By Walt Hickey
Splash News & Picture, a paparazzi agency, has filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy, the result of financial problems that have beset the entire industry of “taking photos of other people for money even if they prefer not to have their picture taken.” Needless to say, the pandemic has absolutely shellacked the paparazzi business, with celebs either not going out or wearing masks when they do. In Splash’s case there were also two ongoing suits — one with Meghan Markle over photos taken during a private outing and one with a former employee about sexual harassment — adding to the financial difficulties, and leaving them $972,000 in debt to a creditor. Splash made a pretty brisk business suing celebrities who posted the pictures Splash took of them on social media for copyright infringement, but that’s slowed down; they made just $21,000 from infringements last year, down from $118,000 a year prior. At press time, the world’s smallest violin was fully booked.
There are 15 periodical broods of cicadas in the world, all of them in the United States, and one of them — Brood X — has just about wrapped up its subterranean 17 years and is about to emerge triumphant and ravenous, blanketing the Mid-Atlantic. The emergence of the various broods — at either 13 or 17 year intervals — is one of the most reliable events in nature, but that could shift. A small bit of Brood X came out early back in 2017, four years ahead of schedule, and scientists who study the insects think that may have been due to warming. If that’s true, they fear the lines between the 15 broods may blur and come more frequently.
Last year’s pandemic prompted a run on printers, with the first nine months of 2020 seeing retail dollar sales of printers up 51 percent compared with the first nine months of 2019 and overall unit sales up 8 percent over the same period. Printer technology advances have long been in service of a business model — sell more ink cartridges by adding digital rights management, exclusivity, monitoring and all that — rather than a genuinely excellent consumer product, but in some ways that’s changing with the introduction of ink tank printers. This new type of device still requires the user to invest in ink along the way, but keeps the wasteful cartridges out of the equation.
The Chinese electronic cigarette industry tanked pretty much overnight when Beijing indicated it planned to treat the vaporizers more like tobacco. The two largest e-cigarette companies in China — RLX Technology and Smoore International Holdings — saw their stock prices drop 48 percent and 27 percent, respectively, after the State Tobacco Monopoly Administration released a draft amendment that showed plans to regulate vapes. The business has been booming — up 30 percent every year since 2016 — but being treated like cigarettes could mean a lot of new taxes. Right now, vapes face a 13 percent value-added tax, while regular smokes have what amounts to an 80 percent tax, bringing 1.2 trillion yuan in taxes and profits last year.
Virginia became the first state in the South and 23rd overall to end capital punishment yesterday. Over the course of its 413-year history, Virginia executed over 1,300 people. The practice was disproportionately used on Black Virginians — 296 of the 377 inmates executed for murder in the 20th century were Black. The state enthusiastically relied on execution for decades, making it all the more notable that the practice is finally coming to an end.
Yeah, that ship is still wedged in there in the Suez Canal, and needless to say the ripple effect through the broader shipping situation is not exactly peachy. While many, many people have reasons to be anxious about one of the world’s largest container ships blocking a waterway responsible for like 12 percent of global trade, the most anxious people are probably the ones who are holding the bag. The Ever Given’s owner Shoei Kisen KK is definitely one of them, but so are their insurers, and pretty much everyone is going to get their bite at the apple: the Suez Canal Authority could sue for loss of revenue from other ships and damages, the owners of the cargo on board the ship could sue if their perishables expire or their goods are late, and not to mention all the other ships plugged behind them and all their cargo owners too. Container ships are usually insured for $100 million to $140 million for hull and machinery damage.
Since 2009, the number of American bald eagles has quadrupled, with an estimated 316,700 birds in the lower 48 states. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service said that the once nearly-extinct bird has robustly bounced back, with 71,400 nesting pairs, vastly higher than the 417 nesting pairs in the lower 48 states counted in 1963. The eagles have had a rough several decades, from the introduction of pesticides that weakened their eggs, the decline of their habitat, Sauron, a lack of prey, and worst of all the 1933 decision by the Philadelphia football team to appropriate their name and likeness, eliminating most, if not all, good will for the species in Washington.
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