SMITHEREENS: Reflections on Bits & Pieces

Gar Smith
Friday May 15, 2020 - 04:19:00 PM

What's in a Name? Flowers and Rocks

Recently, I found myself wondering: How many ladies have been named after flowers? In the English language alone, we have Lily, Daisy, Rose, Rosemary, Ivy, Holly, Poppy, Violet, Jasmine, Willow, Iris, Juniper, Petunia, Ayana, Heather, Dahlia, Magnolia, Azalea, Marigold and Myrtle.

And then there's my Goth cousin, Hydrangea.

But what floral names come to mind when we're talking about guys? I could only think of one: Bud.

According to Google lore, there are only a few floral options for boys. "Ren," in Japanese, means "lotus." (Kevin Bacon's character in the film Footloose was named Ren.) "Jared," is the Hebrew word for "rose." And there's a flower called "Sweet William" but that's more a case of a flower being named after a boy. It's more likely that a boy would bear the name of a tree (as in: Alder, Cedar, Clem, Elm/Elmore, Oak, or Sequoia) than a flower. ("Elon" is also a tree-name for boys but, according to, the name's popularity planked 50% after Elon Musk illegally re-opened his Tesla auto assembly plant.) "Trevor" comes from Shatrevar, the Persian word for "flower" but when's the last time you met a fellow named Arnit, Cypress, Florent, Indigo, Moss, Oleander, Saffron, Sage, Sorrel, or Yarrow (all present on a list of potential "baby names for boys")?

It's more likely that boys are going to be named after a mineral than a flower. I'm thinking of Rocky, Stoney, Cliff, Clay, Claude (pronounced "clod"), Flint, Diamond, Garnet, Granite, Jasper, Mica, Slate, Steel, and Sterling. (The ladies garner the following hard-rock titles: Amber, Crystal, Emerald, Jade, Jewel, Opal, Ruby, Sapphire, and Zirconia.)

Charles Manson's Greatest Hits

In his May 10 Chronicle column, film critic Mick LaSalle responded to a letter from a reader who challenged LaSalle's statement that people like Adolf Hitler, Osama bin Laden, and Charles Manson were incapable of accomplishing anything "humane or beautiful." While stipulating his belief that Manson should have been "executed," the reader noted that the murder-cult leader—unlike Hitler or bin Laden—had written and recorded a number of serviceable ballads and he invited LaSalle to audition Manson's "Look at Your Game, Girl."

LaSalle gave a listen and conceded: "I've heard worse on the radio—and he was a good singer." However, LaSalle added: "If we're talking about good songs by evil people, you could also make the case that The Horst Wessel Song has a good beat and you can dance to it." (Note: this Nazi anthem has been banned from YouTube.)

Many of Manson's songs bore appropriately dark titles including ""Cease to Exist," "People Say I'm No Good," "Love's Death," and "Don't Do Anything Illegal."

There's even a full-length album titled "The Manson Family Sings the Songs of Charles Manson." Among the 12 songs on the LP are: "No Wrong," "I'll Never Say Never to Always," "Goin' to the Churchyard," and "I'm Scratching Peace Symbols On Your Tombstone." 

Joan Baez's Tribute to the Real Heroes 

On the other end of the minstrels' arc, here's a kindly musical prayer from Joan Baez by way of Bob Dylan. 


The Political Masquerade 

Why do I like to see those photos of Donald Trump without a surgical mask? For the same reason I love seeing those photos of Mike Pence sans mask. And for the same reason I delight in photos that capture Nancy Pelosi sporting designer masks that match her elegant outfits. 

The reason for these rare moments of bliss lies in the Presidential Succession Act of 1947 (aka 3 U.S.C. § 19), which states that, should the president and vice-president expire in office or be rendered incapable of governing, the powers of the presidency are to be transferred to the Speaker of the House who “shall … act as President.” 

Yup, it Donald and Mike were to become victims of the very pandemic their inaction has stoked, the next president of the United States would be . . . Nancy Pelosi. 

But there's a pothole in Pelosi's path to the Oval Office. The Constitution's Succession Clause dictates that only an "officer" can step in to replace the president or vice-president. Specifically, it states: “Congress may by Law . . . declar[e] what Officer shall then act as President, and such Officer shall act accordingly until the Disability be removed, or a President shall be elected.” Unfortunately, the clause fails to define “Officer.” 

If Attorney General William Barr were to rule that the Secretary of State was the appropriate "executive officer," the Oval Office would be handed over to Mike Pompeo. Legal scholars confronting these possibilities fear a "nightmare scenario" that could leave the nation "deeply divided." 

Compounding the problem, the Presidential Succession Act of 1792 instructed that the president pro tempore [of the Senate] and then the speaker [of the House] would succeed the vice president—in that order. A new succession statute in 1886 required that a replacement for the president and vice-president would need to come from the same political party as the departed leaders. The Presidential Succession Act of 1947 (which prevails today) placed the House speaker and the Senate president pro tempore before Cabinet officers in the succession order. 

More details on the briarpatch of presidential succession scenarios are available online in a recent Lawfare article entitled "A Presidential Succession Nightmare." 

NPR: Nothing Private Radio 

Looking for a news story on the National Public Radio website, I came across the following bit of small print: "NPR may share your name and email address with your NPR station. See Details. This site is protected by reCAPTCHA and the Google Privacy Policy." 

It's a bit discomfiting to discover that NPR is mining personal online data for institutional gain. On the other hand, it's great to read that NPR has taken steps to protect its own institutional privacy. 

The Brothers Fusco and the #MeToon Movement 

J.C. Duffy is the artist behind The Fusco Brothers, a syndicated comic strip that is a serial offender when it comes to the cartoon relationships between the four Fusco males and an endless stream of female victims. In an April 15 strip, Lars Fusco (the lawyer brother), stands in a courtroom and tells the blonde female judge: "Heaven must be missing an angel…." On May 6, Lars tells his date: "Well, dinner's over. Now the real fun begins!" On April 19, Lars gets his comeuppance when the comes on to a female paralegal and asks if she feels jealous because he's a full-fledged lawyer. She replies: "No. I don't have Subpoena Envy." 

On May 13, Rölf Fusco pressures a brunette victim with a line straight from the repertoire of Hollywood Mogul Harvey Weinstein: "Didn't I tell you that — if you played your cards right — I'd get you into a nationally syndicated comic strip?" This panel (which is posted on the website) is accompanied by this comment from a reader: "To be honest, this strip is on shaky ground with the syndicate!!!" 

J.C. Duffy is also the proud author of a new book, Come Here Often? Bad Pickup Lines And Other Dating Atrocities From The Fusco Brothers. 

As the promo for the book explains, the brothers, "Lance, Rölf, Lars, and Al know how to twist this irritating question ["Come here often?"] in all the wrong ways. Join the brothers . . . as they send every woman they meet running for the hills." 

But I do have to admit I kinda liked the May 5 strip in which Al Fusco, holding an old-fashioned landline telephone tells an unseen woman: "Wow, Doris, I feel like this was a perfect call!" "Of course, the last guy to say that got impeached." 

Pandemic Guidelines Clarified 


The Ten Americans Who Gave the 2016 Election to Trump 

It's common knowledge that Hillary Clinton won the popular vote in the 2016 presidential election—beating Donald Trump by more than 3 million votes. It's common knowledge that Trump only became president because of an anachronism called the Electoral College. But it is not widely known that Trump's Electoral College "victory" was determined by the votes of ten "faithless electors" (out of a total 538 electors) who elected not to vote for Hillary Clinton, the candidate who won the majority of presidential votes in their states. Several Democratic party electors in Washington State turned their backs on Clinton—three cast votes for Colin Powell and one cast a vote for Native American activist Faith Spotted Eagle. 

According to the Associated Press, a current case now being argued before the US Supreme Court stems from "lawsuits filed by three Hillary Clinton electors in Washington State and one in Colorado who refused to vote for her despite her popular vote win in both states. In so doing, they hoped to persuade enough electors in states won by Donald Trump to choose someone else and deny Trump the presidency." (Say again?) 

According to the AP, Trump's 2016 electoral "victory" was attributable to just "10 faithless electors"—including four from Washington State, one from Colorado, a Democrat from Hawaii, and two Republicans from Texas. (Other Democratic electors who said they would not vote for Clinton were replaced in Maine and Minnesota.) 

Thirty-two states and the District of Columbia require "presidential electors" to cast electoral votes for the party candidate who wins the popular vote. In 18 states, however, electors can ignore the popular vote and cast a ballot for whomever they want. (So it turns out that presidents are elected by "They, the people," not "We, the People.") It wasn't until 1796 that the situation was amended to require state electors to vote only for the candidates chosen by their party. 

The plaintiffs in the Supreme Court case hope to establish the "right" of state-selected electors to vote for anyone they wish—a scenario that prompted Justice Clarence Thomas to speculate that there would be nothing to prevent an elector from casting a vote for "Frodo Baggins." 

The Supreme Court is now considering whether presidential electors should retain the "right" to cast votes that do not reflect the outcome of state ballots. There is concern that, under the current system, any electoral representative's vote can be influenced by outside forces. As Justice Thomas asked: "Can a state remove someone, for example, who openly solicits payments for his or her vote?" 

Some states claim the power to "fine" rebel electors who ignore the popular vote. But that doesn't solve the problem: it merely monetizes the misbehaviour. The cost of these fines can easily be recovered by strategic "contributions" from partisan donors. 

Establishing the US as a functioning democracy would require abolishing the Electoral College, a laborious project. A quicker state-based path to more democratic elections is offered by the campaign for a National Popular Vote

Make Your Own Postage Stamps! 

Did you know that the US Postal Service's PhotoStamps app will let you create your own First Class postage stamps? It's true, but the offer will cost you. The USPS charges $1.30 for designing your own 55-cent First Class stamp—about $26 for a sheet of 20 or more than twice the regular price. 

If you're a political activist, some obvious entries might be: "Stamp Out Militarism," "Cancel War," and "Forever" stamps that proclaim "End Forever Wars." 

Other possibilities might include: 

An image of John Lennon and the word "Imagine" 

A photo of AOC with the message "Green New Deal" 

A picture of US Major Gen. Smedley Butler and the title of his book-length expose, "War Is a Racket." 

And, if these don't pass the USPS censors, there's always: "Save the Postal Service." 

Jumping Through the USPS' Stamp-crafting Hoops 

The Postal Service stipulates that it "reserves the right to determine independently whether any image, text or category of images meets any of the Eligibility Criteria." That said, the Post Office's PhotoStamp program welcomes imagery that is commercial ("intended for no purpose other than the sale of goods or services in commerce") and social (images of people, animals or things that "are likely to generate invitations, announcements, notices, thank-you notes, RSPVs"). Just make sure they don't include images of "tobacco, alcohol, gambling, or firearms or other weapons" or depictions of "political, religious, violent or sexual content." also has its own list of unstampable content that includes: images that are trademarked; unauthorized photos of celebrities; and "any depiction of controlled substances, including but not limited to marijuana."'s official list of "Eligibility Criteria" is poorly worded and seems to call for the very things it wants to ban. The first category reads as follows: "Eligibility Criteria A: To upload, order for print, or otherwise transmit or communicate any material for any unlawful purpose or that is obscene, offensive, blasphemous, pornographic, sexually suggestive deceptive, threatening, menacing, abusive, harmful, an invasion of privacy, supporting of unlawful action, defamatory, libelous, vulgar, violent, or otherwise objectionable." also bans images of "current or former world leaders, convicted criminals" and (for some mysterious reason) "any material that is vintage in appearance or depicts images from an older era." (So no pre-1960 images of Old Glory or photos of modern protestors dressed as suffragettes?) 

Social activists take note: While customized postage comes with a steep tab, there's no cost to stamping—or drawing—political messages on dollar bills and, as it turns out, this form of free speech is all perfectly legal! (Note: commercial messages are not allowed.) 






Overturn Betsy DeVos’s "Anti-Accuser" Title IX rule

On May 6, Donald Trump's Department of Education chief Betsy DeVos announced a new Title IX rule that would roll back rights for student survivors of sexual violence. The Daily Kos reports the new rule is scheduled to take effect on August 14. 

DeVos’s new Title IX rule grants first-time protections to male students accused of sexual assault. The rule would allow schools to ignore sexual violence that occurs outside of school grounds, protect schools from liability for ignoring or covering up sexual harassment, narrow the definition of sexual harassment, abandon students to endure escalating levels of abuse without help, and subject survivors to in-person cross-examination by their assailant’s advisers or lawyers

According to Daily Kos, "finalizing and instituting [these new rules] in the middle of a public health crisis is shameful and unconscionable . . . . Student survivors need support, not calculated attacks from the Trump administration." 

Fortunately, there is a mechanism for challenging these new regulations. The Congressional Review Act (CRA) would overturn the new Title IX rule and it only requires a simple majority in both chambers. 

















Jared Kushner Has a Talon for Ripping Off America 

Public Citizen president Robert Weisman has pushed the red button to alert his fellow Americans that Jared Kushner is pushing a White House plot to "end Social Security as we know it." Kushner's so-called “Eagle Plan” would mandate long-term cuts to federal retirement benefits working Americans have already earned—including Social Security—in exchange for a paltry one-time payout. 

The Kushner/Trump/McConnell nexus is apparently hoping that the millions of Americans who have lost their incomes due to Trump's failure to respond to the COVID-19 pandemic, will be tempted to accept this meager payment, sacrificing long-tern security to meet immediate survival needs. 

Public Citizen has created a send-a-message petition to tell Jared Kushner to keep his hands off Social Security. 

Trump's Pointless West Point Posturing 

Donald "Me First" Trump has done it again. In his insatiable need for pubic adoration, he has announced plans to give a speech at the West Point commencement ceremony and plans to order 1,000 cadets and their families to gather in New York (an epicenter of coronavirus infection) and listen intently while Trump shouts at them without the courtesy of donning a mask. 

In response, is inviting tens of thousands of veterans to raise their voices in protest, lead by combat vet and Senator Tammy Duckworth (D-IL) and Representative Ted Lieu (D-CA). Despite scolding criticisms posted on Twitter and Facebook, Trump has refused to cancel the event. Leading VoteVets to concluded that: "All he thinks our military and service people are good for is being used as political pawns to bolster his image." 

VoteVets has complained that Trump has blocked their postings on Twitter but the organization has bounced back with this online petition: Call on Donald Trump to cancel his appearance at West Point’s commencement ceremony. 

Hankering for Voting-by-Mail and Ballot Access in November 

Tom Hanks and Rita Wilson have joined forces with Michelle Obama as co-chairs of When We All Vote, a campaign dedicated to assuring the November election is not disrupted by fears of the COVID-19 pandemic. 

"We've seen firsthand the effect this disease can have on our families and communities, and now we need your help to make sure it doesn't stop anyone from voting in the upcoming elections," Hanks writes. 

We know that when we knock down barriers to casting a ballot and make voting more accessible no matter who you are, more people—especially young people and people of color—turn out to vote. And when we all vote, we create a stronger democracy. Tell your elected officials to support the Natural Disaster and Emergency Ballot Act of 2020 which would (1) Expand access to Vote-by-Mail, (2) Expand early in-person voting, and (3) Expand online voter registration. 

You can Sign Tom and Rita's petition here.