Can Poverty be Re-branded?

“Sometimes when it feels like things are falling apart it’s just things falling into place”.

This inspirational saying brought to mind the Monty Python skit of “Catch that prize!” where if a contestant could catch, say a refrigerator, dropped from a fourth story window he could keep it. It is annoying how many pithy sayings there are for things falling apart.

I went to a lecture titled, “Is poverty a disease? Could treating poverty work like medicine?” Dr. Gary Bloch, a nice young  doctor who works out of a hospital in T.O. in an area with a lot of homeless people using the ER. *

I am biased, three times around the big C has introduced me to lots of doctors, I have found many doctors, young white males in particular but not exclusively, to possess large egos if not pugnacious attitudes of entitlement. I have read a bit about what internships are like, so I add exhaustion as an excuse for some of them, and then there are the ones who really want to do good… and this guy is one of them. But he is still coming from a culture (medical professionals) that looks at everyone as a set of symptoms.  It is also a culture that is very difficult to enter because of the costs of medical school. Why money should be allowed to be a deciding factor in who might want to be, or might be able to be, a doctor is another question. Most doctors tell me that I can discuss only two things per visit. However, if one of them is about O.H.I.P. the clock seems to fly out the window. Sorry I am griping. 😛

At the very end of the lecture I got to say my two cents worth. My heart was pounding so hard once I decided to try to speak that I might have not heard all of his lecture.  I brought up the Harris government, 25 years ago in Ontario targeting single mothers, reducing their family benefits by 1/3 OVER NIGHT and then standing back to watch the fallout. All the tax payers who could accept the cost of constant road repairs before they accepted the cost of social repairs? Well, if driving over the bodies of welfare mom’s had caused a bumpy ride to work they still might have supported this bludeoning of Family Benefits. I’m not sure but the effects were not as immediate as a bitter cold winter on ashphalt so they weren’t too bothersome. But a large number of women and children fell through the cracks. “Falling through the cracks” meant they went missing in the minds and hearts of the society that they belonged to. And many ended up in peril.

Harris’ cuts weren’t even cost effective, they shifted the expenses to totally ineffective services and removed large numbers from the data for political purposes only.  Add mismanagement of support payments, often those coming after a forced combative situation, a stipulation of receiving benefits was legal action against the absent partner, and voila, many families found themselves unable to pay rent. Their next step was into homelessness. There were piles of cheques for support that were months late and yet they sat unprocessed. Miscommunication, hostility and ineptitude turned up the heat on fathers who were labeled and threatened for being “dead-beat dads” which did not help moms and kids either. Many of my peers who didn’t have any other support network to help them were lost as the stress of jumping through hoops and sorting through requirements turned them back either to abusive situations or bad choices or emotional collapse and mental breakdown. The resulting years have led to the cost to taxpayers in law enforcement, incarceration, emergency services and health costs all skyrocketing and all caused by the repercussions of what were applauded as reforms twenty-five years ago.

I ended my diatribe with “Poverty is not a disease, it is a crime.” and I got applause.  (That was a bit frightening actually).

However quietly, fearfully we do it, we need to speak up about the things that maintain poverty so we can talk about the things that can alleviate it. Poverty is a crime being committed against the most vulnerable, and it is global. It is endorsed by the most wealthy and most priviledged. Poverty makes possible all sorts of abuses of human rights and so often leads to violence and even war. But I worry about calling it a disease. People living with poverty are already in isolation.

*I wrote this draft perhaps five years ago never publishing it.  If you go to the link for Dr. Gary Bloch you will see he is doing many positive and constructive things and lecturing other doctors. Maybe he is changing the culture from within? As I said, he is one of the good ones.

Looking in the Mirror

Looking in the Mirror…

I read my horoscope everyday, not so much because I believe in the power of celestial bodies messing with my life as I believe it is the acid test for how I am feeling when I read it.  Today it said something to the effect that I would be likely to get into arguments, which pissed me off.

I do get angry. It is hard not to sometimes but I try to be aware of it before I am in some action that can do harm and also, I will admit, gets me in harms way.

I used to toss a coin when I couldn’t make my mind up about something.  Never anything really important, usually when either choice was valid.  I found if I didn’t like the outcome of the toss I would simply do the opposite. Again, either choice being valid, my inclination was the question. I learned that didn’t need to waste my time. I am not as quick witted as I once was, but I am more measured.

Inclination is in itself a type of coin, perhaps a coin we don’t know we carry until something in life causes us to choose an action and we have to turn it over. Granted there are plenty of thoughtless thugs who never question their inclinations. Often if they have some part to play in history they become celebrities at least in their own pub or whatever cultural gathering place that includes mental incapacity due to alcohol or religion or the combination that results from professional sports. Or they become infamous villains depending on way things play out, how attractive their features are and if they survive or end up on t-shirts. Those who question inclination often become ineffectual in the grand scheme and hardly thought of at all when the dust settles except perhaps when they say, “I was alive during that time”.

My question is, within the mass of humanity that might get caught up on the streets in some sort of demonstration either by folly or desire or virtue, are not most feckless wanderers who despite the rightness or wrongness of their inclination would choose NOT to cause harm to another human being, especially if they could toss the coin endlessly until the question of being there or staying home was exhausted?

I once spent a weekend with a lovely couple in the seventies who had been caught up in the arrests without cause that followed the FLQ crisis back in ? She was less ardent but he was sure a war between French and English Canada was coming and after hours of talking concluded that I would be shot by both sides. The assertion being that NOT CHOOSING was a greater sin than being wrong.

But again, there are people who just show up. People like me who don’t know how to effect change but recognize at some point you have to decide to show up in support of this or that. The hard part is not falling prey to the inclination to do harm. The miraculous part is seeing some who can show us how to address the harm that others might do without perpetuating it or fueling it.

Wow. Just writing that last sentence got my heart pumping. The scary thing is being scared and not succumbing to acts of violence. Not condoning aggression even as pay back. It is the fear of losing the peace that I enjoy that reveals the fear and perhaps the dishonesty of my pacifism, but that peace includes everyone I endeavour to love and that includes everyone. So when whatever war comes to my door (because I will stay in) I will try to be brave and say, “either side can kill me, I will not defend myself if it involves harming others.” My inclination will not decide for me. Regardless of how close to what history will bare as the most important choice a person can make in these times, a gut reaction will not be useful. My practice and commitment to love and to do no harm to others will be what determines my actions. I will be wrong perhaps but not untrue. I tend push back, it is my inclination, but I submit by choice.

These are frightening times.

P.S. I have just learned of the events in Charlottesville, in the U.S. yesterday. It is hard not to want to strike out against the monstrous mental paralysis that has lead to these murderous acts. It is not terrorism, it is bare-faced murder.

These people who are in the mental paralysis called fascism want to kill the opposition. They do not recognize any people who have opinions other than theirs as being human, as anything but a target for their hatred.

So how do you respond?

I think that it is good that the statue is coming down and it shows the success of government and civic responsibility. I don’t believe that the fascists have done anything to change that. (I hope). I am sorry for all the people who were injured and their families.

Digesting the jagged

I am sick of war. I am tired of us and them.  Let’s focus on what it is like to be human. Fear feels the same for all of us, suffering from violence feels the same for all of us. We need to stop feeding into what fuels violence and what always incites it. And what that is, is a sense that we are different in important ways, that we are entitled in some way that others should not be (because of this and this and that) and some people are just too different to be allowed to breathe.


All people die when one person dies and how everyone dies is important. We don’t want assault rifles in our clubs or our homes .  We don’t want assault rifles killing anyone anywhere anymore people of the world. We are sick of the war on this and that.  We want peace with this and peace with that and peace with each other.


This is when I am usually informed that I have missed the point. Eat your point. Break it into all its tiny pieces so you can swallow it. Stop sticking it in my face. Yes, I am angry. But I use words.  I am heartbroken but when I feel this way I cry.  I don’t fight.


When we all feel better we can talk calmly about how we are not so different. We can talk about loss and fear and how we want to share a better world.  And those jagged pieces that we both have had to swallow, we can digest and perhaps even come up with legislation to improve things.  How’s that for extreme radicalization?

I Went to a Movie Alone

My New Year’s Eve involved going to bed early. But during the day I did two things I don’t usually do, I got a burger at my favorite place and then went to watch “The Imitation Game”, by myself.

I had considered a few of the people I could ask to go with me but I wanted to go that day and not be swayed into putting it off or just giving up due to the lack of enthusiasm and spontaneity of others. So much to my amusement, there were more “singles” there than I had ever seen at a theatre before. Single seating does tend to make the audience look bigger at first. Every one first sits in the middle row, in the middle, and with at least two seats (one being an empty seat buffer) to every person and then they spread out from there. Gradually, the gaps start to fill in as, you guessed it, singles have to bunch together to allow seating for couples and triples…The other difference I saw in this audience from the usual was how many white haired people there were, so many that anyone without white hair stood out. Perhaps all the young people were getting dressed up for a New Years Eve bash?
The Imitation Game is about code breaking in the WWII but really about Alan Turing. It is one of the most tragic stories about a genius that I know. Given that some tweaking of the chronology was done, and with a few emphasis adjustments,it pretty much illustrates how amazing it is that our species survives given that we are so often offended by the irrelevant and yet thrilled about violence, whether it is the bureaucratically sanctioned kind or just your usual bloody thugism. Is Thugism not a word? Weird, it is so prevalent.

It’s a really good movie. You should see it. There’s even a joke in the middle.

A Poem a Day, Day Four

I just finished reading “The Cellist of Sarajevo”.  It made me think of this poem that I wrote in response to another terrible event, but it could be applied to so many events in history.  We are growing to understand our shared humanity.  The only way to undermine the terror caused by those who would motivate people to do harm to others is to assert our every day humanity. 

If you can find “Una Giornata Particolare” I would highly recommend it.

Everyday People

I saw a great movie, it went like this:

 Sophia Lauren’s fat ass walking up and down stairs whilst carrying laundry to the roof. She is wearing shoes with the backs worn down from slipping them on in a hurry and running after too many children all born out of her sloppy twat and a housedress that smells of the meals she has prepared and toilets she’s cleaned and the floors she scrubbed, a dress that is long enough to hide her knees and ugly enough to defeat calves that could make Michelangelo weep over their perfection.

 Alone in rooms that sigh when her family leaves, she opens the window to let in the air. Breezes, that don’t know what Fascism is, know what loneliness is.

 On this Special Day, this Una Giornata Particolare (One Particular Day) she has sex with her doomed homosexual neighbour while crowds welcome Hitler to Italy.

 It is always the same, every time I watch it.

 Today, the day after another disaster, broken hearted people mop up the mess while others cobble something together that reminds them of love.

Small acts of forbearance and enormous acts of fortitude hold the truth of everyday people.



Why I love Doctor Who and Stuff About Heroes, Real and Imagined

Doctor Who is an alien. He has known countless lives, he is oblivious to conventional human society with all its ways of distancing self from other and he passionately loves us. He continually rushes in to do what is right. He is full of doubt and pain but he nevers tires. He is the embodiment of our disolocated, unstuck in time, brave and compassionate best. He is a good fictional role model.

I watched a documentary on child soldiers last night. Our most lovely hero, Romeo Dallaire who “shook hands with the devil” has gone back to Africa to address the issue of child soldiers. He is a unique individual because he will sit close enough to reach out and hold a hand of a father who has lost his children to a militia, who has lost everything infact. Dallaire finds the thread in his own life that he can share, “I too am a father”. He makes a connection. He recognises the evil of using children as weapons and tells us, even though we don’t want to know. He knows these children. They have been abused and manipulated by thugs who want to rule with terror. Romeo Dallaire, a soldier, believes that a better world is within our grasp now. He really does. He is not advocating bigger guns but the opposite, bringing everything down to the very personal and responding appropriately, like Doctor Who, except he is real, like us.2011-fight-like-soldiers-romeo-dallaire

I have been trying to write a book about the loss of innocence called “The Children’s War” for ten years (yes, I am a bit slow). I ask myself, why is science fiction the most appealing setting for me? Why so often is this the genre for us to work out so many of our own issues?

I think we make up stories about people who are who we would like to be and we feel more comfortable if what they have to deal with is not so close to home. We call them Saints or Heroes or Aliens and yet the essential truth of the best of our created characters is that they don’t require anything special, not a Tardis or a War or a God because it is their choice to do the right thing that defines them.

Remembrance day is not about making up stories about the glories of war but about recognizing the very difficult and necessary actions carried out by those who saw something needed to be done against criminals and thugs who would try to rule. It was for peace that they fought and died. That is what makes them heroes.


This is an excerpt from a science fiction book I have been trying to write for a long time. I watched a documentary on TVO based on Romeo Dellaire’s book “They fight like soldiers…” and I wrote a bit about heroes and the meaning of Remembrance Day but instead I think I will share this chapter. I think it stands well on it’s own. Warning: This is not a funny post. There are references to violence not appropriate for children, even though it is about a child.


They shaved my head and shaved the cat too. We make quite a pair, skin and bones and no hair.

I have to watch she doesn’t scratch too much. They might think she has fleas and take her away. I check her closely but you never know. There are so many things that can go wrong, parasites and such.

The food comes regularly, every four hours I think: Little bits of this and that and weak tea, always weak tea. Not that I’m complaining, at least you know it’s been boiled. The cat sips what I leave in my cup cooling on the floor under the cot. I never knew a cat to drink tea before.

I sleep pretty very well. It’s quiet here.

The floor is cold. Once or twice a day I put my bony ass on a pot and do my business. There’s even a box of sand for the cat. The nurse comes and empties both every day. I guess it’s embarrassing but what can I do? I only mention it here because there’s so little that happens day to day.

They keep the place very clean at least.

Sometimes the cat snores. Maybe she has some congestion in her lungs. That’s a worry. Right now she is sleeping. Her one leg is outstretched and her paw is on my calf. She likes to be near me. I’m am writing this sitting up in bed while she sleeps.

Day two

I will write a bit about my life before I woke up here.

When I first saw a wanderer I was so young I didn’t even know what he was.

I was still playing with sticks, making little houses and telling myself stories while my mother worked.

I was playing in the cellar where we stored the root vegetables. It was a hot day and it was nice and cool down there. First I saw his bony feet on the steps. They were the same colour as the dirt floor. He was dressed in bits of cloth, wrapped with ribbons, like he was a present. I wasn’t afraid because of this. His face had paint smeared across it and his hair was gathered on top of his head and looked like a bale of wheat when it is bundled in the field to dry. I think I smiled.

But then there was the loud crack of my mother’s rifle and he crumpled and then fell, right on top of me.

I must have been screaming for a long time. My mother said she was sorry over and over. She didn’t see me. She had to kill him she said. She made me tea with milk and lots of honey and held me and rocked me for a long time.

The next time I dared to go near the cold cellar, there was nothing left to show he’d ever been there.

Day Three

The soup today smelled of garlic. I only mention it because the food here rarely smells of anything. I have no idea where these people are from but they seemed to have made a science of bland food.

We use to grow garlic. My mother made the best garlic soup. “People will always need to eat” my mother would say.

It makes me sad and happy to think about my mother. How can the two feelings happen at the same time?


Day eight/entry eight

I don’t think it has only been eight days that I have been here. I think I have been sleeping a long time. I am feeling better but I am also feeling worse.

I don’t believe there is much cause to go looking for things to feel sad about, but sometimes sad things pursue you.

I will tell you about walking and walking: If you walk long enough you become WALKING.

I will tell you about being pushed and shoved and about being afraid to cry. After a while you feel like you are made of wood.

I will tell you about seeing people get their heads cut off. It happens very fast but it also happens very slow. They look surprised. They look right at you even when their head isn’t attached any more.


It is always raining and when it is not raining it is snowing and when the weather is fair it is too hot or too cold. There is always hunger, anger and fear. Mostly, there are lots and lots of days of walking.

Sometimes we celebrate and our leaders make speeches and we drink and chant and dance.

We are soldiers. We are wanderers. Our war is against everything. We move like a storm from village to town, stealing and burning and then moving on.

The loudest is the Leader today. Tomorrow, maybe you get to be the leader. Maybe tomorrow you will get drunk and have sex with a girl and eat until you are full and then kill some more people.

We never stop for long. We move into a town or a city and after we kill anyone who will stand in our way, we line the boys up and ask them if they want to join us or if they want to die and lots of them die but lots of them join. We give them a gun and we make them shoot their families.

The boys that cry we cut off their heads. Most stop crying.

Everyone cheers and slaps the ones who join on their backs as if they have done something special, as if they are heroes. Some of them even smile. But they are not really smiling. They are not even really there anymore. The real boys are gone and in their place are the arms of the monster.

I know this because I killed a boy. He looks at me from the mirror, pale and frightened. He is asks me to testify but there is no one who can hear my confession.

I whisper all of this in the dark to my cat.

I can never go home. There is no home for me now.