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Monday, February 8, 2016

Debunking Trickle-down Economics

Debunking Trickle-down Economics

In 1896, William Jennings Bryan declared that, “There are two ideas of government. There are those who believe that if you just legislate to make the well-to-do prosperous, that their prosperity will leak through on those below. 
The Democratic idea has been that if you legislate to make the masses prosperous, their prosperity will find its way up and through every class that rests upon it.” Later, Lyndon B. Johnson added, in his brutally blunt style: "Republicans [...] simply don't know how to manage the economy. They're so busy operating the trickle-down theory, giving the richest corporations the biggest break that the whole thing goes to hell in a hand basket."

This economic idea of “trickle-down” dates back to the earlier horse-and-sparrow aphorism: “If you feed the horse enough oats, some will pass through to the road for the sparrows.” In our time, it was formally called “supply side economics.” Ross Perot called it “political voodoo.” Whatever you call it, it has been a dominant political policy priority in many governments and corporations for a long time. But, a metaphor producing an easily-visualized image does not make it an apt model of reality.

Monday, February 1, 2016

In Defense of Plagiarism

In Defense of Plagiarism

I own a fascinating collection of treatises on plagiarism in the volume Perspectives on Plagiarism and Intellectual Property in a Postmodern World published by State University of New York Press. Beginning on page xv, the Introduction makes the point:

“Plagiarism is perceived as a problem but it is often discussed in simplistic terms: "using someone else's words without telling whose they are or where you got them"; "stealing other people's ideas or words." This basic view of plagiarism comes directly from the Latin source of the word, which meant to kidnap a person, referring only to children or servants or slaves: people who could in some sense be owned... 

A postmodern perspective of plagiarism and intellectual property suggests that one cannot own ideas or words. All we can do is honor and recompense the encoding of those ideas...”

I note (with considerable interest) that these editors, themselves, did not hesitate to simply enclose particularly apt phrases in quotes and move on.  

Friday, January 29, 2016

Hubris on Roller Skates (Untying Knots)

Hubris on Roller Skates (Untying Knots)

In the courts of the Assyrian kings, men of outstanding character, ability and wisdom were prized and honored. Dian-Nisi, whose name meant “Judge of Men,” was such a man on all counts. His name was given with definite hubris. It was one of the titles of the Assyrian deity Shamas the “Great Judge of All Heaven and Earth.”

I shall tell you a story of Dian-Nisi’s wisdom, foresight and cunning, but first, I must tell you a little about knots.
*****
Over a millennium before chess was invented in India about the 6th century AD, the Assyrians challenged each other to the tying and untying of knots. The Bible records that Daniel, one of the children of Israel taken captive to Assyria, had a reputation for his ability to give interpretations, solve riddles and untie knots.

The ability to untie knots demonstrates the virtues of wisdom, insight and patience. It reflects the persistence and thinking ability needed to analyze and solve all manner of difficult problems. A wise teacher can be regarded as someone able to dissolve doubts. A king’s counselor must be able to undo or thwart the plans of others. Such a judge could be trusted with the authority to “unbind that which was bound” by interpreting, modifying or invalidating contracts.

Judges have often been allowed to officiate at marriage ceremonies, where a man and women pledge to be “bound together” in the “contract of marriage.” In some ceremonies, the wrists of the bride and groom are physically tied together with a knot. Sometimes a sash is draped over their wrists to symbolize that knot. Judges have also often been given the authority to grant a divorce.

In the Jewish religious tradition, scriptures are written on strips of parchment which are placed in small leather boxes (phylacteries) and tied with knots to the forehead and the back of the right hand. This is an effective public declaration of piety or “being bound to the word of God.”
Loosening a knot may not always require skill or other virtues. There is an old story that a peasant named Gordius tied a knot that could not be untied. An oracle prophesied that whoever could undo the knot would become ruler of Asia. The story ends with Alexander the Great cutting the knot with his sword. Alexander and his generals ended up conquering and ruling large swaths of Asia and the Mediterranean basin.
*****
Now, back to our story…
Dian-Nisi understood that, in untying knots, as in all matters of life, cheating can confer dramatic advantage in the short term, but it is the honorable conduct of life, politics and diplomacy that yields enduring power. Dian-Nisi was determined to be inventive and skillful, but not stoop to cheating. He would not put his public reputation or his personal self-respect at risk.

Dian-Nisi had a notable rival, Shimshai, in the court of his King. Shimshai, whose name meant “sunny” was a dour, dark and jealous man, prone to pride, scheming, lying, and back-biting. Shimshai was no fool, but his heart did not guide him to the service of any others than himself. Dian-Nisi consistently found himself giving counsel that directly opposed that given by Shimshai.

Their rivalry was no secret in the Assyrian King’s court. They had come to the point of constantly fighting like two rams. In fact the young men in training for governorships had begun to wager on which, Dian-Nisi or Shimshai, would lose favor with the king and be stripped of privilege, if not his very life. Worse than that, they were beginning to align themselves with one or the other of their King’s Viceroys.

Monday, January 25, 2016

Citing Authorities

Citing Authorities

An on-line commenter recently suggested that my essays should "provide references supporting [my] presentation."  However, I had not made an unattributed quote. Yes, I agree that writers should let readers know where an honest-to-god quote comes from. Nonetheless, this person seemed to want me to produce an outside-party authority for my personal beliefs and assertions. That's what blew my cork.

I responded that I'd given a great deal of thought to tracking the sources of ideas in my essays, articles and books. However, if one chooses to follow my columns and essays, they will see that I usually present the material as my own experience and opinion, which they (mostly) are.

The recent kerfluffle over plagiarism in Rand Paul's office really brings this issue to light.

Friday, January 22, 2016

Under the Cedars of Edenhope

Under the Cedars of Edenhope

[With appreciation for apt phrases to poet women of the early Australian bush and to Carl Riseley.]

Milicent Humphries pulled her shawl closer as she sat alone on the porch swing of her Iowa home. She was dreaming of the night, the first time she had peed in a graveyard. She had been eight years old when her Mum took her to visit the grave of Grandma Burns near their home in Edenhope, Victoria.

Of course, Milicent had lived in Australia at the time. Everybody had called her the diminutive “Mili.” It wasn’t until she was eighteen that she married a Yank during The War. He had properly, though not promptly, whisked her away to the United States of America. It had all been such a great adventure.

Monday, January 18, 2016

Perfecting the Stories We Tell Ourselves

Perfecting the Stories We Tell Ourselves

We tell ourselves stories to give our lives meaning. This is how we know who we are, where we came from, what we should be doing, and where we want to go next. This is how we decide what is important and even what is real. 

Individuals, families, communities, cultures and nations may have different stories and so they hold different identities and expectations. The implication of this understanding about stories is that, when we change our stories, our realities, our lives, and our futures change too.

I was raised as a Kool-Aid kid; two cups of sugar and a packet of artificial colors and flavors made my world better. By the time I raised my children, they learned that “things go better with Coke,” which could make the world “sing in perfect harmony.” Children are now told that high fructose corn syrup will make them sick and shorten their lives. Did you know that New York City is banning large servings of sugary soft drinks?

In the earlier history of this country, settlers told themselves stories of magnificent destiny, glorious exploration, conquest and development. A continent of unbounded resources beckoned the adventurous with open land, virgin stands of timber, and even gold. They believed that one had only to keep looking forward, stake their claim and grow rich from exploiting abundance.

Friday, January 15, 2016

Sleeping with Suzy

Sleeping with Suzy

I sleep with Suzy. More precisely, I can’t finish going to sleep until Suzy comes to bed. She likes a bedtime snack first. Then, finished in the kitchen, she has a habit of taking a short run and leaping into bed. I think she likes to see me bounce and hear me snort. And then, she expects our routine affections. She kisses me on the neck until I roll over and hug her for a while. Satisfied, she lets me roll away, and fits herself neatly into the curve of my back. Tucked away securely, we can both finally get some rest. I think I’m the only one who knows that Suzy is pregnant. I’m pretty sure I’m the father, of course. Still, I worry… Will I ever get any rest trying to sleep with Suzy and our litter of St. Bernards?

David Satterlee

Monday, January 11, 2016

The Civic Balance of Freedom and Responsibility

The Civic Balance of Freedom and Responsibility


This week’s The Gowrie News reported the winners of the 26th annual Fort Dodge Noon Sertoma “What Does Freedom Mean to Me?” essay contest. My family has been in a tizzy; we couldn’t be more delighted. The first prize was awarded to Jaiden Ackerson, our eighth-grade granddaughter. Dianna and her daughter, Erin Ackerson, were able to attend the presentation luncheon today (March 7). This week, Jaiden is being recognized as a winner and a hero and has been modestly enjoying her recognition.

Instead of starting with a dictionary definition of “freedom,” Jaiden led off by quoting Bob Dylan: “A hero is someone who understands the responsibility that comes with his freedom.” She went on to say: