Don’t Keep Your Donations to Yourself

Growing up, I absorbed the Sunday school lesson that “when you give alms, do not let your left hand know what your right hand is doing.”1 In other words, charitable giving doesn’t count in your favor if you seek recognition for it. Don’t brag and don’t be smug.

Fair point. Nobody likes a braggart, and I don’t intend to suggest that you ought to become one.

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  1. Matthew 6:3. 

Your Aloe Vera Gel May Not Contain Any Aloe

The aloe vera gel many Americans buy to soothe damaged skin contains no evidence of aloe vera at all.

According to the Chicago Tribune, if you bought Target Up & Up Aloe Vera Gel, Walgreens Alcohol Free Aloe Vera Body Gel, CVS Aftersun Aloe Vera Moisturizing Gel, or Wal-Mart Equate Aloe After Sun Gel, you are basically just rubbing maltodextrin and an emulsifier on your skin.

This is just the latest example of herbal supplements that don’t live up to their labels. In 2013, Canadian researches found that a third of the herbal supplements they tested don’t contain the herb on the label. In 2015, the New York Attorney General tested herbal supplements from GNC, Target, Walgreens, and Walmart, and found that 80% of them just contained houseplants.

Featured image: “Aloe vera leaf” from Wikimedia Commons.

So You Want to Do Something after the Election …

Here is the Minnesota Secretary of State’s notice of vacancies in state boards, councils, and committees for November 2016 (pdf). There are 74 pages of vacancies for everything from the American Indian Child Welfare Advisory Council to the Noxious Weed Advisory Committee. Most are uncompensated other than expense reimbursement, and many positions have requirements for qualification. But if you want to help with the business of government, there are lots of opportunities.

You can also sign up to receive notice by email when there is a new vacancy.

Two Facebooks: Liberal v. Conservative

If you sometimes feel like you are living in a completely different world than people who voted for the other candidate in this year’s presidential election, you kind of are. The echo chamber is real.

To illustrate the point, the Wall Street Journal built a “Blue Feed, Red Feed” tool that lets you see, side-by-side, what a liberal and conservative might see on Facebook at any given moment. And it’s striking.

The two feeds might as well exist in alternative universes. When you see them side-by-side, it looks like two uninformed elementary schoolers arguing about whose armpits are smellier.

Now, these feeds are built off of some pretty biased sources, but I definitely recognize some of the liberal-side sites. Although I try to have a balanced news feed, sites like Daily Kos, Salon, and the Daily Show regularly pop up in my own liberal echo chamber. Many of the articles on the conservative side are about things I’ve barely heard of. For example, George Soros is apparently a conservative boogeyman in the same way the Koch brothers are for liberals. Who knew?

I’ve gone through my own Facebook page likes and Twitter follows to try to build a more neutral information stream, and you should, too. Get out of the echo chamber and improve your news diet. It might feel good to hear people

How to Consume a Healthier News Diet (and Why It’s Critical)

On this weekend’s episode of Last Week Tonight, John Oliver explains that for many Americans, Facebook is their primary source of news. Then he puts this image on the screen:

2016-11-13-john-oliver-trump

That stopped me in my tracks. Of course. Of course your views about the candidates lined up with the headlines you saw every day. Your news diet is just like a regular diet. If you eat lots of junk food, you will probably get fat.

And yes, before you retort that it’s the same as liberals getting their news from the Daily Show and Last Week Tonight, I agree. It’s the same thing (except funnier).

Conservative or liberal, we all need to put some thought into our news diet. For most of us that means adding some balance to the news sources we see in our Facebook or Twitter feeds. And we all need to add a healthy dose of skepticism to our news diets.

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74% of Minnesotans Decided Who Will Represent 100% of Minnesotans

In the 2008 election (President Obama’s first term), 78% of Minnesotans voted. This year, just 74% of Minnesotans voted. Despite the lower turnout, Minnesota was back on top as the state with the highest voter turnout. The national average was around 55%.

For the full analysis and interactive graphics, see the Star Tribune.

Poverty is Expensive, Car Insurance Edition

How much more? On average, 59% more, but it can vary wildly. GEICO apparently charged one Minneapolis woman 300% more than a similar woman of “higher socioeconomic status.”

Insurance companies say the disparity is actually due to risk factors like education level and homeownership, not income. Those with less money tend to have less education and lower rates of homeownership, which apparently makes them more likely to get into an accident. But it amounts to the same thing: the less money you have, the more you probably pay for car insurance.

[Star Tribune via MinnPost]

John Oliver Forgives $15 Million of Medical Debt

And does a pretty great job going down the list of what’s wrong with one of the slimiest industries there is.

Google to Ban Ads from Payday Lenders

From the Washington Post:

Google announced Wednesday that it will ban all payday loan ads from its site, bowing to concerns by advocates who say the lending practice exploits the poor and vulnerable by offering them immediate cash that must be paid back under sky-high interest rates.

This is huge. I used to run Google AdSense ads on this site, but stopped because it just felt wrong to be writing about the evils of payday lending while giving them a platform to reach consumers.

Google isn’t erasing payday lenders from the Internet. You will still be able to search for a payday loan. This just means payday lenders won’t be able to feature their ads on unrelated search terms.

Payday lenders are already complaining that this is unfair, of course.

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MN House Speaker Kurt Daudt Gets Sued by Messerli & Kramer

This starts out as a completely ordinary debt collection story. A consumer falls behind on their credit card bills, eventually they get sued by Messerli & Kramer, and Messerli & Kramer gets a default judgment, probably due to Minnesota’s permissive “pocket filing” rule. But in this case, the consumer in question is the Republican Minnesota House Speaker, Kurt Daudt. And it’s a little embarrassing.

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