Monday, March 28, 2011

Real Data Matters

Reading Gerald Weissmann, MD's 1987 book, They All Laughed at Christopher Columbus. Which appears to be sinking into rare, out-of-print oblivion.  I was lucky to pick one up at Dark Star Books, our local used book cavern.  I was looking for books on patient centering in medical care, and liked the title.

I really like reading books that are about 10 or 20 years out-of-synch with the current best seller list.  It provides perspective on enduring problems -- medical care being a great example.  After urging our local congressman to help resolve the healthcare problem during the debates two years ago, his office responded...'We don't want to move too quickly.'  Let's see it had been 80 years since Republican President Herbert Hoover took office; he was the first president I know of to become concerned about healthcare in America.  Something wasn't too swift in the congressman's office, but it wasn't legislation that would benefit Americans.

In Weissmann's second chapter, "Springtime for Pernkopf," he describes the situation in Austrian medical universities in 1938 when Hitler annexed Austria.  The new Dean of the University of Vienna medical facility, Professor Dr. Edward Pernkopf, summarized the role of medicine in the new state:  "To assume the medical care -- with all your professional skill -- of the Body of the People which has been entrusted to you, not only in the positive sense of furthering the propagation of the fit, but also in the negative sense of eliminating the unfit and defective."  Pernkopf lists the methods of racial hygiene as:  control of marriage; propagation of the genetically fit, discouragement of interracial breading, and sterilization of the genetically inferior."

Here it would be easy to make a right turn and sound warnings about what can and can't be done with genetics in medical care today, but let's cut those researchers some slacks as people are working hard to figure that out.

What really struck me was the reaction of the world.  When Pernkopf's Springtime came into bloom,  objecting, frightened, Austrian medical scientists sought haven from the Nazi regime in Britain.  There was backlash from the UK medical professional who complained of increased competition and the heightened status the continental doctors had in the eyes of their new patients.  There followed many letters back and forth to The Lancet,  a UK medical journal akin to New England Journal of MedicineSamson Wright did the unthinkable and actually produced data to enlighten the subject.  He found that from 1933 to 1938 only 187 German doctors had been permitted to settle and follow their profession, less than 0.4% of the 50,000 names that were on the UK medical register.  Weissman provides a few examples of other countries that had similar debates.

Raymond Hernandez provided an article for last month's New York Times/Region, "District Liked Its Earmarks, Then Elected Someone Who Didn't."  He uses New York's 19th congressional district to illustrate the benefits of earmarks that redistributed federal tax dollars to that district and how the new representative is a Tea Partier who aims to see that they go away.  Of course, this brings in the same sorts of parochial concerns that the UK doctors had about coming to the aid of German/Austrian  doctors.  Voters want to rein in federal spending, but they don't want to rein it in close to home.  They only want to eliminate those that are abusive.

A Havard Law School report on "Earmarks in the Federal Budget Process" published in 2006 showed that earmarks have lingered between a half a percent and around two percent of federal outlays between 1994 and 2005.  The number of earmarks dramatically in that time, but the value per earmark dropped.  Still that small percentage is still on the order of tens of billions of dollars.

I'm all for keeping money local.  Rather than seeing money go to Washington to be reallocated back to the states, it makes sense to maintain local control and use the money for projects states and localities determine are important.  However, if you look at the 2011 Statistical Abstracts, you see that median incomes in the wealthiest states are almost two times that of the poorest states.  In that light, earmarks as a tool start to make sense.  Maybe poorer locals can't manage needed improvements to schools and infrastructure on their own, with some federal help they are able to.  Is that socialism?  I wonder if it isn't prudence.

Saturday, February 5, 2011

The Big Picture and the Pixels

Reading Gerald Weissmann, MD's 1987 book, They All Laughed at Christopher Columbus which lamentably appears to be sinking into rare, out-of-print oblivion.  I was lucky to pick one up at Dark Star Books, our local used book cavern.  I was looking for books on patient centering in medical care and liked the title.

I really like reading books that are about 10 or 20 years out-of-synch with the current best seller list.  It provides perspective on enduring problems -- medical care being a great example.  After urging our local congressman to help resolve the healthcare problem during the debates two years ago, his office responded...'We don't want to move too quickly.'  Let's see it had been 80 years since Republican President Herbert Hoover took office; he was the first president I know of to become concerned about healthcare in America.  Obviously something wasn't too swift in the congressman's office, but it wasn't legislation that would benefit Americans.

In Weissmann's second chapter, "Springtime for Pernkopf," he describes the situation in Austrian medical universities in 1938 when Hitler annexed Austria.  The new Dean of the University of Vienna medical facility, Professor Dr. Edward Pernkopf, summarized the role of medicine in the new state:  "To assume the medical care -- with all your professional skill -- of the Body of the People which has been entrusted to you, not only in the positive sense of furthering the propagation of the fit, but also in the negative sense of eliminating the unfit and defective."  Pernkopf lists the methods of racial hygiene as:  control of marriage, propagation of the genetically fit, discouragement of interracial breading, and sterilization of the genetically inferior."

What struck me was the reaction of the world.  When Pernkopf's Springtime came into bloom,  objecting, frightened, Austrian medical scientists understandably sought haven from the Nazi regime in other countries including Britain.  There was backlash from the UK medical professional who complained of increased competition and the heightened status the continental doctors had in the eyes of their new patients.  There followed many letters back and forth to The Lancet,  a UK medical journal akin to New England Journal of MedicineSamson Wright did the unthinkable and actually produced data to enlighten the subject.  He found that from 1933 to 1938 only 187 German doctors had been permitted to settle and follow their profession, less than 0.4% of the 50,000 names that were on the UK medical register.  Weissmann provides a few examples of other countries that had similar debates.

Fast forward to 2011, Raymond Hernandez provides an article for today's (Feb 5, 2011) New York Times/Region, "District Liked Its Earmarks, Then Elected Someone Who Didn't."  He uses New York's 19th congressional district to illustrate the benefits of earmarks that redistributed federal tax dollars to that district and how the new representative is a Tea Partier who aims to see that they go away.  Of course, this brings in the same sorts of parochial concerns that the UK doctors had about coming to the aid of German/Austrian  doctors.  Voters want to rein in federal spending, but they don't want to rein it in within their own paddock.  They only want to eliminate other people's, those that are abusive.

A Harvard Law School report on "Earmarks in the Federal Budget Process" published in 2006 showed that earmarks have lingered between a half a percent and around two percent of federal outlays between 1994 and 2005.  The number of earmarks dramatically in that time, but the value per earmark dropped.  Still that small percentage is on the order of tens of billions of dollars.

I'm all for keeping money local.  Rather than seeing money go to Washington to be reallocated back to the states, it makes sense to maintain local control and use the money for projects states and localities determine are important.  However, if you look at the 2011 Statistical Abstracts, you see that median incomes in the wealthiest states are almost two times that of the poorest states.


That causes me to rethink my position.  What that spread in incomes, maybe poor locals can't afford education and infrastructure improvements that keep them in the game.  Does it make sense for the feds to redistribute some of our nation's wealth to help out those folks?  Seems like it does.  Is it Socialism, Conservatism's bane?  Maybe.  Maybe especially when misused.  Then again, maybe it's prudence.

Susan Milligan's Us News and World Report article entitled, "Egypt protests Show that Poverty is a Threat to Global Security" provides perspective.  What Egypt seems as divorced from us as reality TV, in America there is a growing divide between the haves and the have nots.  There is also growing dissatisfaction with government solutions.  I certainly agree that when representatives siphon money back into their districts in order to gain re-election it is tantamount to bribery, but that doesn't mean the mechanism itself is corrupt.  It means the process by which it is applied is flawed.

It gets back to global versus parochial interests.  Instead of asking the narrow question, 'Can we eliminate earmarks?'  Maybe we should instead be asking the question, 'Do we want the representatives we send to Washington to represent the best interests of our society or of our community?'  They are not the same.  This is the question that was debated in the 1938 Lancets regarding the Austrian doctors.  We have to decide where the greatest pain might lie...in our local pocketbooks or in the stability of our country?  It takes the ability to look simultaneously at the big picture and at the pixels.  This is a skill Dr. Weissmann has in spades.  It is perhaps the rarest commodity in today's intellectual economy.

Tuesday, January 11, 2011

Our Blind Spots

The other day, a colleague sent an article by Elaine Duke titled, "Why Acquisition Programs Fail."   The article represents the careful thoughts and heartfelt feelings of an experienced professional.  The ideas seemed, however, to be stuck within the paradigm of what exists today and the author's expectation of what it is possible to change.

Many times in my career I have encountered a problem and explored it to its root causes.  When I start to discuss my solution concepts, I often hear, "'Yes, that's true, but it's above my pay grade to fix.'  Meaning that the constraints of the organizational hierarchy, personalities, policies, and performance assessments are preventing a real solution from emerging.

This is why I believe it is very important to have eyes that look from the outside in.  These are eyes that can understand the context of the problem, can look at the systems which cause or influence the situation, and conceptualize a future that may be very different from the comfortable present.  This view of a situation can be formalized within an organization, such as with a quality control process or red team reviews, or it can come troublesome individuals.

Formal processes can be effective, especially when the success of the venture is utmost in participant's minds.  However, sometimes the process itself becomes more important than the outcome.  In these cases, the people protecting the independent process are in a position to subvert success in the name of uniformity.  It is ironic that a process that is designed to escape the commonplace can fail when it too becomes commonplace.

The individual approach can be very effective in an environment in which independent insights are welcomed and appreciated.  This is not usually the case in large organizations.  The prestige of decision makers often does not allow for critical thinking and loose cannons.  Policy and custom can prevent the independent inputs from reaching the right ears and so they are categorized as gripe rather than value.


One of the most intriguing lessons I ever had in school was of the Johari Window, a perception model taken from psychology.  The image to the right is taken from HubPages where you can review the model in more detail.  The four panes of the window represent what is known by us and what is known about us by others.  On the left, are things that are known to us.  On the right side are things that are unknown to us, but may be known by others.  The Blind Spot illustrates the the situation where outside eyes see things you are not able to.

Since it is a psychological fact that all of us have these blind spots, one would think that organizations would incorporate processes for addressing the blind spot into their culture at all levels.  These processes should be a high priority especially for dealing with causes that are 'above our pay grade.'  However, all too often they are not included in an organization's policies and procedures, and this situation places the organization at risk.

At Aileron yesterday, I learned that their Course for [company] Presidents emphasizes the importance of a board of advisers.  In fact, they help their client/students to assemble a board as part of their mentoring experience.  They recognize the criticality of addressing the blind spot.

If we continue to apply the Johari model to organizations, I might characterize the Unknown Spot as the Innovation Quadrant.  This is the area where unknowns exist.  It calls to mind images of dark, perilous forests that can be traversed only with great effort and sacrifice.  My daydream ends with the discovery of untold beauty and bounty.  Of course there is risk to exploring this terrain.  One could become lost and trapped.  One could discover things that are not so pleasant.  One could perish.  In my opinion, the physical, emotional and spiritual treks into the unknowns have led to the greatest rewards.  What else would you expect from a loose cannon?

Monday, January 10, 2011

Pressure Cookers, Voices, and Violence

The buzz since the Tuscon shootings has surrounded the violent rhetoric that preceded last November's election.  While I fall on the side of believing that words hold enormous power (contrast "Nothing to fear but fear itself." with "War on Terror."), I wonder if there may be a more fundamental cause.

Doctor Anonymous' Blog notes the similarity between Columbine, Virginia Tech and the Tuscon shootings.  Perhaps you could add the Oklahoma City bombings.  Whoopi Goldberg speaking on "The View" before the last election also connected the World Trade Center attacks, 'People doing what other people told them to do.'

What seems fundamental to me is people's drive to have control over their lives.  They want a say in how they are made to live.  In the United States, we have the first amendment which guarantees free speech, but that doesn't necessarily ensure that citizen voices contribute to the debate in which solutions are crafted.

Our instruments of liberty have become devices of control.  We begin in school rewarding the compliant students and discouraging those that are "wild."  Perhaps these children are branded with the ADD or ADHD label and put on medication.  In contrast, Oliver and Rachelle DeMille describe the education of Thomas Jefferson.  The model acknowledges the developmental limitations of children.  When humans are very young, they can't sit still.  They are wired to be active.  At this stage, children are mentored in an environment that keeps this fact in mind.  As the children mature and are able to sit still, the education becomes increasingly intense and challenging commensurate with their biological self-control.  The lessons challenge students to think critically and creatively.  This is a process by which citizens are nurtured, leaders groomed.

In contrast, the education system today for the most part places children in detention centers and teaches them to follow instructions.  This turns out to be a good model for chugging out corporate employees, who will, as my friend Jack Ring points out, sit in adult detention centers for much of their careers.  Robert Kiyosaki, in his book Rich Dad Poor Dad describes an event where his teacher warns Kiyosaki and his friend that if they don't do better, they won't get a job.  They thought this was great; they didn't want jobs.  They wanted to be entrepreneurs.  In an information age, small businesses are more nimble and response in creating value than the large businesses which are a relic of the industrial revolution.  Inertia and the concept of being "too big to fail" sustains the big business model.

The decreasing ratio of representatives to citizens as the population grows also contributes to this feeling of helplessness.  People's voices are getting softer and softer as the crowd in which they are aggregated gets larger and larger.  The impact of an individual thoughts is diminished.  This is particularly true as the ideological polarization continues to strengthen.  We are not empowering an aggregate of individuals, we are defending inflexible ideals.  If you doubt the inflexibility, you need only look back to the pre-election rhetoric, or look forward to the activities of the new congress.

Individuals want their thoughts to be heard.  When this is not possible, people feel that their thoughts are being suppressed, their rights denied.  When people have thoughts in isolation they can imagine a supporting constituency that must share the same ideas.  The imagined group can become a cause.  Of course, the constituency could be real, but there is no way to be sure without a channel for individual expression.  Obviously elections and letters to representatives aren't doing the job.

As the population rises and our footprints increasingly overlap and impinge, more regulations and controls are being generated to control our activities.  This leads to increasing frustration that undermines self-efficacy.  It is to be expected that this frustration is easy to catalyze with evocative words.  We shouldn't be surprised when violent events occur.

I am a great admirer of the founding fathers and the work they did.  I wonder if they were addressing today's conditions, our institutions would be structured as they are today.  The people's needs, capabilities and expectations are very different; the constraints on participation have changed dramatically with modern transportation, telecommunication and information technology.  I can't help but think they would be mindful of the pressure cooker that we have built for ourselves and want to build in more relief valves.

Friday, January 7, 2011

A Well-Organized Mind


Many friends in the 50-something age range are coming to terms with aging.  This seems to be an age at which we become mindful of those around us struggling with illnesses that have been pretty much absent, or at least infrequent, in the previous decades of our lives.  Our sphere of awareness has grown to where we have a large network of instances that can capture our attention.  A few instances can quickly begin to be perceived as a trend.

Additionally, this is the time when the generation on whom we depended, our parents, begin to falter and become the cared for instead of those that care for us.  Together with the fact that we’ve seem to have lost a step to first base, a baseball phrase meaning slowing with age, their frailty is an annoying reminder of our own mortality.  We want to grow, but at the same time we want those around us to stay the same.

Recently I’ve been looking up the people who were my mentors in high school.  The four I think of are all gone now.  The first recently died at an advanced age; I’d renewed a correspondence with her just before she passed.  I don’t know exactly the cause for the second.  The third had a fatal heart attack.  The fourth contracted Alzheimer’s.  This man was a forceful, hard-nosed guy.  I wouldn’t be able to imagine him aged with dementia had it not been for my experience in watching helplessly as my mother make that journey.

In the first Harry Potter book, author J. K. Rowling had the wise headmaster, Dumbledore say, “After all, to the well-organized mind, death is but the next great adventure.”  At times my mind has been well organized.  At other times, it has not been.

I remember the passing of friend Pat Milhausen after her second battle with leukemia.  At her memorial service, I was joyous as I emotionally shared her embarcation on that next great adventure.

I like the metaphysical concepts that have all of life occurring all at once, all experience happening simultaneously as though each experience was as a sheet stacked on a spindle.  I combine that image with one of spiritual omnipresence, being part of everyone and everything. 

This image allows me to enjoy the accomplishments of others without envy or regret.  This is beneficial when one is overwhelmed with thoughts that more time is behind than ahead.  I don’t see all the things I won’t have time or the talent to do.  I am happy with memories of what I have done and remain excited by what lies ahead.  I won’t be president.  I won’t go to Mars.  I won’t be a rock star.  I may be a successful entrepreneur.  I may positively influence the lives of those I touch.  I may become a decent piano player.  I may write a few screenplays.  I maybe should stop because I’m getting tired thinking of the work all these ambitions involve.

I have no way of knowing whether this concept is true.  Physicists would probably scoff at it.  It doesn’t matter to me.  I use it as a tool for ordering my thoughts so I don’t see every step as leading toward dissolution.  I use it a way to rejoice in and explore relationships of the past that help me in new ways as I review them in the context of my current situation.  It is like traveling the same path again and seeing it all anew.

It doesn’t free me from the regret that I wasn’t there as they changed.  That I lost touch.  That there may have been ways I could’ve helped them as they helped me.  I’m sad and have some guilt for having lost touch and drifted away.  I also know that these things happen.

I recall that when the last member of her parents’ generation passed, my mother-in-law, Roberta, became an ‘old folk’ almost overnight.  It was almost as though she were an actor donning a costume.  It was a mental switch that she’d made.  As if infirmity and breakdown were all she had to look forward to.

I know a lot of our later years are dictated by genes.  But it seems to me there is a recipe for staying lively and active.  I don’t know what this recipe is, but I look at people who remain active and involved and try to puzzle out what makes them vibrant and beautiful.  This is what I’ve observed.

1)  It seems like most of them have sense of humor; often it is a dark sense of humor.  They can laugh at setbacks. 

2)  They have a lot of interests.  This gives them a flexibility to shift to activities that fit what their bodies will permit on a given day.  One day they may feel up to a bike ride.  Another day may be a reading day or a crafts day.

3)  They keep moving and learning.  One friend I know has used travel as an organizing principle for his intellect.  He’s starting to shift to less strenuous modes of transport – no more guided tours with their tortuous hours, for example.  Nevertheless, he is rarely without an atlas, a travel guide and a plan.

4)  They have people in their lives.  They get out.  They call.  They write.  They send emails.

5)  They have some organizing spiritual principle.  They may not wear it on their sleeve, but they have some sort of image or concept that helps them to rationalize their experience.
Few of the people I’ve observed have done all these things, so it isn’t as though you have to check all the boxes to achieve a well-organized mind.

You may come up with an image that’s different from the one I use.  I like the spindle and ubiquitous spiritual insinuation model because it fits with the sassy assertions of fictional characters who state, ‘As for me, I intend to live forever.’

Thursday, January 6, 2011

Saving Taxpayer Dollars

For the past year or so Dr. Robert Hoffman of ihmc and I have been writing about an alternative to current defense department acquisition processes.  The model for these activities is called the Practitioner's Cycles.  Articles on the Cycles were jointly authored.  What follows are solely the opinions of Steve Deal.

In a nutshell, the Practitioner's Cycles requires the development team to be co-located with the people who will use the product.  The development team performs cognitive task analysis, an interview method, to determine the needs of product operators and maintainers.  Developers then begin a series of cycles in which prototypes are developed and immediately fielded.  The prototypes are used to perform real work, not practice exercises or simulations.  Operators and maintainers provide continuous feedback.  Adjustments are made to the prototype or an entirely new prototype is created.  The updated prototype is, again, immediately fielded.  Eventually the prototype supplants legacy equipment,  If is is a brand new type of product, it is adopted for routine use.
Frank Wells Working on a Clarinet Mouthpiece

This is the way artisans evolve the set of tools they use for their work.  My mentor, Frank Wells, custom crafted woodwind mouthpieces.  There were no tools for this esoteric field, so he conceived and crafted his own.  I thought the most interesting one was an a protractor-like device he used for measuring the depth of the mouthpiece internal channel.

Since Robert and I started co-authoring articles on the Cycles for IEEE, we've discovered applications that are very similar to what we're proposing.  All those applications we've uncovered have resulted in products that are exactly what people needed for their work, ones that weren't horribly expensive to create.

I was recently reminded that back in the 1930's and 40's the method described by the Practitioner's Cycles was the way military systems were built.  Wright-Patterson Air Force Base circa 1930 had researchers developing new technologies, engineers working on new aircraft, pilots and maintainers to see that the planes supported mission objectives without being impossible to maintain, and testers to see that the important aspects of performance were methodically explored.  It was a system that worked well until specialization, fragmentation and Congress asserted itself.

Now construction of defense systems is spread to as many of the 50 states as possible.  This is to ensure broad congressional support for the program which allocates funds annually and could scratch those funds from subsequent appropriations.  Spreading development burdens these programs with unconscionable regulation, documentation and oversight.  Acquisition professionals can not keep up with all the regulations they need to satisfy to keep this process going.  The cost of regulatory overhead sucks dollars away from real development work all in the name of making sure taxpayer dollars are returned to each of the states.  This helps the representatives and senators of those states get re-elected.  Elected officials wanted voters to know that they are putting dollars back into their hands.

They untold story, of course, is that more tax money was required from those taxpayers in the first place.  Rather than implementing fiscally responsible policy that leaves more money in the hands of voters, more taxes were levied.  This diverted the control of that money from state residents and local and state projects into federal hands.  These financial resources could have gone into savings accounts, to state programs, or to help start new businesses if local control was maintained.  Or, if you want to stay at the federal level, these are dollars that could have gone toward reducing the federal debt.  This, again, is a move that would save taxpayers money in interest payments and result in more money in taxpayer pockets.  All done without artificial tax cuts that contribute to increasing the federal debt.

I don't really have any illusions that things will change because of our Practitioner's Cycles articles.  People who work in federal acquisition don't want more reform, because it usually means more confusion and oversight.  But acquisition professionals will candidly admit that current policy is wasteful.  I just point out that if your representative is one of those that displays the national debt on their web site, they are among those who are knowingly causing those numbers to climb.  It doesn't matter which side of the aisle they're on.  We, as citizens, have the responsibility to hold their feet to the fire.

Wednesday, January 5, 2011

Visions of Venus

I've been thinking about  vision creation.  No I'm not contemplating calling on my alleged native american roots (1/16 according to my maternal grandmother) for a peyote experience.  I'm more thinking about where our successful visions come from.  The most engaging ones, I've concluded have come through the humanities.

In the 1950s and 1960s writers like Robert Heinlein, Arthur C. Clark and Isaac Asimov painted pictures of futures which were tied by a thoughtful projection of the present into the future.  Each of these writers were scientists, but it was their fictional portrayals that captured imaginations and catalyzed actions.  Their stories were fanciful and technically credible.  They lead to inventions such as our communications satellites which have shrunk the world.

The Babylon 5, Star Trek, Star Gate, and Star War sagas are great fun, but they project to futures that are difficult to link with our starting point.  Warp drive, light speed, multiple humanoid species, time travel are out of our reach.  True, display technology caught up with and overcame the Star Trek screens of the 60s.  And it doesn't seem as though a holographic room like the holodeck is too far away. 

How do we reconcile things like a holodeck with visions of the future being painted in the National Geographic series on population growth?  Holographs are not going to give us the space and the resources needed to address population growth.  Where will they come from when every technological gain comes at a tremendous price in natural habitat for animals, fish, fresh water, and farming.  I put the four of those into the list to emphasize that to protect these resources is to safeguard our own survival.

On Facebook, Corrine Bayraktaroglu has been posting links that describe birds and fish that are being found dead in great numbers.  The current National Geographic talks about the negative effects of US Navy's sonar tests on fish breeding grounds and on whale migratory patterns.  National security is a concern, food is a concern, specie diversity is a concern, hunger is a concern, ...  all inter-related.

The planet Venus has been associated with my contemplations of vision.  What I've discovered about terraforming Venus doesn't sound very promising...but then obtaining resources from or living on Mars doesn't sound very hopeful either.  Both sound exciting, but I wonder if either are relevant.  Maybe it's just the space-weenie in me talking, but it seems to me that we're going to need off-planet resources to meet future challenges.  Obtaining those resources plays into the same inter-relatedness as the other issues.  Where is the fuel to come from?  What are the environmental impacts?  Will the benefits ever outweigh the cost?

Trips to Venus and Mars could be elaborately crafted in cinematographic fashion by adding a few lurid scenes and beings that take over human bodies.  Entertainments like these pitch us into virtual adventures with fantastic creatures in terrifying circumstances.  We call this escapism.  
I can't help but wonder if we are doing ourselves a disservice by failing to embed education in the setting of adventures like these, undertakings that are fashioned from real world challenges.  Certainly the issues this planet and humankind will face in this millennium will generate adrenalin akin to what is experience with Assassin's CreedAnd I don't mean euphemism-gutted, sugar-coated versions.  I mean laying out the stories in epic form, anthropomorphizing  eminent catastrophes as opponents, and challenging students to build guilds in virtual and real worlds that attack the villains, and bring the big bosses down on every level.
Relevant storytelling on an epic scale seems to be missing from our literature.  Only in tales of the past or the unachievable future do we find these stories laid out.  The histories can inform our future actions, but they don't provide a vision to work toward.  Visions of hope and ingenuity need to be painted by writers, poets, artists, and filmmakers, -- Art bringing people to Life.  Visions help to get all of us moving in a common direction.  Stories will help us to address what will be truly valuable to our long-term survival, survival that extends beyond the national debt.
Boo Ehrsam added to Corrine's Facebook entry, "The Universe is Speaking, will we listen?"  Epic stories afford us the ability to listen and to respond.