Tuesday, September 29, 2015
Monday, September 28, 2015
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.
Saturday, September 26, 2015
Friday, September 25, 2015
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
Monday, September 21, 2015
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
Friday, September 18, 2015
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
Monday, September 14, 2015
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.
Saturday, September 12, 2015
Friday, September 11, 2015
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
Monday, September 7, 2015
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.
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
Wednesday, September 2, 2015
IntroductionI 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.