Thoughts on quirky news and life in Buenos Aires and Washington, DC

Iceland engulfed by pineapple pizza ban controversy

Icelandic president Guðni Thorlacius Jóhannesson sparked social media outrage earlier this week when he stated that he would ban pineapple as a pizza topping if he could.  He was then forced to admit that he has no such constitutional power.  The Washington Post summarizes the controversy gripping the Nordic nation over the past few days:

Johannesson made the comments during a visit last week to a high school in Akureyri, a town in northern Iceland. The president was quizzed by students about his preferences in life — he told them that he supported the English soccer team Manchester United, for example.

However, things took a turn when Johannesson was asked whether he liked pineapple on his pizza. According to reports in the Icelandic media, the president said he was “firmly opposed” to the idea. He then went further, suggesting that he would ban pineapples on pizza if he could.

Hawaiian pizza fans and small government advocates in Iceland (apparently, there is an overlap between these two groups) promptly denounced the president for his “extreme views.”

On Tuesday, Johannesson addressed the furor with a statement acknowledging that in his position, a traditionally ceremonial role, he had no authority to change Iceland’s laws about pizza:

“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.”

Our views on pineapple pizza notwithstanding, can we all agree that Thorlacius is an awesome Icelandic name?


Icelandic fat cat seen in  Reykjavik last July.  She may frown upon pineapple as a pizza topping


Texas legislative proposal: stop using Chilean flag emojis to show Texas pride!

From Reuters:

A state lawmaker filed a resolution this week urging people to think before they text and stop using an emoji of the Chilean flag, which resembles the Lone Star State flag, as a symbol of Texas pride.

State Representative Tom Oliverson described the resolution as a light-hearted but serious civics lesson for the social media age. More than a few people have garnished their tweets and text messages about Texas with a Chilean flag, he said.

“I designed it be educational, kind of like a public service announcement,” Oliverson, a Republican, told Reuters on Saturday.

In all fairness, the two flags are pretty close.


Not the Texas flag: Presidential Palace, Santiago de Chile


In Germany, Big Bruder may be listening to you through a doll

Reuters reports:

A talking doll named Cayla has been banned by German authorities because the software inside her could be hacked, posing a security risk and allowing personal data to be revealed.


Researcher Stefan Hessel, who had examined the toy and alerted the agency, said hackers could use an unsecure bluetooth device embedded in it to listen and talk to the child playing with it.

“In a test, I was able to hack the toy even through several walls. It lacks any security features,” Hessel told the German website

Logically, the Federal Network Agency (a government body with a somewhat Orwellian name which seems to have jurisdiction over German dolls) has decided that the only way to address this issue is for Cayla to be verboten and destroyed.

The Federal Network Agency recommended that parents who bought the doll for their children destroy it.

“The Cayla doll is banned in Germany,” agency head Jochen Homann said. “This is also about protecting the weakest members of society.”

As far as stupid measures in the name of children, this one is up there with the banning of Kinder surprise eggs in America.

50 shades of embarrassing emergencies

First responders in Europe are warning the public about trying (and failing) to recreate scenes from kinky flick “50 Shades Darker,” which I’m told is the recently released sequel to “50 Shades of Gray.”  UPI reports:

The London Fire Brigade, which previously used its “50 Shades of Red” campaign to encourage bondage-curious lovers to exercise caution, said the past five years have seen $1.03 million in taxpayer funds being spent on emergency incidents stemming from sex-related predicaments.

The brigade said it had responded to at least 102 handcuff-related incidents in the past five years and at least 810 involving rings that had to be removed from various body parts.

“If it doesn’t fit, don’t force it,” the brigade suggested.

That is always good advice.

Happy Valentine’s Day!

India struggles to be “Open Defecation Free”

The Wall Street Journal reports on India’s pressing toilet problem:

NIMORA, India—Long before Prime Minister Narendra Modi vowed to build “smart cities” and mega ports, he mounted the ramparts of New Delhi’s historic Red Fort and announced his most high-profile project: toilets.

Hundreds of millions of Indians don’t have or use them, an issue of such urgency that Mr. Modi made resolving it by 2019 central to his plans to modernize his country.

Soon after, Manmohan Koshle, the informal headman of Nimora village, in the central Indian state of Chhattisgarh, received a midnight phone call from a local official, with an order: Make Nimora “open-defecation free,” or “ODF” in the argot of Indian bureaucracy.

Since that day, Mr. Koshle said, “all I have thought about is toilets, toilets, toilets.”

But some Nimora villagers—and at least 40% of Indian households—still don’t use them. Mr. Modi’s campaign illustrates the profound challenges the country faces in becoming a first-world economic power. Toilet nonuse lies at the core of India’s most-pressing health and development problems, including the spread of bacteria and viruses, diarrheal deaths and childhood stunting. It risks the safety of women who must go outside in the dark.

Believe it or not, using (or not using) a toilet is a political statement in India, with the national government withholding welfare benefits from those who insist on “going freestyle” (which has to be the euphemism of the week).

Saradhu Dhivar, 57, an unemployed villager, said he had daily spats with Mr. Koshle’s associates, arguing that Nimora had ample space to go “freestyle.” His food entitlements were withheld for a month, he said, until he built a toilet. It took days “to get used to this style,” he said.

In October, Mr. Koshle sealed a gap in the walls of a school whose large, grass-covered grounds had become a bathroom of choice. Dozens marched to his home in protest, wielding water buckets they carry for outside duty. They demolished the wall.

In December, Mr. Koshle got his police friends to stage the faux arrest of four locals he had instructed to relieve themselves outside—an attempt to strike fear, he said. He rented an auto-rickshaw with a loudspeaker, announcing that transgressors’ electricity supply would be cut.

Recently, teams of saree-clad women kept daily vigil around lakes and grassy fields from 4:30 a.m., shouting pro-toilet slogans and blowing whistles at offenders.

“Going to the toilet has become very political,” said Mr. Koshle. “You can’t imagine the hostility we’ve encountered.”

In case you missed it the first time: “Recently, teams of saree-clad women kept daily vigil around lakes and grassy fields from 4:30 a.m., shouting pro-toilet slogans and blowing whistles at offenders.”  If that doesn’t make you want to vacation in India, I don’t know what will.

Travel destinations for English-only speakers

The Telegraph reports for the benefit of monolingual travelers:

The rest of the world speaks English. Indeed, […] it is spoken by more than half the population in 45 countries beyond the UK, including The Philippines, Denmark, Germany, The Netherlands, Singapore, Austria, Finland, Malaysia, Belgium and Greece.

Oddly, the US only ranks 8th on that 45-country majority English-speaking list, below Ireland (2nd), Jamaica (5th) and Nauru (7th), and just above the Philippines (11th) and Denmark (13th).

Equally interesting is the list of countries with the lowest percentage of English speakers.  China is number 1, followed by several African countries (including, surprisingly, some where English is an official language), Russia and most of Latin America (Columbia, Brazil, Argentina and Chile).

Something to think about when planning your next adventure around the world.