As if the number of members of an "Advisory Group of Experts for Peacekeeping" was not enough after two announced additions, a third member list was hurriedly announced on Friday, 23 January. It included Anis Bajwa of Pakistan, together -- of course! -- with Saraswathi Menon of India, Funmi Olonisakin of Nigeria, Ahmedou Ould Abdallah of Mauritania (remember his useless yet expensive assignments in West Africa and Somalia?!), Charles Petrie of France (mais, pourqoi pas alors!), Edith "Grace" Ssempala of Uganda and the formidable, really outstanding, Gert Rosenthal, Permanent Representative of Guatemala at the U..N. and former U.N. Under-Secretary-General in charge of the Economic and Social Commission for Latin America in Santiago, Chile. It was explained that the names were added "following up on a request of the General Assembly and the Security Council"! Who in the Assembly and/or Council asked? Don't ask.


Anyone driving up New York's First Avenue by U.N. Headquarters during the Holiday Season and the month of January would have thought that the compound was deserted. Particularly as it got dark around 5pm when the new, brightly-lit Security Reception passage booth on 45th Street seemed about empty except for a couple of duty officers. Very few meetings inside despite the usual flow of press communiques and a habitual press briefing. The Secretary-General had time to visit three continents in three weeks -- Asia, Central America, and Europe -- in addition to Washington, D.C. and Davos, where he was followed, as has become usual, by the Deputy Secretary-General. Clearly, there were dedicated hard-working staff inside, particularly at mid-level and General Services level, taking care of business while politically-expedient high-fliers did what came naturally -- high flying.


Although flocking to Davos has become an annual January ritual, attendance this year was mostly dominated by ponderous questions about the status of the world economy. Despite a number of prominent participants, assembled as usual by the enterprising Dr. Schwab, there were no remarkable pronouncements; not even playful gimmicks like the "Malaria Tent" or "$100 Computers." While The Financial Times tried very hard to focus attention on issues raised there, a lackluster tone was inescapable. That did not take away from the pleasure that prominent participants enjoyed from meeting one another and receiving due attention from attention groupies. We only wish that our esteemed Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon and Deputy Secretary-General Jan Eliasson were duly rewarded for their determination and time by at least one mention in any of the regimented media representatives. Well, maybe next year.


The new Under-Secretary-General for Field Support Atul Khare was the old Assistant-Secretary-General for Peacekeeping a couple of years earlier, as well as Deputy to the head of that Department. A citizen of India, he replaces the accomplished Ms. Ameerah Haq of Bangladesh. Whether that means that other Indian nationals in senior positions, like for example Vijay Nambiar would be in any way effected remains to be seen. Meanwhile, Mr. Khare has to make a special effort to advise his colleagues in the Arab region how precisely to pronounce his name.


There must be something special about Columbia which, unfortunately, is not duly recognized. The world's most widely-read novelist, Gabriel Garcia Marquez, universally known as "Gabo," was from Columbia, though he had to live in Mexico City. The most impressive soccer football player during the Mundial in Brazil, James, is from Columbia, although he opted to play for Real Madrid. The most popular pop singer, Shakira, is from Columbia, though she shares her life currently with a Barcelona star. The most popular model, Sofia, comes from Columbia (and from Barranquilla, the same hometown as Shakira), though she lives mainly in Washington, D.C. Ms. Columbia, Paulina Vega, was elected on 25 January in Miami to become Ms. Universe. She also comes from Barranquilla. Yet all such individual accomplishments do not seem to boost adequately to international standing or reputation of that amazingly wonderful country. It may have something to do with the political governments there. For example, only recently, and only after the great Gabo was buried, did Bogota decide to honour him by putting his face on Columbian currency. The first one to joke about it would have been Gabo himself, who spent much of his early life, particularly as a reporter for a Columbian paper in Europe, unable to earn enough money to buy appropriate shoes in the cold days of Paris. He sometimes quipped that his sold out books that finally made him money were shipped in cargo while they afforded him -- at last -- a business class seat. Clearly, it is up to Columbians to decide what to do about their governance. Meanwhile, take me to Barranquilla!


Almost all those appointed recently in U.N. senior political positions are said to have one main thing in common: "experience and expertise." Whoever drafts these announcements should at least try to introduce some other deviation. For a while earlier, particularly under Mr. Annan, someone seemed stuck on "high-level" individuals or "high-level" missions. It is very unlikely that Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon is even aware of it, but anyone duly following up his proclaimed appointments would welcome more details on past or anticipated performance rather than a boring rehash of inexperienced unimpressively drafted unusable press releases.


It's official. Turkey's new President Recep Tayyip Erdogan designated 16 armoured guards at the newly inaugurated vast Palace representing 16 stars indicating 16 Ottoman Sultanates from the 13th to 15th centuries through the Moguls onwards. The decorated decorating guards would stand attention at the escalating steps when the President takes an official photo with a visiting official. The palace, which has over one thousand rooms, is about 30 times larger than the U.S. Presidential White House. In line with the Sultanate atmosphere, the portrait of the founder of Modern Turkey, General Ataturk, which usually hangs in every official location, was not displayed.


You'll be surprised which member states have paid their U.N. duties in time and in full. A list of 10 top countries announced in January indicated the following in alphabetical order: Armenia, Bhutan, Denmark, the Dominican Republic, Iceland, Latvia, Lichtenstein, Norway, Singapore and Senegal. The Dominican Republic and Senegal were the first to pay full dues on 1 January 2015. By the week of 26 January, five countries followed: Bulgaria, Thailand, Austria, Finland, Luxembourg, totaling 15 member states. An honourable example.


Our amiable beloved former Secretary-General Javier Perez de Cuellar has just celebrated his birthday. This month of January, 2015, he was surrounded by family and friends in Lima to welcome his 98th year. While he is unable to travel as frequently as before, particularly to his other home in Paris, or stopover to inspire his former team in New York or elsewhere, Don Javier remains as gracious and perceptive as always. God grant him many years to come.


We understand that legendary novelist Gabriel Garcia Marquez, who passed away a few months ago, has left one unfinished novel among his papers. We suggest that a competition with a prize be set-up to allow aspiring qualified Latin American young writers, particularly in his country Colombia, to display their talent by trying to complete it and in a way, pay tribute to his national credentials.


"What did you see?"

"I didn't see anything, because I was told to stay home."
(BBC live report from Paris spotted by London's Private Eye)


After participating in the Study Abroad program, Dilia Zwart was inspired to give back to her local community and launched an initiative to empower youth in the Bosnia-Herzegovina city of Mostar. It provides English language courses and workshops focused on personal and professional growth in a country with 60 percent youth unemployment. Well done, Dilia, in setting a creative example.


Years ago, we noted that U-2 singer Bono was not entirely offering his music "pro-bono" as would have been expected from his declaration of support for popular causes. Now we understand that he is not feeling well and is about to cancel his group's scheduled concerts in the U.S. tour this year. It also means one less editorial in The New York Times or The Financial Times. Well, we wish him well.


It was part of growing up with movies. Federico Fellini's "La Dolce Vita" made it everywhere around the world and with it the sight of temptress Anita Ekberg jumping naked in the Fontana di Trevi on Via Veneto. The "Fontana" -- made famous early by an American movie Three Coins in a Fountain -- had to undergo major reconstruction work recently. Via Veneto is no more what it used to be and Ms. Ekberg just passed away at age 82. La Vita continua.


After all that's said and done, more is said than done.


From The New Yorker -- yes, The New Yorker


"At his core, at his best, he was a philosopher, and he was a poet, and he was an advocate and he was a crusader. Mario Cuomo was the keynote speaker for our better angels."
-- Andrew M. Cuomo


"They say your father never leaves you. If you listen carefully you will hear his voice. I believe that's true."
-- New York Governor Andrew Cuomo at his father's funeral in the Church of Saint Ignatius Loyola


A post at U.N. Information Centre in Manama, Bahrain, has been announced internally, but for a limited period. Apparently, the Informer there has taken unpaid leave for some reason, speculation being that he would desert his country of origin after the political change there and seek Bahrain citizenship. A number of candidates for an interim assignment may not be too enthusiastic unless there is a clear, longer appointment; otherwise they would most likely be targeted by the absentee incumbent while not getting substantively rewarded. Whoever took that decision of an interim six months may be clueless about how an effective Centre works or even how regular assignments -- and incentives -- are managed.


With the Delegates Lounge turning into a high-school cafeteria and the new East River (Qatar) lounge becoming more like a whispering -- or dozing -- mediation spot, a number of diplomats, even some Secretariat staff, are seeking elsewhere for informal or more relaxed exchanges. The bar at the International Trump building has not been able to make it thus far, though not for lack of trying. Nor did a diner next to the German Mission on the corner of 49th Street. Lounges in nearby hotels are actually part of the hotel, without an attractive atmosphere. A successful coffee-cappuccino shop on 45th Street between 1st and 2nd Avenues has actually made it, only it is too small to accommodate a quiet chat or a relaxed sip. The most convenient one, an open-air on 47th off First Avenue with chairs spread around it is more appealing in warmer months and sunny weather. A new Polo Lounge opened by designer Ralph Lauren on 55th Street and 5th Avenue, is appealing to diplomats, particularly those whose officials stay at the nearby hotel during the General Debate, as well as drawing on the fashion designer's customers, particularly those especially accommodated by his shops on Madison Avenue. Mr. Lauren may have been encouraged by the response to his first experiment in Paris on Saint-Germain Boulevard, where American dishes like steaks and hamburgers are receiving increasing popular demand, despite fashionable Parisian pricing.


A recent appointment of a Norwegian, Espen Barth Eide, as Special Advisor to the Secretary General on Cyprus (meaning actually he will only visit there occasionally but remain focused on his work on Davos ventures), raised questions about the number of Norwegians Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon had appointed -- fuelling speculation on his avid pursuit of a Nobel Prize in 2015! In addition to the controversial Terje Roed Larsen, who has served for almost two decades at the same rank (and who reportedly is connected to someone on the Nobel-granting committee); former Norway's Prime Minister Jens Stoltenberg, Special Envoy on Climate Change (in additon to three others on Climate Change: John Kufuor, former Ghana President; Mary Robinson, former Ireland President; and Robert Orr, former aide at the Secretary General's office). Another Norwegian, former Prime Minister Brundtland was appointed in 2007 as Special Advisor on Climate Change together with former President of Chile Ricardo Lagos Escobar. Another Norwegian, Hilde Johnson, was recently appointed as a member of the Secretary-General's "High-Level" (there we go again!) Panel on Peace Operations. Ms. Johnson, a former UNICEF Deputy Director, and a former member of the Norwegian Cabinet (from 1997-2005), had served as U.N. Secretary-General's Special Representative in South Sudan, known by its farcical title, UN/MISS! We ardently hope that after such accommodating political expediency, our distinguished Secretary-General gets actually awarded before he leaves next year.


Outgoing Tunisian Prime Minister Mehdi Jomaa, who visited Washington, D.C. in December, held a special elaborate meeting at the IBRD and IMF headquarters, raising speculation that he may be interested in an Advisory designation, particularly with the Fund, which is currently managed by former French Finance Minister Christine Lagarde. Jomaa's own Finance Minister, Hakim Ben Hammouda, who had worked with the African Development Bank has a more likely link. The outgoing Foreign Minister Mongi Hamdi has just been appointed as U.N. Secretary-General's Special Envoy in Mali.


The recent Presidential election in Tunisia reflected a high sense of national enlightenment amongst the Tunisian population. The country that started what was described as the Arab Spring maintained its spirit in an open participatory democratic process, where particularly the brave women of Tunis, a formidable force, regained their role in public life. Sadly, thuggish assassinations of political civic society leaders marred the transitional process. But it was with dignity and pride that the Tunisian people corrected the trend and all factions agreed on a consensual way out of a tragic situation. It set out a positive example for other countries in similar situations to follow suit.


After concluding his two terms as Mayor of New York, Mayor Michael Bloomberg returned to the offices named after him between Lexington and Third Avenue, just next to one of the most expensive -- and busiest -- restaurants, Le Cirque. Word around the premises is that His Mayorship is very busy rearranging, not just the location of paper towels, but shaking the Television News venture, which grew extensively while he was running City Hall. A number of managers have left -- or were kicked upwards -- and a former editor of London's The Economist is taking over to oversee change, "horizontally and vertically," as they say in politically correct management. Mr. Bloomberg's appointment as one more Special Advisor to the U.N. Secretary-General on Climate Change is not consuming much of his busy schedule, leading somewhat to suggest that he may be tempted if he was offered the top post at the World Bank. However, the puzzled question is: why has he started learning Spanish?


That talented Greek for the eternal city of Alexandria, Egypt, sang joyously in all languages. "We Shall Dance" in English reached number one on the European charts. So did "Quand je T'aime" in French, "Ya Salama" in Arabic, "Guantanamera," "Una Paloma Blanca" in Spanish, "Die Bouzouki" in German, and several of his Greek songs. While he settled in Greece like his other outstanding compatriot, Mikis Theodorakis, Demis, whose records have sold 60 million copies worldwide, kept travelling everywhere -- always laughing, always singing, always defending poor, needy and oppressed people. He loved beautiful women and enjoyed good food. Never fazed by any controversy, he once happened to be amongst the passengers of a TWA flight infamously hi-jacked at Beirut airport. With headlined photos showing gunmen pointing guns at pilots, Demis Roussos kept his cool and started singing to keep up the passengers' morale. When offered a separate release, he refused and went with a group to a side location to help negotiate everyone's release. He returned later to Beirut and visited South Lebanon, holding a concert in the historic city of Tyre. He also was a frequent visitor to Cairo and his birthplace, Alexandria. One of his most popular songs was: "Forever and Ever."