Thursday, August 31, 2006

Of Cows and Windmills

cows and windmill
Originally uploaded by
flyin' hawaiian.
Flickr is so funny. You write on the search field ´cow´ and ´holland" and you get hundreds of images.

I was yesterday in a public whipping. It felt like home. A lot of people in high positions listing what is wrong with Holland. This time the keywords were the lack of innovation, risk avoidance and the lack of public-private partnership. And if you add the words "multiculturele drama" to that, you more or less get the tone of the discussion.

As I said, we love these things in Finland. We wet our pants every time a foreigner is flown into the country, put into a speaker´s booth and asked to tell us that we are not doing that badly. Did I hear someone mention ´PISA learning results´? When you are small and only recently wealthy, you still desperately need the big boys (for instance Richard Florida, Manuel Castells, the Dutch and the British) to recognise you.

Only today I noticed that one of the Finland-boosters - and I would dare to say a friend of mine - has a weblog. And here I show my incredible talent to round up this post: his name is Nauta, which means ´beef´ in Finnish.

Monday, August 28, 2006

Your Highness, you have a visitor

The Queen of England
Originally uploaded by Richard Gifford.
I did my usual tour on the Apple QuickTime page through the recent trailers. On every visit a few films cause joyful reactions but this time I was going through the roof. The reason is the upcoming Stephen Frears film The Queen. Helen Mirren plays - boldly, I must say - the role of the English Queen who was criticised heavily for staying out of the public for days after Diana's tragic death.

Only based on trailer the film seems amazing. Just starting from the fact that Helen Mirren looks so much like the Queen and that it is actually a critical and straightforward film on a current Head of State and Prime Minister.

And if Ms Mirren and the Queen would not be enough: Mr Blair is also around. I have never tried to hide my fascination on Tony Blair. I still remember my friend's reaction when he saw the 750-page Blair biography in my bookshelf:"Tommi, now I understand why you are single."

Dear Mr Frears, I would reserve one ticket. Front row, please.

Thursday, August 24, 2006

Cannot eat before it is ready

Anticipation is the word of the day. The biggest event I am producing this year starts in 1,5 weeks in Istanbul. Things are clearing up nicely and actually there is not much that can be done at this point. I am so anxious. I want to meet the people I have been corresponding with for the last months. I know all their last names, passport numbers and flight details but I have no idea what they look like. Weird, isn't it?

I have seldom enjoyed my work this much. The biggest motivation boost comes from the fact that the people in the field of popular culture media are responding enthusiastically to the projects we are carrying out. We did take a risk in jumping into a field where our organisation does not have that much expertise but now it seems that the jump was into the right pond. I do not have to twist anyone's arm. Brilliant feeling.

Sunday, August 20, 2006

Book list

Originally uploaded by digenis.
Lately I have read answers to the literature questionnaire from some of the blogs I follow regularly. I just realised that more or less a year ago I answered another list of questions on reading habits so this can be seen as the updated volume of that.

Just a short disclaimer first: I realised that my answers are books published mostly during the last few years. It has a lot to do with my habit of buying books from airports and on Saturdays from Amsterdam's Waterstone's. I just walk in with the purpose of buying a book and I end up buying something else than I expected.

1. One book that changed your life?
A rough start. I think it would be non-fiction. The books that have changed my life are not literary masterpieces but they offer new approaches on common subjects. I think during the last years the biggest switches in my thinking have been results of two books:
-Charles Leadbeater's Up The Down Escalator, which stresses individual responsibility and the need to take initiative to change things.
- Steven Johnston's Everething Bad is Good For You which made me into an even more passionate advocate for popular culture.

2. One book you’ve read more than once?
During every single holiday I reach a moment when I just cannot handle the presence of other people. I usually deal with it by taking a few hours for myself. My friend Maria knows well what I am talking about. In that sense I often relate to Tove Jansson's Moominpappa and the sea which I have read several times.

3. One book you’d want on a desert island?
I have a bad conscience from not having read many of the books considered as classics. In Finland I have The Collected Works of Oscar Wilde, I think I would take that one.

4. One book that made you giddy?
One book that kept me bursting into laughter awkwardly in cafés and buses was Mikko Rimminen's Pussikaljaromaani. It follows the day of three 30-ish men in the Helsinki district called Kallio. They spend the whole day drinking beer and planning to start doing things.

5. One book that wracked you with sobs?
There are two books that made me cry all through the last pages: John Irving's A Prayer for Owen Meany and Jonathan Safran Foer's Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close. Safran Foer's Everything is Illuminated is far better as a book but E.L.A.I.C has a stunningly emotional and beautiful ending.

6. One book that you wish had been written?
This is superdifficult. What I would actually like to read would be a book - maybe an essay collection - breaking the myth of Finnishness into digestable pieces. This would help a lot of people in that country to understand what their country is about and why people act the way they do. I would like it to be a high-profile intergenerational collaboration with the goal to make it understandable for the general public. So no pretentious intellectual masturbation.

7. One book you wish had never been written?
Mein Kampf is too easy. I'll say Samuel P. Huntington's The Clash of Civilisations which has enforced the notion of a great and clear divide between us and them.

8. One book you’re currently reading?
I wrote in this blog a few weeks back about my fascination for London. Following that I went yesterday to Waterstone's and bought Monica Ali's Brick Lane, a book about a young Bangladeshi woman who moves to London as a result of an arranged marriage.

9. One book you’ve been meaning to read?
This is actually linked to number six. I maybe should read The Great Finnish Epic Täällä Pohjantähden alla by Väinö Linna and then see if more needs to be done. For instance Elina's praise for Täällä Pohjantähden alla motivates me once again to open the series.

10. Now tag five bloggers
Hmm...I would say Pinja, PG, Jurjen, Bettina and Ruben. They are not all bloggers but people who follow blogs regularly.

Friday, August 18, 2006

"Working 9 to 5" or "Whenever, wherever"?

shotton paper
Originally uploaded by harrymoon.
One of the best things I have experienced in the Netherlands is the concept of a four-day week. As I write this I am having my day off like on any Friday. I have been hanging around the house, listened to Amy Winehouse and Jill Scott, watched Finding Neverland, eaten crackers and started getting myself into a weekend mood. I earn only 80 % of the full pay but I get by. I value the free time much more. I must even say that on Fridays I don't mind if I need to check my emails or make a phone call. It is still my free day.

I read last week from the Dutch daily an article by a recently graduated young woman who criticised her peers for not doing their share for the national economy by slacking with only a 80 % work week. She was saying that these people in their late-20s are used to too good and do not understand their responsibilities, also considering their own pensions. And of course she mentioned both China and India.

Come on. I don't know if she was trying to get herself a job in a Conservative think tank or what but her concept of work efficiency dates back to Henry Ford. I keep surprising myself by meeting constantly people who measure the efficiency of work based on the ways you work, not based on what you deliver. I presume the updated Fordism defines an efficient worker in the following manner:

- never late in the morning

- spends most of his or her time typing with the computer or speaking on the phone

- staples and copies

- does not bother other people with communication not directly linked to work

- does not complain or criticise


Monday, August 14, 2006

Forgiveness is a miraculous thing

Originally uploaded by Cinelogs.
The weather has been awful in Amsterdam for the last week. On some days it rains from the morning until the evening. And when I say rain, I do not mean a few drops here and there. I mean like a shower with the massage option on full volume.

Saturday was one of those days. We were sitting in a cafe on Haarlemmerdijk, sipping our lattes, with a group of friends. As the weather did not seem to improve, we decided to spend the afternoon in the cinema. We knew before hand that Ken Loach's Cannes-winning The Wind That Shakes The Barley would be no feelgood clip but hey, it was a rainy day any way.

After five minutes into the film I pushed my M&Ms into my pocket. It felt so incredibly inappropriate to eat in this film. I even felt bad for drinking.

Loach tells a story of two brothers who join the IRA in the 1920s to fight for the independence of Ireland. His calm and realistic approach is quite extraordinary. The Wind That Shakes The Barley is not a film about heroes fighting against the baddies from England. Of course the English soldiers torture and humiliate the Irish but not in the film - nor in my mind - does it justify the reactionary killings. Loach shows people committing horrible crimes out of conviction and confusion.

I started thinking of my grandparents when seeing what war does to good young men. And coming from a country that went through civil war during the same era I found myself thinking how people forgive and go on living. How do you live next to someone who raped your sister or killed your son? How do you build peace together?

I cried through the film. When leaving the cinema the rain had stopped. Rather than hating the world I felt exhausted. The Wind That Shakes The Barley was an experience I encounter very seldom. When art touches me also physically, I feel that I have come across something done by a genius.

Saturday, August 12, 2006

Witty writing

Watching Newsnight. Was a bit thrown away by the over British approach on the world so - well, could have maybe picked better - ended to the website of the brilliant London-based think tank Demos and their blog, Greenhouse. I also updated my blog links. From the Demos website I found a funny test linked to my all-time favourite TV show, West Wing. Had to do it for two reasons:
1. Every minute spent on a test is a minute well spent.
2. Everything linked to West Wing is a worth checking.
Well, the test was about which character of the series are you. Here is my result.

The idealistic speechwriter is well-liked by just about everyone. He's known for his excellent writing, sense of humor, and tendency to be clutzy. Although being younger than the rest of the staff, he's often treated as so, much to his dismay.

:: Which West Wing character are you? ::

Thursday, August 10, 2006

Goofy in spandex

Originally uploaded by David Babylon.
"I don't know how to love him.
What to do, how to move him.
I've been changed, yes really changed.
In these past few days, when I've seen myself,
I seem like someone else.
I don't know how to take this.
I don't see why he moves me.
He's a man. He's just a man."

This week the theme of this blog is lyrics. Maria Magdalena's song in Jesus Christ Superstar could be used to draw the main lines of yesterday's cinema experience. Bryan Singer's new Superman Returns revolves mainly around the complicated relationship of Superman and Lois Lane. I reacted like all boys in these situations: yuck, give me more flying, more saving people, more things falling apart!

Superman Returns brought the feelings caused by Narnia back to the surface. I am not sure whether I am oversensitive but when I hear phrases such as "the father becomes the son, the son becomes the father", "people of the Earth are lost without you showing the light", "does the world need a saviour" and when I see a man flying on and on again in a crucifix position, I smell a Christian plot.

Don't get me wrong, I have nothing against faith (although a fellow blogger a while ago said that I am a typical person without any guidance in his life). I just find it disturbing when these tones are smuggled in. As a silly drunk would shout during a thunderstorm: BRING IT ON!

Although the film was beautiful and Kevin Spacey thrillingly bad, I must say that Spiderman is still sooo much cooler than Superman. Superman is a empty nerd, not only as Clark Kent.

And final comment with my journalist hat on: Clark, please, if you pretend to be a journalist, do some writing every now and then. Being a journalist does not consist only of walking around with a folder in your hand and looking goofy.

Tuesday, August 08, 2006

Not Ready To Make Nice

Dixie Chicks
Originally uploaded by mbigelow2.
"I'm not ready to make nice
I'm not ready to back down
I'm still mad as hell and
I don't have time to go round and round and round
It's too late to make it right
I probably wouldn't if I could
'Cause I'm mad as hell
Can't bring myself to do what it is you think I should"

The war in Lebanon continues and continues. It is reaching the point in media coverage where the phrases 'another' and 'yet again' start appearing in coverages of casualties. No one seems to know how to solve this. And once again we see - tragically so - how the so-called international community is powerless without the consent of one single country.

The war came close today during my lunch. I met a friend of mine whose parents hear the warning sirens every day. She said that she is trying to block the issue every now and then but without success. She calls her parents and they start calming her down.

I won't even pretend that I know how it feels when your family is being bombed. Or how it feels when people ask you to forget it for a moment. Or how it feels when your neighbours stop talking to you when they feel that you represent the wrong side. The Beirut Letters shows a glimpse of how scared people react.

The quote in the beginning is not from a news conference today but from the song Not Ready To Make Nice that has been in my head for the last days. The Bush-critical country band Dixie Chicks kicks ass. They are dozen times more convincing than most of the "angry women" - like the Canadian girl singing about anger and irony (without actually understanding the meaning of the word). Dixie Chicks manage to break conventional views on what is country.

The current political situation makes one wonder whether these Texan girls are right. That there are things that time does not heal. On both sides of the conflict the seeds of hatred have been successfully planted for decades to come.

Sunday, August 06, 2006

Moment of pride

Originally uploaded by Kepa ry.
Sunday. Slight weakness after a wedding. Did the Hustle and Dancing Queen until four in the morning. At this day and age it starts to have its price.

A friend of mine sent me a link to a video that everyone should see. Have a look.

At the wedding in our table we had a discussion on the kind of people who end up getting into politics nowadays. And more clearly, which ones don't. As my dinner date pointed out, our system will be in a deepening crisis if more and more intelligent and risk-taking people would decide to stay out of public involvement.

In that respect it was a pleasure to open today's Helsingin Sanomat, the biggest Finnish daily. There was a big article on the week of our Minister for Foreign Affairs. As Finland is holding the EU presidency, Erkki Tuomioja (pic) is the voice of the European Union in the Lebanon-Israel crisis.

The excellent article showed once again the high intellect and morale of Tuomioja. I would go as far as saying that he is the best Finland has to offer in cabinet-level politics. I feel safe when he is presenting us in the crisis. He is the best possible combination of pacifism and intellect who does not fall into simplifications.

An example of the opposite was commented brilliantly in The Independent on Friday:

"It is a grave mistake, Mr Blair argued, to see the situation in Lebanon as an isolated phenomenon. Hizbollah, he claimed, are motivated by the same ideology as those who are killing British soldiers in Iraq and Afghanistan. According to our Prime Minister, they form "an arc of extremism" linking them with those that blew up commuter trains in London and Madrid and that flew planes into the twin towers in New York almost five years ago.

How convenient it would be for Mr Blair if we all acquiesced in this theory of a global, unified terrorist conspiracy. It would mean that no foreign policy adventure, however extreme, could be criticised; no attack on British troops abroad, no botched intervention, could be blamed on the Prime Minister's judgement. For what would not be legitimate in the face of a powerful, relentless campaign waged by "terrorists" against our very existence? Indeed the worse the situation in Iraq, Afghanistan, or the Middle East became, the more it would vindicate Mr Blair's position.

The problem with this view of the world is that it betrays a wilful ignorance of the specific circumstances of the real world. Hizbollah was formed as a resistance movement to the Israeli invasion of the southern Lebanon. The Taliban are parochial fanatics with no apparent goals beyond the re-conquest of Afghanistan. Iraq is in the midst of a vicious sectarian civil war. The argument that all this can be bracketed into a phenomenon called "global extremism" is an insult to out intelligence."

This example shows that Britain is still a superpower of critical journalism.

Saturday, August 05, 2006

Watch Out

Danger of death
Originally uploaded by dipfan.
Done London, next stop Helsinki. This summer is high season on weddings – I have five of them. And just for the sake of clarity: no, none of them are my own. So have to crush some bones tomorrow when going for the bouquet.

One thing that struck me once again in London was the amount of warnings. I was advised to watch out for pickpockets, traits of nuts in candies, extra chili in the curry, the gap and falling down the escalator; asked to smoke only in designated areas, avoid rudeness towards airport staff or being drunk at the security control; take into consideration that the coffee is extremely hot, reminded to hold onto my bag and to make sure that I have my personal belongings with me what leaving the cart, told not to feed the pigeons and refrain from making loud noises, slamming doors or playing loud music when leaving the pub. The most extreme was a security guard of a lunch restaurant instructing (more like ordering to be honest) me and my friend to hang our bags to the ”security hooks” under the table. This was in a lunchroom created into a crypt of a church.

The British capital is turning into a gigantic ”You cannot say that I did not warn you” disclaimer. Stranger Danger and a great risk of injury are words of the day.

This makes me think of Francis Fukuyama’s book called Trust. As he points out, greater social cohesion (sense of belonging to a group might a common language translation) and sense of safety is wise from also from the point of economics. In a system where people think the best of their peers, you need less and less systems for catching the crooks. Just to give an easy example: if the basic assumption is that a customer will pay his bill and will not run away from the terrace after finishing his cafe latte, you do not have to be charging people after their every drink and instead of that you can do it once in the end based on the customer’s request. This leaves a lot more time for attentive service.

A test for all my visitors: You are in a cafe all alone and you have a big bag with you. I mean seriously big. The extra large latte is doing its trick and you're having an urgent Riverdance moment. Not fun, at all. Will you drag all your stuff to the small toilet booth or ask someone in the cafe to watch for your bag?

If you answered yes, what kind of person would you ask? A customer or a waiter? People in a group or someone alone? A man or a woman? Comments are welcome.

Thursday, August 03, 2006

Stinky, stuffy, overpacked but still..

London Tube 3
Originally uploaded by Phillip.H.
That was a soft landing from holidays. I was at the office only for one day to sort out emails (and study the new email programme) and then it was already due time to fly to London to open an exhibition on theoneminutes at the ICA. I used the opportunity to stay in London for a few days and meet people we work with.

I now understand why nearly half of the people in the Tube have iPods. I guess if you work 10-13 hours per day, travel daily 2 hours on the Tube from and to work and struggle economically, you would long for moments when you can leave all that shit behind and just put Bangles on your headphones and forget all the noises.

As I walked to the ICA on the first day, I had to cross Trafalgar Square. Must say, that place should be seen by everyone who longs for mass tourism to their city or country. Zillions of pooing pigeons chased by kids made at least me decide not to buy Hitchcock's Birds that was on sale.

It is superexciting to observe people on the Tube. A clear majority of the people look extremely tired. Compared to Amsterdam a lot more people have bags under their eyes. As a working colleague who I met today said:"You can survive with 4 days of work? I envy you so much . I have problems surviving with five."

But even when all this is taken into consideration, I would still love to live in this city at one point of my life. At least in Soho I am seduced by the notion that Caucasian as a default Caucasian has been broken ages ago. Or that I am writing this email in a jazz bar with live music. Or that curry is a local dish. Huge cities like London are able to create this feeling that everything is possible here. As an American novelist Sherman Alexie writes in Ten Little Indians:"

"If human beings possessed endless possibilities, then cities contained exponential hopes."