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Cool German words - Totschlagargument

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Literally killdead argument is an argument that is a sure win in any discussion. I used it the other day in a video about strikes in Iceland (I'm becoming an internet star, something I will talk about in a later post). In Iceland inflation is the argument to end all arguments, if you are against any policy all you have to do is show that it will lead to inflation and the policy will be rejected, no matter how sensible it is otherwise (another Totschlagargument in Iceland is independence. In Germany, where we are less afraid of hyperinflation (because we do not try to maintain a currency with a population of 350.000) the Totschlagargument is "it will lose (or create) jobs", an argument that was used for all the new labour measures introduced in the 90s and any other kind of business friendly (and anti worker) policy. In both countries these arguments are regularly used to explain why the minimum wage cannot be a living wage.

Is the Icelandic police racist?

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Last month a picture of a police officer with patches of known neo-nazi symbols was published in one of the major newspapers, prompting a discussion about racism in the police. The police officer in question claimed they had been given the patches as presents and were not aware of their meaning. Even if this were true, this still leaves the question why someone would give a police officer these patches in the first place and if the Icelandic police is unaware of common symbols of hate groups in general. In response to the incidence an MP of the pirate party suggested that a committee should be established to investigate possible racism within the police. The police were of course outraged at the suggestion.

Earlier this year the police acquired a van for the purpose of better border control on harbours around the Reykjavik area. As this was in the middle of covid and the usual cruise ships were not visiting Iceland this year (good riddance) they decided that this van can also be used to drive around Reykjavik and stop cars with (and I quote) "Romanian looking" people in it and, well, frisk them.

Last year in march refugees protested their conditions in the refugee shelters and the drawn out process for asylum on Austurvöllur. During the same time workers who were on strike were also organising pickets and protests around the square. Additionally the kids from Fridays for Future were there every Friday. The refugees were met by 20 police (they themselves were around 30) and pepper sprayed during the peaceful protest. The workers (also around 30) and kids from Friday for Future (around 60) did not encounter any police, as they had adopted a deescalation strategy of plain clothed officers in a car around the corner.

The proposed committee to investigate possible racism within the police has not been established, so whether or not the Icelandic police is racist will remain a mystery.

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.

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

So about Efling....

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English below

Á þeim tíma sem ég starfaði hjá Eflingu upplifði ég einelti og illa meðferð frá stjórnendum. Ég var rekin tímabundið, meðal annars fyrir að tilheyra stéttarfélagi, og fyrir að gegna hlutverki valins fulltrúa vinnufélaga. Loks var ég rekin því ég svaraði spurningum kjörinna fulltrúa Eflingar um ástæður tímabundins brottrekstrar. Þau hafa borið mig rógi og ásakað mig um að ætla að skaða stéttarfélagið með einhverju utanaðkomandi ráðabruggi, en ég var og er enn ekki tilbúin til þess að afsala mér réttindum mínum til að standast tryggðarpróf vænisjúkra stjórnenda.

Það eru nokkur atriði sem ég vil leggja áherslu á.
1. Núverandi staða skrifstofunnar ýtir undir misbeitingu valds. Mannauðsstjórnunin neitar að upplýsa fólk um réttindi sín, öllu samráði er hafnað og refsað er fyrir beitingu réttinda (svo sem að taka valinn fulltrúa með sér á fundi með mannauðsstjórn eða að gegna hlutverki valins fulltrúa). Það er ekkert ábyrgðarferli til staðar fyrir misbeitingu valds og stjórnin virðist ekki vilja hafa slíkt.
2. Stjórnendur vilja halda völdum og takmarka upplýsingaflæði til kjörinna fulltrúa félagsins. Ég var rekin fyrir að svara spurningum kjörinna fulltrúa. Mér var sér í lagi sagt að halda trúnað um vissa hluti, bæði gagnvart stjórn og trúnaðarráði. Þetta er uppskrift að spillingu.
3. Misbeiting valds og spilling byggjast á að fólk leyfi því að gerast.

In my time working for Efling I experienced bullying and abuse from the leadership. I was put on suspension among other things for belonging to a union and for acting as the chosen representative for a coworker. I finally was fired because I answered questions from elected Efling officials about the reason for my suspension. They have slandered me and accused me of trying to harm the union with some outside agenda, however I was and still am unwilling to surrender my rights as a loyalty test to a paranoid leadership.

There are some points I want to emphasise.
1. The current situation in the office encourages abuses. HR refuses to inform people of their rights, every kind of consultation is denied and using one's rights (such as bringing a chosen representative to meetings with HR or acting as a chosen representatives) are punished. There is no accountability process for abuse and leadership does not want there to be one.
2. Leadership wants to control and restrict information to the democratically elected bodies of the union. I was fired for answering questions from elected officers. I was specifically told to keep things confidential, both towards the board and the council of delegates. This is a recipe for corruption.
3. Abuse and corruption depend on people enabling it.
Posted on - Categories: Politics

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