Wednesday, August 29, 2007

Another misleading story

It does annoy me when the media gives misleading information.

The tabloid 7Days did it yesterday. Headline is "Dubai on the rise" and the large sub-heading screams "...has just been rated the third most expensive holiday destination". The same phrase is used in the story itself.

It simply isn't true.

If you read the whole story the truth is in there, alongside the misrepresentation.

The story eventually goes on to give the true findings of the research it's 'reporting' - the average room rate of hotels is the world's third most expensive. Hotel rates, not the whole destination. Not the whole holiday cost.

They are totally different things.

Doesn't the writer understand that? Or understand that there are conflicting statements in the one story? Doesn't the Editor bother to read what's submitted for publication?

As a visitor from the UK was quoted in the article as saying: "I thought meals, clothes and gifts were all very, very reasonable - it made me realise how ridiculous some of the prices we pay at home are."

Take everything into account and Dubai is not the third most expensive holiday destination.

There's no excuse for such sloppy reporting.

Read the story for yourself here.

Tuesday, August 28, 2007

A Greek tragedy

I posted a series back in January on the last Aussie bushfire season, and I can't let the Greek wildfire disaster pass without comment.

The loss of life is appalling, nearly seventy so far according to the latest reports, and I dread to think what the final toll will be.

In Australia bushfires are a fact of life, an annual event. With thankfully few exceptions the authorities are prepared, we have equipment such as water-bombing planes & helicopters, we have thousands of volunteer firefighters in the bush fire brigades, highly trained and well equipped. As a general rule people know what to do, how to prepare their homes to minimise the risk, we know the speed the fires can reach and the need to evacuate in time.

None of that seems to have been the case in Greece. From all the reports coming out of the country it seems the authorities were unprepared, the response tardy, people were left to their own devices without understanding what they needed to do.

It seems that many of the fires were deliberately started by arsonists. We get those murderous cretins in Oz too. Penalties have been increased for those convicted but we don't charge them as I've long argued they should be charged, with murder. Or if no-one is killed, with attempted murder.

If the reports out of Athens are correct, Greece is taking a tougher line with a man being charged with arson and murder.

That's a decision I applaud.

Monday, August 27, 2007

Jebel Ali in the news

I had to go into Jebel Ali just after eight this morning and the smoke from the warehouse fire was thick, black and billowing.

According to reports it was in a chemical warehouse, which is a worry. The authorities are currently taking air readings for pollution, and presumably to work out what has been released into the air.

The wind was blowing the smoke out towards the ocean so hopefully it won't cause any health problems.

On the way back the traffic was at a standstill on Sheikh Zayed Road. The police had closed the road for a rescue helicopter to land on it, so I assumed there had been a bad accident.

However, after ten minutes or so the chopper took off and the road was re-opened. I saw no evidence of any accident, the road was completely clear. My guess is that there must have been an accident on the Metro construction which is right at the side of the road.

Anyone heard anything about that?

All the drama and it was the one day I didn't have my camera with me!

Friday, August 24, 2007

Watch your speed!

I drove on part of the toll section of Sheikh Zayed Road earlier today, from Mall of the Emirates to the Trade Centre roundabout.

I read a week or so ago that the speed limit on this section would be reduced to 100kph, but I haven't seen any announcement that it had actually been put in place.

Maybe I missed the announcement because it is now 100kph. There are no large signs, no '100' painted on the road, nothing to say there are new traffic conditions, just the usual small circular speed signs which have changed from 120 to 100.

Oh, and they have a blue 60 sign beneath them. Another new one that's been sneaked in on us it means the minimum speed permitted is 60kph.

I happened to notice one of the new 100 signs as I joined the road so, as I always do, I stuck to the speed limit. Me and a couple of other drivers, everyone else was doing at least 120.

Just be aware that the new limits are in place, extending the 100kph area down to Dubai Marina at, I think, Interchange 5.

Tuesday, August 21, 2007

Better labourer accommodation in future

It's been announced that Dubai Municipality has issued new specifications for labour accommodation, a huge improvement on existing specifications.

Just pause to think about these workers, of which there are around half a million in the labour camps. Many of them are paid only between Dh500 and Dh1,000 a month. That's US$136 -US$272 a month.

Could you live on that?

They work twelve hour shifts in the heat and humidity, now thankfully getting a break in July & August between 12.30pm and 3pm.

Could you even contemplate that?

The current spec. for their accommodation space is 20 square feet per person. Measure it and see what that means - it's four feet x five feet.

Could you live in that space?

Worse, a Municipality official told Gulf News that "...some 90% of the existing camps are violating this rule as most of them are crowded."

For new accommodation being built in the emirate of Dubai the space required will be doubled to 40 square feet per person.

But there are other requirements that are just as important. Use of bunk beds will not be allowed. Temporary shelters, such as Portakabins, will not be allowed. There must be at least one bathroom for every eight labourers. A maximum of eight men can be housed in one room. Furniture should include a single bed and a clothes cabinet for each person.

In general, all accommodation must be air-conditioned, flooring must be easy to clean, there must be sufficient ventilation, light, insulation, drainage, water, power, fire safety measures must be in place and there are health and environment requirements.

Bathrooms and toilets are to have clothes hangers, exhaust fans, hot water, mirrors, cabinets, soap containers. Water tanks should have sun shades and there must be enough water coolers for the number of men in the camp.

You might think, as I do, that it's all just basic stuff. The minimum that you would expect people to be supplied with.

That hasn't been the case though. Many of these workers have much less than a fellow human being should be expected to accept.

There's a question over whether the new rules will apply to existing accommodation, but 'a senior official' said that although they were still reviewing it, the existing accommodation "will have to follow the new list of specifications..."

Isn't it a sad reflection on human behaviour that we need rules and laws before we do what's right.

All it really needs is for people to respect each other.

But far too many simply don't treat other people with respect. We see and hear about it all the time. Labourers being housed in appalling conditions, maids being abused, moronic driving endangering others, salaries not being paid, six-month bans being put on staff who resign.

Laws are needed, they are being introduced and we are getting huge improvements in Dubai.

How do we change attitudes though.

Sunday, August 19, 2007

Love those copywriters!

You gotta just love those advertising copywriters. Look at this purple prose - for a cheap suitcase:

Friday, August 17, 2007

Adding to road dangers.

Something that those of us who drive on Dubai's roads are well aware of is highlighted in today's Gulf News, and that's the danger of builders' rubble on the roads. It causes accidents, it causes damage to cars.

Most common is concrete spillage, making rough areas on an otherwise smooth bitumen road surface. Some of them are more than a nuisance, they're dangerous for roadholding.

As reported in the story, it's quite common for serious damage to be caused when cars hit material that has fallen from trucks - pipes, planks, bricks and other large pieces of debris.

We all know the problem and we all know the answer.

The answer is to enforce the law, to police the construction industry, to check on the trucks. Stop overloading, remove leaking concrete tankers.

It isn't happening. Like so many other problems, the laws are in place but they are not enforced.

It's not only Dubai that has this problem of laws not being enforced, it happens all over the world.

And there really is no excuse.

The full story is here.

Thursday, August 16, 2007

Better late than never.

For quite some time we've had the prototype air-conditioned bus stop outside Wild Wadi, but I haven't seen evidence of any others appearing.

That changed today. Driving down Al Sufouh Road from Dubai Marina towards Dubai I came across this:

It's identical to the Wild Wadi shelter so I assume it's another air-conditioned bus stop.

They've missed a lot of the summer but with several uncomfortable weeks still to come it will be a welcome relief to bus users.

Saturday, August 11, 2007

Abuse of terrorism laws.

I've talked about this before, the mis-use and abuse of terrorism laws by governments and their agencies. The laws being used in ways and for events which have nothing to do with terrorism.

The Guardian today has another example.

"Police to use terror laws on Heathrow climate protesters

Government has encouraged use of stop and search and detention without charge

Armed police will use anti-terrorism powers to "deal robustly" with climate change protesters at Heathrow next week, as confrontations threaten to bring major delays to the already overstretched airport.

Up to 1,800 extra officers will be drafted in to prevent an estimated 1,500 people disrupting the airport over the period of the camp for climate change, which is due to begin on Tuesday."

Freedom of speech and the right to peacefully protest are hard-won vital components of civilised, sophisticated democratic societies.

These are the core values, vital parts of 'our way of life' that we're told terrorists are determined to destroy. Thousands of people are dying in wars which we're told are being waged to protect these values.

Terrorists are laughing - our own governments are doing their work for them. The destruction of our way of life is coming from within.

Earlier postings on the subject are here and here.

The full story in The Guardian is here.

Thursday, August 09, 2007

The mid-day heat break

Today opposite the entrance to Media City at 1.45pm.

Is this the shelter that's supposed to be supplied to protect the workers from the heat?

Villas no-go areas for singles

How sad that Dubai hasn't come further than this, with unsophisticated catch-all blanket laws, simplistic in the extreme.

Today's Gulf News leads with the story that Dubai Municipality is taking stringent measures to ensure that single people, bizarrely known as 'bachelors' regardless of their gender or marital status, are evicted from villas.

They are threatening to cancel the trade licences of any real estate company found to be renting villas to 'bachelors'. Similar action is also threatened for companies who lodge 'executive bachelors' in villas.

The Head of the Building Inspections Section at Dubai Municipality defined 'bachelors' as "a single person whether married or unmarried, male or female."

Dear oh dear.

Neighbours causing a nuisance - yes, I agree they should be moved out. Whether they're 'bachelors' or married couples, it makes no difference if they're causing a problem.

Neighbours not causing a problem? Why on earth should they be found guilty simply because of their marital status and evicted from their home?

They, the singles, are free to live in any apartment in Dubai apparently, but under no circumstances can they live in a villa. Unless, again bizarrely, the villa is in a 'private development' - I'll come back to that later.

So four office girls decide to share the cost of a villa in Satwa, a room each, a nice little garden, nice location. Respectable and well behaved, the perfect neighbours.

Evict them. And cancel the real estate agency's licence.

The same villa overcrowded with eight families living in it, packed into every room and hallway.

They can stay, they're married.

The wife of a fifty year old chief executive leaves him and goes back home. He wants to stay on in the company-supplied villa he's lived in for the last ten years.

Evict him. And cancel his company's licence.

A rowdy family live in a villa, have badly behaved teenage children and are a nuisance to their neighbours.

They can stay, they're married.

But in apartment blocks where people are living in much closer proximity to each other it's all OK: "there are no restrictions on bachelors staying in flats anywhere in Dubai."

It's unsophisticated nonsense.

If residents are causing a problem, are a nuisance to their neighbours, they should be dealt with. If there's overcrowding, and that's a real problem in certain areas of the city, it should be dealt with. But that has nothing to do with the marital status of the people.

Private fiefdoms

I've always found it strange that the developments in 'New Dubai' are nothing to do with the Municipality. The developers set their own rules, which may well be different from Municipality rules. Private developers setting rules and regulations that are properly the responsibility of government? Very odd.

The Gulf News story is here.

Wednesday, August 08, 2007

Roundabouts or lights?

There's an interesting report in Gulf News from Oman, headed: "Muscat roundabouts being replaced with traffic light junctions." Apparently all roundabouts in Muscat will be replaced.

One of the problems with traffic management in Dubai is the fundamental mistake way back of using a hybrid of various road systems, particularly US and UK systems. So we have dual-carriageways with U-Turn allowed but also roundabouts - and to add to the confusion, traffic lights on the roundabouts.

I remember a US traffic management expert, too many years ago for me to remember exactly who, saying that roundabouts were very pretty but they were an obstruction to traffic flow.

Is it too late for the basic system here to be cleaned up?

Gulf News story is here.

Tuesday, August 07, 2007

Summer's here alright.

Today is 43C in the shade and 80% humidity. 'Hazy' is the official description, which means the air is thick with water vapour and visibility is bad. On the DiscomfortMeter scale of one to ten it must be close to ten.

Mind you, compared to the winters in England in my youth this is so much more acceptable. I don't now which was worse, the miserable cold wet November end or the freezing cold February end of winters.

My first job when I left school. Driving there on my motorbike and not being able to open my hands to let go I had to slide them off the end of the handlebars.

Cold, cold rain running down your neck, running off your raincoat so that your trousers, which you had to wear all day, were soaked below the knees. The rain soaked through the raincoat before long too, so your jacket was also damp all day. Not a nice smell in the claustrophobic Piccadilly Line Tube trains with a thousand damp people crammed together either. A great start to the day.

Going to your car in the morning or evening to find it looking like an igloo, covered in frost. Scrape a small hole on the windscreen so you could see out, sort-of, but it would ice over in seconds. The heater took forever to get the tiniest hint of warmth and never enough to clear the windscreen.

Commuting from the country to work in London I still shiver when I remember one morning standing at the bus stop before 7am. The bus didn't arrive - we were told next day that they simply couldn't get up the hill on the icy road. As I waited my navy blue overcoat gradually turned to white as the frost formed on it. I went home and sat huddled in front of the miserable fire all day.

Having a raging toothache one weekend, getting an emergency appointment with the local dentist, on my way there slipping on the ice and cracking an already painful head on the pavement.

I'll take an August day in Dubai any time in preference to that.

But it's different I'm sure for the boys in blue. Here's a group of them off to work this morning, already nearly 38C (100F) and rising rapidly. And the real killer, the humidity. They earn their pittance of a salary don't they...

Monday, August 06, 2007

A parody of justice

Remember the screaming headlines?

Soldier sentenced to 110 years in rape and murder of Iraqi girl

In fact it raises huge questions about American justice.

Read the CNN report and you find more detail:

"The sentence was part of a plea agreement attorneys for Pfc. Jesse Spielman had made with prosecutors.

It set the number of years he could serve in prison, regardless of the jury's recommendation.

The jury had recommended life with parole, a sentence under which he would have to wait longer for the possibility of parole.

He will be eligible for parole after 10 years."

Forget justice. Ignore the jury. Laugh at the sentence, it's meaningless PR spin. The way American justice works is to do shady deals in smokey back rooms.

What a disgrace.

Don't believe me? Go to the CNN story. I should warn you that it's a sickening report. Be reminded of what these animals are guilty of and there's only one sentence an honest system would hand down.

Meanwhile, in the real world...

I've just been reading that the price of unleaded petrol in Australia has plunged to a four month low.

It varies enormously across the country but the national average price is Dh4 a litre, so motorists are very happy.

I've just filled up and it cost me Dh1.37 a litre.

Sunday, August 05, 2007

Car sharing up and running

I was pleased to read in Emirates Today that a car sharing website has been launched so that people who want to car pool can easily contact each other. I've had a quick look at it and at first glance it seems to be well set up.

The other pleasing thing was that previous 'official' announcements that car pooling was illegal seem to have been incorrect.

The RTA say that car pooling for profit is illegal - illegal taxis is the thing the authorities are worried about.

However, car pooling and sharing the petrol costs are not illegal and that really is what car pooling is all about. In fact, poolers don't even need to do that - for example, I'm aware overseas of commuters who simply use one person's car one week, another person's the next.

One of the problems in most cities is the number of cars with just one person in them. Simple arithmatic says that if there was car pooling and each car had four people, traffic would decrease by 75%.

Anything that will help relieve the congestion on our roads, the pollution, the frustration, the lost productivity, can only be a good thing.

The website is

You can read the story, which Emirates Today devoted its front page to, here.

Friday, August 03, 2007

Arrests made in dancer's death case.

Following on from yesterday's posting about the death of Aaina Malek, caused because she was, allegedly, locked in her apartment by her employer, I'm pleased to read that the manager of the dance club has been arrested.

He will be referred to Public Prosecution on charges of suppressing the freedom of people, according to a senior police official.

I sincerely hope the charges will be increased from that, given that someone died as a result of being locked up.

Two flatmates of the dead girl have also been arrested, and from how I read the report it seems the charge is the same as for the manager.

There's an added chapter in the tragedy for the family too - apparently Aaina's teenage brother was killed in a road accident last year.

Gulf News has the story here.

Thursday, August 02, 2007

Criminal treatment of employees.

Another example of the appalling way far too many employers treat their employees.

On Monday a fire in a residential building in Al Rolla Road, Bur Dubai resulted in the death of one young woman. Several others were rescued.

A neighbour reported at the time that he had to kick the door down to try to rescue residents from the burning apartment. Witnesses said that they could all have been rescued had the door not been locked.

Today Gulf News reports that police are investigating whether the door was locked, imprisoning the people living there.

A big area of abuse seems to be emerging here, brought to public attention as a result of the fire.

I didn't realise that there are, apparently, more than 150 Asian dance clubs in Dubai where hundreds of girls perform every night.

"They normally keep the girls, who perform in dance clubs, locked in their flats during the day for 'safety' reasons," said a dancer, who works at another club.

"It is quite common and the management of many Indian and Pakistani night-clubs follows the same practice.

We are taken to clubs around 8pm and brought back to flats after 3am when the clubs close. We are not allowed to go anywhere. We are given food in the flat and we live like prisoners," she said.

Several girls and employees of other clubs also confirmed this.

When contacted, the management of the club refused to comment."

Locking people up in this way is, apart from any humanitarian issue, a criminal offence. Confirming that, Dubai police said that legal action can be taken against the offenders.

I sincerely hope that the full weight of the law will be brought down on anyone found guilty of this crime. In the case of Sana'a Malek (aka Aaina), the girl who died, I hope that nothing less than manslaughter is charged.

Another aspect of the story is that the dancers are brought in on visit visas but work for three months. If the customers like them their visit visas are renewed, if not they're sent back.

Working while on a visit visa? Isn't that illegal too?

While investigating this individual tragedy I hope that Dubai police extend the investigation into the whole sordid, illegal activity and bring to justice any and all employers who are responsible.

The full story is in Gulf News here.

Wednesday, August 01, 2007

Communication impossible

Around the world, when surveys are done to establish problems within companies the number one complaint is communication. Or lack of it.

The midday break violations, on which I commented yesterday, must have Dubai at the top of the Lack of Communication League. That's one of the 'firsts' or 'bests' we could well do without.

Yesterday we had most of the 10% of companies violating the rule giving the excuse that they didn't know about it.

It's been reported in the media, discussed on the radio, discussed at dinner parties and over drinks. Construction company management don't indulge in those things, obviously, so they're unaware of the rule.

Oh no, hang on, that's not right. It's not that the companies are unaware of the rule, that must have been misreporting. It's actually all the workers' fault.

According to today's report in Emirates Today, they insist on working a few minutes after the 12.30pm down-tools time and start again before the 3pm resumption. That's when most of the violations are detected.

Look, whatever the truth is talk to each other!

There is a rule in place. The Ministry needs to ensure that all companies concerned are fully aware of the rule. If necessary, make them sign and return the notice.

The companies need to ensure that the rule is known to and obeyed by both their supervisors and by their labourers.

It isn't rocket science is it.

The Emirates Today story is here.

The workers are revolting

Revolution in the streets!

More labourers are on the march - and I'm not surprised.

Following on from my comment yesterday about wages, it's reported that 600 construction company workers marched from their accommodation in Jebel Ali to Sheikh Zayed Road yesterday protesting about deductions from their wages for food.

The report in Gulf News says that their current wage is 'about Dh470'* a month and from that they are having Dh210 deducted for food supplied by the company.

They were transferred from Sharjah labour accommodation to Jebel Ali accommodation that doesn't have cooking facilities. As cooking is not allowed on the premises the company provides catering services, but they seem to be deducting 45% of their workers' wages to pay for it.

The Ministry of Labour is trying to mediate.

Amongst all the other laws that need updating, amending or creating, a minimum wages & conditions law surely has to be top of the urgent list.

*Dh470 = US$127.80 or £62.65

The Gulf News story is here.