The Parliament that wouldn’t

Following four months of intense debates, Iceland’s Constitutional Council handed Alþingi its proposals for a new Constitution. That was July 29, 2011. Now the Council has been asked to reconvene for a four-day session of further deliberation. Unfortunately, the Icelandic parliament’s handling of the proposals has not done constitution reform much good, and furthermore, the planned road ahead seems ill advised.

The back story

Following the financial crisis in 2008 and the subsequent parliamentary elections in early 2009, the victorious left-wing government embarked on a journey to revise Iceland’s Constitution of 1944. A Constitutional Assembly of 25 people, voted for in a popular election held last year, were supposed to draft a proposal. I was one of the 525 candidates who ran and one of those lucky twenty-five to gain a seat after the original count. Unfortunately, the Supreme Court deemed the results invalid in early 2011, citing procedural problems.

Parliament, however, chose to bypass the ruling by changing the name from “Assembly” to “Council” and offering the same twenty-five people seats. This was, in my opinion, a bad decision. The right approach would have been to redo the election—not to rebrand the body in question. Those of us with seats had to decide either to take part in the process, which you could say was flawed, or to relinquish our seat to someone who has no problem with Supreme Court rulings being ignored. I chose the first option, along with the rest of the group with the exception of one person.

Bringing this all up again might seem pointless or even mean, but when it comes to constitutional reform, it doesn’t sit well with me that the ruling government write the rules, as the game unfolds, hoping that everything will somehow turn out fine.

Let’s call the Council!

The Constitutional Council, which formally ceased to exist six months ago, is being asked to convene on March 8 through 11 to discuss questions from the parliamentary committee responsible for constitutional affairs. Following this brief session, the Council can, from what I understand, make amendments to its own proposals, and the resulting document will then be put to a referendum by the end of June, on the same day as Icelanders vote for President.

I have serious reservations about this set-up. First of all, when parliament was voting to have the Council reconvene, there were no concrete proposals available with respect to what they thought needed changing, for either legal or political reasons. A few days later a short statement was made public to the media, including: “Take a better look at the chapter about the president.” Members of the Council have since then received a four-page letter from parliament. The letter is a fair enough memo, but it still includes no concrete proposals for what should be changed and how it should be done.

Parliament, which is solely responsible for amending the constitution, should have examined the proposals both from a legal and a political point of view. It seems that neither has been done. No thorough legal analysis of our document has been made on behalf of parliament, and it seems, as many MPs claim, that this step can wait until after the referendum. I firmly disagree. The idea of voting on a law before preparing it seems irresponsible to me.

If the goal of the March meeting of the Constitutional Council was solely to give our opinion on some ideas that parliament might have with regards to our proposals then that might be fine. However, that is not the case. The plan is to put our decisions directly to a referendum, without any further legal expert analysis, and without giving the Council resources needed to accommodate for such an analysis.

And I do have a problem with taking part in submitting something to a popular vote without it first being at least examined—if not approved—by parliament. It is parliament that has the power to amend the Constitution, and it cannot push that responsibility away, even if it wants to.

Voting Patterns in UN General Assembly

Voting Blocks in the UN General Assembly 2000-2008. CC-BY-SA 3.0

The UN’s General Assembly is body where each  UN nation gets one vote. Looking at these votes through the years 2000-2008, we check how often given to countries agree/disagree on a particular issue. The above picture is a so call “spring graph”, where country that vote similarily are shown close to one another, and those who disagree a lot are show far apart.

The colors represent the five regional groups of the UN. You can clearly see some things: The division between the developed/western world and the rest, as well as the relative isolation of USA and Israel in voting in the General Assembly.

Here is an applet where you can draw the countries in question around. If you click on one country and move the mouse over another one you can see their correlation.

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[processing width=”550″ height=”650″ file=””  method=”newwindow”]Click here to open the applet in a new window.[/processing]


The data of all UN GA votes -2008 can be found here: Erik Voeten and Adis Merdzanovic, “United Nations General Assembly Voting Data”, hdl:1902.1/12379 UNF:3:Hpf6qOkDdzzvXF9m66yLTg== V1 [Version] The physics part of the applet was taken and modified from the following example: by Joris Dormans.  

Who votes like Iceland in the UN General Assembly?

It’s always fun to look the data from the votes of the UN General Assembly. Here we looked at the votes in the years 2000-2008 to see which countries agreed with Iceland the most. It turns out that the Nordic Countries, the Benelux, the Baltic States and Central European Countries are Iceland’s closest allies, in terms of votes. Iceland disagrees the most with the United States and Israel. (But then again, who doesn’t.) 1 Denmark 99.0% 2 Norway 98.9% 3 Netherlands 98.7% 4 Luxembourg 98.6% 5 Belgium 98.4% 6 Poland 98.4% 7 Czech Republic 98.2% 8 Lithuania 98.2% 9 Slovakia 98.2% 10 Slovenia 98.2% 11 Finland 98.1% 12 German Federal Republic 98.1% 13 Greece 98.1% 14 Bulgaria 98.1% 15 Hungary 98.1% 16 Italy 97.8% 17 Romania 97.6% 18 Spain 97.6% 19 Portugal 97.5% 20 Estonia 97.4% 21 Liechtenstein 97.4% 22 Croatia 97.3% 23 Austria 97.1% 24 Latvia 96.9% 25 Macedonia 96.9% 26 Montenegro 96.9% 27 Andorra 96.8% 28 Sweden 96.3% 29 San Marino 96.0% 30 Ireland 95.7% 31 Monaco 95.1% 32 Yugoslavia 94.5% 33 Cyprus 94.5% 34 Moldova 94.4% 35 Malta 93.9% 36 Georgia 93.3% 37 Switzerland 93.2% 38 New Zealand 92.7% 39 Japan 92.7% 40 Canada 91.6% 41 South Korea 91.5% 42 France 91.5% 43 Bosnia and Herzegovina 91.1% 44 Ukraine 90.8% 45 Albania 90.3% 46 United Kingdom 90.3% 47 Turkey 90.0% 48 Australia 86.7% 49 Argentina 82.1% 50 Armenia 81.5% 51 Chile 78.7% 52 Samoa 78.7% 53 Peru 78.2% 54 Uruguay 77.8% 55 Kazakhstan 77.7% 56 Guatemala 77.4% 57 Paraguay 76.9% 58 Russia 76.9% 59 Brazil 76.7% 60 Panama 75.8% 61 Mexico 75.3% 62 Costa Rica 74.9% 63 Honduras 74.3% 64 Dominican Republic 74.2% 65 Thailand 74.1% 66 Mongolia 74.1% 67 Solomon Islands 74.0% 68 Azerbaijan 73.9% 69 Bolivia 73.8% 70 Singapore 73.8% 71 El Salvador 73.8% 72 Ecuador 73.6% 73 Bahamas 73.5% 74 Fiji 73.5% 75 South Africa 73.3% 76 Nicaragua 73.2% 77 Philippines 72.7% 78 Colombia 72.6% 79 East Timor 72.5% 80 Belarus 72.5% 81 Belize 72.5% 82 Ghana 72.4% 83 Jamaica 72.0% 84 Barbados 71.9% 85 Tanzania 71.9% 86 Zambia 71.9% 87 Guyana 71.7% 88 Kyrgyzstan 71.7% 89 Eritrea 71.7% 90 Maldives 71.7% 91 Sri Lanka 71.7% 92 Mauritius 71.6% 93 Papua New Guinea 71.6% 94 Burkina Faso 71.3% 95 Cape Verde 71.3% 96 Namibia 71.3% 97 Burundi 71.2% 98 Cambodia 71.2% 99 Haiti 71.2% 100 Nepal 71.2% 101 Nigeria 71.1% 102 Senegal 71.0% 103 Botswana 70.9% 104 Mali 70.8% 105 Mozambique 70.8% 106 Trinidad and Tobago 70.8% 107 Tonga 70.8% 108 Antigua & Barbuda 70.7% 109 Ethiopia 70.5% 110 Tajikistan 70.5% 111 Togo 70.5% 112 Brunei 70.4% 113 Guinea 70.2% 114 Kenya 70.2% 115 Tunisia 70.2% 116 Madagascar 70.2% 117 St. Vincent and the Grenadines 70.2% 118 Jordan 70.1% 119 Venezuela 70.1% 120 Afghanistan 69.9% 121 Bangladesh 69.9% 122 St. Lucia 69.9% 123 United Arab Emirates 69.9% 124 Djibouti 69.9% 125 Lesotho 69.7% 126 Algeria 69.6% 127 Angola 69.6% 128 Malaysia 69.6% 129 Yemen 69.6% 130 Benin 69.6% 131 Gabon 69.6% 132 Indonesia 69.6% 133 Kuwait 69.6% 134 Morocco 69.4% 135 Bahrain 69.3% 136 Congo 69.2% 137 Qatar 69.1% 138 Mauritania 69.0% 139 China 69.0% 140 Lebanon 69.0% 141 Oman 69.0% 142 Zimbabwe 68.7% 143 Ivory Coast 68.6% 144 Grenada 68.5% 145 Saudi Arabia 68.4% 146 Suriname 68.4% 147 Swaziland 68.1% 148 Sudan 68.0% 149 Niger 67.9% 150 Uzbekistan 67.9% 151 Laos 67.8% 152 Malawi 67.5% 153 Myanmar 67.3% 154 Pakistan 67.3% 155 Vanuatu 67.2% 156 Guinea-Bissau 67.1% 157 Comoros 67.0% 158 Egypt 67.0% 159 Federated States of Micronesia 67.0% 160 Libya 67.0% 161 Seychelles 66.9% 162 Cuba 66.8% 163 Vietnam 66.6% 164 Uganda 66.4% 165 Central African Republic 66.4% 166 Bhutan 66.2% 167 Turkmenistan 66.1% 168 Dominica 66.0% 169 Iran 66.0% 170 Syria 66.0% 171 Iraq 65.9% 172 Sierra Leone 65.8% 173 Tuvalu 65.7% 174 Sao Tome and Principe 65.5% 175 Equatorial Guinea 65.3% 176 Cameroon 65.2% 177 India 65.1% 178 Liberia 64.9% 179 Nauru 64.7% 180 Chad 63.1% 181 Marshall Islands 62.9% 182 Palau 62.8% 183 Rwanda 62.7% 184 Somalia 62.4% 185 North Korea 62.2% 186 Gambia 62.1% 187 Democratic Republic of the Congo 61.8% 188 St. Kitts and Nevis 61.4% 189 Kiribati 60.9% 190 Israel 55.2% 191 United States of America 46.3% This is taken from the following source: [Erik Voeten and Adis Merdzanovic, “United Nations General Assembly Voting Data”, UNF:3:Hpf6qOkDdzzvXF9m66yLTg== V1 [Version] ] If you are interested in the full pivot table showing the correlation between all UN member states, check back in a couple of days. Related: Voting Patterns in UN General Assembly

What Town is Farthest Away From Reykjavík?

The Statistical Office of Iceland provides a list of all urban nuclei in Iceland, that is a list of all towns and villages, large and small. One question one might ask is “which of these places lies farthest away from the capital?” If we only look at the localities on the main island, the answer is: Borgarfjörður eystri.

The route to Borgarfjörður eystri from Reykjavík, through Akureyri and Egilsstaðir. From Map data CC-BY-SA by OpenStreetMap.

According to the route planner that comes with Google Maps, it takes 8 hours and 58 minuites to drive from Reykjavík to Borgarfjörður eystri.

Eskifjörður 08:15
Seyðisfjörður 08:16
Þórshöfn 08:20
Neskaupstaður 08:28
Borgarfjörður eystri 08:58

If you want a full list of all travel distances from Reykjavík it can be found in the following Excel file: distancesIceland.  

Living Wills

Background photo. User: APM Alex. CC-BY-SA 3.0. (

For those of you who follow my Icelandic writings í Fréttablaðið, I wrote an article about organ donations last Friday. When it comes down to officially registering your wish with regards to organ donations, the only formal way seems to be writing formal “living will” and sending it to the Directorate of Health. I was interested to see how many had indeed taken such steps. According to the staff of the Directorate this number is currently 460 people, in the entire country.

The Busiest Bus Stops in Reykjavik

Here’s a small applet, which allows you to navigate through Reykjavik Bus data. Green = people entering the bus. Red = people leaving the bus. [applet code=”busExplorer” file=”,,,,,” width=500 height=500 method=”onclick”] Try it here. [/applet] Press the “+1h” button to advance in time. UPDATE: I added exectutable versions for Windows, Mac and Linux: busExplorer.linux32 busExplorer.macosx busExplorer.windows32 

Are Odd Years Bad for Handball Players?

The Handball European Championship 2012 is underway in Serbia. That’s fun. I remember the book SuperFreakonomics having a chapter about birthdays of pro soccer players. They tend to be born in January. Generally, the reason is that those born early in the year are, on average, more physically mature among their peers. I looked at similar stuff for handball. Here’s a full list of all the participants in an Excel file EHF2012. You can see the month-birth-chart in the file. However, there’s something a bit more interesting. The international Handball Federation hold two types of major youth tournaments: Under 19 and under 21. Both are held in odd years and both use birth years for age limits. Thus in the last IHF Under 21 world cup, held in 2011, players had to be born 1990 or later in order to participate. The one before that: 1988, then 1986 etc. Thus, players born on odd years have less chance of playing in youth squads as they on average have to compete against older players. Does this trend translate into the adult years? Some things seem to indicate it. Here’s a chart showing the birth years of all Euro-2012 players, from all the 16 participating teams.

Birth Years of Handball Players in the 2012 European Championships.

As you can see there are “gaps” in the odd years, 1981, 1983, 1985 and 1987.

Missing Out?

This is not a very detailed stats analysis, just to be clear. But maybe its worth a further look.

"Where is Everybody?" Most Popular Bus Stops in Reykjavik.

Here are some pictures representing the most popular bus stops in the Greater Reykjavik public transport systems. See the comparison between 8 o’clock and 16 o’clock maps. One can see how most people are getting in in the suburbs in the morning and returning home in the afternoon.

CC-BY-SA 3.0. PaBaMapa


CC-BY-SA 3.0. PaBaMapa


After dinner the traffic gets slower:

CC-BY-SA 3.0

 This is the legend: Stations with more than 25 passengers/h are shown with a label.

In fact, if you want, you can check out the picture for every hour. The can be found under the following links.,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,

Note the numbering is slightly confusing, thus map22 is the map of bus traffic 21:00-21:59.