Ron Asmus, RIP

Ron Asmus, a key person in the 1990s enlargement of NATO and a tireless advocate of better European and transatlantic relations, died on Saturday, April 30. He was 53.

The Economist’s Eastern Approaches blog writes:

He was a discreet, wise and sympathetic presence in the region, in Washington DC, and in West European capitals for two decades, explaining to jittery ex-communist politicians that volume and frequency of public utterances does not correlate with effectiveness, to American officials and politicians that the goal of “Europe whole and free” still required patient and detailed work, and to West European leaders that a security grey zone in the east would be as bad for them as it would be for those consigned to it.

Just so.

He will be much missed, even among people who barely knew him, and his efforts missed among people who knew him not at all.

A Rare Thos. Friedman Moment

So I was listening to a taxi driver yesterday and this morning, about other taxi drivers. People with cars complain about the traffic in Tbilisi, but it’s not nearly as bad as it could be. For the capital of a medium-income country, a capital that moreover accounts for upwards of two-thirds of the country’s economic activity, getting across town doesn’t take as much time as one would think. A vigorous campaign of minor physical improvements over the last year has also partly curbed some of the bad habits that used to cause bigger backups. Better infrastructure and easy availability of alternatives make for fewer cars on the roads.

Public transport isn’t bad, but the key components of transport in Tbilisi are the shared taxis, known locally as marshrutki. Continue reading

Taking Stock of 2010: Books

Undemanding reading, with one or two exceptions, appears as the hallmark of 2010. Belated reaction to the economic crisis? Lack of initiative after spending several months with Count Tolstoy in 2009? Hard to say.

The exceptions: Armenian Golgotha by Grigoris Balakian, a survivor’s testimony from the time of his arrest in 1915 in Istanbul to his eventual escape into Central Europe in 1918; and in a completely different vein The Mists of Avalon by Marion Zimmer Bradley, a retelling of Arthurian legends with the Grail quest a nuisance, all of the swordplay off-stage, and the men in general of secondary interest.

Most-read author this year just passed: Alexander McCall Smith. Authors new to me I want to read more of: John Biggins, Raymond E. Feist, Jo Walton, Hillary Mantel. Books read aloud to the eldest child: should be obvious from context. Best tale of the Austro-Hungarian navy: Tomorrow the World by John Biggins. Disappointment from a Nobelist I otherwise quite like: The Museum of Innocence by Orhan Pamuk. Best novel of first contact in medieval Germany: Eifelheim by Michael Flynn. Books in German read: none, for the first time in many years.

Full list is below the fold, links are to earlier Fistful posts on the title or author. See also 2009, 2007, 2006.

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South Africa 2010: Let the football craze begin!

Being too lazy and uninspired to write a decent World Cup post myself, I shall point our readers to a truly funny column by Dave Barry, in the Miami Herald, on football-related activities. One quote:

I truly believe that, even though many Americans say they hate soccer, if they gave it a fair chance — if they took the time to actually watch a World Cup match or two — they would still hate soccer. I don’t know why this is, but apparently it’s not going to change. I’ve given up arguing with guys who tell me how boring soccer is, but will happily spend four hours watching a baseball game in which 97 percent of the action consists of batters calling timeout.

Feel free to use this post as an excuse to share your own football-related witty comments, predictions, pet peeves, vuvuzela imitations, etcetera.

Govern Different

Our friends at Foreign Policy (among others) report that the Prime Minister of Norway, stranded in the US by volcanic events in Iceland, is working with his new iPad to make sure things don’t get out of hand back home. No word on what kind of mobile he uses, though maybe he’s saving on roaming charges by using Skype?

Anybody else out there stuck? (Chancellor Merkel, for example, is in Lisbon at least through Saturday. Not sure if that qualifies as stuck.)

Dear Socar

Dear Socar, Socar Public Relations and Socar of Georgia (if your website is working),

Normally when I put 50 lari worth of gasoline into my car, I get about half a tank. Earlier this week, I visited one of your affiliates in Tbilisi, paid for 50 lari of gas (the price per liter did not seem significantly different from the other filling stations nearby) and drove off. The needle eventually showed that I had gotten about a quarter of a tank of gas.

If I could remember exactly which affiliate I had this experience at, I would be able to avoid it. But it may just be easier to avoid Socar stations entirely. And to share my experience.

Sincerely,

Doug Merrill