02.08.01 - 11:38 a.m.
sun, mon, tues: conference in palo alto
so this was focused on various aspects of globalization. as irritated girl from elio's party pointed out, that word is largely meaningless. but it will have to do. there were various 30 minute panels on topics such as "health", "prospects for democracy", "economics", "latin america", etc. the whole thing turned out to be entertaining but not exactly rigorous or hardcore. for one thing, EVERYONE there was ancient. no joke, the average age was probably about 65. panels kept getting cancelled cos speakers had just had a heart attack or died or broken a hip. most of the conference attendees were friends of the guy organizing the conference. the panels were put together very haphazardly and the quality of the speakers varied wildly. there were a few smart, hardcore folks and a huge array of boring people who didn't seem to know why they were there or what they were doing.
in spite of the lack of quality, jenny & i had a pretty good time. we ended up categorizing the speakers into four (loony) bins:
1) PEOPLE WHO WERE IN SOME WAY INTERESTING OR THOUGHT PROVOKING.
this was by far the smallest group, even though we cast the net very broadly. one guy had some interesting ideas about reforming the UN, making it democratic / more representative. he pointed out how silly it is that the countries that run the UN are essentially the countries that won a war 60 years ago. Also there were good talks about global warming (scientific consensus is now overwhelming, this is a real phenomenon) and democracy in China (not what China really needs), the conflict between electoral democracy and human rights (which are essentially autocratic and don't necessarily mesh with the concept of majority rule), and the turbulent political situation in indonesia.
2) PEOPLE WHO WERE COO-COO FOR COCOA PUFFS AND THUS, FUNNY.
one guy gave a long, querulous speech on how global warming is actually a good thing because "people enjoy warmer weather". a sour woman (wearing an unfortunate puke green jacket) introduced herself as president of a group called "Californians for Population Stabilization". she ranted for about 40 mins about how way too many mexicans were crossing the border into the US, and how mexicans are very fertile and they're sullying the composition of U.S. cities and turning california into upper mexico. we were just waiting for her to start fulminating about the Filthy Irish and Heathen Chinamen Coolies. it was sort of sobering to see that paranoid obsession with racial purity and xenophobia is alive and well. kind of depressing, since history repeats itself over and over and over...
3) BLACK HOLES.
these were people so incredibly, unbelievably boring that after they finished, you couldn't remember a single word they said. it was as though they were black holes, emitting a powerful attractive force that no idea or concept could escape. one chilean guy in particular gave an epic droning speech, ostensibly on "the internet", and I swear to god every single person in the room was eventually somnolent. (this was a pattern to be repeated throughout the conference-- when you have a room full of 70 year olds, some napping is bound to occur. forget boring speakers, you couldn't keep these people awake if you threw them into a cage full of lions)
4) PEOPLE WHO WERE TOTALLY IRRELEVANT.
this was a very common occurrence. someone would get up and give a talk that was utterly unrelated to globalization & whatever the current focus was. at times it resembled play time at a nursery home, with total chaos, people shuffling around randomly in the conference room while ronald hilton (the decrepit organizer) kept muttering "listen up! can we please listen up!"
not everybody there was out of it though. jenny & i buttonholed this shell oil executive who'd given a presentation ("Shell: Godlike Corporate Benefactor, or Merciful Transnational Savior?") extolling the company's virtues. he at least had a sense of humor. early on he told everyone, "now you can go out and tell your friends, i met an oilman, and he didn't have horns!" we talked to him for a while about ken saro-wiwa and shell's horrible reputation. i asked him what he thought about shell's behavior in nigeria and he said it was a case of bad PR. he didn't feel shell had done anything wrong, just that they hadn't approached the PR correctly. i'll save you my ranting about why this is bullshit, but it is. later jenny & i talked about the notion of the "banality of evil", hannah arendt or whoever it was who first said that. it's true. pleasant, affable men in nice suits make most of the decisions that cause pain & suffering & injustice in the world. there are few idi amins, many george w's.
so finally this brings us to weds, and tomorrow i'm off to vegas. going back home for the weekend. a. is coming with me, which will be interesting. i hope we have a good time.
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