- - Friday, May 25, 2012

Jack Andraka, a 15-year-old from Maryland, just won the world’s largest high school science competition by creating a new test for pancreatic cancer, one of the nastiest and most lethal forms of the disease.

According to various news reports, the winning submission at the Intel International Science and Engineering Fair is “28 times cheaper” than existing tests and far, far more accurate. Jack received $75,000 for his efforts, and he has applied for a patent as well. That probably will earn him far more in the years to come.

This comes on the heels of the achievement of another teen wunderkind. In December, Angela Zhang, 17, won the Siemens Competition in Math, Science and Technology for inventing a new way of finding and attacking cancer cells. Some people think it might lead to a cure for cancer some day.

Angela and Jack probably can spend the rest of their high school careers playing video games in the basement, given that their college search is going to be pretty stress-free from here on out.

But that’s the real world for you. Impressive kids - or grown-ups - invent fantastic things, potentially benefitting millions of people, if not all of mankind. The inventors are rewarded, consumers benefit, and the economy grows. Woo-hoo!

Of course, the real world isn’t the world many people imagine it to be. In the Hollywood version of this tale, Angela would have disappeared when rumors of her invention hit the boardrooms and star chambers of Big Pharma. Bruce Willis would have to come out of retirement as the rogue agent willing to put his life on the line to keep Jack safe from the goon-squad ninjas of Bristol-Myers Squibb or the wetwork teams from Pfizer.

After all, cures and cheaper tests hurt the bottom line of those evil corporations, and we all know profit is all they care about. I mean, haven’t you read or seen “The Constant Gardener,” the John le Carre book and movie about evil corporations testing drugs on Africans and offing the whistleblowers at every turn?

That’s what corporations do, right? At least that’s what my kid is taught. In “Beethoven,” the evil munitions industry shoots Saint Bernards to test bullets. In “The Lorax,” businesses hate trees. In “The Muppets,” they hate Muppets (and love oil). I think in nearly every movie involving cute woodland creatures (“Furry Vengeance,” “Yogi Bear,” et al.) businesses are always the bad guys.

When kids get older, they learn from John Grisham movies that big businesses kill people in order to get what they want. In “Aliens,” the company wants to smuggle space critters that likely will wipe out all humanity in the slim hope they’ll eke out a bit more profit. In “Avatar,” the Halliburton of the future slaughters intelligent aliens and rapes their planet just to make a buck.

At Cannes, where anti-capitalist movies are always a hit, Brad Pitt’s newest venture, “Killing Them Softly,” is touted as a seething indictment of the American system. “America isn’t a country - it’s a business” is the film’s central insight, apparently. Set against the backdrop of the 2008 financial crisis, the film reportedly was financed by Megan Ellison, daughter of billionaire businessman Larry Ellison.

No wonder that when these kids grow up, some of them make documentaries about how vast conspiracies keep the electric car and, no doubt, the Everlasting Gobstopper off the market. Even more of them uncritically accept this stuff. After all, everyone knows big-business men are evil.

So the ones getting involved in politics, at least Republican politics, must be the sorts of bad guys we’ve all seen in the movies.

Warren Buffett and George Soros can’t be greedy; after all, they’re simply trying to “give something back.”

Now, truth be told, I’m no lover of big corporations, but not because I think they want to poison their customers or shoot my dog for target practice. My problem isn’t that they’re too rapaciously capitalistic.

Rather, it’s that they’re too opportunistic, too eager to abandon the free market and work with the government under the false flag of the greater good.

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