Numlock News: November 16, 2018

By Walt Hickey

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Troll

A controversial 15-foot troll will be removed from the town of Breckenridge, Colorado following a decision from the city council. The creature — made out of wood and constructed for an arts festival — cost $40,000 to build and is named Isak Heartstone. The original plan was to leave the troll until it succumbed to the elements, but the townspeople soon realized the moral of every single story from the entire canon of western folklore — trolls are large and unsightly and the trollhunters they attract are awful at parking — calling for the removal of the sculpture.

Summit Daily

Big Box Stores

Retailers are playing hard ball with towns, threatening to leave municipalities unless the property taxes they owe are slashed. In Wisconsin, at least 230 cases have been filed in 34 counties since 2015, several of them repeat attempts. This is expensive for cities to pay legal fees on and the local implications could be disastrous for small towns. Big box stores argue because of the retail downturn, their properties should be assessed as if they were empty physically, not just spiritually. If the towns don’t give them what they want, the retailers move to suing. In Michigan, $75 million was lost in tax revenue between 2013 and 2015, Indiana has $3.5 billion in property value on the line, while Texas could lose $2.6 billion per year if successful appeals become the norm.

Laura Bliss, CityLab

Handwritten Notes

The city of Syracuse and researchers at the local university found that by writing and signing thousands of notes asking residents to pay their back taxes, they were able to bring in 57 percent more revenue from delinquent property owners than would be expected from standard legal letters demanding payment. They were written to the individual by name rather than “property owner” and the experiment could have broader implications. I’m personally going to start sending all my Venmo requests with a hand-illustrated emoji to see if it helps.

The Associated Press

Car

Will millennials abandon the beloved cities to run away to the suburbs and have kids? Who knows — it’s one of the most divisive questions for urban economists. What we do know, thanks to a new study, is that the odds of millennials buying their first home near a city center is 21 percent higher than those of the previous generation. One particularly striking finding was the impact that car ownership had on where a first home was purchased. Owning one car meant the odds of buying a first home in a city center fell by 21 percent. Owning two made it drop 41 percent. On one hand that makes sense: why own a device that aids in commuting if you live where you need to commute to? On the other hand, two cars? In this economy?

Amanda Kolson Hurley, CityLab

Fungus

The Netherlands is an agricultural powerhouse, and along with the nation’s massive food industry, they also grow three-quarters of the flower bulbs sold worldwide every year. It’s a $750 million industry, with about 1,500 bulb farmers and over 100 bulb traders. But the strong measures the Dutch use to keep fungal infections in flowers down have medicine-resistant fungi that infect people. A fifth of the world’s crops die in the field because of fungal plant diseases, and hundreds of ways to counter them. But there are only four compounds that can be used in medicine to fight fungal infections, and they are also used in agriculture.

Maryn McKenna, The Atlantic

Children Who Vape

OK, this is bad: New findings from the CDC and FDA say that 3.6 million middle and high school students were current electronic cigarette users in 2018, up from 1.5 million students last year. That sharp rise is prompting immediate action, and the FDA is preparing to drop the hammer on electronic cigarette companies. There are 3.05 million high schoolers who vape and 570,000 middle school students. Overall tobacco use among high school students is up 38 percent, and tobacco use is up 29 percent among middle school students.

U.S. Food and Drug Administration

Armed People With Dementia

The U.S. population is aging, and the number of people with dementia is on the rise. The number of people who suffer from dementia is projected to double in the next 20 years to 14 million. The overwhelming majority of people with dementia are over the age of 65. Here’s another stat for you: half of people over the age of 65 own a gun or live in a house with someone who does. This combination means millions of families get the delightful opportunity to broach the sensitive topics of both senility and the Second Amendment, all in the same conversation. What a delightful Thanksgiving that’ll turn out to be.

Melissa Block, NPR

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