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Friday, September 28, 2007

Family visit to Prague...

We have Kathy's parents, sister and brother-in-law visiting Prague. They arrived on Tuesday and will be here for two weeks. None of them have been here before and we are excited about showing them around. The weather has been poor for a few days - lots of rain - but is supposed to clear tomorrow. There are also side trips to Vienna and Berlin.

Thursday, September 27, 2007

The new RFE/RL building...

I have added a picture on the left that shows our new office building being constructed. I will try to update each week to show the progress. I hope it gets completed on time.

Sunday, September 23, 2007

Rugby in Prague...

Noah started playing rugby today. I have always thought that his build was well suited to the more physical sports like football and rugby, and now we will get to see if that hunch is right. He plays on Sundays from 11:00-12:30. They have two groups - on for the younger kids (third grade and younger) and the second group for everyone else. The younger groups plays flag rugby, with no real contact. The older group, of which Noah is a part, is full contact, with tackling and scrums. He had a tendency to be ahead of the ball on offense, which isn't the palce to be since rugby is a game of laterals. Be he enjoyed it and made one "try" (equivalent of a touchdown).

Friday, September 21, 2007

Our new Radio Free Europe building...

The groundbreaking for our new office buiding was last October 13th, but real construction did not begin until this spring. Here is where things are at so far. They are on the second of what will be five floors. They say that they will be topped out and enclosed in November, so that the serious work on the interior can start right about the time the cold weather hits. I hope they are right. The schedule calls for us to get in for some preliminary work next May and to take possession in August. I will update every once in a while.

Here is what it will look like when it is finished.

Thursday, September 20, 2007

The last lecture...

Here is a great story about Dr. Randy Pausch, Professor of Computer Science at Carnegie-Mellon University. The university has a lecture series called "The Last Lecture" where professors give a lecture as if it was the last they would ever give. It's a way for them to decide and define what is really important in their career and in their life. Dr. Pausch, though, is dying of pancreatic cancer and is only expected to live a few weeks, so this may really be his last lecture. Here is a report on his "last lecture" that occurred just on Tuesday (Sept. 18th).

Wednesday, September 19, 2007

President Gedmin's Op-Ed in today's Washington Post...

Recently, Iran has been arresting or otherwise harassing Iranian-Americans, including some who work for Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty. One of our correspondents, Parnaz Azima, had her passport taken from her and became a virtual prisoner when she visited Iran in January to see her ailing 94 year-old mother Just yesterday she was finally allowed to leave Iran and was reunited with family, friends and RFE/RL colleagues today in the US.

Our president, Dr. Jeff Gedmin, has an op-ed piece in today's Washington Post.

Voices That Tehran Fears (Washington Post, September 19, 2007) by Jeffrey Gedmin

Our reporter Parnaz Azima finally made it out of Iran yesterday. Iranian
authorities, who had blocked her exit from the country since January,
returned her passport two weeks ago but then proceeded to create a series
of bureaucratic obstacles that prevented her from returning to her family
and colleagues. Azima, who has U.S. and Iranian dual citizenship, works
for Radio Farda, the Persian-language broadcast service of Radio Free
Europe/Radio Liberty, the congressionally funded broadcasters based in

Azima is one of Iran’s best-known literary translators. She is famous for
her translations of Ernest Hemingway’s works. In January she traveled to
Tehran to visit her ailing 94-year-old mother and unwittingly became
ensnared in a larger game being played by Iran’s regime. Its aim is simple:
to intimidate dissidents at home while pressuring the United States to
refrain from supporting Iranian civil society.

Consider the way Tehran is attempting to put Radio Farda (“Farda” means
tomorrow in Persian) in a bind. The Iranian government calls Farda a
“counterrevolutionary radio station.” In fact, Farda simply provides the
Iranian people the news their government denies them. Our ratings remain
high. The regime expends considerable effort trying to jam our signals and
block access to our Web site. It’s not hard to understand why.

This summer Farda provided in-depth reporting on Iranian protests over
the regime’s gas-rationing policies. Farda relied on stringers around the
country for dozens of interviews with experts, officials and ordinary
citizens. We provided first-rate, objective analysis from economists
outside Iran. While there had been some opening in the media landscape
under reformist president Mohammad Khatami, this process of liberalization
was shut down by Mahmoud Ahmadinejad after he became president in 2005.
Today, government censors tell editors how they may cover “sensitive”
stories. One may, for example, report on Iran’s debate with the world
community over Tehran’s nuclear program. One may not, however, use the word
“bomb” or the words “United Nations Security Council.” Not surprisingly,
news-hungry Iranians turn to Farda and Voice of America for accurate news
and information.

Recently, Farda covered the arrests of members of Tehran’s bus drivers
union. Our broadcasters reported on the expulsion of Baha’i students from
Iranian universities. This summer we analyzed the crackdown on women’s
dress code violations. Last week we featured a sad, bizarre story on “dog
prisons” in Iran (clerical rulers view pet dogs as out of step with Islam);
some police officers are apparently chafing under pressure to arrest kids
walking their pets in parks. These social fissures are important. In a free
society, independent media would feel obliged to cover them.

Our broadcasters and correspondents are brave to do what they do.
Intelligence officers in Tehran interrogate and threaten family members of
Farda staffers. This summer, a young journalist working for us was
summoned by an Iranian court to return home to face charges of conducting
“activities against national security.” Authorities have threatened to take
possession of his aunt’s house (in exchange for “bail” he “owes”) should he
not appear for trial. Another colleague expressed concern to me about
activities of the Iranian Embassy in Prague. In the 1980s and early 1990s,
the Iranian regime moved hard against exiles, killing Iranian citizens in
numerous European countries. Iran’s foreign minister, when he was
ambassador to Turkey in the late 1980s, was expelled when it was
discovered that he was involved in nabbing Iranian dissidents. Such
activities, unfortunately, do not seem to have stopped; Iranian authorities
have discouraged Parnaz Azima from returning to Farda.

In this context, it can be disheartening to witness the endless bickering
in Washington over how to help Iranian civil society. It is strange to hear
the outcry from some who rail against the U.S. government’s earmark of $75
million to aid the effort. That seems a paltry sum considering the
importance and enormousness of the task at hand. Does the regime use this
modest support as a pretext to crack down on dissidents? Of course it does.
That’s what dictators do. All of us are still waiting for those flawless
and risk-free alternatives.

Our Farda team is hardly a monolith. Our roughly three dozen colleagues
include social democrats, monarchists, passionate pro-Americans and ardent
critics of the U.S. president and his policies. Our youngest employee is
23, the oldest 73. One thing unites this diverse group: the conviction that
Iran deserves a decent, accountable government and a political system far
freer and more tolerant than the current one. For some that sounds like the
dirty words “regime change.” That’s a pity. I thought we all liked “soft
power,” especially after Iraq. Many of us think this work still represents
America at its best.

The writer is president of Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty.

Note: Jeff has been our president only since April, and in that short time has accomplished a great deal. He is a brilliant thinker and analyst, and I find him to be an extremely likable guy (and he's not above having a beer with the guys at Jama's, which counts for a lot in my book).

Monday, September 17, 2007

Prague's Lennon Wall...

Noah had his first Sunday school class on Sunday, which meant that Kathy and I had an hour to wander around before picking him up from class and going next door for mass. It was a beautiful near-fall morning, and we did the usual walk across the Charles bridge, but on the way back we decided to take a detour on Kampa island. We had both been on Kampa island before so we didn't expect to see anything new, but then we saw a small side street with a sign for a cafe and an arrow pointing up the street. We decided to see what the cafe was like and were disappointed that 1) it was closed and 2) it was also a laundromat. Oh, well. But we came out the other end of the street to an area we hadn't been before. We crossed a small pedestrian bridge over the small canal that runs parallel to the Vltava river, and we came across the Lennon Wall. I knew of the Lennon Wall from the multiple books on Prague that we have seen over the past year, but we never really knew where it was. We both thought it was in some park on the south end of the city (don't know where we got that idea). It was one of those fortunate accidents and it was fun to find.

From Wikipedia:

The Lennon Wall was formerly an ordinary historic wall in Prague, but since the 1980s, people have filled it with John Lennon-inspired graffiti and pieces of lyrics from Beatles songs.

In 1988 the wall was a source of irritation for the then communist regime of Gustav Husak. Young Czechs would write grievances on the wall and in a report of the time this led to a clash between hundreds of students and security police on the nearby Charles Bridge. The movement these students followed was described ironically as Lennonism and Czech authorities described these people variously as alcoholics, mentally deranged, sociopathic, and agents of Western capitalism.

The wall continuously undergoes change and the original portrait of Lennon is long lost under layers of new paints. Even when the wall was re-painted by some authorities, on the second day it was again full of poems and flowers. Today, the wall represents a symbol of youth ideals such as love and peace.

The wall is owned by the Knights of the Maltese Cross, who graciously allowed graffiti to continue on what actually is a lovely Renaissance wall, and is located at Velkopřevorské náměstí (Grand Priory Square), Malá Strana.

Sunday, September 16, 2007

A little burcak and cheese...

We have been experiencing a babí léto, literally a grandmother's summer, which is the equivalent to our Indian summer back home. Part of the yearly transition from summer to autumn is Burčák which is derived from fermenting grape juice, known as must, shortly after the grapes have been crushed. At a point determined by the winegrower, the must is deemed worthy of consumption and a part of it is sold as burčák. The rest is allowed to mature into adult wine. The alcohol content of burcak is 5-8%, so it gives quite a kick. But since it is so sweet it can sneak up on the unsuspecting drinker. The country’s best burčák is found in Moravia (the eastern half of the Czech Republic), but plenty of it ends up in Prague.

Today the three of us when to the grounds of Troja palace, next to the Prague zoo, to see vinobraní, the traditional festival celebrating the new wine harvest and burcak. We picked up a litre of burcak and walked the grounds of the castle which still has acres of vineyards. Because of the festival they also had food vendors and music in addition to the dozens of burcak vendors. The processes and recipes of the burcak is closely guarded by each maker so there is a variety of tastes. The first one we tried used white grapes as a base, and we chose it because we prefer white wine to red. The burcak we bought was sweet and tasty, and though it was cloudy, it did not look as much likel muddy water as most of the others, so we decided to just buy a litre rather than continue sampling (plus, I had to drive, so I could only sample a little).

There wasn't much for Noah (no games or anything special for kids) so we stayed an hour and headed home.

Here is what burcak looks like. It tastes better than it looks.

Folks enjoy their burcak overlooking the maze on the grounds of Troja Palace.

One of the bands at the festival. Yes, that's an accordion.

More drinkers. Overlooking the vineyards and Troja palace.

Wednesday, September 12, 2007

Beautiful Prague...

Here is a link to a web site with scores of pictures of Prague. It's worth a visit.


Tuesday, September 11, 2007

An afternoon stroll through Horomerice...

I've been meaning to walk through our little village and take some pictures to give a flavor of the place where we live. Horomerice is a little village technically outside of Prague, but it's really only a few miles from our house to the Dejvice metro stop. I don't know what the population of Horomerice is, but it can't be more than 2,000. Here are some of the interesting things I came across on my Sunday afternoon stroll.

Here is a wild sunflower that is growing on the main street through town. I know that it's being taken care of by two women who own a flower show just a couple of doors down. The sunflower is about 12 feet tall.

Here are two pictures of a house a few feet from the bus stop. It is absolutely covered with ivy and is quite pretty. The house is made of brick which I don't think it can hurt much. But I don't think it's good to have it creeping under the roof tiles. Last fall the ivy turned bright red which was stunning. I will return in a few weeks after the color of the ivy turns.

Here is a little park that I walk through on the way home from work after getting off the bus. It's triangle shaped and it has some basic playground equipment for youngsters. Most days there are usually moms with their toddlers running around in the fenced park.

Also, it has what every park needs - a big crucifix. I don't know what happened in 1867, but I will try to find out.

Here is the most interesting sign in Horomerice. It's also on the main street, just down from the sunflower. I have not been inside this bar (no, really...) but I understand from people I know who have been inside that it's just a bar, and not a strip club. If that's the case I'm not sure why someone would give their bar that name.

Saturday, September 8, 2007

Golf tournament in the Czech Republic (yeah!)...

I spent the day at a golf tournament at one of the nicer courses around here, in Karlovy Vary, about 70 mile west of Prague. The tournament was sponsored by Citibank. I met one of their reps a few weeks ago and she invited me to attend. Here she is along with the rest of our foursome - Jan and Frantisek.

The weather this morning was far from ideal. About 50 degrees and drizzling. The invitation didn't say "play rain or shine" or give an alternate date if there was rain, so I decided to make the drive (thanks again, Garmin). It ended up staying in the 50s, but not a drop of rain during the 5 hour and 45 minute round.

I didn't play very well - a score of 100. But I had some good holes and made some good shots, particularly with the driver. The hole distances are in meters instead of yards and I should have looked up the conversion before I played. I know that a yard is close to a meter, but don't know if a yard is longer or shorter.

Here is the clubhouse coming up the 18th hole.

This is a downhill 191 meter par 3. I hit a solid 4-iron and stuck it about 8 feet from the pin. Of course I missed the birdie putt (but tapped in for par).

This is the par 5 9th hole. I got a par here as well thanks to a long drive down the middle of the narrow fairway.

There was free food before, during and after the round. Alas, no drink carts. Because of the zero tolerance on drinking and driving - any alcohol in your blood results in a DUI - no beer. Still, it was very nice to get onto a golf course and use my own clubs. I still suck at golf, but it was fun.

Thursday, September 6, 2007

Our 11th anniversary...

Today is our 11th wedding anniversary and I can't let that pass without note. Last year on our 10th anniversary we spent the first night in our new house in Prague. Today wasn't so dramatic - just a rainy fall day with us well entrenched in our new house and new city. We went to Coffee Heaven (the Prague equivalent of Starbucks) after dropping Noah off at school for a relaxing coffee before I went to work and Kathy went to the bank to make some changes in some automatic bill payments.

Thinking about our 11 years together it struck me that on the one hand the time seems to have flown by, while on the other my life is so drastically different now than we before I met Kathy that it seems like forever ago that we were married. Interesting how it feels both near and far off.

I'm not sure where we will be on our 15th, 20th or 25th anniversary (I could guess, but will leave that for some other time) but wherever it is will be a continuation of the adventure that is currently 11 years old. It's been quite a trip and I look forward to what the future holds.

Monday, September 3, 2007

Happy Labor Day (but I worked)...

While all of you are enjoying the long Labor Day weekend, I was dutifully at work today. The first Monday in September is not a holiday to recognize workers in the Czech Republic (that would be May Day). Our Radio Free Europe holidays are a mixed bag of US and Czech. While I don't get Labor Day off I do get Thanksgiving off - but not the day after Thanksgiving. Of course, Noah's school has class on Thanksgiving, so having Thanksgiving off doesn't do a lot of good. Last Thanksgiving Kahty and I went to the Museum of Communism, which is some ways was the most poignent way to spend that holiday.

Sunday, September 2, 2007

Konopiste (another medieval castle)...

We visited another castle today - the third castle visit in four weeks. Konopiste doesn't look that old, thanks to a renovation about 100 years ago, but was actually constructed in the 13th century. From Wikipedia:

Konopiště is a castle located about 50 km southeast of Prague, outside the city of Benešov. It has become famous as the last residence of Archduke Franz Ferdinand of Austria, heir of the Austro-Hungarian throne, whose assassination in Sarajevo triggered World War I. The bullet that killed him, fired by Gavrilo Princip, is now an exhibit at the castle's museum.

The castle was initially constructed as a Gothic fortification in the 13th century. It was later transformed in a Baroque style. Archduke Franz Ferdinand of Austria bought Konopiště in 1887, with his inheritance from the last reigning Duke of Modena, and rebuilt it into a luxurious residence, suitable to the future Emperor; which he preferred to his official residence in Vienna. He invited William II, German Emperor to see his roses early in June, 1914; insofar as they discussed politics, they discussed Romania, but conspiracy theories about their planning an attack on Serbia or a division of the Austro-Hungarian Empire arose at the time and since. Since 1921, the castle has been a property of the Czechoslovak and later Czech state, one of 90 such in state ownership. The Ministry of Culture is said to spend more than US$ 800,000 per year to maintain the castle, and recovers about as much from entrance ticket sales and rental for occasional functions.

Konopiště castle is now open to the public. Visitors can observe the residential rooms of Franz Ferdinand, a large collection of antlers (Franz Ferdinand was an enthusiastic hunter), an armory with medieval weapons, a shooting hall with moving targets and a garden with Italian Renaissance statues and greenhouses. It is a popular place for weddings.

Currently, HSH Princess Sophie von Hohenberg, a descendant of Franz Ferdinand, is claiming for the restitution of the castle to her family, which was never recognized as part of the House of Habsburg, on the ground that the provisions of Article 208 of the Treaty of Saint Germain, and the Article 3 of Law no.354 of 1921 in Czechoslovakia, do not apply to them. She filed a law suit in December 2000 in Benesov, the nearest city, for the Castle and its dependencies comprising 6,070 hectares of woodland and including a brewery.

Kathy by one of the many, many statues on the grounds of the castle.

Kathy and Noah try to generate some good luck by throwing some coins into this fountain/wishing well.

Two peacocks saunter past a statue of a hunter with two restrained hunting dogs.

A view of the rose garden. We stopped for lunch at a little cafe with a view over the rose garden. We all had sausages with mustard and bread. Very good (and only about $1.25 each).

It was a nice day for a short drive and a visit to another castle. They close for the winter so we only have 1-2 months to visit more yet this year.

Saturday, September 1, 2007

Horomerice Block Party...

Today there was the annual block party in our neighborhood in Horomerice. Last year the party was held the weekend before we moved in, so this is our first block party. It's nice to see all of the neighbors. One family just moved in down the street yesterday. A good time was had by all with lots of grills, both gas and charcoal, fired up and pressed into service. A little beer, a little wine, a little Limoncello.