Sunday, September 30, 2007


It is not too sexy to start a sunny day by stepping into a big load of dogshit. (I remember reading once that if you really want to catch the attention of your readers, try to use the words 'sex' and 'shit' in the first sentence.) I was convinced that this day was ruined when I realised that my whole bike tire and my trendy Adidas sneaker was covered in it. Luckily I did not have a hangover. But there is a sunny side in every poop. After scrubbing my shoe manically for 30 minutes, I figured the obvious: after this the only way is up.

Today was one of those days when I once again started loving Amsterdam. This city is just ideal for social Sundays. Sunny streets, fresh air (despite the smell of dogshit following you around) and people changing from summer to autumn clothing. Full cafes, busy streets and trees changing colour. Amsterdam is designed for this: cycling on the canals, walking on the shopping streets and commenting people, sitting in cafes and talking about light issues, having a splendid dinner with a good friend and going for drinks with friends in the end of the day.

There is a word in Dutch which is perfect to describe today: gezellig. It means something like cosy and nice - in Swedish you have a word for it as well: lagom. It is just right, slightly bourgeois, not too much and not too little.

I definitely amsterdam.

Friday, September 28, 2007

Up to the him and her

Crowd Spree
Originally uploaded by zerodegrees
It is really weird if you think of it. During the last weeks I have been less occupied with daily practices like funding applications at work and have been able to take time for clarifying my thoughts, reading and talking to people. Taking part in PICNIC event was one of these clarifying experiences. As the Stranger Festival - my biggest project so far - keeps approaching, I find myself having a clearer idea on what I would wish to accomplish. Fab.

I wish to shift away from the organisation point of view and consciously take the angle of the individual. PICNIC was a good example of how the most innovative projects have managed to take personal needs and driving forces as the starting point rather than analysing different target groups or driving for the ultimate high-tech gadget. As someone said in today's workshop once again:"You know from the technical point of view, everything is possible."

I more and more feel like we should see the individual behind all their group belongings and foster experiences where people actually can choose the part of their identity they wish to perform. Concrete example: we should stop deciding that the way we approach a Turkish youngster is through their Turkishness and therefore limit them to their immigration background. We should find ways of working where people can tap in based on their current interests and passions and then get linked to other people with similar driving forces. We should build common ground through interest.

This does not mean forgetting notions of diversity and intercultural dialogue. By choosing where we put our efforts, we are able to build up a diverse audience in a way that is welcoming, non-patronising and participatory. In every action we should be able to answer two simple questions:
1. what does it give to the participant? Why would they do this?
2. how does it encourage interaction?

Wednesday, September 26, 2007

How do we feel?

We Feel Fine
Originally uploaded by schussat
As a professional conference guest I find myself quite frustrated fairly easily if the speaker is:
- giving the corporate PowerPoint
- undermining the level of knowledge of the audience
- making drastic simplification without data to back the arguments
- quoting Richard Florida

This morning at the Amsterdam Cross Media Week Picnic was very much living up to the points above. Speakers ranting about capitalist schemes killing creativity and authenticity, praising everything independent as the thing for the future and talking about creativity like it would be a democratic process ("everyone can now be a professional film maker" etc.) I have seldom missed office that much. Luckily enough after lunch I switched sessions and my sun started shining.

For once the rap was not about creativity. It was about living together as individuals on the same planet. As Emile Aarts from Philips pointed out, changing the perspective to the one of the citizen/consumer is easier said than done. Also in the panel on social networking platforms all the speakers talked about what people do rather than what's the business logic or the technical infrastructure. We are finally entering a debate around media and business where the corporations have realised that everything is technically possible but we just need better dreams and better ideas. Brilliant. Relevance is back in the game. I find this discussion interesting both from the point of view of business as well as the society. Developing products that make as live happier and in a more sustainable way are the ones that everyone strives for. I'm glad to realise that more and more people realise that good life and good business can be combined.

The highlight of the day was the presentation of the American artist Jonathan Harris. His projects like We Feel Fine or Universe use massive amounts of online information for showing in a new way what we as human beings feel, think and strive for. What makes it even better is that his projects are extraordinarily beautiful (see pic). Harris' work shows true creativity in stepping outside the 2-D website format and organising information in an attractive 3-D space.

Feelings are a good starting point for looking at the world. Feelings keep us going, drive us to demand more and not to give up. Harris' portfolio shows his anthropoligical interest in our life as a full package - including concern for Burma as well as the crush on the girl next door. That's who we are - fascinating packages with links to certain segments of other packages.

Monday, September 24, 2007

Professional immigrants

A Big Spelling Mistake
Originally uploaded by Hard2Handle
A while back an organisation in Finland contacted me to ask what I feel are the big issues related to immigrants and the media. One of the issues that I listed in my bullet points was professional access to media: staff of printed media in particular is still exceptionally white. And if they do employ immigrants, they usually are assigned to report immigrant issues. A typical act in underdeveloped multicultural policy: an idea that an immigrant can only be addressed through the difference, the minority status.

Last week a friend of mine sent me a copy of her unedited column for a mainstream Finnish newspaper. My friend was not born in Finland and even if her Finnish after a number of years is understandable, she makes grammatical mistakes in every single sentence.

I found the column fascinating. Her take on an acute domestic political question was something that I think I could seldom hear from a native Finn. She addressed the issue - in a witty manner - by balancing on the insider/outsider fence. And above all, even if with a lot of mistakes, it was of supreme unique quality. I would estimate that it would have taken me 30 minutes or so to polish it for printing. And I must say with some expertise of editing, that a half an hour is a short time compared to a grammatically correct but structurally twisted article.

I am a language fanatic and always will be. I think anyone who works for a media outlet consumed easily by some one million citizens should be a good editor. But we need to broaden our concepts of quality. Hiring professional immigrants to act as multiculturality journalists is the wrong kind of positive discrimination. Hiring good writers who still need to work on their grammar is a far more sustainable route. I mean just look it on commercial/capitalist terms: they are able to enrich the final product which generated more consumer potential.

Wednesday, September 19, 2007

I'm sorry to bother you but what's the time?

Originally uploaded by Victoria M. Poe
It took slightly longer than I intended but I made there in the end: I saw Hairspray today. After cycling manically to the cinema in a freezing and damp Amsterdam evening, the sunshine of Baltimore was more than welcome.

One of the motives for going to the cinema or inserting a DVD into the player is to escape - escape the worries and the daily hassle. If you're looking for that, Hairspray is your answer. And even better, Hairspray does all this with addressing themes still highly valid - equality and normality.

I don't know how I would feel if I would have been brought up in the 1960s and especially if I would have been brought up in the US, but the period of history truly fascinates me. I have been going on and on already about Kennedy but the whole period has this flair of being the era when things were possible. I find the civil rights movement much more interesting than the sexual revolution. The 1960s is also the period of extreme polarisation and violent outbursts but somehow it carries the brand of being the time when individuals still believed in their possibilities to change things. I would love to belong to a generation like that.

Yesterday i met a friend of mine and we talked extensively about the reasons that make people jump, take risks and start changing their own life and the lives of others. Although with singing and dancing, Hairspray addresses the notion of change. I guess the crucial issue that drives people to jump is a better dream. That's what we need in order to hit our shovels in the sand and start digging - an idea of a better world to work for.

Saturday, September 15, 2007

We seem to need a ´them´ for us to be ´us´

Originally uploaded by amsterboy
A week ago I attended the 50th birthday party of a dear friend of mine in Helsinki. Many of the speakers emphasised how Helsinki is a European metropole - a true mix of cultures. All the speakers in that event were historians and therefore they looked things from a perspective of a century pointing out - rightly so - that in the beginning of the 1900s one could easily hear Finnish, Russian and Swedish on the streets of the city.

As living in Amsterdam in a neigbourhood with more than 50 % of the population with a non-European descent, Helsinki is still extremely homogenous. Helsinki is still far from being a city where white man would not be the default option. The level of multiculturalism can be explained by analysing the Finnish multiculturalism debate - in Finland the discussion dwells still around tolerance and anti-discrimination rather than inclusion, coexistence, joint rules and reciprocity.

When one looks at Helsinki and Finland on a scale of 20 years and from a personal perspective of a once migrant, the picture turns out to be somewhat different. My Finnish friend Umayya Abu-Hanna's new book Sinut is a moving and honest take on the way the small nation in the North deals with the world. Or in many cases, on the way that it doesn't.

"I have never encountered that the taste of mämmi or sauna would cause problems. The basic problem is losing yourself, the attempt to recognise oneself in this individual who functions in Finland. Here I get back to the point that quantity matters. In big cities where one has lots of people who have arrived from different cultures and people who are outsiders even in those cultures, there is a greater probability at least at times to be heard as oneself. In a place like this also the majority culture has learned to interpret and see differing ways to be and live." (translation from Finnish by me)

In her book she goes through incidents of pure racism and xenophobia, often practised by highly educated people (like employers) and often without the people realising themselves the fu**ed up value structures they are communicating. She cleverly breaks and builds again the notion of identity. The book brought me into tears with its frankness for instance when Umayya writes about feeling scared in a Finnish hospital. What really made me love the book was the lively way she describes also incidents when she has fallen short or just given in but also when Finns have opened their hearts and homes for her.

Finland still has a long way to go in order to be sinut (Finnish word for being comfortable with yourself and the title of Umayya's book) with a mixture of cultures, habits and customs. We still simplify other cultures while demanding specificity when people deal with us.

Umayya's compassion and love for Finland is obvious throughout the book. I am confident that many readers will be irritated by her criticism. But by seeing her as one of us rather than as an outsider the criticism is only welcome - we all bitch every now and then about our loved ones but will get on barricades if we would hear the same things from outsiders. 20 years should be more than enough to claim one's experiences as Finnish. The best thing in Umayya's book, however, is the optimistic underlying tone - we are still far but we have travelled far in 20 years.

"When one has lived her entire adult life in this culture and feels being part of it, it is impossible to work if everything you do is seen from another angle. Every journalist feels that it is necessary and is expected that one is building the community with the observations, conclusions and stories. One criticises injustice. From my perspective my position is Finnish. Here is the biggest contradiction: when I see myself participating as myself in a discourse and building of my society, in the eyes of some I break an unwritten or maybe written rule which states that Finnishness is a clear definition which I do not fit in to."

Friday, September 14, 2007

Better dreams

Zollverein Coking Plant
Originally uploaded by amsterboy
My family comes from an industrial city called Karkkila. My grandfather worked at the factory, my father had a summerjob at the factory and the director of the Högfors steel factory was the most influential person in Karkkila. He kept the schools going, the public saunas warm and the tennis courts (for the upper class) clean.

I had not thought of this for years before yesterday when we visited the Zollverein, an old coal mine and a coking plant in the city of Essen in the West-German Ruhr area. Zollverein - with steel tycoons like the Krupp family - is currently being turned into one of the biggest cultural centres in our entire region as the factories have been closed gradually starting in the 1970s.

The area is massive and beautiful. The symmetric forms and clarity (form follows function) really pleases one's eye. The Ruhr area - with its notorious reputation as the place where you cannot see the blue sky because of the smoke and where you cannot swim in the river - won the bid for the European Capital of Culture in 2010 and is now transforming itself into something new and shiny.

The presentation of their plans was impressive. They plan to close the motorway for a streetparty, they are building islands on the rivers and doing a year-long cultural programme for the area of 54 cities. Their start was already good by snatching the Love Parade away from Berlin. The budget for 2010 activities is around 48 million euros - excluding the recontstruction costs like the ones at Zollverein.

The trip was the ECF's staff day and me and most of my colleagues were positively surprised after nagging on the bus about the destination. Even if Essen still has a long way to go in order to be a creative hub - starting from having at least one bar open in the centre after midnight -, their start is greatly impressive. Zollverein is an example of thinking long-term and big. And some of the elements like the bright orange staircase and escalator by the Dutch star designer Rem Koolhaas are just breathtakingly beautiful.

In 2000 I worked in a project that was part of Helsinki's European City of Culture programme. The best thing in that year was the way it allowed the citizens of Helsinki to love and be proud of their hometown. Helsinki suddenly became exciting, fun and lively.

Karkkila - my family's hometown - was long known as the Finnish city with the greatest debts, one of the heaviest unemployment rates and highest communal taxation. Karkkila still has a long way to go if it wishes to work its way out of this vicious cycle of mass emigration to Helsinki and companies shutting down their production plants.

The Ruhr area is up to similar challenges. one of the successes of the year could be a new dream for the area that has been for years the prime tragic example of the end of industrialisation.

Tuesday, September 11, 2007

Dysfunctional Pause Button

It’s midnight as I am typing this. I should have been sleeping already for some hours as an airport taxi will pick me up in less than four hours. I can hear the sound of my parents sleeping across the apartment. My mind just does not stop and these things seldom work through forcing.

It’s quite clear where I come from. I realised it once again when visiting Helsinki over this weekend. The following may be something that only people who live or have lived outside their own country can in the end grasp. When visiting home, you realise that people’s lives do move on also while you are not there.

You see your young relatives who are not sure who you are. You saw them only a few months ago but you do not seem familiar anymore. They have learned new words and they run in a funny new way.

You see friends who are separated and you did not even know that they had problems. They thought that you knew.

You see dear friends, have one of those fantastic evenings, talk warmly about your relationship with them. You wait together on a chilly taxi stop at 1.30 a.m. jumping up and down to keep yourself warm. And then you realise that they can have this every single week.

It is not like life would be unsatisfactory where one lives. There’s friends, nice apartment, dear places and all that. It is not like life would be constant longing. There’s things that people here don’t have. Complaining is not the issue, it’s more a realisation.

It is just that the people who you have known for ages seem to somehow move on and you realise that Facebook is not a complete solution. It is not a question of blame as people move on in both ends. You are there and here and then again not.


Sunday, September 09, 2007

My friends and I

Laura Kolbe
Originally uploaded by nlipsane
On Saturday I attended the 50th birthday of a friend of mine from the student politics time, Professor of European History Laura Kolbe. As I was taking my first steps in societal matters, she offered a historical perspective and gave a supportive push to speak out for education and urbanism. Laura also played a role in me ending to Amsterdam.

Kolbe is one
of the most networked people I know which one could see when looking around the room at the Old Student House - the home of Finnish student movement. Laura's skill to reach out was proved by the age and occupation range of guests. From student politicians to professors and from former presidents to opera singers, she showed once again what it should mean to be an academic citizen: reach out, talk with people and use your skills for the best.

The societé event made me also realise that I am getting older. I ran into several friends from the student times - people I used to party with until the morning hours - who now have titles like Special Advisor, Superintendent or Senior Researcher in respectable organisations. We're no kids anymore.

Tuesday, September 04, 2007

Real Time with Bill Maher - New Rules 2-23-2007

This guy is funny. Even funnier than the Daily Show and Jon Stewart if you ask me.

Monday, September 03, 2007

Time to go

Even when it comes to your heroes, sometimes you just have to acknowledge that the joke is funny.

Sunday, September 02, 2007

Robert F. Kennedy speech ~ Mindless Menace of Violence

Just finished Jack Newfield's book on Robert F. Kennedy. Moving and inspiring. This speech given by Kennedy in 1968 is one of the best political speeches I have heard.

Saturday, September 01, 2007


Are you able to mention a world-wide popular Dutch music act? I am not. I mean there was 2Unlimited but that is enough said. Well, now there's Bearforce1.