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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:

Tuesday, May 17, 2011

"Ways of the World" on Its 5th Anniversary

This month, Ways of the World becomes five years old. Sixty months and 176 articles and features [the software the Farm uses counts them; we don't]. Some of you have been with us from the start, but others have only just got acquainted. Maybe it's worth pausing today and checking in with what we might be about here. What is an Episcopal Church-affiliated website doing with an old Wall Street economist anyway?

We've adopted a broad-based orientation. Yes, "economics" means the stock market and unemployment and government debt, and we talk about all of those. We've also covered energy and the environment and poverty and immigration. Economics, though, is at root an approach to the interpretation of how and why people make the choices in life that they do. What is there in art that we value? and how can the artist make a living? The same for church membership, even; what is there in "church" that we value so we devote time, talent and treasure to that institution. We've had articles about both of these and there are specialists who make those kinds of issues their entire career.

We're interested not just in individual decision-making, but in the interaction of people in society. So we've talked about terrorism, the fall of the Berlin Wall and the revolution in Egypt. Each July 4, we commemorate the American Revolution – not the war battles or even the Founding Fathers, but the actions of ordinary common people as they restructured their own government and their relationships in business and with their neighbors, near and far, reordering society as it had basically never been known. This year, we'll play with this notion relative to churches in America.

We also pray here about people and events of the world. We've offered prayers for Rogation Days, when the church intercedes for the coming farm crop growing season and also for business and industry. We remember those who have died: Geraldine Ferraro most recently and also Gerald Ford and John Templeton and Tim Russert, among others. We pray for people we might not hold in high regard: Ken Lay of Enron, Robert Mugabe of Zimbabwe, the gunman who committed the cold-blooded shootings in Tucson this past January, as well as their victims.

Two articles deserve special mention because they evoked deep responses from you. In early December 2008, we lamented the death of the Wal-Mart worker in a post-Thanksgiving Day shoppers stampede. Seventeen of you came back with comments that week in which you expressed grief and distress; you obviously needed to vent and I'm glad that we could provide such an outlet. Then, this past January, as we noted, we wrote about the rebellion in Egypt; we talked about Egypt's economy and how it functions – or doesn't – in providing for the welfare of its people. One of you responded in words that might make a mission statement for Ways of the World: "I always get so much out of your posts on world affairs. Clear facts in an easy to understand manner. But at the same time, no agenda and no dumbing down." Thank you for this, Laura. I could never have hoped for a higher compliment. A priest I know has said somewhat the same in different words: "You make me stop and think before I form a judgment now on all these things that go on."

It is hopefully clear that pursuing Ways of the World is a gratifying activity. Two years ago, we were added to the Geranium Farm website's "Subscriptions" menu, and since then almost 900 of you have signed up. Judging just from the email addresses, some of you work in churches and some in business as well as a potpourri of you who just want to understand more about how the world works and why that might be the way it appears to be. Probably, in that regard, no one has learned more than I have. We do try to make it clear and, obviously, we can't hide behind jargon. If we don't accomplish this, let us know!

Thank you all for your responses. And by all means, thanks over and over to Barbara Crafton and the others on the Geranium Farm crew. It's an honor to be among you.

So we move on now to the next issue, most immediately the struggles of states and cities to make budgets in these confused times. Other news doesn't stop while we research and write on any given topic. We see already today that the March earthquake in Japan has impacted industrial production in this country, especially in the auto industry, new home construction remains in the doldrums and there are efforts toward shifting big transport trucks away from diesel to natural gas for fuel. This last reminds us that even as the economy presents problems, it also fosters efforts toward solutions. A goal of Ways of the World is to keep that progress in your line of sight, as well as helping us all understand better the sources and consequences of the shifting and turmoil throughout the world. The only thing constant is change.

So stay tuned. I don't think we'll ever run out of material!

Wednesday, May 04, 2011

On a Plane from Denver to New York, May 2, 2011

I'm on the way home from a friend's wedding in Colorado, which took place during the weekend.

Early Sunday afternoon, her Dad, a retired Air Force officer, and I had occasion to drive through the grounds of the Air Force Academy. Sam ran an errand in the Commissary (grocery store) and when he returned to the car, he said, "They checked ID at the entrance – they never do that, only at the checkout. One of the security guys told me there is a Code Bravo in force." Sure enough, at the exit from the Academy, only one lane was open each way, and there was a uniformed military guard as well as the civilian security service that normally monitors the Gates. Later, we heard from other wedding guests that when they toured the Academy earlier in the weekend, one of the gates had been closed altogether and military personnel were visible in several locations. Conversation then followed about what might have happened to prompt the heightened military attention. A Taliban threat in Afghanistan had been reported in the press that morning and several members of Gadhafi's family had been killed just a few days before. Either of those developments, our host indicated, might be enough to motivate the greater security.

Late Sunday night and during Monday morning, of course, we learned of the dramatic event that most likely was the specific reason: the killing of bin Laden.

The wedding itself was an extraordinary occasion, so much so that I had considered devoting an entire Ways of the World article to it. I've known the Bride's Mother Kathy forever – literally – as our families were already neighbors in Kansas City when I was born. Kathy's husband Sam comes from a town in Missouri not far from there. With his military career, they've lived in Japan and numerous U.S. locations. I went to college in Texas and had a first job there, then moved to New York. Across all these years and all this geography, we have kept up our lifelong friendship.

Their son Jim is a Navy pilot; during tours in Japan, he married a Japanese woman, and their son was born in Germany.

Their daughter Debbie, the Bride, went to college and graduate school in Chicago. Friends there introduced her to her eventual husband. His parents are German and Indonesian and live in Germany. Since Indonesia was once a Dutch colony, his mother's family settled in Holland, where his grandparents and one aunt live now. Another aunt lives in France while a third is from Berlin. Vincent still has numerous friends in Germany, several of whom attended the wedding.

So here we all were in an old mining town above Colorado Springs, instant friends who had traveled there from Japan, Germany, the Netherlands, France, also China and at least ten U.S. states. The marriage service was conducted by a Methodist minister at the local Episcopal Church. A "Welcome" greeting in the program for the ceremony was printed in ten languages. Music, of course, is a universal language, and at the party, people enjoyed American, German and even African dance music. What a joyous time!

How odd then to layer on top of this the killing of Osama bin Laden, a genuine mortal enemy of the United States. By Monday morning, I had moved on from the wedding scene to the home of one of my cousins who lives in the south part of Denver, where I learned about it. When my cousin said, "Oh, you haven't heard news; you don't know. They took out bin Laden!" I gasped. "Oh, my — goodness!" I blurted, my breath gone momentarily. I had been in the World Trade Center on September 11. This matters in a very personal way.

But then what do you do? what do you say? The wedding had been Saturday night. There was another party Sunday night at the corner of Vesey and Church Streets at Ground Zero to celebrate this, er, uh, killing. Vengeance! Hooray!

Oops. Does that sound a bit awkward?

Now there's a quandary. Is this vengeance rightfully ours? And another part to the quandary: Bin Laden, while a Biggie, is only one terrorist. Surely, SURELY, there will be reprisals.

Later Monday, as I went through security at Denver International Airport, I heard myself thanking the TSA personnel. "Thank you. After yesterday, I'm really glad you're here." One of them replied, "Some people are saying they think we don't need this anymore now." "Oh, no," I said, "right now, we really need this!" She nodded vigorously in agreement.

The plane took off and went straight out from Denver airport toward the East. The Rocky Mountains were at our back and the expanse of the Great Plains was opening up. It's not quite the season yet for the image, but I heard myself again, now singing ever so softly as the plane climbed higher in the sky,

"O beautiful for spacious skies,
For amber waves of grain,
For purple mountain majesties
Above the fruited plain!
America! America!
God shed His grace on thee,
And crown thy good with brotherhood
From sea to shining sea!

"O beautiful for patriot dream
That sees beyond the years
Thine alabaster cities gleam
Undimmed by human tears.
America! America!
God shed His grace on thee,
And crown thy good with brotherhood
From sea to shining sea."

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