SMITHEREENS: Reflections on Bits & Pieces

Gar Smith
Tuesday December 18, 2018 - 10:17:00 AM

Xmas in Toyland: Baby Jesus Would Be Terrified

A holiday shopping visit to Games of Berkeley wasn't as jolly as I had anticipated.

On aisle after aisle, row after row, and shelf upon shelf, many of the shopping options had replaced Christmas cheer with tribal jeer. Scores of video- and board-games based on the Game of Thrones, Star Wars, and Harry Potter were embellished with the kind of incendiary, war-like imagery that would give the Prince of Peace nightsweats.

Swords, hatchets, axes, knives, spears, flaming wands, clenched fists, demons, skulls, and angry, screaming faces peered from the tops of every box of playthings. This is the "spirit of the season" in today's America? Forget choirs of angels singing Hallelujah. In modern Trumplandia, our holiday entertainment is provided by marauding bands of bearded devils waving wands and weapons.

Among the titles: Zombiecide, Lobotomy, Sommoners Wars, Ashes, 5-Minute Dungeon, Tyrants of the Underdark, Dead of Winter, Eldritch Horror, Rise of Moloch, Imperial Assault, Pandemic Legacy, Mansions of Madness, Betrayal at Baldur's Gate, Scoundrels of Skullport and Lords of Waterdeep

If the Three Magi had shown up at the manger with such a mangy selection of tasteless testosterone-fueled gifts, they would have been chased out of Bethlehem. 

Nobel Peace Prize Winners Honor Berkeley's Anti-Nuke Stance 

On December 11, activists representing NuclearBan.US, CODEPINK, World BEYOND War, Environmentalists Against War, and the Nobel Peace Prize-winning International Campaign to Abolish Nuclear Weapons (ICAN) presented Berkeley Mayor Jesse Arreguin with a certificate recognizing Berkeley's "Alignment" with the 2017 UN Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons

Berkeley now is the second US city to openly support the UN Treaty. Takoma Park, Maryland officially recognized the treaty earlier this year while Oakland, Ojai, Marin County and other California cities and counties are expected to follow suit. This UN Treaty, which was adopted by 122 countries on July 7, 2017, bans all nuclear weapons activities and will enter into force once it has been ratified by 50 countries. (So far, the treaty has been signed by 69 nations and ratified by 19.) 

In May, the City Council passed a resolution declaring itself "strongly supportive" of the treaty and proclaimed itself in compliance by virtue of its existing Nuclear Free Berkeley Act, passed in 1986. But although Chapter 12.90 of the City Code bans investing municipal funds in companies that design or build nuclear weapons and prohibits all nuclear-weapons-related activities from taking place within the city limits, there is a rogue element in the mix—the University of California at Berkeley. 

Fiat Lux or Fiat Nukes? 

In October, Beatrice Finn (the executive director of ICAN) wrote a stunning op-ed in the Los Angeles Times in which she warned that Donald Trump's unilateral decision to abandon the 1987 Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces Treaty signaled the start of a new Cold War. And, Finn noted, the Blue-and-Gold State of California would be "complicit" in Trump's stampede toward Armageddon. 

"A new nuclear arms race is underway, with California at the center," Finn wrote. And, it's "bringing in a flood of cash to laboratories run by the University of California, where scientists, engineers and technicians have had a hand in designing every single nuclear weapon the US has ever built." 

UC Berkeley scientists helped built the bombs that destroyed Hiroshima and Nagasaki. Since 1952, UC Berkeley has operated the Lawrence Livermore National Labs, a nuclear weapons research facility. (Berkeley now co-manages LLNL along with Bechtel and the University of Texas.) 

Every warhead ever assembled and deployed by the US and its allies owes its deadly existence to UC Berkeley. And the new 2019 Federal Budget dedicates $1.48 billion for Lawrence Livermore—with 88% of the funds going to nuclear weapons. 


In August, California's state legislature approved a resolution backing the nuclear ban treaty and has openly challenged the dubious tradition of granting any president "sole authority" to launch a nuclear attack. 

"California is a leader on social issues, in technology and in politics," Finn wrote. "We've seen the power of the state's activism on many issues, including an effective fossil fuel divestment campaign targeting the UC regents. That same energy can be brought to the issue of nuclear disarmament. The University of California must permanently disengage from developing nuclear weapons, and the state's representatives and senators in Washington should take the lead in supporting the UN nuclear ban treaty in Congress." 

Raising a Ruckus for Health Care 

Employees of Kaiser Permanente filled the streets near the KP Complex in Oakland but instead of gathering in front of the buildings and critical entryways, the employees brought their signs, banners and chants to the intersection of MacArthur and Howe. The crowd couldn't be missed. Every few minutes, a passing car would honk in an audible show of support and the crowd would reply with cheers that echoed for blocks. The hullabaloo was even louder when large cargo trucks (presumably being driven by union truckers) would let out a horn blast. But the loudest cheer came when the crowd was caught by surprise. A lone ambulance, ambling slowly down the street in mid-day traffic, suddenly saluted the protestors with an unexpected siren shriek. It was probably a violation of rules, but it was clearly AOK with the KPers, who roared their approval. 

Publishing's Bipolar Disorder 

One of the many things I liked about Peter Berg's work at the Planet Drum Foundation was the way he would earmark his delightful bioregional reporting. Instead of a dateline that read: San Francisco or Eureka, Berg's dispatches would announce that they had arrived from the Cascadia Bioregion. The goal was to ignore the colonial names imposed by European settlers and draw attention back to the broader touchstones of our natural landscapes and exalt the larger, holistic universe. 

As the founding editor of Earth Island Journal—a quarterly that prided itself on providing "Local News from around the World"—it occurred to me that EIJ (like every other magazine I ever read) had a stunted worldview. We were, in a word, guilty of "hemispherism." 

For example, when the Journal reported on the Earth Summit in Rio de Janeiro in June of 1992, the story appeared on the cover of our "Summer 1992" edition—despite the fact that, in Brazil, where the eco-summit had taken place, it was winter. 

We changed this in the next issue, redesigning each page so that the line "Fall 1992 – Earth Island Journal" at the top of each page was matched by parallel line at the bottom of the page that read "Spring (Southern Hemisphere) 1992." 

To my chagrin, many readers (and some Earth Island cohorts) bridled at this "unnecessary" addition. On the other hand, the change-over was cheered by readers in the Southern Hemisphere who sent letters that were wildly appreciative. A few other publications also came to adopt this format. 

While I'm not aware of any current publications that try to address this bipolar disorder, I was recently pleased to discover another geo-humanistic refinement in a letter sent by in support of Gov. Jerry Brown's September 2018 Global Climate Action Summit.'s three mailing addresses were listed as follows: 

Traditional Chochenyo and Karkin Ohlone Lands 

1 Haight St., San Francisco, CA 94102 

Traditional Lummi and Nooksack Lands 

1329 N State St., Bellingham, WA 98225 

The Unceded Territories of the Səl' ílwətaʔ, xʷməθkwəy̓əm, and Skwxwú7mesh 


802-207 West Hastings Street, Vancouver BC, V6B1H7 

Populism Is a Potent Fuel. Light It at Your Own Risk 

Have you noticed this trend? Across South America, entrenched, rightwing oligarchs have intentionally sabotaged their national economies to provoke populist anger against progressive/leftist governments. Then they cynically present themselves as "reformers" who will deliver the suffering populace from the evils of socialism, unions, etc. Don't say it can't happen here. 

Meanwhile, in France, populist anger prompted people to burn cars to protest higher fuel-taxes—taxes designed to avoid a climate-change calamity. While taxing gas tanks makes sense, what French leader Francois Macron really needs to do is apply a carbon-tax and other disincentives on the Barrel Barons of the country's powerful oil industry. 


The planet appears to be facing a 12-year do-or-die sentence. As Sir David Attenborough put it at COP24 summit in Poland: "The World Is in Your Hands." 




Blue Wave Smacks the Red Wall

November's mid-term elections showed that a lot of people are ready for a fresh crop of bold, progressive leaders in Congress. 



With January still weeks away, New York Rep-elect Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (call her "AOC") had already begun stirring up some promising blue ripples by demanding a Green New Deal (GND) while agreeing to pay her interns $15/hour (while many elected reps pay their interns nothing.) 

You can join the call for a Green New Deal by clicking here. 

More potentially revolutionary news: AOC is angling for a spot on the powerful House Ways and Means Committee. Freshmen/women reps seldom reap such high-end assignments but AOC understands this is what's needed to advance causes like income equality, Medicare for All, and an accelerated transition to clean, renewable energy. 

Returning House Speaker Nancy Pelosi can make this happen by appointing AOC to the WMC. Democracy for America has created a petition that calls on Pelosi to do just that. As of December 14, the petition had gathered 74,000 signatures. You can click here to sign the petition













Meanwhile, Pelosi is being pressed to create a Select Committee on the Green New Deal to draft a 10-year plan to address the climate crisis by speeding the phase-out of fossil fuels and the transition to renewable energy. 

Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. spoke of the "fierce urgency of now" but he also warned that, "in this unfolding conundrum of life and history, there is such a thing as being too late." 




Tell Paul Ryan: Allow a Vote on the Yemen War Resolution

Rep. Barbara Lee writes: "The Senate has passed our War Powers Resolution to withdraw US forces from the war in Yemen. Now, we need House Speaker Paul Ryan to bring it up for a vote before Congress breaks for the rest of the year, and so far, he's blocked it." 




You can add your name to demand a vote on Rep. Lee's resolution by clicking here. 

Recently, Donald Trump screed-tweeted a warning: "If the Democrats do not give us the votes to secure our Country, the Military will build the remaining sections of the Wall." 

The folks at were not impressed: "If Trump thinks members of the military are going to build his stupid wall, he has another think coming," they fired back. "We are not going to let this happen. We stopped Trump's military parade and the voices of veterans will stop Trump here, as well." 

Don't Sweat It 


A well-meaning friend sent an ad for the "perfect interdenominational holiday gift": a Chrismukkah sweater—half Christian, half Jewish. 

I think I'll pass over this dress-up option. Instead, I'm holding out for a Chanukahmas sweater with an Islamic hoodie and am preparing to carol "Oy vey, in a manger." 

Free Speech on Campus: It's a Class Struggle 

As a veteran of Berkeley's Free Speech Movement, I share the concern over the "prior restraint" of inflammatory speech. Still, when a provocateur known for preaching violence, division, and hatred comes to campus and the university has to arrange for extra insurance and police, it's clear that you've got a problem. 

There may be better ways to handle controversial speech. Consider, for instance, the hallowed tradition of the academic debate. Instead of giving a single polarizing speaker total control over the podium, we could host a public contest of opinion. Instead of unleashing unfiltered partisan fulminations, the debate format puts these ideas up to challenge and criticism. 

Consider Milo Yiannopoulos' proposed a "Free Speech Week." Presented as an event that would feature a "broad range of speakers and opinions," it ranged narrowly from Ann Coulter to Steve Bannon. 

Instead, of an array of intemperate rants, picture a series of lively public face-offs pairing opposing voices. Here are some examples: 

Milos Yiannopoulous v. Russell Brand 

Ann Coulter v. Rachel Maddow 

Steve Bannon v. Stephen Colbert 

Bill O'Reilly v. Bill Maher 

It would certainly be more entertaining. 


Wyden Widens the Weed Debate

And now, a word from Senator Ron Wyden (D-OR): 


"After more than 80 years of unnecessary prohibition, the US is on the cusp of legalizing agricultural hemp. Hemp was banned in 1937 by lawmakers who had somehow convinced themselves it was a dangerous drug. 

"It's not. No one can get high from hemp. But hemp can be used to generate clean biofuels and manufacture goods from clothing to insulation. 

"That's why I wrote the Hemp Farming Act, which would at last remove hemp from the list of federally controlled substances and create monumental new opportunities for farmers. And now my bill is included in the 2018 Farm Bill . . . ." 

Imagine This Anti-war Billboard over Times Square 

$6 Trillion Spent 

17 Years Wasted 

500,000 Lives Lost . . . 

What Part of "Failure" Don't You Understand? 

And Here's an Anti-war Haiku 

Fact: War doesn't work 

OK then, so why do we  

keep employing it? 

Correction: Games of Berkeley does not carry video games.