Aspen Ideas Festival: Reporters Notebook |

Aspen Ideas Festival: Reporters Notebook

Aspen Institute President and CEO Walter Isaacson, left, had an interesting session Sunday with Larry Brilliant on Sunday to close out the Spotlight Health portion of Aspen Ideas.
Dan Bayer / Aspen Institute courtesy photo |

It’s not often that a medical conference can produce an interview that is entertaining, inspiring and fascinating, packed into just 20 minutes or so.

Aspen Institute President and CEO Walter Isaacson’s interview with Larry Brilliant on Sunday left some audience members awestruck. It was part of the closing session on the Spotlight Health portion of Aspen Ideas.

Brilliant described his friendship with hippie icon Wavy Gravy; his movie role as a doctor in a tribe of hippies who followed the Grateful Dead, Jefferson Airplane and Jethro Tull cross country; and his quest to find the meaning of life at a Himalayan ashram.

Brilliant said Neem Karoli Baba, a Hindu sage, eventually advised him to go out and eradicate smallpox. So that’s exactly what he did. Brilliant was part of the World Health Organization team that eradicated smallpox by 1980. His list of accomplishments is astounding.

Brilliant had a presence that made his inspirational advice come across as heartfelt rather than corny. He advised several hundred in the audience to keep in mind that we don’t always see ourselves the way others see us. It’s impossible.

“Everybody sees who you really are, so be good and kind,” he said.

Brilliant recently released his memoir, “Sometimes Brilliant.” If his conversation with Isaacson was any indication, it’s a great read.

• The opioid crisis in America was one topic of focus in Spotlight Health over the weekend. It was clear that it’s going to take millions, if not billions, of dollars to help people overcome addiction and get ongoing treatment.

Jackie Judd of PBS noted in a session Friday that the senate Republican’s health care bill earmarks $2 billion for opioid treatment. Tom Price, head of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, said proudly in an interview Sunday that President Trump’s budget proposal calls for $611 million for opioid treatment.

That’s a huge gulf that will have to be reconciled in one of the scores of stories behind the story of the budget.

Just how far has Black America come since Martin Luther King’s assassination in 1968?

To author and African-American historian and filmmaker Henry Louis Gates Jr., one statistic that would disturb King comes from America’s prison system.

One in every three black males will spend time behind bars, compared with 1 in every 17 white males, Gates Jr. noted in a Monday conversation with Isaacson at Paepcke Auditorium.

“Thirty-three percent of the prison population is comprised of black males,” he said. “One in three will go to jail. That’s horrible. … King would have had a heart attack over that.”

• Conservative commentator Bill Kristol, founder and editor at large of The Weekly Standard, reported in an email blast Monday what many travelers to Aspen already know: It can be a pain to get here.

Kristol wrote that his flight from Denver to Aspen on Sunday was on track to land on time but high winds forced him back to the state’s capitol.

“But it all worked out,” Kristol wrote. “Four of us who were on the flight rented a car at the Denver airport, United was able to get our checked bags pretty quickly, and we actually had a very scenic and pleasant drive through the mountains, arriving in Aspen at a still-civilized hour. ‘Dinner’ was obtained at a convenience store, but a superior one, as you’d expect on the road to Aspen. And my friend who was driving resisted the temptation to buy some legalized marijuana.”

Kristol also reported that he looks forward to engaging the Aspen audiences, “Who will assume that because I’m anti-Trump I’m ‘reasonable’ on other issues. It will be fun to surprise them — and to have a chance to talk to some other presenters and guests about this unusual political moment.”

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