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Capitalist Pigs

Capitalist Pigs

Pigs, Pork, and Power in America
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Fatherless

Fatherless

A Memoir
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Excerpt

1.

I was in my office at the university on an ordinary Monday morning—March 3, 1997—when I got the phone call, heard an unfamiliar man’s voice asking if I was Keith Maillard. I said I was. “Are you related to Eugene Charles Maillard?”

If I were writing this as a scene in a novel, I would write in a beat here for myself—a significant pause while I tried to absorb the impact of the question—but I didn’t hesitate at all. “Yes, that’s my father.”

“I’m sorry to have to tell you this, but your father has died.”

I don’t remember what I said—something to the effect of “Oh? Is that right?”

Later, when I would look at my agenda book, I would find that my right hand had taken off on its own and written “My father has died.”

An outside observer would have seen my body sitting at my desk, functioning normally, making all the right noises into the telephone, but I didn’t have a clue what I was feeling, and I can’t describe it clearly now. “Squashed flat and pinned on a cold hard wall” is not bad, but that image is working too hard and doesn’t get at the smeary unfocused blur of it. I could use psych jargon and call myself depersonalized, although that doesn’t really do it either. I do remember exactly what I was thinking. What the hell do you mean, he’s died? Do you mean he’s just died? How can that be? He was born in 1901, for Christ’s sake. He must have been dead for years.

He died on the 25th of February, the voice was telling me—apparently this was my father’s lawyer. My right hand continued to write down what he was saying. My father’s funeral had been yesterday—a Masonic service conducted by my father’s lodge in Escondido, California. My father had been cremated and his ashes scattered at sea. He’d been a remarkable man. He’d died just a few months short of his 96th birthday. He’d never lost his memory. He was lucid right up to the end.

“Oh, is that right?” I said. Why, I thought, should I give a shit whether or not he’d been lucid right up to the end?

The lawyer asked me for my address. He needed to send me legal documents. “I’m sorry to say that he didn’t leave you anything.”

“Uh-huh.” Was I supposed to be surprised by that? Disappointed? If I’d known about my father’s existence, I would have expected exactly what I’d always got from him—nothing.

I wrote down the lawyer’s number, thanked him for calling. How strange, I thought—how meaningless and useless and anticlimactic. I’d never known my father, had never felt any personal connection to him, so it really shouldn’t matter to me at all, but I seemed to be stuck at my desk. I had to find the next thing to do. I thought about a number of possibilities. I could cancel my class and go home, but that seemed melodramatic—a reaction out of all proportion to what had just happened—but what had just happened? Maybe nothing at all. Maybe I should just get on with my normal day. Or, if I was required to have an intense emotional reaction, I could go for a long walk. That’s the way I’ve always coped with stress, but was this stress? What was I feeling? Maybe I wasn’t feeling anything.

I called my wife Mary at work. She would tell me later that I sounded stunned and out of it. She asked me a series of perfectly logical questions. “How on earth did this lawyer find you?”

“I don’t know.”

“What do you mean you don’t know? Didn’t you ask him?”

“No.”

“What did he tell you about your father?”

“I don’t know. Not much of anything.”

“Didn’t you ask?”

None of this was making any sense. My father was dead. His funeral was yesterday. He was cremated and buried at sea. “Are you all right?” she said.

“Oh, sure. I’m fine.”

She wanted the lawyer’s phone number, and I gave it to her. I walked out of my office, rode the elevator down four floors, stepped outside into the perfectly ordinary gray overcast Vancouver day, and my feelings caught up to me.

My father hadn’t appeared in my mind more than two or three times in the last ten years, so why was I so angry? And it wasn’t just anger, it was honest-to-God fury—too big, too far gone for rational control—the kind of anger that could blot out the universe. I knew I had to keep moving. I didn’t want to go striding off across campus headed for nowhere, so I paced back and forth in front of Buchanan—my building where I had a class scheduled in a little over an hour, where I would have to walk into the seminar room and impersonate not only a mature adult but a university professor. I was so angry I could see my own heartbeat in the sky. Of course I was talking to Gene Maillard, my dead father. “You son of a bitch. I spent my whole life not knowing a thing about you. You never gave me a thing. I tried to find you twice and got nowhere. You were absolutely elusive. You vanished into nothingness. And then, the day after your goddamned funeral, you can find me with no problem at all.”

Everybody has to have a father even if that father has no more human identity than a sperm cell. Did I always know that I had a father? I think I did, but when I unpack my earliest memories, what I find is a sense of things being “ordinary,” and for me that meant living with two women, my mother and grandmother. It took me awhile to understand that other people thought “ordinary” meant something else, so I didn’t know that I was different until I met other kids. They all seemed to have fathers. I learned to say what my mother had taught me: “My parents are divorced.” I learned to say what I had decided for myself must be true: “Oh, it doesn’t really matter. I don’t think about it at all.”

Whenever I asked my mother about my father, what I heard always sounded like a prerecorded message from the early days of radio. It wasn’t merely that the information never changed; the words themselves never changed. “He was a good dancer,” was the first thing she said about him. “He was the cheapest man who ever lived,” was the second. The first was the reason she’d married him, the second the reason she’d left him.

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Geography's Quantitative Revolutions
Excerpt

Preface

In a period of vibrant innovation in the decades after the Second World War, a “quantitative revolution” swept through many of the social sciences, altering the logics, methods, and practices of knowledge production. This revolution was particularly transformative in the field of human geography, in part because of the discipline’s aspirations to overcome its small size and weak position in the pecking order of elite universities—particularly in the United States. The revolution was also enmeshed with the development of science and technology practices that came to be known as the military-industrial complex. Yet geography’s revolution was remarkably short-lived, quickly followed by a series of dramatic insurgencies questioning its underlying philosophy, methods, and politics. In the space of little more than a decade—from the early 1960s to the early 1970s—the field became a dynamic, dialectical site of struggle between positivist spatial science and an evolving plurality of alternatives and oppositional movements. While many of the earliest challenges came from comparatively conservative currents in regional and cultural geography, the field was soon remade by Marxist, environmentalist, antiracist, and feminist mobilizations.

A great deal has been written about geography’s quantitative revolution. Much of that literature has emphasized the dramatic turning points of the late 1960s and early 1970s, and for many observers today—conservatives and radicals alike—contemporary history begins with the intellectual and political evolution of David Harvey. His 1969 Explanation in Geography, written in his years at Bristol, became an instant classic, widely described as the Bible of a quantitative positivist geography that had by then become the mainstream. Even as he submitted galley proofs of Explanation, however, he was rethinking everything after arriving to take up a position at Johns Hopkins. Baltimore was in flames with antiracist and antiwar protests, and Harvey’s radicalization eventually culminated in a sort of liberation theology for the discipline’s scientific scriptures in the deeply influential 1973 Marxist manifesto Social Justice and the City. Harvey also engaged in high-profile battles with the field’s most prominent defender of spatial science, Brian J. L. Berry.

Today, however, our understanding of geography’s quantitative revolution is itself in the midst of a wide-ranging reconsideration. Three factors are most significant. First, we are seeing further into the prehistory of the field’s revolutionary moments. Thanks to the genealogical and oral history work led over the past two decades by Trevor Barnes, we are gaining a much more situated, intimate biographical understanding of the establishment geography that was the target of revolutionary challenges in the 1960s and 1970s. We now know much more about the extent of geographers’ roles in the intelligence apparatus constructed by the United States in the 1940s and in some of the Nazis’ wartime operations. Thanks to Neil Smith’s geopolitical and biographical history of Isaiah Bowman, we know more about the militarization of geographical knowledge in the First World War, the discipline’s entrenched reliance on the eighteenth-century philosophy of Immanuel Kant, and the political struggles involved in the catastrophic decision to close Harvard’s geography program in the 1940s. Second, it has become clear that we are now in the midst of a new and more powerful quantitative revolution, with a complex mixture of continuities and ruptures from the paradigmatic struggles of previous generations. As a formalized discipline, geography remains a complex, pluralist field shaped by enduring dichotomies between physical and human subjects, descriptive versus explanatory modes of thought, and mainstream/conservative opposed to insurgent and radical political projects. Yet beyond the formal confines of the academy, geography has suddenly achieved a nearly universal popularity—as the formalized infrastructures of geographical information systems (GIS) diffuse through governments and businesses and as military technologies like the Geographical Positioning System (GPS) fuse with the smartphone “mobile revolution” and big data in the Silicon Valley “disruptions” of everyday life. Everyone seems to love the geography that is shaping the spaces and places of their daily connected lives, even as many continue to see the formal field of geography as little more than the memorization of locational trivia. Do we need geographers? Aren’t there plenty of apps for that?

Put simply, the quantitative revolution is both older and newer than we once thought. It is essential that we recover lost memories from the work of previous generations of human geographers and that we examine the explicit and hidden connections to the latest frontiers of the observation, measurement, and manipulation of information about spaces and places. Our sense of history and geography—always a domain of contestation in science and philosophy—is undergoing an episode of profound, accelerated, and nonlinear evolution. Geography, at least as understood as the engagement with information about the spaces and places of people and environments in a diverse world, is more popular than ever before. And yet one of the paradoxes of our age of algorithmic efficiency and artificial intelligence is that it is no longer clear how many humans we need who call themselves geographers.

In this short book, I wrestle with this paradox of geography’s popularity in an age of automation and dehumanization. My approach is biographical: I examine the interplay of past and present theories and technologies through a close examination of the work of a neglected, often-overlooked figure in the discipline’s evolution: Edward A. Ackerman (1911–1973). In September 1963, Ackerman, who had been invited to be honorary president of the Association of American Geographers, delivered a presidential address titled “Where Is a Research Frontier?” Ackerman’s address was a panoramic survey of the advances achieved by the mathematical and physical sciences in the first half of the twentieth century and a bold exhortation for a weak, marginalized, obsolete geography to step up its game, to work harder to reach and advance those frontiers. Ackerman argued for a deeper engagement with the quantitative methods that were already becoming so important in the field. But he situated quantitative methods within a much more ambitious explanatory framework called General Systems Theory. He portrayed a “revolution of rationalism” in the economic structure of the United States. He described the role of science and technology in the “social problem of automation.” He spoke of how “cybernation” was eliminating the need for individual human decision-making, changing the operations of the nation’s defense program, and enabling breakthroughs in the understanding of “the process of human thought itself.” These futuristic technological themes, of course, are all part of the Cold War infrastructure that John Bellamy Foster and Robert McChesney have called “surveillance capitalism,”1 which has now developed into the transnational circuits of cloud computing and National Security Agency (NSA) “collect it all” monitoring doctrines.

My central argument is that we can gain a much better understanding of quantitative revolutions—today’s and yesterday’s—by undertaking a close study of the thought, life, and context of Ackerman. The content of his 1963 presidential address illuminates an optimistic, forward-looking faith in modernist, linear scientific progress and the inevitable triumph of an American Dream through the perilous times of wars hot and cold. The unstated context of his address reveals a more situated, happenstance, and bittersweet biographical trajectory that positioned him between academic geography and the military-industrial complex. Ackerman had been intimately involved in the painful disaster of the Harvard closure, and he played a central role in the applied geography practiced in the Office of Strategic Services (OSS), the forerunner of today’s CIA. He was also the product of an older mode of geographical thought that looked to the past for its legitimation, back to Kant and to the nineteenth-century fusion of geology and evolutionary theory that created the foundations for American human geography. After the war and Harvard geography’s demise, Ackerman accepted a series of positions—consultant to MacArthur’s occupation forces in Japan, chief geographer for the President’s Water Resources Policy Commission, assistant general manager of the Tennessee Valley Authority, and then finally executive officer at the Carnegie Institution of Washington—that put him at the center of the emerging think-tank infrastructure of American science and technology policy.

By the time he became honorary president for the Association of American Geographers, then, Ackerman had developed a truly unique intellectual and personal, embodied perspective shaped by geography’s historical reverence toward a slow, evolutionary past and its sudden ambitions to catch up to the futuristic advancing wave of mathematical, positivist big science. Situated in the ferment of the postwar fascination with quantitative behavioral science and cybernetics, Ackerman’s 1963 address helps us to see important continuities between today’s worlds of big data and the eighteenth- and nineteenth-century philosophies used to build knowledge of a diverse world of different peoples and natural environments. His thought and work in the early phases of the computer revolution in social research, moreover, help us to see some of the early paradoxes of the extraordinary transformation in the nature of scale, aggregation, and statistical inference in the practices of what Donna Haraway has diagnosed as “technoscience.”2 Finally, a consideration of Ackerman forces us to confront the poignant essence of humanity in the practice of scholarly inquiry. Orphaned as a young child, Ackerman landed a scholarship at Harvard and soon became recognized as one of the most brilliant geographers of his generation. He was kind, thoughtful, and principled. And yet in his struggles to build his own career and to nurture an emergent geographical science, Ackerman was shaped by and contributed to a military-industrial complex premised upon hierarchical control and the management of violence. A consideration of the situated, human contradictions of Ackerman is important as we are forced to confront today’s increasingly automated geography, where algorithmic advances are rapidly transforming the meanings of individual human choices, constraints, and perceptions—and the meanings of human responsibility, care, and empathy. Algorithmic aggregation through crowdsourcing, the adaptive auto-recommend interfaces augmented by artificial intelligence, and the pattern-recognition data-mining techniques now widely used in both corporate and military surveillance and micro-targeting—all of these cybernetic advances represent the culmination of trends foreseen by Ackerman more than half a century ago. All of these advances are quickly dehumanizing geographical thought and practice. Algorithmic geographic thought is always changing, and indeed it has become very explicitly evolutionary in the world that the science historian George Dyson calls the “universe of self-replicating code.”3 But you and I—as human author and reader—cannot really talk, persuade, and fight with the algorithms of surveillance capitalism. Previous generations of authors and readers talked, taught, and learned in university seminar rooms and street protests—struggling over the meanings of science, justice, and “progress.” While this still happens today, it is increasingly mediated by the evolutionary algorithmic adaptations of a cybernetic infrastructure that is redefining human agency and human responsibility.

This is a work of theory and synthesis, easily assembled from three types of sources. First, we can evaluate Ackerman’s position within the history of formalized ideas in the discipline through the published literature of the evolving, contested canon of American geographical thought. Second, the Edward A. Ackerman Papers at the American Heritage Center at the University of Wyoming offer a treasure trove of archived documents and correspondence; these files offer evocative clues to the biography of Ackerman’s experiences and ideas and his role in the early years of the field’s quantitative revolution. Third, we can analyze the connections between Ackerman’s thought and the military-industrial complex (yesterday and today) by using the simple “open source intelligence” methods he helped refine at the OSS in the 1940s—careful scrutiny of contemporary public-interest journalism and other readily available government and scholarly documents.

It has been more than half a century since the quantitative revolution began to transform geography, and human memories are fading fast. This era is now widely recalled as an epoch of austere mathematics and bold ambitions for geography to become a “true” science on the advancing frontiers of positivist observation of the external world. This is an important part of the story, but it is partial and incomplete. Ackerman’s life and legacy remind us of a hidden history of positivist geographical thought—a blend of cybernetic engineering metaphors and a distorted form of idealist phenomenology that was hijacked by American military hegemony and the earliest epistemological strains of neoliberalism. The result, a hybrid that I call “militant neo-Kantianism,” has corrupted the discipline and accelerated the algorithmic evolutionary dehumanization of human geography. We must understand this history—a history that is alternately forgotten, distorted, and suppressed—so that we can decide what kind of human geographers we wish to become, and what kinds of human and nonhuman worlds are possible and worth fighting to build.

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Learning to Leave

Learning to Leave

The Irony of Schooling in a Coastal Community
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Teaching the Literature Survey Course

Teaching the Literature Survey Course

New Strategies for College Faculty
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