Sunday, April 29, 2007

Ladybird, ladybird fly away home... (a climbing photo essay)

...or you are going to get squashed in the Grigri.

Saturday was cold and only partially sunny, but enthusiasm was high for paying a second visit to a crag we first went to just a fortnight ago. Going to a new crag is always exciting as whole new range of unknown little adventures await - particularly at this cliff as, so far, it is undocumented and most of what we know of the existing climbs comes from a five minute tour with one of the locals who rapidly chucked beta of very questionable quality at us as we scrambled after him along the base of the cliff.

Donuts. A central theme to any Finnish climbing day.

After the obligatory stop for coffee and donuts we got to the crag and then did one easy warm up route. At this point I decided it was now or never and racked up for what to me looked like one of best lines on the cliff - Urkupilli, 6- - a soaring 25 mtr hand crack that traverses below various small roofs.

The road ahead. Toby climbs, Big Toni belays.

Toby on Urkupilli 6- ("The Organ Pipes" E1 5b)

The climb was not without its moments of excitement, mainly because from the ground I completely misread the size of the crack and headed up with far too much large gear that wouldn't fit and not enough medium size protection, which was needed. The last few moves were done with the last gear some way below my feet and pumped out my box after various failed attempts to shove in too large cams to protect what I thought was going to me my imminent plummet. But fear sometimes does the trick and gave me just enough "umpth" to do the last couple of jams and heave over the top, where I collapsed panting like a beached whale. Silly perhaps; but at least it keeps me off the streets and away from mugging old ladies or vandalizing phone boxes.

The price of victory

Jody awash in a sea of granite (the first ascent of "Reach Out" HVS 5b)

Arno leading "the Great Flake" F5+ (I'm not sure what the route's real name is but will find out)

And thanks to Arno for taking the snaps where I'm actually climbing.

Thursday, April 26, 2007

Finland's new minister of foreign trade accidently insults Britain

For Brits, how is obvious but if it's not read Jukka's very funny blog. Jukka is currently in a London pub with a pint of fine (room temperature) ale setting up the Finnish Government in Exile in despair.

Time to get some body armour?

There is graphic in this weeks Newsweek magazine, that I unfortunately can't find on line, called "Guns: The Global Death Toll". In the wake of the Virgina Tech killings it is looking at firearms deaths around the world. Unsurprisingly amongst all the rich countries the US is highest, but I was amazed at the difference between Finland and the England and Wales.

Deaths by firearms per 100,000 people:

In England and Wales 0.31, in Finland 4.51.

So in Finland population, around 5 million, there were in most recent year with full figures 235 deaths by firearms. In England and Wales, population about 55 million, there were 159 deaths. In Finland 32 people got murdered with guns compared to 23 in England and Wales. 200 Finns shot themselves to death, compared to only 115 in England and Wales; whilst 3 of the Finnish deaths were in the unintentional/undetermined category, 21 were in England and Wales.

Switzerland - where all men who do their military service take an assault rifle home with them after - had perhaps unsurprisingly higher figures than Finland at 6.4 deaths per 100,000; but more interestingly France - not a country particularly known for high gun ownership - also came in slightly higher at 4.93. In comparison the US figure is twice as high at 10.08 deaths per 100,000

Monday, April 23, 2007

Can this possibly be true?

I hadn't posted anything about the mass killings in Virginia last week. Last year after another horrendous multiple killing I posted on the subject of how America is just 'different' on this. I then wrote that I can understand intellectually the arguments against gun control, despite finding them ridiculous, but I couldn't understand how emotionally people can just keep watching these mass killings and saying that guns have little to do with it. Listening to the debate after the Virginia killings I'm starting to revise that. I think the US is just so far down that road that people can't imagine a way of turning around and getting rid of guns. It is just like I can't think of a way of organizing a society better than via democracy; that's it - that is my frame of reference. If the comparison is correct, then suddenly the idea that sensible, young, well-educated, middle-class American students would phone in or email to an moderate, mainstream NPR phone-in show, as I heard last week, and say: "I should be able to carry a concealed weapon on campus with me" doesn't sound as utterly bizarre. In fact if you live in a society where the crazy can easily buy weapons, it actually makes perfect sense. I would want a gun too.

There is an article in MotherJones on the events that is well worth a read - James Ridgeway argues that violence towards women is the unrecognised dimension to many of these killings. It's a strong argument and a disturbing one. But Ridgeway also in the article notes what he calls "a bare-bones list of state gun rules", which includes:
- Can't sell handguns to kids under 18, but any kid over 12 can buy shotguns, older rifles, and assault weapons, all without parental consent.
Can this be true? It can't be, can it? You can own an assault weapon at 12? Without your parents' consent? Why on earth...?

Saturday, April 21, 2007

Practice what you preach

A regular discussion subject on UKclimbing runs along the lines of does jamming in cracks always hurt? The answer isn't "always", but it is "often". My advice to a beginner a few weeks ago was "stop moaning and bleed". Just so you know that I practice what I preach.

Friday, April 20, 2007

Has The Independent gone mad?

(I quite like this headline though) Even when in the UK I was never a big Independent reader, I'm not sure why - perhaps I was brainwashed into being a Guardianista from an early age and never felt the need to change. Some years back I had to meet an MI5 officer in a café - it was a lot less interesting than it sounds - and do remember thinking to buy the Independent that day as I didn't want to turn up with the Guardian and prejudice the chances of my mate who was applying for a job and had given my name as referee. If I was being really cynical I should have gone the whole hog and bought a Telegraph but there are just some things you can't bring yourself to do.

Anyway - there was a time when the Independent had a reputation for being exactly what its name implies. Andrew Marr's book "My Trade" that I have mentioned here a number of times covers his period as the editor of the Indy and is interesting on the issue of how newspaper owners and their editors relate or don't relate to each other, and what happens when sales won't go up (panic mainly it seems). But on the actual journalism side he makes it sound pretty much like other papers. But over recent years - since Marr left? - it just seems to have gone loopy. I've just finished Nick Cohen's book (more on that later) and he makes a comment along these lines - although you could see that as one hack slagging off a rival paper. But whenever I'm in the UK and see it on a news stand the front cover is inevitably tabloid-esque block letters explaining how the world is about to end due to war/famine/global-warming/aliens/whatever. I can only imagine that subscribers end up clinically depressed. So I've have to link to the Alex at the Yorkshire Ranter who this week is showing that the Indy's standards of science journalism seem to be on a level with front cover style - very tabloid. He even explains why this might be.

All papers print stupid stuff from time to time, a minor scandals often result, but it just seems the Indy has chosen a very peculiar path, is striding on down it and not looking back.

Wednesday, April 18, 2007

Terrorism Chic No.2/Quote of the week

Which is scarier - the RPG or hairstyle? (Photo from this week's Economist)

Very Snoop-Dogg don't you think? For previous terrorism chic, see here. Quote of the week goes Brigadier Mahmood Shah of the Pakistan Army. Brigadier Shah is a senior officer involved in the Pakistani Army's operation in the South Waziristan where recent weeks have seen heavy fighting between foreign fighters (predominantly members of the Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan who had been in Afghanistan fighting with al-Qaeda but have fled since the US invasion) and local Taliban-sympathetic tribes who had previously been the Uzbeks' hosts. Yet this situation has been complicated by certain local leaders actually siding with their Jihadi-guest against the major local tribes who have had enough of the Uzbeks - in particular their hard drinking! The local leader who is down with his Uzbek-homies is called Haji Omar, who is noted locally for "a certain irascibility caused by a Soviet bullet lodged in his brain" as the Economist puts it (subscription only I think). This makes him, according to Brigadier Shah a “wonky sort of chap”.

Monday, April 16, 2007

Don't swear in other peoples' languages

A busy major street in Helsinki with a window display of novelty door mats.

One of those novelty door mats

Learning obscene words in other languages is one of the most amusing things you can do when you are about 12. I know plenty in Finnish but I would hesitate in using them as until you are really very, very accomplished in speaking another language I don't think you necessarily know just how rude, or not, you are being. I have this sense from Finns who from time to time swear in English and come over as lot more offensive than they probably intended. I've got nothing against some well placed profanity - sometime when you want to make yourself totally f***in' clear, it's the only way to go - but I don't swear in front of children, people I don't know, little puppy dogs etc. and I definitely wouldn't go putting up signs using rather crude words in a shop window display for all the world to see (and explain to their inquisitive children).

Many Finns seem to think that swearing in English in public doesn't really count. Perhaps to non-native speakers it doesn't. I can't say I'm really offended but I was quite surprised.

Sunday, April 15, 2007


Tony and the butterfly

If a butterfly flaps its wings in a Finnish forest - will a climber fall off a cliff? Tony and I both failed to onsight this beautiful line yesterday, and I at least am definitely blaming the butterfly rather than my utter lack of waddage.

Thursday, April 12, 2007


That was the amount of time it took me to cycle into the office today. I'm dead chuffed, it's definitely a season's best, if not a PB. I didn't even feel I was going very fast and the wind was strong and against me. It must have been the roast lamb sandwiches and half a pint of café latte I had for lunch. My new-ish summer tyres do feel fast, even if they give a bit of a rougher ride being only 1.5 inches, but seem to grip just fine on both tarmac and hard pack gravel cycle paths, as well as where the paths are still a bit damp and muddy. So if anyone is looking for an urban tyre for a 26" wheel I could recommend these.

On a slightly different note, I would direct any economics buffs to the comments on my bizarre-frozen-chip-pricing post of a couple of weeks back: "Stupidnomics". Commenter Olly is making a very interesting argument as to why international capital markets might be attracted to the seemingly over-priced larger bags of chips. Unfortunately it is beyond my macro economics competence to know whether this a potential Nobel prize winning theory, or rather whether he has been smoking crack.

I'm also quite honoured that my "Rom" and Romney post below has been visited by a "Mitthead" - their term not mine! - to explain politely and seriously why Mitt isn't a flip flopper (there is definitely a foot wear/hand wear related joke in there somewhere but I haven't come up with it yet). I'm not entirely convinced but nevertheless Timotheus makes a good argument in his comment, so see what you think. And welcome to any other visiting Mittheads.

Wednesday, April 11, 2007

Maximum U.S. politics geekage

The current somewhat undignified squabble between seemingly countless Republicans to be the GOP's candidate for the Presidential election has, on a very personal level, had one benefit: I no longer mix up Mitt Romney and Rahm Emmanuel. "Rahm" isn't pronounced in the same way as a rutting male sheep, but in exactly the same way as the first syllable of Mitt's surname (or as in CD ROM) - hence the confusion. Being a radio addict I've been aware of both of them for the last couple of years, but not having seen their names written down, aurally they sort of blurred into one - important but middle ranking serious political players in their respective parties, but I could never remember who was the ex-governor and who wasn't, and which was the Democrat and which was the Republican.

Mitt Romney has now shot into a position of prominence as contender for the Republican presidential nomination. This week the Economist's Lexington column describes him as an "all too smooth flip-flopper". We also know that he is a Mormon and as a result probably wears interesting underwear. Don't ask me for more serious analysis beyond this because what he believes in politically seems to revolve mainly around getting elected. I normally get annoyed when people say that about politicians because often it isn't true at all. But as a governor of liberal East Coast state, Massachusetts, Romney was easy on gay marriage, pro-choice and for some gun-control. Now he needs to get the support of the far more right wing Republican party faithful who actually vote in the primaries, he has - to put it nicely - re-evaluated those positions.

Rahm Emanuel (remember - say it "Rom"!) on the other hand is a congressman, one of the big beasts of the Democratic Party, and is seen as the mastermind of the party's 2006 midterm election success. His recent claim to fame was that, from his position as the Chair of the Democratic Caucus in the House, he advised his fellow congressmen and women not to go on the very funny Colbert Report, which was probably wise - if not much fun. Much cooler than that is that supposedly he is the inspiration for the character of Josh in the West Wing. I was always quite partial to Josh, even if after six seasons I was still yelling at the telly - "get a haircut!" as he was always dangerously bordering on a mullet. Anyway back to real life and Rahm: something I didn't know before is that, according to Wikipedia, Emanuel's dad was a member of the Irgun, although I'm sure when he gets invited to the British Embassy for cocktails they skip the tricky - "So? Your old man? A member of a terrorist group or not?" question. Swooning over the real life Josh is much less controversial and more fun.

Tuesday, April 10, 2007

More YouTube junk

Easter was a bit anti-climactic, having missed the opportunity to go ski touring in Arctic Norway for various dull and "responsible" reasons. Nevertheless I did go out climbing on Friday despite the crap forecast and occasional passing snow shower (see movie). My hands still show the scars from climbing the appropriately named "Enter the hand jam", which turned out to be a tough and slightly dirty struggle. I only noticed how much I was bleeding when I saw the blood smeared on the lower-off chain at the top. Apologies to other Haukkakallio visitors - but I'm sure some rain will wash it away sooner or later. Nevertheless there is something slightly satisfying about scab-covered backs of hands; it means summer is here.

Visiting a railway museum and washing the car was about the height of excitement for the rest of weekend, so as a result I spent an hour messing around with iMovies for the want of something better to do and the movie above is my rather embarrassing result.

Thursday, April 05, 2007

Can this possibly be true?

"By the early twenty-first century, in Britain, there were ten civil servants involved in running sport; in France, 12,000".

From the The Sweet Enemy: The French and British from the Sun King to the Present by Robert and Isabelle Tombs, quote
in "the Odd Couple" by Julian Barnes, his review of the Tombs' book, in The New York Review of Books March 2007 (p.4)

Update: I hadn't checked before as I was reading the paper version of the magazine over coffee this morning, but the whole review is available to read online.

Wednesday, April 04, 2007

"The Looming Tower" by Lawrence Wright

I've recently finished reading Lawrence Wright's excellent "The Looming Tower". It is the result of years of reporting and hundreds of interviews all around the world. Wright, a investigative journalist from the New Yorkers, paints a vivid pictures of what can be called loosely "the Islamist world" pre-9/11; a world of radicals and reactionaries, conservatives and revolutionaries, those obsessed with politics and those who only are interested in religion. This diversity is something that many still now in the West do not understand, or will not acknowledge. They don't know about the vicious infighting and attacks on each others' characters that the two leaders of the Egyptian radical groups that were active during the Afghan Jihad carried out. Ayman al Zawahiri leading Egyptian Islamic Jihad and Sheik Omar Abdul Rahman of the Gamaa Islamyia clearly loathed each other despite their supposed common purpose (p.138). Few would be interested to know that Hasan al-Turabi, the famous 'radical' Sudanese Islamist thinker and leader was radical in part because of his views on the importance of the emancipation of women - that women should vote, lead prayers and even fight - from a Koranic perspective. Few will know how at the end of the 80s and start of the 90s, there were major division in the foreign Mujahideen in Pakistan and Afghanistan between the Takfiri tendencies and the far more mainstream Muslim Brotherhood. The Muslim Brotherhood is an Islamist organisation, but they were loathed by the Takfiris for their moderation and interest in democratic politics. Wright paints a nuanced picture of Abdullah Azzam, now often fetishized in Jihadi circles as a great leader of the Afghan Mujahideen. Wright notes that this man famed now for having been involved in setting up Hamas and wanting to bring the Jihad to Palestine after the defeat of the Soviets, was also hated by the Takfiri crowd in Peshawar, including increasingly al Zawahiri, who saw him as too attractive to young volunteers coming to fight in Afghanistan. They saw him as collecting support for the Muslim Brotherhood and hence taking away influence from their more violent and radical aims. Azzam also came to support in the Afghan civil war, as the Soviets left, Ahmed Shah Massoud. Massoud was assassinated by al Qaeda just days before 9/11. Massoud resisted the Taliban in the late 1990s and because of this has been celebrated by some in the west, rather simplistically, as some kind of hero who withstood Islamic totalitarianism. But through the war with Russia and the civil war that followed, Massoud was a brutal warlord much like the others and just as interested in imposing his version of an Islamic state on Afghanistan. Azzam's support for Massoud was interesting as Massoud was a Tajik whilst his rival, Gulbuddin Hekmatyar, was a Pashtun and hence much closer to the Pakistanis with whom most the Arab volunteers were coordinating and it was his support for Massoud that most likely led to Azzam's assassination in 1989.

Its a great book, fascinating in it details yet still very readable. Journalism at its best.

Tuesday, April 03, 2007

"Praise the Lord and pass the Ammunition"

A week without blogging. Sorry. I'm rubbish, but I am still here. Time just flies when you are stressed, tired and not having much fun. Anyway, enough of my moaning.

Over the last couple of years I've become a huge fan of Andy Kershaw's Radio 3 show. Perhaps I'm growing up if the one music show I listen to weekly is on Radio 3 - and quite clearly Tuareg desert music and acoustic English folk should be what all the cool kids are listening to, even if they aren't. Anyway over the last couple of weeks he has being playing tracks off a CD called: "Kickin' Hitler's Butt: Vintage Anti-Fascists Songs 1940-1944". What a collection. This weeks track was "Praise The Lord & Pass The Ammunition" by The Southern Sons Quartet. All wonderfully odd. Basically this reminded me of the photo above that I found some time ago and have been waiting for a good opportunity to share. Today seems as good a time as any as the Southern Sons Quartet show a good historical legacy to mixing American exceptionalism, blatant militarism and God. All good clean fun.