Ferguson and the Cost of Sprawl

Every time I think that there couldn’t be any more reasons to hate suburban sprawl, a new one crops up. This time, a good case is made that decaying suburbs create poverty, like that found in Ferguson, Missouri:

Decline isn’t a result of poverty. The converse is actually true: poverty is the result of decline. Once you understand that decline is baked into the process of building auto-oriented places, the poverty aspect of it becomes fairly predictable. The streets, the sidewalks, the houses and even the appliances were all built in the same time window. They all are going to go bad at roughly the same time. Because there is a delay of decades between when things are new and when they need to be fixed, maintaining stuff is not part of the initial financial equation. Cities are unprepared to fix things — the tax base just isn’t there — and so, to keep it all going, they try to get more easy growth while they take on lots of debt.

In 2013, Ferguson paid nearly $800,000 just in interest on its debt. By comparison, the city budgeted $25,000 for sidewalk repairs, $60,000 for replacing police handguns and $125,000 for updating their police cars. And, like I pointed out last week, Ferguson does what all other cities do and counts their infrastructure and other long-term obligations as assets, not only ignoring the future costs but actually pretending that the more infrastructure they build with borrowed money, the wealthier they become.

h/t Massengale


Today the Internet protests the idiocy of SOPA/PIPA, many by blacking out their site to demonstrate what these censorship bills could well do to the Internet as we know it.

I haven’t bothered with blacking out my site, but I will urge any USAmerican readers of mine to hassle their representatives. Watch a great summary of the issue below:

And, for a more in-depth explanation, go watch the ever-insightful Clay Shirkey’s talk at TED: Defend our freedom to share (or why SOPA is a bad idea)

Indie Game: The Movie at Sundance

Winnipeg-based BlinkWorks Productions has just announced that their crowd-funded documentary Indie Game: The Movie about independent video game makers will be premiering at the Sundance Film Festival. I didn’t pay much attention when I heard they were making this movie, since my own opinion on video games largely skews into the “waste of time” category. But, the documentary looks like it focuses on more universal themes of creativity, struggle, and drive in the lives of the creators of these video games. What drives them to do what they do? I’m looking forward to seeing it.

Winnipeggers can watch the outside-of-Sundance premiere on Feb 3, 2012.

Congratulations to Lisanne and James on the Sundance selection!

Justice Begins in the Negative

My initial thoughts towards the Occupy Wall Street movement were like lots of people: “Okay, I see that you’re mad about something, but do you have anything constructive to say?” It seemed as though they were against the rubbish financial system, but what else?

We always want critique to be constructive rather than filled with inarticulate rage. And yet, maybe it’s too much to expect that immediately. Kester Brewin helped me see the problem with this:

[I]t is part of the corruption of power to insist that any protest or critique against the dominant system comes fully formed. When you’re being beaten down, it is entirely valid to simply scream in frustration, without any idea what changes need to be made. – Don’t Blame Bankers | What Alternatives Are ‘Occupy’ Proposing?

Spot on.

Hitler is the Devil

The home of the film provocateur has expelled one of their own for crossing the only impermissible line. Or, Lars von Trier, the provocative Danish filmmaker, has been kicked out of the Cannes Film Festival for saying “I understand Hitler. I sympathize with him a bit,” and “I’m a Nazi.” The interview (which cuts off just before the “I’m a Nazi” remark) is here:

Von Trier seems to be—I have never actually seen any of his films—a filmmaker who trades primarily in shock value. My unfamiliarity with his body of work means that I cannot substantiate my assumption that his work is style over substance, but someone going around making comments like that strengthens the assumption. His comments came at a press conference where he was asked about his German roots. His actual reply:

I really wanted to be a Jew and then I found out that I was really a Nazi because my family was German, which also gave me some pleasure. What can I say? I understand Hitler. I think he did some wrong things absolutely. I can see him sitting in his bunker in the end. I think I understand the man. He’s not what you would call a good guy. I understand much about him and I sympathize with him a little bit. I’m not for the 2nd World War. I’m not against Jews, not even Susanne Bier. That was also a joke. I am of course very much for Jews. No, not too much because Israel is a pain in the ass. How can I get out of this sentence? [pause] OK I’m a Nazi.

Again, von Trier appears to be playing the provocateur. There are very few taboos in our world, but Hitler, the Holocaust, and Nazi Germany have their orthodoxies. Von Trier decided to play with this dogma, but the inquisitors of tolerance found it intolerable, kicking him out of the festival. It’s the structure of orthodoxy, heresy, and excommunication that interests me here.

What I see operable here is what I dub the sacral vacuum: the cultural removal of divine good and evil (in the Western past, the Christian God and the Devil, respectively) will only result in other things rushing in to take their place. It’s hard to name God’s replacement in broader culture—there are too many—but Hitler has surely become our Devil. To question his infernal status is to question pretty much the only belief we have in common, which we find threatening enough to expel von Trier from Cannes.

Von Trier the heretic has been excommunicated, and now we can once again rest assured in that we’re agreed in knowing how to name (past) evil. But Hitler is not the devil, nor was he unalloyed evil. Allowing him to occupy that space in our public life dulls our ability to name evil in the present, as our inattention to the genocides in places like East Timor, Darfur, and the Congo reveals.

We all worship a god and fear a devil of some sort, whether they look like traditional religion or not. Belief and religion are unavoidable, and the only open question is what shape they will take. I worship God the Father of Jesus Christ, who welcomes and forgives the Hitlers, von Triers and Matt Wiebes of this world. This scandalous grace bursts open the ordinary orthodox/heretic continuum, troubling easy dogmas and pieties. This is one of many reasons I find the good news about Jesus Christ so compelling.