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January 28, 2005

My dear Jason,

Tonight is the night for the annual Accel Partners/AlwaysOn/Google cocktail party at the wonderful Kirchner Museum, directly across the street from the Hotel Belvedere. My primary mission today is to remind everyone I see about the party.

But you asked me to write about the technology buzz here at Davos. A blogger at the forum reported that Eason Jordan, CNN’s chief news executive, said that some journalists killed by the U.S. military had been deliberately targeted. The story is unclear because no transcript or video of the panel where Jordan was speaking has been released. I wasn’t there at the time. But I am in the blogging business now, and my opinion is that we should cut poor Eason some slack. Bloggers have nothing to gain by looking like a bunch of vigilantes. [Bloggers’ outrage at Jordan’s remarks later forced the CNN executive to resign and has prompted much subsequent reflection on blogging’s role in politics: see “Mean Media,” p. 17.]

I think that, in terms of sheer impact, Bill Gates is the biggest celebrity at Davos. Just before Mr. Bill (who served as a cochair of the WEF meeting this year) showed up in Davos, the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation announced that it was giving $750 million over 10 years to the Global Alliance for Vaccines and Immunizations (GAVI). GAVI will use the new funds to improve the delivery of basic vaccines, such as those against diphtheria, measles, whooping cough, tetanus, polio, and TB. With an estimated 27 million children in the developing world going without basic immunization each year, the World Health Organization estimates that $8 billion to $12 billion is needed.

For me, the highlight of Davos this year was sitting front and center in a packed press conference with Tony Blair, Bono, and Bill Gates. Gates is also on a mission to encourage folks like Prime Minister Blair to pony up for an international fund that could help pay for the distribution of these vaccines. At the conference, Bono praised the enormous contributions Gates has made to children in poor countries. It’s true that Bill Gates deserves a lot of credit for getting the world to recognize that pharmaceutical companies view vaccine research as a low priority­—at least when the target market is the developing world.

I have to admit, it is much more inspiring to listen to Bill Gates speak about world health-care issues than about IT. I swear I’ll croak if he ever brings out that Tablet PC again. He’s intellectually engaged in the medical research he’s funding. As you know, Mr. Bill has been coming to Davos for years, and when here he likes to wear his foundation cap.

After edging my way out of the Gates press conference, I had to hustle over to the big party at the museum. Joe Schoendorf and I have been throwing the “Silicon Valley meets Davos” party for eight years. Google became a coconspirator two years ago. But while it may have a strong tradition, and Google makes us hip, it is Joe’s wine selection that really attracts all the big dogs.

Given the recent tension over Middle East policy, we have hosted a nightcap discussion with Shimon Peres for the last two years. He was there again this year.

“Two years ago, one month before we went to war with Iraq, you said if Saddam did not give up, taking him out was going to be the right thing to do. Do you still think that was the right decision?” Joe asked the former Israeli prime minister. Peres stuck to his guns: “This was not a war about the religion of Islam; it was about fighting a terrorist state. The coalition had to move quickly against Iraq.” Al Gore was sitting in the audience and was not too happy with what he was hearing from the man whom he had minutes earlier given a huge bear hug. Gore had his arms crossed and rolled his eyes.

So by the end of the evening, it felt as though the forum had come full circle and was focused back on Iraq. In two days the Iraqi citizens would have their first free election in more than a half a century. There was hope and promise in the air. I think the tragic tsunami that hit the Indian Ocean and surrounding countries a month earlier, and the outpouring of global support that followed, were also external events that helped shape the themes of this year’s forum. They showed that if you bring enough media light to an issue, whether by the advent of a natural catastrophe, the smile of a Greek goddess, or a billion-dollar donation, the world can nudge those almighty rich countries to start giving to the poor countries in a big way. May God bless the world.

Your affectionate uncle, TP

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