Numlock News: July 1, 2020 • Latvia, Oscars, Mr. Potato Head

By Walt Hickey

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Mr. Potato Head

Canadian Tire, a department store, saw five stores unable to function for approximately an hour and a half as a programming glitch caused literally every item in the store to, when scanned by a cashier, come up as a Mr. Potato Head toy. The catastrophe struck about 7 a.m. on Monday and thanks to the tireless work of first responders in the Canadian Tire IT department was fixed shortly later that morning. Executives have ruled out foul play because there were functionally no consequences for this financially whatsoever, and considered it a glitch. Happy Canada Day.

Sarah Sobanski, My Kawartha

Generics

The U.S. Supreme Court ruled in favor of Booking.com, which sought to trademark the name “Booking.com” but was rebuffed by the US Patent and Trademark Office initially because they argued generic names were not eligible for trademarks and adding “.com” to a verb was not good enough. The 8-1 decision, authored by Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, found that sure, whatever, just throw a dot com on that verb and it’s a new thing, have fun. The case saw Booking.com get support in the form of an amicus curiae from the likes of Backgroundchecks.com, Cars.com, Dictionary.com, Homes.com, Entertainment.com, Jerky.com, Newspapers.com, Cruises.com, Rentals.com, Wine.com and Offers.com, a rag-tag team of diverse businesses who share nothing but deeply uncreative naming and enormous domain name acquisition costs. This coalition of the shilling was triumphant, and it’s great news, especially because I named my company after a freaking vestigial keyboard key available everywhere, so this has got to be a win for me too.

Jamie Ehrlich, CNN Politics

Academy

The Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences, the organization behind the Oscars, has extended invitations to 819 people to join their ranks, which would bring its total membership to 9,412. Of the new invitees, 45 percent are women and 36 percent are from underrepresented ethnic or racial communities. This year the Academy will have achieved several ambitious goals it set in 2015, doubling the number of women in the organization from 1,446 in 2015 to 3,179 and tripling the number of members from underrepresented communities from 554 to 1,787 now should all these invitees join. Based on my own calculations, this would also mean that more than half of the Academy voters were admitted in 2012 or later.

Marc Malkin, Variety

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Storage

This year lawmakers in Norway will decide whether to put up 80 percent of the funds for a $2.6 billion project that would put the Nordic nation at the bleeding edge of carbon capture infrastructure. The project would capture emissions from a cement factory and a power plant, load that carbon dioxide into a ship, and bury the compressed gas under the seabed, thus sequestering it and diverting it from the atmosphere. The cost of the carbon dioxide captured by the project would be about $140 per metric ton, currently five times the current price for carbon emissions, but here’s the appeal: if Norway pulls it off, they stand to be the go-to country for this kind of sequestration, making the Norwegian shelf the best place to store sequestered carbon in the world and opening up a new industry for the country. It’s also cheaper than their subsidies for electric cars, which break down to closer to $1,350 per ton of carbon dioxide avoided.

Akshat Rathi, Bloomberg

Laundering

Latvia has long been a hotbed of money laundering, with an estimated €400 million ($450 million) being smuggled into the country annually. Separate from the wire transfers from wealthy people in former Soviet Union nations trying to get dough into the EU that make up the bulk of the money laundering, the classic briefcase full of cash has fallen to the wayside because money is filthy, and also you seriously want to get on a plane right now? The country’s financial intelligence unit has said that the cash it was accustomed to has since dried up. This may also be the result of increased vigilance from Latvian authorities, as they’ve frozen €282 million in suspicious funds this year, the better part of the €346 million they froze last year even though we’re just halfway into 2020.

Aaron Eglitis, Bloomberg

Audits

Speaking of dodgy finances, the IRS is getting worse at investigating tax cheats. Due to funding cuts — funding for enforcement is down 24 percent since 2010 — the number of audits the IRS can conduct is at historic lows, and that’s causing problems when it comes to recovering taxes owed. Since 2010, enforcement staff has been cut by 36 percent, and that’s costing a fortune: in 2010, the IRS collected $28 billion from audits, but in 2019 it collected 61 percent less than that, $11 billion. In 2011, fully 12.5 percent of those making more than $1 million were audited, a figure that is now down to 2.4 percent.

Paul Kiel, ProPublica

Above the Law

Reuters reviewed 1,509 cases from 2008 to 2019 where judges resigned, retired or were disciplined after misconduct accusations and an additional 3,613 cases where states disciplined judges but hid the details of their misconduct from the public, and found 9 of every 10 judges returned to the bench. Turns out the judicial system, an oubliette of despair for anyone with the misfortune of getting anywhere near it, is pretty lenient and forgiving when you wear a black robe. There are about 1,700 federal judges hearing 400,000 cases per year and 30,000 state, county and municipal judges hearing about 100 million new cases per year, so over 5,000 incidents meriting discipline is pretty significant for such a slim number. The analysis estimated at least 5,206 people were directly affected by misconduct from a judge in the form of being illegally jailed, subjected to abusive comments, or otherwise impacted.

Michael Berens and John Shiffman, Reuters

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