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March 08, 2005

Random Facts

Michael Blowhard writes:

Dear Blowhards --

* Depression is the leading cause of disability in the world, according to the World Health Organization. The WHO estimates that, worldwide, more than 120 million people suffer from depression.

* It hasn't always been the case that American conservatives snub ecological concerns. (After all: conservative/conservation ...) Teddy Roosevelt expanded the national parks system, Richard Nixon created the Environmental Protection Agency and passed the Clean Air Act, and even Barry Goldwater was a member of the Sierra Club.

* Americans continue to feel ever-more stressed. In 2001, 5.5 million more Americans were taking prescription drugs for mental-health problems than in 1996, and one in five Americans now suffers from a diagnosable mental disorder. Are we more rattled than people of other countries, or are we just more open about our troubles? As one doctor notes, "very few people in China say they are depressed. They just kill themselves."

* There are now 93 men to every 100 women among single New Yorkers aged 20-44. In nearly every big American city, there are more single women than single men.

* The Museum of Modern Art's recently-completed renovation cost $858 million.

* A higher proportion of New York City's inhabitants -- 36% -- are foreign-born than at any time since the 1920s. Immigrants now make up 43% of the city's labor force; more than half the people who work in restaurants and hotels are foreign-born. Los Angeles and Miami both have an even larger proportion of immigrants. [I culled all the above facts from The Economist.]

* Hard though it may be to believe, American movies continue to become ever-more special-effects-heavy. The Hollywood Reporter's Anne Thompson writes, "Of the 20 top-grossing movies of all time, three are totally animated, and the others include so many [special] effects you can't tell the real from the fake. Over the past decade ... the typical wide-release feature film has seen its effects budget skyrocket from an average of $5 million to $40 million. 'Five years ago, we shot one or two movies a year with a significant number of effects,' says Hutch Parker, president of production at 20th Century Fox Film. 'Today, 50 percent have significant effects. They're a character in the movie'."



posted by Michael at March 8, 2005


re: sf/x

same in peru and the simpsons is animated in s.korea...

re: immigrants

here's an interview with a s.korean/nyer deli worker

re: depression

the interesting bit deigned unmentionable or neglected was that:

"As soon as the electrodes implanted in their brains were switched on, they noticed a difference. Mr Matte describes how everything in the room became brighter. Lights and colours seemed more vivid. His depression vanished so dramatically that it left him feeling terrified—and it remained vanished, not only for the six months of the study, but also for the six months since it was completed. And none of the patients involved has experienced noticeable cognitive impairment as a result of the operation."

re: ecological conservatives

many of them are christian :D


Posted by: carabinieri on March 9, 2005 12:25 AM

Whenever I read news like that abnout special effects, I want to pull out all my old Bergman tapes and spend hours looking at faces experiencing pure, raw emotion -- which I WILL do if you push me.

Posted by: Rodney Welch on March 9, 2005 9:15 AM

"...In nearly every big American city, there are more single women than single men."

Yet dating sites such as and have vastly more male than female members. It's said that a woman under age 45 or so who posts her profile on such a site can expect 100+ replies, while a man typically gets zero. And the large and growing "mail order bride" industry is based almost entirely on men who can't find women. Something doesn't add up.

Posted by: Peter on March 9, 2005 10:10 AM

Re: Peter's comment: Probably lots of married men on

Re: depression and mental health. The really sad part? Not a therapist in the US has the vaguest f**king clue what to do about. Nothing that happens in therapy is "therapeutic". Notice how high the rate of mental health drugs has grown. And they aren't working. Biggest scam in the country? "Therapy." And its not that I don't think people need help. They just aren't getting any. You guys rail about the state in which arts are taught in this country. The state of psychology is in worse disrepair.

Posted by: annette on March 9, 2005 10:20 AM

I watched an interesting featurette on the "special effects" (for lack of a better term) of Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind. I saw it for free via Starpower, but I assume it's one of the extras on the DVD. Michel Gondry, with his background in the lower-budget arena of music videos, eschewed computer-generated special effects for old-fashioned camera tricks, quirky sets, and other creative solutions to bring his vision to the screen. For example, there's a scene in which Jim Carrey is chasing Kate Winslet through a house. She runs into a bathroom, he follows only to find she isn't there, and he retreats to another room, where he finds her - all in one fluid take. Instead of manipulating all of this digitally, Gondry had Winslet escape through a trap door in the bathroom and run around to the other room. In another scene, Carrey walks down the street with Winslet lagging behind, but she appears rather fuzzy in the background. Again, this is where a lazy director would have played with the scene on a computer after shooting, but Gondry just had people carry a giant screen behind Carrey, sort of a filter lens outside of the camera. How simple! The whole production was something that could have been made in the 20s or 30s.

I wasn't overly enamored of Eternal Sunshine, but I appreciate that Gondry used the same sort of techniques that, say, Buster Keaton or Luis Buñuel would have used. Sure as hell sounds like fun moviemaking, as opposed to filming half the scenes in front of a blue screen.

Posted by: Nick on March 9, 2005 10:55 AM

Annette -
Good point re married men on; I looked at the site, out of curiosity, and there doesn't seem to be any attempt to screen out married people (dunno that could be done, come to think of it).
It might be that marital infidelity is a big reason behind the "woman shortage" that confronts so many single men. A married man with a girlfriend on the side is taking two women out of circulation, at least if the girlfriend is "loyal." Affairs by married women don't counteract this, as married women are considerably less likely to have affairs, and when they do it's almost always with a married man (MILF fantasies aside, affairs between married women and single men are very rare).

Posted by: Peter on March 9, 2005 10:55 AM

Are you sure that married women are less likely to have affairs? I remember seeing something to the opposite effect, I think in Pinker's Blank Slate, but I'm not sure.

Posted by: Todd Fletcher on March 9, 2005 12:24 PM

Carabinieri -- You're a researching maniac, and many thanks for that. I didn't know the Simpsons was animated overseas. I look forward to the "outsourcing" episode. The animated/CGI thing is fascinating, no? I mean, in many ways the "art of film" up till recently was 90% about reconciling the dream (what you could imagine) with the reality (what the camera and mike actually picked up). And that core drama, which movies by their nature seemed to embody, could be very moving -- after all, it's a core drama in all our lives. But the computers are making it more plausible that we might just get rid of the "reality" part of the equation -- and the movies that get made are more like 90% dream and 10% reality. I like fantasy as much as the next person, and any fiction film that doesn't have a piquant element of fantasy bores me. But there's such a thing as too much fantasy too. I guess I don't like it when people view "reality" as a big obstacle to what they really want to do, which usually seems to be to stare into a strobe light while imagining themselves to be a star.

Rodney -- I'm with you on that. I'm 100% happy watching real people (OK, actors) interact in the context of dramatic/comic situations. I've got zero complaint about that as the basis for an art/entertainment form. Where's the problem? But I guess an amazing number of people really, really enjoy watching light shows and getting raped by Dolby effects. And if you can Photoshop a blemish away and silicone-inflate a couple of boobs, well, why not? That's my fantasy! I often think the new "have it my way" world is great. But I sometimes think it promotes a kind of unpleasant, masturbatory solipsism of a "real life stinks because it doesn't measure up to what I can imagine" sort. Used to be that such center-of-the-world attitude was considered infantile, and something that needed to be outgrown. These days living such an attitude seems to be the goal of many people's lives. Is this an improvement?

Peter -- The numbers do seem weird, don't they? I mean, there are roughly the same number of gals and guys. A few things throw the 50/50 ratio off a bit -- there are more male homosexuals than female homosexuals, and women generally live longer than men. So, at the younger years, a percent or two more single straight women sounds about right. And I guess we should all expect there to be many more available 80 year old women than 80 year old men. But why does the situation in big cities seem so dire for younger single women? Has some kind of geographical segregation occurred, with youngish single women tending to move to big cities and youngish single guys tending to live elsewhere? And if so, why? How did that get started?

Annette -- You've said a mouthful! I'd love to know more, and I wonder how and when "therapy" went wrong. Or maybe there was never anything to it? I had my own unhappy experiences with it -- many years in the "care" of a semi-Freudian, to very little effect. He wasn't dumb or a bad guy, and I did at least learn to get used to being inspected and picked-apart in Freudian terms, which has been a handy thing in New York, where people routine go after each other in Freudian ways. So I'm not the naive marshmallow I once was. But that wasn't anything like why I went to the guy, or what I was hoping to get. I went to him quite simply hoping to pick up a few tips that might help me deal with some personal frustrations. And I didn't get 'em. Mucho time, mucho dinero, and many years when I might have been putting that time and emotional/intellectual energy into more constructive activities, or maybe just enjoyed goofing off. (No money-back guarantee on therapy, darn it.) As it turns out, I've gotten a lot more out of doing a year and a half of beginning yoga than I ever did out of therapy. Happier, more relaxed, calmer, and dare I say a little nicer and more forgiving too. Some of the old frustrations have dissolved and been flushed away. Plus it's cheap, and it keeps me in some kind of shape. Throw out the Freudians and bring on the swamis, sez I. Have you run into therapists who've been of much help? I wonder if any such exist.

Nick -- I didn't know that Gondry had a fondness for the old, non-CGI ways, and that's nice to hear. I really should catch up with the movie sometime! It's also nice that the audiences for the movie responded happily to his non-CGI effects. That's something that's gotten largely lost -- the sheer fun of old-style movie trickery. No one ever thought the Melies or Ray Harryhausen effects were flawless, but that was more than OK. You were watching the work of a madman tinkerer with tons of hilariously bold and cheesy ideas -- that was what was cool and fun about watching their work, not sitting there and saying "whoa!" The flawless new effects have no emotional or human weight to them, often. Which may be the reason they tend to turn into light shows. If you can't move people, then dazzle 'em.

Posted by: Michael Blowhard on March 9, 2005 12:24 PM

I go to Ron Silliman's blog every day and for some inexplicable reason, almost like a Ouija board, my mouse pointer was drawn to your link. What do I see but facts. In an environment where there are more pundits with opinions than there are corporate media channels to put them on, you provide a few facts. Cool.

A couple of comments. 1) Depression has always been a problem in industrial societies because of the rapid rate of change and in pre-industrial societies because of their military occupation by industrial societies. Durkheim saw it coming over a hundred years ago. 2) Even that ratio of men to women, when coupled with the fact that 20% of the men (the alpha males) get 80% of the women, doesn't make me feel any better about not being able to get a date. 3) The Bellagio spent over $1.5 billion on its digs. That's almost 2-to-1 over MOMA. What does that tell you? That maybe MOMA should put some in slot machines? Most Americans would much rather gamble than look at art. And those Americans that gamble on art are generally limited to hedge fund tycoons hanging out at Sotheby's. 4) Approximately 18% of movie revenues result from ticket sales. The reason they are digitizing everything is so the product can easily be reused by the same six media conglomerates in the video games, TV shows, DVDs, CDs and other cross-marketing product schemes that result in the other 82% of revenue.

I like the blog.

Posted by: Michael Harold on March 9, 2005 12:44 PM

"But why does the situation in big cities seem so dire for younger single women?"

Perceptions may be different from reality. Shows like "Sex and the City" make it seem as if young single women in NYC and other cities have a terrible time finding Mr. Right. Remember some years back when a demographic study claimed that a 35-year-old single woman's chances of marriage were less than her chances of being struck by lightning? Of course it was totally false, but the perception stuck.
It may be anecdotal, to be sure, but based on things I've heard from single men (I'm married myself) it's actually quite hard to find available women. Maybe if you're an alpha male pick-up artist, as Michael Harold suggested above, things aren't so bad, but for the average, 50th-percentile guy the story's quite different. And if a man's even slightly overweight/short/unathletic/nerdy/etc., his chances of finding a decent woman - heck, any woman - go way down. Just as an example, consider the fact that bars and clubs catering to the singles crowd often have to offer women free drinks and/or admission in hopes of attracting enough females.
Why this should be so, given the effectively equal numbers of males and females in the younger age group, is a tough question. My guess is that there are multiple factors at play. You have the alpha males types taking two or more women out of circulation, as I suggested in my earlier post and Michael Harold suggested in his. Homosexuality is another factor; while there may be more gay males than lesbians, it's my impression that the gap has narrowed significantly in recent years and, more to the point, a greater percentage of the males are bisexual. Finally, a lot of younger women are so wrapped up in their careers that they don't have the time nor inclination to date; even the most career-devoted men, in contrast, seem better able to maintain some semblance of a personal life.
All in all, it seems tough to be a (non-alpha) single man today. I'm damned glad I'm not one.

Posted by: Peter on March 9, 2005 2:41 PM

re: the new "have it my way" world

see the age of egocasting...

"What ties all these technologies together is the stroking of the ego. When cable television channels began to proliferate in the 1980s, a new type of broadcasting, called 'narrowcasting,' emerged—with networks like MTV, CNN, and Court TV catering to specific interests. With the advent of TiVo and iPod, however, we have moved beyond narrowcasting into 'egocasting'—a world where we exercise an unparalleled degree of control over what we watch and what we hear. We can consciously avoid ideas, sounds, and images that we don't agree with or don't enjoy. As sociologists Walker and Bellamy have noted, 'media audiences are seen as frequently selecting material that confirms their beliefs, values, and attitudes, while rejecting media content that conflicts with these cognitions.' Technologies like TiVo and iPod enable unprecedented degrees of selective avoidance."

"In his of 1936 essay, 'The Work of Art in the Age of Mechanical Reproduction,' Benjamin argued that technological change (particularly mechanical reproduction) fosters a new perspective he called the 'progressive reaction.' This reaction is 'characterized by the direct, intimate fusion of visual and emotional enjoyment with the orientation of the expert.' Benjamin compared the live stage actor to the film actor to demonstrate this point: 'The film actor lacks the opportunity of the stage actor to adjust to the audience during his performance, since he does not present his performance to the audience in person. This permits the audience to take the position of a critic, without experiencing any personal contact with the actor. The audience's identification with the actor is really an identification with the camera. Consequently the audience takes the position of the camera; its approach is that of testing.'

"Today, an increasing number of us consume culture through mediating technologies—the camera, the recording device, the computer—and these technologies are increasingly capable of filtering culture so that it suits our personal preferences. As a result, we are more willing to test and to criticize. As we come to expect and rely on technologies that know our individual preferences, we are eager as well to don the mantle of critics. And so we vent our frustrations on and are in turn ranked by others who opine on the helpfulness and trustworthiness of our views. We are given new critical powers to determine the fate of television plot lines; recently, the show Law & Order: Criminal Intent allowed viewers to vote on whether a character should live or die (the masses were lenient—53 percent said the character should survive). Programs such as American Idol encourage a form of mass criticism by allowing millions of viewers to phone in their choice for a winner."

the new atlantis, incidentally, is a "journal of technology & society," which as i recall you've expressed interest in wrt 'digital culture'.

re: unpleasant, masturbatory solipsism (and immigration :)

see tyler cowen on transhumanism:

"Most people want their children to look like themselves, and to some extent to think like themselves."


Posted by: carabinieri on March 9, 2005 3:15 PM

Michael---your words are amazing, simply because I think running has done more for me than therapy ever did, or was ever going to do. Isn't it funny how a physical activity does more for your psyche? Therapists mostly fail the "human being" test---no insight whatsoever into what will make you happy, and no interest in who you are. They just have this cardboard cutout of what they, for some stupid mistaken reason, think is the blueprint for a healthy person, and they just want to cram you into that, NO MATTER WHAT. No consequence to them when they turn out to be wrong. No money back. No years of your life back.

As I said to a friend of mine recently---if medical doctors acted like therapists, then if your mother ran you over by a car as a child, they would run up to you and say--"Do you understand that she didn't MEAN to do it?" And if you say "yes, I know she didn't mean it" then you are good as new! They'd completely forget that your legs are still broken...and they still need to be set, even if nobody if nobody MEANT to do harm. On the one hand, shrinks are the biggest believers in childhood development stages, but on the other, if they realize they were disrupted, even unintentionally by circumstances, they shrug that off and say, well, just as long as you understand that it wasn't your fault you didn't get such-and-such. It seems to elude them that you still DIDN'T GET SUCH-AND-SUCH and there are consequences for that! Again, it's like a medical doctor saying that your childhood diet denied you iron, and so you are anemic, and then saying, "But it isn't your fault you are anemic" and FORGETTING TO PRESCRIBE ANY VITAMINS.

Posted by: annette on March 9, 2005 3:17 PM

Annette is back! I was afraid the bank has promoted you to VP and we're left w/o your comments! (always my selfish interests first, you know)

Partially, I'm like Alexandra, prioritizing personal anecdotes. Here're some, to the themes above.

Couple of months ago I discussed in length the therapy topic with a friend (I hope, he is still one, despite the silence).
In short, he was wondering about opposite to intended effect the therapy had on him: after each deep-digging-into-his-personal-demons session he'd feel so exhausted that he'd end up buying another bottle just to calm himself down and as a means to fight resulting insomnia. In combo with prescribed miracle drug de jur he was in ever-worsening condition.
I suggested a tried-and-proved Russian alternative: take that same bottle or three, come to the friends' kitchen (preferably same gender friends) and discuss your problems in process of consuming the contents. It's 1) cheaper 2) you'll get hips of sympathy 3) you'll get plenty of advice (which you'd never get from a Dr.) - useless, mostly, but than you can do the opposite, can't you?

Peter, what chances a "slightly overweight/short/unathletic/nerdy" woman has, in your opinion, to find Mr. Right? Are we supposed to feel sorry for single men? Sheesh.

Posted by: Tatyana on March 9, 2005 5:30 PM

Hey--I am a VP! :)

Posted by: annette on March 9, 2005 5:38 PM

I think Luigi Luca Cavalli-Sforza once remarked (classily, in Italian, no doubt quoting some opera or other work of culture that I'm too hick to recognize), that "the woman moves." His studies of population genetics showed that while men tend to be rooted in both place and in social class, women are much more mobile, both geographically and socially. I assume that the over-representation of single women in big cities would reflect in-migration from some less urban venue. Presumably leaving more men someplace else, as the population is quite evenly matched at the ages you quote.

I wonder if the girls have ever considered moving back home or at least to a less urban environment.

Posted by: Friedrich von Blowhard on March 9, 2005 6:19 PM

On the ratio of single men to single women in NYC.
1. The mix of the type of work on offer here –financial/legal services, media, publishing –office/info tech/multi-tasking, must have some effect.
2. Maybe guys just don’t like to feel too crowded together. Green acres is the place to be and all that.
A map of the ration of single men to single women:
[Also, no discussion of the ratio is complete with mention of The Age Curve. “What's happening here is a subtle but significant change in the birth rate. While the numbers of boys and girls born every year are roughly the same, the overall birthrate dropped 40 percent from 1955 to 1973. Because more than half of all men marry younger women, that means their pool of prospects shrinks a bit every year. "The tables have turned," says Sherry Cooper, an economist who has written about demographic shifts. "Guys in that 35-year-old range are going to have a harder time."”]
3. Then there’s the stay at home thing. I think guys find it easier to stay at home then women. Sons can just split on Friday and then reappear at breakfast on Sunday without a hassle. For daughters you call out the National Guard. So if you gotta get out of the house, where do you go? Well, as long as you’re leaving, why not clear out of town altogether and hit the big city?
--PS Where should I rant about "Sex and The City?"

Posted by: Chris on March 9, 2005 6:50 PM

Michael mentioned yoga and Annette mentioned running; for me, the therapeutic activity of choice is chopping wood.

I think it's a combination of heavy physical activity in crisp air, rampant destruction, and a useful end result. Regrettably, we have wood-burning restrictions to keep the air from smelling like wood fires in the winter (I'm told that's a good thing), so I hardly ever do it any more.

Posted by: Doug Sundseth on March 9, 2005 7:29 PM

"Peter, what chances a "slightly overweight/short/unathletic/nerdy" woman has, in your opinion, to find Mr. Right?"

Based on people I've known, as long as the woman's not too far off the norm, her chances of finding a decent partner are a fair sight better than a similarly "flawed" man's chances are. Okay, she's probably not going to find the perfect man, but she'll likely get a man who's reasonably presentable and a good provider.
I'm sure you've noticed that white male/Asian female couples are fairly common. Maybe some of the men really prefer Asian women. I'd say, however, that most of the men would prefer while women but have to settle for Asian women because there's less competition for them. And that's not even to get into the whole mail-order-bride industry, the whole existence of which is based on men who can't find women the "conventional" way.

"Are we supposed to feel sorry for single men?"

No. But maybe you should show them some understanding. They're not all studly pick-up artists.

Posted by: Peter on March 10, 2005 12:28 AM

Michael -

Have you seen Kino's "The Magic of Melies"? Actually, their whole "The Movies Begin" box set is good stuff, if you're interested in that sort of thing. (Unfortunately, "A Trip to the Moon" is not on the Melies DVD, but it is on one of the others in the set.)

The set can be found here:

I suppose I'm fascinated by the silent era of cinema because moviemaking is the only major art with well-documented origins; that is, one can clearly trace its development. We have a good idea of what Muybridge, Edison, and eventually later innovators were thinking and trying to do, and how they did it. I love reading about the independent film companies, based around a star or director, that would not only have complete creative control (every film grad's dream, certainly), but gave themselves unique challenges and overcame them in interesting ways. By the end of the silent era, almost all of the problems of how to produce special effects had been solved - at least until the computer era. (Not that I don't appreciate some of the dazzling effects of today, but it just seems so... easy. Today's special effects are more the result of manipulating technology than innovative thought.)

An unrelated aside: Kino now has my favorite African movie, "Guimba the Tyant," for sale at a decent price (it ran about a hundred bucks for its first few years of availability). It's a lushly produced - albeit cheaply - fable described by Kino in this way:

"Guimba is a tyrant who rules over the town of Sitkali with an iron fist. Using a combination of sorcery and cruelty, he terrorizes people into submission. His one weakness is his son, Janguine, a randy, perverse dwarf who spends his days satisfying every appetite. Janguine is betrothed to the beautiful Kani, but prefers her more voluptuous mother Meya. Guimba supports his son's obsession by exiling Meya's husband. It is a decision he will come to regret."

At this price, many indie video rental joints may be carrying it, and it could even be Netflixable. I found that I've shown or lent it to enough friends that it was worth the purchase.

Posted by: Nick on March 10, 2005 10:02 AM

One other factor in the male/female ratio is the role of incarceration. That doesn't affect college grads like the people reading this site much, but, because women tend to gravitate up more than men (at least in the contemporary US) in educational and dating terms, it will have an influence. I like all of the reasons given in the comments section -- I think all of them are true -- but wanted to mention another factor.

Posted by: JT on March 10, 2005 10:23 AM

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