Numlock News: November 9, 2021 • Rats, Cheese, Rothko
By Walt Hickey
Oklahoma Natural Gas owes a bunch of debt resulting from that deep freeze that sent prices soaring earlier this year. To pay for the $1.5 billion they owe over the next several decades — friends in the state legislature let the company convert that private debt to a public bond — they’re charging an extra $8 per month to most ratepayers per month every month for the next 25 years. Obviously that’s the kind of thing that may make ratepayers reconsider using the company’s services, as might a move away from natural gas usage in general amid a shift to green energy. That’s why Oklahoma Natural Gas and their state allies are weighting a $1,400 exit fee if anyone ever wants to leave their incredibly well-managed and obviously successful petrochemical tontine.
Streaming services are seeing international content that’s been translated, dubbed and moved into new markets as a promising way to quickly expand the audience for exciting new shows and movies. That ramp-up in demand for localization services is crushing the previously niche sector of translators. Training the next generation of translators takes time, and those talented enough to translate media content intended for a mass audience constitute a slim slice of the profession. The compensation — Netflix pays $13 per minute for a translation of Korean audio into English subtitles — isn’t great considering that a fraction actually ends up in the polyglot’s pocket. It has an effect: according to a survey of 15,000 streaming subscribers in Spain, Germany, France and Italy, 61 percent encountered poor subs or dubs on a television show in the past month, and 70 percent stopped watching as a result.
This year there have been 21,000 rat sightings called into New York City’s 311 to date, up from 15,000 in the same period of 2019 and 12,000 in 2014. The spikes are mostly in the areas that have a longstanding relationship with one of humanity’s most ancient foes, like the three largest infestations in Grand Concourse in the Bronx, Bushwick and Bed-Stuy in Brooklyn, and the East Village and Lower East Side of Manhattan. The surge is thanks to a confluence of factors making it a great time to be a New York rat: namely cuts to the Sanitation Department, meaning more food in street corner trash baskets; a surge in construction driving them into the open; and a wet summer that raised prey populations. I, for one, don’t mind it, mainly because this newsletter has always been a Ratatouille situation where a rat with a love of data journalism and pop culture has been controlling the body of an incompetent stooge named Walt Hickey to overcome the inherent prejudice against rats in the newsletter space and prove that Anyone Can Blog™.
John Philip Holland Eat Your Heart Out
A barnacle-covered barrel of trash washed up on the shore of County Mayo in northwestern Ireland. The barrel was identified as originating from Myrtle Beach, South Carolina, based on a number of city stickers on the bright blue barrel. It’s unclear when the trash receptacle was washed out to sea, but it traveled at least 3,500 miles to its new home in Ireland on a local beach, where I’m assuming it’s conferred upon the locals a new love of frozen alcoholic slushies.
A new study found that just 21.6 percent of 103,972 visual effects credits across the 400 top-grossing films from 2016 to 2019 went to women. Women made up just 15.2 percent of visual effects credits that earned a title card credit, with 52 women getting a title card compared to 302 men. While women accounted for 46.7 percent of VFX producers, they were only 23 percent of VFX editors, and a measly 2.9 percent of VFX supervisors. Women of color made up 0.5 percent of VFX supervisors, and were outnumbered by men 208 to 1.
A cyberattack has sent the price of processed American cheese into a tizzy. Schreiber Foods in Wisconsin buys cheese in 500-pound barrels and then turns it into the kind of slices you have on burgers. They’re, in my view, one of the most critical companies in America, and a group of cybercriminals hit them with an attack on October 23 that forced them to shut down operations. On October 28, the operations came back online. But that shutdown sent reverberations throughout the market, with spot prices for cheese barrels in Chicago falling 17 percent last week, from north of $1.80 per pound to $1.50 per pound.
Over the next two weeks, Sotheby’s, Christie’s and Phillips aim to sell upwards of $1.6 billion worth of art, with 15 individual pieces expected to sell for north of $20 million each. They’re hopeful, and have a few things blowing in their direction. First off, lots of wealthy people are worried about tax changes next year and may be interested in losing some liquidity. The next is that there are simply more wealthy people now than there were pre-pandemic: 2020 added 5.2 million to the 56.1 million people who were millionaires, the kind of people down to splurge on some art from an auction house. About a quarter of people bidding at Christie’s globally are millennials, up from 15 percent two years ago, so let’s see if they can be duped into buying a bunch of derivative Rothkos like their dads were.
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