In a recent dustup between presumptives, Republican presidential candidate John McCain suggested a $300 million prize to “inspire the ingenuity and resolve of the American people” to develop a revolutionary battery package for vehicles. His opponent-apparent, Barack Obama, derided the suggestion as a “gimmick.”
Not so fast, Obama: McCain may be on to something here. They say if you set enough monkeys to work at typewriters eventually they can conjure Shakespeare’s sonnets. McCain’s idea may be good enough to steal.
Perhaps Obama is still a little touchy about Democratic opponent John Edwards’ claim last fall that Obama had stolen or parroted Edwards’ best ideas. An Edwards aide quipped, “Next thing you know, [Obama] will be rooting for the Tar Heels.”
But what Obama should take away from that experience is that HE won, Edwards lost, and nobody recalls the parentage of those ideas anymore. So, why not do McCain one better and propose substantial prizes for inventiveness to “inspire the ingenuity and resolve,” for example, of American college (or high school) students, who are lagging in the world science race? The same might be done to inspire greater achievement in the arts, maybe even of an as-yet-undiscovered Shakespeare.
The ensuing debate over art’s value also might be very beneficial to the Republic. There are, after all, corners of the American heart and mind that capitalism and “American Idol” do not reach, and substantial national prizes (as have, for example, fostered exploration) may be one way to do so.
While we’re at it, why shouldn’t the National Aeronautics and Space Administration—author of so much technological innovation—be reinvigorated with the directive and funding to really explore alternative propulsion systems? Their solutions could not only help address energy needs here on the ground but provide a means of escape for our Adams and Eves of the future—maybe in time to carry our civilization and, it is to be hoped, the lessons it may have finally learned, to galaxies far, far away. (Martin Northway)