15 April 2012


Following an unprecedented announcement of the post of Under-Secretary General for Public Information and Communications, applications were closed in March with hundreds of enthusiastic aspirants and tens of serious applicants. It seems that by now a short list for the Secretary General's consideration is limited to three: a former ambassador of Greece to the U.N.; an Italian diplomat; and a former associate of the High Commissioner for Refugees. Apparently, the inclination is to select a European. Apparently, the Italians are pushing very hard although their candidate looks less qualified than the other two and there is already a senior Italian who is the recently appointed Commissioner General of U.N.R.W.A. Professionally, the Greek, who has both U.N. and Communications experience, looks to be the most qualified. But, as they say in the N.Y. Lottery, you never know.


Robin Gibb of the Bee Gees pop group was taken to a hospital in London for urgent treatment. He had just recuperated from colon cancer and making every effort to overcome his ailment. The Bee Gees had emerged from Australia in the late Seventies when their songs were featured in a popular movie starring John Travolta as an aspiring New York dancer doing "Night Fever" and "You should be Dancin'". Its main theme was "Stayin' Alive."


"My epitaph? I want it to be this: tough, but fair. Nothing else." Interview in 2006 with People magazine.


U.N. Secretaries-General have regularly attended regional meetings of heads of states and governments, including those of the League of Arab states. Now that Ban Ki-moon has taken an unprecedented step by appointing a joint U.N./Arab League envoy, his attendance of the Arab Summit in Baghdad late March was unanimously welcome. There was an extra -- or confused -- dose when the Summit's Chairman, Iraq's President Talbani invited him to make his speech, saying: "I now call on the Secretary General of the Arab League," then quickly corrected the title.


So, the outstanding Hillary Rodham Clinton, U.S. Secretary of State, gulped a Cerveza beer at a club during her visit to attend America's summit in Columbia. A photo of her enjoying a rhumba was splashed over U.S. media as if she had committed mortal sin. If anything, many of us had thought that the uniquely qualified women had been too sober and self-controlled while travelling around our increasingly maddening world dealing with all those impossible issues mainly handled by mainly frustrating men. Regardless of those political sharks at home seeking to criticize anyway, shaking it a bit and having a lot of innocent fun would in fact be much to her human credit.


  1. "When Washington gets lucky and the African Union endorses a Nigerian economist with a B.A. from Harvard and a Ph.D. from MIT, who also has ample experience at the World Bank, and who is a woman of color to boot, the smart thing to do is get behind it immediately. This course is such an obvious no-brainer that I'm amazed the Obama administration didn't leap at the opportunity."
    -- Annie Lowrey, N.Y. Times
  2. WHEN economists from the World Bank visit poor countries to dispense cash and advice, they routinely tell governments to reject cronyism and fill each important job with the best candidate available. It is good advice. The World Bank should take it. In appointing its next president, the bank's board should reject the nominee of its most influential shareholder, America, and pick Nigeria's Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala.
    -- The Economist
  3. Kim is still the favorite for the job, just because he has the full and awesome power of U.S. international diplomatic pressure behind him. But in any fair fight, Okonjo-Iweala would win. And if there are any signs at all that the European vote might not be completely in the bag, we might yet have a real contest on our hands here.
    -- Reuters
  4. The Financial Times had three articles supporting the Nigerian finance minister with an editorial, a column by Washington bureau chief Edward Luce, and a letter from economist Jagdish Baghwati supporting her candidacy.


It was noted that despite his habitual penchant for wearing national-related costumes during summit meetings hosted by other heads of state, U.S. President Obama stuck to his Blazer during the Americas gathering in Columbia while many others wore the semi-official white shirt known as Guayabera. Not that he lacked any. His hosts had provided sets of options. One explanation may have been that the very politically sensitive U.S. President (as well as Presidential candidate) did not wish to be photographed in an outfit initiated in Cuba -- a main issue at the conference and for the U.S. voters, particularly in Florida. More so perhaps because El Comandante Fidel Castro made an unusual comment days earlier wondering whether President Obama would wear an outfit originating in Cuba at a meeting where he insists on boycotting it. No, then, to Guaybara; and welcome Shakira.


Reading a report on an army officer in the Syrian army who announced his defection from the regime and was joining the opposition to President Bashar Al-Assad, a strong contradiction was noted in his concluding pledge: "loyalty to Syria of Al-Assad."


Competition for non-permanent seats at the Security Council habitually heats up around September when Foreign Ministers start serious lobbying for an Assembly vote sometime in mid-October. That is in cases where there was no consensus within a regional group. This year, betting for one of the two "Europe and Other" seats has already started in earnest between Australia and Finland. While the prim and proper Finns seem to be mainly counting on their (Nokia) phones, delegates from Down Under have been actively inviting their colleagues to visit: Canberra and Brisbane for official contracts and Sydney for fun. While Sri Lankan candidates offered fine tea and Columbians Juan Valdez coffee, outgoing Aussies enjoyed dining, especially when accompanied by some quality music. The three groups of delegates -- between January and March -- were given a taste of the famous opera house. Even better, the last batch of guests had a special treat. The well-connected Deputy Representative arranged for front seats by the water to enjoy "La Traviata."


The disgraced and shameless Dominique Strauss-Kahn does not easily stay away from the downside. His recent alleged link with a prostitution ring from Lille covering Paris, Washington, London and New York, coincided with a civil case against him by the Manhattan hotel maid, who claimed he had forced her to have sex. The strangest point made by his recent defense was that at those parties, DSK could not tell whether a naked woman in that participatory gathering was a respectable lady or a prostitute. For that attitude, he claimed diplomatic immunity!


It was a title of a brief movie by the Marx Brothers with Groucho flitting his eyes, trying to gain the favour of a stern lady. Now with daily tragic reports on development in Syria, British daily The Guardian reproduced some emails where President Bashar Assad's wife Asma called her husband: "Batta," Arabic for Duck. That inspired several black jokes in the Syrian street, especially amongst opposition groups which started making noises at night, imitating quacking ducks and a poster where a caricature of a duck denies vehemently being Assad. It's a game of words. In Arabic, "Assad" means Lion.


French Magazine Elle devoted a full article on Hillary Clinton's practical hair style, with a special focus on her "pony tail" moments. "When she's on the road, she often has it pulled back in a simple chignon (pony tail), a look that causes Hillary Hair Watchers much chagrin, but merely means she's just pressed for time, as a U.S. State Department official told me: "It's a pain in the butt. The weather is different and you're in and out of planes. Most days people get off that plane looking like garbage, but she has to look camera-ready. She said the reason she grew her hair long was that it's easier. She has options." An official added that "no American alive can resist criticizing Clinton's hair"! Brainy, brilliant and perceptive Hillary had already acknowledged the growing number of HHW members. She once quipped: "If I wanted to change a political subject in the media, I just change my hair style."


On the occasion of the 101st Anniversary of International Women Day at U.N. Headquarters in New York, the U.N. Population Fund (UNFPA) sponsored a quilt exhibition. A communique stated that the exhibition, entitled "Women Are the Fabric," pays tribute to the strength of women and is a plea for the support and protection they need to take care of themselves and their families. One more thing, we were assured: "It is also a testimony to their role in weaving the social fabric of their communities." Wow. Is that it, Mme Bachelet?!


Somehow tucked away in the "Change Management" plan prepared by the Secretary General's office, there is an indication that Deputy Chef de Cabinet, known generally as Mr. Kim, will be promoted from ASG to USG rank. There is a similar reference to a similar upgrade for Robert Orr, who had worked for Kofi Annan and continued to operate -- with the same cheerleading -- for Ban Ki-moon.


"When a Mexican man and his wife have a long dispute over the telephone, who wins?" Carlos Slim, owner of Telemex telephone company. Yet the Mexican-Lebanese considered by Fortune as the world's richest, was spotted recently in Venice arguing for a ten dollar reduction on the price of a neck-tie. He has lent the N.Y. Times $250 million, contributed $50 million to humanitarian causes in his father's homeland, and helps Shakira's ALAS foundation, yet he uses a pencil in his boardroom meetings and drives his own car in the snarled traffic of Mexico City. He made billions in the business of electronic communications, yet can hardly operate a personal computer.



Yes, The New Yorker.


You'd think that the richest man in the world, announced for a third year in a row by Fortune, would be the happiest man in the world. Think again. Mexican-Lebanese businessman Carlos (Khalil) Slim Helu has been in grief over the wife he lost a few years ago that he built a private temple in her memory at home; any new lady friend (think Queen X, Y or -- actually -- N) would have to put up with it, together with regular memorial masses at Mexico City's Maronite Lady of Lebanon Cathedral. Also, despite remaining numerically at the top, the poor fellow is down five billion dollars from $74 billion to $69 billion while the next in line, Bill Gates, has advanced to $64 billion. Not to worry about is Mid-Westerner Warren Buffett at $44 billion, however, think of the 4th listed, French businessman Bernard Arnault. Despite having only half of Slim's fortune, he's acquired Lebanese-Mexican jewel Selma Hayek. What next? Shakira?


The credibility of Al-Jazeera, once the darling of Arab listeners, has been steadily eroding over the last couple of years. The first jolt was a mass resignation of six top female announcers in protest against sexual harassment and derogatory remarks about their clothes. Then, a year ago, with the Arab Spring report, came internal accusations about faking the news and using non-factual videos to promote one group of the conflict -- especially in Tunis, Libya, and Egypt. Then came Syria, when another six reporters -- male and female -- resigned over intentional bias and outright fictitious videos and witnesses. By the end of March, the oldest and most experienced announcer, Jamil Azar, a Palestinian and former prominent BBC Arabic Service anchorman decided he had had enough and left. Perhaps the latest resignation will be a wake-up call for the Qatari officials to re-evaluate their attitude. Already, there are articles in the Arab press marking the downfall of Al-Jazeera, but that claim seems exaggerated, until now. It may become a fact, however, if its directors continue to mix fact with fiction.



Reports that U.S. Assistant Secretary of State Jeffrey Feltman was likely to take the U.S. slot as U.N. Under-Secretary General for Political Affairs gave the impression that the U.S. Administration will be taking U.N. work more seriously. Designating someone with varied field experience, though controversial, and from a substantially senior post, may mean that more issues could be referred to the Security Council, whose Secretariat is handled by that Department. Most likely there will be a reaction, particularly in Lebanon -- where Ambassador Feltman had served prominently, siding clearly with one group known as "14 March," led by Saad Hariri, son of criminally assassinated Prime Minister Rafic Hariri. In an emotionally charged atmosphere, conflicting parties would personalize positions of diplomats, not realizing that they in fact reflect their government's official policy. Ambassador Feltman has served in both the Republican Administration of President George W. Bush and the Democratic one of President Obama. At the U.N., if reports are confirmed, he will certainly have to adhere to U.N. guidelines. Anyway, he would have a delicate balancing act, and -- judging from his performance -- he's clever enough to know where the lines are drawn.


The local word for alley used by Qaddafi to threaten his rebelling people has taken a life of its own on YouTube. Besides a variety of adaptations showing the ousted dictator shouting synchronized with rhythmic music, there are a number of songs by artists from Algeria and Niger to the Gulf using "Zenga" as a chorus. The latest, and most attractive, is one without the deposed dictator showing, instead, the delicious Shakira during her show opening the Olympics in South Africa. Her troupe grooves with creative hips, while El-Colonel interjects on chorus admonishing people to "enjoy," "have fun," Zenga Zenga.


Signs of unpleasant hurricanes in what was described as Arab Spring. Some groups who pretend to have a direct link to the Almighty started imposing their own obsessions on other compatriots; women in particular are the main victims. In Egypt, a woman was dragged while photographed unclothed in the streets of Cairo as calls for virginity tests are heard. In Libya, the Chairman of the National Council, that is the interim head of state, announced as his main item at his first news conference that now men are free to marry at will, regardless of their wives' status. The formidable women of Tunis are courageously defending themselves against persistent assaults to humiliate them. The weirdest development, however, came from Kuwait. Two "prominent sheikhs" have given a "fatwa" -- ruling -- that men are allowed, are authorized, to suck their wives' breasts, for nutritional purposes!


When the post of Director of Communications at the Secretary General's office was announced, the first to be surprised were his own colleagues at the same office. In line with his habitual dismissive attitude, Michael Meyer did not bother to tell them that he was on his way out. The real question is whether Meyer himself actually knew or was he also as surprised as the rest? One thing for sure, he keeps trying to stay until the last minute.


The husband of a recently-appointed Permanent Representative is determined to notify everyone in that Mission that he, that is, not his wife, is the real decision-maker. Besides hinting to other delegates on social occasions that he is more experienced than Her Excellency and as such writes her speeches -- in English -- he directly interferes with the daily work of hard-working staffers to the point of threatening them that he could possibly arrange for their dismissal. The poor driver of the Mission had to pay the price.


Until recently, the simplest way to get Korean food in New York was either to go to Queens or to Manhattan's Herald Square neighbourhood. Somewhere between West 31st and West 35th there are fast food chop shops, discount stores and some really good restaurants. Korean taste has certainly moved up at least to mid-town. Actually, a couple of blocks away from U.N. Headquarters, there is a new Bon-Chon Cafe offering a tasty version of barbequed chicken. Needless to say, some aspiring U.N. officials and young diplomats have been quick to explore. By now, some have acquired favourite dishes, pronounced as appropriately learned for their diligent servers.


"He who dedicates himself to the duration of his life, to the dignity of mankind, dedicates himself to the earth and reaps from it the harvest that sows its seed and sustains the world again and again. Finally, it is those who know how to rebel, at the appropriate moment, against history who really advance its interests."
-- Albert Camus


"Whom would you believe: your own eyes or me?"
-- Groucho Marx


The Chef de Tandoori has now gone, the way his predecessor Chef de Kabob disappeared into oblivion. While preparing his next insignificant move, he is still hanging on to some sort of obscurity, like a small office or a neglected floor in a secondary building. In case of emergency, he may wish to call "Curry in a Hurry."


"Mon pays est celui que la brume invente
d'un reve, d'une larme,
delui dont l'amour brise les frontieres
a la premiere pluie.
Mon pays est la terre de l'attente et de la rencontre.
Je le gouverne sans etre ni roi, ni poete,
mais une simple presence."
(Tout droit reserve a Nabil Abou-Dargham)


Welcome to PassBlue, a new Internet site offering original reporting and photography on the United Nations worldwide. From geopolitics to peacekeeping, women's rights to international justice, the Security Council to the secretary-general, you'll find it all in PassBlue. By covering the extensive work of the UN, PassBlue aims to shed more light on the world body, an international institution with more than 44,000 staff members in Secretariat positions globally as well as dozens of agencies operating across six continents. "PassBlue is an impressive, much-needed Web site," said John Washburn, who runs the American Non-Governmental Organizations Coalition for the International Criminal Court. PassBlue articles are written by top journalists, such as Barbara Crossette, a former foreign correspondent for The New York Times and a writer for The Nation; Irwin Arieff, formerly a foreign correspondent for Reuters; and Helmut Voger, the editor a A Concise Encyclopedia of the United Nations. Other contributors include Edward Elmendorf, most recently president of the United Nations Association of the USA; and Fred Eckhard, former spokesman for UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan. Crosette's articles range from news on population growth to the human-rights problems of the Naga ethnic group in India. Volger's eye is primarily focused on the Security Council and the Human Rights Council. Arieff concentrates on reviews for Books and UN EATS, an exclusive PassBlue feature offering the best advice on where to grab lunch or a quiet dinner in the UN neighborhood in New York. Craving Japanese? Read Arieff's review of Soba Totto. Through PassBlue's GOINGS-ON feature, you'll find brief reports on important appointments and personnel changes at the UN and information on new UN programs, like an online oral history project. WORLDVIEWS invites opinions on the UN and international events, such as Washington's scrutiny of the Human Rights Council. PassBlue is edited by Dulcie Leimbach, who also writes for the Web site and was an editor and writer at The New York Times for two decades. Most recently, she edited UNA-USA's online magazine The Independent and was senior editor of "A Global Agenda -- Issues Before the U.N."


Hans Corell, former Under-Secretary General and Legal Counsel for two Secretaries General and his wife Inger, arrived in New York from Stockholm to the welcome of their many friends. Although they are spending very few days, they are active enough to re-explore and enjoy places and cultural events which they had usually attended when they were prominent residents of Manhattan's international community. They discovered that once a U.N. New Yorker, you're always a U.N. New Yorker.


Zou bisou bisou
Zou bisou bisou, mon Dieu qu'ils sont doux

Zou bisou bisou
Zou bisou bisou, le bruit des bisous

Dans les buissons soux le ciel du mois d'aout
Les amoureux glissent a pas de loup
Comme les oiseaux ils ont rendez-vous
On l'entend partout

Mais dites-moi savez-vous, ce que veut dire entre nous,
Ce que que veut dire "Zou bisou"?

Ca veut dire je vous l'avoue
Mais oui je n'aime que vous
Zou bisou bisou
Zou bisou, mon Dieu que c'est doux

Mais pas besoin des buissons du mois d'aout
Quand tu m'embrasses doucement dans le cou
Car c'est curieux tu vois je l'avoue
Ca me fait partout zou bisou bisou.