SMITHEREENS: Reflections on Bits & Pieces

Gar Smith
Saturday September 15, 2018 - 02:05:00 PM

Pelosi's Power

In an email to constituents sent on September 9, Nancy Pelosi revealed her secret source of power:

What fuels each of us is different. Me, I run on ice cream for breakfast. Dark chocolate, two scoops, in a waffle cone.

This leaves me wondering what constitutes a "Pelosi power lunch"? Devils food cake and chocolate-chip cookies polished off with a Magnum Double Chocolate ice cream bar and a mocha espresso?

On the March

It was great fun to be part of the 30,000-strong crowd of climate marchers in SF on September 8. We spotted a lot of creative, handcrafted posters. My favorite read:

"It's not the heat. It's the stupidity." 

Terminal Confusion 

After the march, I moseyed over to the new Salesforce Transit Center to grab a glimpse of the 5.4-acre rooftop park. A very enjoyable ramble, complete with a seagull's-eye-view of the downtown high-rises. But there's one weird thing. (No, not the water jets that spurt up when an unseen bus passes underneath. And what does the occasional single spurt signify—a passing pigeon?) 

Above the escalators leading from ground floor to the park, there's the Light Column—a vast, sun-lit dome encircled by a screen displaying huge electronic letters whipping around at the speed of a carousel. 

As I slowly escalated roof-ward, I tried to make out what kind of message was being promoted. It turned out to be a rambling statement about a couple visiting New York City and attempting to meet up with someone named Dave who agreed to join them at their hotel. 


After visiting the rooftop park, I returned to the escalators and once again faced the moving-letters-on-the-wall. This time, I took notes. The message on the illuminated snippets flashing by overhead was as follows: 


Two questions: (1) What?? and (2) Why?? 

Chose Your Words Wisely 

There may be a worthy justification for the words currently dancing over the heads of commuters and the curious, but might there be a better way to put this literary lightshow to work? 

Here are a few thoughts: 

The Light Column could be used to celebrate—and circulate (literally)—the words of beloved Bay Area poets. Poets are good because they tend to compose shorter works. (I would think that trying to read a novel or an op-ed on the Salesforce WordSled would be a non-starter.) Maybe projections could be limited to poems that could be completed in a one-minute cycle, or about 120 words. It might be amusing to revisit the old road-side Burma-Shave signs from the Fifties. Or, we could turn to Berkeley's Grant Faulkner, cofounder of 100 Word Story

Earth Island Salutes Gaia 

As founding editor and Editor Emeritus of Earth Island Journal, I couldn't be prouder to see the latest issue—WOMXN and the Environment—celebrating the words and wisdom of women. By my count, nearly 30 women contributed articles to this issue (including two women who reviewed two books written by two other women). 

I haven't read all the articles yet, but Maureen Nandini Mitra's editorial (about Tahlequah, the grieving mama orca who carried the body of her dead calf on her back for weeks) brought tears to my eyes. At the same time, the grave implications of the tragedy (an entire ocean eco-system disrupted by human-caused climate change) sent a chill down my spine. 

An essay by Barbara Brower offered fond memories of her parents, Friends of the Earth director and Earth Island Founder Dave Brower and his partner Anne. It was my great pleasure to have known Dave and Anne, the "unsung muse" who came up with a word for the problem that bedevils our modern world—"Greedlock." As Dave wrote, "You won't find the term in Webster's yet. It was invented by my wife, Anne Brower, to describe what the earth was suffering from." 

Women, Womyn, Womxn? 

The theme of the Journal's Fall issue left me wondering if "Womxn" (a step up from "Womyn") is really the best way to convey a broader definition of womanhood. 

After all, "X" is an exclusive letter (as in "x-out" and "x-rated"). The better letter might be "O" since the circle is the symbol of all-encompassing unification and a feminine symbol as well. 

So a better word could be "Womon." Except for the fact that, when pronounced, it sounds like a Jamaican lamentation—as in, "Woe, mon." 

Perhaps a better-yet re-spelling would be "Wemon" given that "we" is inclusive and "mon" (French for "my") celebrates individuality in the midst of diversity. And, best yet, when pronounced, it sounds pretty close to the word we already know. 


One quibble on the Journal cover. The issue's full title is Womxn and the Environment: A Celebration. A Reckoning. A Call to Arms, a choice that seems to demonstrate the subversive power of our militarized language—a disease so infectious that the constant fever goes unnoticed. In this case, it's the phrase "call to arms"—words that clang with a distinct (and disturbing) martial/masculine alarm. A better phrase might have been "A Call to Hearts." 

Weaponized Punctuation. In printed text and Powerpoint presentations, we emphasize a series of important sub-sections by marking them off with "bullet points." Could we come up with another name? "Key points," "notice nails," "bulletin buttons," "hot dots"? Other ideas? 

Booky News 

My latest book, The War and Environment Reader (an anthology that included an essay from Dave Brower) was nominated for the Rachel Carson Environmental Book Award. Didn't win but there was some unexpected good news: My previous book, Nuclear Roulette: The Truth about the Most Dangerous Energy Source on Earth was (1) translated into Korean and (2) has been named one of South Korea's "Top 12 Environmental Books of the Year." Hullyunghan! Five Down; Millennia to Go 

More good news. Nuclear Roulette featured a section titled "Five of the Worst US Reactors." Since the book was published in 2012, all five of these flawed and failing nukes have been ordered shut down. In January, regulators voted to close the last of the five—California's Diablo Canyon plant. This means I've managed to keep a personal vow to "outlive nuclear power in California." But it's unlikely I'll outlive the nuclear waste, given that the half-life of the Plutonium-239 is something like 24,000 years

What's on Your Plate? 

A few days ago, I spotted a personalized license plate on a grey Jeep V8 in Berkeley. It appeared to read: WN2BUGT. 

It always makes my day when I can unravel the secret of an encoded plate. This time it was problematic because the license-plate frame masked the bottom of the last letter, which was an "I" not "T." The clue was in the frame—which read: "Then Let's Dance!" It was a response to the question posed by the plate: WN2BUGI, or "Want to Boogie?" 

Toeing the Line 

Spotted a typo in an ad for a massage spa in the SF Weekly promising a "New Free Back Walk." The hand-and-foot rubdown was being offered by the "Oriental Natural Heling Center." Clearly a misspelling. Perhaps it was supposed to read "Oriental Natural Heeling Center"? 

MAD About Trump 

I recently picked up a greatly anticipated copy of Mad magazine's new 132-page perfect-bound Special Edition: "MAD About Trump"—a collection of satirical jibes, jabs and jousts directed at President TrumpleThinSkin over the past oh-too-many months. Two immediate eye-grabbers: 

(1) The Forward. This was provided by CNN's Jake Tapper who accompanied his essay with a full-page color cartoon targeting three of his fellow journalists. (Tapper, it turns out, is a pretty good cartoonist.) 

(2) The Dedication. When I opened this page in the bookstore and read it aloud, everyone within earshot—from customers to sales reps—broke into howls of laughter followed by groans of despair. The dedication read: "To Hillary Clinton, without whom this book would not be possible." 

Trump: Nobody's Better than Me! 

This video mash-up was masterfully compiled by the good folks at VICE. 


And, if you've got the patience for more Trumpestuous behavior, here is a longer VICE version that captures Trump bludgeoning the themes: "friends," "billions," "numbers," and "bing-bing." 


Another US "False Flag" Attack on Syria? 

The US is once-again threatening to strike Syria in retaliation for the use of "chemical weapons"—a "false flag" pretext used repeatedly by the US and its allies in the past. Each time the claims—and disturbing videos—have been exposed (by British reporter Robert Fisk and others) as "fake news." Unfortunately these revelations rarely make it onto US newscasts. 

Once again, Russia is warning that the US is plotting with local "actors" to stage a "chemical weapons attack" that will be blamed on Syria to justify an already planned US military strike. Check out this selection of 13 videos that address the issue of "false flags" that have been waved over Syria in the past years.