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A global thought summit? I don't think so

September 09, 2006|Rob Long | ROB LONG, whose weekly commentary "Martini Shots" airs on KCRW-FM (89.9), is a contributing editor to National Review.

Like all well-adjusted people, I keep a running list in my head of the organizations, corporations and individuals I am angry at and/or feuding with. Nurturing and sculpting this list, taking time each day to devise new paths to ultimate vengeance and writing and rewriting my quietly dignified victory speech is, I have found, the key to a healthy, balanced life.So it is with great sadness that I must add to this list the organizers and participants of something called the "Table of Free Voices," which is taking place in Berlin this very day. The event is being described as a kind of global thought summit. About 100 people -- filmmakers such as Terry Gilliam and Wim Wenders; artists such as Robbie Conal, the guerrilla poster guy; Willem Dafoe; Bianca Jagger; and a lot of people with hard-to-spell names from complicated organizations, like Hafsat Abiola, the founder of the Kudirat Initiative for Democracy, and Donato Bayu Bay Bumacas, executive director of the Kalinga Mission for Indigenous Children and Youth Development of the Philippines -- are gathering to, you know, talk and stuff.

According to "dropping knowledge," the outfit responsible for the event -- and no, I didn't forget the capital letters, they did -- it's going to be a one-day talk fest. "Each dignitary," says the press release, referring, I guess, to dignitaries like Gilliam and Conal, "seated at the Table of Free Voices will have three minutes to articulate their thoughts on each of the 100 questions submitted through the 'What's Your Question?' campaign. They have the option to answer in any language they like."

I may not know anything about "dropping knowledge," but before senior year in high school, when I became an expert in "dropping math," I knew that 100 participants -- excuse me, dignitaries -- and 100 questions means 10,000 answers, which, at three minutes an answer (in any language they like, so add a minute or two if it's French), adds up to a sprightly 30,000-minute event. Or, to put it another way, a brisk 500 hours of Wim Wenders and Robbie Conal and Donato Bayu Bay Bumacas and Bianca Jagger and Laurie Anderson, with a special appearance by Die Fantastischen Vier, who I happen to know are German hip-hop pioneers. Is it just me or does this sound like fun?

It is inexcusable that I have not been invited to sit at the Table of Free Voices. And for that reason, unfortunately, I must add the entire enterprise and its associated entities to my Dark List.

The weird thing is, it's not like we haven't heard from most of these people before, right? I actually saw "The Adventures of Baron Munchausen" in the theater, so that's about 500 hours of Gilliam right there. As a resident of Los Angeles, I'm pretty clear on where Conal stands on the issues. I'm not sure I need more time to savor his subtleties.

And people who run NGOs, on the whole, tend to be thoughtful but not terribly strict about the three-minute rule, so that although I'd sort of like to know what, say, a Hafsat Abiola or a Donato Bayu Bay Bumacas thinks about Paris Hilton, I'm pretty sure that question isn't going to be asked. Instead, I think there are going to be a lot of questions such as these, from the dropping knowledge website: "When will we learn that all problems start with our own individual egotistic habits?" And: "Warum mussen Politiker wie Kohl, Muller, Schroder und Rexroth sich nicht wegen Korruption verantworten?" I'd like to hear Bianca Jagger tackle that one, please.

Oh, and I almost forgot: Cindy Sheehan is going to be there too. I wonder what her take is on things?

By now, you understand why I'm so angry. I have so many thoughts and feelings and impressions to share, and 500 hours just might do it, especially if Laurie Anderson can put a sock in it for five freaking minutes. Also, I think I bring an outside-the-box thought process to things like this. For instance, although I suppose questions such as "What do we do against poverty in Third World countries?" are boilerplate, give me a few minutes with Google and I can tell you how Cornel West is going to fill his three minutes. But I'd like Jagger to answer this one: "How much money do you have, liquid?" And I'd like Willem Dafoe to tell me whether, if we can get the right script, he would do half-hour television?

My feeling is that I have been deliberately excluded from the event because my thoughts on things like egotism and Korruption aren't well known -- or, at least, not as well known as the feelings of Die Fantastischen Vier -- and haven't been pre-approved by the gang at dropping knowledge. That, and my well-known penchant for asking truly difficult questions ("Is the market softening, or is it a case of too-aggressive pricing in certain Westside neighborhoods?"). And for those reasons, there is no place at the Table of Free Voices for this cat. Excuse me, dignitary.

Please, do not participate in this event. Do not submit questions via the Web, and do not hop Lufthansa Flight 453 to catch it in person. Again: I urge you to boycott this event, either in person or via the Web, until I am included at the Table of Free Voices. Unless, of course, by "free" voices they mean "uncompensated." In which case, forget it. I'm busy anyway.

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