Thursday, February 28, 2008

Blogging from Brussels

Half a pig and dijonaise sauce - yummy

Spring time in the heart of Europe

I like Brussels, which is just as well as it seems to be about the only place I ever get to go on work trips. It's raining and gray, but it is still so much more "European" than Helsinki. Everywhere there is a bar or café that you want to go into, or even sit outside despite the drizzle. I'm sure the women of Brussels are disproportionately attractive as well, although maybe that's just me enjoying one aspect of the diversity of a real European - indeed global - metropolis, compared to which, Helsinki look rather provincial and boringly monocultural. The beer is much, much, much (and indeed one more-) much better as well.

I'm starting to realise there are two cities as well, Brussels and "Brussels". The first is the biggest city in Belgium, historically interesting, racially diverse reflecting Belgium's imperial past, and in places a little bit shabby. It is a normal, large western European city with all the advantages and problems that this implies. And then there is "Brussels", which is where the EU lives. It predominantly exists in the minds of the people of Europe who collectively tend to think of it as a large trough in which their elected and unelected leaders go to try and get their snouts into. For national politicians around Europe it is the place to blame or hide behind dependent on what is politically expedient at that moment. But "Brussels" is a real place as well - a few blocks around the Schuman metro stop in particular. In fact, maybe it isn't real, it might actually be hyperreal. It is populated by "Europeans" who tend to be amongst the best and the brightest (and most ambitious) that their home countries produce. I'm sure these people are genetically slightly different - a little bit taller on average, a little bit better looking. Most certainly better dressed - they are the type of people who you see in the adverts in in-flight magazines. This is perhaps because they are the type of people who buy their clothes in the airport boutiques?

Anyway - I like both Brussels and "Brussels". Except for the rain.

Sunday, February 24, 2008

Climate Changed

Yesterday, I passed a somewhat sad milestone, and with a quick trip to Rollarit have now rock climbed in Finland during every month of the year. Had you told me this even three years ago, I wouldn't have believed it. Even last winter, although the winter was the shortest anyone remembers, still on this weekend last year, late February traditionally the depths of the winter, the weather was like this. I particularly remember that weekend because my legs got so cold I went out and bought some Goretex sallopettes in the end of season sale at a local outdoors shop. Then of course having made that investment, the next weekend everything warmed up and started melting and I never used them. This winter I've only worn them once so far (Marmot Randonee and they work great if anyone cares) but despite getting them at 50% off, so far they haven't been a great investment in the amount of usage I got out them!
Your's truly approaching the rather stylish crux of "Lanttumaakari", F5c

This route has a delicate step-through that makes a desperate move feel easy if done right. When you do it, it feels so nice. I had forgotten how much fun rock climbing can be.

Tony on the tricky 6a "Liidi Master".

My achievement of the day was finding a weakboy-cheeky-Egyptian method of doing the crux of this route static, allowing me to do the move without resorting to the somewhat alarming dyno-lunge-lurch method that Tony used. But then he's stronger than me so probably goes with Ben Moon's famous quote of "technique is no alternative to power"! Oddly, I can think of two other 6as that are harder than this one in Southern Finland, and one 6b that is easier.

Tony cruise the horribly undergraded "Rullaportaat" 5- (VS 4c)

And again.

Sunset over Keha III (Ring Road III) - some civil engineering that somewhat spoils the outlook from the crag.

The temperature was about 5 oC and out of the wind and in the sun, it felt really quite civilised. It is actually snowing outside now, although somewhat half-heartedly, so at least the weather is trying to look wintery, but they say that is going to melt this afternoon...

Wednesday, February 20, 2008

al-Qaeda as "a post-modern pastiche"

This week's "Start the Week" on Radio 4 was a cracker, but Prof. Madawi Al Rasheed was particularly great. I don't think I have heard of her before but her description of the political-clerical balance in Saudi Arabia was excellent - brief, pithy, but completely convincing. It is somehow comforting that such smart people are around - truly "one cheerful rational voice amidst the din of mourners and polemics". When I first started reading about al-Qaeda seriously in 2003 I couldn't get how seemingly differing ideological strands came together - Saudi Wahhabism, Egyptian political Islam, the early liberal Salafism and the later reactionary Salafism. There didn't seem to be much coherence to it. So Prof. Al Rasheed's description of al-Qaeda being "a post-modern pastiche" of an organisation is wonderful: there is no one ideology but rather a fuzzy mess of shared agendas and localised co-option.

I'm going to have to get Michael Burleigh's new book as well "Blood and Rage: A Cultural History of Terrorism", it sounds very interesting. His quote from Baader-Meinhof: "we half read a lot theory, that we fully understood", and his description of a consistency over time amongst very different terrorist groups: "a moral squalor" are alone enough to make me want to read it.

Icey Manoeuvres in Dark

If you don't get the title, you're not of a certain age I guess...
Ice climbing at Helsinki Airport last night. Thanks to Tony for taking the pictures of me climbing - and for working out how to use my camera far better than I have managed so far.

Corner Climb WI3

Traffic passing in the background spoils the ambience somewhat, but it is the huge Airbus taking off for Japan and passing overhead at maybe 50 or 100 metres that really makes communication tricky!

Me, trying to see my feet

Helsinki ice climbers might like to know that we met both airport security and the police last night and both took a very civilised and common sense attitude. The security guy just asked us not to cross the fence at the top of the cliffs, which we hadn't anyway and you don't need to at all, and not to climb further west than bridge with runway landing lights on it. But again there isn't any need to as all the good lines are east of it, so complying with their requests is no problem at all. The police on finding out Simon was Australian, wanted mainly to know if he had ever seen snow and ice before and to tell him "normally" it would be -20 and 50 cms of snow at this time of year!The police officer was a bit annoyed that he hadn't actually got to watch us climbing as we were packing up by the time he swung by, and I got the impression he might have been persuaded to have go had we still had the top-rope in place.

Tuesday, February 19, 2008

The weather, climate change and the British Climbing press

I keep moaning about how different the weather is this winter, but according to Helsingin Sanomat we should expect more of the same in the future:

It's sunny today which is nice, but it is still rather sad. I got an email from the well-known British climbing journalist, Colin Wells, last week after I had been moaning about the weather, and he said: "[all] rather bad news for us ice-lovers! Still, as quite possibly the last generation to be able to experience such things regularly, at least we've still got the occasional opportunity to grab some icicle action, for that I'm grateful", which is perhaps the best attitude to take. Colin, who writes for Climb Magazine, deserves credit for a couple of years ago writing a serious and thoughtful piece on how climbers are noticing the changing climate more than others, as routes like the Diamond Couloir on Mt. Kenya have dissappeared in the space of a generation. He noted in the email that how some of the people he interviewed back then, are now taking an even more depressed view as things seem to be changing even fast than was predicted then.

Whilst mentioning climate change and the climbing press, I should also mention the guest editorial in last months Climber Magazine. It was written by Ray Wood, the climbing photographer and followed previous editor Bernard Newman's anti wind power line that runs "they're just symbolic, they don't help the enviroment and they spoil the view when I go climbing." On UKC this debate has raged backwards and forwards for years, but it seems to me that the engineers who really look into this tend to be sceptical towards this scepticism. But Ray Wood's piece is one of defeatism, where he even criticises energy efficient light bulbs on the basis of them containing mercury. Perhaps Mr. Wood doesn't realise that mercury is released from power stations in the fumes in far larger amounts. He should perhaps give this rather good explainer from Slate magazine a read, and research a bit more before pushing disinformation through the magazine.

Mean... but funny.

You can tell that the photographer had to get down on his knees to get the angle right on this one.

From the Economist where, as ever, they have the best photo captions - in this case "conflicting signals for McCain".

Sunday, February 17, 2008

Weekend climbing photo essay: Tony scares us with death-defying antics

A slightly wintery Finland (all photos 'clickable' for larger resolution versions)

My mate and regular climbing partner, Tony, has been accusing me of being far too nice to him recently. Being English, he is hopeless at taking well deserved compliments - therefore just to make him feel a bit better this post will be filled with personal attacks on him, and particularly on his ice climbing competence. The weather had been sub-zero on the south coast for some of last week and we were desperate to get out and climb after two weekends of watching the rain come down, so decided to chance going back up to Valkeala to see if there was some ice on the crags.

Tony fails to make a confidence inspiring start

We staged a small Commonwealth invasion of Lintojanvuori, with a main force of three Englishmen, plus an Australian adding special forces support. I was quite disappointed to see no other cars at the pull-off, and indeed we didn't see any other climbers all day. Perhaps most other ice climbers have given up on this awful winter, and are just going to the wall to get strong for summer? We did the 'carpark fall' first - it was harder climbing than when we did three weeks ago, with fewer features for your feet, but it was frozen to the rock behind this time and felt generally a lot safer. Tony tried leading it first, but after battling to get the first screw in without much success and generally making a complete hash of it, he backed off and I led it instead.

Simon gamely pretends he thinks this is as fun as steep, sunkissed limestone sport climbing

Tony then seconded the line and we top-roped another steeper line on the same fall. Then we wondered along the rest of the cliff to see what other ice had formed. Jody did his first lead of the winter, and Simon followed, the same route as Tony and I had done on the last visit (pic above), with Jody managing to dislodge a large brick of ice onto his face whilst halfway up. Some blood was involved, but it wasn't exciting enough to deserve a photo. I climbed an exciting little route next to it which involved a narrow ice flow up into a little niche two thirds of the way up the cliff, then exciting bridging on very thin ice to escape it. After this, Tony announced he was going to lead the steepest and longest route on the cliff - a 20 mtr pillar of vertical and near-vertical ice.

Tony gets stuck in, Jody's facial expressions suggest this isn't going to end well

After Tony's, frankly, hopeless attempt at the first route of the day and subsequent moaning about not having had any chance to lead ice this winter and get into the swing of things, this seemed a somewhat ambitious, possibly even rash, target. Tony did nothing to alleviate these concerns by looking at the flatish and not too rock-strewn ground at the base of the ice and commenting that even if the worst came to the worst, the landing zone "didn't look that bad". He also elected to borrow my tools and lead it leashless just to add to the challenge. Using the spurious excuse of having the best camera, I elected myself expedition photographer and told Jody to belay so I could get some shots. This gave me the opportunity to run a safe distance away in the likely seeming scenario that at some point in the next few minutes, one Englishman complete with flailing, razor sharp ice tools and crampons would come hurtling groundwards from some way up the pillar. Simon wandered around looking much like what a slightly confused Australian sport climber at a small Finnish ice-covered crag would look like.

Tiger Tony shows that fingerboard training pays off

Tony attacked the lower, narrow and plumb-vertical part of the pillar with élan, and made good progress to about femur-snapping height where he decided, sensibly enough, to place a screw. This did not go so smoothly, but eventually got clipped and we all breathed a sigh of relief. A body-length of so higher, the next screw also looked like something of a battle to place, with Tony hand-swapping a couple of times - suggesting that he couldn't hang on one-handed long enough to get the screw in fully with other. This made the process even more tenuous than it normally is. But with the protection arranged he powered on upwards towards what appeared like the last vertical part of the climb.
Nearly there...

Here he stopped to place the last screw that would be needed to protect the finishing moves. This did not go well at all. Tony's pumped forearms meant he had to keep swapping which hand he was hanging on by, whilst trying to place the screw with other. When climbing with leashes this is when you really let the leash take the strain and whilst it might hurt like hell, at least you know you aren't going to just fall off your tool. But leashless, as you feel the lactic acid fill your arm, you have no choice but to swap if you don't want to fall and this means that Tony was at times trying to place a screw he had started on his right with his left hand, leading to all sorts of contortions. The number of times he was swapping his hands on the tool, whilst still making limited progress at getting the screw in made those of us on the ground really rather nervous that this was all about to end in tears. I still remember from last year the feeling of real helplessness as you feel your hands start to uncurl off the handles of your tools no matter how hard you will them not to. Then there was a muffled curse as the screw touched rock behind the ice. Things were really not looking so good now as Tony had remove that screw, find a stubby one on his harness and then place that instead. This was after much wobbling achieved, and he quickly asked for Jody to take, so he could rest on the rope. Normally when your climbing partner has got some crucial gear in and then asks you take, you might ask "are you sure?", willing them onwards to do the route clean without rests, but this time even those of us down on the ground seemed quite relieved that Tony could just rest safely now. No clean ascent is worth getting really hurt for. After a bit of rest and getting another solid screw in, Tony blasted up the last few steep metres of the route to the top. Not perfect, but a really ballsy attempt. We all did it on the top rope afterwards and it felt really physical and hard work - particularly with the narrowness of the bottom pillar never allowing you to really spread the weight onto your feet. The thought of leading it was terrifying.

The DMM chaps will be pleased to see that their gear is still being thoroughly tested

The pic above is just to show that I'm taking my duties as a gear tester for seriously, and we're still putting the DMM Shadows and Phantoms through their paces. I'm finding that although the Phantoms are small krabs they don't seem noticeably harder to handle, with at least thin gloves on, than any of my older krabs. A good thing for winter climbers to know, perhaps. If you look carefully at the photo you might also notice a DMM Shadow being used for something that DMM might not have envisaged themselves - they make ace ice screw racks as part of the great Swedish DIY ice screw rack system. The smooth keylock gate system makes them particularly good for this purpose, whilst they weigh a lot less than other various old keylock krabs that I have.

Post-match analysis at the petrol station

That was quite enough excitement for one day, so the remaining daylight was spent checking out another crag to see if it had icefalls on it, before adjourning for tea at a nearby petrol station. Not too bad a day in the end at all, particularly after relatively unpromising weather.

Thursday, February 14, 2008

Flying business class to the sixth form disco

A few years back I had a cool job working for the UN Environment Programme. The pay was pretty crap and the work was hard, but I guess you are expected to do it for the love of the environment or some such. As an "adviser" to the unit chairman (i.e. dogsbody) I had do everything from -literally- the photocopying, to meeting a Prime Minister, albeit of a very small and unimportant country. But the thing that made up for that, at least for me, was that traveling a lot at very short notice we had to fly business class. I had never flown business before and I never went any further than Pristina, so never got to go on one of the big plane where the chair turns into a bed and you get a personal DVD player and all that cool stuff. But you did get more chance to stretch, take more stuff on as hand luggage, nicer food, wine and get on and off quicker. You still get to the same place, but the overall experience is nicer.

So I caved into the peer group and marketing pressure and bought an iPod. It is very pretty and particularly as I already have a MacBook, it all colour coordinates nicely - which as we all know, is one of the most important functions to look for in an MP3 player. But I'm starting to get Mac's genius. You take it out of the box, plug it into your computer and all these things start to happen. Smooth things. White things. Things with rounded contours. Things that don't go "ping" but click in quiet and comforting ways. Messages are short and to the point and don't use words like "drivers", "program files", "installation error". Instead it gently suggests how it could be useful to you. And within ten minutes of plugging it in, I'm unplugging it and ready to listen to 1.7 days of music and podcasts. If only life could all be so simple. So more expensive than the alternative options that will still play your music and podcasts, but the overall experience is nicer.

I immediately went to the "my favourites" playlist and proceeded to dance round the kitchen as I did the washing up, like a beer-ed up 18 year old at the sixth form disco.

And if anyone wants to compare playlists - of my CDs that I have so far ripped to iTunes (not actually that many due to having a small MP3 player before) this is the "my favourites" list. Make of it what you will!

  • The Eton Rifles 3:59 The Jam The Sound Of The Jam Rock
  • Tomorrow 3:43 James The Best Of James Alternative & Punk
  • The Road Is Not Your Only Friend 2:38 Jeff Lang Whatever Makes You Happy Blues
  • Sometimes 5:19 My Bloody Valentine Lost In Translation Soundtrack
  • Can't Stop 4:31 Red Hot Chili Peppers By The Way Rock
  • North Country Boy 4:02 Charlatans Melting Pot Alternative & Punk
  • Hoobaale 5:05 K'naan The Dusty Foot Philosopher Hip Hop/Rap
  • Miseducation Of Lauryn Hill 4:17 Lauryn Hill The Miseducation Of Lauryn Hill R&B

A deflating "attack"

(Photo via Helsingin Sanomat) If you let the air out of someones tyres, is that an "attack"? Very annoying certainly, childish perhaps - but, really, an "attack"? Helsingin Sanomat seems to think so:
"Last autumn, the group that calls themselves the Indians of the Asphalt Jungle attacked 4x4s in at least nine different cities in Sweden, emptying the tyres of a thousand vehicles. The attacks started already last summer in the Östermalm district of Stockholm, where 60 city SUVs were targeted by the campaign. In Germany, 200 similar attacks had come to light by the end of October."
Just to add to the scary and menacing nature of the "attacks", the "attackers" have left the following terribly threatening message on targetted 4x4s:
"Do not take this personally, it is only your car that we do not like".
The Helsinki police take the emminently sensible line of telling people to stop being juvenile and anti-social whilst resolutely refraining from blowing it out of proportion:
"According to Det. Sgt. Savolainen, 'the police agree that the protection of the climate is important, but it has to be accomplished through legal means.' The police are looking into the case as vandalism, although there is some dispute among legal experts as to whether the temporary inconvenience of having one's tyres deflated actually consitutes wilful damage of property. In any event, there may be claims for compensation in prospect against the perpetrators, for instance for the vehicle-owners' taxi and towtruck costs."
Perhaps 4x4 owners should just consider chucking a foot-pump in the boot and next time consider getting a car that isn't quite as dangerous to cyclists, pedestrians and other drivers next time, even if environmentally some of them aren't so different from other large cars.

Wednesday, February 13, 2008

Raising New and Troubling Questions...

(Photo Erio/Flickr) If you ever wondered why the newspapers are full of bad news, the perverse and often baffling answer might be because it's funnier that way. Check out Act IV of this week's "This American Life" to find out more.

Tuesday, February 12, 2008

Whinging Poms

In a similar post to this one, I feel yet again that my fellow countrymen who haven't tried living in another country should really stop moaning until they have. YLE reports:
Finnish families have a more difficult time making ends meet than those in other EU countries. The main reason underlying this discrepancy is the Finnish taxation system, finds a study by the Taxpayers' Association of Finland. The study charted family incomes in eleven European countries...

In the UK, families have the most disposable income, and the least in Belgium and Denmark, followed by Finland... A Finnish family in which both parents earn average salaries makes a total of 2,700 euros less than a corresponding Norwegian family, and 3,500 euros less than a British family...
There is more if you read the whole article.

Monday, February 11, 2008

Sheldon Brown R.I.P.

When the internet started up it was full of kooks and geeks, many of whom were obsessive about something. Some of them also turned out to be great human beings who would end up helping endless strangers, sort of by mistake. They carved out a little bit of cyber-space for their interest and slowly, probably without any intention of ever doing so, became stars in their little but now globally expanded world. Sheldon Brown was one of those pioneers: compiler of endless info on gearing ratios, tyre sizes and the best ways to oil a chain was one of those people. He turned his love of cycling into a resource useful to and used by probably hundreds of thousands round the world - people like me who could never remember which way you are meant to be pulling to unscrew a pedal (it's not as easy as it sounds with opposite threads and all that!) or weren't really sure what was happening inside the bottom bracket but wouldn't admit defeat and take their bike to bike shop and pay for someone else to do it. I was even using his website just on Saturday whilst I put my new crankset on and moved the front mech on my commuter, so it was with real sadness that I just read that he had died last week. The Boston Globe has a nice obituary for him, as does Wired. My sympathies go to his family.

Thanks for all the help Sheldon, the atmosphere is a little bit cleaner because of it.

Finland and the EU Security Guarantees

There has recently been much, much interest amongst the Finnish political class about the supposed "EU Security Guarantees" that are perhaps, or perhaps not, in the Lisbon treaty (check this article and the links at the bottom, or these search results). After much early scepticism, the interest in them has swung in the opposite direction to a nearly-religious faith in the idea, despite the fact that no other EU member seems to take the idea centrally in their security planning. Why the sudden conversion? Because, almost ironically, the EU is not NATO. When the voters and the elites seem to be worrying that the country has some sort of security deficit (again, a problematic assumption in itself), the politicians want to respond but know they can't touch the third rail of Finnish politics and say "lets think about joining NATO!". Suggesting even considering NATO, regardless of all evidence on the ground as to what NATO now is and what is it likely to become, marks the politician out as a neo-imperialist, Yankee-loving, war-mongering, running-dog - or something along those lines. The Finnish NATO debate is about whether or not to join a NATO that hasn't existed for the best part of a decade. Joining that NATO may well be a good or not good idea for Finland, but the debate seems somewhat academic as that NATO doesn't exist.

But back to the EU. How seriously should we take the security guarantees? As yet - and things can change - not very seriously. If the EU won't send peacekeeping troops to Chad because of - errrr... - fighting that is taking place there, I can't imagine those in the Kremlin is having any sleepless nights over the massing EU armies forming on their western borders. The Chad situation - something that this blog has followed a bit in the past - is interesting in itself (for an excellent pithy briefing on the subject listen to this week's Instant Guide), but it also reflects a non-"robustness" (to use my favourite security policy euphemism) in the current, at least, EU approach to security.

Sunday, February 10, 2008

To iPod or not to iPod?

If one technological device has changed my life over the last couple of years - it's the Creative Zen Nano Plus MP3 player pictured above. After buying a very cheap no-brand MP3 player two and half years ago to 'see what it does', I discovered podcasting - one of those words you were aware of previously but hadn't taken much account of - a bit like "email" was to me until mid-1995. That first MP3 player would continually turn itself off due to static, so carrying it outside on cold winters day in nylon jacket was pretty hopeless, yet I was hooked on the content so upgraded to the Nano Plus. In the two years since I bought it various radio stations around the world, plus other sources such as newspapers and magazines, have increased the availability of quality podcasts. One of the first things I really missed when I first came to Finland in the mid-90s was having access to all the media I wanted. I was reliant on very crackly World Service shortwave broadcasts and the local Finnish YLE station that rebroadcast international radio services on FM, but not always in English. But with podcasting now I can listen to as much BBC as I have time for, and now not just the World Service - although it still remains my favourite - but also the domestic broadcasters like Radio 4 and FiveLive. It makes a huge difference for me in the 'expat experience' - making my new home and old home feel not very far apart. When I arrive in the UK I really feel that I have missed very little, perhaps the odd TV-celebrity but I can easily live without that part of the zeitgeist. Add to this, I'm now more of 'global citizen' listening to a lot of U.S. radio and bits and bobs from other odd corners of the planet.

But after two years of everyday use, of being stuffed in pockets and dropped repeatedly on the ground - including from a fast moving bicycle on a number of occasions - the buttons on the Nano are giving up the ghost. Sometimes you buy things that disappoint but I can say without reservation that Creative engineered a little piece of perfection in the Nano Plus. Of course with consumer culture being what it is, Creative has since dropped this gem from their range. So I have tried the new Creative Stone Plus that seems to be the replacement but was so disappointed that after about three weeks returned it to the shop and got my money back. It was really unstable - whenever you connected it to the USB cable (which is how it recharges) it would loose it place in the track you were listening to. This maybe isn't a problem when listening to three minute pop ditties on shuffle, but bloody annoying when half way through a 50 minute panel discussion on say, the role of conservative Christians in the Republican primary race! The delete didn't work well either leaving ghost tracks on the MP3 player which it would try to play, and requiring regular reformatting to clean it up.

I've seen something like the Nano Plus, just a slightly bigger and older version being flogged off for EUR 4o in the local supermarket. But then I'm also tempted by the 4GB iPod Nano but that is also four times the price at EUR 160. My MacBook has been a great success since one friend persuaded me to make the jump to Apple, but do I need an iPod? What makes them so great? They don't even have a built in microphone which is a superb feature in my Nano that I now use for every interview I do for work, allowing me to have all the interviews as MP3 files on various computers. Oh - decisions, decisions...

Help me out dear readers. Any iPod owners please tell me if its is good or not. Are their any other Mac users out there who have a good non-iPod MP3 player that they love? I've had a look at some Sony and Philips and Creative ones but most seem to only have software that needs Windows...

It is perhaps a reflection that we have charmed lives in the first world that we get to worry about such things, but there you go. I am embracing the pointlessly consumerist and rapaciously capitalist side to my existence and really getting some angst going over this. Help me out please!

Tuesday, February 05, 2008

Non-voting foreigners for Obama

For tonight I'm suspending my normal cynicism.

Super Tuesday is here. Hoo Har.

American culture, or at least popular culture, has a tendency towards melodrama and schmaltz as a million Hollywood movie-endings attest. But when they do schmaltz they can really do wonderful, stirring, touching, goose-bump inducing schmaltz.

Every country should have an Obama. There should be a law on it.

Monday, February 04, 2008

"A Federal Europe of Fatherlands"

God, does that sound scary or what!?

Mixing "federal" and "Fatherland" in one sentence just about ticks all the boxes for every red-blooded member of the Island race and, from Inverness to Penzance, will have us scrambling the Spitfires and loading the sten guns. Chocks away, tally ho!

But that is indeed how the new European grouping of far-rightists called the "European Patriotic Party" was described. It includes Jean Marie Le Penn's Front National who is busily polishing his jackboots in anticipation. He was joined on the stage at the launch by some bloke from the Austrian Freedom Party, a loon from Bulgaria (who interestingly deals with bad press by staging an invasion of the offices of the newspaper concerned and yelling threats at the journalist) and our old mates, Vlaam Belangs.

Mr. Siderov of the Bulgarian Attack Party bravely resists the temptation to raise all five fingers.

Basically the last collection of far-right parties in the European Parliament collapsed in a pile of recriminations and insults flung at each other. The Identity, Tradition and Sovereignty bloc (you at the back! Stop the comedy heel-clicking now!) broke apart when the Italian members started being rude about Romanians, forgetting that they had Romanian partners whose identity, traditions and sovereignty they were now demeaning. I haven't read if a fist fight was involved, but that would have livened up an otherwise tedious Euro Parliamentary session wouldn't it? The new band of brave warriors for the fatherland(s), seem to be searching for more member parties so that - irony of ironies - they qualify for EU funding.

Meanwhile Le Penn, whilst musing on the potential of the new party, reached near Rumsfeldian levels of everyday philosophy with:
"it's not necessary to hope in order to try, nor to succeed in order to persevere."
Exactly Jean Marie - although you still have a girl's name.
He has either been reading too many Hallmark greetings cards, watching cheap kung-fu movies, or it just sound better in French.

Clearly worried about being called fascists (perish the thought!) the new grouping has said that it is not negotiating with German, ummm... fascist parties like the NPD. Which is a shame because if they had, it would have given me a good excuse to post this:

my favourite hard-left, anti-fas, German techno-art-guerilla, but otherwise unconnected, anthem.

Racism in Finland

You get racists in all countries, but in Finland racists still think its OK to share their racism with everyone, presuming that most others agree with them. Fortunately not all of do, and some will even stand up and complain.

HS reports that after many complaints the Finnish media watchdog has rapped the knuckles of YLE, the state broadcaster, for the comments made by a regular guest on one of their news programmes. The person concerned, Ritva Santavuori, a retired prosecutor no less (which makes you wonder about the blindness of her justice) made idiotic comments about Barack Obama's grandmother. Before she goes accusing other people of being ugly and having "residual Negroid features", she should look in the mirror. With her dyed-red hair she had residual stupid features.

And good for the folk who took the time to write or phone in complaint.

Saturday, February 02, 2008

The UK EU-budget rebate

The following was in an email that a colleague sent me last year, I rediscovered it yesterday whilst searching for something completely different:

At a seminar arranged by the Finnish Ministry of Finance in Helsinki in November the calculations showed that Finland, now a net contributor, paid last year 152 million euros to cover the British rebate (last year over 6 billion euros), obtained by Margaret Thatcher in 1984 at the Fontainebleau Summit.

Maybe the British Eurosceptics should stop whining a bit before the Finns not unreasonably ask for their money back?