Friday, November 19, 2021

"Enjoy the power and beauty of your youth"

It was particularly warm in MA yesterday so I took my bicycle down to Brackenbury Beach like I regularly do in summer. As I dismounted my bike and turned the corner I saw an elderly couple making their way through the sand, waving their canes around and tossing the seaweed aside in defiance of their physical age. It was a special moment that I hope to not soon forget, and I took the next moment to pause and recognize the energy and liveliness that supports my relatively youthful 30-year-old body.

It is truly amazing what we've been endowed with, and in moments like the one above I am reminded of the advice I've attempted to internalize that entered my world just over a decade ago:

"Enjoy the power and beauty of your youth... 20 years, you'll look back
At photos of yourself and recall in a way you can't grasp now
How much possibility lay before you and how fabulous you really looked...

...Enjoy your body, use it every way you can
Don't be afraid of it or what other people think of it
It's the greatest instrument you'll ever own"

The original essay, published as an unofficial graduation speech, is longer. I can't recommend it enough

- Moth

Thursday, November 18, 2021

Achtung Baby at 30: A Lyrical Retrospective


Today marks the 30th anniversary of one of U2's finest albums and arguably their greatest achievement Achtung Baby. So in honor of the day I wanted to put together a lyrical homage to the record. Below is a track-by-track listing with my favorite verses from each song. The album is the band at the height of their powers, and there's an endless supply of lyrical genius. From the painfully deep and existential "One", to the tongue-in-cheek self-referential "The Fly", the sexy and funky "Mysterious Ways", and the depressingly serious conclusion "Love Is Blindness". It's a masterpiece of the highest caliber and my favorite album of all time, and I always find reading out lyrics to be a cathartic experience. I hope whoever's reading enjoys taking in this gem in a different way - you can listen (links to each song are over their respective titles), or just read the verses. Totally up to you. Anyways, all aboard the Zoo Train!

Achtung Baby (1991)

Track #1: Zoo Station

Time is a train

Makes the future the past

Leaves you standing in the station

Your face pressed up against the glass

Track #2: Even Better Than the Real Thing

Give me one last chance

And I'm gonna make you sing

Give me half a chance

To ride on the waves that you bring

You're a honey child

To a swarm of bees

Gonna blow right through ya

Like a breeze

Give me one last dance

We'll slide to the surface of things

The cover to the single "One"

Track # 3: One

Have you come here for forgiveness?

Have you come to raise the dead?

Have you come here to play Jesus?

To the lepers in your head?

Did I ask too much?

More than a lot?

You gave me nothing

Now it's all I've got

We're one

But we're not the same

Well, we hurt each other

Then we do it again

You say love is a temple

Love a higher law

Love is a temple

Love the higher law

You ask me to enter

But then you make me crawl

And I can't be holding on

To what you've got

When all you've got is hurt

One love

One blood

One life

You got to do what you should

One life

With each other



One life 

But we're not the same

We get to carry each other

Carry each other



Track #4: Until the End of the World

In my dream

I was drowning my sorrows

But my sorrows they learned to swim

Surrounding me

Going down on me

Spilling over the brim

Waves of regret

And waves of joy

I reached out for the one

I tried to destroy


You said you'd wait

Until the end of the world

Track #5: Who's Gonna Ride Your Wild Horses

The deeper I spin

The hunter will sin

For your ivory skin

Took a drive in the dirty rain

To a place where the wind calls your name

Under the trees

The river laughing at you and me


Heaven's white rose

The doors you open

I just can't close

Don't turn around

Don't turn around again

Don't turn around

Your gypsy heart

Don't turn around

Don't turn around again

Don't turn around

And don't look back

Come on now love

Don't you look back!

Track #6: So Cruel

She wears my love

Like a see-through dress

Her lips say one thing

Her movements something else

Oh, love

Like a screaming flower


Dying every hour, ah

You don't know if it's fear or desire

Danger the drug that takes you higher

Head of heaven

Fingers in the mire

Her heart is racing

You can't keep up

The night is bleeding 

Like a cut

Between the horses of love and lust

We're trampled underfoot

Track #7: The Fly

It's no secret that a conscience

Can sometimes be a pest

It's no secret ambition

Bites the nails of success

Every artist is a cannibal

Every poet is a thief

All kill their inspiration

And sing about the grief

A man will rise

A man will fall

From the sheer face of love

Like a fly from a wall

It's no secret at all

A still shot from the "Mysterious Ways" music video

Track #8: Mysterious Ways

Johnny take a dive

With your sister in the rain

Let her talk about the things

You can't explain

To touch is to heal

To hurt is to steal

If you want to kiss the sky

Better learn how to kneel

On your knees, boy!

Track #9: Tryin' to Throw Your Arm's Around the World

Yeah I dreamed that I saw Dali

With a supermarket trolley

He was tryin' to throw his arms

Around a girl

He took an open top beetle

Through the eye of a needle

He was tryin' to throw his arms

Around the world

Track #10: Ultraviolet (Light My Way)

I remember 

When we could sleep on stones

Now we lie together

In whispers and moans

When I was all messed up

And I heard opera in my head

Your love was like a lightbulb

Hanging over my bed

Track #11: Acrobat

Don't believe what you hear

Don't believe what you see

If you just close your eyes

You can feel the enemy

When I first met you, girl

You had fire in your soul

What happened t'your face

Of melting snow

Now it looks like this!

And you can swallow

Or you can spit

You can throw it up

Or choke on it

And you can dream

So dream out loud

And don't let the bastards

Grind you down

Track #12: Love Is Blindness

Love is blindness

I don't wanna see

Won't you wrap the night

Around me?

Oh, my heart

Love is blindness

In a parked car

In a crowded street

You see your love

Made complete

Thread is ripping

The knot is slipping

Love is blindness

Love is clockwork

And cold steel


Too numb to feel

Squeeze the handle

Blow out the candle

Love is blindness

The back cover of the album

Hope y'all enjoyed the ride!

Also - for anyone interested, Bono and The Edge recently did an interview with BBC 2 Radio where they talked about the album song-by-song. Definitely worth a listen for any U2-heads out there. Link is below.

God Bless.

- ZB James

Thursday, November 11, 2021

Soccer Dork Update: Gerrard is the Man


It was announced today that Aston Villa have signed Steven Gerrard as their new manager. He signed on a 3 1/2 year deal (since we're halfway through this season already).

I mentioned in my last SDU that the grade for firing Dean Smith was pending, but now that they've brought in his successor in Gerrard I'd say it was a slight improvement with some serious risk. Somewhere in the C/C+ range. Gerrard has yet to manage in England, and while he dominated in the Premier League during his illustrious playing career at Liverpool, it remains to be seen whether or not that will translate to being gaffer.

I'll also say that this appointment showed what Wes Edens and Nassef Sawiris (the owners) were thinking: they wanted to make a big name splash and were willing to pay the 4.5 million pound release to Rangers for SG's services. It certainly looks like they have genuine European ambitions, and with Gerrard they now have a coach who's been there with his old club Rangers. He's also won the Champions League as a player. This seems like the most logical next step for both the club and the manager.

But in classic European football fashion, despite a lot of the boxes being checked, this still comes with massive risk. Critics argue that Gerrard underperformed in Europe with Rangers, and that his overall success in the Scottish Premier League doesn't equate to the much more cutthroat English Premier League. He's also a Liverpool legend, and if/when Jurgen Klopp leaves Anfield there's no doubt Gerrard will be tempted to go (if Liverpool will have him of course). He's definitely not the passionate Villa lifer that Dean Smith was - nobody should expect the same level of loyalty if a bigger club comes knocking for his services.

Ultimately this C/C+ grade could swing either way by the end of SG's term. I have high hopes that he'll lift the team in these first few weeks, and am also hopeful that the owners will give him some money for the January transfer window. If they can turn it around and end up somewhere in the mid-table mix by May then I'd say it's a successful first half season. Worst case would still be relegation, which is always the nightmare in the back of mid-level clubs' heads. I see that as less of a possibility now though, given the nature of this managerial move. If they continue to slump I wouldn't be shocked if Edens and Sawiris spent like madmen in January - not to the level that the Saudis and Newcastle will, but along similar lines.

Crazy times in Aston right now. And while I'm bummed that the Grealish/Smith era couldn't end in a Disney-like fashion, I'm excited for the next chapter and still have high expectations going forward.


-ZB James

Sunday, November 7, 2021

Soccer Dork Update: The Rollercoaster in Birmingham


We will miss you Dean. We will never forget what you did for Villa.

Today my favorite football club Aston Villa fired their manager Dean Smith. The team has lost five matches in a row so the owners (Milwaukee Bucks owner Wes Edens and Egyptian billionaire Nassef Sawiris) decided to pull the plug in order to shake things up. It's a bold move that will definitely come with mixed reactions from the fanbase.

For me, it came as pretty devastating news. Smith was a boyhood fan of Aston Villa - his dad worked at the stadium when Dean was young so he spent his childhood going to matches. He also orchestrated Villa's miraculous rise back to the Premier League back in 2019 when he first took over as gaffer. There was a lot to love about the connection Dean and the club had and now, on the heals of the worst stretch in his managerial career, that connection has been severed.

A major reason why I fell in love with Aston Villa was their unique position within English football. They have rich history, major trophies in their case, and - at the time - a manager and a captain that were local boys and fans of the team. It was all so cool and Hollywood - Jack Grealish was the youth academy darling who grew up in Birmingham and Dean Smith was the Midlander who was making his father proud. Fairy tale stuff.

But, alas, the business of football came knocking on the door this year and the book was shut. Grealish left to go play for Manchester City - a place where he'll be coached by the best in the game and paid top dollar. And Villa, sitting in 16th place in the EPL table, have shown Smith the door and now find themselves in a relegation battle. All that pride that swelled from the fanbase being able to boast about their gaffer and captain being "their own" is now gone. Brutal.

Ultimately this latest decision's grade is pending, as the owners have yet to name Dean's replacement. That will be the biggest tell of all in terms of what Edens and Sawiris truly want to do with this club. If they want to make it to Europe in the next five years like they say, they'll need to go and get a big-name manager with pedigree. Steven Gerrard, Frank Lampard, Kasper Hjulmand, and Paulo Fonseca are names I've seen that could be potential upgrades. I've seen other names like Ralph Hassenhuttl, John Terry, and Graham Potter that feel less inspiring. I'd say more than half those names don't jump out as instant needle-movers. Maybe Gerrard or Lampard, but the rest are unproven in the English game (I guess Terry but he's never been a manager).

Jacky Boy in his new Man City gear...gutted

Sadly The Villans are now lumped with the rest as the rollercoaster tosses and turns. They no longer have their local dream boy and they no longer have their loyal manager. It's a bummer to see the real world/business side of things beat out the fanatic storybook side of sports, but that's the way it goes at the very top. I'd happily sacrifice Grealish and Smith if it meant Europe in a few years and perennial top half table results for the next decade plus. But nothing in this game is guaranteed - it could just as easily be relegation this year and a decade plus of stagnation. That's the horrific beauty of sports, and European football specifically - that razor thin edge between glory and oblivion.

Let's hope AV bring in a legit replacement, I'm hoping they make an announcement soon so the new gaff can get a couple weeks with the lads during international break. For now, the Villan Army waits with bated breath.


- ZB James

Friday, November 5, 2021

Manchin is the most powerful person in Congress

With 2021 Election Day coming and going with Democrats and progressives having an underwhelming performance, the currently Democratic-led government can turn their attention back to helping the American people and the future of the planet by finishing up the reconciliation bill (Build Back Better Act).  Biden was not able to cruise into the COP26 international climate conference this week with swag, because Democratic Senator Joe Manchin single-handedly decimated the portion of Biden's bill that would've finally put the United States' money where their mouth is.  The $3.5 trillion proposal is now down to $1.75 trillion, and the central part of Biden's climate agenda, a program to quickly replace the US' coal and gas power plants with wind, solar, and nuclear energy, is now scratched by Manchin.  The Senator emphasized that the program might damage his state's economy but leaves out the economic cost of inaction on climate change for West Virginia as the state is more exposed to flood damage than any other state in the US, according to data released a few weeks ago. Manchin also profits personally from polluting industries as he owns stock valued at between $1 million and $5 million in a coal brokerage firm that he founded in 1988 and last year he made nearly half a million dollars in dividends from that stock, according to his Senate financial disclosure report.

This was a critical juncture in the battle against climate change because the United States is the second biggest polluter currently (and all time #1 biggest) and the party that, in general, wants to take action against climate change has control over both the legislative and the executive branch.  The Republicans will most likely take one or both houses of Congress back next year in the mid-terms and maybe the Democrats won't have budget reconciliation legislative power like this for another decade or even longer, nobody knows.  And scientists are urging immediate action by governments to avoid the most catastrophic effects of climate change.  This year's ecological crises, like the droughts, floods, wildfires, and heatwaves should prove to all of us that climate change is already here and it's only going to get far worse before it gets any better, and in order to make it better we need concrete legislation by the government to accelerate the economy's switch away from carbon-intensive sources.  But the legislation will only go as far as the most conservative Democrat in the Senate, because the Democrats have a 51-50 majority so they need every single Democratic voter to agree on something.  That "most conservative Democrat" happens to be Joe Manchin, especially when it comes to climate legislation.

Biden had to quickly come up with a Plan B: tax credits, regulation and state action.  Regulation could work but it can also be shut down by the conservative Supreme Court and would likely be rolled back by a future Republican president. State action sounds like an optional thing for each state. How does Biden persuade a red state to do something that he wants?  I'm skeptical.  While I would've preferred all of the original investments in climate mitigation, the tax credits for clean energy programs is a $300 billion bucket, and overall the legislative framework still includes $555 billion for clean energy and climate change provisions.  The beggar in me is still happy that so much is still on the table.  Not to mention all of the other great investments in the American people within the Build Back Better Act, such as $400 billion for childcare and preschools.  And there is also the separate physical infrastructure bill (Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act) which contains $7.5 billion to build a national network of electric vehicle chargers and $73 billion in power infrastructure and clean energy transmission.  Something is better than nothing, and these investments are all highly significant.

We need more than 51 Senators to care about climate change in order to pass the legislation we truly need, so that no one person has all the negotiating power that Manchin has had.  I think that the majority of Americans want the US to do more in the battle against climate change, but the politics almost always gets in the way.

Wednesday, November 3, 2021

ZB's YouTube Cavern #11: Watching Jon Again


Jon Stewart came back into public eye recently with a new current affairs show called The Problem with Jon Stewart. I haven't watched a full episode yet (I don't have Apple +), but have been peeping the YouTube clips and I must say it's a breath of fresh air to have the king back.

Nobody comes close to his monologue deliverability. He's hilarious and sharp without the overly condescending highbrow liberal elitist tone that basically every other anchor within the genre has these days. And I think that's mostly due to the fact that he's the OG of the format, and he's essentially untouchable (especially at this point in his career) so he can go for more deep-cut/off limits topics (like working class issues covered on this segment where an actual poor person is on the panel). Plus he has a pretty remarkable track record to back it up - he's championed the 9/11 first responders benefits extension year in and year out, and is a major advocate for war veteran's health benefits as well. He's even gone in front of Congress and made an incredibly power speech in support of the first responders. I'll never forget watching that for the first time back in 2019 - I was left speechless and in awe of the man. A fucking comedian in front of all the hacks that run this country telling them to their face "they [9/11 first responders] did their job, now do yours".

Stewart and his new show, like any form of politically charged entertainment these days, will get immediately pigeonholed on a "side" of the exhausting and misguided culture wars that America is entrenched in. If you're on the right you need to hate him, and if you're on the left you should love him (although that line is getting blurry as the Dems kowtow more and more to the technocratic and meritocratic elites). But despite where you fall within that battle, Jon's talent should at the very least be acknowledged for what it is: a powerful and seminal voice within the political comedy genre.

I admit that I'm biased here -I lean "left" on a lot of cultural and economic issue (if I must be labeled...I fucking hate the right-left spectrum racket) and I grew up watching The Daily Show with Jon Stewart from when I was a preteen up until his retirement from the program in 2015. Even still I think there's a specific magic that Jon brings that can really make someone think critically about issues in a way that's unlike any other form of political news coverage. Comedy for me - and Jon's comedic delivery in particular - acts as a cathartic way of internalizing what are usually depressing, infuriating, saddening, and all-together upsetting issues. He's light and witty and purposefully hacky at times, cutting and harsh at others, and insightful and serious when appropriate. And it all feels genuine (something that is lacking with most of his late night current affairs disciples).

I guess ultimately I've found Jon to be a guiding light politically, comedically, and even philosophically over the years because he shows how to balance things. His monologues sort of act as a way to go about life: Think critically, be articulate, and no matter how intense things get there is a space and time for laughter that can nourish the soul.

Anyways, I'm really glad Jon is back and look forward to keeping up with what he's covering. He is truly the GOAT.

Edit: I highly recommend checking out the companion podcast to Jon's new show as well (also called The Problem with Jon Stewart). The episode where he has a debate with Jamie Dimon, the CEO of JPMorgan Chase, is particularly engaging.

- ZB James