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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.

All in a year’s work

People in the Western world have celebrated January 1 as the dawn of a new year for more than two millennia. We can credit the establishment of this date to the Roman emperor, Julius Caesar. After years of frustrating inaccuracies in time keeping, Caesar decreed that changes would be made to the old Roman lunar-based calendar system.

Tommy May set standards

The frustrating thing about Tommy May is that because he checks so many boxes in life, we’re not sure which Tommy May we’re going to miss the most. Family man, check. Man of faith, check. Nice guy/neighbor, check. Community leader, check. Local cheerleader of the highest order, check. Bank guru, check. Rock star on state and national stage, check. Inspiration to all, check.

Political cancer reflects mortality

Just this week the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) released a report about the leading causes of death for the general U.S. population. The report authored by Melonie Heron, Ph.D., in the CDC Division of Vital Statistics, listed heart disease, cancer and respiratory diseases as the leading causes of death in 2010 (most recent year with complete data) for the general population, while birth defects and low birth weight were the top two causes of death for infants.

Eastern fun in western context

During the interregnum between Christmas and New Year’s Day, life often takes an odd pause. It is not quite the holidays, but seems as though it could be. We return things, spend gift cards and perhaps prepare for one more night of revelry.

St. Stephen with rubber ducks

Typical American observances on December 26th often include indigestion, lethargy and contemplation of furtive gift returns. For our British, Irish, Canadian and New Zealander cousins, the day after Christmas brings another holiday: Boxing Day.

Santa Claus gets schooled

According to ABC News, more than 70,000 people will don the big red suit and play Santa Claus in malls, parades, office parties and other venues. While a goodly number of individuals take on this noble calling as volunteers, there’s an increasing cadre of professional Santas. Many come from retirees looking to make extra money to supplement their income.

Inventor of sound and fury passes

Ask anyone who has served in the armed forces during a conflict and they’ve probably heard its signature sound. The Avtomat Kalashnikova model 47 — or AK-47 as it is more popularly known — has a sound when fired that is unlike any other. The Kremlin announced today that the inventor of this storied weapon, Mikhail Kalashnikov, has died at age 94.

Puzzlements a century long

There’s a peculiar marketing term that’s popular these days: Interactive media. The implication is that the consumer “interacts” with the media product, rather than simply sitting there, passively absorbing whatever is being presented. While this term is popular today as a means to describe Internet content, the concept is actually quite old. Today we celebrate a milestone in the history of “interactive” media.

The case for ‘tapering’

It’s not always wise to judge economic events by Wall Street’s reaction. But there was a rational basis for the markets’ ecstatic response to Federal Reserve Chairman Ben S. Bernanke’s announcement Wednesday of a “taper” in central-bank asset purchases. Part of the Fed’s unconventional response to the Great Recession has been a massive expansion of its balance sheet, including the recent addition of about $85 billion per month in government or government-backed securities.

Where there’s smoke there’s debate

In a scant two weeks people in Colorado will be able to legally purchase marijuana for recreational use — at least as far as that state’s laws are concerned. It still remains quite illegal under federal law — Schedule I of the federal Controlled Substances Act of 1970. Few aspects of modern culture provide a more desultory crazy quilt of public policy than do the various state approaches to marijuana. They run the gamut from places that seek to have the substance wholly legalized to decriminalization for medicinal purposes as well as states that stick to well-established strident criminal penalties.