How to stay poor

My previous post on the subject of poverty referenced John Scalzi’s article “Being Poor“. Scalzi gives a very moving account of what poverty feels like, from the inside.

Now, here’s an article that pretty much shows why some people stay poor.

One thing I noticed about Scalzi’s article, and especially the comments, is that it was written by someone who used to be poor. But because he, and many of his commenters, didn’t fall into any of the self-destructive traps Ms. Phelps mentions in her article, he didn’t stay poor.

There are those who are poor because of circumstances beyond their control (for example, one of the commenters to Scalzi’s article had to have cancer surgery while unemployed and insurance-less. That will pretty much wipe out anyone’s resources.) But there are also those who are poor because they’ve never been taught how not to be poor, and they’re trapped by the consequences of their bad decisions. The former just need a bit of extra help: a raise, a job schedule centered around the public transportation timetable, discounts on necessities like food and clothing. The latter, as Ms. Phelps’ article demonstrates, would actually be harmed rather than helped by that kind of assistance. What they need, essentially, is an authority figure who will — lovingly but firmly — tell them, “If you don’t change X, Y and Z in your life, you’ll never escape poverty.” And then — this is important — sticks with them. Otherwise it becomes the kind of condescension that the Bible condemns in James 2:16, mere words without action, utterly useless.

Anyone who reads Scalzi’s article and doesn’t feel compassion for the poor, and a desire to help them, has no heart. But it’s important to understand the individual you’re helping, and know exactly what kind of help they need. If the brain does not work alongside the heart, your well-intentioned assistance may end up actually harming the person you’re trying to help. Brain and heart working together, though, are a powerful combination.

The logistics of Katrina relief

I haven’t posted anything about Hurricane Katrina yet because I haven’t had anything to say that hasn’t been said elsewhere, and usually better. But I wanted to point out this rant on Hurricane Katrina by a guy who’s been in the military and knows logistics. Relief efforts take equipment — lots of equipment. And to move heavy equipment you need vehicles and people, and fuel for both the vehicles (gasoline) and the people (food, water).

Read his article, and the multiple links at the top of his article (particularly this one). You’ll come away with a better understanding of what the disaster-relief efforts are facing, and why it’s taking so much time (summary: the affected area is HUGE, a lot larger than just New Orleans, and trucks and helicopters don’t just magically move themselves).

Being poor sucks.

The difference between living frugally and being poor is that when you live frugally, you’re choosing to spend little money. When you’re poor, you have no choice.

I suspect that John Scalzi and I differ widely in our political opinions on certain subjects. But I believe we agree on the goals, we just disagree on the best means to get there.

On that subject, I’m rapidly getting sick and tired of people accusing their political opponents of being evil. Both Democrats and Republicans tend to do it, although it seems to be more highly concentrated in whatever party is currently out of power. I just wish people would wake up and realize that those on the “other side” are also people of good will. More on that in another post.

Four L.A. men charged with conspiracy to commit terrorism

Hurricane Katrina’s aftermath is getting all the coverage right now, and rightly so. But if it were a slower news day, this story would be all over the media. Four men in Los Angeles have been arrested on charges of plotting terrorism. They are accused of plotting to attack synagogues, and possibly other targets, in Los Angeles. They allegedly plotted to carry out the attack during Jewish holidays, when the synagogues would be packed, so that the number of victims would be as large as possible.

Once Hurricane Katrina coverage settles down and the media start covering other stories, this will be a trial to follow closely.