Numlock News: February 27, 2019

By Walt Hickey

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Pick Up Game

U.S. Soccer is offering $200 million in guarantees so that the 10 soccer federations in South America will bring national teams to the U.S. in 2020 for an intercontinental championship. The plan is to run a 16-team tournament at the same time as the European Championship next summer, with the U.S. underwriting the whole shebang. This will give the U.S. men’s team a meaningful competition ahead of the 2022 World Cup and will give the visitors a chance to make up to $11 million in a prize as champions. I’m skeptical — knowing what I know about the ethics of international soccer organizations, I can’t prove this is not an elaborate Ponzi scheme — but will also be desperate for non-election content next summer, so guess what we’re soccer fans again.

Andrew Das, The New York Times

Scooter Math

An analysis of scooter usage in Louisville, Kentucky seems to undercut the economics of the business of parachuting electric scooters into a metropolis and renting them for a fee. Here’s the math: the average scooter did 3.49 rides per day, with the average trip going 1.63 miles in 18 minutes, generating $3.70 per trip in revenue and $12.91 per scooter per day. However, deducting per ride costs, leaves only $0.95 in net revenue per ride or $3.32 in net revenue per scooter per day, or $2.32 after a municipal fee. Here’s the problem: the average scooter in Louisville only seemed to last for 28 to 32 days, generating $65 to $75 in revenue on what is a bare minimum price of $360 per scooter. This seems to indicate that the scooter startups are working with a profit of negative $295 per scooter, which seems… bad? The real issue is that the companies underestimated the wear and tear on these devices. There’s more estimates in the piece, but this seems like a problem.

Alison Griswold, Oversharing


The latest trend in quackery is psychics who claim to commune with spirits or do cold readings on people, but what they are actually doing is scoping out their audience on Facebook before the event and specifically just saying stuff they learned about them or their loved ones on the internet. This, I really must confess, is totally brilliant and a core reason I have suggested a subscription to this newsletter to every mental health professional in my life. Still, these folks aren’t necessarily trying to help their audience, more just entertain and (among the more unscrupulous mediums) shake them down. There are an estimated 95,000 psychic “businesses” in the U.S. and they generated an estimated $2 billion in 2018. Going after those psychics is a network of people setting up fake accounts to bait them into doing “readings” on invented people to expose them as frauds.

Jack Hitt, The New York Times

This past Sunday’s subscriber special edition was with the brilliant Elizabeth Nolan Brown of Reason, who talked all about how hotel and hospitality chains are working with the feds to set up a surveillance dragnet. It was a fascinating interview!

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Personality Quiz

A new Morning Consult poll found a large number of people who take personality testing and astrology fairly seriously. About 24 percent of respondents said they used astrology “some” or “a lot” to make personal or business decisions, which I grant you isn’t a majority, but still would encompass tens of millions of American adults. While there are lots of reasons to question its usefulness, about 32 percent of respondents said they used Meyers-Briggs typologies to make decisions, and 35 percent — often younger respondents — used the results of personality tests in general to make decisions. In the interest of full disclosure, I’m an ENTP/Virgo/Joey Tribbiani/Miranda Hobbes/Slytherin dog person who likes Ringo Starr, picks Charmander, backs #TeamIronMan and #TeamJacob, is House Martell and plays Link on Super Smash if Pikachu’s not available.

Shyanne Gal and Walt Hickey, INSIDER

Perfectly Normal System

From 2000 to 2012, 9.5 million people were diagnosed with cancer in the U.S. Of those people, more than 42 percent drained their life’s assets within two years. Cancer patients are 2.65 times as likely to file for bankruptcy, because the American medical system is designed to kick people when they are down and bleed them financially at the worst moment of their life rather than, you know, provide a baseline of care at an affordable cost.

Anna Gorman, Kaiser Health News

Drug Prices

American drug companies argue that the prices they charge are re-invested back into research and development of new medications. This is not borne out by the data. From 2008 to 2017, 17 pharmaceutical companies in the S&P 500 distributed over 100 percent of their profits back to shareholders. Specifically, $300 billion as buybacks and $290 billion as dividends. Moreover, those shareholder profits were 12 percent higher than research and development. Merck distributed 133 percent of its profits back to shareholders, Pfizer 107 percent. Since 2009 Merck’s rolled out only one new drug resulting from its own research, and since 2001 Pfizer’s made major revenue from only 4 internally developed products. Hey, I wonder why all those people with cancer go broke so quickly.

William Lazonick and Öner Tulum, The New York Times


Rotten Tomatoes is doing away with a dumb feature that enables and amplifies the worst people. Prior to the move, for some idiotic reason movie fans (or enemies) were allowed and encouraged to leave a rating for a film they had not yet seen. This process of review bombing before a film is even released leads inevitably to movies featuring women being tanked by roving mobs of misogynists and their affiliated bot networks. For instance, the Captain Marvel “want to see” rating was a measly 28 percent despite really good ticket pre-sales. Now, instead of a low percentage score discrediting films that not a single soul has glimpsed a frame of yet, Rotten Tomatoes will instead list the number of people who “want to see” it, which at this point is 16,571 in Captain Marvel’s place.

Todd Spangler, Variety

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Previous 2019 Sunday special editions: SESTA/FOSTA ·  CAPTCHA ·  New Zealand ·  Good To Go ·  California Football ·  Personality Testing ·  China’s Corruption Crackdown ·  Yosemite

2018 Sunday Editions: 2018  ·  Game of Thrones  ·  Signal Problems · CTE and Football · Facebook · Shark Repellent · Movies · Voting Rights · Goats · Invitation Only · Fat Bear Week · Weinersmith · Airplane Bathrooms ·  NIMBYs ·  Fall 2018 Sports Analytics ·  The Media  ·  Omega-3  ·  Mattress Troubles  ·  Conspiracy Theorists  ·  Beaches  ·  Bubbles  ·  NYC Trash  ·  Fish Wars  ·  Women’s Jeans  ·  Video Stores