15 March 2010


During his visit to Hollywood to mobilize the movie industry, Secretary General Ban admitted to a life-long obsession with cowboy movies which he liked "for their obvious difference between good and evil." Now, that statement could be questioned by the descendents of the native Indians, were it not that they are unfortunately otherwise preoccupied. He also likened his role to that of a Sheriff who was trying to maintain law and order. Again, that statement could be easily questioned by those convinced that he is doing very little in that field. But then, no big power will allow him to play Sheriff. Perhaps, being a part-time rapper would be less controversial -- and more fun.


After dodging the news for two years, Fortune magazine came out with the story that neither Bill Gates nor the Oracle of Omaha is the richest in the world. The distinction goes to Lebanese/Mexican entrepreneur Carlos Slim Helu, whose father Jules Slim Haddad had immigrated to Mexico from the mountainous Lebanese town of Jizzine. Slim, who mainly invested in national enterprises, believes that the best way to help others is in opening job opportunities rather than giving general donations with unknown destinations. After the passing of his wife three years ago, he focused on his work, giving his grown-up sons more managerial duties. Very modest, yet confident, he has no trappings of wealth like a special airplane and yachts. He lives in the same house since 40 years ago, drives a normal Mercedes, and flies commercial. When the news was announced, he happened to be visiting Lebanon. He was received by the President, Prime Minister, and Speaker of Parliament. The Patriarch of the Maronite Eastern Catholic Church, to which his family belongs, offered a special mass for his welfare. Members of Parliament from his hometown issued a statement describing him as a "star in a shining galaxy of Lebanese who distinguished themselves abroad." His family's hometown is famous as a summer resort with a waterfall surrounded by green mountains. Slim has no investments in Lebanon. Not yet.


It was first indicated that a special commemoration for U.N. victims in Haiti will be held at 4pm on 8 March at the General Assembly Hall. Staff were invited to participate. Suddenly, a few days before the event, it was announced that the event will take place in a conference room with limited space at Bantenamo, reserved for specific guests, while special tickets would be given for staff at a connecting display room -- that is, watching next door events on a screen. That is hardly staff participation. If it was just a show to watch, any staffer can watch from the screen in his/her office. The essential part was an indication of personal participation. When the point was raised at a top level, it was mentioned that the reason for the change was that the General Assembly Hall's roof may leak if there was rain.


"Film as dream. Film as music. No form of art goes beyond ordinary consciousness as film does, straight to our emotions, deep into the twilight room of the soul. A little twitch in our optic nerve, a shock effect: twenty-four illuminated frames a second, darkness in between, the optic nerve incapable of registering darkness."
-- Ingmar Bergman, Laterne Magica


In a welcome move by the Department of Public Information, the movie "Invictus" which depicts how the inspired leader Nelson Mandela managed to transform a Rugby game into unifying South Africa out of Apartheid scars, will be shown on 16 March in a conference room at the new prefab compound. To his credit, Secretary General Ban Ki-moon will attend.


Apparently, the ignorance of the U.N. Special Envoy for Somalia could only be matched by that of The New York Times correspondent in Eastern Africa. Promising victory against the armed opposition which had kept the President in his Presidential Villa for a year, Mr. Gettleman explains the forthcoming strategic change not only by the military assistance given by U.S. forces -- which could certainly be crucial, but refers to a "qualitative" element. The new chief of Somalia's government armed forces is someone who two decades ago was a senior officer in the Somalia army. That in itself would not have mattered except for the fact that impressed the reporter most: Mr. Gelle was a manager of a McDonald's restaurant in Germany! He must be thinking of the Battle of the Bulge.


If her Nairobi colleague wants a McDonald's General in Somalia, Sabrina Tavernise is anxious to find out when does the Turkish general decide to make a coup. The thrust of a long story on tensions between Prime Minister Erdogan -- and the country's military -- is, according to her, that Mr. Erdogan, who is "widely despised," was elected by an overwhelmingly popular majority vote. For her logic to work, the army is the custodian of the Constitution has to violate it. Obviously, she has no clue about developments in a strategically crucial country and how an article like hers in a mainstream U.S. newspaper would raise suspicions that some "foreign" elements are formulating a coup. Very counter-productive. Hurts the military. Offers a pretext to the government.


A special appreciative mention of a report by Neil MacFarquhar, The New York Times U.N. correspondent on the commemoration of our 101 colleagues who died in the Haiti earthquake. His description of a somber secular service attended by relatives and friends was sensitive as well as professional. So was his human touch when describing Alexandra Duguay, who had worked in the press documents centre and had rented a navy blue gown for the correspondents' annual dinner. It continued how Celtic rock musician Gregory Grene, twin brother of our dear, dear Andrew, has set up a foundation to support education in Haiti. Secretary General Ban Ki-moon was given his due in an impressive speech as he paused to take off his glasses and wipe away tears during his eulogy. An excellent piece.


The man who makes advertisements for a bank is not the same man responsible for granting loans.


Never buy a portable television set from a man in the street that is out of breath.


"Under Capitalism man exploits man. Under Communism it's just the opposite."
-- John Kenneth Galbraith


Our boss keeps repeating he has the brains of Albert Einstein -- perhaps because it's been dead since 1955.


You wouldn't know Loulou de la Falaise, nor Ines de la Fressange unless you were a dedicated fan of French classic models. The two women almost dominated the fashion scene in the eighties (let's be merciful) and any French politician worth his garconniere would have loved to claim any connection with either of them. They are still around now, and on International Women's Day sought to prove that they still looked "formidable," not only because of their fashionable appearance, but because of their brilliant minds. That is the current fad in Paris. As Simone de Beauvoir said: "One is not born but rather becomes a woman." To make the point, French television's main anchorwoman Claire Chazal, who is in her fifties, appeared on the cover of Paris-Match with her 32 year old boyfriend. Not to be outdone, our illustrious "Bernard-Bernard" responded to a media question about what he most admired in his gorgeous looking wife and media star Christine Ockrent by explaining that it was her brilliant intelligence.


* Hi. How are you doing?
- I am doing great. I just was congratulated about my Security Council speech. I am invited to a White House dinner next week. The Secretary General is seeking my advice on Climate Change. I am offered an advance for a book. A gorgeous young woman wants me to take her away for a weekend in South Beach, Miami.
* Oh. I'll call you later when you're alone!


* Who had the first computers?
- Adam and Eve. They had Apple!
* Why do the lights of Wall Street towers shine stronger than those of the Empire State Building?
- Because Wall Street is closer to the Battery Park.


During a wedding party for a diplomatic couple, the following story was exchanged:
Returning to their hotel after the ceremony was over, the new husband throws his pants at his bride, requesting her to put them on. Assuming it was some sort of a game, she tried but found them too wide. The man then declared: "Just you remember, I am the one who wears the pants in this relationship."
The woman took off her panties and asked her husband to wear them. Puzzled, he tried but couldn't. The woman then declared: "You see. You're not going to unless you change your attitude!"


Apparently moving into Bantenamo, the ugly prefab in the U.N. Gardens, required a ribbon-cutting ceremony! Secretary General Ban, whose office was being moved and removed, did not hesitate to make a speech, hailing the non-presumptuous nature of his new location. It was windowless, he cheerfully told everyone, with concrete floors, totally unappealing. Was our distinguished leader rallying the troops for Spartan action or admonishing the reluctant to wade into unmarked, undefined territory? What we know is that diplomats do not know where to go when they enter and dispersed staff are at their lowest morale level. Someone around Mr. Ban should advise him better.


All that talk about the Millennium Development Goals over the last 10 years has led to nothing more than providing prestigious jobs for friendly development experts. While the target for the year 2010 was to be 0.5%, a list by the authoritative Economist shows the ten most generous countries in Development aid as follows: Sweden with 1% of its Gross Domestic Product (GDP), followed narrowly by Norway, the Netherlands (0.8%), Belgium (0.7%), Britain (0.5%), Ireland and Spain (both at 0.45%), Switzerland and France (0.425%), German (0.4%), Canada (0.375%), Australia (0.3%), Greece, Italy, United States and Japan (all at 0.2%). So, stop bragging and pay.


The front runner in the Philippine Presidential race, Nino Aquino, son of former President Corazon, is engaged to be married to a Filipina whose father is Saudi. Twenty nine year old Shalati, whose mother is a Philippine national, has joined the Liberal party of her fiance. They are expected to have an official ceremony after the outcome of the elections.


While "Kim" has become linked to the abrasive and ignorant behavior of Secretary General Ban Ki-moon's main advisor, it was so refreshing to see the name more gloriously linked to an outstanding young Korean woman. Kim Yu-na delivered an unforgettable performance as she won an uncontested gold medal for figure skating in Vancouver. Unlike our U.N. Korean contingent, she won everyone's admiration and affection not only by winning but by showing her emotions. The gorgeous, beautiful almost effortless world champion who hit another world record just let herself go; and the world viewers responded. That's the real Kim. That's young vibrant Korea. Welcome to joyful success.


  • "I am proud of what I have done."
  • "I have done nothing..."
  • "I will do it all over again."


  • "Talent de bien faire."
  • "Talent de rien faire."


- Oh, Mr. Godot. Would you wait a minute?!


As the first website to cover U.N. activities, unforum.com welcomes Turtle Bay, an excellent blog on "Foreign Policy" by Colum Lynch, The Washington Post U.N. Correspondent. During the last few weeks, Colum made a special impact by reporting exclusive stories like the letter from U.S. Ambassador Rice nominating Anthony Lake for the post of UNICEF Executive Director. Although unforum.com was the first to report on the imminent departure of John Holmes, head of Humanitarian Assistance, Turtle Bay's headline gave it a definite touch with more details. Colum knows the U.N. very well. He first joined the Correspondents Association representing The Boston Globe in the early nineties before moving to The Washington Post. His fair, professional and lively reporting has earned him respect amongst senior Secretariat officials, diplomats, and other reporters.


Two diplomats who served in their country's U.N. mission just returned as Permanent Representatives. Kuwait's Mansour Al-Otaibi, who was First Secretary and officer-in-charge for two years in 2006-2007 presented his credentials to the Secretary General early March. Tunisia's Ghazi Jomaa, who served in various capacities in his country's mission and delegation to the General Assembly has already taken over since November. It proves that once a U.N. practitioner always a U.N. loyalist. All the best.


Ace communicator Ahmad Fawzi will be retiring from U.N. service by end of March. He joined as Deputy Spokesman for Secretary General Boutros-Ghali in 1992 then took over as Director of U.N. Information Centre in London before returning to New York for his current post as Director of Media in the Department of Public Information. Pity the U.N. Secretariat did not make further use of his talented experience, particularly that he did his best to help Secretary General Ban Ki-moon, who very much needed someone with Ahmad's background and experience. Anyway, Ahmad is expected to pick up his international wings and fly to other ventures. Good Luck.


Our pride and joy Shakira, the internationally acclaimed recording artist and active humanitarian worker, was honoured for her efforts to advance the welfare of children and youth. Her "Barefoot" foundation provides nutrition and education to more than 6,000 children in Columbia, as well as support and training for their parents and their communities. She is also a founding member of ALAS, a group of Latin American Artists which provides public policies for children across Latin America and the Caribbean. A medal was presented to her by an equally internationally accomplished Latin American, Juan Somavia, currently in his unprecedented third term as Director General of the International Labour Office in Geneva. "Your youthful wisdom and social consciousness were put to good use very early on," he told Shakira, "as you resolved to be a catalyst of change to help children escape the grip of poverty through education, to bring back dreams and hopes to lives scarred by the trauma of violence and displacement."


Khawla Mattar took over as the new Director of the U.N. Information Centre in Cairo. The Bahraini communicator, who headed ILO's (International Labour Office) Regional Information Office based in Beirut, will be the most senior official of the U.N. Information Operations in the Arab region. There were over 100 candidates for that very interesting post which was opened for outside applicants. A holder of a PhD in media sociology from the U.K. University of Durham, Ms. Mattar was reporter/editor for the Middle East Broadcasting Centre in London (1990-1993); the editor for Gulf Panorama Magazine (1987-1989); a reporter/editor with the Associated Press News Agency in Bahrain (1985-1987); a reporter/editor for Akhbar Al-Khaleej daily (1983-1985); and a correspondent for the Al-Khaleej newspaper in Bahrain. Ms. Mattar won in an open transparent competitive process. She has a very challenging assignment. Best wishes.


The opening of a new prefab as a main office while the rest of U.N. Headquarters is nonoperational has led to a new entrance being opened to allow for vehicles carrying the Secretary General and his visitors to get through directly rather than having to sneak through the visitor's entrance at 46th Street. The new gate is on 47th Street and First Avenue, just across from a statue of Saint George slaying the dragon. An attempt to topple the statue had failed. It was too heavily entrenched in cement. The result was placing two continuously blinking lights before it, which look from a distance like lit candles. They couldn't bring down St. George their way, so they went St. George's way. He looks like the only hope we have left!


One of the finest Parliamentarians of his generation, Michael Foot, of the British Labour party, who passed away recently, had two other famous brothers. Dingle Foot tended to be in the middle-of-the-road politics and Hugh Foot, famous as Lord Caradon, U.K. Permanent Representative to the U.N. and author of still-unimplemented landmark Resolution 242, strived to remain in the middle. This is not a time for recounting Hugh Foot's many anecdotes at the Security Council. Yet, his brother Michael was equally talented in the art of fencing with words. He always knew when to put the right Foot forward.


No one noticed a lonely dolphin making its way on the East River across from U.N. Headquarters. No one was there to see; everyone had already left to other spots of Manhattan and Bantanemo is windowless, at least from the river side. Dolphins are intelligent seafarers with almost human sense. Guess what it was trying to say!


Ambassador Hassan Fodha, former Director of U.N. Regional Office in Europe and in Paris made a brief visit to New York where he met some of his friends and colleagues. Hassan, who for a long while was a pillar of the network of U.N. Information Centres is now teaching at varied universities in Paris and actively participating in Non-Governmental Organization activities, particularly seminars on current issues like Climate Change and evaluation of U.N.'s changing role in today's world. He is also working closely with former Secretary General Javier Perez de Cuellar who resides between the French capital and Lima, Peru.