15 May 2010

UM, UM:

While doing "God's work" at Wall Street and feeling "invigorated" by the financial crisis to make deals, Goldman Sachs honcho Lloyd Blankfein found time to appear before a congressional committee. Accompanied by his "Fab" Fabrice, he grudgingly gave vague answers, appearing to look like an Invictus character: head bloody but unbowed. His experience taught him that his occasional tormentors would soon turn elsewhere for another political flavour of the day. That's his business; and theirs. Yet the most eloquent part of his testimony was when the Committee Chairman Carl Levin asked Mr. Blankfein bluntly about his bonus during the crisis. The master of the financial universe responded: "Um, Um, Um...Nine million."

JESSICA'S DATES:

A blend of U.N. communication staff, Iraqi expatriates, artists, and reporters interspersed by unusually quiet children assembled at a gallery in Soho to salute colleague Jessica Jiji on the issue of her second book, "Dates of Basra." Surrounded by creative Iraqi artwork, the owner welcomed everyone as he offered Jessica, whose father -- a professor -- was also there, with his own steel reproduction of a Basra Palm tree. Jessica read -- with gusto -- a few paragraphs to cheerful applause. There were a number of staff from the Secretary General's Spokesman and Speechwriting Office; Jessica is on maternity leave and she seems to be affectionately missed. Amongst those actively supportive was the usually aloof Ms. Choi who clearly looks much more beautiful when she smiles.

MEHRI'S HOMEPAGE:

A new incarnation for Mehri Madarshahi. A former New York colleague who once became President of the Staff Committee -- though ended up disagreeing with her committee members -- had moved to Paris where her husband works for UNESCO. She must be doing very well as she has her own elaborate website ("Mehri's Homepage") full with a newsletter, photo album, publications, speeches, articles, plus a madarshahi@madarshahi.org (notice the org). There is also a "Melody for Dialogue" - requiring a special download. A youthful photo of her, lips softly approaching a hard microphone, is framed by the U.N. emblem. There is also a distinct reference to "Africa Leadership." An interesting, though somewhat puzzling entry as Mehri is Iranian and her husband, Mr. D'Orville, is German.

PRO BONO BONO:

A lengthy editorial by Bono singing the praises of Mo Ibrahim. The millionaire Irish star was thrilled to be around a billionaire Sudanese (British) businessman who we are brilliantly told has a habit of calling everyone "guys." Mo, if you may recall, had started a Fund to dole away to African leaders who leave power on time, that is, who don't impose themselves beyond, say, a second term. As a tempting offer of "good governance," Mo offers one million dollars so that an outgoing leader will have some money to spend in his free time. Bono, who admires the "lioness energy" of Ellen Johnson Sirleaf and Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala, seems optimistic that, with Mo's help of course, Ghana will be giving aid rather than receiving it within years. Apropos Ghana, both Bono and his newfound friend did not utter one single word about their object of former adulation, a distinguished citizen of that great country, who, while in charge, never tired of praising Bono's Pro-bono. Strange, no?

JAYDEE:

Former U.N. Under-Secretary General for Disarmament Jayantha Dhanapala, who is currently President of the Pugwash Conference on Science and World Affairs, is spending the month of May in New York. An internationally recognized authority on Disarmament, he effectively participated in the opening of the NPT gathering and follow-up discussions. A former candidate for Secretary General in 2006, Dhanapala was received at length by Secretary General Ban Ki-moon. Let us hope that the current Secretary General would offer one of the finest internationalists a role at the level of his considerable experience, even if he was once his competitor.

O'BRIEN:

She's arrogant AND ignorant. Poses as expert on the Middle East. Only parrots one side. Arrogant AND insensitive. She verbally abuses visitors from the Middle East who know their own area much more than she does. Brings along her little French poodle to chime in. Ignorant AND bigoted. Dismisses the people of the region she is assigned to help. Ignorant, arrogant AND PROTECTED. She is supposed to have an easy entry to Under-Secretary General. Just got her accelerated P-5. Already pushing for D-1. What nerve!

MORGAN:

If you did not recognize actor Morgan Freeman of recent Invictus fame, you'd think it was a gay African American hoping to pick up an interested mate. At the corner of 47th Street and Third Avenue, the day of opening NPT Review Conference, around 3pm in the afternoon, the man dressed in a silky outfit with a baseball cap was looking around, smiling as he moved his right then left legs slightly, in almost ballet fashion without advancing in any direction. It was an unusual spot for the moves, but then Morgan Freeman is an unusual man. Obviously he knows Los Angeles better than Manhattan. He may have gotten bored waiting for a late friend, was practicing a role for an unseen camera. Or perhaps he was just feeling somewhat gay. As they used to say on Seinfeld: Not that there's anything wrong with it.

THE FIRST TO NOTICE:

Aliou Niasse, a Moslem from Senegal, was the first person to notice the suspicious vehicle in Times Square, according to Think Progress, which pointed out an interesting fact not getting much play in the media surrounding the attempted Times Square bombing: "Yet one fact being ignored in the American media's sensationalist narrative about the failed bombing is that the man who was responsible for police finding the bomb was Muslim. The UK's Times Online reports that Aliou Niasse, a Senegalese Muslim immigrant who works as a photograph vendor on Times Square, was the first to bring the smoking car to the police's attention." Aliou Niasses, a street vendor selling framed photographs of New York, said that he was the first to spot the car containing the bomb, which pulled up right in front of his cart on the corner of 45th Street and Broadway next to the Marriot hotel. "I didn't see the car pull up or notice the driver because I was busy with customers. But when I looked up I saw that smoke appeared to be coming from the car. This would have been around 6:30pm. I thought I should call 911, but my English is not very good and I have no credit left on my phone, so I walked over to Lance, who has the T-shirt stall next to mine, and told him. He said we shouldn't call 911. Immediately he alerted a police officer nearby," said Mr. Niasse, who is originally from Senegal and who has been a vendor in Times Square for about eight years.

FAKELAKI:

It's Greek for "envelope" -- that's the one that contains an adequate amount of cash to persuade. To pass inspection, to get desired results, to pay a doctor with or without a receipt, Fakelaki is now designated as the culprit for what is wrong with the Greek economy. Actually those economic analysts and media reporters are looking at the wrong end of the stick. For example, a former colleague Soterio, in Athens, would love to get his hand on one, if -- alas -- he was able to do so. Those participating on the outside don't realize what the great Hellenic culture will be without Fakelaki. Yassou.

BY PHONE:

How would you feel if you were able to command $106.5 million on the phone? After only nine minutes of bidding at Christie's in New York, an unidentified caller made the offer for Picasso's portrait of his 1930's mistress Maria-Therese. It crowned the Spanish expatriate as the most expensive artist. It was only one of several transactions -- mostly discreet -- that netted $335.5 million worth of art in one evening. Talk about hard times.

PAUSE:

  • "My husband and I divorced over religious differences. He thought he was God and I didn't."
  • "I smile because I don't know what the heck is going on."

ASH FOR CASH:

During the serial paralysis of Europe by an Icelandic volcano, ordinary folks learned how to pronounce the name of Iceland's capital, Reykjavik; its airport, Keflavik, and even its fuming terrestrial Eyjafjallajoekull. The talk of the diplomatic community was about a letter which British Prime Minister Gordon Brown wrote after the financial bankruptcy of Iceland to its President Olafur Ragnar Grimsson, demanding a return of the owed "cash." Unfortunately, it turned out there was no "c" in that rocky island's alphabet.

ASHES TO ASHES:

Iceland's volcanic ashes in Europe offered a convenient excuse to some Security Council members across the Atlantic. There were already arguments about who would travel or -- more pointedly, who will not -- on the Security Council unified visit to the Congo. Initially, the team, headed by new French Ambassador Gerard Araud, was slated for one week. The stated purpose, besides exploring the situation on the ground, was to give a unified, loud message to President Kabila in Kinshasa. But then, the days started to diminish. Three out of the Permanent Five had politely indicated that they'd rather pursue other priorities -- only the French, of course, and the U.K heads of mission, were on board. Other rotating members were interested, but Monsieur Araud, on his first big trip, wanted the top envoys of China, Russia and the U.S. to be there. With a decreasing number of takers, the ashes of Iceland came in handy. No travel would be possible via Paris and beyond. A few days delay for the ashes to settle or the winds to blow elsewhere was beyond consideration. The clear message to Mr. Kabila -- or to the Lord's Resistance Army -- would be conveyed in due course.

MUCH ADO:

A recently released survey amongst 1500 librarians about their amorous inclinations indicated that when asked to pick a Shakespearean title that best described their sexual encounters, 28% chose the Comedy of Errors, 23% A Midsummer Night's Dream, 22% chose Much Ado About Nothing, 21% chose All's Well That Ends Well. It was pointed out, however, that the survey is outdated. The initiator, a fellow librarian, had circulated the question in 1992, but could not collate the responses because he was fired.

HOW GREEN?:

George Mitchell, former U.S. Senate Majority leader and Presidential Middle East Envoy, dropped by for a casual lunch in New York. He arrived in a taxi; no black limo or driver. Upon finding out that one of those present came from a village a couple of miles away from his own mother's ancestral mountainous hometown of Bkasine, he cheered up chatting about his mom, Montaha Saad. She never called him except by her local-accented interpretation: "Georgous." Whenever receiving visitors at her U.S. state of Maine, she would tell them there was nothing as green as the mountains of Lebanon. However, when once she went back to Lebanon and well-wishes surrounded her to hear her impression, she proclaimed: "The greenery here is nothing compared to the mountains of Maine."

BANKRUPT:

News from Geneva that the special NGO Fund established by former Secretary General Kofi Annan is by now out of funds. It doesn't mean that our former brother and colleague will turn destitute along "Grand Rue." God forbid. We continue to wish him and his gracious wife and family prosperity, happiness and continued flow of unsuspended pension funds. It may only mean that ignoramus Meuller, who was acting like a Chef de Cabinet around the Places de Nations, will need to huddle with the Omega peddler in Geneva and his old friend in Athens to seek another means for acting pompous. Incidentally, Mr. Annan showed up at a farewell party for Ambassador Munoz of Chile who will be taking a job at UNDP. He told someone he vaguely recognized at the exit that there was life after the U.N.

WELCOME BACK, TAYE:

Finally, an appointment in the right direction. Taye-Brook Zerihoun was just appointed Assistant Secretary General for Political Affairs. Mr. Zerihoun's two-year assignment as the Secretary General's Special Representative and Head of U.N. Peacekeeping Force in Cyprus was complicated by the unduly talkative and visibly irritating Alex Downer, "Envoy" of the Secretary General "on" Cyprus. Though, like a very good soldier, he never complained, it looked like more of Mr. Zarihoun's time on that island was spend in damage control. During thirty years of U.N. service, he had a wide and varied experience at Headquarters and in the field. A citizen of Ethiopia, he displayed a comprehensive grasp of all political issues, particularly during his eight years as Deputy, then Director, of Africa Division in the Department of Political Affairs. Welcome back.

LINKAGE?:

A few unforum issues ago, we predicted that someone from the United Arab Emirates would be appointed as Special Envoy for U.N. Secretary General on or over something. No magic was needed. At the time, the Emirates had just signed an unprecedented deal involving billions of dollars with South Korea to build a peaceful nuclear capacity. Sure enough. By April, Mr. Ban Ki-moon appointed Dr. Sultan Al-Jaber, Emirates' Assistant Foreign Minister, as his "Special Envoy for Energy and Climate Change." There is no linkage, of course. Just coincidence.

RICE PUDDING:

"All you have to know about me is I am half Jamaican and was conceived in Nigeria," said U.S. Permanent Representative Susan Rice to curious guests, including reporters, gathered around her while attending a reception by South Africa promoting its Security Council candidacy for the next two years. Maintaining her intriguing Mona Lisa smile, Ms. Rice added that her grandmother's maiden name was "Daley, as in Irish." An international Rice pudding. Sounds delicious.

WHO KILLED DESCARTES?:

A Saudi daily seems to know. What was commonly known thus far was that the sensitive philosopher was a victim of Sweden's brutal winter cold. However, in a prolonged article, a Saudi in Paris with the name of Hashem Salih is inclined to think that Descartes was actually poisoned. Saleh goes back to the Seventeenth Century to indicate how the proclaimer of "I think therefore I am," discovered his way in life after having three nightmares, and discovering that he will spend his life uncovering new philosophical facts. That's why he left France to the more liberal Holland. When Christine, Queen of Sweden, invited him to visit, he declined because it was too snowy up north. Yet he eventually did; and died presumably from a cold. Yet Mr. Salih is inclined to believe in a conspiracy theory. You see, Descartes was influencing the Swedish Queen away from converting to the Roman Catholic faith. So he was poisoned. The proof, Mr. Salih puts forward, was that the Queen abdicated the throne and turned Catholic four years after Descartes death. What does all that have to do with a Saudi paper or its resident philosopher in Paris remains unclear.

RAPP:

In the interest of our Rapper-in-Chief, we list one of the latest:
I like big bucks and I cannot lie
You mortgage Brothers can't deny
That's when the dough comes in
Like you're printing your own cash
And you gotta make it splash
You just spends
Like it never ends
Cuz you gotta have that big new Benz.

NEW YORK PARKING:

"Something very suspicious happened. A car parked at, like 45th and Broadway, very suspicious. And I'll tell you the most suspicious thing about the whole episode was that the guy found a parking space."
David Letterman Show, New York

WRITING ON THE WALL:

With so many demonstrations rotating in Dag Hammarskjold Plaza on First Avenue across from the U.N., a number of writings or posters have been placed on the wall near 47th Street. They target the Millennium Development Goals. Samples:

  • "The Goals mention poverty and hunger, but too often that means giving canned food to poor people. That's not enough."
  • "I don't know if the Millennium Development Goals are pressing or depressing."

Bono, take note.

MONA'S SMILE:

After an impressive stint in Vienna, Mona Khalil just returned to New York. A rising star when she joined the Legal Counsel in New York, Mona made an impressive work as a brilliant Legal Eagle, with a sophisticated elegance and sharp wit. She has taken a new, higher position in Legal Affairs, where she can certainly make a difference.

PAUSE:

"If you don't say anything, you won't be called to repeal it."
Calvin Coolidge

TIME OUT:

One more indication that Time Out magazine's outdated weekly was struggling to drop names fictitiously for sheer survival. It listed the following "to do" for Monday 10 May:

It didn't make it clear that it was a commercial for the transitory cafeteria, while ensuring readers that Angelina Jolie is a fixed appearance. How desperate.

UNESCO FOOD FOR THOUGHT:

UNESCO's Christine Alfsen, who looked constantly puzzled or flustered during a commemoration of International Press Freedom Day, gave a "luncheon" on that occasion. Not many in attendance. Ms. Alfsen looked even more puzzled, perhaps also more flushed. One just asked why did her agency accept $3 million from Equatorial Guinea's Dictator Obiang. Christine looked very puzzled. She looked as if she was gasping for air. We'll have an answer within days. Why days? No email? No phone connection to Paris? No freedom or information on Free Press Day? What's happening at UNESCO New York office? Helene Gosselin; we miss you!

PROTOCOL:

Those watching the deliberations of the Non-Proliferation Treaty Conference in New York may have noticed a new face leading visiting dignitaries to the Podium. Desmond Parker of Trinidad and Tobago was just appointed Chief of Protocol to replace Alice Hecht of Belgium. Parker has been practically acting Chief since 2007 as Ms. Hecht disappeared and reappeared according to circumstances preceding her recent retirement. The new Protocol Chief has served in his own country for over 7 years before joining the U.N. in 1996 serving in peacekeeping operations in Haiti, Liberia, and Nepal.

WASHINGTON'S CORRESPONDENTS:

Boredom and low morale are not limited to U.N. staff or accredited U.N. correspondents. A Washington White House Correspondents' dinner on the evening of 1st May showed an equally bored and unmotivated set of reporters. A usually convivial President Obama could hardly draw a hearty laugh from a constantly grinning crowd, although he tried every angle: his "birth certificate," his First Lady, Joe Biden, even sister Hillary. The current President of the Correspondents Association recited so many thank yous and so many dutiful scholarships that he felt encouraged to say hello to his wife and kids as well as to the rest of the Chen family in Florida. Professional comedian Jay Leno tried his best to the point of calling on some members of the audience, but to no funny avail. It was the shortest -- and the most difficult -- dinner in the history of that group. It somehow reminded us of last year's U.N. Correspondents dinner.

DISCREET REQUEST:

The new Lebanese Foreign Minister, Ali Chami, had decided to preside over a few meetings of the Security Council before leaving the role to Permanent Representative Professor Nawaf Salam, who just returned from Beirut after thorough consultations, particularly on the reaction to a possible proposal on sanctions against Iran. A consensus in Beirut is that "friendly" states should not try to pressure Lebanon into a corner while presiding over the Council. Both Washington and Paris in particular were discreetly approached to suggest that internal balances would make it very difficult for the government to handle pressure at this stage. It is more likely that any proposals on the Iranian nuclear issue will be postponed to June.

"INSPIRA":

Perhaps it's part of "Dream On - III." A new "human resources system" was launched during the last week of April. The name is "Inspira." For the moment, only job openings in the Secretariat headquarters will be posted. Those considered "second tier" these days will be posted, that is, openings in the field will be shown later. Inspira is supposed to inspire applicants by giving examples of about 150 staff members. Somewhat presumptuously, it claims to show "what the U.N. does, where it works, what it looks for in staff, and what it offers as an employer." Keep trucking.

AWA AWA:

It's a professor. Like one Awa oversees smoked salmon at Agatha and Valentina, while another (Awa, of course) looks to roll back Malaria. That should not be confused with WaWa Sunil who has the title of Executive Director of Malaria Consortium. Where? Never mind. Just remember the Malaria net. A gimmick once launched during a Davos gathering with enthusiastic support by scientists like Sharon Stone, Bueno Bono, and Angelina Jolie, found its way among the board socialites of the world. Very little to do with actually fighting that deadly disease; but it gets them to meet the U.N. Secretary General.

EXTENSIONS:

The Secretary General has recommended a further four-year term extension for two politically influential senior officials: Antonio Manuel de Oliveira Guterres, a former Prime Minister of Portugal as U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees in Geneva, and Achim Steiner, an emotionally temperamental German Executive Director of U.N. Environment Programme in Nairobi. While Mr. Guterres gets consistent high marks for his authoritative and thoughtful leadership, his extension would certainly please the European Community senior official, another former Prime Minister of Portugal, who -- in turn -- had just been extended in Brussels. Mr. Steiner used to be a very influential adviser for a former German Chancellor, who had to find him a parking spot after a bizarre outburst in the Moscow airport. After a brief stint in Kosovo, where he almost got himself trampled by an offended host population, he was given the distant post in Nairobi -- as far away from Berlin as possible -- and at U.N. expense. And you thought that a serious strengthening of the U.N. climate change capacity was well underway. Dream on.

OUR VOTE:

Despite rhetorical noises about raising human rights issues during the visit to the Secretary General to Uzbekstan, a fly on the wall told us that the actual dialogue may have been slightly less confrontational. Apparently aware of the intention of his distinguished visitor, President Kasimov started by putting the chicken before the egg. "We voted for you to become Secretary General," the Uzbech survivor of many changing times said in his opening welcome. That placed Ban Ki-moon into the inevitable expression of appreciation -- and possibly contemplating what the cost of an open confrontation would be on a quest for a renewed vote next year. Softer, gentler conversations followed.

JAR OR NO JAR:

During the Secretary General's trip to Caucasian Asia, members of his helpful team got a special gift in one country: honey. Only some got honey in a nice jar and others without a jar. On what basis were the jarless designated was not clear, except to a local leader who perhaps was entertained by the confusion.

GIFTS RAFFLE:

Apropos gifts, it has now become a big ethical issue. What to accept and what to decline? What to take home and what to share with others? Apparently, someone proposed holding a raffle once or twice a year on who gets the accumulated gifts, which mostly this year comprise of liquor -- mainly local.

UPDATED:

Ambassador Husam Zaki, Spokesman for Egypt's Ministry of Foreign Affairs, represents a new generation of enlightened diplomats aware of today's developments, not only politically but also in the communications field. He had served at the Mission in New York and ably represented Egypt at the Assembly's Committee on Information. In response to a query about opposition forces, he did not use a clubbish dismissal, but wisely explained that there was a new kind of opposition -- a generational nature expressing itself through new tools and has intellectual and ideological perception quite different than earlier generations; it uses modern media available to everyone but mostly utilized by youth, through social networking or connections to websites that express their cultural social economic or human inner feelings. A rare perceptive official spokesman.

DOSSAL AWARDED:

In a joyous ceremony dominated by enthusiastic youth, Amir Dossal, Executive Director of the U.N. Office of Partnerships was given a special award by "city arts," a group that tries to make a difference through arts. Amongst those presented, and perhaps awarded, was Sarah Ferguson, Duchess of York, whom an announcer repetitively called the Duchess of New York. Between the "feel good" remarks and some hot air reference to an oil trader named "Badr" as a saint (!), the practical, down-to-earth Dossal, accompanied by his gracious wife, stood out as an example of dedicated international civil service who managed to maintain his hopeful smile, even in the most difficult circumstances. Congratulations, Amir.

HAPPY 90TH:

May he live happily for years to come. Our former Secretary General Javier Perez de Ceullar celebrated his 90th birthday amongst family, friends, and admirers at his home in Lima. His Peruvian compatriots surrounded him, deservedly and as usual, with affection, admiration and lots of folk music. Despite a recent knee operation, Don Javier was able to keep up with the enthusiasm of his well-wishers. He returned to Paris in time to proceed to Adelphi, Greece, where he received a special award from its university on 29 April.

BBG AWARDED:

"Doha, Arab Cultural Capital for 2010," awarded Dr. Boutros Boutros-Ghali the award of the year. During a ceremony at the Qatari embassy in Paris, Ambassador Mohammed Al Kawairi thanked the former U.N. Secretary General, particularly for his substantive contribution to promote cultural exchange between the Arab world and France. The ceremony was attended by former French ambassadors in New York Claude Kemoularia and Alain de Jemmet, Admiral Laxande of the French armed forces, Professor Hassan Fodha, former head of the U.N. Information Centre in Paris and head of the U.N. Regional Office in Brussels, a number of accredited diplomats as well as senior officials of UNESCO and other international and regional organizations. Congratulations.

CLEANER, HEALTHIER:

If Times Square doesn't come to you, you go to Times Square. The occasion was the 40th anniversary of Earth Day and Secretary General Ban Ki-moon did very well by getting out of his windowless office to reach out to the general public at the centre of its New York action. The message was equally relevant: a sense of shared responsibility for our mutual environment and "our one and only home," adding: "We must learn to live in balance with the planet that sustains us," and that there is a "better, cleaner, healthier way to do things." Hear, hear.

TOO FAST PISTOL:

"Too Fast to Live, Too Young to Die," was once, in the 1970s, the name of a shop on London's King Road, owned by Sex Pistols' band leader Malcolm McLaren. This April his coffin held the same legend as it made its way through the streets of North London with "Pistols" music blaring out and aged punks paid their respects. A double-decker moved slowly with "Cash for Chaos" on one side and in the front: "Destination -- Nowhere." The hearse was drawn by four black-covered horses. Behind them were bikers on varied types of motorcycles and crowds on foot, with leather jackets and with studs nostalgically reliving a forgotten era of British Musical Youth. While young men with lime green Mohawks and older ones with piercings joined the funeral at Highgate Cemetary, a large number of serious-looking conservatively dressed men blended with the mourners. They were accomplished business professionals, artists, and civil servants remembering their teen days as loudspeakers blared Sid Vicious' rendition of "My Way." There were serious and outrageous tributes. His long-time partner, designer Vivienne Westwood, expressed how "very, very sad that Malcolm was unbelievably dead and I wanted to say on this cruel, cruel day: get a life." A former angry colleague described him as "Danton, Robespierre and the French Revolution all rolled into one; he was a **** grenade." Former guitarist Steve Jones joked with a straight face about the band's royalties; in his North London accent, he asked "Dear Malcolm: Did you take the money with you? Do you mind if I come back tomorrow and dig you up?"