Sunday, June 29, 2008

Who's An Expert?

A weekend nearly free of StrangerFestival is about to end. It was needed as now I am again superexcited about the fact that the festival starts on Wednesday with 200 people flying in. I saw some of our posters again in the city and I had the "oh me god, that is me project" (sorry for those who do not appreciate the attempt to imitate an English accent there).

One of the most exciting things is flying in cool people to run workshops. Nerimon, a British blogger, is one of them. He and Katers17 will run two workshops on video blogging. Here's my favourite post from Nerimon. I am also extremely excited about Eboman performing at the opening.

Friday, June 27, 2008

Final Countdown

It is nearly here. The travels have been organised, the participants have been informed about the workshops they take part in, the posters are across the city and the voting for the AudienceAward approaches its closure. Next Thursday 19.00 doors open at the Gashouder.

Here quite an entertaining and smart video from Rotterdam competing for the AmsterdamAward, the prize for Best Dutch video.

Tuesday, June 24, 2008

Encounter with Big Brother

Originally uploaded by 1541
"What does työttömyysturvamaksu mean?"
"What does Ulkomaalaiseksi työnhakijaksi katsotaan mean..."

Understanding Finnish social security system is difficult as it is but it gets on the level of an Amazing Race challenge when your task is to simultaneously interpret non-native pronounciation of administrative Finnish consisting of sentences sometimes three lines long. I realised that grammatically many of the sentences were correct but their meaning had been lost in translation to Bureaucratic. Sentences like "you are not entitled to benefits which you are not entitled to based on your status" are correct but very often rather empty in terms of content.

The decision letter from KELA - Finnish authority for social benefits and pensions - that I was asked to help out with was immensely complex to understand, even for a native speaker. The letter listed segments of legislation and multiple terms from social policy but did not really answer the obvious - what you get and don't get. It reminded me a bit of this test Finnish Broadcasting Company once had on their website where you needed to explain phrases you hear constantly on the news only to realise that you are not entirely sure about the goals of Hamas or the way employer and employee organisations negotiate salary levels. I had no idea what all the benefits meant even after I have seen the phrases in my every single Finnish salary slip.

I do understand that decisions on social benefits need legal basis but the way the explanation is done needs serious improvement. Once again, we need a system starting from individual needs. In the letter format used now it sounds like someone is reciting the law rather than answering the citizen's inquiry on his or her personal situation. The letter on your rights as it stands now would be next to impossible to comprehend for an immigrant taking his/her first steps in Finnish language.

Tervetuloa Suomeen/Welcome to Finland. Perkele.

Thursday, June 19, 2008

Civilised Campaign?

During the Kerry-Bush campaign in 2004 I loved the innovations in the anti-campaigns. Only in America. It seems that here we go again.

Tuesday, June 17, 2008

Tale of Two Worlds

"Sir, we have two alternatives for you."

1. Exhausting, budgets, deadlines, Excel, "do we have this money or not", "this registration of hundreds of people really takes a lot of time". "I thought you were doing this", "shouldn´t we leave the office, it is like eight in the evening".

2. "I saw them, I saw them, I saw them on my way to work! The posters are everywhere! Can we just leave the office and go and take pictures of all StrangerFestival posters in Amsterdam!?", "I love these AudienceAward final videos! I can watch some of these like gazillion times.", "Yes, the Congolese video makers are coming!", "This MC performance will be sooooo cool!"

"So, are you ready to lock your options?"
"Yes, I think I will go for two."
"No hesitation there? Would you like to call someone or ask the audience?"
"No, let´s go for two."

Saturday, June 14, 2008

Voting ends tomorrow

It's been a tough week, which is of course expected at this stage of production. StrangerFestival is only a few weeks away. On Thursday I realised that I need a day off to survive the build-up to the festival during the next three weeks. As a colleague of mine said well, it is better to take a full day off than go on 60 % for weeks. It definitely was the thing to do.

The voting for AudienceAward of StrangerFestival ends tomorrow. At the same time we are busy with organising the travels for the finalists and getting the programme together. Here is one of the finalists from Slovakia which shows how a simple message and dedication really makes a difference. See all finalists here.

Tuesday, June 10, 2008

Profit Goes Non-Profit

As she says, changing the world one video at a time. Nature of the comments under the video show the difficulties of dialogue online.

Sunday, June 08, 2008

Can You Read This?

little children
Originally uploaded by anna.klevan
At a party yesterday's in Brussels a great part of the guests were Finns working in the European institutions as officials, assistants, members of European Parliament and what have you. At some point I found myself having an immense urge to speak Finnish. I don't get to talk about Finnish politics in Finnish that often, which may explain the desire to just join the Finnish posse in the corner. I love my language.

Last week I made a phone call to Finland at the office and my colleague said that she recognises Finnish as it is one of the only languages she cannot place. So when she does not have any sense at all, she assumes it is Finnish. In the same sense I can't tell you how many times someone has pondered over the difficulty level of Finnish or the impossibility for a foreigner to learn it. "Finnish, it is such a difficult language, right?"

Well, no way, Jose. This weekend's Observer has a big piece on how children in the UK need internationally compared longer time to learn how to write and read as English is so without logic. Masha Bell's report The Most Costly English Spellings points out examples and lists of words that kids find difficult. Such as:
- When 'clean' and 'gene' sound same, why do you write them differently?
- How about 'kite' and 'light'?
- Why do you pronounce 'ei' differently in 'eight' and 'height"?
- Why is their a letter 'i' in 'friend'?

And listen to this, Anglophones:
"In Finland, where words are more likely to be pronounced as they look, children learn to read fluently within three months. In the UK, academics have found that it takes three years for a child to acquire a basic level of competence."
- The Observer 8 June 2008

Wednesday, June 04, 2008

Good for Democracy

Senator Barack Obama
Originally uploaded by cecily7
So it's done. 16 months and millions of dollars. Obama has gathered the needed amount of delegates to be the candidate of the Democractic Party to be the President of the United States of America from 2009 onwards.

Many have said that Clinton should have stepped down earlier. They said she was splitting the Democratic Party, wasting people's money and giving unnecessary lead to John McCain. I think these people are just plain wrong. I think the hard struggle has done only good for the Democrats and for America.

It is understandable that some party cronies were in favour of a clear and smooth campaign. This would have made it easy for them to work with those ready-made project management charts and those speeches readily written.

I think Clinton would have been a better candidate. I also feel that the world would have deserved a female leader. But I also feel that when a fair contest is done and the votes are cast, then the what-if should end and people should unite behind the winner. I do hope Obama will be the President of the United States of America, end of sentence.

The Democratic contest has mobilised record numbers, made politics the centre of attention and inspired millions. It has made people believe that they can change things. This is what democracy at its core is about.

This will be my last push towards Clinton's court, I promise: listen to the speeches of Obama and Clinton when the results were clear. Obama's speech I find rather bland, disturbingly evangelical and something heard numerous times from him. Clinton's concession speech on the other hand is graceful and rhetorically superb. I recommend listening to the last three minutes. This makes me love America.

Tuesday, June 03, 2008

Going Romanian

Before travelling to Romania last Saturday, I did not really know what to expect. My link to the country consisted of two drastically different worlds:
-theoneminutesjr worksops with Roma children and orphans
-glossy and ambitious arts magazine Omagiu which is often praised on the European level

Well, now being back, the picture is more or less the same - as paradoxical and confused. My first observation was the overcommercialisation of the public sphere and lack of urban planning in Bucharest. Bucharest has all the means to be a beautiful city due to its historical centre. But as we drove into the city, every single wall was plastered with massive advertisements of clothing, alcohol or electronics. People had sold their view to LG and Carrefour. In the midst of sadly deteriorating old buildings rose massive skyscrapers by foreign companies. My local hosts told me that many of the old buildings - including some churches - are at risk due to to heavy construction just next to them. Due to Bucharest's location in an earthquake area, the new buildings are built on wheels that allow them to survive an earthquake. But the trembling from the movement of a skyscraper or Inter-Continental hotel means the end of the church next to it.

Bucharest's hypercapitalism is in a perverse interplay with the Communist era. In the very centre of the city you have a building planned to be the radio headquarters, which was never finished and now houses homeless people and junkies - all this covered in massive advertisement of McDonald's. This tale of two worlds really makes me sick.

But the main souvenir of this era is the second-biggest building in the world, Parliament Palace on a hill right smack in the centre. The colossal nature of the building is something you only realise when you are told to walk to the entrance of the other side of the building and it takes you 20 minutes. Ceausescu's "Taj Mahal" was supposed to host all main institutions of the Communist administration. The building with 1100 rooms hosts currently the Parliament and the Museum of Contemporary Arts amongst others.

The MNAC museum was one of the many paradoxes. The glass elevators built on the wall of the Parliament Palace look like something borrowed from the Pompidou Centre. The scale and collection of the museum competes with any respectable capital in Europe. Braco Dimitrijevic's work demystifying and challenging concepts of art was both clever, witty and aestetically superb. The massive halls allow the viewer a clean art experience.

But at the same time I was often the only visitor in each floor. From the window of this distinguished member of the global art scene I could see garbage containers at its entrance and a massive unkept field right in the middle of the city. The terrace on the roof of the building was filled with German business men. Hardly anyone spoke Romanian.

Romania leaves me with a confused but in the end optimistic feeling. In a video workshop in the beautiful Northern city of Cluj I met young people optimistic for their country. They did not want to leave for Western Europe but strived for playing a part in modernising Romania. The attitudes of the teenagers are the best asset of any country.