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When US money was nice to look at


US currency was beautiful, once upon a time, when it sported images of animals and symbolic statuary, rather than deifying its citizen-rulers by putting presidents on the money as though they were kings. This 1901 $10 note (available on Wikimedia Commons in a 33.34MB, 6,454 × 5,784 JPEG!) is a case in point.

United States $10 Banknote, Legal Tender, Series of 1901 (Fr. Ref#114), depicting Meriwether Lewis and William Clark of the Lewis & Clark Expedition. The central portrait is a depiction of an American bison. Part of the National Numismatic Collection, NMAH, Smithsonian Institution. (Thanks, Fipi Lele!)

Game theory and bad behavior on Wall Street

An opinion piece by Chris Arnade on the asymmetry in pay (money for profits, flat for losses), which he describes "the engine behind many of Wall Street’s mistakes" That asymmetry "rewards short-term gains without regard to long-term consequences," Chris writes in a new guest blog at Scientific American. "The results? The over-reliance on excessive leverage, banks that are loaded with opaque financial products, and trading models that are flawed." [Scientific American Blog Network] Xeni

Database documenting payouts to UK slave-owners to be launched for public use

The British government paid out £20 million to compensate 3,000 slave-owning families for the loss of their "property" when slave ownership was abolished in Britain's colonies in 1833. At the time, that sum amounted to 40% of the UK's annual spending budget; today, one could calculate the total value of the 19th-century payouts to be around £16.5 billion (=USD $25 billion; the actual sum can vary, depending on how you calculate).

In The Independent, an article digging in to the data, which will be released this week in the form of a publicly accessible database.

Read the rest

Great moments in pedantry: Canada puts the wrong maple leaf on its $20 bill

Hey, that's not a Canadian sugar maple leaf! That is very clearly the leaf of the invasive Norway maple. Maggie

Guitar picks made from coins


Etsy seller GuitarPickCollection sells handmade guitar (mandolin, banjo, etc) picks made from coins and slugs that have been formed to suit. I was never much of a guitar player and so I can't guess whether this would be good news for your favorite axe, but if you do fancy a coin-pick, this maker's stuff is rather beautiful.

Guitar Pick Collection Handmade Artisan by GuitarPickCollection (via OhGizmo)

Commemorative coins are sneaky pork

You know those cool commemorative coins that the US Mint keeps issuing? Turns out that they're a handy way for Congress to get around the ban on porky earmarks for their home district. As reported last April in The Foundry:

Here’s how it works: In June of last year, Rep. Peter Roksam (R-IL) introduced legislation authorizing a commemorative coin honoring the Lions Club, a service organization based in Oak Brook, IL – part of Roksam’s district.

The legislation dictates that proceeds from the coin sales be used to pay for the cost of producing the coins, but adds: “all surcharges received by the Secretary from the sale of coins issued under this Act shall be promptly paid by the Secretary to the Lions Clubs International Foundation for the purposes.”

In other words, assuming the costs of production are covered, the legislation will steer federal funds to an organization in Roksam’s home district. No earmarks required.

There's a long list of other commemorative coins, mostly issued at Republican instigation (the coins all seem to emanate from the House), but sometimes with a Democratic push in the Senate.

Congress Uses Commemorative Coins to Circumvent Earmark Ban

A visit inside a vault holding $315,000,000,000 in gold bricks


A fascinating visit to the Bank of England bullion vault, which stores $315 billion in gold. The narrator is kind of sad because he says gold is useful for many things and it's just sitting here.

Gold Christmas Tree

Reuters:

The tree-like ornament is made of 88 pounds of pure gold, standing about 7.9 ft high ... It is decorated with pure gold plate silhouette cutouts of 50 popular Disney characters and draped with ribbons made of gold leaf. The price tag? A mere $4.2 million.

Bogus Lincoln $100 bill fails to impress checkout clerk

A man in Rhode Island was either too dumb or too cheeky for his own good: the counterfeit bills he tried to pass at a local Target had Abraham Lincoln on the $100, popularly known as a Benjamin. [Sun Chronicle] Rob

Russian beard tax token from the reign of Peter the Great


This is a Russian beard tax token from the reign of Peter the Great, who set out to modernize Russia by getting everyone to shave. Anyone who wanted to keep a beard had to buy one of these tokens (which bore the legend "the beard is a superfluous burden"). Costs varied by profession -- nobles and officers paid 60 rubles, top merchants paid 100, and so on. Additionally, everyone passing into a city while wearing a beard had to pay a kopek's worth of face-fur-toll.

Update: You can buy replica beard tokens, too.

Beard Tax Token, 1705 (via Neatorama)

Panama aims to adopt Euro

The Panamanian president announced that the country would like to introduce the Euro as legal tender, alongside the U.S. dollar. [Reuters] Rob

Commodity market prediction takes the Internet by storm

Good news! There is not an unavoidable bacon shortage looming in our future. Bad news! What was actually being predicted was really an increase in meat prices across the board. Droughts have completely decimated this year's corn crop, and as corn is the stuff we usually feed our meat, it's going to cost more to raise a pig (or a cow, or a chicken) next year. Key takeaways: There will still be meat, it's just going to be more spendy next year, and also don't trust the British when they offer you "bacon" because they actually mean Canadian bacon, which is different (and inferior). Maggie

Meet "Big Trash"

Over the long run, keeping stuff like tree limbs and compostable waste out of landfills is good for cities. There's only so much space in a landfill and getting more land is extremely expensive. So why haven't more cities hopped on the curbside composting bandwagon, or at least banned yard waste from landfills? There's probably a lot of factors that go into those decisions, but one, apparently, is the influence of large, private companies that handle waste collection and see the diversion of re-usable waste as a detriment to their income. (Via Chris Tackett) Maggie

HOWTO send vulture debt collectors packing

"Defending Junk-Debt-Buyer Lawsuits" is a paper written by Peter A. Holland of the University of Maryland Francis King Carey School of Law and published in the May 1 issue of Clearinghouse Review. It's a clear, short, absolutely readable (and indispensable) guide to fending off speculative lawsuits from vulture debt-collectors. These are the debt collectors who buy up bad debts that banks and other creditors have written off (because there's insufficient evidence that the debt exists in the first place, or because it's past the statute of limitations, or because the debtor has been through a bankruptcy). Then they bulk-file lawsuits against the debtors, hoping that they won't show up in court to defend themselves, so that the vultures can win judgments and use them to go after houses, cars, salaries and so on. As Naked Capitalism's Yves Smith puts it, these vultures are buying up a lot of scrap paper, hoping to find a lottery ticket.

It's surprisingly easy to fend off these bottom-dwellers, though. They have to prove that you owe them money. A brief moment spent scrutinizing the documents filed against you is usually enough to find evidence that will get the case dismissed. Holland's paper explains in detail just what to do to get these vampires to flee from your door:

Read the complaint and accompanying documents multiple times, highlighter in hand, while looking for intentional deceptions, errors, and omissions that could help your client prevail. First, look for defects on the face of the complaint. For example, the named plaintiff might be a different corporation from the entity named in the supporting documents. This occurs with surprising frequency. Second, if your state requires debt buyers to be licensed as debt collectors, check whether the debt buyer is licensed. Suing without a license creates standing issues, and, according to an increasing number of courts, it constitutes a violation of the Fair Debt Collection Practices Act.16 The junk-debt buyer is subject to the Fair Debt Collection Practices Act because the junk-debt buyer allegedly acquires the debt after default.

Third, look for the failure to prove the existence of (or the terms and conditions of) the alleged underlying contract. Failure to prove the contract is the rule rather than the exception. Often a contract is not even attached to the complaint. More often, some well-worn photocopy sample of a terms-and-conditions mailer is attached. This sample is often illegible, and almost never signed by the consumer. On close inspection, the printing date on this document often reveals that it was generated years after the account was allegedly opened. Also, the terms and con- ditions submitted may not be from the original creditor identified by the junk-debt buyer but are presented to make the claim appear supported.

Fourth, the debt buyer is usually unable to prove a complete and unbroken chain of title. Without a valid chain of title, the debt buyer does not have standing to sue.

Defending Junk-Debt-Buyer Lawsuits (via Naked Capitalism)

(Image: Vulture, a Creative Commons Attribution Share-Alike (2.0) image from 7704782@N07's photostream)

Butter-knife money-clip


Last night at dinner in San Francisco (I'm in town to give a Long Now talk tonight), our waiter noticed that I was wearing a ring made from an ornate spoon handle and produced his home-made money-clip, which he'd fashioned from an antique butter-knife he found at a pawn shop. He said he'd used a hand clamp to hold the handle, wrapped the blade in a cloth dishtowel, and used careful hammer-taps to bend it around. He also said that he flew with it routinely without any problems from the TSA. It was a really nice piece -- he wrapped his bills around his credit-cards and ID to create the necessary thickness.

Butter Knife Money Clip