Politics & Policy

Davos Journal, Part VII

In the Cold War, we talked about “linkage” (or at least the Scoop Jackson types did, and they, of course, were right). Linkage meant that you tied trade to progress in human rights. Well, here is some Davos Journal linkage: to Parts I, II, III, IV, V, and VI. So, where were we?

Wherever we were, the Crystal Award is being presented. This is the award given by the World Economic Forum to arts-and-letters types. The Crystal has been won by distinguished personages from Yehudi Menuhin to Lionel Richie. And this year it goes to two persons: Emma Thompson, the actress, and Yo-Yo Ma, the cellist. Klaus Schwab, head of the Forum, describes them as outstanding examples of “cultural global citizenship.”

Emma Thompson, he says, is the only person to win Oscars for both acting and writing. And, this afternoon, she looks very chic, in a long black leather coat, or something like that — I can’t quite tell. The other night, I met a young journalist who had an encounter with Emma and fell for her — quite naturally. He said that she looks all of her 48 years; she does not look younger than her age. But she looks totally terrific.

True, true. I understand she’s a left-wing nightmare, but I don’t care: She is a babe, and has a marvelous voice, to boot.

When Emma steps up to receive her award, she kisses Klaus, three times — à la suisse — and gives one of the most graceful extemporaneous speeches I have ever heard. I will give you an approximation of what she said, based on scribbled notes:

“It’s just like the Oscars, they said. It’s so not like the Oscars. The brain power in this room alone . . . well, let’s not even go there. I don’t really deserve this award, but they asked if they could give it to me, and I love getting awards, and I haven’t received one in ages. I hadn’t been to Davos before, and was extremely curious, and it has been an extraordinary road, paved with men, everywhere — seas and seas of them. It’s been bliss.

“I don’t really know how to thank you for this, Klaus, except by carrying on [with humanitarian works].

“I will tell you about a conversation I had with my eight-year-old daughter earlier today. My daughter said, ‘And what have you done, Mummy?’ ‘Well, I did an interview with CNN, and another interview with the BBC. Then I met the president of Lithuania, and the president of Albania, and the secretary of homeland security, and they all asked me to visit their countries.’

“My daughter said, ‘Oh.’ Then I said, ‘It’s snowing, too,’ and she said, ‘Oh, that’s so exciting!!!’

“If your vocation is the place where your deepest gladness meets the deepest needs, then that’s where this is. So thanks, Klaus, and let’s get on with it.”

At least, I think that’s what she said. It was simply a note-perfect speech — in its words, in its delivery. A bunch of photogs then want to take her picture, and she charmingly mugs and hams for them (and for us). Then she quickly exits the stage.

I think of what Earl Wild, the grand old pianist, has often said: “Music should say what it has to say, then get off the stage.”

Yo-Yo Ma is up next, and he, too, kisses Klaus Schwab — three times. He is an exuberant kisser and hugger, always. The late Mstislav Rostropovich was nicknamed Slava — and he was such a kisser and hugger, they further nicknamed him “Saliva.” Yo-Yo Ma has picked up his mantle.

Wisely, he says that he can’t possibly follow Emma Thompson’s speech with another speech. Instead, he will play something on his cello. First, however, he gives a little speech anyway — on the sarabande (for he will play a Bach sarabande — the one from the Suite in C major).

The theme of this year’s Davos, as you may recall, is “The Power of Collaborative Innovation” — and Ma tries to rope the sarabande to this theme. The sarabande has its origins in North Africa, he says. Then it went to Spain, and to the Americas — also to France. (I think I have this right.) In Spain, says Ma, the sarabande was a lewd and lascivious dance, and was banned. In France, it was a courtly dance. And Bach apotheosized it.

“So there you have cultural collaboration in terms of movement — transnational movement — and certainly one of the great innovators in musical history, Bach.”

Okay. Unfortunately, Ma is at his worst — his most self-indulgent and undisciplined — when he plays the Sarabande in C. It is soupy, swimming, very Romantic. The piece has no spine, and hardly any body. It is barely recognizable as itself. It is a kind of musical goo, or silly putty. A tipsy pianist would balk at playing a Chopin nocturne this way.

Yo-Yo Ma is an outstanding musician, and an outstanding human being, by all accounts. I have heard many first-rate performances from him. And surely will again.

‐Performing later is Yasuo Fukuda, the prime minister of Japan. Introducing him, Schwab says that the Diet — the Japanese legislature — is in session, making it difficult for the prime minister to go abroad. But Fukuda has done so, traveling all night long, just to spend 24 hours here — 24 hours of “intensive discussions.”

As he speaks, Fukuda seems sober and technocratic. He talks of Japan’s challenges: a graying population, declining fertility. But he views these challenges as opportunities, he says. (That’s just what a politician should say.) (And probably that’s what we all should say.)

Then Fukuda switches to global warming — or “climate change” — Davos’s Topic No. 1. He sounds all the right notes: This is the greatest challenge the world has ever faced. If we don’t act, we invite catastrophe, not only to our environment, but to our economies. Etc. Luckily, Fukuda has a plan at the ready: a “cool-earth program” (which you may wish to render “cool earth program”). He proceeds to outline it.

Now and then, when someone is speaking in a language I don’t know, I like to take off my headphones — the headphones through which one hears a translation. I like to hear the pure, unaltered voice. And I have a memory of Marlin Fitzwater, the press secretary to both President Reagan and President Bush (the first Bush).

He once spoke of an early visit by Bush to Poland — that is, a visit soon after the fall of Communism. Bush was giving a speech in a public square, and his speech was being translated, over a PA system. Before long, the crowd started to murmur and protest. Fitzwater wondered, “What in the heck is this?”

What the people wanted was for the translation to be turned off. Whether they understood English or not, they wanted to hear the pure, undiluted voice of the president of the United States — the voice of freedom. As I recall, Fitzwater described this as the most moving moment he had with the presidents.

Anyway, I’m listening to Prime Minister Fukuda in raw Japanese. He switches to English a couple of times — chiefly to say “Kyoto Framework.” The word framework is a bit of a challenge for him; Kyoto, no problem.


‐I mentioned early on in this journal that Rupert Murdoch is here — don’t think I’ve seen him, in my years at Davos. And I don’t see him this year, either — I miss his appearances. But I hear about one, or read about one, later. He has taken part in a session called “Rebuilding Brand America: Five Suggestions for the Future President.”

As for what the next president should know, Murdoch says, “I would advise not to read the New York Times.” He also avers, “The United States has a great image around the world.” He cites the vast aid given by Americans to people everywhere. “The generosity of the Americans is amazing, and most people know this.” Yet all must understand that things changed for America after 9/11: It’s a tough, bruising world.

And hasn’t it always been?

Now, you and I know that America has a serious image problem in many parts of the world. (We always have, really.) Yet Murdoch makes an excellent and necessary point: America remains greatly admired by a great many; they just happen not to write for newspapers or work at the U.N. And leave it to an Australian to speak out in defense of the U.S.

(I know, I know: Rupert has been an American citizen for more than 20 years. But it’s still hard not to think of him as a buccaneering Aussie.)

I like to quote something V. S. Naipaul said, not long after 9/11: “The seething, raging Third World masses are united in one thing: the desire for a green card.” That’s a good line, but, good line or not, it contains an important truth.

And thanks for joining me, guys. I’ll see you on Monday with — oh, let’s start out with the new prime minister of Great Britain, Gordo.


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