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Who here thinks creativity is easy?

You’ve probably seen this ad in the past couple of days.  I really loved it, although I’m not sure who at Intel approved of it:

I know the guy who invented one of the most widely used anti-depressants in history.  The company that he worked for bought his patent for a buck and is reaping in billions every year- well, for the time being anyway.  And what did Morris get?  Well, other than a pretty nice bonus, he gets fan mail.  He get letters from people who thank him for saving them from the wreckage of their minds.  Now, some of you may scoff haughtily at the notion of an anti-depressant, assuming (wrongly) that most people who take them don’t need them.  I might agree that they are overprescribed but the thing is, if you are one of the people who can pull yourself together under their influence in a way you can’t do without them, you probably aren’t terribly interested in the superior minded folks who tell you that there’s nothing wrong with feeling that there’s no light at the end of the tunnel.  Ever.  For day after day, year after year.  Well, you get the picture.

Yeah, Morris gets fan mail.  I don’t know how these people tracked him down but they did.  He’s a rockstar.

Last week, Don Draper, the Creative Director of Mad Men’s Sterling-Cooper, told his protege that she wasn’t an artist, she solves problems.  Those of us who work in creative fields like processor design, drug design, even auto-mechanics, are problem solvers.

Those who work in the insurance industry and the finance industry are NOT problem solvers.  I think this point was lost on the folks at Planet Money recently.  Ya’know, back when the Financial Meltdown of 2008 was young, Planet Money was a great little podcast.  It explained how all of the moving pieces meshed together.  The few missteps in the beginning when Adam Davidson told us all not to get too mad at the bonus structure of the bailed out companies were naive but we could overlook them.  Then came that cringeworthy interview he had with Elizabeth Warren and it all started going rapidly downhill from there.  The latest stupidity has spread from Adam to Alex Blumberg.  God, I had such high hopes for him.  One of the recent podcasts extolling finance as the “geniuses” behind every new innovation that has made our lives better has really taken the shine off of him for me.

Oh, sure, the moneybags have financed a lot of good stuff but there have been plenty of things that never got off the ground or have been hopelessly stalled.  Take stem cell research for example.  I guess it depends on the religious mindset of who is actually holding the moneybags.  Or the fact that back in the 90’s, Apple nearly went out of business when all of the big corporations gave lifetime employment to the IT nazis when they bought PCs that ran nothing but Windows.  We are all going to be paying for that  non-diversification of the the desktop for a lifetime.  Or the fact that our financial wizards can not think beyond 3 months, which is forcing a lot of companies to merge, cut their workforces or get gobbled up by private equity.  Or the fact that so many small businesses can’t get loans because all of the bankers who Adam Davidson insists we just had to save are sitting on big piles of money because they refuse to divest themselves of their bad assets.  Yes! Let’s hear it for our financial braintrusts!

How frickin’ clueless can you get?  I’ll answer that: pretty clueless, especially if you’ve never seen real creation at work.  Some of our corporate overlords have this fantastic notion in their overblown egos that the companies they pilot would sink without their skills.  The R&D people make note of this all of the time.  Yes, we can be replaced by cheaper Ajay Bhatts in Hyderabad but real creativity doesn’t come by swapping out parts.  It takes a certain environment.  Malcolm Gladwell touched on this in his most recent book, Outliers, when he describes the characteristics of successful people.  Your native intelligence can only take you so far.  Other things have to come into play, like how effectively your family advocates for you at school, opportunity and location and something that most of us in America overlook- how hierarchically our society is structured.  It turns out that in highly hierarchical societies, creativity and problem solving is squelched, sometimes with disastrously fatal results.

The grumbling of the problem solvers is starting to make noise.  At least we, the R&D people are starting to hear it from each other.   A real resentment is starting to simmer about how the corporate people think their s%^& doesn’t smell because they don’t have to spend their days in the labs touching things with their hands.  Their salaries and bonuses match their egos.  The newest thing is a management development program where the trainer encourages the non-corporate types to use the same meaningless biz-speak jargon to communicate with the “people who have the money”.  See, if you use the latest trendy word combination, they are more likely to listen to what you have to say.  You put it in a context they can understand, even if the rest of your presentation is completely over their heads.  Someone tried to convince me the other day that this was a good idea.  It’s not.  There are studies that show that the more jargon a business uses, the more poorly run it is, a prediction made by Richard Mitchell, the Underground Grammarian in his book Less Than Words Can Say three decades ago.    I don’t think I have an obligation to contribute to my own demise.

I worry about a country that had a cornucopia of innovation in the past is now facing its biggest creative crisis.  This country is becoming more hierarchical all of the time while it is also becoming less able to cope with the demands of new technology and how to solve problems with it.  It doesn’t help that our nation’s teachers blame everyone but themselves for their poor preparation.  Yes, if we would only pay them better, they would learn this stuff like every other advanced industrialized nation’s teachers that use standardized testing.  Well, not to worry.  At the rate things are going, there will soon be a glut of highly educated future teachers on the market who will be fluent in advanced mathematics and science.  When the creative types finally lose their jobs because they can’t convince the “people who have the money” that solving problems is worth a damn, they can take a crack at the classroom for a little less money but summers off.

They might not have fan mail, but at least they’ll have a union.

Catch more on the battle of the creatives vs the hierarchy on Mad Men tonight at 10PM EST on AMC.

PS.  Thank someone who solves a problem for you tomorrow.  We need to start a movement.

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Your Breakfast Read, Sunday Edition

Edward M. Kennedy: The Final Journey

“Sail on my friend, sail on.” John Kerry
Kennedy laid to rest at Arlington, beside brothers

Sen. Edward M. Kennedy was laid to rest Saturday night alongside slain brothers John and Robert on hallowed ground at Arlington National Cemetery, celebrated for “the dream he kept alive” across the decades since their deaths.

A final farewell

An array of the nation’s most powerful politicians, Kennedy family members, and diverse celebrities crammed into pews at the Basilica of Our Lady of Perpetual Help in Mission Hill for a two-hour service that was steeped in family lore and Catholic ritual. It began late but simply, with a procession of priests bearing incense and military officers carrying the casket down the center aisle of a silent church to the barely audible commands of “Hup. Hup. Hup.’’

Edward M. Kennedy Jr. left the mourners spellbound when he described a snowy day shortly after he lost a leg to bone cancer when he was 12 years old. His father urged him to coast down a hill in front of their house, but the son, frustrated because he could not climb the icy driveway with one leg, declared he was giving up.


A personal plea to the chattering class: I beg of thee, stop saying Ted Kennedy passed to “Liberal Torch” to Obama. If there is one thing Obama has proven so far, it is the fact that HE IS NOT a Liberal. Stop pushing those delusions unto the public.


Op-ed Columns

Finally! The NY Times editorial board reminds people who actually has the majority in the Senate. The discussion so far has been about what the Dems should give up to get a “bipartisan” health care legislation passed. The most bizarre part of the equation is that Republicans are NOT going to accept ANY legislation reforming the system, not even those who sit in the “bipartisan” committee.
Majority Rule on Health Care Reform

If the Democrats want to enact health care reform this year, they appear to have little choice but to adopt a high-risk, go-it-alone, majority-rules strategy.

We say this with considerable regret because a bipartisan compromise would be the surest way to achieve comprehensive reforms with broad public support. But the ideological split between the parties is too wide — and the animosities too deep — for that to be possible.

In recent weeks, it has become inescapably clear that Republicans are unlikely to vote for substantial reform this year. Many seem bent on scuttling President Obama’s signature domestic issue no matter the cost.

Joe Stiglitz does a spectacular job about the bad and the good of our budget deficit. (Come on! What would you expect from the world’s Nr. 1 economist?)
Thanks to the Deficit, the Buck Stops Here

When financial crises strike, economic growth declines and living standards drop, resulting in lower tax revenues and greater need for government assistance — all of which leads to higher fiscal imbalances.

What really matters is not the size of the deficit but how we’re spending our money. If we expand our debt in order to make high-return, productive investments, the economy can become stronger than if we slash expenditures.

Nick Kristof asks how do those who fear death panels feel about a health care system that breaks apart families?
Until Medical Bills Do Us Part

The existing system doesn’t just break up families, it also costs lives. A 2004 study by the Institute of Medicine, a branch of the National Academy of Sciences, found that lack of health insurance causes 18,000 unnecessary deaths a year. That’s one person slipping through the cracks and dying every half an hour.

In short, it’s a good bet that our existing dysfunctional health system knocks off far more people than an army of “death panels” could — even if they existed, worked 24/7 and got around in a fleet of black helicopters.

Will there ever be another Senator proud to call himself a “Liberal”?
Kennedy’s death leaves a void that won’t be filled

Edward M. Kennedy may have been the Senate’s last liberal.

Oh, there are others in the Senate who would support the same policies – universal health care and expanded civil rights and a higher minimum wage. Sheldon Whitehouse of Rhode Island and Barbara Boxer of California and Bernie Sanders of Vermont, a self-described socialist, can usually be counted on to uphold the standards of the left.

But most on the left have abandoned the word “liberal” for the term “progressive,” an effort to escape the perverted and seamy notions that rightwing talk show hosts have attached to the L word. Kennedy, though, was always a proud liberal.

Sen. Ross Feingold thinks we should get the hell out of Afghanistan for our own safety.
The Road Home From Afghanistan

Why a flexible timetable to withdraw U.S. troops will best advance our national security interests.


Politics

Seldom has a Democrat been so much maligned by his own like Bill Clinton has (only his wife got it worse). Nevertheless he keeps soldiering on for the party.
Clinton and Gore reunite in Tennessee

Two old friends, fresh from a day of mourning in rainy Boston, came south Saturday night to pledge to a roomful of roaring Tennessee Democrats that Ted Kennedy’s dream indeed will never die.

Al Gore and Bill Clinton – ghosts of Democratic victories past who are increasingly showing up to buck up the faithful as President Obama goes through his first real trials in office – were the star guests at the Tennessee Democratic Party’s annual Jackson Day dinner.

I always have to guffaw when I see Republicans decrying any type of cuts in the safety net.
Why The GOP Gunning For Grandma

It’s not preposterous to imagine laws that would try to save money by encouraging the inconvenient elderly to make an early exit. After all, that’s been the Republican policy for years.

It was Grassley himself who devised the “Throw Mama From the Train” provision of the GOP’s 2001 tax cut. The estate-tax revision he championed will reduce the estate tax to zero next year. But when it expires at year’s end, the tax will jump back up to its previous level of 55 percent. Grassley’s exploding tax break has an entirely foreseeable, if unintended, consequence: it incentivizes ailing, elderly rich people to end their lives—paging Dr. Kevorkian—before midnight on Dec. 31, 2010. It also gives their children an incentive to sign DNR orders and switch off respirators in time for the deadline. This would be a great plot for a P. D. James novel if it weren’t an actual piece of legislation.

How much more abominable could the MSM get? Is there any amount of shame to pour on the Washington Post? Glenn Greenwald dissects what’s behind the WaPo’s glorification of torture. (Who wrote that piece? Dick Cheney?)
The Washington Post’s Cheney-ite defense of torture

If anyone ever tells you that they don’t understand what is meant by “stenography journalism” — or ever insists that America is plagued by a Liberal Media — you can show them this article from today’s Washington Post and, by itself, it should clear up everything. The article’s headline is “How a Detainee Became An Asset — Sept. 11 Plotter Cooperated After Waterboarding” — though an equally appropriate headline would be: “The Joys and Virtues of Torture — how Dick Cheney Kept Us Safe.” I defy anyone to identify a single way the article would be different if The Post had let Dick Cheney write it himself.

Deja vu all over again.
U.S. Sets Metrics to Assess War Success

The White House has assembled a list of about 50 measurements to gauge progress in Afghanistan and Pakistan as it tries to calm rising public and congressional anxiety about its war strategy.


Economy Watch

Is Bernake dropping the ball on “too-big-to-fail”?
Lecturing Bernanke: The Fed chairman’s old teacher worries that Washington isn’t fixing the too-big-to-fail issue.

Economist Stanley Fischer was Ben Bernanke’s thesis advisor at MIT; he knew better than most that his former student had the right stuff to avert a depression. Bernanke was an “expert” at injecting liquidity into a sinking economy, Fischer said last year before the markets took their frightening plunge. Fischer had no doubt that Ben would do what it took (Ben did, earning himself a second term as Fed chairman this week). But serious questions remain in the minds of Fischer and other critics whether the most serious problem of the financial crisis—the too-big-to-fail issue—is proving too big for Bernanke and Washington’s power elites to handle.

Is this another sign that things are getting better or just that things are “getting worse, more slowly”?
Payrolls Probably Declined at Slower Pace: U.S. Economy Preview

Employers in the U.S. probably cut jobs in August at a slower pace and manufacturing grew for the first time in more than a year, adding to evidence the worst recession since the 1930s is ending, economists said before reports this week.

Payrolls fell by 230,000 workers, the smallest decline in a year, according to the median of 65 estimates in a Bloomberg News survey ahead of a Sept. 4 Labor Department report. Figures from a private group of purchasing managers on Sept. 1 may show the first expansion at factories since January 2008.

Rep. Frank eyes Fed audit, emergency lending curbs

Rep. Barney Frank, the chairman of the U.S. House of Representatives Financial Services Committee, said he plans legislation to restrict the Federal Reserve’s emergency lending powers and subject the central bank to a “complete audit.”


Around The Nation

Looking for clues to solve a horrible mystery.
Inside Jaycee Lee Dugard’s secret garden

New evidence poses further questions about the captivity of girl taken from her home in Antioch, east of San Francisco

What a load of horse manure! If this creepy creature really wanted help, why didn’t he even walk into a hospital or talk to a professional. Instead he kept raping his hostage. And his wife “felt he was on the road to recovery”?
Garrido tried to reach out for help, business acquaintance says

The owner of an auto dismantling business frequented by Phillip Garrido said the man accused of kidnapping, raping and fathering two children with Jaycee Dugard was trying to understand schizophrenia and his struggles with sexual desires.

Cheyvonne Molino, who owns JM Enterprizes on Willow Pass Road with her husband, said she is not defending Garrido, but said Garrido felt he was on the road to recovery from his struggles.

This good Doctor is already getting death threats. Will he be better protected than the others before him?
Nebraska doctor takes up Tiller’s mission to keep late-term abortions available

“Do I think I’ll get shot? I hope not,” the physician says. “Is it a possibility? I think it’s a very, very good possibility.”

Meantime, the potbellied military retiree, grandfather and horse lover carries on the same steady abortion business that has defined, dominated and directed his life for the last two decades.

Now he stands at the most thinly manned front line in America’s abortion wars — almost daring the opposition to stop him from performing late-term abortions.

Unstoppable fire threatens 10,000 homes

At least 1,000 homes are ordered evacuated ahead of a relentless fire fueled by hot weather and dense brush. More than 21,000 acres have burned.


Around The World

Oh the shame!
Lockerbie bomber ‘set free for oil’

Gordon Brown’s government made the decision after discussions between Libya and BP over a multi-million-pound oil exploration deal had hit difficulties. These were resolved soon afterwards.

The letters were sent two years ago by Jack Straw, the justice secretary, to Kenny MacAskill, his counterpart in Scotland, who has been widely criticised for taking the formal decision to permit Megrahi’s release.

The correspondence makes it plain that the key decision to include Megrahi in a deal with Libya to allow prisoners to return home was, in fact, taken in London for British national interests.

Body parts for sale.
42.90 Euros Per Arm: Inside a Creepy Global Body Parts Business

The German company Tutogen’s business in body parts is as secretive as it is lucrative. It extracts bones from corpses in Ukraine to manufacture medical products, as part of a global market worth billions that is centered in the United States.

When will heinous crimes against homosexuals stop?
South African lesbians live in fear of ‘corrective rape’

In the antiseptic setting of a modern courthouse in a town near Johannesburg, the life and death of a young sports star is being dissected. She was no ordinary young woman. An outstanding footballer, she had captained her country and was hoping to be the first female to referee at a World Cup. But her brutal death, and the apparent motive for it, is all too ordinary here. For Eudy Simelane was a lesbian, and this, say campaigners, was why she was raped and savagely murdered.

This is the land of “corrective rape”. Despite South Africa having one of the most enlightened constitutions in the world, traditional views about sexuality still run deep. In many quarters, especially male ones, lesbians are resented, perhaps even feared. And to some young men the remedy is simple: rape.


HAVE A NICE SUNDAY!!!

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