Tuesday, July 31, 2007

4 kg of innovation

I had a phone call with my sister yesterday morning. As I was telling her about the last push for our EU application, she interrupted me by saying:"I never understood it. I mean that amount of paper. Who is going to read it?"

The piles seen in the picture are the papers we today submitted to the Commission. Our application for funding is 4 kilos and hundreds and hundreds of pages.

It was a weird experience preparing these. Now the plans are set and we just wait for some 4 months for a decision. Although many parts of the application process are quite tiring, it was a good exercise in trying to make sure how a project plan should come together. After i had the final read yesterday, my main feeling was:"This is clear, this is logical and this is exciting."

Monday, July 30, 2007


Autumn Sonata
Originally uploaded by
Jonathan Lawson
Some months back me and my good friend started a film club consisting of two members with a goal to watch all the main films of Ingmar Bergman. As he had already seen Wild Strawberries, we opened the club with Autumn Sonata. I was blown away by Bergman´s talent for capturing the Nordic mindset. Ingrid Bergman and Liv Ullman are amazing in showing how tense Nordic family relations often are and how alcohol brings the emotions on the surface. I was deeply moved, my friend rather amazed. The Danish film Festen owes a lot to Bergman.

The news about Ingmar Bergman passing away today brought Autumn Sonata back into my mind. All his films I have seen are rather challenging and intimate captions of how we in the North deal with each other. They also show some of the reasons for the way we escape reality through alcohol.

As I opened my email today, I saw emails from both my Mom and Dad. Once again - and linking to Bergman´s Autumn Sonata - I realised how fortunate I am to have a family like mine. Their emails really made me emotional. Even if I am celebrating my birthday far away from the people most dearest to me, they still are there. Today´s phone discussions with my parents and my siblings really made my day.

When one reaches thirty, there is often a pressure to do a personal evaluation talk. There is this great piece of lyrics in Baz Luhrmann´s song Everybody´s Free:"Work hard to bridge the gaps in geography and lifestyle because the older you get, the more you need the people you knew when you were young."

Saturday, July 28, 2007


I am writing this on Friday afternoon when making my way back to Amsterdam after an inspiring session in Stockholm. Since last year I have been on the Advisory Board for a British Council project called Network Effect which investigates young leadership in Europe and strives for building cross-border collaborations amongst people in Europe who have already shown potential in making things happen.

Today we revised the focus of the future events. The main working method of Network Effect are the conferences bringing together some 35 young professionals from all parts of Europe. We have learned a lot from the previous sessions and realised that the best results are achieved when the event has a tight and provocative focus and the main argument put across is somewhat divisive. The future events will most likely concentrate on Europe’s relationship with its neighbouring regions.

We had good debate on Big Issues such as market logic and on the ways Europe is seen from the outside. Most of us admitted not to be that knowledgeable for instance when it comes to the main views on European Union in Russia. When it comes to Americans we recognised that Europeans are often perceived as self-congratulatory, arrogant and self-obsesssed. Quite often for a good reason if I may add.

In my work I have very often heard remarks that Western Europeans very seldom show genuine interest towards the political and social agenda in countries like Turkey. We tend to come with our themes well prepared – with Eau de Colonial sprayed all over.

The link to my work in the European Cultural Foundation is very clear. One has to remain critical towards one’s own work, the way one builds partnerships and one's approach especially when dealing with issues such as intercultural dialogue and cultural diversity. The risk of boxing people in is constant.

On the plane I read a speech from British diversity intellectual Kenan Malik who I consider to be an interesting and radical thinker when it comes to freedom of speech and multiculturalism. He criticises both multiculturalists and assimilationists for mixing diversity of values and peoples.

He says – rightly so – that multiculturalism creates undemocratic structures where governments ignore their responsibility for connecting directly to all citizens as they address minorities via community leaders. This is the approach which has often been described as the even tribal Take Me To Your Leader strategy. What governments seldom forget to do is check whether the people these organisations say they are representing actually want to be represented by them.

At the same time Malik points out how assimilationists ignore clear cases of racism due to their obsessions with equal treatment. He takes France as the obvious example of this.

”Immigration, in other words, has not caused the fraying of a common set of values”, Malik writes and continues:”Rather multiculturalism is itself a product of such frayed values. Multiculturalism was the official response to the identity crisis within Western societies, as attempt to provide a positive sheen to this crisis, representing the lack of common identity as a new cultural pluralism, and the fragmentation of communities as an enriching kind of diversity.”

All and all, an intellectually stimulating Friday.

Thursday, July 26, 2007

A few steps to go

A few days to go to the biggest deadline of my professional career so far. On Tuesday we will be handing in an application to the European Commission for a huge European youth project on user-generated content. If they decide to fund us, my plans are set for the following 1,5 years.

It has been quite a struggle putting it all together and we are not there yet but at the same time - and for the first time in my life - I have made plans even to 18 months from now. And above all, thousands of teenagers have chances to do fantastic things with video.

It has been quite scary to realise how good one gets over time in writing application language (no links to journalism) and how much time it takes to build up one of these applications. This would not have been possible without a few excellent and extremely competent colleagues and a network of committed organisations across Europe. So cool to be handling something quite tangible and something this big.

The deadline coincides with another turning point of my life, as in turning 30. But that crisis and interim evaluation will only be done next week. Before that I still have to jump to Stockholm for a meeting tomorrow and hang out with cool people at the Streetlab festival here in Amsterdam.

Monday, July 23, 2007

Don't you go commenting behind my back

Matti Vanhanen
Originally uploaded by villoks
I feel a bit detached nowadays from Finnish politics so it is getting more and more difficult to understand domestic politics. Today the Prime Minister Matti Vanhanen had sent an email to all ministers telling them not to answer inquiries from the media and not to take part in public discussion on issues still under negotiation.

The Prime Minister's special advisor said in an interview with Helsingin Sanomat (biggest daily of the country) the following: "If people start asking members of the Cabinet for stands, there is a risk that different ministers could have several opinions on the same issue. That could lead to questions on the functionability of the Cabinet if there would be different stands on the same subject."

I think the media was right to raise this issue as one of the main news of the day. In which era are we? 1960s? 1984? What kind of notion of democracy is it if different opinions are seen as a risk? Sometimes I am just appalled by technocratic approaches on politics. I would go as far as saying that stressing efficiency over democracy is proof for a complete misunderstanding on the core of democracy.

Sunday, July 22, 2007

It Takes One to know one

And of course, if there is one for Obama, there is one for Clinton. The fascinating thing in is of course bringing in a controversial issue like bisexuality which is an allegation looming around Hillary Clinton for some time.

I am fortunate to have my personal scout in the US who keeps sending me these videos. More to come, for that I am sure.

Saturday, July 21, 2007

Whatever it takes

Yes, the elections are here. I am superexcited, must confess. From the point of view of my work I am quite interested in the ways the candidates will be using YouTube and other online tools. This Obama fan video is quite an interesting example. The girl has definitely been listening to the campaign message and Obama's main themes.

Friday, July 20, 2007

Tell me what I want

Facebook T-shirt
Originally uploaded by BeFitt
"I read it on your Facebook yes."
"Hey but let's be in touch on Facebook."
"I noticed from Facebook that you are his friend."

Typical quotes from my discussions over the last weeks. I cannot help it - I have turned into a Facebook junkie. I find myself getting a new application nearly every day (Cities I've Visited, Movies I have seen, Music I listen to, Books I am reading) and going through profiles of my friends to see what is happening to them. Compared to all the other social networking tools I know, Facebook is by far the most clever in its recommendation systems.

I think for me one of its key things is that it works on the logic seen for instance in Amazon - peer-to-peer recommendation. It allows you to find new things in the closed circuit of people you trust and know. I think this is the future of the Internet - tools that rate quality in more sophisticated manners than merely based on hits. It's a logic that works in real life as well. I mean for me the best incentive for reading a book is a friend or family member who says:"Man, you should really read this book I just finished. It is phenomenal."

Those of you who are not yet on Facebook, it is time to join now. Facebook is the future, Facebook is good, Facebook is beautiful.

Tuesday, July 17, 2007

Elections are around the corner

Democrats are starting their anti-Bush machines. I assume we have only seen the first, still rather polite hints of Bush-bashing.

Although I think this song is one of the few clever political songs, the biggest challenge is not to find failings from the last two terms. The big challenge for the Democrats is to be able to be again a party that builds trust towards the future, not merely a bunch of elitish white people nagging. They need to go back to Bobby Kennedy and remember that good leadership means encouraging people to be better.

Sunday, July 15, 2007

I just cannot get enough

You know, I keep watching these clips over and over again and just cannot get enough. Like the Billy Burger sketch and the references to the Polish workers, in this she captures the change in the UK well.

Shiny and new

It's been a domestic weekend. Last week we had a party at the house and we all realised - quite simultaneously - that we live in a dump. That together with my friend's comment "this garden is just such a waste", we declared to make the house nice over the weekend.

I must confess that I was quite ashamed by the mess we were living in. OK, we all have tough jobs and we come home usually very late but still. Sticky surfaces in the kitchen do not really invite to cook.

Yesterday it was garden day and today we cleaned the house inside. It was unbelievable how much shit the former tenants had left to the apartment. It seemed like they just walked out. I think i collected 20 broken clay buckets from the backyard. So the urban myth is true: the Dutch are quite big on pot.

The cleaning operation will be followed by making a deal with a cleaner who would come every second week. I think we will employ the nice Turkish man who cleans also our office. So for the first time I am really going to live how I have been preaching:"Why don't we just invest more on services and therefore make more time for ourselves?"

The house looks nice now. It is bright and spacious. On Friday we also bought a sofa, chairs, a TV and such. I expect more evenings at home. And more visitors - it has actually been a longer break now regarding guests. So people, you are welcome to visit Casa Hygienico.

Wednesday, July 11, 2007

He is gone

While waiting for Alastair Campbell's diaries, this video keeps me going.

Up and down with people

Originally uploaded by subtle_devices
One of the best things, or maybe even the best thing, in my work is the people and organisations I get to work with. Having that in mind I can also live through the quarterly budgetings and discussions about work regulations. I get to work with people who are fun and who are 100 % committed to the things they do. That is both inspiring and admirable.

Today I went with our intern to Amsterdam's De Bijlmer district to have a meeting with a wonderful organisation called Imagine IC. They're a cultural centre fully dedicated to working very locally in this neighhbourhood which is by far the most multicultural in Amsterdam. The biggest groups in De Bijlmer are the Surinamese, Antillean and people from Ghana. The ECF has been working with them for years for instance in theoneminutesjr project and now we fund a project called Multiple Islam which uses video as a tool for showing the diverse ways of being a young Muslim - in Europe and beyond. During the next weeks they will also run workshops on building Avatar characters, designing flyers and making videos with local youth.

I like their approach - at the same time as they speak openly about the dangers of walking around De Bijlmer as a young woman at night or about multiculti projects that have gone terribly wrong, they also get all excited about the nearby covered food market which is like a bazaar or the Kwakoe festival taking place in the park every weekend. It's a no bullshit attitude which makes them much more credible and also an approach I would like to see more in the diversity work.

Currently they had an exhibition on Pom, a traditional Surinamese dish and on different ways to prepare it. After the meeting we went to have Pom sandwiches in the nearby cafe. This is why I love Amsterdam - tasty food of a number of varieties is just within reach. Pom is one of tastiest combinations of roots and chicken which I have ever had.

Although I have travelled a lot and done a lot of things, I still value it when someone inspires and guides me into doing something new. I experience these things through the people who help me in discovering them. That is one of the things why I do feel quite privileged.

Teens are just fantastic

I cannnot get over this clip. It is out of this world. And so true. So, so, true.

In the 1990s we had these TV popular comedy series in Finland (Kummeli) which led to kids repeating the same quotes over and over again. I am nearly 30 and I find myself doing the same. This Saturday we kept going:"I ain't bothered? Face? Bothered?"

Saturday, July 07, 2007

Get the thing overseas

Originally uploaded by zkyo
Saturday afternoon chilling at home. And what I have been doing for the last 25 minutes: watching the instruction video to a gadget I don't even yet have. Bizarre.I cannot recall when I would have gone through a manual with such detail.

Apple's approach in things is just phenomenal, even starting from the instruction video. Normally the presentations are highly impersonal whereas Apple has a relaxed guy telling us "what we have been developing here at Apple". He "wants to show me" a few things on the iPhone.

The machine is phenomenal. I want one soon. Just watch the video and you understand what I mean.

Friday, July 06, 2007

Institution goes sexy

The European Commission is now on YouTube. One of their videos is on the Media programme. What can one say, sex sells. And one can only congratulate the Commission: when was the last time that a European Union video had 3 million views?

Funny enough that only last week I visited the toilet shown in the Amelie clip - and before you ask, no, it was only for the normal toilet usage.

Wednesday, July 04, 2007

Getting under her skin

Originally uploaded by todork
Coming back from holiday, getting back to work - never an easy combination. Moving in 24 hours from a nice cafe in Montmartre in Paris to the exciting world of quarterly budget monitoring takes some time to get used to. Getting there now, after three days.

Good literature helped the blow though. Ian McEwan's latest, On Chesil Beach, was next on my list after Austen. Expectations were set high after Amsterdam and Saturday where he proves his amazing talent of getting under the skin of people in highly different fields of life than his own. Especially the way he captures the mindset of Saturday's main character, a talented surgeon and a family man, is just out of this world. I forced my parents to read the book as I was convinced that it would impress them. I still remember my father's and mother's reactions:"How can someone, in another country and in another language, describe so well my way of thinking and reacting to problems?"

Look at the picture - that is Ian McEwan. He is a balding, white, middle-aged English man. Somehow it is easier for me to understand how he can write from a point of view of a middle-aged newspaper editor (Amsterdam), a middle-aged composer (Amsterdam) or a middle-aged surgeon (Saturday). But in On Chesil Beach he moves far away from that. His main character is a daughter of a good Oxford family in her early 20s. On Chesil Beach tells a tragic story of the conditions people married each other in the early 1960s, before flower power and free sex. It depicts the fear of intimacy and the pressure of performing right which destroys all possibilities for true affection. It is a sad, sad book - crying guaranteed for everyone capable for compassion.

On Chesil Beach is guaranteed McEwan. It is heart-warming, heart-breaking and very detailed. McEwan's description of places, clothing and people's professions shows the level of background research without the feeling that he would be showing off. I highly recommend the novel - it is of utmost beauty.

Monday, July 02, 2007

On the superbness of Austen

Pride and Prejudice (1995)
Originally uploaded by scchiang
A week of holiday in a village without an Internet connection is a splendid thing. For the first time in I think in a year I actually left home without my laptop and filled the laptop pocket of my backbag with books. The first one on my list was Jane Austen's Pride and Prejudice - often praised for its language, made into a classic BBC production boosting the sex appeal of Colin Firth and mentioned as one of his favourite novels by my flatmate. So reasons enough to grab it.

There's been research that men usually read books by men and women read books by men and women. I also admit that most of my favourite novelists are actually men although I read in a balanced manner - even taking notice of it. Austen - maybe do to the dramatisations (especially the one with the annoying grin of Keira Knightley) - is often branded as a women's novelist. I feel that it does not do justice to her talent. If she had been a man (well, first of all she would not have written books like Pride and Prejudice), I am 100 % certain she would be even more famoous than she is.

Austen's characters are astounding. She builds them up with wit and dialogue and not by focusing on describing their looks that much. At least Pride and Prejudice is a book of dialogue, a perfect novel for someone passionate for language and wit. Especially her female characters stand out from the novels of her time as women with opinions and self-esteem. By comparing Elizabeth Bennet to her marriage-obsessed mother, Austen shows how women like Elizabeth - without the safety of a rich family - paved way for feminism and by risking a lot showed that women can take other roles than obedience.

Pride and Prejudice made its way to my Top 10 of novels. I feel it is a book that I will be returning to when I once again wish to sharpen up my English and make it livelier, funnier and richer.

History comes with names attached

I just got back to Amsterdam after a week of holidays in Northern France in Normandy with my family. Really lovely although the weather could be described as pretty shitty. But then again, when you come from Amsterdam, even two sunny days in a week is a cause for celebration.

Normandy is really beautiful - no wonder Impressionists like Monet were taken by it. We rented a dovecoat (basically a 4-floor tower) from a beautiful small village called Offranville and spent the days by sipping cider, playing with the nephew (not at the same time), learning basic phrases in French (favourite being Mon Dieu) and so on. I can highly recommend a visit.

Before the visit my relatives were going on and on about the D-Day sites like Omaha Beach and the American Military Cemetery in the village of St Laurent. I must confess that I wasn't too eager for a prospect of a three-hour car ride to see battle fields but decided to go along.

I am so glad I went. Seeing the American cemetery with over 10.000 crosses and the German one with more than 20.000 men buried there is a powerful reminder of what happened only some years back. I especially liked the fact that both graveyards stress the great loss and do not build a narrative of heroism around such a tragedy. The feeling, however, is quite different in the German and the American one. When the American one is a collection of white marble cross on a beautiful seashore, the German one has more than two men buried in every grave and is situated next to a motorway.

I spent a marvellous week in Normandy with the people I love. The thousands of tombstones with names of men my age or even younger remind that the beautiful coastline was the end for all these people and a starting point for their families and loved ones. After visiting the cemeteries I did not feel like going to the battlefields. I had seen what I came to see - a strong manifestation for peace.