WU EXPLAINS THE WORLD: 25 YEARS WITH THE WU-TANG CLAN

Twenty-five years ago today, the world entered the 36 Chambers for the first time, when the New York hip-hop group The Wu-Tang Clan released their debut record Enter the Wu-Tang (36 Chambers). It was a grimy, mysterious world of smoky soul samples, cryptic kung-fu wisdom, and rugged tales from the streets of “Shaolin” (Staten Island) and Brooklyn. Totally unlike anything that had come before, it redefined music and would become a cultural touchstone well beyond the world of hip-hop.


But the album also held some geopolitical gems. So to celebrate a quarter century of the Wu as only we can, here’s a look three worldly bars, straight from the slums of Shaolin.

“RAW I’MA GIVE IT TO YA, WITH NO TRIVIA, RAW LIKE COCAINE STRAIGHT FROM BOLIVIA.”

As U-God reminds us in the opening bars of “Da Mystery of Chessboxing,” the Andean nation of Bolivia has always been a major producer of coca as well as, of course, the cocaine that’s made from it. In fact, in 1994, Bolivia produced more of the crop than Colombia, which wouldn’t see its own famous production boom until a few years later. Today, Bolivia is the third largest producer in the world, trailing Peru and Colombia, where coca crops have recently hit a historic high, so to speak. One interesting twist these days is that the Bolivian government allows its people to produce a certain amount of coca for traditional medicinal and religious uses. But according to observers, the nation still produces way above the threshold stipulated by the government. A lot of that is still finding its way abroad—with no trivia.

“TERRORIZE THE JAM LIKE TROOPS IN PAKISTAN”

To be honest, it’s not fully clear what Inspectah Deck meant with this line on “Protect Ya Neck,” the Wu’s first single. There was little terrorism in Pakistan in those days. The line may refer to the fact that Pakistan’s military and intelligence supported – with US and Saudi backing – thousands of Afghan and Arab jihadist fighters (the mujahideen) who battled Soviet forces throughout the 1980s next door in Afghanistan. After the war ended, some of those men would form powerful regional jihadist groups – as well as the global terrorist network Al-Qaeda – whose offshoots have killed thousands in Pakistan over the past decade. In addition, Pakistan is accused of harboring terrorist groups that operate in Afghanistan today. So the Inspectah may have had grimmer foresight than he realized. But the reference may also be to Pakistani military support for separatist insurgents (some of whom committed acts of terrorism) in Jammu and Kashmir, a still-disputed Muslim-majority region of northern India. Either way, consider the jam terrorized.

“PLO STYLE, HAZARDOUS COZ I WRECK THIS…”

The inimitable Ghostface Killah name checks the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO) in his verse on “Bring Da Ruckus.” The PLO is the national representative of the Palestinian people, formed in the 1960s under the leadership of Yasser Arafat. Until the early 1990s it disavowed Israel’s existence and waged a militant struggle – presumably what Ghostface is referring to – which included terrorist and guerrilla attacks. The year that 36 Chambers dropped, the PLO renounced armed struggle and accepted Israel’s existence as part of the historic, but doomed, Oslo Accords. Those accords created the Palestinian Authority, subordinate to the PLO, which today runs the West Bank but not Gaza (which is governed by the Islamist militants of Hamas).

This Saturday, July 20, will mark the 50-year anniversary of the day a human being first stepped onto another world. A moment born out of Cold War political pressures, it's easy to forget a half century later how much bitter controversy the project provoked at home and the intensity of the worldwide fanfare that followed its success.

The moon mission's primary purpose was to defeat the Soviet Union. By the time John Kennedy became president in 1961, the Soviet Union had advanced far ahead of the United States in the race for achievement in space. In October 1957, the Soviets launched Sputnik, the world's first satellite. A month later, a dog named Laika became the first living creature to travel beyond Earth's atmosphere. In April 1961, Soviet cosmonaut Yuri Gagarin orbited the Earth, the first human to do so.

In early May, Alan Shepard became the first American in space, spurring Kennedy to announce a far more ambitious plan. On May 25, Kennedy famously pledged that by the end of the decade Americans would go to the moon and return safely to the Earth.

Kennedy was assassinated in November 1963, but new President Lyndon Johnson quickly signaled his intention to see the promise kept. The Soviets held their space lead through 1965, by landing an unmanned craft on the Moon.

The moon mission stoked controversy in the United States. A review of polls reveals that only in 1969 did a majority of Americans support the project. Many people argued that the billions spent on a moonshot should go toward the war in Vietnam or to fight poverty in America's inner cities. "No hot water, no toilets, no lights. But Whitey's on the moon," sang musician and activist Gil Scott Heron. It didn't help when a fire during the Apollo 1 mission killed three astronauts and destroyed their space module.

But when Neil Armstrong became the first person to step onto the moon on July 20, 1969, the event took on a life of its own. It was a decade framed by two images of respected TV anchorman Walter Cronkite—shaken to the core on air by the 1963 murder of President Kennedy and then speechless with awe as Americans bounded across the surface of the moon.

A decade that included confrontation with the Soviets in Cuba, the assassinations of John Kennedy, Malcolm X, Martin Luther King, and Robert Kennedy, a failing war in Vietnam, race riots in American cities, and violent chaos at the 1968 Democratic Party convention ended with an accomplishment a quarter million miles away, that was watched live by 94 percent of Americans who owned a TV.

Americans weren't the only ones watching. About 650 million people around the world watched the moon landing live on TV, making the event the first truly global televised event. Nine weeks later, astronauts Neil Armstrong, Buzz Aldrin, and Michael Collins began a world tour.

Concerns that planting an American flag on the moon's surface would seem an act of obnoxious nationalism faded as the three men were greeted by overflow crowds in 27 cities in 24 countries over 39 days. An estimated one million people greeted them in Dhaka (then Pakistan) and some 1.5 million turned out in Mumbai (then Bombay).

Fifty years later, moon missions are still a mark of national prestige. Russia, China, India, the EU, Japan, and Israel have all sent probes to orbit the Moon or landed vehicles on its surface. But none of them matches that first "giant leap for mankind."

Next up: Mars? For thoughts on the next space race, click here.

Bonus fact: An iPhone has more than 100,000 times the processing power of the computer that landed Apollo 11 on the moon.

#Rickyleaks – A spectacular political crisis has erupted in the US commonwealth of Puerto Rico as tens of thousands of people have taken to the streets in recent days to demand the resignation of Governor Ricardo "Ricky" Rosselló. The trigger for the unrest was the leak of hundreds of text messages in which Rosselló and his associates use homophobic and sexist slurs against a wide variety of public officials and journalists—while joking about the death toll from Hurricane Maria. But this outburst of public fury reflects broader frustrations with mismanagement of post-Maria reconstruction, severe cutbacks in social services in response to a debt crisis, and decades of corrupt and detached politicians in charge of the "Island of Enchantment."

Ukraine's Elections – Comedian Volodymyr Zelensky was elected president two months ago, but the substantive part of his time in office will begin on Sunday, when elections are held for the Rada, Ukraine's parliament. His Servant of the People party, named for the television show that made Zelensky famous, will likely win more votes than any other. We'll be watching to see its margin of victory and what it reveals about the new president's opportunity to transform Ukraine's politics.

Mexicans' attitudes toward migrants – A new poll from The Washington Post and Mexico's Reforma newspaper finds that more than 60 percent of Mexicans say Central American migrants take jobs and benefits that should go to Mexicans. Nearly as many, 55 percent, support the deportation of migrants back across Mexico's southern border.

Rhino Bonds – The Zoological Society of London and Conservation Capital are running the sale of a $50 million bond to finance expansion of the endangered black rhino population. It's a test case for creation of a wildlife conservation debt market that could be used to protect species facing extinction.

What We're Ignoring:

A manmade Antarctic snowstorm – A report published in the journal Science Advances finds that if we had 12,000 wind turbines to power giant seawater pumps and snow cannons to spray trillions of tons of snow over western Antarctica, we might prevent the collapse of a giant ice sheet that threatens to submerge coastal mega-cities like New York and Shanghai. The study's authors devised this ludicrous proposal as a way to focus people's attention, rather than as a feasible project. But we're ignoring this idea because we don't see the value in another argument that leaves us feeling powerless to deal with an important problem.

5 million: A hacker has stolen the personal and financial information of as many as five million citizens and foreign residents in Bulgaria, a country of about 7 million people. "The state of your cybersecurity is a parody," announced the hacker in an email. It's certainly starting to look that way.

5.1: In 2018, the number of US drug overdose deaths fell for the first time since 1999, according to preliminary data from The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Research shows 72,224 overdose deaths in 2017 and 68,557 in 2018, a drop of 5.1 percent.

700 Billion: China has lent more than $700 billion to other countries. That's more than double the amount loaned by the World Bank and International Monetary Fund combined and makes China "the world's largest official creditor." A new study suggests that half of that sum is hidden from institutional lenders.

400,000: It took 400,000 people—including engineers, scientists, mechanics, technicians, pilots, divers, seamstresses, secretaries and others—to send Apollo 11 to the moon and to bring Neil Armstrong, Buzz Aldrin, and Michael Collins safely home. And while the faces we're most familiar are almost entirely white and male, the larger list of those who made it possible is much more diverse.

This time the field is more crowded with China's growing ambitions throwing US and Russian space dominance into question. Watch the full GZERO World episode: Space Goals and Black Holes