15 October 2008


A very interesting piece of special journalistic effort appeared in The Wall Street Journal, an article by the irrepressible Claudia Rosett on her special kind of interview with Maurice Strong. Very relevant reading. Please click here to read her article.


Which visiting President of a Permanent member was upset because his country's Permanent Representative in New York was not available to receive him at the airport, while his ambassador to Washington was readily present? Which ambassador was scolded by his visiting President for speaking out of turn on a European issue? Which President displayed "hot and cold" relations with his accompanying Foreign Affairs minister; sometimes praising, sometimes interrupting him? Are they different Presidents or was it one and the same?!


The hyperactive Foreign Minister of France was a victim of his own accent during a recent visit to Jerusalem. Responding in English to an option on possible response to Iranian nuclear capacity, reporters thought they heard him say that Israel may "eat" Iran; which was duly reported. Kouchner's office had to issue an official clarification. It was "hit" not eat, only the "h" had been eaten!


The expansion of U.N. Environment Programme headquarters in Nairobi is creating financial and administrative concern at U.N. Headquarters in New York. Lack of adequate monitoring and frequent unexplained delays have been noted, particularly by the powerful Advisory Committee on Administrative and Financial Questions. Questions reached the level of Kenyan President and the senior level team that represented Kenya at the General Debate. The government in Nairobi promised to appoint a senior official to actively supervise the work. Don't hold your breath.


"Man who live in glass house has to come through basement."
"Man who speaks short sentence must have long experience."
"Man who likes pretty doctor must be patient."


A new dispute between Israel and Arab countries was raised by the head of Lebanese business council. Israeli claims to Hummus were totally unfounded. Hummus, like Baba Ghanouj, was eternally Lebanese and all claims otherwise were merely acts of blatant aggression. Mercifully, Tabbouleh was left out of the contest. Everyone knows it's Lebanese. The only open item could be Falafel. Although known mainly as Lebanese, Egyptian, or generally Middle Eastern, the fact is that it started in Damascus. But our Syrian brothers have enough trouble these days to argue this one.


"His Excellency and I fully agreed." (His government will continue to totally ignore us and we will continue to raise no objectives.)


The pen is mightier than the sword -- and easier to write with.


Secretary General Ban certainly was not aware that he may be extending a covering hand for some symbols of Wall Street incompetence and/or greed when on two recent occasions he paid puzzling tributes. On one event, he "honoured" actor Michael Douglas, among others, as Mr. Gekko, whose role in "Wall Street" famously glorified "very good" greed and arrogance. In another jovial attempt at parody, he rapt lyrical about Merrill Lynch. As droves of that company's staff were turned unemployed and with hundreds of thousands of investors around the world facing catastrophic prospects, here was the U.N. Secretary General singing that "global classrooms were a cinch with the help of Merrill Lynch"! While Mr. Ban certainly perceived it as a bit of fun, it sounded either insensitive or that some "adviser" was laughing all the way to the bank!


Our highly regarded colleague Edith Lederer, Chief correspondent at the U.N. Associated Press Office, was presented by the International Women Media Foundation with its Lifetime Achievement Award. "Edie" began her journalism career in 1966. In her more than four decades with the AP, she has worked on every continent except Antarctica covering wars, famines, nuclear issues and political upheavals. Ms. Lederer was the first female resident correspondent in Vietnam in 1972; she lived in a jail with a guard for protection because most other reporters were men. She was the first woman to head an AP foreign bureau in Peru, the first AP reporter to cross the Yalu River after the Korean War and the first journalist to file the bulletin announcing the start of the first Gulf War.


Inspired by the presence of pop star Jay-Z, Secretary General Ban Ki-moon entertained the entertainer by imitating his rap. It was the 50th Anniversary of UNA-USA, which like the U.N. Secretariat benefits from funds donated by Ted Turner. Hence, Ban Ki-moon's line: "U.N. stays on the front burner / Thanks to our champ, Ted Turner." Jay-Z, whose "Water for Life" venture was developed with U.N./DPI was overjoyed to hear our most senior vocal cords declare: "With Jay-Z there's double strife / Life for children and water for life." Certainly not very creative, but passable, considering the audience. So was a reference to the world's top search engine: "When you put the org in Google / Partnerships go truly global." It was not clear whether he was calling for an official connection with Google or merely accommodating Mr. Choi. The puzzle line came early on: "Global Classrooms are a cinch / With the help of Merrill Lynch." Awkward silence. Media headlines had already reported that the investment firm was in no cinch at all. By then it was way beyond needed help. Perhaps our bold leader / ad-hoc rapper read it just because it rhymed!


You can't just get me on the phone / Cause now I am internationally known.


Pakistan's new President Asif Al-Zardari looked so jovial during his recent New York visit. Despite a theatrical placement of his murdered wife, former Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto, on the podium, he could not hide his overwhelming joy at his new status. Although his meetings with other visitors were not that impressive, his welcome to U.S. Vice Presidential candidate Sarah Palin was a mutually clueless exercise -- except for an amorous approach by the Casanova of Sind, who exclaimed: "You are even more gorgeous than you are on the tube. I might HUG." Ms. Palin's measured response was the normal: "I am honoured to meet you." The Sindi man eyed her gleefully repeating his wishful approach. "You are so nice, thank you," responded the Alaskan Governor. An aide suggested that the two shake hands, perhaps as a photo opportunity. A puzzled Ms. Palin wondered: "I'm supposed to pose again?" But Mr. Zardari swiftly took charge: "If he's insisting (on a handshake) I might HUG!" When the embarrassing exchange leaked, some Pakistani Sheikhs were not amused. That was not the only presumptuous approach by a recent Pakistani official. Former Prime Minister Shavkat, who was once appointed to co-chair a U.N. "Coherence" group made a fool of himself approaching females on several occasions including one where he gazed meaningfully into the eyes of U.S. Secretary Rice before telling her that he could "conquer" any woman in two minutes! Masha allah!


Raindrops keep falling on my head. You just can't stop the rain by complaining. Nothing's worrying me. That was Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid. The kid went to start his Sundance films venture. Everything organic, you know. Rocky Mountain high, somewhere in Indiana; or is it Montana? El Hombre Newman, Butch, the Legal Eagle with a touch for the Colour of Money was selective in his new movies. After his Oscar in 1987, he mainly enjoyed hanging out in Westport, Connecticut with his wife, the equally great Joanne Woodward. A master of elegant style, he was loyal to his friends without much pretension. His line about his wife was his best. Asked by Playboy why didn't he stray, Newman quipped: "I have a steak at home; why should I go out for a hamburger?" Joanne Woodward deserved it. Paul Newman deserved her. What a wonderful couple. What a sad loss. An actor who kept his style and his dignity while entertaining the world.


Managers of the U.N. Development Fund for Women have been restlessly dashing around, not to promote their cause but to proclaim how much P.R. work they were doing for themselves. The latest was an announcement of an agreement with a shoe sales company -- whose name they advertised worldwide -- in return for ONE DOLLAR only for every shoe purchased from that company -- up to $150,000. It was not indicated whether that would include those of Ms. Alberdi, the new Executive Director, or whether she would prefer those crafted by her more elegant compatriot, Manolo Blahnik.


Except for the U.N. website, no one seems to seriously consider what the U.N. Representative in Iraq, Steffen Demistura, has to say, whether he lays his glasses down his nose or lifts them up in amazement. Apparently he had made a recent demarche amongst Iraqi leaders to inject a certain article in the provincial election law. Local politicians had already noticed his keen interest in oil-rich Kirkuk which they are convinced has nothing to do with protecting minority rights. His "strong urgings" were totally ignored. "Abu Chaterjee" found nowhere but the U.N. website to indicate he was "surprised and disappointed" demanding an injection before 15 October. No one in Iraq bothered even to respond.


"Sunshine on my shoulders makes me happy," goes the song by John Denver. Apparently sunny weather offered high-level participants in the General Assembly debate a temptation to try open air lunches slightly off the U.N. neighbourhood. French President Nicolas Sarkozy, accompanied by La Dolce Carla, was spotted in a restaurant in the 60s between Madison and Fifth Avenues. Georgian President Saakashvili chose downtown's Soho, spending an obviously jolly time on West Broadway.


A former U.N. Spokesman for the U.N. Mission in Iraq will be getting an appointment as Information Minister of Jordan. Ayman Safadi, the first spokesman for the initial mission to Baghdad, had taken different journalistic assignments in his own country and in the Gulf region. Most recently, he was editor of Abu Dhabi's Al-Ittihad in the United Arab Emirates. He told his friends that King Abdullah II has recalled him to become his media adviser, with the rank of Cabinet Minister.


"Rotten Lying Bastards" was the term once used by Australia's Permanent Representative Richard Butler to explain why he lost an almost certain campaign for a Security Council seat. Much of the loss had to do with what many diplomats perceived as a presumptuous approach by Butler compared to a very modest, friendly and inviting attitude of the Ambassador of Portugal. Butler, a very capable and creative internationalist often misunderstood due to his blunt language, was stunned by the defeat, particularly after chairing a successful U.N. 50th Anniversary Committee. Anyway, Australia is once more interested in joining the Council on behalf of "Europe and Other" regional group. Let's hope its diplomats draw a sobering lesson from the previous experience. That seems to be doubtful thus far as a recent report in Melbourne's The Age brought up the "RLB" twist. Also, a case of possible conflict of interest may be raised closer to voting time about former Australian Foreign Minister Downer who was just appointed Special Envoy for Cyprus while he continues to run a private P.R. business. Quite frankly, it's about time for Australia to get that seat; but it badly needs to be helped rather than hindered by the attitude of its diplomats.


Why is it that the Prime Minister of Denmark injected a "Fogh" before his family name? Anders Rasmussen was always good enough for us to recognize and repeat; with some difficulty, but correctly. Now serious diplomats and curious reporters have to take "Fogh" into account, especially when spelled the Danish way. Its use gets more awkward, particularly when referring to the Troika leaders of the Framework Convention on Climate Change, generally referred to with its abbreviation: FCCC.


Humpty Dumpty sat on the wall
Humpty Dumpty had a great fall
All the King's horses and all the King's men
Could not put Humpty together again.


The story went around the world. Was North Korean leader Kim Jong-Il really ill? Within a closed society, no one would give a public answer. The man has no spokesman. Most reporters sought references from neighbouring South Korean experts. Perhaps we should have checked with our Kim too-Soon.


The Ogre does what ogres can
Deeds quite impossible for Man
But one prize is beyond his reach
The Ogre cannot master speech.
-- W.H. Auden


Ninety years old Stephen Hessel is still the colourful diplomat who attended General Assembly sessions regularly on behalf of France. He would move around country seats, shaking hands with other regulars repeating his sense of pride for being "fidele aux poste." He has now produced a book about his lifetime experience. Born in Berlin and deported with his Jewish parents to Buchenwald, he became part of the French Resistance Movement during the occupation. At 15, he received his baccalaureate degree, went to "Sciences-po," then joined the Parisian creative scene with its artists and intellectuals. As a Quai d'Orsey envoy he served in China, Africa, Asia, the Middle East, and -- obviously -- the United Nations. Particularly on Africa, he took a very strong anti-Apartheid position to the point of clashing with his own government. After decades in retirement, Stephen Hessel continued to comment on French and international affairs. He always kept his head above surface. May of his colleagues called him the Old Survivor. He would dismiss it offhand. Survivor; yes. Old? Never!


"There was once a Norwegian man who loved his wife so much he almost told her."


Perhaps to disprove a saying that you couldn't fry an egg on sunshine, Secretary General Ban made a spectacular point of taking a "solar" car to work. An announcement was made the day before (which happened to be 9/11) for the world to know the precise movements of our courageous leader the following day -- or the day after. Whatever. Mr. Ban did show up in the passenger seat of a tiny door-less car with advertisements plastered all over it. The proud inventor and driver inched his way from 1st Avenue. It was not certain that solar energy was used -- someone mentioned electric plugs charging the vehicle 24 hours before its short trip. It was less sure that the car would actually operate sometime soon in New York or elsewhere. Anyway, it was surrounded by "fuel fueled" U.N. Security cars. Why did our distinguished Secretary General take that ride? Perhaps he got fed up with his official limousine; or maybe he has his special sort of solar humour.


A poor woman in South Lebanon where UNIFIL operates was opening sea oyster shells brought by her husband, a fisherman near the town of Sur (Tyre). She found no oysters. Instead, she held 26 shimmering genuine natural pearls.


A successful Book Show on display at the General Assembly Lobby was opened by the Secretary General. The occasion was the Day of the Book. Members of the U.N. system plus some relevant non-governmental organizations took active part by placing staff who would present their publications and respond to questions. A worthwhile effort, which deserves a more elaborate show next year.


The online version of the Yearbook of the United Nations -- the world Organization's flagship reference publication -- was launched on Thursday, 9 October, in the General Assembly Visitor's Lobby. The new website -- http://unyearbook.un.org -- provides free public access to the 59 volumes of the Yearbook collection, detailing the work and achievements of the United Nations system over the first 60 years of its existence (1946 - 2005). The new site incorporates a user-friendly search function, allowing users to locate any Yearbook reference using key words, phrases or document symbols, by year or range of years. The new website is expected to not only serve as a strong research tool, but to also help users better understand global issues as they affect them, also broadening the Organization's outreach to the public. The Yearbook of the United Nations is the most comprehensive and authoritative work on the Organization. Each Yearbook volume provides analysis, is fully indexed, and includes the texts of, and votes on, all major General Assembly, Security Council and Economic and Social Council resolutions and decisions. (Contact: UN Yearbook Unit, Tel. (917)367 9326, email: unyearbook@un.org)