Numlock News: November 18, 2020 • Corrugated, Corroded, Crossword
By Walt Hickey
Prior to the unsteady seas of 2020, cruise ships were a booming business. Not just operating them, but also building them: the year started with 117 new cruise ships on order by 2027, and there are at least 10 brand spankin’ new cruise liners worth a total of $3.84 billion that completed construction during the pandemic, most stuck in a holding pattern. These are serious investments floating around not doing much: the Celebrity Apex cost nearly a billion dollars, and the Windstar Star Breeze — a big deal because they took an old ship, cut it in half and added 84 feet to the midsection for 50 additional suites — was launched via video feed rather than the big to-do that had been planned.
The prices paid for recycled paper have increased considerably over the past several months as the demand for cardboard delivery boxes has been rising. What’s been getting recycled has been changing: a few years ago corrugated cardboard made up 5 percent of the paper entering recycling plants, but today that’s up to a third of what’s coming into the mill. Not to mention, overall collections from residential recycling programs are up 7 percent year over year, in large part owing to recycled boxes. This higher-quality input — fibers in cardboard are longer and the mixed-paper pulp is stronger — and rising demand means that the price for a ton of mixed paper went from zero dollars at the beginning of 2020 to roughly $30 per ton this month.
Rising sea levels are bad for a lot of reasons, but issues faced by Hawaii illustrate just how much we don’t know about what rising tides can do. O’ahu has faced problems not with rising seawater but rather rising groundwater: when tides rise, in parts of O’ahu near the ocean, the groundwater rises with it, and as it does so, it can cause serious infrastructure problems during events like water main breaks where high, oily groundwater could taint the city’s potable water supply. In the U.S., 3.7 million people live in places at risk of overland flooding thanks to rising seas, but even more are at risk to fluctuations in the groundwater unaccounted for in that estimate. A study of the infrastructure of Honolulu found that 35 kilometers of water pipelines along the coast would be impacted by 100 centimeters of sea level rise, corroding faster thanks to contact with saltwater the people who built them never anticipated.
While consumption of filmed media is higher than ever, the arts and entertainment sector that produced all that bingeworthy content is still extremely screwed. Just a third of motion picture and video production jobs lost from February to May have returned, and the added safety protocols have upped filming costs by about 10 to 20 percent. Some productions have left the United States to film in places that have a remote interest in controlling the pandemic within their borders, which is in fact a thing that a country can do. At the end of October, 1,967 productions had permits to shoot in the vicinity of Los Angeles, which is 47 percent of the normal level, and only 4 percent of those were feature films. Not everything is shut down! I’m pretty sure I saw Spider-Man filming down the block in Astoria last month! At least I hope it was Spider-Man. Come to think of it, I definitely should have said something about the masked teenager in an altercation with multiple dudes out behind the hookah joint. I don’t think Peter Parker speaks Greek.
An analysis of a sample of tens of thousands of crossword clues, assigning the answers to the actual human people who were the solutions, found that in 2020, 64 percent of the proper noun clues in the New York Times crossword were linked to men, and just 28 percent to a person in a minoritized racial group. Similar disparities were seen in the L.A. Times crossword (68 percent male, 25 percent non-white), Wall Street Journal crossword (69 percent male, 24 percent non-white) and Universal syndicate (54 percent men, 29 percent non-white). Interestingly, in 2020, the USA Today crossword flips that, with 72 percent of the proper noun answers being women and 48 percent of them being from a minoritized racial group, which is actually a serious effort enacted by Erik Agard, the new 27-year-old editor in charge of the USA Today puzzle since the end of 2019. The analysis also turned up some cool evolutions of classic clues, like how following Ava DuVernay’s direction of the 2014 film Selma she surpassed Ava Gardner, classic Hollywood actress, as the default “AVA” clue.
While the prospect of a vaccination was encouraging all around, for movie theaters the reaction was approximately jubilation. In 2020, the theatrical box office is projected to finish at something like $15.5 billion, down 65.6 percent year over year, and domestically it’s pretty much as catastrophic as one can imagine. Cinemas big and small, mom-and-pop and chain, are figuring out how to endure the winter. Wonder Woman 1984 is seen as a possible boost come Christmas, and the possibility of a federal shot in the arm to drag the exhibition industry past the finish line is universally yearned for, but one strategy — make theaters rentable — has begun to bear out. Cinemark, which owns Regal, has sold 50,000 private screenings, where they allow people to rent the entire theater so they and their pod can watch older movies. AMC, which just announced a similar program, said they have fielded 110,000 inquiries about theater rentals.
Baby Bust Do Do Do Do Do Do
The Brookings Institution has forecasted a serious baby bust for 2020, but nobody told like half of my friends! Anyway, the think tank expects that, when the vital statistics about 2020 come out next year, there will be a drop of 300,000 to 500,000 fewer births in the United States, compared with 44,172 fewer births in 2019 than 2018. This is largely attributed to the recession, and based on what happened during the 2007-09 recession. It’s also not a U.S.-only thing: Barclays projected China’s birthrate will drop 8 percent this year, and for the companies that manufacture baby formula, diapers and other goods for new parents, this is a serious financial pothole coming up.
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