15 June 2010


28 May was a day to commemorate 124,000 U.N. peacekeepers serving 16 operations in 4 continents. They help in a wide range of assigned tasks from clearing mines, helping refugees, supporting free and fair elections, in addition to observing peace. Despite obvious rotten apples that recently gave U.N. Peacekeeping an embarrassing image, the majority devote their efforts and talents to serve a noble and worthy cause. While we heartily salute hard-working loyal and dedicated field staff, we hope that more visible measures would be taken against those who give Peacekeeping a bad name.


Would a change of name make a difference? The Security Council has decided that as of 1 July, the mission in the Congo will be known as U.N. Organization Stability Mission in the Democratic Republic of the Congo. An additional number of soldiers are expected to join. No contributors yet. No great expectations either.


It's a double-hitter. Not only did we get back at Headquarters a dedicated and effective colleague like Taye Zerihoun, but he was replaced by the outstanding Lisa Buttenheim, whose sterling work covered so many areas that she has become the woman for all seasons. For at least three Secretaries-General, Ms. Buttenheim was the most credible reference on any issue entrusted to her. She will certainly do very well in Cyprus, especially with the invaluable support of her husband, Renaissance Man and former Chief of Staff to Secretary General Boutros-Ghali, the amazingly discreet Jean-Claude Aime.


Secretary General Javier Perez de Ceuller could not make it to Adelphi in Greece to receive his honorary award and chair a seminar. Doctors ordered that he should not travel after a knee operation. Instead, he sent a message which was read on his behalf by one of the financial contributors to the gathering -- a Canadian parked in some irrelevant, yet government-endowed "non-governmental" organization. We sincerely wish our former leader speedy recovery and look forward to his substantive participation in another future seminar.


The family of our beloved colleague Nadia Younes has indicated that it set up a new website related to activities commemorating her. We wish them success as we draw attention to the link: www.nadiayounes.com


Most hard-driving athletes tend to be superstitious -- a shoe turned, a sock lost, passing cats and stray dogs, among many others, could turn off or inspire a nervous player. Tennis champion Serena Williams had great expectations for her personally designed tennis outfit she displayed at the May French Open, known as Roland-Garros. It did attract the attention of photographers who discovered that the pants in particular were very loosely wrapped, enough to allow for an intimate photo op as the fierce competitor and sexy woman stretched, bent and jumped to impose her serve. It was Serena's moves rather than her game that mattered, particularly as she lost the quarter finals to young Australian Samantha Stosur, whom she had dismissed in two quick sets in Melbourne. Maybe she should go back to tighter tights.


Eight years before New York's financial "Masters of the Universe" became a target of public outrage, a French businessman who took New York by storm folded up and left town unceremoniously. He was more presumptuous than Lloyd Blankfein, Dick Fuld, Bob Thain, and all Wall Streeters put together. The staff of Vivendi, initially a water company that expanded into everything, was sarcastically named by his staff: JM-6. It meant: "Jean-Marie Messier Moi Metre du Monde" (Master of the Universe). This month JM-6 went to trial in Paris, charged with misleading investors, issuing false and misleading statements, share price manipulation, and misuse of corporate assets during a number of takeover bids for about $7 billion. At the time, between 2000 - 2002, he lived in a spectacular duplex on Park Avenue. If found guilty, he will be a guest of the French judicial system for up to five years. Of course, he denies any wrongdoings.


French President Nikolas Sarkozy was initially so enthralled by Rama Yade, once a close member of his inner circle, that he inadvertently exchanged her family name with that of his host, President Wade of Senegal during an official Presidential visit to her country of origin. While she remains a devoted cabinet member, Ms. Yade is no more starring in Presidential company. A French-African summit on 1 June in Nice would have been a natural for her. She did not appear in any of the publicly circulated photos which seem to focus on President Paul Bia of Cameroon and Zuma of South Africa. Neither Yade, nor Wade for that matter, made it. Some Elysee observers whisper that new First Lady Carla is asserting her predominance, having signalled to her hyperactive husband that what's good for the gander will be good for the goose. Figure that one.


During the first French-African summit in Nice, the French President went beyond the usual talk of Francophonie to the need for unity among Africa and France's role in the continent. It is well known that there are French paratroops in several vulnerable former French colonies like Chad, Djibouti, Gabon, and the Central African Republic, where they regularly intervene to block serious threats to friendly, though shaky Presidents. In one of the concluding meetings, when Mr. Sarkozy highlighted the politically correct approach to transparency and democracy in Africa, South African President Jacob Zuma, who was recently elected by popular vote intervened to stress: "...And no military coups." Of course, of course, he was assured.


During a diplomat's dinner, someone recounted a tale about a lion that was persuaded by a fox to be tied to a tree in order to reassure forest visitors that all was safe. It was supposed to be an interim measure -- for a transitional period. Habitually, of course, the fax enjoyed running the place and kept the grumbling lion tied. A little mouse passed by and, fearful of the fox, it munched the rope loose. Instead of regaining his kingdom of the jungle, the lion decided to go elsewhere -- any place except where a fox ties down a lion and a rat sets it free.


Varied views on a one Europe were expressed by eminent Europeans, particularly those concerned about the fate of the Euro. It was not only the currency that was debated, but also a number of communications on social projects that need the name of a unified Europe as its main justification. One of the sharpest comments came from Fldele: "But consider this: in Madrid, if you go to dinner at 9 p.m., you are alone in the restaurant because you are the first; in Munich, if you go at 9 p.m., you are alone because you are the last."


While millions around the world were anxious to watch the Mondial (soccer) world championship in South Africa, there were thousands of betting firms, particularly in Europe, rushing to find out ways to allow for the widest formats for online bettings on the outcome. Traditionally, there were a few famous "houses" in London, Paris, Milan, and Rome that arranged for selling tickets on odds for favourites. With the internal revolutions, a bigger business was explored. Governments were being frantically lobbied to allow for unprecedented online betting arrangements. An initial consensus indicated that the highest odds for a winner was Spain, giving a 4-1 advantage followed immediately by Brazil and Argentina. That must have changed after the loss of Spain to Switzerland and the poor showing of Brazil with North Korea. Argentina has moved to the forefront.


The first First Lady of France, the former Cecilia Sarkozy, is living in New York under the name of Cecilia Attias -- the family name of her second, or actually, third husband. Not to be outdone by her successor in Paris, Carla B., Cecilia is launching her own Dialogue for Action, "an annual forum dedicated to helping women around the world," which she describes as "a platform for Non-Governmental Organizations to discuss the significant issues that women face." While this is not a novel idea, she promises that a forum to be held in New York on 24 June will gather "Fortune 1000 Chief Executive Officers, sovereign fund managers, and financial experts." Her husband, a distinguished Public Relations executive, is obviously extending a hand in that venture which we are told would better women's lives -- not just for today, but "for generations to come." Let's hope it's not just P.R. hyperbole. At least the group, aptly called www.ceciliaattiasfoundation.com, has the money to publish a 1/4 page ad featuring her determined portrait in the International Herald Tribune -- which, by the way, is printed in Paris.


If this is coffee, bring me tea; if this is tea; bring me coffee.
-- Abraham Lincoln
I am the Emperor. And I want dumplings.
-- Ferdinand the First
The best way to have a man do something is to suggest that he is too old to do it.
-- Shirley MacLaine


"One could be proud without seeming arrogant. I regret that at the time I gave the image of being arrogant rather than proud."
-- Jean-Marie Messier at his recent trial in Paris


For the third consecutive year, it will be a South Korean team of creative artists that will provide the main celebration of U.N. Day on 24 October. Apparently, a couple of potential participants failed to come through with a specific program (or is it programme?) in time. So, the Secretary General's country of origin was only too glad to oblige. Habitually, U.N. day has been an opportunity to display a rotation of national cultures by member states. It is a sign of the times that either there were very few interested or that Seoul made an offer that nobody in New York could refuse.


What about the furniture of the deserted, renovated U.N. headquarters? Months after all the staff moved out, there is still discussion about what to keep for symbolic or nostalgic reasons, what to give away and what to recycle. Perhaps one way would be to ask current and retired staff to select one piece each -- their first or last desk, their favourite cafeteria table, or a chair or table from the Delegate's Lounge. Whatever. Just decide.


As expected, the marketing of the football (soccer) Mondial reached a high pitch with the opening of the games in South Africa. While television channels were showing the opening games, leading European newspapers were prominently carrying a picture of three legends: Diego Maradona, Zeineddine Zeidan, and Pele playing "baby foot" at a Madrid Cafe. It was a commercial for luggage by Louis Vuitton. On the field, it looked like the competition was not only between countries but between sports apparel companies. Nike and Adidas were predominant to viewers, while the Italian team had to stick to its own Puma.


As www.unforum.com predicted a few months earlier, Benigno Aquino III, known popularly as Nigno, has won the Philippines' Presidential elections in a landslide. Having kept a distance from politics most of his life, he responded to demands of supporters to contest a number of politicians as the incumbent, Gloria Macapagal Arroyo -- herself a daughter of a former President, got mired in allegations of corruption, fraud, and human rights abuses. Mr. Aquino's mother, Corazon, had been mainly an exemplary housewife, avoiding politics when her husband's murder compelled her to run and win the presidency. A devout Catholic, Corazon Aquino served her country with gracious distinction, visiting the U.N. on various occasions like landmark anniversaries and special General Assembly sessions. She particularly impressed Secretary General Perez de Ceuller, who showed affectionate respect for her and her country, one of the most loyal U.N. members. Let's hope Nigno follows in his mother's footsteps.


On Mondial opening day, several cars driving through central London carried through its windows a flag showing white crosses on a red flag or vice versa. It was a symbol of the British team. However, some visiting Scandinavians, particularly Danes whose flag is the closest, cheered, assuming a display of support for their team. The flags of Denmark, Norway, Sweden, and Finland share a very similar pattern with differing colors. Sweden has blue and yellow, Denmark white and red, Norway red and blue, Finland blue on white. Would there be less confusion by the team on the field?


Someone sent us a notification about an Indian Comedy award. It went to a movie called "3 Idiots." We were told that some of the characters may be familiar. Our limited linguistic talent did not help much, we could not recognize all three. But we managed to remember one idiot -- who actually believes he is super brilliant.


As Helen Thomas, the Dean of White House correspondents, leaves her favoured chair at the famed press room, several reporters are clamoring to occupy it. It is the most central spot which no briefer would risk to ignore. A certain tradition has established a standard practice where the front row is kept for the main three TV stations ABC, CBS, NBC, cable networks like CNN and news agencies like Reuters and AP. Just behind them in the second row but still centrally prominent are mainstream printed media like The New York Times, Washington Post, and The Wall Street Journal. The back seats on the last seventh row rarely get a glimpse from the spokesman. Helen, who drew serious attention from nine U.S. presidents, has given up her seat. But regardless of her political position, she has made an historic mark. Helen Thomas cannot be replaced.


During a stopover in London, we spotted U.S. General David Petraeus staying in the same hotel in the area of Park Lane. One of the most influential senior military officers in the most powerful army in today's world, he just walked by in fatigues with the least amount of pomp. Clearly well-protected, his presence was so discreet that very few guests -- except for those who saw him walk by -- realized he was there. By comparison, on a previous stay a year ago, a minor Iraqi local politician -- who has since disappeared from the public scene -- made such a nuisance of himself through a team of thugs who made a point of closely observing guests and spreading around the lobby. It was the difference between a confident Commander and an insecure lackey.


It stands for "International Wives and Girlfriends" of famous individuals. The world soccer cup was an occasion for The Times of London to introduce some prominent "IWAGS." They included Sara Carbonero, wife of Spain's Iker Castilles. Apparently, she will have no difficulty passing through check-points to the field as she's a sports reporter. Blue-eyed Sara was voted "sexiest news reader in the world" this year. She got an exclusive advantage over others whom national coaches like those of England have forbidden from attending to avoid distracting their competing partners. A lesser known "IWAG" is a spouse of a Dutch striker by the intriguing name of van Vaart, pronounced "Faart," who announced that she did not share a bed with her companion; "fortunately," she added, because his legs were too heavy. Hmmm. Incidently, some fans blamed Sara's sexy field presence for the poor showing of her husband.


Most British cities took New Zealand actor Russell Crowe to task for his role playing Robin Hood. Aside from a mediocre performance, the main comment was that instead of speaking in U.K. Sherwood Forest lingo, he sounded like a cross between natives of Auckland and Los Angeles. The actor responded very angrily in his native accent, which proved his critics point. There must be something about playing Robin Hood by actors from Down Under. A decade ago, Mel Gibson, who hails from Australia despite his successful series as a New York cop, also insisted to play the hero of Sherwood Forest. The only memorable outcome was a song by Brian Adams entitled: "Everything I Do, I Do It For You." The accent apparently was closer but not quite.


One of the most favourite resorts for European socialites, Hotel Byblos, in Mijas at Spain's Costa de Sol, is closing down. The first resort to introduce water thelasso therapy in the country, it was frequented -- discreetly -- by stars like Lady Di, Rolling Stones, Julio Iglesias, and French actor Gerard Depardieu, who insisted on cooking his own meals. Initially an extension of its name -- set in Saint Tropez, Byblos offered luxury living in beautiful mountainous surroundings, with a splendid view of the Mediterranean and real gourmet food. Its lunch buffet attracted customers from Teremolinos to Estepona and Marbella. It was less than 20 minutes from the international airport of its name-sake Malagh. As a sign of difficult financial times -- and a changing social set-up -- Byblos was losing its high-paying customers. Its website recently was offering substantive discounts, but no takers, particularly that the hotel was allowed to gradually run down, "die slowly," or "abandoned," according to its former staff. While wealthy clientele will find new resorts, it is the unemployed staff that have to find new jobs -- at a very difficult time.


The new President of Gabon, Ali Bongo, who replaced his father Omar, has just bought a $100 million home in Paris. While attending a France/Africa summit in Nice early June, he managed to review the purchase, an Eighteenth Century style building surrounded by a court and garden at rue de l'Universite. The house was rented once to designer Karl Lagerfeld, known in fashion circles as "Le Kaiser." It is on the Left Bank, near Boulevard Saint Germain, yet across the river to the Elysee Palace. The family Pozzo di Borgo that owned it for years had refused to sell it below its demanded price. Finally, they found a buyer who indicated he was looking for a pied-a-terre in the French capital.


The arrogant and ineffective Alexander Downer, whose credibility as Special Envoy to Cyprus is questioned on conflict of interest, told a media reporter during a visit to New York that he did not need to answer about how his stake in "Bespoke" -- a political "advisory" firm in Australia -- would influence his work with Greek and Turkish sides. "I have my private life," he haughtily said; "its mine, its private." Typically presumptuous, he told Mathew Russell Lee of City Press: "I know more about this than you do," before injecting a display of his limited Latin: "ipso-facto, its my business." Well. "Bespoke" -- which in fact has very limited success despite desperate efforts -- happens to represent a Chinese firm called something like HUAWEI which, according to financial reports, has business interests in Turkey. How private is that?


Former U.N. Protocol Chief Ali Teymour who passed away in Cairo, may have been controversial or provocative to some but he did his job the best way he saw required. The son of a Pasha who was King Farouk's Protocol Chief, Ali followed in his father's footsteps which made him particularly valuable to Secretary General Dr. Boutros-Ghali, himself Pasha, son of a Pasha. Ali was helped in his contacts by his wife, who established a wide network of friends amongst the diplomatic community. Condolences to her and the family. May his soul rest in peace.