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!


Ramesh said...

Yeah I saw the news item on pineapple on a pizza. I have to say that I agree with him, although I wouldn't want the replacement to be "fiskmeti" !

We all suffer from numerical aphasia, ecstatic or otherwise. Its a human tendency to exaggerate things. Here's a test. Guess what percentage of American households pay income tax (I've used households rather than individuals as a number to eliminate the effect of kids, very old people etc who obviously wouldn't pay income tax). Google it after you have guessed.

Sriram Khé said...

I guessed 53 percent of households pay income tax.

You know why I was so specific about 53?

Because, as the presidential candidate, Mitt Romney talked to his rich friends about 47 percent not paying taxes and being dependent on the government and how he writes off those voters ...

Ramesh said...

You guessed right. Its actually 45% who don't pay taxes.

So here's the problem for the extreme left. America is a rich country. If in a rich country 45% of the households don't pay taxes, there is simply no way to balance the budget. So the only option is to take on large debt and leave the mess to be cleaned up by our children or grandchildren. What a sorry commentary on our generation.

In India its a scandal that the number is greater than 90%.

Sriram Khé said...

"If in a rich country 45% of the households don't pay taxes, there is simply no way to balance the budget"
That statement is a classic piece of evidence on why you side with the Republicans, whereas I can not.
I consider the fact that quite a few households not paying income taxes to be a good thing--it reflects the social contract we have. A contract that says that people in society will need a certain level of income in order to live a life that we consider anything below to be unacceptable. If at all, the focus ought to be on raising that minimum--the focus should never be on forcing them to pay taxes.
Further, balancing the budget is a problem not because of the poor people. Have you looked at how much we spend on the military? You think a bulk of the social security and Medicare goes towards the poor people? You think even the mortgage interest deduction that the IRS allows is to help the poor? You are way too sharp, my friend, to make such a statement that is based on alternative facts! ;)

Sriram Khé said...

And two days later, this news:

Trump to propose 10 percent spike in defense spending, massive cuts to other agencies

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