Numlock News: January 9, 2024 • Cursive, Humpbacks, Relatives
By Walt Hickey
The teaching of cursive in public schools has gone in, then out, then back in style, and California is the latest state with a new law requiring cursive be taught as of January 1 for grades 1 to 6. As of 2016, just 12 states remained that mandated learning cursive as people questioned whether the writing style was rendered obsolete by other ways of writing, including digital ways of writing. However, many states that had phased it out relented, and 11 states have restored cursive to their required curriculum. On one hand, forcing children to learn how to write “Q” in cursive seems rude in the year 2024; on the other, I shudder to think of what the autographs of the movie stars of the future will look like if the state of California doesn’t sort this out in grade school.
An investigation from Streetsblog has caused New Jersey and Georgia to crack down on rampant abuse of the dealer plate system, where illegal temporary license plates are sent to New York City by unscrupulous car dealerships trying to make a shady buck on the black market. The paper temp plates have been linked to people driving on suspended licenses, committing serious crimes with relative anonymity in New York, and endangering cyclists and pedestrians. As it stands, 32 dealerships in Jersey and Georgia have had their licenses revoked or suspended after regulators identified over 11,600 temporary tags issued illegally. The real number of illegally issued tags is likely much higher.
South Georgia island is about 1,800 kilometers east of South America, and for years was a major whaling region. From 1905 to 1917, whalers on the island killed 24,000 humpback whales, pretty much wiping out the species, so much so that by the 1920s there simply were not enough humpback whales remaining to sustain the hunts. In 1966, whaling ended permanently on the island. The good news is that over the past decade the humpback whales have begun to return, and their numbers are growing. One recent study found that populations are almost back to pre-whaling levels, to the point that officials are rolling out a mandatory 19-kilometer-per-hour speed limit in Cumberland Bay to keep the whales safer.
Declining birth rates and longer lifespans as global standards of living rise are projected to cause significant changes to what family looks like on a global scale over the coming decades, a new study out of the Max Planck Institute for Demographic Research argues. In general, the number of relatives that a typical earthling will have is projected to drop 35 percent, and those relatives are more likely to be grandparents and great-grandparents than cousins, grandchildren, nieces or nephews. As of 1950, a 65-year-old woman had an average of 41 living relatives, and by 2095 a 65-year-old-woman would have an average of 25 living relatives. That’s also worldwide: In North America and Europe — where the average 65-year-old woman had 25 living relatives in 1950 — by 2095 a woman that age will average 15.9 living relatives. This has implications beyond mere family structure, particularly when it comes to intergenerational caregiving and social support structures.
The number of undergraduates in the United States studying petroleum engineering has dropped sharply, from 7,046 undergrads in 2019 to 3,911 undergrads in 2023. It’s having a direct impact on the membership of the Society of Petroleum Engineers, which has seen membership take a steep dive from 168,125 in 2015 to just 119,120 members today. Setting aside student members, the average age of a professional member of the SPE rose by three years — from 45 years old in 2015 to 48 years old in 2022 — which underscores concerns that young people have about entering a field that may not exist in its current shape over the course of the next few decades.
The Dog Aging Project, which studies the physical health and cognition of about 50,000 dogs over the course of their lives, started in 2014 but really kicked into gear in 2018, when the project got a 5-year $29 million grant from the National Institute on Aging. That has funded around 90 percent of the annual budget of the Dog Aging Project, which now stands at about $7 million, but some quick arithmetic will show that it’s been five years and now the project will probably lose funding, and may have to fold many of its operations. Backers of the project argue that it’s poised to be the single most informative study of aging performed outside of humans, and that it additionally provides insight into how humans age, particularly because human pets are exposed to the same kinds of environmental factors that people are, while lab-based rodent test subjects have a more limited profile of exposures. So far, scientists have sequenced 1,000 dogs’ genomes, and obtained 14,000 tissue samples.
The pandemic caused a serious increase in the national rate of chronic absenteeism among American students; that is, when a student misses more than 10 percent of school days in a given year. The rate almost doubled from the 2018-19 to the 2021-22 school year, when 28 percent of students are chronically absent and miss more than 18 days a year of school. Some cities have rates higher than 40 percent.
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