SMITHEREENS: Reflection on Bits & Pieces

Gar Smith
Sunday March 15, 2020 - 03:04:00 PM

Coronavirus: Some Jaw-dropping Advice

A Bay Area radio reporter covering a coronavirus-driven mob-shopping event at a CostCo in Novato asked a number of participants about their thoughts on the spiraling outbreak of the contagion. One woman said she heard alcohol was effective against the disease "so I'm stocking up on wine."

Another lady advised against overreacting to the threat of the fast-spreading Wuhan virus. Her advice: "Everyone just needs to stay calm, slow down, relax, and take a deep breath."

I'm mot sure about that last part. 

HERE/THERE Needs some WHEREwithal 

The residents of the tent community on the Berkeley/Oakland border are in need. The nation's neatest, spiffiest homeless encampment recently lost power when a driver missed a turn and plowed into one of the settlement's solar panels. No one was hurt but the panels were eclipsed, leaving scores of tent-steaders without electricity to power their radios, refrigerators, or cellphones. The power-outage has even had an impact on local denizens and café-goers who were in the habit of dropping in on the HERE/THERE encampment to recharge their smartphones by tapping into the "People's Grid." 

Gabbard Ignored by Media and Centrist Dems 

On March 8, Democratic congressmember and presidential candidate Tulsi Gabbard sent out a stinging tweet: "Here it is, International Women's Day, and the press won't acknowledge the only woman still in the race for president!" 

She's also the only active member of the armed forces still in the race for president and she's still the only candidate who can catch a political wave on a surfboard. 

Here's another example of what Tulsi's up against: If you look for a photo of the would-be Commander-in-Chief using Yahoo Image Search, these are the subject areas that appear: "tulsi gabbard photos in bikini, tulsi gabbard leaked, tulsi gabbard measurement, tulsi gabbard 2020, tulsi gabbard surfing, tulsi gabbard husband, tulsi gabbard oops." 

Under the Knife 

Earlier this week, I drove to an Oakland hospital to have a cancerous patch removed from the back of my shoulder. It was a simple operation, requiring that I lie down face-first on an operating table while the doctor and her assistant applied some anesthetic and grabbed their tools to prepare for the removal. When the doctor told me they were ready to make the "excision" I jokingly inquired, "Will there be an excise tax?" Without missing a beat, she replied: "Don't worry. We've got your back." 

The assistant followed up with: "Yeah, we're cut out for this kind of work." 

To which I replied: "Hey, it's no skin off my back." 

"We'll be using some really pretty purple sutures to close the wound," the doctor chirped. 

To which I replied: "Suit yerself!" 

The operation was wrapped up in ten minutes but, before I left, I made sure to thank them for the unexpected medical merriment. 

I couldn't resist adding: "Thanks for the jokes, guys. You had me in stitches!" 


Nobody wants to be caught in the middle of a gunfight but, for some reason, the English language has managed to find ways to minimize the threat of being butchered by flying bullets. 

What, for instance, could be more civilized than a polite exchange of gunfire? 

Or more sporting than a volley of gunfire triggered during a shooting match

Or more refreshing on a hot afternoon than a spray of bullets. 

Or more amusing than dodging bullets during a game of gunplay

Or more exciting than a shooting spree

Or spending an idle afternoon admiring the exhibitions at a local shooting gallery

Or, at the end of the day, heading to the local bar for a couple of rounds (possibly including a shot of whiskey)? 

(There are some negative words that the NRA would prefer we never use, including: sniper, gun-nut, crossfire, shotgun blast, bullet-riddled, gunned-down, pistol-whipped.) 

And, of course, no one looks forward to having to weather a hail of bullets. 

PG&E May Have Other Problems 

Solar panels are being installed in our neighborhood and a subcontracting crew from Blue Mountain Solar was busy replacing the old powerboxes on the side of the house. A blue PG&E truck pulled up to officially disconnect the home from the electric grid during the retrofit. 

As the PG&E worker balanced atop a ladder, wrenching loose the electric cable that carries power from the power-pole to the house, he started kvetching about the previous assembly. 

He complained to the solar crew watching from below that the incoming wires attached to the eave were twisted into place with the metal elements exposed. 

"When these move in the wind they can eventually break," he said, and that could cause a spark that could "burn down the house." 

"I don't know why they use to do it like that," he huffed, as he finished clipping away at the cable. "But now it's up to us to undo what they did." 

[Note: An online check has so far failed to turn up any reports of house fires caused by connection-line wiring.] 

Kaiser Builds a Garden 

Usually, when a large multi-story building in prime real estate territory is torn down, it is quickly replaced by a larger, grander structure. So hardhats off to Kaiser Permanente, which has gone in a different—and greener—direction. The towering structure that used to dominate Oakland's Broadway-MacAurthur intersection is no more. But instead of bringing in convoys of cement trucks and brigades of construction crews, KP hired a team of landscape artchitects and arborists to turn the vast, empty space into an inviting expanse of rolling green turf with walking paths curling between hillocks planted with vines and trees. 

This new urban oasis—dubbed "The Serenity Garden"—is currently bordered by a fence to keep the public at a safe distance while nature's grasses and greenery take root. 

It's not often that a modern landholder sides with nature over commercial development, but KP has done it. KP staffers opine that the site may be subject to development at some future date, should plans emerge. In the meantime, we can look forward to a new patch of nature to ramble in. Here's hoping those young trees all live to enjoy a long and leafy tenancy. 

A New Flag on the PO Pole 

Old Glory has a new companion. Thanks to a new law signed last November, the American flag fluttering over Berkeley's post offices is now sharing the pole with a black-and-white banner known as the POW MIA flag. 

The POW/MIA flag was created to honor the memory of an estimated 83,000 soldiers who never returned from the Pentagon's foreign wars. The flag, which was created in 1972, used to be flown only on special occasions and national holidays. Now it is required viewing—despite the fact that recent history has reduced the POW situation to a non-issue. 

While the Pentagon sets the overall POW/MIA figure at an impressive 83,204, this mainly includes losses in major conflicts dating all the way back to WWII. As Penn State research Scott Sigmund reports, in today's world "virtually no US military personnel are Missing in Action or Prisoners of War." 

According to the Congressional Research Service, between 2003-2014, US wars in Somalia, Bosnia, Kosovo, Afghanistan and Iraq produced only 14 POWs. In 2014, the Pentagon's Defense Prisoner of War/Missing Personnel Office claimed that only six Americans were listed as POW/MIA—and three of those were Pentagon contractors. 

Ironically, when it comes to prisoners of war being held in military gulags, the worst offender may be the US itself. The Pentagon's prison compound at Guantanamo Bay once housed 775 foreign POWs. That number is now down to around 40 prisoners. 

The new US law requires the POW/MIA flag to be flown over all US military bases. It would be a bitter irony if that requires the flag be flown over Washington's notorious GITMO detention facility. 

This legislation—a marginal, feel-good gesture intended to "highlight the continued sacrifice of military families whose loved ones are still unaccounted for overseas"—was co-sponsored by two Democrats: New Hampshire Rep. Chris Pappas and Massachusetts Senator Elizabeth Warren. 

Tell the Gov: Push Back on Toxic Oil 

Oil drilling not only threatens the health of our planet, the archaic practice also put our lives at risk—especially if you're unlucky enough to live near an oil-and-gas-drilling site—or the Richmond Refinery. 

According to "Oil production has created a public health crisis in our state with more than 5 million Californians living near oil and gas drilling sites. When these toxic pollutants are released into the air, water, and soil, they cause a host of health impacts, including cancer, premature mortality, asthma, and other respiratory ailments." 

Not surprisingly, the people living in these carbon-cursed communities tend to be low-income "communities of color." Residents of Wilmington—a town in southern California that is home to the country's third-largest oil field—just happen to suffer from one of the state's highest cancer rates. 

That's why and activist-actor Jane Fonda have been backing a series of public hearings on the health hazards of oil and gas drilling and are asking that Gov. Newsom make sure that fossil fuel activities will no longer be allowed within 2,500 feet of homes, hospitals, or schoolyards. The ultimate goal is to end all coal, gas, and oil operations statewide. Naturally, there's a petition, which you can find here. 

A Good Read about Graffiti 

On March 11, the East Bay Express published a great cover story profiling the Oakland city employee who is paid to paint over wall murals and graffiti on city property. The guy's nickname is "Erase" and it turns out he's become a great fan—and collector—of graffiti art. 

Stranger still, the artists whose work Erase is paid to "buff" (i.e., obliterate) are not his sworn enemies—they have become friends. Both Erase and the artists have come to respect one another as essential, competing parts of the "street art ecosystem." 

As a tagger known as Dead Eyes notes: "The buff is handy. It's a reset button. Most street things are only meant to ride for only so long, so it gives everybody else a fair chance to get out there." An artist known as Political Gridlock concurs: "If nobody buffed it, street art would die." 

This natural dance-of-opposites—a pas de dieux of renewal and destruction—is reminiscent of the Indigenous practice of setting forest fires to clear the underbrush and encourage regeneration. 

"Health Warning: Cancel All Events. Stay Home. Read My Books" 

This week's award for Salesmanship in the Face of Contagion Chaos goes to David Swanson, peace activist, World BEYOND War founder, host of Talk Nation Radio, campaign coordinator for, host of Talk Nation Radio, Nobel Prize nominee, and prolific author. 

"Haven't you longed for time to read?" Swanson recently asked in an email. "Well, all events are being canceled. You've got the time now and I've got the books. Four out of five doctors recommend books for their patients who read books!" 

Swanson's books include War Is A Lie, When the World Outlawed War, Curing Exceptionalism, War Is Never Just, and War No More: The Case for Abolition.  

Here's a recent sampling of some of Swanson's infectious blogs: 

"Ode to That Thing" By Joe Biden 

When a Weapons Show Is Canceled By Coronavirus 

Bernie Finally Puts a Number on Cutting Military Spending 

Shut Down Canada Until it Solves its War, Oil, and Genocide Problem 

[Full disclosure: I currently serve on the WBW board.] 

Trump Does TIME