Khosla versus Brown
Call it the battle of the environmental advocates. Vinod Khosla, the esteemed entrepreneur and venture capitalist, held forth on his plans to replace gasoline with ethanol during the first of two tutorials on the environment Wednesday afternoon. Lester Brown, president of the Earth Policy Institute and author of the recent Plan B 2.0: Rescuing a Planet Under Stress and a Civilization in Trouble, presented his competing view right after Khosla. What we should have done is brought the two together for a green slugfest.
Khosla has become perhaps the best known proponent for ethanol in America. His slideshow, less multimedia than Al Gore's but just as powerful, explains why ethanol can end our addiction to oil. (Khosla was featured prominently in Fortune's January article on ethanol, "How to Beat the High Price of Gasoline. Forever.") Khosla's policy proposals include mandating that 70% of all new cars be able to burn fuel that is 85% ethanol. He's heard all the criticism of ethanol before. To the people who say ethanol will use up all of America's crop land he says that they are assuming no advances in crop technology, which is wrong. Dramatic crop yield improvement is a given, he says. He also notes that the future is not corn ethanol, largely used today as a gasoline additive, but rather cellulosic ethanol, which is made from the garbage of the agriculture world. Khosla thinks his dreams could be realized in a matter of years, if government and industry (minus the oil companies) pull together.
Brown has a different take, to say the least. He sees ethanol production as being incredibly wasteful. Fill up your SUV with ethanol, he says, and you're doing nothing for the environment. Moreover, Brown points out that growing ethanol, any kind of ethanol, requires water and that half the world already is pumping more water than they should be. Countries like the U.S. and China are depleting aquifers so rapidly that there won't be enough to grow food, let alone renewable sources of energy. To be sure, he thinks cellulosic ethanol will be part of the solution. But he worries about the rise of corn-based ethanol creating a competition between fuel and food. He advocates gas-electric hybrids powered by wind-generated electricity, and a carbon tax offset by income tax reductions (now being considered in China and Japan.)
We were so impressed by the differences between these two thoughtful people that we're trying to set up a debate between them Thursday. Stay tuned.
John Doerr haiku
Several Brainstorm attendees gave three-minute talks this afternoon on "Getting It Right." Here's an extremely brief summary of what venture capitalist John Doerr said:
John Doerr is angry.
"Going green should be our next
Big thing," Doerr exclaims.
It's good to be the king?
During Wednesday afternoon's discussion about restructuring the global economy, one member of the audience asked panel speaker Lester Brown of the Earth Policy Institute what he would do if he were king. Brown, after hesitating for about a second, quipped, "King, which is different from being president?"
The comment got a fair amount of laughs from the room, including actress Glenn Close. After the laughter died down, Brown went on to say that more adults need to be educated, particularly about the effects that the U.S.'s dependence on oil is having on the nation and world at large. Brown said that the U.S. has to invest in alternative forms of energy, even going so far to suggest that lowering income taxes while raising energy taxes could be one way to wean the nation off of oil and fossil fuels.
Surprising facts about newlyweds
Diana Farrell of McKinsey Global Institute, McKinsey's think tank, just wrapped up an amazing tutorial called Ten Trends That Matter to Business. It was chock full of startling facts about everything from the growth of the middle class in places such as China, India and Brazil (975 million new households in the next 20 years) to the size of the socially-responsible investing opportunity. But the stat that made the room gasp and titter? Some 12% of couples married last year met online.
Farrell used the newlywed statistic to highlight the trend of social life in a technologically connected world. This is both an opportunity and risk for businesses. Technological connectedness means businesses that do poorly or disappoint consumers will be slammed online. But innovators that figure out how to capitalize on consumers' increasing dependence on the 'Net and their mobile phones for social interactions can thrive. Come to think of it, a good example of this might just be online dating site.
Thomas Hazlett says our cell phones are great
George Mason University economist Thomas Hazlett was part of the same competitiveness workshop that featured the Alan Blinder talk described below. He sliced off a smaller piece of the competitiveness pie, focusing on the U.S. experience in wireless communications.
Hazlett is a contrarian and a libertarian (and probably some other things that end in -rian), so he didn't offer the familiar refrain about how smart the Europeans are and how great their GSM system is. What happened, he said, was that Americans were the wireless pioneers, then fell behind because the FCC was so slow to approve digital wireless licenses. The Europeans moved ahead with their digital GSM, which wasn't better because it imposed the same standards on all wireless carriers, but because it came out earlier. "We allowed a lot more flexibility and a lot more competition among operators," he said. "On the other hand, the Europeans moved quickly and eliminated regulatory blocks." Now the U.S. way is paying off in the form of more innovation, Hazlett argued, although the failure of the federal government to allot more bandwidth for wireless is crimping the industry's style.
Several people in the audience reacted with incredulity to Hazlett's assertion that U.S. wireless policy isn't a total disaster. They told tales of driving through South Africa, or between Jordan and Israel, and getting wireless reception vastly better than that available on Interstate 280 on the edge of Silicon Valley. Hazlett had a response, but I cut him off because I was moderating the discussion and time was up. I'll get the full answer from him later.
Alan Blinder on U.S. competitiveness
Princeton economist Alan Blinder gave a talk on U.S. competitiveness this afternoon. His main point was that the offshoring of services to English-speaking countries with lower wages (India, mostly) is a much bigger deal than most academic economists allow. "The potential shift is massive--dwarfing anything we have seen in recent years. Not dwarfing the industrial revolution, though."
The shift in the U.S. labor force, Blinder said, will be away from services that can be performed remotely (and thus will done where wages are lower), and toward those that demand a personal touch. So instead of skilled workers making more money and low-skilled workers losing out, as has happened over the past few decades, the divide between winners and losers will be more complicated. Brain surgeons and child care workers will do fine; call-center workers and computer programmers won't.
And college professors? "I'd like to think university teaching would be degraded substantially by remote delivery," Blinder said. "But in my heart of hearts I'm not sure the next generation of American academics won't be replaced by lecturers in Bangalore."
Bush and Gore image makers watch The War Tapes
Intense as all the afternoon sessions were today, there was perhaps only one that brought many participants to tears. Documentarian Deborah Scranton screened her unflinching and innovative film, The War Tapes, to a packed crowd, many of whom stuck around for a heated Q&A. On everyone's mind was whether the film - a sort of video diary shot entirely by three soldiers, and directed by Scranton over the Internet -- had in any way been censored. According to Scranton, very little. The interesting thing here, and certainly a testament to the art of the film, is that the audience seemed to come away split over whether the film gave a positive or negative portrayal of the American presence in Iraq. Had we wanted a professional opinion of the political "optics" of the piece, however, we might have quizzed either Mark McKinnon, George Bush's media advisor, or Naomi Wolf, McKinnon's opposite in the 2000 Gore campaign -- both of whom happened to be on hand, though on opposite sides of the room....
4 questions, hundreds of answers
Prior to the Brainstorm conference, participants were asked to respond to four questions:
1. If the collective might of Brainstorm could be channeled to solve a single problem, what should it be?
2. What do you fear most?
3. What three global leaders will have the greatest impact in setting the course for the next decade?
4. What value do you most cherish?
Here is a summary (unscientifically collated, admittedly) of the answers.
1. The single problem to solve: Lots of worried people out there, but two big categories emerged: the global divide between rich and poor; and environmental issues, with global warming at the top of the list. The future of energy -- ie, moving away from fossil fuels in particular, also comes up repeatedly; and the role of business in the world as well.
Some others, in no particular order of frequency: education and literacy; checks and balances in Washington; poverty; hunger; nuclear and other forms of terror; intolerance; Muslim-Christian confrontation; globalization and its discontents; the need for a collective spiritual awareness; clean water.
2. What do you fear most? No clear "winners" here, but again global warming crops up repeatedly. A whole cluster of ideas having to do with intolerance; religious extremism; frustration; fear; polarization. Hard to find a single term for this, but this accounts for a broad array of answers. Some more specific concerns: avian flu; maniacs with money and power; fear itself; nothing at all; nuclear war; inaction; electronic voting; ignorance; political and social gridlock; viruses and biological pathogens.
3. Most important leaders in next decade? A very clear consensus here on two -- the President of the US (either Bush or the next one); and the leader of China (Hu Jintao or the next).
Almost everyone who answered mentioned one or both of these. The third slot is tightly contested with the leaders of Russia, China, India, Iran and Iraq (current and prospective) fighting it out for bronze. Ben Bernanke, Bill Gates; the Google guys; and the hoped-for moderate leader of the Arab world were all mentioned fairly often. Some of the more unusual answers: an unknown entrepreneur; Bill Gates; the global consumer; the prime minister of Sweden; science; John McCain; the chairman of Toyota; the Moral Man; the head of the World Health Organization; chairman of Exxon; Bono; a third-party US candidate; Kim Jong-il; Pat Russo; Narayna Murthy (head of Infosys); the leaders of Liberia and Nigeria; Rick Warren (Saddleback Church); the People, the People, the People.
4. Most cherished value - the usual stuff: integrity, honor, hope, responsibility, sense of humor, freedom, moral leadership, courage.
The view from Beijing
Naturally, China drew a crowd. The takeaways? Yes, China is big, and growing fast, and you should probably figure out how to invest there. And, no, the country is not about to devolve into social unrest. But it may take time to solve the country's equally impressive challenges. Fortune's Clay Chandler (center) grilled Dr. David Li (right) of The Center for china in the World Economy and Victor Yuan of the Horizon Research Consultancy Group. The eloquent Dr. Li sumarized the thing well: "Let me argue there are two implications: we have to be patient with the Chinese situation. Indeed, the Chinese situation is not ideal, but the changes are in the right direction. Patience is one implication, and the second is that the external world has to be positively accomodating to the emergence of China."
UPDATE: Clay Chandler has files the following far better summary of the meeting.
China¹s torrid macroeconomic growth rates belie huge challenges to continued
expansion: How to keep generating jobs for China¹s vast population? How to
create a social safety net and minimize income inequality? How to avoid
fouling air and water, and gobbling energy and other natural resources at
such voracious pace that China overwhelms the rest of the planet? How to
transition from central planning to a political system better suited to a
market economy? For Hu Jintao, running the world¹s fastest growing economy
is turning out to be one the world¹s toughest jobs.
CLAY CHANDLER, FORTUNE ASIA EDITOR:
"Fortune 500 CEOs have come a long way in their understanding of China. At
the 1999 Fortune Global Forum in Shanghai they were still groping, trying to
figure China out. By the 2005 Global Forum in Beijing, they felt assured.
Many had socked billions of dollars into China operations and were visiting
China 4 and 5 times a year. Increasingly, CEOs like what they see in China:
a nominally socialist system where government leaders all want to talk
business, seem to genuinely Œget¹ the global economy and have the
administrative muscle to make things happen fast. A common CEO refrain:
³State-led capitalism ya gotta love it.² Many draw a contrast between
can-do pragmatism in China and democratic malaise in India. But the reality
is a lot more complicated. China¹s leaders are scrambling to keep the
economy growing and hold society together. Topping China¹s development
agenda, the ŒFive E¹s¹: Employment, Equality, Enterprise, Energy,
DAOKUI "DAVID" LI, PROFESSOR OF ECONOMICS, TSINGHUA UNIVERSITY, DIRECTOR, CENTER FOR CHINA IN THE WORLD ECONOMY
"Four paradoxes of China:
1) China is a huge economy, but it¹s also a poor economy, with per capita
GDP of $1700, barely half that of Russia....
2) China is an open economy, in the sense that it absorbs billions of
dollars in FDI, but in fundamental ways it remains essentially closed. Few
Chinese speak English, Chinese society is less open than that of India, and
ideologically, it¹s more insular. By comparison, India is a closed economy,
but an open society.
3) China¹s economy is highly centralized in the sense the central
government oversees all, appoints the political leaders and party
secretaries at the state and local levels. But the local officials have a
lot of power and the government often has difficulty enforcing its will
4) Chinese development seems remarkable stable in the sense that after
more than 20 years of reform it is still a one-party state, in which the top
officials in the Communist party hold all the top government jobs. But at
the same time, Chinese economy has experienced change at a phenomenal rate
-- even changing fundamental aspecits of the official ideology -- under that
China¹s five big challenges:
1) GDP is growing rapidly, but growth is lopsided. More than 44% of GDP
growth comes from investment. Consumption is just over 50% No other economy
has had such lopsided growth. Even in the periods of rapid industrialization
in Japan and Korea, investment never exceeded 35% of GDP.
2) Rising social tension. The current government has raised expectations for
greater equality and social justice.
3) Natural Resources: If China duplicates the lifestyle and consumption
patterns of the US, we will bankrupt the rest of the world in terms of
resources. We have to find new ways of enjoying the benefits of modern life
that won¹t add to the strain on global resources.
Achieving a political Œsoft-landing¹: It¹s widely recognized among
China¹s elites that the current system isn¹t compatible with a market
economy. But the question is, how to liberalize? If China moves too fast we
may create internal problems.
5) Global Leadership: China¹s not used to being a world leader. Today
China¹s interests are embedded in the global economy, and yet we¹re
developing the leadership and negotiating skills commensurate with our
1) Be patient: China is moving in the right direction.
2) The rest of the world needs to be positively accommodating to China¹s
emergence. We have to understand what happens in China matters for the rest
of the world."
VICTOR YUAN, CHAIRMAN, HORIZON RESEARCH CONSULTANCY GROUP
"China is a good destination for investment. The general public has more
confidence in the government¹s ability to develop the economy than develop
good social policy. Several big issues for China to tackle: employment,
social security, corruption. People aren¹t so confident about the
government¹s ability to root out corruption. About 90% of the public trusts
the central government, but maybe on 45% have confidence in the
But there are positive trends: The rise of a younger generation. Chinese
raised under Mao¹s one-child policy are active consumers. Call them
Generation S for single child. They¹ve created a new foundation.
Migration creates new challenges and opportunities. The migrants who come to
the cities are demanding equal treatment. Chinese move from the country to
the city, they move from city to city, there¹s more tourism enabling them to
see the outside world with their own eyes. This is changing the foundation
of Chinese social life."
Sandra Day O'Connor rules!
Ex-Supreme Sandra Day O'Connor scored pretty close to a perfect ten on the compulsory exercises: she spoke clearly and simply -- her thoughts carrying the weight of experience and conviction -- and yet managed at the same time to be very smart. She was interviewed by former Time Inc. Editor-in-Chief Norman Pearlstine. Following some choice excerpts:
PEARLSTINE: It seems of late there's been an attack on the judiciary by legislative and indeed executive branches. What are your thoughts?
O'CONNOR: I'm very concerned about it. When the framers designed our Constitution the most innovative thing they did was separate the three branches. They went to great lengths to ensure that the judges would be independent. I've lived a long time, and in my lifetime I have never seen such hostility toward judges coming from Legislative, and a little bit from Executive, though not as much -- and especially the states. In South Dakota, they've got something called "Jail for Judges." What kind of a system are we going into if that passes? And you can hardly read the news without hearing about "activist judges." I'm not sure I know what that means. I think it means a judge whose decision you disagree with.
PEARLSTINE: What's behind it?
O'CONNOR: Well, there are decisions that people are unhappy about. The sodomy law in Texas; the 10 commandments ruling in Kentucky; affirmative action at the University of Michigan. These things seem to be driving alot of unhappiness.... Back in the 1950s we had the Brown vs. Board of Education which said "separate but equal." That was highly controversial, but over time that unpopular decision has been accepted by American people as correct. That kind of decision would not be possible under the regime that's being urged today.
PEARLSTINE: What do we do in a world where globalization is so much a part of the fabric of society? What deference should we make to foreign laws?
O'CONNOR: That gets us into the area of transnational law. We have so many issues that cross national boundaries now... When we became a country, the Supreme Court under John Marshall made the point that our laws included international law. Our country was very eager then for other countries to know that we accepted international law. Today we're seeing a certain amount of rejection of that principal.... With regards to the citation of a foreign judgement: there is no case from the Supreme Court that a foreign judgement is binding and relevant to our interpretation. But could it be interesting? [Yes.] Transnational law will be more and more an part of the makeup of the jurisdiction of courts in the U.S. just as it is in courts around the world.
PEARLSTINE: You've worked with judges from the Middle East. What's your sense of hope about the area?
O'CONNOR: Let me back up before Iraq if I may.... We had an enormjous amazing situation in the world with the breakup of the fomer Soviet Union because a huge chunk broke off and developed into 26 separate nation states.... Everyone had to write a constitution and create a judicial system.... Many have become members of the European Union.... So this effort succeeded to a huge extent. So we need to do the same thing for other emerging countries, like Iraq.
PEARLSTINE: Is there any evidence that Iraq is moving towards rule of law?
O'CONNOR: Oh, it's too early to ask that. I met with some Iraqi judges in the Hague last year because that's where they felt safe. I was frankly impressed by them: well-educated and committed. They wanted to get back to judging.... I was left with the impression that there are people in Iraq who want to [move ahead.] Right now some of those people are being assasinated, and I'm sure it's giong to be hard to find people to serve in those positions. Right now what they need is security.
PEARLSTINE: On the Internet: How is the court beginning to deal with immense changes that technology is visiting upon us. Does the Internet figure in your life?
O'CONNOR: I don't think we need a whole new system. Judges and courts move slowly. One of the symbols that architect Cass Gilbert created for the Supreme Court are lampposts resting on the backs of tortoises...When I arrived we used strange machines called ATEX machines, and we still had hot lead printing machines in the basement. Now it is possible that we can do legal research right on our computers, and that's such an amazing change. So I think it's pretty good. But I don't do email. I'm not into that yet.
PEARLSTINE: When thinking about the court during your years, many have said that you were following in the footsteps of Justice Powell, that you [ruled on each case without following a clear dogmatic line.]
O'CONNOR: There is some tension among some members of the Court about this question, but I think that everyone would have to acknowledge that here are certain provisions of the Constitution that are written in such broad terms that it is simply not possible to say "Oh, the framers would allow DNA testing," or "Oh, the framers would allow wiretapping." The language of the Fourth Amendment said no "unreasonable searches and seizures." Well, there's no way to look at Thomas Jefferson notes, so there's no way to know. The same is true for the 8th amendment: "cruel and unusual punishment." [At that time,] it probably was alright to execute people who were under the age of 18...
PEARLSTINE: ...or mental retardation
PEARLSTINE: ...and slavery was legal
O'CONNOR: Yes, but then we fought a civil war to pass the 12, 14, and 15th Amendments to solve that problem.
Audience Questions & Answers
Q: [About the ambiguiuty of the Constitution, and whether it should change with the norms of society.]
O'CONNOR: The framers of the constitution never dreamed that it would last as long as it has. Do you know that our Constitution is the oldest that there is in the world today? That would have astonished them. And the reason is - I'll show you - here is the Constitution with the Declaration of Independence. [See photo above.] Basically that's simple enough that most Americans can read it and understand it for themselves. The framers did not intend that we look back at the notes of the Constitutional Convention. The language is very broad - it leaves some room for interpretation.
Q: What is the reticence of the court to being televised. CSPAN has done such a service. Why not the Court?
O'CONNOR: The court is probably the most open of the three branches of government because the Supreme Court is the only one that explains in detail everything that it does. You show me a Senator or a House member or a President that does that. If that isn't open, I don't know what it is.
Now, true, you didn't see it on your television, but is that so critical? Can you not read, or hear? [Proceedings are also broadcast on the radio.] The Justices have some concerns about being seen every day, about lawyers playing to the audience. They don't want to be media stars. They don't want the arguments tailored to the media rather than to the court itself. Everything we do is so documented. [Applause]
Doron Weber, Alfred P. Sloan Foundation: Could you share your thoughts on your role in the 2000 election?
O'CONNOR: I will tell you, nothing the Courts decided changed the voting in Florida. There were three recounts, and in none of those recounts would the end result of the vote for Bush in those counties have changed. So, regardless of the Court's decision, the result would have been the same. The Court's decision was probably not the Court's best effort. Looking back, it could have been explained better than it was.
Photo by Yunghi Kim
Saving the world in three minutes....
First session of the day, and the main tent - a glowing sea of Aeron chairs and flat screen monitors - is packed. Bloggers arrayed in the last row.
Fortune Managing Editor Eric Pooley welcomes the crowd and passes the baton to Aspen Institute president Walter Isaacson who in turn passes the mike to David Kirkpatrick, the closest thing this event has to an M.C.
Kirkpatrick in sandals takes over, toting a Seagull calling device that acts as a "speaker gong," and introduces the first of four three minute speeches.
First up is Seth Berkley of the International AIDS Vaccine Initiative who more or less says our approach to AIDS is still woefully inadequate and mired in "short term thinking," despite the fact that this is now the "worst epidemic since the 14th century." Berkley makes the point that in "in a flat world, infectious diseases are all of our problems."
Next comes John Doerr, General Partner of Kleiner, Perkins, Caufield and Byers. Doerr, one of the world's most charmed venture capitalists, is here to talk about energy independence. Solving these problems, he says, "should be our generation's Apollo moonshot." Doerr thinks the debate suffers from too many rigid preconceptions, and activists overly-wedded to their positions. He then manages to fires off a few nice sound bites: "Technology optimists," he says, suffer from an "innovator's delusion," and he then suggests that a recent GM "gas subsidy" promotion should be called "No SUV left behind." The dismount? "Green tech is the mother of all markets. It is the economic, geopolictial and moral imperative of the 21st century."
Then comes Nabil Fahmy, the Egyptian Ambassador to the United States whose presentation is simple: the pressing problem in the Middle East is not war or violence, but lack of jobs. The Middle East needs to creat good jobs, says Fahmy, and he's looking to the West for help: "My proposal to you is, We live in a global society. Our success or failure will affect you. We need your help."
Mellody Hobson, of Ariel Capital Management took her minutes to lay down a contrarian attack on 401K plans. Americans aren't saving enough for retirement, she said, and the 401K is not a panacea. "The American working class is being put in the driver's seat," she said. "But they never got driver's ed." Bottom line: "My take on this unfolding pension crisis is that unless government takes meaningful steps, we may not pay now but we are certain to pay later."
Last up was Gary Flake, Technical Fellow at Microsoft who won the crowd over by beating up on Public Enemy #1 around here today: United Airlines. (Lots of griping following missed Denver to Aspen flights.) But Flake's message was simply that the top priority must be education. The U.S. educational system, he said, is in a "sorry state," and that "all the other problems hinge on having more education, and better education available." From there Flake, formerly a Yahoo biggie, managed to work his way around to a rather sweeping statement of the power of the Internet to solve some of our educational woes, saying "We will reach the full potential of the Internet when the bulk of human knowledege is online," and further that "humanity will only reach its full potential when humanity has this resource available."
Photo by Yunghi Kim
And they're off
Things are just about to get going at FORTUNE's fifth Brainstorm conference. A lot of people are milling around the Aspen Institute grounds. I'm here early mainly because I want to be first in line for brunch. Others have more elevated reasons, I'm sure.
So who's around? Levin Zhu, head of the Chinese investment bank CICC and son of former premier Zhu Rongji, was just standing next to me talking about his travel misadventures with similarly delayed Star TV boss Michelle Guthrie. This is a major theme here. So why do we hold the conference in a place that's so hard to get to? I guess so people don't leave early. Plus, it's kinda nice here.
Former Supreme Court Justice Sandra Day O'Connor has been sighted searching for former Time Inc. editor in chief Norm Pearlstine, who is supposed to interview her on stage in an hour or so. Venture capitalist John Doerr and Aspen Institite chief (and presumed future Secretary of Something) Walter Isaacson have been striding around purposefully with a several bright young things with clipboards in tow. And, well, enough of that ... food's being served in six minutes.
You can take the man out of China....
...but you can't take China out of the man.
On the morning hike to the Maroon Bells National Forest, FORTUNE Asia Editor Clay Chandler had a brainstorm of sorts. Gazing at a pristine mountain stream, with mule deer on the horizon, against a crystal blue sky, he looked at the water and said, "In China, they'd see this and try to figure out how to dam it and build a factory."
MORE TALES FROM THE BELLS
----Former Supreme Court Justice Sandra Day O'Connor used to lead aerobics classes at the court. She showed in Aspen that she is still pretty fit. As the dozens of would-be hikers wondered how to split up, the Supreme spoke up, "Why don't we have a fast group?" And off she marched.
---OVERHEARD: One guide after his hike: "Well, my group was pretty good. I had a Supreme Court Justice."
His associate replied, "Not bad, once I had Lindsay Lohan."
Photo by Yunghi Kim
Joi Ito, online diplomat
The original Brainstorm blogger was Joichi Ito. The Tokyo-based blogger/investor (blinvestor?) has been coming to the conference in Aspen since 2002 and faithfully recording his impressions. He will presumably be doing the same this year, although he is no longer quite as dauntingly frequent a poster as back in the day.
Ito is a phenomenon, a man who seems to not just know but be friends with an insane agglomeration of interesting people. (He was even buddies with Timothy Leary!) Faithful Malcom Gladwell readers will know him as a "Lois Weisberg type."
I finally met the great man at the Asia dinner referenced below last night. During our conversation, he told a fascinating story about a blog post he wrote back in April 2005. It was the time of the big protests in China against the depictions in new Japanese textbooks of the Japanese occupation of China. Ito's post was a thoughtful little essay about how Japanese educators did in fact misrepresent the Japanese army's behavior in World War II, but that if the Chinese wanted to change this they were going about it all wrong.
Nothing particularly earthshaking or groundbreaking there, but it started a cascade of comments (which can be read at the same place as Ito's post) from readers. Some of the commenters were Japanese, some were Chinese, and a lot were neither. Their discussion was at times heated, but never uncivil. (Ito's regular and calming presence among the commenters surely played a role in that.) By the end it amounted to a remarkably thoughtful and honest take on where things stand between Japan and China, something that is almost impossible to find in either the Japanese or the Chinese media.
Now the comments were all in English, which meant that only a tiny minority in Japan and China could follow along. But now Ito says they are being translated into Japanese, to be published in book form. I'm not holding my breath waiting on a Chinese translation, of course, but what a cool accomplishment.
Asian Brainstormers feast
Time Inc. Group Publisher Michael Federle said last night that the 2007 Fortune Global Forum will be held next year in New Delhi, India in late October. The announcement came at a private dinner in a room at Aspen's Matsuhisa restaurant. Federle joined Fortune International Editor Robert Friedman and Asian Bureau Chief Clay Chandler to welcome Brainstormers from across Asia. It was the first Asia-specific welcome in Brainstorm's history, and nobody will claim that there wasn't sufficient food and drink to mark the occasion. (Note to HQ: please add Nobu Matsuhisa to the 2008 Brainstorm invite list.)
Guest David Li, Director of the Center for China in the World Economy at the prestigious Tsinghua University, spent the previous night 'riding' an airport chaise following a missed connection. Possibly even less fortunate in that regard were a half dozen or so Japanese execs, including Airbus Japan CEO Glen Fukushima, who ran into their own connection troubles in Denver and thus were plodding into the mountains in a rented van as the rest sipped premium sake from tiny bamboo cups....
Star-studded Fortune Brainstorm conference goes on the record
Fortune Brainstorm 2006 is underway, and it will be coming to you live right here through Friday afternoon. Fortune Brainstorm what, you say? Well, this is Fortune's every-other-year event wherein we, the Fortune editorial staff, get to invite 300 or so of the people we're most impressed by to come spend a week talking, eating, drinking, and hiking at the Aspen Institute. Think Sandra Day O'Connor, Lance Armstrong, and Chris DeWolfe (the founder of MySpace) -- and then throw in a few dozen Fortune 500 CEOs. Take our word for it: the list goes on. And on. We've got the President of MTV and the CEO of the Blackstone Group. Silicon Valley is in the house (Doerr, Gross, Khosla) as are biggies from China and India and some of the leading lights of the environmental movement. Get the picture? This week, at least, we've got the name dropping game in the bag. But, seriously, the point is not to preen, but rather to generate a few ideas that might be helpful to someone, somewhere -- hopefully to many people in many places.
The stated theme of the gathering is "connectivity," which is sufficiently broad to allow people to talk about pretty much anything, but narrow enough to get the conversation started. It also gives some of us an excuse (read: air cover) to blog the event. Even an old media shop like ours has figured out that we can't be talking about connectivity in this day and age without somehow digging up a blog. So we plan to bring you the most important and the juiciest of bits from the meetings, even as we bicker over exactly how "on the record" we should be. We certainly don't want the prospect of an over-active blog to put a chill on the open conversation that has been a trademark of past Brainstorms. Then again, if we see the Grand Mufti of Bosnia lunching with Shimon Peres and John McCain, well, we think the rest of the world might be interested. And we'd like to hear from you on the subject.
So, stay tuned: over the next 72 hours a handful of the Fortune editorial staff -- some old school print types, some new media junkies -- will be reporting live from Aspen via this page. We hope it will make for an interesting conversation.
Welcome to the Fortune Brainstorm 2006 Blog.
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