Informed minority better than uninformed masses

By Ned Cantwell: State Columnist

The reason I don’t drive a fancy Lexus or jet off to Europe on regular weekend getaways, I guess, is because I can’t come up with the revolutionary idea, the million-dollar brainstorm that will change how people live or how society conducts itself.

Worse than that, I am not sure I can recognize a good idea.

Say, for instance, a guy approached me 50 years ago and said he was going to take a colorful plastic tube, connect the two ends, then tell people to drape it around their tummies and rotate their butts. I would have said to this fellow you really need help. You need to see someone. Who would ever pay a buck for something called the Hula Hoop?

Can you imagine being confronted by a couple of college geeks who suggest you give them a few thousand to invest in something called Google? Yeah, right, fellow, back into the garage with you. Smoke some more of that happy weed.

Who am I to say an idea is good or bad? And, yet, I am saying it. Arizona’s contracted a major case of the fruit loops when she considered the ballot lottery. The way it worked, see, is you would get a free lottery ticket just by voting, and the winner was guaranteed a million dollars.

The concept captured the imagination of New York Times editors who annually list the most interesting ideas of the year, 74 achieving stardom on the prestigious newspaper’s pages.

There is, for instance, the beer-gut flask, a contraption you wrap around your tummy so you can suck down a six-pack of beer without ever leaving your easy chair. Perfect for that “big game,” except someone needs to come up with a companion product so you don’t have to get up to go pee.

Also on the list, and this is not a derogatory comment aimed at those who use the beer-gut flask, is the one-man blimp, a device you can actually fly.

Were you to make a list of “ideas that really matter,” I suspect you would include the straw that saves lives. Drink a toast to the Switzerland company that invented LifeStraw, a personal water-purification device that filters out 99.99 percent of parasites and bacteria from any water source.

You can decide where the vote lottery belongs on the list, but I would stick it between the beer flask and the blimp, then label them all “dumb.”

The guy who came up with the Arizona scheme believes democracy is served if you dangle a prize in front of the voter by way of prompting him to climb out of his beer-gut flask and drive to the polls. He would finance the scheme by using the $2.7 million lottery winnings going unclaimed in Arizona. A million buck first prize would be augmented by 1,700 prizes of $1,000 each. Arizona voters scratched the idea during the November election. Good for them.

Unclaimed lottery prizes, it turns out, are a fact of life, the New Mexico Lottery folks tell me, but they couldn’t readily come up with the number for our state.

Voter turnout is important only if the voter makes the effort because he has some passing interest in the outcome, has done at least minimal research. I’d rather have 25 percent of people who have a nodding acquaintance with the issues, than 75 percent turnout of folks who know nothing but are just looking to get rich.
But that’s just my idea.

Ned Cantwell of Ruidoso is a retired newspaper publisher and member of the New Mexico Press Association Hall of Fame. E-mail him at: