Tuesday, January 30, 2007

Think Again: India

(pic. from Foreign Policy magazine, showing Indian security forces at work in Kashmir)

Foreign Policy magazine does a good series called "Think Again" were it gets experts to challenge some common assumption about some issue in the international news. They currently have one on India where Barbara Crossette, a former New York Times South Asia bureau chief, takes a critical look at some of the "good news" stories that continually flow from India. She challenges the following statements:
  • "India and the United States are natural allies"
  • "India is a responsible world power"
  • "India will surpass China"
  • "India is becoming a high-tech, middle-class nation"
  • "India is a model of tolerance"
Her responses to these are all well worth reading. Over a couple of trips to India, I've spent more time there than any other non-European country, and I know a little about its history and current affairs. Everyone should do their best to visit India at some point. It is an amazing place that I love, not the least for simply managing to be a multi-ethnic, multi-religious, multi-lingual democracy of a billion people. But as Crossette argues, it is like everywhere else far from perfect. Crossette mentions the pogroms against Sikhs in 1984 where 3000 innocents were slaughtered, and again in 2002 with the Gujurat massacres where police stood aside to let Hindu mobs kill probably 2000 or so of their Muslim neighbours. But she doesn't mention the on-running Marxist "Naxalite Rebellion" where landless poor, connected both to being classed as "tribal peoples" and at the bottom of the persistent caste system, have been fighting an insurgency for decades. More generally the Dalits, the untouchables, face not only systemic prejudice but at times outright murder and rape as a result of their caste, across India.

These kind of issues disappear from prominence in the international media that, at least in the English language, is generally led by US sensibilities, purely because of the US's size and importance. For the US, India is an ally and hence a place of opportunities, not a country to worry about and the news generally reflects this. India faces much of what in other countries would be described as "terrorism" but with the exception of the Kashmir problem - which occasionally erupts elsewhere in India as bombings such as last year in Mumbai - that terrorism isn't to do with Muslims so doesn't fit in the international media's current idea of what terrorism stories should be about. Who really cares to learn who the Naxalites are and what they want? Or what is the fighting and killings of migrant workers in Assam all about?

Fitting things into pre-existing stories happens elsewhere as well, I was talking to some young British-Indians and British-Pakistanis not so long ago and they all said how it was noticeable that over the last five years or so forced marriages (normally of young South Asian women brought to the UK) have become "a Muslim thing". They aren't, well not solely. Exactly the same kind of abuse happens to Sikh and Hindu girls - really its "a subcontinental thing" but that doesn't fit the current media framing.

So like the title suggests, it's always good to think again.

Monday, January 29, 2007

Weekend round-up

Moon above a cold field

Aussie Simon like a monkey up a stick

Little Toni on the Seutula Church Crag icefall

Video of the same mini-route

I've actually been achy all day today after climbing Saturday and Sunday. The shoddy start to the season has meant my muscles are not quite matching my enthusiasm level. Trying harder routes than previously leashless has led to some interesting aches in my wrist and forearms - muscles that I wasn't previously aware of!

Who cares about Somalia(?)

The title question-mark is in brackets as you can read this either as a question or, more likely, simply as a statement. The Economist does care and continues to cover Somalia more seriously than most media, but you could hear their correspondent's anger at the end of last week's report :
"It is a sad measure of the insouciance with which the world treats Somalia that it has managed to drop out of the headlines in the space of a week."
After a few weeks over Christmas when you couldn't move for Mogadishu news, we're back to a collective shrug of the shoulders. There were more US air-strikes last week that hardly got a mention, but seem to have been no more successful than the first round which, according to one US officer interviewed by the IHT, killed none of the leaders of the Islamic Courts Union, or the suspected al-Qaeda they were believed to be sheltering. Who the USAF did kill in the first strikes is not clear. The Ethiopians are starting to pull out (due to malaria of all things, according to the IHT), the Transitional Government doesn't have the power to really control Mogadishu, and ICU sympathetic-fighters are re-emerging to start fighting the government. The idea that the ICU had been "routed" always seemed rather fanciful as the ICU force was a conglomeration of localised militias rather than some unitary military entity. Hence it would seem logical that when the power of the Ethiopian military pushed against them they would just split back up into their original constituent parts. In that sense the Ethiopians did beat them completely but of course that doesn't take the danger away: just as the US has found in Iraq, you can make an army concede totally, but it doesn't mean that the people who made that army up, can't fight you successfully in tiny groupings later with guerilla tactics.

The African Union is still discussing sending peacekeepers but has massive financial, not to mention political constraints. Once the Ethiopians leave Somalia there is no reason to expect that the status quo of continually warring factions, with the Transitional Government once again just one of them, will not return - except for now there will be more anti-US and anti-western feeling after the air attacks and the US support for the Ethiopian invasion. No western country seems to be bothered enough to shovel money, let alone men or resources, to the AU to help out. So as the Washington Times correctly puts it: "the window of opportunity is apparently beginning to close."

Saturday, January 27, 2007

For the ice climbers

So I finally gave into temptation and yesterday bought some beautiful leashless tools. Today was my first time trying them and I can't say it was an unmitigated success...

As you can see I'm glad that even with my own relatively stout frame I didn't blow the screamer and the ice screw did exactly what it was meant to. So that's another climbing cherry popped - my first real fall onto a screw...

Thursday, January 25, 2007

Embassies good and bad

Icicles on the bus terminus monitor, Helsinki.

I've been to two embassy events in two days, one at the British Embassy and one held at Helsinki University by the U.S. Embassy. Embassy gigs are always jolly nice, diplomats are - after all - diplomatic, and a glass of wine in the early evening along with the chance of hearing some interesting news, or just plain gossip, is all good. But it also made me think of story I heard on the radio last week, one that everyone should listen to. The biggest U.S. embassy in the world is in Baghdad, yet if an Iraqi wants to apply for a U.S. visa: for work, as a student, for business, increasingly as refugees and presumably even as a tourist, they can't do that at the largest U.S. embassy in the world in the Iraqi capital, they have to get to Amman in Jordan. For those who can scrape the money together, it's a USD 1000 for a round-trip ticket on Royal Jordanian. For those who can't afford that, they take a taxi. Through al-Anbar province. Yes, that's the bit of Iraq controlled basically by homicidal Sunni insurgents, which probably makes the taxi option one to avoid if you a Shi'a.

It seems increasingly that Iraqis who have worked for the coalition in any capacity are now getting death threats, and with the Iraqi government and the U.S. (and UK) forces unable to provide security, they are being chased out of their own country. But the UK and U.S. governments, whom some of these Iraqis volunteered to assist in the immediate aftermath of the overthrow of Saddam, aren't very interested in helping. And to get told that it will cost you a thousand bucks on Royal Jordanian, or maybe your life in the back of taxi.

And that is deeply shameful.

Wednesday, January 24, 2007

Quote of the week

Made me snigger out loud on the bus this morning:
"It is disturbing that so many Tory activists appear to sympathise with UKIP's lounge-bar xenophobia and authoritarianism."
Bagehot "UKIP if you want to" The Economist January 20th 2007

But is it surprising? A lounge-bar xenophobe with authoritarian leanings; Mr. Kilroy Silk - Bagehot has your number.

Tuesday, January 23, 2007


Taking interesting photos of snow falling is tricky, so how about a movie?

Monday, January 22, 2007

Ice climbing at Helvetinjärvi

(Click on any photo for full-size version) Finally some 'real winter' appeared last week so I started texting around to see who wanted to climb at the weekend. I caught Turku-Dave in a slightly inebriated state from too much corporate entertainment and persuaded him before his more sober, rational faculties kicked in. We met just south of Tampere on Saturday night, left one car and drove on up to Helvetinjärvi national park about 100 kms north of Tampere. I had been watching the forecast closely and they had been promising only around -9 oC overnight for Tampere, but already in the city its was -15 and as we headed out of town it just kept getting colder. By Ruovesi it was a ridiculous -23 oC. All I could think about was that my rather old sleeping bag is rated to -12, hmmmm...

Arriving at the National Park carpark at about midnight the car thermometer had risen to the balmy warmth of -18. On seeing the roofed and snow-free veranda of shuttered and locked summer guides kiosk, we gave up on the idea of using my as yet unused camping tarp. It was going to be cold enough as it was, and at least this would get us up off the snow. After a cup of hot tea and a good few slugs of Laphroaig (for internal warming purposes of course) we headed into our pits, taking water bottles and anything with a battery in it that you want to work the next day with us. I've had more miserable nights winter bivvying (in wet clothing having fallen through lake ice springs to mind!) but not many. It warmed up through the night and I slept a bit more towards morning, but getting out of my sleeping bag into the -15 temps was still rather unpleasant (see photo right). I had forgotten to put the gas cylinder in my sleeping bag so getting the stove to make a cup of tea was a hassle as even propane/butane mix doesn't work particularly well at those temperatures.

The promise of coffee finally got Dave to emerge from the depths of his sleeping bag, and after a stop at a petrol station for more coffee, donuts and chance blow hot air from hand drier in the loos down my clothing, we headed around to the other side of the national park for the day's real business - ice climbing.

It appeared that even this far north the mild weather had meant that there was limited ice on a cliff that is usually just a 50 mtr wide and 25 mtr high wall of ice. It looked slightly disappointing on arrival but actually there were some thin and delicate lines that could be strung together giving more sporting climbing than I've experience at Helvetinjärvi before, so not a bad day at all. And after a night like that, you definitely appreciate your warm bed more when getting home.

The start of a great day

Approaching the crags along the lake

The writer "gettin' some" (and trying not to get tangled up in someone else's toprope!).

Dave finishes the last climb of the day

And lastly a couple of video clips, the first shows Dave on the reasonably angled but rather tenuous central groove line, and the second is the team from Tampere dispatching the the rather delicate overhang in the centre of the crag in fine style.

Thursday, January 18, 2007

Saudi Arabia on Radio Open Source

Open Source from Public Radio International had a show on Tuesday night about Saudi Arabia. I had left a comment on their blog that they were kind enough to read out on air, but best of all was that their expert guest, prof. Bernard Haykel of NYU agreed with the gist of my point. I've been reading a lot about Saudi Arabia over the last year, trying to make some sense of this very opaque country. I don't really understand how the different strands of religion, religio-political ideology, tribe, region, economics and international relations all truly come together but hopefully I'm on the right track.

If anyone has suggested reading that will help me understand how Salafism and Wahhabism, that began as very separate traditions within Islam, relate to each other today - indeed is there any difference anymore? - I would be very grateful.

Wednesday, January 17, 2007

The East-Midlands' finest telemarker

Stylin' dude!

For all your British-based telemark instructions needs there is clearly only one place to go to: www.telemark-skiing.co.uk

And Matt, if anyone clicks through and orders a lesson, you'll owe me a pint! ;-)

Monday, January 15, 2007

Casual references to genocide

Akinoluna's blog has a depressing post about the attitudes expressed by her fellow marines about Somali protesters outside the embassy where she works. You read the same type of attitudes expressed in the comments sections of many right-wing US blogs, where you can bet on someone suggesting the US "should nuke Mecca" within about ten readers' comments following any post on terrorism/jihad/Middle East wars/etc. It is the post-9/11 version of "Godwin's Law" and a good reason to avoid blogs like Little Green Footballs. But clearly this discourse - propagated via the internet, talk radio and the like - has an effect. Normally you just have to ignore it, thinking that there are ignorant bigots all around the world and probably always will be, and that people who make casual references to genocide can't really be all that serious. But then you remember that it is men with guns and maybe attitudes like these who end up in places like Haditha.

A book review: "Insurgency and Counter-Insurgency in Iraq"

I wrote a review of "Insurgency and Counter-Insurgency in Iraq" by Ahmed Hashim that will be translated and published in Finnish in the next edition of Ulkopolitiikka (Foreign Policy) magazine. As ever, when I first submitted it to the editor her response was "Great, thanks, but too long. Cut it to 3600 characters." Has any editor of any magazine or journal anywhere, ever, been known to say: "too short"? It seems to be a universal law that no matter what you write for an editor, the first time it's always a bit too long. They must teach editors this default position in editor school.

Anyway if anyone cares to read the review in its very slightly longer original English version, you are welcome to. Here's a "teaser" - click on it to go to the full review:
"Hashim provides a guide to the intricacies of the Sunni insurgent groups that operate predominantly in Baghdad itself, the Sunni towns surrounding the capital and in al-Anbar province stretching to the western borders of Iraq – looking at the disparate groups, their origins and motivations, and their support bases. There are no simple answers of the type favoured in west by those debating the war on either side of the argument: the insurgency is both a national resistance movement and an expression of an extreme religious ideology."
It's a good book. I really recommend it to anyone who wants to try and understand what is happening in Iraq. If anyone has an incredible urge to buy it you can do so by clicking this linkand hopefully Amazon will give me enough money money to a buy half a pint. Well, almost half a pint...

Sunday, January 14, 2007

Weekend climbing post

Amongst all the darkness and rain of the globally-warmed Finnish winter, when in the past cold winters I would have been out cross country skiing, or snow-shoeing through glittering still forests, instead I have been staring at the computer screen looking for cliffs on the online 1:15000 maps of the country available on the delightfully named "Citizen's Map Site". I'm not a even a citizen just a resident, but they don't seem to have noticed yet.

I found one likely candidate cliff and had been to check it out, coming home pleasantly surprised by its height and steepness. I returned yesterday with English Tony and Aussie Simon to see if any ice had formed, or whether there were doable mixed routes (mixed routes are climbs done with ice tools and crampons but on a mix of snow covered rock, trickles of ice and frozen moss or other vegetation - as opposed to pure frozen waterfalls where all you climb is ice). Mixed climbing is very much a second choice to proper ice climbing, at least on little Finnish cliffs, but its still better than nothing. I tried to on-sight an obvious corner line, but despite its slabby nature it turned out to be harder than it looked and I fell off only about a third of the way up. At least I did fall, not very far but far enough, as that's normally that you were trying hard.

Tony got much higher but ground to halt at about two thirds up where the mud and turf was bizarrely unfrozen in comparison to just metres lower and the corner crack thinned down substantially. Simon - who had never mixed climbed before in his life, had a shot on a top rope and embarrassed both of us by laybacking neatly up the first half of the route making it look much easier than at least my gibbering, jamming, panting and swearing suggested. But he's clearly strong and talented and I've always thought that sort of natural ability is rather like cheating. ;-) Some pictures follow - thanks to Simon for snapping the ones of me and Tony climbing.

Optimism: a car full of ice tools after a week of sleet, rain, very mild frosts and a wee bit of fresh soggy snow. But if you don't put the effort into go and look you won't ever know.

Typical Southern Finland: where the field ends rocks can be found in the woods.

Aussie Simon: "in Australia we have a bright thing up there that we call 'the sun'. Do you get that up here?"

Some punter about to fall off in yet another display of climbing mediocrity.

Tony showing us how to do it.

Tony past the crux.

Some other climbers have visited the crag before as there was an insitu nut in the corner that I was desperately trying to clip when I fell. I removed it whilst removing our gear, it looks like it's been there some time - maybe a year or two. On the very off-chance that's its owner is reading this - if you want it back, you are welcome to it!

Thursday, January 11, 2007


Every day for about the last two weeks I've been thinking I should write something about Somalia, as it a subject that I have followed since starting this blog. But after having had to scrape around to read decent reporting and analysis on the country for most of last year, the current fighting has brought with it a veritable avalanche of attention to what was previously a rather marginal part of the world. Suddenly there has been almost too much news on Somalia to read and listen to.

For work I've followed US counter-terrorism operations in Africa for the last year and half quite closely. The US forces in Djibouti, CJTF-HOA, - where presumably the AC-130 that was trying to kill the al-Qaeda suspects (and probably failing) came from - have kept a much lower media profile than the smaller but more publicised Trans-Saharan Counter-Terrorism Initiative (TSCTI). My feeling has been that the CJTF-HOA has never really needed to justify its budget - it is run by CENTCOM, unlike the the TSCTI which is an EUCOM operation, and there are very few serious analysts of the region who dispute that its likely that the people who were responsible for bombing of the US embassies in Kenya and Tanzania had probably found refuge in Mogadishu, and were probably being sheltered by people who were in some way connected to the Islamic Courts Union. The TSCTI's claim to be helping to secure the Sahara against terrorists is much more tenuous.

But despite the ICU-al Qaeda link, coverage in the west that said the ICU was controlled by al-Qaeda, was just over-egging it to fit Somalia more neatly into the "War on Terrorism" discourse. It was clear even back at the start of last summer that the ICU was an unwieldy conglomeration of different interests, including differing clan loyalties. This probably accounts for its bad strategic decision making and its disintegration in the face of the Ethiopian advance. Yet disintegration is very far from being a rout, as the disintegration of the Iraqi Army in February 2003 so clearly shows. It would appear that many of the Islamist fighters "slipped away" taking off their uniforms if they ever had them in the first place and just going home. There have already been guerilla attacks on Ethiopian and Transition Federal Government (TFG) forces, and the Ethiopians are saying they want to leave soon, as they obviously see more of the same on the horizon and don't want their own mini-Iraq. This is causing American nervousness about a vacuum resulting; the TFG's forces are small and seem to comprise mainly of militiamen from the various factions currently behind the TFG, it is not clear that they could provide security without the support of the Ethiopian army.

The TFG is not starting off from a strong position. It has international support although the Arab League are whining. But within the country its seems that the population is yet to be convinced. In the last few days, I have read and heard two different Somali women saying that the Islamists had brought security to Mogadishu. This means the TFG - with African Union support (and that will need wider international support) - will have to rapidly make sure they can also provide human security to the population to the same degree or higher. This will test the resilience of the TFG, which is just as much an unwieldy coalition as the ICU was - but perhaps without the unifying ideology that religion provided the ICU. Yet the biggest hurdle for the TFG is that it is seen as a puppet of the Ethiopians and to some degree the US. This why the US air strike, particularly if the reports of civilians deaths whilst the targets escaped turn out to be true, was a bad idea. The AC-130 gunships seem rather blunt weapon, and the impression that it gives is that the US is indifferent to lives of uninvolved civilians, leaving aside all questions of sovereignty. As well as just further souring relations with the Muslim world generally, it clearly destabilise the TFG specifically in the eyes of Somalis by offending their nationalism. These points were being hammered home by guests on the NPR Dianne Rehm show yesterday, including Michael Scheuer - the former head of the CIA bin Laden unit.

That'll have to do for now, but I will return to this subject soon.

Common sense for 2007

A 2007 warning: the world's twelve worst ideas. They should all be blindingly obvious and not need stating, but it seems that they aren't so it's a good thing that we have people like Fred Halliday around to dispense some common sense.

Monday, January 08, 2007

Back to nature

There are some country lanes I know in the part of England I'm from that are on their way back to nature. These are narrow, one lane roads, with thick hedgerows on either side but they are tarmaced ("paved" for non-UK viewers) like virtually every other road in the UK. The lanes don't get used much, by farm traffic mainly, and particularly when the sugarbeet gets gathered in autumn, like everywhere else in that part of the world, they get covered in mud. But unlike on busier roads the rain and traffic doesn't move that mud away, it gathers in the middle of lane and grass and weeds start to grow. So although there are still two paved 'ruts' to drive along this band of nature that survives in the middle and you can see how quickly nature could recover the road totally if we people all moved on.

I've always felt this was rather lovely; wild flowers managing to grow back over paved roads that are in many ways one of the ultimate signs of human taming of our environment, but I came across a blog post today which shows similar but in a much sadder setting. The pictures are from a part of Detroit so afflicted by urban plight; drugs, guns, prostitution and poverty that it has basically been abandoned by mankind. Somewhere near the city centre, but nature is claiming it back. I've never been to Detroit, but have read a little about the major problems it is facing due to industrial decline - these pictures look rather lovely, but the text saying gunfire is often heard in the background might make potential tourists think again.

I'm watching the third season of the Wire at the moment on Finnish TV - and we often discuss whether Baltimore can really be as ugly and depressing as this brilliant show makes it out to be. But if it faces problems like Detroit, and I believe the two cities do have similar issues of industrial decline and population flight, then perhaps it is. But at least it seems that when there is no one left to sell or buy the crack, wild flowers will come back.

Thanks to Will Gadd at Gravsports where I found the link to Detroit Blog.

Saturday, January 06, 2007

Take a deep breath...

I would have left this a comment on the Tundra Tabloid blog, but it isn't taking them any more. Anyway KGS, whose mission statement reads in part: "keeping tabs on... Islamist hegemony in Scandinavia", is getting a bit over-wrought about the impending global caliphate or whatever. Yesterday's Tundra Tabloid post was entitled: "Mohamed Overtakes Timo as Most Popular Finnish Name.......". KGS is quite keen on pointing out when the "MSM" fails to reach the required levels of accuracy, so I just can't miss the opportunity to point out that his title is both wrong and misleading. The most popular boys name in Finland last year was "Juhani", not Mohammed (or any of its spelling variants) or Timo, neither of which were even in the top ten. "Kristian" was though, so perhaps Islamist hegemony in Scandinavia is still a few years away!

All you would ever want to know about Finnish names is here, and the original news article that prompted KGS's slightly off the target posting is here.

He has though very nicely photoshopped some Islamic crescent moons on to a picture of Helsinki Lutheran Cathedral. At least I think it is photoshopped, as I haven't been down that way for a few weeks...

Friday, January 05, 2007

Iraqi humour

It isn't very tasteful (although I guess that's not very surprising) but it is rather funny.

A driver is stuck in a traffic jam on the highway. Suddenly a man knocks on his window. The driver rolls down his window and asks, "What's going on?"

"Terrorists down the road have kidnapped George W. Bush and Dick Cheney," the man says, "They're asking $100 million ransom. Otherwise they're going to douse them with gasoline and set them on fire. We're going from car to car taking up a collection."

The driver asks, "How much is everyone giving on average?"

The man responds: "Most people are giving about a gallon."

From IraqSlogger.com

Pentecostals, Episcopalians and Ali G in da' house

I seem to be being followed around by fundamentalist Christians today, not literally mind, but still enough to be a bit spooky. Firstly I'm still ploughing through the Economist Christmas double edition that has lots of long special articles including one on the rise and rise of Pentecostalism. The article is here but I'm afraid you need a subscription to read it. I had heard before that the Catholic church in Latin America was in competition with various protestant sects, I just hadn't realised how big a phenomenon Pentecostalism has become - in Guatamala for example its now thought a third of the country is Pentecostal.

Then I read on Phil's blog, Finland for Thought, that 25 percent of Americans think the second coming will happen this year. This can't be true... can it?

On the bus home I read another Economist article about the splits in the Episcopal (American Anglican) church, with some of the oldest influential churches looking to leave their current dioceses and get a new Archbishop, probably in Nigeria. Why? It's all about that great threat to civilisations once again - boys kissing.
"The schismatic parishes included two of the oldest and richest in the country—Truro Church in Fairfax and The Falls Church in the town of that name—which occupy property worth a combined $25m. The Falls Church once numbered George Washington among its vestrymen. It is now the church-of-choice to Washington's conservative power elite, including Michael Gerson, George Bush's former speechwriter, Porter Goss, a former head of the CIA, and Fred Barnes, the executive editor of the Weekly Standard .

The breakaway congregations are putting themselves up for adoption by Anglican archbishoprics in the developing world. One would-be parent is a Nigerian bishop, Peter Akinola, who runs the largest province in the Anglican communion, and who has pronounced views on homosexuality: he supports legislation that would make it illegal for gays to form associations, read gay literature or even eat together."
And then finally back to the Pentecostals. On NPR's Fresh Air they had an interview with Sacha Baron Cohen on the making of "Borat - the Movie". It's the first interview I've heard with Baron Cohen not in character either as Borat or as Ali G and very interesting. But he mentions part of the film where Borat goes to a Pentecostal Church in the US and they try to "save" him. He recounts it as being a very over-awing experience but notes that just in case you don't go with the experience quite enough, you are held down by strong men as part of the ceremony and they shake you vigorously and this is what gives rise to the phenomenon of people supposedly writhing on the floor as the demonic possession (or whatever) leaves them. He also recounts another rather scary sounding experience of 60,000 Alabama American football fans yelling "faggot" at him. Perhaps the actions of the churches in Falls Church and Fairfax are just politer versions of the football fans' directness.

Wednesday, January 03, 2007

"Why does a major news organization employ such a hack?"

I've done a certain, prominent, "terrorist expert" in the past, now in the light of this morning's climate change post, its time to consider an "expert" sceptic on climate change. Fellow Finnish-based blogger, KGS left a link in the comments suggesting that there is no consensus on climate change. This morning I wrote: "climate change scepticism is now pretty much a political position rather than a credible scientific one", and his link only supports this. The link is to an article on the Competitive Enterprise Institute's (CEI) website and it is written by Steven Milloy. In terms of making the point that climate change denial is a political (and economic) position rather than a scientific one, it doesn't get much better than this.

Milloy writes for Foxnews.com and the quote referring to him serving above as a title to this post, comes from some minor and probably second-rate climate geek called James Hansen, who has some little job directing something unimportant called... ummm... NASA's Goddard Institute for Space Studies!!! Milloy who has a doctorate in law, (note: NOT climate science) has set himself up as an expert on second-hand smoke not being bad for you whilst taking money from Big Tobacco, and then also on climate change, whilst getting hand outs from oil companies. All-in-all Dr. Hansen is polite in calling him a hack.

The CEI is a think-tank that promotes liberal capitalism. Nothing wrong with that - it's a market place of ideas and they have every right to promote theirs, but they do themselves no favours by having Mr. Milloy on their team if they want to be seen as doing serious work rather than just paid cheerleading for various corporate interests (scroll down a wee bit to get to the part on CEI).

As a by-the-by, I was looking at Mr. Milloy's website Junkscience.com tonight and noticed this wonderful series of Google ads just below the header (click to enlarge).

So after you've finished your rigorous scientific reading on why climate change is all hoax, you can click straight on to Nostradamus to find out what will happen in the future! As ever Google knows so much... ;-)

Who stole winter?

North Helsinki in January 2007

I got an email from a friend in the northern Mid-West of the US just before Christmas, the type of place that gets real cold. My friend is an avid cross country skier but hasn't done any this year due to lack of snow. He wrote:
"I spend a lot of time dreaming of snow. Nothing yet and I'm getting worried because we've booked to weekend trips and have registered for a couple of races. Damn globalwarming...it's sad to think our kids may never know what a real winter is like."
It's a sentiment I agree with completely. The Finnish Meteorological Institute has just released its figures for December, they make sobering reading. The warmest December since records began across the whole of Finland: 6-8 degrees above the 1971 to 2000 mean, and in Helsinki over a degree warmer than the previously warmest December, but the warm weather is even more noticeable in the North. I've spent 8 winters of the last decade in Finland and being an ice climbers makes you very obsessed with temperatures. I have no illusions and December has been in all of those years an up-and-down month - sometimes cold, sometimes not so. The long periods of stable cold weather don't normally start until the New Year, but I can't remember a winter where December has seen basically no snow in the south even if a thaw swiftly followed. The rivers and lakes that would normally be frozen over by now are still ice free and very high from the large amounts of rain. And the unusual warmth is still effecting most of Europe. The traditional New Years day big ski jumping competition in Austria took place in the rain. And climbing websites are a full of reports of bad or non-existent ice climbing conditions in many places around the continent where there would normally be ice by now (although the Alps is picking up a little it seems).

Oddly climbers and mountaineers are seeing the effects of climate change more starkly than many others: along with poorer winter seasons from the Scottish mountains to Morroccan Atlas, glacial retreat from the Andes, via the Alps, to the Himalayas is clear, whilst the high equatorial mountains of Africa look set to lose all their snow and ice within the next decade or so. But with winters like this I would imagine to anyone who is over twenty the trend is clear. Of course scientists aren't interested in ten year times spans, but basically all the climatological data for much longer periods points the same way.

I read recently a climatologist saying that until the late 1990s, the human-caused climate change sceptics could mount a serious scientific debate challenging the models of the majority of scientists: there were genuine questions about those models that the climate change proposers did not have adequate answers for. But this no longer the case, more work has answered those questions and climate change scepticism is now pretty much a political position rather than a credible scientific one, and even in politics the wind is against the sceptics. As ever, for the wider media the reporting of the climatology has thrown up all the normal problems of reporting science stories, plus some new ones. The political debate on whether we are causing climate change is over in Europe (and the other Kyoto countries), and almost over in the US - particularly in the light of California's recent anti-climate change steps. But a harsh debate remains on what to do about it - nuclear or not, the real costs of air travel etc. If I have seen through my life the debate on whether it is happening or not, perhaps by the time my children are my age there will be a consensus on serious steps to cut greenhouse gas emissions. Meanwhile I will be telling my children not to buy a beach house anywhere.

Helsinki in a past January (click for a bigger version)

Update: Helsingin Sanomat runs pretty much the same story in its English edition, with various qoutes from other miserable winter sports enthusiasts. Unfortunately the online translation doesn't have the same picture that they have on the paper's frontpage, showing the huge puddle (lake is more like it) at the bottom of the ski slope mentioned in the story.

Update2: The BBC is reporting similar figures from the the UK Met Office. 2006 was on average the warmest year in the UK since records began in 1914. 2007 is expected to be warmer due to the El Nino effect.

Monday, January 01, 2007

Slightly sad New Year cycling lists

I know it's all very Nick Hornby and blokeish to make lists, but I just reset the odometer on my commuting bike in preparation for my first cycle to work of 2007, in morning. So I thought I put the past years cycling figures up to challenge myself to do more in the coming year. I haven't cycled as much in 2006 as I did in 2005. I'm not quite sure why, moving house might have been part of it, as has been a foul, wet, autumn and early winter. Nevertheless, here are the figures.

On my commuting bike: 2507 kms. I did over 3000 kms in 2005, that will be my New Year's resolution target to hit for next year.

On my mountain bike (pictured above): 161 kms. My mountain bike is mainly what I do when there is no snow for skiing or its too wet and cold for rock climbing, and all of those kms were done off road on forest paths so its not too bad a figure.

On my road bike: 126 kms. Embarrassingly I only got round to riding it twice this year, generally a reflection that when the weather is OK I tend to commute by bike more and then want to climb at the weekend rather than go out cycling. Nevertheless one of those rides was when I averaged 30 kmph for two hours, something I hadn't managed in past years and was quite proud of!