Power pyramid

Yesterday my niece told my sister that she can’t come to visit anymore (with my sister’s new grandbaby) because they are afraid to come up where there are so many Trump signs. (Do I need to mention he’s black? I am so angry that that makes a difference!)  I have to assume that the recent violence showing how the administration and “law enforcement” patterns are also making people of color more afraid for their lives.

I had been living in a (liberal white) fantasy world where we were making progress and bigotry was a thing of the past. But the White Supremacists felt threatened and organized to fight back. They WANT Jim Crow back, they WANT to have women and blacks and gays and all people who aren’t their ‘sort’ to accept the role of support staff of the white Christian culture.

We assumed that the fact that we are stronger when we are all doing well and accept diversity was obvious, but change is hard, and they are pushing back. Sadly, they chose to do it with guns and politics and police, and we have to organize better to retain and regain the progress we had won. Fear is the tactic of the terrorist. This is what they are using on everyone else.

Yes, because they are defensive (and assholes) they may come after us as well, the Jews and pagans, the gays and asexuals, any minority, as well as those who aren’t minorities: women, people of color, people who make less money than they do, …anyone who they think will reduce their power if they don’t control them, and have to share power with them. They just don’t want to have to think or to compromise. The good news is that they are a tiny, if powerful, minority. Their strength is mostly in their current accrued power- financial and the ability to convince others, by manipulating the media, religion, and playing on people’s fears, that they will be better off if they support them. We won’t.

It’s important that those of us who are white recognize the reality of the terror tactics being used on other people who we don’t see as that different. But their lives ARE different. They live in a world where their lives can be destroyed in an instant for no other reason than that a number of whites fear losing their place at the top of the power pyramid. We need to stake down the pyramid and create a more inclusive system. We’ll lose some of the privileges we didn’t realize we had, but we will gain so much more!

What are you?

When people ask me if I’m a witch I habitually respond: “Tell me what you think a witch is, and I’ll tell you if I’m that.” It’s not just a simple “all witches don’t worship Satan” or “all witches aren’t Wiccan”, there are so many definitions of witch that to agree to the label could mean almost anything. *
For the record, I do use magick and natural human psychic abilities to heal, tweak the weather, find things; I do herbalism, divination,  I am an animist, I have cats, and have a couple pointed hats and wear long striped stockings, so I’m pretty comfortable with calling myself a witch. I’m just not comfortable with letting other people define what that means. I’m not a Wiccan, or a Satanist,

If someone asks me if I’m a Christian, I tell them that I get along pretty well with Jesus, but have a problem with what some churches and people have done to his teachings. If people act the way Jesus advised, I usually get along pretty well with them too.

Basically, labels are slippery things. When we are kids and learning to speak we learn from the people around us what words mean. As we get older, we continue to learn from others what things mean. Every so often we discover that we’ve been using a word wrong. (My sister thought that “nimrod” meant ‘cute little thing’ because Bugs Bunny called Elmer Fudd a ‘cute little nimrod’ in cartoons. I remember when I was about 6 telling an older kid (who’d probably just learned the word) that “I wasn’t a virgin, I’d never had a baby!” The only place I’d ever heard the word was referring to Mary, Jesus’ mother.  We learn language from context, but that’s not a perfect system.
One of the problems with labels is how slippery they are. Someone can hang a label on you, and assume that they know what you are because they trust labels and what people who taught them about whatever it is means. But misinformation can be as easily attached to a word as anything else. Modern boys use the word “gay” as an insult without any idea of WHY it’s an insult, so of course, when they learn what it means, they assume it must be bad.

Also, as with most prejudice, people will extrapolate about an entire group based on a very small sample of those within the group. Someone who meets a few Wiccans may figure that ALL Wiccans or witches are like the ones they met, whether the ones they met are mostly interested in ritual, or in getting together to hang out, or to learn magick. They may decide that they are weirdos, or posers, or just plain folks, or psychic, or highly spiritual…. all depending on who they met. One thing most long time witches have heard a lot is: “you’re not like the witches where I’m from!”. Yes, there’s a huge variety among the people who call themselves witches, and even greater variety among those called witches. And the same thing can be said of Christians.
What’s my point? Labels, especially ones for large groups, are almost useless for understanding people. (We never want to hear a question preceded by “You’re a girl…” as if that means you can explain the behavior of half the population of the world.) We can’t escape labels, but at least we can use them very carefully.

* One of the frustrating aspects of looking for evidence for surviving pagan practice in the European Middle Ages is that the Protestants habitually called the Catholics pagan, and the Catholics referred to the Protestants as pagan.

Poor Shaming

This rant started with my family griping to each other about fat shaming, the most flagrant example of that being the photos often posted of “Walmart people”: unflattering people, usually fat, often handicapped, wearing clothes the poster thinks are inappropriate- whether they are cosplay, too tight, weird, or simply clothes you might buy at Walmart. The bottom line is that while Walmart and dollar stores are where those without much money go to be able to afford the stuff they need, apparently it’s also where people go who want to feel superior by making fun of people.  (I’m NOT going to share one of those vile pictures!)
Earlier in the day I was thinking about how doctors and dentists always talk about how everyone should have health and dental care, and yet they don’t seem to be able to figure out a way to provide it that allows everyone to be able to afford it. One thing that really bugs me about it, is that they don’t seem to realize that people can’t afford their services. They keep suggesting ‘get insurance’ or ‘pay over time’, unaware that many people have a level of income where simple ‘regular visits’ would be two percent of their annual income (4% for twice a year), it can be 20% for a doctor visit, and at low incomes, the reason they don’t have insurance is because there’s nothing left when food, shelter and utilities are paid for. People who assume that “everyone” has around the income that they and their friends do are not evil, but they are willfully ignorant. Did you know that “welfare” won’t pay for any dental care except extractions, yet given equal candidates for any job, an employer will pick the one without missing teeth. In what way does extracting rather than filling a tooth help get poor people back to work?

In the past nobles looked down on peasants, feeling superior and certainly they were better nourished, better sheltered, better educated. There is nothing quite as exhausting as constant pain, and yet since complaining would do no good, the peasants didn’t complain, so the nobles thought “they don’t feel pain as we do.” These days we have a myth that ‘anyone with effort can become anything they try to be’. Study after study shows that this is not so, but it is more comfortable for the people who have advantages to pretend that they don’t, that somehow they deserve what they have. IF, as in the Middle Ages, the idea that being privileged carried with it the concept of noblesse oblige, (known in the modern world as “With great power comes great responsibility”) that it obligated you to help those without so many advantages, that would be better. Instead we seem to grab that myth of personal choice and blame the victims. We mock people for being poor, for being fat, for being handicapped.
In my mind there is no excuse for victim blaming. I try to figure out why someone would choose to mock someone for their looks, and fail to come up with anything. I try to pity them as morally handicapped. But I can not comprehend how choosing to be cruel would make them feel better.

I’m going to end with a memory about the failed “teaching” of Barney the Dinosaur. When I was a kid they taught us mocking “teaching songs” like Would you like to Swing on a Star. It seemed OK to teach kids to mock those with traits you didn’t care as a way to ‘encourage’ them to shape up. On the other hand, in one episode of Barney, Baby Bop (who represented a younger child) ate everyone’s cookies and got a stomach ache (as unlikely as that would be- kids don’t tend to suffer from over treating themselves), and rather than explaining to the other kids that she was suffering natural consequences, and that their being cross with her for taking their stuff was also a natural consequence, the kids were encouraged to try to make her feel better. I’ve always felt that teaching the other kids that even when they were victims, they weren’t allowed to get even would have been a better lesson. It’s natural to be angry when someone takes what’s yours. It’s normal to be upset when you are hurt. But we have to give up on taking our hurt out on people who are only easy targets because they can’t fight back. We see that echoed in everything from child abuse to police brutality to hate crimes, if you attack those generally despised, it’s usually safe. Thus it may be that mocking is a way of MAKING the target safer to attack (adding cowardice to cruelty in the attacker).
I have no words of wisdom with which to conclude, so this is pretty depressing.

Why we can’t “Agree to Disagree” on some things

Recently I was talking with someone who said “we’ll have to agree to disagree”. This bothered me. One can do that with preferences- is strawberry or chocolate ice-cream better? Do you prefer chicken or beef? But you can’t agree that matters like whether being an omnivore (meat-eating) is wrong, because that’s a judgement call. You can say “my preference is this”, but you can’t say “God’s preference” is that” with any authority. You can even say “God told me…” or “someone I trust said that God said…” (which comes to hearsay in my mind). Frankly, given what we now know about human perception and memory, we can’t even trust what we’ve experienced ourselves.

This makes it seem like agreeing to disagree could be a simple courtesy, allowing that the other person might be right. But to me it feels more like “Nothing you can say will change my mind”, which indicates a deep level of disrespect for any of the information that the other wants to share, in the hope that that information will make a difference. If you think it won’t make a difference, you are indicating that you don’t care that the other person is making his or her decision based on bad information and are willing to allow them to continue to act in error. I don’t think that friends, or even acquaintances let each other do wrong by mistake.  We want better for them.

I can understand someone saying “I don’t have the emotional energy to examine this right now”, or “since I can’t afford whatever would be the better option, I am not going to dwell on an added layer of not being able to choose that option bothers me”. It’s sort of like saying that there’s only one piece of cake and taking it and shaming the other person who wanted it for not being faster. (Or telling the states to get their own medical supplies, then out bidding them so they can’t get any.) I hate it when someone sets up or exploits an unfair situation then gloats about winning.

But I also understand that many of the people who are making these choices that are hard to understand are basing them on unconscious assumptions. There are many forms of bigotry, based on race, misogyny, religion, or even more slippery concepts, but they come down to things that we learned before we had conscious thoughts that we could remember and reject in the face of new information; they are what all our other ways of looking at the world are based. As with anything you build, pulling out one of those foundational beliefs, causes the whole structure comes tumbling down.
This makes disagreeing on those foundational beliefs especially threatening. I don’t think it’s surprising when we feel the structure quivering to rush to shore up the foundation.

IF, for example, what you were taught about religion or race or gender as a child is incorrect, you have to reconsider all the inter-related concepts about our place in the universe, whether being male, or white, or Christian, or human… all those things are based on those early teachings.  Humans come up with theories to explain things we don’t understand, these are based on our own experiences and since no one has all the information, all the theories are wrong.

If we respect the other people, we need to offer them not indignant anger as we demolish their belief systems, but as much support as we can give to hold up their other beliefs while they retrofit their foundation. Otherwise we are bulldozing where they live without recognizing the chaos into which we’ve thrown their lives. When you are trying to help someone see a new perspective, you have to help them a lot.

The Big Lie, and why it works

We must not underestimate the ability of humans to lie to themselves to protect their world view.
Look at the simple, obvious case of the concept of race as a definer of humanity not pigmentation. Centuries ago, the Pope declared that Africans were descendants of Cain (if I remember that myth correctly) and therefore weren’t real people*, so it was OK to keep them as slaves. This transformed the long standing practice of slavery from “those were the unlucky people who lost the war, or who were captured” to “those aren’t people” (even though they clearly are). That this is clearly self deception is shown in all the examples of people who know that the ones THEY know are different, but the others aren’t. They loved the mammy who raised them, but were willing to set that awareness aside when it came to an overall perception.
Once someone is taught a way of thinking (or even doing things), to change it becomes incredibly painful. Doctors will cling to old practices long after they have been proven ineffective or dangerous- because they can’t admit to themselves that they are hurting their patients. Parents will convince themselves that their children are not being hurt by the school system, or abusers, because that would require them to feel responsible for allowing it. The lie can often be so much easier it’s almost impossible to resist. It’s self protection.

* this does beg the question: If that is true, why did they insist on Christianizing their slaves? Did they preach to their farm animals?

Presidents Day Quotes

Not our town, but similar feel

On President’s Day I started thinking about our presidents. I can remember my reaction to the ones who were in office when I was alive. I actually saw Eisenhower drive through Farmington when I was quite young. (Basically, they slowed the cars down as the drove through town on Route 4. I’m not sure how my mother and other people knew in advance to take the kids down to wave and see him.) That was the only one I’ve seen in person.

I can remember my parents stories about the presidents they’d lived with. Apparently my Grandfather was anti-New Deal, no one was allowed to mention Roosevelt’s name, he was always “That man in the White House.” But go back further and all I have is what we learned in history classes, which we now know to be seriously weighted propaganda, intended to inspire confidence in the country, and instill lessons like honesty in the small children to whom they were taught. (The Washington and the cherry tree story appeared in the 19th c., or Lincoln walking 7 miles to return 2 cents, although that one may be true.) All in all, they are as authentic as Lincolns proverbial axe. “The head’s been replaced twice and the handle five times, but it’s still the very axe Lincoln used!”

Luckily, there are people who are fascinated with almost every period of history, who research and write about them. Of course, those have spin as well. However I tend to think there’s a reason that reporters tend to be “Liberals”. If you go looking for the truth and discover that some of the rich are taking advantage of most of the poor, you end up being cross with the people who are being greedy. Stories may have a spin for other reasons- certainly the people in the South who glorify their Confederate ancestors have a need to see their beloved dead as heroes and justify their actions. But I think it’s possible to accept and sympathize with your ancestors positions without defending them if they were based on false premises.

I found quotes for all the presidents, although we do need to remember that, as my mother used to say “Pen and ink reject nothing” to which I add, the internet accepts even more. Even at that, many of these quotes may have come from their speech writers.

I posted these on fb, and got some some responses. Some mentioned I was unfair to Trump, but frankly, most of what I was finding in Trump quotes was the horrible, racist, misogynistic, ignorant, misleading, and divisive things he says every day until we have become too stunned to respond any more. (There are probably parts of the internet where his quotes are more positive, I can’t find them.) I picked the loyalty one because of his recent post-impeachment behavior. I will admit that the selection of all the quotes reflects my bias and what we are going through now in 2020.

(I included the names and dates even though you can find them elsewhere for easy context. The size of each picture reflects the size of the type- for ease of reading, not the importance I give each man or statement.)

45 Donald Trump         2017…    2017-    b. 194644  Barack Obama        2009-2017          b. 1961

43.   George W. Bush        2001-2009           b.1946   (I was told told he didn’t say this)

42   Bill Clinton  1993-2001     b. 1946  (three presidents born in the same year!)41.    George H. W.  Bush     1989-1993    1924–2018

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

(I had to include the broccoli quote because I like it. What a way to inspire kids to want to be president?)

 

40     Ronald Regan  1981-1989     1911-2004

39.  Jimmy Carter    1977-1981      b. 1924

38    Gerald Ford 1974-1977     1913-2006

37    Richard Milhouse Nixon  1969-1994    1913-1994

 

 

 

 

 

36   Lyndon Baines Johnson   1963-1969    1908-1973

35    John Fitzgerald Kennedy 1961-1963         1917-1963

34   Dwight D Eisenhower   1953-1961   1890-1969

33    Harry S. Truman      1945-1953         1884-1872

32.   Franklin Delano Roosevelt

31 Herbert Hoover     1929-1933      1874-1964

I hardly think we can blame the depression on Hoover, since it was worldwide and started just as he got in. It was mainly that it was to big for him to fix.

30    Calvin Coolidge.   1923-1929       1872-1933

29    Warren G. Harding   1921-1923      1865–1923

28    Woodrow Wilson    1913-1921     1856–1924

27. William Howard Taft       1909-1913      1857–1930 As I started to read more of his quotes, I decided I need to learn more about Taft. He sounds like my kind of guy. Not to mention as Teddy’s chosen successor, he had to have something going for him. (I did find one source suggesting that he was the one who said ‘speak softly but carry a big stick’, but I think that may have been him continuing Roosevelt’s policies.)

26   Theodore Roosevelt  1901-1909        1858–1919I have to admit that Teddy Roosevelt has always been one of my favorite presidents. Possibly it’s because he was from an era of great change, which has led to many movies with him in them as a minor part, so we get to feel that we know him when we really don’t.

It’s easy to like someone who is gets to beat up the bad guys, he can be an action hero and still be seen as a nice guy.

 

 

25 William McKinley      1897-1901     1843–1901

23      Benjamin Harrison      1889-1893               1833–1901

22/24   Grover Cleveland       1885-1889    1893-1897   1837–1908Had him back again after Harrison, I guess his first term didn’t look as bad as they thought.

21    Chester A. Arthur         1881-1885     1829–1886

20   James A. Garfield     March-September 1881       1831–1881He was assassinated, so much for radicals.

19  Rutherford B. Hayes      1977- 1881          1822–1893

18    Ulysses S. Grant     1869-1877     1822–1885

17     Andrew Johnson      1865-1869         1808–1875

Never underestimate the power of that mendacious press!

16      Abraham Lincoln   1861-1865     1809–1865A hero for our times- showing what a severely depressed person can accomplish.

15    James Buchanan    1857-1861        1791–1868

14    Franklin Pierce            1953-1857       1804–1869  Can we blame the Civil War on Fillmore and Pierce? Can we look at Pierce and say that voting for a military hero is not a good way to pick a political leader?  I think the issues were more complex than anyone could have handled, but the country selected someone who would do nothing because they were afraid of what change would bring.

13      Millard Fillmore      1850-1853           1800–1874

12    Zachary Taylor       1849-1850     1784–1850

 

 

 

 

 

 

11   James K. Polk.    1845-1849 1795–1849

I cannot help thinking of our current golfing presidents. Admittedly, Trump is combining leisure with profit.

 

 

 

10    John Tyler   1841-1845      1790–1862

How must it have felt to Americas to have gotten to double digits in their presidents?

9   William Henry Harrison    1773–1841 (this is the 31 day president)

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

8.   Martin Van Buren    1837-1841     1782–1862

Van Buren presided over the removal of the Cherokees.

 

 

 

 

His quotes show a certain wit, and ‘common sense’, but in the one to the right, a sad innocence.

 

 

 

 

 

7       Andrew Jackson    1829-1837   1767–1845I defend Jackson in that he was a product of his time, although I am not sure I am not swayed by the Hollywood myths about him more than history. What will the movies make of our current politicians?

6     John Quincy Adams      1825-1829       1767–1848

5    James Monroe     1817-1825     1758–1831

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

4    James Madison   1809-1817      1751–1836He got to oversee the first war, the war of 1812.

3       Thomas Jefferson     1801-1809     1743–1826

2         John Adams   1797-1801      1735–1826

1      George Washington   1789-1797  1732–1799

By way of trivia, these are the men who served as the Presidents of the United States in Congress Assembled: Samuel Huntington March-July 1781, Thomas McKean July to November 1781, John Hanson 1781, Elias Boudinot 1782, Thomas Mifflin 1783, Richard Henry Lee 1784, John Hancock 1785, Nathaniel Gorham 1786, Arthur St. Clair 1787, and Cyrus Griffin 1788.

I hope you enjoyed this stroll down memory lane, and are inspired to think about our ancestors who were still trying to make a living, raise their kids, deal with illnesses, and pick a president from among a bunch of ones they probably didn’t really like. Remember the men and women who died because they believed that strongly that the chance to select the ones who represent our interests to the world puts us all in a better position than those who simply have to put up with whoever is in charge until they die.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Memorizing

When I was a kid, mother drilled us in learning things. Some was poetry or songs, some was those blasted multiplication tables (Thanks Mother!), a lot of it was “manners”, say “excuse me” when you burp, stand when an elder enters the room, Say “How do you do?” and respond “Fine, thank you, how are you?” when asked.

Frankly, that “fine-thank-you-how-are-you” being automatic is a huge stress reliever for a kid. Knowing what’s right to say rather than having to try and figure it out takes off a lot of pressure. (Come to think of it, knowing that 6×7 is 42 instantly without having to work it out some other way is also really convenient!) While I recognize that there are cultural variations and they need to be acknowledged and respected, simply having the standard greetings be automatic is the grease on the wheels of social interaction.

I’m not going to say that automatic responses can’t be problematic. Apparently when my grandmother was a kid, it was drilled into her that you don’t use pronouns to describe your elders (“betters”). A kid would get roundly reprimanded for saying “she” or “her” in reference to their parents or grandparents. Personally I never got it, but when you’ve been trained that something is “the way things are done” you accept it.

Another social convention that confused me was “it’s rude to point” at a person, although apparently not at an object or in a direction. That ambiguity always threw me off. I think some people still use that one, and ‘point’ with their chin, or the palm of their hand rather than with a finger. I get that one. Since even if you don’t believe in it, energy can be directed through your finger, and people probably worried about hexing. Similarly “don’t stare at someone” probably comes from concerns about the evil eye or “overlooking”. Staring at someone fixedly is a way of initiating telepathic contact, so that’s probably the origin.

Still, I wonder whether why we don’t memorize things any more. Is it because of our low levels of focus. Has our concentration and memory skill gone down due to unknown environmental factors- like sperm counts? Or is it that we simply don’t try to do it anymore? Perhaps we could remember poems and songs as well as passwords and phone numbers if we simply decided that that was worth the attempt. I know it’s often a great convenience for me, and anything that reduces stress these days is good. (I’m not saying that drilling your kids in the math facts isn’t stressful, but it’s SO worth it to have it in your head. Again, Thanks Mother!)

Updates

I updated my Where I’ll be when page.  Finally. after four years.
I have also posted a new letter, which contains some political musings, pretty depressing, but if you want this one old ladies thoughts about this appalling situation, feel free to go to the most recent page: Oatmeal month

Gaugin too evil to be shown?

I am reminded of the time a century or so ago, when actors and many other artists were not accepted in polite society.  Sounds harsh, but at least people could admire the work someone did without feeling the need to accept their behavior. “We don’t speak to him.” I think we need a dose of that in the modern world.
Currently there’s a question about whether museums should continue displaying Gauguin’s art since he slept with his underage models- and they were ‘savages’.
We can accept the good someone did, while rejecting their moral choices- especially when they are dead and gone. In no way does admiring Gauguin’s colors and composition condone his participation in colonialism or sexual abuse (or colonialism and sexual abuse themselves). Has it been proven to have been abuse, or is that simply an interpretation laid over it by current attitudes? Do we know that the women he slept with were coerced? That culture had different attitudes toward sex than we have, and they had at the time. Would it have been OK had they been French? or over 16? Or is it simply that the balance of power was very unequal?

Should we reject, or even destroy a work of art (as the Taliban does), because it was inspired by a faith we reject? Certainly if knowing something that renders the art on your wall a constant reminder of a situation that makes you uncomfortable, get rid of it. But destroying a work of art because it bothers you may not be admired by others who it doesn’t bother.
I compare this to the issue Science Fiction cons faced recently that authors they wanted to come and speak about their work were taking sexual advantage of susceptible fans, and the con organizers had to decide whether they would bar sexual predictors in order to protect the attendees. Does the enjoyment of the many outweigh the trauma of the few? I’d say not.

Anytime there is a power imbalance, whether it’s adult/minor, teacher/student, employer/employee, or celebrity/fan, there will be some people who will use that to take advantage of others. Whether threats are made or pressure brought to bear, the simple power imbalance lays a greater responsibility on the person with the power. So I can acknowledge that Gauguin may have been out of line. We don’t know that, but I accept the possibility, simply because of what we know about Colonialism.
Does this mean we “don’t accept them into polite society”? I’d say yes because they have betrayed the trust of their greater responsibility.  I think we can say to them “Sorry, you’re a great artist/ player/ teacher, but your behavior is not acceptable. You are not welcome here.” Some will make fun of this. Some will suggest hypocrisy. But I think we need to decide what we find acceptable and what we don’t.
That said, do we extend this exclusion to their works? I suppose that depends on whether you feel that since they are profiting by your patronage, that patronage makes you complicit in their bad behavior. If they are dead, does that still hold?
If we say that Gaugin’s art wasn’t powerful because he was an asshole, we are lying ourselves. While the Science Fiction Cons- or schools- arguably need to provide a safe place for attendees, do Art Museums have an obligation to share every bit of dirt possible on their exhibitors and inform their patrons? (Maybe only the live ones?)
Do you require other establishments with whom you do business to do the same about the source of their services and products? I know that we avoid chocolate and other products made by companies whose labor practices approach slavery. Boycotting grapes in the 60’s dramatically showed the producers that we were willing to pay more to not be part of their abuse of farm workers. We boycotted Nestlé in the 70s for pushing powdered formula in Africa, and now we do for their appropriation of water sources. (Really, could their business model be more evil?)
For me the question is whether the behavior to which I object is still going on, and can I do anything about it? You make your own decision on this.

Defining Ages- coal in your stocking

Everyone knows that “Frosty had a corn-cob pipe, a button nose and two eyes made out of coal” but we don’t think about it much. When Gene Autry released the song, it was already evocative of a earlier, simpler time, probably the Depression era when kids made their own fun with stuff that didn’t cost their parents anything.I have seen ‘snowman kits’ sold with plastic coal and carrot- sort of a cold weather “Mr. Potato-head”. (Come to think of it, when I was a kid, you only got the features and limbs and poked them into a potato. That shows how cheap potatoes were, I guess.) Similarly, the coal in your stocking was something with no value (as opposed to the rotten potatoes in kids shoes in Iceland- a much better motivator IMO).

When I was a kid we had a coal bin in the cellar, even though we had an oil burner for heat. On really nasty weather days, Mama would let us put on our play clothes (does that concept even exist any more?) and go down and play in it. You could get poked by sharp pieces, but we enjoyed it. Even so, I don’t remember using coal for our snow men’s eyes. The pieces were too big, and since the bin was full, I expect anything the right size was down at the bottom. When we moved to Winchester, there was a section of the cellar in the new house that I realized had been the coal-bin, although there was no coal, when our parents let us take it over to use it as a hang-out. It was probably when we painted it that I saw the wooden slots for boards that would be removed to access the coal to put it into the furnace.
These coal bins were on the street side of the house, and I think I found where the chute for loading the coal into the bin from the delivery truck was in one of them. It now occurs to me that they probably had locks, as bulkhead doors did, to keep anyone from using them to get into the house.

Time passes. Coal bins were a fixture of houses built in the 20th century, but by mid century, they were on their way out. I assume the dwindling coal industry serves electricity manufacturing plants. I’ve read stories of other kids playing in coal bins, or dealing with furnaces that needed feeding (seems to have required a handyman to do it). Those stories preserve that aspect of normal life, just as we accept that there’s a coal car and a stoker behind the locomotive in old fashioned trains. We don’t expect it now, but we understand the tradition (back in the days when controlling power represented by the ability to pull a hundred heavy cars made being an engineer a romantic idea for kids). I now wonder what aspects of our daily lives children reading stories set in the early 21st century will find odd or romantic. Even now, if I watch an old crime show I have to remind myself that DNA analysis isn’t available to them, or that in an old horror movie, they can’t just use their mobile phones to call for help. (Frankly, even in modern movies and books, the idiots rarely think to call for help. Some authors do give an explanation of why they can’t- but you’d think anything written in the last ten years, they’d think of it!)

I love that the old songs and books and movies do keep reminding us that things used to be different. I think we’d lose something valuable if we forget that change. I could define childhood as when you don’t realize that life hasn’t always been the way you experience it, youth as when you learn about the differences (I remember teens who mock earlier periods), and adulthood as when you accept it. This is probably because you’ve seen changes in your own life. Old age would be when you start missing the things the way they used to be.
While there may be some forgetting the inconveniences that led to the technological changes, with old age we can also observe the social changes that accompany them, and start to appreciate the advantages and disadvantages. I am definitely old. This means that I get to pick which technological level I prefer, and frankly, I like picking and choosing. I like computers for accessing information, but think of mobile phones as emergency communication. I like cooking with gas, and electric lights, but I like having candles and a wood stove so I am not helpless if the power goes out.

I also see how cost dictates which aspect of technology is available to people intensifies the class inequities, and this is a disturbing issue. When Monsanto pressured the farmers of India to use their hybrid grain, with promises of better yields, they were taking away the option of saving and planting some of the previous year’s crop to grow next year. Like Nestle’ giving African new mothers just enough formula to allow their milk to dry up so they’d be forced to keep buying it, or a drug pusher giving away enough product to create an addiction… “good” business practice, but a vile thing for one human to do to another. (happy postscript: when it turned out that the yields were not better, the farmers are going back to their old seeds- when they can find them!)
By all means let us use new technologies when they improve our lives, but we should never give our very survival or that of our culture into the hands of those who have shown that they care nothing for us, or culture, the environment or anything but their own profit. An animal who has no ability to care for itself is a pet if it’s relationship to humans benefits both, but if it is under the control of the human, and only the human gets benefit, it’s livestock. This may be an over-simplification, but it looks like corporations are setting modern humans up to be their livestock. We live as they allow us. I am old, and what’s more, I am an historian. I have seen what happens when people give away their ability to survive to make their lives easier. I love indoor plumbing and heating, but I’d rather chop wood and carry water sometimes, maybe even all the time, than not have the option to do so.