The perfect moment

1

A frozen Lac Tremblant

What does happiness look like? I have known it before but it would be sentimental and foolish to try and recreate it. I know where to find it. It is always there in the eternal present moment. But saying that out loud somehow makes it all the more elusive. This is why I return to the mountain over and over again. Alpine skiing is my perfect meditation. An unconcerned awareness of my consciousness and connection. Reading a book in the dark. Cheering the team in an empty stadium. I am content with all that has brought me here. I am content with where I am and where I am going. I am satisfied with my dissatisfaction. The beauty of Mont-Tremblant is staggering. Yet I have found something more.

The path

The path

3

Beauty foregrounded

2

L’Hôtel Mont-Tremblant et Resto-Pub Au Coin

4

Chemin du Village dans la nuit

5

Mont-Tremblant

My Mayor, the High-Functioning Alcoholic

fall“I’m not a drug addict. I’m not an alcoholic.” Rob Ford, the mayor.

Say what you want about his politics but there is no denying that the mayor of Toronto is a colorful person. He also is a very polarizing figure as the current media frenzy affirms. Admittedly, my outsider status has allowed me some distance from the full impact of both his politics and the current controversy. Still, it is hard not to be amazed at the circus-like atmosphere surrounding the mayor and the city. There is the video that purportedly shows the mayor smoking a crack pipe. There is the infamous photo of the mayor posing with alleged gang members outside of a crack house. There is the police surveillance of phone calls and surreptitious meetings with an accused drug trafficker behind a school and at a gas station. And, of course, there are the numerous accounts of public intoxication. Toronto is the fourth largest city in North America behind only Mexico City, New York, and Los Angeles. How is it even possible that the mayor of such an important city could be this out of control? Welcome to the absolutely insane world of alcohol and drug addiction.
Continue reading

Radical Labor History in San Francisco

I spent this week at the Union for Democratic Communications conference in beautiful San Francisco where I gave another presentation about my work on the UFCW and the Walmart strikes. In addition to catching up with old friends at the conference I managed to carve out a little time to learn more about the city’s amazing history of class struggle. Click the photos below for larger versions.

Vesuvio Cafe and Jack Kerouac—where beat poetry was invented.


Continue reading

CCA and 40th Anniversary of SFU School of Communication

First Peoples Building, University of Victoria

I have had the pleasure of spending the last week here in British Columbia. My first stop was the beautiful city of Victoria and the annual conference of the Canadian Communication Association. The University of Victoria campus was stunning and I very much enjoyed the festive atmosphere of the congress. This was my first time to publicly present the work that I have been doing on the Walmart workers who have recently stood up to the firm and demanded better pay and working conditions. I am excited about this research and I love drawing attention to the efforts of the UFCW and Walmart employees. Their courage and determination are inspiring.

I then left CCA and made the short journey over to Vancouver where I attended an international conference in celebration of the 40th anniversary of the School of Communication at Simon Fraser University. This was one of the best conferences I have ever attended. The conference featured such notables from our field as Jack Qiu, Mark Andrejevic, Dan Schiller, and Richard Maxwell. I was reminded why I was so desperate to come to Canada in the first place. Here was a collection of the world’s best and brightest looking toward the coming collapse and giving careful consideration to the potentials of the post-capitalist age.

Douglas-fir trees with people for scale

For my part I was invited to revisit an old and familiar topic. There was not one but two panels on the audience commodity theory. And though I don’t place any value in the theory I do value the debate and the opportunity to critique the theory in the home department of Dallas Smythe. As I hear so much about the so-called rationalization of audience behavior in the context of new media, I also see an overabundance of shady social media management firms and compromised automated data analytic services. I have developed a deeper economic critique of the notion of demand management as it pertains to user activity and I appreciate the opportunity to give it a test-run at SFU.

It has been both a fun and productive week but I am tired and looking forward to a good night’s rest in my own bed.

Sleeping in the cellar

It’s down there in the dark. I can hear the wet, staccato whisper emanating from its fetid mouth. It’s breathing. Or is it laughing? A sickening giggle that alternates between that of a small child and that of an old man. I stand at the top of the stairs gazing down into the pitch black. Dread fills me as I see the yellow-orange eyes round the corner and peer up at me from the dark. There is nothing human in those eyes. It’s here with me…inside the house

On the day I left home to study at the university my parents and I stood in the driveway next to my car. As we said our goodbyes my father told me, “you can always come home but it will never be the same when you come back.” I am sure he meant well. Perhaps it was some bit of wisdom that his own father had imparted to him when he left home. Yet I fixated on that one little sentence for years afterwards, and in the process, I shouldered myself with an abundance of emotional distress. I loved my home. I struggled for decades to find home again and regain my moorings. Continue reading

Assault on the academy

This post is directed to my comrades in the academy. MOOCs, sub-poverty wages, adjunct jobs, and underemployment are all part of the larger program of class decomposition. Faculty, staff, students, and citizens should do everything in their power to resist these developments. This week I sat in on a tech demonstration where a sales rep showed me how his product could render a near perfect 3D image of my head and place it in a virtual environment alongside hundreds—even thousands—of student avatars. Capitalists will use technology just as much as austerity in their assault on the autonomy of the university. Those committee meetings are arenas of class struggle too my friends. Please don’t forget it. See the link below for a great piece on the neoliberal assault on higher education.

The neoliberal assault on higher education

No Googling

The purpose of trademarks is to alert consumers of the source of a particular good or service. For example, if a bottle features the Coca Cola trademark on it you should, in theory, know the origin of the beverage. Yet trademark protections are only as good as a firm’s willingness and ability to maintain a balance between popularity and control. First, because trademark is not of a limited duration like patent or copyright, these protections will expire after a period of five years if the firm ceases to actively use the trademark. And second, if a trademark becomes so popular that it’s meaning becomes genericized within a language, the registration may be ruled invalid. For example, consider how the term Kleenex is now used as a generic expression to refer to facial tissue. The same thing happened to Bayer’s trademark on the word aspirin. Therefore, it should come as no surprise that Google’s immense success in branding itself is now causing headaches for the firm as it struggles to maintain control over the word Google. Follow the link below to learn how you may be running afoul of IP restrictions every time you utter the phrase “I’ll just google that.”

No Googling, says Google — unless you really mean it

The gutting board

I was amazed at how much the old cane pole could bend. It must weigh a ton! That pole’s gonna break for sure. When he pulled the fish out of the water and plopped it on the shore I was disappointed. I had expected something much more gargantuan. A shark perhaps. Still dangling from the line, the old man brought the fish to his backyard work area. I learned a lot from the old man next door. I grew up in a house on a lake. Much of my childhood revolved around that lake and the house next door. The old man and his wife had no children of their own. Looking back, I realize that I served as something of a surrogate child for them. I was eager to do so. The old man’s wife would occasionally cook dinner for me. She and I took a keen interest in the muscovy and mallard ducks that called the lake their home. The old man was always kind and gentle toward me. I liked him, not because he was wise, but because he had a calm manner about him. I had never known either of my grandfathers so I suppose he was my surrogate as well. I eventually came to understand that his stoic and detached nature was symptomatic of unhappiness in his own life. Still, the old man showed me many things growing up. He taught me how to fish. And he was the first to show me the face of immeasurable suffering. Continue reading

Who is it that knows there is no ego?

It doesn’t matter.
I am artifice. I am appearance. I am nobody.
I am fleeting. I am fireworks. I am a genuine pose.
No image. No idea. I have nothing to surrender.
A smell. A taste. The whole of the universe in a soft, distant laughter.
I am beautiful nonsense.
There is nothing trivial about me.
I am unfathomable.

Marxism Reborn

Ursula Huws and Leo Panitch were on CBC radio today to discuss the continued relevance of Marxism. The collapse of the Soviet Union in 1989-1991 freed Marxism from its tether to vanguard politics. The long-held distinction between the state capitalism of the Soviet Union and the free market capitalism of the United States was always a spurious one at best. Socialism and free markets have on different occasions both coexisted and come into conflict. However, both systems are premised on property regimes characterized by the division of labor. In this engaging discussion, Huws and Panitch discuss contemporary Marxian outlooks on global economic crises. Click the link below to hear the interview:

Is Marxism Facing a Rebirth?

New study finds no evidence that patents are linked to greater levels of productivity or innovation

Two Federal Reserve economists have published a paper that argues for the abolition of patent law. Patents—along with copyright, trademark, trade secret, and right of publicity protections—are supposed to provide the economic incentive necessary for production. Together these laws constitute what is commonly referred to as intellectual property. However, the metaphor of property is a poor one at best. Systems of property are designed to manage scarce resources. Yet the immaterial goods which are subject to patent and copyright restrictions do not exhibit scarcity. In fact, intellectual property systems are designed specifically to produce scarcity where none exists. Therefore, it would be more appropriate to refer to these systems as intellectual monopolies. They are artificially induced shortages of economic inputs and there is every reason to believe they create considerable inefficiency. Early 20th century economist Arnold Plant argued as much and later members of the law and economics school of thought like Richard Posner and William Landes make similar assertions. The major claim of the authors of the current paper—economists Michele Boldrin and David K. Levine—is that there is no empirical evidence of a link between patent protections and greater levels of innovation and productivity—unless you measure productivity in terms of additional patents (which has no correlation with productivity). This paper strengthens the position of those who argue that the increasing levels of intellectual property protections, both in terms of scope and duration, stymie technological innovation, research and development, cultural production, and the free flow of ideas. To read the paper click the link below:

The Case Against Patents