Letters

November 2007

Hi-fi Dubai
As a member of the thoroughbred horse industry, I have travelled to Dubai periodically over the last eleven years, since the inception of the Dubai World Cup. Deborah Campbell’s “Magic Kingdom or Glass House?” (September) catches the essence of the whirlwind that is Dubai, not least of which is Sheikh Mohammed, whom she was not able to meet but reflected accurately through the observations of others. To these, I would like to add my own little bit of history.

I came face to face with Sheikh Mohammed when I was a cub reporter for the Thoroughbred Record (now the Thoroughbred Times). The magazine is based in Lexington, Kentucky, as is the Keeneland Association, which conducts premier thoroughbred sales for yearling and breeding stock throughout the year. Sheikh Mohammed arrived on the scene (along with his older brother, then-ruler Sheikh Maktoum) at a sale one September more than twenty-five years ago, buying any yearling he fancied and sending the Kentucky hardboots into the kind of frenzy that can only be caused by the smell of new money.

The yearling sale was considered a mundane assignment by the older, more experienced Record staff, something to be sloughed off on a neophyte — that is, until Sheikh Mohammed showed up. My co-workers scoffed that even if I did get past the Sheikh’s entourage, he would never speak to a woman. So, I did the unthinkable: I asked for an interview. It was granted.

I put the usual questions to him, such as whether pedigree or conformation was more important in selecting a yearling. He looked at me inquisitively, then said that pedigree and conformation were worth considering, but even more important was to look into the horse’s eyes; he had to know about its soul. Sheikh Mohammed was a poet.

The hardboots hooted and hollered, pegging him for an easy mark soon to be separated from his money. How wrong they were. Yes, the Al Maktoums have spent a fortune on thoroughbreds since then, but they have systematically stayed the course, first establishing themselves as a dominant force on the European racing and breeding scene and then taking on North America. Success in the thoroughbred industry takes time, patience, and dedicated focus. Sheikh Mohammed has these qualities in ample amounts.

Few in Kentucky, or the world for that matter, would have predicted it, but the Al Maktoums are now positioned for global dominance in the thoroughbred industry. As for whether Dubai is to be a timeless monument or a castle made of sand, all depends on Sheikh Mohammed.

Susan Rhodemyre Willmot
Kinghaven Farms
King City, Ontario

Deborah Campbell captures the tensions, the contradictions, the glamour, the sleaze, the ambition, and the exploitation in Dubai. Emerging out of the desert, the emirate is, as Campbell aptly puts it, built on Arab leadership, British intelligence, American lifestyle, and labourers from the poorest parts of the world.

Campbell traces the contradictions between the towers that are rising in Dubai and those that went down in New York. It is the world’s new safe haven, built by Arab investors fleeing the US, and a home for those whose grandiose ambitions find expression in an unending competition for conspicuous consumption. It is in the Middle East, but not quite of the Middle East, the new economy embedded in an old economy, everything that Arab leaders love and loathe at the same time.

Campbell gets it all, this “glorious phoenix with gossamer wings.” Her article is a must-read for anyone trying to come to terms with the contradictions of the Middle East and for weary world travellers who overnight in Dubai.

Janice Gross Stein
Munk Centre for International Studies
University of Toronto
Toronto, Ontario

Please thank Deborah Campbell for “Magic Kingdom or Glass House?,” in which she provides a glimpse into Dubai’s decadent excesses. However, I would like to see her do a follow-up article focused on the dark side of the Magic Kingdom: cheap labourers imported from impoverished countries, paid $200 a month, and shipped like cattle to and from their camps, far removed from the good life in the city.

Then there are the hordes of gorgeous women from Russia, China, etc., available for hire. According to friends who live in Dubai, there are no “normal” women with whom to have relationships — the place has become a spawning ground for opportunistic women whose only currency is their sexuality. It is also apparently not uncommon for an expat executive to import a girl from, say, Thailand, to be his personal “maid.” And what of the sheikhs who herd veiled women in abayas from their limos to lavish hotel rooms? Magic Kingdom or House of Whores?

Whether Campbell would be allowed back into the kingdom after writing that piece is anybody’s guess.

Jade Chan
Vancouver, British Columbia


Peace Man

The Walrus is to be commended for publishing Chris Turner’s article on the Vietnam-driven “hippie exodus” to Canada (“On Strawberry Hill,” September). His discussion of the reception given to war refusers by people living in British Columbia’s interior, in particular the Doukhobors and residents of the Slocan Valley, was informative and inspiring.

However, I would like to make two additional points, perhaps tangential to Turner’s article but useful to recall. First, while hippies seeking a “Rocky Mountain high” were a significant component of the migration, other anti-war activists also came to Canada and made important contributions. In teaching, law, medicine, media, and the arts as well as in politics and traditional working class occupations, war resisters from the US devoted their imaginations and their efforts to Canada’s well-being and growth.

Secondly, while Turner discusses Pierre Trudeau’s decision to open the doors to draft resisters and deserters, he does not stress the fact that it came a full seven years after the first of them arrived here in 1962. In other words, the warm reception given to American war resisters in 1969 and afterward was a result of a political campaign to force the Canadian government to accept the reprehensible nature of the Vietnam War.

This point is important in today’s context. The first Iraq deserter, Jeremy Hinzman, came to Canada in January 2004 saying he would not fight in an illegal war. Forty-four months later, I am representing Hinzman in his case before the Supreme Court of Canada, which is to decide whether the lower courts are correct that it is “irrelevant” to the conscience of a “mere foot-soldier” that the war he or she must fight is illegal and in violation of the Charter of the United Nations.

Whatever the outcome of this legal procedure, only acolytes of the Bush administration would believe that it is in Canada’s national interest to return people like Hinzman to the United States to serve a jail term for desertion. Walrus readers who would like to assist in this generation’s political struggle to allow American war resisters to remain here should consider contacting the War Resisters Support Campaign.

Jeffry A. House
Toronto, Ontario

Point of Shame
I came away from Mark Czarnecki’s “Telling All” (September) with mixed feelings. I believe that men are still born into more power than women in our society, but that responding to this unearned privilege with shame causes men to waste their time and energy concocting complicated denials or becoming twisted up in self-aggression.

Using privilege to face down discrimination is a much more straightforward response. I think that this is why a commitment to public service and social justice has been among the qualities attributed to great men throughout history.

Shame about male privilege actually keeps us from engaging with it in any useful manner.

Caleb Toombs
Vancouver, British Columbia

I was with Mark Czarnecki until he wrote that he identifies with the rapist. I have a bit of advice for him: when you feel this way, be ashamed. As a man, I have no trouble divorcing myself from the rapist. Entirely. Just as I cannot imagine what it’s like to be the commander of a Leopard 2 tank or a quarterback for the Montreal Alouettes, even though these are typically male occupations. Shame can serve a useful purpose, and I cannot think of a better example of this than Czarnecki’s admission.

It surprised me that someone who drops the names of famous feminists would make the indefensible mistake of equating rape to fucking. Surely he knows that rape is an act of violence against the victim and that it is meant to humiliate. It has next to nothing to do with sex.

John Mundie
Ottawa, Ontario


Bring the Noise

In “Breaking D-Wave” (September), Alex Hutchinson expresses surprise at the “cursory coverage” that D-Wave’s announcement of “the world’s first viable quantum computer” received in the press. I think I can explain what happened: those reporters who bothered to contact quantum-computing experts quickly found out there’s no evidence that whatever D-Wave built should be considered a quantum computer.

It’s been understood for a decade that if quantum bits (or qubits) are sufficiently noisy then they behave essentially like classical bits. This is why serious quantum-computing research focuses so heavily on reducing noise. It’s also why, as long as D-Wave refuses to provide details about its noise rates, scientists will continue to class it with the thousands of other companies that claim to have achieved some technological breakthrough but can’t produce any evidence. Obviously, if D-Wave were solving problems that are beyond today’s computers, then it would have the liberty of brushing off skepticism — but when you haven’t computed anything that would tax a calculator watch, it’s fair to ask how you’re getting the answers.

Scott Aaronson
Department of Electrical Engineering and Computer Science
mit
Cambridge, Massachusetts

More Shame
The picture of the Israeli-shelled ambulances in Rita Leistner’s “War Stories,” along with Martin Patriquin’s account of the decimated Canadian-Lebanese family in “Paradise Lost” (September) encapsulate what is surely one of the most shameful episodes in modern Canadian history. While hundreds of Lebanese civilians and nine Canadians were being blown apart by Israeli bombs, Ottawa was effectively cheering Israel on with its failure to support the immediate ceasefire that the Lebanese government was pleading for. Even when Israel killed a Canadian peacekeeper and three others in an attack on a clearly identified United Nations post, not a peep of protest was heard from this government. To his everlasting disgrace, Prime Minister Harper seemed to be more concerned with not upsetting Israel’s supporters here than in trying to save Canadians abroad.

John Dirlik
Pointe Claire, Quebec

The Writing on the Wall
Jon Evans (“Apocalypse Soon,” September) is justified in lacking confidence that today’s publishers will successfully face the challenge posed by the Internet and non-paper books. After all, these are by and large the same folks who cannot conceive of a bestselling book without a celebrity’s name attached to it and who are responsible for the pulp-and-paper tsunami of 450,000 new English-language titles published each year. I welcome the fact that devices like the Sony Reader will make it easy to read electronically issued novels and ephemeral non-fiction. Meanwhile, the future looks bright for scrupulously researched, indexed, and footnoted biographies as well as popular histories. Such content-reliable books are highly searchable on the Internet, and they will endure in cyberspace for years to come.

Nevertheless, Evans is rightfully concerned about vanishing intellectual property rights. Books, he says, will go the way of pirated music. He wistfully suggests that readers will find a way to reward authors. I hope he is right. But it is ironic that search-engine entrepreneurs today are saving money by outsourcing the scanning of tens of thousands of books to workers in China, the world’s home of intellectual property thievery.

John Fry
Katonah, New York

Sight Line
In “Dog Days and Fall Fun” (September), Ken Alexander issues a scornful challenge to the Prime Minister: “If you cannot release the hounds, Mr. Harper, at least give us a glimpse of your purebreds . . . and then let’s have an election.”

Alexander must know that Bill C-16, establishing fixed election dates, received royal assent on May 3, 2007, and that in the absence of action by the opposition parties, the next federal election is set for Monday, October 19, 2009. Wouldn’t it be more honest, given that Harper has a minority of seats in the House of Commons, to direct any call for an election to Dion, Layton, and Duceppe?

Richard Payne
Mississauga, Ontario