18 September 2015

What Good is History to the Present?

You are reading this now. I am writing it now. But the "now" when I am writing it, is the past for you as you read it. This is our constant conversation between the past and the present. All of what we know and build upon comes from the past, and we should never lose sight of that fact. When we do, we begin to imagine that we are the best thing the world has ever seen, and that we've done it all on our own. But your ability to read, to think about the things you're reading here, and to interact with ideas, all come from skills you've learned (or haven't learned) in the past. If you prefer to deny it, or imagine yourself to be much better than all who came before you, then your future self and anyone else who looks back on you, will call you the greatest fool. And they will be right.

I've heard a lot of rhetoric in recent years that intends to shut down discussion and debate by accusing someone of being "on the wrong side of history". All that really means is that you don't agree with the majority. And since when did the majority ever become right, simply by being the majority. Another way to shut someone down and attack their character is to say, "I want to move forward, and you want to stay in the past", as though all forward movement is somehow synonymous with progress. It is easy to move ahead in a wrong direction and imagine you are making progress. History is full of many examples if you want to take a look. But that is a discussion for another time.

Why do so many assume that the past itself, and the things we thought and did (or things others thought and did) should all be considered archaic and not worth doing anymore? I'm oversimplifying. Not everyone thinks this way. We would struggle to find anyone who thinks this way if they were pushed to be intellectually honest and reflect on their own argument. But the past is mostly forgotten, or pushed aside to make room for the present and its glory.

Then again, this is all one man's rant from the past that is long gone by the time you read it. And we know the past holds nothing of value. Feel free to ignore it if you want. You will return to it for help someday, even if you don't realize you are doing it. You might even remember this little exercise.

29 October 2014

Surprise, I'm Writing a Novel for NaNoWriMo!

Last year I finished a triathlon, which I was sure would kill me. Before the end of this year, I thought, why not at least attempt to write a novel? November is National Novel Writing Month, and so I've decided to go where other brave souls journeyed throughout history. Many walked away from desk and pen dejected, others produced something that even they didn't want to read in the end, and a few told us stories we never want to forget. My goal is not to write the best book anyone has ever read, but to write at least 50,000 words in 30 days and not bore us all to death.

If you're interested in giving it a whirl, there are 2,414 of us signed up so far in Los Angeles. You still have time to join in the next few days and add to our ranks. People are joining from all over the world. So, if you've had a story burning a hole in your pocket, this is your chance to ante up and throw down. You'll never know if you can write a novel unless you try.

It's not like I write consistently here enough to warn you that you won't see another post coming soon, but if you are one of the few faithful, I wanted to give notice that you won't see anything for at least a month. Happy reading, and happy writing to you all!

29 August 2014

Poverty: Measuring U.S. Poverty

A few days ago we looked at an introduction to the history of how the U.S. measures its own poverty in Poverty: The [U.S.] History of a Measure. Today, we'll be taking a brief look at how we actually measure poverty in the United States. To get the complete history of the measures and how they were developed you will have to read The Development of the Orshansky Poverty Thresholds and Their Subsequent History as The Official U.S. Poverty Measure. You might find evidence that our ideas of what it means to live in poverty rest largely on our collective cultural understanding of acceptable standards-of-living (i.e., what do we think we need to survive and live quality lives vs. what we actually need to survive and live quality lives). This may be one of the reasons we distinguish between poverty and "extreme poverty" globally, and why Americans generally do a bad job of perceiving whether someone lives in poverty while we take our luxurious vacations to other countries. Based on our standards, everyone outside of the Western world appears to live in poverty.

According to current statistics from the U.S. Census Bureau:

  • In 2012, the official poverty rate was 15.0 percent. There were 46.5 million people in poverty.
  • For the second consecutive year, neither the official poverty rate nor the number of people in poverty at the national level were statistically different from the previous year’s estimates.
  • The 2012 poverty rate was 2.5 percentage points higher than in 2007, the year before the most recent recession.
  • In 2012, the poverty rate for people living in the West was statistically lower than the 2011 estimate.
  • For most groups, the number of people in poverty did not show a statistically significant change. However, between 2011 and 2012, the number of people in poverty did increase for people aged 65 and older, people living in the South, and people living outside metropolitan statistical areas.
  • The poverty rate in 2012 for children under age 18 was 21.8 percent. The poverty rate for people aged 18 to 64 was 13.7 percent, while the rate for people aged 65 and older was 9.1 percent. None of these poverty rates were statistically different from their 2011 estimates.1

The following infographic demonstrates how the U.S. measures its own poverty:

how census measures poverty infographic image
[Source: U.S. Census Bureau]

Did you notice that, after an initial decrease in poverty from 22.4% in 1959 to around 15% in 1965, our poverty rate has fluctuated between 11-15% ever since? Did you notice that children experience the highest rates of poverty? Are government programs the only thing keeping people out of poverty in the U.S.? Do you wonder how we compare to the rest of the world? To look more closely and answer these questions we will need to look at some more ways people and organizations fight and measure global poverty, inside and outside the United States.