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UN-Believable

by Lance Gould

As they usually do in the autumn, most of the heads of the world’s countries came to the United States last week to address the United Nations. There was the usual mix of terrifying white guys and terrifying people of color. Sadly, Gabonese dictator Omar Bongo — long the head of state with (to immature Westerners) the planet’s most ridiculously amusing name — was not among them, as a result of his having passed away three months earlier.

Still, there was a lot of high drama and bizarre spectacle. This time around, Bongo’s continent-mate — Libya’s Muammar Qaddafi — ran away with the prize for most Cuckoo’s Nest-crazy speech, riffing on everything from swine flu to the Kennedy assassination. While he wasn’t wearing a tin-foil hat, he was wearing a fringed sheriff’s-deputy shirt with an Africa broach under a spaghetti-strap evening gown. (A spaghetti western?)

Qaddafi — who although he has been Libya’s head of state for 40 years is still only a colonel (my sources say the advancement exam to General is quite difficult) — also had some embarrassing erection problems while in this country. That is to say that he was not allowed to erect the bedouin open-air party tent with which he traditionally travels. New York City officials put the kibosh on his attempt to pitch his tent (who knew there were so many “tent”-oriented euphemisms for “boner”?) in Central Park, and the State Department rejected his efforts to put up the tent in New Jersey, where the Libyan government owns some property. His final attempt was in Bedford, New York, in ritzy Westchester County — curiously, on property owned by Donald Trump. (Apparently, Qaddafi has some Middle Eastern partners who do business with the buffoonish billionaire.)

Muammar, here’s some free advice for your next visit to America: If you want to put up a structure where you can sleep, get a field, some yoked oxen, scores of buckets of lemonade, and invite over about 20 Amish dudes. They’ll probably never have heard of you (bonus!) and they love putting up houses.

But for all its Libyan lunacy, this latest round of diplomatic shenanigans doesn’t quite beat my favorite all-time UN moments, which revolve around the Pronunciation War waged by the first president Bush — you remember, the father of the draft-dodging reformed-cokehead bible-thumper who put us in the shit we’re all in now? — against Saddam Hussein.

Right, George Bush the elder used to deliberately, and I mean deliberately, mispronounce the name of the head of state of Iraq. The man’s name was “Saddam [pronounced sid-DAM] Hussein,” and “sid-DAM,” in Iraqi Arabic street slang, means “one who confronts.” But Bush used to pronounce the man’s name as “Saddam” {prounounced SOD-dumb], which in Iraqi Arabic street slang means “bare-footed beggar.” I mean, for the first three years he was in office, I just thought Bush was, well, an idiot who couldn’t pronounce the guy’s name. But it turns out he actually had a strategy there. Of course, at the end of the day, Mr. Hussein had the last laugh, because he would pronounce our president’s name as “Bush,” which in English street slang means “vagina.” And, on virtually every playground in the world, “vagina” trumps “bare-footed beggar.”