Numlock News: August 16, 2021 • Grapes, Polypharmacy, Housecats

By Walt Hickey

Free Guy

The Ryan Reynolds movie Free Guy opened to $28.4 million at the North American box office, beating expectations — a projected $17 million to $20 million — by a longshot and scoring an immediate green light for a sequel. The movie had been delayed four separate times over the course of the pandemic and finally got its release during the normally sleepy month of August.

Pamela McClintock, The Hollywood Reporter

Grapes

Shine Muscat grapes are large, sweet and go for $60 or more at grocery stores, they originated in Japan, and they’re at the center of an international agricultural kerfuffle. In 2016, Japan’s agricultural ministry said that seedlings of the grapes were being taken out of the country, and that’s meant that other countries are reaping the gains. Japan has 1,200 hectares of farming for Shine Muscat grapes, less than the 1,800 hectares in South Korea and 53,000 hectares in China. Japanese grape exports were ¥147 million from January to April of 2020, while South Korea’s exports of grapes were ¥800 million, 90 percent of that from Shine Muscats. In April, new legislation took effect that barred the export of seeds and seedlings of various plants from Japan.

Daishi Chiba, Nikkei Asia

Iowa

Major League Baseball recently held a game in a cornfield in Iowa, a state that is constantly deprived of Major League Baseball due to a web of rights agreements. Because of deals with regional sports networks, the league’s streaming platform MLB.tv blacks out games where a nearby team is playing. Unfortunately for Iowa — which in fact lacks a professional baseball team — much of the state is considered to be near enough to several teams that a solid chunk of games are pulled. In Dyersville, where the corn game was played, 6 teams — Chicago’s Cubs and White Sox, Milwaukee, St. Louis, Kansas City, and Minnesota — are all inexplicably considered “local,” so roughly 20 percent of the league’s teams and a reliable fraction of the games.

Jared Diamond, The Wall Street Journal

Drugs

Polypharmacy, a state in which someone is on five or more different medications at a given time, has become significantly more widespread over the past several decades among older Americans. In 1994, 13.8 percent of older adults were on five or more drugs, a figure that two decades later in 2014 rose to 42.4 percent. The 26 percent of older adults who were on no medications in 1994 fell to 9 percent by 2014. This is somewhat concerning because when drugs mix, sometimes there can be rarer or more intense side effects; for each additional medication prescribed, the risk of an adverse reaction increases 7 to 10 percent. Three classes of drugs — blood thinners, diabetes medications, and opioids — were responsible for 60 percent of ER visits for adverse drug reactions.

Helen Santoro, Knowable Magazine

IRS

A budget resolution passed in the Senate last week would give the IRS another $80 billion in funding over the next 10 years to up enforcement of tax law, an investment that is estimated to raise another $700 billion in revenue. The agency may also have an opportunity to rework the Free File program which is currently breaking down with Intuit’s exit from the program. Essentially, if you make less than $72,000 you’re eligible for free tax prep, but the companies that run the program for the IRS are also the ones that sell tax prep, so critics observe they don’t do a particularly great job of it. While 70 percent of Americans are eligible, just 2.6 percent of the tax returns filed in 2019 availed themselves of Free File. With this money, the IRS could, if it chose to, invest in an official free tax prep software program in-house, which would save taxpayers a bunch of money.

Dylan Matthews, Vox

Bennu

The OSIRIS-REx spacecraft, which spent two years orbiting the asteroid Bennu, returned valuable data about the rock that has enabled NASA to better estimate the probability that Bennu would strike Earth. It’s due to swing by sometime in 2135 at a safe distance, but what happens after is a tricky bit of forecasting. Prior to the mission, astrophysicists estimated the probability of a Bennu impact between the years 2175 and 2199 was 1 in 2,700. The new estimate, which includes new data about the gravity of hundreds of nearby asteroids and the effects of relativity, is 1 in 1,750 of a Bennu impact prior to 2300, so slightly higher but still not bad. The most concerning day: September 24, 2182, when Bennu will be back again and has a one-day 1 in 2,700 chance of, shall we say, sticking around.

Meghan Bartels, SPACE.com

The Rum Tum Tugger Is A Ruthless Killing Machine

Researchers who strapped GPS trackers on to 925 pet cats in six countries were able to get a fascinating picture of a day in the life of a bloodthirsty alpha predator. Their domains may be small — an average of 3.6 hectares around their homes, well less than the 605 hectares of a wild jungle cat — but they dominate them. Some animals tracked were logging 11 kills of prey animals like mice or birds per month, but even the less capable felines logged about 4 kills a month. This causes a significant dent on the nearby wildlife: the researchers estimated the per-cat ecological impact to be between 14.2 and 38.9 prey kills per hectare per year, a fact that had Andrew Lloyd Webber known would have made Cats into an extremely different musical experience.

Nina Pullano, Inverse and Zoological Society of London

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