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  • Sudden Civility: The Final Presidential Debate October 23, 2020
    At the start of Thursday night’s debate its moderator, Kristen Welker of NBC News, delivered a polite but firm instruction: The matchup should not be a repeat of the chaos of last month’s debate. It was a calmer affair and, for the first few segments, a more structured and linear exchange of views. President Trump, whose interruptions came to define the firs […]
  • A Peculiar Way to Pick a President October 22, 2020
    The winner-take-all system used by the Electoral College in the United States appears nowhere in the Constitution. It awards all of a state’s electors to the candidate with the most votes, no matter how small the margin of victory. Critics say that means millions of votes are effectively ignored.The fairness of the Electoral College was seriously questioned […]
  • A Misinformation Test for Social Media October 21, 2020
    Facebook, Twitter and YouTube have invested a significant amount of time and money trying to avoid the mistakes made during the 2016 election.A test of those new policies came last week, when The New York Post published a story that contained supposedly incriminating documents and pictures taken from the laptop of Hunter Biden. The provenance and authenticit […]
  • A Pivotal Senate Race in North Carolina October 20, 2020
    In the struggle to control the U.S. Senate, one race in North Carolina — where the Republican incumbent, Thom Tillis, is trying to hold off his Democratic challenger, Cal Cunningham — could be crucial.North Carolina is a classic purple state with a split political mind: progressive in some quarters, while firmly steeped in Southern conservative tradition in […]
  • The Field: A Divided Latino Vote in Arizona October 19, 2020
    This episode contains strong language. In the last decade, elections have tightened in Arizona, a traditionally Republican stronghold, as Democrats gain ground.According to polls, Joe Biden is leading in the state — partly because of white suburban women moving away from President Trump, but also because of efforts to activate the Latino vote.Will that turn […]
  • The Sunday Read: 'Jim Dwyer, About New York' October 18, 2020
    Jim Dwyer, a Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist for The New York Times, died earlier this month. He was 63.Throughout his nearly 40-year career, Jim was drawn to stories about discrimination, wrongly convicted prisoners and society’s mistreated outcasts. From 2007, he wrote The Times’s “About New York” column — when asked whether he had the best job in journa […]
  • The Candidates: Joe Biden’s Plans October 16, 2020
    In the second of a two-part examination of the presidential candidates’ policies, we turn to Joseph R. Biden Jr.’s agenda and how he plans to govern a nation wracked by a public health and economic crisis.The themes of Mr. Biden’s Democratic primary campaign were broad as he eschewed the policy-intensive approach of opponents like Senator Elizabeth Warren. B […]
  • The Candidates: Donald Trump’s Promises October 15, 2020
    In a two-part examination of the policies of the president and of the man seeking to replace him, Joe Biden, we first take a look at what Donald Trump said he would do four years ago — and what he’s actually accomplished.On some of the big issues, Mr. Trump has been the president he told us he was going to be, keeping commitments on deregulation, taxes, mili […]
  • The Confirmation Hearing of Amy Coney Barrett October 14, 2020
    It was a 12-hour session. Twenty-two senators took turns questioning Judge Amy Coney Barrett on her record and beliefs.Senator Dianne Feinstein, Democrat of California, evoked personal experience of life before Roe v. Wade and asked Judge Barrett whether she would vote to overturn abortion rights.On that question, Judge Barrett demurred — an approach she wou […]
  • The Politics of Pandemic Relief October 13, 2020
    In March, Congress pushed through a relief package that preserved the U.S. economy during the pandemic. It felt like government functioning at its best.But now, that money is running out and bipartisanship has given way to an ideological stalemate.While Republicans balk at plans for further significant government spending — even those coming from the White H […]
  • Why the Left Is Losing on Abortion October 12, 2020
    Most Americans say that abortion should be legal with some restrictions, but President Trump’s nominee for the Supreme Court, Amy Coney Barrett, signed a statement in a 2006 newspaper advertisement opposing “abortion on demand.” Her accession would bolster a conservative majority among the justices.How did that happen? According to Ilyse Hogue, president of […]
  • The Sunday Read: 'David's Ankles' October 11, 2020
    “We are conditioned to believe that art is safe,” Sam Anderson, a staff writer for The New York Times Magazine, explained in this week’s The Sunday Read. “Destruction happens in a number of ways, for any number of reasons, at any number of speeds — and it will happen, and no amount of reverence will stop it.”Today, Sam explores his personal relationship with […]
  • The Field: The Battle for Pennsylvania’s White Working Class October 9, 2020
    This episode contains strong language.Over the summer, Dave Mitchko started a makeshift pro-Trump sign operation from his garage. By his estimate he has handed out around 26,000 signs, put together with the help of his family.Mr. Mitchko might seem like the kind of voter Joseph R. Biden Jr. wants to peel away from the Republicans in November. He had always b […]
  • Plexiglass and Civility: The Vice-Presidential Debate October 8, 2020
    During most campaigns, the job of the vice-presidential candidates focuses on boosting the person heading the ticket. Proving their suitability for the top job is secondary.But this year is different. The president is 74 and spent much of the past week in the hospital, and his Democratic rival is 77. So it was vital for their running mates, Vice President Mi […]
  • Where Is This Pandemic Headed? October 7, 2020
    The pandemic has killed more than one million people around the world, at least 210,000 in the United States alone. The illness has infiltrated the White House and infected the president.Today, we offer an update on measures to fight the coronavirus and try to predict the outbreak’s course.Guest: Donald G. McNeil Jr., a science and health reporter for The Ne […]
  • How a Small Bar Battled to Survive the Coronavirus October 6, 2020
    This episode contains strong language. Jack Nicas, a technology reporter for The New York Times, moved to Oakland, Calif., five years ago. When he arrived, he set out to find a bar of choice. It quickly became the Hatch.Unpretentious, cheap and relaxed, the Hatch was a successful small business until the coronavirus hit.After the announcement in March that C […]
  • The Latest on the President’s Health October 5, 2020
    On Saturday morning, the doctors treating President Trump for the coronavirus held a news conference outside Walter Reed National Military Medical Center — a show of strength, aimed at reassuring the American public that he was in capable hands.But instead of allaying concern, it raised questions, casting doubt on the timeline of the president’s illness and […]
  • One Million Lives October 4, 2020
    They came from Tel Aviv, Aleppo and a “small house by the river.” They were artists, whiskey drinkers and mbira players. They were also fathers, sisters and best friends.Today, we hear people from around the world reflect on those they’ve lost. For more information on today's episode, visit nytimes.com/thedaily.
  • Special Edition: The Pandemic Reaches the President October 2, 2020
    He assured the country the coronavirus would “disappear” soon. Then he tested positive. We explore how President Trump testing positive for the coronavirus could affect the last days of the 2020 race — and consider what might happen next.Guests: Peter Baker and Maggie Haberman, White House correspondents for The Times.For more information about today's […]
  • The Field: The Fight For Voting Rights in Florida October 2, 2020
    This episode contains strong language. During much of this election cycle, Julius Irving of Gainesville, Fla., spent his days trying to get former felons registered to vote.He would tell them about Florida’s Amendment Four, a ballot initiative that extended the franchise to those who had, in the past, been convicted on felony charges — it added an estimated […]

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Newes From America on Twitter

  • RT @Acosta: Very few masks and zero social distancing at Trump rally in Pensacola. (So far today as of this tweet Johns Hopkins has reporte… 1 day ago
  • I’ve been putting off writing this post because it’ll be the last one that I’ll throw up before the 2020 Presidenti… twitter.com/i/web/status/1… 1 day ago
  • RT @JRubinBlogger: Michelle Obama had it right: The presidency does not change who you are; it reveals who you are. Trump’s Achilles’ heel… 1 day ago
  • RT @StephenAtHome: Uh-oh...now people might start thinking Giuliani is a creepy old man. 2 days ago
  • RT @DavidCornDC: Today would be a good day for @realDonaldTrump to release his Chinese tax returns. 3 days ago
  • RT @TheJusticeDept: Elliott Broidy Pleads Guilty for Back-Channel Lobbying Campaign to Drop 1MDB Investigation and Remove a Chinese Foreign… 4 days ago
  • RT @RBReich: When this nightmare is over, who will be held accountable? And who will hold them accountable? 4 days ago
  • RT @NatashaBertrand: Must-read from GQ @juliaioffe that also confirms what we reported last month: that Haspel completely dismissed analyst… 4 days ago
  • RT @MSNBC: "I've been a doctor for 34 years and I have never seen the amount of suffering I've seen in a short period of time," Dr. Paul Ca… 5 days ago
  • RT @tribelaw: No NAKED BALLOTS, please!!!!! 5 days ago
  • RT @ZekeJMiller: WASHINGTON (AP) — US charges 6 Russian military officers in hacks aimed at American businesses, French elections, Winter O… 5 days ago
  • RT @TVietor08: Trump closing message: Dr. Fauci and other infectious disease experts are idiots 5 days ago
  • RT @vermontgmg: This piece should be mandatory reading for every voter before the election. Billions in testing money unspent mid-pandemic.… 5 days ago
  • RT @MilesTaylorUSA: Let’s not forget that @realDonaldTrump is the first impeached president to appear on the general-election ballot in U.S… 5 days ago
  • RT @svdate: Is Dr Atlas finally understanding the truth about this president and this White House? 5 days ago
  • RT @JonLemire: Trump also attended a fundraiser at the Newport Beach home of top GOP donor and tech mogul Palmer Luckey, which raised $12 m… 6 days ago
  • RT @Kasparov63: One of those many things I’m sad to have been right about. Plus, I needed to lose a few pounds! twitter.com/biannagolodryg… 6 days ago
  • RT @nytimes: The political bent of Timpone’s sites has been previously reported, but the extent of the deception has been concealed with co… 6 days ago
  • RT @RepSwalwell: Just a reminder that wRONg Johnson spent a recent Fourth of July in Moscow and has — despite public intelligence warnings… 6 days ago
  • RT @DrTomFrieden: We can't ignore the virus and reopen our economy – the virus will strike back. 6 days ago

It’s All Greek to Me

 

The Parthenon

I’ve been putting off writing this post because it’ll be the last one that I’ll throw up before the 2020 Presidential Election and in 2016, just after Trump was nominated, I posted The Most Hated Man in America. This year, I don’t wanna be right again if that means losing you, however I obviously have the gift of prognostication (a noun meaning “the action of foretelling or prophesying future events”) and anyone who doubts that, just read on. I’ve had a few choice words to describe my feelings about Donald J. Trump through the years, yet who am I to question the leadership of this man? What gives me the right to ask if he’s insane or not? I’m just an ordinary citizen of the United States, at least I was the last time I checked but who knows anymore? In the four years since Donald J. Trump has been our duly elected president, I’ve been right about pretty much everything I’ve said about him (actually since 1988 but who’s keeping score?) and if he’s not the most hated man in America by now whom, pray tell, would grab that crown from him?

Trump has accomplished much as president but most of it is doo-doo in my (humble?) opinion, if anything, Trump has pulled off what Roger Stone only dreamed about in his whiskey binge blackouts, complete with warped back tattoos, Wall Street hookers and America’s ass laid bare for all to see — warts and all. If the greatest accomplishment that Trump ever pulls off is that in being the complete and total jerk that he is, he has revealed so many more for the history books to flesh out, demonstrated with aplomb by the entire GOP. He and his immediate family will walk after the election, free from prosecution so he doesn’t flee to Russia as Rome’s King Tarquin fled to the Latin League in 400 BC, but there will be fierce negotiation and retribution following Trump’s defeat.

I hope Mr. Trump understands that I have nothing against him personally, (except that ‘good’ genes thing, I really can’t get over that) and as he told ABC’s George Stephanopoulos back in 2009 about those who lose money in his many bankruptcies, “You know, it’s like on ‘The Apprentice.’ It’s not personal. It’s just business.” The business at hand is governance, however and Trump sucks at that. He’s a fantastic representative of a businessman, (in the Thorsten Veblen sense of the word, more later) and his marketing and deal-making skills is phenomenal. I mean they are phenomenal. Not so much with the governance thing, however. He never understood the difference between the two and now he will suffer the greatest electoral landslide since Nixon — the other way around. If Trump wins a state, I will NEVER visit that state again until the year 2050, if God gets us through this shitstorm of ineptitude, greed and racism. Massachusetts was the only state to go for Senator George McGovern in 1972, so Nixon voters, you’ll be allowed visit the Bay State again in 2022.

As the greatest Greek historian Thucydides once wrote in 480 BC, “My work is not a piece of writing designed to meet the taste of an immediate public, but was done to last forever” and some things never change with know-it-alls and although I’m not a great historian like Thucydides, who’s to judge? He would recognize the likes of ‘Donald the Fake’ in ten seconds, no doubt and in that I’m certain. I thought about a few titles for this post before the one I ended up with this because the title ‘Mea Culpa’ came a close second until I found out it was the name of Trump’s ex-personal attorney Michael Cohen’s new podcast. The title of his show is from the Latin meaning, “My fault,” which makes it an Italian word, but where I’m starting from Ancient Greece in thinking about democracy (from the Greek word for ‘demos,’ or the people) I thought better of it and then remembered the great football analyst and oddsmaker (a kinder word for a ‘bookie’) ’Jimmy the Greek’ born Dimetrios Georgios Synodinos in Steubenville, Ohio in 1918, he was one of the greatest prognosticators of our age until he got canceled in 1988. Jimmy lost his job on the NFL Today because he was recorded while drinking (not a surprise, but with no big glasses on this time), basically bringing up slaves and slave owners as to why African-Americans are so good at most sports compared to slow-footed white people.

Jimmy’s first bet wasn’t on sports but on politics, winning big after he took Democrat Harry Truman to beat Republican Thomas Dewey in the 1948 Presidential Election because, “no one trusts a guy with a mustache.” Since 1950, can you name a politician who sports the style? Hitler’s goofy looking ‘stache made them passé forever and after that, Jimmy parlayed his ‘sixth sense’ into a career in prognostication which ended up paying him millions of dollars. He needed every penny of that money it turned out, because three of his children would end up dying from Cystic Fibrosis, the awful inflammatory lung disease that has no cure. If Jimmy were alive today, I’d predict that he’d pick Joe Biden to win this presidential election on November 3rd because no one (truly) trusts Donald Trump, now do they?

The Seven Sages were ‘sophists‘ [little quotes, “I love thee too much” say the parentheses] from Ancient Greece, men and women (Sappho Rules!) also spoke and wrote about mythical, apocryphal stories as if they were true. The best of them were based on reality, such as Homer’s epics and we use them today to divine actual, real history. Socrates, Plato and Aristotle would begin to break free of the tradition of ‘bending the truth’ in making good arguments while getting paid (also called ‘being a lawyer’) and these ‘philosophers,’ as they would come to be known, figured it all out and created knowledge, democracy and the institution we know as a republic. And lawyers too! There’s still a lot sophistry around today, of course (Rudy Giuliani, Ted Cruz, Sean Hannity etc.) and yet Donald Trump is the greatest sophist of them all (to date). The greatest Homeric sophist of all time, actually the poet Homer himself was the most famous sophist before Trump came along and where archeological remains have been found in Greece hinting about Homer’s true existence, this find indicates that he was probably born on the island of Chios, Greece where Thucydides once wrote,

When any stranger comes and asks who is the sweetest singer, they are to answer with one voice, “the blind man that dwells in rocky Chios; his songs deserve the prize for all time to come.

This does not necessarily say that Homer was a Chian, but it fits my story so I’m sticking with it. Sorry, Smyrna. Homer’s great fame and tourism potential aside, the connection to Chios, with an archaeological site known as ‘Teacher’s Rock’ that can be visited today (very popular with the cruising set, I understand and visitors should follow the signs guiding you to the ‘Sanctuary of Kyveli,’ enjoy!) where the blind Homer wrote about the so-called ‘Trojan War,’ with the Greek Helen getting ‘abducted’ by the swarthy Paris, (heh, heh) but enough with the afterthoughts, a battle between these Greek brothers called the Peloponnesian War, or the Attic War as the winning Spartans called it would follow just after the Persian invasions of Greece, where King Darius and his son Xerxes put Sparta and Athens on the same team. Athenian statesman/general (strategoi) Themistocles meaning ‘Glory of the Law’ won a big naval battle against the Persian empire under Xerxes in 480 BC, resulting in a decisive victory for the outnumbered and outgunned Greeks, he was a populist and his base of support were the lower-class Athenians, generally at odds with the nobles, he was elected to be an Archon in 493 BC and convinced the polis, or the citizens of Athens to increase the naval power of the city-state during the first Persian invasion of Greece, where he also fought at the famous Battle of Marathon. The fabled runner Pheidippides, a messenger from the Battle of Marathon to Athens, ran all the way back home to report the big news of the victory, then died of exhaustion.

Jimmy the Greek Snyder’s family also hailed from Chios and anyone who has ever wondered why a whole family would up and move everything: lock, stock and barrel to a brand new country on a whim, they should look to his ancestors for some clues as to why this might happen — and it still continues to happen. And happen. At the beginning of the Greek War of Independence in 1823, also a proxy war between Russia, Britain, France and Turkey, nearly three-quarters of the Chios population of 120,000 citizens were killed, enslaved or died of disease. Only 2,000 Greeks remained on the island after the horrible Chios Massacre and it’s estimated that nearly 52,000 Chios islanders were sold into slavery after almost 52,000 were killed outright. This war was born from religious and ethnic hatred (with atrocities committed on ‘both sides’) culminating with little children and babies getting smashed up against rocks and thrown into the sea. Chios is only eight miles off the coast of Turkey and this is why Jimmy the Greek was born an American.

According to Sir Isaac Newton, who was also a Classical Greek scholar, ten kings of Sparta reigned an average of 38 years each in Ancient Greece, which can be used as a yardstick to estimate that the Greek Spartan Eurysthenes ruled from the years 1104–1066 BC and he was the father of his successor, King Agis I, founder of the Spartan Agiad dynasty. In Athens, the sophist and statesman Solon was born about 630 BC and died on the island of Cyprus at the age of 80, he argued for all citizens to be admitted into the Ecclesia, or the assembly of male-only, Greek citizens and advocated for the first courts to be formed, drawn from the first citizens of Ancient Greece from lots, the first use of the ancient practice called ‘sortition’ (still done today in jury duty), yet Solon also described Athens as being under constant threat from unrestrained greed and needed to escape Athens more than once to prove the fact.

In 430 BC, after an unsuccessful expedition by the great Pericles against Sparta and after the city was devastated by an unknown plague, Pericles died during the epidemic that also claimed his sister and both of his sons, Thucydides, an ardent admirer of Pericles said at the time that Athens was “in name a democracy but, in fact, [was] governed by its first citizen.” The great historian would also contract the plague yet he would survive the ordeal to tell the story in The History of the Peloponnesian War of the great Pericles’ final Funeral Oration, the annual rite honoring those who died in battle defending democracy said,

While those of you who have passed your prime must congratulate yourselves with the thought that the best part of your life was fortunate, and that the brief span that remains will be cheered by the fame of the departed. For it is only the love of honor that never grows old; and honor it is, not gain, as some would have it, that rejoices the heart of age and helplessness.

After Pericles died, the dishonorable Cleon, a strategoi from a wealthy background and another populist, was primarily known for his overuse the courts (he sued the great playwright Aristophanes) Cleon used the law to his unjust advantage in creating the ancient practice of ‘sycophancy’ (done today, well, everywhere) and advocated that every man, woman and child on the Island of Lesbos (then called Myteline) be killed as vicious retribution for siding with the hated Spartans. His arguments first won over the Ecclesia and they even sent a ship to Myteline to commit the act before an emergency session of this early Greek ‘Senate’ (Italian word) rethought the brutal decision and then recalled the first ship, with double rowers working all night to catch up, literally arriving as they were about to read Cleon’s verdict to the townspeople. After the usual suspects were rounded up and killed instead, the citizens of Myteline were spared.

Olympus, Greece is nowhere near Mt. Olympus, the tallest mountains in Greece where the hundreds of Greek Gods reside, recounted in dizzying detail by thousands of sophists through the centuries writing odes, however the real Olympia is an actual place, an archeological site discovered in the past 100 years revealed over 70 buildings and the ruins of many of these structures have survived, (although the main Temple of Zeus is only stones on the ground now), it’s a huge tourist attraction and has two sweet museums, one devoted to the ancient games and one to the modern. Located in Southwest Greece, after thousands of years preserved in the alluvial dirt, the Olympian festival area became known as the Olympics, heralded by the great sophists, they met every four years for over a millennium.

This year, we were supposed to have the Olympic Games in Sapporo, Japan but the 2020 Olympic Games will wait ’till next year because of the caronavirus, however the original Olympic games that started around 776 BC continued unbroken for over 1000 years, these Ancient Olympiads are the most reliable way of dating Greek archeological finds today, where Thucydides says of the year 428 BC, “It was the Olympiad in which the Rhodian Dorieus [son of Diagoras of Rhodes] gained his second victory,” like us remembering 1976 because that’s the year Sugar Ray Leonard won the Gold medal. Jim McKay always handled the Olympics on TV back in the day, which was always on ABC in the 1970s, thwarting the highly-qualified Brent Musberger, who famously was punched-out by Jimmy the Greek for cutting his airtime, Brent spoke eloquently this year over the loss of the groundbreaking third member of the NFL Today lineup back then, Phyllis George, who passed away in May of this year, the former First Lady of Kentucky was the first woman to break into the all-male world of sports broadcasting. Needless to say, Jimmy and Phyllis couldn’t stand each other. Somehow, though, we all seemed to get along in the old days and we can do better today; people are suffering in a big way and some are even dying while our creaky democracy lumbers along and sways under the heavy load of history. We need democracy now more than ever and if you look for it, we have been through this shitstorm before and will make it work out alright together — or not at all. Violence and factionalism will destroy anyone who continue to practice it and the resulting death and destruction will scatter their families, their works and their culture to the four winds. We have too many examples.

PS: Don’t kill the messenger.

John Underhill

October 22, 2020

We’re Gonna Need a Bigger Boat

One of my favorite movies of all time is Jaws (1975) but I can’t name an African-American in the film so that’s messed up, but then Steven Spielberg made The Color Purple (1985) so he’s cool. My other favorite directors are Martin Scorsese and also Woody Allen so if you total up all the African-American characters in their films you end up with ‘Stacks’ in Goodfellas (1990). Too bad about Stacks, he got high and left his prints all over the getaway van. In Goodfellas, ‘Two ni**ers just stole my truck’ was the excuse for the paid-off truck driver as he complains to anyone who will overhear him, “Can you believe that?” he asks incredulously, Charles Stewart-style. There were no black gangs in New York in the 1800s, apparently and Sugar Ray Robinson isn’t even given a line in Scorsese’s masterpiece, Raging Bull, (1980) yet he’s still my favorite director. Scorsese himself plays a racist in his film Taxi Driver where he brags to DeNiro’s Travis Bickle that he’s going to kill his wife because she’s cheating on him with a ‘ni**er.’ Marty, time’s up to make your Black Narcissus.

Anyway, in Jaws, the story revolves around a killer shark, terrorizing a little island on the 4th of July and if you think I’m going to write a post comparing the caronavirus to a killer shark at a time when humor is seriously frowned upon, prepare to turn that smile upside down. Jaws is probably used as an analogy more than any other film in history and that speaks to the incredible storytelling power of Steven Spielberg. He was at the center of a movement in early 70s film that was a reaction to the free-love drug culture that was hungover from the 60s, where young and dynamic filmmakers such as Spielberg, Francis Ford Coppola and Scorsese were redefining cinema, with an eye on the French New Wave created by Francois Truffaut and the neo-realism of Frederico Fellini and Vittorio De Sica in Italy, these young Americans created some of the greatest movies of all time. Scorsese however, also looked to directors such as the English director Michael Powell and the Japanese director Akira Kurosawa, employing a documentary-style realism that shaped 70s film into an art form all by itself. Director William Friedkin’s The French Connection; Coppola’s The Conversation and The Godfather; Sidney Lumet’s Network and Dog Day Afternoon; Scorsese’s Mean Streets and Taxi Driver and other groundbreaking films of the 1970s opened a new way for artists to connect with audiences and Hollywood took note, based mostly on the East Coast with the exception of the great director Robert Altman, a combination of that 70s cinéma vérité style with the commercial and artistic power from Hollywood was why Jaws was such a great movie. From The Morning News:

Jaws is a spectacular film, one of the greatest to come out of American cinema. It is rightly catalogued in the Library of Congress, where it has been preserved as a major cultural milestone. It also belongs in the very small club, alongside Herzog’s Nosferatu: Phantom der Nacht and Friedkin’s The Exorcist, of “monster” pictures that are simultaneously true artistic achievements. After the movie opened, Steven Spielberg would become the household name he has remained ever since, but he would never again—forgive me for saying so of a billionaire with a shelf full of Oscars—make a film as seamless, and as dramatically accomplished, as this.

Author Peter Benchley, son and grandson of Algonquin tabler Nathaniel Benchley and the quintessential working writer also really loved sharks. He might have become a marine biologist if his father and grandfather weren’t writers and was troubled that his book and Spielberg’s film demonized sharks, which led directly to a precipitous decline in their population. Based on a 1914 series of attacks off the coast of New Jersey, the real-life Jaws wasn’t a single shark eating lots of people, but many sharks eating a few people and we’ve found that sharks don’t particularly like the taste of humans and usually enjoy us for a snack, just an arm or leg before the main course of a poor, cute harbor seal.

The caronavirus, or SARS-Cov-2 is not like a shark in a few ways: 1. this virus is super, super tiny (not ‘invisible’ as our idiot VP thinks) and 2. far less scary on a movie poster than a killer shark and 3. can live outside the water, in fact it really likes to float in the air, landing in your nose to move down your throat, chewing into your lung tissue like the killer shark chewing into ‘Ol Ben Gardner. The films 28 Days (2000) and Contagion (2011) are both scary movies, with good movie posters, however competing with ‘Bruce,’ the shark (extremely scary), is only bested by Jason at the lake and Michael on Halloween. If you’re Crissy out for a midnight swim or some poor sailboat instructor who loses his whole damned leg, the big shark makes as fine an analogy to COVID-19 as any, after all, wasn’t Jaws really a film about a public health crisis made worse by the ‘town fathers,’ making Chief Brody reopen the beaches to swimmers even though it wasn’t safe to go back in the water?

Chief Brody:  Larry, we can re-open the beaches in August.

Mayor Vaughn:  August! Tomorrow is the 4th of July, and we are going to open for business. It’s going to be our best summer in years. If you’re so concerned about the beaches, you two, you do whatever you have to to keep them safe, but with you or without you, those beaches will be open for this weekend.

Chief Brody and his family are outsiders in the movie because they ‘Weren’t born in Amity’ and told they’ll ‘never’ be an Islander. He works within the community and yet will never be a part of it and African-Americans, Latinos and Native Americans know this feeling very well. They’ve fought in wars for this country and served with distinction, hoping to be recognized as equal to any other American, but since they’re ‘not white,’ they’re viewed as an outsider to the larger white community — no matter what their achievements — take President Barack Obama as a prime example. In Jaws, the outsider police chief is trying his best to protect the townspeople, including tourists, from the threat they’re facing and the Amity community, from its citizens to the mayor to the medical examiner actively work against his ability to do his job effectively. It’s with the July 4th collapse that Jaws’ final, third act begins and as today the community’s true driving force is commerce.

The Jaws script went through three drafts, reworked by playwright Howard Sackler, nutty screenwriter John Milius and actor­-writer Carl Gottlieb, who would write himself out of one job and into another, creating the final shooting script, which was revised continually on location until the cameras started rolling. As Spielberg told one Boston journalist during the shoot, “We’ve been making it up as we go along…” Benchley’s original concept proposed to his editor was, “to explore the reactions of a community that is suddenly struck by a peculiar natural disaster [that] loses its natural neutrality and begins to smack of evil.” Jaws was set in a vacation tourist trap, Amity Island — an American utopia — with the welcoming name meaning ‘friendship,’ so ex–NYC cop Brody brought his family there so they could finally live somewhere safe.

Chief Brody, the New York cop looking for an easy job on the quiet island was met with far more challenges than just a shark in the water in Peter Benchley’s original book published in 1974, the manuscript was painstakingly forged together by the author Benchley and his patient editor Tom Congdon, the movie rights bought by Hollywood based on the opening four chapters, Benchley won the contract to write the full book yet would spend the advance before the book was completed and needed to be walked to the third act by his editor and publisher, inserting typical 70s book homages to Updike’s sex and Puzo’s mob (in the book, Brody’s wife gets down with Matt Hooper and Mayor Vaughn is in the pocket of the mafia), but Spielberg saw through the murky plots, with Carl Gottleib, and created the best popcorn movie of all time.

You hope a good movie will always follow a great screenplay (it should) but it doesn’t always, with a great screenplay it’s almost impossible to make a bad movie, like an architect with an elegant plan, the beefy union builders are the ones who are actually going to let you build the damned thing. The greatest directors know this and take the core story of what they want to tell you and thread the details around it until you are totally lost in the story and two hours have passed. That’s called entertainment and Jaws delivers on all fronts. If the film drags at all, it might be when Matt Hooper says “and this is what happens” when showing poor Chrissy’s chewed-off arm to the audience, but folks love that scene for the gore, matched with poor Ben Gardner’s head popping out of the hole of his sunken boat (filmed in editor Verna Fields’ swimming pool) providing the other big highlight for the thrill-kill crowd before Quint gets bitten in half at the end. Back in ’74, Steven Spielberg had directed only one feature, the unsuccessful Sugarland Express (1974) and had only done the TV-movie of the week Duel before that (about a crazy truck driver chasing down Dennis Hopper), Spielberg got the offer to direct Jaws, then named the mechanical shark Bruce after his Harvard-trained lawyer Bruce Ramer, which became the nightmare of the characters and filmmakers alike (the mechanical shark, not the lawyer) and is legendary in the film business for forcing Steven Spielberg to rely on the careful editing of Verna Fields to make the shark appear scarier, as well as the music and scoring of the best film composer of all time, John Williams of the Boston Pops.

The relationship between a film director and the director of photography, or ‘DP’ is the most important in the making of any good film, beyond a good script. If film directors usually start as production assistants on a film set (PAs), DPs usually start as camera operators but the greatest DPs such as James Wong Howe, Gregg Toland, Owen Roizman, Haskell Wexler and Gordon Willis recorded the images they are known for with the employ of great camera operators. Camera operators (unionized) have created all the magic of the movies, minus editing, sound and score, of course and the film producer must start the process by hiring the director, who then hires the casting director and then the fun begins, but the images are recorded by the camera guy or gal. One of the first hires on Jaws was for the role of ‘Meadows’ and Carl Gottleib won the role as the local reporter who covers up the first shark attack in the book and who better than an actual writer with an Emmy to his name (kept in his fridge, so no one could miss it) working for The Smothers Brothers Comedy Hour, going on to write for the Bob Newhart Show, All in the Family and The Odd Couple, in Jaws he practically wrote his character Meadows out of the script, giving him thoughts on which career choice to follow, yet after seeing The Jerk, (1979) with Steve Martin (which he co-wrote) I am eternally grateful he remained a screenwriter, even though I also liked him as a character actor, especially as Balls McGinty, Gottleib, unlike Benchley, was a born writer.

The DP on Jaws, was Bill Butler, a TV cameraman for WGN Chicago who shot the early Coppola film The Rain People (1969) starring James Caan and Shelley Duvall and would later to collaborate on The Godfather, Butler then met with Spielberg, going on to shoot the greatest monster movie-on-the-water Butler knew he needed a great camera operator for the harrowing job and that’s when he reached out and hired the great Michael Chapman, who would film almost all of the great images seared into our minds since, keeping us out of the water for decades. Chapman was the DP on The Last Detail (1973) with Jack Nicholson and Randy Quaid, then he worked with Scorsese on some of his finest films such as Taxi Driver and Raging Bull; also Phil Kaufman’s Invasion of the Body Snatchers (1978) Woody Allen’s The Front (1976) directed by Martin Ritt and Chapman even worked for the dearly-departed Carl Reiner on Dead Men Don’t Wear Plaid (1982) and The Man With Two Brains (1983). He shot everything from The Fugitive to Space Jam and also helmed 1983’s under-appreciated All the Right Moves (Tom Cruise’s first lead performance after his first film Taps) and also Clan of the Cave Bear (1986) with the great Dutch DP, Jan de Bont.

Bill Butler, Steven Spielberg’s DP of choice after Allen Daviau, would record some of the other great films of the 70s, a replacement to Haskell Wexler on two occasions: The Conversation (1974) and One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest (1975), also first camera operator on the film Deliverance (1972) with Vilmos Zsigmond and The Godfather with the great Gorton Willis, also doing Stripes (1980). Spielberg’s DP for The Color Purple, Allen Daviau was raised in LA and was one of the most highly-regarded DPs in Hollywood after Spielberg tapped him for the groundbreaking E.T. The Extra Terrestrial (1982) he also recorded Raiders of the Lost Ark; Twilight Zone: The Movie and Empire of the Sun for Spielberg as well as Defending Your Life (1991) starring Meryl Streep for director Albert Brooks and also worked on John Schlesinger’s spy flick, The Falcon and the Snowman starring Sean Penn and Timothy Hutton (both also in Taps).

On April 16th, DP Allan Daviau died from the effects of the caronavirus at 77 years of age while a resident of the MPHA, a home where many Hollywood character actors end up and a place where character actor Allen Garfield also died of the effects of caronavirus, a wonderful actor who made his name in the 70s who reminded me of another great character actor by the name of John Cazale, who was married to Meryl Streep, you may remember him from A Dog Day Afternoon or The Deer Hunter by director Michael Cimino, John was from Revere, MA and died in 1978 and I take any opportunity to celebrate his life and work, as short as it was due to the killer disease known as cancer. In Jaws, Chief Brody is awakened to his moral failure by a hard slap across the face from Mrs. Kintner, who took out ads in the local papers to fund the shark hunt, the mother of the boy who becomes the second shark attack victim (along with ‘Pippit’ the dog), Lee Fierro, the actor who played Mrs. Kintner, died at 91 of complications from COVID-19, she was a drama teacher on Martha’s Vineyard when Steven Spielberg cast her for the role in 1974.

A recent National Geographic report has indicated that SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes COVID-19 disease is “50-100 times more deadly” than the common flu and where only a few people in the movie Jaws die in the end, we are now approaching 150,000 American citizens dead as a result of this awful and weird virus, more than double what the Trump Administration predicted back in March when the terrible Dr. Birx (called ‘Deborah’ by our president*) estimated 65,000 total dead Americans by August. This pandemic has revealed the utter incompetence of this man and we are now living in a real-time horror movie where our president* is trying to get us all killed. This 4th of July, when we Americans are tempted to go back into the water and enjoy the holiday after finally stamping out the virus, just remember the immortal words of Amity’s Mayor Vaughn:

I’m pleased and happy to repeat the news that we have in fact caught and killed a large predator that supposedly injured some bathers. But as you can see, it’s a beautiful day, the beaches are opened, and people are having a wonderful time.

As we all know, he was dead wrong.

 

John Underhill
July 4, 2020

 

When America Sneezes, the World Catches a Cold

The Wonderful Effects of the New Inoculation by James Gillray (1802)

Conservative Austrian diplomat Klem von Metternich (1773 – 1859), the architect of the ‘Metternich System’ of détente diplomacy between France and Prussia from 1800-1848, which dominated politics on the Continent and established the pathway to Austria’s independence, for four decades Prince Metternich served as foreign minister from 1809-1848 and also Chancellor from 1821, the father of the empire until the liberal Revolutions of 1848, he maintained Austria as a great power and was Napoleon’s able foil because Metternich was super smart but also extremely cocky, once saying,

There is a wide sweep about my mind. I am always above and beyond the preoccupations of most public men. I can cover a ground much vaster than they can see. I cannot keep myself from saying about twenty times a day: ‘How right I am, and how wrong they are.’

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The Tonight Show Starring Donald Trump

Boy, did Trump put on a bad show last night or what? Since my last post, the country has become a poorer, sicker and dumber place than at any time since Donald Trump took office, however a small side benefit to the Coronavirus outbreak is that I’ve had an enormous amount of free time to catch up on old TV shows on YouTube, so lately I’ve been binge watching Mary Hartman, Mary Hartman; Maude; Wolfman Jack’s Midnight Special and especially Johnny Carson’s The Tonight Show. I’ve never been so happy to ignore reality because after watching TV or reading Twitter or the local news,  I tend to get selfish, angry and mean and I don’t want that to define who I am during this crisis. It’s terribly frustrating to see our government work like it’s run by an amateur and it highlights just how terrible our president* has become. If Hillary Clinton was elected instead of Donald Trump in 2016 and was the President of the United States right now, (as THREE MILLION more people voted for her than the other guy) I would be preparing to watch the Boston Red Sox play a baseball game against the Chicago White Sox, possibly rained out at Fenway but nonetheless, that ain’t happening now. The reality is that our imbecilic president has allowed this awful tragedy to happen to our great country because — at this point — the only logical explanation that I have left is that Donald Trump isn’t just a misogynist (he obviously hates women) but he’s also a psychopath. He hates people. After all, his parents were just awful human beings and I have a first-person account of how Fred Trump was basically a Nazi sympathizer. Being the son or daughter of a Nazi sympathizer and a cold and distant mother would be a challenge for most normal people and Donald Trump is certainly not a normal human being. He’s totally fucking abnormal. Interesting fact: the first toilet paper panic was caused by an offhand joke by Johnny Carson in 1974 when he said there were shortages of everything in California during the Watergate scandal and gas shortage. The joke became a rumor, which became a fact, resulting in a run on toilet paper and also a very funny example of how humans can panic and act irrational, even in the best of times. Here’s a typical zinger from the show:

I hear that whenever someone in the White House tells a lie, Nixon gets a royalty.

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Cult of Trump


Now that the United States Senate is finished with impeachment, the Cult of Donald Trump is now armed with the knowledge that ‘The Dear Leader’ is innocent of all charges against him. Before long, things of this nature tend to get out of hand, however all cults are not necessarily a bad thing and many cultists are darn good people. Someone who knows a thing or two about cults, Steven Hassan, is an American mental health counselor who has written extensively on the subject of mind control and how to help people who have been harmed by cults. I suggest the US Congress create a new Committee on Political Cults, similar to the Parliamentary Commission on Cults in France following the so-called ‘Order of the Solar Temple’ mass suicides in the 1990s, with Mr. Hassan appointed as it’s first director. His personal experience being a former member of the Unification Church, or the so-called ‘Moonies’ of the 1970s gave him all the experience he needs for the job and Mr. Hassan has become one of the most respected authorities on the subject of cults and mind control in the world. Just last October he published his fourth book, The Cult of Trump: A Leading Cult Expert Explains How the President Uses Mind Control where he explains the problem we all face and what we can do about reversing the damage. Most of us think that we are totally above these sorts of shenanigans and know better than the experts, but you’d be surprised how easy it is to fall the victim of a cult leader.

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3 Whistleblowers

Photo Illustration: ABC News

Here we are at the end of a decade and sometimes that means the end of an era. The 80’s ended with a thud and we’ll see if the 10’s live to be remembered as the decade in which we all finally lost our minds and with this in mind, let’s now affix our tin foil hats and review some of the many conspiracy theories that have swirled around since I was born. The greatest conspiracy theory of all time, the conspiracy by which all other conspiracies are measured is of course the Kennedy Assassination, our 35th President was murdered on November 22, 1963 by self-avowed Communist and former US Marine, Soviet-defector Lee Harvey Oswald and that case is still open. On New Year’s Day in 1979, the House Subcommittee on Assassinations released it’s shocking findings that, on the basis of the evidence available to the committee at the time, there was a 90% probability that President John F. Kennedy was assassinated as the result of a conspiracy. The committee was unable, however, to identify any other gunman or the extent of the conspiracy. The earlier Warren Commission, formed by President Lyndon Johnson just after the trauma of the murder had subsided, had the initial effect of answering some of the most basic questions the American public had about the assassination that unfolded in front of our eyes in Dallas, the Warren report was at first accepted as the most definitive, exhaustive investigation of any crime in history.

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A Very Big Thing

Eighty years ago today, the Winter War began, where Joseph Stalin had been granted Finland in a ‘quid-pro-quo’ with Adolph Hitler, prior to the Barbarossa offensive, a dazed and confused Russia (referred to in international circles at the time as the ‘Soviet Union’) were bloodied and basically beaten after just three months of battle, where Russia suffered 134,000 to 138,000 dead or missing with estimates as high as 167,976 by the Russian State Military Archive in this early ‘war’ of WWII and the following Continuation War pushed the numbers far higher for both sides.

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Boo!

(Pablo Martinez Monsivais/AP)

Happy Halloween, the one time of the year that adults are allowed to dress up in costumes, get drunk, eat tons of candy — and it’s all for the kids! This year, Halloween is especially scary because today is also the very day that the President of the United States, Donald J. Trump got impeached. It was a rough week for the president*, starting with the humiliating chorus of boos from the ‘swampy’ Washington Nationals fans, who exorcised the latest Curse of the Trumpino with their throaty disapproval of The Donald and the bad vibes that followed him to the ballgame last Sunday night. The week then featured an honest-to God Ken Burns-esque American hero standing up to the White House, testifying to Congress, thus sinking the final nail in the Trump coffin, after Trump World besmirched the character of this American hero, Lt. Col. Alexander Vindman.

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Kenneth, What is the Frequency?

In a strange incident in 1986, Dan Rather was roughed up by a couple of well-dressed goons as he walked home near the corner of 88th Street and Park in New York, with one of them repeatedly asking, “Kenneth, what is the frequency?” The newsman made news himself because the louts, instead of calling the celebrity CBS reporter by his given name, Dan or even Daniel, referred to him as ‘Kenneth.’ This was just weird enough to make the national news. The brouhaha died down and the incident was quickly forgotten until 1994 when a band by the name of R.E.M. out of Athens, Georgia recorded the hit song, “What’s the Frequency, Kenneth?” off their album Monster, which is why anyone remembers the story. The reason Rather came to be asked the strange question by the nutty duo is quite weird and stupid and tragic, and I’ll get into that later in the post, but it’s when we hit the ‘stupidity curve’ as a culture, where schizophrenic news cycles and the weird shit that we see today has hit the fan every day, week and month since.

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The Square, Circled

Harvard Square 1974

Rock ‘n’ Roll was in transition in the late 1970s and back in the old days, all the good new music, as usual, was coming from African-American artists and I was totally into ‘black music’ and listening to DJ Antoine and the Quiet Storm at the end of the FM dial on WMBR 88.1, MIT’s awesome college radio station (helping nerds be cool for over fifty years). I remember one of my best friends back then, Mike, who had relatively mediocre taste in music and was kind of dim, had adopted Bruce Springsteen as his very own (as many of our friends have through the years) walling Bruce off and jealousy, weirdly attacking anyone who didn’t like Springsteen as much as he did. Many years later I found out that my stupid friend Michael was actually right about Bruce after all and that I was the dumb one. A note here about my last post (trying to keep these to a minimum) about using mean and pejorative terms on this here blog such as stupid, dumb, moron, imbecilic, Trump Cuck, etc. I’m sorry if they offend anybody and I’m sorry that I use these bad words, but I just can’t help myself, so I sincerely apologize to Mr. Broidy that I called him ‘fat’ in (every) reference to him, however I’m not sorry that I called him sleazy. Watching Aidy Bryant on Saturday Night Live recently, I thought to myself that this funny and delightful (pleasantly plump?) woman probably doesn’t like that word ‘fat’ very much and even when I’m insulting Elliot Broidy, I shouldn’t be calling him that bad word. I should say he’s big-boned. A big-boned, sleazy scumbag. “There I go again” as Ronnie Reagan used to say.

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