GM’s Wagoner talks the talk

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CHICAGO – The muzzle’s off.

Now that Rick Wagoner has a couple endorsements under his belt, the General Motors chairman says he’s “getting out to tell the GM story.”

Maybe it’s not enough to have the backing of just the board and dealers.

Perhaps he needs one more endorsement – from consumers he wants to buy his products.

Or perhaps it’s because Steve Harris came back as the head of GM public relations, and he prefers the proactive approach. Whatever.

Wagoner is chatting again, though one of the first things out of this mouth might not warm the hearts of shareholders.

Wagoner said that, yes, GM has agreed to sell a 51 percent interest in its profitable GMAC financing subsidiary to a group led by Cerberus Partners for $14 billion. Yes, that’s $3 billion more than what analysts thought the stake was worth, but Wagoner says he could have gotten more.

“But it was the right thing to do because if we were going to be able to buy it (controlling interest) back again if needed, it meant accepting a lower sales price.

“Will we buy it back?” Wagoner added. “Time will tell.”

Wagoner also ice when Ford said it will shutter its Norfolk, Va., plant, also opened in 1925. It produces the full-size F-Series pickup, the best-selling truck in the industry since a few years after the wheel was invented.

Why would Ford give that plant up?

Anne Stevens, chief operating officer and head of manufacturing for Ford, put it in perspective.

“We’re reducing the number of plants that build the F-Series; we aren’t reducing the number of trucks we will build.”

She said that thanks to flex manufacturing,therapy expert Michael Terman.

“The claims are often outrageous,” said Terman, of the New York State Psychiatric Institute at Columbia University Medical Center. “You can make things worse with light therapy if you don’t do it right.”

The field is barely two decades old, and many insurers don’t cover treatment. Yet light therapy is clearly on its way to mainstream acceptance.

Last year, a team formed by the American Psychiatric Association reviewed all known research on the subject. Their conclusion: Bright light can ease both wintertime depression and the nonseasonal variety.

The positive effects, the team found, were equivalent to those found in most trials of traditional antidepressant medication.

Proper doses of light, in other words, may be just as good as a bottle of pills.

Our metabolism, body temperature, heart rate, hormone levels, and other bodily systems wax and wane every day.

The kidneys, for example, slow down at night. Otherwise, we’d have to go to the bathroom every two or three hours, said Jefferson’s Brainard.

This cycle gets its cue from the hypothalamus – the location of twin clumps of cells called the suprachiasmatic nuclei: the body’s master clock. It lasts close to – but not exactly – 24 hours.

Without light to keep them on track, our clocks would quickly veer off course – a phenomenon reported in the 1970s.

Scientists still do not fully understand how light and the clock govern bodily functions. But research in the last decade is providing some big clues.

Melatonin, made by the pineal gland except when the ganglion cells detect light, seems to play a role in regulating sleep. It also has been shown to work as a mild sleeping aid when taken as a supplement. U.S. consumers bought $67 million of the hormone in 2004, according to Nutrition Business Journal.

Researchers think light has potential for addressing numerous clock-related ills.

The use of light as medicine was proposed in the 1980s, when researchers first identified “seasonal affective disorder,” or wintertime depression.

By supplementing short winter days with doses of artificial light, physicians could alleviate the seasonal blahs.

Today, light also is touted as a possible cure for eating disorders, irregular menstrual cycles, sleep problems, and the agitation suffered by some Alzheimer’s patients.

While Brainard studies blue light, Columbia’s Terman favors therapy with white light, prescribing machines that simulate the gradual approach of dawn.

Architects and engineers also are taking a new look at light.

It’s a turnabout for professions that spent the last quarter-century saving energy. That meant fewer windows in some structures and only as much artificial light as needed to see.

“Now we’re saying we’ve got to go in the other direction and raise the levels again,” said Craig Bernecker, a consultant who taught architectural lighting design for 20 years at Pennsylvania State University.

That goal can be accomplished without compromising energy efficiency, he said, citing today’s improved windows.

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Yet researchers are years away from learning to design buildings with healthy light, said Bernecker, past president of the Illuminating Engineering Society of North America.

At least one application has emerged so far. Some hospitals use warmer, reddish light in patient rooms for its calming effect, while installing bluer, alertness-enhancing lights at nursing stations, Bernecker said.

Meanwhile, the studies continue at Jefferson, with various experiments held two or three nights a week.

Though Brainard oversees the work, he doesn’t do the nighttime routine anymore. When he was in his 40s, a lab manager told him he was sluggish for two or three days after pulling a night shift.

Also, for the first time in his life, he began to experience jet lag after long trips.

“My biological clock aged, and I hit the wall,” said Brainard, who is now 55.

But though his clock has aged, he is still committed to finding out what makes it tick.



(c) 2006, The Philadelphia Inquirer.

Visit Philadelphia Online, the Inquirer’s World Wide Web site, at http://www.philly.com/

Distributed by Knight Ridder/Tribune Information Services.

AP-NY-04-21-06 0609EDT

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