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Tramp explores deep themes

Today we mark the 125th anniversary of silent film star Charlie Chaplin’s birth. While best remembered for his character, the Little Tramp, his career was much broader than that one famous visage. He was a director, a screen writer and a composer. Along with other film luminaries, D. W. Griffith, Douglas Fairbanks and Mary Pickford, Chaplin founded the United Artists production company. Long recognized as one of the most influential filmmakers of all time, it’s fitting that we take stock of his legacy.

Harmless drones get federal flak

In March 2012, volunteers spent four days looking for a 2-year-old boy who wandered away from his home outside Houston, Texas. They found him only after volunteers reviewing images captured by a drone-mounted aerial camera saw a flash of red in a pond that had already been searched. It turned out to be a shirt worn by the child, who had drowned.

Chasing the jumping flea

In a December 2013 column I confessed to the ownership and operation of a ukulele. Since then a number of other furtive uke players have emailed to share their tales of four-stringed folly. Even so, I know deep-down that the ukulele is largely regarded as a novelty… something 1920s Ivy League guys played while hanging out of a Stutz Bearcat or heaven forbid, Tiny Tim’s instrument of choice.

Wall Street’s flash point

In “The Financier,” his great novel of American capitalism, Theodore Dreiser describes the thinking of his hero, Frank Cowperwood, who exploited banks, the state and investors. It isn’t wise to steal outright, Cowperwood concludes; that would be wrong. But “there were so many situations wherein what one might do in the way of taking or profiting was open to discussion and doubt. Morality varied, in his mind at least, with conditions, if not climates.”

Danger of doing business in cyberspace

Bankers in Arkansas, state chartered or national, aren’t going to like this column. Nor will utility companies, retailers — any business that conducts business in cyberspace, which includes pretty much the state and nation and much of the world. A huge majority of their presidents, managers and clerks will dismiss me as an old fogey, behind-the-times, a crank; they will sniff, or force a smile, and gently insist that I just don’t understand computer commerce, don’t comprehend how safe and secure are their systems.

The meaning of marriage

“Charges of bigotry … are the ultimate secular insult,” Caroline Farrow tells me. “The cry of ‘bigot’ is bandied around so much these days,” she observes, “that it has begun to lose some of its potency.”

Staying up-to-date on recalls will help keep kids, family safe

With every passing year, we learn about products that can be unintentionally dangerous or harmful to children such as disc batteries or single-load liquid laundry packets that look like candy. Many families are surprised to learn that even the equipment they buy to comfort or protect their children sometimes develops defects or creates unsafe risks. Who would want to find out after their newborn was injured by the bassinet falling out of its frame that this brand was part of product recall that they knew nothing about?

Lifting the lid on campaign contributions

The Supreme Court decision killing limits on total donations to political candidates means billionaires will be running amok. Casino magnate Sheldon Adelson can lay out astronomical sums to help Republicans. Oilmen Charles and David Koch can see him and raise him. Former New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg can burn through his fortune like a blowtorch.

An off-base idea

After any mass shooting, a vocal faction in Congress insists that Americans would be safer if more people carried guns into restricted public places. Allowing teachers to carry firearms on campus struck us as not helpful. But now that Fort Hood, Texas, has seen its second rampage in five years, the argument seems stronger when applied to military bases: Aren’t they filled with well-trained, trustworthy marksmen who could take down would-be mass murderers? Why not allow military personnel to carry weapons on base?