Numlock News: November 20, 2023 • Aardman, Mayflower, Songbirds and Snakes
By Walt Hickey
My book, You Are What You Watch, makes a great gift for the movie fan, data geek and more, and it’s 25 percent off right now and shipping is free with the code CYBER23 on the Hachette website. That’s a really great deal and probably one of the best we’re going to see to score the book.
Assisted living facilities, originally designed to ease the rigors of aging, are now designed specifically so as to bleed the elderly dry financially. From 2004 to 2021, the median annual price of assisted living increased 31 percent faster than inflation, and has hit $54,000 per year. There are 31,000 assisted living facilities in the United States, four out of every five are run as for-profits, and half of all operators in the industry are clearing annual returns of 20 percent or more than it cost to operate, fat margins that are unheard of even in other parts of the health industry. With 850,000 older Americans living within assisted living, the rents getting jacked up and ancillary fees becoming common is a major housing and health care issue for a group that all too often has been unable to get attention to their needs.
About 250 municipalities in Louisiana operate with mayor’s courts, which handle violations of local ordinances but are just overseen by a town’s mayor, who has been granted all the power to impose fines and jail people without any of the requisite legal insight of an actual judge. This obviously can lead to abuses and excesses. Take the village of Fenton, population 226, for example. The tiny blip on the map gets 92.5 percent of its revenue from fines and forfeitures, vastly more than the 1.7 percent municipal average in the U.S., with $1.3 million in receipts in the year ending June 2022. The city oversees the distribution of thousands of traffic tickets that are largely rubber stamped in court by the mayor, who besides being in charge of city finances is also the judge who adjudicates them.
Aardman Animations is the Academy Award-winning and acclaimed stop-motion animation studio behind the film series Wallace & Gromit and the Chicken Run films. A new Chicken Run movie is out next month, but the studio is sounding the alarm about a potential disaster lurking in their supply chain: The factory that makes the Lewis Newplast substance that is the “clay” in their “claymation” has gone under, shutting down in March. The studio bought up their remaining stock, but says it only has enough supply to make one more film, a 2024 Wallace & Gromit movie, and afterward will have to either find a replacement medium or invent one. Lewis Newplast is easy to mould, but stays the same shape under hot lights, which is an ideal combination for a stop-motion animator.
Songbirds and Snakes
The Hunger Games prequel film The Ballad of Songbirds and Snakes made $44 million at the North American box office, the first return to the cinema for the franchise in almost a decade. The movie beat out Trolls Band Together, a film that was tasked with the unenviable labor of making Justin Timberlake seem compelling and relatable mere weeks after the release of Britney’s memoir. Perhaps the most shocking was the dip seen for The Marvels, which saw ticket sales decline 79 percent to $10.2 million in its second weekend, the largest drop in Marvel’s vast film franchise ever, and at the current rate it’s not entirely clear that the film will break $100 million at the domestic box office. The Ballad of Songbirds and Snakes faces stiff competition next weekend from Ridley Scott’s Napoleon, which is also about a horny guy who wants to become a dictator.
The data is in, and despite the expectation that the onset of the pandemic would hamper birth rates, indeed the pandemic fueled a baby boom, one that reversed the trends of declining birth rates among mothers born in the United States and also caused a significant boom among mothers who were born outside of the United States. In 2021, a new study found that the baby bump saw birth rates among U.S.-born mothers jump 5.1 percent above pre-COVID projections. The authors speculated that the ability to work from home and the increase in flexibility that fostered was making it easier for some people to have kids, and further argued that making it easier to have kids in general might be a pretty good idea if the birth rate is a concern.
The average brokerage commission on a residential real estate sale in the U.S. is 5.5 percent, behind only commissions in Japan (where they’re averaging 6.2 percent) and Argentina (6 percent), which is vastly higher than many other countries like the U.K. (1.3 percent), Australia (2.5 percent), Germany (4.5 percent) and Norway (1.8 percent). There are potentially up to 3 million real estate agents in the United States, and one reason the U.S. market sees higher commissions is that buyer agents are common here but are actually pretty rare in other countries. That status quo is potentially set for some upheaval, as a court decision on real estate commissions where a jury found the National Association of Realtors and large brokerages conspiring to keep prices high could send shockwaves through the system.
The Mayflower Society is a genealogical society for the descendants of people who came to America by way of the Mayflower, which decided that the best place to leave a bunch of people who were great at church but terrible at farming was New England before the development of Dunkin’. It claims 31,000 members worldwide across 54 chapters. Interestingly, based on the Society’s own estimates, they are drastically underserving their core constituency, as 35 million people today descend from the 102 passengers of the Mayflower, 10 million of whom live in the United States, a statistic which also invites the same kind of scrutiny as, say, a company where a majority founders have just quit. Anyway, if you’ll excuse me, I have a meeting of the Unnamed Filthy Steamship Loaded Up With The Irish Society to attend.
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