Numlock News: August 31, 2020 • Mutants, Beefalo, Basketball Cards

By Walt Hickey

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New Mutants

The New Mutants, which is not only a new film but also the closest evidence we have that curses are real, came out in theaters this past weekend and made $7 million domestically. The film was troubled, to say the least: development began at Fox in 2014, an April 2018 release date was locked, principal photography took place in Summer 2017, and then stuff got weird. In January 2018, the film was punted to February 2019, and two months later punted further back to August 2019, with extensive reshoots planned; then Disney bought Fox, and pushed the release back to April 2020, and the final cut was delivered in early March 2020. Then some stuff happened, and the entire global box office collapsed to a pandemic, and the film was removed from the calendar. That brings us to this weekend, when the doomed-from-the-start film became the first major studio film to be thrown at cinemas to gauge the health of the theatrical market: with anywhere from 60 percent to 70 percent of theaters across the U.S. and Canada opened, the movie won the weekend with $7 million, a modest performance given analysts think it would have made $14 million in an alternate universe where there wasn’t coronavirus.

Rebecca Rubin, Variety

Beefalo

An 800- to 900-pound beefalo — a hybrid of a bison and domestic cattle — escaped from a Plymouth, Connecticut meat processing facility on August 3 and has been on the run since, evading capture and forging a new life in the dense woods of Connecticut. The animal was spotted several days ago in Terryville, and last week police confronted the beast — it’s unclear if he’s a bull or a neutered steer, nobody is keen on getting close enough to check — to little avail. Beefalos tend to be slightly wilder than more docile cows, so authorities are urging caution. Anyone who sees it is urged to contact the police. Alternatively, they could simply not narc on it and let it live its life, and whisper tales to their children of the Wild Beefalo of the Connecticut Hills as they would the Mothman of West Virginia or the Devil of New Jersey or the Chicken of Gowanus.

Jesse Leavenworth, Hartford Courant

Flu

Manufacturers are producing between 194 million and 198 million doses of the flu vaccine this year, which is about 20 million more than they distributed last year. Last winter, 45 percent of the U.S. population got vaccinated for the flu, and this year, authorities hope to get that much higher in order to avoid a nightmare scenario where a coronavirus pandemic coincides with a severe flu season simultaneously. It’s not known what happens when someone gets both the flu and COVID-19 at the same time, but doctors do not anticipate it being particularly good, and the urge to avoid a pileup at hospitals is one reason that there will be a big push to get a flu shot this year.

Julie Appleby and Michelle Andrews, Kaiser Health News

Emissions

Motiva Chemical in Port Arthur, Texas released almost 90 tons of emissions — among them a half-ton of benzene and 8.7 tons of nitrous oxide — over the course of two days, an emissions level that exceeded the plant’s entire unauthorized emissions in 2018. Those are from simply stopping and restarting the petrochemical plant around Hurricane Laura, which did not cause major damage to Motiva’s Port Arthur complex. This is happening across the Gulf, with thousands of tons of emissions and pollutants dumped during the course of the Laura-related reboot.

Leslie Kaufman and David Wethe, Bloomberg

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Paper

There’s a significant supply chain problem in the book business, with Quad and LSC Communications — the two largest printing companies in the U.S. — under enormous financial and logistical strain. LSC itself declared bankruptcy in April with a sales drop of 40 percent, largely due to a collapse of educational book sales and pandemic-related pressures. Despite that tumult, print books have seen a surge in demand, with unit sales of print books up 5 percent over last year and summer sales up 12 percent over the previous 10 weeks. The backlog is leading to delayed books, issues with reprints, and shredded schedules.

Alexandra Alter, The New York Times

Cards

Professional Sports Authenticator is reporting a surge in the market for professional sports trading cards, particularly cards related to the NBA. PSA rated less than 1.5 million collectibles in 2015, but this year through July that figure was approaching 3 million. The number of completed online grading submissions — where analysts will ascertain the quality of a piece of sports memorabilia ahead of potential sale — was up 188 percent in May compared to a monthly high from earlier in the year. The surge in the sports trading card market came out of nowhere — perhaps people cleaning out closets, but also a number of large markets in the sneaker trading community began to dabble in the cards — with a LeBron James rookie card going for $1.8 million back in July.

DeMarco Williams, Bleacher Report Magazine

Burning

According to researchers, somewhere between 4.4 million and 11.8 million acres in modern-day California burned every year in the prehistoric era. When people started moving there, and building there, and understandably preferring that their homes not burn, those natural fires were stopped. From 1982 to 1998, land managers in California burned on average 30,000 acres per year, which dropped to 13,000 acres from 1999 to 2017. The backlog is deadly, and one reason the state has become a powder-keg. A February 2020 study published in Nature Sustainability found California would need to burn 20 million acres to become stable.

Elizabeth Weil, ProPublica

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