SMITHEREENS: Reflections on Bits & Pieces

Gar Smith
Friday August 09, 2019 - 03:42:00 PM

Note to CBS: Woodstock Was a Blast—But Not That Kind

On August 15, in the summer of 1969, an historic festival was organized to celebrate "three days of peace and music." On August 4, 2019 CBS Evening News debuted a 12-minute feature to commemorate the event. They titled it: "Woodstock at 50: A return to 'ground zero for peace and love.'"

Ground Zero?

When did radiating love become the equivalent of radioactive leftovers?

You might say this kind of militaristic expropriation "puts the BS in CBS."

Clammy Comic Calamities

The #MeToon movement continues to rack up examples of cartoon-strip misogyny and, once again, the winner and all-time champ is . . . The Fusco Brothers


On August 2, Rolf Fusco (the brother with a hairdo that looks like four fingers shoved up the inside of a moldy glove) confronts a woman at a coat check desk and, without introduction, declaims: "When I was a kid and my parents would have a party, I used to love to roll around in the pile of coats on the bed. Would you care to join me in a trip down memory lane?" 


"I Have the Best Words"

The preceding subhead will be recognized as Darn Ol' Trump's gloating self-evaluation of his vocabulary (which depends overly on words like "amazing," "incredible," "disgusting," "disgrace," "deplorable" and "losers"). Trump's also got a few "best phrases" that he repeatedly trots out when his brain cells fail to fire. These include "believe me," "everybody says so," "he's a great guy," "fake news," "billions and billions," "we're going to take care of," and his now-classic description of his laser-focused, problem-solving approach to leadership: "Well, we'll just have to see what happens." 


And sometimes, Trump stumbles over even the simplest of words. 

Here, courtesy of The Daily Show, is a Trump-talk sampler: 


But now, thanks to Oakland author Jane Solomon's new book, The Dictionary of Difficult Words," there is a brave new word we can use to describe our Reprimander-in-chief and that word is "Ultracrepidarian." It sounds appropriately "bigly" and somewhat creepy and reptilian, to boot. It means: "Someone who has big opinions about things they know nothing about." 


White Racists in the White House

Donald Trump isn't the first white supremacist to inhabit the White House (as evidenced by the portrait of Andrew Jackson that Trump ordered prominently displayed in the Oval Office). Sacramento Bee editorial cartoonist Jack Ohman recently posted a six-panel illustration purporting to share a phone conversation between Ronald Reagan and Richard Nixon. It contained a caveat that read: "Historical hypothetical conversation within the commentary boundaries of an editorial cartoon." But, in addition to the satirically imagined chit-chat between Dick and Ron, the cartoon included one quote from an actual phone call recorded in 1971 in which Nixon raged: "To see those, those monkeys from those African countries—damn them, they're still uncomfortable wearing shoes." 


Tricky Dick helped pave the roadway for Icky Don. 


Al's Back!

More than a year after resigning his Senate seat over charges of improper touching (on the Joe Biden level, not the Harvey Weinstein level), Al Franken appears to have announced his comeback by posting an article attacking the Trump regime for its "sheer tonnage of lies, the endless vitriol and stupidity, the unyielding crassness, cynicism and self-aggrandizement, not to mention the sheer cruelty coming on a daily basis from Donald Trump." 


After spending a long dark patch in the political wilderness (and thanks to the passage of time and a well-considered New Yorker article by Jane Mayer), Franken is reemerging as a staunch voice of the progressive left. 

In his blistering essay, Franken called out the president for his failure to accept any share of responsibility for the minority-baiting hate-tweets and public bellows that preceded the mass killings that claimed 30 lives in El Paso and Dayton. And he skewered the president's embarrassing failure to project any sincerity during the delivery of the first public-speech-ever in which he has deigned to criticize "white supremacists." 

Franken noted that during Trump's performance "his expressionless face appeared to be mounted on a swivel-head, turning mechanically from one prompter to another in a way that suggested that he was reading the words for the first time and that he really felt he had better things to do." 

Welcome back, Al! 


The Rise of Top-down Dress Codes

It always strikes me as a bad sign when a government starts issuing dress codes, so I was bummed to read that the freedom-loving Netherlands has joined its EU neighbors— Austria, Belgium, Denmark France, and Germany—in banning Muslim women from wearing their burqas and niqabs on public transportation or in government buildings, hospitals, and schools. 


So far, it seems, just Muslim women are being told to de-faith their public wardrobes. Jewish ladies appear free to wear their tichels while 

men of all faiths are still permitted to sport yarmulkes, dastars, even Muslim kufi caps. 

One enduring question about hats and faith: Isn't it strange that, before entering a Catholic church, men are required to remove their hats to bare their heads while women are required to don a veil to cover theirs? 

If countries are going to impose dress codes, how about doing something about all the grown-up American men who continue to dress up like underage boys—wearing the preteen uniform of short pants, T-shirts, and baseball caps? 


Cyber-Terror on Four Wheels

California's Consumer Watchdog (CW) recently released a 49-page report warning that the advent of "driverless cars" could lead to a cataclysmic Auto Armageddon in which cyber-terrorists could highjack the controls of millions of cars racing down US highways and send them flying off freeways, sideswiping pedestrians, and causing "Sept. 11-level casualties." 


Essentially, it would be (literally) the biggest "computer crash" in recorded history. 

CW warned: "Millions of cars on the Internet running the same software means a single exploit can affect millions of vehicles simultaneously. A hacker with only modest resources could launch a massive attack against our automotive infrastructure, potentially causing thousands of fatalities . . . ." 

The warning brings back memories of a 2013 investigative piece in the Planet. The report ("On the Strange Death of Michael Hastings: Was the Reporter Car-Hacked or Bombed?") looked into the mysterious death of Rolling Stone journalist Michael Hastings who was killed after his car was seen speeding out-of-control down North Highland Avenue in Los Angeles at 4:20 in the morning. Hastings died in a fiery explosion after his car crashed into a palm tree. 

Hastings had been a fierce critic of the "surveillance state" and he had been threatened after his reporting lead to the downfall of Army General Stanley McChystal. Hastings told friends that he feared government agents had been trailing him. Just hours before his death, Hastings emailed friends expressing his concerns and adding: "I'm working on a big story and I need to go off the radar for a bit." 

Here is a video that the Planet included in the investigative piece on Hastings' mysterious death. 


The Huffington Post subsequently revealed that "As of October 2014 the CIA was also looking at infecting the vehicle control systems used by modern cars and trucks" in order to stage "nearly undetectable assassinations." 

Adding to the mystery: One of the videos posted by the Planet (which appeared to show an explosion taking place beneath the car's gas tank prior to the final crash) has been removed because, YouTube claims: "The account associated with this video has been terminated." 


Halfway Measures

It's troubling that nearly half of teenage drivers killed in auto accidents die because they didn't bother to use their seat belts. But there's good news on the horizon: Chevy has announced an improvement to the Ralph-Nader-inspired seat belt—a car that can't be driven until the seat belt is buckled. (Kind of like the AlcoLock device that requires a driver pass a breathalizer test before the ignition will work.) 


Unfortunately, Chevy has taken a perfect solution and made it optional, not mandatory. 

In order to work, Chevy's Malibu, Traverse, and Colorado models first need to be placed in "Teen Driver Mode," after which, if the driver attempts to shift into gear, the car will not move, an audible alert will sound, and the instrument panel will light up with the admonition: "Buckle seat belt to shift." 

Problem solved? Not quite. First: teens don't like to be told what to do. Second: the "Buckle to Drive" block is automatically removed after 20 seconds, leaving the driver free to careen down the highway blissfully unbelted. 

Our best hope: that teens will be so impatient to get moving that they will opt for belting over waiting. 


Climate Chaos: The Jet Stream Has Gone Loopy

More evidence of climate chaos has been appearing in the press—record high temperatures, accelerated melting of polar ice, massive die-offs of endangered species, water reserves falling, sea levels rising. And the evidence of climate collapse has once again become evident in the daily weather maps charting the progress of the jet stream that once flowed reliably, from west to east, across the northern hemisphere. 


For much of 2019, this steady band of weather-forming wind has moved north, into Canada. The jet stream—like many birds, insects, and animals that have been driven to fly, buzz, and trot north in search of more livable temperatures—is also migrating north. 

At the same time, the jet stream has been running out of steam. It has slowed down and, like a meandering river, has begun to flow south and north in unprecedented and unpredictable loops of atmospheric energy. 

On the weather maps, the result has been stunning. And alarming. 

On August 2 and 3, for the first time in memory, the jet stream not only stopped flowing west to east—moving, instead from south to north and even partially flowing backwards, from east to west—but actually broke in two with one contorted path disappearing into Canada while another, lower remnant twisted itself into a massive 2,500-mile wide circle running from Butte, Montana to Mexico City. 

The Stream had become a Pond, slowly circulating in an ominous clockwise spin. Off the Eastern Seaboard, a third broken strand of the Stream was pummeling the region with rain and thunder. Meanwhile, every state in the union—and most of Canada—was registering temperatures at or above 80° F. 

Looks like it's time to start investing in sunscreen and umbrellas.