11.10.2014

I feel the urge for some whiskey

Only in Finland...

I don't really like whisky that much, but suddenly I feel the urge to get lots of it. The reason is AVI or "Aluehallintovirasto", the local office of regional administration which has decided that private persons are not allowed to write blog entries about whiskey, or the office will cancel the permit of Beer and Whisky Expo in Helsinki.

The organizers are of course not responsible for private blogs of other people at all. They have no way of enforcing this request. So they are just desperately pleading that people wouldn't talk about them so that they wouldn't lose their permit.

But no, the Finnish public just cannot take this any more. I hope AVI are now learning the meaning of Streisand effect. You'll see a lot of Finns post things like "whiskey whiskey whiskey" in Facebook. Our country even wants to join NATO just because in NATO alphabet, the code for letter W is "whisky". (As it, by the way, also is in the tradition Finnish defense alphabet).

I also hope that in the upcoming downsizing of Finnish government spending, the salary budgets at Aluehallintovirasto are the first one down.  This kind of ridiculous waste underlines how poorly we use our tax money. That needs to stop.

Hey people at AVI, you are useless. If you say you are just upholding the law, now's the time to stand up and say that the law is impossible to uphold, it is unreasonable and it is unconstitutional. It's your duty to ignore it. It's your duty to get fired rather than become complete clowns.

5.2.2014

A winter day

January 14, 2014. It's a nice winter day.


And it's a bit cold. Not extreme, just -12C.
















And this is the status report of the Nordic power market system.

Total electric power consumption in Finland is about 12500 MW. And wind power production is... about 1 MW. It actually oscillates between 0 and 1, so sometimes it rounds down to 0 and sometimes up to 1.

So wind power produces about 0.005 % of our electricity consumption - which in turn is only a part of our total power consumption, as I can attest as I watch the fireplace in my living room.

Yes, it is true that in Denmark there is just now currently quite a good availability of wind power and the electricity we buy from there is wind power. Unfortunately, it seldom works the other way round: we can't really sell wind electricity to Denmark, or anyone. So my point is: why do we subsidize the stuff to such an outrageous extent? I'd rather have us sell some other energy to the Danes when there is no wind either in Denmark or Finland. They are, after all, a producer with large wind energy capacity, which means that they have huge coal power plants, and if we care about CO2 emissions, we should be selling them hydroelectric and nuclear power.

Or we can go the way Germany does: extraordinarily expensive energy, large subsidies, and firms going belly up.


Developing a country

There's only one thing that is worse for people than international capitalism exploiting the workers of a poor country. It's that international capitalism does not exploit the workers of a poor country.

Poor countries can be roughly divided to two classes. One is "developing country", and its main characteristic is that it doesn't develop. The other is "emerging market", and it's the one that develops.

Eventually, that may of course be something that we later start to dislike. At one time, it was every third-world-activist's dream that China, a country with socialist government and hundreds of millions of extremely poor people, would become richer, that people would not be starving any more. That was to be achieved through socialist market economy.

Now that the dream has come true after China adopted capitalistic communism, many of these activists are uncomfortable: they are taking our markets, they are making the workers in formerly rich countries unemployed - because they work harder.

Crime and punishment (Finland edition)

When a man has lost his driving license due to DUI, you'd hope he learns a lesson. Of course, your hope is in vain. This one guy in Lahti did drive without a license, and of course he was drunk. So drunk that he did not see a woman on the street. So she hit her with his car and dragged her with the vehicle for 80 meters under the car. And he was so drunk that he didn't notice even then - even though  his passenger told him. So he just left the woman to die.

But this is not extraordinary, of course. Such things happen. What is extraordinary is the sentencing of this case in the local court: then man got a 30 day jail term, converted into 26 hours of community service.

26 hours of community service for driving drunk without license - repeat offence - and killing someone. The dead woman's spouse was seeking damages, but got none, because the court thought "the act was not intentional".

Of course, one can say that I'd never drive under influence unless I were so drunk that I wouldn't know what I'm doing, so it was an accident, not intentional. But normally that doesn't pass.

Well, the woman who was killed was also drunk, and was probably on all fours on the road. But still. You should be able to see someone on the street, particularly since this was in an urban area with a 50 km/h limit.

But wait! There are worse criminals. Such as the guy who sold chewing tobacco in a kiosk. His crime? Buying the stuff in Sweden and selling it in Finland, i.e. smuggling and tax fraud. His punishment? Two and a half years in prison.

And that tobacco is not so dangerous. It is certainly much less dangerous than regular smoked tobacco which is replaces.

Consider this. 26 hours of community service for repeated DUI and killing someone, and running away from the scene. Two and half years in prison because the state loses tax money.

This really shows where the priorities of our justice system lay.

25.12.2013

And it came to pass in those days, that there went out a decree from Jorma Ollila that all the kilometers should be taxed.

The Finnish government planning a new road tax system, where each and every car is equipped with a GPS device which tracks all movements of the vehicle and then sends the information to the tax authorities who send a tax bill, which depends on how much and where you drive.

Herod the Great would have found it very convenient if the Roman client kingdom of Judea had had such a system for taxing donkey movements on the foot-paths of Palestine. Why?

As it came to pass in those days, that there went out a decree from Caesar Augustus that all the world should be taxed. After the known events in Bethlehem - including participation in a mandatory census, unsatisfactory boarding arrangements, childbirth, and a visit from three wise men who had come from far-away lands - Joseph and his family became asylum-seekers in Egypt:

The angel of the Lord appeareth to Joseph in a dream, saying, Arise, and take the young child and his mother, and flee into Egypt, and be thou there until I bring thee word: for Herod will seek the young child to destroy him.

And for a good reason:

Herod, when he saw that he was mocked of the wise men, was exceeding wroth, and sent forth, and slew all the children that were in Bethlehem, and in all the coasts thereof, from two years old and under, according to the time which he had diligently inquired of the wise men.

The European client state of Finland currently seems quite safe from such persecution. But we don't know that it will remain so. Given this, I think that the less mandatory information the government can collect about us, the better.

Road to hell is paved with good intentions. Sometimes I wonder if all those intentions are so good in the first place.

--

PS. Why is Jorma Ollila, of all people, leading a workgroup that makes such plans? I can think of two good reasons:
1) He is a board member of Shell. It would be bad for Shell if some country set a precedent of allowing electric cars to propagate, taking benefit from that they emit less pollution and therefore there is less need for taxing the emissions.
2) He is ex-CEO and stakeholder in Nokia. Nokia no longer knows how to do business, so they are trying to lobby laws that would force people to use stuff that Nokia could make.

1.11.2013

Trust us, we know what we are doing!

The Finnish government plans a fancy car taxation system (for links, hat tip Road Pricing and Tundra Tabloids). Every vehicle would be equipped with a GPS tracking device, and people would be paying tax according to their driving history (time and location).

This is marketed as a "congestion tax" (so greenie hipsters in city centers clap their hands) and in practice, it will be used as a tax to collect money from those who have no other option (i.e. those who drive in places where there is no practical alternative). This is an overall problem of "environmental protection taxes": if the tax achieves its purpose (for instance, some emissions are reduced, as is happening with cars) the government notices that the tax revenue is decreasing, so some other, alternative tax has to be applied to the same people who are already used to paying the "environmental protection tax". The public expenses are currently only 57 % of GDP, and that is not nearly enough, as we can see because everyone is complaining about eroding services and declining tax base.

OK, so we have "congestion tax" data collected about people - where there is no congestion. The government says that the collected data will be used for taxation only, so there should be no concern about privacy. OK, so it might be used also for solving "severe crimes" (hey, who wants to help murderers?). And of course preventing "serious crimes" as well. And why not crimes in general? Don't worry about the privacy, the data will only be used for legitimate purposes.

And we definitely trust the government, don't we? They are entirely competent in protecting their own data networks, not to mention data of individual people that they are handling?



24.6.2013

We need less fear and doubt

A few days ago, there was a small incident near where I live. An 8-year-old boy got lost and wandered around the area, went missing for the night - 12 hours - but was eventually found by searchers the next morning, unharmed but cold. He had just left his home in Helsinki riding a kickbike, didn't know where he ended up, and kept going through the night until he was found at 5 AM near where I live.

This was remarkable because it was not in the woods somewhere out in the forests - of which there are plenty in Finland - but the boy left off from Pitäjänmäki, a relatively dense urban/suburban area in western Helsinki; he wandered right through Leppävaara, an area with about 60 000 people living in the proximity, and ended up next to a major hospital.

How is this possible? It is a sad thought: a boy is lost in town. He walks past well-to-do suburbs, he passes a thousand front doors of homes. The night gets colder. He doesn't stop to knock or ring the doorbell at any one of them. Every single one of them would have, once opened, had people who would have realized that here is a child in distress, and people would have called immediately the boy's parents, offered him a mug of hot chocolate or whatever he needs, and if necessary, given him a ride home.

But the boy did not ring a doorbell. He just kept wandering in the wrong direction, for twelve hours, and his parents and relatives panicked. They called the police, search parties were arranged, the family patrolled the area, a helicopter was called to search. Why did the boy go on alone?

Perhaps he was a bit autistic or something similar, or just shy - not an unusual condition. That could explain this partially. But I think he was afraid. He has probably been told that he must not talk to strangers. Strangers could kidnap him. Strangers could molest or abuse him. Children are taught to avoid strangers.

But that is quite wrong. Almost all people, when they meet a child in distress, try to help. The kidnappers and other wrong-doers are really, really rare. But still children are taught to assume the worst of strangers. Even in extremely safe societies with strong social cohesion such as Finland.

That is so wrong. But unfortunately, we'll get more of the same. MLL (Mannerheim's Child Protection Association, a quango) wants every volunteer who deals with children to be vetted and background-checked and the Ministry of Justice agrees.

This is a bad, bad idea. It is already hard enough to get people to work for free for common good with things like sports clubs etc. If I have to pay and get a vetting license to prove that I am not a child molester in order to take my child's friends in my car to a football game, it's both an inconvenience and an insult.  I don't have to take it. It means I don't do this for the sports club. So we need more tax-funded workers to arrange things for the kids - when in reality, the biggest risk and problem is that there are not enough adults who do things with children, their own children and those of others.

There are occasionally cases where children are really abused. But vetting doesn't necessarily help. The most notorious of cases of violence against children was that of 8-year-old Eerika, who was tortured and eventually suffocated by her father and stepmother. How was it possible? It happened because the step-mother worked at the child protection services herself. The profession couldn't help because it  couldn't see wrong in one of its own. Wrapping up a child in a carpet was an approved method of therapy. Therapy which happened to kill the girl.

What we should do is not to have more vetting and bureaucracy and licenses. What we need is that people care, and speak out when they see trouble. We also need that people don't hesitate to care because they're afraid of misunderstandings. That they help a child who is lost, instead of thinking "this belongs to the authorities, and I could be perceived a potential child molester if I ask a kid whether he or she is all right".

So, we don't need more vetting. We need less fear and doubt.