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Drugs, fecal beer and anal bleaching: Iceland this week

News highlights of the week 10-15 February 2014, as digested by Yours Truly.

Reykjavík – Amsterdam

Minister of Health Kristján Júlíusson [IP] has gone on record to support  ideas on decriminalizing drug use. Conventional strategies to combat  the “war on drugs” are not working any better here in Iceland than anywhere else in the world, and discussions on alternatives have been picking up of late. At a meeting held by the Youth Organization of the Independence Party of Iceland this week, Kristján said, and-I-quote: “I am very partial to the view that we should try to de-criminalize drug use. I am inviting people to this debate and am convinced that we need to apply other solutions.” I don’t know about you, but to my mind this is pretty big news. Now let’s see if anyone takes him up on his invitation.

Nature pass, ad nauseum

Adam! What were you thinking, not buying a nature pass?

Adam! What were you thinking by not buying a nature pass?

Those of you who follow the Facebook page will recall that I put up a post this week about the seemingly never-ending debate on how to protect Icelandic nature from the influx of tourism. As you may know, the owners of the Geysir area have decided to start charging admission as of March 10, ISK 600 for anyone over the age of 16. This comes because they are sick and tired of waiting for the political sector to form a comprehensive policy on the matter. Said political sector seems to be debating four main ideas: a “nature pass” that would give access to the most popular sites [downside: this would drive traffic to sites that people don’t have to pay for and which will not have infrastructure set up], an “arrivals” or “departures” fee that would be levied on everyone who either arrives in or leaves the country [downside: what about people who are coming to conferences etc. and don’t plan to see any of the nature], extra tax on the tourism industry [downside: political suicide], or the government simply taking funds from taxes they are already collecting from tourism and funnelling that into maintenance and infrastructure [downside: what criteria to use for allocating funds]. Meanwhile, the debate rages on, while landowners consider their options.

Changes to laws governing Central Bank

Well our fearless leaders are never at a loss for fun things to do. This week we learned that the coalition parties have reached an agreement on changes to laws governing the Central Bank of Iceland, which will, among other things, add two more Central Bank directors to the one already in place. As it happens, this was the number of CB directors five years ago when the Icelandic economy melted down, and obviously it worked such a charm that the current government is eager to reinstate that particular status quo. Some among us, meanwhile, wonder whether the objective is less about nostalgia for the good old days and more about our current Prime Minister’s unhappiness with the current Central Bank director. Why this unhappiness? Well, it turns out the CB director has a nasty habit of pointing out uncomfortable truths, such as that the government’s Grand Scheme [on the strength of which they won the last elections] to write off parts of everyone’s mortgage would have the effect of increasing inflation so substantially that it basically nullifies the effects of the Scheme for Icelandic households. Call it “political cleansing” if you will if you shall if you must, but one thing is certain: this move smacks uncomfortably of King David’s dismantling of the National Economic Institute back in the early 2000s because they were pointing out the flaws in his economic policies – flaws that unfortunately were thrust spectacularly into the public eye when the whole economic system crashed to the ground a few years later.

Whale beer from … what?

One of the most bizarre stories of the last while has to be the one about the whale beer. It’s like this: some genius decided that it would be a good idea to make beer out of whale meal. [Compounding the absurdity of this was the fact that the meal was later said to come from the intestine of the whale, prompting a whole slew of jokes about “fecal beer” that, it has to be said, were pretty damn hilarious.] The West Iceland Health Board stopped the production of the dubious beverage, citing that the company producing it, Hvalur hf. [yep, the same outfit that hunts the whales] had no permits for producing food for human consumption. Moreover, the meal that was to be used was five years old – too old to even be used in animal feed. Oh, but all that didn’t in the least bother the minister in charge of food safety [and fisheries, and agriculture, and the environment, and resources] Sigurður Ingi Jóhansson. He went ahead and annulled the decision by the health board, on the grounds that the legal basis for it was “vague”. But we all know that’s not the reason. The reason is that SIJ belongs to the National P um, the Progressive Party, and the Progressive Party don’t let NO MAN tell them what to do when it comes to protecting the integrity of pure Icelandic customs and traditions. ‘Specially when it comes to whales. Booyah!

Surgical alteration of private bits

One item under discussion in Althingi this week could not help but catch  our attention: plastic surgery on women’s genitals. One MP put the following questions to the Minister of Health: “How many plastic surgeries of that nature are performed each year, how many of those are alterations to the labia, how many operations to tighten the vagina, and how many are skin bleaches around the anus?” As yet, we don’t know the answers, but no doubt there will be some edifying discussions on the issue when the Minister of Health presents his findings.

Quote of the week

The [conservative] parties now in power seem to have the attitude that the last [liberal] government were like squatters. It was clear that those parties, who were then in a minority, found it very difficult not to be in power. I have observed that nearly everything that the previous government did is now being reversed. 

– Birgitta Jónsdóttir, MP for the Pirate Party

[Accompanying illustration by the incomparable Halldór found here.]

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