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Ways of the World

Carol Stone, business economist & active Episcopalian, brings you "Ways of the World". Exploring business & consumers & stewardship, we'll discuss everyday issues: kids & finances, gas prices, & some larger issues: what if foreigners start dumping our debt? And so on. We can provide answers & seek out sources for others. We'll talk about current events & perhaps get different perspectives from what the media says. Write to Carol. Let her know what's important to you:

Saturday, April 25, 2009

David Kellerman

The Geranium Farm has a very special feature called "Light a Prayer Candle". I use it often to offer prayers and thanksgivings and to join in the prayers that are already there. I swear, though this is a computer website, that love is there and can be felt palpably. It's very like entering a chapel.

So just now, I have left a prayer for the Family of David Kellerman, the acting Chief Financial Officer of Freddie Mac, who took his own life sometime early this past Wednesday. We've written here about Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac and how the government took them over back in September as they faced enormous losses in the mortgage debacle. Kellerman was named then to step out of the frying pan and into the fire of managing Freddie's finances through this tumultuous period. The firm not only has huge losses but faces multiple investigations, with many officials and actions being questioned by Congress and regulators.

Kellerman was a bright man, only 41, and his official portrait, widely published these last few days, shows a great smile, unusual in business photos. But it's known that he'd been working long hours and was feeling the tension and pressure in his transitional role. One of the harder spots to be in right now anywhere.

So we feel for his coworkers at Freddie Mac. And we especially feel for his family: his wife and 6-year-old daughter. Their hardship in coming days -- and months -- will be great. God be with all of these people. May Mr. Kellerman's death help others in these jobs everywhere put their own work in perspective and keep a grip on their own lives. It's only money. Help us all see through that cloud.


We have some personal experience handling the suicide death of a loved one. We call your attention to the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention,, for information and support. And if you are in crisis yourself, or know someone who is, you can call their Hotline: 1-800-273-TALK (8255). There is also The Samaritans, who maintain a hotline for anyone in emotional distress who needs to talk; their New York City number is 212-673-3000 and they are in Boston and a number of other cities.

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Monday, April 20, 2009

Celebrate Earth Day! Visit -- the Empire State Building?


The Empire State Building is presently undergoing a $500 million renovation. Two weeks ago, the building’s owners announced plans to add some $13 million to that to install environment-oriented refurbishments. The specific set of measures are expected to reduce energy consumption by 38% by 2013 and carbon dioxide emissions by 150,000 metric tons over the next 15 years. The cost savings, at current energy prices, should be so great that these investments will pay for themselves in just three years.

This prospect that such environmental enhancements to a commercial structure can recover their own costs so quickly is really exciting, to say nothing of what they can do for New York City air quality. Cost effectiveness should encourage more projects to retrofit existing buildings, especially if the example is a 75-plus-year-old National Landmark. The owners, the Empire State Building Company, an operating firm for the ultimate owners, the Malkin Family and the Helmsley Estate, initiated the design work. It was conducted by a team of four organizations: Jones Lang LaSalle, a global real estate management company; Johnson Controls, a large manufacturer of air-conditioning and building climate control equipment; the Rocky Mountain Institute, a nonprofit think-tank specializing in business applications of environmental friendly technology; and the Clinton Climate Initiative, a division of the William J. Clinton Foundation, which coordinated the project. It is thus a product of profit-making and nonprofit institutions in the private sector. No governmental body was involved.

Some specific pieces of the work encompass very simple ideas. The Empire State Building has 6,514 operable windows. They were due to be removed, cleaned and reinstalled so they would open and close properly. Now, while they are apart, a thin “low-emissive” film of insulation will be inserted between the double panes of glass, giving as much climate protection as another entire pane of glass.

Sub-metering will be installed for individual tenant spaces, which will also be given additional flexibility in temperature control. The building’s air-circulating equipment is being upgraded to such an extent that two fans on each floor will now do the work of four current machines.

Much of this is a pioneering effort in retrofitting an existing high-rise building. While the designs are specific to the Empire State Building, the approach and types of undertakings can be readily adapted to other similar remodeling efforts.

When we began writing Ways of the World, now nearly three years ago, we were skeptical about what we’d have to say on the environment. Would we just stand around wringing our hands and whining over global warming? Would we pace impatiently until government policies took more defined shape, as they have just now with last Friday’s announcement from the Environmental Protection Agency about the public health threat from CO2 emissions? While many may applaud this latter action, it still will take a very long time yet to devise the regulations.

We soon learned, though, that there’s a lot going on here. Hybrid cars are just the tip of the iceberg among very dynamic activities. Boone Pickens and his windmills. Honda and their hydrogen-powered FCX Clarity sedan, with a couple now actually being driven around Santa Monica, CA, by real people in their everyday lives. A second generation of solar panels under development: lighter-weight and cheaper, so perhaps more popular. Gardens spreading as roof projects on city buildings – they use the CO2 and provide oxygen in return. Not on a large scale, but every little bit helps.

These things are not only really helpful, they’re fun. Technology issues are something Americans are good at fixing and enjoy. The Rocky Mountain Institute, as an example, calls their occasional journal “Solutions”. No hand-wringing here, there’s too much work to do. They’re already doing it. And whatever work they do boosts economic activity too.

So there’s a lot to celebrate on Earth Day. Go plant a tree. Or ride to the top of the Empire State Building! Its trademark nightly illumination, by the way, takes just a tiny fraction of the building’s energy and will not be diminished in the energy-saving. It apparently has a “green” light. And will indeed on April 22.

Rocky Mountain Institute: Entire site worth wandering around
Clinton Climate Initiative:
Empire State Building:
A 6-minute video on the sustainability project can be seen right on the homepage.
Special Sustainable Empire State Building site: There are links here to Jones Lang LaSalle and Johnson Controls sites, which provide more detail.
New York Times article, “Empire State Building Plans Environmental Retrofit”, April 6, 2009: This article also highlights pro-active modifications made by Skanska Construction Company, a new tenant in the building, to its own floor.


Tuesday, April 07, 2009

Science Speaks to Holy Week

Some 100,000 years ago, according to archaeological excavations, the Neanderthal people buried their dead, apparently with some ceremony. Graves have been found containing tools and weapons, thus equipping the departed for whatever journey lay ahead for them. Some 60,000 years ago, in a different part of the world – Iraq, actually – a specific young man was laid to rest on a bed of flowers; a modern-day scientist discerned this by analyzing quantities of pollen dust found among the debris surrounding the grave.

So what we in the Church do this Week in commemorating the death and resurrection of our Savior is a version of a practice that goes back to the earliest days of humanity. One writer says, as soon as groups of hominids began to behave in a human-like way, with social structures and pottery and tools, they began to have ritual. They understood something about death and, moreover, they had conjured ways to cope with it. This was not just in one small village in Africa, but across the expanse of Asian plain and throughout Europe.

Religion has remained part of every society; it is universal. It is part of being human, a topic I found myself exploring in recent months as part of learning about evolution and the gifts of Charles Darwin. Evolution, as a field of study, asks what characteristics of people’s lives (or the lives of any animal or plant or institution) have helped them survive and helped them reproduce. For humans, religion is one; among its benefits, recent studies show for example that people today who follow religious practices are in fact measurably healthier than those who don’t.

Further, a person’s experience of God can now be “seen” in “pictures”; we can see that religion is literally part of being human. Here is one such picture.

It is a pair of SPECT images of the brain; the red areas indicate electrical neural activity. These “before” and “during” images show that some neural activity is diminished during meditation. The reduction occurs in the specific part of the brain that facilitates someone’s ability to sense where they are and where the boundary is between themselves and whatever is around them. Thus, we actually lose ourselves during the most intense moments of our meditation. It can be said that we merge into the presence of God.

The scan here is a Tibetan monk. The scientists conducting this work found similar patterns in Franciscan nuns who allowed their prayer to be studied.

We worried here a couple of months ago as we contemplated Darwin about whether the progress of science had harmed religion. Some argue that it has. But science can also be a tool that helps us understand and visualize the mysterious. Some argue in return that such pictures detract from the meaningfulness of our prayer or contemplation. On the contrary, I think, seeing these things and having the means to see them gives us greater light into the wonders of our being and our God.

May this wonder stay with you over these holiest of days.

Alan S. Miller and Satoshi Kanazawa. “The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly: The Evolutionary Psychology of Religion and Conflict”, Chapter 8 of Why Beautiful People Have More Daughters. New York: A Perigee Book by the Penguin Group, 2007. The whole book is an introduction to evolutionary psychology, the companion field to evolutionary biology which elaborates on social connections through the ages.

Andrew Newberg, MD, Eugene D’Aquili, MD, PhD, and Vincent Rause. Why God Won’t Go Away: Brain Science & the Biology of Belief. New York: Ballantine Books, 2001. See the brain diagrams on pages 4 & 19, and also Newberg’s website,, where the color picture above is found. This eminently readable book – and manageable, at 234 pages – shows how brain processes contribute to the development of religion out of myth-making and ritual.

Michael Shermer. How We Believe: The Search for God in the Age of Science. New York: W.H. Freeman and Company, 2000. We’ll see Mr. Shermer again in his recent The Mind of the Market, a similar brain science discussion of financial market behavior.

James Shreeve. The Neandertal Enigma: Solving the Mystery of Modern Human Origins. New York: William Morrow and Company, Inc., 1995. Pp 52-54.

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