General

Idris Gray’s Top Ten of 2018

Pocket – App

So you’ll notice pretty quickly there isn’t really any consistent structure to this list, but don’t worry I’ll try to keep it classy. You won’t see any top Kim Kardashian moments of 2018 here. I promise.

For me, the number one source of entertainment and learning came in the form of an app. For the past 2 years, Pocket has been a mainstay in any list of top 10 things for me. In that time I’ve had I’ve read more than I’ve ever read in my life. Those who know me, know I only read for knowledge. I don’t read fiction and I don’t really read for fun. I do want to read more, and the more I do the more therapeutic it has become. But it’s still hard to get over that 10 book a year mark. There’s just too much Netflix out there. Luckily for people like me, pocket provides an alternative to the traditional book reading format. I can read complete stories in 15 minutes and be done with that story forever. Or I can save it, reread it and share with friends so I we can have further conversations later on. If there’s one thing on the top 10 list that you can immediately implement into your day/life, its pocket. So if you need something to read to hold you over on that 30 – 60 minute ride on the F train here you go.

The Brilliant Idiots – Podcast

The Brilliant Idiots podcast with Andrew Schulz and Charlamagne Tha God is a hilarious podcast worth looking into. If you’re the kind of person who needs to hear your opinions represented to confirm your ideals, then the brilliant idiots podcast is not for you. You should probably stick Fox or CNN depending on where you lean politically.  if you are an objectively minded thinker who actually wants to hear both sides, who appreciates discourse, and who actually appreciates unique ideas or perspectives then you’re in luck.

If I’m being completely honest the brilliant idiots are a big reason why I’ve chosen to do this blog and an even bigger reason why I chose to do it with one of my best friends. Because even though we are lot alike in many ways, there are several more things we do not agree on. I should also mention that these guys may come off as insensitive, harsh, and even inappropriate. This is your official warning. Don’t say I didn’t tell you. Don’t say Idris didn’t tell you!

Listen, the podcast is made up of one half comedian and one half radio personality. Ones a white dude from NY while the others a black dude from the south. They see a lot of things differently and often crack on each other at how absurd their views seem. So while their opinions are often veiled in comedy, their ideas are worth hearing. At the end of the day, it’s up to each of us to decide what we want to think, and what we believe is right vs. what we believe is wrong.

But “you go gotta hear both sides”.

Deontay Wilder vs Tyson Fury

I’m a fight guy so I had to leave a spot open for the Wilder/Fury fight. Not only was it a brilliant fight, filled with competitive back and forth, completely different styles of fighting, a great show of heart, power, and technical proficiency. But what was really enjoyable about this fight was that each fighter had completely opposite backgrounds.

Tyson Fury, coming into the fight, was a redemption story. He had battled his way out of a drug addiction and depression. Even turning into an advocate of mental health, and promising to donate all of his winnings to the less fortunate. Wilder in his own right had always been an underdog. Although never loosing in the ring he has always been outweighed by his opponents. This time was no different.

There was a level of tension between Wilder and Fury that had been missing from heavyweight fights for sometime. That’s what made this fight so great to me. And then you add in the fact that I watched it inside of a LeFrak City bar filled to the brim with black and Latinos hooting and hollering 4 Wilder to knock the s*** out of Fury! Haha it was a helluva night!

The high point of the match came late in the 12th round. Wilder does exactly what we were all asking for and knocks the s*** out of Fury. But what does Fury do? He gets up like he’s the Undertaker, you know before he was the American bad boy… He survives the round and out lasts Wilders onslaught. He even managed to get in a few good hits before the final bell. Then comes time for the decision. DRAW! What?! Even I have to admit I was shocked at that outcome, but when I really thought about it, It was the perfect ending to a great fight. Both gentlemen showed great respect after the decision and now we get to anticipate the next fight.

Black Panther

WAKANDA FOREVER! Talk about an impactful movie! black Panther first made his on-screen debut in the Avengers Civil War movie. And let me tell you, he showed out! After that movie, the anticipation for the Black Panther film was ever-present in every single comic book comic book, black & African circle I found myself in. Yeah, I separated the two… I’ll get back to that in a moment but, suffice it to say, we was hype. And boy did that movie deliver. But first I want to talk about the reception to the movie. In today’s New York, I notice a separation of identity between blacks and Africans. Africans don’t quite see themselves as the same as someone who isn’t as in touch with their ancestry. I think I know why.

For as long as I know being African in New York was a bad thing. I think things are different now, and much better because of BP. But I used to get “teased/bullied” because of my name all the way up through High School. My parents had me wear a shirt and slacks everyday of middle school. And It wasn’t till high school till I had some freedom to wear jeans to school. My parents, being immigrants, didn’t have the money to afford Nikes let alone Jordans, so I walked around in them Shaqs! I felt different to say the least. It was rough at times but I never truly minded it because I was proud of my heritage and still am. I think as a result of similar and maybe even worse experiences, many Africans see themselves different than African Americans. This is why black panther makes my list. Sure the movie had great action sequences, great fight scenes and an amazing performance by Michael B Jordan. I loved all of it. But for me, seeing all skin colors rally around a film about Africa was a beautiful thing. So many parts of our society and our culture shows evidence of self-hate. This was an example of the love that continues to build for one another in our communities across America and in Africa.

Ready Player One

I don’t know how Steven Spielberg does it. But he always seems to figure out a way to expose the human element inside his movies no matter what the scenario is, or how fictitious a story might be. Of course the original source material, a book of the same name by “Ernest Cline” has a lot to do with this. Spielberg does this masterfully in Ready Player One. Let me start by saying I did not read the book because I don’t read fiction. I just watch it. Don’t try to convince me that the Harry Potter books are better than the movies. I’ll just counter by saying that the movies are more efficient uses of time. Maybe that’s why I don’t read comic books? Anyway, ready Player one takes place in a dystopian future, where reality has become so hard people mainly live inside of a video game. To me, that didn’t seem very different from the world that I and my friends lived in growing up and still live in “Till this day”. Why are video games so powerful and so loved? I think it’s because it gives people a chance to escape their realities to some degree. To live in a fantasy just for a moment of time. The various pop culture references, amazing visual graphics, and a solid storyline ended up being complimentary for me. What was really important and what brought it home was the understanding that life, although it can be hard, can only be lived in reality. After all, “… it’s still the only place to get a decent meal.

Marvel’s Avengers Infinity War

This movie makes the top 10 list of every action movie fan. Although I’ll admit I’m not the biggest comic in fact I’m not a comic book nerd at all I have enjoyed every single Marvel films that came out in the last decade. This one was no different. This is probably one of my favorites up there with Winter Soldier, Thor Ragnarok, and the very first Avengers movie. Somehow the directors of the show manage to incorporate a whole plethora of Heroes, two seemingly separate storylines, 3 main battle sequences, and one scary motherfuker actual movie that was funny, dramatic, insightful, and sad. In case you are among the very few that live underneath a rock and still have not seen this film I won’t provide any spoilers. But I will say, even if you’re not a comic book or action movie fan, you’ll probably still enjoy the layered motives and surprising emotions that the antagonist elicits. Happy wondering why certain other Marvel film being left off my list. Well, this is a list of things. I already have two movies on here, I wanted to keep the list diverse. Sue me.

The War of Art – Book

2018 for me was a year of realization and growth. I was challenged in several ways and I think and I like to believe that I grew because of those challenges. The start of those realizations came in the form of a book recommendation from The Joe Rogan podcast. The War of Art by Steven Pressfield is a book about overcoming the things in life that hold us back. Pressfield calls it resistance. I found the book to be extremely powerful and inspiring. What resonated with me the most was how much credence Pressfield gave to the individuals power to create change. He called out the internal forces that we allow to control us. And the detrimental behaviors that make it tough for us to break out of our limits. I don’t think the book teaches as much as it reveals things that we’ve already seen, felt and experienced. I only read the book once but I plan to read it several times over. In fact, this book is part of the reason I’m even writing this blog.

Furthermore, it’s important to tell yourself and remind yourself that having high expectations for yourself and challenging yourself to be greater than you currently are is completely okay. It’s okay to want more, it’s okay to demand more but we have to be willing to do the work and we can’t allow fear or resistance as Steven Pressfield calls it, to stand in our way.

One of the many compelling quotes from the book that stuck with me was this one. “Fear doesn’t go away. The warrior and the artist live by the same code of necessity, which dictates that the battle must be fought anew every day.” This is basically Steven Pressfield telling us that following our dreams is much like a balled that we need to suit up for everyday. This resonated with me, but I’m sure you’ll find something unique in the book that will resonate with you.

Afro Punk Fest

There are several music/art related festivals that occur every year across the United States. Coachella, Lollapalooza, Bonnaroo, Summer Jam & Governors Ball just to name a few. And while Summer Jam is a very popular hip-hop music festival, it only represents a small portion of black music. The black influence spreads so much further than just hip-hop. And while the hip-hop genre is probably the most popular product of the black experience. It does not accurately represent the immense diversity of the culture. Afro-Punk in a way attempts to fill that void, presenting black music in its many forms. From jazz to rock, RnB, Afrobeat, and every unique stop in between, Afro-Punk is a showcase for everything the diaspora has to offer. I went for the first time in 2018, to the Brooklyn show. I have been to several other music festivals and I was shocked, to say the least. I’m not sure why, but I was expecting to see… more white people. Every Festival I had been to up until that point had always been 80% white, at least? Seeing a sea people who look like me singing along to the internet and Miguel was really amazing. I’m mad I waited so long to attend one. And I plan on going again this year.

Jon Jones vs Alexander Gustafsson – UFC 232

Jon Jones the man the myth the legend. He’s back ladies and gentlemen. The one true UFC light heavyweight champion of the world. Leaving absolutely no doubt in the mind of his naysayers. Well, maybe just a picogram of a doubt. Of course everywhere that Jon Jones goes, controversy is not far behind. UFC 232 different. Before either of the two fighters even stepped in the ring, it was revealed that Jon Jones still had banned substances in his blood. It was later revealed that those substances with the remainder of a previous failed drug test gave Jones no competitive advantage. Of course news like that led most believe that the UFC president Dana White and USADA were somehow cheating the system. The result of the drug test Jon Jones wasn’t permitted to fight in Las Vegas and the entire event was moved to Los Angeles. While UFC 232 was a phenomenal night of fights, including Jon Jones’ main event, it was in a way marred by the drug test. In typical John Jones fashion, his fight with Gustafson, what’s a Showcase of his tactical approach to fighting. He allowed his opponent to press forward, it’s simply chopped away at him for 2 1/2 rounds, till in the third, he took him down and beat him unconscious. As you probably guessed by the start of this, I’m a bit partial to Jon Jones. His shortcomings outside the ring aside, he is one of the greatest UFC champions to ever live. Hopefully, he can stay on track and maybe even defend his title against the man who held it in his absence, Daniel Cormier. 2019 looks to be an exciting year in the UFC. I’ll definitely be watching, and paying special attention to my countrymen Israel Adesanya.

Donald Trump

Okay, I’m not much of a politics buff, but here me out. Donald Trump’s presidency has been constant entertainment. It’s like we are living in one of those TNT dramas. You know that saying, “If you don’t laugh, you’ll cry”? this is basically how I feel every time any update about Donald Trump pops up on my Facebook or YouTube feed. Some of the wildest plot twists and unbelievable moments have come from our very own government this year. And somehow we made it out. Thank the Lord Jesus. From allegations that our president is in bed with the Russians to confirmations that our president has been in bed with porn-stars. This year has been a storytellers/porn parody writers wet dream. And don’t let me get started on the tweets. I never tweet, but I do follow the president on twitter. I need to know what state of mind my world leaders are in. Like when he tweeted that his nuclear button was bigger that Kim Jong Un’s. I made sure to stay inside and work from home that day.

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Further Discussion, Let's get into It

Opportunity Zones. Will They Help or Hurt Black Communities – Objectively Black

During our “Black Safe” review on The Randolph at Broome, we got into a heated argument about the Washington Post’s recent article on Opportunity Zones. These are generally low-income areas that a state can designate to qualifying investors for capital gains tax breaks. As we so eloquently put it in our lively discussion at Randolph’s, the two conflicting viewpoints we have are from a place of optimism and from a place of pessimism:

Idris’ take: Opportunity Zones are one way that lesser served communities can be revitalized. This program could potentially work to give people a means to level their playing field and build wealth in their communities. The programs attached could train, educate, and give financial stability to the neighborhoods in this opportunity zones.

Dougie’s take: Opportunity Zones are too good to be true. Historically, the companies participating in these programs have done so for personal gain and have not helped the communities that the architects of these programs said they’d serve. Major corporations will (and have historically) used the program’s benefits to further gentrify.

Idris Gray: So let’s get into it. Have you read the article? What were your first thoughts on it? I’m thinking that you may not like my view on it, haha!

F. Dougie: Yeah man, I’m super skeptical of this kind of thing. I feel like these guys talk a big game, and it may sound good on paper, but when you really dig down into what these o-zones do and have historically done, they aren’t for us and won’t actually help underserved communities.

Idris Gray: So, I’m on the opposite end here. I’m thinking that this could be a wonderful opportunity for some of these more underprivileged areas and the people in them to elevate their economic standing. Is there cause for skepticism? I think so. Is there also a chance that this can improve communities and help to empower the people that currently live there? I think so too.

F. Dougie: You’re right. I’ll concede that in the right hands, this could be a brilliant idea. This particular iteration of Opportunity Zones was created by a Republican and a handful of billionaires and is also championed by Trump himself. For me, the main reason for my skepticism is because it has been the modus operandi of the Republican party to pretend to serve the poor, claim to support the working class all while giving huge tax breaks to the rich and powerful.

With billions in for-profit capital likely to flow into poor communities, there’s a chance that the very people the program is intended to lift up could instead get pushed out.

Idris Gray: Damn, well when you put it like that! Listen, I never want to champion an idea from the mouth of the “commander-in-thief”, but there seems to be some upside here. Now, it’s important to differentiate a social program from an economic one. This, to me, is an economic program built to incentivize big companies for building in these “O-zones”.

This isn’t welfare, or healthcare right? The byproduct of this is what should positively affect the lives of the common man. But this is a tax break to millionaires for moving your business locations to one of these areas. The value proposition for the common man is the opportunity to also take advantage of these new revitalized communities. From the small business contractor to the person looking for educational training. To the individual investor looking to purchase property in one of these areas. But you are right, this will without a doubt displace some people.

F. Dougie:How could you be sooo heartlessssss”? (Kanye Voice) Are we breaking a few eggs to make an omelet now? Is that kind of loss acceptable?

The tax breaks are the biggest part of this, and for me, that is where the problem starts. Investors will soon be able to shove capital gains into projects/companies based in these zones, slowly erase their tax obligations, and then also turn around and grow the proceeds tax-free. There are almost no limits. That’s scary. Amazon, for example, hasn’t even stepped foot in NYC yet and they’ve already been given a $3B Matrix-dodge on their tax responsibility.

Will tax incentives really encourage investors to help revitalize low-income communities? The people that built this, claim that the program will reduce poverty, and bring jobs. The crux of the argument for the O-Zone program is that tax incentives for participating investors will turn problem areas into areas of economic growth and innovation. I’ve actually had some time to research similar efforts from the past, and now I feel even more hesitant about this program. Many of the results and findings suggest that these programs are not helpful. I think this data will further support my point that historically, programs like this have not been on our side.

Idris Gray: You’re right. One displaced family shouldn’t be acceptable. Perhaps there are ways that we can educate communities on how to best navigate these upcoming changes?

The map in the article greatly concerns me, D. Especially, now that I see how they’ve split up Queens. There are parts of Long Island City and Astoria on this map! As far as I know, these are pretty wealthy areas. But according to EIG, the areas are designated by income and not by property value. So I’m a little torn on this designation based on personal experience. Nevertheless, I think the situation with taxes and companies avoiding taxes is a rampant problem. Whether they take incentives to not pay tax by investing in these zones or find loopholes by moving production sites to India. They gone save that money.

Now in terms of the claim to reduce poverty and revitalize areas. It seems to me like the standard way economies start to flourish is through business. So this would seem beneficial. But I do hear what you are saying. What exactly happens to the people who live in these areas? I think that’s where both our concerns lie, but from different perspectives. How does lil Taquan benefit from this? How does Jalisa maximize her growth potential in this environment? I could say it’s through some type of job training or more career opportunities, but it’s just as likely that Carl from Cincinnati is gonna apply for that position at Amazon and get the nod over Jalissa. And eventually, move into Tay Tay’s apartment.


F. Dougie:
I think that these are very good questions. I also think that it’s going to take time to see if any of these training programs and jobs help to grow the community, to see if this is help things start to change and to turn around. I’m still a skeptic, but I’m a little further to the right than I was before we really dived into this. Working in the private sector, we both know how important investments like this are in underserved communities (which is probably the impetus for this conversation). My thing though is, O-Zones are not a new idea.

Looking into this a bit further, Margaret Thatcher’s super conservative ass tried this shit in the ’80s in London and called them “Enterprise Zones”. The Clinton Administration tried the same shit in the ’90s and called them “Empowerment zones” (cute, right?) “Give the super-predators the power to empower themselves, Hillary. You’ll see. It’ll work! We’ll look like heroes and meanwhile our corporate donors can save a few Billion in taxes! It’s genius!”

I’mma end with this. Many efforts have been made to look at the effectiveness of these zones. Both in the U.S. (Clinton) and the U.K. (Thatcher). Overall, scholars conclude that so far, that these programs haven’t worked as intended. That they result in tax giveaways for major corporations and pass over the much-needed communities.

In their exhaustive study of 75 enterprise zones in 13 states, Drs. Alan Peters and Peter Fisher, professors of urban and regional planning, found that the tax incentives had

“little or no positive impact on economic growth”. Which again, was my main fear. – Peters and Fisher

Looking at this on the outside, I will concede that it looks like an opportunity to help underserved communities. That is exactly how it is intended to look. BUT, history has shown us otherwise, I have little reason to believe that Black-Republican Tim Scott and his boss Donald Trump are moving quickly to take advantage of O-zones because they intend to help empower communities.

I want to be an optimist and see how this all turns out. Hell, it’ll probably be a decade or so. There is even bi-partisan support in some states…. but the pessimist in me wants to see anyone other than “Cheeto Satan” and his group of republican f#ckbois shepherd this initiative. Maybe we can stall this shit until 2020 at the very least?

Idris Gray: You are right. There have been zones of all kinds. The fact that the word “zones” continue to be used for all these initiatives is funny when you think about it. Especially considering that none of them have proven wildly successful on their own. In fact, the same can be said for Obama’s, yes Obama’s “promise zones”, which worked much like Clintons. I know, downplaying Obama’s efforts is blasphemy, especially during black history month. But this isn’t a slight at Obama, or Clinton or Trump.

Like you said it all comes down to implementation. Perhaps the Golden One isn’t the right person to push this program. I too will concede that the evidence you’ve given raises questions about the effectiveness. Little economic growth and big breaks for businesses, don’t seem like a good trade-off for displaced peoples. But I will also say that how these programs are implemented is the real secret to success or failure.

“If states select areas that are relatively well off or already gentrifying, most of the benefits will accrue to investors and developers for investments that would have happened anyway.”

The article goes on to elaborate on why the distinction and how these types of programs are implemented is what can really dictate their success.

I still think that the idea of improving areas by incentivizing businesses is at the very least economically sound. But I think if done correctly, it can go much further. People need to be informed of these changes and these tax benefits for corporations so they aren’t blindsided. So that they can make informed decisions about their futures even. Listen. eventually, all neighborhoods will be targeted for expansion, whether through zones or not. I think the question needs to be how can people be empowered to make good decisions for their families and their communities.  

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Further Discussion, Let's get into It, Really N****?

Best President Ever? …Really? – Objectively Black

Trump keeps telling us that he’s the best president ever. That he’s got the best administration of all time. Last fall, he delivered remarks at the annual United Nation General Assembly in New York City. He bragged about administration’s accomplishments, saying “it has done more than any other administration in U.S. history”…..the room erupted in laughter.

Now that we’ve had time to really reflect on this shit, and since muthafuckers wanna keep score, let’s get into it:

F. Dougie: There are bad people on both sides? Really Nigga?! Worse than a group of Nazi’s and KKK?! I know your father was in the Klan (allegedly), but you’d think you would have just taken an L on this one.

Idris Gray: No collusion? Really Nigga?! You’ve been in office 2 years? And have been investigated by the FBI whole time!

F. Dougie: Really Nigga?! No collusion? 34 indictments and guilty pleas by the special council. Your ‘fixer’ rolled on you and your homies are finding out slowly that loyalty to you ain’t worth 10-20 in federal prison.

F. Dougie: Best administration? Really Nigga?! 35 officials have resigned or have been let go through January 2019. That’s more first year departures in the last 40 years. Congrats. Look at the bright side. At least that 65% turnover is almost twice as high as your current approval rating.

Idris Gray: You paid off a porn star after it leaked that you had an affair with her and lied about the shit? Then threw your own lawyer under the bus while he went on to snitch on you?! I wish I could say I felt bad for the homie. Really Nigga?!

Idris Gray: You’re an honest guy. Really Nigga?! The Washington Post has tallied and debunked over 5,000 lies in the last year alone. That’s 13 lies a day! Do you just wake up in the middle of the night, walk over to the mirror and just lie to restore some sort of sociopathic balance?

F. Dougie: You’re a brilliant negotiator? Really Nigga?! After tricking you into saying you’d take full blame for the longest government shutdown in America’s history, Nancy Pelosi dogged walked you through the streets and cancelled your State of the Union speech. I’m sure your base appreciates not getting their paychecks, though. That should play really nice for you on the campaign trail.

Idris Gray: Perhaps your biggest success comes from the 2 Supreme Court justices that were confirmed during your term. Congratulations! Good thing one of them probably never sexually assaulted anyone. I know you look down upon that kind of thing 😉 Really Nigga?!

F. Dougie: “Hamberders”? Really Nigga?!

Idris Gray: 35 long ass days. That’s how long government employees across the country went without pay. The longest government shutdown EVER. And for what? To basically come to a previously agreed upon decision? All that posturing while people went hungry. FLAWLESS VICTORY. Really Nigga?!

F. Dougie: And then you bragged that you came up with a solution? Really Nigga? That’s like giving up 2 own-goals in the World Cup, losing the game, then going to celebrate with the opposing team.

We’re only 2 years into this 5th level of purgatory thats called a presidency and already you’ve set the record for the number of scandals by an administration.

Not only are you surrounding yourself with inept family members who are accused of conflicts of interest, your crew is accused of misuse of public funds, selling influence for favors, paying off women to keep quiet about extra-marital sexual encounters, working for a foreign government (let that sink in), violating ethics laws, dozens of lawsuits, and a number of other national embarrassments that we are too tired to list here.

So getting back to our main question…. Really Nigga?! Your administration is the best ever? I guess if you actually find a way to get away with all this shit, maybe it really is.

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