Code Red Raises the Alarm - Will We Answer?

The poverty that grips this city is our problem - and our shame, if we continue to pass on the challenge and the opportunity to come to terms with the despair and heart-crushing waste of human potential we've allowed to take shape.

By RTH Staff
Published April 12, 2010

We urge you to read the Hamilton Spectator's Code Red series comparing public health indicators across different city neighbourhoods - and not just to see how your own neighbourhood ranks.

The first installment, published over seven pages in this past Saturday's edition, ought to serve as a serious wake-up call to a city that has grown complacent with the extreme levels of inequity between the affluent and the disadvantaged.

Steve Buist is a talented writer and investigative journalist. He has a proven ability to synthesize large, messy data sets and unravel the stories buried in them. In some ways, Code Red is a project that has been waiting for him: big enough and important enough to be worth his considerable skills.

We applaud the Spectator's goodwill and proactive intentions. At a time when many newspapers are making panicked retreats into the most banal infotainment, it's a credit to the paper that they tackled a hard-news project that is sure to generate a lot of controversy.

We especially look forward to the later installments in which the reporting shifts from articulating the problems to sketching out some possible solutions.

And yet. As fairly long-time observers of the political process in Hamilton, we find ourselves struggling against the urge to respond with mere cynicism.

After all, this report is not telling us anything we don't already know. The divisions may be starker than we expected - a 21 year difference in average life expectancy between the best and worst neighbourhoods in the city!? - but the pattern is well-understood.

Likewise, we already understand that cutting funding for disadvantaged communities is a false economy. When we cut support to ensure that everyone's fundamental needs are met, we end up spending more money reactively on emergency health care, policing and social services.

Given the staff recommendations and council decisions over the past four years, it's hard to believe the city's leadership is willing to make a real, lasting commitment to revitalizing the lower city, cultivating healthy neighbourhoods and honouring the official goal of making Hamilton the "best place to raise a child".

We've been down this road before, and with little substantial change to show for it. Will Code Red go the way of Lament For A Downtown, the Beasley series and other hard looks the city's newspaper has taken on the state of the lower city?

How many people will read this and simply reinforce their fear and loathing toward the north end? How many will emerge from the series more determined than ever to detach themselves and their communities from the troubled heart of the city?

Will our municipal leaders seriously address any solution that does not involve approving more Wal-Marts on greenfields on the edge of town? The city has clearly shown where its priorities lie.

We're more interested in building Smart Centres than being a smart city.

It's an election year, but poor people don't vote, so it's easy for politicians to ignore their needs. In this context, cynicism on our part would serve their desire to punt on hard problems and to pander instead to the chauvinism of sheltered elites (ourselves included).

If we've learned anything, it's that real change must start at the grassroots level through neighbourhood associations and nonprofit community development organizations working directly with disadvantaged communities to experience and understand their needs.

If we want higher levels of government to commit the stable, predictable funding necessary to establish and sustain effective long-term preventative systems, we as a city need to start by committing to the idea that we're all in this together.

The poverty that grips too much of this city isn't someone else's problem. It's our problem - and our shame, if we continue to pass on the challenge and the opportunity to come to terms with the despair and heart-crushing waste of human potential we've allowed to take shape.


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By moylek (registered) - website | Posted April 12, 2010 at 11:05:55

I'm not so thrilled with the Code Red series. For one thing, it veers toward the sensational - and occasionally the hysterical - in tone.

For another thing, the articles appear to imply that poverty in a neighbourhood - poverty meaning lack of money in the pockets of the poor or lack of money spent by the governments on services - causes the shocking outcomes (high rates of hospital visits, crime, delinquency; low life expectancy).

Of course poverty is associated with all of these problems. But we can't assume that poverty is always the cause; might not poverty be another outcome of the same underlying problems? So giving money to people or spending money in neighbourhoods might not improve the outcomes much if the root problems remain.

And what are the root problem? I don't know. I expect that few people do or else we would have sovled more of them by now. But I don't think that the problem in 21st century Hamilton is what it was in 19th century Britain - a simple lack of money to feed, clothe and house families leading to disease and death and crime.

I hope (against hope) that the government and the public think hard and carefully about causes and effects after getting over the initial shock. The alternatives are to either grown more callous or to waste more money.

Comment edited by moylek on 2010-04-12 10:08:58

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By jason (registered) | Posted April 12, 2010 at 13:15:58

obviously some of the stats are easily adjusted. For example, in my neighbourhood stats always show a huge proportion of seniors. Yet, in reality the neighbourhood is crawling with young families. 3 seniors apartment buildings and 2 old age homes automatically drive up the numbers and show an aged population.

In many cases, these urban neighbourhoods pulling in the 'bad scores' in the spec series aren't attractive places to live for middle and upper class folks. lack of amenities, lack of local shops, one-way freeways, dark streets and less than stellar parks all help to make the grass seem that much greener elsewhere. areas like strathcona, kirkendall and even recently the west harbour/north end and corktown are starting to become places with a mix of residents and income levels. mixed neighbourhoods are the way to go.

Speaking of code, is anyone an expert at reading code? Try using that interactive map online that the Spec has produced. you need a degree in sorting out jumbled numbers.

Mac and The Spec should be applauded for this in depth research, but as mentioned in the above editorial, city councils track record leaves me in side of the skeptics. We'll start more roundtables, have more breakfast meetings, issue more press releases and accomplish very little between now and the next big Spec series.

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By randomguy (anonymous) | Posted April 12, 2010 at 15:39:08

How much of this life expectancy discrepancy can be explained by smoking rates? I'm guessing a reasonable amount. Crack usage is probably part of the equation as well for the worst districts.

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By zookeeper (registered) | Posted April 12, 2010 at 16:10:00

The question would then be "why do poor people smoke and use crack at high enough rates that they cut the avg life expectancy by 21 years?"

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By TreyS (registered) | Posted April 12, 2010 at 17:04:31

So why does the City continue to build "social housing" in these neighourhoods? How about spreading it out over the enitre city. Naw, let's concentrate it all; the meth clinics, halfway houses, social housing into already overly depressed neighourhoods. Let's concentrate the poverty more, then wonder, jeez how did this disparity happen?

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By moylek (registered) - website | Posted April 12, 2010 at 17:45:48

Note to the editor: the system timed out on me while editing the above. Would you please delete the first above? Thanks. KM

The question would then be "why do poor people smoke and use crack at high enough rates that they cut the avg life expectancy by 21 years?"

That is a question, but not the question. The question presupposes that poverty is the defining characteristic and that smoking and crack use are behaviours to which people are driven by poverty.

For example, crack use might well cause poverty. Smoking might correlate with an inability to think about consequences, which would also make it hard to keep a good job.

I don't suggest that poverty is merely one factor of many - it would seem to a key factor, both as a cause of problems and as a symptom of problems. Probably a nasty feedback loop of miseries. But we need to be careful about how we phrase the questions - because if we assume that poverty is the root cause, then we might assume that money is the answer. But it's not that simple.

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By J. Random Human (anonymous) | Posted April 12, 2010 at 18:02:47

@Ryan: The Spec has information on how to find detailed information about neighbourhood census tracts on Statistics Canada's site at http://www.thespec.com/article/750183. StatsCan has age distributions, among other data.

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By jason (registered) | Posted April 12, 2010 at 18:26:24

Trey S, you are right on the money which is why I find myself relegated to take a skeptic approach when it comes to city policy and their response to this report. You can be guaranteed that between now and the next big research report by the Spec we will see more halfway homes, group homes and social housing built in the neighbourhoods that already have the worst scores.
People in lower Hamilton should stop complaining about Toronto dumping their social burden on us and instead look a little closer to home - our own city hall.

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By davidvanbeveren (registered) | Posted April 12, 2010 at 18:30:39

Not sure what potential solutions the Spec series will examine but for another look "Poor Kids in a Rich Country" by Lee Rainwater and Tim Smeeding is a book that offers a really wide comparative view of different approaches to poverty alleviation and should be required reading for every municipal election candidate (and provincial for that matter).

Comment edited by davidvanbeveren on 2010-04-12 17:36:38

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By grassroots are the way forward (registered) | Posted April 13, 2010 at 01:44:34

Moylek writes: But I don't think that the problem in 21st century Hamilton is what it was in 19th century Britain - a simple lack of money to feed, clothe and house families leading to disease and death and crime.

Please explain what the differences really are between the two eras.

What exactly do you know about the welfare system, as it stands today, anything. Of course in only giving people less then $600 per month to live on, is not really the problem right and the fact of the over 800 stupid rules, that can see a person cut off and left with nothing but the streets.

There is a campaign going on right now, Eat the Math, why dont you try to live on amount of food given out by the foodbanks. You only get food for a couple of days,which people try to stretch as long as possible, which very rarely contains any fresh fruit or vegetables. Remember now, you can only go to the foodbank once a month, sometimes once every three months and some every six months.

Comment edited by grassroots are the way forward on 2010-04-13 00:45:24

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By grassroots are the way forward (registered) | Posted April 13, 2010 at 06:40:16

Remarks from those who have participated in Eat the Math:


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By moylek (registered) - website | Posted April 13, 2010 at 07:33:15

Please explain what the differences really are between the two eras.

The difference between poverty in Canada now and in Britain in the 19th century? You mean aside from the things we have now like welfare, health care, social workers, the foster-care system, comprehensive public education, government support for college and universities, publicly-assisted housing, garbage collection, public fire service? At moment, nothing really comes to mind.

As for Eat the Math - it's not relevant; it's a publicity stunt. How many people on welfare or among the working poor would have to resort to eating only food bank rations?

The Code Red series is exposing real problems that most of don't see and that more of us should think about. That so much of this sort of human misery should exist in such a rich country is simply wrong. But as a North-end physician said to me this week, "you could give me millions of dollars and I could not fix the problems I see everyday."

By saying "poverty" over and over as they march the parade of misery past us, The Spec certainly make it sound as if a lack of money is the core problem. But when they're not throwing shocking statistics at us without context* they're telling us some revealing stories about teen mothers, about nurses, about addicts, about drop outs. And the stories help us see past the numbers to the people - people who are living in poverty, people who are getting on their feet, people who are really helping.

Maybe we'll learn something. And maybe as individuals and as a city we will do things differently so that fewer people live so miserably in our rich country.

* "47% of births were low-weight births!" In Flamborough. Wait - Flamborough? They've been held up as paragons of health-care outcome. No more said?

Comment edited by moylek on 2010-04-13 06:37:47

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By grassroots are the way forward (registered) | Posted April 13, 2010 at 08:29:33

Moylek writes: As for Eat the Math - it's not relevant; it's a publicity stunt. How many people on welfare or among the working poor would have to resort to eating only food bank rations?

Well actually most people on welfare use the foodbanks, since the amount they receive is not sustainable, in most cases, it barely pays shelter costs, never mind food, transportation, personal needs. The number of people who are the working poor are using the food banks more too, as costs have risen yet wages have not. Though the foodbanks do use MEANS testing, and deny many from getting access to food.

Yes, there are some people out there who try to help but there are also those who work who use threats and intimidation against those who struggle as well. As a doctor who spoke at a forum on poverty and health, this person stated that they do not learn about the system until they are out working and even then, the medical practioners are stymied by the welfare system. Those doctors who tried to get their patients more money under special diet, saw themselves and their records under scrutiny.

But no worry right, since the government has now cut the special diet, you will see more people in trouble and having to access more health services just because they cannot afford the fresh healthy food that they need.

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By z jones (registered) | Posted April 13, 2010 at 08:44:55

@Moylek well, somebody's using foodbanks. And sorry, but that's just fucked up. The fact we're so much richer than 19th C England makes it that much more unforgiveable that people still need to go to foodbanks to feed there kids.

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By moylek (registered) - website | Posted April 13, 2010 at 08:58:48

But no worry right, since the government has now cut the special diet, you will see more people in trouble and having to access more health services just because they cannot afford the fresh healthy food that they need.

And here we get to an example near the heart of the problem. Healthy food is cheap. Carrots, oatmeal, frozen spinach, onions, dried beans, garlic, potatoes, tinned fish, cabbage, salt, pepper, dried herbs, flour, eggs, tinned tomatos, even bacon and milk ... all cheap, cheap, cheap and even the poorest parts of town have good grocery stores with plenty of fresh food (Food Basics by the Barton Jail, No Frills near Victoria, the farmers market).

Let us be honest: money is not the biggest problem when it comes to healthy eating. Nor for some - those on welfare, for example - is time. The problem is ... well, I'm not sure, really. Knowledge? Training? Experience? Motivation? Priorities? Despair? Sloth? Some deadly mixture of these?

I'm not assigning blame. But I am asking that we talk honestly about why people don't eat so poorly that their health - and the health of their children - suffer.

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By moylek (registered) - website | Posted April 13, 2010 at 09:02:32

Argh: time is off by an hour on the RTH server and so I couldn't edit my comment. Last paragraph of the above should read ...

I'm not assigning blame. But I am asking that we talk honestly about why people eat so poorly that their health - and the health of their children - suffer. No question: poverty is strongly correlated - but I don't think that it's a simple cause-and-effect relationship.

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By moylek (registered) - website | Posted April 13, 2010 at 10:03:54

The same time thing happened to me the other day, too - it's not consistent. But take a look at the time of your post - 8:40 am. You actually posted at 9:40 am, right?

Note: I just made a successful edit even though the time of the posting is an hour off.

Manufactured junk is literally cheaper and more accessible than fresh, healthy food.

It's certainly cheaper than fresh, healthy prepared food. But let's talk about specific examples.

Is a bag of chips cheaper than hash browns (a few potatoes, an onion and some cooking oil)? Is a box of KD (with margarine and milk) cheaper than a plate of spaghetti carbonara (pasta, an egg, a bit of bacon, a clove of garlic, a bit of parmesan)? Is a box of cookies cheaper than half a dozen apples? Is Honeycomb with milk cheaper than porridge (oatmeal, butter and honey or sugar)?

As for the kitchen situation - well, that might be a problem. But I really don't know very much about the demographics of poverty. We mostly talk in rival anecdotes and aggressively framed statistics, don't we?

Comment edited by moylek on 2010-04-13 09:05:18

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By Kiely (registered) | Posted April 13, 2010 at 14:13:49

Why don't the poor make spaghetti carbonara? Because many don't know how.

Poverty isn’t just about money, it's about a lack of life skills, about a break down in the social fabric that makes healthy families, neighbourhoods and societies. It is a loss of the low end jobs that used to keep the marginally employable employed (e.g., grocery baggers). It is about our politicians being dominated by special interest and a "democracy" that favours the whims of the elite. It is the notion that everyone has the ability to succeed if they work hard enough without the frank realisation that some people simply don't have the means to mentally or physically. It is a breakdown in people caring about people, the rise of the "me and mine" and the lack of understanding that we all must pay our share if we want a society worth living in.

We can easily isolate ourselves from reality and things we don't wish to see. Many people believe they can live in some gated McMansion community with 2 German cars in the driveway and not care about their fellow man and the society they live in without the effects of an increasingly uncaring and unjust society affecting their quality of life. All of this eventually manifests itself as a lack of money for the poor, but it is more than that, it is an eroding of the very essence of our society and communities. The root cause? It is people… The majority simply do not care as long as it isn't them.

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By grassroots are the way forward (registered) | Posted April 13, 2010 at 14:39:00

Moylek: You just do not get it, you are thick headed, you are too busy pushing your point, instead of listening, I mean really listening.

A person on welfare get 585.00 per month and for the most part, all of that IS PAID ON SHELTER, DO YOU GET THAT CONCEPT.

Other places do not have cooking facilities but these are points that you choose to ignore.

Also you have the impression that people who are poor who have no clue how to cook, again, that comes across as arrogance, you are speaking about people you do not know, you make assumptions about people.

Most people who struggle on welfare want healthy food, fresh fruits and vegetables, but they cannot afford to buy them becuase they do not get enough money to live on and what food they do get from the foodbanks is processed, high in sugar, salt, fats, sometimes the food is rotten, sometimes the food has bugs in it. The food banks are only inspected once a year, they do not label products that are given out in bulk, those putting those who have food allergies at risk. And the food banks themselves use fear and intimidation, the people accessing services feel a definite line, us vs them. And even though the higher ups at one particular food bank has stated that if people get rotten or expired food, this person said they can hand it back and get new stuff, to bad the front line staff do not seem to follow that policy. I guess it will take calling these higher ups out on a carpet publically so that everyone knows what the policy is, which would include their own staff.

Some of the food banks do not have access for those that are disabled, they must leave their wheelchairs and scooters outside, there have been reports of them being stolen. Who knows if the buildings themselves are safe and inspected or follow building codes. People in wheelchairs have a really hard time getting the food home, because they have to take what is given them, which is at times very heavy, lots of cans.

Instead of raising the welfare rates, you as a tax payer are too busy paying for the 50 million agencies, who suck away tax dollars and do very little for people. And of course, many of them are covered by union contract and they have the audicity to force people into minimum wage jobs, where your rights as an employee are not always enforced. They will force you into jobs where you will not get paid for a number of weeks and that does not matter what skill level you may have. Many of them do not know employment standards or occupational health and safety. And what earnings you may make are penalized, which makes it almost impossible to break the welfare wall. And of course, those single parents who have children over the age of thirteen actually are getting less money then they were before, with the implementation of the Ontario Child Benefit, because they are still clawbacking monies off the cheques, yet if you ask the head of social service shere in Hamilton, that personwill say it is not a clawback, but when you look up the defininion, it is a clawback. Never mind the fact even if a person wanted to back to school, once the accept OSAP, which will not cover all your living expenses anyways, your children are cut off all MEDICAL BENEFITS.

Do you realize that the city paid 500,000 last year to the food banks.

But then that is what happened when Harris privatized the system, you as a taxpayer pay more, then you did before, yet more people are suffering. You know nothing, I suugest you spend more time listening instead of talking.

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By Kiely (registered) | Posted April 13, 2010 at 14:59:33

Grassroots, I understand this is a deeply personal issue for you, but there is no place for insults and name-calling in a civil discussion - especially a discussion over such an important issue. Let's all please try to keep the discussion respectful. - Ryan

Hmm??? I think some of moylek's comments warranted grassroots' response. Referring to someone as "thick headed" or saying they don't get it is hardly insulting or even name calling. At least you'd have to do better than that to hurt my feelings.

Personally, I find the comment below more insulting.

As for Eat the Math - it's not relevant; it's a publicity stunt. How many people on welfare or among the working poor would have to resort to eating only food bank rations? -moylek

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By grassroots are the way forward (registered) | Posted April 13, 2010 at 15:09:27

Ryan: I did not realize that was not being civil, I guess it would of it been better if said just stubborn or obstinate, would that of been better.

Thanks Kiely for sticking up for me, I appreciate it very much.

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By Sara (registered) | Posted April 13, 2010 at 15:19:44

Is white bread cheaper than whole wheat bread? Is pop cheaper than milk? Is a fruit drink (ie water, sugar and fruit flavour) cheaper than 100% juice? Yes, Yes and Yes.

It's very common for those who have never been on social assistance to dismiss the hardships by trotting out how they could easily cope if they were living on welfare. But it is so insulting... Does anyone really think people are lying about what a struggle day to day life is?

There is very interesting research being done right now by Prof. Jim Dunn at McMaster to exactly address the point: does giving people more money, in this case better housing, improve their health? In one project he is tracking Hamiltonians on the Social Housing wait list and in an other he is tracking tenants of Toronto Social Housing moving into the new improved Regent Park buildings. His review of others findings in Britain shows that improvements in housing do improve people's health - but his will be the first large scale study of its kind in Canada.

In the sphere of welfare payments, a great example of data to support the argument that giving people more money (ie making them less poor) does improve their health is the work of Evelyn Forget in Manitoba. She studied the effects of a 1970s program in Dauphin Manitoba, which gave a basic annual income to all citizens. Her research shows that there was a decrease in hospitalizations and an improvements in mental health and children stayed in school longer than in communities where there was no basic annual income. http://www.cihr-irsc.gc.ca/e/40308.html

Comment edited by Sara on 2010-04-13 14:23:13

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By zippo (registered) | Posted April 13, 2010 at 15:33:49

Moylek: I'd say you are 1/2 right; Cooking from scratch is inexpensive compared to the alternative, and to you who are apparently a employed systems analyst, and a landlord of student housing, it is no doubt also "cheap". Buts lets compare its cost to the income of the unemployed.

The Cities public health department puts the groceries cost for a "healthy" diet for an adult at around $40 per week, or $2080 per year. That is based almost entirely on a "cooked from scratch" menu. A single person on Ontario Works ("Welfare") has a "basic needs" allowance of $221 per month above their "housing allowance", or $2652 per year.

Wow, a $572 per year surplus. Now mind you there are a number of things that $1.56 per day needs to cover: Clothing, cleaning supplies, laundry, toiletries and grooming, transportation, anything medical not covered by OHIP etc. etc. etc.

This of course assumes that all housing related expenses (rent + utilities) are covered by the shelter allowance portion of the cheque, which is an additional $364 per month. That's less than the cost of a room at the YMCA or a bedroom in a "student" house downtown though...

So really I don't think "cheap" is the right word, but maybe I'm missing something

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By Mr. Meister (anonymous) | Posted April 13, 2010 at 15:41:23

Our welfare system is the worst of all worlds. I would love to know how much they spend on enforcement compared to what they that saves them. I believe the system was designed and is run by a group of people who have no clue about life on a low income. I was not surprised that Harris butchered our welfare system, but I am surprised that nobody in the intervening years has stepped up to bring about some positive change. I believe that the province and the national governments need to get involved. The problem is simply to expensive for the municipal tax base to deal with alone.

Zookeeper - maybe it's the other way round. Perhaps doing crack reduces your life expectancy by 21 years and makes you poor. If someone is addicted to crack (or other serious drugs) then there is a high likelihood that they are also addicted to tobacco. Addictive personalities often lead to multiple addictions.

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By grassroots are the way forward (registered) | Posted April 13, 2010 at 15:43:18

Sara: Yes the town with no poverty, that was a great lecture and the work that Dr Forget did was astounding. Is it no wonder that the results of this experiment were kept under wraps for so many years.

I also went to Prof Dunns lecture as well and I do hope that his work will bring new light to the issue.

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By Kiely (registered) | Posted April 13, 2010 at 16:20:34

Thanks Kiely for sticking up for me, I appreciate it very much. - grassroots

No worries grassroots.

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By Wigan Pier (anonymous) | Posted April 13, 2010 at 17:19:15

This is George Orwell's analysis of how and why the poor do not eat the "cheap and wholesome" food they those with money think they should.

From "The Road to Wigan Pier", Chapter 5 (based on Orwell's experiences living an a very poor northern English town during the 1930s depression):

"The basis of their diet, therefore, is white bread and
margarine, corned beef, sugared tea, and potatoes--an appalling diet.
Would it not be better if they spent more money on wholesome things like
oranges and wholemeal bread or if they even, like the writer of the letter
to the New Statesman, saved on fuel and ate their carrots raw? Yes, it
would, but the point is that no ordinary human being is ever going to do
such a thing. The ordinary human being would sooner starve than live on
brown bread and raw carrots. And the peculiar evil is this, that the less
money you have, the less inclined you feel to spend it on wholesome food. A
millionaire may enjoy breakfasting off orange juice and Ryvita biscuits; an
unemployed man doesn't. Here the tendency of which I spoke at the end of
the last chapter comes into play. When you are unemployed, which is to say
when you are underfed, harassed, bored, and miserable, you don't want to
eat dull wholesome food. You want something a little bit 'tasty'. There is
always some cheaply pleasant thing to tempt you. Let's have three pennorth
of chips! Run out and buy us a twopenny ice-cream! Put the kettle on and
we'll all have a nice cup of tea! That is how your mind works when you are
at the P.A.C. level. White bread-and-marg and sugared tea don't nourish you
to any extent, but they are nicer (at least most people think so) than
brown bread-and-dripping and cold water. Unemployment is an endless misery
that has got to be constantly palliated, and especially with tea, the
English-man's opium. A cup of tea or even an aspirin is much better as a
temporary stimulant than a crust of brown bread."

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By d.knox (registered) | Posted April 13, 2010 at 17:40:04

Grassroots: If you read moylek's response to your post, he did include the word only - eating "only" foodbank rations. I listened to an interview on the CBC with someone taking the challenge and he said himself that it's a publicity stunt and of course they weren't trying to suggest that people using foodbanks would only be eating food from the foodbanks. The foodbank ration is a supplement to whatever someone would be eating with their own money.

I was quite put off when the interviewee started off by saying that it was only the first day and he was already suffering because he'd had to eat stupid food for breakfast. What was the stupid food? Oatmeal. For me, he lost his credibility right there.

You'll get no argument from me that there are problems with the system, and I can imagine that it's hard to acknowledge that some of the problem lies with the welfare recipients themselves. But I think that's where it's at.

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By ceesvang (registered) | Posted April 13, 2010 at 20:02:00

Hy folks, feeling a little guilty? Support OCAP a wonderful organization actually doing something useful about the issue(s)of poverty sanctioned by government of every level - send them a chegue....

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By moylek (registered) - website | Posted April 13, 2010 at 20:59:21

Wigan Pier - touché ... almost. I've read almost everything George Orwell every wrote and the man hardly talks anything but sense. "Politics and the English Language" is a yearly rhetorical tonic for me, have never read Wigan Pier for some reason.

The quoted excerpt gives me pause, because if an opinion would cause the George Orwell in my imagination to frown, that opinion must be reconsidered (maybe not changed, but certainly reconsidered).

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By Ted Mitchell (registered) | Posted April 13, 2010 at 21:07:38

Based on some experience in health care, I have to support moylek's argument in general.

Every time somebody states that being unable to afford healthy food causes health problems, obesity, etc., I cringe. It is seriously misunderstanding cause, effect and correlation.

Lack of income causes health problems in the same way that Clinton's enabling of low income earners to get mortgages caused the global financial meltdown. Both are technically correct, but in fact very minor contributors to the respective outcome.

If you doubt this, rth's university educated readership likely has a differential of between ten and infinity times the difference in income as a student and a gainfully employed adult. Sure, you may have had more rice and pasta in school, but perhaps more beer and wings too, so on the whole I'll bet your dietary health is about the same. For myself, there is no sigt difference in healthfulness of diet, despite some lean student years with no income.

Poverty and poor health are both consequences of the same underlying social determinants of health. The Spec enumerated these at the start of the series (sorry, can't find it online). Some of these factors include: -genetic predisposition -family cohesion and support -community support -substance abuse -personality factors -cultural environment -individual vs socialist oriented government programs -education -employment (not just the effect on income: employable people have healthier lifestyles)

The thing that makes it appear that poverty causes poor health (when it is in fact a strong correlation that is only somewhat causal) is that all these factors are not independent. They occur in clusters. So the relationship between each factor and poverty or health is weak, but when the causal factors cluster, you get an amplified effect, and together these factors are the root causes of both poverty and poor health.

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By Ted Mitchell (registered) | Posted April 13, 2010 at 21:20:45

We may need better funding of several social programs, but there are good arguments against throwing money at a problem and expecting it to go away.

Google "sudden wealth syndrome", there's no shortage of people screwing up their lives after winning the lottery.

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By adam2 (anonymous) | Posted April 13, 2010 at 22:42:56

This is what happens when artificial neighbourhoods are created instantaneously with all homes at only a couple different price points. Poor people from all the surrounding areas come to live lower city apartments because this is all they can afford. If the government built low income apartments in Waterdown, maybe we would see Waterdown as a yellow dot?
My neighbourhood in the lower city is shown as a red dot, although the majority of my neigbours own their homes and they are worth about $300,000. However there are several social housing buildings in the neighbourhood to bring the average down.
Ryan hit the nail on the head when he said we should be looking at the median instead of the mean income / health.

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By brodiec (registered) | Posted April 14, 2010 at 02:15:32

We the editors at The Spec do these grandiose pieces every quarter or so. It's so we can compete in the Medium Sized Local Paper Awards... or what have you. You see it's 'cause those jerks at the Windsor Star aren't gonna take the MSLPA with yet another piece on the slowing auto sector. Not again Windsor, NOT THIS TIME! It's OUR time in Hamilton to fly our poverty flag like the great beacon of hope that it is! A great beacon for an award. That we will publish on the front page for a week. To increase circulation.

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By synxer (registered) | Posted April 14, 2010 at 09:24:50

Cooke blames Hamilton's problems on its past reactions to "the evisceration" of its industrial base in the past few decades. Instead of investing and redeveloping the resulting brownfields, "we build five suburban business parks unreachable by transit. We basically poached jobs from the inner city to the outer city."


Well said.

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By Yeahbut (anonymous) | Posted April 14, 2010 at 11:40:52

There's some truth in everything that's been said above. As Mitchell points out, there are so many independent things going on in our "system", all connected but so loosely that it often becomes hard to be sure there's anything can be called a system at work here at all.

But Henry Ford did get something going back at the beginning of the twentieth century that worked for about 100 years. He gave people two roles in our economic "system": one as producers of the goods they consumed and the second as the consumers of the goods they produced. You can see right away this is a delicate system that requires balance to keep going. That balance is often maintained through government subsidy. Lately, as things have slowed down, government has turned from priming the consumer pump to priming the production pump and there are arguments supporting both, but I think something larger is at work. The system itself is failing and we're slow attaching an economy to what people are doing now.

Technology has destroyed Ford's old system. You don't need as many people to produce goods and services as in the past. We're inclined to blame other countries for stealing local jobs, but that wouldn't be possible without the technological efficiencies in the transportation industry, and anyway, the return of all those disappearing North American manufacturing jobs will not put the local system back in balance if local workers have to accept Asian or maquiladora wages. If we get that work back it will be done by machines that will work for less than slaves. I call working for more than slave wages an advance, but it seems to me that the role of manufacturing as the driving force for increasing wealth has plateaued generally and maybe even declined in mature industrial economies.

Meanwhile there are problems monetizing much of the activity that might spread around the wealth that is still produced by the technological advances that came from industry itself. A lot of the work that gets done in the new economy is unpaid. In the information age the Spec employs fewer people to disseminate what it still calls news, and, so far as I can tell, this "editorial" information vehicle we call RTH pays no one at all. Ryan doesn't even promise that there's a cheque in the mail. Huge chunks of the explosion of information we produce so efficiently through digitization are disseminated through systems that work well with no constriction point at which to collect money. But people, ourselves included, keep producing useful products for it. In the old "supply and demand" terms, there's so much free information available we give it little or no value. Still, it is what we do. It is where we increasingly spend our labour energy, and the situation is going to get worse for economic "systems" as the collection of energy itself becomes more efficient and cheaper. I mean, we don't actually pay for energy now. We pay people to extract and distrite it, but I've got free energy falling free on my rooftop. When I figure out how to collect and use that I won't be paying to pipe gas to my my stove. If I tell you about it, neither will many of you. What does that do to the commodities market?

The old system was collective. We got to gether, split up the work and devised a means to share the wealth, the products, we produced together. As the old economy declines, and as we stumble trying to monetize new economies, people are displaced as producers, which displaces them as consumers. It's only natural that those of us with similar problems will congregate in certain areas to decide, or wait while we figure out, what to do. I'm not sure things are any different in Windsor, or Toronto or elsewhere.

As we've often said on RTH, government can contribute by enforcing more spending on services (through social programs, medicare, education etc.) These programs basically force people to spend money to do things that they are reluctant do voluntarily. People find it difficult to put money away for a rainy day, like when they get sick, but medical insurance forces us to do so, collectively. In my time Mac students were more inclined to spend their money at Paddy Green's than on books, so it's a good thing governments had taxed our parents to make sure there was cash held out for tuition etc. or much of my professors' wages would have been puked up on Main St. Anyway, at the moment we seem to devalue service jobs such as teaching in favour of throwing money after disappearing manufacturing jobs. I think we're only buying time. We want lower taxes and more manufacturing jobs, but we only seem able to hold on to fewer of them. We could create jobs by lowering the teacher/student ratio, but that would mean higher taxes and less beer money. In the long term though, if nobody's working there's not much money for beer anyway and somethings gotta give so I guess it'll be groceries. Same thing applies to medical care. We could tax and spend to train even more people for the health-care industry than we do now (because who has the money for knee-replacements on hand?) but instead we're spending our dwindling resources on freeways, hoping to attract manufacturerers.

C'est la vie. What do we do until government gets the picture? Personally I don't think there are solutions so much as coping mechanisms. If we've not as much money to spend, then I figure I have to find a way to get more from less. I have to become more efficiently personally, and I can use recent technological advances provided by industry to do it. I've gotten rid of the expense of one car and look forward to getting rid of the other. I'd like public transit to improve, but in the meantime I'll use a bike far more. I don't get paid for contributing to the internet, but I continue to do so and I will use that free info for more of my education and entertainment. I use the public library too, and would like them to get more of the books I want to read, but until they do I read the ones available free on the internet. I think it's good that there ARE more of the library's services available on the internet too. Like industry, I'm downsizing. Turning perspective to my advantage I've decided to use my big-screen TV less in favour of a notebook computer I can see equally as well because it's on my lap. I use earphones for surround sound. A computer and earphones are cheaper to heat than a whole room in my house and require less energy to run, too.

I'm not a virtuous person. Doing the above is not a consequence of my moral superiority. My motivation is entirely selfish. The economy in which I once participated has broken down, transformed by its own efficiency. It's not coming back, but I'm still here and to stay here and enjoy being here I've no alternative but to embrace the technology industry has left behind. I'm not that quick and am still engaged in the process. If I were clever I'd have done this long ago. In a way, I'm going back to basics, but I'm better equipped than people were before the industrial revolution. I'm getting rid of the old hot tub and looking at my back patio for fresh veg, using the internet to learn how to match my yield to my needs. For storage, actually for heating and cooling overall, I'm thinking of using a hole in the ground, better equipped than the old root cellar, however. That may take a while.

I haven't given up thinking collectively just because that collectivizing force we've called industry has run low on steam. When I see all those lots vacated by industry and other failed local institutions I tend to think of them as potential housing and newly available farmland. They might also be empty places to collect the sun's energy, directly, as in greenhouses. I see hunger as demand for product. I know that's cold, but if I think of it as a need that can't be filled, what use is that? If I say the government should prime the pump to help pay for this I'd be labelled a communist. I don't really care to be distracted into rounds of name calling. I'd rather eat fresh veg and I'm thinking pretty soon I'll have to grow it myself. I'm quite open to picking up a hoe and start chipping at the asphalt. I really only need others in order to get somebody's permission to do this, but in a democracy people only have the power to grant permission because, collectively, I'm one of many who have given them the power to stop me. Lately, I tend to see politics as more disabling than enabling.

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By Kiely (registered) | Posted April 14, 2010 at 15:29:07

Good post Yeahbut, lots to think about.

The one thing I will comment on now is the loss of jobs.

it will be done by machines that will work for less than slaves

True, but maintaining machines is a good living. Robotic engineers, industrial electricians, millwrights and PLC programmers are all better jobs than assembly line worker.

In the information age the Spec employs fewer people to disseminate what it still calls news, and, so far as I can tell, this "editorial" information vehicle we call RTH pays no one at all. Ryan doesn't even promise that there's a cheque in the mail. Huge chunks of the explosion of information we produce so efficiently through digitization are disseminated through systems that work well with no constriction point at which to collect money.

Again true, but the system required to disseminate that news is much more involved than some staff writer a press operator and a paper boy. The worldwide web, Google, IT departments and companies that build the endless stream of digital "must have" products (e.g., blackberry, iphone, etc…) have all expanded or been created by the information age. Jobs disappeared but others were created.

I agree with much of what you have said to one extent or another but also feel some of the change we are seeing that is causing the pain many people are feeling could have been avoided if our governments had a bit more of a clue and the ability to make tough decisions. The writing was on the wall decades ago. To raise the standard of living in the developing world through globalization, the standard of living for people doing similar jobs in developed countries was going to decline. Many, many, people saw this coming but our governments refused to understand the full implications of the agenda they were pushing, (i.e., globalization). Our governments naively believed the status quo could be maintained and now they have even propped up our outdated and unsustainable system using tax payer money. Our governments, and to some extent all of us, failed to make the necessary decisions to transition our economy successfully into the 21st century globalized economy.

Lately, I tend to see politics as more disabling than enabling.

SIGH Me too.

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By Lurkalicious (anonymous) | Posted April 14, 2010 at 15:52:48

"In the information age the Spec employs fewer people to disseminate what it still calls news, and, so far as I can tell, this "editorial" information vehicle we call RTH pays no one at all."

If a multi-million dollar daily newspaper that's run by professional journalists is actually under competitive threat from a small bunch of volunteers writing in their spare time, it's got much bigger problems than competition.

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By michaelcumming (registered) - website | Posted April 15, 2010 at 17:45:22

One thing for sure is that Hamilton has concentrations of poverty. The evisceration of manufacturing likely has something to do with this. Another factor seems to be the 'Parkdale' effect: governments and agencies who encourage the poor to settle and concentrate in already disadvantaged neighbourhoods.

One thing I have noticed in my travels through the deepest, darkest east-end is that many of these neighbourhoods are not so bad, compared to other cities I've seen. The air quality is not always great but there is little overt aggression or hostility to visitors. It doesn't feel all that much different from the west end - just the real estate values seem much lower. Despair from residents seems absent, at least compared to parts of Buffalo, Pittsburgh, of Cleveland. In those cities the disparities of income can reach South American levels of inequity and the despair seems palpable.

Comment edited by michaelcumming on 2010-04-15 16:45:59

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By grassroots are the way forward (registered) | Posted April 17, 2010 at 05:41:45

Many people in our city have no idea what goes on with the many agencies that are suppose to help and protect those who are most vulnerable in our society.

There are welfare workers who feel that they have the right to abuse, demean and belittle people and it is completely unfair that others fail to be leaders and make waves when these individuals from ontario works unleash their vile hate and are completely uncompassionate. They are bullies, there is no other word to describe them.

Main stream media does not cover these stories, yet these are the very stories that need to be told.

Shame on those who fail to protect those who are vulnerable as they are afraid, they are cowards. We need true leaders, those who are not afraid to make a stand and boot these abusive welfare workers out the door of their establishments.

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By Undustrial (registered) - website | Posted April 17, 2010 at 07:15:47

I know it isn't politically correct to talk about class, but if you don't, these issues don't make a whole lot of sense. There is a tremendous correlation between poverty and malnutrition, and we can't simply chalk it up to personal failings.

Yes, one can eat quite well on little or no money. I've done it, mostly organic and vegan, too - with the right connections, bulk-ordering top-grade organic rice is as cheap as anything in the supermarket, and there's lots of options for growing your own vegetables for less than the price of a six-pack. Simply cooking fresh veggies is dirt-cheap and goes a long way.

It isn't fair, though, to say "poor people can buy carrots and potatoes, so if they don't cook well it's their own fault". One cannot always be expected to cook fresh, healthy meals all day every day - real life is rarely that luxurious. Every kind of food - from fresh to packaged to restaurant fare to snack food gets dramatically less healthy as you go down in price to say nothing of variety. Of course there are cultural factors beyond money (many immigrants eat far better on the same budgets), but that doesn't excuse those responsible for our food system from the enormous human cost of their decisions.

These problems, like most related to class, require sweeping and far-reaching changes to truly address.

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By Meredith (registered) - website | Posted April 19, 2010 at 21:55:22

Call me cynical, but when there's only six rich white guys (albeit excellent, outstanding members of the community) who are offering solutions in Section 7 of this thing about how to end poverty in this city, I get a little frustrated.

And on the other hand, when I talk about how poverty doesn't mean helplessness, I get flak from people who think that I'm rich, privileged, upper-class.. blah blah blah. Yeah, right... I come from an elite family of farmers and truck drivers :P

I guess what frustrates me in these pieces is that they create this giant chasm between the "wealthy" and the "poor" with sweeping generalizations about each. There's many who don't fit those stereotypes.

I think it was Chris Spence (no disrespect to him) who asked how a family living on a meagre income can afford to send their kids to McMaster. Well.. that's why OSAP exists, so they don't have to. Money isn't the barrier keeping their kids from school. Money alone isn't in the way of getting an education in Ontario - especially not at any of our public colleges or universities. But that fact was never mentioned. It's a way of thinking and a mindset. Why can't we surpass York University and make McMaster full of the most people who are getting OSAP and being the first generation of their families to go to school?

In the same vein, I got really frustrated last year to hear the recommended grocery budget of $700+ for a family of four last year as the minimum to buy nutritious foods. That's not the magic bullet. Don't tell me people who "can't afford" anything besides chicken fingers and fries will magically switch to the (cheaper) chicken drummies and rice once they get a grocery budget. I always shop at same ghetto Tisdale No Frills that most people turn their noses up at... and the last thing you see most people loading up on is nutritious food. But when those welfare cheques come out, the overpriced junk and fat and sugar and salt that's I see piles of sold is absolutely criminal. I come out of the same place with cheap, nutritious food that takes minutes to make. It's possible. I don't think more money will fix the norms of junk food around poverty or the lack of skill or education around nutrition or food prep. I see no indication that's going to change with more money.

And then we get this kind of reverse education-based privilege where sometimes the "rich" in the city are the ones who do the cheapest, healthiest things. Richer people do a lot of biking (with the accompanying bike culture), not poor people. Rich people have the norm of going out to jog and walk. Rich people have a norm of eating oatmeal and bran. Rich people stop smoking... but the poor keep smoking, eating junk, and sitting on the couch.... because this idea of being thrifty, of saving, of being careful with our bodies and money and food and activities is totally absent from most people's thinking, and only introduced as some minor self-improvement curative for the wealthy ones looking to "simplify" or reduce their carbon emissions.

A minimum guaranteed income may be the best solution we have... but funny how nothing really changed with the guaranteed minimum wage, either. No one's thinking that income is enough now, but I don't like solutions that are as simplistic as "give everyone more money" however well they may work.

Because the underlying problems of a convenience culture and entitlement are still there. Nutrition won't go up just because people have more money if they still have neighbourhoods full of KFCs and Money Marts and pizza shacks, or have never learned to make any kind of food besides frozen entrees. Education won't necessarily go up - OSAP's always been there, people just don't know about it or think they can achieve it. Sure, it may do a better job of taking care of those who already REALLY need it.. but for my money, I'd rather see guaranteed, paid daycare for everyone's kids as long as they were guaranteed to be working full-time or back in school full-time, because then people would have a shot at breaking the cycle.

But when people who have never made a welfare budget work or made a disability budget work or made an OSAP budget work or made a minimum-wage budget work want to find solutions for "the poor" perhaps they should be asking those who DO succeed on those limited budgets what their strategies are - and how to transfer them to others.

Comment edited by Meredith on 2010-04-19 20:58:21

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By d.knox (registered) | Posted April 20, 2010 at 19:33:53

I agree, Meredith. I shop at both Tisdale and the jail Food Basics, and see the same things. Comparing the contents of shopping carts to mine is like visiting a different country. But listening to the caring class wring their hands about how anyone can possibly make it through the day without a Starbucks and a massage is even more off-putting than seeing obese people piling bags of chips and bottles of pop in their buggies.

I recently had a discussion with a well-regarded child psychology researcher who finally conceded that the reason we needed to introduce universal daycare and all-day junior kindergarten was to get these kids away from the parents who aren't very good parents and are doing a lousy job.

Children from middle and upper income households don't benefit from early daycare - they hit the milestones at the same time, whether they are in daycare or not. Children from social assistance households exhibit marked differences in milestone achievement - they hit the milestones earlier if they are in daycare than if they're at home with their parent(s).

I don't know what the solution is. We don't seem to be doing a good job of fixing the problem. But I resent the whitewash job. When the Spec writes articles on how it's dreadful that the city is considering a smoking ban inside public housing, and at the same time tells us these people can't feed themselves, I have a hard time feeling anything but indifference. I choose to spend my extra money on my mortgage and so I don't take a vacation. They chose to spend their money on cigarettes and so they go hungry. We all make choices.

Comment edited by d.knox on 2010-04-20 18:35:24

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By grassroots are the way forward (registered) | Posted April 20, 2010 at 22:42:32

D Knox writes: I have a hard time feeling anything but indifference

We all make choices, is that a fact eh, well in my travels, that is not so true, people find themsleves in situations because of circumstances beyond their control, such as losing a job, not finding work fast enough and finding yourself on welfare. You could be sick or injuried and not have a benefit package at work, not be entitled to wsib and left on welfare.

But you see, if you have never gone through that process, how can make statements.

So as it stands today, if you lost your job, EI ran out, no work in sight, you would be stripped of almost all your assets and well, then you would be facing peple like yourself, who are indifferent. You are crying becuase you are losing your home and people telling you about choices.

I wonder how you would feel if the shoe was on the other foot. I do not think you would like it. But then there is always karma.

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By moylek (registered) - website | Posted April 21, 2010 at 08:06:46

My dear Miss Roots - every time you shake the karma stick at someone and wish them ill because they say things you don't like you undermine the effectiveness of your arguments. Really. Plus, it's mean.

Anyhow, we are discussing here not specifically people on welfare stripped of every asset but the downtown poor in general. I also go to these downtown grocery stores and boggle at what evidently poor people are buying, and I see people smoking on their porches on Barton under a thicket of satellite dishes. Choices are being made by many of the poor.

There simply must be a difference between the poverty of, for example, new immigrants - certainly my family was direly short of money when we first came to Canada when I was a child - and the poverty we're discussing. And that difference is far more than simply money. What is it? How does it relate to money? To services? To hope? I don't know. But I want to.

A response such as Wigan Pier's above makes me think twice about my condemnation of the questionable way that some poor people spend their time and money. But a flat denial that the victims of poverty discussed in the Spec series are in any way responsible for their own woes just hardens my complacent, suburban heart.

Do you want to understand and sway the indifference of the petty-bourgeois (and self-reliant poor) frowners? Or do you just want to condemn their wickedness and wish them a fall into miserable misfortune? I ask this more-or-less seriously.

Comment edited by moylek on 2010-04-21 07:08:43

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By grassroots are the way forward (registered) | Posted April 21, 2010 at 09:19:41

Mr Moylek: Maybe you should asking the poor what it is they need, would not that be the appropriate thing to do. People can lose their jobs, they can become sick or injuried and could themselves in a dire situation very fast, it is not always about choices.

So I was doing some research into the French Revolution, as this is what I found out:

There were two bad growing seasons back to back and that many people were struggling. The country was basically bankrupt from its wars with England but King Louie wanted to one up the British so he decided to tax the flour to raise money to send troops to America for the American Revolution.

Since the tax was imposed the poorest could no longer afford to buy flour to make bread thus many were starving, this started to affect the merchant class (middle class), and tempers were rising.

One day around 1500 of the merchant class, many of whom were women marched to the palace and well the rest is history.

The current system does not ask people what they want , it tells them what they need. You would probably be surprised by the answers that people would give.

When I speak about karma, I trying to say that anyone could find themselves in the same situation, through job loss, by becoming sick or injuried and fighting to keep what you worked for. Say it was your family, who do you think would be standing up for you, the system or someone like myself, who advocates that no way should you lose everything just because of circumstances. I am sure that fear plays a big role and people tend to distance themselves from the reality of what could happen.

People fail to really analyse the system and to be honest I think people need to follow a person through the process to truly understand what goes on and how it affects people.

Here is a story that I read in the Toronto Star a while back, the person, university educated, started a business, they had property but for whatever reason the business was failing. This person was not entitled to EI and started on a job search. This person was appling to every type of job. The situation was getting really bad and tried to apply for welfare but was denied as this person was told that they needed to liquid assets, meaning the property, which had been on the market for well over a year. This person was desparate, no money, no help. One cannot take the bricks from a building to buy food.

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By d.knox (registered) | Posted April 21, 2010 at 09:43:59

Grassroots: I don't know how people manage on welfare. I really don't. I don't understand the economics of how a single person can get by on $572.00 per month if rent for a bachelor is $550.00 incl. I could not live on the remaining $22.00, and believe me, I can manage.

So, that leaves me suspicious and cynical. Because the people on welfare, who are nowhere near as competent and I am, seem to be able to afford satellite and cigarettes, in addition to a place to live. Someone is not telling the truth. I assume that I am being lied to; that there is much more money available to people on assistance than I'm being told about. I have stopped reacting to the plight of the poor, because I don't believe it.

You are telling me that you are facing dire circumstances. I believe you and I feel dreadful for someone in your situation (and you) - a working person who falls on hard times. But there has to be something you aren't including when you tell us how hard it is, because the numbers don't add up.

Who are all these poor people who are able to smoke and select from a wide range of television channels when they are on welfare? How can we continue to believe the alarmist statistics when we are confronted with the evidence that people have enough money for cable and cigarettes and junk food. This just doesn't jive with the assertion that people are so poor they can barely afford to house themselves, let alone buy broccoli.

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By grassroots are the way forward (registered) | Posted April 21, 2010 at 10:54:24

D Knox: You see, you are making assumptions when you say that people on welfare are not as competent as you are, how do you know that for every given individual.

Can you say for a fact that every person has access to TV or smokes, or are you just perpetuating the propaganda.

The only thing I can say, is that one has to go through the system to truly understand it, you could go and hear the true life stories of people to get an accurate understanding.

People who live in glass houses should be careful not to throw stones.

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By Kiely (registered) | Posted April 21, 2010 at 16:15:20

But when people who have never made a welfare budget work or made a disability budget work or made an OSAP budget work or made a minimum-wage budget work want to find solutions for "the poor" perhaps they should be asking those who DO succeed on those limited budgets what their strategies are - and how to transfer them to others. - Meredith

Excellent point Meredith

So, that leaves me suspicious and cynical. Because the people on welfare, who are nowhere near as competent and I am, seem to be able to afford satellite and cigarettes - D. Knox

Besides the elitist viewpoint and obvious generalization about the poor, you also seem to be assuming all the income available is coming from welfare... or did you just not want to say what you were really thinking?

The unfortunate thing for the poor as well as our society is there are secondary and illegal revenue streams available, (e.g., prostitution, drug dealing, petty theft, B and E, etc…). Not that all welfare recipients do this, just as all welfare recipients aren't wasting their money on smokes and satellite TV. But often these activities are a function of poverty. This is why, as others here have said, poverty sometimes has nothing to do with money and can often have more to do with a marginalized subculture that is hard to break away from.

Poverty is a complex issue and we need to avoid generalization and assumption while remaining frank and honest in order to solve it.

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By Meredith (registered) - website | Posted April 21, 2010 at 18:17:55

There simply must be a difference between the poverty of, for example, new immigrants - certainly my family was direly short of money when we first came to Canada when I was a child - and the poverty we're discussing. And that difference is far more than simply money. What is it? How does it relate to money? To services? To hope? I don't know. But I want to.

VERY generally speaking, I think (a) the belief that a better life can be carved out for oneself if one works hard enough and (b) the resulting work ethic are two BIG differences between those stuck in poverty (which is very often generational)... and those who are newly immigrated to seek a better life here, or those who immigrated in generations past to do the same thing.

That said, the difficulties in literacy, accessing services (like health care) and understanding how to get a job in Canada are problems both face.

Often those stuck in poverty don't know anyone whose life is better (that isn't distant and unreachable) or believe that their lives or situation can be changed. There's no hope.

But in this city, when I hear a white guy who lives at home, sponges off his parents and doesn't want to work whine to me about how "the immigrants" are lazy it completely blows my mind.

Comment edited by Meredith on 2010-04-21 17:19:17

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By grassroots are the way forward (registered) | Posted April 21, 2010 at 22:32:30

Meredith: What about this story, about this gentleman


People can work hard, move forward, make gains, then they lose their job and the spiral downward can happen, as they try to find work.

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By A Smith (anonymous) | Posted April 22, 2010 at 00:15:26

grassroots, Ontario and the other provinces have spent the last few years setting artificial minimum prices on labour. In contrast, Singapore's government allows employees to decide the wage he/she wants to work for.

Take a look at the unemployment numbers from each country and then tell me what policy is better at producing jobs for people...



If you want to stand up for the rights of workers, you should be in favour of allowing them to decide the wage level they want to work for. This way, wages can fall when demand for labour is low, thereby decreasing the need to fire people.

If it was found that certain people still couldn't earn enough to get by, then the government could provide tax credits to help them. In this case, the employee will feel as though he is earning a healthy wage, the employer will be able to produce more goods and services and the overall economy will produce more tax revenue to the government. When people are unemployed altogether, you end up with some people doing all the work and others doing nothing.

All the minimum wage does is price labour above its true value to employers, much like a tax. When you tax something, people and businesses use less of it. If you want business to use lots of labour, then it should be tax free, which would mean removing the minimum wage altogether.

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By grassroots are the way forward (registered) | Posted April 22, 2010 at 08:02:19

A Smith: In producing numbers or stats the voices or feelings of any one individual worker is not heard. So if we were to follow your ideology there, what if the employer wanted people to work for say 3.00 per hour at 40 hours per week, the amount is less then what individuals get on social assistance, and if people are not surviving on that amount, how do you figure would survive on wage that is 3.00 per hour.

So in your imaginary world there, do costs such as food, shelter, transportion, clothing and so on, do they come down in accordance with the drop in wages.

Anyways, tax credits do little to help on day to day living costs, when you only get an amount at tax time as most tax credits are non refundable and only lower the amount to be paid.

Can you produce some actual voices of the workers over there that shows whether they are happy or not. Numbers are meaningless.

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By moylek (registered) - website | Posted April 22, 2010 at 08:53:18

One problem I'm seeing in this discussion is that it's built on shifting sand - the definition of "poverty" keeps changing. One person discusses the habits of people living in a poor area, and another assumes that it as an attack on people on welfare; another takes up the welfare thread, and is attacked for assuming all poor people are on welfare. Let's not use that confusion to score mere technical points against each other.

I doubt that anyone here wants there to be poor people living miserably in this rich country. Many people are simply indifferent, granted; I try not to be. But if I am to entertain changes to our society meant to help the poor - high minimum wage; guaranteed income; free higher education; changes to social housing - then I need the advocates to be honest about human nature and the human condition. For example, an open recognition that some poor people are living in squalor not simply because they can't afford not to, that broccoli does not cost more than potato chips; that the satellite dishes on Barton Street are not planted there by aliens but belong to people who appear to be otherwise poor.

Wigan Pier's Orwell excerpt - which does show us people making bad choices - leaves me far more open to change than stories in the Spec about people so poor that they can't afford broccoli.

Now, I have a simple question which might require a not-simple answer. Let's take it for granted that the elimination of poverty is a desired end (which is debated and thus debatable, I realize). And let's not worry too much about how we get to that end. My question is: what does this city without poverty look like? What has happened to the people described in The Spec?

Comment edited by moylek on 2010-04-22 07:57:54

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By AnneMariePavlov (registered) | Posted April 22, 2010 at 11:08:12

I would say that the definition of poverty includes a lack of choices, lack of respect, constant judgments about worthiness, and a general hopelessness about the situation.

My husband is 71, and came of age in a thriving Hamilton, where a young barely educated man could walk along Burlington Street in the morning and apply at any of those factories, and have a well paying job by noon - and if you didn’t get one, you were lazy, the manufacturing jobs were that abundant (granted, these jobs were for men who were strong and able-bodied, so I don’t know how women fared in that era. I would think that the jobs paid so well and the prevailing notion was that women stayed home, so one income was enough for a married couple). In this golden era, there were still people who struggled, and they were the physically or mentally disadvantaged ones, who did not yet have the benefit of the social safety net that was to come in the 70’s (and then get dismantled in the 90’s, but that’s another story). A Hamilton without poverty today would include a thriving economy, good jobs that pay well, (so that people have money to spend and add to the robust health of the economy overall); choices about employment that do not include working in a recycling plant or at Tim Horton’s; and a robust social safety net that was federally funded, and not draining the municipality. In this new Hamilton, there would still be people who choose not to work (I grew up in the 70’s where there were lots of people on welfare who appeared to have extra money for beer and partying, but in the North End where I am from, we tended to mind our own business, and not nickel and dime each other – it was obvious that a better life could be had by working, and jobs were easy to get).

Just one point about your beef with welfare recipients who own satellite dishes: they don’t actually own them, the landlords do. There is a guy on Barton & Hughson who sells satellite dishes cheap – many people have taken advantage. And all people on Barton Street are not on welfare, so I guess they “deserve” to smoke under their canopy and watch satellite TV.

And another point about poor people choosing to live in squalor: don’t you watch Hoarders??? There are plenty of rich people living in squalor. That is more related to a mental condition. And mental conditions in our society equal poverty.

And another thing: don’t be looking in “apparently poor people’s” grocery carts in Ghetto Basics – I have said it before, and I will say it again: you cannot tell the health of a person by their (fat) outward appearance – you can’t always tell who is poor and who is rich either – I know many wealthy people who dress like bums. I don’t like this idea that people who live off of public money need to account to the public at all times for their very personal choices. Do you wonder if they are buying Tampax or no name tampons too? PS I am one of those fat shoppers who puts chips in my cart at Food Basics, and I happen to be a well employed vegan. You never can tell.

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By moylek (registered) - website | Posted April 22, 2010 at 21:10:21

Interesting piece, AnneMariePavlov - I, too, think that a decent world would allow uneducated (or ambitionless or not terribly bright) people to work at physical jobs and make a living wage. I wonder if we aren't making a mistake creating a world based on a narrow, middle-class model of how people should live and work and play (aside from the problem of manufacturing jobs disappearing altogether).

You write "I don’t like this idea that people who live off of public money need to account to the public at all times for their very personal choices." Please note that I never made mention of public money - I only said "poor people". So here's the problem of the shifting-sand definitions and scoring cheap points again.

And as far as judging poor people by what they do and how they eat and how they get sick and die - wasn't making such judgements (about the people and about our society) exactly what the Code Red series was about?

And if I don't make judgements based on how people are living, then how am I to make judgements at all? Or shall I not make judgements? Do I just shut up and pay my taxes and not worry my little head over what happens with my money or whether governments are improving our world with it?

Comment edited by moylek on 2010-04-22 20:16:17

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By Meredith (registered) - website | Posted April 22, 2010 at 22:39:00

Hmm... okay. Let me try to address a few different points... if that's ok.

1. The definition of "poor people." Well, we have a few, right? Those on welfare. Those on disability. Those on pensions. Those who are unemployed but don't want to liquidate assets/go on welfare, and so make do with interim work. Students who rely on OSAP alone. Students who have jobs and no OSAP. Students who have both. Single moms (or rarely, dads) who rely on child support payments and government money. People at minimum-wage or part-time jobs that pay below the poverty line. Seniors who don't have retirement savings or qualify for pensions yet. Singles, couples, families, single-parent families, grandparents raising grandkids, teens living without parents.

I'm sure I've missed some, but that's a sampling of people I know. Sure, the person with mental health and addiction who lives on welfare is in a far different spot from the person in a skilled job who can only get part-time work, but they both play into the discussion -- people whose income is below a level that we have deemed, as a government and a society, "poor" in relative terms. People whose income is too low to fulfill normative expectations of the amount of money one should have available to live in North America to a reasonable standard of happiness.

2. Skilled workers who lose their job. It's not easy... but I have to say, if there are no jobs in your field, you either go to a place where the jobs are, retrain in something else, or take another type of job.

That's tough if you've been in the same field for 20 years. But it's reality. What else are you going to do?

I have met more than a few people in Hamilton who refuse to work outside their skilled field or liquidate their assets when they lose a job. They don't understand that simple fact that if you don't have sufficient savings, or exhaust them when you fall on hard times, you need to do painful things. You need to liquidate the assets you have the privilege of owning, and/or get a less skilled job in a different field temporarily, and/or retrain in a field that is hiring. And you either sell things off to pay your bills, work hard in a job that lets you pay your bills, or if you are bankrupt, you may have to declare it - but except for a few extenuating circumstances I've heard, that's often not required. (Then again, if you were in a pile of consumer debt, that doesn't help...)

Terribly unpopular, but something that people who get somewhere (and back to the work ethic factor, most immigrants) understand. When you can't get work in your field, you don't have the privilege of being picky.

And I've lived that - from emptying my RRSP to taking any horrible minimum-wage job (that galled my pride and treated me like crap), to having a pristine credit rating go down the drain from being unable to pay my bills, to taking extra debt to retrain in another field. I understand it - and have little tolerance when people say "But I used to be _________! I'm skilled in _______!" and have too much pride to do what has to be done - work to support yourself, and don't expect a fairy godmother or a rich relative's death or a government intervention to make it possible for you can keep up what you had before.

3. Looking in "apparently poor" people's grocery carts.... if you choose to ignore the giant lineups when people get their cheques or the loud conversation about their child support payments, then that's your choice.. just as it is a choice for a person of moderate income to buy unhealthy food, even if they're a vegan who knows better and chooses to thumb their nose at the impact nutrition has on their lives.

Luckily, the moderate-wage earners may get to primary cardiac rehab before they have a heart attack, or get a glucose tolerance test done before they develop full-blown diabetes.

If you make good money, you're more free to make bad choices and get them caught in time. How likely is it that poor people even will get the option of preventive cardiac care?

But if you're poor and claim you can't afford healthy food (like the mother in the Spec a couple years ago who claimed she could only afford chicken fingers for her kids...) it's not an issue of affordability but of the inability or unwillingness to make healthy choices. I don't believe you are unable to see the healthier, cheaper option that is FOUR feet away in the same area of the same grocery store. Maybe a poor person needs to be educated on how to eat well, but that's a cheaper and better solution than just handing out more money for more chicken fingers.

Thankfully, one can judge concrete behaviour without judging the person. (Although inferences about character can be drawn from behaviour, no?) But if the poorest area of town is one where a ton of junk food is sold (and there's no big rush on wheat bran or chickpeas!) that's concrete evidence of unhealthy eating patterns - evidence that shows up in StatsCan health statistics too.

Yes, poor people need more money as part of a solution... and the possibility of working for it to better their situation. If you're on welfare, you need incentives, not disincentives for working... but that's not ALL, and the simple, shotgun solution of "give 'em more money and that will suddenly up everyone's dignity" doesn't help if you think you're worth nothing and have a terrible idea of gender roles and no one's ever shown you another way to live than the patterns you've learned.

I know I sound like an arrogant ass. But I still live below the poverty line. My income used to be a lot worse - what I make now is livable, but tiny still. I get frustrated by both sides of this debate, and I do have a little experience... and I don't think I'm the only one in my situation or with my opinions, so I think they're worth stating.

Comment edited by Meredith on 2010-04-22 21:50:28

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By grassroots are the way forward (registered) | Posted April 23, 2010 at 13:13:37

Meredith: Can you explain what incentives are currently in place that get people to make the transition from welfare to employment. I ask this because I am invovled with many that struggle and I would like to know your exact knowledge.

Your words are in complete opposition to those who spoke at he committee earlier this week and while you are entitled to your opinion, your words leave much to be desired.

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By Meredith (registered) - website | Posted April 23, 2010 at 18:13:02

It may not have been clear, but I was attempting to agree with earlier statements of yours -- that it's terribly demoralizing and disincentivising to have money cut because you found a little bit of work.

That's for people who really want to work. I was agreeing with you on that very intentionally.

The other side of that are people who used to work, but then realized welfare is a lot easier - and similar money for them. They're people who have received a ton of coaching, help, encouragement, mentoring and support... but have trashed all of it for the easy way.

For example, I also have a (young, healthy, middle-class) relative who used to work, but takes his welfare cheque as a free ride to sit on the couch all day (and drink it. This situation is not helped by his enabling parents and partner). To him, it's free money - why waste a good thing when he can BS his way through the system and make a few bucks that way? (This is one of the relatives I told never to move to Hamilton if he ever wanted his life to change... this happens in other cities too, obviously).

Another couple I know in Hamilton used to both work - fairly crappy jobs. But likewise - lots of help, encouragement, assistance, favors. They decided to stop working altogether last year and get by on the welfare and assistance they could get for themselves and their five kids. Why work? It's harder and you don't make much more money. They gave up thinking things could ever get better. (But they still have a giant buy-now-pay-later TV and the rest... until that comes due).

If there was a better incentive for these people to work (whether that's a higher minimum wage or a clearer/easier path to higher education or knowing how to pay off their current debts instead of bankruptcy or whether that little bit of money is even worth making), they would probably still be working. As-is, it's easier for them to sit there and have that time with their beer or their kids or their thoughts or their TV. And I can easily see how you get to that place, when you work hard and not a d* thing changes.

Comment edited by Meredith on 2010-04-23 17:32:58

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By A Smith (anonymous) | Posted April 23, 2010 at 18:42:24

The only people who deserve government money are those who can't work for medical reasons. If you have your health, either you work or you don't eat. If you can't find a job, pick up trash around the city or mow people's lawns, but sitting on your ass should not be an option.

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By d.knox (registered) | Posted April 24, 2010 at 16:46:06

The language used around this debate, including in this article itself, is fascinating.

The Spec series is a "serious wake-up call to a city that has grown complacent with the extreme levels of inequity between the affluent and the disadvantaged". Even just framing the argument this way affects the discussion. Affluent is an adjective, strictly a descriptor, referring to someone/something with wealth - money, property, possessions. Disadvantaged is a verbal, past participle of the verb disadvantage. It functions as an adjective, but contains the implicit meaning of having been done to. It puts the described person into the role of victim, passively being acted upon by external forces. Affluent and disadvantaged do not have opposite meanings - it's not even like saying povertied.

Affluent people could be disadvantaged and non-affluent people are not by definition disadvantaged, they just don't have much wealth. I also have a problem with the forced dichotomy, as if there are only two categories - the implication in this framing is that you are one or the other.

Even the use of the word inequity: "extreme levels of inequity" is influential. Equity is about fairness, justice and impartiality. So we have extreme levels of unfairness, injustice, and partiality? Really? Isn't this begging the question? Do we just mean inequality? It's hardly a good point to be starting an open and honest discussion about solving problems.

Still, regardless of language, the series was interesting, and as promised, it generated a great deal of discussion.

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By Meredith (registered) - website | Posted April 25, 2010 at 14:37:58

I'm surprised anyone would downvote your comment, d.knox.

Advantage and disadvantage are about far more than money.

And there's a huge difference between viewing oneself as a victim or an agent.

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By Undustrial (registered) - website | Posted April 25, 2010 at 18:08:44

There is some truly disgusting poor bashing going on here. Poor people smoke, eat junk food and watch satellite TV, so they deserve it, right? They're lazy slackers who just want to mooch, so why not just let them rot?

There are many opportunities for individuals to climb out of poverty, but it's not just individuals we're dealing with, it's entire communities. When entire shifts or plants disappear (as well as entire classes being taken off the calendar at trade schools) the fact that a few individuals are able to recover by selling off all their assets (at low prices, of course), and are able to eventually recover does not change the overall situation.

Food basics (where I also shop) is a junk food warehouse, and symbolises many of the real dietary problems which afflict poor people. but there are also at least a dozen ethnic grocery stores, as well as the farmers market. several bakeries and more vegetable gardens than I've seen anywhere else in the city. And all of them are frequented mainly by low-income people. Like many area residents I usually buy my chips pop and other junk food there since their hours, prices and selection of those goods beats anywhere else in the area. I don't tend to buy my veggies or health food there because their selection of those goods is downright miserable. As for cigarettes, virtually everyone I know in the north end gets their smokes mainly from Six Nations, and some truly ingenious distribution networks for them have sprung up - but you wouldn't know that by wandering through the neighbourhood and gawking. Likewise, until I took a long North-End stroll with a hacker friend of mind, I had no idea how many of those connections were bootlegs

The kind of open prejudice against low-income people is a big part of the reason they seem so apolitical. Why would such people, after reading comments like those above, want anything to do with your politics?

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By Meredith (registered) - website | Posted April 25, 2010 at 22:36:39

It's beyond me how it's "poor bashing" when there's multiple posters here whose income is well, well below the poverty line.

Comment edited by Meredith on 2010-04-25 21:42:00

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By A Smith (anonymous) | Posted April 25, 2010 at 23:54:36

Comments with a score below -5 are hidden by default.

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By Kiely (registered) | Posted April 27, 2010 at 16:51:43

Uhm??? How many self-righteous bible-thumpers are there in this city???

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By moylek (registered) - website | Posted April 27, 2010 at 18:38:25

Probably a little more than the number of self-righteous everybody-hugging moral relativists. But, really, who's keeping score?

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By A Smith (anonymous) | Posted April 27, 2010 at 19:43:36

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By Kiely (registered) | Posted April 28, 2010 at 09:37:05

Don't wave your bible at me A Smith.

You don't know me or what I do.

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