Numlock News: June 8, 2021 • MoviePass, Milkweed, MLB

By Walt Hickey

Operation Dunkel Drop

The German Military is staring down a difficult logistical challenge, with 22,600 liters of alcohol stranded in Afghanistan. German soldiers are entitled to two cans of beer per day, but a recent decision by the German commander in Afghanistan to cut alcohol rations for security has left a ton of hooch at Camp Marmal in Mazar-e-Sharif. The haul, which includes nearly 60,000 cans of beer, can’t be sold locally because it’s restricted in Afghanistan, and it can’t be dumped because (a) major party foul and (b) environmental reasons. A contractor has been tapped to embark on a beer run with vast geopolitical implications, to extricate the alcohol out of the country before the end of the NATO mission; newly-formed Numlock Heavy Industries GmbH’s bid to handle the situation was not accepted.

Associated Press

MoviePass

You fools, you thought the saga was over, didn’t you? The FTC has issued an administrative complaint and accepted a proposed consent agreement with MoviePass and its ownership to settle a number of allegations about the doomed company’s business practices. Paramount among them was, as the FTC described, a “password disruption” policy in which MoviePass allegedly unilaterally invalidated the passwords of the 75,000 most active subscribers and then blamed the disruption on “detected suspicious activity.” In reality, the activity was that every time a person saw a movie, MoviePass lost some more money and there was a point they really needed that to stop, so they cut off their biggest money-losing users. There were a bunch of other things the FTC says went down that were not exactly above-board, but, again, this was a company that sold unlimited access to movie theaters for a flat $9.95, so it’s not like we’re dealing with masterminds of finance here.

Lesley Fair, Federal Trade Commission

For-Profit Med School

A century ago, the United States banned for-profit medical schools because at the time they were generating a bunch of quacks. In the 1970s, though, for-profit med schools cropped up in the Caribbean and, following a 1996 lawsuit, postsecondary schools could become for profit in the states. The first for-profit med school opened up in 2008, and since 2015, five more have opened with another two on the way. Rocky Vista, the only for-profit medical school that lists an average median debt on the government’s College Scorecard, said the average median amount of program debt for their grads is $294,780, well ahead of the $201,164 for graduates of private nonprofit med schools and $177,324 for public medical schools. I mean, what’s the worst possible thing that could happen when Americans privatize a successful and less expensive public nonprofit medical system?

Victoria Knight, Kaiser Health News

Rocket Cargo

As part of the $200 billion annual budget for the Air Force, officials are requesting $47.9 million for a rocket cargo program as part of its newest Vanguard Program. An old idea for a modern era, the gist is that a rocket can go around the world in about 90 minutes and no existing cargo aircraft can do that, so why not blast off absolutely essential cargo? The answer, historically, has been lots of things — not powerful enough rockets, the sheer expense versus specific situational utility, the risks of rocketry compared to conventional aviation — but given the advent of reusable rocketry, some of those objections are becoming less significant.

Eric Berger, Ars Technica

Crypto

U.S. officials announced on Monday that they managed to recover 63.7 Bitcoin out of the 75 Bitcoin ransom paid by Colonial Pipeline Co. last month to the cybercriminals who held their data hostage, an attack that led to reactionary fluctuations in gasoline supply up and down the East coast. Bitcoin’s volatility over the period actually means that Colonial is out quite a bit of scratch despite most of the ransom being recovered, as the recovered Bitcoin is worth only $2.3 million of the then-$4.4 million they forked over. The larger implication, naturally, is that U.S. law enforcement is able to in some cases track cryptocurrency, which makes sense, because even if the transactions are anonymous the whole public ledger system seems like it’ll be fairly easy to blow up someone’s spot with the right kind of subpoena power.

Chris Strohm and Alyza Sebenius, Bloomberg

Sticky

The league-wide Major League Baseball batting average has fallen to .236 this season, which is historically bad. Fueling this offensive fiasco is sticky stuff, once a mixture of sunscreen and rosin but now sometimes even glue, used by what reports indicate is the vast majority of pitchers to increase spin on pitches. In 2021, hitters have batted .330 against fastballs thrown at 2,499 revolutions per minute or fewer, but only .285 against those going 2,500 rpms or more. The percentage of those high-spin fast balls is now three times higher now than it was in 2015.

Stephanie Apstein and Alex Prewitt, Sports Illustrated

Milkweed

The Western monarch butterfly population has decreased 99 percent in California since the 1980s, and things are fast declining: in 2019, 29,000 butterflies overwintered in California, a figure that fell to 2,000 last year. This led officials to put $1 million toward habitat restoration, namely by planting 600 acres of milkweed across the state. The wildflower is a huge contributor to ecosystem health, with 500 types of insects feeding on some part of the plant.

Claire Fahy, The New York Times

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