woe is them: Cheer Up–There’s Plenty of Bad News Out There
Sometimes bad news is better than good news. Think of it this way: The pleasure of good news is largely confined to those it affects personally; the pleasure of bad news is available to everyone it doesn’t affect personally. Several recent incidents illustrate the point. We can start with the bride and multimillionaire groom who quickly parted company after marrying on that Fox TV extravaganza. Had the marriage gone swimmingly, it would have brought joy to the husband and wife and done nothing more to entertain the rest of us. Having sunk like a stone, it’s bringing continued amusement to all who read about it and watch the principals’ post-nup recriminations on morning television. On the level of prurient interest, it’s quite as diverting as the show itself. On a moral plane, it gives satisfaction to those who were horrified at seeing marriage reduced to a prime-time stunt. Elsewhere in the news, the hacker attack on major Web sites was distressing to thecompanies’ shareholders. But it was a treat for Webophobes and Web purists alike. It’s entertaining, after all, to see millions of dollars being lost when they aren’t one’s own millions. For the audience of this event, it was worth every penny of other people’s money. We can even take some pleasure in bad news that affects us if it affects others more conspicuously. Owners of ordinary cars may wince at the steep rise in gasoline prices, but they draw solace from the knowledge that owners of gas-guzzling SUVs are suffering even more. When bad news means someone is getting his comeuppance, how bad can it be? Amid all the good news about the economy (up) and signs of social dysfunction (down), the none-too-noble human psyche feels a special hunger for bad news–as long as the worst of it can be experienced from a safe distance.

here’s the schedule: Whadayamean I’m Cranky?
You may have noticed that women are not always the embodiment of sweetness and light. At times, indeed, they’re downright cranky. A poll by Glamour magazine seeks to find out precisely when those times are. For a plurality of respondents (37 percent), crankiness typically hits in late afternoon. The other high-crankiness dayparts: “early morning, before work” (24 percent) and “right after getting to work” (19 percent). By contrast, just 6 percent of those polled said they’re most apt to get cranky at lunchtime. Once a cranky episode starts, how long does it last? Beware of the 1 percent for whom it’s a “24/7” matter and the 7 percent whose crankiness lasts “all day.” At the other end of the spectrum are the 3 percent who crank for five minutes and the 31 percent who take 15 minutes. The most common duration is one hour (44 percent). And how do these women cope with their crankiness? The most popular response (picked by 21 percent) is to “complain and whine.”

mixed blessings: Smarter Than Average, The Science of Towels, Etc.
Latest evidence of the Lake Woebegone Effect, in which “all the children are well above average”: Polling by Yankelovich Partners among 9-17-year-olds found 62 percent of respondents subscribing to the statement, “I am smarter than most kids my age.” Similarly, 62 percent claimed to be “one of the leaders in my group of friends.”

Unpleasant options of the week: If you had to choose, would you rather serve life in prison without parole or suffer the death penalty? In a Fox News/Opinion Dynamics poll, 48 percent preferred death, while 34 percent chose life. A sensible 18 percent declared themselves “not sure.” Do you suppose respondents were influenced by the thought of appearing in a Benetton ad?
A visit to a new museum may be fun, but will it affect your outlook on life? Building on a campaign that publicized its recent opening, the Science Museum of Minnesota shows how scientific awareness might permeate one’s life. In addition to the chromosomal towels shown above, the new series has someone saluting the night sky with this poem: “Gaseous fire light, gaseous fire bright, first gaseous fire I see tonight .” Another ad shows a household salt shaker labeled “NaCl.” Gabriel Diericks Razidlo of Minneapolis is the agency for the effort.

You must walk the road to self-empowerment one step at a time. And the first step is to order a sandwich. To promote its touch-screen ordering system–a.k.a. “the only way to get exactly what you want”–a spot for Sheetz Convenience Stores mimics a motivational lecture. “Change ‘I can’t’ to ‘I can,’ ” urges the speaker–starting with a bagel sandwich without onions. Egan/St. James of Pittsburgh created the spot.

warm sentiments: The Great Outdoors Aren’t So Hot When They’re Icy
Global warming hasn’t dulled Americans’ yearning for a break from winter’s cold weather. The chart below excerpts some results from a poll on the subject by Princeton, N.J.-based ORC International. As you might expect, 18-44-year-olds were more likely than their elders (19 percent versus 7 percent) to make skiing their money-is-no-object choice. Conversely, the older cohort was keener than the younger on parking in front of a fire (26 percent versus 13 percent). While one would think winter is tougher in the boondocks than in metropolitan areas, rural residents were less apt than urbanites and suburbanites to pick a jaunt to a warm-weather resort (29 percent versus 39 percent).
A separate survey by the research firm presented a list of winter sports and asked respondents to say which they’re likely to to participate in this winter. A plurality (46 percent) planned to shun winter sports altogether. Sledding/tobogganing won the favor of 23 percent, followed by hiking (21 percent), skiing (18 percent), ice skating (12 percent) and snowboarding (6 percent). Needless to say, no poll on winter sports is complete without a question as to which celebrity Americans would most like to hit with a snowball. Warming to the task, respondents produced this motley top four: Howard Stern (20 percent), O.J. Simpson (18 percent), Bill Clinton (18 percent) and Barney the dinosaur (11 percent).

clothes for comfort: The 2000s Are Shaping Up As the Casual Millennium
If the casual-clothes trend keeps up much longer, every American will know where the “h” belongs in “khaki.” A study by The NPD Group says casualwear continued to drive the clothing market last year. “Almost without exception, apparel categories posting the most robust growth are those that suit a dressed-down lifestyle,” the research firm reports. While total U.S. clothing sales rose a lackluster 4 percent last year, to a total of $184 billion, men’s casual pants were up 11 percent. Women’s sweaters gained 13 percent, atop double-digit gains the previous two years. Other categories showing brisk growth: men’s sweaters and shorts (both up 10 percent) and women’s casual pants (up 12 percent). Given the steady increase in the nation’s collective weight, it’s little surprise that women’s large-size apparel was another growth niche, posting a 10 percent gain. Meanwhile, there’s disappointing news for those who hope to see Casual Friday give way to Formal Friday. Sales of men’s tailored clothes slipped 0.5 percent last year, and sales of women’s tailored clothes inched up a mere 1.9 percent. If people aren’t buying fancy clothes now, amid a booming economy and a resulting mania for luxuries, it’s hard to imagine they’ll do so when the expansion has run its course.