Monday, December 31, 2007

Wintour's Leap

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

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

Tuesday, December 25, 2007

Christmas in Worcestershire

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

A damp Christmas morning in Worcestershire

Running across a muddy field and using a camera is tricky

Surprisingly un-muddy shoes

Looking northeast towards the Black Country

The church at dusk

South across the fields

Sunset over Walgrove Hill

Happy Christmas

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

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

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

Wednesday, December 19, 2007

Biking 2007

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

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

Total 2708 kms

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

You've got to love that revolutionary vibe!

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

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

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

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

Monday, December 17, 2007

Sympathy for the Devil

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

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

Sunday, December 16, 2007

Sunday ice climbing

ice bubbles

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

Simon approaches the tricky bit

Coffee break

A marginally less boring than normal Karelian pie

Making the most of some skinny ice at Kauhala

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

Friday, December 14, 2007

Ron Paul and men with guns

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

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

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

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

Wednesday, December 12, 2007

Pyrrhic Victory

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

I'm dead chuffed.

Monday, December 10, 2007

Biking or Climbing and December

Either are crap combos, believe me.

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

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

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

Thursday, December 06, 2007

Many Congratulations!

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

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

Wednesday, December 05, 2007

Independence Day

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

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

Hyvää Itsenäisyyspäivää kaikille (Happy Independence Day to all) !

Tuesday, December 04, 2007

Diplomacy at it's best

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

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