Wednesday, October 24, 2007

Law and order - Iraq style

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

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

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

Tuesday, October 23, 2007

Weekend climbing pics

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

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

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

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

Monday, October 22, 2007

A grave new responsibility...

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

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

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

Sunrise on Helsinki

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

Thursday, October 18, 2007

Finland and NATO: episode 347

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

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

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

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

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

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

Monday, October 15, 2007

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

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

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

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

Anyway, I think I have made my point.

Sunday, October 14, 2007

Sunny autumn days

Cool and sunny autumn days are my favourite for rock climbing. Getting numb finger tips a little is a fair trade off against the sweaty-palmed slipperiness of high summer. Yesterday at Haukkakallio was a grand day, about 4 degrees, but not a cloud to be seen or a breath of wind. The cliff is rapidly becoming the best cliff on the south coast of Finland, with already about 40 or 50 routes ranging from Vdiff (Finnish 3+) to Rami's masterful creation, King's Cross, which is 8a+, but on trad gear, and Rami led it placing the gear as he went - so presumably in E7 6c territory?
Uncle Tony's Testimonial VS 4c

Jody's recently bolted "Air Arete" 5+, a fine and rather odd sports route. Physically easy but very fall off-able. A bit like a rounded gritstone arete, just with bolts.

Fresh coffee at the crag courtesy of my new and pretty cool stove. And yes that is a nut key, I remembered everything but a spoon.

Aussie Simon stylin' on the first ascent of "Simon Says", Finnish 6+, E2 5c-ish?

The Road to Zion VS 4c

And just to be very web 2.0, here is the movie version of the day. I'm in two minds as to whether to buy a cheap digi video camera to get better quality film clips than my little digi camera manages, but then I might just be more encouraged to release more of my "creativity" onto the world and perhaps it doesn't really need that.

It was great to see another team of four there repeating all of our routes and seeming to enjoy them. I'm sorry I didn't get your names guys - but if you contact me by either leaving a comment here, or via a message through the Slouppi forums, I can send you copies of the various pics I took of you lot.

Sunday morning godless heathen post

On Sunday mornings more American go to church than in any other advanced democracy worldwide, but the standard narrative of Religious Right is that the country is becoming godless, and that Christianity is under attack. But did you know that in the 1770s only 17% Americans were church-goers? I didn't until I happened to listen to this interesting interview with Prof. Gary Wills of Northwestern University in the U.S. He points out that America was really at its least religious at its founding and that religious observance has increased in waves ever since, although interestingly there has always been a secular push-back after each of these evangelical waves. It's worth a listen if you are interested in the role of religion in state formation and politics (the 17% quote about 5 minutes into the interview).

Saturday, October 13, 2007

The wrong lobby

Waltz and Mearsheimer have become internationally famous for their Israel Lobby article which has now been published as book. This ain't bad going for international relations (IR) professors, a job that whilst respected rarely catapults you stardom (Condoleezza Rice being an obvious exception). It's important to realise that within IR they are the big men of the Realist school of the thought - that countries have national interests and act in accordance to them. All classic power politics stuff. The problem is that they keep getting it wrong. They didn't see the end of the cold war coming, they didn't see the pacification of Europe, and its gradual union via the EU. Indeed in the early post-coldwar era Mearsheimer was recommending that Germany builds nuclear weapons to balance the threat from France! He felt that only if states had a balance of power would the system be stable. So wrong, wrong, then wrong again. How, then, were they to explain the U.S. picking on its own terms, on its own timetable, to invade Iraq and plunge the country into the biggest military crisis since Vietnam? Well they couldn't - because it is, particularly in retrospect, such a dumb thing for America to have done. So if the administration hadn't been acting in the U.S. national interest, why did they go into Iraq? Because they were tricked - by the Israel Lobby. This is essentially the core argument of the Israel Lobby.

You shouldn't throw the bath water out with the baby though: their essential point was wrong - that a domestic lobby for a foreign power could persuade the US to act against its own interests - but they make very many good points about the influence and power of the pro-Israel lobbies (plural being more accurate) in the US, and particularly the lack of debate in the US media on Israel. In fact if you want to hear all sides of the story, you would do much better following the vigorous and nuanced debate that takes place in Israel itself, rather than in America.

In the hue and cry that followed the articles publications one of the more interesting comments was made by Zbigniew Brzezinski, President Carter’s national-security adviser. He said that the Israel lobby does exist, and that it is influential in Washington, but it was only one of various successful national lobbies. Equal to the pro-Israel lobby was in his opinion the Cuban-American lobby and the Armenian lobby, with the Greek and Taiwanese groups not far behind.

It Waltz and Mearsheimer want an example of a national lobby exerting its influence in a way that is pushing the U.S. in a policy clearly at odd with its immediate interests, they should have taken the Armenians. The ongoing attempt to get both houses of the US Congress to condemn as genocide the Armenian massacres by Ottoman Turkey in 1915, is exactly that. The declaration might have a noble intent, but it will never be anything but symbolic. What is not in doubt is that the implications are that U.S.-Turkish relations are going down the pan.

Sunday, October 07, 2007

29.8 kmph (again) and the dangers of sports nutrition

(Photo: strawberry power gel - not very nice in either direction) I went for a quick ride on my road bike this evening. I was meant to go out mountain biking with a mate, but when I spoke to him on Saturday evening he was already down town with another of our mates and I just knew, that despite his enthusiasm at that moment, there was a good chance the idea wouldn't seem so great for him the next morning. He still hadn't called me by lunch time today so I decided to call him. He sounded reasonably chipper, but claimed that climbing and some physical work the day before had made him achy so he would give the biking a miss. He also denied that the five beers and a bottle of vodka they had drunk in his camper van on arrival in the city, before even getting to a bar, had nothing to do with it. I remain slightly sceptical.

Anyway - back to the ride. It's really annoying as it is a shortish ride, just over 20 kms, and I was trying hard to do it at an average speed of 30 kmph. But just like back in the early summer, although the computer was saying well over an av speed of 30 on the downhills it would dip back into the twenties on the climbs. I really went for it climbing back up from the river towards home, to the extent that I managed to get that horrible vomit-in-the-mouth feeling when you think you are about hurl your last meal (in this case strawberry-flavoured power gel, which - believe me - doesn't taste much better going down than it does coming back up). I managed to avoid puking and tried to sprint the last couple of kms along the flat - yet to no avail. When I was a kid I was totally uncompetitive in anything to do with sports, it is an odd habit to develop against yourself as you approach middle age!
(Photo right - eating power gel on your bike may make you look like this - although probably not. But who says advertising doesn't work? We can all dream)

Thursday, October 04, 2007

Typo or Freudian slip?

Below is the text of an email that I've just sent to Helsingin Sanomat International Edition, noting an amusing typo they have in their story about the Finnish prime minister answering questions from the public. I'll link the story but they might have corrected the typo by the time you read it, so the joke was that they had written treat when they meant threat. The email was as follows:
In today’s article about Vanhanen answering internet chat questions you have the slightly amusing typo: “Vanhanen insisted that joining NATO is not currently topical, according to existing policy, because the EU is able to support its member states through all possible means, if there is a treat to security.”

I expect the EU could support Finland if someone wants to give us security treats, (air-to-surface guided munitions perhaps?) whilst on the other hand the EU is of absolutely no use if there is a security threat. The Prime Minister might wish it so, but this will not make it so. No one outside of Finland takes the idea seriously. Indeed neither do many officials inside Finland when they are not speaking on the record.