Numlock News: September 14, 2022 • Sargasso, Myopic, Dry Cleaning
By Walt Hickey
Check out a new story I wrote at Insider about the age of the United States government as part of an exciting new series of stories.
The ongoing investigation into a scheme to divert Mississippi welfare funds into private hands has revealed new text messages that connect former NFL player Brett Favre to the scandal. The texts show that the then-governor and others worked to divert at least $5 million of welfare funds to build a volleyball stadium at a university where Favre’s daughter played. Favre has long denied close involvement in the scandal, where $77 million in funds for the poorest in the state was misspent. Favre also received $1.1 million to promote the contract, also from the welfare program. Potentially exacerbating things for the ex-Packer are texts that have been revealed that read, “If you were to pay me is there anyway the media can find out where it came from and how much?” which definitely is a normal thing for someone to text to a person who has since pleaded guilty to 13 felony counts.
Eels remain a mystery, despite the best efforts of science to figure out their deal. Their life cycles have long been mysterious, the kind of animal where ancient people just thought they emerged from the sand in the river. Even today, we only understand the broad technicalities of how they reproduce, leaving the rivers where they spend most of their lives for the Sargasso Sea in the middle of the North Atlantic presumably to spawn. Presumably being the operative word, because we’ve been trying to catch this wriggly sucker dead to rights for years and have yet been able to catch them actually spawning. In the middle of the 2010s researchers sewed trackers onto 38 American eels and released them off of Nova Scotia, but they detached before any of the eels made it within 100 kilometers of the spawning region. That in itself was a victory because it was the first time an adult American eel was documented in the Sargasso. Today, the search yet continues.
The Instant Pot may be over: After initially beginning to get popular in 2016, by 2018 they started really becoming a hot commodity that would peak in January of 2020. Now, though, the Instant Pot — basically just a pressure cooker that did ok on the SAT — has seen interest decline, with June 2021 search interest at a post-2018 nadir and this past holiday season seeing far lower demand. Its crown was stolen by the air fryer, which is a convection oven that you can plug in or just stow away for months of disuse. About 25 million air fryers were sold in 2020 and 2021. Part of the Instant Pot’s decline is in its success: In 2020, 36 percent of households had one.
The rate of nearsightedness is up all over the world. In East and Southeast Asia, over 80 percent of people have myopia, up from a quarter of the population 50 years ago. In the United States, the stats are a little more dated; as of the early 2000s 42 percent of 12- to 54-year-olds are nearsighted, up from 25 percent in the 1970s, and based on reports from optometrists the rate is up substantially even if widespread statistics are lacking. Finally, a trend where I can truly claim to be an early adopter.
As usage of suits and dressy clothing crashed during the pandemic, and returns to office provided mixed results in terms of a recovery, the businesses that depend on a bedrock of nice clothes usage have suffered. The number of businesses that offer dry cleaning and laundry services of the not-coin-operated variety have had a rough couple of years in particular. In the last quarter of 2019, there were 18,756 such businesses operating in the United States, a figure that today is down to 16,497 dry cleaners. That’s an annualized decline of about 6 percent in an industry where establishments were already declining by around 2 percent per year since 2001.
The FDA’s relaxation of rules means that come October hearing aids can be sold over the counter, a move made in the hope that people who have mild hearing loss will be able to obtain hardware at a reasonable price. It’s already having the intended effect, as Sony and WS Audiology have announced plans to move into the American hearing aid market. An estimated 1.5 billion people worldwide have hearing impairment, and the global hearing aid market was $8.24 billion last year, which is projected to grow 40 percent to $11.4 billion by 2027. Last year, WS Audiology had $2.07 billion in revenue, making them a massive player in the space already.
As of 2020, 64 percent of Americans are Christians and 30 percent of Americans are religiously unaffiliated. Over the coming years, that balance is invariably going to change, and depending on the assumptions in the forecast there are going to be potentially massive shifts in what America believes or doesn’t. Based on demographic data, even if not a single person in America changes religion between now and 2070, then just 54 percent of the country will be Christian and 34 percent will be unaffiliated. If in the event that religious switching continues at the current pace, the percentage who are Christians will be 46 percent in 2070 and the percent unaffiliated will be 41, with 13 percent in other religions. However, if things accelerate the way they are now, more Americans will be religiously unaffiliated in 2070 than will be Christian.
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