Numlock News: November 1, 2019 • Da Vinci, New Jersey, Cystic Fibrosis
By Walt Hickey
The results of a successful drug trial published Thursday led to the announcement of a new cystic fibrosis therapy that could benefit 90 percent of patients with the disease, and the FDA is so persuaded by the results they’ve already approved the three-drug combo called Trikafta well ahead of the deadline. It’s a massive advance over previous drugs to treat cystic fibrosis and the product is the result of thirty years of incremental scientific work. Cystic fibrosis affects 30,000 people in the U.S., and patients born today live on average 44 years thanks to existing therapies. The largest trial of Trikafta found improvements in lung function, decreases in hospitalizations and an increase in quality of life. It will cost $311,000 per year — drugs for small patient populations are typically very pricey — but doctors are optimistic insurers will cover it.
A bronze sculpture that is kind of Da Vinci-adjacent was expected by its sellers to fetch up to $50 million at auction with a low estimated sale price of $30 million, but when it finally came time to bang the hammer the price fell to below $10 million and, with no buyer among the 15 people attending, the Guernsey’s auction house event took the statue off the block. The piece, “Horse and Rider,” is an 11-inch statue of a nobleman serenely atop a bucking horse, and was actually made in 2012 when it was cast from a mold of a beeswax model created 500 years ago. The original’s location is unknown and there’s considerable dispute that it’s even Da Vinci’s. Still, the item is absolutely linked to History, by which I mean the Vegas-based appraiser appears frequently on the History Channel program Pawn Stars.
Hope you had a nice Halloween, but the dam has broken and it’s now holiday movie season, and when Frozen II launches on Nov. 22 it’s now projected to earn over $100 million in its opening Thanksgiving weekend. The 2013 original also launched over Thanksgiving but proved to be more a box office slow burn than an instant classic, making $67.4 million in its first weekend but eventually grossing $1.3 billion worldwide. Expectations are higher, to say the least, and a triple digit opener would be a record for Walt Disney Animation.
The second-largest city in New Jersey is the site of a bareknuckle political fight between Airbnb, a service that lets people sublet their homes or apartments to short-term guests, and the area’s hospitality industry and residents who don’t want short-term off-book rentals in their neighborhood. In June the city passed an ordinance that allows owners with four or fewer units to rent out the places for just 60 days a year if the owner isn’t present, and prohibits short-term rentals in larger buildings. Airbnb then spent $216,000 to get 20,000 signatures to put it to the ballot box. This coming Tuesday, Jersey City will vote on Municipal Question #1, which has since become the most expensive local referendum in the history of New Jersey. Airbnb has spent $4.2 million on a political committee, while the hotel industry and its workers’ union spent $1 million. That is $33 per registered voter, with more to come.
Russian researchers tracking the migrations of eagles ran into problems when one of the 13 eagles they were tracking — a steppe eagle named Min — flew into Iran and racked up a hefty text messaging bill. The transponders use SMS to report back, and the price of a text from Kazahkstan, where the birds departed, is 15 roubles or $0.30, while the price of a text out of Iran is 49 roubles each. Texting four times per day from May to September, Min had an excellent and long adventure in Iran, and the researchers were out their entire budget. A crowdfunding campaign, and promises of future support from some Russian telecoms, have cleared it up and raised over $1,000.
World of Warcraft, perhaps the best-known MMORPG of its time, recently got a re-release by creator Blizzard. In the 13 years since the version’s original release, players have moved on. The number of active players peaked at 12 million in 2010, but fell to just over 2 million players at the end of last year, which is the lowest it’s ebbed since 2005. That fact — that the number of people who used to play World of Warcraft is an order of magnitude higher than the number who currently did — was one motivation behind World of Warcraft Classic, which taps into that rich vein of nostalgia and led to a 200 percent jump in subscriptions to the game in the month of August. Still, whether that bump can last depends mainly on what players decide to do once they max out at level 60, the same crossroads that may have led them to quit the first time.
The use of paper napkins is taking a steep, steep dive: twenty years ago 60 percent of American households regularly bought paper napkins, but according to Georgia-Pacific statistics that figure is now down to 41 percent. The trend is clearly generational: 61 percent of people over the age of 65 use paper napkins every day, compared to just 37 percent of 25- to 34-year-olds. If you work for one of the two conglomerates that dominate the space, this is stressful, if you’re anyone else this is a long-awaited generational shift in favor of sustainable practices. Naturally, the first group really wants to make the second group buy their napkins, and to do so they’re basically turning them into paper towels.
Paid subscribers guarantee this stays ad-free, and get a special Sunday edition. Last week I spoke to Bryan Caplan, the author of Open Borders: The Science and Ethics of Immigration with illustrator Zach Weinersmith. It’s a great chat, I unlocked it for today if you want to give it a read.
Thanks to the paid subscribers to Numlock News who make this all possible. Consider becoming a full subscriber today.
Thank you so much for subscribing! If you're enjoying the newsletter, forward it to someone you think may enjoy it too! Send links to me on Twitter at @WaltHickey or email me with numbers, tips, or feedback at firstname.lastname@example.org. Send corrections or typos to the copy desk at email@example.com.
The very best way to reach new readers is word of mouth. If you click THIS LINK in your inbox, it’ll create an easy-to-send pre-written email you can just fire off to some friends.
Previous 2019 Sunday special editions: Open Borders · WrestleMania · Game of Thrones · Concussion Snake Oil · Skyglow · Juul · Chris Ingraham · Invasive Species · The Rat Spill · The Sterling Affairs · Snakebites · Bees · Deep Fakes · Artificial Intelligence · Marijuana · Mussels ·