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Revolution’s end

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The latest issue of Pallet magazine has a piece of mine chronicling Eldridge Cleaver and the Black Panthers’ exile in Algeria, and on what happens when the revolutionary fire burns out. As always, the magazine is gorgeous–you can pick up a copy here.

 

 

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Another CASE award

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Good news: just learned that my cryonics piece for California magazine last year won a CASE award.

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Berkeley
California
Science

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From Dave Eggers to Barry McGee

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Another piece from the new Pallet. The magazine has this profile section where one interesting person recommends the next interesting person. In this case, Dave Eggers pointed to Barry McGee, the San Francisco artist and elder statesman of the graffiti world. We talked punk rock, surfing, garbage, and, of course, art. The best part of the piece, to my mind, was running into McGee in the water:

One sunny morning after my studio visit we run into each other in the water. The swell is mixed up—not big, but messy and tough to get a read on. He squints toward the west. “I’ve surfed worse.”
He likes to ride old boards, the heavier and more beaten-to-hell the better, in the interest of seeing what’s possible. His board today boasts a chunky, sawed-off-looking fin, an atavistic thing that’s more dinosaur tooth than sporting equipment. On the horizon, an irritable-looking wave rears up and I paddle toward it, trying to get over it before it breaks on my head. McGee makes the opposite calculation. He catches it, and his head disappears under the feathering crest.
Later, from the beach, I watch him surf for a couple of minutes. He sits by himself, closer to the shore than anyone else, catching one seemingly unpromising wave after another. He crouches low and then arches into standing position, stepping forward and then back on the board as needed, carving playful lines into waves others deem worthless. He tells me that it’s “the garbage waves that I like that nobody’s competing for.”

(Photograph by Carlos Chavarría.)

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When Charles Manson met Dennis Wilson

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A new one for Pallet magazine tells the story of the cult leader and the saddest Beach Boy:

Wilson took off for a recording session, but when he returned at 3am there was a party going on. The women were still there, along with a dozen others, most of them listening raptly to a short bearded guy strumming a guitar. The guitarist came over to greet Wilson. He was slight, maybe 5’2″, but he walked with a predator’s gait. Something in his look—those pupils, wide and dark—gave Wilson pause.

“Are you going to hurt me?”

The little guy fixed him with a smile. “Do I look like I’m going to hurt you?”

That’s when Charles Manson knelt down and kissed Dennis Wilson’s feet.

(Illustration by Owen Davey.)

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Angels, Protesters, and Patriots

photo illustration by Ethan ParkerMy new piece in California magazine is about the essential weirdness of patriotism, and its wildly varying meanings in our politics. It’s an article that takes in the Hells Angels and hippies, Regan and Obama, punk rock and Bruce Springsteen, and a bunch of other stuff as well:

It starts with a guy named “Tiny.” Tiny was 6’7” and 300 pounds. And he really liked to fight.

He was first into the breach that fall afternoon in 1965, punching his way through the front of the seven-block-long peace march on Adeline Street, near the Berkeley–Oakland border. Tiny was a member of the outlaw motorcycle gang Hells Angels, and more than a dozen of his brothers followed in his wake, ripping down antiwar signs and screaming, “Go back to Russia, you fucking Communists!”

The Angels, at first blush, seemed unlikely patriots. Though not yet well known, they had a reputation with law enforcement for drinking, smoking dope, and sacking towns like modern-day Visigoths, answering to no authority higher than their East Oakland clubhouse. But now there they were, waving the flag. Their form of patriotism was gut-level, atavistic, loyalty to nation through blood and fire. Their group persona, meanwhile, was the stuff of American mythology, a grab-bag of frontier clichés sprung to life—they were contemporary cowboys, John Wayne’s unwashed, scofflaw cousins.

Perhaps the truest thing anyone can say of patriotism is that it’s personal. I came of political age in the Reagan era, and in the hardcore punk scene that grew in response to it. I devoured righteous broadsides on apartheid, the prison-industrial complex, and Salvadoran death squads in Maximum Rocknroll, the Bay Area punk bible. I listened to bands with gleefully provocative names—Jodie Foster’s Army, Millions of Dead Cops, Dead Kennedys.

When, in 1984, Reagan adopted Bruce Springsteen’s “Born in the USA” as a campaign anthem, my parents dragged me to a Springsteen concert. I suffered as only a 12-year-old can suffer. It was years before I realized that the song was actually an indictment of the country’s piss-poor treatment of its Vietnam veterans.

My wariness of patriotism comes from the tribalism that creeps alongside it and the Us and Them divisions it inevitably creates. There’s an undeniable appeal to tribal membership, of course. We all want to be part of the club, however we define it—Hells Angels, the GOP, punk rock.

(Photo illustration by Ethan Parker.)

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Intersecting Lives

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My latest for Pallet magazine. A story of international espionage, murder, war, and a villain so brutal he’d make George R.R. Martin blush: just a few of the factors that led to the guy who painted the Mona Lisa hanging out with the dude who invented modern political science.

The travelers were unhappy guests of Cesare Borgia, the pope’s son and reigning dark lord of Italian politics. A ruthless plotter rumored to have murdered his brother and slept with his sister, the 27-year-old duke came on like a cartoon villain, Darth Vader scripted by Tarantino. People said he stalked the streets of Rome after midnight, murdering strangers for sport. Lately, he had begun dressing all in black and, owing to a syphilis infection that scarred his face, wearing a mask—moves that only enhanced his rep.

At the turn of the 16th century, Italy was like Game of Thrones minus the dragons, a patchwork of mini-states run by oligarchs, warlords, and titled thieves dressed in fine silk. The pope, an aficionado of orgies and assassinations, was merely one of the bigger warlords. Foreign powers such as France and Spain meddled freely in Italian affairs. Meanwhile, the Turks, who had been moving westward for centuries, watched hungrily from across the Adriatic.

Pallet doesn’t post its stories online (at least not yet), so here’s the pdf.

(illustration by We Buy Your Kids)

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Zamrock!

This month the debut issue of Pallet magazine runs a version of my Zamrock piece, a profile of Emmanuel Jagari Chanda that doubles as a postcolonial history of Zambia. It’s also chocked with cool historical photos. It’s a gorgeous magazine, and full of fascinating stories–an essay on when Johnny Cash met Merle Haggard, a mini-profile of Pliny the Elder, short fiction inspired by Henry Rollins’ tattoos. You get the picture. By design, the magazine doesn’t have a huge web presence (it’s old-school that way), so look for it in the neighborhood bookstore.

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Visit Palestine

visitpalestineA quick one for Slate‘s Vault: my piece on how a recruiting pitch for Jewish emigration in 1937 became, over the decades, an iconic image of Palestinian resistance:

“As Oslo soured and the second Intifada broke out, Palestinians began ​repurposing​ the poster​. The onetime Jewish recruiting pitch became an affirmation of Palestinian rights, hanging in coffee shops and government buildings all over East Jerusalem and the occupied territories.”

 

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Into the Deep Freeze

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My piece for California magazine on both the origins and future of the cryonics movement. This was a fun one.

Before launching the first cryonaut, they had sandwiches and coffee.

It was a Thursday afternoon in January 1967, in the Los Angeles suburb of Glendale. The ad hoc medical team—a physician, a chemist, and Bob Nelson, a voluble TV repairman and president of the newly minted Cryonics Society of California—huddled around the dead man’s bedside … All of them, living and dead, were about to make history. …

Four hours later the task was completed: They had frozen the first man.

At a triumphal news conference a few days later, Nelson, the TV repairman, explained the purpose of the professor’s “cryopreservation.” Bedford, he told the assembled reporters, “will be kept frozen indefinitely until such time as medical science may be able to cure cancer, any freezing damage that may have occurred, and perhaps old age as well.”

 

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Berkeley
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The Dragon and the Dome

Photo by John Ritter

Photo by John Ritter

For this month’s “China” package in San Francisco magazine, I’ve written a history of Chinese-American politics in San Francisco–the story of how, as the subhed so succinctly puts it, “a ghettoized minority cracked the San Francisco establishment–and then became it.”

 

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