Today, our search for the inventive mind takes us
to the seamy side of things. The University of
Houston's College of Engineering presents this
series about the machines that make our
civilization run, and the people whose ingenuity
Dope is scary stuff. We
watch with an awful feeling of impotence as it
corrodes our society. The drug trade seems
invisible. We have no clear idea how to fight it.
We don't know how it works. We don't know how
Enter Ansley Hamid, an anthropology professor at
John Jay college in New York. He's no conventional
academic. Hamid wears a beard and beret. He looks
like a beat poet left over from the '50s. We catch
up with him in Harlem, talking to a young woman --
half strung out on crack.
Hamid offers her a little money for conversation.
She says "Come on in." A cynical sign on her
refrigerator says, "Just say NO to drugs." Hamid
asks a few questions. She opens up easily. She's
25. She tells about her work as a hooker.
Hamid wonders where she spends her money. Where
does she shoot up? After half an hour, he knows a
lot about her. He knows things about her world
you'd think were deep, dark secrets.
But Hamid has learned to look just like the peeling
wallpaper of that world. He knows you don't mail
questionnaires to people on the other side of the
And what's he found out? First, these aren't smooth
operators. They're people who've never had anything
and have no idea how to manage money. A dealer
might keep $25,000 in a sock under his bed and
never think about going to the bank. He'll pay cash
for fancy suits and cars. The users are a captive
market. Dealers keep crack prices high with little
He's found that sex is a commodity here. Crack
increases sexual interest, but it dampens virility.
Hamid studies the sordid details of sexual behavior
to see how AIDS moves through this nether world.
He studies the mechanics of family dysfunction. He
learns what role rebellion plays in driving kids
into this life. Finally he takes off his mask of
membership, and he talks to us:
". . . you see how individuals are formed,"
he says, "how they end up being channeled into
the drug world. The next step is to figure out what
kind of interventions can be designed to work with
That's the 64-dollar question. That's
what we need to know, and it's what this fascinating
man is in a peculiar place to tell us.
The search for the inventive mind takes us to
strange places. Here, it's brought us to a cool
visionary who can observe without obtruding his
person. Creativity is, after all, recognition.
Creativity is the mystic ability to see things as
they are -- not as we fear them, or as we wish they
were. And that's what we need -- to cope with this
chamber of horrors.
I'm John Lienhard, at the University of Houston,
where we're interested in the way inventive minds