Numlock News: February 23, 2022 • Vaquita, Lost Works, The Three Musketeers
By Walt Hickey
Right now is the most important and largest pollination event in the world: several weeks in which billions of honeybees are trucked to California and rented out to almond groves who need them to pollinate the nuts, which are the single most valuable crop in the state. That high demand means a lot of money changing hands, and money draws the attention of thieves; in the past several weeks, 1,036 beehives worth hundreds of thousands of dollars have been reported stolen in California, with the largest heist of 384 hives stolen from a field in Mendocino County. The supply of bees is tight — it used to cost $50 to rent a hive 20 years ago, a figure that today can rise to $230 per hive — as the land devoted to the cultivation of almonds doubled to 1.3 million acres.
A new study applied the same techniques for estimating ecological abundance in historical environments given surviving fossils and turned it towards manuscripts that survive from medieval times to try to figure out just how much we’re missing out on. Looking at the remaining medieval manuscripts known in Dutch, French, Icelandic, Irish, English and German, they estimated that given the 3,649 surviving manuscripts, there were originally 40,614 manuscripts. Compared to the 9 percent survival rate of manuscripts overall, among literary works they estimate a 38 percent survival rate. This is a devastating loss, but don’t worry, almost all of it was self-insert slash fanfiction of Sir Gawain and the Green Knight.
This year the U.S. obtained a single medal in alpine skiing events, the lowest total in over 20 years, and the future doesn’t look particularly bright for the sport. The reason? The total cost for a junior ski racing career in the U.S. can reach over $500,000 according to a survey from U.S. Ski & Snowboard research, a shocking sticker price for what’s become a tony sport that isn’t feasible for athletes who lack even modest means to credibly compete. When a sport can only appeal to the 1 percent, that means you’re missing out on 99 percent of the possible talent, and when a season pass at a top ski academy goes for $50,000 for an under-14 racer you’re not exactly catering to the widest field.
“We Don’t Talk About Bruno” from the soundtrack to Encanto held the top spot on the Billboard Hot 100 ranking for a fourth week after logging 32.2 million streams, 6.5 million radio airplay audience impressions and 7,500 downloads. While it previously smashed the record for longest run at No. 1 for any song from a Disney animated feature, four weeks gives it the record for best performing Disney song ever, beating out “All For Love” from the live-action The Three Musketeers in 1994, a song by Bryan Adams, Rod Stewart and Sting, which was the top song in America for three weeks. The '90s were weird, I don’t know what to tell you. Further, the song and the soundtrack it’s from — also No. 1 on the top album chart — are the first soundtracks to lead their respective rankings simultaneously for four weeks in 29 years, when in 1993 Whitney Houston’s “I Will Always Love You” topped the chart alongside the rest of The Bodyguard soundtrack for 12 weeks.
Mexican fishers began selling totoaba fish commercially in 1910 for both its meat as well as its swim bladder, which is sold as an ingredient in Asian traditional medicine. At the peak of the fishery they were netting 2.26 million kilograms of totoaba a year, but that quickly depleted the population and by 1975 just 59,000 kilograms were hauled out of the waters, leading to a ban on the harvest and the declaration that it was critically endangered. The fish was later determined to thrive in captivity and soon farmed totoabas hit the market; however, the overall scarcity of the fish also provoked a massive and lucrative black market driven by demand from China. The illegal fishery’s gill nets have driven the vaquita, the Mexican porpoise, to near-extinction: No more than 10 exist in the wild. Mexico is now debating exporting farmed totoaba. The current mandate requires the release of some of the totoaba back into the wild, and since 2015 about 146,500 juveniles have been released in the wild. The fear is that exporting the fish will increase demand for swim bladders, in doing so guaranteeing the extinction of the vaquita.
The Interior Department has released a list of alternative proposed names for 660 federal sites that feature an ethnic slur directed at Native Americans in their names. The move comes as the department seeks to sunset antiquated and pejorative nomenclature that had persisted on maps for decades. As part of this plan, they also offered 3,300 alternative names for the 660 sites, five for each, in an attempt to smooth the transition, offering a nearby or historical name in lieu of the current racial epithet. The process, while more expansive than before, is hardly new: In 2008 the U.S. Board on Geographic Names renamed a prominent peak near Phoenix as Piestewa Peak, in honor of the first Native American woman to die in combat serving in the U.S. military, replacing a slur.
Prices for palm oil on the international markets have spiked in the past two years amid supply chain difficulties for the ingredient, which is found in all sorts of consumer products and foods. Malaysian palm oil futures for May delivery hit $1,356 per ton, up 60 percent compared to last June, and it’s having a drastic impact on the economy of Indonesia, which is the largest producer of palm oil. Indonesians themselves are in the grip of a domestic cooking oil shortage as palm oil producers export every drop they can get their hands on to the lucrative overseas market. The government has introduced a price cap and pushed producers to sell 20 percent of exports to the local market, but it’s still a problem: The country produced 46.89 million tons of crude palm oil in 2021, down 0.31 percent from 2020, but domestic consumption was up 6 percent to 18.4 million tons.
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