Numlock News: January 14, 2022 • Sunbirds, Brine Geyser, French Dressing
By Walt Hickey
We’re off Monday in observation of Martin Luther King Jr. Day. Have an excellent weekend and see you Tuesday.
Fully 72 years ago, French dressing became one of three dressings recognized by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, the other two being mayonnaise and “salad dressing.” Needless to say, 1950 was a dire time in America. Per the original FDA standard, French dressing had strict requirements, including vegetable oil, vinegar, lemon or lime juice, salt, sugar, tomato paste or puree, and select spices. Naturally, in 2022, the concept of the United States federal government having strict regulations regarding the composition of French dressing is ridiculous. Since January of 1998 the Association for Dressings and Sauces, the industry trade group, had asked the FDA to revoke the French dressing rule, as newer salad dressings — Italian, Ranch, Caesar, Blue cheese — never were put under the yoke of government oversight. And Wednesday, they succeeded: The FDA revoked the standard of identity, and French dressing is now free.
A large study has found that the Epstein-Barr virus, best known for causing mononucleosis, may in some way be linked to multiple sclerosis. The study was of people in the military who served between 1993 and 2013, 801 of whom had MS diagnosed over the subsequent 20-year period and 1,566 of whom never got MS. Epstein-Barr is an incredibly common virus — only 5.3 percent of recruits had no sign of Epstein-Barr upon enlistment — but only one of the 801 MS patients had no evidence of Epstein-Barr, and no other viral infections were found to play a role. The study contends that the virus is an initial trigger for multiple sclerosis, with other genes that make people vulnerable likely playing a subsequent part.
Thrilling Romantic Fantasies
Data is in from the United Kingdom, where 2021 saw 212 million print books sold, the highest figure in 10 years. Those sales were worth £1.82 billion, a 3 percent increase over 2020, which itself was a banner year for book sales. All told, fiction sales were up 20 percent over 2019, particularly fueled by 49 percent growth in the romance genre, 23 percent in the science fiction and fantasy genre, and 19 percent growth in the crime and thriller genre.
Navient, the loan servicing company, will cancel $1.7 billion in student loan debts for 66,000 borrowers as part of a settlement reached with the attorneys general of 39 states related to allegations that Sallie Mae, its predecessor, made subprime private loans to vulnerable borrowers with the knowledge they were likely to default. Navient also agreed to pay $95 million in reimbursement to states for another 350,000 borrowers who were pushed by Navient counselors into forbearance rather than encouraged to attempt other, more complicated repayment options.
Play The Hits
A new study of East African sunbirds sought to find out just how durable birdsongs are. While the songs of most songbirds are generally known to change over time, the study looked at songs from 123 individual birds from six different lineages of double-collared sunbirds whose populations have been isolated on mountaintops for long periods of time. What’s interesting is that it appears that despite being separated for hundreds of thousands of years, the songs have remained unchanged for anywhere from 500,000 to 1 million years. It’s evidence that supports the long-held ornithology theory that East African sunbirds are the ones who, at concerts, just yell requests for the band’s most popular song all night during their set, despite that they know for a fact that “This Year” is going to be one of the encores and that if they gave the new stuff a try they’d realize the band’s been a creative tear and had frankly been putting out their best work.
In the early hours of the year, a mysterious geyser appeared in West Texas, belching 25,000 barrels of briny water a day. This is weird as hell: Texas is not known for geysers, there’s no aquifer for hundreds of miles, and there was no oil well in the Texas Railroad Commission database. This past Monday, the mystery was solved in part, when archived records revealed it was a 1,390-foot-deep dry hole dug by Gulf Oil in 1948 and plugged in 1957, a hole that following an acquisition in 1984 is technically now on the books of Chevron, which took control of the blowout on Tuesday. That still leaves the mystery of what exactly is coming out of it — the amount of water injected into the Permian Basin is large to say the least — and figuring out precisely why a capped well exploded randomly is probably of interest given the amount of forgotten wells in the area.
According to new data released yesterday, the number of students enrolled in U.S. colleges is 1 million fewer than before the beginning of the pandemic, with American universities seeing a drop of 500,000 students in the fall. Overall, undergraduate enrollment is down 6.6 percent compared with the fall semester of 2019, the largest two-year decline in half a century. Most of the decline is among community college enrollment, down 13 percent over the course of the pandemic, and evidence that a red-hot job market has diverted people who otherwise might have felt a need to get a degree given competitive high wages.
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