The Daily Parker

Politics, Weather, Photography, and the Dog

Waiting for the cold front

It's mid-July today, at least until around 8pm, when late April should return. The Tribune reported this morning that our spring has had nearly three times the rain as last spring, but actually hasn't gotten much wetter than normal.

Meanwhile:

Finally, via The Onion, Google Maps now shows you shortcuts through people's houses when they're not home.

Stuff I didn't have time to read today

I had to put out a new version of the Inner Drive Azure tools for my day job today, and I had more meetings than I wanted (i.e., a non-zero number), so these kind of piled up:

There were other things I'll read later, but it's past 6pm and someone is staring at me because she needs a walk.

What did we say about crypto?

Don't. Just don't. Tulips look like a better investment than cryptocurrency.

First, the Justice Department has launched a prosecution against an unnamed defendant for allegedly laundering $10 million in Bitcoin:

U.S. authorities filed charges in March after allegedly discovering that a sanctioned country had set up a PayPal-type payment platform system with the defendants’ help, according to Friday’s ruling. It said investigators were able to use sophisticated blockchain analysis tools to trace that person’s actions, since despite cryptocurrencies’ anonymizing features, all transactions to individual accounts are recorded in public ledgers that can be amassed into large data sets.

The $10 million in bitcoin payments originated from the United States and were transmitted for customers of the payment platform, according to a U.S. law enforcement affidavit cited by the ruling. The platform advertised its services as designed to evade American sanctions, and the defendant “proudly stated” it could do so using bitcoins while knowing the country was blacklisted, the ruling said.

The US Magistrate Judge overseeing the case reminded the defendant that despite the mythology surrounding them, cryptocurrencies are traceable and are considered cash for the purposes of international sanctions. They are, in other words, not the perfect vectors for bribing foreign dictators that their proponents promote.

Economist Paul Krugman makes (as you'd suspect) the economic argument against cryptocurrencies (sub.req.), if the legal and moral arguments didn't persuade you:

By now, we’ve all heard of them, but what exactly are cryptocurrencies? Many people — including, I fear, many people who have invested in them — probably still don’t fully understand them. Saying that they’re digital assets doesn’t really get at it. My bank account, which I mainly reach online, is also a digital asset, for all practical purposes.

In any case, as we look forward, the value of cryptocurrencies will have to rest on their underlying economic uses, which are …

Well, that’s just the thing. I’ve heard many discussions in which crypto supporters have been asked exactly what economic role crypto can play that isn’t more easily and cheaply achieved through other means — debit cards, Venmo, etc. Other than illegal transactions, in which crypto may sometimes offer anonymity, I have yet to hear a coherent answer.

As it is, cryptocurrencies play almost no role in economic transactions other than speculation in crypto markets themselves. And if your answer is “give it time,” you should bear in mind that Bitcoin has been around since 2009, which makes it ancient by tech standards; Apple introduced the iPad in 2010. If crypto was going to replace conventional money as a medium of exchange — a means of payment — surely we should have seen some signs of that happening by now. Just try paying for your groceries or other everyday goods using Bitcoin. It’s nearly impossible.

Those who question crypto’s purpose are constantly confronted with the argument that the sheer scale of the industry — at their peak, crypto assets were worth almost $3 trillion — and the amount of money true believers have made along the way proves the skeptics wrong. Can we, the public, really be that foolish and gullible?

Well, maybe the crypto skeptics are wrong. But on the question of folly and gullibility, the answer is yes, we can.

As Julia Ioffe pointed out yesterday in reference to ordinary Russians believing the Kremlin's propaganda, in a country where 30% of the population believe in "replacement theory," our folly and gullibility have no limit.

Vladimir Putin, angry child

Julia Ioffe, a Soviet refugee who knows more about Russia than just about any other American journalist, fills in the gaps on Russian dictator Vladimir Putin's childhood. In sum, he's an angry, insecure street kid from the 'hood:

The West’s obsession with Putin’s K.G.B. past often misses the biographical detail that for most Russians, especially those of his generation, is especially glaring: Putin is the street urchin, all grown up. The way he sits, slouching contemptuously; the way he only trusts childhood friends (and doesn’t fire them despite their incompetence); the way he punishes betrayal because he values loyalty above everything else. The way he enforces social hierarchy, like waiting until oligarch Oleg Deripaska was seated at the other end of a long table to ask for his pen back. The way he talks, using the slang of the dvor that, because of where so many of these street boys ended up, is also the argot of the vast Russian penal system.

[My Russian family] all see, for example, how much [Putin] is still bothered—despite his age, wealth, and absolute power—by the fact that he is short. Being so short and slight would have been a massive handicap in the dvor, and it bred bitterness, resentment, and insecurity in the boys unfortunate enough to be petite late bloomers. You can see it to this day: Putin has a designated photographer who knows which angle will transform the Russian president, making him look no smaller than his interlocutor.

The dvor taught Putin many things, lessons that shape his thinking and actions to this day: that might makes right, that existing hierarchies can only be changed through violence, that force is the only language that matters, that power is always a zero-sum game. There are no win-win outcomes in the dvor.

Putin is a little punk who now controls 3,000 nuclear weapons. So don't worry about whether he's rational; he is. But he rationally evaluates the world as a little kid on the streets of Leningrad in post-WWII rubble, where he learned people get farther with a kind word and a gun than you can with just with a kind word. Just like Al Capone.

Just one or two stories today

Sheesh:

And finally, when I left for San Francisco on Saturday morning, it was 10°C and sunny. Here we are about 76 hours later and it's 30°C. We really don't have spring or fall here some years.

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.)

Sure Happy It's Thursday vol. 2,694

Some odd stories, some scary stories:

  • Microsoft has released a report on Russia's ongoing cyber attacks against Ukraine.
  • Contra David Ignatius, military policy experts Dr Jack Watling and Nick Reynolds call Russia's invasion of Ukraine "the death throes of imperial delusion" and warn that Putin will likely escalate the conflict rather than face humiliation.
  • Russia historian Tom Nichols puts all of this together and worries about World War III—"not the rhetorical World War III loosely talked about now, but the real thing, including the deaths of hundreds of millions."
  • The Saudi Royal Family finally returned a Boeing 747-8 to the manufacturer after it had sat on the apron in Basel, Switzerland, for 10 years. The plane has 42 hours on it but may have to be scrapped.
  • In other B747 news, Boeing admitted to $1.1 billion in cost overruns for the four planes the Air Force ordered to carry the President. Boeing will eat the costs after making a deal with the XPOTUS for a fixed-price contract. The Air Force should receive the planes in 2026.
  • George Will thinks we should amend the Constitution to prohibit people who have served as US Senators from becoming President. He argues that too many senators use their office to run for president. But since World War II, all but one former senator who became president came from the Democratic Party (Biden, Obama, Nixon, LBJ, JFK, Truman), so I'm not sure it would pass the States even if it didn't also have to pass the Senate.

Finally, DuPage County officials have demolished a partially-completed mansion that sat vacant for 10 years, to the eternal sadness of its owner.

This happens in no other country

More children died from gunshot wounds in the US in 2020 than from any other cause, according to new statistics from the New England Journal of Medicine:

Guns became the leading cause of death among children and teens in 2020, killing more people ages 1 to 19 in the U.S. than vehicle crashes, drugs overdoses or cancer.

More than 4,300 died of firearm-related injuries that year — a 29 percent increase from 2019 — according to a research letter published Wednesday in the New England Journal of Medicine. The letter analyzed decades of mortality data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

study published in February found that gun ownership increased during the coronavirus pandemic. As a result, more than 5 million children under 18 became newly exposed to guns in their households from January 2019 to April 2021.

A 2021 study, meanwhile, also reported a rise in firearm acquisitions after the pandemic started; that was correlated with higher rates of fatal and nonfatal gun injuries both suffered by young children and inflicted by them. The authors suggested that school closings and a resulting lack of adult supervision may have played a role in the trend.

Over four thousand children got shot to death in one year. Compare this to the total number of gun deaths in the European Union (which has 30% more people than the US) in the same period (6,700) and think for a moment whether we need a more realistic approach to the Second Amendment.

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.

Russian Navy buys glass-bottom boat to inspect its fleet

Ukraine has sunk the Russian guided-missile cruiser Moskva:

Ukrainian officials said they had used Neptune anti-ship missiles to hit the Moskva, a 10,000-tonne Slava-class cruiser which was 60-65 nautical miles (111-120km) south of Odessa. The Moskva, commissioned in 1982, is—or, perhaps, was—the flagship of Russia’s Black Sea Fleet, which has its headquarters in occupied Crimea. It was a “venerable, battle hardened, major surface combatant” which participated in Russian wars in Georgia in 2008 and Syria in 2015, notes Alessio Patalano, a naval expert at King’s College London. “This is one of the most severe naval losses since the Falklands war” of 1982, he adds.

The strike is rich with symbolism. The ship was built in Mykolaiv, then a Soviet city but now a Ukrainian one which has repelled Russian ground assaults over the past month. It was also one of two warships that attacked Snake Island, west of Crimea, on February 24th, the first day of the war. When it ordered the tiny garrison there to surrender, the alleged reply—“Russian warship, go fuck yourself”—became an icon of national resistance, emblazoned on everything from T-shirts to postage stamps. The Moskva’s apparent loss was “a massively important military event”, said Oleksiy Arestovych, an adviser to Volodymyr Zelensky, Ukraine’s president, on social media. He cast it as the Russian navy’s biggest defeat since the second world war.

Yet again Russia has lost a strategic asset to hubris and incompetence. Yet again Ukraine has demonstrated why authoritarians lose to smaller powers every time.