January 31, 2005

FULFILLING ANGELINA

Davos Succumbs to Star Power (Deutsche Welle, January 30th, 2005)

Movers and shakers from business and politics at this year's World Economic Forum in Switzerland were pushed to one side, as international celebrities added combating poverty and AIDS to the agenda.

Hollywood film stars Angelina Jolie, Sharon Stone and Richard Gere, as well as singers Bono and Lionel Ritchie, vied for attention with the leaders of Britain, France and Germany at Davos. Normally at the center of attention at the annual event, the world's business elite were left to play supporting roles on the sidelines this time around.

British Prime Minister Tony Blair, French President Jacques Chirac, and German Chancellor Gerhard Schröder successively pledged to find ways of spending billions of dollars in aid, trade or debt relief into poor countries this year.

But Stone, an anti-poverty activist like other celebrities invited to the Swiss Alpine resort of Davos, stole the limelight by making "an ass of myself" and extracting one million dollars from the largely corporate audience within minutes. She stood up during a debate on poverty involving Tanzanian President Benjamin Mkapa, pledging $10,000 (€7,660) for anti-mosquito bed nets to help prevent malaria in Tanzania and challenged her fellow onlookers to follow suit.

"A lot of them, let's face it, are pretty square," she later said of the business leaders at the debate. But thirty of them responded to her challenge to stump up cash for her cause.[...]

The elite business, political, academic and civil society participants invited to the five day meeting appeared to have sensed the mood of the moment. Asked by the forum organizers to choose six issues that urgently needed to be tackled in the world -- and by the forum over the next year -- 64 percent of them placed poverty at the top, followed by "equitable globalization" and climate change.

Traditional Davos favorites, the global economy and trade, were almost left out altogether, depriving about 100 anti-globalization protestors of their key themes as they trudged peacefully through the resort's icy streets on Saturday.

Microsoft founder Bill Gates tried to grab the spotlight briefly when he heaped praise on communist China for creating "a brand-new form of capitalism". But the drawing power of the geeky computer pioneer paled in comparison to Angelina Jolie, recently voted the sexiest woman alive by Esquire magazine.

Jolie, who has carried out field trips to 20 countries, including Cambodia, Ivory Coast, Sri Lanka and Sudan, said keeping near the spotlight was crucial to publicizing humanitarian needs. She said her ambassadorial role with the UN High Commissioner for Refugees was "more fulfilling and more interesting to me" than films. "And I know it's more important."

We instinctively grasp the fecklessness and fatuity of many Hollywood activists, but why in the world do conservatives tend to think that success in business bestows a special insight into the ills of the world and how to cure them?


Posted by Peter Burnet at January 31, 2005 5:59 AM
Comments

Because in most fields of commerce, whenever you reach a certain size much of your waking hours are spent dealing with government and its never ending battle to obstruct, loot, intimidate, and fleece the productive members of society. In many businesses, like finance, banking, insurance, virtually everything that goes on involves compliance with a myriad of contradictory and confiscatory regulations.

Posted by: Bart at January 31, 2005 6:25 AM

Because in most fields of commerce, whenever you reach a certain size much of your waking hours are spent dealing with government and its never ending battle to obstruct, loot, intimidate, and fleece the productive members of society. In many businesses, like finance, banking, insurance, virtually everything that goes on involves compliance with a myriad of contradictory and confiscatory regulations.

Posted by: Bart at January 31, 2005 6:25 AM

The term business is pretty broad. In total though it is an enterprise set up to solve problems, satiate peoples desires and (to your point) cure the "ills" of the world.

Granted there are non-business enterprises (government, church, academia, community of artists) that are directed sometimes at the same "ills", but why commercial business would not be helpful bypasses me. Countries like Tanzania needs solutions offered by all.

Posted by: h-man at January 31, 2005 7:06 AM

As Gates' comment shows, business leaders are fully capable of believing nutty ideas, or shooting off their mouth in areas about which they know nothing. In that, though, they are no different than car mechanics and better off than doctors and airline pilots.

But, business success at a certain level does imply both orgnizational skill and a capacity for critical thinking about systems that is useful in government.

Posted by: David Cohen at January 31, 2005 7:39 AM

David:

Capacity for critical thinking? Have you ever talked with a high-tech wunderkid about...well, about anything except high-tech? It can be very scary.

Posted by: Peter B at January 31, 2005 8:57 AM

Admit it - If you were a cameraman you'd be tempted to point it at Angelina Jolie. I mean...Angelina Jolie! Who cares how nutty she is, just look at her!

Posted by: Tom at January 31, 2005 9:16 AM

Peter: Absolutely. But none of them actually run their companies. They get pushed to the side with meaningless titles like Chief Imagination Officer or Chief Software Architect.

Posted by: David Cohen at January 31, 2005 9:20 AM

Mr. Judd: Basically, this is just giving ugly guys like Gates what beautiful women like Jolie get all the time. Let him live it up since he had to work harder for it.

Posted by: Buttercup at January 31, 2005 9:42 AM

Buttercup:

Yes, I am particularly savouring the image of these hardbitten, seen-it-all-before, school-of-hard-knocks, "I'm from Missouri" captains of industry (who excel at critical thinking) leaping all over one another to fork out for mosquito nets 'cause Sharon Stone asked them to.

Posted by: Peter B at January 31, 2005 9:58 AM

David - Gates like many CEOs is thinking about his business all the time. His biggest problem is software piracy in China, his fastest-growing market. He has to butter up the Communists to get them to treat Microsoft well. It's no different than Rupert Murdoch praising the communists to get his satellite TV channel into China. You give in order to get, even when the partners are communists. They want rope, you sell rope ...

Posted by: pj at January 31, 2005 10:33 AM

Mr. Burnet: I'm sorry, I should have checked who posted.

I'd actually have some respect for Ms. Stone if she had defied conventional wisdom and the pc enviromentalists and asked them to support something useful in combating malaria like DDT. But somehow beauty and fame rarely go hand in hand with courage and wisdom.

As for Ms. Jolie, as Tom so eloquently commented, beauty forgives a lot of nuttiness. Of course, so does wealth and fame. But, this says a lot more about our nature than it does about these empty headed celebrities we elevate.

Posted by: Buttercup at January 31, 2005 11:04 AM

If Stone had any sense she would have convinced them to fund DDT instead of mosquito nets (the basis of her plea) and saved millions of lives instead of thousands.

Posted by: Pat H at January 31, 2005 1:28 PM
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