A problem in the judiciary

Professor Martti Koskenniemi criticizes politicians and bureaucrats for inaction with the Finnish "grandma problem", where elderly parents of long-time immigrants and citizens are deported from the country, sometimes in ways that seem to be very unfair. Politicians have promised to rework the law, but they have been slow in guiding the ministry. The police and immigration authorities have delayed the deportations in anticipation of law changes, but now they are starting to feel that they can no longer ignore their duties and legally valid decisions passed by courts of law.

I think Koskenniemi is misguided, or worse, dishonest. He criticizes the legislative and the executive, while the actual heartless party is the judiciary. In some way it is of course understandable that Koskenniemi criticizes others, not his own profession, but as said, to me this sounds dishonest. Reminds me of the old saying about crows not picking the eye of another crow.

Let's elaborate. The classic Montesquieuean separation of state powers is that the legislative (politicians, parliament) passes laws, the judiciary (judges and lawyers) interprets them, and the executive (bureaucrats, including police) implements. In some banana republics, it is not unheard of that El Presidente tells a court what to decide, or tells a ministry official to bypass the law, or even invents a new law ad hoc. But in established democracies, the separation of state powers is a strong tradition. It would be really scary if the bureaucrats were taking direct orders from the president or the prime minister, bypassing laws and their interpretation as established by courts.

Our administrational courts have come across criticism both ways, for being too strict and being too lenient, and I think both criticisms can be valid at the same time.

It's inconceivable that constantly reoffending criminals cannot be deported. One obvious example is the infamous Ibrahim Shkupolli, who I mentioned before. Although he was routinely violating restraint orders, the police never even proposed to deport him because they knew such an initiative would have the chances of a snowball in hell. It's big news that one (1) Somalian constantly-repeating offender was deported, and even he gives interview statements where he vows to return - and plenty of hapless "no borders" activists seem to be willing to help him.

It is also inconceivable that at a time when most front-line politicians speak very favourably of immigration, particularly job-related immigration, we're not taking into account that immigrants are not just workforce, immigrants are people. They're humans. The people don't come out from void: they have background, history, they have families. If you bring the bread-winner of a family to Finland, the family will eventually be dependent on this person and the family wants to live together and take care of each other. There's no such thing as a purely job-related immigration without families (unless you do it in the Dubai way, which we would consider serious exploitation).

The centerpiece of the "grandma problem" is heartless courts. The problem is not the legislative or even the current law - which could allow people like Eveline Fadayel, Irina Antonova or Marina Senchishak to stay with their family members in Finland, if the courts just decided to read what it says in paragraph § 52 of the Immigration Act. Also, the problem isn't the bureaucrats or the police. I have noticed the police are well aware that if they forcefully remove a sick, elderly person from her bed or wheelchair, tie her to a stretcher and dump across the border, this person is as good as dead, whatever Vladimir Putin says about good care of the elderly in Russia.

Come on: in the case that I know, the old person had a distinctly visible skin cancer, in fact a huge bulb, in her head. The Russian care of the elderly never noticed it - the person herself couldn't say anything because she unable to speak, or to be precise, her Finnish daughter is the only person who can understand her speech after brain hemorhage. The Russian care of the elderly never even met her, because she was starving in her flat, bed-ridden in her own stench, until her daughter managed to take care of her in Finland (and arrange the cancer operation at a private doctor, at no cost to the taxpayer - credits to the doctor who barely charged expenses, not to speak of anything close to a regular market price in private healthcare).

There has to be a limit. We cannot take everyone aboard in a welfare state; the line of needy people in world is endless and way beyond our resources. But when we are drawing the line, I think it is fair to say that it would be inhuman if we have a person who has come to the country over 20 years ago, married, learned the Finnish language, worked hard to make a living, raised her children to be Finnish-speaking Finns, but still wants to take care of her elderly mother - and then this mother should be left across the border to rot and die.

How to lose a customer

Here's an example of how a genuinely enthusiastic, strongly focused and well motivated sales person can lose a customer. Or several of them.

I got a new phone and gave my one-year-old E71 to my son, and figured out that I need to get a flat-rate mobile 3G/GPRS data contract for him, because otherwise using packet data is prohibitively expensive - and using packet data is pretty much the point in having an E71. Since I had half an hour to spare and was driving past the Sello mall, I stopped by at the Elisa shop, which handles the sales also for their Saunalahti-branded phone subscriptions.

There's a queue system where customers take a number slip when they enter. I had about 5 customers in front of me. Not too bad, usually this takes not more than 10 minutes.

But the lady at customer service was trying to sell the Elisa home security solution, along with their ADSL pack, and including motion-sensitive cameras, to a reluctant customer. The sales person had apparently been very recently to a technical and motivational training on selling these subscriptions, because she was just flooding the unfortunate customer with "you'll get the maximum rate ADSL available in your area" and "it is a huge relief when you can view from your office what goes on at your home" and even the TV-Shop style "and that's not all, we'll also throw in a mobile data pack with 15 megabit dongle..."

The trouble was, the customer clearly wasn't very interested. She was glancing this way and that, looking for a way to escape. A bigger trouble was that there were five other customers waiting, slowly gathering steam and fuming because they had some simple, trivial errands to do - opening a new phone subscription, asking about an invoice, or, like me, adding some new services to their subscriptions. And the sales rant went on and on. There was no pause. There was no beginning, and no end. It just went on, without listening to the customer or observing anyone else in the vicinity. The other customers who had smaller queue numbers than me were making increasingly loud an impolite remarks about why they have to wait - and worse: listen to the sales rant whose one-way high-volume flood filled the small shop and was apparently embarrassing everyone.

After waiting for about 10 minutes I walked to the Sonera shop across the aisle at the mall, got a waiting ticket, and five minutes later, I had got a new contract with a packet data agreement, a new SIM, and ordered transferring my son's number to Sonera in a couple of days. I peeked inside the Elisa shop. The customer unwilling to buy the home surveillance pack had apparently found an excuse to get away, other sales persons had finally jumped in to help, and my queue number was almost there. In a few minutes I might have been getting served. The other fuming customers before me were also gone, except the one who was being dealt with at the counter.

The next day someone from Saunalahti called me and asked why I was changing operator and if I was willing to get a new offer and reconsider. I wasn't. I wish they would follow up their own staff before losing subscriptions, not following up customers after losing subscriptions.


A load of hot (h)air

The Finnish Consumer Agency and the Gender Equality Ombudsman once again accuse hairdressers of gender discrimination, because a haircut for women costs more than a haircut for men (typically twice as much, or more).

Wow, what a load of hot (h)air. This has been explained to these officials very very many times: women typically like to have a longer hair with more elaborate hairdressing requirements than men. They also want more complex things done to their hair. For a professional, it takes more than twice the amount of time to do the hair of the average woman than what it takes to do the hair of a man. If a woman likes to have the kind of haircut that men usually prefer, she can surely get it at the same price. This isn't discrimination. Enforcing the same price for totally different kinds of services would be discrimination.

Sure, the hairdressers could make their price lists say "Haircut style A: 60 EUR, haircut style B: 25 EUR" instead of "Haircut for women: 60 EUR, haircut for men: 25 EUR". But what useful purpose would that serve? Then there would just be a need to explain what is an A class haircut and what is a B class haircut.

It's pretty evident that there's no such thing as a Taxpayer Ombudsman. He or she could just try to stop this kind of insane waste of effort and money which serves absolutely no useful purpose. It's just a clerical liturgy, necessary to keep the prayer-mills of Gender Equality rolling. (BTW, remember Tasa-arvoyksikkö, the exemplary unit of Gender Equality that exclusively hires women. See the list of names.)

I'll make an offer to Pirkko Mäkinen: let me know of the time and place, and I'll do your hair for free. With the 3 mm machine that I use for my own hair all the time.

The hairdressers prices, even for men, are not exactly great value for money - partially due to the fact that they pay taxes to fund the kind of governmental sillines that you try to enforce. Besides, I don't have so much hair to cut in the first place. Do I want to enforce gender equality regarding this problem? Hmm....


Socialist Workers are fighting!

The Times tells us that the British Airways cabin crew are going to strike, and the last-minute talks to prevent industrial action collapsed when the Socialist Workers stormed the meeting.

Now this is remarkable! I can understand that it's hard for the BA people to give up benefits that have been around for decades, but the competition in the air industry has become very, well, competitive. What I don't understand is how they think that waving the placards of socialist revolution will help their cause. After all, if the revolution is successful, one could assume that most of them will be executed as class enemies, anyway. I mean, if you look for "lackeys of the international bourgeoisie", a stuert could probably be considered a perfect match.

One thing is sure: the whole show is very bad for their jobs. Even if they managed to win this battle, they would lose the war, because many of the passengers who have missed their flights and faced the uncertainty of not knowing if they can travel, will switch to use other airlines, and if BA cannot control their costs, they'll go bust.

Hey, it's market economy. Market economy is the worst kind of system, with the exception of all others.


Jacob Söderman is a n00b

HS tells us that Jacob Söderman compared new Finnish legislation to Nazi Germany. Söderman has been well respected, but apparently he is quite unaware of the 1990 Godwin's Law.

If you do reductio ad Hitlerum too soon, you sound really newbie. This applies even in the parliament.


Poor biking conditions in Espoo

The local free newspaper Länsiväylä runs a story about how bad the bike roads are here.

The story is written by a group of people in senior high. They compare the local bike roads to Amsterdam, and find that riding a bike in the Netherlands is much more fluent than in Espoo; there are much more bikes, and automobiles respect bicyclists much better.

Agreed. But I think the most fundamental difference is that the urban planners in Amsterdam have had the good sense to build their bike roads on former seabed, which is flat land, while the stupid designers in Espoo have laid the roads on uneven country where small hills of solid rock force the road to wind up and down and round the bend all the time. It is so frustrating to ride a bike when it's uphill and against the wind most of the time!

As a remedy, I propose that the city of Espoo should purchase a piece of land in a suitable geographic area, let's say a neighbourhood of Oulu (where everyone agrees that bike roads are excellent!) and build all Espoo's new bike roads there. The existing ones are so bad that they should be rolled in, packed and sent to North Korea as a weapon of mass destruction (which the Kim dynasty seems to want so hard).


OK, let's get serious. Where I agree with the authors is that the marking of bike roads should be improved. There are many places where the roadsigns are destroyed, or twisted around to point to the wrong direction. Alas, this is usually the result of not-so-bright adolescents who want to exercise their creative talent by twisting the signs to point to random directions - or to any direction except the correct one, to be precise.

The city employees are also guilty of some very careless traffic sign laying. For instance, it is very common that at one point, the sidewalk is equipped with traffic sign No. 421 (Pedestrian road) and in the next block, it is marked with sign No. 423 (Combined bike and pedestrian road),
and in the next block, there is no sign at all, and then it's No. 423 again. Every change means that the bicyclist is supposed to switch between the actual road and the pedestrian/bike road, and cross the road (dangerous), and also cross a carefully engineered, sharp curb stone which is specifically designed to break a bike tire. The people who design and install the traffic signs apparently never experience the traffic as a bicyclist, and are thus completely blind to the bad design they create.

You also meet these sharp curb stones if you just ride straight ahead. We're told they are necessary in order to help visually impaired people notice when they reach a crossing, although I have a hard time believing that this is real. I tend to think that someone has just found a nice business where they can a) harass ordinary people, and b) juice out some taxpayer money to contractors who are, by convention, exclusive providers of these stone slabs.

Given this bad design, it's not a wonder that bicyclists generally treat any traffic rules with great contempt. If you see a bicycle stop at the red light, you could actually build a national monument on the spot. It's so rare.

Confusing confession

The public, like Helsingin Sanomat and minister Paula Risikko, are busy as beehives about pedophilia within the church (Lutheran) and confession secrecy. It's something where it seems to be too easy to score political points. People seem to think: the Catholic church has had a particular pedophilia problem, so surely the Lutheran church must also have an equally large problem with it (despite the fact that the marital affairs of Lutheran priests are rather different from Catholic ones), and anyway, pedophilia is such a horrible crime that surely it's right to shoot anything that moves on this front. Pedophilia is so bad that normal judicial principles (like that people are innocent until proven guilty) do not apply. Pedophilia is so bad that although our legislation specifically forbids authorities from applying censorship, it's all right to silence Web sites that contain or link to suspicious material, and it's even all right to silence Web sites that contain or link to criticism of the censorship procedures.

Agreed, pedophilia is bad. But put that aside for a moment. Confession secrecy means in this context that if someone confesses to a priest that he/she has abused children, the priest is not supposed and not even allowed to inform the authorities about the crime. The minister wants to change this.

It seems like ministers and public alike would seriously need to be educated about what confessio is.

Lots of people seem to think that it's a privilege where Church employees would have specific permit to commit crimes or hide crimes of their colleagues about which they have information. That's not at all what confession is about. Confession is about processing one's conscience, and consulting about it in confidence.

Confession is there to help the penitent process his mind, that's all. It doesn't facilitate any other secrecy to hide crimes. Let's remember that the confession procedure is not very commonly applied in the Lutheran church. It's really not usual at all. Though I put a picture above, there are no confessionals (confession booths) in churches. There is no Sacrament of Penance in Lutheran church (because it only accepts the two sacraments set by the Christ, Holy Baptism and Eucharist). There's no way that divulging information obtained in confession could have major impact on the abuse of children within the church, simply because confession is not an everyday or an every-week or, for most people, an every-year occurrence. And in any case, confessino privilege protects only speech which would otherwise have not occurred at all.

If confession about issues regarding pedophilia are made unprivileged, then what else is going to be made unprivileged? Communication between a lawyer and a client, for instance? Should perhaps lawyers be forced to abstain from defending pedophiles, if the accused is guilty? And after this step has been taken, what other crimes are worthy of the same annulment of privileged communications? Murder, terrorism, hate against ethnic groups, tax fraud? (Note that if the penitent informs a priest about a major crime he/she is going to commit, the priest is already obliged to act to protect the potential victims.)

Talking about slippery-slope arguments is not too far-fetched here. Ministers advocate Morozov mentality, and simply for cheap political points. Paula Risikko needs some education. I think that what we need is not fewer confessions about pedophilia to a priest, but more confessions, because confession is not a method for the church to hide crimes inside, but to process them and encourage using the legal way to deal with them. Finding out about a crime outside confession is handled by church employees just like by anyone else. Confession is a method that allows those who feel guilty to talk to someone else, and get advice. The advice is most likely going to be that "God can forgive you in the afterlife, but if you seek redemption in this life, go to the police and repeat your confession; if you will not, stop what you were doing wrong and start making amends on your own."

I think that ending the privilege of confession would more likely mean more denial, more unprocessed wrongdoings, more evil.