• From Our Archives, When the Left Was Worried It Lost (Again)

    Each Friday, we bring you a look at our archives to propel you into the weekend.

    The historian Eric Hobsbawm’s last section of his final book in a series tracing the history of the world over the past few centuries is titled “The Landslide.” It begins in the early 1970s. He published the book in 1994. For the left—and Hobsbawm was a leftist, a committed one; his critics would lambast his staying aligned with communists even after the terrors of Stalin’s reign were revealed—the 1990s seem to have been frustrating times.

    Looking back, what happened? Did the left lose? This is the era in which some decided there was an end to history. (That’s off now, by the way.) Bill Clinton was coming to power in the United States as an austerity-minded Democrat; Tony Blair was on the rise in the United Kingdom (Hobsbawm warned that Blair was “Thatcherism in trousers.”) And, of course, the Berlin Wall had fallen.

    There’s an excellent new documentary about Hobsbawm on the YouTube channel of the London Review of Books. You don’t need to really know anything about him, or his work, to enjoy it. (I’m sitting here with a massive reading list, unsure exactly how this keeps happening—some great thinker of some age unknown to me.) It traces something we hear passingly as the rise of neoliberalism. (And please forgive me my sins, dear Lord; you do not have to email me about how exactly you define neoliberalism—I just admitted I learned about Hobsbawm this week; I’m working on it.)

    Hobsbawm’s trajectory neatly traces the narrative I’ve seen in Mother Jones’ archives. In the 1990s, there is a crisis, and it is pegged as having started sometime in the 1970s. In 1996 we published a short piece titled “What’s Left?” Here’s what we asked Noam Chomsky and a few others:

    What happened to the movement that integrated America, stopped the costly war in Vietnam, and opened workplace doors for women? Several commentators offer opinions on where the left went wrong and where it should go.

    It’s an interesting phrasing of the question. Hobsbawm seems to note that this is a world phenomenon, a global wreckage of the post-USSR order. We phrase it more as a moral failing in the United States. There is also an idea that what happened here was not the forces of history driving austerity politics and toppling a “golden age” after the war (Hobsbawm’s description of it). Instead, it is us. We, the left, have failed. We “went wrong.”

    Three of the four people we asked in 1996 answered something akin to: Identity (or grievance) politics is splitting up the left. The other answer says the left kept taking in false moderates and centrists. (Hobsbawm was not a lover of identity politics. It had whiffs of a nationalism he disliked and feared from his experience living in Berlin as Hitler rose to power.)

    I’d be curious if this “What’s left?” question would be answered differently today. Or if the question would be phrased in this way—as in what we did wrong. Some would still lambast identity politics (I disagree); others would hate the left’s flirtations with centrist austerity (I find this appealing). The most provocative thing may be the degree to which, ironically, leftists rarely focus on the larger structure of this debate. The grand forces of history are cast aside. Isn’t that what we did?

  • The First ChessKid USA Girls and Women’s Championship Is 2 Days Away

    There are many reasons to mark the moment in chess, especially if you study the game and the history of human rights movements that run through it. The expansion of educational opportunities is a growing feature, in focus this weekend during ChessKid’s inaugural online tournament for girls and women in the United States.

    One of the awards is the opportunity for the top 10 kids in each section to join a camp instructed by every US champion of this century, including Jennifer Shahade, Irina Krush, Anna Zatonskih, Jennifer Yu, Rusa Goletiani, Sabina Foiser, and others. Shahade is an acclaimed broadcaster and educator, and Krush is phenomenal at every aspect of competition. (Krush beat me handily when we were both kids in a team matchup with world champion Anatoly Karpov, the greatest evisceration in my early memory.) Family plaques await the top three mother-daughter pairs in K through 3rd grade, 4th through 5th grades, 6th through 8th grades, and 9th through 12th grades, with individual and team prizes.

    If you’re new to the strategies and tactics, consider: There are more possible games in chess than the number of atoms in the known universe: 10^120 games, 10^81 atoms. Read up on the inaugural event, and share Recharge tips at recharge@motherjones.com.

  • How Do You Laugh With a Saxophone? Look to Red Holloway.

    Little, if anything, is laugh-worthy in the news right now, but the catharsis, joy, and recharge of laughter are available if you do some digging.

    The year is 1964. The setting: a festival in Antibes, France. The band is 21-year-old George Benson on guitar, Brother Jack McDuff on organ, Red Holloway on saxophone, and Joe Dukes on drums. The music is scorching. The laugh isn’t yours—it’s Holloway’s.

    Minutes in, he replicates a bursting laugh through his horn, a familiar technique in improvisational swing of the era but rarely accomplished with such expressive vitality on video. The laugh is teed up here, and Benson gets in on it, circling his arm behind Holloway during the laugh, and fashioning another sound on guitar that you’re bound to recognize. You can see, hear, feel, or imagine how much tension and release are coded in these moments, designed for a crowd but deployed for themselves.

    Here is Benson’s recognizable riff, right after McDuff’s organ. And here’s Holloway’s laugh. Are they playing the licks for the crowd or themselves? Yes.

  • A Nonprofit Tackling Homelessness Receives a $100 Million MacArthur Grant

    The MacArthur Foundation has awarded a New York-based nonprofit $100 million to expand efforts to eliminate homelessness in 75 communities across the country within five years. Community Solutions was chosen out of six finalists in the competition, with a track record of housing more than 235,000 people in the past decade.

    But numbers tell just part of the story. For a personalized portrait of a housing crisis that predated the coronavirus pandemic, and is compounded by it, watch this short new documentary. At eight minutes long, it centers on a woman living in a tent encampment before the city of Oakland bulldozed it. Voice of America acquired Living in a Tent from producers Deana Mitchell and Wendi Jonassen, and it cuts powerfully through the policy headlines to do narrative justice to an unjust story, with inside-the-tent interviews and carefully framed footage that respects the multidimensional experiences of who is telling the story.

    The film and grant come on the heels of the United Nations designating the Bay Area housing crisis “systemic cruelty.” And the doc is crushing. It’s also illuminating, pairing urgency with deeply observed storytelling. More than half a million people experienced homelessness before the pandemic on any given night in this country. There’s a recharge to be found in filmmakers doing the hard-to-thread work of unpacking a crisis too often shorthanded or underreported in the media.

    Watch the doc, and read about the $100 million grant. Share good housing news at recharge@motherjones.com.

  • Yesterday Was World Health Day. Here Are 3 Unconventional Recharge Health Tips.

    A good rule to live by is always stay skeptical of world days as substitutes or surrogates for action year-round, but not so skeptical that you underestimate a healthy reminder to effect change. World Emoji Day is July 17, but who’s arguing emojis don’t deserve year-round campaigns? World Tuna Day, May 2, crucial around the clock. And don’t get reporter Rebecca Leber started on Earth Day as little more than a “trite” blip on corporate calendars for PR stunts, she says in her scathing “I’m an Environmental Reporter and I Hate Earth Day.”

    But some days are singularly beneficial, like World Health Day, sponsored yesterday by the World Health Organization. As the repercussions of the pandemic reverberate, health deserves a day. Every day. Take time if you can. Observe your health with three tips:

    1. Consult a doctor before ingesting Recharge advice, but barring any reason not to, get yourself vitamin D if you’re sunlessly indoors. Just don’t buy the myth that it prevents or mitigates COVID-19, put to rest by Harvard Health’s senior faculty editor Dr. Robert Shmerling, who reported Monday that a “randomized controlled study of people with moderate to severe COVID-19 who received a high dose of vitamin D showed no benefit” in recovery or risk reduction. But nutritional value persists.

    2. Billie Holiday would have turned 106 yesterday. Here’s a recording that gets nowhere near the shares or airtime it deserves, from a rehearsal in 1956: “My Yiddishe Momme.” The baby in the background is her godchild Bevan Dufty, future member of the San Francisco Board of Supervisors and director of Bay Area Rapid Transit. Rejuvenation is health too. This brings it.

    3. A clear mind doesn’t hurt, so let me settle a small debate: Your well-being is your wellbeing, no hyphen. Never mind the Los Angeles Times opinion writer who insisted weeks ago that everyone hyphenate well-being as “the correct form”: “Teenagers used to be teen-agers. Cellphones used to be cell phones. Email used to be e-mail. So it’s understandable that writers would start compressing well-being into wellbeing. In fact, I see it a lot. But the closed form isn’t in major dictionaries yet and, until it is, ‘well-being’ remains the correct form.’”

    Sorry to break it to you, but I hereby announce, effective today, by the authority vested in me as Mother Jones’ copy wrangler, that “wellbeing” is closed up in our style guide, just for you. Begone, hyphen. Wellbeing is an intact concept and should be an intact word. But if hyphenating serves your individual, organizational, or reader health, go with it.

    Bonus tip: Stop chewing gum. It’s mostly unhealthy, unless you don’t mind your genetic code dug up 5,700 years from now like this wad of gum from the Stone Age, whose chewer, scientists say, was a young Danish woman.

    Share your healthy recharges at recharge@motherjones.com.

  • Remembering Robert Hershon, Poet of the “Mimeo Revolution”

    The New York Times has a touching obituary of the New York poet Robert Hershon, who died this week at 84. Across a 50-odd-year career, Hershon and his collaborators at the “self-editing” Hanging Loose Press—it started life as a binder of looseleaf poems you were free to keep or discard as you liked—published work by the writers Denise Levertov, Maggie Nelson, Cathy Park Hong, and Ha Jin, among countless others.

    In a 2002 profile, a Brooklyn Rail interviewer recalled meeting Hershon and leaving with a pile of literature:

    “One of the reasons the press has lasted so long is that we get a kick out of it,” Hershon says, choosing an armful of books to give me before I leave. “And one of the pleasures of a press is to be able to give books away.”…Then, glancing through the pile, he adds a book of his own. “There’s my old head,” he quips of a younger-looking jacket photograph, “I don’t know how I lost it.”

    Hanging Loose’s first office, before it was a true press, was the legendary McSorley’s bar on Manhattan’s East Seventh Street; Hershon and his collaborators soon landed in Brooklyn digs, before small Brooklyn presses were a thing, and eventually bounced back to the island—powered throughout by Hershon’s tireless enthusiasm, love of new writers, and subversive wit. The Times obit reprints his “F Stop,” a subway poem from 1985:

    Don’t push.
    There is another F
    train right behind us.

    There’s another F
    that’s faster and finer
    than this F is.
    It serves French fries
    and frog legs.
    All the seats face
    front and are covered
    with monkey fur. A flutist plays
    melodies in F. It’s an
    infinitely superior F train.
    It’s right behind us.
    Why don’t you wait?

    Ah, because we know the
    faces of those for whom
    the trains have never come.
    And we fear that what finally
    roars from that sour tunnel
    is fury itself.
    There is another F train
    right behind us.
    Let some other fool wait.

    And they start the push
    toward home.

    Poetry is more interesting than reporters talking about it, so go read the obituary and then read his work.

  • A New Online Film Festival Seeks Solutions to Injustice Globally

    An ambitious new series, Solutions Cinema, is off to a strong start. The monthlong festival searches for action and accountability around entrenched injustices through a slate of interactive films. Instead of one-directional storytelling, the 12 films are coupled with audience dialogue, including panels with filmmakers, featured characters, and students. Free screenings range widely, from a portrait of an Oakland high school’s reckoning with COVID-19 by director Peter Nicks, interviewed before by Mother Jones’ Brandon Patterson, to a documentary about grassroots journalism by Dalit women in India defying threats of violence and intimidation, by directors Rintus Thomas and Sushmit Ghosh.

    The two, Homeroom and Writing With Fire, top my list. There’s another, about migrant laborers in Italy and Côte d’Ivoire (The Invisibles), and a timely documentary about South Africa’s escalating water scarcity (The Water Queen), along with a look at indigenous people in Mexico defending their community (Cherán: The Burning Hope). What’s uniquely promising here—the festival runs throughout April, launched by Doha Debates and Maine’s Point North Institute—is more than the scope and scale. It’s the basic premise, a kind of wager that is vanishingly incentivized in much of today’s media: a bid for dialogue instead of monologue. An effort to learn and unlearn. And an affirmation that audiences are drivers, not passengers, of cinema. The goal of engaging across divides without false equivalencies or neutrality, and finding that sweet spot, needs amplifying.

    Variety has more. Register for screenings here. And share your own recharges at recharge@motherjones.com.

  • A Growing Website Visualizes and Archives Every Music Genre in the World (or Tries To)

    As my colleague Maddie Oatman wrote in her interview with the musician Jake Blount back in December, “genres” are neatly parceled networks of marketability, a bit of code to construct artistic expression as a workable commodity. The banjo player and fiddler feels “compelled,” he says, to unpack “boundaries between genres that were created specifically to divide music by who was playing it and who was listening­—because that’s where genre comes from.” He wants instead to “highlight the interconnectedness of very different traditions” of Gullah music, blues, jazz, bluegrass, and spirituals.

    His interview has stayed with me. It jumped to mind as I scrolled and stumbled through Every Noise at Once, a living archive of all genres in the world. The website maps “an algorithmically generated…scatter-plot of the musical genre space based on data tracked and analyzed for 5,304 genre-shaped distinctions…as of 2021-03-30…Click anything to hear an example of what it sounds like. Be calmly aware that this may periodically expand, contract, or combust.”

    Scroll through. After, take a deep dive into the multiplying meanings of “genre” in Ross Simonini’s excellent new Q&A with the pianist Vijay Iyer in the Believer.

  • From Our Archives, an Interview With Novelist Larry McMurtry

    Brent Humphreys/Redux

    Each Friday, we bring you an article from our archives to propel you into the weekend.

    Today it was announced that Larry McMurtry, one of the great novelists of his time, died. He was 84. A writer of the American West, McMurtry is often remembered for his classic Lonesome Dove. It is, according to our reporter Tim Murphy, worth the read (however long). As Tim joked in recommending it today: “[melville dies] ‘read Moby Dick if you haven’t.'” But McMurtry wasn’t just a writer of cowboys and horses. His incisive novels became classic films, like The Last Picture Show and Terms of Endearment. I haven’t dug in, but I’ve also heard a few mentions of McMurtry’s work for the New York Review of Books. (My own experience with McMurtry is mainly through his son, James McMurtry, who has made some of my favorite albums of the last 20 years.)

    Michael Mechanic, a senior editor here—with a book out soon on the inner lives of the rich (order!)—interviewed McMurtry in 2014. Give it a read. I particularly liked this quick back and forth in which McMurtry swats down the annoying interpretations of Lonesome Dove he has seen:

    You felt that Lonesome Dove was misinterpreted, that you’d intended it as an anti-Western. In what sense?

    Would you like your menfolk to be that way? The Western myth is a heroic myth, and yet settling the West was not heroic. It ended with Custer; it was the end of the settlement narrative, which had been going on since 1620.