Weekly insights into our crazy world.

Tuesday, June 30, 2015



Panic hit the streets of Athens today, with nervous folks queuing at ATM's, desperate to grab whatever Euros are left. While we here at the DUNER BLOG are no experts on the complex world of International Finance, it's clear that Greek Banks will be defaulting soon. Expelled from the EU, Greece will likely return to their fabled currency, the Drachma. To celebrate, we thought we would review some of the world's Oldest Currencies.

Shekel.  As the Semitic root for Trade, the word Shekel appears in numerous ancient texts. The first mention in the Bible is in Exodus 30:24. By the time Christ was born, Shekels were the dominant currency of all Judea and Palestine. Then...for the next 2,000 years...Shekels disappeared. They were replaced by Roman Sesterces, Ottoman Para and other foreign coins. However, the Shekel made a triumphant return in 1949, when it was declared the official currency of newly created Israel.

Rupee.  Again, it's difficult to determine when coins called 'Rupees' first appeared in Southern Asia. It's from the Sanskrit word for 'Silver,' with the oldest coins dating back to 600 BC. Ancient and Medieval India were a checkerboard of city-states and kingdoms, unified by religion and rupees. When Britain arrived, the official exchange rate of 15 rupees to the pound was established. Today, ten nations from Indonesia to Pakistan call their money some form of the Sanskrit word.

Drachma.    Based in Hellenic word for "handful," Drachmas first appeared around the year 1100 BC. They gained notoriety during Athens' Golden Age, when Athena's celebrated Owl first graced these venerable coins. Historians have found 26 City-States that used the Drachma, from Syracuse in Sicily to Alexandria in Egypt. Like the Shekel, they vanished for a thousand years before reappearing in the 1900's.

Pound.  £ Europe's oldest surviving currency first began circulating in Britain in the Eighth Century. The Mercian King Offa officially introduced silver pennies called Pounds. However, it wasn't until 1694, when Parliament boldly created the Bank of England and established the Pound Sterling in landmark legislation for world finance. These days, Brits are celebrating the fact they refused to join the EuroZone. Londoners are busy planning holidays to Greece to take advantage of the weaker currency!

Peso.  Imperial Spain made billions mining silver in the plentiful New World Colonies. Prior to being shipped back to Europe, mints in Mexico and Peru were established. At first, they produced the famed "Real de Ocho" or "Pieces of Eight." They weighed 930 grams each! In 1686, Spain reduced them to a more manageable 27 grams. These were called little Pesos, or Pesetas.

Dollar.  $ The most common denomination in the Americas today has its roots in Europe. 'Thaler' coins were first minted in Bohemia in 1520. They flourished, with variants found across the Holy Roman Empire. Hence, when Dutch settlers arrived in New Amsterdam in 1609, they carried 'Daler' coins. When Alexander Hamilton established US currency in 1792, Dollars were pegged to the Spanish Peso, the established currency of the world, to insure lasting value.

Wednesday, June 24, 2015



Lately, the Italian Prime Minister Matteo Renzi has been in the news. Some say his immigration policies are horrendous. Others applaud his anti-corruption efforts. Mafia bosses want him dead. With so much controversy swirling around Senor Renzi, we here at the DUNER BLOG thought we'd provide some much needed answers for frequently asked questions...

Where is Matteo from? Like the Renaissance painter Botticelli, Renzi was born in Florence. He too had a cultured upbringing, studying at the renowned Dante Lyceum. Here, he scored a perfect 60/60 on his final exam. Likewise, he flew through classes at the University of Florence, where he obtained his law degree by age 20. However, our favorite early accomplishment was winning 48 million Lire on La Ruota Della Fortuna. (Wheel of Fortune).

Why the comparisons to Benito Mussolini? Although not similar politically, the two Italian Prime Ministers share one important quality: Youth. When Mussolini assumed the position in 1922, he was the youngest prime minister ever at age 40. This record held until last year, when Matteo Renzi became Prime Minister. He was 39 years old!

Is such a young man qualified to be Prime Minister?. Renzi is seasoned politician, with a dozen years of high-level service. At age 34, he was elected Mayor of Florence. His progressive policies rejuvenated the city. Enrollment at public schools is up and the number of homeless people is down. But...most importantly...the entire city of Florence has FREE WI-FI!

Why does the Mafia want Renzi dead? As Mayor of Florence, Matteo earned the nickname Il Rottamatore (The Scrapper). He has called upon the nation to scarp the entire political establishment, which is "discredited, tainted by corruption and failed the nation decade after decade." Whoa! Most Italian leaders don't take such a harsh position. As a result, death threats have come piling into the Palazzo Chigi.

What is Merkenzi? A current fad is to mash two people's names together. (Kim Kardashian + Kanye West = Kimye.) Using this formula: Angela Merkel + Matteo Renzi = Merkenzi. Germany has constantly complained about the PIGS (Portugal, Italy, Greece & Spain), where corruption impairs growth. Hence, Merkel is ecstatic about a progressive minded leader who demands transparency in government.

Why the sudden loss of confidence? Having lasted nearly two years in office, Renzi has beat the odds. (Of the 62 Prime Ministers to hold the office, most are voted out by Parliament at this point.) Yet...just as things were starting to change...tens of thousands of refugees began landing on Italy's Southern coastline. Unfortunately, the media has blamed Matteo and his popularity has fallen to 25%.

Does Renzi have a gorgeous wife? Surprisingly, no! Agnese Landini is a Plain-Jane First Lady. She remains a schoolteacher at a Private School in Florence. There, she raises their two young children while Matteo tries to save the country. Her interests are Opera, Classical Music. She speaks Latin fluently. She never misses Mass.

Friday, June 19, 2015



Here's a story you might have missed. Last week, ten tourists were arrested in Malaysia, charged with inciting an earthquake. See, the group had climbed to the top of Mount Kinabalu, to see the views from the top of the 13,435 foot peak. Next, they stripped bare for the ever-popular Nude Internet Selfie. When a 6.0 earthquake struck the region on the same day, local officials concluded the sacred mount was angry at the tourist's disrespectful display and vented. To help our readers avoid similar situations, we listed the Top Ten Most Sacred Sites Worldwide.

#10. Mt. Kinabalu, Malaysia. Borneo is the third largest island in the world. Malaysia owns the upper third, called Sabaha. Legends tell of a young wife, Kinabalu, who sat on the mountaintop for years. She gazed into the distant South China Sea, hoping for her husband's return. She died, and the spirit of the mountain was touched by her loyalty. So when these nutty tourists stripped naked, this spirit got angry! 

#9. Mount Parnassus, Greece. This peak is home to Apollo, our favorite Greek God. He channels his infinite wisdom to humans through the Oracle of Delphi, who lived on the mountain's steep slopes. In ancient times, Athenians would consult the wise woman for advice before making a big decision. Prior to declaring war on Sparta or colonizing Cappadocia, a King would travel to Delphi first. Today, only the Castalian Spring remains. Drinking these sacred waters will inspire your poetic and artistic side.

#8. Lake Atitlán, Guatemala. After the Ice Age, three separate volcanic calderas merged to form this amazing body of water. At 5,000 feet, yet deep in the tropics, a unique fog forms along the shores. Called Xocomil by the Maya, it was deemed sacred to breathe this damp air. Thousands of Mayans still do every day. Alexander Von Humboldt called Atitlán "the world's most beautiful lake" and author Aldous Huxley said it put "Lake Como to shame."

#7. Mount Sinai, Egypt. A couple thousand years ago, a middle aged man named Moses came upon this remote desert peak. As you know, God presented him with the Ten Commandments, and people have been coming here ever since. Today, you'll find a Christian monastery, a Jewish Temple and an Islamic mosque.

#6. Mount Kailash, Tibet. At 21,778 feet, this proud mountain is the tallest on the list. Nestled deep in the Himalayas, Kailash is near the source of both the Ganges and Indus Rivers. Hindus believe Lord Shiva resides at the summit. Buddhists believe it's the home of Demchok, a revered figure who has found ultimate bliss. Even obscure religions like Jainism and Bön deem this place sacred!

#5. Axum, Ethiopia. When people think of the centers of Christianity, Rome and Jerusalem come to mind. But neither of these cities are home to the sacred Ark of the Covenant. See, back in 586 BC, King Solomon gave the ark to the Queen of Sheba. She took it back to Ethiopia. It resides today, hidden in the Church of Our Lady of Zion. Don't laugh. Ethiopian Orthodox is one of the oldest branches of the Christian faith.

#4. Ayers Rock, Australia. Called Uluru by the locals, it is an obvious point where heaven and earth meet. It juts out of the horribly flat Australian Outback, triumphantly jumping nearly 2,000 feet into the air. To just walk around it takes six miles. Vaparitja, the Aboriginal Creator God, still inhabits the peak. Therefore, no one should ever go to the top. However, twenty years ago, the Anangu Tribe began allowing Westerners to climb it for a $25 dollar donation.

#3. Bodh Gaya, India. In the year 540 BC, Buddha sat underneath a Bodhi tree. Six years later, he achieved his goal: Enlightenment. Since then, this tree has evolved into the most important site in the billion-people strong Buddhist faith. Just make sure you don't visit during the full moon during the month of Vaisakh. You'll be swarmed by pilgrims and more incense than you can imagine!

#2. Wailing Wall, Israel. Constructed by King Herod on the site of King Solomon's temple, only the West-facing side survived the Roman attack on Jerusalem in 70 AD. Immediately afterward, Jewish Rabbis declared the spot to be the closest place pilgrims can go to the Foundation Stone...the holiest site in the faith. If you go, arrive early. Security checkpoints at holy sites in Israel are always hours long.

#1. Mecca, Saudi Arabia. While the other sites on this list will grudgingly allow non-believers access, Holy Mecca is different. All roads have border posts where inspectors demand proof that you are indeed Islamic. Inside, two million residents and fifteen million annual visitors worship at the holiest of all sites, the Kaaba. This cuboid structure is the House of Allah and is the focal point of a Hajj. Let's just hope those silly tourists from Malaysia never try to visit and get naked here!

Friday, June 5, 2015



It was one of the best OMG moments from Keeping Up With the Kardashians, Season Six. OK. Here's...like...what happened: Kourtney, Scott and Mason spontaneously decided to go to Paris. The highlight of the trip was when the family went to the Pont des Artes. Here, they followed the romantic tradition of the "Love Locks." It's easy. You buy a padlock, write your names on it and then fasten it to the railing of the bridge. Finally, to signify the permanence of your love, you toss the key into the Seine. (Or as Scott called it: "Umm. That River).

Never heard of "Love Locks?" Well the tradition began long before the advent of Reality TV. During the Great War, a Serbian couple were separated when Relja went off to fight in Greece. He fell in love on Corfu and never returned home to his beloved. Nada died of a broken heart, spending her last days moping on the Vrnjacka Bridge, where the lovers had met; years prior. To insure that other Serbian couples would not meet the same fate, the odd traditions of writing names on padlocks and fastening them to the railing began.

For decades, 'Love Locks' were found only in this remote Balkan village. Things changed when Italian author Federico Moccio incorporated the touching tradition into his popular novel, Ho voglia di te. Here, the young lovers meet at the Ponto Milvio in Rome. Everyone in Italy adores a romantic novel and the book became a bestseller and inspired a made-for-TV-movie. Then, Love Locks began to spread. In addition to the bridge over the Tiber, people also began chaining the Porte Vecchio in Florence and the Pont des Artes in Paris. However, when it became part of American Prime Time, the number of locks increased exponentially.

See, once the Kardashians do something, millions of people will emulate it. Whether it's Italian shoes, designer dinners, unique fragrances...or Love Locks...folks will buy it. Naturally, this meant a sudden and dramatic increase of visitors to this one bridge in particular. These days, before you even reach the Pont des Artes, Algerian street vendors are aggressively peddling padlocks for €3. If you do buy one, it's impossible to find any virgin railing, so people lock them on to another lock..which is already locked to another lock. It doesn't take a scientist to figure out what happens next: The railing falls over from the weight.

On Monday, Parisian city authorities began doing the inevitable: Dismantling the tens of thousands of padlocks. First, the bridge was closed to all traffic. Then dozens of workers began the laborious task of clipping off the locks with bolt cutters. Finally, a new, lock-proof, railing will be welded into place. The sad truth is that in today's world, once cute, obscure traditions hit the Internet and Reality TV, they quickly evolve into twenty-tons of iron falling into a river!