Numlock News: April 8, 2019

By Walt Hickey

Important note about today’s email: None of these are breaking news! I am sick and wrote this edition weeks or months ago. I always strive to keep Numlock totally newsy and relevant, but even I need to take a sick day and apparently that is today. I picked these stories because they’re neat and will still be interesting regardless of their recentness. Tomorrow I’ll either be back in action, have a friend fill in or you’ll get another evergreen Numlock. Thanks for understanding!

Extreme World Poverty

Despite individual anxiety about the global economy, one of the most fascinating achievements of the past decades has been the widespread decline of extreme poverty. In the past 25 years, the number of humans who lived on less than $1.90 per day (adjusted for inflation) has dropped by a cool billion. The World Bank describes extreme poverty as living on less than $1.90 per day or $694 per year. In 1990, there were 1.9 billion humans in extreme poverty; as of the latest figure in 2015, that figure has dropped to 736 million people.

Josh Zumbrun, The Wall Street Journal

Salvator Vēnditōrums

In 2017, Leonardo da Vinci’s painting “Salvator Mundi” sold for a ridiculous $450.3 million. How’d it get there? Long story. In 1958 the painting — then thought to be the work of a student of da Vinci — was owned by the estate of Sir Francis Cook. It sold for £45, most likely to Warren and Minnie Kuntz, later of New Orleans. It was inherited in 1987 by Basil Hendry, and his estate sold it to art dealers in 2005 for less than $10,000. They then got it studied, and sold it for $80 million in 2011 to a buyer who immediately flipped it to a Russian billionaire for $127 million, who had Christie’s auction it off for the eventual $450.3 million to Saudi Arabia’s Crown Prince, who then gave it to Abu Dhabi as a diplomatic gift. Weird, that is almost exactly how I obtained my used 2001 Chevy Blazer in high school.

Denise Blostein, Robert Libetti and Kelly Crow


There’s a lot of new music these days. There were 249,701 unique physical albums, singles, and other physical music releases (i.e. anything that wasn’t a digital-only) in 2016, up from about 200,000 in 2005, 100,000 in 1978 and about 50,000 in 1965. That’s a lot of music, and still somehow Spotify is recommending exclusively bad chiptune covers of mediocre video game music to me, because apparently I have sinned greatly and must be punished by the algorithm. I never thought I’d long for the days when it was all weird anime music because I vaguely enjoy the Yuri!!! On ICE! theme. Or the time I confused the algorithm so badly, the only thing it knew I enjoyed was the “Be My Baby” sample.

Neil Shah, The Wall Street Journal


While attractions that use whales and other intelligent mammals to entertain audiences in ethically dubious marine parks have been going slightly out of style in the U.S., such attractions are now opening essentially monthly in China. Over 36 large-scale projects will launch in the next two years, adding to the 60 existing parks. Since 2014, 872 whales, dolphins and porpoises have been put into captivity in China. The trade is unregulated.

Farah Master, Reuters

Poop Water That Goes On Your Food

E. coli is no joke, and outbreaks linked to salad and lettuce have been traced to irrigation water being untested for pathogens. In 2011, congress ordered a fix, and in 2018 growers were going to be required to make sure their water was not lousy with disease before spraying it on plants you eat. But the FDA, attempting to eliminate regulations, pushed back the water testing rules four years. The postponement saves growers an estimated $12 million per year, but also costs an estimated $108 million per year in additional consumer medical expenses that would have been prevented.

Elizabeth Shogren and Susie Neilson, Wired


An economist at Carleton College in Minnesota predicts that the number of people who go to college between 2025 and 2029 will drop 15 percent, and will continue to drop thereafter. There’s a number of factors at play here — war stories from debt-saddled and over-educated young people told to matriculate or suffer certain doom doesn’t help — but the biggest may be that fertility rates are going down, and there are straight up fewer kids to go to school to begin with. Elite institutions are going to be fine, but regional four-year institutions serving local students will see an 11 percent drop, from 1.43 million students in 2012 to a projected 1.27 million students in 2029.

Jill Barshay, Hechinger Report


A full 11 percent of American adults do not use the internet, according to a Pew analysis of survey data. That last subset of the nation has proven particularly stubborn when it comes to logging on, and is down from 48 percent of the adult population who did not use the internet in 2000. About a third of them simply had no interest in doing so or they didn’t think the internet was relevant to their lives. The level of zen needed to obtain that sense of place in the universe is something I will never get to experience. If you’ll excuse me, I have seven new notifications to make go away, none of which actually convey new information and all of which are actually just cheap bait to get me to log on and juice some company’s monthly active user figures, because 89 percent of us took a Faustian bargain from which there can be no escape.

Monica Anderson, Andrew Perrin and JingJing Jiang, Pew Research Center

Thanks to the paid subscribers to Numlock News who make this possible. Subscribers guarantee this stays ad-free, and get a special Sunday edition. Consider becoming a full subscriber today.

Send links to me on Twitter at @WaltHickey or email me with numbers, tips, or feedback at