Tuesday, August 14, 2012

Shackles, Chains and Hinges

A shackle, according to Wikipedia, is "a U-shaped piece of metal secured with a clevis pin or bolt across the opening, or a hinged metal loop secured with a quick-release locking pin mechanism. They are used as a connecting link in all manner of rigging systems, from boats and ships to industrial crane rigging." To "unshackle," according to Dictionary.com, is to free from shackles.

I've done some sailing in my time, so I have a fair amount of experience with shackles. One thing I know firsthand is that if a shackle breaks or accidentally releases, you can have major problems. Your sail might come down; your sheet lines might go loose; you could end up spinning around out of control or flipped over. Once I had to climb the mast in the middle of a race to retrieve the spinnaker halyard after it had become unshackled, and that was not only scary, it slowed us down considerably. Becoming unshackled is generally not considered a good thing for sailors, and it is therefore advisable to make sure your shackles are securely fastened before you leave the dock.

Everybody knows what a chain is, but I'll give a definition from Wikipedia anyway: "a series of connected links which are typically made of metal. A chain may consist of two or more links." Chains are generally not something you want to break either, otherwise you might lose your jewelry, or whatever you are towing or lifting might crash. But if you are in chains yourself, generally you want to break free.

Shackles, by the way, are often attached to chains, as in the illustration above, especially for uses such as anchor lines. In that case, you generally don't want either your shackle to come unshackled or your chain to break. That is, unless you want to break free from your mooring and set sail, but then generally the preferred method would be to carefully pull up the anchor line and stow the anchor. Breaking the shackle or the chain is generally not recommended.

A hinge is "a type of bearing that connects two solid objects, typically allowing only a limited angle of rotation between them. Two objects connected by an ideal hinge rotate relative to each other about a fixed axis of rotation. Hinges may be made of flexible material or of moving components. In biology, many joints function as hinges." The word "unhinged" can mean to remove from hinges, or to remove the hinges from something, but it can also mean unbalanced or deranged.

Those who haven't been following the day's campaign news might wonder at the purpose of defining these terms, but the campaign geeks like myself should get the point. The point being that it was the Romney campaign that started in with these metaphors by promising to "unshackle" the economy by removing regulations on business. As mentioned above, sailors familiar with the importance of keeping shackles tightened might cringe at this metaphor. because our associations with loosened shackles are often disastrous. So the Romney campaign's use of this metaphor in relation to business or the economy doesn't seem to prove their point very well. Anyway, that's what Joe Biden might have thought, or maybe Biden just got mixed up enough that Biden started talking about chains instead of shackles. Biden pointed out that taking the chains off business might lead to putting chains on ordinary people, specifically the people he was speaking to at a campaign stop in Danville. And that of course awakens connotations of chain gangs, or more likely the chains of slavery.

Was that deliberate, or a slip of the tongue? If it was deliberate, was it "outrageous," as the Romney campaign immediately charged? Or, in Biden's quick comeback, is it Romney's policy proposals that are outrageous? Does a guy who is spending millions of dollars in false campaign ads have the right to complain about a careless remark by the Vice-President? Or is the Romney campaign, as an Obama campaign spokesman charged, becoming unhinged?

Stay tuned for more campaign fun and excitement. 


3 comments:

  1. Ha! I enjoyed this! I wasn't aware or had forgotten that you were so keen on sailing. Was your experience on lake water (perhaps Michigan) in the past or currently in the Pacific?

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  2. I knew you were a salty dawg but this adds new meaning.

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