Numlock News: March 4, 2021 • Weatherly, Malawi, Robbery
By Walt Hickey
I wrote a cool feature about spam robocalls! You should check it out.
In February 2019, Weatherly Oil and Gas filed for bankruptcy, angling to walk away from hundreds of oil wells that hadn’t been plugged. They made a deal with the Texas Railroad Commission, which regulates the industry: they’d pay $3.5 million, which they claimed would cover the costs of plugging wells they couldn’t sell. At the end of the process, they tossed Texas 173 abandoned wells, making them responsible for orphaning the most wells in all of Texas of any company. The estimated cleanup cost ended up coming to $13.3 million, so Texas will have to pay the rest. While Weatherly said it couldn’t find money to help, executives made $8.6 million in compensation the year before bankruptcy. This is hardly the only time an oil company has milked the state of Texas for money to clean up their mess: there are 6,000 abandoned wells on Texas government rolls, and they’ll cost an estimated $300 million to plug.
Billions of doses of coronavirus vaccines will travel the world over the coming months, valuable cargo that is in the crosshairs of organized crime and paramilitary attacks. An individual shipment of coronavirus vaccines can be as high as $70 million per load, and freight haulers are putting only their very best, most experienced and trustworthy drivers on the case. Interpol is bracing for an increase in armed robberies of vaccine shipments, and on the dark web purported vaccines are going for $200 per dose. German freight hauler Aircargo Transport has souped up a dozen trucks for vaccine shipments, a $300,000 load-out entailing an alarm system, a panic button and a kill switch.
The Golden Globes secured a television rating 60 percent lower than last year, with an average audience of 6.9 million. This is understandable — no blockbuster movies came out last year, so the fare up this awards season lacks a big-budget draw for many, and even more so the entire appeal of the Globes is that they feature movie stars just hanging out, a process that was not doable this year. The Golden Globes are reliant on killer ratings more than other award shows, though, because they’re really only interesting because of their popularity, not any actual access or judgement. The voters for the awards — the Hollywood Foreign Press Association — are 90 random people who are tolerated as part of the awards circuit predominately because of their NBC deal and audience, which it turns out is really only interested in the guest list. The group is on pretty thin ice, so the dismal ratings could actually pose serious, if not existential, issues.
While they’re still a slim minority of jobs, an increasing number of occupations are offering the possibility of a four-day work week. Businesses that switched to a four-day week during a study found in two-thirds of cases an increase in productivity, and a few companies here and there are testing it out. In 2016, an average of 13.9 out of 10,000 job postings on the service ZipRecruiter offered a four-day work week. In 2019, it was 40 jobs out of every 10,000; this year so far, it’s 61.9 jobs. If your employer doesn’t offer a formal four-day work week like those trendy European companies, you can just do it American-style, where you maintain a four-day work week but spread it out over five days to look productive and see if anyone notices.
Fox has renewed The Simpsons for seasons 33 and 34, which will bring the show through 2023 and up to 757 episodes, each a record. The show’s ratings are up 146 percent this season, and the premiere of season 32 in September was the most-watched in six years, happening during a period of time when America was living in its own hellish version of a recurring couch gag. The show is already the longest-running prime time scripted series in history, so every new season just throws more points up on the board. Family Guy was renewed for season 19 and 20, which makes sense, because that’s something The Simpsons already did a few years ago.
According to market research firm NPD group, sales of e-bikes were up 145 percent in 2020, with the battery-boosted bicycles beating basic bikes, whose sales grew 65 percent. Municipal bike sharing programs, which had a tenuous relationship with the motorized bikes, have now fully embraced them, and the pandemic-era travel needs of city dwellers is a key reason why. Trips that otherwise would have been cab rides became bike rides, and travelers who were iffy on the prospect of hopping on a bike were woo’d into the seat when there was a battery lending a hand. A 2019 study found many prefer the assisted bikes, with bike-share systems with e-bikes seeing those used 1.7 times more than traditional bikes.
Right now there’s only one vaccine approved for malaria, RTS,S. It first began rollout in Malawi in 2019, and prevented about 40 percent of malaria cases and 30 percent of the most severe cases in clinical trials. Within three years, that protection diminishes. While that’s lower than the efficacy of other vaccines for early childhood diseases — measles is 97 percent effective, chickenpox is nearly 100 percent effective in severe cases — it’s still a huge difference compared to the alternative, so it’s distributed widely. Now, though, I don’t know if you’ve been following the news or anything, but Earth suddenly got really good at vaccines. The technology that produced the mRNA vaccines developed by Moderna and Pfizer/BioNTech can potentially have an application in malaria vaccines, and may have big advantages over conventional vaccines given the way the malaria parasite messes with the immune system.
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