01 November 2010


BRILLIANT IDEAS. Many of us are familiar with the genesis of our usage of the expression "Eureka!" -- the word which the Greek scholar Archimedes exclaimed aloud "when he stepped into a bath and noticed that the water level rose. He suddenly understood that the volume of water displaced must be equal to the volume of the part of his body he had submerged. This meant that the volume of irregular objects could be measured with precision, a previously intractable problem. He is said to have been so eager to share his realization that he leapt out of his bathtub and ran through the streets of Syracuse naked."

Science writer Steven Johnson might beg to differ with the "suddenly" part of the anecdote. In his book Where Good Ideas Come From: The Natural History of Innovation, Johnson asserts that "as in nature, new concepts (like the Internet) slowly grow out of old concepts. They don't spring forth from nowhere." In a lively interview with Michael Humphrey, Johnson fields questions about epiphanies, individual inspiration, hive minds, staff meetings, corporate innovation strategies, and universities. Bottom line: we are best served when we surround ourselves with rich, diverse networks of other individuals, drawing upon differing perspectives to generate better, sharper, more original ideas.

Louis Pasteur observed, "Fortune favors the prepared mind." Preparation includes not only education, but interconnection.

OBAMA. On the eve of the U.S. 2010 midterm elections, I bring to the gentle reader's attention an article by Nicholas D. Kristof, titled Give Obama A Break. Kristof's disappointments in the Obama Administration over the past two years fairly closely mirror my own -- prominent among them our continuing military presence in Afghanistan. But that issue does not weigh nearly so heavily upon the minds of voters as prominent domestic issues like the economic crisis, high unemployment, health care or the future of Social Security. On these fronts (as I've noted more than once), Obama inherited the legacy of thirty years of regressive, destructive Republican policies which drove our economy to the brink of extinction. One president simply cannot reverse, much less heal, so much damage in two years, or even eight years -- particularly when dealing with obstructionist conservative members of Congress who place forcing Obama to fail ahead of the good of the people. As Bill Clinton put it during a recent interview, "I'd like to see any of you get behind a locomotive going straight downhill at 200 miles an hour and stop it in 10 seconds."

Ironically, if (as appears likely) the Republican Party, complete with Tea Party nut cases, gains control of the House of Representatives in tomorrow's elections, they will have run out of excuses for not putting forth meaningful solutions to our nation's ills. Trotting out the same old tired proposals ("cut taxes," "cut spending," "deregulate corporate behavior," "let the free market work," ad nauseam) will not cut it. It is precisely that questionable philosophy (with apologies to philosophers everywhere) which got us into this mess in the first place.

So yes, let's give Obama and the Democrats and Independents in Congress a chance -- not merely for two more years, but for six more years, and then eight after that. Only then can we say that we gave them a reasonable chance to set things right.

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