SMITHEREENS: Reflections on Bits & Pieces

Gar Smith
Friday November 08, 2019 - 12:30:00 PM

A Teacher's X-rated Desperation

Do we need any more evidence that teachers are underpaid and underappreciated? If so, consider this wrenching cri de coeur that appeared on October 20 in Dan Savage's syndicated East Bay Express sex advice column, Savage Love. (I only read the column for the acronyms, I swear. Recent example from a "poorly endowed" gent who signed his letter: "Physically Embarrassing Nub Isn't Sufficient").

The letter read:

"I am a public-school teacher in the US. I love teaching and I want to teach for the rest of my career" but "after 10 years of poverty, I'm getting tired of going without. I thought perhaps I could do some sex work on the side to help pay off my student loans and get some more money for classroom supplies," so "how on earth does someone safely and discreetly embark on sex work as a side hustle?"

—Signed: Need a Second Job That Actually Pays.



A GI Joe for the 21st Century 

Media Goes Crazy over GI Janes 

When a six-year-old girl wrote a letter asking toy soldier companies "Why do you not make girl Army men?" the print and broadcast media pounced on the story and shifted into overdrive, presenting little Vivian Lord as a feminist prophet and drawing so much attention that one company, BMC Toys in Pennsylvania, promised to introduce a quartet of female soldiers armed with pistols, rifles and bazookas. 

BMC toy maker Jeff Imel explained he was not trying to be "100 percent historically accurate." He was, in fact, being "100 percent historically inaccurate"—women did not serve in combat roles in WWII. Vivian's mom, dismissed historical precedent by observing that "just because it's always been that way, doesn't mean it's right." 

Following those marching orders, Smithereens is hereby inviting any so-inclined six-year-olds (boys and girls) to write letters to US toymakers asking why their little green figurines fail to include wounded and dead soldiers or civilian refugees—including young children. 

Any child who has ever been exposed to violent war films and popular videogames also might wish to see toy soldiers with removable limbs that can be twisted off in the aftermath of make-believe bombings. 

Give Trump the Impeachment He So Richly Deserves 

Author (War Is a Lie) and activist (World BEYOND War) David Swanson is among many of Donald Trump's detractors who fear that trying to remove the Orange Ogre from office based on a single illegal act (be it "Russiagate" or "Ukrainegate") may fall short, leaving Der Trump free to ramble and rampage his way into a second presidential contest. 

Swanson decided he had to do something about this. So he sat down and created one of the most comprehensive compilations of Trump's crimes ever assembled. And, as Swanson notes, the following rap-sheet of 25 indictable acts is still a "work in progress," since it only covers cover-ups and crimes as of October 17, 2019. 

Violation of Constitution on Domestic Emoluments
Violation of Constitution on Foreign Emoluments
Incitement of Violence
Interference With Voting Rights
Discrimination Based On Religion
Illegal War
Illegal Threat of Nuclear War
Abuse of Pardon Power
Obstruction of Justice
Politicizing Prosecutions
Collusion Against the United States with a Foreign Government
Failure to Reasonably Prepare for or Respond to Hurricanes Harvey and Maria
Separating Children and Infants from Families
Illegally Attempting to Influence an Election
Tax Fraud and Public Misrepresentation
Assaulting Freedom of the Press
Supporting a Coup in Venezuela
Unconstitutional Declaration of Emergency
Instructing Border Patrol to Violate the Law
Refusal to Comply With Subpoenas
Declaration of Emergency Without Basis In Order to Violate the Will of Congress
Illegal Proliferation of Nuclear Technology
Illegally Removing the United States from the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces Treaty
Seeking to Use Foreign Governments' Resources Against Political Rivals
Refusal to Comply with Impeachment Inquiry 

Solicitation Nation 

Nearly every day my post office box disgorges envelopes offering the redundant promise: "free gift inside." (If it's a gift, it's free by definition.) More often than not, the contents include a funding pitch wrapped around a collection of personalized mailing labels. (Mailing labels? Artifacts of a by-gone, letter-writing, stamp-licking era!) 

Recently these solicitations have upped the ante, by including coins alongside the labels, decals, and mini-bumperstickers. A note from CARE recently included a nickel glued to a request for donations. A solicitation to support the legacy of the Tuskeegee Airmen contained a commemorative coin. But when an envelope arrived bearing the announcement, "Check Enclosed," I nearly ditched it, unopened. 

Curiosity won out. I opened the mail and discovered that there really was an actual JPMorgan Chase Bank check inside made out in my name. The $3 check was issued and signed by Mothers Against Drunk Driving. 

"The enclosed check is REAL. You are free to cash it —if you'd like," read the letter from MADD president Helen Witty. The letter continued: "we're honestly in no position to give money away. So, I hope you'll decide to return [the check] along with your most generous donation of $15, $25 or even $50…." 

Will reverse psychology be the next fundraising trend? 

Instead of promising a tote bag, backpack or stuffed animal on receipt of a donation, an outright gift puts the recipient in a position of wanting to reciprocate. 

I doubt that this new ploy has real staying power but it worked this time. My check is in the mail. 

Make the MIC Pay for Entertainment Violence 


The Military-Industrial-Entertainment Complex continues to swell its gilt-lined coffers by promoting messages of violence and fear. As if real wars and real killings by US cops, grunts, soldiers and SEALS weren't bad enough, our ears and eyeballs are further bombarded with images of simulated violence flashing across our TVs, smartphones, and the Big Screen. Meanwhile, millions of Americans are homeless, living in poverty, dying of curable diseases, and 20 percent of our children are not getting enough to eat. 

So how do we cure poverty in America? Where's the money to come from? 

I agree with Bernie and Elizabeth: we need Big Plans, like a call to redirect billions from the waste-riddled, unaudited Pentagon budget—a radical action that progressive democrats (and Democratic Socialists) have proposed to increasingly robust cries of support. 

Instead of firing weapons, maybe its time we started firing (or, at least, dunning) the people who make the weapons. 

A Rallying Cry comes to mind: "If Wars Don't Work, Why Do We Keep Employing Them?" 

So here's an idea. We already have a host of Small Plans that don't aspire to outright eradicate dangerous behaviors but simply seek to discourage practices we want to control—i.e. taxes on carbon dioxide, tobacco, alcohol, and pot. 

So how about requiring the film and "entertainment" industries to pay into a Social Wellbeing and Safety Fund by imposing a fine/fee that must be paid every time a brutal death is depicted in a Hollywood movie or a televised cop/FBI/killer/combat series? And perhaps a parallel "Attacks Tax" could be paid to the SWSF for every bullet fired, grenade tossed, and bomb dropped during a Big Screen thriller or a small-screen chiller? 

Oiligarchs, Pollutocrats, and Polluticians 

Speaking of bad actors, how about addressing the ongoing problem of oil and goal companies whose operations tax the environment while the companies avoid paying of a single nickel in federal or state taxes? Worse: under existing federal laws, many of our biggest polluters actually get massive "tax refunds" from the government. 

Charlie Simmons is one of the "class traitors" who make up the membership of the Patriotic Millionaires—a group of well-off dudes who believe the rich should invest in social justice and economic equity (aka: "tax the rich"). 

Simmons, a big fan of Swedish eco-savant Greta Thunberg, is livid that "the man-made crisis of climate change is made worse by our man-made tax system." 

Simmons cites some disturbing factoids from the Institute on Taxation and Economc Policy: In 2018, 60 of the largest US corporations (including 22 of the biggest oil and gas behemoths—Chevron, Occidental Petroleum, and Halliburton, among them) paid no taxes thanks to industry-friendly "tax incentives." In 2016, the Wall Street Journal revealed these loopholes allowed the federal government to shovel 4.76 billion taxpayer dollars into the vaults of our untaxed energy empires. 

Chevron's PR department boasts of its $100 million pledge to the Oil and Gas Climate Initiative, but Simmons notes this is squat compared to the company's $4.5 billion 2018 profits (made possible, in part, by $955 million in Trump/Republican tax cuts that saw Washington hand Chevron a $181 million "rebate" on Tax Day). 


If Sidewalks Could Talk 

Fact is, sidewalks already do talk. Just put a box of colored chalk in the hands of some kids and see what happens. Just check out the remnants of the great Climate Crisis event that still color the sidewalks and steps of MLK Jr. Middle School on Rose Street. 

Another example of chalk-talk spotted in the neighborhood involves a small-frame family drama that plays out on the concrete of a North Berkeley sidewalk—in an apparent exercise of sibling rivalry. 

The first thing by-strollers see (on approaching from either direction) are long colorful blue chalk-lines that eventually converge in front of a single-story, mid-block home. Along the way, the same announcement appears repeatedly: 

"It's Patsy's Birthday!" "Patsy's 9th Birthday!" "Patsy's 9 Today!" But directly in front of the house, a large box had been laboriously drawn alongside the birthday announcement. It read: "This is Milly's Box! Stay out of the Box!" 

[Names have been changed to protect the innocents.] 

Transporting Transportation 

We are currently [inadvertent pun] considering an electric car. My ideal vehicle, however, would be one that runs on CO2 pulled out of the air, captures the carbon in a state where it can be returned to the soil, and emits pure, sage-scented oxygen from the tailpipe. I can't afford a Tesla so maybe I'll transition slowly, beginning with an electric scooter. 

Speaking of which, I saw an interesting sight yesterday: A fellow zipping down Ninth Street atop an electric skateboard. What made the sighting remarkable was that the rider was doubled over, trying to tie his shoelaces while heading down-street at about 20mph. And, no, he wasn't wearing a helmet. 


On November 6, the Daily Kos asked its online followers: "Who is your top pick for president" in the 2020 race? 

Mine would be any candidate who opposes foreign wars, regime change, family-starving economic sanctions, militarized domestic policing, unaudited and wasteful Pentagon spending, weapons of minimum-and-mass-destruction, nuclear arsenals, and endless wars. 

So I was a bit put-off by the Kos' closing salutation: "Keep fighting." 

Screening the Screen and Overlooking the Overlooked 

Sometime ago, we noted the existence of a special set of words that share contradictory meanings. They are called "contronyms" and include such words as "cleave" (which can mean to cut apart or cling together), buckle (which can mean to strengthen or collapse), and sanction (which can mean to permit or punish). Words aside, is there a term for contradictory phrases? Here's something to ponder: What's the difference between "going all in" and "going all out"? 

¡Brad Cleaveland, Presente! 

A memorial gathering for academic agitator and Free Speech Movement veteran Herbert "Brad" Cleaveland will be held on Wednesday, November 13th, from 6-9 p.m. in the community room of Berkeley's Redwood Gardens (2951 Derby Street). The event will be pot luck. 

It's Noir-vember in Albany 

Need noir? If so, grab a trench coat, pull your fedora down over your eyebrows and sneak over to the Albany FilmFest for its free November 19 presentation: "A Wild Ride into Noir with Jerry Thompson"—described as an "entertaining guided tour through 70s and 80s noir" that involves a game called "Can You Spot the Bay Area Connections?" Details here. This collaboration between the Albany Library and Friends of the Albany Library kicks off at 7pm in the Edith Stone Room. Bonus: Free popcorn.
And, if you've got any young filmmakers in the house, the deadline for submissions to the 10th Albany FilmFest has just been extended. If you live in Albany, it's not too late to submit a film. Just go online to check out the categories for young filmmakers aged 6-17 and check out the Albany Filmmakers Showcase here