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City of Ideas keeps overlooking me

Marvin West

Cathedral in the city of Puebla
© Rick Meyer, 1996
View of the Cathedral in the city of Puebla
© Rick Meyer, 1996

Great intellectuals of the world have been talking for seven years about making things better. You can see how that has turned out.

They assemble each November in Mexico, in Pubela, to empower a large paying audience and others with innovative ideas in science, technology, art, design, politics, education, culture, business, entertainment and other areas of very important knowledge.

The City of Ideas, a three-day session, has brought in more than 200 speakers. For some strange reason, I have not been invited.

I know a lot. I have lived a long time, more than 80 years. I have a treasured degree in business and journalism and an advanced degree in experience. I have been a lot of places and seen some interesting sites and sights. I have debated Pentagon colonels, visited in the home of the richest man in Korea and had dinner with the king of Norway.

What's more, I once coached a Little League baseball team to 54 consecutive victories. Give that some thought.

Readers and listeners say I am a very good story teller.

I could provide balance. Best I can tell, the City of Ideas has never featured a conservative East Tennessean named West who lives at the west end of Lake Chapala.

Even without me or Peyton Manning or Vince Vawter or George Bush, these thinking seminars have merit.

First of all, Pubela is an okay place, considering how close it is to the confusion of Mexico City. It goes back to 1532. It is nestled among volcanoes, north of a straight line between Acapulco and Veracruz. It is famous for Talavera tile, religious structures and Cinco de Mayo.

La Ciudad de las Ideas is the brainchild of Andres Isaac Roemer Slomianski. This guy is even more impressive than me. He is an academic, an attorney, economist, author of 16 books, playwright, political analyst, TV show host and Mexico's consul general in San Francisco.

Roemer, 50, grew up in Mexico City as the Jewish Mexican grandson of Viennese orchestra conductor Ernesto Roemer, an escapee from the Nazis of World War II.

This Roemer is distantly related to the American humorist Art Buchwald. This Roemer has a resume of international honors that puts him very near the head of the class. He is considered an opinion leader in political, social, economic and cultural matters.

I do believe he is driven by an energetic, endless search for the "dangerous ideas" that create change.

Project pesos come from Ricardo Salinas Pliego of TV Azteca.

During my absence, the City of Ideas has presented Nobel Prize winners Jerome Isaac Friedman, Mario J. Molina, Jody Williams, Daniel Kahneman, Paul Krugman and Iranian Shirin Ebadi, honored for peace.

It has offered commentary from Robert Sapolsky, Eduard Punset, Clotaire Rapaille, Tim Berners-Lee, David Buss, Michael Shermer, Craig Venter and Randi Zuckerberg.

It has had Oscar nominees Adame Pesapane and Oliver Stone. It featured an inspirational message from swimmer Mark Spitz about breaking records.

Peter Diamandis, engineer, physician and entrepreneur, founder and chairman of the X PRIZE Foundation, was one of the speakers.

Louann Brizendine, neuropsychiatrist, director of the Women's Mood and Hormone Clinic, had her say. Steven Pinker, Harvard professor of psychology, was very enlightening.

There has been some heavy lifting. William Lane Craig and infamous atheist Richard Dawkins squared off in a debate, "Does the Universe Have a Purpose?"

A dynamic, young rabbi from Los Angeles named David Wolpe jumped in and was very persuasive on the YES side.

Economist, author and former U.S. Secretary of Labor Robert Reich talked about how much money is enough. Former U.S. poet laureate Billy Collins had a more cultured subject. Canadian Nicole Ticea, creator of a new HIV testing process, shared insight.

My favorite theme was 2012, the magic of if.

Through the years, the brain has been discussed as it relates to rational versus irrational thinking, to crimes against logic, to creativity, good and evil, depression, morality, guilt, defiance, memory, even gluttony.

Psychology has dealt with the power of a smile, why women have sex, dangerous optimism, deception, kissing, introverts, consumerism, lie detection, American life, justice, single women and why do we make mistakes.

One of my adopted heroes is Sanjit Bunker Roy, 69, of West Bengal, India. He is the founder of what is now called Barefoot College, an educational concept that helps rural communities becomes self-sufficient.

He and it have successfully trained illiterate grandmothers to become solar electricity engineers, able to fire up poor and remote villages with solar panels they have learned to manufacture and maintain.

Bunker established the Social Work and Research Center in 1972 to switch India's concern with water and irrigation to empowerment and sustainability. The programs focused on placing water pumps near villages and training the locals to maintain them. It trained paramedics for local medical treatment. It promoted solar power to decrease dependence on kerosene lighting.

Bunker nurtured a grass-roots social entrepreneurship that redefined how his world thought about fighting poverty.

At the City of Ideas, Bunker told about Barefoot College concepts designed to make poor students feel better about side-by-side schooling with the elite. Dirt floors and no chairs are equalizers.

Barefoot has supposedly trained more than 3 million people to go home and use their new skills as teachers, midwives, weavers, architects, doctors and solar engineers.

He talked of combining humanitarianism, entrepreneurship and education to help point people up from poverty with side benefits of dignity and self-determination.

He received a standing ovation from 3500.

That is the audience each year. By design, it is about half from the 18 to 25 age group. Those who got in at the beginning retain the right to purchase tickets. There is a waiting list and more information at www.ciudaddelasideas.com.

The City of Ideas supposedly reaches 14 million people on television and the Internet. The stated goal is "celebrate humanity" while urging all to exercise intellectual muscles and question what you think.

I am prepared when asked to participate. I shall discuss the wonderful, awful difference in winning and losing.

The great philosophical journalist Grantland Rice once wrote that it didn't really matter whether you won or lost, it was how you played the game.

My response: If winning doesn't matter, why do we have scoreboards?

Published or Updated on: January 4, 2015 by Marvin West © 2015
Contact Marvin West

Marvin West, mostly retired after just 42 years with Scripps Howard newspapers, is senior partner in an international communications consulting company. This column is from his forthcoming book, “Mexico? What you doing in Mexico?”  West invites reader reaction; his address is westwest6@netzero.com.
 

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