Read/Listen/Watch #2: Media that can’t stop, won’t stop

There’s obviously a lot of media to take in out there. I’m regularly going to try to give you a taste of some of the things I’ve consumed recently that left me wanting more. Options are important so I’m going to try to give you something that you can read, listen to or watch. Everything listed below has different durations so you can adjust accordingly depending on how much time you have.

Read: Evicted: Poverty and Profit in the American City by Matthew Desmond

Living in Austin inevitably leads to the topic of homelessness coming up every once in a while, as I imagine it does in a lot of major cities. The homeless in Austin are particularly visible because many of them congregate downtown to be near people, services at the ARCH and possible job opportunities.

When I talk to my friends that work downtown, they voice their frustration at the situation. It’s not just them, though. The Austin Chronicle’s Kevin Curtin covered the response from the music clubs lining Red River to downtown Austin’s homeless problem. At over 4,000 words, the article itself was heavy with complaints but much lighter with possible solutions.

That’s to be expected. Solving homelessness involves solving a litany of other problems related to poverty, affordable housing and mental health. It’s easier to complain or to wish the problem away. But CityLab’s Kriston Capps listed facts as to why that’s easier said than done in Austin, including homeless households now competing with low- and moderate-income households for housing and 45% of Austin’s homeless reporting a current mental health issue.

A complex issue deserves a complex response. Desmond’s “Evicted” is such a response. Desmond, a Harvard sociologist, implanted himself in the lives of a few impoverished residents of Milwaukee to bear witness to their tribulations. Using an ethnographer’s perspective, i.e. providing a detailed, scientific review of everyday life, Desmond discusses the harsh reality of trying to make ends meet and the dehumanizing process of being evicted when that doesn’t work out.

The relative safety of our own world is something we can take for granted. Capps points out, in the aforementioned CityLab article, that Austin’s crime rate is 21st out of 24 Texas cities. A subsequent report in the Texas Tribune points out that Austin saw the sharpest decline in crime in a 2014-2015 report from the Brennan Center for Justice. We wouldn’t imagine that’s the case if we only read Kevin Curtin’s treatment on the subject of “beggars, hustlers, and dealers” in downtown Austin.

But “Evicted” shows us multiple harrowing, cruel violations of someone’s world from a different perspective. As their belongings are taken from their home and placed on the street, we have to see people coming to terms with the reality of losing a safety net that we all hold dear. The implications are real and severe. How are you going to go to work that day when all your possessions are on the street or in an expensive storage facility and you need to go hunt for a new place to live with an eviction on your tenant record?

Many of these people end up in shelters. Desmond’s work affords them the humanity and respect that they deserve.

Listen: Interview with Cass Sunstein about his upcoming book #Republic: Divided Democracy in the Age of Social Media on NPR

I’ve been looking for a thorough treatment on the subject of social media and democracy. I’m elated it’s coming. That’s one of the nerdier things I’ll write in my life, but I’m okay with that. I’ve explored the subject myself. I can’t help that I want to be killing it in the democracy game.

In this 5-minute interview, Sunstein begins to draw the causal relationship between how our interaction with social media drives our cultural “polarization.” If you’re starting to question the role of social media in your life, then Sunstein’s book should be of interest to you. If not, tell me why in the comments.

Watch: The White Helmets by Orlando von Einsiedel on Netflix

“We’re so grateful this film has highlighted our work to the world. Our organization is guided by a verse in the Koran, ‘To save one life is to save all of humanity.’ We have saved more than 82,000 Syrian lives. I’ll invite anyone here who hears me to work on the side of life to stop the bloodshed in Syria and around the world.”

– Khaled Khateeb, cinematographer

The words above are a statement from the cinematographer of “The White Helmets,” a documentary about the first responders of the Syria Civil Defence. Khateeb made this statement after not being allowed into the U.S. to accept an Academy Award for this film at the last minute.

I can’t do this film justice in words. All I can point to is my previous statement about taking our relative safety for granted. The people in this film are heroes—I don’t use that word lightly—and they deserve forty minutes of your attention.


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