PISA 2006 rankings

The rankings for the 2006 PISA survey, "the most comprehensive and rigorous international yardstick of secondary-school students' attainments", are out (PDF). Guess who's number one with a bullet [1]?

Finland (563)
Hong Kong-China (542)
Canada (534)
Chinese Taipei (532)
Estonia (531)
Japan (531)
New Zealand (530)
Australia (527)
Netherlands (525)
Liechtenstein (522)
Korea (522)

Hong Kong? Phooey! Please don't "harbor" any ill feelings just because our 15-year-olds are brilliant. Suomi! Suomi! Suomi!

[1] Too soon?


Should Estonians listen to Paavo Lipponen?

Giustino asks in the comments re Paavo Lipponen's take on Estonian foreign policy:

Should we in Estonia listen to his opinions or is he basically useless?

In my opinion everyone should listen to Lipponen; he's grouchy, thin-skinned, and opinionated to a degree that makes much of what he writes or says rather entertaining. I just hope that he takes offense to Estonian criticism and fires back, because no one issues a rejoinder quite like Paavo Lipponen. So if you like colorful denunciations, he's far from useless.

Another question is whether Lipponen knows what he's talking about. He's generally pro-NATO - when there isn't an election campaign going on, that is - and very pro-EU. The latter trait was a prominent feature of his prime ministership. He has a fairly good reputation for his handling of international issues, but that was built more on supposed negotiating prowess than any special foreign policy insight.

But really, the main thing here is that what we need is a proper row between Lipponen and Estonians. If I may make a recommendation, Estonians should say something like, "Now I see the Finnish media had Lipponen's number all along." (Lipponen hates large segments of the Finnish media.) If that fails to get a rise, I'd go with "With comments like that, no wonder Finnish voters opted for Anneli Jäätteenmäki." (Lipponen really, really hates Jäätteenmäki.)


141 agreement

Finland and the European Union Commission have reached an agreement on the so-called 141 agricultural subsidies. The news was reasonably good for Finnish taxpayers:

Next year, nearly 94 million euros will be granted to farmers in southern Finland. By 2013, support will be just 62.9 million euros.

However, Less Favoured Area (LFA) subsidies will help compensate for the cuts.

During the first four years of the national subsidies, funds will decrease on average by 2.7 percent annually. In the final two years, support will be cut more drastically.

The Central Union of Agricultural Producers and Forest Owners (MTK) said it is very disappointed by the decision to cut subsidies. The union said pig and poultry farmers will be the most affected by the loss of support.

As expected, the EU Commission didn't buy the rather unconvincing argument that the 141 subsidies were meant to permanent. I wonder if it will still be dragged out of storage in 2013.

The LFA subsidies - wouldn't "More Favored Area" be a more accurate name? - are an interesting addition, but it seems that they won't cover the drop in the 141 subsidies. The 141 cuts will amount to about 30 million euros after six years. According to Alexander Stubb MEP (fi), the LFA subsidies will cover about 15-20 million euros of that.


Mannerheim movie

I got to say, I have a bad feeling about this (fi). Renny Harlin, Markus Selin, and Mikko Nousiainen? It's like making a movie about George Washington with Jerry Bruckheimer producing, Michael Bay directing, and Ben Affleck portraying "G" (as he'd be called throughout the film).

The article mentions that some Russian financiers backed out after a disagreement about the script. It'd be interesting to know what the Russians wanted changed - maybe it was the scene where Mannerheim, operating deep within enemy lines in 1940, punches out Stalin?

If at some point in the movie Mannerheim doesn't get to shout, his neck veins bulging, "THIS... IS... KOLLAAAAA!" then I, for one, will feel cheated.


Supply-siders in our midst

Something that puzzles me about Finnish political debate is the way the National Coalition Party (in particular) espouses supply-side economics without getting called on it by the left.

Coalition chair and Finance Minister Jyrki Katainen sure sounds like he subscribes to the Laffer curve. He's not crude enough to directly say, "Hey, let's raise taxes so tax revenues will go up!" Instead he and likeminded folk say something like, "In order to get Finland working, we need to increase the employment rate by cutting income taxes. Only be reducing unemployment can we maintain our current economic growth, which in turn is the only way we'll be able to pay for the welfare state." But it's the same thing; they just spell out the supposed mechanism.

Another example of the Coalition tying its advocacy for right-wing economic policies now to being able to pursue left-wing economic goals in the future is when Coalitionists contrast cutting debt with increasing welfare spending. In that case, however, the Social Democratic Party challenges the argument quite forcefully. When it comes to tax cuts, however, the Social Democrats seem awfully quiet. Matti Vanhanen's first government, in which Social Democratic chair Eero Heinäluoma served as the Finance Minister, also cut taxes with the intention of stimulating economic growth.

US liberals, who are in many ways to the right of Finnish Social Democrats, don't go along with the Laffer curve, so why isn't it more controversial in Finland? Given that the Laffer curve is a curve, it might be easier to argue for the economically beneficial effects of tax cuts in a country where taxes are higher, but you'd still expect left-wingers to challenge the notion, wouldn't you?


Headline of the day

Helsingin Sanomat (fi): "Swedish porn parody of Dallas is funny only at times". Hard to believe.

(Alas, the article is just a quick a theater review.)

Religious attitude survey

Earlier this week the Evangelical Lutheran Church published results from a survey carried out at the beginning of the year. It'd be interesting to see the full results, but in the mean time we have to make do with the press release (fi) and some PDF files (fi).

According to the survey, 68 percent of Finns identify as Christians, 56 percent as "Finnish basic Lutherans", and a whopping five percent as "convinced atheists" - no, I have no idea who came up with these terms. One percent of respondents defined themselves as fundamentalists and eight percent as religious conservatives. (For comparison, in the World Values Surveys they usually find that about three percent of Finns are atheists and that about eight percent don't believe in the existence of God. The contradiction there belongs to the respondents.)

On the other hand (PDF), 15 percent agreed with the statement that "all religions are based on false beliefs, but they still represent important humane values" and four percent agreed that "all religions are based on false beliefs and they cause humans direct harm"; so presumably at least a fifth of the respondents don't subscribe to a religious doctrine. In fact, a dazzling six percent of respondents believed that the truth can be found in one religion. 37 percent believe that "religious beliefs can't be proved or disproved and their truthfulness can't be compared".

39 percent believe dreams sometimes predict the future, which makes sense in light of all those high school kids who only notice they're buck naked when their classmates point and laugh.


Roger Boyes interview

My visitor logs indicate that there's still a market for Roger Boyes bashing, so let's take another tilt at it.

Helsingin Sanomat interviewed The Times's man in Berlin a few days ago and now they've put a translation of the article up on the web. Boyes, as we all remember, wrote an asinine analysis of the Jokela school shootings and was subsequently flamed crisp. HS euphemistically describes his article as "streamlined text from a man who seems to be drawn to a psychological approach." In other words, it was a load of cobblers.

What did Boyes take away from his experience?

"I do not believe that I am communicating with an entire nation. It was more like an enclosed community of some kind. There was something hysterical in the answers."

Hysterical, you say?
"They did not want to tell their opinions, they wanted to kill me."


The great man noticed that some of his critics were Brits living in Finland. With characteristically keen insight and colossal condescension, he remarked,
"A typical Stockholm syndrome. A man is the hostage of his Finnish wife and identifies with her thinking."

An alternative explanation is that a man has lived in Finland and thus understands just how poor Boyes's analysis was. He knows, for example, that social lives are not put on hold in the winter; and that a kid living in a sleepy suburb might be lonely, but not due to physical distances separating lakeside farmsteads.
"People do not accept that any evil might come from within the community. It is always imported, in this case, caused by America, the Internet, or globalisation."

Of course, a central argument put forth in Boyes's article was that kids in Finland spent too much time on the Internet, chatting away with friends when they should be making human contact. (Internet friends, as we all know, don't count as humans.)
"But still, this took place specifically in Finland. The environment that allowed this to happen is Finnish."

So analyze the environment, then. Come up with some distinguishing features that separate the events in Jokela from numerous incidents in which armed non-Finns have gone amok. Make some bloody sense for a change.

Or, if that's too much bother, you might just come up with another wacky theory. Here's Boyes holding forth on why he was criticized so heavily:
According to Boyes, there are societies on the outskirts of Europe, where trust in the local media is low.

These include countries such as Romania and Hungary.

People in these countries seek information from foreign media - reliable brands such as The Times, Boyes says. At the same time these people are nevertheless plagued by an inferiority complex.

"They feel that they are treated with disdain in the foreign media, and therefore, react in an emotional manner."

Oddly enough, trust in the media is unusually high in Finland. Can't this guy get anything right?
"OK, OK, the comparison is shaky. ..."

This almost convinced me that the comparison was strong.
Very telling in the view of Roger Boyes were the comments of the teachers concerning Pekka-Eric Auvinen: he was an average pupil.

"That was all that they had to say. They did not say that he was isolated, or that he had strange thoughts."

According to Iltalehti (fi), a Jokela teacher described Auvinen as a militant radical who was interested in both the extreme left and the extreme right. He also said Auvinen was a better than average student. The police said (fi) that at least some of the teachers were aware that Auvinen had been bullied.

I don't blame Boyes for not knowing any of this. He doesn't speak Finnish or follow the Finnish media. But given that he knows nothing about the topic, might he show just a tiny bit of humility when coming up with his theories? Maybe he could - oh, I don't know - check his facts before spouting off. Perhaps he could do a web search or two. If he has some time on his hands, he could even interview a Finnish person.

(Here's how I imagine it would go:

BOYES: "Are there many farmsteads in Jokela?"
A FINN: "Nope."
BOYES: "What role do you suppose Ukko played in this?"
A FINN: "Zilch."
BOYES: "Thank you very much, Finnish person. Without your invaluable help, I might have made a complete prat of myself.")

PS: Markkinointi & Mainonta magazine had an amusing interview (fi) with Boyes. If you can't read Finnish, rest assured that the pattern of Boyes making some claim ("Finnish newspapers operate within a narrow consensus") without knowing what he's talking about ("So you've read Finnish newspapers?" "Well, no, ...") was repeated.


Vanhanen has a go at nurses' union

Prime Minister Matti Vanhanen had a few choice words of the Union of Health and Social Care Professionals (Tehy):

"Targeting industrial action on targets where, according to official estimates, the result would have been the loss of human lives within hours is unprecedented in the history of Finnish industrial action," Mr Vanhanen said at a Finnish Central Chamber of Commerce event.

Mr Vanhanen added the union should have warned its members what kind of consequences they would face in the event of deaths attributable to their participation in the planned industrial action.

The prime minister said Tehy's mass resignation, although averted on Monday, had lowered the government's threshold to intervene in industrial action.

A prepared copy of the speech can be read here (fi). One notable aspect of it is that Vanhanen said the deal signed by the Union of Practical Nurses (SuPer), among other municipal employees' unions, "succesfully took into consideration female majority fields" and showed that "good results can be achieved through normal labor market practices". That is, he was pretty pleased with the offer Tehy turned down.

Vanhanen also had a pop at the opposition: "It openly accepted the situation that nurses threaten with their resignations people's health and life, and the state must solve the row with money." He went on to note that any of the current opposition parties would be the 'weak link' in future governments unless they take back what they've said on the topic.

Shockingly enough, the opposition didn't appreciate Vanhanen's views.


Next US president and NATO

Last month Risto E J Penttilä, head of the Finnish Business and Policy Forum (EVA), wrote (fi) in Taloussanomat about the meaning of a Hillary Clinton presidency to Finnish foreign policy (my translation):

When Hillary Clinton tells Finns that NATO is an alternative to American autocracy, Finnish 'intellectuals' will begin to examine the military alliance in a new way. When Clinton tells Finns that Europe's influence in NATO will rise, presidential candidate Niinistö smiles. When Clinton says to Halonen that Finland's conciliatory abilities, peacekeeping knowhow, and good relations with Russia would be needed in NATO, intensive deliberation will begin also at the highest level. Is it truly the case that NATO has become an ordinary international organization which we too should join?

The suggestion that joining NATO would somehow limit American power is rather bizarre. Presently it's difficult to discertain any such mechanism at work, and surely nothing would change on that front should Finland join the club. If the United States really, really wanted to invade a random Middle Eastern country, then that's what would happen.

Still, the main point, if exaggerated here, is sound enough: a new US president, one less belligerent than the current officeholder, would probably boost NATO's popularity. I've written as much before.

The problem is that even if the bad US presidents eventually leave office, so do the good ones. Thus, it's not a sound approach to base one's NATO position on just how belligerent the current office holder happens to be - or who you expect to win the next election. You might get a Clinton or, better yet, an Obama. You might also get a Giuliani, after which the Bush years might seem like the good old days.


All Finnish newspapers 1771-1890

The Finnish National Library now offers in digital format all newspapers published in Finland between the years 1771 and 1890, free of charge. The archive is even searchable - the search feature appears to have some problems, but you should be able to work around the issues. Browsing by name of newspaper and date works, too, if you know what you're looking for.

I searched for my surname and have spent the last 30 minutes reading about criminal ancestors: a couple running a brothel in Mikkeli, or at least offering lodging to women of loose morals; a Kurkijoki man who committed suicide by shooting himself in the gut after getting mixed up in the disappearance of a drunken ex-soldier; a skilled artisan - blacksmith, carpenter, stonemason, and watchmaker - from Rautalammi who kept getting arrested for theft... Great stuff.

All over but for the spin

Helsingin Sanomat explains why the Commission for Local Authority Employers (KT) and the Union of Health and Social Care Professionals (Tehy) disagree on how large the agreed-upon wage increases are:

A large part of the differences in interpretation stem from the fact that Tehy assumes that overall pay hikes of 4-6 per cent will be implemented in the municipal sector in 2010-2011. The municipal employers make no such assumptions for the last two years of the contract period, as the general contract in the municipal sector ends at the end of January 2010.

The actual size of pay increases at that time will not be known until 2010-2011, but it is expected that Tehy members will see their pay rise by more than 20 per cent in the next four years.

I find it interesting how well the lengthy contract period has served to cloud comparisons between this agreement on one hand, and rival trade unions' contracts or Tehy's demands on the other. A 22 percent pay hike - to pick a number - in four years obviously isn't anywhere near a 24 percent raise in two and a half years, but that fact doesn't come across in many news stories.

The scope of the agreement has also caused disagreement. The contract is supposed to apply to only Tehy members, but experts disagree (fi) on whether this is legal. Law mavens may want to check out the Employment Contracts Act (PDF), which states among other things that employers "shall not exercise any unjustified discrimination against employees on the basis of ... trade union activity ... or any other comparable circumstance" and that they must "treat employees equally unless there is an acceptable cause for derogation deriving from the duties and position of the employees."


Poll: Centre 22.6, Coalition 22.3, Soc Dems 22.3

YLE published a Taloustutkimus party support poll (fi) today which supports the trends seen in the latest TNS Gallup poll. The Centre Party is back on top by virtue of holding steady while the National Coalition Party is losing support. The Social Democratic Party is pretty much tied for second and the Left Alliance seems to be on an upswing for a change.

It'll be interesting to see whether the government parties' fortunes will improve in post-nurses' pay dispute polls.

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 TG 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 TG 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
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

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

Nurses accept pay deal

The Finnish Union of Health and Social Care Professionals (Tehy) and the Commission for Local Authority Employers (KT) have approved the settlement committee's proposal. I must say that this is a welcome outbreak of sanity. Huzzah and all that.

There are slight differences of opinion as to what's in the agreement. According to KT (fi), the deal will raise Tehy members' salaries by 15.7 to 17.7 percent and cost about 500 million euros a year. According to Tehy (fi), salaries will go up by 22 to 28 percent. The real figure is at the moment anyone's guess, but either way, it's gonna cost ya.

Politically this counts as a victory for the government, I should think. The patient safety bill didn't doom the negotiations and the state didn't need to cough up extra money after all - although it remains to be seen whether the government agreed to do something for the municipalities later on. Vanhanen, Katainen, and friends must also be chuffed that the deal ends only after the next parliamentary election.


Unanimous proposal in nurses' pay dispute

After a weekend of hunting down nurses to hand them their notices to turn up for work on Tuesday - about 60 percent had been reached as of Sunday evening - we now have some good news:

The panel negotiating the nurses' wage dispute agreed on a proposal for a settlement on Sunday evening. The four-year contract plan was approved unanimously by the negotiators.

No details of the offer will be made public until -- and unless -- it is accepted by the two sides: the Union of Health and Social Care Professionals (Tehy) and the Commission for Local Authority Employers (KT).

The decisions will be taken tomorrow, Tehy first and then KT. Let's hope this is it and we can start debating about who deserves credit for the raises instead of apportioning blame for dead patients. The unanimity suggests that at least the Tehy leaders who are on the panel support this deal. No details will be given of the proposal until and unless it's accepted, except that the length of the deal would be four years instead of the usual two and a half.


Soft on crime and proud of it

For an interesting (and sympathetic) look at the Finnish criminal justice system, see "Finland Is Soft on Crime" by Dan Gardner, originally published in Ottawa Citizen in 2002. I especially enjoyed this anecdote:

In the 1960s, Finland began edging cautiously toward reform, using its Scandinavian neighbors as models. Nils Christie, a renowned Norwegian criminologist, recalls speaking to Finnish judges and criminologists in Helsinki in 1968. At the time, Mr. Christie and others were developing the first international comparisons of prison populations, so he was the first to tell the Finns that their incarceration rate was totally unlike that of their Scandinavian neighbors and was "really in the Russian tradition." The audience was shocked, Mr Christie recalls in an interview in Ottawa, "and some of them then decided this was not a very good policy."

You have to admit that "Let's not be like Russia" is a pretty Finnish motive for social reforms.

(Link spotted on Bookforum.com.)


Patient safety bill passes

It's a law:

President Tarja Halonen signed the bill into law on Friday afternoon. It takes effect on Saturday.

Parliament approved the bill by a vote of 113-68, with the entire opposition voting against it and 18 MPs absent.

Those missing included Prime Minister Matti Vanhanen, who was hospitalised overnight with lower back pain. He was diagnosed with a stone in his urinary tract, and is expected to remain in hospital at least through Friday.

Wonderful timing from Vanhanen.

The voting record can be viewed here (fi). All MPs from government parties either voted for it or were absent. (The Centre Party's Paula Sihto, a Tehy board member and probably the likeliest defector, was among the latter.)


Long-term damage to Coalition

Yesterday Egan asked whether the nurses' pay row is going to seriously damage the National Coalition Party in the long term.

Looking at recent polls, it seems likely to me that the issue currently hurts the party's popularity. The decrease in support is only a couple of percentage points at the moment, but when the big three parties are so closely balanced, it can still make the difference between holding the office of prime minister and being in the opposition. That's serious.

At some point the issue will stop being a pressing concern. Will the damage last? I think the key here is Finance Minister and Coalition chair Jyrki Katainen. The party itself has a core of ideologically committed supporters and a rather stable image built in countless political rows over the decades. In the long, long term, it'll abide. Whether Katainen remains an effective, credible spokesman for the party is another matter.

I trust I won't be accused of exaggeration when I say that Katainen has come under a great deal of criticism over this issue. He was at the center of the Coalition's pay equality campaign and now holds the state's purse strings, so he's a natural target for nurses' ire. Yesterday's demonstration at the parliament building featured a rendition of "Jyrki Boy" (fi).

With regard to Katainen's credibility, the key quote is (my translation), "The more female-dominated, educated fields are paid over the general raise level, the more we're prepared to raise the state assistance paid to municipalities." The quote is from last February, but its infamy is a post-election phenomenon. Googling for the original Finnish sentence gets about 500 hits at the time of writing.

In summary, my confident prediction on whether the Coalition has suffered serious long-term damage is: maybe, depending on how the party chair comes out of it.


You don't negotiate with terrorists

The Green League seems to be putting forth an effort to get out its point of view on the patient safety bill. Jyrki Kasvi MP and Oras Tynkkynen MP both wrote blog posts defending the bill, as did Green parliamentary group leader Anni Sinnemäki (all in Finnish). The general arguments are the same in all three posts. All remember to express the view that nurses should be paid more. Both Sinnemäki and Kasvi cite the International Labor Organization in support of the position that industrial action shouldn't threaten lives.

Everyone isn't quite as coordinated. Osmo Soininvaara, former Green League chair and in my opinion a pretty clever fellow, is out of the daily grind of politics and can afford to take a more combative stance. He has a go (fi) at both sides in Iltalehti:

"How could this strife become a crisis, although everyone agreed that a pay problem that had been known for a long time would be fixed? All sides have only made a mess of it and acted in a totally incomprehensible way."

"Firstly the [National] Coalition [Party]'s election advertising was wholly irresponsible. That the parliament doesn't promise wages to anyone has always been attended to, but they made it into an election campaign."

"When government then gave money to the municipalities, the municipal employers went ahead and sprinkled it evenly on the entire municipal field. It was totally mindless. Even those who hadn't asked for money got it."

"[The Union of Health and Social Care Professionals' (Tehy)] blackmail campaign makes it terribly difficult to agree to the nurses' demands."

"It's a general principle that you mustn't pay for hostages, otherwise they will become common. This is blackmail with human lives. If you give in to it, then every following strike is arranged in the same way."

So he supports the bill.

"If electricians for example thought of putting hospital emergency rooms on strike, it would then be forbidden."

"Tehy would have had several methods which wouldn't have amounted to blackmail."

"Now finding an an agreement is easier, because the principle according to which everyone who threatens to kill gets money is no longer in force because of [the bill]. It's morally easier to agree to Tehy's demands, because it won't set a precedent."

Especially the language concerning Tehy is the sort of thing you won't be hearing from many active politicians.

Meanwhile, here are the first poll figures on the issue:

56 of the respondents backed the draft law while 35 per cent did not. About a tenth were undecided.

In other polls commissioned by YLE, about 60 percent of respondents have consistently said that they "accept in this situation Tehy's industrial action". (The word "hyväksyä", used in the polls, can be translated as "accept" or "approve". Who knows how respondents interpret it.)


Government's rejection of nurses' demands

Financial Times' David Ibison wrote an article on the patient safety bill that contains some quite misleading paragraphs:

The government's rejection of nurses' demands for a 24 per cent wage rise over two years prompted nearly 13,000 nurses to threaten to resign next Monday, bringing some of the country's top hospitals to a standstill.

The entity that rejected the nurses' demands was of course the Commission for Local Authority Employers, the municipal employers' organization. It's not the same thing as the government at all.
The dispute underscores the growing tension between Finland's right-leaning government, which has abolished most collective wage agreements and asked unions to negotiate on an individual basis, and a labour force more accustomed to across-the-board agreements. A wave of strikes has hit the country, affecting 40,000 workers.

Ibisen again confuses the government and the various employers' organizations. The government, for its part, would have been just fine with an across-the-board agreement. Prime Minister Matti Vanhanen still pines after one (fi).

By contrast, Bloomberg's Kati Pohjanpalo has a rather good background article on the issue. In addition to getting the facts right, it even offers context.


Patient safety bill in Parliament

The parliamentary constitutional law committee has ruled that the patient safety bill (a.k.a. forced labor bill) wasn't constitutional in nature and could thus pass with the support of a simple majority of MPs. This was a necessary step for passing the bill, since the opposition parties are sending every signal of intending to vote against it.

YLE1 showed several hours worth of footage from the Parliament earlier today, where our representatives busied themselves in debate. I managed to catch a part of the proceedings and was quickly reassured that all sides are still inherently incapable of dealing with opposing arguments in a honest manner.

For the opposition, this showed in the way MPs refused to understand the safety concerns behind the bill. For the government side, everyone tap-danced around the question of extra state funding for municipalities, a key opposition demand. No one seemed interested in defending government's fiscal priorities, which in part explains why the government has been losing the debate in the media. Winning an argument becomes rather difficult when you're not prepared to justify your position.


Gun law proposals

Inevitably the subject of Finnish gun laws has been brought up in the aftermath of the Jokela school shootings. This morning Prime Minister Matti Vanhanen weighed in:

Vanhanen said that the possibility that hand guns should be kept at sports clubs and target ranges, and not allowed to be taken into the home should be considered.

Other proposals I've seen include a requirement to undergo a psychiatric evaluation and an obligatory waiting time of a month or two before getting one's first gun permit.

Since the discussion is clearly motivated by Jokela, it's worth considering what sort of restrictions on gun ownership would have prevented this tragedy. For example, the proposed EU directive which would limit gun ownership by those under 18 years old - and which Finland used to oppose - wouldn't have prevented the Jokela shooter, Pekka-Eric Auvinen, from buying a handgun, since he was over 18.

Whether Auvinen could have passed a psychiatric evaluation is something I don't know; obviously if he was honest about his views and feelings, he couldn't have done so, but he might have had enough self-control to hide his problems. It seems to me that he got his gun specifically to carry out his murders, so he would have had a reason to misrepresent his inner life to a psychiatrist.

Having written all that, naturally law changes that couldn't have stopped Auvinen might still serve to save lives.


Comparative study of Finnish and Swedish cultures

A study (fi) by Thorleif Pettersson and Sakari Nurmela, titled "Eri tapoja kohdata suuri elefantti - Suomalaisen ja ruotsalaisen kulttuurin vertaileva tutkimus" ("Different Ways of Meeting a Big Elephant - A Comparative Study of Finnish and Swedish Cultures") got some press (fi) a while back. I would have posted something on the topic sooner, but at first I couldn't find a link to the study, and then the Jokela shootings interfered.

Using World Values Survey data as evidence, the study concludes that Finns are more conservative than Swedes. Then again, so are pretty much everyone else; the numbers point to Swedish exceptionalism. For example, Swedes' attitudes toward democracy are the most positive of any country in the survey by some distance, whereas Finland is close to several other liberal democracies. The study concludes that the liberal Swedes are guided to a greater extent by principles, whereas the conservative Finns are more pragmatic.

In addition to the World Values Survey figures, the researchers carried out a survey of their own that concentrated on bilateral issues between the two countries, such as what do Finns and Swedes know of and feel about each other. In the trivia part of the questionnaire, respondents were given three options in each question. We find, for example, that five percent of Finns thought The Who was Swedish, whereas only three percent of Swedes thought it was Finnish. Nevertheless Finns were judged to have slightly better knowledge of Sweden than Swedes of Finland.

The headline grabber of the study was the finding that Swedes were friendlier toward Finns than vice versa. 81 percent of Swedes agreed strongly or in part with the statement, "I would like to have a Finn as a close friend." When Finns were asked about having a Swedish friend, the figure dropped to 32 percent. The authors present the possibility that Finnish and Swedish respondents understood the statement differently. I would also consider the possibility that Swedes can be a bit annoying, what with their democracy and hockey team that wins tournaments and famous rock band The Who.


Roger of Tuusula

Times hack Roger Boyes - a name to which the only correct response is "No thanks" - defends his killer analysis of the Jokela school shootings. The article is filled with standard dodges people employ when they don't want to address the substance of the criticism headed their way. The actual issue isn't the flaws in Roger's hackery, oh no. The brave truth-seeker that he is, he's just questioning why these terrible events happened. His article was a part of a debate that's worth having - "don't you think?" - and thus when readers tear his ill-judged and ignorant theorizing to shreds, it illustrates how they're not interested in the answers.

Now sporting a Tuusula byline, Boyes has suddenly forgotten all about remote farmsteads and the lakes that surround them. Instead he holds forth on the soul-crushing qualities of sleepy suburbs:

Paradise on Earth, you say, but I wager not if you are a) the offspring of divorced parents; b) unemployed; c) a teenager stuck in a small dormitory suburb without much cash; or d) a polar bear.

Apart from d) those categories apply to Tuusula. Which is where I am writing from.

Aside from the rampant revisionism, he still can't quite get his facts right:
But you're right: Finland ranks as one of the happiest countries in Europe. It also has one of the highest suicide rates, the third highest divorce rate in Europe (beaten by Sweden again!) and 56 per cent gun ownership. So that adds up to a pretty complex society, no?

The suicide statistics are outdated and wrong (see yesterday's post). The gun ownership statistics are ludicrously wrong. According to one estimate, which is quite a bit higher than the official figures, there are 56 guns per 100 people in Finland. This, strangely enough, doesn't mean that 56 percent of Finns own a gun, because Finnish gun laws are so very lax that many people have several guns. (You might think that 56 percent gun ownership wouldn't sound plausible to anyone, but to be fair, Boyes wasn't the only one to make this mistake.)

The logical flaws in Boyes's approach, separate from all the factual inaccuracies, are also worth considering.

First, none of his theories seem to take into account that he's writing about an international phenomenon. He looks for cultural aspects that are specifically Finnish and then constructs general theories on why school shootings occur, even though there's no reason to assume that the parts of Finnish culture that are distinct from e.g. British culture (or American culture or Japanese culture) had anything to do with it. Boyes, however, considers the link to Finnish culture to be axiomatic.

Second, considering his eagerness to find some Finland-specific reason for Jokela, it's odd that he studiedly ignores the underlying facts of the incident. He writes about people being isolated because of physical distances, even though the killer's loneliness obviously had nothing to do with travel times. In his response, quoted above, he talks about divorce rates, even though the killer's parents weren't divorced, and unemployment, even though the killer was a high school student.


Roger Boyes knows Finland

The Times' Roger Boyes describes the hellish existence us Finns face in "Similarities to other massacres - but this was a very Finnish affair":

Finland is a land of wide open spaces, between 16-17 people per square kilometre. Lakes often separate neighbouring farmsteads. At this time of year it is sunk in almost permanent half-light and Finnish families count the days to their winter holidays when they can flee to the bright sunlight of south-east Asian resorts.

This is a very insightful point. I'm sure the fact that Pekka-Eric Auvinen grew up on a farmstead separated by lakes from the rest of civilization has a lot to do with his shooting spree. Not being familiar with the Jokela area, though, I can't help but to wonder how they managed to fit the farmstead, not to mention the lakes, in a built-up area with a population of about 5'000 people.
Clinical depression is high, the suicide rate too. But above all the Nordic winter isolates the young in the small towns: they arrive at school in the dark and leave it in the dark, travelling long distances to their homes. Friendship in the traditional sense is often a summer luxury.

Ah yes, the unwaveringly high suicide rate. The dark winters are to blame, no doubt, what with the way the lack of sunlight prevents young people from leaving their houses. If people didn't insist on living on farmsteads located on remote islands, maybe their houses would be lined by lit streets which they could traverse even after sundown.
And so friendship becomes virtual. The social networking sites are switched on the moment the Finnish teenager returns home. YouTube substitutes for television, which is regarded as dreary and middle-aged.

If only Finnish teenagers would watch more television so they could experience real friendship.
About 75 per cent of all Finns use the internet. And Finland, the cradle of Nokia, has some of the cheapest mobile phone rates in Europe. Kids as young as 6 take mobiles to school; a child's first text message is a matter of parental pride.

Quite often it's framed on the wall. This illustrates how the parents are to blame: if moms and dads didn't encourage children's mobile phone use, maybe the kids would have more time for social interaction.
None of this is unusual for modern Europe, but in Finland the high-tech world has become a normal, rather than an exceptional, substitute for the world of human contact. A youth isolated at school sinks even deeper into isolation when he has left the school gates: a recipe for trouble. Even more so in a country where guns are so readily available; Finland has the third-largest per capita ownership of handguns in the world.

This is the closest this remarkably condescending hack comes to making a sound point. I'd like to see his source for that statistic, though, as there's a possibility he's mixing handgun ownership with gun ownership in general. I know Finland ranked third in the latter category in a recent survey.

Update: Responding to the same article, Aapo keeps it short and sweet.

The killer as a self-publicist

Re Pekka-Eric Auvinen's shooting spree at Jokela high school, Greg Sandoval of CNET News writes:

Predictably, some media outlets are already producing stories that imply Google's YouTube is a scary place where hateful polemics can be broadcast, unmolested by more thoughtful minds.

That's terribly unfair. What people should remember is that YouTube did not glorify the teenage gunman who went on the killing spree in Finland early Tuesday morning. Nor did the world's largest and most influential video-sharing site help him spread his angry message. Nonetheless, in the wake of yet another senseless shooting on a school campus, people will be looking for scapegoats.

I sympathize with the sentiment, but Sandoval goes a step too far. Of course YouTube helped Auvinen, a.k.a. "Sturmgeist89", to spread his message. It offered a place where he could post his videos and an existing audience that could easily find his messages. If we take away the controversy and consider a situation in which a teenager posted videos on YouTube of himself, say, reading his romantic poetry, would not everyone agree that the website helps him to spread his art?

Another question is whether a website that helps people to have their say in a public place are a bad thing. Even if we ignore the full range of uses to which such sites can be put and only consider this specific case, I would argue that spreading Sturmgeist89's videos far and wide would have been a positive thing; it could have potentially alerted others to the fact that he was a disturbed individual who shouldn't have been in the possession of a gun.

One could argue that he might have found converts for his cause. However, his messages to the world were amateurish and full of logical errors. Had he not killed all those people, I would have been inclined to dismiss him as prankster. Here's a teenager from Fin-reindeer-molesting-land spreading the truth about de-evolution in broken English and calling himself the "natural selector". And then he goes to his boring high school, whips out his gun, and starts shooting people while yelling, "Revolution!" In Tuusula! The whole scenario is absurd - except for the bodies.

It's also a fact that the media have helped to spread the message to a much greater extent than YouTube ever did. Every media outlet I follow has mentioned the web videos and most have given enough details about them to allow any experienced Internet user to find them. If attention-seeking is the motive, then prevention can only come about by regulating the media, because their reporting reaches so many more people than some nobody's videos on YouTube. Does anyone want to advocate for this?


Jokela school shooting

Eight people dead. It's all over the news, so you don't need me for the basics.

If you want to read the shooter's attempt to justify himself, his writings are available for download here (available in both stilted Finnish and bad English). The documents aren't very illuminating, in that the guy's actions aren't at all logically connected to his violent theories. E.g. he praises himself for his free will and deep understanding of how society works - a superior being in a sea of mediocrity - and then shoots himself in the head.

The shooter, apparently named Pekka-Eric Auvinen, had shooting as a hobby and owned a licensed handgun. He read Nietzsche. He watched violent movies. Whatever your grand unified theory of school shootings is, there's enough material here to support it. I guess that can wait, though.


Forced labor

Helsingin Sanomat reports (fi) that the government has been working on a law to lessen the effects of nurses' industrial action:

The aim of the bill under preparation is to secure urgent treatment necessary to keep patients alive. Excluded from the action would be activities such as emergency room treatment, intensive care units, and treatment of premature babies and support services such as laboratories and x-ray examinations.

The Ministry of Social Affairs and Health calculates that the bill would exclude no more than ten per cent of the 12,700 nurses who have signed up for the mass resignation campaign.

The law needs to be brought before the Parliament by Friday at the latest for it to come into force in time.

I wondered if something like this might happen, as the same reasoning that has led to the currently existing limits on industrial action also applies in this case. I didn't think the government would react so quickly, though. I'd have guessed the matter would be debated in the aftermath of the resignations, should deaths ensue.

Tehy, for its part, has been adamant that the resignations are a form of industrial action. It's probably necessary to lessen the risks normally associated with resigning from your job, but it also makes it plain that the resignations are a way to get around the preexisting restrictions on health care workers' right to strike.


More presidential polls

Re the presidential polls published in Apila, they've now come out with the numbers for the Centre Party (fi). As expected, Prime Minister Matti Vanhanen leads with 34% percent of support. He's followed by former Prime Minister Esko Aho and Jorma Ollila of Nokia fame, both at eigth percent, and then former (and future) Environment Minister Paula Lehtomäki and EU Commissar Olli Rehn at six percent. Anneli Jäätteenmäki MEP and Foreign Trade Minister Paavo Väyrynen are at four percent.

Interestingly, they also released some figures of where the candidates' support is coming from. Among Centrist, Vanhanen scored at 59 percent, Aho at 12 percent, Ollila at eight percent, Lehtomäki at seven percent, Rehn at three percent, Väyrynen at two percent, and Jäätteenmäki at one percent. I wouldn't have predicted that Väyrynen and Jäätteenmäki are less popular among Centrists than respondents as a whole. Conversely, Vanhanen and Aho are more popular among their own. Outside of Centrists, Aho is most popular among Christian Democrats and National Coalition Party supporters; Lehtomäki among Left Alliance and Green League supporters; Ollila among Social Democratic Party supporters and Greens; Väyrynen among True Finns supporters; Rehn among Coalitionists, Greens, and Social Democrats; and Jäätteenmäki among True Finns.

The Tampere daily Aamulehti published a poll (fi) on Social Democratic party council members' views. 38 out of 60 members responded and the winner was Governor of Bank of Finland Erkki Liikanen with 16% of first preference votes followed by former Prime Minister Paavo Lipponen at 11% - although Aamulehti asked the respondents to name three people and then gave points, which increased Liikanen's lead. Apparently the party council hasn't warmed up to Erkki Tuomioja MP. The respondents also backed party chair Eero Heinäluoma for another term; only five of them wished him to move aside next summer.


Kind of bad news from Finland

The Bad News from Finland blog (and others like it) has a mission:

News coverage from Israel in much of the media is frequently a parody of honest journalism as defined by the 'Code of Ethics' guidelines of the profession. In order to expose the frequent distortion of news by a number of Finnish journalists, “Bad News from Finland” has been created. It focuses on negative news items from Finland. Yet it is much more honest than what these correspondents report. This blog only provides true facts and states clearly that it states negative facts only. It shows that by using real news stories without context, one can make any country look bad.

It doesn't really work, though, when the stories are things like Finland being sixth on a global competitiveness list on the theory that at least it's worse than being number one. That doesn't make the country look bad, no matter how much context you leave out.

Further, the kind of stuff the blog has so far focused on tends to go unreported in international media in the case of Israel, also. Israel came in 17th in the global competitiveness index and dropped three places. As far as I can tell, those facts weren't mentioned by the unnamed correspondents the blog seeks to parody.

In general, to show that you can act in a biased manner doesn't prove that someone else is biased. The blog would make a much better case for its central claim if it actually named the journalists it thinks are biased and analyzed their work. As it currently operates, it's not reaching its stated goal of exposing media distortion.


Kanerva on a trip

Foreign Minister Ilkka Kanerva, that master of metaphor, said (fi) he expects the government's next foreign policy report will be "like an appropriate travel brochure". According to the bard of Lokalahti,

They describe the travel destination and tell what sort of people usually go there. Additionally they give the price and information on the travel route. And when it's a question of a group trip, the brochures should be available to all. Few of us make decisions on our trips without having sufficient basic facts and evaluating them, so this must also apply to our NATO relationship.

[...] Finland's NATO membership discussion seems to have passed the Combed Ware period; the Iron Age looms, but there's still some way to go to the information society.

What I want to know is, does NATO membership have air conditioning?

The speech is even better in the original Finnish. Kanerva has a wonderful way of mixing old-fashioned, idiosyncratic terms into politicians' usual technocratic language. Such nuances are difficult to translate, alas.


Latest polls on party primaries

...for the Finnish 2012 presidential election, that is. The Centre Party's web magazine, Apila (fi), has been publishing polls on who the most popular presidential candidates are in the major parties.

For the National Coalition Party (fi), the list goes Speaker of Parliament Sauli Niinistö at 55 percent, Foreign Minister Ilkka Kanerva at four percent, and a slew of people who have no shot in hell at three percent. There's no surprise here; it's generally understood that the Coalition candidacy is Niinistö's if he wants it.

For the Social Democratic Party, the rankings are Erkki Tuomioja MP at 20 percent, former Prime Minister Paavo Lipponen at 17 percent, former Left Alliance chair Suvi-Anne Siimes at 11 percent, and Governor of Bank of Finland Erkki Liikanen at eight percent. It should be noted that the respondents were not limited to party supporters. I'd imagine that Tuomioja has a larger lead among Social Democrats than the general public.

It would be interesting to see how a Tuomioja presidential run would pan out. He agrees with President Tarja Halonen about pretty much everything and Halonen enjoys broad popularity. Nevertheless, I suspect Tuomioja isn't nearly as acceptable to center-right voters as Halonen. Lipponen has said he won't run, which leaves the floor open for someone from the Third Way wing of the party to challenge Tuomioja.

Party chairs Eero Heinäluoma and Finance Minister Jyrki Katainen are at four and three percent, respectively. At least Katainen can say he's essentially tied for second.

Now all we need is a third poll to account for the Centre itself. I mean, Prime Minister Matti Vanhanen will be in the lead, of course, but who's second?