Subprime Cities: The Political Economy of Mortgage Markets edited by Manuel B. Aalbers, is almost out! We're flattered to have a chapter in this book, and one of my photographs was chosen for the cover illustration. Jatinder and I managed to steal a few hours in May, 2009, to drive through Ave Maria and then Lehigh Acres before we zipped over to RSW Airport and headed back home to Vancouver. That allowed me to update some of my urban-economic lecture notes, and to check out Lehigh Acres. My friend and mentor Peter Muller recommended I take a look at this place, a postindustrial, Floridian Levittown. Here's the caption I suggested for the image:
"Lehigh Acres, Florida, May 2009 (photograph by Elvin Wyly). This "town born of speculation," is profiled in a documentary film, "Dreams for Sale: Lehigh Acres and the Foreclosure Crisis" (Schillinger, 2011). In a New Yorker analysis of Florida as the "Ponzi State," George Packer muses, "In a place like Lehigh Acres ... where half the driveways are sprouting weeds, and where garbage piles up in the bushes along the outer streets, it's already possible to see the slums of the future."
Raymond A. Schillinger (2011). Dreams for Sale: Lehigh Acres and the Florida Foreclosure Crisis. Decade Worldwide, Inc.
"Gender, Race, and Age in Subprime America," with C.S. Ponder. Forthcoming in Housing Policy Debate, and presented at "Context and Consequences: The Hill-Thomas Hearings Twenty Years Later." Washington, DC: Georgetown University School of Law, October 6. The text is here, and the images are here, the full verbose version of the article behind the short talk is here, and the webcast of the entire event, with all the people far more distinguished and intelligent than I, is here. Professor Emma Coleman Jordan introduces our panel in Part I around the 1:54 mark. During one of the coffee breaks after our panel, Bill, the friendly photographer for the event, told me that when I stepped to the podium he glanced up from his camera and did a double-take, asking himself, "What's Glenn Beck doing at this event?" Yikes! I've never considered anything like hair coloring or plastic surgery ... but if in my late middle age I am beginning to resemble the famous Right-Winger White-Ringer, maybe I should consider getting some work done...
As Madonna would say, "Gonna dress you up in mylar..."
elvin k. wyly
I am a geographer with a passionate fascination with all things urban. "Ah, cities, yes," you say, "...but ... geography? You mean there are still ... geographers? Isn't there an app for that?" This is the kind of reaction Peter Gould (1985, pp. 3-4) had in mind when he described an all-too-common encounter at that curious middle-class ritual known as The Cocktail Party:
"Groping for something else to fill the silence, she got in her word first. 'And what do you do?' she said.
'Oh,' I said, grateful for the usual filler, 'I'm a geographer.' And even as I said it, I felt the safe ground turning into the familiar quagmire. She did not have to ask the next question, but she did anyway.
'Er ... yes, a geographer,' said with that quietly enthusiastic confidence that trips so easily from the tongues of doctors, engineers, airline pilots, truckers, sailors and tramps. After all, everyone knows what they do, and off the conversation goes on the awful 'flu epidemic, the new bridge, the latest jet, the long haul out of Kansas City, the storm in the Bay of Biscay or the doss houses of Saskatoon. But a geographer?
It has happened many times, and it seldom gets better. That awful feeling of desperate foolishness when you, a professional geographer, find yourself incapable of explaining simply and shortly to others what you really do. One could say, 'I look at the world from a spatial perspective...' or 'Well, actually, I'm a spatial analyst,' ... Or there is the concrete example approach. 'Well, at the moment we're calibrating an entropy-maximizing model for a journey-to-work study...' or possibly 'We're using a part stochastic, part deterministic, computer simulation model to examine the threshold values in a regional development programme,' all of which would be true up to a point. But the words, with their precise meaning for geographers, convey nothing to others, and end up sounding like some private and deliberately obfuscating jargon. Which would also be true. Up to a point. Often, in a desperate attempt to build a bridge with more familiar words, one ends up by saying, 'Well, actually, I teach geography.'
'Oh really?', and laughing. 'What's the capital of North Dakota?'"
I first read these lines in the Spring of 1985, not long after I stumbled into Geography in my Liberal Arts exodus from my epic-fail attempted major in Civil Engineering. What brought me into Geography was a very personal and powerful epiphany in one of those large lecture classes on the first floor of the Walker Building on the west side of the Penn State campus in University Park, Pennsylvania. I was scribbling notes to capture the insights of the day's lecture in a first-year human geography class. Roger Downs was there in the midst of a brilliant performance, drawing a lovely map on the chalkboard while narrating the historical-geographical circumstances that explained why cities appeared in some places (and not others) in the eighteenth-century European settlement of Central Pennsylvania. The chalk danced around the blackboard, etching the outlines of the physical and human environment, site and situation. Roger's voice narrated the histories that created the patterns we see in today's landscape. The map slowly came into view. Chalk danced across the blackboard. Roger's voice narrated with elegance and grace. The realization hit hard and fast. This ... is this guy's job, I thought with sudden clarity. His job is to do all this interesting stuff, this really cool shit, all day. He gets paid for it! Where do I sign up?
It still sends chills up and down my middle-aged spine.
Quick: think of the music that really reaches you -- the stuff that makes you get all Spinal-Tap-ey as you turn up your amp to eleven. That's what geography somehow did to me, and still does.
Consider that I was, at the time, living in Centre County, Pennsylvania, in those distant old pre-Internet Dark Ages. Back in those sepia-toned images of the mind's eye of the mid-1980s, digital activities required a trip to The Computing Center. This was a real, big, physical building all the way on the other side of campus across the wind-swept snowdrifts of wintertime parking lots. You'd punch the code into the keyboard at one of those IBM terminals lined up as a battalion of electronic soldiers under the harsh glare of the flourescent ceiling lights. You'd submit your code to the mainframe, and then wait in line at the "output window" to get your SAS list file printed on that lovely green-and-white tractor-feed printer paper. Even before the attendant handed it to you, you knew what had happened. A thick stack was ... success! A thin stack? You must have misplaced a semicolon somewhere, sending the program into a tizzy as the system barfed out its pages of error messages. With that kind of late-Fordist computer/communications technology, I could not announce my sudden conversion to Geografia in digitized real time, like it is now possible to do on blogs, Facebook, Twitter, and teacher-rating web sites. Somehow, though, I was able to share my geo-epiphany with friends and acquaintances through those old social networking technologies of the twentieth century: the telephone, the letter, the facetime conversation that required no trademark.
On reflection, I came to understand the wider context of Peter Gould's multi-layered, peeling-the-onion way of explaining what geography is, and what geographers do. Peter was a product (and a powerful force) in what is known as geography's "Quantitative Revolution," and so his cocktail-party responses involved the language of a "spatial analyst" working on things like "entropy-maximing models" and "computer simulations." Later I discovered the joys of very different ways of doing, experiencing, and becoming geography. One is illustrated nicely by the legendary Yi-Fu Tuan, who was the same generation as Gould but followed a very different path. "My childhood in China corresponded to the period of war with Japan," Tuan (2002, p. 337) recalls in a lecture to the American Council of Learned Societies; "We were constantly on the road, escaping from the invading army. We ended up in the wartime capital of Chongqing," where Tuan, despite a feeling of constant rootlessness, excelled in school. "[E]arly in life, in the midst of war and poverty," through the "liberation" of school and the infinite worlds of reading, Tuan "had a taste of the True, the Beautiful, and the Good, culled from different civilizations" (Tuan, 2002, p. 337). Tuan subsequently earned a BA (1951) and MA (1955) from Oxford, and then a Ph.D. from Berkeley (1957), and pursued a career of astonishing creativity and eloquence. Along the way, however, he was always intrigued by societal perceptions of the field that had so captivated his heart and soul. "[E]nvision a faculty social gathering" like Gould's Cocktail Party, Tuan (2002, p. 324) tells the audience when he is asked to give a distinguished awards lecture to an interdisciplinary audience. "At such a gathering, a historian is unlikely to be asked, 'Why are you a historian?' Yet I have repeatedly been asked, 'Why are you a geographer, or why do you call yourself one?'" Tuan is enthralled by this disciplinary, existential curiosity, and wonders if it has to do with the mental images people have of explorers -- Tuan is short and thin, and he recalls that when he was an undergraduate, the professors of Geography at both Oxford and Cambridge were real, big, dirt-on-the-boots-just-came-back-from-the-mountains explorers. Tuan loves to explore, but over the years it's become a different kind of exploration -- not just in the 'field,' but also in the realm of ideas that lead him to write books on the love of place (Topophilia), the fear of place (Landscapes of Fear), and pets (Dominance and Affection), and articles with come-hither titles like "The Hydrologic Cycle and the Wisdom of God."
So how does Yi-Fu Tuan answer our question of what a geographer does? Like Gould, Tuan (2002, p. 325) gives three answers, depending on the level of seriousness of who's asking. "At a social gathering, when people are not at their most attentive, I will probably say, 'As a child, I moved around a great deal with my family, and there is nothing like travel to stimulate one's appetite for geography,'" he says. "Sad to say, this lazy answer nearly always satisfies my inquirer. It is what he or she expects." Tuan's second answer is about fear -- the fear of being lost, of being paralyzed by the disappearance of a sense of direction. Even as a child, Tuan will tell someone who asks, he had a particularly intense fear of being lost, so he had to become a geographer to make sure he always knew where he was. "Geographers always know where they are, don't they? They always have a map somewhere -- either in their backpack or their head." (Tuan, 2002, p. 325). But, again, this answer is only a bit deeper, and it is not the one that Tuan really wants to convey -- to only those who are serious enough to really pay close attention. The fear of being lost is bound up with the essence of human experience in the world, and here is where environment matters. Tuan doesn't like the confusing maze of alleys in Old World cities, but instead prefers the organized street grid of many American towns, which immediately welcomes strangers. Likewise, he dislikes the disorientation of the densely-packed tropical rainforest, and prefers the open map of the desert, where the sun and the stark, sharp-edged landforms of an arid landscape always help the visitor find their way. There's something else going on here:
"But my dread of rainforest and love of desert hint at something deeper than just orientation. Underneath such likes and dislikes are questions of one's fundamental attitude toward life and death. In the rainforest, all I can see and smell -- perversely I admit -- is decay. In the desert, by contrast, I see not lifelessness but purity. I sometimes say teasingly to environmentalists that, unlike them, I am a genuine lover of nature. But by nature I mean the planet Earth, not just its veneer of life, and I mean the whole universe, which is overwhelmingly inorganic." (Tuan, 2002, p. 326).
Deserts and rainforests, life and death -- you now begin to understand how Yi-Fu Tuan's thought and distinctive ways of finding meaning in the unexpected corners of a misunderstood world can have such a profound effect. You can now understand why aspiring geographers, like the brilliant and charismatic Derek Shanahan, would come to graduate school at the University of Minnesota to pursue the dream of studying with Yi-Fu Tuan.
"This leads me to my most serious reply to the question, 'Why are you a geographer?' I take up geography because I have always wondered, perhaps to a neurotic degree, about the meaning of existence: I want to know what we are doing here, what we want out of life. Big questions of this kind, which occur to most children as they approach puberty, have never left me. But rather than seek an answer in the great abstractions of philosophy and religion, I sought to begin my quest at the down-to-earth level of how people make a living in different places and environments. This, to me, was and is the substantive core of human geography. But I could never be satisfied with just learning about the economics and politics of survival. The word survival itself, which appears rather often in ecological literature, seems to me unduly restrictive and harsh. It evokes images of nature 'red in tooth and claw,' of people constantly fighting and struggling, rising up the ladder of well-being only to sink again. Its message to me is that people can do little more than cope. Maybe that pretty much summarizes the human story, as it does the animal story. But I am not altogether convinced. My almost pathological need to find meaning presses me to ask, again and again, What else is there? What goes beyond -- even far beyond -- coping and survival, the vocabulary of nature and of ecological studies?" (Tuan, 2002, p. 326).
This is quite the Cocktail Party, isn't it? You stumbled across this web page, and now a simple question of how to define an "urban geographer" has devolved into an entropy-maximizing navel-gazing pontification about street grids, deserts and rainforests, and the meaning of life. You're entirely justified in thinking to yourself, "I know what a geographer is: someone who wastes my time with a verbose, blathering web-page that refuses to give me a clear answer!" I am, truly and sincerely, very sorry. But you now know a tiny bit about Peter Gould, and Yi-Fu Tuan, and these strange mixtures of Quantitative Revolutions and the meaning of existence. If you're still reading this, I've got your attention -- perhaps you might say that I have quite literally stolen your attention, which is your most valuable asset in our information-saturated world of planetary cognitive overload. As I type out these words, a website called worldwidewebsize.com tells me that there are at least 4.8 billion "indexed web pages" worldwide, and surely by the time you read these words that figure will have edged upward, ever closer to the point at which the planetary population of web-pages outnumbers the world's population of humans. New worlds are under construction -- and they've always been under construction, explored and interpreted and built through and by each generation of geographers. Only now, so many years after I first saw Roger Down's blackboard brilliance, am I able to glimpse just a few of the connections between the formative influences in his geographical journey and the kinds of processes that are reshaping how today's students find geography. Tuan's powerful essay describes an international symposium co-organized by Carl Sauer, one of the most famous geographers of the twentieth century, when Tuan was a student at Berkeley; "I could sense the excitement -- the importance of what was going on," Tuan (2002, p. 334) recalls, describing a "flurry of excitement on university campuses" for a growing movement of reshaping how we understand and relate to our environments. My path has been very different from Tuan's, and I am an infinitessimally tiny fraction the scholar he is -- and yet I am now coming to understand the significance of the new worlds under construction in the aftermath of that 1955 conference he remembers. We need geographers -- of all kinds! -- to explore and interpret these new worlds. (If you're curious about that symposium and how it fits into the tedious long story I would tell at The Cocktail Party, see page 20 of this.)
Today, I am encouraged that new generations are discovering the passions and possibilities of our field, thanks to the performance of talented educators like my colleague Matthew Evenden, who inspires students to submit things like this to ratemyprofessor.com: "Wow, I loved his lectures and I wasn't at all interested before. He's inspired me to change my major. SO smart and SO beautiful. I'll miss seeing his gorgeous self 3 times a week;( SO sad that he got married!" Professor Evenden's pedagogy is first-rate: not long ago, I was asked to offer an assessment of his teaching, and I was truly humbled. An excerpt: "Professor Evenden distills a potent spirit of historical geography, spiced with inherently and inescapably interesting insights on the political dilemmas of markets and state intervention, the assumptions of staples theory and industrial location theory, geopolitical facets of terms-of-trade, and strategic spatial configurations of supply chains in times of war. It all fits together well and flows smoothly. Students are captivated..." So am I. There's no doubt that Professor Evenden's fine teaching is bringing people into geography who might otherwise become doctors, engineers, airline pilots, truckers, sailors, or tramps. And in the last few years I've been fortunate to do peer reviews of teaching for other friends and colleagues -- Karen Bakker, David Edgington, Jim Glassman, Philippe Le Billon, Andreas Christen, Merje Kuus-- who are rocking the worlds of new generations of geographers who just don't know yet that they really are geographers.
Geography is the study of the obvious -- everyday landscapes that we take for granted, complex processes that are widely discussed but usually misunderstood; I learned this from my good friend Dan Hammel. Geography is also the study of why things that seem logical or reasonable in one place can be irrational or dangerous in another place; I learned this from Phil Gersmehl, a truly gifted and inspired scholar-teacher with a fire-in-the-belly passion for teasing out, in an inductive, intuitive way, what we already know from our embodied geographical experiences. Geography is the perpetual tension of society and space, produced as we make places and spaces even while our context and environment shape the things we do, think, and understand. And geography is a humble respect for the unique character of all places -- each position woven into economic, political, and social relations in a changing context of global flows and interdependencies.
Geography is not the simple counting or mapping that makes too many people think that we human geographers are obsolete. "Geography? Oh, yeah, we have Google Earth now!" Or "Geography? Oh, yeah, I remember memorizing rivers and capital cities in seventh grade." Ahem ... oh, come on now, you're smarter than that. You know that geography is about human interpretations of our place in the world -- a world of rivers and mountains, and also of cities, countries, and flows of people, resources, and ideas. Geography is always in flux, and things are now changing fast enough that we would not be able to memorize all the important geo-trivia even if we tried. Think of the world map. *Poof* a new country over here, South Sudan, while *rumble* over there, Vladimir tries to erase one of the lines on the map in his grand plan for a "Greater Russia"! With the Arab Spring, even those deceptively neat boundaries on the map for Tunisia, Egypt, Libya, and Syria now have such different meanings. Even that fancy smartphone you've got in your hand is now a battleground over the meaning and powers of boundaries, between the spaces of your personal and private existence, versus the evolving quasi-public domains of encounters with corporate advertisers, phishing hackers and packet sniffers, police and NSA analysts (e.g., see Sasso, 2012). With each passing year, a growing fraction of those you encounter in the new spaces and places of a planetary communications consciousness are non-human -- such as the rapidly-growing population of "bots" of search-and-spam algorithms. This gives us an entirely different perspective on Tuan's paradoxical insight -- the simultaneous reverence for a universe of the inorganic, alongside a "pathological" need to find meaning beyond the bare survival of life. What are the meanings of these new worlds, these new spaces and places of the living and the non-living, that are always being built and re-built?
I am an urban geographer. I love cities, and I am deeply troubled by the leading-edge role of contemporary urbanization in reproducing and reinforcing harsh social inequalities. Market processes continue to drive spatial polarization and geographical injustice, by class, race-ethnicity, and gender. Public policy does little to cushion these inequalities, particularly in today's neoliberal and neoconservative obsession with liberating market forces and recasting communities and citizens as consumers and investors. My research analyzes the geographical dimensions of urban inequality, with a special emphasis on class, racial-ethnic, and gender discrimination in housing; neighborhood change, gentrification, and displacement; capital investment and disinvestment; homeownership policy; and the proliferation of dangerous, sophisticated tactics of predatory mortgage lending. I also have taken an interest in the inescapably urban facets of what seem to be the dominant transnational obsessions of our time, tourism and terrorism.
A few years ago, a student wrote on a course evaluation, "He's not bad, but he is quite Yankicentric." That about sums it up, and if you're interested in my thoughts on playing the role of The Ugly American, you might want to read this. Most of my research remains focused on large cities in the United States, in true can't-take-your-eyes-off-the-train-wreck fashion. But thanks to the talented students here, I am gradually learning a bit about Canadian urbanism -- especially the curious constellation of forces that constantly make and remake Vancouver. I still can't quite figure it out, but I do love it: city as a turbocharged transnational growth machine, nexus of accelerated entrepreneurialism, cosmopolitan Pacific Rim entrepot laid atop small-town provincial continental imperial exile, capital of West Coast Capital hidden behind capital of West-Coast sea-to-sky aesthetic, laid-back enjoyment. It's such a curious blend of potent political progressive commitments and passive-aggressive elite tradition. Perhaps David Ley summarized it best when a student asked him about the large plume of sediment flowing out of the delta of the Fraser River on an aerial photograph of the Lower Mainland: "Oh, that's latté," he quipped in his trademark voice of quiet modest brilliance.
This website has a variety of resources, organized into separate sections for research, teaching, several specific course offerings, and miscellaneous data.
But wait. Resources? Organized? Hmf. Maybe I should be more honest: what you find here are digital breadcrumbs, with no real coherent organization or logic. The website has evolved quite by accident, with no real grand plan or vision of what it would be. At one point, I just started putting stuff up there because ... well, everyone seemed to be saying that professors should have web pages. Administrators and key decision-makers became quite insistent that we engage with these new informational possibilities. Okay, fine, I said, and promptly set about learning a few skills in the evolving landscape of HTML editors and other web-authoring software. I wound up spending a lot of time learning some of these tools, and then, periodically, some Strategic Vice President of New Strategic Inititiatives would send around an email to everyone announcing that a new contract had been signed for a brand-new array of platforms and applications with more features and improved "functionality." Every skill I had learned was suddenly rendered obsolete. After a few rounds of this cycle -- work hard to learn new stuff, then be forced to re-learn how to do the same thing with a new set of tools simply to satisfy some administrative and corporate contracting deal -- I became very cynical about every promise that technology would improve the teaching and learning experience. There were also some very dangerous and authoritarian tendencies in this new informational world. At one university, I saw an entire admissions staff downsized and replaced by ... a web page. At another, I was forced to learn the latest and greatest (i.e., complex, unstable, bug-prone) software "solution" in order to create a web-page that conformed to the officially-decreed "CLF" (Common Look and Feel) that was part of the University's comprehensive "branding" scheme. And then a few years after that I saw one of my colleagues sued by a predatory law firm for copyright violation for a tiny element placed on a web-page -- and the soulless corporate drones at the highest levels of the legal department of this alleged "University" refused to defend my colleague.
All of this history and happenstance explains my resistance to some of the latest possibilities in the worlds of multimedia and social networking. Once I figured out how to provide a bit of basic information with my kindergarten version of Ye Olde HTML Editore, I became rather reluctant to even try to find out where the leading / bleeding edge is. To be honest, some of these innovations terrify me, like the algorithms that are now being used at some institutions to grade student essays. Silly me. I thought reading and writing were inescapably human activities, the kinds of communications and experiences that defined the very essence of who we are, what we do, and how we think, alone and together. Now, as I peck away at my keyboard in the HTML editor, the latest hard-sell advertisement that invades my brain informs me that all my work, learning, and skills development -- primitive though they are -- are completely obsolete: Websites "can now design themselves"!
So what you find in this web-page is a mish-mash, presented in flambouyantly low-tech mode. In those spare moments amidst all the other stuff we have to do in our jobs, I started jotting out a few notes, posting them for students ... and then I'd read something in the newspaper that would get me annoyed, and I'd write out a short rant, and then ... well, you get the idea. Add a few years, and pretty soon the crazy collection of cartoons and Post-It notes you'd usually find on the Professorial Door began to add up to the bizarre collection you find here.
It's really quite embarrassing.
So I apologize for the disorganization and primitive technics of this little site. It's akin to what John S. Adams now calls the annual letters he sends around: "More than a tweet, less than a blog." Apologies are also in order for all the internal contradictions: we change over time, and there's never enough spare time to erase the old stuff while adding new things to the site. Besides, wouldn't it be a bit dishonest to erase the old stuff? I've changed my thinking a lot over the years, but if I erase stuff from this place then I'm unfairly editing this part of my biography, aren't I? So this is one of my "digital individuals," to steal a concept from Michael Curry (1997). This particular digital identity is a strange hybrid of style/method/zeitgeist/epistemology/ontology. I'm inspired by an eclectic mixture of philosophy, method, style, and politics. I'm in awe of science and the craft of human labor. Yet I'm a digital cyborg just like everyone else (albeit a reluctant one). I crave progress and order, creativity and entrepreneurial spirit -- but also radical equality and anticapitalist mobilization to build another world. We need scientific integrity. Yet certain situations require us to be just a little bit gonzo. "Picking quarrels and provoking trouble" is the job description for anyone, everyone, everywhere today who cares about social justice and re-working humanity's relations with the planet and non-human worlds. Our present world needs to be un-fucked.
If you're interested in just one or two samples, for my research I would suggest a story that begins the terrible experience of Beatrice (also see this) or a more recent cartography of American racism and class exploitation. For notes on my remedial education to repent for the fact that I have only ever taken a single physical geography course, see "Things Pictures Don't Tell Us: In Search of Baltimore." To illustrate a few of the panicked, drinking-from-a-firehose notes that I scribble out before I go into the classroom to teach on things that can be rather dynamic and disorienting, I'd suggest two things. One is a lecture on Race, Housing, and the Urban Underclass, that I wrote furiously when I watched the headlines of the Paris uprisings a few years ago; the lecture I had scheduled for the next week was a fairly traditional analysis of the American underclass discourse that involved the hijacking of William Julius Wilson's work on inner-city dynamics in Chicago, and the headlines forced me to rethink and rewrite the lecture to make sense of a fast-globalizing discourse of underclass portrayals. The second example I'd suggest is the New Spatial Politics of Social Data, a lecture that came out of my butterflies-in-the-tummy panic when my brilliant and passionate colleague Derek Gregory asked me to give a guest lecture in one of his classes. Me? Are you pointing to someone intelligent behind me? Some of the ideas sketched out in that lecture eventuallly found their way into longer, more verbose rants on science, politics, and quantification; see "Positively Radical," or "The New Quantitative Revolution," or "Where is an Author?" and let me know if I am now completely unhinged. Jatinder works in mental health, so maybe I should ask her for an immediate assessment. Repeated instances of "severe cerebral disturbance" have given me a certain deferential sympathy for Comte, the original, long-forgotten original positivist himself.
The Capital of North Dakota?
And, I must confess, I really don't care about the capital of North Dakota, that punch-line to Peter Gould's attempt to explain what geographers do. I'm more concerned with North Dakota's relation with another capital of capital, where issues from torture to tax cuts are fought out in the belly of the beast of what David Harvey has called the New Imperialism.
A few years ago, North Dakota was one of many places where the balance between survival and full-fledged violent hegemony, what Chomsky has diagnosed as America the failed state, seemed at risk of slouching towards catastrophe in the Fall of 2006. But let's hear it for Bismarck, and so many other precincts across North Dakota, keeping Kent Conrad in the mix and unleashing a cascade of changes in Committee Chairs, with the all-powerful investigation and subpoena power to restore checks and balances. In this sense, the reallocation of seats in the midterm elections stitched the capital (and the rest) of North Dakota into a still-insecure Homeland urban system centered on the federalist capital in an election that surprised many seasoned political observers: the old saw that all politics is local was subverted by a midterm that did seem to be truly nationalized, culminating in remarkable surprises in Senate races in Ohio, Virginia, Missouri, and Montana. Then of course many of those ambiguous landscapes of swing states came into play in the election of 2008, delivering some surprising electoral shifts. Only two years later, however, the map was redrawn again, in a Republican House landslide not seen in more than sixty years.
and now one of the main $ources of Right-Wing Ca$sh in a Citizen$ United World is Harold Hamm, a PetroBillionaire from Oklahoma .. working in North Dakota ...
...and now the urban system of North Dakota is following the path of places like Fort McMurray, fueled by a pedal-to-the-medal petroleum epistemology. After years of outmigration, parts of North Dakota are now in the midst of a massive fracking boom that has pushed the unemployment rate down to 1 percent. Gail Collins (2012) teaches us a few valuable lessons about this place:
"Right now you are probably asking yourself 'What would it be like to live in a place with an unemployment rate of 1 percent? Me too! So I went to Williston, N.D., to find out. There are certain things that journalists do as a public service because you, the noble reader, are probably not going to do them yourself -- like attending charter revision meetings or reading the autobiography of Tim Pawlenty. Going to Williston is sort of in this category. The people are lovely, but you're talking about a two-hour drive from Minot."
There's lots of oil in the Bakken formation under Western North Dakota and eastern Montana, but a hydrofracking economy does have its downside, even for a turbocharged local economy. Teachers make $31,500 per year, but the local school superindendent notes that apartments rent for $2,000-$3,000 per month -- as much as New York City. "Why can't Williston be the best little city in America?" the Mayor asks Collins. "It's a place of opportunity." The fracking boom is creating a contemporary, postindustrial version of a kind of city that we thought had disappeared with the twentieth-century -- the natural-resources boom-time "staples" cities that were destined for ghost-town-hood when the ore played out. Work and life are reconfigured here. "Many of the oil workers stash their families back wherever they came from, and live in 'man camps,'" Collins (2012) explains, "some of which resemble giant stretches of storage units." "The man camps..." reflects the Mayor; "I call them the necessary evil."
Thanks to wealthy figures like Harold Hamm, however, even the most modest urban systems of places like North Dakota can be tied into the influence webs of lobbying and campaign influence in Washington, DC. And politics in DC -- which is to say, the curious spaces and places of the national geographical infrastructure that produce the politics performed in Washington, DC -- seems to get ever more high-stakes each year.
Geographers, however, are viewed as strange creatures anytime we say anything that matters (which is to say, anything political). Not long ago, Globe and Mail columnist Margaret Wente discovered that one of her essays from several years earlier had been cited in a mildly critical way in a book published by UBC Press. The book was Rethinking the Great White North: Race, Nature, and the Historical Geographies of Whiteness in Canada, and one of the transgressions of its editors was to have been geographers. Wente is deeply frustrated as she pages through the book, reacting viscerally to phrases like "white normativity," "performative ties," and "hegemonic social relations." It's not just that there's jargon, but that it was written by geographers. "Like most people," Wente (2011) laments, "I was under the impression that geographers studied rocks and trees and ethnic groups and the kinds of things you read about in National Geographic." Well, of course that's what geographers study, Margaret, and they'll always continue this important work. But why does the study of rocks and trees preclude an understanding of how "white" is always understood as the normal state of affairs in Canada, with ethnicity, immigration, and first-nations relations always pushed into a separate category of difference to be managed, or diversity to be marketed to? Is the idea of "white normativity" that hard to grasp in this day and age? And why can't we read National Geographic while also considering performative ties and hegemonic social relations? I love National Geographic just as much as you do, but that doesn't mean I ignore the colonial thinking that contributes to the popularity of institutions and traditions like National Geographic.
And in any event, equating geography with the memorization of such "factual" trivia as state capitals is worse than boring. It can be quite dangerous, as it distracts us from the new geographies that are constantly under construction and contestation, from the massive real-estate speculation in Harlem and SoBro to the violence of the Israel-Lebanon borderlands to the death-ridden towns and cities across central Iraq, from the resurgence of gentrification in Chicago's South Side to Vancouver's Downtown Eastside. Geographies are always in the processing of becoming, of being made, interpreted, understood, and experienced -- for good or ill. Geography is no more about the memorization of state capitals than history is the memorization of dates. Except, that, is, in that bastion of Republican commitment to Enlightmentment principles, the Great State of Florida. Not long ago, then-Governor Jeb Bush signed into law an education bill declaring, among other things, that "American history shall be viewed as factual, not constructed," and this purported factuality will henceforth be "knowable, teachable, and testable." Among the specific "facts" to be imparted to schoolchildren are "the nature and importance of free enterprise to the United States economy," while elsewhere the law explicitly prohibits interpretation. As the journalism professor Robert Jensen (2006) points out,
"...it's a fact that Europeans began coming in significant numbers to North America in the seventeenth century. Were they peaceful settlers or aggressive invaders? ... It's also a fact that once those Europeans came, the indigenous people died in large numbers. Was that an act of genocide? ... In contemporary history, has U.S. intervention in the Middle East been aimed at supporting democracy or controlling the region's crucial energy resources? Would anyone in a free society want students to be taught that there is only one way to construct an answer to that question?
...the law represents a yearning one can find across the United States. Americans look out at a wider world in which more and more people reject the idea of the United States as always right, always better, always moral. As the gap between how Americans see themselves and how the world sees us grows, the instinct for many is to eliminate intellectual challenges at home: 'We can't control what the rest of the world thinks, but we can make sure our kids aren't exposed to such nonsense.'"
American exceptionalism like this, it turns out, has become part of the Christian Right's effort to transform America by means of theological politics in K-12 education. "The philosophy of the classroom in one generation will be the philosophy of the government in the next," declares Cynthia Dunbar, one of a bloc of Christian activists who have taken over the Texas State Board of Education -- an institution that winds up setting de facto national standards for textbooks, since it provides the largest consistent statewide template that publishers follow when they revise and adapt books for the national public school market (quoted in Shorto, 2010). In recent years, Christian fundamentalists have achieved dramatic gains in rewriting educational guidelines to require students to learn about, inter alia, the inherently Christian and biblical foundations of the U.S. Constitution. In a 2007 survey by the First Amendment Center, 55 percent of American adults said they believed that the Constitution established the United States as a Christian nation. (Shorto, 2010, p. 3).
So I'm glad to be teaching, learning, and doing geography on this side of the border. The world here is is still round. Even so, it's still important to rehearse those sound-byte responses to explain what geographers do. As Graeme Wynn (2008, p. 1) narrates the encounter:
"An exchange (partly imagined) at the Douglas (Peace Arch) Border crossing, 6 March 2008:
'Where you heading?'
To a conference, in Bellingham.
'What sort of a conference?'
An academic conference -- for geographers.
'You a geographer?'
'Where is Damascus?'
[Duly answered correctly (after rejecting the possibility, fleetingly entertained, of responding, 'I'm not sure, I'm still looking for the road there.')].
'Who's organizing this conference?'
The Western Division of the Canadian Association of Geographers.
'Whyare Canadian Geographers meeting in the United States?'
Bizarro-update: a few weeks after the photograph was taken, the inbox receives one of those auto-spam messages from an outfit called The Interview Feed. (When the word "Editor" appears anywhere near your name on the web, you get tons of this shit.) The teaser line they offer for editors who want to beg and plead for the privilege of interviewing the celebrity of the microsecond: "BRAD PITT: 'Angie and I know there’s a bounty on our heads – for photos. We’re hunted for that reason.'" Oh, my. I promise, Brad, I did not hunt you, not for any reason. I was just going about my business, such as it is, walking through a corridor that was once part of a public transit network before said network became transformed into a captive-audience advertising delivery mechanism that happens to have tracks and trains and buses. And you, dearest Brad, seemed to be hunting me, with that come-hither look that told me that something about Chanel No. 5 is ... "INEVITABLE." Um, okay, if you insist...
Not long ago, this intersection was in the midst of a long corridor of sixteen-story high-rise public housing projects built from the late 1950s to the early 1960s; see Arnold Hirsch's Building the Second Ghetto, Vest Monroe's Brothers, and Sudhir Venkatesh's American Project. Now it's all gone, and "...nearly eight years after the Chicago Housing Authority embarked upon its $1.6 billion 'Plan for Transformation,' public housing's political base has been all but erased. ... just 26 percent of the folks registered [to vote] at the Robert Taylor Homes in November 2000 and 28 percent who were registered at Stateway Gardens were found on the voting rolls in September 2007 ....The loss of these massive concentrations of public housing voters represents a diminished political voice for a population many already considered disenfranchised. ... 'For all of the negative aspects ... they did have a lot of voters living there,' said Paul Fischer, emeritus professor of politics at Lake Forest College .... 'The concentration of those voters gave them a political significance. Just by dispersing the population, which by definition occurred when they were relocated, you are also eliminating that political voice.'" Kelly Lownestein and Alden K. Loury (2008). "Lost Voters, Lost Voices." The Chicago Reporter, January 13, available at http://www.chicagoreporter.com.
Another valuable Dakota Declaration: eight months after suffering a life-threatening brain hemorrhage and partial paralysis that political analysts viewed as possibly undermining the razor-thin Democratic majority in the U.S. Senate, Tim Johnson (D-SD) appeared at the Sioux Falls Convention Center to tell his constituents, "I'm back." "Hard work is something in which I take great pride, so let me say this tonight going forward: I am back", Johnson said after he was brought in to the hall in a wheelchair, with his face and speech still showing the signs of the 'arteriovenous malformation' and emergency surgery he endured in December, 2006. "Of course, I believe I have an unfair advantage over most of my colleagues right now. My mind works faster than my mouth does. Washington would probably be a better place if more people took a moment to think before they spoke." Quoted in Associated Press (2007). "Effects of His Brain Hemorrhage Evident, Senator Returns." New York Times, August 30, p. A15.
"Upon reading of this page, you agree to be bound by these terms and conditions." I'm joking, of course. See the last line of this.
"When you owe the bank a million dollars, you have a problem; but when you owe the bank $100 million, the bank has a problem." -- Anonymous Bush Administration official, borrowing a line from J.P. Getty (or was it Keynes?) and privately complaining about Bush's inability to do anything when the ally he once called "my buddy and my friend," Pervez Mussharaf, declared a state of emergency in early November, 2007. Bush has simply invested too much in Mussharaf. Dan Froomkin (2007). "Exposing Bush's Weakness." Washington Post, November 6, White House Watch blog. Thanks to Jon Cloke at Loughborough Geography for alerting me to the Getty etymology.
These are the Narrow, Self-Promoting Annual Report Templates That We Are All Required To Fill Out so That We Can Prove That We Are Worth Something. "Worth something" usually means financial value: chase money, demand money.
The latest. This is my most important achievement ever! For years, I've been working as Editor-in-Chief, leading a team of hardworking editors at Urban Geography. We are highly ranked on the benchmarks often used to draw hierarchies of knowledge these days. But the most important accolades we've ever received came when we rejected a manuscript from a knowledge-production realm that has a crystal-clear vision of modernization, science, and professionalism. We were told that our decisions are contributing to the Decline of the West. Yay!
"They are, after all, scholars -- and they are barely tolerated in British higher education." Frank Furedi (2008). "Is There No Room Left for Reflection?" CAUT Bulletin 55(1), January, A2.
Biopolitics of the Blogosphere: Resumes in the Age of Web 2.0
November 12, 2008: The Obama Presidential Transition Team has prepared a questionnaire for prospective high-level appointees. There are sixty-three questions. A sampler: "(10) Writings: Please list and, if readily available, provide a copy of each book, article, column or publication (including but not limited to any posts or comments on blogs or other websites) you have authored, individually or with others. Please list all aliases or 'handles' you have used to communicate on the Internet."
"(13) Electronic communications: If you have ever sent an electronic communication, including but not limited to an email, text message or instant message, that could suggest a conflict of interest or be a possible source of embarrassment to you, your family, or the President-Elect if it were made public, please describe."
"(14) Diaries: If you keep or have ever kept a diary that contains anything that could suggest a conflict of interest or be a possible source of embarrassment to you, your family, or the President-Elect if it were made public, please describe."
"(58) Please provide the URL address of any websites that feature you in either a personal or professional capacity (e.g., Facebook, My Space, etc.)" "(59) Do you or any members of your immediate family own a gun? If so, provide complete ownership and registration information. Has the registration ever lapsed? Please also describe how and by whom it is used and whether it has been the cause of any personal injuries or property damage."
Questionnaire distributed by the Transition Team of the Office of President-Elect Barack Obama. See Jackie Calmes (2008). "For a Washington Job, Be Prepared to Tell All." New York Times, November 12, A1.
"The 1960s failed to deliver a thorough restructuring of society. Nevertheless, it is dangerous and disempowering to remember the postwar era as nothing more than an age of a flawed, conservative positivist urbanism. Many of the scholars working with social statistics who are now caricatured as unrepentant conservative positivists "were not infrequently of an actively leftist orientation" (Livingston 1992: 325) -- continuing the dissident heritage of the Vienna Circle itself. Some of the most reactionary urbanism emerged not from quantitative-positivist research, but from explicitly qualitative ethnographic work on the culture of poverty (e.g., Banfield 1968). Even the state-funded research of that era that is now recalled as the pinnacle of positivist urbanism looks downright radical when viewed from the vantage point of today's political climate. If positivism was tainted by its enrollment in American Fordism and the military-industrial complex -- and in some ways it was -- there was never any guarantee that a post-industrial, post-Fordist, post-positivist era would deliver us from the evils of militarism, inequality, racism, and all the other manifestations of social injustice. Indeed, the Right has been all too quick to hijack the theoretical and tactical weapons traditionally associated with the Left. The entire documentary history of the Bush Administration -- from Karl Rove's scorched-earth election strategies to the infamous torture memos deconstructing the contextual meanings of pain and organ failure while divining the torturer's intentions and human agency -- provides a horribly perverted course syllabus on poststructuralist, postpositivist imperialism. Any epistemology, and any methodology, can be co-opted and abused to serve the cause of violence, destruction, and inequality. Conversely, all methodologies and epistemologies can be mobilized for social justice."
Homes for All! Vancouver March for Housing, April, 2009.
Need Career Advice? Look in your Medicine Cabinet!
"Man" shaving cream: "Unless you're a geography teacher or a communist revolutionary you'll have to shave sometime. Our gel has been formulated to deliver an incredibly smooth shave whatever the strength of your political will." Image courtesy of Tom Slater, October 2009.
Good Night White Pride. (Below). The man on the ground has a logo on his chest that is fairly common among European skinhead organizations. Note the gondola ferro about to hit its mark. My commitment is to nonviolent militance and creative resistance, but it is clear that we are seeing ever more threatening signs of potential violence -- on the Right and on the Left -- in today's conservative age of inequality, exclusion, privilege, and imperialism. A generation after what Michael Watts (2001) described as the "global insurrections" of "1968 and all that," the struggles continue in cities across the world. Almost two hundred years after Comte lamented the "Occidential anarchy" of revolutionary France, the Enlightenment struggle between reason and the "Catholico-feudalist system" continues. On Darwin's birthday in February, 2009, the Gallup organization reported that only 4 in 10 Americans "believe" in evolution, and not long afterwards, surveys documented that an outright majority of Republicans did not "believe" that Barack Obama was elected U.S. President. Birthers and Dittoheads, it seems, are uniting. It's enough to give both positivists and post-positivists "serious cerebral disturbance." (Comte 1851).
"We conservatives believe government is bad ... and we've got the candidates to prove it."
Humorist P.J. O'Rourke, on Bill Maher's Real Time, October 8, 2010, commenting on Rich Iott, the Republican Congressional candidate with a hobby of dressing up as an officer in a Nazi SS "re-enactment" group.
"Geography, sir, is ruinous in its effects on the lower classes. Reading, writing, and arithmetic are comparatively safe, but geography invariably leads to revolution."
From 1879 testimony before a Select Committee of the English House of Commons, regarding expenditures of the London School Board; courtesy of Tom Slater.
You're Not Paranoid if They Really Are Watching. "They" are the bots, the screen-scrapers, the Cloud. Big Data. They are now selling our private emails. Posting of this material was not enabled by the human typing these words, nor any other human known by said typer. This is automated postpositivism. Yikes!
Simulacra Spatiality: Urban Systems + Right-Wing Poststructuralism + Electoral Geographies of American Federalism = Reagan. Watched "Reagan" on HBO a few weeks ago. Had brainstorm for an article. Now if I can just find the time to write this out and clarify the theory and empirics of this strange mind (mine? his?).
Crazy Horse. It's been a decade since I saw it. Meaning and materialism, symbolism and rock-blasting, and questions of identity after a lifetime of sculpting and then a family Foundation that continues the work: is it still feasible? 'Authentic' in purpose? Read, discuss, tell me what you think...
Oh, my. Detroit, I do Mind Dying. Not just because Dan Georgakas and Marvin Surkin (1975) included that Joe L. Carter Detroit blues song on the inside front cover. "Please, Mr. Foreman, slow down your assembly line. Please, Mr. Foreman, slow down your assembly line. No, I don't mind working', but I do mind dyin". But Detroit is definitely dying if they don't understand that demography is destiny. There's Clint Eastwood. He's telling us that it's "Halftime in America." Yeah, he's kinda right. It's a really good spot, even better than last year's Eminem. And I confess that I have my own nostalgia that the sociologist George Steinmetz has diagnosed as the "white ruingazers." The Packard Plant just sets my heart all aflutter. But if you paid $116,666 per second for thirty seconds of the attention span of millions, wouldn't you go after someone a bit younger than me? People my age think of Clint and we're immediately back there in the 1970s -- whether we loved him or hated him, then or now, he's the 1970s reference point. But if you're younger than forty-five, who the hell is this guy with this gruff turbocharged whisper? Yeah, he's kind of eloquent... but who has time for eloquence these days if you don't already recognize the person when the ad begins? Can it really reach anyone younger than 45? Or is it really just a dog-whistle attempt to get back those aging, elusive Reagan Democrats? At least we get the amusement of annoying Karl Rove...
Dan Georgakas and Marvin Surkin (1975). Detroit: I Do Mind Dying. A Study in Urban Revolution. New York: St. Martin's Press.
Schumpeter is on crack. One bleeding-edge corporate culture making fun of another, and everyone scrambles to have the Next Next New New Thing Thing. By the time you read this, you'll say, oh' that's so 17 seconds ago. Does anyone understand the concept of the asymptote, or the limit? (Here my professorial instincts get the better of me, and I recommend: Eli Maor (1994). "To the Limit, if it Exists." Chapter 4 in e: The Story of a Number. Princeton: Princeton University Press.
Gerry Pratt, Elizabeth Lee, Andrew Pask, Hildegard Westerkamp, the students of Geography 371 ... and some clown by the name of Wyly
Sunday, April 15, 3:30-5:30 PM, Western Front, 303 E. 8th Avenue.
What a great event! Andrew Pask, Gerry Pratt, Liz Lee, and many other wonderfully thoughtful, creative colleagues and students. Thank you so much for the brainstorm!My notes are here. They probably don't make any sense at all ... unless you were there ... and you can make sense of my writing ... and your mind can see where mine is going ... yikes! But feel free to use this as an icebreaker, if you see me walking down the hall and you want to start a conversation. "What did you mean by this crazy scribble here?"
Like you, I'm always carefully listening to the sounds of daily life in the city. But no matter what sound I hear right now in this city, there's always several other sounds in the back of my mind. Some are the voices of mentors, some the voices of students. Then the scribble at the top of the page about the rhythm of the traffic in the city indicates that some of what we discussed reminded me of the geographical imaginations of pop culture in the latter decades of the twentieth century. This is what I sometimes hear in the back of my mind. Whaddya think? Cheesy? Or maybe it's so obscure and out of date by now that it's kinda campy-cool? If you're interested, here's another tiny sample of my cognitive soundtrack, and then here's my "City Wanna Make me Holler" reflection.
Mapping continuity and change in Canada's settlement system
with Markus Moos, Anna Glasmacher, and other colleagues.
[click for larger, monstrous file]
"To think collectively is countercultural in the current economic and political environment." This department is "an extraordinary collectivity," with unparalleled "excellence of faculty, graduate students, undergraduates, staff, and alumni."
David Ley (2012). Final Head's Remarks, last Department Meeting of the Headship, May 24. Vancouver, BC: Department of Geography, University of British Columbia.
"In this delightful collection of thoughtful reviews, Lionel Youst gives us valuable historical perspective -- and inspiration to build a progressive future of social justice."
Associate Professor, Urban Geography
University of British Columbia
The book should be on Amazon shortly; link to be updated whenever possible.
Lionel Youst (2012). Progressive Thoughts: Essays and Reviews, by Lionel Youst. Allegany, Oregon: Golden Falls Publishing.
"Mapping foreclosures in an American Metropolis"
Essex County, New Jersey, pre-foreclosure notices 2004-2008
with Kathe Newman
Social Housing at Risk
A Housing Activist Map of the Next Quarter Century
I just returned from a panel discussion at the Vancouver Renters' Union. On my end of the table was Maria, a brilliant and passionate community organizer, and the stunningly eloquent and powerful Jean Swanson. Jean had recently obtained counts of the number of housing units affected by the expiration of BC Housing's operating agreements in the next decades. As in so many other jurisdictions, neoliberalism means the replacement of long-term social-welfare commitments by a proliferation of limited short-term promises to ever-more-narrowly defined "target client groups." You're not allowed to just be poor anymore to get any help with housing.
I asked Jean if I could scribble down the numbers, and she said, "sure." Here's one glimpse of the numbers, and what they might imply for organizing for the rights to housing and home.
Disastrous State of the States
John Taylor, Connie Bird, Kelly Phillips-Watts, and Elvin Wyly (2004). Protecting Canadians' Interest: Reining in the Payday Lending Industry. Vancouver: Association of Community Organizations for Reform Now, Canada Chapter.
Pubic-Private Funding Mix for Winter Olympic Games
Facebook World City.The city is "the initiating and controlling center of economic, political, and cultural life that has drawn the most remote parts of the world into its orbit and woven diverse areas, peoples, and activities into a cosmos" (Wirth, 1938, p. 2). Replace "city" with "Facebook" (980 million estimated users), "Qzone" or "Sina Weibo" (480m and 300m, respectively, mostly in mainland China), "Vkontakte" (112m, Russia and former Soviet Republics), or any of dozens of other growing online communities. An urbanizing world is a socially-networked world. Urbanization rates account for 39 percent of the cross-national variance in Facebook's market penetration. Circle areas are proportional to the number of active Facebook users. Data Sources: site registered user estimates from various sources compiled and distributed via [cringe] Wikipedia; Facebook country figures from publicly distributed estimates of users over previous three months as of July 1, 2012, from Social Bakers (2012); urbanization rates from World Bank (2011). Note: not all countries are labeled, and 32 countries or territories are omitted due to missing information either on Facebook users or urbanization rates.
The compass directional label above is only a slight exaggeration. To give you just a sample-size-of-one illustration, consider the spot on the MDS graph towards the right, with Cartesian coordinates 0.669, 0.065, labeled "Broun." This is Representative Paul Broun, age 66, a Republican physician who represents a district in Athens, Georgia. Broun is a member of the House Committee on Science and Technology, and he has no challenger in his 2012 bid for re-election. Not long ago, in a leaked video that received a bit of press coverage, Broun stood in front of a wall of hunting trophies while speaking to the Liberty Baptist Sportsmans Banquet, in Liberty Baptist Church in Hartwell, Georgia. "God's word is true," Broun told the audience. "I've come to understand that. All that stuff I was taught about evolution, embryology, the Big Bang theory -- all of that is lies straight from the pit of hell. And it's lies to keep me and all the folks who were taught that from understanding that they need a savior." Broun believes in "Young Earth" doctrines of creationism: he is quoted as saying that the planet is "about 9,000 years old" and "was created in six days as we know them." Elise Viebeck's report of the events and media coverage continues:
"Broun, who studied chemistry as an undergraduate, added that 'as a scientist,' he has found 'a lot of scientific data ... that actually showed that this really is a young Earth.'
'And that's the reason,' he added, 'as your congressman, I hold the Holy Bible as being the major directions to me of how I vote in Washington, D.C.'"
Wow! Surprise! Obama mobilized a coalition to hold back the tides of Citizen$ United right-wing ca$h and dog-whistle fear-mongering. The Obama campaign used "a team of behavioral scientists" to "build an extraordinarily sophisticated database packed with names of millions of undecided voters and potential supporters," enabling a vast system for quick-response understanding of voter sentiment. The approach also allowed the Obama campaign to "find and register new voters who fit the demographic pattern of Obama backers and methodically track their views through thousands of telephone calls every night."
Obama was thus able to keep, expand, and mobilize a broad coalition of urban voters who included more women, racial and ethnic minorities, and younger educated Whites; meanwhile, Romney's campaign succeed in rural areas and small-towns, with an electoral base that was more male, more White, higher-income, and generally older.
The numbers: as of November 9. Obama's national vote total, 61,170,018; Romney, 58,164,038. Electoral vote total: Obama 303, Romney 206.
Florida is not yet called but the totals so far are: Obama 4,169,044 (49.9%), Romney, 4,117,106 (49.3%).
The House of Representatives remains in Republican hands thanks to the power of geography, specifically the power of gerrymandering. Nationally, the total votes cast for Democratic House candidates: 53,952,240; for Republicans: 53,402,643. This translates, through the presto-magic manipulations of district lines, to 234 seats for Republicans, 195 seats for Democrats.
Some years ago, the political scientist Robert Dahl wrote a book asking, "Is the U.S. Constitution Unconstitutional?" One of his key questions concerned the structure of the U.S. Senate, which gives every state two Senate seats regardless of population. What we've seen in recent years is a reconfiguration of how the politics of representation, geographical strategy in electoral mobilization, state battles over voter suppression, and of course unregulated campaign finance have created new spatialities of American politics. The Dems have learned to appeal to the statewide interests required to stay competitive in the U.S. Senate -- even winning in places like big-sky-country Montana with candidates like John Tester -- while the Republicans' savvy moves at the state level have followed the lessons learned from the aggressive Tom "the Hammer" DeLay in Texas, allowing the GOP to resist the geography of demographic shifts favoring Democrats.
But at the national level, the Republicans could not make it all add up for the Presidential vote. The Obama campaign's Chicago behavioral scientists and massive databases
"allowed the Obama campaign not only to alter the very nature of the electorate, making it younger and less white, but also to create a portrait of shifting voter allegiances. The power of this operation stunned Mr. Romney's aides on election night, as they saw voters they never even knew existed turn out in places like Osceola County, Fla. 'It's one thing to say you are going to do it; it's another thing to actually get out there and do it,' said Brian Jones, a senior advisor.'"
Presumably, Jones was referring to the act of voting, by those the Republicans have for so long counted on to not vote. Got yer photo id from that DMV office that we conveniently shut down a few months back?
It's all quite fascinating, and it gets quite complicated.
And it's not just political journalists and political geographers who help us sift through these complexities, but even the physicists are getting in on the action!
Source: Direct quotes are from Adam Nagourney, Ashley Parker, Jim Rutenberg, and Jeff Zeleney (2012). "How a Race in the Balance Went to Obama." New York Times, November 7. House vote totals from Huffington Post (2012). Democratic House Candidates Received More Votes than Republicans. Huffington Post, 8 November.
Coda, evening of November 9, 2012.
There are riots at Ole Miss because Obama was re-elected. The CEO of a Coal company who reportedly forced his workers to go to a Romney rally for the cameras is making good on his promise, and has announced layoffs, and is loudly blaming the Obama re-election for the job cuts. A young white woman appears on camera trying to explain away her social media call for someone to assassinate Obama.
Can someone out there help me re-write George Carlin's famous 1976 send-up of "America the Beautiful"?
Oh beautiful, for smoggy skies
For strip-mined majesty
Above the asphalt plains
Man sheds his waste on me
And hides the pines with billboard signs
From sea to oily sea...!
This is still going on, although we'll see what Barack says about Keystone. But the strip-mined White working class that Thomas Frank diagnosed so well in What's the Matter With Kansas is getting angrier and angrier, and they are looking for scapegoats.
-- no, actually, a particular part of America: this part is predominantly White, much of it is working-class and with less formal education, much of it is in small towns or rural areas or the South, where history and culture and ideas of what "America" means are very distinctive indeed --
has gone batshit.
Michael Eric Dyson describes the multiracial Obama coalition as Ham on White:
and then White women.
He also helps us to recognize the strange species of soon-to-be-extinct"ethnosaurs": Republicans who refuse to adapt to the new environment, in which, as Fox News superstar Bill O'Reilly says, "the White establishment is a minority."
Dyson's riffs are brilliant. The phenomenon itself is ... surreal, frightening, indicative of an American spatiality carving itself in two...
Source: Thoughts and reactions based on MSNBC (2012). The Ed Show, November 9. New York: MSNBC.
Schumpeter Surfs Ruin Porn
What if Schumpeter, looking out across today's post-foreclosure landscapes of creative housing destruction, were to consider the imaginative geographies of "ruin porn" -- all those photographs taken by people venturing to the urban ruins of deindustrialization, decay, and abandonment? Schumpeter has met his match with the creativity and talent of Sam Walker and Emily Rosenman, who are studying the urban landscapes of America's housing catastrophe and waves of foreclosures. Sam wrote some code to mine geo-tagged Flickr photos for mentions of the keywords of Austerity America: abandoned, abandonment, rust, decay, postindustrial ... and a few other similar terms.
Behold, the map of the creative landscape destruction of today's circuits of capital and dispossession...
Update, November 2012. I had a brainstorm, and then talked it out with Sam and Emily. It works! This is GeoDA output from a univariate LISA with five nearest neighbors, comparing Representatives' voting patterns with the proportion of their ideological neighbors' constituents who received food stamps (an indicator of hunger and poverty). The blue dots: Representatives with fewer than average hungry constituents, surrounded by ideologically similar representatives who also have lower than average rates of foodstamp assistance. Red dots: Representatives with higher than average hungry constituents, surrounded by ideologically similar representatives who also have high rates of foodstamp provision. The off-diagonal entries are pink and light blue (for the 'spatial outliers,' with space here conceptualized in ideological terms). The dots shaded white may have high or low rates of foodstamp assistance, but they are intermixed in a way that is spatially random -- again, with space here understood in the ideological space constructed with Poole & Rosenthal's methodology.
Now if I can just get the software that does the analysis to talk to the software that puts the labels in a place where we can see 'em!
But alas, you tell me: "You're not being fair. You're being selective in how "far out" you go on the Republican side to make the right-wingers look especially foolish. Okay, I plead guilty. When I see Dennis Kucinich's name, all the way out there on the left-hand side, all I can think about is him reading a local news story to the House of Representatives in the fall of 2008. The story was about Addie Polk, who shot herself as sherrifs' deputies were downstairs to enforce an eviction order on a high-risk loan of exactly those types that had enriched legions of wealthy investors and Wall Street intermediaries. If you want to read more about Addie, and how she was part of a vast community of exploitation, see Wyly, Elvin K. and C.S. Ponder (2011). "Gender, Age, and Race in Subprime America," Housing Policy Debate 21(4), 529-564.
But are we exaggerating by going all the way over to the right when we talk about Ron Paul, Jeff Flake, and Paul Broun?
Take a close look at that red cloud of points on the right. Now look in the middle. Right smack dab in the middle (in some circles, "smack dab" is a very serious and precise unit of measurement.) Can you see the name Gohmert, peeking out in the text above a thick cloud of other names? He's at Cartesian coordinates 0.449, 0.133. That's Louie Gohmert, whose name I've seen many times in recent years, for all sorts of provocations that get instant headlines. I always thought of him as a totally fringe character. (Like "smack dab," "totally, Dude," can sometimes be used to call attention to precise coefficient estimates). Dude, look, he's totally smack dab in the middle -- this ain't no fringe character!
And what does this middle-of-the-Republican-road character say in mid-December, 2012? Here's the lead from The Hill:
"Rep. Louie Gohmert, a Republican from Texas, says he wishes Dawn Hochsprung, the principal of the Sandy Hook Elementary School, was armed with an M-4 assault rifle when she confronted Adam Lanza, the shooter who killed 20 children."
'I wish to God she had an M-4 in her office locked up so when she heard gunfire she pulls it out and she didn't have to lunge heroically with nothing in her hands but she takes him out, takes his head off before he can kill those precious kids,' Gohmert said in an interview on Fox News Sunday."
Oh, my. Let me catch my breath. A man we can definitively, quantitatively say is at the very ideological center of the U.S. Republican Party says that we need to have more guns, guns everywhere...
Alexander Bolton (2012). "GOP Lawmaker Wishes Sandy Hook Principal Was Armed With Assault Rifle." The Hill, December 16.
City Up Against the Wall
Every dot you see on this map represents an innocent Black man stopped and questioned by the New York City Police Department between 2007 and 2010; the New York Civil Liberties Union's analysis of the data for 2011 indicate that the number of stops of young black men actually exceeded the number of young black men who live in the city.
For more information, see the links to others' good work, and our work in progress on these issues, here...
Geotagged images mentioning "tourist" and posted to Flickr, January 1, 2013 to May 28, 2013.
Snapshots of World Protest
January 1, 2013 - June 1, 2013
Hey! I should get a legal name-change and order new business cards! I am now officially known as "Professor Last Name"!
"If some countries have too much history, we have too much geography."
William Lyon McKenzie King, Canadian Prime Minister (1921-26, 1926-30, 1935-48), in a 1936 address to the House of Commons; quoted in Una McGovern, ed. (2005), Webster's New World Dictionary of Quotations. Hoboken, NJ: Wiley, p. 469.
Urbanization and the Arab Spring, View 1
As represented through Facebook, October 4, 2013
Urbanization and the Arab Spring, View 2
As represented through Facebook, October 4, 2013
[this is the end...]
just a place-holder so Ye Olde HTML Editore doesn't code itself into an infinite do-loop.
Right to Remain
Anti-gentrification graffiti in Phoenix, Arizona, February 2015 (image by Dana Martin; thanks to Dana and to Tom Howard!)
Delhi-Jaipur Expressway, February 2014 (Elvin Wyly)
Did I start a university and forget to tell myself? (Image: Chicago, April 2015, by Jatinder Dhillon).
"...concern over the direction of the U.S. economy deepens when Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke, in what some economists see as a sign of pessimism, applies for Canadian citizenship." Dave Barry (2011). "Dave Barry's Year in Review: Why 2010 Made Us Sick." Washington Post, January 2, W10.
Calculation, Culture, and Civilization
"...once the language was accepted, then the thought processes behind the language were accepted as well. Once limited by the language of cost-benefit analysis, many subjects became pointless. It is impossible to sustain classical languages or medieval poetry or anything but the most recent history once their justification has to be couched in such terms. There is no countable added value to pure critical thought or the continuation of the heritage of civilization.Such disciplines need a different language to express different values."
In July, 2011, every single Republican Senator voted against a Sense of the Senate resolution calling upon the wealthy to contribute something, anything, even their spare change -- to reflect their personal responsibility to help out the society that made their wealth possible. Note that the resolution specifies no particular amount: it's just a call to conscience for shared sacrifice. And yet that is still apparently too socialist, too much class warfare...
"Along with the meaning of life and the origin of the universe, college students across the country have another existential question to ponder: the wisdom of allowing guns in class. In Arizona, known for its gun-friendly ways, state lawmakers are pushing three bills this year focused on arming professors and others over the age of 21 on Arizona campuses. ... About a dozen legislatures nationwide, concerned about the potential for campus shootings, are considering arming their academies. ... Arizona's proposals ... have prompted a fierce debate at the state's public universities, withsignificant brain power focusing on the issue of firepower."
Sadly, even the most foundational essence of the meaning of the academy in civilization requires active, explicit defense in a state dominated by the most uncivilized of political forces. "Anne Mariucci, the chairwoman of the Arizona Board of Regents ... said she would prefer that universities be places where disagreements are resolved by debating, not squeezing the trigger."
Marc Lacey (2011). "Lawmakers Debate Effect of Weapons on Campus." New York Times, February 26.
"A star is born. Geography, for so long a Cinderella subject, the easy option for students who found physics or chemistry too daunting, is soaring in popularity."
"Harper flirted with libertarianism in his university days. Naturally, this included a requisite phase of enchantment with the writings of Ayn Rand. A fellow classmate recalls an undergraduate Harper showing up to on-campus architecture talks energized by The Fountainhead, Rand's novel about an individualistic architect hero. Later, he said,the future prime minister would nurture dreams of going into city planning and then destroying it from the inside as a service to free enterprise."
Tristin Hopper (2015). "The Private Side of Stephen Harper." The National Post, via the Vancouver Sun, August 15, H1, H8, quote from p. H8.
"Consider the people and influences that enabled UBC to earn recognition as one of the top 40 research universities in the world. We have built this success on a century of effort, on the brilliance of people like the Nobel Prize-winning Michael Smith, like geographer Derek Gregory, and like zoologist and biodiversity researcher Sally Otto."
Piper, Martha (2015). "UBC Will Always Strive for Better." Vancouver Sun, August 31, p. A12.
From an actual lawsuit filed in the U.S. Court of Appeals, October 2015. (Pro-Football, Inc., v Amanda Blackhorse, et al., Case 15-1874, U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit). This is the appeal over the Washington Redskins' loss of legal trademark protection for their team name.
Our Long National Nightmare of Harper is Over
Random Archaeologies of Cartographic Knowledge, Scanned
While re-organizing the overstuffed rat's nest that my office is becoming, I finally figured out how to use one of the nice cubbyholes in an old desk that seems to date from the 1940s or 1950s. I can't help but compare this durable beast, which I inherited some years ago from a left-in-the-hallway cleaning out of a retired colleague's office, with the ephemeral, light-footprint office furniture of today's increasingly mobile workforce. This old-growth-forest piece of furniture has its histories. We'll never know most of those histories. But while threading the powercord to an oversized scanner through the back of that cubbyhole, I did find some curious tidbits. A thick roll of overhead-projector-transparency film. And then an overhead-transparency copy of a hand-drawn map of populations "based on returns from the Indian Department." Author unknown.
Grading Papers, December 2015
Some impressive work; the world is safe in the hands of the next generation!
Capitalism, Cities, and Crisis
Skyping into a seminar with Mark Davidson and other brilliant colleagues at Clark University, February 2016
Johannes Haushofer's CV of failures. It's a powerful critique of the culture of accelerating competition. Academic life has become an endless competitive race to secure credentials -- and the process of taking formal credit hides all the failures we all have. What's happening in academic life, of course, is also underway in every other domain. Even childhood has become a socially-networked competition to display and curate the perfect life of experiences, friends, styles, and consumption preferences.
Algorithmic Frontiers of Planetary Spam
How have the email-harvesting spambots confused me with Michael Goldberg? I've met him once, we had a spirited debate over the economics and politics of housing and urban land, and I teach a short segment of one of my classes based in part on a book he wrote a number of years ago. But no human being would ever confuse our identities. In the planetary world of constant spam, however, more and more of the words we humans write (including the words I am typing out here and now) are read by search robots and data-harvesting algorithms that adapt, evolve, and (if we accept the most extreme extrapolations of the digerati) think quickly and efficiently. Somehow, somewhere, an algorithm has decided that I am Dean Emeritus of the Sauder School. Go figure.
The City as a Real Estate Growth Machine: Millions and Multi-Millions
Data Source: BC Assessment Data, with corrections and refinements courtesy of Andy Yan, Bing Thom Architects.
I've been trying to read a book, but the email floods in so fast it's hard to concentrate. I'm trying to read Nick Bostrom (2014). Superintelligence: Paths, Dangers, Strategies. Oxford: Oxford University Press. Even the acknowledgments are profound: "The membrane that has surrounded the writing process has been fairly permeable. Many concepts and ideas generated while working on the book have been allowed to seep out and have become part of a wider conversation; and, of course, numerous insights originating from the outside while the book was underway have been incorporated into the text." (p. ix).
Here's the dilemma: in the networked infrastructures of contemporary cognitive capitalism, the membrane that surrounds the writing process is now planetary. In the age of the network society, cloud computing, and the 'Internet of Things' -- my Fitbit just sent me another email! -- the membrane dissolves. And it's under siege by the spammers and robots -- who seem, increasingly, to be coalescing into one giant form of Artificial Stupidity in a Hegelian negation of the hopes and dreams of the AI explosion.
Today, the membrane of my writer's block is pierced by, um, a marriage invitation sent to a UBC faculty member that I met several years ago. Who knows how the spambots have confused me with Michael Goldberg?
Damn, I should get back to writing. Must. Get. The. Fuck. Away. From. Email.
Starbucks Bears, Macao S.A.R., P.R.C.
Um, I am ... Speechless. Miami Beach, Florida, September 2016
'What's the Matter with Kansas?' redux. This shall be our scream in, about, and against America in the Trumpnado. Detail, from John Brown (1939), by John Steuart Curry (1897-1946). "Curry depicted the freedom fighter in a dramatic landscape besieged by a tornado -- symbolic of the Bleeding Kansas crisis ... Brown's crazed expression suggests the messianic fervor and wrath that fueled his opposition to human bondage through armed rebellion." From painting description by the Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, New York.
Newsstand headlines glimpsed in Puno, Peru, December 2016:
"Motherfucker, Trump Wins! The entire planet was paralyzed after the choice of the businessman as the new president of the United States. Will he fulfill his promises, many of them reckless?"
The Trumpian Pogroms Begin
January 27, 2017: Donald J. Trump issues an Executive Order suspending entry of all refugees for 120 days, banning refugees from Syria indefinitely, and blocking entry for 90 days for citizens from (in addition to Syria) Iran, Iraq, Libya, Somalia, Sudan, and Yemen. A separate provision is explicitly designed to favor only Christian refugee claimants, imposing, for the first time, a religious test for immigration consideration. Among the many stories of swift reactions, consider this one: "Shortly after noon on Saturday, Hameed Khalid Darweesh, an interpreter who worked for more than a decade on behalf of the United States government in Iraq, was released. After nearly 19 hours of detention, Mr. Darweesh began to cry as he spoke to reporters, putting his hands behind his back and miming handcuffs. 'What I do for this country? They put the cuffs on,' Mr. Darweesh said. 'You know how many soldiers I touch by this hand?'" After Darweesh was released, speaking to a small group protesting Trump's order at John F. Kennedy Airport, he "said the United States was the greatest country in the world." "'This is the humanity, this is the soul of America,' he said, surrounded by reporters and a handful of protesters holding supportive signs. 'This is what pushed me to move, leave my country and come here.'" Then Michael Moore wrote on Twitter, "Everybody in NYC area — head to JFK Terminal 4 NOW! Big anti-Trump protest forming out of nowhere!" And the crowds came, the humanity, the soul of New York City, the soul of America, to question the soulless, callous, nationalist violence of Trump's America.
Republicans in Congress, still giddy with their party's full control of the executive and legislative infrastructures of American empire, have been mostly silent. Chris Murphy, Democratic Senator from Connecticut, calls them out on this day that will live in infamy, at least until the Gringorangutan's next offensive and violent act...
Note that Section 10(iii) of Trump's Executive Order directs the Secretary of Homeland Security and the Attorney General to collect and disclose, inter alia, "information regarding the number and types of acts of gender-based violence against women" in the United States by foreign nationals. Remember Trump's proud excuse for his remarks about "grabbing women by the pussy" as "locker-room talk," his boasts that because he has wealth and power he can stroll through the dressing rooms at the Miss Teen USA pageant to get a peek at the underage girls?
Note that Section 1 solemnly declares, "In order to protect Americans, the United States must ensure that those admitted to this country do not bear hostile attitudes toward it and its founding principles. The United States cannot, and should not, admit those who do not support the Constitution, or those who would place violent ideologies over American law." Trump's order, with his blatant assertions of a religious test for entry, is the very definition of a hostile attitude towards the founding principles of the United States. In his explicit claims that anti-nepotism and anti-corruption laws cannot be applied to the President -- his now-famous channeling of Nixon's maxim, "When the President does it, that means it is not illegal" -- Trump has made it clear that he does not support the Constitution. In his enthusiasm for torture -- "You bet your ass I would" approve waterboarding, he told a wild crowd -- Trump has proudly placed violent ideologies over American law. Question: Would I advocate a world of justice in which any Commander in Chief proposing torture would first be subjected to rectal rehydration procedures in order to "clear the person's head"? You bet your ass I would! Only then would The Donald deserve a "softer Mr. Rogers persona."
"Tima Kurdi, the aunt of two-year-old Alan Kurdi, who became a symbol of the Syrian refugee crisis when his lifeless body was photographed on a Turkish beach, is calling the U.S. ban on Syrian refugees inhumane. 'Imagine those children who have one hope, and have been waiting for years to get help. Now imagine them, the next thing you’re going to see is they’re dying,' she said in an interview from her home in B.C. She said the U.S. has a responsibility to support refugees after having contributed to conflicts and supplying weapons to the Middle East, and this ban will only incite more fear within American borders. 'As a president, you don't teach your people to fear. Teach them how to be strong, teach them how to love so we don't create more hate,' she said. Kurdi, who lives in British Columbia, said she’s proud that Canada has welcomed refugees and urged both individuals and the government to do everything they can to help more Syrians escape the war as the U.S. is no longer an option." Nicole Thompson (2017). "Canadian dual citizens unaffected by U.S. ban on travel from 7 countries: Ottawa." Canadian Press, January 29.
Maybe we need to rethink the value of Geography after all. From an account of the chaos inside the National Security Council of so-called President Donald J. Trump:
"And while Mr. Obama liked policy option papers that were three to six single-spaced pages, council staff members are now being told to keep papers to a single page, with lots of graphics and maps. 'The president likes maps,'one official said."
David E. Sanger, Eric Schmitt, and Peter Baker (2017). "Turmoil at the National Security Council, from the Top Down." New York Times, February 12.
No walls or borders, what we need instead is this (Madrid) and this (Granada)!
The Reich Man's got it right! Publicly posted to Facebook, February 24, 2017.
Abolitionist Planning for Resistance in the Age of Trumpism
Ananya Roy's graduate students at the Institute on Inequality and Democracy, University of California, Los Angeles
UBC Geography Students Association, expressions of Hope in a Dangerous Time. Peace and joy and nonviolence always. But in the Trumpian era of violence against the future of the planet and its increasingly diverse humanity, may we be forgiven for occasional fantasies of appropriate vengeance. "I don't believe in guarded borders, and I don't believe in hate. I don't believe in generals, or their stinking torture state." This was Bruce Cockburn's manifesto against Reagan's wars in Central America in the 1980s; we need to update the poetic resistance for today's TrumpWorld. Start writing your lyrics: Where do You Find Your Hope?
Cognitive Cartographic Crisis
What happens when you take the science and art of "mental mapping" and apply it to American agnotology? Can we map a vacuum? Can we map the mind of misogyny, racism, greed, ignorance, arrogance, and vengeance?
(Public domain image via WhiteHouse.gov).
"The fake media tried to stop us from going to the White House. But I’m president and they’re not."