Wednesday, February 22, 2017

Pineapple and Aphasia

A few months ago, the New Yorker had an essay on the presidential elections in Iceland.  I know, the most followed news item ever! ;)  I loved that essay.  It was an awesome read.  It was so neat that the country was so laid back about its candidates and the elections.  But more than the elections, it was the description of the country and its peoples that was so charming and memorable; I tracked it down for your pleasure, dear reader:
“Icelanders suffer from ecstatic numerical aphasia”
If you are like me--and I hope you are not--you want to re-check your understanding of the world "aphasia."  Google says it means "loss of ability to understand or express speech, caused by brain damage."  Or, if you want a one-word synonymn: trump! ;)

So, why that ecstatic numerical aphasia?  Here is that awesome paragraph:
In thinking about Iceland, one is always whipsawed between two facts. On the one hand, there’s the tiny scale of the place. There are only three hundred thousand-plus people in the country, and a Presidential election, even though it gets a huge, Nordic-style turnout, will still top out at about two hundred and forty thousand voters, about one-third the number in a single congressional district in New York City. One might read that, as a proportion of the population, more Icelanders died in the Second World War than Americans did, which means two hundred and thirty, most of them in seafaring accidents. “Icelanders suffer from ecstatic numerical aphasia” is the way that Heiða Helgadóttir, a prominent alternative politician, put it one morning, over milky coffee, the country’s vin ordinaire. “We are convinced that we come from a country of at least two or three million, and nothing dissuades us.” On the other hand, Iceland is an honest-to-God country, not a principality, like Monaco, or a fragment fallen off a larger one, like Montenegro. It has a language and a history and a culture entirely its own, it fields competitive teams in international football tournaments, and it can claim about as many famous artists—Björk, Sigur Rós—as its far larger Nordic peers.
Doesn't that one paragraph capture the country for us?  Those damn New Yorker writers; I am always jealous of them!

That essay was from last summer.    Why blog about it after all these months?  That essay was about a candidate named Guðni Jóhannesson.  I was reminded of that piece because this Jóhannesson was in the news.  Not because he trashed trump's aphasia ;)  But, because he--get this--ridiculed pineapple as a pizza topping!!!
In answering questions from students about pizza and football (his favorite Premier League team is Manchester United), Mr. Johannesson told them that, should he be able to pass laws, he would like to ban pineapple as a pizza topping, igniting a media firestorm.
A global outrage.  Like how trump's tweets cause havoc :)

In his "apology" the professor-president triggered even more outrage:
“I like pineapples, just not on pizza. I do not have the power to make laws which forbid people to put pineapples on their pizza. I am glad that I do not hold such power. Presidents should not have unlimited power. I would not want to hold this position if I could pass laws forbidding that which I don’t like. I would not want to live in such a country. For pizzas, I recommend seafood.”
Wait, what on pizza?
the president used the word “fiskmeti” in the Icelandic-language version of his post, which translates as fish-products, rather than seafood.
Like Adam Gopnik noted,
“Icelanders suffer from ecstatic numerical aphasia”
Don't worry about the presidents' political life though:
Despite stepping into this controversy, Mr. Johannesson’s approval ratings have remained high.
A former history professor at the University of Iceland with a laid-back style, he has turned down a 20 percent pay hike, donated 10 percent of his pretax salary to charity, and holds the distinction of being the first president to march in a gay pride parade.
How cool!

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