Numlock News: April 28, 2023 • Kestrels, Quebec, Olives
By Walt Hickey
A huge, huge thank you to everyone who preordered my new book yesterday, it’s so exciting and the response was overwhelming. Save those receipts, because the publisher is prepping a special gift down the line for people who preordered early. You’ll hear more about this as we get closer to publication.
There’s a new edition of The Numlock Podcast out as of Sunday. Be sure to check it out on Apple or Spotify or wherever; it’s with the brilliant Neil Paine whose newsletter I’ve been really digging lately. Have an excellent weekend!
Harvey-Davidson is a company that manufactures motorcycles, which over the past several years has been in demand for a bunch of people who could not afford motorcycles. That financing need, however, was handled by a financial services company that offered those prospective buyers loans to buy motorcycles. Incidentally, that financial services company was in fact Harley-Davidson, which makes a brisk trade in selling loans to people who buy their bikes. Unfortunately, though, the rate at which people are not paying auto and motorcycle loans is up, and this most recent quarter Harley-Davidson reported that their financial arm realized credit losses of $52.6 million, as there literally are not enough repossession companies to handle the volume of delinquencies that motorcycle owners are driving.
The number of government orders for surveillance and censorship on Twitter is up significantly during the Elon Musk era, and the company has been rubber stamping them at an unprecedented rate. In the past six months, there have been 971 court orders and government requests of Twitter, none of which were declined, and 83 percent of which were complied with in full. In the year before the acquisition, that figure was only around 50 percent full compliance, with Twitter being willing to outright reject some particularly egregious censorship requests. Turkey, Germany and India combined to account for the majority of the requests.
Quebec is a big exporter of clean hydropower energy, and it’s poised to become an even larger one. So far, Hydro-Quebec exports 22.4 terawatt-hours of power to the United States and 13.2 terawatt-hours to neighboring provinces. A C$6 billion transmission line will soon connect New York City to that hydropower, and the utility estimates it will need to bring another 100 terawatt-hours of additional capacity online, or half its current annual generating capacity, to be carbon neutral by 2050. That transition is poised to be huge for Quebec, where Hydro-Quebec is responsible for 5 percent of government-generated revenues.
Invasive species are a thorny ethical dilemma, and the saga of the Mauritius kestrel is a great example. As recently as 1974, there were just four of the bird remaining on the island. After captive breeding, the population went back to 1,000 birds, but now the bird is once again in decline, down to 350 birds. One saving grace of the birds is the traveler’s tree, which is an ideal habitat for the geckos that compose 70 percent of the kestrels’ diet, according to a study of 28 nesting sites. The problem, though, is that the traveler’s trees are an invasive species from Madagascar and are pushing out native plant species and the native insects that evolved to feed on those local plants. The decision of whether or not to rip out the traveler’s tree, therefore, is one that needs judgement and time to give the geckos and their hunters an opportunity to adjust.
In an auction that is quickly becoming a referendum on the future of downtown office spaces and rents, a 22-story office building at 350 California Street is now up for sale. In 2019, the building was valued at roughly $300 million. Now for sale, the offers are coming in at around $60 million, an 80 percent haircut in four (albeit eventful) years. It’s part of a ripple effect, with the largest employers in the area reducing their office space and pushing more vacant space on to the market, a process that has continued to the point that 29.4 percent of the office space in San Francisco is now vacant, a sevenfold increase that is the largest of any major U.S. city. Asking rent has stubbornly stayed at around $75 per square foot since late 2020 despite the spike in supply.
X. fastidiosa is one of the most dangerous pathogens in the world, devastating over 500 species of plants. In 2013 a subspecies was found in Italy’s Apulia region in olive trees, believed to have come from Costa Rican coffee plants. Italy, Spain and Greece account for 95 percent of European olive oil production, and a plague would be devastating, an estimated $5.6 billion economic loss for Italy alone. However monitoring it isn’t easy, as southern Italian farmers have been reluctant to go along with containment efforts or let scientists monitor for the disease.
A massive international collaboration called the Zoonomia Project built and analyzed a massive repository of mammalian genomes, with the genomes of 240 different species involved. It’s a huge undertaking, and has allowed an unprecedented look at the shared genetic makeup of mammals, even though the creatures sampled account for less than 1 percent of all living mammals. There are already cool findings, such as the discovery that two events — the breakup of the continents 100 million years ago and the asteroid that killed the dinosaurs 66 million years ago — both sparked a burst of diversification among mammals. In more recent news, they found out Balto, the famous dog who was on the sled run delivering diphtheria vaccines to Nome and was alleged to be half-wolf, was in fact not, but rather a genetically diverse but fully dog.
This week in the Numlock Sunday edition, I spoke to my former colleague and brilliant sportswriter friend Neil Paine ofall about the massive drama happening in NASCAR as the league and the teams squabble over the future of the organization. I knew next to nothing about the sport, but the conversation was riveting and I think you'll find it really interesting. Follow and check out our chat.
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