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Luxuries of past become necessities
Sharon Jayson, USA TODAY
...The number of consumer products Americans say are necessities has multiplied in the past decade, suggesting that items such as microwaves or air conditioning - once considered luxuries - are things we can't live without anymore, according to a Pew Research Center survey released Thursday.
"The more of these goods you have and the more available they are, the more you feel you need," says Paul Taylor, executive vice president of the Pew Research Center.
The results are based on telephone interviews completed last month with 2,000 adults 18 and older. They were asked to rate 14 consumer products, including televisions, clothes washers and dryers and high-speed Internet as either a necessity or a luxury.
On the necessity side, the most needed was a car, with 91% saying it's a necessity. The iPod ranked as the least necessary, with only 3% viewing it that way. Flat-screen TVs were viewed as a necessity by 5% of the respondents. The study's margin of error is plus or minus 2.5 percentage points.
(14 Dec 2006)
Fattest People on Planet? Americans Take the Cake.
Sam Roberts, Seattle Post-Intelligencer via Common Dreams
Americans drank more than 23 gallons of bottled water per person in 2004 -- more than 10 times as much as in 1980.
Americans consumed more than twice as much high-fructose corn syrup per person as in 1980 and remained the fattest inhabitants of the planet, although Mexicans, Australians, Greeks, New Zealanders and Britons are not too far behind.
At the same time, we spent more of our lives than ever -- about 8 1/2 hours a day -- watching television, using computers, listening to the radio, going to the movies or reading.
This eclectic portrait of the American people is drawn from the 1,376 tables that comprise the Census Bureau's 2007 Statistical Abstract of the United States, the annual feast for number crunchers that is being served up by the federal government today.
(15 Dec 2006)
The exhaustion epidemic
Louise Carpenter, The Observer
Money, status, better health ... But if we've never had it so good, why do we all feel so wrecked? Louise Carpenter looks at the last taboo of our age - tiredness.
When, in 2002, Allison Pearson wrote I Don't Know How She Does It, she exposed, for the first time, the mayhem and exhaustion of a modern working mother. Yelps of recognition came from all over the globe. It was an international bestseller.
But in the short time between then and now, there seems to have been yet another seismic shift. Everybody is exhausted, not just working women with children. We're all run ragged by what social commentators refer to as 'the breakneck pace of life', or the 24/7 society that never sleeps.
What research points to is our inability to switch off and relax, either because of internal anxieties or those placed upon us by a boss, by society or by all of these things. The new technological age that was supposed to bring us freedom by allowing us greater flexibility is, in fact, slowly working to destroy us. It is as if we have made a pact with the devil.
(3 Dec 2006)
Has Politics Contaminated the Food Supply
Eric Schlosser, New York Times via Common Dreams
This fall has brought plenty of bad news about food poisoning. More than 200 people in 26 states were sickened and three people were killed by spinach contaminated with E. coli O157:H7. At least 183 people in 21 states got salmonella from tainted tomatoes served at restaurants. And more than 160 people in New York, New Jersey and other states were sickened with E. coli after eating at Taco Bell restaurants.
People are always going to get food poisoning. The idea that every meal can be risk-free, germ-free and sterile is the sort of fantasy Howard Hughes might have entertained. But our food can be much safer than it is right now.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 76 million Americans are sickened, 325,000 are hospitalized, and 5,000 die each year because of something they ate.
Part of the problem is that the government’s food-safety system is underfinanced, poorly organized and more concerned with serving private interests than with protecting public health. It is time for the new Democratic Congress to reverse a decades-long weakening of regulations and face up to the food-safety threats of the 21st century.
... Over the past 40 years, the industrialization and centralization of our food system has greatly magnified the potential for big outbreaks. Today only 13 slaughterhouses process the majority of the beef consumed by 300 million Americans.
And the fast-food industry’s demand for uniform products has encouraged centralization in every agricultural sector. Fruits and vegetables are now being grown, packaged and shipped like industrial commodities. As a result, a little contamination can go a long way. The Taco Bell distribution center in New Jersey now being investigated as a possible source of E. coli supplies more than 1,100 restaurants in the Northeast.
(11 Dec 2006)
Vegetarianism: the Choice of the 'More Intelligent' Child
Jeremy Laurance, Inter Press Service via Common Dreams
It's official - vegetarians really are smarter. But it is not because of what they eat. Bright children are more likely to reject meat and opt to become vegetarians when they grow up, a study has shown. Clever veggies are born not made.
The finding helps explain how a team of vegetarians won the BBC Test the Nation competition in September, when they beat off competition from six other teams including butchers, public school pupils and footballers' wives to achieve the highest overall IQ score.
The top scoring individual in the contest, Marie Bidmead, 68, a mother of five from Churcham, Gloucester, was also a vegetarian. "I think it shows we veggies are good thinkers. We think about what we eat for a start," she said.
Researchers from the University of Southampton who conducted the study agree. They suggest that vegetarians are more thoughtful about what they eat. But they say it is unclear whether bright children choose to become vegetarians for the health benefits or for other reasons, such as a concern for animals, or as a lifestyle choice.
The scientists began investigating the link between IQ and vegetarianism because people with higher intelligence have a lower risk of heart disease, which has long puzzled doctors.
(15 Dec 2006)