Pondering about risk-takers amid fruits of American Revolution


This Fourth of July made me think about risk-takers, the positives and negatives about being one.

The Founding Fathers were risk-takers. By signing the Declaration of Independence, those 56 men put themselves at risk by publicly taking a stand, laying out King George III’s “repeated injuries and usurpations” against the 13 colonies.

Independence Day honors their willingness to risk death to protect freedom. Today they are heroes. In 1776, they made themselves targets of the British.

Then there are calculated risk-takers, including the Cirque du Soleil performers at all of their shows in Las Vegas and around the world.

Since the death of Cirque du Soleil acrobat Sarah Guyard-Guillot, 31, who fell 90 feet June 29 at the end of the “Ka” show, stories have been written about the safety precautions. But what the performers did nightly obviously included risks. At some point, we will learn what caused her fall. Hopefully, it wasn’t because of any unnecessary risk.

Acrobats at all these Cirque shows in Las Vegas and around the world push themselves and know they are taking risks that could create injuries, But now the prospect of death is part of their risk calculations.

The 19 firefighters who died Sunday in Arizona were risk-takers, and they took their risks to save the homes of others. Those were selfless risk-takers, their motives were pure. Sure, firefighters may get a thrill out of it, but it’s serious business. You don’t even start training to be a Hotshot if you’re not a risk-taker.

Then there are risk-takers like Dr. Dipak Desai. After two months of testimony, a jury found him guilty Monday as charged on all counts, including second-degree murder, criminal neglect, substantial bodily harm, insurance fraud, theft and obtaining money under false pretenses.

Desai is a risk-taker of the worst kind.

He took risks with other people’s lives for one reason only, to make himself rich. He’s among the most contemptible of risk-takers. He calculated that no one would report him (but they did) or no one would believe the accusations. He was right about that.

The Nevada Board of Medical Examiners blew off complaints about Desai’s unsafe medical practices, and shame on them.

Desai calculated his political power would protect him, and it did, until officials at the Southern Nevada Health District spotted the pattern of hepatitis C among patients at his endoscopy clinics and uncovered a monster.

He took another risk by going to trial instead of negotiating a plea bargain. Now he faces more time behind bars. He has been in jail since the verdict Monday.

The 62,000 people tested to see whether they had contracted a life-threatening disease may have been celebrating Desai’s loss of freedom on the day the country celebrates freedom for all.

Locally, our biggest risk-taker today is Tony Hsieh. He’s risking his own money and his reputation as a visionary to create a new downtown. If he does it, he deserves all the hoorays and huzzahs that mark every Independence Day. If he doesn’t, well, he tried.

The last risk-taker who sticks in my mind is not local, he’s Edward Snowden, the leaker of government information now stuck in the airport in Moscow, looking for a country willing to take him.

One can only wonder whether the National Security Agency contractor who leaked information about our government’s mass surveillance programs regrets taking that risk.

Doubtlessly he will be asked that question in 20 years or so, when the ramifications for him and the United States are fully understood.

Most wonder if his Fourth of July spent in a Moscow airport was one where he felt pride or regrets.

Jane Ann Morrison’s column appears Monday, Thursday and Saturday. Email her at Jane@reviewjournal.com or call her at (702) 383-0275.