SMITHEREENS: Reflections on Bits and Pieces

Gar Smith
Saturday June 02, 2018 - 12:10:00 PM

Save the Murals

Thanks to the Streets Alive! Utility Box Project, many of Berkeley's street corners are enlivened by painted utility boxes. Many celebrate Berkeley celebrities—from Bobby Seale to Andy Samberg and the Lonely Planet. So it was a shock to see one of these local tributes—a prominent downtown box located alongside Berkeley High—defaced.

A utility box with a portrait of former Grateful Dead bassist Phil Lesh was recently spray-painted by an anonymous vandal who obliterated the artwork and added the word "Dead" at the bottom. Motive unknown. Lesh is still alive and thriving at 78 grateful years.

One long block away, another Berkeley celebrity box has suffered a different indignity. Near City Hall, a Streets Alive! box celebrating outdoorsman David Brower, depicts the former Sierra Club leader and founder of Friends of the Earth and Earth Island Institute, climbing a mountain. At least it did. The portrait now lies buried beneath a smaller metal utility box that's been bolted on top of the artwork. Ironically, Streets Alive! is a project of Brower's Earth Island Institute.

Brower deserves better. Free Dave!



In 1976 (the Bicentennial of the American Revolution) a talented team of volunteer artists painted over the side of what is now Amoeba Records on Berkeley's Haste Street. Osha Neumann, the Berkeley lawyer-activist-artist who conceived and executed the mural, believed that Berkeley deserved a memorial to its own revolution—beginning 1964 with the Free Speech Movement and continuing through the creation of People’s Park. 

"A People’s History of Telegraph Avenue" (popularly known as the "People’s Park Mural") has survived, graffiti-free for 42 years but the mural now is badly in need of repainting. Without a proper restoration, it could soon be lost forever. 

A fund-raising campaign has been initiated to save the mural. Tax-deductible donations can be sent to this Indiegogo account and checks can be mailed to: Green Cities Fund, Inc., 725 Washington St., Ste. 300, Oakland, CA 94607. (Memo line on the check: "People's Park mural.") 

But there's a small artistic glitch. Barbara Stack, administrator of the Free Speech Movement Archives ( recently pointed out a historical error: "The mural shows [Free Speech leader] Mario [Savio] on the cop car with shoes, whereas we know he was, famously, in stocking feet. Any chance that might get corrected in the restoration?" [Note: The squad car, sent onto Sproul Plaza to arrest a political organizer, was surrounded by students who proceeded to turn the trapped vehicle into an impromptu podium. Mario and others carefully removed their shoes so as not to damage the police car.] 

Neumann quickly replied: "If we can raise enough money for the restoration (which I'm convinced we can do), I promise to remove Mario's shoes. Let's hear it for historical accuracy! I hear the cry: 'Remove the shoes! Remove the shoes!' They will be removed." 


Another Mural at Risk? 

To the shock of its legions of long-time fans, the Toot Sweets bakery (1277 Gilman) was suddenly—and without warning—shuttered. The reason for the abrupt closure of the popular Westbrea cafe remains a mystery. According to the website, the family-owned bakery, founded in Berkeley in 1975, still operates a branch in Stockton. Meanwhile, the papered-over property now is set to be developed by a Richmond-based company. 

But there's concern that that the magnificent mural covering the entire western wall of the building, might be at risk. The mural depicts sweeping scenes of the Bayshore tidelands including the long-gone driftwood sculptures that used to enliven drivers' morning commutes. And, peeping out a door painted on the wall, is a portrait of the young woman who founded the bakery. 

Will the mural be saved? Well, Berkeley District 1 Councilmember Linda Maio is on the case. Maio informs The Planet: "I have inquired with a former Landmarks commissioner of mine about recognizing/protecting the mural through the Landmark process. Waiting to hear." 

The Primary Approaches 

The June elections are up and running. Placards are up and flyers are flying. One handbill that stood out came from Oakland State Assembly contender Dan Kalb. Kalb enjoys the endorsement of the Sierra Club, unions and the solar power lobby so he's got my vote. But … who came up with the illustrated campaign slogan: "Dan Kalb is Putting Oakland on the Rise"? 

The front of the flyer shows the word "Rising" floating above a close-up of someone poking their finger into a loaf of bread. 

It didn't work for me. First association that came to mind was: "Typical politician. He's just in it for the dough." 

What's Wrong with America? War, Sports and Politics 

What a relief to see the NBA's Western Conference Championship finally come to an end. As a rabid pacifist, it was troubling to grab the morning Chronicle day after day only to find the same unrelenting headline: "WARRIORS VS. ROCKETS." 

It's not just sports, of course. The "fists-at-the-ready" attitude that informs Washington's foreign policy bluster has also infected the June primary campaigns. 

I've lost track of the number of broadly smiling candidates who proclaim they can't wait to win at the polls so they can "fight for you" once they are elected. And, with school shootings now involving children at middle schools, Tony Thurmond's campaign wants us to know he'll make sure that all California students get "a fair shot." 

And then there's this growing "visual cliché" in political ads that all conclude with the candidate half-turning toward the camera, folding arms across chest, and Looking Serious. (It's the same stance patented by Marvel superheroes and World Cup soccer stars.) 

On the other hand, you've got to hand it to Malia Cohen. In her pumped-up TV ads (filmed in a gymnasium), the Board of Equalization candidate literally flexes her muscles while promising to "take down" the bad boys. 

A Dab for the Dubs 

On a recent Sunday run, I spotted a Berkeley homeowner on Spruce Street busily sprucing up his garage. A large Warriors flag fluttered from the front and he was hard at work dabbing paint on the front wall. He had just finished painting the message "GO DUBS" above the garage door. Look for it the next time you're headed down Spruce. 


On April 25, Georgetown University's Walsh School of Foreign Service hosted a conference titled "Building a Community of National Security Entrepreneurs." The conclave called for a strong National Defense Innovation Base comprised of "the whole of American entrepreneurs, companies, industries, universities, research laboratories, and government agencies [working] together as a network—people, knowledge, and capabilities—to keep America safe." 

Apparently the Corporate Militocracy wants to put a positive spin on further militarizing the economy, science, higher education, and government. Towards this end GU offered a "Hacking for Defense" seminar while the Pentagon's "National Security Technology Accelerator" promised to convene national security innovation experts to promote "an aligned innovation strategy to ensure American and Allied leadership in a renewed great power competition." 

"A renewed great power competition"? Is that a euphemism for "World War III"?  

Casus Belli 

During his widely watched "Iran Lied" presentation on May 1, Israeli PM Benjamin Netanyahu repeatedly lied about Iran and its nuclear status. The sales pitch largely relied on misappropriating old news from 2003. The White House too quickly replied to Netanyahu's back-to-the-future propaganda with a statement that claimed "Iran has a nuclear weapons program." When wiser minds intervened, the White House was forced to correct its press release to read: "Iran had a nuclear weapons program" – like 15 years ago. 

Netanyahu's intricately staged dodge-and-phony show deserves special recognition. Perhaps with a Trump-inspired "dishonorific" in the tradition of "Crooked Hillary" and "Lyin' Ted"? 

How about "Fibbin' Bibi"? 

Say No to NATO 

NATO currently surrounds Russia with military bases, patrols the China Sea to provoke China, and expands its "mission" to engage in conflicts from the Middle East to Africa but NATO's "peacekeepers" have never operated from bases on the South American continent. 

Until now, that is. The US/NATO alliance has now set up shop in Colombia—the first NATO-allied nation in South America. But the NA in NATO stands for North Atlantic. And NATO's headquarters in Belgium is a long way from Bogota. So, perhaps it's time to start calling it "SNATO," for South and North Atlantic Treaty Organization. 

"Active Shooter" Deactivated by Activists 

Valve Corporation of Bellevue has cancelled plans to launch an "Active Shooter" videogame that simulated a mass-shooting inside a high school. Active Shooter's defenders originally took the position that the game was a legally protected exercise of "free speech." After a storm of criticism—and an online campaign by—Valve canned its planned June 6 release and turned on the designer, condemning Ata Berdiyev as "a troll, with a history of customer abuse, publishing copyrighted material and user review manipulation." 

In a sane world, you would think anyone whose mind could create such a product should be forever banned from purchasing or owning a gun. 

What next? A point-and-gas "videogame" version of Auschwitz?