Also, where are last Friday night's transcripts?: This Monday, we were struck by the highlighted statement in a New York Times opinion column:
WILENTZ (5/25/20): For years, New Yorkers like me have mocked and reviled Los Angeles because of its messy residential sprawl and its out-of-control car culture. They’ve asked: Can you even call that a city? But sprawl and cars means Los Angeles doesn’t have much in the way of virus vectors like subways and residential elevators.The column was written by Amy Wilentz. According to the leading authority, she actually grew up in New Jersey, though that could always be wrong. Today, though, she's a professor at Cal Irvine and is the author of well-received books.
And indeed, the pandemic in Los Angeles has not been anywhere as intense as in New York, where as of this week the number of deaths was about eight times what it was in Los Angeles. We know people in New York who’ve died of Covid-19; here, so far, we know no one.
We were struck by the highlighted sentence because it referred to "deaths" rather than to death rates. To some, this will seem like a trivial point. To others, this will recall the remarkable problems our upper-end news orgs often have with the simplest types of statistical constructions.
New York is much larger than Los Angeles. For that reason, it doesn't exactly make sense to compare the number of deaths which have occurred in the two famous cities.
We'll guess that Wilentz presented a more sensible comparison, and that some editor changed it. At any rate, we decided to take a look at the record! We decided to see how many people have died in the two famous cities, and also to see how the two cities' death rates compare.
How many people have died in L.A.? You'd think it would be easy to get that information. In fact, it took us roughly half an hour on Monday morning, though we found the figure more easily today.
The problem was the surprising dominance of a jurisdiction known as Los Angeles County. Frankly, who knew? The story goes like this:
The City of Los Angeles—the jurisdiction commonly known as L.A.—currently boasts a population of roughly 3.96 million. (Good luck finding any such figure at the city's own web site.)
That said, the city is part of the much larger jurisdiction we've cited above—the County of Los Angeles. As of last year, the county's population had nudged up just over 10 million—and to our surprise, it dominates the more famous city which shares its name, statistical information-wise.
Go ahead! If you go to the Los Angeles Times, they will tell you the number of deaths for Los Angeles County. If you go to the web site for the city itself, they'll do the same darn thing! (Once you're able to find any statistic at all.)
The city will tell you how many people have died in Los Angeles County; as of yesterday, the number was 2,143. But how many people have died in Los Angeles itself? How many people have died in the world-famous city?
The number is remarkably hard to find, even at the city's own web site.
Eventually, we did manage to find it, although we had to leap one more rather comical hurdle. You'll be able to find it too, if you're willing to struggle a bit.
Assuming the accuracy of the city web site's data, the number of deaths by coronavirus currently stands at 1,051 in the very famous city commonly known as L.A.
By way of contrast, deaths for New York City currently stand it 16,410, as you can easily learn. This means that New York City has roughly sixteen rimes as many deaths as Los Angeles, not the eight the Times reported, if we're discussing what everyone means when they refer to "Los Angeles."
New York City has sixteen times the number of deaths, but its population is slightly more than twice as large as L.A.'s. That means its death rate is roughly eight times that of L.A. We'll assume that's what Wilentz wrote, and that some editor changed it, hoping to make things easier for people who read the Times.
Does this matter? As the past three decades have made clear, virtually nothing does! We paraphrase pols in the ways which feel good. We generate gaffes to keep script alive. Routinely, the simplest kinds of statistical matters are simply too much to deal with.
There's one other point we should mention:
We tell you these things in our afternoon post because the all-time slacker "cable news" channel still hasn't posted transcripts for last Friday's night's programs. We'll show you what Rachel said about Dr. Birx if the slackers at that channel ever find their way back to work from their three-day weekend.
At the upper end of the social scale, nothing much actually matters. It's been this way for a rather long time, and it helped give us our Trump.