Numlock News: January 20, 2023 • Catfish, Covers, Eggs
By Walt Hickey
Have a great weekend! Sunday was another Numlock Podcast edition of the Sunday edition, available for anyone to listen to on Apple Podcasts, Spotify or wherever you get your podcasts, it’s a really great episode.
Cover songs used to be a pretty reliable fraction of the Billboard Hot 100, typically accounting for 20 percent to 30 percent of the songs in the ranking in the 1960s and 1970s. That fraction declined through the late 1990s, but covers of songs by other artists have been pretty much absent from the Hot 100 since the 2000s. The last cover to hit No. 1 was “Lady Marmalade” in 2001 by Christina Aguilera, Lil' Kim, Mýa and Pink for the movie Moulin Rouge!, a cover of the Patti LaBelle song. It’s one of only nine songs to top the charts by two separate artists, and a feat not likely to be matched again at the rate things are going; old music still gets revamped into new music, but almost never as covers. These days it’s as samples or interpolations — to take a recent example, that David Guetta song “I’m Good (Blue)” that riffs on Eiffel 65’s “Blue (Da Ba Dee).”
As severe flooding increases owing to the effects of climate change, many low-lying coastal cities have some expensive decisions to make. When the flood maps show that homes are in danger of flooding — as is the case in Aberdeen and Hoquiam in Washington state, where homes in the hazard area now have a 26 percent chance of flooding over the course of a 30-year mortgage — cities are faced with a tough call, which is how much money is the right amount of money to lower that risk. Flooding is poised to threaten $500 million in home value in the pair of cities by 2050. For the past decade, the cities have drawn attention for their plan to install a $182.6 million flood protection project of two levees and a pump station to shave off some of that aggregate risk. Groundbreaking began last year thanks to an influx of federal money, and it’s one of several solutions — others include both tsunami towers and just rebuilding at higher elevations — that coastal cities must weigh.
In 2021, catfish farms in the U.S. produced 307 million pounds of catfish, on a per-pound basis something like 60 percent to 70 percent of the farmed fish in the United States. One problem with aquaculture is that huge quantities of fish living in close quarters is also perfect conditions for wild infections, and on a worldwide basis around 40 percent of farmed hatchlings die before harvest. To make a hardier catfish more resilient to disease, researchers out of Auburn University have used the gene editing tool CRISPR to insert a gene from an alligator that produces a protein called cathelicidin that improves the survival rate of the transgenic fish by two to five times over. They hope to get approval for the genetically engineered fish, following the finsteps of the AquAdvantage salmon that are the first genetically engineered fish in the U.S. market.
Plant-based imitations of meat have declined in popularity, and it’s threatening the companies that thought they were designing the future of food itself. Volume sales of refrigerated plant-based meat in supermarkets were down 14 percent in the year ending December 4, and orders of plant-based burgers at food service establishments were down 9 percent in the 12 months ending in November compared to just three years earlier. Beyond Meat’s stock price is down 93 percent compared to its peak in 2019. Rival Impossible Foods has managed to hang in the game by moving toward imitation chicken nuggets, because as long as you pivot to the next fad before the previous one ends, you never do go out of style.
The number of passengers bumped off flights is up substantially, according to a new analysis, as airlines systematically sell more tickets than there are actually seats on planes. Frontier Airlines, the worst offender, bumped 6,057 passengers out of 23 million fliers, a bump rate of 2.63 per 10,000, vastly higher than the comparable period from 2018-19 when that rate was 0.4 per 10,000. From October 2021 to September 2022, the bump rate across all airlines was up 24 percent compared to the comparable pre-pandemic period from October 2018 to September 2019.
The West Coast of the U.S. was slammed with an atmospheric river in what will almost certainly be one of the most significant natural disasters of the year, but from a precipitation perspective it’s impossible to ignore the impact on California’s water supply. At the beginning of January, 27 percent of California was in a severe drought, a percentage that fell to 0.32 percent by January 10. Sure, 86 percent of the West is in drought, but for the most part it’s not “severe” or “exceptional” now. The 24 trillion gallons of water that have fallen on the state caused 402 recorded landslides and knocked out power for 400,000 households at one point, but the snowpack is packed again.
A consumer advocacy group has asked the Federal Trade Commissions to investigate the egg industry following a spike in the cost of eggs that they argue is not as related to the ongoing bird flu as producers claim. Farm Action said that while the average size of the egg-laying flock in any given month of 2022 was never any lower than 6 percent down year over year, the wholesale price of shell eggs rose considerably out of pace with supply owing to the price-setting powers of the massive firms that define the egg industry. The wholesale price of shell eggs rose from 173.5 cents per dozen in February of 2022 to 298 cents per dozen by the first week of April. Those price hikes led industry bellwether Cal-Maine Foods to post gross profits of $535.34 million in the 26 weeks ending November 26, which was over 10 times the profits they logged in the same period of 2021.
This week in the Sunday editon, I spoke to Megan Garber who wrote the new essay collection On Misdirection: Magic, Mayhem, American Politics from The Atlantic. It’s a great read, an exploration into the ways that American political actors have parlayed the techniques of entertainment to their own ends. Today, we talked about amusing ourselves to death, what happens to a country when politics becomes entertainment, and Dwight Schrute. Megan can be found at The Atlantic and the book, as well as several other new compilations of essays from the magazine, is available wherever books are sold.
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