The Daily Parker

Politics, Weather, Photography, and the Dog

The ambassador's a dodger, yes, and I'm a dodger too

A little-known United Nations agency would like its $22 million back, please:

At the United Nations, two officials had a problem. The little-known agency they ran found itself with an extra $61 million, and they didn’t know what to do with it.

Then they met a man at a party.

Now, they have $25 million less.

In between was a baffling series of financial decisions, in which experienced diplomats entrusted tens of millions of dollars, the agency’s entire investment portfolio at the time, to a British businessman after meeting him at the party. They also gave his daughter $3 million to produce a pop song, a video game and a website promoting awareness of environmental threats to the world’s oceans.

Things did not go well.

Transparency and accountability: it's not just a good idea, it's the law.

(The headline comes from this traditional Anglo-American song. Grift goes back to the beginning of speech, it turns out.)

Earth Day

Today we celebrate the big rock that gives us days in the first place. One out of 364 is pretty good, I guess. And there are some good stories on my open browser tabs:

Finally, the Defense Department will open a Defense Innovation Unit just down the street from my current office in June. I knew about these plans a couple of years ago when I worked on an unclassified project for the US Military Enrollment Processing Command and was looking forward to it. I'm glad it's finally gotten to Chicago.

Florida wedding goes to pot

Authorities in Florida have charged a bride and her caterer with food tampering and the delivery of marijuana, both felonies, after they laced olive oil at the wedding reception with THC:

Investigators estimated about 50 people attended the wedding reception. None of the guests interviewed said they knew there would be marijuana in the food.

Now, Danya Svoboda and the wedding caterer, Joycelyn Bryant, have been charged with food tampering and the delivery of marijuana, both felonies, as well as negligence, a misdemeanor.

All of the accounts in court documents detailing the Svobodas’ wedding reception came from adults who had various levels of experience with the drug. In Florida, medical marijuana is legal, but recreational use remains prohibited.

[One guest] told deputies she remembered seeing Bryant, the caterer, putting food out. She recalled seeing Bryant pull out a “green substance” from a bowl and place it into small dishes that were then filled with olive oil, the affidavit states. With the mixture of pepper, it didn’t taste like marijuana, she said, and the green substance in the dishes may well have been “Italian herbs,” she told deputies.

Wow. Do not drug your wedding guests, no matter how much they deserve it.

Head (and kittens) exploding!

Leading off today's afternoon roundup, The Oatmeal (Matthew Inman) announced today that Netflix has a series in production based on his game Exploding Kittens. The premise: God and Satan come to Earth—in the bodies of cats. And freakin' Tom Ellis is one of the voices, because he's already played one of those parts.

Meanwhile, in reality:

  • A consumers group filed suit against Green Thumb Industries and three other Illinois-based cannabis companies under the Clayton Act, alleging collusion that has driven retail pot prices above $8,800 per kilo. For comparison, the group alleges that retail prices in California are just $660 per kilo. (Disclosure: The Daily Parker is a GTI shareholder.)
  • Illinois Governor JB Pritzker (D), one of the indirect defendants in the pot suit, signed a $46 billion budget for the state that includes $1.8 billion in temporary tax relief. Apparently, I'll get a $50 check from the State that I can apply to the $600 increase in property taxes Cook County imposed this year, which is nice, but I think the state could have aimed a bit lower on the income cap for that rebate and given more help to other people.
  • Shortly after US District Court Judge Kathryn Kimball Mizelle (a 35-year-old who never tried a case and who graduated summa cum mediocrae laude from the legal powerhouse University of Florida just 8 years ago and earned a rare "not qualified" rating from the ABA upon her appointment in 2020 by the STBXPOTUS) ruled against the CDC in a case brought by an anti-masker, the DOT dropped mask mandates for public transport and air travel in the US. In related news, the Judge also said it's OK to piss in other people's swimming pools and up to the other swimmers not to drink the water.
  • While the Chicago Piping Plovers organization waits for Monty and Rose to return to Montrose Beach, another one of the endangered birds has landed at Rainbow Beach on the South Side. He appears more inclined to rent than buy, but local ornithologists report the bird has a new profile on the Plōvr dating site.
  • NBC breaks down the three biggest factors driving inflation right now, and yes, one of them is president of Russia. None, however, is president of the US.
  • Along those lines, (sane) Republican writer Sarah Longwell, who publishes The Bulwark, found that 68% of Republicans believe the Big Lie that the XPOTUS won the 2020 election, but "the belief that the election was stolen is not a fully formed thought. It’s more of an attitude, or a tribal pose." Makes me proud to be an American!

And finally, via Bruce Schneier, two interesting bits. First, a new paper explains how a bad actor can introduce a backdoor into a machine learning training session to force specific outcomes (explained in plain English by Cory Doctorow). Second, an attacker used a "flash loan" to take over the Beanstalk crypto currency voting system and stole $182 million from it. Because Crypto Is The Future™.

Readings over lunch

I mean...

  • Josh Marshall takes another look at the astonishing bribe Saudi Arabia's de facto ruler paid to Jared Kushner and concludes it's not just a one-off favor; it's an ongoing relationship.
  • Joan Williams argues that Democrats need to look at the class and economic aspects of the Right's economic populism, and maybe perhaps argue (correctly) that blaming people of color just takes the spotlight off the super-rich who are stealing from the middle?
  • US Senator Elizabeth Warren (D-MA) makes essentially the same argument, with a reminder that the mid-term election is only 202 days away.
  • A homeless-rights organization in Chicago argues that increasing the transfer tax on property sales over $1 million could fund real homelessness relief for real people.

Finally, a quirk in US copyright law has created a bonanza for litigators, along with the original creators of such diverse works as The Thing and Hoosiers.

It's 5pm somewhere

Actually, it's 5pm here. And I have a few stories queued up:

Finally, author John Scalzi puts Rogue One in third place on his ranked list of Star Wars films, with some good reasons.

Spring, at least in some places

Canada has put the Prairie Provinces on a winter storm warning as "the worst blizzard in decades" descends upon Saskatchewan and Manitoba:

A winter storm watch is in effect for southern Manitoba and southeastern Saskatchewan, with snowfall accumulations of 30 to 50 centimetres expected mid-week, along with northerly wind gusts of up to 90 kilometres per hour, said Environment Canada on Monday.

“Do not plan to travel — this storm has the potential to be the worst blizzard in decades,” the agency warns.

The storm is expected to start Tuesday night, as a Colorado low pressure system moving toward Minnesota will bring a “heavy swath of snow” from southeastern Saskatchewan through most of southern Manitoba.

Snow will start to fall early in the evening near the U.S. border and move north overnight. Blowing snow and high winds will cause zero visibility and whiteout conditions, making driving treacherous.

Meanwhile, elsewhere:

And finally, prosecutors in Texas have declined to pursue charges against a 26-year-old woman arrested last week for infanticide after self-inducing an abortion. Welcome to the new 19th Century, at least in the religious South.

Web3 is coming for your kitchen

Via Molly White, a new company called Gripnr wants to monetize your D&D campaign, and it's as horrible as it sounds:

Gripnr plans to generate 10,000 random D&D player characters (PCs), assign a “rarity” to certain aspects of each (such as ancestry and class), and mint them as non-fungible tokens, or NFTs. Each NFT will include character stats and a randomly-generated portrait of the PC designed in a process overseen by Gripnr’s lead artist Justin Kamerer. Additional NFTs will be minted to represent weapons and equipment.

Next, Gripnr will build a system for recording game progress on the Polygon blockchain. Players will log into the system and will play an adventure under the supervision of a Gripnr-certified Game Master. After each game session is over, the outcome will be logged on-chain, putting data back onto each NFT via a new contract protocol that allows a single NFT to become a long record of the character’s progression. Gripnr will distribute the cryptocurrency OPAL to GMs and players as in-game capital. Any loot, weapons, or items garnered in-game will be minted as new sellable NFTs on OpenSea, a popular NFT-marketplace.

As a D&D veteran who once played a character (for 5 minutes) with Gary Gygax* as DM, I can't see how any gamer would want to do this. Molly White has spent the last two years documenting the ways scammers and grifters have used "the blockchain" and "NFTs" and other Web3 buzzwords to steal (or, as I believe, launder) billions of dollars. Gripnr seems like just one more scam, but I could be wrong: Gripnr could just be a lazy get-rich-quick scheme for its creators.

Fake design firm in London "jobfished" its entire staff

A truly bizarre story from the BBC:

Madbird hired more than 50 others. Most worked in sales, some in design and some were brought in to supervise. Every new joiner was instructed to work from home - messaging over email and speaking to each other on Zoom.

Days were often long. Jordan Carter from Suffolk, who was 26 at the time, was credited with being one of the hardest working members of Chris's sales team. In five months, he pitched Madbird to 10,000 possible business clients, hoping to win deals to redesign websites or build apps. By January 2021, his work ethic had earned him the title Employee of the Month.

Gemma Brett, a 27-year-old designer from west London, had only been working at Madbird for two weeks when she spotted something strange. Curious about what her commute would be like when the pandemic was over, she searched for the company's office address. The result looked nothing like the videos on Madbird's website of a sleek workspace buzzing with creative-types. Instead, Google Street View showed an upmarket block of flats in London's Kensington.

Gemma contacted an estate agent with a listing at the same address who confirmed her suspicion - the building was purely residential. We later corroborated this by speaking to someone who'd worked in the building for years. They had never seen Ali Ayad. The block of flats was not the global headquarters of a design firm called Madbird.

Using online reverse image searches they dug deeper. They found that almost all the work Madbird claimed as its own had been stolen from elsewhere on the internet - and that some of the colleagues they'd been messaging online didn't exist.

The person claiming to be Ayad exists, and the Beeb interviewed him briefly. But they couldn't explain why he had created a fake company in the first place.

Busy couple of days

I've had a lot to do at work the last couple of days, leading to an absolute pile-up of unread press:

Finally, on this day in 1940, Woody Guthrie released "This Land is Your Land," a song even more misunderstood than Bruce Springsteen's "Born in the USA."