Numlock News: March 16, 2020 • Butterflies, Forgeries, Luxuries
By Walt Hickey
On Friday, independent researchers revealed that every one of the 16 Dead Sea Scroll fragments that constitute the showstopping exhibit at the Museum of the Bible are fakes, with the fragments believed to be modern forgeries. The researchers, who were funded by the Museum to vet the provenance of the files, published a 200-page report indicating that the fragments are unrelated to the 100,000 real Dead Sea Scroll fragments, which are mostly in Israel. Basically, it wasn’t until the 1970s that UNESCO and Israel restricted the sales of the scrolls, and the only ones on the open market were sold by antiquities dealers before then. The fragments are from a batch that showed up on the open market in 2002, so it’s their veracity that’s now in doubt.
In a narrow, down-to-the-wire vote, the NFL Players Association has approved a controversial collective bargaining agreement by a razor-thin margin of 1,019 in favor and 959 opposed. The players agreed to two more playoff games this season and the ability for the league to add a 17th regular season game beginning in 2021. In exchange, they get a boost to the minimum salary made by about 60 percent of NFL players, a 1 percentage point increase to the player revenue split (now 48 percent) and dropping padded practices from 28 per season to 16 percent per season. They also can no longer be suspended for marijuana, which was not a thing I knew unions could do, but godspeed and solidarity forever.
Foot traffic to retailers was down 9.1 percent in the first week of March as consumers reacted to the ongoing coronavirus issues. That’s a massive dent, but still pales in comparison to the drop seen in luxury shops, where foot traffic slipped 14.7 percent. I guess this makes sense — I can’t imagine there are too many shopping lists that look like "pasta, toilet paper, Omega Seamaster 300, hand sanitizer, Christian Louboutin Pigalles, eggs” — but honestly if that person does exist I genuinely would like to hang out? You sound cool, you got my email, I bet I can schlep to the Hamptons from Astoria if there’s Veuve on the other end of the LIE.
Mexican officials announced Friday that the volume of monarch butterflies that came to the winter resting grounds was down 53 percent this year. The bright side is that last year’s numbers were outstanding, and the reduction isn’t alarming; it’s just kind of a bummer, because it’d be great had the butterflies rebounded in a meaningful way. The population is stable, their domain this round only covered 6.9 acres of pine and fir trees, down from 14.95 acres last time. For perspective, the butterflies bottomed out at 1.66 acres in the winter of 2013-14. The goal to ensure a minimum viable population is a 15-acre coverage.
The global market for gift cards was $338 billion in 2018 and is projected to grow about 6 percent annually. The problem? Gift cards are the preferred currency of fraud, which causes something between hundreds of millions of dollars to billions of dollars in losses in the U.S. annually. Gift cards are how fraudsters launder the money: by using prepaid value cards, they can empty a bank account and convert it into plastic that can keep the party going well after the victim gets a grasp of what’s actually going on. Walmart now requires people to show ID for gift card purchases of $5,000 or more, and CVS won’t let a customer walk out with more than $2,000 in gift cards on a given day. So why let such high amounts on cards? Stores absolutely love gift cards, and even offer discounts on them. That may seem nonsensical, but think about it: Apple takes 30 percent of everything spent in the App Store, so promos aren’t all that bad.
Though the data is just preliminary, box office revenue this past weekend was the worst in North America since September 2000, with just $55.3 million in revenue. Even setting aside the concept of inflation (as box office numbers tend to), even the weekends after 9/11 were several million dollars higher. Many cinemas operated at half capacity this weekend, and widespread closures are unfolding across parts of the United States. With seeing Pixar’s Onward no longer feasible, the only way to experience a fun-for-the-whole-family D&D inspired adventure is now to literally play Dungeons & Dragons with your actual quarantined family.
Fears of extinction for African megafauna typically come in a few reliable mascots, usually rhinos and elephants who are hunted for their horns and tusks by poachers. There is, however, a subtle crisis among giraffes: their populations have declined by 30 percent over the past 30 years, and only an estimated 111,000 giraffes remain. There are four times as many African elephants as giraffes. This has pushed conservationists and researchers to embark on the difficult proposition of tranquilizing a giraffe to hook it up with a GPS tracker, which is a lot harder than it sounds. Even worse, turns out that “giraffes” may, in fact, be four distinct species, and some subspecies — like the Nubian giraffe, a subspecies of the Northern giraffe — aren’t doing so hot, with just 2,645 in the wild.
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