Passage 1

Everyone knows that weddings—the most elaborate and costly form of old school pageantry still acceptable in modern society—are stupid expensive. But it turns out Americans are now blowing even more money than ever before on what’s supposed to be the most magical day of any couple’s life together. Money that, to be honest, could be spent on much, much cooler stuff.

The Knot released its annual wedding survey this week, with findings showing that couples are spending a mind-numbing average of $32,641 on matrimonial celebrations. The study includes data from nearly 18,000 pairs across the country. While the cost of a wedding varied greatly from city to city—reaching a nauseating high of $82,300 in Manhattan—the price was steep no matter where couples chose to get hitched. All this despite the fact that weddings (and marriages in general, honestly) can be a fairly impractical thing to invest in. Seriously, even 50 Cent doesn’t spend as much in a day as you’re spending on a reception band alone. Think about that.

So rather than buying into the Marriage Industrial Complex on a union that may or may not work out, wouldn’t it make more sense to save your hard-earned money by forgoing the big ceremony for the major expenses you’re likely to face in married life? You know, like a mortgage. Or braces for your wallet-draining children-to-be. And if your fianceé is dead set on a fairytale wedding? You could always just blow your financial load on a plenty fulfilling single life.

With nearly $33,000 to spend in the life of a singledom, you could get pretty far when it comes to amenities and entertainment. Perhaps the best part of being free from the shackles of wedding planning is the opportunity to treat yourself. Like, why drop $1,400 on a frilly dress you’ll wear once before it turns to moth food when you can rock the most expensive shoes of the season and look great doing it?

And while weddings are supposed to be all about the happy couple, everyone knows that’s bull, because you have to feed your guests and provide them entertainment and put a roof over their heads for a couple of hours and likely go into debt doing it.

In addition to simply having fun, there are some more practical ways to spend your wedding purse as well. For instance, purchasing and providing for a nice house cat rather than dropping major dough on finger bling intended for fending off hotties for the rest of your life. Fluffy won’t care if you bring home someone new every weekend—he’ll just hate everyone indiscriminately.

Passage 2

My teenage son recently informed me that there is an Internet quiz to test oneself for narcissism. His friend had just taken it. “How did it turn out?” I asked. “He says he did great!” my son responded. “He got the maximum score!”

When I was a child, no one outside the mental health profession talked about narcissism. People were more concerned by inadequate self-esteem, which at the time was thought to lurk behind nearly every issue. Like so many excesses of the 1970s, the self-love cult spun out of control and is now rampaging through our culture like Godzilla through Tokyo.

A 2010 study in the journal Social Psychological and Personality Science found that the proportion of college students exhibiting narcissistic personality traits – based on their scores on the Narcissistic Personality Inventory, a widely used diagnostic test – has increased by more than half since the early 1980s, to 30 per cent.

In their book, The Narcissism Epidemic, psychology professors show that narcissism has increased as quickly as obesity has since the 1980s. Even our egos are getting fat. This is a costly problem. While full-blown narcissists often report high levels of personal satisfaction, they create havoc and misery around them. There is overwhelming evidence linking narcissism with reduced honesty and increased aggression. It’s notable for occasions like Valentine’s Day that narcissists struggle to stay committed to romantic partners, in no small part because they find themselves superior.

The full-blown narcissist might reply, “So what?” But narcissism isn’t an either-or characteristic. It’s more of a set of progressive symptoms (like alcoholism) than an identifiable state (like diabetes). Millions of Americans exhibit symptoms, but still have a conscience and a hunger for moral improvement. At the very least, they really do not want to be terrible people.

A healthy self-love that leads to true happiness builds up one’s intrinsic well-being, as opposed to feeding shallow cravings to be admired. Cultivating amour de soi requires being fully alive at this moment, as opposed to being virtually alive while wondering what others think. The soulful connection with another person, the enjoyment of a beautiful hike alone, or a prayer of thanks over your sleeping child could be considered expressions of self-love.


Offshore supply vessels resembling large, floating flat-backed trucks fill Victoria Dock, unable to find charters in a sign of the downturn in Britain's oil industry.

With UK North Sea oil and gas production 44 percent below its peak, self-styled oil capital of Europe Aberdeen fears the slowdown is not simply cyclical.

The oil industry that at one stage sparked talk of Scotland as "the Kuwait of the West" has already outlived most predictions.

Tourism, life sciences, and the export of oil services around the world are among Aberdeen's targeted substitutes for North sea oil and gas -- but for many the biggest prize would be to use its offshore oil expertise to build a renewable energy industry as big as oil.

The city aims to use its experience to become a leader in offshore wind, tidal power and carbon dioxide capture and storage.

Alex Salmond, head of the devolved Scottish government, told a conference in Aberdeen last month the market for wind power could be worth 130 billion pounds, while Scotland could be the "Saudi Arabia of tidal power."

"We're seeing the emergence of an offshore energy market that is comparable in scale to the market we've seen in offshore oil and gas in the last 40 years," he said.

Another area of focus, tourism, has previously been hindered by the presence of oil. Eager to put Aberdeen on the international tourist map, local business has strongly backed a plan by U.S. real estate tycoon Donald Trump for a luxury housing and golf project 12 km (8 miles) north of the city, even though it means building on a nature reserve.

The city also hopes to reorientate its vibrant oil services industry toward emerging offshore oil centers such as Brazil. "Just because the production in the North Sea starts to decline doesn't mean that Aberdeen as a global center also declines," said Robert Collier, Chamber of Commerce Chief Executive. "That expertise can still stay here and be exported around the world."