By Walt Hickey
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This week is the Scripps National Spelling Bee, an event I probably shouldn't be gambling heavily on but, well, here we are. It turns out that half of the 562 spellers didn't qualify through the traditional method of winning a regional championship but rather through a new, innovative method pioneered by elite colleges called "paying the organizers off." Last year, Scripps let people buy a spot in the competition for $750. This year they realized the egregious error of their ways, observing they could totally get away with charging way more for a spot, and the price jumped to $1,500 per spot. Not just anyone can apply — they need to be a serious competitor, so if you can't spell "nepotism" they probably won't take your money — and the option to purchase a spot ostensibly exists so that Scripps can correct for the bad way regional Bees are organized where Ohio gets 18 spots, while Georgia gets one. If there's one place in the world that would think legal bribery is a solution to bad redistricting, it would probably be America.
Grass fed beef is actually fairly hard to make in America: the reality is that in order to eat grass all year, it has to be nice outside all year, and there're few places in my meteorologically diverse nation that can pull that off. Still, Americans consumed $480 million worth of the grass fed stuff in the 52 weeks ahead of April 20, 15 percent year-over-year growth. If it says "made in the U.S.," that doesn't actually mean the cow was from here, and some domestic producers want to fix that. Towards the end of the cow's life, raising grass fed beef in Australia costs 59 cents per pound gained, compared to $1.55 per pound at a large U.S. producer and $4.26 at a smaller farm. The U.S. did away with country of origin label requirements in 2015, and now as long as the beef is cut stateside you can slam down a "Product of U.S.A." stamp on that puppy.
Paris's beltway, the 22-mile-long Boulevard Périphérique, is poised to see some serious adjustments as the city attempts to cut private car use and do something about what may be Europe's most congested urban highway. The plan is to cut the number of lanes from eight to six, turning one into a lane for emergency and zero-emissions vehicles, and one into trees. The ring is responsible for 37 percent of the nitrous oxide emissions in the entire region of greater Paris. This especially impacts the 156,000 people who live 200 meters off the road. They’ll also be reducing the speed limit, and this could have some positive effects too: when they dropped the Périphérique from 80 km/hour to 70 km/hour, accidents fell by 15.5 percent in one year.
A new study reveals that dogs cause their owners to stay much more active than non-dog owners. Due to having to walk their canines, dog owners spend 300 minutes a week ambulatory, which is 200 more minutes of walking than their non-dogged counterparts. I’m sure this sounds like a wonderful health hack when you’re reading this on the subway or at lunch, but if you’re up at the crack of dawn walking the dang dog in the freezing cold it’s more just rubbing it in. The standard guideline calls for 150 minutes of moderate exercise per week, so technically the ideal number of dogs in a home is one half of a dog.
Rare Earth Metals
China supplied 80 percent of the rare earth metals imported by the U.S. from 2014 to 2017, and also accounted for 81 percent of the rare earth metal production total in 2017. This is partly due to rich natural resource deposits — 37 percent of the reserves — but more because most of the processing facilities are there too. Even if the stuff is mined in the U.S., it’s sent there for processing. Rare earths are 17 elements — think of the part of the periodic table simply lousy with names that end in -ium — that are important for lots of technical devices and electronics. Because of a trade war, China is thinking about cutting the States off. This would be quite bad, as the U.S. accounts for 9 percent of demand. If you’ve kept an extra pile of ytterbium lying around, now is a great time to mention it.
About 57 million adults in the U.S. had a mental health or substance use condition as of 2017. A full 70 percent received no treatment, maybe because they couldn’t afford it, maybe because they have the same insurance as me, who can say. Talkspace said Wednesday it raised a $50 million funding round to fuel its business of remote — by text, voice or video — therapy services that start at $49 per week. Digital health companies in general are becoming really appealing (racking up $8.1 billion of investment last year) mostly because the U.S. medical industry basically requires absolutely no innovation whatsoever to be revealed as a shambolic, self-disrupted broken market.
The global energy drink market was worth $39 billion in 2013, and is forecasted to hit $61 billion by 2021. The beverages are of dubious health benefits, full of a whole bunch of caffeine, naturally, but also a cocktail of vitamins and legal stimulants like guarana, taurine, L-carnitine and random other oddly masculine-sounding chemicals that, honestly, could be rare earth metals for all I know. I lived on Red Bull and Four Loko for like three years in college, so I for one would sure like to hear there are no long-term health consequences for that! In 2007, 1,145 Americans aged 12 to 17 were admitted to emergency rooms for energy-drink related emergencies, a figure which rose to 1,499 in 2011.
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