“Non nobis, Domine, non nobis, sed nomini tua da gloriam.”
“Not unto us, O Lord, not unto us, but unto thy name give glory.” — Psalm 115, from the King James Version of the Bible.
As Thanksgiving approaches and family gatherings appear to be limited for the holiday on account of COVID-19, it’s easy to lose sight of the greater problems weighing down many unfortunate people this year, such as hunger and homelessness. People of sufficient means can afford to fret over not seeing friends and relatives in person, or over temporary shortages of goods and services inconveniencing them, but they at least have a warm, secure place to live, and enough food and other necessities to go around. Should they become sick, they have access to quality medical attention.
The cover of a pamphlet from the National Institutes of Health (NIH) reminding Americans of the need in a country with plentiful food to be mindful of not eating too much.
What about the people without all those good things to be thankful for this year? The economic disruption of COVID-19 has pushed millions of people into desperate straits this year, most of them workers in the service sector who could least afford to miss a paycheck. While professionals could work from home using a computer and an internet connection, that option has not been available to most service workers, for whom the choice has been to work and thereby expose themselves to the coronavirus or stay home as long as they had a home to stay in and money to buy food. Some have been able to sustain themselves on financial assistance, others have not.
As bad as prolonged isolation can be, poverty is worse. As inconvenient as it can be to have money and not always have goods available in stores to buy, or restaurants to visit for some time out of the house, it is worse to work in those stores and restaurants for low wages and be exposed eight hours or more a day to coronavirus, and yet have to endure the abuse of entitled, spoiled, petulant customers, or to not have a job at all. For all that, there are still ways to say “thanks” this holiday season, and to help someone else along the way.
Food banks are experiencing greater demand now than at any time in recent memory. The same goes for soup kitchens, homeless shelters, and other charities helping the recently displaced as well as the chronically underemployed. There are safe ways to volunteer, but if that doesn’t seem possible, then help out by making a donation. Hospital staffs around the country are overworked, and they could use the assistance even of people without medical training. Farmers are reporting reduced demand for turkeys over 20 pounds because fewer large groups will be gathering for holiday dinners in their homes. The hungry who can’t afford to buy those larger turkeys could surely benefit by having them bought for them. Help carry the burden of this pandemic by picking up the fallen, and say grace in thanks to whatever faith sees you through another day.
Patrick Doyle composed this version of the traditional Catholic hymn “Non Nobis, Domine” for the 1989 film Henry V, directed by and starring Kenneth Branagh. Mr. Doyle appears as the soldier singing at the beginning of the scene, which depicts the aftermath of the 1415 Battle of Agincourt in the Hundred Years’ War.
Schools around the country have either started the fall semester or are about to, some opening their buildings to students and others not, and everywhere there is confusion and apprehension about the changed circumstances due to coping with the coronavirus. Will students, especially the very young ones, be able to maintain their concentration when learning remotely? If they attend classes in person, will they endanger themselves and everyone in school as well as at home because of failure to maintain the new disciplines of social distancing, mask wearing, and frequent, conscientious sanitation?
Back in 1918 and 1919 during the worldwide outbreak of the Spanish Flu, remote learning meant home schooling. Social distancing was barely understood, and other measures to contain the deadly flu were haphazardly implemented from locality to locality. Where city-wide rules went into effect, such as in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, where officials closed the schools and banned some public gatherings (notably excepting saloons), the contagion’s effects were limited in comparison to places like Boston, Massachusetts, where public life went on much as before.
Rosana Martinelli, mayor of Sinop, a city in the Brazilian state of Mato Grosso, meets with schoolchildren in May 2020, before the coronavirus pandemic gripped that country. Photo provided by Rosana Martinelli.
Schoolchildren, however, are a special case, then as now. Besides having a limited understanding of what’s at stake and the measures necessary to protect everyone from the coronavirus, many are incapable of respecting boundaries. Children, the younger ones particularly, by nature lack social control. For proper development, children need social contact of all kinds, whether that means actual touching or merely being in the presence of other children and adults. Can children, especially the very young, be expected to sit still and apart from each other for six hours or more every day, never getting close enough to play and roughhouse with each other?
The experiment of returning children en masse to in-person learning from teachers in school buildings is bound to fail. The primary reason for trying it out is to mollify those right wing supporters of the current president who are clamoring loudly for schools to reopen for a number of reasons, but mostly to do with denying the reality of the pandemic while somehow boosting their cult leader’s chances of reelection in November. The experiment will fail before November, and the school boards responsible for catering to right wing extremists can then say that they tried. Meanwhile, thousands of people will fall ill unnecessarily and some will die, sacrificed to the experiment.
An episode ofPocoyocalled “Don’t Touch!” wherein Pocoyo, a very young boy, tries and fails to restrain himself from touching, demonstrating a lack of self-control natural to small children. Narration is by Stephen Fry.
There are other people, surely, with reasons for wanting the schools opened for in-person attendance. Working class families, for instance, many with only a single parent, have managed with great difficulty the extra burden of their children staying home more than usual. Those are the people most in need of assistance now, both financially and by having school districts reach out to them with help in keeping their children safe at home and learning. Family circumstances have changed in the century since the Spanish Flu outbreak, when it was more likely that one parent would be home during the day.
It would not serve today’s parents well to have their children exposed to risk at school, where they might easily pick up the coronavirus from classmates and then bring it home to their families. Working class parents already expose themselves to risk because they cannot afford to quarantine at home, but most go out in public to work, many of them in low-paid service economy jobs with few, if any, health benefits. Keep the kids at home for now, where being out of touch during a pandemic can be a good thing.
Hypocognition – a term from psychology and linguistics meaning the inability to discuss or process a concept because of the lack of a word or words for it.
“Phubbing” is a portmanteau made up of “phone” and “snubbing”, and it describes the act of looking at one’s phone (presumably a smartphone) in order to avoid interaction with another person. It’s nearly always a rude action, and it can be dismissive and disrespectful when the phubber employs it to imply that whatever might be displayed on the phone’s screen is more interesting than the person in front of him or her. It’s a term that didn’t exist – and couldn’t have existed – before smartphones became ubiquitous.
People appear to have an ingrained reverence for the immediate demands of technological devices. Before smartphones, extricating oneself from an unwanted interaction in public meant having to invent excuses, such as an urgent appointment. Burying one’s interest in a book has never worked as well in closing off conversation as getting a phone call or even just looking intently at a smartphone’s screen. People will stop everything for someone who is on the phone, or nowadays only looking at one.
Detail of The Meeting Place, a 2008 high relief sculpture by Paul Day, on the concourse of St. Pancras train station in London, England. Photo by Patrice78500.
The concept of using one’s smartphone to rudely dismiss another person now has a name, “phubbing”, and therefore no longer falls into the category of hypocognition. There are numerous other fuzzy concepts that still qualify as hypocognition, at least for some people. The two groups at either extreme in their reaction to the coronavirus may be engaged in hypocognition, each of a different kind. There are the people who refuse to take public health measures seriously, and so endanger everyone; and there are the people who have allowed their fears to so intimidate them that they have imposed some unnecessary burdens on the rest of society in order to help them assuage those fears, as if they were unaware that everything in life carries an element of risk.
And then there is the matter of white privilege. African-Americans understand the concept of white privilege because they have to cope with its consequences throughout their lives. Most Caucasian-Americans do not grasp the concept because they swim in the currents of white privilege every day. It is the medium that envelopes them, and they cannot see how it protects them from the same dangers and insecurities faced by their African-American neighbors.
For example, say a white man is out jogging through a largely black neighborhood. This particular neighborhood is undergoing gentrification, by which everyone understands houses owned or rented by mostly poor blacks are being bought up cheaply by better off whites and then inhabited by them. The white jogger is new to the neighborhood, part of an influx of people who can afford nice things, and whose clothes generally reflect their status. But most folks would give this jogger a pass even if he wore old clothes with holes and tears for his exercise. No one in the neighborhood, black or white, suspects the white jogger is up to anything other than jogging.
Carl Reiner and Mel Brooks discuss the origins of some concepts in this clip from a portion of their ever changing 2000 Year Old Man improvisational comedy routine. This 1967 appearance is from the television program The Colgate Comedy Hour. Comedian Dick Shawn introduced them. R.I.P., Carl Reiner (1922-2020).
Now take the same circumstances and flip them 180 degrees, with a black man jogging through a largely white neighborhood. The black man lives in the neighborhood, and thus people don’t consider he has any gentrifying influence, no matter whether the neighborhood is working class or upper middle class. The black jogger wears neither very good nor very bad clothes for his exercise. All other factors being neutral, he’s just a black man out for a run through a white neighborhood. Think about what might happen. The black jogger does, all the time. The white jogger in the other neighborhood, he never has to consider the possibility of something bad happening to him, simply because of who he is. That’s white privilege.
Garden centers around the country are very busy with the spring rush, and some may be even busier than in a normal spring on account of the many people who are staying at home due to coronavirus lockdowns and have more time on their hands than usual for gardening and home improvement projects. In most cases the garden centers can maintain social distancing through written reminders posted throughout their facilities, and by setting up physical barriers and limiting the amount of shoppers on the grounds at any one time. Social distancing at a garden center is probably most difficult to maintain in the confines of greenhouses.
Amanda Tapping, actress on the Stargate series of television programs, visited the Arctic in March 2007. U.S. Navy photo by Jeff Gossett, of the Arctic Submarine Laboratory. Note the ice crystals formed on the outside of her face mask by her humid exhalations.
Staff at garden centers may try to diligently follow an advertised policy of wiping down surfaces with disinfectants, but that is not always possible considering shortages of disinfectant supplies and the inherently dirty environment around potted plants and associated materials. Management may require staff to wear masks whenever they are dealing with the public, citing CDC guidelines for preventing the spread of the coronavirus. Many customers wear masks voluntarily, while others are encouraged to do so by posted reminders. Few garden centers or other retail establishments go to the controversial length of prohibiting customers from visiting their premises without a mask.
Social distancing and disinfecting of surfaces are reasonably effective measures in countering the spread of a virus that is only one micron wide; wearing a mask is far less effective, at least when it is the kind available to the average citizen. Yet somehow mask wearing has become the definitive symbol of the coronavirus pandemic, as if it were just as important and useful as the other two measures, perhaps more so. It has certainly become an important symbol for virtue signaling. The problem is not that wearing a mask is bad, because it isn’t; the problem is that it encourages far too many people to attribute to it nearly magical properties that the typical surgical mask simply does not possess, contributing to a false sense of security.
The reason masks have become the symbol of the coronavirus pandemic is money. Wearing a mask in public makes it possible to re-open businesses for people to visit, with consumers sure in the dubious knowledge they are not spreading the virus to others in their proximity. More importantly than its real effectiveness, wearing a mask is a sign to others that you are going about your bit as a consumer safely and responsibly. No doubt it is a good thing to get people back to work making money for themselves and their families, particularly in the case of working class people who were ill prepared to stay at home for weeks or months without income.
A brief, entertaining overview of magical thinking.
To that limited extent, the promotion of mask wearing by the CDC, probably under pressure from the White House to get the economy moving again, has been a decent nostrum. If people feel safer going out to stores when they are wearing a mask and the shopkeepers are also wearing masks, then fine, for as far as that goes. But people should not lose sight of other more effective, less publicly identifiable measures, such as keeping your distance and cleaning hands and surfaces regularly, or just continuing to stay home as much as possible. Wearing a mask does not suddenly entitle one to get up in someone else’s face, for good or ill. Wearing a mask may be helpful while shopping at a greenhouse for supplies for a coronavirus garden. Greenhouses can be tight quarters, but everywhere else at a garden center, inside or outside, that mask you’re wearing and perhaps entrusting too much with your safety and that of others is scant protection that doesn’t amount to much if you’re aren’t taking more effective, less magical measures to keep the virus from spreading.
Tongues are wagging and fingers are busy typing all around the country about the Instagram influencer topic of “perineum sunning”. Or did the topic gain traction on Instagram from a post by a micro-influencer? Or even less popular than that? Wherever she was a week or two ago in the Instagram influencer pecking order, surely by now she is on her way to becoming a mega-influencer, if there is such a ranking.
The perineum is the part of the human body between the genitals and the anus, and according to Metaphysical Meagan, the influencer everyone is now talking and writing about, it feels good and is good for her – and possibly for you, too – to expose that area to direct sunlight for as little as less than a minute each day. Judging from pictures posted online by M. Meagan and others, the preferred method of achieving the proper exposure is lying naked on one’s back and splaying one’s legs in the air. The pictures of people baring their nether parts to the sun are hilarious.
A Miami Beach, Florida postcard from February 1967, in the Postcard Collection of the State Library and Archives of Florida.
As stupid trends go, this is relatively harmless, like mood rings or pet rocks. A few people will get rich off it, some others will buy into it and wonder why they did years later, and most will shake their heads and chuckle about it. In any event, the trend will pass soon, knocked off the radar by the next supposed big thing. The adherents of perineum sunning promote it’s dubious health benefits, and it is doubtful their claim will lead to great harm for Instagram devotees who follow prescribed practice and expose their perinea to the sun for less than a minute a day. Why talk or write about it then, and give this silliness more free publicity? Because of what this kind of ultimate silliness says about us and how we arrived at this moment.
First of all, the relatively recent phenomenon of the fascination with a suntanned physique as a sign of health and wealth is an attribute of white people generally, and of some white people with too much time and money on their hands particularly. Until the 1920s, a suntan was the mark of working class people who toiled outdoors all day for little pay, and the upper classes therefore scorned suntans and suntanned people. That flipped in the 1920s and ’30s, in some cases for worthwhile health reasons, such as the recognition that rickets was caused by a lack of vitamin D, a vitamin the skin produces upon exposure to sunlight. Other reasons had to do with displaying one’s wealth and the leisure time to be able to travel to far off, exotic locales and lie around in luxurious idleness soaking up the sun’s rays. Suddenly having a healthy glow from a tan was the in thing among the upper crust, and being pasty white was for the lower orders or the sick.
Now white folks with too much time and too much money are doffing all their clothes, lying back and flinging their legs in the air to get a warm, toasty feeling down where the sun don’t normally shine, and some of them are taking pictures of their frivolity and writing about it and distributing the goings-on to followers who eagerly soak it all in like the rays of the sun, for good or ill. Well, more power to them. It beats working for a living.
12 Then Jesus said to his host, “When you give a luncheon or dinner, do not invite your friends, your brothers or sisters, your relatives, or your rich neighbors; if you do, they may invite you back and so you will be repaid.13 But when you give a banquet, invite the poor, the crippled, the lame, the blind,14 and you will be blessed. Although they cannot repay you, you will be repaid at the resurrection of the righteous.”
— Luke 14:12-14, from the New International Version of the Bible.
It’s puzzling to watch poor and working class people watch rich people on television, such as on shows about house hunters looking at multi-million dollar properties. Many of these rich people are frivolous twits who obsess about things like granite countertops and bathroom saunas. Why don’t many of the poor folks watching these excesses feel anger and revulsion at money being thrown away on luxuries, things they themselves could never afford as they struggle to make ends meet from paycheck to paycheck? Instead they watch these programs with a kind of detached envy, commenting critically on the relative niceness of various unnecessary features.
As for the rich, they mostly have contempt for the poor people window watching on their lifestyles. They usually try to mask their contempt, of course, since it’s considered bad form among their peers to make a show of kicking the downtrodden. Mostly they ignore the poor, which is easy to do living in gated communities and surrounding oneself with all the accoutrements of wealth and security they can buy. It doesn’t occur to them to question the envy of their lifestyles by the poor, since it is based on the fabulous nature of material things they themselves exalt above all else. What troubles them is the contempt wafting toward them from some in the middle class.
Nancy Wilson, foreground, Meals on Wheels program manager, works along with other volunteers at the Great Falls Community Food Bank in Great Falls, Montana, preparing gravy on November 23, 2011 to be used the next day for the Thanksgiving meal. U.S. Air Force photo by Airman 1st Class Katrina Heikkinen.
Historically, it has always been elements from the middle class which have led revolutions. The poor are too wrapped up in trying to survive and in slavish envy of those who have more, even when wealth is waved in their faces, but always out of reach. The middle class have the education to understand how the rich are playing them for suckers, and they have the leisure time to organize against them. They have only to inform the poor how the rich have used and manipulated them in order to gain strength from numbers. That’s easier said than done, however, and it’s a task made more difficult by the popularity among the poor of Lifestyles of the Rich and Famous type entertainment in movies and television.
President Barack Obama and First Lady Michelle Obama greet staff and volunteers prior to a Thanksgiving service project at the Capital Area Food Bank in Washington, D.C., on November 27, 2013. Official White House photo by Pete Souza.
This Thanksgiving and throughout the year, it is unlikely a high percentage of the rich and famous will be helping feed the poor and homeless. Giving and volunteering are largely activities engaged in by the middle class, and even the poor and working class. Strange then that the poor and working class should continue to ally themselves with the rich, to envy them their wealth and privilege and, when they vote, to often as not vote to the rich person’s tune.
It tries one’s patience and understanding to refrain from feeling contempt for a group of people who can witness the casual disregard of a leader who tosses rolls of paper towels at them after a horrific natural disaster, and who nevertheless still support that leader. Such a leader would never volunteer to feed the poor at a food bank or homeless shelter, at least not sincerely. For him, it would be nothing more than a photo opportunity he would be eager to get over with. But a division between the middle class and the working class and poor only benefits the rich, the oligarchy. Better to reach out and to serve, even when the people on the other end can often be ignorant, mean-spirited, and hateful.
A working class person who lives in the countryside may feel frustrated conveying to a better off city dweller the economic stagnation outside cities since the Great Recession (or Lesser Depression) of 2008. If that working class person has had his or her rural homestead on the market for over a year, a not uncommon length of time to sell real estate in rural working class areas, particularly since 2008, the city dweller might have a hard time understanding why that should be when places in the city sell well within a year if they are reasonably priced. For people in the cities, recovery from the Great Recession has progressed to pre-recession levels since the low point in 2009. For people in the countryside, where the economy has been on a downward trend for decades, there has been little to no recovery in jobs or in the housing market since 2008.
A Family Dollar store in Lenox, Georgia. Photo by Michael Rivera. Dollar stores have become a ubiquitous sign of the times in rural and small town America over the past 20 years.
Living in a middle class or upper middle class urban bubble can make it hard to understand how divided the country has become along class lines delineated between the city and the countryside. Those lines have always existed, but never more clearly than now. It’s little wonder many city dwellers, especially those living on either coast, were blindsided by the result of the 2016 election. Because their own economic situation has rebounded since 2008, they failed to notice there was no similar rebound for their country cousins, for whom things have only gotten worse. Beyond economics there is also a growing social and cultural divide between city and country. Again that is nothing new, but again it is a chasm that has opened wider than ever before.
The president elected in 2016 by the weight given to rural votes in the Electoral College has not delivered on any economic improvements to rural life he promised, such as infrastructure jobs, nor will he ever deliver on his promises. Rather than implementing policies meant to improve the lives of many of the people who voted him into office, the current president is primarily interested in stoking their anger and resentment over social and cultural issues while working toward their further economic exploitation by the corporations he really represents. To the extent those voters refuse to recognize their fleecing, they deserve contempt. The difficulty for rural voters who are not true believers in the current president’s cult of vile invective has been that corporate Democrats have forced them into a corner by not offering them a decent alternative.
A clip from “Bailey’s Bad Boy”, a 1962 episode of The Andy Griffith Show, with Bill Bixby and Don Knotts. The Andy Griffith Show ceased production in 1968 while still at the top of the ratings for CBS. Its successor, Mayberry R.F.D., fell to the axe of the Rural Purge a few years later, in which CBS and the other networks got rid of programs targeted at older, rural audiences, and replaced them with programs aimed at younger, urban viewers.
When there are only two substantial political parties, which in their allegiance to corporate donors over all other constituencies have come to resemble each other almost as closely as Tweedledum and Tweedledee, ordinary voters feel powerless and ignored by the system. Social and cultural policy differences remain between the two parties, but ultimately both parties serve their corporate masters before all else. Democrats, most of whom appear to live in urban bubbles on the coasts, would do well to recognize the dissatisfaction of those in the countryside, in fly over country, or the presidential election of 2020 could be a repeat of 2016. Recognition starts from understanding problems unique to rural America, and perhaps then people in cities won’t be surprised to learn not everyone has access to unlimited broadband, as well as many other things they have come to take for granted in wealthier urban centers. A little respect flowing both ways, between city and country, can seem hard to come by in these polarized times, this Cold Civil War, but it can go a long way toward healing divisions.
The federal government sends out mixed signals about dietary health by promoting the establishment of fast food restaurants in poor city neighborhoods on the one hand, and then on the other hand advocating healthier eating by limiting consumption of fast food. It boosts the use of cheese in fast food items, and then suggests consumers curtail their dairy consumption. It works hand in glove with ranchers in the beef industry by leasing grazing rights to federal lands at minimal cost, and then warns the public off eating too much red meat. That’s a lot of taxpayers’ money wasted on bureaucrats working at cross purposes with each other.
The Dane County Farmers’ Market in September 2007 on the grounds of the state capitol building in Madison, Wisconsin. It is the largest producers-only farmers’ market in the nation. Photo by Kznf.
People are so inured to confusing messages about what’s healthy to eat and what isn’t that most of them pay little mind to medical experts and bureaucrats, or rather they take their advice with a grain of salt, and that would be in the form of sea salt or Himalayan salt for foodie elites, and regular old table salt for everybody else. Like everything else in America over the past thirty or forty years, food culture has split into two halves, something akin to the haves and have nots. There are the foodie elites of the professional and upper classes, and then there is everybody else, from the lower middle class which is frantically scrabbling to keep from sliding down into the working class, which is itself struggling to stay one step ahead of poverty.
Americans can make a quick, cheap meal of sorts from a one or two dollar box of macaroni and cheese mix. For some, meals like that are their only option. It’s disgraceful that people of limited means should have to bear the disdain of people with nearly limitless means because their diet is based on calorie value per dollar over nutritional value. The poor and the economically struggling don’t have the luxury of being absolutely sure of their next meal. As to how the well off view their meals, anyone who has ever worked as a table busser or as one of the waitstaff in a high end restaurant can attest to the tremendous amount of food wasted by the patrons, even though they may be spending for one meal what a working class person can expect to earn in a day. The upper classes have that luxury because they have the security of knowing there’s more where that came from.
Sid Caesar and Imogene Coca as The Hickenloopers, Charlie and Doris, visit a health food restaurant in a skit fromYour Show of Shows, with appearances by Howard Morris as another customer and Carl Reiner as a waiter.
Unlikely as it seems, the fast food restaurants scorned by foodie elites as obesity enablers for the great unwashed may hold the key to turning things around for people who can’t afford to buy groceries at Whole Foods, aka Whole Paycheck. Taking their cue to keep promotions of healthier options low key so as not to arouse the suspicions of poorer customers whose purchases are based on calorie value per dollar, yet feeling increased pressure from public health groups to offer healthier foods, fast food restaurants increasingly change ingredients and practices in a balancing act to satisfy both constituencies. No one will ever claim that a cheeseburger and fries are healthier than a homemade meal of vegetables from a farmers’ market, but given the realities of human psychology and the country’s current economic conditions, demonizing those who choose to eat the former more often than the latter is ultimately unhelpful in lessening the obesity epidemic, while reinforcing the widening economic inequality that is driving it.
With gentrification occurring in many old city neighborhoods across the country, there has been a rise in calls of complaint to city officials from the new, mostly white, residents about the established, mostly black and brown, residents. New residents usually make those calls to a city’s 311 line, which doesn’t automatically entail a police response, and that’s just as well because out of control police employees are just as likely to escalate a conflict between neighbors as they are to defuse it, particularly since the complainants are pointing their fingers at black and brown people.
Good Neighbours, an 1885 painting by John William Waterhouse (1849-1917). While not a depiction of an ethnically diverse gathering, still this painting conveys the notion of neighborliness.
Some white folks, but not all, understand the possibly dangerous consequences for black and brown folks of having the police intercede in even the mildest disputes. Those who do understand how it works use the police as their personal enforcers, as a blunt instrument to get their way without having to simply talk with their neighbors. Involving city officials, especially the police, ought to be the last resort, but when you are rarely the target of a blunt instrument it is easy to take the view that it is a first resort.
The new residents in gentrifying neighborhoods have little in common with the established residents, and that has much to do with their reluctance to deal with them one on one as equals. Some are intimidated by people whom they have long been instructed by the greater white society to view as likely criminals, or at least as not worthy of the benefit of a doubt. A black or brown person conducting themselves in a manner not dissimilar to a white person, for instance conducting a house inspection as part of his or her official duties or job, is far more likely to be viewed with suspicion by a white person in the vicinity, with the white person eventually calling the authorities to report those supposedly suspicious activities. The glass half full for white people in this society is almost always half empty for others.
Sesame Street has always been at the forefront in portraying amicable relations among people of different ethnicities. This clip from a 1990s episode features a version of “The People in Your Neighborhood”, a song written by Jeffrey Moss and, since the show’s inception in 1969, usually performed by Bob McGrath and a selection of Anything Muppets representing various occupations.
It seems like this society is sliding backwards, and the rhetoric and actions originating with the current presidential administration are leading the way backward. No doubt that is the meaning behind the slogan “Make America Great Again”. For a few in this society, about one third of the population, going backward appears to mean returning to the days when black and brown people were rarely seen and never heard, and then only in a subservient capacity. One thing they overlook is that in the days before home air conditioning and home theaters, people got out and about amongst their neighbors in the evenings, getting to know each other.
Turn on the captions for the printed lyrics.
Granted, ethnically mixed neighborhoods were never part of life for the upper classes, but the upper classes have always been able to afford their own way of life and rarely cared much at all how the rest of society viewed them for it. Poor and working class people have always had more day to day experience with other ethnicities, though that hasn’t implied an always peaceful coexistence. It seems now that in gentrifying neighborhoods the new residents, wealthier and usually whiter than their neighbors, don’t bother getting to know the poorer and darker people around them, and consequently they are easily disturbed by unfamiliar behavior, calling 311 out of fear or annoyance. The pattern continues until all the established residents are priced out of the neighborhood. What a shame then that the new residents come from all political stripes, some with the best intentions, and yet the ultimate effect they have on their new neighbors reflects the same backward thinking as that of those cynical, small-minded leaders now making policy in Washington, D.C., and that of their frightened, small-minded followers, calling the cops out to hassle their neighbors over every little thing.
Technology for helping people sleep appears to be a booming business, with everything from machines that mimic ocean wave sounds to sensors built into mattresses to adjust the sleeping experience for maximum comfort. Technology also is ushered out of the bedroom, in the form of light temperature filters for smartphones and electronic tablets. Sleep difficulties, especially for older people, are nothing to be taken lightly since lack of sleep or poor quality sleep can lead to all sorts of problems in the larger society, some of them dangerous, like driving a motor vehicle while deprived of good sleep.
One of the factors often ignored in discussions of sleep is how the natural sleep cycle of our species appears to broken up into two, and often three periods. The natural cycle seems to drop into the background during most of maturity for many people, giving rise to the common illusion that eight hours of continuous sleep from late evening through the night to early morning is the norm. Nothing could be further from the truth. The true sleep pattern for our species makes itself known in youth and in old age, when work schedules are less demanding. The young and the old typically sleep several hours from evening into the night, then are up for an hour, maybe more, and then back to sleep from late night into the morning. They also often partake of a midday nap.
Asleep, a 1904 painting by Rupert Bunny (1864-1947).
The introduction of widely available electric lighting in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries played a part in resetting humanity’s internal clock, particularly for those living in industrial societies originating from northern Europe. Southern European societies retained a more relaxed rhythm and honored the tradition of the siesta, or midday relaxation. But in industrialized England and America the norm became 12 to 16 hours of work during all of daylight and into twilight at both ends of the day, followed by 8 to 12 hours of some sort of relaxation and sleep at home before getting back at it the next day. Sleep had to be concentrated in those hours, or foregone. Sleep at home when you got the slim chance, or fall asleep at the wheel of some dangerously unprotected machinery, risking death, maiming, or at the very least loss of employment.
To have been an insomniac working in a factory of the last centuries in the industrial north must have been utter hell, as it must be today for those working in the garment and electronics sweatshops of southern Asia. Some of the devices advertised for sale to help the sleepless may seem ludicrous or indulgent, but for those afflicted it may not seem so. The question is whether those who truly need those devices can afford them or are even aware of them. Probably not.
Madeline Kahn, as Lili Von Shtupp, sings “I’m Tired” in the 1974 Mel Brooks film Blazing Saddles. Warning: foul language.
The sound of waves crashing, the gradual transition of blue light to red on electronics invited into the bedroom, and the monitoring of sleep quality, as far as that may be possible, all are geared toward the middle class and above, the office workers who have followed the 9 to 5 mold set for their kind one hundred years ago. Many work more hours than that, usually appended to the end of the day. All the same, sleep for them is crowded into the overnight hours, and if they don’t get it then they will miss out. There’s nothing wrong with them if they can’t sleep all 8 hours in the time allotted; it’s the mold that is broken and needs remaking.