SMITHEREENS: Reflections on Bits & Pieces

Gar Smith
Saturday June 01, 2019 - 03:08:00 PM

When it comes to former senator and war prisoner John McCain, Donald Trump just can't let go. Trump continues to speak ill of the dead. Now his petulant pettiness has peaked again following a dust-up over a reported White House request to further disrespect the departed Arizona Republican. Responding to press reports that the Navy had overruled a White House request that would have draped a tarp over the bow of the USS John McCain, President BoneSpur was left to sputter: "I didn't know anything about it! I would never have done that!" 

But then, Trump's self-adoration got the best of him: he couldn't resist adding that, whoever did attempt to hide McCain's name, did so "with the best of intentions." 

Trump's latest juvenile outburst against a certified Navy hero calls for a new term-of-appointment for our insult-inclined, slander-prone Reprimander-in-chief. How about "Chief Petty Officer"? 

Corporate Rebranding: Passing Gas 

On May 39, The Guardian of London broke the following news: 

"America is the land of freedom, as any politician will be happy to tell you. What you don’t hear quite so often is that the stuff under the land is also apparently made of freedom as well. That is, at least according to a news release this week from the Department of Energy (DoE)." 

The Guardian explained that Trump's US Undersecretary of Energy, Mark W. Menezes, has trotted out a new term for the climate-warming natural gas that lurks untapped off US shores. Call it "Freedom Gas," Menezes says. And what constitutes this "gas of freedom"? Assistant Secretary for Fossil Fuel Energy Steven Winberg has a phrase for that, too. Freedom Gas, Winberg explained, is composed of "molecules of US freedom" that are manifestly destined to be "exported around the world." 

Big Oil's New Cry: "CO2 Lives Matter" 

The celebration of "molecules of freedom" prompted Washington State Gov. and Presidential Candidate Jay Inslee to Tweet: "This has to be a joke. (Remember freedom fries?)" 

But it isn't a joke. Energy Department chief Rick Perry is also pushing the idea that crude oil is just liberty in a liquid form. 

In early May, Perry told EURACTV: “Seventy-five years after liberating Europe from Nazi Germany occupation, the United States is again delivering a form of freedom to the European continent. And rather than in the form of young American soldiers, it’s in the form of liquefied natural gas.” 

The Trump administration quickly adopted the new lingo, even issuing a statement that increased off-shore drilling is "critical to spreading freedom gas." 

William Happer, a member of Trump's National Security Council who specializes in advising on climate change and emerging technologies, recently complained that: “The demonization of carbon dioxide is just like the demonization of the poor Jews under Hitler.” 

It follows, then, that Happer is equating environmental activists with Nazi Stormtroopers conspiring to eradicate innocent molecules. (Part of this false equivalence does pan out, however: CO2 molecules do wind up in a Gas Chamber—i.e., the increasingly polluted atmosphere that threatens every lung and iceberg on Earth.) 

Finally, there's Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, who sees Climate Collapse as an unprecedented business opportunity. According to Pompeo, "Steady reductions in sea ice are opening new passageways and new opportunities for trade. Arctic sea lanes could become the 21st century Suez and Panama Canals." 

Pompeo isn't troubled by projections that Washington, DC and Mar-a-Lago will also become waterways as melting polar ice raises coastal seas worldwide. 

Another US Monument to War 

The last thing our nation's capital needs is another monument to war but, on May 30, Washington, DC saw the debut of the National Desert Storm and Desert Shield Memorial

The new monument is situated right across the street from the US Institute of Peace and, while the choice of location may be challenged, the design seems appropriate: the centerpiece features a large wall that shrinks in size as it spirals inward around an empty space and reaches no conclusion. 

According to the organizers—The National Council on US-Arab Relations (NACUSAR) and The National Desert Storm War Memorial Association—the landmark is intended to celebrate "international partnership and statesmanship." (Footnote: None of the 11 individuals on NACUSAR's board of directors appears to be Arab-American.

The public was invited to attend—but only those who could show a valid driver's license or passport. 

World BEYOND War founder David Swanson had several questions for the monument builders: 

"Will the monument celebrate the basing of troops in Saudi Arabia that led to 9/11? 

Will there be any depictions of fictional infants taken out of imaginary incubators? [A hoax cooked up to trick US politicians into to attacking Iraqi—GS.] 

Which Congressmembers present promoted that story and can we give them a special round of applause? 

How will the overwhelmingly Iraqi victims be memorialized? 

Will victims of Gulf War Syndrome be remembered with an Eternal Open-burn-pit?" 


War of Words 

The military has many words for "our brave fighting men and women"—troops, soldiers, sailors, pilots, special operations officers—but it was a bit odd to read a report in the June 1 Chronicle that a hidden bomb in Kabul was responsible for "lightly wounding four American forces." 

So an individual soldier can now be called a "force." 

That turns out to be an apt appellation that exposes the truth about a soldier's role in foreign invasions. To wit: Imposing "force" is the opposite of protecting "liberty" or "freedom." 

There You Forgo Again 

Here's an odd grammatical question: 

If you say: "I choose to forgo dessert," what do you say afterwards? "I forwent dessert"? (And do I have a writer's annoying obsession with words? That's a foregone conclusion.) 

Zippy He Do Draw, Zippy Today 

Bill Griffith, the local cartoonist who shot to fame as the creator of Zippy the Pinhead (a mainstay of the "underground press" of the Sixties) is out with a new 256-page hardback titled: "Nobody's Fool: The Life and Times of Schlitzie the Pinhead" (Abrams Books, $24.99)—the real person behind the comic strip. 

Back in the Sixties, Zippy the Pinhead was a mainstay of the comic cast that inhabited the pages of the Berkeley Barban ink-stained ensemble that included R. Crumb's Mr. Natural, Gilbert Sheldon's The Fabulous Furry Freak Brothers, Spain Rodriguez's Trashman, and S. Clay Wilson's Checkered Demon. 

Fellow cartoonist R. Crumb has proclaimed: "Nobody's Fool is bofffo! The best graphic novel of the year!" (Such kind words from R. Crumb are worth their weight in Acapulco Gold.) 

A natural concern with such a book and such a subject is that the project might be seen as profiting off a character defined by his "disability." Advance reviews suggest that the actual book appears to be an honest attempt to memorialize the history of a real human being whose life was appropriated for public amusement and private profit. 

CNN anchor (and a closet cartoonist, himself) Jake Tapper writes: “Bill Griffith’s artistic investigation into the real life of Schlitzie Surtees in Nobody’s Fool is as heartbreaking and poignant as his Zippy the Pinhead is hilarious and clever. The biography manages to be both gorgeous and tragic, a warts-and-all exploration of how this country has treated those with disabilities and challenges, while also being a meditation on the ephemerality of fame. The questions Griffith raises about the nature of exploitation, acceptance, and quality of life are haunting. A masterpiece of the medium.” 

Here's a short video about the life of the real "Zippy." 


More information and autographed copies of the book are available 


Don't Let Your Kids See this Book 

On a recent morning run, I came across a "Little Free Library" perched on a post in front of a house on Hopkins Street. Pausing to check out the books offered inside, I discovered a 1991 edition of The Thinking Woman's Guide to a Better Birth, authored by Henci Goer and Amy Romano. 

My first thought: "You might want to hide this book from your first-born child." 

A New National Anthem for the Trump Era 

It's time, isn't it? Anyone else want to chime in with a alternative anthem for our beleaguered times? 

My Country' 'Tis of Trump 

G Smith (2019) With apologies to Sameul F. Smith (1844) 

My country, 'tis of Trump, Big Wall around a dump, For thee I mourn. 

Land where my freedoms died, Thanks to our ruler's pride, 

From every minor slight, Tweet-storms rained his scorn. 

Cruel Narcistocracy, Dearth of nobility, Thy reign I loathe 

Trump loves oil's rocks and drills, Trees felled for timber mills, 

Who cares what Nature needs? Climate Change? A hoax. 

Let pure greed swell the breeze, And all the poor folk freeze, Sweat-shops prolong. 

The press we excoriate, Dictators we imitate, Critics we extirpate, Muslims don't belong. 

Where 'ere our flag's unfurled, Insults and taunts are hurled, Then come the bombs. 

Bomb-dropping, damn the costs, Targeting schools and mosques, 

US-made holocausts, From Syria to Sudan. 

Groper of beauty queens, Porn stars and nubile teens, Of thee I squeeze. 

Master of business deals, Defaults and bankruptcies, Rubles-for-scruples schemes, Great Don our King. 

Berkeley's Climate Plan Would Ban Gas 

On May 31, Melissa Yu, an organizer with the Sierra Club's SF Bay Chapter, sends out the following notice: 

In June, a proposed ordinance that would require climate-friendly, all-electric new construction in Berkeley will have a chance to clear a final hurdle before it can go to the City Council for a vote this summer. The ordinance, introduced by Councilmember Kate Harrison, would phase out installation of polluting gas infrastructure when issuing permits for new buildings. It is an important next step toward achieving clean, healthy, and affordable homes for our community. 

All-electric buildings can save homeowners money. Modern, high-efficiency electric heating technologies can also cost less up-front than their gas counterparts . . . . 

Berkeley has set ambitious emission reduction goals — but the city is 18 percent behind its 2020 target . . . . In Berkeley, 27% of city-wide greenhouse gas emissions come from the use of natural gas in the residential and commercial sectors . . . . 

Here in Berkeley, our municipal buildings are powered by 100% carbon-free electricity and electricity for privately owned buildings is 85% carbon-free at a minimum . . . . 

Fossil fuel appliances release dangerous toxins, leading to air pollution levels in some homes that would be illegal if measured outside. A recent study found that gas stoves may be responsible for up to 12 percent of childhood asthma cases.
Berkeley’s electrification ordinance is a sensible step toward achieving clean, healthy, and affordable homes.
Take Action: Click Here to Tell City decision-makers that you support this move to limit Berkeley's reliance on fossil fuels. 

Public Banking Bill Passes Assembly: Now on to the Senate 

On May 16, AB 857, the local public banking bill, passed out of the Assembly Appropriations Committee and, on May 30, the California State Assembly voted to pass the local public banking bill! It received 41 "Yes" votes, the bare minimum needed to survive. Now it's on to the Senate. 

Assemblymembers Miguel Santiago (District 52) and David Chiu (District 17) are the bill's authors. The East Bay can thanks assemblymembers Buffy Wicks (District 15: (916) 319-2015) and Rob Bonta (District 18: (916) 319-2018) for cosponsoring the bill. 

If you support the public banking campaign, the following Assemblymembers need to hear from you. (If you’re not sure which district you live in, check this finder.) 

District 14—Timothy Grayson: (916) 319-2014 

District 16—Rebecca Bauer-Kahan: (916) 319-2016 

District 20—Bill Quirk: (916) 319-2020
District 25—Kansen Chu: (916) 319-2025 

The East Bay Needs a Public Bank 

Volunteers with Public Bank East Bay (PBEB) have spent recent months encouraging the Alameda County Board of Supervisors to set aside $216,000 to fund a business plan for public banking (a pittance, when compared to Alameda’s $3 billion-plus annual budget). 

The business plan would present a blueprint for the bank, spelling out how it will be funded and who will serve on the board to oversee its operations. The state’s Department of Business Oversight then will be able to issue a charter creating the bank. The PBEB proposal has been crafted by a "nationally recognized banking attorney who has written more than 200 bank business plans." 

In May, State Senator Nancy Skinner (whose district covers much of the East Bay) sent a letter to the Alameda Board of Supervisors and County Treasurer Henry Levy, strongly urging action on the business plan. Skinner has proposed that the county provide the initial start-up funds as a loan to be paid back when the public bank is finally up and running. 

More Information: PBEB meetings are held at 2044 Franklin Street, Oakland. Friends of the Public Bank of Oakland is located at 4114 39th Avenue, Oakland, Ca 94619.

Who's That at the Window? 

This week, the occupants of ActivSpace, an artist/entrepreneur workspace on Berkeley's Seventh Street received a note that maintenance crews on a "scissor lift" would be upgrading windows on the block-long, three-story building. The official notice ended with the following advice. 

Things you may do: 


  • Wave and say hi
  • Use the workers as character reference for your art
Things not to do: 



  • Challenge them to a break-dancing competition
  • Slowly opening and closing the blinds while making intense eye contact