Will Iceland adopt the loonie?

Will the loonie soon be flying high in … Iceland?

For months, Icelanders have been toying with the idea of ditching the tarnished krona, which has never fully recovered from the collapse of the financial system four years ago. But one of the intriguing suggestions floating around the North Atlantic island is that instead of the adopting the euro — a natural fit given that Iceland has taken initial steps to join the European Union — it might cast a furtive eye to the Canadian loonie.

This is not as outlandish as it sounds. Canada’s banking system is something Iceland’s is not — sound — and the Canadian economy, with its mooring in much-desired natural resource wealth, is among the most stable and predictable in the advanced world.

Canada also does not have the massive overhang of sovereign debt that will trouble Europe or even the United States for years…

Bank of Montreal economist Douglas Porter says the feat can be accomplished. Iceland would need to buy sufficient Canadian currency to do the trick, which likely will initially put upward pressure on the loonie.

But the impact on Canada would be small, he said, since Iceland’s population is only about 317,000 and the economy is less than one per cent of Canada’s…

Frankly, I think we should take it as a great compliment. I know everybody thinks of Iceland as a basket case, but they are beginning to turn things around,” Porter said.

“It shows you how far we’ve come in the past 10 years that people are even talking about this.”

I think it’s a great idea. Probably add futher currency to the idea of Americans moving to Canada for the opportunity to live in a stable, sensible nation that offers reasonable healthcare and a good education.

Yes that was a deliberate pun.

Thanks, Honeyman

Who’s surprised when pets are part of your wedding?

When Melissa Kahn walks down the aisle at her April 15 wedding in her parents’ garden in Beverly Hills, Calif., in place of a flower bouquet she plans to be clutching a chicken, her little black frizzle cochin bantam hen that she says looks like a “fluffy pompom.”

“In theory it’s a good idea; it’s so ‘us,’ ” said Ms. Kahn, a life coach to teenage girls, who, with her fiancé, Adam Wilkenfeld, a producer for cable television, is raising six chickens at their home in the Studio City neighborhood of Los Angeles.

“Our love of our chickens is a quirky thing we share in our life together,” she explained — “something our friends associate with us.” So much so that drawings of chickens appear on the save-the-date card and the envelope liner of the couple’s wedding invitation.

Including pets in weddings, as the singer Carrie Underwood and the hockey player Mike Fisher did in July 2010, has become just one more way for couples to personalize their weddings… (Ace, their rat terrier, scampered down the aisle in a pink, Swarovski-crystal-encrusted tuxedo.)

In a 2011 study of American weddings, Brides magazine found that nearly 5 percent of brides included a pet in the wedding party, and its editors estimated that nearly double that amount had pets present during the ceremony and/or reception.

Because animals are unpredictable, the downsides to such a plan are obvious and sometimes embarrassing.

Although Ms. Kahn says her frizzle is “docile and sweet tempered,” she frets about how the chicken will react to the music, crowd and extra attention. In addition, she worries that her feathery friend could have an “accident” en route to the altar, become lunch for neighboring hawks or just be “a major distraction; after all it is our wedding.”

RTFA for more tales of pets-included weddings. Sounds right to me. When Helen and I were married in the courtyard of the family compound, there were three dogs in attendance.

How could you leave out part of the family?

Leading Dems lobby for same-sex marriage in the party platform

Jonathan Mintz, left, New York City’s consumer affairs commissioner,
embraces John Feinblatt, a chief adviser to Mayor Michael Bloomberg,
and their daughters at their wedding

House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi and a growing number of Democratic leaders are hoping this year’s Democratic National Convention in Charlotte will go down in history as the first to include a plank in the party platform that fully supports same-sex marriage.

Freedom to Marry, a 9-year-old gay-rights group, launched its “Democrats: Say I Do” campaign last month. About 30,000 people have signed its online petition to put marriage equality in the 2012 Democratic platform.

In addition to Pelosi, of California, the group’s push has been endorsed by Sen. Jeanne Shaheen of New Hampshire, one of eight states to legalize same-sex marriage, and former Sen. Russ Feingold of Wisconsin…

President Barack Obama, who is banking on winning North Carolina’s 15 electoral votes and the enthusiastic support of gays and lesbians, appears to be straddling the fence on same-sex marriage. In the 2008 campaign, he favored civil unions but opposed gay marriage. Since then, he’s said only that his position is “evolving…”

Continue reading

For the first time since 2004 – see 5 bright planets in the night sky

For the first time in almost a decade, sky-watchers this week will be able to see all five naked-eye planets over the course of one night for several nights in a row.

The classical naked-eye planets—Mercury, Venus, Mars, Jupiter, and Saturn—can be seen easily without optical aids and so have been known since ancient times. But the quintet hasn’t appeared together during a single night since 2004.

What’s more, this week’s parade of planets will be joined in the nighttime skies by the waxing crescent to waxing gibbous moon and the superbright stars Sirius and Canopus…

Although the moon and the seven bright objects will all be visible in one night, they won’t all appear at the same time or in the same region of the sky.

The best time to catch sight of the cosmic parade will be between February 28 and March 7. This is when the more elusive planets Mercury and Mars will be at their brightest in the evening sky for 2012, and when the moon will be above the horizon for many hours before setting…

“The moon, of course, is our closest cosmic neighbor and the only one we can really study as a world with the naked eye or even simple binoculars…However these other points of light are all really bright objects in the sky too, so to get the full experience, take your time and let your eyes adapt to the darkness and enjoy..” said Geza Gyuk, an astronomer with the Adler Planetarium in Chicago.

RTFA for suggestions in where to look and when. Enjoy. I hope you live somewhere with little light or no pollution.

Sorry, Northern Hemisphere only. 🙂

Oakland food truck vendors band together for protection against gangs and gangsters

Every morning, Gabriel Martinez slides a black 9-millimeter pistol into a leather holster over his jeans and thinks about his son.

Five-year-old Gabrielito was struck by a stray bullet when a man opened fire on Mr. Martinez’s taco truck in East Oakland on New Year’s Eve as Gabrielito played nearby. After Gabrielito died in his arms, Mr. Martinez locked the blue and white truck behind a tall gray fence and gave himself over to grief.

Before Gabrielito’s death, the men and women who operate the food trucks along International Boulevard, which slices through the heart of East Oakland, accepted the frequent robberies as a cost of doing business. Most never called the police. But Gabrielito’s death has made many realize that the crime that endangers their businesses also endangers the dream of providing a better future for their families.

Since they were first allowed to operate in that area, taco trucks and pushcarts have provided a route to a fledgling middle class for a small group of entrepreneurs from Oakland’s growing population of Latino immigrants and citizens. Latinos now comprise close to 22 percent of Oakland’s population, with a majority living in the Fruitvale district, a bustling, colorful neighborhood that has become a culinary destination for locals and thrifty tourists.

As with most small businesses in Fruitvale, however, the taco trucks deal mostly in cash, and the cash attracts robbers. In 2011, Oakland officials said, Fruitvale had the most reported robberies in the city. Now, a group of mostly older Latino vendors plan to pool their money to hire armed security guards and install surveillance cameras.

Having something to protect is unusual for most of Oakland’s Latino immigrant population, who earn on average the lowest incomes in the city. But they have no faith that the Oakland police can protect them, so they are banding together for self-protection.

And that’s the story. RTFA for the details – people arming themselves, banding together with or without modern gear and guns to protect themselves because local government, local police couldn’t care less about their community.

Read through the anecdotes – read the excuses offered by cops and politicians alike. You probably could write them yourselves from memory or cut-and-paste from your local TV station’s website.

Nothing new about it. Nothing special about it happening in Oakland. The coppers and politicians will respond to the posh houses up in the hills – if they respond anywhere. They don’t expect many votes from undocumentados anyway.

DNA helps to flesh out the record about Otzi the Alpine iceman

Day of Discovery

The first complete genome-sequencing of “Otzi,” Italy’s prehistoric iceman, is revealing a wealth of details about the man who roamed the Alps 5,300 years ago and could unleash a frenzy of activity among scientists thanks to open data.

Over the last 20 years, scientists have painstakingly collected data from the stomach, bowels and teeth of the 45-year old man, who was found sticking out of a glacier by German climbers in 1991 in the Tyrolean Alps on the Austro-Italian border.

But for the first time since the Copper-age individual was unearthed, his complete genetic profile has been reconstituted, revealing a very modern predisposition for cardiovascular diseases, lactose intolerance, and brown eyes that betray near-Eastern origins.

“He is more closely related to modern Sardinian or Corsican populations than, for instance, mainland Italy further to the south,” Angela Graefen, a human genetics researcher at the Eurac Institute for the Mummies and the Iceman in Bolzano, Italy, told Reuters…

“His ancestors were more plausibly from the first wave of migrants from the Near East. The genome group stuck in the isolated regions which were less affected by human migrations, Mediterranean islands but also remote Alpine valleys.”

Otzi, a hunter who was felled by an arrow while climbing the high mountains, was also predisposed to arteriosclerosis and heart diseases, conditions thought to be more linked to modern risk factors such as being overweight, smoking or drinking…

The research helps flesh out a picture of the iceman, who had brown hair, type-O blood, the lactose intolerance that was common among Neolithic agrarian societies. He also was the first-known carrier of Lyme disease, a bacterial infection spread by ticks.

But the full-genome sequencing also opens far more possibilities for researchers around the globe than the 2008 sequencing of his mitochondrial DNA — which is passed down through the mother’s line.

“This is more information than we could probably study in a lifetime,” Eurac’s Graefen said. “That’s why we have made the data public on a special browser so that a specialist in any field can look this up.”

“There are millions of genes out there which have yet to be identified. In the future, when we know what a particular gene is for, we can check what it was like 5,000 years ago,” she said.

I never miss a story about Otzi. I’ve hiked the region where he was found – and I wish I had found him.

Archaic DNA sequencing is such an interesting study. Yet another aspect of computational analysis I’d love to focus on – if I was starting out as a geek, nowadays.