Finland Takes Olympic Chill To The Next Level: Team Knitting

Finnish snowboard coach Antti Koskinen, who knits during competition, has become an Olympic folk hero.

Screengrab by NPR/NBC

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Screengrab by NPR/NBC

Finland has a tendency to beguile. Saunas are so important that both the president and prime minister keep official ones. The country has the most heavy metal bands per capita. It’s experimenting with a basic income. Its language has no future tense.

And in an unexpected moment during the weekend’s Olympic slopestyle competition, the Nordic nation showed off another delightful quality: a passion for knitting.

In a video on NBC’s website, snowboarding coach Antti Koskinen is seen nonchalantly knitting at the top of the course while Finnish snowboarder Roope Tonteri gets ready to ride.

Koskinen glances up from his project (something involving black yarn), passes the needles to one hand, and fist-bumps Tonteri. Then he goes back to knitting.

People watching at home went wild for the contented crafter, and the feverish screengrabbing began.

“The Finnish coach is KNITTING at the top of the slopestyle course. Someone please find out what this man is making!!!” tweeted one Canadian fan.

the finnish coach is knitting ahhakgjahk noora i love finland pic.twitter.com/K7wLg5i3ap

โ€” fate will find a way (@jinusbitches) February 10, 2018

The coach is just low key knitting while his athlete is getting ready to go ๐Ÿ˜‚๐Ÿ˜‚ #pyeongchang2018#olympics#snowboardpic.twitter.com/51fd8e7OfY

โ€” Grace Dafoe (@gracedafoe) February 10, 2018

Finland’s Olympic team was quick to demonstrate that the love for knitting is not limited to Koskinen: It posted photos of its team hanging out in sock feet, working on a blanket for its president’s newborn son. (The project has become something of a tradition: at Sochi, the team worked to knit a giant scarf.)

We are #knitting again ๐Ÿ˜€ In Sochi we made a huge scarf, this time we are knitting a blanket for our presidential couple’s newborn son. ๐Ÿ’™๐Ÿ‡ซ๐Ÿ‡ฎ#olympicteamfi#knittingteamfi#pyeongchang2018#olympics#olympialaiset#pyeongchangfipic.twitter.com/mwKLgh1h2j

โ€” Olympic Team Finland (@OlympicTeamFI) February 12, 2018

“This is lovely,” replied one Canadian fan. “Will we get to see the blanket when it’s completed?”

“Of course!” the team answered, adding a little blue heart and the Finnish flag.

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Latino Business Group Leader Steps Down Amid Sexual Harassment Allegations

Javier Palomarez, shown here at an event in 2014, resigned amid allegations of sexual and financial misconduct.

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The head of a major Hispanic business association is stepping aside after allegations of improperly increasing his salary and sexual misconduct.

The United States Hispanic Chamber of Commerce said president and CEO Javier Palomarez and its board of directors “have mutually agreed to undergo a leadership transition for the organization effective immediately,” the organization said in a statement to NPR.

The statement did not refer to the allegations surrounding Palomarez, which were reported Monday by The New York Times:

“Mr. Palomarez, who has run the organization for close to a decade, was accused by a longtime board member last fall of paying himself hundreds of thousands of dollars more than he was entitled to under his contract, according to minutes from the board’s charitable foundation and a Texas court filing.

“In the Texas filing, Mr. Palomarez denied any financial impropriety. He said in a statement Friday that the claims against him sprang from a ‘retaliatory effort’ by Nina Vaca, the board member who flagged them first. Ms. Vaca declined to comment.

“Mr. Palomarez was also accused of sexually harassing his former chief of staff, Gissel Gazek Nicholas. In an interview with The New York Times, Ms. Nicholas said that at the end of a group meeting in a Chicago hotel suite in 2013, he asked her to stay behind after the others left, then asked if she had ever thought about ‘being’ with him and tried to kiss her. Her account was corroborated by an email she sent to a friend within hours of the incident and another friend in whom she confided afterward.”

Nicholas was fired from her job at the organization in November, the Times reports.

Palomerez did not immediately respond to a request for comment from NPR. He told the Times on Friday that, “I categorically deny these troubling allegations.”

In the announcement from the USHCC, Palomerez said he was extremely proud of his tenure as president and CEO of the organization.

Representing Hispanic businesses “is a mission too important for distractions and internal division and so I look forward to working with the Board and staff over the coming weeks to put in place a leadership team that can inspire more in our community to build businesses and achieve the American dream,” he said in the statement.

According to NBC News, Nicholas applauded the move by saying that the business organization had taken a “bold step forward and away from the leadership of Javier Palomarez.” She added: “While the USHCC accomplished a great deal under his leadership, it came at a high cost to me personally, and, I believe, to the organization as well.”

USHCC says it promotes 4.4 million Hispanic-owned businesses that contribute at least $700 billion annually to the U.S. economy. Palomerez previously worked at Sprint and Bank of America.

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Yes he can fetch, but Angus the dog can't run for Kansas governor

(Reuters) – In the dog-eat-dog world of U.S. politics, a 3-year-old wire-haired Vizsla in Kansas was scratching his head, and behind his ears, after being denied a chance to run for governor, his owner said on Tuesday.

The Kansas man, who registered his dog named Angus for governor, said the secretary of state’s office has halted the campaign to put his pooch in politics.

โ€œHis platform was going to be free Chuckit balls for life,โ€ said Terran Woolley, of Hutchinson.

โ€œHe is a little heartbroken and a little relieved because he doesn’t have to go to all those pointless debates,โ€ Woolley said by telephone.

Woolley said he registered Angus after reading news reports that teenagers had filed candidacy paperwork and there were almost no requirements on who could run.

But there is at least one.

โ€œA dog cannot run for governor,โ€ Kansas Secretary of State spokeswoman Samantha Poetter said in a statement.

โ€œKansas statute and the Kansas Constitution make repeated references to a person being governor.โ€

One person running for governor is Kris Kobach, a Republican who is secretary of state.

โ€œI am sure that Kobach is scared to lose to Angus in the general election,โ€ Woolley said.

Reporting by Jon Herskovitz; Editing by Sandra Maler

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Professor Cancels Course On Hate Speech Amid Contention Over His Use Of Slur

Princeton University’s campus, seen in 2013.

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Mel Evans/AP

Editor’s Note: This post refers frequently to the use of a racial slur.

Professor Emeritus Lawrence Rosen opened his course last week with a question. The anthropologist, who has spent four decades teaching at Princeton University, was introducing a class called Cultural Freedoms: Hate Speech, Blasphemy, and Pornography โ€” and his question was meant to shock.

“What is worse,” he asked students last Tuesday, according to the Daily Princetonian, “a white man punching a black man, or a white man calling a black man a n*****?”

The student newspaper reports Rosen, a white man, went on to use the racial slur multiple times during the following discussion, despite increasingly strong objections from some students in attendance. Citing student accounts, the Daily Princetonian notes Rosen defended his use of the word as “necessary” and intended to “deliver a gut punch” โ€” but by lecture’s end, several students had walked out in protest.

Now, just one week later, the course is no more. It was canceled by Rosen after a weeklong storm of debate over the incident, including one criticism that the effect of his words โ€” no matter the intent behind them โ€” “can only be described as personal assault, even though the injuries are not visible on the surface of the skin.” A handful of national media outletscaught wind of the simmering controversy, as well.

University spokesman Michael Hotchkiss tells NPR the decision to cancel the course after just one week was Rosen’s, and that the school exerted no pressure on him to do so. Rosen himself did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

“I respect professor Rosen’s decision about how to teach the subject in the way that he did, by being explicit in using very difficult words โ€” and they are very difficult words,” Princeton President Christopher L. Eisgruber said at a previously scheduled town hall meeting Monday.

“It’s a tough kind of conversation to have,” he added, “and I think professor Rosen himself has expressed his view โ€” and certainly it is my view โ€” that it is important to have the kind of conversation when people feel uncomfortable about the language and why they might or might not feel that it’s appropriate to use the language.”

Carolyn Rouse, chairwoman of the university’s anthropology department, also defended her colleague in a letter to the Daily Princetonian shortly after news of the incident surfaced. She wrote that this is far from the first time Rosen has begun a course in this way, “breaking a number of taboos” โ€” such as saying a racial slur or having a student wipe her feet on the American flag โ€” in order to elicit a visceral response in students and explore why.

According to its description, the course had planned to explore the power of oppressive symbols and how “freedom of expression is always limited, both by the harm that may be said to occur if unbridled and by the constraints of the dominant culture.”

“This is the first year he got the response he did from the students. This is diagnostic of the level of overt anti-black racism in the country today. Anti-American and anti-Semitic examples did not upset the students, but an example of racism did,” Rouse wrote. “This did not happen when Obama was president, when the example seemed less real and seemed to have less power.”

Yet others, including parent De’Andre Salter, see the matter in starkly different terms. Salter took to the pages of the same student paper to rebut the points of Rouse’s argument the day after it was published.

“Has anyone offended by flag desecration been oppressed, discriminated against, or systemically denied civil rights? In fact, both flag desecrators and those offended by them have been offered more protections than those called ‘n*****’ by their oppressors,” Salter wrote in part.

Timothy Haupt, a lecturer in the writing program at Princeton, argued that though there may be teaching value in drawing out an emotional reaction, the issue rests in how Rosen handled that reaction.

“My main concern here is with Rosen’s response to student discomfort and confusion, which strikes me as profoundly unproductive, because he appears to have avoided (and perhaps indefinitely postponed) an important teaching moment,” Haupt said.

Haupt noted Rouse’s point about students’ heightened sensitivity to examples of racism โ€” “but,” he countered, “if a shifting context has influenced how students respond to certain course material, doesn’t that suggest that we as educators have the responsibility to adapt our teaching to guarantee a favorable outcome?”

“Rosen could have stepped back, clarified the difference between using hate speech and talking about it, and then asked his class how they felt comfortable representing the term going forward โ€” so that the conversation could continue,” Haupt added. “But that isn’t what happened.”

Still, the university is standing by its longtime professor.

“I both believe the academic freedom is important to make the pedagogical decision and I respect the pedagogical decision that he made,” Princeton President Eisgruber said Monday, “although I also appreciate it’s a controversial one and I understand why it’s controversial.”

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Refugee Boy Makes Magic Out Of Plastic And String

Fayes Khamal tests out a kite he’s just made in the Hakimpara Rohingya refugee camp in Bangladesh.

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Allison Joyce for NPR

There’s no Xbox or PlayStation for most of the kids in the Rohingya refugee camps in Bangladesh. But there are kites.

In the late afternoon, a steady wind over the hills of the Hakimpara refugee camp. Young boys race to a ridge at the top of the settlement to fly homemade kites. Some of the “kites” are little more than a plastic bag flapping on a string. But some are more sophisticated with long tails and frilly tassels. “This is a new kite and I’m very happy with it,” says 7-year-old Mohammed Arfat as he reels out string to a silvery kite 30 or 40 feet above him.

Mohammad Arfat flies a kite through the middle of the camp. The 7-year-old says any day he can’t fly a kite he feels upset.

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Arfat adds that any day he’s not able to fly a kite, he feels upset.

I ask Arfat where he got his fancy new kite. He tells me that there’s “this guy” who makes them and gives them away.

The “guy” turns out to be a 10-year-old named Fayes Khamal.

Ten-year-old Khamal makes a kite in his shelter in the camp. He gives the kites away to other kids.

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Allison Joyce for NPR

“It’s easy to make kites but I need to find the materials,” says Khamal. “And it takes a bit of time.”

Khamal uses bits of castoff bamboo and opaque plastic sheeting to fashion his kites โ€” leftovers from the shelters people build and bits of trash he finds. In the simple shelter Khamal shares with his parents, he splits bamboo into thin strips with a machete and uses the bamboo as a frame for the kite. Then he stretches the plastic sheeting over it, tying it with string to the bamboo. After he’s made the diamond-shaped body of the kite, he cuts a plastic grocery bag into strips and teases the ends into frilly tassels. Khamal attaches these to the kite to make the tail and what he calls “arms” โ€” strips of plastic that dangle from each side of the kite and flap wildly when it’s flying in the air

Khamal uses discarded pieces of bamboo and plastic to make his kites. Once the toy is in the air, he says he can feel through the string if it’s a success or not. If it’s bad, he immediately throws it away.

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One of Khamal’s kites flies over the camp.

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Allison Joyce for NPR

“If it didn’t have arms and a tail the kite won’t fly well,” he says. “It would spin around in the sky. It needs these extra pieces.”

He says once he has the materials he needs, it only takes him about 20 to 30 minutes to build a kite. Khamal makes four or five a week and gives them away to younger kids. His mother, Yemma Kulsom, sews clothes to earn extra cash. Khamal often borrows her thread and needles for his kite projects.

Kulsom says her son taught himself how to make kites back in Myanmar about three years ago. She says they’ve gotten more and more sophisticated as he’s gotten older. They were forced to flee, she says, after an attack by the military on Rohingya rebels.

“When we heard that soldiers were coming toward our village, everyone hid in the forest,” she says. “When we emerged the soldiers had burned down our houses. That’s when we decided to come here to Bangladesh.”

Khamal walks up the hill from his shelter with a kite he’s just made.

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Allison Joyce for NPR

Kulsom says her dream for her son is that he gets a good education. He attends a school that meets for two hours most afternoons.

In the mornings, he goes with his father to the edge of the camp to collect firewood. She says Khamal is a good student and she thinks maybe he could be a teacher when he grows up. Khamal says he’d prefer to be a shopkeeper.

For now, however, he’s the “kite guy.”

Once he finishes making his latest kite he takes it out for a test flight.

The camp is dry. Powdery beige dust covers just about everything. Khamal starts to run up a path that cuts between the shelters. His kite rises up behind him. It flits through the air like a fish fighting its way upstream. The opaque plastic shimmers in the sky. Its tail darts from side to side. Khamal beams up at his homemade kite. For a moment it’s the brightest object in the camp.

Children fly kites along a ridge in the camp. Many of the refugees fled Myanmar with only a few possessions. For some kids homemade kites are the only toys they have.

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Bill Gates Addresses 'Tough Questions' On Poverty And Power

Melinda and Bill Gates in Kirkland, Washington, in February.

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This year, Bill and Melinda Gates are doing something a little different with their annual letter. They are answering what they call some of the “toughest questions” from their foundation’s critics.

On the list: Is it fair that you have the influence you do? Why don’t you give more to the United States? Why do you give your money away?

Since its inception, the Gates Foundation has given $41.3 billion in grants, including a grant to NPR.

After the letter was published on Tuesday, Bill Gates joined Ari Shapiro of NPR’s All Things Considered to answer a few more tough questions. These answers have been condensed and edited.

Ari Shapiro: You have greater spending power than many countries. Unlike a government, you don’t have checks and balances or the same level of transparency. How do you respond to that criticism?

Bill Gates: We’re fascinated to know what alternate priorities are being suggested. We want to make sure we’re being smart about which things we pick. In health, we look at what’s causing deaths. We’ve also made sure that data is being collected in a better way.

In a world where people have private wealth, you could just spend money on yourself. We’ve chosen to go after malaria and HIV as our priorities. Our money will be spent on those causes. [By listening to] constructive criticism, that’s the way the world moves forward.

You acknowledge in your letter that some of your critics [whose work is funded by the Gates Foundation] don’t speak up because they don’t want to risk losing money. How do you fix that problem?

Academic communities are usually pretty vocal, so even in the tuberculosis or HIV communities where we provide a lot of funding, people are saying, “Hey there’s a new path you’re not funding,” or “the path you’re on right now looks like a dead end.”

This online world lets people give us a lot of feedback. But we’re not wedded to any particular program. We want to improve human health and education. Surprisingly, there’s more agreement about what to do for health than, say, U.S. education.

One of the big themes in your letter is investment in the United States. You traveled this year throughout the American South looking at poverty. Can you describe something you saw that will shape your giving in the years ahead?

The complexity of how a poor person has to deal with housing, health and education authorities, filling out different forms, is very complicated. So understanding how those programs could be more holistic or simpler for the people involved. These systems are well-meaning, but it’s hard for people, particularly when they’re facing a crisis, to get what’s needed.

That sounds intriguing and also very different from the work that your foundation has done in the past. Are you talking about redefining the American bureaucracy?

Everybody who works on poverty has seen that just having vertical approaches is falling short in terms of effectiveness and efficiency.

We gathered a panel of 25 experts โ€” one expert on eviction, one expert on economic mobility, and so on โ€” to look at poverty, and they went out to those communities and created a report on what kinds of jobs and programs would be helpful.

Our foundation alone can’t fund all those initiatives, but I think it’s brought a lot of philanthropists together to think how [we] could be more coordinated to have significant impact.

You formed this foundation in the year 2000 with your wife Melinda. Virtually every year since then, you’ve argued that this is a better time to be alive than it has ever been. You make that argument again in this letter. I wonder whether you think people remain unconvinced. If so, why?

Oh absolutely, people are exposed to the setbacks, the natural disasters… When you say, hey, the murder rate in the country is less than half of what it was, they’re kind of surprised. They think it must be the most violent time both globally and domestically.

That’s a bit of a problem if you want to look at why we’ve made progress. If you’re blind to it you’re both depressed and not getting the benefit of where things really went well.

So we can be outraged about the things we haven’t fixed yet, while actually recognizing that we’ve made a lot of progress. That should inspire us and educate us.

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Candy Heart Messages Getting Stale? Computer-Generated Options Are No Help

If “I Love You” candy hearts aren’t imaginative enough, you can always consider “Stank Love” or “Sweat Poo.”

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Melissa Deakin Photography/Getty Images

Wednesday is Valentine’s Day, and if you struggled to find just the right words to tell a special someone how you feel, you have options.

There are the classic options: Store-bought superhero valentines or sappy Hallmark cards. Or if you’re into something sweet โ€” boxes of pastel-colored candy hearts, emblazoned with messages like “BE MINE,” “XOXO” and “HOT STUFF.”

But if those candy greetings feel tired, or just aren’t striking the right note, Colorado researcher Janelle Shane has some ideas.

Shane is a research scientist who works with neural networks. These are computer programs that learn by example โ€” like facial recognition software or language translators. She gives a program a set of words, and it learns to generate more like it.

So Shane fed her program a data set containing all 360 candy heart messages she could find online.

The program spit out a list of a whole bunch more words, all short enough to fit on a candy heart.

“The neural network tried its best to imitate these candy heart messages, but the vocabulary was tough to learn,” she says.

The results weren’t exactly heartwarming.

The program suggested phrases like “LOVE BUN,” “CUTE KISS” and “YOU ARE BABE.” Some of those have potential, but others are downright strange, like “BEAR WIG,” “STANK LOVE,” “YOU ARE BAG,” “SWEAT POO” and simply “FANG.”

Shane has run algorithms on a bunch of other lists too, like guinea pigs’ names and paint swatch colors.

The program was “not good at that either,” Shane says.

So why do it?

“Part of my experiment is to poke at the edges of what they’re good at and what they’re not good at. How much do they really know about the problems they’re trying to solve?”

As for those wacky candy heart messages, it’s too late this year (unless you’re really into DIY), but she’s thinking about printing up some next year.

I want to “see what happens when I give someone a candy heart that says, ‘LOVE 2,000 HOGS,’ ” she says.

Melissa Gray contributed to this report; April Fulton adapted it for the Web.

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