Friday, August 18, 2017

38, 67, and 79 (aka, Charlottesville August 2017)

An Open Letter to Mainstream Republicans and Conservatives

Dear Mainstream Republicans and Conservatives:

I lived in Charlottesville for the better part of a decade -- in fact, I got a history PhD there -- so perhaps you can grant me a few minutes of your time. This is a short entry, for once.

As my high school baseball coach put it, "it's game day." The time has come for your unequivocal denouncements of Trump -- not merely business-as-usual, tepid Tweets about how we all reject racism.

Platitude-laden Tweets that don't even mention the President are unacceptable, and so is allowing the attention to shift from the white supremacists at the base of your party to the issue of Confederate monuments. For those of you who persist with the fantasy that somehow Trump "hijacked your party," or that racial animus is just a tiny part of your support, let me bring your attention to three numbers:

38, 67, and 79.

38 is Trump's current approval rating. Sure, it's pretty low, but that number has in fact increased from 36% since before Charlottesville. Let me repeat that: your party's president has enjoyed a bump in his approval ratings since his reaction to Charlottesville.

67 is the percentage of Republicans who supported Trump's response to the events in Charlottesville. Let me repeat that: 67% of Americans in your party supported Trump's drawing of a moral equivalency between Neo-Nazis and protestors, and his comments that there were many "very fine people" marching and chanting "Jews will not replace us" and "Blood and Soil" in the Friday night crowd.

79 is the percentage of Republicans who approve of the President. 

I know many of you are well-educated and -read, and thus watch and read thoughtful pundits ... which means that (with the glaring exception of Fox News) you probably saw nothing but condemnations of the president (however muted). But the reality is, most Americans are not cable news pundits, and 67% of your party approved of Trump cheering Neo-Nazis.

So please, if you have been silent, stop being silent. You already have your conservative majority on the Supreme Court ... now, is that tax cut really worth giving up your moral compass? (Um, and sometime we can talk about that $20 trillion debt anyway.) Is setting back the ideals of this nation and losing you soul really less important than an election cycle or two? Surely if you attacked Obama for such offenses as saluting with a cup of coffee in his hand you can find it in yourself to attack Trump for giving aid and comfort to Nazis.

If you are an elected official, please, stop the business as usual. Apparently the Swamp King Mitch McConnell claimed he didn't offer a strong statement against the president because, given their spat last week, he didn't want to be seen as picking a fight with him. Just think about that for a moment, will you? At the very least, you should have the courage to support a vote of Censure.I promise that Trump will still sign your tax cut thereafter if you can pass it.

Please, stop resorting to calling the GOP the party of Lincoln every chance you get. Yes that's true, and actually I love it when white supremacists are reminded that they support the party that executed the Civil War. But, um, things have changed in the past 150 years. Of more relevance than your being the party of Lincoln is that you have been the party of white backlash since the 1960s. Any honest Republican admits as much.

Just because many white voters turned against the Dems because the Dems embraced Civil Rights does not mean that a corporate tax cut would be wrong, or that some regulations are not onerous. It means that many white Republicans are racist. And it means that Trump embraced, nurtured, and helped get elected by the racism in your base. And by the way, for the record, at the start of the Civil War, Lincoln maintained that if he could save the union by preserving slavery, he would preserve slavery. And, at the very end of his life, he gently suggested -- in a private letter -- that perhaps the very finest African Americans, especially veterans, possibly be given the vote. Not exactly a ringing endorsement of equality.

If you think, by the way, that liberals talk too much about identity politics and that the vast majority of Americans have moved beyond these matters, I point you to a recent study on the election that concluded:

"We find that racism and sexism attitudes were strongly associated with vote choice in 2016, even after accounting for partisanship, ideology, and other standard factors. These factors were more important in 2016 than in 2012, suggesting that the explicitly racial and gendered rhetoric of the 2016 campaign served to activate these attitudes in the minds of many voters. Indeed, attitudes toward racism and sexism account for about two-thirds of the education gap in vote choices in 2016."

You might also glance at this article, which confirms that racial resentment was the strongest predictor of the (very small) group of voters who voted for both Obama and Trump. 

There is a model here. Margaret Hoover could not be more of a republican -- I mean literally, she's the great-granddaughter of President Hoover. On TV she issued a blistering attack on Trump that had the basic intellectual integrity to note that her party has long benefitted from racial backlash and that it has come to close to the line of giving aid and comfort to the kind of thugs we saw in Charlottesville. "There's a line in the sand here," Hoover concludes. Moderate and mainstream Republicans, this speech should have been the bare minimum, not an exception. It's a few tweets down here, the video on CNN from August 16. (Note to DH: learn how to download videos from Twitter.)

p.s.: If you still want to deny that racial anxiety goes a long way in explaining the anti-Obama backlash, I have some land in central Nevada to sell you. Though actually, this land is not for sale. As far as I can tell, the picture below is of publicly owned land, the result of Nye County Nevada taking over the ghost town and ghost spa of Warm Springs, Nevada for failure to pay taxes. I promise to look into the matter more, so please don't quote me. But anyway, I took this picture in August 2017.

Friday, March 24, 2017

Maailmanmestaruuskilpailuiden Huumaa

Sorry this post is overdue. After Helsinki we proceeded to the World Championships in Lahti -- for what turned into one of our funnest trips ever -- and then even more travel got in the way. Stay tuned for England.

"What does the title of this entry mean?," you ask? World Championships Fever Feeling, of course. You can't make up these Finnish words.

And that's exactly what we felt all week on our friends' lovely pig and barley farm about 25 kilometers from Lahti. The place was even more beautiful than we imagined in our heads (and let's face it, many things aren't). In the mid-1800s, the farm was owned by the Russian governor general of the local province, or something like that. Kari's and Maijastiina's English is excellent, but one can only do so much translating of the nuances of the Russian Imperial bureaucracy ...

The farm runs down to a beautiful lake, and the feel of the place is pretty much terrific.

Normally the farm would have had about 15 kilometers of Kari-groomed ski trails on it, but climate change took care of those this year. But no problem (I mean, the lack of skiing on the farm was no problem, not climate change). Thanks to rain in February in Finland, and then freezing, and then just a skiff of snow, the lake was absolutely perfect for miles and miles of couldn't-get-your-heartrate-up-if-you-tried crust skiing.

Guess if the cabins on the Finnish lake had cool architecture and design.

Kari and Maijastiina have a "summer house" about .3 kilometers from the main farm house.

We also skied closer to Lahti (indeed, the trails eventually make their way to the stadium) on the fun rolly-polly trails of Hollola.

The farm comes with two fantastic dogs, Rocky and Romy (Americanized spellings).

And even the pigs were cute (this guy was a little alarmed because I managed to wake him).

But of course the real matter at hand was going to the races. By the time we arrived in Lahti, the Americans had already won two medals: bronze and silver in the individual sprint, and bronze in the two-person-team sprint. But still there were chances for more. The event we'd been looking forward to the most was the 4x5k women's relay, and we paid the big bucks to sit in the stadium for this one.

We were about 30 seconds behind after the first two laps, and on the third lap Liz Stephen came agonizingly close to catching the leaders. I think think this is her coming out of the stadium starting to climb with the leaders in sight, but maybe it's Diggins ...

Unfortunately we couldn't close the gap and finished 4th. It's a little unhealthy how much I wanted to medal so we could celebrate that night downtown at the medal plaza. J had certainly seen enough.

 Luckily, the Finns had an eepa perfect for the occasion.

And still, it was a good race, in part because the Americans had fast skis throughout the championships. Here's one of the American wax techs -- one of the silent heroes behind our two medals -- in the Portland airport. Suffice it to say I now know that photographs aren't allowed in the customs area. Suffice it to say this is the only picture I took in the customs area. 

One of the coolest moments of the Championships came just before the relay, when a 92-year-old Finnish Olympic gold medalist skied a lap around the stadium. She (and her technique at age 92) was completely inspiring to everyone there, not just the Finns. If you start the video at 1:40, you can clearly see our American flag for about the next ten seconds.

We ended up going to five days of racing, which at first sounded like a lot, but I would have happily gone to five more. Of course, we had to learn a few tricks of the trade. Assuming you're planning on going to Finland for ski races some time, here a few guidelines to keep in mind.

First, bring a large thermos with hot chocolate and another with "French coffee," as the Finns call coffee with cognac (wanted to get a picture of Artturi into this entry).

Next, pack lots of little sandwiches ...

... but still load up on reindeer sausage and reindeer stew.

Bring a cowbell of course.

And don't forget the reindeer cups.

And before you ever get to the stadium, load up on Shove Tuesday buns, possibly the most delicious concoction you've never heard of. If you're looking for a start-up idea, I guarantee a shop selling these cream- and jam-filled delights in Brooklyn would print money. Here's a recipe (though Artturi says to use water, not milk).

Make sure to bring a flag. This way, Kikkan Randall's dad can find you (Randall is the most decorated US World Cup skier of all-time, and she won the sprint bronze in Lahti).

Be one of the 35,000 in the stadium watching ski jumping at night, which is a complete blast. Look, you try capturing these guys in the air with a point and shoot.

The jumps are seriously high (artsy shot alert).

Allow time to hit the sauna at the stadium. (Ok, it's true, we didn't.)

And make sure to hit the after parties. You have to love a culture that labels the area one visits after watching a ski race buzzed on rum hot chocolate the "after ski bar."

This place was even better.

Vary where you sit/stand. Sitting in the stadium was great, but so were standing essentially in the end-zone, and then being right up against the boards as the racers came screaming down Indian Hill for the women's 30k on Saturday.

We had a chance here to take pictures during warmups. Here's Jessie Diggins sort of ruining what could have been a great shot.

Kari and Maijastiina, this is Krista Parmokoski, right? (actually taken the first day)

The 30k itself was an epic nail-biter. On a beautiful sunny day, Diggins stayed with the small lead group for 29k, and I honestly believe that, if she had just had the courage to break first, she could have taken down the Norwegians. In the end she was a close 5th, the best ever for an American woman in the culminating long race at Worlds. I'm pretty sure she was so close because of the encouragement we yelled at her during warm-ups ... If you start the video at 53:40, you can clearly see our flag again.

We had to get one last group shot leaving the stadium.

On Sunday, the final day of the racing, and our last in Lahti, we stayed at the farm for a blissful last afternoon of skiing, watching the men's 50K on television (in which the Finns medaled), and eating one last absurdly good meal. We had no idea why Kari and Maijastiina kept telling us that we were eating "Swedes" ... I thought it had something to do with how all non-Swedish Scandinavians poke fun of Swedish people. Turns out that the Brits call rutabagas Swedes. (Who knew?) The Finns also don't call Baked Alaska Baked Alaska.

Sorry Trump, Finland first.

Monday, March 6, 2017

"Always There is Lager"... and pine tar eepas (aka Helsinki)

I know everyone is disappointed I didn’t live blog the Nordic World Championships last week in Lahti, Finland. Sorry about that, but J and I were having too much fun, first in Helsinki (below) and then 100 kilometers north, near Lahti (entry to come, with just a few teases below).

At the risk of killing the suspense, I’ll just say up front that we loved Finland and the Finns. In The Almost Nearly Perfect People: Behind the Myth of the Scandinavian Utopia (which is completely worth reading even if you’re not about to take three flights and nearly 20 hours getting to Finland), Michael Booth describes himself as “an unabashed groupie and cheerleader for all things Finnish.” He also writes that he would be comfortable if the Finns ruled the world. I couldn’t put it any better. The Finns may have a great entry in the “American First, My Country Second” video contest (anyone know of a funnier one than this one?), but calling themselves second is just their modesty on display. (Has there ever been a Finnish Nordic medalist who didn't give most of the credit to the wax techs?) But I digress. Seriously, this video is hilarious:

And speaking of Finnish modesty, in the spirit of Trump deciding to accuse another president of spying on him based on conspiracy theories and fake news emanating from hard-right webpages, let’s start the entry in earnest by fact-checking the stereotypes about Suomi I had going in …

Yes, Finland is dark and cold. When we arrived, it was howling wind in the harbor, and the sun — which we then did not see for another week — seemed a set piece because I couldn’t detect any actual heat radiating from it. And then the rest of the weekend, the sky looked like this.

Yes, the Finns really do eat reindeer and bear, although granted, the below comes from the somewhat touristy old market hall, the Eately of Helsinki.

Yes, they really do take lots of saunas. Maijastiina and Kari, our friends and hosts in Lahti (really Hämeenkoski) sometimes take two a day. And a lot of Finns, at least in the countryside, have a sauna for winter use in their house and then a summer one in the backyard (or at the summer house; they are mad about their summer cottages, sort of like in Minnesota). The Finns own more saunas than cars, which is surely a sign of an advanced civilization. Standing out in the snow at the farm in between stints in the sauna — pretty much naked, and with a Proper American beer someone just happened to bring to Finland — was just pretty much terrific, but this gets us a little bit ahead. Sorry, no picture here.

Yes, they really are obsessed with cross-country skiing, which is of course partly why we visited in the first place. As a member of the tiny tribe of Nordic junkies in the U.S., it was such a bizarre and wonderful experience — Kari, let’s call it surreal — to enter an alternative universe where the cab drivers are hanging on every word of the radio call of the women’s skiathlon from the airport to the hotel (granted, a Finn won silver in this race, but still). One day J and I had a lovely lunch at the cafeteria at Stockmann, Helsinki’s old department store (our Estonian friend Liia remembers going to it long ago), and the TVs for sale just happened to be displaying a replay of the epic team sprints, in which Jessie Diggins and Sadie Bjornsen earned a bronze medal for the Americans (which we didn’t see live in person because someone failed to base the intra-Finland itinerary on the odds of the Americans medaling each day). Here’s Diggins after securing bronze by the length of a ski tip.

Yes, Helsinki looks a little Soviet. (It’s a long story about being in the Russian Empire in the 19th century after splitting off from Sweden and then precariously trying to preserve independence with a certain bear nearby in the 20th century). They say Helsinki now has the only statue of Czar Alexander II outside of Russia (oddly juxtaposed in front of one of the city's rather austere Lutheran churches). But I dunno -- why bother fact-checking?

And apparently during the Cold War several western movies used Helsinki as a stand-in for Saint Petersburg. Yes, some of the apartment buildings are 1960s brutalist. But many buildings are quite beautiful, and the city contains a surprising amount of Art Deco … including the main train station below with the tower. Somehow the city ends up being a strange cross between St. Petersburg and Miami and Ljubljana and Brooklyn (the last for its hipster vibe and endless espresso cafes, not for any brownstones).

And the main Esplanade is absolutely beautiful.

Yes, the Finns love design, so much so that the Design Museum was one of our highlights. And they take design seriously.

And did you know that Princess Leia wore a Finnish necklace?

Yes, the Finns enjoy their alcohol and overpay for it in highly regulated state Alko stores -- I guess the closest thing to Utah we saw on the trip. But actually, the stereotypes about Finns and booze are wildly exaggerated; they drink less than many Europeans and, no, one doesn’t see a lot of drunken people staggering through the streets. It was actually the visiting Norwegians and Swedes who went craziest in the Alko store in Lahti, hilariously buying out all of the Aquavit (which is not really a Finnish specialty, but I highly recommend the Aquavit from the tiny Helsinki Distillery Company anyway, along with its gin flavored with hops and birch). 

In fact, moving firmly over now to the surprises department, it turns out that the (experimental) beer culture in Finland is pretty much terrific. It just makes me amazed once again how far behind the Germans are. I’d never had a hemp beer before.

And if you think you like and have had piney beers, well, sorry guys, I’ve had a pinier one. I mean, this one, from a brewery and distillery in Lahti named Teerenpeli -- full whiskey casks for sale, 1400 Euros -- actually contains pine tar.

I guess the fact that the Finns are finding creative new uses for one of their biggest exports in the 19th century demonstrates why their economy is doing so well …

And yes, dear American friends, I will now answer the mother-of-all questions: even though our new friend Artturi (one of Maijastiina and Kari’s sons**) modestly undersold Finnish beer when he wrote, asked about Finnish beer in advance of our trip, “Always there is lager,” the Finns love IPAs, pronounced "eepas." About half the beers in the supermarket are eepas (no Goses yet), and they make an excellent hearty 100 IBU one to boot.

** and by the way, another of Maijastiina and Kari’s sons has a private sauna even in his 20-something, just-out-of-college apartment. We didn't get to meet him, however, because he was in Mexico -- during World Championships no less! So apparently there are a few people who don't like being in Finland in February.

Where was I? Ah right, beer and now food. I had assumed that there would be a few high-end restaurants serving Finnish staples like reindeer and perch, but we were not prepared for how fantastic the food was. I’m not talking about the usual lovely, how-do-they-fit-all-this-food-in-a-Park-City-kitchen-sized-room-at-best hotel breakfast buffet, one of the things we most miss about our time living in Europe.

I’m talking about hold-their-own-in-New-York-inventive-and-completely-delicious-I-can't-believe-this-place-doesn't-have-a-Michelin-star-call-Chef's-Table kind of food. That's vendace on the left (a fish we had never eaten), and in the front an open-faced porkbelly sandwich -- porkbelly being the bread. Yes ok, the second picture is of perch.

The bread is herkullinen too, though I will say there is a strange absence of bakeries. I’m not a big offal guy, but I can report that reindeer tongue is delicious (look for the little pieces on the plate, not the main loin). The plate had more white space than my students' blue books.

More on food — and more reindeer — from Lahti. But it’s worth mentioning here, finally, that the desserts, often some variation of oats or pancakes and fruit with caramel and cloudberries or seabuckthorn berries or lingonberries, are J’s dream.

I guess three other things surprised me about Finland. First, the Finns are absolutely mad about smoothies. As in, a smoothie a day is as common as a sauna a day. Or as common as 6 cups of coffee a day (they lead the world in coffee consumption). I've included a recipe for a lingonberry smoothie in case you don’t have the Winter issue of Lapland magazine handy.

Second, the Finns are absolutely mad about licorice. I’m not sure the Stockmann had enough on hand to suit their needs this day; maybe they were cleaned out from World Championships.

And finally, if you are not familiar, let me introduce you to the Moomins, a fictional family of … what exactly? … who have been the Peanuts of Finland for more than half a century. (I won't go into the whole topic of the Swedish-speaking Finns ...). 1970-71 episodes in English!

Slightly creepy perhaps yet totally irresistible, the Moomins are a very serious part of Finnish culture, as in put-in-the-Design Museum serious.

But luckily, there was no need to go to a museum to enjoy 6 cups of Moomin coffee.

On to Lahti.