In the film John Q., Denzel Washington plays a working-class dad who holds a hospital emergency room at gunpoint to get a heart transplant for his nine-year-old son. The film's critique of health care in the United States is hard to miss: The poor lack the funds and often the insurance coverage needed for organ transplants. But there's also the unspoken, murkier theme of race, which raises some unsettling questions about our ability to prolong life. The surgeons, hospital officials, and happy heart recipients depicted in John Q. are all white; the hero and his family, denied the benefits of transplantation, are black.
My fourth-grade research project on dams lacked data from the field until I got a lucky break: An uncle had connections at the Conowingo Dam. (He was in the concrete business; Conowingo is 435,000 cubic yards of concrete.) We drove down U.S. 1 to the Susquehanna River in Maryland and took an official tour. Deep in the dam's innards, I stood over an enormous sluiceway, spellbound by the whirling shaft of a turbine as big as a house. Every 60 seconds--the guide shouted--38 million gallons of water pass through the dam, generating electricity for a million and a half residential customers.
The dramas in April over the downed U.S. reconnaissance plane and the sale of arms to Taiwan have revealed a burgeoning American hawkishness toward China. Centrists have joined conservatives in blaming America for being soft on the Communists and weak in supporting democratic Taiwan. But this growing fashion for fulmination is misguided, for two reasons: First, Beijing isn't being belligerent out of the blue; and second, selling Taiwan our highest-tech weapons is more likely to hurt Taiwan's democracy than to help it.