California

PR Occupied Berkeley

proccupiedberkMy exploration of the struggle between supporters of Israel and Palestine on the UC Berkeley campus, in which I trace a decade of passion, protest, and bad behavior, runs in this month’s California magazine.

Every spring since 2001, a group of earnest, impassioned students has gathered near Sather Gate, cordoning part of it off with emergency tape. Some of them don faux uniforms and brandish mock M-16s; others wear keffiyehs and traditional Arab robes. Then the actors set up a military checkpoint, a simulacrum of the hundreds of real checkpoints that pepper the Israeli-occupied West Bank. The “soldiers” allow “Israeli settlers” to pass unmolested while they yell at the “Palestinians.” They bind the wrists of a young man, forcing him to lie face down on the concrete; another they “shoot.” There is fake blood, a makeshift stretcher, the wailing of the wounded and bereaved.

Created by the campus group Students for Justice in Palestine (SJP), the mock checkpoints first appeared at Berkeley, and have spread to schools from Arizona State to Yale. It’s easy to see why.

The checkpoints are just one of the most visible elements in a decade-long, tit-for-tat struggle between supporters of Israel and Palestine on campus. It is waged through Palestinian movie nights and Zionist picnics; tables in Sproul stacked with literature quoting Edward Said and Theodor Herzl; and Palestinian “die-ins” and pro-Israel hip-hop shows. Ron Hendel, a professor of the Hebrew Bible and Jewish Studies sums it up: “It’s a PR war.”

And wars are never pretty. Partisans have engaged in online flame wars in the comments sections of local newspapers, disrupted speeches by visiting scholars with shouted obscenities, and scrawled swastikas (aimed at both sides) on campus walls. Students even got into a fight at a 2008 campus concert.

In its dynamics, this local fight often echoes the flesh-and-blood conflict in the Holy Land—minus, thankfully, the body count.

Check it out.

Articles
Berkeley
California
Foreign policy
Middle East
Politics

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Santa Cruz, circa 1976

scsurf76001

A friend gave me this photo the other day. Don’t know who made the image, but it’s stamped “Apr. 1976″ on the back. After staring at it for a long while, my best guess is that we’re looking at the Hook, just south of the O’Neill house in Capitola. But it’s tough to tell. There’s a lot of open ocean here, with no obvious landmarks.

Adventure sports
California
Photography

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A New Map of the City …

petaThe new issue of San Francisco magazine is out, and with it my short piece on political correctness in SF (see p.40).

This spring, PETA, the animal-rights group that specializes in pointless PR stunts, petitioned San Francisco to rename the Tenderloin. The name is just far too beefy-sounding for PETA’s taste–”an outdated moniker that evokes the horrors of the meat trade,” according to a letter the group sent Mayor Ed Lee. PETA’s suggestion? The Tempeh District. This won’t happen, of course, but what if we did succumb to our darkest, most politically correct impulses? Herein, a rundown of what some of our neighborhoods might be called if we resolved never to offend anyone, anywhere, ever again.

Articles
California
Politics
San Francisco

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Our Plastics Problem

plasticsI’ve got a short piece in the current San Francisco magazine, a Q&A with Susan Freinkel, who’s just written a masterful new book on the yin and yang of plastics.

As symbols of our modern age go, you can’t do better than plastic. It has given us conveniences like the sandwich bag and innovations like the iPhone, but it has also exacerbated global warming and created that garbage patch in the Pacific Ocean (and might be messing with our kids’ hormones to boot). In Plastic: A Toxic Love Story (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt), due out in time for Earth Day, San Francisco journalist Susan Freinkel charts our century-long love-hate relationship with petroleum products …

Articles
California
Environment
San Francisco

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Who’s Your Mayor?

mayor_grabMy new piece in San Francisco magazine is out, on the scramble to be the next mayor if Gavin Newsom wins the race for Lt. Governor next week–and even if he doesn’t, actually. There are roughly a million ways it could all play out, and City Hall watchers (myself included) are plotting the possibilities like courtiers in a comedy of manners. So serpentine are the routes to power that we decided to go easy on the text (one page) and instead serve up a four (4!)-page flow chart. If you’re local, pick up a copy of the mag–it’s worth it, graphically speaking. If not, check out the digital version. The story begins on pg. 48.

Articles
California
Politics
San Francisco

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“Political reform is what we do in California to break our hearts”

In this month’s San Francisco magazine, I review California Crackup, Joe Matthews’ and Mark Paul’s excellent new diagnosis of what ails California.

When it comes to the Golden State’s ills, the depth of our despair is matched only by the dysfunction of our system. And while a pox-on-both-houses purge of our leaders might be satisfying, it wouldn’t fix anything. Now Joe Mathews, a journalist and a fellow at the New America Foundation, and Mark Paul, a UC Berkeley visiting scholar and a former deputy state treasurer, have charted the disastrous reform efforts that left us with a polity “both unintended and unworkable.” The trouble began with our constitution, which was inadequate even in 1850 and was thereafter amended into incoherence by piecemeal changes. The ballot initiative process that brought us 1978′s Proposition 13, among other civic afflictions, only made things worse. The authors advocate major structural changes: Replace our winner-takes-all electoral system with proportional representation, end supermajority requirements, and modify the initiative process. Their lucid analysis is spiked with wit and appealing turns of phrase (“Political reform is what we do in California to break our hearts”) that lift it above mere wonkery. Mathews and Paul know that their advice will probably go unheeded. All the more reason, then, for them to think big: “When defeat is likely, why not try what works?”

Articles
California
Politics
San Francisco

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