Numlock News: January 25, 2024 • Olives, Penguins, Supernova
By Walt Hickey
TONIGHT in NEW YORK: extremely exciting event you should come to! I’m doing an event at NeueHouse with Jeff Yang called “How Movies Make Us.” It’s free, but you need to RSVP. You might remember Jeff from this fall when I interviewed him about his excellent book, The Golden Screen: The Movies That Made Asian America. It will be a lot of fun; doors open at 6 p.m., so RSVP today and come!
Right now, only four companies — CF Industries, Nutrien, Koch Industries and Yara-USA — control 75 percent of the nitrogen fertilizer business in the United States, down from 46 companies as of 1984. Looking at the potassium-based fertilizer business, it’s even worse, with the entire market controlled by two companies: Mosaic Company and Nutrien. This has raised flags against an oligopoly developing into a monopoly prompting several advocacy groups to ask the Federal Trade Commission and Department of Justice to investigate the Iowa Fertilizer Company — which has received $133 million from local governments, $112 million from Iowa and $300 million from the federal government, all in the interest of competing with the existing oligopoly — and its proposed acquisition by Koch.
Since 2001, a church in Germany has been playing the John Cage piece “Organ2/ASLSP” which is an avant-garde piece that, in this rendition, takes 639 years to play. This particular performance began in the year 2001, with another 616 years to go, and the exciting bit is that on February 5 of this year, there will be a new note that starts to play. This will be a rather brief note, as it will play only for the next two years. The piece was intended to be played as slowly and as softly as possible (that’s the ASLSP in the title) and while most performances have lasted between 20 and 70 minutes, the St. Burchardi Church sought to play the composition to its fullest.
Another four colonies of emperor penguins have been discovered in Antarctica, bringing the total number of known nesting sites to 66 sites. As it stands, scientists believe that is a thorough and complete accounting of the breeding pairs of Antarctica, completing a long process where an overall population of an estimated 550,000 penguins have been tallied. The process was expedited by satellites which can identify penguin guano from space, which have all the benefits of seeing Antarctica without having to deal with the onerous and annoying process of actually having to go to Antarctica to find piles of penguin crap.
Nobody likes job numbers quite like economists, so it is altogether fitting that burgeoning young economists have been wooed by an increase in ads seeking economists that specialize in the economics of climate change. Ten years ago, just 1.1 percent of job postings for academic economists on EconJobMarket.com sought people with knowledge or interest in climate change, but today that figure stands at 5.5 percent of job ads.
Right now, 28 percent of U.S. adults are religiously unaffiliated, and they’re one of the fastest-growing religious — or, nonreligious — groups in America. Of them, 17 percent are atheists, 20 percent are agnostics, and 63 percent are just nothing in particular. Of the nones, 43 percent say that religion does more harm than good in society, compared to 14 percent who say it does more good than harm. Meanwhile, 56 percent say that science has done more good than harm in society, and just 5 percent said it’s made society worse for wear. In terms of morality, 83 percent said that a desire to avoid hurting people is what’s important to them when choosing between right and wrong.
It took 50 supernovae to provoke the idea in 1998 that dark energy existed, and since then the Dark Energy Survey has studied 1,500 of the explosions to learn more about the universe. The researchers analyzed 19,000 potential objects of interest, and then thanks to a new machine learning algorithm they were able to find specific supernovae that could indicate what’s going on in the dark. The results are actually pretty complicated, and is on the cusp between the standard model and the idea that the universe’s expansion has not been constant.
A new study of gulls on Mallorca fitted with GPS transmitters found that they are outstanding at moving olives around the area, the average gull carrying wild olive pits 7.5 kilometers. It turns out the domesticated olives travel way further, though, with the birds preferring the larger, meatier cultivated olives, averaging 12.5 kilometers of travel with the pits.
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