By Walt Hickey
The Illusion of Choice
While many household brands have exploded in popularity during the shift in consumer buying habits that accompanied the onset of the pandemic, behind the scenes it’s been a bloodbath for brands that appeal to the “you know, that thing I like, not the main flavor but the weird one” section of foods. General Mills, which makes Progresso soup, has cut its lineup of 90 soups down to its 50 top sellers, organic food maker Amy’s Kitchen is cutting down from 228 products to just 71. Essentially, brands whose core selling points were variety and products for all tastes are paring back offerings, at least for the time being. Numlock is hardly exempt from this, as we’ve had to temporarily fold our Cap'N Numlock's Oops All Percentages line of breakfast products, as well as the poorly timed Numlock Global Boffo, which only included numbers regarding global travel and weekend box office, sponsored by AMC Theaters, Hertz Rent-A-Car and MoviePass. I am never going to financially recover from this.
Some 20,000 items of space debris orbit earth, from spent rockets to old parts to busted satellites. Each pose a threat to astronauts and orbiting infrastructure. A new piece of equipment joined their cursed number, dwelling in the limbo of low earth orbit, when a spacewalking astronaut lost a 5-by-3 inches 50 gram wrist mirror during a recent battery installation. The doomed mirror escaped the grasp of mankind at some point during the otherwise completely successful six hour spacewalk, the first of four to replace old space station batteries. This time they ripped out five old batteries and replaced them with two new ones.
The Confederacy did what it did best this past weekend, losing dramatically, when the legislature of Mississippi voted to remove the Confederate battle emblem from its flag after 126 years of being unable and unwilling to let that one go. The Mississippi House voted 91-23 to remove the emblem, the Senate voted 37-14, and Gov. Tate Reeves has said he will sign the bill. The fact that Mississippi still uses the battle flag of the Confederacy has remained a knock on the state for quite some time, and only now has pressure risen to the point where there was a critical mass willing to take it down. If signed, the old flag would be abolished and a commission would design a new one, arriving at a design by September and putting it up for a vote come November.
For a minute there, it was a financially brilliant decision to buy a whole bunch of cheap oil, put it on a supertanker, float it into international waters and park it, waiting for the price of oil to inevitably surge once again and make a big arbitrage cash out. Things got pretty wild — daily earnings of supertankers on the Saudi Arabia-to-China route were north of $250,000 per ship, but since, that’s come down to a more reasonable rate of $22,000. The incentive to store is now over, so no longer is the ocean a mere parking lot for next month’s oil. Excluding Asia (which has some unrelated funkiness going on with cargo unloading in China) floating stock of oil fell to 51.3 million barrels as of June 19, down from a high of 69.9 million barrels on May 22.
An executive order mandated a Justice Department review of federal government spending on social media platforms, and that’s a fairly big deal for the military, which relies on social media for recruitment and retention advertising. The U.S. military in its very nature skews young — 45.6 percent in 2018 were 25 or younger, and 46.5 percent were aged 26 to 40 — so the use of advertising on social platforms rather than older-skewing traditional media is of critical importance to the Pentagon. Indeed, this year Snapchat will receive some $14.9 million in Pentagon advertising, up from $752,426 in 2019, which would put it ahead of broadcast television (with $12.1 million).
The effects of a school permanently closing on a community are serious: besides the generational social cohesion of having a school continue to serve a community, the other impacts of closure are dire. While the middle schoolers lucky enough to go to higher-performing high schools show an improved performance, overall students see adverse effects when made to change schools, and neighborhoods suffer when losing an academic anchor. Of the 22,101 public schools that have closed since 2004 in the United States, 86 percent were in urban areas and 3,927 — 17 percent — were in Black-majority census tracts.
The Formosa Plastics Group plans on building a 1,000 hectare, $9.4 billion plastics manufacturing facility in Welcome, Louisiana, though local residents have vehemently opposed yet another addition to a region so polluted by industrial petrochemical effluence it’s known as Cancer Alley. The residents of St. James Parish are lobbying the state government to support the local community efforts to block the facility, arguing that the historical geography of industry in Louisiana disproportionately impacts Black communities, devaluing Black-owned land and causing adverse health effects to predominately Black people, and that the new plastics facility would continue that legacy. A ProPublica investigation found emissions from the new plastics plant would put 12 million tonnes of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere, and triple residents exposure to carcinogens. Residents of St. James Parish live within a 16 kilometer radius of 12 petrochemical facilities and already sustain above-average cancer rates.
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