Thursday, April 12, 2001

The Conference on World Affairs

Silicon Alley may have the beautiful historic Flatiron Building, but Boulder, Colorado has the Flatirons--an entire mountain range with this name and featuring dramatic flat fronts resembling irons. With the Flatirons and the Rocky Mountain Range as the stunning backdrop, the University of Colorado, in Boulder is idyllically situated. Boulder's quaintness comes from a few sources-it's a classic college town and a classic skiing town.

And fifty-three years ago, just two years after the United Nations was founded, Howard Higman began this conference to bring together intellectually stimulating people from diverse backgrounds to convene, converse and get out-of-the-box with their contributions for panels equally as diverse. From April 8th to the 13th, for one luxurious week, the University invites about 100 amazing people from around the world to speak on panels as diverse as the world we come from. All participants come to Boulder on their own dime, but enjoy the added benefit of getting to stay with a local resident involved with the conference, and it's usually in one of the more impressive homes in town.

Some of the topics ranged from Arts and Literature ("Mesoamerican Literature of Resistance: Then and Now" and "Science and Technology Go to the Movies") to Business ("Palm Pilot Society: Information as Umbilical Cord" and "The Race to Incarcerate: The Business of Prisons") to Health and Medicine ("AIDS in Africa" and From Aspirin to Zoloft: The Highs and Lows of Self-Medication") to International Affairs ("Leaders in Lederhosen: Germany's Growing Influence" and Child Warriors: Kids on the Front Lines") to Popular Culture ("KidNapster" and "The Cult of Oprah: Spirituality on TV" to Super Bowl: The Bawdy Centerpiece of American Sports").

Many times, participants are placed on panels out of their realm of expertise or perhaps know nothing about. This strategy ensures a lively dialogue for the speaker, other participants and audience alike since the topic will be discussed from a very fresh perspective. Oftentimes debates start up. Sometimes there are even fireworks. What a relief from the years of industry introspection and shill-keynotes so many of us have encountered in the dot-com conference route.

It takes a special kind of person who can talk outside-the-box and extemporaneously for 10-12 minutes on a minimum of two different panels a day. Some of the more noted and long-time attendees are Roger Ebert, who's entertained attendees with his panels on "Dark Days for Documentaries in America," "West Wing: Civics for the Masses," "How to Tell a Joke" and the "Happy Fun Sex Panel." David and Don Grusin, academy award-winning musical soundtrack and world-renowned musicians also hosted plenary panels on "Song Writing 101: Song Making and Remaking," "The Sociological Phenomenon: Music and Behavior" and "Culture War: Sound-Bite Society Versus Classical Arts." As UC graduates, their loyalty to Boulder, the school and this conference is great. The music hall is even named after them, for a significant donation they made to the school.

Noted actor, writer, radio host, speaker and consultant Terrance McNally participated on a number of panels ranging from Choose and Lose: "Voter Apathy in the MTV Generation" to "Blaming Hollywood" to "Hardball or Fluff: Political Talk Shows." His co-author on the book "Kava: Nature's Answer to Stress, Anxiety, and Insomnia" who was also at the Conference.

I was honored to share the stage with Chemonics Global Division manager Joanne A. Adams, Advisory Council on Children's Rights to the Secretary-General of the Commonwealth, Gloucestershire, England Chairman Joan Higman Davies and NASA Astrophysicist Barbara Thompson on the "When Women Rule the World" panel and then later in the day with futurist, author, and Global Business Network consultant Nancy Ramsey and writer, performer and co-owner of a corporate entertainment firm Sally Fay. Sally also performed later on Tuesday, April 10th along with the Grusin brothers, David Amram, Nelson Rangell, Ricardo Silveira and Claudio Slon. Independent scholar, writer and atomic bomb expert Mary Palevsky, Math/Science Integrated Curricula teacher and consultant Vic Selby and founder and director of the University of North Carolina's MetaLab (among other titles) Paul Jones discussed Techno-Morality to a class of engineering students and other attendees. I got to spend many enjoyable panels with Paul--including one on the Palm Pilot Society with geek columnist for The Chicago Sun-Times and Macworld Magazine Andy Inatko and professor of Surfing, Yahoo! and Stanford University philosophy and cognitive science, Paul Skokowski.

Suzanne Lainson - our Denver correspondent organized many an impressive panel in the business track. Dr. Leonard Shlain, Laparoscopic surgery-invention fame and author of "Art & Physics: Parallel Visions in Space, Time, and Light" and "The Alphabet Versus The Goddess: The Conflict Between Word and Image " spoke on a range of panels like "If You're Menstruating, You're Too Thin," "Techie Takeover: When Geeks Inherit the Earth" and "Criminal Minds." Noted Freelance journalist (The Trenton Times and Village Voice) David Finkle, Nobel Prize winner Eric Kandel, Sports Illustrated senior writer Bill Nack and Andres Investments president and founder of The Andres Art Institute Paul Andres were also among the thought-provoking speakers. Noted book author and Fort Worth Star-Telegram nationally syndicated columnist Molly Ivins spoke to SRO auditoriums-filled with interested students, town residents and other participants.

Local residents who I got to get to know over time were Bob McClendon, director of the Conference and the World Affairs Athenaeum Jim Palmer and the impressive co-chairs of the Jane Butcher and Juli Steinhaur. Student volunteers like Ramsey Thurber, Trey Lyons and Natalie Baker helped with organization and transporting participants between the conference, their homes and the parties.

Ah yes! The parties! No report would be complete without party-reportage! Each night the participants enjoyed a fabulous party at one of the amazing homes of the local residents. Sunday, April 8th we began at University of Colorado president Elizabeth Hoffman home where it was a grand reunion and meeting for all the guests. It was also on this night when Ms. Hoffman presented Bill and Claudia Coleman with plaque upon plaque of distinction from the Senate, the House and other government officials for their $250 million donation to the university. This is the largest donation ever made to a private institution and will be going towards developing a four-campus Coleman Institute for Cognitive Disabilities. Monday night, April 9th, we were all treated to a lovely reception at the Koenig Alumni Center, hosted by Chancellor Richard Byyny, M.D. Normally the parties are reserved fro just the participants, but Tuesday night Dean Peter Spear hosted a party at the University Club for the housers, participants and committee members. The "free night" on Wednesday filled up with various dinners and after parties and I took the opportunity to have one of my Cocktails with Courtney events in town.

As the week wore on, the parties became increasingly more extravagant. Thursday night's soiree, on April 12th was in the spectacular, sprawling home of Jane and Charlie Butcher, hosted by them, Edie Morris and Joyce and Rigomar. The final night, and the biggest party, hosted by James Palmer and Marsha and John Moritz, at their home.

With all these parties, fascinating panels and illustrious people circling around I felt a part of a special circle and circumstance. Sometimes it felt like camp and parting was with sweet sorrow as I bid adieu to the other participants and Boulder residents who I met over the week. Of course, a conference like this lives on in everyone who attended as we each bring our enriching experience back into our worlds with a fresh perspective.