By Walt Hickey
Tomorrow will be the last edition of Numlock in 2019! We take off the week between Christmas and New Year’s because nobody really publishes the kinds of stories that make for good entries and the news is slow.
The Box Office Asleep’ns
Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker is one of the only movies that can make $176 million domestically and $374 million globally in one weekend and still be described as a slight disappointment, financially. That domestic figure is less than the $248 million hauled in by The Force Awakens and $220 million made by The Last Jedi in their opening weekends, but enough about Star Wars, let’s talk about the smoking crater in the American box office that is Cats. This movie cost $100 million to make, it stars an incredible assembly of famous people, it cost another fortune to market, and it made merely $6.5 million, behind both Jumanji and Frozen 2. This is, to put it mildly, a total fiasco: that’s even a miss on the diminished expectation of $15 million. It’s so awful that the studio literally had to send out an updated print that fixed several issues in the original cut. Cats tells the story of our hero Macavity, the cat played by Idris Elba, as he bravely attempts to make the film Cats end faster.
Major League Soccer announced last week that a group paid $325 million for the rights to run a team in Charlotte, North Carolina, making it the 30th team in the league. That’s some serious growth for soccer, as the fee to found the Atlanta United five years ago was just $70 million. The valuations of soccer teams — Atlanta is highest at $500 million — are still nowhere near the levels seen in other U.S. sports, where the NFL grosses $16 billion a year and the average team is worth $3 billion, but as has been the case for literal decades, Americans may soon come to love soccer in just a short time.
In the U.S., there are somewhere between 1,200 and 1,500 new installations of artificial turf fields annually. For a while, these sites were seen as major innovations in recycling, where tires that otherwise would have ended up in a dump instead are repurposed as filler. Now, hundreds of fields are reaching the end of their 8-to-10-year lifespans, and the current estimate from the Synthetic Turf Council has 750 fields needing to be replaced annually. A given turf field is composed of 40,000 pounds of plastic that make up the carpet and 400,000 pounds of infill, which would put the total waste at 330 million pounds sent to landfills annually.
All sorts of cities have speed cameras that automatically hit speeders or red-light runners with citations, but some cities in particular are afflicted with scofflaws that put all the others to shame. In New Orleans, 27 percent of all tickets went to cars that had been cited five or more times, but one vehicle stood out: a Nissan that racked up 296 tickets over a period of less than two years, including 2018, when the Nissan accumulated $19,080 in fines from 188 tickets. Indeed, in New Orleans the five top ticket-receiving vehicles scored 559 tickets in 2018 alone: none were paid, none were booted, and all of them got away with it. The Big Easy is a great town for red-light violators, with just 59 percent of citations ending in paid fines compared to 77 percent in Washington D.C. and 92 percent in New York. I understand why this is a problem, but as far as building a brand goes, New Orleans is really committing to the “cool with a lot of stuff” bit and pretty much nailing it.
The Olympic Games — an international scourge that hops from metropolis to metropolis to extract billions of dollars for single-use infrastructure and, incidentally, host a pop-up sports festival — are poised to cost Japan billions of dollars more than originally pitched, in a shocker to no one in particular. The original forecast was $7.3 billion, but an updated report on Friday included an updated budget with $12.6 billion in costs and the actual figure is estimated by local media to end up closer to $26 billion. Japan has built lots of new venues for the games, which will take place next summer at the end of July and beginning of August, and organizers did argue that a further $300 million increase in revenue is now expected.
Kids like to watch stuff, and for most of history people have gone out of their way to present fairly unobjectionable content that doesn’t treat developing minds like a dopamine engine from which to optimize and extract clicks. That paradigm, where kids media was treated at least a little differently than the pablum we allow consenting adults to consume, was disrupted by YouTube, which makes on the order of $500 million to $750 million from videos directed at children. The government — whose own exit from funding responsible children’s television is in many ways responsible for that — began to crack down, and starting at the beginning of next year all kids videos will have to be specifically classified as such and abide by rules that will slash revenue and reduce their ability to gather data on children. Unlabeled videos will be at risk for enormous fines, with the FTC empowered to sue individual creators who violate the labeling requirement for up to $42,530 per violation.
New Zealand has reached the end of an enormous nationwide gun buyback, with over 56,000 weapons and 200,000 gun parts that had recently been made illegal being bought back from New Zealanders by their government. How successful this process was is unclear, as the actual estimated number of semi-automatic and military-style firearms is a pretty wide range. A KPMG report estimated that the number of now-banned guns in the country was somewhere between 56,000 and 173,000, so either the amnesty and buyback was an unqualified near-perfect success or a shambolic, middling accomplishment. Only time will tell, and certainly this simple numerical question will in no way be politicized by each and every stakeholder in the discussion.
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