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Strætó a(nother) rant

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I do not like Strætó very much. Now in the pandemic they have been doing everything to justify my disdain for them.

They started out well. When the first wave hit, they took measures to protect their drivers. They taped off the front of the bus and made passengers go in and out in the back, holding up their bus card, easily keeping the 2m distance.
Then they decided they really would like their passengers to die. Instead of implementing any of the social distancing measures other bus companies around the world have been doing (taping off seats, deploying more buses during rush hour), they decided to cut the service. The only motivation was to use the crisis to cut costs, public safety be damned.
People using the public transport in Iceland are mainly blue collar, low income and essential workers, those who cannot work from home (cleaning staff, kitchen staff, hospital staff etc). With fewer buses running every hour, buses were more crowded. There was no mask requirement in the first wave.
In the second wave Strætó got an exception to requiring masks (usually if it is not possible to keep the 2m rule, masks are required). They went back and forth on whether they want to make masks mandatory anyway, until they came up with the rule that you are only supposed to wear a mask if your travelling time is more than 30 min. Because that is not complicated and confusing at all. They also decided that they do not actually care about the safety of their drivers, not requiring them to wear masks either and having people enter from the front, breathing in their drivers faces. Probably because people were using the measures from the first wave to use expired bus cards and we are all welcome to die to make sure Strætó makes a profit.

Picture of the week - Last Cigarette

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Shot at the N1 gas station in Egilsstaðir on a Saturday night

I spent the last month listening to every REM studio album in chronological order - Green

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Green is the first album after REM moved from IRS to Warner Bros. The pressure was on with this album. They had to prove themselves to their new record company and had to deal with accusations of "selling out" after moving to a major label. Their main reason for moving was unhappiness with overseas distribution combined with a guarantee of full creative freedom, but they also got something between 8- 12 million out of it. Peter Buck used some of his new disposable income to purchase a mandolin and learned how to play it basically overnight. As a result some songs of the album are strange acoustic experiments, with mandolin as a main instrument. At the time, they mus have seemed like some fun little experiments, like King of Birds on Document, which had a dulcimer as a lead instrument. They are stuck between off beat bubble gum pop songs and Document style rock songs. I like to believe that REM played the bubble gum pop songs whenever someone from the record company came to visit the studio and the acoustic songs were secretly recorded in their back yard.

The bubble gum pop songs dominate the album. They are all a bit off beat, Pop Song 89 is ironic, Get Up is about Mills liking to sleep in and Stand is a pop song on steroids. 11 is sweet though and makes excellent use of Mills as second vocals.
The Document style songs are, unsurprisingly, political or dark. There are themes of war (Orange Crush, World Leader Pretend) unrest (Turn You Inside Out) and environmentalism (I Remember California). The chorus of Orange Crush has a cool call and response going on between Mills and Stipe. Turn You Inside Out has amazing background / second vocals going on and a really nice lead guitar by Buck.
Last there are the acoustic experiments. As my history with REM started with Out of Time, they did not seem out of the ordinary to me, when I listened to Green the first time. I wonder what people thought when they heard Hairshirt or The Wrong Child (the lyrics are really strange here, too. Amplified childhood trauma). The stand out song, not only from the acoustic songs, but from the whole album is You Are The Everything.

Shout outs:
  • Mike Mills used to oversleep and turn up late to recording sessions. So the lyrics of Get Up are all about how life is hard and you want to just sleep, but have to go and do stuff. It's the most relatable REM song (or any song) ever. Life is unfair, I oversleep and come late to work all the time , no one ever wrote a song for me, all I get told is to correct the sign in times at the end of the month.

  • Stand is kind of amazing. It has this over the top organ / carnival riff, has not one, but two key changes and the lyrics are what would happen if aliens tried to write a pop song. It's an over the top pop song on a sugar rush.

  • You Are The Everything starts with the sound of insects chirping in the dark (hence my theory that they recorded all the weird acoustic songs secretly at night in their backyard) and the whole song is the music version of a warm summer night in the country side. Bucks mandolin and Mills accordion (is there an instrument he cannot play?) create a beautiful atmospheric soundscape and Stipes lyrics flow over them. Hands down, best song of the album.

  • Closing thoughts: Green is my least favourite album from the Warner era with Bill Berry, but this is the era, which includes Out of Time and Automatic for the People, so this does not say much. With the next album my history with REM starts. I think no one really knew where REM would go next. Would they go full on pop? Have they finally sold out completely? They had had some hits with the bubble gum pop songs, like Stand after all. Instead, they chose the experimental acoustic songs as their inspiration for Out of Time and somehow managed to become world famous with an album featuring a mandolin and a harpsichord.

    Picture of the week - End of Summer

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    Taken on Verslunarmannahelgi on the N1 parking lot in Egilsstaðir

    How not to do public health policy

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    After the policy of allowing people to come into the country without requiring a two week quarantine has lead to a wave of new infections, to absolutely no ones surprise, the government decided to finally make masks a requirement in public spaces. Or not. It definitely provided a good example how not to implement public health policy.

    First things first, making masks a requirement public spaces has been shown to be an effective policy to combat Covid-19, if anything, this requirement comes late, it wasn't in effect in spring for example. However, even a good policy is only as effective as it's implementation and here it is severely lacking.

    So you are a government and you want people to change their behaviour. You need to let them know how and why. It is also best to keep it simple. For example, the slogan to prevent drunk driving (even in Germany, where the legal limit is not 0%) is: "Don't drink and drive". It isn't "Don't drink more than one beer and drive" because that would make the message unnecessary complicated. The spirit of the information campaign is also to encourage healthy behaviour, rather than telling people how to observe the law.
    Now let us look at the information regarding requiring masks. We need to wear them in public spaces IF it is not possible to observe the 2m rules. How do we estimate that? Well, guess we show up and find out! Some places, such as buses require masks all the time. But you don't need a mask in Strætó, except when you do. Strætó changes it's mind on that every day. What is it that they want to achieve with this policy? To reduce the risk of infection. So you would think that risking a)" people wearing a mask in a situation where they might not need one" < risking b) "people not wearing a mask where they might need one". The rules how they are communicated to people currently risks a over b. Which is also observable, I have been travelling and gas stations, rest stops, restaurants, camp grounds were pretty full. In theory though, the amount of people allowed were restricted enough to be able to keep 2m away from everyone, in practice that was almost impossible.
    So why is the rule communicated and implemented in this really complicated way? I can think of two reasons. First, economic considerations, if a mask would be required in all public spaces, it might prevent people of going to restaurants, shopping and in other ways spending money. Second the government might have implemented a mask requirement, however did not ensure that masks would be available to people. Ups.

    Hugs, nudges, shoves and smacks
    There are several ways governments can try and encourage healthier behaviour. Hugs (rewarding healthy behaviour, such as giving vouchers for free diapers etc to mothers who stop smoking), nudges (making it easier to make healthy choices than unhealthy ones, such as placing fruits and vegetables at the front of shops or sugar taxes vs subsidies for healthy foods), shoves (requiring the healthy behaviour, such as masks) and smacks (punishment for unhealthy behaviours, such as fines for not wearing a seatbelt).
    Hugs have been shown to be really effective, but governments don't like them, because they cost money and a lot of times morality is brought into play (you should stop smoking when your pregnant anyway, why should we reward you for that?). Nudges has been the preferred method, often allowing governments to raise taxes on unhealthy goods (like alcohol, right fellow Icelanders?) or using zoning in cities. They have also been shown to be successful, such spatially limiting sale of alcohol reduces binge drinking. Shoves and smacks are often seen as draconian, before there was the anti-masks movement, there was the anti-seatbelt movement for example. And in a democracy policy makers do have to take into account peoples right to protest measures, even if the protesters are stupid.
    Most importantly, if you introduce a shove or a smack you have to actually give people the possibility to comply. And here is where the government failed completely. They introduced a mask requirement and then masks were sold out immediately in all the pharmacies and also it is long weekend now and pharmacies are closed. No one is wearing masks. Most people do not even have masks. On Saturday I asked in a pharmacy along with several other people, no luck.
    My big question here is: if you can give everyone with a kennitala 5000kr of travelling money, why can you not give two free reusable masks? I really wonder if the nudge of giving everyone a free mask, together with a clear information campaign that a mask should be worn in all public spaces would have been more efficient than the shove of requiring masks in some very specific places, without actually reducing barriers to acquiring masks.

    It is Verslunarmannarhelgi and everyone is travelling, walking in and out of restaurants, rest stops, gas stations, camp grounds all which technically can keep the 2m rule and do not require masks, which most people do not have (not for lack of trying, I heard a lot of people ask). In two weeks infections will spike and we will go back to how it was in March. Fortunately for me I am only half way done with my REM related blog posts, so I am well prepared for another months of sitting around in a closed social centre (my workplace).

    Here is a free tip from a public health professional:
    • give clear and simple instructions of desired health behaviour to your target group

    • reduce barriers to the point were complying requires the smallest amount of effort possible

    • don't rely on market forces for distribution, they thrive on scarcity

    Posted on - Categories: Politics

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