Thursday, March 31, 2005

Keep singing

A new day. It is amazing to notice that the amount of light here in Amsterdam is so significantly different at this time of the year compared to my home country. It really influences me in a highly positive way. And the fact that I really do not need a jacket when cycling to work feels amazing. I guess I am the only one who does NOT complain about the Dutch weather.

I was reading the latest issue of The Economist yesterday evening. They had an article about the suggested reforms of the United Nations. As this magazine that belongs to my alltime favourites alongside with Prospect pointed out, the reforms will not fix all the problems but would create more ground for achievements. I liked the way the Chief of Staff of Kofi Annan had pointed out that there is something painful for all the member states in the proposal.

I have to admit that I have always had a highly romanticised attitude towards the UN. I really don´t know why. Despite all its problems I realise that the UNICEF image is much stronger in my head. I mean the children with different backgrounds holding hands and singing. I was last October in New York visiting a friend of mine who worked for the UN as an intern. Her stories were not all that rosy but still the children keep singing. It even reminds me of this funny/campy Italian children´s programme where the child choir is singing and shaking their heads along the music. I guess most of my friends at least in Finland remember that.

Wednesday, March 30, 2005

Opinions with a face

Tommi Laitio
Originally uploaded by amsterboy.
I had a discussion today with a friend of mine who is much more experienced in blogging than I am. She told me that it was respectable to blog with your own name. I agree. And I also would state that it is useful to show your face. So, here you go. Kind of like this picture that was taken for an interview last year.

End of employment?

It was warm and all when I was biking to the office this morning. I guess it is not surprising that one starts to think about work when that will occupy one´s life for the next few hours. To be precise, seven and a half.

In my studies and in the dozens of conferences I have attended recently I have heard several statements about the change in the working life. Still I have to say that when last year - working as a freelancer journalist and cultural worker - I had seven employers at the same time, it turned into something concrete in a moment. There are signs of a change. However, I at times have a feeling that its size (at least at the moment) is slightly overestimated.

I started working for the European Cultural Foundation in January and before this my longest contract was for four months. People have been lecturing me about pensions and such but I never really did anything on that. When starting in the Foundation, I had to study for the first time how holidays work and all.

I feel rather privileged at the moment. I have an excellent job for four days a week and then I do different projects on the side. Some of them bring in money, some of them I do just for interest or fun. Although I do not want to push my way of organising my work on all the people in the society, I think I shouldn´t be paying an extra price for mine. At the moment freelancers and researchers are paying in pensions and health insurances the costs of uncertainty. I am rather privileged compared to rather many freelancers. But still I would like to lobby for a system that would break down the traditional one-employer-one-paycheck model.

Monday, March 28, 2005

Cynicism is not cool

Just finished a book called Pynt by a Norwegian novelist Torgrim Eggen. The novel has got a lot of media attention for its witty way of describing the vain and superficial life of an interior designer. And I have to admit, I enjoyed parts of it. Beauty is in the details as the leading character Sigbjörn Lunde says. Eggen writes page after page about Mies van den Rohe, Alvar Aalto, about people who have no taste or people who buy one Alessi product as a statement of their good taste. In a way, highly amusing. And highly recognisable. A lot of the examples he gives can be found from my surroundings.

But then the same thing happens as in the novel and film The Talented Mr. Ripley. The absurdity is taken over the top, cynicism and coldness takes the lead and at least I lose my interest. I thought The Talented Mr. Ripley was a fabulous caricature of the life of rich and careless until the murder comes in. Without giving out too much of Eggen's book, I have to say that when the drama takes over from the details, I realise that this is once again an attempt to replicate Bret Easton Ellis' American Psycho.

It is not really Eggen's book that irritates me. It is its attitude that is very common for social scientists, journalists and "postmodern" novelists. It is the pessimism for the future, the cynical attitude to the events and people around us and the lack of warmth. It is this "why show emotions when everything is going down the drain any way" sort of thinking. Why, oh why? I see myself going over and over again back to Charles Leadbeater's book Up the Down Escalator - Why The Global Pessimists Are Wrong. Even if Leadbeater simplifies the recent progress on our planet heavily, he still takes the effort to try and see things differently. As he puts it, pessimism really does not make you want to become active and change things for the better.

I see myself repeating the same quotes over and over again. A finnish rock/pop musician
Maija Vilkkumaa said wisely in a discussion about enlightenment in December 2003:"I at times feel that in order to seem intelligent in today's society, you have to be cynical." I recognise that, especially from journalism. And I catch myself at times spreading that disease although I am trying actively to work against it.

For that reason it is inspiring to find people with a different voice and tone. I listened to Rufus Wainwright's music for the first time last year and been addicted to it since then. He definitely is worth checking. His voice, lyrics and compositions speak in a sincere and even vulnerable style that is really difficult to find. Although he speaks quite often of losses and disappointments, I still feel that there is a hopeful approach to our world beneath that. I find that really respectable.

Thursday, March 24, 2005

Who really needs education?

It has been remarkable during the last few years how education - especially higher education - has turned from soft politics to hard politics. In a way one could see Tony Blair and the entire New Labour as one of the pioneers leading this change with his three priorities speech in 1997 (education, education and education).

When European Union has started to panic about its competitiveness, governments are panicking because of the ranking lists of universities. I at times feel that universities are faced with a paradox when governments cut down funding but expect more cooperation. But at the same time one must admit that universities - both students and staff - are extremely fixated to their ways of working and thinking.

I´d say that the small fixing here and there often does more harm than good. There really does not seem to be any great vision. The Nordic countries are extremely good in this, i.e. maintaining the equality aspect in the speeches but at the same time instrumentalising the system bit by bit.

In that sense I must say that the reform plans of the Dutch or the British government get more respect from me. Although I don´t like their policy, at least they are rather open in their instrumentalising and neoliberalising direction.

The Finnish system is traditionally based on
Humboldt´s idea of Bildung (enlightenment) meaning that students have been treated as adults, members of the community and they have had possibilities to design an individual set of subjects. The massification of the system (70 % of the age cohort in higher education) has made these ideals hugely difficult. The Bildung ideals fit very well to a small university and to an elite system. Now it often seems that there is no great plan. Higher education policy has become on-the-other-hand policy with lack of leadership. This is incredibly unfair to the young people studying with false expectations.

As I realised once again during the Creative Capital conference, governments are mobilising a counter-movement to the flexibility and disorganisation of today´s working life. I see a clash rather soon. Now more than ever we would need people with high socially consciousness, wide variety of knowledge and skills and willingness for crossover work. The 5-years-and-out-or-you-will-pay-a-heavy-price policy seen in several countries really does not answer to this need.

Wednesday, March 23, 2005

Name of the blog

Well, it is kiplekker. It refers to the language I am struggling with at the moment. I mean Dutch. Kiplekker is a word that shows in a brilliant way some features of this funny language. Kip means chicken and lekker means fun or brilliant. So those combined means super fun. Or something like that. Maybe someone who is Dutch can correct me with that. But I have understood that when you say that you´re kiplekker, you´re doing superbly.

I love the Dutch language. It is very direct, short words and people sound jolly when they speak it. Also the word prima (excellent) belongs to my favourites. The language is filled with this short words like straks (soon), sla (lettuce), zuid (south), file (traffic jam) and fiets (bike).

It is a completely new situation for me, coming from Finland, being in this multi-lingual surrounding where I active use Finnish, Swedish, German, English and some Dutch. Would like to improve them all. With English I do a bit the same as Alfie in the film with the same name. I mean learning one peculiar or fancy word a day. I recommend the email service I use. Today´s word is incogitant meaning inconsiderate.

You have to start somewhere and some time

I feel like I would be taking the last train leaving the station. I guess all hip people have started their blogs years ago. Well, here it goes.
The reason for taking this step of opening a blog is a result of a number of things:
1. Moving to Amsterdam: it might be interesting to see if this could create new ways of communicating with people I like or like to get to know.
2. New job: I am responsible for the Media Programme in the European Cultural Foundation. I should start doing what I talk about when mentioning the European public space, i.e. using the new technologies for social purposes.
3. Lots to say: I see things, I read a lot. Have to get it out.
4. Creative Capital conference: I attended a seminar last week here in Amsterdam. Loads of innovative speakers. Loads of examples of innovative blog use.

We´ll see what happens. Thought of using this more for idea-sharing than telling what I bought from the store today. But let´s just start doing.