15 November 2011

TEA LEAVES:

Gone are the days when distinguished Sri Lankan jurists like Justice Jawardine used to be unanimously elected by the international community for senior Legal positions. Now you may have to read the tea leaves to find out whether any of that country's current candidates for any post could get it. Anyway, the Sri Lankan Mission is leaving nothing to chance. As Permanent Representative, Ambassador Kohona -- once a U.N. Legal Officer -- offered a big splash at the roof of Dag Hammarskjold Tower to mobilize for the re-election of Dr. Amrith Rohan Perera to the International Law Commission. Diplomats were handed "Sensation" boxes of "fine quality tea, flavour sealed in luxury foil envelopes," with the compliments of none other than the aspiring Dr. Armith, who may not have needed such a tea ceremony for a second term had he made an impressive impact during his current one. Perhaps one day a once special admirer of that great cultural country would do a research of how it regrettably lost its classic "soft power."

WHY A DUCK?:

Because you're in New York. Last Spring season it was flowers -- or their imitation -- everywhere. Even sculptors depicting roses were spread along Park Avenue. Now it's time for a new season. Ducks seem to be of interest. A huge Duck and family sculpture was placed around Columbus Circle. Some supportive visitors volunteer to offer it water to drink. Others in crowded buses passing by smile and get interested kids to say "hello." Other ducks are gradually finding their way elsewhere, perhaps approaching U.N. similarly spread offices where particularly sitting ducks are increasingly visible. There was once a comic strip by the Marx Brothers where an enormous Groucho keeps rolling his eyes in vain, at least to stay where he is. Hello Grouchos!

LOST IN TRANSLATION:

Competition for Security Council non-permanent seats, though for two years only, often looks like a fight for survival. Five seats were up for grabs on Friday, 21 October. By 6pm, four were settled. Guatemala will replace Brazil for Central and Latin America; Pakistan to replace Lebanon for Asia; Morocco to replace Nigeria and Togo to succeed Gabon -- both African seats. With Morocco, Arab representation, which alternates geographically will now move from Asia to Africa. The fifth seat was hanging in the balance: Hungary, Slovenia, and Azerbaijan were competing to replace Bosnia. Suddenly, because of an end to regular working hours. translation and interpretation stopped. The French delegate announced that his country will not participate without appropriate consecutive translation in French, which is after all a "working language" not merely an official one. Francophones took note. By then the trend was tilting towards Azerbaijan; Hungary had faded, and Slovenia was still trying. Some saw an attempt to undercut a growing majority for the oil-rich Eurasian republic which has more Russian and U.S. links than French. Whatever the purpose, the voting was discontinued -- for a future meeting.

40 YEARS:

Director General of U.N. Geneva office, Under-Secretary General Kassym-Jomart Tokayev represented Secretary General Ban Ki-moon in Beijing at the commemoration of the 40th anniversary of the "restoration of the lawful rights of the People's Republic of China at the U.N.," as the item was officially titled. USG Tokayev may be one of the most experienced current senior U.N. officials on China, having served there as a Kazakhstan diplomat and later handled bilateral contacts as a senior government official. Incidentally, U.N. colleagues with institutional memory may recall the actual historic General Assembly meeting in 1971 when after the first of two votes the old Chinese delegations based in Taiwan walked out and days later the new Chinese team from Beijing, led by Huang Hua arrived. How time flies.

TWITTER RITTER:

Remember Scott Ritter, former U.N. Inspector who ran a ferocious campaign against the U.N. for not being tough enough in Iraq (yet later spoke against the war there)? He was just accused of exchanging "explicit sex messages," it turned out, with a detective posing as a 15-year-old girl. He was sentenced to 10 years in jail. The accused, who had made much a decade ago of being a straightforward U.S. Marine, maintained that his behavior was shameful but not criminal. An odd presentation by his therapist in court acknowledged that Twitter Ritter has a "compulsion to masturbate in front of adult women" -- but not minors! How reassuring?!

WATER, WATER:

"Within the majestic setting of Blenheim Palace, an ancient spring has been supplying natural mineral water to King, Queen, Duke and Duchess for centuries. The superior quality of the water was discovered by King Henry II when he hid his secret love at Blenheim and built her a pleasure pool by the side of the lake. To this day, Rosamund's Well remains as a poignant reminder of this fatal love -- for the jealous Queen discovered the King's lover in her bower and stabbed her...to death!" All that to promote a brand of water which was not even available. A fundraising dinner to raise funds for maintaining springs at Blenheim, hometown of Winston Churchill was attended mainly by generous New Yorkers who, at the right price, would pay to rub shoulders with the titled Duke of Marlborough, the official resident of the country U.K. palace there. The mustachioed "veddy" British "uppah, uppah" looking old fellow is a jolly good fellow. With him was his fourth wife, a pleasant Indian woman, Lily Mahtani, new happily renamed Duchess of Marlborough.

FAWZI'S ASSIGNMENT:

Ahmad Fawzi, former U.N./DPI Media Director, just completed a one-month assignment for Ian Martin, Special Representative for Libya on the shape and format of the forthcoming U.N. Mission there. He already submitted his confidential report which envisages having an experienced team leader to cope with the ever-shifting situation. His visit to New York, however brief, was a bonus to his friends and admirers who note with disappointment that someone with Fawzi's credentials and dedication could not be utilized in a continued communications venture at the U.N. Secretariat. His departure was seriously missed, except by those in some related senior posts who would not know the difference.

EGOS:

Never stand in the way of two professors arguing on anything, even if it was the financial evaluation of Estonia. During a Sunday talk show by Fareed Zakaria, our illustrious Professor Jeffrey Sachs and British equally sharp Professor Neil Ferguson were brought in to discuss the European financial crisis, Occupy Wall Street, and the general world economic outlook. Our Millennium Development Goals drafter cunningly sided with angry protestors worldwide, drawing his agitated colleague to accuse him of being a demagogue. Surprisingly, our Jeff kept his cool while Fergie -- who now acts out his views for websites -- came across as a pretentious pretender to knowing it all. As usual, it was the moderator who at the end won the day.

DREAM ON:

The main U.N. office in central Beirut is being discarded, reportedly for security reasons. A U.N. proposal for new premises was submitted to the Lebanese government with a cost of $181 million to be completed in three years. It is supposed to house 14 U.N. activities and about 740 people, including UNIFIL which until now kept offices separately, near the airport. It envisages a heliport, basketball and tennis courts, a large meeting hall for 800, 10 smaller conference rooms for 360, 2 rooms for 190, and 8 for 90, stage room for 150 and other requirements. The proposed project would take 3 years to complete. Meanwhile, rental of a hotel is proposed for over 600 people at an estimated cost of $7 million per year. The Lebanese government is expected to cover all costs. Not so fast, as they would say in the movies. Or at least not so easy. A recent Lebanese Cabinet meeting that looked at the proposed project decided to ignore it. Instead, it will open the opportunity for others to rent premises for ESCWA until some sort of an arrangement is jointly agreed for the future -- the very far future!

WHAT OPPOSITION?:

Timed to coincide with the quest for a Security Council seat, Al-Jazeera English ran an interview with Ilham Aliyev, President of Azerbaijan, a former Soviet Republic, who elaborated at length about open markets, democratic choices, and the prosperity his regime had accomplished for his people. The interviewer, the boring and uber-outdated Robert Frost, mainly acted as a prop-up for the fluently English-speaking President, who had inherited the region from his father, Geydar -- later Haidar -- Aliyev, the first President of the newly-independent member state. Towards the end, "Frost Over the World" wondered somewhat cautiously whether there was any opposition."Would you have any of those?" was the question. A vehement response was that there is nothing for an opposition to talk about. Everything was so well accomplished -- though, of course, a lot more could be done in due course. Frost the Bore chimed in to profusely express his gratitude for being there and then. That's Al-Jezeera English.

MESSI:

"Brilliant!
Magic!
Aaaaaaaagh!
Absolute genius again
From Messi!
They tried
To kick him
They tried
To plow him into the ground
And what you do then?
You try to put
Fire out
With gasoline!
Don't look for him
In the X's and O's
He doesn't live there.
He doesn't live in
The tactical world
Or the technical world
He lives in the
Magnetic spectrum
Of genius.
You could corral him with
A dozen alligators
And still he's weave
His way out."

CLOSURE:

"A feeling of satisfaction or resignation when a particular episode has come to an end."
-- The Chambers Dictionary

INSIDE CHOICES:

It has been three months since Michael Williams, Special Representative in Lebanon, has left his post to return to his native U.K. Speculation about his asking for another senior assignment in New York proved groundless; yet, as they say in the New York Lottery, you never know. Meanwhile, candidates for replacement wavered between diplomats from Spain, Norway, Switzerland, and Finland. Certain Lebanese officials, perhaps lobbied by a certain friendly country, had expressed support for one particular candidate. However, it may be likely that the Secretary General would, very rightly, go for someone from inside the current Secretariat staff. It's about time.

ODD HUSAIN:

Like other outdated self-described think tanks, the New York-based Council on Foreign Relations is desperately seeking to indicate that it is following up closely events in the Arab and Moslem worlds. Hence their proud announcement that "Ed Husain" has been appointed as senior fellow for such affairs. Normally, "Ed" does not sound Moslem or Arab and the family name is usually written "Hussein" or sometimes "Hussain." Ed Husain seems like an odd case, particularly to those who knew him in London as an Islamist militant activist. Perhaps he has now seen the light. Let's see who's conning who: Ed Husain or Odd Murphy?!

SANIMAR:

It's an old story, yet recurring in various formats of political survival conflicts. Sanimar was a gifted architect who built a famous castle in Mesopotamia, Al-Khawaranq, for King Noman. After completing his masterpiece, the loyal architect confided to the King that there was a specific key in the seemingly invincible structure which if removed the whole castle would tumble down. The suspicious King asked if anyone else knew about that vulnerable point; Sinimar assured him that no one else knew. The King then threw him off the top -- had him killed to preserve his secret.

$700,000 BANKRUPT:

One of the two Non-Governmental Organizations in Geneva chaired by former Secretary General Kofi Annan went bankrupt. That meant no large offices in central locations and no special secretaries for Special Assistants and pretentious ignoramus Muller; or was it Muler?! The Danish former P-5 who was pushed by Mr. Annan to D-2 then ASG for reasons we would not bother to analyze will now have to find his own way to Rue du Rhone. Anyway, the deficit in the bankruptcy had reached about $700,000, which, we were told, was readily covered by Swiss authorities. Incidentally, the other NGO financed by Bill and Melissa Gates on the "Greening of Africa" is still rolling. How green is another valley.

VULGARIAN MUSIC:

Admirers of Bulgarian folk music who flocked to Symphony Space in New York were truly disappointed. We were told that there would be a creative evening on "The Heartbeat of Bulgaria" by Teodosi Spasov and friends. Instead, a desperately aspiring American Hungarian woman cornered a captive audience through disoriented shrieks while moving the lower part of her tiny body forward and backward in anticipation of some willing response. The only refrain was a sound of "Yih" after each sentence. Poor Teodosi Spasov was merely reduced to harping on his flute with odd varieties. Enthusiastic Bulgarian ex-patriots politely applauded after prolonged blowhards when he seemed to take his own breath away. He sounded desperately lost at what's expected of him while that shrieking woman -- who was not even mentioned in the ticket -- insisted on giving Bulgarian folk music a very bad name. Vulgar, actually.

THREE APPLES:

A farewell message in Palo Alto, at Steve Jobs' home, was written in Arabic, the language of his biological father. It said: "Three Apples changed the world: Adam's Apple, Newton's Apple, and Steve's Apple." A cover of The New Yorker showed Steve Jobs arriving at the Heavenly Gate with his receding hair, turtleneck, and round spectacles to be faced with an Archangel looking almost exactly like him checking new arrivals on an Apple iPad. Steve Jobs changed our lives and beyond. However, one lesson to draw from his untimely death is that despite his outstanding power of influence, he could not prevent his own death. Also, perhaps his greatest personal regret was that he had to watch helplessly as his biological mother, Joanne -- with whom he had reconciled -- was gradually losing her memory as he paid for her treatment at a senior care home. As we "insanely" miss Steve, we thank God for good health.

HIPPY DAYS:

Former hippies, flower people, peace activists and curious participants in New York were treated to a nostalgic yearning at the beginning of November. The Nineteen-Seventies were revived by Crosby, Stills and Nash, followed by Kris Kristofferson and Joan Baez, then the Clearwater Revival. Successful business baby-boomers, currently prominent media leaders, has-beens, and wannabees joined together in "Find the Cost of Freedom." Helplessly Hoping, Ohio, Wooden Ships, Truth is the Perfect Disguise, Sunday Morning Coming Down, Me and Bobby McGee, Diamonds and Rust, Gracias Ala Vida, Help Me Make it Through the Night, and John Fogerty's "Heard It Through the Grapevine." Ironically, some of them came from their offices in Wall Street, where younger crowds have taken their protest to a different dimension. "To everything there is a season. Turn, Turn, Turn."

TRAMWAY DINER:

Colleagues living on Roosevelt Island will miss the Diner next to their Sky Tramway connection on the corner of 60th Street and 2nd Avenue. Their meeting place before and after arrival or departure has just closed. It was owned by a Greek family that apparently moved on. The closest spot now would be Serendipity, which is usually overcrowded with waiting lines, or the 3rd Avenue pizza corner. Those with a sweet tooth may opt for Ralph Lauren's daughter, Dylan's candy store on the northern corner, particularly if they're into licorice jelly beans.

HELLO RYM:

A one-page ad in major papers about an International Women's Media Foundation event carried a number of photos indicating accomplished women in the media, with a lifetime award going to BBC's first female field correspondent, Kate Adie. We spotted a familiar face at the centre. H.R.H. Princess Rym Ali of Jordan, Founder of Jordan Media Institute, was mentioned as one of the awards presenters along with George Stephanopoulos of ABC News, and Julianna Goldman, White House correspondent of Bloomberg News. Her Royal Highness happens to be Rym Brahimi, our dear former correspondent at U.N. Headquarters in the early Nineties (Agence France Press) and later worked in the field for CNN. It was during one of her missions in Jordan when she met Prince Ali, half brother of King Abdullah II. A dynamic woman with an instinctive sense of humour, she made a splash of an impression wherever she went. Her father, Si Lakhdar, must be proud of her varied accomplishments.

PAUSE:

"And He shall judge upon the nations, and shall rebuke many people; and they shall beat their swords into plowshares and their spears into pruning hooks. Nations shall not lift up sword against nation, neither shall they learn war any more."
-- The Bible

IN MEMORIUM: HANS RAJ NARULA:

Hans R. Narula, a Former Director of Emergency Services for UNICEF, died at the age of 74 and lived in New York City. He passed away from colon cancer. He was the husband of Dr. Sudershan Narula, former Director of U.N. Medical Services. Hans Narula, the son of Kalu Ram and Ram Pyari Narula, was born in Punjab, India in 1936. His family migrated to New Delhi as refugees in 1947 following the partition of India and Pakistan. He graduated from Punjab and Delhi Universities with a B.Sc. (Hons.) Degree and a Master's Degree in Mathematics and Statistics. Mr. Narula began working with the United Nations Children's Fund in India in 1965. Over his 35-year career with UNICEF -- an agency that works globally for children's rights and development -- he traveled and worked in over 100 countries on behalf of children in need, often under exceptionally difficult circumstances. From 1975 to 1980 he served as Programme Planning Officer in Jakarta, Indonesia and in 1981 moved to Kabul, to lead the Afghanistan country programme at the onset of the Soviet occupation. In 1982 he moved to New York to serve as Chief of the Middle East and North Africa section. During his tenure as Director of Emergency Programmes from 1992 to 1995 he oversaw UNICEF's emergency assistance and humanitarian efforts in Bosnia, Rwanda, and Somalia, among other countries. He retired in 1996 as the senior advisor to the executive director of UNICEF though continued to consult with the organization until 2000. Prior to UNICEF Mr. Narula worked briefly with USAID and from 1959 to 1964 was Senior Research Officer in the Economic Intelligence Unit of the Indian Institute of Public Opinion. Upon retiring Mr. Narula became a master chef of Indian vegetarian cooking and practiced daily meditation. He loved Urdu poetry, old Bollywood fils, and shopping for Indian silk saris for his wife. In addition to his wife, Mr. Narula is survived by his son and daughter-in-law (Gaurav and Ritu Narula), daughter and son-in-law (Smita Narula and Richard Green), as well as his beloved grandson Zubin Mohan Narula-Green.

IMAGINE:

U.S. Republican Presidential hopeful Herman Cain is a former Chief Executive of Godfather Pizza. His ability to influence popular crowds was proven by his name being propelled ahead of forefront runner Mitt Romney. An African American with rhythmic speech, he may take away from President Obama, particularly in the South. One recent video, leaked by either friend or foe, showed him singing an adaptation of John Lennon's "Imagine." It was at a Godfather event where "Yes, We Cain" crooned: "Imagine those as Pizza," ending up with an ardent appeal to "Give Pizza a Chance." Imagine if he was actively elected as U.S. President!

11/11/11:

It happens every 100 years. That's what they would say in Las Vegas. Hopeful bets on number eleven may not have been fully rewarded, but enough must have hit to justify continued interest. To maximize good luck, a family we know arranged a wedding for 11:11am on 11/11/11 with only eleven guests. Aspiring young men and women -- at least in some cities like New York -- arranged for special dates in anticipation of making history, or whatever could be made that day. If not, perhaps next year for 12/12/12. Good luck -- well in advance.

BAILAMOS:

Enrique Iglesias appeared at New York's Madison Square Garden 4 November with a full force display. Theatrical smoke screens, colourful light, and an advance performer to whip up the Latino -- mostly Latina -- crowd. After his jumping rendering of Bailamos, remaining in your seat was not an option. Everyone from front to back row remained standing while those gorgeous young Latinas moving the rhyme and rhythm along. Unlike his father Julio who had a formidable voice but a boring presence, Enrique kept drawing the crowds from every angle. At one of the final songs, he picked a young woman from the back benches to dance in sexually suggestive display while singing: Would you dance if I asked you to dance?! It was from a song: "I Will be Your Hero." That evening, for a full capacity crowd, he certainly looked like one.

DISARMING:

Disarmament affairs are hanging between a cancelled Department and an inflated "High Representative." Meanwhile, regular staff soldier on, as usual. Seminars are dispersed around the globe and a Fellowship on Disarmament brings around a dozen participants who had a group photo with the Secretary General 19 October. Word is that the High Representative, Brazilian Sergio de Queiroz Duarte will be leaving soon. A cue of aspiring diplomats is anxiously waiting to succeed him. While the outgoing Queiroz is a well-known disarmament expert in that field, most of the potential replacements are merely adept at disarming influential aides at the Secretary General's cabinet.

LATINO AMERICA:

It was the song of the year by acclamation at the Latin American Music Awards. Shakira received her due recognition, happily introduced by her Barranquillan compatriot Sofia, Veteran Mexican R&B group Mana won on their new album Drama Y Luz, Marco Antonio Solis, seated in the front row was hugged by almost everyone getting to the stage for an award, El Tigres Del Norte got their best Northern Latin sound award. Marc Anthony performed a duo with upcoming rapper Pitbull. However, the moment Calle 13 started performing Latino America the crowd was electrified, almost united. It was about a worn out heartbeat determined to survive, an unflinching spirit to get ahead together despite daily challenges; children in the barrios keen on learning despite obstacles; old men and women in the Andes reaching for rarely available clean water; small talent challenging big obstacles: "soy Maradona contre Inglitera". Individual rapper sprints interrupted by rising female refrains with swiftly changing backgrounds of photos showing Latinos everywhere on the continent striving, working, living, but mostly preserving their values. There was by then no question about the winner: Latino America of determined unity and vivid hope.

THE NEW YORKER:


Yes. The New Yorker.