In Jagermeister Veritas

“Always do sober what you said you'd do drunk. That will teach you to keep your mouth shut.”

-Ernest Hemingway

(Warning: Mom, some of the dance links contain salty language, please beware)

The fact that this post was written and uploaded by the usual Monday deadline is a minor miracle. This past weekend was the third Saturday in October, and you know what that means. I am one of four brothers (from other mothers) that have a standing tradition of traveling to this particular game. This year, however, we expanded The Circle to assemble an all-star cast of C.Rushing cronies and made a weekend of it in Knoxville. It was great to get together with a group of folks for whom I have an affinity, who have the capacity to put up with me, and who have a propensity to have fun. A weekend of Homeric proportions, it was. The Old City will never be the same after I unleashed epic versions of the wobble, the cupid shuffle, the cha cha slide and a stone-cold Dougie.  All of this, of course, was an excellent warm up for a day of friendly banter and a football game that ended the way it should have (Roll Tide). At dinner Friday night, however, our conversation turned to politics (I know, that shocked me as well). But rather than actually engage in that conversation, I bought some time by asking my friends to tune in to the blog for my views on politics and how it relates to urban design (I then swiftly changed the subject). Here, then, is my attempt to pay heed to Hemingway’s excellent advice:

It's a pants off! (though not literally, Roll Tide)

I can’t stomach the current state of American politics. The very idea of turning on the tv, or perusing a website to listen to the talking heads makes my ears bleed. Every four years it gets worse. I don’t really have much of a social life (except for The Circle), and the ability to keep up with acquaintances via Facebook is a decent surrogate. I am, however, amazed at some of the stuff I see posted by friends that I normally consider to be sane and rational people. The way the process unfolds is nothing less than a circus. How can this possibly pass as a way for sane, adult citizens to conduct the process of self-governance?  It’s as if people have lost any semblance of intelligence in an effort to paint the other guy as a villain. An example from each side: “you didn’t build that” and “binders of women”. Taken in full context, a reasonable person should be able to get the gist of what the candidate is saying. Yet, people insist on insulting our collective intelligence (if there is such a thing), by taking these statements out of context and suggesting that there is some nefarious subtext. Do small business people actually think they built all the roads, infrastructure and markets that gave them a game to play in? Of course not. In that sense, you didn’t “build that”- get over it. Do people think that Mitt should have used some other instrument to hold on to his paperwork? Perhaps he should have had ladies delivered to him in a TrapperKeeper (nah, but I think that’s what Clinton used).

Every four years we are faced with the illusion of a choice. There is very little real difference between the parties, as they essentially serve the same masters (not us, by the way).  We have a cumbersome system that is susceptible to partisan squabbling and that makes it virtually impossible to address “real issues”. This inertia is a great thing when everything is right with the world- it’s hard for some nutcase to come in and mess things up. However, when we are faced with problems, the inertia creates an environment that thwarts nimble and creative solutions to real problems. The bigger our government gets, the worse the problem becomes.

Sadly, a disproportionate amount of
The Circle support UT.
(identities hidden to protect the guilty)

Ok, now for the urban design connection. If this blog was boiled down to a single theme, it would probably have to do with contextual sensitivity. Every site, every street, every project has a set of unique conditions that a successful design will respond to. One of the glaring deficiencies of Modernism is that it offered too many one-size-fits-all solutions (yes, I understand juxtaposition with the landscape, but follow me on this one). With other elements of urbanism- our food systems and transportation systems- the forward thinkers are proposing the devolution of these massive monocultures to localized solutions to local problems. So it makes perfect sense to me that a massive federal government is less able to efficiently provide services and solutions than the state and local governments are. I’ve written time and again about how I lean right, but the truth is, I’m pretty moderate (yes, moderation is not one of my long suits, but for some reason it applies in politics). In this case, however, I fall in with the Republicans on the concept of delegating more powers to local governments.

Before you flood my inbox with hate mail, please note that I fully recognize that we Republicans are a confused lot as well. We’re as much about private property rights as we are about reducing the size and reach of government. Those two things seem complementary, but in the realm of American urbanism they are unfortunately at odds. Enmeshed in the property rights argument is the paranoid Tea Party concern over Agenda 21 and the possibility that the U.N. might take our sub-urbs away. The fact is that the sub-urbs are the embodiment of Big Government imposing its will. Through decades of the subsidization of infrastructure, gasoline, and the administration of zoning and subdivision regulations, the government has dictated to the market what can and will be built. If our massive infrastructure was not subsidized and if consumers actually paid the true market cost for gasoline, sub-urbs would not exist in their current form. So here is our confused position- we love free, unfettered markets, we love sub-urbs, we hate Big Government, and we hate subsidy- yet there they are, all in bed together. I believe that people should have the opportunity to choose how and where they want to live- but they should have to pay the true market cost of those decisions. The costs of highways and roads should be passed along to those who use them- not put on Spence and Stern’s tab in the form of deficit. Gasoline should be priced at what it costs to deliver- currently about $15 a gallon. Since we wouldn’t be paying taxes to deliver those services, we would have more money/flexibility to make our decisions. At that point, the choice is yours- if you can afford to live in the ‘burbs and want to, have at it. As it relates to community development, I have a problem with using our tax dollars to subsidize other people’s bad lifestyle choices.

So there you have it, the fulfillment of an promise made on a night out: C.Rushing on politics. As imperfect as our process is, I suppose it beats strange women, lying in ponds distributing swords as a basis for a system of government. I have learned my lesson and will keep my mouth shut. If you happen to see me out and about, please don’t bring this up in conversation. I really don’t want to write about it again (for at least four years).

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