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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.

In the pipeline: Good policy

Environmentalists have drawn a line in the sand on the Keystone XL pipeline. It’s the wrong line in the wrong sand, far away from any realistic assessment of the merits — as yet another government analysis has confirmed. It’s past time for President Obama to set aside politics and resolve this bizarre distraction of an issue.

Smoke signals for public health

Earlier this week two things happened that stand to improve public health, save lives and reduce the strain on health care delivery. The first of these was an announcement by the drug store giant, CVS Caremark Corporation, that the chain would no longer sell tobacco products. The second was the rollout of a program by the Food and Drug Administration titled “The Real Costs” — of smoking.

Opiate abuse rising across America

With the recent death of famed actor Phillip Seymour Hoffman, due to what appears to be a heroin overdose, we are given pause to reflect on that drug’s place in our culture. Heroin and other opiates constitute a significant threat on many frontiers. It’s time that law enforcement, the medical community and public policymakers find a more effective strategy to curb this rising tide.

Century spent coming full circle

In a 1914 speech, President Woodrow Wilson observed: “Some Americans need hyphens in their names because only part of them has come over; but when the whole man has come over, heart and thought and all, the hyphen drops of its own weight out of his name. This man was not an Irish-American; he was an Irishman who became an American.”

Ode to avarice and ego

It’s often said that nothing happens in a vacuum. A recent theft from a Milwaukee musician exemplifies the truth of the old adage. As the New York Times reported last week, thieves stole a 1715 Stradivarius violin from the concert master of the Milwaukee Symphony Orchestra.