John Pazmino
 NYSkies Astronomy Inc
 2013 September 5

    The campus of the United Nations on Manhattan is under an omnibus 
rebuild. The structures are substantially those of the late 1940s when 
the United Nations moved in and they were only incrementally modified 
over the decades. The campus now looks like a gigantic construction 
site, as if the campus is newly going up. 
    The goings on within the UN campus historicly were secluded from 
public view, save for reports issued thru news media and comment by UN 
delegates when off-campus. This off-limits posture could create a 
hostile reception to the construction and expansion by the surrounding 
    The campus is hemmed in by the East River to the east and dense 
commercial and residentail areas on the other three sides. About 
100,000 people live within a kilometer from the campus and in this 
radius has urban activity equal to all of Boston or San Francisco.     

Brief history 
    I remnid that the UN when first founded had no headquarters. It 
took residence in the New York City paviliono left over from the 1939-
1940 World's Fair. This building still stands today as the Queens 
Musem of Art. Repeated altertions since then oblitterated all vestiges 
of UN residnency. Occaisonal exhibtis there recall the history. 
    The UN moved into its shiny new 'International style' quarters in 
1948-1950. As a show of commitment to world peace, the place was 
generously decorated with artpeices from the members nations. As new 
countries joined the UN they contributed ornaments, making the campus 
the showcase for world human intellect, culture, education, 
    The UN started with about 50 members after World War II, It now 
houses, as at 2013, 192 members. Each must have facilities and 
services equal to the original members, putting severe demand on the 
existing cmapus. 
    In spite of many, often silly, threats over the years to quit the 
City, the United Nations is inexorably fixed here for all time to 
come. It got about renovating its campus, mostly to bring its 
facilities and services and utilities into the 21st century and to add 
new pavilions. This is a several-billion dollar project, funded by 
donations from the memebr countries. 

Civic outreach
    In late spring of 2013 many of its offices, from small commissions 
to the whole General Assembly, opened some of their internal meetings 
to outside spectators. Since construction is one of the major 
disturbances endured by New Yorkers, it was a wise action of the UN to 
extend some openness to the community. 
    The meetings are reviews, summaries, briefings, explanation of 
assorted topics under discussion or debate by the UN. Admission is 
free and sometimes includes refreshments or a reception. Letting  
outsiders sit the meetings is to let the surrounds better understand 
what the hell goes on behind the tall fence and guarded gates. 
    The construction and expansion will be easier for the surrounds to 
accept and accommodate. Hey!, the UN tries to get whole countries to 
be more transparent toward each other, so why not apply that concept 
to districts of a city? 
    I have no idea how the open sessions are selected nor how many are 
scheduled. For sure there are so far, as at early Septmber, perhaps 
sround 30 so far. 
    I also have no idea how the invites are issued. The admission is 
only by specific invite. So far there is no open registration or 
application. Based on my own and colleagues's expereince, each invited 
person must have relevance to the instant topic in some way. 
    For what I see and colleagues tell me, the subject of the meetings 
ranged over the whole field of UN concerns. They are not just 
'science' or 'education'. They include the obvious items from the news 
media like rebellions, mltary action, and disaster relief. Other 
lesser known but important themes are farm improvement, radio 
interference, disease remediation, immigration, smuggling, crime, 
human rights. 
    In the days before the meeting, deliberately study the topic thru 
Internet and current news media! You'll understand the procedings and 
better engage other attendees and officials. 
    The meeting operator, by an internal procedure, assesses the need 
and desire for public spectators. It seems there is no unified roster 
by which you can ask consideration for desired subjects. This is 
likely due to the lack of a single clearing house for public 
spectators. Each meeting's host makes its own decisions. 

The invite 
    I hardly can be the only astronomer to be favored with incites. A 
couple other colleagues were invited but there could be others I 
didn't hear from yet. At least two asked me what to do with such an 
request to actually sit at a United nations meeting? Is there a 
uniform to wear? Is fluency in French required? Is a thank-you gift in 
order? Is arrival by street bus acceptable? 
    Here I offer a few comments, based on my and other attendance at 
assorted UN sessions. They may help prepare you for your own chance, 
if and as it may come to you. 
    I got my first invite in April 2013, near the start of the UN's 
'glasnost' program. The invite was probably due to the global 
acquaintance with NYSkies, That particular call was for all of our 
astronomers, not just me alone. My other invites, as at late August, 
were individual ones. I could not pass news of the event to others. 
    I assume the invites I get will be occasional, there likely being 
thousands of potential candidates, each getting a sporadic invite now 
and then. Getting an invite every couple months is enough for me. Else 
I might as well get a job at a UN mission. 
    I doesn't bother me that I 'missed' many meetings that I later 
feel I wanted to sit. I leave every thing in the UN's hands. After 
all, it has to manage concerns vastly larger than little old me. 
    With Internet so prevalent as the comms vehicle today, all of my 
invites came by email from the sponsoring UN office. Altho addressed 
to me the text is a form letter sent to many inviteds. No, I was not 
[yet?] asked to sit a meeting of 4 or 5 delegates around an office 
table! All of my events hosted dozens to over a hundred delegates. 
    I'm sure you can decline an invite. You must do so in a polite and 
mature way In keeping with the stature you presumeably have to earn 
the invite. I suppose there is no prejudice in turning down an invite, 
but there's no telling when the next one comes and from which office. 

    On the whole the open sessions are for spectators, like watching a 
theater performance. When audience is allowed to speak, wait to be 
called and then keep your comments brief. You're not doing a speech or 
    First greet the meeting chair, the  officials and delegates as a 
group, and the spectators or visitors as a group. State your name and 
affiliation, which is that for the invite. Speak slowly and clearly. 
As I explain later, you may be translated on the fly into other 
languages, a service requiring comprehension of your words. 
    It's not smart at all to involve in a dialog with no grounding in, 
erm, diplomacy! The meeting has delegates from other cultures who may 
be horribly offending by what you treat as cute behavior. 
    Applaud is almost absent, unless cued by the chair or moderator. 
Then it's a soft buffing of the hands for a few rounds. No cheering, 
whistling, whooping, other noise-making is allowed! Keep quiet!! 

    Follow the instructions in the invite!! SKipping a step or going 
off on your own can void your vaidlity on the UN campus. The invite 
has a contact for questions. Use it if you have to. The contact could 
well be at a UN mission house! Regardless of your feelings about the 
host country, keep quiet and work with the contact as a business call. 
    If you have to visit a UN office to exercise the invite, it's like 
visiting a business office. You go thru some security check, sign in a 
register, and be steered to the proper room. There's nothing new with 
this process in these years. Long gone is the casual drop-in visit, 
coming off of the elevator, strolling into an office, and asking for 
your friend at his desk. 
    Be sternly warned that your attitude and deportment during ALL 
dialog with the event MUST be courteous, polite, cordial. A complaint 
about your behavior can land on the US State Department's desk for 
almost certain follow up. 
    Have with you a copy of the invitation, typcily an email. It shows 
you are intended as a spectator and offers credence to you. Its 
wording may smooth over a procedural bump.                                    
    Have on you a GI photo ID. This can be a passport, driving or 
nondrivng card, social benefits card. Privately issued IDs could be 
rejected. Be SURE to have one from a due & proper government agency. 

    For sure you need a 'badge', a paper or plastic ticket, for entry 
onto the nonpublic parts of the UN campus. Have this in hand, as the 
invite explains, BEFORE showing up for the meeting. Arrive EARLY in 
case there's some burocractic glitch to clear up. 
    The badge states the event place and hour. You could be barred 
from entering the campus much before the start hour, as if to 
sightsee. On the other hand don't be late. It's vastly more clumsy for 
the UN staff to get you to the event alone rather than with the rest 
of the attendees in a group. 
    Take care of your badge! Keep it clean and smooth, not wrinking or 
folding it. Have it handy for inspection by UN crew. Losing your badge 
turns you into a stateless person subject to detention and some nasty 
    With the badge in hand, stop at the entry gate, which is one of 
those on the First Avenue flank of the campus. It may be other than 
the public visitors gate facing 47th St, As cxonstruction continues, 
the entry gates may be temporarily relocated. 
    After presenting your badge to the guard, he'll direct you to a 
security check, like that of an airport with magnetic gate and X-ray 
scanner. According as the nature of the event and number of visitors 
for it, the security check may be abbreviated. Follow instructions! 
    It REALLY simplifies matters to have a small totebag. While on the 
wait line for the security check, put into the bag all items with 
metal: eyeglasses, pens, keys, coins, flick-knife, all of it. You may 
be asked, like at airports, to remove your jacket and belt. They go 
thru the scanner with the bag of metals. 

    Clean fresh street clothes are sufficient. If you normally wear a 
business suit, that's OK. Don't 'dress up' with feathers and jewels. 
The pattern is a regular office or business function.  
    Bathe well, use soft-scent lotions, wear clean linen. Lay off 
strong perfumes and oils! 
    Please keep good hygiene! Visit the restroom and take care of 
personal circumstances before the event. Keep to hand a repair kit for 
quick fixups during the meeting. 
    Be calm and polite. You may chat with other spectators and 
delegates in the hallways, on wait lines, during breaks. You may show 
your badge if that helps break the ice. 
    Always keep in mind that the other attendees come from all parts 
of the world, other cultures, other social clinates. As offensive as 
some aspects of their life may be, DO NOT EVER get into a fight, not 
even a dust-up, with any one. Keep cool! You could be hauled out of 
the event and barred from future entry onto the campus. 
    You may base your dialog on the event topic and related world 
activity. General convo about New York, the scene outside a widnow, 
the weather, are also good starting points. 
On campus
    Once on campus you can relax and act more casually, like walking 
in the public street. You'll be steered to the meeting by signs and 
ushers. Please go recta mente to the event. Do not wander around on 
your own. Usually, if the meeting lets out in daylight, you may stroll 
around the campus for sightseeing. At night you'll have to head 
straight to the street. 
    Expect barriers, construction machines, noise & dust, water splash 
and puddles, dark corners, all the features you find at any large 
building site on Manhattan. Keep your eyes open. Mind your step. 
    The meeting room is in one of the pavilions you see in postcards 
and movies. Now YOU are INSIDE the place! You may get an initial rush 
at such a favored situation as walking thru the corridors of the 
United Nations!!
    The UN halls are nothing more than large office buiildings with 
rooms, elevators, desks, wall pictures, closets, alcoves, sipping 
fountains, and all that. The campus is the abode for thousands of 
employees and officials, giving the place a lived-in look. 
    You may see tables, chairs, cabinets, racks stashed along the 
walls, also piles of books and papers. There is a severe pinching of 
space on the campus due to the greater number of member nations and 
their own larger crews. 
    And you'll see construction activity here and there within the 
building. Keep clear of the roped-off areas. 
    In many spots there are artworks supplied by the nations. Do 
admire them and study the captions. It is most unlikely that they will 
be moved to more public view. 

Darksy freak-out
    The campus was built before the bulk of current astronomers were 
born and it maintains about the same aspect ever since opening day. A 
darksky agitator could CRY when he sees hoe mature and sky-friendly 
its lighting is! Night lighting is delicately applied to the walls of 
certain pavilions, the garden lamps are at least partially shielded, 
Even temporary lights for construction are moderate in number and are 
often under cover.
    This was the way things were done in New York right after World 
War II! The motif is grandeur in both modesty and majesty to fit into, 
and not oppose, the City. Altho the gardens are closed from the public 
at night, their lighting is such that useful observing can be done 
from it, This is barely two kilometers from Times Square! 
    The interior lighting, while not intended to be star-friendly, 
carries the soft majesty theme. There is hardly any where a glaring 
lamp! Most lighting in recessed in ceiling, sconces, coves, and other 
wise shielded from offending the eye. 
    This is the project your grandfather built! What kind are you 
building now in your town? 

Meeting room 
    The meeting sponsor may have its own rooms, like the 'Such-&-such 
Commission Cnference Room' but could also may sign out an outside 
space like an off-campus auditorium or a room of another UN office. 
    All rooms I and others sat in were neat, clean, well-acclimatized. 
A few, mostly smaller ones with a few tens of seats, were worn from 
heavy use. No room was actually ratty, yet were in need of a more 
frequent fresh-up. 
    All of the rooms had modern audio-visual apparatus: flat screen 
displays, computers and digital devices, motorized blackboards and 
projection creens. 
    All seats were padded and comfortable, with generous squirm room. 
Certain styles of chairs jammed in the carpet and had to lifted to 
displace. Others were just awfully heavy, needing both hands and a 
shove by foot to move. 
    Spectators are seated in a designated zone while the officials sit 
in front or center of the room. There may be a peanut gallery or just 
a roped off section for you. The arrangement is a function of the 
number of officials and spectators. This may vary among meetings in 
the same room. 
    On one occsion I and other spectators sat in a rear section 
overlooking the main floor, filled with the officials doing the 
presentation. On an other event in the same room we were on the main 
floor! The program was entirely on the podium and there were about a 
hundred spectators. I litterally was sitting at the desk where, 
earlier in the day, the delegate of a UN country sat! 

THOSE plaques
    In every picture of a UN session you are awed at the little name 
plaques at each seat. They are mounted at the front edge of the table 
where the leaders of a country's delegation sits. The lesser officials 
sit in seats behind them. The plaques have the name of the country. 
The number of seats taken by a country can give it several plaques 
with its name. 
    In the old days the names were on plastic laminates inserted into 
the plaque's frame on the desk. Today they are electronic signs. They 
are set remotely for coutnry name or any phrase appropriate for the 
    The rear face of the sign, the side the delegation sees, echoes 
the front in case the plaque was wrongly set. For spectator seats the 
plaque is blamked out or set for the name of the event. 

THOSE earpieces
    To cater to the diversity of languages and to speed up dialog the 
United Nations invented 'simultaneous realtime translation'. The 
speaker's dialog is repeated in all five of the UN language:. Chinese, 
English, Fench, Spanish, Russian. 
    The translation is worked by humans specially trained to listen to 
the speaker's native tongue. This may be any, and not a UN, tongue, 
The translator then INSTANTLY repeat the dialog in a UN language! Each 
human works an assigned UN language, calling for a team of five on 
hand. There must be minimal pause or delay, else the attention train 
of the listeners is broken. 
    Each translator speaks into his own microphone, which is wired to 
each seat in the room. The seat, even those in the peanut gallery, has 
an earpiece and control panel. All five UN translations come into the 
control panel, where you select one by push-button. 
    In the old days the earpiece was made of clear Lucite of a shape 
that hanged on the shell of the ear. Over the decades these got 
brittle, discolored, and cracked. The current ones are made of opaque 
softer styrene-like plastic. A disposable foam pad inside takes care 
of hygiene. It is replaced before each meeting. 
    Man! If you want to practice language comprehension, this is how 
to do it! I flip between Frence and Spansih to catch how a certain 
English phrase in translated. 
    Even if the dialog is in English, the earpiece amplifies it to 
catch softer speech. A button on the control panel adjusts the volume. 
    On the occasion when spectators join the discussion a gooseneck 
microphone next to the name plaque lets you speak to the floor. YOUR 
SPEECH is also sent into the 5-way simultaneous translation!! Thru the 
earpiece yo hear the translation in each of the other languages WHILE 
YOU ARE SPEAKING! It's weird. 

    Here and there and every where, mostly at entrances to buildings, 
are turnstiles. They control admittance only to those with the proper 
clearance, as indicated by their badges. The machines work like those 
in a transit station or large office buildin. UN officials and crew 
dunk their badge in the turnstile to be let thru. 
    Since the badges I get are temporary ones of paper or plastic, 
they don't engage the turnstile. I stop at the turnstile agent and let 
him inspect my badge. If it's copasetic he manually unlocks a 
turnstile for me. 
    Please be VERY CAREFUL! If you LEAVE thru a turnstile, you may be 
closed from reentering thru it! This can happen if you step away for 
sightseeing and now want to come back in. You may want to explore an 
area beyond a turnstile, such as a group of statues in the next 
corridor. Show your badge to the trunstile attendant and ask if you 
can look at the statues and come right back. 
    With no assurances, you may be let thru with reentry. GET BACK 
QUICKLY!! The attendant may forget who you are when you return or, 
worse, he's replaced by the next shift who knwos nothing about you. If 
feasible, stay in line-of-sight view of the attendant during your 
excursion. He'll feel more at ease about you. 
    According as the event's program there may be a lunch or exhibit 
break. The sponsor arranges for the spectators to pass thru the 
intervening turnstiles as a group under his watch. Stay with the 
group! Lagging behind will likely bar you from catching up. 

    Within the vicinity of validity of your badge, you may wander 
around without much interference. You may examine artwork, look out 
windows, sit hallway seats, cruise litterature tables, and so on. 
Always keep your badge at ready for any requested inspection. 
    In general you must keep within the hours and areas stipulated on 
your badge. The meeting sponsor applies its own constraints to its 
badges. When you go home you may keep the badge as a souvenir because 
by then it is expired. 
    Like in most interior spaces, you may not eat or drink. Such 
activity is fully forbidden in the meeting room. You can chew candies 
entirely in mouth, but please don't have any open food or drink. 
    When taking a breeak, you may leave your bag in the meeting room 
but you'll see that almost eery one, even the officials, take their 
gear with them. Altho it likely is safe against petty tampering, this 
is the United Nations. People around you could be on the trot to catch 
any intelligence sueful for their agenda. I have no accounts of 
incidents among sprctators I ever was with but the chance is present. 
It's just good sense to keep your gear with you at all times. 

Food and drink 
   As is normal for most lecture halls and auditoria, no food or drink 
Is allowed. You may have small pop-in-the-mouth candies, but nothing 
that needs bites taken from it. Probably there is no 'small' drink, 
since all that i can think of come in obvious sontainers that need 
sipping. So, be sensible and don't bring food or drink into the hall.
    Food and frink is untidy in corridors and lobbies. it's plain 
tacky and tude when representatives of foreign nations are walking 
past you. 
    UN workers take meals at internal cafeteris,  whichare in 
nonpublic secrions of the campus. The only public cafeteria is the 
Vienna Cafr' in the visitors floor. Since the bulk of vistors are 
tourists, who arrive in controlled numbers and stay for a short time, 
the UN does not have major public dining facilities. 
    For certain ecvents you mny be directed to an internal cafeteria 
at the sponsor'spermission. You may get a dedicated ticket to pass you 
thru turnstiles on the way to and from the cafeteria. 
    One cafeteria I was allowed to ear ar, at particular evnts, fronts 
the East River. it has a terrce that is open in spring-summer and and 
closed for incement weather. When open, cocktail tables arre deployed 
formore  casual noshing. 
    The place is liket a large office or museum facility. Furniture 
and furnishings are plain and sruedy.. The favored indoor tables are 
by the picture windows facing the terrace. and East River. 
    Food is good, plentiful, and fairly priced.  I show the paypoint 
clerk my badge and she nods. I don't know if she gave me a small 
discount or she meant, 'ech'. 
    One gotcha is that, trays are scarce or lacking! They are made of 
compressed paper, like papier-mache', and are discarded after use. It 
probably is a hassle to keep the trays in stock during busy hours. 
    You must balance your dishes and cups from the serving counters to 
paypoint and then to table. If you chance to be with an other 
spectator, you can relay for larger meals. 
    You'll love the banter among the UN people in native languages! 
What a way to see first hand how peoples of the world can sit together 
in harmony and peace!! 
    I remind that the UN cinternal afeterias are in nonpublic parts of 
the campus. You can not reach them without the proper badge. Don't 
scheme to come back tomorrow for an other round of UN sinig. 

    Even tho you are in interior zones of the campus, you may take 
personal photos and videos of the meeting, exhibits, hallways. Be 
quiet about doing so and MAKE SURE the flash is turned off. Shooting 
flash could trigger a threat alarm because it can look like a gun shot 
or explosive. You can get into all kinds of messy complicatons. 
    There is plenty of ambient light in all areas of interest to shoot 
without flash. It may be easier to set your camera to 'museum' mode.                
    To take pictures of individuals and small groups, specially during 
breaks or after the session, please purposefully ask the persons 
first. Abide by his answer. Always be polite. To signal that you do 
mind his wishes, if turned down for photography, pocket your camera 
and thank the person. 

    You may collect fliers and brochures at the meeting. They range 
from promotional material to copies of presentations. These are 
excellent follow-up for you to better appreciate the event and relate 
it to others sharing its ineterest. 
    Take only a small mumber of copies, not a handful. If you want a 
large supply to hand out to your colleagues, you can photocopy the 
smaller pieces. Ask for more of the bigger ones at the contact listed 
in them. 

After the event
    You may be shephered straight to the street on First Avenue or 
released into a public zone of the campus. If the latter, only offered 
during daylight, you should take some time to explore. On the regular 
tourist visit you're herded around with no free ranging. This new 
occasion is a chance to inspect sculpture, sceneray, cityscapes. 
    When done with your visit, ask for the way to the street. It may 
be a maze thru construction barriers. Keep eyes open. Mind the step. 
    If you're lost, as can occur because you probably never were on 
your own at the UN, ask UN crew for directions. Explain where you want 
to go, show your badge, and follow instructions. For a complex route 
thru the campus, ask again at decision points along the way. 
    The campus buttons up for public visits at about 6PM, wandering on 
the clock with season and activity. Make SURE you are off the campus 
by closing hour! It is more work for the UN crew to walk you thru 
locked gates and send you off the premises. 

    You don't have to ask me how I take to this incredible turn of my 
life. I do feel immensely privileged but not only for myself. It's a 
signature of recognition by, litterally, the world of nations for the 
astronomers of New York! 
    A prime goal of NYSkies, in league with other astronomy centers in 
the City, is to meld our profession into the civic and social fabric 
around us. Unless we make astronomy one among the other cultural 
amenities of city life, we will forever be a fringe element. 
    Astronomy will then be treated as a cute hobby or fuzzy academic 
toy. It will be passed over in the flow of urban life, struggling to 
maintain entropy, stuck in the deep and distant 20th century. That's 
when home astronomers were marginalized as 'amateurs'. 
    The UN's glasnost is an opportunity unique for New York. We nere 
simply MUST grab it now. In deed, the very receipt of invites, as 
occasional as they may come, shows luminously that astronomy in New 
York is integral with city life. Society, in this case the United 
Nations, sees astronomy as a   n other worthy pursuit to be considered 
for its community outreach.