The Weekender, May 18, 2018

1) “All hail the mighty balloon lobby ” (The Outside, 9 minutes, April 2018).

In New Jersey, the top lobbying spenders are from the following industries: energy, healthcare, insurance, and… balloons.

Last year, the Balloon Council — the trade group behind Bill Clinton’s one true source of joy — funneled $344,099 into state lobbying efforts, trailing major interest groups like the New Jersey Food Council ($1,151,556), the New Jersey Hospital Association ($818,332), and Prudential Financial Inc. ($778,353). Nationally, it has spent more than $1 million in the last five years.

The Balloon Council’s primary target? Anti-balloon environmental laws that it worries will cripple the industry, such as the one brought before the New Jersey House and Senate this month, which would prohibit the “intentional release of balloons inflated with lighter-than-air gases.”

The group, which was founded in 1990, has discovered a way to outmaneuver even federal agencies like the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, which say balloons pose a threat to the environment. Today, in large part because of its efforts, only five states have environmental balloon restrictions on the books.

Welcome to one of America’s most expensive B-list political fights.

2) Win a World Traveler Starter Pack! I’ve partnered with about a half-dozen other newsletters to put together a really neat prize package — valued at about $2,000 — seen below. It’s free to enter; just click here. And good luck!

3) “The First Family of pinball: Meet the local wizards behind the game’s huge resurgence” (Chicago Reader, 24 minutes, May 2018). Personally, I love pinball. The machines are super-expensive and not so easy to maintain, or I’d own one or two. (Feel free to ship me one if you have an extra one, just not to the PO box at the bottom of the email, because that PO box is way, way too small for a pinball machine.) For a while, it looked like it was a dying game, as this piece explains, but thankfully, it’s making a comeback.

4) The Now I Know Week in Review:

Monday: The Beer That Had to Unprotect Itself — Why Newcastle’s favorite beer isn’t made in Newcastle, but can still use the city’s name.

TuesdayThe Problem with Chinese GPS — it’s broken, intentionally.

Wednesday: The Solution to an Unanswerable Question — It’s not quite the “tree falling in a forest” question, but it’s close.

Thursday: Dennis the Coincidence — Dennis (US) and Dennis (UK) share a lot of things, but that wasn’t the plan. There was no plan. It just happened.



5)  “This Tiny Country Feeds the World” (Nat Geo, 22 minutes, September 2017).

The Netherlands is a small, densely populated country, with more than 1,300 inhabitants per square mile. It’s bereft of almost every resource long thought to be necessary for large-scale agriculture. Yet it’s the globe’s number two exporter of food as measured by value, second only to the United States, which has 270 times its landmass. How on Earth have the Dutch done it?

6) “The Long Way Round: The Plane that Accidentally Circumnavigated the World” (Medium, 10 minutes, May 2018). The subhead: “After the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbour, the crew of Pan Am flight 18602 were forced to do something almost impossible: return to America the long way round.”

Have a great weekend!