From Mad Men and White Collar to Dirty Jobs and Grey’s Anatomy, TV may tell us a lot about how we view our work — and, moreover, how we should. For some, it’s just a job, but for others, it’s a life calling. Maybe we can learn more about our professions by staying on the couch than we can by joining the workforce. (Aeon)

Ad blockers are gaining popularity, maybe because they can save mobile users more than just the headaches caused by strobe-like video ads. A new report by the New York Times shows that, depending on the ratio of advertising to content, blockers can shave seconds off loading times and cents off data bills for each page. (The New York Times)

There’s a constant battle to explain why the rising price of a college education seems to raise demand, defying the usual models. There’s a term for this — a Veblen good — and it’s got mostly to do with the price of prestige. (The Baffler)

Is it time for “he” and “she” to go the way of “Miss” and “Mrs.”? Sharon Bloyd-Peshkin argues that gender, like marital status, should not be brought up in journalistic stories unless pertinent. Here’s a historical and political case for the singular “they.” (In These Times)

Looking for something to read this weekend? Sink into some science. (Seed Magazine) •

Maren Larsen is the associate editor of The Smart Set. She is a digital journalism student, college radio DJ, and outdoor enthusiast.

In my old age, I hope to found a new university, called rather unimaginatively the New University, with funding from one or another imprudent billionaire (a prudent billionaire would turn me down). In contemporary universities and colleges there is often a division among the natural sciences, social science and humanities. In my New University, there would be only two faculties: natural sciences and the humanities. The social sciences would be abolished.

Social science was — it is best to speak in the past tense — a mistake. The dream of a comprehensive science of society, which would elucidate “laws of history” or “social laws” comparable to the physical determinants or “laws” of nature, was one of the great delusions of the 19th century. Auguste Comte formulated a Religion of Humanity based on “the positive philosophy” or Positivism. Karl Marx went to his grave convinced that his discovery of laws of history had made him the Darwin or Newton of social science.
More… “Let’s Abolish Social Science”

Michael Lind is a contributing writer of The Smart Set, a fellow at New America in Washington, D.C., and author of Land of Promise: An Economic History of the United States.


“But it is pretty to see what money will do.” So says London diarist Samuel Pepys in his March 21 1666, entry. And he’s right. Money can “answereth all things” according to Ecclesiastes; it “doesn’t talk, it swears” according to Bob Dylan; it’s “good for bribing yourself through the inconveniences of life” according to Gottfried Reinhardt; it’s that “clinking, clanking sound” that makes the world go round” according to the Cabaret emcee; “it’s better than poverty, if only for financial reasons” according to Woody Allen. Money can even purchase the wherewithal for a personal credo: “I believe in meditating in the tub with some very nice bath products,” Oprah declares. “Origins Ginger Bath is one I use a lot.” Well, I suppose meditating is a fine and centering thing, as long as one meditates with rather than on… More…

Looking for some outdoor summer fun but hate the crowds of Yellowstone, the remoteness of Dry Tortugas, the heat of Death Valley, and the obviousness of the Grand Canyon? Maybe you’d instead enjoy picnicking in James H. “Sloppy” Floyd State Park in Georgia. Or swimming at E.P. “Tom” Sawyer State Park in Kentucky. Or walking your leashed pet through Harry “Babe” Woodyard State Natural Area in Illinois.


If so, you should get on that now. This is not a good time for state parks. With economic conditions making employment and education seem like privileges, recreation is hardly thought a right. Which is why the state parks make easy targets for the nation’s 50 governors and 7,382 state legislators looking to cut costs. Which is why the National Trust for Historic Preservation, in turn, has placed state parks and… More…

Christmas curmudgeonry has grown as monotonous as the music a Salvation Army kettle-clanger makes. First, the ACLU spoils Baby Jesus’ City Hall camp-out by filing a lawsuit somewhere. Then, the Christian greetings police refuse to turn the other cheek at sales clerks who don’t sufficiently reciprocate their faith-based merriment. Then, secular spendthrifts denounce the excessive commercialism that undermines a day ostensibly devoted to peace, joy, and football. So at least give economist Joel Waldfogel credit for coming up with a new way to tell us how much Christmas sucks. In his new book Scroogenomics, the University of Pennsylvania economics professor argues that our holiday spending binges aren’t efficient enough. For example, say I buy you a toaster for $50, and you buy me a waffle iron for $50. If neither of us really wanted the gifts we received, and would only pay $25 for them if we had to buy… More…


The hundreds of billions of dollars the U.S. government has earmarked for infrastructure repair may not start truly flowing until 2010, but look around the high-end clothing boutiques and upscale department stores of America, and you can see we’re plenty ready for the challenges that lay ahead. Head to toe, from their Engineered Garments railroad conductor caps to their APC leather work boots, our hardest-dressing clotheshorses are tightening their hand-oiled Billy Kirk No. 109 skinny belts and preparing to rebuild America’s rusty bridges, its flimsy levees, its technologically obsolete sewer systems.

Of course, anyone who is willing and able to plunk down half a grand on work boots with meticulously top-stitched vamps — anyone, in fact, who knows what a top-stitched vamp is — isn’t likely to be messing up his manicure any time soon. Metaphorically, however,… More…

If you’ve ever shopped at Best Buy, Office Depot, or any other retailer where the sales associates all wear polo shirts in the same color, then you know what an Extended Service Contract is — it’s that piece of paper covered with tiny print that you agree to buy for $69.99 because you’re so happy you’re saving $40 the price of your new digital camera. According to, American consumers spend approximately $15 billion on Extended Service Contracts, or ESCs, each year.

In theory, you’re not just buying an expensive piece of paper, of course. You’re protecting your investment. Buying peace of mind, as you’re doing the prudent thing now to avoid headaches and unexpected expenses in the future.

In practice, well….let’s say you don’t buy an ESC. Two weeks after your manufacturer’s warranty expires, your camera contracts a Stage IV case of LCD touch display… More…


Amongst true connoisseurs of female beauty, it has long been a well-known fact that the otherwise stunning Brooke Shields had been cursed with one striking flaw: puny, stick-thin eyelashes that resembled the legs of a sickly spider. But no more: The disease of “inadequate” lashes now has a cure, and as Shields explains in a recent TV commercial, that cure is called Latisse. Although Latisse sounds like either an upscale brand of French mascara or a Sunset Strip hooker, it is in fact a prescription drug that you brush on your scrawny lashes, like extremely specialized Rogaine. In her commercial for the product, Shields testifies that Latisse has made her lashes longer, thicker, and darker. If the accompanying visuals are any indication, it has also given her the confidence to boogie with prim, cautious abandon at… More…


Investors have lost faith in the economy. Employers and consumers, too. In contrast, the nation’s infomercial hucksters still believe in the American Dream. In the darkest hours of the night, they offer hope. Get rich fast? Well, no, that was a 1990s thing. But get debt free fast? That they can deliver.

Remember Don LaPre and his secret wealth-creation techniques that could generate thousands of dollars in profits every week? How about Carleton Sheets and his strategies for buying income-producing properties with no money down? While most of us were content to slave away at dot-com time bombs, a few moonlighting mail carriers and barely numerate stay-at-home moms took the lessons of LaPre and Vu to heart and promptly became millionaires. Then they retired to lives of sun-soaked luxury on private island paradises and… More…


Call it a perk of the recession. Or maybe just another example of how our quality of life is diminishing in these troubled times. A topless cafe has opened in the town of Vassalboro, Maine. It’s called, appropriately enough, the Grand View Topless Coffee Shop. Customers can purchase $3 cups of java and $2 donuts from servers of either gender, hold the shirt.

The idea of sexing up utilitarian businesses is not without precedent, of course. Coffee shops employing lingerie-clad waitresses in Seattle and Las Vegas have been operating since 2007. Sexy maid services are as common as foreclosures these days. But the topless coffee shop is a new phenomenon, and a timely one: Apparently the economy has gotten so bad that simply selling boiling caffeine in one of the country’s coldest, sleepiest states is no longer a… More…