Public Comment

SMITHEREENS: Reflections on Bits & Pieces

Gar Smith
Friday February 23, 2018 - 01:06:00 PM

A Modest Proposal

During his presidential campaign, D.J. Trump repeatedly harrumphed that Mexico "will pay for The Wall." Why? Because, in his twisted scenario, Mexicans were crossing into the US to commit rapes and murders.

Using Trump's theory of "causation accountability," it's only fair to demand that, henceforth, following any future mass-shootings, all funeral expenses should be paid by the NRA.

Something We Have Yet To See on the Evening News

School-shooter Nikolas Cruz taking practice shots while wearing his "Make America Great Again" cap: 


Short Shots 

Wall Street Speak: If a "bear market" is called a "correction," wouldn't it follow that a "bull market" is a "mistake"? 

Coming to Terms: How about a special name for pro-coal pols and Oil-igarchs? "Polluticians" and "Pollutocrats"? 

Our Weaponized Vocabulary: Maybe one of the reasons it's so hard to progress toward a world at peace is that the English language is salted with so many words of war. 

We aim to please. We target goals. We value high-caliber performances and leaders who are straight-shooters. We celebrate Hollywood blockbusters. Here are a few more words with surprising military pedigrees. 

"Ginormous" was first deployed during World War II. It appears in a 1948 British dictionary of military slang and was used in British newspapers as early as 1942. 

"Raunchy" has been around since the 1930s thanks to the United States Army Air Corps which, according to Merriam-Webster, used the term to describe "unkempt cadets." 

"Picket": The original meaning of "picket" dates from the 1680s and refers to "a pointed stake used as a defensive weapon." The original picket line was a line of military troops. And picket signs (even those that call for peace) owe their name to war. 

A Future Chaperoned by Drones? 

There were two troubling stories side-by-side in the Business section of the February 13, 2018 Chronicle

First: a talented young African-American computer geek announced her discovery that facial recognition software works better on faces that are white and male. Instead of seeing this as a GOOD thing (unless you like mass surveillance), she is campaigning to make the algorithms color-blind. But is this really the best goal: working to assure that the personal freedoms and civil rights of all races and genders are mistreated equally? 

Second: an adjacent report described the debut of the Skydio, a "self-flying camera drone" that can identify it's owner and trail behind, hovering a few feet overhead while dodging tree limbs and other obstacles. 

Aside from Type-A narcissists, who needs this? 

The answer to that question is deeply disturbing. Put the two stories together and this is what you get: an authoritarian society where drones can be sent aloft to identify targets via facial recognition and follow every move of selected individuals. 

The Police State is about to get wings. 

You can run—and somersault—but you can't hide. 


Bitcoins and Climate Change 

The Associated Press recently reported: "Iceland is expected to use more energy mining bitcoin and other virtual currencies this year than it uses to power its homes." As Smari McCarthy of Iceland’s Pirate Party put it: “We are spending tens or maybe hundreds of megawatts on producing something that has no tangible existence and no real use for humans outside the realm of financial speculation. That can’t be good.” 

Amazing! Now that we've created an imaginary currency that generates real pollution, we can overheat the economy and the planet at the same time. 

US Meddling in Foreign Elections 

A political scientist professor at Carnegie-Mellon University recently identified more than 100 examples of US and/or Russian interference in other countries’ elections from 1946 to 2000. While Russia was involved in about 30 percent of these interventions; the US was responsible for 70 percent of the election hacks. (Note: The professor's list did not include the CIA's 1953 coup against the democratically elected Iranian Prime Minister Mohammad Mossadegh or the 1961 assassination of Congolese Prime Minister Patrice Lumumba.) 

When it comes to election interference, there's a difference between Russia and the US: The US openly celebrates its meddling—in Hollywood movies. Case in point: Our Brand Is Chaos, a 2015 political thriller staring Sandra Bulloch and Billy Bob Thornton. 


According to Slate, Bullock plays “a legendary practitioner of the dark political arts who comes out of semi-retirement to navigate [Chile's] hapless ex-president back to the top job." The role was modeled after political consultant James Carville's real-life attempt to steer the outcome of the 2002 Chilean election. As Amazon notes (in an online plug for the film): "For decades, US strategists-for-hire have been quietly molding the opinions of voters and the messages of candidates in elections from the Middle East to the South American jungle." 

The truth sometimes pops up in the oddest places.