Friday, February 27, 2009

Laguna Bacalar

Last weekend was spent cooling off on the shores of the redonkulously blue and beautiful Laguna Bacalar.

It has all the shades of turquoise water found in the Caribbean, but in a fresh water lake. No salt. No rip tides. No sharks. And the cool water is so clear it's almost invisible when you swim out into it. This was taken off the pier looking down through about three feet of water. There's water in the picture. Honest.

There's a small community of American expats that have washed up on the shores of Laguna Bacalar and they all seem very happy with life. The food was good too. Here's what the pescado frito looked like. I was honestly expecting something more like fish and chips. This was better.

We're planning a return visit soon. This has been everyone's favorite spot so far on the trip. And as it starts to get hotter here, I think we may need some more lake time.

Saturday, February 21, 2009

A Useful Thing

I've been working steadily on the manuscript on digital commodities. It was far from obvious to me that travel would really be compatible with writing, but so far I've been pleasantly surprised. In spite of, or maybe because of, the vagaries of meals, laundry, shopping, taxis, water, heat, humidity, bugs and all the other unexpected tedium and adventure that travel brings, I have been writing steadily.

I've run afoul of one passage in Marx, though, that is troubling me. So I'm going to post the passage here along with some thoughts in the hopes that some kind readers may donate a comment or two to help nudge me along in the right direction.

The passage is from the end of the first section of Chapter One of Capital, Volume I where Marx writes:

A thing can be useful, and a product of human labour, without being a commodity. He who satisfies his own need with the product of his own labour admittedly creates use-values, but not commodities. In order to produce the latter, he must not only produce use-values, but use-values for others, social use-values (And not merely for others. The medieval peasant produced a corn-rent for the feudal lord and a corn-tithe for the priest; but neither the corn-rent nor the corn-tithe became commodities simply by being produced for others. In order to become a commodity, the product must be transferred to the other person, for whom it serves as a use-value, through the medium of exchange). (131)
My aim is to write about the ways digital commodities (like an mp3 song for example) fail to fit easily within the boundaries of commodity production as they are usually drawn and then use this as a way to approach some of the recent haggling over things like digital copyright and online piracy. This passage seems directly relevant. Yet it also seems to run the danger of derailing the whole project by defining digital commodities as outside of the bounds of commodity production from the very outset. I would like a graceful way to discuss this bind.

What I think I need to say here, only in clear and persuasive language, is that: Digital commodities always run the risk of no longer being commodities because they always carry with them the possibility of changing hands in ways other than by exchange on the market. Digital commodities get spread by peer-to-peer networks, or emailed, downloaded, or given away freely online in any number of other ways. In each of these cases the digital commodity remains a useful product of human labor, but when spread outside of market exchange it no longer functions as a commodity. It no longer serves to accumulate surplus-value for capital.

The place where I balk is where I find myself writing that "digital commodities" cease to be "commodities." This seems unnecessarily ugly to me. Perhaps I'm just being too squeamish though. Marxian theory can surely accommodate yet one more awkward bit of prose. Or perhaps there's some other mistake I'm making here that I'm not seeing.

Part of the trouble I'm having may simply lie in the parenthetical. It was inserted by Engels later on and sometimes I find his helpful comments less than helpful. However, his addition is certainly right, so I really ought to be able to accommodate his feudalism example too.

Enough for now. Comments welcome.

Friday, February 20, 2009

Name That Bird

Perhaps this will be regular feature for the next couple of months. I need my readers help with identifying some of the birds here. So far, I've only successfully identified the obvious urban birds of grackles and pigeons.

While at lunch the other day, with my camera handy, I snapped these two pictures of local Yucatecan birds unfamiliar to me. The shots aren't very good and are already enlarged as far they go. No doubt, both of these birds are dead common, but they are new to me. What are they? The yellow one was largish -- bigger than a robin. The black one was larger still -- almost crow size and behaved obnoxiously like a blue jay or steller's jay.

Can you help me name that bird?

Thursday, February 19, 2009

Colorful Repast

A colorful late morning meal outdoors near the bay at the university's cafeteria after a morning spent dutifully writing in the library. Yum!

enchiladas de molé

agua de sandia -- watermelon juice.

Monday, February 16, 2009

Recycled Colors

At the parque ecológico. The planters are made from plastic water bottles cut and painted.

Tuesday, February 10, 2009


I´ve started writing. But I´ve run into one completely unexpected difficulty here. There is no coffee.

I seem to be living in one of the few small pockets in Latin America where people don´t really drink coffee. It´s not that coffee is completely absent. You can order it in a restaurant. It´s not unknown. It´s more that no one really cares about their coffee. And finding things such as coffee filters can be difficult. Since going without coffee isn´t really an option for me, I´ve been reduced to drinking instant coffee. Nescafé is easy to find. It even seems to be what some of the restaurants serve.

The truly upsetting thing about this whole situation, however, is discovering that I don´t mind instant coffee. I like the Nescafé just fine. This has shattered my self image as someone who knows and appreciates good coffee. Perhaps there have been great strides in instant coffee technology in recent decades of which I am unaware. Or perhaps I really can´t tell good coffee from bad. In any case, I may just surrender and buy a jar of Nescafé for my office when I get home.

Wednesday, February 04, 2009

Piña Con Chile

My most interesting taste adventure to date - a paleta de piña con chile. This would be a pineapple popsicle with chili powder and big chunks of fresh pineapple frozen inside. Wonderful!

Tuesday, February 03, 2009


Sun, palm tress, Belikin beer from Belize and tiny geckos scurrying underfoot. Life is good. The trackpad on my laptop managed to quit working the first day here. Ah, well. Oddly, I had packed a mouse along so I'm still set to work. We're not quite settled in yet, but hopefully in a few days I'll have a routine where I can write most mornings. In the meantime, I shall play tourist!