Numlock News: February 21, 2020 • Crispy, Rainforest, Flu

By Walt Hickey

Estate

In 2018, Microsoft co-founder Paul Allen died. Allen’s demise — and his $26 billion fortune — are rumored to be responsible for an unexpected $300 million spike in estate tax revenue announced by the Washington State Economic and Revenue Forecast Council earlier this week. The entire annual budget of the state is $27 billion, so a surprise $300 million surge makes a legitimate dent. Estate tax revenues — $1.4 billion this year, up from less than $1.1 billion last year — are rolled into the state’s trust that funds early childhood education, public school improvements and financial aid. Washington has no income tax, but combine its concentration of technology companies, considerable estate tax, and the inexorable march of time and I think the Evergreen State is going to be just fine.

Lauren Hepler, Protocol

Flight Risk

The National Transportation Safety Board announced Thursday that Alaska needs to improve its aviation safety rate given new statistics about the risks of flying in the large, meteorologically unpredictable state. The aviation accident rate in Alaska was 2.35 times higher than the rest of the country between 2008 and 2017, and its fatal accident rate was 1.34 times higher than the overall U.S. average.

Kristen Durand, KTUU

Crispy

In the snack food world, cranking up the crisp can lead to a bigger hit, and there’s entire research teams working to ensure that the texture of food is specifically calibrated to maximize crunch. The use of the word “crispy” and “crispiness” in Yelp reviews of restaurants has increased over the past decade by 20 percent, and an analysis of 7,000 menus found “crispy” is the single most common adjective used to describe texture. The ascendance of kettle chips — which are cooked longer to increase the crunch factor — is one way companies are pushing the crunch, and the research indicates that people like them: when food researchers measure how much people enjoy snack foods as a whole, the crunchier the rating the higher the evaluation.

Alex Beggs, Bon Appetit

Debt

Americans are swimming in debt, but not drowning in it: household debt hit $14.2 trillion in the last quarter of 2019, up $601 billion over the course of the year, the largest annual hike since 2007. That is 11.6 percent higher than the peak prior to the Great Recession. The thing is, that’s not terrible: less than 5 percent of outstanding debt was delinquent, and a mere 3.1 percent had payments over 90 days behind, compared to 11.9 percent delinquent in 2009 and 8.6 percent 90 days overdue. Indeed, people may arguably be acting a little too financially conservative: the personal savings rate is at 7.6 percent, which is well above the low of 2.2 percent notched in 2005, meaning that people are socking away a lot of money that otherwise could be invested in stuff like housing. As a child of the Great Recession, I 100 percent get this and it’s rare that I feel so thoroughly seen by a statistic.

Michael R. Strain, Bloomberg

Colorado

A new study from researchers in the U.S. Geological Survey finds distressing information about the state of the snowpack that fuels the Colorado River. There are 40 million people who rely on the Colorado River to stay alive, with seven arid states and parts of Mexico relying on the water. Water storage in Lake Mead, the largest reservoir in the United States, is down 60 percent from 2000 to 2018, the lowest level since the lake’s creation in 1935. The new research shows that as a result of warming, the Rocky Mountain snowpack that feeds the river declines 9.3 percent for every 1 degree Celsius that temperature increases. With temperatures continuing to rise, this jeopardizes the future of Western growth and water stability.

Bob Berwyn, InsideClimate

Achoo

The CDC estimated that 26 million Americans contracted the flu in the 2019-2020 flu season, of whom 250,000 were hospitalized. The season’s flu vaccines were found to be quite well-suited to the most prevalent infections, and overall the shot was found to have prevented 45 percent of infections during the current outbreak. The season started early and appears to be running longer than usual. When a vaccine matches up well with a strain, generally somewhere between 40 percent and 60 percent of people are protected from the flu, and this year it worked particularly well with children, preventing 55 percent of acute respiratory illnesses. Last flu season, the vaccine was 29 percent effective, preventing 4.4 million illnesses, 58,000 hospitalizations and 3,500 deaths.

Michelle Cortez, Bloomberg

Cows

The Brazilian rainforest is being cut down to make room for cattle grazing, something that meat-eaters and sellers alike want absolutely no part of. So how exactly does that beef get to the market? The largest beef companies in Brazil — JBS and Marfrig — are supposed to be transparent about the origins of their beef, but the prevalence of “indirect suppliers” makes tracking the origin of each head of cattle difficult. Indirect suppliers mean that the company that sells JBS or Marfrig the cow did not, personally, oversee the entire life of the animal, meaning that it could have been born, fattened or farmed in pastured, bulldozed rainforest. Marfrig admits that 53 percent of its cattle in the Amazon comes from indirect sources, while JBS declines to estimate. A researcher found that 80 percent of direct beef suppliers in the Amazon bought from other farms, so that’s hardly encouraging.

Dom Phillips, The Guardian

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