November 14, 2017

Why the Vikings Disappeared

Filed under: Europe, History, Religion — Tags: , , , , , — Nicholas @ 02:00

Published on 17 Feb 2017

The Vikings were infamous in the Middle Ages for their raids against the coasts of Northern Europe. Their age however was quite brief in the span of time, only 300 years. What caused the end of the Vikings?

March 21, 2017

Icelandic standup about Nordic neighbours in general and Finnish language in particular

Filed under: Europe, Humour — Tags: , , , , , — Nicholas @ 03:00

Published on Dec 1, 2016

H/T to Colby Cosh for the link.

January 24, 2016

What was the Food like at the Front?I OUT OF THE TRENCHES

Filed under: Europe, History, Military, WW1 — Tags: , , , — Nicholas @ 03:00

Published on 23 Jan 2016

Indy sits in the chair of wisdom again to answer your questions. This time we tell you how the food was like in the trenches and what role Andorra and Iceland had in World War 1.

July 28, 2015

Viking genes

Filed under: Europe, History, Science — Tags: , , , , — Nicholas @ 03:00

In Nautilis, Adam Piore talks about the project to thoroughly map Icelanders’ DNA:

In the ninth century there was a Norwegian Viking named Kveldulf, so big and strong that no man could defeat him. He sailed the seas in a long-ship and raided and plundered towns and homesteads of distant lands for many years. He settled down to farm, a very wealthy man.

Kveldulf had two sons who grew up to become mighty warriors. One joined the service of King Harald Tangle Hair. But in time the King grew fearful of the son’s growing power and had him murdered. Kveldulf vowed revenge. With his surviving son and allies, Kveldulf caught up with the killers, and wielding a double-bladed ax, slew 50 men. He sent the paltriest survivors back to the king to recount his deed and fled toward the newly settled realm of Iceland. Kveldulf died on the journey. But his remaining son Skallagrim landed on Iceland’s west coast, prospered, and had children.

Skallagrim’s children had children. Those children had children. And the blood and genes of Kveldulf the Viking and Skallagrim his son were passed down the ages. Then, in 1949, in the capital of Reykjavik, a descendent named Kari Stefansson was born.

Like Kveldulf, Stefansson would grow to be a giant, 6’5”, with piercing eyes and a beard. As a young man, he set out for the distant lands of the universities of Chicago and Harvard in search of intellectual bounty. But at the dawn of modern genetics in the 1990s, Stefansson, a neurologist, was lured back to his homeland by an unlikely enticement — the very genes that he and his 300,000-plus countrymen had inherited from Kveldulf and the tiny band of settlers who gave birth to Iceland.

Stefansson had a bold vision. He would create a library of DNA from every single living descendent of his nation’s early inhabitants. This library, coupled with Iceland’s rich trove of genealogical data and meticulous medical records, would constitute an unparalleled resource that could reveal the causes — and point to cures — for human diseases.

In 1996, Stefansson founded a company called Decode, and thrust his tiny island nation into the center of the burgeoning field of gene hunting. “Our genetic heritage is a natural resource,” Stefansson declared after returning to Iceland. “Like fish and hot pools.”

July 23, 2013

The real aftermath of Iceland’s banking collapse

Filed under: Economics, Government — Tags: , , , , — Nicholas @ 09:01

Simon Black contradicts the media narrative that Iceland has “recovered” from the melt-down of their banking sector:

It was a spectacular collapse. And the first of many. Ireland, Greece, Cyprus, etc. were soon to follow.

Yet unlike the bankrupt countries of southern Europe, Iceland dealt with its economic emergency in a completely different way.

Politicians here are proud that they never resorted to austere budget cuts that are so prevalent in Europe.

They imposed capital controls. They let the banks fail. And, as is so commonly trumpeted in the press, they ‘jailed their bankers and bailed out their people.’

Today, Iceland is held up as the model of recovery. Famous economists like Paul Krugman praise the government for rapidly rebuilding the economy without having to resort to austerity.

This morning’s headline from The Telegraph newspaper sums it up: “Iceland has taken its medicine and is off the critical list”.

It turns out, most of these claims are dead wrong.


Meanwhile, the government ended up taking on massive amounts of debt in order to bail out the biggest bank of all – Iceland’s CENTRAL BANK.

This was a bit different than the way things played out in the US and Europe.

In the US, the Fed conjures money out of thin air and funnels it to the government.

In Iceland, since the Kronor is not a global reserve currency, the government had to go into debt in order to funnel money to the Central Bank, all so that the currency wouldn’t collapse.

As a result, Iceland’s state debt tripled, almost overnight, in 2008. And from 2007 until now, it has increased nearly 5-fold.

Today, the government is spending a back-breaking 17.3% of its tax revenue just to pay interest on the debt.

And this is real interest, too. Iceland’s central bank owns very little of the government debt. The rest is owed to foreign creditors… putting the country in an extremely difficult financial position.

At the end of the day, the Icelandic people are responsible for this. They were never bailed out. They were stuck with the bill.

Meanwhile, although unemployment in Iceland is low, wages are even lower. And the weak currency has brought on double-digit inflation.

So while people do have jobs, they can hardly afford anything.

This is most prevalent in the housing market, most of which is underwater. Interest rates have jumped so much that many Icelanders are now on negative amortization schedules, i.e. their mortgage balances are actually INCREASING with each payment.

March 21, 2013

The choices for Cyprus don’t seem to include saving the banks

Filed under: Economics, Europe — Tags: , , , , — Nicholas @ 11:04

In Forbes, Tim Worstall sums up the real problem facing Cypriots:

There’s a very large portion of the European political elite who believe, take on faith (for there’s certainly no convincing real world evidence about it) that the creation of the euro is part of the inevitable creation of the European State. And as such it is entirely irreversible. It’s not just that people once in the euro shouldn’t leave it: it’s that it is simply inconceivable that anyone ever would leave it. Either wish to leave it or be allowed to leave it.

Wherein lies the danger to said European dreams and it’s tiny Cyprus that poses said danger.

As both Krugman and Yglesias point out, the Cypriot banking system is bust, gone. Even if it needn’t have happened this way having the system closed for at least a week is going to lead to bank runs when they finally reopen. The economy is most certainly going to stutter if not be deeply depressed as a result of that banking system going. Given that a substantial part of the economy is about offshore finance, and that that’s not going to survive the banking system crash, there will also, whatever else happens, be substantial declines in GDP.

It’s most certainly true that leaving the euro will cause all of those things to happen. But if they’re going to happen anyway then why not leave the euro? Why not bring back the Cyprus Pound? That is, do an Iceland?

[. . .]

But here’s the thing: there’s still that religious insistence among the federasts that the euro is irreversible, a part of the future of the politics and economy of the continent. And if Cyprus does leave and does recover without too much paid then what reason for Greece, or Spain, Portugal, to stay in? If going bust and going back to one’s own currency is, as Iceland showed (although they kept, rather than went back to), less painful that the austerity required to stay in the euro then, well, why stay in the euro?

July 10, 2012

Tim Harford on Iceland’s economic recovery

Filed under: Economics, Government — Tags: , , — Nicholas @ 09:20

From his weekend column:

Iceland managed to create three massive global banks. The economy itself is tiny: Iceland has the same population as Coventry, although arguably the scenery is better. That’s really not big enough to support a lot of globally competitive export industries. Iceland had three: fish, aluminium smelting and tourism. Four if you count Björk. Can you blame them if they fancied dabbling in something a bit sexier, such as investment banking?

Investment banking is sexier than Björk?

I don’t think investment banking even manages to be sexier than aluminium smelting these days, but eight or nine years ago it must have seemed like a great gig. So these Icelandic banks borrowed loads of cash and used it to buy pretty much anything they wanted. In particular, they bought from each other at rather ebullient levels, which made for substantial profits on paper. The whole thing was a classic bubble.

And when the flow of loans dried up?

The banks crashed and there was clearly nothing the government could do to save them – they were far too big. And the party came to a grinding halt.

It doesn’t make a lot of sense.

No. It’s hard to understand why anyone wanted to lend them the money, and just as hard to understand why they thought they could instantly learn the craft of global investment banking.

May 17, 2012

Iceland adopting the Canadian dollar? It’s more likely than you think

Filed under: Cancon, Economics — Tags: , — Nicholas @ 08:18

Tristin Hopper in the National Post on the continued interest in Iceland for a currency union with Canada:

Icelanders are united on the need to ditch the krona. However, the country’s reigning Social Democrats want the Euro, while the opposition Progressive Party has been pushing for the Canadian dollar since last summer. As resource economies, Canada and Iceland’s economic cycles are more likely to be in sync, loonie proponents argue. Also, Canada is home to about 200,000 people of Icelandic descent, more than anywhere else in the world. “I see that connection helping the public in Iceland accepting a new currency,” said Mr. Gudjonsson.

So far, the loonie appears to be winning. A March Gallup poll showed public approval for the loonie easily pulling ahead of the U.S. dollar, the euro and the Norwegian krone.

The mechanics of the swap would be the easy part. A party of Icelanders officials would simply fly to a Canadian bank and arrange a $300-million withdrawal. The final pile of multicoloured bills — no larger than two photocopiers — would then be shipped across the North Atlantic and loaded into ATMs and bank vaults over a weekend. (While there is far more than $300-million in the Icelandic money system, the country currently only has $300-million worth of krona coins and bills in circulation.)

Short of imposing its own Iceland-style currency controls, the Bank of Canada has no choice in the matter. “We will do it unilaterally without asking,” said Mr. Valfells. “It’s better to ask for forgiveness than permission.”

Update: In a totally unrelated development, if Iceland adopts the loonie to replace the krona, we may get more interesting stories like this one from our new Icelandic friends. It’s got all sorts of elves, norse gods, and politicians. Much more fun than our current troll-versus-troll stories out of Ottawa.

March 5, 2012

Tim Worstall: “Neoliberal” has a meaning

Filed under: Economics, Europe — Tags: , , , — Nicholas @ 09:55

He’s ticked off at an article at the Guardian, blaming “neoliberals” for the Greek crisis:

In what paranoid fantasy is what is happening in Greece neoliberal?

The actual neoliberal position (recently affirmed at our meeting in the underground secret headquarters under the volcano that sank Atlantis) is that the euro itself was and is a bad idea as it’s not an optimal currency area. And if there is to be a euro then Greece should not be a part of it. Since it is, and it’s bust, then it should default and devalue.

In short, the neoliberal solution is the Icelandic one, not the Irish, Greek or Portuguese.

So how come we neoliberals (as you know, the modern incarnation of the Green Lizards, Rosicrucians and Illuminati all rolled into one) are getting blamed for the entire fuck up that is happening precisely because no one will follow the prescriptions of neoliberal economics?

February 24, 2012

Star Wars in Icelandic saga form

Filed under: History, Humour, Media — Tags: , , , — Nicholas @ 09:04

A Google+ post by ESR led to this delightful post at Tattúínárdœla saga:

Earlier this week I was drawn into an enlightening discussion with my colleague Ben Frey about the complicated textual tradition that lies behind George Lucas’s “Star Wars,” which few outside the scholarly community realize is a modern rendition of an old Germanic legend of a fatal conflict between a father and his treacherous son. Below I present some remarks on the Old Icelandic version of the legend, with some spare comparative notes on the cognate traditions in other old Germanic languages.

The story as presented in George Lucas’s films represents only one manuscript tradition, and a rather late and corrupt one at that — the Middle High German epic called Himelgengærelied (Song of the Skywalkers). There is also an Old High German palimpsest known to scholars, later overwritten by a Latin choral and only partly legible to us today, which contains fragments of a version wherein “Veitare” survives to old age after slaying “Lûc” out of loyalty to the emperor, but is naturally still conflicted about the deed when the son of his daughter Leia avenges the killing on him.

This is also the ending that we infer for the Icelandic Tattúínárdœla saga (the Saga of the People of the Tattooine River Valley), though unfortunately the ending of that saga is lost and has to be reconstructed from the scant remains of the Old High German poem and from references in other sagas (it should be noted that the later chivalric Lúks saga Anakinssonar is derived from another tradition and may well be a translation of a continental epic, probably one closely related to the extant Middle High German Himelgengærelied, from which Lucas’s narrative is drawn). The author of the Old English poem Déor also knows an “Anacan, haten heofongangende” (“Anacen, named the sky-walker”), who later in the poem is referred to by an alternative byname, “sunubana” (“son-killer”), suggesting that the more tragic version of the tale was current among the Anglo-Saxons too. Hammershaimb seems to know a Faroese ballad on the two Himingangarar, but there is no trace of the text of this ballad in any known collection, and it was not known to the last exponents of the Faroese oral tradition in the early twentieth century.

June 5, 2011

Brendan O’Neill goes whale watching

Filed under: Environment, Europe, Randomness — Tags: , , — Nicholas @ 11:43

Where our hero gets a thrilling ride he didn’t expect, but finally gets a bit of revenge:

 It’s the hippyish family of three from Norfolk that I feel sorry for. There they were at the Old Harbour in Reykjavik, their multicoloured fleeces zipped up to the chin to protect them from a light but Arctic breeze, talking gaily about going to ‘meet the whales’. I’m sure one of them had even used the word ‘commune’, as a verb, it being fashionable now to believe that humans can make a spiritual, spine-tingling connection with whales and dolphins.

Yet little did this excitable unit know that within the hour they’d be clinging to any bit of the boat’s infrastructure they could find, as we got tossed around by a pissed-off Poseidon, minke whales mocking us with their mighty tails for daring to enter into their cruel and alien world.

Admittedly it was our own fault. The woman at the whale-watching office at the harbour had warned us that the weather was unpredictable. ‘We might not go out today,’ she said, in that wonderfully weird accent that Icelandic people speak English in: part-Viking, part-Scouse. ‘It’s looking a bit patchy,’ she explained.

Now, in a country famous for its angry climate, for its spewing geysers, for having the word ‘Ice’ in its name, where tourists can buy T-shirts that say ‘Lost in Iceland’ on the front and ‘Is anybody out there?’ on the back, and where they have actually made a horror film called Reykjavik Whale Watching Massacre, you might think that we would have taken more seriously this native harbour woman’s warning of ‘patchiness’ at sea. But no. So determined were we to see the whales that, in a mish-mash of European accents, we all said: ‘Let’s go! We don’t mind if it’s a little rough.’ They would make for brilliant famous last words.

April 15, 2010

Volcano eruptions, historically speaking

Filed under: Science — Tags: , , — Nicholas @ 12:06

An interesting slideshow at New Scientist shows that the eruption of Eyjafjallajökull-Fimmvörduháls in Iceland barely even ranks as an eruption, compared to past geological events (not limited to volcanic action).

Incidentally, if you want to know how to pronounce Eyjafjallajökull, there’s a Wikimedia file here. To be honest, even after hearing it pronounced correctly, I can’t reproduce it . . .

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