SMITHEREENS: Reflections on Bits & Pieces

Gar Smith
Saturday August 24, 2019 - 11:37:00 AM

The Shady Ladies of Alcatraz

When one of our window shades popped a pin, the question was: Repair or replace? When we took our lame shade to a shop on University, we were waved away by a proprietor who had neither time nor interest in solving our low-budget problem. So we pointed the car down Shattuck Ave and headed south to Berkeley's Alcatraz Shade—whose motto is: "Making you smile since 1954."

We came away with smiles. The women who run the shop quickly sprang forth to rescue our sickly shade. A replacement pin was located, implanted in the roller, and we were quickly sent on our way. Less than five minutes; less than five bucks. They even tested the curtain for us in their backroom lab. 

And while waiting for our shade to pass muster, we were invited to amble over into an adjoining space packed floor-to-ceiling with rare and artsy memorabilia. We had just entered the Alcatrash Zone. 

Alcatrash (Note: no connection to Alcatrash, the Greek boy band) is worth a visit on its own. Especially if your thing is vintage clothing, bric-a-brac, tchotchkes, and 33-rpm vinyl records circa 1940-1990 (including rare plates offering Pearl Jam, Marie Osmond, Malvina Reynold's Greatest Hits, and weirdly titled albums like "Do You Want to Kill Your Boss?")  

Alcatrash is so cool even the clothes-hangers are collectibles. 

Want more outta-the-past wonderabilia? Check out the collection at the Art House Gallery and Cultural Center, at 2905 Shattuck Ave — nine blocks to the north. (Drop in at night and you can boogie to live music.) 

How Trump's Sanctions Are Enriching Russia's Oil Barons 

Reports from an unlikely news combo—Bloomberg and TASS (the Russian news agency)—reveal that Donald Trump's imposition of sanctions on Iran and Venezuela has been a boon for Russia, which reaped an additional $905 million in profits from oil sales between November 2018 and July 2019. 

Thanks to Trump, TASS chortled, "the demand for Urals [oil] in the Mediterranean region is at its historic peak." 

And this is why we need to see Trump's tax returns and review his investment portfolios. Is he invested in oil? Is he invested in Russian oil? Is he colluding with Putin's Petro Bros by excluding Iran and Venezuela? 

Mayhem on the Menu 

It just occurred to me that the familiar phrase "America's wars of choice" is little more than a euphemism for "naked imperial aggression." 

Under international law, the unjustified military invasion and conquest of a foreign nation is "the ultimate crime." 

Consequently, the US has devised some linguistic veils to mask its criminal acts. 

For instance, when Washington decides to overthrow a democratically elected leader (as we've done in Brazil, Chile, Congo, Guatemala, Iran, Panama, and Syria), the White House takes care to call it "regime change." 

But "wars of choice"? That phrase makes a military invasion sound like a pleasant interlude around a buffet table—What shall we grab next? A little nibble of Libya? A slice of well-baked Syria? A tasty tray of Yemenis? 

Harrison Ford Says: "Let's Kick This Monster's Ass" 

At this very moment, the Amazon Rainforest—the "lungs of the Earth"—is being consumed by more than 70,000 fires. 

At this very moment, the Arctic is aflame and the smoke is visible from space. 

At this very moment, record heat waves are becoming the greatest threat to human survival. 

On July 26, Harrison Ford issued a compelling message on behalf of the Extinction Rebellion: "If We Don't Protect Nature We Can't Protect Ourselves." 

Ford's plea is one of the most moving calls to action that I've heard since Al Gore cried out: "Can't you hear what Mother Nature is screaming at you?" 

As Ford says: "We are facing an emergency resulting from our toxic economic and political system. The way we relate to each other and to nature is destroying Earth’s capacity to sustain life." 


Why Trump Wants Greenland 

This is the very definition of greed and evil. Donald Trump wants to buy Greenland to gain access to the mineral resources now becoming accessible thanks to the melting of polar ice. One August 1 a new record was set when 12.5 billion tons of Greenland's ice melted and spilled into the sea on a single day. 

Across the Arctic, summer temperatures have risen 12-30 degrees above normal as glaciers collapse into the warming seas. Meanwhile, US corporate interests react with glee, pointing out that the loss of ice means more access to polar oil and coal—and more open sea channels year-round to facilitate the ships that will install the drilling rigs and haul away the mined minerals. Inevitably, these geographic opportunities will require that the Pentagon build new advance bases and send new warships to guard US interests in the region. 

How can it be that there are people (read: "men") who look at the collapse of Nature and only see opportunities for short-term profiteering? We speak of Mother Earth for a reason. But let us reimagine this calamity through this metaphoric lens. 

Imagine if Mother Nature were your own mother. Imagine that you discovered her lying beaten and bloodied on the road. She has been attacked and is suffering. She needs comfort, aid and protection. So how do you respond? 

If you are someone who is concerned about human suffering and the survival of the natural world, you stop what you are doing, try to staunch the bleeding, and call for an ambulance. 

And if you are an oil company CEO or Donald Trump? You first look both ways to see if anyone is watching, then you drop trou and ravish her. 

GOP Down-Schiffs into Low Gear 

The GOP wants to drive California Dem. Adam Schiff from office. As chair of the House Intelligence Committee, Schiff has been dogged in his pursuit of Donald Trump's dirty secrets. Now, not one but two Gopsters are circling and eyeing Schiff's seat. One of the would-be Schiff-shafters recently displayed a Trumpian affinity for poor grammar. In a tweet directed at "Fellow Conservatives" he wrote: "Schiff lives under the false illusion [as opposed to a "true illusion"?] that there's 'direct evidence' of Russian collusion by the Trump campaign, but fortunately, most already Americans know the truth." 

And what's an "already American"? My guess that would exclude anyone who's not "native born." 

An Electoral Cliffhanger? 

Just received a message from Our Revolution, the group inspired by Bernie Sanders. An August 15 fund-raising email notes that "thanks to the incredible on the ground organizing of our 600 nationwide groups . . . . more than 180 Our-Revolution-endorsed candidates have been elected to office over the last three years, and we have helped pass 50 successful ballot initiatives at the same time!." 

But I've got a small editorial quibble with the next sentence: 

"Now, thanks to our hard work over these last three years, we stand on the precipice of a complete progressive takeover of the Democratic party." 

"Standing at the door" or "standing at the beginning" would have been fine but "standing on a precipice"? If you want to move boldly forward, the last place you want to be standing is "on a precipice." (The image calls forth the dire warnings that a clash of the Dems' Progressive Left and the Monied Mainstream could destroy the party's chance to win in 2020.) 

Trump's Abortion Ban 

From Rep. Barbara Lee: 

"Since the dawn of time, Republicans have been threatening to defund Planned Parenthood, and up until now, they have never succeeded. Now, Trump and his administration just threw women under the bus with their bogus gag rule. 

"On Monday, Trump’s dangerous gag rule went into effect and defunded any health clinic that provides patients with abortions or even just referrals for abortion services. 

"Rather than give in to Trump’s reckless attack on women’s health that violates medical ethics and puts women in danger, Planned Parenthood refused the government’s Title X ransom money and will continue providing women with a full range of health services — including abortions. 

"Planned Parenthood stands to lose tens of millions of dollars and they need our help to fight back. Will you split a donation between Planned Parenthood and me to help us end Trump’s gag rule and make sure women everywhere get access to the care they need?

(This is the first time I've seen a politician offering to split a donation!) 

Becerra Me Mucho 

California Attorney General Xavier Becerra is one of Don Trump's worst nightmares. Team Bacerra takes well-earned pride in being able to say, "We've sued Donald Trump more than 50 times!" 

Becerra's gone after the Orange Pumpkin for human rights violations and social justice outrages. He's filed 27 suits challenging Trump's environmental outlawry—most recently, an August 13 proposal to strip pollution regulations from coal-burning powerplants. Bacerra sees the bigger picture: "Floods are increasing, wildfires are more severe, and glaciers are melting." And he names the guilty: "The President's attempt to deny science, truth and clean energy isn't just foolish, it's unlawful." 

But what makes Becerra unusual is how he goes straight to the public to solicit funding for his campaigns. He's a public figure, after all. He's not the ACLU, or the UFW, or MoveOn. 

It must be legal, but it still feels a bit dicey being asked to write out checks to an elected official who's made a career out of trampling on Trumpdom. 

On the other hand, what could be more empowering than to invite plain, ordinary citizens to indulge in a power fantasy that you might call "Pretend You're a Lobbyist." 

Plaudits for Pacifica's Poet-in-Chief 

For more than 30 years, Berkeley poet and author Jack Foley has been a stalwart voyager on KPFA's airwaves. The long-time host of the broadcast, Cover to Cover with Jack Foley, was recently honored for his decades of service to the world of words. In honor of his years with the Pacifica station, Foley was presented with a plaque and plaudits. Foley recently shared this note: 

"This plaque, awarded me by Marquis Who’s Who, was donated to KPFA. Thanks to the good offices of station manager Quincy McCoy, it is displayed prominently at the station.  

"I have produced programs on KPFA since 1988; at no point was I happier than I was today when I saw the plaque on the wall. Thank you, Who’s Who; thank you, KPFA, thank you, Quincy." 

And, thank you, Jack Foley. (Here's a brief video tribute.) 


Drawing a Bead on American Violence 

I recently came across a short poem by Brian Bilston. It deserves to be set to music. Here it is (lyrics slightly edited). 

America Is a Gun 

England is a cup of tea. 

France, a wheel of ripened brie. 

Greece, a short, squat olive tree. 

America's a gun. 

Brazil is football on the sand. 

Argentina, Maradona's hand. 

German, an oompah band. 

America's a gun. 

Holland is a wooden shoe. 

Hungary, a goulash stew. 

Australia, a kangaroo. 

America's a gun. 

Japan is a thermal spring. 

Scotland is a highland fling. 

Oh, better to be anything 

Than America, a gun.