Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Postings from Pretoria #22

28 October 2009

Hello there... Rodger French here.

Photo Update Alert:


Big day today. I wrapped up my current stint in the Embassy Mail Room and can now look forward to three whole weeks of cooking, chauffeuring, and generally providing concierge services for A.J. and our guests visiting from the USA and Australia. And, since we have some big-time travel coming up, I thought I’d quickly catch you up on life of late here in scenic South Africa. In no particular order:

Anne and I took a trip to the Pretoria Zoo. Not bad, as zoos go, and includes the largest walk-through aviary in Africa. Sadly, some very large raptors are housed in very small cages and that is very depressing. The reptile house is, however, way cool. There are some serious snakes in this country.

We also joined 16 other Embassy expats on a bus tour of Pretoria (sister city to Bethlehem and Teheran, among others), including stops at the Voortrekker Monument, Church Square, and the Union Buildings. Ja, all the Afrikaner highlights, replete with statuary. It was a pleasant way to spend a Saturday morning and our guide (Johann) imparted many interesting, if occasionally biased, factoids. This country has such a rich and troubled past, and is no more a “post-racial society” than is the United States. And, like the U.S., ZA continually struggles against an appalling history of and predilection for violence.

Case in point… there was a shootout at Menlyn Mall, Pretoria’s largest and most upscale shopping center. A gang of 8-12 bandits armed with AK-47s hit a bank and jewelry store, exchanging gunfire with police. No one was seriously injured, thanks be, and most of the thieves and the loot have been recovered. This kind of armed robbery happens frequently in South Africa and it is quite common to read/hear news of pitched battles between the cops and criminal gangs, often resulting in multiple deaths. With the 2010 World Cup - and half a million futbol fans - coming, the authorities are cracking down (which is itself a dubious proposition); but the country is overrun with guns and young, unemployed men. And that is a nasty combination.

On a more hopeful note… spring has arrived with considerable authority. The purple jacarandas are still in bloom (though, sadly, not for much longer) and the place is lousy with roses of every imaginable colour. The weather is predictably perfect, although the rainy season - meaning evening thunderstorms of Old Testament intensity - has come, necessitating the unplugging of computers, modems, TVs, and anything else one cannot afford to have fried by lightning. It’s the ultimate surge protection, though it does make a dent in online activity.

Speaking of the Internet, there’s yet another push among American politicians who have been bought off by the major telecoms to do away with “Net Neutrality.” Habitual readers know that I try not to get (too) political when posting, my personal pinko politics being not really germane to these missives. This is, however, an important issue for all of us.

If you believe that corporations have your best interests at heart as they attempt to establish tiers of service for the Internet, well, to each his/her own delusions. But if you favor the democratic (small “d”) notion that the Internet should continue to treat all comers equally rather than favor the rich, it’s time to do something to assure that. I have suggestions.

Next up: Victoria Falls and Chobe National Park. Big-time tourism, indeed. Onward.


Sunday, October 11, 2009

Postings from Pretoria #21

11 October 2009

Hello there... Rodger French here.

The totally unexpected announcement that the 2009 Nobel Peace Prize has been awarded to President Obama has generated modrate buzz around the Mission. No one saw this coming (personally, I was pulling for Morgan Tsvangirai, Prime Minister of Zimbabwe), but what the heck. It’s not the first time the Nobelians have acknowledged aspirations instead of long-term accomplishments as overarching criteria for this recognition.

Since we expats are somewhat shielded from the silly musings, ravings, and general wankery of American talk radio and television news, a certain civilized discourse prevails as we pause to ponder such weighty questions as: Does Obama deserve it? (In my opinion, no - not that the Norwegians give a damn.) Should Americans take pride in it? (But of course - even the French think this is cool.) Most importantly, will it make any positive difference in people’s lives? (I do not know - perhaps we should ask the Afghans.) That said, let’s pick up on some representative quotes.

Norwegian Nobel Committee: “…extraordinary efforts to strengthen international diplomacy and cooperation between peoples.”

President Barack Hussein Obama: “To be honest, I do not feel that I deserve to be in the company of so many of the transformative figures who've been honored by this prize — men and women who've inspired me and inspired the entire world through their courageous pursuit of peace.”

Senator John McCain (R-AZ): "I think all of us were surprised at the decision, but I think Americans are always pleased when their president is recognized by something on this order."

Governor Tim Pawlenty (R-MN): “I know there will be some people who are saying ‘Was it based on good intentions and thoughts or is it going to be based on good results?’ But I think the appropriate response is when anybody wins a Nobel Prize that is a very noteworthy development and designation and I think the appropriate response is to say ‘Congratulations.’”

Rachel Maddow, MSNBC: “The American president just won the Nobel Peace Prize. By any reasonable measure, all Americans should be proud.”

Michael Moore: "Congratulations President Obama on the Nobel Peace Prize -- Now Please Earn it!"

Archbishop Desmond Tutu, 1984 Peace Prize winner: "In a way, it's an award coming near the beginning of the first term of office of a relatively young president that anticipates an even greater contribution towards making our world a safer place for all. It is an award that speaks to the promise of President Obama's message of hope."

Eugene Rogan, Director of the Middle East Center at Oxford University: "The award is premature; he hasn't done anything yet. But he's made clear from the start of his presidency his commitment to promote peace. No doubt the Nobel committee hopes the award will enhance his moral authority to advance the cause of peace while he's still president."

Spencer Ackermann, firedoglake: “The issue is not Barack Obama. It’s what the president represents internationally: a symbol of an America that is willing, once again, to drive the international system forward, together, toward the humane positive-sum goals of peace and disarmament.”

BarbinMD, Daily Kos (on “widening the partisan divide”): “The President's opponents compare him to Hitler, accuse him of setting up ‘death panels,’ of being the anti-Christ, or whatever other batshit crazy thing the lunatic of the day comes up with, while the Republican Party has been obstructing anything and everything he wants to do, but now that Obama has won the Nobel Peace Prize things might get ugly? Compared to what?"

And, as a sometime employee of the State Department, my personal favourite…

P.J. Crowley, Assistant Secretary of State: "Certainly from our standpoint, this gives us a sense of momentum -- when the United States has accolades tossed its way, rather than shoes.”

[Fun Fact: Four South Africans have been awarded the Nobel Peace Prize: Albert Luthuli (1960), Desmond Tutu (1984), F.W. de Klerk (1993), and Nelson Mandela (1993).]

Peace. Onward.


Monday, October 5, 2009

Postings from Pretoria #20

04 October 2009

Hello there... Rodger French here.

Photo Update Alert:

"Cape Town/Simon’s Town"

This is, without a doubt, the most trying posting for me so far; not that there aren't adventures to relate and news to disseminate, and certainly not out of disregard for kindly readers who might still inexplicably be interested in expatriate quotidian-ness. No, it's simply that unforeseen happenstances have lately rendered my usual routines, how do you say, dans la toilette.

Anne and I recently spent three days in Cape Town followed by three day in Simon's Town, HQ of the South African Navy. We took photoz of dog statues (“Just Nuisance” – you should google it), toured museums, and drove to Cape Point and the Cape of Good Hope. We viewed stunning coastal scenery, visited a colony of African penguins, and consumed copious quantities of seafood at eateries posh, and not. Mostly, we marveled at our great, good fortune to be privileged to spend quality time in one of the most beautiful places on the planet. If I could live anywhere in the world, I might choose Cape Town.

Then we returned to Pretoria. Where to begin…

For starters, I got slapped upside the head with a vicious “mal a shnoz” that lasted two weeks. I normally don’t succumb to these seasonal maladies, but every plant in South Africa bloomed feverishly overnight and my luck finally ran out. But then it gets worse…

I lost my computer for three weeks due to a hard drive crash suffered while trying to update the operating system. Fortunately, I had backed up all my files and still had my previous laptop to get me through. Reconstituting my music, photoz, and email database has been a major undertaking, and I sincerely appreciate your messages of sympathy and support. As one dear chum put it: “Nothing more annoying than to have technology we remember not needing, no longer work for us.” But meanwhile…

I found myself working as the Office Management Specialist (OMS) in the Regional Security Office (RSO), just in time for a security threat against the Mission. You may have heard about it. The Embassy was closed for two days except for essential personnel (including the RSO OMS) and the investigation ongoes. Not to get all Secret Squirrel on you, but I really am not at liberty to say more, except that everyone here is OK and dealing with the situation in a very professional manner.

Now, if I were a cynical man, I might be tempted to believe that all this brouhaha was a sort of whimsical, divine punishment inflicted for taking too much pleasure in the beauty of creation and the joys of peri-peri calamari, a reminder that there is always a price to be paid... for everything. My pain-in-the-tuchus troubles, however, pale in comparison to the current tribulations borne by certain family members and friends, and the real human hardship in evidence here every single day. So… basta cosi.

I'll be moving to yet another Temp Pool assignment next week, my fifth so far. Rumor has it that I'll be filling the opening for Mailroom Supervisor, a vacancy that has existed, somewhat unbelievably, for over six months. I'm starting to feel like a Class AAA utility infielder.

In other exciting news, with less than a year left in South Africa, A.J. and I will be receiving our first visitors in a few weeks. Plans are afoot for an excursion to Victoria Falls (Zimbabwe) and Chobe National Park (Botswana). And rest assured, I intend to resume posting on a regular basis, Inshallah.

[Musical Note: I would like to remind those of you who have not yet purchased your copy of my latest solo accordion album "Main Squeeze Deux" that you still can… and probably should. For ordering information, please contact me at: Gotta pay for some South African geek support.]