Thursday, October 30, 2008

Looking on the brightside...

I can't take credit for this, rather that should go to Prof. Gary Sick of Columbia University, but as he said in a panel discussion I attended today - wouldn't it be funny if a result of the current financial crisis was a President Obama in the United States and no longer a President Ahmadinejad in Iran?


Bon soir mes amis – I’m in Paris just in case you couldn’t guess, and it also seems that someone is trying to remind somebody else that France is in the EU.

It’s a few years since I last visited, but my opinion hasn’t changed – its rather like London isn’t it? This might sound sacrilegious for both Londoners and Parisians but it's true.

Lots of trees, tourists and illegal immigrants flogging tourist tat to them, roads going in random directions, parks, crazy traffic, cops everywhere, a big river through the middle etc. Obviously they aren’t identical, but they ‘feel’ very similar. I've even got a hotel room a bit like the ones they always have in Hollywood movies - where you can always see the Eiffel Tower, although I have to look sharply upwards to do so.


I'm in a hotel room watching CNN. God, it's awful. Really guys, I can concentrate on something for more than 45 seconds with out music and swishy graphics - honest.

But then again Wolf Blitzter (made up name I'm sure) has just said that Palin is talking about what she is going to do when she loses, so I suppose that's good.

Sunday, October 26, 2008

Soggy democracy

(Photo from YLE) I voted in the local elections today although the horrible weather made going outside a bit of a chore. In the Finnish electoral system, if I understand it correctly, you vote for a single candidate from party lists and the number of votes he or she gets then orders him or her on the party list. Then seats are distributed to parties on a proportional representation system on all votes cast. Hence if the SDP wins 20 seats, the SDP candidates with 20 highest personal votes get those seats. At least I think that is how it works. So unlike the UK you have to choose not only what party you want to vote for, but who within that party's group of candidates you like best.

This is quite tricky as there must have been at least 25 people standing for the party I wanted to vote for, and I didn't know anything about any of them. Had I been in Helsinki I could have voted for a colleague or two different friends who were all standing for the party I want to support, but in Vantaa I didn't have any easy opt-outs. I picked a few possible and googled - the third hit for one of my possibles was a Nazi hate site for another Finnish politician but that mentioned my possible candidate as a nigger-bitch and similar. My Finnish isn't great, but there seems to be an international standard to these types of morally retarded hate sites regardless of language: lots of capital letters, different font sizes, huge rambling texts, flashing graphics - really a crime against web-design regardless of the politics. This site said things along the lines of all Muslims being terrorists, black men wanted to rape you, feminists were feminazis (and "lesbos" for good measure) and went on in lots of details about the crimes of various "niggers" in Finland which I couldn't fully follow.

Anyway, I didn't need to research anymore who was getting my vote, and I hope the douchbag's pitiful drivel gave others the same idea.

Thursday, October 23, 2008

Things I didn't know before today #1

There are more Christians in India (2.3% of the population) than Sikhs (1.9%).

This fact was delivered by an Indian Colonel with a moustache as resplendent as only an Indian officer could get away with and therefore I really feel I don't need to check it on Wikipedia. I had always thought that Sikhs were a much bigger part of the Indian population, but this might have been skewed by the fact all the Indians I knew growing up were Sikh. If there is lesson to be learned here, it is probably that one shouldn't base a demographic analysis of the Indian subcontinent on the evidence of your dad's Brummie work mates. But perhaps you already knew that.

Anyways, this factoid is perhaps the first in an irregular series in a you-learn-something-new-every-day vein if a) I remember and b) learn something new once in while.

Wednesday, October 22, 2008

Where now for the Uighurs?

The absolutely ridiculous situation of the "Guantanamo Uighurs" is somehow darkly symbolic of the fag-end of an utterly failed Presidency. So a bunch of Chinese Uighurs get picked up in Afghanistan in 2001/2002 and dropped into the legal black hole of Guantanamo as suspected terrorists. Slowly the American judicial branch claws back authority from an executive drunk on powers and give habeus corpus rights to the inmates. At this point even the Bush the administration gives up on the pretense that these guys were anything other than innocent bystanders swept up in the invasion and agree that they have to be released. But they won't release them in the U.S. because that would just make them look silly, yet international conventions that the U.S. is party to won't allow them to hnad them back to China because of a reasonable fear that the Chinese authorities will... wait for it... torture them. So the Uighurs continue to rot in Guantanamo whilst the U.S. desperately tries and bribe some poor country to take them as refugees. Meanwhile Chinese diplomats chase around the world threatening and/or bribing any country that might consider it.

So the Bush administration, that has attempted to make torture part of U.S. law, won't release innocent men to China because they fear that they might be tortured. Roll on November 4. It's hard to imagine that even McCain/Palin could make any less sense than this lot.

Tuesday, October 21, 2008

Listing good intentions

I enjoy blogging and I'm constantly amazed and grateful that people visit and read, but sometimes I'm just knackered and don't have chance to write. So things I've wanted to blog about in the last few days but haven't had time:
  • The Wire - we've just started watching season 5. It's just so good.
  • Finnish Trains - no Mussolini needed here.
  • How the Finnish media can't get its head around immigrants and foreigners not necessarily being the same thing in covering the upcoming local elections.
  • Finnish attitudes to Black Finns. Not good at all.
  • Voter caging in the U.S. election - a case of if you make a big enough fuss about a non-existent scandal people might not see the real scandal.
  • Bike lights.
  • The effect of the financial crisis on firms that related to mountaineering.
I have something to say on all of these, and no time to say it. My apologies dear readers. Another time.

Thursday, October 16, 2008

Joe the Plumber

After watching some of the clips of the the Presidential debate last night, I'm really disappointed to find out that the now world famous "Joe the Plumber" isn't an American version of Bob the Builder but is actually a real chap. You can see Barak and Joe discussing tax policy for small businesses right here:

Bob the Builder lives in Sunflower Valley where the grass is green, the birds cheep in the trees and super-fun playgrounds are made from recycled material. Like the worlds of many kids' TV programmes, there is something immensely calming about this, and as McCain and Obama kept talking about Joe the Plumber I had this lovely feeling that they shared an ideal of an American sunflower valley as their joint vision of a better future. But alas, Joe is in Ohio and not Sunflower Valley and the more mundane realities taxation and healthcare plans have to take centre stage. Nevertheless, Joe the real plumber does turn out to have the wonderful surname of "Wurzelbacher" and some how just saying that out-loud cheers me up.

Wednesday, October 15, 2008

Is Hitchen 'coming home'?

Christopher Hitchens is a great annoyance to many lefties, having once been a lefty and then turning into a sort of righty, although an iconoclastic. But as the presidential election comes ever closer everyone who is everyone is taking a stand on who to vote for and Hitchens is definitely not voting for the McCain/Palin ticket. He writes in Slate of Palin:
"[H]er conduct since...[his earlier limited defence of her] has been a national disgrace. It turns out that none of her early claims to political courage was founded in fact, and it further turns out that some of the untested rumors about her—her vindictiveness in local quarrels, her bizarre religious and political affiliations—were very well-founded, indeed. Moreover, given the nasty and lowly task of stirring up the whack-job fringe of the party's right wing and of recycling patent falsehoods about Obama's position on Afghanistan, she has drawn upon the only talent that she apparently possesses."
Hitchens has come to prominence in recent years for his ardent rejection of what he calls Islamofascism, and for his support of the war in Iraq as part of that struggle. Hence the annoyance on the part of his former 60's comrades. But on this particular issue he says:
"I used to call myself a single-issue voter on the essential question of defending civilization against its terrorist enemies and their totalitarian protectors, and on that "issue" I hope I can continue to expose and oppose any ambiguity. Obama is greatly overrated in my opinion, but the Obama-Biden ticket is not a capitulationist one, even if it does accept the support of the surrender faction, and it does show some signs of being able and willing to profit from experience. With McCain, the "experience" is subject to sharply diminishing returns, as is the rest of him, and with Palin the very word itself is a sick joke."
Thanks to Quizbo for forwarding the link via Facebook.

Monday, October 13, 2008

The cracks of Kustavi county

Depending on where you climb at a weekend, your hands hurt in different ways when doing the washing up on Monday. Bouldering or sport climbing tends to mean that you loose some layers of skin from your fingertips and hence submersing them in hot water hurts. But today it's my knuckles, wrists and backs of hands that hurt when doing the dishes. Scrapes, scratches and skin missing here means crack climbing, and Kustavi, an island at Finland's southwestern corner is all about the cracks.

Kustavi sunset

English Tony and I left Helsinki in pouring rain with fingers crossed that the forecast for improvement was right. It was still drizzling when we arrived, but the skies were beginning to break up a little. Expert local beta (thanks Teppo!) suggested if anywhere would be drying, Riskeläisvuori - a beautiful crag that in parts comes straight out of the sea, would be.

Tony climbs Kesäretki 3+ (VD)

The first attempt wasn't encouraging with me slithering out of a supposedly easy crack a few time before giving up on that route, but British climbers' enthusiasm has to be sturdy in the face of damp, slippy rock or we'd never get anything done, and we managed to thug our way up a couple of easier, if rather slippy in the conditions, routes.

The sky continued to clear so after some food at a local eatery, which was a fine example of why Finnish cuisine is so not internationally famous, we looked for somewhere to doss for the night.

Camping in the forest

We headed to another cliff, Kräkiniemi, and arranged our accommodation for the night before strolling to the top of the cliff and enjoying the moon lit view out across the hushed countryside. A night out in the woods is a relaxing experience as there is really absolutely nothing to do beside chatting with your mates and arsing about until you feel like going to bed. After a few beers we found immense amusement in messing around with cameras and headtorches and trying to write our names in light.

Not too bad eh? A few litres of dark Czech beer, a headtorch or two, some moderately expensive camera equipment and a dark night out in a soggy forest - and you too could achieve similar works of art - although you should try writing your own name, not mine...

Your correspondent enjoying that crusty bivy feeling

The night was clear and starry and very mellow, and Sunday dawned blue and sunny.

Kräkiniemi in the morning sun

Tony on Kuutamo 4+ (HS)

Kräkiniemi was very wet, but the very end climb was in the sun and dry enough for me to scuttle up before the sun swung round further leaving the crag in shadow. We stopped off at Kuulivuori which is an impressive crag but after both getting completely spanked on a supposed 5 (HVS), one of the easiest routes on the cliff, ran away with our tails between our legs.

Next up: Hopiavuori which was hiding behind an amazing a technicolour display of autum foliage. I love Hopiavuori - even more so now as I onsighted a supposed 6- (E1), an absolutely perfect hand crack which was just a joy to climb and if you can hand jam probably only British VS or Finnish 5-. It is rare that I do any climbs that feels easy for the grade! Thus is the curse of punterdom.

Tony gets three-dimensional whilst heading towards autumn on Aallon Helmi 5 (HVS)

About to head into the crack of Piippurassi

About to escape from Piippurassi 4 (VD)

We finished the day with an almost caving expedition in the bowels of the cliff, a "climb" called Piippurassi that follows an excellent squeeze chimney - something that Finnish climbing doesn't have enough of!

All that was left was the long drive home chasing an almost full-moon eastwards.

Sunday, October 12, 2008

I'm back...

...just in case anyone wondered, I was in England last week getting fat, then Kustavi (SW Finland) this weekend (see pic above) getting mashed by granite cracks and stung by annoyed wildlife. All good fun, but need to sleep now!

Sunday, October 05, 2008

A long, long time ago in a galaxy...

...far, far away this dude flew a space ship:

But I don't know what his name is. The next generation of my family has discovered my old Star Wars figures, and this is the only one that I couldn't still name. I thought a quick google would reveal all, but of course all it reveals is how immensely geeky Star Wars fans are - in the nicest way. Not only are there lengthy Wikipedia entries to everyone who appeared in the films for more than about two seconds, there is a dedicated, massive and immensely in-depth wiki just for the "Star Wars Universe", delightfully called Wookieepedia. But I couldn't see any name I recognised from long list of rebel pilots - who I think this guy was. I think - to show my own geekyness - that he was an X-wing pilot in the same squadron as Luke Skywalker, but he might have been in a Y or even a B-wing pilot.

Anyway, if anyone reading remembers his name - please leave a comment. I will be very grateful and some small boys will be impressed.


Today I've mainly been eating cake. And its English cake, not Finnish cake. More icing and chocolate, less cream and fruit.

This can't be good.

Wednesday, October 01, 2008

"Oi mate! Wanna buy an AK47?"

From Helsingin Sanomat: "The state as arms-dealer"

I'm no gun-nut, but that's an AK in the picture isn't it? And the gesticulating policeman isn't telling you how many rounds it could fire a minute, or how many layers of police body armour it could pierce. Nope, he being an auctioneer-for-the-day and selling it. That's one of the many job skills it appears that a Finnish police officer might need - to be the auctioneer when selling back to the public seized, previously illegally held weapons. Hesari quotes Jouni Laiho from the Ministry of the Interior’s lotteries and firearms section*:
“Yes, it sounds strange, and it doesn’t look very good..."
You don't say Mr Laiho.
"...but what is the alternative? Who is going to sell them?”
Here's a totally radical solution: don't fucking sell them.

There was an auction planned for today, first the government announced that as a result of the Kauhajoki tragedy they wouldn't auction off hand guns at the event (but presumably assault rifles are just fine?) . This "concession" was clearly met with a nationwide, collective "FFS?!" and after brief rethink the whole auction was canceled. But just the whole farce makes you shake your head at how the Ministry of Interior could end up in such a monumentally stupid position. I've met many fine, dedicated and smart people working in the civil service, but this sort of thing make you want to cry and the idiocy bureaucracies can sometimes produce.

Meanwhile different parts of the government and other public figures piss about suggesting how they could fiddle with the current Finnish gun laws, but how it probably wouldn't help much. The suggested shifting of responsibility for granting gun licenses from the cops to the medical profession is being strongly and sensibly resisted by the doctors, but shows that debate is totally missing the point: either just ban the public ownership of handguns and be done with it (as many seem to want), or carry on as before and accept the chance that once every few years some nutter is going to butcher a handful of his or her fellow citizens. Those who want to keep their hand guns should just man-up and say that's a risk they're willing to take with theirs and others' lives.

And for our Minister of Interior, who thinks guns don't kill people, people kill people, she should remember Eddie Izzard's wise words - "...but they help".

I had fun looking up that last link and because it's all so horrible otherwise, here's more Eddie on the dangers of monkeys with guns:

*This section is probably like the U.S. Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms (ATF): considerably less fun to work for than it might sound.