Numlock News: June 9, 2020 • Diamonds, Rats, Vacation
By Walt Hickey
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Workers have begun the painstaking and obsessively-planned first step of the rehabilitation of the burned Notre Dame Cathedral. The fire started at an inconvenient moment in the cathedral’s centuries-long existence — when it had 200 tonnes worth of scaffolding on top of it. That’s got to go. Two teams of five workers will use harnesses to remove the 40,000 pieces of scaffolding with sabre saws and an 84-meter crane to lower them to the ground. The safety nets are up, and the process will commence soon, with church officials hoping to have the church opened for mass by 2024.
The Korean box office, the first to gradually reopen since the cinemas closed in January, is seeing signs of life with 402,000 tickets sold this past weekend, about half the number sold normally, but up 112 percent week over week. The first major domestic release to toe the waters — Intruder — won the weekend, making $1.87 million for about 63 percent of the entire weekend total. This is also thanks to a voucher program from the Korean Film Council, which has been giving the equivalent of $5 vouchers to people buying tickets. They’ll subsidize at least another 1.33 million movie tickets and will continue to prop up the cinemas until they’re on track for a steady recovery.
The Overwatch League, a professional esports league that has managed to do the near impossible of producing live sports during a global pandemic, announced a number of tweaks to the rest of the system in the interest of boosting demand. The league is structured where cities are home to teams that play their games against division rivals according to a preset schedule, but it will restructure into a tournament style following the viewership success of a tournament last month. That tournament peaked with 88,000 viewers watching a final between Florida and San Francisco and an average of 63,000 tuning in to watch the knockout games, double a typical week. With literally only golf and NASCAR to compete with on the sports front, may as well bet big and shoot your shot.
It’s been a challenging spring for the rats of New York. In general, rats will remain within a 150-to-200 foot diameter for most of their lives, with a single New York rat possibly eating a single restaurant’s trash its entire life. When shutdowns rolled through Midtown, things got weird for the 300,000 to 2 million rats of New York City. First, a cornucopia, as restaurants tossed all the food that wouldn’t keep after shutdowns. Next, the famine, as all those reliable dumpsters lay fallow. Then, adventure: with only a few restaurants opening up for delivery business, and the select generating the delicious trash upon which rodents survive, those restaurants became deeply popular among the vermin types, prompting a shift of the rat populations. The rat’s new patterns are being monitored by the Urban Wildlife Information Network, a collaboration in about 25 cities that tracks how animals interact in urban settings.
Vacation rental services are now noting a boost to rental numbers, with the caveat that the boost is only really seen among people within a day’s drive of the venue. Airbnb is seeing a rise in domestic bookings worldwide as people endeavor to leave their houses, but not roll the dice on flying. The effect is not seen evenly: Vrbo, a vacation rental service, is seeing searches on par with 2019, while searches on Airbnb are down only 10 percent. Meanwhile, Expedia — which serves hotels and resorts rather than individual rentals — is seeing searches down over 60 percent. The percentage of bookings on Airbnb within 200 miles rose from a third of bookings in February to 50 percent in May.
California is staring down a pandemic budget shortfall of over $50 billion, and is now seriously looking at a number of tax breaks it’s rolled out over the course of several years for possible relief. One bill that’s moved out of committee in the state’s senate would audit eight tax expenditures that have no metrics of success or efficacy linked to them, no expiration, and cost over $1 billion per decade. One, the “water’s edge provision,” lets corporations choose which of two accounting methods lead to lower taxes, which costs California $2.4 billion a year. Another bill advancing in the senate would put a magnifying glass to the kind of tax giveaways that can add up, requiring the state to track all tax benefits received by companies making receipts over $5 billion. In the 1980s, California corporations paid 9 percent of their income in state taxes, a figure that today sits at 4.2 percent.
The five biggest diamond producers are sitting on a glut of stones right now, with excess diamond inventories worth $3.5 billion scattered across Africa awaiting sale, a figure that could rise to $4.5 billion by the end of the year. That would be the equivalent of about four months of diamond production sitting in safes. De Beers cancelled its auctions, and the sale in May reportedly was dismal — in 2019, the May auction moved $416 million in diamonds, this May they reportedly moved just $35 million — but they’re staying firm on pricing and awaiting the reopening of polishing and cutting businesses to accept new supply.
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