Numlock News: June 4, 2020 • Whales, Season Passes, Geoengineering

By Walt Hickey

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Research funding for geoengineering — ambitious, theoretical projects that endeavor to change global climate by inducing effects only previously seen in rare natural events like volcanic eruptions — is currently less than $20 million per year, a tiny slice of the $2 billion spent on climate research by the U.S. government as a whole. The total number of researchers working on it is only a few dozen, many working with computer models to see what an extra couple of volcanic eruptions would do to the globe. In 1992, the eruption of Mount Pinatubo in the Philippines saw global temperatures dip 0.5 degrees Celsius lower than anticipated thanks to the ash and sulfur dioxide. Granted, what happened after sucked climatologically. Temperatures went back up, and the material that fell back down to earth was nasty stuff, but if a way can be found to minimize those effects, geoengineering could buy time in the climate fight.

Gernot Wagner, Bloomberg

Hong Kong

As Hong Kong is subsumed into mainland China following decades of semi-autonomy, the United Kingdom — which previously controlled the city — has offered a proposal to residents wherein the 350,000 Hong Kong residents with a British national overseas passport, as well as the 2.5 million Hongkongers eligible to apply for one would be granted a 12-month renewable visa that can get them on a path to citizenship in the U.K. After months of protesting greater control from Beijing, it could be an attractive option.

Mark Landler, The New York Times

Kids TV

The big draws of HBO Max are kids shows, according to data from Parrot Analytics, a firm that assesses the popularity of new individual programs based on the average demand for a show using social media, piracy downloads and fan ratings. The most popular show on HBO Max by Parrot’s metric isn’t The Sopranos, but rather another program where a number of violent sociopaths enact fatal harm on rivals, Looney Tunes. The new seasons of the classic cartoons were 19.4 times as popular as the average TV show, the best on the network. Right behind them is The Not Too Late Show With Elmo, which was 10 times as popular as the average show. In HBO’s case, I presume “the average show” is Arli$$.

Lucas Shaw, Bloomberg

The Park Is Open

Theme parks are in for a rough ride, with the forthcoming season poised to be a total loss at worst and a mediocre summer at best. Of particular worry for them, though, is the business responsible for the majority of their attendance: season passes. Last year, regional theme parks — think Cedar Fair, Busch Gardens or Six Flags, not the Disneylands or Universal Studios — saw 58 percent of their attendance attributable to season pass holders. That’s been rising steadily for years; in 2011, season pass holders were 34 percent of attendance. That’s a critical revenue stream for two reasons: first, the recurring annual fees are reliable business for the parks and a wave of cancellations could spell big trouble, and second, lots of the money made by the parks is in the forms of merch or concessions, so having people come in the door multiple times a year is a big deal even if they’re not making money each gate fee.

Scott Patterson, The Wall Street Journal

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Researchers have found fossils of the oldest known parasites ever observed. A layer of sedimentary rock in Yunnan, China was home to lots of tiny brachiopods that in some cases had white tubes on the outsides of their shells. Those tubes are proposed to have been parasitic in nature, as brachiopods with one or more such tubes were on average 26 percent smaller than the tube-less ones, and tubes that went further back on the shells — “deeper” so to speak — seemed to have a stronger effect on size, potentially meaning a longer relationship with the Cambrian-period moochers.

Scott K. Johnson, Ars Technica


There are around 27,000 eastern North Pacific gray whales, and every year they travel from breeding lagoons along Baja California in Mexico to summer feeding grounds in the Bering, Beaufort, and Chukchi Seas between Alaska and Russia. That travel process takes approximately four months, from February to May, then they eat for a while until October when they shlep the 11,000 kilometers back to Mexico. Roughly 250 of the whales think that plan is dumb and don’t do it, deciding rather to hang out along the coast between British Columbia and California for the summer. The issue now is some of those whales — the rebellious and/or lazy Pacific Coast Feeding Group — may soon be eligible to be hunted by the Makah Tribe in Neah Bay, the only Native American tribe in the U.S. with an explicit treaty right to hunt whales. They’ve applied to hunt up to 25 whales, and while they’ve faced little opposition in the U.S., Canada is now considering designating the whales an endangered species. This would put the North Pacific gray whales in the unique position of being legally protected on one side of the border while being hunted on the other.

Judith Lavoie, Hakai Magazine


AMC Entertainment has said it anticipates a loss between $2.1 billion and $2.4 billion in the first quarter of 2020, which is an order of magnitude higher than the $130 million loss posted in the same quarter of 2019. That loss is mostly due to an impairment charge of $1.8 billion to $2.1 billion related to their business as a whole, including intangible assets and goodwill. The more typical course-of-doing-business losses excluding the impairment and other charges was a still pretty dang bad $224.5 million. Right now AMC has about $718 million in cash, with lots of it borrowed, and if the cash burn continues apace AMC is going to be in serious trouble.

Jill Goldsmith, Deadline

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