Wednesday, November 30, 2016

"Window" and "Ghost" by HVOB

Here are two songs from HVOB (Paul Wallner and Anna Müller). Moody, melancholy, minimalistic, electronic sounds.


The window looks onto the garden
And the smallest roof of our house
You bring the roof down on my head
You are like a cat on a hot tin roof

You look into, look into my body, my eyes

The window looks onto the garden
And the smallest roof of our house
You bring the roof down on my head
You are like a cat on a hot tin roof


You're hiding behind me.
Don't fade away.
We live in a ghost town.
Don't fade away.
Don't fade away.
Don't fade away.

We live in a ghost town.
Don't fade away.
On my way in every way
Be my guide or be my ghost
There are no two ways about it
You're my guide or you're my ghost

On my way in every way
Be my guide or be my ghost
There are no two ways about it
You're my guide or you're my ghost

Be my guide or be my ghost
You're my guide or you're my ghost

Tuesday, November 29, 2016

A Warning

History tells us what may happen next with Brexit & Trump
by Tobias Stone, writing for

It seems we’re entering another of those stupid seasons humans impose on themselves at fairly regular intervals. I am sketching out here opinions based on information, they may prove right, or may prove wrong, and they’re intended just to challenge and be part of a wider dialogue.

My background is archaeology, so also history and anthropology. It leads me to look at big historical patterns. My theory is that most peoples’ perspective of history is limited to the experience communicated by their parents and grandparents, so 50–100 years. To go beyond that you have to read, study, and learn to untangle the propaganda that is inevitable in all telling of history. In a nutshell, at university I would fail a paper if I didn’t compare at least two, if not three opposing views on a topic. Taking one telling of events as gospel doesn’t wash in the comparative analytical method of research that forms the core of British academia. (I can’t speak for other systems, but they’re definitely not all alike in this way).

So zooming out, we humans have a habit of going into phases of mass destruction, generally self imposed to some extent or another. This handy list shows all the wars over time. Wars are actually the norm for humans, but every now and then something big comes along. I am interested in the Black Death, which devastated Europe. The opening of Boccaccio’s Decameron describes Florence in the grips of the Plague. It is as beyond imagination as the Somme, Hiroshima, or the Holocaust. I mean, you quite literally can’t put yourself there and imagine what it was like. For those in the midst of the Plague it must have felt like the end of the world.

But a defining feature of humans is their resilience. To us now it seems obvious that we survived the Plague, but to people at the time it must have seemed incredible that their society continued afterwards. Indeed, many takes on the effects of the Black Death are that it had a positive impact in the long term. Well summed up here: “By targeting frail people of all ages, and killing them by the hundreds of thousands within an extremely short period of time, the Black Death might have represented a strong force of natural selection and removed the weakest individuals on a very broad scale within Europe,“ …In addition, the Black Death significantly changed the social structure of some European regions. Tragic depopulation created the shortage of working people. This shortage caused wages to rise. Products prices fell too. Consequently, standards of living increased. For instance, people started to consume more food of higher quality.”

But for the people living through it, as with the World Wars, Soviet Famines, Holocaust, it must have felt inconceivable that humans could rise up from it. The collapse of the Roman Empire, Black Death, Spanish Inquisition, Thirty Years War, War of the Roses, English Civil War… it’s a long list. Events of massive destruction from which humanity recovered and move on, often in better shape.

At a local level in time people think things are fine, then things rapidly spiral out of control until they become unstoppable, and we wreak massive destruction on ourselves. For the people living in the midst of this it is hard to see happening and hard to understand. To historians later it all makes sense and we see clearly how one thing led to another. During the Centenary of the Battle of the Somme I was struck that it was a direct outcome of the assassination of an Austrian Arch Duke in Bosnia. I very much doubt anyone at the time thought the killing of a European royal would lead to the death of 17 million people.

My point is that this is a cycle. It happens again and again, but as most people only have a 50–100 year historical perspective they don’t see that it’s happening again. As the events that led to the First World War unfolded, there were a few brilliant minds who started to warn that something big was wrong, that the web of treaties across Europe could lead to a war, but they were dismissed as hysterical, mad, or fools, as is always the way, and as people who worry about Putin, Brexit, and Trump are dismissed now.

Then after the War to end all Wars, we went and had another one. Again, for a historian it was quite predictable. Lead people to feel they have lost control of their country and destiny, people look for scapegoats, a charismatic leader captures the popular mood, and singles out that scapegoat. He talks in rhetoric that has no detail, and drums up anger and hatred. Soon the masses start to move as one, without any logic driving their actions, and the whole becomes unstoppable.

That was Hitler, but it was also Mussolini, Stalin, Putin, Mugabe, and so many more. Mugabe is a very good case in point. He whipped up national anger and hatred towards the land owning white minority (who happened to know how to run farms), and seized their land to redistribute to the people, in a great populist move which in the end unravelled the economy and farming industry and left the people in possession of land, but starving. See also the famines created by the Soviet Union, and the one caused by the Chinese Communists last century in which 20–40 million people died. It seems inconceivable that people could create a situation in which tens of millions of people die without reason, but we do it again and again.

But at the time people don’t realise they’re embarking on a route that will lead to a destruction period. They think they’re right, they’re cheered on by jeering angry mobs, their critics are mocked. This cycle, the one we saw for example from the Treaty of Versaille, to the rise of Hitler, to the Second World War, appears to be happening again. But as with before, most people cannot see it because:

1. They are only looking at the present, not the past or future

2. They are only looking immediately around them, not at how events connect globally

3. Most people don’t read, think, challenge, or hear opposing views

Trump is doing this in America. Those of us with some oversight from history can see it happening. Read this brilliant, long essay in the New York magazine to understand how Plato described all this, and it is happening just as he predicted. Trump says he will Make America Great Again, when in fact America is currently great, according to pretty well any statistics. He is using passion, anger, and rhetoric in the same way all his predecessors did — a charismatic narcissist who feeds on the crowd to become ever stronger, creating a cult around himself. You can blame society, politicians, the media, for America getting to the point that it’s ready for Trump, but the bigger historical picture is that history generally plays out the same way each time someone like him becomes the boss.

On a wider stage, zoom out some more, Russia is a dictatorship with a charismatic leader using fear and passion to establish a cult around himself. Turkey is now there too. Hungary, Poland, Slovakia are heading that way, and across Europe more Trumps and Putins are waiting in the wings, in fact funded by Putin, waiting for the popular tide to turn their way.

We should be asking ourselves what our Archduke Ferdinand moment will be. How will an apparently small event trigger another period of massive destruction. We see Brexit, Trump, Putin in isolation. The world does not work that way — all things are connected and affecting each other. I have pro-Brexit friends who say ‘oh, you’re going to blame that on Brexit too??’ But they don’t realise that actually, yes, historians will trace neat lines from apparently unrelated events back to major political and social shifts like Brexit.

Brexit — a group of angry people winning a fight — easily inspires other groups of angry people to start a similar fight, empowered with the idea that they may win. That alone can trigger chain reactions. A nuclear explosion is not caused by one atom splitting, but by the impact of the first atom that splits causing multiple other atoms near it to split, and they in turn causing multiple atoms to split. The exponential increase in atoms splitting, and their combined energy is the bomb. That is how World War One started and, ironically how World War Two ended.

An example of how Brexit could lead to a nuclear war could be this:

Brexit in the UK causes Italy or France to have a similar referendum. Le Pen wins an election in France. Europe now has a fractured EU. The EU, for all its many awful faults, has prevented a war in Europe for longer than ever before. The EU is also a major force in suppressing Putin’s military ambitions. European sanctions on Russia really hit the economy, and helped temper Russia’s attacks on Ukraine (there is a reason bad guys always want a weaker European Union). Trump wins in the US. Trump becomes isolationist, which weakens NATO. He has already said he would not automatically honour NATO commitments in the face of a Russian attack on the Baltics.

With a fractured EU, and weakened NATO, Putin, facing an ongoing economic and social crisis in Russia, needs another foreign distraction around which to rally his people. He funds far right anti-EU activists in Latvia, who then create a reason for an uprising of the Russian Latvians in the East of the country (the EU border with Russia). Russia sends ‘peace keeping forces’ and ‘aid lorries’ into Latvia, as it did in Georgia, and in Ukraine. He annexes Eastern Latvia as he did Eastern Ukraine (Crimea has the same population as Latvia, by the way).

A divided Europe, with the leaders of France, Hungary, Poland, Slovakia, and others now pro-Russia, anti-EU, and funded by Putin, overrule calls for sanctions or a military response. NATO is slow to respond: Trump does not want America to be involved, and a large part of Europe is indifferent or blocking any action. Russia, seeing no real resistance to their actions, move further into Latvia, and then into Eastern Estonia and Lithuania. The Baltic States declare war on Russia and start to retaliate, as they have now been invaded so have no choice. Half of Europe sides with them, a few countries remain neutral, and a few side with Russia. Where does Turkey stand on this? How does ISIS respond to a new war in Europe? Who uses a nuclear weapon first?

This is just one Arch Duke Ferdinand scenario. The number of possible scenarios are infinite due to the massive complexity of the many moving parts. And of course many of them lead to nothing happening. But based on history we are due another period of destruction, and based on history all the indicators are that we are entering one.

It will come in ways we can’t see coming, and will spin out of control so fast people won’t be able to stop it. Historians will look back and make sense of it all and wonder how we could all have been so naïve. How could I sit in a nice café in London, writing this, without wanting to run away. How could people read it and make sarcastic and dismissive comments about how pro-Remain people should stop whining, and how we shouldn’t blame everything on Brexit. Others will read this and sneer at me for saying America is in great shape, that Trump is a possible future Hitler (and yes, Godwin’s Law. But my comparison is to another narcissistic, charismatic leader fanning flames of hatred until things spiral out of control). It’s easy to jump to conclusions that oppose pessimistic predictions based on the weight of history and learning. Trump won against the other Republicans in debates by countering their claims by calling them names and dismissing them. It’s an easy route but the wrong one.

Ignoring and mocking the experts , as people are doing around Brexit and Trump’s campaign, is no different to ignoring a doctor who tells you to stop smoking, and then finding later you’ve developed incurable cancer. A little thing leads to an unstoppable destruction that could have been prevented if you’d listened and thought a bit. But people smoke, and people die from it. That is the way of the human.

So I feel it’s all inevitable. I don’t know what it will be, but we are entering a bad phase. It will be unpleasant for those living through it, maybe even will unravel into being hellish and beyond imagination. Humans will come out the other side, recover, and move on. The human race will be fine, changed, maybe better. But for those at the sharp end — for the thousands of Turkish teachers who just got fired, for the Turkish journalists and lawyers in prison, for the Russian dissidents in gulags, for people lying wounded in French hospitals after terrorist attacks, for those yet to fall, this will be their Somme.

What can we do? Well, again, looking back, probably not much. The liberal intellectuals are always in the minority. See Clay Shirky’s Twitter Storm on this point. The people who see that open societies, being nice to other people, not being racist, not fighting wars, is a better way to live, they generally end up losing these fights. They don’t fight dirty. They are terrible at appealing to the populace. They are less violent, so end up in prisons, camps, and graves. We need to beware not to become divided (see: Labour party), we need to avoid getting lost in arguing through facts and logic, and counter the populist messages of passion and anger with our own similar messages. We need to understand and use social media. We need to harness a different fear. Fear of another World War nearly stopped World War 2, but didn’t. We need to avoid our own echo chambers. Trump and Putin supporters don’t read the Guardian, so writing there is just reassuring our friends. We need to find a way to bridge from our closed groups to other closed groups, try to cross the ever widening social divides.

(Perhaps I’m just writing this so I can be remembered by history as one of the people who saw it coming.)

The original essay can be found here:

BEAUTY: Photography--Nicolas Rivals

In his La Línea Roja series, French photographer Nicolas Rivals explores an enigmatic red light in the Spanish countryside:

"A red line woven over a journey through Spain, to connect Man with nature.
A red line to fix a moment of poetry. Unreal scenes which existed for a night to disappear in the morning.
An installation left as a proposition to the natural world.
A luminous harmony between will and chance.
Between tribute and sacrilege.
Between the beautiful and the strange.
An aesthetic research on shapes engaging in a dialogue with an asymmetrical nature."

Monday, November 28, 2016

Just watched...

...or I should say: finally watched Terrence Malick's "The New World" from 2005.

Watching a Terrence Malick film is like dreaming: images distilled down to the essence of something, whether a place or an emotional state or a person. When we dream, what we see are signifiers... because this is how we live life. The elements around us signify something if nothing other than the fact that we exist, and are alive. The fact of us. I think that is what all Malick movies can be distilled to: the messy, irrefutable, confounding fact of us.

I know much has been made of the fact that Malick is a philosophy graduate from Harvard (summa cum laude and Phi Beta Kappa) and was a Rhodes scholar at Oxford. But he left that field after a disagreement with his tutor, the philosopher Gilbert Ryle (who coined the phrase "ghost in the machine") to become a filmmaker. His films are post-philosophy in a way. What he expresses, or maybe it is more accurate to say how he expresses what he does, in itself is a new kind of philosophy, at once cerebral and visceral. A unifying common theme in Malick's films, film critic Roger Ebert said, is how "Human lives diminish beneath the overarching majesty of the world." So what I have found is that no matter what story Malick is telling, it bears his unmistakable perspective on the world which dovetails very neatly with my own, and I suspect a great number of others (in a recent conversation with a very close friend who is quite sympatico with my own psyche, I confessed that I live my daily life on the verge of tears--just look around you, at the overarching majesty of the world, at it all, and I ask you how can you not?).

So for Malick's fourth film (he is a director who is not in a rush, considering that he has been making films since 1973 and has only released eight films), we are taken into the past, to 1607 and the founding of the Jamestown settlement in Virginia. Captain John Smith (played by Colin Ferrell) is one of the men on board three ships that drop anchor in the James River. The English come ashore and set about building a fort, mistrustful of the Native Americans who were there first. But this film is far from a superficial costume spectacle or period drama. In fact, Malick and his crew worked closely with archaeologists, Jamestown historians, and Native American tribal leaders to strike the correct tone. The Native actors trained for weeks to become convincing members of the Powhatan tribe, the people who lived in that part of Virginia at that time, studying movement and voice, and choosing body paint and animal totems to express in dance. The white actors spent time training in weaponry (shooting a musket is fraught with complicated details), and fighting with swords. The fort was actually built by a crew of carpenters using logs and wood from the area in exactly the way such a structure would have been built. The Native village structures and longhouses were built using the exact techniques that were employed by Native Americans 400 years ago. The veracity went so far as using the correct strains of corn (our modern corn has been hybridized and cross-bred but Native corn was thicker, tougher, heartier, larger) and tobacco. The reality of all this helped Malick to film the way he likes: to let his actors loose to live this truth organically, to have his actors develop a relationship to a real place instead of an artificial set, to have this action happen spontaneously and unencumbered by storyboards, and for his cameraman to record it all without tracks, lights, dollies, grips, or extra crew in the way. Emmanuel Lubezki, the cinematographer working with Malick on this project, used a special lens from Panavision that allowed them to work in a widescreen format while using only natural light (a no-no in traditional filmmaking) and achieving a depth of field where everything (or almost everything) is in focus.

By the time the English attempt to make a colony, problems with disease, supply shortages, and a simple lack of information on ways to live in this land force Smith to take a trip upriver to a Native village to trade for vital food and supplies. But he is separated from his party and taken prisoner by a local tribe. Slated to be killed (possibly), the chief's daughter intervenes and manages to have his life spared. Not once in the entire film do we hear the name of this young woman, who Smith falls in love with, and who is ultimately cast out. We of course know it is Pocahontas (played with stunning innocence and skill by Q'orianka Kilcher), but as I said before, this is not a glorified period spectacle. In true Malick form, dialogue is sparse in "The New World" and often we only hear the murmurs of inner monologues of characters as we follow them, privy to the private, whispered half-thoughts in their heads and hearts. Who she is is not important. What she is doing and what is happening to and around her is.

And of course the film is ravishingly beautiful, with shots of unspoiled nature and humans simply living in the middle of it, walking and touching lightly. The fact of us. The fact of here. The fact of now. It is always now. And you are here, wherever you are. Jamestown is one story. There are more...

Recommend? Absolutely yes yes yes.

Sunday, November 27, 2016

Just watched...

..."Arrival," Denis Villeneuve's 2016 science fiction film, currently in theaters.

"Arrival" seems to represent a new kind of science fiction film. Ostensibly about the arrival of aliens to our planet, we are mercifully spared yet another film war between humans and a race of some kind of spindly, evil creatures who want to exterminate us. Instead, we are treated here to a thoughtful, meditative film--without exploding spaceships or the sight of major cities around the world being destroyed (a bizarre fetish in recent film history)--about mortality, time, communication, and naturally by extension, the nature of existence itself. A Hollywood film that feels like an art film.

Amy Adams is Dr. Louise Banks, a highly regarded linguist who is enlisted to attempt to learn how to communicate with the aliens. Director Villeneuve's deft, masterful hand imbues the story with a special, low-level, slow-moving anxiety. The sense and look of the film is dependent upon this pacing which is exquisitely measured, creating a dream-like atmosphere and Adams fits beautifully into this texture. Her performance is deft and masterful as well: somehow she is able to open herself up and show us the contents of her head and heart while doing very little and existing in some kind of miraculous, suspended state. It's a marvel to see and the film would have suffered if the lead hadn't been able to immerse herself into this unique perspective. While the art direction is spectacular (there is a spartan look to the film, and the aliens are perfectly realized--Arthur C. Clarke said "Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic"), special attention should be paid to the incredible soundtrack by Icelandic composer Jóhann Jóhannsson. Without giving away any spoilers, the aliens ultimately end up being beside the point. Seems the real point is ourselves in this physical plane.

Recommend? Oh yes. It's beautiful to see but also beautiful to contemplate.

Saturday, November 26, 2016

BEAUTY: Painting--Jason Craighead

Making any art is not easy, but over the years I have come to suspect that making good abstract art might be even more difficult. Unencumbered by narrative or figurative subject matter, abstract art depends completely upon structure, color, texture, placement, and material. And abstract art might look improvised, but successful abstract pieces like those below by Jason Craighead represent a skill level and approach that requires years of thought and practice. The gestures appear free but they are not random or haphazard. They are made by a highly skilled artist.

Top to bottom: Apparition (Ghost-Self); Bending Time; Dream Language; Hard To See; Heart of The River; Journey Agent; Open Channel; The Need

Friday, November 25, 2016

"Before The Dawn Live"

Released today in the UK: the live recording of "Before The Dawn," Kate Bush's now-legendary 22-night residency at the Hammersmith Apollo in late 2014. (We here in the US must wait until December 2nd.)

The first single to be released is "And Dream Of Sheep," the opening song to Kate's concept suite "The Ninth Wave," a story about a woman lost at sea, waiting to be rescued. If you have missed it, please read a detailed exploration of this powerful piece of music here. The video below shows Kate signing this song live while floating in a tank at Pinewood Studios--this film was projected on a large screen during her live performances of "The Ninth Wave" as part of the entire "Before The Dawn" stage show. The film crew actually spent two days filming and Kate got mild hypothermia after the first day!

Little light shining,
Little light will guide them to me.
My face is all lit up,
My face is all lit up.

If they find me racing white horses,
They'll not take me for a buoy.
Let me be weak,
Let me sleep
And dream of sheep.

Oh, I'll wake up
To any sound of engines,
Ev'ry gull a seeking craft.
I can't keep my eyes open--
Wish I had my radio.
I’d tune in to some friendly voices
Talkin' 'bout stupid things.
I can't be left to my imagination.
Let me be weak,
Let me sleep
And dream of sheep.

Ooh, their breath is warm
And they smell like sleep,
And they say they take me home.
Like poppies heavy with seed
They take me deeper and deeper.

And here is the audio for the "Prologue" to the second half of her "Before The Dawn" show, which is the start of another concept suite called "A Sky Of Honey." If you missed it, I have written an exploration of that piece as well here. Unfolding over 24 hours on Midsummer, the entire suite takes place under the sun or stars and moon, in a sky filled with birds (which is, not coincidentally, the opposite of the claustrophobic water setting of "The Ninth Wave"). It is all about the sky, the “aerial,” the direction “up.” Listen as the throbbing synthesizer and piano act as the afternoon sun, and Kate sings a litany of names of birds in this dream-like song.

And lastly, if you are wondering what all the fuss is about Kate and her epic "Before The Dawn" shows (The New York Times called the performance 'Dense, cathartic and physical.' New Musical Express observed: 'It is no ordinary artist that can tackle life, death, synchronicity, identity, spiritual transformation, empathy and the chaos of relationships with idiosyncratic ease in the space of a few hours,' and the U.K.'s Independent said, 'Undoubtedly the most ambitious, and genuinely moving piece of theatrical pop ever seen on a British stage.'), please read my own complete firsthand review of the stage show here.

Kate Bush is magic. Kate Bush taught me how to fly.

Thursday, November 24, 2016

Happy Thanksgiving 2016

In this very dark time in the United States, I'd like to address all my followers and regular readers of "Oh, By The Way:" on this holiday of gratitude, let's give thanks to all the things we still have in our lives, the things that make us good, strong, honorable, and loving human beings. Let's give thanks to the people who bring light and calm and love to our lives and to the world. Let's give thanks for the actions and goodwill in our lives whether done by others or ourselves that strengthen the fabric of humanism and the choices to unite, protect, and find value in this existence. Hold dear the things that we still have left and live up to the ideals we are grateful for. Let us find value in ourselves and others and express this gratitude in our intentions, deeds, and words. Let us counteract the current dark tone with this gratitude for life and living. Let's be grateful for the value of human experience and know that their darkness cannot take that away.

Happy Thanksgiving 2016

Thanks, Jesus 2016

As we eat our Thanksgiving meal, let us thank not an imaginary figure in the sky but those who are TRULY responsible for bringing our food to our tables, through their numbingly long days of low-wage, backbreaking work.

Wednesday, November 23, 2016

BEAUTY: Painting--Stephen Fox

I am so impressed with the way artist Stephen Fox renders the elements of darkness, light, and fog. The way he captures the texture of light is exquisite, and his images are deliciously atmospheric and moody.

Top to bottom: Autumn Morning; Bedford Snow; Contrasting Light; Crossing The Hudson; December Swings; Hidden Message; Intersection; Light Levels; Merge: Mountain Highway; Nocturne (Point of Departure); Nocturne (Potential Communication); Palisades; The Light Of An Uncertain World