Thursday, August 14, 2014

Typical New York Times

Leave it to the NYT to try and debunk the myth that notable deaths come in threes. This week we have seen Robin Williams and Lauren Bacall pass away, and so before a seven day cycle is even up, the NYT thought they'd do a study and see if it's really true that these things come in threes. (@obitsman is the observant Tweeter who spread this news.)

We got the news about Robin Williams this past Monday, August 11; the news about Ms. Bacall the following day. It's not even seven days from Monday and the Times has launched and published the results of their statistical study debunking the death triad myth. Does anyone know how Joan Rivers is feeling these days? There's still time.

At least the Times explains things. They tell us they looked back at obits that covered 2,000 words, about two-thirds of one of their pages, including photos. Two-thirds! Do you know what two-thirds of a Times page looks like? It's Texas compared to Alaska. A 2,000+ word obit is usually a front pager, above, at, or below the fold, depending on whatever scoring system they use over there and who was at the meeting.

The Times dutifully lays out its results and tells us the "three-off" happens as an event that is no more frequent than any other random series of events. They tell us their statistician worked this up.

The people who believe in the three-off myth are not 2,000 word readers of NYT obits. They are people who play scratch off lottery games, take free bus rides to Atlantic City, take the garbage out in their underwear, drink beer and serve screw-top wine. For them, the death of Joe Flynn from 'McHale's Navy' is news. Or, the latest soap opera star who won't be in the next episodes.

It so happens that Ed Nelson, the actor who played Dr. Michael Rossi on 'Peyton Place has just left us. I'm sure when I get tomorrow's NYT they won't be doing 2,000 on him. But, he does fulfill the three-off myth. At least in my house.

No, the Times poo-poos the whole three-off myth by telling us the rarity of triumvirates such as Christopher Hitchens, Vaclav Havel and KimJong-il passing away within days of one another. All household names, and definitely names people can identify at will. Just ask.

The Times slyly tells us that just recently the conductor Lorin Maazel, and the writer Nadine Gordimer passed away on July 13. They say no one mentioned that when Elaine Stritch, the musical actress joined them did anyone feel satisfied that the three-off had once again been achieved.

No, but I bet if you looked for someone who played so-and-so's neighbor on 'Leave It To Beaver', for example, you'd have four that passed away within a short span of each other.

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