Happy Birthday Italy!

From Boing Boing, I learn that Italian police have arrested two Japanese nationals who might have been trying to smuggle treasury bonds across the Italian-Swiss border. What makes this event newsworthy? The size of the haul:

$134.5 Billion in U.S. Treasury Bonds.

If the bonds are real, it would be one of the largest seizure of its kind in history. If the bonds are fake… well, that’s the disturbing thing: they don’t look very fake.

Boing Boing can’t help but chuckle at the prospect of a windfall for the Italian government, saying:

Either these guys are the world’s dumbest, most ambitious counterfeiters, or they’re the biggest currency smugglers ever caught.

It gets better: Italian law says that the penalty for currency smuggling is 40% of the seized cash, and that 40% (US$28 billion) will take a huge bite out of Italy’s public debt.

If the certificates were real, for Italy it would be like hitting the jackpot. The fine alone would amount to US$ 38 billion, five times the estimated cost of rebuilding quake-devastated Abruzzi region. It would help Italy’s eliminate its public deficit.

But Erin and I have other questions. One: isn’t the U.S. Treasury likely to know whether $134.5 billion in bonds is, essentially, missing? And even if these bills aren’t fakes, well… Erin puts it succinctly: “any chance that we could declare them fakes?”

Much as we’d like to see Italy get a windfall, a transfer of $38 Billion into government coffers isn’t coming unless one particular government raises no objections, and I don’t see that happening. Do you?

The Taking of Pelham 1-2-3

I have to confess that I don’t get the need to issue a second remake of this 1970s movie. The first remake (filmed in the Toronto subway) was embarrassingly bad since it was so obvious that it was the Toronto subway masquerading (badly) for the New York system and the film had to (very obviously) be sped up so that the leisurely rolling train could appear as though it was rocketing down the tunnels.

I realize that this current version has star power in the form of John Travolta and Danziel Washington, but the original version with Walter Mathau is darn near definitive, in my opinion. And it is also more than just about a group of clever thugs taking a subway train hostage. The story is very much the product of 1970s New York, a rough-and-tumble city that’s fallen on hard times. It’s a story where the most notable thing about a hostage taking is not that gunmen have taken hostages, but they appear to want to use the train as their getaway car. It’s a story about an incompetent mayor who’s down with the flu, who does the right thing for “eighteen sure-fire votes” (the lives of the people in the car), and it is a story about the gritty dignity of New Yorkers as they cope with this terrible disruption. Matthau’s deadpan expression at the end of the final scene when he catches the final conspirator out on a fluke mistake, really says it all, and it’s significant that this, the most powerful scene in the original movie, doesn’t have gunfire.

Does the new version have these elements? Or does it just blow stuff up? I strongly suspect that it’s the latter.

Take a Load Off

Janet over at The Walrus Said talks about California governor Schwarzenegger’s proposal to buy schools e-books and do away with textbooks altogether. In Schwarzenegger’s words:

“It’s nonsensical and expensive to look to traditional hard-bound books when information today is so readily available in electronic form,” Schwarzenegger wrote. “Especially now, when our school districts are strapped for cash and our state budget deficit is forcing further cuts to classrooms, we must do everything we can to untie educators’ hands and free up dollars so that schools can do more with fewer resources.”

Janet’s response:

The devil is in the details, they say, and I’m sure many jurisdictions will be watching to see if the Governator actually saves the state money. If he does, you can be sure that there will be many imitators. It goes to show that hard times tend to stimulate innovation, as the status quo becomes too uncomfortable to maintain.

She goes on to talk about the benefits, and then asks:

What do you think? Is Schwarzenegger visionary or deluded? Will the peripheral costs erase the financial benefits?

I don’t have much to add, frankly. There’s sure to be a high initial cost to such a measure (think of the cost of a Kindle in every school locker), but after a couple of years, I think the state is sure to save money, not to mention a whole lot of paper. But the biggest winners, in my opinion, could be the students’ backs.

As I writer, I can’t conceive of e-books replacing books outright, but when it comes to textbooks, electronic ink can’t replace paper soon enough, especially when colour electronic ink is perfected.

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