Saturday, January 30, 2010

Epic Acronym Fail: Dubai International Real Estate

"DIRE"? As in "dire straits" or "dire condition"? And at a major downtown junction, at that? Come ON, how on earth could absolutely no one at such a prominent company have had enough of a vocabulary to have noticed, especially given the real estate bust we're in? They've used it in their website's url, for crying out loud! I find it hard to believe that there is not a single competent native or educated English speaker at that organization. And it's not like it is a particularly uncommon word. When I saw that, I was immediately, like, yeeshkababs!

Friday, January 29, 2010

Dubai Shopping Festival 2010 has started, and Rigga Road is back in business (mostly)

Love and dishonour in India -
Over the next two years of a largely secret courtship, Gaurav and Monika imagined building a life together and exploring all the possibilities that the new India offers to two bright, ambitious young people. They talked daily and met every few months. “We started to love each other very passionately,” Gaurav says. “We knew we wanted to be together our whole lives, so we were just concentrating on our goals.” What they had not reckoned with was how completely they could be destroyed by old India, with its caste prejudices, its callous police and its patriarchal attitudes towards women.

Thursday, January 28, 2010

Origin of the Specious - Reason Magazine
"Strauss was an intellectual aristocrat who thought that the truth could make some [emphasis Kristol's] minds free, but he was convinced that there was an inherent conflict between philosophic truth and political order, and that the popularization and vulgarization of these truths might import unease, turmoil and the release of popular passions hitherto held in check by tradition and religion with utterly unpredictable, but mostly negative, consequences."

Kristol agrees with this view. "There are different kinds of truths for different kinds of people," he says in an interview.

Thanks to Pharyngula

Wednesday, January 27, 2010

Mishaal al Gergawi: Mapping Dubai

While looking for information on Geekfest, and subsequently flipping through The Shelter's website, I came across an unexpectedly evocative name - that of Mishaal al Gergawi. Having last seen this name attached to a fairly active and very opinionated Zawya blogger account, and no less curious about the content of the presentation, I fired off an eRSVP.

The choice of venue was most appropriate. The Shelter is a cathedral to creativity, functioning as a hangout bay to entrepreneurs and artists, and even as an office to some. Housed in what can only be described as a giant concrete barn, its versatile space lends itself well to all kinds of events, and was spilling over with attendees for this one.

Gergawi, for those unacquainted, is a young Emirati patriot, and expresses this patriotism through reformist criticism. He writes stuff some of which he himself admits few of us expatriates could easily get away with, and demonstrated last night his unabashed style of delivery in oral form.

Much of what he said, as one audience member pointed out, are no-brainers. Then again, as George Orwell noted, "to see what is in front of one's nose needs a constant struggle." He took the audience through the landmarks of the modern history of Dubai, starting with the Dubai Quality Awards (which he called the true beginning of Dubai's growth), the construction of Burj al Arab and the Emirates Towers, the expansion of the airport and Emirates Airlines (which put Dubai on the world map as a hub), the hiatus between '99 and '03, the creation of the Executive Office, and the start of the new boom in the mid-noughties (marked by the completion of the DIFC).

When he came to the crash and the "hangover", he singled out a number of shortcomings in the system, such as overconfidence in refinancing, the ridiculous scenario of uncommunicative government entities up-bidding one other, the situation of managers of multi-year endeavors being measured by the quarter. Later noting that quality healthcare and education are among the major hallmarks of a civil society, he put the spotlight on the most regrettable lack of both private and public interest in these vital but less glamorous and headline-grabbing sectors (hence the descent into tackiness, superlatives, or both).

Emirati-ness was also one of the topics he touched upon, including the unity of the emirates. Presenting a neat frequency chart, he illustrated how the boom brought identity into the spotlight, while calling bluff on some of his less xenophilic countrymen's challenges to expatriates to pack up and leave. His noting that Emirati citizenship is "not a handicap" in need of special protection against competition was especially relevant, given that the top story of the day was the elimination of explicit quotas in the private sector for Emiratis.

He took the state to task for either over-regulating or under-regulating, and for being weak with enforcement where it counts, providing examples of an art gallery that required special permission to have music, and a bought share that was in effect unilaterally refunded. He pointed out the difficulty of policing small contractors who live from project to project, as well as the lack of localized state-legitimized recruitment (and idea I especially like), as among the major reasons for the poor state of the blue-collar workforce.

All the same, he noted that Dubai still has the best infrastructure and cost-benefit balance for doing business in the Middle East, and likened the over-investment to that which eventually paid off for the city of Miami. Deriding both the local and western media for opposing extremes of delusion, he advocated a more balanced view of Dubai's failures, and freedom to criticize the same. He struck many chords (mine, certainly) when he tore into the irony of having the world's tallest tower in a city that still does not have a reliable door-to-door address system.

Well, the presentation itself was also impressive from a graphics/animation perspective, and concluded with a long audience discussion/Q&A session, which could have gone on for much longer had that been allowed. I may not agree with everything Gergawi writes, but his words last night rang true for anyone who has lived here long enough to see both the good and the bad sides, and cares enough to call for change.

Jason Overdorf on the puberty of the Indian comics industry
In the earlier part of the decade, in India, comics were still perceived as 'kids products,' whereas in the last five years a new generation of world-class Indian creators have begun expanding the boundaries of the medium and transforming its perception within India as a viable foundation to create compelling stories that are not defined by age or genre, just like other visual storytelling mediums such as film and television,” said Sharad Devarajan, co-founder and CEO of Liquid Comics.

Friday, January 22, 2010

StanChart Dubai Marathon 2010

My first time participating, and it was not too bad, actually. My company sponsors employees who register, so I signed up and headed out to the venue at Media City today at 06:00. It was well organized for the most part, except the crowded registration point for medals. LOTS of people turned up. And most oddly, Vittel was marketing water.

Starting out at 06:45, I did a mix of walking and jogging, and completed the 10K in about 75 minutes - an average speed of 8 km/h. As expected, the Ethiopian dude won the men's full 42K marathon (exceeding the record he set last year by 2 or 3 minutes, unfortunately), although some new lass won the women's (keeling over and throwing up right after crossing the finish line, I heard).

Tuesday, January 19, 2010

Monday, January 18, 2010

The Riqqa Revival
While Dubai went full steam into its boom times, a neighborhood that was once THE place to go became a noisy confusing construction site, all n the name of progress. Nearly four years and many swanky developments later, does anyone remember old-fashioned Riqqa Road?

The Perry Bible Fellowship
Comic strips with some really dark humor.

Saturday, January 16, 2010



Genre: Literature & Fiction
Author:Bernard Cornwell
(book review) Bernard Cornwell wastes neither space nor time in framing this historical adventure novel. By the end of the prologue, it is established that medieval England is a crappy place to be, crappier by degrees for those of the heretical persuasion, and crappier by orders for those of the female persuasion. As historical fiction goes, it builds macro-historical events around the personal story of one to a few main characters. This is achieved most excellently by the author, who has plenty of exciting and detailed historical material to work with, and makes the most of it without turning the book into too much of a college lecture. Still, Azincourt is as educational and realistic as it is entertaining and gripping.


The macro-history here is the Battle of Agincourt, styled Azincourt in the novel, where numerically superior French military might on home turf charged a journey-weary, battle-dented, disease-decimated English army. The prize for the French was not just the English nobility, but the king of England himself.

The king led his armies on what he believed was a divinely-sanctioned campaign, despite knowing he was a target of French vengeance for the Black Prince's capture of a French king a few decades prior. Despite this, King Henry V, better known in the popular imagination through Shakespeare, mounted what was supposed to be a simple "can't touch this" expedition, determined to capture a city or two, and otherwise trample enough French grass to make a point.

By the end of said expedition, facing waves of French muscle and steel on the furrowed fields near Azincourt, the prize for him and the English became survival itself. While the English achieved other memorable victories in the Hundred Years' War, such as those at Crecy and Poitiers, Agincourt stood out as an example of perseverance and simple but effective tactics in the face of overwhelming odds, snatching victory from the jaws of defeat.

And the star of the show was the professional longbow archer.


The storyline of the novel follows the adventures of a young longbow archer, Nick Hook, whose idealism and bad luck get him into trouble, and whose integrity, skill and instincts get him out of it. Bearer of a long-standing family grudge, Nick is already in trouble for attempting to settle the feud with his bow. A botched attempt to save a heretic girl on death row from a lecherous priest's depredation results in him being outlawed.

Forced to flee, his first vacation in France as a mercenary goes horribly wrong as he barely escapes death, while bearing witness to the fall and merciless sack of Soissons. His escape to England, a French girl he did successfully save from pillage in tow, gets him the attention of better-placed sponsors. Specifically, it lands him a post as a royal army archer, under a legendary knight, in the king's expedition ... right back to France.

With his old nemeses from back home tagging along the war party, the French are not the only enemies Hook has to worry about. The opening act of Operation French Freedom rapidly becomes a quagmire, and the English find disease as much a threat as the enemy soldiers. Pride and sunk costs do not allow them to simply return either - if they don't meander a bit through France on the way back, they and their king will lose face. So onward they trudge, hoping that thus avoiding loss of face will not result in the loss of entire heads to the enemy's blades. And the enemy are busy sharpening those blades, not too far from a village called Azincourt.


Cornwell peppers the book with plenty of spot lessons in historical warfare. There were a few moments when it gets a little long-winded, but the details are fascinating to read.

Cornwell describes the longbow and the longbow archer in depth in a section at the end of the book, but much is told in "teachable moments" during the course of the novel.

Although he sometimes mentions "bodkins", "aventails" and other words that may be out of the range of common vocabulary, he usually puts them in some context that allows the reader to at least get some idea of what he is talking about, and does not make historical knowledge pivotal to understanding the story. So if you think Tudor is a type of car, and Habsburg is a brand of beer, there's no need to worry about getting confused by the novel (besides, there's always Wikipedia for further reading). The book also educates in other military concepts and weapons (such as the then-recent introduction of cannons), and in medieval European society as well.


War is, of course, the primary theme of the book. And that war is hell is repeatedly hammered home. Wanton slaughter of men and brutal rape of women were accepted as an inevitable accompaniment to conquest in those days, as illustrated in the heart-sinking description of the fall of Soissons to the French. However, Cornwell does not completely demonize the French, as the English are described as preparing to do the same to the men and women of Harfleur (minus the priests and nuns, thanks to the English king's "mercy"). Besides, if you read the news about the Congo and Colombia, not much has changed in some places.

Another major theme is religion. The story begins with the torturous public execution of heretics, and gods' favors are frequently invoked as justification for war. There are good clerics and bad clerics - religion is not depicted by Cornwell as a driver of morality, but as a consequence of it. Our protagonist's own conscience, more pleasant than those of his medieval-thinking peers, eventually takes the form of the "voices" of Soissons' patron saints.

There are sub-plots of romance and grudges, but these serve more as pacing fillers (albeit decent ones) than major plot elements. The story of the Battle of Agincourt and the events leading up to it are themselves exciting enough that they dominate the novel.


A well-developed novel, very educational, rich with both information and action.

Tuesday, January 12, 2010

My Bra? Color Me Furious.
(via Politics Daily) Internet slacktivism at its worst. No useful preventive advice, no call to action, no support for sufferers or survivors - just giggles and inside jokes. Considering how juvenile and sexualized this little game is (and has become), I would not be surprised if this "awareness" meme turns out to have been thought up by some semi-sloshed frat boys one Friday night. That's why I'm updating Facebook with the color of MY skivvies. Hey, I knew someone who lost his life to prostate cancer. But jugs are better at grabbing attention than sundry slimy internal organs, aren't they?

Sunday, January 10, 2010

Fresh Plush

Two new additions to my collection of plush icons.

On the left is Camella the (obviously) camel, apparently a Middle Eastern attempt at a localized version of "Hello Kitty". Like HK, she too has a dedicated store with shelves and shelves of assorted image-branded merchandise.

On the right is Pucca, the star of the web flash animation series of early last decade. It took me a while to find her. I found Mashi-maro too, but he was available in sizes way too large for my collection.


Added by popular demand. The woman with the gold mask is Umm Khamaas, a character from the Dubai-based animated series Freej, while the yellow guy dressed in blue is the mascot of Dubai Summer Surprises, Modhesh. The camel is just some cute piece of tourist merchandise, and the grey cat is from Pets@Work. The plush creature with the googly eyes and white shirt is some apparently culturally significant merchandise icon I found in Luxembourg.

Saturday, January 9, 2010

Moral Policing in the UAE

A system that punishes victims for reporting sexual assault if they don't meet certain "moral standards". A system that encourages acquaintance rape and sexual blackmail. A system that does not belong in the civilized world.

Survey says women unlikely to report rape

DUBAI // More than half of women in the UAE would not report a rape to police, although a significant majority of all residents would, a survey by YouGov Siraj indicated. The study, conducted via e-mail, showed that 77 per cent of UAE residents would report rapes, but that most of the 23 per cent who would not were women.
Fifty-five per cent of female respondents said they would not report a rape because they would worry about their family’s reputation or their own. Separately, 49 per cent feared being unjustly judged by society or accused of immoral behaviour.

... or worse, being charged with crimes themselves.

Woman arrested after rape claim for illegal sex and drinking

DUBAI // A British woman on holiday in Dubai with her fiance reported a rape to the police only to be arrested herself for illegal sex and drinking. The woman, a 23-year-old of Pakistani descent, was in the emirate for a three-day break, celebrating her engagement. But on New Year’s Eve she was allegedly attacked by a waiter while semi-conscious in a hotel toilet.
When she reported the attack at the Jebel Ali police station the following morning, she was arrested, after reportedly admitting to illegal drinking and having sexual intercourse outside marriage. Her fiance, 44, was charged with the same offences.
The couple, both from London, have been released on bail and their passports have been confiscated. They are awaiting trial and could be jailed for up to six years if found guilty of the sex charge.

And people wonder why ...

Friday, January 8, 2010

Shao Nian Yang Jia Jiang

Shao Nian Yang Jia Jiang (The Young Generals of the Yang Clan) is a 2006 Taiwanese Mandarin-language historical fiction drama about the Chinese Song-era warrior family of Yang, with both mainland and Taiwanese cast. As the title suggests, it focuses on romantic and martial exploits of the younger members of the family, specifically the four youngest brothers Silang, Wulang, Liulang and Qilang, as well as their relationship with their parents, General Yang Ye and Lady She Saihua.

Set in the reign of Song Taizong, when the Song empire was at war with the Khitan Liao dynasty to the north, the series opens with Yang Ye and his four sons thundering towards Yanmen, where they would achieve their first legendary victory against the series' noble antagonist Yelu Xie. I'm not sure, but this character was probably based on the actual Liao general Yelu Xiuge. He serves as the anti-hero character, while the real villain of the series is Pan Renmei, Prime Minister of the empire. Lord Pan is portrayed as a manipulative self-interested character who is happy to make concessions on national security when it comes to the Yang family. His emperor, Song Taizong, is wise and firm at times, but succumbs to Pan's conspiracy theories at other (an very inconvenient) times.

Since the writers had to take a minor historical/legendary story and stretch it out into dozens of episodes, some extended and historically questionable drama is expected. The series continues from Yanmen through two major battles, climaxing at the Golden Beach ambush, and featuring various court intrigue situations and adventures along the way. Much of it is heartwarming family drama and charming romantic comedy, with the Yang patriarch and matriarch playing the ultimate in spousal and parental dedication, and the sons and their love interests playing interesting and diverse character types. The youngest sister Bamei provides more comic relief and a steady supply of teh cyute.

Unfortunately, there are parts where the dialog drags a little. Some extra characters were a little unnecessary and awkward to fit in. The whole Tian Ling vs Cui Yinglong thing, for example, as well as Pan Ying and that WTF Liao princess at the end. And why, oh why, the ridiculous plot devices? I mean, hypnotic bells? Memory loss potion? Lost twin sisters? Furthermore, the background music was badly selected in a few scenes.

Thankfully, the series has much to offer apart from those. The opening and closing themes are a big plus. There are superb battle and martial art scenes (much emphasis on spear combat), beautiful (if not the most historically accurate) battle armor and civilian costumes, good acting from many characters (especially Weng Jiaming, Amy Chan, Li Jie and Eddie Peng), and excellent production values, camera work and cinematography. If one can block out the aforementioned shortcomings, it's a good watch.

Thursday, January 7, 2010

The Trial of Mr Smith

(source unknown)

"Mr. Smith, you were held up at gunpoint on the corner of 16th & Locust?"
"Did you struggle with the robber?"
"Why not?"
"He was armed."
"Then you made a conscious decision to comply with his demands
rather than to resist?"
"Did you scream? Cry out?"
"No. I was afraid."
"I see. Have you ever been held up before?"
"Have you ever given money away?"
"Yes, of course -"
"And did you do so willingly?"
"What are you getting at?"
"Well, let's put it like this, Mr. Smith.  You've given away money in the
  past - in fact, you have quite a reputation for philanthropy.  How can
  we be sure that you weren't contriving to have your money taken away
  from you by force?"
"Listen, if I wanted -"
"Never mind.  What time did this holdup take place, Mr. Smith?"
"About 11 p.m."
"You were out on the streets at 11 p.m.?  Doing what?"
"Just walking."
"Just walking?  You know that it's dangerous being out on the street that
  late at night.  Weren't you aware that you could have been held up?"
"I hadn't thought about it."
"What were you wearing at the time, Mr. Smith?"
"Let's see.  A suit.  Yes, a suit."
"An expensive suit?"
"Well - yes."
"In other words, Mr. Smith, you were walking around the streets late at
  night in a suit that practically advertised the fact that you might be
  a good target for some easy money, isn't that so?  I mean, if we didn't
  know better, Mr. Smith, we might even think you were asking for this to
  happen, mightn't we?"
"Look, can't we talk about the past history of the guy who did this to
"I'm afraid not, Mr. Smith.  I don't think you would want to violate his
  rights, now, would you?"

Wednesday, January 6, 2010

The Spanish Inquisition did not expect Chuck Norris.

Appetite for Destruction: Naysayers vs. Dubai
The exaggerations have changed in polarity, but apparently not in scale. Will the apocalypse be televised? I hope so, because that's the only way I'll see any sign of it.

(via The National)

"If such dispatches are to be believed, Dubaians today are in an impossibly poignant position. Like the Japanese soldiers who remained battle-ready on remote islands for years after the end of the Second World War, the city’s residents are going about their lives, driving to work and crowding the city’s malls and seaside promenades on the weekends, having failed to read in Fast Company magazine that their city is, in fact, 'all but empty'. In any event, this particular quote is charming for its reminder of the good old days when people just exaggerated about cranes."

Tuesday, January 5, 2010

Thoughts on Burj Khalifa



Originally titled "Thoughts on Burj Dubai", but hey, things change (some literally overnight).

As expected, there were articles alluding to the "humiliation" of the apparent last-minute rename (and as expected, from the same sources that bring up Ozymandias and Babel anytime they mention the tower). Not surprisingly, there were also articles that attempted to distance Abu Dubai from Dubai by, for example, referring to Sheikh Khalifa as the "Abu Dhabi president" and sneering at how Dubai was "forced" into the name change, while neglecting to mention that the UAE, not Abu Dhabi, has a president (who happens to be the ruler of Abu Dhabi), and that the main thoroughfare into Dubai is already named after a UAE president. Then again, the local counter-propaganda rendered me just as nauseous.

No doubt, this will cause major problems for Emaar, not in the least in terms of branding. On one hand, I am slightly relieved that we have one less landmark named after the city (rather uncreative, in the vein of Dubai Fountain, Dubai Mall, etc). But now there's the question of what to do with not just the name seared into the public consciousness, but embossed onto mugs, printed on signs, given to a metro station and even sewn into janitorial uniforms. Indeed, jaws dropped last night for more than one reason. Emaar must have known for a while, because the stele unveiled by Sheikh Mo had the new name on it. However, secrecy would have been tight, as marketing seems to have sworn to not take any action even in registering a domain name.

Whatever the case, it is a truly majestic edifice - in my opinion, the most beautiful among the stratoscrapers. By day, it is a gleaming spearhead piercing the heavens, and by night, a sparkling beacon of urbania for miles and miles around. At twilight, when seen from a distance on the shadow side, its jagged silhouette cuts a sharp black wedge into the golden-red evening sky, as though Dubai grew so fast that it cracked the celestial dome at its edge. This afternoon, as rays of sunlight illuminated the city through intermittent gaps in thick winter clouds, it appeared otherwordly. Having lived in Chicago, up until recently the home of the tallest building in the world, the psychological elevation such a construction offers is as important as the physical height - especially needed in these times and in this region.

Friday, January 1, 2010


Genre: Science Fiction & Fantasy
James Cameron's first work in all three top posts (producer, director and writer) since Titanic, Avatar is Cameron's essence on celluloid. The movie, as expected, featured stunning visuals and effects. These production values are the result of over a decade of preparation, as Cameron paced about his lair, waiting for the technology that would befit the realization of his glorious cinematic vision. No doubt, this was the right time for him to strike, as computer animation and 3D technology have made sufficient progress to produce such true-to-life works as Final Fantasy and Beowulf.

Now, the plot is fairly simple and cliched, as has been oft-mentioned. Something of a blend of The Last Samurai and Pocahontas, the trope of the spiritual, noble savage's battle against the technologically-advanced greedy imperialists is no stranger to mainstream scriptwriting, nor is the trope of the outsider "going native". The parallels are too overt to dismiss. The costumes, the body paint, the language - they all point in the general direction of real peoples from Earth's history. The badness of the bad guys is also portrayed with no holds barred, depicting ruthless enthusiasm for iconoclasm and slaughter, and corporate self-interest utterly devoid of conscience. There are even some not-particularly-subtle references to the Bush doctrine. Oh well, I think there's little point critiquing a caricature.

Now, the universe that Cameron built. We have some rather revolutionary flora-fauna design to look at, featuring heavy doses of bioluminescense. While most of the lifeforms on the planet are obviously inspired by familiar terran creatures, there is plenty that sets them apart in an alien way. Although the "bonding" is a little over the credulity limit, I won't fine for that, considering it was done with a bioelectric plot device instead of the usual telepathy nonsense that passes as scifi too often. Aside from the inexplicable "flux zone", Pandora was, in my opinion, believable as an extraterrestrial habitat. It's not just a few creatures plonked down on a terranesque planet - Cameron actually put effort into designing some pretty novel animals, insects AND plants for an entire biosphere. I believe it's all in the movie's companion book, along with the language that Cameron created for the natives.

Speaking of the natives, although I understand that Cameron has to make money off this film, I am nonetheless a little disappointed that he decided to significantly anthropomorphize the Na'vi. Aside from being slightly taller, having smooth blue skin and sporting a tail, there is not much that sets them apart as a race that evolved on a different planet. While the stereoscopic vision, opposable thumbs and general symmetry are credible convergent features, I think he could have at least made the Na'vi hexapodal and quadrupedal like Andromeda's Vedrans (especially considering that most fauna on Pandora seem to be hexapodal), or given them digitigrade "toe-walker" limbs like Starcraft's Protoss. Their faces are strongly anthropomorphic, down to the hair, lips, eyebrows and two neat rows of human-like teeth. For some inexplicable reason, the Na'vi females have human-like breasts, which Cameron apparently insisted on adding. I understand that the idea behind this design is to enable us humans to identify and empathize with the Na'vi. But if the point of the film is to pontificate about extending rights and respect to intelligent alien lifeforms, isn't having to do it by make them look strongly human missing it? Considering that cephalopods are one of our closest non-mammalian competitors in the intelligence department, would we make calamari platters of them if they looked like squid?

Enough with the nitpicking, though. Avatar is still a must-see film, especially in 3D. Being immersed in the universe of Pandora and its myriad colorful inhabitants is a delight, and production and direction are as superb as can be expected from James Cameron. The film starts moving quickly, and generally remains well-paced throughout the two and a half hours it runs. The plot, cliched as it may be, has enough believable devices and universal appeal to make the film watchable on that level too. This film was more expensive to make than was Titanic, but it is worth every cent.

Roni Duani - Sod

That's Hebrew, not British English (where "sod" means something completely different).

Original at: