I mean that Popular Mechanics gave its Leadership Award for inspirational technical innovation last night to Dean Kamen, whose mobility-enhancing devices (including the Segway) have improved life for many people with medical problems. I heard Kamen give a long speech chastising America for not putting a high enough priority on valorizing and glamorizing science and technology, making them as attractive to the young as we do sports and Hollywood through frivolous media glitz that could in theory be applied elsewhere.
He also took the trouble, I was pleased to see, to note that the solution isn’t simply throwing public sector money at the problem, since in absolute terms the U.S. spends more on education than most of the rest of the world combined. He sees it as a problem of cultural priorities and resultant psychological cues. And anyone in New Jersey, specifically, who thinks public education is the solution badly needs to go see this documentary, The Cartel, as it opens tonight in several locations in that state, exposing the absurdities of the government’s education near-monopoly.
I have to admit, though, that I ducked out of the Popular Mechanics Breakthrough Awards briefly — much as I might share Kamen’s worries — to see a talk at the nearby Columbus Circle Borders bookstore by Ben Huh, the guy who owns the funny-cats website ICanHasCheezburger.com, which had one this week that I think we can all agree was historically significant and another that simply reminded me of the late Seavey family cat Oscar when he used to sit in our birdfeeder (and later in life, the much lower faux-birdfeeder that my father built especially for Oscar, since my parents are nice that way). Huh described his company’s low-hurdle but important mission statement goal of “making people happier for five minutes a day.” That’s more than Obama’s done so far.