Numlock News: February 12, 2020: Roses, Fiance, Locusts

By Walt Hickey

Surprise!

As you might have heard, the first "fire department" was an private company in ancient Rome who would find a burning building, negotiate the sale of it from the owner at extortionate prices, and then put it out, otherwise they'd just let the building burn. I have no idea why I just remembered that anecdote. Anyway, according to a new study published in the Journal of the American Medical Association, a fifth of 347,356 insured American patients that had an elective surgery at an in-network hospital with an in-network surgeon still got hit with a surprise bill from an out-of-network doctor, often brought in when they were knocked out and unable to consent to it. The average surprise out-of-network bill raised the cost of surgery by $14,083.

Olga Khazan, The Atlantic

Casinos

Macao, the gambling capital of Asia, has been shut down thanks to the ongoing coronavirus outbreak. The mandatory shutdown began at midnight on February 5 and will continue for two weeks. Even setting aside the lack of money coming in, the casinos are burning through money: Wynn Resorts in Macao is spending $2.4 million to $2.6 million per day, most of it on payroll, in unpreventable daily costs. The shut down won't likely be covered by business interruption insurance, which generally applies to events like storms or damage to facilities. We’ve done it people, we figured it out: this is what it takes for the house to lose, apparently.

Christina Jelski, Travel Weekly

Kiss From A Rose

On Valentine’s Day — which is Friday, by the way — people will spend $2.3 billion on flowers. The gift giving industry generates $131.3 billion annually, and Valentine's Day is a solid chunk of that business for florists and other providers of "stuff that looks nice and people who date you will enjoy." On the 14th, 1-800-Flowers.com — a doozy of a multitasking URL if there ever were one —  anticipates it will move 18.5 million flowers, of which 11 million are roses.

Melinda Fakuade, Vox

Fiancé

The reality television show 90 Day Fiancé, which profiles couples introduced over the K-1 visa program that grants immigrants permanent residency if they marry an American within 90 days, is a colossal hit with 3 million viewers per episode and a new season coming February 23. Far be it from me to speculate that, hey, maybe a show that portrays immigrants as conniving and untrustworthy may not be the best thing for the national psyche, but thank to the success of the program ratings for The Learning Channel — TLC — were up 13 percent between 2018 and 2019, a rarity as consumption of cable overall slides. By comparison, Bravo is up just 1 percent over the same period. The show has spinoffs — 90 Day Fiancé: Happily Ever After? and 90 Day Fiancé: The Other Way — but I personally want to see other arbitrary government deadlines turned into reality shows, like Thousand Day Highway, a workplace comedy about a long-delayed overpass project; 180-Day Sallie Mae, which each week follows student loan debtors in arrears who tries to avoid delinquency; or Bears Ears in One Year, where a family of four must explore a beautiful National Monument in the months before it's casually sold to mineral extraction concerns and mining corporations.

Andre-Pierre Du Plessis, Bloomberg

Frauds

Counterfeit goods are a major issue, especially on sites like Amazon that facilitate small storefronts of dubious renown to connect directly with consumers who are buying products unseen. Those third-party sellers accounted for 54 percent of units moved on Amazon in the second quarter of 2019, up from 3 percent in 2000. Looking at reviews on the site collected by ReviewMeta from January 2015 to October 2019, product reviews with some mention of "fake" or "counterfeit" or the like increased from 1.725 percent of the 42.5 million reviews made in 2015 to 4.275 percent of the 23.7 million reviews crawled in 2019.

Ganda Suthivarakom, Wirecutter

Discontent

Streaming may be a revolution of sorts when it comes to entertainment, but the days where anything and everything is available on Netflix are well over. Nielsen, the ratings company that has begun to wade into streaming, determined that in 2019, there were 646,152 unique programming titles — shows, movies, sporting events, news show, literally everything — available to viewers across streaming and linear television. For instance, there are 236 episodes of Friends, but the show only accounts for one of 646,152, for Nielsen's purposes. Just 16 percent of those pieces of content are available exclusively on linear television, and just 9 percent are available on strictly streaming platforms. The vast majority — two-thirds — can be accessed by buying or renting through an online retailer. All told, in the last three months of 2019 streaming made up 19 percent of total television usage in households who have over the top capabilities on their television, up from 10 percent in the first quarter of 2018.

Rick Porter, The Hollywood Reporter

Plague

Locusts will soon threaten Somalia and neighboring countries, with unusually heavy rains fueling what's believed to be a colossal swarm of the pests. With more rains coming, the number of locusts could grow by a factor of 500 by June, dwarfing the billion-member swarms currently plaguing East Africa. An effort is underway to reduce the size of the swarms, but money is an issue: international donors are being asked for $76 million to control the locust outbreak, as just $19 million is on hand to combat the bugs. Soon, the locusts will begin migrating south, expanding to parts of Kenya and Ethiopia during the height of crop germination. Each generation brings a 20-fold increase.

The Associated Press

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