Saturday, August 13, 2005

Haloscan commenting and trackback have been added to this blog.

Finns and Communication

As a dual citizen of the US and Finland, oftentimes I'm struck by how hard it is for many Finns I know to fit into American society. Also, I'm struck sometimes by how much of an outsider I appear to be.

I received this from a friend on my high school mailing list (told you, we're an eclectic group!), who shared an email he received from yet another group. As I read it, it seemed eerily familiar:

This comes from an Australian newsletter:

Finland correspondent, Therese Catanzariti, writes:

Finns don't talk much.

Finns are sparse and sparing in conversation. If they have to speak they use the minimum amount of words. Long sentences in English language movies are reduced to two or three words in the Finnish subtitles.

This gets more extreme the further north you go. A friend in Oulu describes morning coffee at his office. Ten men sitting silently drinking coffee. Perhaps someone will flick through a newspaper. Every now and then, someone might say “sokkeri” (sugar). Not “can you please pass the sugar.” Too many words. He says sokkeri. Someone passes him the sugar. And then it's back to silence.

There is no word for please. Think about that.

There is no small talk. One of my husband's colleagues met him near the photocopier one afternoon. “Hello, how are you today?” she said. “Fine,” he replied. He was a little surprised since he had already said hello to her that morning. “And how was your weekend?” she continued. “Great,” he said, although it was Thursday afternoon. “And how is your wife?” she asked. She had never met me and had never asked about me before. Then there was an awkward silence. “I'm studying small talk” she said.

The inanity, the empty politeness of small talk is revealed by its absence. You get into a taxi. The taxi driver asks you where you want to go. And then doesn't talk again. Shop assistants and waiters don't want to be your friend. No noise, no clutter.

Still, stripped down interaction can be challenging, particularly at work. There's no water cooler, and every individual is a silo. A Brazilian postdoc at the University of Oulu shares an office with a very northern Finn. Every morning the Finn comes in at 8am. He says “huomenta” (good morning). He sits down. He goes for lunch at 11am and leaves the office at 4pm. And he doesn't say one more word all day. For the first few weeks, the Brazilian thought huomenta was the Finnish word for eight.

Finns answer the exact question asked. They will not volunteer information. We have moved to Tapiola, a suburb of Espoo, which is a commuter city just outside Helsinki. The swimming pool in Tapiola is closed for renovations. I asked at the library next door how long it would be closed. “Two months,” they said. Silence. “Where is the next closest swimming pool,” I asked. “Leppavara,” they said. Silence. “Do you know what time it opens?” I asked. “It is not open,” they said, “it is closed for the whole of July.” Silence. “Are there any open swimming pools in Espoo?” I asked. “No,” they said. Silence. “Are there any open swimming pools in Helsinki?” I asked. “I think so,” they said. “But you'll have to check in Helsinki.”

If Finns don't have to speak, they don't. Finns are comfortable with silence. They don't need to fill up the space.

Finns can go out for dinner in silence. Watch them in the restaurants  entrée, main meal, dessert, silence. Metros, buses,
trains, silence.

Silences are an important part of Finnish conversations. Sometimes you ask a Finn a question. And there's silence. And even more silence. This is especially disconcerting when you are on the phone. Did they hear the question? You ask the question again. The Finn will reply, a little annoyed “I heard you the first time. I'm just thinking.”

Finns don't ask questions. At seminars, lectures, presentations. The presentation ends and there's silence. Any questions? No hands.

In Australia, I used to lecture on the Solicitors Admission Board and at UTS law school. The classes were at night and most of the students worked full-time and came to class after a very demanding day. And yet the classes were lively and spirited with lots of debate. Last year, I lectured in entertainment law at the University of Oulu. It's an interesting subject. And the students were film-makers, people who want to tell stories. I talked. The students listened. No comments. No questions.

Because Finns rarely talk, when they do talk, they choose their words very carefully, and what they do say is incredibly loaded. They mean absolutely every word they say. A different word here and there is significant. Finns are also understated. If they say someone is sick, they are probably dying.

Finns also listen very carefully and easily pick up subtleties and nuances. Finns put everything you say under the microscope. There's no such thing as the throwaway line, enthusiastic exaggeration or poetic licence. I once casually mentioned I was annoyed with my husband and wanted to wring his neck. A work colleague said I had only been married a short time and I should give it a chance and think seriously before separating. I said that wasn't what I meant. They asked if I didn't mean it, why did I say it. Clinical Finnish logic. Gets you every time.

Finns don't trust big talkers. Finns are suspicious of extra words and wary of passion and emotion. Finnish conversation is even and measured. Finns don't raise their voice. This suggests Finns are gentle people. Finns are not gentle. Gentle people don't play ice hockey. In Australia and many other countries, just-contained anger is an effective tactic in hostile negotiations. In Finland, anger, passion and emotion suggest you're not in control. If you raise your voice, you immediately lose authority and credibility. Finns lose respect and you lose the argument.

Cultural differences are not just amusing anecdotes, but can have a real impact with real consequences. A colleague once said if you send an email and the Americans don't reply, there's something wrong, but if the Finns don't reply, everything's OK and often implies agreement.

Minor detail can become dangerous minefields. Once I was busy at work and had to reprioritise some tasks. I sent an email to some internal clients saying I was sorry I couldn't complete their work at the moment, but I hoped to get back to them soon. This surprised some of my colleagues. Why was I sorry? Why did I hope to get back to them? Didn't I like the other work that I had to do?

Another asked why I sent the email. I said it was to explain that I was busy. They replied that I didn't need to explain I was busy. If I didn't get back to them, they would guess I was busy, and if this caused problems because they needed help more quickly, they would let me know.

I sent the email instinctively. The Sydney legal market is a tough market. The partners drummed client service into junior lawyers  we had to keep the client informed, structure the client's expectations. But does sending such emails inform, explain, add, structure client's expectations? Or merely seek absolution?

What are the client's expectations? The exercise exposed a fundamental element of the Finnish psyche that underpins the Finnish workplace. Trust. Your colleagues trust that you are doing your job properly and thoroughly, expect you to do your job properly and thoroughly. People don't check up on you, don't look over your shoulder. The result of this is not rampant fraud. The result is accepting responsibility and trying desperately to live up to the expectation  you are scared witless that everyone is relying on you and no-one is checking that you check everything twice.

Your colleagues don't send emails chasing you up because they trust, they expect, that if you have not replied there must be a good reason. And you don't clutter up inboxes explaining that there is a good reason.

Italian conversation is an elaborate baroque church  full of flourish, colour, and passion. English conversation is a stately
home  formal and elegant, but with many hidden rooms. Australian conversation is a simple beach shack  casual, honest and laid back. And Finnish conversation is an elegant glass/steel high rise spare, stylish and minimal.

I offer no comment on this. :)

Friday, August 12, 2005

Weird link of the day

hats of meat/

The Words "Took Them Long Enough"...

...don't cover the half of it. For some bizarre national security reason, these tapes were delayed in release.

Download actual audio of firefighters from the World Trade Center at the site linked above.

So sad.

I knew a guy in high school who was a firefighter in the WTC, and died there. His twin brother is a good friend from the mailing list I mentioned elsewhere on the blog. I can only imagine how he feels, some of the anger and frustration and loss he must be going through, to hear these tapes and see the transcripts, as well as the oral histories of the men who survived.

I Want To Move To Australia....

This is the sort of thing we should be talking about, not rats in the White House....

Gotta Love George Bush....

...hope history is as kind to him as the annual reports of Halliburton and the big oil companies are....

From today's New York Times by Alan J. Kuperman, : (note: after Aug. 12th, this link will be invalid. On Aug. 12th, you'll need to set up an account at the Times website (free) to view this article in it's entirety)

Despite widespread opposition - from the Bush administration, a majority of the Senate, leaders of the House Energy Committee, and nuclear regulators from the five preceding presidential administrations - Senator Pete Domenici, Republican of New Mexico and chairman of the Energy Committee, included an amendment that guts restrictions on the export of highly enriched uranium, the same material used in the Hiroshima atomic bomb.
If terrorists obtained enough such uranium they could fashion a full-fledged nuclear weapon, not merely a "dirty bomb" that would scatter radioactive waste. As the late Manhattan Project physicist Luis Alvarez noted in his memoirs: "With modern weapons-grade uranium, the background neutron rate is so low that terrorists, if they had such material, would have a good chance of setting off a high-yield explosion simply by dropping one half of the material onto the other half. . . . Even a high school kid could make a bomb in short order."
The new law increases the likelihood of that nightmare scenario by allowing exports of bomb-grade uranium to foreign companies to rise to more than 100 pounds annually, thereby multiplying the odds that terrorists could steal enough for a bomb while the uranium is in transit to, or in storage at, foreign facilities.
You'll note, however, that our esteemed President SIGNED THE FUCKING BILL! Despite his own staff's opposition to this very key national security provision in it. Despite the fact that the House Energy Committee, in a rare show of bipartisan unity, asked Sen. Domenici to withdraw this provision.

Despite the fact that the amendment was voted down on a straight up or down vote in June of this year! I'll let Kuperman explain what happened next:
This is where Mr. Domenici abused his power as Senate committee chair. He successfully pushed all of the Republicans he appointed to the House-Senate conference on the bill to vote for his provision - against the expressed will of the Senate. He then rejected the House's offer to eliminate the provision, thereby strong-arming the provision into law over the bipartisan opposition of executive and legislative branch officials.
Also sprach Zarathustra...turns out Sen. Domenici rammed this through, not for an American company (in fact, a company in his own state, TCI Medical was attempting to start producing isotopes domestically using safer low-enriched uranium, but for a consortium of companies in the Netherlands, Canada, and Belgium, which couldn't be bothered ramping up isotope production using the safer uranium that our export contracts call for, opting instead to maintain their equipment to use weapons-grade uranium.

Nice going, shithead...

Thursday, August 11, 2005

More on the Stones Tour

Think this is getting icky yet? This is going to be a bit more interesting than I thought. A former Democrat-turned-major-Bush-fundraiser is the CEO of the company, Ameriquest, that is sponsoring the Stones know, the one supporting the album with Sweet Neo Con on it, about the Bush administration?

I may have to give Mick and the boys more credit than I originally thought. This is a level of irony I neveer imagined they were capable of. Talking about biting the hand that feeds you...

From the New York Daily News:

New Stones tune may have
honcho turning a deaf ear

President Bush's controversial nominee for ambassador to the Netherlands, Ameriquest Capital founder Roland Arnall, might be regretting his company's high-profile sponsorship of the Rolling Stones' U.S. concert tour.

Arnall's mortgage company is spending millions of dollars to tout the Stones tour and Ameriquest's sweepstakes for travel, lodging and concert seats - never mind that Mick Jagger is releasing a tune apparently attacking Arnall's patrons in the Bush administration.

The lyrics of "Sweet Neo Con" include such broadsides as: "Democracy's our style/ Unless you are against us/ Then it's prison without trial./ But one thing that is certain/ Life is good at Halliburton."

The billionaire mortgage mogul - a former bigtime Democratic donor who, with wife Dawn, changed parties and has raised and given more than $12 million to Bush - is already coping with enough trouble. He's facing Senate scrutiny over Ameriquest's allegedly deceptive sales tactics to low-income, credit-risky customers, and trying to settle lawsuits in 30 states for more than $300 million.

A Democratic Senate aide gloated yesterday: "The same day the White House announced billionaire Arnall's nomination, his company announced it would set aside millions to settle with 30 states for predatory lending. Either this was the Bernie Kerik vetting team or Bush's 'ownership society' run amok. Either way, it shows how this President will do anything to put his corrupt friends in high places."

The aide added: "The one redeeming factor in this whole mess is that Arnall will be paying for 10 lucky winners to hear Jagger sing 'Sweet Neo Con' in person."

The Sacrifices of War

From, comes this column by Mark Shields, which I have excerpted:

Moral logic tells us that when the nation legally goes to war, it is everybody's war and it must be everybody's risk. But the elite of the country seeks to make war little more than a spectator sport.

Citizens on the home front who do not have loved ones in the service are asked to pay no price, to bear no burden. The Bush administration does not even ask us to pick up the cost of the war, already in the hundreds of billions. That burden will be borne instead by our children. We, patriots, will keep our tax cuts. Do our leaders think so little of us that they are afraid to ask us to make any real sacrifice?

This is a topic of conversation on a mailing list to which I belong from my alma mater (high school's nice to be on a mailing list where I'm not the smartest person in the room...). We're a feisty bunch, and sometimes we will pick a topic to its very bones.

A point one of the participants (he graduated from high school in my class and is a conservative in all but label...go fig) made is that there's no logic to asking the elite of this nation to make sacrifices, to ask their children, to fight in this war.

Naturally, Shields makes the point far more eloquently than I could have. It's not about logic (war is never logical), it's about morality. We pass this war onto our children, a war against a nation that had never attacked us, and never possessed the means to attack us. A nation that had nothing to do with the attacks against us.

And yet this war was justified as a defense of our homeland. Well? In wars where we really were attacked, we sacrificed and strove as a nation to build a war machine while simultaneously dragging our country out of an economic mess (yes, I'm versed enough in economics to understand these are not unrelated events).

So where's the sacrifice now?

Non-existent, from what I can see, save for oil prices being slightly higher than they would have been without a war in Iraq. The rich get richer, and the poor fight for them.

People have hopes, people have dreams. Our children want to be better off than we are, yet this truly is the first generation where that outcome is in doubt. And that's sad.

No, I take it back. We did sacrifice. We sacrificed our future as a free and democratic society. We sacrificed our children at the altar of tax cuts for the wealthy and connected. We may even have sacrificed our planet, if the news from Iran is any marker. And so I'm not sad, I'm angry.

Bunch of chickens running this country, without the nerve to face the music about what they've done to my country...
tags technorati :

UPDATE: When you piss off the Rolling Stones....

I mean, really. Perhaps the biggest sell-out act in the history of rock-n-roll (and before you slam me, I like their music, and love the guys, but c'mon, Ameriquest is sponsoring their US leg of the tour????) has set its sights on the right wing in America. Says a lot that they're willing to risk future corporate sponsorship of any tie-ins or tours to say this.

A clip from the article:

But the most searing moment, on a song called "Sweet Neo Con," isn't personal but political. "You call yourself a Christian, I call you a hypocrite/You call yourself a patriot, well I think you're full of s—t." "It is direct," Jagger says with a laugh. "Keith said [he breaks into a dead-on Keith imitation], 'It's not really metaphorical.' I think he's a bit worried because he lives in the U.S." Jagger smiles. "But I don't."

Naturally, there will be reprisals against the Stones, I'm sure, and I'm sure a) they don't care and b) they probably wouldn't care even if they were planning another album in the future.
It's nice to see that artists are finally getting political again after decades of trying to earn the almighty dollar on our backs.

More here from Katrina van den Heuvel of The Nation. Turns out, Fran Curtis, the Stones publicist, was forced to rush a press release out disavowing the link between the song and anybody in the Bush administration, meaning there's more in the lyrics than have been released. Anybody wanna guess if this gets cut from the US release?

Wouldn't want to piss off Clear Channel, which has greatly benefitted from the Bush laissez-faire FCC appointments...also, I wonder if Mick will be gutsy enough to grab some of his tarnised street cred back by performing the song live on an NFL broadcast

NEW YORK (AP) -- The Rolling Stones' upcoming album contains a song seemingly critical of President Bush, but Mick Jagger denies it's directed at him, according to the syndicated TV show "Extra."

"It is not really aimed at anyone," Jagger said on the entertainment-news show's Wednesday edition. "It's not aimed, personally aimed, at President Bush. It wouldn't be called 'Sweet Neo Con' if it was."

The song is from the new album, "A Bigger Bang," set for release September 6.

There is no mention of Bush or Iraq. But it does refer to military contractor Halliburton, which was formerly run by Vice President Cheney and has been awarded key Iraq contracts, and the rising price of gasoline.

"How come you're so wrong? My sweet neo-con, where's the money gone, in the Pentagon," goes one refrain.

The song also includes the line: "It's liberty for all, democracy's our style, unless you are against us, then it's prison without trial." (ed: emphasis added)

"It is certainly very critical of certain policies of the administration, but so what! Lots of people are critical," Jagger told "Extra."

A representative for the Stones said the group had no further comment about the song.

Draw your own conclusions on who this song is about. Clear Channel calling? Mick was very clear that, while it's not aimed personally at Bush (the man), it is aimed squarely at Bush the President. Mick is being coy, naturally, but he's not denying the song's intent. There are some who think he shouldn't even back this far off, but hell, it's his life and I suspect at some point in the future (say next year) he'll admit it was about Bush. After the album's slipped off the charts again.

Wednesday, August 10, 2005

Sometimes you just have to applaud ingenuity

It seems that there's a local race in the Washington Heights district where the incumbent has a 7-1 advantage in funding and fund raising.

So this hijo has an idea...

Tuesday, August 09, 2005

Who ARE these people?

Offered without comment

And once you've wiped the tears from your eyes on that one, get a load of this: signs your son is gay.

And naturally, the left seized upon an opening here, and presented additional signs of gayness, including gay cars

Y'know, back in high school.... :)

(Tip o' the hat to Mike K. for pointing out I needed to edit this)


I'm of two minds in this most recent shuttle launch.

On the one hand, I fully support the thought that after the Columbia disaster, it was important to get back on the horse, so to speak. And naturally, the "bad" news at the beginning of the flight was partly an overreaction to the perceived risks. It seems clear that this insulation problem is one of long-standing, and in fact, if you view footage of the Challenger take-off, you can see chunks of ice falling off the main booster and scraping the underside of the craft. It would not be farfetched to think that Columbia was an accident that was waiting to happen.

On the other hand, the shuttle has turned into precisely what we don't need in the exploration of space: a crap shoot. Delays for this, delays for that, altered landing spots (today's landing was the 50th in California, with one further landing in New Mexico, as opposed to 64 in Florida. Not really good odds.)

The evidence suggests that we need a sturdier and yet more flexible vehicle to really begin a practical exploration of near-space. The X Prize last year was an attempt to pool together the massive parallel "computing" power of the private sector. Make it a competition and watch how evolution works in action.

There are some things that government does extremely well, things that require massive coordinated efforts and large immediate sums of money: research, food distribution, welfare, highways, wars.

And yet, in all of these, there comes a time for the government to step aside and let the private sector enhance what's been done. That doesn't mean taht government turns the entire enterprise over to the private sector, but partners with it.

Because there will come a time yet again when the massive resources of a government are required to nudge a project either back on course or jump it ahead a bit in its progress.

And this, I think, is the major flaw of capitalism: it pays lip service to this rather useful and convenient methodology for advancing great causes.

Pity we are governed by such small men, isn't it? We could be destined for greatness.
tags technorati :

Monday, August 08, 2005

Peter Jennings, RIP

So the last of the big three is officially not coming back to anchor a newscast.

I was never a big fan of Peter Jennings, more because I was a big fan of Tom Brokaw. But I will admit, Jennings had a soothing, calm presence in the worst of times, and was a staple of the American landscape for a long time.

Ironic, I find, that in a time where the newsmedia are under constant attacks by partisan forces hell-bent on warping news to fit their views (wonder how fact suddenly became history?), that we've lost three big names who made their mark during journalism's golden era (Vietnam and Watergate) to various forces, not least of which is simple time.

Was it Gibran who wrote, "The moving finger, having writ, moves on"? Nope, it was Omar Khayyam. Still, this is a passage of time, a marker, whereby the face of journalism will have to change.

It's sad, too, because news is news, and you can't change facts anymore than you can change the stars in the sky. All you can do is spin and slant and manipulate the dialogue. But the truth is there, and the truth comes out, just as it has for millenia.

Peter, if you're watching the world, please know that you tried your hardest and did your best and while you may not have lived to see the world come back to sanity, when it does (as it has to), your voice had something to do with it.

Requiesat in pace.

tags technorati :

Sunday, August 07, 2005

Diving, Diving, Diving

Scuba diving in the NYC area is a pretty amazing thing. I was in the water before most of you had breakfast this morning and saw Caribbean tropical fish.

I try to dive as much of the year as possible. Consequently, I see horseshoe crabs mating, hermit crabs switch shells, tropical fish come in, and die off, large open ocean predators like dogfish and the occasional small shark, triggerfish, filefish, and yes lobsters and crabs.

Today, I spotted three juvenile reef butterflyfish . Lovely specimens but the best are yet to come. Stay tuned! Pictures tomorrow if I can "develop" them fast enough from tomorrow's dive.

Hey, what DO you call it when you're waiting to dump out raw photos from a digicam and do a little tweaking in Photoshop? When you bring your film to the drugstore, it's "develop", but "edit" makes it sound so unartistic....