Monday, December 25, 2006

Christmas Day jogging!

So in an effort not to be too slothful me and the missus went out for a run before stuffing ourselves at the traditional family huge Christmas dinner. I still feel stuffed now but at least we can feel smug that we ran five miles this morning unlike the rest of the family. The run is great as it follows a ridge of one of the highest hills around for a couple of miles giving good views in winter when the trees are not in leaf. But best of all there is a little lane that goes nearly to the top of the hill so my dad dropped us off by car at the highest point on the road and then you just need to jog uphill for a few hundred metres to the top of the hill! After than most of the routes is a long the flat or downhill. Despite misty conditions I took my camera, and for the first time ever tried uploading a clip onto YouTube. It's so easy! Why have I never bothered polluting the internet with pointless 30 second clips of film before? So it's not going to win any awards, but here is thirty seconds of running along a hill in Worcestershire for your amusement.

And here are a couple of pics:

Sunday, December 24, 2006

Ye Olde England

The fog is starting so slowly lift from where I am in the Midlands: we can now see about half a mile instead of a hundred yards, but besides being slightly less claustrophobic it hasn't got any less damp. In Finland it rains and everything gets wet but there seems to be something uniquely soggy about my homeland. The dampness just hangs around.

The other thing that strikes me when I'm back in the UK is just how much "old stuff" there is. The picture above is the church near to where I grew up. Its not particularly remarkable - just like hundreds of others around England, but it dates back 900 years to Norman times with the bigger bits being added in the Medieval period. When you study history and realise how much can change in just a few generations, so 900 years is an awful long time. Growing up around here it all just fades into the background, but now living in Finland where due particularly to a history of building in wood, structures of more that a century are pretty rare away from the centres of the biggest towns, I really notice it.

This is a yew tree in the church yard. Yews have been traditionally grown in church yards because their wood is used for the manufacture of longbows, the weapon that gave England military hegemony in Europe in Medieval times. They live a long time so from the thickness of this trunk it is presumably also a good couple of centuries old at least.

The local stone is a very soft sandstone which weathers relatively quickly. There are many graves considerably older than this one but none have legible inscriptions on them. This one does and dates from 1822.

The Norman doorway of the church. This is amongst the original parts of the building dating back nearly a millennia. The door is medieval if I remember correctly, and for some odd reason I don't know is hung upside down.

It would look very Christmassy in the snow wouldn't it? Unfortunately in these days of ever worsening (i.e. warmer) winters, this part of the Midlands seems only to get a day or two of snow a year if we are lucky, and it has not happened whilst I've been around for a good few years. I remember good blizzards in my childhood when the area would get snowed in for days on end until the local farmers cleared the lanes with their tractors.

So this was the only vaguely seasonal shot I managed to snap: a traditional little Robin perched in a very soggy tree.

Happy Christmas everybody.

Saturday, December 23, 2006

Northern Light on the London Eye

We managed to arrive in the UK for Christmas just before the fog that has closed or slowed virtually all the airports from London to Southern Scotland rolled in causing travel chaos. Our day in London was suprisingly sunny considering the chaos that was happening ten miles to the west at Heathrow. Below are some snaps to keep my loyal readers amused until I think of something more profound to write about.

Some dapper London gent shows his Bolivarian sympathies, with Tower Bridge in the background.

Chilly, but presumably preferable to getting shot at in Basra or Kandahar.

Up and away on the London Eye, the South Bank of the Thames visible below.

Westminster through the Eye.

The pod behind.

A very misty Big Ben and the Palace of Westminster.

That's about it really, I'm now on holiday so my brain is seems to be going on strike and I can't think of anything interesting to blog about: "Christmas is coming and my brain is getting fat, please put an interesting thought inside my hat." I was mildly amused that the Guardian has managed to find out that a leading dancer in the English National Ballet has fascist leanings, or as the Mirror much more punchily puts it, is a "BNP Ballerina". Listening to the podcast of last week's On The Media from NPR and WNYC I also excitedly thought that I might afterall be part of a repressed and distrusted minority as I listened to their piece on how everybody is scared of atheists, but they were talking about the States. But with unfortunate timing today's Guardian suggest that unless I migrate across the pond it would appear that I'm still rather boringly part of the British mainstream in my (non)religious leanings.

Nevermind. I'll sing a few Christmas carols and bemoan in a slightly ironic manner the fact that consumerism is spoiling the true message of Christmas. Ho ho ho. Merry Christmas everybody.

Monday, December 18, 2006

IPIS Boycott

Nice to see the international media is covering the boycott of the Iranian Institute for Political and International Studies (IPIS) by many, many think-tanks and policy institutes around the world - including my employer. IPIS has been one of the organisers of the Holocaust denial conference in Tehran and have, with that, showed themselves to have no academic credibility at all. I haven't blogged anything about the conference as it is really, simply, beneath contempt but the BBC's Frances Harrison in this week's "From Our Own Correspondent" on World Service did a rather superb job of showing the sickening hypocrisy of the whole thing. Her essays for F.O.C.C. on Iran are always worth a listen, but this one is particularly good and in that polite BBC way, she really puts the boot in to the Iranian regime. Well worth a listen (or read if you are reading this after the audio version has been taken down).

Sunday, December 17, 2006

Sunset over Klaukkala

Sunset over Klaukkala, 14.57 17th December.
Sunset at bloody 14.57! What's with that then? The shortest day of the year is just a few days away. This is good as currently the sun is down by mid-afternoon and it is starting to get to me. At least until the snow arrives, the lack of light is, well, rather dull.

Saturday, December 16, 2006

Weekend climbing "photo essay"

Little Toni had an afternoon shift so we made an early start with me, him and Jody managing to be at the crag by an impressive 10 am! All the roads were coated in black ice; the result of a hard frost overnight following on from the seemingly incessant rain we've had recently. I was very glad I had put my winter tyres on back when the first snow came at the end of October.

The Nuuksio road at 10 am, still covered in black ice

We went to Solvalla in Nuuksio National Park as it was going to be dry if anything was. Of course it was mainly wet but there were a few dry (or dry-ish) lines to go at. Little Toni zoomed up "Indiana Jones" so fast that his fingers almost didn't freeze; this was in comparison to Jody and my not quite so efficient leads of the route - both of us ending up with completely numb digits. You had to keep telling yourself that even if you couldn't feel your fingers, at least the friction was good and you could trust your feet.

Little Toni cruises "Indiana Jones" F5+

Toni did one of the trad lines in the same area and then I led "the Last Crusade" VS 4c, a route that Jody had probably done the first ascent of a couple of years back. I've done it once before but years ago and couldn't remember any of the moves. It has a slightly committing section where you get out a little from your gear, meaning a big potential fall, and whilst moving up is by no means desperate, reversing those moves would be. Of course I did this section to find myself in the top groove where everything was mossy, dirty, very damp and with no way to reverse out of this predicament. After some minor panicking and much scraping muck out of cracks to place some more gear, I tettered unconvincingly upwards but managed to top out without any disasters.

Approaching the crux of "the Last Crusade" VS 4c.

Big Toni and Erik had joined us by this point. After top-roping another harder line which I surprised myself in actually getting up after just one fall, we decided that this was enough of frostbitten fingers and that it was time to move on. Big Toni, Jody and myself obviously felt we had something to prove so headed across to Bemböle for some bouldering. The boulder wall was also pretty wet but we gave one dry problem a few half-hearted attempts before calling it a day.

Bemböle bouldering. Jody climbs, Toni spots.

After all that "exercise" we were just too close to what must surely be Espoo's best café, the Kaffestuga, to resist the siren call of coffee and donuts.

The place were calories burnt are immediately replaced

So that was that really. It would have been a very unremarkable tale of Helsinki rock climbing if it had not been for the date. The 16th of December is definitely the latest I have ever rock climbed in something like eight pretty active years of climbing in Finland. According to my logbook I started ice climbing on the 11th of December last year and some other past winters we have ice climbed from November onwards. But there have been plenty of other winters where that ice hasn't really formed until around Christmas, so although the weather is warmer and wetter than average this late autumn, from a climbing perspective it's nothing too unusual yet. I'll be in the UK over Christmas so hopefully the ice will be here on my return to Finland at the New Year, and at least I've managed two days of ice climbing already this winter - even if it is a bit freaky how everything has melted since then. The ice climbers' grapevine is suggesting that it's not much better anywhere else in Europe, even the very reliable Rjukan in the Norwegian mountains has not much ice to the surprise and consternation of local and visiting climbers alike. Scottish conditions seem to be picking up though with climbs getting done in the last week (and another sad death from a fall), but they are 3500 foot higher than our wee cliffs. Oh well for the desperate and rich European ice climber, there is always Canada.

A Bemböle toadstool. I thought I'd include this because I'm such a fungi...

...tumbleweed blows past...

Monday, December 11, 2006

More nationalistic cocktails

Tony sent me this rather wonderful montage of his flags of the world cocktails from the Independence day party the other night. From left to right we have: UK/France; Finland; Germany; Australia; Sweden; Portugal. In this way Tony managed to make a cocktail for every nationality present at his party. Just admire the artistry and politely don't ask what they tasted like. ;-)

If anyone is interested the theory Tony (posting as anonymous) outlines the science behind them here!

Bizarre headline of the day...

"WMD-Related Chemical Discovered in Hong Kong Flowerpot"

How's that for a catchline? Who would not want to know how a WMD-related chemical ended-up in a Hong Kong flowerpot? Sadly, according to Issue 9 (Oct./Nov. 2006) of the International Export Control Observer (it's a gripping read, honest) we might never know.
"[A] cleaning woman discovered the unopened package and turned it over to security personnel from the housing complex. The security personnel noticed that the package had a peculiar smell. The Hong Kong police were called and discovered two bags of white powder and two bottles of liquid inside the package. Labels on the bags of powder read ‚“KHF2” the chemical symbol for potassium bifluoride. The bottles of liquid were unmarked. The shipping invoice indicated that the package originated in Shenzhen, China and had been en route to Iran, scheduled to arrive in December 2005. It remains unclear how the item ended up outside the Hong Kong apartment building. However, one analyst familiar with Hong Kong‚’s export control system speculated that the package was likely abandoned in the flowerpot when an intermediary responsible for shipping the item realized that local customs controls would make it very difficult to transport the item to Iran."

"...Potassium bifluoride is an extremely hazardous substance that is both corrosive and toxic. It is a precursor for various chemical weapons agents, including the nerve agent sarin, and is also used in the extraction of plutonium from spent reactor fuel in the production of fissile materials." (p.6)
In a pitiful attempt to illustrate this story I put "hong kong flowerpot" into Google Images and the above picture came up. The above flowerpot has not been implicated in the running of WMD precursors to Iran, and its depiction should not be seen as any suggestion of such activities. This is a good thing because I'm sure I saw one just like that in my local IKEA recently...

Friday, December 08, 2006

Terrorism in America

I was reading a UKC discussion (well - brawl might be more accurate) this week about new airline passenger profiling being done by the US - civil liberties vs. security blah, blah, blah... same old same old. But then I noticed a comment by the generally rude and arrogant JCM (who just happens to annoying normally also be correct and to the point), saying that there has been virtually no history of terrorism in the US. This was great, as I knew he was plain wrong, so it was a chance to pounce! :-) Anyway I did a list off the top my head and Googled a couple just to make sure. I'll copy the post here, just so I don't forget them all, even if no one else is really interested. But I think it is interesting to look at just how much political violence there has been in the US over the years that doesn't fit into the current view of terrorism being done by Jihadis. My post was as follows:
"if you are really interested you should read a book called "Images of Terror" by a US academic called Philip Jenkins. For example do you know about the 1975 La Guardia bombing? Probably not, as most Americans don't remember it. It killed eleven - more than were killed in the first WTC bombing that most do remember, but was carried out by Croatian Ultra nationalist Utashe.

But lets start with groups off the top of my head. You can argue the toss over what is a terrorists but all of these below on non-state groups who have used violence for a political or religious reason. Most have killed:

"Left" in vague historical order
-The "Red Wave" of the 20s - numerous bombings by communists and anarchist particularly the Wall Street Bombing of 1920 that killed 30
-Symbionese Liberation Army
-The Weather Underground
-Black Panthers
-United Freedom Front
-Puerto Rican nationalist movement, 1976 they bombed 30 sites in major US cities, including one in NYC that killed 4 and injured 50
-the UNA bomber
-Earth First/Earth Liberation Front

-Various militias in rural areas who have killed law enforcement officers
-Klu Klux Klan
-Abortion clinic bombings and assassinations of doctors (eg. Joseph Paul Franklin)
-Christian Identity Movement linked bombers like Eric Robert Rudolf and Timothy McVeigh and its spin offs: Army of God, Aryan Nation, The Order etc.
-There are also many case of lone rightwingers killing or attempting to carry out terrorist acts including serious attempts to get chem and bio weapons. The bible of the US far right, the Turner Diaries, makes a big thing of the 'lone wolf' concept, so although they can't be considered terrorist groups, they can be considered terrorists.

Then happening in the US but originating overseas:
-Cuban Exile groups - 1975 thirteen bombs went off in Miami in two days, organised by a Bay of Pigs Veteran. Cuban rightists also murdered leftist Latin American exiles in the US - including the Chilean Orlando Letelier. A Cuban diplomat was also murdered by Cuban exiles in 1980.
-Croatian Nationalists (La Guardia bombing)

The question isn't whether there has been political violence in the US, there always has been - huge amounts of "terrorism" after the Civil War for example - but who gets to call it terrorism.

Anyway, purely by coincidence just a few days after discussing this I was listening to last week's podcast of On The Media from WNYC/NPR, and they had a fascinating discussion "El Terrorista y La Periodista" about the bizarre activities of the U.S. Government regarding those very Cuban nationalist terrorists, specifically Luis Posada Carriles who has been convicted in Venezuela of the 1976 bombing Cubana Flight 455 in midflight killing all 73 on board. It seems that US Govt. has chucked away all the evidence they have on the guy, and are now trying to get that evidence from journalists via subpoena. Meanwhile a convicted terrorist is living free in the Miami suburbs. Read it here or listen to it by clicking here.

Tuesday, December 05, 2006

Live Blogging! Independence Day Drinkies...

So I'm at a joint Finnish Independence Day (tomorrow) and birthday party for Tony, sometime climbing partner and amateur cocktail developer. He is so impressed with his new cocktails that he felt they needed to be shared with the world immediately. So feast your eyes on the following:

The first has been named The Itsenäisyyspäivä (Independence Day), please admire the very Finnish colours. The second is a multipurpose cocktail that has so far been pressed into service to welcome both a French friend and a British friend (me!), but is most obviously suited for any cocktail drinking Russians out there. We are currently trying to work out how to do an Australian one. Answers on a postcard to the normal address - the comments box.

Happy Birthday to Tony and Happy Independence Day to all the Finns reading!

Monday, December 04, 2006

The obligatory weekend climbing post.

Jody goes a bit ninja at Rollarit

To any climbers reading this, yes I know it's a top-rope but hey, it December in Finland and we're still climbing outside so give us a break. In fact I had just led a VS around the corner but Jody failed to actually take any photos of that....

To any non-climbers reading this, you don't know what a top-rope is so don't worry about it. ;-)

Sunday, December 03, 2006

Two stories of prejudice

I've happened to come across two really depressing stories over the weekend. The first was from the Times back at the end of the summer. Jamie Glassman, one of the writers from the Ali G Show, and hence no stranger to sailing close to the comedic wind himself, notes that at this year's Edinburgh Fringe he saw two comics who have made anti-semitic jokes (although if you were feeling very charitable you could argue the toss over the later) and that for the young, ignorant and mouthy left there is willingness to not separate all Jews everywhere from the actions of the Israeli Government, when it comes to hating "Bush, Blair and Israel." I think that with the rough and ugly politics of the last five or so years, it is definitely something that is creeping back on to the fringes of the political discourse of the left - as I have alluded to before on this blog. This anti-semitism wrapped up in something else has probably always been there, but people just knew to keep their mouths shut if they didn't want to get smack or shouted down for the ugly bigotry that it is. But with the worsening of the political situation in the Middle East, and particularly after the Israel-Lebanon war of this summer, the bigots are feeling less restrained. I was lucky enough to have the chance to have dinner with Dr. Nabil Shaath - special envoy for the Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas - this week after he was returning from the EU Mid-East summit in Tampere. He was very up-beat about the outcomes of the summit and had had a number of private meetings with Israeli Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni and clearly they had been constructive (although things look less good today), but his descriptions of life in Gaza, currently under Israeli blockade, were incredibly depressing. The economy has been destroyed and malnutrition is starting to be observed. There is much to be criticised amongst current Israeli government policies, but why people would go from doing that to being simply racist towards a huge group of people living all around the world (and quite often the most acute and clear critics of those policies) is beyond me. They are f**kwits and deserve to be told so.

The second story is an incredible one from the US. A talkshow host on station covering Washington, Virginia and Maryland had a show based on the idea that all Muslims should be made to wear some kind of signifying mark in public like an armband, or be tattooed. Some called in to say the host a dangerous bigot and to point out the rather obvious historical precedents. Many others phoned in to say what a good idea it was, or more - that all Muslims should either be put in camps or expelled from the country. Of course at the end of the show the host revealed that it had been a hoax to draw out peoples feelings toward Muslims. A few weeks ago I met a number of young American Muslims at a conference, all 'community leaders' of some sort or another - all young professionals: lawyers, dentists etc. who were putting much effort into various NGOs, community education groups etc. They all said how this sense of mistrust towards American Muslims was increasing, spurred on by real 'honest' ignorance mixed with what to them were very strange ideas about what their religion is meant to be, ideas that come from ugly anti-Islamic rhetoric that exists on numerous blogs and religious (Christian) websites. There was a real sense of unease, about being made to feel a stranger in the country of your birth - and this radio host's hoax can only add to that. Can anyone be stupid enough not to know what asking a religious group to wear an armband signifies?

Thanks to CENSORED and Duncan_S on UKC who brought both articles to my attention.

Friday, December 01, 2006

I might regret this...

The Guardian Abroad, a new part of the Guardian website aimed at expats has added me
to their list of expat blogger. You can now rate this blog and even leave a review at the Guardian should you be so inclinded. The button is in the side bar and will take you to their site. This blog is in the "Global diatribes and politics" section.