Numlock News: July 30, 2021 • Scarlett Johansson, Never Gonna Give You Up, Barbecue

By Walt Hickey

Have a wonderful weekend!

Give It Up to Me

While the hips may not lie, the accountant might. A Spanish judge ruled that a case against Colombian musician Shakira regarding alleged tax fraud should move forward, writing that there exists “sufficient evidence of criminality” following a three-year investigation. In 2019, prosecutors charged Shakira with not paying 14.5 million euros ($16.4 million) from 2012 to 2014 when she lived officially in Panama but allegedly spent most of her time in Spain, meaning the singer’s preferred “whenever, wherever” school of thought on tax nexus would not apply. Shakira denied wrongdoing and her P.R. firm said she paid the money once she was informed of the debt. Shakira faces a possible fine and jail time if found guilty, but judges can waive prison time for first-time offenders.

The Associated Press

BBQ

When the Supreme Court gave a greenlight to college athletes selling their name, image or likeness rights to brands as endorsers, the biggest beneficiaries so far appear to be local barbecue joints. The restaurants have offered endorsement deals to quarterbacks and, most significantly, their notoriously voracious offensive linemen, who can look very large and happy near some solid barbecue, feasting on it in order to bulk up to protect the QB. For instance, Wright’s Barbecue in Fayetteville made the University of Arkansas’ offensive linemen and two quarterbacks spokesmen for the restaurant in early July, spending about $5,000 to do so. That’s vastly cheaper than the $180,000 it would have taken to become The Official Barbecue of the University of Arkansas, plus it goes directly to the athletes. Sales jumped 40 percent at Wright’s Bentonville location and revenue from the sauces was up 12 percent at Walmart the week after the players posted about it.

Laine Higgins, The Wall Street Journal

Never Gonna

The video for Rick Astley’s song “Never Gonna Give You Up” passed 1 billion views on YouTube, hitting 1,001,264,871 as of midday on Thursday. It’s a huge milestone for one of the foundational artistic texts of the internet, responsible for the long-running internet prank known as “rickrolling.” Still, the song is such a cultural touchstone its impact has grown far beyond a simple goof; the song was at the center of a 2018 diplomatic standoff between France and Moldova, was voted the official song of at least thirteen different American cities, and was the backing track to a gold-medal winning figure skating performance.

BBC News

Amazon

The Brazilian Institute of Environmental and Renewable Natural Resources is tasked with protecting the rainforest by enforcing fines and penalties against people who deforest the Amazon. They’re really, really awful at their jobs. From 1980 to 2019, they issued 74 billion reais ($14 billion) in fines. They collected just 3.3 percent of that total. Most ranchers hit with the fines shrug them off and don’t plan on ever paying them. They illegal ranchers subvert policies from big beef producers aimed at avoiding buying beef raised on ripped-out Amazon rainforest, and launder the beef into the supply chain. While beef companies claim they vet suppliers, the rainforest keeps on shrinking and the beef keeps being bought.

Jessica Brice and Michael Smith, Bloomberg

Steel

When a ship on the Great Lakes or from Canada is due to be scrapped, it is oftentimes hauled by a towboat to Turkey, which has been buying up the ships for its booming scrapyard business. This has caused a couple of problems, namely that it’s actually really dangerous to haul decrepit ships. Several high-profile incidents of towlines breaking and ships colliding with the shore — ships lousy with asbestos and oil — have Canadians unhappy with the exchange. Furthermore, hauling steel to Turkey has been abysmal for Canada’s domestic steal business. Overseas buyers pay $850,000 to $1 million and up for a decommissioned ship. In 2017, Turkey’s steel exports to the U.S. rose 238 percent, while Canada’s steel exports rose just 5 percent. Turkey’s steel production is dirtier than Canada’s, which produces 30 percent less emissions and is among the cleanest in the world.

Moira Welsh, The Toronto Star

Get Me Matt Murdock

Scarlett Johansson is suing The Walt Disney Company over the release of Black Widow, that she alleges cost her over $50 million by releasing the film directly on Disney+ the same day that it debuted in theaters. As early as 2019, Johansson’s reps reached out to Marvel to ensure that the film — the first solo title for the character, who entered the Marvel Cinematic Universe in 2010’s Iron Man 2 — would have a theatrical-only release. The suit is a huge deal even beyond the Disney/Johansson scrap. Large media companies want to bolster their streaming offerings, but the popular artists, creatives, and technicians whose work actually drives people to those offerings want to ensure they’re not cut out of the profit participation they fought for.

Joe Flint and Erich Schwartzel, The Wall Street Journal

Zero

A new study published in Nature Communications found that, based on the latest research on climate change-related mortality, about 74 million lives could be saved before 2100 if humans cut greenhouse gas emissions to zero by 2050, compared to the alternate scenario in which a 4 degrees Celsius warming occurs by century’s end. The study could be of particular note for a group in the federal government working on reassessing the social cost of carbon, which is the per-unit consequence of emitting 1 metric ton of carbon dioxide, and can be tied to trillions in federal spending.

Rebecca Hersher, NPR

Last Sunday I spoke to Julie Kendrick, who wrote “Shampoo Bars: What they are, how they work, and why we need them” for HuffPost.  Julie writes about what we eat and consume and I always find her work really fascinating, and this piece was no different. We spoke about why shampoo is mostly water, the plastic impact of all that waste, and how bottled shampoo may one day be seen as similar to smoking in restaurants. Kendrick can be found at her website and her Twitter.

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Numlock News: July 29, 2021 • Fossils, Invasive Species, Manga

By Walt Hickey

Manga

France rolled out an app that grants €300 to every 18 year old in the country to be used for cultural purposes, an attempt to both juice a slammed cultural sector as well as push teens to explore their country’s vast artistic offerings. While many have certainly availed themselves of the vaunted French performance arts scene, the big winner is Japanese comic books. As of July, books are 75 percent of all purchases made through the app since it rolled out in May, and two-thirds of those book purchases are manga. Part of that may come from constrictions on other purchases: they can spend up to €100 on online media subscriptions, which are limited to French companies, and all video games purchased with the app must be from French publishers. Given that one of the most recent movies I’ve seen — M. Night Shyamalan’s Old — is based on a hella weird French comic, maybe it’s not the worst thing in the world to get the kids into the scene.

Aurelien Breeden, The New York Times

Debt

At the graduate level, the aggregate amount of debt pushed on to students varies significantly by race, which makes the actual financial utility of Masters degrees — long seen as a cash cow by universities — a key question. Studies show that 79 percent of Black grad students and 72 percent of Hispanic grad students take on student debt, significantly higher than the 56 percent of white grad students. Overall, the median federal graduate debt in the U.S. is $41,000, but for Black students it’s $51,250.

Anne Helen Petersen, Culture Study

Arthur

Arthur, which is currently the longest-running kids animated series, will end after season 25. Although production wrapped two years ago, the final season is projected to air in winter 2022, which will be the last of four greenlit in 2018. The show is aimed at kids aged 4 to 8 and premiered in October of 1996, when incidentally I was a kid aged 4 to 8. A brief consultation of the record book indicates that the aardvark will hand over the mantle of longest-running ongoing kid’s animated show to an absorbant, yellow, porous colleague also in the animal kingdom.

Marianne Garvey, CNN

Seafood

The price of seafood has surged significantly this year, up 11.09 percent compared to last year. Price rises have held steadily around the ballpark of 3 percent for the past several years, but a series of problems, both maritime and logistical, have causes issues all across the seafood shelf. To name a few: port costs are up, fishermen left the business last year amid dried-up demand from restaurants, the fishing industry skews older so has been confronting a declining workforce for years, a lack of shipping containers have driven up the price of cod, and lobster’s been short since last year.

Adam Jackson and Kate Krader, Bloomberg

Emissions

In 2009, the Obama administration rolled out clean car standards that required the average fuel economy of new vehicles to increase 5 percent annually, hitting 51 miles per gallon by 2025. The Trump administration cut that back to 1.5 percent, blocked California from setting higher requirements, and put the average fuel economy on track to hit 40.5 miles per gallon by 2026. Now the Biden administration is rolling out new rules that would still be less than that attained in the Obama years: 3.7 percent annual reductions in emissions annually, but then in 2025, an increase back to the 5 percent annual level. To meet long-term climate goals, the fuel economy of new cars needs to be a 55 miles per gallon by 2026. The U.S. appears poised to completely whiff that.

Arianna Skibell, E&E News

Secret Invasion

A new study looked at the existing scientific research on the 975 species considered maritime invasive species, analyzing 2,203 different previous studies. Of those species, 55 percent have only been studied a single time, which indicates that the majority of invasive species are not particularly well-understood by science. Only 7 percent have been studied more than 10 times, which suggests that a few poster children — icons like the lionfish, the warty comb jelly, the Norwegian boat-eating kraken, the sea walnut, ok I made the kraken one up but I have your attention now don’t I, the zebra mussel — take up a lot of the focus to the detriment of other invaders. Lionfish alone were 40 percent of all the studies looking at invasive fish.

María Paula Rubiano A., Hakai Magazine

Sponges

Fossils found in the Canadian Northwest Territory may be the oldest life ever found, according to a new report published in Nature. Previously the oldest undisputed fossil sponges dated to about 540 million years ago, during the Cambrian period. Life on earth began an estimated 3.7 billion years ago, but when exactly animals like sponges first splashed on to the scene isn’t completely hammered down yet. The adjacent rock layers to the Canadian fossil find are about 890 million years old, which would beat out the existing find by 350 million years. If confirmed, it pushes even further back the known existence of absorbent, yellow, or porous animal life.

Christina Larson, The Associated Press

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Numlock News: July 28, 2021 • Wu Tang, Wizards, Britney

By Walt Hickey

Once Upon A Time In The Eastern District of New York

The U.S. Attorneys office for the Eastern District of New York announced it successfully sold the sole existing copy of “Once Upon a Time in Shaolin” by the Wu-Tang Clan, which had been bought and subsequently forfeited by convicted fraudster and “pharma bro” Martin Shkreli. In March of 2018 Shkreli was ordered to forfeit $7.4 million, and the proceeds of the sale will go towards the outstanding balance. This accomplished justice for the one person who had so far gone without it, Juror 59, the prospective juror who said he was unable to judge Shkreli impartially in part because “he disrespected the Wu-Tang Clan.”

U.S. Department of Justice

Kafkaesque

Britney Spears’ new legal representation has formally asked that her father Jamie be replaced as her conservator after 13 years on the job. The pop star’s estate was listed as having $57 million in non-cash assets and $2.7 million in cash assets, which her new attorney argues was repeatedly squandered by the existing conservators who control her life. Due to the terms of the arrangement, Britney pays the legal fees for both sides of the case, while Jamie himself hauls in a $16,000 per month salary, in addition to an office stipend and, uncustomary for a conservator, percentages of her performance contracts.

Mark Savage, BBC News

Wizards

Hasbro announced second quarter earnings, and the really wild numbers come out of its Wizards of the Coast division, which produces Magic the Gathering cards and Dungeons & Dragons game materials. Revenue at Wizards was up 118 percent year over year, making $406 million in Q2 compared to $187 million last year. Digital materials were a huge component of the growth for the games over the course of the pandemic, given that tabletops were still a little close for comfort last year. The profit margin remains a wild 47.5 percent.

David McCoy, Hipsters of the Coast

Fuel

About 18 percent of flights at Bozeman Yellowstone International Airport were delayed or cancelled on a recent Sunday because fuel deliveries are slowed throughout large expanses of the West. With air travel tourism back in action and at the same time fuel is needing to be diverted to firefighting aircrafts working to mitigate wildfires, the airline business is suffering a bit of a literal pipeline problem. They didn’t buy lots of jet fuel last year, and the pipelines that move fuel around the country award space based on the shipment volume of the past 12 months. Now they’re struggling to get enough fuel in places like Reno where air travel collapsed amid tourism’s collapse.

Alison Sider, The Wall Street Journal

Parenting

A deeper look at the American Time Use Survey numbers reveal the increased amount of time spent on childcare last year wasn’t exactly shared equally. In households with children aged 6 to 12, the average amount of time spent per day on childcare rose by 1 hour 21 minutes among men and 2 hours and 4 minutes among women from 2019 to 2020. Multitasking also surged: time spent both caring for children and working increased 16 minutes per day among men but 48 minutes per day among women. This growth was largely driven by a substantial increase in childcare obligations for single mothers in widowed, divorced, separated, or never married households. In married households, where women overall still did more childcare, the growth over the same year was 1 hour 49 minutes for women and 1 hour 41 minutes for men.

Ben Casselman and Ella Koeze, The New York Times

Home Sales

Sales of new homes fell 6.6 percent in June of 2021, with the rate falling to an annualized 676,000 homes, down from 873,000 in March and a peak of 993,000 in January. The expectation from Wall Street was around 795,000, meaning this was a significant miss. It’s believed to be fueled by high costs and a shortage of new properties for sale. The average cost of a new home is up 12 percent compared to a year ago, though the median sales price of a new home did fall to $361,000 in June from $380,700 in May.

Jeffry Bartash, MarketWatch

Bureaucracy

There isn’t a unified social security agency in the United States to administer social programs, and as a result what you get is a patchwork of administrators with varying different programs and requirements. In the U.S., paperwork and filings that would, in other countries, be done by an administrator working for the government fall to the applicants, who may not be equipped to manage it. Thanks to the whims of the 53 unemployment insurance agencies in the U.S., an estimated 9 million jobless Americans didn’t get a single payment for which they were eligible. Distressing numbers are everywhere: about 22 percent of eligible earned-income tax credit recipients don’t get their money because they either don’t or misfile, physicians are weighed down filling out an average of 37 insurance forms per week, and taxpayers spent 9 billion hours doing tax prep that elsewhere is managed by the feds.

Annie Lowrey, The Atlantic

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Numlock News: July 27, 2021 • Lemonade, Weather Control, Gamma Ray Burst

By Walt Hickey

Bonus

When an American athlete wins a medal at the Olympics, they also get a tax-free bonus from Team USA provided they’re not already pulling in millions, thanks to an act passed in 2016. Gold medals come with a $37,500 bump, silver’s worth $22,500 and a bronze is worth $15,000. The bill making that bonus tax-free passed nearly unanimously with all but one vote, and provided their overall adjusted gross income is below $1 million they’re free and clear, at least federally. So the NBA players, a couple of the more famous swimmers and gymnasts, and presumably all of the sailors and equestrians will probably have to pay up. You can rest easy knowing some weekend warrior discus dude isn’t about to get wrecked by the IRS for a solid showing.

Michael McCann and Robert Raiola, Sportico

Lemonade

Two weeks ago the governor of Illinois signed a law that will allow children to operate lemonade stands without risking a visit from the health department. This was deemed necessary after a 2017 incident in which a 9 year old had her 50-cents-a-cup roadside operation shut down by the city. According to the new law, health departments can’t regulate the sale of lemonade or nonalcoholic drinks by a person under the age of 16 in the state of Illinois. Similar legislation is awaiting the signature of the governor of New Hampshire.

Ella Lubell, Reason

Weather

In January, China first tested a weather modification drone, the Ganlin-1, which used decades-old cloud-seeding chemicals in conjunction with unmanned drones to some success. Though controversial, weather modification is on the rise worldwide, with over 50 countries working on such tech as of 2017 according to the World Meteorological Organization. Thailand has upped its weather modification budget 30 percent in the past 5 years, and wants to eliminate water shortages in 98 percent of drought-affected areas by 2037. China aims to cover 5.5 million square kilometers, or 60 percent of the country, with an artificial precipitation program by 2025.

Marimi Kishimoto and Jun Suzuki, Nikkei Asia

Ransoms

According to data published by Coveware, a ransomware response company, the average payment sent to a ransomware hacker by a company fell 38 percent in the second quarter of this year, down to $136,576 compared to the first quarter levels of $220,298. While hackers aren’t going anywhere, that decline would swing things back towards normal. The first quarter of 2021 saw a 43 percent increase in the value of a ransomware payments compared to the last quarter of 2020. The most popular ransomware of the quarter — Sodinokibi, created by REvil — held a 16.5 percent marketshare, but REvil went offline on July 13 without explanation.

Tonya Riley, CyberScoop

Gamma Ray Burst

On August 26, 2020 the Fermi Gamma-ray Space Telescope noticed a pulse of radiation eventually named GRB 200826A. GRB’s, or gamma ray bursts, are among the most powerful events in the universe. According to two papers published in Astronomy, the burst emitted 14 million times the energy released by the entire Milky Way galaxy over the 0.65 seconds it was observed. Other gamma ray bursts can last for minutes on end, thought to be caused by the creation of black holes. Short gamma ray bursts like this one are interesting, because they’re thought to be caused by colliding neutron stars or other similar compact objects. The papers also target an origin of this gamma ray burst, which took 6.6 billion years — about half the 13.8 billion years of the age of the universe — to make it to Earth. It occurs to me that between the weather controlling, the gamma ray bursting, and the hackers ransom stuff this is a very “90s Action Disaster Movie” edition of the newsletter. Roland Emmerich if you wanna talk options you know how to reach me, man.

Francis Reddy, NASA’s Goddard Space Center

Hydrogen

Japan is working to launch their largest hydrogen plant powered by offshore wind energy on the coast of Hokkaido in March of 2024. Every year after it’s projected to produce about 550 tons of hydrogen per year, which would be enough to fuel about 10,000 hydrogen vehicles annually. Another plant poised to go online in Ishikari is expected to increase the production of hydrogen to 2,500 tons annually. Japan’s strategy to get to net zero emissions is significantly reliant on a successful hydrogen rollout, targeting 3 million tons of production to be introduced by 2030, and 20 million by 2050. To do that, they’ve got to get the price of renewably-produced hydrogen down from the $6 to $9 per kilogram today towards the $2 to $4 in the U.S. and $3 to $6 in Germany.

Ryo Mukano, Nikkei Asia

The Whales

Researchers who left remote recording devices in the vicinity of Elephant Island between Chile and Antarctica have found a remarkable groups of fin whales. After the invention of the steam ship about 95 percent of the global fin whale population was wiped out, with an estimated 750,000 killed over the period. The population has recovered, and now stands at an estimated 100,000. Whales around Elephant Island sing at around 80 to 90 hertz, different from the 100 hertz songs of the Antarctic fin whales or the 130 hertz of the Northern Hemisphere fin whales. This would imply that these are subpopulations, which is important information, as it means they need to be conserved individually.

Connor Lynch, Hakai Magazine

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Numlock News: July 26, 2021 • Shyamalan, Seltzer, Time

By Walt Hickey

Welcome back!

Box Office

In a surprise, M. Night Shyamalan’s Old won the weekend at the box office with a $16.5 million opening. It beat out Snake Eyes: G.I. Joe Origins, the film that Hasbro wanted to build upon to create a Marvel-style connected universe, which made $13.4 million. It’s the seventh time a Shyamalan movie opened at number one, and Old cost only $18 million to make. Speaking of things that age really quick, while this weekend was thought to still be Space Jam: A New Legacy turf, box office receipts collapsed 69 percent for that movie, which actually meant the LeBron James-Bugs Bunny two-hander fell behind Black Widow this weekend.

Pamela McClintock, The Hollywood Reporter

FICO

The hegemony of the FICO credit score may be threatened, with several large lenders working to phase out the use of it in making choices about who to lend to. Capital One and Synchrony Financial have cut FICO for most decisions, and JPMorgan Chase and Bank of America have reduced the role FICO plays in some decisions. About 53 million adults in the U.S. don’t have a FICO score because they lack a borrowing history. The company that makes FICO scores, Fair Isaac Corp., derives about 40 percent of its revenue from the scores, but pretty much all of its profit.

AnnaMaria Andriotis, The Wall Street Journal

The Year In Review

The American Time Use Survey for 2020 dropped, and needless to say it turns out people may have altered their behavior somewhat. Parents with kids in school spent an additional 1.6 hours per day providing secondary child care, while layoffs meant the average time spent working was down 17 minutes per day. The biggest winners of time were telephone calls (up 61.5 percent), lawn and garden care (30.8 percent), and relaxing and leisure (up 17.6 percent); the biggest losers were travel related to work (down 33.1 percent), shopping (21.8 percent), and socializing and communicating (16.1 percent). Somewhat distressingly, the average amount of time spent grooming fell 10.7 percent, from 41 minutes to 36 minutes. The survey didn’t break out the specific amount of time Americans spent saying, “You’re muted, Kevin, your mic is off,” but Numlock’s own preliminary estimates are forecasting a 200 percent increase.

Ben Casselman and Ella Koeze, The New York Times

Basketball

America had a pretty solid run at Olympic basketball, a sport which was both invented and colossally popular in the country, but a 25-game winning streak ended this weekend when none other than France beat the Americans 83-76. This is only the sixth time that the United States has lost a basketball game at the Olympics out of 144 games. Since the period when NBA players could be on the team, the squad is 53-4. It’s the worst thing to happen to American basketball since the Monstar incident of 1996.

Tim Reynolds, The Associated Press

OOO

According to Zenefits, which tracks time off requests for 3,000 companies, employee requests were up 16.6 percent in June compared to June of 2020, and up 1 percent from June of 2019. Notoriously stingy with vacation usage — last year, workers gave up 33 percent of their vacation time — Americans seem to have caught the travel bug, with surveys indicating workers plan to take more time off than they have in the past.

Kathryn Dill, The Wall Street Journal

Seltzer

The hard seltzer market may have been a little over-carbonated based on recent results from Boston Beer, the makers of Sam Adams and popular hard seltzer Truly. Overall, hard seltzer sales were up over 51 percent in the 52 weeks ending July 10. However, that growth hasn’t sustained: in the last 12 weeks of that period, the sales were up 7.8 percent.

Christopher Doering, Food Dive

Warship

Archaeologists have found a 25-meter-long ship that sank off of what was, 2,400 years ago, Egypt’s largest Mediterranean port. The city, Heraklion, was supplanted by Alexandria as the main Egyptian port once that city was founded by Alexander the Great, and in the 100s BCE several earthquakes and tsunamis caused the city of Heraklion to sink into Abu Qir Bay. The ship, about 2,100 years old based on coins found aboard, is likely a warship built for speed, and it’s rare to get a ship of this kind from this era, as the only similar one is a Carthaginian vessel from around 235 BCE.

Kiona N. Smith, Ars Technica

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