15 February 2010


There he was, our General Romeo Dallaire, straight as an arrow, walking proudly and graciously at the opening ceremony of the Vancouver Olympics. A team of six most distinguished citizens of the valuable U.N. member state of Canada entered, holding the Olympic mantle. A man of courage and dignity, the General who commanded the U.N. Rwanda Mission had tried to pre-empt the massacres by suggesting to arrest the known accomplices but was told dismissively by Mr. Annan's deputy in Peacekeeping, (and later his Chef de Cabinet) Iqbal Riza in an infamous message, to refrain from action and that he was "exceeding his mandate". On Friday 12, February 2010, while the forgotten Riza was plodding his way in some obscure corner, Romeo Dallaire was in the world spotlight of honour under the admiring gaze of millions. Salut, mon General.


U.S. Secretary of State is making a previously unscheduled visit to Qatar, ostensibly to speak at some conference there. The Crown-Prince of Qatar Sheikh Tamim Bin Hamad has just concluded a discreet visit to Tehran, after two trips between the Iranian capital and Paris. Qatar's ruler, Shaikh Hamad had just concluded a one day unexpected trip to Riyadh where he held talks with King Abdallah in the presence of Saudi Crown Prince Sultan, and Prince Salman, Governor of Riyadh and one of the most influential Saudi royals. Secretary Clinton will also stop in Riyadh. Meanwhile, Iran's Chief of Staff, Esfandiar Mashaei, who was hand-picked by President Ahmadinejad (Mashaei's daughter is married to Ahmadinejad's son), visited Geneva on 1 February and reportedly met with U.S. officials under Swiss Government auspices. An American delegation of nuclear specialists was visiting at the time. The Swiss Embassy in Tehran serves as representative of U.S. interests in Iran.


For the first time in U.N. history, its New York Headquarters was closed officially on Wednesday, 10 February, due to a projected snowstorm. An unprecedented announcement was made a day earlier. By that date, the staff were already dispersed between 2nd Avenue and Madison from 42nd to 48th Streets. Even the Secretary General -- like the famous Elvis announcement -- had left the building. He and about 200 others were located in a pre-fabricated 3-floor site in the Garden area, dubbed Bantenamo by an irreverent reporter. In case of an emergency elsewhere in the world, desperate callers will have to have the home or cellular number of staff concerned, except if one is counting on a central operator, an automatic recording even in normal days. General Dallaire, when fighting his demons in Rwanda, used to complain that there was no one at Headquarters to receive his phone calls on weekend evenings. That was when Peacekeeping Chief Kofi Annan at least showed up -- with an elegant turtleneck dark blue sweater -- at the Security Council Chambers. Now, try a snowy day in New York.


All eyes were on U.N. Secretary General Ban Ki-moon as he was in Haiti 17 January giving a press conference amidst the ruins of Port-au-Prince. The whole country was in catastrophic shape. Millions displaced in the streets. U.N. Headquarters had fallen apart, about 200 U.N. staffers unaccounted for. The two most senior U.N. representatives, Hedi Annabi, and Luis da Costa were just declared missing. Mr. Ban, the symbolic figure of the international community, was highlighting the need to clear the bottlenecks and co-ordinate delivery of humanitarian assistance. In the midst of devastation and tragedy, TV photographers managed to zoom in on a man with distinctive Far Eastern features seated behind the Secretary General using his own mobile phone camera to photograph himself!


There were doubts about a story circulated this month that despite having served for years as a distinguished Pakistani diplomat, Akbar Zeb reportedly cannot receive accreditation as Pakistan's ambassador to Saudi Arabia. The reason, apparently, had nothing to do with his credentials, and everything to do with his name -- which, in Arabic translates to "biggest dick." It seems that the high level Pakistani diplomat has been rejected as Ambassador of Saudi Arabia because his name, Akbar Zib, equates to "Biggest Dick" in Arabic. Saudi officials, apparently overwhelmed by the idea of the name, put their foot down. According to an Arabic-language article in the Arab Times, Pakistan had previously floated Zeb's name as ambassador to the United Arab Emirates and Bahrain, only to have him rejected for the same reason. However, a young Saudi Royal attending the New York Fashion Show expressed puzzlement that such credentials could be refused. He expressed readiness to help mediate. He enthusiastically indicated that not only would His Excellency welcome Akbar Zeb, but any member of the Zeb family will be welcome.


Actress Salma Hayak has been moving around the globe recently attending film festivals or promoting new movies. In Cairo, she recounted that an 80-year-old camelman tried to kidnap her during a visit to the Pyramids but that experience did not erode her special affection for Egypt. Her main problem, she explained, was that wherever she resided, people looked at her as a foreigner. Although she's proud of her Mexican-Lebanese heritage, in Mexico many considered her Arab. In the U.S., they considered her Mexican. Now that she has moved to Paris, the French think she is American.


"The ultimate measure of a man is not where he stands in moments of comfort, but where he stands at times of challenges and controversy."
-- Martin Luther King Jr.


Now that DNA tests confirmed the remains of Alec Collett, a special commemoration ceremony was held at the Church Center on 44th Street and First Avenue. His wife and children were surrounded with loving friends who remembered Alec since his days as a U.N. Correspondent, a Director of the U.N. Information Centre in Accra, and as a UNRWA fixed-term consultant when he was kidnapped. There was an impressive turnout of noted former U.N. pillars, like Karen Koning AbuZayd, outgoing UNRWA Commissioner General, Giandominico Picco, former Under-Secretary General who helped in freeing the hostages in Lebanon, Samir Sanbar, former head of DPI who worked for the release of Collett, Lelei LeLaulu, who had mobilized public support and now works at George Washington University in Washington, D.C. Speakers represented the U.N. Secretary General, UNRWA, the Department of Public Information and the Correspondents Association. Paula Refolo, DPI Director, pointed out to the role of Alec Collett in bridging a partnership between the U.N. Secretariat and the Correspondents. Everyone agreed that a definite recognition of Alec's fate, however painful, provides his family and friends with the certainty needed to proceed with their lives accordingly.


Why would nepotism specialist Steffan Demistura inform media savvy Richard Holbrooke that he had been offered the job of U.N. envoy to Afghanistan? Why would the U.S. AFPAK Envoy, former U.S. delegate to the U.N., volunteer what he heard to a reporter in Washington? Why would Demistura then claim that he had actually turned down the offer? What were the "family reasons" that Abu Chatterjee Bin Riza supposedly claimed dissuaded him from getting the job? Why was Secretary General Ban so irritated when asked about that question?


In preparing for Valentine's Day (14 February for those living on another planet), ardent suitors discovered a serious mishap on the way from Bogota to New York. Freezing temperatures in Colombia, where most of those roses usually come from, has had a devastating effect. What's a passionate lover to do? Holland came to the rescue with those elegant tulips in many colours. But they are more expensive. And they don't blend with roses. It's like apples and oranges.


Many fans, including a number of our colleagues, celebrated the birthday of Elvis Presley, who would have been 75 this year. Three quarters of a century and the young man from Tennessee, who died at the age of 42, is still going strong -- albums, videos, fans. Our U.N. colleagues noticing how their Headquarters is being shattered and staff dispersed recalled what used to be announced whenever a big concert was over: "Elvis has left the building!"


Not to be confused with Mr. Ban. Both hail from the same hailed Korean culture. Ms. Sook-ja Bang is the Chairman and Founder of Global Children Foundation. Not to be confused with U.N. Emerging Fund for Children; that is still headed by the useless Ann "Gucci" Veneman, who totally disappeared during the Haitian tragedy, leaving her able spokesman Chris de Bono as an open target to media spinners. Anyway, we gladly noted that on the 26th day of the first month of the second decade of the 21st century, Mr. Ban had time to receive Ms. Bang after he saw the President of the Security Council and before receiving the Archbishop of Canterbury.


It's actually a biscuit. Supposedly a very nourishing biscuit. World Food Programme officials believe in its value so much as to pass it around as a sample of useful help they are providing for Haitian people. There is a slight confusion, however, about its origin. Initially, they announced it came from Salvador. Someone else noted that "Ecuador" was printed on its package. A diligent spokesman is looking into it.


A special roundtable was held at U.N. Headquarters to discuss a global program on anti-counterfeiting. It was organized by the hitherto unheard-of UNICR! Inter-regional Crime and Justice Research Institute. Why they dropped the "J" for Justice from their acronym, no one cared to explain. Who are these people? No one knows. However, there were press releases readily available for anyone who cared -- that is, no one at all. Perhaps the first step to counter counterfeit is to expose those posing as serious senior international officials.


Shameless Alexander Downer, once Foreign Minister of Australia, now Bespoke chaser of business contracts, devoted a few hours of his time to meeting Greek and Turkish Cypriot leaders while on a visit there as Ban Ki-moon's Special Representative for Cyprus. According to a dutifully issued press bulletin, the obnoxious visitor described the meeting to be "very friendly" with a "very significant exchange of ideas, particularly on governance and power sharing issues"! The man from Down Under gets a high-level appointment, plus a per diem, plus an opportunity to push his weary wares. No shame indeed.


Without courage all other virtues lose their meaning.


He who is really kind can never be unhappy. He who is really wise can never be confused. He who is really brave can never be afraid.


No time to repair roof when roof is leaking.


Puff Diddy has called his son Justin Dior. It is not clear whether the name was bought, signed, sealed and delivered from the fashion house in Paris and whether that would entail an exclusive name no one else can use without due authorization. What is certain is that Daddy Diddy has bought his son Dior a $300,000 automobile, despite the fact that the young man can't drive.


As France took over the Presidency of the Security Council on 1 February, there was a consultation meeting in an almost deserted U.N. building. One of the rare news items circulating internally was the declared intention of the Secretary General to appoint Assistant Secretary General Haile Menkerios as head of the U.N. Mission to Sudan UNMIS. Menkerios is a very experienced former Eritrean diplomat who is now holding a South African passport. As U.S. Ambassador Susan Rice walked out of the Security Council meeting, a lone reporter asked her what the U.S. thought of the new appointment in Sudan. Without missing a beat, she responded: "Highly."


Apparently the Delegates Dining Room is still functioning while all other offices including those of the Secretary General have been evacuated. The Indian Mission to the U.N. gave a reception there on its national day -- in a run-down atmosphere. Unfortunately for such a crucial U.N. country, its delegate did not see fit to commemorate it in the way it deserves. The few guests who made their way discovered that no food was served and the cocktail tidbits offered looked stale and frail. No drinks were served, except some water and sodas. Diplomats who dutifully drifted by, swiftly drifted out of the back door. Someone mentioned the financial crisis. But that's not true. And that's not fair for India that fielded some of the best diplomats and international civil servants throughout U.N. history.


Negotiations between Greek and Turkish Cypriots have been going on since the Island was split in 1974. For over 36 years the U.N. has been trying to help in arriving at a negotiated settlement. Yet U.N. current Secretary General Ban Ki-moon did not hesitate to put an optimistic spin on his recent visit to Cyprus despite street demonstrations by Turks (raising victory signs) and Greeks upset at his politically symbolic visit to the office of Turkish community leader Mehmet Ali Talat depicting the flag of the Northern (Turkish) Cypriot state recognized only by Ankara. Mr. Ban announced that he was "encouraged" during his tour de Farce with his "Bespoke" Special Representative because the two leaders (Greek and Turkish) "personally assured me of their shared commitment for a comprehensive solution as early as possible!" Like in the next 36 years!


"Soy hombre: duro poco
y es enorme la noche.
Pero miro hacia arriba
les estrellas escriben.
Sin entender comprendo:
tambien soy escritura
y en este mismo instante
algvien me deletrea."
-- Octavio Paz, "Hemandad"


"With all I have to hold, with hand and mind.
And heart if need be, I will do my best.
To keep their building balanced at my breast.
I crouch down to prevent them as they fall;
Then sit down in the middle of them all."
-- Robert Frost, "Armful"


A colleague reminded us of an incident when newly-appointed U.N. Afghan envoy Demistura, courtesy of Chatterjee, was sent on his first Special Representative post in Lebanon, courtesy of Iqbal and Imran Riza. On the illusion that he was exercising high-level diplomacy, he visited Israel to discuss its airforce overflights on Lebanese territory. Apparently his interlocutor there did not take him seriously and gave a vague yet positively sounding response. When Messtura returned to Beirut, he demanded to meet the President, Prime Minister, Foreign Minister, Speaker of Parliament, and Chief Editors to announce the end of Israeli overflights. Only three days later, IDF planes were spotted taking their time on the Lebanese skies. President Lahoud called him in to ask where did he get his assurances from. Since then, there has been a play of words on the name: in Lebanese slang "Messtura" means covered-up.


Rajendra Pachauri, the pompous head of the U.N. sponsored Intergovermental Panel on Climate Change, is not only losing his credibility about the Himalayan glaciers meltdown, but also displaying his failure as a writer of frustrated sex fiction. Banking on his Copenhagen Conference appearances, he issued this month "Return to Almora," about the sexual "conquests" of alter ego "Sanjay Nath," a scientist who is, of course, worried about the ecosystem, but has adequate time to brood about "caressing her voluptuous breasts" and how "the excitement got the better of him, before he could even get started." Premature, perhaps, or immature. But certainly lousy writing.


Why is former U.S. President Bill Clinton so keen on cruise ship visits to North Haiti? During a stopover at U.N. Headquarters, one of the main items he raised with the press was that cruises leaving from Florida should be allowed to continue using the berths of Labadee among their Caribbean stops. While the world is worried about destitute Haitians and finding the fate of disappeared loved ones, it was very odd to hear Mr. Clinton harp so long about cruisers. Perhaps he meant that such visits would help pick up business for Haitians, but anyone who cruised will tell you that very few Haitians -- perhaps a few lifeguards and boaters -- make money out of it; the main income is for cruise companies.


Hear ye, hear ye. New York's Gray Lady, the newspaper of record, may be losing its journalistic marbles. After missing out on several headline items -- reporting on them the following day after The Financial Times and the Washington Post, it allowed reporters to write their stories by remote control, like covering Lebanon from Dubai or covering Iran from Toronto. Now it is using strange words in its front page headlines. A front page story on Haitians in New York on 4 February mentioned the need to "cohere," sending some readers to Google search. "Cohere from Latin cohaerere: to stick, to hold together firmly as part of the same mass." There was a "coherecomm.com" which reportedly hosts "IP solutions," a Wiktionary cohere: "third-person singular present cohere, simple past and present participle cohered." Plus, "to hold together in a mass that resists separation." Cohere is a visual tool to create, connect and share ideas. There was the obligatory reference to "Thesaurus," Synonym Dictionary, Antonym, etcetera. Welcome to cohere: screencasts; ideas; connections; peoples; groups. You Tube got into the act about making connections between ideas -- an introduction to a freely available software. "Publish your ideas, weave webs of meaningful connections between ideas and discover..." Another welcome is "to form a united, orderly and aesthetically consistent whole. Ideas that unite." Apparently it is part of an emerging vision of sense-making infrastructure for crafting, sharing and disputing ideas. If you got the drift of the N.Y. Times-injected "cohere," you may also follow-up on another word in the same article that efforts have not "coalesced." You could look that one up on your own.


A reunion of world politicians, bankers, businessmen and professional participants in the Swiss resort in Davos sounded more downbeat than any earlier talkfest. The freezing cold in the snow-covered village may have induced an abundance of hot air: self-serving speeches blaming every else for the financial state of the world. Bankers sounded like former members of the Politburo of the Soviet Union and senior government officials blaming the "capitalist" system sounded more like members of the Communist party. A Russian diplomat, listening to a prolonged, repetitive speech about the poor victims, the greed of business executives, and the need for urgent corrective measures, quipped over cocktails that he almost felt nostalgic. They only needed a speech by Mr. Gromyko to complete the mood.


Although she had retired last November, Michele Montas was out there with the first team of internationals to help her beloved Haiti. When Mr. Ban went, she was seen next to him, visiting children, inspecting the damage, and offering whatever help she could. The elegant gracious lady looked even more elegant and gracious as she displayed courage and dedication, extending her support to the remaining members of the U.N. Mission. Her availability to advise the acting head of that mission, Ed Mullet, is a valuable offer. She gave an outstanding example for others to follow. Bravo Michele.


Gerhard, the former Stassi, should have worked as a driver in Berlin. You just gave him your name; he will know the address -- even the phone number. Yet Gerhard is somewhere around, drinking a bit more than he can handle and sending reports, that is fabricating what his old masters used to direct him. Only he now works for the winning side, which provides him with a crumb or two, depending on his depressed mind. We were told that he is now teaching somewhere, masquerading as an expert in international affairs. Apparently, there is no cure to an informant's habit.


  • Act 1. Mustarda Depestura strolls on the stage, pondering his options between meeting visiting children or greeting a greeter who in turn is equally ponderous. He belts out a banal old tune: "Una Lacrema sul viso..."
  • Act 2. Enter Ikitutu Rizzoto. Sits quietly by the side. Observing. Reading glasses on the nose -- an indication of presumed authority. He waves a photo of Imrano Pellegrino, his lone and lonely hodgy podgy son, who is searching for a wife. Forlorn, he sings: "Le Donna mobile..." Mustarda is drawn to the appealing voice. He responds with: "Tutti Futti on the Routi." Imrano suddenly appears. He looks eager to please. So does Mustarda. So does Rizzoto. They hold each other's hand as La Travestata is churned out by musak.
  • Act 3. Depestura is despondent again. His two friends have left the stage. He fidgets as he gazes on the horizon for a ray of sunshine from the East, where the new oracle is set. He smiles anxiously as he spots Chaterlee Vendelou. Would he help? Could he join hands like the wonderful Rizzoto pair did in a previous episode? Hesitant and slightly suspicious, Chaterlee extends a weary -- yet helpful -- hand. He seems to be singing off-tune a song by a group called "Harabaki." It's not Italian; so what? It sounds Korean; even better. He meets and greets as he sings: "Con Partiro."


We hear that Nicaragua's First Lady Rosario is so keen on the rose colour that floral arrangements decorating tables at official events are all that same colour. It happens that they are all supplied by a local flower company owned by her son. Another son runs a luxury hotel in Managua and a concession at its airport. Gone are the days of socialist Sandinistas, except if you recall that some socialist parties like in France have the rose as their symbol. Remember the song of Gilbert Becaud: "L'important ces la rose"? Croix moi.


* What are you doing here?
- I have a Guggenheim internship.
* Who's Guggenheim?


"Open Sesame"
-- Adapted from Ali Baba and the Forty Thieves