Saturday, May 31, 2008

Finnish Summer

Living on the edge of the city means a bloody long commute, but it has its benefits.

First swimming of the year, cool but not too cold.

Friday, May 30, 2008

Saving the world from scarves and donuts

I feel that blogs that want to be part of political debate aren't really so different from any other type of media these days - just like newspapers, some are read by virtually no one and aren't important at all whilst others are read by millions and can have an influence. Michelle Malkin is a mega star for the American right, what she writes gets results - just look at this BBC story on how she got Dunkin Donuts to pull an ad because the celebrity chef in the advert is wearing a keffiyeh, that Malkin sees as "the traditional scarf of Arab men that has come to symbolize murderous Palestinian jihad" and that is a "regular adornment of Muslim terrorists appearing in beheading and hostage-taking videos". AK47s are a regular adornment of terrorists in beheading videos as well, but oddly she isn't campaigning against weapons sales - I guess even terrorists have the right to bear arms for Michelle, just not to wear scarves. So the guns keep flowing, but the donut buying public or America are saved from the possibility of being instantly turned into terrorists by the sartorial choices of a minor celeb. Well done. Good job. You must be very, very proud.

Malkin probably doesn't know that in the UK keffiyehs were always as, if not more, popular with the military as they were with lefty students. So they were originally worn by men who had fought terrorists from Aden to South Armagh. Fashion is a fickle thing but, I guess, a cheap point will always be a cheap point.

Dangerous, terrorist-appeasing, radical, lefties hang out in North African desert circa 1944. No one appears to be eating donuts.

Tuesday, May 27, 2008

Learning to fly

...with limited success so far.

I should have known that the week wasn't going to go smoothly when I popped out for a bit of climbing on Sunday evening and promptly fell off a route I should have been able to do. Not too much beyond my pride was damaged because the gear kept me off the deck, although I have an interesting lattice of scabs on the inside of my arm which obviously scraped down the rock as I went. Then today when cycling to work I was turning into an tunnel-underpass only to meet a cyclist coming out of the tunnel on the wrong side of the cycle path. She tried to turn to get to the right side of path but only turned into my path. I hit the brakes as hard as I could, but as I was doing about 30-40 kpmh I couldn't keep my back wheel down and the next thing I knew I was in flight once again. Unlike Sunday, this time I was flying forward instead of downward and indeed managed to do a 360 in the air as I landed on my hip, thigh and shin - all of which have now a little bit less skin than they used to. The main thing I was thinking whilst sitting on the floor was how it was amazing that my neither my neck nor head had made any contact at all with the ground - so I told the now apologetic lady on the other bike that I was fine, got back on my bike and pedaled, slightly sorely, off to work. Only when I got to work did I find that my lovely iPod was smashed, and I had managed to land on my keys that had been in my thigh pocket, and that the funny round key that goes into the barrel of my bike lock, is no longer round - more egg shaped - and no longer fits in the lock. If it hadn't been for smashing the iPod I would have been proud to have flown that far and not got really hurt, but instead it was a shit start to shit day, spent dealing with shit at work not caused by me or my colleagues, whilst my leg and hip ached from the crash. So over all, a bit shit.

Monday, May 26, 2008

Stuff you find when looking for other stuff

I just found my spare camera battery that I had lost. Unfortunately I was looking for my still un-found mini bike pump at the time. You win some, you loose some. On a related note I was going to write about a BBC World documentary I just listened to about the kidnap of Norman Kember in the Iraq. I won't now as I really need to go to bed, but the story not told reminded me of that quote you see kicked around the internet - often on blogs and sites supporting the U.S. military:
"People sleep peaceably in their beds at night only because rough men stand ready to do violence on their behalf."
It is always attributed to George Orwell, but when I first came across maybe five years ago and did a bit research on the quote, I couldn't find an accurate citation of where it came from and when he said it. I even heard Garrison Keillor attribute it to Orwell on Prairie Home Companion the other week, so when it came to mind tonight I thought I must now, some years later, be able to find a citation for it - but now Wikiquote and an Orwell site, both suggest it is apocryphal. The George Orwell FAQ site says this:

Rough Men

Did George Orwell ever say: "People sleep peaceably in their beds at night only because rough men stand ready to do violence on their behalf?" Or: "We sleep safely at night because rough men stand ready to visit violence on those who would harm us?"

Not exactly. But he did make comments that were along similar lines. In his essay on Rudyard Kipling (1942), Orwell wrote: "[Kipling] sees clearly that men can only be highly civilized while other men, inevitably less civilised, are there to guard and feed them." (Thanks to Keith Ammann for this). And in his 'Notes on Nationalism' (1945) he wrote: "Those who "abjure" violence can only do so because others are committing violence on their behalf." (Thanks to Parbety). Where the rough men crept in is anyone's guess.
So now we have that cleared up, I'll have to get back to Norman Kember, Anas al-Tikriti and the missing "rough men" of the SAS another night. And if you see a mini-bike pump lying around give me a yell...

Friday, May 23, 2008

Terrorism - it ain't what it used to be

The British police come in for plenty of criticism; they're either arresting every Asian guy on the street under the prevention of terrorism act, or they are conniving with the Islamists to sell out 'our' 'Judeo-Christian' culture to the barbarian hordes. Probably both, and all before tea - how's that for hard work? But three terrorism related stories in the news today make you wonder if they aren't actually, in conjunction with the Security Service, doing not a bad job at all.

Only one of these stories is really a case of where the police stopped something - the arrest in Bristol last month - but the general amateur hour-ness of all them suggest the ineffectiveness of those willing to use violence in Jihadi cause as a result of counter-terrorism policing. First of all, the scary news from Exeter of the attempted bombing: the idea of using someone mentally retarded to do your dirty work is an old one used by scum of all types - criminally or politically motivated - but even still the fact the bomber survived one bomb going off in his hands, and that two other devices seem to have failed to explode suggests a lack of technical skill. The police seem to have already known about the people who put the would-be bomber up to it as well. Then secondly there is the story of the guy who wanted to blow up the Bluewater shopping centre (and it should be noted that if it wasn't for the potential of bloody loss of life, a plan that isn't wholly without merit), only that a) he didn't even know which county it is in and b) he revealed his dastardly plans to his... wait for it... prison officer. Perhaps not really a terrorist mastermind then. The third story is the remanding in custody until trial of Andrew Ibrahim, who was arrested last month for attempting to manufacture a suicide bomb vest. The 'informed speculation' is that Ibrahim was a self-starter, unconnected to wider terrorist networks - just the type of character that people like Marc Sageman have been predicting. These types are generally reckoned to be less of a danger as they have lower technical skills, but harder catch as they are not linked to other extremists. So if the Ibrahim prosecution next year is successful, that will be a good catch from the Bristol police.

Considering that the last 'serious' attack in the UK was the Glasgow airport attack where one of the "terrorists" ended up getting floored by a passing baggage handler, things don't seem to be going too badly for the UK counter-terrorism operations. Of course there is always the risk of a more serious and organised group, like the 7/7 bombers, who have been totally missed - but with the number of court cases underway, or that have ended in guilty verdicts in the last year, even this doesn't look as threatening as in 2005. The more nutty end of the Jihadi spectrum are always the ones likely to get through, but thankfully are also likely to be the ones that don't do too much damage. It's another argument for gun control as well: if the UK had easily available firearms, any of these nutters could perpetrate a mass killing as we've seen numerous times in the US over the last year in non-terrorism related instances. Instead they have to keep on trying to make their own bombs - fortunately with limited success.

Helsingin Sanomat English edition: is it going downhill?

I love the HS English webpages: reliably, five days a week they keep those in Finland who don't speak Finnish, or don't speak much Finnish, informed and up to date on what is happening around them. It is a vital service, given for free, that really helps you feel more at home.

But I'm sure the quality of the editing, or translation at least, is going down. You spot more and more errors which are probably simply typos that get missed. Yet take today's article on the vandalism against the City Bikes, what exactly does this mean?
The bike has first been ridden from Central Helsinki all the way out to the eastern suburb of Vuosaari, and then it has been hurled into the water to collect seaweed. Bloody hell, perfectly good bicycle! The water is cold and the wind is about to rip off even one's underwear, but soon there is one less derelict bike in the Baltic Sea. Stop the madness, people! Even a journalist is just a person, and he, too, gets wet pulling off stunts like this.
I think it means the journalist got wet going into the water to recover the bike, but I'm not really sure. Is the stunt throwing a bike into the sea? Recovering a bike from the sea? Or having your y-fronts removed by a freak gust? And I don't think even Word grammar check would let you get away with "Bloody hell, perfectly good bicycle!" as a sentence. It is even one article short of an angry statement of fact.

So is it just me or has anyone else noticed this?

You are meant to be my editors!

I take it every one was so excited over the tutu discussion, that nobody told me that I had got the wrong link to the Stupidest Man on Earth blog. The correct link is here:

The Stupidest Man on Earth

...and now also in the original post.

Tuesday, May 20, 2008

More good blogs to visit

Bored of the same old blogs? A couple of suggestions for those interested in news and thoughts on the more depressing parts of the world. Firstly, The Stupidest Man on Earth - subtitle "on war and stuff". It's written by Jari, a very well travelled Finnish journalist, a real old school hack (and I mean that in the nice sense); he probably even has one of those khaki vest with about a hundred little pockets on them used by genuine foreign correspondents for some secret purpose not revealed to the general public.

Next is the [My]State Failure Blog, I found this by following a link from The Stupidest Man on earth, only to realise that I met the guy who writes it, Péter, at the conference I was at in Stockholm last week. Small world eh? Péter was, unsurprisingly, giving a paper on state failure. It is more theoretical than Jari's blog, so will appeal to the IR and political science types out there, but still written in an approachable way if you are in to that sort of thing.

But I'm sure you're not bored with this blog of course... and just to tease you, I'm debating whether to include in the weekly climbing post a picture from last weekend of a man doing a climb whilst wearing a pink tutu, fishnet stockings and fairy wings on his helmet. But I'm sure the serious-minded readers of this blog wouldn't be interested in something so silly?

Friday, May 16, 2008

Airport bookshops

Left or right, that choice - but no other choice - is yours

I have a tendency to buy books at airports. I hate getting stressed worrying about missing my flight so always end up at airports and hour or two earlier than I really need to be, just to be on the safe side. To kill time I’m as happy browsing the bookshops as anything else and invariably end up buying something from the non-fiction section. At airports where English is not the native language, they still often have a selection of books in English, but obviously a smaller selection that tends to focus on bestsellers. This leads to some very odd juxtaposition in the non-fiction section as you invariably seem to get the latest management guru book next to a Noam Chomsky tome. Why is this? Do the people who read the management handbooks also read Chomsky? It seems unlikely, but then if it is not the case this leads to the worrying conclusion that at least amongst my fellow book-buying travelers there are two tribes: the rapacious capitalists and the Chomskian far-left West-bashers. I'm not sure who it would be worse be squashed next to for a three hour flight.

Wednesday, May 14, 2008


I'm in Stockholm. The photo above I took last summer whilst waiting for the ferry back to Finland but is the only relevant one I could get to. This time I flew and the weather isn't quite so good but it's still pretty nice, I went for a stroll from hotel this evening in the sunshine. Stockholm is great, it just reeks of civility and Swedish good order. But it also almost painfully cool. Everyone seems to be cool. I don't know where the uncool people are: perhaps they are made to live outside the city limits or something. Or maybe being uncool is illegal anywhere in Sweden? I don't put any effort into being uncool, there is no honour in geekdom. But then again I don't put as much effort into being cool as I used to. I should, for example, have brought my white Converse trainers that I like to think just hint subtly at Parisian hip-hop, but instead went for comfort and have North Face approach shoes, which dangerously suggest midwestern tourist. Hopefully I won't get arrested for this fashion faux-pas, although I seem to be developing a traditional Finnish inferiority complex to the Swedes and will worry that the cool kids are looking down on my shoes.

Tomorrow will be spent discussing the collapse of internal/external dichotomy in security theory. I trust this will be more fun than it sounds.

Tuesday, May 13, 2008

Climbing at Luhti

Old footbridge

In 1945 Finland was an overwhelmingly agrarian country, something like 75% of people lived and worked in the countryside. Now that figure has flipped with a large majority being urban. It was also a very poor country meaning that the houses people lived in on the land were both small and poor quality. This has led to a strange phenomenon of abandoned houses, buildings, and gardens all across the Finnish countryside - just left to slowly rot away back to nature. As you walk up to the crag at Luhti you go past such an abandoned building - who knows why it was built and when its owners' stopped going there, but now probably very few but the climbers know it is even there.

This can be a little spooky on a dark autumn afternoon, but the spring weather on Sunday morning was so glorious, that you could only see the riot of nature: flowers, bright greens, birdsong, and could ignore the sadness of the decaying rural culture.

Luhti is an odd crag in many ways - most Finnish crags face south, an accident of post-glacial geography, Luhti faces north hence only sees the sun in the morning. Virtually all Finnish crags are granite, Luhti isn't - none of us are geologists but we think it gneiss, leading to huge sharp edged holds uncommon with granite. It is steep meaning you need those good sized holds!

Jody starts up Mineral-P, F6a+

Mineral-P is the easiest of the sports routes which means it tends to get used as the "warm up". But it actually isn't easy, and the bolts are spaced with the cruxes seeming to come between them not by them. Every time I do it I scare myself silly and decide to spend the rest of the day climbing trad routes where I can stuff another nut in above my head when ever I get scared.

The exposed crux of Mineral-P

All in all, Luhti on a warm spring day has to be perhaps the best climbing experience in the capital region. The new Finnish guide book is coming out soon, and the crag will be in there along with lots of new routes, it's not just a place for hard sport climbers either with some fine trad climbs in the 5- to 6 range as good as any others in the country.

From the 2005 archive: My first attempt on Keema, 6 (E1 5b/c?) at Luhti. Possibly the best trad line in the south of Finland.

I fell off just above that point, but have since been back with bigger cams and led it ground up, even if I blew the onsight on the day pictured. Another top tip is don't wear shorts if you want to use the knee-scum rest!

Saturday, May 10, 2008

Crap TV

Finland went digital at the start of the year, which means now at 11.45 pm on a Saturday I get to watch:

World's Most Shocking Videos:
Dangerous Drivers 4

Some guy with a stupid movie-trailer voice talking crap over cctv footage of cars crashing. And this is what we call Western Civilisation.

Thursday, May 08, 2008

Finland and NATO: episode 423

(photo: Minister of Defence Häkämies, via HS) So, it goes like this: the head of the opposition say Finland won't join NATO ever, ever, ever - OK, so not quite never, but at least not in this or the next parliamentary term. So the defence minister does something quite new for a serving Finnish minister and says Finland should join NATO and, just for good measure, so should Sweden. The leader of one of the parties who is in coalition government with the defence minister's party says he was talking crap, but, despite agreeing with the leader of opposition's position, she puts the boot in there as well saying he was being "populist" by publicly stating the position that she also holds. The chair of the defence committee, who is from a party in the governing coalition, but not the same one as either the defence minister or the other party leader mentioned above, says "nothing's changing, we liked things perfectly well as they were in the 70s, will you just go away and leave us alone please". Now the President, who may or may not be in charge of these types of things, says "nothing to see here folks! No electoral advantage for me in wading into this mess. Move along now!" Still following?

Now, just to show how in Finland how the NATO debate get tacked on in utterly weird and irrational ways to completely different issues - have a look at this story. In short: loony, Soviet-nostalgist, Finnish "journalist", upsets the Estonian neighbours by saying they were much better off when they occupied by a totalitarian state. Go figure. But look at the quote from this "journalist" they finish with:
“From the Finnish point of view, the key question is whether Finland is a member of NATO at the time when the Estonian bloodbaths begin”, Hietanen notes.
WTF has NATO got to do with it? Why would it matter if Finland is or isn't a member beyond this nutter wants to get the words 'bloodbath' and 'NATO' into one sentence? I guess why just ride one hobby-horse, when you can ride two? And I'm meant to understand all this stuff for my PhD. I despair, I really do. Finland - you are officially doing my head in.

Wednesday, May 07, 2008

Modern life is rubbish

I'm desperately writing a paper on 'Political Islam in the UK' for a conference next week, so when I saw this cartoon on Private Eye it seemed particularly funny to my sleep deprived brain.

Sunday, May 04, 2008

Weekend climbing pictures

Back to Haukkakallio for this weekend's climbing. Oddly, for much of last summer the "Kultajuova" sector of the crag was wet and seeping but we have had such nice weather for the last couple of weeks that currently it is really dry, so that's where we did many of routes today. All the pics are clickable for higher resolution versions.

Somehow going climbing is just more fun in one of these.

Your correspondent on Työyhteenliittymä 5b

This man is not asleep, just resting his eyes.

A well-rested Simon cruises Surffi 6a+

Me getting stuck into Kesäalkaa 5- (VS 4c)

Warning: kicking annoying photographers in the head can still be considered a point of aid.

Jody heads towards the sun on Apulanta 6a+

Saturday, May 03, 2008

UK Local Elections

Would you buy a second-hand car (or policy) from either of these characters?

I've been trying to get interested in the results, but simply can't. I vote in the Finnish local elections these days thanks to the EU, so I no longer have a dog in this fight. There is some visceral, tribal instinct in me that gets riled when Labour takes a kicking and the Tories do well, but even that is not very riled. It has to be the standard they've-been-in-too-long-and-started-to-get-complacent type of kicking I'm sure. I don't really believe that any sane Londoner would vote for Boris-effing-Johnson unless it was an effort to punish someone else. It would be funny if it wasn't for the standard, effortless Eton-Oxford glide to power with his fellow Eton-Oxford man David Cameron at his side, which suggests that things haven't changed as much in British power structures as we might like to think. It similar to if Hilary were to win in the U.S., whether she is nice or not, or a good leader or not, will be eclipsed by the Presidency going backwards and forwards between two families making a total mockery of the idea of a meritocracy. When Eton and Oxford land you in position of great power even when you can't really string a coherent sentence together (just watch any of his speeches - his acceptance speech was a mess enough, in this one he starts by falling over and it doesn't get much better) it doesn't say much for British meritocracy.

Friday, May 02, 2008


A US air strike has killed Aden Hashi Ayro, the military head of al-Shabab - a violent Islamist militia group - in Somalia. Because the world's media could turn up in a nicely air conditioned briefing room to hear a CENTCOM spokesman say "al-Qaeda" about 75 times and, basically, because deep down we all get interested when shit gets blown up - Somalia has made it back into the headlines. It will remain there for the next few hours until shit gets blown up somewhere else in the world and until a different spokesman comes to another podium to explain why that shit got blown up.

Meanwhile Somalia will remain probably the most severe humanitarian crisis in the world; the fighting has displaced hundreds of thousands in a country already suffering massively from drought induced hunger and poverty. The fighting is predominantly between different clans. The media makes much of Islamist groups like al-Shabab that split from the wider Islamic Courts Union being "Islamist", and this is often followed with "linked to al-Qaeda" just to ram home their all round nastiness. They are very nasty, but then so are the people they are fighting so we shouldn't be selective with our disgust. The al-Qaeda link is also there, but it is also pretty irrelevant as al-Qaeda's experience in Somalia was about as messy as everyone else's. The Islamist insurgency in Somalia is predominantly focused on expelling the Ethiopian army who invaded Somalia a year ago in an effort to end the growing power of the Islamic Courts Union. Instead, the Ethiopians seem to have in the main provided convenient targets for al-Shabab, along with a nationalist cause to attract less extreme Somali fighters to the extremists' Jihad.

The importance of clan and sub-clan loyalties is also rarely discussed in reference to the Somali situation in the western media, but listen to Somalis and it is front and centre. Just as in Afghanistan the Taliban were rarely described as a specifically Pashtun phenomenon, in Somalia the fact that the Islamists tend to come from certain clan alliances is also missed. Certain clans are backing the Transitional Federal Government (which is supported by Ethiopia, the US and to some degree by the rest of the international community), other clans are not and therefore either side with the Islamists, or indeed are the Islamist militias. The anti-Ethiopian forces are also heavily supported by Eritrea, a basket-case totalitarian regime in its own right. The Eritreans have no ideological sympathy with the Islamists at all, they just like to kill Ethiopians and are happy to help others do that. Stuck in the middle of this hell, along with all the victimised, starving civilians is the African Union's amusingly titled "peacekeeping mission". This comprises of a few thousand Ugandans and Burundians and must qualify for one of the shittiest jobs anywhere: being neutral none of the sides seem to think much of them. It was presumably inter-clan intrigue that provided the U.S. with the intelligence it needed to get their guy. Of course they didn't quite just get their guy, they got all his mates and by the sounds of it some seven surrounding villagers as well. The U.S. keeps showing itself to be relatively indifferent to collateral damage in Somalia, which helps to bolster the Islamists in the eyes of some of their countrymen.

Thursday, May 01, 2008

Last weekend climbing

A few pictures from last weekend for the sake of completeness as much as anything else. In the last two days I've been hit like a hammer with hay fever. Considering I was outside in the woods last weekend on both days with out as much as a little sneeze, it's amazing how quickly it starts. One day you're out in the forest enjoying the beautiful spring weather, the next day the birch trees release their pollen and suddenly you are a miserable, bunged-up, snivelling, red-eyed, ball of snot, regularly exploding in another fit of sneezing - much to the disgust of innocent bystanders who happen to have been within the kill zone.

Jani the chef bouldering at Koivusaari.

The Baltic shines in the background. Koivusaari is probably Helsinki's coolest bouldering spot, even if I am too crap to get off the ground on many of the problems.

Ville on Keväthuuma (4+/HS 4b) at Havukallio, near Hollola

It's some years since I last climbed at Havukallio, we've been so involved in developing new crags over the last couple of summers that I haven't been back to some of the old classics. I even did an excellent 5-/VS 4c that I hadn't done before - "Taisteluplaneetta Galactica" which I'd recommend for anyone looking for a good, old fashioned struggle.

Tony on Porahakaihottuma, 6c+

"On" in the case of the pic above covers a multitude of sins and should not, in any way, be confused with more definitive terms such as "climbs" or "does". A more accurate account would be Tony gets to first bolt, tries next moves, falls off lots, lowers off. Toby has a go, also get to first bolt and also falls off lots but after much cursing and slapping ineffectually manages to get up to next bolt that he promptly grabs and rests on. Then, failing to make much further progress, gives up. Tony goes back up and armed with beta, gets past first and second bolt reaches the third where he again grinds to a halt. Some call this "projecting". "Being not very good" would be an alternative description. :-)