Thursday, June 30, 2005

United they stand

Oh. Realised again that this will be a critical note. Well, I can blame only myself (and partly my friend Landon): I went to see a summer blockbuster.

War of the Worlds is the latest film from Steven Spielberg. If you´re gonna see the film, you should consider skipping this note. I am going to reveal something about the plot.

The film is loosely based on H.G. Wells´ novel on aliens invading our planet. To give the film some credit, Tom Cruise is easier to tolerate than his current girlfriend Katie "Bat Chick" Holmes. And yes, Spielberg knows what special effects mean.

But the end of the film. A voice of Morgan Freeman explains to us (after Cruise´s family has miraculously survived the alien attack) that the story teaches us that the world and humanity created by God is stronger than anything and we should protect our way of living at any cost. Hmm...Any resemblance to the rhetorics of a certain political leader? And this from a openly democrat director.

Instead of the film I recommend this (takes a bit of time to download, have patience).

Tuesday, June 28, 2005

Anti-lad statement

"Men's interest" (?) [Treo 600]
Originally uploaded by
I bought the British Esquire on Saturday. I was finishing it yesterday at the gym and got rather agitated. How crappy magazines are you able to make? Esquire mixes "let´s be modern and wear pink shirts" rhetorics with "all you need is a silent and pretty woman, your mates and a cold beer". Disgusting if you ask me.

Ok ok, I should have known not to buy it the moment I saw the cover girl:
Katie Holmes. I remember that we used to imitate her fake smile in Dawson´s Creek with a friend of mine on hangover Sundays.

A statement found from the July issue:
- men should liberate themselves and start living on the expense of a rich woman (they suggested a prostitute and made the superfunny joke about bringing work home..or a banker because she would be so busy that she would let you live your life, with her money)

They even managed to write an idolising but completely insignificant article on
Jonathan Safran Foer. I mean please, if a journalist does not make fun of a young novelist who prefers communicating with his girlfriend with walkie-talkies rather than mobile phones, is he really in the right profession? And don´t get me wrong, I like Safran Foer, even bought his book and I find it hilarious and witty.

Pff.. Esquire UK...waste of paper if you ask me. Should have bought the
US version or Details. Esquire UK seems to be directed to highly-educated sexist lads. Well, my level of anger could also have to do with the fact that I live on a street flooding with Loaded subscribers from the other side of the Channel.

Monday, June 27, 2005

I am getting old(er)

Bought more newspapers yesterday. The Independent on Sunday really made me laugh out loud and at the same time reminded me that I am not nineteen anymore (although still very energetic and youthful...just look at my sneaker least a bit.).

They had an article on the floods during the Glastonbury Festival. I would love to be able to have this attitude (Quote from The Indepdendent on Sunday):

Those worst hit were in a field close to a drainage ditch. They were forced to evacuate their tents when the water rose past waist height - and the top of their canvas homes - within minutes.

Gemma Lunniss, from Dagenham in Essex, who was in one of the flooded fields, spent Friday night in a tent used for acoustic performances after the acts had finished. "I was left a bit stunned when it happened, but we thought we'd go out and buy some pear cider, got as drunk as a skunk and danced the night away to forget about it,'' said Ms Lunniss, who is having her first Glastonbury experience.

Well, following the comment it is understandable that flood news are under enjoyment.

Saturday, June 25, 2005

Notions on my gender and happy news

Male Chauvinism 101
Originally uploaded by madmaxnyc.
This is what Saturdays should be all about. Spending time in cafes, drinking koffie verkeerd (Dutch cafe latte) and reading newspapers. I went around midday to my favourite newsstand Athenauem on Spui and bought the German Süddeutsche Zeitung and the Dutch NRC Handelsblad. When reading NRC I realised that I understand most of it. Amazing!

When sitting in the cafe I was reminded again why we still have to work for gender equality. Two notions:

1. Interpersonal relations: an unknown German chap in Wolvenstraat cafe/bar: He was there with his girlfriend. The girlfriend headed to the bar:
Chap:"Hey, xx (name), Ice Tea!"
GF:"Wie bitte?"
Chap:"ICE TEA!"
GF:"Sorry, Eis und..?"
I have been taught that bitte is a proper word to use in German when you ask for something. And the tone was everything else than caring and kind. Grrr..
It got worse. A friend of the chap arrived. Chap turned his back to the girlfriend and starting talking to HIS friend. When the girlfriend tried to participate, the chap turned to her, did not say a thing and turned back to his friend. The girlfriend started reading a magazine. Well, I guess the chap thought that his equality work was done by wearing a pink shirt...

2. Politics: NRC had a short article on Berlusconi's comments in the opening ceremonies of the European Food Safety Authority in Parma. Finland competed also for the Authority. Berlusconi said in his speech that he even had to use his playboy techniques/tender pleas when addressing the Finnish president (a woman). Finland reacted (rightly so) on the diplomatic level. According to NRC Berlusconi said that Finland lacked sense of humour. It is sad to witness once again that we have not reached a level in society development where comments like these would have their place only in our shared embarrassing history. These kind of incidents really put me off. What on earth is wrong with my gender? Is it really that difficult to treat women as equal at home and in politics?

p.s. Some happy news following this anger. I am going to be an uncle. I'm all excited and puzzled! As Rufus Wainwright puts it:"Oh what a world we live in."

Thursday, June 23, 2005

Give us power, not orders

I have not been writing that much about the crisis of the EU. Well, it changes now. And today´s subject is my favourite politician, British Prime Minister Tony Blair.

UK is going to have the EU presidency from the beginning of July and that is why Blair addressed the European Parliament today. I was disappointed. The speech was Blair rhetorics at its best (lists, using the word ´I´ to show commitment, snappy one-liners, saying what should NOT be done) but his conclusion was a major disappointment: Blair calls for strong leadership. He ends the speech by saying:

"The people of Europe are speaking to us. They are posing the questions. They are wanting our leadership. It is time we gave it to them."

I disagree with the conclusion. What we, the people, want is power. We want to influence. We want genuine dialogue and not dictating. We want clearer links between power and responsibility. We want politicians to take our concerns seriously. Nowadays they´re saying that we concentrate on the wrong issues. This again is an argument for more and more people reading Tom Bentley´s Everyday Democracy essay.

Another thing about the EU. I had a discussion yesterday about the fight over the CAP (Common Agricultural Policy) budget with my friend Joep who has studied agriculture. He highlighted some issues that were not really in my mind at that point:
- comparing to education budget and CAP is ridiculous because education is a national competency unlike agriculture (meaning that governments can subsidise education themselves but not agriculture)
- most subsidies go in producing grain and barley, not into pigs or poultry (and France is a heavy-weight producer of these subsidised things)
- in France being a farmer is a respected profession (he said that in a recent survey over 20 % of French parents wanted their children to become farmers). In the Netherlands farmer is used as a mocking word for hilly-billies.

The current CAP debate shows how far the agriculture debate in the press is from the daily life. The debate is about money but in the debate there are no links to the outcomes: agriculture is really about food in my table, income for some and continuing the tradition in your family.

p.s. If you´re interested in Blair rhetorics, his speeches are all on the Downing Street 10 website. The best analysis I have seen is Norman Fairclough´s New Labour, New Language. It is amusing, easy to read, witty and intelligent.

Wednesday, June 22, 2005

My personal Babel

Harbourside flags
Originally uploaded by
We have a Polish trainee at the office this week called Katarzyna. She was sitting this morning in the same room with me and heard me making my phone calls.

I had to call to Germany today and the woman in the other end did not speak English, which meant that ich musste Deutsch sprechen. I stumbled a bit but managed. Katarzyna said that she found it amazing that people at the ECF speak so many languages.

Yesterday I made a phone call to Norway and spoke both English and Swedish and the man in the other end spoke Norwegian. In a seminar in Germany a few weeks back I spoke English, Swedish, Finnish, German and a bit of Dutch.

I do not mean to boast with this. I just wanted to state this because it is a completely new setting for me. I also notice that languages improve only by using them. Last year it always took me a while to adjust myself to the right language when someone called because I wasn´t prepared. My assumption has now changed: the person in the other end of the line can speak any language.

I have been slightly afraid of losing the core competence I have, i.e. verbal acrobatics in Finnish. That is what I have been paid for during the last years. What if I lose the Finnish grammar or structure of a proper sentence? What if I start speaking in "anglisms"? Of course it is my mother tongue and therefore it is superior to other languages. And I do read a lot in Finnish. But this internal Babel influences me already in a way that I mix German and Dutch. I say ´maar´ when I mean ´aber´. I say accidentally ´werken´ when I was trying to say ´arbeiten´. And I say ´vijf´ when my attempt was saying ´fünf´. Could go on and on...Wat ist der tulevaisuus med deze?

Tuesday, June 21, 2005

Tv makes me smarter

Mickey in the Park
Originally uploaded by
I finished Steven Johnson´s book Everything Bad Is Good For You during the weekend. It is witty and well written. I really enjoyed it. He writes in a very intelligent manner about the entertainment of today. The part which I enjoyed most was the one where he described the plots of Hill Street Blues, The Sopranos, Starsky and Hutch and E.R. He stated that it is clear that quality television is more complicated. Or that Seinfeld is more challenging than I Love Lucy. And that tv fiction today is written in a way that it is meant to leave the viewer slightly in the dark (political discourse in West Wing) and that it survives several viewings (Seinfeld episodes). This way it is also more tempting to buy tv fiction as a DVD.

I loved his down-to-earth approach. Johnson concludes the book by making it clear that all that comes from television or all computer games are good for you. He still says that parents should encourage their children to read. But at the same time all popular culture is not harmful but can honestly teach its audience understanding of complex matters, problem solving and social relations. A refreshing experience. I will definitely start following his blog.

Friday, June 17, 2005

Don't become a dummy

Originally uploaded by amsterboy.
I ran into this campaign today when opening my browser. It took me some time to grasp the idea but after that I really liked Fight Mannequinism. It is an initiative of Ad Council (advertisement sector people doing good) and Federal Voting Assistance Program. Yes, they are American.

Basically the message is that one should fight against becoming a plastic dummy and get active. I don't know if this works but the campaign material is supercool.

This continues the tradition of excellent campaigns from the U.S. lately to activate young people. I really like Rock The Vote as well.

Wednesday, June 15, 2005

Who really is a journalist?

I read today about an interesting research done by the Annenberg Public Policy Center on who is regarded as a journalist. A survey of 1,500 adults and 673 journalists (yes, most of them adults but you know what I mean) gave really interesting results. I recommend reading the press release but here are few notions:
- people generally mix hosts/news anchors and journalists
- 65 % of journalists thought that large corporate ownership has a negative impact on journalism
- 36 % (general public 48%) of the journalists thought that owners are usually more concerned with making profit than prividing the audience with factual news coverage
- 45 % of the journalists said that bloggers have a positive impact on journalism, 38 % saw it as negative
20 % of journalists read blogs daily (general public 10 %)

Hmm...I have had this identity problem often. I mean thinking whether I am a journalist or not because I get most of my income from other sources. But I still say rather often that I am a freelancer. And I do remember several bar discussions with fellow journalists about the way people regard talkshow hosts or quiz show hosts as journalism. There was an excellent quote once in a Finnish newspaper from a model-turned-quiz-show-host:"I had often thought of wanting to be a journalist. But I really, I have to call all these people before hand and read some kind of background material. That's so much work." Yep.

p.s. The article in the picture is one that I wrote recently for Helsingin Sanomat on Videoletters.

Tuesday, June 14, 2005

Face value

Originally uploaded by
When cycling today to the office I saw this poster campaign of a Dutch music video channel The Box. They had normal people in the posters.

This reminded me of a few things I have come across lately. In Berlin I was stopped at Hackescher Markt by Amnesty volunteers. The asked if I would like to get my photo taken to take a stand in favour of stricter arms control. Control Arms campaign is run by Oxfam International and Amnesty International. They asked me to pose with my hand indicating stop.

I do not know what to think of this. In a way there is a link to the everyday democracy issue that I have addressed before. It also has analogies to petition-signing. But then again, I remember Bettina Lüscher - World Food Programme spokeswoman and a former news anchor for the CNN- saying in a IJP panel discussion that they need Penelope Cruz and Brad Pitt to get people interested in Darfur.

Or maybe it is not an either-or issue. Arms control is supported by me and Emma Thompson. But which is a bigger piece of news: Bono supporting debt relief or two million people supporting debt relief? Or is Dido needed to get million people interested in arms control? You tell me.

Monday, June 13, 2005

Everyday democracy

I have written a number of times in this blog about the problems in modern democracy. In that sense it was refreshing to finally find the time to read through Tom Bentley´s Demos-essay on everyday democracy. The director of Demos is making a case for putting more effort into development of democratic structures.

Although Bentley does not give a full formula for a new paradigm (apart from suggestions like giving parents the right to vote with the votes of their children until the children reach voting age), his main argument is convincing. He says that we need a system where the link between responsibility and power is stronger and more visible than now. He uses examples like what does it mean to buy a plastic bag or how citizens could have more power in planning the local budget.

After the referenda in France and the Netherlands EU Commissioner Margot Wallström wrote in Svenska Dagbladet that Europe needs a Plan D (democracy). She said the we need better listening and better explaining. At least how I understand Bentley´s argument is that it is not a matter of explaining or listening but empowering. But still Wallström´s idea on a round table for democracy is an excellent because it is a signal that at least some people in the Commission understand that there is need to put time, effort and money into building ownership.

Friday, June 10, 2005

Text-o-holic cycling

Originally uploaded by PsuedoZen.
Two things to comment about today:

It happened again. I went to the bookstore to buy Steven Johnson's Everything Bad Is Good For You (about popular culture making is more clever). I went to the Waterstone's on Spui square which is my favourite bookstore. I came out with three books and a magazine:
1. Steven Johnson: Everything Bad Is Good For You (was very close buying a book about the slow movement)
2. Safran Foer: Everything is Illuminated (praised my my friend Jurjen, a young man in Ukraine searching for a woman his grandfather saved from the Nazis, the text is supposed to be amazing)
3. Mark Haddon: The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-time (the salesperson recommended it cos I got a third book for free, won the Whitbread Book of the Year prize)
4. Colors magazine latest issue (a long-time weakness)

In addition to weather bikes is the other thing to talk about in Amsterdam. My score so far:
1. Bike stolen: been there
2. Bike broken: been there, paid the bill
3. Bike accident: today, after a truck drove out of Warmoestraat, this pole came up with such speed that I was not able to stop and flew over my bike to the street. I am ok, my right foot hurts a bit.

Thursday, June 09, 2005

The driver is missing

transporte urbano
Originally uploaded by Franklin Silveira.

The panic over the state of our continent (or to be more precise: its political union) is astonishing. I just read an article from the Daily Telegraph saying that Tony Blair thinks that Europe is not worth fighting for in its present condition. This is why Britain is turning its attention towards Africa.

It is difficult to object that the problems in Africa are far bigger and urgent than the ones of our welfare continent. Starvation is a bigger problem than anything we are or could be facing.

But it really is way to simplifying to present this as an either-or issue. I would even argue that taking care of Europe in a socially responsible manner serves also the needs of Africa.

The biggest problem of our continent at the moment is the lack of leadership. The right reaction now would be to sharpen up, take the people seriously, do a critical evaluation of the state of democracy in the Union and put more money, time and effort on the people.

I really resent the way some politicians are giving an impression like the people would have let them down. Or that other countries are indirectly blaming the Dutch and the French for destroying the European Dream. This an excellent wake-up call. This was a good way to remind our leaders who really are the owners of the system.

Although there will be a change of government in several EU member states soon, I really don´t see light in the end of that tunnel. The only solution I can think of now is a genuinely European movement for participatory democracy.

Wednesday, June 08, 2005

Speed up!

Potsdamer Platz at night
Originally uploaded by amsterboy.
I have noticed a worrying feature in myself lately. I can not really point out a single reason but I feel that my span of concentration has gotten shorter. I am rather often faced by this strong feeling of impatience.

I have wondered at times whether it has to do with the years in student politics where I was the one making sure we stay on time and working a lot with politicians with appr. 10 minutes to listen to your message.

Of course one of the reasons could also be email, mobile phone, iPod, urban life (see pic) etc. But although I want to fight against this impatient feeling, I will not react in the way that many do, meaning getting rid of modern technology and going back to retro life in the country side. Don't really see the point of that. And I love cities. Nostalgia is not my solution.

I have tried to re-educate myself by reading more books and research articles. I often have this feeling that I should be doing million different things but then I just force myself to close the laptop and open a book. As I have stated before, especially when I am travelling I get this desire for text. I love that feeling. Lately it has emerged when reading Pirjo Hassinen's praised novel Jouluvaimo. She writes with an incredible passion. Or as a literature-oriented friend of mine said it: in a bitchy way.

I wonder how other people react to this or whether they even experience this impatience. Would be brilliant to hear.

Tuesday, June 07, 2005

Experiencing culture

Originally uploaded by amsterboy.
I just got back from our staff day. We went to an island on the coast, bowling and dinner. I love my colleagues. I feel privileged to be able to work with that talented and smart people. And because there are 30 of us, there are still loads of potentially interesting people to get to know.

I have a confession to make: I am highly educated and work in the cultural field but I am really bad (read: lazy) dragging my butt to a museum or a cultural event. I don't know about other people but I have a constant bad conscience about it. I also feel I know too little about art and music.

While in Berlin I did both: I went to Hamburger Bahnhof (museum of contemporary art) and Staatsoper (opera). Short comments about both.

In the Staatsoper they have discounts for people under 30 (yes, still including me). I went to see Katja Kabanowa with my friend Sören. Before it started a member of the staff walked to the stage and explained that the lead singer was ill, the 1st replacement had gotten a flue and the same goes for the 2nd replacement. So finally they played in a way that the director's assistant played the role and an opera singer sang the role from the corner. It totally changed the setting. The mute Katja Kabanowa turned into a Lars-von-Trier-like female character who is a subject of mental abuse. Very intriguing but odd. But all and all, Katja Kabanowa is a fabulous piece.

In the Hamburger Bahnhof the piece of art that moved me the most was Matthew Barney's film Goodyear Girl from the Cremaster series (see picture). It has blond women dancing on a stadium with huge dresses and Goodyear balloons. As I discussed with my colleague Wietske today, it is hard to understand whether there are other messages or values than the esthetic ones.

p.s. Made a mistake in my previous blogging. Libeskind made the Jewish Museum, not the Holocaust Memorial. Sorry.

Monday, June 06, 2005

How to handle it?

Holocaust Memorial
Originally uploaded by amsterboy.
I went on Saturday to the recently opened Holocaust Memorial in Berlin. It is designed by Daniel Libeskind and it took ages and ages to get it ready. Most Berliners hated the plan when it was published. The Memorial is a set of concrete bricks of different height and you can walk between them.

I met a friend of mine Sören on the evening before and we discussed about the Memorial. He said that he is one of the people who hated the plan but after visiting it, was deeply moved.

I found it amazing. You walk between the bricks, you're alone but then again you see people in all different directions. You see people just for a second when the pass the from one brick to another. And the bricks create a beautiful set of shadows.

Some people have been shocked by the fact that young people play hide and seek there. I don't mind. If the site is visited by people, it has made its point. It is so big that it is hard to miss. And at times some people seem a bit pretentious when they put this "I UNDERSTAND THIS" look on their face.

I fully recommend visiting the site. I was really glad that I went there alone.

Sunday, June 05, 2005

Europe is a construction site

Pariser Platz
Originally uploaded by amsterboy.
I just got back from Berlin. I l-o-v-e it. I was there for a seminar by the IJP which is an exchange programme for German journalists who want to work abroad and for foreign journalists who want to work in Germany. Excellent work. Met some absolutely fab people.

When we were having lunch and watching the view you see in the picture, I remembered an essay by Günter Grass about Berlin that I read as a part of my studies on German culture at the university. In the essay Grass stated that if you want to know what Europe of today is about, look at Berlin. I think it is an excellent statement. Just watch the picture:

- evidence of division still exists (Brandenburger Tor)

- capitalism is present with full power (Potsdamer Platz in the background)

- difficult history is looming in the back (Holocaust Memorial) or carnevalised (the U-shape pictures of Berlin after the war, a popular place for posing)

- the entire place looks like a construction site

p.s. Bought a digital camera so more and more of the photos I will be using will be taken by me.