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You may be familiar with an experiment involving five monkeys in a cage, a bunch of bananas on a string, and a ladder. The story has been around for many years.

Sometimes, it’s presented as a scientific study that actually happened (apparently not true). More often, it’s used as an allegory — a parable, fable, cautionary tale, or whatever — that equates the behavior of monkeys to that of people.

The point is to illustrate the absurdity and the dangers of passive thinking. Of mindlessly following the herd.

First the story, then we can discuss.

———

Start with a cage containing five monkeys.

Inside the cage, suspend a bunch of bananas on a string, out of reach. Place a ladder under the bananas. Before long, one of the monkeys will try to climb the ladder to reach the bananas.

As soon as he touches the ladder, spray the other monkeys with cold water.

After a while, a second monkey will make the same attempt. Again, spray all the other monkeys with cold water.

Soon, when any monkey tries to climb the ladder, the other monkeys will act together to forcefully prevent it.

At this point, stop using cold water to punish the monkeys.

Remove one monkey from the cage, and replace it with a new monkey. The newcomer will see the bananas and try to climb the ladder. To his surprise, the other monkeys will attack him.

After another attempt and another attack, he understands that if he tries to climb the ladder, he will be assaulted.

Next, remove a second of the original five monkeys, and replace it with a new one. Newcomer #2 will try to use the ladder to get the bananas and will be attacked. Note that Newcomer #1 will participate in the group attack.

Replace another of the original five monkeys with a new one. Newcomer #3 will try to get the bananas and also will be attacked.

At this point, two of the four attacking monkeys have been sprayed with cold water, but the other two have not; newcomers #1 and #2 have no idea why they aren’t permitted to climb the ladder and no idea why the group attacks Newcomer #3.

Continue this process and replace the fourth and fifth original monkeys. Now all five monkeys in the cage are newcomers and were never sprayed with cold water. Nevertheless, no monkey will approach the ladder. Why not?

Because, as far as they know, things always have been done that way.

———

This story is especially interesting because of it’s similarity to the beliefs of behavioral psychologist B. F. Skinner (1904-1990). Skinner made the controversial claim that “free will” does not exist. He said people inevitably act and react based on previous experience — based on whether a previous action had good or bad consequences.

Skinner believed this opens the door to controlling group behavior, which he called “cultural engineering.” He saw this as a good thing, a means of creating a benevolent utopian society.

Maybe so, but the concept also has ominous Big Brother and 1984 overtones.

Personally, I’m a big fan of critical thinking. Objective analysis. A rational evaluation of the facts. In short, the scientific method.

That approach works pretty well everywhere, not just in the realm of science. For example, in the Marine Corps, in addition to the official motto “Semper Fidelis” (always faithful), many units have adopted the unofficial mantra “Improvise, Adapt. Overcome.”

Excellent advice. But probably not in the lexicon of the average monkey.

Five monkeys

 

In the 50 years from 1940 to 1990, the five most prolific songwriters in the recording business were Paul McCartney, Paul Simon, Kris Kristofferson, Jimmy Webb, and Buck Ram. Buck Ram? Probably the best songwriter you’ve never heard of.

At various times, he wrote, produced, and arranged hit songs for Duke Ellington, Ella Fitzgerald, Bing Crosby, Glenn Miller, Ike and Tina Turner, The Drifters, The Coasters, and The Platters.

Ram wrote “I’ll Be Home for Christmas,” “I’m Sorry,” and “Sweet Sixteen.” For The Platters, he wrote “Only You,” “The Great Pretender,” “Heaven on Earth,” “Remember When,” “(You’ve Got) The Magic Touch,” and “Twilight Time.”

According to Ram, he originally wrote “Twilight Time” as a poem while in college, and in 1944, the Three Suns added the music. The song was first recorded in 1945 by the Jimmy Dorsey band. In 1958, The Platters released the version most people remember.

Quite a story. And as far as I’m concerned, “Twilight Time” works fine either way — poem or song.

The Platters

Twilight Time

By The Platters, 1958
Written by Buck Ram, Artie Dunn, Al Nevins, and Morty Nevins

Heavenly shades of night are falling.
It’s twilight time.
Out of the mist your voice is calling.
It’s twilight time.
When purple-colored curtains mark the end of day,
I’ll hear you, my dear, at twilight time.

Deepening shadows gather splendor
As day is done.
Fingers of night will soon surrender
The setting sun.
I count the moments, darling, till you’re here with me.
Together, at last, at twilight time.

Here, in the afterglow of day,
We keep our rendezvous
Beneath the blue.
And, in the sweet and same old way,
I fall in love again, as I did then.

Deep in the dark, your kiss will thrill me
Like days of old.
Lighting the spark of love that fills me
With dreams untold.
Each day, I pray for evening, just to be with you.
Together, at last, at twilight time.

Here, in the afterglow of day,
We keep our rendezvous
Beneath the blue.
And, in the sweet and same old way,
I fall in love again, as I did then.

Deep in the dark, your kiss will thrill me
Like days of old.
Lighting the spark of love that fills me
With dreams untold.
Each day, I pray for evening, just to be with you.
Together, at last, at twilight time.
Together, at last, at twilight time.

There is a cult of ignorance in the United States, and there has always been. The strain of anti-intellectualism has been a constant thread winding its way through our political and cultural life, nurtured by the false notion that democracy means that “my ignorance is just as good as your knowledge.”

— Isaac Asimov

###

Do not mind anything that anyone tells you about anyone else. Judge everyone and everything for yourself.

— Henry James

###

Friends and good manners will carry you where money won’t go.

— Margaret Walker

###

What the world needs is more geniuses with humility. There are so few of us left.

— Oscar Levant

Asimov I

Asimov

Levant O

Levant

 

Theodore Roosevelt, Jr. (1858-1919), the son of socialite parents, was a fascinating and influential figure in American history. At various times, he was a working cowboy, Rough Rider, scholar of naval history, writer, conservationist, and politician. He served as the 33rd Governor of New York, the 25th Vice President, and the 26th President.

Roosevelt was an exuberant personality with a spirited joie de vivre. His public image (and self-image) was that of a robust, manly man. I’ve written about him several times on this blog, to wit “Teddy and Edwin,” “Princess Alice,” and “To Mar the Wonderful Grandeur.”

When Roosevelt and his family moved into the White House in 1901, they proved to be, no surprise, a colorful and entertaining bunch. Teddy was Teddy, and the six Roosevelt children (Quentin, Archie, Ethel, Kermit, Ted Jr., and Alice, ranging in age from four to 17) were pampered and high-spirited.

The Roosevelts, all of them, were ardent animal lovers. During Teddy’s eight years in office, a wide range of pets, livestock, and exotic creatures resided in and around the White House.

TR-1

Teddy and friends.

Among the family dogs were Manchu, a Pekingese; Sailor Boy, a Chesapeake Bay Retriever; Pete, most likely a Bull Terrier; Rollo, a 200-pound Saint Bernard; Skip, a Rat Terrier mix; and Jack, a Manchester Terrier.

Stabled on the White House grounds were 10 horses (Bleistein, Grey Dawn, Jocko Root, Renown, Roswell, Rusty, Wyoming, General, Judge, and Yagenka) and two ponies for the children (Algonquin and General Grant).

Other family pets: five guinea pigs (Admiral Dewey, Dr. Johnson, Bishop Doane, Fighting Bob Evans, and Father O’Grady); Eli Yale, a blue macaw; Loretta the parrot; and two cats, Tom Quartz and Slippers.

TR-2

Quentin and Slippers.

Alice, the oldest child, had a pet snake named Emily Spinach. She explained that it was as green as spinach and as thin as her Aunt Emily.

Also part of the Roosevelt menagerie: Jonathan, a piebald rat; two kangaroo rats; a flying squirrel; a barn owl; two parrots; a raccoon; a coyote; a zebra; a wildcat; five bears; Joe the lion; and Bill the hyena.

Also, Maude, a white pig; Peter the rabbit; Bill the lizard; Baron Spreckle, a hen; and a one-legged rooster whose name I couldn’t ferret out.

TR-3

Manchu was a black Pekingese, a gift to Alice from the Empress of China. Alice relished the dramatic, and she claimed she once saw Manchu dancing on his hind legs on the White House lawn in the moonlight.

Teddy wrote that one of his favorite dogs, Sailor Boy, “had a masterful temperament and a strong sense of both dignity and duty.” He said the dog always broke up fights among the other dogs and “himself never fought unless circumstances imperatively demanded it.”

In 1907, the President wrote to his son Kermit that Pete the Bull Terrier had killed four squirrels. Teddy said it was proof that “the squirrels were getting so careless that something was sure to kill them anyhow.”

In time, Pete acquired the unfortunate habit of biting people. His victims included a naval officer, a policeman, and a cabinet minister. At first, Teddy said it was “the nature of the breed,” and he resisted getting rid of Pete.

But Pete sealed his own fate when he attacked the French Ambassador. Reportedly, Pete chased the Ambassador down a White House corridor, caught him, and tore the bottom out of his pants.

The French government filed a formal complaint; Pete was exiled to the family’s Long Island estate.

Teddy bragged that Jack the Manchester Terrier “was human in his intelligence and affection; he learned all kinds of tricks and was a high-bred gentleman.” Jack also was known to gnaw on books, and he was afraid of the female cat, Tom Quartz.

When Jack died, he was buried on the White House grounds. But the First Lady soon had second thoughts. She said she didn’t want to leave Jack behind “beneath the eyes of presidents who might care nothing for little black dogs.” Accordingly, when the Roosevelts left Washington in 1908, Jack’s remains were moved to the family estate on Long Island.

TR-4

Jack the Manchester Terrier.

Algonquin was a Shetland pony belonging to Archie. In 1903, while Archie was in bed recovering from measles, he told his mother he missed Algonquin and wanted to go to the stables to see him. His mother told Archie he was too ill and needed to stay in bed.

While Archie sulked, one of the stable hands suggested to the First Lady that they bring the pony to Archie. With the First Lady’s approval, Algonquin was walked into the White House, onto an elevator, up to the second floor, and down the hall to Archie’s bedroom, where a joyful reunion ensued.

TR-5

Archie astride Algonquin.

Eli Yale, a Hyacinth Macaw, was the beloved pet of 14-year-old Ted Jr. The bird was named after Elihu Yale, the British philanthropist and namesake of Yale University. The President wrote, “Eli is the most gorgeous macaw, with a bill that I think could bite through boilerplate, who crawls all over Ted, and whom I view with dark suspicion.”

TR-6

Ted Jr. and Eli Yale.

Archie had a pet badger named Josiah that was said to be friendly, but occasionally short-tempered. Once, when Teddy saw Archie carrying Josiah in his arms, he warned his son that the badger might bite his face.

Archie replied, “He bites legs sometimes, but he never bites faces.”

TR-7

Archie and Josiah.

Most of the exotic and wild animals were gifts from world leaders. Bill the hyena, for example, was presented to Roosevelt in 1904 by the Emperor of Ethiopia.

According to White House archives, Teddy was reluctant to accept the animal, being of the opinion that hyenas are cowardly creatures.

But he relented, and soon, Bill was allowed inside the White House, where he was known to beg for scraps at the dinner table.

Joe the lion, also a gift from the Emperor of Ethiopia, never set a paw on the White House grounds. Like the zebra, the wildcat, and others, Joe was taken on arrival to the National Zoo.

For reasons I couldn’t determine, Bill the hyena eventually joined him there.

TR-8

The Roosevelt family. Left to right: Quentin, Teddy, Ted Jr., Archie, Alice, Kermit, Edith, and Ethel.

 

 

Considering the vast resources of the Internet, I thought Googling a name as distinctive as Albert Hernhuter would be fast and fruitful. I was wrong.

Albert Hernhuter is the author of a bunch of science fiction short stories from the 1950s. For reasons unexplained, he published them under five different names: Albert Hernhuter, Al Hernhuter, Albert Hemhuter, Albert Hernhunter, and Bert Ahearne.

Online, I found almost nothing about the guy. I learned that an Albert L. Hernhuter was born in Los Angeles in 1934; that an Albert Leopold Hernhuter published an “aviation weather study guide” in 1967; and that an Albert L. Hernhuter, age 84, now lives in Silver Springs, Maryland.

Is this our Albert Hernhuter? Is it three different Albert Hernhuters? It’s a puzzlement.

Anyway, with that meager introduction, here is one of the Hernhuter short stories, a quirky tale about the line between fantasy and reality, published under his apparent real name.

———

Texas Week

By Albert Hernhuter
Published in Fantastic Universe, January 1954

The slick black car sped along the wide and straight street. It came to a smooth stop in front of a clean white house. A man got out of the car and walked briskly to the door. Reaching out with a pink hand, he pressed the doorbell with one well-manicured finger.

The door was answered by a housewife. She was wearing a white blouse, a green skirt and a green apron trimmed with white. Her feet were tucked into orange slippers, her blonde hair was done up in a neat bun. She was dressed as the government had ordered for that week.

The man said, “You are Mrs. Christopher Nest?”

There was a trace of anxiety in her voice as she answered. “Yes. And you are…?”

“My name is Maxwell Hanstark. As you may already know, I am the official psychiatrist for this district. My appointment will last until the end of this year.”

Mrs. Nest invited him in. They stepped into a clean living-room. At one end was the television set, at the other end were several chairs. There was nothing between the set and the chairs except a large grey rug which stretched from wall to wall. They walked to the chairs and sat down.

“Now, just what is the matter with your husband, Mrs. Nest?”

Mrs. Nest reached into a large bowl and absently picked up a piece of stale popcorn. She daintily placed it in her mouth and chewed thoughtfully before she answered.

“I wish I knew. All he does all day long is sit in the backyard and stare at the grass. He insists that he is standing on top of a cliff.”

Hanstark took out a small pad and a short ball-point pen. He wrote something down before he spoke again. “Is he violent? Did he get angry when you told him there was no cliff?”

Mrs. Nest was silent for a moment. A second piece of popcorn joined the first. Hanstark’s pen was poised above the pad. “No. He didn’t get violent.”

Hanstark wrote as he asked the next question. “Just what was his reaction?”

“He said I must be crazy.”

“Were those his exact words?”

“No. He said that I was –” She thought for a moment — “loco. Yes, that was the word.”

“Loco?”

“Yes. He said it just like those cowboys on the television.”

Hanstark looked puzzled. “Perhaps you had better tell me more about this. When did he first start acting this way?”

Mrs. Nest glanced up at the television set, then back at Hanstark. “It was right after Texas Week. You remember — they showed all of those old cowboy pictures.”

Hanstark nodded.

“Well, he stayed up every night watching them. Some nights he didn’t even go to sleep. Even after the set was off, he sat in one of the chairs, just staring at the screen. This morning, when I got up, he wasn’t in the house. I looked all over but I couldn’t find him. I was just about ready to phone the police when I glanced out the window into the backyard. And I saw him.”

“What was he doing?”

“He was just sitting there in the middle of the yard, staring. I went out and tried to bring him into the house. He told me he had to watch for someone. When I asked him what he was talking about he told me that I was crazy. That was when I phoned you, Mr. Hanstark.”

“A very wise move, Mrs. Nest. And would you show me where your husband is right now?”

She nodded her head and they both got up from the chairs. They walked through the dining-room and kitchen. On the back porch Hanstark came to a halt.

“You’d better stay here, Mrs. Nest.” He walked to the door and opened it.

“Mr. Hanstark,” Mrs. Nest called.

Hanstark turned and saw her standing next to the automatic washing machine. “Yes?”

“Please be careful.”

Hanstark smiled. “I shall be, Mrs. Nest.”

He walked out the door and down three concrete steps. Looking a little to his right, he saw a man squatted on his heels. He walked up to the man. “You are Mr. Christopher Nest?”

The man looked up and stared for a moment at Hanstark. “Yep,” he answered. Then he turned and stared at the grass again.

“And may I ask you what you are doing?”

Nest answered without looking up. “Guardin’ the pass.”

Hanstark scribbled something in his notebook. “And why are you guarding the pass?”

Nest rose to his feet and stared down at Hanstark. “Just what are you askin’ all of these questions for, stranger?”

Hanstark saw Nest was bigger than he and decided to play along for a while. After all, strategy…

“I’m just interested in your welfare, Mr. Nest.”

Nest shrugged his shoulders. He reached into his shirt pocket and pulled out a sack of tobacco and some paper. Holding a piece of paper in one hand, he carefully poured a little tobacco onto it. In one quick movement he rolled the paper and tobacco into a perfect cylinder.

He put the sack of tobacco and paper back into his pocket and took out a wooden kitchen match. He scraped it to life on the sole of his shoe and applied the flame to the tip of the cigarette. He puffed it into life and threw the match away. It burned for a few moments in the moist grass, then went out. A thin trail of smoke rose from it, and then was gone.

“Why are you guarding the pass?” Hanstark asked again.

Nest resumed his crouch on the grass. “News is around that Dirty Dan the cattle rustler is gonna try to steal some of my cattle.” He patted an imaginary holster at his side. “And I aim to stop him.”

Hanstark thought for a moment. Strategy — he must use strategy. “Mr. Nest.” He waited until Nest had turned to him. “Mr. Nest. What would you say if I told you that there was no pass down there?”

“Why shucks, pardner. I’d say you’d been chewin’ some loco weed.”

“And if I could prove it?”

Nest answered after a moment’s pause. “Why then, I guess I’d be loco.”

Hanstark thought it was going to be easy. “Mr. Nest, it is a well known fact that no one can walk in mid-air. Is that not true?”

Nest took a deep drag on his cigarette and blew the smoke out of his nostrils. “Shore.”

“Then if I were to walk out above your pass you’d have to admit there is no pass.”

“Reckon so.”

Hanstark began to walk in the direction of Nest’s “cliff.” Nest jumped to his feet and grabbed the official psychiatrist by the arm.

“What’re you tryin’ to do,” Nest said angrily, “kill yourself?”

Hanstark shook free of his grasp. “Mr. Nest, I am not going to kill myself. I am merely going to walk in that direction.” He pointed to where the cliff was supposed to be. “To you it will look as if I were walking in mid-air.”

Nest dropped his hands to his sides. “Shucks, I don’t care if you kill yourself. It’s just that it’s liable to make the cattle nervous.”

Hanstark gave him a cold glare and began to walk. He took three paces and stopped. “You see, Mr. Nest. There is no cliff.”

Nest looked at him and laughed. “You just take one more step and you’ll find there is a cliff!”

Hanstark took another step — a long one. His face bore a surprised look as he disappeared beneath the grass. His screams could be heard for a moment before he landed on the rocks below.

Nest walked to the edge of the cliff and looked down at the mangled body. He took off his hat in respect. “Little feller had a lotta guts.” Then he added, “Poor little feller.”

He put his hat back on and looked down at the entrance to the valley. A horse and rider appeared from behind several rocks.

“Dirty Dan!” Nest exclaimed. He reached down and picked up his rifle.

Bye-2

 

Pass

Want-fear

Obey

Eschew

 

Here are three stories about animal behavior that, to me, seems odd and unexpected. Presented with the stipulation that I’m a Journalism major, not a wildlife biologist.

Story #1

About a week ago, I was driving north on U.S. 129 toward home. I was in the northern suburbs of Athens where the speed limit is 45 and you encounter a succession of traffic lights. Ahead, a light turned red. We motorists coasted to a stop.

While I sat waiting, movement on the right side of the road caught my attention. I turned to see a possum emerging from the undergrowth. He stepped into the crosswalk and ambled across all four lanes of 129 in front of the idling vehicles.

It was an adult possum, rather portly, seemingly well-fed. He was calm and appeared to be in no hurry.

The cars turning out of the cross street, which had the green light, dutifully yielded to him, as if he were a normal pedestrian.

Just as the possum reached the left side of the crosswalk and disappeared back into the undergrowth, the light turned green, and I drove on. My first thought: wow, that was weird.

Possum

Story #2

The following morning, on my way to downtown Jefferson, I was paused at the stop sign where the road from my neighborhood meets Business 129. In front of me, in the middle of 129, four vultures were squabbling over a roadkill squirrel.

Traffic was fairly heavy. The vultures had to scramble constantly to avoid becoming roadkill themselves.

No one was behind me at the stop sign, so I was able to sit there and observe. Two times, I watched as a scrum of cars went by, causing the vultures to scatter frantically and then reassemble.

Finally, as they were taking flight for the third time, one of the birds grabbed the squirrel’s tail in his beak and carried the carcass aloft with him. He rose to about 20 feet and dropped the squirrel onto the grass, six feet off the pavement.

Whereupon, the four vultures reconverged on the prize, this time in relative safety.

I’ve seen countless vultures feasting on roadkill in my time, but I’ve never seem one remove a carcass from the road. Smarter than the average vulture, it seems.

Roadkill

Story #3

My house in Jefferson is built on a moderate slope that, during construction, made a retaining wall necessary. The wall makes the transition from the hillside to the level ground where the house stands.

The wall is built of railroad ties. It ranges from three to four feet tall and is about 30 feet long. A sidewalk along its base leads to the front door.

Wall

The wall is not only an interesting feature, but also a home to all sorts of critters. There are frog burrows at its base. Lizards skitter in and out of the cracks and crevices. In and around it are crickets, centipedes, worms, moles, ants, spiders, and, yes, snakes.

Most of the snakes are of the harmless variety, although I did encounter a small copperhead a few years ago, sunning himself on the sidewalk. I chased him into the woods.

Sometimes, the snakes use the tight spaces between the railroad ties to help wiggle out of their skins when they molt. The dry skins they leave behind are a common sight.

To the local squirrels, the top of the wall is a good vantage point from which to watch for predators while they feast on acorns. The shells make a terrible mess.

As I see it, the presence of these critters is a positive thing, and I do my best to coexist with them. I try not to bother them. I pull weeds by hand instead of spraying chemicals. The one exception: the time a colony of yellow jackets built a nest in the wall, and I had to call an exterminator.

A few days ago, as I was pulling weeds on top of the wall, I came close to stepping backward onto a rat snake (harmless, easy to identify). I don’t know which of us was more startled.

He was young, but still several feet long. He was backed up against the edge of the wall in a defensive crouch, looking at me, tongue flickering. Every time I moved, he tensed.

Rat snake

This snake was unusually antsy. Maybe he had a recent encounter with a dog or cat. Even though I stood motionless a good six feet away, he was agitated. He slithered rapidly along the lip of the wall in both directions, looking for a passage to safety. He found none.

He seemed to be in a genuine panic. And to prove it, he suddenly turned around, glided over the top of the wall, and launched himself into space. I was astonished.

When I got to the wall and looked over the edge, the end of his tail was disappearing into an opening at ground level.

At the spot where he jumped, the wall is four feet tall. That had to hurt.

Frog burrow

One of the frog burrows at the base of the wall. Sometimes, their little heads peek out.