By Walt Hickey
The top film at the U.S. box office this weekend was Star Wars: The Empire Strikes Back, grossing a total of $175,000 across 483 locations as of Saturday and projected to finish somewhere in the $400,000 to $500,000 range. The film tells the story of a waning empire’s efforts to eliminate an increasingly dire problem that is getting completely out of hand, so a totally escapist fantasy. It’s not the only classic film that’s been rolled out to drive-ins — other films that have recently grossed over a half-million domestically include Ghostbusters, where federal leadership fails to curtail a threat that scientists warned them about on multiple occasions and New York City suffers as a result, Jaws, a film where a city re-opens too quickly before a threat is fully contained, and Jurassic Park, where a callous corporation reopens an amusement park and puts their park employees in danger. You know, escapism.
Mood Music declared plans to file for Chapter 11 bankruptcy, and if you haven’t heard of them allow me to assure you that you have heard them. Mood Music is the heir to the Muzak brand, and they’re the ones that pump in background music into supermarkets, department stores, public areas and more. This is a massive business: in 2019 net sales were $349.6 million, but this year they’re projecting sales will collapse 32.7 percent to $235.4 million. This is the result of the squeeze retailers are feeling in general, competition from other newer startups and higher licensing costs.
For the past several months, hundreds of thousands of seafarers have been stuck at sea well after their contracts have concluded. Normally, shipping companies would arrange for their transportation back home, but that’s been impossible lately due to the mired immigration and lockdown process, leaving 200,000 people stranded, waiting to be relieved and sent home. Last week, 13 countries — the U.S., Denmark, France, Germany, Greece, Indonesia, the Netherlands, Norway, the Philippines, Saudi Arabia, Singapore, the United Arab Emirates and the U.K. — agreed to recognize seafarers as essential, and ease their transit home. Missing from that list is China, though most crew changes in Asia go through Singapore and Dubai.
About 10 percent of fish caught globally every year get tossed back into the ocean. Lots of hungry things in the sea are also smart, and dolphins, seabirds and other fish have grown reliant on following fishing vessels and waiting to get served up a meal. In 1984, Iceland became one of the first European countries to ban fish waste at sea — in part accomplished through the use of specialized nets — and the rest of the E.U. got there in 2015. Researchers studying the ban have noticed that gannets, a type of seabird, around Iceland do not trail fishing vessels, while gannets in the nearby Celtic Sea specialize in scavenging from boats.
About 10 percent of packaged foods, beverages and household goods are out of stock in U.S. supermarkets, up from a range of 5 percent to 7 percent pre-pandemic. Campbell’s has run through its reserves of its soup and is trying to rebuild inventory, McCormick is trying to get its spice rack back in shape, and flour remains elusive and sought-after. As of the latest numbers in mid-June — hardly baking season — sales were still up 28.3 percent compared to a year earlier, not exactly the 233.6 percent surge notched in late March but nevertheless a pop. This is an issue for mills because this is usually when they try to start banking a baking supply surplus ahead of the holiday season.
North America is home to an estimated 3 billion fewer birds than it had 50 years ago, and building strikes are a significant part of that. New research into why some birds seem to be more likely to die by striking a glass building than other birds has turned up a possible commonality. The 10 species found to be disproportionately vulnerable to collisions tended to be more migratory — which fly by night en masse — than residents, and forest-inhabiting and insect-eating migratory birds tended to be most impacted. Their style of hunting, flying through the canopy hunting for bugs at high speeds, puts them at worse risk in terms of glass. This is a serious killer: building collisions are 2 percent to 9 percent of all bird fatalities in North America in any given year, the second-highest cause.
The percentage of people who have taken LSD in the past year rose 50 percent between 2015 and 2018, which I have to say explains a lot. A study of the 168,000 respondents to the National Survey on Drug Use and Health found rising numbers of people dropping acid, though they naturally remain a small fraction of drug users. Some groups saw more acute increases than others: the percentage of people aged 26 to 34 who’d taken acid rose 59 percent, and the fraction among those aged 35 to 49 who took LSD in the past year rose 223 percent. Meanwhile, those aged 18 to 25 — sort of the key LSD demographic, historically — decreased LSD use by 24 percent. In the late ’70s, 10 percent of high schoolers reported taking LSD compared to just 6 percent today. That drop may also be less “interest in psychedelics is down” and more “other psychedelics are available.” Don’t worry, I bet when BTS hits the phase where they get really into Transcendental Meditation, it’ll bounce back.
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