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Actually, It Gets Worse.

“Ceaseless optimism about the future only makes for a greater shock when things go wrong; by fighting to maintain only positive beliefs about the future, the positive thinker ends up being less prepared, and more acutely distressed, when things eventually happen that he can’t persuade himself to believe are good.”

The New Yorker‘s Adam Alter surveys the recent data suggesting something that accords well with my overall worldview: Positive thinking is for suckers. “In a provocative new analysis, Oettingen and her colleagues have suggested that public displays of positive thinking may even predict downturns in major macroeconomic outcomes…the staggering results in this most recent paper are consistent with more than a decade’s worth of studies in Oettingen’s lab.”

Smarm is the New Buncombe.

“Stand against snark, and you are standing with everything decent. And who doesn’t want to be decent? The snarkers don’t, it seems. Or at least they (let’s be honest: we) don’t want to be decent on those terms. Over time, it has become clear that anti-negativity is a worldview of its own, a particular mode of thinking and argument, no matter how evasively or vapidly it chooses to express itself…Smarm is a kind of performance—an assumption of the forms of seriousness, of virtue, of constructiveness, without the substance. Smarm is concerned with appropriateness and with tone. Smarm disapproves.”

Ably channeling the spirit of Mencken, Gawker’s Tom Scocca writes in defense of Snark, and skewers the evil that produced it, Smarm. “We have popular names now for the rhetorical tools these flacks are deploying: the straw-man attack, the fake umbrage, the concern-trolling. Why are those tools so familiar? It is because they are essential parts of the smarmer’s tool kit, the grease gun and the rag and the spatula.” If you judge a man by his enemies, Scocca picks a lot of the right ones here.

They All Float Down There.

“Even the people who are supposed to like clowns — children — supposedly don’t. In 2008, a widely reported University of Sheffield, England, survey of 250 children between the ages of four and 16 found that most of the children disliked and even feared images of clowns. The BBC’s report on the study featured a child psychologist who broadly declared, ‘Very few children like clowns. They are unfamiliar and come from a different era. They don’t look funny, they just look odd.’”

Can’t Sleep Clowns Will Eat Me…The Smithsonian‘s Linda Rodriguez McRobbie looks into the history and psychology of scary clowns. “[P]erhaps as much as 2 percent of the adult population will have a fear of clowns. Adult clown phobics are unsettled by the clown’s face-paint and the inability to read genuine emotion on a clown’s face, as well as the perception that clowns are able to engage in manic behavior, often without consequences.”

The Pleasures of the Void.

“I slid the blackout door closed behind me, eased down into the water, and touched a button that switched off the lights. I was floating in total darkness and silence…For what must have been the first 15 minutes, I wondered what I was doing there…Then a transformation began…My brain went a little haywire. When the storm passed, I found myself in a new and unfamiliar state of mind.”

To kick off his new Slate column “Anything Once,” friend Seth Stevenson finds himself reveling in the sensation of sensory deprivation. “I emerged in a profound daze. I spoke slowly and quietly, like a smooth-jazz DJ, to the person at the spa desk who inquired how my session had gone. I felt more rested than if I’d slept for 16 hours on a pile of tranquilized chinchillas. Outside, colors were saturated; sounds were vivid. I had to try this again, as soon as possible.”

That’s Exactly What They Want You to Think.

“9% of voters think the government adds fluoride to our water supply for sinister reasons (not just dental health). 4% of voters say they believe ‘lizard people’ control our societies by gaining political power…14% of voters believe in Bigfoot. 15% of voters say the government or the media adds mind-controlling technology to TV broadcast signals (the so-called Tinfoil Hat crowd.)”

PPP polls America’s taste for various conspiracy theories. “37% of voters believe global warming is a hoax, 51% do not. Republicans say global warming is a hoax by a 58-25 margin, Democrats disagree 11-77, and Independents are more split at 41-51. 61% of Romney voters believe global warming is a hoax…20% of voters believe there is a link between childhood vaccines and autism, 51% do not.” Sigh. Don’t blame me, I voted for Lizard People.

The Shawshank Bowl.

“‘It’s startling to see a stadium will be named after them,’ Libal said. ‘It’s like calling something Blackwater Stadium. This is a company whose record is marred by human rights abuses, by lawsuits, by unnecessary deaths of people in their custody and a whole series of incidents that really draw into question their ability to successfully manage a prison facility.’”

Our culture veers even closer to self-parody upon the news that Florida Atlantic University will name its stadium after a private prison conglomerate. “GEO Group reported revenues in excess of $1.6 billion in 2011, income generated mostly from state and federal prisons and detention centers for illegal immigrants.”

What the?! Honestly, how shameful is it that we ostensible lovers of freedom — mainly on account of our ridiculous incarceration rates (for anything other than white-collar crimes) — not only have a private, for-profit prison industry flourishing in our country — one that routinely maintains substandard prisons and undercuts workers’ wages by outsourcing their captive labor force — but that we’re sufficiently unembarrassed about it to start naming stadiums after them? Pathetic.

Update: FAU students make their displeasure known.

Whither Happiness? (At Wal-Mart).

“The researchers coded each tweet for its happiness content, based on the appearance and frequency of words determined by Mechanical Turk workers to be happy (rainbow, love, beauty, hope, wonderful, wine) or sad (damn, boo, ugly, smoke, hate, lied). While the researchers admit their technique ignores context, they say that for large datasets, simply counting the words and averaging their happiness content produces ‘reliable’ results.”

Happiness where are you? I’ve searched so long for you. A statistical analysis of states’ relative happiness, as determined by tweets. (Red states above are happy, blue states are not.) David Simon is 2-for-2: Next to the mouth of the Mississippi, the Maryland-Delaware area is apparently the saddest in the nation. Perhaps due to proximity to Washington DC? Definitely maybe.

In probably related news, a different map of the United States shows the most popular places cited in Craigslist’s Missed Connections. “The most popular place to spot potential love in Texas, New Mexico, Missouri, Louisiana, Arkansas, Mississippi, Alabama, Idaho, Montana, South Dakota, Ohio, West Virginia, Tennessee, North Carolina and Florida? Wal-Mart.”

Of course, this begs the question: Do people actually ever meet up on Missed Connections? Every time I’ve perused them, that section is overwhelmingly the Boulevard of Broken Dreams, just damaged, lovelorn people sending out messages in a bottle to lost exes who are actively ignoring them.

Bicycle! Bicycle!

The popularity of the program is due to the attractiveness of the sturdy red bikes–every distinctive Capital Bikeshare vehicle on the street is a rolling advertisement for the program–and its incredible convenience. The system is very easy to use, and riders may pick up a bike at any station and drop it off at any station, perfect for short, one-way trips. The first 30 minutes of each trip are free, making a year’s membership a bargain for $75 if one uses the bikes for in-city commuting and errands.

Bicycle sharing is coming your way, so forget all your duties, oh yeah… From Kevin Spacey to Fratty McFrattersons, Kaid Benfield briefly surveys the rise of DC’s Capital Bikeshare in The Atlantic. “‘Capital Bikeshare’s success right out of the gate has far exceeded our expectations,’ said program director Terry Bellamy.” (LivingSocial helped.)

I joined in March after my crappy Target bike was stolen, and, while it definitely has logjams at the morning and afternoon rush hours (hopefully soon alleviated by 25 more stations), it mostly works out for my daily commute. Now if only they could get users to wear helmets.

Mr. Smith Moved to Washington.

America is a nation of Smiths, Johnsons, and Sullivans — but also of Garcias and Nguyens. Zoom in on the map below to see what surnames proliferate in your part of the country.” By way of a friend, National Geographic breaks down America by surname. Good to see the Murphys holding it down in Massachusetts.

Slainte 2010.

A very happy St. Patrick’s Day to you and yours.

Thus Passeth the Small Talk.

An application that lets users point a smart phone at a stranger and immediately learn about them premiered last Tuesday at the Mobile World Congress in Barcelona, Spain. Developed by The Astonishing Tribe (TAT), a Swedish mobile software and design firm, the prototype software combines computer vision, cloud computing, facial recognition, social networking, and augmented reality.

Well, that should really facilitate the stalking (and now everyone will know right away I like sunsets and long walks on the beach…) The Atlantic‘s Derek Thompson reports in on Recognizr, a smartphone app soon likely to cause all kinds of consternation and unwanted advances in a town near you.

The Kingdom.

The guy is sculpting the toddler id while also designing a domed metropolis with a monorail. How did this happen? A man who got famous drawing a cartoon mouse was now going to solve all America’s urban problems?” Old friend Seth Stevenson spends a week in the realm of Disney, and lives to tell the tale. “After spending the past five days here, I’ve come to the conclusion that Disney World teaches kids three things: 1) a meaningless, bubble-headed utopianism, 2) a grasping, whining consumerism, and 3) a preference for soulless facsimiles of culture and architecture instead of for the real thing. I suppose it also teaches them that monorails are cool. So there’s that.

Breathing is for Closers.

We’re adding a little something to this month’s sales contest. As you all know, first prize is a Cadillac Eldorado. Anybody want to see second prize? Second prize is a set of steak knives. Third prize is you’re waterboarded. Uh…As part of a “team-building exercise,” a Provo-based motivational speaker apparently held a waterboardingin front of his sales team to demonstrate that they should work as hard on sales as the employee had worked to breathe.” We just took a big step closer to Brazil. (Via TPM.)

When your heart grows cold.

The weather is appalling, the Christmas credit card bills are landing on the doorstep…and you’ve already broken your New Year’s resolutions. But don’t worry, if you can just get through today, things will start to look up.” Once again, some depression experts hypothesize, it’s Blue Monday, the most depressing day of the year. Well, as with last time, I can think of worse, just around the corner…

The Last Jump is the Hardest.

‘They started out watching me bust my ass, and I became part of their lives,’ Knievel said. ‘People wanted to associate with a winner, not a loser. They wanted to associate with someone who kept trying to be a winner.Robert “Evel” Knievel, 1938-2007.

It’s the thought that counts.

This site’s been languishing in the bookmarks for a good while now, but that doesn’t make it any less hilarious. By way of mkh at Hidden City, Someecards.com, for “when you care enough to hit send.” It’s got exemplary Onion-like ecards for almost any occasion, and many, many ways to express the inexpressible. Hallmark, you are in a world of pain.

Salon of the Cave Bear.

“The implication of these careful cultural signifiers: The caveman has grasped not just literacy and reason but also the affectations of the modern hipster aesthete. (That knowingly antiquated racket might easily have been stolen from a Wes Anderson set.)” Old friend Seth Stevenson ruminates on the proposed Geico caveman TV show for Slate.

If you’re feeling sinister.

By way of Dangerous Meta, a new NBER working paper finds that left-handed men make 13-21% more than their right-handed counterparts (although the same doesn’t apply for women.) “The study is the latest to suggest there’s something special about lefties. Other researchers have found that left-handers are overrepresented on university faculties, as well as among gifted students, artists and musicians.Update: Slate‘s Joel Waldfogel considers the results.

Bowling alone.

“‘People are increasingly busy,’ said Margaret Gibbs, a psychologist at Fairleigh Dickinson University. ‘We’ve become a society where we expect things instantly, and don’t spend the time it takes to have real intimacy with another person.’” CNN delves into the broadening landscape of American loneliness, which, according to the NYT, is becoming particularly acute among middle-aged men without college degrees.

That Giant Sucking Sound.

Granted, some things require more involved assessments (like, say, James Joyce: I find his early work unparalleled in its style and its evocation of emotion, while his later writing became willfully opaque in a manner that leaves me cold). But other things don’t require this sort of elaboration (like, say, John Grisham: He sucks).” In Slate, my friend Seth Stevenson writes in defense of the word “suck.”


“The cubicle was not born evil, or even square. It began, in fact, as a beautiful vision. The year was 1968. Nixon won the presidency. The Beatles released The White Album. And home-furnishings company Herman Miller (Research) in Zeeland, Mich., launched the Action Office. It was the brainchild of Bob Propst, a Coloradan who had joined the company as director of research.” (Propst would later deem his invention “monolithic insanity.”) Fortune‘s Julie Schlosser recounts the ignominious rise of the cubicle as the bane of the American workplace. “The cubicle has been called many things in its long and terrible reign. But what it has lacked in beauty and amenity, it has made up for in crabgrass-like persistence.”

Captain Emo.

“Money is a funny thing with hipsters. They exist in a state of perpetual luxuriant slumming. They drink blue-collar beers but hold white-collar jobs. Or vice versa.” As seen on Slate, two choice essays on the Wes Anderson aesthetic and the cultural baggage of contemporary hipsterism (the former by a college friend of mine, Christian Lorentzen of N+1.) They said that irony was the shackles of youth.

Like Cats and Dogs.

Via Webgoddess, catpeople and dogpeople are going claw-to-paw over at AskMeFi. You can probably guess where I fall on this spectrum.

Father to the Man.

A very happy Father’s Day to you and yours.

Aigh!! Books!!!

By way of a colleague in the program, conservative rag Human Events lists their choices for the Ten Most Harmful Books of the 19th & 20th Centuries (because remember, folks — reading & thinking are dangerous.) The usual rogues’ gallery — Marx, Hitler, Mao — are up front, as you might expect, but then things get kooky. Including Darwin is medieval enough, but Betty Friedan and Rachel Carson? You must be joking. (Well, at least it’s good to see the right-wing fringe still running scared from progressives like John Dewey and Herbert Croly.)

Yum-Yum, Boo-Hoo.

Crying while Eating. So much food, so many reasons… (including winning this hit-counting contest, which is why the site was created.)

Mothers Talk.

A very happy Mother’s Day to you and yours.

I Took Your Name.

By way of Pickle in the City, the Baby Name Wizard is a fun tool that helps you trace the popularity of a given name over the course of the twentieth century. (For what it’s worth, Kevin topped out in the ’60s.)

A Day to Forget.

Be careful out there, y’all: A British psychologist has run the numbers and deemed that today, Jan. 24, is the most depressing day of the year. Hmmm. It’s early yet, but I can think of worse. Perhaps someone should acquaint the good professor with last November’s election, or, for that matter, Valentine’s Day.

Kinsey on Lincoln.

Schindler, Rob Roy, Darkman, Qui-Gon, Kinsey…why not Honest Abe? Liam Neeson is apparently in talks to play Lincoln in a Spielberg-directed biopic, to be based on Doris Kearns Goodwin‘s forthcoming book, The Uniter. Ok, that’s not bad…but hopefully this project turns out better than Amistad.

Also in loosely related Lincoln-by-way-of-Kinsey news, Salon‘s Andrew O’Hehir casts a troubled eye at C.A. Tripp’s Intimate World of Abraham Lincoln. As he ably points out (as does George Chauncey in the excellent Gay New York), “the difficulty with assessing Lincoln’s private life (or that of anyone else who lived before the 20th century) is that the nature of private life has changed dramatically from his time to ours, and the distance between us distorts the view…Whether [Lincoln and Joshua Speed's, with whom Lincoln shared a bed] relationship had a sexual component or not, it belongs to a vanished world of intimate male friendships of a kind almost unrecognizable to us.” In other words, sexual orientation is an historically dynamic idea. Homosociality does not necessarily imply homosexuality, and one cannot simply read 19th century sources and infer a 20th century mindset. You have to delve a little deeper. Update: Columbia’s David Greenberg also weighs in for Slate.

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