Numlock News: May 21, 2021 • Movie Stars, Jersey Shore, RoboCop

By Walt Hickey

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Lion Roars

Amazon is kicking MGM's tires, and is looking to acquire the studio — which has been seeking a buyer since September — for a reported $9 billion. MGM had a string of bad luck, but is still sitting on an Alexandria-tier library of 4,000 movies and 17,000 episodes of television shows, including the James Bond movies, the Rocky films, and RoboCop. All I'm saying is, given the totality of Alexa, I'm not entirely cool with Amazon owning the intellectual property behind robotic cops. While the $9 billion price being bandied about is rather steep, in 2020, Amazon spent $11 billion on television shows, movies and music, so it's not exactly out of their ballpark.

Todd Spangler, Joe Otterson and Cynthia Littleton, Variety

Worms

Bloodworms are desirable baits for recreational fishing, and as a result there's a substantial market for them. Mostly harvested in Maine and the Maritime Provinces of Canada, the business of bloodworms was $6 million in 2019, and literally ranked among the most valuable commercial fisheries in the entire state of Maine. Diggers on mudflats at low tide are paid 40 cents a worm by Phil Harrington Bait, with bigger worms going for 60 cents apiece. The worms go for $606 per kilogram, which means that by weight they’re behind only elvers (baby eels), and are thus one of the most expensive marine species sold in any market. There is a problem, though: bait boxes also ship a lot of stowaways, and since 1946, it's estimated that bait dealers have unintentionally transported 1.2 billion organisms with their doomed wares.

Peter Andrey Smith, Hakai Magazine

Farming

Online lending platform Kabbage processed 297,587 PPP loans last year in the first round of U.S. pandemic business relief, behind only Bank of America. A ProPublica analysis of some of the beneficiaries found 378 small loans amounting to $7 million went to fake businesses, mostly farms. Likely among them was a cattle ranch in Long Beach, New Jersey that was either expertly camouflaged or altogether invented. Last year, the Small Business Administration's Inspector General estimated 55,000 potentially ineligible businesses. Kabbage did just fine, though; they got 5 percent of each loan made directly, and altogether banked hundreds of millions of dollars for their troubles as an intermediary between the government and businesses, including the illusory cattle ranchers of the Jersey Shore.

Derek Willis and Lydia DePillis, ProPublica

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Whip Spiders

The field of whip spiders is enjoying a modern renaissance, as of the 216 species of whip spiders currently recognized, 106 have been described since 1994, a pace of discovery that is fairly absurd. Also known as amblypygids, they're a type of arachnid that's not quite a spider but also not quite a scorpion either. For a while, it was the kind of niche-within-a-niche where the number of active researchers could be measured on one of your eight hands; today it's booming. Part of that is the beasties are appearing in places that they previously hadn’t, like abandoned bunkers in Italy, rather than their typical homes in the subtropics.

Eric Boodman, Undark

Asian Leads

A new analysis of 1,300 films released from 2007 to 2019 found that just 5.9 percent of speaking characters were Asian or Pacific Islander. Of the 1,300 films, just 44 had a lead or co-lead actor who was API, and in just six of them that lead or co-lead was a woman. In fact, in 14 of the 44 films where the lead actor was API, that actor was Dwayne Johnson. All told, there were 15.3 white male leads for every one Asian or Pacific Islander leads across the set. Of primary or secondary API characters, 18 percent spoke English with a non-U.S. accent, 25.3 percent were dead by the end of the movie, and 75 percent of Asian tertiary characters had fewer than five lines of dialogue.

Nancy Wang Yuen, Stacy L. Smith, Katherine Pieper, Marc Choueiti, Kevin Yao and Dana Dinh, Annenberg Inclusion Initiative

Drought

California is poised to have an immensely dry year, with the Sierra Nevada snowpack — responsible for a third of California's water — down to 5 percent of average, tying the all-time low on record. Last year saw a total precipitation of 10 inches, and April 2021 was the fifth-driest April on record. All told, the state's reservoirs had 8.7 million acre feet of water stored as of April 2021, on par with April 2015, the last time the state endured a particularly difficult drought. By October 2015, that fell to 4.4. million acre feet.

Julie Cart and Rachel Becker, CalMatters

Renewable

Renewable energy installations increased during the pandemic, but even that’s understating it a bit: new installations of renewable energy exceeded even the headiest, most bullish expectations over the course of 2020, with wind installations up 90 percent and solar up 23 percent. The average annual net renewable capacity added from 2011 to 2013 was 116 gigawatts. From 2017 to 2019, that annual average had risen to 183 gigawatts. From 2020 to 2022, it’s projected to spike to 276 gigawatts installed annually. It appears that global power sector emissions may have peaked at 13,500 Mt CO2 in 2018, since falling to 11,900 Mt CO2, with Bloomberg projecting they’ll never bounce above that 2018 mark again.

Nathaniel Bullard, Bloomberg

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