A Grapevine service announcement Pay attention: Eruption Pollution Likely To Hit Whole Country

The Sicilian Connection

Published August 21, 2009

“What’s the difference between Iceland and Ireland?”
“One letter and about six months.”
So ran the joke at the beginning of the year. It’s been over seven months now and Ireland, though stricken, is nowhere near a disaster of Icelandic proportions.
Upon closer examination, several differences between Ireland and Iceland come to light. They were colonised by wankers, we by Danes. They were conservative farmers who opened up their economy in the 1990s and became the Celtic Tiger; we were conservative fishermen who opened up ours and became the canary in the coalmine. Having thus established the vital differences between Iceland and Ireland, we move on to the question of what the differences are between Iceland and that other “I” country in Europe, Italy.
The “I” Countries
On the face of it, there aren’t many. Both countries are world leaders in public debt. People in both countries have a habit of speaking at great length about subjects of which they know very little. And in both countries, connections are the only way to get anything done, from getting opera tickets (well, in Iceland the opera house is a work in progress) to building permits to elected office.
The Icelanders’ love of corruption is what sets them apart from other Nordic Countries. In Sweden and Norway, corruption is illegal or at the very least frowned upon, while in Iceland it is generally seen as a virtue. A person who is elected into office and does not use his or her powers to help their friends and family is no friend to anyone. Conversely, a man who helps his friends is someone you can trust. What happens to those not counted as friends is less important.
The Icelandic Godfathers
How come Icelandic political culture so much resembles a rather bland episode of the Sorpanos? Why is it that our leaders tend to resemble the Berlusconis rather than the Stoltenbergs? As with everything else, we have to go back to the Vikings to find the answer.
In the centuries surrounding the year 1000, the Vikings were everywhere. From Manhattan (perhaps) to what was later to become Moscow, Vikings ruled the world. For some reason, Vikings and later their Norman descendants preferred to settle on rather small islands such as Iceland, The Faeroes, the Orkneys and, yes, Sicily. The Vikings formed clan based societies where you helped your friends and killed the relatives of your enemies. One tends to think of Viking raids as somewhat in-your-face, but the Vikings were actually quite Machiavellian in their politics. Hávamál is full of advice on how to screw your opponents by outwitting rather than attacking them. When Iceland became Christian, it was actually still okay to worship the old gods as long as no one found out about it, another example of a distinction made between what you said and what you did.  
Sound familiar? In the 19th and 20th Centuries, the Nordic core countries of Denmark, Sweden and Norway embraced enlightenment ideals of fairness, openness and a just society. Icelanders decided to stick with the older system of the elite screwing the general public with shady backroom deals. Perhaps the old clan system still survives on the periphery, in Iceland and in Sicily. If the Italian mafia is descendent from the Normans, then Iceland’s elite are their northern cousins. They liked to call themselves Vikings, but mobsters seem to be just as apt.



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Letter To UNESCO

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Dear UNESCO, It was a great honour when Reykjavik became a UNESCO City of Literature in 2011 and we Icelanders are very proud to be counted as one amongst seven amazing cities carrying this title. Realising this is not a temporary title, but a title for keeps which carries a certain recognition and prestige, we have become apprehensive about it and would therefore like to bring a few points to your attention. In a new budget proposal, the present Icelandic government has proposed to raise the sales tax (VAT) on books from 7% up to 12%. The immediate and obvious

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Everything Counts

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Statistics Iceland (SI) raised a few eyebrows when the institution announced that it would as of September include estimates of various illegal activities when calculating Iceland’s GDP and balance of payments. Drug trafficking, smuggling and prostitution are now included among the more “traditional” industries in the state’s official GPD calculations, a move that SI claims will increase Iceland’s GDP by 0.47%. Understandably, the institution’s announcement generated a loud “whaaat!?!?” across social media, as people attempted to make sense of this unexpected addition to the Icelandic economy. It just made no sense! Why would the statistics bureau be interested in boosting

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So What’s This Faroese Ship I Keep Hearing About?

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The Faroese trawler ‘Næraberg’ was fishing for mackerel in Greenlandic waters when its engine suffered a malfunction. As the Icelandic Coast Guard was best situated to help, it sent a plane out to the trawler with spare engine parts, which it dropped in a parachute. The Faroese crew retrieved them in a dinghy and went to work repairing the engine. Another lovely story of cooperation in the North Atlantic Ocean, where hard men with soft hearts help each other survive. After the attempted repairs, the engine could only produce a fraction of normal power. The ship set course for Iceland.

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Nuke The Middle-East, Give Up On Iceland

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Today, Monday, Professor Hannes Hólmsteinn Gissurarson, the Icelandic neoliberal experiment’s chief ideologue since the late 1970’s, recommends that the Icelandic right wing draw a lesson from the Swedish election results, as well as the rise of Britain’s UKIP, and uphold stronger xenophobic policies: “struggle against immigration and sever the ties to the EU”. Teacher, journalist and right-wing pundit Páll Vilhjálmsson wrote a blog post titled ‘Nuclear bombs are Christian‘ suggesting that the West nuke parts of the Middle-East to teach its inhabitants a lesson. “The rise in militant muslims in this part of the world will sooner rather than later

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So What’s This Hazing I Keep Hearing About?

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Like young people the world over, Icelandic youths like to humiliate younger kids for fun. This behaviour takes many forms, but the one that has been in the news lately is secondary school hazing. In Iceland, primary school ends at sixteen and almost everyone starts secondary school the following autumn, although a secondary education is not compulsory. Traditionally, new students are hazed by students in the fourth and final year, with each school having their own set of rituals. Yes, if humiliation and endangerment is a tradition, then it’s okay. These hazing rituals are generally harmless. New students are made

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More People = More Fun

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To generalise: Icelanders are a greedy bunch. After we escaped from the claws of Danish colonialist rule, the national imperative has been to make as much money as possible. You can say money makes Iceland turn, even though the Mickey Mouse money we call “the Icelandic króna” hardly qualifies as a currency. I guess we’re no different than any other Western country then. Savvy Icelanders have always been adept at finding their golden eggs. First, the nation got rich by working for the UK and US militaries who looked after us through the Second World War. You could say that

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