Thursday, August 28, 2008

Phoenix Bill

Bill Clinton 4
Originally uploaded by radder86
Still remember this guy? They said he had tarnished his legacy by attacking Obama fiercely during the primaries and acting like a 5-year-old when he was criticised. They said Clinton had lost his popularity amongst the African-Americans by bringing race into the discussion when evaluating Obama´s popularity. Some called Clinton a loose cannon and several commentators were worried that he would be taking the stage at the Democratic Convention last night. They even wondered whether he has lost it for good. Some speculated with Alzheimer. "We don´t know what he will say", they worried. "Is he still angry? Does he still feel hurt and unjustly criticised?"

I don´t know what they were thinking. Bill Clinton is one of the most skilled political animals of the last few decades. He wants to win at all cost. He in many ways was the inspiration of Tony Blair and the famous Third Way. He charms people young and old. He can make you feel like he is talking only to you. His campaign ads from are iconic pieces of political TV campaigning. I have watched it several times and it still makes me choke.

His speech yesterday was honest, funny, witty and on the mark. Clinton managed to keep his voice normal against the roaring crowd and did not shout like most other speakers. He recognised the hard battle, confessed that his candidate did not win but threw his support behind Obama with emotion not yet seen at this convention. He was clear in giving reasons why we need Obama. He did not repeat what others had said. He tactically reminded the crowd of his own achievements without sounding smug. By looking at the faces and reactions of the delegates, it was obvious: King Bill is back.

Monday, August 25, 2008

Efficient Holidays

Originally uploaded by it'sManu
I wonder if there is a school where they teach how to be on holiday. As my last week of summer holidays starts, I realise that I suck in taking a break. I find it extremely difficult to stay away from work emails or from scheduling. It easily leads to a situation where you create anxiety for the days passing by without allowing yourself to let go. I confess opening it several times over the last month and then ending up answering emails which might as well waited.

I mean it has been a fantastic holiday. We have done a lot and been to zillion places. But i remember a situation from the hotel pool in Las Vegas where I was told that my behaviour gives reason to believe that I have AD/HD. I am bored within 20 minutes at a pool. I find myself carrying a book, the iPod and a pile of magazines with me to kill the time. And before long, I had to get up, walk around the pool, check the cabana shop, buy the newspaper and dive into the world of global politics. I was told that this gives reason for concern. Only the overpriced Internet connection kept me away from updating the Facebook status. How sad.

I do understand now why a lot of people decide to spend their holidays in places without proper Internet connections and where using your mobile phone is ridiculously expensive. It is a useful but painful exercise to detach and admit that the world keeps on spinning and things don´t immediately fall into pieces when you are away for a bit.

Tuesday, August 19, 2008

Refreshing Honesty

After two days in Helsinki, I am getting back to my news junkie routine. I have by now glanced through the latest issues of the biggest daily and the major weeklies. My favourite piece of news comes from our refreshingly different Minister for Foreign Affairs, Alexander Stubb. I cannot help but like him.

With a strong academic background, fluency in several European languages, marriage to a non-Finn, openly liberal agenda in both economics and values as well as a background in the European Commission and Parliament, he must be the most European politician Finland has to offer. He manages to surprise people by daring to enter policy areas such as rights for sexual minorities which are usually considered minefields within his (still rather conservative) party. During his time in the European Parliament he took strong stands on LGBT issues as according to Stubb, human rights are where the European Union is tested. It shows boldness to step outside the comfort zone.

This civil servant-turned-politician is immensely popular within his own party as well as outside although he gets a decent amount of mockery for his athletic hobbies, big and white teeth and the un-Finnish strong tan. He is to some extent a dandy combined with substance. My favourite part of Stubb, however, is his frankness in language and action.

It seems Stubb has no need to prove things to anyone. First of all, he seems to avoid official and formal language and prefers spoken language even when talking about policy issues. He dares to say things like they are and blogs daily which has raised some eye brows within civil service. Some people think that Foreign Minister should not open his personal life and daily activities to the people in such extent. I disagree.

Last weekend Stubb pushed his head into a beehive rather delicate for small nations like ours. We Finns tend to love every time a foreign politician mentions us and we tend to exaggerate our role in global politics. Finns like to maintain the cold war reputation of being a key mediator between East and West. As a Chair of the OSCE, Finland and Stubb have been involved in the Georgia-Russia negotiations which was covered in Finnish media as Finland´s neutrality being a key asset in the negotiations. Stubb responded with great irritation saying that he thinks this kind of nonsense is not needed in this century. He said bluntly that Finland´s neutrality was not the key, it was France´s role as a nuclear power and as a permanent member of the UN security council.

I admire Stubb for this. It shows an attitude which encourages also others towards honesty and sincerity. I admire his boldness to be openly who he is and allowing himself to break stereotypes of what men in expensive suits should be interested in. In a way it is the same uncommon combination as the Kennedys who never hid their privileged background but never allowed that to stand in the way of taking bold stands and getting passionately involved.

Sunday, August 17, 2008

World's Toughest Springboard

"We're all struggling here, black, Latino or white." Last Wednesday evening in a Californian living room The Financial Times reports on America's recession turned into worsening credit scores, houses put on sale, endless job hunts, rising numbers of violence at the local mall, spanking new cars losing half of their value in a matter of months and news about another friend being a subject of a radical layoff. The radical fall of the US economy is not just Bear Sterns and Fannie Mae, thebiggest price is paid in these living rooms.

I cannot help being blown away by America. Every visit makes me love it more and simultaneously leaves me more and more confused. I am realising ever clearer thatwe should not pretend like our lifestyles would be similar. Where Europe is safe and cosy, America is radical in its ups and downs - on the individual, local and national level. No European economy goes up and down like theirs and no European nation state contains the same diversity as the US. The New York Times featured earlier this week a research that by 2043 minorities will form the majority of the US population.

But simultaneously no European state is as divided as the United States. Visit to Chicago and California makes everyone race conscious, whether you want it or not. As novelist James Frey puts it in today's Financial Times:"I think Los Angeles is a city that embodies contemporary US society. It's segmented and divided, rich and poor. It's the American dream in its purest form, whether you're there searching for a roof over for your head or for international stardom." It's no place for cowards, America is still in many ways a cowboy's playground.

It is not a coincidence that in affluent areas of big American cities African Americans and Hispanics could be seen largely only behind the coffeeshop counter or cleaning the hotel rooms. United States is a diverse society which does not mean yet that it would be a mixed or equal society. Recent study showed that only 1/70 of children are born into black-white families. Mixed families or circles of friends tend to be still the rare incident proving the rule right.

But beyond all these things, like James, Frey, I have been seduced by the American Dream. People still believe in the power of the individual to make it. They believe in their possibilities to provide happiness and affluence to themself and their family. In that Californian living room I heard no comments about giving up. Everyone I talked with over the last three weeks said the same: it will spring back up, it just takes some time. It's this relentless optimism that leaves me energised. It is what James Frey captures in his fantastic book Bright Shiny Morning: no one claims America is living up to its promise for all but the dream keeps the springboard swinging, and millions of people reaching out for that happiness.

Saturday, August 16, 2008


"We are the ones we've been waiting for." That is one damn beautiful sentence.

Let´s Get Going

New video from covered in all political talk shows here in the US yesterday.

Wednesday, August 13, 2008

Rich California

Big Sur
Originally uploaded by amsterboy
It’s quite amazing. It demonstrates such strength and beauty in a way that forces you awe, halt and breathe it in. It is far more captivating than the touristic Hollywood Walk of Fame or the rainbow celebration of San Francisco’s Castro. It is not man-made like the glory of Las Vegas, actually it is largely untouched by a human hand. California is more than Chinatowns, SUVs, film studios and excessive capitalism. It is vast national parks, mountains and the home of one of the most impressive coastlines in the world. Seeing this explains in part why here a Republican governor understands the importance of fighting climate change.

I am writing this post on a slow and run-down dinosaur called an Amtrak train. Even with magnificent views, the train is a strong example how the American government has consciously ran down its public transport system. The train is already an hour late and takes twice the time the same distance would take by car. But that does not really matter now – summer holiday is not about timetables.

Over the last few days we drove from San Francisco to San Luis Obispo down the Pacific Coast Highway. The road winds down the coastline and takes you to beautiful smaller cities such as Pescadero, San Luis Obispo and Monterey. You can actually opt out on McDonald’s and visit an 89-year-long family-owned grocery store instead. The drive shows you the richness of California beyond Hummers and bling bling. You see redwood forests changing into neat rows of palm trees, sea lions and pelicans as your soundtrack, vast deserts and blooming artichoke fields, the grass and bushes destroyed by the recent fires, sea going through all shades of blue, thick San Francisco fog making way for blue skies and the steep cliffs fighting with the sea for their existence. You drive down that road, ocean all the way to Japan on your right and the entire North American continent on your left. It is not a word we Europeans use very often: awesome.

Sunday, August 03, 2008

Push The Button

Originally uploaded by amsterboy
After four hours driving in a 40-degree heat, it started rising in the horizon: Las Vegas. Arriving during the day it actually looked sort of calm. I mean you had Empire State Building and a pyramid next to the Eiffel Tower and the Colosseum but you get over that rather soon. I must confess that I was expecting it to be corny and camp when it actually was all about money and wealth. So less Elvis and more Ferrari.

I have never been the Las Vegas type as I really am not tempted by gambling. I did not plan to spend a lot of money into the slot machines. I guess I am just too cautious and pragmatic for that stuff.

But I would be lying if I would state that I would not have been tempted. It all started from the moment when a bet of 2 dollars hit a row of sevens and the numbers started rolling. Suddenly my evening buffet and drinks were covered and I still had money for souvenirs. With just 2 dollars and pushing a button. In the end I spent threefold the planned money on the slot machines and the win of the first day was quickly gone.

Las Vegas is bizarre. The luxury shops and the blitz of the casinos are quite overwhelming. Everything seems to be possible in Las Vegas if you just have the money. The machines and tables around me seemed to be calling: it could be you, you could be the person walking away with the suitcase of dollars.

But even if I enjoyed the visit, I must confess that California is a place where I feel more comfortable. Everything is not about money and getting rich, it is also about kindness, beauty and quality. Shopping today at Irvine's Whole Foods organic store felt good. It is highly needed that someone reminds you now and then that maybe you don't need that extra plastic bag even if you could afford it or maybe spending that extra dollar on the organic lettuce makes sense.