Population Statistic: Read. React. Repeat.
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Friday, December 17, 2021

I’m feeling a bit puckish this morning (not to mention sleepy). So here’s a silly quote; by all means, let it sink in before clicking through to the hyperlink:

“I am Death, Destroyer of Lawns.”

And, if you’re actually interested, the meta-context, and the ur-context.

by Costa Tsiokos, Fri 12/17/2004 09:57:46 AM
Category: Comedy, History, Movies
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Tuesday, December 07, 2021

South Florida has long been recognized as home and destination for the Jewish community. The typical migration pattern, though, tended to be from New York/Northeastern U.S. to the Sunshine State. But now, instead of just American Jews, Chosen People from all corners of the globe are opting for metropolitan/multicultural Miami over Israel.

I just hope all these newcomers stock up on their Chrismukkah cards.

by Costa Tsiokos, Tue 12/07/2021 02:07:29 PM
Category: Florida Livin', History, Society
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Sunday, December 05, 2021

The ongoing release of Kinsey, a movie account of the life and times of sex-research pioneer Alfred Kinsey, has become a flashpoint for conservative groups, who are seeking to discredit the depiction of Kinsey in the film and, by extension, the body of his work.

I think the core motivation against Kinsey the movie and Kinsey the man is nicely summed up thusly:

“People who are raising these allegations have many more concerns than just Alfred Kinsey,” [Indiana University information services director Jennifer] Bass said. “I think there’s a desire to look for a reason for all the problems we have in society and place blame somewhere. Sex research is not the cause of problems in society today; it’s trying to understand why they exist and what we can do to make a difference with these terrible issues of public health and violence toward women and in the family.”

Not that anyone on the other side will acknowledge that. To mask their hangups, they use misdirection tactics, like questioning the basic statistical work that underlay the Kinsey research:

“You only need to look at the re-election of George Bush to understand why (Kinsey’s surveys) weren’t scientific,” [conservative groups spokesperson Kristi Hamrick] said. “No matter what the exit polls said, it was not a good cross section, and the numbers were wrong. John Kerry didn’t win the presidency. The poll numbers were bad, and that’s also the problem with Kinsey.

“He may have talked to 18,000 people, but when you look at the fact that he talked so disproportionately to prostitutes, sex offenders and pedophiles, you get the mind-set of a sex offender which he then projects on the rest of society. This is not a scientific sample.”

How disproportionate were Kinsey’s interviews? Of course, the scope of the interview pool is described as including “bootleggers, clergymen, clerks, clinical psychologists… housewives, lawyers, marriage counselors, n’er-do-wells, persons in the social register…”, but that doesn’t give much of a clue as to how many of each were included. I haven’t seen the data, but plenty of other researchers have, and the integrity of the methodology continues to be admired decades after it was compiled.

Again, it all comes down to who/what you believe, and none of it really matters to the voices who are dissenting. Frankly, I get the strong feeling that if, out of the 18,000 interviews, only a single one was with a sexual “deviant”, that would be enough to stain the entire study. Scratch that — actually, the entire subject of the study is enough to discredit it, in this worldview.

Get ready for these groups, including the Family Research Council, to declare a grand victory in this fight, on the basis of Kinsey not placing high on any ticket-sales charts by the time its theatrical run ends. It’ll be patently false, because the movie is being distributed on a strictly limited art-house circuit; and so distributor Fox Searchlight Pictures isn’t shooting for blockbuster-like numbers, only a decent return.

A few fringe “family values” groups tried to make a similar argument a few months back over Saved!. Saved! was another limited release, more notable for starring roles by Macaulay Culkin and Mandy Moore than its spoofing of ardent Christians. Naturally, it didn’t come close to matching the box-office of then-still-in-theaters The Passion of the Christ; again, it wasn’t shooting for that level. Not only are all movies not created equal; they’re also not shooting for comparable results.

The situation matches the one for Kinsey simply by stimulus. The re-election of Bush on the crest of the moral-values issue is interpreted by conservative social activists as a starter’s gun for advancing their agenda. This movie is a perfect target for an early litmus test for future campaigns (although this movement started well before the November election). These groups know their timing will never be better than it is now.

Back to the core of it: It’s a blame game, and a futile one at that. Instead of sticking their own heads in the sand regarding sexual issues — which is their prerogative — they want to put the issue itself in the ground. I’m not too big a fan of either action, and so I’ll be buying my ticket for Kinsey whenever it rolls into the Tampa Bay area.

by Costa Tsiokos, Sun 12/05/2021 09:32:09 PM
Category: History, Movies, Society
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Friday, December 03, 2021

Having grown up within a stone’s throw of West Point, you hear a lot of oddities about the Academy on the Hudson. Among the more famous ones was that various ghosts, including that of one-time cadet Edgar Allan Poe, haunted the campus (although it seems that Poe’s ghost actually spooks Virginia’s Fort Monroe).

While surfing through Blog Explosion earlier this afternoon, I came across a blog (I stupidly didn’t bookmark it) that reminded me of one of the other peculiarities about the place. Thanks to the longstanding grudge against one Benedict Arnold, students at West Point don’t eat eggs Benedict for breakfast — they eat “eggs MacArthur“.

Too bad the “Benedict” in those eggs doesn’t refer to America’s favorite traitor. Besides, isn’t two and a quarter centuries kinda long to hold a grudge?

by Costa Tsiokos, Fri 12/03/2021 05:24:51 PM
Category: Food, History
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Sunday, November 28, 2021

The recent suicide of Iris Chang, author of “The Rape of Nanking”, prompted some musings about the personal risk of immersing oneself in historical horror stories.

Specifically, the psychological impact of becoming consumed by individual accounts among large-scale holocausts can be huge:

[Historian Raul] Hilberg said that during his work on the Holocaust starting in 1948 a few small episodes affected him especially strongly. For example, he said he became sickened after researching the fate of a Jew who sued the Nazis for the right to purchase coffee.

“I was nauseated because obviously this Jew was picked up and sent to Auschwitz or wherever they sent him and died,” he said. “Why did this particular incident affect me when I could calmly read about mass murder?”

Why indeed? It seems like an anomaly: Everyone knows that people die every day, in a variety of circumstances. But ultimately, death tends to be a solitary event, afflicting a single person — whether it comes while one’s on a deathbed, or having a heart attack, or even through foul play. When several people die at once, as in a plane crash or a mass murder, the cause of those deaths is so out of the ordinary that it would seem to merit a stronger emotional reaction, even from those who didn’t lose friends or relatives.

But that’s not the case. Numbers create anonymity, and makes it easy for the detached observer to dehumanize the victims. They become abstractions, whether it’s a dozen food poisoning victims or six million Holocaust Jews.

Yet if you extract a single person from those legions of dead, reveal his or her name, tell the story of how he or she came to that point, and the perception changes. Suddenly, you’re forced to relate to a single person’s experience, instead of a faceless mass. That makes all the difference.

Robert Conquest, 87, a leading historian of Stalin’s terror and famine that left tens of millions of dead, said he too was sometimes hit by smaller episodes amid larger tragedy.

“There are details, not necessarily the most horrible in theory, that somehow make you feel this is somehow a worse world than we thought,” Conquest, the author of “The Great Terror” and “Harvest of Sorrow”, said in an interview.

He cited for example documents about students during the Stalin era forced to stand in front of their schools and hear abuse after their parents were arrested.

“They are harangued for two or three hours denouncing the parents of one of the kids. Then the kid has to come up and they are all screaming at him,” he said. “It shows the awful level they’ve got to. Horrible.”

Citing victims of Josef Stalin’s purges is oddly appropriate, since the most apt quote on this phenomenon is attributed to him*:

The death of one man is a tragedy. The death of millions is a statistic.

I think this dynamic manifests itself in other areas. The perennial high-profile media-saturated criminal trials, such as the recent Scott Peterson case, are a prime example. Think about it: How many people are brutally killed every single day in America? Yet the same audiences that never give a passing thought to all those nameless (and thus, invisible) crimes pay breathless attention to every development in the latest media-circus du jour. Because the spotlight on the principals reveals minute personal detail, observers become engrossed, and participate in an uncomfortably intimate vicarious experience.

Similar situations where this mass reaction occurs include hostage situations and, more benignly, personal profiles on athletes.

I suppose it’s human nature to quickly seek empathy with the subject being studied. As with most empathic exercises, though, there’s a price to pay when that much emotional energy is invested. The collateral damage is sometimes too much to bear.

*Despite the attribution to Stalin, I’m positive he didn’t originate it. I know I read it at one point as coming from a French military head or politician during World War I. If anyone knows what the original source is and can enlighten me, I’d appreciate it.

by Costa Tsiokos, Sun 11/28/2004 02:48:49 PM
Category: History, Society
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Tuesday, November 16, 2021

I’m slowly reading through “The Crisis : The President, the Prophet, and the Shah — 1979 and the Coming of Militant Islam”, by David Harris. It’s the second book Time Warner Book Group sent me for my review. I’d hoped to be nearly finished with it by now, but I doubt I’ll be done with it, and have a review posted here, until after Thanksgiving. That’s life.

It’s not a reflection on the book, necessarily. I’m working my way into it, and appreciating the detail that’s going into setting the stage for what would be a world-riveting crisis. Part of that detail is coming from the backgrounds of the primary players in the event: The Shah, Jimmy Carter, and the Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini.

I found this tidbit about Khomeini to be particularly interesting:

Ruhollah was a most uncommon name in Khomein [the Iranian town where the future Ayatollah was born]. It literally means “the spirit of Allah”, and some Muslims considered its use sacrilegious, since it was also used as another name for Jesus Christ, whom Muslims accepted as a prophet, though not as the son of God.

I doubt many Americans back then, let alone now, were aware that Khomeini’s first name translated to “Jesus”. And there’s an odd fatefulness to a boy with a somewhat scandalous name becoming a holy man. Strange stuff in the West-versus-Islam context.

by Costa Tsiokos, Tue 11/16/2004 06:48:50 PM
Category: Book Review, History, Publishing
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