15 April 2010


The body of Sheikh Ahmad Bin Zayed, head of the $70 billion Emirates Fund, was found in a Moroccan lake where he kept a private residence. His body was taken to the nearby house of his brother, Sheikh Saif Bin Zayed, Emirates Minister of Interior, while the investigations, supervised by his other brother, Emirates Armed Forces Chief, Sheikh Mohammed Bin Zayed. Still in Morocco, medical examination was conducted at the Sheik Zayed Hospital before everyone flew to Abu Dhabi where the ruler Sheikh Khalifeh Bin Zayed received condolences. The funeral in Abu Dhabi was held at Sheikh Zayed Grand Mosque. May the soul of Sheikh Ahmad Bin Zayed, like that of his other brother, Sheikh Nasser Bin Zayed who died in a similar small plane crash six months ago, as well as that of Sheikh Zayed, the departing father of 15 sons, rest in peace.


Now known mainly for its oil, violence and a combustible combination of the two, Iraq used to be called "Mesopotamia" -- Greek for the land between the Tigris and Euphrates Rivers. Even today, the country is more than just the scene of successive wars, and in living memory it boasted a multicultural and progressive society. Jessica Jiji’s new novel Sweet Dates in Basra celebrates the exquisite human mosaic of Iraq’s southern port city during the 1930s and ‘40s. Readers will be entranced by its tender depiction of a friendship between two boys -- one Muslim and the other Jewish -- whose childhood bond ultimately rescues each as they endure the devastation wrought by the Second World War. Faced with the monumental disruptions fracturing the country, one of the boys recalls the words of its founding monarch, King Feisal: "There is no meaning in the words ‘Jews,’ ‘Muslims’ and ‘Christians’ in the terminology of patriotism. There is simply a country called Iraq, and all are Iraqis." It is an injunction we would do well to remember now. Unlike present-day Iraq, where religious identity is destiny and too often death, the years following independence were characterized by great hope for unity. Ultimately, the novel’s characters are held together not by the inspirational words of a beloved king but by the courageous actions of ordinary families who risk their own lives to save others. Engaging, vivid and passionate, Sweet Dates in Basra recreates Iraq’s forgotten past -- and reminds us that there is reason to hope for the country’s future.


A vacancy announced in Paris for the post of UNESCO Assistant Director General for Communications received special attention from a select number of senior New York Secretariat staffers looking for either a promotion or a move to the French capital or both. One D-2 was interviewed while another was advised by an informed friend not to press further as his own country may have another candidate -- most likely for a different post at the same level. We understand the front runner is from Latvia.


The richest man in the world had his hotel stay in his father's homeland paid by an indebted government. Carlos Slim Helu was received by the President of Lebanon, the Prime Minister, the Speaker of Parliament, parliamentarians, politicians, professors and multitudes of welcoming crowds who danced the traditional "sword and shield" as he -- and his son -- were carried to the midst of his ancestral town of Jezzine. Apparently he did not pay for his hotel and related expenses. He was considered a guest of the President. Incidentally, the national Lebanese debt is $53 billion, which is equivalent to Mrs. Slim's wealth. Let's hope he appreciates -- and reciprocates.


Helping Haiti has become as politically correct as formerly helping the Tsunami -- with the same exploitation. While the thrust of the U.N. effort is highly commendable, there can be no real control or accountability. So many are travelling to various places or holding meetings to save Haiti while some are in fact looking after themselves first and foremost. Example: France's Cabinet Minister Alain Joyandet spent about Euros 116,500 (about $150,000) on a private jet to transport him to a meeting on Haiti. Couldn't he have used Air France and given over $145,000 to the needy?


At some point, a New Yorker's expression for getting two theatre tickets for the price of one was called a "twofer." With the retirement of Ahmad Fawzi as Director of one of the three DPI Divisions, a question was asked about his replacement. Apparently no decision has been made on a short list of applicants for that advertised post. There seems to be an inclination to re-advertise that post, leaving it vacant for at least six months. Meanwhile, a director of another DPI Division, Eric Falt, will take interim charge of both. Obviously Eric is on a roll these days. In addition to his double assignment, he was just appointed as UNESCO Assistant Secretary General for External Relations. But with such a handful on his plate, he will only take over his new assignment in Paris by September, after completing two projects he is working on right now: a press gathering in Malaysia and the Annual NGO Conference in Australia.


Since the appointment by Secretary General Ban Ki-moon of a new Spokesman, questions were raised about whether Deputy Spokesperson Marie Okabe will continue in her current post. The question arose again when a new Spokesman was appointed in November. It was repeatedly mentioned that her being a citizen of Japan gave her a certain protection due to the sensitive relations between Japan and Korea. However, a decision was recently taken, we are told, to appoint Ms. Okabe to UNIC Washington. That should be a good reward while giving the new Spokesman a welcome opportunity to select his own Deputy.


Secretary General Ban Ki-moon remarks in Moscow at a press conference with Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov were noted for its overly progressive terms. In less than six paragraphs, he repeated words like: "I can proudly tell you that we are on the same page;" "I would highly recommend the initiative of the Russian government"; "I am encouraged..."; "I am very grateful for the Russian government's strong participation..."; "I can only count on your continuing support"; and again "I can again count on the great support of President Medveder and Foreign Minister Lavrov..."; "I really appreciate your support"; "I'd like to tell you how pleased I am to sign..."; "Thank you very much, spasibo." It was a far cry from the position he took over Kosovo and Georgia which led to a firm response from Moscow. Attending the Middle East Quartet was an opportunity for Mr. Ban to publicly announce his "Mea Culpa."


Only a fool tests the depth of the water with both feet.
-- African proverb


"I owe my Lexus to Khomeini and my Lexus Coupe to Bin Laden." John Esposito, member of the "High Level Group of the U.N. Alliance of Civilizations," commentates on political Islam. He is also the Professor of Islamic Studies and Founding Director of Prince Alwaleed Bin Talal Center for Christian Moslem Understanding, Georgetown University, Washington D.C. The quip was made during a recent seminar at the American University of Beirut.


Seated next to the Prime Minister of Italy and Turkey, Ban Ki-moon gave his speech at the Arab Summit in the Libyan town of Serta. Nothing spectacular. Only a rehash of his earlier statements from a week before, after the Quarter meeting in Moscow. Obviously, Mr. Ban has no one to really advise him on his approach to the Arab world, let alone the Arab-Israeli conflict. Anyway, Libyan leader Qaddafi commented that the Secretary General described the Arab-Israeli dispute to have started in 1967 when in fact it started in 1948. When Mr. Ban bowed his head, perhaps out of courtesy or merely to avert displaying his reaction, Mr. Qaddafi took the opportunity to announce that his correction was duly accepted.


The Permanent Representative of Iraq to the U.N. for the last couple of years is not known for making any specific statement on any current issue, including in his own country. A former member of a Pro-Iranian group, he has apparently memorized the new guidelines of Iraqi government's supposedly pro-U.S. policy to the point of not knowing the difference between a quip or a straight talk. He once appeared on the Comedy Hour show on the conviction that it was hard reality news reporting. His serious over-flattering response actually amused and amazed viewers of the Jon Stewart and Colbert reports. Anyway, during the showing of Invictus at the U.N., there was a voice chattering in the darkness of the conference room. The voice, speaking Arabic, annoyed its neighbors who looked around to see the same character, Mr. Al-Bayati, chatting hopefully with a woman. Noting the stares, he fell quiet mercifully in time to hear the marvelous line worthy of the brave yet badly represented Iraqi people, "My head is bloody but unbowed."


Today the world changes so quickly that in growing up we take leave not just of youth but of the world we were young in. Fear and resentment of what is new is really a lament for the memories of our childhood.
-- Sir Peter Medawar


From Cadiz to Gibraltar, how good the path! The sea knows my passing by the sighs.
Ah, lass, lass, how full of boats is the port of Malaga!
From Cadiz to Seville, how full of little lemons! The lemon grove knows me by the sighs.
Ah, lass, lass, how full of boats is the port of Malaga!
From Seville to Carmona there is not one knife, the half moon cuts, and the air passes, wounded.
Ah, lad, lad, the waves bear away my horse!
Along the deserted salt-mines I forgot you, my love. Whoever wants a heart, let him ask for my forgetfulness.
Ah, lad, lad, the waves carry away my horse!
Cadiz, the sea drowns you, do not proceed this way. Seville, stand up, or you will drown in the river.
Ah, lass! Ah, lad! How good the path! How full of boats is the harbour, and in the square, how cold!
-- From "Federico Garcia Lorca: Selected Poems" translated by JL Gili (Anvil)

SYLVIE'S LE MONDE (She also prepares good lemonade!):

The first woman to become executive editor of the most famous French daily Le Monde in its 65 year history finds it a "sobering experience" to lead such a revered paper struggling at a very difficult time for the printed press. Her sex was not the main factor in the choice of chief. Sylvie Kauffmann, most recently Le Monde's South East Asian correspondent had paid her professional dues elsewhere around the world. While covering Eastern Europe, she was amongst the first to report the fall of the Berlin wall. Those who knew her in New York and Washington between 1993 and 2001 were impressed by her dynamic interest and clever handling of a particularly delicate relationship between the U.S. and France. Ms Kauffmann, a Marsaillese, started at the Agence France Presse first in Paris then in London and Warsaw. Another feather in her cap while serving in Moscow was the way she alerted public opinion to the impact and trends of Mr. Gorbachev's perestroika and glasnost, leading to the disintegration of the Soviet Union. A new challenge for Sylvie Kauffmann; a new era for Le Monde.


First the news. Mrs. Ahmad Fawzi is expecting a second child. Then the farewell retirement party, held at a nearby restaurant. The variety and intensity of the crowd gathered to pay tribute to the retiring Director of Media Division, DPI, reflected the affection and respect that he earned since joining the U.N. as Deputy Spokesman for Secretary General Boutros Boutros-Ghali. He proved his credentials both at Headquarters and in the field. Serving successive Secretaries General, from Kofi Annan to Ban Ki-moon, he was noted for offering valuable advice when he travelled with them. While Director of the U.N. Centre in London, Ahmad gained many friends for the U.N. and -- fortunately -- won the heart of a wonderful young woman who became his wife. Upon retiring to New York, the couple were gifted with Bella, now three years old. In an obvious sign of appreciation, Secretary General Ban Ki-moon attended, mingled, spoke and joked, spending an unusual 40 minutes amongst colleagues, friends and admirers. Mr. Fawzi will be taking a couple of months holiday before deciding on his next move. Thanks Ahmad. Best of Luck.


A dear colleague reminded us that the best one-line comedians, mainly New Yorkers, made their best quips without one single swear word. Examples:

  • Someone stole all my credit cards but I won't be reporting it. The thief spends less than my wife.
  • Patient: "I have a ringing in my ears." Doctor: "Don't answer."
  • The Harvard School of Medicine did a study of why certain women like Chinese food so much. The study revealed that it was due to the fact that Won Ton spelled backwards is Not Now.


There were very high hopes when Michael Meyer was appointed as Communications Director for the new Secretary General in 2007. However, three years of practical performance proved that he was -- quite frankly -- not up to the expectations. Despite his journalistic background at Newsweek, he seems drawn to a small inner circle and not inclined to reach out and explore how he could best serve Ban Ki-moon in an increasingly difficult atmosphere. Some would say that he gave wrong advice; counter-productive advice. The inclination now is to have him focus on speechwriting only. The communications direction will be handled by someone else.


Karen Albert responded with a better answer about why Wall Street Towers shine brighter than the Empire State Building. It's because batteries are not included. She reminded us of a delightful New York comedian, Steven Wright, who bought a battery set only to find out that batteries had to be bought separately; or when he bought a camouflage shirt which he later couldn't find.


About the new temporary Secretary General's office in Bantanemo, it was supposed to be the corner suite on the third floor overlooking the East River, but someone decided it was not safe enough. Eventually, Political Affairs Under Secretary General Pascoe got that space while Mr. Ban moved elsewhere. By the way, the boss's office is in fact carpeted; not for him, of course, but for the sake of his guests.


On the chest of a barmaid in Yale
Were tattooed the prices of ale
And on her behind
For the sake of the blind
Was the same information in Braille


On a field trip, Holmes awakes his assistant and asks: "Look at the stars. What do you deduce?" The assistant ponders and responds: "Well, there are millions of them, which most likely means that they have their own world, which most likely means..." Holmes interrupts: "You idiot. Someone has stolen our tent!"


  • Every now and then I look up out of the window and smile for a nice satellite photo.
  • I like to skate on the other side of the ice.
  • Everything in my office was stolen and replaced with an exact replica.
-- Steven Wright


Her father never wanted to be a diplomat. Otto von Habsburg, now 97, did not like Palace etiquette; he was six when the Austrian-Hungarian Empire, run by his family, collapsed. Instead of having to call someone "Excellency," he'd rather describe an idiot as an idiot. His daughter, however, has another opinion. Having lived in Georgia for nine years as an avant-garde sculptor specializing in large steel outdoor works (that is, enjoying large Georgian servings of pleasurable wine), she will now take a new assignment. Gabriela Maria Charlotte Felicitas Elizabeth Antonia von Habsburg-Lothringen, Princess Imperial and Archduchess of Austria, Princess Royal of Hungary and Bohemia, will proceed to Berlin as Tbilisi's Ambassador to Berlin. Whether her father will address her as "Excellency" or otherwise remains to be seen.


What did the Princess say after breaking a $10,000 vase in Tiffany's? "Don't worry, I am not hurt!"


The women, led by Paula Refolo, who took over the Information Centres Services in the Department of Public Information has come out with a welcome idea. To brief delegate members of the Assembly's Information Committee on the work of Information Centres, they arranged to bring 2 - 3 directors to participate in presenting live examples of their work and get practical feedback from member states. An excellent participatory move.