January 8, 2019


........programs and events at the museum are also canceled".

I thought I had the wrong website.
I was searching for pictures of Martha the last known Passenger Pigeon on the Smithsonian website and this was the banner headline.

It's the temporary extinction of one of the world's finest museums that shows us what makes up our world, who were and are the earth's fabulous creatures. 

On a whim. This crazy, dangerous first-world politician, a certain Donald Trump, has a temper tantrum because his cruel, misguided vision of a physical wall between nations has not been  funded, and he punishes the American people by closing down their first-world government, costing them billions and perhaps the very fiber of their country.

The victims are both people and institutions.
Among others, this great museum is closed.


And there I was, yammering on about bird extinction, with cultural extinction happening before my eyes. No museum. Martha the last Passenger Pigeon is locked up.

*Note the semi-colon in the title: it's real, a piece of punctuation that's fallen out of use, left over from a time when people could communicate logically and peacefully. A semi-colon did not stop you in its tracks; it guided you to the next thought farther along in the sentence. People could express themselves in full sentences and yes, make some sense of what they were discussing!
Which is more than I can, after this latest hideous jolt.

Martha, your genes are on the table

Passenger Pigeon - Tourte voyageuse - Ectopistes migratorius

Louis Agassi Fuertes, National Geographic

The original Passenger Pigeon is indeed extinct.

"The Passenger Pigeon – also known as Ectopistes migratorius – is an extinct bird which was endemic to North America. At one point in time, billions of these birds lived and flew over North America. However, deforestation and massive hunting reduced their numbers from the billions all the way to extinction in only a few years. It is probably one of the largest extinctions caused by mankind."

 "Martha, thought to be the last passenger pigeon, died on September 1, 1914, at the Cincinnati Zoo. The eradication of this species is a notable example of anthropogenic extinction." 

"When she died, scientists packed her into a 300-pound block of ice and put her on a train to Washington."

Fascinating footage on this link, showing Martha stuffed, preserved forever (as it were).

A touching essay that includes Martha's final years in the Cincinnati Zoo, and her pavillion is now a National Historical Landmark.

A group called Revive and Restore whose mission to"enhance biodiversity through new techniques of genetic rescue for endangered and extinct species."  In 2015 they held a "New Genomic Solutions for Conservation Problems Workshop". Rather vague cahier des charges. We don't know if they've cooked up anything, but as I mentioned on the previous pigeon blog, people are breeding birds for passenger pigeon qualities. 

Martha, your genes are on the table!

Old picture of Martha at the Smithsonian Museum in Washington, DC

December 23, 2018


Aamir was a huge presence in the lives of family, friends and colleagues.
His son Rafi organized a farewell ceremony on December 20th 2018.

Many photos below are from Aamir's last birthday party at La Gracieuse near Morges
two months before he died.


Thank you all for coming... Jack and Zafar have kindly agreed to say a few words for us today. For myself, I will just say that I have received an incredible amount of warm sympathy messages from many of you and from people all over the world. It is natural that they all say what a wonderful man my father was, but there are some words that appeared over and over again: humour, modesty, helpfulness, love of language, integrity and mentor.
I would just like to tell you one anecdote before I ask Jack and Zafar to say their piece; something that occurred a week before my father died. I choose to tell it for 2 reasons: first, it happened during what turned out to be the last real conversation Kim and I had with him. Secondly, I think it nicely sums up his lasting sense of humour and his way of playing with language even though recently he often had great trouble getting out the words that he wanted.
So, the scene is: Aamir is in his bed. Kim is spoon-feeding him his mulched up lunch. A nurse comes in and puts some medicine on the next spoonful of food – some apparently vile tasting powder. Kim gets some of it in his mouth and Aamir opens his eyes wide in surprise.
“Tasty, is it?” asks Kim.
“Hmmm. Very”, he replies smiling, “but tasty the other way.”



Friends, Shakespeareans, y’all from everywhere:
Lend me your ears!
We come to praise Aamir, not to bury him.
The good that he does lives after him -
So let it be with our Aamir.
Here, under leave of Rafi and the rest
Come I to speak in Aamir’s funeral.
He was my friend, faithful and just...

Yes, he became a friend, so delightful, so light in his amity.
He started however as a friend of my father’s, since the first ILO Asian Regional Conference in Delhi, in October 1947:  Aamir already an ILO official, my father a delegate from the brand new Government of Pakistan.
And then in Geneva, Clare and Aamir were friends with my mother and father during their time at the ILO, and well beyond.

Certain instances come to mind. A special one relates to the marriage of Aamir with Clare. He approached my father. “Anwar, I have a problem. I am getting married, and my dear parents are able to make it all the way from India.”
“Good, so what's the problem?”
“Well, you know me. I’m not into religious ceremonies. Clare and I would be fine with only a civil marriage. My parents however would expect a Muslim ceremony. I don't want some unknown Imam doing the honours. You are one of the few practising Muslims I know. What’s your advice?”
My father took the matter up with the Imam in Geneva,  a fairly enlightened fellow, who said: “In my view, any Muslim can perform this ceremony. Just arrange for a couple of witnesses for both sides, recite such and such surah from the Koran, and give them your blessings.”
When my father shared this information,  Aamir was delighted at the prospect of being married by his friend. And so my father officiated the wedding ceremony for Clare and Aamir.

Then, I recall when my father was transferred to the New York Office of the ILO we were to take the train to Genoa, and a ship from there. Lo and behold, Clare and Aamir turned up to help drive us to the station, and sent us off with a sumptuous packed lunch for the train journey.
When my father completed his posting in New York, it was Aamir who took over from him as Director of the ILO office to the UN. At that stage, my brother Asad had stayed on in New York for his Masters degree. He was often a guest at Clare and Aamir’s home and recalls fondly babysitting a number of times for our young Rafi.

Of course, I had heard about Aamir’s passion for Shakespeare. My actual encounter with this passion came quite late in our interactions. One day, my 12-13 year old son comes home from school, down in the mouth. He tells me his class has to study Julius Caesar and … he finds it boring!
I ask Aamir down for a coffee at the office: “Aamir, this is my son’s first encounter with Shakespeare and it won’t do, for him to find it boring … what to do?”
He responds: “What, a budding adolescent boy, finding Julius Caesar boring?! The teacher must be useless...Never mind, give me a few days, and lets see how we can motivate your son.”
Within three days, Aamir calls me down for a coffee, and hands me an essay introducing Julius Caesar. He had dug up references, looked at other plays and authors, and produced this marvellous essay for my son. Couldn't have a healthy boy bored with Shakespeare!

A related story is how a friend of mine at the ILO one day says to me: “Don't you think that TS Eliot is over-rated as a poet?” I gave him the quick, easy answer – NO. But then I happened to run into Aamir, who was retired by then. I asked him how he would respond to this question. His reply, “Give me a couple of days – and invite me for lunch. I’m retired now, so you buy me lunch!”

He turns up with a brief-case. The same one he would bring faithfully to our periodic gatherings here in Morges, at the La Gracieuse. In this brief-case, he had various examples of verse, by authors prior to and post-TS Eliot. Notes explaining how Eliot fits into a line of artists but at the same time makes a necessary break with one genre, leading to another genre...Armed with this material, I go back to my philistine friend – but to no end. He wouldn’t do his homework...and missed out on a lifetime’s lesson.

Aamir of course never balked at doing his homework. Until the last, he did his homework, and if anything he over-prepared for his presentations to us, always overcoming his stage fright, his nerves. Until his voice and hearing and sight all faded away, slowly and surely. That didn't stop him. Not so long ago, he called, asking me to come over for a task, to help him. We set to work on ways he had thought of, for overcoming his impaired eye-sight, to allow him to use the computer and the telephone, to keep up his communications with us all. Of course, it could not be done – because as Rafi said, its not only the eye-sight, but also connections in the brain, what with the strokes …
But that didn't stop him; until the last moments, he kept trying to keep in touch with his friends.

Earlier this week, as my siblings called to condole, I tried to encapsulate what Aamir was, is, what he has been, in a few words. Its a task in vain. You can’t place Aamir in a box – although we have – to bury him with faint praise? We can’t place Aamir in a box, because he always thought and acted outside the box.
Here are some quotes from the ILO family on Facebook, when they learned of his demise:
·      He is not gone – he lives in the memory of all members of the ILO family.
·      A role model! An ambassador…
·      Aamir was a brilliant man. I was blessed that he was my boss, my mentor and my trainer.
·      A major high-light of the ILO experience., always witty, warm and helpful. The world does not produce many such people – and fewer such who share their skills with others.
·      (and from Fiona, who could not be here) Rest in peace, my hero!

Let me conclude with a story by Confucius, who had been to visit the great Master Lao Tzu. Upon his return, his students asked him what Lao Tzu was like. Confucius said something like this:
"As for birds, I understand how they can fly; with fish, I understand how they can swim; and with animals, I understand how they can run. To catch things that run, we can make nets; to catch things that swim, we can make hooks and lines; and to get things that fly, we can make arrows. But when it comes to dragons, I cannot understand how they ascend into the sky, riding the wind and the clouds. Today I met Lao Tzu. Today, I have seen the dragon.”

Today, and beyond, we are most blessed to have been with Aamir.


Aamir was a very talented person. Among his many talents he was a great public speaker. He had the gift of saying just the right things on occasions such as these. I have been to several funeral services where in a very few minutes Aamir admirably summed up the qualities of the deceased in perfectly chosen words and with just the right tone, and I wondered to myself how he could do that – apparently so effortlessly. Today, I find myself in that role, with no Aamir to back me up. I feel as if I were passing an examination before him– I can almost hear him saying: “Jack – you can do better than this”.

I first met Aamir on Monday 22 August 1960. That was the day when I joined the ILO, a very young man all wet behind the ears, and he was my first boss. I well remember my first encounter with him. His first words were to tell me that he was building a house, and that he had a baby son called Rafi who was just 4 months old. He warned me that for these two reasons he would often not be in the Office, and I therefore needed to learn the job quickly.  He was joking of course – that was my first contact with Aamir’s legendary sense of humour. He was never absent from the office. Nobody could ever have had a better boss. He spent a great deal of time briefing me about the ILO, its procedures, its structures and its personalities. He himself had just come to his present post from the Director-General’s office where he had been chef de cabinet. We shared an office (imagine a boss, a former chef de cabinet, sharing an office with a complete newcomer!), so I met the various people who came to visit him. Whenever he needed to pay a visit to another official, he took me with him, sometimes to very senior officials. Within six months, I knew a good deal about the ILO, and I had met numerous officials at all levels, including the Director-General himself. I often think that the very satisfying and successful career that I subsequently had in the ILO was due in no small measure to the very detailed and complete introduction that Aamir gave me during that initial period.

He was not my boss for very long. After a couple of years I transferred to another Department, and he went on to senior positions in different parts of the Office. He will best be remembered as Chief of Personnel (a position that is known today as Director of Human Resources), during a period when the whole UN system was facing a crisis of its Pension fund. Aamir played a significant role in the long discussions that took place in the Board of the Pension fund and various UN bodies that finally resulted in the “two-track” system that still exists today. He will also be remembered for the particular interest that he took in the welfare of the staff, and most particularly for the initiatives that he took to create links between retired staff and the Organization.

I never served under him again, but the links that had been forged between us remained. We had frequent contacts, formal and informal, we had lunches together, dinners together with our wives Clare and Jean, shared jokes and had many disagreements too, which always ended amicably. Soon after he retired he came to my office bearing a document – the first issue of the Friends Newsletter, a publication that he intended to issue all by himself to create links among retired ILO officials and between them and the ILO, and he asked me what I thought. I told him frankly that while it was a nice idea, it wouldn’t last long, nobody would be interested, and in any case how could he take on such a huge burden single-handed? Why didn’t he just enjoy his retirement? As so often in our long relationship, I was proved to be wrong. He persisted, and the Friends Newsletter became hugely popular not only among retired, but also serving staff. Within months of my retirement several years later, he talked me into joining him as assistant editor, and we were once again working together (joined by Fiona very soon after). I also joined him in another venture that he had launched soon after his retirement – the Shakespeare group of retired UN officials who were interested in the works of the great bard. And in the meantime he had also joined the Committee of the Association of retired officials of the UN system in Geneva AAFI/AFICS, and soon became its Chairman, a position that he held with great distinction over many years. For Aamir retirement was not a period of leisure, but rather of greatly increased activity.

Some years ago a most unfortunate accident resulted in a serious injury to his back, and he was obliged to cut back on his activities. Eventually Aamir and Clare were obliged to move to the more sheltered environment of La Gracieuse. But he still retained an interest in the Friends Newsletter. He handed the editorship of it over to me and I was joined by Zafar, but Aamir retained the title of Honorary Editor which entitled him to keep an eagle eye on what we were doing. Eventually, however, we had to cease publication of the Friends Newsletter.
The one activity that he retained an interest in right to the end was the Shakespeare group. It continued to meet without him in Geneva, but once every two months or so the whole group came to La Gracieuse for a meeting and lunch with Aamir. Our last lunch with him was due to be held just over a week ago, but Aamir was so ill that it had to be cancelled. He died two days later.

After a lifetime of close relations and friendship with a man of such enormous energy and diversity of interests as Aamir, his departure to another world leaves me saddened but at the same time hugely grateful. Much of Aamir has rubbed off on me, and has greatly enriched my life:

-       His devotion to the work of international cooperation, to the concept of an effective and competent international civil service which he did so much to protect and promote;
-       His love of nature, his insistence on the need for much stronger world commitment to the preservation of the environment which is at last becoming more widely accepted;
-       His sense of justice and commitment to helping those in need;
-       Most of all perhaps his sense of fun and good humour. He could end an argument or a particularly tense meeting with a joke. And his writings for the Friends Newsletter or for Cabbages and Kings should become required reading for those burdened with depression, evil thoughts, doubts and problems.

I have no doubt that Aamir is now winging his way to that special corner of Heaven that is reserved for those specially gifted mortals who have left their mark on humanity. While he is there he is sure to meet one William Shakespeare. Be sure to put to him, Aamir, the question that is greatly exercising your Shakespeare group: did he really write all those plays himself, or did he just plagiarize the work of others?

For the blog on the Shakespeare group a few years ago, please go to

December 15, 2018

Please Pass the Pigeons


I'm back to blogging on light subjects. Humorous, silly, like certain holidays.  It's holiday time and we want to celebrate. Or escape, if only in imagination, gently sidestepping more searing questions of the day and the horrific suffering that still occurs in this interlocking, crazy world.
But what appears at first inessential, even trivial, can be a sign of a better world.
For instance travelling somewhere with a flock of birds, before climate change alters this treasured phenomenon.

Which brings us to the pigeon, this extraordinary bird.
We learned as children that passenger pigeons carried encrypted messages thousands of miles, during the Great War, and so on.
I thought they'd all died and gone to pigeon heaven, and we were left with millions of cocky urban pigeons who adorned parks and building ledges with white poop in cities everywhere.

Well pigeon training is alive and thriving. Breeding the Perfect Pigeon is a whole industry. It's a profession, a hobby, a passion, an obsession.
The world travels faster and faster. And pigeons are trained to race.
Meet Pepchi: looks like a pigeon, flies like a pigeon, and is a champion flyer and breeder.

"Up until World War II, pigeons were regularly used as couriers to deliver messages because of their keen homing abilities. But the sport itself predates that, going back as far as 19th century Belgium. 
It has since evolved into a full-on sport involving breeders, auctioneers, massive warehouses to store pigeons, and even bigger bets being placed (although it’s not officially legal in Europe to bet on racing pigeons). Several months go into carefully picking and training a specific breed of pigeon to yield the best results. Fanciers, or pigeon enthusiasts in this case, will often figure out specific diets and methods for training. But how does a pigeon “win”? Essentially, it’s the first pigeon to fly back to its home, or starting loft, in the fastest time. Race clocks (shown below) are used to time each pigeon."

But not all players play fairly. And you can't blame the pigeons.
In a major race from Shangqiu to Shanghai "men convicted in China after using bullet train in scheme to win bird contest."
 Friday August 31st 2018 page 3 of the International New York Times.

".....` the pigeon plot did not work....The essence of the plan involved training the pigeons to believe they had two homes. The birds had been secretly raised not just in Shanghai but also in Shangqiu.....the Shanghai Pigeon Association took all the entrants from Shanghai to Shangqiu and released them. Most of the pigeons started flying back to Shanghai.
But the four specially raised pigeons flew instead to their second home in Shangqiu......the two men caught the birds there and then carried them on a bullet train back to Shanghai, concealed in milk cartons (!!) When the men arrived in Shanghai, they released the pigeons, which quickly fluttered to their Shanghai loft, seemingly winning the race......"
Except the silly buggers had miscalculated and released the birds too soon. They should have kept the birds in their milk cartons a bit longer.
Other contestants protested, and the men turned themselves in.
And destroyed the evidence by (gulp) killing the birds - so they wouldn't become 'stool pigeons'!

* * * * *

Pipa, a Belgian pigeon website features a very young man, Sky Chen, who's already a serious collector and breeder.  I love Sky Chen's motto: eloquent and airy and mixed-metaphorical:

 “Once the dream takes off, life turns to be the sky. As the sky is of no end, the dream is of no limit!”  https://www.pipa.be/en/newsandarticles/reports/sky-chen-china-owns-one-most-exclusive-gene-pools-racing-pigeons-in-world

When these trained pigeons fly off on these long-distance races, they are winging it for a more unified world.
It's called racing, but it's also very much about our link with the animal world and our human fascination with the beauty of flight.

December 9, 2018

Beware of Banks Bearing Gifts!

 (Know Thy Acronyms)

20 Minutes is a freebie newsrag in French-speaking Switzerland. 
You know, good for the span of a single espresso in a stand-up café. 
Or mopping up spilled water.
Quick news on the fly (QNOF)

Fribourg is one of those charming Swiss places, postcard pretty and dripping innocence.

The cantonal bank of Fribourg (BCF) was recently distributing black purses covered in cool-looking graffiti to new clients, no doubt to attract young first-timers,  secure the bank’s future with young Fribourgeois who would grow up to be older, practical, wage-earning Fribourgeois, and so on.

A gift with a money-theme?  What better than a purse or wallet, sprinkled with silly, innocuous symbols: doves, bicycles, googly-eye glasses, boom-boxes, treble clefs, cartoon characters etc.  

The acronym *ACAB appeared twice on the surface of the purse. Looking cool…….?

ACAB--for those who aren’t sure stands for All Cops are Bastards.  
“ An anti-police acronym..... used as a slogan and written catchphrase in graffiti, tattoos, and other imagery to protest unethical police behavior”. Thank you Wikipedia.

AHEM by BCF    Ahhh, Huge, Egregious Mistake by Banque Cantonale de Fribourg

A spokesperson for the bank pleaded ignorance:
“Nous sommes vraiment désolés de cette maladresse”
“C’est une agence de communication fribourgeoise externe qui a conçu ce graphisme.”
Gag played on the innocence of bankers?
Or something a tad more subversive? 

The BCF immediately withdrew the guilty purses.
Now you can exchange your naughty purse for another gift (not yet specified).
But do you really think those kids are running back to the bank?


Below are two shots of the legendary annual Morat-Fribourg race -- 2018.
Several of my family members (and I) ran and walked,
and there were some fabulous runners. 
The townspeople are enthusiastic, the town is utterly charming 
and ACAB
(All Contenders Are Beautiful)

April 14, 2017

BACK TO BLOG! And turning 70.

About time!
In January I turned 70, had a party, gave a speech.
I dislike pomp in most forms, and don't have much occasion to speak to more than a few people at a time. Here I allowed myself the luxury of a Talk. 
I hammered it out the day of the party, and there it was: politics. Not my fave rave, but couldn't help it. It's the flavor of the year, and not a good one.

70th birthday party
January 21st 2017

I feel so happy having you all here and being able, with huge help from John, to feed and water and entertain you. I want you to kick back and enjoy yourselves, talk, dance, meditate, enjoy the wonderful music of the evening, enjoy the ‘whine’ corner if you want to complain about politics (a good pun suggested by Karin), try a game of chess, whatever.

My blog book from Bicontinental Boomer is on the counter on a string – take a look at it! Had it printed up last week for fun—there are only two copies! It’s unedited, unadulterated and pretty much in the order it was written. My random ramblings, essays, protests, musings, etc. If there’s any demand I may have a second printing, with smaller font and at lower cost. I’m not a regular on my own blog, but it’s still there in the blogosphere waiting for my rants on Trump and nationalism.

Family and friends from be-Trumped America – Kira, Pete and Nora, Jeff and Mel – dear International School friends from pre-EU and post-Brexit United Kingdom, the Netherlands via Slovenia, dear old friends who made the harrowing drive all the way from the Canton de Vaud, other school friends, work friends, old Petit Jardin Day Care friends, Tuesday Pote friends, Saturday market friends, Sunday Ladies friends, Shakespeare friends, music friends, and dear friends who defy categorization– thank you sooo much for coming here tonight!

And other close ones who could not be here, here in spirit, some with the heavy burden of ill health.

Some things are harder to put aside. The ‘unreal reality show’ as Gowri put it, of the Trump presidency. And as our son Adam says about it – ‘it’s all a reality show’. And it is, and I guess the sooner we acknowledge this new reality and reckon with its consequences the better.

This morning I went with some friends to the women’s solidarity march which went from the Jardin Anglais.
I think of a demonstration as a last resort, a form of despair that gets your legs moving – that drives collective protest– when people feel unheard, when injustice is not addressed, when people have been cheated or lied to, oppressed, impoverished.

I’m not much of a marcher, though I have close friends who are.
I marched against the war in Vietnam in the sixties and in the seventies, and each time felt it was a cry . The jury’s still out on that one – whether these protests made a real difference – auditory and visual drives to change directed at  a complex and cagey government.

Now I’m marching because things are angling out of control and a deep and dangerous populism is emerging --riddled with prejudice, frustration, incomprehension and fatigue with what government was apparently unable to do.

I wonder how much we can ask of any government, any group, and when things begin to veer out of control.

But we must be vigilant for signs of incipient fascism, a term I have never used to refer to any American or western European country since Spain under Franco, with question marks for Stalin, who was still alive when I’d  learned how to read, Hoxha and  Ceaucescu, who dictated under other flags…..as a very fortunate American of Jewish descent living in a free Europe…...
The strange rhetoric we are hearing from politicians, and now from a US President, of all people, of all countries…..very troubling. 
What at first seemed amusing, a gamey game show of a wealthy manipulative man, now a man who cannot help lying and whose moral compass has no point and spins with his whims and winds up pointing nowhere but in his own ego.

Surely, we think, he will show compassion, understanding, build bridges.
But listening, after the fact, to his inaugural speech, every statement that could be construed as positive has a troubling undertone, something subversive, unsavory.  Change there will be, and just you wait, he tells us.
I don’t think we can----it is terrible to see it unravel, undone, stripped of its sense of good, of equality, of justice.

Even if a government never lives up to its lofty ideals, people must carry on striving to live up to them.

Not just another birthday. A big one, and you’re celebrating with me. It’s a real honor you’ve come here – and I hope you eat, drink, make merry and are happy tonight, and we can forget the troubles of a troubled world and the troubles of our smaller worlds.