Numlock News: September 11, 2020 • Holidays, Drugs, Rocks

By Walt Hickey

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No Takebacks

Several weeks ago Citigroup made a pretty significant goof up when they accidentally transferred $900 million to creditors of Revlon when in actuality they had meant only to send a tiny fraction of that to cover interest on a loan. The bank asked nicely and many of those creditors returned the money, but hedge fund Brigade Capital — which Citi meant to send $1.5 million but instead sent $176 million — has reportedly declined. Citi is now suing the fund in the Southern District of New York, which is just a new thread of an intricate web of litigation around Revlon, which is dealing with a complaint from another bank about whether collateral used for loans was stolen.

Andrew Walker, BBC

Vinyl

For the first time since 1986, vinyl records are outselling CDs in the United States, and it’s a complete rout. In the first half of last year, Americans spent $247.8 million on CDs and $224.1 million on LP and EP vinyl records. This year, the bottom fell out of CD sales in the first half of the year, with $129.9 million in product moved on compact discs, while vinyl sales grew still to $232.1 million. That’s a stunning turnaround for a medium that was nearly dead as recently as 2005, when sales of vinyl were down to $14.2 million.

Lucas Shaw, Bloomberg

Drugs

Adalimumab is the highest grossing drug on earth, making $13.7 billion for AbbVie under the name Humira in the United States and globally making $18 billion in 2018. Adalimumab is used for lots of autoimmune disorders, and is particularly lucrative owing to its uses in arthritis. What’s interesting though is that it was discovered in 1994, the original patent expired in 2016, and by now there should be all sorts of generics and rivals that cost significantly less than the average $50,000 per patient per year cost of the drug. That didn’t happen because Humira is a biologic, which means that it’s not made by a chemical reaction but rather manufactured through biologically engineered cells. Since it’s really hard to make an exact copy of a biologic, a would-be rival needs to make something biologically similar, conveniently termed a “biosimilar.” Critics of AbbVie claim the company used a legal technique to create a “patent thicket” where their lawyers obtained hundreds of patents for minute changes to adalimumab, basically buying up the adjacent biological real estate to their star pharmaceutical, and setting themselves up as the regulator of who gets to compete with them. Should the process hold up in court, it’ll change the way medicine works.

Olivia Webb, Acute Condition

Women

Every year since 2007, the researchers at the Annenberg Inclusion Initiative have counted every speaking character in the top-grossing 100 films of each year to find out the state of the industry in terms of representation of women, people of color, and underrepresented groups on screen. The report on the top 100 films of 2019 films is out, and despite slight gains, the state of the industry is still incredibly dire: out of 4,451 speaking characters across 100 films, just 34 percent were women, which may be the best performance in over a decade but remains functionally unchanged since 2007, and nevertheless means that for every female character in a major film of 2019 there were 1.90 male characters. More distressingly, just 43 percent of films had a woman in any leading role and just 17 percent had women of color in a top billed position. This incredibly mediocre set of statistics is, distressingly, the single best year on record.

Stacy L. Smith, Marc Choueiti, and Katherine Pieper, Annenberg Inclusion Initiative

Wildlife

A new report from the World Wildlife Fund finds that the number of vertebrates in the world shrunk on average 68 percent from 1970 to 2016. The study is based on evidence of 20,811 populations of 4,392 different vertebrate species. Some areas suffered more than others: the tropical Americans saw animal populations down 94 percent from 1970 to 2016, and the size of animal communities living in or near freshwater is down 84 percent around the globe. The losses are attributable to forest clear cutting and use of freshwater, with other contributing factors like invasive species, pollution and climate change also contributing to decline.

Eric Roston, Bloomberg Green

Holidays

The changing of the seasons means that the holidays are inexorably getting closer, and a significant majority of Americans are preparing for the likelihood that this season things may be different. A new poll from Morning Consult reports that 74 percent of Americans foresee their family will have smaller holiday get-togethers than usual, and 49 percent said that some or all of their family’s holiday gatherings will shift from being in-person to virtual. Further, 47 percent said that their family may be cancelling their typical holiday get-togethers, and 68 percent said they will be traveling less this holiday season. The most common concern of Americans was “dealing with others who aren’t taking the coronavirus as seriously while shopping,” with 71 percent saying that was a concern. There is a bright side, which is that thanks to municipal regulations regarding reduced maximum capacity it is finally a misdemeanor to have eight maids-a-milking, nine ladies dancing, 10 lords-a-leaping, 11 pipers piping, and 12 drummers drumming in the same domicile or place of business simultaneously, so the song is now considerably shorter.

Victoria Sakal, Morning Consult

Rocks

NASA is putting a price on moon rocks as its leadership seeks to encourage private companies to obtain small samples from the surface of the moon, pledging to purchase the samples for $15,000 to $25,000. All the companies have to do is collect samples in a small container, take some photos, and then NASA will handle the whole “retrieving and returning to Earth” part. Granted, that token fee hardly covers the millions of dollars it costs to get any craft to the moon, but the goal is to make it normal for NASA to say ridiculous sentences like, “We would like to buy some moon rocks,” which has heretofore never been said, as there’s never been a transaction related to natural resources in space before. Property rights in space are handled differently than they are on Earth, and as the possibility that valuable items in space can enter into private hands increases as private space companies get infrastructure up there, NASA wants to get in on the game.

Loren Grush, The Verge

Last week for the Sunday edition, I spoke to Kelsey McKinney of the newly-launched Defector Media, which is the new site created by a number of the great writers who left Deadspin en masse. The interview is great — the Nieman Media Lab syndicated a version if you’d like to read it — and the new site launched yesterday, so you should check it out.

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