Numlock News: December 21, 2018

By Walt Hickey

Have a great weekend! Monday’s edition will be the last for 2018 as I’m taking off the week between Christmas and New Year’s Day. Instead of the normal format, you’ll get some of the Best of 2018 and a few Sunday paid-only editions, plus a special I’m particularly excited for.


Last week Congress passed the farm bill, specifically the Agriculture Improvement Act of 2018. Agricultural policy is super complicated, but the bill was passed with broad bipartisan support and generally continues the status quo. Despite efforts to close a loophole that directed subsidies to recipients who are not actively engaged in farming — $63 million in farm subsidies went to 18,000 big city residents in 2015 and 2016 — not much changed. One large shift, though, is the legalization of hemp cultivation. Right now, America has a $620 million hemp product market, but all of that is made from imported hemp, a crop related to cannabis. Just as your highest friend in college repeatedly insisted, legalizing hemp cultivation will have a considerable financial windfall, projected to $1.15 billion in sales by 2020. Just think, a future for our children where you’ll no longer be able to identify potheads by a surefooted analysis of agricultural policy and criminal justice statutes. Soon it’ll just be an outstanding knack for speedily converting Imperial ounces to metric grams that flags classmates who blaze.

Claire Kelloway, Food and Power


Online sales during the holiday season are up 14 percent every year since 2016, which means that FedEx gets an increasingly exciting December. At their Superhub in Memphis, FedEx will process 2 million packages per night during the holiday season, about 505,000 per hour. The logistical effort is immense: the shipping company has 15 meteorologists, all trying to keep a fleet of aircraft in motion. They even keep an empty plane floating around to pick up unexpectedly large loads as an aerial freelancer, and this year further leased six additional planes to make sure the company wouldn’t run out of capacity.

Jacqueline Detwiler, Popular Mechanics

A Medically Inadvisable Amount of Carbs For A Financially Advisable Price

Olive Garden is becoming a veritable economic indicator, just like how Waffle House closures help the National Hurricane Center figure out the impact of major storms. Foot traffic was down 0.8 percent at the Olive Garden, the direct result of the company rolling back its myriad price promotions. This quarter the chain ran only 2 promotions, a buy one get one deal and a pasta pass, which is like MoviePass but instead of seeing crappy films they otherwise wouldn’t see, the 1,000 pass-holders instead got to eat butter, salt and carbs they otherwise would be spared. In the absence of promotions, despite the dip in foot traffic, sales were up 3.5 percent.

Peter Romeo, Restaurant Business

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I’ve personally been skeptical about buying fish ever since an incident in 1998 where I was sold an underwhelming fish in front of Mt. Moon, and a new study from New York state’s attorney general confirms that skepticism. The office found that — after running a DNA analysis on fish products from 155 locations of 29 supermarket brands — 26.92 percent of fish products were mislabeled. Some species were more likely to be impostors than others: 14 out of 16 lemon sole samples were mislabled and 31 out of 46 red snapper samples were also imposters. That’s why I only go to fresh, local fishmongers, like that guy next to the Gowanus canal who sells me the freshest local oysters that taste like radium and blood.

Dan Nosowitz, Modern Farmer


Every year, Space Telescope Science Institute in Maryland fields over 1,000 requests from scientists all over the world to use the Hubble telescope to advance their research and it’s ultra-competitive: only 200 proposals are accepted. In 2014, the Institute observed that men disproportionately succeeded in getting that time. Over the course of the four most recent cycles, they found 21.9 percent of proposals from men were accepted while 16.9 percent of proposals from women leads were. After the introduction of a double-blind evaluation method — where the reviewers can’t see the name of the person who proposed the project — the acceptance rate leveled out, and this year the success rate was 8.7 percent for female researchers compared to 8 percent for male researchers.

Marina Koren, The Atlantic

I Have Done This And Now Have Regrets

There are about 45 million people who wear contact lenses in the United States and about a third report sleeping or napping in them. These irresponsible, slovenly, and reckess daredevils — of which I am absolutely one of them — are seriously rolling the dice on their health. The CDC reports 1 million annual outpatient and emergency visits due to keratitis, which is what happens to people when they wear contacts for too long. This can lead to permanent scarring. I’m going to never do that again thanks to this reading of Scared Straight: Ophthalmology Edition.

Chase Purdy, Quartz


Japan skews older than the rest of the world, and the financial consequences for the nation are fascinating to behold. Japan’s GDP in 2018 was estimated to be ¥549 trillion. At the same time, the value of assets held by people with dementia in Japan in the first quarter of 2018 was estimated to be ¥142 trillion, or roughly one quarter of the GDP.

Adrian Leung and Cedric Sam, Bloomberg

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Previous Sunday special editions: Game of Thrones  ·  Signal Problems · CTE and Football · Facebook · Shark Repellent · Movies · Voting Rights · Goats · Invitation Only · Fat Bear Week · Weinersmith · Airplane Bathrooms ·  NIMBYs ·  Fall 2018 Sports Analytics ·  The Media  ·  Omega-3  ·  Mattress Troubles  ·  Conspiracy Theorists  ·  Beaches  ·  Bubbles  ·  NYC Trash  ·  Fish Wars  ·  Women’s Jeans  ·  Video Stores

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