SMITHEREENS: Reflections on Bits & Pieces

Gar Smith
Sunday September 08, 2019 - 11:24:00 AM

Trumpism Erupts at 7-Eleven Standoff

A young African-American fellow takes up a panhandling position outside a 7-Eleven in Berkeley. Not an unfamiliar sight. But last Sunday, I was unprepared for what happened after I held the door open for one of the store managers who was preparing to walk outside carrying a plastic bucket.

To my astonishment, he proceeded to confront the panhandler, yelling: "Get off my damn property!" And then threw a bucket of cold water in the young man's face.

There was a tense standoff as the two men "stood their ground" and exchanged angry glares. But what really surprised me was the shopkeeper's next outburst.

"Go back to where you came from!" he shouted.

However (unlike Trump), he shouted it with a perceptible foreign accent.

(It could have been worse. The bucket only contained water and it was a hot day so it was one of those rare cases where an attack could be seen as a refreshing experience.) 

Lights Out at the White House 

The announced rollback of federal laws promoting the use of energy efficient lighting provides more evidence that Donald J. Trump is the biggest Dim Bulb to ever darken the Oval Office. He is the hifalutin, sky-pollutin' answer to the question: How many Trumps does it take to screw up a planet? 

What next? Heating the White House with coal-burning stoves? 

Unofficial Secrets of a Film Reviewer 

Official Secrets—the new film about Britain's role in helping George W. Bush bribe, coerce, and lie his way into an illegal attack on Iraq—ends on an odd note. Two, actually. 

It's first ending echoes the conclusion of Oliver Stone's masterful good-guy-spy thriller, Snowden. Stone's film ends with the camera on the face of Joseph Gordon-Levitt (the actor who plays Snowden onscreen) bent over a computer keyboard. As the camera pans to the right, Gordon-Levitt's faces is slowly eclipsed by the back of the monitor. When the finally camera completes its tracking and pulls away from the backside of the computer, we discover a new face bent over the keyboard—this time it's the real Edward Snowden. That was a walloping-good bit of moviemaking. 

Official Secrets has a similar ending: a surprise shot of the real Katharine Gun addressing the press outside a courthouse. From the surprise news clip, we discover the real Katharine Gun was an engaging and smiling young blond. So why did director Gavin Hood opt to turn Gun into a brooding brunette? 

Second question: Why does director Hood follow up by adding a second ending in which he returns to an earlier scene set on a beach and an second encounter between two lawyers who became estranged over the moral and political issues of Gun's case? So, instead of ending with the vibrant spontaneity of the real Katharine Gun, Official Secrets ultimately ends with Gun's movie-star attorney (played by Ralph Fiennes—full name, Ralph Nathaniel Twisleton-Wykeham-Fiennes) telling his former partner: "Go find somewhere else to fish." 

Chasing the Money 

A full-page newspaper ad for JPMorgan/Chase Bank recently boasted about how the bank's investments "in housing renovations and job training" had created a job for a Bayview resident named Yomo Shaw. Looking for more details, I checked out the small print at the bottom. It advised that: 

"Chase J.P. Morgan and JPMorgan Chase are marketing names for certain businesses of JPMorgan Case & Co. and its affiliates and subsidiaries worldwide (collectively, "JPMC", "We", "Our" or "Us", as the context may require)."  

This raises a question: How much money did a team of top-end legal consultants pull in for crafting that sentence? 

This Liz Is Not a Lazy Lady 

Elizabeth Warren's presidential campaign staff was delighted to tap into a news leak revealing that Donald Trump had been asking his enablers if Elizabeth Warren is a “fighter.” Sounds like Champ Trump is feeling nervous.
Is Liz a fighter? Well, just listen to her campaign team: "She took on the big banks, and she won. She took on Wall Street CEOs, and she won. And not only is she a fighter, but she’s also got a grassroots movement with her—built day by day, person by person through 127 events, over 50,000 selfies, and over a million grassroots donations." 

Very impressive, for sure. Warren might even have racked up more selfies than Mr. All-about-Me Trump. A hair-raising development. 


Juul has shelled out $4.5 million for TV ads to support a ballot initiative that would overturn San Francisco's ban on sales of vaping devices to youngsters. Hoping to make their pitch sound progressive, Juul has funded a front group called the Coalition for Reasonable Vaping Regulation, which is promoting a campaign to "Regulate, Don't Ban." 

The CRVR's TV ads dismiss attempts to ban nicotine-filled e-cigarettes as useless "political exercises" and "bla-bla-blah talking points." Instead, Juul's ads propose that the only way to keep vape-sticks out of the hands of kids is to require hundreds of SF shopkeepers to acquire special battery-powered, hand-held devices that can scan a special ID card to determine whether or not the customer is "Under Age." 

In the TV ad, a young would-be customer is found out by a burly clerk who waves his scanner, scowls at the card, and growls, "No way." Denied service, the sour-faced teen sulks and exits, joining his disappointed friends outside. 

So what's with "the card"? Does JUUL's ballot measure propose creating a special RFID-chipped ID card that will be issued to everyone in who might wish to the purchase any questionable or banned commodity? How would that work? Would everyone—kids and adults—be required to obtain one of these cards? Or would they only be required for people under 21? 

But if it were the latter case, that would mean that the only people required to carry the cards would be the youngsters who would not be allowed to buy vapers in the first place. And that means that simply showing that you had the card would establish that you're ineligible to make a purchase. So, in the TV ads, the shopkeeper doesn't have to scan the magic card since any teen pulling out the card would self-incriminate—providing proof that he or she was, ipso facto, too young to legally purchase the goods. 

Besides, kids already know that an ID card belonging to an adult can be easily shared with a teen. If so, the folks behind Juul's ad campaign had better re-edit the commercial to show an ID card that includes a photo of the cardholder. 

But wait—don't we already have such cards? Yes: they're called a "driver's license." 

Bottom line: Profiting by turning teens into nicoteens is a JUUL crime that calls for some serious JAIL time. 

Holy Cross 

Legendary Berkeley gadabout and replacement hipster Arnie Passman recently posed the intriguing question: "Have you ever come across anyone named Christian Cross"? 

Well, it seems likely that, over the centuries, someone must have shared that name but according to Google: not. 

There is a guitar maestro named Christopher Cross. There was a 1993 TV show called Chris Cross. And an American hip-hop duo from the 1990s called Kris Kross. And, in other news, Chancellor Carol T. Christ never raised a son named "Jesus." 

Them's Fightin' Words 

In the US, violence seems to be part of our DNA. It's certainly embedded in our national vocabulary. Even anti-war organizations have been guilty of trying to "rally the troops" by urging members to "join the battle" to end militarism and "fight to put an end to war." (As one esteemed linguist observed some time ago: "Fighting for peace is like f----ing for virginity.") 

Here are two recent examples of War Talk in all the wrong places. 

Friends of the Earth sent out a four-page 50th anniversary "eco news magazine" highlighting FOE's accomplishments since Berkeley's Dave Brower founded the organization a half-century ago. The newsletter bore the headline: "Celebrating 50 years of fighting for people and the planet." 

Public Citizen President Robert Weissman recently sent out a message about a Medicare For All campaign in Texas. The email was headlined: "Hit Back on Medicare for All." 

Impeach Trump—Again and Again and Again 

On the very day that Donald J. Trump was inaugurated, RootsAction circulated a prescient petition calling for his impeachment. That petition has now garnered more than 1.2 million signatures. But RootsAction hasn't rested on its rep as an Impeachment Pioneer. Nope, RootsAction has since added 22 additional petitions citing even more reasons why Trump's second term should be a jail term. 

Here's the list: 

• Tell Congress to Impeach Trump for Illegally Withdrawing from the INF Treaty 

• Impeach Trump for Illegal Proliferation of Nuclear Technology 

• Trump Illegally Tried to Influence an Election: Impeach Him 

• Impeach Trump for Inciting Racist Violence 

• Impeach Trump Before He Starts a Nuclear War 

• Impeach Trump to Avoid WWIII 

• Use the Impeachment Lock on the Nuclear Button 

• Impeach Trump for Collusion with Israel 

• Impeach Trump Because He's Not Above the Law 

• Impeach Trump for What He Did to Texas and Puerto Rico 

• Impeach Trump for Separating Children from Families 

• Impeach Trump for Politicizing Prosecutions 

• Impeach Trump for Tax Fraud 

• Impeach Trump and Pence for Supporting a Coup in Venezuela 

• Impeach Trump for Unconstitutional Declaration of Emergency 

• Impeach Trump for Instructing Border Patrol to Violate the Law 

• Impeach Trump for Refusing to Comply with Subpoenas 

• Impeach Trump for Declaring a False Emergency to Violate the Will of Congress 

• Government Policy for Profits of a Crime Family? 

• Tell Chairman Nadler: Impeachment Hearings Now 

• Hey, Nancy Pelosi, Stop Blocking Impeachment 

• Impeach Trump on Numerous Grounds 

And, if you'd like to sign one or more of the above, the place to do it is here

Google's Goofs and Glitches 

And I've got the screen-shots to prove it! 

On July 18, I hopped onto Google Chrome and plugged in the link for a YouTube video into the search window. Instead of the video, I received an alert that stated: 

"You are connected to, which is run by (unknown)." 

The next line declared the previous statement was "Verified by: Google Trust Services." 

Odd that Google doesn't know who owns YouTube—given that YouTube is owned by Google. 

On September 2, looking to send some emails to Berkeley's mayor and members of the City Council, I Googled: "Berkeley California mayor." In response, I received a line-up of four choice-options that ended with: "Mayor's Office, Milvia Street, Berkeley, California. Mayor Tom Bates, University Avenue, Berkeley, California." 

I think it's time Google abates that error. 

Do You Trust your Robot Teammate? 

The folks at Defense One have sent out an invite to watch a live-streamed discussion on the topic: "The Human/Machine Team and the Trust Variable." 

On September 17, a panel of "intelligence and national security subject matter experts" will "dialogue on how user self-confidence and trust are essential prerequisites for strong human-machine team performance." Among the topics: 

"The value of frameworks for mitigating machine bias" and "innovating while maintaining transparency between the human and machine." 

I'll pass. I learned all I need to know about human/machine cooperation by watching the first Terminator movie. 

And now, for an exercise in corporate-pentagon-speak: 


Favorite Name of the Month; 

The fall issue of AAA's Via Magazine featured a "smart guide" to locks in which a local security expert from San Francisco's SF Safe program advised: "You don't want to protect stuff worth thousands of dollars with a $9 lock." 

So sayeth SF's own Furlishous Wyatt. 

Keeping Up With Keef 

On September 1, comic artist Keith Knight (whose syndicated strip, "The Knight Life" appears in the Chronicle) rejoiced at the news that another strip was about to vanish. 

"The Good Ol' Days," long a target of Keith's wrath, supposedly depicts an Antebellum South peopled by happy slaves and their benign masters. But try as I might, I have never been able to track down this disturbing strip. 

It is a fact that cartoonist Erwin L. Hess drew detailed history-based social panoramas under the title "The Good Old Days," but that series only ran from 1946 to 1981 while a Sunday color strip ran from 1952 and 1963—and neither seems to contain any reference to slaveholding. 

Baffled, I sent a note off to the cartoonist (who goes by the nickname, "Keef"), asking for a link to the offending cartoon strip "so I can check it out and let readers see why its demise is something to applaud." 

He responded within hours: 

"The strip in The Knight Life is made up. Didn’t know there was a real one!" 

So, on one hand, that's a relief. On the other: Why create a fictitious injustice when there are so many real problems to deal with? 


For a good historical survey of actual racist cartooning in America, check out "From 'Under Cork' to Overcoming: Black Images in the Comics," posted by Ferris State University's Jim Crow Museum of Racist Memorabilia

And for more on cartoonist-rapper-musician Keef Knight, take a look: 


Day in the Life: Gentleman Cartoonist from ConnectEd Studios on Vimeo.