Monday, December 31, 2007

Wintour's Leap

It's the holidays hence lack of blogging - but I've been up to a few things including up a rather large cliff called Wintour's Leap. Here is the evidence:

I'll blog more about it when I find a mo' and download all the photos.

Tuesday, December 25, 2007

Christmas in Worcestershire

Christmas Day dawned rainy and gray but it began to lift so we went out for a run. Following on from last years "tradition" I YouTubed it - see below. This afternoon the sun actually came out s we went out for a walk. Some photos of wintery Worcestershire follow. Hope all celebrating had a great day.

A damp Christmas morning in Worcestershire

Running across a muddy field and using a camera is tricky

Surprisingly un-muddy shoes

Looking northeast towards the Black Country

The church at dusk

South across the fields

Sunset over Walgrove Hill

Happy Christmas

I escaped damp and virtually-always-dark Finland for damp, misty but slightly less dark England. It's the food that keeps me coming back.

Christmas shopping lunch in Kidderminster. Yes, it really is that cultural.

And to everyone who for some reason I am yet to really figure out, keeps coming back here for another look - have a wonderful Christmas (or alternative holiday for those otherwise inclined!).

Wednesday, December 19, 2007

Biking 2007

I'm off to England tomorrow and won't be back until after New Year, so today I did my last 45 kms cycling of the year, to work and back. The results are in - 300 kms short of my target (once again) but not too bad. If I hadn't done it, I'd be 2708 kms fatter. That's a lot of donuts I got away with!

Road bike 137 kms
Mountain bike 308 kms
Commuting bike 2263 kms

Total 2708 kms

One man's terrorist... another man's strategic asset? Particularly when the first man is President Ahmadinejad of Iran, the second man works for the U.S. State Department and the group in question is PJAK.

You've got to love that revolutionary vibe!

PJAK are Iranian Kurdish guerrillas/terrorists/freedom fighters/insurgents/militants/dudes (delete as ideologically suitable/aesthetically pleasing). The Iranian government is almost certainly messing around inside Iraqi Kurdistan, probably by sponsoring a nasty Takfiri/Jihadi Kurdish group Ansar al-Islam, who have been repeatedly bashed down by the Kurdish Peshmergas but keeps popping back up again like mushrooms after rain. But on the other hand, neither the U.S. as the occupying power, nor the Iraqi National Government or Kurdish regional government are doing much about the PJAK bases inside Iraq from where they attack Iran. This can be contrasted with the recent bombing by the Turkish air force of the PKK bases inside Iraq, which the U.S. must have given a nod to as the USAF has dominance over Iraqi airspace. The Iranian government has responded though, by firing artillery into Iraqi Kurdistan - seemingly with little impact beyond injuring Iraqi Kurdish civilians who had nothing to do with PJAK.

The saying "one man's terrorist is another man's freedom fighter" has come in for regular bashing over the last few years, particular from American commentators after 9/11: moral relativism, etc. etc. But PJAK isn't listed by U.S. as a terrorist organisation, and it's representatives have visited Washington D.C. Only a few people claim that the U.S. is supporting the group directly and they present no real evidence of it beside the normal unnamed sources or just saying 'it's logical'. But the U.S. is danger of falling into its own rhetorical trap of demanding 'moral clarity' in the 'War on Terror', even when in the past parts of the government have already shown hypocritical tendencies in that direction.

PJAK may well have a legitimate cause, and as it appears to have a certain pro-feminist ideology making them rather sympathetic in a region where women are heavily oppressed. But its methods would be quickly described as terrorist if they were aimed at Western forces in Iraq, or at Western countries more generally.

Links of interest:
  • Quality BBC reporting on the tenuous position of the Iraqi Kurds trying to balance American, Turkish and Iranian interests against their own.
  • Jamestown Terrorism Monitor article on the PJAK.
  • Wikipedia article on PJAK with lots of links to news coverage, particularly on their relations with the U.S.

Monday, December 17, 2007

Sympathy for the Devil

The regime in Iran is a thoroughly repressive, autocratic, illiberal AND incompetent bunch - haven't the people of Iran suffered enough? Maybe not. From the BBC:
De Burgh 'will play gig in Iran'
Chris De Burgh
Lady In Red star Chris De Burgh will be the first Western artist to play a concert in Iran since the country's 1979 revolution, according to reports.

The poor Iranians wait nearly 30 years for someone to come and play some gigs and then we send Chris De Burgh?! It must be some complicated CIA pys-ops mission I presume. Oh well, if nothing else it is an excuse to link this again.

Sunday, December 16, 2007

Sunday ice climbing

ice bubbles

Tony tiptoes up the smear to get to the slightly thicker stuff

Simon approaches the tricky bit

Coffee break

A marginally less boring than normal Karelian pie

Making the most of some skinny ice at Kauhala

I didn't realise until I got home and looked back in this blog - but last year on exactly the same date we went climbing and eating donuts at Kaffestuga. Whether this simply means I have found my niché in life or if it is time to pack up and join the Foreign Legion, I'm not sure - but at least this year there was some very thin ice to tiptoe up, rather than last years freezing rock. Although not quite as miserably wet and unfreezing as last December it's getting there. Roll on real winter.

Friday, December 14, 2007

Ron Paul and men with guns

I just noticed this on the Weekly Standard blog about the Ron Paul campaign:

"...and that money is pouring in from all sorts of unpredicted sectors (more active-duty military have given to Paul than to any other candidate)"

I'm not sure if that is good or bad, but it is definitely interesting and suggests some soldiers have had enough.

And please, just don't ask why I was reading the Weekly Standard. Blame it on the singing Pizza.

Wednesday, December 12, 2007

Pyrrhic Victory

Hmmm, not sure if that is actually the right term - but it will have to do. Something I wrote was quoted today by the Financial Times (the story was on the front page of their website as well). But because it was one sentence taken out of a lengthy report, of which I had co-authored just a small piece, alongside a good number of my friends and colleagues - no one will ever know that was me. But it was. The whole quote. My words. All of them. On the FT online front page.

I'm dead chuffed.

Monday, December 10, 2007

Biking or Climbing and December

Either are crap combos, believe me.

Bikes, like cars, in my opinion always break down when the weather is foul. Call me paranoid, but I’m pretty certain they plot against me and always go wrong in late autumn. I don’t remember much about how to change the fuel tank on a Mini or the brake shoes on a Chevette, I only recall how cold my hands got in the process of doing those jobs. So despite having the relevant spare parts now for a few weeks, my commuting bike has been in bits in the shed, waiting for it to stop bloody raining or snowing so I could change the bottom bracket, crankset, and do the various other jobs that needed doing. Eventually I came to the conclusion this wasn’t going to happen so decided the downstairs bathroom was going to have to be pushed into service as a (heated) workshop. The new BB actually fitted which is always a hold-your-breath moment when you have ordered the parts from the internet, although the locking nut is sticking out more than I would like. It is also plastic and as a colleague at work, who used to race MTBs and knows his way around a bike, said “plastic BB locking nuts – they’re the work of the devil man!” I can see his point. Hopefully I’ll flog the bike and it will be someone else’s mental health at risk in trying to remove it. The new crankset looks dead smart but of course isn’t the same size as the old one, which means moving the front mech, and then you’re straight into a world of hurt, which I’m sure will involve hours of fiddling and cursing whilst trying to get it to change smoothly. Sods law says my old mech will be somehow incompatible with the new crankset but it will take me hours to actually work this out. Anyway, after an hour or so and realizing this was going to take a good couple of hours more and it was already 10 pm I decided to put the less-so but still un-rideable bike back in the shed and leave it for later.

An anonymous desperado, playing with himself. Slowly. ;-)

The weather has been so crappy this last week and, Helsinki in December being Helsinki in December, the days so short that it feels like I haven’t actually seen daylight all week. I go to work in the dark, come home in the dark, and spend the intervening hours in my new office which has a really crappy little window overlooking the side of another building. This is in comparison to the great view from my old office. What little sky you can see from window has been uniformly grey all week with low cloud and that means that it’s pretty much dark by 3 pm. So despite far more sensible suggestion from mates to go to the climbing wall this weekend, I found a fellow desperado and we headed off to Kirkkonummi on the quest to find real rock in the fresh air to climb. The weather forecast was vaguely optimistic, but it pissed it down most of the way. We got to the cliff to find it (yes, I know, completely predictably) pissing wet. Fortunately we had aid gear so set off turning HVS cracklines in to A1 rope-solos (actually C1s, if you are really down with the kids). For non-climbers what aid climbing is, and the difference between A grades and C grades doesn’t really matter. All you need to know is that aid climbing is traditionally done on the 1000 metre high, majestic, sun-baked cliffs of California’s Yosemite not on damp, wee, 15 mtr high crags in gloomy Finnish forests. I climbed one route in normal style: it was very wet, my fingers quickly went numb and water managed to run down my sleeves as far as my armpits. Oh well. Christmas is coming and at least we’re not turkeys.

Thursday, December 06, 2007

Many Congratulations!

I just got a text message from a number my phone didn't know saying, in Finnish, that at 4 pm today the newest Finnish citizen had been born (today being Finnish independence Day)! The baby and mum are both doing very well.

I've been desperately thinking of any Finnish speaking friend or acquaintance who is due to have a baby and can't think of one. So whoever you are - wonderful! Many congratulations! And have a great life all together whoever and where ever you are.

Wednesday, December 05, 2007

Independence Day

I'm trying to write a PhD chapter on the Finnish conscription system currently, so have been thinking a lot about the linkage between military service and the nature of the state and the nation. In today's Helsingin Sanomat there is an article written by Jarkko Nieminen, currently ranked as the 27th best tennis player in the world, but more temporarily than that, also ranked as a private infantryman in the Finnish army. He comes over as a very sensible chap with a rather level-headed and well thought out approach to the idea of nationalism and military service.

On the subject of nationalism, it's Independence Day tomorrow, so a day off. Helsingin Sanomat has collected some thoughts from foreign residents and naturalized Finns on their adopted country in celebration of this. I think those of us who have been here some time have a privileged position to see the good, bad and funny things about the country, as well as to look on our own countries' with clearer eyes. As Nieminen writes about his country: "When you are half a world away, you realise that this thing or that thing is actually pretty good in Finland". I'd agree on the whole, just don't get me started on the utter idiocy of having two different traffic priority systems at work at the same time so you never know what you should do at the next junction, and of course the weather - which no one could call anything other than shit at the moment! :-)

Hyvää Itsenäisyyspäivää kaikille (Happy Independence Day to all) !

Tuesday, December 04, 2007

Diplomacy at it's best

One of the few perks of my job is that I reasonably regularly get invited to various "dos" at differing embassies in Helsinki. These can range from rather fun and often informative in that one-glass-of-champagne -and-two-gin-and-tonics-all -paid-for-by-some-long-suffering-and -distant-tax-payer, to the mind-numbingly dull and slightly uncomfortable if you can't spot a friendly face to chat with. But tonight was the U.S. Embassy's Christmas "Open House" - although presumably not that open as you pass a van-full of Finnish cops and show your invitation to about four different U.S. security people to get in. Once through security all was Christmas cheer, and the Ambassador was as lovely as always - I can even forgive her for all the photos of her shaking hands with 'Dubbya' himself positioned prominently around the rooms. They completely out did themselves though, with a chocolate fountain in which you could coat strawberries or marshmallows impaled on long sticks.

Perhaps I'm too easily impressed, but a chocolate fountain is about as cool as it gets.

Monday, November 26, 2007

Moderate (looking) Nazis

I've written a bit about far right parties in Europe recently, mainly about ones that are trying to change their image. But the BBC's "Crossing Continents" has an excellent programme on the NPD in Germany, a party that isn't running from its historical ancestors in the slightest. Very interesting and worrying listening. Download it whilst you can because I think it might only be available for a few more days.

Monday, November 19, 2007

Depressing work but someone has to do it...

Myself and a mate at work have been digging through the writings of, and commentary on the foreign policies of the leading Presidential election candidates for 2008, thinking about trying to write something on it. We drew lots on who was going to read which of the candidates' major foreign policy papers that have been published this year in Foreign Affairs. I got Rudy, Mitt and Hilary. Charly is reading Barack, Edwards, and McCain. You can read them all for free here if you really can't think of something more important you should be doing, like defrosting the freezer or similar.

But anyway George Packer has done at least my work for me in summing up the Republicans in the latest New Yorker magazine. Read it, weep and buy a "vote Hilary/Barack" badge even if you can't:
As the tide goes out on President Bush’s foreign policy, the mass of flotsam left behind includes a Republican Party that no longer knows how to be reasonable. Whenever its leading Presidential candidates appear before partisan audiences, they try to outdo one another in pledging loyalty oaths to the use of force, pandering to the war lobby as if they were Democrats addressing the teachers’ union.

Sunday, November 18, 2007

First ice of the season

First ice of the winter

Did the first ice routes of the season on Saturday at the old faithful Kauhala, where the ice seems to always form first and melt last. It was very thin and slightly slushy still but enough to gently tiptoe and tap up on a top rope.

Warning! Thin Ice

We did a couple of lines, including one nicknamed the "Headless Fall" where a distinct flow of ice springs from a horizontal crack a metre or so below the top of the crag. It's a fun and slightly bizarre move as you get your tools in the top of the ice and then try to mantle them in some way allowing you to span past the blank rock and placement over the top. I found a rather thin torque out in the crack which helped with that, and allowed me to work my front points high enough so that with the other tool I could just reach and get a stick in the frozen moss on the top of the cliff. All good fun on a top rope, but currently unleadable unless you fancy soloing moves as tenuous as that 15 or so metres up!

Little Toni tiptoes up a very skinny "Headless Fall"

I was meant to go out again this morning, but having been out helping last night to celebrate the Christening of my godson on Saturday afternoon, my physical state wasn't quite up for the necessary early start. Toni and Jody went to Nuuksionpää and reported good ice, although everything was beginning to drip as a warm front moved it. The temperature is still above freezing even now its dark, and it looks like the thaw will carry on this week, so it was good to get out whilst it lasted.

Water flowing behind the ice.

Friday, November 16, 2007

Oh yeah.

I think it's that time of year again.

The view of Töölölahti in central Helsinki on my ride to work this morning.

Time to find these from the back of the shed.

Monday, November 12, 2007

Keep Finland Tidy

I always used to think that Finns were good at not littering. Helsinki is definitely much better in terms of litter than a comparable sized British city. But then I moved to the edge of the city, and cycling around the area I've started noticing huge amounts of fly tipping goes on. There are loads of recycling places all over the city where you can take your junk, so presumably some people just enjoy driving out to the first bit of countryside they get to, finding a track to drive down and then chucking their crap out into the woods.

Need a new TV anyone?

Or perhaps an oven?

Time for an oil change!


So to all flytippers out there, a friendly message just for you. Fuck you, you scummy bastards.

And then here's my attempt at self filming mountain biking. Cycling one handed down a bumpy track whilst trying to film with camera-phone wasn't the greatest success.

Sunday, November 11, 2007

On serial killers and hypocrisy

I quite like watching Dexter, the series about the serial-killing-police-technician. It’s not on a level with great shows like the Wire, the Sopranos or Deadwood, all the cop characters are straight out of the ‘dummies guide to American TV cop clichés’, but it passes an hour in the evening when you want your brain to rest. So I sat down on Thursday night to watch it, only to find it had been pulled from the schedule and replaced with nature documentary. Clearly the management of Finland’s Nelonen TV channel thought that showing a series about a serial killer the day after a school massacre was in bad taste. But isn’t serial killing as entertainment always in bad taste? Last week’s edition of the superb This American Life was called “How to Rest in Peace”, and listening to it the day after the shooting in Jokela and just before sitting down, in vain as it was to turn out, to watch Dexter was one of those slightly spooky coincidences. This American Life interviewed a number of people who had had close family members murdered. The first woman whose father had been killed and the murderer never found, said that most normal people don’t realise what a huge amount of popular culture is based around murdering people. Not just television shows and movies, but books and even games like Cluedo. She pointed out that people even go to murder-mystery dinners where someone gets killed and then all the participants have to detect ‘whodunnit’. She fairly points out that we wouldn’t go to a rape-mystery dinner where the evening’s entertainment is sleuthing-out who the rapist is. That would be sick. So why is murder OK?

So, back to my missing episode of Dexter. If it was OK for me to watch a witty and righteous serial killer set against Miami’s pastel shades and beautiful people last week, why not this week? Pekka-Eric listed lots of films and music he liked, but no TV programmes. So no one is trying to blame Dexter for seven dead innocent Finns, indeed Auvinen even helpfully wrote in his ‘manifesto’: “Don’t blame the movies I see, the music I hear, the games I play or the books I read. No, they had nothing to do with this.” It would be nice, like after Columbine, to again blame Marilyn Manson because - quite frankly - his music is shit and his dress sense ridiculous. Getting kids to dress as Goths should be illegal, but it’s not and his lyrics about killing and suffering and death did not put a gun in Auvinen’s hand.

I watched another TV show on friday, Law and Order, that makes entertainment out of rape AND murder. The amusing thing is that one of the lead cops, ever ready to dish out justice to street punks, is played by Ice-T. One needs to be of a certain age and musical inclination to remember that Ice-T was once public enemy no.1. After his band Body Count released Cop-Killer, he was more of a public enemy than Public Enemy – that’s clearly pretty bad; or cool depending on your perspective. If I remember right the President Bush at the time denounced the song, and gansta rap generally, as a threat to national security. And now Ice-T is in Law and Order, the same show that Fred Thompson – running in the republican primaries for the presidential nomination for 2008 – also appears. Postmodern or just the American Dream?

So this brings me, from laughing along with serial killers, via rapping about killing cops, finally to rhyming couplets about chopping off heads. Amina Malik – who wanted to be known as the ‘Lyrical Terrorist’ – was found guilty in London this week of “possessing records [and I don’t think they meant Ice-T LPs] likely to be used for terrorism”. All the media has gone big on the poetry which included ditties such as: "Let us make Jihad/ Move to the front line/ To chop chop head of kuffar swine". Nice. But, thank God, we’re not yet imprisoning people for bad poetry. Yet. She was found innocent of charges of possessing an article for terrorism purposes, but found guilty of a lesser charge of having articles that could be useful for terrorism purposes. The law seems horribly illiberal, as surely many people will have some articles that could be useful for terrorism somewhere. I hate to think what the Met would be able to charge me with if they went through my office bookshelves and lever-arch files. Luckily my office does not come under UK law, but I haven’t heard of them raiding the offices of university department, think-tanks, and research institutes in London where my fellow terrorism researchers do their work, to seize their files. So rather it seems that Malik’s bad poetry and professed love for the Mujahideen is what made it a bad thing for her to possess such written material, there being no suggestion that she was actually planning violence or knew anyone who was. That sounds like a thought crime. It might be amusing if the police raided the houses of every far-right activist known to them to see if they have copies of the Turner Diaries next to Mein Kampf on their bookshelves, then arrest them. But it would also be illiberal and immoral. If the Malik case does suggest one thing, that is that Britain has sensible gun control laws. She possibly is or was crazy enough to kill people had she had the opportunity. But unlike Finland where it is easier to get a gun license than a driver's license, and unlike Pekka-Eric Auvinen, she didn’t get a gun and instead kept writing bad poetry on the back of till receipts. So we act shocked, tut at news, think what a terrible person she is and what an awful person he must have been, then flip the channel and settle down to enjoy and hour of being entertained by a serial killing.

Thursday, November 08, 2007

Pekka-Eric Auvinen - not so special

I posted last night that much of the international media has claimed that Finland is virtually a stranger to violent crime, and therefore Pekka-Eric Auvinen's shooting rampage is something of a freak occurrence. It's not. Finland is a very safe place to live as there is very little random violence aimed at strangers; so as long as you pick your friends and family sensibly, it is safe. But get those latter factors wrong, and you actually face much higher chances of being a victim of violence - particularly gun crime - than you do in the UK for example.

In the time that I have lived in Finland there have been two other attacks by crazed individuals that have resulted in multiple deaths:
Additionally a mentally ill man killed another passanger on the Helsinki metro with an axe in 2004; you wonder whether he would have killed more if he had had access to a pistol like Auvinen. A similar random murder happened this summer when a mentally ill man in Porvoo, a little east of Helsinki, murdered a Dutch tourist with a knife.

The multiple, random killings get more media attention but there have also been too numerous cases of multiple killing in families, where a parent kills their children and partner first, then commits suicide. When it is the father, guns have often been involved. The other common situation is for one friend to kill another, normally after heavy drinking. I remember reading somewhere that the standard profile of both Finnish murderers and victims are middle-aged, divorced men who abuse alcohol.

I feel far more at ease walking in Helsinki late at night than I do in many British towns and cities, but that isn't because overall Finland is safer, but rather because crime has a different profile here. The Finnish Ministry for Foreign Affairs and the Finnish Tourist Board can be proud today that the rest of the world seems so shocked. Their image of Finland as a cosy, homely, northern nirvana has clearly been received.

Other related mutterings of mine on this subject here, here, here and here.

Wednesday, November 07, 2007

If you want global notoriety...

...focus on the international media market, and ignore the local. The 18 year old boy who killed seven of his school mates and one of his teachers today, before failing to shoot himself properly in the head, left his message to the world in English. It's not bad English either, he obviously paid attention in class. You can read it here, although don't expect more than adolescent rage mixed with a decent reading list. In fact the t-shirt he wearing in the photo below kind of sums it up.

Two side points, the international press is doing the "even in Finland!" surprised line. There hasn't been a school shooting like this before, but in 2003 an equally messed up kid made a bomb that killed himself and six others in Helsinki area shopping centre, and actually gun crime is in Finland is rather high; much, much more than the UK for example.

And secondly, failing to kill yourself by shooting yourself in the head isn't as uncommon as one might expect.

Update: the shooter died during the night, and I was sort of wrong saying this was the first school shooting in Finland. There hasn't been an incident on this scale before but in 1989 in Rauma a boy shot and killed two fellow students.

Monday, November 05, 2007

I'm shocked! Shocked I tell you!

I dived back into the rightwing blogosphere tonight to see how things were shakin' down in the Littlegreenfootballs vs. Brussels Journal smack down that I mentioned a couple of days ago. I'm not sure who's winning, although reading more Brussels Journals articles than I have for a long time has reminded me of what a downright, strange political philosophy Paul Belien has (along with facial hair). It's easy to shout fascist as LGF has been doing a bit, but it more seems to be some form of ultra-reactionary conservative Catholicism. Of course there were plenty of links between the Catholic church and fascism in Franco-era Spain, and in Italy under Mussolini, but its a very different type of politics from your standard, racist, bully-boy, skinhead sort of European far rightism of the British BNP or the French Front National.

But what is amusing is the shock that some American conservatives are expressing on discovering their anti-Islam allies in Europe are actually, well, racist thugs. Have a look at the quote below from the delightfully named blog "THE OUTRAGED SPLEEN OF ZION" (slightly angry capitalization in the original), on their discovery of the "true nature" of Belgium's Vlaams Belang party, and its leader Filip Dewinter.

The White Power Neo Nazi movement needs to use people fighting jihad like us as political cover, they desperately need us to be the beard.
DeWinter is a major player in that world.
This is an international terrorist movement, just like jihad.

The White Power movement has risen on the ashes of 9/11 , it is rising concurrent to the rise of Jihad. It is a genuine, serious, international worldwide movement.
It is very organized.

DeWinter is in the thick of it and he happens to be a very major player with very major aspirations. He is a very ambitious boy.

They are intentionally planning to use your poor useful idiot ass as political cover.
Their sponsoring of the CounterJihad Europa conference was all about this.

They are in the process of BRANDING

If you told me this 13 days ago I would have laughed in your face.
I openly challenged everyone on LGF on it at the outset and did not want to believe it myself.

A list of codewords for what these MFers are now calling themselves worldwide is edifying and necessary, I have seen these words used plenty over the last 6 years never knowing what the hidden meaning behind most of them was:

  • Movements calling themselves "Nationalist"
  • Movements using the word "Sovereignty"
  • Movements calling themselves "Christian Identity" and other "Identity" parties and groups
  • Movements going by this title: [insert country name here] FIRST!
  • White Nationalism (also they use WN alot)
  • Paleoconservative (which is why they are obsessed with the word NEOCON)
  • Paleolibertarian (yes we can get to Ron Paul in 3 degrees)
  • The Patriotic Movement
  • Homogeneous Ethnic Communities
  • "Traditionalist" movements
  • "America [or insert country here] Renaissance" movements
  • The "New Right"
  • Populist
  • "Defensive Racism" movements
  • White Renaissance
I'm sorry Ms. Outraged Spleen?! You what?! You didn't know what the "hidden meaning" was behind an organisation that calls itself "White nationalist"?! What did you think it might mean? A particular interior decoration style in one country? And Mr DeWinter might be many things, an arse in particular, but he wasn't an international terrorist last time I looked.

And just an aside, my last post on this subject I was going to call "a fascist in a suit is still a fascist", but then realised that half the post was about the True Finns, who although suit wearing and populist rightwingers, aren't fascists, so I changed the title. But the pic below, from the Blokwatch site, made me laugh. Yep, that's our old friend Mr. DeWinter in the middle.

Sunday, November 04, 2007

First snow of the winter

This time last year I was doing the first ice climbs of the winter, although after a fortnight everything melted and stayed that way until mid-January. Hopefully this winter will be less exceptional and we'll get some longer lasting cold weather and snow. It's sunny now so the snow not in the shade is melting.

Yesterday I swapped the summer tyres for winter tyres on the car. The first couple of times I found this novel and sort of exciting, like I was becoming a real Finn. Now its just another dull (and mucky) job that has to be done. I must be getting old and jaded. I still can't bring myself to pay someone else to do it though, as many others do. What I really want to do is find a way to fit the relevant sized socket-spanner on to my power drill, Formula 1 pit-stop style. Then it would be fun, as all jobs involving power tools tend to be.

Thursday, November 01, 2007

Notes from the Northern Right

I noticed an interesting little story the other day about the True Finns party, Finland's populist rightwing party, or far rightwing party, depending on who you ask. Their leader, Timo Soini MP, had banned the party's youth wing from cooperating with the youth wings of far right parties from Denmark and Sweden. It doesn't name those parties and even though I've done a bit of sniffing around the story I haven't yet been able to confirm which they are, but presumably it is the Danish Peoples Party and the Sweden Democrats. These two parties are relatively bog standard European far rightists, not totally fascist perhaps, but definitely in that neighbourhood. The Sweden Democrats in particular have extensive historical links to the neo-Nazi movement in that country. The True Finns, whilst definitely not my political cup of tea (and clearly benefiting from and playing to a racist subsection of the Finnish electorate), are not cut of the same cloth. Soini in particular makes it clear that he is not a Finnish Jorg Haider or Jean Marie Le Penn, and if you can put politics aside, is generally reckoned to be a 'decent bloke' by people I know who have met him (although being a Millwall supporter will always be a bit sus to Brits of a certain age!). The True Finns come out of a tradition of rural populism and although that has always had an isolationist and xenophobic tinge to it, the Rural Party under Veikko Vennamo was in the 1960s and 70s one of the few parties that was not under Kekkonen's spell - Finland's all powerful president of 25 years, and a man for whom democracy was was expendable if it was to get in the way of his idea of what the national interest was. The Rural party might have been an uncouth voice of the angry countryside, but it was willing to go against the political status quo at a time when precious few others would in Finland.

I'm not certain why exactly Soini took the decision that he did, but presumably he wants to keep the party more in that tradition than going down the road that the Sweden Democrats have taken, the road as someone put it of a 197os British fashion and 1930 Germans politics.

All this take place at an interesting time, because the Sweden Democrats are at the centre of another storm. A "Civil War" (their term not mine) has broken out on the rightwing blogosphere and the Sweden Democrats were the cause. A conference was held in Brussels to launch the "Counter Jihad" movement, to defend Europe from its "Eurabian" fate where we are all going to be ruled by Osma bin Laden and his minions. What appears to have happened is that the ever strident Little Green Footballs blog pointed out the blatantly-obvious-to-every- one-else fact that a number of the people involved, notably from the Sweden Democrats and from the Flemish secessionist/supremacist party Vlaams Belang, are basically smartly dressed fascists. The accused hotly contested this saying that they are totally cool with Jews these days, and they only spread conspiracy theories about Muslims now. Some in the middle (and remember that's the middle of the hard right) said, "Ok, so they used to be Jew-hating Neo Nazis but they haven't been that for at least five years, so can't we all just get along?" The cynical out there might wonder whether the President of Iran might be allowed to join their little gang in five years time if tomorrow he states: "I was wrong! The holocaust did happen, and actually I really dig Israel! Can we just all go and kick some Sunni ass now? Please..."? One suspects not. Anyway, if Little Green Footballs realises the Sweden Democrats are dodgy, Mr. Soini's decision looks a wise one indeed.

It's a funny ole' world when I'm nice about the True Finns and LGF in one post. Keep on rockin' in the free world folks.

Wednesday, October 24, 2007

Law and order - Iraq style

I was going to try and write a serious piece to get my head around Iraq's various sub-civil wars that are currently going on, but as ever I started surfing and reading and now it is past midnight and I want to go to bed. So here instead is something bizarre, but brief, spotted on the excellent, excellent Army of Dude blog - the Iraqi police are on drugs.

Alex, the blogger, describes the Iraqi police and army, who he has had the the dubious pleasure of working with, as:
the squabbling, sloppy, lazy, sectarian and thieving Iraqi police and army. Our last hope of getting out of this country by the end of the decade is an efficient and professional military and police force. Renewed efforts of military transition teams to prop up credible army and police units have largely failed. We have to watch with suspicious eyes to prevent civilian abuse, looting and vaguely homosexual assault on detainees. We don’t even try to obstruct their cocaine use, which was apparent in Mosul when I saw piles of white powder on the desks at the police department. I declined an offer to sniff a line.
So, the police are on drugs. It doesn't make any less sense than the rest of it.

Meanwhile if you ever wondered a what a Sunni-nationalist insurgent fighter would look like if only he was wearing a comedy sombrero, scroll down to the bottom of this page. And whilst you are there read for free the excellent Economist article from a fortnight ago that originally took me to Army of Dude post quoted to above. With fingerless gloves and goatee beards already done, perhaps sombreros will actually become the next must-have fashion accessory in the world of global mayhem? Once again - it wouldn't make any less sense than the rest of it.

Tuesday, October 23, 2007

Weekend climbing pics

Some pics from another sunny great day climbing, last saturday. This time out in the wilds of central Finland.

Me on the crux of "Viking Line" 5 (VS 5a), a good long climb with a difficult, reachy crux.

Simon does the first ascent of "the Vikings Apprentice" 4+ (VS 4b) - a nice short crack followed by a delicate slab finish.

Simon leading "Urkupiili" 6- (E1 5b)

Monday, October 22, 2007

A grave new responsibility...

I feel I am now a real-life, official, proper, genuine gear tester. Being a bit of a gear-freak, this has been a long held ambition of mine - to get to use climbing gear then to get to tell other people what you think of it - and not just your mates who have only come to the pub with you because it's your round. Other people. Real people.

For about the last year I have been part of the UKclimbing gear testing team, and indeed have written some reviews - my most recent one being of some amazing self destructing climbing shoes that I bought earlier this summer. The UKC gear project has only been starting to get off the ground this year and so far I have only reviewed things that I have bought myself because I wanted or needed them. But today a brown parcel arrived at my house that had travelled right across Europe - all the way from the magnificent Llanberis pass of North Wales, and the factory of DMM Climbing Equipment. It was like being five on Christmas morning again - ripping open the packing to reveal beautiful, shining toys. Stuff sent to me, for me to test, so that I can then give my opinion on their products, for good or for ill, to the Great British climbing public.

I feel the responsibility weighing heavily upon me: to be firm but fair; to go out and test in exacting, real-world climbing situations; to clip, clip and clip again; and then to report back my findings without fear or favour. But yes, dear readers, this is burden that us chosen few are willing to bear. For we... are the gear testers.

Sunrise on Helsinki

My work is moving offices soon. Not only will I have to cycle or bus further to work, I guess I won't get to enjoy sunrises like this:
Taken on cheap web cam so apologies for the quality but you get the idea.

Thursday, October 18, 2007

Finland and NATO: episode 347

So the Russians don't want Finland to join Nato. Or maybe they don't mind and it was just one lowly diplomat speaking out of turn? Who knows and who cares? Not the President, who has very conspicuously made sure EVERBODY knows that this isn't important AT ALL! She certainly doesn't care. Not a jot.

This is a fun a story because I actually know some of the people involved including the now notorious Mr. Kozin of the Russian embassy. I used to be fascinated by the Finnish NATO debate, but to be honest now it's just getting rather dull now:
"To join or not to join, that is the question;
Whether 'tis nobler in the mind to suffer
The slings and arrows of outrageous Russians,
Or to take American arms against a sea of troubles,
And by opposing, end them.
" Anyway - you get the picture, I'll stop bothering the Bard at this point.

Mr. Kozin's perhaps-scripted-from-on-high intervention in the debate isn't really that much of a shock: Russia doesn't want another of its neighbours to join the most powerful military alliance in the world?! Well - there's a shock! Perhaps a lowly American diplomat could go on Finnish TV and tell us all that "terrorists are like, totally bad and stuff" just to surprise us some more.

The more I watch the Finnish NATO debate, the more it strikes me that it really has nothing to do with NATO whatsoever. People aren't in the slightest interested in what NATO does, how it works (or doesn't to a great degree), and where it is going. Rather it's just a vague term for politicians to slap each other around the face with whilst shouting "you're naughty!", "No - you're naughty!"

Not so long ago I got told by Ministry of Defence guy, who every year lectures to the elite of Finnish society at the National Defence Courses, that these elites actually believe the same four things about NATO as everyone else in Finland: 1) The U.S. tells everyone what to do (well that worked SO well for the U.S. in building the Iraq 'coalition of the willing' didn't it?). 2) That Finnish conscripts will be forced to fight in foreign wars (would someone please tell the Bundeswehr this in Afghanistan? They obviously missed that memo). 3) It will cost huge amounts (the Finnish MoD reckons around €30m - one can argue whether that is a lot or not, but you get some little free gifts chucked in with membership like, you know, being under the American nuclear umbrella and stuff). 4) Small nations have no influence in the alliance (the Dutch keep proving this wrong to the occasional annoyance of the big nations).

There are all sorts of serious arguments as to why Finland shouldn't join NATO, some better than others, along with serious arguments for joining. But nobody ever airs them. They just go on slapping each other with cold war fishes, reinforcing widely held fallacies and jumping like frightened mice anytime a Russian says anything.

Monday, October 15, 2007

"I can not hear you over the sound of my own awesomness"

This slogan was rather amusingly scribbled over a photo of Blackwater security contractor, and then stuck up on the wall of a work space at a U.S. military base in Baghdad. When it comes to Blackwater and there ilk, there are all sorts of interesting and important discussions to be had about the privatization of security in an era of globalization; the renunciation by states of holding the legitimate monopoly on violence as they outsource war to commercial operations; the position of private military companies in international law; blah blah blah. But I'm not now interested in that. Rather I'm interested in ideas of sartorial elegance in the age of modern global mayhem. Last year I asked why do all wannabe terrorists need to wear leather fingerless gloves? Now we want to know - what is it about private military contractors and dodgy goatee beards?

The guy in the middle is a journo so his dodgy mustache doesn't count.

And if you are still not convinced try clicking this link, or this, or this, or this, or this, or this or this (oh, the fun you can have with Google Images!).

Anyway, I think I have made my point.