Hi, welcome to your Weekend!
Before you jump ahead to Margaux’s cover story about the Hollywood cabal behind a surge of celebrity crypto investments, I wanted to share another story from one of this weekend’s contributors.
Katia Savchuk, a former reporter at Forbes, was born in Ukraine and immigrated to the U.S. at the age of four. Two weeks ago she tweeted an urgent message about her 94-year-old grandmother, a Holocaust survivor, who was trapped in Kyiv along with Katia’s disabled 69-year-old father. “If anyone knows of any resources that can help with evacuation, please let me know,” she wrote.
Her tweet went viral and she spent the next 48 hours sifting through responses, reaching out to NGOs and connecting with politicians, diplomats and Jewish organizations. Eventually, a German reporter passed along word to the famous boxing brothers Wladimir and Vitali Klitschko. The latter, who is also the mayor of Kyiv, grabbed two men from Ukraine’s volunteer Territorial Defense Force and tasked them with escorting the elderly woman and her son to the border with Hungary. A Toyota dealer donated a van, and the party was soon off.
After safely crossing the border, Katia’s relatives were handed over to other friends of the Klitschkos, representatives of a German logistics firm. They were then taken to Heidelberg, Germany, where they remain today.
Katia considers the entire rescue mission a “miracle,” mindful that such a one-off solution could never be replicated for the millions still in harm’s way. This week she brings us another story about hope in the face of horror, writing about Russian-speaking volunteers who are reaching out across an “iron curtain of information” to speak the truth to the Russian people.
the big read
Paris Hilton, Bored Apes and the Making of a Hollywood Crypto Cabal
“Did you see our NFT stunt on Fallon that went viral this week?? Ha,” venture capitalist Carter Reum emailed Margaux back in January. Reum was referring to his wife, Paris Hilton, and her Jan. 24 appearance on “The Tonight Show Starring Jimmy Fallon.” Perhaps you saw it. To NFT devotees, the stunt was publicity gold, proof that NFT mania had crossed into the mainstream on the reliable backs of stars. But what of the backstage dealings that landed Hilton her Bored Ape in the first place? That story is a wild one, involving shadowy NFT concierges, celebrity-backed crypto exchanges, and intimate dinners with blockchain entrepreneurs.
scene and heard
In Austin, a Coronation for Crypto, a Celebration of Doodles, and Confusion for Nicolas Cage
South by Southwest kicked off this year against the backdrop of a Russian invasion of Ukraine, record inflation, skyrocketing gas prices and a two-year pandemic hangover. It also coincided with a sudden dip in the price of cryptocurrencies and non-fungible tokens. But all the bad news didn’t stop people from lining up around the block to get into a Doodles pop-up. Kaya shares a recap of the conference’s in-person comeback.
The new Resistance
Meet the Volunteers Cold-Calling Russians to Change their Minds about the Ukraine War
On Thursday morning, Katia Zalkind, a vice president at a medical communications firm in Chicago, dialed an unfamiliar number. A man picked up. “I’m a volunteer, and we’re calling people in Russia to answer questions about what’s going on in Ukraine,” said Zalkind, speaking Russian. “May I talk with you?” What followed was a lesson in one-on-one diplomacy that has been repeated some 95,000 times in the past week. Katia listens in as Russian speakers try to cut through a new iron curtain.
My life's work
How a Founder’s Childhood in India Inspired His Fight Against Climate Change
As a young child in Hyderabad, India, Shashank Samala witnessed the devastation of typhoons and floods. As an adolescent in Bangor, Maine, he contended with mountains of snow. So began the journey to Heirloom Carbon, which is working to build its first carbon removal farms (similar to wind or solar farms).
Watching: An Oscar-nominated short about awful AI
The first of the year’s Oscar shorts available for streaming, “Please Hold” (now on HBO Max) is a darkly comic take on our criminal justice future. The story opens on a police drone swooping down on an unsuspecting Latinx man, declaring that he’s under arrest and ordering him to cuff himself. From there, the case of mistaken identity becomes a sci-fi nightmare filled with AI-operated booking rooms, touchscreen-enabled jail cells, and goofy cartoon avatars plea-bargaining prison sentences. In 17 gripping minutes, “Please Hold” makes you rethink the promise of our autonomous future.
Noticing: Colleges signing deals with sports betting apps
It’s standard practice for college students to get emails from their school’s athletic department, promoting an upcoming game. But recently, some schools are also sending out advertisements for sports gambling apps, per a Bloomberg report. Naturally, the ads, part of sprawling endorsement deals that at least seven U.S. universities have struck with sports-betting companies, are fueling concerns about gambling addiction. The companies counter that gambling is simply becoming “a social norm.” As March Madness ramps up this weekend, that’s one norm that may incur a hefty price.
Reading: A critic watches violent VR art so we don’t have to
The New Yorker’s Alexandra Schwartz reports from the new Whitney Biennial, where she immerses herself in a gruesome virtual reality artwork by artist Jordan Wolfson. The piece, entitled “Real Violence” lives up to its name, with scenes so graphic only museum-goers over age 17 are allowed to experience it. We won’t get into the details here, but Schwartz summarizes the work as “disturbing, horrifying, repellent, nausea- and P.T.S.D.-inducing, but also a gratuitous trick, tin-eared and cheap.” We’re not sure if violent VR is the future of art, but it gets people talking—and that seems to be Wolfson’s main goal.
Makes You Think
Not pictured: $15 Sweetgreen salad and $6 iced coffees from Blue Bottle.
Until next Weekend, thanks for reading!
Weekend Editor, The Information