Zooming In

January 28, 2009

T.G.I. Fortizza

Gelf highlights overlooked coverage from local media around the world. In this edition: Putin Paints, Kenyans Celebrate Obama, and Malta closes an historic symbol of globalization.

Joe Horton

Some of the most insightful writing from outside the US comes from local media. In this occasional feature, Gelf identifies noteworthy stories that haven't gotten much attention outside local borders.



Hospitals in Oman have seen a rise in cases of early-onset male menopause, according to Oman’s The Week. "With the alarming rise in the incidence of early onset of andropause, many hospitals like Badr al Samaa Polyclinic, Apollo Hospital, Atlas Star Medical Centre and Muscat Private Hospital are now receiving at least ten patients every month with this condition," writes reporter Rahul Das.

While most incidents of andropause—also known as late-onset hypogonadism and "male menopause"—occur in men in their 50s, Das reports that the sultanate has seen cases in men in their late 20s. Symptoms, according to practitioners in Oman, include "…decreased energy levels, tiredness and inability to cope with stress," not uncommon afflictions that seem as difficult to diagnose as they are to substantiate.

Benoy George Thomas, Deputy Editor of The Week, tells Gelf about the particular challenges of this diagnosis in Oman. "The population of this country is around 3 million and nearly 50% of the population is below the age of 25—it is a very young population," he says, emphasizing the numbers are rough estimates. "We might be talking about 700,000 adult males overall in the 25+ age bracket which is where these kinds of cases are now happening."

Thomas estimates that 40-70 cases of male menopause in total are reported each month at the major hospitals The Week surveyed for the report. In Muscat, Oman’s capital region which Thomas says accounts for 60 percent of the country’s economy, doctors and hospitals are well-equipped to handle the situation and ask only that their patients come in for treatment as early as possible.

"After much debate, the medical fraternity seems to have agreed that this condition does exist," Thomas says. "…let us discount for a moment that this also means more ‘business’ for them."



The world’s greatest TGI Friday’s is closing its doors. In shuttering what has to be the crowning monument of mid-level, family-style, Americana-export restauranteuring in the world, the Farsons Group will shortly remove the white-and-red awning adorning the 19th-century Gothic fort known as Il Fortizza, reports the Times of Malta.

Il Fortizza, also known as Silema Point Battery, began as fort built in 1876 by British Colonel Jervois and became an observation point at the turn of the century until its parade ground was roofed in to make room for the restaurant.

Through the years, the Farsons Group has taken on the new economic realities of Malta entering the European Union while the staff of the TGI Fortizza has taken on the onus of explaining what "tacos" are to their clientele, to say nothing of "Extreme Tacos," which could, according to General Manager Stefania Conte, "take diners’ imaginations to an extreme limit."

No word on what will become of the restaurant-fort standing on the Ghar id-Dud, but Farsons Group subsidiary Food Chain Ltd. does hold the applicable international franchises for Burger King, Pizza Hut and KFC. It seems fitting that Colonel Sanders may take over for Colonel Jervois after 130 years.

Saudi Arabia

Saudi Arabia

It’s open season on a new frontier in Saudi Arabia as mining companies scramble to set up shop on the deserts of the Gulf. Depending on whom you ask, the mining industry is being groomed into either the second or third pillar economic pillar in the Kingdom. Arab News reports that a recently-concluded national mining forum suggested that mining could soon become the second pillar of the Saudi economy with the help of junior mining companies, and flexible "wildcatters" capable of quickly determining the worth of the minerals in the ground.

Others suggest mining will fall in line behind oil and petrochemicals, benefiting prodigiously from Saudi Arabia’s as-yet untapped position as host to some of the world’s largest deposits of phosphate reserves and leading source of bauxite, two primary components in fertilizer and aluminum production.

The future of mining in the Kingdom is a complex one that encompasses major geopolitical issues. The critical Al Jalamid deposit on the country’s northern border is adjacent to Iraq, and its ultimate fruitfulness will depend largely on lasting political and economic stability in that northern neighbor. In 2007, Al Jalamid was awarded to Guizhou Hongfu Company, illustrating the waxing influence of China in the region. Many of the individual mining interests in the country will see a process of privatization, not necessarily the norm in the monarchy-dominated nation, as the interests of the state-sponsored Saudi Arabian Mining Company (Ma’aden) are released to the private sector.

Meanwhile, junior mining companies—oil freelancers—needing outside financing to fully explore the Arabian peninsula, will find cash flow difficult to secure in the global financial downturn, and many companies have lobbied for a change in the national bureaucracy to increase the issuing speed of visas for needed analysts, geologists and bankers, an invariably tricky issue for all countries now concerned with the global flow of terrorism.



As of last week, workers in Peru cannot be fired for showing up drunk to work. Pablo Cayo, a street cleaner for the municipality of Chorrillos, a suburb of the capital Lima, was fired nearly five years ago for arriving drunk at work. Last week, the seven judges of Peru’s highest court, the Constitutional Tribunal, ruled that Cayo should not have been dismissed and is entitled to reinstatement.

According to a report from the BBC, Cayo says he wasn’t drunk at all—he had merely attended a wake and "smelled of alcohol." A Peruvian law prohibits drunkenness in the workplace, and though the court insisted their decision was a "one-off" with no lasting impact on precedence, government officials are concerned the ruling will affect laws concerning booze in the workplace.

Peru’s Prime Minister and Labor Minister criticized the verdict, while the administrative chief of Chorrillos opined, "We’ve fired four workers for showing up drunk, and two of them were drivers.…How can we allow a drunk to work who might run somebody over?"

Whether they are drivers or not, intoxicated employees can work, the Peruvian Times reports from aggregating local coverage, as long as they avoid violent behavior or abusive language.

But lest anyone cast aspersions at the Peruvian legal system, let us remember the swift action of the country’s Congressional Ethics Commission that drew up a 100-day suspension for Congressman Miro Ruiz for gunning down his neighbor’s pet schnauzer, Matias, and then lying about it.



The Daily Nation, in its considerable and ongoing coverage of adopted national wunderkind Barack Obama’s campaign and inauguration, draws smart contrast between the presidential celebrations across the US and those that greeted Kenyans following President Mwai Kibaki’s disputed victory a year ago. The Daily Standard followed suit, using Obama’s inaugural address and its call "To those who cling to power through corruption and deceit and the silencing of dissent, know that you are on the wrong side of history…" to draw attention to corruption scandals that have plagued Kenya’s current coalition government.

Though his ruling party was soundly defeated in the December 2007 parliamentary elections, Kibaki suspiciously surmounted a significant deficit against opposition leader Raila Odinga in early voting numbers to win a second term. As Kibaki was sworn in for his second term in a hasty ceremony, violence erupted just outside the walls of the State House, presaging conflicts that would soon cost over 1,300 lives in wild street riots and ethnically-fueled violence across the country.

Kenyans are now making up for that disappointment and terror with "Obamamania" celebrations big and small across the country. In Nairobi’s Kibera neighborhood, one of East Africa’s largest slums, residents waved American flags and proclaimed Kenya "America’s 51st state" while President Kibaki and Prime Minister Odinga, whose eventual power-sharing agreement ended the election conflict, both looked forward to new ties with the U.S. Odinga noted specifically that he hoped Obama would "support…democratic transfer of power across the world."



In Russia, if you’re a certain ex-KGB honcho, former president, and current prime minister and have 20 minutes to paint, your artistry can be worth millions. Vladimir Putin’s first painting, a modernist look at snow falling through a window (not an uncommon sight in Russia), sold for 37 million rubles—$1.15 million—at a recent auction. Putin apparently only painted for 20 minutes; a professional artist "filled in the details."

Russia Today describes the auction as the well-known "Alphabet project" charity that encourages celebrities to draw pictures associated with letters of the alphabet. Putin drew "U," or in the Cyrillic alphabet, "Y." The title of his painting was "Uzor" or "Pattern."

Richard Dorment, art critic for the Daily Telegraph of London, doles out praise for Putin’s work (seriously), asking of the strong-arm politician and judo expert, "Is there no end to Vladimir Putin’s talents?" Jonathan Jones of London’s The Guardian is similarly impressed, drawing contrast between Putin’s modernism and the traditional styles once practiced by Winston Churchill and Adolf Hitler, two famous statesmen painters.

The St. Petersburg Times is more caustic in its assessment of the work, describing the painting as a "crudely rendered window," and noting that the sale makes Putin one of the highest-valued artists in Russian history.

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Article by Joe Horton

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