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Posts Tagged ‘iceland’

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Photo: Francis Pakes
The view from the Icelandic prison that a criminology reseacher asked to stay in.

Abusing people who commit crimes is no longer considered effective for keeping them on the straight and narrow after they serve their time. For a different approach, consider Iceland, where two of the five prisons actually have no locks.

Francis Pakes, a professor of criminology at the UK’s University of Portsmouth, took a firsthand look and wrote about his experience for the Conversation.

“Iceland is a small country tucked away on the edge of Europe. It has a population of only about 340,000 people. Iceland’s prisons are small too. There are only five, altogether housing fewer than 200 prisoners. Of these five, two are open prisons. …

“When I asked the prison authorities in Iceland if I could spend a week in each of the two open prisons they were surprisingly receptive. I got the impression that they quite liked the idea: a foreign academic who wanted to get under the skin of these places by assuming the role of a prisoner. They promised to keep a room free for me. I was grateful and excited. I was going to experience both prisons from the inside. …

“The absence of security features was striking. The first prison I stayed in, Kvíabryggja prison in the west of the country, had little in the way of perimeter security. There is, however, a sign instructing passers by to keep out – mainly aimed at tourists. I could simply drive up to the small, mostly single-storey building and park up. I then walked in (yes, the doors were open) and said hello. …

“It was clear from the outset that prisoners and staff do things together. Food is important in prisons and in Kvíabryggja the communal dining room is a central space. It is where prisoners have breakfast, lunch and dinner together with staff. Prisoners cook the food, and with an officer they do the weekly food shop in a nearby village. Food was plentiful and tasty. It is considered bad form not to thank the prisoner chefs for their efforts. And you have to clean up after yourself. …

“Prisoners have their own room keys but they leave their doors unlocked, pretty much at all times. This is a potent symbol: life in Kvíabryggja is all about trust. I found that difficult at first, knowing that my passport, rental car keys and research notes were all in my room. In the end I did what prisoners do and even slept with the door unlocked. I slept like a baby. …

“It was the informality of the interactions that struck me most. We watched football together. … I got teased a bit of course, as all prison researchers do. But prisoners also shared gossip and many prisoners and staff alike shared very personal, even intimate feelings and stories with me. When Pétur gained his freedom and his dad arrived to pick him up, he hugged many prisoners and staff goodbye, including me. We all got a bit emotional.

“Kvíabryggja is of course still a prison. Many prisoners feel frustrated, angry, anxious, struggle with their health and worry about the future. But the environment is safe and the food a delight. There is contact with the outside world, generous visiting arrangements, and there is always a listening ear. As prisons go, this means a lot.

“This remote prison and with no more than 20 prisoners, and around three staff around at most at any time, is a tiny community. Prisoners and staff smoke together in the cramped but ever busy smoking room. They need to get on.

“Life is defined by these informal interactions. This is not necessarily easy. This prison population is highly mixed. There are female prisoners, foreign nationals and prisoners of pensionable age or with a disability all mixed in together. …

“The importance of getting on is a take away message. This is far harder to achieve in large busy prisons where new prisoners arrive and leave every day. But just like community policing works best if most public interactions are friendly, a prison is a more positive place if most interactions are friendly and benign too.”

More at the Conversation, here.

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Photo: Melanie Stetson Freeman/Christian Science Monitor
Iceland has cut teen alcohol and drug use with fun after-school activities and a 10 pm curfew (age 18 and under).

Sometimes it takes a huge, intractable problem to motivate people to find serious solutions. That’s what Iceland discovered after it was overwhelmed by an epidemic of teen substance abuse.

Sara Miller Llana writes at the Christian Science Monitor, “In the late 1980s, when Björgvin Ívar Guðbrandsson was a teenager, alcohol and school dances went hand-in-hand. While he was later to drinking than his peers – more interested in playing soccer and guitar – when he did start around age 16, he would smuggle alcohol in his guitar case into school events.

“ ‘I think the adults just turned a blind eye,’ says Mr. Guðbrandsson. ‘The culture was, I think, “they’re just kids. As long as they aren’t fighting, it’s okay.” ‘

“Today, as a teacher at Langholt school in Reykjavik where he once studied, he says that if a student were to show up drunk to a dance, it would  be such a scandal that the school principal would likely call child protective services.

“In reality, that rarely happens because substance abuse on a wide scale has essentially become a ‘non-issue,’ says Guðbrandsson. Alcohol and school dances, in other words, don’t go together in Iceland today.

“This school is hardly alone. Teen drinking – as well as teen smoking, marijuana use, and abuse of other drugs – has plummeted across Iceland in the past two decades as academics, policy makers, and parents joined forces to clamp down. …

“Beyond adolescent alcohol and drug use, Iceland has shifted thinking on youth culture itself, making it by many accounts more innocent and carefree. It has expanded parents’ notions of childhood and the importance of family time, while reinforcing the maxim that it ‘takes a village’ to raise a child, says Hrefna Sigurjónsdóttir, director of the national umbrella for parental organizations in schools, Home and School, one of the key players in the federal-state government program now known as Youth in Iceland.

“She calls it an ‘awakening’ that has taken place at home, school, and beyond. ‘I think people are not confused anymore about, “is this kid an adult or not.” ‘ ”

Just-say-no substance-abuse prevention programs didn’t work.

“Substance use kept going up, says Inga Dora Sigfúsdóttir, cofounder of the Icelandic Center for Social Research and Analysis (ICSRA), which is the data hub for Youth in Iceland. ‘A group of people came together, sat down and said, “we need to find a different approach. This is obviously not working.” ‘

“One of the problems was an ambiguous view of the line between child and adulthood, she says.

“One of the most absolute rules to take effect was legal curfews: Kids ages 12 and younger must be home at 8 p.m. in the winter and 10 p.m. in the summer. Thirteen to 16-year-olds must be home at 10 p.m. in the winter and by midnight in the summer, even when the sun is still blazing. …

“Parents began to sign agreements, through schools and parental organizations, with various pledges such as not allowing unsupervised parties in their homes or spending at least an hour a day with their children. …

“Municipalities funded and expanded after-school activities, from sports to gymnastics, to music, art, and ballet. The basic idea is to keep kids busy – and out of trouble – and help them find meaning in their lives that dissuades them from seeking alcohol or drugs in the first place.

“At its heart, it takes the onus off the teens themselves – the opposite of the D.A.R.E. approach – and places it on the community. …

“ ‘It does not concern teaching individual children about responsible choices, or even about making them responsible for their own behavior,’ says Álfgeir Kristjánsson, a former data analyst at ICSRA who is now an assistant professor of public health at West Virginia University. ‘The Icelandic approach … is to strengthen the societal and protective factors and drive down risk factors.’ ”

Makes such sense. When I was a teacher decades ago, I really didn’t buy into the idea that students who got in trouble were always making “choices.” If there was trouble at home, for example, kids were often tumbling into risky behaviors because of depression or other psychological stressors. The Icelandic approach seems to have opened the eyes of more adults to the complexity of the issue.

More here.

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Ingenuity can make a business out of almost anything. That’s what you may conclude after reading how a small Maine company is making something useful from lobster shells.

Tom Bell has the story at the Associated Press: “A startup company in Maine is developing a children’s bandage coated with a substance extracted from crushed lobster shells that would promote blood-clotting and is resistant to bacterial infection.

“The company, Lobster Tough LLC, shipped Maine lobster shells to a processor in Iceland for testing, and so far, the results are promising, said Thor Sigfusson, an Icelandic investor in the company. …

“ ‘My dream will be to use the massive amounts of lobster shells that are being thrown into dumpsters,’ he said. …

“The lobster shells must be dehydrated to remove weight and lower shipping costs. Lobster Tough this winter is shipping a portable dehydration machine from Iceland to Maine. The company eventually plans to build a $2 million dehydration plant somewhere on the Maine coast, said Patrick Arnold, an investor who lives in South Portland. …

“The bandages would be the first commercial product developed through the New England Ocean Cluster, a new business incubator in Portland.”

More here.

Photo: Tasty Island

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What I liked about this story on rescuers in Iceland was how the volunteer tradition started when “women banded together and organized a rescue crew to curtail the loss of their men at sea.” The part that wasn’t so great was about tourists endangering everyone with harebrained feats for their bucket list.

Nick Paumgarten writes at the New Yorker, “Iceland, with a population of little more than three hundred thousand, is the only NATO country with no standing Army. It has police, and a coast guard, but these, like the citizens they are paid to protect, are spread thin, so come accident or disaster, disappearance or storm, the citizens, for the most part, have always had to fend for themselves.

“[Slysavarnafélagið Landsbjörg, or, in English, the Icelandic Association for Search and Rescue] has evolved into a regimented volunteer system that serves as a peerless kind of national-emergency militia. It is not a government program, and so represents a tithing of manpower. There are close to ten thousand members in all, with four thousand of them on ‘callout’ duty, on ninety-seven teams. … They are well trained and well equipped, self-funded and self-organizing, and enjoy a near-mythical reputation among their countrymen, who, though often agnostic regarding the existence of elves and gnomes, are generally not inclined toward reverence or exaggeration. …

“Landsbjörg traces its roots back to the formation, in 1918, of a rescue team in the Westman Islands, an archipelago just off the southern coast. The women on shore banded together and organized a rescue crew to curtail the loss of their men at sea, and in time other fishing communities established similar groups and protocols. Eventually, the fishing industry, as it grew, supported these efforts with donations. On land, farmers, left to their own devices, looked after each other, as they will.” More at the New Yorker, here.

You may get a kick out of the fundraising based on selling fireworks. Setting them off is legal in Iceland once a year. “Last year, Icelanders blew up five hundred tons of fireworks.”

Photo: Benjamin Lowy / Getty Images for The New Yorker
“People think of the rescue teams as the Guardians of the Galaxy,” a mountain guide said. “They forget these are normal people.”

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In 2007, conceptual artist Yoko Ono established the John Lennon Peace Tower in Iceland, a beam of multiple, heaven-directed lights that is intended to appear every year from John Lennon’s birthday, Oct. 9, to Dec. 8. It was most recently relit in 2014.

Wikipedia says, “The Imagine Peace Tower (Icelandic: Friðarsúlan, meaning ‘the peace column’) is a memorial to John Lennon from his widow, Yoko Ono, located on Viðey Island in Kollafjörður Bay near Reykjavík, Iceland.

“It consists of a tall tower of light, projected from a white stone monument that has the words ‘Imagine Peace’ carved into it in 24 languages. These words, and the name of the tower, are a reference to Lennon’s peace anthem ‘Imagine.’

“The Tower consists of 15 searchlights with prisms that act as mirrors, reflecting the column of light vertically into the sky from a 10-metre wide wishing well. … The power for the lights is provided by Iceland’s unique geothermal energy grid. It uses approximately 75 killowatts of power.

“Buried underneath the light tower are over 1 million written wishes that Ono gathered over the years in another project, called Wish Trees. … Iceland was selected for the project because of its beauty and its ecofriendly use of geothermal energy.” More at Wikipedia.

Says the Peace Tower website: “One of the mesmerising features of the Imagine Peace  Tower is that the strength, intensity and brilliance of its light continually changes with the prevailing weather and atmospheric conditions unique to Iceland – creating a clear pillar of light on a cloudless night, beams irridescing with rainbow refractions in rain or snowfall, and brilliantly reflecting off and through any moving layers of cloud.” More.

Photo: McKay Savage
“Imagine Peace” Tower

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Jordan Teicher at National Public Radio reports that Icelanders really love their books.

“Iceland publishes more books per capita than any other country in the world,” writes Teicher, “with five titles published for every 1,000 Icelanders. But what’s really unusual is the timing: Historically, a majority of books in Iceland are sold from late September to early November. It’s a national tradition, and it has a name: Jolabokaflod, or the ‘Christmas Book Flood.’ …

“Iceland has a long literary history dating to medieval times. Landmarks of world literature, including the Sagas of the Icelanders and the Poetic Edda, are still widely read and translated there, according to the United Nations Educational, Scientific, and Cultural Organization. …

” ‘Generally fiction and biographies would be the mainstays, although it varies a lot,’ [book researcher Baldur] Bjarnason says. Two years ago one of the surprise best-sellers was a pictorial overview of the history of tractors in Iceland.’ …

“The Book Flood tradition, according to The Reykjavik Grapevine‘s Hildur Knutsdottir, dates to World War II, when strict currency restrictions limited the amount of imported giftware in Iceland.

” ‘The restrictions on imported paper were more lenient than on other products, so the book emerged as the Christmas present of choice. And Icelanders have honored the tradition ever since,’ Knutsdottir writes. …

“The book in Iceland is such an enormous gift, you give a physical book. You don’t give e-books here,” [Bryndís Loftsdottir of the book chain Penninn-Eymundsson] says.”

More at NPR, here.

Turning briefly to the UK, here’s a columnist who believes in books. She aims to solve any personal problem you send her by recommending a book.

My own advice? Reread another Dickens.

Photo: Bryndís Loftsdottir
Browsing at an Icelandic book chain.

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As usual, John has a pretty good idea of the kind of story that really floats my boat. Mysterious green balls washing up on the beaches of Australia, Anyone?

The Science Alert website reports that on the weekend of September 20, “thousands of peculiar green balls appeared on Dee Why Beach near Sydney in Australia. About 6 centimetres in diameter, these squishy little spheres are living organisms – seaweed balls known as ‘marimo’.

” ‘They’re actually a really unusual growth form of seaweed, because seaweeds mostly grow on the rocks but occasionally they get knocked off and rolled around in the ocean forming these beautiful little balls,’ Alistair Poore from the University of New South Wales explained to 7News.’It’s quite an unusual phenomenon, it’s only been seen a handful of times around the world.’

“First discovered in the 1820s by Austrian botanist Anton Eleutherius Sauter, and named by Japanese botanist Tatsuhiko Kawakami in 1898 (‘marimo’ roughly means ‘bouncy play ball’ in Japanese), colonies of these little balls have only been seen off the coast of Iceland, Scotland, Japan, Estonia and now Australia.”

See videos at Science Alert, here.

More on the green balls at Wikipedia and at Smithsonian.

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