Being Real

[“Real isn’t how you are made,’ said the Skin Horse. ‘It’s a thing that happens to you. When a child loves you for a long, long time, not just to play with, but REALLY loves you, then you become Real.’

‘Does it hurt?’ asked the Rabbit.

‘Sometimes,’ said the Skin Horse, for he was always truthful. ‘When you are Real you don’t mind being hurt.’

‘Does it happen all at once, like being wound up,’ he asked, ‘or bit by bit?’

‘It doesn’t happen all at once,’ said the Skin Horse. ‘You become. It takes a long time. That’s why it doesn’t happen often to people who break easily, or have sharp edges, or who have to be carefully kept. Generally, by the time you are Real, most of your hair has been loved off, and your eyes drop out and you get loose in the joints and very shabby. But these things don’t matter at all, because once you are Real you can’t be ugly, except to people who don’t understand.”

― Margery Williams Bianco, The Velveteen Rabbit.]

From the Atlantic:

 Can We Touch?

Physical contact remains vital to health, even as we do less of it. The rules of engagement aren’t necessarily changing—they’re just starting to be heard.

James Hamlin, April 10, 2019

֎  Today’s post largely is a number of excerpts from James Hamlin’s article. Regular readers know that mariner is skeptical about modern technology, especially Artificial Intelligence (AI) which is cleaving human behavior away from interpersonal touching, hugging, conversation, and deliberate sharing of the intimate space – a column of space that extends about a foot from the body. Several studies are presented that show a human is dependent on touching and hugging not only for social acceptance but for healthy bodies and emotional development. Brackets [ ] encompass quoted material.

[ Tiffany Field has spent decades trying to get people to touch one another more.

Her efforts started with premature babies, when she found that basic human touch led them to quickly gain weight. An initial small study, published in the journal Pediatrics in 1986, showed that just 10 days of “body stroking and passive movements of the limbs” for less than an hour led babies to grow 47 percent faster. They averaged fewer days in the hospital and accrued $3,000 less in medical bills. The effect has been replicated multiple times.

Field, a developmental psychologist by training, went on to found the Touch Research Institute at the University of Miami’s Miller School of Medicine. She was a pioneer in highlighting the effects of “touch deprivation” among kids, famously those in orphanages. She explained to me that the effects are pervasive, influencing so many bodily systems that kids are diagnosed with “failure to thrive,” resulting in permanent physical and cognitive impairment, smaller stature, and social withdrawal later in life—which often includes aversion to physical contact. ]




֎ It is beyond question that hugging, touching, kissing, caressing, and many other intimate reinforcements are a biological requirement in primates – in fact all mammals require to some degree feelings of value, justification, affection, friendship, bonding, celebration and love.

[ Physical touch doesn’t make adults larger, but its effects are still coming to light. Field has published similar findings about the benefits of touch in full-term infants, and then children and pregnant women, adults with chronic pain, and people in retirement homes. Studies that involved as little as 15 daily minutes found that touch alone, even devoid of the other supportive qualities it usually signifies, seems to have myriad benefits.

The hug, specifically, has been repeatedly linked to good health. In a more recent study that made headlines about hugs helping the immune system, researchers led by the psychologist Sheldon Cohen at Carnegie Mellon University isolated 400 people in a hotel and exposed them to a cold virus. People who had supportive social interactions had fewer and less severe symptoms. Physical touch (specifically hugging) seemed to account for about a third of that effect. (The researchers conclude: “These data suggest that hugging may act as an effective means of conveying support.”) Cohen and his colleagues continued to show other health benefits of physical contact, such as a 2018 reveal in the journal PLOS titled “Receiving a Hug Is Associated With the Attenuation of Negative Mood That Occurs on Days With Interpersonal Conflict.” ]

֎ Everything mentioned to this point is critical to a healthy, mature sense of self. But there is another level of reality. Culture comes from human interaction; who we are among ourselves in a world of 7.7 billion people is reality. There is no way to identify and manage reality except through human interaction. Smartphones and iPads and computers are not reality. Let them take control and there will be no reality save ‘the cloud.’ Shades of “The Matrix”. We should have learned this on television: the fun parties in beer commercials are not real.

Reality comes from interaction with other people. The degree to which data mining distracts us from reality is damaging. Stop just to reinforce a friendship and hug them will enforce cultural reality. Giving the thumb a workout is time away from reality.

Ancient Mariner


Can’t we all just do things right?

[The Guardian] More than $300,000

Last week, there was the news that Stephen Moore, the author of “Trumponomics” and President Trump’s nominee for a seat on the Federal Reserve Board, was being pursued by the IRS for more than $75,000 in back taxes from 2014. (Moore has said that it’s not true that he owes the IRS that amount.) And, according to records obtained by The Guardian, Moore was held in contempt of court in 2012 for failing to pay more than $300,000 in spousal support, child support and other money owed to his ex-wife in their divorce settlement. (Moore declined to comment on the report to the news outlet.)

– – – –

[The Atlantic] The tax-collection system as we know it is the outcome of three forces: corporate lobbying, a stubborn resistance to borrowing good ideas from other Western nations, and the Republican Party’s decades-long campaign against taxation itself.

In the Netherlands, the procedure is simple. First, you look over the form the government sends you with your taxes already calculated, and you check it. Second, you sign it and send it back. Third—well, there is no third. That’s the entire process. Dutch citizens can file their taxes in minutes.

This is the case in country after country. In Japan, Sweden, Estonia, and Great Britain, people don’t have to file their taxes. They are spared the high-stress homework assignment that Americans face every year. Citizens of these countries do get the opportunity to check the government’s arithmetic if they like, but in most cases, taxpayers seem to think the calculations are reasonable…

Nothing is keeping the United States from copying these countries. The article is entertaining. See:

– – – –

–> Now it’s Herman Cain for Federal Reserve. Donald cannot deal with (a) a virtuous man (b) an honest man (c) a mature man (d) a competent man. Mariner wonders why. . .

– – – –

The Quiz

There was an erroneous question that slipped through as mariner was editing questions. It was the question about the wings of a dove and asked a bonus question which should not have been there.

Mariner hopes readers toyed with it a bit. Everyone has tidbits of memory that hang with them for their entire lives. Problem is, it’s not a complete set of information – a line here, a first name there, perhaps a vision of a scene but which movie?

Yes, ten planets. If the reader did not violate the rule about using search engines, they would not know that astronomers have changed their tune about Pluto and other stable objects because of the role they play in balancing the Solar System in general. By the way, the tenth planet is named ‘Far Out’ because it really, really is far out.

Ancient Mariner

Who Knows Best

Mariner will be distracted by gardening duties. He is eager to keep his readers sharp and up to date on cultural and scientific news. Below are three quizzes. The first is show business, the second is literature and the third is science.

Answers will not be provided in order to enhance the reader’s research skills. HOWEVER, SHOULD YOU EVEN THINK OF USING YOUR BROWSER, IN YOUR HEART, YOU KNOW YOU’VE FAILED THE QUIZ. Researching old junk, ahem, old memorabilia lying about, especially your old friends and old relatives is acceptable and encouraged; questions are multi-generational.




Who cut original recording of “Earth Angel”?


“. . . Put it in your pocket”


“Bring your sweet lips a little closer”


Made a trademark sound combining saxophone and clarinet


Name a male and female CW singer who had hits with “On the Wings of a Dove” Extra credit: What movie inspired the song in 1952?


“God Bless America” without a microphone


“Everything’s Coming up Roses” without a microphone


“Drive by Mary’s place”


“Lucile, please come back where you belong”


Name two hit song titles





Name the movie with the song: “Shakedown”

Name this singer

2006 big hit “Money Maker” by

Thirteen different groups sang backup for Elvis Presley. Not counting the Jordanaires, name two

Go get your Grandmother. Ask her the name of this actress

In the 1960’s including Frank, there were five members of the Rat Pack. Name them:


– – – –



Name two authors who were known for wearing white suits


Name five friends of Winnie the Pooh


Who terrorized Ichabod Crane?


What was Captain Ahab chasing?


Name of person who wore a scarlet letter


Name two of the Little Women


In what book is Boo Radley a character?


Who wrote “A Movable Feast”?


Who built a house at Walden Pond?


Name three literary dogs


What book did Abraham Lincoln accuse for starting the Civil War?


– – – –



In our solar system, name 10 planets in sequence from the Sun


In miles per hour, how fast is the speed of sound and how fast is the speed of light?


Name the three primary ingredients in plant food


Name three species of lizards


What element, when consumed by the Sun, will end the Sun’s life?


Name in sequence by date of birth: Max Planck, Madam Curie and Albert Einstein


Name of Astrophysicist with amyotrophic lateral sclerosis


Cite the Binomial Theorem


Name the sequence of colors in the rainbow and which is the shortest wavelength


Who discovered electricity (hint: not Ben)


Name any of the four major eras in Earth’s history


Have fun. Wrack your brain. There’s no score but self-satisfaction. Mariner suspects most readers have been exposed to this information but, like mariner, have no idea today.

Ancient Mariner


Progress is hard to define when walking through a swamp

But that’s how progress moves through a giant culture. Consider:

NPR] 55 Years Later, Lawyer Will Again Argue Over Redistricting Before Supreme Court

“Emmet Jopling Bondurant II knew about the civil rights movement when he was a student at the University of Georgia in the 1950s. . . As a 26-year-old lawyer, he took part in one of the most important voting rights cases before the Supreme Court in the 1960s — one that ultimately required states to put equal numbers of people in congressional districts.

“55 years later, in a case that bookends his legal career, Bondurant is returning to argue before the high court in a case that asks whether politicians can draw political boundaries to benefit their own political party at the expense of the other party. In 1964, the Supreme Court ruled in favor of Bondurant’s side. In states with more than one House representative, districts must have the same population.

“This time he’s asking the court to block partisan redistricting in North Carolina. Although the state is closely politically divided, the legislature ensured that Republicans would dominate the congressional delegation.

“Bondurant has no plans to retire, or quit trying to improve democracy in the country through the courts.”

–> Unsung heroes are hard to find but that they exist somewhere in our culture is a blessing. Three cheers for Emmet Jopling Bondurant II at 82 years of age.

On Public Shaming

In his March 17 show, Last Week Tonight, John Oliver dedicated his subject to the destructive nature of public shaming – the kind of commentary that is excessive and often well beyond the real facts. A third of his air time was spent interviewing Monica Lewinsky, the subject of national shaming for an affair with Bill Clinton. Her life was interfered with on a brutal scale that lingers today. John’s interview was sympathetic, even to chastising old Jay Leno jokes that were incessant.

Then yesterday, the CBS Sunday Morning show interviewed Kathy Griffin who was publically shamed for holding a bloody, chopped off head of Donald Trump. It cost her contracts and appearances to a point that Kathy had to recreate her career via 1,300+ comedy bookings in Europe – a crowd more understanding of her motives regarding Donald. The CBS interview also was sympathetic.

Guru ponders whether the glacier of identity politics may have started cracking.

Ancient Mariner

Discovering America

Yes, America still exists. The real America. Recently, mariner and his wife travelled across the Southwest sector of the US. Mariner’s wife put together a passage with ports of call and waypoints that avoided large cities, and as much as possible the Interstate highways. Our intent was to travel the forgotten routes to the villages, towns and history that are the true fabric of the nation. Referencing a recent post, we were intent to not drive a bus but actually travel the byways of culture and diversity that compose this fine nation.

Many travelers cannot put aside a vain, judgmental attitude; this attitude leads to a trip that misses the richness of diversity, the strength of freedom of choice. One must brush the dust off unused attitudes similar to sympathy and acceptance.

Up front, mariner wishes to correct any presumptions that small independent motels, small towns and villages and one-owner restaurants lack cleanliness, full-functionality and professionalism. Nonsense. They are five-star in their own right. Not five star like the plastic, sterile world of chain motels and machine-stamped restaurants but like the responsible humanness of unbleached reality. Quaintness is not another word for unacceptable.

Mariner and his wife visited several distinct cultures. One stop was in a town of 547 residents. It was on an original strip of Route 66 and the town remains as it was in the heyday of that highway in the 40s and 50s. For those who have traveled the Southwest, they know it is a vast region of little change in terrain. Deserts are common. Through this long, wide open region, Route 66 became the only road to transverse from the Midwest to the Pacific coast avoiding the travails of Rocky Mountain weather. It started in 1857 as a collection of Indian trails and sporadic wagon trails. Nothing was paved. Today with modern highways and speeds hovering around 75 or better, it still takes three days to travel the distance. Even the Santa Fe Chief takes two nights and three days by rail.

Mariner visited an American Indian neighborhood by the highway. There was very little in the way of a village, just travel services, Indian tourist items and a handful of small homes. (Most live out on the desert flats in very small shacks.) Mariner estimates that the economy on Indian reservations is about one-tenth the income per person of what the general economy represents. Bound by vindictive treaties, many established more than a century ago, American Indians largely are poverty-stricken but still very proud of their heritage. America has not treated American Indians very well.

Mariner visited a town whose economy was based on transportation – an immense truck stop and shipping center with all the retail and commercial resources that support this small city. At another stop the motel was managed by Hindus. As different economies and cultures were experienced, mariner and his wife became aware of the strength of diversity. At the same time, they felt the unity that gives the US its power. The two together are what made the US the wealthiest and most influential nation in history. It is sad commentary that US citizens and its governments have forgotten, even rejected the democratic engine that unites diversity and unity into a powerful alloy.

Ancient Mariner


The Broadening Value of Travel

Mariner and his wife were motivated to travel across the United States in their well-organized van; it is comfortably outfitted with a bed, efficient living quarters, and three van seats as well. On the road, it is a comfortable environment. On the road or just as importantly when one is off the road, broader, more challenging issues arise.

Mariner will not go into lurid details. Suffice it to say, one must understand the broadening opportunity behind one’s travel: peace and tranquility, exploration, cultural learning, new territories and new weather, but not just to get somewhere. As grossly dissatisfied as mariner is with all forms of commercial travel, if one wished only to be transplanted to another set of coordinates, fly, or take a train, or even a bus; use taxicabs and Uber. Do not plan on using your vehicle as a bus.

There is a tendency, if one is traveling with a tight schedule and a definite event at the end, to streamline the travel. Do not assume one is traveling; one is driving a bus – a bus with a schedule. If one is traveling farther than two days will allow, consider a commercial solution even if it means those waiting to greet one on the other end must go to great lengths to retrieve one from the nearest commercial point of disembarkation.

Some simple rules that will prevent one from busing:

Do not plan a daily itinerary from city to city. It seems efficient but it isn’t and often is more expensive. If one must endure several days driving a bus, do what mariner’s wife does: Make the first day a half day; travel only a few hours to an extra-city location. The next morning schedule a normal day’s travel so that rush hours are avoided and the next night’s stay also will be extra-city. In fact, horror of horrors for most folks, minimize interstate highways.

Determine a pleasant objective if nothing more than to see the world’s largest ball of string. Arrange lodging with that location in mind. One need not worry as often about the dreaded orange signs of road construction or the disaster of road closings that the GPS does not know about. One will not be bothered by traveling the world’s largest, most confusing interchanges while caught in rush hour. One need not be in the left lane of a busy, truck-laden, six-lane highway when suddenly the GPS suggests that one should be in the far right lane to take an exit in one quarter mile.

If, in fact a city is the destination for educational reasons, for example touring New York City, use commercial transportation – especially within the city. Leave consternation to the cabbie. (In NY, there is tourist trepidation in the subways; be sure to be adventuresome in one’s attitude)

Limit the range of daily travel. If one notes that the GPS says anything more than six hours, be wary of becoming a bus. Even if one is looking forward to touring a unique Aztec site, rearrange one’s schedule or perhaps insert an extra day and visit another spot of interest to keep daily travel to a minimum. Especially in the Southwest, deserts prevail and can place one in an awkward position without human support.

Never have a commitment within three days of the end of one’s projected travel. This leaves room to deliberately avoid busing. If one has an extra day, find some local characteristic to visit – even if it’s a discontinued seminary or a rundown gemstone store. (Mariner found the makings of a fine necklace for his wife in a gem and rock store where the front door could not open fully because of overgrown vines)

If one becomes tired, insert a stop at a tourist trap or take a tour of a small town. Do not travel tired. If the trip hours that day are properly short, extra stops will not endanger arriving at the last stop of the day; if they do, one is driving a bus. This also means bring entertainment along – more than one thinks they would need. Diversity is important: CDs, DVDs, laptop with wi-fi, books and magazines. Traveling with children and pets takes travel to another level; be sure to include entertainment and necessities for them, too.

Give serious planning to onboard capabilities. Keep food to prepared items. A very small cooler will suffice for perishables lasting a day or so. If the cooler must be replenished, use this as an excuse to stop at a local grocery. Further, be aware of vehicle environment, note the region one is traveling in and have a variety of clothing available. Also important is to carry all the items specified in an emergency travel kit. Mariner knows about needing a simple pair of cheap pliers to reconcile an issue.

In recent decades, commercialism has trained us to seek standardized expectations. For example, brand hotels and restaurant chains supposedly are the only places to use while traveling. Nonsense. Nonbrand businesses won’t hurt a traveler and provide a different kind of pleasantness that is much more memorable. Ever stay in a six-unit motel where one is wakened by a bleating goat? Can’t beat it for non-bus travel.

Finally, make a thorough list of toiletries, lotions, medicines, reading glasses, toothpicks, penknife, aids like hearing aids and batteries of all kinds; check it twice when loading for the trip.

Remember, the trip is for education, inspiration, enjoyment and fellowship – oh and yes, don’t forget one has a final destination at some point.

And really finally, don’t forget your bathing suit.

Ancient Mariner

While Traveling

Mariner was traveling along the Kansas Turnpike a few days ago. It is a lovely stretch of highway that runs from near Topeka to Oklahoma City, mariner’s drop off point. For hours on end, traffic was light and the drivin’ was easy. As many road travelers know, long periods without distraction can put one to sleep – not a good thing behind the steering wheel. Mariner decided to think about what to write in the next post but decided to be more creative and write a treatment for a light movie.

SO what to write about. Mariner decided to write a story about three young men who wanted to start a pop trio. One was a Latino who could play the guitar and sing; the second, also a Latino, played the keyboard and had written a few songs for friends and the third was an Asian who was a drummer; he had played in a band that played at informal high school events. The boys decided to call themselves the “LLAMAS.”

They practiced diligently for almost a year. Occasionally, they would get a small gig at a big party or a talent contest. They felt they were respectable and decided to go for the big time – go pro. The LLAMAS decided to write a couple of songs to play for a record agent. They practiced diligently and enjoyed the experience and anticipation of a show business future. Their hopes were high. They even bought matching outfits with a hot maroon jacket emblazoned with “THE LLAMAS” across the back, a white shirt and black pants.

The big day came and they met with a record agent. They played three songs they had written. The agent was impressed and showed special interest in one of their songs. “Would you be interested in selling a song to get started? You could make serious money if you sold the song.”

No, they wanted to bring their own sound and image to the market. “Buying our song means buying the LLAMAS”, they said.

The agent left, still encouraging them to stick with their dream but if they wanted some good money to get started, let him know about the song.

They went on practicing and honing their songs. About a month later, the LLAMAS had a dry spell, getting only a few gigs and they were far enough away to drain their meager funds. Around that time, the record agent called to see if they had changed their mind. No, they said, they were a package – the LLAMAS.

Six months went by. The LLAMAS couldn’t scare up scratch. No agents were interested and the gigs were insignificant. The boys had taken jobs to make ends meet. They made a fateful decision. They called the record agent to see if he still wanted to buy their song. “Of course,” he said. “It’s a great song. I’ll sell this to a headline singer and maybe get some cover acts, too.”

The boys received a nice check for selling the song. Three weeks later, the record agent called them to let them know Barry Manilow had contracted rights to the song and was singing it on a national TV show.

The boys watched as Barry launched into their song:

“Can’t Smile Without You
You know I can’t smile without you
I can’t smile without you
I can’t laugh, and I can’t sleep
I don’t even talk to people I meet
And I feel sad when you’re sad
I feel glad when you’re glad
And you must know what I’m goin’ thru
I just can’t smile, without you”

They knew they had made a mistake. It wasn’t about money – never would be. The song wasn’t Barry’s creation; it was the LLAMAS’. It was the reward and recognition for creative success; they belonged on that stage, not Barry. It was the attention and respect that their talent would command. It was big time show business. It wasn’t about the money. They should have held out and been true to the glory of the LLAMAS. . . .

We’re in Oklahoma City, now. Traffic demands mariner’s attention.

PS: In reality the song was written by CHRIS ARNOLD,DAVID MARTIN,GEOFF MORROW © Universal Music Publishing Group

Ancient Mariner


Caught between Old and New

Agriculture scientists report that the weaker one’s scientific knowledge, the angrier they are about genetically modified crops. Previous studies have found that, while genetically modified organism (GMO) opponents demand more research into the foods, no amount of science can convince them the products are safe. “We have to get people to recognize gaps in their knowledge before we try to teach them new things and have a meaningful discussion,” one researcher said.

Mariner notices that the phenomenon of rebelling because something is not familiar or seems to countermand established values is common across any discipline including behavior seemingly not becoming to the standard of the day. For example, mariner, a registered old fogey, resists the use of smart phones and social media. He claims social interaction is minimized, human importance is trivialized, and the loss of privacy also means the loss of independent thought. Yet, smart phones are universally used around the world and social media is how millions communicate – to the extent that POTUS uses Twitter to issue national policy, without talking to any human.

Similar to the detractors of GMO, mariner will never accept the values of future technology no matter how hard Neil Degrasse Tyson tries to persuade him. Mariner suggests Neil watch the Matrix movies. Mariner stands his ground as a primate, not as a digitized asset. Yes, he knows already he is becoming an anachronism but he is comfortable with that.

The pattern of resistance demonstrated by the GMO resisters and mariner is universal. One wonders how the Amish survive. The Amish are a group of traditionalist Christian church fellowships with Swiss German Anabaptist origins. They are closely related to, but distinct from, Mennonite churches. The Amish are known for simple living, plain dress, and reluctance to adopt many conveniences of modern technology. They place their beliefs on the Holy Bible, isolating themselves from the rest of society is one of the key Amish beliefs. They think secular culture has a polluting effect which promotes pride, greed, immorality and materialism. Therefore, to avoid the use of television, radios, computers, and modern appliances, they do not hook up to the electrical grid.

A hardy culture that equates religious value to physically working hard, it offers a slap at the “English” (non-Amish): “If a dollar doesn’t do what it used to, remember that hardly anyone else does either.”

Finally, in the midst of worldwide turmoil in politics, economy and human equality, one sees rebellion for similar reasons – shattered beliefs and protocols, cultural imbalance in economy, and ignorance of the reality represented by modern advances in science and technology. The reader is free to place blame on numerous causes both for ignorance and unpreparedness for new concepts.

Mariner chooses education. One cannot blame education in isolation because it is subject to politics and other resistance to newness by conservative reactions to radical thought. But one must take note that the core knowledge, that is, the curriculum, is no longer appropriate to the world that its students face. If one is to be up-to-date on scientific knowledge, one must at least be aware of the difference between Einsteinian reality and the reality of quantum theory. See, most of you don’t know but it is easily understood and sets the direction for all future science. Check your smartphone.

Ancient Mariner



Changing World

Mariner suspects that Venezuela may go the way of Cuba. In the future G5 computer world, liaisons between nations will become necessary for survival (TPP was an early experiment and the European Union even earlier). The continents form a natural divergence that suggests how future liaisons may develop. It is important to utilize continental influence; China with its Belt Road program already has made inroads including Russia, the Balkans, the Pacific Rim and Southeast Asia. Putin will participate with China as a subordinate unless he is able to reconstruct the Soviet Union. It behooves the US to be cooperative with Canada, Mexico, Central America and South America. The following news item puts the US on its heels in South America.

20 tons of gold

Venezuela, according to a lawmaker there and a Bloomberg source, has set aside 20 tons of gold, worth about $840 million, ready to load into a Russian Boeing 777 in Caracas. Where is the haul headed? No one seems to know. Venezuela does owe billions of dollars to Russia and China, and “also needs hard currency to buy food for its starving people.” [Bloomberg]

Which way is North?

It’s no news that the North and South poles are moving; long-term records from London and Paris (kept since 1580) show that the north magnetic pole moves erratically around the rotational north pole over periods of a few hundred years or longer, Ciaran Beggan, a geophysicist with the British Geological Survey who is involved in WMM updates, told in an email. He cited a 1981 study from the journal Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society of London.

Will Santa have to move to Antarctica? This is a thought to consider if the Earth’s magnetic field continues to become more active. Mariner has written about pole reversal in previous posts, covering the news item that compasses in the South Atlantic don’t work accurately for airliners flying there. Note this news item from LiveScience, among many other sources, makes note of the phenomenon. For the reader’s search engine: earth magnetic field reversal.

But what’s really catching attention is the acceleration in movement. Around the mid-1990s, the [North magnetic] pole suddenly sped up its movements from just over 9 miles (15 kilometers) a year to 34 miles (55 kilometers) annually. As of last year, the pole careened over the International Date Line toward the Eastern Hemisphere.

 Ancient Mariner

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