Numlock News: January 25, 2022 • Mermaids, Magic, Detroit
By Walt Hickey
Spider-Man: No Way Home regained its place atop the box office rankings this past weekend with another $14.5 million domestically, but the real action was down below, when the film The King’s Daughter was finally released after spending eight years on the shelf. The film stars Pierce Brosnan as France’s King Louis XIV, a regent obsessed with immortality who in this splendid and intricately-shot period piece attempts to, in a hard genre turn, kill a mermaid he keeps on-site at Versailles to live forever. Paramount, the original distributor, shelved the movie in 2015 just three weeks ahead of its original release, but it did receive a 2,170-screen opening thanks to the ironically named Gravitas Ventures, which picked up the picture from the scrap heap. It made $750,000, which is one of the worst opening weekends of all time for a film released in over 2,000 locations.
The James Webb Space Telescope successfully arrived at the sun-Earth Lagrange Point 2, a gravitational point of equilibrium 930,000 miles from the planet where it can conserve a large amount of fuel and see vast distances into the past without a pesky atmosphere or other traffic getting in the way. The spacecraft did a successful 297-second burn to get into orbit around L2. The original goal was to get 5 to 10 years of life out of the observatory due to the limited propellant supply and fact it’s not intended to be refueled, but after launch the mission announced they expect it’s got enough fuel to last more than a 10-year lifetime.
The Encanto soundtrack is once again at No. 1 on the Billboard 200 album chart after earning 104,000 equivalent album units in the United States, up 9 percent over the previous week. It’s the first soundtrack to go two weeks at No. 1 since A Star Is Born in late 2018, and the first Walt Disney album to hit No. 1 for more than two weeks since Frozen in 2014. Three of its songs — self-discovery anthem “What Else Can I Do,” sleeper emo song “Surface Pressure,” and “We Don’t Talk About Bruno,” which is the “One Day More” of family gossip — are now in the top 40 of the Billboard Hot 100 songs chart.
While New York’s hotels took a shellacking in the pandemic, that hasn’t stopped dozens of projects from kicking off in the city. In 2022, 53 new hotels will add 9,000 rooms to the hotel market in New York, which is the second-highest rate in the country after only Austin. That’s also only this year: Right now there are 130 new hotels in the construction pipeline, which will add some 22,000 hotel rooms to the city in upcoming years. In the decade leading up to the pandemic, New York added 41,000 hotel rooms, upping the aggregate room count by 47 percent, bolstered by business travel and tourism. The facts on the ground are still pretty rough for the hospitality business — occupancy rates were just 59 percent last year compared to 86 percent in 2019 — but it’s an encouraging sign that the real money in town thinks that the city’s primed to rebound on a long enough time span.
The United States imported 790,000 electric two-wheeled vehicles in 2021, up from 463,000 a year earlier. While electric cars get lots of the hype, given that Americans bought 652,000 electric cars last year it’s evidence that the real workhorses of the electrification of travel so far are e-bikes. Looking only at retailer data — excluding the sizable direct-to-consumer segment of the market — e-bike sales in 2021 rose to 368,000 units over the first 11 months, significantly higher than the 273,000 in the comparable period of 2020. That means the American market could be slowly growing towards the European market, where around 3 million e-bikes are sold annually.
Advertisers and data miners are increasingly eyeing a promising set of applications to determine the desires and afflictions of mobile phone users by mining private information said to prayer apps. For instance, Bible Gateway is one of the largest such apps in the space, and by 2017 the app had taken the data of 8 million people who downloaded it and fed that into an ad targeting system owned by its parent News Corp. The app Pray.com, with over 10 million downloads, has much of its information about its users out in public on the app, much like a social network. That app, as well as rivals Hallow and Glorify, has privacy policies that allow the companies to share user data with partners for targeted ads. Security isn’t exactly sacrosanct: In 2020, researchers found Pray.com was storing millions of users’ data in publicly-available buckets.
From 2010 to 2016, the city of Detroit overtaxed homeowners by an estimated $600 million. The state constitution caps the assessment of all properties at 50 percent of its market value, but over at least that period the city assessed 55 percent to 85 percent of the market value of properties, which led to 100,000 Detroiters losing their homes when they otherwise should not have, according to the Coalition for Property Tax Justice. The question now is how to make good with the people who were overtaxed and suffered life-altering consequences as a result. One plan which failed would have offered those affected a 50 percent discount on city-controlled vacant properties, but at $6 million in costs to the city was considered inadequate. A new proposal breaks the people into one of four tranches depending on how severely they were affected by the overtaxation, offering a mix of compensation and support and property.
This week in the Sunday Edition, I spoke to my friend and former FiveThirtyEight colleague Chris Herring whose book Blood in the Garden: The Flagrant History of the 1990s New York Knicks is out! Herring’s book is all about one of the most controversial organizations in the history of basketball, and how they were absolutely instrumental in shaping the game. I dropped the paywall on our interview, you should check it out and look out for the book wherever books are sold!
Thanks to the paid subscribers to Numlock News who make this possible. Subscribers guarantee this stays ad-free, and get a special Sunday edition. Consider becoming a full subscriber today.
The best way to reach new readers is word of mouth. If you click THIS LINK in your inbox, it’ll create an easy-to-send pre-written email you can just fire off to some friends.