Just to be Human

Mariner and his wife moved to this small town when they retired about ten years ago. Culturally, they were dropped into a foreign country. Fortunately, mariner’s wife grew up in the town and had a sense of the culture. Mariner had been a consultant project manager who assisted corporations when they converted their management structures to take advantage of the new capabilities of multidimensional database technology.

His work took him all over the US and even to Taiwan for a computer upgrade so the Taiwanese could build modern jet fighter airplanes. Mariner and his wife owned a number of properties that kept them busy as well; and two children who took root far away. All this description is provided to give the reader some insight into the culture shock of moving to a small Iowa town of 900 folks in the middle of endless cornfields.

Let mariner say up front that the town folk are quite friendly and supportive. The town moves at a slow pace; the conversations and concerns do not march to a time schedule; a better term may be ‘timeless’. There are no complex responsibilities. Mariner had to learn how to live in his new town.

One interesting adaptation was to understand how residents referred to house and family locations. Large portions of the town can trace families back to the end of the 19th century. One is identified by their relatives and where they live or lived and whose house it was before that and before that when someone married someone else. Most older residents grew up in the town before it had street signs. Mariner, however, habitually mapped and organized the town by street names and sections so he could find his way around.

When mariner had conversations, the resident would say, “You know where Martha lives; she lives in Frank Merten’s house over a block from Aunt Dorothy’s house.”

“You have an Aunt Dorothy?” mariner inquires.

“No, everybody just calls her “Aunt.’

Mariner is further helped by the resident describing the color of the roof across the street. Haltingly mariner tries to convert the descriptions to a location with a street name, which block and intersection. It has taken some time for mariner to adapt to a new interpretation of both people and location. Even cemeteries are identified by who is buried in them rather than the official name of the cemetery.

To this day mariner is aware that he is not a ‘townie.’ But his independent view of the culture allows him to experience its charm and to understand what the national culture has sacrificed in the name of progress. Most notable is the importance of people as the primary definition of the town. One is not defined by terms like suburbanite or ‘west side’ or neighborhood class. The prime identifier is an individual and that individual’s role in the life of the town: “Remember when Frank worked at John Deere?” sets a timeline. There still is a residue of past generations when townie and farmer were discriminatory and whether one’s ancient town ancestors were movers and shakers but this is noticeable only among the town’s most elderly.

There is an advantage to growing up in this rural culture; it provides time just to be human. There’s an old tale about the plough horse, now retired and replaced by a young horse, who every morning still comes to the barn door to be harnessed. How one grows up is a life-setting experience. Do today’s young families have time just to be human?

Ancient Mariner



Let it Snow

Mariner must mention that he is the recipient of a pass it forward experience. His town received a foot of snow yesterday. This morning, two neighbors knocked on his front door asking if it was okay to clear his driveway. He blessed them and said, “Of course!” Otherwise mariner would have been snowed in; his two vehicles were in a garage whose doors were behind a snowdrift much deeper than a foot. Pass it forward works for everyone – passer and recipient.

– – – –

Snow seems to encourage folks to work together to regain lost functionality. Snow falls, stays still afterward and is a composition that can be moved, melted or even taken advantage of if one is a winter sports person. Flooding on the other hand wreaks terrible destruction and will not be deterred from racing through towns, cities and open countryside. Wind, too, is unstoppable; hurricanes, tornadoes and shear winds quickly vent their energy on buildings, infrastructure and even large animals – then, like flooding, escape the scene leaving havoc behind.

Certainly snow is inconvenient given how we drive on hard surfaces that accommodate ice and slush. Today, snow is notably troublesome unless one keeps sled dogs, four wheelers and motorized plows around just in case there is snow; comparatively, few people live within walking distance of grocery stores, gas stations, churches, and other destinations. Once arrived, one hopes the establishment is open for business.

Many years ago when mariner and his family moved to the farm, there was an immense snowstorm. Even the snow removal truck could not clear the road beyond the frontage. Across the road, the farm sloped down into a hollow. It was a huge pasture and had no trees; one could sled down a 30° slope for 150 yards or more, having time to really experience sledding. If one took a route to the right, the sled ride ended by rolling through a stand of cattails and sliding uncontrollably across a pond. His family, despite subzero temperatures and a brisk wind, could not resist this new adventure offered by the farm. Everyone was, of course, dressed to look like Charlie Brown and after a handful of trips down the hill, retreated to the house with its large fireplace in the living room.

But it was snow that provided that memorable experience. Pouring rain, flooding and tornadoes deny positive experiences. Perhaps snow’s benevolence is why it is a major symbol for the winter holiday season and why Santa stays jolly even at the North Pole. Snow brings out the passing forward in us.

Ancient Mariner


Humanism – a Threatened Awareness


The last post about not touching each other’s lives is symptomatic of our time. There was a time when a person needed another person to help with life, to generate a sense of wholeness. Granted and without question, a fulfilled life is still a universal experience but, for example, when one looks for a new friend recommended by Facebook, something subtle is missing. Increasingly, we tend to turn to frozen food solutions rather than bake from scratch.

Mariner certainly leverages the huge amount of free data available on the Internet. He can become, for practical purposes, knowledgeable in any subject. Does that define him as a valuable commodity? Does it reflect a life’s work through time commitment? Does it define him as a scholar with years of study, reading and human dialogue? No. The Internet and the cloud is a giant frozen food factory. The missing dimension is the three-dimensional experience as we move through time, space, commitment, people, and the finer edges of worthiness, sympathy, empathy and experiencing the ethos of humanness.

Anthony Bourdain had a television series called “Parts Unknown” wherein he traveled around the world visiting unique cultures and sampling the differences in cuisine. Mariner began watching the series in 2013. Tony freely admitted his difficulties with drugs and alcohol which set a framework for watching Tony as much as where he went. Over the years viewers watched as Tony mellowed, became less mechanical and eventually looked forward to the opportunity to share life with his series guests. Tony died on June 8, 2018. No matter how efficient a process is, it takes time for a human being to become valuable – not only to others but to one’s self.

The recognizable human creature has been around for about 200,000 years. The story of those years is one where very slowly humans mastered the environment and invented tools that expanded human capability. In recent times, say about the last 3,000 years, tools have become more sophisticated and have altered core behavior in humans. Just a few oversimplified examples reflect this: There was a time when electricity didn’t exist. Life was simple, time-consuming, and required dependence on others to survive. Then suddenly there were combustion engines; care and feeding of livestock and the time it took to maintain transportation for the family and the time it took to travel 25 miles to the nearest village to visit other humans suddenly required a few minutes at a gas station and a half-hour drive – no other human or animal interaction required.

Today, with the advances in telecommunication and labor-saving devices, humans live history on fast-forward. Humans don’t darn socks anymore; they don’t even take the time to go to a store to buy them, which requires human interaction, time spent and what today would be called inconvenience; just a click on a keypad – socks delivered. Soon, socks will have a tiny microprocessor that decides when the socks need to be replaced. Who needs a keypad? Further, who needs themselves? The socks run our lives, needing only to use our feet to sustain commerce.

Humanism is a belief that focuses on the potential value and goodness of human beings, emphasizes common human needs, and seeks solely rational ways of solving human problems. As humans move through to another era with many confrontations (overcrowding, elitism, racism, economic failure, environmental degradation, and displacement of human behavior and activity by robots and AI), our conscious awareness of worthiness, sympathy, empathy and experiencing the ethos of humanness is left wanting. If sensitivity to other humans as an end product, and the most important one at that, is not practiced, human society will diminish. Humans will be reduced to interactions with their socks.

This is the commercial. For all of the 200,000 years humans have been around, they have a tool for sustaining humanism. Pass it forward. Readers may overlook this term because mariner pushes it so incessantly. It is a tool for the human spirit. Deliberately look for a way to make another person’s human experience better. As walking is to exercise, passing it forward is to human spirit. Further, seek ways to participate in group activities – everything from Tai Chi to bowling to square dancing to parties for no reason.

We will defy the power of the sock.

Ancient Mariner


Touching without Touching

Mariner has never done this before but he feels an old post speaks directly to a latent disorder in our time. We as a nation, as a culture, even as a family member, have stopped touching other people – and other people have stopped touching us.

Who was the last person you feel changed your life? Who was the last person that taught you a maturing sensation about life? Who was the last person you considered wise – and without knowing shared that wisdom with you and made you a better person, a smarter person, a more mature person? It’s not physical touching that’s at risk, it’s learning through others, that your soul, your sense of self, your sense of human responsibility is changed. The old post:

The Power of Mentors

Posted on January 17, 2017 by skipper

Usually, in our late teens and early twenties, each of us comes across a special person. This person is a mentor; not necessarily a teacher from school but someone who enters your life in a direct way – perhaps someone you golf with or meet on the job or perhaps just an older neighbor you never really talked to before.

You learn some special wisdom from this person. Something that helps you finish growing up with a bit more wisdom and maturity; someone who may have enlightened you to what courage is about or what it means to be gracious or what it really means to take responsibility. Sometimes it’s a book or a trip. Sometimes, you just watch a special person perform in a special way that changes you for the rest of your life.

The mariner actually had two or three mentors. One, named Mike, was more or less a surrogate father for about five years. Being a scratch golfer, Mike taught him to play a decent round; he and mariner were leaders in the Explorer Scouts. We fished in the rushing rivers of the Appalachians. But most intensely Mike taught the mariner what courage was all about. At the age of 41, Mike had a massive heart attack. He was bedridden and limited to the first floor of his home. After a month or so, he advised his wife and children that he could not live like an invalid any longer. Knowing he was not going to live long, he asked the doctor to grant him a release. Mike went back to work; He played nine holes with his son and the mariner; He went to an Orioles game with friends; a week later he took off for two days of deer hunting with friends. It was a typical regimen for him. Two weeks later he died of a fatal heart attack.

Mike was greatly missed by many people. He was a gracious and caring person. He has remained mariner’s benefactor to this day. He taught mariner the value of sharing; he taught confidence; he taught the power of the human spirit.

– – – –

Mariner came by another mentor via public reading sources, books, and old timey movie clips. The reader likely knows him, too: Will Rogers. Will was a traveling humorist and writer. He was very popular with the national audience – constantly full of funny quips and derisive comments about any institution, especially government. Will had a way of making you laugh at yourself despite the sarcasm. He lived from 1879 to 1935, dying in a private airplane crash at 55 on the way to Alaska with Wiley Post. Will was born to Cherokee parents in Oologah, Oklahoma on a Cherokee reservation. In his young days he performed in Wild West shows, becoming an expert at cowboy skills and especially enjoyed doing tricks with lariats. He moved to Broadway shows, movies and writing – truly becoming a world famous author and speaker.

“Rogers increasingly expressed the views of the “common man” in America. He downplayed academic credentials, noting, “Everybody is ignorant, only on different subjects. Americans of all walks admired his individualism, his appreciation for democratic ideas, and his liberal philosophies on most issues. Moreover, Rogers extolled hard work and long hours of toil in order to succeed, and such expressions upheld theories of many Americans on how best to realize their own dreams of success. He symbolized the self-made man, the common man, who believed in America, in progress, in the American Dream of upward mobility. His humor never offended even those who were the targets of it.”[1]

It was Will’s personal economic philosophy of life that caught the mariner’s attention. In various periods of his life, Will lived on a ranch in California. He had his family and a number of Indian workers. Will followed the American Indian philosophy: The hunters go out on a hunt and when they return with the kill it is given to the tribe to distribute. The hunters do not own or control the kill; it belongs to the tribe and there are no requisites for anyone to have access to the kill. Simply, the kill belongs to everyone.

Will worked hard for his income; similar to tribal procedure, the profits of Will’s labors were, as simply as the hunters, turned over to the family. Will didn’t pay his workers, their sustenance was provided the same as with everyone – family, Indians, food, clothing, materials in general. Everyone on the ranch received the same benefits and was cared for in like fashion.

Conservatives call this a dole. Profit is earned and owned by the one who earns it. Handouts are unfair and signify laziness, cheating, and unworthiness. Note that the Indian culture, along with Will, did not confuse individual worth as a scale of value equal to the amount of profit at hand. Mariner remembers the day he had this insight. How novel, how caring, how fair, how sustainable. This economy which belonged to no one and everyone had immense capacity to sustain far more participants (not just the 1%).

Without hearing, mariner knows the selfish will lash out at those who seem to be working less than the mighty profit takers. Alas, conservatives, it is a complex world and not everyone has the same profile.

Will wrote during the depression: “Now everybody has got a scheme to relieve unemployment, but there is just one way to do it and that’s for everybody to go to work. ‘Where?’ Why right where you are, look around and you see lots of things to do, weeds to be cut, fences to be fixed, lawns to be mowed, filling stations to be robbed, gangsters to be catered to.…”

In reality, the variance in work capacity or in amount of income is not an issue. On Will’s ranch, no one was told they had to assist with sustenance; they knew it – without intimidation or belittlement. Everyone saw to it that some part of the ranch labor was attended to without condescension. The trick is to not bind hunting to self-worth.

Mariner is pleased to note that Sweden, as a nation, as everyone’s government, has just passed legislation to experiment with Will’s way. Several thousand people will receive about $600/month and not be required to work at a defined ‘job.’ It is not seen as a dole; it is seen as a way to stretch the kill across everyone even when resources become lean. Sweden understands that humans have been scarfing down the Earth’s wealth far beyond what will be available as humans expand their population by another 40% in 100 years. Don’t worry about working at a defined job – everyone will be working at something to better the tribe.

Isn’t it fascinating that a Stone Age civilization is showing modern man the right way to do things?

Ancient Mariner

[1] James M. Smallwood, “Will Rogers of Oklahoma: Spokesman for the ‘Common Man’”. Journal of the West 1988 27(2): 45-49. ISSN 0022-5169


Of Tomatoes and Immigration


֎It was, if you can believe it, only 11 million years ago that tomatoes split away from peppers, evolutionarily speaking. But now, thanks to gene editing technology, scientists may be able to activate genes already lying dormant in tomatoes to, yes, make tomatoes spicy again. [Gizmodo]

The seed catalogues must be drooling over the opportunity for yet another new tomato variety.

֎Last night between tennis matches, mariner tuned to The Last Word with Lawrence O’Donnell (MSNBC). Lawrence had Ezra Klein as a guest. Ezra provided an excellent interpretation of Donald which mariner thought was dead on. It is worth a check with the video collection at https://www.msnbc.com/the-last-word

֎In these times of overwhelming change, reason and necessity can be worlds apart. Both are real motivations and both are rational responses but in times of significant upheaval their solutions for managing change sprint away from each other. The immigration issue is a good example.

The majority of US citizens are pragmatic, dollar-conscious, and feel shortchanged by their changing culture. Their opinions reflect their concern for their immediate wellbeing and are, of necessity, urgent in nature. Hence, racism increases, identity politics emerges and everything NIMBY is the rule of the day. This is a valid response.

Some citizens are preoccupied with the long view, using reason rather than necessity to establish values. They ask questions like, “What effect does immigration have on the economy and GDP?” or, “Will additional people create overcrowding issues?” or, “What does the Constitution say about immigration?” One question that may be asked is based on the age of the US population. The US, along with Germany, France, China and Japan among others, has a rapidly aging population. Economists suggest that a few decades out there won’t be a large enough labor force to care for all the old people and further, GDP will drop precariously. This line of reasoning suggests that immigration is a good thing and will slow the aging curve.

If this is not enough to chew on, some may involve the effect of artificial intelligence (AI) on the work force and question whether there will be enough jobs to accommodate a new influx of immigrants, thereby shifting the core issue to “What do we do with all the old people?”

In any case, one can see that reason and necessity truly are worlds apart in their responses to extensive change.

Ancient Mariner

About Pass it Forward

֎In Delano, Minnesota, a black family’s home was broken into in March 2017 and a warning was spray-painted on the walls: “Get out.” The vandals left a note, too: “Next time it’s going to be fire.”

֎In Athens, Tennessee, the white mother of young biracial children alleged that she’d been harassed verbally by a neighbor for a year.

֎In Columbus, Ohio, a man went to police because someone had been ringing his doorbell or banging on his garage 25 to 30 times a night, almost every night. When the man went outside, the suspect would call him racial slurs from the darkness. The man and his family are the only black residents of their cul-de-sac.

֎In Kansas City, Missouri, an African-American man went to police because his neighbor had harassed him for three years. The suspect allegedly stood in his driveway taking pictures of his home and waved a Confederate flag. The man who filed the complaint wound up moving, but he told police he was worried because he’d seen the man outside his new home.

֎In Oxford Township, Michigan, a couple — a white woman and a black man — went to police because they said they couldn’t leave the house without getting harassed by their neighbor, who called them racial slurs. When police gave the neighbor a citation for disorderly conduct, she ripped it up in front of the officer. She was subsequently arrested for disorderly conduct

֎And in Spokane, Washington, there are records on two cases of possible neo-Nazis harassing their black neighbors. In one case, the neighbors reported that a man with a swastika on his hand called them racial slurs. He allegedly threw a brick at a woman, calling her a slur.

֎In another case, a black man said his white supremacist neighbor and another man assaulted him in his garage while using racial slurs and threatened him with a gun.

֎In Grapevine, Texas, Dante Petty was harassed by his white neighbor, Glenn Halfin, for over a year after he moved in. The harassment became so persistent that he installed surveillance cameras outside his home and a police officer was stationed outside for over a month. The breaking point occurred when his neighbor left black baby dolls with nooses around their necks hung outside his apartment. [CityLab search engine]

– – – –

The Blog of the Ancient Mariner does not solicit donations. It solicits action. Make a point of passing a good gesture to another – without judgment, without prejudice, without reward. The United States is in serious disarray. If Rodney King can see the solution, why can’t we all?

Ancient Mariner


About the Shutdown

Mariner had a group meeting with his three alter egos. It seems the group has serious concerns about the shutdown. The US is very much in the roiling currents of change on many fronts including economy, governance, industry, civil rights, Constitutional rights, technology, society norms, religious rights, and international relations – indeed a plateful. The shutdown is larger than life, larger than myopic news that broadcasters describe, and very much a pivot point in US history.

Not wanting to eat the whole pie at once, mariner has a few observations that may be more important than the daily hodgepodge may imply.

Mariner recommends that readers take some time to study the situation in Egypt. The conflict is between a Trumpian dictator, Abdel Fattah el-Sisi, and the majority Islamic citizenry in Egypt. There are fewer players than in the US but the manner of governance under Abdel Fattah el-Sisi is very much dictatorial and he has imprisoned, under the term ‘terrorists,’ all citizens who oppose his reign. Only 47 percent of Egyptians voted in 2018 (same as US in 2016); Abdel Fattah el-Sisi garnered over 90 percent of the vote (US did not mess with ballot boxes; it used the Electoral College). It should be noted that Abdel has imprisoned over 60,000 citizen ‘terrorists.’ Type Abdel Fattah el-Sisi in your search engine for further awareness.

There are many parallels between Egypt and the US (typically, abolishing free press, the right to due process, justice by law, and democratic governance). Granted, the US is more mannerly only because for 241 years it has been a Federal Republic with three established branches of government and relatively independent state governments. Egyptian governance has suffered the disruption of Middle Eastern politics, religious rebellion and recent civil war. Nevertheless, in terms of citizen abuse, manipulation of ‘justice’ in governance, and attempts to impose the authority of a tenth century king, Egypt is on the same path as the US. Given the civil constraints of US history, one can respell Abdel Fattah el-Sisi as Donald Trump.

True, mariner may have overstated some similarities but the mechanics of change – particularly under the influence of a leader who would be king – are quite similar. Comparable is the citizen rebellion in Egypt versus the rebellion against Donald, a castrated Senate, and a 35 percent minority of citizens (AKA the ‘base’). As for Senate neutering, Senator McConnell holds the knife. While Abdel imprisoned 60,000 citizens, Donald has put 800,000 government employees under house arrest and garnered their income; while Abdel attacks mosques, Donald attacks nonwhites, immigrants, green card children, and ignores critical support needed for US citizens in Puerto Rico after a destructive hurricane. There are several more comparisons on the personal level, all dealing with corrupt financial dealings, international cronyism and deliberate showboating. We can only hope that the new Congress, the State Attorneys General and Robert Mueller will slow the rotting of our democratic process.

The shutdown is an act of war. Like Abdel, independent power is used to disrupt normal governance. It is an act that Donald must not win. This is a terrible position for mariner to take, given the imprisonment of 800,000 fellow citizens, but the nation’s democratic process and its citizen rights to representation are at stake. Lest prejudice sway one’s commitment to Congressional resistance, Congress, sans McConnell, is willing to pass six budget bills that will fund all government functions except the TSA and related security/immigration functions. Donald knows that if the government reopens generally, his strong-arm position will be diminished. Think of a New York mob enforcing protection from threatened abuse on local businesses.

A few posts ago, mariner suggested that if Donald were not impeached or otherwise removed from office, the new Congress would get little done because Donald and McConnell can control unwanted legislation. Mariner and his fellow citizens don’t need Donald’s disruption during times of change on many fronts including economy, governance, industry, civil rights, Constitutional rights, technology, society norms, religious rights, and international relations.

Ancient Mariner



Power Corrupts

The last post, “The mice warned us,” dealt with the self-destructive nature of overcrowding. Calhoun’s mice experiments showed that unity broke down into have and have not classes, that violence erupted in self-destructive ways, and social mores disappeared. Eventually the physiology of procreation completely failed. Violence was common; illness and flagrant disregard for the wellbeing of other mice became universal. Across several experiments, the population fell to an average of 116 mice before beginning to grow again.

– – – –

Just to get the reference out of the way, it was John Emerich Edward Dalberg Acton who, in 1887, said “Power tends to corrupt and absolute power corrupts absolutely. Great men are almost always bad men.”

This post deals with an imbalance in power. “The Stanford Prison Experiment” (SPE) was a 1971 social psychology experiment that attempted to investigate the psychological effects of perceived power, focusing on the struggle between prisoners and prison officers. It was conducted at Stanford University between August 14–20, 1971, by a research group led by psychology professor Philip Zimbardo using college students. In the study, volunteers were randomly assigned to be either “guards” or “prisoners” in a mock prison, with Zimbardo himself serving as the superintendent. Several “prisoners” left mid-experiment, and the whole experiment was abandoned after six days. Early reports on experimental results claimed that students quickly embraced their assigned roles, with some guards enforcing authoritarian measures and ultimately subjecting some prisoners to psychological torture, while many prisoners passively accepted psychological abuse and, by the officers’ request, actively harassed other prisoners who tried to stop it.” [Wikipedia][1]

This experiment has been challenged because of questionable methodologies and unwarranted suggestions to participants by Zimbardo. In fact, other similar experiments with more disciplined methodologies suggest that the breakdown of social roleplay was caused by the manner in which Zimbardo exercised dictatorial control over participants, whether guards or prisoners. It was Zimbardo himself who proved Lord Acton’s quote.

In a similar experiment in England, it was found that tyranny (cruel, unreasonable, or arbitrary use of power or control) can only arise when groups become dissatisfied with their circumstances. Organized social structure that is fair and reinforcing will not let tyranny take form. In other words, fragmentation of society (we call it identity politics) will permit extreme reactions to occur in an effort to rebalance group ethos. Mariner found the English study highly relevant to the history of democracy in the US and those troublesome times when privileged groups took advantage (as in Calhoun’s mice studies) or when there was dissatisfaction on a broad scale (one example is the Vietnam War along with inflation). The conservative voters Reagan met that year became the core of his support in the decades ahead. They embraced Reagan not just for his moving pro-America rhetoric, but also for his anti-tax, small government policies and his strong stance against communism and the Soviet Union. Today, the issue again is economic imbalance as old style capitalism begins to fail in an international economy.

Forty years later, the US President seeks to restore Reagan’s policies by tyrannical behavior and disregard for a fair and reinforcing society.

Ancient Mariner

[1] For the 2015 film, see https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Stanford_Prison_Experiment_(film)

The mice warned us

The early pioneers in psychology, the standard list around the western world is Pavlov, Skinner, Jung, Maslow, Erickson, Rogers, Freud, and Piaget, focused on an individual’s response to reality. These folks helped us understand the physiology of the human brain and mind; they provided insight into the human response to love, fear, success, failure and a myriad other emotional behaviors. It wasn’t until the Second World War and after that psychology partnered with sociology and history to investigate group behavior. Similarly, management theory and economics incorporated psychology and sociology to uncover new approaches to management; one thinks of Deming, Drucker, Chandler and Aldrich among others.

An interesting observation is that the study of group behavior began about a decade before differences in individual behavior versus group behavior began to be documented in contemporary terms. Two world famous experiments were conducted that have become common knowledge. The first was one of a series of studies of mice by John B. Calhoun in 1972; the second was a college experiment performed at Stanford University in 1971 covered in the next post.


The mouse study was performed to answer the question, ‘what happens when overcrowding occurs?’ (The human brain is optimized for a social group of about 150-200 people). Calhoun was careful to eliminate the lack of resources as an influence and fed his mice with an endless supply of food, water and nutrition. Calhoun provided a mouse utopia with apartments and different levels called Universe 25; the initial number of mice was 8. The landings of the pilgrims and the first migration to the Middle East from the Rift Valley in Africa come to mind.

Brackets [] in the quoted material below are added by mariner.

At the peak population [2,200 by day 560], most mice spent every living second in the company of hundreds of other mice. They gathered in the main squares, waiting to be fed and occasionally attacking each other. [Nations live this way now on every continent except Australia and Antarctica] Few females carried pregnancies to term, and the ones that did seemed to simply forget about their babies. They’d move half their litter away from danger and forget the rest. [Forced migration] Sometimes they’d drop and abandon a baby while they were carrying it. [Closely approximates behavior in estranged communities and certain starving populations in Africa; mice had no chemical alternatives or voluntary abortions]

The few secluded spaces [owned territories] housed a population Calhoun called, “the beautiful ones.” [wealthy class] Generally guarded by one male, the females—and few males—inside the space didn’t breed or fight or do anything but eat and groom and sleep. When the population started declining the beautiful ones were spared from violence and death, but had completely lost touch with social behaviors, including having sex or caring for their young.” [Comparatively, humans in their teens and twenties today have significantly less sex than their elders at the same age] [Add to that the lessening need to socialize with other humans directly because of the smartphone, TV and other electronics]

A notable side effect as the population approached its maximum was that mice that still had a bit of territory chased other male mice into specific corners at the opposite end of the cage. Mariner wonders whether suppressed groups in Africa and other nonproductive locations are simply ignored because there is no forced limit of territory at this time. Oh to live in Silicon Valley….

Now, in 2015, interpretations of Calhoun’s work have changed. Esther Inglis-Arkell (UCSF) explains that the habitats he created weren’t really overcrowded, but that aggressive mice enforced territorial prerogative to keep the beautiful ones isolated. She writes, “Instead of a population problem, one could argue that Universe 25 had a fair distribution problem.

“In 1972, with the baby boomers coming of age in an ever-more-crowded world and reports of riots in the cities, Universe 25 looked like a Malthusian nightmare. It [collapse of society] even acquired its own catchy name, “The Behavioral Sink.” If starvation didn’t kill everyone, people would destroy themselves. The best option was to flee to the country or the suburbs, where people had space and life was peaceful and natural.

“The fact remains that it [Universe 25] had a problem, and one that eventually led to its destruction. If this behavior is shared by both mice and humans, can we escape Universe 25’s fate?” [Inglis-Arkell]

Mariner leaves the door open for readers to have further speculation about group behavior in unbalanced societies.

Next post, the effect of power.

Ancient Mariner


Mariner often is chastised for persistent negativism. It’s not his fault; it’s Amos’s fault. Today, however, mariner makes an effort to report good news. It is about Newsy broadcasts on 283 DISH.

Regular readers may recall that mariner stopped watching CBS, NBC, ABC, Fox, MSNBC and CNN last fall. He collected his news from online sites, reputable magazines, newspapers and subject-specific websites for health, science, etc. He watched only two TV broadcasts: PBS News Hour and MSNBC Eleventh Hour with Brian Williams.

All the big, showy news broadcasts are flawed. Every one of them, whether soft-toned or sharp advocacy, reports very little news; they are totally preoccupied with gossip, speculation, accusation and market share. Donald is not the be all and end all of the world’s newsworthiness – but he plays to the press, feeding them easy candy and the broadcasters are addicted. Mariner read an item that said the ‘cable news’ stations contributed to increased tribalism and baiting the opposite political parties.

Mariner must prepare the reader for watching Newsy. We are accustomed to news broadcasts being ritzy with expensive studios, all broadcasters and pundits are Type A personalities with expensive wardrobes, coifed hair and even a picture that fills the entire TV screen. Newsy doesn’t fill the screen. Newsy doesn’t have high voltage lights and bright colors. Broadcasters are dressed in normal casual clothes. Broadcasters are young and tell the news with no fanfare or hype.

But wow! Mariner’s favorite part is how news headlines are presented. Because the news and only the news is given, each news item lasts an average of about 30 seconds. A friendly tone says it’s time to move to the next news item. This rapid fire presentation permits Newsy to cover the world’s headline news, domestic news, sports and throw in an occasional 15 minute examination of an interesting subject.

Most important, Newsy is apolitical; Newsy presents news that has no spin but still the viewer understands what truly is important about the news item. There is an air of PBS, Frontline and Nova but these people are young; they are serious; they are professional; they are not in show business.

Get your news from Newsy.

Ancient Mariner