Wednesday, December 31, 2008

Welsh ice

I wasn't sure whether it was going to be worth the drive and the 5.30 am start but it was. Yesterday I drove up to Snowdonia and arrived in frigid but beautiful clear weather in Llanberis. There was very little snow left on the hills but water ice forming everywhere.

Llanberis Pass

Sargeant's Gully

I firstly climbed Sargeant's Gully (II) in Cyrn Las - all on new water ice. Fragile enough to make you careful but never very hard.

A couple of the steepest sections weren't sufficiently formed to climb, but could be bypassed by a few moves on rock on the side.

There was water flowing behind and next to the ice in some places but generally plenty of bosses to get good placements.

Looking across Llanberis to Glyderau from Cwm Glas.

Next I continued up into Cwm Glas and took Parsley Fern Gully up the slopes above towards the summit of Crib y Ddysgl.

Parsley Fern Gully

Parsley Fern Gully (I) again was mainly on fresh water ice, but there were a few old patches of neve at the very top.

Old crampons for old snow

Yr Wyddfa from Crib y Ddysgl

From the summit of Crib y Ddysgl I decided to miss out the hoards on the top of Snowdon and instead headed of east along the Crib Goch ridge.

Cloud blowing over Lliwedd

Crib Goch

Finally I took Crib Goch's north ridge back down into Cwm Glas and down into Llanberis, passing under the still forming mighty ice falls of Craig y Rhaeadr.

Craig y Rhaeadr

A well earnt supper in Pete's Eats.

Saturday, December 27, 2008

West Midland Light

The light isn't particularly northern today, but here are some pics taken whilst out strolling yesterday. The West Midlands is a bit more than just grimy industrial heritage, there is lots of countryside as well. If you think this looks lovely and want to visit, take a walk along the Worcestershire Way to enjoy the area.

Looking northwest over the Teme Valley towards the Shropshire Hills

Red stripe (not the lager though)

Sheep in the sunset

Southwest towards Herefordshire

Friday, December 26, 2008

Happy Christmas everybody who drops by here from time to time, for whatever reason. Apologies for it being a day late but I'm sure everyone has better things to be doing on Christmas day than idly web-surfing.

Looking across the Severn Valley

A Christmas tree

I've done a Christmas day jog video for the last two years (2006; 2007) so that's a virtual tradition in blogdom. Therefore I felt obliged to get out yesterday and make it three in a row. No one wanted to come with me, so it stars only my feet.

Christmas Day Running from Toby A. on Vimeo.

Wednesday, December 24, 2008

The Pope's funny view of the world

So the Pope is at it again, not quite spreading season's greeting - more accusing gender studies of threatening the future of mankind. You can probably accuse gender studies of all sorts of things (lacking a sense of humour at times for instance) but threatening mankind I think is something of a stretch. Only a man who has presumably lived a completely celibate life could think that hetero-sexuality needs protection from academic theory. Like American evangelicals who are so convinced that gay marriage threatens straight marriage - you have to really ask what is going on inside the mind, unless it a fear of modernity and loss of control more generally.

Benedict XVI said that the "Church speaks of the nature of the human being as man and woman, and demands that this order of creation be respected." Some have argued that this isn't an outright attack on gay people, but that will of course depend on what Benedict sees as the "order of creation". Very little of his previous high profile statements would lead one to suspect that this would be a liberal interpretation.

On a related note, Polly Tonybee notes some interesting research(towards the end) that suggests church goers are more likely to nick newspapers that non-church goers. Make of that what you will. But on that vaguely atheistic point, Happy Christmas to all.

Friday, December 19, 2008

Christmas comes early!

I've just found half a packet of sourcream and onion crisps in my desk drawer that I had put there some weeks ago and totally forgotten about. This is the source of some quite disproportionate amount of joy on an otherwise cold and dark December morning.

Thursday, December 18, 2008

Tips on how not to lose 50 billion bucks

Like everyone else in the world I've been reading all about the Madoff scandal - in fact, why is it a scandal? It's a crime I guess - the "Madoff crime": the theft of billions and billions of dollars. But looking for laughs wherever you can in an otherwise ever more grim global financial outlook, I'd like to point to this chap's name. Until today, I had only read about the crime, so I presumed that his name would be pronounced like "mad" - as in crazy - so said something like 'mad-ov'. But I'm just listening to the Dianne Rehm show on the issue from NPR - and her guests, including a couple of people who have worked with the guy, very clearly pronounce his name "made-off".

In retrospect this could be seen as something of a give away - as in he made off with about 50 billion of rich people's money and the SEC leadership was too damn stupid AGAIN to see it. So folks, if someone is trying to sell you a burglar alarm and is called "Mr. Picklock", take it as a sign and say no thanks.

Midnight. Helsinki. I’m lovin’ it

White Nikes or Adidas, but some combat boots. I bite into my burger. More Nikes, all white versions of classic late 80s Air Jordans, hi-tops and lows. That’s three pairs now, clearly this season’s must-have. Queues are forming, the crew spin between tills and the burger bins - piling macs, large fries and drinks onto trays. Taking money, slapping down change. The first combats boots, a conscript, gets his burger meal and finds a seat to sit and eat. His combat trousers are the classic year round pattern, but his parka is the new camopixelated white, grey, browns and greens – the Finnish ministry of defence’s acceptance that global warming is happening and pure white will hide you no more in the winter forests of the south. The other combat boots are the security guard’s – he’s all in black, very SWAT team. His badge says "Securitas Events". Wednesday midnight in McDonalds is an event? The kid has an easy smile, he swiftly shakes or slaps hands with numerous presumably-regulars as they come in. He’s not wearing a stab-vest like the Securitas guys on the train platforms, nor has mace or a nightstick. I once taught English to the CFO of Securitas Finland – he had started as prison guard on night-shifts when an accountancy student. He told me the guys who carries sticks are the guys who need sticks. Our guys smiles and shakes hands, he’s at ease, he doesn’t need a stick. Effortlessly hip-hop generation.

The serving crew is two white girls and one Somali guy. More black kids are flipping burger in the back. Say what you want about McDonalds food but, like the bus companies, they are most obviously not racist employers in Finland. All the crew drop seamlessly between Finnish and English without missing a beat. “Salaam Alaykum. How you doin’ mate?” says a customer to the black guy. The customer has white Nikes, too much hair gel and the “mate” is affected in a – maybe – Francophone accent. He says something to white girl in Finnish that I miss, she smiles.The security guard is chatting in Finnish to one black guy - NY Yankees cap and (guess what) white Nikes - who has finished his food but like me doesn't seem in rush to go and stand outside at the bus station. Then the guard is speaking English to a bunch of East Asians - Chinese exchange students maybe? Or perhaps tourists from the hotel above looking for food they know. The guard is in charge of the tokens for using the toilets. He doles them out to the Chinese, still friendly and smiling - magnanimous in his power over the access to the conveniences. No trouble here.

The guy opposite me is speaking, I think, Arabic at his phone. Again - lots of hair gel, swept up into the centre, David Beckham circa 1998 style. He must be in rush because he has the loudspeaker on and has placed the phone on the table so he can continue his conversation with his heard but unseen friend whilst still using both hands to manipulate his McFeast, fries and Coke. He neatly stabs two fries at a time into the little paper cup of ketchup.

There are real queues now at the three open tills. Customers stare at the menu boards, or count coins from their pockets, nod to iPod, or laugh at their friends' lame jokes. Most people seem to be speaking English in an array of different accents. No one's from here yet everyone is. Like all capitals. Behind the counter, the crew artfully weave between each other, grabbing cokes and fries and burgers - stuffing them into McDonalds bags with the obligatory too many napkins and not enough ketchup sachets. The security guy keeps a watchful eye from the door that they hungry hordes don't get too boisterous as they queue, but he still smiles, nods or shakes hands as people leave.

I slurp the last of my Sprite, finish the Economist article that I was sort of reading, and bin my trash. The security guy holds open the door for me, I thank him pull my hood up and head out into the snow.

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

Sleeping when its dark

Not a bad idea eh? But what happens when it's dark 20 hours a day? I'm permanently exhausted at the moment - I'm pretty certain that the lack of light is completely messing with my head. I'm not sad, or depressed, or melancholic - that's all perfectly fine. I just yawn all day and want to go to sleep (or not get up in the first place).

(the picture is a link to a webcam in Helsinki - I think it should self update. If it looks dark and its only 2 pm, that's not the webcam is showing last night. That is what Helsinki at 2 pm in December looks like.)

I'm off to the UK in a few days - it's a sad state of affairs when you are relying on a holiday in England in December for good weather and plenty of daylight!

Monday, December 15, 2008

Thought for the day

A wise man, who is from Minnesota where they seem to produce wise men, once told me: "life is too short for bad beer". He is so right. So when I was in the supermarket last, I decided to try some Lia Fail which I haven't supped before and jolly nice it is too. Just try to get over the paint-yer-face-blue cliche Scottishness of the branding, which the continentals eat up with a spoon, and enjoy.

Today, I have been mainly listening to Stephen Fry podcasts, which accounts for my good humour despite the lateness of the hour and darkness of the night.

Friday, December 12, 2008

Things I didn't know before today #2: globalised assassination

Did you know that the actual truck that was used as a truck bomb to assassinate Lebanese Prime Minister Rafiq al-Hariri in 2005 had been stolen the year before from Sagamihara City, Japan? That's a long way to go to source your truck bomb. For more on the case, the Atlantic Monthly has an excellent article in it's December edition.

Thursday, December 11, 2008

Spending more time with your family

I'm wondering if any Finnish readers of this blog can say if when a Finnish politicians says they are resigning to "spend more time with their family" it literally means that? Or whether like in anglo-saxon political parlance it really means you have been caught visiting hookers, getting drunk for breakfast, taking large sums on money in brown envelopes from dodgy businessmen, sending dirty text messages to page boys, or attempting to sell the position of the junior senator of Illinois?

I only ask because YLE reports:
"Minister of Education Sari Sarkomaa of the National Coalition Party has decided to step down from government in order to spend more time with her family".
So is Sari being a good mum or has she been a naughty girl?

Saturday, December 06, 2008

Mark Kermode vs. Jason Statham

There can be only one.

I'm just about to listen to Mark Kermode review Jason Statham's latest film. As any other Mayo/Kermode-regulars know this something to be really, really excited about. If you want to hear who wins, click the link above. Okey dokey - I'm getting back to my podcast now.

Friday, December 05, 2008

How Britain prepared to kill 20 million people

Britain's Cold War - A Vulcan bomber, Hawker Hunter fighter and Bloodhound Missile. The National Cold War exhibition. RAF Cosford.

Because of some research I did in the dim and distant past, I've maintained an interest in British nuclear weapons and policies. So I really enjoyed Prof. Peter Hennessy's programme for Radio 4 called "the Human Button", about the people who have and still are responsible for Britain's nuclear forces. A lot of the people who had had some role at the heights of the Cold War in this system, from senior politicians to the 23 year old V-Bomber pilot signing for his first nuclear weapon seemed to take the attitude of "best not to think about it too much", but of course they all clearly did and have done so much more since.

One of the things that I didn't know before but was mentioned in the programme a couple of times was in 'the letter from beyond the grave' that is sealed in the then Polaris and now Trident submarine's safe. These letters written by every prime minister when they come into office set out the wishes of the prime minister to the submarine captain in the event that the UK has been effectively destroyed by nuclear assualt. These letters are destroyed unopened when the prime ministers change and only one prime minister has revealed what his said. This included that the captain should, once having followed the proceedures to make sure that there is no chain of command in the UK, attempt to put himself and his ship under Australian command. I wonder if anyone ever asked the Australian government what they thought of this - that in the event of the destruction of the UK, they could become by default a nuclear power?

By the way, the title of this post is from a discussion in the programme over whether Britain would have responded if deterrence failed. Callaghan said probably, Dennis Healey - to his credit - said not.

Thursday, December 04, 2008

Now it all makes sense...

(pictures, left: Lucifer - prince of darkness.
Right: Javier Solana - prince of Europe. Ask
yourself - have you ever seen them both in
the same room!?)

I've spent too much of today reading official EU documents and treaties. In fact any time reading them, is too much time for me - the process just seems to suck the very core of my soul out. But now I know why! It's not just that trying to understand "Permanent Structured Cooperation" is marginally less interesting than watching paint dry. It is that actually Permanent Structured Cooperation is the work of the Antichrist!

So who is the future target of this building of “emergency powers” being handed to this one man they call Mr. Europe? Would he really start a war against Jews and Christians worldwide?

I'd like to see Javier Solana take on "Jews and Christians worldwide", although my money would be on the Jews and Christians knocking out Javier by the second round.

We can skip over a few minor issues such as that the writer of this deep prophetic insight was writing in 2007 about a text that had been rejected by voters in France and Holland two years earlier, or that the the EU becoming shock troops for the UN is about as likely as, well, Jesus deciding to stage his second coming in my back garden tomorrow afternoon. Presumably if God works in mysterious ways, so must the devil. And when you have spent your day reading things like this:
The permanent structured cooperation referred to in Article I‑41(6) of the Constitution shall be open to any Member State which undertakes, from the date of entry into force of the Treaty establishing a Constitution for Europe, to:

(a) proceed more intensively to develop its defence capacities through the development of its national contributions and participation, where appropriate, in multinational forces, in the main European equipment programmes, and in the activity of the Agency in the field of defence capabilities development, research, acquisition and armaments (European Defence Agency), and
(b) have the capacity to supply by 2007 at the latest, either at national level or as a component of multinational force groups, targeted combat units for the missions planned, structured at a tactical level as a battle group, with support elements including transport and logistics, capable of carrying out the tasks referred to in Article III‑309, within a period of 5 to 30 days, in particular in response to requests from the United Nations Organisation, and which can be sustained for an initial period of 30 days and be extended up to at least 120 days.
(and that is just Article 1!) you would probably also come to the conclusions of its diabolical origins.