Numlock News: March 10, 2020 • Muppets, Danger, Heist
By Walt Hickey
My friend Emily Atkin of the excellent climate newsletter Heated is on vacation, so I subbed in for her yesterday with an all-climate guest Numlock if you want to check that out.
A whole lot of direct-to-consumer brands are between the hammer and the anvil, with their venture capitalist investors getting antsy and their cost per new customer getting, if anything, worse. Whether they’re hawking eyeglasses, or razors, or generic drugs, it’s an increasingly tough environment for the DTC wonders that have dominated an era of Silicon Valley investment in the post-Warby Parker era. One issue is that it’s actually really, really hard to build a national brand from scratch, and that oodles of Facebook ads can only go so far: now that all the DTC brands are armed with the same war chest of VC money and all targeting the same upwardly-mobile consumers on the same social networks, they’re all driving each other's marketing costs way up. The median cost-per-click on Facebook news feed ads rose from $0.43 during the second quarter of 2018 to $0.64 in the same quarter of 2019.
The Aqueduct Racetrack in lovely Queens was the site of the most 2020 possible heist, when two men wearing surgical masks stole somewhere between $200,000 to $270,000 at gunpoint from three workers from the casino. Investigators believe that we’re not exactly dealing with Danny Ocean here, and are investigating the possibility it was an inside job. Surgical masks are not uncommon as implements of felonious intent, but given that lots of people are now wearing them they’re not the worst when it comes to blending into a crowd.
Between 1950 and 2017, the United States constructed 871,496 miles of roads. A better metric is lane-miles, which is one lane of highway for a mile. In the 37 years from 1980 to 2017, the U.S. added 881,918 lane-miles to the existing 8.8 million lane-miles, an 11 percent increase. Urban areas added 30,511 lane-miles since 1993, a 42 percent increase. This was probably misguided, as adding lanes doesn’t really reduce traffic so much as induce more of it. Meanwhile, from 1985 to 2017, the U.S. added 6,247 miles of commuter, heavy and light rail combined. Compare the 195 miles per year of rail added to the 10,017 miles of roads per year added and perhaps you’ll see why U.S. infrastructure pales in comparison to European and Asian nations’. Annually, Congress gives $40 billion a year to states for roads, while public transit agencies fight for $2.3 billion in transit funding for large projects.
In order to ensure that parents make sure their kids get counted in the forthcoming U.S. census, Sesame Street is enlisting the aid of Elmo, Rosita, and Count von Count, the Muppet who loves counting, ah, ah, ah. It’s estimated that 4.6 percent of children under the age of five were not counted in the 2010 census, an undercounting of one million kids most disproportionately seen in minority communities. An estimated 7.5 percent of Hispanic children and 6.3 percent of black children were not counted, which can have negative effects on funding allocated to their families’ communities.
In a story that is completely unrelated to the activities of the vampire Muppet, many blood banks in the U.S. are hard up for the red stuff these days. As of Thursday, 17 percent of blood centers tracked by America’s Blood Centers had a supply of one day or less. For perspective, most blood centers try to maintain three to five days worth of blood. In Seattle, Bloodworks Northwest needs about 1,000 donors per day to keep up with demand, but last week lost more than 200 donations after six blood drives were cancelled amid that area’s COVID-19 cases. The risk of spreading the novel virus through blood and blood components appears to be low, given its respiratory nature.
Of the 230 Division I public schools, four out of five charge students a fee specifically to finance sports teams. Some of these are pretty considerable: At James Madison University in Virginia, the annual athletic fee for each student is $2,340, which finances 75 percent of Athletic Department revenues. That’s one of the highest dollar amounts out there — just Virginia Military Institute ($3,340) and Citadel Military College of South Carolina ($2,713) are higher — but it’s also among the highest fraction of Athletic revenue covered by student fees, behind just Cleveland State (85 percent of revenues footed by students) and Radford University (81 percent). What kind of total sucker goes to a school so bad at sports that they have to grift so obviously fro— wait, crap, William & Mary has the fifth-highest fee in the set, ah nuts, I screwed up here.
In 2009, the Occupational Safety and Health Administration initiated a new policy where if an inspection found enough serious workplace safety issues that a business incurred a fine of at least $40,000, they’d put out a press release announcing as much. The point of this shaming was to make other, similar, businesses less likely to pull those kinds of stunts. Turns out it worked! An economist analyzed the impacts and found a press release produced a 73 percent reduction in violations at similar workplaces within five kilometers, a 36 percent decrease within 10 kilometers and 30 percent within 50 kilometers. To produce that same deterrent effect, OSHA would have had to do 210 inspections. The incredibly successful name-and-shame policy was ended in 2017 for, uh, reasons.
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