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Finland for Thought » 2007 » May | Politics, current events, culture - In Finland & the United States | Blog of an American living in Finland

Finland for Thought
             Politics, current events, culture - In Finland & United States

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30.5.2007

Laughing at how our tax money is spent

Tags: Uncategorized — Author: @ 4:41 pm

Seriously – doesn’t this sound exactly like something David Brent (from BBC’s The Office) would do… (or rather, has actually done in one episode LOL!! )

Clowns enlisted to raise spirits of Tampere municipal workers. “Laughter is the core of well-being”, says city’s personnel chief.[...]

The idea for the city clowns came from comedian Mona Ratalahti, occupational well-being trainer Riitta Harilo, and its godmother was Kirsi Koski, head of the Mayor’s office. Koski has worked as the city’s head of personnel for three years.

“I have thought about what would be the core of well-being. Yes, it is laughter”, Koski says. “It is all right to laugh at craziness – at what is not said out loud in business discussions.” Ratalahti feels that a clown nose “changes us and the viewer in such a way that forces people to look at things differently”.

“When people enjoy their work, it is reflected directly on the bottom line.”

tampere_clown.jpg
Photo on left by Reijo Hietanen, from Helsingin Sanomat

Foreigners, ecstasy, and the Left Alliance

Tags: Uncategorized — Author: @ 2:20 pm

Am I just being paranoid here, or does it seem that the Finnish press just love to make a bigger deal out of arrests of Estonians and Russians? Reading between the lines, I see, “It’s not the Finns causing trouble in Finland, it’s those pesky foreigners…”

Police in Helsinki have uncovered a record number of ecstasy tablets. In April, police confiscated over 30,000 tablets from an Estonian man living in Finland. The drugs, which were hidden around Helsinki and Turku, are valued at about 450,000 euros.

The suspect, who was previously convicted of committing violent crimes, was in taken into custody in April. Police suspect that he has been a key figure in distributing the drug. His detention is expected to affect the entire ecstasy market in Finland. Preliminary investigations are still underway.

…yeah, it’ll affect the entire market for a week or two. If he’s got 30,000 pills, he’s not dealing them one-by-one, he’s a distributer, and higher up there on the food chain. A lot of smaller dealers depend on him, and will quickly find another source. And if you think there’s only one guy supplying the entire nation with ecstasy, you’re clearly mistaken. It’s like saying that if Nokia disappears, it’ll affect the entire mobile phone market in Finland – sure for a while it will, but people need mobile phones, and will quickly move on to another competitor.

The point is that you’ll never slow down the flow of drugs by arresting dealers, there’s always a hundred other guys waiting to take his place. Most likely one of his trust, smaller-time dealers will take his spot. Even if the authorities were successful at removing one type of drug, users would just move on to another. I think Finland’s Left Alliance Youth has the right idea

The youth organisation of the opposition Left Alliance Party, the Left Youth of Finland, has narrowly passed a resolution calling for the legalisation of the use and home cultivation of cannabis. The decision came at a convention of the organisation this past weekend.

pills_pills_pills.jpg

Back from cruisin’

Tags: Uncategorized — Author: @ 2:48 am

Ahh…just returned back from a cruise through the Mediterranean. My girlfriend and I met on a cruise in the Caribbean almost seven years ago, this is our first cruise since. After this we decided that cruises are the only way to travel. You’re pampered the entire time, the food is absolutely amazing, everyday you wake up in a new city, there’s nothing more relaxing and stress free, and it’s relatively cheap, especially since everything was in US dollars. (everything is included except alcohol, excursions, and spa treatments)

Sometimes I wonder if Finns (and the rest of Europe?) really know about cruises cause all the cruise lines in Europe seem to be like 99% Americans/Canadians. These giant ships are very very different from the Stockholm and Tallinn booze cruises. Helsinki Summers are full of big ships bringing tourists to the city for the day then exploring the rest of the Baltic, but I wonder how many Finns have actually been on one?

Big thanks to Hank and Kristian for continuing to write while I was away!! And of course, who can’t visit Pisa without this obligatory photo…
phil_pisa.jpg

27.5.2007

Iraqiberia Teaches

Tags: Uncategorized — Author:   @ 11:45 pm

A small piece of news flew under my radar the other week, I had to echelonize it for a while. The Finns have this kind of a saying: “Siberia Teaches”, from the time of the Russian Empire if you were a civil servant who disliked your post you were sent to Siberia for a few years and then if you were lucky you could return. Somehow the whining stopped. Well, it seems that the US government is using a hot place instead of the cold one. HS International Edition on 18.5 wrote of one William Davnie, a former Press and Cultural Affairs Counsellor at the United States Embassy in Helsinki wrote a piece for the November 2006 issue of Foreign Service Journal.

Davnie wrote that most of the politically-appointed ambassadors are “profoundly handicapped in fulfilling their new duties”, regardless of the success of their former careers. They tend to alienate the local public with political talking points that are born out of the domestic political debate, fail to “switch mental gears” for the new milieu or make a connection there, and do not have a sufficient grasp of important issues. He also expressed a measure of sympathy for their plight in stepping from the radically-different corporate executive world into that of slow-moving diplomatic routines. Davnie added that the time of embassy staff is taken up in averting or smoothing over the faux pas of non-career ambassadors and getting them up to speed with local matters.

Note the former press Councellor.

“A position was offered to him to serve in Iraq and he took it”, said Davnie’s successor Chad Peterson on behalf of the Ambassador. Before coming to Finland, Davnie had learned to speak fluent Finnish, which he managed to use in Helsinki for less than two years before his instant transfer to Iraq.

Where he probably could have used his talent in private conversations with the Governor of Najaf. No wonder he decided for early retirement.

So, I guess Siberia and Iraq are high on the Pisa-scores whan it comes to civil servants no-whine training.

26.5.2007

New coalition seeks improvements to daycare system

Tags: Uncategorized — Author:   @ 9:32 pm

I’m entirely in favor of giving parents greater choices in deciding how to raise their children, and it looks like the ruling coalition is taking praiseworthy steps in that direction—at least, in spirit so far. The issue involves daycare. It’s no secret that many people around the world envy Finland’s universal daycare system, whereby mothers can pay small fees to disclaim their little ones while going off to work. How liberating!

But only for some. Unfortunately, what many proponents don’t realize is that the system discriminates against those parents who’d like to raise children according to their own wishes rather than in conformance with some state-prescribed solution. And obviously, it also discriminates against single people whose tax money disproportionately pays for services from which they’ll never benefit.

So the new government aims to make the system fairer for everyone concerned. However, it is coming under fire for targeting those at the lower end of the income spectrum with fee increases. The first half-day of daycare will remain free paid-for by taxpayers, but more fees would be garnered from users of the second half-day of service.

Whether this is a just criticism, I don’t know. But ultimately, if they get the details ironed-out, an increased initiative in the fee-for-service direction could potentially be spot-on. Let’s hope for the best.

Caution: Public saunas for experts only!

Tags: Everything — Author:   @ 1:19 pm

This is pretty funny, but perhaps only when looking at it from the outside. Some unpleasant sauna patrons in Vuosaari are heating things up by dumping copious amounts of water on the stove and causing their fellow sauna-goers to run for cooler refuge. But that’s not all…

Ruthless throwing-on-of-water is only one of the causes for complaint this year: there have been reports of swearing and insults, too.
“We have a lot of children in here. Something has to be done.”

Swearing and insults?! Seems like things are really out of control. Those must be some hyper-competitive experts practicing to win acclaim in the World Sauna Championships. Let’s hope they get things sorted-out before someone has a heart attack.

Speaking of sauna mischief, I staked my own claim-to-sauna-fame many years-ago as a youngster of about 6-years-old. I was the first one in, and my father and grandfather were still in the adjoined changing room. For reasons I cannot explain, I couldn’t resist peeing on the sauna stove. Needless to say, that seemingly innocent act ended our sauna session before it even began, and we had to evacuate the house for a while. It was the source of chuckles for many years thereafter.

These days, I’ve mostly retired from such antics. A traditional wood sauna (mine is over 100-years-old) cold beer, cool lake and midnight sun is all I need. No competition necessary. Only pure summertime enjoyment.

Any other sauna stories out there?

25.5.2007

Finns choosing overpriced cars over sparse public transit

Tags: Uncategorized — Author:   @ 7:06 am

According to a recent study, families who live on the outskirts of cities are choosing to own two- even three-cars instead of taking public transit. I’m an avid user of public transit and can say that it’s no suprise: Even public transit within Finland’s main tri-city region, with its 1M+ residents, is probably the sparsest of all European cities in terms of availability.

You can spend many hours each day waiting for bus connections, and many times the buses don’t even show according to their schedules. Nighttime transit is almost non-existent, and a quick taxi ride to the outskirts can easily cost 40€—generally, taxis in Finland cost about double the normal European rates.

So why would people who live on the outskirts even bother with public transit when adequate service can’t even be provided within the main city region itself?

Apparently, that’s what many people are asking themselves these days. It’s a telling phenomenon that Finnish families are willing to fork-over in excess of 20K€ in car taxes (because Finland doesn’t adhere to EU treaties and taxes automobiles at illegally high rates) rather than rely on lousy public transit.

Most of us who have any experience with Finland—I, personally, have many decades of experience—unfortunately know that Finns are experts in getting ripped off by government. Many simply believe and assume they’re getting a good deal. In this case, the choice is between buying grotesquely overpriced automobiles versus paying hefty sums for sparse public transit. I’m sure you’ll agree, neither is a good choice; both are bona-fide ripoffs in their own respects.

It all stems from Finland’s economic system which is a specter of Socialist/Communist ideology that ruled Finland in days gone by. Now, its high-tax mantra only ensures that income-producing wealth resides outside of Finland, leaving the country relatively poor, services underfunded and its working population to bear the full burden of funding the infrastructure. The system’s shortcomings are not only evidenced by international surveys, but in this case more obviously by the low standard of public transportation and lack of economically-priced alternatives.

21.5.2007

Does Stefan Wallin have gender identity issues?

Tags: Everything — Author:   @ 4:53 am

Here on Finland for Thought, we like to discuss how heavily Finns rely on the nanny-state government. It dictates how much Finns should pay for such things as alcohol and cars, and it even sees fit to publicize their personal financial information against their individual consent. Unflinchingly, Finns acquiesce to its parental guiding hand. Now, that same guiding hand is telling Finnish parents that they aren’t capable of making the right decisions, and that their decisions are leading to unfairness in society. More specifically, the issue centers around gender identity. So, the newly elected government has dispatched an expert in protecting us, members of society, from our own seething morass. His name is Stefan Wallin. Perhaps he’s from Sweden; how appropriate for such a social engineering task.

His clarion call is for ‘men’ to start taking over the role which nature has so perfectly ascribed to mothers. I was very curious about how this ‘expert’ arrived at such an oddball strategy that seems so contrary to human behavior. After all, he must know something that has mysteriously eluded the evolution of our species for millions of years. So, I researched the topic and found this….

Wow! Until now, I always assumed that humans were formed in the binary sense. That is, men are men, and women are women. But now I see that life isn’t so simple. Aberrations are bound to exist, and there’s a whole range of gender identities with their respective behavioral traits to consider. Fine, I can accept that. And I think we should avoid discriminating against- or treating with disdain- those with gender identity issues. Apparently, these matters are decided well in advance, before we are born.

Although we might surmise that those who support government initiatives to correct such perceived inequities would like to see their own gender identity issues legitimized, I won’t speculate on any possible gender identity issues concerning our Swede, Mr. Wallin. I’ll leave that for you, the reader, to decide. And I will assume that he only aims to help those who have such issues. However, despite his good bizarre intentions, I must ask him kindly: In light of exorbitant consumer prices, low purchasing power and ultra-high taxation in Finland, PLEASE don’t add insult to injury by using our hard-earned tax money to fund your SOCIAL ENGINEERING schemes!

17.5.2007

My 2008 U.S. Presidential picks

Tags: Uncategorized — Author: @ 11:31 am

I’m telling you all now so I can come back and say “I told you so!” 18 months from now… :-)

Rudy Giuliani is going to win the nomination because the conservatives in the media have already picked him as their golden boy, they know he’s the only neocon who has a shot to win the White House. I’m guessing John McCain gets second, Ron Paul third, Mitt Romney fourth (Mormon in the white house? not a chance). It really doesn’t matter because Giuliani will win the nomination in a landslide.

John Edwards will win the Democratic election, Hillary a close second, Obama a distant third. Hillary and Obama will split the minority vote and Edwards will clean up in the south. If Al Gore ever threw his hat in, he’d be a strong contender to win – but I doubt the Dems will ever allow it since they already have three strong contenders and the Republicans are very weak this term.

Dr. Ron Paul will lose the Republican nomination but the Libertarian Party will nominate him as their candidate and he’ll continue to run on their ticket. The media blackout on Paul will continue because they know he can really shake things up. He’ll get the highest number of votes in Libertarian Party history, maybe 2-3% of the popular vote.

The Greens represent the only anti-war left-wing candidate, yet they receive very little support since all the leftists vote Democratic like in 2004. The Constitution Party have a strong showing since Giuliani will appear “too liberal” for the nationalists, but still showing <1% of the vote.

The Democrats will win the White House, the Libertarians will be blamed for losing the election for the Republicans, just like Ralph Nader did in 2000, and Ross Perot in 1992. I fear however that if Hillary gets the nomination, Rudy could beat her.

16.5.2007

Rudy Giuliani vs. Ron Paul – Why U.S. was attacked on 9/11

Tags: Uncategorized — Author: @ 9:52 pm

Thanks to Kenneth over at Tundra Tabloids for this great video clip of the recent Republican Presidential Debate hosted by FOXNEWS. Congressman Ron Paul blames the 9/11 attacks on America’s interventionist foreign policy. Rudy Guliani blasts Paul for it, demands him to retract his statement, yet Paul persists and defends it.

Wow, I am really excited about Ron Paul and the upcoming U.S. Presidential elections. The more I hear from Dr. Paul, the more respect I have for him. The more I hear from Giuliani, the more I realize he’s just another reincarnation of Bush, there’s absolutely no difference between these two (Giuliani was only pretending to be liberal in order to win NYC voters). Anyone who thinks all these Middle Easterners want to harm the U.S. because they’re jealous of our “freedom” is just plain retarded.

Here’s the Paul/Giuliani debate…

Here’s how Rudy Giuliani’s entire campaign will be like… (seriously)

15.5.2007

Bush too busy to meet with Halonen

Tags: Uncategorized — Author: @ 3:18 pm

Wow, Halonen sounds like an teary-eyed 10-year old who wasn’t invited to the cool kid’s birthday party. Look Tarja, President Bush is a very busy man, those bombs just don’t kill civilians themselves yah know!!

The United States has declined a Finnish request for a meeting between President Tarja Halonen and US President George W. Bush this week. At the same time, a meeting was arranged with Swedish Prime Minister Fredrik Reinfeldt, who is scheduled to meet Bush today, Tuesday. According to the office of the President, Finland had asked about the possibility of a meeting with the US President during Halonen’s visit to the United States. The request was turned down for scheduling reasons. Scheduling problems are routinely invoked in international diplomacy to turn down a proposed meeting.

[...]US leaders also met with representatives of the Swedish government more frequently than those of Finland also when the Social Democrats were in power in that country under the leadership of Göran Persson. Both Finland and the United States have denied that the infrequency of meetings between Finnish and American leaders is an indication of problems in relations between the two countries.

bush_snubs_halonen.jpg

You Gotta Flight For Your Rights

Tags: Uncategorized — Author: @ 1:39 pm

Here’s a guest post from reader, “Dave the Slave”, about customer service in Finland…

About two months ago I reserved and paid for tickets for my family summer vacation to New England (more specifically HEL-BOS on Finnair). I paid for tickets for flights that were cancelled and Finnair asked me to pay them more money to travel on the day scheduled (via different route). This is not acceptable and possibly a violation of EU consumer protection laws.

My children (15 and 8 years of age) were scheduled to fly earlier (as unaccompanied minors) and to return with me At the time, prices at other airlines were very competitive, but I chose but I specifically chose Finnair due to the “direct” nature of the route. I paid for the kids in person and on separate online reservations my wife and myself with (as this whole thing isn’t entirely over, let’s call the travel agncy TravelMax.fi, a fictional online travel agency). The tickets, including taxes, surcharges and cancellation insurance totalled nearly 3000 €.

TravelMax.fi sent me the tickets, itineraries and luggage tags in the mail within a few days. I thought our vacation plans were now safely planned and organised.

However, last week I got a cryptic email from an TravelMax.fi employee which stated that “there has been a change in your reservation, please contact us as soon as possible.” (more…)

Ravintolat: The welfare state restaurant ripoff

Tags: Everything — Author:   @ 1:02 am

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I saw a bus stop advertisement for a Parmesan-Kanahampurilainen (Parmesan Chicken Burger) from a Finnish burger chain and thought how good it looks in the picture. I was hungry and, for 3.50€, how could I go wrong, right?

Wrong! Unlike how the picture led me to believe, there were only two tiny strips of chicken inside. They were strategically placed around the edges of the bun to make it look full. But nothing was in the middle except some goopy filler.

Naturally, meat is the most expensive ingredient in any such food product. All other ingredients are dirt-cheap in comparison. I don’t think Finnish consumers have figured this out yet…..but then again, restaurants are relatively empty in Finland. So maybe they have.

There were many well-dressed people waiting in line, so I promptly seized the opportunity to educate by confronting the manager standing behind the counter. I asked, “I ordered a Kanahampurilainen and there are only two tiny pieces of chicken in there?! Where’s the rest?!” Then I proclaimed, “This is dishonest advertising!! ”

My point wasn’t to insult the manager, because I knew the poor guy was only doing his job; he can’t influence the standard product. Nevertheless, I felt the need to make a point when he refused to understand what I was complaining about. So, I took the tiny chicken strips off the bun and set them on the gleaming metal counter.

Then I turned-around to those waiting in-line and said, “Look, I just paid 3.50€ for these two tiny strips of chicken.”

I’ve spoken Finnish all my life, but I have a distinct accent and particular word usage pattern that gives me away every time. Knowing that people are always curious about my funky linguistics, I asked those in line, ” Tunnetteko englantilaisen sanan ‘Ripoff’?”

Of course they knew the word.

Then I told the manager that he could keep the burger two tiny strips of chicken. “Saat pitää.” I turned and walked-out, leaving a little mess on the counter. It felt good because I did it without getting angry and hopefully relayed an important message about consumerism to those standing around me. Unfortunately, it didn’t solve my hunger problem.

In hindsight, it was my own responsibility to first go home and check the product’s ingredients and weights online. I take full responsibility for my mistake and don’t blame nor accuse the Finnish burger chain for doing anything wrong.

One might say that take-away food is an American invention. In the US, I’ve always received more-than-enough for my money—to a fault! But that’s never the case in Finland; there’s always a ripoff.

Finns dishonest?

null

Näh. I prefer to explain the ripoff using this Tax Wedge graph. As the wedge gets bigger, restaurants (suppliers) aim to get higher prices from consumers (demanders). And of course, lower sales volume results.

To avoid lower sales volume, Finnish restaurants can fudge the equation by offering ‘seemingly reasonable’ prices but delivering less product—in many cases, deceptively so.

With a big tax-wedge, the restaurants’ high-price position is always secure; high taxes prevent new competitors from entering the marketplace.

From now on, I’ll go to McDonalds when I have the urge for a Kanahampurilainen. But thanks to the big Tax Wedge in Finland, I’ll still need to pay the über-high Finn-price. Nevertheless, at least McD’s seems concerned with offering an honest product. I suppose they have uniform, international standards for these things.

Just don’t anyone tell McD’s management team that Finnish consumers don’t really care about getting value for their money. It’ll ruin everything.

UPDATE: All this talk about food made me hungry for a burger last night. So I went to McD’s in Kamppi. I normally buy an El Maco Jr. with small fries and drink. Cost: 4.95€ Well, I was informed that Jr.-sized burgers aren’t available in the evening, so I was bumped into the next price category. Cost: 6.45€. I guess their strategy is to scam an extra 1:50€ from each customer—most of whom have probably already had a few drinks by that time of night.

At least McD’s is up-front about it and used no deception. They need to make a profit somehow, so they simply narrowed their selection into the higher price range. Unfortunately, businesses in Finland can’t avoid this type of pricing due to the highly-taxed and highly-regulated operating climate.

Finland is full of these little ripoffs—they are usually much worse! And they generally aren’t included in international Purchasing Power surveys. Nevertheless, they cost each Finnish resident thousands-of-Euros each year—thousands more than what people of other countries need to spend.

No wonder Finland remains poor.

14.5.2007

Cover bands and images from other websites

Tags: Uncategorized — Author: @ 11:43 pm

My company hired some band to play in the cafeteria during lunchtime today to promote some internal campaign. I recognized alot of the songs they were playing, and I’m guessing that no royalties are paid to the original producers of that songs, a common practice amongst cover bands.

So how is a band playing cover songs any different than a blogger using a image from another website? Both are borrowing intellectual property without permission and without paying royalties, both are earning income (albeit very small income), yet covering a song is perfectly accepted while posting a simple image on your blog can get you in big trouble.

Are you a racist?

Tags: Uncategorized — Author: @ 5:52 pm

Take the test to find out. The IAT test, developed by Harvard, measures your subconscious. I just took the test and according to the results, “Your data suggest a strong automatic preference for European American compared to African American.” Quite embarrassing!! But don’t worry if you get the same results, most African Americans get these same results. African American author Malcolm Gladwell says it’s the media and society’s fault. Also on the site is a gender test, religion test, and others.

Fortunately my split-second subconscious decisions don’t rule my life. For instance, if I walk into a room and Tanja Saarela is standing there naked. My split-second subconscious says one thing, but after I give it some thought, I make the lengthy & conscious conclusion that “Hey, better first make sure her big, bad ass husband ain’t around.” :-) The only people who need to make instant subconscious decisions on race, are cops with guns. Hmmmm….maybe that’s why so many African Americans get 50+ bullets in their body when they reach for their wallets in a dark alley?

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