The trash: why I'll skip the picnic

I'm going to skip the traditional Ullanlinnanmäki picnic.

May 1st is the Labour Day and also a major student festival in Finland. For about 25 years, I've had the tradition that in the morning, I put on my student hat (if I ever took it off after midnight when its permissible wearing season starts) and head for Kaivopuisto park in southern Helsinki for a picnic. For a long time, it's been a family tradition for us and a few of our friends: we pushed baby carriages up the hill, tried to find a suitable spot, spread out an eloquently prepared breakfast, and enjoyed it with about 30 000 other picnic breakfasters.

But not any more. I don't like to leave trash out in nature, or in public parks. All these years, we have always collected any garbage that our breakfast produces and taken it with us - with the exception of the champagne bottle caps, because once you pop that off, it flies up and hits someone else's head. We've in turn collected the caps that hit our heads. But it seems that many if not most people in Ullanlinnanmäki simply leave their trash on the spot, and it looks horrible. There are literally tons of waste in the park.

Call me old or middle-aged or lame or anything, but I don't want to participate in this promiscuous littering of food wrappers, cans, bottles, everything. There are also a lot of drunken people, although everyone is in a good mood so it's not really inconvenient at all. So, the rush of people may be a factor, but mainly I'm irritated by the littering, and I no longer want to participate in the event at all, because even if I'm taking my own garbage away and even helping a little with what the others leave behind, I'm an accomplice in an event that is becoming outrageous.

We'll maybe take a picnic in the park of Aurora Karamzin's manor in Träskända, instead. It has a fine lawn and ancient oak-trees; it used to be the countryside hideout of the richest woman in Russian empire, but now it is the suburban area where we live, and people who go about here for a picnic are not leaving trash. They take it with them. Like we do.


Task list for Pope

A proposal for the programme of the papal visit in Britain, September 2010, as devised by the superbly diplomatic staff at the British Foreign Office:

  • Open an abortion clinic

  • Bless a gay marriage

  • Launch a Benedict-branded condom range

  • Sing a song with the Queen for charity

  • Apologise for the Spanish Armada

It all makes perfect sense, except for the part about Spanish Armada. I should think the Foreign Office ought to know that Papa Ratzi was born German, not Spanish. Why did they not come up with any Führer jokes, just to fine-tune their diplomatic feat to perfection?


How would I know the Nazis?

In Russia, a lady who was preparing posters for the Victory Day accidentally used pictures of Wehrmacht soldiers instead of the Red Army. A number of people were exceedingly offended.

Her defence was: "We are young and we didn't see the war. We don't know what Fascist soldiers looked like".

Indeed. For the people squeezed between Germany and Russia, it was equally hard - already at the time - to tell much difference between the national and international formats of socialism.

Reindeerspotting - efficient message about drugs

The Finnish Supreme Administrative Court has upheld a decision of the State Film Board and decided that the Reindeerspotting - Escape from Santaland movie will be banned from minors - one needs to be 18 to get to see the film in a theatre. The film is a documentary about the life of drug addicts in northern Finland, and supposedly (I haven't seen it) sends a strong message against drugs.

Clever marketing! What better way could there be to ensure that all teenagers want to see it than forbidding it? Perhaps it really makes people think seriously if using drugs is a good idea.

The film also has a page in IMDB.


Science and secret data

The Times reports that Queen's University in Belfast will need to hand over data to so-called climate sceptics due to the British Freedom of Information Act.

Unlike Douglas Keenan, who was requesting the data, I don't suppose this data is really valuable for reconstructing temperatures in history. What amazes me is that the researchers in the university want to hide the data. Why? Do they think that sitting on the data would achieve anything good? The only outcome of this refusal to hand over the data is more conviction of the climate sceptics that the anthropogenic global warming theory is a hoax, based on secrecy, monopoly of information and possibly forged data.

Scientific method is about openness of how the research was done. The climate research is in serious trouble if it does not understand the basics. Its credibility among the general public, particularly in Britain, suffered already terribly in the so-called Climategate. That should have taught a lesson.

Gay Heads and Helsinki KKK

CNN carries a story about a wind farm which is planned in the Nantucket Sound in Massachusetts, a sea view enjoyed by many rich and famous people - for instance, the Kennedies at their place at Martha's Vineyard. The project has been going through red tape for about ten years, and the battle goes on.

It is fairly natural to have differences of opinion about whether a wind farm is a good thing on a seashore, and at this location in particular. What I find unnatural is that they have a thing called Wampanoag Tribe of Gay Head. What on Earth is that?

The fact that I find this name funny - I don't know what it is but the name is funny - is probably because of similar reasons to the fact that many Americans were severely annoyed by the old abbreviation and Internet domain name of Helsinki School of Economics and Business Administration, or Helsingin Kauppakorkeakoulu ( http://hkkk.fi ), believing it is a local branch of the Ku Klux Klan and prompting them to send hate mail.

So, what's a Tribe of Gay Head?


Market economy invented in Kumpula!

HS runs a story about Kumpulan vaihtopiiri (edit: there is also another one, Helsingin vaihtopiiri, I confused these two but they seem to have the same idea). These are grassroot organizations that enable barter economy of small services in exchange for credits (alternative money). In this system, the credits are called kumpenni, a local penny, 10 kumpennis are worth one hour of work. (In the other one, it is merkkari which originally stands for "pirate coin", in fact a popular licorice candy).

That's all very fine and admirable; this is how communities have worked all along throughout history, and selling and paying for services in local trade through bi- or multilateral barter or more loosely defined gift economy is what keeps communities up and running. These movements pop up and there have been little stories like this in papers every now and then.

What baffles me is that the participants say - according to HS - that "they want to distribute welfare and have alternatives to capitalistic market economy".

Hey guys, wake up. What you have invented is capitalistic market economy: freedom of selling and buying services, freedom of pricing, freedom of who you trade with and who not. It isn't an alternative to capitalism, it is capitalism. There's even a "bank" that keeps track of value of services given, instead of the more traditional way of each person keeping track of who owns him or her what, and who he or she is indebted to.

What the participants seem to forget is that what they do is eroding the welfare state, and that what they do is illegal. I'll elaborate a bit.

1) The eroding of welfare state

Why is buying services with money so expensive? Because you have to pay tax, and because you have to pay for the related bureaucracy (which may be a higher cost than the tax itself). You pay not only the 22 % value added tax, but there are lots of other taxes, particularly the income taxes and social insurance contributions of people who work for each other, and the administrative cost of making these payments. If you hire someone to work for you legally, and pay all the taxes and statutory contributions, often less than half of the money actually goes to the person doing the work. The rest goes to the state to fund the welfare state. And if you have ever employed a person in Finland, you'll know that the process of meeting legal obligations is complex and takes a lot of work to find out.

If you evade those payments, what is that if not undermining the foundations of welfare state? Also, the welfare state has developed mechanisms to restrict worker exploitation, for instance the minimum wage (in Finland, through collective agreements). In local barter trade, all these rules are dodged.

2) The illegality

Yes, I know, it's absurd. It sounds really stupid that if I mow your lawn and then you mend my socks, we should both pay income tax and pay social contributions, and if we do more of it, we should also pay value added tax. But that's the current law; that's the very basic idea of the welfare state. A very large part of the money that the government makes and then uses for various more or less good causes comes from taxing the use of labor, and much of worker protection is achieved through the bureaucracy and the barrier of entry that it creates.

Current law is very explicit about this, and the taxman's guidance in the Web makes it absolutely clear. There are situations where people can work for free - bees (in Finnish, talkoot) for instance. But bartering services is tax evasion.

Even in the case where you and your neighbor work at the same place and only you have a car, giving a ride to your neighbor and accepting half of the gas cost from him is illegal. This is the welfare state.

The outcome

The development in Kumpula is by no means new. This kind of barter economy movements have spawned throughout the Western world for decades. For instance, in the U.S., the tax code was amended to cover them in 1982.

The ideas are the same ("let's fight evil capitalism and support local communities"), the means are the same ("let's use local money to enforce locality, avoid the taxes and bureaucracy"), and the outcomes are the same (unrestricted small-scale capitalism works for a while, it's generally a nice experience, but people grow up, the key people move away, and eventually the system fades away). If any of these trials were to become substantial, they would face investigations and criminal proceedings.

So, to summarize: the activists speaking here have become completely confused with the concepts of market economy and welfare state. They think they're doing "something else", when they are actually doing "more of the same". They think they've invented an alternative to capitalism, and what they're doing is going back to the 19th century style capitalism, just in small scale. If it stays that way, it's OK.


Foot rags

You know what a foot rag is? It's the kind of cloth, usually of flannel, about 40x50 cm in size, that is used in the military - or used to be used in the military - to be wrapped around the foot. Then you put the wrapped foot in a wool sock, and the wool sock into a boot, and it keeps your feet nice, dry and warm on long marches.

A foot rag also bears a rather accurate resemblance of the snow flakes that are falling from the overcast sky at the moment. I thought the spring is here. Won't this end?

Germans are frugal

Like, if you've bought a return ticket, you'd hate not to use it:

Two women tried to board an easyJet flight with a dead relative strapped into a wheelchair, saying that he was disabled, frail and “always likes to sleep like that”.

Actually, I understand these people. The bureaucracy related to repatriating mortal remains is excessive.


Chasms in bike roads

Spring is here. Ground frost is thawing. And that means trouble for us bikers.

On some of the bike roads, chasms about 5 cm wide have opened, and they are deep - deep enough to swallow the front wheel, which is going to teach bicyclists to fly. Not for too long, though - and hopefully none of us need wings after the landing.

Councils haven't been able to clean the roads, so likely they won't be able to fix the chasms either. What would help? Perhaps a bicycle tax of 100 % on sale of new bicycles, to be used on fixing roads? Roads for cars are serviced; not too well, but it seems they won't dare to leave them completely unmaintained because car drivers pay so much tax that not fixing the roads would amount to killing a milking cow.

I suppose bicyclists need some milking as well.