Numlock News: November 3, 2022 • Tattoos, Box Turtles, Catalytic Converter
By Walt Hickey
Federal law enforcement executed a series of raids across the country that they said targeted a nationwide theft ring for catalytic converters, the valuable car part that has been targeted by thieves seeking to flip them for the valuable platinum, palladium and rhodium within. The raids occurred in nine states and have led to 21 arrests so far across 32 search warrants and millions in seizures. In the California case, authorities alleged that the conspirators netted $38 million by fencing converters stolen by local thieves to a New Jersey firm that broke them down into valuable metals that were in turn flipped to a metal refinery for $545 million. The Oklahoma case involved a similar plot that netted $64.5 million selling converters to the same New Jersey company.
As part of the infrastructure bill last year, states will receive $4.7 billion to plug oil and gas wells that were abandoned by the oil companies that drilled them, wells that release dangerous levels of pollution and emissions. This year there have been $560 million in initial grants, with $100 million bound for Kentucky, Ohio, Pennsylvania and West Virginia. That will be followed by $2 billion in formula grants based on how many orphaned wells are in a state, and then $1.5 billion based on performance. Because of the incentive to figure out precisely how many wells they’re dealing with, the hunt is on to find and count them all ahead of the formula grant. As a result, the number of documented orphan wells in the U.S. rose from 82,000 last September to 123,000 as of April. It’s not cheap to plug a well: Kentucky expects it to cost $20,000 per well, while the topographically challenging West Virginia is estimating $157,000 per well.
The FAA requested feedback on the standards for minimum airline seat dimensions, and they got 24,000 responses, including feedback from several members of Congress. The worry is that while obviously seat length is important for comfort, seat width is also critical in order to safely evacuate a plane in case of an emergency. Before the airlines were deregulated in the 1970s, the average seat length was 35 inches and the average width was 18.0 inches. As of 2022, that’s down to 31 inches in length and 16.5 inches in width. A sampling of 19,000 of the comments found that about 98 percent favored minimum seat size regulations.
An ambitious new study called the Box Turtle Connection seeks to monitor thousands of box turtles for at least 100 years. Since 2008, volunteers have collected information on 4,100 box turtles at 30 sites in North Carolina. The animals are remarkably long-lived, and can live to a hundred years easily. That said, it’s hard to determine their age, so finding them and checking the underside of their shell for notes from the last naturalist to inspect the reptile has to suffice. While they live for decades, box turtles tend to wander in an area that’s between 2.5 to 12.5 acres, and as a result develop a sense of where things like water and food are.
There’s a nasty RSV outbreak right now, the respiratory disease that hospitalizes tens of thousands of children per year. As of October 22, the number of babies under a year old who were hospitalized with RSV was six times as high as it was at the same point in 2019. This year, though, there’s good news on the horizon: Pfizer announced that in a trial, a new vaccine given to pregnant women prevented 69 percent of severe RSV cases among their infants 6 months and under. The products could be available for use as soon as one to two years from now.
As many large Western companies strive to diversify their supply chains out of China, Vietnam has been a big winner so far. In 2015, there were eight Apple suppliers in Vietnam, while today there are 26 suppliers, most of which have sprung up since 2019. Vietnam has been gunning for foreign investors, and it’s been working. They’ve mostly done this through tax exemptions, which depending on sector and location could mean tax exemptions for the first four years, then 5 percent from year five to 13, then 10 percent from 14 to 15 and then 20 percent thereafter. That 4.35 percent tax rate across the first 15 years is one of the lowest in the world.
The U.S. tattoo market is estimated to be worth $1.5 billion this year, up 8.4 percent over the past five years. Today, 46 percent of Americans have tattoos. It’s pretty much entirely regulated at the state levels, as there is not federal law about tattoo ink. It’s also been the subject of some disruptors, like the Instagram ad-fueled Ephemeral, which has rolled out a tattoo ink that is designed to fade over nine to 15 months, a service targeting people who want the aesthetics of ink without the lifetime commitment of it. Well, there’s a bit of an issue, because a whole bunch of people have come forward with tattoos from Ephemeral that are indeed a bit faded after over 15 months but are very clearly still there, if slightly shabbier. Ephemeral has claimed that 81 percent of the customers that they survey would get another Ephemeral tattoo, which, listen, that is 19 percent less than 100 percent and I’m not going to lie, I’m not really loving that number.
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