Tony Robinson presents a series examining some of history’s least pleasant employment opportunities. He begins in the first millennium, trying his hand at everyday tasks including back-breaking mining by ancient Roman methods, and Saxon ploughing using wooden implements and oxen. He also enters the world of the Viking egg collector, which involved scaling cliff faces in search of guillemot eggs.
Margie Goold, who suffers debilitating arthritis, bought a new walker.
Lance Dingman, who lost his right leg to a chronic bone disease, is no longer running out of groceries by the middle of the month.
Wendy Moore, who has been homeless for almost two years, is looking for an apartment.
The three Hamilton residents are part of the first wave of participants in Ontario’s experiment with basic income, a monthly, no-strings-attached payment of up to $1,400 for people living in poverty. Those with disabilities receive an additional $500 a month.
The three-year pilot project, which began in the Hamilton and Thunder Bay areas last summer and in Lindsay last fall, is testing whether unconditional cash support can boost health, education and housing for people on social assistance or earning low wages.
Information gleaned from the three test sites will guide future provincial policy on how to better support all Ontarians living in poverty.
The province is among several areas in the world experimenting with the idea of a basic income, including Finland, which began a two-year pilot last January.
After couch-surfing for almost two years, Moore, 60, is using her basic income payment to look for stable housing.
“My biggest focus is getting my own place and giving poor John his apartment back,” said Moore, who has been sleeping on her friend’s living room sofa for about a year.
Before joining the program in October, the single mother of six and grandmother of 12 was “barely surviving” on $330 a month in basic needs allowance from Ontario Works, the province’s welfare program for people without disabilities.
Her total income for 2016 was $4,247.
Because Moore was homeless, she was not eligible for a shelter allowance that would have brought her monthly Ontario Works payment to just over $700.
But under the basic income experiment, Moore receives $1,416 a month, an amount that remains constant no matter where she lives.
“It is giving me back my independence,” she said. “I don’t feel so backed into a corner. If I want to eat, I can afford to buy something instead of going to a food bank or a soup kitchen.”
Moore and the others are among almost 3,000 people enrolled so far in the test sites. The province hopes to recruit 6,000 participants, including 4,000 who will receive a basic income, fill out surveys and participate in focus groups as part of the study.
A further 2,000 won’t get the monthly payments but will be paid to complete surveys and tracked as a control group.
Thunder Bay heating and fireplace installer Taras Harapyuk, who hasn’t worked since 2015 when he fell lifting a ladder out of his truck, signed up for the pilot project last September. He learned last week that his application was randomly selected as part of the control group.
“I was very disappointed to hear I wasn’t chosen to get the extra money,” Harapyuk said. “But I will fill out the surveys. I am happy to help.”
Adults in the three test sites age 18 to 64 with after-tax incomes under $34,000, or couples with incomes under $48,000, are eligible. The income cut-off for individuals with disabilities is $46,000.
If participants find employment or get a better job, their basic income payments are reduced by 50 cents for every dollar earned until they are no longer financially eligible. But unlike social assistance, which is adjusted monthly, basic income payments are calculated once a year, based on the participant’s previous year’s income tax return.
Project administrators can make mid-year adjustments if participants lose a job or go back to school, change a living arrangement or become disabled.
After a slow start last summer, enrolment topped 2,544 at the end of January and the project is on track to be fully enrolled by the summer, the government says.
“We are on well on our way to reaching full enrolment of participants into the pilot and have the measures in place to ensure this study is conducted with the utmost integrity, rigour and ethical standards,” said Social Services Minister Helena Jaczek and Housing Minister Peter Milczyn, the government’s co-chairs for the pilot project.
“What we learn from this pilot will help inform our longer-term plans to better support people living on low incomes,” they said in a joint statement.
Goold, 60, who has a developmental disability and suffers from severe arthritis, was receiving about $1,400 a month from the Ontario Disability Support Program (ODSP) before her first basic income payment arrived in October.
Since then, her monthly income has increased by 28 per cent to $1,806.
In addition to being able to buy a new walker “with all the bells and whistles” for about $500, the extra money allowed her to take her husband, Don, to the Keg for his 65th birthday this month.
“It’s nice to be able to celebrate a milestone like everybody else,” she said.
Fellow Hamilton resident Alana Baltzer, 28, traded her $722 monthly ODSP benefit for a basic income of $1,915 in October.
It meant Baltzer, who had previously shopped only at thrift stores, was able to take advantage of Black Friday sales in November to buy her first new winter coat.
“It has certainly come in handy with the cold weather,” she said.
Apparently, Canadians love weed. According to a new survey, the number of people who consume cannabis in Canada has risen steadily over the past 30 years or so. Now, as Canadian cannabis consumption doubles, the country must figure out how to finally make good on its promise to legalize weed in 2018.
Statistics Canada published the report. In it, the agency looked at a number of health surveys from 1985 through 2015 in an effort to identify trends in cannabis use. Who are the biggest consumers? Teens? Moms? Everyone in between?
Researchers found that in 1985, around 5.6 percent of Canadians 15 and older consumed weed. That number had more than doubled in 2015, climbing to as high as 12.3 percent.
Along with these numbers, the report highlighted other important trends. For example, although the surveys used in the new study included everyone 15 years old and up, cannabis use among young people has remained more or less stable.
More specifically, cannabis use among men aged 15 to 17 stayed the same between 2004 and 2015. During that same time, consumption actually dropped among women in the same age group.
Similarly, fewer people between the ages 18 and 24 smoked weed during those 11 years. It was adults 25 and older that drove the spikes in overall cannabis use.
It’s important to note that although weed still hasn’t been legalized in Canada, the years included in this report were marked by a growing acceptance of cannabis. This included a number of provinces and cities working to decriminalize and in some cases legalize weed.
But despite this growing acceptance of weed, there has not been a change in the numbers of teens who consume it. This could be important data since one of the arguments most often made by those who oppose legalization is that more lax weed laws will lead to skyrocketing use among young people.
Recording stray thoughts, private conversations, newspaper headlines, and even an amorous act in the bedroom, Ulysses functions as a super-catalog of the mundane. Joyce’s approach—a persistent surveillance of events in Dublin on the date of June 16—implies that a larger story remains hidden in a plain sight, an explanation that might finally make sense of the world, lurking in the data of everyday life. We just need to capture and record that data.
Joyce allegedly had larger ambitions than merely crafting a novel. According to his friend, the writer and artist Frank Budgen, Joyce wanted Ulysses to be so exhaustively detailed that it might operate as a kind of literary hologram. In his own words, “I want to give a picture of Dublin so complete that if the city one day suddenly disappeared from the Earth it could be reconstructed out of my book.” It is literature as 3-D point cloud: a total model of the metropolis and an infinite archive of everything that takes place inside of it.
There are other ways to capture a city. In 2009, the U.S. military revealed the use of a new surveillance tool called Gorgon Stare. It was named after creatures from Greek mythology that could turn anyone who made eye contact with them to stone. In practice, Gorgon Stare was a sphere of nine surveillance cameras mounted on an aerial drone that could stay aloft for hours, recording everything in sight. As an Air Force major general explained to The Washington Post at the time, “Gorgon Stare will be looking at a whole city, so there will be no way for the adversary to know what we’re looking at, and we can see everything.”
If a car bomb were to detonate in an outdoor market, for example, the accumulated footage Gorgon Stare had captured from that day could be rewound to track the vehicle to its point of origin. Perhaps it could even follow the car backward in time, over several days. This could reveal not only the vehicle’s driver but also the buildings the car might have visited in the hours or days leading up to the attack. It is instant-replay technology applied to an entire metropolis instead of a football field—a comparison made unnervingly literal by the fact that the same company that supplied instant replays for the National Football League began consulting with the Pentagon to bring their technology to the battlefield.
Unsurprisingly, militarized replay technologies such as Gorgon Stare caught the eye of domestic U.S. law enforcement who saw it as an unprecedented opportunity to identify, track, and capture even the pettiest of criminals—or, more ominously, to follow every attendee of a political rally or public demonstration.
The larger promise of Gorgon Stare, however, was a narrative one: Its capacity for total documentation implied that every event in the city could not just be reconstructed but fully and completely explained. Indeed, James Joyce and the U.S. military would seem to agree that the best way to make sense of the modern metropolis is to document even the most inconsequential details. Urban events as minor as a Dubliner out for an afternoon stroll—let alone something as catastrophic as a terrorist attack—can be rewound, studied, and rationally annotated. Gorgon Stare is Ulysses reimagined as a police operation: a complete, time-coded, searchable archive of a person’s every act. The police can go back days, weeks, or months; if they have enough server space, years. Should they wish, they could produce the most complex, novelistic explanations imaginable simply because their data pool has become so rich.
This sort of persistent surveillance no longer requires drones, however, or even dedicated cameras; instead, people have willfully embedded these technologies into their daily lives. The rise of the so-called smart city is more accurately described as the rise of a loose group of multisensory tracking technologies. Gorgon Stare, we might say, is the metropolis now.