Monday, June 29, 2009

Music Monday

Inspired by much Twittering, and because on Monday mornings I need a musical kick in the arse:

Sunday, June 28, 2009

Helsinki summer

About ten kilometres from downtown Helsinki. If you want to hire a canoe or kayak try here. It's worth pre-booking if the weather is as nice as it has been today.

Saturday, June 27, 2009

Good Helsinki cycle paths #2

I cycled to and from work on four days this last week - lovely weather balancing out tired legs. That's about 200 kms and 8 hours in the saddle. Anyway, the more I ride, the more sadly obsessed I become with cycle path design (or lack there of). The weather being so good I've ridden the longer route through the central park quite a few times this week. This is very relaxing as you are on gravel tracks, miles from any cars, with the only worry being coming round a corner and meeting a dog walker with one of those idiot extendible leads. Why do people with those extendible leads somehow think that walking on one side of a cycle path whilst Fido walks on the other side - stretching two metres of tight nylon out between them - could ever be a smart thing to do? Run in to that doing 35 kmph and me, the dog or the dog's owner are going to get hurt - and I'm the only one wearing a helmet.

Anyway, eventually you get down town and have to leave the quiet woodland paths and get back into urban cycling mode. This is why I want to point out the best bit of cycle path I know in downtown Helsinki:

The video is riding south down Pohjoisranta, about here:

View Larger Map

It's a good because, first, there is a metre of space clearly defined with trees and stuff between us bikers and the cars in the street. Secondly there is a bloody great wall between us bikers and the pedestrians. Now don't get me wrong; I love pedestrians, indeed some of my best friends have been known to walk, I just don't like them wandering aimlessly onto cycle paths. It's great to see pedestrians strolling down here, looking at the boats, enjoying the sea air, having fun - knowing that is where they'll stay thanks to the aforementioned bloody great wall. Also, where cars or pedestrians can cross the cycle path, it is really clearly marked with zebra crossing markings on the road. If all of the city could be like this, cycling life would be really sweet.

Thursday, June 25, 2009

Top radio

Strictly speaking - I don't actually listen to the radio much any more, so this should really be titled 'top podcasts'; but you get the point. You can probably find all of these through iTunes, but I'll try and link directly to the relevant webpages.

Firstly, the ever excellent Rear Vision from ABC Radio National Australia. A couple of shows back they did the programme on Chavez and Venezuela. They explain clearly and precisely how he came to be elected with so much popular support, and then all his weakness both personal and political. Excellent journalism - find the right experts and just let them talk.

Then two episodes of Fresh Air from NPR in the States. Firstly, their interview with Dr. Atul Gawande - which helps explain a lot about the structural difficulties of the US healthcare system - when doctors are turned into businessmen and women. And secondly their interview with Chip Berlet, a remarkable sounding researcher into the role of conspiracy theories in extremist ideologies and world views.

And finally, and really only of interest to cyclists, the Guardian has made a pretty good effort with their first ever bike podcast. Bike reviews, cycling safety issues, possible trip destinations, interviews - really a bike mag to listen to.

Tuesday, June 23, 2009

Midsummer midnight

I've spent two hours on my bike today. I left work at 11 pm and got home around midnight. Yesterday was the longest day of the year, but tonight was close enough to celebrate the solstice for me - by being out on the bike in almost daylight as midnight approached. Not a cloud in the sky, and bright orange lighting up the northern horizon. Kinda magic, although I just have to ignore the fact that now the winter is getting closer again and the days shorter. Riding at that time you always see hares - I'm not sure why but it is virtually guaranteed. I'm not sure why hares seems to dig cycle paths, but they do. Sometimes they let you chase them a bit, lollopping along on track before dashing off into the undergrowth at the side of the path. I took a certain route through one bit of forest as well tonight wondering if I might meet a moose. I've seen a moose near there before, and also saw one on Sunday afternoon, just west of Helsinki, as I was coming home from climbing. He was just standing by the motorway watching the world go by. But no moose tonight, just rabbits and hares. It's kinda cool though that my cycle commute even includes the possibility of meeting a moose.

Here's a short and jumpy (annoying road surfacing!) clip from downtown Helsinki at about 11.10 pm as I was beginning my ride home - just to give those at lower latitudes an idea of Helsinki summer 'nights'.

Thursday, June 18, 2009

Billy few mates goes to Brussels

The Times reports on the newly elected BNP MEPs visiting Brussels to get things started. They haven't found enough support yet to form a grouping within the European Parliament; the Italian Northern League MEPs seem to be wisely steering well clear of them, along with Wilders and co from Holland and the Danish Peoples Party. But according to Nick Griffin, they have agreed to cooperate with the Hungarian Jobbik (and who wouldn't want to cooperate with a party so cool that it has its own militia with armbands, boots and everything?), the Bulgarian Attack Party and Belgium's Vlaams Belang. Are we seeing a pattern forming here?

Tuesday, June 16, 2009

Grigris, chunky quickdraws, and aching shoulders

Some pictures of Lammi, a sports climbing cliff on the road between Lahti and Tampere from Saturday. An impressive cliff but not that great for untalented low- to mid-grade punters such as myself! Just about everything overhangs slightly, and I hate overhangs. But still it is well bolted so if you are sensible you shouldn't get into too much trouble. :-)

Käpylehmä 6a - the supposed warm up route. Well too hard for me to warm up on besides by continually falling off it. Here Tony puts in a much better effort to get the redpoint.

Käpylehmä again, Simon's turn.

Tony on Otepää, a rather classy 6b that goes up the middle of the cliff.

Oddly I actually found the moves on this easier than on the 6a, but it only overhangs a tiny bit so suits me more. Tony came pretty close to onsighting it and got it on his first redpoint attempt.

Otepää again.

The upper reaches of Otepää.

We also went and did our duty of patronising the Cafe la Rosa in Lammi town centre. Even if I was pretty hopeless at the climbing, I fully support the idea of a cliff where in the interest of maintaining a good access situation you have to eat homemade donuts and drink coffee in a café.

Sunday, June 14, 2009

Counting al Qaeda

Something that I meant to blog last week and totally forgot about: one of my weekly podcast is the 'Political Scene' from the New Yorker. It's just a few journalists chatting, but they are pros and know their stuff. Last week, in the wake of Obama's Cairo speech, they were discussing US policy and the 'Muslim world'. One of the speakers was New Yorker correspondent Lawrence Wright who I still think has written one of the better books on al Qaeda: The Looming Tower. Wright spent years interviewing spooks, Islamist activists, retired Jihadis, family members of still active Jihadis, local journalists and the like around the world. He clearly has good contacts, and notes in this podcast that he was recently told by Egyptian intelligence that they believe the core of al Qaeda, now mainly based in Pakistan number now below 200 people. Even the CIA number them only between 300 and 500. These numbers don't presumably include any of the affiliates who have adopted the al-Qaeda monniker in more recent years, such as the GSPC in Algeria, but does suggest that for all the weaknesses in US policy towards the Taliban in Afghanistan, the coalition (and Pakistanis) are having some success at keeping al Qaeda's central organisers suppressed.

Wright does make the very interesting point though, that the "Af-Pak" insurgency is become "proletarianized" and the Taliban is taking on a class distinction that wasn't clear before. Landless peasants are joining the Taliban and fighting against the landed class. If the conflict becomes progressively influenced by socio-economic factors, this is a major policy failure as it provides the insurgency with a moral legitimacy that it didn't previously possess.

You can listen directly to the podcast here. Wright's interesting comments begin at about 7.40.

Good Helsinki cycle paths #1 - Central Park

I have been getting excessively annoyed (see post below) by the dumb cycle paths this last week: pedestrians walking in the cycle lane, cycle salmons: those who can't stay on their side of the path, cars refusing to stop at crossing, car transport lorries parking on cycle paths and the general annoyances of urban cycling, so on Friday decided to ride the whole way home through Helsinki's central park and the countryside strip to its north that cuts through urban Vantaa. It's not actually that much further, and although it is mainly gravel paths not tarmac, not that much slower. And there are just less irritating 'other people', so really I should ride this route more often and keep my moany, anti-social self away from the civilised folk.

Normally I'm listening to current affairs podcasts on my iPod when riding but on Friday I just put on the 'my top rated' play list and I'm sure I rode much faster as a result, spinning hard to my favourite tunes. Anyway the video is just to prove to myself, as much as anyone else, that I can appreciate the good things in life - in this case quiet, well-made, forest cycle tracks - as well as moan about the bad. And for anyone who doesn't know Helsinki - it's kind of cool that you can find these kind of areas in a city of a million people, isn't it?

Friday, June 12, 2009

Dumb Helsinki cycle paths #4 and other cycling matters.

It's my old friends at the car leasing showroom once again blocking the cycle path/pavement with their car delivery trucks. I actually had 'words' with the driver this morning to make sure he understood the issue. I suspect he thought he was being thoughtful leaving all of 50 cms space between the grass bank and his truck, to let foot traffic and cyclists to 'pass' (to pass him; of course we can't pass each other in that much space). They actually drive the cars down the pavement to load them on to the truck as well, just to add insult to injury. The thought just clearly never enters their heads that they could park in the road, and force car drivers to go around them whilst they load or unload - oh no. They couldn't block the traffic, could they? But pedestrians and cyclists don't count as traffic, so why give a shit?

Maybe lots more people will get the chance to explore the positives and the negatives of the Helsinki cycle path system next Monday as currently the trains will be on strike, and commuter trains are a major part of the transport network in greater Helsinki. According to YLE, the train company VR says it is impossible to arrange alternative transport during the strike. The BBC reports that cycling trebled this week in London as a result of the tube strike, so come Monday the cycle paths of Helsinki might well be packed. With the pleasent summer weather we have currently the paths are already busy - this is the worst time of year because there are so many walkers and out and, as I have discussed before, cyclists and pedestrians are forced to share paths in completely illogical, confusing and downright dangerous ways.

And one final Helsinki cycling note: where the hell have all these girls on fixies suddenly appeared from? The whole fixie thing is a total downtown phenomenon - I don't think I've seen anyone riding fixed gear north of Pasila, let alone in the 'wilds' north of Kehä I (the inner ring road), but before this year I don't think I had ever seen a girl riding fixed. Now they are everywhere. Of course the bike are totally urban hipster, and they wear all the right clothes to match as well. But ladies, really - you have to work more on not looking so nervous. It totally blows your cool. Dare I really suggest it? How about riding with brakes? It makes life so much less scary. :-)

Thursday, June 11, 2009

Shooting at the Holocaust Museum

Being a political science geek, when I was in LA last month, I didn't go on any of the studio tours or 'homes of the stars' trips, I went to the Museum of Tolerance - part of the Simon Wisenthal Center. It is basically divided in to two sections, one is a Holocaust museum and the other is museum and discussion of racism in America. I walked there - very un-LA I know, particularly considering the 30 degree heat - confusing the guard slightly when he asked if I would leave my rucsac in my vehicle. On saying I didn't have one, he looked genuinely confused and asked "how did you get here?" On replying "I walked", he laughed and said "dude - you should be at the beach on day like this!"

I understood the reason for the security - full x-ray of bags and airport style metal detector - but it seemed rather sad and jarring at a museum of tolerance. But the shooting at the Holocaust Museum in Washington DC yesterday, show that the government's assessment of the likelihood of far-right violence against such targets was correct, necessitating such sadly intrusive security. It is tragic that the security guard at the DC museum, Stephen T. Johns, paid so heavily for doing his job protecting people. It could have so easily been the guy I chatted to a few weeks back.

It's even more disheartening that so quickly, bloggers - in this case, Sunny at Pickled Politics - managed to show that the murderer had gone to events where the star of the show was no other than North West England's newest MEP - Mr Nick Griffin of the BNP. The Economist also has an interesting angle on the shooting, particularly considering this is the second case of far right 'domestic terrorism' in the US in a short period after the shooting of Dr. George Tiller a couple of weeks ago.

Sunday, June 07, 2009

Euro-election results

I'm totally enjoying discussing and following all the news on Twitter. Hence nothing here. Here in Finland, my man put in a fine effort for a first timer, and good to see two Greens squeaking through at the last minute. More in the not too distant future hopefully.

Wednesday, June 03, 2009

Vote 138 on Sunday!

If you are in Finland and still thinking about who to vote for on Sunday in the European Parliament elections - or even if you had already decided - I urge you to consider supporting Charly Salonius Pasternak - no. 138. My main reason to vote for Charly is because he is a good mate; but he's a good mate because I respect him for being a friendly, sensible, grounded and decent bloke - and that's a good start for being a politician. He is standing for the Swedish People's Party (SFP) (the party traditionally supported by Finland's Swedish speaking minority) but he is no party hack, finding instead that the SFP's moderate centerism and membership of the Liberal bloc in the European Parliement suited him.

Charly is an expert on peacekeeping, crisis management and other international military operations and on trans-Atlantic relations. He has past experience in the business world, military and has lived around the world, including a considerable time in the US. He has impeccable liberal sympathies in the best European (dare I say Scottish?) sense and would make an excellent MEP who can balance Finland's interests in the EU with the EU's wider interests at the community level.

Vote for Charly, he'll do a good job.