Cutting Edge: New ideas / Sharp opinions

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Following up on our May 18 Forum package offering Big Ideas to the next mayor of Pittsburgh, Emily C.G. Best, an apprentice on an organic farm near Hustontown, Pa., sent this one:

"Make Pittsburgh the destination location for those young people who are educated and motivated and want to change the world. Creating a program to help pay back/reduce student loan debt would incentivize them to move back to/stay in Pittsburgh and to work/create jobs in fields like urban farming, alternative energy, green building, teaching, social work, etc. Some small towns are doing a version of this.

"Although Pittsburgh is already gaining a great reputation as youth-oriented and environmentally friendly, making a big move like this would help propel the city further into the future and help cement its reputation as a great place to live, work and have a family. This would show the rest of the country that Pittsburgh values more than a Super Bowl ring or Stanley Cup championship and that it is serious about change."


Shame in/on hospitals

Via Atlantic Wire: Danielle Ofri argues in a New York Times op-ed titled "My Near Miss" that shame prevents meaningful prevention of routine, albeit dangerous and embarrassing, hospital errors.

"Medical culture is less overtly punitive than it used to be, but the guilt and blame are internalized, often savagely, by its practitioners," she writes. "How can we ease the shame and help doctors and nurses come forward with their near misses? This is not the type of thing we can orchestrate with a quality-improvement initiative and a zippy slogan. It has to come from inside the medical world, and it helps to start at the top."

Still, hospitals struggle with maintaining even basic standards of hygiene. Anemona Hartocollis, also in the Times, explains that health care providers need to encourage doctors to simply wash their hands: "Studies have shown that without encouragement, hospital workers wash their hands as little as 30 percent of the time that they interact with patients."


Soda diplomacy

From Foreign Policy, summing up a Washington Post story: A new ad by Coca-Cola called "Small World Machines" showcases what happened when two high-tech Coca-Cola vending machines were placed in shopping malls in Lahore, Pakistan, and New Delhi, India, earlier this year. Instead of traditional machines that require money to purchase a soda, these two were connected electronically and "payment" was extracted by buyers at each end doing something in conjunction with each other -- such as dancing, tracing images such as peace signs and hearts, or touching hands through the screen.

The ad plays to the "McDonald's theory of conflict resolution," which states that no two countries with McDonald's restaurants will ever go to war. But with PepsiCo dominating the Pakistani market and announcing plans to open a plant in Afghanistan by 2014, peace may be a bit more difficult to achieve than just opening a can of soda.


'Celebrating inequality'

George Packer in a New York Times op-ed titled "Celebrating Inequality": "Our age is lousy with celebrities. They can be found in every sector of society, including ones that seem less than glamorous. There is a quality of self-invention to their rise: Mark Zuckerberg went from awkward geek to the subject of a Hollywood hit; Shawn Carter turned into Jay-Z; Martha Kostyra became Martha Stewart, and then Martha Stewart Living. The person evolves into a persona, then a brand, then an empire, with the business imperative of grow or die -- a process of expansion and commodification that transgresses boundaries by substituting celebrity for institutions.

"Instead of robust public education, we have Mr. Zuckerberg's 'rescue' of Newark's schools. Instead of a vibrant literary culture, we have Oprah's book club. Instead of investments in public health, we have the Gates Foundation. Celebrities either buy institutions, or 'disrupt' them. ..."

"We know our stars aren't inviting us to think we can be just like them. Their success is based on leaving the rest of us behind."

opinion_commentary

Compiled by Greg Victor (gvictor@post-gazette.com).


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