SMITHEREENS: Reflections on Bits & Pieces

Gar Smith
Friday July 12, 2019 - 12:47:00 PM

Lost Pet Alert

One of the more unusual "lost pet" posters is now on display in North Berkeley. Stanley, the pet in question, is described as "a green parakeet" who (happily) "likes humans" but (sadly) "startles easily."

Stanley was last seen at Shattuck and Cedar on June 26 when he apparently decided to wing it. According to the wanted poster, the errant parakeet was last seen "headed for Spruce Street."

The poster contains the following advice: "If found, please try to get him in a car, with the windows up, or a room, then call (510) 379-8024 or (510) 910-6690."

Good luck, Stanley.

Chronic Disorder?

Readers of the SF Chronicle (myself among them) are disconsolate that we will ne'er more be reading the announcement "Leah Garchik will return." Bon voyage after 40-plus years.


Soccer Punch 

In the wake of the US Women's World Cup Soccer victory, a MoveOn petition is circulating, pending delivery to US Soccer Federation and FIFA. The demand is straightforward: 

"Paying women less than men for doing the same job is wrong. In this case, the women's team is outperforming the men's team. Demand that the United States Soccer Federation pay players on the US Women's National Soccer Team the same amount as the men." 

I'd argue that the petition doesn't go far enough. Instead of being paid one-fifth as much as the men, these women—based on their performance (winning 4 Olympic titles and 3 World Cup Championships)—should be paid 700% more! 

War of Words 

As we've noted before, America's mother tongue is loaded with a plentitude of hidden linguistic landmines. Too often, even anti-war groups are caught promising to "fight and win political battles" in the name of peace. 

Here's another odd example. Military operations abroad—both on the ground and in the air—are routinely described as "sorties." But "sorties" turns out to be the French word for "exits." Calling an attack an "exit" seems to stretch a euphemism into the realm of falsehood. 

Pogo on the Apocalypse 

With climate collapse advertised to destroy human civilization in 10 to 20 years, Western society remains largely disengaged from the existential threats of climate calamity and nuclear war. Instead, far too many people seem transfixed by promises of faster video download speeds, the "Internet of Things," artificial intelligence, electric scooters, and most recently, getting around town on branded pogo-sticks. 

To paraphrase Pogo cartoonist Walt Kelly—and sociologist Emile Durkheim:  

"We have met the anomie and he is us." 

A Robot Revolt inside Amazon? 

William Thomas is a US Navy vet (who resigned his commission to protest the Vietnam War), a globe-circling sailor, an anti-war activist, a filmmaker, and an award-winning journalist. He recently posted a column of short items that covered a range of topics with a lot of humorous asides. I'd like to share just one item with you (You can look up the rest at William Thomas Online): 

"On Dec. 7, 2018, a robot at Amazon's Robbinsville, New Jersey warehouse doused 55 employees with concentrated capsaicin, the active ingredient in a 9 oz. can of bear spray. Seven ambulances rushed 24 robot-stricken workers to five local hospitals, where one victim was reported in 'critical condition.' The assailant was not detained. 

"The incident seemed inexplicable. Robots excel at rote tasks. And unlike its primate “co-workers”, the rogue machine had never complained of “inhuman” working conditions or a swiped pee bottle. 

“'Fending off robot attacks is just another occupational hazard at Amazon,' sighed RT. But the robot may have been as overworked its human counterparts. Between 2015 and 2017, ambulances were called to Amazon warehouses in the UK 600 times." 

Press, Bad. Meddling, Meh. Arms Sales, Terrific 

At the G-20 summit in Osaka, Japan, Don Trump and Vlad Putin made light of the Kremlin’s interference in US presidential elections. Bystanders were shocked when Trump pretended to scold the Russian leader by playfully wagging his finger and smirking: "Don't meddle in the election, please." When the talk turned to “fake news” and journalists, Trump snickered: “Get rid of them.” 

Hardly a laughing matter, given the 26 Russian journalists who have been slain during Putin's reign. 

Asked about Saudi Arabia's role in "getting rid of" Washington Post journalist Jamal Khashoggi, Trump claimed he was “very unhappy about that whole event” but insisted that “no one has pointed a finger directly at the future king of Saudi Arabia.” Well, nobody except for the CIA and just about every other US intelligence agency. 

Trump then told the media it was more important to focus on other matters, in particular the Saudis' promise to spend $400 billion on “different things” in America. "Different things" is Trump's euphemism for bombs, missiles, and other weapons of war. 

Investing in the Disease, Profiting from the Cure 

Caitlin Jonestone, who describes herself as a "rogue journalist, anarcho-psychonaut, and Utopia prepper," recently posted a Tweet that caught my eye. It read: "A major asthma drug-maker has been quietly investing in coal on the side. Tell me again how great capitalism is working." (Note: coal-dust and smoke are known to trigger breathing problems.) 

According to a 2017 report in The New Republic, the company is Mylan N.V., the manufacturer of five leading asthma-fighting products including the asthma drug Advair and the Perforomist, an inhaler that treats symptoms of chronic obstructive pulmonary disease. (Mylan is the same firm that was caught in a price-gouging scandal over the EpiPen, an injection device for the emergency treatment of potentially fatal allergic reactions.) 

Thanks to a tax-dodging "coal credit" granted by Congress in 2004, Mylan went on a buying spree and purchased five US coal companies. Mylan's executives then sold the coal at a loss, which allowed the company to lower its tax bill and boost its profits by $40-50 million per year. 

At least Mylan's stockholders are breathing easier. 

Tell Richmond: End Toxic Coal Dust Pollution 

The Levin Terminal in Richmond is now exporting nearly a million metric tons of coal per year. The coal arrives in uncovered rail cars that pass through Richmond's neighborhoods. This is a problem because coal dust contains arsenic, mercury, cadmium, vanadium, and chromium, which can cause cancer, birth defects, endocrine disruption and neurological damage. A Burlington Northern Santa Fe Railway study reveals that a typical125-car coal train can lose as much as 250,000 pounds of coal per trip. 

Richmond's City Council will soon be voting on a measure to ban shipments of coal and petroleum coke. You can help Richmond's resident by raising your voice (or, at least, your index finger) and clicking here

Trump's Oil Plan Targets SF Bay 

On June 24, the Sierra Club and other alert defenders of the commons filed a joint letter warning the US Army Corps of Engineers to rethink its announced plans to dredge a 13-mile-long channel through San Francisco Bay to make it easier for bigger oil tankers to deliver larger amounts of crude oil to Bay Area refineries. Want to let Trump know what you think of this plan? Click here

When Reality Is No Longer Real 

Gone are the days when reporters and police investigators could cite "hard evidence"—printed documents, audio-recordings, surveillance videos—to prove a case. Welcome to the Fake New World of "manufactured reality." Thanks to the "advance of Progress," seeing is no longer believing. Case in point: 


Only One GOP Rep. Stands Up for Democracy 

The House of Representatives recently passed the Securing America’s Federal Elections Act on a 225 to 184 vote. The SAFE Act would ensure a paper trail for US ballots, provide access and privacy for disabled voters, and avoid foreign election-meddling. In a self-proclaimed democracy, these would seem to be fairly non-controversial goals. Well, not in Senator Mitch McConnell's America. 

While all 224 House Democrats present voted to protect and expand voting rights, every Republican voted to defeat the bill—with one exception. Florida's Brian Mast, a veteran who lost both legs while serving in Afghanistan, and was the only member of the GOP to join the Democratic majority in standing tall for democracy. 

Close Your Doors, Survive a Fire 

The Berkeley Fire Department is urging citizens to adopt a simple survival trick: Before heading to bed, close the doors inside your house. Why this is important: In the event of a fire, a closed door will keep the flames from spreading. If a fire breaks out, a closed door will keep out choking smoke while keeping inside temperature under 100°F., thereby giving you time to call 911. Let the firefighters know your location and they'll rescue you through the nearest window on their arrival. 

Chimney Threat 

As the tremors in the Mojave recently reminded us, earthquakes and chimneys don't mix. According to a 2015 report from the Applied Technology Council: "In every California earthquake, from San Francisco in 1906 to South Napa in 2014, chimneys have routinely been among the first building components to fail, often dangerously, sometimes fatally." And according to the LA Times: "When chimneys collapse, bricks can become deadly projectiles. At least 15,000 brick chimneys were damaged in Los Angeles during the 1994 Northridge earthquake. In Napa, about half of the residential buildings damaged were due to brick chimneys." 

With fireplaces no longer used, owing to concerns over urban pollution and global heating, why isn't there a major initiative to implement the mass-removal of antiquated, life-and-property threatening chimneys? For the moment, if you want to prevent your chimney from falling through your ceiling and into your bedroom, you're on your own. San Francisco's Earthquake Safety Implementation Program has posted an online guide on how to address the threat at: Recommendations for Mitigation of Chimney Hazards.
NRA: Not Really Aware 

The Brady Campaign recently noticed a tweet that Donald Trump sent to his friends at the NRA, apparently advising them to flee New York and relocate in Texas. Trump's tweet read:
"People are fleeing New York like never before. If they own a business, they are twice as likely to flee. And if they are a victim of harassment by the A.G. of the state, like what they are doing to our great NRA, which I think will move quickly to Texas, where they are loved....." 

The Brady bunch couldn't help note the following: "One problem with this is that it doesn't look like the President knows that the NRA is actually headquartered in Virginia, and not New York. Which is surprising because he has spoken at their annual conference for years and they spent over $30 million to get him elected." 

Let Them Eat Food Stamps  

According to a note in, "We never hear about Federal Subsidies for corporations buying stock back & paying share-holder dividends while the taxpayers pay to feed their workers day old bread and dented cans of beans...." Well, now you can read about this injustice by clicking on the following: Kroger among top for food stamps employees - Cincinnati Business Courier

Trump Targets Our HUDdled Masses 

Trump’s Department of Housing and Urban Development is plotting the eviction of tens of thousands of immigrant families through a proposed rule that would ban “mixed-status" families from living in public housing or other subsidized dwellings. The impact? Tens of thousands of low-income immigrants—including families of US citizens—could be displaced from their homes. According to a report on NPR, the proposed rule (which HUD honcho Ben Carson claims is designed to "help low-income Americans") "could evict 55,000 children from subsidized housing." 

Take Action: Demand HUD immediately withdraw its proposal for mass evictions. 

Heathrow Heartthrob? 

Air travelers facing a layover at London's Heathrow airport these days are forced to watch large screens in the boarding lounge that endlessly replay short,10-second loops of commercial ads. Last month, these included a memorable (in a bad way) ad for TAG Heuer watches starring English model, singer, and actress Cara Delevigne. The ad's tag line was: "Don't crack under pressure." 

In the ad, Delevigne stands face-to-face with a lion at a South African animal sanctuary. She pulls some truly overblown expressions, ranging from boredom to disgust. The Heathrow ad ends with a once-you've-seen-it-you-can't-unsee-it grimace of distaste that appears—at second 11—in the longer TV spot below. 


The look—strange and disagreeable in the moment—proved to be unforgettable long after our departure from Heathrow. 

I was left to wonder what message Delevigne was trying to deliver on behalf of her uncrackable wristwatch. 

The best answer that came to mind was: "Geesh! Lion scat sure smells bloody honk!"