The world’s tallest building opened for business Monday. Next to Dubai’s business district stands the Burj Khalifa, whose 2,717 ft. spire reaches over 1,000 ft. higher than its closest competitor, Taipei 101.
The structure is named for Khalifa bin Zayed Al Nahyan, President of the United Arab Emirates. About $1.5 billion was invested in the Burj Khalifa, with an additional $20 billion invested in the surrounding neighborhood.
At 162 floors, the Burj Khalifa is expected to accommodate 25,000 people at a time: 160 Armani hotel rooms, 1,100 apartments and hundreds of corporate office suites. The building’s 57 elevators rise and fall at 33 feet per second.
The Burj Dubai, the physical expression of Dubai’s towering ambition, a modern Tower of Babel. It is a beautiful object, a remarkable testament to human ingenuity, engineering and megalomania. As Dubai’s economy totters and sways, it may turn out to be a monumental folly, the latest example of Man’s need to build ever upwards regardless of cost, need or sense.
There is a striking correlation between projects to build the world’s tallest building, and financial crises. The construction of the Empire State Building (381m) was conceived in the run-up to the Wall Street Crash and the Great Depression; the Sears Tower in Chicago (442m), built in 1974, came with the oil crisis and stagflation in the US; the Petronas Towers (452m) in Kuala Lumpur in 1997 coincided with the Asian financial crisis.
The correlation between the highest buildings and the lowest economic moments would be eerie were its reasons not so obvious — excessive credit, overconfidence and the culture of ostentation in an overheated economy.
Burj Dubai may become a symbol of Dubai’s economic resilience. Or it may end up as a monumental morality tale about overweening ambition. Either way, the new city of Masdar, now being built in Abu Dhabi as a carbon-neutral eco-city (call it the green suburb of Babel), will stand as an architectural rebuke to the great tower of hubris next door.
Khaleej Times published an opinion piece by Lanny J. Davis that depicts the construction of the Burj Khalifa in a more positive light. Davis analogizes between architecture’s role in a successful global economy with peaceful international relationships of the 21st century.
US Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton saw the connection between today’s dedication of the Burj Dubai and tomorrow’s launch of The Dubai Forum, and the core prerequisites for a stable and peaceful world when she sent her greetings and salutations to His Highness Shaikh Mohammed, and wrote: “Your efforts to create international cooperation in the global economy is an important goal, and I wish you, my friend, the very best in this endeavour.”
Secretary Clinton’s reference to “international cooperation” is of course, metaphorically speaking, no different than the brilliantly conceived mutual dependence and relationships within the Burj Dubai that keeps it stable and enduring: a “triple-lobed footprint, an abstraction of the Hymenocallis flower, composed of three elements arranged around a central core. The modular, Y-shaped structure, with setbacks along each of its three wings, provides an inherently stable configuration for the 160-story structure….Twenty-six helical levels decrease the cross section of the tower incrementally as it spirals skyward.”
We can learn important lessons from real architecture — and from the Burj Dubai. With planning and international cooperation, mutual respect among nations with different cultures, histories, religions, and traditions, we can achieve stability and security and a victory for civil society — no matter how mammoth and complex and different are the country-by-country economic infrastructures.
Other netizens were disappointed in the cost of the building’s opening fireworks. Vrthejas tweets:
Looks like Dubai spent all of Abu Dhabi’s bail-out money on the opening ceremony of Burj Dubai.
Blogger Sher Ali is disappointed in the Burj Khalifa investment:
Sheikh of Dubai is mimicking the West, but does he know that West first built up Oxford, Cambridge, Harvard and Yale and then they went about having Sears tower, Empire State Building? Buildings come and go or if they stay they become just routine after sometime just like Taipei tower.
But world class universities like Oxford remain always, and they are the real secret of Western power. How many universities of that caliber are present in the whole UAE?
For a better perspective on the height of the Burj Khalifa, watch this next video recorded by two contractors peering down from the spire of the building:
Lastly, this video shows footage from ground level of the Burj Khalifa and its surroundings.
The sprawling city of Dubai in the United Arab Emirates is known for real estate, finance and trade. But now, with the slumping economy, many foreigners who worked in Dubai are being laid off and thousands are leaving.
Worldfocus contributing blogger Dwight Bashir writes about recent skirmishes between Saudi Arabia and Houthi rebels in northern Yemen. Iran accused Saudi Arabia of state-sponsored “Wahhabi terrorism” in Yemen.
In Malaysia, some immigration officials have been accused of involvement in selling refugees from Myanmar, also known as Burma. The U.S. State Department placed Malaysia on its list of the world’s worst human trafficking offenders.
Some people in India are mourning the passing of Savita Bhabhi, a curvaceous and promiscuous cartoon porn star whose sexual adventures were recently banned by the government. Ben Piven describes Indian cultural attitudes towards sex.
Social networking sites like Twitter, Facebook and YouTube have become important tools of communication as Iran has cracked down on news organizations trying to cover protests over disputed presidential election results.
A new World Bank report calls China’s progress in reducing poverty “enviable” and shows that the percentage of the Chinese population living below the poverty line declined from 65 percent in 1981 to 4 percent in 2007.
British schools will teach sex education to children as young as five in an effort to curb high teen pregnancy rates. Young U.K. students will receive lessons on topics such as body parts and reproduction.
The violent, separatist conflict in southeastern Ethiopia has claimed thousands of lives over the last 15 years. Ethiopia sealed off the region to media so there is little accurate information about the conflict.
Russian lawyer Sergei Magnitsky died in Moscow’s Butyrka prison on November 16, after being held for 11 months on charges of tax-evasion tied to his work with the London-based investment fund Hermitage Capital Management. (The Fund’s President William Browder was blacklisted from Russia in 2005 and the firm’s Moscow office subject to “corporate raiding.” You can read more about the case here.)
Magnitsky’s numerous appeals for medical care had gone unanswered, and the 37-year-old died from pancreatitis he developed while in custody.
The case received widespread attention, internationally, with Gordon Brown calling for an investigation, and also inside Russia. This past Monday, the Moscow Public Oversight Commission, an independent NGO mandated to monitor human rights in Moscow detention facilities, issued a 20-page report on Magnitsky’s case. Among the report’s findings: the lawyer was held at times in “tortuous conditions” and was subject to “physical and psychological pressure.”
The official reaction to the case: President Medvedev earlier this month fired some 20 senior corrections officials. Today he removed the deputy director general of the Federal Penitentiary Service, Aleksandr Piskunov, and signed a bill that bans the jailing of people suspected of tax crimes.
Medvedev is also pushing for a reform of the Interior Ministry, largely in response to a series of recent sandals involving Russian police. Last week he ordered the Interior Ministry to cut its 1.4 million strong staff (including police, interior ministry troops and civilian officials) by 20 percent by January 1, 2012.
Will these moves be enough to increase government accountability? Vladimir Milov, politician and former deputy ministrer of energy, commented on the Echo Moscow radio station website: “only the most naive would consider the ‘cleansing’ of the Federal Penitentiary Service as a positive move by the President in response to the death of Sergei Magnitsky.
In reality, the death of Magnitsky was clearly used as a reason to try to strengthen the cadres of the FPS with people loyal to the President.”
Time will tell. That the critical report was released and widely publicized is a positive sign. But issues that Magnitsky’s case touches on — human rights violations, squalid prison conditions, corruption and lack of accountability — run deep and will not be easily rectified.
The gay rights activists from Buenos Aires were married in Ushuaia, the capital of Tierra del Fuego state.
Argentina’s constitution does not define marriage as strictly between a man and a woman, allowing local officials some flexibility. A bill to legalize gay marriage nationwide is now stalled in Argentina’s Congress.
Only seven countries in the world permit gay marriage to be performed, although recognition of civil unions exists in some nations. Gay couples still face persecution — and even the death penalty — in many countries:
The Netherlands, Belgium, Canada, Spain, Norway, Sweden and South Africa recognize same-sex marriage.
In the United States, there are four states (Connecticut, Iowa, Massachusetts and Vermont) where gay couples can currently marry. In 2010, Washington D.C. and New Hampshire will start allowing same-sex marriage.
Civil unions or registered partnerships offer same-sex couples some of the legal benefits of marriage. Nonetheless, many couples find these insufficient and believe that they are entitled to gender-neutral marriage.
Protests on the Shiite holiday Ashura commemorating the death of Shiite Islam’s holiest martyr, Imam Hussein, were met with severe violence yesterday.
Witnesses said yesterday’s protests were the largest and bloodiest since those following the disputed presidential elections in June.
Iranian security forces continued their crackdown against the country’s prominent opposition movement, arresting seven anti-government activists.
Unrest continued today, as evidenced by a video purporting to be from today’s events:
Iranian and foreign media were restricted by the Iranian government from attending yesterday’s protests. Any footage made public was captured by activists. This video contains violent images:
The next video shows students chanting and marching in the streets:
President of the Global Americana Institute, Juan Cole, finds this movement insufficient for significant change to occur. He writes:
For the movement to go further and become truly revolutionary, it would have to have a leader who wanted to overthrow the old regime and who could attract the loyalty of both the people and elements of the armed forces. So far this key revolutionary element, of dual sovereignty, has been lacking, insofar as opposition leaders Mir Hosain Mousavi and Mehdi Karroubi have tried to stay inside the Khomeinist framework while arguing that it is Khamenei who violated it by making it too authoritarian. Saying you want slightly less autocracy within a clerical theocracy is not a recipe for revolution.
China’s rapid economic growth has come with obvious and enormous environmental costs. But the Asian superpower is also rapidly adjusting to the realities of climate change.
Although political leaders in China often disagree about the tradeoff between long-term economic growth and emissions caps, the international community would like to see more concessions from China.
With multimedia content from the China Green project at the Asia Society’s Center on U.S.-China Relations, Worldfocus takes a deeper look at both sides of the debate surrounding China’s economic explosion.
China’s economy hinges on coal for power, steel and cement. But, as is becoming increasingly apparent, it comes at a heavy price for the country’s environment and health.
In Dark Clouds, photographer Ian Teh explored some of China’s most industrialized cities — a glimpse of the Dongbei rustbelt that is rarely seen:
But China is also a leader in green technology. Jimmy Wang and Lin Yang visited Shandong province, where they discovered a new phenomenon that is radically changing the automobile landscape in second and third tier Chinese cities: small, 4-seat electric cars that cost around $2000 and can be charged in a normal household outlets. The vehicles emit zero greenhouse gases.
Nicknamed shanzhai (knockoff brand), they have become so popular in cities like Liaocheng that the government is debating the laws, licensing and regulations for manufacturers and passengers. Cheap shanzhai are replacing electric bicycles as the preferred mode of transport in small cities throughout eastern China.
Worldfocus has selected four multimedia pieces from the Tibetan Plateau in Peril series that address climate change in Tibet, where glacial melting threatens to diminish the water supply for all of Asia — leading to potentially disastrous consequences for almost half the world’s population.
The plateau feeds most of the major river systems from China to Pakistan, including the Yellow, Yangtze, Mekong, Salween, Brahmaputra, Ganges and Indus. But the rapid retreat of its glaciers has jeopardized what glaciologist Lonnie Thompson has termed Asia’s “fresh water bank account.”
Rivers and lakes have depleting water levels, pastures are becoming drier, deserts are expanding and weather patterns are becoming more unpredictable. The Tibetan Plateau’s ecosystem are moving toward an environmental catastrophe that will have continental implications far beyond Tibet.
An ancient Chinese proverb: When you drink the water, think about its source. Signs of water scarcity in the Yellow River watershed can be seen all the way back to its origin in Qinghai, where glaciers melt on the slopes of the sacred Tibetan mountain Anyemaqen.
The warming climate has endangered the human habitat in this area of the Tibetan Plateau. And hundreds of millions of people at lower altitudes in northern China are threatened by the Yellow River’s demise.
The next piece is a bleak visual tour of some of the world’s highest glaciers in the Himalayas: at the foot of Mt. Everest, in eastern Qinghai province and in the Tianshan Mountains of Xinjiang province.
See what these giant ice sheets looked like decades ago and how much they have thinned down. The alarming images document lakes expanding due to accelerated glacial meltdown and also lakes shrinking due to desertification at lower altitudes.
In the fall of 2007 and again in 2008, David Breashears traveled to the Chinese face of Mt. Everest, a mountain he has climbed five times. His goal was not to scale the peak but to see series of ledges and outcroppings on Everest’s western side.
Breashears brought photos taken in a 1921 expedition to survey Everest. Returning to the exact same locations, Breashears recreated the photos — pixel for pixel.
Since 2007, Tomorrow’s Pioneers has taught young Palestinians about Zionist aggression in Jerusalem and the alleged sins of the West. The show originally starred Farfour, a fun-loving Mickey Mouse-look-alike:
Al-Aqsa TV, the Hamas-run network based in Gaza, says that Pioneers “aims to produce a believing generation that will bear the noble values and strive to spread goodness and justice in Palestine and the world.”
Pioneers mixes lessons about drinking milk with Islamic supremacy. It’s directed by Interior Minister Fathi Hamad, who also runs Al-Aqsa TV. The show was created by Hazim Al-Sha’arawi, the station’s deputy director.
The show is hosted by 12-year-old Saraa Barhoum, the niece of a Hamas spokesman. She said in a 2007 interview that if she doesn’t end up being a doctor when she grows up, she would settle for being a martyr.
Barhoum co-hosts the show with a large costumed animals in a skit format similar to Sesame Street. In addition to sketch routines, the show also takes call-ins from children.
Farfour dies — at the hands of Shin Bet — paving the way for Nahul, a bumble bee with a squeaky voice:
During the Fatah-Hamas struggle for control over Gaza during the past two years, Fatah has tried to shut down the broadcast several times — most notably when then-Information Minister Mustafa Barghouti closed its doors. Fatah even launched a rival children’s show in September 2008.
In the wake of Nahul’s death, Assoud (whose name actually means “lion”) emerges as a Bugs Bunny-like rabbit who pledges to “eat the Jews” — and the Danes too.
Al Jazeera English reported from the show’s Gaza studio on the bunny’s message about resistance.
Assoud later dies in the aftermath of an Israeli attack on Gaza — in the episode from January 2, 2009.
The current teddy bear host, Nassur, is a mujahid (ostensibly from Iran) who has come to free Palestine:
In the most recent episode from October 2009, Nassur reveals his knowledge of Hebrew. Co-host Saraa then debates the merits of learning Hebrew and English, saying that “we want to know our enemies’ language.”
After 17 episodes in four “seasons,” Tomorrow’s Pioneers continues its revolutionary crusade.
In an accelerating battle to control the airwaves, sophisticated propaganda tools are becoming increasingly crucial — solidifying how the next generation will deal with the challenges of war and peace in the Middle East.
On December 4, President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo imposed martial law in the Maguindanao province in the southern Philippines, ten days after a gruesome massacre that killed 57 individuals — 31 of whom were journalists.
The Arroyo administration claims to have implemented martial law to subdue violence by the Ampatuan warlord clan suspected of carrying out the attack.
Many Filipinos recall the island’s prior experience with martial law during the Marcos dictatorship in 1972. This ITN video from December 10th shows the protests in Manila over President Arroyo’s actions:
Global Voices contributor Karlo Mikhail Mongaya elaborates on the uneasiness over the present situation, quoting attorneys Solomon Lumba and Nepomuceno Malaluan from The Daily PCIJ about the administration’s justification of martial law:
Proclamation No. 1959 will be the first time that the structures and mechanisms that we have placed in the 1987 Constitution to check the president’s discretion to declare martial law will be tested.
Congress, the Supreme Court, and we as a people should not be bound by the standards of the past under the 1935 and 1973 Constitution.
How we act today will determine how tyrants will act tomorrow. If we respond out of habit, those very habits could be the rope that will hang us all.
Arkibong Bayan, a news site which focuses on Asia, has released a thorough analysis that criticizes the Arroyo administration’s imposition of martial law in Maguindanao. The article quotes a statement by the National Union of Peoples’ Lawyers:
[Arroyo’s justification of martial law is] clearly bereft of any sufficient factual basis for such declaration and suspension. This is an unequivocal and brazen abuse of the president’s powers under the Constitution, plain and simple…
The president is testing the outer limits of the Constitution; the president is playing fire with fundamental freedoms by placing the military above civilian authorities.
Malayapinas, a citizen journalist at World Pulse Media whose husband was killed twenty years ago, laments the recent Massacre in Maguindanao, which took the lives of two of her friends, Concepcion “Connie” Brizuela and Cynthia Oquendo.
Like Malayapinas, they were devoted human rights defenders. Malayapinas provides a detailed account of human rights abuses and her own perilous fight for change in the Philippines:
Under the Arroyo government, violence has worsened, as more military forces have become involved in the lawlessness and culture of impunity that reigns all over the island. At least sixty-seven journalists, not including the Maguindanao massacre, and more than thousand activists have been killed, disappeared and tortured during her reign.
Activists in my country are often labeled “Enemies of the State.” Usually, they were shot to death or forcibly taken, even in broad day light by believed military agents wearing bonnets, brought into safe houses, tortured, interrogated and silenced forever.
While the decision to dissolve the parliament about two weeks ago was met with pure joy and relief, the appointment of a new prime minister was met with either disappointment or most probably indifference. Sameer Rifai, the new prime minister is the third generation of a family of prime ministers, something that probably happens only in Jordan.
I like to think of the whole thing as a game. There’s this circle of elitists, the ones allowed to play, all of whom at one point or another were ministers or CEOs and every couple of years one of them gets their turn as the top player. Now this top player would proceed to “reshuffle” the current players, or if he’s looking for some change, add a couple of new ones. The field that each player is in charge of is truly irrelevant to their area of expertise. Now once the parliament is elected, the game of who destroys who first begins! Fun fun fun.
So I don’t really think it matters who gets picked as the prime minister, the same cycle of events seems to repeat itself regardless of how optimistic we are of the new government. But not to be part of the blame culture, because we should take the blame as well. We should be part of a responsible, incorrupt election that would result in a parliament that speaks for the citizens rather than attack them, but hey that’s just wishful thinking.
Just heard the news about an hour ago that Samir Rifai, who as of yesterday headed the Jordan Dubai Capital corporation, has been appointed as the next Prime Minister of Jordan. I don’t really know what to say about this piece of news. It is, from at least this citizen’s point of view, not the most optimistic news about the state of my country’s domestic affairs.
In response to that post, “Musa” writes,
Why is it so hard for anyone with a significant background and vast interest in Jordanian politics to realise/admit the fact that there is nothing called “politics, domestic affairs or governance” in Jordan outside of the autocratic ruler, his police apparatus and his parasites?
Hopefully, stripping down the theatre of the absurd from all the puppets and proxies that managed to keep people busy for the past decade should help expose the true puppet master using them as his scapegoats, and hopefully that will prompt more people to start questioning the real decision maker who dissolves the parliament, cancels the elections, and assigns a new government of cronies – while on a trip to Paris. Yet still manages to be exempted of any responsibility!
But a post at the blog JordanWatch reads between the lines of the King’s announcement and says it lays out a “really impressive” set of principles – in theory.
What I have been interested in is the content of the letter of designation sent by the King. It had a rather detailed “roadmap” for the new government in a scope that is wider than the conventional letters of designation. What struck me was the King’s emphasis on developing and implementing a package of codes of honor in governance. Here are the King’s exact words:
“We also instruct you to issue a code of honour based on the Constitution and the law that clarifies the moral and legal criteria that the ministers must be committed to throughout their public service. This document will be a public document and an additional reference for Jordanians in judging the performance of the ministerial team. The government should also issue a similar document to which all public servants at every level must commit. For our people are ready to bear any hardship and confront every challenge if they are convinced that those serving them in state institutions are doing their jobs within institutional frameworks and under legal monitoring and are fortified against all forms of corruption, abuse of public office and manipulation of the law.”
Now, regarding the unhealthy relation between deputees and the government, the King says:
“The government should reassess its method of dealing with Parliament so as to restore this relationship as a cooperative and complementary one that serves the national interest, and whereby the authorities each practise their constitutional authority without one trespassing the other or reaching interest-based understandings that would make achieving personal gains a condition for the stability of the relationship between the two authorities. In order to ensure that the mistakes of the past do not recur, we ask you to draft a protocol, to which your team should be committed, that outlines the rules of engagement with Parliament in accordance with the Constitution and the law…
So what we have now at the table is a really impressive set of principles that revolve around the virtue of honesty in governance. If an effective level of honesty can be introduced in the approach to governance in Jordan we will witness a great enhancement of performance and proper use of resources, whether financial, institutional or human.
Blogwatch summarizes what bloggers and news sources are saying about the international news of the day. We’ll link to informative and bold voices that place the headlines in the context of the global conversation.