Saturday, October 16, 2021

A Leisurely Stroll Down Dollar Street

If you can spare a toothbrush and a bedsheet or two, you're richer than at least a billion people right now.

This website is – not merely a time sink, but a time vortex: Dollar Street, a long-running ongoing photography project by the Gapminder organization. The idea is, imagine everyone on Earth lives on a single long street according to income: poorest at one end and richest at the other. As you stroll down Dollar Street, residents are asked about their everyday material existence: how do you clean your teeth? Where do you go to the bathroom? Where does your drinking water come from? What dishware and cookware do you have, and how and where do you wash it? How do you wash and dry your clothes? What soaps or cleaning products do you have? Where do you sleep, what furniture do you have, what toys do your children play with, and so on.

I first learned about this a couple years ago from a TED talk “What toothbrushes tell us about inequality,” discussing the varied ways residents of Dollar Street clean their teeth:

 A woman in Malawi answers the question, “what do you use to brush your teeth,” by extending her index finger toward the camera. It’s a common response among the 1.2 billion people who live on less than a $1 a day. For toothpaste, she points to the mud walls of her hut. The mud contains abrasive sediments, which she also uses to scrub dishes and clothing as well. “She scrapes some mud off the building, she mixes it with water in her hand, and then she brushes using grains of sand," [photographer Anna] Rosling-Rönnlund says.

Other examples: a Burkina Faso family has a tree branch whose end is carved in such a way as to make a useful toothpick. A slightly less poor family in Liberia has one plastic toothbrush, shared by the whole household. A Nepalese family can afford separate toothbrushes for everybody, but to store those toothbrushes they put them, handle-first, in gaps in the fairly primitive/crude brick wall of their home.

I just inventoried my own toothbrush supply, for a two-person household: two in-use brushes by a bathroom sink (stored in a bone china toothbrush holder with 24kt gold accents, which sounds fancy, and I suppose it is, but that toothbrush holder only cost me 99 cents at a thrift store). Two more used toothbrushes in the little toiletries-suitcase Jeff and I take with us when we travel. One in the backpack Jeff carries to work. And 16 unused, still-wrapped toothbrushes in the “toothbrushes/toothpaste” drawer on one of the bathroom shelves, for a grand total of 21 plastic toothbrushes. We also have literally hundreds of yards' worth of disposable dental floss, multiple tubes of minty fluoride toothpaste, and myriad accessories like “little plastic snap-on cases to cover the brushy end of a toothbrush between uses.”

I'm not saying this from any attempt to brag, or make my online friends envious of my dazzling riches, because my friends and I all live in rich industrialized nations where owning a plastic toothbrush, or even a dozen, is not considered a sign of “wealth” or “status” by any measure. Some of my unused toothbrushes and related accessories were acquired for free – advertising tchotchkes which dental offices would hand out at county fairs, or even send through the mail, in hopes of drumming up new business.

One question asked of families in the Dollar Street series regards their hopes and dreams. The richer-nation families gave answers similar to what American “middle-class or better” families might say: I dream of owning rather than renting a house, or retiring early, or taking a year-long 'round-the-world vacation to all sorts of fascinating places … and then there's the Njoka family in Malawi, monthly income approximately $31 in US money, whose dream is to one day buy bed sheets.

There's fix or six sets in my linen closet right now, in addition to the set on my bed [which entails not merely a mattress, but a box spring and dedicated bedframe, too]. And where their $31 monthly income is concerned, I once spent more than that on a single visit to the dollar store … not even to buy “stuff,” but to buy a variety of plastic bins, boxes and baskets to store and organize “stuff” I already owned in such abundance, it made my living space look messy. By American standards, my plastic Dollar Tree organizing bins are cheap and low-quality (you can find sturdier and much nicer-looking options at standard department or home-improvement stores, if you're willing to spend four to ten times as much money), yet they still represent an unattainable, well-nigh unimaginable, level of wealth for the poorest couple of billion human beings living today.

Anyway, check out Dollar Street if you have time to spare. You can search by country, continent, or income level to see how people live throughout the world.

Tuesday, May 18, 2021

Summer in the City


With summertime fast approaching in the northern hemisphere, here's your annual reminder that if you live in a humid climate where moisture/dampness exacerbates any unpleasant temperatures (too-warm OR too-cool), cotton is the absolute WORST of all natural fibers you could wear, despite its common use in T-shirts, jeans and other summer garments.
 The problem with cotton is that it holds moisture right next to your skin. Last winter, when Texas lost electricity during an extreme cold snap, you might have seen the phrase "cotton kills" in news articles or social media posts advising how to wear layered clothes to protect against subfreezing temperatures: in such situations, the layer against your skin must NOT be made of cotton, because if you perspire at all, every bit of that wetness will be held against your skin and actually increase your risk of hypothermia.
The two best "natural" fabrics to wear in hot and humid conditions are linen and rayon, which is also sold as "viscose" or "bamboo." Linen wicks moisture away from your body rather than hold it close the way cotton does; rayon not only wicks away moisture, but many forms of it do not hold any body heat at all -- where heat-retention is concerned, wearing rayon clothing thick enough to block the sun is the same as being naked in the shade.
Both fabrics have downsides compared to cotton: linen wrinkles very easily and (at least on me) always looks a little ill-fitting even when a garment is cut to your exact size and shape. Furthermore, linen tends to be far more expensive than most other fabrics today. Rayon does not have those problems; however, it is far more prone to stretching out over time, and rayon's refusal to hoard heat makes "100% rayon" garments unsuitable to wear anyplace it would be too chilly to go nude. I've found linen/rayon blend clothes to be the best, since the two fabrics' downsides largely cancel each other out. (Though in super-high heat, 90s or above with matching relative humidity levels, I do stick with 100% rayon anytime I go outside.)
Silk is another "dry" fabric with the trait of wicking moisture away from your skin. However, it also is very efficient at hoarding body heat, so it's best avoided in high temperatures (though ideal for cooler temps where the humidity remains uncomfortably high).
That said: it is especially important that you do NOT use anti-static dryer sheets, or any other laundry treatments, on your silk, linen and rayon garments. Dryer sheets work by coating the fibers of your clothes with various substances which negate any moisture-wicking ability the textile might have, and ruins the clothes in other ways too. So ideally you shouldn't use dryer sheets at all, but you especially shouldn't use them on clothes with moisture-wicking qualities you wish to maintain. I wash and dry my rayon clothes separately from the rest of my laundry, "delicate" cycle for the washer and dryer, and store-brand Woolite detergent in the washer.
Banish all cotton from your summertime wardrobe if you live in a humid climate! This means socks and undergarments as well. Before I moved to the Deep South, when almost all my summer clothes were some form of cotton or other, I figured it was an unavoidable fact of life that "When you personally are sweaty and gross, so too are whatever clothes you are wearing, and getting undressed after a long sweaty day will always feel like peeling off a wet bathing suit" -- that's true if you wear cotton, but with linen or rayon your clothes actually stay dry even in the most miserably humid heat, and you feel drier and cooler as a result.

Wednesday, March 31, 2021

Welcome to the Race

Over these past many years I've grown so accustomed to living in Fuckup Nation, it took me far longer than it should've to realize: by world-vaccination-rate standards, we're actually doing something right for a change!

I currently live in Georgia, one of the less-impressive U.S. states where vaccination rates are concerned, but a couple weeks ago they dropped the minimum-age-eligibility requirement from 55 down to 16, so I got my first dose of the Moderna vaccine today, plus an appointment for my second shot in four weeks. For comparison, I have a friend in British Columbia (a male friend, which means I literally, genuinely have a boy friend who is completely real but you've never met him, because he lives in Canada) who does not yet qualify for a shot in his province even though he's 70 -- at his age, if he lived in my neighborhood he'd already have had both of his shots by now.

I've been extra-lucky: not only did I get an appointment relatively soon after qualifying, but mine was scheduled at a Walmart only a couple of miles from my house (I know of people who had to drive up to 200 miles to get a shot). When I got there I only had to wait a minute or two for the pharmacist to return from a brief break and then he saw to me immediately; when he determined I was there for dose #1 he greeted me with the words "Welcome to the race!" (presumably the race to reach herd immunity before the virus inevitably evolves into even-nastier strains).

Tuesday, March 30, 2021

Important Cultural Issue: What Do Middle-Aged White People Think of Lil Nas X?

Between my age and my “whiter than mayo on Wonderbread” status, it's a safe bet I'd never have heard of, let alone watched, Lil Nas X's latest video if not for the conservative freakout over it. If you haven't seen it, here's what happens: it starts with Nas in the Garden of Eden, innocently playing a [very catchy] song when suddenly, Satan/the Serpent shows up, leading directly to the first time in human history that a gay man had gay sex. Nas climbs on a stripper pole and does some genuinely impressive routines while riding the pole all the way down to hell.

I don't fully understand why conservatives are so opposed to such a perfect encapsulation of what they call “wholesome family values” – gays are of the devil, they are all damned, and the highway to hell is lined with stripper poles – but honesty compels me to admit: Nas worked that pole far better than I could at his age, and I'm only slightly mollified by the thought “Yeah, well, when I was his age I didn't have a six-figure choreography budget and another six figures' worth of CGI enhancement, either.”

Friday, March 12, 2021


This is the one-year anniversary of the day Covid Changed Everything, where Jeff and I were personally concerned. Or, to put it another way: exactly one year ago was the last time Jeff and I left home for what we thought would be a typical forgettable afternoon running pre-covid errands -- though before we'd finished we knew otherwise. Our plan was: first, go to Target (the nearest one is a bit of a haul, from our place); next, visit a couple of thrift stores in Target's general neighborhood; lastly, go to Kroger for the week's grocery run. 

The visit to Target was exactly normal, except we both noticed and exclaimed over how the paper-products aisle was completely empty. (Luckily, we didn't need anything from that aisle anyway.) Then we stopped at a Goodwill and both walked away empty-handed -- but as we exited the store, Jeff checked something on his phone, then told me "DeKalb [our county] just closed the schools for two weeks."

Because of that announcement, I wasn't too surprised when we got to Kroger (which is also the "anchor store" of a fairly large strip mall) and saw that almost every spot in the strip-mall parking lot was taken -- before that, I'd never seen the lot more than half-full even on the eve of Thanksgiving and other "mega-grocery-shopping" days. 

Now, after a year of living in corona-world, if we saw such a parking lot we would immediately turn around and go home. But on March 12, 2020, what we did instead was find a vacant spot in the Siberia part of the lot and go inside the store, which was so crowded, the checkout lines stretched from the cashier's stands all the way to the back of the store, before doubling up upon themselves. (I know this because Jeff and I entered that densely crowded building and personally inspected the size of the crowd and those lines -- another thing we would never do now even with masks on, let alone bare-faced as we were one year ago tonight.)

When did everything change for you, and what was your personal first indication that "From here on through the indefinite future, things are going to be VERY different?"

Wednesday, March 10, 2021

Pandemic Diary Day 363: Vaccine Envy


Hmmph. Harrumph. More and more of my friends are getting their coronavirus vaccine shots, or at least have firm appointments to do so, while I don't have so much as an EMA (estimated month of arrival). 
Fortunately, I found an article mentioning lots of useful new German vocabulary words to describe my situation:
I am currently feeling** a bit of impfneid, especially since I'm still facing a long wait as a resident of Georgia with no conditions and no plans to become an impfdrängler. But I am definitely coronamüde, especially since I am currently only two days away from my one-year anniversary of living in an anderthalbmetergesellschaft.
(Translation: I am currently feeling** a bit of vaccine envy, especially since I'm still facing a long wait as a resident of Georgia with no conditions and no plans to play the system and jump ahead of my government-designated spot in line. But I am definitely tired of dealing with coronavirus-related stuff, especially since I am currently only two days away from my one-year anniversary of living in a 'one and a half meter' society where everybody who goes out in public makes a point of avoiding each other by a social-distancing measure of at least six feet.)
** I would like to have worded that first sentence "Despite my feeling happy for my friends who have gotten their shots, I am currently feeling a bit of...." But I didn't because, if German does have a new compound word to succinctly describe "the feeling of being happy for someone specifically because they got their coronavirus shot, even while you wish you could get one too" none of the articles I've read on the theme "Interesting new German words from the past year" have mentioned it.

Monday, March 08, 2021

If I could run the Seuss estate, I'd do it well! I'd be real great!

The controversy du jour is about the Dr. Seuss estate's decision to pull six books from print because of certain racist caricatures found in some of the illustrations. Despite what certain conservative critics claim, this is not a “First Amendment violation” because it's not the government doing it; the Seuss estate has every legal right to decide what, if anything, it will do with works whose copyright they own.

That said: if I ran the Seuss estate then, instead of pulling those six books from circulation, I'd publish them all together in a single volume, alongside commentary from historians and other experts putting the books into historical context. If that weren't enough, I'd also share the profits of that omnibus edition with reputable anti-racism charities.

How can future generations learn the lessons of our history if we whitewash away all the bad parts of it? People of the future need to know: American racism wasn't just something hidden away in the darker corners of the national psyche -- it was considered wholesome enough for children's books and Disney cartoons (such as "Song of the South," another classic I think should remain in print, alongside modern context-giving commentary).

I have similar qualms about the suggestion to digitally remove Donald Trump from that Home Alone movie he was in -- no, don't do it. Future generations need to know: Trump didn't just come out of nowhere -- one day the U.S. Republican Party was perfectly competent and sane, when suddenly a spray-tanned orange asteroid crashed down from out of nowhere and left a smoking crater where once stood a principled political party -- Trump became president after the media spent literal decades building him up as some business-genius folk hero (and the Republicans spent decades pandering to bigots, but that's for another day). We need to preserve these parts of our history, so future generations will know what to avoid.

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