Numlock News: March 24, 2023 • Space Junk, Smugglers, Angostura Bitters
By Walt Hickey
Have a great weekend! Today is the last day: amid the spiraling increase in inflation, the cost of a paid subscription to Numlock is going to change… to be temporarily lower!
I’m not only going to keep them the same $5 per month indefinitely but also for the next day if you become a paid annual subscriber you can score 20 percent off the first year. If you want to support something cool and get rid of some dollars that are going to be worth less next month anyway, now’s the perfect time to subscribe.
A new study out of NASA’s Office of Technology, Policy, and Strategy sought to figure out the most cost-effective way of dealing with the problem of space junk, which imperils the 7,200 working satellites in orbit. They’re also joined in orbit by 36,500 objects larger than 4 inches in size, 1 million objects between 0.4 and 4 inches in size, and 130 million pieces of debris smaller than that. Obviously, this is a problem, and there are lots of ideas to solve it, from space tug boats that clean space junk for costs of $6 billion to smaller hypothetical craft that could move small junk out of the way for $900,000 per kilogram of debris. But the reality is, the most cost-effective thing to do is just to keep moving satellites out of the way. The paper put the cost of doing that at $58 million a year for satellite operators, which is a lot of money, but also way less in the long run than the proposed alternatives would command. Indeed, the estimated cost of moving a $500 million satellite out of the way of some junk was $699, which is pretty reasonable.
According to the annual report by the American Library Association, there were 1,269 attempts to ban books in libraries and schools in the United States, the highest number of complaints in the 20-year history of the study and more than double the volume of obstinate censorship of the prior year. There were 2,571 unique titles that attracted ban attempts, which was up from 1,858 titles in 2021, and the overwhelming majority were written by or related in some way to LGBT+ people or people of color.
A new analysis of the items held in the collection of the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York found 1,109 items that were previously owned by people who have since been indicted or convicted of crimes of looting and trafficking, indicating that there’s potential that the artifacts were smuggled at some point in their existence en route to the museum. Less than half of them have a record of how they left their country of origin. The matter is particularly acute for antiquities out of Nepal and Kashmir, where of 250 items in the collection just three have records that explain how they left. It’s an issue for the Met: Last year, at least 29 items from the collection were seized by authorities.
In a fascinating thought experiment that fundamentally sought to understand the power of branding in a world where pretty much all the products in question are the same, Morning Consult polled bottled waters. The bottle with the highest net favorability was Fiji water, which had a 57 percentage point difference between people who favored it and those who did not, followed by Aquafina (44 percentage points), Evian, Nestle Pure Life and Dasani (42 percentage points), and then Crystal Geyser and Mountain Valley (35 percentage points). The worst-performing water was canned novelty Liquid Death, with a 7 percentage point net favorability rating. Among all U.S. adults, 72 percent prefer bottled water over tap water while just 28 prefer tap. I recognize that I live in New York City and thus have excellent tap water and understandably find this national preference maddening, mainly because where precisely do you think the bottled water companies get their bottled water from? A tap!
The pandemic was an extinction event for many of the small bus companies that service commuters around the United States, with the number of bus companies dropping from 3,000 in 2019 to somewhere in the ballpark of 1,500 to 1,600 today. Take DeCamp Bus Lines, a 150-year-old New York City commuter line that ferries people from Jersey into and out of Manhattan about 80 times a day. Daily ridership was 6,500 or more before the pandemic, but today is down to 1,300 or less on weekdays, and as a result it’s ending service next month. Buses have taken more of a hit than other public commuter transit: NJ Transit is operating at about 75 percent of 2019 ridership, while the New York subway is at 67 percent of 2019 levels.
Washington Island is a community of 700 people living on an island in Lake Michigan, and this municipality outsells every single other town in the world when it comes to per-capita consumption of Angostura bitters. Bitters are usually sprinkled into beverages by the drop, but Nelsen’s Hall sells them in 1.5-ounce shots, a tradition dating back to Prohibition and an innovative switch from an alcohol license to a pharmaceutical license during the dry decade. Legally a “stomach tonic for medicinal purposes” that did in fact contain 44.7 percent alcohol, the bar survived and to this day sells over 10,000 shots of bitters a year.
It’s been a huge time for auctions of items with dedicated fanbases — take that Black Lotus card going for a half million from earlier this week and that Detective Comics #27 going up soon — and Sotheby’s has announced that coming to the auction block in May will be a huge get for any collector in the extremely popular Bible fandom, with a 1,100-year-old Hebrew Bible called the Codex Sassoon going up for what’s expected to be $30 million to $50 million. Yes, this one-of-one production is in great condition — there’s no score from CGC but scholars insist it’s incredibly rare — and is believed to be from 880 to 960 A.D. It’s not exactly the Aleppo Codex or a 1999 First Edition Shadowless Holographic Charizard #4, but it is appealing because of its completeness, with its 792 pages accounting for 92 percent of the Hebrew Bible, while the Aleppo Codex is missing about a third of its pages.
It’s the last day of a very good sale. Support a thing you like and guarantee it can continue ad-free.
This week in the Sunday edition I spoke to Dave Infante, who is behind the excellent newsletter This week there was a truly surprising jury verdict in a blockbuster lawsuit between two brewing titans, one that unexpectedly determined that hard seltzer is, in fact, beer now.