Numlock News: June 22, 2022 • Stingrays, Landmines, Rust Buckets
By Walt Hickey
Prosecutors in five Brazilian states have investigated officials in 81 different cities around their spending on concerts amid public outcry over local political leadership shelling out huge sums of public money to artists. The investigations have ensnared artists in the most popular genre of music in Brazil, sertanejo, and they may be required to refund 20 percent of the revenue from a show or face bans. A Brazilian paper found the state of Mato Grosso spent 16 million reais ($3 million) on concerts in 2022 alone, with the city of Coalinho budgeting 1.2 million reais ($230,000) for 15 concerts with public money.
Bucket of Bolts
Old ships that otherwise would have been taken out of service are seeing an extremely lucrative career extension amid shipping problems worldwide. Ships that otherwise would have been scrapped remaining in service are one reason that container capacity managed to jump 4.5 percent last year, and the average age of a container ship has since risen to 13.9 years from 11 years in 2017. The ship Synergy Oakland, for instance, was bought in 2019 for $10 million when it was a decade old, but last year it managed to bring in $21 million over the course of 100 particularly lucrative days thanks to its ability to haul 4,200 20-foot containers. It then got another $10 million for two months of work, and is now being leased out for the next four years for $61 million which is not bad in the slightest for a $10 million investment. The market’s going nuts for secondhand ships, too: Last year 503 secondhand container ships were sold, which is approximately 7 percent of the entire global fleet, and 108 have changed hands this year so far.
In China, e-commerce brands are attempting to tackle user disputes for secondhand goods at scale by implementing a system of jury-based justice. For instance, internet marketplace Idle Fish will allow someone who alleges they got a wrong or counterfeit item to submit their complaint to a panel of anonymous jurors who are site super-users, who then adjudicate whether they’d get a refund or a replacement. For Chinese e-commerce sites that operate at a massive scale like Idle Fish with its 100 million users, issues like fraud or damage can best be settled in this setting — which is presided over by a cartoon crab, to be clear — rather than through an AI or an arbitrary customer service interaction or just the vigilante vengeance of a one-star review. About 95 percent of the disputes brought to such a jury are resolved then and there, with the rest going to their internal review department. It’s efficient: One system at Alibaba called Public Jury ruled on 16 million such user disputes from 2012 to 2018.
The Biden administration announced it will restrict the use of anti-personnel land mines exclusively to the defense of South Korea, with the military discontinuing the use of the mines in other theaters and bringing the country more closely to the 1997 Ottawa Convention treaty banning anti-personnel mines. Land mines by their nature can outlast the wars in which they are planted, leading to deadly consequences for civilians, especially children, long after the end of a conflict. The United States does not currently have any minefields deployed in Korea, but existing pledges of support include anti-personnel mines. The country has a stockpile of 3 million anti-personnel land mines, and any that are not earmarked for South Korea are now slated for destruction, though the Pentagon has not provided a number or even indicated if any are going to be destroyed.
Cambodian villagers managed to catch a 661-pound stingray on the Mekong River, a 13-foot behemoth that is the largest freshwater fish ever recorded. It’s since been tagged by scientists and released back into the river. The previous record was held by a 645-pound catfish found in Thailand in 2005. This is great news for Cambodian Ewan McGregor, who in several decades’ time, after many fanciful adventures that fuel a lifetime of stories, will get to use this moment as a metaphor in a speech at the wedding of his son, Cambodian Billy Crudup, in a larger, touching story of father and son finally connecting as he — now played by Cambodian Albert Finney — approaches the end of his life, in a film directed by Cambodian Tim Burton.
Last year, India’s budget for defense was $76 billion, the third-highest in the world behind the United States and China. About 52 percent of that goes to personnel costs, which is very much on the high side, and it’s got military planners worried. Previous governments have estimated that the country would have just 10 days’ worth of ammunition if a war were to break out, but leadership has also been reluctant to cut the number of soldiers because doing so would eliminate what’s considered a stable, reliable employment path for the 1.4 million people currently in the military. The newest plan would be to have successful candidates join the military for four years, after which point about a quarter are retained for life-long careers while the rest are sacked and given a single payment of 1.17 million rupees ($15,000), but no pension. This has sent thousands of protestors into the streets demanding a reversal to the change.
Whenever there’s an economic issue, some of the first budgets on corporate balance sheets that get scaled back are advertising and P.R., which means that the latest hiccup has media companies fretting about 2022. The media analysis firm Magna has revised its estimate that the advertising market would grow 12 percent in 2022 down to 9.2 percent amid the slowdown, and has lowered expectations for 2023 at that. Lots of the industries that have buoyed the advertising business — automobiles, consumer packaged goods, tech — are dealing with shortages and thus may want to scale back ads for products they can barely keep in stock anyway, and the crypto crash may have pulled the rug out from under the latest gusher in the ad business as well.
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