Monday, December 28, 2015

A New Story for America

A New Story for America

Some stories that we tell about ourselves are constructive. Of course, we should want to be “the land of the free and home of the brave.” On the other hand, ideas such as defending “the American way of life” may be destructive. Huh? What was that?

This old American way of life has involved the belief that “we’re the best.” Although it is a practical impossibility, you can still hear it at every team rally. It involved the belief that everyone is special so that every child in a group had to receive an award for something. It involved the belief that “we deserve the best” just because we are us. We spent decades being urged to put anything we wanted on credit; America was going to spend its way into prosperity. And then the bubble burst.

Friday, December 25, 2015

Me and My Kitties

Me and My Kitties

Well, here I lay. I’m with my cats.
We’re all just having kitty chats.
Right now, I’m talking most somehow
‘cause they don’t hardly say meow.

The small one is my favorite kitty;
Silky fur makes her so pretty.
I think that petting her is grand
And then she sometimes licks my hand.

I tell her that she’s lots of fun
And how she is my favorite one.
She yawns again and starts to stare.
She might have noticed that I’m there.

She’ll warm my lap and let me pet her.
She’ll stay forever if I let her.
She’s hears another kitty cry
And runs away with no goodbye.

Or maybe she just left to nibble
Several bites of kitty kibble.
Or maybe she just went away
To go do something else today.

Cats are great to have around.
They’re good to talk to, I have found.
Cats love to hear all that I say…
Until they’re bored and go away.

David Satterlee

Monday, December 21, 2015

Living by Our Stories

Living by Our Stories

The stories that we tell each other explain our world and give meaning to our lives. Our stories illustrate our cultural values and model our desired virtues. They teach moral lessons and set the foundation for our debates. Thus, we should think carefully about our chosen stories and beliefs.

When you were young, were you told to be good because Santa Claus knew if you were naughty or nice? Even the stories that we openly acknowledge as myths or fables are repeated to illustrate what we should or should not do and how we should relate to others. For instance, the story of Pandora’s Box illustrates the bad that can happen from disobeying the instructions of someone older and wiser. Believing that thunder is the laughter of the gods can help ease a child’s fear.

This week, Public Policy Polling (a highly ranked organization with a history of reliable results) examined widespread conspiracy theories sometimes held by American voters.

Friday, December 18, 2015

Finding Love at the Cat House

Finding Love at the Cat House

Lillian Schumacher was, shall we say, on the far side of middle-aged. She had been widowed for the past eight years and was feeling persistently lonely. She hadn’t had any success at all in filling the sometimes desperate, aching, isolated, emptiness that plagued her soul. Her cats were a comfort, but they didn’t take the place of the companionship she had enjoyed with her husband before he passed.

Lillian had certainly done her due diligence. She had volunteered at the local hospital, participated in food drives and bake sales, joined church-sponsored groups of mixed singles, and even subscribed to the big-city newspaper so that she could scan obituaries for recent widowers. Being a woman of reasonably good character and self-esteem, she gave that up about as quickly as her brief inspection of the talent at the local bars.

To put it bluntly, Lillian had finally decided that she wanted a man and she wanted one soon. Fortunately, Lillian was still smart enough, worldly enough and self-possessed enough to tolerate some deferred gratification. “Damn,” she thought, “If eight years isn’t sufficient deferred gratification, I don’t know what is.” Still, Lillian wanted a particular kind of man and she was determined to be as patient and persistent as necessary. But, she had several problems to deal with first.

Monday, December 14, 2015

Getting to Happy

Getting to Happy

The United Nations recently declared the first International Happiness Day. What’s not to like about individual and general happiness? After all, our national culture is founded on an expectation of “life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.” So, what can we all do to get happier?

One of the things that I learned, while working for Amoco Oil Company, was the management principle that “what gets measured gets done.” The idea is that a leader must not only establish expectations, but create a way to measure progress and provide feedback to those who are responsible for, or affected by, the changes needed to achieve goals. (He or she must also find ways to reward those who promote that progress and punish those who obstruct it.)

The United States has used “Gross Domestic Product” (GDP) as a measure of economic activity since the Great Depression. Our measure of GDP has persistently improved; it has doubled since the 1960s. Yet, the economist who devised the GDP once warned Congress that “the welfare of a nation can … scarcely be inferred from a measurement of national income.”

Friday, December 11, 2015

Driving Ma Crazy

Driving Ma Crazy

Ma wanted to get out of the house and do a little shopping, so Pa drove Ma to downtown Kansas City. The plan was that he would drop her off in front of Macy’s Department Store and pick her up again there at precisely 4 o’clock in the afternoon. Pa had some errands that he needed to run, including dropping in on some friends that he liked to keep up with. The plan was specific and foolproof. They had pulled this off repeatedly in the past and there was no reason to think that it wouldn’t work today.

And so, they each went their separate ways. Pa stayed to have lunch with Luke and Brenda who mentioned that Jerry was laid up in the hospital with a broken leg. So, he spent a few hours with his old friend Jerry before hurrying off to catch up on his errands. He needed to buy a replacement headlamp for the car, two pounds of 8-penny, nails, a couple of shirts for himself and a scarf to give Ma on their anniversary, just two days from now. He congratulated himself on his thoughtfulness and consideration for the woman he loved.

Monday, December 7, 2015

Positive Personal Emotions

Positive Personal Emotions

Traditionally, psychology has focused on identifying and treating mental disease. However, the new field of positive psychology can help us identify and cultivate personal strengths so as to pursue happiness and enjoy positive emotions. This constructive outlook frees us from heavy burdens of regret for our past, unnecessary sadness in our present, and fear of our future.

Many people spend too much time entertaining sorrow, blame, and guilt over events from their past. However, the past is unchangeable. All we can do now is contemplate the past, learn from it, accept our present situation and decide how we intend to move on. Consuming ourselves with negativity is never productive. If we want to be able to forgive others and want others to be able to forgive us, we must start with learning how to accept our own forgiveness.

The present is what we have. Right now, we can experience this moment, interpret it for better or worse and make a choice. We can be happier if we act virtuously – in harmony with our values. Many people have realized that acting out of harmony with their values produces a lot of unnecessary stress.

Friday, December 4, 2015

Moving Out

Moving Out

John sat in the back of his grandson’s college American History class. The professor had assigned the students to talk to family members and ask if any of them had memories of “the struggle for racial equality.” And, if they did, would they please volunteer to speak to the class next week, the 50th anniversary of the 1963 civil rights “March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom” and Dr. King’s “I Have a Dream” speech. John waited patiently while the professor took attendance and handed back grades. Students kept glancing back at him — the paunchy old man wedged into an extra writing desk.
So, here he was now — a white guy about to pontificate on an old black issue. “No.” John thought, “Things may have gotten better overall, but for some, the problem is still an open wound. Even where it has scabbed-over, the injury is unhealed and easily reopened. And, it’s not just ‘an old black issue;’ but a corruption that still eats at the minds and hearts of too many people still walking around while wearing a cloak of false respectability.” John scribbled another thought in the margin of his notes just as he was invited to the front of the class. He began:

Monday, November 30, 2015

Positive Institutions

Positive Institutions

As Americans, the “pursuit of happiness” is an important concept. The branch of psychology called “positive psychology” introduced a focus on creating mental health. Positive psychology can also help us enjoy positive institutions. Of course, personal traits strengthen us as individuals, build character and help us to be happy. Positive institutions are also built on the strengths and traits of their organizing principles, their leaders, and others who are associated with them.

“Institutions” include much more than our schools, workplaces and governments. Families are one notable example of institutions. And so, we are actually talking about, not only family values, but the quality of all of the organizations to which we belong. We can also think of our cultural ideals of democratic group decision-making and personal access to free inquiry as institutional strengths that promote happiness.

Friday, November 27, 2015

Walking Out

Walking Out

John sat on his podiatrist’s examination table. You know the feeling. Bored. Anxious. Impatient. Resigned. He looked around the room, hoping to find something interesting. Anatomy posters. Jars of supplies. Latex gloves; size XL. A tube of lubricant. John shuddered involuntarily as his imagination kicked in.

John was a thinker and a dreamer. He was introspective and lived in his head. He had been thinking about the course of his life and, especially, his increasingly-submissive relationship to the authority of the medical establishment. It occurred to him that there was something about losing control of his choices, and even control of his own body, that was deeply disturbing.

John knew this large clinic and he knew examination room 4; he had been here before. He had also been in Room 2 twice and in Room 1 once. That was an interesting coincidence. He had committed to some minor surgery in this room last spring. They had wheeled him down the hall to an outpatient surgery room to remove a small itching growth from a place on his back that he could neither see nor scratch. It only took a few minutes but had cost a fortune.

John was still paying it off, $75 per month, and also still paying off earlier run-ins with medical care. He had been declared disabled and awarded access to Medicare, but his share of the costs of staying alive still seemed to persistently eat into his ability to have any satisfaction in life. He felt helpless and hopeless.

Monday, November 23, 2015

Cultural Heroes in Difficult Times

Cultural Heroes in Difficult Times

Thank you to those who told me that they missed my columns during the last few months. [Summer, 2012, ed.] We were getting into the last convulsions of some very bitter political campaigns. I felt strongly tempted to respond to the upwelling of political partisanship by fighting a battle of ideas in print. Lord, some of those letters to the editor got me steamed. Instead, I put a bumper sticker on my car that said: “You are entitled to your own opinions, but not your own facts.”

I almost got sucked into arguing with the undoubting faithful from the other side. That has variously been compared to “confronting a shadow in a knife fight,” “grabbing the ears of an angry dog” and “throwing pearls before swine.” Nothing good can come of it.

On the other hand, I believe we should persistently doubt our own assumptions, opinions and preconceived notions. It’s like I used to tell my boys, “It’s okay to talk to yourself and it’s even okay to argue with yourself, but when you start to lose those arguments, it’s time to start asking new questions.”

Friday, November 20, 2015

Bobby's Down the Well

Bobby's Down the Well

Curiously, a female collie named Lassie appeared way back in 1859 in Elizabeth Gaskell’s book “The Half-brothers.” More recently, the TV show “Lassie” ran for 591 episodes, between 1954 and 1974. There were a few additional outbreaks of Lassie in the 1990s. The show featured a female collie named Lassie (played by at least nine different male dogs).

Timmy, played by Jon Provost, appeared as a runaway in the Miller’s barn in the 4th season. That same year, the actor who played George Miller bought the farm (pun intended). The show was reorganized and the Martins bought the farm (pun not intended). Evidently Timmy and Lassie came with the deal as the Martins adopted him and kept the pooch too.

Cloris Leachman (who, admittedly, has talent and continues to find work) initially played Ruth Martin. However, the very next season, June Lockhart magically showed up as Ruth. [I consider this to be an improvement; I once had a bit of a crush on June Lockhart.]

June eventually went on to fame and fortune as Mrs. Robinson in the iconic science fiction saga, “Lost in Space,” in which the Robot was a lot like Lassie except he got better lines such as “Danger Will Robinson,” which became a popular catch-phrase.

Monday, November 16, 2015

Understanding and Responding to Terrorism

Terrorism is a symptom of persistent social problems. It seeks to express resistance and create change by means of out-sized aggression. It uses “blind criminal violence” to motivate others to include the terrorist in their calculus of choices and behavior – or weaken themselves by reacting poorly.

Terrorism is usually a form of communication that is meant to produce powerful emotional responses. Whatever motivates any given terrorist, we are obliged to notice their act. Certainly, understanding terrorists’ motives is vital to designing an appropriate counter-terrorism response. Terrorism is not a single-issue problem and does not have a single-tactic solution.

Several years ago, I had the opportunity to discuss terrorism with James Hippensteel, a professor of history in North Carolina. He startled me with an observation that I remember as: “Terrorism is the last resort of the desperate and impotent to gain recognition of their grievances and prosecute their struggle against a superior and overwhelming power.” Dr. Hippensteel was careful to point out that he was not arguing that the use of terrorism was defensible but that, like smoke from a fire, it should be recognized as an indicator of an underlying unresolved issue.

Initially, I thought this “last desperate resort” observation on terrorism only applied to those who were oppressed and disenfranchised. These might include peoples experiencing genocide, slavery or subjugation. I thought of these as fundamentally sympathetic people, deserving empathy and active intercession. There are certainly many whose lives feel so hopeless that it becomes easier to choose to die than continue to struggle. And, why not die with honor, believing your death has meaning?

Eventually, it occurred to me that terrorism is also used by those who are very isolated and inflexible such as primitive tribes, authoritarian religions, and the politically indoctrinated. I thought of these people as deserving careful nurturing while they are encouraged to learn how to relate to their neighbors with greater maturity.

Later, I recognized that terrorists include some who simply seek to gain some advantage and have no compunctions about hurting others to get what they want. I think of these as sociopaths, deserving contempt and active prosecution to prevent their continuing aggression.

Finally, just when I was self-satisfied with my analysis and deconstruction, I realized that most terrorists fall under more than one of these categories. The world’s problems are complicated and any effort to resolve them requires well-informed, nuanced, manifold, dynamic and flexible responses.

Topics included below:
  • Terrorism Motives and Objectives
  • Counterterrorism Tactics  Methods and Options
  • Strategic Responses to Terrorism
  • Summary

Friday, November 13, 2015

The Awakening

The Awakening

A Fergus Johnson story of gender relations

Fergus and Julie are two kids just finishing high school. Fergus has always lived in this town; Julie moved here almost two years ago at the start of her Junior year. They will both graduate soon, but have not, yet, actually decided what they plan to do with their lives.

Fergus and Julie are not, in any sense, you know, “Fergus-And-Julie.” They have seen each other around and go to the same church. They have been in Algebra and Geometry classes together and, in their Junior year, were in the same Senior Class production of The Sound of Music where Julie had a leading part that involved singing and dancing.

Fergus is strongly attracted to Julie but hasn’t done much about it; he knows that he has his faults. He is not an athlete, nor very adept socially, and so is not popular with the “in” girls. He is, in fact, a little nerdy, but not so much that he is an actual dork. Yes, that about does it.

Julie is unusually short; not at all like the statuesque beauties with long legs that go all the way to the floor. She is whip-smart, moves with grace, and as you might expect, loves to sing and dance. She knows that she has her faults, but being Julie has always been a good thing.

Fergus likes to watch Julie, especially when she dances. Julie has noticed Fergus watching her, but Fergus has never noticed Julie taking any particular notice of him.

Monday, November 9, 2015

The Future of Unsustainable Development

The Future of Unsustainable Development

Most of us have heard the phrase “sustainable development” and perhaps a little about initiatives related to sustainable development such as Agenda 21 and the Earth Charter. Many communities are exploring these principles in the hope of heading off (or at least moderating) future catastrophes.

Critics of organized sustainable development describe it as a massive international conspiracy to deprive us of individual and capitalistic rights. Actually, ignoring sustainability could actually deprive us of freedoms. In fact, if we don’t start making better decisions and addressing important sustainability problems now, we certainly will lose many options that we currently take for granted. Either someone will step in to save us from ourselves, or abandon us to the consequences that we bring down upon our own heads. My bet is that several billion people will die in crisis and conflict before we adapt to the effects of our changing climate.

Since we started living in communities, part of the deal has always been that we can’t always do or take just anything we want. In America, our constitution grants generous freedoms and liberties, but civility and justice demand that our rights end in the vicinity of where our neighbors’ rights begin. The authority the American founding fathers wisely gave us to regulate ourselves through government ensures important protections to us all.

Some insist that all natural resources are given by God to man to own, subdue, and have dominion over (Genesis 1:28). Further, they argue that man was given the physical and mental powers to accomplish this dominion. However, this same scripture instructed him to be fruitful, multiply and fill the earth – with no mention of limits. This sounds to me like a command to exercise responsible, sustainable stewardship rather than a grant of free license to dig, build, spew, kill and destroy.

Frankly, America has thrived economically for centuries based on the exploitation of its abundant land, rivers, trees and mineral resources. However, Native Americans discovered how little that freedoms and rights mattered when private and business interests decided that, “they weren’t using it, so why not just take it?” Now that national and global resources are becoming scarce, who will be next to suffer from the greed of exploiters, and who will we depend on to stop them?

Do we personally exploit? Automobiles, the open road and cheap gasoline have been taken for granted as definingly American. A gas-guzzling vehicle is a public symbol of status and achievement. Free public roads are also taken for granted. We act as if we deserve the unlimited option to live, work, play, shop, commute, and just drive around at will.

However, continued, unrestrained and unregulated exploitation and consumption are not sustainable. We may think that only people we don’t know and don’t care about are going to suffer. The fact is that the vast majority of Americans are already experiencing the effects of unsustainability. Our children will certainly suffer profoundly.

Only the very rich have the resources to consume, waste and pollute conspicuously without immediate personal consequence. Believe me, they are fighting for every political edge to protect their place of preeminent advantage and control.

Do you care about your grandchildren? Start explaining to them now about the importance of sustainability. And, introduce them to the principles behind Agenda 21 and the Earth Charter.

David Satterlee

Friday, November 6, 2015

From a Distance

From a Distance

From a distance, all you hear is the persistent drone, barely audible, like somebody else’s mosquito. I guess that’s why they call them drones. They can linger up there for days, watching and waiting, probably relieving each other like on-duty patrol cops — like slow-motion tag-team wrestling — like owls, waiting for a mouse to make a careless move.

From a distance, the sound recedes into the background cacophony of fans running, children playing, dogs barking, and the shrill horns of motor scooters in traffic. It blends into the sound of life that reassures grandmothers that all is well when they wake momentarily from their afternoon nap. It is the sound of sudden and inescapable death — the thunderbolt of foreign gods thrown from heaven in retribution for unknown sins.

From a distance, remote operators watch, and guide, and drink Coca Cola, and decide who will live and who will die and when. You cannot know the faces of these nameless watchers. You cannot invite them to your daughter’s wedding or your uncle’s funeral.

Monday, November 2, 2015

Forgetting the Future

Forgetting the Future

I recently wrote about the important effect that our emotional approach to “now” has on our happiness. Guilt about our past should inform our choices, but not overwhelm our ability to enjoy a better life. “Now” is precious because it is our only opportunity to enjoy the moment, do something virtuous or make a decision to improve the future.

There are those in the new-age movement who seem obsessed with the current moment that is now. These people hold that, because the past and future cannot be directly experienced, they are no better than illusions — the only thing that can happen is happening now. This is true enough, as far as it goes.

Friday, October 30, 2015

Eating Seed Corn

Eating Seed Corn

It wasn’t supposed to happen like this.

At the end of this shift, we’re going to space two of the crew. This will be our first “culling.” Everybody understands why this is necessary. It’s a matter of optimizing the chances of survival for the others. I just found out who we’re going to lose and I need to take a few minutes for myself before I make the announcement to the crew that is gathering in the Commons Hall.

I never imagined I might have to make decisions like this. I am Chairman of the “Deallocation Methodology Committee” that designed the selection algorithm. The calculation includes a dynamic model of functional and social interactions and involves factors such as individual resource loads and contributory potential.

The first thing I insisted on was that all members of the Committee sign “opt-in” papers that increase their selection weighting by four percent. I also insisted that there be no secondary review process where power plays could corrupt the impersonal fairness of the calculation. I insisted that the deallocated personnel not be present at the meeting where their selection was announced but that the announcement and a memory service be held after the fact. The rest of the algorithm is kept in confidence, but is approved by Council.

Monday, October 26, 2015

If It Ain’t Broke, Don’t Fix It

If It Ain’t Broke, Don’t Fix It

I ran errands today. Every step helped to clarify a distinction between conservative and liberal values that has been itching in the corners of my mind: Conservatives like to harvest what they can; they tend to avoid risk and evade personal responsibility for needed change. Liberals like to create and build; they tend to take personal and collective initiative when change is needed.
I live in a conservative rural area and do business in a nearby conservative town. Everywhere I stopped to take care of an errand, I met a situation that needed improvement and people who felt no responsibility for making things better.

My wife, Dianna, and I had decided to cancel our regional newspaper subscription. The circulation representative told her that it was easier if we just let funds, already in our account, run out and so we agreed to accept daily delivery of birdcage liner for another six weeks. Naturally, we were surprised to receive a renewal notice in the mail. I took the invoice into the circulation department. A slightly huffy lady told me not to worry, that I had a stop-date card in the drawer and that’s just the way their computer works. I was irritated but held my tongue. I’m a retired computer systems manager and have strong sensibilities about responsible data management.

Friday, October 23, 2015

The Special Pass

The Special Pass

The “Special Pass” hung on a hook by the door of Mrs. Applegate’s fifth grade classroom. The policy was that anyone was allowed to use it, one person at a time, pretty-much as needed. Lord knows, everybody needs a mental-health moment from time to time. The expectation was that no one, except in exceptional circumstances known to the teacher, should need to use it more than several times a week. It was a great system — appreciated and respected by all.

The thing about the Special Pass was that it was, indeed, very, very special. You put it around your neck, stepped out the classroom door and into a very real place that was “somewhere else.” You took the time you needed and, when you were ready, you just walked back through the door, which waited for you, upright on the floor, or ground, or beach — wherever you had gone. And, the best part was that nobody had to wait for you to come back because, however long you spent in your somewhere else, it seemed to everyone back in the classroom as if you had just turned around and walked back in, except in a better mood.

Experience had demonstrated that the “somewhere else” was both flexible and invariably safe. You were always alone, you were anywhere you could imagine that would give a satisfactory time-out, and nothing bad ever happened there. Never. Ever.

Monday, October 19, 2015

A Criticism of Literary Criticism

A Criticism of Literary Criticism

While in college, I took an obligatory literature class. I’m sure the school believed that this would make me a better person. Well, actually, it probably did. I read some good stuff and then some other stuff and then I had to think about it. So far, so good.

However, you can’t escape a literature class without being exposed to the insanity of ‘literary criticism.’ At first, I tried to take it seriously. I tried to imitate my mentors and masters. But, the more I tried, the more I cried. No, no, no. This was not an occupation for reasonable people with something useful to occupy their time.

I threw a hissy-fit. I wrote and submitted the following:

Friday, October 16, 2015

Mister Perfect

Mister Perfect

Sandy (Sandra-Jane to her father when she was growing up and he was not pleased) was eating supper alone. She didn’t entirely mind being alone. Generally, men had been a disappointment in her life. Her mouth was full of the focaccia that had come with her salad course, but she smiled anyway as her active mind produced a triptych of association-memories. “A woman needs a man like a fish needs a bicycle.” [Irina Dunn/Gloria Steinem]; “Men are just carriers of bad jokes and flatulence.” [Scott Adams, Dilbert]; and “The odds are good, but the goods are odd.” [Robert Masello, Blood and Ice]. Yes, that was worth a grin. It was even worth the small snort that threatened to blow crumbs out her nose.

Speaking of men, there was an odd one right now, sitting in profile in her field of view. He was also having his salad. He was certainly taking his time. He would pick up his knife to slice things just so. Next, with a small frown of intense concentration, he would dip his fork into a side of dressing and impale first one item and then another in some kind of deliberate construction until it was just right. Finally, lifting his salad-kabob carefully past his lips he chewed in quiet contentment and distracted contemplation before resuming the ceremony.

Sandy experienced an old and not-unwelcome warming as she imagined him nibbling on her ear lobe and kissing the back of her neck with the same kind of intensity he was committing to his food.

Monday, October 12, 2015

Is Big Data Dangerous?

Is Big Data Dangerous?

I have been giving away personal data all my life. In 1959, when I first filled out a coupon in the back of a comic book, I started getting related offers in the mail. It is no surprise that computers make keeping these lists easier and that social networks collect the life details we share. “Big data” computer algorithms now connect the mass of breadcrumbs we leave behind, making assumptions about our habits and preferences.

For many years, marketers and advertisers have been collecting and using information about us and we have been cheerfully cooperating. Subscribe to Bride magazine and wedding service companies will know your intentions before your boyfriend does. Today, free apps on our cell phones offer us remarkable services and we eagerly install and use them. However, do not be surprised that, “If the app is free, you are the product.”

Friday, October 9, 2015

Icky Old Men

Icky Old Men

We are about to meet Judy and Ruth Ann — two hawt gurlz who work the same shift serving drive-through ice cream. They are not sexay chix, but are both perky and kind of pretty. This may have been an unspoken qualification for their being hired. They neither knew nor cared.

They have never given any deliberate thought to the perks of being pretty. The blessed ease of acquitting their lives comes with the same presumption of privilege as being free, white and 21, which they will be in a few years, as well. On the other hand, they are well-acquainted with the burdens of their pulchritude.

People look at pretty girls. People stare at pretty girls — especially boys do. It’s usually kind of nice to be looked at by boys — especially the kind of young men who exude virility and strut their masculinity like a mating Greater Sage-grouse. The attention feels nice enough to move you to join into this self-reinforcing behavior by wearing pretty-damn-attractive outfits, holding and moving yourself with more than a hint of competitive pride, and, you know, being preternaturally perky.

Monday, October 5, 2015

Computers: Servants or Masters?

Computers: Servants or Masters?

Computers help us to be (or appear to be) smarter. Of course, they (1) help us to count and calculate faster. They also (2) expand our capacity to remember. Even when they seem to make us lazy about having to memorize facts, there is no denying they give us rapid access to what we, and the rest of humanity, have recorded. Further, digital technology helps us to rapidly (3) find, connect to and communicate with distant people. The equivalent of Dick Tracy’s wrist communicator is now widely available. My goodness.

All three of the above are examples of “external human augmentation.” My former career was heavily involved with all manner of computers, from micro-controllers in instruments to IBM mainframes. Now, in an era of “big data,” computers are combing through unimaginably large pools of information to predict business opportunities, invent undiscovered chemical reactions and recognize patterns of weather, disease, and crime. Computers predict the kinds of advertisements that will make us pause and look. They can build custom products to our specifications and translate any web page into dozens of languages.

In 1986, I discovered the article, “Computing as a Tool for Human Augmentation” by W. J. Doherty and W. G. Pope in the IBM Systems Journal. They pointed out that,

Friday, October 2, 2015



A Fergus Johnson story of gender relations

Fergus and his wife, Doris, were driving to town. He had a doctor’s appointment to follow-up on his new prescription for high blood pressure. They had both begun watching their salt intake and enjoyed seeing themselves lose a few pounds of water weight.

Fergus had done some additional research and decided to also reduce the sources of stress in his life. He began by declining to accept a new project at work until he was closer to finishing the ones he was already committed to. Doris, knew how worked-up he could get in city traffic, and volunteered to drive.

Seeing a group of girls, standing together in front of a store, Fergus turned his gaze to look at them. There were four, dressed in casual summer clothes — unusually bright colors — two were wearing shorts. One of the girls in shorts had particularly well-shaped legs — not those little toothpick legs so common on high school kids.

Doris saw him look. It didn’t usually bother her. Fergus tended to have high situational awareness. Doris reminded herself that he was a “keen observer of life." He frequently pointed out interesting details to her. Doris smiled as she recalled the time that she had made the humorous observation that Fergus was also “a keen observer of women.”

Tuesday, September 29, 2015

Help Children Learn to 'Pay it Forward.'

"It was a pleasure to help Dianna, my wife, prepare her new children's picture book for publication. 'Saturdays at the Bijou' is autobiographical; it describes yet another episode in her surprising and delightful life. It encourages children to 'pay it forward' and create stories in their own lives that they will want to tell."

Monday, September 28, 2015

Reason for Optimism

Reason for Optimism

I feel strongly about unresolved issues (such as climate change) and write about them with a sense of urgency. Still, I hold a personal optimism that problems will eventually be addressed and adequately resolved. Let me tell you a story.

Back in the early 1990s, I belonged to an engineering department of Amoco Oil Company and started agitating about what eventually became known as the "Y2K problem." That is, most computerized data tables and program algorithms held dates using only the last two digits of the year. The problem was that dates after 1999 would appear to be a hundred years earlier than they actually were. The vast majority of computer programs would malfunction if they were not rewritten. No bank, florist or traffic light could be assumed to be immune.

My hair was on fire about this issue but I didn't seem to be getting any traction with my management. But, about 18 months before crisis time, the whole world seemed to spontaneously generate a burst of awareness and activity. Specialty consulting and contracting firms suddenly appeared, along with emergency appropriations from senior management, to undertake the work. Some program applications were systematically combed and rewritten; some were simply replaced with newer programs. It was an inconceivably massive and complex international effort.

A few companies suffered temporarily for their inattention or incompetence, but most of the world got the job done. January 1, 2000 came and went. Most of our lights didn't go out and our bank deposits didn't disappear. There was a related story about an airplane on cruise control that turned itself upside down when it crossed the equator. The world gave a collective sigh of relief, shook their heads at all the silliness and tucked in to watch reruns of Bonanza and comment that nothing much had come of all the fuss over New Coke either.

In the local news today, there is a new project to build 170 wind turbines on the slightly higher ground just north of my small Iowa town. Local governments in Southern California have committed to make the greater Los Angeles basin energy- and water-independent by 2050. It's almost enough to make me an optimist.

David Satterlee

Saturday, September 26, 2015

Unconditional Positive Regard

"If your partner in life, child, friend or pet makes a bid for your attention, don't turn away. For this moment, they need your unconditional positive regard. This is more than one of the greatest gifts you can give; it is the key to making and keeping satisfying relationships."

Friday, September 25, 2015

The Chain of Command

The Chain of Command

The human interstellar exploration vessel “Serendipity” had been in orbit around the planet of a newly-discovered advanced civilization for 23 shipdays. The initial excitement had finally died down. They had not been peremptorily shot out of the sky. 

The LIPs (Local Indigenous Population) had been genuinely cordial. Scientists, linguists and technicians had made rapid progress in exchanging data. The crew had been startled that the aliens wore no clothing at all except for a bag, suspended from their hump, where they tucked all manner of things. And so, they began to call the planet-side beings “Tuckers,” and the appellation stuck like over-done spaghetti to a wall.

The crew passed around the rumor that an initial formal diplomatic visit was being planned. Preparations put the crew back into extended duties; tensions were boiling over; something was definitely cooking. And, so it was. An officer had been selected to go down to the Tuckers’ planet.

For most of those on-board, this alien contact was the culmination of otherwise-unfruitful careers. Interstellar duty tended to the uneventful. Normally, the crew had little to do except master their duties, chew the fat with friends, and plug into the media center – vegetating for hours at a time. Naturally, the crew was drooling over the prestigious work ahead; they were already savoring the sweet taste of success and promotions to gravy posts back on Earth.

Robert C. “Bobby” Saunders was a full Bird Colonel. [For those who may not know, a “Bird Colonel” is a common, but not formal, term that refers to the silver emblem of an eagle with its wings spread (also sometimes called “chicken wings”) that is worn by full Colonels.] As you have probably noticed, Colonel Saunders’ name is an unfortunate distraction, especially as it was well-known that he hailed from Kentucky, one of the sixty-three Federated States. However, this bears no immediate relevance in this story, so we shall simply call him “Bobby.”

Tuesday, September 22, 2015

Do You Know a Complainer?

"Criticizing and complaining spring from the same well of anger combined with impotence. Do you prefer to play the victim or the problem-solver? Would you rather be an anchor or a sail? Besides, persistence and success beat the alternative."

Monday, September 21, 2015

Remembering my Dad

Remembering my Dad

My father, William H. (Bill) Satterlee, was 90 years old when he died last week. [January 13, 2013] He started having “spells” and was hospitalized just before Christmas in the southern Missouri town where one of my brothers and his clan live. Dad’s body and mind started shutting down and he never recovered.

I made a point of visiting him in the hospital that first week. It turned out that I was able to share some of his last lucid hours. I arrived in the early evening, shortly after the others had left for the day. I helped him finish eating his supper. We enjoyed several hours of sharing stories and catching up on news. The nurses made up a foldout chair and I stayed with him for the night. I fed Dad breakfast in the morning. He told me how to dilute his Cream of Wheat with milk just right so that I could hold it up while he drank it through a straw.

Bill worked hard and played hard too. He was a quiet and modest man, but his eyes could sparkle with mischief before pulling a surprise. He worked on a railroad bridge crew before going to prison in Fort Leavenworth during World War II as a conscientious objector.

Saturday, September 19, 2015

Are You Ruled by Your Emotions?

"Think outside your own limbic system. Don't let the deep ruts of your familiar emotional reactions control how you feel, what you think and what you do. Take a breath. Look up. Ask a thoughtful question. Take a moment to listen to others."

Friday, September 18, 2015

Waking Up Grumpy

Waking Up Grumpy

A Fergus Johnson story of gender relations

It all started with a harmless but cynical little joke. It was the kind of old throw-away line that men and women repeat to each other when commiserating with their kind about the unsteadiness of their steady beau or the unfairness of the fairer sex.

Fergus was in the usual bar telling stories with his usual buddies from the office. It was too early in the evening (and they had had too few beers) for the regular ladies to start looking good. Fergus had just offered the “Did you wake up grumpy this morning? No I let her sleep,” joke. Really, it was lame and innocuous. It was just as likely that a girl at the chick table would look around and observe that “The odds are good, but the goods are odd.” No harm, no foul.

However, as it would happen, the gods, also having nothing better to do at that moment, heard him and looked up from their rather tedious game of Canasta. This could get interesting. Dagon glanced at Loki who rolled his eyes and said, “Why does everybody think I want to get involved in every lame-ass, ignorant, thankless dork with a bad attitude? Persephone kicked Loki’s shin under the table and he winced. Loki sighed with resignation and took his turn at meddling in the affairs of men.

“OK, how’s this?” Loki suggested. “Every morning, Fergus wakes up next to a different unknown woman in bed. They all have pre-existing histories with him that he doesn’t yet know about. It keeps up until his attitude improves.” Thor gave a leering grin and a big thumbs-up. Phaethon just curtly nodded his consent, followed by a smug smile as he

Tuesday, September 15, 2015

Introduce yourself to The Great Cosmic Happy Ass Card Company

Life would not be complete without the artful 'spiritual' humor of Diane English. Dear friends, discover your irreverent giggle bone and share the joy with your friends!

Monday, September 14, 2015

First, a Little Catching-up

First, a Little Catching-up

After completing Chum for Thought: Throwing Ideas into Dangerous Waters (2013), I set out to organize and back-up my writing files. I needed to get a handle on the usual collage of duplicates and versions. In the process, I rediscovered some beloved old friends that still give me “that icy tingle up and down my spine.” I’ve finally given some of these prodigal essays a home.

My father died since publishing my first book of essays. I’ve produced two writings about him. The first, “Remembering my Dad” was sized to appear as one of my columns in the Dayton Review. It leads off — right after this. The final essay, “How I Got from There to Here,” is also autobiographical.

“Honoring My Father,” is a natural companion piece that I have decided to not duplicate here. It is a memorium to the goodness in Dad’s life and an ironic take on the circumstances of a dysfunctional funeral. You can find it separately as its own small book. Naturally, I think it is a good read and recommend it to you.

David Satterlee

Saturday, September 12, 2015

Why to Divest in Oil, Coal and Gas

"The world's already-proven reserves of fossil fuels are five times the limit our children will live or die by. Burning carbon fuels is increasingly being seen as unethical, unsustainable and a threat to civilization. We cannot afford to burn these fuels to sustain the profits and stock values of oil, coal and gas companies."

Friday, September 11, 2015

I Told You So

A Fergus Johnson story of gender relations

You have to understand that discretion is often about what you choose to not say.

Fergus and his wife, Loraine, were on vacation in southern Arizona. It was more than a vacation, actually. They had decided that it was time to move to a warmer climate for him and a place kinder to allergies for her. So, they were also keeping their eyes open for climates and communities where they might like to live.

Fergus and Loraine enjoyed each other’s company and enjoyed exploring new places together. They noticed things and pointed them out to each other. They worked well together and they, especially, traveled well together. Sometimes, Loraine’s heart would swell with affection and she would spontaneously offer: “I love you.” More often than not, Fergus would be caught off-guard and look like a deer in headlights. Truth be told, getting that reaction might actually have been part of her motivation for saying it.

Wednesday, September 9, 2015

"Find me the wry wit who said, "I'll believe corporations are people when the state of Texas executes one." I would like to shake his hand." ~David Satterlee

"It is necessary that laws should be passed to prohibit the use of corporate funds directly or indirectly for political purposes; it is still more necessary that such laws be thoroughly enforced." ~Theodore Roosevelt

Tuesday, September 8, 2015

Exclusive Private Water Rights?

Imagine a future where only the privileged can afford clean air, pure water and good food. Actually you don't have to imagine it - just look around and pay attention right now.

Monday, September 7, 2015

A New Democratic Strategy

The bottom line is that Democrats should stop engaging the far right as equals. Groups such as the Tea Party are not actually mainstream. Their ideology continues to move so far to the right that it is becoming difficult for many Republicans to defend it. We should stop trying to meet them on common ground. You cannot negotiate with someone who holds extreme views and will not compromise. You cannot reason with someone who is unreasonable.

We should stop treating radical ideologues like equal and rational opponents. We debase our ideas and ourselves when we invest our energies in point-by-point name-calling, finger-pointing and obsessive refutation. Worse, by meeting our opponents as responsible peers, we elevate and amplify every lie and damaging policy they mention while signaling their legitimacy. Because they do not expect themselves to be factual, or even consistent, they have mastered the art of twisting language, re-assigning meaning, and persuading the already-faithful with loud voices and repeated talking points.

The Path to “Constructive Virtues”

The Path to “Constructive Virtues”

My first published essays were as installments in my newspaper column “@ChumForThought,” published in the Dayton Review. “Chum” is the word for chopped fish waste that is thrown overboard to attract other fish – especially sharks. I believe that comparing ideas can be a force for good that attracts us to each other. Strangers often become friends as they talk and work together, uniting to solve mutual problems.

The column was intended for my neighbors in a small, rural, Iowa town. I hoped to encourage conservatives to think about their ideas and liberals to come out of the closet. This book, Constructive Virtues, extends my collected essays – largely on similar, and sometimes contentious, themes.

Many people prefer to avoid controversy as they would avoid swimming with sharks. You sometimes hear

Saturday, September 5, 2015

The Problem with Capitalism

"It's still hard to trust people who feel that 'What's mine is mine and what's yours is negotiable.'"

Wednesday, September 2, 2015

Introduction to "Hubris on Roller Skates" by David Satterlee


I usually have some idea of how something is going to come out when I start a story. But, it’s a real rush to go catch up with a character or situation that decides to run loose for a while. This collection should keep you off-balance, entertained and wondering what you’ll find next.

I have been told, by a long-time author, that my writing is “humorous, bold, and adventurous all at once … channeled through a facility for language and the music of words.” That was very kind. Thank you.

You should know that a few of these stories may not be for everyone. I occasionally take the liberty of using mild profanity, describing intimate situations, or introducing politically incorrect ideas. While I intend to be colorful and interesting, I do not intend to shock, offend, or arouse. I don’t believe that any of these stories are outside common community standards, but I thought that it should be mentioned up-front.

You will find some science fiction, a nice little poem about kittens, several pieces on gender relations and, especially, some explorations of the emotions and behavior of women of all ages. A lot of the stories end with a twist – deliberately lulling you into a mood before dropping you on your head. And, I have indulged a special fascination with hubris – acts of over-confidence that often lead to major fails.

Some characters are iconic. Don’t assume that Fergus Johnson is always the same guy trying to figure out the same woman, or that Bobby is always the same bad boy; he comes to too many unfortunate ends.


Tuesday, June 30, 2015

Ignorance is Not Bliss

"There must be a special hell reserved for those too stubborn or indifferent to keep pursuing greater understanding — they have already taken their bliss in this life." David Satterlee

Saturday, June 27, 2015

The Tragedy of the Commons

"Natural resources are a common heritage to be nurtured, not a finder's keepers to be
plundered." David Satterlee

Tuesday, June 23, 2015

What is it That You Fear?

"Always care enough to resist. Set your heart strong to insist, that goodness must persist. Resist, I say. Light the way. Every day." David Satterlee

Saturday, June 20, 2015

If You Care, You Should Speak Up

"If you care, make some noise. Keep on making a ruckus. Cry from the housetops. March in the streets. Write letters to the editor. Money can buy change. Power can force change. But, the most beneficial and reliable changes come slowly from the persistent upraised union of many voices." David Satterlee

Tuesday, June 16, 2015

Give Praise When Honor is Due

To my son, Wes, who sent me a message complete with the correct diacritical marks on foreign words.

"There's something strange and wonderful about someone possessed with the integrity and patience to render all the proper jots and tittles into a post. Honor is due." David Satterlee

Saturday, June 13, 2015

Living Virtuously is Your Choice

"What is the core of your values and your attitude in this world? Fear, competition, and loyalty to your own or compassion, cooperation, and community responsibility? Your choice affects the quality of the future you create for your children... and for the children of every other family." David Satterlee