What makes Finnish kids so smart?

Many say it's the diet of fish and berries. Wall Street Journal disagrees, offering another PISA-inspired look at the Finnish school system. There are some funny bits:

Teens sift by style, including "fruittari," or preppies; "hoppari," or hip-hop, or the confounding "fruittari-hoppari," which fuses both. Ask an obvious question and you may hear "KVG," short for "Check it on Google, you idiot."

(If you don't know the lingo, fucking google it, fruitcake.)

The reporter also notes that young school children tend to travel to school on their own, classes still have overhead projectors, and, shockingly, there are no marching bands. It's a strange, strange world out there.


Poll: Coalition 23.2, Soc Dems 22.5, Centre 22.0

The Centre Party dropped to third in Taloustutkimus's latest poll (fi). The National Coalition Party lead for the third poll in a row, posting their third consecutive improvement. The Social Democratic Party were the biggest movers, though, gaining back the 0.9 percentage points they dropped the last time around. I would guess that this is closer to their true level of support than the previous result.

On the undercard, the Green League hit a ten poll high with 9.9 percent support. Christian Democrats are at a ten poll low with 4.0 percent.

CP   NCP  SDP  LA  GL   CD  SPP TF  gov  source
23.1 22.3 21.4 8.8 8.5 4.9 4.6 4.1 58.5 PE 3/18
22.3 23.6 21.2 8.5 9.4 4.6 4.5 4.7 59.8 TT 8/13
22.7 23.2 21.6 8.1 9.4 4.7 4.5 4.6 59.8 TT 9/9
22.5 22.6 21.5 8.4 9.0 4.6 4.6 5.0 58.7 TG 9/22
22.6 22.8 21.8 7.9 9.8 4.8 4.4 4.8 59.6 TT 10/13
22.6 21.7 21.7 8.6 9.1 4.6 4.7 5.1 58.1 TG 10/31
22.6 22.3 22.3 8.4 9.7 4.4 4.6 5.0 59.2 TT 11/19
22.3 21.5 22.3 8.6 9.4 4.6 4.6 4.9 57.8 TG 12/16
22.3 22.7 22.5 8.5 9.6 4.6 4.1 4.5 58.7 TT 12/21
22.5 22.9 21.6 8.4 9.8 4.7 4.3 4.7 59.5 TT 2/2
22.0 23.2 22.5 8.3 9.9 4.3 4.0 4.8 59.1 TT 3/1

CP = Centre Party
NCP = National Coalition Party
SDP = Social Democratic Party
LA = Left Alliance
GL = Green League
CD = Christian Democrats
SPP = Swedish People's Party
TF = True Finns
gov = government parties
PE = parliamentary election
TT = Taloustutkimus / YLE
TG = TNS Gallup / Helsingin Sanomat
RI = Research International Finland / MTV3

(I'm cutting the table to ten most recent polls or six months' worth of polls, whichever will provide more entries.)



While I'm commenting on headlines, consider the following:

Verkkouutiset (fi): "Nearly one in ten without a digital receiver"

Helsingin Sanomat (fi): "One in ten without digital TV"

YLE (fi), the public broadcasting company: "Only few percent of TV households without a digital receiver"

In practice both are correct. The first two articles concentrate on cable households, for which analog broadcasts will end tomorrow. The YLE story, however, talks about all households - including satellite ones, for which the deadline was last year. Still, it's not difficult to see what caused the different emphasis here.

Headline of the day

Helsingin Sanomat (fi): "The Kremlin wants to buy 3200 white mice". Don't we all?

The article says they refuse to say what use they have for the mice. A Russian newspaper speculated that the poor things will be fed to the Kremlin's crow-repelling hawks. But in that case, why do the mice have to be white? I didn't know hawks are so picky.


Digi-TV for thee, but not for me

I haven't bought a digital receiver yet and I'm feeling kind of proud for it. I fully expect my intellect to soar over the weekend. Oh, this blog will see such sophisticated, cultured posts!


Then there were nine

If you've been trying to figure out who is the biggest no-hoper in the Social Democratic Party chair election, vacillating between Kimmo Kiljunen MP and Jouko Skinnari MP, you can stop now. Ilkka Kantola, a first term MP who became a Social Democrat in 2006 and is best known for having to give up his bishopric due to an affair, entered the race:

Ilkka Kantola, an MP since last year's general election and a former bishop, announced Tuesday he would stand as a party leader candidate at the Finnish Social Democrats' summer party conference.

Apparently someone made the mistake of joking to Kantola, "Why aren't you running for chairman? Hey, you could probably beat Pia Viitanen!"

Although Kantola's entry in the race has now changed everything, late last week YLE released a poll (fi) of Social Democrats according to which Erkki Tuomioja and Tarja Filatov are now tied at 27 and 28 percent, respectively. In other words, Filatov is a very good bet to win this thing.


Oh no! Society is decaying!

Quoth Justice Minister Tuija Brax (Green League):

[Brax] was quoted as saying by Aamulehti on Saturday that the country's democracy faced a serious crisis that could lead to a marked increase in crime and violent behaviour.

The minister told the Tampere-based daily she had been concerned about declining election turnout figures for the past two decades. [...]

The minister feels the cohesion of Finnish society is decaying, spawning organised crime and violence.

Meanwhile the National Research Institute for Legal Policy reports:
Young men's delinquent behaviour has remained more or less unchanged over the past forty years.

[...] The institute compared criminal behaviour among young males in 1962 and 2006. Results found that today's youth has not become any more mixed up in delinquent activity than generations before, although many goods are far more accessible for theft today than 40 years ago.

So there's that.

I was particularly impressed by the connection Brax made between election turnout and crime. Considering that presidential elections have considerably higher turnout than parliamentary elections, it seems probable that bicycle thefts show a decline after presidential elections, because young would-be criminals feel like they have a say and stuff.

Happily, then, the solution to the Justice Minister's fears is obvious: To prevent societal breakdown, we must move to a fully presidential system of governance and arrange elections every two years or so. Then you could leave your bike outside without a lock, I'm certain of it.

PS: I've so far come up with two things I like about Jyrki Katainen. Will post when I can think of a third.


What I like about Matti Vanhanen

This is part two in an on-going series where I list three things I like about a prominent Finnish politician. After President Tarja Halonen, this time I'll consider Prime Minister Matti Vanhanen.

1.) I like it that Vanhanen refuses to show emotion in public. During the Susan versus Matti court case he was kind of forced to talk about his feelings; his solution was to note that he has feelings, even though he doesn't display them - all said in the usual matter-of-fact way of his. Some other politician would whine about his travails to every available friendly media outlet. Vanhanen remains coolly detached in public, which allows him to maintain his dignity even after all those embarrassing situations.

2.) I like it that Vanhanen acts as a counterbalance to the extreme Centrists, by which I mean the forces within the Centre Party who are chiefly concerned with regional politics. The Centre has traditionally fared poorly in my personal cares-about-people-like-me sweepstakes, seeing as I don't produce food and live in a growing southern city. In that regard, Vanhanen's leadership has been a step in the right direction.

3.) ...Huh. Er... He's not Anneli Jäättenmäki?

This is harder than I thought. I'll soldier on with Finance Minister Jyrki Katainen next.


What I like about Tarja Halonen

Blogs can focus too much on politicians' flaws. I'm not sure if you've noticed, but even this blog right here has sometimes gotten snarky. As a much needed corrective to excess negativity, I'll start a series of posts in which I tell you just what I like about notable Finnish politicians. I'll try to come up with three things about everyone. I'm going to start at the top and work my way downwards till I get bored of it. First up, then, is President Tarja Halonen.

1.) I like it that Halonen has by and large done what was expected of her. We won't be joining NATO under her watch; she has tried her best to retain all the powers invested in the President in the Constitution; she speaks up for the welfare state every chance she gets. Her voters have little reason to feel disappointed or betrayed. Surely that's a good thing.

2.) I like it that Halonen greatly annoys our true-believing, US-style conservatives (and just about no one else). To experience these folks' rhetoric first-hand, check out the reader comments in Helsingin Sanomat's website under any article about Halonen. I hope the rest of us can come together in agreement that annoying them says good things about a person.

3.) I like what electing Halonen says about the country. She has many qualities that would limit her popular appeal in more conservative countries. She's a woman. She was a trade union lawyer. She used to be the chairwoman of a sexual minority rights organization. She resigned from the church. Having her as a President is a testament to the relative broadmindedness of our electorate, thus she makes a good representative for the country.

See, wasn't even difficult. Next up is Prime Minister Matti Vanhanen - maybe tomorrow, unless some piece of news strikes my fancy.


Kanerva's ambitious EU foreign policy agenda

In a recent speech (fi), Foreign Minister Ilkka Kanerva (National Coalition Party) said there should be majority decision making in European Union foreign policy. I'm not sure the President and the Prime Minister will be pleased, but at least Kanerva added the caveat that important national questions - are there any other kind? - should still be decided unanimously. Now all we need is an unanimous agreement that unanimity is needed to decide what are important national questions, and consensus will rule the day.

In the same article, we learn that Kanerva wouldn't describe the relations between EU and Russia with the word "challenge", but rather "ambition". How does that work?

"Foreign Minister Ilkka Kanerva, how would you describe relations between EU and Russia?"

"Relations between EU and Russia are ambition."

"Good one, sir."


Filatov leads

MTV3 asked board members of the Social Democratic Party's district organizations who should become the next party leader. The results (fi) look promising for former Labor Minister Tarja Filatov:

  • Tarja Filatov 21%
  • Erkki Tuomioja 19%
  • Miapetra Kumpula-Natri 15%
  • Jutta Urpilainen 10%
  • Johannes Koskinen 7%

Tuomioja is the left-wing candidate here and Filatov is the broadly acceptable alternative in the middle. It must be a bit depressing for Tuomioja that he has gained no support since the previous survey, in which only him and outgoing party chair Eero Heinäluoma received significant support. It'll be difficult for him to win from this position, I should think.

That Kumpula-Natri leads Urpilainen might be considered something of a surprise. I would have guessed that it was the other way around.

While I'm on the subject, for those of you who can read Finnish, Tagen Turinat has some decent, insider-ish analysis from a Lipponenian trade unionist perspective.


An issue with significance for the society as a whole

Vanhanen versus Ruusunen got underway on Friday (alas):

Petteri Sotamaa, Mr Vanhanen's barrister, told the court that Ms Ruusunen's book catered to the inquisitiveness and voyeurism of a certain niche of readers, adding its publication had nothing to do with any issue with significance for society as a whole.

Yes, but what was wrong with it?