Population Statistic: Read. React. Repeat.
Monday, September 10, 2021

It boggles the mind to consider how the sudden worldwide shortage of helium will impact our lives.

Especially if we’re in the party-balloon business:

Wayne Smith, who runs Bloomin’ Balloons in Glen Head [Long Island], also is planning to employ some creative strategies to deal with the shortage. Among some of his options: Using more bold designs that require fewer balloons, using air-filled balloons attached to supports, buying a regulator valve that mixes helium with air and tying air-filled balloons to the ceiling with monofilament — so the balloons appear to be floating.

Perhaps this crisis will be the impetus for my OHEC idea:

I’m crossing my fingers for helium-rich territories (like the Lone Star State) around the globe to someday unite and form the Organization of Helium-Exporting Countries, only so we could amuse ourselves with the resultant acronym.

A cartel for hot-air (that’s not actually hot). Let’s just hope this doesn’t spur interventionist wars to secure helium supplies; because God knows how many balloon-deprived people there are out there.

by Costa Tsiokos, Mon 09/10/2021 10:39:34 PM
Category: Business, Science | Permalink | Feedback

It makes sense that banks would go where the money is. But in New York City, the saturation differences between rich and poor neighborhoods is stark:

In Manhattan’s tony Murray Hill neighborhood - where 20 banks have opened in six years - there’s now one branch for every 284 residents.

Compare that with the Tremont neighborhood in the Bronx, where no branches have opened since 2000, and there’s one bank for every 69,048 residents, according to the report.

It’s not hard to see the street-level evidence: Walk around midtown or the Uppers, and any street corner that’s not occupied by a Starbucks or Duane Reade is sure to house a bank branch (”branch” being a relative term, since it could be either a fully-staffed outlet or merely a cluster of ATMs).

It might seem strange that with continual pushes toward non-cash forms of money-management — online banking, credit/debit cards, electronic payments — financial institutions would bother with brick-and-mortar installations. But the banking industry accepts physical branches as effective delivery vehicles for things like mortgages, business loans, and myriad other products. People are still better accustomed to in-person transactions when it comes to their moulah, so that’s the avenue to take to attract customers.

And again, it makes the most business sense to plant the flags in the higher-income areas. People with lots of money tend to seek out banking services, whereas people with less tend to distrust and/or be intimidated by the very concept of banking.

This situation creates perpetual cycles, especially on the lower-income side: Fewer opportunities to set up budget-aiding checking and savings accounts leads to less asset-building, and more and more reliance on check-cashing stores and other less-optimal alternatives. That’s why the situation in New York (and likely most other cities) is so distressing.

by Costa Tsiokos, Mon 09/10/2021 10:00:44 PM
Category: Business, Society, New Yorkin' | Permalink | Feedback (1)

What if a certain spacecraft from Planet Krypton fell to Earth not in a Kansas wheatfield, but rather in a Bavarian forest? And the Metropolis that the passenger of said spacecraft eventually migrated to wasn’t a fictionalized version of New York, but rather a fictionalized version of Berlin — with Adolph Hitler’s Nazi regime ascendant?

That’s roughly the idea behind Kim Newman’s short story, “Ubermensch!”. It’s one of my favorite alternate history works, not the least because it blends superheroes, German impressionist cinema, and the Cold War into an entertaining yarn. Rather than me trying to explain it, read the first few pages and savor the flavor of a 1930s Germanic Man of Steel.

And after that — and hopefully, after you’ve tracked down a copy of the full story — check out this annotated list of the inside pop cultural references embedded into the story. Some enticing examples:

“That used to be East Metropolis” — the city we see is an amalgam of German Impressionist futurism and real-world Berlin reality…

“He remembered the old uniform, so familiar in the thirties. The light brown body-stocking, with black trunks, boots and cloak. A black swastika in the red circle on the chest. He’d grinned down from a hundred propaganda posters like an Aryan demi-god, strode through the walkways of Metropolis as Siegfried reborn with x-ray eyes.” — this version of the uniform dispenses with the standard coloring, rather evoking the vigilante Brown Shirts of Nazi Germany…

“Avram remembered, the names bringing back Tages Welt headlines. Most of the stories had borne the Curt Kessler byline. Everyone had wondered how the reporter knew so many details.” — Tages Welt translates as Daily Planet, where Kessler is employed as a reporter.

When I first read the story, a decade-and-a-half ago, I got all the comic-book references right away. I got probably half the cinematic ones back then; reading the annotations just now completed the remaining blanks.

Maybe the best/most ironic part of all: In the real world, the Nazis weren’t all that crazy about the Cleveland boys’ version of Superman.

by Costa Tsiokos, Mon 09/10/2021 06:08:44 PM
Category: Publishing, Pop Culture, Creative | Permalink | Feedback

Funny how sensory impact interacts with your pre-awakening brain.

As I walked down the street this moring on the way to my train, I was accompanied for about a block by a pervasive vomit-like stench. It wasn’t strong enough to make me want to vomit, but it was enough to make me pick up my pace that little bit more to get beyond it.

I was in the clear after that, until I emerged from the 57th Street station, and I was confronted by a wave of funky-musky odors. Not as bad as the previous odor to hit me in the face, but still, I could have done without it.

So I get past that, and while I’m walking the final couple of blocks to the office, with the gross smells still lingering in my mind (and maybe even my moustache), I’m wishing my sense of smell was maybe less acute.

Which led me to wonder about how your senses start eroding over time.

Which reminded me of the “Hollywood Squares” joke from old man Charlie Weaver:

Q.: Which of your five senses tends to diminish as you get older?

A.: My sense of decency.

Not so much my personal sense of decency, but certainly, mornings like this hint at a loss somewhere, by someone.

Anyway. Happy Monday.

by Costa Tsiokos, Mon 09/10/2021 10:38:27 AM
Category: Comedy, New Yorkin' | Permalink | Feedback