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Towns With Themes (And a Crazy Marlon Jackson Rumor)

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Linda Rodriguez recently moved to England, and she posts about happenings in her new country a few times each week. Her column needs a name. "A Broad Abroad" sounds demeaning and Sarah Lyall just published a book called "The Anglo Files." Got any other ideas? If Linda picks yours, you win a mental_floss t-shirt. So get brainstorming.

Sir Terry Pratchett may not be exactly a household name in cities in the US, but he certainly is in households in the small Somerset town of Wincanton.

That's because Wincanton is currently modeling itself after a town in Pratchett's most famous creation, the fictional universe of Discworld "“ a world that's pancake flat, resting on the back of four elephants, which are standing on a giant turtle. Discworld and the adventures of its inhabitants, who include wizards, witches, trolls, dwarves, the Grim Reaper, the Hogfather (he's like Santa Claus) and a few humans, have been the subject nearly 40 books, all piss-takes of science-fiction and fantasy tropes, crime novels, martial arts, corporate crime, and The Da Vinci Code, among many other topics. They've been incredibly successful "“ Pratchett has sold more than 55 million Discworld books worldwide, netting himself a loyal following and a knighthood for services to literature to boot.

And now, Pratchett's creation is bleeding out into real life.

In 2002, Wincanton twinned itself to Ankh-Morpork, a metropolitan city based squarely in the fantastic Discworld, making it the first city in the world to twin itself to a fictional town. Since then, tourism to the small, previously nondescript town has exploded, with Discworld fans flocking to the Discworld Emporium, a themed store on the Main Street, to fancy dress balls, festivals and masquerades.

Wincanton has also recently named two streets after street names in the book series, with Pratchett, costumed residents and hordes of fans on hand for the dedication ceremony. The streets, Peach Pie Street and Treacle Mine Road, are located in a subdivision neighborhood of amusingly named Wimpey Homes, currently under construction and slated for completion in July. Two families have already promised to buy homes on the streets.

Wincanton may be the first town to twin with a fictional city, but it's certainly not the first town to take a theme and just run with it for the sake of tourism. Here are a few others:

Scotland: Ab FAB

Sadly, no, these three Scottish theme towns in the Dumfries and Galloway region are not dedicated to bringing the sordid, drunken world of Absolutely Fabulous to wondrous mid-"˜90s life. But Castle Douglas, Kirkcudbright and Wigtown are, respectively, designated Food, Arts, and Book towns. Get it? The towns, all small and rural, are reinventing themselves for the tourist trade: Castle Douglas is home to more than 50 food specialty shops and restaurants; Kirkcudbright has been an artist's commune since the 1800s; and Wigtown hosts an annual Book Town Literary Festival.

Pacific Northwest: Partying like its 1899

Everybody likes cowboys, right? Well, a few towns in the US and Canada sure hope so "“ especially since they've remade themselves into pioneer towns as part of a bid to attract tourism. In Washington, there's sleepy Winthrop, which was remade in 1969 as an homage to Western pioneer towns, and is now all weathered wood storefronts, hitching posts, late 19th century frontier town architecture, and rough-cut boardwalks. Up in British Columbia, there's Barkerville, a gold-rush town where costumed residents take you on guided tours, real stagecoaches still run, and you can go real old school in a schoolhouse from 1870. And in Oregon, there's Jacksonville, a National Historic Landmark preserving its pioneer past through architecture, costumed tours, and shopping.

Ironbridge: The Revolution Continues

Ironbridge, or the "Birthplace of the Industrial Revolution" as it bills itself, is a small town in the West Midlands of England that has never really moved past the Industrial Revolution. Home to the Ironbridge, a massive testament to the 19th century age of steam and iron, the town has worked hard to maintain its Victorian roots. Though a small town and valley, it has no less than 10 museums dedicated to Industrial Revolution history, as well as streets of Victorian era storefronts and shops, historical home tours, and, of course, the requisite costumed tours.

And lastly, bad taste

And finally, on the subject of themes "“ here's some news that just seems so weird, so wrong, and so disrespectful. Marlon Jackson, brother of Michael, LaToya, and Janet and former member of the Jackson Five, seems to be upholding the Jackson Family tradition of bad ideas: He's reportedly involved in plans to open a "slavery theme park" in Badagry, Nigeria, an historic port city that had been the point of departure for thousands of Africans leaving their country in chains as slaves. In addition to a replica of a slave ship, the Badagry Historical Resort Development project is also slated to have golf courses, casinos, and shops, and to house Jackson's collection of Jackson Five memorabilia.

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8 of the Weirdest Gallup Polls
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Born in Jefferson, Iowa on November 18, 1901, George Gallup studied journalism and psychology, focusing on how to measure readers’ interest in newspaper and magazine content. In 1935, he founded the American Institute of Public Opinion to scientifically measure public opinions on topics such as government spending, criminal justice, and presidential candidates. Although he died in 1984, The Gallup Poll continues his legacy of trying to determine and report the will of the people in an unbiased, independent way. To celebrate his day of birth, we compiled a list of some of the weirdest, funniest Gallup polls over the years.

1. THREE IN FOUR AMERICANS BELIEVE IN THE PARANORMAL (2005)

According to this Gallup poll, 75 percent of Americans have at least one paranormal belief. Specifically, 41 percent believe in extrasensory perception (ESP), 37 percent believe in haunted houses, and 21 percent believe in witches. What about channeling spirits, you might ask? Only 9 percent of Americans believe that it’s possible to channel a spirit so that it takes temporary control of one's body. Interestingly, believing in paranormal phenomena was relatively similar across people of different genders, races, ages, and education levels.

2. ONE IN FIVE AMERICANS THINK THE SUN REVOLVES AROUND THE EARTH (1999)

In this poll, Gallup tried to determine the popularity of heliocentric versus geocentric views. While 79 percent of Americans correctly stated that the Earth revolves around the sun, 18 percent think the sun revolves around the Earth. Three percent chose to remain indifferent, saying they had no opinion either way.

3. 22 PERCENT OF AMERICANS ARE HESITANT TO SUPPORT A MORMON (2011)

Gallup first measured anti-Mormon sentiment back in 1967, and it was still an issue in 2011, a year before Mormon Mitt Romney ran for president. Approximately 22 percent of Americans said they would not vote for a Mormon presidential candidate, even if that candidate belonged to their preferred political party. Strangely, Americans’ bias against Mormons has remained stable since the 1960s, despite decreasing bias against African Americans, Catholics, Jews, and women.

4. MISSISSIPPIANS GO TO CHURCH THE MOST; VERMONTERS THE LEAST (2010)

This 2010 poll amusingly confirms the stereotype that southerners are more religious than the rest of the country. Although 42 percent of all Americans attend church regularly (which Gallup defines as weekly or almost weekly), there are large variations based on geography. For example, 63 percent of people in Mississippi attend church regularly, followed by 58 percent in Alabama and 56 percent in South Carolina, Louisiana, and Utah. Rounding out the lowest levels of church attendance, on the other hand, were Vermont, where 23 percent of residents attend church regularly, New Hampshire, at 26 percent, and Maine at 27 percent.

5. ONE IN FOUR AMERICANS DON’T KNOW WHICH COUNTRY AMERICA GAINED INDEPENDENCE FROM (1999)

Although 76 percent of Americans knew that the United States gained independence from Great Britain as a result of the Revolutionary War, 24 percent weren’t so sure. Two percent thought the correct answer was France, 3 percent said a different country (such as Mexico, China, or Russia), and 19 percent had no opinion. Certain groups of people who consider themselves patriotic, including men, older people, and white people (according to Gallup polls), were more likely to know that America gained its independence from Great Britain.

6. ONE THIRD OF AMERICANS BELIEVE IN GHOSTS (2000)

This Halloween-themed Gallup poll asked Americans about their habits and behavior on the last day of October. Predictably, two-thirds of Americans reported that someone in their house planned to give candy to trick-or-treaters and more than three-quarters of parents with kids reported that their kids would wear a costume. More surprisingly, 31 percent of American adults claimed to believe in ghosts, an increase from 1978, when only 11 percent of American adults admitted to a belief in ghosts.

7. 5 PERCENT OF WORKING MILLENNIALS THRIVE IN ALL FIVE ELEMENTS OF WELL-BEING (2016)

This recent Gallup poll is funny in a sad way, as it sheds light on the tragicomic life of a millennial. In this poll, well-being is defined as having purpose, social support, manageable finances, a strong community, and good physical health. Sadly, only 5 percent of working millennials—defined as people born between 1980 and 1996—were thriving in these five indicators of well-being. To counter this lack of well-being, Gallup’s report recommends that managers promote work-life balance and improve their communication with millennial employees.

8. THE WORLD IS BECOMING SLIGHTLY MORE NEGATIVE (2014)

If you seem to feel more stress, sadness, anxiety, and pain than ever before, Gallup has the proof that it’s not all in your head. According to the company’s worldwide negative experience index, negative feelings such as stress, sadness, and anger have increased since 2007. Unsurprisingly, people living in war-torn, dangerous parts of the word—Iraq, Iran, Egypt, Syria, and Sierra Leone—reported the highest levels of negative emotions.

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11 Times Mickey Mouse Was Banned
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Despite being one of the world’s most recognizable and beloved characters, it hasn’t always been smooth sailing for Mickey Mouse, who turns 89 years old today. A number of countries—and even U.S. states—have banned the cartoon rodent at one time or another for reasons both big and small.

1. In 1930, Ohio banned a cartoon called “The Shindig” because Clarabelle Cow was shown reading Three Weeks by Elinor Glyn, the premier romance novelist of the time. Check it out (1:05) and let us know if you’re scandalized:

2. With movies on 10-foot screen being a relatively new thing in Romania in 1935, the government decided to ban Mickey Mouse, concerned that children would be terrified of a monstrous rodent.

3. In 1929, a German censor banned a Mickey Mouse short called “The Barnyard Battle.” The reason? An army of cats wearing pickelhauben, the pointed helmets worn by German military in the 19th and 20th centuries: "The wearing of German military helmets by an army of cats which oppose a militia of mice is offensive to national dignity. Permission to exhibit this production in Germany is refused.”

4. The German dislike for Mickey Mouse continued into the mid-'30s, with one German newspaper wondering why such a small and dirty animal would be idolized by children across the world: "Mickey Mouse is the most miserable ideal ever revealed ... Healthy emotions tell every independent young man and every honorable youth that the dirty and filth-covered vermin, the greatest bacteria carrier in the animal kingdom, cannot be the ideal type of animal.” Mickey was originally banned from Nazi Germany, but eventually the mouse's popularity won out.

5. In 2014, Iran's Organization for Supporting Manufacturers and Consumers announced a ban on school supplies and stationery products featuring “demoralizing images,” including that of Disney characters such as Mickey Mouse, Winnie the Pooh, Sleeping Beauty, and characters from Toy Story.

6. In 1954, East Germany banned Mickey Mouse comics, claiming that Mickey was an “anti-Red rebel.”

7. In 1937, a Mickey Mouse adventure was so similar to real events in Yugoslavia that the comic strip was banned. State police say the comic strip depicted a “Puritan-like revolt” that was a danger to the “Boy King,” Peter II of Yugoslavia, who was just 14 at the time. A journalist who wrote about the ban was consequently escorted out of the country.

8. Though Mussolini banned many cartoons and American influences from Italy in 1938, Mickey Mouse flew under the radar. It’s been said that Mussolini’s children were such Mickey Mouse fans that they were able to convince him to keep the rodent around.

9. Mickey and his friends were banned from the 1988 Seoul Olympics in a roundabout way. As they do with many major sporting events, including the Super Bowl, Disney had contacted American favorites to win in each event to ask them to say the famous “I’m going to Disneyland!” line if they won. When American swimmer Matt Biondi won the 100-meter freestyle, he dutifully complied with the request. After a complaint from the East Germans, the tape was pulled and given to the International Olympic Committee.

10. In 1993, Mickey was banned from a place he shouldn't have been in the first place: Seattle liquor stores. As a wonderful opening sentence from the Associated Press explained, "Mickey Mouse, the Easter Bunny and teddy bears have no business selling booze, the Washington State Liquor Control Board has decided." A handful of stores had painted Mickey and other characters as part of a promotion. A Disney VP said Mickey was "a nondrinker."

11. Let's end with another strike against The Shindig (see #1) and Clarabelle’s bulging udder. Less than a year after the Shindig ban, the Motion Picture Producers and Directors of America announced that they had received a massive number of complaints about the engorged cow udders in various Mickey Mouse cartoons.

From then on, according to a 1931 article in Time magazine, “Cows in Mickey Mouse ... pictures in the future will have small or invisible udders quite unlike the gargantuan organ whose antics of late have shocked some and convulsed others. In a recent picture the udder, besides flying violently to left and right or stretching far out behind when the cow was in motion, heaved with its panting with the cow stood still.”

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