Folksy lingo

I, for one, think that people of all nationalities should refer to budget talks as "the budget drying barn" ("budjettiriihi" in Finnish).

"But what about tax cuts, Prime Minister Gordon Brown?"

"We'll see in the budget drying barn."

Like so.


Small Arms Survey 2007

YLE reports on this year's Small Arms Survey:

On a per-capita basis, the United States has the world's most heavily armed citizenry, with 90 guns per 100 people, followed by Yemen with 61 per 100 people, and then Finland [with 56].

[...] Other countries with high per capita levels of private firearms are Switzerland (46), Iraq (39), Canada (31), Sweden (31) and Germany (30).

Blam! Blam! Once again we give it to the wussy Swiss with both barrels. Suomi! Suomi! Suomi! ...

Ahem. To make a serious point for a change, it seems to me that there are two leading causes for high incidence of private firearms: either the place is a mess to the point that the option of shooting at other people starts to look good, or lots of hunters live there. It can be both, of course.

Another thing the figures show is that high per capita gun levels can be reached in countries with fairly strict gun control laws.


Oversensitive tradition

More meta-criticism:

Jyrki Katainen, the chairman of the Finnish National Coalition party, said Tuesday in his first major foreign and security policy speech since becoming finance minister in the spring that it was time for the Finnish security police debate to be "secularised" and moved away from the "oversensitive tradition".

Not naming any names, Mr Katainen said the protagonists in the debate preferred to discuss about "who says what and and with what authority" and schisms between people rather than the issues themselves.

I have to say, the close juxtaposition of "oversensitive tradition" with "not naming any names" is unfortunate.


Rusi's list

This should provoke some reactions:

Lawyers working for Alpo Rusi, a Finnish diplomat and former presidential aide, presented a list of a dozen people who they claim had "maintained regular contact with officials of the German Democratic Republic's Helsinki embassy in 1969-77".

I'm starting to get the feeling Rusi has something against Social Democrats.

The full list:

Matti Ahde MP (Social Democratic Party)
Seppo Halminen (Social Democrat)
Matti Kekkonen, son of Urho (Centre Party)
Pekka Kuusi (Social Democrat)
Lars Lindeman (Social Democrat)
ex-PM Paavo Lipponen (Social Democrat)
Jouko Loikkanen (Centre)
Pentti Poukka (National Coalition Party)
Jukka Rusi (Social Democrat)
ex-PM Kalevi Sorsa (Social Democrat)
Ulf Sundqvist (Social Democrat)

NB: These people haven't been proven to have done anything.


Investigative journalism at its finest

Helsingin Sanomat has the scoop:

Helsinki's "Thai massage" parlours are without exception covers for brothels, reports the Helsinging [sic] Sanomat.

The paper tested this widely-known practice by sending people to 30 Thai massage parlours in the city. All of them offered sexual services in addition to a more traditional rub-down.



Katainen's gasoline dreams

MTV3 published a column on energy taxation (fi) from Finance Minister Jyrki Katainen (National Coalition Party). Katainen defends the government's plans to increase taxes on fuel and electricity as environmentally conscious and timely given the country's economic situation.

The opposition has criticized Katainen's plans to raise taxes more on diesel than gasoline. His argument is that the price of diesel "primarily" affects how many kilometres diesel vehicles log in, not whether a consumer purchases a diesel or a gasoline car, which is affected by other taxes.

I have to admit that the logic here escapes me. Why wouldn't the price of diesel in relation to the price of gas affect what sort of a car one wants to purchase? If driving one type of car becomes more expensive in comparison to driving another type of car, surely that makes the first type of car a less appealing purchase unless there's some reason to assume that the price difference is temporary.

Katainen stresses that fuel tax hikes are a means to keep fuel consumption in check, but that doesn't address the disparity between tax raises for diesel and gas. Presumably one could raise both approximately the same amount and still keep fuel reasonably expensive.

In any case, Katainen plans to favor diesel cars in other ways:

Mr Katainen repeated that his preferred way to support more environmentally friendly diesel motoring was a reform of the annual vehicle tax system.

The minister sees a vehicle tax system based on a car's carbon dioxide emissions in force in early 2010.

That sounds like a sensible way to go.


Koivisto: No Karelia offer

As you'll no doubt remember, Kainuun Sanomat recently claimed that Russia had offered to return Karelia to Finland and that then President Mauno Koivisto turned them down. Koivisto stayed mum for a while, but now he's speaking and he's not amused:

"No offers were made by the Soviet Union, or after that, by Russia, for re-examining the border, nor were there any proposals from Finland. No working groups were set up by me, and I do not know that any others would have done so either. There is no foundation to this", Koivisto said in an interview with Helsingin Sanomat at his home in Helsinki.

You can't accuse him of making a non-denial denial.

Meanwhile Kainuun Sanomat has let it be known (fi, link to Google cache 'cause the original is dead) that Jaakko Blomberg, back then the Under-Secretary of State for Political Affairs at the Ministry for Foreign Affairs, told them about the working group. Blomberg has denied knowledge of such a group to several media outlets.

I find this a rather strange story. It's difficult to figure out who's telling the truth here, because neither option makes much sense. I'm currently inclined to think that someone misunderstood something or someone else misspoke. On the other hand, Kainuun Sanomat is an average Finnish regional daily. What incentive would they have to do something as awfully risky as lie about what Blomberg said to their reporter? Alternatively, what incentive would Blomberg have to fib? To better assess the situation, one would need to find out what precisely Blomberg said.


More social than you

In recent days the leading lights of the government have been conducting something of a counterattack on the Social Democrats' insistent criticism of their social policies. First Jyrki Katainen had a go:

Jyrki Katainen, chairman of Finland's National Coalition party and the country's finance minister, on Tuesday pulled no punches in blasting what he said was the Social Democrats' "no-alternative, contradictory and yapping" opposition line. [...]

The SDP had said, among other things, that increases in certain taxes and charges would nullify improvements in the pensioners' role.

Mr Katainen rejected the critique, saying the increases in the prices of electricity, fuels and services would be covered by index-based rises in pensions.

Then Matti Vanhanen craftily invited the Social Democrats to defend his previous government's record:
Matti Vanhanen (centre), the prime minister of Finland, said Wednesday that the current Centre-Conservative government had produced clearly more social and equitable policies than had its Centre-Social Democrat forerunner.

[...] Vanhanen underlined that the draft budget contained increases in pensions and the student grant.

The prime minister spoke of a war veteran living alone in Kajaani whose pension and related additions would rise by 76 euros a month next year.

"That is something completely different from the mockery heard last legislative period over five euros," Mr Vanhanen added.

That's consensus politics for you: all sides pretty much agree on what should be done, leaving politicians to bicker over who has actually been doing it. In this particular case centre-right politicians are defending their commitment to equitable and social policies by pointing out all the income transfers they're implementing. Par for the course.


NRF debate

Helsingin Sanomat's Tanja Aitamurto gave a pretty good account of the debate over Finnish participation in the NATO Reaction Force. She closes the article with a plea for decision-makers to say something already:

There has been hardly any debate with any real vision. Of the large parties, only the National Coalition has tried to arouse debate with its clear stands on the NRF. The Centre and the Social Democratic parties have settled for their vague "let's wait and see, no hurry" arguments.

[Foreign Minister] Kanerva has again challenged other parties to express their views on participation in the NRF forces. Might someone now stand up to the challenge and answer yes or no - clearly, publicly, and possibly even giving good reasons - to the wooing of the NRF?

Well, it's important to understand that we can stand up at any time or, indeed, not stand up at all if we so choose, so we should carefully weigh our options. We should be fully aware of what we're getting into with regard to standing-up-related activities. It is my unequivocal position we must consider all available courses of action and make the appropriate decision in due time.


Rusi trial as spectacle

Alpo Rusi versus the Finnish state got underway yesterday. Here are the basics:

The Helsinki district court is to hear the damages case by Alpo Rusi, a diplomat investigated under spying allegations in 2002, beginning Monday.

Mr Rusi is claiming 500,000 euros in damages for mental suffering and financial losses caused by a Security Police investigation.

The Security Police had suspected Mr Rusi of spying for the bygone East Germany. No charges were brought against him.

Today the state has been laying out its defense:
Helsinki district court heard Tuesday that Finland's Security Police (Supo) had launched its preliminary investigation on Alpo Rusi on the basis of an account by an East German state security ministry (Stasi) officer and a large number of documents, including Finnish foreign ministry wins, sent to East Germany.

The officer had told German officials that Stasi codename Pekka had a link to Mr Rusi. Supo had known before this that Pekka had handed dozens of documents to the German Democratic Republic.

The state told the court that these two pieces of information had clearly warranted a preliminary investigation.

On yesterday's evening news one of Rusi's lawyers quite bizarrely called it the 2000s version of the war guilt trial. I think he may have been joking - at least the comparison cracked up a fellow Rusi lawyer standing next to him. That, if you think about it, is the correct response either way.

Alas, there's some rule about cameras not being allowed inside the courtroom, which has made the television coverage of the event pure gold for anyone who enjoys the sight of a bunch lawyers standing around in a circle. Plain old recorders are okay, though, so recordings of the participants' words were accompanied by unrelated footage of them mouthing different words outside the courtroom. The effect is pleasingly strange.


Headline of the day

Verkkouutiset (fi): "Human's destructive fury has a long and bitter history". I'll say.

(The article is about the new book "Hävityksen historia" - "History of Destruction" - by Juha Tahvanainen, Mika Rissanen, and Sami Koski.)


Centre edited its own Wikipedia entry

You may have heard of the new Wikipedia scanner which allows you to search for Wikipedia edits by IP address and organization. Playing around with it can be great fun. For example, I found a list of edits made by someone with a Centre Party ("Suomen Keskusta Rp") IP address.

The entity behind the address wants you to know that the Centre isn't right-wing or conservative. He apparently disapproves of (admittedly subjective) analysis of Centre's attempts to find support in cities. The user has also found time to tell Wikipedia about the positive properties of wood fuel, the usage of which the party promotes, and to note that the Estonian Centre Party is socially liberal.

The problem here is so much the content of the edits - although I think some of them were questionable - as who's doing them. The conflict of interest is obvious. It's not difficult to come to the conclusion that a Centre Party official would have political reasons to highlight the party's centrism and liberalism at the expense of its conservative side.

I also searched for edits made from IP addresses belonging to the other main parties, but didn't find anything - maybe you'll have better luck. It should also be noted that I'm not the only one to notice this (fi).


Let's vote on it

Finland hasn't experienced many referendums, but that may be about to change:

Tuija Brax (green), Finland's justice minister, was quoted as saying by Helsingin Sanomat on Friday that referendums and popular initiatives could be used to persuade people to get more involved in society.

The minister told the paper she did not want to comment on what sorts of issues referendums could be held in the future.

The article mentions that a consultative referendum on NATO membership is thought to have support in the Parliament. I rather doubt we'll ever have one, though. A referendum is unlikely unless the government is in favor of membership and if the government is in favor of membership, it has no incentive to hold a vote that very well might go the other way. Similarly, a referendum on the EU not-a-constitution is highly unlikely, because there's a danger the people will vote the wrong way. What I'm getting at is that unless there's a good chance that a vote will be held even when the government-backed option might lose, there's no point in holding a vote.


US presidential election test

Here's an election test on US presidential candidates (link spotted at Lawyers, Guns and Money). It's not quite as sophisticated as some of its Finnish equivalents and the approach of picking quotes from the candidates isn't the best way of going about things. I naturally took it anyway.

Not being an American, I steered clear of the purely domestic topics. Based on the topics "Environment and Energy", "Foreign Policy (General)", "Iran", "Iraq War", "Israel and Palestine", "Trade and Globalization", and "War on Terror and Homeland Security", the candidates scored as follows:

14 Bill Richardson (D)
13 John Edwards (D)
= Barack Obama (D)
12 Joe Biden (D)
= Christopher Dodd (D)
= Mike Gravel (D)
= Ron Paul (R)
10 John McCain (R)
9 Hillary Clinton (D)
8 Dennis Kucinich (D)
5 Sam Brownback (R)
= Mike Huckabee (R)
4 Mitt Romney (R)
3 Rudy Giuliani (R)
= Fred Thompson (R)
2 Duncan Hunter (R)
1 Tom Tancredo (R)

That's fairly close to what I had in mind prior to taking the test, although I could certainly quibble about some of the rankings. For example, if one could express particularly strong disapproval, McCain's stock would plummet due to his position on Iraq.


Karelia's price tag

The regional daily Kainuun Sanomat had a bit of a scoop (fi) yesterday. The Finnish News Agency summarizes:

The Russian administration of Boris Yeltsin sent unofficial signals to Finland at the end of 1991 about returning Karelia to Finland, Finnish provincial daily Kainuun Sanomat reported Wednesday.

In the autumn of 1991, the Russian government had said that it would hand the Kuril Islands, invaded by the Soviet Union in 1945, back to Japan. According to Kainuun Sanomat, the Finns interpreted this public statement as a signal that Karelia was up for sale.

That's an odd paragraph. The original Kainuun Sanomat article cites the statement on Kuril Islands by Gennady Burbulis as evidence of Russia's intentions, but doesn't claim that Finns interpreted it in specific in the described manner. And of course Russia never did give the Kuril Islands back, which casts doubt on the seriousness of any hints on Karelia that may have been made through clandestine channels.
The paper reported further that a secret expert group summoned by Mauno Koivisto, the then Finnish president, had drafted an assessment of the costs involved in regaining sovereignty over Karelia and that the group had arrived at a "purchase price" of 64 billion marks, or about 10.8 billion euros, along with long-term infrastructure reconstruction costs of up to 350 billion marks, or some 58.9 billion euros.

Koivisto is keeping quiet. Foreign Trade Minister Paavo Väyrynen, then the Foreign Ministers, has denied any knowledge of the events as has (fi) Jaakko Blomberg, who was the head of the political department in the Ministry for Foreign Affairs. That doesn't disprove the article, of course, and calculating the costs might have been considered prudent even on a contingency basis.

Assuming for the sake of argument that the possibility of getting Karelia back was real, what should have been done about it? The article concentrates on the question of cost, but there are other considerations. An obvious analogy is the reunification of Germany, but in that case you had Germans on boths sides of the border. Karelia is full of Russians who can't be thrown out - for moral reasons as well as practical ones. What did the inhabitants think about living in Finland?

It can be argued that returning the area to Finland would in part put right a historical wrong. If Karelia was returned to the control of the Republic of Finland, would that repair the damage done to the evacuees? They'd still have lost their homes and rebuilt their lives inside the current borders. Certainly getting Karelia back would have some benefits for them. Visiting would be easier and getting permanent residence would become more appealing through more investment and better governance. But they wouldn't get their old lives back.


No forces to Darfur, but...

Quoth the PM:

Finland can take part in the peacekeeping operation in Darfur in some special task, said Prime Minister Matti Vanhanen in a press conference held in Helsinki on Tuesday. However, he reiterated that Finland would not send actual forces to Darfur. [...]

Vanhanen said at this press conference that Finland is preparing a common UN and EU operation concerning Sudanese refugees in Chad and the Central African Republic.

Vanhanen said that it is possible that Nordic rapid deployment forces would be used in the area. Finland is a participant in those forces.

President Tarja Halonen also held a press conference and had pretty much the same things to say.

The given reason for not sending troops remains that resources are tied up in previous peacekeeping commitments. No doubt there will be some criticism from people who have previously advocated sending forces. However, assuming that the UN finds enough troops to carry out the mission, which seems likely at the moment, the moral argument will lose quite a bit of its weight.


Poll: Coalition 23.6, Centre 22.3, Soc Dems 21.2

The latest Taloustutkimus poll (fi) shows little change in party support. The Centre Party are down 0.5 percentage points to 22.3 percent and the True Finns are up 0.4 percentage points to 4.7 percent. The only change in the order of things is that the True Finns have now passed the Christian Democrats and the Swedish People's Party to go sixth. Support for the government is down a little, but it's still higher than in the election.

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
23.0 24.1 20.7 8.2 9.4 4.5 4.4 4.5 60.9 TT 4/5
22.8 23.3 21.1 8.4 8.9 4.5 4.3 4.9 59.3 SG 5/20
23.4 23.3 20.8 9.0 9.6 5.0 4.1 4.4 60.4 RI 5/25
22.4 23.4 21.7 8.4 10.1 4.7 4.1 4.3 60.0 TT 6/9
23.0 23.2 21.5 8.3 9.0 4.3 4.2 5.0 59.4 SG 6/26
22.8 23.9 21.2 8.5 9.3 4.7 4.4 4.3 60.4 TT 7/2
22.3 23.6 21.2 8.5 9.4 4.6 4.5 4.7 59.8 TT 8/13

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
SG = Suomen Gallup (TNS-Gallup) / Helsingin Sanomat
RI = Research International Finland / MTV3


Niinistö on self-sufficiency

Speaker of Parliament Sauli Niinistö (National Coalition Party) thinks (fi) Finland should become more self-sufficient in energy and agriculture. That would mean higher agricultural subsidies, but "self-sufficiency is worth paying a little." He predicts that due to China's rise global competition for energy and natural resources will intensify, and Finland should prepare itself.

I have to say I'm not convinced by Niinistö's analysis. Energy self-sufficiency would be nice, but is currently far off. Agricultural self-sufficiency seems damned pointless in the age of the European Union. If it's good for anything, then surely its benefits include the opportunity to buy agricultural produce from countries in which the climate is better suited for that sort of thing.

Niinistö's problem is that any thoughts he might want to offer on agriculture will inevitably be seen in light of the 2012 presidential election. I'd be surprised if a large majority of people who read the linked article didn't consider the possibility that he's trying to ingratiate himself to farm-subsidy-loving Centre Party voters.

Update: Here's an English version of the linked article.


Blogging is hard, politicians find

Helsingin Sanomat surveyed (fi) Finnish top politicians' blogs for signs of life and found precious few posts after the election. It's shocking, I know.

Prime Minister and Centre Party leader Matti Vanhanen (all linked blogs are in Finnish) and main opposition leader Eero Heinäluoma of the Social Democratic Party have made a few entries; both vaguely hinted at writing more in the future. Finance Minister and National Coalition Party leader Jyrki Katainen has posted only one entry in his blog since the election.

The most popular politician's blog belongs to Green League MP Jyrki Kasvi. Other notable politicians who update their blogs frequently include Christian Democratic party leader Päivi Räsänen and Social Democratic former Foreign Minister Erkki Tuomioja. Coalition MEP Alexander Stubb isn't mentioned in the article, but I'd add him to that group.

HS also compiled a list (fi) of the most read blogs written by politicians based on the rankings at Blogilista. Here's the top five:

1. Kasvi
2. Tuomioja
3. Oras Tynkkynen (Green MP)
4. Vanhanen
5. Heidi Hautala (Green MP)

One thing politicians could easily do to improve their blogs is to have their tech people set up RSS feeds. Kasvi, Stubb, Tynkkynen, and Hautala have them, but the rest don't. Feeds would be especially useful for blogs that are updated rarely.


Christian Democrats for Coalition

The Christian Democrats' former party secretary Annika Kokko switched over to the National Coalition Party. Coalition-affiliated Verkkouutiset carried an interview (fi) with her in which she explained her motivation. She was disappointed when Päivi Räsänen replace Bjarne Kallis as party leader. She had thought that the party was heading toward an European-style Christian Democratic approach, but under Räsänen the development stopped. According to Kokko, the party focuses too much on Christian values at the expense of policies - religion instead of politics.

Räsänen counters (fi) that she believes Kokko switched due to the manner in which Sari Essayah was chosen as the new party secretary in the spring. Kokko didn't enter the race after Räsänen refused to endorse her candidacy.

Be that as it may, the Christ Dems have lost several well-known politicians to the Coalition in recent years, most notably Eija-Riitta Korhola MEP and Lyly Rajala MP. It's somewhat curious that they've headed for the Coalition instead of the Centre Party. On the face of it, the Centre would seem like reasonable destination for your average Christian Democrat - not as right-wing on economic questions as the Coalition, but slightly more socially conservative. It's possible that the elopers can't abide the Centre's regionalism, or that the Coalition's label of being the conservative party overrides its actual policies.

As for the Christian Democrats, I can't help but to think that it's a bit naïve for anyone in politics to believe that they are or will soon be Christian Democratic in the same way as e.g. the German Christian Democrats. The party exists mainly to advance the religious point of view in certain hot button issues. It will remain that way for the foreseeable future simply because the space occupied by Christian Democratic parties in Central Europe is already taken by the Coalition and the Centre.


Stasi again

Helsingin Sanomat reports (fi) that the Supreme Police Command is to inspect the Security Police's Stasi material. By the sound of things, the inspection will focus on how the Security Police used the information at its disposal in its investigations.

That's good in itself, but it doesn't really address the main issue in the Rosenholz affair. Let's face it: the material isn't terribly important. Similar information on KGB activities in Finland would be a different matter, but these Stasi operations are small time in comparison.

The main issue, as I see it, is that the government told the Security Police to do something, which then wasn't done. The big question is why not. Did the Security Police behave correctly? If it should have acted differently, was the mistake intentional?

PS: How come Swedish Stasi informants get BBC coverage whereas Finnish ones have to make do with local media attention? Damned Swedes...


Social Democrats' summer meeting

Earlier this week the Social Democratic Party gathered for a party conference. The main thing to take away from the event is that they're very critical of the 2008 draft budget.

Eero Heinäluoma, the chairman of Finland's Social Democratic party, said Tuesday that the draft budget penned by Jyrki Katainen (cons), the finance minister, would widen inequality and undermine the prerequisites for growth.

Speaking at the opposition party's summer meeting in Hämeenlinna, Mr Heinäluoma added Mr Katainen's proposal to raise taxes and charges would be a heavy blow to groups like the unemployed and those on employment pension.

The former finance minister also faulted his successor's first draft budget, unveiled in full on Friday, of boosting inflation.

Heinäluoma claimed that on average taxes and service charges would go up by 200 euros per household. I have no idea about the veracity of that claim. It's funny that before the election the National Coalition Party and the Centre Party were arguing for tax breaks and the Social Democrats insisted that money should go toward improving services. Now the former are raising taxes and the latter is complaining about it.

Heinäluoma also mentioned (fi) the possibility of an interpellation if the government doesn't set aside money in the 2008 budget to improve pay equality. Left Alliance chairman Matti Korhonen said (fi) that his party is prepared to support such an interpellation - not that it has any chance of succeeding, mind you.


Ryti's war diaries

I recently read "Käymme omaa erillistä sotaamme - Risto Rytin päiväkirjat 1940-1945" ("We Fight Our Own Separate War - Risto Ryti's Diaries 1940-1945"), expertly edited by Ohto Manninen and Kauko Rumpunen. It's a rather informative look into Ryti's wartime career and thoughts, with Manninen and Rumpunen filling in the blanks left by Ryti, and other sources frequently quoted to see how they match with Ryti's writings.

As far as Ryti's basic approach to foreign policy is concerned, the diaries support the common analysis. Ryti's decisions stem from a cool-headed, usually accurate analysis of what is best for Finland. Only his fear of Bolshevism can rival his patriotism as a motivating factor. At the early stages of the Continuation War both tug him in the same direction, but when they come in conflict, ideological concerns once again yield to national interest.

In hindsight Ryti's analysis of the Western Allies is quite poor. He tells visitors that the United States, should the war continue, is in danger of experiencing social upheaval. He instructs British and German guests that Britain and Germany ought to make peace so they can combat the real danger to Europe, the Soviet Union. He doesn't seem to understand that the Western Allies see Nazism much like he sees Bolshevism - as a threat to civilization that should be combatted vigorously.

Several times Ryti defends democracy to German diplomats with an inventive argument. He describes the Finnish system as a "peasant democracy", the result of hundreds of years of historic development, which is peculiarly suited to Finland's needs. The Finnish people, Ryti notes with pride, have never experienced serfdom and thus cherish their traditional freedoms. I wonder what Nazis made of the argument that dictatorship is the right system for Germany because Germans used to be serfs and are thus servile.

Disturbing to a modern reader is the incident where Ryti spoke approvingly of eugenics. It was a common affliction of the era, of course, but it's still disappointing. This raises the question of who's the most enlightened World War II leader. Churchill's candidacy has certain problems. Roosevelt's civil rights record could be better. All the dictators are obviously right out of the question.


Who wants to go to Darfur?

Green League leader and Labour Minister Tarja Cronberg wonders (fi) why Finland says it can't send peacekeepers to Darfur because of insufficient resources, but the same argument is not applied when the talk turns to sending more peacekeepers to Afghanistan. Cronberg writes, "The fact that only Afghanistan seems to be a serious alternative strengthens the impression that Finland's decision too have other basis than ending human suffering. The United States pressures Finland to increase its effort in Afghanistan, not in Darfur."

Other government sources are sending mixed signals. When the UN Security Council made the decision on the Darfur operation, Prime Minister Matti Vanhanen (Centre Party) said (fi) that Finnish participation was unlikely. An official from the Ministry of Defense said that taking part would require that the Finnish contingent in some other operation would be reduced. Defense Minister Kari Häkämies (National Coalition Party) has speculated before that the EU's Nordic battle group may be heading Sudan way.

No doubt there's a certain value in completing previous commitments before taking on new ones, but Cronberg has a point when she argues that on humanitarian grounds peacekeepers could do more good in Sudan than Afghanistan. Whether Finnish peacekeepers in specific are needed for the Darfur operation to succeed isn't entirely clear to me, though.

Left Alliance party secretary Sirpa Puhakka has also demanded that Finland take part in the Darfur operation. It's interesting that the Greens and Leftists seem eager to send peacekeepers to Darfur. Traditionally neither party has been overly enthusiastic about foreign interventions.


Statistics in baseball and pesäpallo

One thing I like about baseball is that so many aspects of the game are discrete and thus precisely quantifiable. In baseball a player's statistics tell you a lot more about his performance than in just about any other team sport. The amount of data available is awe-inspiring.

Pesäpallo, alas, isn't nearly as well suited for statistical analysis. Creating runs is more of a team effort. What a player tries to do in his plate appearance is much more specific to the situation. Avoiding outs is simple, if that's all one wants to do, but it doesn't put runs on the board. The plan, then, is to at first advance runners safely only take the risk involved in trying to score runs in opportune situations. Subsequently the batting lines of players hitting second look very different from slugging jokers (designated hitters who can be inserted anywhere in the lineup).

Superpesis, the top league, collates statistics, but they're not very sophisticated. For hitters they offer runs batted in, runs scored, and the sum of runs batted in and scored. The statistics on advancing lead runners are more sophisticated as percentages are recorded in addition to raw numbers. (All pages in Finnish.)

All of these statistics are context-specific. A player who bats behind teammates who are good at getting on-base and moving runners along will get many more opportunities to bat in runs than a player whose teammates stink. A player will score many more runs if the hitters batting after him know what they're doing. The percentages on advancing lead runners are closest to a statistical measurement of the hitter's skill, although even there the speed of the teammates on base matters.

Some improvements would be easy to make. For example, one could measure playing time for hitters in terms of at-bats instead of games, as the official statistics website currently does. The number of outs and wounds (balls caught in flight) on third strike could be recorded. Then we could say, for example, how many runs, bases taken by the lead runner, and outs result from a certain batter's average plate appearance. Some sort of a linear weights system would be neat, if quite difficult to calculate. The record-keeping would become considerably more tiresome, because in pesäpallo you'd have to include runners advanced to get any idea of the value of a plate appearance.

While I'm on the topic, the current scoring system in pesäpallo with its two periods of four innings each is an atrocity that puts artificial excitement over finding out which team is better. Just play nine innings and see who has scored more runs, for goodness' sake.


Sámi parliamentary election coming up

Sámedig it:

Forty-five candidates are running for seats in the 21-member body, slightly more than in the last election four years ago. Voting begins in early September and ends a month later. There are more than 5300 eligible voters.

The Sámi Parliament (or Sámediggi) was established in 1996 to oversee Sámi cultural autonomy, which is guaranteed by the Finnish constitution. It cooperates with corresponding bodies in neighbouring Norway and Sweden.

I've been poking around the official Sámi Parliament website (fi). I have to say that this picture of the current crop of Sámi representatives shows that our MPs with their boring suits can't compete in the fashion department.

The election system is a bit unusual: The candidates that get the most votes are elected, with the provision that there needs to be at least three representatives from each of the three Sámi home municipalities. As far as I can tell there are no official political parties, which is a shame, because I bet Sámi parties would be awesome.


Draft budget for 2008

Earlier this week Finance Minister Jyrki Katainen (National Coalition Party) presented his draft budget for 2008.

Under the proposal, the duty on spirits will increase next year by 15 percent, while taxes on lighter alcoholic beverages will go up 10 percent. The tobacco tax will remain the same. Meanwhile the inheritance and pension taxes are to go down.

Pensions are to increase by 20 euros, while state child support for single parents will go up by 10 euros a month. State student support will also increase by 15 percent beginning next year. Furthermore students will be able to earn 30 percent more than before, while still retaining student support benefits.

The petrol tax will also increase, as will the energy tax.

Overall tax rates will go up ever so slightly. Presumably some of the tax cuts promised during the election campaign will follow later in the term, but for now the Ministry of Finance is of the opinion that we should be saving for a rainy day - or watch out for "overheating", as Katainen puts it.

To name a few critics, trade unions think workers should get more tax breaks, other ministries think they should get more money, car users think they shouldn't be taxed quite so much, and farmers think they should be compensated for the planned energy tax hike. The opposition doesn't like it, of course. On the other hand, economists seem to like the proposal okay because inflation and debt are combatted.

The full draft budget can be accessed online (fi).


Rise of the election machines

No, this post isn't about the dangers of electronic voting. TSN Gallup has conducted a poll on the use of election machines - i.e. online surveys that ask you various political questions and then recommend candidates and/or parties. Helsingin Sanomat reports on it here (fi) and Verkkouutiset offers more data.

About a third of people eligible to vote used election machines. That's up from about a quarter in 2003. 71 percent of election machine users voted. I wonder, does that mean that a sizable chunk of the rest would have voted if online voting had been possible? Overall the turnout was 68 percent. If my math is correct, roughly 35% of voters used election machines.

For their users election machines were the most important way of acquiring information about the election, narrowly beating TV news programs and newspaper articles. Lest you despair, users followed the election more closely than non-users using other information sources, too. For the population as a whole, election machines tied for third with election-related TV programs. They were behind news programs and newspaper articles, but ahead of candidate web sites, real life acquaintances, election ads in newspapers, and radio.

Interestingly, Internet forums - the category under which blogs are counted, at a guess - were the most important source of information for a big fat zero percent of voters in general. Among election machine users, three percent considered Interent forums as their most important information source. I think it's safe to say that at the moment Finnish political blogs are not a force with which anyone needs to reckon.

15 percent of users wound up voting for the candidate recommended by an election machine because they didn't have a favorite of their own. Three percent switched from a previous favorite candidate to a recommended candidate. An election machine helped one in five users to exclude a candidate. 53 percent of users voted for a candidate that no election machine had recommended. By my count roughly six percent of voters took their cues from an election machine.

I find it a bit odd that 47 percent of users voted for a candidate that was recommended to them by an election machine, but relatively few admit to following the recommendations. In my experience the candidate for whom I'm thinking about voting is almost never recommended to me as the top choice. Perhaps I know less about candidates' issue positions than the average user, but I suspect that respondents aren't being entirely honest about how important election machines were in their voting decisions.

I'm one of the people who used election machines to exclude candidates and I found that they work pretty well for that purpose. I also checked out a few candidates who I would have otherwise ignored. If memory serves, the candidate I voted for ranked high in at least one list of recommendations, but not at number one.

Users were more likely than other voters to opt for the National Coalition Party (31% versus 22%) and the Green League (17% versus 8%). The Centre Party (17% versus 23%) and the Social Democratic Party (12% versus 21%) were less popular among users than non-users. Presumably this is due to Coalitionists and Greens being more plentiful online than among the general populace.

The most popular election machines belonged to YLE (fi), MTV3 (fi), and Helsingin Sanomat (fi), in that order.


Giving up in Afghanistan

In a column arguing for removing Finnish peacekeepers from Afghanistan, Helsingin Sanomat's Juhana Rossi makes the following claim:

If Finland were to pull out of Afghanistan, it would not be an act of giving up. Finland has many good reasons to reduce rather than to expand its presence in Afghanistan.

But it most certainly would be an act of giving up. When you try to do something but stop short of your goal, you've given up. That's what the expression means. Granted, if external circumstances change, you can change course without it being considered giving up, but all of Rossi's reasons for reducing the Finnish presence in Afghanistan applied already when the peace-keepers went in.

Don't get me wrong; there are situations in which giving up is warranted. If the calculation is that the Finnish presence in Afghanistan isn't doing any good and won't be able to do any good in the future, then giving up becomes the correct response. I don't know if Afghanistan is that far gone at the moment, but the point can be argued. Rossi doesn't argue it, however.

While worrying about Finland's reputation, of all unimportant things, Rossi comes up with a rather unrealistic scenario:
A different kind of hypothesis: what if a Finnish patrol were to stop a car in Afghanistan with Osama bin Laden in it? Would Finland hand bin Laden over to the Americans, incur the hatred of militant Muslims, and thus increase the likelihood of a terror attack in Finland?

Did he really just advocate for avoiding arresting Osama bin Laden on the grounds that to accomplish the feat might upset militant Muslims? Damn.


Statistics on suspected racist crimes

Tanja Noponen's study "Poliisin tietoon tullut rasistinen rikollisuus Suomessa 2006" ("Racist Crime That Came into the Knowledge of the Police in Finland in 2006") has garnered some media attention (fi), but the whole shebang (PDF) is worth looking over. It's mostly in Finnish, but there's an English language abstract that gives a good idea of what racist crime in today's Finland looks like:

In 2006, a total of 748 suspected racist crimes were filed. The number is higher than in the previous years. The most common offence, as in previous years, was assault. A total of 40% of all cases were assaults or attempted assaults. Other common headings of offence in 2006 were discrimination, breach of honour, unlawful threats and damage to property. In 2006, there were more discrimination cases than the year before. These took place, with only few exceptions, in a restaurant into which a member of an ethnic minority was denied access. The most common locale for committing racist offences was a restaurant or the area in front of it or an outdoor public place such as a street, road, market place or park. Over 60% of the offences were committed in the evening or at night.

Most of the suspected racist crimes were committed against foreigners or people of foreign extraction. However, the proportion of Finnish victims increased from the previous years and accounted for over a half of all victims of racist crimes. Of foreigners, the ethnicities most offended against were the Turks, Somalis and Iranians. The majority (73%) of all people reporting were men, most of them belonging to the 35–44 age group. Offences committed against men and women differed slightly. Most racist offences against men were assaults. Women were most often victims of discrimination, breach of honour and breach of domestic peace. One fifth of all suspected crimes with a racist crime code against women in 2006 were cases of discrimination.

What is more, most suspects (89%) were men, of which over 80% were Finnish citizens born in Finland. Of all suspects, approximately half were between the ages of 15 and 24. For the past five years, the said age group has been the most common age group suspected of racist offences. In approximately 30% of the cases, the victim did not know the suspect. Especially assaults were committed by strangers. In one fifth of the cases, the offence, most of the time discrimination, was committed in a customer relationship. Least crimes (1%) were committed among colleagues. Most racist offences committed by neighbours were filed as unlawful threats, breaches of honour and breaches of domestic peace. Approximately one fifth of all breaches of honour and unlawful threats, and over 15% of breaches of domestic peace took place among neighbours.

The majority (80%) of cases reported to the police in the beginning of 2006 were forwarded to a prosecutor for consideration of charges after preliminary investigation. Of all investigated cases forwarded to a prosecutor, discrimination offences accounted for 95%. Therefore, it seems that the police is active in forwarding cases if the perpetrator is caught. No information is available as to what happened during consideration of charges. The grounds for not forwarding a to a prosecutor were equally excluded from the study.

There's also some interesting data from attitude surveys (my clumsy translation): "Finnish attitudes toward different ethnic minorities differ. Attitudes toward people from countries poorer than Finland who are different in their culture and appearance are more negative. At the bottom of the ethnic hierarchy are Somalians, Arabs, Russians, and Kurds. The next most negative attitutes concern immigration by Turks, Moroccans, black Africans, and former Yugoslavians. Attitudes toward immigration by Ingrians, Anglo-Saxons, and Nordics are the most positive. Of Finland's traditional minorities Sami are seen most positively, and Muslims and Roma most negatively. Although negative attitudes toward foreigners have decreased, the ethnic hierarchy has remained mostly the same."

Russians (20.8%) and Estonians (14.5%) are the two biggest immigrant groups. Over 40 percent of immigrants come from neighboring countries. The report says that Turks (11.4 suspected crimes per 1'000 people), Somalis (9.1), Iranians (7.7), and Afghans (5.5) are most likely to be the victims of suspected racist crimes. At the other end of the scale we find Vietnamese (1.1), Germans (1.0), Russians (1.0), and Estonians (0.3).

The number of discrimination cases went up from 37 in 2005 to 118 in 2006, an increase of 81 cases. As the total number of cases increased by 79, all other forms of suspected racist crimes stayed flat. The results suggest that the increase was mostly down to increased reporting. If you look at it positively, it suggests that racism isn't increasing (at least based on crime statistics). If you look at it negatively, it indicates that in previous years the picture was too rosy. It would be interesting to have figures on convictions.