Century Marks

Century Marks

Buffett’s practices

Warren Buffett, the second wealthiest man in the world, likes to project an image of himself as a man who values responsible lending and affordable housing for people of modest means. A different picture is portrayed by Clayton Homes, the country’s largest builder and lender of manufactured housing, which was bought in 2003 by Berkshire Hathaway, the investment conglomerate controlled by Buffett. An investigation led by the Center for Public Integrity and the Seattle Times has discovered that the company engages in predatory loan practices and charges exorbitant interest rates and add-on fees, which trap many owners in homes they can’t afford that can’t be resold or refinanced (Center for Public Integrity, April 3).

On this rock

The Monastery of St. Matthew’s is one of the oldest in the world. It sits on the side of a mountain overlooking the Nineveh plains in Iraq, home to Christians since the first century. The monks still pray in the ancient language of Aramaic, Jesus’ language. The seven monks who remain at St. Matthew’s are threatened by the Islamic State, or ISIS. ISIS forces advanced near the gate of the monastery when they overtook the city of Mosul last summer. So far St. Matthew’s has survived the Persian and Ottoman empires, Mongol invaders, and Kurdish conquests (CBS News, March 22).

Poor giving

In 2011, the wealthiest Americans—those in the top 20 percent of earnings—gave only 1.3 percent of their earnings to charity. Those in the bottom 20 percent donated 3.2 percent of their income. Several theories exist as to why the wealthy are inclined to give less: by their very nature they are driven to look out for their own interests, and they are less likely to be exposed to real human need. Wealthy people tend to give to institutions from which they benefit, such as universities, museums, and arts organizations, while the poor tend to give to social service charities and religious organizations (Atlantic, March 20).

Life together

A program in the Netherlands provides free housing to university students in retirement homes. In exchange, the students are required to hang out with the elderly residents for 30 hours a week. They play games, go shopping, or do the residents’ shopping for them, cook for them, or teach them new skills, such as how to use computers. Other European nations with a shortage of housing for the elderly are experimenting with other means to keep seniors from being isolated. A planning commission in Britain is calling for housing units for the elderly to be built in shopping developments and at universities (TheJournal.ie, December 7, 2014).

Healing hearts

Indigenous women in Bolivia are hand-weaving a small device used to seal holes in the hearts of infants. The simple, inexpensive device, called an occluder, is made of a single strand of superelastic metal. It takes several hours to fashion. Designed by a Bolivian cardiologist, the device has saved the lives of thousands of children born with this condition. The incidence of this birth defect in La Paz, Bolivia, is ten times higher than in other places due to the high altitude. The occluder is also made for export (BBC News, March 29).