15 SEPTEMBER 2015

WHAT A FARCE:

Until a couple of years ago, U.N. Staff emotionally and substantively commemorated the passing away of some of their best at the bombing of the U.N. Mission Office in Baghdad in August 2003. Every year on the same day, the names of every one of our fallen colleagues would be voiced, staff would assemble to join hands and confirm their dedicated commitment, and family and relatives would feel a certain consolation, gathering with those who understood and appreciated their feelings. Now that it was transformed to Humanitarian Day, lines are blurred, responsibility (which was never seriously investigated) remains hanging on with impunity, while Ban Ki-moon dutifully places a wreath in the early morning to commemorate staff fallen for Humanitarianism. While Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, who took the administrative decision to widen the context, has no personal or institutional memory of our fallen heroes, it is regrettable that their ultimate sacrifice was being blurred when the Permanent Representative of the U.N. host country, the U.S. of America, is the same author who wrote the most impressive book about Representative SÚrgio Vieira de Mello, who would have been the next U.N. Secretary-General. It also happens at a period when the person directly in charge of the U.N. Task Force in 2003, then Deputy Secretary-General Louise Frechette, is now drafting the main report about how to improve U.N. Peacekeeping, reminding us of a view that history repeats itself once as a tragedy, then as a farce!

WHERE IS NAMBIAR:

Nothing has been heard from the official U.N. Special Envoy in Myanmar in months. When senior officials, in an effort by Secretary-General Ban to display financial transparency, were supposed to declare their income and accounts, Mr. Vijay Nambiar, former Chef de Cabinet, was mentioned by name but did not show up. Since then, there were cyclones in Myanmar, floods affecting over one million people in August according to official U.N. figures, resignation or firing of the government, and other drastic developments. Yet no one would definitely confirm that the Envoy -- who draws a handsome sum of money and per diem -- appeared on the ground, at least to profess empathy or express anything. At a time when staff costs are being cut at U.N. Headquarters and in the field, growing speculation about Mr. Nambiar's whereabouts erodes further the Secretariat's credibility. A sharpening question is: how much does he cost the U.N. for doing almost nothing while so many more junior staff are seriously concerned about their future?!

BODY LANGUAGE:

As if close relations between Iran and Hezbollah needed further proof, the Lebanese party's Deputy leader, Sheikh Naim Qassem, held a press conference in Tehran to introduce his book with quotations to prove a superb unique wisdom by the Spiritual Guide Sayyed Ali Khamenei. The Sheikh, known for his cold calculating rhetoric compared to the charismatic leader Sayyed Hassan Nasralleh, promised to get the book translated in varied languages so that the world would realize the historic value of his current idol. His body and voice language did not seem very convincing, however, he spoke Arabic (not Persian) with an Iraqi accent reflecting his years in Najaf. On the other hand, Iran Foreign Minister's visit to Lebanon was mainly interpreted through body language as not fruitful. Lebanese veteran observers, closely watching every move, whispered that his meeting with Hezbollah leader did not go as well as proclaimed. Circulated photos did not show Mr. Zarif's full face and presented Sayyed Hassam as straightening his legs, "signaling he made the decision." Someone hinted that Iran's Foreign Minister is by now more used to speaking English, a language unfamiliar to the Lebanese Sayyed. His Lebanese counterpart, Gibran Basil, happens to be the son-in-law and heir apparent to Hezbollah's main Christian ally, General Michel Aoun. Their meeting went so flat that it was hardly reported. Insiders claimed that Mr. Basil kept scratching his balding head while Mr. Zarif held on to his clipped beard. Some went as far as analyzing a smile from a laugh. What else would you do when you have no President for over a year, a scotch-taped government, and a Parliament that meets only to adjourn.

FIRST MISSION:

UNTSO, the Truce Supervision Organization, was perhaps the first U.N. Peacekeeping mission that started in Jerusalem's Mount Scopus to observe a 1949 Armistice Agreement between Arab governments in Israel, negotiated by U.N. Under-Secretary-General Dr. Ralph Bunche (for which he won a Nobel Prize). Rightly, it keeps going on, despite being overlooked. In August, Major General Arthur David Gawn, of New Zealand, replaced Irish Major General Michael Finn.

BACK CHANNELS:

Arrangements are being worked out through back channels, including Oman's Foreign Minister, for meetings in New York during the General Assembly Debate between senior officials of several countries in the Middle East. The participation in these preliminary reconciliation meetings already includes Qatar, Iran, Kuwait, UAE, while Bahrain is holding out pending a likely final decision by Saudi Arabia -- whose main decisions remain not with its newly-designated Foreign Minister who is not from the Royal family, but by King Salman or whomever speaks on his behalf. By the way, a reference to a meeting between King Salman's son, Prince Mohammad, and Syrian Security Chief Ali Mamluk may not be the only exploratory attempt. In July -- 3 July in particular -- a senior Turkish General visited Damascus for some reason. While contact continues, any resolution will take much more time. But holding back channel talks is more merciful than driving destitute people out of their country.

GANGNAM DISCOUNT:

For a short while last year, a Korean artist, PSY, became even more famous than his U.N. compatriot with a song and dance, "Gangnam Style." In cheerful spirit, Ban Ki-moon received him, held a photo opportunity at his office, and was almost tempted to imitate the move. With millions of world viewers, it was likely to have an impact on the U.N. neighbourhood, where a Korean cleaners on 49th Street proclaimed itself "Gangnam Cleaners." This summer, however, with a changing span of attention, a sign on the street indicated a 50% discount. A couple of weeks later, by mid-August, Gangnam was unceremoniously deleted. A discreet sign remains, plus an indication that everything inside was on sale. Word is that the Korean ownership was changed. Now it is "No tickey, no laundry."

GOJY:

A more entertaining new Korean presence is a cafe bar on 2nd Avenue near 50th Street. However it is pronounced, the name refers to chicken. It looked almost deserted when it opened last year but acquired popular customers this summer, particularly as it started offering a variety of choices. Most of its clientele did not look Korean, and mainly were observing passersby from outside tables. Frequent appearances by beautiful young Korean girls may have attracted admiring attentions. Perhaps it would help Korea's image if some of those ladies replaced a number of their solemn humourless compatriots at the U.N. compound. More "chicks, less dry sore bones, please."

"THIRD WORLD" PLAZA:

The U.N. Dag Hammarskjold Plaza at 47th Street between 1st and 2nd Avenue has become a lounging hangout for homeless people who sleep on benches, stretched out on the ground and approaching diplomats on their way from their mission to U.N. meetings. That was the main point of a detailed report in The New York Post which greeted diplomats, particularly from Third World countries considered poor and under-developed as saying that in their own countries the sight of the homeless was less frustrating because there were social networks of facilities that make an effort to look after them. Under a headline, "Third World Diplomats say NYC is grosser than Third World," an illuminated story quoted a Gambian diplomat saying: "America is one of the richest countries in the world and New York is one of the richest cities. But there are more homeless people here than in Gambia." Another from Cote d'Ivoire saying "In Africa, we think of America as a place in the sky," adding "It is very shocking to see how it really is." A Guyanese added that it was ironic and embarrassing that they're right in front of the United Nations. A superintendent living nearby noted that the number of homeless people in that particular area had surged recently. Residents of the neighbourhood applauded the Post's report and circulated it by email. More problems may be ahead with less supervision, minimum care and an added presence of a homeless shelter on 46th Street.

QUESTIONS:

"Computers are useless. They can only give you answers."
-- Pablo Picasso

PACHAURI'S FCCC:

Alas, former Climate Change Expert guru will no more be pontificating along the shores of the labour-intensive resort of Bali. Rajendra Pachauri, the Chairman of the U.N. Panel for a number of years stepped down earlier to deal with a more pressing risk of a sexual harassment complaint by an Indian woman at the Energy and Resources Institute which he headed. Months of investigation by a team that questioned about 50 employees concluded that the allegations were valid. A brief statement in New Delhi announced that the bearded authoritative pondering Pachauri has been removed from that Institute too. Having lost his FCCC, he has now lost his job. No wonder he persistently looks desolate. He must be having a very hard time with no relief in sight.

FIGUERES STRETCH:

Most of those who work on U.N. projects may have no idea who Christiana Figueres is. Even those dealing with Climate Change may have a vague clue about her official functions, but very few are really impressed by an actual accomplishment. A general impression gives Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon obvious credit for making Climate Change a pressing political issue. But then, a "Reporter at Large" at the The New Yorker, Elizabeth Kolbert, devoted seven pages in its August 24 issue entitled "The Weight of the World," with a sub-question: "Can Christiana Figueres Persuade Humanity to Save Itself?"! Very tough task indeed. Searching through the text, after initial buzzwords like the Kyoto Protocol, UNFCCC, MOP, we find out that before an international conference in Lima, Ms. Figueres prodded her assistants to secretly practice a routine set by Beyonce's "Move Your Body" and at a Secretariat meeting "ripped off their jackets and started to jump, jump, jump." Wow! If that was not serious climate change, what is? Ms. Kolbert hurriedly informs us that of all the jobs in the world, "Figueres may possess the very highest ratio of responsibility (preventing global collapse) to authority (practically none). Apparently, she was persuaded during meetings overlooking the Rhine in Bonn, sipping coffee at a hotel lounge in New York, escorting her subject of interest to or from a grocery store, that Ms. Figueres has the most challenging role of persuading "a hundred and ninety-five countries" to do the right thing. She helpfully explains the purpose of a FCCC with a special alert or D.A.I., which she further illuminates "in plain English, it means global collapse." Whatever may be accomplished at the Paris summit next December may be unclear to major players, but Ms. Kolbert and Ms. Figueres seem to be in it together for whatever reason, whether it is FCCC or a jump, jump, jump. It may be an enthusiastic endorsement for the top U.N. as male and female candidates have started to line up to replace Secretary General Ban Ki-moon, or merely a reflection of a shifting style by the new New Yorker. Yes, the new New Yorker.

SECURITY POST:

The number two U.N. Security post, with a rank of Assistant Secretary-General, is most likely to go to Peacekeeping D-2 official Donna-Marie Chiurazzi-Maxfield, better known as Donna Del Gaudio when she served in Conference Services, Public Information, and Office of Human Resources Management. She climbed to seniority level with a very pleasant smile and a very determined outlook, cultivating a number of friends and admirers along the way.

LARISSA'S VISIT:

Retired colleague Larissa Sederova, a former pillar of the Department of Public Information, spent a couple of weeks in New York seeing friends and reviving nostalgic memories of her time in the Big Apple before going back home to Moscow. She manages to travel and particularly to see her enterprising son acquiring properties, including in Paris, France. She promised to spend a special day end July with her friends in New York. Larissa is a wonderful person, dedicated colleague, and very loyal friend.

INTERNATIONAL TRAVELLER:

JEAN CLAUDE:

That is, for Jean Calude Aime, former Chef de Cabinet for Secretary-General Boutros-Ghali, senior member of Secretary-General Perez de Cuellar Cabinet, a dynamic senior Peacekeeping official when Peacekeeping was at the centre of U.N. operations, and a valuable Development representative in the field, when it mattered. Jean Claude managed to spend a couple of days in New York for personal reasons while his wife, the brilliant Lisa Buttenheim, the U.N. Representative in Cyprus, held consultations at Headquarters and briefed Security Council members. Very little time with so many friends who look forward to having them both back at a more leisurely time.

A CONSULTATION:

* You remind me of a man
- What man?
* The man with the power
- What power?
* The power of Hoodoo
- Who do?
* You do
- Do what?
* Remind me of a man
- What man?
* Let's go.
(From a film -- The Bachelor)

CULTURAL HERO:

Syrian archeologist Khaled Al-Assad, a renowned authority on cultural heritage, realized that Islamic State cutthroats will target him personally when they occupied the ancient cultural center of Palmyra. But he stood fast. With no weapon except his credentials, and integrity, he stayed there, determined to maintain what his country, Syria, meant to the world regardless of its political regimes. It is a treasure of a historic society which grew in a key region through a mosaic of ethnic, religious and social groups. Despite barbarians at the gate who subsidize other armed barbarians on the ground, cultural heritage heroes like Khaled Assad will remain as honorable and valuable to his people for whom he gave the ultimate sacrifice.

KOSOVO REP:

Farid Zarif, U.N. Special Representative and Head of the Interim Administration in Kosovo, left end August. A former Afghanistan diplomat, Mr. Zarif earned a solid reputation for dedication and team work, particularly in conducting plebiscites and referendums in different member states. For example, he participated on a very successful team to oversee a 1993 free and fair impartial referendum in Eretria, headed by U.N. Special Envoy Samir Sanbar, which resulted in the independence of that member state. Mr. Zarif was a substantive team leader at the Food-for-Oil project before it became mired in political and financial controversy. His replacement in Pristina will be another Afghan diplomat, Zahir Tanin, his country's Permanent Representative at U.N. Headquarters in New York since 2006.

ADDEE PINK:

A recent "Pink Viagra" for women attracted obvious attention amongst full-time working busy diplomats -- not only females but curious males too. So many meetings, so little time to focus during focus time. So many demands and a one basic demand remains basic. It's called Addyi, pronounced Add-ee as the media helpfully reported. It is still subject to a medical prescription; but that would not be hard when times get really hard.

JUST A SOLDIER:

As the Literati celebrate 150 years of William Butler Yeats, one would recall his famous two lines: "Those that I fight I do not hate; those that I guard I do not love."

THE PRETENDER:

I'm going to be a happy idiot
And struggle for the legal tender
Where the ads take aim and lay their claim
To the heart and the soul of the spender
And believe in whatever may lie
In those things that money can buy
Though true love could have been a contender
Are you there?
Say a prayer for the Pretender
Who started out so young and strong
Only to surrender

by Jackson Browne

WORDS:

"To see the perfect wave and not be able to surf; it's too difficult," said (...) shaking his head.
From an article in The New York Times, 12 August

WORLDS:

"So many worlds, so much to do. Still, little done."
Alfred Tennyson

STATUES CONFESS:

Brazen destruction of treasured statues and smuggling of antiquities to completely erase any trace of cultural heritage led some veterans to circulate an old farcical quip about a statue discovered in a country run by an armed militant clique. The "inspired leader" wanted to know its origin and sent it over to his Security Chief, who sent back a confidential report confirming that the statue had "confessed" that it was a replica of Pharoah Remses II.

ICON?:

A photo of Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon meeting with U.S. President Barack Obama on 6 August was placed on the U.N. website since that day, for weeks on the section under the Secretary-General's Spokesman. Either it was simply forgotten there, or, more likely, someone considered it like a sacred icon to display in the hope of maintaining Amazing Grace.

OMAR SHARIF:

From Funny Girl to Lawrence of Arabia to Dr. Zhivago, Omar Sharif moved from one big role to a bigger one. His main interest was playing bridge, while his main sorrow was his lack of any family connection. He had to divorce the love of his life, Egyptian adorable actress Faten Hamama, and with her, his son Tarek, in pursuit of world fame. He had no home address, living totally in hotels around the globe. For a while he almost settled at the Royale Monceau near the Arc de Triomphe, when the hotel was owned by his entrepreneur friend, Damascus-born Dr. Osmane Aidi, but left it after it was sold. He loved a small hotel in Deauville-Trouville in Normandy, where he felt free to laugh, sing and gamble unreprimanded. Born Michel Shalhoub into a Christian Lebanese family that had moved to Alexandria, he adopted his artistic name to take a role in an Egyptian movie, opposite the famous actress who became his wife. Feeling artistically frustrated in his last years, he determined to return to Cairo where he turned more melancholic and died. His colleagues in Egyptian cinema, poets and admirers gave him an honourable, gracious farewell.