Archive for September, 2008

The Divorce

September 29, 2008

Since this is tedious selfcruft, it’s below the fold. The title misleads, though.

(more…)

Banned Books Week!

September 29, 2008

From September 27 to October 4 — that is, right now! — is the Banned Books Week (also in ALA), a time to remember that though this world of ours is better than any past, no matter how fondly remembered with the illusions of distance, there still is plenty of stupidity, timidity and prudishness everywhere.

And, yeah, I do know this is an American week of awareness, something I as a Finn don’t “officially” fall under, but the subject, and the need to remember that such a thing happens, is universal.

There still are people that think ignorance is the way to go.

There still are people who think some words on a page are a poison, a contagion, an unspeakable evil that should be locked away or burned; people that don’t believe human minds can read something and still disagree with it. (Then again, minds that have read but a little are easily corrupted; that’s why one should read everything!)

There still are loads and loads of people willing to make your choices for you, even for your reading material.

There still are too many people who think their children are best brought to adulthood by keeping the nature of life and reality hidden from them.

There still are too many people who think mere entertainment is bad and sinful (whatever that might be), or think children will take fiction for reality. Children are stronger than that. (One is tempted to say that in many cases — coughfundamentalistchristianscough — the banners themselves are the ones that’ve been tricked into believing a fiction true!)

There, to say it all shorter, still are too many prudes, tyrants and just generally misguided cowards for this week to be ignored. (more…)

The Savonian dialect of Finnish

September 29, 2008

Dear reader, if you are an exchange student in Finland, you might be in for a lot of trouble.

Namely: Though you learn Finnish, you learn the sort of correct, “official” Finnish that’s used in writing and in radio and TV — but if you go and talk to a Finn, he most likely will be speaking some dialect or the other.

Now, in Finnish dialects aren’t as bad as they can be in some languages — apart from a handful of dialectal words in ever-diminishing use, the difference is just in the mangling of the way words are ordered and said. Some youths hardly speak in a dialect at all, unless the usual youthful combination of orkish profanities and Valspeak counts.

Since I am less than an amateur on linguistics, I’ll just give a few comparisons between (standard) Finnish and Savonian, the sweet and roundabout dialect of the old provinces of Savo and Karjala, the middle and eastern parts of middle Finland, just below the “neck” of Kainuu. (Or the “Savo triangle”; find Kuopio, Joensuu and Varkaus from a map and draw a generously padded triangle around them and you’ll catch a good chunk of the ground.)

Since the Finnish dialects have no “official” forms, I hereby declare this dialect of mine is Savonian as it should be spoken. Everyone else does this; thus I do it too. Don’t come complaining to me.

First, numerals from one to ten.

Finnish: Yksi, kaksi, kolme, neljä, viisi, kuusi, seitsemän, kahdeksan, yhdeksän, kymmenen.

Savonian: Yks, kaks, kolome, nelejä, viis, kuus, seittemän, kaheksan, yheksän, kymmene.

Then a few phrases — first in English, then Finnish, then Savonian.

Good day! / Hyvää päivää! / Hyvvee päevvee.

I cannot imagine a Savonian saying this in a way that would be accurately described by an exclamation point. Also: the phrase is word-by-word the same in all three ways.

Hi! How are you? / Hei. Mitä kuuluu? / Hee. Mitteepä kuulluu?

The “How are you?” is actually “What [do you] hear?”; maybe not what an exchange student will be taught, but a plausible thing to be said by a Finn.

Then again, teaching phrases like this is pretty hopeless since any given Finn (and especially a Savonian!) will have a dozen or more different ways of expressing or returning this sentiment of “I have seen you!” — for example, in Savonian / Finnish / English:

Onko mittään ihmeemppöö tapahtunna? / No, onko mitään ihmeellisempää tapahtunut? / Any especially miraculous events lately?

The following greetings just can’t be said in standard Finnish without sounding like a total moron, so they’re just in Savonian and in English.

Sitäkö on vielä elossa pysytelty? / So, you’re still hanging to life[, are you]?

Ee uo vielä henki lähtennä? / [So you] haven’t died yet?

Mitteepä miehelle kuulluu, vai onko piässynnä korvat kerreemmään vaikkua liikkoo? / So, whatcha hear, or have you’ve been gathering a bit too much earwax [to hear a thing]?

It gets even worse when a Savonian responds to something like that, since in Savo you either leap into this verbal sparring or very quickly learn to stay with monosyllables.

And then there’s the problem that some things just aren’t said the same in standard and in dialect, even correcting for pronunciation. For example, a “standard” Finn might say:

“Pureskele 2 purukumityynyä joka aterian jälkeen 5 min”

That could, word by word, be unravelled as “Bite 2 bubblegum-pillows every meal after 5 min” or “After each meal, chew on 2 bubblegum ‘pillows’ for five minutes”.

Actually, a standard Finn might be more likely to read that from a gum wrapper like I just did instead of saying it out loud, but anyway.

A Savonian, in contrast, and in my (by definition) correct opinion, simply wouldn’t and couldn’t phrase the thing that way if he was speaking normally. It would be more like

“Aena äpöstämisen jäläkeen ota ja äyrihe purukumipalasia, vappaasti yhtä enempöö ja kolmea vähempöö, siinä suunnilleen viijen viisarin väppäyksen verran.”

That could be, word for word in the same order, parsed as “Every-time munching after take and chomp-on bubblegum-pieces, freely one more-than and three less-than, for-roughly approximately five clock-hand’s swing’s while.”

A Finnish reader might point out I exaggerate — well, I do, but only slightly, and mostly to illustrate the points that the ordering of the sentence is wholly scrambled, and “formal” words are replaced by dialectal alternatives or lengthy circumlocutions, or them just switched for made-up words. For example, the verb “äyriä” for chewing/chomping, with “äyrihe” as its imperative form, is something that just popped to my mind trying to say the this. It’s a totally spurious made-up word, but the Savonian dialect lives by the wit and ingenuity of its speakers; the new words are understood from the context and then, most probably, never used again.

Unless a hapless dialect collector comes by; then he’ll hear fifty words for chicken genitalia, little guessing that five minutes earlier none of those had ever been used, or ever would be again, though they are all given in honesty and pure willingness to give the “city fellow” exactly what he wants. When you have a language that’s spoken, hardly ever written, words come and go. When you have a “tribe” that is known all Finland over as people you should never, ever buy a horse from, words come and go all the quicker.

The horse-buying, mind you, isn’t risky because of Savonians being dishonest or anything like that. No, they just are opaque and playful. I’d guess something like this would be the sales pitch for a horse in good ol’ Kuopio marketplace, a century or so ago:

“Well, here’s this oat-powered biological locomotive. Has a front part up front, a back part in the behind, and the rest in the middle. Rests on four legs of roughly equal length, all of which touch the ground, except when moving. If all four point straight up, that’s a sign the motive needs maintenance, possibly replacement. Has a pull-string in the back; pulling it will stop the motive, and produce a cry of alarm. Also another cry, if the puller doesn’t dodge the leg. The whole thing is covered with a luxurious brown coat of horsehair, except those parts that are uncovered or covered by something else. All the teeth in this model are collected in the mouthparts; all the shoes in the hoofparts. Comes equipped with a spare shoe, which can be easily utilized on the road, if one has a hammer, tongs and forge handy. Also has a well-functioning generator of combustible nodules, which can also be used for natural-medicinal dyes and insect repellent if still wet. Indeed, smearing them on one’s face will probably repel anything smaller than your uncle, and maybe the uncle, too! The same orifice produces wind, so that a carriage behind this fine beast will be buffeted by the warm fragrances of summer pastures even while not moving. As for a pedigree, a lineage even, this beastie was fathered by an actual stallion which later became a gelding, and birthed by an honest-to-God mare. As far as the eye can see, all the female horses on the mare’s lineage have been mares as well! As far as the eye can see, and two miles after that, too! Mares, would you believe? So, interested in making a purchase yet?”

Not a single lie, but not a whole lot of useful information either. That’s Savonian.

Oh, and the Finnish word for a human being is “ihminen”. The corresponding Savonian form, “immeinen”, is often used to differentiate between mere Finns and real Savonians — or as many a Savonian has been heard to say, finding another in a foreign place (say Helsinki):

“No mutta tiällähän on toenenniin immeinen!” (Why, fancy finding a second human being in around here!)

Eagles and a female animal

September 27, 2008

Just keepin’ my “bad poetry” category in use. A ditty I scrawled down a few years ago and came across just now:

Eagles soar,
And eagles prey,
Eagles scream
And eagles preen.
Vain creatures,
Such proud beasts —
Eagles, prey, and chaff —
That’s an eagle’s world,
And eagles say eagles never die.

And, to wash the crud of my wordslinging from your mucus-bleeding ears (don’t dwell too long on that mental image), here’re a few lines of genuine poetry:

Ulysses, looking sourly, answered,
You bitch, Telemachus shall straightway know
These words; he’ll cause thee to be tortured.

— being the lines XVIII/308-310 of a translation of the Odyssey by some Thomas Hobbes. Hm, (facetiousness alert) either a few centuries do change the nuances of words, or then the Odyssey is a whole lot more, um, colloquial than I thought.

This is Finland

September 26, 2008

Finns complain. Their complaints can be general pessimism, dolorous doomsaying, mosquito-like whining, blind griping for a recently lost and wholly illusory better past, or then just poisonous backstabbing against everyone not present, or everyone who is either perfect, imperfect or in between; and occasionally the ever-flowing Finnish stream of complaints can even form an eddy of humour.

See for yourself — the Helsinki Complaints Choir:

This song captures the feel of being a Finn better than anything else I’ve ever seen. (Including — shameless self-promotion! — my Guide to Finland.)

And it’s one of the funniest things I’ve ever seen, too.

Edit: There are plenty of other complaints choirs on Youtube, though the above Finnish one was, as far as I know, the first. Also in my opinion the best, though the Budapest one comes close.

Then again, Hungarians are linguistically related to Finns; maybe it’s the non-Indo-European language that makes complaining go?

The Kauhajoki shootings: third and final comments

September 26, 2008

(Continuing from my first and second posts on the subject.)

The Kauhajoki shooting (student, gun, nine dead) over here in Finland was an ugly thing, but the reactions of some people to it were even uglier.

All that happened was a lone man who snapped, shot a few of his classmates, and then himself. Sad, but not the end of the world.

Still, the general hysteria seems to make blithering idiots out of some commentators and most laymen: apparently there are plenty of people who are willing to treat a few random incidents like this as a flawless confirmation of all their froth-mouthed opinions about the menaces of materialism, the evils of computers and the internet, and the corruption of our hopeless youth. (Regardless of the year, the youth are apparently always without morals and scary. It’s called neophobia.) And of course these non sequiturs are greased with a generous helping of general fuckwit sniveling about how this monstrous thing surely proves we’ve descended into a new age of loneliness, dead-end lives and hopeless brutality, and we need to fire the whole police force for failing in perfection, get the cabinet publicly whipped, put a metal detector in every doorway, and wear sackcloths and ash until the bitter end of time.

I am not much of an optimist, but I won’t agree with idiot generalizations like that. Not when those opinions are based on nothing more than neophobia and blind hysteria.

This was a sad thing, but still just the result of one man snapping. If you want, you can consider last year’s Jokela school shooter as well, but you should remember that things like this are by no means yearly events in Finland. I know of only three (Myyrmanni [2002], Jokela [2007], Kauhajoki [2008]); it’s statistically meaningless that the latest two happened just a year apart. Three points aren’t enough to make any trends, since rare and random things don’t spread themselves smoothly all over a timeline. At times they cluster: one last year, one now. There could be another next week, or then ten years from now, and neither would prove anything.

Calm down, people; sit down, have a drink, stop hyperventilating, and think.

This wasn’t a mass insurrection against the authorities. This wasn’t a screaming gang of youths burning churches and raping elderly ladies in open daylight. This wasn’t a sixth grade Kitty Genovese rape-murder in the schoolyard. This wasn’t a class conspiracy to kill all the teachers. This wasn’t some case of stolen nukes, widespread total moral breakdowns or slave farms.

This was one single idiot who legally bought a pistol, killed a few others with it, and then killed himself. Tragic and sad, yes. Big and important, no.

Leave the dead and the grieving alone. This is a tragedy enough without sundry fools making this a farce as well.

I’ve said all I want to say about this.

Stand-up II

September 24, 2008

Continuing my bad attempts at stand-up comedy from April Fools’ and recursion.

* * *

Moses wandered for forty years in the desert of Sinai.

Men always say they know where they’re going…

(gruff voice) “I know where I’m going!”

(girly voice) “Honey, that’s Egypt again —”

(gruff) “I said I know where I’m going!”

Oh yeah…

Odysseus wandered for ten years trying to get home.

(girly) “Say, Odysseus dear, what’s your wife like?”

(gruff) “Huh?”

(girly) “‘Cos unless your wife is kinda big and ugly, this must be the cannibal cyclops’s isle again —” (more…)

Notes on the Kauhajoki shooting

September 24, 2008

Since there’s nothing factual I can add to the flash flood of reporting on the Kauhajoki killings, I just growl a few opinions of mine.

These will be mostly grumbling, I fear.

* * *

I’ve twice already heard an idiot mention metal detectors for schools.

“Idiot” is the correct word when describing someone who seriously suggests something like this.

As far as I know, a metal detector doesn’t stop a boy that walks in with a gun, intent on killing and then dying. A metal detector wouldn’t have avoided either this shooting or the similar Jokela incident last year.

A metal detector basically does two things:

1) Spooks the students, and basically shouts in their faces: “You brat! You’re a (censored) potential nutcase! And you’re not safe anywhere! Be afraid! Be very afraid! You could (censored) die any moment! And now strip to your underwear because I don’t (censored) trust you!”

Good for the students’ mental health, I’m sure.

2) Bankrupts the school. Faugh, two shootings — just two nutcases — and the whole country should throw money meant for education to creating an illusion of safety. Please note: Creating an illusion of safety. Nothing more.

Besides, a heavy metal fan would never get through a detector at all, with the studs, metal belts and piercings and such. And anything that excludes metallers is enough to raise my ire.

* * *

A school with metal detectors : a vision

Think about it: A slow line of sleepy students going, one by one, in through the metal arch, a worried-looking teacher watching the procession. Suddenly the machine screams; so do a few students. The teacher steps up, wrestles a boy to the ground, and yells for help. Someone sobs and sinks to her knees.

A few hours later, the PA system crackles and the headmaster speaks: “Haum-hmm… The alarm this morning wasn’t a meaningful event. Please return to your lessons.”

Students do, except those that’ve run to their homes or churches, or are visiting the nurse, complaining of ever-increasing stress, nausea, dizziness and panic attacks.

Soon after, the boy walks to his class, sans a metal necklace, underpants slightly wet, but with a sudden increase in his corridor cred. “The iceman cometh!” someone in the class yells without knowing what that means, and he raises a hand, giving a sheepish wave.

Meanwhile, an increasingly grumpy police officer is gunning his car away from the school: there’s an alert from the Kindly Puppy Kindergarten, where either a mass killing was averted, or a toddler tried to bring his carpenter father’s chisel for show and tell.

* * *

And this event — was it unspeakable? Unimaginable? Impossible to foresee? Shocking?

Either people use those words as meaningless formulas for something like this, or then they just have really tiny and unused minds.

Or both.

The amount of media coverage tells this thing was rather speakable, and writable, too! And since the same thing happened a year ago, this wasn’t exactly impossible to imagine, either.

Please, people: I can’t be the only one who thinks flinging words around like this makes the associated sympathy feel phony. If you sound incoherent and thoughtless already when describing what happened, why should we think your condolences are anything more?

* * *

On this outpouring of shock and compassion: I didn’t know the people who died, neither the victims nor the shooter. I don’t know any of their relatives or friends. And I can’t whip up much heart-breaking compassion for them. This is not a shallow tough-guy point; I just don’t get as achy-breaky as some people apparently do. (Or, as I frequently fear, as they do since they suppose that’s what you’re supposed to do.)

Sure, I think it was a rotten and bad thing that people were killed against their will, but people, Finnish people even, die every day. Finns die of heart attacks, strokes, violent husbands, bar fights and general ignorance and folly — why should I feel especially touched when ten die shot by a loon? The number is insignificant. They’re as faceless and nameless to me as the heart attack victims and beaten wives. I feel more depressed by the thought of all those who die without anyone ever feeling for them.

* * *

I guess this is what they call venting.

* * *

So far I haven’t heard anyone describe the dead as heroes. I hope I won’t; maybe that is a solely American thing.

Or a Russian thing; remember that Nikolai II apparently is a saint on the sole merit that he was shot by the communists.

Boys and girls, just getting shot don’t make you a hero. It don’t make you a martyr. It just makes you dead.

Okay?

* * *

Apparently even the Finnish government — er, the cabinet — had a meeting over this shooting incident.

Er, sorry?

A lone nut takes a gun, shoots classmates, then self. Sad, sure, but not a matter of national importance.

I wouldn’t want to vote for a woman (or man) who thinks the cabinet has to meet over a thing like this. If you don’t meet over the thousands who die because of tobacco and the uncounted many more who die because of alcohol’s effects, please don’t do a mime dance like this over a much smaller problem, even if it’s dramatic and likely to make you seem oh-so-dynamic.

Nothing for you to react to here, unless you’re going for the shallow populist vote; move along, move along. Get to work creating more jobs or something.

This a work for the locals; mostly for the counselors.

* * *

Please: Don’t censor the internet.

Obviously some idiot politician could use this to ram some useless “Killing the evil danger-hate expression on teh evil internets thingy!”-bill through; but I hope not.

Being a twit on the internet isn’t, as far as I know, a crime yet. Neither is showing off a shotgun or a pistol. Neither is spouting your hatred of all mankind.

Let’s not make the expression of unpopular views and distasteful pastimes a crime.

I’ve heard that is what the freedom of speech is all about…?

* * *

And why, exactly, were the shooter’s videos pulled from Youtube? They contained nothing illegal. Just, I’ve heard, a man fooling around with his gun.

Again: Don’t choose censorious sensitivity over free speech, please.

* * *

It was the man’s own decision. It would have been cleaner and all-round nicer had he fired the last shot first, but he chose what he no doubt saw as a blaze of glory instead.

Just remember that he was not “evil”, nor inhuman, nor a monster. Just a man with dumb ideas.

Painting him as a monster is — pardon the pun — a monstrous disservice to us all. We should remember that the people who do things like this aren’t monsters or aliens from Zeta Ridicula or possessed by Satan: they’re human beings just like you and I. They make bad decisions, they kill, they die. Nothing inhuman or unspeakable in it.

Events like this can’t be avoided by labeling some people “different” or “monsters”, no matter how comforting the added distance between “us” and “them” might be.

Hysteria doesn’t bring the dead back, does it?

* * *

I could go on, but I’ll just note that the applicable parts of what I said about the Jokela shooting a year ago hold here, too.

Including the growl about “good old times”.

A school shooting in Kauhajoki, Finland

September 23, 2008

Hm; since I am a Finn and write about Finland here now and then, I’ll note this.

As reported by the various Finnish outlets and foreign news-sites such as CNN and BBC, there’s been a shooting in Kauhajoki, in Finland, in the morning of today, Tuesday the 23rd. Apparently a 22-year-old student in a local polytechnic walked in, shot nine other students to death, and then put a bullet in his own brain, all without a known reason. Also, a fire started in the building.

Small events compared to the media hysteria that is now unfolding.

Apparently the police had had a chat with the shooter yesterday, because he’d posted some pictures of himself strutting with a gun in the internet and they were concerned, given that a year ago a youth had posted similar clips and then went on a rampage. The police came to the conclusion that there was no need to do anything, and no action was taken.

Well, they were wrong: bang-bang and ten dead.

Then again, what else could they have done? Should every gun nut that posts a video of himself shooting a few rounds be slapped in chains? Should every youth that scrawls a melancholy, misanthropic note or two somewhere in the internet be hounded by agents, deprived of all guns and sharp objects, shunted to psychological counselling?

Of course not. There’s no need to blame the police.

My view of things like this remains the same: It is a statistical truth and (maybe?) inevitability that people snap, for a reason, any reason, or then for no reason at all, and it is also quite true that there’s no way short of a fascist police-state to keep people apart from the means of hurting others when they snap.

Regrettable things like this do happen, and will happen. It is not a nice thing, but we shouldn’t be too hysteric about it. Some internet censorship plan isn’t the solution; neither is some horridly expensive way of inconveniencing and harassing students.

In case you wonder if I did just say that expenses and convenience can be more important than safety: Sure I did. Pre-emptively swatting a wasp is not worth it if the cost is ripping off the wings of a thousand grasshoppers.

Oh, and one more thing: Please, don’t speculate from two or three data points! A seemingly concerned commentator asking “what is wrong with the Finnish society” is legitimate, but doing so on the basis of a couple of essentially random statistical events (this and the Jokela shooting last year) that just happened to cluster together — or were influenced by an earlier one in a non-rotten-society way — well, that is not very smart. If you wouldn’t generalize to a whole nation from two random people you’ve met, don’t do it from two goons you’ve seen on the news either. Okay?

I’m no good with condolences, so I won’t try to give any. Besides, will your beloved dead come back if enough people say they feel for you? Will the pain be any lesser if people that know neither you nor the dead crow how deeply they are touched by this unspeakable tragedy?

As I said, no good with condolences. Better I say nothing more on the subject.

To each her (his?) own

September 22, 2008

In case you wonder what a blog-writer does during his summer holiday, hear this: I spent my July sitting down and writing two tales, for a few hours before bedtime after each gloriously wasted day, hopping between the tales every few hours, one a silly-chilly tale of flatmating in Finland, in Finnish, the other a chronicle for a make-believe empire in English.

The latter, being a record of the rise, decay and fall (mainly decay and fall) of various empires, got a bit grim at times, but it was — I suppose this is the correct youthful idiom — a blast to write. Here’s one grim bit: (more…)