A Grapevine service announcement Pay attention: Eruption Pollution Likely To Hit Whole Country
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News In Brief: May Edition

News In Brief: May Edition

Published June 1, 2012

As the presidential race is weeks away from the home stretch, the two most viable candidates—incumbent Ólafur Ragnar Grímsson and challenger Þóra Arnórsdóttir—have been within single-digit leads of one another for weeks now. This is in sharp contrast to how things were earlier this month, when Þóra’s lead seemed like all but a foregone conclusion. As it stands now, this may prove the closest presidential race in Icelandic history. Regardless of who people vote for, most Icelanders support the idea of term limits for whoever is president, with most preferring the office to be held by one person for no more than three four-year terms.
On a lighter note, it seems the idea of Iceland adopting the Canadian dollar as its official currency just won’t go away. Economist Heiðar Már Guðjónsson told conference attendees in Toronto that Iceland could easily start using the loonie by merely buying $300 million, shipping it over, and installing it in banks and ATMs around the country. Easy-peasy! The fact that Iceland is in accession talks with the European Union and would adopt the euro on admission is just a minor detail, right?
On the music front, the success of Icelandic band Of Monsters And Men seems to know no limits. Their album has topped the charts on Amazon and iTunes, and they’re due to appear on the The Tonight Show with Jay Leno later in June. Closer to home, singer Páll Óskar isn’t yet ready to give up the fight to save NASA, having called upon the city of Reykjavík and Parliament to buy the building in order to keep it from being made into a hotel.
Speaking of Parliament, our legislative body has been pretty busy as well, recently submitting a bill to Parliament that would toughen child protection laws, making it a crime to even look at child pornography (as it is, it is merely illegal to make, own or distribute it). A proposal to put continuing EU talks up for referendum was also submitted, but MPs defeated it. Referendums were a hot topic, though, as Parliament did approve to send some of the clauses of the proposed constitution to a referendum, including separation of church and state, protection of natural resources, and reforming the voting system.
While Parliament is working on making laws, police are stepping up their efforts to enforce them. Well, the law on public urination anyway. For two weekends, police have organised a dragnet operation downtown, stopping and fining those caught marking their territory in the public domain. Weekend revellers are advised to use indoor toilets.
F. Scott Fitzgerald once said, “there are no second acts in American lives.” Fortunately, former Prime Minister Geir H. Haarde isn’t American, as he has found a new job with a law firm. The firm in question, Opus, has hired him as a consultant in “international affairs,” and say that his experience will be a boon to the firm and its clients. Presumably he will not be consulted on when it’s a good time to consult others over looming financial crises.
The two Algerian refugees who gained national attention when they were arrested and jailed upon their arrival in Iceland, despite being 15 and 16 respectively, are now free but aren’t out of the woods yet. They have been asked to undergo an age verification test, which examines the development of their molars (which stop developing around the age of 18). While the results of these tests are not yet available, the refugees are appealing their case to the Supreme Court. Their lawyer Ragnar Aðalsteinsson argues that the asylum seekers should have special immunity from prosecution under international law.
It appears that Chinese entrepreneur Huang Nubo just can’t stay out of the news either. A new poll conducted by Stöð 2 and Fréttablaðið shows that 42% of Icelanders support letting Huang rent the plot of land in east Iceland, while 30.7% are against it, and 27.3% have no opinion either way. The news may come as some comfort to him, as he has faced a lot of resistance from the government.
Eurovision once again captivated the nation, as singers Jónsi (of Í Svörtum Fötum, not Sigur Rós) and Greta Salóme made it to the finals with their song “Never Forget.” The song seemed promising, as YouTube singers from around the world performed covers of the tune, even before Iceland won its way into the finals, but ultimately Sweden won the international song competition. Better luck next year, Iceland!



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News In Brief: Early September

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Remember last issue when we complained that the Bárðarbunga volcano was a huge disappointment for not having the decency to erupt? Well, apparently the volcano gods read the Grapevine, because a huge fissure opened up in Holuhraun and began spewing forth some very photogenic magma. Icelanders were quick to ask the most important question: What are we going to name the new lava field when all is said and done? The jury’s still out on that one, but for now, this is proving to be the ideal volcanic situation: pretty lava, no airplane-choking ash clouds and no one hurt or

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Why You Can’t Go See The Eruption

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In the middle of the night on Saturday, August 16, an intense swarm of seismic activity began in the area of Bárðarbunga—one of many central volcanoes nobody can pronounce—under Europe’s largest glacier, Vatnajökull. Since that day, my co-workers and I at the Icelandic Meteorological Office (aka the IMO) have been working day and night to monitor the activity, holding daily meetings with the Civil Protection services, and trying to figure out the possible outcomes of these events, which might just be the start of something a lot bigger. When the activity began, it was incredible how we could follow the

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A Volcano Bigger Than Timberlake

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The most prominent, truly devastating volcanic eruption in Icelanders’ public memory is arguably the late-18th century eruption in the volcanic ridge Lakí, followed by the Móðuharðindi, two years of all-over brutal hardships. The sky went dark, and the sun faded, while ashes destroyed pastures, and temperatures sank, leading to the death of an estimated 75% of the country’s livestock and a fifth of its human population. Then there was the late-19th century eruption, after which a fifth of the island’s populace moved to Canada. The ashes from the sudden 1973 eruption in the Vestmannaeyjar archipelago destroyed 400 homes. One person

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“What A Hard Life Is That Of The Poor Icelanders!”

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One day in August 1888, the British steamer ‘Camoens’ docked in the town of Akureyri in Northern Iceland. The ‘Camoens’-for some reason named for Portugal’s national poet, Luís de Camões- sailed regularly between Scotland and Iceland with passengers and cargo. Debarking the ‘Camoens’ that day was a group of British friends, three young men and two women, on their annual autumn holiday, fresh from a busy summer of high society parties and picnics. They came to Iceland looking for adventure and experiences, and—not the least—to be different from their friends and acquaintances, who mostly chose the more fashionable Switzerland and

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Iceland On The Brain: 1200 Years Of Tourism

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Everyone knows that Ingólfur Arnarson (that chap with the spear thing on the hill overlooking the city centre) was Iceland’s first settler. But, he was not the first person to set foot upon it. A few years before the settlement, which is assumed to have started in 874, a Swede named Garðar arrived, naming the place Garðarshólmur before abruptly leaving again (thankfully, modern-day Swedish tourists no longer feel entitled to go around naming the country after themselves). Not long after, a Norwegian named Hrafna-Flóki (“Raven-Flóki”) arrived to spend an entire winter on the island and, not much impressed, subsequently re-named

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Workers Unite!

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Earlier this month, a news story broke in the Icelandic media that a young Icelandic woman working at Lebowski Bar was fired after she asked to be paid minimum wage—effectively a pay rise over what she was getting. The story sparked shock and outrage amongst many. To others, it was merely par for the course. Restaurants, bars and clubs in Iceland are notorious for the use of what is known as jafnaðarkaup (“median pay”)—a form of wage offsetting. By most collective bargaining agreements in the service industry, a worker is supposed to receive a base hourly wage, plus an extra

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