Aural Dive: “Da New Sound” by Division X

Division X Da New Sound rap song

” … Spoken hieroglyphics to the rhythm of the drum.”

I can see why Division X says “Nuthin’ new” about many of the rappers who want to put their stamp in the Rap game. Hard to stand out when you’re spitting formulaic fractals void of lyrical layering.

That last point is what ironically makes X’s latest single, “Da New Sound”, well, new.

Rhythmically, you’ve heard elements of the track’s club-ready patterns before — post-Dance Hall fused with the hallowed Boom Bap and scratchy fills — but the combination sounds refreshing from what currently prevails on Spotify’s legal payola playlists. The track immediately hits you with a hint of throwback while sounding like 100-percent 2019.

You can always expect the group’s delivery to be Bronx-confident. But I suggest you peep at how they use poetic efficiency to connect the struggles of the ancestors with the thirst for social justice today without making the song sound like a history class about the Middle Passage:

“Ayo the voice of inspiration left me mentally scarred / So I speak in a language called the Voice of God.”

After all, Division X also wants you to move your body, or at least your head.

Fans of Rap lyrics of Lambo-chasin’ fake contemplations of love and one-night stands should take a listen as well. They may convert.

Check the track embedded below. “Da New Sound” is independently-released and available on BandCamp.

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Why we will regret Julian Assange’s arrest — and why we’ll have more regrets after he’s convicted

Many of you saw your long-term wishes granted: the arrest of Wikileaks founder Julian Assange in London.

Payback for Assange’s 2016 slow-motion DNC and Hillary hit, some of you will say. (Oh, and read this, and this.

I can’t blame you for the vitriol, sort of.

Most accounts describe Assange as unlikable — the kind of dude whose aura makes people vacate warm bar stools in winter.

But the idea of his arrest is more important than who you like.

The core argument lies in how you answer two simple questions.

First: can a civilian play the role of whistleblower against a government?

Second: is Julian Assange a journalist?

Digging the implications of those answers begs you to review the true story of a military analyst during the 1960s who obtained access to a Golconda of classified US government documents that uncovered the shocking extent of America’s real intentions and involvement in an ongoing regional war — a truth the US never previously shared with the American people.

The analyst photocopied the documents and then shared them with the New York Times, Washington post and over a dozen other media organizations, prompting a nationwide manhunt and arrest of the analyst. The charge? Espionage. The newspaper editors who published the damning information ultimately faced no prosecution.

Those documents are now known as the Pentagon papers. And the analyst who leaked the truth about the Vietnam war to the press is Daniel Ellsberg.

Despite the US government’s post-leak attempts to harass, disrupt, discredit and possibly harm Ellsberg’s life that ended in embarrassing failures — where one of the bungled incidents prompted the Watergate investigation — Ellsberg’s criminal case went to trial …

… until the government’s harassment campaign was made public. The prosecution’s case subsequently fell apart. And so did Richard Nixon’s presidency.

So what about Assange?

He was placed on the prosecution’s radar because of his published leaks about America’s apparent war crimes in Afghanistan and Iraq, in addition to the embarrassing admissions of diplomats across the world.

No surprise that the US government, citing national security concerns, wants Assange behind bars.

This video of civilian deaths (WARNING: graphic, 38-minute version) didn’t help relations between the US government and the most hated leaker in the Western Hemisphere.

That’s why my reference to “conviction” in this piece’s title is positioned more like a prediction.

Just like the Pentagon papers, media outlets published the leaks for months.

But Assange’s lack of US citizenship status won’t help him leverage rights he would need to defend himself in court as a whistleblower who wants to make a foreign government accountable for its actions—regardless of how accurate the leaks have been.

But what if Wikileaks and Assange can be respectively categorized as a media organization and journalist?

Nah, some of you will say, with echoes of Hillary’s potential greatness in your heads without the memory of how she and her team played themselves.

Follow that “Nah” with another question: what is a journalist?

Someone who works at a company with station call letters?

Someone with the word “News” near their name?

Someone with an official “media” declaration by a government body?

New York Tribune launched 178 years ago this week. At what point in history were citizens permitted to call the Tribune a spot that hires journalists?

Are so-called ethnic newspapers institutions of journalism? What about the Amsterdam News?

For that matter, what about Out Magazine?

And bloggers?

All of the above can be categorized as “press“ — like it or not.

The US First Amendment protects any person or self-labeled media group that shares information and opinions. People who scribble news on wood tablets have as many rights as people who shape electrons from glass buildings adorned with satellite dishes and TV cameras.

Convicting Assange will move closer to placing the rights of American citizens to disclose truth to power at risk.

But keep on rooting for Assange — emotional warts and all — to catch a long prison sentence if freedom of the press doesn’t matter to you …

song currently stuck in my head: “dred scott: 1857” – wadada leo smith

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Senator Harris, the presidency, her Jamaican roots and those curious answers about weed

Kamala Harris marijuana

For whatever reasons, I have this bad habit of writing stuff and not posting it. My thoughts about US Senator and presidential candidate Kamala Harris’ interview on The Breakfast Club Morning Show well over a week ago is an example. I’ll do better …

My observations about her “Whites-only bank” affiliation aside, the interview went in an expected low-drama direction until the discussion topics of weed, the law, her family and music seemed to converge.

Harris surprised me with this response when she was asked about her view on legalizing marijuana (around time marker 34:10):

Hey look, I joke about it, half-joking — half of my family is from Jamaica. Are you kidding me?

Senator Harris’ Jamaican Father — who was a Stanford University Economics professor and whose response to Sen. Harris’ statement makes me think he and his most immediate ancestors wouldn’t be categorized as weed smokers — appeared wounded:

My dear departed grandmothers (whose extraordinary legacy I described in a recent essay on this website), as well as my deceased parents, must be turning in their grave right now to see their family’s name, reputation and proud Jamaican identity being connected, in any way, jokingly or not with the fraudulent stereotype of a pot-smoking joy seeker and in the pursuit of identity politics. Speaking for myself and my immediate Jamaican family, we wish to categorically dissociate ourselves from this travesty.

Here’s a link to the essay Papa Harris referenced.

Besides the slight to half of her family, the Senator seems out of touch with history since it was her Indian Mother’s ancestors who brought ganja — in name, product and culture — to Jamaica.

With smokey illusions as the background, here’s the part of the interview that found Harris caught in a lie (starting at time marker 38:09):

DJ Envy: What [song] does Kamala Harris listen to?

Charlamagne Tha God: What were you listening to when you was high?

Sen. Harris: (Laughter)

CTG: What was on, what song — was it Snoop [Dogg]?

SH: Oh my goodness. Definitely Snoop —

(Laughter from hosts)

SH: Uh-huh, Tupac for sure, for sure.

The answer sounded off to me.

So I did the kind of triflin’ mathematics some of y’all do when newlyweds are expecting twins.

According to Wikipedia, Sen. Harris graduated from law school in 1989.

Snoop didn’t hit until April 1992.

Or ‘91, if you count appearances around the Southern California area.

Tupac didn’t release anything on a wide scale until 1991.

So unless Snoop and ‘Pac were handing out basement mix tapes in the 80s — and you should keep in mind that the latter made Baltimore his home base during the late 80s, with no documented access to Internet-based distribution while Harris remained in Cali for law school — the Senator is lying.

(Laughing) Or she’s been smoking jimmies after becoming a lawyer.

Of all the questions to lie about, why did she make “What you were listening to … ” one of her choices?

Who knows, she could’ve been rockin’ Gregory Abbott during the 80s and didn’t want to share that sort of banality with the BC crowd. Guess I can’t blame her …

But I think Sen Harris should spend more time figuring out how to explain her previous prosecutorial behavior, along with her historical views on investigating police departments for wacky practices.

Video is here and below …

song currently stuck in my head: “calling out (david penn remix)” – sophie lloyd feat. dames brown

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Democrat lawmakers agreed with Trump’s wall — 25 percent of the way

trump border wall

There’s a question I meant to raise a few weeks ago about the budget debate in Washington and President Trump’s Great Wall idea.

“What would you prefer Congress to fund — $5 billion for border security or $5.7 billion for a border wall?”

Yeah. That was a debate. In real life.

Sure, I think paying any money for a wall will result in a monument that ushers in peak-intelligence America; a nod to what one of my friends calls the “post-enlightenment” period where facts no longer matter, but a physical wall born from unfounded hatred and fears does.

But what will proposing nearly the same amount of funding in “border security” accomplish?

Many of you — Democrats included — are acting under the delusion that any border security package endorsement doesn’t ignore the immigrant-heralded spirit of America’s promise for equality and opportunity.

You’re also attempting to unsee the country’s broken immigration process.

Which means the current immigration debate is every bit of a sham as the argument that immigrants ride into America at the top of a crime wave.

Y’all are just beefing about how money set aside to keep immigrants out of America will be spent.

Not a single part of this debate surprises me, given America’s strange history with immigration.

And then the debate became clear with the latest budget approved by Congress, sealed with a compromise: almost $1.4 billion for the southern border wall, or about 25 percent of Trump’s original funding request.

Even with the Dems’ partial agreement compromise, the President is looking for loopholes to fund the remainder of his wall project.

Seems to me that the Dems never wanted this fight in the first place.

Get at me if you don’t smell sham …

song currently stuck in my head: “i’m not defeated (12” mix)” – furious

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The emerging story of Jussie Smollett

empire jussie smollet attack

I always tell you that my natural writing style is stream-of-consciousness — an approach I use for capturing my raw feelings about any topic.

But that doesn’t mean I’ll write in the absence of cogent facts. You can pretty much figure that out by the number of sources I’ll cite in each post.

A dose of nth sense also applies to my creative process, which explains why I never jumped on the story of the Django Unchained actress who claimed that cops racially profiled her to be a prostitute.

I have a loosely-similar feeling about Empire actor Jussie Smollett‘s reported beating, a crime he says was driven by racism and homophobia.

I’m also hoping — as strange as this sounds — that Smollett’s story isn’t a fiction created from the same hateful vapors that have been used to stifle the voices of victims with provable accusations.

Biased hatred hasn’t stopped living amongst us, even as we sort fact from fiction in this case.

Regardless of the Smollett investigation’s outcome or despite the thickness of this haze, we must continue to enable the voices of justice to shout even louder, for society’s sake …

song currently stuck in my head: “backwater blues” – dinah washington

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Amazon’s pullout and New Yorker’s confusion about economic growth

Amazon nyc hq

My response — after laughing — when I heard Amazon is pulling out of that sweet deal to set up a second headquarters in New York City was short, but loaded with meaning.

“Jeff Bezos must’ve thought he was playing with Independence, Iowa.”

Or some other small town. But even those places are pushing back against corporate leverage these days.

But what became more interesting to me is how many residents across the country, including New Yorkers, are confused about the major difference between economic growth and economic development.

For example, America’s pre-Civil War Southern states — enabled by slave labor — became one of the world’s leading producers of cotton and a large number of America’s millionaires by 1860.

That’s economic growth.

The South’s slave economy also became a philosopher’s stone for the North’s food processing facilities, textile plants, shipping firms and insurance companies. Slaves even became collateral to close financial transactions that were quarterbacked by Northern banks.

That’s also economic growth.

Meanwhile, the South’s four million slaves had a virtual 100 percent employment rate by 1850, but were largely uneducated and impoverished. And yeah, enslaved.

See how economic growth works?

Sure, Northern laborers during that time could brag about not being slaves. But the abusive working conditions they dealt with, the predatory compensation they received and the obstacles that prevented their families from escaping the slums to middle-class lifestyles are reasons for why the American labor movement was born.

Placed another way, you can have have economic growth without economic development.

The latter instance provides for human beings to improve their overall quality of life, including a shot at upward mobility, if that’s what they want.

At this point, some of you are saying “Dang, economic development is a lot of responsibility to place on Amazon when they simply wanted to do business in NYC.”

I could argue that the company’s warehouse work conditions, their curious argument for searching employees clocking out of work without compensation, its face recognition activities and that creepy monitoring practice for how long workers sit on toilets don’t help to build the profile of a company that’s down for social investments.

But I’ll spend less time on those topics tonight so I can stress a different point.

Economic development is a shared responsibility between government and business institutions where the framework is established by the former, and the latter provides an executable set of company values that includes social investments.

Speaking of community involvement, I don’t have much to say about Amazon’s pledge to fund STEM classes in NYC public schools since the company couldn’t even give a specific dollar amount for that support.

What seems more clear to me is that New York State Governor Andrew Cuomo and NYC Mayor Bill DeBlasio are sufficiently intelligent to realize they had options for investing the $3 billion dollars that were eventually presented Amazon in the form of tax incentives for setting up shop in the city.

And I think you can figure out for yourself if the desired outcome of these pro-Amazon policymakers — who represent one of the nation’s most economically-unequal cities and conducted negotiations with one of the world’s richest companies through secret meetings and non-disclosure agreements — was either economic growth or development …

song currently stuck in my head: “boat to nowhere” – anoushka shankar

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Album in the Crosshairs: Saoul — Seldom Oddity EP | Special Edition | self-released | 2019

saoul seldom oddity album cover

Saoul wants you to taste the bread.

And be sexy while doing it.

Plus, he has a new release, Seldom Oddity, to help you along …

The unsuppressed, sensual funkiness of the multi-instrumentalist’s EP mirrors writer James Baldwin’s admonition to view sensuality — despite the unequal and on-the-brink times we live in — as a way to “respect and rejoice in the force of life, of life itself, and to be present in all that one does, from the effort of loving to the breaking of bread.”

Saoul gets every bit of that quote, and understands that Baldwin wants all of us to “eat bread again, instead of the blasphemous and tasteless foam rubber that we have substituted for it.”

In other words, TASTE the bread.

And Saoul’s follow-up set to the equally engaging The Juice is all the way here for it. Seven tracks of party-ready funk that snatch you through those ear buds and into his 30-minute jam of love, lust and longing as a counter to world’s emphasis on greed, hatred and isolation. Two chill-out jams are also included. Saoul playfully — if not cleverly — disguises the state of the world in poetic schemes while shaking sexy objects in front of your ears.

“Funk with You” sets clear instructions for tasting the bread with textbook-tight Minneapolis Funk as the groove of choice. You’ll hear strong rhythm guitar work on this track and throughout the set.

“Fire to the Flame” featuring George Andre is a thoughtful nod to hip-swaying Neo Soul that emotes imagery of intimate sweaty nights in underground Brooklyn tea houses or perhaps perfect sessions at London’s Hideaway.

Broken Beats get proper shine through “Fast Eddie” — accented by a deft allegory — and the efficient but massively funky musicianship in “Audacious” is arguably the most danceable track. Like this and most of the songs on the EP, Saoul handles the bulk of the vocal work.

If slowing down is how you prefer to taste your bread, checking the astral vibe of intrigue and attraction in “Fruitbasket” and “Distant Whisper” will be your soundtrack. In the latter instance, SoBeReal understands Saoul’s vision and steps up to solidly deliver the spoken pieces, while Saoul’s guitar solo breathes fire. Perfect songs for a Future Beats set.

But some of you may require additional instruction, which is probably why Saoul saved his clearest messaging for last in “Youbettagogetit!”: “Before they take it all” and “Before they build the wall.”

Speaking of that verb, Seldom Oddity is available now. Take your sexy self to his Bandcamp page or the usual online spots to get yours.

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Empty victory: young Black wrestler’s sacrifice

andrew johnson wrestler

Reading Frantz Fanon or writers like him can make you easily relate to a dictum that seems to describe unequal societies: when you’re on the losing side, a “W” is an welcomed “W” — until you realize it’s not.

I see this dictum in the angering story of Buena Regional High wrestler Andrew Johnson, a junior athlete who was forced into a Thursday night game-time decision to cut his dreadlocks or forfeit the match he was minutes away from competing in. The incident smells like a continuation of the war on dreads.

Johnson’s choice to have his hair cut out of a desire to win and not let his team down, his subsequent match victory, and his persistent pissed-off look about the whole experience is a diorama for — dare I say it — the struggle of race among many African Americans.

They become victims of someone’s not-so-random power trip, they make sacrifices for others in the name of helping the “team” through a challenge but then walk away from the experience with a disgusting taste of a hollow victory. No progress, no inner peace, but sometimes an ultimately meaningless symbol in the shape of a “W” lingers for an ephemeral celebration.

And then the pattern repeats. The dictum of chasing a “W” arrives again, its emptiness either ignored or loathed.

Or in some cases, the fruits of victory are not evenly shared.

Examples of this pattern are the sacrifices African-American soldiers made in World Wars I and II — during the Jim Crow era.

The Korean War. Vietnam.

Many federal, state and local elections. You get the idea.

We dig symbols. Even if they’re of the “W” kind.

And symbols — aside from the classic Richard Pryor joke reference that nestles just below our belt buckles — is all many marginalized people have.

But symbols cannot serve as proxies for real progress and equality.

Based on studies like this one from the St. Louis Fed, if everyone in Andew Johnson’s class pursued no education goals beyond graduating from Buena Regional, his net worth would likely be 11 percent of the average White classmate. And this is only one standout statistic of inequality among many others.

Johnson is too young to learn that lesson, though.

But the humiliating sight of his locks falling to the gym floor in response to a known racist referee’s demand — and the lack of willingness on the part of adults who were present and his own team to protect Johnson from this humiliation — serve as an introduction to that pattern of marginalization, sacrifice, and hollow victories.

The post-match sour expression on Johnson’s face while the referee raised the young athlete’s hand in victory tells me almost everything I need to know about this story.

The inactions of Johnson’s coaches and teammates told me even more.

And the people who held up Johnson’s actions of sacrifice and victory as heroic actions, but ignored the instigating acts, completes the diorama …

song currently stuck in my head: “the land of freedom” – quasimode

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Album in the Crosshairs — Annabel (lee): I Came Across a Dreamer; Youngbloods, 2018

annabel lee, I came across a dreamer, album

Three dreams, guided by a polaris of better times, but for the most part pursued by somber realities while awash with indulgent compositions, vocals and lyrics.

Count Richard Ellis and Sheila Brown Ellis of the group Annabel (lee) among the shortlist of creatives who can solidly deliver on such an angular approach to storytelling. Their new three-song EP release serves as solid evidence of their capabilities. The work of this duo is so stunning that their individual contributions provide a strong aural framing for each other. A collaboration of true equals. My only (minor) complaint is that they’ve yet again teased us with a resonating set of songs and not the full-length album their fans want.

Circling the stars …

—Annabel (lee)

In the spirit of Psychedelic Soul, Funk and Jazz artists decades prior who weaved Afrofuturism metaphors into story quilts of exodus to free spaces, the modal ”Circles” utilizes a Jazz club as your interstellar transportation — saturated with Sunday morning spirituality — and finished with splashes of sci-fi electrons. The musical foundation established by Richard engages you with a rework of a Novo Tempo (Japan) riff of bass and piano, while deftly using Jake Telford’s sax work to fill in spaces. Ellis’ once again displays an incredibly versatile vocal range and prose-styled lyrics to complete the story of a dreamer’s quest for freedom.

Wish I had the power
To control these fragile hours …

—Annabel (lee)

Nocturnal dreams enjoy visions of change in the same way traveling the cosmos serves as a device to explore new states of living — except the former acknowledges its limited life expectancy, victim of the sun’s ironically cruel rapier. “Glow” offers additional Jazz flavor, and a deep listen will reward you with Annabel (lee)’s signature Dark Pop and Folk patterns. The lyrics — I used a Langston Hughes poem to help establish my personal reference point — leave behind phased emotions of hope and dread, combined with a contemporary Lounge music feel. This will be the second time in just over a year where I had Nick Drake on my mind after listening to someone else’s song.

The tune never ends
As long as, in the sky
You catch a sight of the wings
And something flying …

—Annabel (lee)

Given how the first two tracks can get all up in your ambivalent feelings as you nod your head the entire time, “Lovers’ Wings” offers a highly-visible counterpoint. The breezy Bossa Nova construction helps to complete the imagery of two lovers’ take on paradise.

Some of you know about greatest compliment I can give to a release: you will continue to enjoy it years later after purchase. I Came Across A Dreamer is in that category. While the dreams shared are engaging, don’t miss the stories within the songs the group doesn’t tell — a change in your channel frequency may be required for that.

The EP is available now at Youngbloods, Bandcamp, Apple Music, Spotify, and many other outlets. And here’s more good news — a full-length album is slated for release next year.

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Synagogue of blood and the warlock’s spell of hatred

Synagogue shooting Pittsburgh

The warlock’s latest spell — cast since June 16, 2015 — of manipulating hatred, paranoia, and economic exclusion, remains intact.

This spell, like the others, can easily integrate with each other to present society with more complexity and danger.

And extensibility. We saw evidence of this on November 11, 2016.

We see additional proof today as the American flag flies at half-staff — under White House decree — in response to Neo-Nazi Robert Bowers’ horrifying gun executions of 11 Jewish worshippers on Shabbat the previous day.

The warlock mourning the blood he arguably drew with no widespread backlash underscores this spell’s power.

The hex works in two parts: the manipulation I just mentioned, and the creation a diametric universe where nothing outside of it will be accepted as fact.

The latter saturates social media and cable channels with tales of how any critique of Trump is a mainstream Liberal conspiracy; the global warming hoax and associated Chinese plot against America; the refugee caravan heading north through Central America toward the United States border being an elaborate collaboration between liberals and refugees to disrupt American society; how US-based MS-13 gang members are are supported by left-wing US politicians; the reason to still doubt the previous president’s citizenship status; pizzagate; and other stories not supported by any coherent assembly of facts.

The spell is supported by the warlock’s refusal to immediately and unambiguously take a stand against anti-semitism and racism’s support systems.

For instance, consider how long it took for Trump to denounce the “Jews will not replace us” madness in Charlottesville, Virginia over a year ago.

And how about Trump’s decision to not make an immediate comment about anti-Semitism following yesterday’s shootings?

Let’s also add the President’s refusal to cancel political rallies in Illinois and Indiana that were scheduled the same day as synagogue shootings, with Trump citing the falsehood of the New York Stock Exchange opening one day after the 2001 September 11 terror attacks.

Here’s what Trump said while in Illinois:

With what happened early today, that horrible, horrible attack in Pittsburgh, I was saying maybe I should cancel both this and that. And then I said to myself, I remembered Dick Russell, a friend of mine, great guy, he headed up the New York Stock Exchange on September 11th, and the New York Stock Exchange was open the following day …

The stock market opened six days later back then, and the NYSE head at that time was Dick GRASSO. The RUSSELL Trump referred to was a Democratic Senator from Georgia who voted against the 1964 Civil Rights Act and supported segregation.

It’s time for a reminder: the spell can integrate with other spells and is extensible. They can also serve as poetic dog whistles …

Creating such a abstusely-sealed environment of hatred as well as distrust for facts makes it easy for the warlock’s supporters — even when dead bodies, blood and spent bullets painted a Synagogue floor yesterday — to furiously spin tales of how the opposing political party has been the sole promoter of extremists and has more responsibility, if not all, for the current climate of violence.

The warlock’s supporters even hang on to the argument that Bowers hated Trump. At the same time, they ignore the fact that Cesar Sayoc — the suspected pipe bomber who targeted two former Presidents and other high-profile Liberal political leaders earlier this week — is a Trump supporter.

Gregory Bush’s execution of two Black adults in Louisville, Kentucky, after he unsuccessfully attempted to enter a Black church to possibly commit a mass shooting, is a product of this spell.

Only the spell can explain Susan Westwood’s bizarre confrontation with two African American women who were waiting in a Charlotte, North Carolina parking lot for AAA assistance. Westwood threatened the women with violence while saying “I’m White! I make $125,000 a year!” [Well, used to make $125,000 a year.]

When Pittsburgh Mayor Bill Peduto’s post-incident comments referenced “healing,” I thought about how 2017 saw a 57 percent year-over-year increase in Anti-semitic violence, and hate crimes in general have spiked immediately after Trump’s election in 2016.

I also thought about that spell again.

It’s hard to heal when the wound is filled with hate.

It’s hard to get rid of hate when this spell remains intact.

There are times when the Warlock’s spell loses control of the ghouls it creates.

And as shocking as this may sound, America’s had previous warlocks and spells. We’re witnessing the newest edition.

I said a long time ago that legislating love is virtually impossible, and I rarely use the I-word.

But voting in more officials who will do more to check hate and chip away at this spell is a start.

You know what to next Tuesday.

No song stuck in my head right now …

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