Davos Newbies Home

Slow day at work 

I liked The Guardian’s take on the “election” in Iraq: “Certain occupations seem designed to attract the idle: editor of Kierkegaard’s complete football writings, for instance; leader of Hunstanton mountain rescue team; or ticket clerk at Cleobury Mortimer station. The thoughts of such people must have turned yesterday to a post which is, if anything, still more redundant than theirs: psephologist in Iraq.”

Alexandrian tales 

Who wouldn’t be inspired by the idea of a new Alexandrian library to replace the lost wonder of the ancient world? But it sounds as if priorities have been twisted.

The original, built by the Ptolemies, was the greatest repository of information of its day with 700,000 papyrus scrolls. More attention today has been given to the building than its contents: the library will open with about 200,000 books, many of them little more than space fillers. (The Egyptians are hardly the only ones to make this mistake. In my hometown of Chicago, a wonderful building was completed for the city library, but they’ve never had much of a book collection.)

There’s worse. Director Ismail Serageldin dismisses criticisms about the lack of books: “The number of books we have is really not very important. We have the only backup copy of the internet archive between 1996 and 2001, which has 10 billion pages. We live in a digital age. Virtual knowledge will be our strength.” And worse. Chief librarian Layla Abdel Hady says books deemed potentially dangerous will be kept under lock and key. “What’s the point of antago nising people unnecessarily?”

Change in The Netherlands 

When Jan Peter Balkenende became prime minister of The Netherlands, the world paid attention because of the assassination of Pim Fortuyn. Few outside the country will notice the government’s collapse.

A friend from The Netherlands writes: “Our government just collapsed after 86 days. The Lijst Pim Fortuyn (LPF) have been splintering since they entered office, and Balkenende (the HarryPotter-ish and feeble Christian Democrat PM) was unable to hold things together. The LPF’s two most senior ministers (economic affairs, and social affairs) quarrelled so badly they now only speak through intermediaries. And the ranking LPF MP told live national tv, ‘Don’t persecute me, I’m a manic depressive’ — before leaving to start a new party which contains her and one other MP. Meanwhile the former Miss Holland is talked of as a possible new LPF fractievoorzitter (party leader).”

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