Tuesday, February 28, 2006

A liberal leftie goes ballistic

Originally uploaded by
I was doing my daily rounds in the blogosphere when I bumped into an article in the Washington Post on the cartoon issue. Acclaimed scholars William J. Bennett and Alan M. Derschowitz manage to link up freedom of the press, islam, anti-Americanism, antisemitism, September 11th, Abu Ghraib. They claim that the fact that only a few American newspapers have published the cartoons is a sign of severe self-censorship regarding Islam. They say that good journalists would have the duty to report this.

I went ballistic. No one can say that the issue has not been covered. But to brand not publishing the (poorly drawn) pictures into cowardism is highly dangerous. They fall (I guess consciously) into the trap of making all the Muslims look like phanatics. They use arguments such as saying that Catholics do not burn embassies when Jesus is mocked. What narrow-mindedness and short-mindedness.

They end their article:"When we were attacked on Sept. 11, we knew the main reason was that the Islamists hated our way of life, our virtues, our freedoms. What we never imagined was that the free press -- an institution at the heart of those virtues and freedoms -- would be among the first to surrender."

I could not help the film I saw yesterday, George Clooney´s marvellously political Good Night, and Good Luck. I see a lot of similarities in McCarthy´s witch hunt in the 50s and the current polarisation and facilitation of fear. The main character of Clooney´s film Ed Murrow talks about the responsibility of media in a way that is accurate still over 40 years later. I will not elaborate more on that in order to encourage more people to the cinema to see a film on a topic that really matters.

Friday, February 24, 2006

How about a holiday outside Europe?

I am currently in Karosta (amazing place) in Latvia running one of theoneminutesjr

Mane suggested a great link in the comments of the previous post. A site that generates a map based on all flight connections you have made. I love these sort of things. I have always been big on tests and such. I actually spent quite a substantial amount of time in doing this. And again, I realise how much my life is centred on Europe. workshops (check the website for photos). I love my work at the moment. I really do. At times it seems even odd that they actually pay me for this work. I get to work with talented artists and motivated youngsters. Brilliant.

Sunday, February 19, 2006

My world is so huge!

I had dinner at a former colleague's house earlier this week. Her daughter had a ball she played with that was like the globe. Usually the seas are coloured blue but in this ball they were transparent. For some reason I thought that it was a better way of showing how much of the globe really is water and how enormous the Pacific is.

My friend Bettina's blog had an excellent tip for a website where you can tick all the countries you have visited and then it generates a map. I posted my map here but cos it seems to blow up the frame, I will just offer the link. I really recommend testing. I had visited only 10 % of the countries in the world.

Few observations:
1. Russia is gigantic. And I have only been to Moscow and St. Petersburg.
2. Europe is ridiculously small.
3. I want to go to Brazil and Canada.

Saturday, February 18, 2006

Not just another gay film

Originally uploaded by jasonatlantaga.
I do not know a person who would not have been moved by Ang Lee's amazing film Ice Storm. Superb acting and a calm camera builds a portrayal of two families with everything else but true happiness or feelings of any sort. Both children and parents seem to seek satisfaction in ways that only brings more sorrow and pain. I bought the film on DVD a while ago and have watched it a few times during the last months.

Ice Storm is one of the reasons why my expectations for so high before we went to see Brokeback Mountain yesterday. Friends of mine had informed me to equip myself with a pack of tissues.

Ang Lee's film tells the story of two cowboys falling in love with each other in circumstances that do not allow this. Especially Heath Ledger's (pic) acting is out of this world. His character Ennis is not that much of a talker but with his physique and facial expressions Ledger manages to build a character whose sorrow and pain can be felt strongly among the audience. Jake Gyllenhaal's Jack is more a talker and seems at least in the beginning of the film to be the more sensitive one in the relationship. As the film continues Jack turns to be the brave one willing to make sacrifices.

The film has been branded strongly as a gay film. Of course there are valid reasons for this. Ang Lee's film is one of the first mainstream films with gays as leading characters and not just as funny sidekicks. And it was clear yesterday in the cinema that this aspect still has some shock value - every time the men were kissing, one could hear teenager girls giggling.

But it does not do justice for Ang Lee's film to put it solely in the gay film box. Brokeback Mountain is one of the most beautiful films I have seen for years. It is built from beautiful landscapes, silent glances and herds of sheep. The dialogue is often even difficult to understand due to the (presumably intentional) mumbling. Somehow it reminded of Aki Kaurismäki's films where the feeling is not in the words but in the movement, setting and looks.

Friday, February 17, 2006


A Finnish far-right populist group published the Danish cartoons on their website. After a a discussion with the police, the operator closed the site and now the police is investigating whether publishing the cartoons was against Finnish legislation.

I am fine with this. The police says they did not force the company to close the site and the company has confirmed that it was their own decision.

I heard today that now both the Finnish Prime Minister and President have officially apologised for the issue. Researcher Anna Kortelainen said really wisely today on Finnish morning television that it was a clear overreaction and a highly bigbrotherish move. She pointed out that it is like a father apologising for the pranks of the children. A relevant point mentioned in the discussion was also that by having the president and prime minister commenting the issue raises this nationalist populist group into a position in Finnish society that it has never had. We are talking of an association, not a political party or something like that.

Monday, February 13, 2006

Promoting Finland in the Netherlands

I was googling for an article I wrote some time back and accidentally came across an interview that me and my friend Saija gave for the magazine of the University of Leiden (pretending to be average students). Sooo funny. And guess what the Finns were talking about when describing Finnish student life. Well, the name of the article tells it all: Vodka in the toilet.

I also found myself criticising the Dutch Minister of Education and confessing that I have been consuming alcohol illegally in the restaurant toilet with the Finnish Minister of Finance. If that does not make my parents proud, I do not know what.

Sunday, February 12, 2006

Go, America!

Originally uploaded by adam clare.
I decided to share three observations/experiences from the last 1,5 weeks. To make them fit to the same post, I forced them all in the framework of the New World, known also as the United States of America.

1. It's A Man's World 1: I saw Sam Mendes' (American Beauty) new film Jarhead last week. It is a story of a marine (Jake Gyllenhaal) who is sent to Iraq first for the Desert Shield which turns into Desert Storm. It manages to portray the overmasculinity and frustration in a highly delicate manner. The film once again reminded me of the oppressive structures of the Armed Forces. There are scenes in the film that sent cold shivers up and down my spine like the ones where they run in the heat with gas masks on. Been there, done that. The film is worth seeing in its pacifism.

2. It's A Man's World 2: "Who is Johnny Cash?" This was the comment of a friend of mine after I told him that I saw Walk The Line. I must admit as well that I knew him only based on a few songs but the film made me seriously consider buying a collection. The film is superbly moving and I understand fully why both Joaquin Phoenix and Reese Wetherspoon are nominated for an Oscar. Johnny Cash's traumatic relationship with his father reminded my of Scott Hicks' film Shine where Geoffrey Rush stars as the mentally ill pianist David Helfgott afraid of his father for his entire life. Both films show how men's identity is influenced by their fathers and by the will to please.

3. No nonsense: The American clothing brand American Apparel opened their store in Amsterdam two weeks ago after a big advertising campaign. I visited the store yesterday. It is clear that it will become one of my favourite brands. No nonsense clothes in all sizes and colours, highly American staff (social and superfriendly - a rare quality in this country), quality cotton and decent prices. A bit dawsonscreekish but what the hell.

Thursday, February 09, 2006

Happy pensioners

Old Lady, Vaasa
Originally uploaded by
A friend of mine turned 31 yesterday. He does not look like people who are like over 30. Once again a reminder that it is only 2,5 years away for me.

Earlier this week the biggest Finnish employers´ organisation stated there should be limit on employer pension payments which would directly mean that pensions in the future will be significantly smaller than nowadays (because you cannot cut pensions that you are already paying). So much for generational solidarity.

On that topic, here is a link to my most recent column in Ellit.

Sunday, February 05, 2006

Fames and flames

BB Final
Originally uploaded by Will Rise.
When living in Finland my favourite moment of the week was Sunday morning-midday when I opened the Sunday issue of Helsingin Sanomat and spent over an hour reading it. Due to language incompetence and different traditions (in the Netherlands the weekend issue with the feature pages is published on Saturdays), I have not been able to continue this habit.

I am sitting in a cafe in the centre of the world’s attention, Copenhagen. (Mum, don’t worry. I am alright.) It felt odd when I was buying my newspaper today from Schiphol airport that my travel destination Denmark was on the fronpage of all newspapers. I decided to skip my common habit of buying the European issues of The Guardian and bought its sister-paper The Observer.

I want to share a few quotes from the newspaper on two issues:

”The Hamas leader, Dr mahmoud Zahar, told the Italian daily Il Giornale that the cartoons were an offence that should be punished by death.”
”As for the need for ’Europe-wide solidarity’, invoked in one German newspaper, it is hard to see how the interests of the Continent are served by aggravating an insult to one of its communities.(...) For a broader dialogue to happen, we must state clearly and often that Muslims can alsobe Europeans. This is not a clash o
f civilisations. We have a common interest in being vigilant against Islamophobia and in standing up to the advocates of terror.”


”About a month ago, I speculated here on what might happen if Chantelle, the only official non-celebrity on Big Brother, suddenly became more famous than any of the celebrities she has cooped up with. Now she’s actually won, something has happened far worse anything I could have imagined. We’ve shifted from a society where people are famous for being famous to one where they can become famous for not being famous. This is more terrifying than the release of a poison-gas cloud. Like a lethal virus, fame has mutated. Pandora has opened her box and unleashed someone more famous than Pandora.”
- Comedy writer (incl. Thick of It) Armando Iannucci
”Two years ago, in a competition run by the wildflower charity Plantlife, Essex won the poppy as its county flower, against stiff opposition. The judges must have agreed with me that the poppy is a real Essex girl of a flower, too loud, too bright, with too much make-up. The Essex girl is a working-class heroine surviving in a post-proletarian world.(....) Chantelle (NB: Essex-born) was not ashamed of her ignorance, but simply asked for the information that she needed.”
- Academic Germaine Greer defending the girls of her home county

p.s. I read recently an essay by a columnist of The Guardian, Madeleine Bunting, where she talked about Starbucks cafes as spaces where the modern (wo)man escapes, where it is allowed to relax for a moment. She was saying that we escape to places such as Starbucks from offices and even from homes. I wandered today on Ströget looking for a place for lunch. This cafe is not a Starbucks but very similar. I ended here because I did not want any surprises for my newspaper moment. I knew how to order my cafe latte, how to orientate etc. Bizarre people we are.

Thursday, February 02, 2006

The luxury of my morning

a croissant
Originally uploaded by anzyAprico.
I attended yesterday Commissioner Margot Wallström’s hearing on the new white paper for EU communication policy (read and comment). Interesting hearing. Wallström’s goal is to generate two-way communication between the civil society and the EU institutions. Based on yesterday’s hearing I would say that her goals are ambitious but she seems to understand the challenges facing the EU. I reconfimed my view yesterday: Wallström belongs to the good guys.

I liked the fact that she stressed better communication as a matter of democracy, not as a matter of improved image. That is why I feel people should comment the paper and help them improve it. As was stated in the hearing yesterday, the paper needs more emphasis on the notion of conflict and it needs to state in a clearer manner that the goal is to help people engage and understand, not to make people love the European Union. I would also stress the relationship between efficiency and democracy. Often proper consultation and citizen engagement would take more time and make processes messier. But even so, this is something that needs to be done in order to make the European Union more democratic.

I am writing this post in a cafe on Luxembourg Square (although I think I will get it online only this evening). On the opposite side of the square is the colossal European Parliament (clearly a institution in the making...it is basically one big construction site). I stayed for the night with friends and will take a train soon back to Amsterdam (sorry, need to add something to every sentence....I take the wonderful Thalys, the Mercedes Benz of trains).

I decided to live up to stereotypes for a moment, take a later train and start my morning with a croissant and a cup of coffee. It is a cliché but a very nice one.

I watched last weekend again the first episodes of the Swedish drama Kommissionen (The Commission) about the terrorist attack to Stockholm. They have a scene where a member of the commission Grete Ancker is in an EU anti-terrorism meeting in Brussels. She says to her colleague that there are two places in the world where you can get decent croissants outside France. The other is Brussels and the other is – if I remember correctly – Vietnam (I know, do not use references if you cannot remember them completely). Well, in any case, she is definitely right when it comes to Brussels.

I love croissants. They are so wonderfully luxurious and unhandy. But way too often you can clearly taste that the croissants have been baked hours ago and you can taste the fat. Here in Tout Bon Café it is clear that they have not used low-fat spread but real butter. The croissants are crispy and big. The tables have jars of strawberry jam, apple syrup, orange marmelade, blueberry jam, Nutella and honey that you share with other guests. Waiters do not speak English so I had to order in French. When I asked for another croissant (I can afford it, I go to the gym), the waiter brought it for me in her hand. Cute.

And what is important: the croissants and the incredibly strong coffee are decent-priced. And you get a piece of excellent nougat with your coffee.

I think I want to live in Brussels at some point.