Strawberry Swing: A Song Review

Like many music listeners, I’ve been a big fan of Frank Ocean for some time. For some reason though, I had only listened to one of his, as of last year, three albums. Even before his newest album, I couldn’t get enough of Channel Orange, so you might think I would have listened to his debut mixtape, but no way. Sometimes with music I get so hooked on one album, or one song even, that I don’t want to leave it for anything, which is why this review is so limited.

I love this song. I liked the Coldplay song, and I’m not bothered at all that Frank just took the song, inserted his own lyrics and vocals, and added some beautiful sounds. The original song, though good, was lacking. It had a good foundation, but didn’t take things to that higher place all great songs must go to in order to be considered great. Frank took that foundation and brought it to that next level. His lyricism puts Coldplay to shame. And his falsetto is the stuff of dreams.

There are some moments of this song that are beyond explanation, I’m just going to tell you what they are for me and include the timing so you can listen to them yourself (though please, listen to the whole song all at once first). When I first listened to the song I thought it was good, but at first what it added beyond the base – i.e., the Coldplay song – which I already liked. But then the undercurrent of nostalgia hit me like it sometimes does when it’s well expressed. I’ve become less a fan of nostalgia lately, as I think it can be indulgent and wrongheaded to obsess over an unachievable past, but Ocean makes it about childhood here, which is a nostalgia worth remembering. For the most part, I like being an adult more than a kid, but, damn, some of those long summer days I wouldn’t mind living again.

Then Ocean knocked me on the floor when he belts out “we are all mortals aren’t we?” I was so unprepared for that. He sings it so beautifully, like someone who agonizes over death like a human being, but at the same time doesn’t obsess over it or, like so many Silicon Valley d-bags, obsess over how to defeat it. By making the song about mortality Ocean conjures another of the most real varieties of nostalgia – the longing for life itself in the face of its certain end. Life is beautiful and, when thinking about death, a human being should feel sad when facing the knowledge that it will end.

Finally, I love the way he sings “Cry cry cry.” The way he sings it…those three words stand alone. They reverberate around your head all the time. The moment just depends on who you are and what you’re doing, but if you listen, really listen and let it take over you for a second, it will linger and you won’t be able to get rid of it until you move onto the next thing, whatever that may be. You’ll be walking the streets – you’ll see a homeless man and you’ll hear Ocean singing “cry cry cry.” You’ll catch the slanting late afternoon light on a clear day as it hits something you find beautiful anyway, but it’s all the more beautiful at that place and time and you’ll hear Ocean singing “cry cry cry.” You’ll hear someone who you like and respect, but don’t love, tell you that they love you and you’ll hear Ocean singing “cry cry cry.” (I hope that last bit doesn’t happen. If it does, you should do that other person a favor and not lie to them, or, you should decide to take care of them so well that your care will make up for the fact that you don’t love them.)

It’s these kinds of things that make a song something special. It’s these kinds of things that compel me to write a review of just one song. I like the little things that, when you really think of them, blossom and fill my mind and heart and soul with joy.

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A Trump Fan’s Take on Lincoln

Last night I watched this show on TV called The Biggest Loser. I had heard of it but never felt compelled to watch before. But last night…I mean, you know how it is, I was at home and tired and the buttons on that remote just pushed themselves so easily until they didn’t and eventually the act of changing the channel seemed as monumental as climbing K2 or brushing my teeth before bed. Anyway, last night I watched The Biggest Loser and the subject was this guy named Abraham Lincoln. He was really tall, hence the “Biggest” qualification and boy did he struggle quite a bit – lots of losing indeed.

I went to a great school where we got to play sports outside in nice weather and video games when it was bad weather. One time I think we talked about Lincoln – the teacher mentioned he had been president at one time – but I figured that was all I needed to know. According to the show, he was, in fact, the president and the show made him seem like a very important one. I’m not quite sure who to believe, but that’s nothing new.

This Lincoln guy may have been important, again I’m still not too sure even after the show, but regardless he was definitely a loser! I mean, just listen to this:

  • He went into business at 23, but failed out quickly;
  • Soon after that failure, he campaigned for political office and lost;
  • He did make it into the Illinois state legislature, but then ran for U.S. Congress in Illinois and lost (he was part of the “Whig” party – ha! no wonder he lost);
  • As a Congressman, Lincoln’s ideas got nowhere and he was widely mocked for his views on the Mexican-American War;
  • He supported Zachary Taylor for president hoping to get a cushy job as a result, but, when Taylor won, Lincoln didn’t get the job;
  • After leaving Congress, he ran again for Senate in 1854, but lost;
  • He ran again for Senate in 1858, only to lose again;
  • After being elected president of the U.S. in 1860, in what should have been the shining moment in his political career, a bunch of U.S. states seceded – i.e., they preferred to start their own new country rather than live in one where Lincoln was the president – and this started a big war in which many people died and the country almost collapsed, so he had to live with all that death and destruction on his conscience;
  • As if that arduous professional career wasn’t bad enough, three of his four sons died in infancy; and,
  • He was assassinated right after his team won the war, before he could do anything to repair the damage and feel any satisfaction that his cause had triumphed.

I’m sorry, I guess I shouldn’t be too hard on him, especially for those last two things, but man it sure is striking how bad things were for this poor man. No wonder he looks like such a sad sack in every picture I’ve seen of him. I wonder how he was able to put up with all that failure and still keep going. It sure is a surprise to me that he’s considered a role model and hero to many (though, again, not in our school). Next time I’m feeling down about my life, I’ll just think about how much better it’s gone than Abraham Lincoln’s.

Author’s note: Yes, I am aware that The Biggest Loser is a real show about something else.

The Imminent Capitalist Reckoning, Ctd

In the heat of writing the last post, there was something I didn’t stress enough. The post shouldn’t have been about making a prediction. Predictions are fun, but not really that useful except to try and make yourself look smart or to accidentally make yourself look dumb. In overemphasizing the prediction, I understressed what should have been the central point, which is that – in a country with key costs rising faster than incomes – people are suffering. People are suffering and increasingly unable to afford the things they need the most. That’s what matters.

The Imminent Capitalist Reckoning

Have you ever heard of the economist William Baumol? Probably not, because economists are almost always boring and often little more than hacks that rich people invest in to help them save money on taxes. But Baumol appears to be one of the rare economists to stumble upon a genuine insight. One of his ideas is known as Baumol’s cost disease (always name your smart discoveries after yourself), which essentially states that if large capital investments are used to automate the mass production of goods, the price of those goods will fall and the costs of services – i.e., tasks that humans must in large part perform – will rise as a result. Because wages for workers benefiting from increasingly automated, increasingly efficient, mass-production will rise, these workers will be more able and willing to pay higher prices for services. When this happens, prices and wages for service workers will rise. Thus, even though Beethoven’s Fifth remains Beethoven’s Fifth whether it be played in the 18th century or the 23rd, God willing, the players and conductors in the 23rd will be payed much more than the player and conductors were payed in the 18th. And, since the playing of Beethoven’s Fifth can’t be automated the way manufacturing a diaper can be, the cost of the Fifth, relative to the cost of the diaper, will increase.

Put another way, as the ability of capital to mass produce dead objects/goods increases, the relative price of these dead objects will decrease against that which cannot be mass-produced – again, i.e., tasks that humans must in large part perform.

One more try: as people experience income growth and can purchase many goods with less money, they will pay more for things that are less easily automated, aka people-performed work aka services. If you still don’t understand at this point you should probably stop reading and make loud fun of me for being a bad writer and explainer.

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Across the Pond, Part III

What can we say? The news says “President Donald Trump” hundreds of times each day and a neo-fascist and an investment banker are the two choices for president of France. These are the times we live in.

The French election, as with the U.S. election last year, is helpful in that it shows us exactly how scared we should be. And we should be very, very scared. In this corner: Marine Le Pen, A woman who white-washes France’s collaboration with the Nazis in the Holocaust. In the other corner: Emmanuel Macron, an ex-investment banker and ex-minister of the current government with a single-digit approval rating who thinks that the problem with the current oligarchic neo-liberal order is that we have the wrong technocratic manager in charge – instead of the order itself. It’s the 2016 U.S. election with the genders switched and a less mentally ill (scientifically speaking) but more professional rabble-rouser.

Unlike in the U.S., the center-right is not capitulating to its right-wing, which means that the self-styled centrist Macron will most likely win. If he does it will make an interesting case study in political tactics for controlling populism. The center-right’s stampede away from Le Pen, toward Macron, may discredit them even more if Macron proves to be the same abysmal failure that most leaders of his ilk have turned out to be. On the other hand, the French political mainstream may continue to succeed in slamming the door in the reactionary right’s face in perpetuity. Plus, their move, in the moment at least, is much closer to the right thing to do than what Paul Ryan and Mitch McConnell have done in the U.S.

If Macron wins, I wish him the best of luck managing France, as he is the far lesser of two evils compared to Le Pen and her National Front. But make no mistake, Macron is a shithead. And all the luck in the world may have run out for shitheads like him.

If Le Pen wins, then one of the few things I’ll look forward to is Donald Trump shaking her hand.

Across the Pond, Part II

On April 16, the people of Turkey went to the polls for a referendum. The matter under consideration was a broad set of amendments to the country’s constitution. Most notable among other things, the amendments would abolish the office of the Prime Minister and effectively replace Turkey’s parliamentarian government with a presidential system.

Most every presidential system of government needs a strong executive to function effectively, and the proposed amendments did not claim otherwise. In the process of doing away with the government’s Prime Minister, the amendments would endow the president, a largely ceremonial post with little hard power in the previous system, with the powers of chief executive and head of state. And the actual powers that come with these title bumps are far from trivial – new authority to appoint government ministers, select judges, enact laws by decree, declare states of emergency, and dismiss parliament.

Parliament, which would serve at the pleasure of the president, would also be stripped of its authority to scrutinize ministers as part of their appointment proceedings or conduct thorough investigations of the government. It would retain the ability to impeach the president, however, since the president could dismiss parliament at any time it remains to be seen if that capability has any tangible force behind it.

Though a unique issue in a unique country, like Brexit and the Trump victory, the referendum in Turkey won by a tight margin at the polls: 51.4 to 48.59.

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