Monthly Archives: November 2000

Davos Newbies Home

The easy response of foreigners to the goings on in Florida has been mockery. Duncan Smeed, for example, has a copy of an email revoking US independence. It’s amusing for some people, I guess.

A more interesting approach is discussed by Jonathan Freedland in The Guardian. Freedland wrote an interesting book, Bring Home the Revolution, when he returned from a stint as US correspondent a couple of years ago. It was an eloquent argument for a written constitution (which the UK doesn’t have), and for the open, rights-oriented attitude that permeates so much of US society.

For Freedland, the Florida mess (or michegas, as Dave Winer prefers) also shows many of the US strengths. “If [officials and judges] had simply emerged, accountable to no one – like our own judiciary or quangocracy – the problem would not have arisen. But Americans prefer democracy… In America what looks like farce often conceals an admirable pursuit of democracy.”

Remember that if you live in a country where a non-elected monarch, dictator or committee of wise men would make key decisions.

Davos Newbies Home

While the attention of most of the world’s media is focused on Florida, some significant events are happening almost without notice. How many western news followers knew that dozens of people have been killed in the last week in the Indonesia province of Aceh? That 39 people died in violent protests in Mozambique?

Neither may have the obvious geopolitical consequences of the breakdown in the Middle East peace process, but both are tragedies in the making. Mozambique, since the 1992 resolution of its 16-year civil war, has been one of the most successful sub-Saharan nations. Under president Joachim Chissano, there really seemed a chance for one of the world’s poorest countries to make significant economic progress. Mozambique had been particularly successful in attracting foreign direct investment. Even the disastrous floods earlier this year, although a terrible setback, did not seem to knock the country off course. One of the best analyses I’ve found on events in Mozambique is by Todd Moss on the admirable ecountries site.

Indonesia does get far more attention than Mozambique. At the start of this year, it seemed that president Abdurrahman Wahid would bring intelligence and humanity to the country, as well as democracy. But the tensions of what is probably the world’s most diverse country look insuperable for Wahid, who — however personally impressive — has proved lacking in the leadership and political skill necessary for the task. Aceh is spiralling out of control, and the Timorese situation remains unresolved.

The Web provides ways to keep in touch with these events, but the mainstream media needs to do a better job of alerting people to what is happening.

***Davos insight
A Davos-attending friend emailed me to ask about Forum Fellows. Who are they, how do you become one, and how can you meet and collaborate with them. The Forum Fellows are the experts invited to Davos for specific, programmatic reasons. Most of them are academics and artists: the 2001 crop includes economists like Robert Mundell, Joseph Stiglitz and Jeff Sachs, museum curators Hans Ulrich Obrist and Thomas Krens, novelist Mario Vargas Llosa, Pill inventor Carl Djerassi, and superstring theorist Brian Greene. And about 200 others (including me).

A handful of the Fellows are actually business people, horror of horrors. This has always been somewhat contentious within the World Economic Forum: if Bill Gates pays to come (and he does), why shouldn’t all the less exalted executives? The answer is a selfish one, from the programme side. There are some people each year that are just so right for the programme, that you just have to have them. One person who qualifies this year (I think) is Kleiner Perkins partner Vinod Khosla.

Kleiner Perkins is not a member company of the Forum, and, as far as I know, no one from Kleiner has ever come to Davos. If you want to have an interesting discussion about the new economy, the role of venture capital, the nature of Silicon Valley, and a host of other pertinent topics, you need to have one of the absolutely top VCs in the world. That’s Khosla.

If you’re lucky enough to be going to Davos, how do you meet and collaborate with the Fellows? You can, of course, organise meetings when you get to Davos, or you can rely on serendipity. But if there are some people you are truly intent on spending time with, you should certainly get in touch with them before you head for the mountaintop, and fix a time in your schedules.

Davos Newbies Home

Today’s Financial Times misses the point about Web coverage of the US election. The FT points out the CNN effect, where when the crunch comes, the mass of people turn to a trusted source. That’s undoubtedly true when looking at large-scale numbers, but the story for me is how an extraordinary multiplicity of key information sources has sprung up far outside the normal media channels.

I pointed yesterday to Curmudgeon, where there is discussion of statistics (which is what Florida is all about) that can only be found in the most insipid way in the conventional media. (And that’s when the mass media gets it right: I’ve seen hardly any discussion of how the sample manual recount is statistically of little validity. Most media just did a straight line extrapolation. Curmudgeon explains why this doesn’t work.)

For more general information, there’s The Perpetual Election, while Open Secrets gives a detailed picture of the money behind the candidates. All of these sites will lead you in illuminating ways to other sites exploring different aspects of the election or politics in general.

The frustrating aspect of mainstream news sites, even those that do their jobs very well, is how they have been reluctant or incompetent at using the openness of the Web. I know they want to keep users inside their site for commercial reasons, but if I find a site that will lead me helpfully to other relevant sites, I return far more often than I do to the ones that pretend that they are the exclusive source for everything on the Internet.

Generosity of spirit can be a good business strategy in new media.

Davos Newbies Home

Today marks a new start for Davos Newbies. I’m no longer directly connected with the World Economic Forum or World Link, although I hope and plan to retain close personal links (and my heart will always be partially connected to both). I am now a managing director at Vesta Group, an Internet and wireless investment and development company based in London.

But I plan to make Davos Newbies the place where I can continue to engage in a wide range of issues that are of personal concern to me. Not coincidentally, these issues also are largely congruent with the concerns of the Davos summit. In a perhaps slightly oblique way, I tried to express some of my thoughts about what matters in my envoi for World Link.

I also plan a return of normal service, in some senses, for those aimed at Davos itself. I’ll be attending Davos 2001 as a Forum Fellow, but with no particular inside scoop on what’s going on. But I’ll draw on my past experience to try to make it more valuable for everyone else. Given the heightened interest in Davos — everyone expects the 2000 protests to be significantly amplified in 2001 — I hope my viewpoint and guidance can be helpful.

On matters of more current note, the always pithy Paul Krugman has a cold shower of sobriety, reflecting on the economic consequences of the currently hung election in the US. And, although I pointed to it in my World Link weblog last week, the Curmudgeon has unrivalled statistical analysis of what’s going on. And Dave Winer is keeping up with the endless twists and turns on Scripting News.