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
I have never experienced a genuine spring before. I can’t seem to stop taking pictures of flowers and the occasional fauna. Life is grand. Click photos to see full size.
Experimentation with my new camera. What a wonderful city. Click on photos to see full size.
Kensington Market mural
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
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
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
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.
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?
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
Lessons From the End of a Marriage has a wonderful post up on alcoholism and families. Check it out at the following link:
The Secret Keepers
I like the way the snow crunches under my feet in the night. There is no echo but the sound is anything but dead. I also like the way the old buildings of the St. George campus peer down at me in the dark. They feel Old World though they fall far short of the mark. I am on my way to teach a grad seminar. However, I am lost—on purpose. I still get a thrill ambling around this campus. I wonder to myself, how did this happen? How did I end up here? Why do I feel so different? The crisp air bites at my cheeks and I relish the sensation.
I have been revisiting Marx’s The German Ideology these past few weeks. Written sometime around 1845, Marx and Engels failed to find a publisher for their manuscript. In fact, it would not appear for public consumption until the 1930s, having been abandoned “to the gnawing criticism of the mice…” Continue reading
Every once in a while I come across something online which resonates powerfully with me. I feel like this short is an abstraction of recent events in my life. It is absolutely gorgeous.
Sigur Rós – Ekki múkk from Sigur Rós Valtari Mystery Films on Vimeo.
In recent months I have been contemplating the various meanings that are attached to the concept of motion. In particular, I have been considering how representations of motion might aid me in furthering my understanding of self. I spent just about every summer of my adolescence in the back of a brown Ford van as my father drove my family to assorted vacation destinations. There was always considerable anticipation of what lay ahead. Indeed, there was anticipation at either end of the zeniths of these familial motions—perhaps the thrill of a rollercoaster at one end or the comfort of one’s own pillow at the other. For me the rolling landscape out the side window of the van was an indispensable component of these family adventures. As I recall those vacations it is the unfurling panorama that I miss the most. It occurred to me long ago that there was a similarity between the alternating fence posts of the undulating landscape—a sort of visible thump…thump…thump—and the dates on a calendar. It is this rhythmic character of motion which occupies me as I prepare to usher in a new year. Continue reading
Liloo on the lake
Nothing accentuates isolation like an old, dank, yellow motel room. The nicotine ghosts in the curtains. The DNA on the walls. The musty bouquet of the PTAC. All of them invisible footprints left by the transient inhabitants who came before. Here but gone. One thousand six hundred and fifty miles? Are you insane? Why on earth would you drive all that way when you could fly? Because I need the road like a shovel needs the work. I need to find my own way home.
It seems like my family has been under siege for years now. Like a storm that never leaves but only ebbs and flows. Death, illness, and emotional trauma have been uninvited guests at our Christmas gatherings. Some years I have had a good mind to just stay away. I spent last Christmas morning digging a grave on a hill in the family cemetery during a cold rain. No joke. Continue reading
I am more than a little late with this excellent piece by Enda Brophy, Nicole Cohen, and Greig de Peuter on the exploitation of student labor. I’ve been busy with end-of-semester activities but I wanted to highlight this article before I head out the door for the holidays. It’s an important and sometimes invisible topic. As a professor I am very uneasy about unpaid internships. I want to do all I can to help my students as they prepare to enter the job market but I am leery of internship “opportunities.” There is a perfect storm of high levels of student debt, dwindling employment opportunities, and a surplus of graduates being dumped on the labor market by universities. Yet while jobs may be drying up there seems to be an unending wellspring of unpaid internships. Many of these internships entail crass exploitation of student labor and the concomitant elimination of low wage jobs. Despite the hackneyed adage that internships are a great way for employers to give much needed experience to future job seekers it cannot be denied that this is a particularly vulnerable subset of workers. As the authors assert, “Once an intern, it is difficult to take a stand against one’s exploitation. Internships effectively have gag orders built into them. No matter how distasteful their quasi-job, few interns would jeopardize the bait (graduating to full-time, a glowing reference) or annihilate their reputation for being “agreeable” by speaking out.” So hats off to Nicole, Greig, and Enda. Read the full article at:
Interns unite! (You have nothing to lose – literally)
Finally…a little political economic analysis of the alcohol industry. After enduring the boring misery of excessive drinkers in my personal life I decided that at some point in my academic career I would target this industry in my own research. Typically considered beyond reproach, the alcohol industry is particularly predatory. I am happy to see that some critical scholarship is already occurring on the topic. From Hefferman’s article: “Horizontal integration of alcohol production. Vertical integration of distribution and retail. Loosened local regulations. National chain stores. Streamlined marketing. Volume pricing. Alcohol as an ordinary commodity. ….How do you like them apples?” For more see the following link.
The Alcohol Industry’s Plan to Give America a Giant Drinking Problem
There is a ledge in my life. A high ledge. Most days I walk by this ledge and think nothing of it. The other day, however, something curious happened. The ledge spoke to me in a clear and cold voice. Why don’t you jump Brett? It won’t hurt a bit. I promise. Come here. Give it a try. The coarse proposition stopped me dead in my tracks. My mind reeled. What the fuck did you just say to me? How dare you?!? What makes you think you can talk to me like that? I’ve done the work you bastard. I’ve healed. My life is good now.
This is a rumination on suicide—not a contemplation of suicide. This is not a cry for help. It is a consideration of something that, for me, is very difficult to talk about. I can count on one hand the number of insightful conversations I have had about suicide. It’s partly my own fault. I don’t like discussing it. I also find that it is a subject a good many people are uncomfortable with. Some people find it too morose for everyday confabulation. Others find it alarming. There’s no politic approach to the subject short of clinical study. Nevertheless, I want to talk about suicide in a subjective manner without being either morose or alarming. I want to acknowledge it without feeling shame or fear. Continue reading
The giant retailer accused the UFCW of creating ”an uncomfortable environment” and of placing “undue stress on Wal-Mart’s customers, including families with children.” No word yet from Walmart’s general counsel on the uncomfortable environment caused by the gutting of small town businesses, poverty wages, and their attempts to deny collective bargaining for the 1.4 million U.S. workers responsible for the company’s enormous financial success. This is a desperate attempt by the retailer to deny workers the rights of free speech and public demonstration and has little support in the law. For more see the link below.
Walmart takes legal action in labor battle
My last vacation to Florida was an excruciating and miserable affair. Moreover, the last couple of times I have done this conference I have come away underwhelmed. Don’t get me wrong, there’s plenty of good stuff going on at NCA. It’s just that it’s a huge conference and my panels and presentations have been weak in the past. This time around I am on a really great panel with some awesome people. So hopefully things will be better this time. I am presenting on the labor of distribution in the context of online gift economies. My general assertion is that by relying on the formalist framing of rational economic actors, many critical scholars and neoclassical economists have missed the social dimensions of this particular mode of exchange. On the other hand, if we understand economics as a cultural category, rather than a behavioral category, we begin to see the ways in which transactions are recursively conditioned by a host of social structures having little to do with individual rationality or conservation. This is especially true with regard to the online pooling of informational and cultural goods. Continue reading
Lisa Arends provided me with motivation at every point along the way in my own divorce. She is a fantastic person and I am so happy to count her among my Internet friends. Her ex-husband left her a colossal financial mess when he left Lisa so that he could run off and commit bigamy. Watching Lisa confront her own divorce with strength and integrity has been inspiring. She has another article today over at HuffingtonPost explaining the potential financial liability incurred by innocent spouses because, well, it’s not fraud if you are married. Read more at the link below.
It’s not fraud if you’re married