Public Comment

SMITHEREENS: Reflections on Bits & Pieces

Gar Smith
Saturday September 28, 2019 - 10:01:00 AM

On Friday, September 20, a large, garrulous crowd converged in the courtyard of Berkeley's School of Journalism to celebrate the publication of "The Battle for People's Park," a memorable collection of historical notes, memories, photos, and factoids assembled with pizzazz and precision by Berkeley's Heyday Press.

Adding to the event's allure was the promise of an evening panel discussion moderated by Berkelyside co-editor Frances Dinkelspiel and featuring activist photographer Nacio Jan Brown, Yippie leader Judy Gumbo, author Tom Dalzell, and Heyday publisher Steve Wasserman.

After sampling and enjoying the free wine and snacks in the courtyard, I decided to duck inside and check out the display of People's Park photos lining the J-School's halls. Halfway down one corridor, however, I discovered a display of printed sheets pinned on a wire, advertising class options for the Fall. But there was one announcement that stood apart from the others—it appeared to be a cartoon by hallowed underground artist R. Crumb (Remember "Mr. Natural"?)

It was clearly a recent piece of political art, created in response to the dire news that UC Berkeley plans to celebrate the park's 50th anniversary by "developing" the long-standing open space—created from scratch by hundreds of Berkeley students, professors, activists, families, and children. The UC administration argues it needs to destroy the park to "build student housing."

The reaction to this pronouncement has been loud and clear. As Steve Wasserman, Heyday's eloquent publisher put it during the panel discussion: "This is sacred ground. Blood was spilled. People were shot. James Rector died. Alan Blanchard was blinded." And others were scared for life.

R. Crumb is clearly someone who remembers,I thought. This unsolicited "drawn message" contained images that harkened back to the Hippy Sixties. Front and center was a big-headed, whiskered face with eyeballs popping from their sockets. Strange beasts erupted from a ruptured skull and strutted on all sides. In the upper left, UC Berkeley's beloved icon, Oski Bear, was portrayed standing uncomfortably spread-eagled over a large screw. Crumb himself was depicted as a hairy, roving tarantula. And, above all, there was a crude, high-decibel message: "If UC thinks it can FUCK with People's Park, we're gonna ROCK the Hayward Fault with a 9.0 shock that will kick their ass!"

I returned to the courtyard to share the discovery with a photojournalist friend. "Let's get a photo before someone grabs that sheet," I begged.

By the time we returned, the leaflet was gone. Not a single Crumb was left.

I sent a message to Crumb's reps, hoping to score an electronic version of the poster. A few days later, I received a surprising message from the artist. "I have no idea what artwork this might be," R. Crumb wrote. "I was not consulted by whoever used this artwork for whatever purpose, that I can remember. But, what the hell, I'm happy to do my part for the cause of saving the People's Park."

Perhaps this is a case of artistic "doppleganging," where some anonymous artist effectively mimics the work of a well-known artist. (This has happened with the British-based political muralist "Banksy.") I've sent word to the People's Park Committee asking if they have any leads on this mysterious Crumb-toon. 

Rumble: The Indians Who Rocked the World 

I recently discovered a revelatory PBS documentary that explores the Native American roots of Rock 'n' Roll. The folks behind Rumble: The Indians Who Rocked the World, take us well beyond the magic and activism of Buffy Sainte-Marie (Cree) to reveal an honor roll of Rock icons whose performances were inspired and powered by their Native American ancestry. 

Rumble takes its name from a foundational guitar solo performed by hard-rock pioneer Link Wray, a Saunee guitar pioneer who recalled hiding from the Ku Klux Klan as a child in North Carolina. The song (with Wray's jaw-dropping "power chord") was so powerful, it was banned from radio play out of fear it might generate riots and rebellion. 

The pantheon of America's native-rooted rock stars includes The Band's Robbie Robertson (Mohawk), The Black Eyed Peas' Taboo (Shoshone), and Jimi Hendrix (Cherokee). Also among the "pioneering Native American musicians [who] helped shape the soundtracks of our lives"—Charley Patton (Choctaw), Mildred Baily (Coeur d'Alene), Hank Williams, Loretta Lynn, Jesse Ed Davis (Kiowa), Randy Castillo, and the Neville Brothers (Choctaw). 

The reason Indigenous blood runs in the veins of so many "black artists" is found in a dark legacy of America's history of racial oppression and genocide. According to Rumble, at the same time captive men and boys were being shipped from West Africa to enslavement in the US, Native American men were being rounded up and exported to Africa. The resulting unions of Native American women and African men gave rise to new generations of mixed children, sometimes called "Black Indians." According to Wikipedia: "This practice of combining African slave men and Native American women was especially common in South Carolina." 

Rumble features a dazzling array of Interviews with film director Martin Scorsese, American Indian Movement shape-shifter and poet John Trudell, Quincy Jones, Steven Tyler, Steven Van Zandt, Iggy Pop, George Clinton, Slash, Taylor Hawkins, Robert Trujillo, and Tony Bennett. 


Celebrating Max Anderson 

Former Berkeley City Council member Max Anderson is a beloved figure with a storied record as a political activist. He was largely responsible for the passage of Berkeley's "right to know" cellphone ordinance (which requires merchants to prominently post warnings about the health risks from over-exposure to cellphone radiation). 

The city ordinance made international headlines and has helped raise awareness of radiation hazards. The Cellular Telecommunications Industry Association sued Berkeley and lost. The CTIA even took the case to the Supreme Court of the United States, which refused hear it. According to Elli Marks of the California Brain Tumor Association (CBTA), "Without Max, this ordinance and its implementation in stores would not have happened" and, Marks adds, if the CTIA issues a new appeal, "[Harvard Prof. Lawrence] Lessig, who is defending the city pro bono, is confident that Berkeley will continue to prevail." 

To honor the former councilmember, the CBTA plans to build a free little library dedicated to Max and filled with books focusing on public health. It will be placed in a spot chosen by Max. Contributions made be made by visiting the CBTA website and clicking the donate button. 

Interview mit Schwarzenegger und Greta  

Greta Thunberg, the 16-year-old Swedish environmental activist, has been all over the news of late, doing interviews with Naomi Klein and Amy Goodman, marching in (intentionally not leading) the Climate Strike march in New York, testifying before Congress, and speaking—with great emotional intensity—before the United Nations. 

ICYMI, here's a somewhat improbable but inevitable interview that joins The Determinator and The Terminator. Yep, on May 28, Thunberg met up with Arnold Schwarzenegger following the Vienna Climate Summit for an interview with Lisa Gadenstätter. 

The two charismatic heroes hit it off wonderfully. Thunberg has been avoiding air travel because of the industry's global-warming exhaust and Schwarzenegger (who, as Governor in 2004, famously converted his gas-burning Hummer to run on hydrogen) offered to let Greta and her dad borrow his Tesla to make a long drive to Canada. Eat your heart out, Elon Musk. 


This Albany Auto Garage Is … Spooky Good 

A few weeks ago, while visiting the Main PO, I picked up a "reminder postcard" from Dana Meyer Auto Care advising me that it was time for a check-up. As I got back into the car, a warning light suddenly came on reading: "Service Engine Soon." Curious, I looked at the service stamp that had been applied to the inside of my windshield when I last visited the garage—on February 3. The sticker noted that I was encouraged to haul the hulk in for a tune-up when the audiometer hit the 10476-mile mark. 

I looked at my dashboard and felt a chill run down my spine. The mileage read: "10476." How did they know

Spooked, I made an appointment for the next day. 

All seemed well as I was driving down San Pablo en route to the garage of a blistering hot morning. But suddenly the car's air-conditioning went kablooey. 

My first question when I arrived at DMAC's front desk: "Have you guys figured out some way to hack my car?" 

Trump IDs the Downside of Empire: The Mileage 

Donald Trump didn't join the Army to fight in Vietnam for two reasons: "bonespurs" (as he told the Army recruiters) and (as he told British TV host Piers Morgan) "it was too far." 

Let's consider that "too far" standard. 

It's 8,870 miles from New York City to Ho Chi Minh City. 

Last week, Trump sent US troops to "defend" Saudi Arabia. The distance between Washington and Riyadh is 6,755 miles. 

Distance from Washington to Kabul, Afghanistan—6,917 miles. 

Distance from Washington to Damascus, Syria—5,906 miles. 

Distance from Washington to Tripoli, Libya—4,230 miles. 

Related question: After agreeing to buy $110 billion in arms from the US, why can’t Saudi Arabia defend itself? 

No Nukes Is Good News 

Judge Pamela Reeves, Chief United States District Judge for the Eastern District of Tennessee, recently declared the Department of Energy/National Nuclear Security Administration in violation of the National Environment Policy Act. Judge Reeves thereby vacated key decisions regarding NNSA’s enriched uranium operations at the Y-12 National Security Complex in Oak Ridge, Tennessee. 

Ralph Hutchison, coordinator of the Oak Ridge Environmental Peace Alliance, promptly declared “With this ruling, the NNSA no longer has any legal authority to continue construction of the Uranium Processing Facility bomb plant.” 

Blocking the Pentagon's plan to start building new A-bombs is certainly good news but isn't it odd that US plans to actually build nuclear weapons is not considered particularly newsworthy or threatening while the imagined, conjectured, theoretical, possible prospect of an Iranian bomb is supposed to trigger a panic and a rush towards war? 

Regarding Trump's key role in breaching The Iran Deal then punishing Tehran with crushing sanctions: Isn't that like a guy who cheats on his wife, suddenly demands a divorce and then sues his ex for infidelity? 

A Children's Book 

I'm thinking of writing a children's book about a cute little robot vacuum-cleaner with a craving to explore the world beyond its familiar household carpets. One day, when nobody is looking, Little Roomba escapes out the back door and makes a run for it. I haven't got the storyline figured out yet, but I've got a title: "Clean Getaway." 

Packing Bibles in the Classroom 

October 3 is being promoted as "Bring Your Bible to School Day." There's even a prize: You can win a ticket to the Museum of the Bible in the nation's capital! 

The event is described as "a nationwide, student-led movement" but it's actually an event concocted by Focus on the Family, the fundamentalist Christian lobby founded by James Dobson. 

FOTF has used its exceptional wealth to oppose marriage equality and LGBTQ rights. FOTF also promotes the discredited use of "conversion therapy," misbelieved to "rid" people of "same-sex attractions." 

One of the explicit purposes of the event is to proselytize fellow students. The invitation reads: "The most crucial step is bringing your Bible to school and sharing your faith with others. On this day let your light shine." 

Warning, kids: This doesn't mean you can expect a "Carry Your Qu'ran to Class Day" anytime soon. And you can put away that Book of Mormon. Ditto "Study Your Sutras Day," "Have a Veda Good Day," "Advertize your Avesta Day," and "Flaunt your Kebra Nagast Day."