Numlock News: December 22, 2021 • I’m Still Standing, Pet Food, Vietnam
By Walt Hickey
The new animated film Sing 2 contains some 40 pop songs in it from the likes of Prince, U2, Billie Eilish and Taylor Swift. The first film, Sing, proved that licensing a song to an animated jukebox movie can have considerable financial rewards for an artist. While originally Elton John and Bernie Taupin were reluctant to license “I’m Still Standing” to a movie for children, they eventually agreed, and it was performed by Taron Egerton, who plays an ape in the 2016 movie. Since the film’s release, the original cut of “I’m Still Standing” has had 182 million streams, while Egerton’s cover got 191 million streams, and three years later he’d get the gig to play Elton John in Rocket Man. Perhaps identifying the financial perks of licensing out catalog hits to animated porcupines and pigs — licensing fees were 15 percent of the first movie’s $75 million budget — there was less difficulty scoring tunes for the sequel.
As of mid-December, just 65 imported films were released in China, which was only 13 percent of all films. That’s down from a level of 20 percent in 2020, 23 percent in 2019, and 24 percent in 2018. Of those 65 imported films, only 25 were American titles, down from 45 titles in 2019. While for years Hollywood cultivated a prosperous release pattern in China, at times sacrificing making concessions to the politics of the PRC in the process, major studios are quickly coming to the conclusion that the era of easy money in the Middle Kingdom is drawing to a close.
The inputs of AI models continued to grow ever larger this year. GPT-3, the big star of 2020, has 175 million parameters, an order of magnitude more than GPT-2, and this years’ algorithmic behemoths blow it away in terms of inputs. Jurassic-1, a large language model launched in September, has 178 billion parameters; Gopher, released in December, has 280 billion parameters; Megatron-Turing NLG has 530 billion, Switch-Transformer has 1 trillion and GLaM has 1.2 trillion. That’s just the U.S.: South Korea’s Naver built HyperCLOVA, which has 204 billion parameters, and in China, Huawei built PanGu, which has 200 billion parameters, PCL-BAIDU Wenxin has 280 billion, and the Beijing Academy of AI’s Wu Dao 2.0 has 1.75 trillion parameters. What’s wild is that researchers still don’t precisely understand why upping the number of parameters leads to better performance, and, for that matter, haven’t solved the misinformation problems that AI still spawns; garbage-in/garbage-out still holds if you add another trillion pieces of garbage, after all.
Pervasive supply-chain problems in the food business have also struck the pet food business, and comes amid an overall spike in demand for pet food. Over the past 52 weeks, demand for human food was up 2.3 percent, while over the same period demand for pet food at supermarkets was up 6.9 percent. And while humans can roll with the punches — accepting store-brand macaroni over a preferred brand, or accepting an alternative dish in lieu of a planned one — pets can be less easy to reason with. After all, have you ever tried explaining to a dog that a confluence of container buildup in the Midwest, decreased processing capacity at the oligopoly that constitutes the American meat processing business, logjams at ports, the deregulated trucking business, the onset of just-in-time logistics, vestigial tariffs leading to reduced incentives to import to modulate supply, the skyrocketing cost of warehouse space and the general quality constraints of the animal-byproduct trade have all combined to cause to a brief change away from a preferred type of dog food to a slightly different one? I mean, sure, cats will totally understand it, they have an innate understanding of the brutality of modern capitalism, but dogs?
Child Tax Credits
The end of this month will see the expiration of monthly child tax credit payments, and new data reveals precisely what parents have been squandering this free government money on. According to a new analysis of census data of CTC households, 59 percent spent it on such frivolities as “food,” 52 percent said they blew it on “utilities,” with 45 percent saying “rent or mortgage” and 44 percent saying “clothing.” Yeah, it turns out that the idea that parents are using the payments — up to $300 per month per child under six, $250 per month for older children — for anything not above-board is not in any way based on the data actually being collected from households that receive it. Other things the money has gone toward includes education costs (40 percent of households), vehicle payments (19 percent), debt (17 percent), childcare (16 percent) and savings (8 percent). Anyway, that all ends in a week; happy New Year!
In 2017, the European Union, the largest fish importer in the world, hit Vietnam with a warning over overfishing, a move that forced the nation, which is the third-largest exporter of fish in the world, to improve logging of fishing vessels and rein in illegal fishing. The extra customs scrutiny that accompanied the warning cut their fish sales to the E.U. by 36 percent from 2018 to 2020, a loss of $320 million, and while the nation has made considerable strides to clean up its industry — Vietnam's Fisheries Law passed in 2019 established protected zones, implemented serious penalties and kickstarted a database — the pandemic prevented European inspectors from visiting, extending their export issues into at least 2022. As of 2017, 66 percent of fish stocks are at a biologically sustainable level, down from 90 percent in 1990.
Sports betting has seen an explosion in usage over the course of the pandemic thanks to a Supreme Court ruling three years ago that ended the state of Nevada’s monopoly on sports gambling. While that’s great for the majority of gamblers, making gambling a single tap away on a phone is cause for concern for problem gamblers who used to have to schlep to Reno or Vegas to engage with their addiction. Based on historical data, around 1 percent of adults have a severe problem with gambling, such as compulsive gambling, and another 2 percent to 3 percent have less severe problems. While that’s a slim percentage, that’s still 6 million to 8 million people, and one-touch, mobile, everywhere gambling is a pretty significant legal shift to spring upon them, a situation that researchers describe as a “massive cultural experiment” that is, at very least, worth keeping a bit of an eye on. Unfortunately, not much of the $6.7 billion in state taxes paid by commercial sports betting houses is budgeted to track what exactly has been unleashed here.
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