Saturday, April 25, 2009

Venice Beach

Venice from the pier

Drinking coffee at Starbucks on Venice. Morning latte, sunshine, free wifi. How good is that? Loads and loads of road bikers, which is nice to see - although a few people have ridden past who have even less business wearing lycra than I do! But there seems to be a pretty busy roadie scene around here. Venice is a bit a of dump, but amusing in the sunshine. It's funny (ironic?) that hippy shit is a ubiquitous as McDonalds. You can buy the same kind of silly clothes, incense sticks, bongs and the like here as you can in Kathmandu or Camden. There must be some Chinese factory churning this stuff out.

Friday, April 24, 2009

The BBC versus the EU

The following story was recounted by an anonymous, but prominent, British political scientist about a meeting he had had with an unnamed senior BBC news executive. He had been asked to visit the BBC, along with some other academic experts on the EU, to discuss the BBC’s coverage of the EU. The Beeb thought they were doing rather well, to which the experts laughed in their faces and pointed out that whilst the BBC news covers congressional hearings in Washington for relatively lowly positions in the Obama administration, they hadn’t covered the hearings for the European Commissioners. The response to which was: “they have hearings for the commissioners?” Lets remember all; the commissioners produce laws that effect every one us Europeans on a daily basis.

At this point the academics showed the BBC chaps the data that shows that the BBC has less coverage of the EU on its evening news programmes than any other broadcaster across the 27 European Union members. Without missing a beat, and with a straight face, the unnamed senior BBC executive replied: “Yes, but that is because we are a very important country and therefore have lots more news to report.”

And yes, Mark Mardell and his Euroblog is an honourable exception to the rule of crappy BBC coverage.

Wednesday, April 22, 2009

Life according to (US) TV

I've been watching quite a lot of news and current affairs chat shows on US telly over the last few days: Fox, ABC, CNN, MSNBC. It is weird - everyone is really orange (I've checked different TV's - it is the make-up, not the TV), and the news is both breathless, gushy and over-dramatic, and fascinated by weird and not very important stuff at the same time. I know that is what everyone says, but its good once in while to check it out yourself. The reoccurring news since my arrival has been that the most powerful military in world history can unsurprisingly shoot some teenage pirates, ugly Scottish singers, vaguely homophobic beauty queens and the shocking news that middle class white boys with computers can also be violent killers. The only political news I've heard was whether Obama has been hanging out with leftist Latinos too much, and the European walk-out from the Ahmadinejad speech in Geneva.

People can argue to their hearts content as to whether the American 'MSM' is too liberal, too rightwing or too whatever. After watching it, it strikes me that the much bigger problem is that it is too facile. On the up side, the L.A. Times seems to be a good paper, particularly considering the big financial problems its owners have been going through.

For the time being, the adverts are also an endless source of interest. I know that the US and, I think it is, New Zealand are the only places where advertising to consumers of perscription drugs takes place, but it is still fun to watch the actual adverts and listen to the dire warnings that come with them: "Seek immediate medical attention for an erection that lasts more than four hours".

Divided by a common language

From the country that brought us warnings on the side of coffee cups that the contents could be hot, one would think that calling toilet paper "Bath Tissue" could be a legal minefield.
Dear Sir,

Today I tried using your "bath tissue" as tissue in the bath and found that it turned into a huge lump of soggy, disintegrating, pulpy mess that blocked my drain. My attorney will soon be contacting you to discuss a settlement offer to cover the damage to my plumbing and the mental anguish caused by your poduct.

Yours etc.

Monday, April 20, 2009

L.A. today

Hot, hot, hot. Messing about with my new camera:

L.A. Today from Toby A. on Vimeo.

Saturday, April 18, 2009

Northern Light goes south

Everyone needs a job, it's just part of life. But sometimes jobs can really suck. They may require you to fly halfway around the world and have to sit next to a pool, in the Californian sunshine, surrounded by birdsong and flower blossoms, whilst sipping good coffee and munching fresh mango and pineapple for breakfast. Like I said, work can really suck.

Your hard-working correspondent delves into the nitty-gritty of local politics

Thursday, April 16, 2009

Don't forget to be impressed.

In the morning I'm going to hop on a couple of planes and by the end of the day end up one ocean and one continent away from home. That is completely amazing isn't it? I'm staying in a friend's house half the earth away, in a place I've never been within 1000 miles of, and thanks to Google Street View I've already have had a look at my temporary digs. That also is completely amazing isn't it?

If you don't think so - watch this:

Wednesday, April 15, 2009

Bikes are back in Helsinki

The snow is almost all gone. There was still of scum of ice left on the harbour bays this morning down town as I rode to work, but a brisk wind had broken much of it up by home time.

The first flowers are out in my garden. The grass is still brown having emerged from under the snow, but nature is pregnant with that feeling of spring about to burst into forth from all directions.

The street sweepers have been out getting rid of a winter's worth of gravel, dust, litter and now unfrozen dog turds.

I've had my summer tyres back on for the last 100 or so kms and everything is running smooth and sweet, after 700 kms of studded-tyre chatter since the end of November.

The sun shone and Helsinki actually looked pretty scenic in the bright light.

But what does this mean? It means suddenly I have to share the cycle paths again with more than about four other bikers. With fast cyclists, slow cyclists, wobbly cyclists - that's all good. But I do get annoyed by pedestrians who seem too stupid to work out what a big painted picture of bike on path might mean, and even worse with dog walkers and their death trap extendable (and invisible from a distance) leads. These idiot devices allow Fido to stroll along on the far side of the cycle path, sniffing for interesting dog piss in the bushes, whilst his master walks on the pedestrian side and in effect stretching a garotte across the cycle path between them. I hate dog walkers with extendible leads. So you ring your bell or shout a warning and they have the temerity to look fucking shocked that there might be a cyclist coming down the cycle path that they have just stretched a trip line across. Perhaps pet shops only sell extendible leads to stupid people? Or does somehow just using one, make people stupid?

Oh well, in New York people use the cycle lanes to walk their dogs (scroll down) as well. But it is not just the dog walkers...

In Helsinki some people think that cycle paths are good place for a truck stop. In fact I've seen the tosser in the photo snapped from the bus above parked in exactly the same place before - not only blocking half of the pavement that is the cycle path, but also the other half for pedestrians. When I had to bunny hop into the road to get round him the last time he had parked there, I watched a mother have to push her pram into the same busy road to get around the thoughtless wanker. If I had been a metropolitan police officer I might have told him to "go away" in a very certain manner, which probably makes it good thing that I'm not.

I took this pic late at night last week. The car had been parked there when I was going to work about 12 hours earlier and was still there at night, with no parking ticket on it. Fair enough - cars break down, but there's an empty area just out of sight on the left of the photo where they could have left it with with out it blocking walkers or cyclists. An American cycling adovocate recently visited Helsinki to compare cycling provision here to Washington DC where he is from. Helsingin Sanomat's report had the 'good news' headline of "American pedal-pusher sees Helsinki as a good biking city" although if you read Eric Gilliland's blog about the trip, it is much more interesting - and he clearly know what he is talking about as identifies virtually all the problems with the Helsinki cycle path system very quickly. For example: "in the US, cyclists are accomodated on the road and are treated as slow cars, whereas in Europe (and certainly in Helsinki) cyclists are accomodated on the sidewalks with cycle tracks and are treated as fast pedestrians. I think, and Petri and Marek also think, that the true answer lies somewhere in the middle."

I was going to make fun of Finland's seemingly new found fixie culture having seen a sudden burst of down-town fixie hipsterdom in the last two weeks - but I'll have to leave that for another post. But if you are out and about in Helsinki - just keep an eye out for this sort of chap (or his female counter part):

(Via, and big-up, the Get Outdoors blog)
And you'll know who I'm talking about as they all look the same. :-)

Sunday, April 12, 2009

What we want to know

No blogging this week, sorry. More a case of too much to do, than not enough to say. There is always something to say...

Anyway, below is screen shot from when I started to type a question into the Google search box on my browser. I was so fascinated by the suggestions I never got round to finishing what I was going to do. They're quite nice aren't they? Love (well, ok, sex), family, self improvement and sharing a meal with others all come before money grubbing issues. Is Google revealing a transnational humanity?

Sunday, April 05, 2009


Seen at Brussels airport last weekend:

And with it being stuck on the side of those "special" cubicles where they take you for a "special" search - it's actually a bit scary.

Thursday, April 02, 2009

Watching the detectives

People of Helsinki! Stop visiting sex shops, being sick on the street, getting nicked by the rozzers, or dozens of other vaguely embarrassing things for the time being... Google Street View is in town. Here I snapped some pictures of the uber-snappers as they were packing up their roof top camera pod thingies before heading into a suburban hotel.

This was at 9.30 in the morning, which seemed odd, but who am I to argue with the all knowing Google?

And here's Costello - I had forgotten what a good song this until I thought of the post title.

Wednesday, April 01, 2009


YLE reports that the Finnish air force is getting ground attack capability. They're buying 200 millions worth of kit off the US Navy including long range air to surface missiles. They've been trying to get this stuff for some years, there has been both reticence from the Americans to sell the best stuff and political resistance in the Parliament. I remember reading a minority dissent to a parliamentary defence committee report from a Left Alliance MP who specifically argued that the airforce is for defence and therefore didn't need ground attack capability. This is a bit of "duh!" arguement if you think about it, but reflects a general pacificist/neutralist strain that remains very strong in the Finnish body-politic.

Anyway, the Defence Forces will be pleased. Last year a prominent British analyst pointed out that Finland still has the biggest artillery force in Europe, 500 more big guns than the UK has. This was meant to be a criticism but tends to get a "yeah, and...?" response from Finnish defence professionals for what they take to be completely self evident reasons. Last year I put this 'criticism' to one of the most senior civil servants in the Ministry of Defence in Helsinki. He looked slightly shamefaced about it, a bit like a teenager caught wearing last years sneakers, but explained - "of course if we had long range air to surfaces weapons for the F-18s we wouldn't need so many". So dreams do come true (at least if you lobby hard enough), andGeorgia is on everyone's mind after last summer and that can't of hurt the MoD's case.

I'm an April Fool

The front page of currently has two lead stories:

"Russia does not rule out future NATO membership"
"EU pushes male all-body shaving as response to crisis"

I've spent too much time thinking about Finnish security policy and I'm now terribly confused as to whether one, both or possibly neither of these stories are April Fools' day jokes. Thus is the inherent discomfort of the postmodern condition.