Monday, November 19, 2007

Free Rice

Hah! You think you have a decent vocabulary?

Think again and meet the addictive challenge that is Free Rice.

Well done the WFP.

P.S. I've reached 50 but keep getting thrown by the Yiddish words. On most of 'em, I got bubkes.

Sunday, November 11, 2007

Rememberance Sunday

Today, I will be singing a brand new Requiem, the Requiem Bruxellensis, which has been written by a retired colleague of mine, Hywel Duck. I've never sung a brand new piece of music before, and it's very strange not to be able to listen to a recording. However, as of today you will be able to hear this beautiful, triumphant Requiem for organ, trumpets, oboe, baritone solo and choir, because we're recording it. More details as and when.

The relative I wish particularly to feature in today's post is Jean-Hughes Oltramare, my great-grandfather. Jean-Hughes was Swiss and had served in the Swiss artillery during WW1, but during the Second World War he and his French wife and two British-born daughters lived in Ruislip, north of London. He did his bit the only way he would have been allowed to, by joining the Air Raid Wardens. Sadly during the darkest part of the war it was felt that foreigners were not to be trusted, and he was interned from 1940 to 1943. It is a mark of the man that his certificate from the Air Raid Wardens shows that upon his release in 1943 he resumed ARW duty immediately and served until the war ended. This is a famous family photo of him in his ARW kit. We love the jut of his jaw.

I would also like to remember my grandfather, Merchant Navy captain torpedoed twice during WW2, and my great-uncle, whose exceptional merits are amply documented elsewhere, with their photos below.

Men of duty, quality and grit. Their greatest legacy to us is their example.

Friday, November 9, 2007

Dinner recommendations

Tonight I will be eating my dinner here. I have not been to the Ateliers de la Grande Ile for a good five years, but the last time I went there was live music from a Russian band, including a piano-type structure whose grouped strings the musician hits with two long-handled small metal hammers. The menu used to feature koulibiaki and suckling pig and various virulent flavoured vodkas such as chilli and pepper.

I shall try hard to follow the recommendations of the Russian food pyramid, as reproduced below. Particularly with regard to lard.

Monday, November 5, 2007

The "Darfuri orphans" scandal

There's a lot of sad fallout from this nasty little story about inappropriate actions by a French NGO, L'Arche de Zoé or Zoe's Ark. L'Arche de Zoé have been running an "Operation Darfour", allegedly to evacuate orphans from the war-torn region of the Sudan, to "host families" in Europe who would then fight their asylum claims for them. This is already borderline - their decision to undertake the activity they did placed them on the very edge of IHL - international humanitarian law. (They quote a bunch of legal bases on their website - it's a pity it doesn't include some of the Geneva Convention provisions).

A swoop last week by the Tchadian authorities found that they were shipping out Tchadian kids instead, without their parents' permission. When this scandal broke, we at work were immediately struck by the UN's failure to protest, by the silence of the Red Crosses and other NGOs, by the tenor of the French government's reaction. It was a clear sign that something had gone badly wrong and we were all very glad that it is not one of the NGOs we fund, although I am sure there will be corresponding political fallout.

But there are other victims of this story than the kids themselves. My heart goes out, for instance, to all the parents. First of all the parents in Tchad who were apparently told their kids would be taken to a boarding school at a town nearby in Tchad and educated. They've been sorely betrayed and are not likely to trust another Western NGO, and that's a crying shame. At the other end of the story, there are couples in Europe, the USA and Canada, possibly childless, hoping to become foster parents, ready to fight for an asylum claim for the child they'd welcome into their home. They've possibly unwittingly funded part of this shameful operation as part of a "fostering" fee, and their hopes of fostering have been, at least temporarily, dashed. I feel horribly sorry for them too.

I also feel very sorry for other NGOs working in the fraught field of rescuing children from conflict. Their work has been made no easier by this event and they'll be eyed with suspicion by third world governments for a long time to come. I feel sorry for all the kids and parents they'll not be able to help because of the mistrust this will have caused.

L'Arche de Zoé were set up during the tsunami. The end of funding of that initial crisis probably led them, like many NGOs that found themselves a bit spare at the end of the Balkans crisis, to look for activities elsewhere. If you are a small NGO, and you've had a period of success with an initial mission, you have to consider whether you want to really put in the policy and legal work you are going to need to be able to do your good work within IHL and in coordination with other agencies, or whether it would be a good idea to wind up your activities and call it a day.

It would have been better for all concerned if L'Arche de Zoé had had the sense to call it a day.