Numlock News: September 23, 2022 • Dingers, Kigali, Perseverance
By Walt Hickey
Have a great weekend!
There are 19,000 funeral homes in the United States, a $23 billion industry where 80 percent of the facilities are individually owned and operated. This situation — lots of money, a necessary service, tons of small indie shops — is pretty much bait for private equity businesses looking to buy up lots of funeral homes, raise prices and roll them up into larger entities. A 2021 survey by the National Funeral Directors Association found 27 percent of owners plan to retire or sell within the next five years, and people are certainly buying: Of the 3,800 homes that are owned by funeral home chains, about 1,000 are owned by private equity-backed companies. When private equity rolls in, prices go up, such as when Angel Valley Funeral Home in Tucson cashed out, the price jumped from $3,405 for a full funeral to $4,480.
Aaron Judge of the New York Yankees has 60 home runs this season, just one shy of the pre-steroid record of Roger Maris. That’s sent the prices for tickets on the secondary market spiking, with the list price for remaining home games up 121 percent, hopping from $114 to $252. That being said, because people are really aiming to go to Yankee Stadium and catch a historical dinger, rather than the “nicer” seats it’s actually the seats in the bleachers that are really spiking: A right field seat at the game on Saturday against Boston is going for $413, up from $96 on Tuesday.
In track and field, there’s actually a weird rule where you’re technically not allowed to start the race until after the starting gun, but specifically you’re not actually allowed to start racing until 0.1 seconds after the gun. This was originally designed because World Athletics assumed that it was actually physiologically impossible to react that quickly, and if you start within 0.1 seconds you were actually false starting. For lots of racers, this has meant they’re disqualified even though they did not, actually, jump the gun: TyNia Gaither started 0.093 seconds after the gun at the World Athletics Championships in July and was disqualified, Julien Alfred started 0.095 seconds after the gun, and Devon Allen started 0.099 seconds after.
Japan has announced it will end most pandemic-era inbound tourism restrictions on October 11, resuming visa-free entry. Daily arrivals had been capped at 50,000 and had only been allowed with package tours with visas, but now visa-free travel from 68 countries has been greenlit. Prior to the pandemic, Japan had 31.8 million visitors in 2019.
The Senate ratified the Kigali Amendment to the Montreal Protocol by a 69-27 vote. The Montreal Protocol, arguably the most successful international accord ever, was created to ban the chlorofluorocarbons (CFCs) that were depleting the ozone layer. It successfully accomplished that, and now the ozone hole is pretty much gone; solid work all around. The Kigali Amendment commits developed countries to cut the use of hydrofluorocarbons (HFCs) by 85 percent by 2036, making the U.S. the 138th country to sign on. HFCs are used as refrigerants, but they are also highly destructive greenhouse gases, and the plan is to move to alternative refrigerants. The mandate to drop HFCs will generate $39 billion in economic benefits and create some 150,000 jobs.
The Perseverance rover will deposit 10 or 11 samples of Mars rocks at a site on the floor of the Jezero crater sometime as soon as November. It’s the Plan B for a forthcoming mission, the Mars Sample Return mission, that will use a rocket to bring rock samples to an orbiting spacecraft that will in turn return them to Earth by 2033. The main plan is that the Perseverance rover will directly deliver a larger set of 30 rock samples to the rocket in 2030, but just in case something goes wrong between now and then the cache of rocks it’ll deliver in the next few months is there to ensure the mission isn’t a total loss.
Copper is a critical metal for electronics, and so it’s generally held to be a necessary component for a growing economy. For example, there are about 400 pounds of copper in a single-family home, 65 pounds in a car, and double that in an electric vehicle. It’s generally accepted that long-term we’re going to need a lot of copper — demand will double to 50 million metric tons by 2035 as more things are electrified — but the problem is lots of people are worried that the economy might not be growing right now, and so as a result in the short term mine supply growth is going to peak in two years and prices are down by a third since March. This could lead to major shortfalls down the line.
Very fun Sunday edition last week: It’s another podcast edition! I spoke to Max Fisher, author of the new book The Chaos Machine: The Inside Story of How Social Media Rewired Our Minds and Our World. It’s a fascinating book that looks at the science — the neurology, the social science, the psychology — of what social media usage does to us. The book can be found wherever books are sold, online and IRL and at independent bookstores. Max is on Twitter at @max_fisher.
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