Numlock News: February 3, 2020 • Nobility, Sign Stealing, Oscar Bets

By Walt Hickey

Oscar Bets

The increasing legalization in the United States of online gambling means that it’s not just sports that are seeing wagers, and Oscar betting is now cleared for action thanks to a 2018 Supreme Court ruling. Last year in New Jersey — the only state that allowed Academy Award bets in 2018 — around $750,000 was wagered on the outcome of the Oscars, a tiny little fraction of the nationwide $17 billion in legal sports wagers to be sure but still a trend nonetheless. As someone who has been forecasting the Academy Awards for going on seven years now, such simple wagers as “money” simply don’t do the trick anymore; like a crazed big game hunter holed up in a jungle for a Most Dangerous Game situation, the stakes must be escalated to distressing levels to engender any satisfaction, and for me the only interesting gamble on the Oscars every year is “your entire reputation, repeatedly.” For those who have not yet been as fundamentally broken, $100 bet on 1917 will pay back $143, while a $100 shot on Parasite would pay $550.

Katherine Sayre, The Wall Street Journal

Robocalls

The FCC intends to fine a Utah man $12.9 million for a campaign of robocalls. Though literally any jury in America would be totally cool with that sentence if it stopped right there, the robocalls were also allegedly obscenely racist and some even appeared to be an attempt to tamper with a jury. Though the allocation of the fine and subsequent actions would shut down further attempts to abuse phone lines, the FCC has actually been really bad at collecting fines assessed against robocallers: last year, an investigation found the FCC had imposed $208 million in fines for robocalls but had collected just $6,790.

Timothy B. Lee, Ars Technica

The Rhythm Section

Last night was an extremely popular broadcast of a J. Lo and Shakira concert, among other things, but Super Bowl weekend tends to be a sleepy one at the box office and this year was no outlier. Bad Boys for Life and 1917 continued to make money, but the real story was down at fifth place, with The Rhythm Section, a $50 million action drama produced by the same people behind the James Bond franchise. That movie made $2.8 million, which is the worst opening of all time for a film playing in 3,000 or more screens. The record had been held by Hoot for 14 years. By comparison, you know that ad before the movie trailers, for a live broadcast of an opera, and how you always say you should go to that but actually never do? Yeah, that made $2.6 million this weekend.

Pamela McClintock, The Hollywood Reporter

Nobility

While money has always helped buy people into a higher social class, the remnants of formal aristocracy make formally obtaining a title of nobility a fairly feasible get provided you’ve got the scratch. About 0.1 percent of Germans are of noble descent — about 80,000 people out of 84 million — and in the U.K. that’s about 0.01 percent. Obviously, there are a few of those who are hard up for dough, and willing to exploit the adoption loophole to give their titles to the highest bidder. Among German nobility, prices range from €80,000 to €120,000 to be a Baron, €180,000 to €600,000 to be a Count, and several times that for Princes (be they a Fürst or a Prinz). The good news is that they can be a genuine investment: once you’ve bought a barony, not a lot stands in your way when it comes to cashing in yourself.

Benedikt Kammel, Bloomberg

Bang A Drum

An Astros fan analyzed game tape of some 8,274 pitches thrown to Astros hitters over the course of 58 home games from 2017. He did this because the team has been accused of stealing signs indicating the type pitch to come, and allegedly using an agent in the crowd banging on a trash can to transmit information about it. Tony Adams found evidence of banging in 14 percent of those pitches, 1,143 of them. This is simply evidence, and doesn’t necessarily implicate any given player beyond a shadow of a doubt, but it’s a persuasive look back on the game tape.

Jared Diamond, The Wall Street Journal

Plastic

A new study dissected the stomachs of 142 seals harvested by Inuit hunters in Nunavut from 2007 to 2019. The researchers were surprised to find something unexpected in their stomachs: an utter lack of plastic, with none of the seals having plastic larger than a grain of sugar. Even in the stomachs of harbor seals from the polluted parts of the north sea, only about 11 percent of seals have plastic in their stomachs, and the Canadian arctic is cleaner. The lack of any plastics larger than 425 micrometers (the size of a grain of sugar) is a good sign, but hardly precludes the presence of micro-plastics acquired from consuming prey.

Richa Malhotra, Hakai Magazine

NFL

Last night concluded the most recent NFL season and despite the many troubles the league has endured — youth participation in tackle football is down 16 percent in the past six years — things are looking up for the 32 teams, ratings-wise. Fox’s games saw ratings up 7 percent, ESPN’s Monday Night Football was up 6 percent, and CBS and NBC were both up 4 percent. All told, 41 out of the 50 most-watched programs on television last year were NFL games, which is a pretty striking statistic about the state of broadcast television these days.

Eben Novy-Williams and Scott Soshnick, Bloomberg

This weekend, the Numlock Sunday edition was a conversation with Josh Kosman, a New York Post reporter covering the forthcoming IPO of Casper, a mattress company that does not actually make mattresses. Josh can be found at the Post and he’s also the author of The Buyout of America, a prescient look at the impact of private equity.

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