– 2018-11-09 18:32:42
Smithereens: Reflections on Bits & Pieces
By Gar Smith
The Life and Death of a Berkeley Bot
It’s become a common sight in these parts: small, driverless robot delivery vehicles heading for the UC campus stuffed with food and drinks.
And so it was on Thursday, October 25, at about 11:45 when a small Kiwi food-bot tumbled over a curb at the intersection of Shattuck and Allston Way.
The picnic-basket-sized bot fell onto the street and lay immobilized on it’s side, its wheels whirring uselessly.
Suddenly, a concerned Berkeley high school student stepped from the curb, picked up the bot, and set it back on its wheels. Then he paused to give it a friendly, reassuring pat. (The whole scene played out like one of those Dignity Health “Human Kindness” commercials on TV.)
The little bot stood on the pavement for a moment, looking stunned and confused. And then, to the delight of the noontime crowd, it sparked back to life and bravely resumed its programmed mission, heading across the intersection . . . .
And right into the path of a red, white and blue Erhet Plumbing truck.
A shocked crowd of pedestrians gathered around the shattered remains, somberly recording the tragedy on their smartphones.
The success of several controversial candidacies and propositions on the November ballot was another reminder that, all too often, modern elections are not contests between differing political positions or parties but simply a contest between two competing advertising agencies.
Not Entranced by the Entrance
After a long wait, the new entrance to the downtown Berkeley BART station now stands revealed. And, to my eye, it looks like a glass-covered high-tech rat cage.
A lot of glassâ€”glass that needs to be kept clean. The panes are already dirty and just wait ’til the local pigeons start doing their Jackson Pollock number on those transparent overhead panels.
And the light pouring into the station in the afternoon? Blinding to anyone taking the upward escalator!
The old station design was dissed by the folks who promoted the change, but I will remember it as a classic beautyâ€”part cathedral, part carousel, easy on the eyes, protective, and soothing to the soul.
The plaza, however, has been a pleasure. The sculpture, the sound effects, the skinny metal chairs and tablesâ€”and the live performancesâ€”are worthy of a European tourist mecca.
At Your Service?
Move over, Siri, and make room, Alexa, there’s a new tool in town.
Bank of America is promoting its new “virtual financial assistant” with a poster that features a smartphone along with a message reading: “Hello, I’m Erica. Talk, type or tap whenever you need me.”
Is this what the world needs? Another electronic device that offers a feminine persona that is always-on-call and ready to serve?
Well, it turns out that BoA is having second thoughts, too. The bank was recently sued for copyright infringement by a Colorado journalist who, in 2010, patented a “search engine and personal assistant” named E.R.I.C.A. (which stands for Electronic Repetitious Informational Clone Application).
According to the Charlotte Business Journal, E.R.I.C.A. “features a female avatar with dark hair and blue eyes.”
Maybe it’s time to start giving these devices names like Eric, Alex and Sir.
Why Is UC Still Building A-bombs?
On October 30, I found myself sitting next to UC Berkeley Chancellor Carol Christ during a noontime Get Out the Vote/Free Speech Movement rally on the Savio Steps in front of Sproul Hall. And, darn it! I missed an opportunity to needle the Chancellor about the role of UC’s Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory (LNLL) in designing and building a “new generation” of nuclear weapons.
So, later that day, I created a poster to send to the Chancellor’s office. Above a photo of an exploding nuclear weapon is UC’s motto: FIAT LUX. Below the photo is the statement: FIAT NUKES, followed by the closing line: “LLNL! WTF, UCB?”
Trump Equates Refugees with Invaders
At 4:05 AM, on October 25, Donald Trump tweeted: “Democrat inspired laws make it tough for us to stop people at the Border. MUST BE CHANDED, [sic] but I am bringing out the military for this National Emergency. They will be stopped!”
So, how far is Trump willing to go to “stop” thousands of weary Central American asylum seekers?
Will Trump resort to the use of tear-gas and concussion grenades?
Will hungry immigrant kids be struck down by rounds of rubber-coated bullets?
Will Trump order a confrontation between tanks and toddlers?
Will he direct snipers to target mothers pushing strollers?
Faced with hungry hoards of desperate men, women, children, and babies, will he update Major General Israel Putnam’s famous command from the Battle of Bunker Hill?:
“Don’t fire until you see the whites of their diapers!”
Trump’s Military Revelation: War on the Rocks
Donald Trump recently threatened the caravan of unarmed Latin American migrants by declaring: “anybody throwing stones, rocks . . . we will consider that a firearm, because there’s not much difference.”
In the spirit of this new equivalency, I hereby propose the following plan to rein in the country’s $21.6 trillion debt and balance the Federal budget: simply halt the wasteful production and purchase of costly guns, rifles and other weapons. Instead, following Trump’s lead, we can save billions by arming our soldiers with bandoliers of stones and rocks while making sure that our Air Force bombers are fully equipped with a fearsome arsenal of granite boulders.
Meeting the Caravan More than Halfway
During the event, the activist on my left, David Kubrin, shared the news that author and conspiracy buff Bill Simpich had proposed a response to Trump’s attacks on the refugee “caravan.”
Simpich’s suggestion: What if hundreds of US citizens marched across the border into Mexico and joined the people fleeing violence and poverty (traceable in most cases to US military and economic interference in their home countries). US citizens would march alongside the refugees, sharing protest signs, and defending their right to seek asylum. Happy to report it’s already begun to happen. One group that has a long record of providing aid to refugees is Border Angels.
Meanwhile The Texas Tribune has compiled a list of organizations working to aid parents and children separated by the US Border Patrol.
Don’t Toss a Rock: Pop a Cap
Kat Schaaf, a Berkeley Marina mainstay and a friend of mine, recently suggested a novel tactic to speed the passage of Central American refugees into the US. As the weary travelers approach our southern border, she proposed, volunteers from the US could show up to hand out thousands of free Make America Great Again caps.
Knowing Trump as we do, the chances are good that he will take one look at the MAGAnificent spectacle, his ego will swell with the adrenaline of self-adoration and he will welcome the new arrivals with a really incredible bigly smile.
Trump Hoist with His Own Overblown Petard
New Yorker satirist Andy Borowitz recently noted how Donald Trump had metaphorically blown himself to bits by stepping on his own buried landmine. Trump had been in the news for threatening to sign an “executive order” to unilaterally rewrite the 14th Amendment of the US Constitution to end “birth citizenship”
But there was a problem, Borowitz pointed out. In July 2018, Trump told a Scottish interviewer: “My parents were born in the European Union. I love these countries; Germany, Scotland, they are still in there, right?â€
Trump proudly declared: â€œDonâ€™t forget both of my parents were born in EU sectors â€“ my mother was Scotland, my father was Germany.â€
Borowitz’s headline nailed the delicious irony: “Trump Strips Citizenship From Children of Immigrants, Thus Disqualifying Himself From Presidency.”
Father, Son and Holy Scheisse
Could this explain it all? Something I just discovered: Donald Trump’s father Fred’s middle name was . . . “Christ.” (Not “Christian,” mind you, but “Christ.”)
Have you ever known anyone whose middle name was “Christ”?
War Doesn’t Work:
So Why Do We Keep Employing It?
Washington is spending millions of dollars to support a Saudi-led war that’s threatening to starve millions of people in Yemen. It makes no sense. But it certainly makes a lot of dollars.
Why do we continue slaughtering innocent women, children and men?
In an interview with CBS reporter Leslie Stahl, Donald Trump tried to explain why he was so reluctant to criticize the Saudis after Riyadh sent a team of assassins to kill Washington Post contributor Jamal Khashoggi and dismember his body, severing his arms and legs with a bone saw.
But the brutal murder of a journalist was not the most important thing on Trump’s mind. As Trump explained to Stahl, It was all about saving a multi-billion-dollar arms deal: “I don’t wanna hurt . . . Raytheon, Lockheed, Boeing,” Trump declared.
Apparently the only arms that Trump cares about belong to “Raytheon, Lockheed, Boeing.”
With far too many reports of schools forced to deal with gun-wielding attackers, Senator Kamala Harris should have had second thoughts about the wording of her endorsement of Superintendent of Public Education candidate Tony Thurmond. In a pre-election TV ad for Thurmond, Harris finished her plea by promising that Thurmond would “give every student a fair shot.”
A Parting Ponder
A quick question regarding the Supreme Court’s “Citizen United” decision:
If “money is speech,” why does it talk louder than words?”