Spence Green

التكرار يعلم الحمار

I work at Lilt. In addition to computers and languages, my interests include travel, running, and scuba diving. more...

Archive for the ‘UAE’ Category

Weekly Post

with 3 comments

Well, I haven’t attended to this site with much regularity over the past month, have I? I arrived on Jan. 3 after a much needed rest at home. My intent was to rest on Wednesday and Thursday and then run the Dubai Marathon on the Friday, the 6th. I awoke Wednesday morning with no trace of jet lag, much to my delight. Upon inspection, my refrigerator yielded two eggs, a half-stick of butter, and some jelly that sported a new hairdo. After a short run, I thus drove to the market for some rations. As I pulled into the lot, all of the radio stations suddenly switched to the Quran channel. Such is never an idle indication in this region. My training partner called a few minutes later with news that Shaikh Maktoum, the Dubai ruler, had died of a heart attack. The marathon was postponed, work cancelled, and the country forced into forty days of mourning. My initial thought was to buy kerosene and guns, but then I thought better of it.

These guys tend to “die” just near major Islamic holidays like Ramadan and Eid. This fellow passed on just a few days before Eid Al Adha, the short respite just after Hajj. Rumor has it he royal family keeps dead shaikhs on ice for just these occassions. Shaikh Zayed, for example, the first UAE ruler, supposedly died six weeks before the announcement, which coincided with the conclusion of Ramadan. Now the Umm Al Quiwain (another of the seven emirates) has contracted some illness with nine months to go before Ramadan. This situation might require a strategic response, such as a Cryonics facility. Ted Williams’ family could provide some references.

The newspapers carried thousands of advertisements related to Maktoum’s death over the ensuing weeks, all of identical form and content. On one particular day, I counted 54 pages of them in the Gulf News. All media outlets carried eulogies, which referred to his “sad demise.” I found this translation quite amusing, for demise seems appropriate only when referring to the fall of Rome or Macaulay Culkin’s career, for example. At any rate, things had just returned to normal a few weeks ago when Shaikh Jaber died in Kuwait. The imams again had the whole radio spectrum as their collective mouthpiece, though the government did not mandate any federal holidays.


Last week a sandstorm blew over the base. I went outside around noon and made about 50 feet of progress before retiring. Small dunes had formed at the door; visibility was about twenty feet. The sand does not hurt the skin or eyes, but is quite an annoyance, much like a swarm of gnats. Further, I did not have a rag for my mouth, so I inhaled a pound of the stuff before I could get back inside. I weezed like an emphysema patient for the remainder of the afternoon. Several hours later, the wind had abated and I went out to my car. The afternoon light reflected off the sand in the atmosphere, creating this startling ambient luminance quite unlike anything I had ever seen. The shadows seemed to retreated, as if terrified by the prospect of a superior force. The sun itself seemed amplified; I kept my head lowered as I trudged to the car.


Yesterday I attended the opening round of the Abu Dhabi Golf Championship. We arrived around noon when many of prominent players–Colin Montgomerie, Sergio Garcia, John Daly–were just finishing. After walking around the course for an hour, we caught up with a fine threesome on the sixth hole: Chris DiMarco, Thomas Bjorn, and David Howell. We followed this group the remainder of the afternoon. I had never attended a golf tournament. It’s a pensive affair, isn’t it? At times it was more placid than the library. I’ve posted some pictures; the compound seems reminiscent of South Florida. Notice the clubhouse: it was built in the shape of a falcon, the national symbol of this country.

I’m off to the beach.

Written by Spence

January 20th, 2006 at 9:38 am

Posted in UAE

Church and State, Part II

with 16 comments

Hamilton first argues against the popular theory–originating in Montesquieu–that the colonies’ size precludes effective republican government. In lesser known writings, Montesquieu had promoted the “confederate republic” as an effective remedy to this defect. Municipalities and states cede certain powers while retaining the authority to nominate legislative and judicial representatives. Thus local governments secure a measure of sovereignty while acquiring ownership in the national “assemblage of societies.” Particular manifestations differ only in the degree of federalism, which remains a matter of discretion. Distinctions between the Union and Montesquieu’s grand society appear “more subtle than accurate.”

In No. 10, Madison continues the same disquisition, analyzing the efficacy of such a system in a liberal society. “Among the numerous advantages promised by a well-constructed union” he begins, “none deserves to be more accurately developed than its tendency to break and control the violence of faction.” He describes a faction as follows:

A number of citizens, whether amounting to a majority or a minority of the whole, who are united and actuated by some common impulse of passion…adverse to the rights of other citizens, or to the permanent and aggregate interests of the community.

Madison defines such a group in the negative, but for the purposes of my inquiry this distinction need not apply.

Factions appear because of the diversity of human faculties. Different creeds, preferences, and tendencies form an ideological brew that can become volatile, impeding the operation of civil society. Governments may prosecute two strategies to winnow the more subversive strains. First, they can remove the liberty that is “essential to its [faction’s] existence.” Madison immediately concludes that this solution is worse than the disease. Second, the authorities may enforce a homogeneous set of opinions, passions, and interests. This primitive yet effective approach has appealed to many tyrants. Mao’s cultural crusade during the 1960s comes to mind as a dramatic example. Neither strategy appeals to an enlightened electorate.

One idea predominates the new system: “The protection of the faculties is the first object of government.” A third, more difficult, solution thus exists to the problem of faction: the regulation of competing interests. Since a government cannot remove–nor should it–the causes of faction, “relief is only to be sought in the means of controlling its effects.” The Constitution’s authors considered several systems before arriving at a tenable solution.

Pure democracies have several fatal flaws, most obviously an inability to scale. Also, a majority tends to seize and consolidate power in a pure democracy. The U.S. government’s mechanisms for coping with such a tendency were apparent most recently in the 2000 election. A republican government can emasculate rogue movements through objective means, for “the influence of factious leaders may kindle a flame within their particular states but will be unable to spread a general conflagration through the other states.” Indeed, the infant government quelled both the Shays’ and Whiskey Rebellions before those provincial “conflagrations” infected other communities.

Hamilton and Madison, although later violently disagreeing on the degree of federalism necessary to maintain order, insisted upon liberty as a precondition for prosperity and harmony. This protracted examination is not meant as a Anglo-centric panegyric. Instead, it demonstrates the merits of a redundant system that arbitrates in a relatively decentralized way between competing interests. Consider the critical academic review process as another example. A cursory examination of this system reveals important similarities, although I will not do the manifold intellectual labor here to qualify such a comparison. The journal/review cycle quickly discards misbegotton theories before they propogate. The transparency inherent in such a system, though, hastens the spread of fruitful ideas.

We thus see that in general, liberty is a healthy thing. I further submit that if America’s–and later the West’s–central idea is liberty, then the Middle East’s is Islam (insofar as we can make such a broad statement). At issue is the specific character of such an ideological–I use that term out for convenience, not precision–hegemony and its consequences. Why do Muslim countries almost uniformly regulate the press (Al Jazeera serving as the notable exception)? Why do they still require radio stations to play REO Speedwagon and Styx? Why are fair general elections still such an exotic species? My next piece will examine the political character of Islam and its local effects.

Written by Spence

November 25th, 2005 at 9:59 am

Posted in UAE

Weekly Post

with 1,210 comments

Not much news to report this week. I ran an awful half-marathon Friday morning; thankfully I still have a few weeks before Dubai.

Bradford made some excellent comments in a recent email:

As of now (your Nov 3 post) your deepest shared observations have been about your experience in a new place, but that new place is undefined. Like any analytical problem solver, you have reduced UAE to the lowest common denominator of a foreign environment in order to discuss the psychology of being there. When you are comfortable with those adjustments, allow yourself to move quickly to asking how the specific nature of this Arabian experience will affect you, not as a foreign place for conversation fodder, but as a specific place where you are immersed.

In response, I’ve started a short piece about the intersection between Islam and politics. Certainly shelves upon shelves in the library contain critical work on this subject. Instead, I intend to write from a local perspective. My observations will come from conversations, the newspapers, and the general nature of my daily life here. Hopefully I can find a balance between my Western education and the Arab perspective. I thought of waiting to post the entire thing, but I’d like some commentary as I go along.

The Economist has printed a related article this week.

Written by Spence

November 20th, 2005 at 12:01 pm

Posted in UAE