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News In Brief: Late June Edition

News In Brief: Late June Edition

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Published June 29, 2012

We’re now in mid-June and things are going famously. Tom Cruise arrived to take part in the filming of the movie ‘Oblivion,’ which will be shot in the north of the country, near Mývatn. Upon his arrival, he spent the first few days at Hilton Hótel in Reykjavík, to much fanfare. He plans to celebrate his 50th birthday in Akureyri, which should be fun for all involved. Morgan Freeman will also be coming to Iceland for the filming of ‘Oblivion,’ but this hasn’t been covered with the same detail and tenacity as Tom’s arrival.
With presidential elections coming up on June 30 (the day after we publish), it seems the odds favour incumbent president Ólafur Ragnar Grímsson, who leads his closest challenger, Þóra Arnórsdóttir, by about 10% in recent polls. So confident is gambling website Betsson of his win that they are only giving 1.18 to 1 odds on Ólafur being re-elected. Odds on Þóra, by the by, are paying out 3.6 to 1.
It seems as though there’s a light at the end of the tunnel where Icesave is concerned, too. Landsbanki—or rather, the resolution committee handling the funds of the former Landsbanki—made another payment to the UK and Holland, so that half our debt has now been paid off. It sure feels great to be out from under that much money. There’s only about another 500 billion ISK left to pay off. Good times.
They might be kicking up their heels at Landsbanki, but the Icelandic government is for the first time finding itself being accused of torturing an asylum seeker. Mohammad Askarpour, the refugee in question, is currently hospitalised in Iceland, but his lawyer, Katrín Oddsdóttir, claims that he was denied medical and psychological attention, despite telling authorities that he was suffering from a severe sinus infection, depression, and suicidal thoughts. The suit against the state, Katrín admitted, is intended to get the state’s attention with regard to Mohammad’s condition. Hopefully it’ll work.
Speaking of being taken to court, the Datacell v. Valitor trial has begun. In 2010, when credit card companies were blocking donations to Wikileaks, the Icelandic company Datacell offered its services as a proxy though which donations could be made to the site. However, Valitor, which oversees Visa and MasterCard in Iceland, blocked cardholders from donating to Datacell. This precipitated the lawsuit. Datacell says Valitor is guilty of a breach of contract, contending that Datacell never told them they were acting as a proxy for Wikileaks. Datacell denies. The truth of the matter? Well, we’ll probably never know, but it’s definitely going to be a historic trial.
Trial fever spread to the Supreme Court, too, as a man plans on taking his ex-husband to court to gain custody of a cat. Reykjavík District already ruled that the cat in question, Ita, belongs to the ex in question; they live together, and the cat is legally registered to the ex. Although the court’s ruling was final, and the plaintiff, Juan Carlos, was ordered to pay his ex 200,000 ISK in legal fees, Juan isn’t stopping there. He’s started a fund to raise money to pay the court order and to appeal the matter to the Supreme Court. And you thought you loved your cat.
In lighter news, Iceland’s first female bishop officially took over this month. Rev. Agnes M. Sigurðardóttir was ordained by former bishop Karl Sigurbjörnsson at Hallgrímkirkja, before an audience including many bishops from abroad, Icelandic President Ólafur Ragnar Grímsson and Prime Minister Jóhanna Sigurðardóttir. Agnes said that the main mission of the church should be to increase membership—said possibly in response to church members leaving in droves over the past two years due to a sex scandal involving the previous bishop and his predecessor, Ólafur Skúlason.
And speaking of the church, some priests do seem a little worried that separation of church and state could be right around the corner, or is already in the works. Article 19 of the new constitutional draft, which gives parliament the right to put the church’s fate up for public referendum, was among the subjects at a recent clerical meeting. While theologian Hjalti Hugason said he could see how Article 19 would open the door for such a separation, Rev. Gunnlaugur Stefánsson believes the ball is already rolling in that direction.  



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It Was My Way, And The Highway

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On the Álftanes peninsula, a good ten kilometres from downtown Reykjavík, lies a unique lava field called Gálgahraun. The towns of Hafnarfjörður, Álftanes and Garðabær were all built around the 8,000-year-old lava, which is on the Nature Conservation Register and was immortalised on canvas by celebrated Icelandic artist Jóhannes S. Kjarval. Gálgahraun was widely considered to be one of the few spots of unspoilt nature left in the greater metropolitan area, but it isn’t any more, as a big highway that cuts the field in two is currently under construction. The road is being built to accommodate the people of

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News In Brief Early August

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A whole new angle on the ever-brewing Ministry of the Interior scandal came to light when it was reported that Interior Minister Hanna Birna had contacted then-Commissioner of the Capital Area Police Stefán Eiríksson, in person and by phone, in part to ask if police could be trusted with ministry files, and when their investigations would end. Cue media maelstrom, replete with Parliamentary Ombudsman Tryggvi Gunnarsson formally requesting the minister explain herself. At the time of writing, the Ombudsman is still waiting for a final answer from Hanna Birna, who had until August 15 to respond. Former Prime Minister Geir

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Hidden People: They’re Just Like Us (Kind Of)

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When foreign media outlets report on Iceland and need to add a little local colour, they will invariably throw in a quick, ironical side note about the country’s pervasive belief in elves, or Hidden People. The tone is generally one of indulgence with just a dash of condescension, the written equivalent of patting a small child on the head when she introduces her invisible friend Mister Bob Big Jeans. Although many academic studies and informal surveys alike have concluded that a not insignificant portion of the Icelandic population “will not deny the existence of elves,” as Terry Gunnell, a leading

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Hidden People Folktales

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It is due to the efforts of two men, Jón Árnason (1819-1888) and Magnús Grímsson (1825-1860), that such a large body of 18th and 19th century Icelandic folktales exist today. Jón was a writer and also the first librarian of the National Library of Iceland, and Magnús was a student-turned-priest. Following the popularity of the Grimms Brothers’ fairytales, which were collected and first published in the early 1800s, similar folktale compendiums were collected throughout the Nordic countries. However, it was not until an English scholar named George Stephens issued a special request to Icelanders for a similar collection to be

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“An Absurd Film Set In Reykjavík”

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In September 1942 the inhabitants of Reykjavík had breakfast in a state of shock. They were reading an article in Morgunblaðið newspaper about a new Hollywood film set in their city, starring the world famous Norwegian figure skater and movie star Sonja Henie. The headline read “An absurd film set in Reykjavík” and the news lead to a public outcry. Subsequently the US government received a complaint from the Icelandic government. Today Iceland is a natural movie set frequented by famous directors. The makers of big projects like ‘Prometheus,’ ‘Noah’ and ‘Game of Thrones’ have all used it to film

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The Book Cellar’s Book Seller

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Narratives of Reykjavík’s used book culture often take the form of jeremiads—languorous laments for a bygone heyday, a paradise lost through, by and with the fall of print media. By some estimations, there used to be as many as forty secondhand book shops in town, peddling old, worn and loved books to an eager customer base. But by the end of the aughts, there was only one brick-and-mortar store: Bókin on the corner of Klapparstígur and Hverfisgata. Founded in 1964, Bókin remains an institution, a hallowed hall incensed with must and dust, where the 1993 collaboration between early music group

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