The Viridian Design Movement

From: Bruce Sterling []

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 Weather Service.
Nation's capital digs out from historic snowstorm.
US East Coast blizzard leaves 225,000 in the dark.

Links: 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 world's streets.)))

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.'"

"Hi Guys."

(((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 hobnobbing."

(((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 vital statistics."

(((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 blizzards, etc."

(((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 world:

"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 adventure.)))

"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: Iraq, Britain.)))

"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 Age.)))

"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 the M's.)))

"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 conference.

"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 Washington Times.)))

"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 1968er.)))

"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 stagnating."

(((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 discussion."

(((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 glass...."

(((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 failed.

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 weapons."

(((Or, if you're Argentinian, the International Monetary Fund.)))

"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 hug."

(((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, clever no.)))

"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."




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