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kottke.org posts about Iceland

How Iceland Beat Covid-19 (So Far)

posted by Jason Kottke   Jun 10, 2020

One of the countries with the best response to Covid-19 has been Iceland. The country didn’t lockdown nor do many people wear masks, but they have virtually eliminated the virus through a vigorous program of test, trace, and isolate that was coordinated by public-health authorities. Iceland’s numbers were high in the beginning (the virus was carried into the country from people returning from vacation) but they acted quickly and aggressively — Elizabeth Kolbert has the story for the New Yorker.

Möller pulled up a series of graphs and charts on her laptop. These showed that, per capita, Iceland had had more COVID-19 cases than any other Scandinavian country, and more than even Italy or Britain. There was an outbreak in a nursing home in the town of Bolungarvík, in northwestern Iceland, and one in the Westman Islands, an archipelago off the southern coast, which seemed to have started at a handball game. (In Europe, handball is a team sport that’s sort of a cross between basketball and soccer.)

“The numbers in the beginning were terrible,” Möller said. She attributed the country’s success in bringing the caseload down in part to having got an early start. The “trio,” along with officials from Iceland’s university hospital, had begun meeting back in January. “We saw what was going on in China,” she recalled. “We saw the pictures of people lying dead in emergency departments, even on the street. So it was obvious that something terrible was happening. And, of course, we didn’t know if it would spread to other countries. But we didn’t dare take the chance. So we started preparing.” For example, it was discovered that the country didn’t have enough protective gear for its health-care workers, so hospital officials immediately set about buying more.

How Iceland Has Dramatically Lowered Rates of Teen Substance Abuse Over the Past 20 Years

posted by Jason Kottke   Mar 02, 2020

There are certain links I’ve posted here that I think about more often than others. One that I think a lot about — weekly at least — is Emma Young’s story for Mosaic about Iceland’s very successful program that’s steered the nation’s teens away from drug and alcohol abuse. At the center of the Icelandic strategy is an insight by psychologist Harvey Milkman about a strategy of replacing substance and other unhealthy addictions with healthier natural highs:

At Metropolitan State College of Denver, Milkman was instrumental in developing the idea that people were getting addicted to changes in brain chemistry. Kids who were “active confronters” were after a rush — they’d get it by stealing hubcaps and radios and later cars, or through stimulant drugs. Alcohol also alters brain chemistry, of course. It’s a sedative but it sedates the brain’s control first, which can remove inhibitions and, in limited doses, reduce anxiety.

“People can get addicted to drink, cars, money, sex, calories, cocaine — whatever,” says Milkman. “The idea of behavioural addiction became our trademark.”

This idea spawned another: “Why not orchestrate a social movement around natural highs: around people getting high on their own brain chemistry — because it seems obvious to me that people want to change their consciousness — without the deleterious effects of drugs?”

BTW, this is a somewhat controversial view but it has always made sense to me for those with mild addictions or depression. Speaking strictly for myself, I’ve found that when healthier alternatives are available to me (spending time with family & friends, exercise, exploring, reading a good book), I spend a lot less time mindlessly doing things that give me the same sort of brain buzz but which I don’t consider positive or worthwhile (drinking alcohol, watching TV, eating poorly, and especially reloading Instagram over and over again like a lab rat slapping that lever to get more cocaine).

But back to Iceland. By giving teens access to more healthy activities, getting parents more involved in their children’s lives, implementing curfews, and administering annual surveys, the country has made great strides over the past two decades:

Today, Iceland tops the European table for the cleanest-living teens. The percentage of 15- and 16-year-olds who had been drunk in the previous month plummeted from 42 per cent in 1998 to 5 per cent in 2016. The percentage who have ever used cannabis is down from 17 per cent to 7 per cent. Those smoking cigarettes every day fell from 23 per cent to just 3 per cent.

The way the country has achieved this turnaround has been both radical and evidence-based, but it has relied a lot on what might be termed enforced common sense. “This is the most remarkably intense and profound study of stress in the lives of teenagers that I have ever seen,” says Milkman. “I’m just so impressed by how well it is working.”

Young did a follow-up last year about the expansion of the program into other areas of the world.

Unearthly Iceland

posted by Jason Kottke   Aug 27, 2019

If you need to convince yourself to go to Iceland, this short film by Vadim Sherbakov should do the trick for you. Just stunningly beautiful landscape masterfully shot.

Islandia — is a Latin name for Iceland and relative to the old language since this film portraits primordial and rough nature of Iceland. For the short duration of the film, you will be transported to a place that easily could be a million years ago. From unbelievable landscapes and vast valleys to painting-like terrain and majestic waterfalls and lakes - this film shows the unparalleled beauty of Iceland and its unearthly glory.

Watching the film, I wondered what Iceland would have looked like back when it had trees — probably even more amazing. (via colossal)

A Camera Lens Made from an Iceberg

posted by Jason Kottke   Feb 27, 2019

Mathieu Stern had an idea. He thought that if you could sculpt a piece of ultra-clear ice into the correct shape, it would function as a camera lens. To find that quality of ice, he traveled to Iceland to scavenge a chunk of an iceberg washed ashore on a black sandy beach. After some trial and error, he succeeded in making his iceberg lens and using it to shoot some photos and video. The lens lasted for about a minute before melting.

Here are some of the photos he took:

Iceberg Lens

Iceberg Lens

It’s a little impractical to go all the way to Iceland for iceberg ice when you can make your own clear ice at home, but Stern had this to say:

Now if people asks me “Are you happy with the result? it’s a bunch of blurry photos!?”, my response would be: “this project is a scientific, artistic and poetic project, I never imagined the result would look like the photos that comes from an ultra modern lens, but I was amazed by the strange beauty of the images I made with the first ever 10 000 year old lens.”

This is not a project for everyday photography, it was an adventure and a bet that when you have a crazy hypothesis, you should do everything to experiment it in the field.

I also wondered whether iceberg ice was actually more clear or pure than ice you could make at home. I didn’t find anything definitive but I did read this piece by Michelle Iwen about drinking single-malt scotch cooled by iceberg ice.

Our expedition leader, an Irish biologist studying southern birds, fished small chunks of clear-bubbled ice directly from the water as he worked to dislodge a sharp edged growler from beneath the propeller. He encouraged us to taste the ice, licking off the overlying salt water to find the pure, flavorless cold underneath.

“If you hold it in your bare hand long enough to speed the melting, you’ll hear it fizzle,” he told us. The fizzy pop of bergy seltzer is a familiar, yet unexpected sound. It sounds like a freshly opened can of soda, as the bubbles newly freed from the ice travel up toward the surface of the water. Yet the mundane sound of bergy seltzer belies the sinister power of melt against the bottom of the iceberg. Each bubble released scores the surface of the ice, compromising its structural integrity. We held the ice shards in our hands to make it fizz, let our skin burn against the freeze, as our expedition guide hoisted the free-floating remnants of a tiny growler into the zodiac to be chipped apart and consumed in cocktails that evening.

(via @peteashton)

Iceland’s goalkeeper directed a TV commercial for the World Cup

posted by Jason Kottke   Jun 18, 2018

The Iceland men’s soccer team is nearly impossible not to root for in this World Cup. They are the smallest nation by population ever to qualify for a World Cup. Their coach is a dentist and still maintains his hometown dental practice. The Skol chant done by the team’s fans is a great addition to the collection of international soccer chants & songs. All great underdog stuff.

Adding to that, their goalkeeper Hannes Thor Halldórsson is a former film director who, until four years ago, pursued soccer as a second job. In anticipation for the World Cup, Halldórsson stepped back into his old job to direct a commercial for Coca-Cola featuring the Icelandic men’s national team and the Skol chant.

Pretty good for a keeper. Is this the best commercial ever made by someone who has also kept clean sheets against both Lionel Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo?

Volcano Bread: geothermally baked bread

posted by Jason Kottke   Oct 31, 2016

In Iceland, geothermal vents and hot springs abound and you can use them to bake rye bread in a pot at fairly low temperatures for 24 hours. At a spa outside Reykjavik, they have something called the Rye Bread Experience where they take guests to see how the geothermal ovens work. Filmmaker Alison Grasso went on one of the tours and made a short film about it.

Live: Sigur Ros circles Iceland with generative soundtrack

posted by Jason Kottke   Jun 20, 2016

Icelandic band Sigur Rós is doing a live slow TV event: a broadcast of a drive around the entirety of Iceland with a soundtrack generated by software based on a new song of theirs.

driving anti-clockwise round the island, the journey will pass by many of the country’s most notable landmarks, including vatnajökull, europe’s largest ice-sheet; the glacial lagoon, jökulsárlón; as well as the east fjords and the desolate black sands of möðrudalur.

the soundtrack to the journey is being created moment-by-moment via generative music software. the individual musical elements of unreleased song, and current sigur rós festival set opener, óveður, are seeded through the evolving music app bronze, to create a unique ephemeral sonic experience. headphones, external speakers and full-screen viewing are recommended.

The Panama Papers

posted by Jason Kottke   Apr 04, 2016

A huge cache of data has leaked from a Panama-based tax firm that shows how some of the world’s politicians and the rich hide their money in offshore tax havens. The video above, from the Guardian, is a quick 1:30 introduction on how these offshore havens work.

The documents show the myriad ways in which the rich can exploit secretive offshore tax regimes. Twelve national leaders are among 143 politicians, their families and close associates from around the world known to have been using offshore tax havens.

A $2bn trail leads all the way to Vladimir Putin. The Russian president’s best friend — a cellist called Sergei Roldugin — is at the centre of a scheme in which money from Russian state banks is hidden offshore. Some of it ends up in a ski resort where in 2013 Putin’s daughter Katerina got married.

Among national leaders with offshore wealth are Nawaz Sharif, Pakistan’s prime minister; Ayad Allawi, ex-interim prime minister and former vice-president of Iraq; Petro Poroshenko, president of Ukraine; Alaa Mubarak, son of Egypt’s former president; and the prime minister of Iceland, Sigmundur Davíð Gunnlaugsson.

Here is an important bit:

Are all people who use offshore structures crooks?
No. Using offshore structures is entirely legal. There are many legitimate reasons for doing so. Business people in countries such as Russia and Ukraine typically put their assets offshore to defend them from “raids” by criminals, and to get around hard currency restrictions. Others use offshore for reasons of inheritance and estate planning.

Are some people who use offshore structures crooks?
Yes. In a speech last year in Singapore, David Cameron said “the corrupt, criminals and money launderers” take advantage of anonymous company structures. The government is trying to do something about this. It wants to set up a central register that will reveal the beneficial owners of offshore companies. From June, UK companies will have to reveal their “significant” owners for the first time.

There is much more here, including Lionel Messi’s involvement.

Update: The Panama Papers have claimed their first political victim. The now-former prime minister of Iceland has resigned because of his family’s offshore investments.

Beautiful Iceland

posted by Jason Kottke   Jun 13, 2014

I’ve seen the waterfalls and the hot springs and the rocky desolation, but I didn’t know that Iceland was also this:

Iceland

Iceland

Iceland

I mean, come on. Photos by Max Rive, Menno Schaefer, and Johnathan Esper. Many more here. (via mr)

Mayor of Reykjavik

posted by Aaron Cohen   Aug 04, 2010

Comedian Jon Gnarr recently won election as mayor of Reykjavik and has already gotten to work on his campaign promises of free towels at public swimming pools and a drug-free Parliament by 2020. Gnarr founded the The Best Party late last year, and other Best Party candidates, including members of the Reykjavik punk rock community, won 6 of the 15 seats on the City Council. The best part of all is that Gnarr “needed a coalition partner, but ruled out any party whose members had not seen all five seasons of ‘The Wire’.” That seems like sound policy to me.

On The Best Party, Gnarr has this to say:

No one has to be afraid of the Best Party, because it is the best party. If it wasn’t, it would be called the Worst Party or the Bad Party. We would never work with a party like that.

(Via Balloon Juice)

Michael Lewis telling fish tales?

posted by Jason Kottke   Mar 23, 2009

Jonas Moody, who has lived on Iceland for the past seven years, takes Michael Lewis to task for some inaccuracies and other odd things in his Vanity Fair piece about the country’s economic crisis.

5. “Icelanders are among the most inbred human beings on earth — geneticists often use them for research.”

Now this is insulting. Icelanders’ DNA shows their roots to be a healthy mix between Nordic Y chromosomes and X chromosomes from the British Isles. The reason genetic-research company deCODE uses Icelandic genes for its research is not because the codes are so homogeneous, but because the population has kept excellent genealogical records dating back thousands of years.

I sort of shrugged my shoulders at this stuff when I read the piece and forged ahead for the financial meat and potatoes, but it doesn’t read so well when collected all in one place like this. Was the piece supposed to be a farce? If not, it doesn’t reflect well on Lewis or his editors at VF. (thx, micah)

What happened to Iceland?

posted by Jason Kottke   Mar 12, 2009

Michael Lewis, who is seemingly cranking out 10,000 words a day about finance and sports these days, writes in the pages of Vanity Fair about the Icelandic financial collapse. It’s an amazing story.

That was the biggest American financial lesson the Icelanders took to heart: the importance of buying as many assets as possible with borrowed money, as asset prices only rose. By 2007, Icelanders owned roughly 50 times more foreign assets than they had in 2002. They bought private jets and third homes in London and Copenhagen. They paid vast sums of money for services no one in Iceland had theretofore ever imagined wanting. “A guy had a birthday party, and he flew in Elton John for a million dollars to sing two songs,” the head of the Left-Green Movement, Steingrimur Sigfusson, tells me with fresh incredulity. “And apparently not very well.” They bought stakes in businesses they knew nothing about and told the people running them what to do — just like real American investment bankers!

But it was all essentially make-believe.

A handful of guys in Iceland, who had no experience of finance, were taking out tens of billions of dollars in short-term loans from abroad. They were then re-lending this money to themselves and their friends to buy assets — the banks, soccer teams, etc. Since the entire world’s assets were rising — thanks in part to people like these Icelandic lunatics paying crazy prices for them — they appeared to be making money. Yet another hedge-fund manager explained Icelandic banking to me this way: You have a dog, and I have a cat. We agree that they are each worth a billion dollars. You sell me the dog for a billion, and I sell you the cat for a billion. Now we are no longer pet owners, but Icelandic banks, with a billion dollars in new assets. “They created fake capital by trading assets amongst themselves at inflated values,” says a London hedge-fund manager. “This was how the banks and investment companies grew and grew. But they were lightweights in the international markets.”

The Icelandic financial crisis

posted by Jason Kottke   Nov 24, 2008

The story is a bit out-of-date, but this overview of the cause and effects of the Icelandic financial crisis is still worth a read.

Picture a pig trying to balance on a mouse’s back and you’ll get some idea of the scale of the problem. In a mere seven years since bank deregulation and privatisation, Iceland’s financial institutions had managed to rack up $75bn of foreign debt. In his address to the nation, Haarde put the problem in perspective by referring to the $700bn financial rescue package in America: “The huge measures introduced by the US authorities to rescue their banking system represent just under 5 per cent of the US GDP. The total economic debt of the Icelandic banks, however, is many times the GDP of Iceland.”

Nathan Myhrvold in the north

posted by Jason Kottke   Jul 24, 2008

Nathan Myhrvold, billionaire polymath, recently wrote a series of three posts for the Freakonomics blog about his trips to Iceland and Greenland.

I’d like to say that global warming was evident during my visit, but that is not really the case. Indeed, [my guide] Salik tells me that he and most Greenlanders are pretty skeptical about it. The local fishing industry used to be based on arctic prawns, but the sea temperature has changed just enough that the prawns are much further north, so now they fish for cod.

But, as Salik points out, this cycle has happened several times in living memory. The same with the glaciers: yes they are retreating, but at least in his area, they have yet to reach the limits that the locals remember them. Objective measurements do show that climate change is happening. Nevertheless I was amused that the locals don’t seem to think it is such a big deal.

The photos are worth a look by themselves.

They shut all the lights off in

posted by Jason Kottke   Oct 02, 2006

They shut all the lights off in Reykjavik last Thursday so that residents might see the stars without light pollution. What a lovely idea.

The seminal Icelandic band, The Sugarcubes, will

posted by Jason Kottke   Sep 19, 2006

The seminal Icelandic band, The Sugarcubes, will perform one last time on November 17 in Reykjavik. How will the concert hall hold all of Bjork’s fans?

Tim Gasperak was recently in Iceland and

posted by Jason Kottke   Oct 24, 2005

Tim Gasperak was recently in Iceland and took some gorgeous photos. More at his site, Big Empty.