NEW FIELD OF STARS AND CITY ------------------------- John Pazmino NYSkies Astronomy Inc email@example.com www.nyskies.org 2013 September 5
Introdcution ---------- 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 districts. 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.
Topics ---- 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.
Participation ----------- 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 address. 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!!
Procedure ------- 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.
Badge --- 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 interrogation. 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.
Decorum ----- 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 meeting. 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.
Turnstiles -------- 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.
Movement ------ 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.
Cafeteria ------- UN workers can take meals at the internal cafeteria. There is no facility for the public. For certain ecvents you may be sent to the cafeteria under the sponsor's watch. You may get a dedicated ticket to pass you thru turnstiles on the way to and from the cafeteria. The place is nothing special, just a large office or museum type of facility. Furniture and furnishings are simple, almost knock-about. The favored tables are by the picture windoes looking to East River, Queens, Roosevelt island. Food is good, plentiful, and reasonably priced. You almost for sure will pay the rack price with no discount. UN folk get a small discount, about that at any offered with a museum membership. One gotcha is that, like many other cafeterias I frequent, trays are scarce or actually lacking! You must balance your dishes and cups from serving counters to paypoint and then to eating 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 cafeteria is in a nonpublic part of the campus. You can not reach it without the proper badge. Don't figure to come back tomorrow for an other round of riverfront noshing.
Photography --------- 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.
Litterature --------- 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.
Conclusion -------- 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 an other worthy pursuit to be considered for its community outreach.