• 3 Songs to Celebrate Clifford Brown’s 90th Birthday

    Trumpeter Clifford Brown and saxophonist Lou Donaldson in 1955Metronome/Getty

    It’s hard to believe that Clifford Brown lived just 25 years. In his short run, he remade American music more times, and more lastingly, than almost all trumpeters of any genre or generation, and he made possible the hard-bop legacies of Lee Morgan and Freddie Hubbard. Before his fatal car crash in 1956, Brown was in another car accident that sidelined him for a year, injuring his shoulder but not dampening his music. Dizzy Gillespie visited him in the hospital to encourage his recovery. “He had it all,” Sonny Rollins said.

    Today would’ve been Brown’s 90th birthday. The Clifford Brown Jazz Festival is expanding online from his birthplace of Delaware. His only known footage is a two-song appearance on a variety show hosted by Soupy Sales. Brown blazed the registers with ripping speed, textural bite, and arpeggiated flourishes, but he never felt the need to substitute virtuosity for voice. He could say more in three notes than many could in 30. His quintet with Max Roach ended with the highway crash that killed Brown, pianist Richie Powell, and Powell’s wife, Nancy, who lost control of the wheel while they slept between gigs. Hours earlier, Brown had played his final note at a Philadelphia jam session.

    “There may be no sadder tale in modern music than that of Clifford Brown,” the Washington Post lamented, but alongside his loss runs a story of growth and recovery. By 1955 he’d become the most celebrated young player in jazz, equaling or topping Miles Davis. “When he was killed, there was an uncommon rush of sentiment in the jazz world,” Whitney Balliett wrote. “The tenor saxophonist and composer Benny Golson wrote a resonant dirge-ballad called ‘I Remember Clifford.’”

    Today is the Friday before Election Day. It’s also Halloween eve. The world is madness. Take three songs and call me in the morning at recharge@motherjones.com: “I Don’t Stand a Ghost of a Chance With You,” “Joy Spring,” and “Daahoud,” lined up here.

  • Ellen Johnson Sirleaf Turns 82 Today. Here’s an Open Letter She Wrote to a Young Women’s Rights Activist.

    Monica Schipper/Getty for Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation

    Almost a year ago, before the pandemic, Ellen Johnson Sirleaf wrote a letter to a law student and women’s rights activist, Mmonbeydo Nadine Joah, in the collection “Letters to Young People Who Inspire Us,” also headlined “What Prominent Leaders Want Youth Activists to Know.” The former Liberian president, Nobel Peace Prize winner, and first woman elected head of state of an African country turns 82 today. Her letter appeared in Time magazine alongside ones from Winnie Byanyima, the aeronautical engineer and executive director of the UN’s HIV/AIDS program, and several other leaders.

    Read it in full, with special attention to the letter’s echoes across moments of national reckonings. Johnson Sirleaf led reconciliation and recovery after the civil war and did what she could to build anti-corruption coalitions. Criticism and controversies haven’t spared her, but her pathbreaking work, historic gains, and countless accomplishments are no less resonant in her letter than in her life:

    Dear Mmonbeydo,

    I write to you not only as your former President, but as a grandmother and a fellow Liberian woman.

    Your passion to fight for women’s rights, your desire to stand up for others, and your determination to become a lawyer are qualities that I admire.

    The world may seem a dark and challenging place. Every day we hear stories from our women and women across the world of rape, abuse, discrimination. We fear the climate crisis and see its destructive reality across the globe. We see the rule of law under attack from those meant to uphold it.

    But there is so much to be hopeful about and young women like you give me hope. When I was your age, it was uncommon for a woman to be a lawyer let alone a President. I remember how proud I felt when Angie Brooks became the first female lawyer in Liberia in 1953 and then later the first female judge to be admitted to the Supreme Court.

    We need more women in the justice sector. Not only as lawyers and judges but as police officers, prison staff, and as paralegals. Justice is the thread that binds all of the Sustainable Development Goals and we will not be able to achieve our goals for gender equality, education, or health without it.

    We need to mentor and support girls and to listen to their voices and dreams. Our women’s movements must not only represent the interests and views of the elite. We need to make sure all women are included, especially those on the margins such as women with disabilities or women from rural areas. We need to stop working in silos and come together…I hope that young women like you can draw strength and solidarity from the spirit of that declaration and continue the fight for justice.

    It may seem like a time of push back for women’s rights. A time when we need to make sure the rights women won over many generations are not diluted or destroyed. But it is also a time when our collective voice is strong—just look at the #WeAreUnprotected campaign in Liberia and global movements such as #MeToo #Nopiwouma and #NiUnaMenos. It is a time when fearless young women such as Malala, Greta, and yourself speak truth to power and shame leaders for their inaction.

    Do not feel weak or discouraged when opposition comes. Don’t be afraid to dream boldly. To dream what seems impossible. As the feminist writer Audre Lorde reminds us, “When I dare to be powerful, to use my strength in the service of my vision, then it becomes less and less important whether I am afraid.”

    Let us know how you view her legacy, and her birthday, at recharge@motherjones.com.

  • World Kindness Day Is Actually a Day. It’s Soon. Here’s What You Need to Know.

    Lightyears from now (this Tuesday), after the polls close, things not named Donald Trump, Joe Biden, the Supreme Court, and human despair will begin to peek through the cracks of perpetual horror we’ve been treated to this year. In that periphery is World Kindness Day, on November 13. What a concept. If you haven’t looked it up lately, I did so you don’t have to: “Kindness” is defined, at least by the language lobby behind dictionaries, as “the quality or state of being kind” or “a kind deed.”

    Some help. If you write a dictionary, don’t use the word in its own definition. The root “kind” means “of a sympathetic or helpful nature.” The earliest “kindness” in newspapers I’ve found is a 1724 use (“abundant kindness”), but it dates further to 1300, even though, like all archives, those of the news are constrained by the exclusionary practices and blind spots of the drafters of history. There’s a kindness book called The Kindness Book. It’s a children’s one. I haven’t read past page 2 because the free preview won’t let me, but pages 1 and 2 are good. I’m going to be kind to myself and lift a finger to borrow it from the library, and if I like it, maybe buy it. There’s also a heavier lift called On Kindness, a philosophical and literary look. 

    Don’t worry, kindness is not niceness. Critically skewering villains and false allies is a kindness in the public interest, and is not nice. Not-nice kindness is essential. Conversely, compliments can be misplaced and not kind, and not-kind niceness isn’t what’s meant by World Kindness Day. Sooner or later we’ll have World Contempt Day, World Grudge Day, and World Demonizing Day, and those can feel like every day. For now, mark November 13.

    Share a word about kindness shown to you or by you at recharge@motherjones.com.

  • 7 Sanity-Preserving Boosts Before Election Day

    A lot can happen in seven days. Fortify now:

    1. Kristi Yamaguchi’s childhood literacy nonprofit is meeting the moment. The figure skater’s Always Dream Foundation has improved reading time for kids in need by 20 percent during the pandemic, sending digital devices loaded up with books and data plans. Learn more about her advocacy and keep pretending you too can nail salchows, lutzes, toe loops, spins, and spirals.

    2. Yesterday’s Notes 4 Votes livestream brought in Cornel West, Vijay Iyer, Terence Blanchard, Carla Bley, William Parker, Matthew Shipp, and many others for the Afro Latin Jazz Alliance’s get-out-the-vote party. “Nothing, nothing, nothing is more important than getting your vote in and on time,” said Arturo O’Farrill. Catch the replay.

    3. Netflix announced its first all-Native animated preschool series, Spirit Rangers, created by Karissa Valencia. “As a Native storyteller, I’ve rarely come across the opportunity to tell my own story. I can’t wait for everyone to meet our funny modern Native family in Spirit Rangers,” Valencia said.

    4. NBC is developing the first Native drama for network TV, Ava DuVernay’s Sovereign, about the lives and loyalties of an Indigenous family wrestling with challenges (external and internal) to self-determination.

    5. Today marks the 65th anniversary of Louis Armstrong’s West Berlin show. Rare photos, newspaper clippings, and a ticket stub are on display by the Louis Armstrong House Museum.

    6. Today is also the 116th birthday of the New York City subway. The mayor took the controls for the inaugural run at 2:35 p.m. that day in 1904, and it became the largest US system. Despite the many critics (this one included) who see it as an avatar of humanity’s descent into subterranean madness and hell, it’s actually okay.

    7. An invitation: Let us know at recharge@motherjones.com what forms of justice, joy, hope, and strength you find in the coming days—or if each is in short supply—and if you want your name included in a future newsletter.

  • 8 Days Until the Election. Here Are 8 Ways to Brace for Impact.

    Just eight days out. Incumbent Donald Trump wants reelection. He’s the one who a quarter-century ago reportedly posed as his own publicist (a fictional person) to brag about himself on a call with a magazine interviewer, masquerading like one does. This is gonna be a wild week, so let’s do eight Recharges today, clear the mind. Starting with a war dance:

    1. Behold a dancer who embodies the power, poise, balance, and beauty to show that swords can be mightier than the pen (artistically). Ava DuVernay applauds her mesmerizing moves: “Wish I had a movie with some sword-fighting in it, I’d cast @TheSamurider in a heartbeat.”

    2. Congratulations to Irina Krush, who, after recovering from COVID-19, won the US women’s chess championship last week for the eighth time. We toasted her recovery from the virus in the spring. Let the celebration continue.

    3. Hip Hop for Change is a grassroots group that educates students in Oakland and nationwide about music as a mobilizing force. Khafre Jay and his staff are on a hot streak, pulling in the 2020 Zellerbach Award for Social Justice and the Ellen Magnin Newman Award for Outstanding Arts Organization from the San Francisco Symphony. Check out our first salute, and if any other symphonies show this level of funding and love to hip-hop for coalition-building across genres and communities, let us know.

    4. Also on the dance-and-music front, a drum line of voters marching in formation to the polls in Texas, and why it resonates historically.

    5. Peaceful Cuisine is the soul-soothing channel of the minimalistic, mood-lifting Ryoya Takashima, a Kyoto-based chef who builds his own furniture, wastes next to nothing, spares animals, pounds mochi blissfully, and, in camerawork alone, is instantly rejuvenating.

    6. Happy birthday to Mahalia Jackson, “gospel queen” of New Orleans, who today would turn 109.

    7. There’s the high road and then there’s the occasional (worthy) low road that serves up a Recharge just fine. Here’s that video, thanks to a reader’s tip, dipping into the mudslinging magic of campaign combat.

    8. Who knows what suspended hyphenation is and why it matters factually and grammatically? Many do. Nice correction, Guardian copy team.

  • From Our Archives, a Solution to Plastic Bags in Trees

    In 2001, Ian Frazier wrote delightfully for this magazine about a small, seemingly manageable problem that blighted his and our world.

    “Let us turn, for a moment,” he said, “to the problem of plastic bags stuck in trees.”

    I will not ruin the tale. You should read it.

    But it is surprising to see what begins as a fascination—I believed this would turn into a ruminative essay very much of the internet era on the beauty of trees, or how we need to reconnect in some way or, I don’t know, childhood—actually contain such oomph as “…and a movie called Blue in the Face, a paean to Brooklyn starring Harvey Keitel and Roseanne Barr, featured a brief appearance by me talking about how much I don’t like bags in trees.”

    The part that got me, I suppose, about this whole essay was the friendship. Frazier writes about how gathering plastic bags, taking them down from trees, has become a method more pleasant “than golf” for seeing acquaintances.

    “We’re planning road trips to other cities—there are tons of bags in trees, I noticed, in downtown Baltimore—and next spring we’ll be traveling to Los Angeles to provide bag-snagging support to the Friends of the Los Angeles River when they have their annual river cleanup day,” he writes.

    I found myself surprised to be jealous. Did I want to become a “bagger” too? Criss-crossing the country with a metal pole, taking down plastic bags, for some reason appeals at the moment—maybe it is only the fall, in which trees feel especially radiant and recklessly underappreciated. But I suspect it is more the casual nature of the whole interaction; the hopefulness of believing in solvable problems and friendly service.

    One time, an older man—the kind who believes in justice and peace in the world through action—told me that, when disheartened, you can always pick up trash off the ground. If you pick one piece of trash, you have done something. And this will make you, he said, feel a bit better.

    It is, on a good day, good advice, and on a bad day (perhaps in a world so decidedly evil, of late), the kind of advice that makes your eyes roll. If it’s the former day, you might enjoy Frazier’s strolling essay. If it’s not, here is some analysis of last night’s debate.

  • “Sing for Science,” a New Music Podcast That Hits All the Right Notes

    Doug Wimbish of Living ColourSteve Thorne/Redferns via Getty

    Listening to Living Colour’s hit song “Cult of Personality,” the rock group and a fascism scholar unpack the psychology of tyranny. Discussing “I Don’t Know Why,” Norah Jones and a science writer break down science denialism and the study of knowledge. And DMC chats up a theater professor about nursery rhymes in the rap classic “Peter Piper.” You’ve gotta hand it to podcasters who can mix science, music, and public policy in a freshly entertaining way. Sing for Science just launched. Each episode dives into the best-known songs of musicians and asks how they map onto a guest scientist’s area of expertise.

    It’s an impressive lift from host-musician Matt Whyte and the Talkhouse team. “Science literacy and respect for expertise are…more vital now than ever before,” the crew says. “A more science- and scientific process–literate society can only contribute toward greater support for more fair, evidence-based policy in government.” Boosting science literacy across widely diverse fan bases is a recharge anytime; give it a spin and let me know which areas you get into at recharge@motherjones.com.

    Upcoming episodes: Neuroscientist Dr. Bin Hu talks about music’s healing power for brain disorders in conversation with singer Renée Fleming about the song “Ave Maria.” Neuroscientist Dr. Joseph LeDoux joins pop duo Aly and AJ to explore the science of panic through their song “Attack of Panic.” And singer Mac DeMarco gets into the physics of acoustics with sound scientist Russ Berger.

  • US Chess Champion Hikaru Nakamura Challenges Barack Obama to a Benefit Match for Team Biden

    Pablo Martinez Monsivais/AP; Erin Stubblefield/AP

    It was only a matter of time before Hikaru Nakamura, the US chess champion and the world’s best and fastest blitz player, challenged former President Obama to a benefit match for the Biden Victory Fund. Nakamura issued the call yesterday, inspired by Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez playing “Among Us” to mobilize voters in one of the most-watched Twitch streams of all time. Obama’s answer is pending. I’ve reached out to the former president to see if he’ll accept. Don’t hold your breath, but do hold hope—there’s precedent: Thomas Jefferson wrote about chess in his diary and sent letters about playing Benjamin Franklin before selling some chess books to James Monroe. James Madison played. John Quincy Adams played.

    As did Abraham Lincoln, Ulysses S. Grant, Rutherford Hayes, James Garfield, Grover Cleveland, William Howard Taft, Warren Harding, Theodore Roosevelt, Jimmy Carter, and Bill Clinton. Chelsea Clinton plays (and has online). At 10 years old, Nakamura became the youngest US player named a master and, at 15, the youngest to reach the game’s top title. No biggie; preparation tip, President Obama: Memorize a crushing answer to Nakamura’s noted bongcloud opening and you’re fine. I’ll sweeten the deal. The winner of Nakamura vs. Obama gets to play my colleague Ben Dreyfuss, who runs the Mother Jones Daily newsletter (forward it or sign up here) and, according to lore, is an unparalleled chess mind. The winner of Nakamura-or-Obama vs. Dreyfuss gets to play me. I studied as a kid with Bobby Fischer’s coach and competed on that team with Joshua Waitzkin of Searching for Bobby Fischer before quitting for baseball, but have since returned (to middling chess adequacy).

    Come through, President Obama. Nakamura needs you. Democracy needs you. “Amtrak Joe” needs you. As a student and scholar of strategy, tactics, and theory, you’ve got a fair shot against Nakamura. Never mind that Fischer said “the object” of chess “is to crush the opponent’s mind.” It’s not. And Garry Kasparov still competes but he’s more into politics these days, and I’ll handle Kasparov if he gets out of line in the comments. If you, readers, feel the heat and want to see Obama stomp Nakamura in the name of voter mobilization, forward this and tag @GMHikaru and @BarackObama; just don’t tag @HansenChess, or chairs might fly.

    P.S. There are more possible chess games than the number of atoms in the universe.

  • Just 2 Weeks Out From the Election, But Assistive Technology for Voters With Disabilities Is Growing

    As we enter the final stretch of fireworks before the election, a reader points me to a stark statistic about ballot access, but also an encouraging effort to improve turnout: Just 40 percent of polling locations accommodated voters with disabilities in 2016, up (though not enough) from 16 percent in 2000, and people with disabilities turn out at lower rates than the general population, largely due to accessibility. The good news is that mobilization is accelerating, not just with hashtags but with assistive technology like the Brink Election Guide, a new accessibility app that tells you when, where, and what methods are available to vote.

    I don’t endorse apps or products but the reader who tipped me to it is heartened by what she calls “the broader effort it represents to actually bring me and voters like me into greater participation in elections.” She’d spotted it in a story yesterday by Catie Cheshire on the National Center on Disability and Journalism’s website, and I do endorse great articles. Cheshire’s is one; give it a read for a fuller picture of who and what are at stake in the next two weeks. She dives into the history of human rights through designers who “want the disability community to be a prominent voting bloc.”

    More than 60 million US adults live with disabilities. Whether that’s you or someone in your household or not, let me know your experience with ballot access at recharge@motherjones.com. If you want to be quoted (with or without your name), say the word. Also! Let me know where you stand on people-first or identity-first descriptions: “people with disabilities” or “disabled people” as defaults.

  • See the Big Winners of Nikon’s “Small World” Photo Competition

    It wasn’t much of a break, but in my few days off, I went for a hike, saw the sun, and returned to a broken fridge and leaking freezer and everything in it thawed or spoiled, including some damn good spanakopita (recipe at recharge@motherjones.com). I also learned that Facebook had, you know, juiced its algorithm to show you less news from Mother Jones and more from dubious conservative sites, siphoning our revenue and reach—deliberately. I knew the deck was stacked but didn’t know how sabotaging the dealer was, how in the tank the house was, or, like my broken appliances, how energy-sucking and wasteful some of those behind the foul play are. Not everyone at Facebook, no, but I do feel some validation for having rained on Facebook’s FACEBOOK stunt last year. Engineering your newsfeed to actually harm you is more enraging than anything stylistic, but it’s of a piece with a company that would default to SCREAMING AS IF VOLUME WERE SUBSTANCE. It’s not a pretty picture, but there are pretty pictures: Here are some.

    Nikon announced the winners of its Small World contest, and the photos are stunning. Scientists and photographers had submitted more than 2,000 images of microscopic wonders from 90 countries: a knotted human hair, the wings of a butterfly, a moth, a dinosaur bone, slime mold, and a 20 million-year-old winged ant trapped in amber resin (not Mark Zuckerberg). Not all is doom and gloom at the granular level. Sometimes the small picture is as revealing as the big. Here’s that look. Enjoy your 20 million-year-old glimpse, and if you want that spanakopita recipe, let me know.

  • A New Song From the Mountain Goats With a Nice Backstory

    There are many reasons—too many to count—why Twitter is bad.

    Putting aside that it still hasn’t banned Nazis, or that it’s doing a piss-poor job of preventing the spread of disinformation, it’s also a platform designed to indulge in our worst internet habits. Doomscrolling on Twitter does nothing more than exacerbate our sense of existential dread. It fuels our stress, anxiety, and anger. And that’s especially true in the midst of a pandemic and the most bonkers election in at least a generation.

    But every once in a while there comes a time where two people on that cursed site have a meaningful exchange—something that I, perhaps naively, want to believe is why Twitter was created in the first place.

    These instances are fleeting and don’t usually amount to much. But in the case of John Darnielle, the frontperson of indie-rock legends the Mountain Goats, one such exchange led to a beautiful new song, called “Picture of My Dress,” on the band’s upcoming album.

    As Darnielle explained on—you guessed it—Twitter yesterday, the song comes from a Twitter exchange he had with poet Maggie Smith, who in late 2018 tweeted about her desire to see a photo essay of a divorced woman driving across the country to take pictures of her rumpled wedding dress in various locales. “It’s a metaphorical ‘Weekend at Bernie’s,’” she wrote. Darnielle replied back, perhaps cheekily, that “this would be a song called ‘Picture of My Dress,” and that the ideal musician to write it would be Mary Chapin Carpenter.

    Of course, that didn’t happen and Darnielle ended up writing it. Like most Mountain Goats songs, it’s a sanguine story.  It’s a lovely little tune with some of Darnielle’s trademark wit and observational humor (I laughed at the line: “I’m in the bathroom of a Dallas Texas Burger King/ Mr. Steven Tyler is on the overhead speakers/ He doesn’t want to miss a thing.”). Would it have been better if Mary Chapin Carpenter wrote it? Probably. But a Mountain Goats song about this is the next best thing.

  • At Least We Have 12-Foot Skeletons

    Trick-or-treating may be a no-go for a lot of kids this year, thanks to, you know, the pandemic. Fortunately, people are still finding creative ways to get spooky this Halloween.

    As one Twitter user noted, the Amityville Horror house at 112 Ocean Avenue, where a man shot and killed six members of his family in 1974, decorated its lawn with little shrouded skeletons—as if the historical occurrences weren’t scary enough.

    But the mother of all Halloween decorations is the 12-foot skeleton from Home Depot, which you can call your own for $300—that’s $25 per foot of skeleton. Luckily, you don’t have to spend a dime to bring the big bundle o’ bones home; the 3D augmented reality feature in the Home Depot app allows you to visualize how Skelly would look in your space.

    Everyone on the internet is obsessed with this skeleton. The reviews from people who actually bought it are glowing. Writes one reviewer, “Our town was obliterated by Hurricane Delta. There are power lines down, well-built heavy fences down, and even trees uprooted completely. Guess who survived the wind no issues?! Jimothy Bones, the 12 foot skeleton.” Writes another, “This skeleton is the only thing that has cured my depression.”

    Same, HomeDepot.com reviewer Dave. Same.

  • Sure, Let’s Read Don DeLillo

    Leonardo Cendamo/Getty

    One summer after college, I decided to learn how to write—and, more importantly, to read.

    I was around 21. I had read almost no books in my life. And, so, I spent a summer basically alone—applying for jobs, doing some data entry for money—and following the routine I’d read that Don DeLillo kind of half-way does.

    “I work in the morning at a manual typewriter. I do about four hours and then go running,” he said in a Paris Review interview. “This helps me shake off one world and enter another. Trees, birds, drizzle—it’s a nice kind of interlude. Then I work again, later afternoon, for two or three hours.”

    I tried that. All of that writing time was too much for me. I’d have nothing to say if I wrote for seven hours a day. But, still, I woke up early, wrote for as long as I could, ran, and then read. Usually, by 10 in the morning, I was bored. 

    Still, it was approachable. For how high-flung DeLillo can seem, it has always been easy to walk up to his view of life: He likes baseball, he likes reading, he likes running, he feels like we’re all trapped in a paranoid nightmare, and he has a compulsion to trace it back to the Kennedy assassination.

    His newest book hits the same tone, from the sound of it in the review. He has a nice interview in the New York Times too, which I found charming and human—still glinting with that metallic, cold DeLillo edge.

    Sometimes—or should I say in that horrific phrase that indicates these plague years, “in this time”—it can help to return to the things that we know we enjoy.

    Whether reading DeLillo has helped me write is up for debate (please inquire with my editors, who have seen my gangly sentences and personal dictums about how grammar functions, including a first pass of this sentence, which started, “How reading DeLillo has turned out to learn how to write…”). But he certainly taught me, in his writing, not to fear the simplicity of American life, and not to fear aspiring to make it higher art. Just look at his writings on baseball. Or that opening sentence, added to his novella Pafko at the Wall when it became the introduction to Underworld: “He speaks in your voice, American, and there’s a shine in his eye that’s halfway hopeful.”

  • Pharoah Sanders Turns 80 Today. Catch the Saxophone Giant’s Birthday Livestream.

    Peter Van Breukelen/Redferns via Getty

    “I think he’s probably the best tenor player in the world,” Ornette Coleman told me in 2006 about Pharoah Sanders, who turns 80 today and who, for 55 years, has been a foundational force in the musical and spiritual search for freedom. “You’ve Got to Have Freedom” is a classic, but in all his playing it’s immediately clear how much reward he gets, and gives, in the act of discovery. Liberating tone from harmony, and texture from time signature, without abandoning either, is what he’s revered for, but no technical terms can approximate the range and depth of what he’s up to. “When you reach a spiritual level, you become the instrument yourself. I just want them to feel me,” Sanders told me before a solo performance in a cathedral when he was 65. “That’s what the music sounds like.”

    His 80th birthday set, “Another Trip Around the Sun,” premieres today. Catch it, or start with “The Creator Has a Master Plan.” Sanders made his name in John Coltrane’s quintet, but what amazes me is how many listeners still mistakenly say Sanders adopted Coltrane’s sound—the inverse is true; Coltrane adopted Sanders’. By the late ’50s Coltrane was exploring pentatonic scales and minor modes before Sanders introduced overlapping rhythms, strong dissonance, and split reeds, helping Coltrane stretch out. “Pharoah’s performances were becoming seances,” Todd Barkan, owner of the now-defunct Keystone Korner in San Francisco, a steady spot for Sanders, told me.

    Not everyone got Sanders. As poetic as Whitney Balliett’s writing was in the New Yorker, his ear was blocked: In 1966 he said Sanders’ playing “appeared to have little in common with music,” likening his solos to “elephant shrieks” and agreeing with someone who claimed, “It’s not music and it isn’t meant to be.”

    A similarly unreachable writer, at the San Francisco Chronicle in 1972, called Sanders “primitive” and “nerve-wracking” before saying how much he liked the music. None of which deserves refuting except to say I feel for anyone so closed, so limited, so tone-deaf as to miss what’s happening, and why it’s happening. Sanders opens new realms and registers of freedom. Soloing never “means you have to play a lot of notes,” Sanders told me. “It means you have more freedom to put more feelings through your music.”

    Ferrell Sanders—named Pharoah by Sun Ra—was born to musicians in Little Rock, Arkansas, and moved to Oakland after high school before splitting in 1962 for New York, where he slept on the streets and, without work, sold blood for cash. “I was just trying to survive,” he said. After joining Sun Ra, he gigged with Archie Shepp and Albert Ayler before heading back to the Bay Area and uniting with Coltrane.

    At 80, Sanders still plays every day, even while recovering from a broken hip. He’s not much for birthdays. “I don’t really get into that celebrating,” he says.

    Celebrate anyway. His concert is here. If you want more, email me at recharge@motherjones.com and I’ll share a podcast I recorded with Sanders, Alice Coltrane, Ornette Coleman, and McCoy Tyner, all in one, years ago, in honor of Alice.

  • With the Election Weeks Away, Stories of Strength in Disability Communities Are Growing

    One in four American adults have a disability, and more than 70 percent who do said it “really matters” who won the last presidential election. Only 59 percent said so who didn’t report having a disability. That’s a telling measure of investment in outcome, electoral engagement, and acutely felt consequences, and it’s heightened in the South, where the percentage of people living with disabilities, or disabled people, is highest and where down-ballot races are heating up. But for all the challenges to ballot access, “COVID-19 has opened up opportunities to report on disabled aspects of the ongoing health crisis in a way that the community has been speaking about for decades,” say John Loeppky and Julia Métraux in a powerful Poynter article today.

    Give it a close read; they explore the disability reporting gap and how “media rarely includes disabled voices” but also how “the disability community is disproportionately affected by issues like police violence and climate change.” It’s a gripping picture, but the picture is precisely painted, and there’s a deeper measure of strength and hope in the story: As obstacles mount, movements grow. As ballot access hangs in the balance, voices for change multiply. Meeting the moment is exactly what Loeppky and Métraux are up to in the piece. Share it.

    Zachary Wolf also amplified the stakes in his CNN article yesterday, “How to Help People With Learning Disabilities Cast Their Votes,” including a Q&A with Quinn Bradlee, a founder of the National Center for Learning Disabilities’ Our Time, Our Vote initiative. And my Mother Jones colleague Will Peischel did so in his must-read about the pandemic’s impact for many deaf people.

    “Stories on disability should not just be tied to milestones like the 30th anniversary of the American With Disabilities Act or written about in an inspirational way,” write Loeppky and Métraux.

    If you’re one of the 35 million eligible voters or 61 million adults who has a disability, or is disabled, let us know your thoughts on ballot access and representation at recharge@motherjones.com. Even and especially if you’re not, follow the National Center on Disability and Journalism @NCDJ_ASU on Twitter and @ASUNCDJ on Facebook. Mechanisms for change, and a growing toolkit, are there.

  • From Our Archives, Fighting Reagan’s Tax Cuts

    Each week, we take a look at our archives for boosts to propel you into the weekend.

    In 1981, the new president, Ronald Reagan, set out to cut taxes. But—as Richard Parker noted in a column from our May 1981 issue—there was a hitch: Treasury Secretary Donald Regan had admitted to the New York Times that “there was no economic model to support the predictions involved.” In the end, Reagan’s adviser was right. The Economic Recovery Tax Act of 1981 passed in August; in 2012, a report (which Republicans attempted to suppress) from the Congressional Research Service found no connection between cutting tax rates during the Reagan era for the wealthy and growth. No economic model to support the predictions.

    I went looking for Reagan tax cut news for two reasons. One is this report from the Washington Post about how the first coronavirus stimulus package included a slew of tax cuts. The other is because I’d been listening to Prince’s Controversy (“Ronnie,” he pleads on a track to Ronald Reagan, “talk to Russia”) and a string of Warren Zevon records (the man who said he was “to the right of your father and Ronald Reagan”) and I frankly wondered what the hell was going on in the early ’80s with the left.

    Parker’s short piece offers answers for those dislodged by the Reagan era. As he writes, the Reagan administration’s early days were notable for the “breadth of his efforts and the despair those efforts have generated among many of us.” The economy, during this time, was shrunk in technocratic wizardry of semantics to be “only the domain of business-which-produces rather than of we-who-consume.” In the process, talk of real people stunk of the past: “In a world of technique, computers and cost benefits, our generalism seems archaic, a throwback to an earlier, preindustrial age.” Economics meant numbers; progress meant supply-side capitalism; “the president’s chief domestic policy advisor telling us that poverty has almost totally disappeared.”

    In this age, the new age, what to do?

    Parker laid out, in the essay, a bit of a bizarre theory of personal relationships. He wanted to retake the community aspect of power. But the way he proposed it (value friendships, more dignity and less “self-revelation,” change language) sounds off, at least to my convoluted mind of 2020. Nowadays, we are equally—I would say more so!—made crazy by the disconnect between the world and the world as presented by politicians. (Please see yesterday’s controversy over a green screen message from the president for a basic taste.)

    Yet if Parker’s solution is off for 2020, his diagnosis helps guide us through similar times. “We do have power,” he writes, “if we choose to exercise it.”

    The point is that institutions are ultimately made by the authority we give them. This is still a personal choice. “Failing to understand that we have power denudes us not only of that power but also of the hope for change that is fundamental to our lives,” he says. “That is the nature of our current despair over Reagan’s ‘economy.'”

    Do not give up hope. Life is not all fancy formulas for the economy. Things are, still, basic: You don’t have to know much or any math, really, to know, in the words of Zevon, looking at our one-sided economy, that “shit’s fucked up.”

  • Stop Talking About the Fly. But Before You Do, Watch These Fly Remixes.

    During last night’s debate, the world’s attention turned like one giant eye to the fly atop He Who Interrupts. “The irony is that I have a fierce disgust of flies and gnats but I have grown to love this one,” confessed a coworker after he shared this remix with our Recharge team and, minutes later, appealed, “Please stop, I’m struggling to get work done today”:

    Minutes earlier, another foot soldier in our Recharge ranks shared a remix of the TikTok star who scored a new truck and a bottomless supply of Ocean Spray for his dance-a-thon, in addition to someone who remixed it:

    And finally, because Recharge takes many forms for many people, on many days in many ways, there’s this. Now stop talking about the fly:

    View this post on Instagram

    The gift that keeps on giving @adam.the.creator

    A post shared by Quentin Quarantino (@quentin.quarantino) on


  • Barack and Michelle Obama Bring Us “Ada Twist, Scientist,” a New Animated Preschool Series

    Ada Twist

    "Ada Twist, Scientist," the new animated series from Andrea Beaty and the production crew of Barack and Michelle ObamaNetflix

    Ada Marie Twist, the protagonist of Andrea Beaty’s Ada Twist, Scientist, is a young Black girl with an unstoppable curiosity and an innate affinity for the scientific method. At 8 years old, she discovers the beauty of asking big questions and the joy of gathering evidence to unearth the truth.

    Amid a steady stream of news about those who deny or minimize science—anti-maskers, “hoax” claimers, climate deniers, and many others—Ada is a brave heroine for old and young alike, whose laser focus on facts affirms that a commitment to scientific discovery is a critical tool for promoting our species’ prosperity. It would serve us all, and certainly some more than others, to watch the 12-minute episodes of her animated series from Barack and Michelle Obama’s production crew, Higher Ground Productions, on Netflix. Perhaps the series should be required viewing for all members of Congress.

    And just yesterday, echoing the spirit of Ada, the Nobel Prize in chemistry was awarded to two women—Emmanuelle Charpentier and Jennifer A. Doudna—for developing a method for genome editing, a sharp tool that can alter the DNA of animals, plants, and microorganisms. Editing genes—zowie! Ada would be proud (“zowie” is all Ada) and probably want to learn about every hypothesis tested along the way:

    Ada was busy that first day of spring,
    testing the sounds that make mockingbirds sing,
    when a horrible stench whacked her right in the nose—
    a pungent aroma that curled up her toes.
    “Zowie!” said Ada, which got her to thinking:
    “What is the source of that terrible stinking?”
    “How does a nose know there is something to smell?”
    “And does it still stink if there’s no nose to tell?”
    She rattled off questions and tapped her chin.
    She’d start at the start, where she ought to begin.
    A mystery? A riddle? A puzzle? A quest?
    This was the moment that Ada loved best…

    Ada Marie did what scientists do:
    She asked a small question, then she asked two.
    And each of those led her to three questions more,
    And some of those questions resulted in four.
    As Ada got thinking, she really dug in.
    She just scribbled her questions and tapped her chin.
    She started at Why? and then What? How? and then When?
    At the end of the hall she reached Why? once again.

    When did you first learn the scientific method, and how do you use it today? Let Venu know at recharge@motherjones.com.

    —Venu Gupta is Mother Jones’ Midwest regional development director.

  • 2 Days Away From the 100th Birthday Commemoration for Saxophonist Yusef Lateef

    Hiroyuki Ito/Getty

    Friday marks the centennial birthday of Yusef Lateef, the late legend of “jazz” who rejected the word as politically and musically “degrading” and “limiting,” he said, even after mentoring John and Alice Coltrane and Pharoah Sanders in modal motifs. “The word ‘jazz’ is a meaningless term that too narrowly defines the music I play. If you look it up, you’ll see that its synonyms include ‘nonsense,’ ‘blather,’ ‘claptrap,’ and other definitions that reduce the music to poppycock and skulduggery.”

    He died at 93 after having coined “autophysiopsychic music” to describe the expressive sounds of the physical, mental, and spiritual realms. Friday’s livestream honors him with five performances and clips of his concerts, along with a gallery of his drawings and a reading of his fiction. Lateef heard in the word “jazz” a reduction of his life’s work, but origin stories abound: A 1960 study compiled and tested theories of derivation, from the names Jasbo, Jasper, Jess, and Chas of the 1920s to a 1910s group called Razz’s Band. The New York Times posited in 1935 that it derived from “the West Coast of Africa” and “became incorporated in the Creole patois as a synonym for ‘hurry up.’” A later theory traced it to the Arabic jaz, and yet another to the French jaser, meaning “to chatter,” “to prattle,” “a playful whispering of little nothings,” according to a 1926 linguistic theorist. It’s also, of course, “the devil’s music”: “The word has evil associations,” a 1924 Musical Courier article coughed up.

    “Jazz presents to the mind disorder…things unpleasant, or atavistic leanings of which we are all properly ashamed, or borrowings from savages or near-orgies that have quite properly been combatted by those who have care of the young and the morals of youth.” A 1949 DownBeat issue ran a contest to replace the word under the headline “New Word for Jazz Worth $1,000.” First prize: “crewcut music.” Second prize: “Amerimusic.” Runners-up: “jarb,” “le hot,” “hip,” “sock,” “blip,” “improphony,” “schmoosic,” and “reetbeat.”

    “All of the judges concurred on one thing,” DownBeat announced, “that none of the hundreds of words…[was] a suitable substitute for jazz.”

    “Autophysiopsychic music” may be the most fitting alternative. Lateef’s ear for history, language, and sound was both acute and wide open. He was born William Emanuel Huddleston in Tennessee. He grew up in Detroit and got his start with Dizzy Gillespie, but he continually defied easy categorization as a musician, theorist of language, and philosopher of mind who, in his 80s, taught at the University of Massachusetts, Amherst—which is hosting Friday’s livestream—and nearby colleges. “I wish I could be more like Yusef,” Sonny Rollins once said.

    The celebration begins at 7:30 p.m. ET Friday. Before then, listen to “Like It Is” from 1968’s The Blue Yusef Lateef, and wait for the saxophone drop at 1:50:

  • Wayne Barrett Warned the World 40 Years Ago. The Late Reporter Is Still Exposing Trump.

    “Every relationship is a transaction” for 32-year-old Donald Trump, wrote Wayne Barrett in 1979, when he was the first investigative reporter to take Trump seriously as a threat to anyone within breathing distance. “Donald Trump is a user of other users. The politician and his moneychanger feed on each other. The moneychanger trades private dollars for access to public ones.”

    It was scandalous stuff in the ’70s, but Barrett stayed on the trail. He died one day before Trump’s inauguration, but the legendary Village Voice reporter is still at it: Last week saw the publication of his new collection, Without Compromise: The Brave Journalism That First Exposed Donald Trump, Rudy Giuliani, and the American Epidemic of Corruption.

    By now there’s nothing surprising about Trump past or present, but there is a measure of hope in revisiting the early days and many ways that bad news about him was delivered, especially in the strong writing of the first to do it. Barrett was unflinching. Trump threatened to sue him for his investigations and apparently tried to bribe him in exchange for softening or shelving the stories, the Voice reported: Trump “subtly hint[ed] that he could get Barrett a nice apartment in midtown and move him and his wife out of the Brownsville home where they lived.”

    It’s all prescient and preserved: the abdication of responsibility, the self-dealing, the downplaying of disaster: “Trump has a pathological need to introduce an evil twist into every deal.”

    Trump is the easiest target today. He wasn’t then. If you haven’t read Barrett, the archives await—Mother Jones tributes here and here, the Voice here. It’s worth a spin, less for the gritty details than for the visceral experience of clicking on the earliest evidence that Trump has always been, down to his toes, a virus, and someone was fearless in saying it.

    Barrett was tall. His temper was short. I worked a cubicle away from him, and there’s a story about a fact-checker who got a newsroom shouting after booking Barrett a first-class train ticket to speak to students. Barrett flipped. He recalled the time an airline agent had awarded him a first-class ticket as compensation for a mistake. Barrett lit into the agent: “I will not fly first class!…I don’t believe in first- and second-class people.” It’s an easy thing to say, and easier to applaud. For Barrett it wasn’t rhetoric. He reported that way and lived that way.