Numlock News: September 18, 2020 • Torts, Ports, Sports

By Walt Hickey

Have a great weekend!

East Coast

The axis of global shipping may be shifting as global trade disputes, local labor conditions and ascending production centers in southern Asia mean that lots of goods that used to enter the U.S. in West Coast ports now enter through East Coast ports. In 2017, the Port of New York and New Jersey had 30 ultra-large ships call in, which rose to 143 in 2019 and then year to date 2020, it’s up to 146 ships. Most Asian imports come into the States through the west coast, with L.A. alone moving 9.4 million containers compared to 7.5 million out of New York and New Jersey. The West handled 38 percent of seaborne imports in the U.S. so far this year, while the East Coast handled over half, a shift from 2006 when the West handled 47.6 percent and the East got 41.9 percent. Part of that is left coast competition from Vancouver and Prince Rupert in Canada for Asian cargo, as well as production shifts away from China to Southeast Asia and India, which allows container ships to cut across the Indian, Suez, Mediterranean and Atlantic to the East Coast rather than just the Pacific.

Costas Paris, The Wall Street Journal

NFL

Ratings for the three main events of the first week of NFL football was significantly down year over year, with the kickoff game Thursday down 2.8 million television viewers compared to 2019’s kickoff. Sunday Night Football was down 3.3 million, and Monday Night Football was down 2.3 million. Digital audiences were slightly up, but lots of the slip seems to be casual fans tuning out either due to increased cord cutting, additional competing options, or the pandemic just making stuff a big ball of weird right now.

Gavin Bridge, Variety

Well, Damn

When an oil and gas extraction company goes belly up, they can leave behind wells that will seep methane and other hydrocarbons into the atmosphere for decades to come, if not longer. In the past five years, 207 such businesses failed in the United States, leaving the states holding the bag in terms of plugging the wells, and 190 more companies could file for bankruptcy by 2022. There are 3.2 million deserted oil and gas wells in the United States and 29 million globally. Until very recently scientists did not incorporate those abandoned wells into their greenhouse gas estimates, but that turned out to be a mistake, as post-abandonment the wells are leaking some of the worst emissions possible. A study of 88 abandoned wells in Pennsylvania found 90 percent leaked methane, a measurement of 43 wells in Texas found significant leaks in 28, and in the U.K. researchers found methane emissions in 30 percent of 102 wells checked. Plugging a well — clearing it of any obstructions and then filling it with cement — can cost $20,000 to $145,000, and for a modern shale well the cost can hit $300,000. If companies see the red ink of filling a well exceeds the black gold coming out of it, they can just abandon it in bankruptcy, leaving taxpayers holding the bag and a massive legal mess in their methane-choked wake.

Mya Frazier, Bloomberg

Trees

I am the Lorax, and I speak for the trees, and they wanted to let you know they’re getting the heck out of here as quickly as possible, which is to say very slowly but nevertheless observably. According to the US Forest Service Northern Research Station, in the eastern United States over 70 percent of saplings from northern tree species are migrating northward. This does not mean that they’re literally migrating, just that changes in precipitation, rainfall and possibly temperatures is making the habitats for trees shift, and over the next several decades one way the flora of this country will adapt to shifting climates may entail their young spouting more north than expected. That all being said, you all read that thing about the abandoned oil wells, if this passive migration goes left and turns into a “last march of the Ents” situation I think we have got to get out of Isengard.

Anna Turns, The Guardian

Hospitals

From 1975 to 2018, the United States population grew by about 50 percent, but over the same period the number of hospitals decreased by 12 percent. Some of this was a shift to make hospitals leaner operations that were significantly more profitable and used the “just-in-time inventory” model of staffing nurses to optimize efficiency. Naturally, when a large overwhelming public health incident struck, those efficiencies left hospital administrators scrambling to get the resources for the swift uptick in need. It’s almost enough to make one wonder if perhaps for-profit systems are a non-ideal way to ensure public health and — no, that’s ridiculous, the only way to treat diseases well is coincidentally the exact way that maximizes shareholder value.

Russell Gold and Melanie Evans, The Wall Street Journal

Bikes

China had a massive bikeshare boom that led to quick consolidation and hundreds of bikeshare startups going under in 2017. Billions of dollars in investment capital became millions of bikes, and then when the bubble popped bikes became scrap metal. One government estimate puts the number of shared bikes in use in 2017 at 20 million, and then 60 of the companies went under and now just three large bike apps dominate the major markets. One company, Xiaoming, left 430,000 bikes across 10 cities when it failed. China Recycling has scrapped 4 million shared bikes since 2017, spending 10 million yuan a month buying up doomed bikes and cutting them down to raw materials.

Karoline Kan, Bloomberg News

Peptides

Investigators have tracked down the latest online home of peddlers hawking peptides — injectable drugs not approved by the FDA, some of which are classified as doping drugs by the World Anti-Doping Agency — on their murky sites. The website — called ‘Amazon’ by those ne’er-do-wells in the know — was host to at least 66 listings of peptides in August and September, according to an investigation from The Markup. Amazon bans the sale of injectable drugs on their platform, but with 3 million active third party sellers, policing every listing is difficult, if not impossible, so these slipped through by going as “research chemicals” under the Industrial and Scientific category. Amazon said it stopped 6 billion suspected bad listings last year alone.

Annie Gilbertson and Jon Keegan, The Markup

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