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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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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Three Views of Modern Africa

I’m teaching this course at San Francisco State’s Osher Lifelong Learning Institute starting next week–we cover the post-colonial histories of Egypt, Zambia, and South Africa. Check it out.

 

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Searching for Jagari

jagari_banner_new

We were in the lobby, lingering over breakfast. “Not to be nosy,” the worker said. “But I saw your map. Are you here in search of gems?”

The Appendix publishes the story behind my Zamrock story, a chronicle of how we tracked down one of southern Africa’s biggest rock stars of the 1970s. It’s a chronicle of lucky guesses, semi-plausible coincidences, and, unfortunately, lost history. Or, as Egon put it, an, “article about why the Zamrock scene is so damn hard to document.”

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Economic Leverage: UC Students Fought Tooth and Nail to Divest from South Africa

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Before the pro-Palestinian BDS movement, before the new push for fossil fuel divestment on college campuses, there was the anti-apartheid struggle. My new piece for California magazine chronicles its growth, from its beginnings amid the civil rights movement to the sustained pressure on the UC system to divest from apartheid South Africa to its eventual victory in the late 1980s.

When Nelson Mandela died last December, it seemed that the whole world mourned his passing. Twitter overflowed with love for the former South African president. South Africans of all colors and ages sat vigil outside his Johannesburg home. Leaders from Afghanistan to Zimbabwe traveled to FNB Stadium to memorialize Africa’s secular saint, and Barack Obama told the assembled dignitaries, “Nelson Mandela reminds us that it always seems impossible until it is done.”

Indeed, 30 years earlier the prospect of a free South Africa was almost unimaginable. Mandela had been imprisoned for decades. Although black townships from Cape Town to Durban were in open revolt against the white-run government, the regime had all the money and firepower it needed to keep the rebellion in check. It also enjoyed the full-throated support of the administrations of Ronald Reagan and Margaret Thatcher, who considered Mandela a Communist terrorist.

It was against that backdrop in April 1985 that a few dozen anti-apartheid students launched a sit-in at the entrance to Berkeley’s Sproul Hall. They hung banners, organized teach-ins, and, as night fell, unfurled sleeping bags on the steps. Within days, hundreds were sleeping there overnight, and thousands were turning out for midday rallies.

A banner above the steps spelled out their demand:

END UC TIES TO APARTHEID

CALL TO DIVEST

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US government advice to soldiers headed to Syria–circa 1942

BxwCVIaIAAAqO97I came across this US War Department guidebook for American soldiers posted to the Levant during World War Two, so wrote it up for Slate‘s history blog, The Vault. The advice is often practical, sometimes Orientalist–and, at times, depressingly modern-sounding. Useful reading, in other words, for our current moment.

For all its age, the booklet’s prescription for mission success sounds thoroughly modern: “A big part of your job is to make friends for your cause—because this is a war of ideas, just as much as of tanks, planes and guns.”

As a bonus, the illustrations are pretty wonderful.

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Radio Freedom, on the radio

I spoke to Johannesburg’s Power FM today about Radio Freedom, the ANC-in-exile’s revolutionary, anti-apartheid radio program from the 1960s through the ’80s. It was fun, though I wish I didn’t sound so sleepy at first–it was 4am my time. Here’s my piece on Radio Freedom from last year.

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“We’re a Zambian Band”

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My piece on the rise, fall, and rise of Jagri Chanda–once Zambia’s biggest rock star–went up recently on The Appendix. It’s an epic 50-year tale of psych-rock, Quaaludes, post-colonial politics, gemstone mining, and (yes, ultimately) redemption.

“It’s a Sunday morning in Kitwe, a colonial-era mining town in Zambia’s Copperbelt. Clouds hang low, and the air is hazy. In the countryside, farmers are burning their fields in preparation for the rainy season. We’ve come to this recreation area to see an important part of the country’s musical history.

Emanuel “Jagari” Chanda hops out of a truck. Once upon a time, he was the country’s biggest rock star. As one of the founders of the “Zamrock” psychedelic rock scene of the 1970s, Jagari (an Africanization of Mick Jagger) was a household name. His songs were radio staples, groupies mobbed him, he always drank for free. Now sixty-plus years of age, he’s lost the Afro and gained a few pounds, but he retains a youthful, loose-limbed gait.

The recreation area sits on the edge of a manmade lake, and it’s a gently-ruined place. Jagari strides toward the water, past worn picnic tables and fire pits. Beyond the water lie the copper mines that power this central African country’s economy, open-cut gashes in the earth surrounded by heavily-rutted roads and streams running with mine tailings. Jagari grew up around here. He takes it all in, a dethroned king surveying his lost kingdom. “It’s rundown, as you can see,” he says. “Back then it was new.

As singer for the Witch, the biggest Zamrock band, Jagari played to packed stadiums and toured across southern Africa. This recreation area was always one of his favorite venues. Often the band played from a stage backed up to the lake. The crowd—miners, soldiers, office workers, students—caught fish, barbecued, drank, and danced. Sometimes the Witch played at night, other times in the afternoon, the show peaking as the sun set over the Copperbelt.”

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An Asteroid Wiped Out the Dinosaurs—Will We Be Next?

asteroid_illo

The new issue of California magazine has an apocalyptic theme: “This is the End.” I chose to write about planet-killing asteroids:

… at some point, an asteroid measured better in miles than feet will come for us all. According to a 1994 study published in the scientific journal Nature, we stand a 1-in-40,000 chance of dying in a “cosmic impact.” That’s more likely than perishing in a tornado, and less likely than in an airplane crash. At least in theory, the world possesses the technology to both detect and counter this threat. But as things stand right now, the next big impact might play out much as Chelyabinsk did: a short, sharp, and entirely unexpected shock—only with casualties in the millions or even billions.

Franck Marchis, a former UC Berkeley astronomer who is now a principal investigator at the SETI Institute in Mountain View, says “It won’t happen tomorrow. But it will happen. It’s a matter of time.”

(Illustration by Andrew Archer.)

 

 

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