15 December 2012


The Committee to Protect Journalists said in a report Tuesday, 11 December, that a record-number 232 journalists are imprisoned worldwide and that Turkey has the highest number with 49 journalists behind bars. The total is 53 more than the tally last year and is the highest number since the New York-based organization began conducting worldwide surveys in 1990. The census of journalists behind bars on Dec. 1 found that anti-state charges such as terrorism, treason and subversion were the most common made against journalists in 2012. At least 132 journalists are being held around the world on such charges, CPJ said. The group said that broadly worded anti-terror laws have allowed Turkish authorities to equate the coverage of banned groups with terrorism. Mehmet Ali Birand, a top editor with the Istanbul-based station Kanal D, said the Turkish government "does not differentiate between these two major things: freedom of expression and terrorism." CPJ said the second-worst jailer of the press is Iran, with 45 behind bars. China was third with 32 journalists behind bars, 19 of them Tibetans or Uighurs imprisoned for documenting ethnic tensions, CPJ said. "Journalists who report on areas deemed 'most sensitive' by the state -- China's troubled ethnic regions of Tibet and Xinjiang -- are most vulnerable," said Phelim Kine, deputy director of the Asia division of Human Rights Watch. The overwhelming majority of the 232 detainees are local journalists being held by their own governments. Just three foreign journalists were on the list. The list did not include journalists imprisoned and released throughout the year, nor does it include journalists abducted by non-state entities such as criminal gangs or militant groups.


"I then ask (the King of Jordan) if I could meet the head of his Intelligence Service to establish a working relationship. 'You are looking at him,' he said, 'I am the head of the Intelligence Service.'"
-- From King's Counsel by Jack O'Connell with Vernon Loeb


Hillary Clinton will not really be upset if you reported about her hair.


UN Photo/Evan Schneider


That's "Thank you very much" in our Caribbean member state of Aruba. It's like a mixture between Dutch, the former governing country, with a localized version of English "much." The language is a blend of old Dutch, Spanish borrowed from nearby Venezuela, American English from the overwhelming tourists, all adapted to suit an easy going population. Palm trees at hotel resorts are mostly imported. The national tree is "divi-divi," with its shape twisted by the wind. You could tour the whole state in the course of an afternoon. It's motto is: "One happy island" -- as long as those seeking sunny warmth from the freezing North keep coming. Bon vini.


Brazilian daily Estadao reported that a close advisor to Syrian President Bashar Assad, Ms. Buthaina Shaaban, visited Sao Paulo in November -- on a private visit and met a number of businessmen of Syrian origin to discuss the possibility of transporting a number of people and moving large amounts of money from Syria to Brazil. If you calculated only the flying time between Damascus and Brazil, you would conclude that the visit must have been very important and urgent to make. On whose behalf? "Ogue esta acontecendo?" That's Portuguese for "Que pasa?" in Spanish, "ShouFi?" in Arabic, or in plain English "What's going on?"


Unusual happenings at UNCA, the U.N. Correspondents' Association, which for decades unanimously represented the consensus professional interest of reporters accredited to cover U.N. work. Perhaps it's the "closed-in" atmosphere of transitional very limited offices on the Library's 2nd floor; perhaps it's the new competition by determined electronic media websites challenging long established news agencies; or maybe it is a personalized disagreement gone unchecked by U.N. Communications officials who normally tried to work out an agreeable collegiate arrangement to avoid it getting out of hand. Instead of helping one another advance their interests, for whatever reason and whomever started, a number of reporters became a spectacle for diplomats, U.N. staff and observers, some of whom found it interesting or amusing and discreetly fed it. It now reached a point where FUNCA was recently announced; while it supposedly stands for Free U.N. Coalition for Access, one could not escape reading it as F...UNCA.


"Dad always used to say the only causes worth fighting for were the lost causes."
-- James Stewart in "Mr. Smith Goes to Washington"


Michael Meyer, who is still clinging to any U.N. job, is supposedly assigned to Darfur. The outgoing "Communications Director / speechwriter" at the Secretary General's office who managed to stay with the help of influential New Yorkers, is apparently not too keen on actually going to the Sudanese peacekeeping spot. So he is assigned to a mission but not necessarily being there. He is using the absence of a replacement to persuade others that he will be more useful in New York than in the Sudanese wilderness. Useful?!


A group of Harvard/Yale scientists have named a newly-discovered lizard after U.S. President Barrack Obama. "Obamadon-Gracilis" was a small lizard -- less than a foot long, according to a press release issued in early December. It proudly ate insects and is "distinguished by tall, slender teeth with large and central cusps." The Obamadon fossils were discovered in Montana. It was almost wiped out "in the mass extinction asteroid that was also responsible for exterminating dinosaurs!" (Now you know!) In November, scientists at St. Louis University named a new species of freshwater fish after the U.S. President.


Sheikh Dr. Mohammad Alarefe has Tweeted that a Mujahid's sex marriage ("Munakaha" which is the crude description, literally meaning f...) to a "decent Moslem woman 14 years and above is acceptable by Sharia Law" to apply to Mujahideen in Syria. Dr. Alarefe added that it is a Munakaha marriage "limited to a few hours only in order to allow for other Mujahideen to also 'marry' her." He explains that such an arrangement would "strengthen the determination of the Mujahideen and it is also a requirement for entering Heaven."


When the post of Chief Security of UNDP was announced in November, senior staff wondered where would the incumbent, Mourad Wahba, be going. The ever-courteous brilliant intellectual assistant to former Secretary General Boutros-Ghali merely responded that he was looking forward to his new assignment. We now understand that he is most likely to receive a post in Haita, with a promotion to Assistant Secretary General level. Mourad has proved his valuable worth in whatever assignment assumed. No doubt he will similarly excel in Haiti Cherie.


Just when U.S. Ambassador Jeffrey Feltman started to enjoy his new assignment as U.N. Under-Secretary General for Special Political Affairs, political whispers started circling that the new Obama Administration may want him back at the State Department, particularly if U.S./U.N. Permanent Representative Susan Rice gets the job of Secretary of State. During the course of the year, "Dear Jeff" as he was known to political friends in Beirut, had some unusual experiences like visiting Teheran with the Secretary General to attend the Islamic Summit and visiting the Israeli-Palestinian area during the November war in Gaza. He seemed to manage his way around. In fact, whatever links in Teheran, Cairo, Gaza, (and of course Israel) may come in handy in backchannels to assist a new Secretary of State -- whoever is designated.


We were graciously blessed last October in New York when seeing Patriarch Ignatius Hazim, head of the Greek Orthodox Church of Antioch and all the East. One of his last acts was bestowing the highest award of St. Peter and St. Paul to the outstanding Issam Fares, former Deputy Prime Minister of Lebanon, and a renown philanthropist entrepreneur. His Beatitude looked fragile and spoke haltingly but impressively with the strength of his inspiring faith. He was very concerned about the fate of the parish in his native Syria. They form an integral part of the country's middle class, particularly in Damascus, Aleppo, and Homs. While urging every side to find a negotiated outcome, he was particularly aware of the threats exercised by incoming foreign elements who did not really care what happened to the country. When he started his priesthood decades ago, he prominently encouraged young men and women to participate in civic activities and headed one of the most prominent Byzantine choirs in Beirut. He always advocated an inclusive approach and national unity. Perhaps he was the longest-serving Patriarch for an Eastern Church in modern times. He passed away the first of December. May he be remembered with the Righteous forever.


An original architect of the U.N. Headquarters in New York, Oscar Neimeyer was one of the most creative thinkers of the 20th century. His vision implemented in Brasilia, capital of that dynamic country, was recognized by UNESCO on the List of World Heritage. Official tributes from around the world were made as he passed away early December. At an official State funeral in Brazil's capital, he was buried in his favourite navy blue suit and blue-striped shirt. A congenial yet determined futuristic intellectual, he never stopped advancing human causes with elegance and style. Such bountifully gifted achievers are rarely recognized by the public but they have an impact that lasts for centuries. After the official ceremony, Neimeyer's body was laid to final rest in his birthplace city of Rio de Janeiro.


If you think world powers are split between five members of the U.N. Security Council; one overwhelming "hyper power;" U.S., Russia, China; BRICS; or other perspectives, you'd better read a London tabloid. Mid-November, a British daily had a headline stressing that while the U.S. has faded away as the world's greatest "soft power," Britannia took over. Proof? "Adele" is the number one singer; Prince Harry is number one in media social coverage, and the recently overlooked "Pippa," world's most prominent "behind" as seen at the Royal wedding.


Israel Prime Minister Netanyahu and Hamas' Mashaal have been entangled in a long conflicting relationship. When still a young Hamas operative in Jordan, an attempt to kill Mashaal by a poisonous rash into his ear was made under the then Prime Minister Netanyahu. At the time, King Hussein, who had given safe haven to Moslem Brotherhood groups, warned the Israeli authorities that if they did not rush with the cure he would cut off all relations and cancel the peace process. In trying to end Mashaal's life, Netanyahu inadvertently turned him into a hero among Hamas followers, rising to the full leadership. Twenty years later, in Gaza this November, Prime Minister Netanyahu once more assaulted Mashaal's territory only to agree to an eventual ceasefire, offering the bearded leader worldwide publicity as a fighter who survived disproportionate military power -- including a special interview with CNN's Christiane Amanpour. An odd couple indeed. Perhaps it's about time to meet!


Southern singer Dolly Parton said breast implants don't age: "My girls are doing pretty good."


"If the individual is in order, so will his family be. If the family is in order, so is the state. If the state is in order, the world will be too."
-- Lu Bu We


How would a seemingly modest man like Egyptian architect Mohamed Morsi turn into an autocratic lord days after becoming President of the Republic? One answer may be in the overwhelming praise by those around him who are either overly loyal or opportunistically deceitful. Napoleon once said that the most dangerous weapon to destroy any ruler was persistent praise -- or "incense" as he described it. One example is a speech by a Sheikh in a Cairo mosque where President Morsi attended. He announced that anyone who criticized Morsi was worse than the infidels who attacked The Prophet in Mecca. The crowd murmured in anger of comparing the President to The Prophet, but Morsi seemed to enjoy his "divine" incarnation -- or was it coronation?!


Greece Former Minister of Foreign Affairs Dora Bakoyannis displayed her substantially transformed figure when she met the Secretary General during a visit to U.N. Headquarters in New York early December. Fortunately, the jovial Athenian who had enjoyed "That Big Fat Greek Wedding" maintained her vivacious charm and sense of humour, unlike most of those who undergo such special diets. The secret must be in the music, or the sea air of Corfu.


It's the time of the year for predictions, best wishes and good cheer. Whatever plans you are drawing, whoever you're spending time with, wherever you may be -- enjoy yourself, enjoy your friends. Most important, enjoy your life -- it may not be ideal, but consider the alternative! Merry Christmas and a happy prosperous New Year.