SMITHEREENS: Reflections on Bits & Pieces

Gar Smith
Friday May 08, 2020 - 12:38:00 PM

lHappy Mothers' Day

A short note to a quartet of imminent men who have a unique bond—they've all recently had children out of wedlock.

Best wishes to the moms and new fathers: British PM Boris Johnson, Jailed Wikileaks Whistleblower Julian Assange, Tech Mogul Elon Musk, and CNN Anchor Anderson Cooper. (And, yes, Musk and mama Grimes apparently did name their first-born "X Æ A-12.")

This Dog Needs a Buddy

That was the gist of a leaflet tacked to a North Berkeley phone-pole. "Puppy Playdate" it announced, followed by these details: "My puppy needs a companion. Hasn't had his shots. Looking for same." Sounds like a relationship that might require some social distancing. 

Pollen's Next Book 

Berkeley's Michael Pollan did a great job of personal journalism with his latest book, Caffeine: How Caffeine Created the Modern World—especially when he subjected himself to coffee abstinence to see how going Cold Turkish would affect his mind and body and then charting the renewed buzz he got from climbing back onboard the Java Express. 

Now that I've spent another pandemic-panicked week sneezing, coughing, and trying not to rub my eyes, I've got a suggestion for a topic Pollan could tackle in his next book. Pollen: Why Nature's Reproductive Dandruff Is Nothing to Sneeze At. 

To the Rescue 

The air has been so clear since shelter-in-place became the norm. It's like that moment when you wipe your glasses clean and pop them back on your nose. Everything is so clear! So bright! The vegetation is so colorful and the seedlings in the garden are flourishing so quickly it's like watching a time-lapse movie. 

These pleasant thoughts were beaming through my head as I wandered outside to soak up some sunlight. And that's when I heard the familiar buzzing of a bee. But the buzzing seemed louder and more persistent than normal. 

"That bumblebee is trapped!" a friend shouted, pointing to a spot beneath an eave on the south side of our house. 

Sure enough. A large black bumblebee had bumbled into a large spider web and was struggling to break free. I ran to the garage to grab a ladder. I got back just in time. A large, black spider was now alongside the thrashing bee and preparing to immobilize it. I tried to reach for the bee and managed to knock the spider off its web. But the bee was still entangled in the web. (I'd just learned an important lesson about nature: while spider webs are sticky and dangerous for bugs, flies, moths, and bees, spiders have a unique ability to scamper over their silky nets without getting stuck.) 

The immediate danger was gone but the bee was still trapped in the web. I placed a piece of clean paper next to the insect. The bee immediately seemed to recognize that the scrap of paper offered a means of escape. It kept trying to pull itself free of the web and clamber to safety on the paper. But it couldn't get free. 

I repositioned the paper so that the bee could hold onto it while I pushed it away from the web. The strands attached to the bee stretched but remained intact. Balancing on the ladder, I continued to draw the bee and the paper further from the web and the wall. The bee seemed to realize that the paper was a lifeline and I was not a threat. We were working as a team. 

Finally, the strand broke, the web snapped back, the bee managed to hold on, and all that was left was several inches of silk attached to the bumblebee's ankle. Moving up close and carefully using both hands, I was able to pinch off all but a one-inch scrap of web. 

It was enough to free the bumblebee. I climbed back down the ladder and lowered the paper so the bee could rest on a flower. 

I figured my work was done. I folded up the paper and was preparing to return the ladder to the garage when, once again, I heard a buzzing sound. 

It was the bee. It had left the safety of the flower petals and was now hovering in the air next to my right cheek. It held that position for nearly ten seconds, appearing to observe me. I watched with a smile on my face as the bee finally turned away and flew toward our backyard garden. 

It may have been my imagination, but it felt like that bee had just given me a hive-five. 

Biden's Great Idea 

Joe Biden just did something I have to applaud. In addition to offering to name a female running mate, he's also volunteered to name members of his prospective Cabinet. This echoes a March 2016 proposal that I made in the Daily Planet—a call to all candidates to consider appointing a "Peoples' Cabinet." 

The proposal was intended to provide potential voters with a chance to nominate a roster of people they would like to see elevated to serve in the cabinet. This would enable activists who campaigned for "loosing" presidential contenders to vote for their favored candidates as part of a Team Ticket. 

Some examples? Bernie Sanders as Secretary of Labor; Elizabeth Warren as Treasury Secretary; Kamala Harris to head the Department of Urban Housing; Andrew Yang for Department of Commerce; and (why not?) National Guard Major Tulsi Gabbard to reform the Defense Department. 

Mark Tatulli's Surprising Scoop 

In the past, I've taken issue with the Chronicle comic strip Lio. The anti-hero of Mark Tatulli's cartoon series is a creepy kid with a cowlick, a pet squid and a penchant for playing with skulls, zombies, and nuclear missiles. The strip occasionally indulges in grotesque and squirm-producing (in me, at least) adventures that seem to border on sadism. 

But I'm happy to report that Tatulli's May 3 strip was a delightful surprise. 

The first two panels showed Lio and his squid companion climbing into a large, green street-sweeper equipped with an oversized broom hanging over the gaping mouth of their motorized bin. The last panel showed Lio, squid, and vehicle lumbering into the distance. past a road sign that read: "Corporate America." 

The small type on the back of their truculent truck was the payoff. It read: "Lio's Billionaire Be-Gone: A Free Community Service." 

Trump Encourages Fellow Citizens to Accept Death 

Trump wants to "open the country for business" at a time when the US still leads the world in COVID-19 cases and our national death count continues to rise. On May 6, a reporter asked this pressing question: "Will the nation just have to accept the idea that, by opening, there will be more cases, there will be more deaths?" 

Trump, the self-declared "wartime president," replied by telling his fellow Americans: 'You have to be warriors, we can't keep our country closed down for years." Trump paused to offer an afterthought: “Will some people be affected badly? Yes.” 

Apparently, this is Trump's way of saying that he expects tens of thousands of Americans to sacrifice their lives and die to protect the country's "bottom line." 

As the Washington Post noted: "After failing to act to contain the virus in the first phase, and after failing to lay the groundwork for a safe reopening in the second, Trump has concluded he has no choice but to push forward with the reopening regardless of the risks." The risks to other Americans, that is: not to Himself. 

While other "wartime presidents" have asked American soldiers to die "For God and Country," Trump is telling tens of thousands (and perhaps millions) of American civilians that they must be prepared to die "For Gold and Bounty." 

Trump Orders Sick Meat-plant Employees Back to Work 

On another level, our 243-pound hamburger-and-fries-loving Leader has acted (with uncommon speed) to preserve a special section of the US economy that he truly cares about. Instead of concentrating on increasing stockpiles of COVID-19 testing kits or N95 facemasks, Trump's rushed to rescue the livestock death-plants that assure his continued access to beef, pork, and chicken meat. 

On April 29, Trump invoked the Defense Production Act to order the immediate reopening of crowded, unsanitary slaughterhouses closed after COVID-19 infections sickened hundreds of employees. 

Essentially, Trump was using the DPA to order slaughterhouse workers to risk their lives to assure continued access to his favorite meaty treats. (As guests privileged to join Trump on the presidential jet have noted: “On Air Force One there were four major food groups: McDonald's, Kentucky Fried Chicken, pizza, and Diet Coke.") 

With this action, Trump has come chillingly close to replicating the kind of deadly WWII forced-labor work-camps established by Germany's Third Reich. As a consequence, the names "Smithfield" and "Tyson" may someday have the same historical resonance as "Auschwitz." When Trump uses a piece of WW II-era legislation to order workers to march back into Midwest livestock death-camps for the greater good of the US economy (and his own gastronomical satisfaction), he's veering uncomfortably close to uttering the cruel slogan spelled out in iron over the entrance to Auschwitz: Arbeit macht frei — "Work Sets You Free." 

Trump's Pandemic Insanity


Global Warming Is Nothing New 

Planet-cooking pollution is "nothing new." Just ask NASA. According to the nation's preeminent space agency, the acceptance of climate change has been long established as a scientific fact. "The science is very well established and goes back a long way," NASA writes. "The Victorians knew about it. John Tyndall (born 1820) knew about it. So did Svante August Arrhenius. In April 1896, Arrhenius published a paper in the London, Edinburgh and Dublin Philosophical Magazine and Journal of Science entitled 'On the influence of carbonic acid in the air upon the temperature of the ground.' (Arrhenius referred to carbon dioxide as “carbonic acid” in accordance with the convention of the time.)" 

NASA further identified another person "who knew”—legendary Hollywood filmmaker Frank Capra, the director of “It’s a Wonderful Life.” Capra nailed the threat of global warming in a film called “Meteora: The Unchained Goddess” that was released way back in 1958, when Eisenhower was president. 

Why has Capra's dire warning gone unnoticed? Was "Meteora" intentionally suppressed by Big Oil and Big Coal? Listen to this clear warning—from 62 years ago! 


Breaking News: Captured US Mercenary Reveals Details of Venezuela Coup Plot 

On May 6, Venezuela's state-owned Multimedio TV (VTV) broadcast an interview with Luke Alexander Denman, one of the US mercenaries captured in a failed attempted to kidnap Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro

Because of Denman's position as a hostage, it's likely the interview was conducted under duress but Denman's answers do not seem forced. Notably, Erin Berry, another captured US mercenary who was interviewed by VTV, refused to answer several questions that were put to him and was allowed to proceed unchallenged. Berry's statements largely corroborated Denman's account of the plot. (Note: Some of the Spanish language transcriptions of the VTV interviews were incorrect or misleading.) 

Denman explained that he expected to be paid as much as $100,000 for his services. The money was to be paid by Silvercorp, a company owned by former Green Beret Jordan Gouodreau. In the interview, Denman reveals that he worked with three groups of 20 soldiers who were engaged in the operation. Denman stated that he had seen a copy of the coup plan contract and that it contained the signatures of "Jordan [Goudreau] and [US-backed Venezuelan opposition leader] Juan Guaido." 

Denman said his role involved capturing Venezuela's main airport and communicating with the tower to secure the arrival of "several planes, one of which includes one to put Maduro on and take him back to the United States." 

In response to the question, "Who commands Jordan?" Denman replied: "President Donald Trump." 


All the News That's Fit to Reade 

Addressing former staffer Tara Reade's accusation of sexual assault, Joe Biden assured “Morning Joe's Mika Brzezinski: “I’m saying unequivocally it never never happened.” 

That wasn't the best denial. It was, in fact, a double negative. It was like Bill Clinton saying: "I did not not have sex with that woman." Biden, of course, was probably just trying to be emphatic. The press abetted Biden by inserting a comma between the two "nevers." (A big favor since Joe is in the habit of voicing his own punctuations. As in: "It didn't happen. Period.") 

Also, there's a difference between saying, "It didn't happen" and, "I have no memory of any such thing." The latter leaves open the possibility that maybe something DID happen "but I just can't recall it, 27 years later." How would it sound if Biden had been accused of committing a bank robbery in 1993 and, instead of simply, flatly, denying it, he replied: "I have no memory of such a thing"? 

Sen. Kamala Harris chimed in with a declaration that "women must be able to speak without fear of retaliation"—a defense that served to link Biden to the world of male privilege. 

Sen. Dianne Feinstein equivocated, stating: "I can't comment on these accusations" while calling Biden "a man of integrity." 

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi joined Biden's call to respect Reade's "right as a woman" to speak up and added that she did so "with all the respect in the world for any woman who comes forward and with all the highest regard for Joe Biden." But Pelosi's message of support only rings right if one assumes that she believes Reade's complaints against Biden are true. Otherwise, that leaves Pelosi "defending" the "right" of any woman—or man—to make unsubstantiated, untrue, and slanderous charges. And that's not what Pelosi meant. 

The Great Realization: Hindsight 2020