By Walt Hickey
Fun things are happening in the spinoff newsletters! This week the book club kicks off a new book, and we just released the schedule through June if you want to check out what’s coming. Also, the Awards Season Numlock newsletter resumes this weekend.
In Vino Chaos
U.S. sales of wine appear to be headed for positive growth year-over-year in 2020, but there are lots of serious issues that put the fate of the wine business in a bit of peril. Namely, I don’t know who precisely needs to be reminded of this, but some stuff went down in 2020 that necessitated lots of people buying and drinking a lot of wine, events that one hopes are not repeated in 2021. In March 2020, sales of wine spiked 60 percent, according to Silicon Valley Bank, and preliminary estimates put sales for the year up 1.3 percent. Last year in January alarms sounded because sales were down 0.8 percent by volume in 2019 to $75.1 billion at retail, and the material issues underlying that trend haven’t changed dramatically despite the surge in sales related to, you know, all the stuff that went down.
A federal judge granted preliminary approval to a $641 million settlement offered by Michigan, the City of Flint, McLaren Regional Medical Center and Rowe Professional Services to residents of Flint who were harmed by the water. The settlement would be the largest in the history of Michigan, with 80 percent of funds going to children under the age of 18 when they were exposed to the lead, bacteria and chlorination byproducts that were in the Flint municipal water system in 2014 and 2015.
The Keystone XL pipeline’s permit was cancelled Wednesday pumping the brakes on a project that would bring petroleum from oil sands in Canada to a link in the United States. In the aftermath, advocates of the pipeline argued that the decision would cost significant numbers of jobs, though the data doesn’t really bear that out. Given the hypothetical state of the project and the other permits that are in legal challenges, all of the construction jobs were entirely hypothetical. Further, they were temporary gigs, as the entire point of a pipeline is to take labor-intensive work that requires a lot of people — driving trucks full of petroleum to Nebraska, for instance — and make it require very few full time people, in this case 35 permanent employees to operate the pipeline and 15 temporary contractors. Overall, 49,300 people worked in the pipeline transportation sector in December 2020, or slightly fewer than the number of employees at Bed, Bath and Beyond.
Palm oil, which is in a vast assortment of consumer goods, hit the equivalent of $961 per metric ton earlier this month, up 100 percent since May and the highest level since 2011. About 84 percent of palm oil comes from Malaysia and Indonesia, and harvesting it is backbreaking work that requires lots and lots of labor, much of it from migrant workers. The pandemic has prompted a labor shortage — tight borders mean fewer migrants — and the 11.473 million metric tons of palm oil stocked in 2020 is projected to slip to 10.203 million metric tons in 2021 as a result.
Blue herons are pretty classic prey for eagles, with their eggs and chicks proving easy marks for the birds of prey. This is why at first glance it’s incredibly weird that herons actually seem to move to be near bald eagles, picking up and moving when eagles move to a new nest. A 2009 study found that 70 percent of 1,165 heron nests observed were within 200 meters of a long-term eagle nest, and one colony moved to be specifically near a long-term eagle nest. A second investigation at Great Blue Heron Nature Reserve found a similar outcome, when herons followed a bald eagle to a new location after the eagle’s nest fell in 2019. The best hypothesis is that the eagles provide protection, and it pays off: there were 1.62 heron fledglings per active nest when an eagle pair was present, and 1.11 after winds took out the nest. “Mostly disliking the eagles but deep down appreciating what they do” is incidentally exactly how I feel when I hear “Take It Easy,” “Already Gone” and “Hotel California” in a bar.
Today, 3-point shots account for 39.7 percent of shots taken in the NBA, up from 22.2 percent of shots in 2010, 17 percent of shots in 2000 and 2.3 percent of shots in 1980. It wasn’t until 2017 when one team in the NBA had 40 percent of its shot attempts happen behind the 3-point line, but this season there are currently 15 teams above that threshold. This trend is bolstered by the reality that one of the only ways to counter a rival team’s playbook that entails bombarding 3-pointers is for a team to adopt the very same strategy. The current belief across the league is the only thing that would make the trend subside is a rule change, potentially one that would shift the line backward. It’s the ultimate offensive weapon currently not yet countered by a viable defensive strategy, with the last five seasons alone pushing eight of the top 20 offenses of all time.
A new study published in Remote Sensing in Ecology and Conservation describes how high-resolution satellite imagery can be used to routinely locate and count elephants at recurring intervals. They used commercially-available WorldView‐3 and 4 satellite data and a machine-learning model to find and count African elephants in a savannah of South Africa, with the results nearly as accurate as human tracking, all from a satellite 600 kilometers above the earth. On a cloud-free day, this could allow for 5,000 square kilometers of habitat to be surveyed in one day. This technique has more commonly been used on large marine animals, which needless to say are harder for people to track and who tend to be more obviously contrasting from their environments. More encouraging is that a new constellation of six satellites with better resolution and frequency will launch this year, potentially taking this from proof-of-concept into more regular execution.
This week in the Sunday edition, I talked to contributing editor at The Nib Andy Warner about the groundbreaking comics publication and their brand-new pandemic issue. I’m a huge fan of them, they have a great free newsletter, and if you end up becoming a paid member you won’t regret it. Andy can be found at his website, andywarnercomics.com
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Fumble Dimension · Parametric Press · The Mouse · Subprime Attention Crisis · Factory Farms · Streaming Summer · Dynamite · One Billion Americans · Defector · Seams of the Grid · Bodies of Work · Working in Public · Rest of World