Some observations from the Milken Conference out here in Hollywood:

  • Yesterday, out of probably 2,000 attendees, I had the very strange honor of being the only person there wearing jeans. (What was a thinking?) I was like a flounder in a sea of Versace clad business sharks. Talk about sticking out. Despite my dapper sports coat, I’m sure the conference security thought I was a gate crasher. (Note: Liz Lawley, who I’m on the panel with today, had some similar fashion concerns, but she was much more appropriately attired than I.) I’ll have nicer pants on today…promise.
  • If you don’t think the elite business world is “ubiquitously connected,” think again. I talked to two suits at lunch who expressed near suicidal panic at the thought of their Blackberrys being deactivated by that legal battle a couple of weeks ago. I cannot put into words what a strange vibe this conference has, and how totally, different it is from the education types I usually hang around with.
  • So I’m in the conference book store, looking at a book on writing by one of my favorite authors Mary Pipher (she even has a section, albeit thin, on blogging), when another browser says “s’cuse me” and I look up to see former senator and presidentail candidate Gary Hart about 18 inches away from my face. Later, Andre Aggassi strolled by. (He’s taller in person.) Ah, fame…
  • I got a chance to spend a bit of time with George Seimens who is also on the panel (and also blogging the conference.) We talked about the “power” factor and how much of a different feel this has. Looking forward to getting more of a chance to talk to him today.
  • I went to an education panel titled “Ensuring America’s Success in Education” which was, on the whole, dissapointing. It was obvious that most of the panelists had guzzled the “World is Flat” Kool Aid, but the ironic thing was that in the entire 80 minutes, the word technology was never mentioned. I mean, isn’t that the whole reason the world is flat? Most of the talk was about the need for early childhood education and the struggle to find science and math teachers. (There are a total of 16 people being trained to be physics teachers in Iowa and Ohio together according to the panelists.) There was an intersting thread about how the people we really need to educate to get to school reform is the parents. (Liz does a much better job of detailing this session.)
  • And if you think we’ve got issues in education, you should have gone to the panel titled “Not If, But When: The Economic Impact of the Coming Flu Pandemic.” Let’s just say that according to the panelists, if the flu hits any time soon, we’re pretty much up the creek. I mean seriously up the creek. Long term power outages. Bodies piling up. No way to communicate. I heard one conference goer say “Well, good thing I was a Boy Scout, own a gun, and have a cabin up in Wisconsin.” Oy.
  • Finally, the luncheon session featured Michael Milken moderating a panel of Nobel Laureates in Economics. The topics were equally depressing…global warming, problems with health care, etc. What struck me was how wedded one of the panelists, Gary Becker, was to technological determinism. Want to solve global warming? Don’t conserve, just create the technology to suck the CO2 out of the atmosphere? Problems with obesity? Heck, just create a pill that will make obesity less dangerous. There was some push back, but not a lot.

On the whole, aside from meeting George and Liz and being able to sit on the panel today, the out-of-touchedness I’m feeling with this group is wholly unsettling (flu pandemic nonwithdstanding.) I’m going to be really interested to see if a) anyone shows up at our panel today, b) if they do show up if they’ll stay once we start talking, and c) whether there will be any relevant discussion from the audience.

(BTW, George has set up a SuprGlu page to aggregate some of the conference blogging.)