Djcnor’s Weblog

Posts Tagged ‘poverty

” The poverty of our century is unlike that of any other. It is not, as poverty was before, the result of natural scarcity, but of a set of priorities imposed upon the rest of the world by the rich.”

John Berger

This was posted on

and I thought it important enough to deserve an end of 2009 post all by itself.


A long time ago, almost 30 years ago now, I took some courses unrelated to any career ambitions. Nevertheless, what I learned in a few of them I have never forgotten. 

One of those courses was criminology. I learned many things that many Americans avoid even considering. I learned how closely crime was connected to poverty. I learned how closely economic class was connected to the types of crimes committed. And I learned that the penalties for crimes committed by the poorest were punished most severly while crimes committed by the richest were punished most leniently. The punishment bore almost no relationship to the amount of damage caused or how many people were hurt by the crime.

Bernie Madoff. Need I say more?

In the UK, there is a woman named Jade Goody dying of cancer. She is a common woman made a celebrity by a stay in the Big Brother house. She has two small sons. And she has been letting the nation watch her attempt to survive, her reaction when told she would not, her last minute wedding and baptism, all with the aim of providing for her boys as best she can after her death.

Essentially, Bernie Madoff has done the same by entirely evil means. He may go to prison for life. But he is 70 years old. Somewhere unreachable there’s enough money stashed away to make sure that his family is set for life. He has caused great suffering to thousands, caused several suicides, caused several charities to shut down, and in the end he has succeeded in his aim. Because what other reason is there to accumulate so much more than what you yourself need than to provide for your family.

There are some other people whose punishments I want you to compare with his. Read this article from The Guardian and ask yourself why it is not at the top at the top of any newscast.

The Proceeds of Crime

The US and British governments have created a private prison industry which preys on human lives.


By George Monbiot. Published in the Guardian, 3rd March 2009

It’s a staggering case; more staggering still that it has scarcely been mentioned on this side of the ocean. Last week two judges in Pennsylvania were convicted of jailing some 2000 children in exchange for bribes from private prison companies.

Mark Ciavarella and Michael Conahan sent children to jail for offences so trivial that some of them weren’t even crimes. A 15 year-old called Hillary Transue got three months for creating a spoof web page ridiculing her school’s assistant principal. Mr Ciavarella sent Shane Bly, then 13, to boot camp for trespassing in a vacant building. He gave a 14 year-old, Jamie Quinn, 11 months in prison for slapping a friend during an argument, after the friend slapped her. The judges were paid $2.6 million by companies belonging to the Mid Atlantic Youth Services Corp for helping to fill its jails(1,2,3). This is what happens when public services are run for profit.”

That’s the beginning of the story. The moment I saw it I knew it deserved a posting. Spread it far and wide. Send it to Obama. Send it to every politician you know. For-profit prisons must end immediately.

This is not a political post. It’s more one about what’s happening in my life. The inspiration of today’s entry began with an e-mail notifying me that a book I’d had out of the library for some time was overdue and had to be returned.

I hated to return that book. It was Couture Sewing Techniques,

and I was savoring it slowly, imagining what it would be like to work as a fine hand sewer on clothing for which no expense is spared. (I also fantacize about working for the embroidery house LeSage 

and costuming for Cirque Du Soliel.) I love the heirloom-style hand sewing, the hand


Anyhow, the book had to be returned, so I figured as long as I was going to the library, I’d look in the section it came from for a substitute  book to inspire new dreams. And oh did I find one.

It’s Patterns of Fashion 4: The cut and construction of linen shirts, smocks, neckwear, headwear and accessories for men and women c. 1540-1660

I know that such a book would not fascinate many people. But have you ever looked at a portrait of someone from that time period, or pretty much every time period up to around the 1930’s? Have you looked at the details of what they are wearing? The handmade lace, the variety of types of seams and pleats and gathers and such, the embroidery, the fabrics?

Even the most elaborately embellished modern couture gowns have nothing to compare to some of the chemises (basically, the undershirts!) of the time period this book covers.

Whenever I look at anything remaining from past times, I compare it with the contemporary version. I imagine someone standing in a hall of portraits covering other time periods and ours.

Will they possibly find what we wore exotic? Will there be anyone interested enough in our time period to want to dress up like us and pretend to live, if just for a weekend, as we did? Why would a person choose our time period over any of the ones that came before it?

Or will they look at our time period and wonder why we allowed our lives to be full of mass-produced plain goods? Will they think we lived in an age of poverty?


I’ve been reading the Guardian again. This time, a photo-essay in the weekend magazine section about the permanently poor in Troy, NY (ironically the home of the original Uncle Sam, a butcher who supplied meat to US troops during the war of 1812). Each picture is sadder than the last.

A 22-year-old woman with “special needs” gets a pellet gun for a birthday present. [Just what she definitely does not need.}

A pitifully thin young homeless mother with her baby. [Why is the empty metal hanger hanging on a nail in the wall so disturbing?]

A baby sleeping on the floor between two beds with a newspaper over her head, a TV on beyond her. [Was it her choice to sleep on the floor rather than either of the beds? Why]

Folks waiting for the Uncle Sam parade, the adult wearing a novelty US flag hat and an American Spirit T-shirt, the face showing only a grim resolve to survive, the child standing with crossed arms, just as grim.

A house full of various generations, each person with a major problem,

A child looking out the window of a room. The room is totally unfurnished except for a nearly life-sized poster of Britney Spears. [A portrait of how huge the wealth and life-style differences existing in the US].

A fat kid in a homeless shelter, food apparently his only comfort. [Apparently, he’s not alone. My husband read yesterday that 2/3 of Americans are overweight. What is so lacking in America that so many find food their most available comfort?]

Two grade-schoolers pretending to smoke. [Their future health in danger, the choice already made, their lives already foreshortened.]

A girl at home alone with cats and a tangle of Barbie-type dolls, a huge speaker in the corner. [On what basis are purchase decisions made in this home?]

And the last, which is the most poignant for me. A young woman in her Dunkin Donuts uniform, next to her mother who does housekeeping in a nursing home. [Her mother? The woman looks far too old and world-worn, and the look on the young woman’s face shows very clearly that she has given up hope on a future other than the one her mother has lived.]

I wish that the US had a show like one we saw on Brit TV called “Filthy Rich and Homeless”. The show took prosperous people who believed that any person of merit, and of course they were persons of merit, could dig themselves out of that situation in short order. They gave them sleeping bags and decrepit clothes and put them on the streets to try doing that. Within three days, they had failed so utterly as to have violated the rules by going begging to their friends and were ready to give “mentors” from the truly homeless respect. These mentors then taught them how to really survive and showed them the obstacles to getting out of that situation. Each of them was changed for life.

I have a special empathy for all this. I have never been homeless myself, not yet. But I do know someone who was for seven long years. No, he did not find his own way out of it. He was rescued. And now he has a special commitment to helping others. He is a true person of merit, and probably always was, even during those years of depravity.

The US is presently a place of great waste, and the very greatest waste may be the talents and capabilities of its people.

Djcnor’s Weblog

  • @KathrynGoldman Saw your blog post on famous people in fiction. Have character who is supposed to be dead, turns out not to be. OK? 1 year ago
  • I'm back! I haven't posted in a long time, but since Joanie Freeman and I won Charlottesville SOUP, I feel the need to return. 5 years ago
  • Haven't been here on my new iPad. Page looks totally different. Where is the option to reply? And where are the RT's? 6 years ago
  • @The_Puck Same to you. You denial is damaging to yourself and all you care about, assuming there must be some of those. 6 years ago