Monday, August 4, 2014

Capital or Infinite Jest

In theory, August is a time for vacation - a break from teaching, research, committee work, and all the other things that come with the academic life. Of course, that doesn't mean that it's a break from reading. This summer I wanted to read a big book. So, I set my sights on David Foster Wallace's Infinite Jest. I started reading this book years ago, but gave up after fifty or sixty page, promising myself that I'd return to it some day. However, a couple of months ago, I got a copy of Thomas Picketty's Capital in the Twenty-First Century, obviously not a novel, but definitely a big book. Because this is vacation time, I should probably be reading fiction, but this is a difficult choice.

Infinite Jest was selected by Time magazine in 2005 as one of the top 100 works of English-language fiction published since 1923. David Foster Wallace hanged himself in 2008, at age 46. He suffered from depression. The novel is set in the near future, with most of the action taking place at a tennis academy and a substance-abuse recovery facility. The themes range from addiction to advertising, and much more.
Capital has taken the world by storm, turning French economist Thomas Picketty into an international celebrity and bringing more revenue into Harvard University Press than they could ever imagine. In what is clearly an homage to Karl Marx, Picketty offers a new take on taxation and income inequality, based on an extensive historical analysis and a good deal of number crunching.
Beyond sheer length, both books are well researched, containing copious end notes, and they both offer timely critiques of the human condition.  
So, here's what I've decided. I'm going to start reading both, about fifty pages at a time, and see which one manages to hold my interest through to completion.

Wednesday, July 23, 2014

Just Released

My new book, Governance and Social Leadership, has just been released by Cape Breton University Press. In it, I explore the nature of governance and leadership, the relationship between the two, and the need to take a more genuinely social approach to building capacity to act in organizations of all kinds.

The book is available in print format (ISBN 9781897009703), from Amazon and other booksellers, and as an e-book for Kindle readers, Kobo readers, and from Apple. Please pick up a copy for yourself and for a friend. I would appreciate receiving any comments you may have on the book, and please take the opportunity to post a review of the book on your blog, or in some other venue.  

Friday, January 10, 2014

Winter's Food Supply

During his initial years establishing the cod fishery in the Bay of Chaleur, Charles Robin (1743-1824) kept a journal in which he recorded his observations and reflections on daily life. Normally, these entrepreneurial Englishmen returned to Jersey for the winter, but because the company had already established a permanent fishing station in Cape Breton at Arichat, a few of the men, including Charles, stayed for the winter and did whatever work they could. For the most part this meant chopping wood and carrying out routine maintenance. In fact, as the journal entries show, most of their energy was expended in staying alive. Of course, that meant protecting whatever food they had grown or caught before winter arrived from the threats of the weather and the various predators and vermin that were equally occupied with trying to stay alive. As this entry from December 19, 1768 illustrates, even when an adequate food supply has been gathered and stored, the struggle to maintain it can be fierce:
This evening put some poison mixed with vinegar and molasses, in the store, fish house, underground cellar, and our house, having secured everything in the best manner we could. I can no longer have the patience to see the rats destroying everything. We found five drowned in the pickle of the pork barrel, near a dozen starved in a hogshead where we had some greens which they destroyed in spite of us, a keg of oil eaten through and part of the oil gone, a moose skin entirely eaten up. In our cellar they destroy what little potatoes and turnips we have although we cover well the barrels. They cut holes through every night and in the fish house they are tearing the fish in pieces.  
As winter progressed, and weather permitted, the men moved around among the small communities that had been established in the Canso area, in part for companionship, but more importantly to trade for foodstuffs that were either running out, or completely exhausted. Everywhere they went, they encountered others facing the same challenges, with some having reached an extreme state of desperation. The following journal entry from April 29, 1769 demonstrates the extent of the toll that winter had taken: 
I went on board the New England vessels, to try to get some bread, but they could not spare me any, having given already some to two or three families at Canso, who have wintered at Crow Harbour in Chedabouctou, but were obliged to leave that place about six weeks ago for want of provisions after having eaten all their dogs and cats - they had a young mulatto girl, whom they were going to kill had not a boat come to their assistance.