Saturday, May 31, 2008


Day 173: EURO
Originally uploaded by • Sandra •
The investigation into links between policy and campaign funding does not show any signs of ending in Finland. The discussion shows well the dangers of an outdated perception. Finns have boasted at home and on international platforms about the rankings as the country least influenced by corruption in the world. Finns tend to describe themselves as honest and sincere. This has led to putting very little effort into making sure that the system lives up to this perception.

As the Prime Minister and his party are now put into the spotlight, Prime Minister Vanhanen gets extremely defensive when people question the links between his corporate funders and the pro-business policies he drives. This is again the Prime Minister who feels that political processes should not be discussed in public before the decision has been made by the Cabinet. At the same time however he takes positions on issues that belong to individual ministers whilst knowing that these positions go against the environmental and urban planning legislation.

Finland has a law that requires that candidates give the Ministry of Justice a report on their funding and funders. As the media has been investigating the funding of several ministers, one sees how more and more MPs suddenly tend to "remember" to readjust their old reports and "realise" that they had forgotten to mention some core funders. What is shocking and disturbing is the way legislators consciously choose not to follow their own decisions. Rightly so, Vanhanen's popularity is starting to have similar features as Mr Bush's or Mr Sarkozy's and some are even calling for new elections.

I can live with the fact that mistakes happen and some abuses take place. But the current debate on campaign funding shows pure arrogance towards the people, towards the law and towards democracy. The Prime Minister's reactions show how he tends to feel like he is entitled to his position, that he is chosen by something above to administrate the nation and therefore feels insulted when people question his motives. This attitude sounds more like a monarch than an elected leader.

Sunday, May 25, 2008

Collaborative Production of Meaning

Originally uploaded by amsterboy
On Thursday I attended the launch event of PICNIC, the Dutch Cross-Media Week where we shall be publishing our research on young people and expressive democracy. At the launch, Programme Director Monique van Dusseldorp quoted my favourite innovation philosopher Charles Leadbeater and his new book We-Think where he talks about collaborative production of meaning. With this he means processes such as Wikipedia or certain online games where collaboration is required to create, archive, file and check content. I found it highly exciting.

My personal modest input in this respect is joining Frans Nauta´s blog Excellent Government. Frans is the founder of Kennisland think tank, a lover of the Finnish innovation policy and currently Professor of Public Sector Innovation in Arnhem. I met him in 2003 when I was invited to a Kennisland event in the Netherlands to talk about how a Finnish university student experiences the Finnish innovation wonder. I like Frans´ enthusiastic, critical and exploratory tone which is why it is a pleasure to co-blog. I did my first dip today on the latest Vanity Fair and on my political idol Bobby Kennedy.

Saturday, May 24, 2008

No Jar-Jar Phenomenon

Indiana Jones
Originally uploaded by Poofy
There are a few ways of revisiting an old hit. The first I would call the Jar-Jar approach referring to the three Star Wars films released during the last ten years. I don't think I am the only one who cringed from humiliation watching Jar-Jar Binks making his jokes as the "funny" Star Wars sidekick. After seeing the first new Star Wars film, I really did not feel like spending money on the other two films. It just did not feel the same. Same goes for the latest Superman production which was like warming Christopher Reeve's acting in a microwave and selling it as the original.

And then there is the Bond/Batman/Indiana Jones approach where the characters and the story have been modernised but still keeping the core charm of the series. Daniel Craig's Bond had already some features of metrosexuality and moved away from the alfamale strategy of Pierce Brosnan. The women were even allowed to think. The new Batman films have gone back to the darkness of the comics and moved clearly away from Tim Burton's annoying pop culture Batmans. And then there is the new Indiana Jones.

Before Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull premiered, I think broadcasters in most countries showed the old three films. Also I watched them only to find myself experiencing slightly the Benny Hill/Moonlighting feeling where an old classic actually feels ûberchauvinistic and not that funny. Therefore I admit having some hesitations before seeing the new Jones yesterday.

But Spielberg and Lucas are not in it just to rip us off. The new Indiana Jones is innovative, funny and so over the top that at some point you tell yourself that this is not supposed to resemble truth and you just let yourself enjoy the action. Simultaneously as the female characters are given more personality (not merely hysterical and screaming), the new Indy plays exactly on the same kind of innocent action than the good old ones. Visually Indiana Jones still looks amazing. Also, like it is supposed to be in fairytales, the goods and good and the bads are bad. The film lacks all complexity and relativism of today, which I feel is one of the core reasons why it works. It has the same old flaws of Lucas-Spielberg productions - the acting is secondary to the action and the visuals - but hey, you don't go and see Indiana Jones for the compelling dialogue.

This is what they call entertainment.

Saturday, May 17, 2008

A Good Year

Today I found this clip in my inbox. It was exactly a year back when I met that person who:
- has made insomnia practically vanish
- makes ' Love You' a less scary phrase
- has changed my perception of an entire continent
- has shared alleys of Lisbon, ferries of Istanbul, Texan tubes and the Pieksämäki train station with me
- makes the word ' we' cause diarrhea in only half of the cases anymore
- guarantees a permanent smile.

Thank You.

Thursday, May 15, 2008

StrangerFestival Deadline

Originally uploaded by amsterboy
Today was one of those days when I ended up running up and down the office and having too hasty discussions with my colleagues. Reason: the deadline for uploads for the international StrangerFestival competition. By midnight tonight, people need to upload their videos at in order to take part in the competition for the AudienceAward, MTV Stranger Award and StrangerAward. Come and vote for your favourite at

Over the last weeks we in the team have been going through the entries in order to make a preselection for a jury of media students who are going to help us on Saturday selecting the best of the best to be sent out to the juries. I have seen some really amazing stuff.

This video by Nanda is one of the most powerful I have seen. Please take 60 seconds to watch it. More to follow in the coming weeks.

Wednesday, May 14, 2008

Good Old Centre

Originally uploaded by *Thinlina*
I sometimes wonder whether getting into politics in Finland would make sense. I find myself trying to articulate the reasons for this. Today I have a clear reason: the Centre Party.

Centre Party is the most difficult party to explain to a foreign audience. It builds on a legacy of an agrarian party, claims to be liberal but has some of Parliament's most conservative, xenophobic and homophobic MPs as its members. I wish to stress that the party also has phenomenally smart, liberal and open-minded people who have at times even made me wonder whether voting for them would make sense. They are also the party with the first female Prime Minister and the first Cabinet with a majority of women. So it's not all bad. But reading the Finnish news today reminds me again how much there is still to be done and makes me wonder what exactly is the glue keeping this party together.

Centre Party has tried consistently to claim that it is the true environmental Finnish party. Their actions show however a completely different line. Only today the Minister of Environment approved the enlargement of a hotel complex in a national park in Lapland, which according to many risks the nature of the environment. Yesterday the Prime Minister (pic) expressed his support for building Finland's biggest shopping mall outside the suburban area, which means that it can be only accessed by car. As the Minister for Housing (from his coalition partner Kokoomus) has clearly stated, this action would be a clear violation of the regional plan which states that big complexes such as these have to be linked to housing and other services. As the opposition reminded the Centre Party today, Vanhanen's support for the mall is in direct contradiction with climate change policies.

I wish the problems would end here. But the most severe critique from my end is on the concepts of morale and democracy this party expresses in its actions. The last government (also led by Vanhanen) had a cross-sectoral policy on active citizenship with the main result being more money to party-affiliated think tanks. Vanhanen has also expressed that he wishes that Ministers don't discuss issues publicly before the Cabinet has decided on them. And this week the leader of his Parliamentary Group Mr Timo Kalli refused to give out the name of his main campaign funder even if this is required by law. What was the answer of the leader of the biggest parliamentary group:"I am consciously breaking the law as there is no punishment."

Shocking beyond belief. Mr Kalli has now returned the money and made the name of the funder public after extreme negative publicity on the issue. The fantastic Minister of Justice Tuija Brax is speeding up the law reform due to the incident. And what does Prime Minister Vanhanen say? According to Helsingin Sanomat he has not discussed the issue with Kalli. I cannot help but drawing a comparison to his coalition partner Kokoomus which replaced the Foreign Minister due to the text message scandal. I wonder how one can continue as a group leader after publicly dismissing the basis of the work the Parliament is doing.

This kind of governance is bad for the environment, public morale, active citizenship and democracy. Government's role should be to foster debate, not to call for people to just shut up and let Ministers do their work. Governance is about democracy and leadership, not about administration. Vanhanen is the same who criticised the media for focusing too much on social inequality when according to him most Finns are doing well. And his party is the one that only speeded up social benefit reform when there was extremely bad international coverage. Way to go.

I am so angry I am about to burst.

How Do You Do, Dear?

I have never felt a particular need to hide my enthusiasm over Britain. I mean of course they have their own complexes (and lack of cuisine of their own) but at the same time it is the home of the English language, one of the political systems most strongly founded on the power of verbal argumentation and it still runs some of the best publications in the world. At a recent event on European culture I remember an Italian curator confessing that he actually thinks today's best literature comes from the US and Britain.

There are very few newspapers that would compete in quality with The Observer, the Guardian's weekend edition. I have made it into a habit to buy it on Sundays (even if they really rip you off by charging over four euros for it) and spending around 2 hours going it through. Such a delight especially on a sunny cafe terrace.

Yesterday I also discovered the Guardian's podcasts. They remind me how poor my English still is. I am a novice compared to the journalists now doing their word acrobatics also on my iPod. The podcasts also remind you how our Euro-English is mostly just English for Dummies. Or to be more on the mark, I think English for Robots Understanding Clear and Simple Sentences.

My favourites by now are Jason Solomon's film podcast and the Book Review podcast. Youngish Solomon has this amusingly posh English accent with an ADHD-ish enthusiasm competing with CNN's Richard Quest. In the latest episode his wordplay showed the true Clash of Civilisations of today when he interviewed the Michael Moore v. 2.0, Morgan "Supersize Me" Spurlock. Oxford met Wal-Mart. I do however hope that Solomon would at times give room to his colleague, one of best film critics alive, Mr Philip French. I want to hear his voice.

Regarding voice, some people surprise you. The book podcas's interview with novelist Hanif Kureishi surprised me. I did not expect him to sound so much like Jeremy Irons. Very compelling indeed.

Sunday, May 11, 2008

Deadline on Thursday

StrangerFestival deadline for video entries is next Thursday. We are all quite curious to see the number and quality of the pool of entries. But I don´t feel like there is any need to worry with videos such as this from Congo.

Saturday, May 10, 2008


The last two days have reminded me again how little I actually own. I mean most people in this age have a morgage, a good pension plan and a well-building savings account. They have also made the investment on a boat, a car or even on a summerhouse. I have none of the things on the list apart from a savings account which I end up chipping from in great need. I do feel at times that I live out of boxes that can be moved from a place to another but can also be blown away by the wind.

I don't think I stand alone outside of the crowd with my anxiety - you could even say fear - especially towards buying a house. I realise on a rational level that it would have been wise for me to buy an apartment when in Helsinki - let alone in Amsterdam. I mean I have been in this city for 3,5 years which does not count anymore as a short visit. But on the level of action I hesitate. I feel that a morgage creates this massive burden in your life and from then on everything somehow revolves around it. It's like a cage you have locked yourself into. I know this thinking does not make sense and I can push it aside but not wipe off.

Today I visited the new home of a friend of mine on the new islands north of Amsterdam's centre. An apartment of a real adult - and the view- really impressed me. He has the same sort of job as I do and we are of same age. That and the oh so Dutch discussion over housing prices with my colleagues yesterday really made me think whether it is time to grow up and take these kinds of responsibilities seriously. I was reminded by my colleague that an apartment can also be seen from the point of view of investment and it does not have to be the main expression of who you are.

People say that things like your own home, children or a healthy and loving relationship create this peace in your life. I am understanding the sermon due to having the last one of those for the last year. Explorations to the adult world like today make me really ponder whether our generation - people like me - are just scared of making commitments, scared of choosing one over another and therefore oh so restless and anxious. I mean is it an issue of just getting a grip of things?

Thursday, May 08, 2008

Nice Conversation

Dutch Überkitsch...
Originally uploaded by Blaauw
There are very few things Europeans love as much as bashing Americans as shallow or simple. One often hears for instance people stressing how the British English is sooooo much more advanced than the American English. But you could also turn that argument around by pointing out the difference between a class society and an immigrant society but that was not the subject I wanted to dive into.

Even if the argument about the simple American language would be true, simple language is really not something reserved for Americans. As my Dutch keeps getting better, I notice more and more how the public language functions with a shockingly limited vocabulary. The most amusing thing is the word lekker that means something like alluring, enticing, tasty, tempting and can on a single commercial break refer to everything from a pasta sauce to an insurance policy. It also seems to be the default reaction to 90 % of situations in Dutch life.

Today on the train back to Amsterdam I was listening to the 20-something girls sitting next to me. I sincerely wanted to start counting how much they used words lekker and leuk (meaning something like nice). The flatness of the vocabulary was not unfamiliar to me after three years and listening to the discussion made me once again appreciate the richness of my native language concerning making up words and playing with words. Call me a melodramatic Eastern European angst-driven snob but everything should not be just fine and nice.

Monday, May 05, 2008

Politics on the Plate

Originally uploaded by momma a
Food matters. The rapid rise in the number of cooking programmes on television is quite amazing. Superstars like Jamie Oliver, Nigella Lawson, Rachael Ray, Martha Stewart and Gordon Ramsay are turning into millionaires with programmes, cookbooks, endorsements of kitchenware and lecturing tours. With Oliver leading the way, the celebrity chefs are also raising awareness on free range chicken farming and the awful state of school lunches. Even in Finland the celebrity chef Jyrki Sukula left a while back the restaurant business to go and develop better fastfood. The latest issues of magazines like Good and Vanity Fair write huge articles on organic beef and on the dangers of genetically modified vegetables.

In the other end of the scale food is bringing another difficulty into the battle on climate change. Due to the rising price of rice, the World Food Programme has been calling governments for weeks to increase their funding in order to avoid millions of people starving to death. Even the British government - until now the Indiana Jones of climate change policy in the developed world - is thinking of scaling down its emission targets in order to stop the rise in food price for the world´s poorest. It does not take a Gandalf to figure out how this will play out - it is feminism and anti-immigration politicians or the world´s poorest and the big polluters.

Food divides us in a radical manner. In most countries healthy food is expensive or it would take hours to prepare for those who are already working the double shift. It´s the rucola-longing bobos against the ones not even having a cup of rice per day.