Numlock News: February 14, 2019

By Walt Hickey

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Skip Lagger

Lufthansa is suing a passenger for missing a flight, as part of an attempt to make an example out of “skip laggers.” Here’s how it works: Let’s say I wanted to go from New York to Atlanta. Oftentimes, it’s cheaper to take a flight from, say, New York to Richmond, but with a layover in Atlanta. Skip laggers simply buy the cheaper ticket and don’t get on the second plane. This annoys airlines — which have spent the past decades optimizing flight efficiency and presumably eat costs of lingering around for a person who’s purposefully missing their connection — to no end. Lufthansa says the passenger bought a ticket to fly from Seattle to Oslo via Frankfurt for 657 euros, or $743. They skipped that last leg, and the airline says the passenger should have paid 2,769 euros, or $3,133. A lower court in Germany has ruled in favor of the presumed future MacArthur Genius Grant recipient, but Lufthansa is gunning for an appeal.

Chris Morris, Fortune

Catfishes

The Federal Trade Commission said it received 21,000 reports of romance scams in 2018, with an aggregated total loss of $143 million. The median loss on a romance scam was $2,600, which is seven times as much as what the median typical fraud reported to the FTC is. Romance scamming is on a dizzying rise, up from 17,000 reported scams in 2017 and way up from 8,500 in 2015. Those scams are a particularly involved version of impostor scams, which cost Americans $328 million in 2017. Keep an eye out for romantic scammers. The classic hallmarks of someone who’s using love to manipulate simple marks include a curated Instagram presence, over-interest in people they barely know, attempting to pry marks from other women, the desire for a one-on-one date, appearing on ABC on 8/7c on Monday nights, making it all the way to hometown dates without meaningful connections on a group date, interest in Colton, or any other factor linked to being a contestant on “The Bachelor.”

James Doubek, NPR

Esketamine

A panel of outside experts voted 14-2 to recommend that esketamine, a chemical cousin of club drug ketamine derived by Johnson & Johnson, be approved by the FDA as a fast-acting antidepressant. Should the FDA approve the nasal spray, it’d be the first major new treatment for depression since Prozac in 1987. While SSRIs and other antidepressants can be effective for many patients, they also take weeks to work. The support for esketamine comes from its potential efficacy in treating patients undergoing a major depressive disorder or suicidal thinking.

Cynthia Koons and Anna Edney, Bloomberg

Musical Theater

When Fox aired a pseudo-live version of Rent in January, it was the latest in a long line of networks experimenting with live airings of Broadway shows. It was also the lowest-rated of the genre, and the ripple effects are felt all over with plans being abandoned for a May staging of Hair. The issue? These things are pricey, with estimates suggesting previous productions cost $20 million to mount, while other sources suggest it’s closer to $10 to $14 million. And while the ad rates can absolutely do the job — NBC was looking for $350,000 per spot at one point — declines in viewership and fan exhaustion could lead to more caution. Realistically, if you’re going to spend half of the $50 million budget of the 2008 film Mamma Mia! on a live musical, why are you not just airing Mamma Mia!?

Lesley Goldberg, The Hollywood Reporter

In Flagrante Delicto

For the grunion, life is simple: live your day to day as an unremarkable fish the size of a sardine, punch in and out of your boring fish life 364 days a year, and on a few hellacious bacchanals, drag yourself onto a beach in California for a public spectacle of mass mating. Basically, when a male grunion and a female grunion get in the mood, the female lays 1,600 to 3,600 brightly colored eggs on a beach and legions of males spend the night fertilizing as many clutches as they can muster. It gets weird is what I’m saying. For researchers attempting to study the fish, ensuring that the crowds of Santa Monica beachgoers don’t kill the mood is crucial.

Kelly Catalfamo, Hakai Magazine, in the story that is now the one to beat for Best Headline of 2019.

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Jeans

Levi Strauss & Co. is filing paperwork for an IPO. The denim manufacturer — which was founded in 1873 — would trade under the ticker LEVI and they’re trying to raise $600 million to $800 million. While denim is a rough business — demand took a punch with the rise of athleisure, but has risen since — Levi’s is actually in a fairly secure position. They made $5.6 billion in 2018, and 45 percent of sales came from outside the Americas. About two-thirds of its revenue comes from wholesale channels, but no single vendor accounts for more than 10 percent of its sales, which is a fairly diversified position to be in.

Matthew Townsend, Bloomberg

Hive Of Scum And Villainy

A new survey from the Anti-Defamation League finds over a third of Americans experienced some type of hate or harassment online last year. The biggest platform for this (by volume) is social juggernaut Facebook, where 56 percent of respondents said they experienced some form of harassment. This isn’t the “please join my pyramid scheme” harassment either, it’s the full on physical threats, sustained harassment or stalking. Facebook’s unpleasantness dwarfed even Twitter, where only 19 percent of users noted feeling harassed. Still, there’s another way to crack the numbers: studying only daily users, gaming platform Twitch stole the show, with 47 percent of daily users reporting harassment, or the digital equivalent of a 15 minute walk through the parking lot at a Philadelphia Eagles game.

Issie Lapowski, Wired

Correction: the original version of this newsletter stated that NBC aired a version of Rent. It has been corrected to say Fox.


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