6 Random Nobodies (Who Secretly Run The World)
The only ways to become a person of considerable influence in this world seem to be A) being born very rich, B) being almost supernaturally talented and/or attractive, or C) being related to one of the above. Every once in a while, however, a completely average schmuck ends up wielding more power than the rest of us will know in our lifetimes -- be it through loopholes, crazy perseverance, or just sheer, stupid luck. For instance ...
A Single Home Depot Employee Basically Controls Venezuela's Economy
Venezuela has the economic system of a Monopoly game being played by 5-year-olds who don't know how to read and are just guessing what the numbers are. Despite having the world's largest oil reserves, Venezuela's government insists on meddling in the price and supply of pretty much everything, leading to shortages of essential items like food, toilet paper, and breast implants. One of the strictest economic controls is their bizarre system of exchange rates, which assigns as many as four different rates based on the use in question and the government's hopes and dreams, rather than any rational system of order.
TP is still the most valuable type of paper there, though.
So, in order to actually do business with foreign companies, Venezuelans rely on "black market" exchange rates: illicit websites that post more realistic rates, in addition to unflattering news articles about the Venezuelan government. The most prominent site is DolarToday.com, which the Venezuelan government has declared Public Enemy No. 1 due to its habit of revealing how worthless Venezuelan currency is, ultimately making it even more so. And Cracked has in its possession a rare photograph of the shadowy economic puppetmaster behind it all:
"Looking for anything in particular today? Tools? Bolts? Crushing socialism?"
The model-train-enthusiast-looking gentleman above is Gustavo Diaz, a Venezuelan expatriate who works in the hardware section of a Home Depot in Alabama. When he's not advising customers on what type of nails are best to hang their tasteful nude self-portraits, he updates DolarToday by scanning social media for pricing information and transactions to determine a more accurate exchange rate.
Diaz is actually a former revolutionary who helped lead an unsuccessful coup to overthrow Hugo Chavez. After leaving Venezuela, Diaz defected to America and took up residence in Alabama, where he has since waged an economic war that, in his words, "[Does] more damage to the government than I did as a military man."
The next time you're a jerk to someone working retail, keep in mind that maybe they used to look like the bad guy from a Die Hard movie.
Diaz isn't just talking a big game, either. Venezuelan president Nicolas Maduro has tried to have him extradited and unsuccessfully filed suits against him in the U.S. When the legal system failed, Venezuela took to hacking Diaz's site, leading him to increase his cybersecurity (installing Norton, probably). Viva la revolucion, you orange-apron-wearing titan of industry.
An Ex-Ventriloquist Has Made Millions Selling Real Estate On The Moon
Dennis Hope was flat broke in 1980 when he looked out the window at the moon and wondered who owned that. While most of us would have stopped there and switched to wondering what the hell was in those brownies our friend gave us, Hope decided to actually look into the matter (which is double impressive, considering this was before Google). His research led him to the 1967 U.N. treaty on outer space, which stated that no government could claim ownership or sovereignty over any celestial body ... but said nothing about private citizens. You see where this is going.
Right about there.
His discovery of this "loophole" prompted Hope to send a letter to the U.N. declaring his ownership of the moons and planets in the solar system (while he was at it), inviting them to dispute his claim if they had any issues with it. When the U.N. failed to reply, Hope -- whose previous gig was ventriloquism -- set about selling off surprisingly lucrative parcels of lunar, Martian, and other celestial real estate.
As of 2013, Hope claimed to have sold off over 600 million acres of lunar land, 325 million acres of Martian land, and 125 million acres of other bodies -- including land on Venus, where the surface temperature is 900 degrees Fahrenheit, the rain is sulfuric acid, and your next-door neighbor is a constantly erupting volcano. The cost of a parcel of moon land starts at $25 for one acre, but savings can be had for those willing to purchase more, with a country-sized plot selling for $250,000 and a continent-sized 5.3-million-acre lot (about the size of New Jersey) going for a cool $13.3 million. If you're not a fan of neighbors, you can buy all of Pluto for $250,000.
If you have the cash, you can buy enough spots to write "EAT A DICK, CHAD" over the moon.
The land is, of course, worthless, and Hope claims that most people buy a parcel as a novelty. That hasn't stopped him from trying to legitimize his claims by establishing a lunar constitution and issuing currency backed by the moon's massive helium reserves (which will plummet in value the second the moon becomes readily accessible). Still, should you ever find yourself short on cash, NASA is discovering new planets every day. You know what to do.
One Pastor From Massachusetts Is Responsible For Uganda's Anti-Gay Laws
When it comes to LGBT issues, Uganda is not what one would call "enlightened." Or "progressive." Even "draconian" would be an understatement. In 2013, the country passed a law that broadened the definition of homosexual activities (now including women!) and increased the maximum punishment from seven years in prison to the fucking death penalty, though this was later reduced to "just" life in prison. Although it seems like Uganda has a major boner for making sure that gay people don't, up until the late 2000s, it was more of a "don't ask, don't tell" policy. Their old anti-gay colonial laws were still on the books, but nobody was really arrested or prosecuted under them. All of that changed thanks to this one jolly dude from Massachusetts who just really, really dislikes homosexuality:
He looks like the substitute teacher you got when the regular substitute teacher had diarrhea.
In 2009, Massachusite pastor Scott Lively gave a series of talks to Ugandan parliament. Lively is the founder of the now defunct Watchmen on the Walls, a self-described "international Christian movement that ... aims to protect Christian morals and values in society." As is often the case, the "Christian morals and values" in question were less about feeding the poor and loving thy neighbor, and more about being weirdly preoccupied with who is fucking who.
Lively got his no-homo ass to Uganda and gave lengthy lectures to the government about the dangers of homosexuality and how if two dudes even get boners in the same ZIP code, God will destroy the Earth with the fury of a thousand suns. He also was careful to make it clear that all gay people are sexual predators who will kidnap and molest their children, making them gay in turn, leading to a gay zombie apocalypse, or a homozombocalypse, if you will.
As utterly absurd as this sounds, it was soul-crushingly effective. Uganda passed their awful anti-gay law, which not only criminalized more behavior and increased the penalties, but also included a clause that actually requires people in positions of authority to report known gay activities.
There is a small silver lining here. U.S. laws allow foreign citizens to sue Americans in U.S. court, so an LGBT group called Sexual Minorities Uganda filed a lawsuit against Lively for crimes against humanity due to his role in the Ugandan legislation. The case is still pending, but you can donate or track the case at the Center for Constitutional Rights.
A Random British Dude Crashed The Stock Market From His Parents' House
One day in 2010, the Dow Jones dropped over 600 points for no apparent reason. Despite recovering within a few minutes, traders and the SEC were understandably nervous about $1 trillion disappearing and reappearing in the span of a Parks And Rec episode. Numerous theories were put forward, but when the dust finally settled, the blame for this brief economic disaster came to rest squarely at the feet of ... a 32-year-old dude sitting in front of his computer at his parents' house in London.
The Wolf of Suburbia.
Navinder Singh Sarao ran a small trading operation out of his childhood bedroom by buying and selling futures contracts on a Chicago exchange. He didn't know how to drive, but he did know how to make $40 million by generating orders to buy large numbers of contracts and then immediately canceling them. Other traders (who are mostly computers) would simply see that somebody wanted to buy a large number of contracts, making them go "I gotta get me some of that!" and driving up the price. Sarao's algorithm would then turn around and sell his contracts at a higher price, turning a tidy profit. This kind of manipulation is super illegal, but since computerized traders submit and cancel thousands of orders per second in the normal course of business, it can be hard to catch. Until, of course, it isn't.
"Man, good thing no one's awake yet at 3 p.m."
On that fateful day in 2010, Sarao tried to spoof some contracts that were already pretty volatile and wound up initiating a positive feedback loop that briefly crashed the entire market. He was ultimately charged and extradited to the U.S. for wire fraud and faces up to 30 years in prison. The SEC put new legislation in place as a result, and no more of these potentially economy-ruining flash crashes have occurred since.
Haha, just kidding, there have been three in the last four years.
Every few days, somebody on your Facebook feed will post "It's National Artisanal Chestnut Day!" making you wonder if there's a food for every damn day of the year. The answer is yes, yes there is. The main repository for this invaluable knowledge is Foodimentary, a blog run by a food critic from Alabama named John-Bryan Hopkins. The reason he has all this knowledge? He invented most of them.
Our favorite: National Fuck It, I've Given Up On Life Day.
When Hopkins launched his blog in 2006, he began cataloging the existing food holidays, such as National Doughnut Day, which dates back to World War II. Discovering that there were about 175 national food days, Hopkins decided to fill in the rest and replace the ones he didn't like. Today, he maintains the complete list on Foodimentary and is surprisingly attached to his food day creations, referring to them as his "little children."
Unfortunately, he's way into cannibalism.
But he's not the only one who likes them. When Hopkins declared June 22 to be National Onion Ring Day, the National Onion Association, which is a real thing, excitedly jumped on board with the free advertising and encouraged people to stuff their faces full of onion rings. But hey, if Hopkins is just doing this out of love of food and holidays and we have an excuse to stuff our faces full of tater tots on February 2, then who are we to complain?
There Are Seven People With The Power To Kill The Web
If you had to pick a doomsday device that would cause maximum chaos without actually destroying anything, it would probably be something that could kill the internet. Virtually every business, industry, person, and some dogs rely on the internet for something important. The ability to shut the whole thing down is, therefore, too much power to be entrusted to any one person. Seven seems like a nice, round, supervillain-y number.
There's even a slightly Hydra-esque logo.
Now, to be clear, these seven "keyholders" don't control the actual internet, i.e., the series of cables and wires connecting computers all over the world. Instead, they work for the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers (ICANN), a nonprofit that is the governing body for the Domain Name System. When you type, say, "penisland.com" (for retailer Pen Island) into your address bar, your computer has no idea what the hell those words mean. It needs the IP address to know what server to send data to, so it takes the incomprehensible human gibberish you fed it and checks it against a DNS registry, which acts like the internet's phone book and gives your computer the IP. There are numerous DNS registries all over the world, but they all get their information from ICANN, which maintains the master list of IPs and domain names. If ICANN shut down, then DNS registries would have nothing to check their data against, and typing "google.com" into your address bar would be as effective as yelling "CALL MOM" at a rotary dial phone.
To keep things running in the event of a disaster, ICANN recruited 21 people to maintain the system, chosen for their geographic location (so that no country has too much influence) and their history in technology and security. Read: These are all massive, massive nerds.
Antarctica runs its own internet, mostly consisting of snowman porn.
Of the 21 people, seven have the keys to restore the registry and reboot the system, a process that is slightly more complicated than launching nuclear missiles. At least five of the seven have to be present to relaunch the system, which involves combining their security keycards into a Voltron-like piece of computer software. Getting the cards themselves involves security checkpoints, verifications, keycodes, retinal scans, and countless other authentication schemes to make damn sure that these are the real keyholders and not reptilian clones. Without these people verifying the master list every three months, DNS registries around the world would eventually shut down and the entire web would become as useful as an AOL disk.
When asked whether the security for the keycards is necessary, the Russian keyholder gave the cryptic, somewhat ominous answer, "The key issue with internet governance is always trust." However, security might not be as tight as you think -- Anne-Marie Eklund Lowinder, a keyholder from Sweden, admits that she has two copies of her security key: one in a safe deposit box, the other in a wooden puzzle box that her son made. If you think this all sounds like the plot of a new Dan Brown novel, fuck you, Dan, we call dibs.
Think Nana and Pop-Pop's loving 60-year monogamous relationship is quaint and old-fashioned? First off, sorry for that disturbing image, but we've got some news for you: the monogamous sexual relationship is actually brand new relative to how long humans have been around. Secondly, it's about to get worse from here: monkey sex.
On this month's live podcast, Jack O'Brien and the Cracked staff welcome Dr. Christopher Ryan, podcaster and author of 'Sex at Dawn', onto the show for a lively Valentine's Day discussion about love, sex, why our genitals are where they are, and why we're more like chimps and bonobos than you think.
Get your tickets here.
Follow us on Facebook, and we'll follow you everywhere.