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Posts Tagged ‘United Nations

Diplomatic Impunity…


The U.N. may be a beacon of hope and peaceful negotiation around the world, but it brings with it workers who use their immunity to park in front of fire hydrants, red zones, and anywhere else they please– it’s the stuff of urban legends and West Wing episodes.

New York is owed over $17 million in unpaid parking tickets; Washington, D.C., over $500,000:

New York’s top offenders:

Egypt – $1,929,142
Kuwait – $1,266,901
Nigeria – $1,019,998
Indonesia – $692,200
Brazil – $608,733


Russia – $27,200
Yemen – $24,600
Cameroon – $19,520
France – $19,520
Mauritania – $8,070

What do these countries have in common?  Freakonomics (quoting Forbes) suggests that “the level of a country’s corruption (according to the Corruption Perception Index) predicted the level of parking ticket delinquency, along with a country’s level of anti-American sentiment.”

As we pine for diplomatic plates, we might compose a loosely rhymed remembrance of William Topaz McGonagall, widely considered to be the worst published poet in British history; he died on this date in 1902.  McGonagall distributed his poems, often about momentous events, on handbills and performed them publicly (often, it is reported, to cat calls and thrown food).  And he collected his verse into volumes including Poetic Gems, More Poetic Gems, Still More Poetic Gems, Further Poetic Gems, and Yet Further Poetic Gems.  (Readers will find a selection of his poems here.)

McGonagall’s best-known work, a verse recounting of “The Tay Bridge Disaster,” ends instructively:

I must now conclude my lay
By telling the world fearlessly without the least dismay
That your central girders would not have given way,
At least many sensible men do say,
Had they been supported on each side with buttresses,
At least many sensible men confesses,
For the stronger we our houses do build,
The less chance we have of being killed.


The lore of large numbers…

The folks at Pingdom pay pretty close attention to the Net.  Now, in “Internet 2009 in Numbers,” they share back what they’ve learned.

For example:

– 90 trillion – The number of emails sent on the Internet in 2009.
– 247 billion – Average number of email messages per day.
– 1.4 billion – The number of email users worldwide.
– 100 million – New email users since the year before.
– 81% – The percentage of emails that were spam.
– 92% – Peak spam levels late in the year.
– 24% – Increase in spam since last year.
– 200 billion – The number of spam emails per day (assuming 81% are spam).

There’s more– in a way that’s amusingly resonant with their subject, much, much more–  here.  As the folks at Pingdom suggest, “prepare for information overload…   but in a good way.”

As we reset our spam filters, we might recall that it was on this date in 1919 that The Paris Peace Conference, convened to build a lasting peace after World War I, approved the proposal to create the League of Nations. A centerpiece of Woodrow Wilson’s “Fourteen Points for Peace,” the organization was meant to provide “mutual guarantees of political independence and territorial integrity to great and small states alike.”

The League was liquidated in 1946, at the end of the global conflagration– World War II– it was meant to prevent; it was effectively replaced by the United Nations, which took over many of the League’s agencies and functions.

Commemorative Card

A Pattern Language…

Your correspondent recalls his first (high school field trip) visit to U.N. Headquarters, on which a tour guide explained that the gargantuan Persian carpet then hanging in the atrium had, hidden in the extraordinary intricacy of its pattern, one small “error”– placed there by the weavers “because only God is perfect,” a striking injunction to humility.  But the more fundamental lesson lay in the minutely interconnected design of the rug itself:  on the one hand ordered and symmetrical; on the other, chaotic and overwhelming– it was a metaphor for life itself.

What was true of that carpet is true more generally of (the best of) Islamic art and design, as the reader can see at Pattern in Islamic Art, a collection of thousands of arresting images.

…this marvellous artistic tradition deserves to be better known and that it has a great deal to offer, not only to art-historians and other specialists, but to designers and lovers of art and beauty everywhere. At their best these images express a refined and even sublime aesthetic sensibility, but they always remain perfectly accessible. Because of this they seem to me to offer a particularly appropriate antidote to the fears and suspicions that may have been induced by recent notions of a “clash of civilisations.” The need to express and appreciate Beauty, through Art, is surely a universal human response.

(Apologies to Chris Alexander for the title of this post :-)

As we contemplate the chaos that lurks in order, we might recall that it was on this date in 79 CE that Mount Vesuvius erupted on the southeastern coast of Italy, devastating the prosperous Roman cities of Pompeii and Herculaneum and killing thousands.

Computer-generated imagery of the eruption of Vesuvius in BBC/Discovery Channel’s co-production Pompeii.

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Written by LW

August 24, 2009 at 12:01 am

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