Monday, March 31, 2008

On yer bike

I finally got my bike fixed up this last weekend, so after nearly three months of very little cycling, today I decided it was time to get back on the path to cardio-vascular fitness and a slimmer waistline. It was actually quite pleasant as today was very spring-like, frosty in the shade still but you could feel warmth when in the sun. Riding on non-studded tyres felt smooth and fast. The video above is from my phone riding along the water front of the Kruunuhaka district of downtown Helsinki. The most obvious big building visible is the Orthodox Cathedral.

Sunday, March 30, 2008

Spring has sprung

Getting home from Norway last Monday it was still cold and snowy in Helsinki. Tony and I even went out on Thursday night to check andicefall I had seen earlier in the winter but it hadn't reformed. Tony headed home, I swung past the airport icefalls and bouldered around a bit at the bottom, not getting up enough bottle to actually solo something. But Friday was well above freezing and the sun shone strongly all day so I decided rock climbing was the thing for the weekend. Saturday morning, I resorted all my rack from winter into summer mode. Ice screws, bulldogs, pitons, screamers and other associated winter paraphernalia were boxed up for the summer and all the rock gear retrieved from the shed and re-racked for the warmer months ahead. With a cup of coffee at hand, sunlight streaming through the window and listening to the Slate Political Gabfest as I did it, I really can't think of more relaxing way to pass half an hour. It's sad I know, but I'm easily satisfied.

Ready for summer (for climbers noticing the abnormally large numbers of quickdraws, please see here)

In the afternoon we headed to Kvarnby, always a quick drying crag. I felt weak and climbed like a donkey, but the deep white snow, bright blue skies, and warm sunlight made up for it.

Simon races up another route

Your correspondent not making much headway on the horribly crimpy Isidor, 6a+

Deep snow on the ground but warm dry rock

Your correspondent losing the battle with gravity off Isidor (6a+) yet again

I never did finish Isidor - oh well, it's a redpoint target for future weeks - but in the sunshine and quiet forest it didn't seem that important. I just need to regrow the skin on my finger tips before trying again! Thanks to Tony for snapping the pictures of me.

Friday, March 28, 2008

Thought for the day

I just heard this:
"Privatise the gains, socialise the losses"
Think the Fed and Bear Stearns.

And to think - I used to go clubbing on Friday nights. Now I contemplate moral hazard. Ho hum.

Dark thoughts in the Night Garden

Do you have little kids? Do you think "In the Night Garden" is weird to a slightly disturbing extent? Do you go whole days not being able to get that bloody "Yes my name is Igglepiggle...." song out of your head? If so, then this is for you.

Marketing man's dream

I got to the bus stop this morning and with something between horror and amusement realised that my woolly hat, my jacket and my sunglasses were all made by The North Face. I could try explain that they were all bought at different times over the last decade, and all were on big sales, but really there is no excuse.

30 something, bloke, university educated, some disposable income, does some unadventurous "adventure sports" mainly in an effort to avoid the utter mundane reality of my day-to-day existence and wears the coat during the week in an effort to signal his "outdoorsyness" to other outdoorsy types - preferably attractive female ones. God, I am a walking cliché.

Tuesday, March 25, 2008

Violence in private

Finland is a violent place, except it doesn't seem to be. In fact, it seems to be a very safe place - which over all doesn't seem to make much sense, at least to outsiders. YLE reports on a "Violent Easter Weekend in Helsinki" which kind of sums it up. These two section in particular say much about the nature of violent Finnish crime:
"Several violent crimes were reported in Helsinki during the Easter weekend. One man was killed and two other victims were injured in violent confrontations in private homes in the Finnish capital."
and of course:
"Police say that alcohol was involved in all of the incidents."

Monday, March 24, 2008

Home from Norway...

...and completely shagged after 20-odd hours in the car to do the 1300 kilometers back. But this sort of thing:
along with the sea eagles, whales in the fjords, northern lights and moose at the bottom of your icefall makes the drive worth it. Normal - not very regular - service will be resumed once I've got some sleep.

Sunday, March 16, 2008

"Wicked Jihad?"

I by accident found this interesting piece called "Wicked Jihad?" (or direct to the PDF) by Jamie Bartlett on the DEMOS website. I left a longish comment and, being a lazy git, I'll recycle the comment below rather than trying to think too much for one evening...
It's great to see this argument, as it should be one of those "well, Duh!" moments when someone states the incredibly obvious, yet still it isn't. Counter-terrorism commentators, researchers and students get all mixed up in, say, the relative importance to Qutbist Egyptian political Islamism versus Saudi-based Wahhabi fundamentalism (I know, I've been there), and totally miss the hip-hop.

In 1991(?) when Ice T released Cop Killer, there was discussion about gansta rap being a threat to national security, and with the LA riots of 1992 it didn't seem too much of leap. Partly as a result - rap, particularly it's not very "conscious" West Coast form, went global as the guaranteed-to-scare-your-mum teenage rebellion of choice. Compare it to UK indie of the same era - that might have vaguely embarrassed your mum but no more. It would seem obvious that "jihadi-chic" is now going to have the same sub-cultural pull on young men in Western Europe now. But the danger is always there that if the aesthetic is the attraction, some with darker intentions will exploit the young and stupid, just like some of those who listened to Snoop Dog and Ice Cube even in the suburbs really decided to live the gansta-life and stick a gun in the back of their baggy jeans and sell drugs.

Trying to react appropriately to genuine security threats whilst not over-reacting to youthful posturing (and by doing so actually beginning to really marginalize and perhaps radicalize) is the policy puzzle to solve.

Thursday, March 13, 2008

My Neighbourhood

The view from my old office - the lake in the middle of Helsinki and its surrounding park - was so much better that the view from my new office - a brick wall. Nevertheless it's not a bad neighbourhood - I snapped these pics on my phone whilst walking to the Ministry of Defence, ten minutes away, on Monday.

Rescue me

My office is somewhere over there

A ship that is also a café

Sweden, this way

Tuesday, March 11, 2008

Trans-atlantic tabloidism

The unfortunate parallels between these two gentlemen just keep coming, now it is matching slightly pained facial expressions. Mr. Spitzer via and Mr. Kanerva from Helsingin Sanomat. Read all about it via the links.

Monday, March 10, 2008

Powerful men and their pants.

...And we ain't talking about superman putting them over his tights!

The headlines reads "Who is telling the truth?", and we now know the answer, she is and he admits it.

So here was I thinking that Finland was developing it's own juicy little sex scandal - well, not really sex scandal at all, more like a shed-load-of-texts-from-the-foreign-minister-to-an-exotic-dancer scandal and then the Americans have to come along and do it bigger and better once again! A $5000 dollar an hour prostitute?! A young man could get quite over excited thinking about what could possibly cost that much!

Tuesday, March 04, 2008

EUFOR Chad: this isn't going to end well

I happened to be interviewing a Finnish Ministry of Defence official this morning on a totally unconnected issue, but he mentioned in passing that the just deployed EU mission to Chad, which includes Finnish troops, requires a particularly highly trained level of soldier due to the political and cultural complexity of the situation and the very harsh operating climate. After today's terrible events it might be a start if their training covered map reading. An EUFOR jeep strayed into Sudan, got shot at, one of the two soldiers in the vehicle is now missing and a rescue/recovery party was also fired on and seem to have returned fire killing one or two Sudanese.

The speed at which the EU managed to get together the mission is best described as glacial, what they actually want to achieve in a politically contorted environment is vague at best, and as an under-secretary for UN peace-keeping said at a seminar I went to last week - the EU powers are already talking cynically about the UN being their "exit strategy" from any Chadian quagmire. The same guy said that looking from the outside, the EU seems to use up so much political energy coming to a decision internally that it has little left for dynamism internationally. You get the feeling the EU isn't taking this very seriously.

Monday, March 03, 2008

Thinking about the surge

I've spent the last three days in bed feeling lousy with the flu - hence no blogging. But that, plus indirect flights to Brussels and back last week, has let me do a load of reading. The books that I have got through out of my big "to read" pile, I'll try and review here at some point, but I also read this Rolling Stone article: "The Myth of Surge", by the ever excellent Nir Rosen.

For anyone interested in Iraq it is important if depressing reading, and essentially demonstrates what is happening now is what cautious analysts were warning last summer.