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Photo: Associated Press
If it’s a heavy metal knitting competition, it has to be Finland. Finland has the world’s most unusual contests.

I love stories about the unique contests the Finns come up with. Remember cellphone tossing, swamp soccer, and wife throwing? So glad the Huffington Post shared this July report from the Associated Press.

“Armed with needles and a yarn of wool, teams of avid knitters danced Thursday to the deafening sounds of drums beating and guitars slashing at the first-ever Heavy Metal Knitting World Championship in eastern Finland.

“With stage names such as Woolfumes, Bunny Bandit and 9″ Needles, the participants shared a simple goal: to showcase their knitting skills while dancing to heavy metal music in the most outlandish way possible. …

“The competition took place in a packed square in the small town of Joensuu close to the Russian border. An eclectic group of around 200 people watched the performances, from families with young children and elderly to the less conspicuous heavy metal fans donning leather-jackets and swirling their long hair to the fast-paced rhythm of the music.

“A niche musical genre in many countries, heavy metal is more mainstream in Finland, with several bands household names frequently played on the radio. Its popularity grew further in 2006 when the Finnish band Lordi won the Eurovision Song Contest dressed as monsters. …

” ‘In Finland it’s very dark in the wintertime, so maybe it’s in our roots. We’re a bit melancholic, like the rhythm,’ said Mark Pyykkonen, one of three people judging the competition. …

“Said Mari Karjalainen, one of the founders of the event, ‘[Winter] really gives us lots of time to plan for our short summers and come up with silly ideas.’

“Thursday’s competition saw participants from nine countries, including the United States, Japan, and Russia, put on inspired performances full of theatrics, passion and drama and the jury struggled to agree upon a winner.

“Finally, it was a Japanese performance by the five-person Giga Body Metal team that clinched the title with a show featuring crazy sumo wrestlers and a man dressed in a traditional Japanese kimono.

“ ‘It’s a great release,’ said Elise Schut, a 35-year-old nurse from Michigan who performed with her 71-year-old mother and 64-year-old family friend, Beth Everson, who added that ‘knitting is such a meditative activity but now it’s energetic and heart pumping.’ ”

More.

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Photo: Sarah Johnson/
The Guardian 
A remote nurse oversees a virtual lunch for older people in Helsinki. “The client feels like they are a part of a bigger thing. It’s also guaranteed that they eat properly,” she says.

Because my sister’s brain cancer is so troubling and her needs for care are growing so fast, I have started to give more serious thought to my own future and the more-common problems of ageing. I may never bite the bullet about a retirement community, but I plan to look into what they offer just in case.

Meanwhile Finland, which seems to be on the cutting edge of everything from preschool to end-of-life care, has set an example of keeping people in their homes longer using technology, as costs for in-person services increase.

Sarah Johnson writes at the Guardian, “It’s 11.30 am on a midweek June morning in Helsinki, Finland. Duvi Leineberg, a remote care nurse, is doing the lunch rounds. But instead of jumping in a car and visiting each person one by one, she is sitting in an office looking at a large computer screen where she can see into seven people’s homes. Most are sitting at a table preparing to tuck into some food.

“This is a virtual lunch group, set up to make sure older people receiving home care services in the city eat regularly and at the right time. Leineberg runs the session. She starts by checking everyone has their food and that it is warmed up. Some have soup, others have pre-prepared meals that have been delivered by home care services. People also sip coffee.

“One screen shows an empty backdrop and she calls the home to check her client is all right. He walks past the screen but says he isn’t hungry and doesn’t want to eat right now. Leineberg then asks everyone if they have any plans for the afternoon. A few reply that they will go out for a walk.

“A former hospital nurse, Leineberg sees the value of such groups. ‘Firstly, the client feels like they are a part of a bigger thing. It’s also guaranteed that they eat properly. If I spot anything that seems out of the ordinary, I can call the home care nurses who will pay them a visit if necessary.’

“Her clients are also fans of the lunch group. Riitta Koskinen, 80, says through a translator: ‘I’m old and living alone and it’s nice to have the company. We eat at the same time – food tastes better when you’re with others – and I’ve really enjoyed it. It makes me eat and it’s good to see other people.’

“Finland has a rapidly ageing population and recruitment problems in health and care. By 2070, one in three Finns is expected to be over 65. At the same time there has been a huge decline in the birth rate and the number of Finns of working age is expected to fall by around 200,000 by 2050. As a result, the demand for and cost of care services are growing while tax revenues are decreasing. …

“The virtual lunch group is one aspect of Helsinki’s remote care – where clients have a tablet that links up with remote care nurses in a service centre. Remote care appointments are set up to check on clients throughout the day and to make sure they take the relevant medication. There are 800 home care clients, and nurses carry out 24,000 remote care visits a month. By the end of 2019, the service hopes to cater for 1,100 clients. …

Over the course of one shift, a remote care nurse can carry out over 50 visits – which works out almost 90% cheaper than if they had knocked on each of their client’s doors.

“Little wonder that the city’s service centre is hoping to start a remote dinner group soon as well as other sessions. They already take clients virtually to concerts and shows. Hanna Hämäläinen, who works as a planner at the service, remembers when she took 64 clients virtually to a carol concert. A screen was placed on the front row and the priest greeted them while they watched at home on their tablets. She remembers: ‘The funny thing is that even if some had memory problems, they knew all the lyrics. That is the power of music and made me see that if there’s a concert, we should be there.’ …

“Roope Leppänen, medical director of Espoo hospital, … maintains that remote care will never fully replace physical care but that, with advancing technology and future generations that are used to digital life, it will become more and more important. But he doesn’t expect it to totally replace physical care services. ‘People will need physical visits as well. It’s my belief that [remote care] can’t completely replace that, but tech will make [things] even easier in 10 years time.’

“Both the staff and patients I meet seem to like it. Tiina Kosonen, a remote care nurse, says she is able to build close relationships with her clients. ‘I like it and the patients get a lot from it. It’s really intensive this contact. We look into each other’s eyes and talk together face to face.’ ”

More at the Guardian, here.

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Photo: TV Tropes

You know about the imaginative world of hobby-horse competitions in Finland, but did you also know Finland is a leader in air guitar? And what is air guitar, you ask?

You would know the answer to that if you had seen the goofy 1989 film Bill and Ted’s Excellent Adventure, in which the heroes frequently launch into pretend guitar riffs.

Byrd McDaniel explains it all at the Conversation.

“Advertised as the ‘greatest thing you’ve never seen,’ the 2019 U.S. Air Guitar Championships will take place this summer. Competitors from around the country will don elaborate costumes, construct fantastical personas and perform comedic pantomimes of famous rock solos. Impaling themselves with their air guitars, swallowing them and smashing them to smithereens, they’ll elevate guitar playing to heights only imagined by real guitarists.

“The winner will go on to represent the U.S. in the Air Guitar World Championships, which will take place in Oulu, Finland, in late August.

“As an ethnomusicologist, I’ve studied air guitar competitions as a scholar, audience member and competitor. In fact, I was named the third best air guitarist in Boston in 2017 – truly one of my proudest moments.

“Beyond the humorous, ironic façade of these performances is a sincere craft that has exploded in popularity over the past couple of decades.

“The phonograph, which became a common household item in the the first decade of the 20th century, inspired some of the earliest known instances of solo air playing. The Minneapolis Phonograph Society described how some of its members, from the privacy of their homes, had ‘taken to “shadow conducting,” that most exhilarating phonographic indoor sport.’ …

“One journalist for the Washington, D.C., Evening Star wrote an article about patients at an asylum, including ‘one young girl [who] appeared to be fingering an imaginary guitar.’ And a 1909 article in The Seattle Star described a pantomiming prisoner who ‘spends his time in jail playing on an imaginary piano, hoping thus to give the impression that he is insane and so escape a more severe punishment.” ‘ …

“Some of the first known instances of live musicians breaking out the air guitar occurred during the 1950s and 1960s. Notable examples included Bill Reed and the Diamonds air guitaring on the Steve Allen Show in 1957, and Joe Cocker famously shredding an air guitar during his performance at Woodstock in 1969.

“But rock fans didn’t really start taking up air instruments of their own until the 1970s, when they found themselves unable to resist mimicking their favorite performers, who had become more and more inventive with their guitar playing. …

“Fans soon began copying the wild gestures of their favorite guitarists to mirror their onstage energy. As journalist Chris Willman wrote, Eddie Van Halen possessed ‘the fingers that launched a hundred-thousand air-guitar solos.’ And in the late 1970s, fans famously started bringing cardboard cutouts of guitars to Iron Maiden shows at The Bandwagon Heavy Metal Soundhouse in London. …

“By the early 1980s, air guitar had gone mainstream. Beer companies, radio stations and colleges staged lip sync battles and air guitar competitions all over the United States. John McKenna and Michael Moffitt published ‘The Complete Air Guitar Handbook‘ in 1983, a how-to guide and psuedo-history of air guitar playing. …

“In 1996, the Oulu Music Video Festival in Finland arranged to have an air guitar competition. … This year marks the 17th annual contest, and air guitarist Georgia Lunch will be competing as the reigning champion.

“In 2018, her routine included carrying a lunchbox onstage, sipping Jägermeister out of a hamburger flask and a spastic strumming style.

“Her challengers include a group of well-known names from the air guitar circuit: Airistotle, Cindairella, Shred Nugent, Lieutenant Facemelter, Kingslayer and the Rockness Monster. She’ll also face some first-time competitors, who hope to unseat the air apparent.”

Come up with a cool name of your own and join the fun. More here.

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Photo: Dmitry Kostyukov for the New York Times
A girl performing during a hobbyhorse competition in Helsinki in March 2019.

Now here’s an unusual pastime: hobbyhorse competitions. Who knows how these things get started with kids? They make up their own fun. It starts out as private play, under the radar, and before you know it, it’s on TV.

Ellen Barry reported from Finland for the New York Times. “A dozen girls waited in line in a Helsinki arena for the dressage competition, ready to show off their riding skills, their faces masks of concentration.

“The judge put them through their paces — walk, trot, canter — and then asked them for a three-step rein-back, that classic test of a dressage horse’s training and obedience. The judge looked on gravely, occasionally taking notes.

“If anyone thought it strange that the girls were riding sticks, no one let on. The make-believe world of the hobbyhorse girls extended as far as the eye could see.

“A veterinarian lectured girls on hobbyhorse vaccination schedules, saying ‘check that the eyes are clear and there is no nasal discharge.’ The girls discussed hobbyhorse bloodlines and hobbyhorse temperaments, hobbyhorse training routines and hobbyhorse diets. There were rhinestone-studded bridles for sale. …

“ ‘The normal things, that normal girls like, they don’t feel like my things,’ [Fanny Oikarinen, 11,] said. But she is at home in the world of hobbyhorses, where boys and grown-ups have no place.

“Fanny and her friend, Maisa Wallius, are training for summertime competitions. They have choreographed a two-part dressage routine to a song by Nelly, the rapper. Asked which types of girls are drawn to hobbyhorses, Maisa thinks for a while before answering.

“ ‘Some are sports girls,’ she said. ‘Some are really lonely girls. And some can be the coolest girl at school.’

“It is impossible to say exactly when the Finnish hobbyhorse craze began, because it spread for years under the radar before adults became aware of it.

“In 2012, a filmmaker, Selma Vilhunen, stumbled across internet discussion boards used by hobbyhorse enthusiasts and was enraptured.

“Teenage girls had invented a form of hobbyhorse dressage, in which the rider’s lower body pranced and galloped like a horse, while her upper body remained erect and motionless like a rider. This evolved into an elaborate network of coaches and students and competitions, but it was discussed only online, for the most part.

“ ‘It was like a secret society,’ Ms. Vilhunen said.

“One of the girls she sought out as a guide to the hobbyhorse scene was Alisa Aarniomaki, a teenager from a city on Finland’s west coast.

“Leather-jacketed and fuchsia-haired, Ms. Aarniomaki was a celebrity in the online world for her hand-sewn hobbyhorses and riding videos, but she was apprehensive about letting her classmates know about it. When she was 12, some friends happened to spot her practicing in the woods near her school, and teased her for playing a child’s game. …

“When Ms. Vilhunen’s documentary film, ‘Hobbyhorse Revolution,’ was released in 2017, it captured its subjects in long spells of raucous joy. This was important to the filmmaker, who has made adolescent girls the focus of much of her work.

“ ‘Little girls are allowed to be strong and wild,’ she said. ‘I think the society starts to shape them into a certain kind of quietness when they reach puberty.’ …

“Within the rapidly expanding community of enthusiasts, the problem of ridicule really doesn’t come up. ‘I haven’t run into that sort of situation in a long time,’ [Ms. Aarniomaki] said. ‘I live in a bubble that is filled with hobbyhorses.’ ”

More here.

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Photo: Gordon F. Sander
Residents at a Housing First facility near Helsinki, Finland. Emmi Vuorela, right, is the resident coordinator. 

“Housing First” is a model that parts of the United States have adopted on a limited scale. It provides housing to homeless people without making behavior changes a prerequisite. The theory is that a person is more likely to get off an alcohol dependency, say, if he has the stability of shelter.

Now Finland has not only seen the wisdom of the concept, it has decided to go much bigger and provide every homeless person with housing. It’s amazing what can be accomplished when a society as a whole makes up its mind to do something sensible. Sensible because the program not only helps individuals but pays for itself.

Gordon F. Sander writes at the Christian Science Monitor, “As anyone who has visited Europe recently can attest, the scourge of homelessness has reached epidemic proportions.

“The only exception to the trend is Finland, according to FEANTSA, the European Federation of National Organizations Working with the Homeless. There, homelessness is, remarkably, on the decline.

“Per the latest statistics, the number of homeless people in Finland has declined from a high of 18,000 30 years ago, to approximately 7,000: the latter figure includes some 5,000 persons who are temporarily lodging with friends or relatives. In short, the problem has basically been solved. ..

“Finland opted to give housing to the homeless from the start, nationwide, so as to allow them a stable environment to stabilize their lives.

“ ‘Basically, we decided that we wanted to end homelessness, rather than manage it,’ says Juha Kaakinen, CEO of the Y-Foundation, which helps provide 16,500 low-cost apartments for the homeless. …

The elimination of homelessness first appeared in the Helsinki government’s program in 1987. Since then virtually every government has devoted significant resources toward this end.

“Around 10 years ago, however, observers noticed that although homelessness in general was declining, long-term homelessness was not. A new approach to the problem was called for, along with a new philosophy. …

“The concept behind the new approach was not original; it was already in selective use in the US as part of the Pathways Model pioneered by Dr. Sam Tsemberis in the 1990s to help former psychiatric patients. What was different, and historic, about the Finnish Housing First model was a willingness to enact the model on a nationwide basis.

“ ‘We understood, firstly, that if we wanted to eradicate homelessness we had to work in a completely different way,’ says Mr. Kaakinen, who acted as secretary for the Finnish experts. … ‘We decided as a nation to do something about this.’…

“One of [the] goals was to cut the number of long-term homeless in half by producing 1,250 new homes, including supported housing units for tenants with their own leases, and around-the-clock presence of trained caring staff for residents who needed help. …

“As far as the not inconsiderable cost of producing the 3,500 units created between 2008 and 2015 – estimated at just under $382 million – [Sanna Vesikansa, the deputy mayor of Helsinki] declares that ‘the program pays for itself.’ As evidence, she points to a case study undertaken by the Tampere University of Technology in 2011. It showed society saved $18,500 per homeless person per year who had received a rental apartment with support, due to the medical and emergency services no longer needed to assist and respond. …

” ‘That doesn’t cover the contribution to the economy [from] residents who moved on from supported housing and got jobs,’ she adds.”

More at the Christian Science Monitor, here.

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Photo: Sonia Narang/PRI  
Inka Saara Arttijeff is the adviser to the president of the Sámi Parliament and hails from a family of Sámi reindeer herders. She represents Finland at international climate change summits. 

When I was in Sweden last year, I visited the history museum in Stockholm, where I learned a little about an indigenous population called the Sámi. I had previously heard them called Laplanders, but Wikipeida says they don’t like that term:

“The Sami people (also known as the Sámi or the Saami) are a Finno-Ugric people inhabiting Sápmi, which today encompasses large parts of Norway and Sweden, northern parts of Finland, and the Murmansk Oblast of Russia. The Sami have historically been known in English as the Lapps or the Laplanders, but these terms can be perceived as derogatory.”

Sonia Narang of the GlobalPost recently reported on the Sámi people and the threat that global warming poses for their way of life.

“Inka Saara Arttijeff and her family gather in the cozy kitchen of their red, wooden house, as a pot of soup simmers on the stove. They live at the edge of a frozen lake in the storybook village of Nellim, up toward the far reaches of northern Finland. … Arttijeff is part of a family of indigenous Sámi reindeer herders who are unfazed by short days in subzero weather.

“The Sámi [are] known for their centuries-old tradition of herding reindeer. … However, the warming climate has threatened to disrupt the Sámi people’s tradition of reindeer herding. … The combination of weather changes and increased tree cutting has made it harder for reindeer to find food, and it’s altered their migration patterns.

“ ‘Reindeer herding represents a way of life,’ Arttijeff said. … Arttijeff is one of a growing number of outspoken Sámi women who are taking their voices well beyond the borders of their small villages. The 33-year-old is the adviser to the female president of the Sámi Parliament, Tiina Sanila-Aikio, and represents Finland on the world’s stage. Every year, Arttijeff joins a delegation of indigenous representatives at the UN’s climate change talks. In between all that, she is also a graduate student in international relations and law. …

” ‘For reindeer herding, [we] need forest that is healthy,’ Arttijeff said. … Finland’s state-owned forestry agency, Metsähallitus, manages about one-third of the country’s forests, and it’s also responsible for harvesting and selling timber. Kirsi-Marja Korhonen, a regional director and environmental specialist at Metsähallitus, … notes 60 percent of trees on Sámi lands are in protected areas.

“That still leaves large swaths of Sámi forests up for grabs, reindeer herders say, and they point to clear-cutting of productive forests. …

“[Saara Tervaniemi, a reindeer herder] says it’s critical to monitor forestry activities on her people’s lands since logging is eroding the culture she hopes to pass down to her children. …

“Since Sámi women are primarily responsible for child care and passing on their culture to the next generation, reindeer herding has become an important issue for them, especially as logging and climate change have intensified in recent years. …

“It’s not just reindeer herding that’s at risk — it’s the four other Sámi livelihoods, too: fishing, gathering, hunting and handicrafts. ‘For all of those, you need materials from nature,’ Arttijeff says. ‘If the nature changes, you cannot do traditional livelihoods anymore. So, if that changes, everything changes for us.’ ”

More here. Hat tip: @morinotsuma on twitter.

For more on the importance of forests, see my post reviewing The Gospel of Trees, here.

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Photo: Pekka Sipola/EPA
Finland is experimenting with a guaranteed income.

Recently I posted about a guaranteed-income pilot program in Kenya that MIT’s rigorously data-driven Abdul Latif Jameel Poverty Action Lab (J-PAL) will be evaluating over the next few years.

Now I see that Finland is testing the concept, too.

Aditya Chakrabortty wrote about Finland’s experiment last month at the Guardian. “In a speck of a village deep in the Finnish countryside, a man gets money for free. Each month, almost €560 [about $660] is dropped into his bank account, with no strings attached. The cash is his to use as he wants. Who is his benefactor? The Helsinki government.”

Juha Järvinen “is a human lab rat in an experiment that could help to shape the future of the west. Last Christmas, Järvinen was selected by the state as one of 2,000 unemployed people for a trial of universal basic income [UBI]. …

“Finland is the first European country to launch a major dry run. It is not the purists’ UBI – which would give everyone, even billionaires, a monthly sum. Nor will Finland publish any results until the two-year pilot is over at the end of 2018. …

“Ask Järvinen what difference money for nothing has made to his life, and you are marched over to his workshop. Inside is film-making equipment, a blackboard on which is scrawled plans for an artists’ version of Airbnb, and an entire little room where he makes shaman drums that sell for up to €900. All this while helping to bring up six children. All those free euros have driven him to work harder than ever.”

Even more than the money, the freedom from the country’s welfare bureaucracy is key.

“In Finland, €560 is less than a fifth of average private-sector income. … [Järvinen’s] liberation came in the lack of conditions attached to the money. If they so wish, Finns on UBI can bank the cash and do nothing else. But, in Järvinen’s case at least, the sum has removed the fear of utter destitution, freeing him to do work he finds meaningful. …

“Social affairs minister Pirkko Mattila … seems genuinely bemused that there could be any political resistance to handing poor people some money to sit at home. ‘I personally believe that in Finland citizens really want to work,’ she says.”

More at the Guardian, here.

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