Gongol.com Archives: November 2023

Brian Gongol

November 14, 2023

News Out in the cold

The city of Chicago, like a number of other major cities, is struggling to deal with the most pressing basic needs of an influx of migrant families. Some 3,000 are living, for now, in Chicago's police stations and airports. The effort to provide even temporary housing has created friction with some existing residents, who see the new arrivals as competitors for scarce social-service resources. ■ The city reports that 21,000 asylum-seekers have been taken in since August 2022, and that more than 12,000 are currently in shelters. Many others have been resettled or "reunited with sponsors". But even with those relief mechanisms, it's still the equivalent of absorbing the population of a small city. ■ The plight is acute, because winter is imminent, and at least 1,500 of those migrants are living in tents with virtually no insulation from the cold. The city is trying to assemble "winterized base camps" in a handful of sites, including a vacant grocery store, using tents large enough to shelter hundreds of people at a time. ■ Chicago had a significant population of homeless people before the arrival of the asylum-seekers. And projects like converting a foreclosed hotel into a temporary shelter for that incumbent population are helpful, but only in limited fashion. ■ The obstacles to speedily delivering safe, low-cost, permanent shelter for 21,000 new arrivals only serve to highlight that the very same obstacles stand in the way of aiding the incumbent residents who needed shelter before them. It should not tax our civic imaginations to such an extreme to figure out how to quickly get (permanent) roofs over heads. ■ Housing will always be a basic human need -- one of the most basic of all. And there will always be events that cause sudden surges in demand for it, from wars to famines to natural disasters. We ought to be clever enough to find replicable solutions that can be set up at low cost, at scale, in a hurry. If those answers can be found -- especially if the price can be brought low -- then other resources can be spent on the much wider range of social services that people in crisis also need.

Computers and the Internet Some Internet journalists need to stay off the Internet

A columnist for a reputable national newspaper has taken to social media to engage in what appears to be an escalatory spiral of conspiracy embrace and hazardous equivalency over health issues and international affairs. The columnist's beat is "technology and Internet culture", so it's perhaps no surprise her exposure to strong-to-extreme views is greater than for most people. ■ That raises potent questions about the prudence of assigning "Internet culture" journalists largely on the basis of youth and perceived closeness to the subject. There is something paradoxically naive to the assumption that the best people to cover Internet culture, such as it is, are the digital natives, rather than those who may otherwise view it with some arm's-length detachment. ■ To be sure, it's possible to over-correct: It would be ridiculous to have someone try to approach Internet culture like some pith-helmeted explorer reporting for the March 1922 issue of National Geographic (right beside Alexander Graham Bell's recollection of the "Prehistoric Telephone Days"). Complete bemused detachment (as rendered by someone like a modern-day Andy Rooney) would seem inauthentic, considering how much time and energy most people devote to their connected activities. ■ But maybe there was some latent value in the training people received as teenagers some thirty years ago, when MTV News and ABC News appeared on different channels, requiring a conscious choice to switch between them. Perhaps that created a reflexive understanding that Kurt Loder wasn't trafficking in the same material as Peter Jennings, and that it was entirely appropriate to shift gears when digesting what one heard from each. That's much harder to do when information is consumed as a non-stop stream (as it is via social media). ■ It's easy to romanticize the past, and it's a tradition nearly as old as civilization to complain about the indiscretions of youth. But particularly for institutions that go to significant lengths to buttress their credibility, it might be wise to bring level heads, clear eyes, and quite possibly an approach consciously designed to avoid the cultivation of celebrity to covering an online "culture" that is scarcely distinguishable from the one experienced by most people every day.

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