It all sounds so eerily familiar

He puts the blame for Rackspace’s deepening financial struggles — it’s posted a steady string of quarterly losses, and the value of its stock has fallen 80 percent in the past year — on its replacement of tech-oriented leadership with board members and managers “who don’t have any connection with the product.” He said there’s “no culture” at the company after it laid off hundreds of local staffers while it expanded globally. And he scoffed at the idea of being a “Racker,” saying he never adopted the term the company uses for its employees and identity.

Rackspace ‘on trajectory of death,’ founder Richard Yoo says


When renowned American journalist Dan Rather presented a US news segment on the topic in 1979, he said: “Wellness – there’s a word you don’t hear every day.” How times change. Now, wellness is everywhere – an all-consuming concept that has transformed every brand and life experience it has touched, from food and travel to exercise and sex. It’s a powerful and hugely profitable global industry, valued at $4.4 trillion in 2020. That’s more than three times larger than the worldwide pharmaceutical industry. So, if wellness is now just an everyday word, surely we must ask: is everyone feeling good? Are we all well? Unfortunately, as with many individual wellness fads and trends, the evidence isn’t looking good.

A clean break: The wellness industry isn’t well, and people are finally waking up to it


What emerges is a Left that operates without either a deep and radical critique of the status quo or a compelling alternative to the existing order of things. But perhaps even more troubling, it is a Left that has become more attached to its impossibility than to its potential fruitfulness, a Left that is most at home dwelling not in hopefulness but in its own marginality and failure, a Left that is thus caught in a structure of melancholic attachment to a certain strain of its own dead past, whose spirit is ghostly, whose structure of desire is backward looking and punishing.

— Wendy Brown, “Resisting Left Melancholia”


FTSE 100 CEOs’ earnings for 2023 will surpass the median UK worker’s full time annual salary today, just prior to 14:00 on Thursday 5 January, according to HPC calculations.

High Pay Hour 2023


The Lacemaker

Always thought the girl with the earring was Vermeer’s best — but damn: it is a tough contest.


Forgotten?

Michaelina Wautier, a forgotten paintress.


“Seeing is not enough; you have to feel what you photograph. “ Andre Kertesz (supposedly) said so, and in that short sentence, he totally nailed what is wrong with 99% of the ‘photography’ you see on the internet. 65 megapixels files from a very expensive camera? Check. Rented a nubile model to pose and have a lighting assistant and a make-up person? Check. Travelling to a remote waterfall on Sumba, having locals carry your expensive equipment over the mountains? Check.

And yet, and yet …


Dead as a dodo

A Bestiary of Loss


Post-modernists may be said to have developed a paradigm that clashes sharply with the one in this book. I have argued that modern life and art and thought have the capacity for perpetual self-critique and self-renewal. Post-modernists maintain that the horizon of modernity is closed, its energies exhausted—in effect, that modernity is passé. Post-modernist social thought pours scorn on all the collective hopes for moral and social progress, for personal freedom and public happiness, that were bequeathed to us by the modernists of the eighteenth-century Enlightenment. These hopes, post moderns say, have been shown to be bankrupt, at best vain and futile fantasies.

— Marshall Bermann, All That Is Solid Melts Into Air


ooh.directory


Dora Marr

Windows of the mind: early Dora Maar images


Yale professor and historian Timothy Snyder has sounded alarm bells about autocracy and fascism for several years now, in both his scholarly and popular books about Russian and German history. Whether you’ve followed his warnings or just started paying attention, it’s not too late to get caught up on the lessons he brings from his rigorous studies of 20th century totalitarianism. To make his relevant points more accessible, Snyder has distilled them over the years, aiming at the widest popular audience.

Historian Timothy Snyder Presents 20 Lessons for Defending Democracy Against Tyranny in a New Video Series


Gilbert and George AI

Incoherent, creepy and gorgeous: we asked six leading artists to make work using AI – and here are the results


A view at the paradox that is America:

But plenty of other things caught me unprepared: On the way to my hotel, I overhear a couple outside Shake Shack explain that they are on a diet and so want no sauce on their burgers. A white supremacist working at a laundromat owned by an old Asian lady lectures me on European politics and warns me to “watch out for the Blacks” in a jarringly friendly tone. On my way out of town, the city’s Greyhound station, filled with the strong scent of urine, has all the charm of a cancer diagnosis.

(…)

No other country in the world kills as many children with guns. As my colleague Michaela Haas reported, regulation of guns is shown to clearly work and reduce deaths. The problem, however, goes beyond fact and into the murky, complicated realm of politics. A few days before, that complexity was made abundantly clear to me when, in the street, I met a retired Native American, Trump-supporting cop, who showed me around his ranch and taught me how to shoot a pistol on his firing range. Friendly and eccentric as this man was – he wore a kilt due to his partly Scottish origins and gifted me a Luke Skywalker figurine – he insisted that comprehensive, tighter gun control was not necessary. We spoke for a couple of hours, but I got the impression that a month wouldn’t have been enough.

(…)

My final call was to be New York City, a place that relies historically and culturally so much on its immigrant communities. But it’s a place that is becoming increasingly unaffordable for those who made it what it is: the $20 bagels; the million-dollar Manhattan apartments; the Brooklyn hipster coffee shops; the McDonalds that are taking over Harlem. Instead, I found the people of New York City to be its redeeming feature, especially in Queens, the most diverse county in the nation. The witty Jewish bookstore owner in Borough Park; the mad Greek priest sitting by a souvlaki stand in Astoria; the seventy something gospel singers at the Mount Neboh Baptist Church in Harlem; the Puerto Rican bar owner Toñita in Brooklyn; and the freewheeling jazz musicians at a park in The Bronx’s Pelham Bay. The people of the United States — for all its flaws, inadequacies and dysfunctions — are what make it great.

Earthships, Mormons, Doomsdayers and Weed

Many of his observations are concise and similar to mine (and to those of many other European visitors). I wonder, though: the fact that on a personal level so many Americans are friendly and open and helpful, while still holding the most bizarre political ideas: is that what makes us all fall for the whole Midwestern diner full of salt-of-the-Earth real Americans that all journos seem to cherish? But the uniquely American experience is rather that of Queens, New York, I would think.


A pastrami sandwich

Jewish Delis in NYC


We went on a trip to Rome. I wrote some notes about it and even took a few snapshots.


 Artemisia Gentileschi

An Introduction to the Painting of Artemisia Gentileschi


Lighthouse report

Jason Stanley: How Fascism Works:

Whereas cities, to the fascist imagination, are the source of corrupting culture, often produced by Jews and immigrants, the countryside is pure. The “Official Party Statement on Its Attitude toward the Farmers and Agriculture” was published in the National Socialist Völkischer Beobachter in 1930, with Hitler’s signature (though its actual authorship is unclear). It contains a concise statement of the Nazi ideology that the true values of the nation were to be found in the rural population, that National Socialists “see in the farmers the main bearers of a healthy folkish heredity, the fountain of youth of the people, and the backbone of military power.” In fascist politics, the family-farm is the cornerstone of the nation’s values, and family farm communities provide the backbone of its military.

Resources that flow to cities must be directed to the rural communities instead, to preserve this vital center of the nation’s values. And the rural communities, as the source of the pure blood of the nation, cannot be polluted by outside blood via immigration. It was official Nazi policy that “by bettering the lot of the domestic agricultural laborer and by preventing flight from the land, the importation of foreign agricultural labor becomes unnecessary and will therefore be forbidden.”


Three chimneys in the harbor

Black and white


Harry Smith’s Musical Catalogue of Human Experience:

Like many serious collectors of arcane but precious objects, Smith could be irascible, mean, and single-minded to the point of psychopathy. There are stories of his thieving, particularly when he believed that an item would be better off in his care. He never married, drank to unconsciousness, went absolutely nuts if anyone talked while he was playing a record, and, according to his friend Allen Ginsberg, kept “several years’ deposits of his semen” in the back of his freezer for “alchemical purposes.”



Parked bicycles.

Cultural Marxism conspiracy theory:

The term “Cultural Marxism” refers to a far-right antisemitic conspiracy theory which claims that Western Marxism is the basis of continuing academic and intellectual efforts to subvert Western culture. The conspiracy theory misrepresents the Frankfurt School as being responsible for modern progressive movements, identity politics, and political correctness, claiming there is an ongoing and intentional subversion of Western society via a planned culture war that undermines the Christian values of traditionalist conservatism and seeks to replace them with the culturally liberal values of the 1960s.

But I am sure you knew that, right? An anti-Semitic dog whistle is what it is.


The Jewish Bride

Van Gogh said, after seeing Rembrandt’s “Jewish Bride”: “I would give ten years of my life to sit in front of this painting for another fortnight, with nothing but a dry crust of bread to eat.”


We thought we were done with these things but we were wrong.
We thought, because we had power, we had wisdom.
We thought the long train would run to the end of Time.
We thought the light would increase.
Now the long train stands derailed and the bandits loot it.
Now the boar and the asp have power in our time.
Now the night rolls back on the West and the night is solid.
Our fathers and ourselves sowed dragon’s teeth.
Our children know and suffer the armed men.

Litany for Dictatorships by Stephen Vincent Benet


Monet's haystacks.

Haystacks, by Claude Monet


‘You don’t hate Mondays: you hate your job’


Your boss can monitor your activities without special software:

Hundreds of thousands of people adopted new ways of working during the pandemic, spending several days or all of the workweek at home. Gallup estimates that in June — the latest data that’s available — about 34 million people worked in hybrid environments, a mix of office and home. And about 36.5 million people in the United States worked remotely at least five days a week as of early August, according to the Census Bureau’s Household Pulse Survey.

As a result, employers have been seeking new ways to manage and ensure productivity, with a growing number of them turning to surveillance software. At the beginning of 2022, global demand for employee monitoring software increased 65 percent from 2019, according to internet security and digital rights firm Top10VPN.

It is almost like our bosses do not really trust us, eh?


You could do much, much worse right now than listen to Lambchop’s ‘Every Child Begins the World Again’ from ‘The Bible’. Truly.


Bread

San Francisco’s Famous Sourdough Was Once Really Gross


‘looking at New York again, in the high white February sunlight, the childishly euphoric climate; looking down Second Avenue, where herds of vehicles go charging one way all day long disappearing into the sky at the end like on a prairie; looking up a side of skyscraper, a flat and flat and a long and long, and the air drops down on your head like a solid. Like a solid too the air that slices down between two neighbor skyscrapers. Up in the winder sunlight the edge of such a building far up is miraculously intense, a feeling like looking at Egyptian sculpture. Down in the streets the color, the painted colors are like medieval color, like the green dress of the Van Eyck double portrait in the National Gallery, intently local and intently lurid. And New York clothes — not a trace of charm, dressing is ritualistic like in Africa (or the Middle Ages); the boys are the most costumed; dressed men and women look portentously maneuverable; one set looks more dry-cleaned than the other, and those count as rich. New York is all slum, a calm, an uncomfortable, a grand one. And the faces on the street by day: large, unhandsome, lumped with the residue of every possible human experience, and how neutral, left exposed, left out unprotected, uncommitted. I have never seen anything so marvelous.’

Edwin Denby


Chanel, homeless

Exactly this:

‘Because my company has been virtual for more than 10 years. Every one of my 10 people works from home. Sure, the overhead is low. But you know what? I miss an office. My company suffers from not having one. We have no culture. We rarely see each other as a group. We are not really a team, and lack bonding or social connections. We miss out on extemporaneously sharing ideas. Our innovation suffers. As a result, the value of my business suffers. I know I’m not alone in this.’

I can only add, as rhetorical questions: who gains, if employees only ever call each other about work, never have a chat by the coffee maker, never have a beer after work, never see the sad face of a co-worker and ask: ‘What happened?’


How to De-Stress with Niksen, the Dutch Art of Doing Nothing:

‘Niksen is not doomscrolling through social media or streaming whole seasons of shows. Niksen is intentional purposelessness, the opposite of distraction, like meditation but without the postures and instructions and classes and retreats and so forth. Anyone can do it, though it might be harder than it looks. Gottfried quotes Ruut Veenhoven, sociologist and professor at Erasmus University Rotterdam, who says niksen can be as simple as “sitting in a chair or looking out the window,” just letting your mind wander. If your mind wanders to unsettling places, you can try an absorbing, repetitive task to keep it busy. “We should have moments of relaxation, and relaxation can be combined with easy, semi-automatic activity, such as knitting.”’


American Freedom

Nietzsche wrote somewhere:

‘How differently the Greeks must have viewed their natural world, since their eyes were blind to blue and green, and they would see instead of the former a deeper brown, and yellow instead of the latter (and for instance they also would use the same word for the colour of dark hair, that of the corn-flower, and that of the southern sea; and again, they would employ exactly the same word for the colour of the greenest plants and of the human skin, of honey and of the yellow resins: so that their greatest painters reproduced the world they lived in only in black, white, red, and yellow).’

Weird, if correct. But it explains the ‘wine-dark sea’ I guess? But maybe not:

‘Today, no one thinks that there has been a stage in the history of humanity when some colours were ‘not yet’ being perceived. But thanks to our modern ‘anthropological gaze’ it is accepted that every culture has its own way of naming and categorising colours. This is not due to varying anatomical structures of the human eye, but to the fact that different ocular areas are stimulated, which triggers different emotional responses, all according to different cultural contexts.’

Can we hope to understand how the Greeks saw their world?


Empty New York street

New York Dropped Dead, and Some People Loved It


And the many who buy and sell people, believing everyone can be bought, don’t recognize themselves here.
Not their music. The long melody that remains itself in all its transformations, sometimes glittering and tender, sometimes harsh and strong, snail trails and steel wire.

Schubertiana


The first configuration is what I came to call the Vampires’ Castle. The Vampires’ Castle specialises in propagating guilt. It is driven by a priest’s desire to excommunicate and condemn, an academic-pedant’s desire to be the first to be seen to spot a mistake, and a hipster’s desire to be one of the in-crowd. The danger in attacking the Vampires’ Castle is that it can look as if – and it will do everything it can to reinforce this thought – that one is also attacking the struggles against racism, sexism, heterosexism. But, far from being the only legitimate expression of such struggles, the Vampires’ Castle is best understood as a bourgeois-liberal perversion and appropriation of the energy of these movements. The Vampires’ Castle was born the moment when the struggle not to be defined by identitarian categories became the quest to have ‘identities’ recognised by a bourgeois big Other.

Exiting the Vampire Castle


Ansel Adams once said:

‘But I would never apologize for photographing rocks. Rocks can be very beautiful. But, yes, people have asked why I don’t put people into my pictures of the natural scene. I respond, “There are always two people in every picture: the photographer and the viewer.” That usually doesn’t go over at all.’

Which is — actually — quite profound, once you think about it. Did old Ansel read up on contemporary French thought or something?


Not much of a photo, I know — but I shot it, and a few more.

Kayaks

Haggis pakora is a Scottish snack food that combines traditional Scottish haggis ingredients with the spices, batter and preparation method of Indian and Pakistani pakoras. It has become a popular food in Indian and Pakistani restaurants in Scotland, and is also available in prepared form in supermarkets.

Sounds … interesting, does it not?


Am I the artist?

DALL-E

Or is DALL·E?


Nothing new here:

But realistically, the term is more likely to validate managers who think that their employees are slackers than to help ordinary workers reclaim their soul. The sheer number of quiet-quitting articles from the perspective of bosses in The Wall Street Journal and Bloomberg strongly suggests that the term is current among managers too. It offers a convenient explanation for ostensibly lazy workers. Complex questions such as “Am I running my team effectively?” and “Is hybrid work actually working out for us?” can be reduced to the confident diagnosis that young people just don’t want to work.

Nothing that was not already said by, say, Paul Lafargue. We owe our bosses nothing.


Vespa

William Klein


The Translation Trap:

‘While being translated might be a small victory for a writer working in English, it is a kind of consecration for a writer from the Global South. The market for foreign works is so slim that what gets translated is usually tailored to a particular kind of American reader — one who reaches for Latin American literature to encounter difference, or maybe to feel morally righteous for reading about the misfortunes wrought by an American government she doesn’t support. Such a reader is not looking for “universal” subjects, but for “authentic” representations of poverty, cartels, and border crossings. As a result, Latin American writers find themselves straining to cater to demand — putting on the poncho, adjusting the sombrero, and talking about the agrarian revolution or the narcos, as Mona puts it. Throughout its history, Latin American literature has been molded by translation, marketing, and distribution in the U.S. and Europe. Its waves of popularity in the mid-20th century crystallized a logic that persists today: Latin American literature can be popular overseas, but only if it closely tracks how an American reader sees, or does not see, the region’s political significance.’

I, myself, giggled a bit years ago when a Danish music reviewer threw a hissy fit over an Indonesian heavy metal band. The nerve: don’t they know it is only to be gamelan for them, for ever?


‘“A developed country is not a place where the poor have cars. It’s where the rich use public transportation,” says Colombian politician Gustavo Petro. His quote rings especially true when considering Tokyo’s trains. Its rail system is an equalizer between rich and poor. It’s usually the fastest way to get from A to B within the city, it’s affordable and everyone uses it. There is no stigma attached to riding the train, it’s simply the standard.’

Why Tokyo Works


Gas masks

‘It is also November. The noons are more laconic and the sunsets sterner… November always seemed to me the Norway of the year.’

— Emily Dickinson to E.H, 1865


© Henning Bertram 2023