The Weekender, July 14, 2023


I don’t have anything insightful to share this week, so I’m going to get to the Week in Review quickly. But I do have something not-so-insightful to share: my take on the Major League Baseball All-Star Game, and how to fix it. As many readers already know, I’m a huge baseball fan; what you don’t know is that I find the All-Star Game interminably boring, and given the steep slide of viewership of the event, I’m not alone. If you’re not a baseball fan, skip it — it’s not worth your time.

The stories I shared this week, though, are. So if you missed one, here’s another chance!

The Now I Know Week In Review

Monday“A Nude Horse is a Rude Horse”: Two people — Gabe G. and Steve S. — wrote in to share a similar story: the fake Gen Z conspiracy theory that birds aren’t real, but rather a government surviellance plot. It’s so much fun and I don’t think anyone actually believes it, but stranger things have happened. Here’s a New York Times story on the movement from 2021.

TuesdayThe Flight That Went Nuts: A lot of readers wrote in to ask my why macademia nut sales went up due to this story. I don’t really have a great answer for that, but I’ll offer two theories. The first is the more fun one: purchasing the nuts (which, as reader Judi S. notes, is actually seeds) was an act of protest against the protagonist’s behavior. My other theory is less fun but not necessarily less likely: before the events in question happened, sales of macademia nuts probably weren’t very robust, and the mere mention of macadamia nuts in the press gave the snack food enough additional visibility to impact sales.

Wednesday: The Easiest Way to Find a Missing Tourist: In sixth grade, my class took a multi-day trip from Connecticut to Montreal and Quebec City. It was a pilot program — we were the first class to go — so the school was still working out protocols for how to manage a busload of tweens on a six-hour bus ride. We stopped off at a rest stop somewhere midway for lunch, and to make sure that all the kids were on the bus before we left for points north. The school instituted a buddy system: each kid was responsible for their seatmate’s whereabouts.

Before the bus started to leave the rest stop, the chaperone asked everyone if their buddy was back on the bus, and no one spoke up. As the bus was pulling away, we saw one of the girls outside the rest stop, running toward the bus. Her seatmate raised her hand to say she wasn’t back yet, but the chaperone didn’t notice, and we almost left the girl in the middle of Vermont. 

When I first learned the story of this missing tourist, that story came back to me. I’m glad both stories turned out OK.

ThursdayIf Gilligan’s Island Were Real: The bonus fact, as I noted in the pre-message on this email, is something I’ve wanted to use for a while. And I’m glad I did, because reader Dave B. shared a fun fact that makes it even better: according to the Unofficial Gilligan’s Island Handbook, Dawn Wells (Mary Ann) and Russell Johnson (the Professor) used to send each other birthday cards every year, and would sign the cards as “The Rest.” 

And some other things you should check out:

Some long reads for the weekend:

1) “The Hidden Cost of Gasoline” (Grist, 24 minutes, June 2023). I never really considered this. Here’s a pull-quote that sums up the issue:

Almost every gas station eventually pollutes the earth beneath it, experts told Grist. The main culprit: the underground storage tanks that hold tens of thousands of gallons of fuel, one of the most common sources of groundwater pollution. Typically, two or three of these giant, submarine-shaped tanks are buried under a station to store the gasoline and diesel that gets piped to the pump. A large tank might be 55 feet long and hold as many as 30,000 gallons; a typical tank might hold 10,000 gallons. Leaks can occur at any point — in the storage tank itself, in the gas pumps, and in the pipes that connect them. Hazardous chemicals can then spread rapidly through the soil, seeping into groundwater, lakes, or rivers. Even a dribble can pollute a wide area. Ten gallons of gasoline can contaminate 12 million gallons of groundwater — a significant risk, given that groundwater is the source of drinking water for nearly half of all Americans.

As a result, time-consuming cleanup efforts are unfolding all across the country, with remediation for a single gas station sometimes topping $1 million. Leaks are such a huge liability that they’ve led to a high-stakes game of hot potato, where no one wants to pay for the mess — not the gas station owners, not the insurance companies that provide coverage for tanks, not the oil companies that supply the fuel. In some states, polluters have shifted tens of millions of dollars in remediation costs onto taxpayers. Roughly 60,000 contaminated sites are still waiting to be cleaned up, according to the Environmental Protection Agency, or EPA — and those are just the ones that have been found. Washington state has about 2,500 in line, one of the biggest backlogs in the country.

2) “How Germany is kicking its meat habit” (Vox, 9 minutes, June 2022). From the article: “In 2011, Germans ate 138 pounds of meat each year. Today, it’s 121 pounds — a 12.3 percent decline. And much of that decline took place in the last few years, a time period when grocery sales of plant-based food nearly doubled. The trend runs counter to virtually everywhere else on the planet, where meat consumption is quickly rising — from citizens of low-income countries adding more meat to their diet as incomes increase, to rich countries where meat consumption has more or less plateaued at a high level or continues to slowly increase. (Sweden, like Germany, is a notable exception.”

3) “Mini Crock-Pots and meal prep: How flight attendants eat on a plane” (Washington Post, 7 minutes, July 2023). I guess they can’t survive on pretzels, little bottles of liquor, tomato juice, and macadamia nuts?

Have a great weekend!