Numlock News: May 3, 2023 • Private Jets, Reality TV, Spider Sculpture
By Walt Hickey
If you are in the market for a 10-foot-tall, more than 18-foot-across colossal metal spider that will cost millions of dollars, have I got some good news for you, as Spider (1996) by the artist Louise Bourgeois will go to auction at Sotheby’s and is projected to threaten records. It’s projected to auction for $30 million to $40 million. On the lower end, it’d beat another Spider by Bourgeois that sold for $28 million in 2019 to become the most expensive sculpture by a female artist at auction. At the upper end, it could come close to the $44.4 million paid for a Georgia O’Keefe painting in 2014, currently the most expensive work by a female artist in any medium. If you’re still looking for a massive metallic spider that could dominate your living space but can’t afford $30 million, might I recommend developing a free sleep paralysis demon, like the rest of us budget conscious folk do.
From 2000 to 2018, about 200 colleges dropped the SAT or ACT requirement, a trend which exploded following the onset of the pandemic. Students took just 2.8 million SAT and ACT tests in 2021, down from 4 million in 2019, and test-taking has only mildly rebounded to 3 million SAT and ACTs in 2022. Many universities are now test-optional, and the data on how students are reacting to that is interesting: About 50 percent of students take the tests and submit their scores, around 20 percent just skip the test, while about 30 percent take the test but don’t submit their scores to colleges. That means that the tests are declining even more than that 3 million figure might indicate, as it included a bunch of exams that were, presumably, instantly memory-holed by students and never mentioned again. It’s also led to some interesting effects in who even takes the test; in 2016, 42 percent of ACT takers had an “A” average, a level that as of 2021 jumped to 55 percent.
The Writers Guild of America is on strike, and work has stopped on scripted television. This means various different things for various different companies, depending on their exposure to scripted versus unscripted television like reality shows. For instance, Fox, Apple and Disney are in big trouble; in 2022, 17 of 31 Fox originals were scripted, 39 of the 51 Apple TV+ shows were scripted, as were 70 out of 106 Disney+ shows. Other studios, which rely on reality television for their wares, are less affected, such as A&E, where just two of 88 shows are scripted, or Warner Bros. Discovery, where just 40 out of 411 cable programs — 7 percent of its content — has a script.
It was one of the best first-round playoffs in the post-lockout NHL history, with the average playoff series running for 6.25 games out of a possible 7 and an upset rate of 37.5 percent. That’s the second-highest number of games per series since last year’s 6.38 of 7, and the fourth-highest upset rate since 2006. It’s completely overturned the bracket, with the Boston Bruins — the team that’s won more games in a single season than any team in the history of hockey — hilariously getting bounced out of the first round by the Florida Panthers, as well as the defending champion Colorado Avalanche losing out to the Seattle Kraken, which have existed for exactly two seasons. The Toronto Maple Leafs broke a bad streak of losing in the first round of the playoffs, and Canada as a whole has hope, with a 38 percent chance that Toronto or the Edmonton Oilers win it all. There were also some games in New Jersey that, as a Rangers fan, I would strongly prefer to not discuss.
Florida and Louisiana are in the midst of a massive insurance crisis as insurers bail out of the states and residents are left to deal with state-sponsored insurers of last resort. Their state-chartered insurance associations — the Louisiana Insurance Guaranty Association and the Florida Insurance Guaranty Association — have had to take out colossal loans to pay claims on a series of damaging hurricanes. The Louisiana group borrowed $600 million to pay hurricane claims, the first time it’s had to borrow money since 1989, and the Florida group will borrow up to $750 million, the first time it’s had to borrow money since 1992. That’s not all, as the interest is poised to be blistering: Louisiana will end up paying $275 million until that loan’s repaid in 2038. That’s going to be repaid by insurance policyholders in the state through premium hikes.
A new report highlights the ways that private jet owners pay disproportionately low tax, paying just 2 percent of the taxes used to fund the FAA despite accounting for 16 percent of all flights. Commercial fliers pay a 7.5 percent tax on the price of airline tickets, a cost not borne by private jet owners, who usually just have to pay the taxes on the price of jet fuel, which is currently set at $0.219 per gallon. The report authors, the Institute for Policy Studies, recommend doubling that to $0.438 per gallon, which would discourage short flights on private jets while sparing those who fly commerical.
Urban Company is a gig work platform in India that employs 45,000 contract employees, predominantly for gig work in home services. It’s one of the largest venture-funded companies in India, valued in 2021 at over $2 billion, with a footprint in 54 cities. What makes it particularly unique is that about a third of the contract workforce is women, a rarity in gig work jobs that are overwhelmingly dominated by men. That’s huge in India, where only a quarter of women participate in the workforce, and existing biases around caste can make economic and social mobility difficult.
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