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Thursday, May 19, 2016

How I got from There to Here

How I got from There to Here

[Catching up with an old friend from high school.]
Dear Bob,

Damn, it’s been more than a year since I finally found you on the Internet, and what do I do after decades of regularly wondering “whatever became of…?” I drop the ball. Thank you for your reply via Facebook message. It was short enough to be modest and long enough to open the door to seriously catching up. I’ll start by replying to it.

You may remember that, in high school, I had precious few friends, that I was socially reclusive, and that my religion seemed to be against almost everything. Fair enough. Somehow, you found it in yourself to be kind to me and I still count you (other than the two women I’ve married) as my second and last “best friend.” So, that means a lot to me, but enough with weeping and gnashing teeth.

Monday, May 2, 2016

Delayed Recovery from Climate Change Gases

Delayed Recovery from Climate Change Gases

The actual letter to the editor

Dear Editor,
Your Editorial opinion (Messenger News, Feb. 17, 2012) about coal, gas emissions, and global warming seems to be misinformed. You referred to a new article in Science to oppose “Obama’s EPA.” You also stated that the American people have been misled and that Congress should be furious with [President] Obama.

I looked up the research report and found that CO2 emissions are still important because they produce “long-term inertial responses.” One conclusion, however, was that efforts to reduce emissions of methane and soot (which act more quickly) should receive additional priorities in order achieve greater short-term benefits.

Also, it seems that coal mining releases methane and burning coal emits soot. Therefore, your argument against the actions of our government to protect our welfare is weakened. I also came across information that the health costs related to burning coal is approximately equal to the value of the energy produced.

I, for one, am glad that research is already reducing production costs for systems such as the wind generators that help make Iowa a net exporter of energy.
David Satterlee

[An extended and detailed comment follows.]

Monday, April 25, 2016

Precision Farming Reboot - A new paradigm using sensors, robots and lasers

Precision Farming Reboot - A new paradigm using sensors, robots and lasers

As my wife and I drove down a rural Iowa highway last week, we began speculating about the next revolution in field management. Currently, tractors blindly and mechanically groom rows of crops spaced only wide enough to accommodate their massive tires. Large quantities of herbicides and insecticides are broadcast, leaching into streams and aquifers. In turn, specially bred seeds, resistant to these chemicals must be purchased as a part of a proprietary program.

Instead, I imagined swarms of spider-shaped robots with travel legs long enough to keep their body suspended above the crops. Work arms, tipped with sensors and tools, could maneuver to any spot.

Monday, April 18, 2016

How to Save the World

How to Save the World

In my family, both of my parents are dying and my grandchildren are about to inherit the earth. Dad spent many years on an assembly line making cars. I worked at refineries making gasoline. He enjoyed traveling and drove to California 23 times, just for starters. I live in a very small rural town and don’t think twice about driving 60 miles round trip just for a special supper out. Have we made it more unlikely that our children’s children will have a world worth inheriting?

Thinking about the many issues of ecology and economics makes my head want to explode. Nevertheless, somehow, it still seems important enough to try to wrap my mind around it. If not for me, than for the ones I love. It turns out that smart people of good will are actually starting to get a handle on all of this. Some scientists are focusing on barely-imaginable details. Other researchers are backing off far enough to get an overall picture of the entire forest of environmental and social issues.

Surely, it is obvious that our finite world cannot sustain infinite growth. We must discover, meet and deal with limits to growth. Yet, we continue to expect that every nation’s Gross Domestic Product (GDP) must always continue to grow to provide improving standards of living for a growing percent of our populations. Something has to give.

Monday, April 11, 2016

Forgiveness of Debt

Forgiveness of Debt

Jesus Christ taught his disciples to pray for forgiveness as they forgave others. Various translators have given this injunction as forgiveness of “trespasses,” “sins,” or “debts.” While we can speculate endlessly about how such Christian forgiveness should work out in practice, the sense of the idea reflects a certain recurring traditional social contract. When we owe something, we should attend to repaying it. Further, it is wrong to expect leniency if we ourselves are impatient and demanding. However, individuals should not be reduced to intractable permanent poverty.

Many cultures institutionalize forgiveness of both moral and economic debts. For instance, the Law of Moses to the Jews directed that there be a periodic “Jubilee” year in which certain debts were to be forgiven. This has been described was “…a self-regulating system that deleveraged itself before credit bubbles grew out of control…” Also, the Koran holds a similar instruction that “… if (the debtor) is in [serious straits], then let there be postponement until (he is in) ease … and that you remit it as alms is better for you…” For what it’s worth, the Jubilee law even prescribed that farm land be given a rest every seven years so that it had a chance to recover and restore productivity.

Many people were aware of the “Occupy Wall Street” (OWS) protests at their peak, but now think that the movement has disappeared. Actually, it only got quieter while it organized a variety of initiatives. OWS volunteers were some of the most active responders in the aftermath of Hurricane Sandy.

One of the many OWS projects is “Rolling Jubilee,” which uses donated funds to buy-up private debt (such as college loans) for pennies on the dollar – like collection agencies do. But, instead of hounding the debtor, it forgives the debt. In just their first month, they raised $474,723 to abolish $9,499,377 as an act of “mutual support and good will in pursuit of a new world based on common good, not Wall Street profits.”

Today, many people find themselves in increasingly difficult and overwhelming circumstances. Without adequate health insurance, serious illnesses in families account for 60% of personal bankruptcies. Situations such as ballooning mortgages, being laid off, or college loans without having a living-wage job, can be devastating as well. We don’t have to overspend to land in this kind of debt. The working poor and middle class have faced decades of degenerating economic headwinds (including fewer and poorer jobs) while bankers and corporations win increasing legislative favors and record profits.

OWS is not the only group that views modern investment banks and nonbank financial companies as increasingly predatory – using deceptive and abusive practices. That is why the Obama administration formed the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau and nominated Elizabeth Warren to be its head. The CFPB began overseeing debt collection agencies (including $850 billion in student loans) at the start of 2013.


Frankly, our national economy is currently “awash in unpayable debt.” Financial institutions are already sometimes obliged to “take a haircut” by canceling a portion of each other’s debt. International banks have allowed entire countries to recover their economies through debt forgiveness. We will be seeing a growing national conversation develop about the possible benefits of consumer debt relief.

David Satterlee

Monday, April 4, 2016

Jobs: Part 2: Disintermediation

Jobs: Part 2: Disintermediation

Whatever happened to all the travel agents, filling station attendants, and encyclopedia salesmen? It turns out they were middlemen – intermediaries between you and what you wanted. Therefore, you can say that, when we found ways to do their jobs more directly, they were “disintermediated.”

These days, it is ever-more-common to “cut out the middleman.” You book your own travel, pump your own gas, and easily search for information about any subject that interests you by using Internet search engines. The Encyclopedia Britannica has stopped printing paper volumes. Voluntary curators and editors contribute articles to Wikipedia, a free on-line encyclopedia with an increasingly solid reputation. Tesla Motors is working toward their vision of bypassing dealerships to sell electric automobiles directly to the public.

Monday, March 28, 2016

Jobs-Part 1: Automation

Jobs-Part 1: Automation

Whatever happened to all the elevator operators, telephone switchboard operators, cabbage pickers and tollbooth collectors? These and many thousands of other jobs have been eliminated by automation technology. On the bright side, we can now directly dial almost any phone in the world and not have to worry about watching our seconds on long distance calls. But, these are jobs, for you and your neighbors, that will never come back.

Our losing so many jobs to machines is not the end of the world or the end of work, but it is traumatic. The changing nature of work (and availability of jobs) will create some economic challenges. You see senior citizens sacking groceries when they would rather be holding their grandbabies or nursing their bunions. You see college graduates assembling grease-burgers (hold the ketchup) when they would rather be building their families and paying off their student loans.

We’ve gone through this before. Whatever happened to tanners, weavers, cobblers, and blacksmiths? Those were the days of craftsmen, apprentices, and hand-carved ornamentation on furniture. You could tell who had made a piece by the personal touches in its design. You took care of what you owned because you knew that years of experience, hours of labor and, sometimes, sweat and blood went into its production.

Monday, March 7, 2016

The NRA Speaks Out Against Packing Heat

The NRA Speaks Out Against Packing Heat

It may surprise you to discover that the National Rifle Association has recently strayed quite far from its traditional moderate views to embrace much more radical policies. For instance, the position of the NRA on carrying guns in public has changed over time.

Has the leadership of the NRA embraced the developing maturation of American social conscience, or have they been lured to pander to the interests of weapon manufacturers? I usually try to resist cut-and-paste columns, but I want to offer some cherry-picked quotations drawn from “academic histories of the NRA” for your consideration.

“I have never believed in the general practice of carrying weapons. I do not believe in the general promiscuous toting of guns. I think it should be sharply restricted and only under licenses.” - NRA President Karl T. Frederick, praising state gun control laws when he testified in Congress before the 1938 federal gun control law passed.