Saturday, November 19, 2011

U.S. Alcohol Consumption Hits 25-Year High

The booze business is recession proof, just ask your neighborhood bartender. They know the following to be true: When times are good, people enjoy a cocktail. When times are rough, people enjoy two cocktails. A recent Gallup poll shows alcohol consumption hit a 25-year high in 2010, with 67 percent of Americans reporting drinking alcoholic beverages. This number approaches the all-time booze benchmark of 71 percent set in the 1970s.

Many believe the economy can contribute to the rise in alcohol consumption, but perhaps not in the obvious way. A poor economy may not drive the masses to drink, but it sure gives people the extra time to have an adult beverage or two – especially if they have lost their job or are staying at home on weekends to save cash.
Social drinking is a relative term, and it has myriad meanings from coast to coast. Location, culture and upbringing influence alcohol intake just as much as age, sex and weight.
U.S. citizens in the far West and the Upper Plains states drink the most, reports the Washington-based Beer Institute.

The deep south and Mid-Atlantic are among the driest parts of the country.

What state came out on top of the tap? New Hampshire had the most widespread booze consumption in the poll. The average adult in that state doubled the national per capita average, gulping an average of 6.7 gallons of wine each and 3.8 gallons of liquor in 2010. Some in the health industry attribute this to the state’s popularity for both winter and summer vacations.

Americans drank the most wine on record last year, roughly 2.3 gallons apiece. Spirits climbed 18 percent to 1.5 gallons per person, while beer intake dropped 7 percent to 20.7 gallons, reports the Beer Institute.

[Via Fox 9 News]

Saturday, November 12, 2011

More Homes Heat with Wood, Raising Pollution Risks

Mostly to save money, Matthew Walton switched a few years ago from heating his home with natural gas to wood, becoming a modern-day Paul Bunyan.

"The access to cheap wood made a difference," says Walton, a carpenter who lives on heavily forested land in Keene, N.H., where he chops his own fallen or dead trees.

"It saves us a bundle," he says, adding his wood stove can manage all winter with just two cords because he added insulation and good windows to his tidy, 1,300-square-foot home.

As energy prices rise, and winter approaches, more Americans are turning to wood to heat their homes, some hurrying to cash in on tax credits for efficient stoves that expire next month.

This upswing is prompting federal officials, concerned about the health and environmental impact of burning wood, to update 23-year-old certification criteria for stoves and set the first requirements for outdoor wood boilers, which heat water that's piped into homes.

"We are not in the business of telling people how to heat their homes," says Alison Davis of the Environmental Protection Agency, which plans to propose the new rules next year. But if they want to burn wood, Davis urges them to buy an EPA-certified stove and operate it properly so no smoke gets inside the house.

She says boilers are "significantly more polluting" than wood or pellet stoves because they have short stacks and use 10 times as much wood. Even so, she says those meeting the EPA's 2007 voluntary standards are 90% cleaner than older ones. "The technology has improved for wood stoves," Davis says, as has the research on the dangers of wood burning.

Wood heating's upswing

The number of U.S. households heating with wood rose 34% nationwide from 1.8 million in 2000 to 2.4 million in 2010 — faster than any other heating fuel, according to Census data.

"We're seeing a rise mainly in states with high oil and gas prices," most notably in Michigan and Connecticut, says John Ackerly of the Alliance for Green Heat, a nonprofit group that promotes wood stoves.

"It's a combination of rising energy prices and the economic downturn," he says, adding low- and middle-income households are much more likely than others to use wood for primary heating. In rural areas, he says many cut their own wood and in the suburbs, they get it free when trees fall.

He expects wood will become more popular this winter, citing the projected rise in household heating costs. Compared to last winter, heating will cost 3% more with natural gas and 8% more with oil this year, according to the U.S. Energy Information Administration.

Retailers are gearing up. U.S. shipments of pellet stoves, considered the most efficient way to burn wood, jumped 59% in the second quarter of this year, compared to the same time last year, and pellet fireplace inserts rose 72%, according to Leslie Wheeler of the the Hearth, Patio and Barbecue Association, an industry group.

"We're expecting those numbers to continue to increase," Wheeler says, because of high fuel prices. She says the tax credits expiring this year — up to $300 for EPA-certified stoves — are not as generous as in 2009 and 2010 when they covered 30% of the cost, up to $1,500. She says many cost $3,000 to $4,000 with installation.

Wood's dirty downside

The problem is that most Americans burn wood in old, dirty devices. Traditional fireplaces are so inefficient they don't heat a room unless they've been retrofitted with a wood or pellet insert.

Of the 10 million wood stoves being used in the U.S., 70% to 80% are not EPA-certified and emit 70% more pollution than those that are, says Lisa Rector of the nonprofit NESCAUM (Northeast

States for Coordinated Air Use Management.) She says most of the 500,000 outdoor wood boilers don't meet EPA's voluntary standards.

Several Northeast and Western states have "burn bans" and other rules to limit wood burning, particularly when air quality is bad.

"People don't realize burning wood is a source of pollution, indoors and outdoors, especially when you're using an older stove," says Janice Nolan of the American Lung Association. She says it can emit tiny particulate matter — soot and ash — that gets lodged in the lungs and toxic substances such as benzene, carbon monoxide and methane.

Walton says he bought an EPA-certified stove that does not emit smoke inside his home. He sees a health benefit in chopping wood and an aesthetic one in burning it, adding: "The stove has a certain ambience."

[Via USA Today]

Friday, November 11, 2011

South Korea's Wasted Youth

There are not many excuses for turning up late to South Korea's national college entrance exam.

The most important day in a student's life, it determines which university - if any - each of them will go to and, by extension, what their future salary and status is likely to be.

And to ensure its students have the best possible chance, for one day every year Korea changes its aircraft flight schedules, holds up the morning rush-hour, and even discourages the military from moving outside its bases.

South Korea's education system is held up as a model around the world.

Some 80% of its high-school students now go on to further education.

But according to South Korea's president, that academic success is creating its own "social problem" - a youth unemployment rate of 6.7% in October, more than twice the national average, even as parts of the labour market are hungry for workers.

"Because there are so many people graduating from university at the moment, and looking only for high-end jobs, there's a mismatch between the job-hunters, and the positions available," explains Kim Hwan Sik, director of vocational training at the Education Ministry.

The problem began with mass lay-offs after the Asian financial crisis in the late 1990s, he says.

When companies began hiring again, they found a glut of graduates willing to fill entry-level positions, putting pressure on all school-leavers to get a degree.

So these days, applicants' skills often fail to match employers' needs, according to Mr Kim. In addition, Korea loses years of much-needed earnings while they study.

Recipe for success?

Koo Woonmo, 17, is doing things differently. He has already decided he wants to become a chef.
So rather than spend his school years cramming for the university entrance exam, he is learning practical skills at a specialist culinary high school.

Today's lesson: red bean noodles.

"My mum and dad didn't want me to go to this school, because in Korean culture men aren't supposed to cook in the kitchen," he says.

"People said 'Don't go', but I wanted to. I don't want to be a normal student. I don't want to work that hard."
It is quite normal for school children in South Korea to spend 14 hours a day studying for the college entrance exam - sometimes for years on end.

Parents often spend up to half the family's income on private tuition to help their off-spring beat the competition.

Equal worth?

These days, the government would rather have more students who think like Woonmo and opt for vocational training.

But even at Woonmo's vocational high school, half the students currently go on to higher education.
The head teacher here, Min-oo Sohn, says the school is coming under pressure from the government to reduce that number. But it is a policy he fears will create a two-tier system.

"I personally feel this is going to increase polarisation between those who go to university and those who go to vocational schools," he said.

"And by trying to draw a line - when these students are just teenagers - over whether they want to go to university or not, it's making those decisions more rigid."

The government says it is well aware of the problems facing students who skip university.

"If someone straight out of high school is treated with less respect or financial return than a graduate, who on earth would want to take that route?" the education ministry's Kim Hwan Sik says.

"There needs to be a recognition that four years of experience on the job is equal to a degree.

"First the government needs to set a model example for employers, so that public institutions don't discriminate against high-school leavers. If the government takes the lead, changes will eventually trickle down to the private sector as well."

Two-tier system

To hammer the message home, the South Korean president, Lee Myung-bak, has been touring vocational schools recently, highlighting the career choices of what he calls Korea's new pioneers.

But he is up against some stiff opposition - not so much from students, perhaps, as from their older relatives.
In South Korea, parents will do almost anything to get their children into university.

At Seoul's main Buddhist temple, the price of an undergraduate in the family is two hours of prayer - every day - since July.

Hundreds of parents and grandparents have been turning up at these special examination-prayer sessions each afternoon to bow 108 times to the huge golden Buddhas staring down from the temple rafters.

Among them is Ju-sung Eun. Her granddaughter is sitting the college entrance exam this year, and Ms Ju-sung has been coming every day to pray for her success.

The government's plan to wean people away from university does not go down well with her.

"I don't agree with it," she says. "I think going to university is important for a person and I hope my granddaughter will achieve that."

It is a route that was not open for Ms Ju-sung in her day.

"I'm over 70," she cackles.

"In those days we didn't go to university. And because I didn't go, that makes my hope for my grandchildren even stronger."

Ms Ju-sung is old enough to remember the days before democracy, when a small group of elites ran this country.

The problems South Korea faces now are different - the results of its academic and financial success.

But for Ms Ju-sung - and many others here - fear of ending up on the wrong side of a two-tier system still runs deep.

[Via BBC News]

Thursday, November 10, 2011

10 Best Words for Indicating Excessive Drunkenness

1 Trashed
2 Smashed
3 Blitzed
4 Lightheaded
5 Blotto
6 Blacked out
7 Slizzard
8 Shitfaced
9 Rat-arsed
10 Plastered