15 June 2011


When Dominique Strauss-Kahn, known in France as DSK, was arrested in New York for allegedly sexually assaulting a hotel room maid, the first individual to write in his defense was Bernard Henri-Levy, known as BHL. The possessed Amoroso and the self-declared "Philosopher" have more than their long presumptuously hyphenated names in common; they also share their mutual membership of Paris "caviar left" amongst the French glitterati. Both claim a peculiar "American" cultural interest, although DSK's neighbour in the exclusive Georgetown community in the U.S. Capital had no social invitations (with recent reports about his obsessive sex habits, only a very desperate woman would want to be with him in the same room). BHL presumably wrote a book on the U.S., which hardly anyone but the TV Comedy hour noted. Both have several residences within and outside France; the main difference is DSK took to Marrakesh, while BHL is more into Tangiers. Both feel so rich and famous that despite their "Socialist" posturing, may find it difficult to understand how a poor Francophone single mother struggling in a New York hotel to feed her teenage daughter would repulse the persistent advances of a master of the universe.


"Was the chief of the International Monetary Fund telling other countries to tighten their belts while he was dropping his trousers?...Did they argue that she (the hotel maid) wilted with desire once she realized Strauss-Kahn had been at Davos?"
-- Maureen Dowd, N.Y. Times


For a while in the British press, there was a farcical understanding to refer to political sexual affairs as "Uganda-Relations." It was originated with an announcement by Uganda's once-dictator General Idi Amin that his resigning female Minister of Foreign Affairs had a quick sexual liaison in London's airport. Now there may be a changed version. Reportedly, Dominique Strauss-Kahn, arrested in New York for allegedly attacking a hotel maid, had pushed an IMF Hungarian-born staffer to have a brief affair, claiming interest in the file she was handling: on Ghana. After an initial meeting, he demanded several briefings on Ghanian affairs, once sending his secretary to fetch "that woman" from the bathroom on an urgent desire to explain events in Ghana. The quest continued during a Davos Forum until the woman's husband put his foot, or whatever, down. End of a Ghanian affair.


At last, Shakira Mobarak, the most popular Latin artist, arrived in Beirut. Lebanon is her father's country of origin, yet the Columbian-born singer never performed there. She was jumping in the open air theatre with the sea breeze singing "Loca, loca, loca," shouting "I love you" in Lebanese Arabic to her adoring audience. The welcoming media went berserk trying to describe her: a beautiful flower, a rosy bride, a wonderfully crazy genius, an outstanding performer, a unique woman from a unique culture. "Sale El Sol," the theme of her international tour was a reality in Beirut. The sun always shines. And hips don't lie. As to crazy, crazy, crazy, well..."She's one of us"! Waka Waka.


News from Germany indicate a series of undisclosed meetings between U.S. officials and Taliban. The American team is reportedly at a 2nd tier level, while Taliban is represented by Tayyab Agha, Spokesman for Mullah Omar and former director of his office. The German co-ordinator is none other than Michael Steiner, former U.N. High Commissioner for Kosovo. Steiner, as head of UNMIK, also served at the German mission to the U.N. in New York during the mid-Eighties. Leaking the news of these meetings may mean either that they were about to reach a practical arrangement or that another party wants to block the talks for a different venue. We'll find out; in time of course.


When China and the U.S. team together, they generally get what they jointly want. The election of Ban Ki-moon as U.N. Secretary General is a clear case in point. Another kind of banding together happened towards the end of May during a joint concert by the U.S. Army Band and the Military Band of the Peoples Liberation Army of China -- jointly hosted by U.S. Ambassador Susan Rice and Chinese Ambassador Li Baodang. It goes without saying, our distinguished Secretary General attended, enjoyed, and applauded. Actually, it was a very enjoyable performance, which need not be underestimated. Remember that it was all started with a ping-pong game.


"Today, like every other day, we wake up empty and frightened. Don't open the door to the study and begin reading. Take down a musical instrument. Let the beauty we love be what we do. There are hundreds of ways to kneel and kiss the ground."
-- Mawlana Jalal ed-Din Rumi


A negative impact of DSK's behavior was on women staffers of the International Monetary Fund. Hard-working, dedicated, decent women found themselves slandered by some mainstream media, as if there was a culture of permissive sex relations during work and that some of them go along to get along. It worked to a point where over 600 IMF staffers from around the world had to sign a petition to media outlets including the N.Y. Times defending their reputation. Regrettably, the image of the World Bank, known as the World Bank Group, under Paul Wolfowitz, and IMF under Strauss-Kahn, had to suffer because these two men -- usually described as brilliant by their friends -- were not careful in their private lives. DSK in particular seemed determined to make a public fool of himself. Now not only he has to pay for it, but his wife had to literally put up $1 million cash and $5 million mortgage on her Washington, D.C. Georgetown home. Former IMF female staff had to endure the indignity of a misguided impression. The worse image was that of the IMF Executive Director reportedly approaching a panicked hotel maid with the words: "Don't you know who I am, baby; don't you know who I am." Now everyone knows.


"What they seek is reprehensible. They would become keys of evil in the country. They are foreign to this country and would turn the country into foreign land. Several women groups had attempted to do the same in the past. But Allah Almighty frustrated their plots. Some of them died and did not attain their goal; other women will die too -- incha allah -- and shall not attain their goal."
-- Sheikh Abdel Rahman Al Barak, a Saudi "learned man" on demand by Saudi Arabia women to be allowed to drive a car, now prohibited by law



A former U.N. staffer visiting from California was caught in the confusion over the new bus system in Manhattan between select buses with limited stops and those that stop at every station. For the first, you have to pay beforehand and enter at any door, front or back; for the slower one, you just pay by card or exact coins as you get on the driver's side. Noting a rush of people dashing in without paying, she assumed it was a special deal for seniors, until a sudden inspector -- a rare occasion indeed -- showed up. She had to go to Brooklyn and pay a $100.00 penalty. Hoping that would be her only sad experience in her former hometown, she was distressed when she went to a general meeting of the Association of Former International Civil Servants (AFICS) on 2 June when one of her least regarded colleagues while working in the Secretariat was now claiming to speak on behalf of something called FAFICS. She knew that fellow from his ad-nauseum personal monologues, his futile decade's search for a promotion from P-4 to P-5 as he spent much of his time haunting the cafeteria, corridors and neighborhood shops. Another colleague tried to cheer her up and took her into a paid select bus ride as she kept asking about FAFICS. AFICS was understandable; perhaps with some more effect and some leeway for hope. But what about that F?


When Mark Turner joined U.N. correspondents reporting for the Financial Times, his fresh outlook and dynamic search for stories placed his paper -- which was re-incarnating itself as a thoughtful international daily -- into the mainstream of U.N. readership. As he left, the experienced Harvey Morris took over, continuing his impressive reporting that gained him -- and his paper -- high marks for coverage of Middle East issues. We understand that Mark is now returning in a re-incarnation as a media member of Under-Secretary General Valerie Amos' team. While the former U.K. diplomat is gaining a growing reputation as an active and effective manager, she would valuably benefit from Mark's professional talent and well-earned positive reputation.


On 7 June, thousands of Egyptian youth stood together in silent tribute to the memory of young Khaled Said, 28 year old blogger who was beaten to death by two security agents in Alexandria outside an Internet café after he had posted photos exposing some policemen sharing bribes received from drug dealers. His body was thrown in a garbage can as local police portrayed him as a drug addict. His friends and family eventually circulated his real tragedy. Hundreds of thousands of young Egyptians were infuriated and started text messaging and Twittering related stories. It was the story of Khaled Said that prompted young Google operative Wael Ghoniem to leave his regional post in Dubai to come to Cairo and join the leadership of the youth revolution that lead to the historic fall of the Mubarak regime. While in Tunis, it was a photo of a vendor burning himself in frustration that inflamed the popular revolt, in Egypt the spark was outside an Internet café.


Regrettably, one of the most effective and pleasant Permanent Representatives, Ambassador Tawfeeq Ahmed Almansour, will be leaving New York for another posting. That's diplomatic life, we know; after over eight years at U.N. Headquarters, even the most popular have to bid official farewell. Actually, it is not only a loss to the U.N. community, but equally -- even more so -- a loss to Bahrain, a country that needs someone of his qualifications, popularity and dedication at this particular crucial period. In fact, one of the most advanced Gulf countries even before the discovery of oil (they were famous for their genuine pearls and co-education) Bahrain has had a mixed bag of U.N. representation -- mountain tops and valleys, so to speak. There were solid presentable envoys and awkward ones. There was also a special effort required when a distinguished Bahraini woman, Sheikha Haya, became President of the U.N. General Assembly in 2006. Throughout varied events at the U.N.and in the region, Ambassador Almansour came through with flying colours not only for himself but also for his country. His amenable presence was enhanced by his gracious and enlightened wife Mrs.Awatif Al-Khaja who made her own impact among diplomat's wives. Their two bright and beautiful daughters helped in projecting a positive image of young Arab women. As we wish him and his family well in his new assignment, his many friends trust that he will keep The Big Apple on his regular itinerary.


Earnest Corea, former Sri Lanka Ambassador to the U.S., Canada, Cuba and Mexico, is recuperating nicely after surgery. A prominent journalist who edited Ceylon Daily News before his diplomatic career, he continues to follow closely U.N. issues and international developments. Interestingly, the Coreas hail from the historic seaside town of Chilaw, which was visited by Mahatma Gandhi, who stayed at the Corea house; he left them one of his famous spinning wheels as a present. Ernest has attended several U.N. Assembly sessions as part of his country's delegation and served on U.N. Secretariat missions to Africa. The Corea family was known for speaking up against social injustice. In Asia, Chilaw is known for its three Cs: Coconuts, Crabs, and Coreas. We wish Ernest speedy recovery.


Just when we were trying to take a walk by the promenade area of reclaimed land at the tip of Manhattan on Sunday afternoon, we gathered that a young man dove into the water where the East and the Hudson rivers meet, or precisely near Liberty Island, where the Statue of Liberty rises to greet arriving boat passengers. Someone who spotted him called the emergency police. The swimmer who was shivering was eventually persuaded to get onto the safety boat. When asked, he reportedly stated that he jumped because "God told me to swim to Liberty Island."


About ten years ago, when Jill Abramson was N.Y. Times' Washington Bureau, she was so badly treated by the Gray Lady's Executive Editor in New York, Howell Raines, that she seriously thought of leaving. Another female Times executive, Janet Robinson, phoned to dissuade her. Another female N.Y. Times columnist, Maureen Dowd, was instrumental in facilitating Jill's original move a few years earlier from the Wall Street Journal. Now Ms. Abramson has been declared as the new Executive Editor replacing Bill Keller who had replaced Howell Raines. She is the first female in 160 years to take over that most senior post. Appropriately, her acceptance statement on 1 June to the assembled staff indicated that she felt a sense of history, ending: "I am acutely conscious that I stand on the shoulders of a lot of other women."


A senior U.N. Peacekeeping official did not heed advice given by a senior Lebanese official not to take a holiday and to stay in his area of operations. The Lebanese had provided him with information about possible events, which eventually occurred, but he did not listen to the advice.


"She was so extraordinarily beautiful that I nearly laughed out loud."
-- Welsh actor Richard Burton about his first impression when meeting actress -- and future wife -- Elizabeth Taylor.


Summer starting in the South of France following the Cannes Film Festival, lots of new fashion, and -- of course -- seasonal songs. A popular tune heard frequently over the radio beginning June is a merry song entitled: "Je t'aime, a l'Italien." It does not explain whether it was inspired by the love -- and marriage -- of the French President to an Italian singer, but it obviously is a far cry from Senor Berlesconi's Bunga Bunga Conga. The French area which is close to Italy has always had a soft link with the Southern neighbour's art. For a while, a very popular song was "l'Italiano" who always had his "guitaro a mano" only to prove that he was an "Italiano Vero."


After being dispersed in interim offices around midtown Manhattan, from First to Madison Avenue, U.N. Secretariat Staff are having problems with elevators. During the month of May, there were at least two confirmed incidents in one location: 380 Madison Avenue. On Monday 16 May, elevator #5 "descended rapidly to the ground floor and stopped between levels." The doors were eventually opened after about half an hour. No serious\ injuries were reported; however, how would you feel if you were one of the five strapped passengers? Five days later, on Friday 20 May around 5pm, an elevator carrying two passengers "descended rapidly from the 6th floor to the lobby level and stopped abruptly"! One of the passengers sought medical assistance and was admitted to the hospital "having sustained back and knee injuries." That incident on Friday was reported to the building management after the weekend, on Monday. Wary U.N. staff in that building thought of using the stairway to avoid possible risks and were told "that New York City fire code stipulates that stairs could only be used in cases of emergency." A note concluded: "Please rest assured that all efforts will be made to ensure the safety of the staff" who were encouraged to report incidents of elevator malfunctioning and to file a report...immediately.


U.S. President Obama may have discovered that in the United Kingdom, God Save the Queen takes precedence over anything else. While he must have thought that he was paying tribute by quoting Shakespeare about "this blessed spot, this earth, this realm, this England," Her Majesty had her gaze fixed because the band had started playing her tune. Only when the music stopped, she turned her eyes towards her very distinguished hosts.



Street demonstrators in some Arab capitals are not only facing ruthless firepower from autocratic governments, but an increasing number of infiltrators sent by the authorities to find out more about the revolting participants. That led to black jokes exchanged by whispers. For example, a male infiltrator met and married a female infiltrator. They produced a false witness. Another said that a young man dragged to the police station discovered that his infiltrator was actually the fellow who had lifted him on his shoulders in the demonstration.


Humpty Dumpty jumped on the maid.
Humpty Dumpty pushed to get laid.
Humpty Dumpty's trip was delayed.
Au Revoir, Jumpy.
Bonjour Tristesse.


Barcelona soccer football team displayed its championship talent in winning the finals of the European Cup at Wembley, London, on Saturday 28 May against Manchester United. Again, it was confident talented teamwork against a disjointed group of talented individuals. After a long first quarter, the world's top player, Argentinean ball wizard Lionel Messy, scored a fascinating goal after bypassing the defenders. A little while later he skillfully assisted his colleague David Villa who put the icing on the victory cup. The game was worth watching fully with the same interest as a World Cup. Every player -- on both teams -- had a base of admirers. Besides obvious skill and physical readiness, Barca controlled most of the field time through short, often elegant passes as if each knew when to be at the right moment. More to the point, Barca refreshed our hearts with its UNICEF shirts.


He's still within the U.N. system. While his colleagues complained about his arrogance, his compatriots feared that he was an informer to their government's ruthless security and -- by habit -- to any power with any power. A new development may uncover him publicly. A young Internet genius who had infiltrated the dictator's Presidential internal electronic records discovered lists of agents plus communications indicating that the President himself was in contact with external intelligence services. The young man confided to a friend who betrayed him. Days later the Internet explorer was found dead: he was kidnapped by the Presidential police, tormented and his body thrown in a car next to a train passage South of town to claim he had been a victim of a crash. With the dictator gone, the body of the young man, Marwan bin Zainab is being recovered and the case re-opened. Some names on the lists are likely to appear. The informer, in his cushy U.N. field office, is anxiously scanning his country's media in desperate search of a signal to start singing the blues.


When it rains, it pours. In addition to media reports on sexual rape attempts by Dominique Strauss-Kahn, there was a subdued claim by a famous New York "Madam" that he had regularly used her services. Kristin Davis, who allegedly supplied former New York Governor, Eliot Spitzer, with young "hostesses," claimed that DSK paid $2,400 in January 2006, just before taking over his assignment in the IMF. A satisfied customer, he allegedly requested the same service eight months later on another visit to New York -- to attend a conference by...former U.S. President Bill Clinton.


One practical question on the affair of DSK with the hotel maid: For an undoubtedly intelligent, knowledgeable and experienced man, didn't he at least suspect that he may be under some sort of surveillance? An IMF Executive Director in New York on a private visit en route to a meeting with the Chancellor of Germany and a meeting of Europe's key ministers of Finance; a man who was likely to compete for the Presidency of France. In these days of technological wizardry, did he not for one cautious moment suspect that someone somewhere may wish to tape or photograph him? The conspiracy theory certainly does not apply to the poor hard-working maid who reported what happened to her. It was DSK who made a public fool of himself when he did not realize that he was closely monitored. Unfortunately for him, now he does.


To A Passerby

"Elsewhere, too far from here; too late -- never perhaps.
For I know not where you fled, you know not where I go.
O you whom I would have loved; O you who knew it."

A Une Passante

"Ailleurs, bien loin d'ci; trop tard -- jamais peut-etre.
Car j'ignore ou tu fuis, tu ne sais ou je vais.
O toi que j'eusse aimee; O toi qui le savais."

-- Charles Baudelaire


A public visitor from Memphis, Tennessee to the U.N. compound under construction was comparing it to the original U.N. compound in the same location he had visited ten years earlier. After asking one of the Security Officers about what's going on with the Capital Master Plan, he turned to his companion to explain: "It ain't done yet," he said, adding: "They're gonna IMPROVE it even WORSE."


"On our mountain, the tree is uncertain
Should it wither away or spread its leaves?
* * *

On our river, the water is unclear
Should it move to fertile ground or perish into the stream?
* * *

On our road, our feet are unsure
Should they advance or retreat?
* * *

In our garden a bird ponders
Should it soar or fall silent?
* * *

At this moment, my words are hesitant
Should I continue or leave the answers in your hands?
* * *

I'll leave it to you."
-- Kurdish Poet, Sherko Bekas


"Nobody's gonna be wearing beige to a bank robbery; it's in poor taste."
-- Woody Allen in "Take the Money and Run"