Back when people spoke more than one language:

Chaucer’s Treatise on the Astrolabe, written in the 1390s for his ten-year-old son, Lewis, is an English translation of a Latin version of an Arabic text written by Mashallah ibn Athari, an eighth-century Persian Jew. In the prologue, Chaucer says that Lewis only knows a little Latin, but is good with numbers, and so the treatise will teach him how to use the astrolabe he has just been given as a present. After all, Chaucer says, the facts remain the same whether Hebrew, Arabic, Latin, Greek or English is used; he himself is a compiler, bringing together the work of old astrologers into ‘naked words in englissh’. (Stop talking englissh: Medieval Polyglots)

However: I guess we should also consider that not everybody back then spoke multiple languages? Maybe yes, maybe no. Empires of the Word — another wonderful book about language(s) — does say something about this.

I know I am an old fart by now. I can live with that, but I do have to vent my disappointment with a world no longer dominated by my generation of cranks. For example: content on the web. Yes, there is written content. Some of it shows that our educational system must be in dire crises as nobody seems to be able to spell, punctuate, or use common idioms even slightly correctly. And if text is not littered with ditsurbeng errors, it is probably a sign that the text was generated by an AI. Nevermind: nobody cares. It is just clickbait anyway. The ads we are forced to see are the main show.

But a steadily growing category of content is videos. That is what content creators do. Yes: it does solve the problem with spelling, does it not? And it is probably much faster, too. Just babble into your phone and hit ‘Publish’. So, I want to see a review of a new camera? Well, here is a video. And so on and so forth. Trouble is: no search. No asynchronous reading, scrolling up and down, reading at your own leisure. It is almost as if the content in content creation does not matter. Just the fact that I click something.

I miss the old web, the Netscape era, the low-graphics, wordy, and outright elitist web. Those were the days of wine rosé.

The wonderful street photography of Paul Harrison

Paul Harrison – Street Photographer — and his photos are a testament to the distinct quality of the Fuji sensor and lenses. One could get envious.

For Working-Class Academics is, perhaps, quite UK-centric, but it nevertheless brings some of my own experience to mind. And more so now that I am nearing the end of my career and I sometimes look back on it all.

I have an academic degree but can hardly say I have had an ‘academic career’ as I have only worked in the private sector in a job I perhaps got into based on some basic ‘academic skills’ but that otherwise has nothing to do with what I spent those years studying. In retrospect, my choice of study was ill-advised, leading neither to an academic career, nor a career where I could directly use whatever I was taught at university.

But I did choose that study because it interested me at the time, and my parents were not capable of guiding me or discussing if it was a good choice — they were, however, profoundly proud of my being the first academic in the family (not completely true, as it turned out that at least two cousins also ended up pursuing higher education). And they supported me in any way they could, with no conditions.

But this is not the main takeaway from my university years. That was that class matters. In many small and larger ways: finding a place to live? Well, my uncle happens to own an apartment building, so … A nice, well-paid summer job? Well, my uncle … A trainee job after graduation? Well, my uncle … It is just that people from certain family backgrounds had a somewhat easier time than us working-class academics. But subtle, it was subtle.

Now: I have children of my own who have embarked on their careers. At least, we have been able to help with general advice and feedback, and as much economic support as possible. But it is probably another generation or two before we will be on par with my erstwhile fellow students.

Inspiring, this:

So, in September of 2023, New York City decided to do something about it. A series of bold requirements capped the total number of short-term rentals (STRs) and limited guests to just two at a time. They required STR operators to be primary homeowners — and to be present in the home while hosting. The city also promised to enforce those requirements, a move that would wipe out nearly 90 percent of active listings at the time.

The Towns Outsmarting Airbnb

Disclaimer: Yes, I have used AirBnB. In Berlin and in London. Every apartment we stayed in was clearly only used for this purpose. In Berlin, our ‘host’ apparently controlled some 20 rentals in a building complex. In London, the apartment turned out to be in a Peabody building, and a note in the hallway said that short-term rental was not allowed. No wonder our ‘host’ told us to not answer any questions about our stay to anyone.

Yet another good idea ruined by greedy capital in record time.

We Need To Rewild The Internet draws analogies from Waldsterben to the Internet:

The story of German scientific forestry transmits a timeless truth: When we simplify complex systems, we destroy them, and the devastating consequences sometimes aren’t obvious until it’s too late.


The internet made the tech giants possible. Their services have scaled globally, via its open, interoperable core. But for the past decade, they’ve also worked to enclose the varied, competing and often open-source or collectively provided services the internet is built on into their proprietary domains. Although this improves their operational efficiency, it also ensures that the flourishing conditions of their own emergence aren’t repeated by potential competitors. For tech giants, the long period of open internet evolution is over. Their internet is not an ecosystem. It’s a zoo.

Yes, for a brief moment, we had something wild and verdant. Of course, the early web springs to mind, but before that there were FTP servers and WAIS and Gopher — all now distant memories of an older generation. The article mentions some of this:

Whatever we do, the internet isn’t returning to old-school then-common interfaces like FTP and Gopher, or organizations operating their own mail servers again instead of off-the-shelf solutions like G-Suite. But some of what we need is already here, especially on the web. Look at the resurgence of RSS feeds, email newsletters and blogs, as we discover (yet again) that relying on one app to host global conversations creates a single point of failure and control. New systems are growing, like the Fediverse with its federated islands, or Bluesky with algorithmic choice and composable moderation.

I, however, think it is overly optimistic. Some of the new systems mentioned have already all but gone again. The battle is up too steep a hill: this is but a corner of everything else late capitalism is doing to us and the planet. We can fight many small fights and perhaps partly succeed, for a moment, but if we do not address the root cause, there will be new ones and new ones and yet new ones.

Humans of NYC

The Humans of Daniel Arnold’s New York

David Byrne (yes: the David Byrne) helped create the ‘Reasons to be Cheerful’ web site, and he even writes there. For example:

What can be done? How can cities make sure that people other than the wealthy can find a foothold? A few places have shown that affordability is possible. One is Vienna, Austria.

100 Years of Urban Housing Success

Dirty old New York

16 Photos Of Times Square In The 1970s

Frida Kahlo painting

A Reissued Book Reveals Hundreds of Photos from Frida Kahlo’s Personal Collection

The heady, steamy days when the IT geeks in the Bay Area mingled with the remaining hippies, dropped acid, dropped into hot tubs (naked, sometimes) perhaps fooled you into believing then — and believing still — that those rich geeks are somehow ‘progressive’ and perhaps even ‘benevolent’? That their capitalism is a new, softer, and more angelic one? If Elon Mush has not cured you of that view, read this for further inspiration:

Silicon Valley ideology is a master-slave mentality, a hierarchical worldview that we all exist in extractive relation to someone stronger, and exploit and despise anyone weaker. Its only relations to other humans are supplication in one direction and subjugation in the other, hence its poster-boys’ constant yoyoing between grandiosity and victimhood. Tech bros like Thiel, Musk and Andreesen are the fluffers in the global authoritarian circle jerk. Putin is the bro they’d be tickled to receive calls from, making them feel they’re on the geopolitical insider’s inside track. MBS is the bro they envy but tell each other scary stories about. Like most of them, MBS inherited his head start in life. He has all the money, all the power, a nice bit of geo-engineering on the side, and he dismembers uppity journalists without consequence. A mere billionaire like Thiel can only secretively litigate them out of business.

Silicon Valley’s worldview is not just an ideology; it’s a personality disorder

The sinister return of eugenics:

The Liberal founder of the welfare state, William Beveridge, wrote in 1906 that men “who through general defects” are unemployable should suffer “complete and permanent loss of all citizen rights – including not only the franchise but civil freedom and fatherhood”. In Marriage and Morals (1929), Bertrand Russell, while criticising American states that had implemented involuntary sterilisation too broadly, defended enforcing it on people who were “mentally defective”.

And now we see

This is where transhumanism comes in. It is not normally racist, and typically involves no collective coercion, only the voluntary actions of people seeking self enhancement. But like eugenicists, transhumanists understand human betterment to be the production of superior people like themselves. True, the scientific knowledge and technology required to create these people are not yet available; but as Rutherford acknowledges, someday they may be.

Not coincidentally, the charming Peter Thiel is in on it, including this: Billionaire Peter Thiel Backs Doping-Friendly Olympics Rival — What To Know About The ‘Enhanced Games’

Are We Watching The Internet Die?:

This is a phenomenon that Jathan Sadowski calls “Habsburg AI,” where “a system that is so heavily trained on the outputs of other generative AIs that it becomes an inbred mutant, likely with exaggerated, grotesque features.” In reality, a Habsburg AI will be one that is increasingly more generic and empty, normalized into a slop of anodyne business-speak as its models are trained on increasingly-identical content.


After the precariat, the unnecessariat: the humans who are superfluous to corporations:

The heroin epidemic in America has a death-toll comparable to the AIDS epidemic at its peak, but this time, there’s no movement coalescing to argue for the lives of the economically sidelined, financially ruined dying thousands — while the AIDS epidemic affected a real community of mutual support, the heroin epidemic specifically strikes down people whose communities are already gone.

Rembrandt: A child being taught to walk

. . . the single greatest drawing ever made. Look at the speed, the way he wields that reed pen, drawing very fast, with gestures that are masterly, not virtuoso, (David Hockney)

Said Norman Geras, much missed:

We should be, without hesitation or embarrassment, utopians. At the end of the twentieth century it is the only acceptable political option, morally speaking. I shall not dwell on this. I will merely say that, irrespective of what may have seemed apt hitherto either inside or outside the Marxist tradition, nothing but a utopian goal will now suffice. The realities of our time are morally intolerable. Within the constricted scope of the present piece, I suppose I might try to evoke a little at least of what I am referring to here, with some statistics or an imagery of poverty, destitution and other contemporary calamities- But I do not intend to do even this much. The facts of widespread human privation and those of political oppression and atrocity are available to all who want them. They are unavoidable unless you wilfully shut them out. To those who would suggest that things might be yet worse, one answer is that of course they might be. But another answer is that for too many people they are already quite bad enough; and the sponsors of this type of suggestion are for their part almost always pretty comfortable.


These guys all look like they were extras on Sopranos: Roman Portraits

Antisemitism is something more than garden-variety bigotry or racism; it is deeper than mere tribalism or xenophobia; it is more complicated than religious chauvinism; it is more sinister than an esoteric and elaborate conspiracy theory.

The Poisoned Chalice

And though I have my doubts and concerns about a lot of the content on Substack, Der Durchwanderer is one writer there that I can only read and admire.

I am an artist

A little blurry but you can see a lot is going on!

Still life
Andre Kertesz  Washington Square Park

Andre Kertesz’s Photos From His Window

A slow-brewed Goldberg Variations from Víkingur Ólafsson. Very good, IMHO. Of course, pristine sound quality and all, but also yet another way of playing this cornerstone of the repertoire. Does not diminish my admiration of Gouldx2:, but more relaxed and conventional.

One other thing Reed has come to embody: a New York that exists only in memory, a city of unbridled id and romantic sleaze, “something like a circus or a sewer,” as he sang. He connects us to a place where degradation was currency but redemption always in the offing—by some measures, the recipe for a perfect rock song. New York ain’t what it used to be. But as long as we pretend otherwise, Lou Reed will be its mirror.

The Canonization of Lou Reed

Stupidity is a more dangerous enemy of the good than malice. One may protest against evil; it can be exposed and, if need be, prevented by use of force. Evil always carries within itself the germ of its own subversion in that it leaves behind in human beings at least a sense of unease. Against stupidity we are defenseless. Neither protests nor the use of force accomplish anything here; reasons fall on deaf ears; facts that contradict one’s prejudgment simply need not be believed- in such moments the stupid person even becomes critical – and when facts are irrefutable they are just pushed aside as inconsequential, as incidental. In all this the stupid person, in contrast to the malicious one, is utterly self-satisfied and, being easily irritated, becomes dangerous by going on the attack. For that reason, greater caution is called for than with a malicious one. Never again will we try to persuade the stupid person with reasons, for it is senseless and dangerous.

Bonhoeffer on Stupidity

Full moon above The Souter, a sea stack near Fast Castle, Scottish Borders, Scotland.

The Perimeter is a photography project by Quintin Lake based on walking 11,000km around the coast of Britain in sections.

Højbro Plads by Viggo Rivad

Viggo Rivad, a Danish photographer that made the ordinary extraordinary with his vision and his humanity. Also: a cab driver to make a living.


Legendary photographer Albert Watson exhibits his stunning Skye landscapes

Japanese website design

Why Japanese Websites Look So Different

Dewey and Whitman wanted Americans to continue to think of themselves as exceptional, but both wanted to drop any reference to divine favor or wrath. They hoped to separate the fraternity and loving kindness urged by the Christian scriptures from the ideas of supernatural parentage, immor­tality, providence, and — most important — sin. They wanted Americans to take pride in what America might, all by itself and by its own lights, make of itself, rather than in America’s obedience to any authority — even the authority of God. Thus Whitman wrote:

And I call to mankind, Be not curious about God,
For I who am curious about each am not curious about God.

‘Democracy’ as a civic religion

It bears repeating:

Silicon Valley is a creature of public investment. Without federal funding, the technologies that form the basis of what we now call the tech industry wouldn’t exist. This is not a new or controversial point, but it bears repeating, because the industry—or, to be more precise, those authorized to speak on its behalf—tends to have a short and selective memory.

Sebald's photo from The Hague

The photos that Sebald commented on do not show him to be an accomplished photographer. Or do they? Clearly, these snapshots of no technical merits show exactly what he wanted:

Report has it that when the house [the Mauritshuis] was opened in May 1644, three hundred years before I was born, eleven Indians the Governor had brought with him from Brazil performed a dance on the cobbled square in front of the new building, conveying to the townspeople some sense of the foreign lands to which the power of their community now extended. These dancers, about whom nothing else is known, have long since disappeared, as soundless as shadows, as silent as the heron I saw when I set off once more, flying just above the shining surface of the water, the beat of its wings calm and even, undisturbed by the traffic creeping along the bank of the Hofvijver. Who can say how things were in ages past?

Let us not forget that Derek Parfit, also was a photographer and that his photos also seem (in some strange and inverted way) to talk to his writing:

Parfit, Venice

Martin Scorsese might be an old curmudgeon by now. But, then, so am I. I totally agree:

Martin Scorsese is once again making it clear that he’s not a fan of blockbuster comic book-inspired films — which he once likened to “theme parks” in the past. In a new profile with GQ, Scorsese slammed comic book movie culture, asserting that it’s negatively impacting audiences who aren’t familiar with other types of film.

“The danger there is what it’s doing to our culture,” he said. “Because there are going to be generations now that think movies are only those — that’s what movies are.”

Scorsese continued, “They already think that. Which means that we have to then fight back stronger. And it’s got to come from the grassroots level. It’s gotta come from the filmmakers themselves. And you’ll have, you know, the Safdie brothers, and you’ll have Chris Nolan, you know what I mean? And hit ‘em from all sides. Hit ‘em from all sides, and don’t give up. Let’s see what you got. Go out there and do it. Go reinvent. Don’t complain about it. But it’s true, because we’ve got to save cinema.”

Martin Scorsese believes comic book movies threaten our very culture: “We’ve got to save cinema”

But I think he is overly optimistic. Given the constellations of late capitalism, the movie as an art form – as we knew it – may well be yet another art form that is cast aside. Perhaps surviving as small, semi-amateur projects? One benign (among very few others) side effect of late capitalism is that the equipment necessary to create some form of movie and tell some form of a story is now right here in my pocket.

Frank Lloyd Wright

Arne Jacobsen

The Life and Loves of Jacques Henri Lartigue

So: football players left, right, and centre are being picked up by the Mickey Mouse-league in Saudi Arabia (four top teams have the same owners; these teams sign all the talent; so, basically a four-horse race and a bunch of walk-overs?). Is there a silver lining? Perhaps if these players (although so far they seem to be of the ageing variety) are removed from the ‘super clubs’ in Europe, perhaps the European leagues will be levelled a little more, and we could have a lot more real competition? Just a thought.

The previous post sounds somewhat negative — although also realist — and really is about living memory: Some fine day, the last person who actually experienced World War I is gone; the last person born into slavery in the USA passes; and so on.

Yet, there is another side to this: how close we are to things in the past, and although the living memory horizon passes, we are still only a few degrees removed from the past. One story I always liked was this: a person who wrote for the local newspaper, and whom I was once in a room with, mentioned that when he came to Copenhagen to study, he rented a room with a very old lady. She once told him that when she was a child, her father came home one day and told her that Hans Christian Andersen had just died. See how few degrees suddenly take us back to a past that seemed so very distant?

So while we fade from immediate memory, there are things we leave behind that will persist and connections in degrees. We were actually here.

Some day soon, perhaps in forty years, there will be no one alive who has ever known me. That’s when I will be truly dead – when I exist in no one’s memory. I thought a lot about how someone very old is the last living individual to have known some person or cluster of people. When that person dies, the whole cluster dies, too, vanishes from the living memory. I wonder who that person will be for me. Whose death will make me truly dead?

― Irvin D. Yalom, Love’s Executioner and Other Tales of Psychotherapy

Crooked Timber-blogger John Quiggin writes a rather defeatist piece called How dangerous is the European far-right? in which he, among other things, calls Marxism ‘a dead-end’. How one can talk about ‘Marxism’ as a political trend alongside, say, the Green parties, is a mystery, not just to me but also to the person who added this comment:

In Germany there’s a lot of crossover between Green ideas and Far Right. I’m inclined to think that has something to do with the petty bourgeois roots of both and is why we need a materialist class-based politics but as a dead-end Marxist I would say that, wouldn’t I?

Oh, dear: class-based! Some dirty word in this age of identity. But needed.

Ah: Ernst Jünger. The refined aesthete who skirted around Fascism but never really donned the uniform. Hiding his vile views in highfalutin language, and therefore making it possible to always doubt what he really was. And as Carl Schmitt having a long afterlife and as the fervour of 1960s radicalism chilled and the restless intellectuals looked for new guide posts — back in fashion.

Alex Ross summarizes most of this, and points out:

For many critics, this elder-hipster pose made Jünger all the more dangerous. Although he had retreated from his high-fascist phase, he had not renounced it, and his skepticism toward democracy never wavered.

Surprising that the mystic aesthete (today he would probably be a vegan and an anti-vaxxer) remained a Fascist. Or maybe not. The path from being a performative radical to being a Fascist is, as always, a straight one.

“As a person’s levels of wealth increase, their feelings of compassion and empathy go down, and their feelings of entitlement, of deservingness, and their ideology of self-interest increases”


“The more expensive the car, the less likely the driver was to stop for the pedestrian—that is, the more likely they were to break the law. None of the drivers in the least-expensive-car category broke the law. Close to 50 percent of drivers in the most-expensive-car category did, simply ignoring the pedestrian on the side of the road.”

Yeah, that old dude in the Bentley convertible (remarkable here in Denmark) who slowly rolled past the red light and into the intersection the other day all the while finishing an important phone call … Never batted an eye, never say the pedestrians.

6 studies of money and the mind

And that, my dear, would seem fairly evident — but now also fairly proved:

“We find that use of model-generated content in training causes irreversible defects in the resulting models.” Specifically looking at probability distributions for text-to-text and image-to-image AI generative models, the researchers concluded that “learning from data produced by other models causes model collapse — a degenerative process whereby, over time, models forget the true underlying data distribution … this process is inevitable, even for cases with almost ideal conditions for long-term learning.”

Researchers Warn of ‘Model Collapse’ As AI Trains On AI-Generated Content

Cool skater

Skateboarding in NYC in the 1960s


So, there you have it. The interiors of our homes, coffee shops and restaurants all look the same. The buildings where we live and work all look the same. The cars we drive, their colours and their logos all look the same. The way we look and the way we dress all looks the same. Our movies, books and video games all look the same. And the brands we buy, their adverts, identities and taglines all look the same.

The age of average

But the article is way too optimistic: yeah, let us all do something about it and create something exciting. Dude: you are staring late capitalism straight in the face. It will only get worse. We are but manufacturing and consumption machines. Sleep, work, watch TV. Repeat ad nauseam.

Always the same old story, and always amazing that the ‘digital nomads’ (who used to be called something else but are still, by and large, spoiled Western brats and trust-fund babies) cannot possibly comprehend they are doing anything wrong. Just travelling and writing a bit, right?

Elias Canetti: The Last Cosmopolitan: “He was the kind of intellectual who can both evince the particularities of his milieu and transcend them—a rare enough quality in the intellectuals of his time, and perhaps even rarer today. Canetti was also a scholar without being an academic. He was neither a sociologist nor an anthropologist, neither a full-time novelist nor a conventional poet. Rather, he was many writers at once.”

Canetti was the kind of writer — and man — that we need now more than ever: polyglot, travelled, well-read, belonging to no nation, instinctively on the side of the oppressed. In other words: a rootless cosmopolitan and an ally in our darkening times.

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.

© Henning Bertram 2024