15 February 2006

Once a year, around end January, it seems as if those very important world leaders and very well-paid corporate executives have very little to do. Assembling at the Swiss ski resort of Davos they go for seasonal gimmicks. Last year it was the $2.50 malaria net. This year it was the $100 laptop.

Admittedly, no man in his right mind would give the cold shoulder to Angelina Jolie. If her eyes widened and her lips gasped in that fireplace lit room while listening to an enterprising young operator, who is Bill Gates to complain? It is only that the Microsoft Guru happens to know a thing or two about -- laptops. And while the delicious Ms. Jolie will soon be returning to the welcoming arms of the equally dashing Brad Pitt, Mr. Gates will remain with us every click of a window. It also happens that he, that is the unfazed Mr. Gates, thinks that the $100 laptop isn't practical for deprived Third World children. Too many batteries. Too expensive software. Instead, a $25 cellular phone will do it.

Actually, you don't have to take sides. Except for the President of Tanzania, who last year was the happily surprised recipient of the malaria net funds, no money changes hands. Indeed, no hands are raised, except to intervene -- particularly if a Gweneth Paltrow look-alike is looking with intense interest. Then it's an open field. The old order changeth, yielding place to new; new world order vs. status quo ante; could analysis be worthwhile? Was the theatre really dead? You'd rather be a hammer than a nail? Anything to display creative thinking out of the box.

Again, it doesn't really matter how you argue. It is who you meet. More important, it is WHERE you meet. If you were staying at downtown Davos, forget it. If you were "biletted" at a nearby village, don't even try. Meeting rooms are alright if you want to push your visiting card or shake a few key hands. Two venues only matter. The "principals only" lobby of the exclusive Hof. And the skiing competition. The lobby could be negotiated with a hurried confident approach. The company of a stunning woman clad in a layered suede/cashmere "apres ski" outfit will certainly help. It is the skiing piste that is most exclusive. Competitive European executives make a point of checking every single person around to avoid being upstaged by a younger intruder.

The most snobbish comment this year was to complain that Davos has become too crowded with too much show. The brilliant innovator, creator and organizer Dr. Claus Schwab amenably goes along promising tighter circuits in future meetings. For some reason, perhaps to prove the point, Ms. Sharon Stone was not visible this year. Perhaps she is busy working on an alternative to the $100 laptop.