Read about the acronym "JSA," and the John S. Adams Scholarship at the University of Minnesota. I think of all the integrity of Borchert, of Lukermann. And I try to remind John, from time to time, that he's not angry enough about the right-wing corporate takeover of universities today. Lukermann did outsanding work. But if he had been required to engage with all the neoliberal form-filling surveillance systems faced by today's Assistant Professor, he never would have become the advisor who worked so patiently, so carefully, with his students. Fred would be two standard deviations below the mean devised by some administrator or staff planner. But of course that investment of public resources -- the time Fred had to just read, and read, and think ... has pretty much been driven out of most parts of the contemporary academy. At very few units of very few universities are academics allowed to do anything resembling what Fred did.
...and the world is a less enlightened place without Fred -- and without the latter-day Fred Lukermann who could be so central to geography if we had one today!
From the archives: Norman J. Glickman in 1968 (courtesy of Norm). Look at that shag carpet! Norm hired me in my first academic job after the Ph.D., as a postdoc at the Center for Urban Policy Research at Rutgers. I had read The Urban Impacts of Federal Policy in grad school, so it was quite a privilege to work with him and learn from him at CUPR.
Marie Cieri's collaboration and commentary on the issues of slavery, work, romance, and food, in Robbie McCauley's Sugar.
I used to do a bit of sketching, calligraphy, and cartography. Graduate school at Minnesota presented a few opportunities to design brochures for the annual departmental celebration (Ralph H. Brown Day). Names of faculty members on staff at the time appear as lakes on the statewide map for the 1992 event, and as railroad stations on the Twin Cities map for 1993. With each passing year, I look at these maps with ever-increasing measures of reverence, respect, and memories of John R. Borchert, Ward Barrett, John G. Rice, and Fred Lukermann.
Doctoral defenses and other milestones for friends and colleagues presented irresistible opportunities for various forms of mischief. The easiest approach was to find some way to distill the years of blood, sweat, and tears of a doctoral dissertation into the unforgiving eight-by-ten window that can be silk-screened on a t-shirt. Somehow, I learned to achieve summaries that were both brutal and friendly. Jae-Heon Choi is a distinguished economic and industrial geographer at Konkuk University. Terry Haverluk is an extraordinarily creative scholar and teacher at the U.S. Air Force Academy in Colorado Springs; they don't have individual faculty web sites like most institutions of higher education, but they do have a Commandant, and the students (cadets) stand at attention for the beginning of each class. Hmm. Derek Shanahan is a charismatic cultural geographer at Millersville University in Lancaster, Pennsylvania, and in the ebullient words of one of his many enthusiastic students at RateMyProfessor, "He's the Man! Awesome Professor!" Dan Hammel is a clever urban-economic analyst who practices the highest form of the geographer's art at the University of Toledo, but whose heart remains split between Minnesota and Kansas; Dan's annual Kansas Day cards documented the political transformation of that strange place long before Thomas Franks' 2004 political bestseller (What's the Matter With Kansas?). Kansas Day, you ask? As Dave Barry would say, I am Not Making This Up.
Below are the satirical t-shirt designs, along with serious references to the very serious scholarship that I was so guilty of caricaturing.
"Take Me Back to Mex-America." Terrence W. Haverluk (1993). Mex-America: The Maintenance and Expansion of an American Cultural Region. Ph.D. Dissertation. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota, Department of Geography.
"Choi International." Jae-Heon Choi (1993). The Geography of Financial Institutions: Finance, Corporations, and Urban Settlement in Korea. Ph.D. Dissertation. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota, Department of Geography.
"I Am Geographic Thought." Derek P. Shanahan (1992). South Asian Immigration to Luton, 1960-1980. Ph.D. Dissertation. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota, Department of Geography. The quote comes from Fred Lukermann, a prominent faculty member at Minnesota who reflected on three decades of sustained reading of the voluminous literatures on history, philosophy, and geography. As I recall his closing remarks at a retirement symposium we dubbed FredFest, he said something like this: "My thinking has been so shaped by this literature that in many ways one might conclude that I have become this literature. Perhaps I am geographic thought." The quote struck me as just the right way of summarizing all the work Derek had invested in hermeneutics, phenomenology, and cultural-historical geography.
A Welfare Legacy of Family Values
For many years, I have viewed my employment and my salary as akin to being on welfare. I am very well paid, and I have been supported for many years by the generosity of millions of taxpayers in the jurisdictions where I have worked for public institutions of higher education. I find this language especially valuable and provocative when speaking to Americans with conservative political views on taxation, because it opens the door to wonderful conversations about wealth, personal responsibility, subsidy, and other taken-for-granted concepts that have been defined in such polarizing ways in the U.S. over the last quarter century. When I had the chance to serve on an advisory board for a study to 'welfare recipients' who were facing the newly restrictive post-1996 welfare reform rules, I found it helpful to describe how the right-wing political discourse over "family values" was leading to terribly tortured bureaucratic ways of dealing with real people in difficult circumstances. Meanwhile, middle-class and wealthy folks continue to line up at the trough for their welfare checks, although of course in America these recipients have convinced themselves that they worked for these handouts, that they deserve them. I tried to point out some of these contradictions in an essay on family values and valued families, juxtaposing the difficulties of poor mothers trying to find money in the budget for clothes and food with the ever-rising expenditures on luxury automobiles and McMansions of the upper middle class.
But then I discovered that the Permanent Subcommittee on Investigations of the U.S. Senate Commitee on Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs was also studying the explosive growth of Welfare for Millionaires. And it involved the Wyly name. I've known for several years that Sam and Charles Wyly, Texas-based entrepreneurs and brothers, had quite a bit of money, and had been using it quite creatively. Sam Wyly got a lot of press coverage in a series of shareholder battles over the company Computer Associates, leading a group of CA employees to pay for a full-page ad in the Times under the banner, "Mr. Wyly, Please Leave Our Company Alone." I also read press reports that the secret source of a last-minute infusion of several hundred thousand dollars to pay for a nasty attack ad against John McCain in the 2000 South Carolina primary came from one of the Wyly brothers. I think they are both Pioneers for Bush.
For a short and colorful account of the Wyly/CA shareholder battles, see:
James Surowiecki (2001). "The Financial Page: Gadfly, Inc." The New Yorker, September 10, p. 42.
This was all quite distressing for me, because when I asked my father, he told me, "yes, I think they are distant relatives." I don't remember the geneaological details, but the bottom line for me was clear: part of the Wyly legacy involves support at a crucial moment for the man who has given us the Imperial Presidency, disastrous wars, torture, warrantless surveillance, mounting deficits as far as the eye can see, right-wing ideological court-packing that will last a generation ... need I go on? In some distant way, I felt responsible. I still feel some responsibility for the injustices that are taking place in these days of Homeland Insecurity, because as a U.S. citizen, I still pay U.S. federal taxes -- although, once again, I must emphasize that these taxes are inappropriately low, because the Republicans are committed to making life good for wealthy people, and hard for the poor and the working classes. I much prefer paying Canadian taxes, and hope to see them increased in order to pay to strengthen the frayed social safety net.
But apparently not all Wylys like to pay their taxes. In late 2006, I was horrified to discover the name "Wyly" mentioned no fewer than 1,580 times in the investigative report issued by the Senate Committee on Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs. I assure you this is a record: it's pretty rare to see the name with that spelling. It turns out that Sam and Charles Wyly, and their families are not just wealthy Dubya supporters. They're also savvy members of the transnational capitalist class, who have their own "armada of attorneys, brokers, and other professionals" working the circuits of legal and not-so-legal money laundering between Texas, Wall Street, the Cayman Islands, and the Ilse of Man. I've never met Sam or Charles Wyly, or had any contact with them. But I'd like to take this opportunity to confess any personal responsibility I may have for their terrible behavior on the basis of my family heritage, and to declare that their attempt to evade responsibility is fundamentally at odds with the Wyly famly values I believe in. The Senate report, a rare bipartisan product signed by Republican Norm Coleman (Minnesota) and Democrat Carl Levin (Michigan) months before the November 2006 elections forced the Republicans to be a bit more bipartisan, is shocking. The most horrifying details of fancy ways to avoid paying taxes, after earning millions of dollars using systems and infrastructures created by the inescapably collective nature of economic growth and innovation. The preview of the Senate Subcommmittee staff's investigation -- based on extensive interviews, subpoenas, and reviews of some 1.5 million corporate documents, internal memoranda, SEC filings, and emails, is a decisive indictment:
"The following case history shows how, over a thirteen-year period from 1992 to 2005, two U.S. citizens, Sam and Charles Wyly, guided by an armada of attorneys, brokers, and other professionals, transferred at least $190 million in stock options and warrants to a complex array of 58 offshore trusts and shell corporations. It shows how the Wylys and their advisers directed the exercise of those stock options and warrants, used the shares to generate investment gains, and used at least $600 million in untaxed offshore dollars to provide substantial loans to Wyly interests, finance business ventures, acquire U.S. real estate, and purchase furnishings, art, and jewelry for the personal use of Wyly family members."
"This case history illustrates the roles played by legal, financial, and other professionals, as well as offshore service providers, to build and manage the Wyly-related offshore network and conceal the Wylys’ continued direction and enjoyment of the offshore assets. It also illustrates the use of a number of offshore mechanisms that raise policy concerns, including stock option-annuity swaps; pass-through loans using an offshore vehicle; securities traded by offshore entities associated with corporate insiders; and the use of hedge funds and other investment vehicles to control use of funds placed offshore."
'The Wyly Case History' goes on for more than two hundred pages, and then into five separate detailed appendices. For me, it's a truly frightening and detailed view of the sausage factory of today's globalized Welfare Mothers (to use the term as it was intended by Michael Moore in Stupid White Men). It's embarrassing. Because Sam and Charles apparently won't apologize, I will. I'm sorry.
When I think of Jeb Hensarling, the first thing that comes to mind is his famous quote in the depths of the global financial crisis in late 2008. Hank Paulson had sent up a three-page bailout proposal for what would eventually be known as TARP, and Hensarling angrily denounced his Republican friends in the Bush Administration, saying that the GOP caucus in the House didn't like having to choose between "Armageddon and the road to socialism," and having to do so in twenty-four hours. The first bill went down in flames, thanks to Republican resistance; the stock market promptly nosedived by 777 points, and shortly thereafter a revised bill finally passed.
It turns out that Hensarling's supporters include the billionaire Wyly brothers. Hensarling is doing his best to avoid the fallout of the Securities and Exchange Commission lawsuit. Meanwhile, the Wyly's attorney says that while the Wylys "have long supported the causes and candidates in which they believe" -- including Hensarling -- but they have been "less politically active" lately; part of the reason? "...an 'increasing focus' on other issues, including the environment." Including the environment? Can you imagine what the environment would look like in the worldview of Sam and Charles Wyly?
T.W. Farnam (2011). "The Influence Industry: A Leading Republican's Longtime Ties to 2 Men Accused of Financial Fraud." Washington Post, May 11.
A Sincere Clarification, August 2011:
None of the critical commentary above means I have any ill will on a personal basis. All persons deserve respect and dignity in a genuinely universal understanding of humanity and human rights. I am thus sincerely saddened to learn of this:
Charles Duhigg (2011). "Entrepreneur Charles Wyly, 77, Dies; Amassed Fortune with Brother." New York Times, August 8.
Some time ago, I was talking with my brother Vernon about the paths our work lives had followed over the years. It's quite remarkable, we agreed, that each of us has managed to turn personality disorders into reasonably productive careers. Here I confess a tiny bit, showing in no particular order a few of the tangible products of these quirks of history, experience, immaturity, and idealism. As my friend and mentor Bob Lake once wrote, "The usual disclaimer that the usual disclaimer applies, applies." Read at your own risk, in other words, in conformance with whatever legal requirement that requires a warning that all opinions, thoughts, intentions, and motivations are mine alone, and do not reflect the official policies, procedures, or bureaucratic torture methodologies of the University of British Columbia, the Province of British Columbia, the Government of Canada, or the World-Systems Empire of the United States. Additional indemnification is no doubt required for the MegaMonster dot-commodified transnational corporations permitting the transmission of these words and images.
Back from the Brink
Not long ago, I began to read in the tech press about the growing phenomenon of people who declare "email bankruptcy." Email has pervaded every corner of our work and personal lives, and despite all the possibilities it creates, many of us are simply overwhelmed, buried alive. Yesterday, I achieved a rare feat when I worked especially hard to whittle down my big stack of things to do. It was a lot of work, but I managed to step back from the brink of email bankruptcy. Look at my in-box. I haven't checked email this morning, though. I'm sure there's a lot of work to do whenever I do...!
Byrd Baths Inside the Beltway
I grew up in an inner-ring suburb just outside Washington, DC. Ever since, no matter how far I venture outside the Beltway, I can't quite seem to get away from the train wreck otherwise known as Washington politics. Most Sunday mornings involve what Gore Vidal once called the sabbath gasbags on This Week, Face the Nation, Meet the Press, and what Dave Barry recently satirized as Meet This Week and Press Your Face against the Nation. Information and frustration is also derived from various selections from the Foxified fair-and-balanced right wing ideological thought machine of Washington, DC. A recent addition to the media diet -- a near-daily addiction -- is Rachel Maddow. Her reaction to the announcement that C-Span has placed virtually its entire archives online confirms that we both share a desire for the pure, drink-from-the-firehose integrity of raw, unfiltered records of democracy. "Having free online access to the more than 160,000 hours of C-Span footage is "like being able to Google political history using the ‘I Feel Lucky’ button every time,” said Rachel Maddow, the liberal MSNBC host." (quoted in Stelter, 2010).
Such media consumption reflects and reinforces a rather pathological fascination with the way Washington works (and doesn't), and an obsession with the obscure curiosities of politics and process. A recent example involves Robert Byrd, the senior Senator from West Virginia who loomed in my vague childhood imagination as a strange character. The Washington press corps of the 1970s always found it difficult to boil him down to a one-liner: he was known as a sometime economic populist but also a very culturally conservative Democrat, with a checkered past reflecting the circumstances of youth in early-twentieth century America (specifically, he was active for a short while in the Ku Klux Klan). He was famously obsessed with the history of the Senate -- in Rome as well as its Potomac incarnation -- and he was always known for carrying around a small copy of the U.S. constitution in the breast pocket of his suit. He also knew every obscure provision of parliamentary procedure. Given the traditional and procedural fetishes of the Senate as an institution, this kind of knowledge was powerful indeed: amidst the chaos of pitched legislative battles and shifting coalitions, Byrd would recite from memory a particular point of order from some dusty corner of the Senate's history, and suddenly everyone would realize it was all over. They'd look in the books and find out, yes, he's won once again.
By the twenty-first century, Byrd no longer seemed quite as conservative. In the last generation all it takes to move to the left in American politics is to stand still amidst the generalized right-wing assault. Byrd has become a rather progressive voice on quite a number of issues. He's in his early 90's and in frail health. In December, 2009, Byrd had to be wheeled onto the floor of the Senate for no fewer than six cloture votes against Republican filibusters on health care legislation. On the last one before passage, Byrd looked over at the Republican side of the chamber and shook his finger, and said, "Shame! Shame!" Once a rarely-used tactic, the filibuster has become almost a universal practice in the Senate in 2009 and 2010: almost two hundred and fiftty bills have been passed by the House and are awaiting action in the Senate. It now takes 60 votes to do almost anything at all.
By March, 2010, Byrd's parliamentary prowess again came into view. After Ted Kennedy's death and the devastating loss of his Senate seat to Scott Brown, Democrats no longer have 60 votes to overcome Republican filibusters. So they're using budget reconciliation, a rare but by no means unprecedented procedure that only requires an absolute majority of 51 votes. But in this process, the role of an obscure, non-political officer called the Senate Parliamentarian becomes crucial: the Parliamentarian can, among other things, issue rulings that stop stalling tactics like offering two thousand frivolous amendments, or demanding that the text of long bills be read aloud on the Senate floor.
Here's the hilarious part. One of the rules the Senate operates under is called The Byrd Rule. It requires that every provision in a reconcilation bill be related to the underlying budget -- non-budgetary provisions cannot be considered under the 51-vote majority process, but are subject to the 60-vote super-majority. In a series of closed-door sessions with the Democratic Senate leadership, the current Parliamentarian, Alan S. Frumin, will consider which provisions meet the Byrd Rule and which do not. These are called Byrd Baths. Senators and staffers refer to the provisions that will ultimately be cut from the reconcilation measure as Byrd droppings.
Update, July, 2010: I read the morning paper early online, on June 28, before departing for an expedition through Chicago, Cleveland, Detroit, and then south to Hickory, North Carolina, to visit my dad, who's 89 and still in good health. Every moment is precious. The Byrd Baths are history. Byrd died at age 92. This is one of his last public appearances. The legacy, of course is mixed -- with that early opposition to civil rights and youthful participation in the KKK -- but the trajectory over time took him in encouragingly progressive directions. And nobody knew or respected the institution of the Senate like he did...
Sheryl Gay Stolberg (2010). "Parliamentarian in Starring Role as Health Bill Referee." New York Times, March 13.
Brian Stelter (2010). "C-Span Puts its Full Archives Online." New York Times, March 16.
In recent years, I have enjoyed the opportunity to explore a few parts of my father's large collection of (mostly Kodachrome 64) slides. In the years when his profession required a bit of travel, he always made a little bit of time to capture through his lens the intimate, sometimes mundane details of place and circumstance -- what J.B. Jackson famously described as the interpretation of ordinary landscapes. Although our family did have a few of the requisite Dad Shows Slides to the Family episodes, most of what we saw were family pictures; Dad kept most of the urban landscape images filed away in his slide boxes. By the time I was born, though, Dad didn't have quite as much time to travel, to take slides, and to keep them organized. Dad's slides from 1958 to about 1969 cover a broad range of subjects, and are organized in meticulous rigor with detailed records. But the busy 1970s meant fewer slides and fewer details.
So I discovered my father's geographies late in life, when I looked through the collection of old family slides and discovered a treasure-trove of images of cities -- images that made so much sense to me, because they captured the kind of landscape interpretation and visualization that first consumed me in my teens. I have always felt a deep need to capture at least a few of the vivid textures of place, landscape, time, memory, and experience; some places inspire considerable urgency, because we are losing spaces and places at what seems to be an accelerating rate. We need to document the places that are being erased by what Schumpeter described as creative destruction.
Below is a small sample of some of the urban landscapes captured through my father's lens, and his eyes. All images below are copyright Robert S. Wyly.
I hereby certify, under penalty of perjury, that I have never in the past worn, nor will I ever in the future wear, any T-shirt emblazoned with the question, "Who's Your Baghdaddy?" (See Rajiv Chandrasekaran , Imperial Life in the Emerald City: Inside Iraq's Green Zone. New York: Knopf, p. 4.)
Oregon Coast, August 2006 (Elvin Wyly)
Creative Chaos overflowing from the Brainstorm File (Elvin Wyly)
"And boy could [he] debate. Even in his sleep. It wasn't uncommon for him to jolt up from his bed at 2 am to continue a discussion from earlier that day, only to have no memory of it the next morning." In memory of Dave Cline, a leading figure in the GI Movement Against the Vietnam war, who had an epiphany in his third injury in combat that led him to conclude, "It was the NLF solider who was fighting for a just cause, and his comrades were fighting for a lie. In typical Dave Cline fashion he concluded in 1970, 'I had to kill a revolutionary to become a revolutionary.'" David Zeiger (2007). "Farewell Dave Cline." Submitted to Portside listserv, distributed from email@example.com, September 19.
We don't have much time; we should use it well. Elspeth Rostow, the dean who hired Norman J. Glickman at the LBJ School of Public Policy at the University of Texas, Austin, passed away a few days ago. "She was 90 and had just finished grading her papers on Friday -- still teaching, still stimulating students. A grand woman. She is the fourth of big Texas women who have passed in the last year: Ann Richards, Molly Ivins, Lady Bird, and now Elspeth. What a crowd." (Norman J. Glickman, an urban economist with a wonderful blend of theoretical insight, policy-political savvy, and progressive commitments to social justice, hired me in my first academic job back in 1995.) I'm grading papers now (and hope to have a long life after doing so). A few of the papers are amazing; I think I can see a glimpse of a few leaders/thinkers/rabble-rousers, a few who will be rather Ivinesque. But of course they won't have the accent, will they?
Norman J. Glickman (2007). "Elspeth Rostow." Electronic mail to Elvin Wyly, December 12. New Brunswick, NJ: Center for Urban Policy Research, Rutgers University.
"...he continued to see the world as a work of art that simply hadn't been framed yet." David Byrne, in a remembrance of artist Bob Rauschenberg, who designed the conceptual collage cover art for "Speaking in Tongues" in the mid-1980s. David Byrne (2008). "Bob the Builder." New York Times, May 16, Op-Ed page, p. A23.
I've always been a collector, and at some point early on, it became clear that the three-ring binder was the ideal storage medium. Chalk it up to the Engineer's Instinct I inherited from Robert S. Wyly, seasoned and refined with my own specialized variant of OCD. For years I would periodically go to the store and stock up on binders to organize the ever-expanding collection of course notes and other stuff. Occasionally there would be a jackpot: in the early 1990s, on Lake Street in South Minneapolis, a discount store somehow wound up with a truckload of extra binders from Medtronic, a local medical equipment company. They went on sale for a dime each. Guess who showed up to grab a shopping cart full o' binders.
And then, as the years went by and my brother Vern invested hard work, integrity, and service to achieve prominence in the office furniture sales market of Washington, DC and Northern Virginia -- edge city office complex par excellence -- he would often give me the previous year's batch of corporate product specification binders. Vast sections of my collection of old literature, research files, and statistical output is stored in the firmament of famous furniture manufacturers: graduate seminars in Alma Casegoods and Boulevard Systems, feminist perspectives on suburbanization in Invincible Office Furniture, the resurgence of gentrification in Global, the economics of mortgage borrowing constraints in King Contract Seating, and so on.
People often walk into my office, glance around at the towering shelves, and say, "I think I'd like to buy a desk, but I don't know why..."
The author of this web page would not object if accused of being an official member, along with a certain political figure whose middle name and birth certificate have been the subject of such conspiratorial consternation, of "some nefarious plot to bring about general doom by way of Islam/
Chevalimited business card, freelance artwork. In my delusion-filled youth, I once fantasized that I actually had some calligraphic talent.
Here's one example of some of the work I would do from time to time. I once worked with a wonderful guy named Rich Rice, and he asked me to put some of his words to calligraphy for his wife Jane, for Valentine's Day, 1991.
Frederick, Seibert, and Associates. Between 1985 and 1991 I had the good fortune to work with a wonderful team of surveyors, landscape architects, planners, designers, and civil engineers. It's a small firm in Hagerstown, Maryland, established in 1941. Most of my work there involved drafting subdivision plans, during a period when the old pen-and-ink culture was gradually being augmented, and eventually replaced, by AutoCad.
Geo-Neo. Research Assistance work for John Adams on inter-county commuting flows in Minnesota required quite a bit of massaging eigenvectors for principal components analyses and factor rotations. It's one thing to calculate eigenvalues, but quite another to see how the origin and destination vectors for each county change over time, and how the net flows -- after folding a matrix along its diagonal -- fluctuate over the generations. So I taped together the data worksheets, put them on a wall, and studied them as we wrote our reports. On the left are raw flows of commuters between counties for 1960, 1970, 1980, and 1990. On the right are each of these matrices folded over to calculate the net intercounty flows. As I recall, it was sometime during this project that I discovered that glasses might be a good idea.
Pre-Patriot Act. Sometime in July, 1994, Barb VanDrasek and I worked through the night to meet a project deadline for one of John Adams' research contracts with the Minnesota Department of Transportation. Sometime around 2:00 AM that familiar caffeine-driven sense of humor kicked in, and we thought it would be fun to leave a mischievous note on top of the completed projects. Oh, my, where did our good judgment go? Fortunately, penalties for this sort of behavior were much more reasonable back in the pre-Patriot Act days.
The Crew. South-east central Saskatchewan, July 2004 (Elvin Wyly).
City Make Me Wanna Holler
Ideas come from imagination, communication, and experience -- and in turn, these all happen in particular places. Even those experiences of connection and communication that seem to be floating free, un-tethered from the 'real' world by the evolving networks of digital and virtual flows, happen somewhere: no matter what portal you use to see the world or a representation of it -- looking out the window of an airplane, watching a movie in a theater, or watching a streaming video on a portable computer or iphone -- you're always engaging with these representations while being in some place. Maybe you're in a library, or maybe on a bus, in the subway, on an airplane, or sitting outside in a park. But there is always a place, and that place is one of the ingredients for how geography shapes our imaginations, and shows us the possibilities for mobilizing the imagination to build new geographies. For me, this socio-spatial dialectic of geographical imagination -- oof, big words! -- has always been deeply influential, and has shaped the way that I put fragments of different kinds of information together to make sense of the world. I don't think I'm particularly unique in this regard, and indeed I think my sensibility is a rather representative reflection of how everyday consumer knowledge is shaped in technologically-mediated postindustrial society.
Here's a dystopian example. Part of my caution regarding the optimistic promises assigned to American suburbia comes from a very specific place, a blend of a real place and imaginations of horrors in a distanct place. It was in a quiet dark corner of a cool basement in a solid middle-class suburb outside Washington, D.C., where I often put on the headphones to listen to a vinyl L.P. of what was then considered a 'new age' German electronic band, Tangerine Dream. I'd read while listening to Phaedra, Tangram, and, especially, Force Majeure. And one of the books I vividly remember reading was Vincent Bugliosi's Helter Skelter. Listening to one of the bright, cheery tracks on Force Majeure while reading about the coroner's reports on Sharon Tate Polanski, the testimony in the trial of the Manson Family, and imagining the sunny California suburb where that horrible violence unfolded -- all of this gave me a profound sensitivity to the dangers of casual judgments of places as safe or dangerous, good or bad. Don't get me wrong: it's not like I looked at our neighbors and saw Charlie Manson running around. But I was always cautious when television, movies, and political campaigns would appeal to those misty-eyed images of 'the American Dream' and the suburban ideal. There's always a dark side, I knew.
Yet it goes the other way too. There's a utopian impulse as well, because just as I could never fully trust the reassurance of The Perfect Suburb, I always looked for the good, true, and genuine love in that much-maligned category, The Inner City. I had to look from a distance: I grew up in middle-class white suburbia in the 1970s, in the worst days of America's central cities, and one would not expect suburban children to be told good things about those places that always appeared on the evening news in association with horrible stuff. Murders, and more murders; abandonment and arson of the kind that led Howard Kossell to look back over his shoulder outside Yankee Stadium and declare, "Ladies and gentlemen, the Bronx is burning!" New York City going into default and asking for a bailout, followed by the Daily News headline, "Ford to City: Drop Dead." Wracked by deindustrialization, poverty, segregation, and crime, cities became the material and ideological repositories for so much of America's fear, mistrust, and what E. Barbara Phillips diagnoses as the politics of "dream up, blame down." Yet even with the imperialism of the Vietnam War and the passive-aggressive state violence of the Urban Crisis, the 1960s also had the Great Society and the Civil Rights Movement. The next decade seemed to bring a quick collective amnesia: the urban crisis seemed forgotten, even as its conditions worsened. Eventually the suburbanization of American politics would bring Reagan to power. White suburbanites were the eager audience for the figure he used so effectively in his campaign speeches in 1979 and 1980 -- the iconic (and entirely fictional) "welfare queen" who supposedly drove a big Cadillac, lived on welfare in public housing, and used food stamps to buy big steaks. Lies, and the Lying Liars Who Tell Them (see Al Franken's book under the same title) can become quite powerful.
More accurate portrayals come from many sources, of course -- good journalism, scholarship, and the voices of people from the inner city itself. But then popular culture also provides the pigments and colors for anyone willing to invest the time to paint a portrait of urbanism as a cosmopolitan way of life. One of these colors came from a chance occurrence on a tour stop in the late 1960s:
"Renaldo 'Obie' Benson of the Four Tops had never been a particularly prolific songwriter, but something began to percolate during a tour stop in San Francisco that coincided with violent skirmishes between protesters and Berkeley police over a disused urban lot called People's Park. 'They had the Haight-Ashbury then,' he recalls, 'all the kids up there with the long hair and everything. The police was beatin' on them, but they weren't bothering anybody. I saw this, and started wondering what the fuck was going on. What is happening here? One question leads to another. Why are they sending kids so far away from their families overseas? Why are they attacking their own children in the streets here? And so on." ... Benson began shaping a song that addressed these issues." (Edmonds, 2001, p. 96).
A few years and many twists and turns later, this was the result of that original flash of inspiration:
Marvin Gaye (1973). "What's Going On / What's Happening, Brother?" [Live performance, posted to YouTube, May 14, 2006]. Photograph above of Detroit, by Elvin Wyly, July 2010.
This, then, is one selection from the kind of soundtrack I always hear in place -- walking through certain kinds of cities, communities, landscapes. There are many other voices and many other melodies that can reflect a sense of place, and shape your own experience of that place. But for a certain kind of American urban landscape, I can't escape Marvin's voice when walking down Federal Street in Chicago's South Side, or through North Philadelphia, or down Woodward Avenue in Detroit, or anywhere in Anacostia, Newark, Harlem, or Camden. There's even a faint echo of Marvin's voice across the desolate, wide-empty streets of East St. Louis, Illinois -- and echos are hard to hear in this city where so many of the buildings have been torn down as capital has abandoned the place.
If we had to distill the soundtrack of 1960s America down to a fifteen-second sound-byte, there's nothing that compares to the opening of "What's Going On." The achievement came almost by accident, with a throwaway demo rescued from lost obscurity thanks to the brilliance of a discerning ear:
"The lovely alto sax figure that opens the record...was the work of Eli Fontaine. Or, more accurately, his warm-up. When Fontaine had played enough to feel comfortable, he signaled that he was ready for a take. Marvin told him to go home; they already had what they needed. The confused saxophonist tried to explain that he had just been goofing around. 'Well,' Marvin replied, 'you goof exquisitely. Thank you.' ... What he heard was so perfect that he knew he needed no retake, and decided not to spoil its perfection by having it reappear anywhere else ..." (Edmonds, 2001, p. 121).
Even so, there's only an implicit sense of urbanism at work in the Motown sound of the title track of What's Going On. It was left for another writer, and another collaboration, to sing a song specifically for the city.
"To most of the employees at Hitsville, Mr. [James] Nyx was the elderly, impeccably-dressed gentleman who ran the elevator in the company's Woodward Avenue building, and little more. 'He'd hand out his lyrics to anyone who showed the slightest interest,' remembers Johnny Bristol. 'He was completely tone deaf, but that wouldn't stop him from singing them to you. He was a very nice man, but nobody took him seriously. Nobody but Marvin. He took the time to discover that Mr. Nyx was an excellent writer of words.' ...'Marvin had a good tune, sort of blues-like, but he didn't have any words for it,' Nyx told Neely Tucker of the Detroit Free Press. 'We started putting some stuff in there about how rough things were around town. We laughed about putting some stuff in there about high taxes, 'cos both of us owed a lot. And we talked about how the government would send guys to the moon, but not help folks in the ghetto. But we still didn't have a name. Then I was home reading the paper one morning, and saw a headline that said something about the 'inner city' of Detroit. And I said, 'Damn, that's it.' It certainly was, and that's how the track that early tape boxes referred to as the Tail End -- because it was the last track cut -- became Inner City Blues." (Edmonds, 2001, p. 156-157).
We are now four decades into the era of "postindustrial society" heralded by cultural theorists like Daniel Bell. Like it or not, the presumed realities that social scientists try to understand is often far less important, on a day-to-day basis, than the "realities" of the multiple and often conflicting worlds of communication and consumption -- the worlds we create by the kinds of news we read, the communities of interest in which we invest our time, and the network of friends and colleagues we build. The collapse of the Grand Modernist Master-Narrative cannot be judged categorically as an unquestioned good thing: doing so creates yet another universal Archimedian conceit. There are some rather dangerous implications of the post-positivist, post-modernist, post-everything sensibility of our times. But there are also some hopeful possibilities, and they come from the right words, spoken at the right time, in the right place, when someone is ready to listen:
"I was approached once by a guy I didn't know, who said he had a story he had to tell me,' Frankie Gay whispered slowly. Marvin's younger brother was recovered from a recent cranial operation when we spoke, but still tended to lean on each word for support as he went. 'He said that one time he was intent upon hurting somebody, hurting them bad. But as he was on his way out the door to commit this violence, he heard Marvin singing What's Going On over the radio and it stopped him in his tracks. Something in that song touched him, and he didn't go. He understood that he had choices. My first thought was 'Wow, man, if Marvin only knew...' I'd always been proud of my brother, but this made me overflow with pride. He was trying to find a way to talk about issues between people in a way that brought them love. He did it, man. He did it, and it changed the world.'"
Ben Edmonds (2001). What's Going On? Marvin Gaye and the Last Days of the Motown Sound. Edinburgh: Canongate Books, quotes from p. 96, 121, 156-157, 276.
I promise, I did not pornograph this road-side sign. It's rare to meet someone with the name Elvin, and even more unusual to find one who has his own sign. But just outside Lunenberg, Nova Scotia, you'll find Elvin Falkenham, a famous local dairy farmer. Born in 1923 on Kaulbach Head just across from Lunenberg's old town, Elvin lived or witnessed all the remarkable changes in small-time life brought by the twentieth century to this part of Nova Scotia. "Elvin was the youngest and his father's favorite. He got many a 'pounding' from his older brothers because of this and his sister often told their mother, 'We should give him to Potter's dog.'" See Lunenberg Heritage Society (1997). Please Pass the Butter: Recollections of a Dairy Farmer. Recollections of Elvin Falkenham, as told to Shelley Harquail, edited and illustrated by Glo McNeill. Lunenberg, Nova Scotia: Lunenberg Heritage Society, quote from p. 12.
Lunenberg, Nova Scotia, April 2010 (Elvin Wyly)
"Press accounts of Wyly usually refer to him as an 'entrepreneur' or a 'financier,' but really he's another classic American type: the crank." No, this isn't about this Wyly, but rather an account of the Texas dealmaker Sam Wyly. See James Surowiecki (2001). "The Financial Page: Gadfly, Inc." The New Yorker, September 10, p. 42.
"You can't fault the cool kids for being popular and successful anymore than you can fault a geek for spending five days on a footnote. That's just the natural order of things." Steve Penfold (2010). "Humour Matters: Sabbatical Time." Academic Matters, May 10.
Stories and Anticipations
In his later years, Auguste Comte described his frantic pace of work as "writing from an anticipated grave." Hemingway once wrote that "all stories, if continued far enough, end in death, and he is no true story-teller who would keep that from you." (quoted in McGovern, 2005, p. 394). We can see the limits, the finite beauty of life, more clearly. And each year we can more clearly see the need to document and preserve, to remember and commemorate -- and to introduce to a new generation of students, and therefore to keep alive...
Una McGovern, ed. (2005). Webster's New World Dictionary of Quotations. Hoboken, NJ: Wiley.
So. Many. Stories. Such an inspiration. Such a loss. It hurts. And yet Neil has inspired so many, around the world, to make another world.
"If a full life is now called utopianism or unrealistic, then let's hold on to it! Suddenly the social and political future looks radically open..." Neil Smith (2011). "A Manifesto for the Poetry of the Future." Vancouver: Urban Subjects / Vancouver Art Gallery.
Today I met undergraduates taking my "Divided Cities" class at the site where Neil first spotted gentrification in 1972 (photo attached, taken by one of my PhD students). I read snippets from The New Urban Frontier, and the students enjoyed hearing about 'The Galloping Major' serving "quite appetizing lunches adorned with salad, still a novelty in most Scottish pubs at the time." Given Neil's abilities as a teacher and his lifelong dedication to his students, it felt like an appropriate way to honour him.
I am hoping that maybe a few of these students, from today onwards, may "wish the von Thünen theory of the urban land market to become not true".....
I had the privilege of Professor Judith Martin serving on my doctoral committee at the University of Minnesota in the early 1990s. She asked me wonderfully valuable, insightful, and challenging questions. She gave me wise strategic advice. I'll always be grateful.
FredFest II, in honor of Fred Lukermann (1921-2009). Generations of students and faculty colleagues can tell wonderful Fred stories. My memories are enriched by three encounters. First, I remember Fred's comments at a retirement symposium in 1992, where he reflected on his deep engagement with the literatures on proto-geography in ancient Greece, and he wondered if he wasn't, in a way, losing the sense of where his own ideas ended and the collective body of human geographic thought began. "Perhaps I am geographic thought..." he mused, and I was inspired to use the one-liner to design a t-shirt for Derek Shanahan's Ph.D. defense. Second, I remember the second-hand stories told by faculty colleagues about Fred's legendary professiorialism. By "professorialism," I mean: he read and thought deeply, and regarded it as entirely appropriate to ignore all the annoying, unproductive stuff that distracted from scholarship. This meant that he didn't pay attention to messages, answering machines, and all the other harassment instruments of contemporary life. "If it's important, they'll call back," he'd say if he missed a call while he was out (always at the library). Back in the day, long before all the automation and digitization of the academy, Fred would have hundreds of books from the library in his office; every six months or so, the senior librarian would call him and ask, "Fred, you know all those books you have checked out? You still have them in your office, right?" And that would be it. No "please visit our website, sign in with your library barcode, click on my account, select books, apply for renewal, etc., etc." I can't imagine Fred spending hours at a keyboard filling out all the forms that seem to be required in today's university, where it's almost necessary to apply six months in advance to obtain Official Authorization to Think Deep Thoughts. As I said, Fred was the model of ... professorialism. Third: love. It's near the end of the semester in a graduate seminar co-taught by Fred and Misha Penn, from the Anthropology Department. We've been reading a lot of work on cultural pluralism, and at one point several of the students' questions centered on the indeterminacy of human agency and individual preferences in societies with complex (i.e. urban) divisions of labor. "What do we want" as individuals, and as a collective, became the question that animated our discussions. Fred was gentle and Socratic, asking the question in various formulations designed to shed light on some of the most important theoretical disputes then going on in human geography. But his questions became simpler, more accessible, stripped of the obfuscating academic jargon, to get us to reflect in truly humanistic fashion. What's he after? each of us secretly began to wonder, as he asked the simple question. "What do we really want?" The room grew quiet with an energy of eager anticipation, as we all hoped he'd help us answer his own question. "To be loved!..." he said in a joyous, booming voice, as he leaned back from the table. I was taken aback: Fred was in his late sixties at that point, but I had never seen such a pure, innocent, and exuberant, child-like smile. Fred went on to explain what he meant, how we want and need to be loved, to be known, and how our need for human connection could not be ignored as we try to theorize geography and society -- as I recall, it was delightfully Mumfordesque. But what I'll never forget is the joyous smile on his face: "To be loved...!"
The ascendence of digital capitalism might very well be the endgame of the articulation of modes of production, as the accumulation imperative colonizes the last un-commodified realms of the human attention span. If there's money to be made by intervening in anything human or social -- any conversation between any two people on the planet -- there's a further opportunity for capitalist investment. This is part of what Allen Scott means when he writes of "cognitive-cultural" capitalism, I think. Personally, I think it's becoming ever more aggressive and dangerous, as we are all pressured more and more to buy, to consume, to endure ever more invasive forms of advertising.
My complaints about this increasingly aggressive form of temptation do not exempt me from the process: I freely confess that I'm part of what Michael Dear and Steven Flusty (1998) call the "global latifundia" of obedient consumers. But I figure that if I'm addicted, you do have the right to see the kinds of cultural products that play some role in the ongoing co-production of self, identity, perception, and action. Here's a small sample of influences, in no particular chronological or semiological order.
Magnolia. It takes your breath away. You'll fall in love with Ricky Jay's voice, William H. Macy's teeth, and Jason Robards' voice. You'll even forgive Paul Thomas Anderson for the Frogs.
There are many reasons to cry for the death of film -- real, tangible, flawed film -- and especially the legendary Polaroid. Here's another reason: Memento.
Pulp Fiction. Samuel L. Jackson's wallet: that's what I want on my business card.
4 Little Girls. I can't stop crying, and I don't really want to. Memory=vigilance as we work to fight the persistence of racism and hate.
Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas. I was already in love with Benicio after The Way of the Gun. But I was head over heels all over again in Fear and Loathing, totally smitten once again with HST, Terry Gilliam, Johnny Depp ... and even, yes, Gary Busey.
He Got Game. (Aaron Copland + Public Enemy) x Spike Lee = eloquent power!
Reading those words, the geographical imaginations ran wild, and the words on the page sounded like this.
Bob Lake is the New Boss. He is Not the Same as the Old Boss.
"Maybe it Meant Something."
I came along too late to experience the 1960s first-hand (other than a few scattered memories of very early childhood). But the turbulence of that decade certainly shped my experience in the next decade, with its strange combination of pervasive economic crisis and a decadent withdrawal from social activism. By the time I reached the age of consent, we were all told that our only option was to consent to Reaganism and Reaganomics, with its sunny, optimistic ignorance, a smile looking down the business end of an Inter Continental Ballistic Missile. The sixties had retreated further in the rear-view mirror, even while the fault-lines of those years became ever more important in understanding contemporary political struggles.
It's important to do what we can to remember, and to think carefully before we allow the crush of today's headlines to push aside yesterday's consciousness. Hunter S. Thompson captures the spirit of those years when he looks back through a drug-induced haze in the early 1970s. "Strange memories on this nervous night in Las Vegas," he stabs out on his typewriter when he collects his notes from an expedition in search of the American Dream.
"...Five years later? Six? It seems like a lifetime, or at least a Main Era -- the kind of peak that never comes again. San Francisco in the middle sixties was a very special time and place to be a part of. Maybe it meant something. Maybe not, in the long run . . . but no explanation, no mix of words or music or memories can touch that sense of knowing that you were there and alive in that corner of time and the world. Whatever it meant . . . .
...even without being sure of 'history' it seems entirely reasonable to think that every now and then the energy of a whole generation comes to a head in a long fine flash, for reasons that nobody really understands at the time -- and which never explain, in retrospect, what actually happened.
There was madness in any direction, at any hour. ... You could strike sparks anywhere. There was a fantastic universal sense that whatever we were doing was right, that we were winning . . . .
And that, I think, was the handle -- that sense of inevitable victory over the forces of Old and Evil. Not in any mean or military sense; we didn't need that. Our energy would simply prevail. There was no point in fighting -- on our side or theirs. We had all the momentum; we were riding the crest of a high and beautiful wave . . . .
So now, less than five years later, you can go up on a steep hill in Las Vegas and look West, and with the right kind of eyes you can almost see the high-water mark -- that place were the wave finally broke and rolled back."
Hunter S. Thompson (1971). Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas: A Savage Journey to the Heart of the American Dream. New York: Random House, quotes from p. 66, 67, 68.
Chills down your spine? Please? If not these words on the page that I'm writing to you now over the wires.... then maybe Johnny Depp can do it, and reach your heart and your mind...
No mix of words or music or memories...?
Maybe Hunter's own purple-haze eloquence proves him wrong. Consider his words, and then consider a bit of music and memories, and see if it can't touch that sense of knowledge. Those years are lost, but the spirit of meaning and passion do come back from time to time. We can, and we should, do it again.
Here's a musical sample. This is the kind of music that inspires your inner Spinal Tap: you want to turn the amp up to eleven.
I've been reading a lot of Comte lately. Yes, yes, I know, he's a very strange character. If only we could go back in time and stage a radical feminist intervention on his very serious gender problem. Still, his thought has potential if properly punk'd. We are currently working to pimp out his ride on the doctrine of "interior observation." Not long ago, we had to interrupt a late-night writing session to look in on our friend's kitties. We were writing about Victor Cousin and Auguste Comte. Why not take along the pad of paper and just keep writing?