UPDATE: see end of this post for an important and intriguing correction.
Yesterday, Australian historian and UN-watcher Michael Fullilove took a pot-shot at Ban Ki-moon’s twittering style…
Now it’s very easy for an independent thinker like Michael to mock an official like Ban about writing dull tweets. It’s hard for the Secretary-General to be informal or snappy online, because he always risks offending people. But I think that Michael is also missing something deeper and more fundamental here. A close reading of Ban’s tweets suggests that he isn’t just trying to tell us who he is meeting or where he is. He also sees Twitter as an art form, offering moments of minimalist surrealism that verge on the poetic. Here are some examples that, to me, represent the high-points of Ban’s art-form:
Truly, this man is a Zen master of the twittered word.
UPDATE: 2 well-placed sources have pointed out that the “@secgen” account is entirely unofficial. Despite having nearly 250,000 followers, it is in fact the work of someone (reportedly in the UK) who simply tweets Ban’s official schedule hour-by-hour. Which must be quite dull. So, I am pleased to (1) say sorry to the SG; and (2) pose the question that will now surely shake global diplomacy: who is the (un)real Ban Ki-moon? [Technically, the answer is that the best accounts to follow are @UN_Spokesperson and @UN.]
Micah Zenko of CFR has just blogged this transcript of a 1975 telephone call between Henry Kissinger and his long-time aide Winston Lord on the knotty problem of what to say about Africa in an upcoming speech:
KISSINGER: Are you redoing the African thing?
WINSTON LORD: Yes. We had versions which is in the front office and we are redoing it some more. You can look at what you have [or?] wait for what is in the typewriter now. It will not be tremendously different. We gave you a draft about two days which was bounced back.
K: It was not much.
L: We don’t have much of a policy.
K: What would be a policy?
L: That it is, I think, it is sober, restrained…
K: I don’t mind giving them what our intentions are. It is not always possible to do a hell of a lot.
L: Right. It is our lowest priority, but it cannot say that. But it is a fact of life.
K: We can say something about forthcoming aspirations.
L: You mean for development.
According to the full transcript, Kissinger goes on to say: “See if you can give it a little more lift without promising them much more.” Of course, no policy-maker would ever be so cynical about development policy these days…
Vuk Jeremic, a former foreign minister of Serbia, is coming to the end of a year in the very important job of President of the UN General Assembly. His tenure has been anything but dull. He organized a concert which featured a Serbian choir singing a song “associated with massacres carried out in the 1990s against civilians who were under the protection of United Nations peacekeepers.” He convened a thematic debate on criminal justice that the U.S. claimed was “trying to discredit the war crimes tribunal for the former Yugoslavia.” And last week… he went to a Bon Jovi concert. Continue reading
This is your last drink for tonight, understand?
This was the week the UN stopped being fun. To start with, the US is trying to stop diplomats turning up at budget debates drunk:
The U.S. ambassador for management and reform at the United Nations, Joseph Torsella, scolded his U.N. colleagues today for excessive drinking during delicate budget negotiations.
The unusual censure reflected lingering American frustration with its counterparts’ conduct in budget negotiations in December, which one U.N.-based diplomat compared to a circus.
“There has always been a good and responsible tradition of a bit of alcohol improving a negotiation, but we’re not talking about a delegate having a nip at the bar,” said the diplomat who recalled one G-77 diplomat fell sick from too much alcohol.
As the United States sought to rally support for a proposal to freeze U.N. staff pay in December, it found that key negotiating partners, particularly delegates from the Group of 77 developing countries, were not showing up for meetings. When they did arrive, they had often been drinking.
“As for the conduct of negotiations, we make the modest proposal that the negotiation rooms should in future be an inebriation-free zone,” Torsella said in a meeting of the U.N. membership’s budget committee, known as the Fifth Committee. “While my government is truly grateful for the strategic opportunities presented by some recent practices, lets save the champagne for toasting the successful end of the session, and do some credit to the Fifth Committee’s reputation in the process.”
Meanwhile UN officials have been going after weed…
A United Nations-based drug agency urged the United States government on Tuesday to challenge the legalization of marijuana for recreational use in Colorado and Washington, saying the state laws violate international drug treaties.
The International Narcotics Control Board made its appeal in an annual drug report. It called on Washington, D.C., to act to “ensure full compliance with the international drug control treaties on its entire territory.”
Breaking news on the post-2015 development agenda just in from Richard in New York, who reports that the UN Secretary-General has set a major new agenda on what should follow the Millennium Development Goals when they expire:
I believe quinoa is truly a food for the MDGs and can make an important contribution to post-2015 development strategies.
And we’ll have more from Ban Ki-moon a bit later in the programme.
A New Year present for data geeks. In case any of you are bored with twitter and facebook as ways of wasting your time, have a look at this. ‘Worldometers’ offers real time data on all kinds of things – population, government spending, emails sent, bicycles produced, carbon emitted…based on data from UN, OECD etc. Of course it’s all guesswork and extrapolation, like most statistics, but very interesting and quite astounding to see some of the counters whizzing round (I’m posting this at 12.55 and there have already been more than 229,000,000,000 emails sent today, apparently!).