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review 2017-05-12 19:28
Toni FGMAMTC's Reviews > Behind the Beautiful Forevers: Life, Death, and Hope in a Mumbai Undercity
Behind the Beautiful Forevers: Life, Death, and Hope in a Mumbai Undercity - Katherine Boo

This is really great at opening a person's eyes. I believe this book said (and that I've read before) that Mumbai is the dirtiest city and the poorest in the world (sorry if I'm getting that wrong but it's close if it isn't first in those categories). The water has everything imaginable in it. The politics to get justice for anything or assistance is so corrupt. Everyone down the line has to get a take so that the one that's supposed to benefit receives practically nothing, if anything. The people are basically squatters with makeshift homes they erect from whatever so they have no ownership rights. Some make money by sorting through trash for recyclables. It's backbreaking filthy work. This book follows a few people. It was difficult sometimes for me to keep each person straight. It's the kind of story that will make you appreciate not having these struggles. It also makes you want to do something to help, but it seems difficult with the levels of corruption to make positive changes.

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review 2017-03-26 12:11
A Story of a Man and his Barrel
Diogenes: An Anecdotal Biography of the World's Greatest Cynic - George Pavlu

When I was up at my parent's house I saw this book sitting in my Dad's workshop, so being somewhat intrigued I borrowed it. The thing is that I like the concept of the cynic, and I also liked the concept of Diogenes, who in some way is a homeless beggar, but he is also a philosopher. However, after reading a few pages of this book I also came to realise that despite him being a homeless beggar, he is also an exhibitionist. In a way he argues against the conventions of society, and the imprisoning nature of wealth and luxury, but he also lives and behaves as if he is an animal, which a part of me feels undermines that part of us by which we call ourselves human.


The thing with Diogenes is that, as I mentioned, he was a homeless beggar, but not by circumstance but rather by choice. Here is a painting of him sitting in his barrel:





The interesting thing is the idea of him being a cynic. In my mind we have the optimist, who sees the glass half full, the pessimist who sees it as being half empty, and the cynic, who basically makes the statement that no matter how much water you drink you are only going to be thirsty again so you might as well just throw the water back into the river and simply remain thirsty. Okay, maybe that is a bit of an extreme, but in some ways taking the mind of a cynic is actually quite beneficial as it enables us to see through the fabrication that is society.



The interesting thing is that despite the fact that he was poor, and lived in a barrel, he was still a famous philosopher. I suspect that it had something to do not so much with the fact he was poor – there were lots of poor people in Athens – but rather that he was an exhibitionist. Also, he had some pretty harsh things to say about society, but despite the fact that he did say some pretty harsh things he still ended up building up a bit of a following. However, like a lot of people who build up a following, while what he says may sound good in principle, when it comes to putting things into practice then people will suddenly turn around and go back to doing what they were always doing.



In a sense there seems to be some similarities between Christ and Diogenes, in that both of them not only walked out of a comfortable life to become itinerant preachers, but they also have a lot to say about wealth, greed, and conforming with society. However Diogenes, unlike Christ, had a much more naturalistic approach. In a sense Diogenes saw us as little more than sophisticated animals, and the fact that despite our perceived civilisation we still basically behaved like animals, we might as well cast off our trappings of civilisation and simply become animals.



This book contains a series of anecdotes, that is sayings that have come down to us about Diogenes. The thing is that while Diogenes did actually write some stuff, we don't have anything remaining, so all we have are these anecdotes, sayings that are attributed to Diogenes, but not necessarily having any real truth about them. In fact all that we seem to have is a story about this guy that lived in a barrel in Athens, that eschewed wealth and comfort, and simply went around challenging people and their lifestyles. For instance it is said that he walked into a rich man's house, and because you couldn't spit on any surface in the house, he chose instead to spit into the face of the rich man.



These itinerant beggars are actually quite fascinating because we don't seem to actually have people like that these days. Okay, we might just do, with people who seem to drift from house to house, taking food and looking for a place to sleep, and then moving onto the next house and the next house, without actually paying their way. I remember a time when I was young that this Vietnam Vet appeared at our door looking for somebody who was no longer living there, stayed with us for a couple of days making all these promises, heading off with one of our friends, and then disappearing. My friends all referred to him as a conman, but he never took anything from us – he simply spent a couple of nights at our house and then moved onto the next one.



However I wander through the city and see all these homeless people sitting on the street with signs asking for money, yet none of them seems to stand on the corner sprouting philosophy. You do get people doing that, normally waving an issue of Red Flag (which is a communist newsletter) around, but they all look reasonably well groomed, and they are definitely not dressed like a beggar. Mind you, while we all talk about how Diogenes eschewed a wealthy lifestyle, and money and possessions, we still notice that he begs, and even asks for money off of his pupils. This makes me wonder if he actually has fully done away with money, or possessions. The fact that he owns clothes, and even owns a barrel, goes to show that he does have some possessions.


Anyway, I will finish off with another picture, and this time one of him speaking to Alexander the Great. It was said (as is the case with everything about Diogenes' life) that when Alexander asked who his king was, Diogenes says that he had no king because he was a citizen of the world, that is cosmopolitan. As such, Alexander realised that it was not enough to simply conquer Greece, but that he had to conquer the world, which is what he did. The other thing was that it was suggested that Alexander either takes everything, and thus becomes king, or takes nothing, and thus becomes Diogenes. In the end it would have been better that there were two Diogenes than two Alexanders, because to have two Alexanders would have not only been insufferable, but would have split the world asunder.



Source: www.goodreads.com/review/show/1950948381
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text 2017-03-24 19:59
Reading progress update: I've read 42%.
Evicted: Poverty and Profit in the American City - Matthew Desmond



This uneven distribution of wealth is exactly what I hate about our current system and why it doesn't work.



 Tobin (the landlord) took home roughly $447,000 each year. He belonged to the top 1 percent of income earners. Most of his tenants belonged to the bottom 10 percent.

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review 2017-03-15 21:46
Evicted: Poverty and Profit in the American City - Matthew Desmond

It used to be a rarity, for other individuals used to fight to protect each other as law enforcement attempted to throw someone out onto the street for failure to pay their rent but now, eviction has become a common sight. The implications of this normality have major implications and Matthew Desmond did an excellent job of showing how eviction has shaped our society and changed individuals in his new novel, Evicted. I had to read this novel over a couple days as I needed time to digest the information, for Desmond drove headfirst into this assignment as he followed eight families in Milwaukee and lived among his subjects for this novel. He lived with them, spoke directly with them, spoke with their landlords, and took thousands of pages of notes before even attempting to write this novel.


I saw this relationship as a game. The tenants are trying to find the cheapest places to live and the landlords are trying to give them cheap places and what they both found in the long run is not what they visualized. For tenants, other needs and wants cropped up as they lived their lives and they took priority over their rent causing their rent to fall behind. If something in the apartment is/got broken, they tried to withhold rent until it was fixed. Sometimes the tenants fell farther and farther behind on their rent, they were digging themselves into a hole. For landlords, the bills must get paid on the property and the tenant had promised to pay the rent when they moved in. Eviction was a way to get someone else in there to pay the rent. This was a vicious cycle for some tenants as they moved from place to place. The landlords seemed to know the loopholes in the system, they knew how to work around things and it burned me how they treated some of their tenants. Where were the tenants’ rights?


Sometimes landlords would tell the tenants what was wrong with the apartment before renting it out, leading the tenants to believe that it would be fixed but the landlord knew better. The amount of applications that individuals would fill out to try to find housing was absurd, sometimes even lying, showed just how desperate and awful this situation had become. The stories inside this novel broke my heart, the way the families were split apart because they didn’t have the means to support them. Children uprooted from schools, from their family and from their support system over and over again. Thinking about the mental, health and psychological welfare of these individuals was just overwhelming. Will history repeat itself? Desmond talks about his emotions while writing this novel, how it affected him and how it changed him. Desmond offers suggestions on how we can change this issue and the future of eviction as he sees it. I feel that everything is linked and you can definitely see this in this novel. This novel is powerful, I am thankful for Desmond’s work and I am thankful that wrote this novel. This is one amazing read, one that moved me and a novel that I will be opening up again. I highly recommend it.
I won a copy of this novel from Crown Publishing and Read It Forward in the Silent Book Club Sweepstakes.

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review 2016-09-08 07:27
Life Below the Poverty Line
Down and Out in Paris and London - George Orwell

There is so much in this book and it is actually really hard to know where to start, however I will start off by saying that it is not strictly an autobiography. Sure, Orwell did land up in a situation in Paris when all of his money had been stolen and had to work as a plounger, which is basically another name for a minimum wage kitchen hand (if the minimum wage actually existed back then), and he did live for a time on the streets of London as a tramp, but he did so not by necessity but rather because he was looking for something to write about. However it is certainly going to the opposite end of the spectrum from Mrs Dalloway, the previous book that I read, which dealt mainly with the upper eschelons of society (and their first world problems).


Actually I'm starting to wonder about this whole idea of the first world problem. Sure, my issues at the moment relate to the fact that I am in a small hotel room with no wifi, limited credit on my mobile phone, and the fact that the cord for my laptop not only doesn't reach from them socket to the bed upon which I am sitting, but it also has a European adaptor which means I am going to have to spend money on an adaptor for Australia so I don't have to fork out the money for a new power supply once I get home. I'm sure that these problems are minor compared to the beggar sitting on Praed Street in Paddington with a cup in his hand relying upon the generosity of those walking by, or the guy on Paul Mall that could hardly stand up because his legs were simply not working and the men that were dressed in suits that were worth more than he would ever earn in his lifetime simply threw their noses up and him and wandered to the nearest wine bar.


While the issues that Orwell raises in this book certainly apply to Australia, since I am currently in London (though I am leaving very soon), and have recently travelled the continent (even if it was only the Low Lands and France), I will try to stick to what I have seen here. Also, the book can be easily divided into two parts – the life of a tramp, or a beggar, and the life of a minimum wage worker (if such a thing actually existed back in Orwell's day). The thing with what Orwell experienced is the harsh reality of capitalism where human beings are simply given a worth based on their productive capability, and when we have unskilled labour, and plenty off it, then the laws of supply and demand simply say that their wages are based upon the available workforce, and when there is a lot of people going for the same jobs, then the laws of economics simply say that their pay should be based as such. This is why we have minimum wage laws, because people who work should be able to earn enough money to at least be above the poverty line.


As with beggars though; things have changed since Orwell wrote this book. We no longer have spikes, or work houses, where the beggar would get a room for a night, and a simple meal, in return for half a days work, and then had to move on to the next one. What we do have is an allowance that theoretically should put them above the poverty line, so that they at least can have food to eat, clothes to wear, and a roof over their head. The problem is, and this hasn't changed at all, is that many of the people that rely on these benefits are uneducated, which means that they are idle. As such the free money, and in reality it is free money, means that it is going to be used to relieve that boredom – cigarettes, alcohol, and drugs. Governments are attempting to deal with that through a basic income card, but what is happening is that the store keepers, much as was the case in Orwell's time, are adding fees on top of purchases to basically skim off to the top these people who aren't actually able to use this income card in any place other than places that accept this card.


Then there is a term used in Australia called 'Work for the Dole'. That is a recipient of unemployment benefits has to do a set number of hours of work a week to receive their benefits. I'm actually in favour of this, but it is open to abuse. First of all left wing agitators are dead against it claiming that it not only puts other people out of work, but it creates what is in effect a slave workforce. Mind you, they are generally guiding the lily a lot because McDonalds simply cannot sack its entire workforce and use 'work for the dole' labour, namely because only certain organisations, those who rely entirely on voluntary labour, can actually employ somebody through a work for the dole scheme. However, if somebody is doing such work then I feel that they should be entitled to an increased payment than what they are receiving, especially if it hinders their ability to find a full time job.


One interesting thing that I discovered as I wandered through Europe is that on the continent you find a lot more beggars that will be carrying babies, or have children with them. This is simply not seen in either England or Australia. On the continent you do need to watch out for them, especially since they train their children to steal from you. For instance if somebody approaches you at the Eiffel Tower with a clip board and asks if you speak English, scream at them in a language that is neither French, nor English, and get as far away from them as possible.


Another thing that I picked up from this book are the type of beggars. Many of us simply consider that a beggar is somebody who is sitting at the side of the road with a cup in hand. This is not always the case – for instance Orwell suggests that those people who busk in the local public space, draw pictures on the sidewalk, or make sculptures out of sand, are basically in the same position, except that they have some artistic ability. In fact I remember wandering through the streets of Brussels and seeing a couple of girls playing the violin. They were good, really really good, but it makes me wonder whether they spent all that time at university learning how to play the violin only to land up on the streets of Brussels begging for small change. Actually, I remember sitting at a cafe in Naples once and a guy wandered through the streets playing an accordion. Now, my brother loves the accordion, and started giggling and looking at the guy, much to the horror of the waiters. Sure enough he comes up to us, and plays in front of us until we actually give him money. It sort of reminds me of that Cheech and Chong film where they set up in the middle of some French town, start playing rock music, and everybody comes out of their houses and throws money at them to make then shut up.


Now the minimum wage thing is also interesting because there is one thing that I discovered as I was wandering around London – that is that I would land up with a lot of small change, change that would eventually become useless. Normally I just tell the service attendant to keep the change, but in places like Sainsbury's, McDonalds, and such, they actually can't do that. In fact if you tell them to keep the change they have to put it in a donation box on the counter. Personally that absolutely appals me, particularly since these guys are being paid a minimum wage (which is about seven quid in England). I don't mind the tip jar, where the staff divide the tips among themselves at the end of the night, but after discovering that the small change at KFC goes to their 'special charity' I decided that I would pass on that and give it to the guy with his cup in his hand. Sure, he might end up using the money to go and buy drugs, but then again at least I know where that is going – I really don't know what KFC are doing with the money that they are refusing to give as tips to their staff.

Oh, English beer – I should mention English beer since Orwell made a comment about it as well. What he was doing was that he was debunking the myth that the tramps use their money to get drunk. Well, as it turns out English beer is little more than coloured water, which means you need an awful lot (something like thirty pounds worth) to actually get tipsy. However, he is gilding the lily a bit there because while it is true that English beer is pretty weak, gin is not – and it is also pretty cheap. If you want to get plastered in England, you don't go for the beer, you go for the gin – that will definitely do the job for you. In fact, I'm just going to pop down to the off license just to see how much a bottle of gin will actually set me back (about twelve pounds for a small bottle, so no, it's not cheap now, but it probably was back in Orwell's day).


Source: www.goodreads.com/review/show/1748969947
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