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GP 19 April 2006: Resurrections

Easter and Spring.  With Easter and Spring upon us, we can once again feeling the Earth coming back to life.  Resurrection, the raising up from the dead, is a powerful concept animating many religions.  Now, more and more, the doctors are bringing back to life people that seem to have passed well beyond the pale, such that resurrection is becoming more than a religious idea and almost a natural, commonplace event.  Still miraculous, however, are the institutions and people who have come back onto the stage, cats with nine lives.  These days we are running into more and more exceptional stalwarts who have been granted more than one life. 

The Patriot Lawrence Wilkerson, a retired Army Colonel, has enjoyed a little bit of notoriety for the last year.  A career officer, he had served in many capacities, to include stints with the Navy and the Marines, until his retirement, and then went on to become chief of staff to Colin Powell at the State Department.  But this ultimate servant has had a severe falling out with his masters in government, turning on the Cheney-Rumsfeld armchair axis that got us into Iraq and that has mismanaged that adventure at every turn.   What distinguishes him from the raft of generals who are now railing against the administration is that he spoke up earlier and more trenchantly, making clear that ideologues at the top are very poor managers of soldiers and nations, because they suffer from an undue love affair with their own thinking.  Wilkerson comes from a military family—a family of patriots—the very sort who are loyalists until they feel betrayed, and then turn to scorching opposition.  Twice retired, he is now a teacher at George Washington University, who looks the same but is clearly a far different man.  No obituary writer will now ever accuse him of being a careerist. 

Neither the generals nor Wilkerson are as introspective as they should be, however, about military doctrine.  We still are fighting the last war or maybe the war before that.  Rumsfeld, incidentally, has been trying to remake the military, but basically his idea has been to create a more agile fighter of setpiece wars, the wars that are no more.  In this, he is simply taking the part of Uncle Toby from Tristram Shandy, a hobbyist at war games. This will no longer do.  

In more and more trouble spots across the globe we are going to be fighting guerillas who melt into the landscape and are rooted in no one nation.  As several commentators have mentioned, we need to learn a few lessons from the British as led by Sir Gerard Templar, who played the game rather differently against insurrectionists in Malaya and beat them to a standstill.  Fighting international guerillas is akin to fighting a virus: the rules are entirely different, and they make big bang armies look impotent. 

Wide-eyed Grandfather.  When we have counseled Canadian companies, we have had to remember that they exist in a fishbowl, a fact of life that must figure in every strategic initiative.  Canada is the smallest big nation on earth.  As we said in “Canada’s Shrinkwrap Canadians,” this is a country with a huge landmass occupied by very few people.  We like to say in the States that we are six people away from the President or any other high potentate; in Canada, you can divide that figure by 3.  When you go to Toronto, everybody knows everybody. 

Last week we received a marvelous letter from Douglas Baldwin, a marvelous not really retired Canadian chief executive and engineer who has become an even bigger fish in a much larger pond.  He is reincarnated now as a world adventurer and gives us here his report from Dubai, to which we would be giving more attention if we were not mired down in all the hellholes of the Middle East.  In Dubai, he has discovered a nation that is bursting at its seams with construction activity: 

I am a semi-retired 66 year old Canadian businessman whose main purpose in life now, is to send my six grandchildren postcards from as many countries as possible.  It’s an incredibly interesting, but slightly expensive, mission.  My wife Angie (a nurse by profession) comes along to look after me in my dotage and to make sure that we always exceed the airline baggage weight limit on our return home.  She does a splendid job on both counts! 

On our last trip we visited China (Hong Kong), Thailand, Malaysia, Singapore, Sri Lanka, India, UAE and Oman.  We sailed from Mumbai India and the incredible poverty of some of that intriguing city’s residents, directly to the extraordinarily wealth of Dubai.  The difference was almost overwhelming and could be summarized in three letters: OIL. 

We just got back last week from spending 5 days in Dubai.  It’s utterly fantastic.  The amount of new construction is overwhelming.  Mind you they now have a horrendous traffic problem which is getting worse by the day.  There are about 1.5 million folks living there and it will double in the next few years.  About 80% are ex-pats and “guest workers” from countries like Pakistan, India, Philippines, Sri Lanka, plus quite a few Brits and Americans.  Dubai is one of 7 Emirates making up the country called United Arab Emirates (UAE).  It is bordered by Saudi Arabia, Oman and across the narrow Strait of Hormuz, by Iran. 

The gigantic indoor ski slope is now operational (at the Emirates Mall) and is amazing.  The Burj Al Arab 7-star “Sail” hotel built on its own artificial island, is awesome and over 1000 feet tall.  It costs about $180 US for afternoon tea for two.  We inquired about staying there and were quoted a special price of $8,000 for three nights. 

The three Palm Island developments are amazing, too.  The first is soon to be completed and both the first two are already sold out.  The third and largest (almost twice the size of the other two), called Palm Deira, is now underway too.  All together the 3 three developments are slated to house up to a million people.  We stayed At the Ritz-Carlton Resort on Jumeirah beach, which is next to the first of the Palm developments.  The sand and Arabean Sea were pristine.  I’ve never swam in such clean warm water (about 85 F) and where else in the world, whilst sitting on a beach lounger sipping a libation and contemplating your navel, will you see two camels wander by at the water’s edge?

They are building Burj Dubai, the world’s largest shopping mall which will dwarf the “Mall of the Americas.”  The centerpiece 160 story tower is about half built and will be 705 meters tall when completed with the ability to add another 100 meters should anybody be so stupid as to challenge them for the world’s tallest building. 

Construction everywhere goes on 24 hours per day 7 days a week.  It is relentless and almost obscene. 

The shopping is incredible but not cheap.  In the famous Gold Souk there must be at least 200 gold jewelry stores side by each all vying for your business. 

Yet if you drive a few miles outside Dubai it’s nothing but hot hostile desert.  As we drove 120 km to the next country, Oman, it didn’t take long to come across Arabia as it used to be before oil and prosperity.  We visited a camel market in the desert where Bedouins were trading camels and lots of them.  The good looking ones (camels that is) fetched about $3,000.   It was amazing to see how Bedouins used to live and trade. 

The arabs (called “nationals” or Emiratee) rule and the laws are strict.  In the next emirate if you are caught with booze you go to jail.  You can drink and buy drinks in Dubai but you can only buy booze from a few government stores that also sell pork, which is unavailable anywhere else.  Purchases of booze and pork are restricted to a percentage of your income.  I read in the local paper about a Canadian pilot who was given a short prison sentence and then to be deported for—get this—giving the finger in a moment of road rage to a Dubai traffic cop (a national).  I also read that a UN soldier passing through Dubai on his way home from Afghanistan, got drunk and made aggressive sexual overtures to a female Egyptian security guard.  He was sentenced to 40 lashes, 3 months in jail and then immediate deportation.  He was also given the option of another 40 lashes instead of the 3 months in jail, which he took.  Also a man and woman, both Filipinos, were jailed and to then be deported for an illicit relationship resulting in a love child.  On this basis a surprising percentage of Canadians could be serving time right now. 

We spent several days in the old part of the city next to the “Dubai Creek” and traveled regularly across the creek by rickety local ferries for about 50 cents each per trip.  It was great to visit the old forts and sheik palaces as well as all the old Souks (open air markets).  So many unique images.  One for example and while waiting for Angie (who seemed determined to closely inspect every merchant’s stall in the “Old Souk”) was noticing a “national” dressed in his long immaculately clean and very white robe complete with white headdress and the customary 2 black rings pinning it on his head, emerge from the souk with 2 playful young daughters holding his hands then dutifully followed in procession about 10 feet behind by 3 wives all dressed in black full length robes and burkas, which covered everything except their eyes.  The man must have been at least 60 but obviously very wealthy.  Apparently, you can tell an arab’s wealth by the number of wives, racing camels and Rolls Royces he has.  On their wealth scale I think I rate one wife, a three legged camel and a bicycle! 

It’s one of the very few places we have visited in the world where we felt completely safe at all times.  There’s virtually no crime and especially against tourists.  Tough Laws, Islamic based sentences and the threat of deportation, obviously works. 

Dubai is a must to visit, it’s like California on steroids. 

Life is good and retirement is great. 

Change Artists.  With the coming of 2000, everything seems to have changed in the universe, but people everywhere seem to want to travel backwards to some distant past when time stood still.  Perhaps we need a few old tigers, transformed by resurrection, who will help us see the world in new ways and prod us to get on with it! 

P.S.  To view the immense projects underway in Dubai, see Break of Information Overload.  To grasp the scope of Dubai’s ambition, read “Boom Town.”   The Global Province has numerous entries on Dubai including “Just A Crapshoot.” 

P.P.S.  Gerald Gawalt, a curator at the Library of Congress, is out with a charming volume called My Dear President: Letters between Presidents and their Wives.  Clearly a favorite of his is a note from Teddy Roosevelt to his wife, written from the hospital after an assassin put a bullet in him.  Teddy avows it is nothing serious and, never missing a beat, promises to go on with his hell-bent schedule.  Despite the bullet in him, Roosevelt had already given his address in Milwaukee where he said, “I am all right—I am a little sore.  Anybody has a right to be sore with a bullet in him.  You would find that if I was in battle now I would be leading my men just the same.  Just the same way I am going to make this speech.”  Roosevelt had more lives than any of predecessors and all the presidents that followed.

P.P.P.S.  Soldiers in pursuit of international freedom don’t always destroy the national treasury of the nation’s youth in that pursuit.  General Bem, a hero to the Poles and the Hungarians, got an awful lot done for freedom in 1848, with very few resources.

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