Numlock News: June 3, 2020 • Cheats, Extinction, Everest
By Walt Hickey
A new report from the U.S. Treasury’s Inspector General for Tax Administration found 879,415 high-income people who simply did not file tax returns, failing to pay $45.7 billion in owed taxes from 2014 to 2015. The analysis found that 42,601 of the cases were closed without ever working on them, and that the IRS did not even put in 326,579 of the cases into its enforcement system. 510,235 of those remaining high-income non-filers — who owe an estimated $24.9 billion — will, as resources allocated to the IRS decline, likely not be pursued. There are 1,891 individuals in the analysis who owe the IRS more than $1 million.
The Internet Archive elected to make a scanned archive of books that are still under copyright available to the public, but they may have seriously overstepped in doing so and could face enormous financial consequences. Most of what the Internet Archive does is unobjectionably good, like maintaining the critical Wayback Machine and archiving a medium that is in constant danger of deletion. But the decision to move from controlled digital lending — like a library — to the untethered version raised red flags for publishers, whose very business model rests on the idea that books can’t be infinitely free. They sued, and have a really good case, and the financial consequences for willful infringement of copyright — $150,000 per work — could wipe the Archive out. It’s more likely that the publishers have little interest in forcing the Archive under, and just want them to stop giving away in-copyright books for free, but the peril is real.
Colleges and universities that are rushing headlong into a “reopening” in Fall 2020 tend to have some substantial differences compared to those that have announced they will open online in 2020, and believe it or not, it’s not “preparedness to reduce risk of pandemic transmission.” An analysis of the universities that announced they’re opening online this fall had an average tuition of $11,488 and were 56 percent commuters. The ones “reopening” had an average tuition of $26,368, and were just 4 percent commuters. Those schools with higher sticker prices may find it difficult to justify that price when they’re yet another “Zoom University” in the fall, and are thus highly motivated to get people back on campus hell or high water.
This year 49 people summited Mount Everest, significantly lower than the 876 summits in 2019. Rather than being a tourist trap — literally, many tourists are indefinitely trapped on Everest, it’s a bad scene — this year those who made it to the world’s highest peak often had alternative ambitions. On May 26, six mountaineers made the first ascent of the season. Then, on May 27, eight surveyors did what normally would be impossible: they spent two and a half hours on the summit, trying to get the most accurate-ever measurement of the size of the mountain. Then, just for old times sake, a group of 21 guides and 14 Chinese clients hit the peak on May 28. With the short season now over, that’s a wrap for Everest until next year.
After widespread issues with their handling of the Advanced Placement tests, the College Board announced they will not pursue plans to offer an at-home SAT this year. The AP exams were, for many, a fiasco: fully 7 percent of the 4.6 million students who started an AP exam were unable to finish it, and the College Board claimed an error rate of 0.43 percent. There are lots of reasons for someone to not complete an exam — I recall being 17 and forced take an AP European History test against my will, finishing the document-based question with a remarkably crude caricature of French realist Honoré de Balzac in lieu of a proper essay. However, even with the low-end estimate technical difficulties ruining the exams of at minimum 20,000 kids is a mess the College Board doesn’t want to repeat.
A Reuters/Ipsos poll of 1,004 American adults found 64 percent of respondents were sympathetic to people who were out protesting right now, 9 percent were unsure, and 27 percent were not sympathetic. That 37 percentage point gap is massive, and not just concentrated in the urban areas where the demonstrations are taking place: half of rural residents and seven in 10 suburban residents are sympathetic to the protestors.
Over the last 100 years, 543 terrestrial vertebrate species have been known to go extinct, a tally that under normal conditions would naturally take 10,000 years. At the current rate, an estimated 515 more terrestrial vertebrates will likely go extinct over the next two decades, an aggregate loss that would naturally take place over 16,000 years rather than 20. All told, there are just 29,400 such species. A previous study found that 32 percent of vertebrate species are in decline around the world.
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