Aftermath of the Magma/Helsinki Times survey on Swedish

While searching the blogosphere for responses to the survey on Swedish culture in Finland, I came across this interesting gem [translated and commented in Finnish on Suomi 24] by Vasa Bladet columnist Kenneth Myntti.

After summarizing the findings of the survey that was conducted by Magma and the Helsinki Times, he moved on to describing my efforts for getting access to Swedish language classes and how it lead me to directly contact the Ministry of Employment on this issue.

Myntti then concludes the article by making a rather astute observation (my own translation; apologies for any inaccuracy):

Racine simply would not give up so easily. He took the initiative to approach the Ministry of Labor with a proposal that any foreigner who already passed level 4 of the National Certification in Finnish Proficiency would be admissible to study Swedish via labor training. It was he who approached the Ministry, not the Ministry who approached him.

Is this really how things are supposed to be? Are immigrants really expected to battle the bureaucracy just to become a part of this country's Swedish-speaking community?

Of course not. It should be up to us to have our own "Finland Swede operatives" inside the bureaucracy and parliament, knocking on doors and driving changes in policy to ensure that immigrants can have the option to integrate with the Swedish-speaking part of the population, if they want to.

The Swedish language has a status that is equal to the Finnish language in this country's constitution and a direct consequence of that ought to be a possibility to take Swedish classes on equal footing with Finnish classes for those who chose to immigrate to our country.

That Swedish is considered easier to learn than Finnish should in fact increase foreigners' interest in choosing Swedish as their primary integration language.

From that perspective, we could even complement Racine's proposal by saying that any foreigner who already achieved a sufficient level of proficiency in Swedish could be offered Finnish classes afterwards.

In my opinion, Myntti is absolutely right. If Swedish's status as an official language of Finland is to have any meaning, then it must be possible to study it via Integration Act measures. However, this country's majority speaks and has always spoken Finnish. As such, I think that it makes perfect sense to put the emphasis on Finnish as the primary integration language.

Still, I'll emphasize that this doesn't dispense this Government from acquitting its constitutional obligations to safeguard the status of both official languages and, as a direct consequence, to ensure that immigrants get equal access to immigrant labor training in both national languages.

Basically, for as long as Swedish retains its official language status, there can be no excuse for preventing immigrants from getting Swedish classes via the Integration Act measures!

On a related matter...

On the issue of whether or not Swedish should be reinstated as a compulsory subject for the high school matriculation exam, Prime Minister Matti Vanhanen said in Iltasanomat that:

Youths who couldn't give a damn about studying Swedish significantly reduce their opportunities on the job market and they concede a tremendous advantage to others who do speak it.

What's interesting about Vanhanen's opinion is that, while he correctly acknowledges how a Finnish professional who doesn't master Swedish could be seriously disadvantaged on the job market, he clearly doesn't realize how an immigrant who only knows one of the official languages could similarly be affected. I wonder why...


xf86-video-geode 2.11.3

A few days ago, we released version 2.11.3 of the Geode X.org driver. As you'll notice from the version number, this is only a maintenance release, mainly to fix crasher bugs that appeared since X.org server core 1.6 was released.

Meanwhile, Otavio Salvador has been busy cleaning up our GX2 support and, in the process, he also found a few interesting regressions that affect LX support as well.

Unfortunately, our goal to integrate GX1 support into our unified Geode driver still hasn't been reached, due to a lack of resources: most people who knew anything about GX1 and SC Geodes and who had access to development hardware have moved on. As such, help to complete this goal is extremely welcome.


Two truths with one stone

[bash.org repost] DragonflyBlade21: A woman has a close male friend. This means that he is probably interested in her, which is why he hangs around so much. She sees him strictly as a friend. This always starts out with, you're a great guy, but I don't like you in that way. This is roughly the equivalent for the guy of going to a job interview and the company saying, You have a great resume, you have all the qualifications we are looking for, but we're not going to hire you. We will, however, use your resume as the basis for comparison for all other applicants. But, we're going to hire somebody who is far less qualified and is probably an alcoholic. And if he doesn't work out, we'll hire somebody else, but still not you. In fact, we will never hire you. But we will call you from time to time to complain about the person that we hired.


Removing cruft that appears as false 'dpkg -L' positives?

Dear lazyweb,

I have one very last Debian host running "testing" that I keep as a development platform. The computer in question is an aging ThinkPad 240x whose LCD cable constantly threatens to make the display content unreadable and whose non-expandable 192MB of RAM is ridiculously small by today's standard. On the plus side, this makes for a very small development host that I can easily tuck away in the closet whenever I don't need it.

However, one problem currently plagues this computer: it has been through literally years of dist-upgrades and it has accumulated TONS of cruft on its filesystem, namely files that, according to packages.debian.org, should not longer ship with the packages "dpkg" claims they belong to but, for unknown reasons, nonetheless remained on the system, probably as the result of botched upgrades whenever package X had broken maintainer scripts during the development phase before "testing" was frozen and moved to "stable".

Making a clean install from Lenny could be a nice solution, but doing so on a laptop that has no CD-ROM, whose BIOS has no support for USB boot and whose only other boot option is an external 3.5" floppy disk drive, might prove more tricky than I'd bargain for (Google "ThinkPad 240x" and you'll see how tricky I mean).

I am thus wondering if anybody would know of any tool capable of comparing files present on the filesystem with those stated as shipping with packages matching versions currently installed, according to files lists found via packages.debian.org, so that I can at least sanitize the filesystem and restore the content to a fresh Lenny install state?


When can we have a balanced and meaningful debate on immigration?

This question keeps on popping up in many recent newspaper articles, on discussion boards and in seminars debating immigration issues in Finland. At the core of the question is a general impression that, between the enthusiastic supporters of multiculturalism and the pessimistic nationalist rednecks, very little constructive discussion is possible in Finland.

At one end, humanitarian help organizations, as well as politicians from the Green Party and the Swedish Folk Party, keep on taking excessively generous initiatives towards refugees and asylum seekers, all while labeling their detractors as racists. At the other end, nationalist candidates in the National Coalition Party and True Finns Party keep on painting every immigrant as a refugee who is abusing social security and label their detractors as turning Finland into the easiest country to abuse social security, at the Finnish taxpayer's expense. In between, candidates from the Christian Democrats and Center Party spread equally among these two camps. Meanwhile, while the Left is currently avoiding discussions on this topic, Social Democrats have previously shown that they tend to side with the nationalists in labeling all immigrants as social security abusing refugees.

One interesting point is that, no matter at which end of the political spectrum one looks, the whole Finnish immigration debate keeps on focusing exclusively on refugees and asylum seekers, despite the fact that migrant workers and foreign spouses of Finnish nationals make up for a good 70% of the foreign population residing on Finnish soil.

This recalcitrance to discuss immigration from any other perspective than refugees is rather painfully noticeable. Some recent examples:

  • At the Maailma Kylässä ethnic festival, last month, the podium was given to a number of speakers to discuss immigration issues. In once case, Minister of Immigration Mrs.Astrid Thors made an appearance at the tent of Demo, an NGO promoting active participation in the electoral process. Sure enough, Thors repeatedly brought back the issue of refugees, leaving other aspects of immigration completely out.

    The next day, on the Mekong stage, a panel discussion was introduced by the MC as "discussing issues that affect refugees", despite the fact that the program read "panel discussion on immigration"... In fairness, the organization sponsoring that particular time slot was the Refugee Help Center but, thankfully, issues brought by the panelists clearly discussed a much broader perspective than merely refugees:

    One Estonian-born researcher said that she'd rather avoid putting all immigrants into the same bag, because there's so many different reasons for coming to Finland and few of those have anything to do with seeking asylum and one cannot make any assumption about an immigrant's motives for coming here.

    The other panelist, a professor from the university of Turku, astutely said that, if it was up to him, Maailma Kylässä should not exist, because the actual intent of the event is not to give immigrants a chance to be heard, but rather to entertain Finns with exotic culture and food, which is not the right way to make immigrants feel a part of society, in his opinion.

  • Independent member of the Helsinki City Council, Mr.Jussi Halla-Aho, repeatedly makes the headlines because of his blog's rather controversial statements. Probably his most famous stunt was the day he jokingly declared in his blog that, if the women of the Green Party are so keen on getting more immigrants admitted to Finland, they also ought to be enthusiastic at the prospect of becoming rape victims, cynically implying that immigrants all come from 3rd-world countries where women's rights are non-existent and, correspondingly, where the probability of women being raped is greater.

  • National Coalition Party candidate at the EU elections, Mr.Kai Pöntinen, used as his campaign slogan a decisively nationalist Sosiaalipummien maahantulolle stoppi! (Stop the immigration of social security abusers). Further reading on his homepage shows a rather misinformed statement, alleging that immigrants are systematically taught Swedish in language trainings offered via the Integration Act:

    Myös kotouttamispolitiikkamme on metsässä, on täysin järjenvastaista että tulijoille opetetaan ensimmäiseksi kotimaiseksi kieleksi ruotsia. Kyllä ensiksi on osattava suomea ja sitten muita kieliä.

    Reality is that, unless an unemployed immigrant lives in the monolingual Swedish municipality of Närpes or on the Åland archipelago, the only language they can learn via integration measures is ... Finnish.

  • At a recent "Meet the Immigration Department" seminar at cultural center Caisa, it transpired that the vast majority of the audience and of the employees working for the City of Helsinki's Immigrant Services department came to Finland as refugees. The moderator of the event also came to Finland as a refugee. Can anyone guess what issues were given preference by the moderator during that evening? 12 points go to ... those who answered "refugees and asylum seekers." Was there at least meaningful discussion about any aspect of the immigration process? As the former chairman of a particular Finnish political party's English section used to say:

    I will not tolerate this meeting turning into a Wall of Lamentations or a Complaint Choir! Are we here to discuss real issues or what?

What's remarkable about all these examples is how public opinion is so persistently hardwired into thinking that all foreigners living in Finland came here as refugees from 3rd-world countries whose culture is radically different from Finland's and that they all became perpetually unemployed, forever living off social security, to the point that even politicians who ought to know better go along with it.

When will we be able to have a balanced and meaningful debate on immigration, you ask? The day both multicultural hippies and nationalist rednecks will have been kicked off the podium. Of course, it would also help if the refugees themselves stopped monopolizing the podium, whenever the opinion of immigrants is solicited. Then again, perhaps these 3 groups benefit so much from the current status quo that they'd rather not see the day when others can participate in this debate on equal footing with them, so that a balanced and meaningful debate can finally take place?

Killing the console bell on Jaunty?

Every once in a while, rewrites in ALSA drivers or in desktop audio components (GNOME mixer or Gstreamer) result in an impossibility to completely mute the console bell. Until recently, ALSA offered a separate channel to control this. Since Jaunty (kernel 2.6.28, ALSA 1.0.18r3) came out, not anymore. As such, I was wondering how else could I mute the console bell?

Some people on Ubuntu Forum suggested blacklisting the pc-spkr kernel module, but this is entirely the wrong approach, as it completely kills sound output on this laptop's built-in speakers. I don't wanna completely lose sound support, I just wanna get rid of that annoying console bell!

Others recommended setting set bell-style none in /etc/inputrc but that only works for interactive shells. The console bell still rings e.g. whenever rebooting, probably because bash gets called as a non-interactive shell by init scripts. Actually, since Jaunty, restarting the system makes the bell ring not just once, but twice!

Can anyone think of any more permanent way of disabling the console bell in some global system setting?