From: Bruce Sterling [firstname.lastname@example.org]
Sent: Wednesday, February 19, 2003 9:35 PM
Viridian Note 00362: The Mood at Davos
- Key concepts
- war, depression, anguished and
jittery rich people, Laurie Garrett
- Attention Conservation Notice:
- It's charming personal
gossip about the rich and powerful that the gossiper
didn't intend for us to hear. So I feel kind of bad about
letting on to it to 1,800+ people. On the other hand,
Viridians need to hear this, so that you can go buy
duct tape, survival weapons and bags of rice.
(((We just had the biggest political protests ever
seen in the history of the human race, but that's
not a Viridian story. The real Viridian story this week
is that the capital of the USA was buried in a huge
blizzard. I hope this makes you Australians in Canberra
feel happier, somehow.)))
Baltimore-Washington International Airport got 28.2
inches, its highest on record, according to the National
Nation's capital digs out from historic snowstorm.
US East Coast blizzard leaves 225,000 in the dark.
Multiple Viridian Contest-winner Reid Harward remarks:
"Well, I've gone and made a killer app this time, and now
I think I need some help building it into something."
Last chance to serenely ignore the rest of this very
disquieting Note and just check out that fabulous suit
that Santiago Calatrava is wearing.
(((Now on to somebody who is being a lot more entertaining
and foreboding than I have time to be today. Laurie
Garrett, a Pulitzer Prize-winning reporter who likes to
write about awful, terrible plagues destroying mankind
wholesale, went to Davos and hung out in the halls with
the Great and the Good. And oh my goodness, it turns out
that those rich folks are not one bit happier than those
millions of No-Global protesters who just took to the
- Laurie Garrett
"Pulitzer Prize-winning science writer for Newsday.
Formerly science correspondent at National Public Radio.
Freelance reporter for NPR, BBC, and ABC and frequent
freelance contributor to numerous newspapers and
magazines. Author of 'The Coming Plague: Newly Emerging
Diseases in a World Out of Balance.'"
(((As you can see by this cheery salutation, this is a
personal email that some treacherous pal of Ms Garrett's
leaked to the digital universe. Once a leak hits
Metafilter, man, you are hosed. I got my own copy of this
thing from a remote acquaintance in deepest darkest
Eastern Europe. It has probably ringed the planet ten
thousand times over.)))
(((As a journalist who has also been to Davos WEF, I would
be far from thrilled if such a leakage happened to me. But
this should be your moral decision, not mine. Do you WANT
to know how badly freaked-out our planet's owners are
about the general calamity that beckons, or should Ms
Garrett's tattered confidentiality be preserved? If the
former, read on. If the latter, log off.)))
"OK, hard to believe, but true. Yours truly has been
hobnobbing with the ruling class.
"I spent a week in Davos, Switzerland at the World
Economic Forum. I was awarded a special pass which allowed
me full access to not only the entire official meeting,
but also private dinners with the likes the head of the
Saudi Secret Police, presidents of various and sundry
countries, your Fortune 500 CEOS and the leaders of the
most important NGOs in the world. This was not typical
press access. It was full-on, unfettered, class A
(((Note that, in a gesture of sympathy, I am diligently
correcting Ms. Garrett's hasty spelling.)))
"Davos, I discovered, is a breathtakingly beautiful spot,
unlike anything I'd ever experienced. Nestled high in the
Swiss Alps, it's a three hours train ride from Zurich that
finds you climbing steadily through snow-laden mountains
that bring to mind Heidi and Audrey Hepburn (as in
the opening scenes of 'Charade'). The EXTREMELY powerful
arrive by helicopter. The moderately powerful take the
first class train. The NGOs and we mere mortals reach
heaven via coach train or a conference bus. Once in
Europe's bit of heaven conferees are scattered in hotels
that range from B&B to ultra luxury 5-stars, all of which
are located along one of only three streets that bisect
the idyllic village of some 13,000 permanent residents.
"Local Davos folks are fanatic about skiing, and the
slopes are literally a 5-15 minute bus ride away,
depending on which astounding downhill you care to try. I
don't know how, so rather than come home in a full body
cast I merely watched.
"This sweet little chalet village was during the WEF
packed with about 3000 delegates and press, some 1000
Swiss police, another 400 Swiss soldiers, numerous tanks
and armored personnel carriers, gigantic rolls
of coiled barbed wire that gracefully cascaded down snow-
covered hillsides, missile launchers and assorted other
tools of the national security trade.
((I kinda suspected this email was a fraud and forgery,
until I read the paragraph above. Because, yep, that's
just how the rich have to live, these days.)))
"The security precautions did not, of course, stop there.
Every single person who planned to enter the conference
site had special electronic badges which, upon being
swiped across a reading pad, produced a computer screen
filled color portrait of the attendee, along with his/her
(((Same in NYC a year ago.)))
"These were swiped and scrutinized by soldiers and police
every few minutes – any time one passed through a door, basically. The whole system was connected to handheld
wireless communication devices made by HP, which were
issued to all VIPs. I got one. Very cool, except when they
crashed. Which, of course, they did frequently."
(((Astounding that Hewlett Packard had the brazen nerve to
try that again.)))
"These devices supplied every imaginable piece of
information one could want about the conference, your
fellow delegates, Davos, the world news, etc. And they were emailing devices – all emails being monitored, of course, by Swiss cops."
(((Man, no wonder she won the Pulitzer.)))
"Antiglobalization folks didn't stand a chance. Nor did Al
Qaeda. After all, if someone managed to take out Davos
during WEF week the world would basically lose a fair
chunk of its ruling and governing class POOF, just like
that. So security was the name of the game. Metal
detectors, X-ray machines, shivering soldiers standing in
(((I've always figured that the summiteers and the
protesting summit-hoppers would come to an understanding
eventually. After all, the protesters are the only group
who take Davos, WTO, etc with total seriousness. The
tipping-point is gonna come when these Seattle '99 street
canaille stop waving their anarchist black flags, and
start waving light-blue UN flags, because they are all
commercially underwritten by billionaire BINGOs (Big
International Non-Governmental Organizations). And ladies
and gentlemen, we have never been closer to that
rapprochement. After 2/15, you can smell it in the wind.
People, the war hasn't even started yet.)))
"Overall, here is what I learned about the state of our
"I was in a dinner with heads of Saudi and German FBI,
plus the foreign minister of Afghanistan. They all said
that at its peak Al Qaeda had 70,000 members. Only 10% of them were trained in terrorism – the rest were military recruits. Of that 7000, they say all but about 200 are
dead or in jail.
"But Al Qaeda, they say, is like a brand which has been
heavily franchised. And nobody knows how many unofficial
franchises have been spawned since 9/11.
"The global economy is in very very very very bad shape.
Last year when WEF met here in New York all I heard was,
'Yeah, it's bad, but recovery is right around the corner.'
This year 'recovery' was a word never uttered. Fear was palpable – fear of enormous fiscal hysteria. The watchwords were 'deflation,' 'long term stagnation' and
'collapse of the dollar.' All of this is without war."
(((Kinda speaks for itself, doesn't it? Send email if
you'd like to join a Viridian commune squatting in a
vacant Austin skyscraper, with a hydroponic Victory Garden
and big boiling communal vats of mulligatawny stew.)))
"If the U.S. unilaterally goes to war, and it is anything
short of a quick surgical strike (lasting less than 30
days), the economists were all predicting extreme economic
gloom: falling dollar value, rising spot market oil
prices, the Fed pushing interest rates down towards zero
with resulting increase in national debt, severe trouble
in all countries whose currency is guaranteed against the
dollar (which is just about everybody except the EU), a
near cessation of all development and humanitarian
programs for poor countries. Very few economists or
ministers of finance predicted the world getting out of
that economic funk for minimally five-10 years, once the
downward spiral ensues."
(((Oddly reminiscent of the fate of the Soviet Union when
they succumbed to imperial overstretch after their Afghan
"Not surprisingly, the business community was in no mood
to hear about a war in Iraq. Except for diehard American
Republicans, a few Brit Tories and some Middle East folks
the WEF was in a foul, angry anti-American mood. Last year
the WEF was a lovefest for America. This year the mood was
so ugly that it reminded me of what it felt like to be an
American overseas in the Reagan years. The rich – whether
they are French or Chinese or just about anybody – are
livid about the Iraq crisis primarily because they believe
it will sink their financial fortunes."
(((Gee, y'know, maybe the Bush tax cut will win 'em over.
Oh wait, these are EUROPEAN rich people.)))
"Plenty are also infuriated because they disagree on
policy grounds. I learned a great deal. It goes FAR beyond
the sorts of questions one hears raised by demonstrators
and in UN debates."
(((Oh really? No! You don't say!)))
" For example:
"If Al Qaeda is down to merely 200 terrorists cadres and a
handful of wannabe franchises, what's all the fuss?"
Viridian Vatican taken out by dirty bomb.
Hey, Homeland Security, what gives?
"The Middle East situation has never been worse. All hope
for a settlement between Israel and Palestine seems to
have evaporated. The energy should be focused on placing
painful financial pressure on all sides in that fight,
forcing them to the negotiating table. Otherwise, the ME
may well explode. The war in Iraq is at best a distraction
from that core issue, at worst may aggravate it. Jordan's
Queen Rania spoke of the 'desperate search for hope.'
(((Viridian projected winners: Turkey, Cyprus, Iran.
Losers: everybody else. Best Bets for Regime Change:
"Serious Islamic leaders (e.g. the King of Jordan, the
Prime Minster of Malaysia, the Grand Mufti of Bosnia)
believe that the Islamic world must recapture the glory
days of 12-13th C Islam. That means finding tolerance and
building great education institutions and places of
learning. The King was passionate on the subject."
(((Okay, the glory days of 12th century America – that
would basically be a return to the Maya Empire and the
Anasazi Cliff Dwellers.)))
"It also means freedom of movement and speech within and
among the Islamic nations."
(((We don't even have that in the USA, Your Highness.)))
"And, most importantly to the WEF, it means flourishing
free trade and support for entrepeneurs with minimal state
regulation." (((Ken Lay, Andy Fastow, you're wanted on
the white courtesy phone.)))
"(However, there were also several Middle East
respresentatives who argued precisely the opposite. They
believe bringing down Saddam Hussein and then pushing the
Israel/Palestine issue could actually result in a Golden
Age for Arab Islam.)"
(((You guys had better settle for a Recycled Aluminum
"US unilateralism is seen as arrogant, bullyish. (((Gasp!
What's wrong with them? Don't they watch Fox News?))) If the U.S. cannot behave in partnership with its allies –
especially the Europeans – it risks not only political
alliance but BUSINESS, as well." (((One brick through the window of a French McDonald's –
vandalism. Ten thousand bricks through ten thousand French McDonald's – more effective than napalm.
McDonald's, Monsanto, Microsoft... and hey, that's just
"Company leaders argued that they would rather not have to
deal with US government attitudes about all sorts of
multilateral treaties (climate change, (((yahoo!))) intellectual property, rights of children, etc.) – it's easier to just do business in countries whose governments
agree with yours. And it's cheaper, in the long run,
because the regulatory environments match. War against
Iraq is seen as just another example of the unilateralism.
"For a minority of the participants there was another
layer of AntiAmericanism that focused on moralisms and
religion. I often heard delegates complain that the US
'opposes the rights of children,' because we block all
treaties and UN efforts that would support sex education
and condom access for children and teens. They spoke of
sex education as a 'right.' Similarly, there was a
decidedly mixed feeling about Ashcroft, who addressed the
"I attended a small lunch with Ashcroft, and observed
Ralph Reed and other prominent Christian fundamentalists
working the room and bowing their heads before eating.
The rest of the world's elite finds this American
Christian behavior at least as uncomfortable as it does
Moslem or Hindu fundamentalist behavior."
(((Yeah, sure, but when the Rapture comes, that'll show
the lot of 'em.)))
"They find it awkward every time a US representative
refers to 'faith-based' programs. It's different from how it makes non-Christian Americans feel – these folks experience it as downright embarrassing."
(((What's so "different" about that? It's gotta be
embarrassing to have your government captured by weird,
blinkered mullahs, even if they're Korean and own the
"When Colin Powell gave the speech of his life, trying to
win over the nonAmerican delegates, the sharpest attack on
his comments came not from Amnesty International or some Islamic representative – it came from the head of the largest bank in the Netherlands!"
(((Not only that, but the current chairman of the UN
Security Council is none other than long-time Viridian
darling Joschka Fischer, a street-fighting hippie
"I learned that the only economy about which there is much
enthusiasm is China, which was responsible for 77% of the
global GDP growth in 2002. But the honcho of the Bank of
China, Zhu Min, said that fantastic growth could slow to a
crawl if China cannot solve its rural/urban problem.
Currently 400 million Chinese are urbanites, and their
average income is 16 times that of the 900 million rural
residents. Zhu argued China must urbanize nearly a billion
people in ten years!"
((("But never mind that little problem now, for the
insidious Yankees are over a barrel and we Chinese wield a
Security Council veto!")))
"I learned that the US economy is the primary drag on the
global economy, and only a handful of nations have
sufficient internal growth to thrive when the US is
(((Yeah, but... just suppose the benighted US is under
economic embargo for invading another country without UN
permission. Wouldn't your local economies SKYROCKET?
Wow, just think about it!)))
"The WEF was overwhelmed by talk of security, with fears
of terrorism, computer and copyright theft, assassination
and global instability dominating almost every
(((Y'know, folks, sometimes it's a little disquieting to
actually be living in a 1980s William Gibson novel.)))
"I learned from American security and military speakers
that, 'We need to attack Iraq not to punish it for what it
might have done, but preemptively, as part of a global
war. Iraq is just one piece of a campaign that will last
years, taking out states, cleansing the planet.'"
(((Starting by cleansing the planet of America's allies.
"Step One: conquer Afghanistan. Step Two: Destroy NATO,
the UN and the Coalition.")))
"The mood was very grim. Almost no parties, little fun."
(((Hey, we're having a Viridian Vatican party after SXSW
Interactive next month. Free beer!)))
" If it hadn't been for the South Africans – party
animals every one of them – I'd never have danced.
Thankfully, the South Africans staged a helluva party,
with Jimmy Dludlu's band rocking until 3am and
Stellenbosch wines pouring freely, glass after glass after
(((The author of "The Coming Plague" just has to party
down with those AIDS-bedevilled South Africans.)))
"These WEF folks are freaked out. They see very bad
economics ahead, war, and more terrorism. About 10% of the
sessions were about terrorism, and it's heavy stuff. One
session costed out what another 9/11-type attack would do
to global markets, predicting a far, far worse impact due
to the 'second hit' effect – a second hit that would
prove all the world's post-9/11 security efforts had
The world's stupidest so-called security measures.
"Another costed out in detail what this, or that, war
scenario would do to spot oil prices. Russian speakers argued that 'failed nations' were spawning terrorists – code for saying, 'we hate Chechnya.'
(((Argentina's state has failed, and they didn't
even have the excuse of major powers blowing them up.)))
"Entire sessions were devoted to arguing which poses the
greater asymmetric threat: nuclear, chemical or biological
(((Or, if you're Argentinian, the International Monetary
"Finally, who are these guys? I actually enjoyed a lot of
my conversations, and found many of the leaders and rich
quite charming and remarkably candid. Some dressed
elegantly, no matter how bitter cold and snowy it was, but
most seemed quite happy in ski clothes or casual attire.
Women wearing pants was perfectly acceptable, and the
elite is sufficiently multicultural that even the suit and
tie lacks a sense of dominance.
"Watching Bill Clinton address the conference while
sitting in the hotel room of the President of Mozambique – we were viewing it on closed circuit TV – I got juicy blow-by-blow analysis of US foreign policy from a
remarkably candid head of state. A day spent with Bill
Gates turned out to be fascinating and fun. I found the
CEO of Heineken hilarious, and George Soros proved quite earnest about confronting AIDS. Vicente Fox – who I had
breakfast with – proved sexy and smart like a – well, a
fox. David Stern (Chair of the NBA) ran up and gave me a
(((You'll want to keep these touching human-interest
stories in mind if you see these gentle, accomplished
people dangling from street lanterns.)))
"The world isn't run by a clever cabal. (((Cabal yes,
"It's run by about 5,000 bickering, sometimes charming,
usually arrogant, mostly male people who are accustomed to
living in either phenomenal wealth, or great personal
power. A few have both. Many of them turn out to be remarkably naive – especially about science and
technology. All of them are financially wise, though their
ranks have thinned due to unwise tech-stock investing.
(((The ultra-rich: an endangered species.)))
"They pay close heed to politics, though most would be
happy if the global political system behaved far more rationally – better for the bottom line. They work very
hard, attending sessions from dawn to nearly midnight, but
expect the standards of intelligence and analysis to be
the best available in the entire world. They are
impatient. They have a hard time reconciling long term
issues (global warming, AIDS pandemic, resource scarcity)
with their daily bottomline foci. They are comfortable
working across languages, cultures and gender, though
white caucasian males still outnumber all other
categories. They adore hi-tech gadgets and are glued to
their cell phones.
"Welcome to Earth: meet the leaders."