Thursday, August 30, 2012

Why I Vote Democratic - Part 4

At the beginning of the year, I did a guest post at the now-defunct AskCherlock, in which I explained the reasons why I vote Democratic.  It was kind of a long piece, consisting of a list of chasm-sized differences between the two parties.  But even though the post was over four pages long (in Word), I felt like I wasn’t getting into the issues deeply enough. 

I also wanted to run the material here too, so I figured I would take each item on the list and flesh it out into its own post.  I posted Part 1 on May 15th, Part 2 on July 26th, and Part 3 on August 14th. 

So with the presidential campaign in full swing and Convention Season upon us, I continue…  Today’s topic doesn’t come from my original post.  Reading about what was said at the Republican National Convention put the next one right under my nose. 

Disclaimer:  When I refer to “Republicans” here, I’m referring only to the national party leaders and political apparatus.  The same goes for my use of “Democrats.”  Local jurisdictions may vary and I have no knowledge or comment about them.  Also, my “Reasons” in this series appear in no particular order. 

I didn’t watch the Republican Convention last night, but I had my twitter feed up on my iPad as I was watching less aggravating shows.  Speaker after speaker, I could see my feed blowing up, highlighting one malicious lie or distortion after another.  You can find a fuller list of full and partial mistruths, by clicking here.

The distortions are bad enough, but you can almost write them off as “politics as usual," because everyone will stretch a point.”  What I’m talking about is doing things like complaining about how Obama hasn’t made the economy better yet.  While it seems legitimate on the surface, it’s a distortion because is assumes that the president is working in a vacuum. 

Obviously, the Republicans are glossing right over the (considerable) role they played in creating these harsh economic conditions, like starting two wars and keeping them “off the books,” the bank bailout, a massive prescription drug benefit, and of course, the infamous Bush Tax Cuts, which gave a few bucks back to the Middle Class, while slashing hunks off the tax bill of the top 1%.

Every time they talk about Obama’s “out of control spending,” they are willfully ignoring that right off the top, he put the cost of Bush’s Iraq and Afghanistan wars onto the books, where they should have been all along.  Also, the cost of the Stimulus package is counted against him, even though the circumstances that made it necessary were borne from the Bush era.  And even with all of that, you can still see that spending is hardly “out of control.”
They also ignore their own opposition to and obstruction of every single economic remedy the president has tried to pass, not because it wouldn’t help the economy, but because Obama wanted it.

In my book, you don’t get to hold up every piece of legislation and then sit back and complain that nothing got done.  It’s dishonest and immoral.  Even kids on a playground know this is dirty pool.

But the thing that really sent my head reeling was Paul Ryan’s claim that Obama failed to keep a GM plant from his district, from closing.  Again, it sounds like a legitimate beef, right up until you realize that the plant closed before Obama took office! 

Paul Ryan knew when the plant closed.  So did his speechwriters and everyone involved with the convention’s message.  They just didn't care.  He went right out there and told a bald-face, unequivocal lie to the American people and got applause for it.

Twitter erupted over that one, even including a tweet from former Michigan governor Jennifer Granholm, calling Ryan out on this blatant falsification.  Others also pointed out how the Republicans have the president set up in a no-win situation.

On one hand, Ryan criticized Obama for not doing enough (as a mere candidate for office, no less) to keep a plant from closing, while also criticizing him for the auto industry bailout, which successfully kept Chrysler from bankruptcy and saved a ton of jobs.  What the hell was the guy supposed to do?

Unless you are an officer with a Fortune 500 company, the Republicans don’t give a rat’s ass about your troubles.  The only people they care about are the richest 1% in the country and they are willing to hold your life and livelihood hostage, in order see that their miniscule but influential clientele is served.  They are willing to lie to your face, misdirect your attention and play to your prejudices in order to get you to vote against your self-interest.

They are perfectly willing to let the country spiral down the tubes if it gives them a better chance to take back control of the government.  And THEN, they plan to bring back the same ideals that got us into trouble in the first place.  (Cut taxes to the wealthy and roll back regulations that keep those one-percenters from boning us even further.)

Even if it’s an idea that they’ve agreed with in the past (with video clips to prove it), if Obama is for it, they’ll tell you how they are now and always have been against it.  The idea’s merit is irrelevant to them; the only relevance is keeping the president from even the appearance of a victory, so that that they can use it against him later.  (Like, now, for example, when claiming he hasn’t fixed the economy yet.)

And these dipshits think we should put them back in office?  That’s like them borrowing a car, stripping it of all it’s useful parts and running it into a ditch and then asking for the keys back after you fix it.

These are not people that should be running a civilized country.  This kind of emotional and intellectual dishonesty is the 4th reason why I vote Democratic.  You should too.

Tuesday, August 28, 2012


You know enough about me by now to know that I’m all about the triumph of science over superstition and mythology (usually masquerading as religion).  In that respect, I saw some good news yesterday that a popular bastion of scientific study has entered the public “debate” on evolution.

Bill Nye “The Science Guy” used to have a show on PBS that ran from 1993 to 1998, on which he’d teach kids about science through demonstrations, experiments and snappy repartee.  I never saw it, as I was in my 30s at the time and had other pursuits that were more pressing, like getting married, playing hockey and getting divorced, then moving 600 miles away from it all.  So when I think about “The Science Guy,” the first thing that comes to mind is…

Dr. Magnus Pyke, aka, the old fart from the 1980s Thomas Dolby music video “She Blinded Me With Science,” who kept popping up exclaiming, “Science!”  And any second I expected Benny Hill to appear and start smacking him on top of his head.

"Evolution is the fundamental idea in all of life science, in all of biology. It's like, it's very much analogous to trying to do geology without believing in tectonic plates. You're just not going to get the right answer. Your whole world is just going to be a mystery instead of an exciting place.”

He goes on to urge adults not to prevent the teaching of evolution:

"And I say to the grownups, if you want to deny evolution and live in your world, in your world that's completely inconsistent with everything we observe in the universe, that's fine, but don't make your kids do it because we need them. We need scientifically literate voters and taxpayers for the future. We need people that can - we need engineers that can build stuff, solve problems.”

Chalk this up as another reason social conservatives want to cut funding for PBS.  We got a guy here telling parents how to raise their kids!  Obviously, they can’t have young people walking around listening to all this “science talk.”  How will parents or the church be able to control these kids if they should find out they’ve been lied to their whole lives?

If they learn evolution is real, then they might find out that abstinence programs don’t work as advertised!  And what would happen if they accepted that mankind is contributing to climate change, and it’s really happening?  It would be chaos!

As a pre-emptive strike against that kind of thing, back in July, the Texas State Republican Party wrote a prohibition against teaching “critical thinking” into their party platform. To wit:

Knowledge-Based Education – We oppose the teaching of Higher Order Thinking Skills (HOTS) (values clarification), critical thinking skills and similar programs that are simply a relabeling of Outcome-Based Education (OBE) (mastery learning) which focus on behavior modification and have the purpose of challenging the student’s fixed beliefs and undermining parental authority.”

Can you believe that?  They don’t want their children to learn how to think!  OK, they don’t want their children to think in ways that might undermine their own authority.  I agree that it’s much easier to deal with children that believe every single thing you tell them, but are you really doing them a favor when they go out into the world and get laughed into oblivion?  I mean if they leave Texas, anyway, and go someplace that embraces that new-fangled book learnin’.

Granted, the Texas Party Communications Director tried to walk it back by saying how it was all a big mistake, but it can’t be easily removed.  But that still leaves the question of why, for fuck’s sake, their party convention voted to have it in there in the first place?

Thank goodness I learned me some mad critical thinking skillz, so I can criticize the fuck out of the Texas Republican Party Platform.  Apparently they mis-heard the sage wisdom of Faber College’s Dean Wormer, as “Fat, drunk and stupid is the way to go through life…”

I can’t imagine wanting anyone wanting their children to become automatons, into which they can download their particular worldview.  I do agree that I probably say that because I don’t have any children and I admit that after the thousandth argument about our changing times, I’d probably wish they would just shut up and agree with me so I can have my dinner in peace.  But it wouldn’t be right and it would do the child a disservice.

If a kid ever figures out that everything their parents or school ever taught them about how Earth came to be was wrong, what will they think about the rest of the stuff they were taught?

If I had kids, I’d want them to have the tools available to evaluate a situation and deal with it rationally.  If I’ve done a good job with instilling proper values, they should come to the right conclusion on their own.  This excludes, of course, the years between 12 and 24, because face it; we’ve all done stupid shit at that age that just defies explanation.  But the tools remain with us.

To teach your children to adhere to fanciful myths, however steeped in tradition, which conflict with mountains of visible, quantifiable, and rock-solid evidence is essentially lining them up to work as fuel transfer technicians* or Fox “News” analysts for the rest of their lives.

And we’ve got to do better than that

*That’s what we used to call a gas station attendant.

Sunday, August 26, 2012


Today I feel completely uninspired to write anything of great wit, depth or complexity.  So I’m going with a cheap joke.

Back in the 70s, the National Lampoon was not only famous for their bawdy humor magazine (to which I subscribed), but the also put out a series of comedy albums.  One of the cool things was that their “cast” starred some folks that went on to become much more famous, starring in the first few casts of Saturday Night Live.  They included Gilda Radner, Bill Murray, Brian Doyle-Murray, John Belushi, Christopher Guest and Harold Ramis, the latter of whom went on to become a film star and director.

Watching the London Olympics reminded me of an old favorite (completely NSFW) bit they did about little gymnast, Nadia Comaneci, the punch line of which became kind of a refrain among my friends and I, back in the day.  The sketch features Brian Doyle-Murray and Rhonda Coulett.

Where the female announcer is cut off is where the next sketch started right up on the album.  That’s how they rolled back then.

I don’t know why it took me so long to look some of these sketches up on YouTube, but there are a lot of them there.  Look for me to drop a few more favorites in the coming weeks.  And no, not all of them will be as nasty as this one.

In fact, here’s one that even your kids will love.  Well, “boy” kids, anyway…

Obviously, this bit provided inspiration for cartoonist Gary Larson's Far Side...

Thursday, August 23, 2012

Earthshaking News

I don’t know if you realize it or not, but today is a pretty noteworthy day.  If you live in the Eastern US, you might know what I’m talking about, as your life might have been changed forever by the event.  For it was one year ago today that we experienced
The Great Eastern Earthquake of 2011. 
May we have a moment of silence, please.

I can speak from personal experience as to the life-changing experience.  It was in a moment of frustration, as a result of stepping in for our vacationing Disaster Response guy during a time period that contained an earthquake AND an approaching hurricane, that I undid three months of physical therapy on my shoulder by hurling a fistful of napkins at my cube wall.  Afterwards, I was only too happy to turn Disaster Response back to the proper department.

Now here we are one year later, and there is still earthshaking news rattling around the Baltimore area.  It seems that an Eastern Shore bar has forsaken both the Baltimore Ravens and the Washington Redskins, and become an official Steelers bar.

I heard about it on the radio, as the morning show jocks (and other listeners) started complaining about it.  Here’s the situation:

Let me start with what the Eastern Shore is… The Eastern Shore is that little slice of Maryland on the eastern shore of the Chesapeake Bay, across from the mainland.  It’s a haven for crabbers and watermen in the central area, and is a primo vacation spot towards the south, where there is exposure to both the bay and the Atlantic Ocean.  (This is where Ocean City is.)

Anyway, a Chesapeake Bay dockside bar called the Red Eye Dock Bar has been trying to draw people to watch pro football there, but to no avail.  As you can see from the map, their location is equidistant between Baltimore and Washington, so you’d think that there would be plenty of fans of both teams to keep the place afloat on Sundays.

While they do a bustling business during the summer, the Eastern Shore is only really hopping during the summer.  During the fall and winter, it’s just the locals that are out and about.  So while they tried to drum up Sunday business to support the home teams, the locals just weren’t biting, preferring to stay home and watch the games on TV for free.  In order to keep doing Sunday business, something would have to change.

Into that void stepped a local Steelers Fan Club.  Apparently they had recently lost their home base bar and were in the market for another.  They approached the bar owner and proposed that in exchange for making Red Eye’s a Steelers bar, they would pack the place every Sunday during football season. 

It was really a no-brainer.  A business needs real customers with real dollars to spend.  They can’t pay the bills with home town spirit, so the owner accepted the deal, thus igniting the subsequent shit storm.

This morning as I lay in bed listening to the radio, I was severely tempted to call in and try to talk some sense into the morning show jocks, (but I didn’t want to spend 20 minutes on hold).  Instead of complaining about the “traitorous” bar, they should complain about the people that didn’t show up!  You can’t blame the bar for trying to drum up business.  Say what you will about Steeler fans, but their money is as green as anyone else’s.  You want to lay blame, lay it on the Ratbird and ‘Skins fans.  Of course, the station is not going to blame their listeners when there is another scapegoat available.  But that doesn’t make it right.

I will acknowledge, though, that one of the jocks made the above point, and tried to talk the other ones down off the ledge.  But I just had to laugh...  Steeler fans strike again!  There’s nothing like causing discord in enemy territory. 

Red Eye’s is not the first Steeler bar in the area; there are actually several.  Back when I first moved here, my brother and I used to go to one on the south end of town.  There were a couple of problems with this place, which kept me from going back.

First, the owners and customers seemed to spend an inordinate amount of time living in the 70s.  I mean, I appreciate Terry and Franco and Lambert and Swann as much as the next guy, but I prefer to dwell on our current team.  The 70s-era Pittsburgh Steelers Polka should remain there.  I’m more interested in the newer fight songs.

But the biggest problem to me was that if you weren’t there by 10:00 for a 1:00 game, you couldn’t get a seat.  Trust me; it’s no fun standing at a bar for four hours, watching a game.  And I was still in my (late) 30s then… I won’t stand for 10 minutes, now.

Most of the time, I don’t need to go to a sports bar at all to see a Steelers game in Baltimore.  Usually there are at least 10 out of 16 games that will be on regular TV, between the national games, the 2 against the Ratbirds, and any other game where the Steelers aren’t on directly opposite Baltimore.  This year, for example, I expect that all but 4 games will be on TV.  I work it out as soon as the schedule comes out in May.

As you may have seen in prior posts, I have a regular sports bar, Jilly’s, that I frequent when the Steelers aren’t on TV.  Technically it’s a “Ravens Roost,” but they have all the games on, and fans of all teams come in to watch.  It’s kind of a fun, multi-cultural event.  Sometimes I go even if the Steelers ARE on TV, just because I always have a good time.

While watching a game among a large, like-minded group has its benefits, (fewer fights), there’s also something to be said for a little friendly smack talk.  In the 7or 8 years I’ve been going there, I’ve never seen a fight or even a serious quarrel.

OK, I’ve had to out-smack talk a couple of local goobers once in a while, but that hasn’t been much of a challenge.  The ones that talk a lot of crap aren’t usually that bright.  And if they have a point, I’ll agree with them.  If my guys screw up, I’ll be the first to admit it.  And the bar owner and bartenders love me.  I’m always polite, I eat, I drink and I tip well.  They also know I’m not out looking to cause (much…) trouble.

That’s another thing about the old place we used to go.  The bar across the street became a “Ravens Roost” and the next thing you know, there were bottles flying back and forth after the games.  I’m sorry, I want to root for my team, not become an extra in the Mid-Atlantic version of “Roadhouse.” 
“Sorry Ray-Ray, no felons allowed in.”

Anyway, I wish Red Eye’s Dock Bar all the best.  And I hope the Eastern Shore chapter of the Pittsburgh Steelers Fan Club showers the place with cash.  If the bar owner does his part… like bring in some IC Light and Rolling Rock, put some pierogi and giant sandwiches with fries and slaw on the menu, and put some “Six-Time Super Bowl Champion” signs on the wall, and I’m sure it will all work out fine.

Just be sure to retire the Steelers Polka.

Tuesday, August 21, 2012

All My Ignorant Friends are Coming Over Tonight

I had one item I was going to write about today, but it’s been a really weird week for the Republicans, so I’m going to have to widen my scope.  It’s all part of being a full-service blog for you.  You’re welcome.

Last week, Dave Mustaine, lead guitarist for the metal group Megadeth, shot his mouth off during a concert in Singapore, saying that President Obama was responsible for staging the theater shooting in Colorado and Sikh temple shooting in Wisconsin.  He said that it was part of a ploy to mobilize public sentiment so that he could ban guns.  Yes, really.

I had no intention of writing about it, because that assertion is so preposterous, I wrote off the comment as being the result of 25 years of headbanging and substance abuse.  But yesterday I read that country doofus Hank Williams Jr. also contributed some stellar political insight during his show at the Iowa State Fair.

Hank was quoted as saying, “We’ve got a Muslim president who hates farming, hates the military, hates the US and we hate him!”  I’m sure there was a “Yee-haw!” in there somewhere too.  The comment was reportedly met with loud and enthusiastic cheers.  I’m meeting it by taking this opportunity to clean out my MP3 player a bit.
Hank, you are now free to join Ted Nugent in the Recycle Bin.

Apparently, “A Country Boy Can Survive” getting canned from a high-profile ESPN job for comparing the president to Hitler, but all he has left are gigs like the Iowa State Fair.  I wonder if they pay him in corn… 

So let’s break down all the standard conservative fallacies about our president that are in play here.

“We’ve got a Muslim president…”  Yes, despite growing up Christian, describing himself as a Christian, going to Christian services as president and being condemned by conservatives for attending the Christian services presided over by an out-of-favor minister, he is secretly a Muslim.  [sarcasm font]

Apparently this is because he has a funny sounding name, once lived in a country with a lot of Muslims, and has been falsely accused of being born in Kenya.  (Next thing you know, they’ll be talking about why he’s never released his split times in the 10,000 meters.)  Nope, there is no measurable evidence of Obama being Muslim. 

Even if he was a Muslim, he’d be a pretty bad one.  After all, not only does he skip getting down on his knees and praying toward Mecca five times a day, he escalated American military operations in Afghanistan, had scores of Muslims (al Qaeda) killed via CIA drones, including the Big Hummus Pita himself, Osama bin Laden.  Does that sound like the work of a secret Muslim?

Not to anyone other than Fox “News” and the rest of the Right who so desperately want to believe it.

“…who hates farming…”  He hates farming?  Seriously?  How can anyone hate farming?  Isn't his wife growing vegetables in the back yard?  Sounds like farming to me. 

Perhaps Bocephus is talking about Obama calling for cuts to farm subsidies, which has nothing to do with “the family farm,” and everything to do with needlessly propping up the giant Agri-businesses.  Republicans talk a lot (now) about debt reduction; they just don’t want it to come from the bulging coffers of big business.  Much better to cut food stamps, after-school, and women’s health programs.  I guess allowing the free market to prevail includes maintaining the flood of taxpayer money to giant farming conglomerations.  [More sarcasm font]  Poor Hank must be confused.

“…hates the military…”  Why would that be?  He’s been using the military quite effectively, and has been trying to do something to help all the returning vets.  Perhaps Hank has this idea because Obama never served. 

Of course Romney never served in the military either, nor did any of his silver-spooned offspring.  Does he hate the military too?  Oh, that’s right… the Republicans love the military by default.  It’s the Democrats that are the long-hair hippie lovers.  Just ask Max Cleland.  (Cleland is the former senator from Georgia that had both legs and an arm blown off in the war, then lost his seat to Saxby Chambliss in 2009, who publicly questioned his patriotism during the campaign.)

“…hates the US…”  Of course!  Anyone that hates his country will turn his life upside down to run for president, become a target of vitriol all over the media, get blamed for things that happened before he was president, have credit removed for the good things that came afterwards, all while endeavoring to make things better for every-day lunch bucket Americans.  Come to think of it, maybe he should hate the US, or at least the fucking hypocrites that damn him if he does and damn him if he doesn’t.  He should hate the people obstruct every action he tries to take, while complaining that he isn’t getting anything done.  But he’s a better American than I.

“…and we hate him!”  Of that, I have no doubt.  Yee-haw.  It’s much easier to hate than to take responsibility for ones own lot in life.
I was going to end things there, but today’s news was chocked full of more Republican shenanigans.

** As if to prove that they are incapable of moving the nation forward, the national Republican party platform shot down acceptance of gay civil unions.  This isn’t marriage, this is civil union, which would guarantee hospital visitation, survivor’s rights, insurance coverage and the like.  This stance isn’t just a religious objective, it’s the denial that gays are even people.  One day, history is going to look back on these clowns and it will resemble how we look back at Alabama in 1964. 

** Then there’s also Rep. Akin, (R-MO) the boob that brought “legitimate rape” into our national lexicon.  He’s backtracking now on the language he used, but that’s irrelevant.  It’s the thought process behind the language that’s so insidious.  Once again, some middle-aged white Republican man claims to know what’s best for a woman’s body, while butchering all known science on the subject.  (What does he think they have in there, teeth?  Quicksand?  A mousetrap?)

The Republicans are upset now because he just brought more attention to the matter.  The fact is that they are once again including a plank in their platform that calls for bans on abortion with no exceptions, even for incest or rape (“legitimate” or otherwise.)  Their callous indifference to the lives and health of women should shock and appall the entire country.  No matter what one thinks about the matter, it’s a stunning conceit that someone else’s morals and judgment should replace that of those involved.

** As the presidential campaign heats up, I’ve actually been laughing about this. Have you heard the Romney and the Republicans complaining about theDemocratic ads?  I’m laughing my ass off.  The Democrats finally sac up and use the same tactics the Republicans have been using for years, and now they want to cry about it.  Romney’s own primary campaign left a trail of scorched earth behind him, such were the ruthless smears against his opponents.  It’s fun to watch a bully get hit in the mouth by his former prey.

All I can say is that he must have something really toxic in his tax returns, and the Democrats know it.  If he’d prefer to take the heat he’s under now rather than release his returns, how bad would it be if he did? 

I’m just glad that the Democrats have at long last, taken the gloves off and went after these guys.  They’ve finally learned that a high-minded, principled campaign gets you 2nd place and a buttload of campaign debt.  Candidates that go big and go negative win, and once you’re in office, everyone forgets how you got there.  (Unless, of course, you rig the system, stack the election boards with your people and get the Supreme Court to hand you the job.)

** Lastly, I saw a blurb about how the Parents Television Council is complaining now about “implied nudity” on TV.  They’re complaining about people appearing naked, but with their naughty bits obscured by props, sheets, or pixilation.

So now they’re upset at the idea of people being nude?  Here’s some news for the Parents’ Television Council: everyone on TV is nude right now, just under their clothing.  Let’s start writing those letters to the FCC right now. 

These clowns would write in to protest nude panty hose.  Repression, thy name is the Parents Television Council.

Sunday, August 19, 2012

Jaws - A Classic Revisited

One of my all time favorite movies was released on Blu-Ray this week, the 1970s horror classic, “Jaws.”  I've been getting reacquainted with it this weekend.  The Blu-Ray edition has two feature-length documentaries on it; one of which hasn’t appeared before and the other is double the length of what previously appeared on the DVD.

“Jaws” was the first grown-up novel I ever read.  It was a huge best seller in 1974 when I was in 8th grade and I remember my mom asking me if I’d be interested in reading it. 

I said “Sure.”

She ordered me the hardback and I dug right into it upon delivery.

It was overwhelmingly exciting and I tore through it in a couple days.  I so wish I still had it, but I lent it to a friend and never got it back again.  But soon after I read it, I began hearing about how they were making a movie out of it and I knew that it was going to be a good one.

When the movie was released in 1975, it was a huge pop culture event.  “Jaws” was all over the news and media.  Theaters were selling out, with ticket lines running down the block.  It took me a while to get to see it.  I mean, I was 13; I couldn’t exactly hop in the car and go.  I would have been able to get right in, though, because it was rated PG.  They wouldn’t invent PG-13 for another couple of years.  And for all the violence, there wasn’t much swearing, so the film avoided an R rating.  (Lord knows death, gore and bloody violence is just fine for kids, as long as no one says any naughty words.)

I was also wondering about the rating because the book includes a rather juicy sex scene between Matt Hooper and Chief Brody’s wife.  Turned out the “affair” subplot was cut from the movie, as were the underworld connections of the town mayor, who was keeping the beaches open under orders of the mob.

My little brother got to see it before I did; going with a neighbor friend of ours and making me completely envious.  I never saw it until my parents dropped us off in Pittsburgh for a week, so that they could go off themselves to parts unknown (to me at this time.)  My grandpa loaded me, my brother and sister and a couple of cousins into the family Jeepster and dropped us off at the theater.  This was probably a month or two after release, so the lines and ticket crunch had abated a bit.

I absolutely loved it, even though it scared the ever-loving shit out of me.  I pretty much knew where the story was going and was comparing and contrasting the film with the book as it went on.  As I was in a group of much younger kids, I was relieved that they cut the big sex scene I was expecting. 

I loved the shark effects and wished there were more of them.  You have to remember that in 1975, there were no computer-generated special effects.  Whatever you saw on screen, they had to physically do, from the mechanical shark to the severed head that pops out of a hole in a boat hull.

Oh, yeah, the head.  That wasn’t in the book, but I’d heard about it.  In fact, my brother was sitting beside me going, “This is where the head comes out… this is where the head comes out.”

The head came out and I went “YAAAAAHHHHH!” totally flinching and recoiling in my seat.  It was great.

I probably saw “Jaws” two or three more times in the theater, including once as a high school senior, at a drive-in.  A buddy and I sat on the hood of the car and reclined against the windshield.  And even years after release, with a tinny little speaker box, it still scared the shit out of me.

In the mean time, I’d read a follow-up book about filming the movie, called the “Jaws Log.”  It was written by Carl Gottlieb, who played the newspaper editor, “Meadows,” and was also one of the screenwriters.  This book is probably what started me on my life-long fascination for how movies are made.  And this one was a doozy.

“Jaws” was Stephen Spielberg’s second movie, so he was a relative unknown.  He had his hands full with this nightmarish production.  No one had ever filmed a movie out in the real live ocean before.  The scope of the film was such that it couldn’t be captured in the limited confines of a tank or sheltered cove.  It had to be three guys alone out on a vast expanse of sea, in life or death contest with a 25-foot monster.

Just keeping the boats facing in a consistent direction was a challenge in the face of constantly shifting winds and tides.  There was also the continuity to consider when you have to match up film shot in bright sunlight with footage that’s supposed to follow seconds later but was in fact shot on a cloudy day 3 weeks earlier. 

And then there was the shark itself.  “Bruce,” affectionately named after Spielberg’s attorney, was a cottage industry unto itself.  In case you never learned how it worked, there were 3 different sharks.  Two of them were only “sharklike” on one side, with the inner mechanics exposed on the other.  Each was designed to be filmed when swimming in one direction.  The third was intact all the way around, for head-on shots.  They also had a set of dorsal and tail fins that could be towed through the water.

Film engineers had to lay a track on the bottom of a shifting ocean and the shark would be propelled forward on a gimble arm.
This is a model of the mechanical shark, showing the full underwater mechanics.

This is a shot of the actual mechanical shark.

By today’s standards, the mechanical shark looks clumsy, stiff and completely fake.  But in 1975, there was nothing to compare it to.  There was no big Shark Week on Discovery Channel.  Most of us had never seen great white sharks in action, and certainly not in full-color, slow motion high-def like they have now.  At the time, the effects totally worked.

To sell the effects even further, Spielberg used real shark footage for the big scene where the shark attacks Hooper in the diving cage.  He hired shark experts Ron and Valerie Taylor to film an actual shark attacking a cage.  But because actual sharks usually go only 10-15 feet, and the film shark was supposed to be 25, they used a “little person” in a tiny cage. 

As luck would have it, not only did they get a shark to attack the little cage, one got completely tangled up in the cables and basically thrashed the cage to pieces while the cameras were rolling.  With that footage edited in with the close-ups of Richard Dreyfuss’ Hooper, you can barely tell what’s real and what’s not.

So because it was so difficult to make “Bruce” work on command, the filmmakers ended up using it less than they had originally planned.  This ended up working to the film’s advantage, as the fear of the imagined can be greater than that of the known.  Also, because they needed something to do, they shot many more takes than necessary, of non-shark-related scenes, allowing the actors to ad lib a lot of their dialogue.  Much of the unplanned bits ended up in the finished product, adding to the charm and power of the story.

So, knowing as much as I already did about the film production, I was eager to see the new bonus features on the Blu-Ray.  I wasn’t disappointed.  I haven’t watched “The Making of Jaws” yet, the one of which a portion has already been out on DVD.  But I did watch “”The Shark is Still Working: The Impact and Legacy of Jaws,” which is the new Blu-Ray-only documentary.  In it, I learned a couple of things I never knew.

* The famous dinner scene where a guilt-ridden Brody sees his young son mimicking his hand gestures was an ad-lib.

Between takes, Roy Scheider was indeed putting his face in his hands when he noticed the young actor playing his son, doing the same thing.  As he ran through some more gestures, the boy did the same.  Scheider called Spielberg over and said; “Watch this,” as they again went through the routine.  Spielberg brought in the cameras and filmed the third run-through.

* Quint’s speech about the sinking of the USS Indianapolis is one of my favorite parts of the whole movie.  Robert Shaw’s spoken delivery is almost as gut wrenching as the visuals in the film.  What I didn’t know is the speech started out running 15 pages long.  Screenwriter Carl Gottlieb cut it down to nine.  Shaw saw it and said that it was still way to long and, being a writer himself, worked on it until it was down to the five pages that you see in the movie.

* The studio execs were not happy with the cover art they used for the hardback book (pictured at the top of the post) so when they needed a movie poster, they commissioned another artist to punch it up a bit.  The artist went to a museum to take note of great white shark models, and then produced the iconic visuals that remain instantly recognizable today.
The movie poster art was later used on the paperback editions of “Jaws.”

 * The studio execs knew “Jaws” was going to be big, but in a seemingly counter-intuitive directive, they cut down the film’s release to run in far fewer theaters than it could have run.  The idea was to create a spectacle and increase demand over the whole summer.  The directive totally worked, as “Jaws” maintained a grip on the movie-going audience all summer long.  In fact, “Jaws” is credited with being the first “Summer Blockbuster” movie.

Like other cultural touchstones, “Jaws” spun bits of dialogue into widespread use the world over.

Here’s to swimmin’ with bow-legged women…”  ~Quint~

Stop playin’ with yourself, Hooper!”  ~Quint~ to Hooper who was playing solitaire.

Ya got ‘city hands,’ Mr. Hooper.  Ya been countin’ money all your life.” ~Quint~

OK, Quint seemed to get all the good lines… Except maybe the biggest one of all…

We’re gonna need a bigger boat.” ~Brody~

I bet boaters and fishermen quote that line as often as golfers quote “Caddyshack.”  It was the perfect line, at a perfect time.

Chief Brody, while ladling fish glop over the back of the boat, comes face to face with the shark, which pops out of the water sans music, scaring the hell out of the Chief and the audience.  Brody’s reaction is priceless and his prescient comment is in sync with what the audience is feeling.

“Jaws” was a movie that changed the world, both the movie world and otherwise.  Who among us hasn’t had a pang of fear before venturing into the ocean?  Who hasn’t panicked a bit after feeling a bit of seaweed brush by a leg while wading in the surf?

No one.  “Jaws” tapped into a primal fear… the fear of the unknown and unseen enemy, and the risk of it literally eating you alive. 

Fairwell and adieu to you fair Spanish ladies…”

What are your memories of “Jaws”?  Did you ever see it in the theater?  Is it still bouncing around in your subconscious today?

Thursday, August 16, 2012


This November’s presidential election is going exceed the usual level of importance in Maryland because of something known as the Veto Referendum.

Maryland law permits new laws that the state legislature passes to be submitted by petition for voter referendum.  Since 1915, there have been 18 laws upheld or vetoed by voter referendum, the last being in 2006.  This year, there will be 4 issues on the ballot (so far).

The upswing in referenda is due to the recent permission of online signature gathering, plus a decrease in voting numbers.  According to referendum statute, a law may be sent for referendum after the people have gathered a number of signatures equal to 3% of the votes in the last gubernatorial election.

I’m not sure what to think about the whole idea of the veto referendum.  It’s hard enough to get a decent law passed without having the unwashed masses weigh in.  In theory, it sounds good to leave final veto approval directly with The People. In reality, The People in general are way too uneducated on the details of the laws and are far too easily swayed by the onslaught of issue ads. 

Throw together a couple of big-monied special interests with a stake in the issue and a slick marketing agency and voila, you have bumper sticker sound bytes coming at you at lightning speed, which sound good on the surface but have only a passing similarity to the truth.

These are the issues on which The People in Maryland will be voting this year:

1) Redistricting.  Every 10 years, the party in power is permitted to redraw congressional district boundaries.  Redrawing the boundaries into tortured shapes in order to provide favorable election results to the party in power is known as Gerrymandering and that’s what’s going on here.

As a whole, Maryland is a true blue Democratic state, although there are pockets of deep red.  Rural Western Maryland and the waterman’s haven of the Eastern Shore vote reliably Republican.  But these areas are overwhelmed by the shear numbers of the urban population center that is the Baltimore metro area.

So in order to try to squeeze a couple more Democrats into the House of Representatives, they redrew some of the Western Maryland districts to include a reach into the western Baltimore suburbs.

My Take: I don’t have a problem with it because I want more Democrats in the House.  The redistricting system has been in effect forever so to the victor goes the spoils.  But I admit that if I were Republican, I’d be hopping mad.

My Prediction: It passes.  The urban center will carry the weight like it always does.

2) The Dream Act, which allows the children of illegal immigrants pay in-state tuition to state schools, provided they meet conditions like, so many years of taxes paid, years attending high school and grade minimums.

My Take: This is an easy choice for me.  Illegals are here, they’re not going away, and they bring their children with them.  The choice comes down to, “do we want these kids educated, or would we prefer they stay ignorant and marginalized?

It’s not like they’re getting a free ride; they still have to pay for college.  The difference is that out-of-state rates are cost prohibitive, unless the parent is at least middle-class.  The kids did nothing wrong, other that have the misfortune of being borne to an illegal immigrant.  I don’t see the upside of penalizing them further.  Best to get them producing within society rather than becoming a drain on it from the outside.

My Prediction: This one goes down in flames.  Fear of “ferners” outweighs the nuance of what’s going on in the details.  Nothing gets citizen to vote against an issue faster than when passing it means someone else gets something that he doesn’t.

3) Civil Marriage Protection Act, or in other words, permitting same-sex marriage. 

My Take: If you’ve read me long at all, you know I’ve written extensively about this issue, (including yesterday.)  There is no logical reason to keep consenting adults from marrying, there is only personal prejudice and religious dogma, neither of which does anyone have the right to apply to third parties.  It has already passed in 7 other states plus DC, and as of this writing, society as we know it has not collapsed.  Enough hysteria already and pass it.

My Prediction:
Same sex marriage loses in a close one.  The media blitz hasn’t started yet, but it will.  Remember how the Mormons poured all that money into a campaign against gay marriage in California?  I don’t see why that won’t happen here too.  Plus they’ll be joined by the Catholics and Baptists.  I don’t know if they’ll do any funding, but they have already started preaching against it from the pulpit.  I don’t know that the Catholic effort will matter much, given how many parishioners pick and choose which tenets they adhere to, but I expect the black Baptist churches to turn out a slew of “anti” voters.  Perhaps President Obama’s recent public support for the issue may change some minds.

Polls here show that gay marriage is favored by a majority of the people, but there is also suspicion that people are saying one thing in a poll, so not to look biased, but may go the other way in the privacy of the voting booth.

It’s a shame, because the time is fast approaching to break the skid of states that have voted down gay marriage referenda.  Maryland could be the first to approve, but I just don’t see that happening.  But I can dream.  One day my gay and lesbian friends will have every right to be just as unhappily married as their straight friends.

One day soon, I hope.

4) Full Table Gaming.  This one just made the ballot.  A couple years ago, Maryland passed a law permitting slots, for the first time.  They authorized 5 slot houses to be built around the state, from which Maryland is slated to take a healthy bite in taxes.  To date, only two or three are in operation thus far.

In the meantime, the surrounding states of New Jersey, Delaware, Pennsylvania and West Virginia all have full gaming, including poker, roulette, blackjack and whatnot.  The 2012 law was written to permit table gaming, add a 6th casino location and lower the casino tax rates, (for example, lowering the rate from 63% to 59%, varying by location).

My Take: Why not?  Gambling’s fun. If you don’t like it, don’t go.  But those that do like it will happily go to another state and spend their money.  It seems best to me to keep that dough in Maryland. 

The lowered tax rate is meant to compensate for adding another competing location.  That seems reasonable to me, and hey, a 59-60% tax rate is still freakin’ huge.  The casino owners aren’t in this business to give money away; they need to be profitable themselves.  If they can’t make bank, they provide a lesser product, which loses business to other locations, which completes the self-fulfilling prophesy until they close.

The slots games that are already in use often times play exactly like blackjack or poker; they’re just done electronically instead of with a live human.  So why not keep the game and employ some more people?  It’s not like we’re flush with jobs right now.

My Prediction: It passes.  The commercials are already running like crazy, between the rich casino owners that want in, and the business owners here that don’t want competition or more urban congestion.  Funny thing is they keep harping on it being a casino “bailout.”  That’s funny because the casinos are just getting started, or are still un-built.  What’s there to bail out?  It’s just another example of using loaded language that has a negative connotation, and hoping that no one looks into the details. 

Gambling passed the first time and I think this update, to keep up with surrounding states, will pass again.

How does your state do referenda?  Is there anything noteworthy coming up on your ballot this fall?

Tuesday, August 14, 2012

Why I Vote Democratic - Pt 3

At the beginning of the year, I did a guest post at the now-defunct AskCherlock, in which I explained the reasons why I vote Democratic.  It was kind of a long piece, consisting of a list of chasm-sized differences between the two parties.  But even though the post was over four pages long (in Word), I felt like I wasn’t getting into the issues deeply enough. 

I also wanted to run the material here too, so I figured I would take each item on the list and flesh it out into its own post.  I posted Part 1 on May 15th and Part 2 on July 26th.  With the presidential campaign in full swing, and full tickets on each side now, I continue… 

Disclaimer:  When I refer to “Republicans” here, I’m referring only to the national party leaders and political apparatus.  The same goes for my use of “Democrats.”  Local jurisdictions may vary and I have no knowledge or comment about them.  Also, my “Reasons” appear in no particular order.

Social issues have dominated this year’s campaigns and the difference between the parties cannot be wider.  One party aims to dictate what women can do with her body and the other considers women capable of deciding for themselves. 

You would think the Republicans’ “keeping government out of our business” mentality, would apply to our own personal business as well, but it doesn’t.  The Republicans have spent years doing everything they can to prevent abortions, like requiring waiting periods, inserting bureaucratic hoops for clinics to jump through into state laws with the goal of making it too expensive and inconvenient to continue doing business, forcing doctors to read misleading and dogma-driven messages to patients and preventing insurance coverage (even among paying subscribers). 

What they won’t do is promote the single most effective abortion preventative, birth control.  It’s hard to believe that in this day and age, the Plan B pill (and even the traditional birth control pill) is still controversial.  Republicans provide a great hue and cry about Planned Parenthood providing abortions, either omitting or outright lying about the fact that abortions only make up 3% of Planned Parenthood business.  Pap smears and birth control are the primary services provided by an overwhelming margin.

Further, the new whine-du-jour is about having to provide “free” birth control, because, you know, how much can it really cost?  And why should the taxpayers pay for people to screw? 

The answer is that the cost is a drop in the bucket compared to NOT providing free birth control.  How much do you think it costs for pre-natal care, ER or hospital delivery, food stamps, ADC, welfare and in thousands of cases, incarceration?  It’s a big-time money saver, it helps people maintain a handle on their lives, it gives poor teens a chance to stay in school, and reduces the number of unplanned, unwanted and often abused children.

If you ask me, the problem is with the clientele.  The well-to-do (meaning Republicans) are not likely to go to Planned Parenthood.  The poor and working class (meaning Democrats) are.  Heck, you’d think that they would be eager for Democrats to keep from having more babies.  Maybe they ought to reconsider and then everyone will be happy. 

Of course, their solution is to fund abstinence programs instead.  Unfortunately, every study done on them (not underwritten by the religious right) says they don’t work.  Those subjected to abstinence programs don’t delay having sex by any significant margin, but they are far more likely to get pregnant when they do.

So, their solution is no abortion and no birth control, so don’t have sex.  And obviously, that’s meant for us here among the unwashed masses, not our Congressmen.

On a similar topic, one party is working to allow people that love each other to get married.  The other is determined to prevent that. 

The Gays are Coming!  The Gays are Coming!  Hide your children, lock up your pets!”  This is one of those wedge issues that through fear mongering, unsubstantiated claims and gross exaggeration, gets people good and scared enough to vote against their financial self-interest.  Again, you’d think that the aversion of government intruding into lives would include the right to live and love those who you were genetically programmed to love, but you’d be wrong. 

The Republicans might not want to work to see that you have clean air and drinking water, a viable Social Security program, or bank services that aren’t rife with hidden fees and charges, but they can prevent those two guys down the street from getting married!  Boo-ya! 

This one always ends up coming down to the Bible.  This is wrong on at least two levels, the first being that we do not live in a theocracy.  The Bible may form a loose basis for our primary laws forbidding stealing and killing and such, but it is also chock full of weird-ass sidebars and tidbits so antiquated and bizarre, that they are impossible to reasonably apply to 21st century life.

You know all the examples… the prohibitions against eating shrimp and shellfish, wearing clothes of multiple fabrics, touching a pig’s skin on Sunday, sowing different crops next to each other, permitting slavery and polygamy… We all ignore all that stuff.  But a line or two about gays from the same general section, and everyone is all, “But the Bible says so…” 

Come on.  It’s bigotry and the “Ick” factor, plain and simple.  This kind of prejudice has no business being written into law.  Period.  We’re the United States of America, not the United States of Straight White Christian Men.

Republicans now stand in front of us and claim that the government needs to keep their noses out of American business, while under-regulated banks and other industries can continue stacking the deck against us, even though bank deregulation contributed greatly to the economic collapse of 2007.  They call anyone who disagrees un-American and a Socialist. 

But then they turn around and claim that the government has the power and obligation to dictate what women can do with their own bodies.  They take the most personal and private of issues and substitute their sense of morality, for yours.  They actively work to keep two consenting adults from marrying or adopting children.  When challenged, they site cherry-picked Bible references, nonsensical assertions and haughty judgments, none of which can pass a smell test.  While demanding “personal freedom and liberty” for themselves, they are quite happy to apply their own rigid dogma to YOU, and expect you to obey.

This insulting and raging contradiction and assault on common sense is why I vote Democratic.  You should too.