Monthly Archives: January 2003

Tales of the unexpected

Originally published in Global Agenda, January 2003

Today’s conventional wisdom is as certain to be wrong as the conventional wisdoms of the past. Think of the end of history, how dotcoms were going to destroy incumbents, Dow 36,000 and global financial architecture. The Carnegie Endowment’s Foreign Policy magazine recently devoted an entire issue to “bad ideas”, such as the dependency theory of under-development, the superiority of Japanese management, the Laffer curve or — on a far grander scale — Marxism.

And we’re certainly bad at understanding the long-term significance of events. When asked about the significance of the French revolution, Chinese revolutionary leader Zhou Enlai replied, “It’s too early to say.” But you don’t even need that kind of perspective to understand our failings.

To take just one example: in July 1969 the first man walked on the moon; six weeks later the first use was made of an embryonic Internet. One event held the world in awe, but has so far resulted in little tangible benefit for the world. Perhaps a dozen scientists and engineers were aware of the second event, but it has provoked profound change. Even if more people had been aware of the Internet transmission, it is certain they would have had no idea about its consequences.

We’re even bad at forecasting some very near-term events. Think back 15 or even ten years. Few expected a civil war in Europe with hundreds of thousands killed, half a billion users of the Internet, a long stagnation in Japan and a long boom in the United States, or the complete mapping of the human genome. Even more recently, a Davos session on Afghanistan in 2001 attracted one of the smallest audiences of the Annual Meeting.

What makes us so bad at understanding or forecasting the course of events?

First, we are understandably preoccupied with the events and facts that loom large at the moment. There is a tyranny of the immediate. Try to remember the last time, in response to a problem, someone told you, “I’ll sleep on it.” Our organisations demand rapid judgements, quick responses. In business, despite the many counter examples, it is still generally believed, as one-time corporate hero Percy Barnevik said, “It is better to be fast and wrong, than slow and right.”

This tendency is exacerbated today by 24-hour media and the constant response of the markets. So we are preoccupied with Afghanistan, then Iraq, then North Korea. Or Enron is succeeded by Global Crossing, by Tyco, by Imclone. Who has the time or energy to look at what’s roiling beneath the surface?

We are further hampered by tunnel vision and over-enthusiastic extrapolation, what John Seely Brown and Paul Duguid in The Social Life of Information term the “1, 2, 3 — a million” tendency.

Tunnel vision makes us see an uninterrupted, clear road ahead, where events proceed apace (as memorably pictured on the cover of Bill Gates’s The Road Ahead). But events rarely advance the way we foresee. And as roads ahead become bumpy and twisty, extrapolative leaps become highly inaccurate. Responsible economists are fond of graphs showing how forecasts scatter and diverge over time, as extrapolation of existing data becomes less reliable. But too many of us prefer the simplicity and certainty of the single-line charging up the graph.

So with these caveats in mind, and in an attempt to zig on some issues where the majority is zagging, here are three of the less expected events that we should be focusing on for 2003.

The privatisation of surveillance

Terrorist outrages have made the balance between security and civil liberties a key issue in many countries. The US government’s Total Information Awareness programme, under the direction of John Poindexter, is perhaps the most ambitious example. TIA will create a virtual, centralised grand database that will, as reported in The New York Times, “provide intelligence analysts and law enforcement officials with instant access to information from Internet mail and calling records to credit card and banking transactions and travel documents, without a search warrant”. Unsurprisingly, TIA has attracted fire from civil libertarians on both left and right.

But there is relatively little attention being paid to a parallel development, which is the spread of private means of surveillance. “I think the Drudge Report will meet the x10 cam,” says Jonathan Zittrain, director of the Berkman Center for Internet and Society at Harvard Law School. “Thanks to cheap wireless connections, the public will start being able to survey almost anything of interest (and much of no interest) in Western countries’ public areas. Videos like the Rodney King beating will become a commonplace, streaming out as they happen.”

Zittrain points to a website at the University of Pittsburgh where users can control a series of cameras on the campus’s public spaces. More piquantly, some commentators, irate at the TIA plans, have posted publicly available aerial photos of Poindexter’s house. The curious can see the house only a stone’s throw from a green at Lakewood Country Club.

Zittrain’s vision of real-time streaming videos from all sources will only need the next small step in mobile telephone technology, as the picture-enabled phone evolves into the video-enabled phone.

The privatisation of surveillance has already been taken into space. High-resolution satellite images were the exclusive province of a handful of intelligence agencies only a couple of years ago. But now companies like Orbimage and Spin-2 provide all-comers with satellite images. Through a site like, you can browse the world. The skills that enable the CIA to identify an al-Qaeda training camp may not be readily available, but the raw information is not far out of reach.

Allowing algorithms to kill

On November 3 last year a CIA agent authorised an unmanned drone flying over the Yemeni desert to fire a missile. The car carrying Qaed Salim Sinan al-Harethi, suspected of the 2000 bombing of the warship USS Cole, and five other alleged al-Qaeda terrorists was destroyed.

That operation relied on the sophistication of video technology, transmitting images to an operator hundreds of kilometres away. A human made the decision to fire, even though he was vastly remote from the action. But we’re now on the verge of humans being taken out of the decision.

The next generation of unmanned aircraft will have significantly enhanced capabilities. The interest of the Pentagon in these systems is understandable: they are expected to cost less and, by definition, have no aircrew at risk.

Boeing’s Unmanned Combat Air Vehicle (UCAV), for example, is expected to cost 65% less to produce than future manned fighter aircraft, and 75% less to operate and maintain. What will UCAVs do? “In a typical mission scenario,” Boeing’s literature explains, “multiple UCAVs will be equipped with preprogrammed objectives and preliminary targeting information from ground-based mission planners. Operations can then be carried out autonomously, but can also be managed interactively or revised en route by UCAV controllers should new objectives or targeting information dictate.”

How far are we willing to allow intelligent systems to make lethal decisions? How much autonomy should be allowed?

For example, with improving visual recognition systems it should be technically possible for a UCAV or equivalent to “see” enemy troops and distinguish them from friendly troops either through uniform markings or possibly because future troops will have some unique electronic marker embedded in their uniform. (The issue is already active in military circles because US allies are far behind in development and deployment of combat identification technology, posing potential problems in coalition actions.)

Should unmanned machines be able to choose to shoot enemy troops? How would recognition systems judge surrender? How happy are we to leave lethal decisions to a series of algorithms? Will we reach a point where our faith in the consistency of algorithms supplants our belief in trained human judgement?

Before the technology gets to the battlefield, it may be necessary for states to consider such questions. There is precedent for successful pre-emptive action. The 1967 Outer Space Treaty requires signatories “not to place in orbit around the Earth, install on the moon or any other celestial body, or otherwise station in outer space, nuclear or any other weapons of mass destruction”. Perhaps there is a need for a Robotic Weapons Treaty.


The current geopolitical instability makes it particularly difficult to know where to look. The last year has seen heightened tensions between the two south Asian nuclear powers over Kashmir, admissions from North Korea about the extent of their nuclear weapons programme, continued political and economic instability in South America, the spread of terrorism to east Africa, without even referring to the Middle East.

But some of the most disturbing news of last year came from none of these places. In November more than 200 people in Nigeria died because of rioting associated with the Miss World beauty pageant. Most reporting of the riots in Kaduna suggested they were provoked by a newspaper article which offended Muslims by suggested the prophet Mohammed might have married a beauty queen. But the riots didn’t start until four days after the publication, and reporters who pursued the story (after the mass of media had left) have written they could find few people in Kaduna who knew about the article or had even heard of the Miss World pageant. The tensions were there and needed little spark.

For those of us who live in the wealthy North, news of Nigeria is relatively hard to come by. Although it has a vastly higher population than South Africa or Egypt and is a major oil exporter, it gets far less coverage than either of the other two major African countries (Nigeria is the world’s ninth most populous country, but only the 51st largest economy).

Only 12 of Nigeria’s 31 states follow sharia law. But president Olusegun Obasanjo needs votes from these states — which tend to vote en bloc — to win re-election in April this year. So many of the hopes that Obasanjo’s democratic election four years ago would help transform Nigeria have been frustrated as he placates the Islamic north. Tensions in the north between the Muslim majority and the Christian minority have been worsening for at least two years, with the worst outbreak occurring in February 2000, when over 2,000 people were killed.

Nigeria’s economy relies overwhelmingly on oil from the south (reminiscent of economist Jeffrey Sachs’ quip that Venezuela was an oil company with 24 million employees). For the moment, tensions between the south and north are somewhat allayed by the presence of the southern Obasanjo in the presidency.

Some historically aware observers have compared the way in which northern politicians are using sharia to solidify their base, much as politicians in the US south states used race during the Jim Crow era (in both cases, there is belief as well as calculation involved). It’s not inconceivable that Nigeria’s federal structure will come under strain just as the US one did 150 years ago. For states’ rights, substitute sharia law.

Groups like Amnesty International are forecasting that violence will increase in the months leading up to the April elections. Undoubtedly western media will fly in to Nigeria for the elections, but the inherently fragile situation in Africa’s most populous country needs attention before then.


Here’s a selection of some of my other writing:

Power to the people, Global Agenda, January 2004

Second sight, The Guardian, 9 October 2003 (fuller version here)

Good morning campus, Financial Times Magazine, July 2003

Have racket, will travel, Ace Tennis Magazine (magazine not available on the web), February 2003

Expect the unexpected, Global Agenda, January 2003

Note: the following articles are temporarily unavailable because of problems with the World Link site (no longer my responsibility). I’m working to get local versions of them up on Davos Newbies.

The HP way forward, interview with Carly Fiorina, World Link, January/February 2001

Private passions, World Link, November/December 2000

New new things, World Link, November/December 2000

Put out the welcome mat, World Link, November/December 2000

Is the price right?, World Link, September/October 2000

At the crossroads, World Link, July/August 2000

Nasty, brutish and short, World Link, July/August 2000

Bullish in a China shop: China’s dotcoms are coming to life, World Link, May/June 2000

Something old, something new, World Link, May/June 2000

Annual check-up, World Link, March/April 2000

Get crazy, World Link, March/April 2000

The six webs, World Link, March/April 2000

How not to win friends, World Link, March/April 2000

Look back in wonder, World Link, January/February 2000

Do believe the hype, World Link, November/December 1999

Just plain Bill, interview with Bill Gates, World Link, March/April 1999

To PC or not to PC, World Link, November/December 1998

Trials of life, interview with Robert Shapiro, World Link, July/August 1998

Nathan’s law, interview with Nathan Myhrvold, World Link, May/June 1998

The African agenda, interviews with Yoweri Museveni and Jerry Rawlings, World Link, March/April 1998

Of Dante and Davos, World Link, January/February 1998


Faber Guide to Twentieth Century Architecture, London: Faber & Faber, 1985

Office Furniture: Twentieth Century Design, London: Unwin & Hyman, 1987

Retail Design, written with Rodney Fitch, London: Thames & Hudson, 1990

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Science in education 

Steven Pinker has an important op-ed in today’s New York Times. “An important place to start might be in working to apply a scientific mindset to education itself – that is, to determine as best we can whether various beliefs about educational effectiveness are true. Classroom practice is often guided by romantic theories, slick packages and political crusades. Few practices have been evaluated using the paraphernalia of social science, such as data collection and control groups.”

Sign me up  

My respect for Texas Tech, or at least for one of its faculty, has just soared. Biology professor Michael Dini refuses to recommend students for graduate programmes in biomedical sciences unless they confirm their belief in evolutionary theory. According to the Houston Chronicle, Dini “doesn’t believe anyone should practice in a biology-related field without accepting ‘the most important theory in biology’. He argues that physicians who ‘ignore or neglect’ the Darwinian aspects of medicine or the evolutionary origin of humans can make bad clinical decisions. A scientist who denies the ‘fact’ of human evolution, Dini writes, is in effect committing ‘malpractice regarding the method of science’.” Absolutely.

The only puzzle for me is why the Houston Chronicle feels it needs to put fact in quote marks.

On the money  

Doc Searls is absolutely spot on in his analysis of AOL Time Warner. “The real kicker here, the the eleven-zero irony, is that this merged company was counting on AOL, of all things, to provide understanding of the very platform on which all this inter-divisional ‘synergy’ was going to take place. They actually thought AOL understood the Net. Amazing.”

Interestingly, Dave Winer had different impressions of AOL, although he reaches the same conclusion.

Hail Caesar  

Bloggus Caesari seems eerily relevant: “Some of you have questioned why we intervene in Gaul at all.”

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Weblogs and business 

The Guardian has a good summary of various attempts both to make businesses out of weblogs and to encourage businesses to use weblogs.

Browser versions  

If there are any geeky readers of Davos Newbies, I’m trying to figure out why my new design comes out as a blank yellow page in both Mac and Windows versions of Netscape Navigator 4.73. I’ve been checking other browsers and versions and have managed to solve most other problems. Please let me know either through the discussion page or by emailing.

Update Paul Kelly suggested a fix that seems to have worked. Many thanks to him and others who suggested various patches. The network works.

Forever blowing bubbles  

John Irons makes an important distinction:

“The ‘Bubble’ of the late 1990s was in the stock market. Various factors led to stock prices that were ‘too high’ and that rose ‘too fast’. Eventually the stock market bubble burst, leading to large declines, especially in the technology sector. The economic growth of the 1990s, however, was real: unemployment declined to record lows, growth was relatively high, incomes grew, and poverty declined. These were real things — cars, houses, etc — and economic growth had real, tangible, positive consequences for real people.

“Do not confuse the two! It was not a ‘Bubble Economy’, it was a ‘Bubble Stock Market’.”

Party privatisation  

I’ve already written about the dangers of privatising parties in Davos, in the absence of a Forum-run beanfeast. This year’s hot ticket was apparently an invitation-only Super Bowl party, hosted by Bill and Chelsea Clinton. Both The New York Times’s and The Washington Post’s gossip columns have snippets.


Here’s the problem with not being on the spot. I’ve linked before to Chris Anderson’s entertaining explanation of the yuck factor in science policy decisions. He credits it to David Baltimore of CalTech. But now David Kirkpatrick writes about the same session, and he reckons Sir Martin Rees of Cambridge is the progenitor of the yuck factor. Was it Rees or Baltimore? Establishing precedence is often tricky in scientific discovery.

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Porto Alegre blogs 

Prentiss Riddle points me to an interesting weblog that covered the Porto Alegre World Social Forum, that ran simultaneously to the World Economic Forum. For reasons I haven’t fathomed, the same blogger puts his photo coverage on a separate site.

I remain baffled that no one apart from Joi Ito was blogging from Davos. (Chris Anderson’s four dispatches in Slate are worth reading — particularly the one on Japan — but I’m sure Chris would agree that they do not a blog make.) Maybe (put conspiracy hat on) a decree has gone out that bloggers should be put on a Davos blacklist.

Optimistic Wolf 

The Financial Times’s Martin Wolf is not be nature an optimist. And, to be honest, today’s column (subscribers only) isn’t exactly filled with rosy uplands. But for Martin, it counts as optimism.

“The Iraq crisis should soon be over and, with it, the rift inside the west. Oil prices should fall. Stock markets may well bottom and the correction of the dollar may continue. As the dollar weakens, Japan may feel forced to accelerate monetary expansion and structural reforms, while Germany, which lacks all instruments of macroeconomic policy, may at least feel compelled to deregulate. Last but not least, the new trade round may be given a boost by worried policymakers, partly to offset the perception of western disarray. Despair is a sin. The world can become better, once again. It is our duty to make it so.”

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Where in 2005? 

In Swissinfo’s helpful roundup of Davos, Klaus Schwab makes the strongest statement yet that the Forum will move to a World Bank-like three-year cycle (as forecast on Davos Newbies a year ago), with two years “at home” (Davos) and one year on the road.

On the other hand 

The Financial Times reports that Friends of the Earth is considering suing the World Economic Forum. Apparently FoE’s Tony Juniper, a previous Davos participant and an expert on rare birds, was barred from entering the Congress Centre because he was carrying letters for 150 participants. According to the Forum, Juniper was not wearing the necessary security pass to get into the centre — which is an absolute no-no for anyone, including Forum staff.

It’s true that the Forum has generally frowned on distribution of “unauthorised material” in Davos, but I can recall scores of instances where corporations, academics and others have done their damndest to skirt around the restrictions. I don’t think anyone has ever suffered for trying. At my remove from Davos, it’s hard to tell whether the Forum’s version — it was a cheap publicity stunt — or the FT version — a legitimate participant was barred from entry — is correct.

More valid 

In his closing statement at this year’s Annual Meeting, Klaus Schwab said, “The original idea [for the Forum] is even more valid today than ever before. What we have to do is bond together and jointly define our problems. Once we have bonded, we can look together for solutions. We are all part of a global community of destiny. If we don’t address poverty and AIDS, we will all suffer.”

I know there is a lot of cynicism about the Forum, but those closing words do truly sum up the motivation of most of the people in the organisation. That ideal may be difficult to realise, but — pace the protestors — it’s surely worth striving for.

No way to run a railroad  

Paul Krugman quotes an administration official he spoke to in Davos: “I thought Paul O’Neill wasn’t suited to being Treasury secretary; he’d have been better off running a railroad. Now they’ve picked a man who ran a railroad.”

Ah, the Schatzalp 

As I write this, my friends in Davos will be making their way up the mountain for the annual highlight of the meeting: the Schatzalp lunch. The lunch is on the “snow terrace” of the Schatzalp Hotel, which has the faded grandeur you’d expect of the former sanitorium and setting of Mann’s Magic Mountain. Sadly, it looks like today there won’t be much of a view.

I often thought the Schatzalp should be the end of the meeting, and this year that’s what’s happening. In the past, there were a series of generally poorly attended plenaries in the afternoon, and then a closing plenary, which generally attracted a good crowd. The danger with ending at lunchtime, however, is that too many people will schedule their flights out of Zurich on the day, and you’re stuck with sparse attendance in the morning and at lunch. I’m sure some of my friends will let me know how the Schatzalp fares.

I’ve heard the odd report that Davos is future is going to have a significantly different schedule in any case. Instead of running Thursday through Tuesday, there is talk that the meeting will open on Tuesday and close on Sunday. The advantage of this in scheduling terms is you can end with the heavy hitters, since many of the political figures only want to come on the weekend.

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Where are the bloggers? 

Perhaps I inhabit a very artificial world, where I expect webloggers to pop up wherever they are needed. They certainly don’t seem to be much in evidence in Davos. Joi Ito is providing real insight into his Davos experience, but where are the others? Ironically, before blogging became a mass art, both Dan Gillmor and I were blogging Davos. And of course when Dave Winer came in 2000, he conveyed both the excitement and the insight of a newbie. But we’re not there this year.

It’s a pity, because I miss a sense of what’s happening outside the big speeches that everyone reports (on that score, apparently both Colin Powell and Lula were very good). In many ways, in fact, we’ve moved into a world where meetings without bloggers are missing a major added dimension both for their participants and for the outside world. But I’ve always thought that.

There are plenty of conventional reports. The Wall Street Journal Europe has a fun diary (subscribers only) and the Financial Times devotes its daily diary to Davos today (not restricted to subscribers, hallelujah). Both report that Brazilian central bank governor Henrique Meirelles broke his ankle in three places when he slipped on an icy pavement. Meirelles joins a distinguished club of Davos participants who sustained severe injuries on the ice. A few years ago, David Walker, then head of Morgan Stanley in Europe, broke his collarbone in a similar accident. The New York Times echoes everyone’s trope for this year’s Davos: times are tough, and Davos is sober and austere.

Chris Anderson, editor of Wired, does have an enjoyable entry in his Dispatches from Davos on Slate. “Yuck is culturally determined,” says Nobelist and CalTech president David Baltimore.

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Live from Davos 

Joi Ito is blogging from Davos. He’s understandably preoccupied with his plenary roles, but I look forward to hearing more of what’s going on when his schedule lightens up.

If anyone knows of other bloggers reporting from Davos (or from the World Social Forum in Porto Alegre), do let me know.

Whistler 2005? 

Well, the Canadians at least reckon Davos 2005 will be in Whistler. This is a long-running courtship. I remember some Forum folk visiting Whistler in the late ’90s to evaluate the venue. Regular readers of Davos Newbies may remember Stéphane Perron filling me in on the sentiment in Whistler.

But I’d be very surprised if the Canadian delegation in Davos manage to clinch anything. One of the advantages for the Forum of becoming an itinerant event (on a World Bank/IMF-like pattern of two years in Davos, one year on the road) is setting up a competition between potential hosts. I also think in the current climate there will be a strong push for the Forum to hold its next non-Davos meeting in the developing world. I reckon South Africa has a very good chance if it wants to host Davos.

RSS feed 

Roger Turner points out there is an RSS feed for the Google News Davos coverage. Very useful. (If you don’t know what an RSS feed is, JD Lasica has recently provided a helpful summary.)

Dr M 

One of my least favourite world leaders, prime minister Mahathir Mohamad of Malaysia, makes the Davos headlines for his gloomy pronouncements on the US and its stance on Iraq. “We are in the middle of the Third World War. Both sides are convinced that their side is right, that theirs is the fight against evil. It’s going to be a long war because hatred, anger, bitterness rule our hearts.”

The New York Times has the perspective to remind readers that Mahathir isn’t always an impeccable source. “The isolation of the United States seemed starkest during Dr. Mahathir’s remarks. To some extent, he was playing a traditional role of provocateur. In 1999, he raised eyebrows by discussing how a cabal of Jewish financiers, led by George Soros, had ruined Malaysia’s economy.”

Update The BBC follows up its report with a more acerbic look at Mahathir and Davos.

The Clinton crush 

When I was involved in Davos three years ago, we had to cope with an unprecedented crush of participants who wanted to hear then-president Bill Clinton. In retrospect, the problem verged on those horrible incidents at football matches where fans are trampled and crushed.

It looks like Clinton remains a huge draw in Davos. The Wall Street Journal Europe reports that the former president has tentatively agreed to have a private chat with a small group of journalists on Sunday evening. The problem? There’s only room for 15 and Clinton wants to vet the list.

The Journal is way out in front in both the extent and the fun of its Davos coverage. Only real Davos insiders (and readers of Davos Newbies over the years), would pick up on the Russians fanning out from the Sunstar Park. And the paper has the good grace to quote me in one piece reflecting on the changing nature of Davos. All the Journal coverage is collected on one page (as far as I can tell, all the Journal material is for subscribers only).

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Sense of humour 

Chappatte: Patrick Chappatte on Davos 2003
Who says the Forum has no sense of humour? Patrick Chappatte, the cartoonist, incidentally, was a Forum Global Leader for Tomorrow a few years back.

Google it 

Dave Winer has helpfully shown me how to track news about Davos through Google News. It’s an excellent way to keep up with what a wide array of sources are writing.

Club des refusés 

In 1863 the scale of the rejections from the official Paris Salon exhibition was so great that a number of artists banded together to protest. Their Salon des Refusés is now considered a landmark event in art history. Among the artists showing at the Salon des Refusés were Manet, Pissaro, Cezanne, Courbet and Whistler.

Sitting at home for the first time in a decade on the day Davos opens, I’m thinking about starting a Club des Refusés.

I don’t want to name names, but I could round up an extraordinary group that could happily stand comparison with the official Club. In fact, it would probably be more fun. Even though our Club des Refusés isn’t meeting formally this time, I feel we’re together in spirit. We can all toast each other at some point today.

More interest 

Since the Davos meeting has now started, there is definitely more coverage coming through. The Wall Street Journal Europe has the most interesting items, sadly only available to subscribers. I particularly liked them spotting the poetry session by Dominique de Villepin, France’s foreign minister. “What might have been the World Economic Forum’s most surreal session has been scrubbed. French Foreign Minister Dominique de Villepin was booked to read his poetry to the captains of industry assembled in Davos Friday evening. With conflict budding in Iraq and North Korea and French troops enmeshed in the civil war in the Ivory Coast, the image of France’s chief diplomat hosting such a literary nightcap in this mountain retreat might have been hard for some to swallow.”

They also quote Moises Naim, editor of Foreign Policy, reckoning the loss of the soirée is no big deal. “There is not a big party,” Moises says. “But there are plenty of parties.” That, in my opinion, is part of the problem. In the absence of a Forum-organised bash, there will be plenty of private bashes — which to varying degrees undercuts part of the spirit of Davos. The grander private bashes are invitation only. In New York last year, there was the repellent spectacle (to me at least) of investment bank Lehman Bros holding a private party for its chums with Elton John performing. What’s that about a Davos community?

The BBC has a number of stories, including some video reports. The tone is unrelentingly gloomy.

The Financial Times has a special section if you get the paper. Only some of the articles are available online, as far as I can tell. It’s very much pre-cooked material, suitable for all international gatherings. Yesterday I thought Newsweek were doing nothing. But there is a simulacrum of their once glorious Daily Davos available. Pretty dry stuff. And The New York Times’s one piece today is ill-informed and odd. Ski time has always been one morning (Sunday) and certainly since 2000 both the Belvedere and the Seehof hotels have required everyone to go through metal detectors. There’s also what I sincerely hope is a misquote from Klaus Schwab. “I would argue that the power of corporations has completely disappeared.” I’ve never agreed with the wilder claims of the anti-globalisation crowd about corporate power, but “completely disappeared”? I don’t think so.

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I may just be imagining this, but the major news sources seem to be much lighter on pre-Davos coverage than in the past few years. Time magazine (at least in its European edition) has a big feature on an interesting group of young Europeans who will be in Davos, and that’s about it. Newsweek, which used to devote considerable space to Davos, has nothing this week.

It will be interesting to see what tomorrow brings in the heavyweight business newspapers. I know The Wall Street Journal Europe is planning a lot of coverage and the signs are the Financial Times will be there in force as well. After the glut of New York Times coverage last (when the meeting was on its home turf), I expect far more normal service to be resumed.

More exceptionalism 

Julian Borger has a novel take on the Bush tax plan. He thinks it points up a major divide between US and European attitudes.

“Any European politician proposing such a elitist fiscal policy would be destroyed in the press and the polls… While Europeans overwhelmingly identify with the social class they sprang from, far more Americans expect to be rich themselves one day. In material terms they are an extraordinarily optimistic people… To most Americans, the downturn still seems a temporary hitch, such is the faith in the dynamism and resourcefulness of American enterprise, and small investors are biding their time waiting for the next boom.”

From the frontline 

This just in from a friend who is in Davos. “Wonderful snowfall yesterday, so Davos is gleaming. There’s still nothing like Davos and the place feels so RIGHT this afternoon. A pleasant buzz in the air.”