By Walt Hickey
Sorry about the headline mix up yesterday, have a wonderful weekend!
Ce N’est Pas Un Doigt
A ticked-off Vermont man spent about $4,000 to erect a gleaming 700-pound sculpture on top of a 16-foot pole overlooking Route 128. The structure is a gloriously illuminated middle finger pointed directly at Westford's town leaders, who the man feels have slow-rolled an application to construct an 8,000 square foot garage on his property. Vermont has a ban on billboards, but an enormous middle finger isn't advertising much beyond a certain vibe I can really get behind, and thus is a constitutionally protected expression of the freedom of speech. As a Queens resident, I now have some fascinating things to think about for the forthcoming Amazon HQ2.
The U.S. box office is poised to hit a new record this year, crossing the vaunted $11 billion threshold on Tuesday. That's the earliest date in any year to hit $11 billion. The box office is up 9.8 percent over 2017. I was a self-employed man with a MoviePass for like five months this year, so let's just say you're welcome, Hollywood.
Universally Acknowledged Success
This week saw the passage and signing of one of the most universally popular policies in American governance at this moment, the cost-effective and boldly humanitarian reauthorization of the President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief through 2023. The bill passed by unanimous consent in the Senate and voice vote in the House, a legislative breeziness usually reserved for post office naming. It provides antiretroviral treatments for 14.6 million people and has a significant impact on human life: From 2004 to 2007, the program prevented 1.2 million deaths and reduced the HIV death rate by 10.5 percent in assisted countries, for the low price of $2,450 per death averted. Good job, everyone, honestly.
Why Is My Nose Bleeding?
When I think about looking back on the past year in news and all the stories that have come up, I immediately get a headache and start seeing those little streaky lines floating on my eyes and I smell pain and hear a desperate ringing and then I stop trying to do that. But Morning Consult asked Americans which news items they had heard "a lot" about in the past year, and the results paint a solid image of a, shall we say, captivating year. The most heard-about news by all people was the Parkland shooting, which 76 percent of people said they had heard a lot about. The second-most heard about thing was the death of George H.W. Bush, which in fairness was last week. Other top stories were Hurricane Florence (69 percent), the Kavanaugh confirmation (68 percent) and the #takeAKnee protests (64 percent.) Disturbingly, neither MoviePass nor TK appeared in the top 15, so I take it y'all don't take a lot of surveys then?
An Outside The Lines study of 16,000 food safety inspections at the 111 NFL, MLB, NBA and NHL venues in the United States found way too many strikes for my own comfort. At 28 percent of venues, more than half of their food service outlets incurred at least one high-level violation in 2016 and 2017. And while I personally attributed the feelings of sweating, discomfort and disgust I routinely endure at sporting events to the current quality of the New York Giants, the violations should give fans pause before they shell out a ridiculous sum for a hot dog. The worst of the bunch that remain open are the Spectrum Center in North Carolina (92 percent of venues), the American Airlines Center in Dallas (83.1 percent) and the Bank of America Stadium in Charlotte (82.6 percent).
A shipment of 70 live finches being transported in a black duffle bag was intercepted in John F. Kennedy Airport last weekend. The finches -- transported into the country by a Guyanese smuggler -- were believed to be destined for underground singing contests where gamblers place bets on their chirping skills. Winning males from a fine line can sell for $10,000, which is why this is only the latest in a string of intercepted finch smugglings in JFK. Customs officials have nabbed at least 184 trafficked birds on at least seven occasions.
China wants to keep the number of imported films low and set the target at 34 films this year. China also wants to have a minimum 60 billion yuan -- or $8.7 billion -- box office year, and so in a final push, recently decided to allow as many as 41 imported films. With a goal of 65 billion yuan, the propaganda ministry approved The Grinch, Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse and Searching to its cinemas in order to juice the final number.
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