Numlock News: June 22, 2020 • Marijuana, Flying Bus, Aliens

By Walt Hickey

Welcome back!

Bus

The Alaska Army National Guard has taken a bus that had been abandoned in the Alaska wilderness and hauled it to a secure site. The bus — a 1946 International Harvester K-5 — was originally used by Fairbanks to move commuters around, but in 1960 was moved into the wilderness by the Yutan Construction Company to house employees. Abandoned in 1961 when the road was completed, in 1992 it was used by Christopher McCandless as a makeshift home for 110 days before dying of starvation — a story later told by Jon Krakauer in Into The Wild in 1996, which was later adapted to the screen. This is where things became a problem, as in the time since hikers have been compelled to visit the site, which is 25 miles west of Parks Highway, deep in the bush, and these quests have resulted in two deaths and at least 15 rescues. The state decided its removal would be best for safety and to mitigate the significant cost of rescuing lost hikers.

Michael Levenson, The New York Times

Flights

Next month Spirit and Allegiant Airlines will each operate at about 80 percent of their July 2019 schedule, which is among the highest across the airlines. United will operate at about 30 percent of July 2019 levels, Delta 38 percent, American 55 percent, Jet Blue somewhere between 50 and 60 percent, and Southwest 65 percent to 75 percent. What’s being seen here is an uptick in travel for the purposes of leisure rather than the business travel that accounts for the majority of revenue at places like United and Delta. For Spirit, Allegiant, and Frontier, the corporate travel market isn’t part of the business model, so they can roll the dice on more flights with less overhead. The big issue for the airlines comes in September, when both demand for air travel annually slows and the airline payrolls stop being covered by the federal government.

Ethan Klapper, Bluer Skies

Marijuana

The data from April is in, and 2020 saw retail sales of cannabis fall 21.6 percent compared to 2019, which is frankly not all that bad in terms of the broader retail landscape. Now, I’m hardly saying malls should pivot to marijuana superstores as the department stores that once served as anchor tenants fold into oblivion, but the sector’s doing pretty good: many states actually had a better April 2020 than April 2019, with Arizona seeing a 49 percent increase in sales, Oregon seeing a 40 percent increase, Colorado observing an 8 percent bump and even California observing a 4 percent jump. The reason for the nationwide sales decline is best understood through places like Nevada, which saw a gutting 30 percent sales decline due to the evaporation of tourism that fueled their market.

Kristine Owram, Bloomberg

Aliens?

“How many aliens are there?” is a question that has plagued our finest minds — and admittedly lots of our least fine minds, and many minds who inexplicably have control of the History Channel programming block — for years, and answers are obviously scarce. One component of this — the Fermi Paradox — asks why, if our galaxy should (by mere scale alone) host lots of alien civilizations, have we found no evidence of this? Based on SETI research, there are somewhere between zero and 100 million extraterrestrial civilizations in the Milky Way, which, come on man, seriously, that’s not a real estimate, what gives? A new paper published in Astrophysical Journal from two physicists puts forward the estimate of at least 36 extraterrestrial civilizations in the galaxy — with a margin of error between four and 211 — based on the supposition that an earth-like planet would produce intelligent life when between 4.5 billion and 5.5 billion years old. Listen, fellas, just give us an answer so we can know how large to make the Galactic Senate chamber and get the ball rolling on this.

Daniel Oberhaus, Wired

Public Transportation

Austria is drafting a plan that would help it rejuvenate the economy, as well as help it reach its climate goals sooner than expected — a revamp of its public transportation network that would give residents access to buses, trains and subways for a flat annual fee of about 3 euros per day. Austria aims to hit a carbon neutral economy by 2040, which is a decade earlier than the EU as a whole. Carbon dioxide from traffic sources is 74 percent higher today than it was in 1990, so finding a solution to make public transportation easier to access could have a significant impact.

Jonathan Tirone and Boris Groendahl, Bloomberg Green

Little Women

Greta Gerwig’s Little Women has crossed $100 million at the international box office after seeing a release, finally, in 12 foreign markets. Across 472 screens scattered around the world, the movie made $475,000, which was just enough to put it over the top. The movie has made $209 million globally. In the film’s performance we can see that the theatrical markets in Japan, Denmark and South Korea are beginning to come back to life. U.S. cinemas are eyeing a mid-July reopening, with Mulan and Tenet serving as the two big films on the calendar, on July 24 and 31 respectively.

Pamela McClintock, The Hollywood Reporter

Fees

Credit card fees are a serious matter for merchants, and they’re only growing. In 2012, Visa and Mastercard collected $25.89 billion in interchange fees from merchants, which is often something like 2 percent of the price, maybe 3 percent, plus separate fees to the payment network and financial institutions that process the transaction. Those fees have grown considerably in the time since, and in 2019, merchants had to remit $53.6 billion in interchange fees back to the issuers. That’s partially because credit card usage rose — Americans made 67 percent more credit card payments in 2018 than in 2012 — but also because the banks rolled out new cards with gnarlier fees in order to pay higher rewards.

AnnaMaria Andriotis and Harriet Torry, The Wall Street Journal

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