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In the mid-90s, I had the pleasure of showing the Chairman of the Coca-Cola Company, Roberto Guizeta around his first visit to the campus of McDonald’s global home office in Oak Brook, and we had an interesting exchange about root beer as we drove between buildings in his limousine.
Coke had just bought the company that made my favorite root beer, Barq’s “It’s Good,” and I took the occasion to ask him about it. Coke already had its own root beer brand, so I wondered out loud, “Roberto, what made you decide to buy Barq’s?” In his strong Cuban accent, he answered, between long pulls on a Camel cigarette, “Charles, my grandfather in Cuba, he like root beeer very much, and he made his own. I buy Barqs for him…plus, it was a very good deal!”
And that there was a connection to Charles Lindbergh?
From today’s Writer’s Almanac:
It’s the birthday of philosopher and writer Jean-Paul Sartre, born in Paris (1905). This giant of existential thought was also a well-known prankster during his days at the École Normale. He and a friend dropped water balloons from the roof onto dinner guests in tuxedos, shouting, “Thus pissed Zarathustra!” He sometimes showed up naked to official functions, and he vomited on the feet of a school official. After Charles Lindbergh successfully flew across the Atlantic, Sartre and several of his friends announced to the media that Lindbergh would be receiving an honorary degree at the École Normale, then one of them impersonated Lindbergh and convinced the media that he was at the school. There was such an uproar when it turned out to be a hoax that the school’s president was forced to resign.
In 1964, Sartre was awarded the Nobel Prize in literature, but he refused it. When he died in 1980, 50,000 people turned out on the streets of Paris to pay their respects.
He wrote: “I was there, standing in front of a window whose panes had a definite refraction index. But what feeble barriers! I suppose it is out of laziness that the world is the same day after day. Today it seemed to want to change. And then, anything, anything could happen.”
New revelations of vast NSA programs to monitor telephone use to intercept terrorist plans again raises the question of whether the effect of such whistle-blowing of top-secret security processes adds to the cleansing potential of democratic transparency or degrades the ability of our government to protect the population.
The answer is that such revelations result in both increased public oversight, or in other words, enhanced democracy, but also a possibly somewhat weaker security apparatus. In our post-1984 world, where our national politics have been accurately described as “a carnival of dysfunction,” the regular exercise of democratic oversight by the people, through intrusions by well-meaning whistle-blowers and responsible news media, is one way to preserve the fundamental principles of our democracy. My belief is that the cost of such “intrusions” into the inner sanctums of our government security establishment are justified by the balancing results of political and governmental accountability to a society of free people — a people who yearn to remain free in a complicated, dangerous information age.