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Some really serious shit is about to go down in Egypt. The protestors are planning on marching on the Presidential palace in a couple of hours, and, the implication goes, remove Mubarak from power directly. I'm going to bed, and when I wake up the Middle East is going to be a different place, no matter what happens.

For details about how Egypt's revolution is causing upheavals all over the Middle East, see:
http://yonatanzunger.com/2011/02/03/the-middle-east-heats-up/
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By now you've probably heard stories about how a lot of well-meaning foreign aid ends up being counterproductive.

For example,
- The donation of large numbers of t-shirts to Africa has led to the collapse of the local clothing industry there.
- While foreign medical assistance to Haitians immediately after the earthquake was very helpful, the ongoing presence of foreign free clinics has put local hospitals out of business.  There's a big fear that when the foreign doctors leave, there will be no local medical system to replace them.

Last night in conversation with a friend at a party, we came to the logical extreme version of this scenario -- the sort of UN emergency food aid that occurs when there is mass famine in a particular country (eg Ethiopia) may lead countries to not develop strategies to deal with the potential for famine.  In some ways this is similar to the situation in the US with banks -- the banks did not plan for catastrophic risks because they knew that in the event of such a risk, the US would bail them out.  Apparently my friend's political science professor from Ethiopia said that she has seen how food aid creates dependency and causes farmers to stop being self-sufficient.  

Note that I'm NOT suggesting that we simply let starving people in Africa die.  If people's lives are on the line due to government incompetence, it's still our moral duty to help them.  However, this aid needs to be structured in such a way that the government is given the tools and training it needs to prevent future famines.  It's less sexy (and thus harder to get donations for) than flying in with a planeload of food and saving thousands of lives, but it's more likely to prevent such disasters from returning.

In some ways it's like medicine.  Societies, like bodies, are hypercomplex equilibriums with many internal forces in action, and smart solutions work with the existing systems instead of brute-forcing interventions.  

I imagine that some countries would welcome this type of aid, but others may resent the foreign intrusion.  It's possible that there may be some way to buy these leaders off -- for example, a company with expertise in infrastructure building could offer services for free in exchange for some % of any increases in GDP over a particular period.  The trouble is that there are many ways this could go wrong (and has).  The company could focus on a specific industry and ignore the well-being of the people.  The company could make the government dependent on them indefinitely.  The government could seize the company's assets and kick them out.  If the parameters of the deal are poorly set, the company could exploit some loophole, for example leaving the country with massive unmanageable debt.  Such deals would have to be carefully crafted.

I'm way out of my area of expertise here, but if any of you readers have some relevant literature to point me to, I'd like to see it.
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It bothers me that the US government is trying to wipe WikiLeaks off the face of the internet.  It's true that Julian Assange is insufferably arrogant, monomaniacal, dogmatic, reckless, and too focused on the United States, but I don't want to live in a world in which information embarrassing to the government is so actively suppressed.  

In case you're not following along... the state department has pushed at least one college to warn its students not to even *mention* wikileaks online (even in a negative way) if they ever want a job in the federal government, and the military is promising to criminally prosecute US soldiers who read about it.  This is a great way of filtering for a lack of curiosity and information-seeking among appplicants, which is not a great way of choosing who to hire.  (Of course people will argue that someone who reads WikiLeaks cannot be trusted with secret information, but I think there is a big difference between being the one to leak information and reading about it once it already has made headlines around the world.)  Basically, our government has been as stupid in its response to WikiLeaks as it was in response to 9/11.  

All of this makes me more likely to want to stand up to a new emerging McCarthyism.   

This sort of information suppression needs to be stopped, and I applaud the efforts of the various people involved in mirroring the data so that it does not disappear even if wikileaks goes down.  

For now, Wikileaks still has a presence on Facebook and Twitter, and the evolution of this story can be followed there.  

On a somewhat parallel concern, it bothers me that the Chinese government appears to be so much more successful at hacking our government's servers than we are at hacking theirs.  China has been repeatedly attacking us, essentially declaring cyber-war, and we've simply been sitting there taking hits.  If we wanted to level the playing field a bit, our government should secretly hire a team to hack into Chinese government servers and release the contents of those messages anonymously to WikiLeaks.  I wouldn't even mind if the US government hacked into WikiLeaks and published the organization's internal email.  (Unfortunately, the US government would likely not publish the information and would instead use it to hunt down its members) Turnabout is fair play, and more transparency on all sides will help make the world a better place.
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I should preface this by saying that I am not well schooled in international relations.  I could be missing some key facts or concerns.  I could be totally off.  However, I'd like to think out loud in this post.  

After reading about recent North Korean shelling of South Korea, I was surprised at my intuitive reaction that South Korea should invade North Korea.  Generally I'm not very hawk-ish.  I was very opposed to the war in Iraq when it was being contemplated.  What's different?

One of the US's great failures in Iraq is that we did not follow up our invasion force with an administrative force who could take over the day-to-day operation of the society.  Furthermore, we banned anyone who had held significant administrative positions (the Ba'ath party) from holding positions in the new regime.  We also didn't have enough Arabic speakers to adeptly handle translation issues.  As a result, we essentially let the administrative functions of the government collapse, and the Iraqis were not impressed.  It's taken several long years, thousands of lives, and over two trillion dollars to crawl out of the deep hole we got ourselves into over there.

Korea could be different.  South and North Korea share the same language.  They are, geographically speaking, right next to each other.  South Koreans have relatives in North Korea.  People will care.   If South Korea had a halfway decent plan for absorbing North Korean administrative functions, it would be much easier for them to take over than it was for us to take over Iraq.  The situation is probably more similar to what happened when Germany reunified.  West Germany had to put in an enormous amount of money to reintegrate East Germany from an infrastructure perspective and a social perspective.  However, twenty years later the results are amazing.  Berlin is beautiful.  It feels strange to even write the words "West Germany" now.  

North Korea is probably one of the most dangerous regimes around.  Unlike Iraq, they actually have weapons of mass destruction, and they seem more fickle and irrational than just about any other regime on the planet.  They're not integrated into the global economy or social web; the closest thing they have to a friend is China.  This makes them more likely to take rash actions without regard for the consequences.

North Korea is also a humanitarian disaster; starvation is a common occurrence, and the government appears to not give a damn.  If there was a Child Protective Services for countries, North Korean citizens would long ago have been placed in a foster home.  In a sense this is what I'm proposing.

Sure, there are numerous countries in Africa that are just as messed up, but North Korea appears to be a low hanging fruit.  It would be easier to turn around North Korea than, say, Sudan.  I'm not saying that we should not have given humanitarian aid to Sudan -- what I'm saying is that it would be easier to bring North Korea up to first-world status than Sudan.  it would be a good use of South Korea's money.

Generally democracies are not in the habit of starting unprovoked wars, but in this case North Korea has already attacked the South, so the international community would probably find it relatively understandable if South Korea attacked back in an escalated manner.   Sure, many people would die, but in the long run these deaths will more than be outweighed by the end to lost generation after lost generation of North Korean citizens.  

If any of you have interesting articles you can point me towards about South Korea's long term strategy for dealing with the North, I'd love to see them.  
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I remember not being pleased with the massive bailout when it was announced, and I don't believe that the recently passed legislation will prevent future bailouts, but it was a pleasant surprise to read that the largest chunk of the bailout might actually break even and end up not costing taxpayers anything.

www.nytimes.com/2010/10/01/business/01tarp.html
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The classic trolley problem, in which you have to decide whether to take an action that will save some number of people but kill a smaller number of people, has now been tried with race mixed in.

As it turns out, race is a factor in trolley problems, but not in the way you might think.  Read about the study here.  On average, political conservatives are more likely to sacrifice minorities, while liberals are more likely to sacrifice whites.  Of course, this whole political conservative/liberal one-dimensional axis is a gross oversimplification... I'd be interested to see what specific moral beliefs it lines up with.  I'm guessing that people with more in-group bias and more xenophobia are more likely to sacrifice someone of a different race. 

Side note:  Haidt's research on moral underpinnings of liberal vs conservative ideologies is interesting.
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I knew about the NYPD crime quota scandal, but hearing the tapes firsthand and hearing how the whistleblower was treated was shocking.

It's worth a listen.  It's very disturbing, and it will not make you happy. 

http://www.thisamericanlife.org/radio-archives/episode/414/right-to-remain-silent
  (Listen to Act II... Act I is more of a puff piece)

TAL has made a recent effort to run fewer puppy-dog stories and more hard-hitting news, and they've done rather well.  I liked their stories on the banking crisis as well.
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When I visited Dubai this past summer I had the sense that they were dramatically overextending themselves. I had no idea just how far it went.

From This article

Dubai will ask creditors of two of its flagship firms for a standstill on debt worth billions of dollars as a first step toward restructuring Dubai World, the conglomerate that spearheaded the emirate’s breakneck growth.

The government’s announcement on Wednesday, which also said the consulting firm Deloitte had been appointed to help with the restructuring, sent the cost of insuring Dubai’s debt against default soaring and bond prices tumbling, Reuters reported.
Dubai World has $59 billion of liabilities, its subsidiary Nakheel said in August, a large proportion of Dubai’s total debt of $80 billion.
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I know a lot of people are upset about the measure that passed in Maine denying gay marriage.

My first reaction is that this will all be moot in a few years because as soon as some old people die and some young people turn 18, gay marriage initiatives will easily pass.  I do have some data to support that -- unless people who support gay marriage stop supporting it as they get older (which seems unlikely), we're just a couple of years away from having gay marriage initiatives easily pass in more liberal states.

To me, the anti-gay crowd has already lost the culture war, and it's only a matter of time before they're outnumbered.  When I was a child, openly gay characters on TV and in movies were very rare, but now they are very common.

So it seems like the path of least resistance is to just wait a few years. 

However, I understand that this issue deeply hurts people now, and that they want to see the change happen faster.  This is totally understandable.  It seems like the key to making this change happen faster would be to understand what specifically causes people to flip from being anti-gay-marriage to being pro-gay marriage.  I'm curious if there's been any systematic large-scale study about what recent converts cite as their reason for converting. 

Some ideas of potential reasons:
- Family members or friends who have come out as gay
- Human-interest stories they see on TV or in newspapers about gay people who want to marry but cannot
- Political commercials
- Fictional gay characters in movies/TV/books

If the causes are known, it's easier to come up with a strategy.  There are of course issues with the accuracy of self-reporting but surely some data is better than no data. 

I do know funding has a big impact, so I'm curious if the various strategies that are used to impact funding are successful.   Are there any documented cases of companies stopping their political contributions to antigay measures after boycotts are put in place? 

That's me.  I like being data-driven and solutions-oriented.

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In the Jewish Museum in Berlin, there was an exhibit on loan from the Washington DC Holocaust museum on eugenics. It was interesting to see how the Nazis took something extreme and justified it to a somewhat skeptical public. They basically mixed some reasonable (though still controversial) arguments in with increasingly extreme conclusions from those arguments.

For example, they produced graphs of demographic shifts showing how, by 1960, there would be a crushingly huge weight of old and infirm people to support. This was argued to mean that people (especially fit, productive ones) need to have more offspring to prrevent social collapse. Amusingly, the 1960 disaster scenario looks a lot like what developed countries have today, demographics-wise, whereas their 1900 historical scenario looks like a modern third-world country. Apparently that disaster didn't come to pass, though modern demographers are currently debating whether further demographic shifts toward an older population will bring down the social security system.

p1090690 by you.

More observations from the exhibit )
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My arrival into the US happened to coincide with a holiday I hadn't been aware of until now - Flag Day.  It apparently was a big deal for my friends' parents though.  They asked if I wanted to come along.  The regular Matt probably would have said no.  The traveler Matt "this is just another foreign country and I should learn about its traditions" said yes. 

It did feel like a foreign country.  There were flags everywhere.  A secret society - The Elks - featured prominently in the celebration, as one of its Imperial Grand Viziers, who looked like a slightly younger Colonel Sanders, was the master of ceremonies.  Policemen, veterans, and firemen were revered, Army Hummers were flaunted, and drugs were reviled.  (There's a nice picture of me with the "This Car Was Seized From A Drug Dealer" car while wearing an Israeli Psytrance T-shirt.)

I have to admit the ceremony was a bit fun, especially if I just treat it as another bit of historical pageantry from a foreign country.

I learned some things about American history.  They took us through the Star-Spangled Banner and pulled apart its meaning.  Apparently during the night of the bombardment of Fort McHenry during the War of 1812, the hopelessly outgunned Americans did nothing but stand holding up the American flag all night while faced by the full firepower of the entire British fleet, and by morning the flag was still standing but only because it was propped up by the bodies of dead American patriots.  The story as told by Wikipedia is slightly different -- passive American harbor defense mechanisms kept.the British warships from getting close enough to do too much damage, and casualties were light.  

So, what have we learned?  America is highly patriotic, honors its veterans, and has powerful secret societies.   America also enjoys drinking watered-down beer, presumably so they can drink it more like a beverage.  Also, Americans are obsessed with proper care of their flags, but they're happy to put parts of the flag on shirts, pants and even bikinis, and they'll throw those flag-clothes on the ground with nary a thought.  One might say America is a land of contradictions.

Oh, did I just generalize to a whole country based on one day in one city?  Yeah, that's the problem with traveling quickly.  :-)

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“Freedom means being able to marry who you want” -- from the winner of a Flag Day essay contest, who read her winning essay on “what is freedom?” in front of a crowd of mostly Elks and war veterans in St Louis, Missouri. 

I think the California Supreme Court just got schooled.
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I am very surprised that communism was such a big thing with 1960s-era academic intellectuals. It was clear even back then that it failed horribly at the task of ensuring a good life for the common citizen. Stalin's mass exterminations and Mao's disastrous Great Leap Forward (which caused tens of millions of farmers to starve to death) were both known in the West by then. I suppose communist *ideals* lined up well with hippie ideals of the time, but I don't know whether the proponents of communism in America at the time made a distinction between the failures in Russia and China and some other version they felt might be more successful. Maybe those of you more in the know can enlighten me on this.

I'm curious if communism has ever been successful in anything bigger than a college dormitory.* I've now visited a rather large number of countries that tried it, and they all have had to abandon it, sometimes after as little as 10 years. It seems to have the problem that it is strongly dependent on a huge power structure to administer everything top-down.** This power structure attracts fascist leaders and does not have provisions for moderating their influence. Ho Chi Minh seems to have been the closest any communist leader came to practicing the true communist ideal, and even he was turned into more of a figurehead by his own party.*** It is possible communism could work in a larger system if there wasn't much at stake in the system (so fascists wouldn't be interested in running it) and the system could be set up to self-select for people who are most likely to enjoy living under such a system and act as productive members.

*The Indian province of Kerala has a democratically elected Marxist government, but their economy incorporates a lot of capitalist elements.

**Which is ironic given that most of the 1960s communists in America were very anti-authoritarian.

***I don't know much about Ho Chi Minh, but he appears to be one of the rare communist leaders who was not corrupted by the trappings of power. When he was president, he shunned the presidental palace, a leftover from the imperial days, and lived instead in a small, spare stilt house on the corner of the grounds. His last request was to be cremated and to have his ashes scattered across the country. However, the party leaders had other ideas. They rewrote his will so that he would be enbalmed, Lenin-style, in a massive fascist-looking tomb that people could visit. They put his picture on posters and billboards all over the country and on all the denominations of their money. They essentially used his legacy to legitimize their own rule.
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Flipping things around, what elements of communism are worth thinking about?

One thing I'm a fan of in some situations is communal ownership of goods.

In some cases, communal ownership allows for more efficient use of goods than private ownership. For example, most people only use their vacuum cleaners once a month, and the rest of the time they sit in people's closets taking up space. It wouldn't be hard to imagine a shared pool of vacuum cleaners for a neighborhood, with a local delivery service moving them around. I think that new technology could allow us to addres some of the traditional problems with shared goods, in particular the issue that you can't trust someone else to take proper care of your stuff. However, if these goods had sensors that allowed them to determine if they are being used properly, and there were reputation systems in place to track the trustworthiness of the users, then it might be possible to avoid the traditional problem of rough use of shared goods.

There are of course rental services for everything from tuxedos to cars to vacuum cleaners, but the labor and retail costs involved in these setups often drives the price up to surprisingly high levels given the good's cost. I think that the use of sensors and reputation systems in addition to the cost savings of online coordination could allow a much cheaper, more efficient execution of this. I could see both a free version where people would have to arrange for their own pickup and delivery, and a commercial version that is more convenient and coordinates local pickup and dropoff of goods. The initial price of the good in the free version could be either paid for by the pool of users or paid for by the first user, with each subsequent user automatically reimbursing the first user for depreciation incurred.

I would also love to see this for software. On occasion I'd like to use a $1000 video editing program. Currently I could either shell out the money (which would result in a very high cost per hour of use) or I could get a pirated copy (in which case the software vendor loses out). In corporate environments there's the option of a site license, but that doesn't extend to individuals. However, imagine a shared scenario where someone buys a beefy $2000 laptop and $3,000 worth of software for it. If this computer were shared among a large community of users over three years, the cost per day of use would only be $5. It's too bad the software industry is too scared to try a per-hour business model for personal software use.

Overall, this system greatly benefits individuals because it lets them get access to goods they want while spending less money, or gets them access to much better goods for the same money. The trick is getting manufacturers to cooperate, as they would need to put features in place to facilitate shared use, and would experience a short-term drop in sales as users initially keep their original consumption choices but switch to shared goods.

I think it will ultimately be up to companies that are currently succeeding at selling pooled use (eg TechShop and CityCarShare) to put pressure on manufacturers, and to do that they will need to get big enough to have some leverage.

This is of course rather far from the communist version of shared ownership, but I'm trying to come up with something that actually works! :-)
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Latvia, Lithuania, and Estonia have recovered remarkably well from their half-century of oppression. If you don't stray from the downtown areas, it's hard to see any trace of it aside from the various monuments commemorating its end. They did get a lot of financial assistance from the EU, but simply throwing money at the problem is no guarantee of results; there was clearly the passion and knowledge on the part of the Baltic states to make the rapid recovery happen.

In the late 1980s as the old Soviet Union was weakening, the eastern European republics began to push for independence.* While the USSR was weak, it was still far more powerful than the tiny Baltic states that stood up to it. Russia sent troops to violently suppress these independence movements but ultimately they gave in to international pressure and let them break off.

It's impressive how resilient these countries were given what they experienced. On the eve of World War II, Hitler and Stalin secretly divided up the (independent) countries of Eastern Europe. Russia orchestrated takeovers of the Baltic republics and promptly exterminated religious and political leaders, intellectuals, businesspeople, and any other dissenting voices. Hundreds of thousands of people died. A couple of years later, when Germany turned on Russia, the Nazis took over the Baltic republics. Initially many residents saw them as liberators, but the Nazis soon made it clear they had other plans. They documentted the mass killings of the Russians, blamed these actions on the Jews, and then set up concentration camps to kill the city's Jewish population and anyone who had helped the Russians during their occupation. Toward the end of the war, Russia recaptured the country and again exterminated any dissenters as well as anyone who whad worked with the Germans. For the next 45 years, the countries were run into the ground by the distant, autocratic, and incompetent government in Moscow. (eg farmers were often directed by Moscow to grow crops that were unsuitable for the region.) Despite all of this, the residents of these countries were willing to stand up to the Soviet Union in the late 1980s and risk violent suppression to gain independence.

This is stunning when you think about it. Anyone who was 20 when the Baltics lost their independence would have been in their late sixties when the independence movement returned, so the vast majority of residents at the time would have known nothing but oppression.

Not surprisingly, these countries all have a strong national identity. Here's one concrete way of measuring it -- they are among the least populous countries to have their own domestic film industry. It's as if the residents of San Francisco spoke their own language, and big-budget films were made and marketed in this language for consumption purely by San Francisco residents.

*(In a Gandhi-esque moment of protest, the residents of the three countries formed an unbroken human chain from one end of the region to the other.)
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I think one thing that atheists such as myself who grew up in a post-Cold-War environment don't realize is that, for earlier generations, atheism has a strong link to communism. The communist leaders of Russia, China, and other countries worked as hard as they could to eradicate all traces of religion and religious authority. Religious buildings (churches, syangogues, mosques, temples etc) were bulldozed or repurposed,* religious leaders were sent to labor camps or executed, and religious rituals were banned. Religion was seen as an ideological competitor and a power threat by the communist leaders, so they did away with it.

Thus, from the perspective of a God-fearing Cold-War era American, atheists are linked ideologically to the communist ideology. Thus, for you atheists out there, if you're talking to an older religious person about atheism, keep this in mind.

*Fortunately for the future tourist industry, the largest and most beautiful monuments were often spared because there would have been huge popular uproar if they were destroyed.
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As I came into Dahab, I passed a large number of beachside resorts and hotels in various states of completion. However, there was no evidence of construction in progress on any of them. The projects appear to have beeen abandoned. Some were close to completion, while others only had a partially erected stone wall to show for their efforts. Most of them were utterly hideous, architecturally speaking. Monsters in the making. At first I thought it was due to poor management, fraud, contractors taking the money and skipping town, and other problems. However, I ultimately realized the true cause: terrorism.

Back in 2004-6 there was a series of bombings at the three major resort towns on the Sinai coast. The bombings were masterminded by a Palestinian but were carried out with the help of local Bedouins. While I don't approve of their actions, I can see where the local Bedouins were coming from... their entire coastline has been taken over with nasty structures catering to obnoxious foreigners. (Not that the Bedouin terrorists were pulling a Howard Roark... I doubt that the architectural integrity of the structures was their chief concern). Since the Bedouins are nomadic, they can't lay claim to any of this coastal territory, and have gradually been pushed inward.

The attacks had the effect of almost completely cutting off the area's primary supply of tourists – Israelis in search of a little sun. The European tourists eventually returned, but the Israelis have stayed away. All the construction stopped, and demand still doesn't even fill the existing supply.

Ironically, only a couple of Israelis died in the bombings. The vast majority of the deaths (over 50, I believe) were Egyptian workers making a living in the tourist trade.

In any case, terrorism can have an extremely high return on investment. For the cost of a few tens of thousands of dollars, the terrorists managed to freeze up an entire industry in Egypt, causing billions of dollars in lost business. The Sept 11th attacks in the US were similar... for the cost of some flight lessons, they managed to provoke the US into a massive $2 trillion spending spree that has worsened our security and dramatically hurt our reputation across the world.
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Turkey's illustrious government always has my best interests at heart. They even keep up to date with the latest technologies, ensuring I'm always getting an optimal experience on the internet. For example, some awful, awful people posted a video critical of Turkey's government to YouTube a couple of years back. (You may or may not know that criticism of Turkey or its government is illegal in Turkey... a clearly enlightened law that helps its citizens maintain a positive attitude.) Instead of pleading with Google to take down that one video, the government responded with swift efficiency by blocking all YouTube videos in case anyone else puts up other offending videos. They have kept it this way for the last two years, helping us maintain a positive attitude that surely enhances our happiness and productivity. Plus, it ensures that I don't waste time showing people videos of kittens climbing my body, people talking in a giant helium-filled bag, fractals generated using only a camera and projectors, or infrared footage of people showering. What a great place to live!
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- Many of the engineering marvels I mentioned in the last post are being built with the modern equivalent of slave labor. Construction workers are often kept sequestered in camps, with limited mobility. Their passports are often confiscated, and it's a frequent practice to only pay them once every 3-6 months.

- Carpooling is illegal, and carries substantial fines. Carpooling is considered competition for the taxi system, which is run by the government. Thus, you can't pick up a coworker on the way to work, even if you do so for free. I should point out that there's horrible traffic there... like worse than LA. There are also limited piblic transit options. A subway system is being built, but apparently the fares will be jacked up high so as to (you guessed it) not compete with the government-run taxi system. Read more here: http://www.arabnews.com/?article=100707

- Singapore and Dubai make for an interesting contrast. They are both small, rich, highly developed one-party city states with strict laws and low crime. However, Singapore spends a lot of money investing in education and public infrastructure and encourages expatriates to become citizens. In contrast, Dubai seems to treat its noncitizens, which make up 90% of the population, as disposable employees. It's only possible to become a citizen of Dubai if your father is a citizen. There are almost no social services... there are a small number of expensive private schools of mediocre quality, so foreigners are often reluctant to move their families here. Most of the expatriates are thus men who are either single or separated from their families. There are sections of the city that feel like a giant sausage fest. Ethnically, 10% of the population is Emirati citizens, 40% is Indian, and the remainder are mostly a mix of Arab, European, and American expatriates. Many of the expatriate residents I met are depressed... due to the government's social policies, they can never feel like Dubai is their home. Many of them rarely get to see their families.

- Government-legislated supply of women: Because of how Dubai marriage laws work, Emirati men can marry foreign women, but it's almost impossible for foreign men (even Muslims from other gulf states) to marry Emirati women. Women who do manage to marry foreign men lose their citizenship, along with all its benefits. This has the effect of creating a large pool of women with very limited marriage options. I initially though that this would mean that Emirati women would often haave to accept marriage proposals from undesirable Emirati men since their options are so limited. Good for the men, bad for the women. However, I learned that marriages almost always require the bride's parents' approval, and it's customary for the husband to pay the bride's family a very large dowry (think of it as bail). Since the bride's parents don't want the bride to marry “down”, the dowry is often such that most young men can't really afford to pay it. Dating in the western sense is frowned upon. Thus, the net result is a large number of local women who end up unmarried, and huge amount of prostitution.

- THEY BLOCK FLICKR!   So I really should be more upset by their treatment of women and migrant workers, but blocking entire sections of the internet gets me really riled up. I had the amusing experience of having a 50-year-old Muslim woman in a nontechnical position tell me “just use a proxy server”.

- As the recession hits them hard, Dubai is starting to swing back more in the traditional direction. Some new proposed laws prohibit kissing, holding hands, and even hugging between couples in public. Amusingly, men will often hold hands and hug... it's part of traditional Arab culture. I had the amusing thought that gay men probably get a kick out of being able to engage in PDAs while everyone else thinks it's just manly hand-holding, but I'm guessing that the gays there keep it very underground. Read more here: http://www.thetimes.co.za/News/Article.aspx?id=960921

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