Raleigh | Durham | Chapel Hill October 28, 2020
The righteous rage of JooseLord Magnus is conscious rap for an incendiary age
BY KYESHA JENNINGS, P. 20
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October 28, 2020
Raleigh W Durham W Chapel Hill VOL. 37 NO. 40
NCCU students march to the polls, p. 16 PHOTO BY JADE WILSON
CONTENTS NEWS 9
Durham's Elections Chief gets ready for the biggest day of the year. BY REBECCA TORRENCE
10 North Carolina anti-torture advocates fight to expose the CIA. BY JONATHAN MICHELS
FEATURE 13 A look inside UNC's $6.5 billion corporate endowment.
BY JULIO GUTIERREZ
FOOD 19 A distiller fights the ABC board's attempt to write new laws. BY LEIGH TAUSS MUSIC 20 The righteous rage of JooseLord Magnus is conscious rap for an incendiary age. BY KYESHA JENNINGS 22 Electronic music in a world without dance floors. BY NICK WILLIAMS 24 Two recent country albums walk the line between pop and purist. BY BRIAN HOWE
CULTURE 25 For socially distant scares, try a haunted car wash. BY SARAH EDWARDS
THE REGULARS 4 15 Minutes
6 A Week in the Life
COVER Photo by Jade Wilson / Design by Jon Fuller
WE M A DE THIS PUBLIS H ER Susan Harper
Staff Writer Thomasi McDonald
EDITOR I AL
Digital Content Manager Sara Pequeño
Interim Editor in Chief Brian Howe Raleigh News Editor Leigh Tauss Interim A+C Editor Sarah Edwards Interim News Editor Eric Ginsburg
Theater+Dance Critic Byron Woods Voices Columnists T. Greg Doucette, Chika Gujarathi, Alexis Pauline Gumbs, Courtney Napier, Barry Saunders, Jonathan Weiler
Contributors Will Atkinson, Paul Blest, Jameela F. Dallis, Michaela Dwyer, Spencer Griffith, Laura Jaramillo, Kyesha Jennings, Drew Millard, Glenn McDonald, Josephine McRobbie, Neil Morris, James Michael Nichols, Marta Nuñez Pouzols, Bryan C. Reed, Dan Ruccia, David Ford Smith, Eric Tullis, Michael Venutolo-Mantovani, Chris Vitiello, Ryan Vu Interns Ann Gehan, Anna Mudd, Suzannah Claire Perry
C RE ATI V E Creative Director
Annie Maynard Graphic Designer
Jon Fuller Staff Photographer
Raleigh Sales Manager MaryAnn Kearns Account Executive Magnolia Wang
C I R C U L AT I O N Berry Media Group
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October 28, 2020
BAC K TA L K
Last week, we wrote about Governor Roy Cooper’s decision to extend Phase 3 of the state’s reopening plan amid an uptick in coronavirus cases. The new executive order will remain in place until at least November 13. “Not all heroes wear capes,” wrote reader WILSON OWENS. “Thank goodness we have a governor who responds in a rational and logical way, making decisions based on facts on the ground,” replied MARK ELLIS on Facebook. “Even the CONSERVATIVE REPUBLICAN governor of Texas admitted having erred in reopening too early a few months ago. Diseases don’t kowtow to political wishes.” Facebook user JASON WILLIAMS responded with a GIF of Mister Rogers putting on a clown mask. While walking back reopening plans is in the best interest for public health, the continued uncertainty puts clubs like Raleigh’s Ruby Deluxe and Chapel Hill’s Nightlife in jeopardy, as Mary King wrote about last week. “People aren’t doing their part, they aren’t social distancing, and they aren’t wearing their mask properly, so things are going to keep going poorly,” wrote Facebook user TINA WOODS. “I work with the public in close contact and still have to ask multiple people a day to please wear a mask, or please pull it up over your nose. So yeah, businesses are going to be shut down because people can’t follow the rules to try to keep people safe.” “The federal government needs to pay bars to stay closed through the winter,” suggested ANDREW SNEE. “They pay farmers not to plant fields.” In response to Katie Fernelius’s story on the NC Safety Alliance, reader LITTLE BEAN called the reporting “white saviorism at its finest.” “Did the journalist even bother reaching out to the other group to hear their perspective before slandering their efforts?” LITTLE BEAN continued. “If they did, they would have found a story of how once again a group of straight white women stole the work of BIPOC and queer folks and tried to discredit them. What kind of journalism is this? Attempting to erase the efforts of a group who are the reason the NCPA started is petty and irresponsible journalism. Congrats on spreading lies and potentially harming all of the survivors who have trusted their stories with the Greensboro and Winston Safety Alliance.”
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October 28, 2020
15 MINUTES Katie Allen, 38 Milliner BY SARAH EDWARDS email@example.com
Raleigh resident Katie Allen, a member of the USA Milliners Guild, is participating in the virtual exhibit Solidarity in Style: Celebrating Women’s Suffrage, which can be found online at millinersguild.org.
How did the Millinery Guild come to be founded? A small group of milliners banded together in the early 2000s and expanded into a national membership. We now have members across the nation and in all four corners of the U.S. Our mission is to educate and make the public aware of the traditional heritage craft of millenary art.
Can you tell me about this current virtual exhibit? It’s the 100th anniversary of the ratification of the 19th Amendment. It was a significant step forward for women, though not all women, because Black women and Black men still did not have the right to vote—that came much later, halfway through the 20th century. As a female-majority group, we wanted to recognize this through the medium we all share, which is millinery. Hats are an expression: You lead with your head, and hats are front-and-center and the great identifying point for a person’s personality and self-expression.
Your hat honors Anna Julia Haywood Cooper— can you tell me a bit about her? She was born into slavery shortly before the outbreak of the Civil War, and once she was emancipated with her mother, she went on to show academic promise at the age of nine and won a scholarship at St. Augustine’s. She continued to push to take classes that white males would and distinguish herself among her peers. She became the fourth African-American woman to achieve a PhD in 1924. She was a prolific author, educator, and Black liberation activist—just a very prominent scholar.
PHOTO BY JADE WILSON
Do you remember your first hat? When I was growing up, I watched a ton of musicals, all the old Rodgers and Hammerstein. I fell in love with Hello Dolly and Music Man and hats specifically, but I was told, “Nobody wears hats anymore. Nobody makes hats. That’s not a viable career choice.” In high school, I grabbed an old straw hat and a hot glue gun and made hats for our school production of Music Man. I don’t use the hot glue gun anymore.
Do you feel like hats are going to have another moment? I love hats and think they’re having a moment, constantly. [Now] I would attribute it especially to the interest in the British Royal Family. We’ve become obsessed with Meghan Markle and Kate Middleton. Fashion is also cyclical: What goes around comes around.
Will you wear your hat to the polls? I’m going to do early voting this weekend, and I plan to wear my hat! My hat is wide so if I get stuck in my cubicle, I may have to take it off. W
BY ERIC GINSBURG firstname.lastname@example.org
n this week’s issue, Julio Gutierrez pulls back the curtain on the UNC System’s endowment (page 13). The chart below, based on 2019 financial statements, illustrates that the majority of the UNC System’s investment income is held by UNC-Chapel Hill, with HBCUs falling far behind. The UNC Investment Fund’s assets are diversified and profitable, yet administrators aren’t keen to redistribute funds more equitably. W
Investment Income in 2019 for UNC System schools UNC-Chapel Hill
NC State University UNC-Greensboro
East Carolina University
Western Carolina University
NC A&T State University
Appalachian State University
NC Central University
Winston-Salem State University
Fayetteville State University Elizabeth City State University
UNC Investment Fund Asset Allocation
% of total market value, as of June 30, 2019 1.1% 6.8% 5.8%
24.1% 15.5% 9.4% 9.9%
Long biased equity Long/short equity Diversifying strategies Fixed income
Private equity Real estate Energy & natural resources Cash
UNC Management Company Finances 20
Net assets Net income In millions of dollars
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Year Sources, clockwise from top left: 2019 financial statement audit reports, UNCIF Annual Report from 2019, and Pro Publica’s reporting
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October 28, 2020
A WE E K IN THE L IFE
October 28, 2020
North Carolina Governor Roy Cooper announces that PHASE 3—which was scheduled to end on October 23—will extend at least until November 13. The news comes after a surge in COVID-19 cases in the state.
At the SECOND PRESIDENTIAL DEBATE, moderated by Kristin Welker, Joe Biden takes Donald Trump to task for border separations and his handling of the coronavirus. Just like the last debate, there is lots of heat and very little policy talk.
N.C. STATE SENATOR JEFF JACKSON, who is running for re-election in District 37 and is also an Army National Guard Captain, announces that he has been called for out-of-state National Guard training through November 12. His wife, Marisa, is campaigning in his stead. NC STATE UNIVERSITY announces that it will delay the start of the spring semester. Spring break is also canceled, and four wellness days throughout the semester will replace it.
SENATOR CORY BOOKER spends the day campaigning for Biden in North Carolina, with stops in Durham, Raleigh, and Fayetteville. Booker’s father was born in Hendersonville and attended NC Central University. At a virtual forum, Duke University researchers announce that “forever chemical” compounds may be contaminating the DRINKING WATER of more than one million North Carolina residents.
Days after declaring support for a bill that would federally recognize the Lumbee Tribe of N.C., PRESIDENT TRUMP holds a rally at the Robeson County Fairgrounds, his eighth visit to the state since September.
(Here’s what’s happened since the INDY went to press last week)
The Board of Elections website details that as of Monday, 3,171,218 ballots have been cast—a record turnout of REGISTERED VOTERS in the state. The News & Observer reports there have been more COVID-19 clusters at N.C. PRIVATE SCHOOLS than at public schools. Well, well, well—the moon is wet. NASA announces the existence of water on the sunlit side of the moon, near the Clavius crater, which is one of the craters visible to the naked eye.
October 28, 2020
OP - E D
Unaffordable Care In the middle of a health crisis, we can’t afford to have a president without a plan BY DIANE DAVIS, PA-C, MPH firstname.lastname@example.org
’ve spent more than 20 years working in community medicine. In that time, I’ve served many patients who do not have insurance—not by choice, and through no fault of their own, but because with lowwage jobs, they cannot afford traditional health insurance. The financial and emotional strain it puts on parents and families is enormous and draining. The Affordable Care Act has been a huge help. It’s the one meaningful step we’ve taken to expand access to health insurance in decades. Now it is in danger, because Donald Trump is committed to destroying it in the middle of the worst public health crisis in a century. For North Carolina, eliminating the ACA means ripping away protections for almost 5 million people across our state who are living with a pre-existing condition. It means that more than 1.8 million seniors who save thousands of dollars on prescription drugs will pay much higher, potentially unaffordable prices for the medications they need. And it means leaving behind the 1 million people across North Carolina who don’t have insurance at all. Not only is Donald Trump trying to destroy it; he is doing it in the midst of a global pandemic, a time when families are scared not only of the virus, but of the possibility that someone in their household will lose their job, and their health insurance along with it. That Trump isn’t capable of understanding how much worse the pandemic would be without the ACA shows that he isn’t fit to lead us through this crisis. Moreover, for a candidate seeking reelection to have no plan to ensure that Americans can afford to see a doctor is beyond a failure; it’s disqualifying.
October 28, 2020
“He isn’t fit to lead us through this crisis.” We’ve waited for more than five years for Donald Trump to propose a healthcare plan, and he still hasn’t done it. A few things are clear: He has no plan, he never will, and North Carolinians are done waiting. Fortunately for us, there is a candidate in this race who has a real plan—not just to mitigate the spread of the coronavirus, but to make sure every North Carolinian has the peace of mind of being able to see a doctor when they need to. Joe Biden has told us exactly what he’ll do as president. He’ll build on the Affordable Care Act by creating a public option that will give every American access to quality health insurance, no matter their income, zip code, or race. Our country is in crisis, and we have to recognize that we’re in this together. Our response has to empower and include every American, and to do that, we need every American to step up and do their part— every vote counts. Before early voting ends this week, tell your friends, neighbors, and coworkers to make a plan to cast their ballot. Ask people if they have voted, and if they say no, ask when they plan to. Together, we can encourage the turnout that North Carolina needs and help elect Joe Biden. W Diane Davis works as a family medicine physician assistant in Durham. She earned her Physician Assistant Certification from Wake Forest University and her master’s in public health from UNC-Chapel Hill.
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Ballot Boss Durham’s elections chief has cut down on departmental errors while finding his groove BY REBECCA TORRENCE email@example.com
very Election Day, Derek Bowens wakes up and plays the most motivational song he can think of: CNN’s “Election Night in America” theme. It provides an early-morning jolt that gets the Durham County elections director ready for the busy day ahead. The booming drums, violin swells, and electric guitar riffs follow Bowens as he springs out of bed, brushes his teeth, and heads to the office just before 5 a.m. If there’s one thing that riles him up, it’s the rhythm of democracy. ive years “It’s so great,” he said of the song. “It gets me moving.” ealthcare Not that Bowens needs help to get going. Fourteen ew things hours a day, seven days a week, he manages precinct offir will, and cials and elections administrators, oversees voter registrang. tions and absentee ballot mailings, supervises 14 early ndidate in voting sites, and prepares for the most important day ot just to of his year. On November 3, how well he handles those virus, but details could have a significant effect on the confidence n has the in, and maybe the outcome of, the biggest election of e a doctor his lifetime. He loves his work because it matters. what he’ll “I see it as the bedrock of our democracy,” he said. “That he Afford- importance should be met with a level of intensity.” lic option Bowens sweats the details. He knows election law access to inside and out, and his employees joke about how easily tter their he catches the errors they’ve missed. “I had one staff say, ‘I don’t want to call Derek over to e have to solve this, because the minute he comes over, he’ll find ther. Our the problem instantly,’” Bowens said, laughing. ude every He’s relatively new to Durham, having arrived from eed every New Hanover County, North Carolina in 2016, and his eir part— colleagues say the office is more efficient under his leadting ends ership. According to Philip Lehman, chairman of the bors, and Durham Board of Elections, there were 792 mistakes their bal- of various degrees in the 2016 primary election, which ed, and if took place before Bowens arrived. In this year’s primary, o. Togeth- there were eight. hat North “Derek is running a multi-ring circus,” Lehman said. “But Biden. W he’s always ahead of the game.” As director of elections in New Hanover, home to Wilmicine phy- ington, Bowens became known for his well-organized arned her warehouses, where necessities, from ballot machines to om Wake “I Voted” stickers, are kept. in public But don’t look for signs of organization on his desk. Papers are scattered across the cherry wood—calendars,
There were 792 mistakes in the 2016 primary. This year there were eight. timesheets, fliers, and reusable paper towels (he wanted to see if they could be used to sanitize polling places). “They say organized people have the messiest desks,” he deadpanned. Colleagues say he never loses his cool. When a problem arises, he goes into solutions mode, turning his eyes to the sky. His employees know that when he lowers his eyes, he’ll have a plan. “There was never a moment where he seemed panicked or overwhelmed,” said Samuel Gedman, former deputy director of elections. “He simply lays out what needs to be done. In this business, that’s huge.” “We feel confident that things are under control” Growing up in Wilmington, Bowens lived in an apartment in the projects with his single mother, sister, and two brothers. His mother, who worked at a preschool, tried to expose her children to positive experiences while shielding them from drugs and violence. Eventually, she married Bowens’ stepfather, who was the owner of a local painting company and built the family a house in the suburbs when Bowens was 12 years old. But the years of poverty had made their mark. Bowens wanted to keep climbing up. He was a good student in high school, a self-described “nerd.” He was president of the debate team and won a “principal’s choice” award, accomplishments that helped him earn grants to subsidize his college education, which he split between UNC-Charlotte, community college, and UNC-Wilmington. The 2008 presidential election was a turning point in his self-realization when he saw a Black man on the ballot for the first time. In a necessarily nonpartisan job, Bowens doesn’t talk politics. Still, Barack Obama’s candidacy and subsequent presidency rocked Bowens to his core.
“It was something that I could never fathom,” he said. “It was the first time I felt like I could do something in this country.” After graduating, he got a job as a New Hanover County elections specialist and quickly ascended the ranks. By February 2015, at age 27, he was the county’s director of elections. Bowens, now 32, is significantly younger than many of his employees. But Deputy Director of Elections Brenda Baker says he has an old soul. “He could be any age,” she said. “He’s very mature, a methodical thinker, and a great problem solver.” Bowens says any worries about a chaotic election are unfounded. “I have every confidence in our ability to execute a great election here in Durham,” he said. At the mention of voter intimidation, Bowens’ jaw clenched. “We’re doing everything we can to create a safe voting environment in Durham,” he said. “The issue of voter intimidation is very important, and it certainly won’t be tolerated.” In addition to the unarmed security guards, if a precinct in Durham does see an instance of voter intimidation, “I’ll be the first one out there, I can tell you that,” Bowens said. During Baker’s interview for her role, her first impression of Bowens was of a “pretty serious and very precise person.” At first, she worried he would be a tough boss. But after 5 p.m., when the phones finally stop ringing, his employees see him at his most comfortable. He takes off his shoes and wanders the office in his socks. He whistles to himself and blasts Michael Jackson’s greatest hits from his phone. Bowens says unwinding together helps build comradery. He doesn’t see his own family much these days. He says his wife, Andrea, doesn’t always agree with his commitment to the job, “but she understands the importance of it,” he said. He misses his 3-year-old daughter, Harper, most of all. “But this is our democracy,” he said. “It requires sacrifice.” W Editor’s note: This story was produced through a partnership between the INDY and The 9th Street Journal. Visit our website to read the full version of this article. INDYweek.com
October 28, 2020
ed rendit N379P, i Interro edly sla confined and subj techniqu of drow Nashiri h rogation in 2018, anxiety, stress di Later, in destr tapes rec Thai det er-up to Committ that resu “torture details o gation” p Regard ger views “We will the lette Cooper, and oth who have and say,
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War on Torture North Carolina anti-torture advocates see a potential watershed moment in the fight to expose the CIA BY JONATHAN MICHELS firstname.lastname@example.org
t the urging of anti-torture advocates, North Carolina Democratic Congressman David Price is requesting that the CIA disclose information regarding the state’s outsized role in the rendition, detention, and interrogation (RDI) program implemented in the wake of the 9/11 terrorist attacks. Between 2001 and 2005, the CIA supervised the kidnapping and rendition—or transport—of suspected terrorists to secret prisons throughout the world. Detainees were often held without charge and subjected to so-called “enhanced interrogation techniques,” such as waterboarding, slapping, and sleep deprivation, sometimes for as long as 180 hours, as detailed in the United States Senate Select Committee on Intelligence’s “torture report.” Those techniques are now widely recognized as torture. The clandestine operations were among the most brutal aspects of the Bush administration’s “War on Terror,” and yet few official details have been made public about the rendition flights, and no American officials have been held accountable. Price—who represents N.C.’s Fourth Congressional District, which covers most of Raleigh, Cary, Chapel Hill, and Hillsborough—sent a letter to CIA Director Gina Haspel on October 5 requesting specific details about the individuals who were transported overseas, along with information regarding Aero Contractors Limited, a suspected CIA front company specializing in “discreet airlift.” Aero is based at the Johnston County Airport in Smithfield, N.C.—just 30 minutes southeast of Raleigh. Aero pilots are believed to have conducted the majority of U.S. renditions before 2004, transporting an estimated 48 men and one woman—all of them Muslim— into the hands of American and foreign officers for interrogation, according to the North Carolina Commission of Inquiry on Torture. 10
October 28, 2020
ILLUSTRATION BY JON FULLER
The information requested by Price includes the number of people rendered in total to foreign custody, the number of people rendered aboard aircraft based in N.C., the fate of those prisoners during the RDI program, and details about their current whereabouts. The letter also targets Aero for increased scrutiny in order to obtain a complete list of rendition missions flown by the aviation company; a list of missions flown by Aero for the purpose of servicing CIA black sites, including those not transporting prisoners; a clearer understanding of whether Aero continues to forcibly transport detainees either within or outside the U.S.; and whether other private N.C. companies are participating as well. “I hope to receive clear, thorough answers from CIA Director Haspel,” Price explained in an email to the INDY. “[The RDI] program needs more transparency and a better accounting of who has been involved and what taxpayer-funded infrastructure was utilized.” If Haspel complies with Price’s requests for information, it would provide the American public with its clearest picture yet of the role of rendition within the RDI program along with the full scope of N.C.’s involvement in the torture of detainees. It would also fill in crucial details about CIA-backed renditions of detainees to foreign countries like Egypt and Morocco for interrogation by proxy. “This [letter] represents the first time that a U.S. congressperson armed with as much information as this
citizen inquiry could generate is demanding that the CIA come clean about aspects of the rendition and torture program that have never really been scrutinized by any official body,” says Christina Cowger, an anti-torture activist with North Carolina Stop Torture Now. The grassroots coalition formed in 2005 after a New York Times exposé revealed Aero’s role as a “major domestic hub of the Central Intelligence Agency’s secret air service.” Any information gleaned as a result of the letter to Haspel would have to be seen, in part, as a victory for N.C. citizens who have spent the last 15 years fighting to focus attention onto Aero’s so-called “ghost pilots.” “What [the letter] represents is real progress,” Cowger says. “Finally, citizen activity has prompted a congressional request for information. But also, it reveals how much is yet unknown about how the CIA conducted this massive kidnap and gulag program and how it used foreign proxies to shuffle prisoners in and out of those countries into black sites.” Knowing that Haspel herself is implicated in the very types of activities that the letter seeks to expose, it seems unlikely she will consent to Price’s request. Before President Donald Trump tapped her to lead the CIA, Haspel supervised a black site in Thailand known as “Cat’s Eye” during the early years of the War on Terror, according to reports by ProPublica. Haspel is believed to have personally overseen the interrogation of Abd al-Rahim al-Nashiri following his suspect-
ed rendition on an Aero jet, tail number N379P, in 2002. Interrogators dressed in black repeatedly slammed Nashiri against a wall, confined him to a small, coffin-like box, and subjected him to waterboarding, a technique that simulates the experience of drowning, according to ProPublica. Nashiri had “lasting scars” from the interrogation in Thailand, ProPublica reported in 2018, including a “phobia of water ... anxiety, depression and post-traumatic stress disorder.” Later, Haspel reportedly played a role in destroying 92 interrogation videotapes recorded during her tenure at the Thai detention site. The suspected cover-up touched off a U.S. Senate Select Committee on Intelligence investigation that resulted in a damning, 6,700-page “torture report,” laying bare the lurid details of the CIA’s “enhanced interrogation” program. Regardless of Haspel’s response, Cowger views Price’s letter as a hopeful step. “We will publicize the letter, we will use the letter to approach Governor [Roy] Cooper, Attorney General [Josh] Stein, and other Democrats and Republicans who have the power to also step forward and say, ‘This is a problem,’” she says.
Price’s letter draws heavily on the work of the North Carolina Commission of Inquiry on Torture, a citizen-led, non-governmental body spearheaded by Cowger and other anti-torture activists. Pulling from hours of witness testimony as well as meticulous records from amateur plane-spotters and troves of publicly available documents, the commission produced an exhaustive report aiming to fill in details about extraordinary rendition that were noticeably absent from the U.S. Senate investigation. The report described a typical rendition flight, wherein Aero pilots departed from N.C. to pick up a rendition team at Dulles Airport in Washington D.C. before heading to the destination country. There, the abduction team allegedly snatched detainees and then shackled them, stripped them naked, and loaded them onto an Aero-operated plane, which one survivor likened to a “torture chamber in the sky.” The N.C. commission estimated that Aero conducted an astounding 80 percent of identified CIA renditions between 2001 and 2004, which, as I previously reported for Shadowproof, distinguished N.C. as a major facilitator of extraordinary rendition, because the flights would not have been
possible without state and local funding, infrastructure, and other resources. “Even after Aero’s role in the C.I.A. program had come to light,” the commission noted, “local and state authorities continued to lease space to the company, provide public airport services and facilities for rendition flights, and provide grants to fortify the company’s perimeter at its airport headquarters.” President Barack Obama terminated the RDI program in 2009, but Aero continues to operate out of Johnston County. “So [Aero] could still be rendering people,” Cowger says. “They could be engaged in human rights abuses today.” Attempts to contact Aero for comment were unsuccessful. The email addresses provided on the company’s website were invalid, and there is no listed phone number. There is little chance of knowing what Aero’s activities are—past or present— without federal or state officials opening an official investigation. Many of them have refused to do so, regardless of their political allegiances. Corporate records filed with the North Carolina Secretary of State’s office show that in September 2019, Aero changed its legal name to Triangle Aviation Solutions Corporation. The business was originally
incorporated in Delaware and started operating in N.C. in 1979, according to the files. Members of N.C. Stop Torture Now made regular appearances before the Johnston County Board of Commissioners and appealed to every N.C. governor going back to Mike Easley, who left office in 2009. The group has yet to receive any official response. Governor Cooper also declined to look into Aero when he served as the state’s attorney general, citing a lack of jurisdiction. The governor’s office did not respond to requests for comment from the INDY. Laura Brewer, a spokesperson for current Attorney General Stein—also a Democrat—wrote in an email that “Our office is reviewing the materials the [N.C.] Commission provided to us.” This lack of access to information is not only a hindrance for activists like Cowger looking to raise public awareness about N.C.’s role in CIA rendition; it makes it more difficult for elected officials who might be sympathetic to their cause to investigate the issue as well, said Tommy Ross, a senior associate at D.C. think tank Center for Strategic and International Studies. From 2005 to 2009, Ross served as Rep. Price’s legislative director.
October 28, 2020
In an interview conducted earlier this year, Ross recalled how difficult it was to get any information about the classified RDI program on behalf of concerned constituents back in N.C. “Representative Price was always sympathetic to their concerns,” Ross said. “We just didn’t know a lot. Even if state officials had been asking questions and trying to get information, as surely some of them were, it would have been nearly impossible for them to get anything real.” Ironically, the N.C. official best positioned to shed light on the secretive program is also probably the least likely to do so. As the chairman of the U.S. Senate Select Committee on Intelligence, Senator Richard Burr is tasked with overseeing the activities of the CIA and to demand accountability. The Republican senator, however, has repeatedly signaled his disinterest in dredging up any more details about the secretive program, which occurred under a Republican administration. In fact, Burr began clawing back copies of the Senate’s full, unredacted torture report from various governmental offices in 2017, The Washington Post reported, in order to shield them from requests under the Freedom of Information Act. That’s why anti-torture activists in N.C. have traditionally focused more of their energy engaging with Democratic officials who may be more susceptible to pressure. The results have been mixed. “Democrats who have been willing to make this an issue and keep making it an issue are extremely few,” Cowger says. On the federal level, Price remains an outlier among N.C. officials who have been willing to touch the issue. Price attended a film screening last year of The Report, a fictionalized account of the tumultuous investigation into the CIA torture program, in which he commended the work of the N.C. commission and announced
“Even if state officials had been asking questions and trying to get information as surely some of them were, it would have been nearly impossible for them to get anything real.” that he had entered its report into the official Congressional Record. Within state government, anti-torture activists found allies in the late North Carolina Representative Paul Luebke, who represented Durham for 25 years, and Representative Verla Insko, whose district covers much of Chapel Hill and Carrboro. Just last year, Insko filed a state bill called Ending NC’s Involvement in Torture, which would have granted the state attorney general special authority to investigate Aero as recommended in the N.C. commission’s report. Although the bill failed, Insko told the INDY during the Democratic primary earlier this year that she would be open to submitting future legislation to raise awareness about the issue. “Most legislators are not educated on [North Carolina’s role in CIA rendition],” Insko said. “If Democrats win the majority back, we will ask someone if they can set up a task force and look at it in a study bill that would help educate legislators.” Another problem is that seemingly negative issues like torture and covert CIA operations are unlikely to win over voters, particularly during an election year coinciding with a deadly pandemic that has claimed the lives of nearly 4,200 North Carolinians. “This is not an immediately pressing issue like healthcare is or education,” Insko
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racist activists dead. He compared the challenges confronting anti-torture advocates to that of the Greensboro Truth and Reconciliation Commission, which formed after years of fruitlessly agitating for accountability from city officials. “We have a moral responsibility to wrestle with the implications of our actions, even if they were taken in good faith, or even if they were taken in ignorance of information that might have made us think differently about them,” Ross said. This month, more than 40 years after the Greensboro Massacre, the city council issued its first formal apology. Cowsaid. “You don’t have to educate people on ger and her colleagues hope they won’t that. They’re living it. They know it.” have to wait that long for recognition Still, other N.C. Democrats may be tak- of this more recent ugly chapter of the ing a cue from President Barak Obama, state’s history. Reflecting on N.C. Stop who insisted that Americans “look for- Torture Now’s 15-year struggle to demand ward,” not back, on the issue of torture. accountability for the state’s role in the “We tortured some folks,” Obama said, CIA torture program, Cowger lamented glibly, in 2014. But, the president contin- how protracted the campaign has been. ued, “I think it’s important, when we look Rendering justice for torture survivors is back, to recall how afraid people were one of the primary motivations behind when the Twin Towers fell. It’s import- the group’s years-long campaign to bring ant for us not to feel too sanctimonious the issue to light. in retrospect about the tough job those Next summer, four torture survivors will folks had.” finally have the opportunity to present Cowger worries that elected officials their grievances before the Inter-Amerifail to see any political upside in taking can Commission on Human Rights. Three on the issue, only risks. She hopes that of the men—Binyam Mohamed, Abou Price’s request for information will inspire Elkassim Britel, and Bisher al-Rawi—were Cooper, Stein, and other elected officials rendered to foreign proxies for interroto take a similar stand. gation onboard a Gulfstream V aircraft “[Price’s] letter just might help to show presumably operated by Aero, according people that it’s possible,” Cowger says. to the N.C. commission. “And if, in November, there’s a change Meanwhile, at least 13 other people of power in at least one house in the who were transported by Aero are still North Carolina General Assembly, then believed to be languishing in captivity we’re hopeful that there can be legisla- at the U.S. detention camp at Guantánative action.” mo Bay. The longer officials obfuscate, Ross, Price’s former legislative aide, Cowger warned, the longer justice will believes that a cultural shift is just as be denied. necessary as a political one. Ross grew “It’s not plausible that [officials] can’t up in Greensboro, the site of the 1979 do anything,” she says. “It’s a matter of To advertise or feature a pet for adoption, Greensboro Massacre that left five anti- political will.” W
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Ivory Coffers What if UNC’s $6.5 billion endowment actually worked for all of us? BY JULIO GUTIERREZ email@example.com
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he University of North Carolina System is in crisis. Hammered by the pandemic, its flagship school, the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, announced layoffs for student employees last month as it faces a projected $300 million loss. Various faculty and staff members have been cut as well. The COVID-19 fallout is hitting the entire UNC System, with North Carolina State Univere a pet sity and East Carolina University bearing ontact the brunt of it, alongside UNC-Chapel Hill. And yet, the UNC System holds more than k.com $6.5 billion in its endowment fund. In June, a collective of graduate workers petitioned the UNC-Chapel Hill administration, demanding all-remote instruction, no layoffs or furloughs, and funding for all graduate workers. To finance such a plan, the petition called for a redistribution of the school’s endowment. University leaders, who often regard the endowment as “untouchable,” dismissed the petition, which highlighted the need to exam-
ine such a massive financial resource and its opaque administration. As an economist and PhD student at UNC-Chapel Hill intrigued by the black box of public higher education finances, I decided to dig more into the history, functioning, and inequalities of the university system’s endowment fund. This is what I found. THE INVESTMENT FUND In finance, an endowment fund pools money from various sources and allocates it across a diverse set of investments. Non-profit institutions such as public universities and charitable organizations use this as a way to meet some of their main expenses. The University of North Carolina System has utilized this type of revenue-generating mechanism for decades. UNC System schools created organizations for the sole purpose of collecting money and investing. These usually take
turing and the corporatization of the UNC System. The first steps began with the creation of the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill Institutional Development Foundation, Inc. in 1976. Among the main objectives of this institution was to “solicit, acquire, receive, hold, invest, reinvest, sell, transfer, administer, and manage property of all kinds” for the benefit of the university. This business-oriented strategy was reinforced in the 1990s, first with the creation of the UNC-CH Foundation Investment Fund (CHIF), and then with the recruitment of Notre Dame’s senior investment director, Mark Yusko, as the fund’s chief investment officer. In 2002, Yusko pursued two major tasks. The first was the creation of the UNC Investment Fund (UNCIF) to pool together the assets from the entire UNC System. By that time, only a few universities had investment funds, among them UNC-Chapel Hill (created in 1995) and NC State (1997). In 2002, UNC-Charlotte and UNC-Wilmington created theirs. Today, the UNCIF has a total of 31 members, comprising the investment funds of most UNC System universities as well as other affiliated institutions, such as hospitals and foundations. The second task Yusko pursued during his period as chief officer was the creation of South Building at UNC-Chapel Hill the UNC Management Company, an instiPHOTO BY WILLIAM YEUNG tution whose main objective would be to provide investment management services the form of foundations and investment for the entire system in a centralized and funds, which are registered as non-profit coordinated way. In a conversation with The corporations in the North Carolina Sec- Daily Tar Heel in 2015, Yusko mentioned retary of State’s office. While each uni- that one of the system’s main reasons for versity has its own set of organizations, creating such an entity was to separate the in the past two decades, these have been running of the endowment from university pooled together into a single fund known administrators. Since then, the UNC Investas the UNC Investment Fund, or UNCIF. ment Fund has operated like any other corOf this giant pool of assets, UNC-Chapel poration adhering to the principles of what Hill holds the largest share, with a $3.6 in the business world is known as “modern billion investment fund, followed by NC portfolio theory.” State’s $1.07 billion fund, according to the Yusko and other top UNC officials didn’t schools’ 2019 annual reports. respond to my requests for comment. The most recent annual report issued by But the project of corporatization wasn’t the UNC Management Company reveals an isolated policy. It was pursued to cominformation about the UNCIF’s performance pensate for austerity measures that had and holdings. According to the report, the been imposed by state and federal governmarket value of the fund has increased by ments since the 1980s. This model, which 60 percent in the past five years, adding persists, consists of reducing wealth and nearly $2 billion worth of assets. It also corporate taxes to incentivize economreveals the types of investments in which ic activity. For public institutions, howUNC has been involved, including stocks ever, this has meant substantial budget and bonds, private equity, real estate, and reductions in state appropriations and an energy and natural resources. incentive to search for alternative sources of income. To compensate for such cuts, universities have engaged in different FROM UNC TO UNC, INC. business strategies, like the creation of investment funds and the transformation The history of the UNCIF is a long and of individual schools and departments complex story about bureaucratic restruc- into “non-profit” corporations. INDYweek.com
October 28, 2020
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“We must push forward a much-needed debate around endowment redistribution and a future for the UNC System that benefits all of us, not just a powerful few.” WHO RUNS THE FUND? The UNCIF is controlled by the board of directors of the UNC-Chapel Hill Foundation Investment Fund. As shown in the 2019 annual report, this board is composed almost exclusively of white male executives from various corporate groups, including biopharmaceutical company Corium, the New York-based hedge funds Coatue Management and BlackRock, and the multinational investment banking group Goldman Sachs. While these directors don’t receive compensation for their service on the board, they make important decisions regarding UNC’s asset allocation. They also constitute a direct link between the university and highly questionable corporations. Hedge fund managers like BlackRock, for example, have been severely criticized for their overwhelming investments in firearms, fossil fuels, and, more recently, a 930-mile train in the Yucatán peninsula, the construction of which threatens to devastate rainforests located in Mayan indigenous territory. Along with the CHIF’s board of directors, the UNCIF is administered by the UNC Management Company, a non-profit corporation comprising a team of highly trained investment managers. These managers are some of the highest-paid individuals in the UNC System. Based on tax records, in 2017, the president of the company earned more than $1,372,000 in compensation. More than $700,000 of this amount was paid as “bonus & incentive.” These numbers don’t include retirement and nontaxable benefits, which pushed the total compensation to more than $1,750,000. Compensation for other employees of the UNC Management Company for that same year ranged from roughly $351,000 to almost $760,000. Several of them surpassed the earnings of the UNC-Chapel Hill chancellor at the time, Carol Folt. The massive salaries of investment managers are consistent with the company’s good financial standing. A graph constructed using the company’s tax records (See: page 5) shows a sustained growth in net assets since its creation in the early 2000s. The latest filing on the IRS website, which corresponds to the year 2017, reveals that the company held more than $17.8 million in assets at the time, and ended the year with almost $2.4 million in net income. While the UNCIF is subject to internal controls and
public reports, little is known about how the UNC Management Company administers its resources and how it has been able to accumulate such assets. THE INEQUALITIES OF THE CORPORATE MODEL Despite the evident profitability of UNC’s corporate model, the disparities that remain through the system are striking. At UNC-Chapel Hill, which is the university with the highest endowment, the percentage of instructional staff classified as nontenure-track is approximately 45 percent, with almost half of them working full-time. Meanwhile, the yearly stipend for graduate teaching assistants remains at a meager $16,000. These numbers are even more striking when you consider that the university has more than a thousand employees earning $200,000 or more. Many of these employees occupy administrative positions in non-instructional departments like Athletics or University Communications. Major inequalities are also visible across campuses. Financial records show a vast difference in income when it comes to investments. Of particular relevance is the racial dimension of these gaps, as the table shows significant disparities between those universities at the top and historically Black colleges and universities (or HBCUs) within the system. If combined, the total made by the five UNC System HBCUs (Elizabeth City State, Fayetteville State, NC A&T, NC Central, and Winston-Salem State) amounts to just over $16 million. That’s $2 million less than UNC-Greensboro alone, and just a small fraction of UNC-Chapel Hill’s investment income, even though the total HCBU population is larger than that of both. Unless there are major redistribution mechanisms, these numbers suggest that corporatization merely reinforces economic and racial disparities within the UNC System. THE REDISTRIBUTION QUESTION Since early in the COVID-19 crisis, there have been calls for wealthy universities across the country to use their endowment resources to protect students and workers. These calls have either been dismissed or categorized as non-viable. As a recent Wall Street Journal article argues, the reason
colleges won’t use their endowments right now is because funds came from donations designated for specific projects. But this is only partly true. While some donations contain legal restrictions, this is mainly the case for massive gifts made by foundations and wealthy individuals. It isn’t the case for the thousands of individual contributions made by alumni, and it’s especially not true for investment gains, the distribution of which has more to do with joint decisions made by a fund’s board of directors and university leaders. The claim that university endowments are untouchable contradicts the fact that colleges like the University of Delaware and Northwestern University are already drawing on their endowments. Claims about underperformance are also questionable given that several university endowments, especially those tied to private equity and hedge funds, have shown to be doing well—a phenomenon most likely related to the Federal Reserve backing Wall Street during the pandemic. On September 14, UNC-Chapel Hill announced that the university could face a budget shortfall of $300 million. The strategies planned by the UNC Board of Governors to face this deficit are ones we have known for decades: layoffs, furloughs, and program shutdowns. While these announcements are usually framed as “unavoidable” costs of the crisis, the data I found shows that there are alternatives to the university’s undermining of its own workforce and human capital; there is nothing preventing UNC from liquidating its fossil fuel assets in order to avoid layoffs, for example. Whatever our thoughts on meritocracy, there is no reason to believe $700,000 bonuses for investment managers at the expense of housekeepers, adjuncts, and graduate workers are somehow acceptable. I hope that—once presented with the realities of the UNC System’s endowment— university workers, students, alumni, and community members will demand answers about the financial structures supporting these institutions. At the very least, we must push forward a much-needed debate around endowment redistribution and a future for the UNC System that benefits all of us, not just a powerful few. W Julio Gutierrez is an economist and PhD candidate in anthropology at UNC-Chapel Hill. He is part of the campaign Another UNC is Possible, an initiative led by Workers of the UNC System, which advocates for a more equitable and comprehensive approach to UNC’s COVID-19 crisis. INDYweek.com
October 28, 2020
October 28, 2020
NCCU to the Polls WORDS + PHOTOGRAPHY BY JADE WILSON
Last week, students, faculty, and community members marched to the polls for the Black Lives Matter movement. On October 23, students from North Carolina Central Universityâ€™s Student Athlete Advisory Committee started at the track and ended at the Turner Law Building, encouraging participants to vote there. Before the march began, Chancellor Johnson O. Akinleye, PhD, gave remarks, along with the SAAC. W
2020 General Election INDY WEEK ENDORSEMENTS S TAT E & F E D E R A L President: Joseph R. Biden (D) U.S. Senate: Cal Cunningham (D) U.S. House District 2: Deborah K. Ross (D) U.S. House District 4: David E. Price (D) Governor: Roy Cooper (D) Lieutenant Governor: Yvonne Lewis Holley (D) Attorney General: Josh Stein (D) N.C. Auditor: Beth A. Wood (D) Commissioner of Agriculture: Jenna Wadsworth (D) Commissioner of Insurance: Wayne Goodwin (D) Commissioner of Labor: Jessica Holmes (D) Secretary of State: Elaine Marshall (D) Superintendent of Public Instruction: Jen Mangrum (D) N.C. Treasurer: Ronnie Chatterji (D) N.C. Supreme Court Chief Justice Seat 1: Cheri Beasley (D) N.C. Supreme Court Associate Justice Seat 2: Lucy Inman (D) N.C. Supreme Court Associate Justice Seat 4: Mark Davis (D) N.C. Court of Appeals Judge Seat 4: Tricia Shields (D) N.C. Court of Appeals Judge Seat 5: Lora Christine Cubbage (D) N.C. Court of Appeals Judge Seat 6: Gray Styers (D) N.C. Court of Appeals Judge Seat 7: Reuben F. Young (D) N.C. Court of Appeals Judge Seat 13: Chris Brook (D)
WA K E C O U N T Y
W A K E C O U N T Y (cont.)
State Senate District 14: Dan Blue (D)
Board of Education District 1: Heather Scott
State Senate District 20: Natalie Murdock (D)
State Senate District 15: Jay J. Chaudhuri (D)
Board of Education District 2: Monika Johnson-Hostler
State Senate District 22: Mike Woodard (D)
State Senate District 16: Wiley Nickel (D)
Board of Education District 7: Chris Heagarty
State House District 29: Vernetta Alston (D)
State Senate District 17: Sam Searcy (D)
Board of Education District 8: Lindsay Mahaffey
State House District 30: Marcia Morey (D)
State Senate District 18: Sarah Crawford (D)
Board of Education District 9: Bill Fletcher
State House District 31: Zack Ford-Hawkins (D)
State House District 11: Allison Dahle (D)
Soil and Water Conservation District Supervisor: Jean-Luc Duvall
State House District 54: Robert T. Reives II (D)
State House District 33: Rosa U. Gill (D) State House District 34: Grier Martin (D) State House District 35: Terence Everitt (D) State House District 36: Julie von Haefen (D) State House District 37: Sydney Batch (D) State House District 38: Abe Jones (D) State House District 39: Darren Jackson (D) State House District 40: Joe John (D) State House District 41: Gale Adcock (D) State House District 49: Cynthia Ball (D)
Durham County Commissioners: Nida Allam (D)
Durham County Commissioners: Nimasheena Burns (D) Durham County Commissioners: Heidi Carter (D)
State Senate District 23: Valerie P. Foushee (D)
Durham County Commissioners: Brenda Howerton (D)
State House District 50: Graig Meyer (D)
Durham County Commissioners: Wendy Jacobs (D)
State House District 56: Verla Insko (D) District Court Judge, 15B Seat 03: Hathaway Pendergrass (D) Orange County Commissioners At-Large: Amy Fowler (D)
Soil and Water Conservation District Supervisor: Anjali Boyd
Orange County Commissioners District 1: Mark Dorosin (D) Orange County Commissioners District 1: Jean Hamilton (D)
District Court Judge 10F Seat 2: Tim Gunther (D) Wake County Commissioners District 1: Sig Hutchinson (D) Wake County Commissioners District 3: Maria Cervania (D) Wake County Commissioners District 6: Shinica Thomas (D) Wake County Commissioners District 7: Vickie Adamson (D) Register of Deeds: Tammy L. Brunner (D)
Early voting is now through Saturday, October 31 Election Day is Tuesday, November 3
October 28, 2020
October 28, 2020
FOOD & DR I NK Jonathan Blitz of Mystic Farm & Distillery PHOTO BY BOB KARP
House Rules The ABC Commission tried to make up its own rules without legislative approval. One distiller pushed back—and now there’s a court order against the regulatory agency. BY LEIGH TAUSS email@example.com
n November 14, 2019, an Alcohol Law Enforcement agent seized a few bottles of liquor from Mystic Farm & Distillery during a compliance check. It was the second time that month an agent had shown up, according to Mystic owner Jonathan Blitz. The first time, nothing happened. But on this visit, when the agent—who had brought along a college intern—reached the kitchen, he pointed to a bottle of Southern Star whiskey, which Blitz was using as a reference sample, and said it wasn’t allowed. The problem? Nowhere in the rules did it say that. The ABC’s powers are granted by the North Carolina legislature, which just a few months before had passed a law allowing distillers to sell bottles and mixed drinks directly from their facilities, a freedom breweries and wineries
have enjoyed for some time. But even before this, distillers frequently had samples of others’ products on site to use as taste references. Blitz believed he was being penalized for an unwritten policy the ALE had no authority to enforce. So he fought back. But instead of dropping the case, the ABC Commisssion sued him, and the very same day pushed out a new set of rules prohibiting “unauthorized spirits.” The problem? The ABC Commission doesn’t have the power to write its own laws. Blitz filed his own lawsuit against the commission, and in response, the courts issued an indefinite stay against the agency on August 31, prohibiting them from enforcing the policy.
A representative from the ABC Commission declined to comment, saying it would be “inappropriate” as they have yet to receive a formal injunction. “Furthermore, the ABC Commission is working continuously with interested parties, both industry and the public, to produce rules and guidelines to clarify North Carolina’s alcohol laws,” ABC spokesman Jeff Strickland told the INDY via email. Since 2018, the commission has cited four permit holders for “unauthorized spirits.” The first among them was Pittsboro’s Fair Game Beverage Company. Owner Lyle Estill has a globe-shaped bar in his office, within which are about a dozen dusty bottles of vermouth. At some point, Estill had considered creating his own vermouth; he bought an array of products to sample before nixing the idea. That exploratory process is critical, Estill says, and everyone does it in some form or another. “It’s impossible to run a distillery without being able to sample other people’s products,” Estill told the INDY. According to the law, distillers must have a mixed beverage permit in order to sell other people’s liquor. However, in both Estill and Blitz’s cases, nothing was being sold— the bottles seized were reference samples. “As a craft distiller, I find it shocking that the commission found nothing better to do during an economic collapse than to issue and try to enforce illegal rules against our struggling industry,” Blitz says. “It’s one thing to be completely out-of-touch with people desperately trying to save their businesses and keep their staff employed, but for the commission to break the law in the process shows that there really is a crisis of leadership in an agency that regulates more than $2 billion in commerce in our state.” This is far from the first time the ABC system has been the focus of criticism, including revelations from a 2018 audit that the agency had wasted nearly $14 million in taxpayer funds due to mismanagement. North Carolina is one of just 17 alcohol-control states left in the county, and some legislatures think the ABC system should be abolished in favor of a privatized one. But because the current system provides protections for distillers that a completely free-market system would not, permittees don’t want to throw out the baby with the bathwater and would prefer to work with the regulatory agency on reforms. For Blitz, that starts with expanding the three-person commission to include representatives from the industries they regulate. Beyond that, Blitz wants the agency to stop acting like a meter maid who is making up the rules as they go. “My goal is simply to reset the relationship and have the agency follow the law and have respect for us,” Blitz says. W INDYweek.com
October 28, 2020
M U SIC
[Self-released; October 30]
JooseLord PHOTOS BY JADE WILSON
Straight Outta the Mosh Pit With his righteous rage, JooseLord Magnus makes conscious rap for an incendiary age BY KYESHA JENNINGS firstname.lastname@example.org
ooseLord Magnus remembers the exact date when he began taking his rap career seriously. It was a Sunday, a few months before the election: February 21, 2016. “People tried to convince me to be a rapper my whole life, and I denied it and tried to do other things,” he says over the phone one Monday afternoon in mid-October. “That day my life changed. It’s the day I found out who I really was.” Born in New York’s Harlem neighborhood, Raheem Williams, who performs as JooseLord Magnus, moved to Durham the summer before he started sixth grade. Although he’s proud to represent the Bull City, he’s managed to hold onto his New York-ness—the grit, the aggression, the language, the fashion, and the general cool aesthetic that makes up Harlem. “I am the epitome of a New York ni**a and a Durham ni**a; I say ‘tawk’ and ‘durm’ in the same sentence,” JooseLord says, reassuring me. 20
October 28, 2020
Released in 2018, his debut album, S.K.U.L.L, was a project created for the core fanbase who consistently attended his shows and craved the high-energy punk-rap he’d already come to be known for. Two years later, he’s dropping his next album, Moshpit Messiah, on October 30. “With this project, I wanted to make the kind of music that makes me happy—music that I myself was not only going to enjoy performing, but also writing,” JooseLord says. “When I recorded S.K.U.L.L, it was like a look at all the different things I could do. It was a creative space for me to display my talents, and you know, I had something to prove ... With this project, I didn’t wanna prove anything to anyone.” It seems, though, that JooseLord hasn’t needed to prove himself much since he started performing. His talent, creative abilities, and star qualities all speak for themselves.
In 2017, he was named Best New Artist at the Carolina Music Awards—then Best Male Hip-Hop Artist the following year. Most recently, he was nominated for Artist of the Year in WRAL’s Voters’ Choice Awards—the only hip-hop artist in a category with five finalists. Produced entirely by Charlotte native Chill Woods, MoshPit Messiah intentionally strays from the traditional elements of hip-hop, including the genre’s emphasis on lyricism and boom-bap beats. Instead, JooseLord prioritizes his emotions. The result is an outrage-provoking 19-track album full of trap-esque beats. JooseLord hopes this perfectly curated collection of street and protest anthems will spark the most energetic mosh pits hip-hop has ever seen—hence the album’s title, which was inspired by a moniker given to JooseLord by a fan. “The arrival of the mosh pit as a staple at hip-hop shows is a development that has long been foreshadowed,” wrote journalist Hershal Pandya in a DJBooth article that traces the evolution of the hip-hop mosh pit. “Although mosh pits have their roots in the punk/hardcore scenes of the early ’80s, they were initially introduced to hip-hop audiences through the Beastie Boys ... and unlikely crossover tours, like the double bill featuring Public Enemy and Anthrax.” It was the Queens rap group Onyx, however, that popularized the hip-hop mosh pit, with their 1993 chart-topping hit “Slam.” Today, boundary-pushing contemporary artists—like Lil Uzi Vert, Travis Scott, and Florida native Ski Mask the Slump God, to name a few—are all merging punk sensibilities with hip-hop, including through an embrace of the mosh pit. What separates JooseLord from many of his mainstream contemporaries, though, is that his rage and anger are directly inspired by his commitment to speaking out about the social injustices Black communities face in America. At 13, he was harassed by the police; the situation ended with the police pulling a gun on JooseLord and his childhood friend. He also witnessed the injustices of policies like Stop and Frisk, watching police approach his uncle and other Black men in Harlem under the guise of the policy. This mistrust of law enforcement is no secret to JooseLord fans: His disdain for cops is embedded in his music on both the micro and macro levels. “It’s important that I share these specific feelings about the police in my music because of how my music is,” JooseLord says. “My music is crazy, and I’m wylin out and I’m screaming. When I first saw the movie Straight Outta Compton, I remember looking at that movie and thinking, like, if I ever make music, that’s what I want to do.” In June of 2020, Rolling Stone revisited the legacy of “Fuck tha Police,” a 32-year-old “perfect protest song” that experienced a boost in streaming as the nation turned
toward a “Defund the Police” movement. The N.W.A anthem arrived in a pre-social media era, when the world witnessed a group of police officers get away with viciously attacking an unarmed Black man. Those three simple words have maintained their relevance in communities of color. Most recently, the song’s legacy was almost challenged when it came out that Ice Cube, N.W.A.’s leading man, had collaborated with the Trump Administration on its “Platinum Plan.” Although the Compton-gangsta-rapper-turned-movie-star was heavily criticized on social media, JooseLord has a different interpretation of Ice Cube’s intentions. “Who says pro-Black has to be Democrat?” JooseLord says. “In his eyes, neither [party] is doing anything. Neither one of them care about us. We need to create our own. There needs to be more consciousness. People gravitate towards Democrats because they’re willing to do the bare minimum for us. And that is not what [Ice Cube] wants. And that’s not what I want. I think that we deserve more, and I think that we deserve better.”
n Moshpit Messiah, JooseLord does exactly what he set out to do. Track 13, appropriately titled “1312,” is a modern version of “Fuck tha Police.” Influenced by the range of emotions he felt while protesting the murders of Breonna Taylor and George Floyd, the song is rich with sonic layers, with JooseLord using his voice as an instrument. “In the midst of the protesting, I wrote ‘1312,’” he says. “I was literally like, I’ve got to get this feeling out. This seems like this is the only thing that they’re going to respond to.” The frequent changes in his tone on the song allow listeners to get a glimpse of the tumultuous emotional impact of protesting. Black joy is an important component of protesting, and thanks to the track’s Chill Woods-produced beat, there are cathartic pockets where listeners can catch a vibe. The chorus, too, runs counter to assumed narratives about protester-led riots. Despite historical precedent and overwhelming evidence to the contrary, right-wing media outlets, the current administration, and local law enforcement (we can give a side-eye here to the Raleigh Police Department) have continued to portray protesters as violent and aggressive. “1312” offers another view of the agitators, as JooseLord raps, “Last night I was in a raid/took a rubber bullet to the face/You gon’ start a riot if you spray.” In Black America’s long history of protest music, regardless of genre, artists
have used lyrics as a space for documenting their lived realities. One of the most impressive lines of “1312” is the ending, where, in a mellow, matter-of-fact voice, JooseLord says, “I just went to jail/My momma proud as shit.” Like the American politician and civil rights leader John Lewis, JooseLord is not “afraid to make some noise and get in good trouble, necessary trouble.” “It seems like we gotta be out in the streets,” JooseLord says when asked about “1312”’s power as a modern-day protest song. “[They] tell all these lies and [they] separate people, but when you out there at the protest, there’s so many different colors; there’s so many different types of people standing for one thing. And that’s the power of [the song]”. It’s safe to say that JooseLord is the voice that mainstream hip-hop is missing. The first few months of 2020 were filled with national uprisings sparked mainly by police brutality and racial injustice. However, mainstream hip-hop has largely dropped the ball. Chicago rapper and activist Noname made headlines when she called out prominent artists for their silence during the uprisings. In response, J. Cole, released a track that addressed police brutality and systemic racism—though he also spent half the song dissing Noname. Meanwhile, trap rapper Lil Baby—another artist
who has received national attention and clout for speaking up about police brutality—had a change of heart, announcing that he was “good on” speaking up about politics. But JooseLord’s politics are not just a marketing tool. From the start of his career, he’s had an unapologetic nature. That “IDGAF I’m going to say what needs to be said” attitude is apparent on track 14, “Karen,” which was inspired by stories of white women using their whiteness and sense of entitlement to weaponize the police against Black folks. The structure of the song itself, with its satire and aggression, is quite creative as it makes a mockery of the collective “Karen” incidents. In addition to narratives about law enforcement and the dangers of white womanhood, Moshpit Messiah also includes a perfect breakup song (“Letter to My Exs”) and an abrasive diss record that can be applied to anyone you may not be feeling (“Dink”). Regardless of what he’s rapping about, the energy JooseLord brings to this album evokes the hunger and grit that street and drill rappers bring to the table. The difference is that he’s representing the South, seamlessly merging trap, punk, metal, and scream in exactly the way that a fan once described: as the messiah of hip-hop mosh pits. W INDYweek.com
October 28, 2020
M U SIC ILLUSTRATION BY JON FULLER
Taking It in Stride In a world without crowded dance floors, running is electronic music’s new nirvana BY NICK WILLIAMS email@example.com
’m barely halfway around the loop, and dismayingly close to giving up. It’s my first run in weeks, and I’m determined to complete the roughly 4.5 kilometers of Durham’s Al Buehler Cross Country Trail, but it’s not going well. I’m barely breaking a 10-minute mile, and I’m acutely aware of my atrophied leg muscles, my upcoming 40th birthday, and my impending doom. The 95-degree heat is not helping. My salvation is musical, via iTunes shuffle, which decides to drop the digital needle on “Motormouth,” a devilish slice of heavy Detroit techno by Audion, the 22
October 28, 2020
dance floor-oriented alias of Matthew Dear. It’s a wild beast of a track, surging forward on a meaty kick drum, engine-revving synths, and a chattering, circular vocal sample of heavily filtered gibberish. It’s the auditory equivalent of speedy MDMA, awash in red lights and fog and sweat. And somehow, it’s an appropriate soundtrack for a dusty, miserable run through the woods. I feel a spring in my step, a burst of wicked energy. By the time “Motormouth” reaches its “drop” and the snares start slapping, I’m blasting up hills and pumping my fist.
As a 40-year-old father of two young kids, this is as close as I come to the strobe-lit rave days of my youth. Running helps me maintain a deep physical connection to the electronic music that I love: The same pulsating energy that once fueled peak-time dance marathons now carries me over the next hill, through the next mile, toward the next goal. The physicality of dance music is an indomitable force—even if its other vital aspect, the joyous social communion of dancing, is currently in major trouble. Age and parenthood had already (mostly) cut me off from nightlife before COVID-19, but the pandemic has effectively ended clubbing for everyone else. Experiencing any kind of live music with a crowd is now a dangerous proposition, and throwing down with a crush of sweaty bodies is totally out of the question. The dance floor is closed, and the party—for the foreseeable future—is in cryosleep. “Man, I was gonna be able to work with so many amazing artists this year,” laments electronic artist Sean Garrett. “So much was on the books, and it really seemed like 2020 was going to be this huge launchpad of a year, but then COVID happened. It has been devastating.” Garrett is one of the heads behind Durham techno label and party crew Maison Fauna. He’s also an avid runner and doesn’t lace up his sneakers without an electronic mix cued up. “When I run, the music just kind of takes over,” he says of his love of lo-fi house artists like Baltra and Earth Boys. “I find it makes me more aware, and more in touch with my surroundings.” There might not be a social outlet for electronic artists, but electronic music production has exploded under lockdown. Garrett says Maison Fauna has had to pivot away from throwing ragers in favor of the more quotidian duties of managing a label and staying on the lookout for new artists to lift up. “We have calls every day; we have meetings a couple days a week,” Garrett says of Maison Fauna’s workload. ”And since COVID, I’ve honestly been consuming so much more music, just because I’ve had time to run and listen.” “The pandemic created a lot of space to work on music without all the usual distractions,” says musician Alison Martlew. “[And] it’s been great for my exercise routine.” You might know Martlew from the legendary punk outfit The Butchies, as a member of Amy Ray’s band, and, more recently, from the scathing glitch/noise duo sister,brother, who melted my brain at Moogfest in 2018. Years of grueling tours inspired Martlew to get in top physical condition; these days, she’s an accomplished marathon
runner. She has run three marathons to the soundtrack of Australian dance music shapeshifters The Presets. “For long runs, I like a tempo that maintains the pace that I am trying to maintain,” Martlew says of The Presets. “They tend to fit into that zone. I have listened to their songs so much. Maybe it’s the magic of hyper-familiarity that I can use to even out my energetic and mental dynamics over the course of a few hours. They are my favorite running partner.” On Martlew’s recommendation, I fired up The Presets’ 2005 album Beams on a recent rain-soaked jog. I found it fit exquisitely into the liminal space between invigorating and meditative. That word—“meditative”—was a touchstone in my conversations with runners, musicians, and musician-runners. After all, for all its pleasures, running is an activity that can engender tremendous physical pain. Everyone I spoke with told me that music played some role in mediating or transmuting the discomfort that comes with major exertion. A consummate DJ set can keep a club churning long past the point where everyone should be in bed; the right music can push runners beyond their physical limitations. Andy Stack, the multi-instrumentalist behind Joyero and one-half of Wye Oak, says that he finds the world “more beautiful with a soundtrack.” “Music draws my attention from the exertion and makes time pass more swiftly,” he says. “And I’m sure there is a physiological connection with breathing and heart rate and pacing.” He adds that he would “rather run in combat boots” than run without music. “If my phone or my headphones go out mid-run, it’s twice as hard to keep moving,” he says. Corbie Hill, a writer and music journalist who also fronts the Pittsboro band Land Is, echoes this sentiment. “Running without music is fine, but it’s not as meditative,” he says. “The sensation of moving forward, the sensation of exertion in your muscles, breathing in and out—those are
meditative sensations, and the music is the focus of the meditation.” His ancient, screenless iPod shuffle is loaded with all sorts of genres, but he often runs to the beats of DJ Shadow, Portishead, and Morcheeba. He was part of his high school’s cross country team, but found a renewed passion for running— and running fast—after he was diagnosed with a chronic form of leukemia. “I was like, I am going down fighting,” Hill says of his diagnosis. “I am going to do everything possible to improve my chances and just be in the best shape possible as a means to an end.” Beyond robbing all of us of the possibility of communal musical experience, the pandemic has had a detrimental impact on our shared mental health. Running has been shown to increase concentrations of norepinephrine, a chemical that moderates the brain’s response to stress, and multiple studies suggest that, generally speaking, exercise is a key to a happier you. But running to music remains an unaccompanied pursuit. Hill says that the act of running is solitary, though not lonely. “Most of my runs are just me going through Pittsboro and seeing my town on foot,” he says. “I live in a small town where I am connected with the community. There’s something precious and intimate about running past a friend’s house.” On a recent run through Durham’s Lakewood neighborhood, the weather was, for once, gloriously cool and shade-dappled. A track I’d listened to a hundred times came up: “The Difference It Makes” by The MFA, remixed by German minimalist doyen Superpitcher, a song I had come to rely on for its calm, determined propulsion. On this run, though, it filled me with a hyperreal happiness, a feeling I can only equate with that elusive runner’s high. It didn’t transcend the mundane; it colored the mundane transcendent. In harrowing times, that feeling is precious. “Music just kind of reminds me, OK,” Corbie Hill says. “We are propelling forward.” W
“The same pulsating energy that once fueled 3 a.m. dance floor freakouts now carries me over the next hill, through the next mile, toward the next goal.”
Running and Listening The label heads at Maison Fauna—Joe Bell, Nick DeNitto, Simon Briggs, Sean Garrett, and Sarah Damsky (aka Kir)—were kind enough to curate a Spotify playlist of some damn fine running music from artists who are currently striking their collective fancy. This playlist will be updated monthly, but here are a few highlights for now. Baltra, “O’Neal” [IDNK; 2017] A woozy R&B sample burns at the edges, almost swallowed by the duck and thrum of the heartbeat kick, while icy hi-hats keep the track from fading into vapor. A good track to get a run started. Aleksandir, “Hard to Explain” [Artesian Sounds; 2019] Friendly claps and heavily filtered piano keep this welltempered house banger floating along through seven blissful minutes. Peaceful and sexy—just like you? Harrison BDP, “Sun Dial” [Berg Audio; 2020] Skipping, percolating house beats imbue this track with all the momentum it needs, as gauzy snippets of melody rise and fall like radio transmissions. Earth Boys, “Piff Party” [Wolf Music Recordings; 2020] The sampled sounds of birds and tree frogs—plus what seems like the sparking of a blunt—will make you feel like you’re running through a rad party in the woods. The wobbly baseline is a delight. Jon Hopkins, “Collider” [Domino; 2013] Jon Hopkins’ tracks tend to sound broken at the beginning, but they usually resolve into breathtaking feats of syncopated psychedelia. Fire this one up when your run needs a dose of something spiritual.
October 28, 2020
M U SIC
C. ALBERT BLOMQUIST: S/T
CHARLES LATHAM AND THE BORROWED BAND: S/T
HHHH [Self-released; Oct. 2]
HHH 1/2 [Self-released; July 21]
Write ‘Em Cowboy Two recent records thread country songs through the needle’s eye between pop and tradition BY BRIAN HOWE firstname.lastname@example.org
t’s getting so that country radio is the last place you’d look for country music. The format teems with songs distinguished from pop by little more than a Southern accent, and perhaps a pedal steel nestled somewhere in the trendy electronic production and bouncy R&B cadences. Across the spectrum from this newfangled razzle-dazzle lies a stanch, gloomy traditionalism that abhors anything after Hank Jr., if not Hank, perhaps with a concession to soulful Chris Stapleton. But two recent local records, both of which happen to be self-titled and have physical releases coming out on November 13, adroitly walk the line between pop and purist, recalling the alt-country heyday of Uncle Tupelo and No Depression magazine. Clark Blomquist and Charles Latham both home in on a certain timeless simplicity, letting old tropes and truisms breathe clear contemporary air. Blomquist has been a Carrboro-area mainstay since the Great Florida Invasion that shaped local indie rock in the aughts (I’ll tell you that story sometime) swept him onto our landlocked shores. It’s usually futile to try to describe his projects briefly: Lately, he’s been purveying psychedelic electronic music as Tegucigalpan. Before that, there was the elastic weirdo-pop of Waumiss and Shallow Be Thy Name, and before that, there was the postmodern prewar Americana of The Kingsbury Manx. Even when Blomquist plays in rock and punk bands, he can’t sit still, flitting from former guitar duties in Spider Bags to Cold Cream’s drumkit. He always surprises us, and given his esoteric track record, making fine, flowing country music is probably the last way he could. He fancifies his name as C. Albert Blomquist to set off this long-steeped full-band 24
October 28, 2020
album from his prolific bedroom-stoner excursions. Abetted by Mipso fiddler and vocalist Libby Rodenbough, guitarist Ezekiel Graves, and many more players of pedal steels, banjos, resonator guitars, and mandolins, Blomquist handles a rock band’s worth of gear himself, plus vocals, glockenspiel, and Mellotron. The result is a laidback but lissome heartbreak almanac where a rustic orchestra tints the classic themes every shade of blue and splashes bright modern accents here and there. The record begins at an easy canter with “Claws in Me,” where confessional lyrics, rich acoustic strumming, and a softly sawing fiddle set the emotional register—a sort of melancholy ardor—and the musical atmosphere, dappled and faded like an old Polaroid. But there are also tipsy honky-tonk shuffles like “Love Just Can’t Be Hurried,” shades of luminous sixties psych-rock in “Slow Motion Roller Coaster,” and the country equivalent of dreampop in “Sore, Sorry Mess.” Blomquist doesn’t neglect the genre’s signature morbid humor, either. In “Never Had a Heartache Hurt So Hard,” he relishes list-
ing all the ways he might perish, from getting tetanus on a rusty nail to digging up a powerline, knowing he never got the object of his heartache back. But he’s choosing traditions judiciously, explicitly drawing the line at jingoism with “Kickin’ Down Doors,” which interrogates soldiers “putting guns in the faces of different races in far-off places.” It’s not a sentiment you’d find in much classic country this side of Steve Earle, and it’s one kind of innovation—moral—that mainstream country still doesn’t really allow. In contrast to Blomquist’s sun-bleached sound, Charles Latham and the Borrowed Band add a sleeker, more nocturnal indierock patina to a similar countrypolitan core on their eponymous debut, which follows a number of the Durham-based singer-songwriter’s own quirky but sound country-rock releases. Latham habitually animates pastiches of vintage Americana with deftly verbose lyrics, not unlike Django Haskins of The Old Ceremony, which positions him well to pull off the wordplay at the bedrock of country songwriting.
On vocals and rhythm guitar, Latham leads a well-drilled band featuring cool-headed singer Abby Sheriff and fluent lead guitarist Luis Rodriguez, among others, all glinting together like stars in a constellation. The album’s exuberantly imagined riffs include “Squares (I’m Trying to Get in Shape),” a pun-laden snapshot of ticky-tacky urban life, and “Left on Red,” which extracts an archly poignant double meaning from a common idiom in the high Nashville style. Throughout the record, the meter varies from slow-burning ballads (“Half-Assed Love”) and acoustic blues (“Laundry Song”) to crispy rock and feisty boogies— touched in places by a space-rock squall or a warped Pixies guitar hook, but always with fetching melodies and elaborate lyrics, wrapped in humble, down-to-earth packages. The folksy ramble “How Do I Leave You” especially exemplifies Latham’s knack for stretching out a melody and exploring its nooks and corners, as pedal steel and acoustic guitar runs eloquently answer the lyrics. Together, these two records suggest an alternate timeline where No Depression never folded and Luke Bryan never happened. As a fan of mainstream pop in twangy clothing, I can’t say I’d want to live there, but it sure is a dreamy, easygoing world to visit. Both artists step lightly over the false dichotomy of classic and contemporary to embody the best of both. W C. Albert Blomquist’s album, out now digitally, will be available on cassette tape November 13 via calbertblomquist.bandcamp.com. Charles Latham’s record, also out now online, gets a physical release on the same day, including a limited run of seven-inch vinyl singles, via charleslatham.com.
HAUNTED CAR WASH
Friday, Oct. 30 & Saturday, Oct. 31, 6–10 p.m. | $20 The Car Wash Lodge, Morrisville
Good Clean Fun Looking for socially distanced scares this Halloween? Try a haunted car wash. BY SARAH EDWARDS email@example.com
t the entrance of The Car Wash Lodge in Morrisville, North Carolina, I almost turned my car around and sped the other way. I’ve never gotten a real car wash, but that wasn’t the problem. The issue at hand was that several teenagers—actually, what appeared to be the better part of a high school football team—were waiting outside the place, dressed as clowns, ghouls, and monsters. And they were being paid to scare me. For all intents and purposes, Halloween is canceled this year. Trick-or-treating? Forget it. Themed parties? Doubly forget it. Haunted houses? Indoor group activities are out, leaving you to social distance solo with ghosts—definitely forget it. Enter the quickly growing phenomenon of “the haunted car wash,” which feels CDC-safe (you stay in your car; the haunters are outside and masked) but scary. In other words, as the billing for The Car Wash Lodge’s dozens of haunted washes states, it is “good, clean fun.” Proceeds at The Car Wash Lodge’s version go to Children’s Flight of Hope, a Morrisville-based nonprofit that helps with air-transportation costs for children in need of specialized medical care. So it’s for a good cause, too. Two time slots offer two levels of terror: a “Friendly Forest Hunt” runs from 6:00 to 7:00 p.m., followed by the “Tunnel of Terror” for the stout of heart. I am faint of heart; nevertheless, I turned my wheel into the Haunted Car Wash. Almost immediately, four ghouls surrounded my car and began banging on the windows. Having had very little social interaction the past six months, I was almost tempted to open the windows and chat, but teenagers are scary—with or without costumes—and they were very committed
“Four ghouls surrounded my car and began banging on the windows.” to the bit. When I did get the courage to unroll the window at the admission station, a monster named Cameron broke character to affirm that the gig was good. “Yeah, it’s, cool,” he said of the two-weekend-long haunted makeover. “We’re just here all day, and then suddenly it’s this.” At that, a tall Brontë child gone wrong screamed and dragged her nails down the car window and we were off into the Tunnel of Terror. I’ve never been to a car wash, so driving onto the floss-thin wheel partition only to cede control of the vehicle was terrifying. “Put the car in neutral,” directed the calm carwash guru, the only person not in costume—maybe the football coach. I put it in D3. He was kind: “No, the other neutral.” Nothing feels fine right now, and the Morrisville car wash did not ease election jitters or fears about the future. But for a few moments, ensconced in the soapy jaws of the Tunnel of Terror with several Chuckies banging on the window, things felt appropriately scary—the good kind, in which the brief thrill of anxiety is quickly surpassed by relief. And I do mean quickly: the whole thing was over in less than 10 minutes, and then my car was clean. W INDYweek.com
October 28, 2020
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October 28, 2020
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