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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.

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.”

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?

Bailing on a broken system

The idea of using objective criteria to decide which criminal defendants are freed pending trial and which are thrown in jail may sound slightly chilling. For starters, who’s to say what’s “objective”? Sabermetrics may have improved a baseball manager’s ability to forecast a player’s performance, but can statistical analysis really predict defendants’ flight risk and fairly determine the limits of their liberty?

Under budget and overly cruel

People who are fans of the long-running Star Trek franchise might recognize the philosophical underpinnings of Rep. Paul Ryan’s latest budget proposal. With strictures on virtually every social welfare program and a big boost to military spending, it’s pretty clear that Ryan would like the United States to more closely resemble the Klingon Empire.

Unflattering light of history

Over the past weekend Darren Aronofsky’s biblical epic, “Noah”, sailed into first place at the box office. For something approaching a month, the film has been criticized for taking license with what many hold to be the facts of the great flood. While the departures du jour often spark heated controversy, we must remember that this is a glib entertainment, not a historical document. As many say of such transformations — the book was better.

Closing in on barbaric hunts

The cause of human decency took a small step forward with a decision by the International Court of Justice (i.e. World Court) at The Hague, Netherlands on Monday. With its ruling in the case, Australia v. Japan, the court found that Japan’s program of whaling for the purposes of “science” was illegal under international law.

Secret Service bad boys

The U.S. Secret Service has a tough job — protecting the president and other top federal officials — which, by and large, it performs capably and professionally. Indeed, for many years its reputation for bravery and effectiveness has been right up there with the Navy SEALs and other elite American fighting forces.

Decline presents opportunity for rebirth

According to a recent U. S. Census Bureau intercensal estimation, the population of Jefferson County has continued to decline. By extension, the population of Pine Bluff has also continued to decline. The effects of this decades-long slide into non-existence have been well-documented in the pages of this paper. So too has a call for the deep, systemic changes necessary to thwart this creep toward the abyss.

Lives staged for death

All across America a complex interaction between criminal justice and rap artists is unfolding. In many ways we’ve been here before. The 1989 arrest of 2 Live Crew band members in Hollywood, Fla., over accusations of public obscenity is perhaps the leading example. Decades later, the content of rap songs is finding a new place in legal proceedings: as confessions to crimes.

Finding genetic criminals

On this day in 1905, a British court found brothers, Alfred and Albert Stratton, guilty of murdering and robbing two shopkeepers, Ann and Thomas Farrow. What makes this case notable is the evidence used to support the conviction. There were no reliable witnesses, there was only Alfred Stratton’s right thumb print left on the Farrow’s cash box.

Mammoth day in language history

On this day 210 years ago today, President Thomas Jefferson helped transform a small rhetorical barb into a “mammoth” part of our language. He did so on the floor of the U. S. Senate when he and the assembled crowd devoured an enormous loaf of bread which onlookers termed the “Mammoth Loaf.”

Table top diplomacy revisited

Late last week, the first lady of the United States, Michelle Obama journeyed to the People’s Republic of China. The trip was a family vacation of sorts. She had her mother and her daughters in tow. While not a formal diplomatic mission, any sojourn by the first family carries those obligations with it. So too was it with Obama’s trip to the PRC.