Art Diamond Describes Honors Colloquium on Creative Destruction

The clip above is embedded from You Tube. It was recorded on July 6, 2011 in Mammel Hall, the location of the College of Business at the University of Nebraska at Omaha (UNO). I am grateful to Charley Reed of UNO University Relations for doing a great job of shooting and editing the clip.

Obstacles to Curing Scurvy: A Deadly Experiment and Putting Theory Before Evidence

(p. 165) What was needed was some kind of distilled essence – an antiscorbutic, as the medical men termed it – that would be effective against scurvy but portable too. In the 1760s, a Scottish doctor named William Stark, evidently encouraged by Benjamin Franklin, conducted a series of patently foolhardy experiments in which he tried (p. 166) to identify the active agent by, somewhat bizarrely, depriving himself of it. For weeks he lived on only the most basic of foods – bread and water chiefly – to see what would happen. What happened was that in just over six months he killed himself, from scurvy, without coming to any helpful conclusions at all.
In roughly the same period, James Lind, a naval surgeon, conducted a more scientifically rigorous (and personally less risky) experiment by finding twelve sailors who had scurvy already, dividing them into pairs, and giving each pair a different putative elixir – vinegar to one, garlic and mustard to another, oranges and lemons to a third, and so on. Five of the groups showed no improvement, but the pair given oranges and lemons made a swift and total recovery. Amazingly, Lind decided to ignore the significance of the result and doggedly stuck with his personal belief that scurvy was caused by incompletely digested food building up toxins within the body.

Bryson, Bill. At Home: A Short History of Private Life. New York: Doubleday, 2010.

Arrested for Feeding Homeless Without a Permit

ArrestFeedingWithoutPermit2011-08-08.jpg “Volunteers from Food Not Bombs were arrested at Lake Eola Park in Orlando, Fla., last month after feeding homeless people without a permit.” Source of caption and photo: online version of the NYT article quoted and cited below.

(p. A10) MIAMI — The hacker group Anonymous has declared a cyberwar against the City of Orlando, disabling Web sites for the city’s leading redevelopment organization, the local Fraternal Order of Police and the mayor’s re-election campaign.
. . .
The group described its attacks as punishment for the city’s recent practice of arresting members of Orlando Food Not Bombs, an antipoverty group that provides vegan and vegetarian meals twice a week to homeless people in one of the city’s largest parks.
“Anonymous believes that people have the right to organize, that people have the right to give to the less fortunate and that people have the right to commit acts of kindness and compassion,” the group’s members said in a news release and video posted on YouTube on Thursday. “However, it appears the police and your lawmakers of Orlando do not.”
A 2006 city ordinance requires organizations to obtain permits to feed groups of 25 people or more in downtown parks. The law was passed after numerous complaints by residents and businesses owners about the twice-weekly feedings in Lake Eola Park, city officials said. The law limits any group to no more than two permits per year per park.
Since June 1, the city police have arrested 25 Orlando Food Not Bombs volunteers without permits as they provided meals to large groups of homeless people in the park. One of those arrested last week on trespassing charges was Keith McHenry, a co-founder of the first Food Not Bombs chapter in 1980 in Cambridge, Mass. He remained in the Orange County Jail on Thursday awaiting a bond hearing.

For the full story, see:
DON VAN NATTA Jr. “Citing Homeless Law, Hackers Turn Sights on Orlando.” The New York Times, SundayBusiness Section (Fri., July 1, 2011): A10.
(Note: ellipsis added.)
(Note: the online version of the story is dated June 30, 2011.)

McHenryKeithCofounder2011-08-08.jpg “Keith McHenry, a co-founder of the first Food Not Bombs group, serving food at the park in May. He was in jail Thursday.” Source of caption and photo: online version of the NYT article quoted and cited above.

Chinese Emphasis on Rote Learning Produces Passive Researchers

(p. A15) Hardly a week goes by without a headline pronouncing that China is about to overtake the U.S. and other advanced economies in the innovation game. Patent filings are up, China is exporting high-tech goods, the West is doomed. Or so goes the story line. The reality is very different.
. . .
But more than 95% of the Chinese applications were filed domestically with the State Intellectual Property Office–and the vast majority cover “innovations” that make only tiny changes on existing designs. A better measure is to look at innovations that are recognized outside China–at patent filings or grants to China-origin inventions by the world’s leading patent offices, the U.S., the EU and Japan. On this score, China is way behind.
. . .
China’s educational system is another serious challenge because it emphasizes rote learning rather than creative problem solving. When Microsoft opened its second-largest research lab (after Redmond, Wash.) in Beijing, it realized that while the graduates it hired were brilliant, they were too passive when it came to research inquiry.
The research directors attacked this problem by effectively requiring each new hire to come up with a project he or she wanted to work on. Microsoft’s approach is more the exception than the rule among R&D labs in China, which tend to be more top-down.

For the full commentary, see:
ANIL K. GUPTA AND HAIYAN WANG. “Chinese Innovation Is a Paper Tiger; A closer look at China’s patent filings and R&D spending reveals a country that has a long way to go.” The Wall Street Journal (Thurs., July 28, 2011): A15.
(Note: ellipses added.)

From Inventor to Entrepreneur When No Company Would Distribute Weed Eater

BallasGeorgeWeedEaterInventer2011-08-08.jpg “George Ballas showed off in 1975 the original Weed Eater, a popcorn can rigged up with some wires.” Source of caption and photo: online version of the WSJ obituary quoted and cited below.

(p. A5) George Ballas got his big idea after a poisonous snake bit a worker who was trimming his lawn with shears. The idea turned an old popcorn can, some wires and an edger into the Weed Eater.

Mr. Ballas, who died Saturday at age 85, was a dance instructor, developer, inventor and marketer who built hotels, patented an adjustable table and marketed an early portable phone.
. . .
Mr. Ballas said the idea for the Weed Eater came to him while he was in a car wash, contemplating the big rotating bristles that cleaned hard-to-reach corners yet somehow didn’t scratch the finish.
Drawing from that inspiration, he rigged up an old popcorn can with some wires and hooked it to a rotating edger, and the first string trimmer was born.
. . .
He hired an engineer to design new models that substituted monofilament fishing line for wire and ran on electricity and gas. He dubbed it “Weed Eater” and held several patents on it.
When Mr. Ballas failed to find a company interested in distributing the device, he decided to sell it himself.
. . .
Mr. Ballas also taught entrepreneurship at Rice University in Houston. He continued to tinker with new inventions, and at one point marketed a football-helmet-sized portable phone that found few takers.
“A Weed Eater,” Mr. Ballas told the Houston Chronicle in 1993, “comes along once in a lifetime.”

For the full obituary, see:
STEPHEN MILLER. “REMEMBRANCES; Dance Studio Owner Invented Weed Eater.” The Wall Street Journal (Thurs., JUNE 30, 2011): A5.
(Note: ellipses added.)

“Comfort” at Home Was Unfamiliar Before 1770

(p. 135) If you had to summarize it in a sentence, you could say that the history of private life is a history of getting comfortable slowly. Until the eighteenth century the idea of having comfort at home was so unfamiliar that there wasn’t even a word for the condition. ‘Comfortable’ meant merely ‘capable of being consoled’. Comfort was something you gave to the wounded or distressed. The first person to use the word in its modern sense was the writer Horace Walpole, who remarked in a letter to a friend in 1770 that a certain Mrs White was looking after him well and making him ‘as comfortable as is possible’. By the early nineteenth century, everyone was talking about having a comfortable home or enjoying a comfortable living, but before Walpole’s day no one did.

Bryson, Bill. At Home: A Short History of Private Life. New York: Doubleday, 2010.

The Anecdote for Malignant Perfectionism: “I’ll Fix that in My Next Piece”

MoreauWellesChimesAtMidnight2011-08-08.jpg“Jeanne Moreau and Orson Welles in ‘Chimes at Midnight,’ a 1965 Shakespeare-based film that’s recently been restored.” Source of caption and photo: online version of the WSJ article quoted and cited below.

(p. D8) Every great artist, . . . , strives for perfection. In fact, that’s part of what makes them great: They’re never entirely satisfied with anything that they do. The classical pianist Artur Schnabel once remarked that he was only interested in performing music that was “better than it can be performed…unless a piece of music presents a problem to me, a never-ending problem, it doesn’t interest me too much.” This sums up the plight of all serious artists: They lead lives of endless frustration, struggling to reach the top of the hill, then seeing another, higher hill just beyond it.
. . .
Alas, that kind of suffering goes with the territory. The trick, as every artist knows, is not to let it interfere with getting things done. The wisest artists are the ones who finish a new work, walk away and move on to the next project. Whenever a colleague pointed out a “mistake” in one of Dmitri Shostakovich’s compositions, he invariably responded, “Oh, I’ll fix that in my next piece.”
The road to malignant perfectionism, by contrast, starts with chronic indecision. Jerome Robbins, whose inability to make up his mind was legendary throughout the world of dance, was known for choreographing multiple versions of a variation, then waiting until the last possible minute to decide which one to use. Beyond a certain point, this kind of perfectionism is all but impossible to distinguish from unprofessionalism, and Mr. Welles reached that point early in his career. . . .
. . .
Mr. Welles’s problem was that he wanted it both ways. He was a perfectionist who expected his collaborators to sit around endlessly waiting for him to make up his mind–and to pay for all the overtime that he ran up along the way. Simon Callow, his biographer, has summed up this failing in one devastating sentence: “Any form of limitation, obligation, responsibility or enforced duty was intolerable to him, rendering him claustrophobic and destructive.” That’s the wrong kind of perfectionism, and it led, as it usually does, to disaster.

For the full commentary, see:
TERRY TEACHOUT. “The Snare of Perfectionism: When Artists Aim Too High.” The Wall Street Journal (Fri., July 22, 2011): D8.
(Note: ellipsis in Schnabel quote was in original; other ellipses added.)