Variations On Tough Love —Debates on Monday #3
Eygló Harðardóttir, Welfare Minister on behalf of the Progressive party, wrote a blog post last week, titled ‘Container-prejudices’. Whereas the title might seem to involve an elaborate new metaphor, leading an optimist reader to hope that the Minister might finally publicly counter the xenophobic agenda of other party members, that is not the case. The title is quite literal: the post is about alleged prejudices against containers as a housing solution.
Containers are already used as homeless shelters in Reykjavík and more will soon be placed at Landspítali, the National University Hospital of Iceland’s premises, accommodating new offices for physicians. There has also been some discussion about containers as a possible solution to Iceland’s housing crisis, not least as student apartments. The Minister writes that she wants to make “one more attempt to fight prejudices against containers, not least since some of my dream-houses belong to that category, thanks to cool architects and skilled workers who are certainly able to think outside the box :)” – smiley certainly included. She then posted images of various relevant designs, including a 2,240 m2 container house in Lille, by French architect Patrick Partouch. Some interpretation seems required to decipher the relevance of the high-class designs to the upcoming Landspítali offices.
The Minister did not mention the cost of construction of her dream-houses. A little googling brings up the number €221,000 for Partouch’s house. The construction cost of the minister’s second example, a beach house designed by DeMaria Design, is estimated at 23% below the average cost of ‘traditional buildings’ in Southern California. The savings being meager, if any, seems to suggest that the Minister’s interest in containers does indeed have less to do with budget cuts than with an open mind for fresh and daring designs. We are all relieved, because for a while there, it looked like the country was acting all stingy towards its health care and hospital staff. Since the Minister would obviously not have written a blog post to counter container prejudices with completely irrelevant examples, I, for one, cannot wait to see the bold design solutions involved in the new Landspitali offices. Not to mention Reykjavík’s surely no less fashionable container-based homeless shelters.
Development Aid Used To Further Business Interests? I’m Shocked! Shocked!
Novelist Jón Kalmann Stefánsson wrote an article published in Fréttablaðið, titled ‘Are Icelanders a cynical and self-centered people?’. In the piece he summarizes the recent history of Iceland’s contribution to development aid. Whereas the United Nation’s declared standard of contributions is 0.7% of each country’s GDP, the current government has, according to the proposed budget, decided to decrease Iceland’s contribution from around 0.3% to 0.21%.
At the same time, Foreign Minister Gunnar Bragi Sveinsson, has declared plans to close the Icelandic International Development Agency (ICEIDA), currently active in Malawi, Mozambique and Uganda, to bring its work into the ministry itself. The Minister has said these plans to be in accordance with ‘many reports’ about best practices in development cooperation. ‘They have all concluded that it is right to bring this work into the Ministries’. Jón Kalmann, on the other hand, claims that this is an outright lie. He says the Minister himself commissioned one report on the matter, as did former Minister Valgerður Sverrisdóttir.
Those two reports, ordained by Ministers from the same party, are the only ones coming to such a conclusion says Jón Kalmann, adding: “Gunnar Bragi chooses to stay mum about an extensive report made by a scholar of administration studies, which put a strong emphasis on upholding the prior structure. Why does the Minister lie?” The writer goes on to quote his uncle, an old Progressive party member, who claimed that the whole thine is a scheme to use development projects to advance the interests of Icelandic businesses in Africa. Concluding words: “Does anyone want to speak up about this? Or are we simply a self-centered, cynical people and don’t care?”
Sack. Sack Again. Sack Faster.
Progressive Party MP Vigdís Hauksdóttir and Independence Party MP Guðlaugur Þór Þorðarson, recently proposed plan to facilitate layoffs in the public sector. These are, respectively, the chairman and vice chairman of Alþingi’s State budget committee. Ögmundur Jónasson, Left-Green MP and former Interior Minister, criticized these plans in an article which appeared in Fréttablaðið on Friday. As the proposed changes include an authorization to dismiss staff without further explanation or prior warnings, Ögmundur calls them ‘reinforcements for inept managers’: “There are those managers who cannot handle their jobs. These are the ones who use their power arbitrarily; as managers they are bullies. Some of them are so gutless that they do not dare to speak honestly with an employee they want to get rid of. They look enviously towards the private sector, where staff can be dismissed and sent home without notice. […] A bully-manager wants to be able to ax any individual whom he doesn’t like, who challenges him or proves to be mentally superior to him in the workplace.”
Furthermore, Ögmundur says that even if current authorizations demand managers to communicate their grunts and cite reasons before laying people off, these requirements have not proven to be overly restrictive. He says public sector workers are vulnerable enough as it is and cites the above-mentioned hospital, Landspítali, as an example, an institute which has laid off 500 people since 2008.
Police Answer Polite Social Media Critique Politely Through Social Media
Last week, fashion blogger Perez Hilton contributed to the virality of the Icelandic Police forces’ Instagram account, which had already featured on Reddit and elsewhere. “Ever wonder what it’s like to be on the police force in a super safe country?” Hilton asked, reposting pictures of officers holding puppies, kittens and parrots, eating ice-cream and so on.
On Saturday, then, Hildur Sverrisdóttir, the Independence party’s city council representative, replied to the trend with an article in Fréttablaðið, titled ‘The Adorable Cutesies with the Power’. In this politely phrased article, she praises the police for their social media efforts, before reminding people that on behalf of the State, even cute police hold ‘the exclusive authority to detain and oppress people. That is a serious mandate and not infallible as repeatedly demonstrated. There is nothing on the police force’s social media accounts about those incidents when they wound a prisoner to blood, wiretap phone conversations or push a woman in the street to the ground.’
Hildur posted a link to the article on her Facebook wall, to which the Police then replied in a comment. As a sidenote, there would seem to be little need for an NSA in a country where the public at large, over 60 thousand people, volunteerily befriend the police on Facebook. Whoever handles the Police Facebook account heaped praise on Hildur’s article before getting to, or evading, the point, depending on your politics: ‘… parts of our job will not be witnessed by the public, simply because interfering with individuals demands confidentiality. Such confidentiality is not always easy for us, for example when ugly rumors and gossip are started about our staff and work.’ They then went on to praise the article once more.
Now, about those rumors: A spokesperson of the Police has confirmed that the most recent incident alluded to by Hildur, the one about the wounded prisoner, did take place. The episode when they pushed a woman to the ground was caught on video and the Police’ extensive wiretapping practices are to be brought under investigation. Then again, the social media official did not claim that the rumors are false, merely that they are ugly. The fact that the Police left a comment, implying that if they were allowed to they would counter the ‘ugly rumors’, would seem to suggest that even for all their courtesy, they were somewhat pissed off that someone called their publicity stunts publicity stunts.
The Common Denominator
The synthesis of last week’s main topics of debate, then? South Park’s Eric Cartman in Costa Rica comes to mind:
The Debates On Monday is a weekly summary of notable commentary and opinion-pieces from the Icelandic-language media, mainly the non-Facebook variety. Focusing on politics and relevant and/or erratic ideological tidbits, the column will appear on Mondays. By nature, this sort of endeavour is selective, which does not, however, mean arbitrary. In any case not fully arbitrary. Do let us know if you think we missed anything of importance.