Friday 31 March 2006

Lady Oddjob throws her hat in

Bag hits table with a thud
It is with incredulity that I announce that my best Dutch minister, Mrs Rita Verdonk of the Immigration and Integration ministry is considering becoming the leader of the VVD (Liberal Party).
The position of leader became vacant earlier this month with a resignation stemming from a slight loss of influence in local government after the elections in early March.
The collective sigh of relief that would have out-blown any American hurricane that accompanied Mrs Verdonk’s decision not to join the race was palpable almost to the extreme.
Now the sharp intake of breath at this new development might as well be the reason for the low atmospheric pressure that allows for the current rainy days.
If I have ever sung the praises of Mrs Verdonk it would be for the ingenuity of the ideas she floats that makes right-thinking people cringe and quake.
The possibility of her becoming party leader is sure, but that of her becoming the Prime Minister of the Netherlands would be a first for a lady, but could also spell disaster.
What other liberty, tolerance, empathy, kindness, accommodation and value of the Dutch would be decapitated at her ascension? I dare not countenance the possibilities.
We need inspired leaders
What we require for the Netherlands is not some right-wing firebrand bordering on a loose cannon that has be rein in her commentary every now and again.
More so, it appears with the gravitas and authority that is lacking from the current Prime Minister one can be tempted with anyone else just to have some sort of leadership.
For now, her policies and politics are divisive enough to lose her support in the general populace and she probably has had the most threats of censure from the parliament about conduct, activity, pronouncements and abuse of power.
However, for the same reason, one can see the Dutch doing the improbable to attain the incredible and resulting in regret.
It is time to watch and pray.
The Verdonk Blog Archive
Handbags at dawn February 2006
A new spitting cell September 2005
About Oddjob

Thursday 30 March 2006

Not in my local shop

A cure for nostalgia
It is always a pleasure to pass by the African shop run by an Igbo lady from Nigeria just at the entrance to the metro service at Amsterdam Central Station.
She stocks all the essential ingredients from Nigeria that I never really find that I am nostalgic about food stuffs that one can get from home.
However, for those who cannot find a shop to visit to feel the yams, smell the pepper or get stained with the red of palm oil there is an online outfit called NotInMyLocalShop.
Indeed, those things are not in my local shop which happens to be on the ground floor of my dock-side apartment. The last time I tried something called dasheens which are corms very much like our traditional cocoyam, the result was only fit for the bin.
If the bin were living, it might have regurgitated the stuff; well that is what bins are for, things you cannot stomach.
Healing the pain of sickles
In fact, the only thing she does not stock is Prickly Ash Bark (Orin ata in Yoruba), which is a savoury chewing stick which is supposed to have properties that help alleviate the pains and travails of sickle cell anaemia.
I remember that vividly because, I once was school mates with three kids who unfortunately all had sickle cell anaemia and when my mum found out about it, she recommended the prickly ash bark to them, it became like chewing gum for them, but the elder died whilst I think the others did thrive. I hope they are well now and probably in their late 30s.
Prickly ash bark is said to have quite a number of medicinal properties that I found myself asking for the stuff from Nigeria because I heard of an unusual case of a little white boy suffering from the sickle cell disease.
Well, I thought it was impossible or someone in his lineage might have been of a West African background for there to be a trait to be become obvious in him.
My friend swore to me that his parents and forebears were peasant folk that it is very unlikely that any might have gone for either the exotic of the Nubian. We learn strange things.
Who do you think you are?
I could take his word for it, but after watching a few episodes of “Who do you think you are?” programme on the BBC; where celebrities trace their genealogy going back up to 8 generations or more and learning of their ancestry; we can come from anywhere and sometimes the truth is just too hard to bear.
Beyond the condiments at the shop, I noticed that two other commodities raced off the shelves before they had time to gather the next morning’s dew; false hairs or hair extensions and skin-lightening creams.
Both of which seem to elicit some commentary whenever I get to the shop because it is one of those occasions that I get to speak Pidgin English – not the best because many a time, I have to switch to English to get a point across.
Skin-lightening creams illustrate a dichotomy of needs as Caucasians seek a tan and Africans seek a tone, no one seems to be satisfied with how they look. It is a mad world.
Disguises in the guise of the opposite sex
However, I could not help but observe as her son was unpacking the new deliveries of hair extensions how useful they would have been for Charles Taylor as he tried to escape from Nigeria at a border crossing to Cameroon.
That episode would still develop wings as it is possible that President Ellen Sirleaf-Johnson of Liberia was ambushed and blackmailed into making Charles Taylor a priority in her visit to the US.
How that really helps the Liberians fails to impress me, but it is not the first time that the US has made aid conditional on fulfilling self-interest.
I could imagine a disguise with hair extensions giving the effeminacy that let the ex-Nigerian Governor Alamieyeseigha escape justice in the UK but was lacking for Charles Taylor to leave Nigeria.
For once, it appears the Nigerians were a lot more vigilant than the British who were fooled by a big black man in drag who had just undergone a tummy-tuck in Germany.
Alas! We see a lot but observe very little.

Tuesday 28 March 2006

Awake! Oh frail man! Your people have called

Hope not extinguished
Just over 2 months ago, I did say that people are wont to writing the obituaries of great men long before their passing.
Mr. Ariel Sharon’s stroke came as a surprise in some cases along with the media feeding frenzy that almost rivalled the living wake-keeping of Pope John Paul II just around this time last year.
One obituary that was written and displayed so boldly was his political obituary, as analysts and protagonists suggested both him and his fledgling party were finished.
Well in a classic reversal of the machinations of man, what has been proposed has been disposed of.
A miraculous gestation
Mr. Sharon might still lay in coma in hospital in intensive care, but be assured, a man is not dead till he is dead indeed, Mr. Sharon is alive, maybe not well, but his ideas for Kadima embryonic as they might have been seems to have come to term a joyous delivery of Israel from the politics of the firebrand and those who feel they are more Jewish than their neighbours in Israel.
Security has always been the shelter of Jewish franchise, as they have mostly voted for those who would protect the nation of Israel from their occupied and chastised enemies.
We have come full circle; Israel has to seek ways of securing its borders as a nation with or without negotiation with the Palestinians.
The unwilling man of peace
In the process, Mr Sharon, the war general and erstwhile champion of the settlers who fought his old Likud party through a tidal wave of opposition to his decision to disengage from Gaza has single-mindedly won to himself the realisation that the security of Israel is in pragmatism and not hawkish rightwing pronouncements.
Mr Binyamin Netanyahu who once was a prime minister and the nemesis of Mr Sharon eventually took over the reins of Likud and is likely to rank fourth in the election spoils.
The earth is still moving
The political earthquake that had shaken the Middle-East from the death of Rafik Hariri; the withdrawal of Syria from Lebanon; the election of Hamas to Palestinian government; the departure of Sharon from the Likud Party; the birth of Kadima and now the coming of Kadima has had aftershocks which seem to measure as earth-shaking as the first movement of the earth.
A worthy lieutenant takes the mantle
Mr Ehud Olmert has been a good under-study, a worthy man to step into the shoes of Ariel Sharon and a humble man enough to work in the shadow of a comatose leader to bring to fruition the plans that hardly a few months looked like a one-man idea suddenly gone absent without leave.
My hearty congratulations go to Kadima, Mr Sharon, Mr Olmert and the people of Israel who have come into political maturity.
The political landscape of Israel has shifted to the centre from the right, just as the policies of the Labour party attracted more towards the centre too.
How they fare
This now is the outlook for Israel in terms of their policies.
Moving to the centre of Israeli politics
Source: The Economist - The polls as at the 24th of March 2006
In Jerusalem as time tells
As an aside, my blog provider located in the UK has rigidly banked on winter time as the clocks changed and advised me to adopt Jerusalem time to in order to adjust to the correct time in Amsterdam – time is on my side, by taking Jerusalem’s space in time (Eastern European - Athens, Helsinki, Jerusalem (or CEST)), I can however rejoice with the Israelis in this new dawn.
Call me pedantic, but the choices have deprecated Central European Summer Time for area names which are in the next time zone and so it follows for other time zones that handle daylight savings.
The Mayoress of our blog community has been accommodating of my histrionics and facetiousness. Hey! That's me, it just has to be right or it is wrong - we agreed to disagree - our compromise.
Not forgetting – Awake! Oh frail man
Not forgetting the so human situation that pervades our humanity, we wish Mr Sharon a restoration to health and well-being as we hail – Behold the man! Awake! Oh frail man! Your people have called.
Shalom Israel – The peace of Israel beckons.

How to move from working 9 to 5

Back to coffees at dawn
So, at 7:45 am on Monday morning a senior director of the recruitment/services firm that has just secured a contract on my behalf calls up to take me to my new assignment.
This is one of the few occasions where you see a Dutch executive quite well dressed and obviously well-to-do and knowing his onions about so many issues.
It is one of those situations where I get offered an assignment based on my reputation in terms of what I have done, who I have worked with or who I have mentored. No interviews, but the curriculum vitae and reputation does all the leg work.
I am beginning think there should be ways of quantifying ones stock in terms of reputation, reliability and professionalism as opposed to just having technical know-how and requisite abilities.
LinkedIn Networking
In the last 10 years, I have had the privilege of obtaining employment more through elements of networking than initial introductions; one should probably find ways of making those links work better.
So, I was quite enamoured when a friend invited me into his LinkedIn network and I found I was one of 2 consultants whilst others were directors or owners of their business.
Which just under 20 years of IT experience, I am beginning to wonder how I can make my knowledge work for me without having to be present to enforce the knowledge and do the 9-to-5 shuffle to put money in the bank.
This is the new quest along with finishing my MSc in IT and researching opportunities for doing a research degree in the Netherlands. More importantly, finding a way to change my income portfolio to a knowledge-based enterprise from a person/personnel based profile.
Build globally and change perspectives
Day One showed promise, there seems to be a lot I can bring to the table to help out, but then it only works if those I help appreciate the perspective I have of enterprise infrastructure.
I am an architect who designs with a good knowledge of the strength of materials, drawings should be confidently realisable just as infrastructure design should have manageability, usability and simplicity at the fore.
Support staff should have a dashboard of data that allows then go straight to solving the problem when called rather than spending the first 30 minutes construction the links before addressing the issues.
I am wont to saying that the battle for the reduction of cost and the effectiveness of service is at the desktop.
If you do not have that in hand through standardisation, business application streamlining and flexible management practices, your new implementation would grown in cost of support, personnel and management.
IT cost or asset
Then, Information Technology begins to look like a major cost not an integrated business asset and the bean-counters begin to look for ways to outsource all IT.
That is where Wall-Mart has come of age; their IT is completely integrated, nothing is outsourced. That is the challenge of many a CIO and not many have seen that it is about service and not the cost.

Sunday 26 March 2006

Fine headlines and rotten information

The News Junkie gets a fix
Nothing annoys me more than to read the news and find that it adds the suspense of some detail that never gets revealed. The reporters might be very seasoned journalists but if any topic is introduced, it should be properly covered.
When on holiday, I have to check news sources mainly from the BBC and the expatriate English news of the Netherlands. Sometimes I venture further afield with the World News and CNN, usually if what I have read has not provided much stimulation.
My best friend once called me a news junkie, maybe I am.
I am not planning to change the world, but I like to know what is happening because all sorts of information, news, events and detail have ways of impacting on you and not necessarily for profit.
I have also once commented that I do not really want to be the 'first to know', but then I want to know what could be relevant to my situation.
Nowadays, a situation halfway across the globe can have far reaching effects locally, like war, disaster, unsettled markets, imports and exports along with political issues.
If one cannot prevent at least one knows and can prepare for eventualities.
So, on BBC News, I surf the general location based stories, look at business, entertainment and then sport.
Sometimes there is a big caption that one can click on from the main page.
I usually follow, tennis, football generally, snooker and then events that are newsworthy.
Following the headline
So, I read on the homepage Racing: Dettori wins richest race, Yippee! I click on the link and I am given the title Electrocutionist takes Dubai Win - So, now we know the man, the name of the horse and it is in Dubai. Aha! I have seen adverts about the Dubai World Cup - Click!
I read through the whole copy, it is Dettori's second win, it was trained by Godophin, some other races had winners and all that trivia about six-legged races. Fine, the page has to contain something, reporting from Dubai does not come cheap.
Nowhere in all that copy do I find the prize. Come on! We've been told it is the richest race, that will excite anybody's curiosity - How much?
Then I clicked on the Dubai World Cup link on that page, and I tell you if it were in a horse race, it would have come home the next day - I did not get the information we were sold in the byline of the news we were presented with in the first place.
For now, I cannot be bothered to find out what the prize was, but you can understand, I am quite noticeably irked.

Getting cool on ICE

A train travel review
In many of my previous blogs I have both shouted out loud about being a Europhile and the joys of train travel.
Nothing spoils a good long journey like a rotten train steward who allows their prejudices and bigotry to get in the way of providing good service.
This compared to travel in the UK, I have had the pleasure of travelling on Eurostar; the English Channel international connection to France and Belgium from the UK, the Thalys which is the French high speed network and the ICE which is the InterCity Express service running in Germany.
Whilst the then Virgin trains served good food, the service and cost was a blatant rip-off, it cost a lot less to travel from London to Paris first class than it did to travel to Lancaster.
To add insult to injury, sometimes having paid the full price, anyone could upgrade for a mere 10 GBP to everyone's chagrin as we who paid up looked like mugs.
Service at my seat, I thought
The service in Germany has always been very good though only Thalys has introduced WiFi on trains, if it ever gets to work.
So, this lady steward goes round the train as a ticket conductor, checking tickets and offering a service at the seat for First Class travellers.
This goes by the way of asking if you wanted a drink or a snack from the bar.
It transpired that she checked my ticket and even had to spend more than 2 minutes with me to validate my ticket since I booked it online and printed it at home.
After checking my ticket she moved on to the next passenger, checked and then asked what she wanted and this was repeated for everyone else in my carriage.
After a few stops another group of people got on, she checked their tickets and then asked everyone as she passed by if they wanted anything else, your truly conspicuously ignored or unseen.
I did not bother, I went to the bar myself to get a coffee and the lady their served me coffee in a paper cup, well, when you travel first class you get served in bone china. I gently remonstrated and she mended her ways.
So, when this stewardess return for a third helping of customers, I accosted her and asked why I was being ignored and she replied in German which I do understand to some extend.
This however is the same lady who was making German and English announcements on the train about stops and connections. How convenient, I retorted.
Then she said I was asleep, when I must have been sleep-sitting when she checked my ticket. Lying through your teeth when you know you are wrong and then trying to carry it on. Oh! I find it utterly, utterly irksome.
The question is, how do you address such nonsense when your money is good enough for the ticket but your presence is not good enough for the service?
I would not stand for it
In common English parlance, I should be Pissed Off! But then when someone who in my bad year probably does not earn as much as I pay in taxes, it becomes a waste of good energy having to deal with it.
Normally, when one encounters behaviour that is subtly prejudiced, it can be ignored, but this was obvious from all reckoning and observation, I should not have to stand for it, Not in Europe, Not on a train and Not when I have paid for a basic entitlement and definitely, not from anyone talk less of a train conductor.

Saturday 25 March 2006

In the coop as coup sounds like coon so soon

Words on the radio
It is with interest that I read that an American radio talk show host has been sacked for using a racial slur in pressing a point about Dr Condolezza Rice’s qualifications for the presidency of the National Football League.
Whilst, one is saddened by the event, it still goes to show that somehow a general public acquiescence of racial harmony is not necessarily underpinned by a deep honesty of expression.
It appears the talk show host was trying to say coup and ended up saying coon twice.
Speaking your deepest thoughts involuntarily
One can be forgiven the situation that allows for things to come out of the mouth without thoughtful processing that weighs the context, tone, intent and delivery.
However, it is unlikely that one would in a setting like a talk show use words that have not had some deep-seated meditation or analysis for a the very first time.
Most involuntary activity comes from the cerebellum part of the brain where things are learnt, recorded and replayed effortlessly; it allows for reaction to betray intention even if what is said is different.
Having read the excerpt of what was said, it is definitely an ambiguity in context that coon and coup could so easily be juxtaposed.
"She's got the patent resume of somebody that has serious skill. She loves football. She's African-American, which would kind of be a big coon. A big coon,"
Politics of failure
It reminds me of student union days in Yaba College of Technology where I got my fingers seriously burnt and my life turned upside-down with the rotten game of getting pitched against the authorities.
In 1984, I with another good friend, of the Estate Management 1 constituency and I of the Electrical Engineering 2 constituency were probably the best political partnership in the history of student union politics in Yaba Tech.
We basically, wrote the agenda of events with the vested or troublesome interests we brought to the house, each time we walked in the speaker of the house wondered what the drama would be.
That was the time when a very populist student was elected president of the student’s union which eventually lead to riots and the closure of the polytechnic for months.
The lecturers then read some article criticising the polytechnic in the Nigerian Guardian and took it upon themselves to play detective, sometimes, I wonder about the megalomania and childishness of Nigerian lecturers.
I was even once asked if I had written the article, even if I did write it, would I have said I did.
The authorities constitute themselves into demigods answerable to no one and beholden to moneybags.
A doctored constitution
Anyway, when the student’s representative council convened the populist president offered to make copies of the constitution for all members.
I happened to have a copy of the constitution, but when his version came out, there were 47 major errors playing on words.
In one instance, an elected officer had to present himself, but it read resent himself – the subtlety of that missing P negated the intention of the constitution.
That was the only motion I failed to bring to fruition in my tenure, the motion to impeach for tampering with the constitution.
Many of us activists had the polytechnic pass through us but we did not pass out, in the end, that populist president committed suicide a few years after.
What would have been, if that change of words had been allowed the scrutiny that would have prevented greater trouble?
As for the coup of the coon, the talk show host did not end up in the coop; rather he was out of work so soon.
As usual controversial talk show hosts get snapped up by other inconsequential radio stations looking for increased ratings and notoriety. This is a country where race both makes sense and nonsense.

Friday 24 March 2006

A conversational weather forecast

I am no mute
It is said that the English talk a lot about the weather; I see no issue with that, we always find ways of making conversation.
Talking about the weather provides a common interest subject to launch a long conversation from, if the respondent to the initial comment is affable, amiable and disposed to the cantankerous raconteur that sometimes bedevils me.
I admit, I can make conversation about almost anything, you cannot travel on a train for nigh on 4 hours with the person sitting around you and you just being dumb all the time, when your lives could have been enriched no end by a simple conversation.
Years ago, being that precocious, if that is applicable adults yielded a most uncanny experience.
Drink to memories of linked history
A heterosexual Caucasian couple sat opposite me on the train from London Euston to Glasgow and I was to get off at Lancaster.
It transpired that she, the lady took a bottle of coca cola out of her bag and I commented about the fact that drinks on the train cost a fortune that the services company was given to unfair profiteering.
Well, it transpired that the couple lived in Ipswich, just when I was dying there – I insist, there is no way anyone can live in Ipswich – I died in Ipswich for 2 years.
They were getting off at Lancaster and going to Holton a village just north of Brook House another village on the outskirts of Lancaster city.
When I said, my parents were Nigerian; she said she was born in Nigeria, in fact she was born in Jos, in the then Benue-Plateau State – unfortunately, it now appears every fenced piece of land in Nigeria is now a state.
Well, we lived in Jos for 4 years in the early 70s, and being the same age, it transpired that we lived so close to each other and we went to the same primary school – Corona School, Shamrock House.
My cranial archive
My memory at times serves me too well as it also reveals information that many would have thought completely forgotten. I then remembered and surmised what her maiden name would be – correct!
Then, I remembered in late 1974 when I asked her father who is now of blessed memory one morning whilst walking to the bus stop on the way to school where she was.
I had not seen here for a few weeks, she had returned to the UK.
We should have maintained contact after that meeting, but it just goes to show how a chance comment can just be the unravelling of a life no less ordinary and eerily uncanny.
More talk no race.
The Dutch do talk about the weather too, in the summer if it arrives, it is too hot, and when it gets to winter many wish it gets cold enough for the lakes and waterways in Frieseland to the North of the country to freeze over solidly for the Eleven Cities Race (Elfstedentocht) do not bother twisting your on that, you might require corrective surgery.
The Elfstedentocht is a 200 kilometre speed-skating competition on the frozen ice which was last held in 1997, basically, we have not had the weather to stage the event again since there are regulation thicknesses required of the ice for the race safely has not been satisfied.
It is no wonder the Dutch are featured champions in international speed skating competitions, however, the lack of mountains in the Netherlands also signifies why they do not feature in skiing – flat for skates, hills for skis – it would take another generation of the Dutch to reclaim land for topological features like mountains and valleys.
Global warming weather play
It might be the effects of global warming, but then there was a 22 year break between 1963 and 1985 when the weather did to play to expectations. Just as they have mastered land reclamation, I would expect an ice-thickening invention to keep the race from passing into distant history.
It is a very sunny day in Berlin at the moment, but be not deceived, it is also dreadfully cold, I learnt about weather the hard way in 2001, when at minus 13 Celsius in Amsterdam, I could almost break off my ears for the cold, and just because I saw no frost on cars as one does in England, I thought it was just me.
I should have noticed that the ponds and canals were already frozen over, just as outside my holiday apartment in Berlin, the garden is covered in white – I think it is ice and the sun as brilliant is it is shining is melting none of it.
That is the weather for you, this summer; I should be getting sun-burnt again in Gran Canaria.

Wednesday 22 March 2006

Ich bin ein Berliner

Restricted to time zones
I list travel as one of my hobbies, and surely, I do enjoy travelling. For a while, I was so scared of flying considering I have been in planes a good few hundred times since I was 4.
I confess I have not travelled out of 4 time zones in total, but those zones encompass the whole of Western and Central Europe bordering on Eastern Europe and the whole wide and diverse continent of Mother Africa.
The nearest I have been to Africa in about 16 years is the Canary Islands and that itself was an experience, for a long time I had not seen palm trees grow out of the ground, then colourful lizards, one of which had a forked tail, though I never got to take a decent picture of that seemingly baby dragon.
I am no more scared of flying; at least I believe the pilot and crew just want to get back home as much I do.
Why should I trust train drivers any better even though you can easily find me in a private First Class compartment embarking on a 6 hour journey with all the comfort I can muster.
Travel and destination
My travel is just as important and my destination, spare no expense - European as I might be - I am no backpacking hippie doing a 6-month jaunt to Goa. Just not my style.
One thing about train travel is that it offers a kind of privacy away from the mundane environment of routine home comforts, one can also get some work done.
Beyond that, it is the new experiences that affect me most. For years, I has semi-skimmed milk with my cornflakes till I had breakfast in Prague with whole milk - the bouquet, the taste, the wonder of things unadulterated - I never went back to that tasteless half-milk stuff, it is only contains 2% less fat that the real deal.
I remember the Israelites were promised a land flowing with milk and honey - there was nothing half about it. So also, I rather go without than substitute margarine for good old Danish butter.
Read and enjoy
This time, on my way to Berlin, I had to stop over in Hannover where I found a 24-hour newsagent. I thought, I would read something different, so I picked up the Spectator.
I was almost an embarrassment on the train, as I guffawed, smirked, smiled and laughed; the writing is brilliant, comical, stylistic and yet addresses serious topics in an easily accessible tone. If you find yourself agreeing to disagree, you are not at a point of throwing the magazine in the next available bin.
Another travel titbit for me. As I remember JFK when he visited Berlin, a Berliner is hardly a resident of Berlin but a sugared doughnut.

Tuesday 21 March 2006

Wanting it badly

Expatriate's Expatriate
I cannot say I am the most integrated foreigner in the Netherlands. I have said this so much that it is becoming a kind of affirmation I am not entirely proud of, but one I have to live with.
So, this is even so obvious when I send my CV to certain global organisations in the Netherlands and it get rejected out of hand because my grasp of Dutch makes Double Dutch sound like duck quacks.
Then suddenly, a problem needs to be solved, a solution is required and some brains regardless of language ability are required - my CV resurfaces to do the job, albeit is nominally contract rates rather than the lesser paid permanent roles.
I have now learnt to be content with the fact that where my skills are required my services would eventually be acquired.
Sometimes, I wonder why I get so flustered and worrisome of short terms of unemployment.
I have been fortunate in many ways as I count my blessings and remain grateful for the providence of the great Father who in spite of my faults smiles on me as I find favour with earth and heaven.
Meanwhile, I traipsing round Germany continues as work begins on Monday.