Produce an anti-corruption photo and win a year's supply of Ben and Jerry's


I've posted before about Ben "Ben and Jerry's" Cohen's Stamp Stampede project: Cohen is calling on enemies of corruption to stamp messages opposing the Citizens United Supreme Court decision on dollar bills. Citizens United allows for unlimited political spending, on the grounds that money is speech and corporations are people.

Cohen's running a competition to produce the best Stamp Stampede promotional photo: grand prize is a year's supply (52 pints) of Ben and Jerry's ice-cream.

The 2nd Annual Stampede Photo Contest is currently underway and will end on January 18.

Hobo nickels of 2013 from Mr The


Hobo Nickels, a subject we've been doting on for 12 years now, had a bumper year in 2013, as is evidenced by this gallery of Mr The's nickel-carvings (not all the coins are nickels, but the term is generic regardless of the coin) from the past year. Mr The specializes in big head/mini man carvings that add a tiny torso, arms and legs to the nickel's traditional head (it especially rocks with monster heads).

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Democratic lawmakers share a squalorous house in DC


A group of top Democratic lawmakers live in a squalorous group house in DC. The house was once the family home of Rep. George Miller (D-CA), but he relocated back to his California district with his wife and family. Now, three decades later, Illinois senator Dick Durbin shares the house with New York senator Chuck Schumer and congressman Miller, amid dusty, filthy and disused furnishings dating back to the 1980s. The lawmakers only spend three nights a week at the house, and come and go at odd hours between meetings, fundraisers, and appearances. They use the Congressional gyms and other facilities for the majority of their needs, and boast about the holes in the stovetop and the dumpster-dived furniture, as well as Durbin's comfort-food of choice: raisin bran.

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Square Cash: email money to other people without a fee

Square Cash, released today in the United States, lets you send cash to anyone with an email address, simply CC the message to "cash@square.com," and the recipient will receive the money in two business days or less.

Send money to anyone with an email address. It's fast, safe, and free!

No account needed. Just securely link your debit card to start sending money. It's free to send, and free to receive money directly to your U.S. bank account.

Secure. Your financial information is entered through a secure connection and kept private. You can confirm or reject any transfer.

Fast. Money automatically deposits to your bank account within 1-2 business days.

Square Cash for iPhone

Chinese tourists with room full of Euro coins weren't counterfeiters; they got 'em from scrap cars

A hotelier in Paris called the cops on a pair of Chinese guests who were paying their bills nightly with Euro coins and who had 3,700 more in their rooms. He thought they were counterfeiters. It turned out that they were friends with a Chinese car-scrapper who had harvested forgotten coins from European cars on their way to the wrecker.

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Visualizing five years of political fundraisers

Nicko from the Sunlight Foundation sez, "The Sunlight Foundation is celebrating five years of the Political Party Time site with a look at where and when U.S. politicians fundraise the most. The review of nearly 18,000 invites in the Party Time database found that the most fundraisers, about 76 percent, happen within just three blocks of the U.S. Capitol. Restaurants, social clubs and private residences close to the Hill are frequented over and over by members of both parties. Additionally, Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday are the most popular days for fundraisers with happy hour or dinner events the preferred time of day. Below is an interactive map that details where in D.C. and across the U.S. politicians, mostly Congress, are raising money for their campaigns and PACs."

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Your new financial advisor is Harold Pollack's 4x6" index card

Harold Pollack's advice:

Max your 401k or equivalent employee contribution
Buy inexpensive, well diversified mutual funds such as Vanguard Target 20XX funds
Never buy or sell and individual security. The person on the other side of the table knows more than you do about this stuff
Save 20% of your money
Pay your credit card balance in full every month
Maximize tax-advantages savings vehicles like Roth, SEP and 529 accounts.
Pay attention to fees. Avoid actively managed funds.
Make financial advisor commit to a fiduciary standard
Promote social insurance programs to help people when things go wrong

Bucky Woody's version is somewhat tighter, and perhaps more approachable to people of all income levels; The Washington Post's Ezra Klein explains.

UPDATE: Gabe Rivera simplifies further:

Mark Wagner's currency collages


Mark Wagner is an American visual artist who collages US currency to make incredible images; it's not clear to me whether this constitutes an illegal destruction of currency, but if it does, then that law is wrong. Shown here: a detail from The Way of the Dinosaur, 2013.

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What FRPGs can teach us about gold

"Look at games like World of Warcraft, Diablo, Dungeons and Dragons, or the original Final Fantasy. In those games, gold is the money, and you often get gold not by doing an honest day's work, but by running around and beating people up and taking their gold. In other words, the entire world of modern fantasy role-playing is a subtle joke on gold's unsuitability as a medium of exchange." -Noah Smith (via Making Light)

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!)