It could be worse

05 IMG 4385Hey babe, take a walk on the wild side. Lou Reed left us with that bit of wisdom before he checked out in 2013. If you feel that 2020 has followed Lou Reed’s advice, you pass Go and collect $200. This year has the Rona, stock market vertigo, mass unemployment, political masks, and the late great Presidential election. If 2020 were a TV character it would be George Costanza in the scene where he is trying to convince his date he is a troubled soul so she will sleep with him. George tells her: “I’m disturbed. I’m depressed. I’m inadequate. I’ve got it all.” 2020 has got it all. As Larry David would say, you might think things were pretty, pretty bad. But it could be worse. It can always be worse. Never, ever under any circumstances say: “Things can’t get worse.”

Right now if you are reading this drivel, you are on the planet Earth. Despite some short comings here and there; plague, famine, wars, and mischief caused by the thirty-eight Horsemen of the Apocalypse, things could be worse. You could be on the newly discovered Hell Planet K2-141b. The astronomer buddies of K2-141b just call it K2 so we will too. Thank goodness for schadenfreude. I am comforted by the knowledge there is a planet where things are much worse than they are on Earth. It is a character flaw on the part of your writer to enjoy the misery of another planet but that’s life.

Right now you are probably asking yourself, “Self, what is wrong with K2? Should I be adding it to my list of things that wake me up at 3:00 a.m.?” Take a little interstellar voyage on the Starship Peabody to visit K2. Pack a lunch as it is hundreds of light years from Earth. K2 is what the scientists at the Royal Astronomical Society call a Lava Planet. That does not mean it is composed of Lava, the Hand Soap made with pumice that comes in the bright red package. No Sirree, Bob. K2 has oceans made of molten lava. The same kind of lava that comes out of volcanoes in Hawaii into which virgins are thrown to appease the Gods to insure a good cocoanut crop. K2 has the kind of toasty lava that makes the pizza burn on the top of your mouth from an oven fresh pepperoni pizza look like child’s play.

K2 is consistent. Its ocean, atmosphere, and continents are all made out of rocks. When it rains on K2, it rains rocks not violets. It’s so hot there when the lava ocean evaporates and the residue cools off in the atmosphere it rains back down as rocks. Singing in the rain would not be too much fun on K2. Gene Kelly could not sing many lyrics before he would be pounded into mush by the rhythm of the falling rain. K2 is a bit breezy with winds blowing over 3000 miles an hour. If there are any answers blowing in the wind on K2, not even Bob Dylan could find them. Like Earth’s moon, the orbit of K2 only allows one side of K2 to face its sun. The sunny side of K2 is about 5400 degrees Fahrenheit. The always dark side of K2, with apologies to Pink Floyd is minus 328 degrees.

Fortunately, Earth’s rock and roll super stars have been trying to warn us about K2 for many years. It is no coincidence that such singers as David Bowie and Elton John would know about a planet where it rains rocks. After all they are rock stars.

David Bowie warned us about K2 way back in 1969 in his song Space Oddity. Gentle Reader, be warned. If you were Major Tom and Ground Control choose you to visit K2, you have lost the space lottery. Somebody in the upper echelons of NASA does not like you. Once you got close enough to be caught in K2’s rock rain bad things would happen. “Ground Control to Major Tom/ Your circuit’s dead, there’s something wrong/ Can you hear me Major Tom? / Can you hear me Major Tom?” At that point Earth with all its faults would look pretty good.

Elton John also tried to warn us about K2 in his song Rocket Man. Elton gets all space suited up and does his pre-flight rituals. In his heart he knows something isn’t right about the mission. Supposedly he is going to Mars, but like the book of Revelations, the song is in code. He is not singing about Mars. He is singing about going to K2. He is “the rocket man burning out his fuse up here all alone/ Mars ain’t the kind of place to raise your kids/ In fact it’s cold as Hell/ And there is no one there to raise them if you did/ And all this science I don’t understand/ It’s just my job five days a week./” Because this song is in code, when Elton sings about Mars being cold he is really talking about K2 being hot. You have to read between the lines. It’s a secret message from the Illuminati.

So, what have we learned today? Once again, almost nothing. I apologize for wasting your time on our literary celestial trip. But know this, Grasshopper, things on Earth are not nearly as dire as they are on K2. We have our own Little Rocket Man in North Korea’s Kim Jong-Un. He is bad enough, while he does have nuclear weapons, but he has not yet mastered turning the ocean into a sea of fire even though he frequently threatens to do so.
Put on a happy face. It’s not going to be 3400 degrees tomorrow. Like Little Orphan Annie says, “The sun will come out tomorrow.” Happy Thanksgiving to us one and all.

Voting — we could do better

04 silouette ballot We the people are sick and tired of the election buffoonery. I believe that when things go sideways, you should either go back to basics or change the process because you have nothing to lose.

Our American election process is the foundation of our democracy and the cornerstone of a free society. However, I think we can all agree that we may need a little election reform and demand that leaders make it a priority. I have a few ideas to help with some out-of-the-box ideas to a better approach to voting.

What if we labeled both the Democratic and Republican Parties as terrorist groups and outlawed them? Then make everyone an "independent" to only vote on the merits of the best candidates representing your beliefs, family, community and county. Instead of primary run-off elections, debates, town hall meetings, and community roundtables, we have a voting process like American Idol using a panel of judges who vote candidates off each night until we get a winner. This would cut out party loyalty and annoying telemarketers relentlessly raising money for his or her favorite candidate. If their campaign requires mailers directly to your house, the Post Office should charge a surcharge to underwrite the mail carriers. Seriously, everyone said the Post Office could never get the ballots processed and delivered on time, yet they have no problem delivering those crappy flyers and junk mail.

Each state is responsible for their election certification. They need to have a voting process free from cheating, impropriety and a simple method to count. It is hard to imagine that in 2020, we cannot vote securely on our cell phones. Think about it! We pay our taxes, bank, gamble, and can even find a love interest using these devices, yet these techno geniuses can't figure out a way that will allow us to vote securely? After all, these devices have facial recognition, fingerprint capabilities, special codes and besides, your phone knows where you live. I assure you that if the Silicon Valley tech geniuses cannot figure it out, then the casino gurus in Las Vegas can. Oh, if someone does not own a phone, they can always vote the old fashion way - in person. Here's another voting idea: We should have an intelligence test to pass before allowing you to vote. After all, if we must identify traffic lights to get on a website through CAPTCHA (Completely Automated Public Turing test to tell Computers and Humans Apart) to confirm we are human, it's reasonable to ask a few simple questions to ensure we are mentally capable of voting.

Election day voting should start at midnight, Coordinated Universal Time (or UTC), which is the primary time standard by which the world regulates clocks and time and lasts all day. Twenty-four hours and stop at 2359 hours UTC. This gives everyone the same time and chance to vote anywhere in the world. The only people who would vote absentee would be those in the military conducting combat operations. No media outlet should be allowed to call an election. The only person authorized to announce and declare a winner is who the state designates as the official election spokesperson.

Depending on what is being voted on, not everyone should be allowed to vote in America. For instance, if you are not a U.S. citizen, you do not get to vote. Period! You would not let someone walk in your house and start giving you advice about how to do your taxes, how to raise your kids, or what you should buy with your own money. So, why would it be suitable for a non-citizen to determine the direction of our country's future? Locally, if you do not own a property, you should not be allowed to vote on raising property taxes for projects for which you get no benefit.

I remember as a kid watching “The Rocky and Bullwinkle Show.” They had two antagonist spies Boris Badenov and Natasha Fatale, who frequently interfered in Rocky and Bullwinkle's affairs. We know foreign governments do that. Even the United States has done its part to influence other country's elections. In this election, there has been no evidence of foreign interference. So instead, maybe we should focus our attention on local interference. All Americans have the freedom and right to vote without fear. If someone interferes in an election, they should be charged with a federal crime and lose their voting privileges. This includes the stealing of campaign signs out of someone's yard. That is a very bold thing to do, and these thieves should be considered "election terrorists" and lose their voting rights. If they intimidate or "cancel" you because of your political affiliation, that should also be considered election terrorism.
These are just a few suggestions that would level the voting playing field. By restoring our confidence in the voting process and eliminating the country's partisan political divide, we are free to practice and enjoy one of our most cherished American rights and freedoms.

While we wait ... let us reflect

06 Cropped Jones photoThe wait for the announcement of the presidency had the world on edge. Now, the wait for the Inauguration has us waiting again. The world is already exhausted. 2020 has been a series of “for the first time ever” or “once in a lifetime” moments. When exhaustion sets in, the body needs rest. The world needs rest. America needs rest. The Black community needs rest.

Losing Nipsey Hussle and then Kobe Bryant caused a shift for the better and the worst. As a Black man, I loved seeing the world celebrate “our” heroes. On the flipside, we lost someone we grew to know and love.
Months later, a pandemic took hold of the world, forcing us in the house and under face masks. The death rate has risen around the world. A cough could mean a death sentence. Everyone learned a new word, ‘quarantine.’ For some, there was a gain. Life slowed down, allowing the allocation of time for the things that matter like family and rest. As time passed, the world was growing restless.

While sitting in our homes waiting for some sort of good news to get “BACK TO NORMAL,” we were shown an 8 minute, 46 second clip of a cop in Minnesota kneeling on the neck of a man born in my hometown of Fayetteville, North Carolina, named George Floyd. The streets erupted immediately. The last time there was this fast of a reaction was when Michael Brown was killed in Ferguson, Missouri, in 2014. But, there was still one difference between then and now. COVID-19, the sickness caused by the novel coronavirus, was holding the world hostage. Protests and civil unrest would break out everywhere including Fayetteville.

Soon, the world would hear what we have been saying all along, BLACK LIVES MATTER. These three words have never meant so much. However, the commercialization of the phrase has led to a negative connotation among those who lack understanding of what it means to be Black in America. As chants, cheers and fires filled the streets of the world, many would watch distraught and in disbelief as the events unfolded. When the flames died and symbols (of heritage or oppression, depending upon your beliefs) came down, there was no unity in the community.

Back in 2016, a New York businessman would assume the role of President of the United States of America, causing a shift in culture and the way American politics are viewed. While money filled our pocket, hate filled our hearts. We forgot the meaning of community. Neighbors have become enemies. Political ideologies weigh more than love for your fellow man. The community is always prefaced by words such as “Black,” “white” or “LGBTQ.” We have forgotten that the Constitution of America begins with three words, WE THE PEOPLE. As Americans, we all want equal opportunity to the rights guaranteed to us under these laws that govern the lands we all inhabit. America is attempting to heal itself through gaining knowledge and understanding of the “other side.” Discomfort coupled with perception leads to a closed mind. A closed mind can never obtain and process the knowledge that fuels progress. Progress is a process. America has just completed a part of the process by voting.

As we wait on the result of the most pivotal election we have experienced since the election of Barack Obama in 2008, we must reflect and ask “What am I doing in my everyday life to better my community and myself?” “How do I add to the value of life of those I encounter?” and “Will this help me grow as a person?”

No matter the results of this election, we must focus on building a better world for those who will inherit it from us. Voting was not the end of the process, but a part of the process. The next step is accountability. We, as a community, must come together and hold leaders and ourselves accountable.

As a chosen leader in my community, especially the Black community, I understand that one must govern themselves accordingly because stepping out the house you become a representation of everyone that looks like you. However, working to change the narrative or personal elevation should not be met with labels of “sellout” or “coon” because we don’t understand. We should focus on the content of their character, as we should with every person we meet. That is what will bring the unity that we need to get the change so many world citizens took to the streets seeking.

We all have to be the change that we want to see. Now is the time to rebuild and start with the strongest foundation of all, no matter who you are, and that foundation is LOVE.

Peace, salute to every activist getting active.

Pictured: Local activist Rakeem "Keem" Jones speaks to a crowd on the importance of social justice. (Photo by Jamela Carter)

The Market House: tapping down the rhetoric

03 01 IMG 5971No doubt, as Americans, we cherish the right to have our voices heard. Currently, with the anger and contention surrounding the 2020 elections at all levels of government, these voices are not only numerous, but they are also loud, angry and obnoxious, and drowning out humanity's reason, logic and any hope of conciliation.

Three unfortunate examples are what is happening in Portland, Minneapolis and, most recently, in Washington, D.C. during the Trump support rally. Rioting, looting, assaults, destruction of personal property, and for what purpose? With the devastation in downtown Fayetteville on May 30th still fresh in our memories, we cannot let this happen again to our community of Fayetteville. However, it very well may unless we trust our local leaders and hold them responsible for the health and welfare of all our citizens.

The first step in suppressing conflict and avoiding confrontations is to identify and tap down the flashpoints. Local media is a significant flashpoint in our community and plays a substantial role in dividing our community. Fayetteville has no local TV station to keep us informed or to showcase the city, which is an embarrassment for a community of this size and stature. This leaves us with a daily newspaper that is anemic. It's a decent vehicle for the distribution of fliers and inserts but mostly serves up negative, biased liberal content that is as relevant, frequent and stale as two-day-old bread.

Unfortunately, local talk radio station WFNC "doubles down" and regurgitates verbatim the newspaper's partisan content, avoiding any sense of fairness, responsibility or journalistic integrity. Lastly, there are the self-serving opportunists who take advantage of Fayetteville's current racial, civil and political circumstances to second guess our leadership. Some wish to be recognized as radical activists or social icons. Others want to establish political power, while others seek notoriety, fame and celebrity status by claiming they speak for the masses. Regardless of their motives and rogue actions, these independent voices cause confusion, mistrust, dissension and misinformation among the ranks of local residents.

The future of the iconic Fayetteville Market House is the most critical and volatile decision facing our community. Representing both history and heritage, there are passionate feelings on all sides regarding its future. Should it be left as is? Torn down? Repurposed? We'll see what the future holds. In the meantime, as the local weekly community newspaper of record, we are subject to many diverse perspectives. This is why we are advocating that citizens be tolerant and patient while the Mayor, City Council and the committees they have appointed evaluate the options available that will best serve the city and its citizens.

During this time, tapping down the aggressive and hostile rhetoric concerning the future of the Market House will go a long way in making sure it doesn't become an explosive racial issue. Currently, movements, protests and petitions on both sides of the controversy are incredibly premature. Communication, education, awareness, patience and empathy are essential here. We must hear from the entire community and let the process work to a conclusion fairly judged on its merit. It would be unconscionable for anyone to use the Market House circumstance for personal political advancement before the current leadership concludes their study.

These are volatile times, and trust is at a premium. No one wants to see our community torn apart on any single issue. Let's be patient and give the Mayor and current leadership a chance to perform without interference. In the process, it will become evident who the real leaders are looking out for all the citizens of Fayetteville. Thank you for reading Up & Coming Weekly.

Not your papa's political landscape

05 BallotBoxPartyIconsWhen I was growing up in eastern North Carolina, virtually all voting adults were Democrats, although our backdoor neighbors were Republicans. My family considered them akin to space aliens. Conversely, Republicans who populated the western part of our state, though in smaller numbers, felt the same about the handful of Democrats out there. It was even possible to check a single box on your ballot to vote a straight Democratic or straight Republican ticket, because both parties expected—and often got—total loyalty.

In the decades since, North Carolina has become a competitive “purple” state, and this year, an actual battleground state, attracting hoards of media outlets and Presidential and Vice Presidential candidates themselves.

Our U.S. Senate race was the most expensive in our nation’s history, topping $287M. President Trump became a regular visitor to Fayetteville Regional Airport for campaign rallies, ultimately carrying North Carolina and pulling down-ballot Republican candidates with him.

So how did we get here from a state dominated by one political party for more than a century?
We have grown significantly, and North Carolina is now the 9th largest state, with more than 10 million residents. My childhood was lived in a state of small towns scattered across a wide, narrow state. Today, we have major cities, the largest being Charlotte and Raleigh. Fayetteville is our 6th largest city with more than 200,000 residents, compared with not quite 21,000 in 1960.

With North Carolina’s growth has come more diversity (Fayetteville has long been diverse because of a strong military presence) and a more highly educated population, clustering in metropolitan areas.

That means the political clout of our cities threatens to outstrip the clout of rural areas, a reality driving the great urban-rural divide of wealth and education and its accompanying resentment.

Think about this. For almost all of the 20th century, North Carolina was a reliable Democratic state. In 2020, as of this writing, we supported the Republican Presidential and Senatorial nominees, reelected a Democratic Governor, elected a Republican Lieutenant Governor who has never held public office, and affirmed Republican control of the General Assembly. These outcomes required considerable ticket-splitting, with individual voters checking both Democratic and Republican boxes for whatever reasons of their own. My parents would be stunned.

Most North Carolinians would probably say that political competitiveness is a positive thing—that choice makes our government stronger and better. Whether that happens in actual practice is debatable, but it is clear that we are purple for the foreseeable future. That means that North Carolina, like other states and millions of individual Americans, must figure out how to go forward without the name-calling and partisan rancor that has afflicted and tortured us in recent years.

Make no mistake. The United States is at a critical moment in our history. We are so divided, it is almost like we are speaking different languages. We listen and watch only our own truths, not those of “the other.” Debates are underway about a coming second civil war. The New York Times ran a long article in its Sunday magazine last weekend entitled “How Do You Know When Society is About to Fall Apart?” It quotes an academician in this field, Joseph Tainter, “Civilizations are fragile, impermanent things.”

None of us can fix what is threatening our nation, but we can address it in our own lives. Our neighbors—Democrats or Republicans—are not our enemies. They are people with different opinions, not crazed “others.” If we ordinary Americans cannot bridge this divide in our own lives and ultimately as a nation, we may not collectively survive much beyond the tumultuous agony that was the 2020 general election.

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