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Senator requests NASA investigation of Space Vikings

Image: Ved Chirayath

This photo, taken by astronautics grad student and photographer Ved Chirayath, was meant to be a bit of free promotion for NASA and space exploration. It's part of an art exhibition called Physics in Vogue, which combines real science with the style of fashion photography. With the help of a Viking re-enactment troupe and some of his colleagues from the Ames Research Center, he put together a shot that was meant to connect current NASA projects to the exploration-oriented Viking culture. What if two of Earth's greatest explorers met face-to-face?

The photo was done on Chirayath's own time, using funds from two arts grants that had nothing to do with NASA. But it has become the center of an extensive investigation initiated by Senator Chuck Grassley, aimed at discovering whether dastardly NASA scientists were using taxpayer money to make whimsical photos. They weren't. Ironically, though, the investigation did use taxpayer money. More, Chirayath estimates, than it would have cost him to get such a photo done by a professional.

Jane Austen to grace £10 notes


Jane Austen will appear on a new issue of the English £10 note, a welcome break in the sausage-fest that presently constitutes our specie. The new Bank of England governor Mark Carney -- a Canadian, from a country where the money is staunchly blokey -- confirmed the change after the outgoing governor Mervyn King let it slip.

"Jane Austen certainly merits a place in the select group of historical figures to appear on our banknotes. Her novels have an enduring and universal appeal and she is recognised as one of the greatest writers in English literature," the new governor said.

He also announced that the Bank would carry out a review of the process for selecting the historical figures who appear on banknotes, to ensure that a diverse range of figures is represented.

"We believe that our notes should celebrate the full diversity of great British historical figures and their contributions in a wide range of fields. The Bank is committed to that objective, and we want people to have confidence in our commitment to diversity. That is why I am today announcing a review of the selection process for future banknote characters," Carney said. The review will be overseen by the chief cashier Chris Salmon, whose signature appears on banknotes.

What an amazing turn of events. The only thing that would make this better is more women on the money -- I look forward to the Ada Lovelace fiver and the Emmeline Pankhurst 20.

Jane Austen to appear on £10 note [Katie Allen and Heather Stewart/The Guardian]

Stamping $1s to amend the Constitution & kill Citizens United

Ben Cohen of Ben & Jerry's is riding around the country in a rainbow colored van, stamping $1 bills with messages like "not to be used for bribing politicians," as a way of raising consciousness about the impact of money in politics in the wake of the Citizens United Supreme Court verdict, which opened the doors to infinite campaign financing by special interests.

He's seeking a constitutional amendment that overturns the verdict, and he's got 15 states onboard. You can sign a petition, buy a stamp and stamp your own money, and hold stamping parties with your friends. The full list of stamp messages is:

"Not to Be Used for Bribing Politicians".
"Stamp Money Out of Politics"
"Corporations are Not People"
“Not To Be Used for Buying Elections”

Stamp Stampede

Hollow spy-coins milled out of real currency


A company called "Covert Coins" mills hollow coins out of real currency and turns them into hidden, spook-tastic secret compartments. Reviews say that the coins are indistinguishable from undoctored items on casual inspection.

Micro SD Card Covert Spy Coin - Secret Compartment (Many Countries/Denominations) (via Oh Gizmo)

Lessig: Democrats' policies are up for auction to highest bidder, too

Writing in The Atlantic, Larry Lessig reminds supporters of the Democratic Party that corruption isn't limited to the Republicans. The Dems, too, have a party where policy is driven by campaign donations rather than principle, evidence or even ideology.

This way of thinking about the "necessities" of modern political life is so obvious to mainstream Democrats that it follows the party whether it is in power or not. The Center for American Progress, for example, is the Democratic Party's most important Washington think tank. Its researchers have produced an incredible range of valuable work, mapping a progressive agenda for the party to follow. There is no better home for left-thinking policy wonks in D.C., and no more than a handful of institutions that have ever produced better left-leaning work.

Or at least, and possibly, depending upon whether it pays. For, as investigative journalists Ken Silverstein and Brooke Williams have documented in a series of recent articles, CAP's agenda is potentially vulnerable to a long list of undisclosed corporate funders. According to Silverstein, CAP staffers are "very clearly instructed to check with the think tank's development team before writing anything that might upset contributors." (CAP disputes Silverstein's portrayal.) In at least one case, CAP has acted as an undisclosed lobbyist for a corporate contributor. (Disclosure: Silverstein and Williams's work on think tanks has been funded in part by a research center I run.)

My point is not that these are bad people pushing bad policy. My point instead is just this: Democrats must recognize that we don't actually get very much from this bargain. Sure, we'll win some elections, including the presidency, and so a regular mix of not-right-leaning souls will have this democratic royalty bestowed upon them. But we won't get much actual policy. Or policy consistent with the principles of this party, if indeed there are any principles not yet auctioned off to big money.

Can Democrats Get a New Party, Too?

Bank of Canada kills editorial cartoon, calls it "counterfeiting"


Canadian Conservative senator Mike Duffy is in disgrace over the news that he submitted fraudulent expense claims totalling $90,000 and secretly borrowed a like sum from the Prime Minister's Chief of Staff to pay it (and kill an auditor's investigation into his conduct). So Dan Murphy drew an editorial cartoon depicting a notional Canadian $90,000 bill bearing Senator Duffy's leering face. But the toon only ran briefly, because the Bank of Canada threatened Canadian newspapers with criminal prosecution for counterfeiting if they ran it.

That gets to the crux of the matter. Laws that fight counterfeiting are fine (though really, any forger gifted enough to back-engineer a single-sided cartoon of a $90,000 bill that bears the image of Mike Duffy and a hologram of Nigel Wright deserves a medal, not jail time) but the Bank of Canada has no business playing Thought Police.

Parodies of bank notes are nothing new. In 1819, British cartoonist George Cruikshank, angered after seeing a woman hanged for passing a forged note, drew a Bank of England note that featured 11 men and women dangling from nooses. During the currency panic of 1837, a series of “shin plasters” — typically five- and six-cent bills — poked fun at U.S. economic policy.

Jack Knox: The ($90,000) Duffy buck stops here, Bank of Canada decides [Jack Knox/Times Colonist] (Thanks, Derryl!)

Pendants carved out of old British coinage


London's Thornhill Jewellery takes old British coinage and laser-cuts carves sweet/funny/silly designs into them. You can also get them made to order from the year of your choosing (to celebrate a birthday, for example). I saw several of these in person Sunday at Spitalfields Market and they're just great.

Thornhill Jewellery / coins

Monster money!


Google Translate says that the caption on this image is Japanese for "Bill of surprised frontispiece monster world." I can't really hazard any guesses beyond that, but hey, monster money!

『びっくり口絵 怪物世界のお札』 (via Crazy Abalone)

Forging £1 coins is apparently profitable


Three men have been convicted of forging £1 coins. The London Police Detective Inspector even got all quippy about the sentencing ("These three men are organised criminals who were intent on undermining the UK monetary system. There is nothing fake about the reality they must now face of life behind bars." -- yes, yes, very clever DI South) but what fascinates me about the story is that it can somehow be profitable to forge £1 coins.

I got passed a fake pound shortly after I first moved to the UK, almost ten years go; it was a foil-wrapped plastic slug. Not realizing it was fake, I tried to buy something with it at a corner shop and the cashier pressed it edge-on on his counter and the foil split open, revealing the green plastic disc inside.

From the sound of this article, these fakes were solid metal, which, I think, would make them more expensive than the fake I got. When you add the costs of the materials, the wages for the manufacturing process, warehousing, the discount for counterfeit cash, etc, it's hard to believe that this was worth anyone's while.

On the other hand, it's probably easier to go on counterfeiting when you're passing very small denominations as most people (me included) won't bother going to the cops over a mere pound; and it's much harder to remember where a given pound coin came from than a £20 note.

The court heard Fisher, of Rags Lane in Goffs Oak, Hertfordshire, Sullivan, of Bancroft Chase in Hornchurch, east London, and Abbott were arrested during an undercover police operation in Essex last May.

Police found a storage container with 1.6 million metal discs inside and fake coins equivalent to £20,000.

Fake coins equivalent to a further £30,000 were found in a nearby car.

Three men jailed over 'largest' fake £1 coin plot [BBC]

(Image: Yet another forged pound coin, a Creative Commons Attribution (2.0) image from pahudson's photostream)

Infographic: how money corrupts Congress, and what to do about it


Money wins Elections is an excellent, scrolling infographic that illustrates how money corrupts the American legislative process, showing that time and again, Congress has voted the way that the big money told it to, against the prevailing popular opinion. It's all in support of the American Anti-corruption Act, and it was created by Tony Chu for part of his MFA thesis project.

Money wins Elections

New Canadian $5 celebrates the space programme


I'm pretty fond of the design of the new Canadian plastic $5 note, which is much improved if you draw Spock ears, eyebrows and hairline on old Sir Wilfrid Laurier.

The new Canadian $5 bill has just destroyed every single other piece of currency in the world (IMO) (farm9.staticflickr.com)

New US$100 bill in circulation 10/8

NewImage

The new US$100 bill will go into circulation on October 8, 2013. New security features include a "3-D Security Ribbon" woven into the paper. The image changes from bells to 100s with the viewing angle, and "color-shifting" bell graphic that changes from copper to green, "an effect which makes the bell seem to appear and disappear within the (copper-colored) inkwell." "The Redesigned $100 Note"

Big pictures of small change

Pesoooo

Artist Martin John Callanan and the Advanced Engineered Materials Group at the UK's National Physical Laboratory used an infinite 3D optical microscope to capture 400 million pixel images of the lowest denomination coin from many currencies. "The Fundamental Units"

Lessig's TED talk on fighting corruption in politics with campaign finance reform

Larry Lessig presented at TED his new project, an effort to curb the corrupting influence of money in American politics with a reform to campaign finance, so that the government depends on the people alone. It's a wonderful talk:

There is a corruption at the heart of American politics, caused by the dependence of Congressional candidates on funding from the tiniest percentage of citizens. That's the argument at the core of this blistering talk by legal scholar Lawrence Lessig. With rapid-fire visuals, he shows how the funding process weakens the Republic in the most fundamental way, and issues a rallying bipartisan cry that will resonate with many in the U.S. and beyond.

Lawrence Lessig: We the People, and the Republic we must reclaim

Why can't we prevent asteroid strikes?

Asteroids: Yet more evidence that (as a society) we aren't very good at prioritizing preventative measures against long-term risks. Maggie