When Santa Claus Showed Up on U.S. Currency

Here is an unusual Christmas money story from Bloomberg. Sadly, banks stopped releasing Santa Claus currency once the U.S. Treasury took over the exclusive production of legal tender:

Money can be so boring. Or, at least, U.S. paper currency. Green, black, cream, some president’s head. With the holiday season upon us, there are holiday stamps, holiday checks, holiday-themed toilet paper. Would it be so horrible to have holiday-themed currency?

They didn’t think so before the U.S. Treasury stepped in to un-democratize the design of U.S. currency. Before it did that in 1861, there actually was holiday-themed currency featuring Santa Claus, and earlier versions of St. Nicholas.

“From 1793 to 1861, when the U.S. Treasury was given exclusive rights to produce legal tender, thousands of different styles of bank notes were created by U.S. banks,” and prominent on some of their holiday-themed currency, a blog post from the Federal Reserve Bank of New York tells us, was Santa Claus.

Santa was extremely popular back then, the post says, thanks to a.) Christmas becoming an official holiday in many Northern states, and b.) the printing in 1823 of the poem “A Visit from St. Nicholas” by Clement Clarke Moore (that was the original title; today, it’s known as “The Night Before Christmas”). Here’s another image of a Santa bank note from that era from, yes, Saint Nicholas Bank in New York:

Source: Heritage Auctions, Inc.

It wasn’t exactly sentiment fueling the banks’ creativity. One motivation was that, since a lot of people kept the collectible bills as keepsakes, they wouldn’t be eager to redeem the bills for their underlying value in gold. If they did keep them and passed them down through the years, their heirs would be happy: One obsolete Santa bank note sold for $40,000 in 2011, according to Heritage Auctions.

Ignore the big-money managers’ predictions for 2015

Brett Roi at Marketwatch provides some good investing advice:

Buy Japan. Buy Europe. Buy technology. Avoid energy. Avoid Russia.

That’s what the Big Money is saying as we get ready for the new year. This is according to the latest in-depth survey of institutional money managers conducted by Bank of America Merrill Lynch. In total, the poll-takers interviewed over 150 professional investment managers around the world with nearly $450 billion in assets under management.

There’s only one problem with this. The Big Money folks are more likely to be utterly wrong than utterly right.

That isn’t just because they are subject to the usual factors like herd instinct and professional self-preservation. It’s also because even though they like to think they are trying to beat the market, they actually are the market they are trying to beat.

This insight makes a strong case for passive, low cost, index investing.  But for those of you who have a higher risk tolerance and an unclouded crystal ball, all you have to do is pick the asset class that will have the best return for the upcoming year. Also, don’t buy losing lottery tickets at the gas station, only buy winning ones.

The State vs. Science: The Case of Kennewick Man

In Smithsonian Magazine, we recently stumbled across a fascinating piece about an extremely significant archeological discovery; the skeletal remains known as Kennewick Man, more than 9,000 years old, found along the Columbia River in Washington State in 1996. Clicking on this article, we expected to encounter merely a geeky narrative about science, but we were astonished to find buried in the article a remarkable story of individual scientists who fought heroically against a corrupt and monied organization that was attempting to suppress scientific research.kennewick And what was this benighted organization that tried to impede science? A greedy corporation? The Catholic Church? No, it was of course that inexhaustible source of malefaction, the federal government of the United States.

Shortly after Kennewick Man was discovered, and before scientists had a chance to conduct an examination, the remains were seized by the Army Corps of Engineers. For the sake of a petty political agenda, the federal government sought, unlawfully, to turn Kennewick Man over to a local Indian tribe, which planned to bury the remains at a secret location, where they would be lost to science, perhaps forever. Federal law actually says that scientists should be afforded an opportunity for study before reburial. Nonetheless, several departments of the federal government fought a pitched, decade-long battle to stop scientific progress. The federal effort was overcome only by the brave efforts of a handful of determined scientists.

The particulars of the story are remarkable.

So [Douglas] Owsley and several of his colleagues found an attorney, Alan Schneider. Schneider contacted the corps and was also rebuffed. Owsley suggested they file a lawsuit and get an injunction. Schneider warned him: “If you’re going to sue the government, you better be in it for the long haul.”

Owsley assembled a group of eight plaintiffs, prominent physical anthropologists and archaeologists connected to leading universities and museums. But no institution wanted anything to do with the lawsuit, which promised to attract negative attention and be hugely expensive. They would have to litigate as private citizens. “These were people,” Schneider said to me later, “who had to be strong enough to stand the heat, knowing that efforts might be made to destroy their careers. And efforts were made.”

When Owsley told his wife, Susan, that he was going to sue the government of the United States, her first response was: “Are we going to lose our home?” He said he didn’t know. “I just felt,” Owsley told me in a recent interview, “this was one of those extremely rare and important discoveries that come once in a lifetime. If we lost it”—he paused. “Unthinkable.”

Working like mad, Schneider and litigating partner Paula Barran filed a lawsuit. With literally hours to go, a judge ordered the corps to hold the bones until the case was resolved.

When word got out that the eight scientists had sued the government, criticism poured in, even from colleagues. The head of the Society for American Archaeology tried to get them to drop the lawsuit. Some felt it would interfere with the relationships they had built with Native American tribes. But the biggest threat came from the Justice Department itself. Its lawyers contacted the Smithsonian Institution warning that Owsley and Stanford might be violating “criminal conflict of interest statutes which prohibit employees of the United States” from making claims against the government.

[...]

Owsley and his group were eventually forced to litigate not just against the corps, but also the Department of the Army, the Department of the Interior and a number of individual government officials. As scientists on modest salaries, they could not begin to afford the astronomical legal bills. Schneider and Barran agreed to work for free, with the faint hope that they might, someday, recover their fees. In order to do that they would have to win the case and prove the government had acted in “bad faith”—a nearly impossible hurdle. The lawsuit dragged on for years. “We never expected them to fight so hard,” Owsley says. Schneider says he once counted 93 government attorneys directly involved in the case or cc’ed on documents.

[...]

The scientists asked the corps for permission to examine the stratigraphy of the site where the skeleton had been found and to look for grave goods. Even as Congress was readying a bill to require the corps to preserve the site, the corps dumped a million pounds of rock and fill over the area for erosion control, ending any chance of research.

[...]

Ultimately, the scientists won the lawsuit…The judge ordered the corps to make the specimen available to the plaintiffs for study. The government appealed to the Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit, which in 2004 again ruled resoundingly in favor of the scientists…

[...]

During the trial, the presiding magistrate judge, John Jelderks, had noted for the record that the corps on multiple occasions misled or deceived the court. He found that the government had indeed acted in “bad faith” and awarded attorney’s fees of $2,379,000 to Schneider and his team.

“At the bare minimum,” Schneider told me, “this lawsuit cost the taxpayers $5 million.”

Owsley and the collaborating scientists presented a plan of study to the corps, which was approved after several years. And so, almost ten years after the skeleton was found, the scientists were given 16 days to examine it. They did so in July of 2005 and February of 2006.

$5 million blown in an attempt to impede science and to keep truth hidden–your tax dollars at work.

And why did the government fight so hard against science?

[Schneider] speculated that the corps was involved in tense negotiations with the tribes over a number of thorny issues, including salmon fishing rights along the Columbia River, the tribes’ demand that the corps remove dams and the ongoing, hundred-billion-dollar cleanup of the vastly polluted Hanford nuclear site. Schneider says that a corps archaeologist told him “they weren’t going to let a bag of old bones get in the way of resolving other issues with the tribes.”

Back in the 1960s, as the government was launching rockets to the moon, it gave every appearance of serving as an engine of science and progress. But the reality is that government is inherently a conservative institution, in the sense that it seeks to preserve the prevailing political equilibrium. Scientific breakthroughs tend to cause social and political disruption; as a result, we shouldn’t be surprised to see government align itself against science, particularly in situations that have no implications for national security.

In the case of Kennewick Man, federal bureaucrats fought a protracted, multimillion dollar struggle against truth and enlightenment, all for the sake of a petty political agenda involving fishing rights. That says a lot about the willingness of bureaucrats to sacrifice enlightenment ideals on the altar of political expediency.

Yet leftists constantly assert that it’s the political right that is anti-science.

Kudos to Douglas Owsley and his colleagues for fighting triumphantly for the cause of science against the formidable resources of the federal bureaucracy. Their story seems worthy of a Hollywood movie, like Norma Rae, or Erin Brockovich–the idealistic underdog struggling against powerful and deep-pocketed forces of cynicism and corruption. But Hollywood would have to change the story to let government off the hook and recast the villains as greedy white male businessmen.

Visit a National Park, Get Subjected to Propaganda

We were hoping to make a trip to Yellowstone, but we’re a bit less enthusiastic after finding out that doing so might expose us to government-funded, junk-science agitprop.

[Brian] Ettling has spent his summers working as a park ranger at Crater Lake National Park in Oregon for nearly a decade. He is on a mission to teach visitors that man-made global warming is real. But climate change can be a touchy subject. So Ettling devised a strategy. When a park visitor casts doubt on global warming, he makes an appeal to their pocketbook.

“I try to shift the conversation away from polar bears and ice caps,” Ettling says. “I tell people there are a lot of things they can do to save money on their electric bill that will also help the environment. Usually, I can get through to them that way.”

Ettling has had time to perfect the approach. He started talking about the impact of climate change at Crater Lake several years ago.

Well, if we really want to save money on electric bills, we need to oppose the ‘climate change’ agenda promoted by people like Mr. Ettling. The agenda actively promotes carbon taxes and inefficient energy sources that cause electric rates to skyrocket. In Britain, an emphasis on alternative energy such as solar and wind has contributed to a 23.5 percent increase in electric rates over just the last three years. If we want to save money, we need to do the opposite of what climate alarmists recommend.

But hey, we can see why Mr. Ettling might want to “shift the conversation away from polar bears and ice caps.” After all, there’s absolutely no evidence that polar bears have been harmed by climate change, and the polar bear population has increased dramatically since hunting was banned 40 years ago.

As for sea ice, in recent years it has been expanding, not contracting, at both poles.

Anytime Mr. Ettling wants to shift the conversation back to ice and bears, we’d be happy to oblige him.

National parks are on the front lines of climate change. And park rangers are increasingly delivering the message that global warming is taking a toll on the iconic areas. Scientists say evidence of a warming Earth can be seen everywhere from rapidly melting glaciers at Glacier National Park in Montana to rising sea levels in the Florida Everglades. Park officials lament the changing landscape. But they say climate change also creates an opportunity to turn parks into open-air classrooms.

The Montana glaciers have been in rapid retreat since at least 1860, long before SUVs became popular or China industrialized. Likewise, ocean levels have been rising for more than 10,000 years, and there’s no compelling evidence that human activity has accelerated the rate of increase.

Educational Propaganda efforts have ramped up in recent years. Great Smoky Mountains National Park, which spans parts of North Carolina and Tennessee, has hosted climate-science workshops for high school and middle school teachers as well as college professors. California’s Golden Gate National Recreation Area produces a podcast that discusses global warming. The visitors’ center at Yosemite National Park in California is chock-full of climate change brochures and fact sheets.

Do they keep those brochures right beside the Obamacare sign-up sheets?

“We have an opportunity to take a seemingly faraway concept and make it tangible and real by showing how Yosemite has been affected,” says Paul Ollig, the park’s deputy chief of interpretation and education…”We still have some park managers who think it’s too controversial to talk about climate change,” says Julia Washburn, the Park Service associate director for interpretation and education.

Gosh, our national parks sure seem to have a lot of people in charge of “interpretation.” Here’s an idea: Why don’t they just focus on keeping the parks pristine and leave us to handle the interpretations ourselves, mmkay?

More than 280 million people visit national parks each year. But visitors who don’t believe in global warming may opt out of educational talks and leave climate brochures sitting on the shelves of visitor centers.

We suspect it’s just a matter of time before they remove that ‘opt out’ glitch from the system.

Hey, stop us if you’ve heard this one before:

A contentious debate over the existence and causes of climate change continues to rage, despite the fact that the vast majority of scientists say that global warming is real and driven by human activity like the burning of fossil fuels.

Nothing wrong with a little debate, right? And as much as we hesitate to question the expertise of journalists, particularly on the subject of the philosophy of science, we’re pretty sure that science doesn’t uncover truth by taking opinion polls. In fact, it’s pretty much axiomatic that right before every major scientific breakthrough, scientists don’t believe it. Before Copernicus, almost nobody believed in the heliocentric solar system. Before Darwin, almost nobody believed in evolution, and before Einstein, nobody believed in the relativity of space-time. Science is about smashing the consensus, not enforcing it.

In any event, the first casualty of socialism is truth, and it certainly says something about our current era of bloated and out-of-control government that citizens can’t even visit a national park without having to run a gauntlet of lies and propaganda.

Study canceled after $1.3B spent and no results

Via Bloomberg:

The U.S. government canceled one of its most ambitious health research projects, an effort to follow 100,000 children from before birth through adolescence, after spending about $1.3 billion since 2007 without it ever really getting off the ground.

Run by the National Institutes of Health, the study was to collect data on child health and development in the hope of discovering insights into autism and other maladies.

Administrative difficulties and the project’s spiraling costs alarmed NIH Director Francis Collins, who ordered an evaluation of the study after the National Academy of Sciences raised concerns in a June 16 report.

The project was authorized by Congress in 2000 yet never got past a small pilot study to test research methods. The study “as currently designed is not feasible,” Collins said in a Dec. 12 statement on the NIH’s website.

About $1.3 billion was poured into the project since 2007, though “the impact of this funding is unclear,” according to the internal NIH evaluation. Collins put the study on hold in June before announcing its cancellation last week.

Wow! 1.3 billion and little work was done. Just think how much money they would have wasted if any work was actually done.

Pope Says Dogs Can Go to Heaven

One of the primary functions of the pope is to give people hope, and Pope Francis made some remarks recently that give hope to a large subset of humanity–dog lovers. On the question of whether dogs go to heaven, Catholic doctrine has long been unclear and sometimes contradictory. But Pope Francis implied that dogs do, in fact, go to heaven.

Trying to console a distraught little boy whose dog had died, Francis told him in a recent public appearance on St. Peter’s Square, “Paradise is open to all of God’s creatures.”

This answer makes sense to us.dogs_heaven After all, what sort of paradise would it be without dogs?

Not everyone, however, sees the issue as settled.

Laura Hobgood-Oster, professor of religion and environmental studies at Southwestern University in Georgetown, Tex., and an expert on the history of dog-human interaction, said she believed that there would be a backlash from religious conservatives, but that it would take time.

“The Catholic Church has never been clear on this question; it’s all over the place, because it begs so many other questions,” she said. “Where do mosquitoes go, for God’s sake?”

2-point memo to Professor Hobgood-Oster:

1) Mosquitoes => Hell

2) Please look up the proper use of the idiom, ‘to beg the question.’

In any event, Pope Francis’ position on dogs was foreshadowed long ago by the Reverend Billy Graham, as well as by a classic 1962 episode of The Twilight Zone.

Update: Oops. Turns out this story was widely misreported. It was Pope Paul VI, not Francis, who suggested that dogs could go to heaven.

The misreporting stemmed from a report from the Italian newspaper Corriere della Sera, which interpreted the Pope’s remarks to mean that dogs could go to heaven. The newspaper also drew comparisons to a quote from Pope Paul VI, which was then incorrectly attributed by many outlets to Pope Francis.

According to the Italian newspaper, it was Paul VI who had comforted a distraught boy with the words: “One day, we will see our animals again in the eternity of Christ. Paradise is open to all of God’s creatures.’’

Many news outlets, including TODAY, NBC News, The New York Times and others, misreported that Paul VI’s statements about dogs were said by Pope Francis. The Vatican itself and Pope Francis have not clarified confusion about the reports.

 

Billy-Graham-Quote-Dogs-in-Heaven

 

A dog’s got a right to have a man around,

just as a man’s got a right to have a dog around,

iffen he wants to be any ways happy.

 

 

Countless crows, droppings rankle Ohio residents

Here is an odd story from A.P. reporter Lisa Cornwell:

Thousands of crows roosting at night in a western Ohio city’s downtown have some residents comparing the landscape with the Alfred Hitchcock movie “The Birds” as they work to drive them away.

The crows troubling Springfield aren’t aggressive, as birds in Hitchcock’s 1963 thriller were portrayed. But their overwhelming presence on trees and buildings causes concern over damage and potential health hazards from droppings, said Roger Sherrock, CEO of the Clark County Historical Society.

The society operates the Heritage Center of Clark County, one of the buildings favored by the federally protected crows.

“It can be unnerving to walk outside and see thousands of crows on trees, buildings and everywhere, especially if you’re familiar with Hitchcock’s movie,” Sherrock said.

He estimates as many as 50,000 crows gather downtown after scavenging for food by day in fields surrounding the city of around 60,000, some 80 miles northeast of Cincinnati. State wildlife officials say there has been a roost in the area for decades, but Sherrock says crows began roosting downtown in huge numbers about three years ago

 

Springfield is, of course, about thirty miles northeast of Dayton as the crow flies.

 

Corporate Welfare in New York: Politicians Say Amazon’s Good, Walmart’s Bad

Reason.com explains that some companies get presents:

For many Americans, the holiday season means gift-wrapped packages arriving from Amazon.com.But for long-suffering New York taxpayers, this year the giving is going in the opposite direction. The state is giving the Seattle-based online retailer $5 million in tax credits “to help lure” an Amazon office with 500 jobs to 7 W. 34th St. in Midtown Manhattan, Bloomberg News reports.

That $5 million is in addition to $2 million in New York state tax credits already awarded to Amazon for a Brooklyn fashion-photo studio. And it raises some issues that come up whenever government at any level decides to reward a business with special tax treatment.

While others get a lump of coal:

Amazon gets $7 million in taxpayer subsidies. Walmart, on the other hand, is treated like such a pariah that politicians, including Mayor de Blasio, compete to keep it out of New York City. More than half of the New York City Council’s members—26 of 51—went so far as signing a letter demanding that Walmart and the Walton Family Foundation stop giving charitable donations to New York City charities. What happened to the idea of a government that treats all retailers by a single impartial standard, rather than playing favorites?

Amazon is “cool” so the New York political class is OK with DeBlasio throwing tax money at the online company in an effort to lure it to the city. But those who read the Style section of The Times and The New Yorker have nothing but distain for an institution such as Wal-Mart catering to the peasantry.  Anyone needing a new battery for his or her  Black & Decker drill should just get on a bus and leave the city.

North Korea orders everyone sharing leader’s name to change it

Here is the story from Reuters:

North Korea has ordered people who share the name of leader Kim Jong Un to change their names, South Korea’s state-run KBS television reported on Wednesday.

North Korea imposed similar bans on the use of the names of its two former leaders, Kim’s father, Kim Jong Il, and grandfather, Kim Il Sung, as part of propaganda drives to build cults of personality around them.

Kim Jong Un’s name is not allowed for newborns and people who share the name must not just stop using it but must change it on their birth certificates and residence registrations, KBS reported, citing an official North Korean directive.

OK, sounds reasonable.  Hopefully, they will also have the good sense to ban all North Korean citizens from being able to use Kim’s hairdresser.

More Laws Mean More State Violence

Many commentators this week reflected on the lessons we might learn from the tragic case of Eric Garner, who died at the hands of the police. Some of the best insights came from Stephen L. Carter, the William Nelson Cromwell Professor of Law at Yale. Carter’s takeaway is that we shouldn’t make a law unless we are prepared to see the police use potentially deadly violence to enforce it.

On the opening day of law school, I always counsel my first-year students never to support a law they are not willing to kill to enforce. Usually they greet this advice with something between skepticism and puzzlement, until I remind them that the police go armed to enforce the will of the state, and if you resist, they might kill you.

I wish this caution were only theoretical. It isn’t. Whatever your view on the refusal of a New York City grand jury to indict the police officer whose chokehold apparently led to the death of Eric Garner, it’s useful to remember the crime that Garner is alleged to have committed: He was selling individual cigarettes, or loosies, in violation of New York law.

[...]

It’s not just cigarette tax laws that can lead to the death of those the police seek to arrest. It’s every law. Libertarians argue that we have far too many laws, and the Garner case offers evidence that they’re right. I often tell my students that there will never be a perfect technology of law enforcement, and therefore it is unavoidable that there will be situations where police err on the side of too much violence rather than too little. Better training won’t lead to perfection. But fewer laws would mean fewer opportunities for official violence to get out of hand.

[...]

Part of the problem, Husak suggests, is the growing tendency of legislatures — including Congress — to toss in a criminal sanction at the end of countless bills on countless subjects. It’s as though making an offense criminal shows how much we care about it.

Well, maybe so. But making an offense criminal also means that the police will go armed to enforce it. Overcriminalization matters, Husak says, because the costs of facing criminal sanction are so high and because the criminal law can no longer sort out the law-abiding from the non-law-abiding. True enough. But it also matters because — as the Garner case reminds us — the police might kill you…

It’s unlikely that the New York legislature, in creating the crime of selling untaxed cigarettes, imagined that anyone would die for violating it. But a wise legislator would give the matter some thought before creating a crime. Officials who fail to take into account the obvious fact that the laws they’re so eager to pass will be enforced at the point of a gun cannot fairly be described as public servants.

[...]

Every new law requires enforcement; every act of enforcement includes the possibility of violence. There are many painful lessons to be drawn from the Garner tragedy, but one of them, sadly, is the same as the advice I give my students on the first day of classes: Don’t ever fight to make something illegal unless you’re willing to risk the lives of your fellow citizens to get your way.

Don’t want drugs to be legal? OK, but recognize that you are therefore authorizing the police to initiate violence against those who disagree with you. And these days, that violence includes no-knock raids involving the use of grenade launchers, battering rams, machine guns, and armored cars. Not surprisingly, deploying such tactics and weaponry leads to deaths. When the state initiates violence, horrible things can happen. Consider the following story from a nice, leafy suburb in Connecticut.

The disturbing operation happened on the afternoon of May 18th, 2008. Homeowner Ronald Terebesi was sitting in his living room with his friend, 33-year-old Gonzalo Guizan of Norwalk.

At around 2:00 p.m., the entrance door of 91 Dogwood Drive in Easton was abruptly splintered by a battering ram. In an instant, explosions were rocking the house and shadowy figures dressed in black poured into the home. When the smoke cleared and the chaos was over, Mr. Guizan lied in a pool of blood, shot multiple times.

The violence wasn’t the result of a street gang or cartel; the gun-wielding men were members of a SWAT team serving a no-knock search warrant for narcotics. The explosions were three (3) flashbang grenades that police had tossed through the windows and doors.

Besides killing Mr. Guizan, police allegedly assaulted Mr. Terebesi by pinning him to the floor and hitting him in the head with a rifle stock. Officers then tore apart the home looking for contraband.

[...]

Following the operation, police had little to show for their efforts. Besides Mr. Guizan’s bullet-riddled body, they took a scale, a couple glass pipes, a legal Vicotin prescription, an empty tin, and no weapons.

The prize of the operation was the recovery of an empty plastic bag with colored “residue” of drugs on it.

These drug raids occur on a daily basis, and quite often people are killed. Those who support the drug laws would do well to keep in mind the image of a body riddled with bullets just because someone might have been getting high.

Any law on the books gives the state license to use potentially deadly force. That’s why we should have as few laws as possible. The laws should cover only serious offenses against persons and property, and not trivial offenses such as the conditions under which cigarettes may be sold.

It follows that we must resist the temptation to criminalize any little thing that we don’t like. Recently, a video went viral showing a woman repeatedly harassed with catcalls as she walked the streets of New York. In response to the catcall video, people wasted no time in calling for catcalling to be criminalized.

“I agree that there should be a law against street harassment,” wrote a commenter named Andrea from Boston. “I am sick of people telling me that a man’s First Amendment right is more important than my right to feel safe in public places.”

Reader SZ agreed.

“There should be a law. It is scary and infuriating. Who are they to ruin my day? Who are they to attempt to diminish me? I have no recourse,” SZ complained, apparently seriously. “Anything I say or do inspires more unwanted attention. The bullies have made the law necessary.”

But a law against catcalling will have to be enforced with violence that can sometimes become deadly. How many people are Andrea from Boston and SZ prepared to see killed in order to stop men from daring to speak to women without permission?

We’ll let Ed have the last word.

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