Numlock News: October 8, 2021 • Autobahn, Moon Rocks, NBA Steals

By Walt Hickey

Have a great weekend!

One quick note! I wanted to shout out and thank my friend Maureen McNabb, who has served as Numlock’s copy editor for the past three years and is moving on today. She’s been an important behind-the-scenes part of the newsletter and I am so grateful for her work, Numlock would not be what it is without her efforts.

Player

While many basketball fans who yearn for the fundamentals decry the lost art of stealing in the NBA, a group of older veteran players have put on a clinic, according to prosecutors. They allege that a group of 18 former NBA players engaged in a multi-year scheme to defraud the NBA Player’s Health and Welfare Benefit Plan out of $3.9 million. The players are alleged to have filed fake invoices for medical and dental work that didn’t actually happen, and they got around $2.5 million paid out. Sixteen of those charged were arrested Thursday.

Jonathan Dienst, Tom Winter, Courtney Copenhagen and John Chandler, NBC 4 New York

Autobahn

The outcome of Germany’s election has once again broached the topic of a national speed limit on the autobahn. There are only around a dozen countries on Earth that don’t have a speed limit, and Germany’s the only industrialized Western one. There are speed restrictions on part of the highway system — 30 percent have some permanent speed limit and 10 percent has a variable one — but with the pro-speed limit Social Democrats, Greens and Left Party poised to gain some kind of power, a national limit of 130 kilometers per hour (80 miles per hour) is likely to come up again. The latest polling has 50 percent opposed to a new speed limit and 45 percent in favor.

Marco Müller, DW

Trees

Quillay trees are evergreens native to Chile that have lately been used for their chemicals to make pharmaceuticals, including a vaccine against shingles and the new malaria vaccine. Two saponin molecules from the barks of the trees are also used in the Novavax coronavirus vaccine to make an adjuvant called Matrix-M, which boosts the immune system. Billions of shots of that vaccine will be sent to low- and middle-income countries around the world over the next two years, demand that will strain the sustainability of the tree. This is pushing producers to expand into privately owned plantations rather than forests.

Reuters

James Bond

At some point there will be a new James Bond, and a new survey asked respondents to weigh in on tweaks to the formula outside a white, British, male, straight Bond. There was only 36 percent support for a woman to play James Bond, with 45 percent opposed. A Black Bond got 45 percent support and 30 percent opposed. A gay Bond came in with only 28 percent support, and, trust me, we’re fine with that — Pierce Brosnan gave us the Mamma Mia! franchise, honestly there’s already an iconic gay English spy with several movies about him, and this franchise gave Dame Judi Dench work for years we’re square we don’t need this. There was 51 percent support for an American Bond, which I’m sure you can pull from Ian Fleming’s cold, dead, Etonian hands.

Sarah Shevenock, Morning Consult

TikTok

In June 2020, India banned TikTok along with 58 other Chinese apps after a border dispute. Swooping in has been Instagram with its Reels function, but which creators are able to succeed has fundamentally changed in the switch between the apps. TikTok was a huge hit with creators outside the middle classes, so much so that 7.7 percent of TikTok’s influencers were in India, and the country was home to four of the 15 top paid TikTokers. Success could come to anyone, not just richer, urban influencers. Reels, however, has rolled out stricter quality requirements and Instagram won’t recommend videos it considers blurry, which raises a huge barrier to entry for Indian creators who aren’t rich.

Yashiraj Sharma, Rest Of World

Savings

The U.S. personal savings rate in 2020 was 13.7 percent, the highest level in the 62-year history of the measure. However, banks are paying out peanuts in interest rates, with the average savings account paying 0.06 percent annually, and “high yield” accounts paying a paltry 0.5 percent. Indeed, thanks to the banks’ penny-pinching given the impact of inflation, it’s lately been a money-losing proposition to save with the -5.34 percent negative real average savings rate in July.

Dion Rabouin, Vox

Moon Rocks

A new study published in Science that studied rock samples returned from the far side of the moon dates the time that the moon geologically died considerably after previous estimates. The researchers estimated that lava flowed in Oceanus Procellarum as recently as 2 billion years ago, which would mean that the era of geological and volcanic activity on the moon lasted well longer than originally believed.

Tatyana Woodall, MIT Technology Review

Last week was one of the free podcast versions of the Sunday edition! You can subscribe to those on Spotify and Apple Podcasts, there’s usually one a month.

I spoke to Sarah Frier, the author of No Filter: The Inside Story of Instagram. Sarah’s covered the inner workings of Instagram and its tenuous relationship with Facebook for a long time, and with her book now coming out in paperback this week, I wanted to talk to her about the company’s recent series of scandals and P.R. disasters.

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