SMITHEREENS: Reflections on Bits & Pieces

Gar Smith
Friday June 07, 2019 - 05:09:00 PM

The Post Office on Steroids

Pausing to collect my mail at the Berkeley Main Post Office last week, I was approached by a USPS employee pitching a new postal product. "You can check your incoming mail anytime, anywhere," he explained, eagerly thrusting a flyer into my hand.

With "Informed Delivery," he told me, I could now turn on my home computer or check my Smartphone to see what mail—if any—was waiting for me in my post office box. Images of my incoming mail would now be posted online—in color, even!

I can only think of one reason why I would want advanced notice about what mail was coming my way: I would no longer need to search a parking spot to check your PO box only to come away empty-handed. But, hold your ponies. There's a catch: "You'll get an email every day with a preview of mail and status updates on packages scheduled to arrive soon."

Did you spot it? The key phrase is "to arrive soon." The system will take snapshots of your incoming mail at some point prior to delivery but that does not guarantee that the mail will actually have made it inside your PO box. Also, the service is only for "letter-sized" mailings, so apparently you won't know whether your next issue of The Nation, Wired, or The New Yorker is about to arrive.


And one more thing: this new service will also create, for the first time, digital archives of personal envelopes sent to individuals from companies, agencies, and other individuals. 

I'm a bit sensitive on this point because, during the Sixties, I discovered I was on a secret government "Watch List." Working at the Berkeley Barb, I'd handled letters from the Weather Underground and that apparently was all it took for the government to put me under postal surveillance. 

I eventually discovered that the FBI had assigned someone in San Francisco's Rincon Annex to intercept and record the comings and goings of my personal mailings. I was not the only one on the local "watch list." The supposed privacy promised by the Bill of Rights was no longer assured. 

The webpage to sign up for Postal Pix is MYID is supposed to stand for "My Informed Delivery" but it could also stand for "My ID." I'll pass. 

Three Tales of Intersectionality 

The City of Berkeley has installed new street signs at the eastern terminus of Rose Street. The signs mark an unusual intersection of three different streets—a tri-section, if you will. This is where Rose intersects with Bayview (coming from the North) precisely at the point that Bayview turns into Scenic (and continues to the South). The result is a signpost that also serves as a descriptive statement: "Scenic Bayview." (Stand at the trisection, look west, and that's exactly what you'll see.) 

Here are some other Descriptive Intersections Signs found around town: California-University, University-Grant, Scenic-Spring Way, College-Haste, Hillside-Prospect, Vine-Arch, and Bonita-Rose. 

Say What? 

Speaking of Rose Street: North Berkeley drivers heading south on Spruce encounter a baffling traffic sign as they approach Rose. The message posted on the southwest side of the intersection reads: "Thru Traffic Turn Right." 

Faced with questions like and "Why?" and "WTF?", most drivers simply ignore the roadsign and blast right through. 

Wait. Forever? 

At the intersection of Hopkins and The Alameda, there are buttons on posts at all four corners that pedestrians can push to stop cross traffic so they can cross. In order to assist blind pedestrians, the buttons also prompt a warning voice that instructs walkers to "Wait! Wait!" until it is safe to cross the street. 

The problem is, that's all the crossing system ever says. Even after the lights change and the pedestrian signals start flashing the "walk now" countdown, the audio signal continues to repeat "Wait! Wait!" 

The same problem holds at each of the four corners. If you can see the lights, you're good to go. If you are blind, you're caught in an endless bind. (This gives rise to a related question: If you are visually impaired, how do you know there's a button to push? And how do you locate it?) 

Spooky Tales 

Okay, kids. Gather around. Turn the lights down low and let me adjust the flashlight I'm holding under my chin. It's time for a Spooky Tale. 

Once upon a time (in 1893, to be exact), there was an American novelist named Ingersoll Lockwood who wrote two unsettling books about a fantasy character named Baron Trump. The first novel was titled The Travels and Adventures of Little Baron Trump and the second was titled Baron Trump's Marvelous Underground Journey

Baron is described as a young boy with "a very active brain" who grows bored with his family's super-lavish life in "Castle Trump" and decides to slip off to (pre-Bolshevik) Russia for an adventure. 

Once little Baron arrives in Russia, he is taken under the wing of "the master of all masters," a powerful mentor who goes by the name, "Don." Together, they search for a gateway to other dimensions. 

According to Newsweek, Lockwood's eerie tales have given rise to 4chan Internet rumors that the real-life Trump family has somehow secretly acquired a time-travel machine. 

Lockwood followed up with a third novel, chillingly called The Last President. Written in 1986 but set in New York in the year 1990, the novel depicts a country being torn apart as a popular revolution threatens to overthrow the ruling oligarchy. 

"The entire East Side is in a state of uproar . . . . Mobs of vast size are organizing under the lead of anarchists and socialists, and threaten to plunder and despoil the houses of the rich who have wronged and oppressed them for so many years." 

In the novel, Lockwood writes: "The Fifth Avenue Hotel will be the first to feel the fury of the mob." Lean in and listen closely, children, as I whisper this next sentence: The address that Lockwood gives for the Fifth Avenue Hotel just happens to be. . . the address of the current-day Trump Tower. 

And, as if this story were not crazy enough, it turns out that a Hollywood film producer named Leigh Scott has set up an Indiegogo account to raise funds to produce a movie version of Little Baron Trump's Adventures. Here's his pitch: 


A Broken Jet Stream 

The jet stream that historically crossed the US mid-drift in a fairly fast and steady flow from West to East has gone haywire—thanks to rising global temperatures and the accelerating loss of polar ice. For the past several decades, the jet stream has been losing power, slowing down and wobbling, wavering north and south with increasing frequency. 

The nearly vertical perambulations of the jet stream—from Alaska south to the Gulf of Mexico—have changed traditional weather patters, blanketing the West Coast in polar winds and carrying a freight of chilly air into a climate collision with equatorial winds that trigger storms along the coast and maelstroms of hail, rain and tornadoes in the country's Midwest. On some days, the jet stream's track has even begun to back-track, looping about and heading west. And, at the end of May, another disturbing anomaly was recorded. 

On May 30, the jet stream moved toward the mainland in a straight line from Hawaii, only to take a sudden southward plunge as it reached the coast of California. The jet stream didn't enter US airspace until it crossed over from Mexico into south Texas. But that was nothing, compared to what was to happen the next day. 

On May 31, the weather maps showed a bizarre event: the jet stream had broken in two. Two parallel atmospheric rivers were shown—one crossing over Canada, the other passing over Mexico, both bypassing the continental US. The southern jet stream barely managed to reenter the US, crossing over Florida and Georgia before swinging out into the Atlantic. The Northern jet stream missed the US entirely, passing through Canada nearly a hundred miles north of Ottawa. 

On June 1, the pattern repeated as torrential rains and storms remained stalled in the Midwest, pummeling millions with falling rain and rising waters. 

On June 2, the southern belt of transcontinental air was nowhere to be seen and the trail across Canada had mutated from a flow to a bow—with a huge bend of wind blowing south into the US heartland before reversing field and racing back north into Canada. 

No More Federal Tax Breaks for Polluters 

Here's another Big Idea for our Presidential Wannabees: Change the federal tax code so it no longer benefits the fossil fuel industry. 

The current tax code hands out huge tax breaks to Big Carbon, making it easier for the dirty energy bandits and fossil-fuel freaks to profit off pollution. As the organizers behind the Stand Tall for America (STA) campaign put it: "That means that taxpayers—you and I—are paying Big Oil to speed up global warming." 

According to STA, Washington currently provides "more than 40 energy tax breaks that promote the dirty fossil fuels that contribute to climate change." 

Meanwhile, too many Congressmembers continue to ignore climate science (and daily headlines of persistent, rising flood and storm damage across the US) in order to continue doing the bidding of their wealthy campaign donors. 

STA has simple plan: "End tax subsidies for Big Oil and Coal. Transform the US tax code to encourage investment in a clean, sustainable future. Replace the more than 40 energy incentives with just three: One for clean energy. One for clean transportation. One for energy efficiency." 

Seems reasonable. You can sign the "No More Tax Breaks for Big Oil! Invest in Clean, Renewable Energy!" petition by clicking here 

NATO's Logic: 'We Prevent Wars by Threatening to Start Wars' 

Senator Chuck Schumer had a less-than-reassuring response for citizens who recently expressed concerns that admitting the country of Georgia to NATO would serve as a further provocation to Russia (which has long expressed its displeasure with the growing number of US/NATO bases that have been encroaching on its borders). 

In a letter, Schumer began by agreeing that Georgia's NATO membership would be a thumb-poke in the eye of the Russian Bear. 

Schumer wrote: 

I understand your concerns about Georgia’s unresolved conflicts with Russia and how these can escalate Russian aggression should Georgia become a member of NATO. Last year, Russian Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev reportedly said that Georgian membership in NATO would be a “threat to peace.”  

Having described the grave danger, Schumer then does on to dismiss it, citing a single reason for risking war: "NATO agreed in 2008 that Georgia would eventually be offered membership." 

Schumer proceeds to describe NATO's role as follows: 

"NATO is a vital component of our national security environment and the possibility of increased Russian aggression is a serious risk that must be taken into consideration." 

In short: We need NATO to provoke Russia because of the increased risk of Russian aggression. Moreover, being able to goad Moscow into a military conflict "is a vital component of our national security environment." 

Tell Gov. Gav: Shut the Crumbling Diablo Canyon Nuke 

Public Utilities Commission President Michael Picker and the PUC's commissioners have received a petition that reads: 

"We, the people of California, ask Governor Newsom and other state leaders to order the controversial Diablo Canyon nuclear plant tested for potential dangers involving seismic vulnerability, pressure vessel damage and nuclear waste leakage before the reactor is allowed to re-open after being shut down for refueling in February. " 

To sign onto this petition, click here

An 'Internet Kill Switch'  

At 3pm Eastern Time, on June 2, the Google Cloud (which accommodates Gmail, YouTube, SnapChat, Instagram, Facebook, et al.) was struck by lightning when all these services mysteriously crashed for four long hours. In related news, thousands of Google customers who secured their homes using the company's Nest technology found themselves (1) locked outside their homes or (2) securely locked inside their homes for the duration. 

The unprecedented collapse led Tyler Durden to ask on "Did the government just test the Internet Kill Switch?" 

The "Internet Kill Switch" is not a matter of Internet rumor. As The Atlantic recently pointed out in a chilling feature titled, "The Alarming Scope of the President's Emergency Powers: "From seizing control of the Internet to declaring martial law, President Trump may legally do all kinds of extraordinary things." 

Trump has already used his "extraordinary powers" to seize control of all telephone communications nationwide when, on October 3, 2018, he activated the National Wireless Emergency Alert System in a test of the Presidential Alert system. 

Military Control of the 2020 Elections? 

Trump's "extraordinary" powers may soon extend to oversight and control of the 2020 elections. In May, Microsoft announced it had signed on to a White House plan to create ElectionGuard, a cyber-security system that will be entrusted with processing all the votes cast in the 2020 US Presidential and Congressional elections. ElectionGuard will expand the use of electronic voting machines rather than relying on paper ballots that can be challenged during voter recounts. According to RT News, funding for this unprecedented project will come from a “private” company called Galois "whose only investors are the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) and the Office of Naval Research (ONR)." 

According to Microsoft, these complex military-industrial "ballot boxes" will "make voting secure, more accessible, and more efficient.” 

But as political comic Lee Camp observed on a recent episode of Redacted Tonight, “The Pentagon can't keep track of $21 trillion over the past 20 years. What makes you think they can keep track of hundreds of millions of votes?”