Gwen John

‘She was always searching for grandeur’: the revolutionary life of artist Gwen John

I linked to a very good article about enshittification of platforms down below, and this post discusses it further, and adds this:

Whatever sort of technological or reputational capital you build has to exist outside, because on the platform it is whatever the platform managers want it to be this week. Hence the vital importance of things like personal websites and email addresses, both yours and having other people’s. In the simplest terms, having a Twitter subscriber or being highly-ranked on LinkedIn is an ephemeral sort of parasocial capital: you might have worked hard to convince people that you were worth paying attention to, and they might have chosen to, and yet whether that channel can work, or what you can do with that, depends on neither of you. Having somebody’s email is very different from having somebody follow you on Twitter, Substack, or wherever: you can email them, and Elon Musk can’t do anything about that. It’s not a perfect substitute for a direct relationship, but it’s orders of magnitude less susceptible to hyperfast reparametrization to maximize somebody else’s profits. Being in someone’s DMs might be more fashionable than being in their email inbox, but it’s not the same.

And try and have that email somewhere stable and serious (hey: I am sometimes wondering about keeping my main private email with Google? Only that I do not want to ever again manage my own mail server, so the alternative is a paid account with someone like Proton. It is not ruining my sleep — yet? — but I do ponder and wonder).

And don’t use your current work email as your one and only and primary email. The reasons are manifold and should be obvious.

Chocolate factory

Japanese Buildings that are Shaped Like the Things They Sell

I was just wondering: what would my list of best movies look like? I would think you need a couple of criteria: it must be a movie you have seen more than once, and it must be a movie that you will want to see again. I am aware that this produces a certain bias against newer works, but so be it. Here it is:

1. Apocalypse Now
2. Casablanca
3. Dersu Uzala
4. Great Expectations
5. Jules et Jim
6. Les Enfants de Paradis
7. Once Upon a Time in the West
8. Taxi Driver
9. The Searchers
10. The Third Man

No surprises, really.

“Writing a century ago, H. L. Mencken bemoaned America’s “libido for the ugly.” There exists, he wrote, a “love of ugliness for its own sake, the lust to make the world intolerable. Its habitat is the United States.” (Why Is Everything So Ugly?).

But probably not just the USofA. How often have you heard someone say that ‘this cheapo food I am buying is good enough for us’? The inverse snobbery: we don’t need anything beautiful or tasty or nice: we are just plain and humble salt-of-the-Earth. Close the door on your way out. We do not want to flourish.

Yet: “In the early writings, Marx contrasts ‘political emancipation’ with what he calls ‘human emancipation’. This comparison has two central elements: political emancipation is flawed but extant, whilst human emancipation, although it avoids the ‘incompleteness and contradiction’ of its political counterpart, is not yet realised in the world.” (David Leopold in ‘The Young Karl Marx’). I believe that Ernst Bloch later called this Heimat, as in ‘Heimat’ is ‘etwas, das allen in die Kindheit scheint and worin noch niemand war’. The key is in noch.

The pizza effect:

This term was coined by anthropologist Agehananda Bharati in 1970. It captures the pattern that unfolds when an insignificant cultural item or practice is exported to another country, whereupon it achieves a level of success unheard of in the native country. The native country then looks on in befuddled amazement at the value placed on something they took for granted. The object in question is then reassessed and draped in romanticism. From the new perspective, a potentially lucrative tradition is born. The story of Italian pizza is the quintessential example of this phenomenon, but it reaches beyond food into all aspects of culture, from yoga to salsa music.

How Tokyo’s Farms Have Survived for Centuries

Why Kids Aren’t Falling in Love With Reading:

But as several educators explained to me, the advent of accountability laws and policies, starting with No Child Left Behind in 2001, and accompanying high-stakes assessments based on standards, be they Common Core or similar state alternatives, has put enormous pressure on instructors to teach to these tests at the expense of best practices. Jennifer LaGarde, who has more than 20 years of experience as a public-school teacher and librarian, described how one such practice—the class read-aloud—invariably resulted in kids asking her for comparable titles. But read-alouds are now imperiled by the need to make sure that kids have mastered all the standards that await them in evaluation, an even more daunting task since the start of the pandemic. “There’s a whole generation of kids who associate reading with assessment now,” LaGarde said.

I cannot help but wonder if similar trends show in other countries? Mind you, the Danish school system has also gone through changes and a lot of focus on what is measurable. Even my own kids — says I, the voracious reader — have been less voracious than I was. Of course, there is a lot of competition and all, less time. But, also, and joyfully so: both my sons, now in their earlier twenties, are slowly coming around to the pleasure of reading physical books, unplugged. As one of them said: real literature.


The Cuban Collapse – a photo essay

Los Angeles Is a Fantastic Walking City. No, Really.:

In January, I walked a portion of Rosecrans in Fullerton that I hadn’t seen before. Previously, for thousands of years, this was the homeland of the Indigenous Tongva people. The yellow cliffs of the Coyote Hills were on view in the distance, but my eye was on nearer details. A 90-minute ramble revealed L.A.’s familiar extremes: big houses alongside dingbats, the shock of the unexpected coinciding with numbing dullness. But I also saw small green parks, southern views of the basin and an older-women’s jogging group all wearing sun hats that looked like huge black shells. I finished at Rosecrans’s eastern terminus and got a burrito. There was a feeling I’ve experienced only in Los Angeles: I was in the middle of nowhere and at the center of everything, all at once.

Anthony Bourdain said: “Eat at a local restaurant tonight. Get the cream sauce. Have a cold pint at 4 o’clock in a mostly empty bar. Go somewhere you’ve never been. Listen to someone you think may have nothing in common with you. Order the steak rare. Eat an oyster. Have a negroni. Have two. Be open to a world where you may not understand or agree with the person next to you, but have a drink with them anyways. Eat slowly. Tip your server. Check in on your friends. Check in on yourself. Enjoy the ride.”

A Growing Number of Scientists Are Convinced the Future Influences the Past:

But what if this forward causality could somehow be reversed in time, allowing actions in the future to influence outcomes in the past? This mind-bending idea, known as retrocausality, may seem like science fiction grist at first glance, but it is starting to gain real traction among physicists and philosophers, among other researchers, as a possible solution to some of the most intractable riddles underlying our reality.

Explore Hundreds of Thousands of Japanese Woodblock Prints in a Ukiyo-e Archive

Beyond the white sands of the Maldives, women live in constant fear: Come on, burst my bubble. I just want to take a plane for many hours, soak up some sun, and swim in the nice waters. And now you want me to have to consider that it is perhaps the most woke destination?

The both-sideism of the once-respected New York Times is disgusting and dangerous and in a better world people would simply stop reading the rag. Yikes: As New York Times attacks Dr. Fauci with baseless ‘lab leak’ claims, science points to new suspect.

Speaking about social media:

Its ills flow from that: social media’s monetization through the attention economy means data mining and the nurturing of users’ insecurities; advertising fuels consumerism; and platforms are incentivized to favour the spreading of far right messages – after all, outrage is seductive.

It is from What if…: social media were not for profit?. I am afraid that I am jaded enough to not see any viable solution, short-term or long-term. Doom and misery, doom and misery. Anything nice and free and hopeful in this world will be monetized and monopolized and made utterly useless. Until the world as such changes. One way or the other.

Bonjour cowboy! America through the eyes of a Frenchman

“The true New Yorker secretly believes that people living anywhere else have to be, in some sense, kidding.”

— John Updike

Why we can stop worrying and love the particle accelerator:

Despite having nothing less than a particle accelerator beam pass through his brain, Bugorski’s intellect remained intact, and he successfully completed his doctorate after the accident. Bugorski survived his accident. And as frightening and awesome as the inside of a particle accelerator might be, humanity has thus far survived the nuclear age.

Elena Ferrante’s Naples – a photo essay

Self-Portrait, 1554— Sofonisba Anguissola

‘Pong is timeless’

Not good:

“Highly visible wealth disparity, declining trust in democratic institutions, a perceived sense of victimhood, intense partisan estrangement based on identity, rapid demographic change, flourishing conspiracy theories, violent and dehumanizing rhetoric against the ‘other,’ a sharply divided electorate, and a belief among those who flirt with violence that they can get away with it. All of those conditions were present at the turn of the last century. All of them are present today.” During such eras, LaFrance writes, “societies tend to ignore the obvious warning signs of endemic political violence until the situation is beyond containment, and violence takes on a life of its own.”

Adrienne LaFrance

Between the streets: shades of New York – in pictures

It’s hard not to read John H. White’s DOCUMERICA series as a love letter to Black Chicago. Whether capturing protesters or checkers players, concerts or chores, White’s work feels animated by a wonder and curiosity for the great breadth of stories and characters he encountered while exploring his adopted home city — “life”, as he put it in the captions to several of his images, “in all its seasons”.

John H. White’s Photographs of Black Chicago for DOCUMERICA

‘“You have one identity,” Mark Zuckerberg famously said. “The days of you having a different image for your work friends or co-workers and for the other people you know are probably coming to an end pretty quickly.” He added that “having two identities for yourself is an example of a lack of integrity.”’

— from Jenny Odell’s ‘How to do nothing’

And right there we know that something is quite off with the Zuckerberg.

Although not a digital native, and old enough to not-too-fondly remember writing a thesis full of tables and graphs on a typewriter (plenty of physical cut-and-paste), yes: the word processor is a wondrous gift (and the spreadsheet, too, making things possible that were just not so before). If nothing else, we have that.

The word processor is God’s gift, or at least science’s gift, to the tinkerers and the refiners and the neatness freaks. For me it was obviously the perfect new toy. I began playing on page 1 — editing, cutting and revising — and have been on a rewriting high ever since. The burden of the years has been lifted.

— William Zinsser, Writing With a Word Processor

I am surely not part of generation podcast. Too old, too cranky — but mostly because I am a reader. And throw audiobooks in there. Now, I acknowledge that for some, say people who have problems reading, listening is a good alternative. But some arguments for podcasts are that you can do it while you do something else, for example, commuting. Which means that you are not paying attention to one thing or the other: you become a traffic hazard or you don’t really hear the words. And you are not there, not in the moment. Reading is a solitary experience, you can take a break and wonder, you can go back and read a paragraph or a page again, you can skip a boring paragraph. With a podcast you are at the mercy of the narrator, the speed, the intonations, the always-moving-forward. There is someone else there with you, which may be what you want, but it is, at least, a very different experience from reading.

Podcasts are convenient: and not only for the consumer but also for the producer. Writing is hard and involves much agony and revision. Podcasts are probably less so, although I do realize there is a script somewhere. But you can gloss over so much when reading it out loud.

“In one sense wabi-sabi is a training whereby the student of wabi-sabi learns to find the most basic, natural objects interesting, fascinating and beautiful. Fading autumn leaves would be an example. Wabi-sabi can change the student’s perception of the world to the extent that a chip or crack in a vase makes it more interesting and gives the object greater meditative value. Similarly materials that age such as bare wood, paper and fabric become more interesting as they exhibit changes that can be observed over time.”

La puerta escondida no está escondida
La puerta al invisible no está invisibile
The door to the invisible is visible
The hidden door is not hidden
I continually walk through it not seeing it
And I am what I am
And will be what I will be
Sobre las playas perdidas del Sur .

— Ferlinghetti

Here is how platforms die: first, they are good to their users; then they abuse their users to make things better for their business customers; finally, they abuse those business customers to claw back all the value for themselves. Then, they die.

Pluralistic: Tiktok’s enshittification

Flor Garduño

Owens Salvage in the Panhandle Pays Homage to the Heyday of the Hot Rod

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.


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

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

© Henning Bertram 2023