• 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.

  • A New Video Game That Sends Food and Medicine to Refugees Beyond the Screen

    Lual Mayen wasn’t old enough to walk when he fled South Sudan with his family to a refugee camp in northern Uganda, where he lived for 22 years. Food was scarce. School didn’t exist. “It was not an easy journey…I lost two of my sisters,” he said.

    By the time he was 15, he saw his first computer in passing, and over the next three years, his mother worked to secretly save cash to buy him one. “I couldn’t believe that it was real,” he said in a story powerfully reported by Ryan Bergeron. “Where can I even charge the computer? Where can I even go and learn?…There was nobody that could train me.”

    Mayen walked three hours to the nearest basecamp to charge the computer. “If [my mother] was able to take us from a war-torn country to an environment of a refugee, I can also make it,” he said. He taught himself to code and design, and he set out to create a game that promotes conflict resolution, first running it over Bluetooth and then posting to Facebook. “That was the first time I started connecting with the video game community and getting support.”

    His game took off. He’s now the founder of Junub Games, which is ready to release “Salaam” (“peace” in Arabic), a mobile game that puts players in the shoes of refugee runners. Through nonprofits, he’s arranging to provide food, water, and medicine to people in refugee camps whenever a player buys supplies in the game.

    A Recharge salute to Mayen and his mother, and to Bergeron for the story and images.

  • An Unlikely Ray of Hope: Imagining a Future Where COVID-23 Changes Us for the Better

    Screenshot from "A Message From the Future II: The Years of Repair," animated by Molly Crabapple.The Intercept and the Leap

    “You can’t be what you can’t see”: This proverb often comes up in discussions of why representation matters. A young girl of color, for instance, might be less likely to believe she’s able to become a successful actor or politician if she doesn’t grow up seeing people who look like her in such roles. Yet in an Emmy-nominated video produced last year by Naomi Klein and the Intercept, Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D–N.Y.) offered this same idea as a clue for how to realize the dream of the Green New Deal.

    “We knew that we needed to save the planet and that we had all the technology to do it,” Ocasio-Cortez said in a “Message From the Future,” her voice laid over evolving visions painted by artist Molly Crabapple. “But people were scared. They said it was too big, too fast, not practical. I think that’s because they just couldn’t picture it yet.”

    A year and a half later, the challenges we face have only become more daunting, and the solutions even tougher to imagine. That might explain why “A Message From the Future II: the Years of Repair” (released this week) has a grittier, if still dreamy, tone. It imagines a future in which humans endure COVID-23 in widespread refugee camps amid mounting climate devastation—yet thanks to concerted collective action, these calamities change the world for the better, fostering a greener, decolonized, and more democratic society.

    The video offers hope because it assumes that even if we can’t yet see them, there are better days waiting for us on the far side of today’s madness. But the imagery also centers rent strikes, uprisings, and worker solidarity: seeds of a transformed future already taking root in the present.

    Featuring voices from around the world and a story co-written by Klein, Canadian filmmaker Avi Lewis, and Black Lives Matter co-founder Opal Tometi, “The Years of Repair” broadcasts a refreshing infusion of hope.

  • From Our (Recent) Archives, How to Prepare for the Next Pandemic

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

    What happens next?

    Today, as usual, I woke up in the predawn darkness to diligently blog and saw “the news”: President Donald Trump and first lady Melania Trump contracted the coronavirus. Many people had already spun out, spewing a slew of predictions, fears, jokes, sorrows, prayers, and vague twitches—both online and I am sure in random half-sentences in homes across these United States. All of that boggled my brain. So I read this Barefoot Contessa profile. It’s nice. 

    Then I started to wonder what I’d want the president to read right now from our archives, as he, potentially, finally—if he is the narcissist I believe him to be—is grappling with the implications of the coronavirus.

    It was pretty obvious. I think he should read our fantastic Pandemic-Proofing America series. It’s not what will happen next, but it lays out many things that should happen.

    This is good news: It’s clear that experts have ideas. And it is clear that, in another world (or another country, under another administration), there are—and were—ways to combat this virus. Would the solutions have been perfect? No. But we can prepare for the next. Sorry to sound like a hopeful hack, but that’s pretty fantastic news. I, and I’m sure others, have moments of pure nihilism. It’s important to remember that all this death is not required.

    Start with Andy Slavitt and the three things we need to do for next time, and keep reading all of them.

  • From the Sesame Street Writers’ Room to “The Jooniverse,” Comedian Joon Chung Has Good News

    With just 33 days until the election, and the pandemic’s end nowhere in sight, the stakes couldn’t be higher and the state of the universe is no laughing matter. An alternative: The Jooniverse, comedian Joon Chung’s new site, which promises personalized answers to all of life’s mysteries and miseries. “Welcome to The Jooniverse. You’re all just living in it,” his welcome note says. “If asking the universe feels too scary, ask me and I’ll respond with some advice.”

    The Jooniverse’s backstory is here, and your questions go here. See what good news, expertly bad puns, and healing humor before Election Day he has in store. Chung was recently a Sesame Street Writers’ Room fellow, and he’s developing a project with Sesame Workshop. He’s currently working on a preschool animated show. He was also named a Young Staten Island Talent to Look For, and he co-hosted the podcast Just the Gals. Previously he edited news and animated shorts for The Root, Jezebel, and other sites.

    “Asking the universe for anything is tough,” Chung says, “so ask me!” If you ask him and he delivers, share your results at recharge@motherjones.com and we’ll highlight a few. Let us know if you’d like your name included. A Recharge salute to Chung’s creative ventures.

  • Our Coverage of the Debate? Good. The Debate…Well, Read Our Coverage.

    Still spinning, unsure what to make of last night’s debate?

    Amid the bad (I mean really bad) crap that spun out of it, a sliver of a silver lining—according to our own David Corn—is that the debate “provided voters accurate impressions of these two men.” Trump was “full of lies and bluster.” Biden “stumbled through some answers” but came across as “competent.” You can read Corn’s full analysis here.

    Throughout the evening, Mother Jones reporters provided the analysis and commentary necessary to make sense of…whatever that was. Ali Breland peeked into the internet conversation by the Proud Boys, who celebrated Trump’s order to “stand by.” Breland wrote:

    In their publicly viewable Telegram channels, the Proud Boys immediately responded to Trump’s words with an eruption of praise. “Stand by!!! PROUD BOYS ARE HEROES!!!” one member of a large channel wrote. “They begged him to stab us in the back and he didn’t,” another wrote in a different channel.

    Nathalie Baptiste elucidated the exhausting experience of watching older white men discuss race while using “law and order” as a shorthand to call for the entrenchment and reinforcement of racial hierarchies. Kara Voght pointed out that, yes, Trump is going after your health care. Jeremy Schulman caught the false both-siderism of newspaper headlines this morning. And Rebecca Leber unpacked the surprisingly substantive climate change discussion.

    Big picture? It’s this point from our editor-in-chief, Clara Jeffery: Trump wants to delegitimize everything.

  • “Good News or Great News?” Here Are Key Questions for Tonight’s Presidential Debate.

    In case the moderator for tonight’s debate needs a hand with questions, and from the replay of Chris Wallace’s 2016 run, he might, we here at Recharge have drafted key conversation starters. Wallace is welcome to these lines of inquiry, all under one rubric fitting for our moment: “Good news or great news?” Everything’s here, COVID, the Constitution, the good fortune visited upon Americans over the past year:

    1. President Trump, since you’re the incumbent and a student of the Constitution, first one’s yours: Interfering with the Postal Service’s universal delivery mandate enshrined in Article I, Section 8, Clause 7 of the Constitution is a good or great thing?

    2. Also President Trump, since you’re a supremely good leader and we have a Supreme Court to which you nominated a replacement in record time, and since you tweetedThank you to @foxandfriends for covering, supremely, the greatest political scandal in the history of the United States, OBAMAGATE,” is it good or great news that I, Chris Wallace, of self-same Fox, am returning our thanks with lobbed softballs?

    3. Joe Biden, this one’s yours: Is it good or great news that…oop, we’re up against a break.

    4. President Trump, you said, and I’m quoting, “I am the least racist person there is anywhere in the world.” You’ve also said, and I’m quoting, “I have a great relationship with the Blacks. I’ve always had a great relationship with the Blacks.” Yet polls show that some number of voters don’t agree that you’re “the least racist person there is anywhere in the world.” And data shows that the coronavirus has a disparate impact on Black Americans. Is it good or great news that all polls and all data and all public health experts are inherently mistaken when they’re not in your favor or fit to your narrative?

    5. Joe Biden, this one’s yours: Is it good or…our apologies, another break. Everyone vote!

  • Sam Myers, the Late Blues God, Propels Us Into the Week With a Powerful New Album

    The pioneering blues singer, harmonica player, and drummer Sam Myers

    When he was 7, Sam Myers was left blind by cataracts, which shaped his childhood and adulthood but never affected his solo tours and ascension of the blues world as a pioneering singer, harmonica player, and drummer from Mississippi. He became, before he died at the age of 70, one of the most decorated blues giants, jamming with Elmore James in the 1950s and with Muddy Waters, Howlin’ Wolf, and Little Walter.

    Today marks the release, after decades of recording at bars, restaurants, and clubs, of a long-anticipated album, Sam Myers & the South Dallas Shoan-Nufferz: My Pal Sam. It’s a studio compilation of never-before-heard tracks, produced by Jack Chaplin, the versatile chef and blues champion who’s familiar to Recharge readers. The album is available through his Patreon page.

    Chaplin is credited with getting Myers into the studio again and into Chaplin’s restaurants in Dallas and New London, Connecticut, along with the blues giant Lucky Peterson. Chaplin himself has helped to keep the blues at bay, cooking for families and community members in need during the pandemic, with all the kindness and creativity found in his series Cooking With the Blues.

    There’s plenty of blues coming in the news ahead, little of it welcome. Here’s some blues and strength to meet it with. Share your Myers and Chaplin stories at recharge@motherjones.com.