Numlock News: February 27, 2023 • Chartreuse, Cocaine Bear, Donkeys
By Walt Hickey
As Oscar season heats up, do check out the pop up award season newsletter, we’re coming up on the big night.
Movies Are Back
Ant-Man and the Wasp: Quantumania saw the biggest week-over-week decline in the history of Marvel movies, falling 69.7 percent in North America between its debut and this past weekend when it hauled in $32.2 million. It faced some unexpected competition at the box office, specifically Cocaine Bear, a screw-it-let’s-go-see-it comedy about a bear that does cocaine and then goes on a bit of a rampage, which made $23.1 million in North America and a total of $28.4 million globally. Pretty damn good for a movie made on a budget of $35 million. Other competition came from Jesus Revolution, a religious picture that made $15.5 million and managed to snag third place.
TitleMax, which offers short-term loans in exchange for a lien on a borrower’s car, was fined $15 million by the CFPB after the federal watchdog found predatory lending practices, including evasion of laws meant to protect military families and illegal insurance fees. The CFPB found TitleMax issued 2,670 title loans over a five-year period to military families that were in violation of the Military Lending Act, which caps annual interest rates at 36 percent for financial products sold to military members. The fine is $5 million in constitution and a $10 million civil penalty.
Chartreuse is a green liqueur that comes in two types — green and yellow — with a remarkable history and production design, first created by a medieval alchemist in 1605 in a quest for long life but then taken on by Carthusian monks who produce it now to this very day. The recipe calls for 130 different herbs, plants and flowers, and right now only three monks know the full recipe, with the two that actually make the liqueur only knowing half in order to carry out their duties, all of whom have a vow of silence. It’s incredibly charming and the result is rather tasty, but trouble looms. There is a growing shortage of Chartreuse, one that stems from a decision made in 2021 by the monks to scale back growth to a level that would just sustain the order, and being sold exclusively under allocation.
Social media, especially TikTok, has made finding cheaper alternate versions of pricy goods into an art, with influencers pushing their audiences to knock-offs of popular and established products while of course getting their referral fee in the process. This is mostly seen among the cosmetics business, where the markups are pretty steep all things considered: Estée Lauder, the brand behind MAC and Clinique, had a gross margin of 73 percent last year, a massive profit margin that has sent deal-conscious makeup users to dupes flagged by influencers. On one hand, even the existence of a rip-off product if anything underscores the desirability of a luxury good to begin with; on the other hand, if all anyone ever buys are cheaper dupes, then the actual R&D needed to design new products languishes.
The music business runs on licensing, with artists that get played or sampled at public performances of music earning their chunk of change for the usage of their music. At its most basic level, it’s simple: If someone covers a song in a concert at Madison Square Garden, there’s a payment that is eventually made. It can be really complicated at, say, a day-long dance festival, where DJs will variously take the stage and play music that incorporates lots of different artists’ work. It’s huge in Europe; electronic dance music in the Netherlands, for instance, was responsible for a quarter of all the performance royalties in the whole country. That’s why one Amsterdam-based firm, DJ Monitor, cropped up to basically serve as the listening service for the licensors, capable of listening to artist sets and coming up with song lists with 93 percent accuracy, fingerprinting 70 percent of music festivals in the country and ensuring that everybody gets paid on the level.
Amazon is being sued over allegations that it sells donkey meat for human consumption, which the Center for Contemporary Equine Studies alleges is illegal in California under the Prohibition of Horse Slaughter and Sale of Horsemeat for Human Consumption Act of 1998. There’s a lot going on there, so let’s back it up: The global donkey population is being decimated due to high demand for ejiao, also known as gelatina nigra, also known as donkey-hide gelatin, which hucksters claim has health benefits. Following the lawsuit, a Wired investigation turned up at least 15 edible items for sale on Amazon that claimed to contain donkey, four of which were available to ship directly from an Amazon warehouse. The lawsuit wants Amazon to stop selling ejiao immediately, and if the company is in violation of the law it potentially faces a fine for every sale.
A New York Times investigation found that migrant children in the United States are in many cases being put to work in construction sites, slaughterhouses, and working for consumer packaged goods brands. The investigation spoke to over 100 children who were forced into labor across 20 different states. The Department of Health and Human Services, which checks on all unaccompanied minors a month after they live with sponsors, loses immediate contact with a third of kids, 85,000 children over the past two years. Federal prosecutors are oblivious; only about 30 cases involving forced labor of unaccompanied minors have been brought in the past decade.
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