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16 Jun 21:02

Saturday Morning Breakfast Cereal - Program


Is this all there is?

Click here to go see the bonus panel!

Later, the man humanely destroys its CPU.

Today's News:
12 Jun 22:56

The Language of the Trump Administration Is the Language of Domestic Violence

by Jason Kottke

Jessica Winter writing for the New Yorker:

In the final scene of Frederick Wiseman’s landmark documentary “Domestic Violence,” police in Tampa arrive late at night to the home of a man who is drunk and a woman who is sick. The man has called the police because he is angry that the woman, who is desperate to sleep, is “neglecting” him. Minute by minute, it becomes chillingly clear that the man wants her removed from the house before his anger turns into physical violence. In his mind, the woman’s misdeeds — to be ill; to need rest; to wish to remain in her own home — transform him into an instrument of pain, one that she is choosing to wield against herself. He raises his hands over his head in a gesture of surrender. It’s all her fault. He can’t help it. One of the abuser’s most effective tricks is this inversion of power, at the exact moment that his victim is most frightened and degraded: Look what you made me do.

Look what you made me do has emerged as the dominant ethos of the current White House. During the 2016 Presidential race, many observers drew parallels between the language of abusers and that of Trump on the campaign trail. Since his election, members of the Trump Administration have learned that language, too, and nowhere is this more vivid than in the rhetoric they use to discuss the Administration’s policies toward the Central American immigrants crossing the U.S. border.

As Tim tweeted the day after Inauguration Day in 2017, “The President is an abuser. A lot of us are (re)discovering, and (re)deciding, how we react to being abused.”

Tags: Donald Trump   Jessica Winter   language   politics
12 Jun 00:52

On the Street…Howard St., New York

by The Sartorialist



Yesterday was so cloudy but right at the end of the day the sun broke out and I found this incredibly chic woman chatting on Howard Street! That’s a great way to end a grey day, New York

10 Jun 21:18

Arizona man charged with threatening to kill black Harvard students at commencement last year

by adamg

oh great, i'm glad they told us about this

An Arizona man was arrested last night on charges he posted two comments on photos posted on Instagram by Harvard University Instagram photos last year in which he threatened to kill blacks planning a graduation ceremony at Harvard in May, 2017.

Nicholas Zuckerman, 24, was indicted on two counts of transmitting in interstate and foreign commerce a threat to injure the person of another, the US Attorney's office in Boston reports:

On or about May 13, 2017, Zuckerman allegedly commented on a post published to Harvard University’s Instagram account, saying: “If the blacks only ceremony happens, then I encourage violence and death at it. I’m thinking two automatics with extendo clips. Just so no nigger gets away.” It is further alleged that on that same date, Zuckerman posted a comment to another Harvard Instagram post, saying: “#bombharvard and end their pro-black agenda.” Several minutes later, Zuckerman allegedly commented “#bombharvard” on other users’ posts approximately 11 times over a span of four minutes.

A concerned citizen who saw the posts reported them to the Harvard University Police who ultimately referred the case to federal authorities.

Zuckerman faces up to five years in federal prison and a $250,000 fine if convicted, the US Attorney's office reports.

Black Harvard graduate students last year created Harvard Black Commencement, "honoring graduating students who identify with the African diaspora."

Innocent, etc.

07 Jun 22:42

Robert Wadlow, the world’s tallest ever human

by Jason Kottke

When I was a kid, I devoured books like locusts ravage crops on the plains. My sister and I would go to the library, get 5 or 6 books each, and when I was done reading all of mine, I’d read hers — Little Women, Judy Blume, The Baby-Sitters Club…I was not picky. I read Roald Dahl, all the Little House books, Where the Red Fern Grows, Encyclopedia Brown, E.B. White, the Bobbsey Twins, Nancy Drew, all kinds of biographies of famous people, and almost everything else in our local library. Reading was how I learned about the world outside my tiny town. Reading was how I came to know about Robert Wadlow, the world’s tallest man.

In 1981, when I was 8 years old, our household acquired two books that I would read more than any other during my childhood: a set of World Book encyclopedias and the Guinness Book of World Records.1 The encyclopedia, a prized family possession, sat on a shelf in the living room and one of my favorite things was to grab a random volume, crack it open to a random page, and start reading. The Guinness Book of World Records, in contrast, sat on a small table in the bathroom; I read it while sitting on the toilet.

The first few pages of the book, which I am pretty sure is still sitting on that table in my dad’s bathroom, contained records related to the human body. I particularly remember reading about Robert Earl Hughes, then the world’s heaviest human, and The McGuire Twins, the world’s heaviest twins; they liked to ride motorcycles:

Mcguire Twins

But most captivating part of that book was the section about Robert Wadlow, the world’s tallest person: 8ft 11in tall, shoe size of 37AA, wingspan of 9.5 feet, and he could carry his father up the stairs at age 9, a feat unimaginable by a scrawny Wisconsin boy of the same age. The tallest person I’d ever seen up until then was probably like 6’3” — a man almost 9 feet tall was like something out of the stories I read from the library. Who needs fiction when you’ve got facts like these?

I hadn’t thought about any of this in years until I ran across a short video of Wadlow the other day (there’s more footage here, here, and elsewhere on YouTube):

Holy shit. Suddenly this almost mythical person from my childhood is walking across my screen! Digging a little, I found the Retronaut’s collection of Wadlow photos, only a couple of which were included in my Guinness book. Here’s Wadlow at 10 years old, when he was already 6’5”:

Robert Wadlow

And here are a couple more photos that show just how tall he was:

Robert Wadlow

Robert Wadlow

You can read more about Wadlow on Wikipedia, on Retronaut, or, yes, on the Guinness World Records site. I don’t care what anyone says…the World Wide Web is still a marvel. It brought Robert Wadlow alive for me, all these years later. What a thing.

  1. I will leave as an exercise to the reader how these books massively influenced my current choice of vocation.

Tags: books   Guinness Book of World Records   Robert Wadlow   video
06 Jun 14:55

Kate Spade Found Dead at 55

by Chavie Lieber

I'm really shook up about this. I have an essay in me about working at Juicy in 2007, which was owned by Liz, which owned Kate Spade at the time too. How I pretended that everything would be fine by burying myself in frippery and bracelets and skating by and how it just wasn't.

The legendary designer reportedly took her own life.

Kate Spade, the fashion designer behind the eponymous label, is confirmed dead at 55. Sources tell the Associated Press that she took her own life; a housekeeper found her in her Manhattan apartment Tuesday morning. She reportedly left a note.

The designer started the beloved Kate Spade brand in the early ’90s with her husband, Andy Spade, and sold the company in 2007. She started her most recent retail venture, an accessories company called Frances Valentine, in 2016.

Born Kate Brosnahan and later changing her name to Kate Valentine, the Kansas City native attended Arizona State University, where she met her husband and business partner. She was working as a senior fashion editor at Mademoiselle magazine in 1993 when she decided to start her handbag company. Her husband encouraged her to step outside of her editing career and pursue her own line, despite her lack of design experience. Spade’s personal style was “sassy but classy,” as Cosmopolitan wrote in 2005, and she took inspiration from icons like Katharine Hepburn, Jackie O., and Björk to create her company.

Her first prototype for what she thought was the perfect handbag was a square bag with small handles, made with burlap material she bought from a potato-sack manufacturer she found in the Yellow Pages. Spade saw success bringing the bags to several New York City trade shows, where stores like Barneys and Fred Segal agreed to buy them; a few months later, Nordstrom, Bloomingdale’s, and Saks Fifth Avenue took orders too. Spade went on to create the billion-dollar brand with a feminine and whimsical aesthetic.

As her line expanded into other categories, like home goods, fragrance, shoes, and then menswear with the label Jack Spade, Spade became known as a bona fide tastemaker. The New York Times joked that “if Dorothy Parker were a product, she would be a Kate Spade clutch.” Spade took pride in the world of fashion and entertaining; at one point, she gave every employee of her company a copy of Emily Post’s Etiquette. Spade also wrote her own books on style, manners and home decorating.

The Spades sold 56 percent of their company to Neiman Marcus in 1999, which went through several owners over the past decade. The couple left their brand in 2007, citing family obligations. Spade told Racked last year that during that time, she “got to go home and be a full-time mother, which was the greatest thing I’ve ever done.” She said she started her second brand, Frances Valentine, in 2016 because she “just had an itch to do it again, to create, to design.”

Spade’s fizzy flair for feminine style — something fans came to love about her — is seen in Frances Valentine. The company is named after Spade’s daughter, Frances Beatrix Valentine Spade, by whom Spade is survived, along with her husband.

“I don’t think anyone’s coming to me for banal design,” Spade told Racked in 2016. “I think they’re looking for something that has an emotional appeal to it.”

Reta Saffo, Spade’s older sister, told the Kansas City Star that the designer had struggled for many years with mental illness and that she found her suicide “not unexpected.”

“I’d flown out to Napa and NYC several times in the past 3-4 years to help her to get the treatment she needed (inpatient hospitalization),” Saffo wrote to the local paper via email. “She was always a very excitable little girl and I felt all the stress/pressure of her brand (KS) may have flipped the switch where she eventually became full-on manic depressive.”

Saffo said she tried pushing her sister to get professional help but was not successful.

“We’d get sooo close to packing her bags,” she said, “but — in the end, the ‘image’ of her brand (happy-go-lucky Kate Spade) was more important for her to keep up. She was definitely worried about what people would say if they found out.”

Spade’s husband Andy later told the New York Times in a statement that “There was no indication and no warning that she would do this. It was a complete shock.” He went on to say that she “was actively seeking help for depression and anxiety over the last 5 years, seeing a doctor on a regular basis and taking medication for both depression and anxiety. There was no substance or alcohol abuse. There were no business problems. We loved creating our businesses together.”

03 Jun 13:54

On Michael Cohen’s Jackets

by Alexander Freeling

clothing is a language. they can be subtle or screaming but what you wear does say something, so pay attention and have it say what you want.

Michael Cohen outside the Loews Regency hotel In New York. April 13, 2018. Yana Paskova for Getty Images.

WHILE JUDGE KIMBA WOOD questioned Todd Harrison at the Courthouse on Foley Square, Lower Manhattan, his client Michael Cohen sat smoking cigars and chatting with confidants on Park Avenue. Cohen began his career in personal injury law, before getting into the taxi business and real estate with the help of his father-in-law. He accumulated taxi medallions, debt and a knack for executing unbelievable property deals, entirely in cash. In 2007, Cohen joined the Trump Organisation, and was soon working personally for its chairman as a ‘roving fixer.’1 And now, the President’s lawyer was playing absentee client.

As Harrison faltered over the details of who else Cohen had been working for, photographers converged on the Loews Regency to record his display of insouciance.2 When their photos arrived in press rooms, the first thing journalists noted was the cadre of men surrounding Cohen, grasping him by the shoulder, taking calls, whispering into his ear. The second thing was his jacket.

Cohen favours indiscreet European luxury: Hermès ‘H’ belts, Italian tailoring, open-necked shirts. He wears clothes like sportscars wear their badges. In court he appears in suits, but prefers soft jackets with loud patterns, worn with loafers and jeans. In corporate law and finance, clothes are expected to reassure clients; you should present a successful business, but not flaunt your bonus. In Cohen’s line of work, lawyers talk, and dress, more like prize fighters. Like so many of those surrounding Donald Trump, Cohen is a New Yorker who does not care for the niceties of DC; he maintains an aggressive relationship with adversaries and with facts.

Politicians wear expensive suits, of course. But theirs are tactical garments, intended to draw attention not to individual textures or patterns but the whole silhouette. By presenting the body as a seamless, familiar shape, the suit diverts attention from the campaigner’s actual contours to the campaign they embody. Many assiduously stick to modest, domestic tailors: Obama switched to Chicago tailor Hart Schaffner Marx for his inauguration; Hillary Clinton would have worn Ralph Lauren.3 In clothing budgets as in so much of the current reality television politics, the true precursor for vestimentary excess was Sarah Palin.4 

The style writer Alan Flusser has drawn the distinction between the ‘Michael Douglas-Gordon Gekko imagery’ of Trump allies like Paul Manafort and ‘the Brooks Brothers, inside-the-Beltway, button-down look’ of professional Washingtonians.5 But even insatiable lovers of the sumptuous like Manafort and Trump manage to look essentially interchangeable with other consultants and politicians by wearing two-button plain navy suits.6 Because the modern business suit has changed remarkably little since the eighteenth century, small differences hold great significance. Within the West Wing, only notorious clothes horse Michael Anton wore a pocket square.7 The line between orthodox and radical is a series of tiny details: lapel shape, shoulder expression, sleeve width, accessories.

Cohen dresses to stand out. Even in suits, he wears loafers to show a bit of patterned sock. There is no American Flag in his lapel, but he commonly wears an enamel coral pin. The flag pin gained popularity in the Nixon years as a signifier of conservative patriotism in the face of disasters in Vietnam and it returned with renewed fervour after 9/11. Coral is an old symbol of good luck in Naples, and the pin is branding for Isaia, the Neapolitan luxury tailor. While Northern Italian makers favour the clean, structured suits typical of business wear, Neapolitan makers are noticeably different: softer shoulders; tighter, more aggressive cuts; louder patterns. These are jackets for the southern heat, but also jackets in which you could throw a punch. Jackets for lawyers who suggest to adversaries that they ‘tread very fucking lightly.’8 Cohen’s are blue and grey with bright checks and houndstooth patterns, jackets that hug the shoulder and biceps. The piece which caught reporters’ attention outside the Regency was mid-blue wool, with contrasting navy and beige checks. The Guardian compared it to a used car dealer’s outfit, perhaps because they didn’t want the inevitable headache that would come from voicing the other connotation: the wise guys of organised crime.

Isaia makes much of its heritage. Tailoring in southern Italy is different in tone to its British progenitors for environmental reasons: the weather, of course; the poverty of Naples compared to the immense concentration of capital in Mayfair; but there are also differences in the way in which people walk, greet one another and express their feelings. In their marketing, Isaia pushes the image of the charming, dangerous Neapolitan rake as far as possible. A new water-resistant dinner jacket is ideal ‘if a cocktail is thrown in your face.’ A motorcycle helmet with a scratchy drawing of St. Januarius is ‘a playful invitation to respect the law’ while riding your Vespa. On Isaia’s website, a cartoon of CEO Gianluca Isaia named Corallino offers a ‘phrasebook’ of Napulitano gestures: Damme nu vasillo (‘Give me a kiss’); Te faccio nu mazzo tanto! (‘I’m going to whip your ass!’). Helpfully for internet warriors affiliated with the President, Tiene’e ccorna! (‘You are a cuckold!’). Less helpful: Addereto ’e cancielle (‘In jail’). These add up to a parody of Italian masculinity: passionate, aggressive and possibly criminal.

Yet Isaia’s marketing is knowingly ironised by slapstick and exaggeration. A 2015 campaign by photographer Lady Tarin features a man in a double-breasted jacket, cradling between his sweeping lapels a squirming baby who has seized this moment to empty his bladder. Another poster shows a suited model in the confession booth, opposite a despairing priest. The Fall/Winter 2014 lookbook begins as a paean to Italian gastronomy, alternating shots of a restaurant kitchen with flannel jackets, overcoats and three-piece suits. But the cliché cannot hold. The models who are supposed to be appreciating the cooking interfere with it. During the meal, the elder man steals spaghetti from the horrified younger, scooping it up with his bare hands. In a postprandial shot, the pair get through twelve espressos, piling up cups and spilling coffee. This tableau of the Italian spirit veers into visual comedy, and the models and writers are in on the joke.

The irony seems lost on Cohen. Recognising his jackets, I remember thinking that he was taking the fun out of one of the few luxury tailoring brands with a sense of humour. The photos from the Regency depict an unlikely balance between corporate America and real estate mavericks: Jerry Rotonda, a Deutsche Bank executive, sits at the back in monochrome suit and tie; Rotem Rosen, a property developer, sits to Cohen’s left wearing a bright blue jacket (one sleeve button left open, of course), jeans and monkstraps. Wits on Twitter were quick to compare them to images of the key players in The Sopranos, hunched outside Satriale’s Pork Store. The implication was not that Cohen was a gangster, but that he played one on TV. If he never breaks character, it might be because, like many who came slouching towards Washington after the inauguration, he has become part of the show, but doesn’t think he’s acting.

 Alexander Freeling is a writer, teacher and critic.

  1. See: 

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  6. Trump’s suits are made by Brioni. Manafort’s may have come from House of Bijan in Beverly Hills, and were expensive enough to be considered evidence by the FBI during a raid of his property. See: 


  8. See: 

30 May 12:53

Sculptures made from scraps

by Jason Kottke

for me

Artist Lydia Ricci collects scraps (of paper, cardboard, etc.) and sculpts them into everyday objects.

From Scraps

From Scraps

From Scraps

From Scraps

I love these…and there are a ton more to look at. Gah ok, just one more:

From Scraps

(via @yhaduong)

Tags: art   Lydia Ricci
30 May 11:57

The Feedback Rush

by swissmiss

This was very insightful! Maybe not 100% useful for a work environment, but basically questioning the intended results for any feedback. Ask questions to encourage people to reflect and grow. I'm going to try and be better at this.

In this Hurrly Slowly episode on Feedback Jocelyn speaks on how criticism constrains creativity, while questions and appreciations help it expand. And, why effective feedback focuses on outcomes, not just opinions.

It made me rethink how I will give feedback going forward. And, it made me apologize to a friend. Thank you Jocelyn! And, Illustration by Yukai Du

29 May 23:56

Behind “The Yellow Wallpaper”

by Maika

As Haute Macabre readers, I expect many, if not most of you are already well acquainted with a certain late 19th century short story by Charlotte Perkins Gilman entitled “The Yellow Wallpaper.” However if that title is unfamiliar to you, before you read further, I urge you to take a few moments to experience an unforgettable tale of a woman’s solitary descent into madness that’s as vividly haunting and singularly unsettling as it is a powerful work of early feminist literature. You can order it for your personal library, but it’s also right here in scanned form.

If my brief description isn’t enough to entice you, H. P. Lovecraft once cited the story as proof that the literature of cosmic fear has always existed, describing how Gilman rose “to a classic level in subtly delineating the madness which crawls over a woman dwelling in the hideously papered room where a madwoman was once confined.”

Now that we’re all on the same page, join us as we marvel at “Why I Wrote The Yellow Wallpaper,” Charlotte Perkins Gilman’s fascinating explanation of her motivations behind writing this famous story, originally published in the October 1913 issue of The Forerunner. I already knew that “The Yellow Wallpaper” was salient commentary on 19th century attitudes about and treatment of women’s physical and mental health.

What I didn’t know, what currently has my jaw on the floor, is that the story is based on Gilman’s very personal experiences and was written specifically for her doctor. She wanted to demonstrate how his “specialist” treatment actually mistreated her and to prevent other women from suffering the same fallacious care. And she succeeded.

Many and many a reader has asked that. When the story first came out, in the New England Magazine about 1891, a Boston physician made protest in The Transcript. Such a story ought not to be written, he said; it was enough to drive anyone mad to read it.

Another physician, in Kansas I think, wrote to say that it was the best description of incipient insanity he had ever seen, and–begging my pardon–had I been there?

Now the story of the story is this:

For many years I suffered from a severe and continuous nervous breakdown tending to melancholia–and beyond. During about the third year of this trouble I went, in devout faith and some faint stir of hope, to a noted specialist in nervous diseases, the best known in the country. This wise man put me to bed and applied the rest cure, to which a still-good physique responded so promptly that he concluded there was nothing much the matter with me, and sent me home with solemn advice to “live as domestic a life as far as possible,” to “have but two hours’ intellectual life a day,” and “never to touch pen, brush, or pencil again” as long as I lived. This was in 1887.

I went home and obeyed those directions for some three months, and came so near the borderline of utter mental ruin that I could see over.

Then, using the remnants of intelligence that remained, and helped by a wise friend, I cast the noted specialist’s advice to the winds and went to work again–work, the normal life of every human being; work, in which is joy and growth and service, without which one is a pauper and a parasite–ultimately recovering some measure of power.

Being naturally moved to rejoicing by this narrow escape, I wrote The Yellow Wallpaper, with its embellishments and additions, to carry out the ideal (I never had hallucinations or objections to my mural decorations) and sent a copy to the physician who so nearly drove me mad. He never acknowledged it.

The little book is valued by alienists and as a good specimen of one kind of literature. It has, to my knowledge, saved one woman from a similar fate–so terrifying her family that they let her out into normal activity and she recovered.

But the best result is this. Many years later I was told that the great specialist had admitted to friends of his that he had altered his treatment of neurasthenia since reading The Yellow Wallpaper.

It was not intended to drive people crazy, but to save people from being driven crazy, and it worked.

[via /r/WeirdLit, “The Yellow Wallpaper I” illustration by hyperphagia]

17 May 23:00

Court not clowning around as it approves small expansion of Somerville circus school

by adamg

why are people terrible

The Massachusetts Appeals Court today dismissed a lawsuit against Esh Circus Arts and the Somerville zoning board, saying the person who brought it does not live close enough to be legally aggrieved by the circus center's request to use some vacant office space in its building.

In 2015, the zoning board approved Esh's request for permission to renovate and use a roughly 850-square-foot vacant office space for a new lobby and reception area. Claudia Murrow, who lives across and down the street, promptly sued, saying the move would cause "detrimental health, safety, and welfare effect on Murrow and Esh's surrounding neighbors."

In its ruling, though, the appeals court agreed with a lower-court judge that Murrow lived too far down the street to be the sort of person who could legally make that kind of claim under state zoning laws. Basically, immediate neighbors of a property and their immediate neighbors, at least up to 300 feet away from the property in question, as well as people who live directly across the street, are considered "parties in interest" who can file suit against zoning decisions which they feel aggrieved by.

Although Murrow lives within 300 feet of the circus school, she is not an immediate neighbor of an immediate neighbor of the school, nor does she live directly across the street, and so is not legally allowed to appeal a zoning decision, the court said.

Murrow also argued that the city of Somerville certainly felt otherwise, because it included her on a list of people who had to be notified about the zoning hearing. The court shot that out of a legal cannon as well, saying that while the list of people notified about the hearing might include "parties in interest," that doesn't mean the city certified the list it used was only of people who might be covered by state zoning laws.

At the same time, the court rejected Esh's demand that Murrow be required to reimburse it for its legal fees - and pay additional damages:

Although Murrow has failed to persuade us that the judge erred in dismissing her claims, sanctions are not warranted as this appeal is neither frivolous nor was it initiated in bad faith.

12 May 01:35

All of Our Names

by Bee Quammie

i always wanted a nickname

“Lorna” was the name I knew my mother by. But whenever we found ourselves enveloped in the circle of our boisterous Jamaican family, she became “Newberry.”

“Constantine” was the name I knew my father by. But whenever he touched road to link up with his bredgrins, he was met with greetings of “John Hawk reach! John Hawk deh yah!”

I was an inquisitive child, but the names “Newberry” and “John Hawk” seemed so firmly established in the fabric of our family that it felt silly to ask where they came from. Nearly all of my family members who were born in Jamaica and immigrated to Canada had them, too. I accepted these aliases as part of the Jamaican culture I adored, and didn’t want to ask a question that would highlight yet again that I was a “Canadian kid.” 

As it turns out, these aliases are part of a wider Caribbean culture. Through both my on- and offline circles, I’ve shared jokes with other people of Caribbean heritage about a cousin called “Tallman” simply because he was tall, or not realizing that Granny June’s name wasn’t actually June until her funeral.

Whether discussing the shock of learning a loved one’s real name, the confusion of trying to decipher a nickname, or laughing at the creativity of the alias bestowed upon a family member, these conversations have always felt very familiar. But few of us knew the origins of the practice itself.

Born in the United Kingdom to Grenadian parents, author Shirley Anstis conducted seventy interviews in order to write her book They Call Me…, which uncovers the stories of Caribbean nicknames, also called pet names or family names. “Some nicknames, such as Diggit for a gardener, simply reflect a role in the community,” Anstis has said. “But others, such as Snakehead, might reflect something you can’t change, like the shape of your head, and living with that unkind label is a very different matter.”

Anstis’s book references “an African tradition of real names being secret,” a remnant of ancestral practice that survived the Transatlantic Slave Trade into the Caribbean. Protection of one’s spirit is of utmost importance in African diasporic spiritualities, and naming practices are a vital part of that. In one of my recent online discussions, Twitter user @jamaloahustles shared that nicknames helped to keep children safe from “bad mind”—those who wish harm or call forth evil spirits to wreak havoc on young lives. Names are important for incantation. If a child’s real name was a mystery, it would confuse or elude the negativity that was meant for them. Others called this the act of “duppyfying” loved ones, protecting people of all ages from malevolent spirits.

I decided it was time to find the answer to the question I wanted to ask since I was a kid: how did my parents get their nicknames?

I asked my dad first.

He leaned back in his chair, stretched his arms wide then folded them behind his head, and let out a deep chuckle. His Patois hasn’t faded in the three decades that he’s been in Canada, but it seemed to get even thicker as he reminisced. “Well, yuh see, it used to just be Hawk—di ‘John’ come afta,” he began.

“When mi young, mi friends call me Hawk ‘cause mi did ‘hawk’ up all di gyal dem,” he laughed. My dad remains a charmer and an infamous ladies’ man whose penchant for wooing women got him in trouble more than once. Vintage photos of him, in his slim-fitting pants and silk shirts unbuttoned to his navel, chest adorned with gold chains and always with a fresh haircut, told me more stories about him than he ever shared about himself.

He kept chuckling as he walked down memory lane, recounting his youth and both the innocent and intentional ways the “Hawk” was activated. Sometimes he didn’t realize a young woman was interested, and his friends would tease him about his naïveté. Other times he might have issued a challenge to a comrade, waiting to see who a young woman would accept a date with, and winning every time. To know that a nickname followed him from the outskirts of Montego Bay to small-town Ontario meant that he was—and in many ways, still is—legendary.

My mother’s story was more heartwarming than hilarious. Where my dad’s nickname was earned over time from a combination of his looks, personality, and reputation, my mom’s was born in the parish of Hanover, Jamaica, just minutes after she was.

My mom is the baby of the family. Her eldest sister is old enough to have been her mother, and I was always curious about the age gaps between my mom and aunts. As it turns out, my maternal grandmother had a history of miscarriages among her three live births. Before she got pregnant with my mom, Grandma was told not to test her body again, but she did.

The pregnancy with my mother was a smooth one, and when the midwife delivered a healthy, beautifully brown baby girl, she handed her to my Grandpa who said “I finally have a new berry!” At that moment, Mom’s nickname was solidified—and with the migration of my mother and most of her family from Jamaica to Canada, the name travelled too.

My aunt is known as “Pansy” because my Grandpa loved the flower. One of her sons, my cousin, is known as “Wayne” because she liked John Wayne. Once I asked, I learned that every nickname in my family comes with a story that taught me something about the recipient, or the donor. Each story either confirmed something I knew about someone, or illuminated something that would likely have gone uncovered without me asking about its genesis.


The stories made me lament the fact that I wasn’t given a nickname of my own. The practice seemed to evaporate with us Canadian-born kids, and part of that loss seems to be related to the fading or shifting of diasporic connections with each generation removed. Elders mentioned various reasons—not thinking it fit the “Canadian way,” or not wanting to “confuse” us or our Canadian friends—but I always felt a bit of envy that I didn’t have an alias to share with my loved ones, and didn’t have a hidden story to tell about myself.

In my own way, I’ve resurrected that practice and joined the assemblage of Caribbean nicknames, albeit with a bit of a remix. “Bee” isn’t the name I was born with. My first name can’t be shortened down into a quick, snappy nickname, but in university, my close friends started calling me by my first initial, B. Adding two e’s to it turned a lone letter into a new name, one that came in handy when I was trying to separate my writing identity from my nine-to-five. And even the people who know my daughter’s real name will default to calling her “Little Magician,” a nickname I came up with while she was still in the womb.

Those names were born and maintained out of the same need for protection—mine as a way to keep two different careers from colliding, and hers as a way to create a boundary after being born into this digital era. My decision to share a photo of her on Instagram or write a story about motherhood exposes her to an audience not of her choosing, and it feels like I’m able to keep parts of her sacred when I keep her name to myself.


For all of the people who’ve never known why Auntie Beauty is called Beauty, or who look at funeral programs in confusion, wondering who “Winston” is when they’ve come to lay Grandpa Carlos to rest, you are not alone. You are part of a tradition that shows the creativity and complexity of a people who have used those traits to survive and thrive. Digging to the bottom of these origin stories can open up an entire new world of understanding of our families and the personalities within them, so if you’ve ever been tempted, take my challenge to ask that question today. From the forced migration of my ancestors to the chosen migration of more recent generations, these names and the reasons behind them have endured. Whether we have our own nickname or not, our awareness of them helps to narrow the chasms between who we are and where we come from.

On paper I am the child of Lorna and Constantine, but in essence, I am Newberry and John Hawk’s firstborn—and the latter makes much more sense to me. Braggadocio, confidence, style, resilience, and renewal are all pieces of what my elders gave me, and through the artificial names given to them, I’ve come to know more of the truth about myself and where I come from.

07 May 22:32

Discreet Artist

by swissmiss

This photo made me laugh. It’s part of an ongoing project titled ‘Discreet Artist’ by Paraskevi Frasiola.

03 May 23:45

On the Street….Feels Like Summer, New York

by The Sartorialist


01 May 22:38

A Life of Letters

by Lyn

letting myself get excited about work just leads to disappointment. i miss it


I have spent the entire month of shedding ending up having more work and the only shedding that has been on mind is how I might “shed” academia. I have been filled with ambivalence about that decision even though it is clear to me that something must give if I am to sustain the creative and intellectual life I wish to lead. 

Last week I was in Madrid and had several opportunities to experience the art, letters and culture of Madrid in ways that were intensely personal. I was given a private tour of the National Library that contains every volume, film, recording and periodical ever published in Spain. Every year the country celebrates a writer who then gets to choose an artist who is commissioned to create a portrait as directed by the author.  This collaborative approach to portraiture makes it one of the more fascinating galleries I have had the pleasure to explore. Later I wandered the streets of the “writer’s district” and sat for a spell in Lope de Vega’s garden. I read many of his plays in my senior year of high school. I was inspired then to write a play myself, completely in Spanish.

As we came into the research room where scholars and students were laboring I was overcome with an intense feeling of sadness and grief. It took me a moment to understand why. As I have been thinking of leaving academia I realized that I have been feeling a terrible loss of the notions I had of what it means to be a scholar and an intellectual. Seeing Ph.D. students at work in this inspiring space, I was reminded of the joy and anticipation I felt when researching and reading at that time in my life. When I wanted to  conduct critical research and represent “performances” of women in the world of child welfare. When I could have told the real stories of myself and them.  I hear myself recently saying words like, “I have a very performative relationship with clothes” within which is encoded numerous theories and philosophies, echoing that time.


Following right on the heels of that is the terrible disappointment that came with the realization that similar to my practice life, I entered and labored in yet another bureaucratic institution. I am reminded of all the concessions that were made about what I would research, how I would research it, how I would represent it and finally in these last years what I must teach, what assignments I must give, what learning outcomes I must measure. The endless meetings that produce nothing.

In my work in this newer digital life I am still always drawn to those activities and experiences that are creative and support a scholarly and collaborative approach. Students from fashion, art, performance and design schools contact me with projects such as being interviewed for ethnodramas a la Anna Deaveare Smith,  graphic novels, magazines, 3D characters or just other academic projects about social media and representation. Interestingly, most come from outside the US, although Parsons still seems to be producing critically thinking scholars. I find these transactions endlessly interesting and fascinating. I wish I had the time to deeply engage with all of them. What’s making it hard to leave academia I realize is accepting the loss of my desired, never realized, scholarly life.

At the very same time I am inhaling the odors of ancient books and spaces, I receive an email from a professor in Barcelona asking if I would be interested in writing a short book about fashion for an immersion series. I see the inquiry when I leave to go to lunch. This excites me. Like the young people in my classes or around me in the digital world, I suddenly realize I do not have to do what I want to do within the structures of obsolete institutions. I can write, I can perform, I can research, I can study and perhaps even teach in other spaces, in fact I have already been doing so. My Ph.D. is mine and completely transportable. I am going to dig out my old notebooks filled with thoughts about performance studies and postmodern theories. I am going to keep “performing” my life as the one I have been sharing with all of you. My performances will become even more experimental and thus more fun and alive. Oh and by the way...just got a bunch of wigs when I got home.


Have you ever had a moment when you realized that you only needed yourself to do what you wanted to do? Inspire me please with your stories!

01 May 22:35

X-Ray Flower Photography

by swissmiss

These x-ray flower photography is stunning.

26 Apr 13:06

Self-portraits drawn by David Bowie

by Jason Kottke

for Andy

David Bowie Self Portrait

David Bowie Self Portrait

From a collection of drawings and paintings done by David Bowie, here are a couple of self-portraits…there are more if you click through.

See also every David Bowie hairstyle from 1964 to 2014.

Tags: art   David Bowie
20 Apr 22:04

The Pigeon Photographer: Aerial photographs from the turn of the century

by Tim Carmody

Pigeon Camera 01.jpg

The New Yorker has some genuinely exciting early aerial photographs, taken by birds. They’re excerpts from a new book, The Pigeon Photographer, about Dr. Julius Neubronner.

Neubronner developed the pigeon camera for practical purposes. At first, he was simply hoping to track the flights of the birds in his flock. But his invention also represented a more sublime achievement. The images his pigeons captured, featured in “The Pigeon Photographer,” a recent book from Rorhof, are among the very early photos taken of Earth from above (the earliest were captured from balloons and kites) and are distinct for having the GoPro-like quality of channelling animal movement. That perspective that is so commonplace to us now, in which the rooftops stretch out before us as though they were made of a child’s blocks, and people crawl along like ants, was a rare sight when Neubronner took his pigeon pictures. The photos offered a glimpse of the world rendered pocket-size, as it eventually would be via a hundred types of new technology—by airplanes, or skyscrapers, or Google Earth.

But there’s also something a bit wild about the photos, precisely because they were taken by birds. Their framing is random and their angles are askew; sometimes a wing feather obscures the view. Pigeons are surely the most pedestrian of birds, but, looking at these oddly graceful photographs, or at Neubronner’s pictures of the birds looking stately and upright in their photo kits, they start to seem like heavenly creatures.

These pictures remind me quite a bit of the chapters in Paul Saint-Amour’s Tense Future on the relationship between aerial photography and modernist art. (I can’t recall if he mentions the pigeons or not.)

Tags: birds   photography
19 Apr 00:08

Saturday Morning Breakfast Cereal - Potential



Click here to go see the bonus panel!

I wonder if my kids will find these more upsetting than the weird sex comics.

New comic!
Today's News:

Signed editions now available!

18 Apr 14:46

Have Algorithms Destroyed Personal Taste?

by Kyle Chayka

I would like to draw your attention to the person 'curating' personal Spotify playlists to beat the 'Discover Weekly' feature. Matty, I think your new side hustle beckons...

No one is original anymore, not even you.

The message of many things in America is “Like this or die.”
— George W.S. Trow, Within the Context of No Context, 1980

The Seeing Robot

The camera is a small, white, curvilinear monolith on a pedestal. Inside its smooth casing are a microphone, a speaker, and an eye-like lens. After I set it up on a shelf, it tells me to look straight at it and to be sure to smile! The light blinks and then the camera flashes. A head-to-toe picture appears on my phone of a view I’m only used to seeing in large mirrors: me, standing awkwardly in my apartment, wearing a very average weekday outfit. The background is blurred like evidence from a crime scene. It is not a flattering image.

Amazon’s Echo Look, currently available by invitation only but also on eBay, allows you to take hands-free selfies and evaluate your fashion choices. “Now Alexa helps you look your best,” the product description promises. Stand in front of the camera, take photos of two different outfits with the Echo Look, and then select the best ones on your phone’s Echo Look app. Within about a minute, Alexa will tell you which set of clothes looks better, processed by style-analyzing algorithms and some assistance from humans. So I try to find my most stylish outfit, swapping out shirts and pants and then posing stiffly for the camera. I shout, “Alexa, judge me!” but apparently that’s unnecessary.

What I discover from the Style Check™ function is as follows: All-black is better than all-gray. Rolled-up sleeves are better than buttoned at the wrist. Blue jeans are best. Popping your collar is actually good. Each outfit in the comparison receives a percentage out of 100: black clothes score 73 percent against gray clothes at 27 percent, for example. But the explanations given for the scores are indecipherable. “The way you styled those pieces looks better,” the app tells me. “Sizing is better.” How did I style them? Should they be bigger or smaller?

The Echo Look won’t tell you why it’s making its decisions. And yet it purports to show us our ideal style, just as algorithms like Netflix recommendations, Spotify Discover, and Facebook and YouTube feeds promise us an ideal version of cultural consumption tailored to our personal desires. In fact, this promise is inherent in the technology itself: Algorithms, as I’ll loosely define them, are sets of equations that work through machine learning to customize the delivery of content to individuals, prioritizing what they think we want, and evolving over time based on what we engage with.

Confronting the Echo Look’s opaque statements on my fashion sense, I realize that all of these algorithmic experiences are matters of taste: the question of what we like and why we like it, and what it means that taste is increasingly dictated by black-box robots like the camera on my shelf.

Theories of Taste

In his 2017 book Taste, the Italian philosopher Giorgio Agamben digs up the roots of the word. Historically, it is defined as a form of knowledge through pleasure, from perceiving the flavor of food to judging the quality of an object. Taste is an essentially human capacity, to the point that it is almost subconscious: We know whether we like something or not before we understand why. “Taste enjoys beauty, without being able to explain it,” Agamben writes. He quotes Montesquieu: “This effect is principally founded on surprise.” Algorithms are meant to provide surprise, showing us what we didn’t realize we’d always wanted, and yet we are never quite surprised because we know to expect it.

Philosophers in the 18th century defined taste as a moral capacity, an ability to recognize truth and beauty. “Natural taste is not a theoretical knowledge; it’s a quick and exquisite application of rules which we do not even know,” wrote Montesquieu in 1759. This unknowingness is important. We don’t calculate or measure if something is tasteful to us; we simply feel it. Displacing the judgment of taste partly to algorithms, as in the Amazon Echo Look, robs us of some of that humanity.

Every cultural object we aestheticize and consume — “the most everyday choices of everyday life, e.g., in cooking, clothing or decoration,” Pierre Bourdieu writes in his 1984 book Distinction: A Social Critique of the Judgement of Taste — is a significant part of our identities and reflects who we are. “Taste classifies, and it classifies the classifier,” Bourdieu adds. If our taste is dictated by data-fed algorithms controlled by massive tech corporations, then we must be content to classify ourselves as slavish followers of robots.

But Fashion Is Already Arbitrary

We might say that “taste” is the abstract, moralized knowledge, while “style” is its visual expression. Fashion makes taste easily visible as style, in part because its distinctions between color or cut in clothing are so specific and yet so random (“rules which we don’t even know”). In the past, a whimsical consensus among elites dictated fashion culture; a royal court or an echelon of magazine editors imposed a certain taste from the top of society, down.

Taste is an essentially human capacity, to the point that it is almost subconscious: We know whether we like something or not before we understand why.

Roland Barthes noticed this arbitrariness in his 1960 essay Blue Is in Fashion This Year. Barthes scrutinizes a fragment of text from a fashion magazine — “blue is in fashion this year” — to see where its thesis, that a particular color is particularly tasteful right now, comes from. His conclusion is that it doesn’t come from anywhere: “We are not talking about a rigorous production of meaning: the link is neither obligatory nor sufficiently motivated.” Blue is not in fashion because it is particularly functional, nor is it symbolically linked to some wider economic or political reality; the statement has no semantic logic. Style, Barthes argues, is an inexplicable equation (a faulty algorithm).

That Scene from The Devil Wears Prada

Further evidence of the artificial and hierarchical nature of style in the past can be found in that scene from the 2006 film The Devil Wears Prada, in which Meryl Streep (as magazine editor and Anna Wintour facsimile Miranda Priestly) tells her assistant played by Anne Hathaway that the chunky blue sweater she is wearing was, in essence, chosen for her. “That blue represents millions of dollars and countless jobs, and it’s sort of comical how you think you made a choice that exempts you from the fashion industry when, in fact, you’re wearing a sweater that was selected for you by the people in this room from a pile of stuff,” Streep says.

In other words, blue is in fashion this year because some people decided it was. You, the non-tastemaker, have no choice in the matter.

Data-Based Fashion

Is it possible that instead of this artificial fashion language, algorithms like those powering Alexa could create a more systemic, logical construction of fashion aesthetics built on data? Blue is in fashion this year because 83.7 percent of users purchased (or clicked like on) blue shirts, the Amazon Echo Look algorithm says, therefore it is in fashion, therefore businesses should manufacture more blue shirts, and you, the customer, will buy and wear them. No human editors needed.

I’m not sure if this technology-derived algorithmic facticity of taste is better or worse than Meryl Streep-Anna Wintour deciding what I wear, which might be the core concern of this essay.

“Collapsing Dominant”

When modes of tastes change, there is a certain fear: Am I in or out? Do I understand the new or am I stuck in the old? In 1980, the New Yorker published George W.S. Trow’s essay describing this feeling under the title of “Within the Context of No Context,” from which I took the epigraph and structure for this piece. Trow’s essay came out as a book in 1981 and again in 1997. In the appended introduction to the 1997 edition, he uses the phrase “collapsing dominant” to describe a situation in which an older, established mode of cultural authority, or a taste regime, is fading and being replaced by a newer one. These regimes have two parts: the subjects of taste and the way taste is communicated.

Today we are seeing the collapse of the dominant regime that Trow originally observed emerging, mass-media television, which had previously replaced the moralistic mid-century novels of New England WASPs. Now, we have Instagram likes, Twitter hashtags, and Google-distributed display advertising spreading taste values. Instead of the maximalist, celebrity-driven, intoxicant culture of ‘70s television — Nixon, Star Wars, shag rugs, cocaine, nuclear bombs — we now have the flattened, participatory, somehow salutary aesthetic of avocado toast, Outdoor Voices leggings, reclaimed wood, Sky Ting yoga classes, and succulents in ceramic planters.

That we are in the midst of this shift in taste might help explain our larger mood of instability and paranoia (or is it just me?). We can’t figure out what might be sustainable to identify with, to orient our taste on. The algorithm suggests that we trust it, but we don’t entirely want to. We crave a more “authentic,” lasting form of meaning.

The Death of Svpply

In 2009, a designer named Ben Pieratt, now living in Massachusetts, launched Svpply. It was a kind of online social network based on shopping, where invitation-only members could curate selections of products from elsewhere on the internet and users could follow their favorite tastemakers. Eventually, any user could become a curator. I remember it from the time as a calm, limpid pool in the midst of so much internet noise. The site presented only cool clothes, bags, and accessories, all chosen by individual humans, since algorithmic feeds weren’t widely deployed at the time. On Svpply you could find the melange of signifiers of a certain class of early-adopter design-bro: minimalist sneakers, fancy T-shirts, Leica cameras, and drop-crotch sweatpants.

The algorithm suggests that we trust it, but we don’t entirely want to.

In 2012, eBay acquired the company and quickly shut it down. In 2014, Pieratt launched a Kickstarter for Very Goods, a Svpply replacement that’s still active. Today he sees Svpply as a cautionary tale about the limits of human curation on the internet. Over the phone, we talk about how taste doesn’t really scale. The bigger a platform gets, the harder it is to maintain a particular sense of style. By opening the platform, Pieratt had tried to “convert from a human-driven community into a machine,” he explains. “When we lost the exclusivity, people didn’t really care anymore.” Svpply’s innate sense of uniqueness didn’t survive: “If everyone’s editing Vogue, it wouldn’t be Vogue.”

Another question: How good of a tastemaker can a machine ultimately be?

Human- v. Machine-Curation

I worry that we are moving from a time of human curation (early Svpply) to a time in which algorithms drive an increasingly large portion of what we consume (the Facebook feed). This impacts not only the artifacts we experience but also how we experience them. Think of the difference between a friend recommending a clothing brand and something showing up in targeted banner ads, chasing you around the internet. It’s more likely that your friend understands what you want and need, and you’re more likely to trust the recommendation, even if it seems challenging to you.

Maybe it’s a particularly shapeless garment or a noisy punk track. If you know the source of the suggestion, then you might give it a chance and see if it meshes with your tastes. In contrast, we know the machine doesn’t care about us, nor does it have a cultivated taste of its own; it only wants us to engage with something it calculates we might like. This is boring. “I wonder if, at the core of fashion, the reason we find it fascinating is that we know there’s a human at the end of it,” Pieratt says. “We’re learning about people. If you remove that layer of humanity from underneath, does the soul of the interest leave with it?”

Pieratt makes a further distinction between style and taste. Style is a superficial aesthetic code that is relatively simple to replicate, whereas taste is a kind of wider aesthetic intelligence, able to connect and integrate disparate experiences. Algorithms can approximate the former — telling me I should wear a blue shirt — but can’t approximate the latter because the machine can’t tell me why it thinks I should wear a blue shirt or what the blue shirt might mean to me. When a machine has taken over the exploration of taste, the possibility of suddenly feeling something from a surprising object is narrowed to only what the machine decides to expose. “I don’t think there’s such a thing as machine taste yet,” says Pieratt.

Of course, he and I might just be part of the fading regime, our “collapsing dominant.” The dystopian babies of 2018 raised on algorithmic Spiderman-slash-Frozen YouTube videos may have different appetites in the future.

Taste Optimization

The threat of banality (or the lack of surprise) implicit in full machine curation reminds me of the seemingly random vocabulary meant to improve SEO on Craigslist posts. As one chair listing I encountered put it: “Goes with herman miller eames vintage mid century modern knoll Saarinen dwr design within reach danish denmark abc carpet and home arm chair desk dining slipper bedroom living room office.”

Imagine the optimized average of all of these ideas. The linguistic melange forms a taste vernacular built not on an individual brand identity or a human curator but a freeform mass of associations meant to draw the viewer in by any means necessary. If you like this, you’ll probably like that. Or, as a T-shirt I bought in Cambodia a decade ago reads, “Same same but different.” The slogan pops into my mind constantly as I scroll past so many content modules, each unique and yet unoriginal.

Machine-Generated Content

Algorithms promise: If you like this, you will get more of it, forever. This experience is leaking from the internet of Google ads for the bag you just bought into the physical world. Look to the artist Jenny Odell’s investigation of “free watch” offers on Instagram for an example. The watches appear, at a minimum, stylish, with small variations on minimalist faces and metal bands. But they are not the result of an enlightened sense of taste, per Pieratt’s definition. The brands that sell them are thin fictions whipped up in Squarespace and the actual products are the result of Alibaba manufacturing and Amazon drop-shipping, in which a product moves directly from manufacturer to consumer having never entered a store. The phantom watches are empty fashion language, objects without content.

Other ways in which our experiences are warped by algorithmic platforms include Spotify possibly commissioning original music from “fake” artists to match the latent content desires of its audience, as Noisey noticed; delivery restaurants that are only virtual, conjuring a digital brand out of a shadowy group kitchen and serving food via Uber Eats; the surreal kids’ YouTube videos, which exist because they are rewarded with views by the feed algorithm and thus earn their creators advertising profit; and the globalized visual vernacular of Airbnb interior decorating, which approximates a certain style emerging from the platform itself. Having analyzed the data from some platform or another, these are things the machine thinks you want, and it can serve them up immediately and infinitely.

We find ourselves in a cultural uncanny valley, unable to differentiate between things created by humans and those generated by a human-trained equation run amok. In other words, what is the product of genuine taste and what is not. (This lack of discernibility also contributes to the problems of fake news, which algorithmic feeds promote like any other content, however inaccurate.)

Spotify’s fake artists aren’t fake, per se; they’re a kind of muzak created by a Swedish production company that just so happens to have the same investors as Spotify. That the simple possibility of non-genuine music fed to us by an algorithmic platform without our knowledge created a media frenzy speaks to our fundamental fear — a possibly irrational or at least abstruse 21st-century anxiety — of an algorithmic culture.

Style in the Age of Digital Reproduction

In 1935, Walter Benjamin observed that the work of art in the 20th century was undergoing a change during the advent of photography and film. The newfound reproducibility of the individual work of art through these technologies meant that art was deprived of its “aura”: “the here and now of the original” or “the abstract idea of its genuineness,” as Benjamin writes.

Photography, as Benjamin observed, could reproduce a singular work of art. Algorithmic machine learning, however, can mimic an entire stylistic mode, generating new examples at will or overlaying a pre-existing object with a new style unrelated to its origins. In 2015, researchers released a paper in which they turned a photograph of Tübingen, Germany into a van Gogh painting, then overlaid the style of Munch and Kandinsky in turn. The system “achieves a separation of image content from style,” the researchers write (a disconnect that contributes to our anxiety).

Want another Picasso, Gucci, Gehry, Glossier, Beyoncé? Just push the button.

So it’s not just an individual work which can be reproduced, but rather an artist’s entire aesthetic. The resulting lack of aura devalues unique style, or changes our experience of it, just as photography once challenged painting. “The reproduced work of art is to an ever-increasing extent the reproduction of a work of art designed for reproducibility,” Benjamin writes. Another cultural crisis is looming as we realize that “new” or popular styles will be increasingly optimized for their algorithmic reproducibility (in other words, designed to spread meme-like over digital platforms) instead of their originality.

Want another Picasso, Gucci, Gehry, Glossier, Beyoncé? Just push the button. It’ll be close enough. There’s already an Instagram influencer with over 700,000 followers, Miquela, who appears to be a 19-year-old model dressing up in clothes from Chanel, Proenza Schouler, and Supreme. Her vibe is Kylie Jenner, with her malevolent-cherub face and embrace of streetwear. Except Miquela is actually a virtual character her designers rendered by computer, as if produced by a Kardashian-fed AI. Unlike Jenner, Miquela is a style that can be reproduced cheaply and infinitely.

One Tenet of Algorithmic Culture

Every platform, canvassed by an algorithm that prioritizes some content over other content based on predicted engagement, develops a Generic Style that is optimized for the platform’s specific structure. This Generic Style evolves over time based on updates in the platform and in the incentives of the algorithm for users.

When we encounter the Generic Style in the world, we feel a shiver of fear: We have entered the realm of the not-quite-human, the not-quite-genuine. Did we make an independent decision or do the machines know us better than we know ourselves? (This anxiety might just be an iteration of the debate between free will and fate.)

Addendum I: Algorithmic Intimacy

One day, a friend of mine in New York City is on OKCupid, Bumble, or Hinge. He encounters the profile of a young woman and matches with her. He introduces himself with a joke based on the cultural signifiers in her profile, as is the habit of our time. She doesn’t respond.

Months later, I am sitting with him in a restaurant at the only two open seats left at the bar. At the end of our corner, there is a young woman sitting alone. My friend and the young woman strike up a conversation that seems to have a certain spark to it. Eventually, the realization occurs to her, or maybe she’d known all along: “Did we… match online?” She apologizes for not replying to his message and they keep chatting with increasing animation.

Would this flash of intimacy have occurred without the intervention of the algorithm that introduced them? Not so quickly, I think, if at all. The algorithm added a certain missing context through which they identified each other; it can be comforting, even helpful to feel recognized by the machine. He gets her phone number.

Addendum II: Cities

Then again, aren’t cities (and their bars, restaurants, and boutiques) really just highly attuned machines for sorting people according to their interests and desires? By being here, we have already communicated certain things about ourselves, much like checking preferences on an OKCupid account and surrendering to the equation.

Our experiences have always been algorithmic, if not previously driven by an actual algorithm. Sometimes it seems wrong to speak of some kind of lost originality or authenticity, as if life before Facebook were wholly innocent, non-formulaic, pure — tasteful. Taste has always been and always will be derivative, hierarchical, and shallow, but also vital.

Content Luddism (Ethically Sourced Culture)

What do we do, then, about this shift from human to digital taste? It’s possible to consciously resist the algorithm, like someone might buck the current fashion trend — wearing bell-bottoms and tie-dye, say, instead of trim, blank basics. I might only read books I stumble across in used bookstores, only watch TV shows on local channels, only buy vinyl, only write letters, forsake social media for print newspapers, wear only found vintage. (Etsy is already algorithmic, with its own faux-folksy Generic Style.) I could abstain from algorithmic culture like the Luddites who resisted the automation of textile factories in the 19th century by destroying machines. It would be so organic. Cool! Obscure! Authentic!

But as soon as something Cool, Obscure, and Authentic gets put back on the internet, it is factored into the equation, maybe it goes viral, and soon enough it’s as omnipresent as Millennial Pink circa 2017. In this way, algorithmic culture is not encouraging of diversity or the coexistence of multiple valid viewpoints and identities. If a stylistic quirk is effective, it is integrated into the Generic Style as quickly as possible; if it is ineffective, it is choked of public exposure. So you’d also have to keep your discoveries analog. Put an air gap between your brain and the internet.

Addendum III: One Example of Non-Algorithmic Taste

My friend is sitting across from me in a wine bar. She’s wearing a black turtleneck cashmere sweater with long ridges down the sleeves. It looks perfect and yet unplaceable; no brand logo, material texture, or discernible quirk identifies it with one source or another. “Where is that sweater from?” I ask.

“Oh, I got it from my grandma’s closet when she moved out of Manhattan,” she says.


I grew up in the early 2000s during the beginning of the social internet, when there were no smart feeds or adaptive algorithms to sort content. The primary ways I discovered new things were through forums, where members suggested which shoes to buy or bands to listen to, and through digital piracy, which gave me a relatively unfiltered list of possible cultural artifacts to consume on Kazaa or BitTorrent, which did not come with “You May Also Like This” recommendations. (I did not live in a city and the local comprehensive bookstore was a Borders 45 minutes away.) These services were the digital equivalent of used vinyl shops: You take what you find, either you like it or not, and then you try again, constantly refining an image of what you want and (thus) who you are.

Since those were formative teenage years, I derived a good part of my identity as a cultural consumer from DIY piracy. Still, the results were neither exceptional nor original. I downloaded a lot of Dave Matthews Band concert bootlegs and sought out American Apparel in the mall after seeing it online. But at least these things felt like mine? Or at least the assemblage aggregated into something I might have called personal taste.

Now YouTube tells me which videos to watch, Netflix serves me TV shows, Amazon suggests clothes to wear, and Spotify delivers music to listen to. If content doesn’t exist to match my desires, the companies work to cultivate it. The problem is that I don’t identify as much with these choices as what I once pirated, discovered, or dug up. When I look at my Spotify Discover playlists, I wonder how many other people got the exact same lists or which artists paid for their placement. I feel nostalgic for the days of undifferentiated .rar files loading slowly in green progress bars. There was friction. It all meant something.

To be fair, this content consumption was also extremely unethical. And it’s not like I don’t like Netflix shows or Spotify playlists. Like cigarettes or McDonald’s, they were designed for me to like them, so of course I like them. It’s just that I don’t always like that I like them.

Hipster Platforms & Platform Hipsters

Yet there are an increasing number of legal alternatives to these mainstream platforms. We’re seeing a profusion of smaller platforms with different brand images, the equivalent of a Reformation instead of a J.Crew or Glossier instead of Clinique. If Gap is a mainstream platform for fashion basics, then Everlane, with its transparent manufacturing and minimalist branding, and now Scott Sternberg’s Entireworld, which purports to offer a utopian clothing system, are its more niche, though no less generic, hipster equivalents.

FilmStruck, for example, streams “critically acclaimed classic movies, hard-to-find gems, and cult favorites” like those in the Criterion Collection, while MUBI selects “cult, classic, independent and award-winning films from around the world.” The full-bleed, black-and-white stills on their websites differentiate them as far hipper than Netflix or cable — you might feel safer about identifying your taste with them (“I don’t watch TV; I only watch FilmStruck,” a platform hipster says). Instead of Spotify, there’s The Overflow, with vetted Christian worship music, or Primephonic, with high-definition classical recordings. Quincy Jones launched the “Netflix of jazz.”

Digital platforms exist for non-digital products, too. The start-up Feather will rent you a “hip bedroom” bundle of faux-mid century side tables and bed frame for $109 a month in a kind of minimally stylish pre-packaged taste kit, a thinly reproduced aesthetic lacking any aura. Similarly, fashion companies like Gustin and Taylor Stitch crowdfund their new products, counting pre-orders before manufacturing anything. These are different from traditional brands in that they are driven from the bottom-up by the actions of users rather than the diktats of auteur creative directors. And, like the drop-shipped generic watches, they are extremely boring, releasing wave after wave of artisanal fabrics turned into rustic, vaguely outdoorsy gear.

What these businesses suggest is that you can have the benefits of a digital platform and an algorithmic feed while still feeling self-satisfied, pretentious, and exclusive in the knowledge that your content has been carefully curated by humans. Or, you could hire a tastemaker of your own. As The Verge reported, a musician named Deb Oh freelances as a Spotify curator through her service Debop, making custom playlists for $125. She culls from the “the symphony of algorithms,” as she beautifully puts it, and comes back with something more manageable, more human.

Oh’s services present original curation as a luxury good. It costs money to step off the consumption rails so conveniently laid out for us by tech companies and their advertisers. In the future, taste will be built on allegiances to platforms as much as individual creators or brands. Are you more of an Amazon, Apple, WeWork, Airbnb, or Facebook person? Unless you go off-platform, there are no other choices. Not just for your technology, but for your culture: fashion, furniture, music, art, film, media.

The Style of No-Style

Platformization is something the fashion industry is already familiar with, of course: Each major brand is its own platform, expanding in a profusion of seasonal lines and accessories meant to cater to your every need within a single taste-system. LOT2046 is a smaller, independent algorithmic platform for fashion that I subscribed to last year and I haven’t looked back. Its thesis is simple: Your clothing desires can be reduced to a series of signifiers that the service automates and adapts to you. Shipments of all-black clothing and accessories arrive every month; the only customizations are a few stylistic choices — short socks or long, crew-neck or V-neck — and that the items come with your name emblazoned on them, like a black duffle bag I recently received that says KYLE CHAYKA in raised black thread.

If our decisions about what we consume don’t seem to communicate much about ourselves anymore, why not just choose to not make them?

LOT is pro-algorithm. “Any technology should know what you need and want more than you know,” its founder Vadik Marmeladov, a Russian designer who prefers to stay behind the scenes, told me. “Platforms will be telling you what you want before you want it.” He feels that machines should not just suggest things, but make decisions for us, from planning a weekend trip to a morning coffee order. In other words, they should supplant our taste entirely.

Surrendering to LOT is a kind of freedom to stop thinking about fashion, freeing the mind for loftier things — like contemplating mortality, Marmeladov suggests. Its promise is that by drastically narrowing the variables, perhaps an algorithm can actually help you achieve individuality, not just through clothing but induced existentialism. I don’t wear LOT’s clothes all the time, but I find its ethos seeping into how I think about my consumption in the algorithm age more generally. If our decisions about what we consume don’t seem to communicate much about ourselves anymore, why not just choose to not make them?

A Pledge for the Self-Aware

Say it with me: I enjoy what I enjoy regardless of its potential for receiving likes, going viral, or being found acceptable by an algorithm.

Say it with me: I also do not deny that I am implicated, inexorably, in the Generic Style of my time.


The promise of algorithms is that they will show you yourself, refining an image of your tastes that should be identical to what you would have chosen on your own. The current reality is that these feeds silo you in homogenizing platforms, calculating the best-fitting average identity. That these average identities come in increasingly minute shades does not mean that they are unique.

A better mode of resistance might be to use the algorithms’ homogenizing averageness against them, adapting their data for productive disruption. We can take advantage of the clash between multiple algorithmic ideals, or between an algorithm’s vision of the world and reality, creating a glitch-based aesthetic. What would be error could be art.

As culture has changed to accommodate every other technological innovation, so our ideas about algorithms will change. “Eventually we may opt to shift our definition of art in order to make accommodation for the creativity of artificial intelligence,” says Marian Mazzone, an art history professor at the College of Charleston who worked on a project in which AI created original styles of painting (they mostly look like mash-ups of Impressionism, Fauvism, and Cubism).

Oscar Sharp is the director of Sunspring, a short sci-fi film with a script generated by a machine-learning algorithm trained on episodes of The X-Files, Star Trek, and Futurama. The result is something spiky, mostly non-narrative — it doesn’t make much sense, but it is compelling and unique. The film doesn’t try to fool the viewer into thinking it’s 100 percent human-made. Rather, the actors strain to adapt to the aesthetics of the machine and discover something new in the process.

“It’s like you’re working on a big TV show with a very powerful showrunner who has written the episode, and the showrunner got drunk last night, passed out, and you couldn’t not make the episode,” Sharp says. “You have to do everything within your power to make the episode as it was written.” The challenge was generative: “Augmented creativity is much more interesting than a replacement of creativity,” he says.

The automated clothing service Stitch Fix, kind of a preppy version of LOT, uses algorithmic help to optimize their new original designs to increase sales and address gaps in the market, what they call “Hybrid Design”: customers like ruffles and plaid, so why not plaid ruffles? But we could instead go in the opposite direction, making clothes no one wants — yet. Algo-clash clothing would be more like the artist Philip David Stearns’s glitch textiles, unique fabrics generated from software gone intentionally awry, the discordant pattern of pixels made into a Baroque style.

Fashion is always one step ahead, though. The triple-waistband jeans recently released by ASOS already look like a glitched algorithm designed them.

The Innate Humanity of the Algorithm

It is not just that artists can collaborate with algorithms; there is always a person at the end of the machine — like the man behind the curtain in Oz — regulating what it does. The majority of these are currently Silicon Valley engineers. And we human consumers are still on the other side of the algorithm, with our freedom to decide what we consume or to opt out. Our decisions shape what is popular in the present as well as what is preserved into the future. “Let’s not forget the audience has a major role to play in determining what will matter and what will not, what is liked and what is not,” Mazzone says. In the long term, this is slightly comforting.

Taste Is Over! If You Want It

I leave the cyclopic Amazon Echo Look on a shelf in my living room, where it glares at me every time I walk past, not stopping for it to evaluate my outfit. It yearns to assign inexplicable percentages, and yet I am more comfortable judging for myself. It takes fine pictures, but like a mirror, it mostly shows me what I already know. And the device is trying to match me to some universalized average, not my individual style, whatever that might be. It doesn’t know me at all — it can’t tell what kind of clothes I’m comfortable in nor how the clothes I wear will function as symbols outside, in the place I live, in the contexts of class or gender. All-black doesn’t play the same in Kansas City as it does in New York, after all. This is the kind of social, aesthetic intelligence, the sense of taste, that our algorithms are missing, for now at least.

Amazon says the Look is for achieving your best style, but its ulterior motives aren’t hard to spot. When I asked the machine about my plaid shirt, an ad popped up on the app’s feed showing me a few other, similarly colored plaid shirts — none particularly stylish or different enough from the one I own, bereft of brand name — that I could buy on Amazon. In fact, Amazon is already using the data it collects to manufacture its own clothing lines, and the results are about what you’d expect from a robot: wan imitations of whatever is currently popular, from the “globally inspired” Ella Moon to the cool-French-girl knockoff Paris Sunday. Training on millions of users’ worth of data and images from the Look showing what we actually wear could make the in-house brands slightly less uncanny. Then again, imagine a potential leak, not of credit card data but an extensive cache of your outfits.

It’s up to us whether or not we care about the shades of distinction between human and machine choice, or indeed if we care about fashion at all. Maybe taste is the last thing separating us from the Singularity; maybe it’s the first thing we should get rid of. “I don’t think the consumer cares, as long as it works,” one Stitch Fix executive said of its algorithmically designed clothes.

But if we do want to avoid displacing or reassigning our desires and creativity to machines, we can decide to become a little more analog. I imagine a future in which our clothes, music, film, art, books come with stickers like organic farmstand produce: Algorithm Free.

Echo, Echo, Echo

“Echo” is a good name for Amazon’s device because it creates an algorithmic feedback loop in which nothing original emerges.

Alexa, how do I look?

You look derivative, Kyle.

Kyle Chayka is a writer living in Brooklyn.

Editor: Julia Rubin
Copy editor: Laura Bullard

13 Apr 21:56

Medieval Cats vs. Monday Blues

by Maika

Than has dubbed the last one 'Grumblethump'

Whether you’ve got too much, too little, or only wibbly-wobbly things happening this week, nothing puts a brand new week into perspective like the angst-ridden, demented, confused, just plain sad, or otherwise troubled visages and misshapen bodies of medieval art cats.

I thought I knew existential angst until I saw this anguished kitty:

Many of these woeful felines can be traced back to one of my favorite websites, Discarding Images, which is simply an ever-growing collection of medieval images.

However, considering the content of these images, that description feels like an over-simplification that doesn’t do justice to the medieval art itself or the effort that doubtless goes into finding it all.

You never know who or what will appear from one day to the next (today it’s an amazing bat in their very own medieval belfry). Discarding Images provides a window into the past that fascinates, baffles, bewilders, and amuses no end.

By the way, Discarding Images can also be followed on InstagramFacebook, and Twitter, so you’ve lots of ways to choose how to receive a regular dose of wonderfully strange and very old art. We can puzzle over it together.

[via SadAndUseless]

13 Apr 03:28

Painted Lady: Kate Moss by Paolo Roversi

by Samantha

i'm jealous of people who get to think about and make art

Kate Moss by Paolo Roversi for W Magazine, Spring 2015
Styled by Edward Enninful

11 Apr 00:57

I Made a Massive Spreadsheet of All My Clothes

by Lillian Karabaic

Um, I kind of want to do this! I won't do the cost per wear thing, because I really don't remember.

The real numbers behind my wardrobe.

One morning in November 2016, shortly after I switched career paths from political organizing to teaching personal finance, I looked in my closet and realized I hated nearly everything inside. Looking through my clothing, I realized just how little I had chosen for myself intentionally, thanks to my punk-rock cheapskate habits.

Over the next year, I set myself a budget of $1,000 to completely redo my wardrobe. And as a devoted data geek, it was clear that the first step in loving my wardrobe was to make a spreadsheet.

A brief history of my grown-up wardrobe

I spent my first couple of years in the working world living at a forested hippie commune and working on an organic farm, and in an intentional community where we lived in voluntary poverty to serve those in need. I didn’t know anyone who spent money on their wardrobe, and I had nowhere I needed to dress up for. A new skirt was never a spending priority while living on a $100-a-month stipend. If I had some extra money, I’d stick it in savings or spend it on hot sauce. I’d never drop my hard-earned cash on new jeans when there was an abundance of discarded denim in the free box. I never thought about making a “clothing budget.”

Throughout my 20s, I started to develop a sense of “office style” and build up a wardrobe that wasn’t entirely stained overalls and public radio fund-drive T-shirts as a professional necessity. I interned at a Congress member’s office; I was appointed to city committees; I presented at fancy law firms. I needed presentable business clothing. But the anti-consumerist punk in me still hated to buy anything new or spend more than $10 on a single clothing item at the thrift shop. So over the past decade, I have acquired a wardrobe of random items with no strategy — valued at more than $3,000 altogether. What happened to the dirty hippie with only two pairs of pants from a decade ago?

The spreadsheet

My economics degree has trained me that any problem can be solved with the right data set. So as part of my great wardrobe redo, I spent 13 hours on a Saturday cataloging the entirety of my wardrobe in a massive spreadsheet. I logged a description of each item, its cost to me, where it was purchased, the year I acquired it, the condition, whether it was vintage (older than 1980), the fabric content and care, if it was new or used when I obtained it, the brand. Any items for which I couldn’t find my original purchase price (I keep good financial records, so mostly I was able to dig back to 2007) I marked “Price Unknown.”

By the end of the day, the spreadsheet had more than 4,000 cells and 28 tabs. Here’s what I found.

What does the data say about my clothing?

  • Clothing that I buy for myself, intentionally, ends up being some of the best value in my wardrobe. Even though the price per wear of clothing I get from swaps is $0, a $30 dress I sought out on Poshmark ends up getting worn so often that the price per wear approaches $0, and I rank a higher happiness rating on days I wear an item I chose for myself intentionally. Fast-fashion clothing from clothing swaps that I pick up “because it is free and kind of fits” ends up being a drain on my storage and my spreadsheet.
  • Brand names mean nothing to me personally, but the more mid-range (as opposed to fast fashion) brand names stay in my wardrobe longer despite higher use per item because their fabric content is generally higher quality. Noticing brand names that specialize in high-quality fabrics makes secondhand shopping easier. For example, I figured out that Eva Franco makes my dresses in my style in knit rayon; I now put alerts on eBay and Poshmark looking for size 4P Eva Franco.
  • Procrastination is a big barrier to my clothing choices — 25 percent of my total wardrobe (47 items) is benched due to fixable issues (stains, needs dry cleaning or steam cleaning, mending). I barely graze 5 feet; nearly all my skirts and pants need to hemmed before wearing.
  • I’m a personal finance educator, and in my niche, a common rule of thumb is that you should spend 5 percent of your take-home pay on clothing. I’m not really a fan of this rule, but let’s see how it pans out for my past five years of spending.
  • While buying nicer dresses for big occasions (graduation, my 30th birthday party, a big fundraiser) feels fun, those dresses have some of the highest costs per wear. A $300 dress purchased for $60 is a steal — but if I only wear it once, it ends up being 50 times the cost per wear of my everyday clothing. Reselling those items immediately after to recoup the cost makes the most economic sense instead of “saving them for another special event.”

I wouldn’t necessarily recommend everyone catalog their entire wardrobe in a 4,730-cell spreadsheet, but the process was useful for examining where I get real value out of my wardrobe. I now know the cost per wear of everything in my closet and have a pretty good set of strategies for figuring out how to rebuild my closet again. If you want a slightly less obsessive way to catalog your wardrobe, there are many apps such as Stylebook and Smart Closet that help you create your own closet list, à la Cher from Clueless. Meanwhile, I’m off to list some low-ranking clothing on eBay.

Lillian Karabaic is the host of the weekly radio show Oh My Dollar! Her cat-filled purrsonal finance book, Get Your Money Together, is out April 17. She posts useless pretty graphs on her Instagram.

03 Apr 12:00

David Bowie’s Verbasizer

by swissmiss

The nerd in my admits that the Verbasizer was my favorite part of David Bowie’s exhibit currently at the Brooklyn Museum.

28 Mar 22:38

Whatever You Do, Don’t.

by Jason Kottke


Scarfolk is a dystopian satire site about an English town that’s stuck in a 1970s time loop.

Scarfolk is a town in North West England that did not progress beyond 1979. Instead, the entire decade of the 1970s loops ad infinitum. Here in Scarfolk, pagan rituals blend seamlessly with science; hauntology is a compulsory subject at school, and everyone must be in bed by 8pm because they are perpetually running a slight fever. “Visit Scarfolk today. Our number one priority is keeping rabies at bay.” For more information please reread.




The slogans and advertisements the site produces are fantastic. It’s Nice That has a good overview of the some of the best pieces.

Tags: advertising   design
24 Mar 12:38

Blogging, social media, and ambient humanity

by Tim Carmody

Dan Cohen is a history professor and administrator at Northeastern University; he was also the executive director of the Digital Public Library of America, and has been a general public smartypants in the field of digital humanities.

Dan recently wrote a blog post titled “Back to the Blog,” which muses on a microtrend I’ve seen as well. Friends and writers, not thousands or probably even hundreds, but solid dozens, returning to old-fashioned weblogging as a way to get their thoughts in order, take ownership of their intellectual property, get away from the Twitter hubbub, stick it to Facebook, or any one of a dozen other reasons to write a blog.

Now, a lot of the professional infrastructure of blogging that once was is broken. The ad networks that supported people don’t exist or don’t work the same way. The distribution, via RSS and then Google Reader, was monopolized and then fractured. Some of the blogging networks take as much of a walled-garden approach to their sites as Facebook does.

But, if you just want to blog (which is different from making a living as a blogger), it’s probably easier to start and host your own blog than it ever was. What’s holding people back, Cohen writes, isn’t really technical:

It is psychological gravity, not technical inertia, however, that is the greater force against the open web. Human beings are social animals and centralized social media like Twitter and Facebook provide a powerful sense of ambient humanity—the feeling that “others are here”—that is often missing when one writes on one’s own site. Facebook has a whole team of Ph.D.s in social psychology finding ways to increase that feeling of ambient humanity and thus increase your usage of their service.

The metaphor suggests that blogging either needs its own mechanisms of ambient humanity — which it’s had, in the form of links, trackbacks, conversations, even (gulp) comments, all of which replicated at least a fraction of the buzz that social media has — or it needs a kind of escape velocity to break that gravitational pull. Gravity or speed. Or a hybrid of both.

Tags: Dan Cohen   weblogs
20 Mar 14:31

The cult of Trump and America’s increasingly authoritarian government

by Jason Kottke


I missed Andrew Sullivan’s review of Cass Sunstein’s Impeachment: A Citizen’s Guide and Can It Happen Here?: Authoritarianism in America (also edited by Sunstein) but I think Sullivan’s twin conclusions are spot on: Trump is likely unimpeachable1 and America is steadily headed towards an authoritarian government.

The result is that an unimpeachable president is slowly constructing the kind of authoritarian state that America was actually founded to overthrow.

There is nothing in the Constitution’s formal operation that can prevent this. Impeachment certainly cannot. As long as one major political party endorses it, and a solid plurality of Americans support such an authoritarian slide, it is unstoppable. The founders knew that without a virtuous citizenry, the Constitution was a mere piece of paper and, in Madison’s words, “no theoretical checks — no form of government can render us secure.” Franklin was blunter in forecasting the moment we are now in: He believed that the American experiment in self-government “can only end in despotism, as other forms have done before it, when the people become so corrupted as to need despotic government, being incapable of any other.” You can impeach a president, but you can’t, alas, impeach the people. They voted for the kind of monarchy the American republic was designed, above all else, to resist; and they have gotten one.

That is an astonishing passage, not only because of the allegation that 225+ years of American democracy is now effectively over because the Constitution does not include the necessary checks to prevent it, but also because it rings true.

  1. As I’ve said before, I don’t think Trump will resign or be impeached…or willingly leave the White House under any circumstance.

Tags: Andrew Sullivan   books   Can It Happen Here?   Cass Sunstein   Donald Trump   Impeachment: A Citizen’s Guide   politics
16 Mar 22:20

Did Nike’s ‘Frat Boy Culture’ Lead to the Departures of Two Executives?

by Chavie Lieber


Nike execs Trevor Edwards and Jayme Martin “protected male subordinates who engaged in behavior that was demeaning to female colleagues.”

Following a series of complaints regarding inappropriate workplace conduct, two Nike executives are leaving their positions at the sportswear giant, effective immediately.

Brand president Trevor Edwards is stepping down from Nike, but will remain as an advisor until August, while Nike vice president Jayme Martin was fired from the company, and is already gone, according to reports from The Wall Street Journal. Sources say both executives “protected male subordinates who engaged in behavior that was demeaning to female colleagues,” and bullied “women and individuals from foreign countries.”

Yesterday, in a memo obtained by the Journal, CEO Mark Parker told employees at the company that over the last few weeks, Nike has become “aware of reports occurring within our organization that do not reflect our core values of inclusivity, respect and empowerment at a time when we are accelerating our transition to the next stage of growth and advance of our culture.”

Parker also told employees that Nike was currently reviewing the company’s internal HR system, noting that “this has been a very difficult time,” according to the Journal.

An employee since 1992, Edwards was reportedly being considered to take over as CEO when Parker retires. Yesterday the company released a statement that Edwards will now retire from Nike in August, although sources tell ESPN that there was “no outward talk that the 55-year-old Edwards was ready to retire.” Martin, who reported to Edwards, has been with Nike since 1997, and most recently ran Nike’s business divisions of training, basketball, and its women’s business, according to the Journal. These departures have created a shuffle within the company: Parker is now staying on as CEO beyond 2020, and former Nike Geographies & Sales president Elliott Hill is assuming responsibilities as president of consumer and marketplace.

In his memo, Parker wrote that the situation at Nike “disturbs and saddens me.” He did not specify what exactly the complaints at Nike were about, or whether they involved Edwards or Martin personally. (Nike did not immediately respond to Racked for comment.)

The news of workplace misconduct isn’t all too surprising, though. Nike’s headquarters in Beaverton, Oregon, has plenty of complaints on Glassdoor, with several employees calling Nike a company with “frat boy culture.”

“Boys club, with frat- boy type bad behavior that is ignored by mgmt,” one Glassdoor user wrote.

“I have been told multiple times to ‘sit and keep my mouth shut’ during a meeting (Female typically in all male meetings),” another Glassdoor review reads, written by a Nike Beaverton employee who holds a director position. The employee also says Nike has a “lack of promotion of female leaders: Often excuse given is that a specific female acts too aggressive and therefore is passed over for promotion (this is when a male counter-part can say the exact same thing but been seen as a strong leader). I see this occur on a weekly basis.”

One current employee, who’s worked at Nike for eight years, wrote on Glassdoor two months ago that Nike has “disrespectful, ageist, sexist, entitled, pampered and selfish upper management.”

“TimesUp on the odious frat-boy culture, dudes,” the Nike employee writes. “Many women I talk to are super sick of the boys club atmosphere. Train managers of people to actually spend time managing ALL their people, in a professional, consistent, sincere way... I don’t really want to hear about how drunk you got last night or listen to your 45 minute color commentary on last night’s game when I am trying to get my work done.”

Another former Nike employee writes about the company’s “good ‘ol boy culture,” adding, “It’ll be the downfall.”

One Nike employee who works at Beaverton describes the headquarters as a “toxic environment where employee satisfaction is at an all time low. Political. Petty. Bureaucratic. 70-80 hour work weeks. Low Compensation.” The employee also says the headquarters has “Frat Boy Mentality.”

Other reviewers describe Nike’s headquarters as a place with “high school bullying.”

“If you are a white man, or even more specifically British, White and Bald, you will love it !!!” one review reads. “Be prepared for the culture. Jocks rule the school. Its not what you know its who you know.”

“All about who you know and being politically correct is most important, it’s hard to move up if you are not included in the social circle,” another employee writes. “Basically favoritism is insane.”

Nike is the world’s leading manufacturer of sportswear and shoes, with annual revenue of $34.4 billion as of 2017. Battling slumping sales in the US, Nike recently had mass layoffs and inked an official partnership with Amazon over the summer as it attempts to hit its goal of $50 billion by 2020.

Nike joins the avalanche of companies that have seen senior leadership exit amid work culture complaints — a response to the Harvey Weinstein scandal, as well as the #MeToo movement unmasking sexual harassment across the country. In February, Guess creative director Paul Marciano stepped down after being accused of on- and off-set harassment by model Kate Upton. Just last month, Lululemon CEO Laurent Potdevin resigned from his position at the Canadian fitness apparel company. As Racked reported, Potdevin was in a relationship with a designer at Lululemon, who received preferential treatment, as well as opportunities that were not commensurate with her role. Employees also told Racked Potdevin ran a “toxic boy’s club work culture.”

Like Nike, which isn’t specifying any problematic behavior that was complained about, Lululemon also tried to keep mum about Potdevin, merely telling Racked that there was a “range of instances where he demonstrated a lack of leadership and fell short of our standards of conduct.”

Both companies’ attempts at keeping senior leadership’s actions under wraps demonstrates a pattern of corporate privilege. Parker wrote in the staff memo that he is “determined to make the necessary changes so that our culture and our company can evolve and grow,” and according to ESPN, Nike now has a confidential phone number and email address employees can call if they “feel threatened.”

But can the company fix the problem without sharing the specific allegations, or taking accountability? Either way, given the speed the #MeToo movement has given to workplace scandals, it’s only a matter of time before the story of what’s going on at Nike comes out.

Have a tip about Nike? Email me at

Update: March 16, 2018, 1:40 p.m.

This article has been updated throughout.

15 Mar 01:55

The Bizarre Poetry of ASOS Product Descriptions

by Nora Whelan

I will share most Jenny Holzer references

They’re honestly kind of moving?

The first day of my junior year poetry workshop, my professor — a Vespa-driving disciple of Frank O’Hara — asked us to write a list of whatever we enjoyed. He then assembled a string of sounds from our best lines, like a reverse-engineered “My Favorite Things,” which was also liberated from the yokes of regular cadence, or syntax, or exact rhyme. He knew the importance of play.

It is in my professor’s footsteps that I bless you with the delightfully weird verse of ASOS product descriptions. I was tooling around on the site several weeks back when I first noticed the William Shatner-slash-William Carlos Williams-esque bullet points popping up, gradated and sly, just above each product page’s fold. (The brand tells Racked that item descriptions have taken on a more poetic air over the last six months.)

 All photos from ASOS

They’re like Snapple facts with attitude, and now that I know they exist, I can’t stop trying to read them all.

Here, we find an eclectic mix of influences, including Aaliyah, Ice Cube, and Trojan brand condoms in the ’90s. Truly the “We Didn’t Start the Fire” of retail copywriting.

Care instructions, but make it Jenny Holzer truisms.

I saw the best minds of my generation destroyed by pajama pants with too many amenities.

I assume this is a satirical take on the realities of beauty under capitalism.

Tell me this isn’t the kind of shit you whisper over bongos.

“It’s deliberate.”


I can’t not hear this in the voice of Ghostface Killah.

Cheers to you, ASOS copywriters, for bucking the cacophony of adorkable portmanteaus trend, and instead burying such satisfying Easter eggs below the delicate ombre frost line of your UI team’s interface. I don’t know how many people actually read product descriptions before deciding whether or not to buy your clothes, but in this fast-fashion existence, it’s nice to take a line break once in a while.

10 Mar 02:00

Today’s Possum of the Day has been brought to you by: Sisterly...

Today’s Possum of the Day has been brought to you by: Sisterly love!

(submitted by certifiedlesbo)