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How a Minimalist Lifestyle Can Add to Your Green Efforts

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You may have seen the term “minimalism” being thrown around a lot lately, especially in the eco-friendly sphere. As more and more people have adopted minimalist lifestyles, the concept has begun to slowly creep to the forefront of our collective consciousness. But what exactly is minimalism? To be honest, it can be a little hard to pinpoint.

Minimalism means different things to different people — it’s unique to the person living it. The truth is, there’s no “one size fits all” to this approach. However, one thing that can be agreed upon is that living as a minimalist is far more earth-friendly than how the majority of Americans are currently getting by. Let’s take a closer look:

What Is Minimalism?

Ranging from apartment-dwelling urbanites to country homesteaders, minimalists come from vast walks of life. They might be single or have a large family, have a house full of treasured items or live out of a backpack. The common ground lies in the opposition to the American ideal of working more to make more, and spending more to have more.

The true essence of minimalism is determining what provides you the most value in life and removing everything that is simply excess. It’s a very intentional way of living that gives rise to positive changes in almost all aspects of life. Being a minimalist means choosing to live your life with great purpose.

Curbing the Consumer Mind-Set

Society’s greatest lie is that a good life is based on the accumulation and possession of as many material items as possible. Massive houses, expensive cars, grand yachts, glittering diamonds — you know, the Instagram-worthy, Kardashian-inspired lifestyle. When we believe that more is better, we fall prey to the notion that money can buy happiness. That’s where minimalism comes in. Minimalism frees us from the all-consuming desire to possess. It sidesteps consumerism and compels us to seek happiness in experiences and relationships. It encourages us to actually live a life instead of buying one.

Now, all this isn’t to say that there’s anything wrong with owning material possessions. It’s more about throwing off the meaning we attribute to said possessions. To put it more plainly, acquiring more stuff shouldn’t come before our health, relationships or personal growth. If owning a house or a car is important to you, that’s perfectly fine. Minimalism is merely a method that supports you in making these decisions more thoughtfully.

When it comes to your possessions, adopting a minimalist lifestyle means being very intentional about what you own and not being distracted by material belongings. While you may want to start your minimalist journey by getting rid of a bunch of stuff, the focus of minimalism shouldn’t be on what you are throwing out, it should instead be on the benefit of removing what doesn’t bring value to your life. Though minimalism sounds like it’s all about having less, there’s actually a lot of “more” that comes along with it. You’ll have more time, more space, more peace and more freedom.

Minimalism Is Eco-Friendly

The basic tenets of minimalism are surprisingly in tune with the eco-friendly way of living. For instance, by making a conscious choice to only purchase what is absolutely needed, you’ll naturally consume less. The less gas, plastic and nonrecyclable materials you use on a regular basis, the fewer nonrenewable resources are used up in their production. Reuse allows you to take this even further, say by borrowing a book from the library instead of buying a new one.

Minimalism makes you more aware of how much waste you generate. Buying less means wasting less; the fewer purchases you make, the fewer boxes, bags and packing materials end up dumped in landfills. What’s more, when you produce less waste, sorting through it for recycling and composting purposes is far easier and more efficient.

Minimalism is helpful in overcoming perceived obsolescence. Perceived obsolescence is when an object is completely functional but is no longer perceived to be stylish or appropriate. It’s rendered obsolete by perception, rather than by function. Minimalism encourages you to purchase goods designed to last for a long period of time, and use them for their entire life span.

Though eighty-sixing excess possessions is a big part of minimalism, the concept goes far beyond what you own. Minimalism should be practiced in all areas of your life — determine what you value most and remove what stands in the way. Apply this to how you spend your time, who you have relationships with, what you eat and so on.

Minimalism, like so many things in life, comes in many forms — it’s a flexible concept. You can choose to adopt the aspects of minimalism that appeal to you most and adapt others to fit your lifestyle. And since it all depends on what adds value to your life in the moment, it’s bound to change over time. After all, what’s meaningful to you in your 20s is not always the same as what’s meaningful to you in your 50s. Just remember, the true aim of minimalism isn’t to deprive yourself of anything, it’s to focus on the things that bring you the most value, cultivate your relationships and live the best life you can.

To learn more about embracing minimalism, check out these fantastic minimalist blogs.

Feature image courtesy of Shutterstock

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How a Minimalist Lifestyle Can Add to Your Green Efforts

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Surprisingly Sustainable: Oktoberfest’s Green Side

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Some celebrations are almost synonymous with waste. Picture the plastic-bead-strewn streets of New Orleans after Mardi Gras, or the mountains of plastic packaging and wrapping paper after Christmas. For the environmentally conscious, the incredible wastefulness of these occasions is enough to make a Scrooge out of even the most festive individual.

Surprisingly, an environmental hero has arisen from a most unlikely holiday. A celebration that seems to have no other purpose than excessive drinking. No, not St. Patty’s Day (although there are ways to go green then, too!). Friends, we’re talking about Oktoberfest.

Yes. Really.

The Environmental Oscars

Here’s a tidbit that might shock you — it certainly surprised us. Oktoberfest — the real one, that is, held in Munich, Germany, each autumn — is one of the most environmentally friendly events out there. So much so, in fact, that it was awarded the Environmental Oscar in 1997 for its efforts to be as minimally wasteful as possible.

How have Oktoberfest organizers achieved this? Three main aspects contribute to their environmental success:

Disposing of Disposables

In 1991, the city of Munich banned disposable servingware. No more paper plates, no more plastic forks. Instead, food was served on real plates, with real silverware. Drinks were served in glasses, rather than plastic tumblers. This one change reduced waste at the annual festival by over 90 percent. It’s an encouraging statistic for festivals worldwide, especially those that think that waste-free celebrations are beyond their capabilities. After all, Oktoberfest is hardly a small-time operation; it hosts six million visitors each year. If they can go without one-time-use tableware, surely your next backyard barbecue can too!

Organics & Recycling

Gray water from washing all these dishes doesn’t just go down the drain, either. In almost half the festival tents, gray water is reused to flush the toilets (I’ve always wondered why we don’t do this everywhere). Reusing water like this drastically reduces the need for fresh water, and ensures that Oktoberfest gets the most use out of every drop. Much of the food served at Oktoberfest — including the meat — is also organically sourced. And while we could definitely make a strong case for reducing the amount of meat eaten at the bacchanalian beer fest (each year, attendees devour tons of sausages and almost 500,000 chickens), choosing poultry that’s been organically raised does make a huge difference.

Renewable Rejoicing

Since the year 2000, streetlights, toilets and all other public areas of the festival have been powered by renewable energy, making the festival one of the greenest in terms of how it powers its raucous celebrations. This attitude of environmental awareness has filtered through to its vendors, too — approximately 60 percent of them have followed suit and also chosen renewable power sources.

Oktoberfest is one of the purest festivals out there when you look at pure intent. It was originally celebrated to mark the marriage of Bavarian Crown Prince Ludwig to the Saxon-Hildburghausen Princess Therese on Oct. 12, 1810. These days, it’s a chance to celebrate good beer, great brats and dudes in lederhosen. But the way Munich has focused on creating sustainable Oktoberfest celebrations is an example to all of us that life needn’t be dour and stark to be eco-friendly. In fact, quite the opposite.

Your Own Green Event

So, how can you bring a little of Munich’s environmental sensibilities to your own Oktoberfest celebrations — or any other party, for that matter? It is possible, even if you can’t use gray water to flush your toilet or suddenly switch to renewable energy:

Use e-vite sites like Green Envelope or Paperless Post to create online invites instead of mailing paper ones.
Follow Oktoberfest’s lead and ditch the disposable plates, cups and silverware. If you’re worried about tipsy guests breaking your good dishes, pick up an inexpensive set at Goodwill or Value Village. It’ll likely be the same price as (or cheaper than) disposable stuff, and you can reuse for many parties down the road. Just remember to wash well before use.
Provide bins for compost, recycling and garbage. Often just providing guests options for eco-friendly waste disposal is all you need to do to decrease the amount of waste your party produces.
If you’re going all out for the celebration, rent a costume instead of buying one. Good lederhosen don’t come cheap, and cheap ones won’t last long. Get into the spirit by renting a costume that’ll help you dress the part without taking up space in your closet the rest of the year.
If it’s in your budget, offer your guests organic refreshments and food — organic and/or local chickens, sausage and even beer if you can find it!

We hope you have a fantastic time celebrating good beer, great friends and the crisp arrival of fall. Happy Oktoberfest!

Feature image courtesy of Shutterstock

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Surprisingly Sustainable: Oktoberfest’s Green Side

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Science for Sale – David L. Lewis, PhD

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Science for Sale

How the US Government Uses Powerful Corporations and Leading Universities to Support Government Policies, Silence Top Scientists, Jeopardize Our Health, and Protect Corporate Profits

David L. Lewis, PhD

Genre: Life Sciences

Price: $1.99

Publish Date: June 3, 2014

Publisher: Skyhorse Publishing

Seller: The Perseus Books Group, LLC


When Speaker Newt Gingrich greeted Dr. David Lewis in his office overlooking the National Mall, he looked at Dr. Lewis and said: “You know you’re going to be fired for this, don’t you?” “I know,” Dr. Lewis replied, “I just hope to stay out of prison.” Gingrich had just read Dr. Lewis’s commentary in Nature , titled “EPA Science: Casualty of Election Politics.” Three years later, and thirty years after Dr. Lewis began working at EPA, he was back in Washington to receive a Science Achievement Award from Administrator Carol Browner for his second article in Nature . By then, EPA had transferred Dr. Lewis to the University of Georgia to await termination—the Agency’s only scientist to ever be lead author on papers published in Nature and Lancet . The government hires scientists to support its policies; industry hires them to support its business; and universities hire them to bring in grants that are handed out to support government policies and industry practices. Organizations dealing with scientific integrity are designed only to weed out those who commit fraud behind the backs of the institutions where they work. The greatest threat of all is the purposeful corruption of the scientific enterprise by the institutions themselves. The science they create is often only an illusion, designed to deceive; and the scientists they destroy to protect that illusion are often our best. This book is about both, beginning with Dr. Lewis’s experience, and ending with the story of Dr. Andrew Wakefield.

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Science for Sale – David L. Lewis, PhD

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What Do Millennials Spend All Their Money On?

Mother Jones

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A few days ago, Australian real-estate mogul Tim Gurner had some harsh words for millennials who are unhappy that they can’t afford to buy a house:

“When I was trying to buy my first home, I wasn’t buying smashed avocado for $19 and four coffees at $4 each,” he said. “We’re at a point now where the expectations of younger people are very, very high. They want to eat out every day; they want travel to Europe every year.

“The people that own homes today worked very, very hard for it,” he said, adding that they “saved every dollar, did everything they could to get up the property investment ladder.”

This prompted a snarky, avocado-centric Twitter meme for a while, and the next day the New York Times even tried to fact check Gurner’s claim:

According to the Food Institute, which analyzed Bureau of Labor Statistics expenditure data from 2015, people from 25 to 34 spent, on average, $3,097 on eating out. Data for this age group through the decades was not readily available….As for Mr. Gurner’s second suggestion — skipping the European vacation — there is indeed an opportunity for savings, but research suggests millennials are the generation spending the least on travel.

This is some strange stuff. In its current form, the BLS Consumer Expenditure Survey goes back to the 80s, so this data is indeed available through the decades. Still, at least this is an attempt to take Gurner seriously: he’s not literally complaining about avocados on toast, but about a cavalier attitude toward money in general. So let’s take a look at that. First, here are total expenditures for 25-34-year-olds:

As you can see, millennials spend a smaller proportion of their income than 25-34-year-olds did a generation ago. In the Reagan era, this age group spent 91 percent of their income. Today’s millennials spend only 81 percent of their income.1 Still, thanks to rising incomes their total expenditures clock in about $3,000 higher (adjusted for inflation) than young households in the 80s.

But do they spend a big part of that income on fripperies, like lavish vacations and expensive dinners out? Let’s look:

Three decades ago, 18-34-year-olds spent 10.5 percent of their income on entertainment and eating out. Millennials spend 8.6 percent. In real dollars, that represents a small decline. In other words, millennials are more frugal about dining and entertainment than past generations.

So what do millennials spend their money on each year? They may have $3,000 more in disposable income than young families of the 80s and 90s, but they also spend:

About $1,000 more on health care.
About $1,500 more on pensions and Social Security.
About $2,000 more on overall housing (rent, maintenance, utilities, etc.).
About $700 more on education.

If they’re not buying houses, this is why. It’s not because houses are more expensive: the average house costs about a third more than it did in the 80s and early 90s, but thanks to low interest rates the average mortgage payment is about the same or even a bit lower. But it’s tough to scrape together a down payment when you’re already running a tight ship on dining and entertainment and paying more than previous generations for health care, education, retirement, and student loans.

That said, I’ll add one more thing: our perceptions are probably a bit warped about this. Millennials who write about this stuff tend to live in media centers like New York or San Francisco or Washington DC, where housing is extremely expensive. Even with a decent income it’s hard to afford anything more than a cramped apartment. In the rest of the country things are different, but we don’t hear as much about that. Caveat emptor.

1The share of income not counted as expenditures includes taxes, student loans, credit card payments, savings, etc.

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What Do Millennials Spend All Their Money On?

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Climate negotiators will meet to talk Paris agreement, while Trump team debates dropping it.

Kait Parker grew up the daughter of a math teacher and a storm-spotting firefighter, which likely explains her spitfire approach to explaining atmospheric science. Last year, when Breitbart attempted to disprove climate change by misleadingly poaching only a portion of her Weather Channel segment on La Niña, Parker fired back. She called out the alt-right site for its dubious methods in an online video. “Next time you’re thinking about publishing a cherry-picked article, try consulting a scientist first,” she zinged. The response brought a wave of social-media support and shout-outs from mainstream media like Elle.

Parker is currently doubling down on reaching her fellow millennials, producing and hosting shows on digital-only outlets like the Weather Channel app and Snapchat. Her YouTube series, “Science Is Real,” examines the consequences of a warming planet. And later this spring she’ll launch “The United States of Climate Change,” a massive 50-part series that will chart climate impacts in every state through short videos, written pieces, and even graphic novels.

“If 97 doctors told you you were dying of cancer, would you believe them, or the three that didn’t?” she says of climate change. “The more lives I can help save and communicate the risk, the better.”


Meet all the fixers on this year’s Grist 50.

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Climate negotiators will meet to talk Paris agreement, while Trump team debates dropping it.

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Trump Tax Plan Unveiled!

Mother Jones

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Last night I wrote that the Trump tax plan would be little more a than a rewrite of his campaign document. I was wrong. Here it is:

It’s not worth the 60 seconds it would take to check this, but I’m pretty sure this is less detailed than Trump’s campaign document. What a fucking embarrassment. It’s like something a high school class would put together. Even with only five days to work with, you’d think the Treasury Department of the United States of America could produce a little more than this.

But let’s go through the whole thing. There’s a little more than you see in the tweet above:

Three tax brackets instead of seven. However, there’s no telling how this affects taxes until Steve Mnuchin tells us where the cutoff points are.

Doubles the personal exemption from $12,000 to $24,000. This will help middle-class families, but it’s a little hard to know how much it will help them until we get details on….

Elimination of itemized deductions. Which ones? All of them? Good luck with that. But you can be sure that one of the targets will be the deduction for state income taxes, since that mostly benefits the hated blue states of California and New York.

Elimination of the estate tax. A huge boon for the super-duper rich.

Elimination of the AMT. A huge boon for the rich.

Elimination of Obamacare’s 3.8 percent tax on investment. A huge boon for the rich.

Reduce business tax rate to 15 percent. A huge boon for corporations and the rich, especially those with income from pass-through businesses. Apparently Mnuchin doesn’t care that Senate rules make this almost literally unpassable.

Tax repatriation holiday. A huge boon for corporations and the rich.

Territorial taxation system for corporations. There’s no telling what effect this would have. There are good territorial systems and bad ones. It’s all in the details—though it’s a pretty good guess that Trump will opt for one of the bad ones.

The driving force behind this appears to be Trump’s desire to call this the biggest tax cut in American history. The previous champ was Ronald Reagan’s 1981 tax cut, which cost 3.9 percent of GDP. That means Trump is gunning for 4 percent of GDP.

The Congressional Budget Office pegs GDP over the next ten years at $239 trillion. To get to 4 percent, Trump’s tax plan will need to cut taxes by $9.5 trillion. This is obviously ridiculous. Maybe Trump isn’t accounting for inflation or something. That would get him down to $4.3 trillion.

Really, who knows? I suppose Trump will call it the biggest tax cut in history regardless of how big it is. He doesn’t care. The one thing we can be sure of is that the rich will swoon. At a guess, something like 90 percent of that $9.5 (or $4.3 or whatever) trillion will go to the top 10 percent. The rest of us get a few crumbs.

Of course, this whole thing is DOA in Congress anyway, which will pretty much ignore Trump and create its own tax plan for the rich. This one-page “plan” is really just a publicity stunt so Trump can say he introduced it during his first hundred days. What a doofus.

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Trump Tax Plan Unveiled!

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Republicans Unveil Their Health Care Plan. It’s a Bloodbath.

Mother Jones

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Republicans have finally released their shiny new health care plan. It’s pretty much the same as the discussion draft that leaked a couple of weeks ago, and includes the following basic features:

Subsidies (in the form of advanceable tax credits) are age-based, starting at $2,000 for young people and going up to $4,000 for older folks.
The subsidies begin to phase out above incomes of $75,000 ($150,000 for households). This will affect about 10 percent of the population and probably reduces the cost of the bill by about 5 percent.
Obamacare’s Medicaid expansion is frozen in 2020 and then gradually phased out.
The bill allocates about $10 billion per year for high-risk pools run by states. This is far too little to work effectively.
The tax meant to pay for everything was removed.
Insurers are required to cover everyone who applies, even if they have pre-existing conditions. However, if you have a coverage gap longer than two months, insurers can impose a premium surcharge of 30 percent for one year. This “continuous coverage” provision is designed to motivate people to buy insurance, since the bill repeals the individual mandate.
The funding formula for Medicaid is changed to a “per-capita allotment,” which is a fancy way of saying it gets cut.
All the Obamacare taxes on the rich are repealed.

Oh, and the bill includes a one-year ban on funding for Planned Parenthood. Conservatives love this, but it’s also likely to generate some sure no votes in the Senate. Remember that Republicans can only afford two defections in the Senate. Any more than that and their bill fails.

Needless to say, there’s not yet an analysis from the Congressional Budget Office about how much the GOP plan will cost or how many people it will cover. It’s safe to say that on the cost side, it will be a lot cheaper than Obamacare. In fact, since the tax credits are so stingy, it’s likely that very few people in the bottom third of the income spectrum will use them. They leave insurance too expensive for most poor people to afford.

Because of this, my horseback guess is that the Republican plan will be used by about 3 million people, compared to 10 million for Obamacare. The Medicaid expansion will be unchanged for a while, continuing to cover about 10 million people. Total cost for subsidies + high-risk pools + Medicaid expansion will run about $25 billion per year, compared to $100 billion for Obamacare.

Three million is far too small a pool for any kind of successful program, and the pre-existing conditions clause ensures that the pool will be not just small, but very, very heavily weighted toward the very sick. It’s a disaster for insurance companies, who will almost surely refuse to participate.

That’s my guess, anyway. It’s a bloodbath. More detailed analysis from think tankers will be available soon, and the CBO will weigh in eventually too. It’s not going to be pretty.

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Republicans Unveil Their Health Care Plan. It’s a Bloodbath.

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Revolutionary New iPhone Set to Debut Someday

Mother Jones

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Steve Jobs may be dead, but his reality distortion field lives on:

The speculative frenzy that always precedes a new iPhone has been supercharged in anticipation of the 10th-anniversary release expected later this year. Analysts in research reports have predicted the phone will be one of Apple’s most revolutionary, with some suggesting it will come in three sizes instead of the usual two, with a case made almost entirely of glass and possibly wireless-charging capability.

At least one of the anniversary phones is expected to have an OLED screen, technology that would make the device thinner and lighter. The display, on top of its being an anniversary edition, has led to speculation that Apple could charge record prices for it, said Steven Milunovich, an analyst with UBS.

Three sizes! Wireless charging! An OLED screen! All for a mere thousand dollars.

The sleazy marketing part of me admires the hell out of Apple. They have somehow built up a customer base so loyal that they can explicitly follow a strategy of staying two years behind everyone else and then incorporating whatever features turn out to be popular. Their loyal customers are, apparently, OK with paying astronomical prices for the privilege of always lacking the latest and greatest features. Because it’s Apple.

When I switched from an iPhone to an Android phone several years ago, it took me literally no more than a day to get accustomed to the new UI. Phone interfaces, after all, are designed to be super simple, and the iPhone and Android UIs aren’t really all that different to begin with. But iPhone users remain fanatically loyal for reasons that escape me. I wonder if this bubble is ever going to burst?

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Revolutionary New iPhone Set to Debut Someday

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Who Really Lives in a Bubble, Anyway?

Mother Jones

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Who really lives in a bubble? The cosmopolitan residents of big cities or the tradition-minded residents of small towns and rural areas?

I don’t know, and I’m not going to try to answer this question. I just want to remind everyone what the actual theory here is. The theory is that although country mice might not personally experience much diversity in their lives, they are saturated with it in the media. They know all about us city mice and how we live because they watch TV and movies, listen to music, and read magazines that relentlessly portray our lives and our beliefs. Nearly all of this media is produced by urban folks, and for the most part it presents cosmopolitan urban lives sympathetically and accurately. Even TV news gets in the act. The three network evening news broadcasts pull an audience massively greater than anything Fox News gets.

Most urban residents, by contrast, don’t know much about small-town life because it’s almost never portrayed in the media except comedically or satirically. They may think of themselves as open-minded and tolerant, but in fact they have little idea of how rural Americans really behave and are openly disdainful of most of their beliefs.

I’m not especially taking sides on this, just pointing out the actual argument that conservatives make. The “bubble” here isn’t a question of whether you have a Somali family living down the street or have never traveled outside the US. The bubble is whether you have some genuine understanding of both American rural life and American city life. Conservatives argue that the country mice do much better on this score than the city mice.

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Who Really Lives in a Bubble, Anyway?

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Living At Home Has Become Steadily More Popular Since the 1960s

Mother Jones

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According to the Wall Street Journal, millennials are living in their parents’ basements at record rates:

Almost 40% of young Americans were living with their parents, siblings or other relatives in 2015, the largest percentage since 1940, according to an analysis of census data by real estate tracker Trulia.

Despite a rebounding economy and recent job growth, the share of those between the ages of 18 and 34 doubling up with parents or other family members has been rising since 2005. Back then, before the start of the last recession, roughly one out of three were living with family.

Hmmm. “Rising since 2005.” I’ll assume that’s technically true, but take a look at the chart that accompanies the Journal piece. The number of young adults living with their parents rose in the 70s. And the 80s. And the aughts. And the teens. Basically, it’s been on an upward trend for nearly half a century. That seems more noteworthy to me than the fact that it failed to blip slightly downward after the Great Recession ended.

Part of the reason, of course, is that people have been getting married and settling down later in life. According to the OECD, the average age at first marriage has increased nearly five years just since 1990, and ranges between 30 and 35 around the world:

The United States is still at the low end of the world average.

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Living At Home Has Become Steadily More Popular Since the 1960s

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