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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.

Monday, February 29, 2016

Research: Does Conservative Negativism Repress Rational Thought?

Research: Does Conservative Negativism
Repress Rational Thought?

Conservatives are fond of identifying “enemies” and using strong negative words and images to describe them. I wrote about this in the essay Conservatives Depending on Emotional Words to Persuade where excerpts of a GOP memo from Newt Gingrich suggest words to describe “our opponents” including: failure, pathetic, lie, liberal, betray, hypocrisy, radical, etc.

Psychologists have already discovered that emotions affect higher brain functions including attention, memory, vision and motor control. Now, researchers are discovering that negative language inhibits the lower level retrieval of knowledge and subconscious information processing. A Bangor University study initially expected that negative emotional words would be arousing and stimulate reasoning capacity. Instead, they found that negative words suppressed certain cognitive responses.

I suggest that combining these two observations may show that repeatedly describing liberals [or another race, or immigrants, or non-believers] in negative terms may reduce the audiences’ ability to reason critically about the information they are receiving.

Monday, February 22, 2016

Speech: Superman is a Liberal

Speech: Superman is a Liberal

Shutterstock
In the United States, there are two major political parties that spring from two very different general inclinations. Both of these dispositions offer some benefits. They serve important and legitimate purposes for individuals and the American citizenry as a whole. However, these impulses work best in balance. 

That is also to say that both conservatives and liberals (at their radical extremes) are damaging. This country works best when all sides work to find a middle way – a balanced common ground that produces the greatest possible common good while still allowing the greatest possible individual liberty.

The terms liberty and freedom should not be misapplied. The privilege of personal choice cannot be separated from the obligation to public responsibility. Personal beliefs cannot be forced upon unwilling others. Internal thoughts and values are private. External acts are subject to limitations within a community.We defend personal liberties and freedoms up to the point that they tread on the personal liberties and freedoms of others. In this way, we create communities of common good and protect justice for all.

Monday, February 15, 2016

Choosing Your Values, Virtues, Vices and Sins

Choosing Your Values, Virtues, Vices and Sins

I want to thank all of you who have followed my last few months of political commentary. We have especially explored the differences between those who are uncomfortable with change and those who can face it with hope as an opportunity to improve matters – those who fear the risk of losing what they have and those who have the faith to work with strangers to achieve what they cannot do by themselves.

Values and virtues underlie our private and public choices. And, I want to move on to thinking about what makes us decide that something is good or bad and then choose what we will or won’t do. This column is about to make a shift. I thought a little fair warning was in order. Here we go…

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:

Friday, January 8, 2016

Sleepless in Vancouver

Sleepless in Vancouver


Here I lay, so late at night,
On the couch, beneath a light.
Here I’m likely to remain,
As I listen to the rain.

I’m alone; the house is still.
Droplets splash the window sill.
Metal roof and tree leaves dripping,
‘have a book but pages flipping.

Vacant words. I’m not quite reading.
Comprehension’s not succeeding.
Refrigerator hums along –
Counterpoint to nature’s song.

Cat is curled up tail to nose
At my feet’s the place he chose.
Must be nice to relax there,
Breathing faintly, not a care.

I’ll have wasted half the night,
Waking, still, at morning light.
I’ve many things I need to do
When rain and sleepless nights are through.


But, true to my ironic fate,
I’ll work fatigued and come home late.
I’ll wait again for sleep to come
Accomp’nied by rain’s steady drum.

David Satterlee

Monday, January 4, 2016

Will Real Wars Come Back?

Will Real Wars Come Back?

Have you noticed that our thinking about war has gotten softer? These days, our wars tend to earn euphemisms such as: border skirmish, police action, regime change, nation building, civil uprising, popular revolution and gorilla opposition. Similarly, killing becomes targeting, eliminating, taking out, and collateral damage. 

Obviously, the idea of war is becoming too repulsive to be named for what it is without shame. Anymore, you don’t often see Group A attacking Group B with the intent of killing or enslaving everyone in their path and taking all of their land and property. Yeah, “real war” used to really mean something.

It used to be that horsemen pounded off the barren steppes to pillage great swathes of quiet villages. European colonizers often summarily claimed whatever they "discovered," demanding its resources for themselves, and usually were more than rude to its current inhabitants. 

Friday, January 1, 2016

Peggy and the Snowy Night

Peggy and the Snowy Night


Peggy woke up on a cold wintery night.
It was snowing outside and it wasn’t yet light.
As she looked out the window to see the new snow,
She spied creatures out standing right there in a row.

Each stood straight and neat by the street on one leg.
With a bright shiny head that looked just like an egg.
They stood there in line by the light of the moon,
But Peggy just knew they might march away soon.

And where once were bushes there only were lumps
That curled up like kittens (except they were bumps).
Snug under white bed sheets, all comfy and cozy,
They’ll sleep until sunlight peeps out orange and rosy.

Now, Peggy could see that they needed some heat
Like her little Kitty that slept at her feet.
Soon they would be purring and stretching their legs
While mother stood cooking and scrambling some eggs.

And out where the car had been parked in the drive
Our Peggy could see a big monster alive.
The shadows were dark in the place where it sat
It must be a dragon, all shiny and fat.

With jewels on its shoulders and chrome on its nose,
Her dragon would wander wherever it chose.
If she could just wait without doing her chores,
She’d see it belch smoke and hear how it roars.

With so much new snow out, there’d be no school bus,
And Peggy could play out — No trouble or fuss.
If everything happened according to plan,
She’d make some snow angels and build a snow man.

Soon mother will call her to drink some warm milk
With sweet yummy chocolate that tastes just like silk.
With imagination her life is such fun
although her new world will soon melt in the sun.


But, always by dreaming new things that can be
Young Peggy can create the things she can see.
And all the wide world, even more than she knew,
Will open up to her before she is through.

David Satterlee