Numlock News: February 23, 2021 • Champagne, Chess, Spikes

By Walt Hickey

Clothing

At the onset of the pandemic, major U.S. clothing brands abruptly cut their orders to manufacturers, which sent a destructive ripple through the production system that had serious consequences for suppliers. In Bangladesh, where 84 percent of the country’s export revenue in 2019 came from apparel, the result was a $3.1 billion order cut. When the damage began to hit the workers, some brands relented — H&M and Zara’s owner among them — but many held firm. As a result, brands owe supplier factories some $22 billion according to the labor rights advocacy group Workers Rights Consortium. All told, the Clean Clothes Campaign estimated that workers in South and Southeast Asia made 38 percent less pay than usual in the months of March, April and May.

Jasmin Malik Chua, Vox

Chess

In January, users of the Twitch game streaming service watched 18.3 million hours of chess, just one sign of the game’s resurgence in the world. One company — Chess.com — has something like a 65 percent to 70 percent share of the online chess market. The total number of registered users is way up, rising from 20 million in 2017 to 57 million today. This is fueling a boom in the competitive scene, and the people who want to watch it: that 18.3 million hours in January was approximately as much chess content consumed on Twitch in the entirety of 2019. Last week, chess was briefly more popular on Twitch than League of Legends, Fortnite or Valorant.

Hirsh Chitkara, Protocol

Bubbly

LVMH Moët Hennessy Louis Vuitton SE has bought a 50 percent stake in Jay-Z’s Champagne brand, Armand de Brignac. The business of brut is in a bit of a rut, with Champagne sales down 20 percent last year amid the cancellations of celebrations. The reason Jay-Z got into the wine business is great because the answer is “vengeance,” which is the foundation of any good business venture. In 2006, an executive at Cristal scorned the brand’s associations with hip-hop and derided the genre, which prompted a Jay-Z-led boycott of the brand. He invested early in Armand de Brignac and bought out his partner in 2014, which brings us to today when he sold to the largest producer of Champagne in the world.

Matthew Dalton, The Wall Street Journal

New Mexico

The state of New Mexico is heavily reliant on tax revenues from the oil and gas business, but looking north to Wyoming or east to West Virginia has clearly laid out the perils of using fossil fuels for the vast majority of the tax base. In 2020, 34 percent of New Mexico’s annual revenue came from drilling, which typically only accounts for 15 to 25 percent of revenue. In 2013, Wyoming made $239 million in revenue from federal coal leases, which was pumped into their schools. In 2019, that was $0, and the state had to enact colossal budget cuts.

Nick Bowlin, High Country News

Seconds

The Olympics are scheduled for this year, which will prompt the immortal track and field conversation of “are we gonna talk about the shoes?” Runners who have experimented with super spikes — spikes at the bottom of shoes made with superlight Pebax — have incidentally notched substantial gains on personal records and domination on the track. One Olympian put the advantage at 1 to 3 seconds per mile, another at 2 to 4 seconds, but nevertheless the shoes seem to be making a huge impact. The world records for the men’s 5,000 meter, 10,000 meter and women’s 5,000 meter have all been beaten in the past year.

Sean Ingle, The Guardian

Macs

According to researchers at Red Canary, 29,139 Apple Macs in 153 countries have been infected with a new, previously unknown bit of malware with an unclear goal. The intrusive software, codenamed Silver Sparrow, includes code that runs natively on the brand-new M1 chip that just dropped in November, only the second known to do that. Macs have been resistant — though hardly immune — to viruses that typically target operating systems with larger market shares, and also presumably because true to the Mac ethos, annoying, unwanted and intrusive software already comes included in the form of iCloud, Apple News, and that U2 album.

Alexis Benveniste and Clare Duffy, CNN

Flood

Right now, over 4 million houses and small apartments in the contiguous United States are at substantial risk of expensive flood damage, and the cost of flood damage to homes will increase by 50 percent over the next 30 years according to the First Street Foundation. As the climate changes, places that were perfectly safe to live in will no longer be as sure of bets as they once were, and the costs are about to be a serious reality check. The National Flood Insurance Program is $36 billion in debt because of underestimated risks. Over the next several years, FEMA plans to raise rates up to 18 percent a year until prices are accurate starting this October.

Rebecca Hersher, Huo Jingnan and Sophia Schmidt, NPR

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