31 October, 2006

Impressive. Most impressive...

World's Tallest Tower Rising in Dubai

*fade in to the theme song from The Jeffersons*

...Well, we're movin' on up!

Moooovin' on up!

...to a deee-luxe apartment, in the sky-yyy

From the article...

Slated to become the world's tallest skyscraper and symbol of a city given to grandiose projects, "Burj Dubai," or Dubai Tower, is rising in parallel with the profits of its promoter, Emaar Properties.

With two stories added every week, Burj Dubai is taking shape as the centerpiece of a 20-billion-dollar venture featuring the construction of a new district, "Downtown Burj Dubai," that will house 30,000 apartments and the world's largest shopping mall.

Launched in early 2004, the construction of the tower by South Korea' s Samsung should be completed at the end of 2008 and cost one billion dollars, according to Greg Sang, the Emaar official in charge of Burj Dubai.

Burj Dubai already has 79 stories, taking its height to more than 200 meters (656 feet). But even after having gone that far, Emaar is still not revealing the tower's final height. "At the moment, we are not answering. We'll say it (will be) more than 700 meters (2,296 feet) and more than 160 stories... The people who need to know, know," Sang, a 40-year-old New Zealander, told AFP.

The world's tallest inhabited building is "Taipei 101" in Taiwan, which is 508 meters (1,666 feet) tall.

A minimum of 700 meters/2,296 feet... That's almost half a mile high. The Wikipedia article suggests the building could possibly top out at anywhere from 162 to 195 floors, and from 916 to 940 meters... That's 3,084 feet. I can barely describe a manmade structure of these proportions without resorting to astonished profanity. The official website can be seen here.

If that's not "wow" enough, there are rumors that another skycraper project, Al Burj, a mere 30 miles away, will rival or even surpass Burj Dubai in height.


As an aside, Dubai has been known for quite a while now for its poor treatment of foreign workers, especially those of non-Western origin. The complaints and accusations included low pay, poor conditions, various forms of exploitation, etc. In March, 2006, rioting broke out among workers at the Burj Dubai and other construction sites within the emirate. The upshot is that by the end of that month, Dubai announced that it was reversing (as a matter of official policy, anyway...) its longstanding prohibitions against the formation of labor unions. This, in addition to the loosening of restrictions on foreign ownership of property in recent years (Dubai's population is around 80% immigrant, and there is no naturalization of foreigners).

An overwhelmingly foreign population which is overwhelmingly responsible for the face and facts of daily modern life in the area, very slowly gaining and being granted expanding rights and growing an ever-larger societal stake under an un-elected, and sometimes oppressive government. Hmm... Keep an eye on this place.

25 October, 2006

The End of the Beginning for the Cuban Revolution?

Washington Post - Cuba ponders how to fix socialist economy

Little Communist Cuba, the remaining protege of Big Communist USSR, has long been suffering many of the same problems that plagued its old economic role model.

"Cuba has begun debating how to correct rampant theft and inefficiency in state-run services, from pouring beer to shining shoes, that could signal a step toward economic reform under acting President Raul Castro.

In a scathing three-part series on graft in shops and bars entitled The Big Old Swindle, the Communist Youth newspaper Juventud Rebelde said on Sunday a team of university experts will investigate ways to improve services.

The articles uncovered bar employees stealing from the state by serving less beer than stipulated and taxis drivers overcharging passengers, but stopped short of recommending the privatization of such services."

Also of note...

"Since Raul Castro temporarily took over the government from his ailing brother on July 31, foreign and local experts have speculated that the younger Castro, aged 75, is more pragmatic and could move Cuba toward a more open Chinese economic model.

Cuban officials rule out following the example of China, which opened its economy to capitalist enterprise while retaining political power under the Communist Party."

On my gut feeling alone, I'd bet that that stated reluctance is due mainly to the lingering influence of Fidel, and the possibility (getting ever slimmer as weeks go by) that he could still fully return to power. The man has been the only leader most Cubans have ever known, and his ideology the only one they've been able to openly support for just as long. That sort of influence will take longer than his body to assume room temperature.

But, the important news here is that the debate, however limited, has been opened. In retrospect, the opening of the debate in the old USSR was tantamount to closing the lid of the coffin on it. Cuba, a more open society, a weaker political entity, and in closer proximity to its economic opposites than the USSR was, will certainly be no more immune to its fate.


What I wonder is when Cuban real estate and enterprises will be opened to American investment... It's never too early to start retirement planning. I can think of no more ironic a memorial to Fidel than for Cuba to become the new Switzerland of the Carribean.

23 October, 2006

Terror on the internet

Finally getting around to reviewing Terror on the Internet, by Gabriel Weimann. I shouldn't have put it off so long. I think the title put me off: a little sensationalistic, and I've had my fill of "cyberterrorism" speculations that ignore the political and physical context of internet attacks. Once I started, however, I found a book that was taking on many of the issues the others haven't even noticed.

Weimann, a professor of communication at Haifa University, has been monitoring and archiving terrorist websites since 1998. There's been plenty to monitor: even if limited to organizations on America's official watch list, by 2005 over 4300 web sites were identified as serving terrorists and their supporters. While other analysts have focused on how terrorists might sabotage the internet, Weimann shows how the terrorists have increasingly successful in exploiting it. Some groups are engaging in traditional propaganda. Some are raising money. Some are using the web for virtual training camps. Some use cyberspace to facilitate communication--both overt and covert--among groups. Others capture personal information to facilitate everything from targeted recruitment to identity theft. With CD-burning, video exchange, podcasts, and so on, individuals formerly on the margin of politics and society are empowered to reach a world-wide audience. The tools of globalization are used to attack the civilization that created those tools.

I'd recommend it to anyone who cares about the War, or who wants to consider the general question of how technology can affect politics.

Welcome to the Metaverse

There are hints, on the horizon, of software that can do for the web what Netscape did for the internet. See The Next Big Thing. Politics in the virtual world is already fascinating. It is about to become more so.

06 October, 2006

Data sharing and data mining

I've been listening to a podcast of a Council of Foreign Relations presentation on the impact of new technologies on intelligence acquisition and analysis. Some neat ideas. The best one involves a technology that can anonomyze data before it is shared, so the analysts (down the hall, or in another agaency, or in another government) can look for relevant patterns without being able to identify any of the individuals whose data they are reviewing. Then, if and when they find something they move through channels, making a formal request to find out the identitifying information about, for example, subject asfdpolije;lkjik12320. Perhaps a third party would keep the key, and neither agency could dig out the idenifiying information. Interesting technology. Of course, the system could probably be broken, but only with so much effort that it makes no sense to try. At least, in the technical sense. But there's still the problem of a "legitimate/legal" official using the system for personal and political ends. If Nixon could press the IRS for records, and Clinton could use both IRS and FBI files, I have a lot less faith in the people using the technology than I do in in the technology itself.

04 October, 2006


A letter from Al-Qaeda's leadership found in the rubble near Abu Musab al-Zarqawi confirms what we've always known: Al Qaeda HQ was (and probably is) in Wazirastan. What I'd like to know is who is Atiyah, the author of the letter? If it is, as suspected, Atiyah Abd al-Rahman, what does this tell us about the people moving up into leadership positions?

North Korea

Good news and bad news for Korea. Good news: it seems likely that a diplomat from South Korea will be the next Secretary-General of the UN. Bad news: North Korea pledges to test a nuclear weapon. Kim Jong-Il has developed a fine sense of timing. Even with all the hand-wringing, he'll probably get away with it.

Cast your vote

From openDemocracy, it's time once again for the Bad Democracy award. Check out the noninees. I'm voting for (against?) Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum, but there are several qualified candidates.