Gold-Plating Nickels and Passing them Off as $5

My article, A Platinum Coin to Pay Down the Debt, was written with tongue firmly in cheek, but the US Treasury has come up with some real coins almost as ridiculous. Our first example was the two-cent piece, followed by the three-cent piece, and the twenty-cent piece. Today we introduce the “Racketeer Nickel.”

To be honest, this wasn’t an actual mint-released coin. Rather, an enterprising soul took advantage of yet another example of governmental stupidity.

The Shield Nickel, issued from 1866 to 1883 was never a popular coin. It replaced the silver half dime which disappeared from circulation, along with most other coins, in the economic turmoil of the Civil War.

In 1883 the Mint issued a new 5¢ coin with the head of Liberty on the obverse and a Roman “V” meaning “5” on the reverse. The word “cents” didn’t appear anywhere on the coin. To an enterprising young man named Josh Tatum, it represented a “golden” opportunity.

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Boston Entrepreneur Ships Ice to the Tropics

The practice of harvesting and storing winter ice began in ancient times, all the way back to 1100 BC in China. Alexander the Great is said to have had ice brought from the mountains and buried in insulated pits for the refreshment of his officers; and the Emperor Nero, fond of summer sherbet, had relays of runners to transport ice and snow from the Apennines. Louis XIV had two insulated ice houses to supply his palace at Versailles, each capable of holding 40,000 cubic feet of ice. (Sweltering French courtiers were said to require a minimum of five pounds of ice a day.) Early American colonists, confronted with appalling New-World summers in which meat spoiled, milk soured, and butter melted into slimy puddles, struggled to keep things cool. Excavations of brick storage pits at Jamestown indicate that settlers were harvesting and stockpiling ice by the mid-17th century.

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I’m Proud to Be A Climate Change Skeptic

Every ten years or so, the government discovers a crisis so dire that it can only be ameliorated by spending large amounts of tax dollars. Today’s crisis is climate change.

When I was in grammar school in the early 50s, the crisis du jour was nuclear energy. (Pope Pius, Christmas 1955: “The fate of the whole human race is at stake…entire cities wiped out…a pall of death over the pulverized ruins, covering countless victims with limbs burnt, twisted and scattered, while others groan in their death agony. Meanwhile, the radioactive cloud hinders survivors from giving any help, and inexorably advances to snuff out any remaining life.”)

Every country in the world will have the A-bomb, war is inevitable, and we’re all gonna die.

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Shipbuilder Accidentally Invents the “Slinky”

The year was 1943. As the Battle of the Atlantic raged in the waters around Europe, the US Navy needed a constant supply of new ships, and one of the many shipbuilders working round the clock was Philadelphia’s Cramp Shipbuilding Company. Among its more than 18,000 workers was a mechanical engineer named Richard James.

James was trying to develop a new tension spring which would keep a ship’s equipment secure while the vessel rocked at sea. One day he accidentally knocked a spring off his worktable. The spring tumbled to the floor, landing on one of its ends, but instead of jumping back up, the spring flopped end over end, walking across the floor.

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The Catcher Becomes a Spy

Among the many colorful characters recruited as spies during World War II, no one was more unusual than Morris “Moe” Berg. Tall, handsome, and highly intelligent, Moe was a professional baseball player, lawyer, scholar, linguist, and spy. He earned degrees from Princeton, Columbia Law School, and the Sorbonne, eventually becoming fluent in at least twelve languages, including Sanskrit. He was comfortable talking about topics ranging from the conjugation of Sanskrit verbs, to the mechanics of throwing an effective curve ball, to the physics involved in splitting the atom.

Lou Gehrig (l) & Babe Ruth

This part of Moe’s story begins in 1934. when he accompanied a group of baseball All-Stars, including Babe Ruth and Lou Gehrig, on an exhibition tour of Japan. Moe, like a lot of tourists, carried a 16mm movie camera. One day he visited St. Luke’s International Hospital, one of the tallest buildings in Tokyo, ostensibly to pay a visit to the daughter of the U.S. ambassador to Japan who had just given birth. But Berg never stopped at her room. Instead, he went to the top of the building and took a series of panoramic movies of Tokyo. After America entered World War II, Berg screened the movies he took during that trip for military intelligence officers planning the Doolittle Raid on Japan in 1942.

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A Short Discussion of Fingerprinting

Fingerprinting goes all the way back to ancient Babylonia, where business people pressed the tips of their fingertips into clay to record transactions. Fast forward to the third century BC, when the Chinese began using ink-on-paper finger impressions for business dealings and to help identify their children. This eventually spread to Japan, many years before Europe caught up.

These early methods lacked today’s sophistication, however, and were used solely to identify the signers of the various documents. It wasn’t until 1686 that a professor at the University of Bologna, in Italy, noticed that fingerprints had common patterns, such as loops, whorls, arches, and ridges. This was rather interesting to the good professor, but he still couldn’t find a practical use for it. Meantime, 137 years later, another professor discovered nine different fingerprint patterns. Again, he thought it was interesting, but had no further use for the discovery.

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Complicated Toilet Causes Loss of German Sub

U-1206 in happier times.

Life aboard German submarines in WWII ranged from uncomfortable to downright hazardous, even when they weren’t dodging depth charges. They were cramped, spartan, and even in the best of circumstances, the air was foul with diesel fumes, body odors, and other smells. Worst of all, there were only two toilets on board to service the needs of its 50-man crew, and one of the “heads” was located next to the galley, so the space was often used instead to store food.

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Introduction of the Calendar

!! Happy 2018 !!

In the world of the ancients time of day had very little meaning See “Development of Time Zones”. Most people got up at sunrise and went to bed at sunset. However, the time of year was extremely important, especially as far as planting and harvesting was concerned, so, as far back as 800BC, early calendars, based on either sun cycles or moon cycles began to appear.

The original Roman calendar was said to have been invented by Romulus, the first king of Rome, around 753 BCE. This calendar started the year in March (Martius) and consisted of 10 months, with 6 months of 30 days and 4 months of 31 days. The winter season was not assigned to any month, so the calendar year only lasted 304 days with 61 days unaccounted for in the winter.

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How Many Bowl Games Are There?

Updated December 2017

In the early days of television, there were three TV networks, NBC, ABC, and CBS, and on New Year’s Day they broadcast four major bowl games: The Cotton Bowl (Dallas,) the Sugar Bowl (New Orleans,) The Rose Bowl (Pasadena,) and the Orange Bowl (Miami,) all featuring two of the strongest teams in the country.

To be sure, there were a number of other regional bowl games played all across the country (most of them on New Year’s Day,) but the limitations of the broadcasting industry at the time meant that only four games could be telecast coast-to-coast on that day. Regarding the other games, TV moguls felt that nobody outside the immediate area of the two combatants would have the slightest interest, so if there were coverage at all, it would have to be done by local stations. Over the years, however, TV executives and university officials discovered there was money to be made in post-season bowl games, and that’s how it is that now there are now more than 40. It also explains why there are bowl games on TV from December 16th through Jan 8th, and how a team that ends with an 7-7 record can still get into a bowl game.

Presenting this season’s list, updated for 2017/2018. Check here for dates, times, and networks.

I’ve dropped the corporate sponsor to make reading easier, unless it is actually part of the name. Besides, corporate sponsorships change more often than some people change their socks.

Note that there are also nearly 80 defunct bowl games.

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The Spitfire Helps Britain Win WWII

In January 1933, Adolph Hitler assumed power in Germany. After some political shenanigans, he was named Chancellor (a position analogous to Prime Minister) by the aging president and WWI hero Paul von Hindenburg. When Hindenburg died, at the age of 86 in 1934, Hitler immediately moved to secure almost unlimited political power through his use of terror, manipulations, and false promises.

Hitler was vocal about ignoring the stipulations put on Germany by the Treaty of Versailles, which ended WWI and prohibited Germany from rebuilding its military. In particular, Hitler declared that since Germany was a sovereign nation it had the right to modernize its military, and by God, no mere treaty was going to make him give up that right.

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