What makes Finnish kids so smart?

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

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

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

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


Poll: Coalition 23.2, Soc Dems 22.5, Centre 22.0

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

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

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

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

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



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

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

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

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

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

Headline of the day

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

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


Digi-TV for thee, but not for me

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


Then there were nine

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

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

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

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


Oh no! Society is decaying!

Quoth Justice Minister Tuija Brax (Green League):

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

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

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

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

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

So there's that.

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

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

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


What I like about Matti Vanhanen

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

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

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

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

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


What I like about Tarja Halonen

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

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

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

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

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


Kanerva's ambitious EU foreign policy agenda

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

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

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

"Relations between EU and Russia are ambition."

"Good one, sir."


Filatov leads

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

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

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

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

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


An issue with significance for the society as a whole

Vanhanen versus Ruusunen got underway on Friday (alas):

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

Yes, but what was wrong with it?

Ban the Islamic Party

The Islamic Party - which is still collecting signatures - wants to institute the death penalty for adultery and implement Sharia law. Minister of Migration and European Affairs Astrid Thors (Swedish People's Party) opined a while back that if it can enter the party registry, the law governing these matters will have failed.

Now Justice Minister Tuija Brax (Green League) quoth (fi), "If some association's goal is to weaken women's place in the society, for example by advancing violence directed at women, we must interfere in the matter. The purpose of an association can't be unlawful; for example, it mustn't promote anyone's death or killing."

Does this mean that it's illegal for any party to support the death penalty? Or is it just illegal to support the death penalty for silly reasons? I oppose the death penalty, too, but surely supporting it is a legitimate opinion to have. As far as I know, the Islamic party isn't talking about vigilantism, but wants to change the law through democratic means.

The other thing to take into account is that the party has no change whatsoever to accomplish any of its terrible goals. We're not afraid of the Communist Workers' Party even though it supports (fi) a Marxist-Leninist dictatorship. Ministers presumably don't want to ban it even though implementing its program would entail trampling some of our basic rights. Why should the Islamic Party receive different treatment?


Police brutality

It turns out that the drunken man who pushed down Minister of Economic Affairs Mauri Pekkarinen was a police officer (who has since resigned). But of course he was.

YLE says (fi) that according to the police investigation, the man didn't know he pushed Pekkarinen, which suggests that his motivation had nothing to do with Kemijärvi - unless he blames the dwarven kind for stealing Finnish jobs or something.


51/51 change

Yes, we have a tie. MP Merikukka Forsius, previously of the Green League, switched over to the National Coalition Party. Now the Centre Party and the Coalition will have an equal number of MPs, 51. One more flip to the Coalition and things might get interesting.

Forsius, who is from Vihti, said that local Greens don't want to cooperate with her, and that the Coalition's current values fit her. I'm not sure the leap is good for her political future, though.


Kemijärvi interpellation

The opposition - all parties are involved - will submit its second interpellation this Friday. It's all about the closing of Stora Enso's Kemijärvi factory, which according to the opposition the government should have opposed through its role as a major Stora Enso stockholder. As a result, Prime Minister Matti Vanhanen's rhetoric is getting a bit heavy-handed:

The prime minister asked why the opposition did not issue similar demands to pension insurance companies and the unions that held sizeable stakes in them.

"The world would be an easy place to live if only the state bought slices in all key companies and cooperated with pension insurance companies with their even deeper pockets in order to "rescue" all the jobs in Finland through decisions taken at annual general meetings," Mr Vanhanen said, underlining that his remark was sarcastic.

Sarcasm? I don't see any sarcasm.

In related news, Ilta-Sanomat reports (fi) that a drunken man, angry about Kemijärvi, pushed down Minister of Economic Affairs Mauri Pekkarinen in Kolari last Friday. The incident happened when Pekkarinen was leaving a restaurant opening around midnight.

Personally, I think the drunkard is lucky Pekkarinen didn't bite his ankle. (Because Pekkarinen is really short.)


Urpilainen's appeal

Happened today in the Social Democratic Party chair election campaign: Jutta Urpilainen announced (fi) her candidacy. Miapetra Kumpula-Natri will say whether she's running tomorrow. Maria Guzenina-Richardson is running for vice chair - and not supporting Erkki Tuomioja, who, she implied, was "another old face".

Antti Kalliomäki - quite possibly the grayest man on earth - wants (fi) a chair who brings "a new look and youthful energy" to the party. Paavo Lipponen, for his part, wants a chair with a minimum amount of old encumbrances. Now's an opportunity to clean the table and leave old juxtapositions behind. Something tells me he isn't supporting Tuomioja, either.

The feeling I get is that what the Social Democratic influentials are after is stylistic reform, as opposed to radical substantive change. This is an understandable reaction to the parliamentary election, I think. The party promised to deliver the things its supporters want out of it, but it lacked credibility. With a fresh face as party chair, maybe it regain that credibility and leave behind the "old encumbrances" it accrued during the government years.

For Urpilainen, then, entering the race at this early date is imperative. She qualifies as a fresh face, and the contrast to Eero Heinäluoma's appearance, if not policies, would be considerable. But being quite new on the national scene and not looking like Heinäluoma aren't qualities unique to her, so she needs to move quickly to shore up support before others (read: Kumpula-Natri) challenge her for that niche.

PS: In case you're wondering, one of these days I plan to write about something else than the Soc Dems. No, really.


Strongest candidates for Soc Dem chair

Yesterday's shock announcement from Social Democratic Party chairman Eero Heinäluoma is obviously the big political news story of the day. According to YLE (fi), Tuomioja and Filatov are "the strongest candidates for party leader". YLE reached 52 of 61 party council members, of whom 33 revealed their current preferences. Erkki Tuomioja got 12 mentions, Tarja Filatov 10, Jutta Urpilainen 6, Maria Guzenina-Richardson 5, and Miapetra Kumpula-Natri 4. Tuula Haatainen, Mikko Mäenpää, Johannes Koskinen, Riitta Myller, and Lasse Lehtinen were also mentioned.

In other words, even the most popular candidate had the backing of less than 20 percent of party council members. Given the rudimentary nature of the field, there's very little we can say about the outcome at the moment, except that Tuomioja, the only one who has announced his candidacy, will in all likelihood still lack the party pooh-bahs' backing. As for the rest, I assume that the support for a fresh face - Urpilainen, Guzenina-Richardson, or Kumpula-Natri - isn't wedded to their current candidate and could be pooled behind the same person.

Incidentally, Lehtinen announced his support for Kumpula-Natri, who was Lehtinen's election chief in the last European Parliament election and pooh-poohed the possibility of taking a crack at it himself. He also described the contest as one between the Tuomioja line and the Paavo Lipponen line, and said that the future chair should be able to advance Finland's NATO membership. It's odd, then, that Kumpula-Natri opposed NATO membership (scroll down to section E) before the parliamentary election.


Heinäluoma exits the race

Er... about yesterday's headline... It was - how should I say this - very, very wrong. In fact, it was the opposite of right. In my defense, everyone else got it wrong, too.

Eero Heinäluoma announced today (fi) that he isn't running for Social Democratic Party chair. It's a bit of a bombshell and now lots of people (fi) who thought they didn't stand a change are scrambling to get in the race.

24d (fi) and Uutispäivä Demari (fi) have quotes from Heinäluoma's speech:

"We've suffered an undeniable election defeat and due to it, too, there is a need for reform. What is the chairman's responsibility and trust, what conclusions should be drawn?"

"After listening to the discussion for quite some time, I've reached the conclusion, that I should as the chairman take a clear responsibility for the election result. I've decided not to stand as a candidate in the election for party chair."

"I hope that a change of chair will give our supporters a strong message that we take the feedback we received in the election strongly."

"I hope that a change in party leadership will give our movement new strength, new energy, and also a new unity."

According to Helsingin Sanomat, he also quoted Martin Luther King(!): "If you can't be a sun, be a star."

I suspect that the constant negativity surrounding Heinäluoma after the parliamentary election got to him. He could have held on and had another crack at it. For some reason he didn't want to.

It'll be interesting to see whether former Heinäluoma supporters can line up behind a single replacement candidate. I doubt many of them will now become Tuomioja supporters, but obviously Tuomioja's chances are suddenly much better if there's no one dominant establishment candidate.


Heinäluoma enters the race amid infighting

Social Democratic Party chair Eero Heinäluoma will be up for reelection in this summer's party conference, reports (fi) party organ Uutispäivä Demari. The official announcement is due tomorrow. Few will be surprised, I should think.

Meanwhile the debate on holding a party member vote on the chair rumbles on. SONK, the Social Democratic students' organization, and the Social Democratic Youth are collecting signatures (fi) in support of a referendum. Uutispäivä Demari refused to publish the appeal and editor Juha Peltonen went on the attack, writing with dripping sarcasm (fi) that the Youth have no plans to organize a referendum and that some leading members have links to labor unions. In a somewhat peeved response (fi), SONK chair Mikko Koskinen called Peltonen a "limbo champion".

To show why the question of a referendum is so important, a Taloustutkimus poll commissioned by YLE shows (fi) that among the Social Democratic rank and file, challenger Erkki Tuomioja actually leads Heinäluoma 36 percent to 24 percent. Tuomioja's supporters tend to be women and young people (such as SONK members); Heinäluoma, with those famously extensive labor union ties, does well among workers.

Stubb's profile

British blogger Jon Worth likes National Coalition Party MEP Alex Stubb's website.


Counting votes

Hank W. is generally the best of the Finland for Thought crew when it comes to commenting on Finnish politics, but his post on election reform left something to be said.

There is a proposal into forming Finland into one or fewer electoral districts, mainly due to the fact that as the population has massed to the cities, the popular vote is valued differently in different district. So the vote of a person living in a small county weighs less than the vote of a person living in a populous city, thus conflicting the Constitutional principle of equality. Or say in the last elections Cronberg of the Greens didn't get into parliament from North Karelia (she is a minister though) even she had 8000 votes, while a True Finn Ruohonen-Lerner who got in from Porvoo with a mere thousand votes. Discrepancy? Maybe.

The number of MPs from an electoral district is proportional to the number of people living in the district, or at least about as close as it can be. This part of the system works pretty well. The real impetus for election reform is that some districts are now so small that their seats can't be divided between parties fairly. Parties need an unreasonably high percentage of the vote to elect even a single MP in low population districts, while in the big (and still growing) electoral districts a much smaller vote percentage is enough to win a seat.

As for Ruohonen-Lerner versus Cronberg, mentioning it doesn't make much sense in this context. The proposals mentioned in the media wouldn't do anything about the current open list system. Further, Cronberg was from a small district, received many votes, and wasn't elected; Ruohonen-Lerner was from a big district, received fewer votes, and was elected. This surely can't be used as an example of how votes cast in small districts count for more.

The real problem, and the one the reform is supposed to address, is the uneven way in which parties are treated in different sized districts. To use the previous case as an example, no Green League candidate was elected from Cronberg's district even though the party received 12 percent of the vote there, whereas True Finn party chair Timo Soini and Ruohonen-Lerner were both elected with six percent of the vote in their much more populous district.


Headline of the day

Helsingin Sanomat (fi): "Soc Dems want being a human as a school subject". But what does it say if you fail?

What happened here is that the Social Democrats made the mistake of giving poet/MP Tommy Tabermann something to do, namely preparing a document on mental wellbeing for the summer's party conference, and this headline is their reward. Some other proposals (fi): give people the right to their own time, include an allowance for buying art in all construction, and add silent restrooms to places of employment with more than 30 people.

If I'm reading this correctly, the key to mental wellbeing is taking naps during working hours in a room that has paintings on the walls.


Halonen on government ownership

The President is not happy with government inaction on the Kemijärvi pulp mill issue:

Tarja Halonen, Finland's president, criticised the centre-right government's ownership policy at the opening of the 2008 session of Parliament on Tuesday.

"The government has stated that central government ownership in Stora Enso, for instance, is a financial investment which does not entail employment or regional development responsibilities beyond the scope of normal corporate social responsibility," the president said in her speech.

"And I believe that this is exactly what many people want to know: is this normal corporate social responsibility, then?"


"There are no easy answers now, nor will there be in similar situations in the future. Ultimately, however, it is up to Parliament to decide what the central government does and what its ownership policy is. Power comes with responsibility. I wish Parliament wisdom in taking decisions."

It's not often the President criticizes the government on domestic policy grounds, so this should get a lot of attention.

The speech in its entirety can be read here (only in Finnish). In addition to commenting on Stora Enso, Halonen defended the President's role in leading the country's foreign policy.


Election reform hits a snag

The Justice Ministry's election reform committee, which was intended to finish its work in late March, has reportedly hit a bit of a rough patch (fi). Anonymous sources have accused the big parties of obstructionism, so this week the Centre Party's secretary Jarmo Korhonen, a member of the committee, laid down (fi) his party's proposal. He that the big parties were prepared to change the system so that the whole of Finland constitutes a single electoral area and there's a four percent national electoral threshold. The Swedish People's Party, which benefits from its regionally concentrated support and is currently barely above the four percent threshold, obviously opposes (fi) such a move.

Of the micro-parties, the Senior Party and the Liberals issued a joint statement (fi) in which they approved of the plan for a single electoral area, but said that the threshold should be larger than four percent. Instead they would like to see a two-percent threshold - which, for what it's worth, is still so high that both of them put together would have a difficult time clearing it.

Looking at the last ten parliamentary elections, on average 6.9 parties have received more than four percent of the vote and 7.7 parties have gotten more than two percent. No parties have fallen between four and two percent in the last three elections, but in the six elections before that, one or two regularly did. Fear of fragmentation is hardly an issue unless we assume that these results would change drastically. Of the current established parties, the Christian Democrats and the Green League spent several elections below four percent back in the day, but had MPs anyway due to regional support and beneficial electoral alliances.

I kind of like the idea of a single national electoral area, but I agree that four percent is too high of a threshold. There's no particular reason why the limit shouldn't be two percent.


Heinäluoma leads, Feldt-Ranta out

It has been a busy few days for Social Democratic Party internal wrangling. MTV3 polled (fi) Social Democratic district board members on who should be elected the party chair next summer. Current chair Heinäluoma romped home in first place with 53 percent of the vote, followed by Erkki Tuomioja at 22 percent. Jutta Urpilainen was third with eight percent and Tarja Filatov fourth with seven percent. The Urpilainen supporters need to find a new candidate, though, as Urpilainen announced today that she will run for vice chair.

In other Social Democratic news, party secretary Maarit Feldt-Ranta won't be seeking another term. I've found Feldt-Ranta's media skills lacking. However, while she was far from the solution to the party's problems, she wasn't their source, either. The name mooted as her successor (fi) is Ari Korhonen, the chair of the party's Varsinais-Suomi district.

In the linked blog post, MTV3's Timo Haapala hinted that the party secretary didn't look as easy for Feldt-Ranta as the party chair race for Heinäluoma, so it's possible that she jumped before she was pushed. Lending further credence to that theory, in today's Turun Sanomat SDP parliamentary group chair Filatov says (fi) the party needs a new secretary who isn't an MP.

Poll: Coalition 22.9, Centre 22.5, Soc Dems 21.6

Taloustutkimus's latest party support poll, the first of 2008, is out (fi). It must be considered good news for the government parties, which have all increased their support by a few percentage points. The Social Democratic Party was the big loser, dropping 0.9 percentage points, but it's not all bad news for SDP. The polling was conducted between January 8th and January 31st and YLE reports that during that time the Social Democrats' support increased, whereas the Centre Party lost support. Is it the Kemijärvi effect?

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
22.3 21.5 22.3 8.6 9.4 4.6 4.6 4.9 57.8 TG 12/16
22.3 22.7 22.5 8.5 9.6 4.6 4.1 4.5 58.7 TT 12/21
22.5 22.9 21.6 8.4 9.8 4.7 4.3 4.7 59.5 TT 2/2

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


Not everything on the Internet is true

While advocating for age limits on "some Internet sites" (how would that work?), Interior Minister Anne Holmlund makes some good points.

"Studies say children and young people use the internet on a daily basis."

It's a good thing studies say that, because how would you otherwise know it to be true?
"It is especially important for children and young people to learn that not everything on the internet is true."

Consider yourself educated, young people.



I've been meaning to write something about the closure of a Stora Enso pulp mill in Kemijärvi, but the story keeps growing in all directions, so I'll just do a quick recap of its main branches.

There's the government ownership angle. The government owns a plurality of Stora Enso stocks, so the opposition demands that it throw its weight around to influence Stora Enso's decision. (Here's the Left Alliance linking Kemijärvi and Bochum.) The government resists, preferring use its stocks to make money rather than politics - and, truth be told, most opposition parties would agree were they in the government.

There's the Massaliike (fi) ("Mass Movement") angle. It's a citizens group that wants to keep the pulp mill operational or, failing that, to set up a new mill in place of the old. The demonstration it organized when Prime Minister Matti Vanhanen visited Kemijärvi - a break from chatting with Dick Cheney, Arnold Schwarzenegger, and Bill Gates - was a pretty effective spectacle.

There's also the Anaika Group angle. I find this part of the story quite confusing. Anaika wants to buy the mill's site to set up a wood processing factory. Some Kemijärvi folks seem to believe that the company isn't on the up and up, but in that case, what angle would it be exploiting?


The Tits Pervert and other offenders

Re the survey on sexual harassment in the Parliament, Helsingin Sanomat did some investigative reporting and called many men and women working in the Parliament. The resulting article is interesting, but quite provocative (clearly on purpose).

At the end, the article has comments from a bunch of MPs whose names came up during the calls. I'd like to have a strong notion that these men are guilty of something before I printed their names in a newspaper and I'm not sure a person's name coming up during a round of phone calls qualifies.

On the other hand, Centre Party MP Pekka Vilkuna doesn't do himself any favors by opining that he has been accused of improper behavior "because it is fashionable these days to say that" and advising women to laugh along at the jokes. Obviously it's not "fashionable" to name Vilkuna, in particular.

PS: The article focuses on MPs and states that "as a rule the party doing the harassing is an MP", but according to the survey in almost half of the cases the harasser wasn't an MP. So it's not much of a rule.


Take a bow, idiots

From the stupid criminal files comes this tale (fi) of murderous intentions, in which several men, all around 20 years old, attempted to kill a woman with a crossbow.

To the surprise of the would-be killers, an arrow to the head failed to knock the victim unconscious. She fled to her apartment's balcony from where she screamed for help and the assailants ran away. The police soon apprehended a man carrying a crossbow near the apartment.

But that's not all! Also, being thorough contract killers, they had planned the whole thing carefully on a mate's computer. The plans found by the police - of course they were found - included a map of the target and the victim's description.

Why did the men attempt to murder the woman, you may want to know. The police believe the perps had been hired to do the deed by the victim's 16-year old daughter. Natch.

These events raise a couple of questions. First, how large was the daughter's allowance that she could afford to pay several hired killers? Alternatively, just how cheap is it to hire a complete moron to kill someone?

Second, wouldn't it be better to plan a murder without leaving documents for the police to discover? I mean, were I planning to kill someone, I wouldn't leave a file on my computer that says:

1. Go to 13 Murder Street, where Mrs Victim lives.
2. Shoot Mrs Victim in the head with a crossbow.
3. ?
4. Profit.

Third... A crossbow? Really? How embarrassed is the guy who proposed that particular murder method right about now?


The Office of the President

After Tasavallan presidentti, the same makers have a new show on YLE, Presidentin kanslia ("The Office of the President"). In my opinion it's a clear improvement on Itse valtiaat, which it replaces in the Saturday night lineup. The humor is considerably sharper, more topical, and more timely.

The show also fixes many of the things I criticized in its predecessor. The pseudo-documentary form has been dropped, the characters interact with each other more, and they have better defined personalities. Sometimes things even happen on the screen, although the budget is obviously still quite tiny.

On the downside, jokes about Tarja Halonen being a Stasi informant will get really old really fast for the segment of the viewing population that doesn't hate her guts, which I'd guess is the large majority. It doesn't work as a comedic exaggeration, because there really are people out there who believe those sort of things of her.


Sexual harassment in Parliament

In a story that has some potential, according to a survey (fi) commissioned by the Parliament, one in three women working there have been subjected to sexual harassment. About one in seven had been harassed physically and the rest had heard inappropriate comments. In four incidents out of ten, the harasser was a Member of Parliament. In response, former Culture Minister Tarja Saarela (Centre Party) has said (fi) that she has been harassed.

There were about 100 respondents in this section of the survey, so we're talking about 33 respondents who say that they have been harassed and about 14 respondents who report having been harassed physically. In total the survey was sent to 680 people, out of whom 320 respondent. Of the respondents, 224 were women. The response rate means that we probably shouldn't extrapolate the harassment rates to the entire parliamentary workforce, but the results still show that there's a problem.

Scientology Handbook

If you have any doubts about the wisdom of Scientology, the Scientology Handbook should help you make up your mind. Consider, for example, the chapter describing "assists" for illnesses and injuries. Apparently the way to help coma patients is to take their hands and press them against different objects, like pillows and bedspreads. You should talk to them while you're doing this - "I am going to assist you to recover. Feel that Tom Cruise action figure. Thank you." - because otherwise they might think you're a crazy person.

This has to be very, very black humor, though.


No to Soc Dem member vote

Social Democratic Party members won't be voting in a non-binding poll on party chair. Quoth current party chair Eero Heinäluoma:

The party management's decision was unanimous, with Eero Heinäluoma, the chairman of the SDP, saying the rules would not be changed "when one racer is already on the track".

Mr Heinäluoma's analogy was a reference to the former foreign minister Erkki Tuomioja who has challenged the party leader and called for a consultative vote among all party members before the summer's party conference.

Tuomioja's candidacy can be used as a convenient argument, but it's hardly the determining reason. If Tuomioja announces tomorrow that he's no longer in the race, it seems highly probable to me that the rules still wouldn't be changed.


Germans to boycott everything

As you've no doubt read elsewhere, a movement is gathering pace in Germany to not buy products from companies that have moved production from one place to another. The German protest movement is asking everyone to boycott Volkswagen, BMW, and Mercedes-Benz cars; Siemens electronics; and every other thing in existence. In future the German protesters plan to exist on a diet of berries and rain water and to mainly wear leaves.

(Insert Seppo Räty quote here.)


Imurda, South Gorelia

Helsingin Sanomat commissioned a study (fi) ranking cities with over 25'000 inhabitants based on the number of capital crimes committed in them in 2000-2006. Top of the list was the South Karelian city of Imatra with 5.72 capital crimes per 100'000 inhabitants, followed by Lahti and Kerava with roughly 5.5 capital crimes. The biggest cities landed in the lower reaches of the ranking; Helsinki was 24th out of 37 cities with 2.55 capital crimes.

I have little to say on the topic - I just wanted to use the headline - and the story already makes the obvious points: The results say very little about how safe you are in public places. The typical capital crime is perpetrated by a drunk, unemployed person on a drunk, unemployed acquaintance. ("Who can say why Jeppe drinks alcohol. Some lose self-control, when they drink a lot. Then these sort of things happen," commented the police chief of Imatra.)


More on Internet gambling

Re the proposed changes to the Lotteries Act it should be noted that none of them are not a sure thing. The proposals came from Ministry of Social Affairs and Health officials and will need political backing to go through. Some politicians, e.g National Coalition MP Arto Satonen (fi) and Green League MP Jyrki Kasvi (fi), have criticized the proposal to curb online poker by enabling losing players to get their money back. Outside of the Parliament, the Coalition Youth have expressed their disapproval (fi).

It's important, though, to have good arguments against the proposals, and on that front I'm afraid that these critics fall down a bit. For example, Satonen asks, "Is this how individual responsibility works? Do we really want to give young people the model, that you can gamble carefree even while drunk, and then afterwards have others pay for your losses?" The ministry of course argues - compellingly, I think - that it would never come to that. Should it be proved that Finnish pokers can effectively recoup their losses in courts, they would be barred from playing.

Satonen, Kasvi, and the Coalition Youth all propose setting up a national Internet poker site run by Finland's Slot Machine Association (RAY). The problem here is that the new service would have to compete with all the existing ones. The one competitive advantage I can think of is trustworthiness, but I kind of suspect that's only enough to attract a large market share if the non-licensed foreign competitors aren't superior in other fields, like quality of opponents, quality of software, and the house's profit margin.

Kasvi writes, "Finnish authorities could monitor its operation and legislation could mandate for example recognizing the signs of problem gambling, counseling to control playing, and recognizing and shutting out obvious professional players." Given that the signs of a professional player is that he plays quite a bit and tends to win, I'm not sure barring everyone who meets the description is going to make a new site very popular. I can also see professional players and losing poker addicts alike staying put in the Internet card rooms they currently frequent.

All that said, the proposals are worth opposing. Problem gambling just isn't that common and online poker trails behind slot machines in the gambling form of choice for the true addict. The Määttä report (fi, PDF) has some statistics on this and although it tries to paint the issue as a serious problem, the actual figures cited are pretty darned small. In 2003, about 5'500 people called a problem gambling help line; in 2006, the share of online gamblers among the callers was 14 percent; according to international studies, about 0.5 to three percent of people suffer from gambling related problems; and so on. Further, compared to e.g. excessive alcohol use, the externalities from problem gambling are tiny - fewer health problems, less crime, etc. The problem isn't widespread or intensive enough to justify restricting people's personal autonomy like the ministry proposes.


US presidential candidates' environmentalism

The two aspects of the US presidential campaign I find most interesting from the point of view of a condescending European are the candidates' foreign policy views and their environmental views. If you've been following the campaign at all, you've probably gotten a pretty good idea of where the front-runners stand on foreign policy, but environmental policy doesn't get as much attention in the media. To that end, here's a handy charty from Grist magazine.

While I'm at it, the Green League party organ Vihreä lanka published an article on the topic (fi). Their conclusion was that John Edwards was the best of the Democrats, although they got there mainly by noting that he opposes nuclear power whereas Barack Obama supports it and Hillary Clinton won't say. If you disagree with the assumption that nuclear power is bad for the environment, your ranking may differ with theirs. On the Republican side, they named John McCain as the first Republican candidate who takes climate change seriously and supports cap-and-trade.


Party chair member vote fever - catch it!

Centre Party secretary Jarmo Korhonen presents in Apila magazine (fi) his plan for electing the party chair. Korhonen would like to see a member vote that would be binding in the case that one candidate more than half of the votes. Otherwise the choice would be left to the party conference.

Turun Sanomat interviewed (fi) other party secretaries. National Coalition Party secretary Taru Tujunen thinks a member vote is a "very interesting idea." She claims, though, that the Coalition's party conferences are "so big that in fact everyone can attend." Green League secretary Panu Laturi notes that one in ten members already attends party conferences. According to Left Alliance secretary Sirpa Puhakka, "it's clear that the party conference decides," but that a member vote "isn't out of the question for example in ten years time."

Within the Social Democratic Party, Erkki Tuomioja, who set off this discussion, has found a supporter in potential rival candidate Jutta Urpilainen. As per her text message to Helsingin Sanomat (fi), "a non-binding referendum would be a good start" to increasing party members' opportunities to make a difference.


Risk free poker

It turns out (fi) that the Ministry of Social Affairs and Health is preparing an update to the Lotteries Act (PDF). A working group published its suggestions (PDF, fi) today. A ban on minors' gambling is apparently on the cards, apparently, as well as a ban on advertising, save for factual information distributed by licensed operators.

The working group also takes aim at foreign online casinos, or "illegal gambling providers", as the ministry calls them. The possibilities of banning money transfers and Internet connections should be examined. In an ingenious solution, the working group mentions the idea that losing players would be entitled to get their money back from non-licensed providers - the hope being that foreign Internet casinos wouldn't accept Finnish customers. I find it difficult to believe that such a blatant end run around EU legislation could succeed, but I'm no legal expert.

Helping people with gambling problems is cited extensively as the rationale for making these changes. I'd buy that as the main motivating factor if the proposals also went after slot machines, the leading cause of gambling addiction in Finland. Since they don't, I'll go with the theory that the ministry is trying to protect and strengthen Finland's Slot Machine Association's (RAY) monopoly on casino table games.

The ministry also ordered an expert report (fi, PDF) from Professor Kalle Määttä. In the report, Määttä makes some questionable claims about the nature of poker. For example, he argues that poker could be considered a game of luck because, even though in the long run good players will win over bad ones, in the short term a beginner can beat a professional. But of course the better player has an edge over worse players in the short term, too, regardless of whether it is enough to overcome the variance inherent in distributing cards randomly.

Määttä also compares online poker to a pyramid scheme, noting that in both many people lose money and relatively few win. That disparity, however, isn't the defining feature of a pyramid scheme. After all, in Lotto, the state-run lottery, a great many lose and very few win; that doesn't mean that it's a pyramid scheme.


Blair for EU President

What a terrible idea this is. Admittedly a lot of people in a lot of different countries know Tony Blair, which can't be said for most possible candidates. Alas, he's known for making a disastrous mistake and then not owning up to it, i.e. for showing bad judgment and not being particularly trustworthy. That sort of fame isn't really a desirable quality in a candidate.


It's a Tuomioja landslide

Helsingin Sanomat's Hanna Kaartio magnificently reports (fi) that Erkki Tuomioja is leading the race for Social Democratic Party chair on the Internet. She musters two, count them, points of data in favor of this thesis:

  1. On Facebook, Tuomioja's support group has about 140 members, whereas Jutta Urpilainen's support group has about 40 members.
  2. On reilusuomi.fi (fi), a SDP website where people can share their thoughts on the party's future, Tuomioja was leading a poll on who should be the next chair. Out of ten votes in total, he had five, Urpilainen had four, and current chair Eero Heinäluoma had one.
That's some ace reporting right there.

Meanwhile in less earth-shattering news (fi), party secretary Maarit Feldt-Ranta (who's actually more likely than Heinäluoma to lose her post) said that Tuomioja is too late with the proposal for a non-binding vote open to all party members. "The party board or the party council received no suggestions that an advisory vote by the members should be organized. Tuomioja must have missed this." Sure, the party council could change its mind in its next meeting, but Feldt-Ranta thinks the option is "hypothetical".

I'm thinking Maarit isn't in Erkki's Facebook group.


Vanhanen in America

As I've written before, certain sections of the media have been wringing their hands over the dearth of top level meetings between Finland and the United States. Now, however, Prime Minister Matti Vanhanen is scheduled to meet with the guy in charge:

Prime Minister Matti Vanhanen starts a visit to the United States on Sunday. Vanhanen will have official discussions with the U.S. Vice President Dick Cheney in Washington D.C.

I'm glad that we can now drop this silly topic.


Tuomioja is running, sort of

Social Democratic Party MP, former Foreign Minister Erkki Tuomioja announced (fi) he will stand as a party chair candidate in a non-binding party membership vote, if such a thing is organized. The vote isn't a sure thing, though, as the current chair, former Finance Minister Eero Heinäluoma has expressed doubts about holding it.

The election method is for regional representatives gathered to the party conference to choose the chair. I think Tuomioja believes that if the vote is left up to party insiders, he doesn't stand much of a chance, so he needs to up the public pressure. If he wins a non-binding membership vote and still loses the party conference representative vote, it would lead to calls to change the election procedure, which might also be an acceptable result for him. Also, if party members are denied the opportunity to have their say, Tuomioja has some new supporting evidence for his case against Heinäluoma.

Tuomioja's themes were undivided human rights and equality. According to him the party's popularity depends on how well those values are carried out. I find a bit odd the emphasis on human rights. Now, obviously human rights are important, but they're not exactly a leading election issue, are they? Support for human rights also doesn't seem to differentiate him all that much from his main opponent. Or does Heinäluoma have some anti-human rights positions of which I'm not aware?


OSCE time

It's enlightening to occasionally observe how differently the same events are covered in Finnish and Russian press. For example, compare Helsingin Sanomat with Moscow Times on Foreign Minister Ilkka Kanerva's comments upon taking the OSCE chairmanship.

While I'm on the subject, while this YLE article states that Russia accepting election monitoring during the upcoming presidential election "would be a great victory for Finland", I'm far from convinced that Finland had anything to do with it.


Price of milk

The next time an unlucky politician is criticized for not knowing the price of some common grocery, remember this:

More than one in ten respondents could not give any price for a carton of milk or a packet of sausages in euros, while those few who did logged an average error of almost 30 per cent.

And yes, things used to be better in the old days:
In a similar poll taken before euro notes and coins hit the tills in Finland found that nearly all respondents could provide some sort of estimates of the prices of staples, with errors remaining below the 20-per cent mark.

For the record, I missed the price of milk by 11 cents.


Heinäluoma vs Tuomioja II on the cards

Social Democratic Party MP and former Foreign Minister Erkki Tuomioja will reveal Saturday whether he'll challenge incumbent Eero Heinäluoma for the party chairmanship. Helsingin Sanomat reports (fi) that sources close to Tuomioja believe he will enter the race. In 2005, when Heinäluoma was elected to the job, Tuomioja gathered a third of the vote.

Since the parliamentary election loss, Tuomioja has been busy searching for a new direction for the party. Inasmuch as he's found one, what better way is there to put it in practice than as the chairman of the party? I don't think he's going to win, mind you, but it would be interesting to see him try and what repercussions it would have to SDP's policies.

Other potential candidates who have not ruled out a run are former Justice Minister Johannes Koskinen and Jutta Urpilainen. The party meeting will be held in June, so now's a good time to announce one's candidacy.


Causes of poverty

Great ledes of our time, from Helsingin Sanomat (fi): "A majority of Finns thinks that the cause of poverty is that a person is unemployed or has a too low salary." It seems that most Finns have firmly grasped the link between not making much money and poverty. No wonder we rocked PISA.

More seriously, the study (fi) that prompted the article looked into whether people attribute poverty to individual, structural, or fatalistic causes. According to a 2005 survey, most blamed poverty on societal structures, fate, and poor luck. Few think poverty is about laziness or lack of will.

I'm not sure why you'd want to set these causes against each other. Surely the correct explanation includes a bit of each.


Presidential election procedure

Re constitutional reform, Aamulehti interviewed (fi) parliamentary Constitutional Law Committee members Kimmo Kiljunen (Social Democratic Party) and Kimmo Sasi (National Coalition Party). Lest my previous post on the topic leave the wrong impression about said gentlemen's opinions, I'll summarize what they had to say.

According to Kiljunen, the Social Democratic representatives involved with constitutional affairs believe that if the President's powers are taken away, electing the President should be left to the Parliament. Kiljunen said that he considers this to be the best alternative.

The article notes that the Social Democrats have traditionally demanded that the President be elected by the Parliament. After the last five presidential elections, however, it shouldn't take a genius to see that the election system is good for the Social Democrats due to the centre-right parties supporting their own candidates and the Left Alliance usually backing the Social Democrat in the race. Why would Kiljunen want to make an unpopular change that is likely to hurt his party's power? I wonder how widespread his kind of thinking is among the Social Democrats.

According to Sasi, the President should be elected through a popular vote, because "There's not yet enough confidence that some electoral college would select the sort of person the people want. And there's no reason to take the election away from the people, even if the powers are reduced." Sasi, too, favors stripping the President of her powers.

The logical options, I think, are a ceremonial head of state elected by the Parliament and a President with real powers elected by the voters. Sasi's argument about the potential for cabinet wheeling and dealing is silly; there'd be no point whatsoever in electing a controversial, unpopular figure to a ceremonial post. If the choice is left to the Parliament, I fully expect our future Presidents to be inoffensive establishment figures. It'll all become frightfully dull.

As far as other parties are concerned, the article says that the Centre Party is undecided, with the party base traditionally supporting a strong President. True Finns chair Timo Soini, who rarely misses these kind of opportunities, announced (fi) that he, at least, likes the current situation.


Party papers on the Web

Helsingin Sanomat has a piece on party web magazines, in which representatives from all parties promise to develop whatever services they're currently offering.

Currently only the Centre Party has the best web magazine going in Apila (fi). By contrast, the party organ, Suomenmaa (fi), has a pretty shabby-looking web site that only carries a few stories from the current paper and has nothing in the way of archives that you can browse.

The Social Democratic Party's Ruusuverkko (fi) publishes two to four stories a month, which isn't enough. It also lacks a newspaper-like front page, although the stories do appear on the party website's front page. Of course there's Uutispäivä Demari (fi), the party organ, which has a pretty good website.

For the National Coalition Party, Verkkouutiset (fi) does a good job of reproducing politics-related Finnish News Agency stories with only the occasional editorial thrown in. Aside from the editorials, its Coalitionist leanings sometimes show in stories' headlines and prominence. The party organ, Nykypäivä (fi), provides more opinion pieces and has a nice archive.

The Green League's party organ, Vihreä Lanka (fi), doesn't put all too many of its stories online. The party has no online magazine per se; the closest thing is a blog (fi) which isn't updated all that often. The Left Alliance's party organ Kansan Uutiset (fi). Despite a slightly clumsy design, it offers a decent amount of original news stories and opinion pieces.

The common problems these papers have is that a) they don't provide enough original content (Ruusuverkko, Verkkouutiset, Vihreä Lanka), and b) the web design is pretty poor (Suomenmaa, Kansan Uutiset, Ruusuverkko). Instead of having several papers on the Web, maybe the parties should focus on developing their party organs' online presences. The content is already mostly there; what's lacking are websites that look sharp, offer archives that you can browse, and offer at least some interactive features. Group blogs might also be nice - for examples, see TAPPED, The Corner, or Hit & Run.



I propose that henceforth all headlines for stories about Republican presidential candidate Mike Huckabee should be huckawords - that is, combinations of the prefix "hucka-" and the actual word. Preferably the headlines should end in an exclamation point, but this is not strictly mandatory.

I'll give a few example, so you'll see how this works.

Story: Huckabee wins a primary.
Headline: Huckaboom!

Story: Huckabee loses a primary.
Headline: Huckabust!

While single syllable end words work well, you shouldn't be afraid to use longer ones.
Story: Huckabee is criticized by conservative commentator Jonah Goldberg.
Headline: Huckafascist!

Story: Huckabee polls poorly head-to-head against Democratic candidates.
Headline: Huckainelectability!

Now all we need is a Huckabee story that also involves a duck...


Bildt on Nordic defense cooperation

YLE reports (fi) that Swedish Foreign Minister Carl Bildt (se) said that defense cooperation between Finland, Norway, and Sweden meets the new types of soft security challenges better than NATO membership. Bildt raised the possibility of also inviting other countries on the Baltic. (Bildt expressed frustration about being unable to find information on the Foreign Ministry's NATO report in languages other than Finnish. Not an aLwNGL reader, obviously.)

Noted NATO membership supporter and parliamentary foreign policy committee chair Pertti Salolainen (National Coalition Party) was asked for comment. He agreed with Bildt on the Nordic approach, but expressed some reservation about including the Baltic countries. Salolainen also admitted a basic fact: "Now it's pretty clear that during this parliamentary term and during this presidency we won't be joining NATO." True, that.

Noted NATO membership opponent and President of the Republic Tarja Halonen (Social Democratic Party) was likewise asked for comment. She, too, agreed (fi). "[Bildt] said that with regards to these new security risks, Nordic cooperation may even be more important than membership in some alliance. With this in mind one can say that he's thinking along Finnish lines. To kid a little, it's nice that Swedes too join in this thinking." The difference to Salolainen was that Halonen was less reserved on the idea of including the Baltic states, mentioning that there have already been talks on cooperation.

The point to grasp here is that Nordic defense cooperation is so inoffensive that both sides of the Finnish foreign policy debate can embrace. A cynic would say this is true because it wouldn't make much of a difference to anything, new threats or no new threats. But it's still nice.


Pictures of Helsinki circa 1907

The Helsinki City Museum has a nice online exhibition of pictures taken of Helsinki sights by Signe Brander in the early 1910s. The pages are in Finnish, but navigation is pretty simple. There are two tours ("kierros"), each of which have several objects ("kohde"), each of which feature several pictures ("kuva"). "Panoraama" takes you to a panorama view and "animaatio" to an animation view, where applicable.

To keep things political, here's an animation (of sorts) of a workers' May Day parade.

Brander has captured the bleeding edge of early 20th century political advertising, from prior to the first unicameral parliamentary election in 1907.

Here's a shot of the inaugural service held at St. Nicholas' Church (a.k.a. the Helsinki Cathedral) and here's a parade from the church to the Imperial Palace (a.k.a. the Presidential Palace).

There's also a pretty panorama view from the church dome.

Finally, for those interested in a bit of social realism, Brander also photographed Töölö and the area's ordinary folk.


Halonen's New Year's speech

In the remote chance that you didn't the President's traditional New Year's speech, you can find the text (fi) on-line. A translation is probably in the works. If so, it'll be posted here. In the meantime, here's my summary:

"Things have been nice and peaceful lately. It's a shame about Jokela, though.

"Still, public welfare services rock, because they keep you safe. Social equality rocks, too, but sadly nowadays some people make less money than others.

"You know what else is nice? Comprehensive income agreements. I mean, just think about this autumn's quarrels. I hear some people want to make some reforms here.

"Everyone should do something about climate change, including us. Also, the Baltic Sea is a bit polluted. Come on, Baltic Sea peoples, let's work together here.

"How about that Mikael Agricola, eh? Not that everyone speaks Finnish.

"There are Christians, Jews, and Muslims in Finland, and I've been talking to all three. Talking is good.

"I met an Afghan immigrant girl. She said she likes it here, probably due to the peace.

"Big ups to our soldiers serving abroad.

"We'll be chairing OSCE next year. The whole thing was Kekkonen's idea, need I remind you.

"We had a parliamentary election in 2007. In 2008 we'll hold municipal elections. Municipalities offer welfare services. Please vote, 'cause elections matter.

"Thanks for everything. Peace out."

What a wonderful tradition.