UAE citizens ask — Why can’t we all vote?

Campaign billboard for Salem al-Shaali
Reuters Photo by Mahmoud Habboush

The United Arab Emirates is gearing up for the second elections in its 40-year history, but officials and candidates are finding it tough to answer a commonly asked question: why can’t everyone vote?

The UAE government in July hand-picked 129,000 voters to elect 20 of the 40 members of the Federal National Council (FNC), an advisory assembly with very limited parliamentary powers.

The pool represents 12 per cent of Emirati nationals in the Arabian Peninsula nation who will vote on September 24.

The rest of the council will be directly appointed by the Gulf Arab state, which is governed by several ruling families that transfer power from father to son, or brother to brother…

The wealthy Gulf oil nation has been virtually untouched by the Arab Spring, witnessing from afar the toppling of autocrats in Tunisia, Egypt and Libya, and any hint of dissent has been swiftly stamped out.

This week’s elections are part of stated efforts by the seven emirate member states to gradually introduce representation and educate voters and candidates in its methods in an orderly way… Uh, OK.

The UAE government held seminars in the past few weeks for candidates about the rules of campaigning while at least one non-profit organization held a training course on “how to run a successful campaign.”

But many candidates still appear to lack a basic understanding of the FNC’s constitutional powers, which are virtually nil…Salem al-Shaali, a Dubai candidate, is campaigning on a platform to hand more power to the FNC.

He pledges, in an ad in Al Bayan, a Dubai newspaper, to “help FNC members obtain the right tools to be effective in the decision-making process.”

There have been growing demands by former FNC members and intellectuals to give the assembly real powers, introduce universal suffrage and fully elect the council, created in 1972…

Less than 7,000 people, or less than 1 percent of the population, were allowed to vote in the UAE’s first elections for the council in 2006.

I guess proceeding in the direction of democracy and participation of the electorate is always a positive. Still, there should be some effort for the voting franchise to move a little faster than, say, molasses on a cold day in Alaska.

RTFA for more history, anecdotal coverage from Reuters.

Sheriff has bonus funds to convert vehicles to propane

A small law enforcement fleet in North Carolina converting gas-guzzling vehicles to run on propane autogas isn’t exactly national news, but what we have here is also a candidate for the classic “News of the Weird” column.

Why? Because sheriff Phillip Redmond of Iredell County, NC has converted 13 Ford Crown Vics using matching grants from the North Carolina Solar Center’s Clean Fuel Advanced Technologies and the NC Department of Transportation’s Congestion Mitigation Air Quality program. How did the local sheriff’s department raise their part of the matching funds? By confiscating illegal drug money.

In a statement, Redmond said, “We put dirty money to good use by repurposing seized assets from our drug interdiction program to match grant funding for the autogas conversions.”

We don’t know the legality of taking drug money like this, but if you’re going to use the funds for anything, making cleaner cars seems like a good thing to do.

According to Alliance AutoGas, which provided the conversions (fleet mechanics helped) and fueling infrastructure, the propane-powered cruisers will emit less CO2, cost about 40 percent less to refuel and have cheaper maintenance costs…

The whole sheriff’s fleet of 50 police cars will soon be converted. Bravo!

Let the money from droggos and gangbangers do something useful

Canadians don’t protest Bush visit – most folks ignored him!

There were no burning effigies, no chanted slogans, and not even a single shoe was thrown.

George W. Bush’s typical welcome wagon was missing in action when the controversial former U.S. president quietly visited Toronto Monday for an unpublicized and private speaking event.

“We had no protests,” confirmed Michael Miller, a spokesman for Northbridge Financial Corp., which jointly presented the event with its parent company, Fairfax Financial Holdings Ltd.

Fairfax CEO and Toronto billionaire Prem Watsa sponsored the lunchtime talk and question-and-answer session for more than 200 invited guests at the downtown Hilton…

Watsa had also planned to host a private speaking event with Bush on Tuesday for Tyndale University, a local evangelical Christian college and seminary, but the event was abruptly cancelled last week when opposition within the school’s community quickly mounted and a petition was launched by former students.

Alumni, faculty and students who found Bush’s hawkish legacy out of sync with Tyndale’s Christian teachings celebrated the school’s decision…

Monday’s lunch and talk lasted two hours, during which the folksy former president told jokes, talked about his memoir and the U.S.’s current economic woes. Guests then had the opportunity to have their photo taken with Bush.

I presume the Harper flunkeys in attendance had a decent meal. Otherwise, they paid to spend a few hours listening to a walking example of just how useless and backwards a politician can be elected to head the United States. Perhaps a portent of what people like Watsa hope continues to be the custom in Canada, eh?

Marines make recruiting call on Gay center in Tulsa, Oklahoma

Master Sgt. Anthony Henry, a top Marine recruiting trainer for the southwestern United States, pulled up to Tulsa’s biggest gay community center on Tuesday morning and left his Chevy where he could make a fast getaway. “I have an exit strategy,” he said…

But as it happened, one of the strangest days in the history of the United States Marine Corps unfolded without the protests and insults that Sergeant Henry had feared. Sergeant Henry, who had been invited to set up a recruiting booth on the first day of the end of “don’t ask, don’t tell” at the Dennis R. Neill Equality Center in downtown Tulsa, instead spent it in quiet conversation with a trickle of gay women who came in to ask about joining the Marines.

“It’s your business and you don’t have to share it,” Sergeant Henry told Ariel Pratt, 20, who asked whether she would face discrimination in the military as a lesbian serving openly. “But you’re also free to be at the mall with your girlfriend…”

The Marines were the service most opposed to ending the “don’t ask, don’t tell” policy, but they were the only one of five invited branches of the military to turn up with their recruiting table and chin-up bar at the center Tuesday morning. Although Marines pride themselves on being the most testosterone-fueled of the services, they also ferociously promote their view of themselves as the best. With the law now changed, the Marines appear determined to prove that they will be better than the Army, Navy, Air Force and Coast Guard in recruiting gay, lesbian and bisexual service members…

By 5 p.m. the Marines had packed up their booth and chin-up bar and headed out, with plans to come back later to attend a panel discussion. It was all uncharted territory. As Sergeant Henry had said the day before of the new world the Marines now inhabit, “At first it’s going to be kind of shock and awe.”

But like a good Marine, he was with the program: “My take is, if they can make it through our boot camp, which is the toughest boot camp in the world, then they ought to have the opportunity to wear the uniform.”

That the Marine Corps was last in line to support the end of Don’t Ask Don’t Tell was as much a function of who happened to be Commandant at the time. History recognizes the Marine Corps as the most progressive of U.S. military services at removing and opposing discrimination.

Which is why I don’t find it surprising that [1] other branches of our military turned down the opportunity and [2] the Marines didn’t. RTFA for details, pride in service.

MIT’s affordable housing project builds first prototype in China

Launched in 2009, MIT’s “1K House” project challenges designers to come up with affordable, sustainable housing solutions that can improve conditions for the billions of people in the world living on less than $1 per day. The “Pinwheel House” designed by MIT graduate student Ying chee Chui is the first prototype.

The 1K House concept was initiated by Tony Ciochetti, the Thomas G. Eastman Chairman at MIT’s Center for Real Estate, after seeing a family of four emerge from a tiny mud hut while he was traveling through rural India. “There is a huge proportion of the world’s population that has pressing housing needs,” says Ciochetti. “Can you build affordable, sustainable shelter for such a large population?”

Ying chee Chui’s “Pinwheel House” is the first prototype to be constructed and is located in Mianyang, in the Sichuan Province, China. The design incorporates a modular layout with hollow brick walls, steel bars for reinforcement, wooden box beams, a central courtyard space and it’s also built to withstand a magnitude 8.0 earthquake.

“The construction is easy enough, because if you know how to build a single module, you can build the whole house,” says Chui.

Chui came out a little over the long-term goal of building a $1000 house, with the total cost coming to $5,925. Not bad considering it’s tough to buy a good second hand car for that price! A larger building than was originally designed was a factor in the cost – the whole house came to about 800 square feet, rather than 500 square feet. Chui is confident that the smaller module could easily be built for US$4000 or even cheaper if a large number of houses were built at the same time.

There are a number of individual and production processes that could lower the cost of construction significantly. Economies of scale really kick in if producing a modular design like this off-site – to be trucked in and assembled on-site. Wooden box beams can be replaced with several less expensive construction techniques, wood, composite or steel. IMHO, steel being the best choice – recycled and recyclable, easy to train installers/framers, fire rating reduces insurance requirements.

No doubt – even in China – the cost of land is probably higher than the cost of the house erected. At least in urban China.

Now, take my son – please!

An Italian couple have sought legal help to persuade their 41-year-old son to fly the nest.

The Venetian parents, who have not been named, say their son has a job but refuses to leave home and wants his clothes washed and his meals prepared. They have sought help from lawyers at the consumer association Adico.

Lawyer Andrea Camp said a letter was sent to the son, advising him to leave home in six days or face legal action. If he refuses, lawyers will ask a court in Venice to issue a protection order for the elderly parents against their son.

We cannot do it any more,” the father was quoted as saying. “My wife is suffering from stress and had to be hospitalised. He [the son] has a good job but still lives at home…

The couple turned to Adico after hearing of a similar case earlier this month in which Adico persuaded a son to leave home. After he left, his parents changed the locks.