15 February 2009


A sensitive human rights activist and expert on Africa and a solid supporter of U.N.objectives, Alison des Forges was among the victims of the airplane crash near Buffalo Friday 13 February. From her hometown in upstate New York, she travelled regularly to the Great Lakes region and particularly Rwanda. She was among the first to call to document and announce the massacres despite attempts at a blackout by many powerful, embarrassed by shameful inaction. She spent four years on the spot, searching researching and forcing the facts on a reluctant audience worldwide. She went to every tribunal, from the ICT for Rwanda in Arusha, Tanzania to Belgium, Holland and Canada including wake up calls to the Parliaments of France and Belgium amd the U.S. Congress. She volunteered to appear on most U.N. panels. She did not shy away from confronting the Tutsi-led Government of Paul Kagami on human rights violations with the same enlightened courage and informed honesty with which she handled earlier Hutu massacres of Tutsi. Born in New York State, she graduated from Radcliffe College and received her doctorate in history from Yale. Alison des Forges devoted her life to defending human dignity. May her soul rest, with the angels, in peace.


It is common knowledge that UNICEF under the very politically appointed Ann Veneman is much less impressive than UNICEF under any of its former Executive Directors. Carol Bellamy, an outstanding symbol of female courage and initiative, had followed James Grant, who made a lasting impact on UNICEF's work, as did the great Henri Lebouisse. With increasing emergency needs of children in areas of conflict, Veneman seemed hardly interested in much more than displaying her political links. To the disappointment of her initial well-wishers and UNICEF supporters, the once Nobel Prize calibre Fund was sliding into irrelevance. The last thing it needed was a comment by one of its spokesman when asked about a recent crisis: "I am not going to wake up any of our people in the field on that issue"! It's UNICEF Siesta time!


During a debate in Davos on ways to solve the worldwide financial and economic crisis, German Chancellor Angela Merkel suggested establishing an "economic council" by the U.N. That must be a wake up call for members of the 60 year old U.N. Economic and Social Council, particularly its newly-elected president, Ambassador Sylvie Lucas, who has just been quoted by a U.N. communique on highlighting the "challenges ahead." Which challenges? The Council intends to use a scheduled meeting of some agencies in order to make "a valuable contribution" to another "high-level" meeting by member states later. There was also the need to carry out the new "entrusted" responsibilities such as "the Annual Ministerial Review"! No wonder the German Chancellor had no idea that the Council ever existed.


New times require new awards. Apparently there is some "high-level" appreciation for anyone who is ready to bypass any practice, sweep any floor, jump at any opportunity, laugh at any "joke," smile at any "quip," frown at anyone who does not toe the line, and generally act as a busy poodle, very anxious to please. While not wishing to demoralize our dedicated staff, perhaps it is about time to start identifying newly-converted poodles, especially when they show no consideration for their colleagues.


It may have been the abundance of funds or the law of their diminishing return. Microsoft whiz kid and the world's richest innovator Bill Gates took the opportunity of a gathering of a number of very high level business executives to release a bag of mosquitoes. He assured them the little bugs were harmless, but wanted to make the point that they could attack the rich as well as the poor. Which brings us back to the $100 mosquito net, supposedly guaranteed to protect African children from Malaria. Or the $100 laptop (opposed by Mr. Gates as inoperational), now transformed by an Indian entrepreneur into a $10 laptop. So many projects. So much money to save. So much money to waste. All in the name of the Greening of Africa. Or, perhaps, how green is their bank account.


Despite a welcoming gesture of inviting Ban Ki-moon to address the Lebanese parliament, it seems that the Secretary General was upset because of the public demonstrations and booing against him, particularly near U.N./ESCA headquarters in central Beirut. His Representative Michael Williams, who has met the Prime Minister, evaluated the visit with Lebanese officials, informing them of Mr. Ban's displeasure with the popular outburst although he seemed happy with the official welcome. In a response, a cabinet minister recalled an earlier visit by the Secretary General to Baghdad when a bomb exploded nearby and he had to duck while preparing for a press conference with Prime Minister Maliki. The minister wanted to say that the government extended every courtesy but it controls neither the public reaction nor the press response to the U.N. Secretary General's actions.


The President offered marriage on the night he met the Italian-born Bruni. He dared her to kiss him on the lips and hinted she would be Marilyn Monroe to him as JFK. That's the first-hand account of Jacques Seguela, who hosted the dinner where they first met. When Carla, using the informal "tu," teased Monsieur le President about his womanizing, he shot back: "My reputation is no worse than yours. I know you well even before meeting you. I know everything about you because I am so much you." He invited her to spend Christmas in Egypt with him; she refused. The couple left together and the presidential car dropped her home. Ten minutes later she telephoned her host. "Quelle charme, quelle intelligence, quelle attention, quelle energie" she exclaimed before complaining that she had given her very anxious suitor her private phone number but he had not called yet. He did, the following day. Et voila, they are now married. Whether she will be Marilyn Monroe or Jackie Kennedy, time will tell. Perhaps she'll go for both.


Blessed is he who, when having nothing to say, does not proceed to provide verbal evidence of it.


"The leaves did not stir on the trees, grasshoppers chirruped, and the monotonous hollow sound of the sea rising up from below, spoke of the peace, of the eternal sleep awaiting us. So it must have sounded when there was no Yalta, no Oreanda here; so it sounds now, and it will sound as indifferently and monotonously when we are all no more. And in this constancy, in this complete indifference to the life and death of each of us, there lies hid, perhaps, a pledge of our eternal salvation, of the unceasing movement of life upon earth, of unceasing progress towards perfection."
- Anton Chekhov, "The Lady with the Dog"


After months of tension when some U.K. officials accused Lebanese Hezbollah of training anti-British attackers in Basra, Iraq, discreet talks seems to have reached an accommodation. The U.K. Ambassador in Beirut is expected to have an open publicly announced meeting with a senior Hezbollah official, most likely one of its representatives in Parliament, Mohammad Raad or cabinet minister Mohammad Funeish. That symbolic recognition of the group would allow British citizens a feeling of better security in Lebanon. Operationally, it would make the task of U.N.'s Special Representative (and former U.K. official) Michael Williams very much easier.


"We (in Italy) are not exactly in this (economic) mess because our banks did not understand what was going on during the last five years and did not even pretend to understand it. So. They stayed out. Eh. Here we arrre now in the magnificent meeting spot between stupidity and good luck."
- Prime Minister Silvio Berlesconi


When the world sneezes, Davos gets a cold. This year, the usual suspects were not available. No Bono, Pro Bono; no Angelina pressing her delicious lips in pursuit of the mosquito net; no American big business brass listening politely to suggestions about a $100 Internet connection; no Condi to Bondi; no big prize oil sheikhs. Only star gazers without the stars. Except for our esteemed Secretary General Ban, there were very few world leaders at the exclusive HOF. John Thain, formerly of Merrill Lynch, was a no-show, particularly at the main skiing piste. That, of course, did not derail determined German businessmen from hitting the slopes when everyone else was searching for breakfast orange juice. "Shaping the Post-Crisis World" did not seem attractive enough. Admittedly, some habitue's absence was involuntary. Richard Fuld of bankrupt Lehman Brothers was kept away, not because he could not afford to pay the 42,500 Swiss Francs attendance fee, plus 18,000 for accommodations (he is still estimated at about $18 million), but perhaps because he was not in post-crisis mode. Apparently he had in earlier sessions enjoyed Judo wrestling with a select few of fellow paper tigers. Another regular, Ramalinga Ragu of Saytam Computer Services, has been involuntarily detained in an Indian jail, accused of glaring fraud. Such absences did not dampen the enthusiasm of Dr. Schwab, the creative German entrepreneur who turned a once romantic Swiss resort into a profitable P.R. venture. This year, however, he could barely make ends meet. The only visible group that made money was a helicopter company that charged over $5,000 for a brief hop from Zurich airport. Better luck next year.


Why do some of those who acquire sudden authority love to be lavishly praised even when it makes no sense? Why does it always have to be "for the first time;" or "at the highest level;" or "unprecedented;" even when it isn't actually true? It reminds us of what Duc de Saint Simon once wrote about incense burners and opportunists in the court of King Louis IV of France: Everyone wanted to be there as his majesty put on his long socks??


The last of the Reuters Barons just died in a French home for the elderly near Monte Carlo. Marguerite Baroness de Reuter was 96 years old. She was the widow of Oliver Baron Reuter the Fourth, whose grandfather Paul Julius started Reuters news agency in 1851 using a combination of telegraph cables and carrier pigeons. The Swiss-born Marguerite, who was always proud of her Reuters -- and British -- connection, had no children. Alas, there will be no more Reuters Barons or Baroness -- except perhaps one presumptuous woman in New York who imagines she had inherited the title and the agency as a personal fiefdom.


Most Senior Official: Shred it. No one must ever be able to find it.
Special Special Assistant: Then, I think it is best that I file it.
- From British TV Series


When we complained that the recent addition of Fogh to Denmark Prime Minister's official name was an added difficulty we apparently did not take into account some local sensitivities. We thought it would make the pronunciation more difficult and perhaps somewhat awkward particularly as he is linked to FCCC, a committee gaining more popularity as climate change gets more attention. Feedback from at least once source indicated that adding "Fogh" would not be a complication; indeed, in Copenhagen -- where it really matters -- it may make him more popular.


We received feedback on an earlier item about former Pakistani Prime Minister Shaukat Aziz telling U.S. State Secretary Condoleezza Rice that he can conquer any woman in ten minutes. Those who confirmed the account continued to add that a visibly displeasured Dr. Rice just stared at him in icy silence. The man clumsily murmured incoherently as he got out of sight.


As Turkey has taken its seat in the Security Council, with a determination to play an active role, a diplomatic story was recalled about the time when current Turkish President Gul took over as Minister of Foreign Affairs. A report was then requested on the nuanced positions of various countries. The result was half a page limited to a hypothesis that when drinks were served during a hot Mexican evening guests discovered a fly in every cup. The British requested a change in the cup and the drink. The Swede agreed to keep the cup if only the drink was changed. The Finn pushed out the fly and sipped the rest. The Greek drank half the cup then protested, demanding a fresh new drink. The Japanese picked the fly to send home for scientific exploration. The Norwegian drank yet kept the fly as fish bait. The American sued the Mexicans in court demanding a million dollars. The Turk? He protested very strongly, condemning the perpetrators. Turkish diplomats now say that their country intends to go beyond protests to creative outreach and wide regional initiatives. Inshallah.


An agitated young diplomat from Abu Dhabi was unhappy with our brief reference to two Sheikhs who were upset at a local newspaper because it reported that they were unwisely feeding their horses illegal steroids in internationally supervised competitions. The confused Sheikh thought he could shake us by objecting strongly to some irrelevant Mid-Eastern ambassador whom he assumed can give us instructions. Apparently he thinks we could be treated like the press in the Emirates, which is being subjected to a new press law allowing the government to punish any reporter who writes anything it considers unhelpful to public interest -- "misguiding" the people, or critical of the ruler, deputy, council members, their deputies, varied representatives and their deputies. That protects practically any government official, including that frustrated fellow in New York who may feel better if he took a hike in Central Park.


  • The modern ownership of movables is reducing us to a nomadic horde. We are reverting to a civilization of luggage.
  • Jewels have a life of their own.
  • The powerful play goes on and you may contribute with a verse. What will your verse be?


Would you know the way to Europe, France?
-- Marilyn Monroe in Gentlemen Prefer Blondes

Psychologically, I am very confused; but personally I feel wonderful.
-- Judy Garland

It's not the men in my life but the life in my man.
-- Mae West


  • When you are in the right you can afford to keep your temper; and when you are in the wrong you cannot afford to lose it.
  • I hold that the most helpless the creature, the more it is entitled to protection by man from the cruelty of man.
  • The quest for truth cannot be prosecuted from a cave. Silence makes no sense when it is necessary to speak.