.

Thursday, June 10, 2010

Tourists and medication

Dubai's authorities have scored many own goals over the past five or six years, actions which have helped to create the climate for what's been called 'Dubai bashing'.

Some of it has been nothing more than Dubai bashing. Often, exposure of serious shortcomings has been mixed up with untrue and hugely exaggerated stories and rumours. Some have simply been absolute rubbish, presenting rumours and dinner party gossip as facts.

But some have been true and fully justified, many of them caused by inexplicable laws or the way the laws have been administered.

One in that category has been the detention of people for carrying medication prescribed by their doctor.

There haven't been reports of this happening for a while, perhaps explained by a piece in Gulf News:

"Passengers who fail to present prescriptions for certain listed medications will not be detained at Dubai International Airport, Dubai Police said.

Dubai Police Deputy Chief Major General Khamis Mattar Al Mazeina said: "There are no detention cells for passengers carrying listed medications by the Health Ministry without prescriptions.

"We keep the medications with us until the person presents a prescription from the doctor who prescribed it."

I assume that, realising the damage to Dubai's reputation that was being done by over-zealous interpretation, someone on high has had words with the officials involved.

It's a move in the right direction but it needs to go further of course.

Dubai aggressively promotes tourism in many countries, as does Emirates Airline, but there's no information to help potential visitors stay within the laws.

So many of us have said it so many times - information needs to be given to travellers before they begin their journey.

It's not hard to give a list of banned medication, such as codeine. And to list medication which requires a prescription from the prescribing doctor, to advise travellers to keep all medication in its original packaging.

Simple, and it would avoid all the problems.

From the police statement it seems any listed medications are confiscated, which is far from good for the patient who relies on it.

And if they're only here for a few days, I wonder whether they're allowed to leave the country before the original prescription arrives.

The Gulf News report is here.

Wednesday, June 09, 2010

Another Marina morning

I'm at a loss to understand why what seems to me to be a perfectly normal road junction has more crashes than any other in Dubai Marina.

This morning the taxi with a smashed front was sitting in the garden while a delivery van missing lots of bits was up on the footpath on the opposite side of the road.

It's a simple light controlled junction, not the most dangerous by a long way, yet there are regular crashes here.

Monday, June 07, 2010

Conversations we've had...

I was rummaging through a folder of old stuff and came across a classic from way back, originally published in Far East Economic Review.

If you've ever stayed in a hotel in the Far East you'll probably have had exactly this conversation - we have them on a daily basis in Dubai too. Read it out loud to get the best out of it.

Room Service: "Morny. Ruin sorbees"

Guest: "Sorry, I thought I dialled room-service"

RS: "Rye..Ruin sorbees..morny! Djewish to odor sunteen??"

Guest: "Uh..yes..I'd like some bacon and eggs"

RS: "Ow July den?"

G: "What??"

RS: "Ow July den?...pry,boy, pooch?"

G: "Oh, the eggs! How do I like them? Sorry, scrambled please."

RS: "Ow July dee bayhcem...crease?"

G: "Crisp will be fine"

RS: "Hokay. An San tos?"

G: "What?"

RS: "San tos. July San tos?"

G: "I don't think so"

RS: "No? Judo one toes??"

G: "I feel really bad about this, but I don't know what 'judo one toes' means."

RS: "Toes! toes!...why djew Don Juan toes? Ow bow singlish mopping we bother?"

G: "English muffin!! I've got it! You were saying 'Toast.' Fine. Yes, an English muffin will be fine."

RS: "We bother?"

G: "No..just put the bother on the side."

RS: "Wad?"

G: "I mean butter...just put it on the side."

RS: "Copy?"

G: "Sorry?"

RS: "Copy...tea...mill?"

G: "Yes. Coffee please, and that's all."

RS: "One Minnie. Ass ruin torino fee, strangle ache, crease baychem, tossy singlish mopping we bother honey sigh, and copy....rye??"

G: "Whatever you say"

RS: "Tendjewberrymud"

G: "You're welcome"

Sunday, June 06, 2010

Love those bureaucrats!

Public servants, civil servants, bureaucrats, government employees.

Whatever you call them, wherever they are in the world, they're a race apart.

They think differently from the rest of us but all over the world they think like each other.

Here's an Australian example.

We paid our council rates a few weeks ago but received an 'URGENT OVERDUE RATES ASSESSMENT' notice from them.

We e-mailed them to say we'd paid already so would they please check their records and confirm back what we already knew, that payment had been made.

They replied:

Good Morning

There is no balance outstanding on your water consumption account, however there is a balance of 37 cents outstanding on your rates account for the below property.

Naturally, in view of the tiny amount we suggested the obvious (to the non bureaucratic mind), that the thirty-seven cents be added to the next bill.

We should have anticipated the reply from a public servant:

Good Morning

There will be no further Council rates issued for this financial year. The first rates instalment for the 2010/2011 financial year will be due 31 August 2010.

The $0.37 as discussed below was payable by 31 May 2010. This amount will be charged 9% interest p.a. and this interest will calculated on a pro-rata basis daily.

Will a bank actually transfer 37 cents? Won't it cost many dollars just to process the 37 cents? Why do public servants have such a different way of thinking and a different way of doing things?

Friday, June 04, 2010

Truth in advertising

I came across this offer on the Birmingham (UK) International Airport site.

It's offering a holiday in Dubai...but staying at a hotel in Ras Al Khaimah.

Surely it should be saying "Ras Al Khaimah from £899pp"?

I'd have thought that people being offered a holiday in Dubai would expect...well...a holiday in Dubai.

Staying about 100 kilometres from where you're supposed to be holidaying might come as something of a surprise.

I found the ad here.

Tuesday, June 01, 2010

'There's nothing like Australia' tourism advertisement

There's nothing like Tourism Australia either, for getting their ads wrong.

They've done it again with their latest international commercial, which is supposed to convince people to visit Oz.

They've got it badly wrong. Yet again.

In fact the last time they got it right was way back in the Crocodile Dundee era with Paul Hogan's 'Shrimp on the barbie' ad.

This latest one, from their ad agency DDB Sydney, has just been revealed and it's a shocker.

The visuals are good for an international audience but the soundtrack is as bad as it could be.

Banal. Hackneyed. Horribly dated. Embarrasing.

They need to change it. Immediately. Before it's released.

"Look what you made me do"

Another one from the 'I'm not responsible for my own actions' file.

Various news outlets are reporting that in the US, Lauren Rosenberg is suing Google for damages because she was hit by a car while following Google Maps' walking directions.

She thinks Google should pay her more than $100,000, apparently.

She says the instructions took her along a very busy highway with no pedestrian walkway, where the car struck her.

Her lawyers claim that Google is liable because it did not warn her that the route would not offer a safe place for a pedestrian to walk. A screen grab in the Sydney Morning Herald story shows a clear warning about the possible lack of footpaths.

She's also suing the driver of the car, which is fair enough.

But how on earth is Google responsible?

The story is short on detail - was she walking towards the oncoming traffic? Was she in the middle of the road? Was the driver paying attention?

Regardless of that, if it looked too dangerous she should have turned back. But she made the decision to walk the route. That was her decision. She's responsible for that.

If she'd asked a local shopkeeper for directions and had the same result, would she now be suing him?

It's a growing and sorry trend, people blaming someone else for things they bring on themselves.

The Sydney Morning Herald story is here.