Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Leadership and Virtue

Greetings LIFEers! We were joined once again this week by Professor Jason Moulenbelt for a class all incoming Congressmen should take; business ethics. Business ethics is a bit of an oxymoron, like jumbo shrimp or military intelligence. The two words just don’t seem to go together. But in this era of Enron, Tyco, BP, Wall Street, Magnetar, etc… a little refresher course on business ethics might be good for all of us.

If you take a business ethics class at a business school, you are more likely to study business law, not morality or ethics.
· Law – our democracy votes to make laws, which can have little to do with morality
· Ethos – what you do day-to-day, your actions
· Ethics – what you should do, morality
Example: Let’s say you are at a intersection with a stop sign and no one is coming from any direction. The law says you have to stop, but no one is coming, no one will be hurt or inconvenienced if you run the stop sign. If you break the law and run the stop sign, your actions are not immoral. But the spirit of the law is ethical – requiring people to stop at a crossing to avoid accidents and injuries. But many of our laws do not take ethics into account. Enron hiding their business dealings in phony companies was actually legal. Magnetar driving the sale of sub-prime mortgage CDOs while placing bets on their failure was also legal. So why are our laws seemingly not interested in morality?

First we need to understand utilitarianism, which is a principal many of our laws and economic system are based on. Utilitarianism is the idea that the greatest amount of good should be created for the greatest amount of people. The trouble is this theory measures happiness through money; every man will endure some amount of pain (work) for a certain amount of money. But this equation fails to take into account externalities; things you can’t put a price on. How much is your child’s smile worth, or a clean sunrise, or time with your family? At some point, utilitarian equations leave out our very humanity, which is what our ethics are based on – treating each other humanely.

Read Jason’s excellent slideshow below to see how this economic and law-making theory fails to take morality into account via the Ford Pinto. Also, check out ProPublica’s segment on the company Magnetar and its role in the housing bubble and wall street collapse here. You can also read the book or watch the film Smartest Guys in the Room which chronicles the rise and fall of Enron.

Aristotle said “in all things, moderation”, and this quote applies also to business ethics. Knowing that our business practices exclude the human element, remember to always look for the hidden externalities when putting together a cost-benefit analysis. You may find that the human costs are greater than you think.

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Help the Honey Bees

What’s the buzz? I’ll tell you what’s a happenin’! (Jesus Christ Superstar reference, awesome musical.) Daniel Payne, local bee keeper, joined our LIFE class to talk about the not-so-secret life of bees and how we can help save the honey bees, and thus our own economy.

Did you know that most bee keepers make about half their money renting their bees? Many crops are pollinated by bees, so farmers rent bee colonies from bee keepers. Bees are trucked all over North America for this purpose. The big risk in bee transportation is overheating the colony. You see, a bee hive needs to stay at about 94° Fahrenheit for the larvae to survive, so the moving trucks need to be air conditioned or well ventilated to keep the bees alive. One hive can pollinate about 1 acre. California has 2 million acres of just almond trees (not to mention the numerous other crops pollinated by bees), so the bee rental business is very lucrative.

So why are bees important? Well, it turns out that bees are very hard workers and contributing greatly to our economy. They pollinate over 100 of the fruits and vegetables that we eat every day. Put another way, they are responsible for about ¼ of all the pollination work at an estimated value of $10 Billion per year. Without bees, we would have to pollinate these plants by hand, which means we would eat mostly grains. Food prices would soar, plants pollinated by bees would die off and so would the animals that feed on them. Would mankind survive? Probably. Would our entire world change for the worse? Absolutely.

So what is hurting the bees? Unfortunately, many things we are doing every day such as using pesticides and genetically modified crops harm the honey bees. Bees already have many natural parasites, which seem to be on the rise, especially Neonicotinoids are a common chemical in pesticides sold in the US. The pesticides become systemic in plants, so a bug lands on the plant, becomes paralyzed and dies within hours. The trouble is, it has a similar effect on bees. France and Spain have banned neonicotinoids, and other countries are considering a ban, because they believe the chemicals have contributed to massive bee colony deaths. Some genetically modified crops (such as BT corn) have naturally bug-resistant bacteria bred into the plant to make the plant bug resistant, but studies show this bacteria weakens the bees when they pollinate the plant, and makes the bees more susceptible to mites and other parasites.

That’s the bad news. So how can we help our industrious honey bees? First, you can start by using fewer lawn chemicals and pesticides that have neonicotinoids. That is tough because they are so common, but there are brands available. Check the labels. Second, buy local honey. The US imports millions of pounds of honey each year; clearly we are not supplying enough honey to meet demand. Buying local honey helps the US honey industry and keeps your local bee keepers in business. Again, read the labels on the shelf. There are even imitation honey brands available now. The label should say “pure honey” and made locally, or made in Texas, etc… Unfortunately, local honey does not necessarily help out with allergies, as the rumor suggests. Bees pollinate fruits and vegetables, so if you are allergic to local fruits and veggies, then yes, local honey can help offset your allergies, since you will be ingesting small doses of those pollens. But if you are allergic to trees, grass and molds, you are out of luck as bees don’t pollinate any of those plants. Third, grow a bee garden in your yard. Check out for which plants are bee friendly.

With a little effort, we can help our hard working honey bees and keep our economy buzzing along!

Wednesday, November 3, 2010

Graveyards and Genealogy

Have you ever noticed how many ways there are to say someone has died, without actually having to say some form of the word “dead”? They have passed on, gone to a better place, met their maker, bought the farm, kicked the bucket, bit the dust, cashed in their chips, pushing up daisies, their number is up, riding the pale horse, six feet under, sleeping with the fishes, taking a dirt nap, shuffled off this mortal coil, etc… Maybe we, as a society, are afraid to talk about death. Or maybe we just like to find clever ways to say the same old thing.

But our LIFE class isn't afraid to talk about death, or even loving the dead (as Claire hilariously stated – maybe we’ll have a class on that later, or maybe not). Library Director Mick Stafford hosted this week’s LIFE class, all about Graveyards and Genealogy, a topic that might have bored us stiff if Mic hadn’t knocked us dead with his grave humor. (Nudge, nudge, wink wink.) See, Mic isn’t the only one who can make bad puns about death. (For more bad puns about death, check out our earlier LIFE blog on the National Museum of Funeral History.)

You see, sometimes when you are researching your genealogy, you reach a dead end. (I’ve got a whole bag of these puns, folks). Maybe you are searching for a death record or a burial site. Maybe you are looking for an obituary. Or maybe you are just trying to find out about the lives of the people who made you eat peanuts with a spoon while sitting on plastic covered furniture when you were a dirty little kid. Gather as much information as you can; death date, death location (city, state, county) and start searching the web. But you don’t need to spend an eternity searching the web; links to helpful websites are below. – church records, obituaries, state death indexes, some international records – find obituaries, may charge you – search for a grave site – search for a grave site, and Mic’s personal favorite! - US GenWeb Tombstone Project - - find the grave site of a US Veteran - find the grave site of a US Veteran overseas
Library Databases - use the newspaper database or access archives database

Check out this SlideShare Presentation: