Tuesday, February 27, 2007

Digital Planet

When I first started listening to podcasts about 18 months ago it was only starting to take off with limited numbers of programmes available. The BBC only had half a dozen or so available to subscribe to, and one of those was the slightly lame and very geeky Digital Planet (or Go Digital as it was back then) from World Service. I'm a complete luddite when it comes to computers and I'm not even that easily impressed with shiny new gadgets, but nevertheless I usually find something interesting in each weekly episode and have grown rather fond of presenters Gareth and Bill.

But I've just heard the programme describe Steven Segal as a "great actor", and for that there is really no excuse.

Monday, February 26, 2007

Subversive thought for the day: "violence, ethics and community"

I'm home in bed with the flu and trying to use the time to catch up on some reading, so this afternoon I've been reading "British Muslims, multiculturalism and UK foreign policy: ‘integration’ and 'cohesion’ in and beyond the state" by Shane Brighton and published in the most recent edition of the journal International Affairs.

Brighton makes an interesting comparison between the "sanctimonious violence" of al Qaeda (building upon the work of Faisal Devji), and particularly of the unconnected, or only marginally connected, London bombers and the interventionism of British foreign policy under Blair. His point is not one moral equivalence at all, but rather how the two parallel in seeing action as a way of producing community.

For the terrorist the action is not just the destruction they cause, but their own "martyrdom" in the process. This ultimate demonstration of faith is to will the global community of believers, the Ummah, into being: their action will serve as a catalyst for this community. All very Nietzschean. This understanding comes from Devji's attempt to comprehend Jihadi violence that at times seems de-politicized (i.e. the US troops are out of Saudi Arabia but bin Laden doesn't appear to be giving up) and nihilistic. The acts of terror are not solely, or perhaps not at all, instrumental; so when a suicide bomber in Iraq fails to inflict serious casualties, this is not necessarily a "failure" in his eyes (wherever they landed) or in those of his masters, because they see the act of sacrifice as a political act of community building in itself, regardless of the reaction of the targeted. It might be sick and wrong, but it definitely isn't illogical.

On liberal interventionism, Blair outlined this long before 9/11 in his 'Chicago Speech' of 1999 made as NATO continued to bomb Serbia. He argued for an international community of values based on universal human rights and that this community would be evidenced by a willingness to intervene. Liberal interventionism is of course not a new idea, going back to arguably to Kant, but despite the first President Bush's optimism for a new world order of internationally guaranteed (enforced?) peace after the defeat of Saddam Hussein, much of the the 1990s saw a flight from the idea of intervention. Europe and the US stood aside to watch the Bosnian massacres, all haunted by different ghosts: for the British it was the ghosts of Northern Ireland, for the Americans its was the memory of dead soldiers dragged through the streets of Mogadishu, for the Germans its was WWII. The actors watched Bosnia writhe in agony for five years, only pausing briefly to consider how to resolutely do nothing about a shorter and even worse slaughter in a small African country that previously no one had heard of. At the same time only human rights and womens groups had much to say about the imposition of a medieval and externally funded theocracy on the people of Afghanistan.

It was against this background that Labour's foreign policy in waiting was formed ready for when they came power to in 1997. Did interventionism work in creating a community? Perhaps it did, and Britain was central to that. The Blair government rescued a failing UN mission and country in Sierra Leone by sending the Paras; Blair kept pushing Clinton to do more on Kosovo and this dragged the rest of the NATO allies along with them, a process that continues to this day with the NATO mission in Afghanistan; with the St. Malo accords Britain and France were central to creating some EU ability to exert military force as we have seen since in the Congo. Brighton discusses in the domestic setting the recreation of "secular liberalism as a 'fighting creed'" but it is in some ways also applicable to the international: the international support for Afghanistan, demonstrated most clearly in all the NATO allies except the USA trying to invoke Article V on mutual defence on September 12th, showed that this forward motion, the action of intervention, could promote a community. It carries on even today, post-Iraq, in ideas like the Canadian sponsored "the responsibility to protect".

But like all communities, the community of interventionism was not invulnerable. Indeed it was rather brittle and the war in Iraq has broken it. Of the many tragedies of Iraq, this is one of the greatest: that many will take away the lessen that to intervene is inherently misguided, and people in future wars or civil breakdowns will die because of this.

Is there really any similarity in these two seemingly diametrically opposed ideas of community? If there is, it isn't in that they both require action to come about; it is the specific form of that action - violence. Having been politicized in the 1990s - watching Bosnia, Rwanda, Chechnya, Kosovo, Zaire/Congo unfold - I remain sympathetic to concept of liberal interventionism in a way those just a few years younger than me politicized in this decade, basically post-9/11, tend not to be. But we shouldn't shy away from what interventionism means: it means the use of force - violence - one hopes in an effort to minimise a potentially worse wrong. There is an inherent brittleness in the support for that willingness to use force that comes from the danger that Kant saw, of the eternal liberal war for a better world. There is likewise, and fortunately, the same brittleness in the support that the Jihadis have in Muslim communities worldwide: when they are seen as a resistance fighting the oppressor all is well and good, but when violence steps over a certain line - Zarqawi's bombings of the hotels in Amman, the village massacres of the Algerian Civil War, the slaughter of foreign tourists in Luxor by al-Gamaa Islamyyia , sectarian car bombings in Baghdad - then their support also falls away. Perhaps there is a hopeful sign in there somewhere.

Chilly weekend

Me climbing, Jody belays - thanks to Nikko for the picture.
Went to another "crag X" on Saturday morning and whilst Jody, Big Toni and I climbed the line in the picture, Nikko and Samu did the possible first ascent of what I think is the best easy ice climb within 100 kms of Helsinki, and indeed one of the best in Southern Finland. Sunshine but a biting wind made it a rather chilly affair, particularly as I didn't wear enough! More details to follow.

Samu leading repeats our line (left), whilst Toni repeats Nikko's route (right)

Friday, February 23, 2007

I'm just so web 2.0

This, ladies and gentlemen, is what happens when a man who should be old enough to know better gets his hands on a new mobile phone and a fancy laptop that makes its owner think they are an artist.

The "filming" was done on the lake outside my office during a fire alarm earlier in the week had us all standing around outside at -20.

Iraq round-up

(photo AP/Guardian) An excellent first hand report of fighting in Baquba from Peter Beaumont in the Guardian (via the Strategist): he describes how the Sunni insurgents use women and children as human shields knowing that the US troops won't fire. Earlier this week, and just down the river in Tarmiya, US forces faced a complex and long lasting assault on their position in that town. As the LA Times notes this shows the difficulties that General Petraeus' "clear and hold" counter-insurgency doctrine is going to face and why, regardless of the politics of "the Surge", it can only work with plenty of troops. The more areas you "clear", the more troops then need to be left there to "hold" that area.

This makes the announced pull-out of most British (and Danish) troops this week all the more noteworthy. Listening to the comments from US administration figures earlier this week on this, and how it was echoed in the US press, I was really quite surprised how polite they were. Of course it would be very churlish to criticize your number one ally in public - and we don't know what they are saying in private - but it seems to be putting a brave face on a rather desperate situation. Paul Rogers makes the case that the UK has, in effect, been pushed and pulled out of Basra (pushed by continuing attacks, pulled by a conglomeration of UK voices that has forced Blair to move now). Handing over Basra to what passes for the Iraqi government there - the various Shi'a militias and parties - seems a really bad idea if for example we are to take the claims of Iranian provision of weapons to Iraqi groups seriously (incidentally, and very ironically, here is claimed evidence of Iranian military support - but not from the US govt. but rather a Sunni insurgent group). The removal of UK troops from the south will just mean US forces will have be stretched even further, or that the Surge is just going to be more balloon-wrestling - where by squeezing the problem in one place, it just pops out somewhere else.

On a more lighthearted note - now we know that Prince Harry is off to Basra to be the last man in - what on earth is Chris Eubanks up to?

Poor old New Zealand

No one seems to take them very seriously do they? In the past it has been French commandos bombing ships in Auckland harbour, or Israeli agents 'borrowing' the identity of a severely disabled man to get a New Zealand passport, and now it is the Japanese government ignoring their demands to accept help for the drifting Japanese whaling ship in Antarctic waters.

Oh well, at least the squid know not to mess with the Kiwis.

Thursday, February 22, 2007

Book blogging: Andrew Marr - "My Trade"

I finished Andrew Marr's My Trade: A Short History of British Journalism a few weeks ago and had even typed out a few choice passages that I thought were particularly entertaining or interesting to blog here, but still hadn't got round to putting them up - so here is the first. I was interested in the book because reading and listening to (much less watching, currently) the news is such a big part of my life, both for my work and just because 'I want to know'. Marr gives as good as justification for why being a news-junkie is nothing to be ashamed of as I have come across elsewhere:

"I know people who barely read a paper and who think most broadcast news is mindless nonsense. I think, however, the are wrong. They might go through their weekly round, taking the kids to school, shopping, praying, doing some voluntary work, phoning elderly relatives, and do more good than harm as they go. But they have disconnected themselves from the wider world; rather like secular monks, they have cloistered themselves in the local. And this is not good enough. We are either players in open, democratic societies, all playing a tiny part in their ultimate direction, or we are deserters." (p.63)

More from Andrew in coming days and weeks I think.

Ice screw sharpening

I've read lots of discussion over the years on various climbing websites on how best to sharpen ice screws. I finally got around to filing those of mine that needed doing this afternoon so took some snaps. I don't know if what follows is the best method, but it definitely seems to work. If you climb regularly on anything but the fattest of cascades, sooner or later you are going to push a screw into rock. Its amazing how what looks like superficial blunting stops the screw from biting. So you do need to keep the teeth sharp.

There is really very little to it. You might want to mark it with a permanent marker (see pic below) to give you a rough idea what shape you are filing for, but as long as the top of the tooth is sharp it doesn't really matter if the "vertical" side of the tooth is merely vertical or slightly more than that - as they are when new. If you want that shop-new look of a sharks tooth you just have to file more!I use a very normal bastard file - get one with a plastic handle that will protect your hand - and just hold the screw in my other hand. Do it over paper or the bin as its surprising how many filings you'll produce.
That's it really. Just go for it. Hacking into your thirty quid/forty five Euro screw might seem a bit desperate at first, but I'm using BD Expresses that I bought a decade ago and with DIY sharpening when I ever I blunt one, they are almost indistinguishable from brand new ones.

Alternatively... if you are loaded and can go weeks without your screws, you can get them done by the clever Grivel machine here amongst various other places. If you want play with power tools, which to me looks like way too much hassle, instructions are here or here - but don't come running to me when you destroy your screw or chop your fingers off.

Wednesday, February 21, 2007

Libby's lawyer cries

Listen to the description of the closing arguments here. The yuck-inducing stuff starts at about 3:40 into the report

Regardless of whether Mr. Libby is guilty or not, sobbing whilst pleading for your client, formerly one of the most powerful men in the world and who's friends have stumped up $3 million for his defence, is simply vomit-worthy.
"He's a good a man, he's be under my protection for the past month - I give him to you now" said Wells [Libby's lawyer], his face contorting in tears "give him back to me, give him back".
Pass the sick bag. Can anyone hear the L.A. Law theme in the background?

Tuesday, February 20, 2007


Cycling to work the morning before the frostbite incident

I seem to have just managed to get a minor case. Cycling home from work at -20 oC, my feet were fine for the first half hour, cold for the next 15 minutes and then really numb for the last 15. I unclipped from my SPDs and tried to wiggle my toes lots but they were totally numb by the time I got home. Half remembered advice from climbing instruction manuals I've read many many years ago was rewarm in luke warm water, so the rather ridiculous scene followed of me standing in my cycling tights in a baby bath of warm water crying in pain as the hot-aches set in. After this I had some sensation in the tips of my toes, but they were puffy and hard to the touch. At this point I was envisaging them going black and falling off, which seems to be obligatory ending point of many a great work of Himalayan mountaineering literature, but would seem a trifle extreme as the end result of a daily commute. I decided to seek medical advice but in an effort to avoid over-loading the already over-loaded Finnish national health service (OK, so really I was just embarrassed) I phoned a mountaineering friend who's wife is a doctor. After they both stopped laughing, she gave some good solid "pull yourself together man!" advice and told me not to worry unless they start going black and blistering. My friend who is a PhD in biochemistry himself, and works in drug development, gave me the excellent prescription of a double single malt to be taken orally. He actually had a convincing medical reason for this, although I forget what it was and was just happy to head for the Talisker under doctors orders. My toes are no longer waxy white and have gone an alarming shade of pink, but this is - I believe - an improvement.

If they do go black and fall off, I promise to post photos for your amusement.

Wednesday morning update: toes appear to be in good condition although slightly tingly still. They feel a bit like they have been bruised. I would like to welcome the reader who arrived after Googling "how can you avoid frostbite?" I'm not sure what I can suggest besides don't ride a bike home when it's -20 oC.

It was -24 this morning when I got up, so I got the bus!

Weekend climbing and Simond Tornado ice scews: a quick review

The writer placing one of Toni's new Tornado screws. Thanks to Nikko for the pic.

I popped out for a couple hours around Sunday lunchtime for some ice with Big Toni, Samu and Nikko. We've been going a bit to what optimistically we've been calling "Airport Crag" this winter. In reality it's a long 25 mtr high road cutting at the south end of Helsinki airport runway. Although the road isn't too busy you do have rather low altitude Airbuses and Boeings passing over heard regularly making it not the most peaceful of spots. We've been climbing there figuring it's not doing anyone any harm but not really knowing what the legal situation was likely to be, particularly as we have been belaying of the airport fence posts! Now I'm pretty certain that no one really cares as cops have cruised past a few times, once even stopping to watch awhile, but haven't even got out to come and chat so they really don't seem bothered.

Nikko stylin' up the the best line at airport crag.

Big Toni on the Corner Route

The least aesthetically pleasing ice climbing in Finland? Convenient for the bus though.

Big Toni had got (he never seems to 'buy', but rather swaps labour for ice gear) some of the new Simond Tornado ice screws. Having left half my own screws unsharpened since some punters screwed them into rock last weekend (you know who you are!), I borrowed some of them to try. I've only placed a couple, and taken out another three or four whilst seconding, but these are my brief first impressions. So first the good bits. The teeth are excellent, mega sharp so getting the screw to bite with the first couple of turns felt easy. For over a decade Black Diamond screws have been the gold standard for screw design and it seems that all the other manufacturers have just decided that they need to make screw bodies that equal those of BD, and these Simond ones seems to be. The hanger is good for holding, turning and clipping. It looks very much like the hangers on the old Charlet Moser Lasers, but with the addition of the a flip out handle not dissimilar to those on Grivel 360s. The hanger will take two krabs if you are using them for belays. The flip out wire handle makes cranking them in fast and easy - although as with the 360s the wire has a certain amount of give in it that always makes you think you might bend it when giving it that last turn. I think I managed to bend the wire handle on one of Toni's 360s a few years back, trying to get it out seconding after it has frozen in, so it is possible even for relative weeds like myself.

Now the not so good bit - racking them. Superficially the hanger design looks neat and conventional in comparison to the famously hard to rack Grivel 360s. But the circular insert (see photo above) that the wire flip-out handle revolves around makes the hanger of the screw really quite wide. As you can see in the picture above, Toni uses one of Simond double krab ice screw racks and could fit about three screws on each of the krabs, but with my DIY version of the same I could only manage two without it becoming a real fight to get the screws of the rack. By way of comparison, I can easily carry eight BD scews on the same rack - i.e. four on each krab. For the little routes we were climbing on Sunday having four screws is just fine, but a full multipitch rack of say, 12 Tornado screws would be tricky to carry on those type of ice screw racks.

So overall - great screws for placing, possibly better than the current design of BD ones (although I've seen pictures of the up-dated BD hanger design for next season!) due to the flip out handle, but tricky to rack particularly if you have a lot of them.

Monday, February 19, 2007

Is Shilpa Shetty white?

It's a rhetorical question; I don't need answers on a postcard thanks.

I was just eating lunch and listening to the podcast of Simon Mayo's FiveLive book panel from last Thursday. They were interviewing the author Sujit Saraf about his book the Peacock Throne, when the other guest author mentioned an excellent article of Mr. Saraf's website with Saraf's take on the Big Brother racism controversy. The point can be summed up in his own words: "I find it extremely funny and amusing that 'our' [meaning an Indian] white woman is being treated like a black woman by a 'real' white woman". The article is in a word document format and hopefully if you click this link you should be able to download it, or alternatively follow the link on the front page of Mr. Saraf's website. Saraf argues that where Jade (for anyone from Mars, click here) sees a "Paki", the vast majority of Indian's see a white woman. Shetty is a Bollywood actress in part because of her fair skin.

Over the last week I have been listening to the "India Rising" series from the BBC World Service, and like the Foreign Policy article I noted in an earlier post, it is an education in the complexities and paradoxes of modern India. Sujit Saraf does an excellent job on spotlighting the bluntness of Indian racism in this article, but if you listen to the BBC documentary series you start getting a feeling for all the other often more complex tensions - socio-economic, rural/urban, caste, religious - in modern India.

On a less India-specific note, Jade Goody has become famous for being thick, but she can serve as a reminder for us all that seeing people defined by race, or some other singular and preeminent identity, smudges out all the complexities of human nature, both good and bad.

You can get Mr. Saraf's book at this link:

According to the FiveLive book panel it's meant to be jolly good.

Friday, February 16, 2007

Stuff Floating

click pic for bigger version
I like the word "stuff". It's not very useful normally in written language, but how else do you describe what a ship carrying hundreds (thousands?) of 40 ft containers is likely to be carrying? Lots of different stuff.

The pic above is of a container ship in the Suez Canal, seemingly at rest (no wake) in one of the "Bitter Lakes". Google Earth is a mind expanding phenomenon, I always get lost in it whilst using it. You start looking for one specific place and end up half an hour later roaming around zooming in and out on unlikely parts of the world. Today I decided to follow the Suez Canal from one end to the other. This led me to think about the of non-food stuff things that I have bought in the last few weeks: my new computer, the €5 t-shirt I'm currently wearing (as you can guess I only shop at the finest establishments), a Lego set for my nephew's birthday; they have probably all been through the Suez on a ship like the one above. Is globalization when your €5 t-shirt is better traveled than you are?

I haven't found a way to put a Google Earth .kmz file into blogger, so if you want to see the ship through Google Earth you'll have to just go and find it yourself. If any geeks out there can tell me how I could do this, I'd be very grateful.

Thursday, February 15, 2007

"Beautiful ladies in emergency situations"

Today I have been mostly reading about the Algerian civil war. This is, unsurprisingly, horribly miserable. But fortunately whilst searching through my browser's bookmarks for something depressing and dull that I need to check, I happened upon the bookmark for Bill Bailey's website which I discovered months ago and subsequently forgot about. "Beautiful ladies in emergency situations", a song not quite by Chris de Burgh, is a work of pure comedic genius and will make even the most depressed smile. More audio clips here.

Wednesday, February 14, 2007

Shia-Sunni divide

The Sunni-Shia divide is becoming one of the most important issues driving international affairs today, but away from Muslim countries it's not well understood. The origins are theological but now it is more and more political. Anyway, NPR is doing a good series looking at both the politics and theology. There will be more radio reports put up today and tomorrow, but there is already plenty to read and listen to on their special pages for the series.

A public service announcement for our Finnish friends

I left this as a comment on Phil's blog on a post discussing whether getting cold makes you more prone to getting a cold, but it's one of those little things about my otherwise wonderful adopted homeland that really annoys me so I might as well stick it here as well.

As a former English teacher I would just like to point out to all the Finns who write and speak otherwise impeccable English, that there is no such thing as “a flu”. There is only “the flu”. This is correct English although not correct microbiology because, of course, any virologist would point out that the influenza virus is permanently mutating. If any Yanks, Aussies or other dubious colonial-types try to take issue with this, they’re simply wrong. The language is “English” after all…

What Finns mean when they say “I have a flu”, is “I have a cold”. “The flu” is muscle aches, high fever, shivering: the real miserable bed-ridden deal. “A cold” is snot running out of your nose or a slightly annoying cough. The fact that many Finns I have worked with over the years conflate the two lead me to suspect that you are a nation of work-shy fops, and coming from an Englishman that’s an insult indeed.

I’ve never understood the 'stickyness' of the “a flu” mistake. Many friends with wonderful English who would snobbishly laugh at the juntti-ness (or scroll down for a good explanation of a juntti here) of a fellow countryman saying in English that they “eat medicine” or will “open the television”, still insist that their minor sniffle is “a flu”.

It’s a bit like the stickyness of describing alpine skiing as “slalom”. It’s not slalom unless you are dressed in lycra, have hand guards on your ski poles and are racing against the clock smacking into large numbers of blue and red spring-loaded gates. That is Slalom. The rest is just “skiing”, or “downhill skiing” if you really suspect that the person you are talking to might think you mean cross country skiing, which 99% of native English speakers won’t when you say “skiing”.

Here endeth the day’s rant.

Monday, February 12, 2007

I'm the MacDaddy

I'm writing this on my new MacBook. I don't know how anything works and I keep looking for keys on the keyboard that obviously cool Mac dudes don't need as they don't appear to be there, but besides that I'm obviously now fabulously more creative, zany, exciting to know and attractive to women than I was before becoming a Mac person. I bet you all want to be my friends now don't you?

Cameron smoked dope at Eton-shocker!

Cameron hangin' with his homie Boris Johnson - suspicious activity indeed...

So the boy-wonder smoked weed at Eton! I'm outraged. I could just never bring myself to vote for an old-Etonian.

An aside to any fellow UKC-ers reading this: once an illustrious former UKC regular dropped innocently into a thread that he had been to school with Boris. Could there be a UKC registered user in this photo!? If you recognize any of your climbing partners here, do tell...

Sunday, February 11, 2007

Laura Bush smokes

I just read this. It seems surprising some how, doesn't it? It was in a story was about Obama, but I already knew he smokes so that wasn't nearly as interesting.

Saturday, February 10, 2007


Walking back to the car after a brief climbing session at Nuuksio. Lovely day, not a cloud in the sky. Damn cold though.

Shadow on the lake

Teppo on the 'magic pillar'
I've called it the magic pillar because the ice seems to appear magically from nowhere. Every time I've done it you scoot up the steep bit to find a snow covered rock slab above with nothing on it. Much scratching and and unnerving teetering-about gets you behind the big block and sigh of relief.

Nora seconds One Point Gully
Nora having much more fun (and success) than her last time ice climbing that she told me involved falling off a repeatedly and getting smacked in the face by a large lump of ice. It's such a fun sport! ;-)

Friday, February 09, 2007

Black Diamond Reactors: a review

A few people have asked me what I think of my new Reactors, and when I was deciding what to buy I could only find one other brief review of them on the net, so hopefully this review might be of interest to other ice climbers.

This is only a 'first impressions' style of review - I've used them for four days of climbing so far, so I can't say that they hard wearing or not. I'm not a particularly hard ice climber, nor a particularly brave one, so the tools have mainly been used on ice from about 65 degrees to vertical, and when its vertical it's never for very far as I'm simply too weak to climb vert ice for more than a few body lengths. The routes in my local area tend to be pure water ice, and I haven't tried them on any mixed routes yet. But if you are a mid-grade punter thinking of getting a second set of tools for ice cragging, this review is perfectly aimed at you!

Proof that I have actually been climbing with them. Thanks to Jody for snapping the pic.

The tools are new for this winter but show a lot of Black Diamond's ice tool heritage. The laser pick is the same as is used on various other tools and the headset design is basically the same as they have been using since at least the early 90s when I first saw BD tools like the X-15s. Everyone says it works well, but I had never tried it before. Changing the blades is a breeze - really a two minute job. In comparison when I tried to change the blades on my Quarks last winter for a day's mixed climbing, after fighting with them for half and hour with ever increasing amounts of leverage, I ended up just stripping the allen bolts, which it now looks like I'll need to drill out when I really need to change the blades. Why Petzl-Charlet make their head bolts out of an alloy with the strength of butter I don't know. Other picks are available for the Reactors so if you were going to redpoint an M8+ in the morning before tapping your way up a delicate WI5 pillar in the afternoon - changing blades at the crag would really be a possibility with these tools.

The tools swing perfectly. Someone called them a leashless version of the BD Vipers, and when I used my mate's Vipers the first time I actually thought they felt as good as, or possibly even better, than Quarks. So praise indeed. The Laser pick is brilliant - you can use it straight away without filing. It's teeth aren't too big and are bevelled which makes extraction fine. Compare that to the nightmare of new Grivel picks for example, with teeth that make extraction next to impossible.

The handle looks very fat in BD picture (see top) but as you can see a bit better in my picture above it is actually shaped - so it is narrower at the front. Although I have reasonably large hands, my fingers are short - bunch of bananas etc. etc. I've heard it all before! - and even with my stubby digits I have no problem gripping them. I wouldn't imagine that anyone except perhaps the smallest-handed women would find the grip too big. It doesn't feel dissimilar to the grips on my Quarks. The rubber of the grips is sticky. Only if I got lots of snow on my palm did it feel in the slightest bit slippy, and obviously climbing leashless you just need to make sure your gloves aren't snowy before you try hanging on. The small spike at the bottom makes them usable in more classic mountaineering settings and provides a hole for connecting a spring leash if you wish. The bottom 'hook' of handle isn't nearly as big as on some leashless tools but seems to work perfectly well. It looks similar to the Quark ergo handle and they seemed to work very well in the hands of the talented.

The upper hand position has no grip, you are just holding the aluminium of the shaft, and I have noted in some pictures that climbers have added some kind of grip tape here. Even without tape though its surprisingly 'gripable', although I'm sure this would be much less the case in a full on blizzard when everything is covered in sticky snow. I haven't actually hammered anything with the hammers yet, but using the upper hand position seems like the more controllable position to hammer from.

The author on steep ice using his leashed Quarks

To leash or not to leash, that is the question

Whether 'tis nobler in the mind to suffer
The slings and arrows of outrageous pumpage,
Or to leash arms against a sea of troubles,
And by hanging on them end them? To die...

Well, hopefully not.

Overall the Reactors seem like an excellently designed leashless tool for ice climbing. The major question everyone wants to ask themselves is do they want to climb leashless? As regular readers know, I have good reasons to ask this question to myself - but it's a question worthy of some more thought so I think I'll leave it for another post. But if you think leashless is for you, and you are climbing mainly ice, not hard mixed, the Reactors may well be the tool for you.

And just in case anyone accuse me of getting freebies from BD in return for saying nice things about them, all I can say is - I wish. I bought my tools from Camu in Helsinki and the guys there deserve a mention as after some negotiation they gave me a good discount on the pair. But if any BD employees do stumble across this review, I am completely open to offers of bribery; your new little Camalots look just splendid...

Dirty Politics: The New Republic on McCain's unsavoury team

This is a bit of a U.S. politics geek post - but if you know what the New-Hampshire-get-out-the-vote-blocking scandal was, or remember the "Call Me Harold" ad, or indeed just enjoyed Tom DeLay getting arrested (see mugshot left), you're sure to be interested. One man connects all three, he's called Terry Nelson and he is now working on John McCain's presidential campaign. Everyone likes McCain even if they don't agree with him because he's made a career of being an honest, straight-talker. So the New Republic enjoys pointing out that McCain keeps ducking the question of why he has hired this guy. Read the whole profile from TNR here. Every campaign needs a hardman/woman who will go out and do all the dirty stuff for them, but that person normally manages to stay out of the headlines and definitely shouldn't become an issue that their boss gets questioned on. Let's see if Mr. Nelson becomes a hindrance rather than a help for McCain.

Why everyone should listen to "On The Media"

"On the Media" from WNYC and NPR - but available to us in the rest of the world via podcast - is the best and most consistently interesting current affairs radio programme I have ever listened to - and I listen to a lot of radio (too much if you ask my family). The podcast is available from Friday evenings (Finnish time) onwards and a I normally save it, hoarding it for the perfect moment when Brooke and Bob's dulcet tones and witty skewering of media sillyness (an aside; my browser is prompting me to spell that "silliness" but that really doesn't seem right does it?) will whisk me away into a world of intrigue and intellectual excitement to where we begin to see the light at the end of the tunnel of media information overload, and grope towards a better understanding.

Normally I use OTM to distract me from horror of having to actually do physical exercise. Running bores me to tears within 20 minutes, but with OTM carrying me away to the White House briefing room or the control centre of al-Jazeera, suddenly 45 minutes of pounding the pavement doesn't seem so bad. Last week I tried out our local cross country skiing track for the first time and with a bright moon shining down through the 15 degrees of frost, I desperately tried to stay upright on the track's many steep downhills whilst listening to an explanation of the how the media in Venezuela that Chavez is trying to muzzle is just as dubious - just from another angle - as his own pet press. And as my pulse climbed toward 200 bpm as I desperately tried to keep some sort of skiing-style going as I slogged back uphill again I listened to Emily Bazelon (another media voice I've fallen in love with through the Slate Political Gabfest) try to dig herself out of the minor hole that she and her colleague David Plotz found themselves in after gabbing from Israel whilst on an AIPAC junket. From time to time OTM repeats an old story and instantly they transport me back to where I was when I first heard them: there are hills on the Helsinki cycle-path system that will be forever linked in my brain to some minutiae of the Plame affair, or views out across the city that remind me of mil-bloggers blogging from Baghdad - all because of OTM happily whiles away the 20 km cycle-ride home from work.

So this morning, I was standing at my bus stop waiting for the perennially late bus to work, listening to them discuss with Vali Nasr why virtually no Washington decision makers can explain the difference between Sunni and Sh'ia thinking - "I should blog about that". Then as the bus got toward downtown Helsinki there was the fascinating discussion on the history and mythology of spitting on returning soldiers. Or how about how the voracious appetite of 24 hr news turns a silly publicity stunt into yet more background noise promoting a fear of terrorism? By the time I was making the coffee in the office, they were explaining how - counter-intuitively - 9/11 has actually made the representation of Arabs in Hollywood films slightly better (see here for why only 'slightly').

So basically, just listen to the whole thing. You know you want to.

Tuesday, February 06, 2007


This is a bit of techy-climbing post, non-climbers can safely skip it!

Someone on UKC had asked about monopoints vs. dual points. I've used monos for basically all my ice climbing over the last 6 years or so and think that in 90% of situations they are better on water ice. But one situation where they can be problematic is on relatively new ice that is still made up of a series of flutings. Monos can go between the flutings and fail to grip, and actually hiting the front of the fluting takes more accuracy than most of us punters can manage whilst pumped and scared. I've tried to illustrate this in the photo above. In this situation the increased damage that dual points do to the ice is actually an advantage as you in effect kick a foot hold. With mono points you need to rely on the secondary points to do that damage and its one of the very few times where I feel I actually stub my toes when kicking in crampons. Something for people to consider who are thinking of using monos and haven't tried it yet, but it's a pretty water-ice specific issue.

"...that thing with the orange panels is going to screw us..."

In this week's Economist, Bagehot (the UK section editorial) is called "A rough patch for the special relationship" and outlines how the upper echelons of the British government are putting as much space between themselves and the US administration as possible, so that once Blair goes they hope he will take the Iraq War with him. It was published last Friday, but that patch has just got a whole lot rougher. I wouldn't normally link to the Sun as it's a rag, but its journos (and ever open chequebook probably) have produced a coup by getting their hands on the cockpit video and audio from one of the USAF A10s that killed Lance Corporal Matty Hull of the Household Cavalry in 2003 and injured a number of his colleagues. Whilst the inquest into his death knew this vital evidence existed and that the UK MoD had it, they weren't allowed to have it because the MoD said that Pentagon wasn't allowing its release. You can see why when you read the transcript, or better watch the entire video.

The pilots clearly saw the orange panels, used by NATO to mark "friendlies" and described them as exactly that at 1336.57. The pilot Popov36 calls them orange panels again at 1338.49 - so they've been discussing it for two minutes - they discuss it a load more, decide that the panels have become rocket launchers (have you ever heard of orange rockets? Maybe there are some but it seems a very odd colour to paint rockets deployed on a battlefield) and then "roll in" and attack at 1342.09. It's taken them over five minutes to convince themselves that what they correctly identified first as friendly markers weren't that. About halfway through that time period POPOV36 screws himself by saying "I think killing these damn rocket launchers, it would be great." After hearing they have made mistake, they realise that its their fault because as they leave the area at 1351.33 POPOV36 says "Yeah, I know that thing with the orange panels is going to screw us" and the now famous "We’re in jail dude".

Shit happens in war, everyone knows this, but the American military keep doing it and A10 pilots in particular have a history of not being able to identify British armoured vehicles. In the first Gulf War the US managed to kill as many British servicemen as the Iraqis did, mainly from one strike by an A10. When I was a kid we regularly used to see USAF A10s flying over our house, so I would imagine that at least some of the older pilots have been based in the UK - you would imagine this would have given them opportunity to study British tank shapes!

But the way the Pentagon refuses to allow its servicemen to be involved in the inquest is what is really upsetting and leads to angry responses in the UK
. All the fine words and "Thank you Tony" seem rather hollow when the US won't even send two men to answer questions at a coroners inquest. And the classifying of the tape looks simply political; as one defence analyst puts it: "I can see no reason for classifying it, other than it is deeply embarrassing to the US military." So although the pilots thought they were going to jail the Pentagon clearly isn't going to see that happen.

Heavyweights of hip-hop

I keep seeing these adverts on the telly for "the Heavyweights of Hip Hop" coming to Finland. And who are these heavyweights? Snoop Dog and P. Diddy. Lets get one thing straight, neither of these are heavyweights of anything besides marketing. Snoop Dog has always been the pantomime dame of hip hop with rhymes as blunt as his, well, blunts. Peepee Diddlydee is just a marketing degree case-study demonstrating that lots of people are really stupid and will buy all sorts of shit if you flog it hard enough. He went to private school and got - unsurprisingly - a business degree from a good university. How 'street' is that? The guy is bright and a grinder, no doubt, but his music is just crap that fits well a particular niche. It's depressing that kids paying some huge amount of money to go and watch them at the Hartwall Arena may actually think these chancers are Hip Hop Heavyweights. They aren't.

For those who need the education, this is heavyweight hip hop:

And even the coolest shorties know it:

Monday, February 05, 2007

Bad Finland! No missiles!

I pinched the pic from Helsingin Sanomat, but they borrowed it from Lockheed Martin so its all free advertising for them in the end... If that is really a pic of the JASSM air-to-ground missiles concerned, it looks bloody big doesn't it? Presumably it is much nearer the camera than the F-16 otherwise I can't quite see how the Falcon got off the ground?

Anyways... so the US has refused to sell Finland a certain weapon and the Finnish press suggests that it's the result of poor bi-lateral relations as opposed to dozens of other perfectly possible reasons. There's an old joke about a Frenchman, an American and Finn meeting a elephant. The Frenchman looks at the elephant and thinks "look at zat fine leg! Wiz a lil' butter et garlic it will taste magnificent!" The American looks at the elephant and think "wow - an unclaimed elephant! What business opportunity. I'll do elephant shows and make a fast buck!" And the Finn looks at the elephant and thinks "I wonder what he thinks about me?"

Having said that I was told by a Finnish diplomat in Washington once what tactics they use to keep the Finnish foreign minister's more... ummm... expansive comments on the US off the top of the in-tray at the Finland desk at the State Department. But of course telling you that would just be scurrilous gossip and self-respecting bloggers never do that sort of thing!

Update: I just checked out JASSMs on FAS. For those of you who dig weapons-porn, knock yourselves out. ;-) Here's a pic of a Hornet carrying one:Unfortunately for Finland, that's not a Finnish air force Hornet!

Update 07 February: This is an interesting bit of news suggesting that bad bi-lateral relations are unlikely to be the reason for the refusal to sell Finland the missiles. Who knows really, but there are so many other possible reasons, and the Helsingin Sanomat story seems more like some good grist for the election time mill, as Finland approaches its general election. Thanks very much to the anonymous commenter who left the link.

How to make an IED - Lancastrians beware.

There is a small discussion underway attached to last night's post on the helicopter downings over the extent to which Iran is likely to be involved in these attacks. Alex, the Yorkshire Ranter, left a comment here at exactly the same time as I was reading his blog and came across his discussion from a couple of weeks back on how to build an IED with a shaped charge. I'm not sure if he has a military background or just spends more time than is healthy reading Jane's Defence Weekly, but he definitely seems to know a lot about these things - hence my warning to Lancastrians - after having lived a year in Leeds I'm pretty certain Yorkshire would fight dirty. ;-)

Basically whilst I'm quite happy to accept Iran is playing a major role in Iraq - if Russia occupied France, you don't think UK intelligence would be all over the shop from Calais to Marseilles? - but it seems that there isn't so much hard evidence of Iranian arms being used by Iraqis. KGS left this link in the comments, quoting an unnamed US officer saying that it was Iranian surface-to-air missiles (SAM) bringing down US aircraft. But read it carefully - that's not quite what the unnamed officer actually says is it? The direct quote is: "where else would they be coming from?" Well, out of the defeated Iraqi army's huge arsenal would be one logical possibility. And pushing this a bit further, KGS's link is quoting from another US mil-blogger - who simply wants an attack on Iran and he openly argues that the evidence to justify this isn't really important:
The affairs of state, of National Security, aren’t the purview of some twisted OJ Simpson celebrity trial, where “if the glove don’t fit, you must acquit!”
Let's leave aside all discussion on the morality of attacking Iran - perhaps a solid case could be made although it doesn't spring to mind at the moment - and consider the practical implications of this policy prescription. If the Iraqi insurgents of all stripes aren't relying on Iran for some, or any, of their weaponry - then the US isn't actually going to stop its helicopters from being shot down or APCs blown up by taking this drastic line of action. They will however make sure that Iran will do everything it can in the future to help arm anybody who wants to take shots at US's interests or those of its friends.

I think that a lot of the discussion amongst Democratic senators and congressmen (and increasing numbers of Republicans as well) in the US over bringing the troops home is more led by their political sensibilities to the domestic zeitgeist, rather than to any deeply thought out military and foreign policy strategy for Iraq. But I'm not sure if this sudden "get tough on Iraq" policy coming out of the White House isn't any different. Things are pretty terrible in Iraq and if you don't want to go with the 'Ricksian' Fiasco argument - that simply immensely bad planning and strategy within both the upper echelons of the US civilian and military leadership are to blame for where we are now - then it's really handy to have someone else to blame. And the Iranians fit the bill perfectly because the current Iranian government is so odious.

There is though a certain irony that US helicopters are only getting shot down over Iraq at all, because in 2003 we went with an evidential glove that didn't quite fit.

A quick update: KGS has just left some links in the comments of the previous helicopter post discussing Iranian weapons - I'll put them here so everyone can read them and draw their own conclusions. They are from the Guardian, the Telegraph, ABC and the Crisis Group. Thanks to KGS for digging them all out. The ABC is perhaps the most interesting one, but it still relies on unnamed officials promising that there is evidence. The Telegraph story notes that "there is no concrete evidence", and likewise the Guardian story points out they don't really know who the smugglers were. The Crisis Group write:
Even as accusations have proliferated, hard evidence has remained sparse. Typical statements, culled from Crisis Group interviews with government officials and political leaders in Iraq, include the following: "We received reports that [fill in the blank]"; "We have proof that [fill in the blank]"; "Everybody knows that [fill in the blank]"; "They spoke Persian"; "We have heard that Etelaat [Iranian intelligence] set up an office in Basra"; "Money is coming into the country"; "We have proof that Iranians are supplying Moqtada al-Sadr with money and weapons"; "We received a report a couple of weeks ago that Moqtada visited Falluja. This is clear proof of his cooperation with the insurgency there". And, in response to a direct request for evidence that the violent Kurdish group Ansar al-Islam has a presence in Diyala governorate and is supported by Iran: "You know, crossing the border is very easy". (p.3)
These links are all very similar to how the LA Times story linked above notes that the evidence of Iranian military support is discussed by coalition spokespeople but no direct evidence or photography is released. I'll say it again, I'm sure that the Iranians are busy in Iraq and may well be supplying weapons, but that doesn't mean that they hold the key to peace in Iraq or are responsible for all the US setbacks.

Sunday, February 04, 2007

Helicopter losses

There hasn't seemed to have been many obvious connections between what the British Army learned in its three-decade long counter-insurgency campaign in Northern Ireland and the situation in Iraq, but I do remember some years ago reading that what the British military feared most was the IRA getting ground to air missiles. In the rural areas near the border with Ireland, known as 'bandit country', land transport was never safe even for military forces, let alone the police, so the UK relied greatly on helicopters for resupplying border observation posts, to ferry troops around and the like. As far as I remember no British helicopter was ever shot down. The Soviets started losing in Afghanistan when the mujahideen began to be able to bring down their helicopter gunships as well, and it was tactics that were developed in Afghanistan that were used by the Somalia fighters who brought down the US Blackhawks in Mogadishu in 1993. So the news that the US has lost another helicopter to ground fire is very worrying, suggesting that insurgents are getting - and being able to deploy - heavier weapons and whilst the fighting gets worse - particularly in the light of yesterdays horrendous truck-bombing - it is going to be harder for the US forces to be able to move around to try and stop that violence.