Faith is a necessary life tool for everyone

Read these words from this old hymnbook favorite – sing along if you know the melody:

Life is like a mountain railway

With an engineer that’s brave

We must make this run successful

From the cradle to the grave

Watch the curves, the fills, and tunnels

Never falter, never fail

Keep your hand upon the throttle

And your eyes upon the rail

The verse asks for a commitment to an ideal, a belief that the run must be successful. A belief in what? It could be any religion’s doctrine; it could be any political vision; it could be a personal life or a person’s sustained commitment against fatal disease.

The point is that all thoughts and behavior of any merit require belief in a valued objective. The only instruction in the verse is completing the run and keeping one’s hand upon the throttle. Could this verse be applicable to Blackbeard the pirate’s belief in his role on the high seas? (Yes, mixed metaphor)

What is missing today is context. At the beginning of the verse, what does ‘Life’ imply? As an ethical compass, what is the world supposed to believe in – not just the United States but the entire world? The confrontation is universal: what is a gibbon to trust in a disappearing habitat; what is a fish living on a dying coral reef to accept as normal; what is the dictator of Kazakhstan to believe about his uncertain future; what about the broken and abused family in Nicaragua; what about the preacher in Kansas or the steel worker in Detroit; what about the billionaire CEO. With our hand on the throttle, where is the rail taking us?

More than at any time since nations have existed, we live in a time of social disruption and turmoil. The job of Homo sapiens is to decide where the rail will take us. Holding on to broken, outdated, even useless railways doesn’t help. The job of everyone around the world today is to build a new destination for our railway.

The hymn cited at the beginning was written in 1890 by gospel songwriter Charles Davis Tillman. He styled it for the repertoire of white southerners, whose music was derived from Gospel. Further verses reference the Bible as a source of context. Life in 1890 was from another time, another reality. Where is Life headed today?

[For several renditions of the hymn see: ]

Ancient Mariner

Democracy is like the game of Jenga

Jenga is the name of that game where wooden blocks are stacked one by one to build a narrow tower that grows very high then each player must remove one block at a time without the tower collapsing into a pile of rubble.
Running a democracy is similar. The tower represents the power of a collective effort, the power of vision, cohesiveness, unity of purpose, and power among nations. The tower generates gross national product, human services and military defense. Being a democracy, like Jenga, it is a fragile compilation.
The analogy must be stretched a bit to understand the game of democracy. Unlike Jenga, democracy adds blocks and takes blocks away simultaneously. That is the purpose of democracy: everyone can draw benefits from the tower but in turn must at the same time add a new block to keep the tower strong. Like Jenga, democracy is a fragile construction but is not limited to one architectural vision; democracy is many towers, many broad, low lying configurations and spreads in every direction.
The skill is the ability for citizens to draw a beneficial block from the unity of the tower but to give a personal block back for the good of the tower. For example, the tower provides freedom of speech but in turn requires that a citizen must return that right to the tower for others to use as well. To press the analogy one step further, unity of purpose is the antigravity magic that keeps the democracy tower from collapsing.
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It is obvious, of course, that today the democracy tower is in disarray. It seems there are many citizens who take a block only and do not add one back to the tower. Many of these citizens are billionaire oligarchs, extremist groups, career-obsessed politicians, oppressed classes and racists. The reader may note the inclusion of the oppressed. Citizens without the benefit of democratic unity often rebel by debunking unity and will refuse to cooperate in any effort to build unity. Currently, they are called Trump’s Base.
Again unlike Jenga, the rulebook is humongous and, in fact, never ends. The rulebook covers subjects like taxes, economy, safety and health regulations, education, rules for corporations and religions, rules for individuals, and on and on. It is a difficult read as well. All of this diversity is held together by that magical antigravity – national unity.
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Not all the threats to the tower of democracy come from individual greed or misunderstanding. A major threat to the tower is the design of the tower itself. In the game of Jenga, imagine if one player wanted a tower that looked like a Saguaro cactus, another wanted a tower that looked like a Prickly Pear cactus and a third wanted a tower that looked like a Bishop’s Hat cactus.


To make it seem more relevant, instead of cacti, substitute capitalism, socialism, communism, authoritarianism, plutocracy, or likely in the future, hegemony. In practice, a citizen may take a block from democracy but does not put a block back that provides the same function; the citizen replaces it with something different. For example, a citizen may benefit from a change in tax benefits but in return insists on compensating for the benefit by reducing the payout to Social Security – two different images of the tower!
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This treatise is running long. Take a breath and dive into another Jenga analogy: Suppose everyone is playing Jenga and understands the usefulness of the building squares. Suddenly, as the players draw more blocks, they begin to take on weird shapes like pyramids, octagons, spheres and ellipses. Trying to build the tower – let alone trying to benefit from it – becomes a virtual impossibility. Welcome to Artificial Intelligence (AI).
We must have compassion for our democracy tower. It is faced with AI, climate change, global pandemic, global migration, rapid polarization of human resources, massive economic shifts both in production and in consumption; the Gross Domestic Product has come loose from its leash, and instant global data knowledge from the Internet has the effect of a power hose washing away antigravity.
Democracy needs more than money and politics in November. It needs unity. Vote accordingly.
Ancient Mariner.

On Aging

When mariner was very young, he remembers lots of men had a perpetual toothpick in their mouths. No point to be made; just that he remembers – isn’t that enough for an old man?

This post may read like self pity but it is just another pondering from his file on this planet’s biomass. Mariner is provoked, however, to write this post in behalf of his elder friends who sustain their lives in spite of greater challenges than youngsters and society may notice.

But before we start on aging, in a related socio-psychological subject it has been proven economically and socially that breaking down the extended family to a nuclear family has not been a good thing. For the Matrix-sensitive folks, do you think the new isolationist teaching method in schools combined with cloud control of our lives is preparing our species to live in coffins?

– – – –

Back to aging and speaking as an ancient member of Homo sapiens, a branch of the hominid family, mariner is taking science to task – especially the study of anatomy and medicine. Scientists laud their achievements in extending the human life span more than twenty years beyond the norm for hominids. What the scientists forgot was to include normal functionality along with the additional years.

For example: sex. If the reader thinks Jeff Bezos is rich, think how rich the scientist would be who discovered a way for guys over 60 to continue having an active sex life. And dementia – what good is living if a person doesn’t know they’re living? And Parkinson’s, heart disease, arthritis and palsy. How about incontinence and disappearing bone mass? Making hominids live longer without simultaneously extending functionality doesn’t improve anything except more opportunity to be depressed, in pain, isolated and ill.

Old folks’ skin looks like lizard skin because muscles and their inherent potential energy simply are vanishing. Case in point: can mariner still play football? Not.

Anthropologists suggest that evolution cares only about procreation, i.e. sustaining the species. While scientists were extending lifespan, why not extend fecundity? It boils down to this: living longer may avoid facing the end of life for a while but for a majority of folks it is a life of depression, pain, dysfunction, despair and medical bankruptcy. The best to be had simply may be a feeling of irrelevance.

Some youngsters may think old people are useless and in the way – especially when it comes to government support. But the elders are monuments to strength and perseverance despite the meddling of medical science. Let’s see what trouble will be stirred by tinkering with the genome.

Ancient Mariner


Here are a few news clips that have larger implications than one would expect.

֎ From Nate Silver’s website the following quote suggests that the economy will rebound to a lower standard of living than before the virus:

“The surprisingly large drop in last month’s unemployment rate is seen by our survey as not being a temporary blip, but as reflecting a more permanent decline,” said Allan Timmermann, an economist at the University of California, San Diego who has been consulting with FiveThirtyEight on the survey.”

֎ Already a widespread issue across the planet, the use of facial recognition presents a serious confrontation to personal freedoms and abuse by governments, commerce and politically charged private interests. China already uses facial recognition in an oppressive manner to control freedom of speech, including religious affiliation. US governments have done nothing as yet to deal with this culture-changing technology until recently. Newsy reports:

“The City Council in Portland, Oregon, has voted in favor of banning the use of facial recognition technology — both by private citizens and city departments. That includes the police. Other cities, such as Boston, San Francisco and Oakland, California, have also passed facial recognition regulations, but this one is the first to ban it for private users. Facial recognition software has been criticized for being racially biased.”

֎ Recent news has revealed China’s aggressive behavior in militarizing the South China Sea. Once a neutral fishing zone, China has frightened sharing nations away – including Taiwan and Viet Nam among several Asian nations. This report from Politico suggests escalation is imminent – including the United States:

“There could be major movement re: Taiwan or the South China Sea. Asia Society’s Orville Schell tells China Watcher “what I fear in the next two months is a ‘Gulf of Tonkin’ like incident — trumped up or real — in the South, East China Sea or Taiwan Straits that leads to a military clash and enables Trump to declare a national emergency.” Evan Medeiros of Georgetown University says to look for “a naval clash in the South China Sea” while Gordon G. Chang of Stanford University votes for Trump making “a dramatic move to highlight his support for Taiwan.””

֎ WEIRD (“Western, educated, industrialized, rich, democratic”) The non-western world has reduced the West to an acronym. Ironically, ‘weird’ is the enemy of Trumpers as well.

Ancient Mariner

It’s all about Sixty Year Cycles

Mariner and his wife were having a discussion about the socio-economic cycles of a town. When mariner was in college, he read a book about the relationship between generational lifespan, economic growth and consumption, and group dynamics. He has long forgotten the author and title but has been fascinated since how perceptive the author was when he stated that the life cycle of any town or defined group was approximately 60 years.

Throughout life mariner has found case after case that adheres to this author’s premise. The sixty-year cycle, as one might imagine, has a lot to do with each generation as it passes through similar learning, socializing and aging. In mariner’s town, there are clear 60-year cycles. The town began in the 1880’s. One can imagine that virtually all the settlers were in their productive years and relatively close in age. This generation lived through the boom decades when the internal combustion engine launched a new technological age. This small town hosted four major implement dealers, a motel, four churches, two hardware stores, three grocery stores and a railroad.

Like the corona virus today, in the 1940’s (60 years after the town was founded) World War II forced an unusually rapid change from the previous 60 years to the second 60-year cycle. Overnight, the Baby Boomer generation took the lead away from the Silent Generation. The Boomers dominated a socially active era when there were clubs for every interest, and an active restaurant, tavern and movie society. The Civil Rights Act was one of several social modifications during the Boomer years.

As the Boomers passed into retirement age, generation X slowly took the reins and shifted the culture to a more conservative, economically aggressive society. By the turn of the century (60 years later), a new technology based on computers had evolved which began to push the X generation out of the way. Clearly, as the new century began, a new generation began to influence society – the Millennials.

It was hard to displace the X generation because science had found ways for humans to live beyond the lifespan of an evolved hominid: three generations or sixty years, more or less. Now hominids were living close to 80 years and were still meddling in the affairs of the next generation.

This extra-long lifespan has led to an intransigence of old people still involved in the society of the next age. This conflict between life in the twentieth century and life in the twenty-first century would still be dragging on except that the corona virus has put its foot down. With lightning speed our society, its technology and its economics will leap into the deep waters of the next sixty years. Welcome aboard, Centennials.

Ancient Mariner

The Frontal Lobe versus Planet Earth

The frontal lobe is responsible for abstract thinking. It is the youngest and largest region of the human brain located just behind the forehead. While the rest of the brain abides by the normal mammalian genome adapted to Earth’s biosphere, the frontal lobe of a human brain is not bound by such mundane relationships.

In an exercise to pass time while sheltered, mariner developed an analog which eliminated conflict between humans and the biosphere by stepping backward in history until the conflict had yet to occur. An example everyone is aware of is the fossil fuel conflict. By tracking backwards to the point where the cause (a frontal lobe invention) did not exist, one can deduce the lifestyle, politics and what at that point would be compatible with the biosphere.

Herewith is a summation of the results:











Well, there it is. Humans get in trouble when they let the frontal lobe do its thing without respecting the rest of the simian brain and its agreeable relationship with Planet Earth.

So much for shelter-in-place.

Ancient Mariner


[1] The asteroid just hastened the end of a declining existence for the dinosaurs; Covid-19 tried hard to bring an end to humans but came up a little short. Humans will have to end it on their own.

Snapshots of Transition

Kudos to Ryan Heath (Politico) for the quote of the week: “Life today is like riding a roller coaster in the dark.”

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In retrospect, it is obvious that it was a terrible cultural shift when broadcasting corporations decided in the 70s that the news is no longer a public service and must be a profit center. The desire to compete for viewer share has burst into flame and has produced a state of affairs where news is not news, it is entertainment and divisive opinion is news in and of itself. More than ever before the public needs to know what is really important news for them – not fake news for advertising dollars. This apparent lack of concern for factual evaluation has led to today’s Internet version, social media and shenanigans the like of Twitter and Facebook. For the best that can be offered, checkout NPR, PBS and NEWSY. If the subscriber prefers reading, try The Economist and The Atlantic. Just as important, consider NOT watching commercially broadcast news.

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As catalysts of change Covid-19 and cloud technology seem so perfect together that only God could ordain such a pair. Society has learned new social standards much more quickly than otherwise would be the case.


֎ Shelter-in-place provides an early image of future stresses when working from home; the current trend to have a home-based job will only grow – there’s no turning back. It turns out communication in isolation lacks important motivators, astute understanding, emotional commitment and emotional gratification – to say nothing about too much close family too much of the time.

Mariner clusters all these preconscious and subconscious reactions under the term existential. Existential experiences in ‘3-D’ or person-to-person are what shape our feelings, prejudices and is what keeps mental cognizance sharp.

During mariner’s career he had experience both with normal in-person meetings and network links to various locations. There was an obvious difference in the participation by each individual when gathered together than there was over a network which had a dry, matter of fact, okay reaction. Mariner sensed an easier buy-in to a premise over network but the emotional, teamwork attitude was not present.

The desire to relate human-to-human is strong, of course; it’s in our genes. The face-to-face bond is more important than most may think. Using mariner’s personal experience, why does he insist on ordering a hamburger and fries from a clerk instead of pushing buttons; why does his wife prefer, to a noted degree, to shop in person instead of on Amazon? Why is a human explanation accepted more cohesively than an electronic explanation? Make note to observe this new social environment as it progresses.

Guru says this is nothing. Wait until humans aren’t needed at meetings.

Ancient Mariner

Speaking in Metaphor

It is difficult not to focus on the current worldwide crises of economy, pandemic, international politics, global abject poverty, brutal abuses of life and at the center of this swirling storm, artificial intelligence. Not to mention the Planet’s agenda, global warming and climate change.

In the future records of human history, the decades between 1980 and 2050 will be seen as the most tumultuous time in human history. Not that the impact of fire, wheels, electricity, automobiles and technology haven’t had memorable moments but they do not compare to the instantaneous, worldwide shift that the human race is witnessing today.

What is unique to this moment in history is lack of continuity; there is no perceived transition. Typically a change in a social or technical age is singular; everything else in society isn’t changing at the same time so there is an opportunity to plan and adjust. The automobile and the computer are examples in recent history that changed how society operated. But still there were department stores, highways, and general labor that needed only to adjust a little. Even the credit card didn’t change life much despite its significantly different approach to cash flow that certainly changed commerce.

An old metaphor for stepping into the unknown is the image of standing on a high cliff preparing to jump. But today, is it a cliff? Perhaps one stands at the foot of a cliff. Perhaps one suddenly will have the ground fall away. Who knows? Insight into tomorrow is limited.

Another metaphor to see into the future would be looking at one of those posts that tell which direction important landmarks are and how far away they are. Trouble is no one recognizes any of the destinations; the sign is useless and a bit scary. How does the world get from here to there?

The sense that the ground is falling away isn’t too far off the mark. Those department stores of the twentieth century are disappearing faster and faster and Covid-19 has expedited the process; fast food restaurants would rather a customer punch a few buttons for lunch rather than have a short conversation with another human who actually relates to what one says; smartphones have reduced human conversations, thereby eliminating the existential experience normally provided, replacing it with texting; for many income, expense, debt and investment are not hands-on sensations.

But it is more than daily habits. There are eight significantly populated islands that have only a decade or two before they vanish beneath the oceans. Cities on seafronts that represent one fourth of the world’s commerce will have to pick up their skirts and relocate or drastically reduce urban society.

Imagine that every nation in the world is a sailing vessel. Politics represents the power supply. All the vessels are old and worn; the power supply stops and starts and coughs, never providing the power surge required to master the wind and waves. Fuel consumption dedicated to progress leaks profusely. In this era of change with its hurricanes, tsunamis and wind storms, society has no choice but to feverishly rebuild or replace inadequate vessels. Rebuilding is delayed by bewildered citizens causing populism, authoritarianism, oligarchy and war; they cause confusion and delay. Who has a plan? No one, really. Some nations are lucky to be on an economic upswing for the moment but no nation can begin to describe their final destination or set a course to arrive or design the best sailing vessel to get there.

What is emerging very slowly, much slower than Earth’s seasons, is sustenance. Sustenance is like packing an extra sandwich in case things change. Sustenance means don’t be frivolous with what’s at hand – one may need it later. Sustenance means be careful not to cut one’s self in case one is a hemophiliac. When the reader thinks about it, the covid-19 drill is an exercise in sustenance – sort of like an internship for the future.

For legislators, sustenance is a new idea. In recent decades legislators have learned to be experts in consumption and hoarding which is different than sustenance. Today, especially in more liberal quarters, legislation talks about sustaining people’s lives and shoring up public support systems, sort of like putting plywood over windows before a hurricane. In the private sector, covid-19 has given the electorate a chance to practice charity and sustaining some semblance of continuity – well, some of them anyway.

So, it is a time when everyone must make absolutely sure to hire the best boat builders that can be had. Sailing into the future requires modern sailing techniques and flexible, buoyant craft. Vote with craftsmen in mind, not fixer uppers.

Ancient Mariner


Evolutionary Change

For those readers who have an interest in the evolution of species on a grand, Earth-time scale, they may have learned that significant changes in the basic form of living things occurs in a relatively short amount of time. A couple of examples: The most significant ice age in Earth’s history lasted from 720-635 million years ago. The ice age caused a complete extinction of single celled flora that thrived on microscopic fungi and dissolved chemicals. As the ice age receded, a new form of life rapidly emerged: diversified plankton, similar boneless creatures and importantly, primitive sponges – the first evidence of the animal kingdom.

Another more popular example is the end of the Paleogene Extinction 66 million years ago when dinosaurs disappeared and the age of mammals literally exploded into the many branches of diversification that are familiar today.

Mariner apologizes for the lesson in paleontology but it sets a clear model for the absolute dissolution of social history as humans have known it since the Roman Empire and now, in the early decades of the twenty-first century a sudden, brand new, seemingly unevolved society – the age of artificial intelligence – is emerging. Thanks to Covid-19, one generation of humans can experience the rapid extinction of the industrial/technical age virtually overnight, leaving a new form of society ready to explode into the future.

The whole premise for future society is different. For example, capitalism is too slow for future society; capitalism has been the core economic philosophy all the way back to ancient times; it’s a horse-and-buggy single flow movement of resources. Cash flows only in one direction and ends up wasted in the coffers of the super-rich. Artificial Intelligence (AI) will redistribute static assets in a flash.

The tight, dark age relationship between work and wage will be separated so that work is an act of participation in society and wage is more related to sustaining an optimized GDP. This allows AI to utilize income as a fluid resource throughout the economy rather than the very slow, piecemeal process of distributing wages to each person one-on-one – another horse-and-buggy process.

The stock market already has acquiesced to the presence of AI. Twenty-nine percent of all transactions are decided by self-learning computer algorithms without human intervention – doubling since 2013.

Although at the moment many social behaviors are in turbulence as the dynamics of change already are shaking things around, new forms will emerge relatively quickly. For example, the bipolar political situation around the world is a sign of pushing out the old and reforming differently. In the US, it is quite plain that the republican concept of capitalism isn’t working well and is on the verge of losing dominance. New economic concepts will be a combination of capitalism, socialism, communism and AI’s philosophy, pragmatism – whatever works best in a market situation is what will set the –ism.

At the personal level and involving emotional comfort, secure identity, sufficient privacy, and the right to human judgment versus AI, things will be sticky. Human feelings and behaviors, bound by genome, don’t fit as smoothly to the bit and byte world of AI as economic policy does. There will be a struggle between the public and the never ending encroachment of AI psychology, Pavlovian control (witness how humans have adapted to smartphones and Alexi) and environmental manipulation, e.g., who can live where and in what kind of housing.

Add to personal uneasiness the issue of race. By 2045 caucasians will be a mathematical minority of US population. This will affect long standing social taboos and class definitions. Worldwide, mariner has mentioned in a previous post that Indians and Chinese will constitute one in every three humans.

And finally, the center of civilization will leave Europe, the Balkans, the Mediterranean and the Middle East and settle on the boundaries of the Pacific Ocean and the Southern Hemisphere.

Don’t bother packing bags, AI will do that.

Ancient Mariner


If Then

The other day mariner had a conversation with a member of the electorate. This member happened to be a Trumpist. They were complaining about the Fascist state of affairs in the United States because the Government said everyone had to leave jobs, stay home, wear self-deprecating masks, etc. The Trumpist was echoing the popular complaint going around that uses 40,000 car deaths and people can still drive cars . . . why can’t 150,000 deaths occur from virus and people can still work.

Mariner responded in a sympathetic tone that he understood the Trumpist’s sentiments but mariner didn’t understand the Modus Ponens (If–then) logic that relates car deaths to virus deaths. Mariner suggested a different argument:

“A similar argument that relates to the virus constraints would be: The Constitution says all men are created equal but the Government can’t stop me from denigrating black people. Further, the Declaration of Independence says every man has the unalienable right to pursue life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness so the government can’t stop me from working.”

“But,” mariner continued, “it seems immoral to say just because we let people die in cars that we should also let people die from the virus when, unlike a car accident, death from the virus can be avoided. That’s why the car-virus comparison doesn’t work.”

“You ought to be a lawyer,” the Trumpist said, “and it doesn’t change the fact that we live under a Fascist government.”

Politics can be fun . . . . . and depressing.

Ancient Mariner