Population Statistic: Read. React. Repeat.
Sunday, July 12, 2021

stayin' alive
As much fun as the boys of “Entourage” had in dressing up as The Bee Gees for a photo shoot, Adrian Grenier (posing in the center as lead Gee, Barry Gibb) decided to up the ante, disco-style:

[Co-star Kevin Connolly] told Conan O’Brien, “Adrian put a sock [in his pants]… When he was doing it, I said ‘What are you doing?’ and he said ‘It’s what they did in the ’70s.” I didn’t know that. And the photographer’s like ‘Adrian, we’ve got to lose one of the socks.’ And all of sudden when the photo came out I’m getting calls from girlfriends of mine, like ‘So, Adrian…’ And I didn’t want to throw him under the bus with the individual girls. I figured I’d wait until I got here on The Tonight Show.”

In keeping with the tone of the show, this sounds like something Grenier’s TV brother, Kevin Dillon, would pull while in Johnny “Drama” Chase character. Not the least because Drama is probably old enough to have seen the Bee Gees live in concert, and thus have experienced that rampant ’70s sock-bulging enhancement firsthand…

For the record, remember that the antiquated assassination-associated word “sockdologizing” means “manipulative”. Fits this episode.

P.S. - Yeah, I recognize a manufactured “outing” when I see one, all in aid of the premiere of the new season of “Entourage” this week. Therefore, I’m also being sockdologized, albeit willingly. At least there’s no sock-stuffing going on in my pants…

by Costa Tsiokos, Sun 07/12/2021 09:21pm
Category: Celebrity, Pop Culture, TV
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I’m far away from being an economist. But my understanding of the current financial crisis includes the base assumption that too much of the U.S.’s decade-long economic boom was financed artificially, via the packaging and reselling of our debt to China. Long-term recovery is keyed upon China’s willingness to continue buying these macroeconomic markers — a risky proposition, if only because Beijing already owns so many of them (not to mention power-play geopolitics).

If China is tapped out, then why not find another partner in this debt-asset swap? And why not India, that other supposedly-ascendant 21st Century international power?

I’m just looking at the candidates with the most capacity for buying up American IOUs. Right now, India doesn’t even make the list of major foreign holders of U.S. Treasury Securities (those being the chief financial instruments for repackaging debt). I don’t know why India hasn’t jumped into this game yet, when other economic powers like Japan and the UK have invested in Treasuries for decades. I’m guessing the country wasn’t in a position to do so, until its fairly recent economic maturation. But this is the right time for Washington to persuade New Delhi to start flowing their cash Stateside.

This doesn’t solve our fundamental fiscal issues, of course. We’d basically be replacing one financing overlord for another, with the bill still coming due someday. But practically speaking, we have more in common with the Indian socio-political culture than we do with the Chinese, starting with a shared British heritage. Better to owe a friend than an enemy.

by Costa Tsiokos, Sun 07/12/2021 08:39pm
Category: Business, Political
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Statistical sampling doesn’t get more morbid than when it’s applied toward estimating the past few decades’ worth of war casualties — and dueling methodologies blur the results:

These experts snipe at each other in academic journals and papers and are engaged in a statistical arms race of their own, sampling, adding and modifying databases to try to shed light on questions that have implications beyond the academic world. The disagreements begin with how fatalities are counted and then diverge more widely.

Authors from the International Peace Research Institute in Oslo, Norway (PRIO) in collaboration with Sweden’s Uppsala University, say that since the collapse of the Soviet Union and end of East-West rivalry in 1989, civil wars, “though often intractable and devastating, have produced fewer battle deaths than their Cold War counterparts.”

They relied on estimates by demographers, historians, and epidemiologists, supplemented by figures from the media, governments and non-governmental groups. Omitting “one-sided violence increases” such as the Rwanda genocide along with deaths from disease, hunger and “criminal and unorganized violence,” PRIO arrived at a total of some 10 million battlefield deaths from 1946 to 2002 in conflicts where at least one warring party was a government.

Way too low, countered Harvard Medical School researcher Dr. Ziad Obermeyer, working with colleagues at the University of Washington and at the Gates Foundation-funded Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation.

His group reconsidered the PRIO numbers in the light of World Health Survey sample interviews in 13 conflict-ridden countries where the U.N. asked families how many relatives they lost to war from 1955 to 2002. It found the true body count over a half-century was at least three times higher than PRIO’s tally and concluded, “There is no evidence to support a recent decline in war deaths.”

I don’t dispute the rationale in finding a pattern behind the human toll of war. But data-parsing over whether or not ethnic-cleansing victims “count” seems pretty insensitive. And toward what end — to give the impression that battlefield actions are now less risky? A case of the numbers blinding the beancounters.

by Costa Tsiokos, Sun 07/12/2021 07:52pm
Category: History, Political
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As newspaper and magazine pagecounts shrink, the crossword puzzle is increasingly getting pushed out of its ink-and-paper home, much to fans’ dismay:

[New York Times Magazine editor] Gerald Marzorati said his team worked for months trying to find a way to squeeze in the regular crossword, a second word puzzle and a numbers puzzle like sudoku or KenKen. Shrinking the puzzles was impractical, he said.

“We would have had to make them so much smaller, it wouldn’t have worked,” he said.

The solution has been to swap puzzles between the print edition and the Web site week to week, depending on how much advertising comes in.

Even with the extreme squeeze for space, it’s puzzling (pun!) why something with such a devoted fanbase would get dropped. Until you realize just who the devoted are:

Dunn Miller, a 64-year-old librarian from Oakland, Calif., who was attending the National Puzzlers League convention in Baltimore last week, spoke of losing The Puzzler in terms usually reserved for the breakup of a favorite band, like the Beatles.

“It’s like, why are they murdering us?” she asked. “We’re losing one of our stars. It’s like if some great athlete, Dennis Eckersley, were told by the manager he had to leave early and he couldn’t play for anyone else.”…

“You get the pleasure of solving each clue, so there’s that ‘aha’ moment over and over — it’s like having multiple orgasms,” she said.

Basically, the word-grid attracts 64-year-old librarians who get off on knowing the answer to 32 Across. Doubtless, this older demographic is also the last remaining reliable customer of the print edition, but perhaps is not valuable enough to fete. (Aside: Citing Dennis Eckersley as a “some great athlete”, when he’s been retired from baseball for years, hints at a certain level of disconnectedness with current events, at least in the sports world — ironic, if you consider that a crossword devotee like Ms. Miller would also read the rest of the newspaper.)

I’m a long way away from my sixties, and I like doing a crossword now and again. But it’s a love-hate relationship, because the way these syndicated puzzles are structured make me wonder if they’re at all aimed at a non-AARP audience. Every crossword I’ve ever done has always included clues that are hopelessly old-fashioned; I’ve got to believe they’re reliable go-to words that are short and easy to build into a puzzle grid.

For instance: “Oleo” frequently shows up as a Down or Across answer for something like “butter substitute”. Hello? Who the hell calls margarine “oleo” anymore — didn’t that technical name leave popular usage decades ago? Clearly, you’d have to know a bit of esoteric history to get this, and/or have been around in the 1950s or ’60s. Other examples are “Ida” in answer to “___ Lupino” (an actress who, along with her career, expired decades ago); “SST” for “Condcorde et al” (for a jet plane that hasn’t flown in years); and various “spelling variations” that might have been in use years ago, if ever. Someone younger than me probably reads this and thinks that the author is working from a playbook constructed in the ’70s. Do a few days’ worth of crosswords and the repetitiveness of these stock hints becomes clear, and comes off as the puzzle writer re-using the same bag of tricks.

Which is fine, except that it underlines the hollowness of solving this puzzler in the first place. There’s no way to “learn” a lot of these answers, other than by recognizing their inclusion on previous crosswords — they exist practically nowhere else other than within the confines of the crossword-clue universe. Whatever satisfaction you might get out of completely filling out each box is blunted by knowing that many of the clues are nothing but insider lingo. Not accessible to a wider audience, and therefore an isolated pursuit.

How to open up this closed crossword garden? I know a lot of papers already sell sponsorships of their features section, including the puzzles. Why not go a step further and inject the grid with product-placement clues? Companies like Pepsi and Sony probably would love to buy square-by-square space like that. Although, given the existing elderly user base, I’m sure the highest bidders for these placements will end up being V-I-A-G-R-A and D-E-P-E-N-D-S — defining results that’ll only drive off younger puzzlers…

by Costa Tsiokos, Sun 07/12/2021 06:45pm
Category: Creative, Publishing
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