Personal Finance 
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Fun Facts About The Great Seal of the United States

Reverse of the One Dollar BillIf you’ve seen any conspiracy theory movies involving Freemasons or other secret societies, you probably remember numerous references to the Great Seal of the United States on the reverse of the one dollar bill. Stories about secret societies make for great movies but real life is probably less glamorous (it always is!). I thought it would be interesting to look at the seal, as many have done beforehand, and explain a little of the imagery.

The image on the left, with the pyramid, is considered the reverse (back) side of the seal. The image on the right, with the eagle, is considered the obverse (front) side. In 1776, Congress established a three-person committee to design the Seal, but they never completed the task. Over the next six years, two more committees were formed until a final design was assembled by Charles Thomson, secretary to Congress, in 1782.

Obverse Side

The most prominent part of the Seal is the bald eagle, representative of liberty and freedom. In his talons are an olive branch (the strong right talon) and a bundle of thirteen arrows (the weaker left talon), with the eagle always looking towards the olive branch. The olive branch represents peace while the arrows represent war, thus representing the fact that the power to declare peace and war were the right of Congress alone. The thirteen arrows represent the thirteen colonies and strength in unity. On the eagle’s chest is a shield with thirteen red (6) and white (7) stripes supporting the blue, signifying that it is the states (stripes) who support the federal government (blue). “E pluribus unum” (Out of many, one) is written on the ribbon clutched in the eagle’s beak, reinforcing the idea that the federal government comes out of the authority of the states. Finally, the constellation of thirteen stars breaking through the clouds signifies that this new federal government, with thirteen states, should take its place among the other sovereign nations.

Reverse Side

The reverse side is less exciting but has several bits of imagery worth checking out. First, of course, is the pyramid that dominates the Seal. The pyramid represents strength and duration, much like the great Pyramids at Giza still remain. The pyramid has thirteen levels, though that was explicitly called out in the original design. Atop the pyramid is the Eye of Providence, or God, to watch over. Over the eye, there is the Latin phrase “Annuit Cœptis,” which loosely translates to “favors undertakings.” It referred to Providence, or God, favoring the undertakings of the United States. The other Latin phrase, Novus ordo seclorum, translates to “New Order of the Ages.” Finally, the Roman numeral MDCCLXXVI, at the base of the pyramid, translates to 1776.

Fun Facts

  1. The obverse side of the Great Seal is used to emboss the design onto Treaties and other official documents and stored in the Exhibit Hall of the Department of State.
  2. Benjamin Franklin wanted a wild turkey instead of the eagle, but that never made it into the final design.
  3. The Secretary of State is the official custodian of the Great Seal.
  4. In the original design submitted by one of the Great Seal committees, the eagle was a phoenix. The phoenix represented how the United States rose from the ashes of the Revolutionary War against England. The phoenix, however, never appeared on the official Seal.
  5. The Seal didn’t appear on the dollar bill until 1935.
  6. The shield on the Seal has 6 red and 7 white stripes while the United States flag has 7 red and 6 white stripes.
  7. On many flags and seals with shields, the shield is often supported by other figures. It was important that the shield be supported by the eagle, indicating the United States ought to rely on itself for support.
  8. God is refered to as Providence in the closing sentence of the Declaration of Independence: “And for the support of this Declaration, with a firm reliance on the protection of divine Providence, we mutually pledge to each other our Lives, our Fortunes and our sacred Honor.”
  9. Novus ordo seclorum, New Order of the Ages, comes from the fourth Eclogue of Virgil. Virgil was a very famous Latin poet and the Eclogues were one of three of his major works.
  10. The obverse side of the seal is very similar to the Seal of the President of the United States. There are some minor differences but the general imagery is the same with one exception. Until 1945, when President Truman signed Executive Order No. 9646 and specified the design of the Seal, the eagle faced right and towards the arrows.

Hope you enjoyed the trivia!


 Investing 
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Stock Market: John McCain Will Not Be President

John McCain Not Happy With Stock MarketThat’s the proclamation of the stock market in a resounding fashion.

I always find it entertaining when pundits draw ridiculous correlation relationships between the stock market and [insert something popular at the time]. This time, it’s the winner of the Presidential election in November and the performance of the stock market three months beforehand.

What’s fun is that the CNBC article, Who’s the Next President? The Stock Market Might Know, was written on August 26th – predating all the thick of the market turmoil. The largest single day drop of 777.68 in the Dow didn’t occur until September 29th, almost a month later. The second largest single day drop of 733.08 in the Dow didn’t occur until the 15th of October! (though we did see the single largest point gain on Oct. 13th, a gain of 936.42 in between).

So, you might be wondering how the recent changes in the market have affected the chances of our candidates?

According to the article, an up market in the three months prior to an election signaled victory for the incumbent party 80% of the time, since 1928. At the time the article was written, the S&P 500 was up about 2%. As of Monday’s close, Oct. 20th, the S&P had fallen from it’s August 1st close of 1,269.42 to 985.40. -22.4%!!! Incumbents aren’t looking too good here.

“A poor stock market performance usually anticipates and/or accompanies a weak economy—and that usually leads to the ouster of the ruling party and its president (think Herbert Hoover, Jimmy Carter and George H.W. Bush).” – Heh, talk is of a recession, a bad recession in part caused by a freezing of the credit markets in a manner not seen in quite some time.

The article goes on to discuss a few other fun frivolous statistics like this one:

Since 1833, the Dow Jones Industrial Average has posted an average gain of 6.7 percent in presidential election years, with 20 up years and 14 down ones.| Even if the Dow does turn around and close higher than its 13,264.82 opening level in 2008, history shows it will be an inferior gain to the year before-election year category, when the blue-chip index has gained an average of 10.6 percent and notched 32 up years.

I’m not going out on a limb when I say the chances of the Dow closing above 13,264.82 this year is nil, I think we’re looking at one of those times when we’re in the minority of all those statistics :)


 Personal Finance 
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New Lincoln Penny Features Four Rear Designs

The U.S. Mint announced the four designs of the new penny to debut next year on Abraham Lincoln’s birthday, February 12th. They will be rolled out in three month intervals, starting Feb. 12th, with a Lincoln commemorative silver dollar released in 2009 as well. It’ll be the first time in fifty years that the penny will have changed and each of the four rear designs will show milestones in his life:

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Log Cabin design, his birthplace

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Indiana rail splitter design, where he worked as a young adult

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Illinois State Capitol design, where he served as a representative

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Half-finished US Capitol design, representing his work to build/preserve the Union

If you’re a fan of trivia, you’ll be happy to learn that Abraham Lincoln was the first person to appear on a regular US coin in 1909 (the penny of course). Here are 49 other fun facts about money.

Lastly, some want to see the penny abolished all together!

New Lincoln penny designs unveiled [CNN Money]


 Banking 
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Ecology of Banking: Credit Unions, Banks & Thrifts

For all intents and purposes to the consumer, there is little difference among thrifts, commercial banks, and credit unions. The financial services they all offer will be similar and you probably don’t even know if the financial institution you’re banking with is a thrift or commercial bank (Washington Mutual is technically a savings and loan and the largest one). In fact, the only real notable difference between thrifts/banks & credit unions has to deal with depository insurance. Thrifts and commercial banks are covered by FDIC, credit unions are covered by NCUA, though both are covered to the same limit of $100,000 per person per financial institution.

Now, for the academics and trivia buffs out there, here’s a little more on their differences.

(Click to continue reading…)


 General 
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How Much Is An Olympic Medal Worth?

2008 Beijing OlympicsIf you ask an Olympian, the answer is that the medal is priceless.

If you ask the governments of countries, the answer is in the millions.

If you ask someone who is interested only in the precious metals in the medals, the answer is a little more pedestrian.

While the gold, silver, and bronze medals of each Olympiad are unique in their design, the IOC has minimum standards for medal composition. The Beijing medals are 70mm in diameter and 6mm in thickness, which is 10mm wider and 3mm thicker than IOC requirements. The IOC requires that the gold medal be made of pure silver and gilded with at least 6 grams of gold. They also have a fair amount of jade integrated into the design. Since there are no reports as to the actual composition of the medal, with respect to jade versus the precious medals, for simplicity I’ll assume the medals are 700mm x 6mm of 92.5% silver and six grams of gold (for gold, and 100% silver for silver). It’s a bit inaccurate but I think we can make do!

Six grams of gold is worth approximately $160 at average prices today and the other 92.5% of the silver is worth at about $60, again assuming average prices. A total price for the gold at $220 puts it higher than previous years in sheer previous metal values.

Or we could cheat and read reports on China spending $1.24M on the six thousand medals, making them an average of $206.66 each. Telegraph.co.uk priced the cost of a gold medal at $393 though this probably includes design, manufacturing and shipping. Compare this to Athens in 2000 when each medal cost $155 and you see how much of an impact gold prices have been.

So pretty!

2008 Beijing Olympic Medals: Front w. Ribbon

2008 Beijing Olympic Medals: Back w. Ribbon

Medals of Beijing Olympic Games unveiled (with detailed photos of the medals) [Beijing 2008]


 Career 
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Major Sports Championship Prize Monies

On Tuesday, Madame X blogged about the increases in prize money at Wimbledon this year and I thought it’d be fun to check out all the purses at all the major American sports from football to baseball to golf to tennis. I managed to catch the final set between Federer and Nadal and it was amazing. Madame X, if you though there were some crazy shots in the beginning, the fifth set was unreal. What’s even more surprising is that the champ takes home nearly a million and a half dollars, I didn’t know the prize money was that big.

Unless otherwise indicated, the prize money listed is for 2008 and the conversions were done through Google just a few minutes ago. I was surprised that many sports don’t have a guaranteed championship winning prize payout. Many of them simply share a bit of the gate receipts (or something similar) with the players, though I imagine in those sports there are rich contract incentives.

Football – The Super Bowl

The players on the winning team will each receive $64,000 for winning the game. That pay day doesn’t include the championship ring each of the players will receive or any contract bonuses they may have. New York Giants players were each given 1.5 karat diamond rings that cost $5,500 and are valued at $25,000.

Hockey – Stanley Cup

In hockey, according to WikiAnswers, there is no cash payday for the players on the winning team unless it’s specifically written into their contract.

Baseball – World Series

Again, like in hockey, unless its written in the contract, players don’t get anything extra outside of a share of the gate receipts. You can read more about the shares at Baseball Almanac.

Basketball – NBA Championship

According to the Wages of Win Journal, the payout for a championship win is a little trickier to calculate. Player salaries are all paid out in the regular season and bonuses are paid to each team during the post-season. The winning team of the NBA Finals takes home $1.77M split amongst all the players and coaching staff. WOW did the math and found that, assuming the winner sweeps every series and plays only 16 games, they get only $9,342 (versus around $50k in the regular season on average) if it was split across the players alone.

Golf Majors

Men’s:

  • Masters: 1,350,000
  • U.S. Open: $1,350,000
  • The Open Championship: $1,542,450 (2007)
  • PGA Championship: $1,260,000 (2007)

Women’s:

  • Kraft Nabisco Championship: $300,000
  • LPGA Championship: $300,000
  • Women’s British Open: $320,512 (2007)
  • U.S. Women’s Open: $560,000 (2007)

Tennis Majors

Australian Open:

  • Men’s Singles – A$1,370,000 (~$1,302,596)
  • Women’s Singles – A$1,370,000 (~$1,302,596)

French Open:

  • Men’s Singles – €1,000,000 (~$1,566,900)
  • Women’s Singles – €1,000,000 (~$1,566,900)

Wimbledon:

  • Men’s Singles – £750,000 (~$1,477,650)
  • Women’s Singles – £750,000 (~$1,477,650)

US Open:

  • Men’s Singles (2007) – $1,400,000
  • Women’s Singles (2007) – $1,400,000

Of course, we all know that salary and prizes don’t tell the whole story, the richest sports athletes rely heavily on endorsements. I’m still waiting for mine. :)


 Personal Finance 
25
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50 Fun Facts About Taxes

It’s April 15th and today I will not write a single thing about last minute tax moves (you’re too late) or about the tax stimulus (just fill out a tax return and put in your direct deposit information) or anything boring like that. You don’t want to be like that guy to the right, right? Nope! Today will be a day of fun and we can start it off with fifty fun facts!

Some of these facts, I can guarantee, will not be fun. There will be a mix of tax history, some current tax laws, some mind boggling statistics that will likely piss you off; but at least we’ll start you off with some of the weirdest tax laws and funny trivia! You’ll read some of them and say, “Hmm… okay, kind of interesting, but not actually fun.” However, some of them will be fun or your money back! Let’s get started.

Weird Tax Laws

  • Drug Tax Stamps – In at least 23 states there is a tax on illegal drugs. When you buy an illegal drug, like marijuana or even moonshine, in Tennessee, you have 48 hours to report it to the Department of Revenue to pay your tax and get a stamp for the substance. No identification is needed, though there are a dozen cop cars sitting outside the office. (Just kidding about the cop cars, I have no idea)
  • North Carolina has had a illegal drug tax stamp law in place for 15 years, only 79 people have purchased stamps since 1990 (most of those were stamp collectors, or complete and utter morons).
  • If the law sounds absurd, it’s only because of the way it was worded. The real end result is that people are taxed on drugs found in their possession when they’re busted. This creates a new revenue stream for the state or county and I can’t say I can argue with that.
  • “Jock tax” – Levied on athletes who earn an income competing in a particular city or state. California first levied this tax on athletes from Chicago in 1991 after the Chicago Bulls beat the LA Lakers in the 1991 NBA Finals. What a bunch of sore losers.
  • Alabama has a 10 cent tax on a deck of playing cards.
  • Blueberries from Maine are subject to specific tax too, anyone who grows, purchases, sells, handles, or processes blueberries in Maine has to pay a penny and a half tax per pound.
  • “Fountain soda drinks” in Chicago are taxed at 9%, if it comes in a bottle or can then it’s only taxed at 3%.
  • Peter the Great in Russia once taxed beards (he doesn’t do much taxing anymore). There was also a tax on souls, hats, boots, beehives, basements, chimneys, food, clothing, birth, marriage, and burial.
  • In the UK, everyone under the age of 75 pays a TV license fee £126.50 for color TVs and £42.00 for black and white TVs (it in part pays for state run networks like the BBC). If you are legally blind, you only owe half that fee.
  • According to the UK’s Tax Avoidance Schemes Regulations 2006, “it is illegal not to tell the taxman anything you don’t want him to know, though you don’t have to tell him anything you don’t mind him knowing.” What!?
  • Royal Navy ships that enter the Port of London must pay a barrel of rum in tax to the Constable of the Tower of London. All visitors to my house must pay a case of beer in tax to me.

Tax History & Facts

  • The first income tax ever was in 1404 in England.
  • The first property tax in the United States was in 1798 and it was on land, houses, and slaves.
  • The first US income tax started during in the Civil War to help raise money back in 1862.
  • The first federal tax office in the US was the Office of the Commissioner of Internal Revenue in 1862, what a coincidence!
  • The 16th Amendment, ratified in 1913, established the first permanent US income tax.
  • Four states rejected the amendment: Connecticut, Florida, Rhode Island, and Utah.
  • Two never considered/discussed it: Pennsylvania, Virginia
  • Everyone pays income tax. :) [this fact is decidedly not fun, I concede this]
  • There are over 7 million words in the tax law and regulations. That beats the Gettysburg address, the Declaration of Independence, and the Holy Bible all rolled into one (269+1,337+773k).
  • There were 402 tax forms in 1990, by 2002 that number had jumped to a staggering 526.
  • My personal favorite is Form 6478 – Credit for Alcohol Used as Fuel. (I don’t think the IRS really counts beer as fuel, though it does keep me going sometimes)
  • According to CCH, the number of pages in the tax code and regulations went from 26,300 in 1984 to an astonishing 54,846 in 2003. Those 1.2M tax preparers are smiling every year.
  • The IRS sends out over 8 billion pages in forms and instructions every single year, that’s nearly 300,000 trees (now they use recycled paper).
  • The easiest form, the 1040EZ, has thirty-three pages of instructions.
  • Tax Freedom Day was April 23rd in 2008, a few days earlier than last year because of the tax stimulus rebate.

Tax Collection & Forms

  • You know how everyone hates the taxman? Did you know that in 1789, the start of the French Revolution, tax collectors were sent to the guillotine? Poor folks were just doing their jobs… it’s not like they enjoyed it!
  • Too bad those French tax collectors didn’t live in Greece a few thousand years earlier, back then the tax professionals were considered the most noble man in society (perhaps that’s why they were given the slice in France, the French Revolution wasn’t particularly friendly to “nobles”)
  • 21% of paper returns have errors, 0.5% of e-file returns have errors; do your taxes electronically.
  • In 2003, 78% of returns received refunds to the tune of $205B and an average of $2,073 per return.
  • The first e-file (electronic transmission of a tax return) occurred on January 24, 1986…
  • By 1989, taxpayers in 36 states could e-file their taxes…
  • By 1990, everyone could.
  • For each $100 that the IRS collects, it costs only thirty-nine cents. While you might hate them, tell me what other agency runs with such efficiency? The answer is probably none.
  • The Cato Institute estimates that there are approximately 1.2M tax preparers in the country.
  • AMT was designed to snag 155 wealthy taxpayers in 1969. (Yeah, they created a whole new tax to get 155 people!)
  • Technically, income tax is voluntary (but not optional)!
  • There are 114k employees at the IRS, that’s more than the CIA or the FBI.
  • According to the Joint Committee on Taxation, in 2006, 53.7% of all federal income taxes were paid by those earning $200k+. Those between $100k and $200k paid out 28.3% of income taxes. That means 82% of taxes paid are by those making more than $100k. (link)
  • Taken in aggregate, those earning less than $40k paid 0%.

Facts That Will Piss You Off

  • A Government Accountability Office report released in 2004 showed that…
    • 61% of US corporations paid no income tax between 1996 and 2000.
    • 94% of US corporations paid less than 5% their total income in taxes.
    • US corporations paid, on average, $11.88 in taxes for every $1,000 in gross receipts.
    • 38% of big companies ($250M+ assets or $50M+ revenue) paid no taxes.
    • in 1943, 39.8% of taxes collected came from corporations; only 7.4% in 2003.
  • From 1996 to 1998, these companies paid zero taxes: AT&T, Bristol-Myers, Squibb, Chase Manhattan, Enron, ExxonMobil, General Electric, Microsoft, Pfizer and Phillip Morris. (link)
  • In 1998, these companies received a total of $1.3B in rebates (despite making $12B in pre-tax profits): Texaco, Chevron, CSX, PepsiCo, Pfizer, J.P. Morgan, Goodyear, Enron, General Motors, Phillips Petroleum and Northrop Grumman. (link)

Now that you’re all fired up… I will leave with one final quote, most often mis-quoted (except right now, duh!). Benjamin Franklin, on November 13, 1789, wrote the following to Jean-Baptiste Leroy: “Our new Constitution is now established, and has an appearance that promises permanency; but in this world nothing can be said to be certain, except death and taxes.”


 Personal Finance 
20
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50 Fun Facts About Cold Hard Cash

$100000 Woodrow Wilson Gold CertificateCash, cabbage, paper, scratch, scrizzle, dineros, dough, whatever you want to call it, it’s all means the same – it’s cold hard cash. There is plenty of useless and fun trivia about currency that is certainly fun to know and you guessed it, I’m going to give you at least fifty fun facts about currency, mostly US facts but a sprinkling of international ones near the end. The first bunch have to deal with US money history in general such as the creation of the Mint and the Bureau of Engraving and Printing, then moves onto specifics about the bills and coins such as what they are made of. Then we move onto some of the interesting facts that deal with counterfeiting. The 50 facts end with a few facts on what you should do with damaged or mutilated currency and then a few international facts for those of you looking to get an edge in Trivial Pursuit. I hope you enjoy it!

Oh, and in keeping with the tradition of these 50 fun facts posts, I added a few bonus facts so there are a few more than 50 in the list. If you enjoy this list, you might enjoy 50 Fun Facts about Credit Cards and 50 Fun Facts about Banks.

(Click to continue reading…)


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