Comical Olli and an epidemic loss of influence

If you read European news these days, you see the same kind of things being said, whatever the country. Almost every EU state is in the same, unique position.

UK: Cameron puts Britain offside and offshore in Europe.  "UK has isolated itself and lost critical influence for no gain whatsoever," said Sony Kapoor, head of the Brussels economic think-tank Re-Define.

Sweden: "If we stay outside the deal, we are more in the periphery", says prime minister Reinfeldt.

Finland: "Finland must stay in the core of EU" says presidential candidate Paavo Lipponen.

Ireland: "Government must ensure Ireland is at core of EU summit"

I don't really read Dutch or Estonian, but I'd be surprised if news in the Netherlands and Estonia or Austria   would be any different. Everybody says the same:

If we don't do as the EU Commission says, we'll lose our influence! We'll be in the periphery! We must stay in the core of EU!

What sort of influence is it when you have to do everything you're told to do, otherwise you don't have influence?

How is it possible that everyone is risking this horrible fate of being in the periphery: you must not disagree about anything? What does it help you to be "in the core" of EU if that just means that you be a nice boy and pay up, just as you are told?

I do understand that you do lose influence if you make a constant nuisance of yourself. If you make trouble of every little thing. Or if you screw up constantly and consistently, over a longer period of time. This is what Greece has done, and that has got people irritated. I can surely say that not many people take seriously anything the Greeks say about economy or European integration, so Greece has lost "influence". But I don't think the problem is that Greece is not in the "core" of the EU. The problem is negligence approaching criminal. This is not the case with Britain, Finland or Sweden, who are net contributors to EU budget (although themselves in debt and in need of austerity).

We won't lose influence if we sometimes disagree. I've got a piece of news for you: the only way you apply influence is that you try to change something. And a good time to change things is starting now. The countries are not losing influence. It's these guys  in "think-tanks", parties and government departments who may lose influence, and some really well-paid jobs as conductors in gravy trains between  Brussels and Strasbourg, to which no one has any influence whatsoever.

Well, I suppose this rant isn't going to change too much. We can continue to admire the gall of Comical Olli:


Justice served

Normally it is considered bad manners to ridicule someone for the way they have killed themselves, but I can't help feeling some satisfaction with this Darwin award: a metal thief dies when trying to steal 240 VAC electricity for his power jigsaw using snap-on cables designed for 12 V.

The emergence of metal theft is a sign of a disintegrating society in West Europe. Some of these audacious thieves have appeared also in Finland, disassembling e.g. copper and iron from roofs and garden fences. In a rather amusing episode, the organised and tax-funded supporters of illegal migrants ended up having parts of the copper roof of their social center stolen.

In England, metal thieves are a much bigger problem, now "recycling" everything from electric and communication cables (disused or active), railways (the rails, I mean), church bells, garden gates and even plaques from war memorials. England built a welfare society before us, and is now reaping the harvest before us. Sweden's there, too.  But we are catching up. And so is Austria, where someone stole the organ pipes from a church to sell as scrap metal.

Sure, metal theft has been a problem all the time in Russia, for instance, up to a 200 tonne bridge vanishing overnight. But that I see is more "normalnaya situatsiya", to be expected in post-Communist countries. We know the societies somewhat collapsed and public and private property was for anyone to grab if you just could. Why do we allow that to happen in formerly prosperous Western societies?

The sentences these people get for theft are generally laughable. They are no deterrence. The inability of our justice system to react to this kind of intolerable insolence is a partial explanation for why China and other emerging economies are catching up and overtaking. Sure, there is corruption there as well, but it isn't tolerated like here.

The coroner's comments for the demise of our jigsaw hero tell us how difficult it is for the officialdom to understand how deep we are:

''I very much hope that anyone who has been here today or reads the reports gives cause to consider the perils of trespassing unlawfully on to a property and then engaging in an activity like this.
''It is an absolute tragedy that this has happened. It is a senseless waste of a young life.''

No, it wasn't an absolute tragedy. It was a rather logical consequence of having a society where schools fail and the justice system is no longer capable of delivering justice. And I think this coroner is misguided in his belief that the metal thieves are going to read coroner's reports. I very much doubt they read absolutely anything.

There's one thing I wonder. Why aren't the metal recyclers, who buy obviously stolen material, prosecuted? Is recycling and material re-use such a holy cow that it's above any and all investigations?


Why banks fail

Europe is in the middle of huge economic trouble. The European states promise more to their voters than they can afford. Banks and financial institutions get much of the blame, but the real reason is simply public and private overspending in practically all of the countries, except those who are selling lots of raw materials (usually oil and natural gas).

However, there are some real problems in banks as well, and they have contributed to the situation. Politicians like to blame banks, investors (or "speculators"), rating agencies, etc. This allows them to shift the blame that simply belongs to politicians and voters. EU leadership wants to control rating agencies. This is a bit like when you are flying an airplane and you get very many warning lights in your cockpit that tell you about to hit the ground,  you react by reaching for a hammer and start smashing your instruments for incorrect operation. Yes, there may be faults in those indicators, but the time to do service is on the ground, not in flight. And not by the pilot who doesn't like what the lights say. Not when the rest of us are aboard this flight.

But what is really wrong with the banks? It is not that they make profits (if and when they do). It is not that they pay dividends. It is not that they pay huge sums of money in salaries and bonuses to their managers (although the latter is a symptom of the upside the banks had here: in the build-up of this governmental and inter-generation Ponzi scheme, they made fortunes.).

The problem is that the traditional separation between investment banking (which issues securities) and commercial banks (which accept deposits) was removed. This has created banks that have taken huge investment risks - such as investing in Greek government bonds. The same banks are also important for commercial operation of  the daily economy - basically they have bank accounts, yours and mine, and mortgages for homes, your and mine.  These banks are "too big to fail", but now they may actually collapse.

That is what makes the current economic crisis so much more difficult to handle: you can't easily just let the Greeks default and leave those evil, greedy vulture capitalists without their money. We have the deposits and pension savings of everyone at play, and our homes are mortgaged with funny money.

It looks like the U.S. effective repeal of Glass-Steagall Act - sponsored by Republicans, approved by a vast majority of Republicans and Democrats in the last years of Clinton administration with a Republican House majority - is the most serious blunder of the U.S. Republican party. It's not the Iraq war, it's not whatever spending or whatever tax cuts that Bush did. It's what they did in 1999 when Clinton was president. They messed up the financial markets.

In Europe, some similar development was done through the adoption of a single market in financial services, started 1987 and completed 1996. Now we see what it leads to in a dozen years.

Nevertheless, we shouldn't forget that the trouble of banks and other financial institutions is just a symptom. The fundamental problem in Europe is that politicians promise too much to their voters, and the result is that everyone is in debt. Public sector is in debt, and much of private spending is based on this debt as well. Europeans work much less than e.g. the Chinese, and it is difficult to understand how European leaders can expect poor, hard-working Chinese people to continue "lending" (i.e. donating) money to European central bank in order to keep up the frivolous spending practices of European welfare states where people can feed themselves without working. This is something where even North Korean news is more crebible than the eurocrats.


Will rich Greeks be repatriated?

It's been obvious for a long time that Greece will default; with Georgios Papandreu's silly referendum idea this week the way we arrive at this inevitable outcome is becoming more apparent. Greece will exit euro.

What will be done is something along the lines of Argentina's default some 10 years ago. It's not a disaster - sure, there is an economical shake-up, but it won't be that hard. It's not exactly a World War.

Not many people will be killed (although some riots and political activism along the lines of to Brigate Rosso may actually cause some deaths). Masses of Greeks won't be starving. They'll eat just fine, and people will continue to live in rather nice homes, they will continue to have a level of heath care that is marvelous when compared to historical levels, and they will continue to have TVs, mobile phones, entertainment and all the benefits of modern technology.

The austerity is long due and will do good to the people everywhere in Europe, not just Greece. But one question puzzles me. Greeks will have to start collecting taxes (let alone complete construction of all those houses that were left unfinished because an unfinished house is not eligible to pay property tax) .

The country has had a few super rich. And they have left, and their fortunes with them. The money will now be stored in bank accounts in Switzerland and Liechtenstein and UK and USA and even Germany, and other assets like shares and stocks will continue to be listed in the name of Greek nationals.

So, the question: Greece will probably make laws that say that its richest people will have to pay up much more in their taxes. The new government, when one is formed, will want to repatriate some of the earnings of the super-rich, who'll be living in other EU countries and North America. This will involve court cases about tax evasion and wealth transfers, and the outcome will be that Greek courts will ask other countries to send back people and their money. Will other EU countries and the USA really do this?

Some really rich people in Greece will have taken their winnings with them and they will try to stay out of the reach of Greek taxes, and keep their money. Will the other countries hand over these people and their money? Will rich Greeks and Greek riches be repatriated? Or will each and every one hosting these people try to attract as many of these expats as they can, because the money and wealth will be a benefit to the local economy?

My bet is that the super rich expat Greeks will keep their money. It's sad, but that's the most likely outcome: the hoarders will keep what they hoarded.


Women's pay, men's life

The usual suspects are making noise about "women's pay ends today", claiming that women get paid less than men, and therefore you could say that October 26 is the last day when women get paid this year. A Finnish-language news item e.g. here.

However, there is an even more important date approaching. It's the last day of life, per each year, for men. In Finland, it's December 1st. Women's life expectancy in our country is 83.0 years, while it is only 76.3 years for men. That means that the year for men has only 335 days, not 365.26 days like it is for women.

This fundamental, severe and unacceptable sign of discrimination against men is constantly ignored by the state agencies, by the media, and by third sector organisations. It would be time to do something about this inequality.


On cultural differences

Cheek kisses are considered an unacceptable way of greeting people in Germany. There is a distance of 60 centimeters that people should keep for an "intimacy zone" to avoid making others uncomfortable.

Well, this sure applies to Finland as well. With a minor difference: the distance is 6 meters.

Bears in Helsinki

Well, not quite in Helsinki, but in Vestra, Vantaa, within the metropolitan area (though not far from Nuuksio National Park).


Now, why is this news? OK, it is not very usual to have bears withint Helsinki area, but wouldn't we want it to be? Isn't it great that Mother Nature's diversity is accessible also to the residents of Helsinki, not just those ignorable people in The Middle Of Nowhere?

Police culpability at Utøya

There are a couple of things that really irritate me about the discussion around Norwegian narcissistic killer Breivik: populist knee-jerk reactions by politicians, and idiotic conspiracy theories and criticism regarding the police.

I must say it is sad to see people blaming conspiracies or police inefficiency, because it took an hour for the police to arrive at Utøya island and they might have, if they just had found the right combination of car routes, boat harbors and routes and helicopter usage, arrived at the island a few minutes earlier.

Now: get a life. The police did manage very, very well. This was an extremely exceptional attack. Beforehand, the police couldn't possibly know what exactly is happening. They just get lots of panicked emergency calls, reported by call centers who forward information to radio dispatchers and command and control centers.

A scenario where a massive car bomb explodes in downtown Oslo is very unlikely in itself. A scenario where this car bomb is just a diversion, and the actual attack is that the same perpetrator travels to a social democratic youth summer camp on an island and shoots dozens of people one by one, was totally and utterly fantastic. The police cannot possibly expect to handle such a case with a fluent routine. There can be no prepared contingency plans for this kind of a situation.  The information that police command and control centers get is contradictory, unreliable, unbelievable fragments of data, panic, opinions and rumors. There is too much information; there are hundreds and thousands of emergency calls. It is not reasonable to expect that in such a situation, the police could instantly make decisions that are in every way optimal, when analysed after the event by hundreds of people working for many months.

The police has to make its decisions in a hurry, under great pressure, in fear for their own lives, based on  inconsistent and incomplete data. The policemen cannot rush into a shooting scene without any consideration as to  how they plan to work on the situation. They have to take reasonable care so that they don't kill any innocent bystanders, that they don't kill each other, and that they don't unnecessarily expose themselves to futile danger. The primary problem is lack of reliable information. The commander of operations just doesn't know what he has at hand. He doesn't know if there is one attacker or many, what kind of firepower they might have, what kind of traps they might have laid out. He probably works with a makeshift team that is assembled in an emergency and everyone does not know everyone else.

With hindsight, it is easy to say that if you had deployed your boat at this spot and then taken this and this route, you'd have been at your destination three minutes faster. But that is information that investigators are able to find after weeks of careful analysis. When a killer is on the loose, you make the decisions based on the knowledge you have, and considering the nature of this attack, I think the Norwegian police did very well. They got to the scene, a remote island, in an hour. They didn't shoot any innocent bystanders, they didn't shoot each other. And they detained their man.

It was an extremely well organized attack by an exceptional, lonely killer, and this must not be forgotten when assessing police performance.

The  attack can be analysed in much detail afterwards, but already now it is clear that it was the act of a single criminal, it was not caused by anyone else, and it appears the killer did not even get any knowingly given material support from anyone else. It is hard to prevent such attacks, and trying to prevent them causes vastly more damage to our society than the attack itself ever could. So let's not blame the police, and let's not make things worse by making other knee-jerk reactions.

Organized terrorism is another thing: the support and command structures for such activities should be investigated, infiltrated and disrupted. But the best we can do to tackle the problem of a narcistic lone-wolf killer is to ignore him and carry on. We should support those who suffered from his actions, and not spoil any more of our lives.

So, as far as I can tell, the Norwegian police did their work well.

Regarding the knee-jerk reactions and political exploitation: Erkki Tuomioja and others immediately tried to utilize the tragedy to advance their political goals for gun control, or actually banning handguns. Stupid. Let's not allow this one crazy terrorist change the way we live. Sports shooting and hunting remain good activities that bring a lot of well-being to people. Knives kill many more people than guns do, and a determined maniac could inflict dozens of deaths with a knife  - there's no way we could absolutely prevent it, and we should not try.

The best way for us to react to this insanity is to not really care about it; just care about those who were hurt. I wish all strength to them.

A definition

International socialism is just like national socialism, except that you need capability for interplanetary travel to escape.


Shooting the messengers

Jose Manuel Barroso wants the EU commission to put a clamp on credit rating agencies.

Heiner Flassbeck, director of the UN Office for World Trade and Development, wants the agencies "dissolved" or at least banned from rating countries.

What utter idiots. I've got a piece of advice: before you do this, try something less harmful. Like fire all of the Meteorological Office staff  when there is bad weather.

I it is really quite scary to see that the commissioners are so removed from reality. The project for federal government for Europe is going to the heads of our political leaders and, increasingly, the civil servants who hold way too much power. When they hear messages they don't like, they start silencing the messengers, when in reality, they should listen, and try to understand, and act according to wisdom.


Diagnosis for the Greek disease

I discovered a good term for the Greek disease: it should be called the Hellenic sclerosis. A disorder of stiffening of a structure, usually caused by a replacement of the normal organ-specific tissue with connective tissue.

That's just like the Greek economy.


Passengers in the same boat

After an interesting outcome in April elections, Finland is forming a new government. The Dachshund Coalition will consist of the right, the left, and the wrong, in a true Sergio Leone spirit.

The program manifesto of this new cabinet will include the traditional alphabet-based approach to revenue generation: raise the taxes on Alcohol, Benzine (gas), and Candy, and then jump to the end of the alphabet for Oil. And do not forget T for Tobacco.

This is fine: the price increases for booze, tobacco, and sweets generally hits the poorest part of population that voluntarily wastes their money on these things. You can only marvel at the cosmic justice. Increasing prices for transportation is more problematic, because it is bad  economic growth, but it can be seen as a safe way to collect money because people don't have alternatives.

The interesting thing here is that taxing the vices can be supported by different people who have vastly different philosophies and goals, but end up supporting the same means, i.e. tax increases.

  • The Christian Democrats support tax increases on alcohol and tobacco because these vices are bad in God's eyes, and they think taxes will reduce the amount of sinning.
  • The Left League and Social Democrats support tax increases because they just like big government they think they will get. It's not real money, but they'll be happy with imaginary.
  • Bootleggers and smugglers just love these tax increases, because they know that illegitimate sales will be immensely more profitable, and their volume will increase.
So everyone is happy ever after.


If you need an ambulance

A very nice catch-22 in Sweden:

You have trouble breathing. You try to call an ambulance. The alarm centre decides that because you can still speak, you don't need an ambulance.

Call us only when you can no longer speak or breathe!

In some other countries, ambulance-chasing (sic) lawyers would have a dream target here. Not in the Nordics.


Expensive insurances

Talk about strange pricing: in England, insuring a £600 Corsa may be quoted at £72 000 per year.

That is weird. They blame ambulance chasers, a computer glitch and the fact that so many people are driving uninsured. You can see this is the country of Sherlock Holmes.

In my opinion, those who do buy insurance should not be forced to pay for the costs of those who do not. Driving without insurance is against the law, so if anyone has to pay, it's the person himself, and if he/she cannot, then it's the state. Not those who do carry their own liabilities.

...that he must die young, but with great glory...

In many places, the military traditions are based on the ethics of romantic ideas where it is the fate of young men to die in wars.

But now, in Japan, the nation with a rather upside-down age pyramid, this has been changed by elderly kamikaze soldiers: because old people's cells are not splitting as fast as those of the young, the risks of radiation are smaller. Besides, even if you get cancer at the age of 65 and die in 10 years, you anyway lose only 5-10 years of good life, while if you get cancer at the age of 30, you lose maybe 40 years.

Now, hats off to these guys. Not that I think it's really so kamikaze: we are talking about a slightly elevated cancer risk, not certain death, and not certain loss of health. I'd be more willing to work there than to eat fresh cucumbers in Germany. But anyway, who can now say that the baby boomers are just like locusts that leave nothing behind them?


Organic E coli

Organic cucumbers seem to be dangerous, particularly for Germans: an E coli epidemic has killed at least a dozen people.

To be safe, I would propose that they start irradiating their organic vegetables. That should provide us with some good entertainment.


Combining work and family life

We've been told time and time again that it is necessary to make it easier to combine work and family life at the time when people have small children. Having once had small children, I tend to agree. This is important for true gender equality. People should be able to work part time.

But most of the time, rhetoric goes that the evil forces of market economy should be tamed and regulated so that this is possible. This is a particularly popular view by people on the "progressive" or "left" side, such as red-greens - generally the people who favour "big government".

OK, now some people like doctors have actually been able to reach better arrangements for their lives. And immediately, there is a problem: part-time work agreements are threatening the public health services. "If our doctor is working only four days a week, how do we manage? Patients will not get the care they need" says an administrator.

How did we come to this deplorable problem situation? Via those evil market forces, of course. Private health care providers have been happy to agree to part time work, or show flexibility towards their employees. They then contract to do work for the public health system which is unable to hire - due to the inhumanly long working hours required. In order to avoid having too many workers to flee to work on the private side and come back via outsourcing deals, the public sector also has had to agree to part-time agreements and flexible arrangements. Now more of their employees do work in such amounts and at such times that they feel it is better for them. And with the immensely inflexible work culture of the public sector, this causes problems.

So what is the cure? Force the private sector employers to be less flexible towards their employees? Enforce a five-day working week for everyone on the private sector, so that they would not have a competitive advantage when trying to hire employees?

Somehow it seems to me that the red-greens want to both have the cake and eat it. Hey guys: you either allow people to work more flexible hours, or you don't. I think it is good that the market economy innovates and shows what is possible. The public sector then should be able to at least follow the leader.

On eating beef

Prince Charles is saying that Americans should consume less beef. Offhand, I cannot think of a better way to ensure that Americans - or anyone - will want to eat more meat.

If Prince Harry said something about it, the impact just might be a little less harmful for proponents of vegetarianism.

Myself, I appreciate vegetarian food; particularly second-order vegetarian (food made of things that have eaten vegetables).


Solution on the Portugal guarantees

 There's a fuss about the loan guarantees that eurozone countries are expected to give to Portugal. In Finland, this was a theme in the parliament election, and it seems that it will not be possible to form a cabinet, because parties have suddenly developed a spine and keeping their election promises, and thus they are not agreeing to givnig a carte blanche to loaning money to Portugal so that German and British banks wouldn't lose their investments.

Solution found! Portugal has the largest gold reserves in eurozone, worth 14 000 000 000 €. Let's agree that Finland guarantees Portugal's debts, for up to 14 G€, and an equivalent amount of the gold reserves are transferred to the Bank of Finland.

(Okay, it is a bit suspect, given that the formerly disastrous Erkki Liikanen is heading the bank, but let's assign a couple of thugs to guard him.)

Why couldn't you do this? If they need guarantees, and they have a large stock of gold, they can give the gold as guarantee. If they don't want to do it, they don't appear to need the money.


Burmese lessons

YLE reported - just before the election day last weekend -  that the civil servants in Lapland met a challenge on a Burmese language lesson. They even learned that a sentence like "I love you" could be rather indiscreet in Burmese culture.

It might be news for them that the situation is same in Finnish culture: Finns don't use the l-word so carelessly. But that is perhaps beside the point.

The point is: somehow, to me this piece of news has very similar echoes to the fate of Hiroo Onoda, who kept fighting the Second World War, on the remote Philippine island of Lubang, until March 1972. He just did not know that the war had ended almost 30 years earlier.

I bet the Finnish civil servants will also go on with Burmese lessons - at least as long as someone signs the paycheck.


A trebuchet

Trebuchets are every boy's favourite toys. Watch the ad video.

What they don't mention is that there is only one type of projectile that is really fit for firing your miniature trebuchet: Brussels sprouts.


Swedish democracy

Expressen writes that "Don't let Soini into power, 80 % did not vote for him!"

The Swedes appear to have a weird idea of democracy. How come can you exclude some - but only one - party if it did not achieve a majority? Are you seriously saying that the election result, a considerable victory by one party, should be ignored? What you mean is that the only way to change policies in a country is through a violent revolution. The normal thing in a democracy is that if someone wins the election, then they get to try out with their ideas. Right or wrong, that's the way it works.

Let the Elementary Finns attempt to create a coalition with the others. If they succeed, fine - though I doubt it: populist movements typically have a hard time when they have to take positions of responsibility. If they don't succeed, they'll meet their fate at the next elections.

But if you keep them forcefully out of democratic process, then the only possibility to throw out the current power-that-be is having your kind hanging from the lampposts.

Don't be so stupid, Expressen.

Car insurances are up, who's ripping us off?

Answer: no one is ripping us off, except perhaps the state (in taxes).

The Telegraph complains that car insurance prices are up and this is due to frivolous legal costs. The no-win no-fee lawyers in some countries, like Britain, may have some impact. But the problem of raising insurance costs is visible also in countries that do not have no-win no-fee lawyers. There's another thing that people often don't appreciate nearly enough. It's the change in cars and their safety that we've seen over the last decades.

Modern cars are designed so that they contain the impact energy in accidents: the front of the car compresses in a controlled way, but the passenger cabin maintains form and protects people. The cars also have airbags - up to a dozen of them. And there are explosive cartridges that tighten the safety belt in an accidents. There are also many other features that help people survive crashes but which increase the manufacturing and repairing costs of cars. This is the main reason for having fewer people die in traffic accidents - the number of accidents is not going down so much, but the cars help people to survive more and more dramatic crashes.

This does have a cost. In the old times, your Mini or Opel Kadett C or Toyota Corolla could kill you if had a medium crash. Nowadays your Hyunday Getz, Opel Astra or Toyota Auris deforms itself, but you just walk away. But if you have a small crash - and there are many more of those than there are medium or big, fatal crashes - the car is totalled. Large parts of the fuselage need to be replaced, as well as the airbags, the parts of interior destroyed by the exploding airbag cartridge, etc. Often the car looks more or less intact on the outside, but it's written off, because it is so deformed that the doors won't close any more. It's not feasible to fix it any more.

If you have a small crash, but just big enough to launch the airbags, the car has to be recycled and replaced. This has a big cost for the insurance companies.

Look at the bright side: the injuries people get are diminishing. The cost to the health system is smaller. But car insurers pay this in cars that are written off, and that increases the insurance prices.


BBC joins the front

The BBC has joined the progressive front in Finnish election battle, for the little that it is worth.

The Beeb is often accused of leftist ("liberal") bias, and here one can see some grounds for that, because the story has more inaccuracies than you would expect.

You could start with the name that this report gives to the populist party Perussuomalaiset. They're called True Finns, although the party itself does not use that English name, and the Finnish name does not really translate like that. A better translation would be Basic Finns, or as I mentioned before, Elementary Finns. Or Little People's Party.

Beeb also says but the True Finns' nationalism has no room for Swedish. It excludes Swedish as something unfamiliar to Finnish culture. Polls suggest that most Finns share that view and want to stop the teaching of Swedish in Finnish schools.

That's not quite  true, either. What Finns mostly want is to stop mandatory teaching of Swedish in Finnish schools. This is not a change to the constitutional position of Swedish in Finland; it would merely revert - from language politics point of view - to the situation prior to the school reform of 1970's when Swedish was made mandatory to everyone. Those days Swedish was doing a lot better than now when it's slowly fading to obscurity.

I have not seen that Perussuomalaiset would have said they'd want to stop teaching of Swedish in schools. That would be absurd.

Then the BBC writes Instead, young women should study less and spend more time giving birth to pure Finnish children. That is like a faint echo of Nazi ideology.

This is pure rubbish. I wonder who the Beeb has been listening to? Obviously, they don't have a correspondent in the country who'd have any idea of the local politics, so they're relying on someone who they think is ideologically reliable. And the Beeb is either naive or then it insist on following its suspected bias.

Anyway, the election result appears to shake the Finnish politics really deeply. It will be very interesting to see what kind of a government coalition will be formed, but none of the old bases will be workable, because they won't have a majority. And with Perussuomalaiset raising from next to nothing to perhaps the second-highest number of MPs, they have a good case to insist their point of view is taken into account. Listen to the voice of the people.

One possibility is that the largest party and nominal winner, center-right-eurominded Kokoomus, will not be able head a coalition, and the new cabinet will be formed by eurosceptics: left-populist Perussuomalaiset, center-left-populist SDP and center-right-agrarian Keskusta. That would give a big  - and well deserved - headache to Brussels, because it would mean that Finland stops being the nice model pupil of the new brave Europe, implementing every directive obediently and to the point and paying up every cent whenever someone asks.

In four years, Perussuomalaiset will have lost much of the momentum they now have, and I expect their bubble will burst, but the next couple of years will be interesting.


The Church, afraid of martyrs

The bishops of the Swedish church are advising their pastors that they should not baptise asylum-seekers who have converted to Christianity, because if these people are repatriated, there is a risk of persecution - in practise, being killed for apostasy.

I find the lack of religion in Swedish church rather strange. The Christian church used to celebrate people who die as martyrs for their faith, from St. Stephan to St. Paul to St. Lucia, and hundreds or thousands of others. So now they are actually saying "don't do what we've been saying is a good thing for the past 2000 years". Because it's bad for your 'elf and safety, and who knows about the afterlife.

What use do we have for such a church?


Radiation, eek!

One of the big headlines of past week was that "the tap water in Tokyo is not safe for children".

Well, not for Japanese children, that is. In one of the water plants in Tokyo, the radioactivity was 210 Bq/l. Is this a lot? In Japan, it is, so much that there is a national scare, because the limit of 200 Bq/l is exceeded.

But in Finland the safe limit for municipal water plants is 300 Bq/l, and for private water sources it is 1000 Bq/l. In reality, drilled wells in souther Finland typically exceed this by many times, with the natural radiation of groundwater radon in Western Uusimaa region being on the average between 1000 and 10 000 Bq/l. This is because of the radioactivity in the Finnish rock ground.

So, once again, you might be scared in Japan but running away to be somewhere else is not necessarily a whole lot safer, because that Evil Radiation is everywhere, so easily measurable.

Now, there really could be some serious problems with radiation in Japan. But how do we know? Because our major newspapers are like boys who cry wolf, they're not very believable. I suppose something worse than this tapwater scare will come out, but it's still going to be dwarfed by the natural disaster of earthquake and tsunami, as well as the collapse of the hydroelectric dam in the neighbourhood - of which we're not hearing anything, because no one is interested, because it is not nuclear.

On the other side of the Sea of Japan there is some more serious trouble.

Why do journalists want to scare us?

A few thoughts regarding the scale of destruction caused by natural disaster in Japan, and the hews headlines which are almost exclusively about the nuclear reactor leakages.

There is a perception that you don't need to make news about the impact of the tsunami in Japan, because "nothing can be done about a tsunami".

That is not true. A lot can be done about a tsunami. And in fact, a lot was done in Japan. Warning systems, evacuation plans, protective structures. That's why the number of dead will be around 30,000 and not 300,000 or more. When Indonesia and Thailand were hit by a tsunami a few years back, a lot more people were killed because they had not prepared as well.

Likewise with nuclear power. The plants can be improved. In fact, besides Fukushima, several other nuclear plants on the same coast were hit by this huge tsunami - and there is no crisis. Some of them needed to resort to emergency procedures, but those were successful. We should learn about that.

What actually scares me about the Fukushima incident is people like Frigyes Reisch, head of Swedish nuclear safety, says he thinks "in Sweden it would be handled more effectively". That sounds actually scary and overconfident. You don't make nuclear plants safer by pretending that you are more effective and better than the Japanese. That's a recipe for disaster. The way to avoid trouble is that you plan ahead for all kinds of risks and make contingency plans, back-up systems, better design. You don't jsut assume that you are more efficient than the Japanese.

If you are asking why there are problems in Swedish reactors, I think the biggest reason is the rather foolish referendum 30 years ago where there was a decision to shut down the plants in Sweden. Which was unrealistic, couldn't be done, and wasn't done, because the nation needs electricity. Instead, the utilization of the plants has increased, without much investment.

Why? If you are going to shut down the plants, the owner cannot invest in further development and renewals. And these are the things that would introduce new safety features, better reactor designs, safer plants. So Sweden voted to increase nuclear power but not develop it to be safer.

Otherwise, I'm quite shocked by the way media in the Nordics are exploiting the Japanese disaster politically to oppose nuclear power. There is a huge humanitarian disaster there. Even though the Japanese did prepare well, there was still huge damage and a lot of loss of life due to tsunami. The crisis in Fukushima plant is a very minor issue compared to the direct impact of the tsunami itself, even despite the extensive preparations and evacuations. The life has been changed for millions. But all that has gone from headlines, because fearmongering about nuclear plants sells better.

Some basic information:
http://online.kitp.ucsb.edu/online/plecture/bmonreal11/ (from March 16)


A mine in fire

While the Japanese still struggle a bit at the Fukushima nuclear plant to limit any damage, the world is a the brink of hysteria. Googling around, I ran into an example of the downside of the practical alternative to nuclear power:


This mine fire has been burning since 1962, i.e. it will be 50 years old next year. The borough of Centralia is now a ghost town, with just seven people living there who still refuse to leave despite orders to evacuate.

Imagine the uproar we'd have if a uranium mine or depot would have a fire that would last 50 years and force the evacuation of an entire town... No one I've spoken to had ever heard of Centralia, though everyone has heard of Chernobyl.

The story is interesting: people didn't quite know that the earth under their feet was burning. Until a gas station owner noticed that the fuel in his underground tanks was very, very warm indeed: 78  °C.


An unrelated observation: I have not noticed anywhere any reports that there would be looting, rioting or other types of crime waves in the areas that tsunami destroyed in Japan. I suppose that could be called civilization.


How to get rid of a dictator

Last week's news is that Muammar Gaddafi is facing investigation for crimes against humanity. Is this really wise?

I mean, in all honesty, Gaddafi of today is not much different from Gaddafi of one month ago, and I don't think it is a surprise to anyone that when his power is challenged, a dictator's reaction is thoroughly violent. How come his government was until so very recently deemed fit to judge others as a member of the UN Human Rights Council? To get commendable peer reviews from Venezuela, Zimbabwe and North Korea?

Just a few weeks ago, the rest of the world was willing enough to play along with Gaddafi, and no one should pretend that his attitude towards humanity today has somehow suddenly changed. We all knew all the time who and what he is. So what do we reach by trying to drag him to a court now, and not then?

What actually is the impact of trying to get Gaddafi to the International Criminal Court? I think the only thing that can be achieved is that Gaddafi has to cling to power in fear of his life and liberty. Wouldn't it be much better if he was able to collect a moderate proportion of his savings - yes, taken from his people and nation - and retire quietly to some place safe, like Nicaragua or North Korea? Let him have a nice villa, 24h security, the Ukrainian nurse, and a few million $US on his bank accounts. No need for more, but let him have enough to live comfortably. Forget the stupid civil war, just don't have it at all. The net impact is that whatever Gaddafi gets to keep is probably less than what is destroyed during one day of civil war. Let him have it, and be rid of him.

You could of course ask, what about justice? Isn't it valuable that dictators are brought to justice?

Well, the ICC does not seem to be able to deliver it. It suffers from the same problems as the tribunal for Yugoslavian wars, where Slobodan Milosevic was allowed to play around for months and years, and in the end, he's still as much a hero for some and as much a villain for others, and not the tragically condemned and convicted man he was supposed to be. There's no end to the various conspiracy theories.

Let's just all admit that Gaddafi has been playing us for 40 years; if he agrees to retire quietly, let's encourage him to do so, forget about the hassle, and try to help building a new, better Libya. Which I hope, possibly in vain,  is not going to be a crazy theocracy.

Echoes of Chernobyl

Today's news claim that "a serious nuclear disaster threatens the Earth", things look real bad.

I'll make another threat to the Earth: behave, or I'll kick you! Who gave the permission to move Japan 2.4 meters to a wrong place? Now people will crash to traffic signs if they trust their satnavs.

But other than that, I fail to see what's the big deal. Sure, not having any radioactive leakage would be preferable, but the damage caused by leaks at the Fukushima plant are a fairly minimal aspect when compared to the immense destruction caused by the tsunami itself - even if the damage escalates from today, which is not that sure.

If anything, I think this shows how safe nuclear power is. For me, the question was resolved at Chernobyl. Even if you have a large nuclear site, designed for production of nuclear weapon material as a by-product of energy, with a completely reckless and incompetent leadership screwing things as bad as is humanly possible (here I'm not talking about many of the brave firefighters and soldiers etc who worked there, just the leadership), the damage was less than spectacular. Sure, there was a sizable radioactive leak which is easily measurable far away, including where I live - radioactivity is always easily measurable. Areas around the town were deemed uninhabitable - although at the same time, this created a rather interesting nature reserve.

But the damage is minimal when compared to the impact of mining and burning coal (excluding any impact of CO2 emissions, just considering the mining accidents and the particles and radioactivity emitted from burning), or the impact of collecting wood and burning it, or just about any alternative.


Friends and statesmen

Libya is all over the news, and of course a civil war in North Africa is something that interests pretty much everyone in Europe. This made me go googling around, and one just cannot help feeling that not so long ago, Gaddafi was a great friend to many statesmen in Europe and the world, even though everyone knew he's quite a dictator. Look at the parade:

Great African heroes, champions of human rights and freedom.

Silvio is chummy with Muammar. Well, they're just neighbours across the pond. And Silvio has long been a pretty divisive figure in Europe, so this is no surprise. The guys probably share the same taste regarding women, political ideals, and other things.

Tony looks a bit embarrassed but there were some good oil deals to be done. Send Mr. Al-Megrahi home and things will be smooth.

These guys surely got along just fine.

 Gordon was a not-so-bright shooting star compared to Muammar.

Obama looks quite cordial although not hugely enthusiastic.

Apparently Bill Clinton didn't meet Muammar, but here Hillary is shaking hands with Muammar's son Mutassim, to congratulate the people of Libya on their Revolution day (that is, the anniversary when Muammar took power).

But the one picture I just did not find: Muammar and George W. Bush. He seems to be the one contemporary leader (in addition to Angela Merkel) who did not go to the cameras with Muammar.


Nokia and Microsoft

Many of my friends have expressed various degrees of shock after yesterday's announcement that Nokia ramps down Symbian, gives Meego out to open source and starts to use Windows Phone 7 in its new smartphones.

Well, it is indeed a shock if you have worked for a technological gimmick for years, and then the company leadership just abandons the whole thing. Been there, done that.  I worked for Nokia and NSN from June 1, 1989 to June 1, 2009 - for 20 years and 1 day, and there were quite a number of good times and bad times during these years.

Many people in Nokia-Finland are quite devoted to the technology they work with - there's more loyalty and emotion than towards the company itself. That makes it hard to accept this change.

Now it is easy to see that this decision wasn't something that Stephen Elop came up with after he became Nokia's CEO. Clearly, this is a strategy chosen by Nokia's board, under the leadership of Jorma Ollila, and Elop was chosen to execute it.

What I'd like to say to this situation is that we shouldn't get too depressed about it. Yes, it is a big change. Many will feel that their life's work and commitment has been thrown over - and the company given to the jaws of the big, ugly, unfair, dirty Microsoft.

Indeed, I'm no fan of Microsoft. I use Windows at work, and some of the tools are pretty OK, but as the  developer tools and APIs and that kind of stuff go, I am definitely a Unix man. I write this on my home laptop that runs Linux. The amount of broken logic, weird conventions, hordes of inexplicable legacy... that's Windows. However, it's not as bad as Symbian, which as far as I ever saw - not recently, I admit - was only slightly preferable to syphilis, if you consider the damage it does to your brain, not to mention your social reputation.

But Nokia was clearly in need of change. The Ovi Store is just astonishingly unbelievingly miserable. What I ask you to notice is the time Nokia decided this change. It may be relatively late as Nokia goes - because Nokia has always been quick to react to problems - but still, Nokia did make this decision before it lost its position as the world's No. 1 mobile phone maker. The next year or two may be a bit difficult because there is not yet a load of new WP7-based smartphones, and the old Symbian base is eroding, with customers losing interest right now. That's why the share price took quite a dip: clearly there won't be that much dividends next year. But Nokia is still the largest phone maker, with an amazing machinery of production and purchasing power, and an impressive delivery chain that covers the entire world - and it intends to stay there. I think this move with Microsoft improves the possibilities.

It's a bit sad for MeeGo and the lots of bright people I know have been working there. I think there's been some internal back-stabbing that has kept Maemo/Meego from coming to phone near you sooner. Now developers and Nokia internal organizations need to adopt Windows Phone 7. There's quite a curve to learn the new environment, but I'm pretty sure that given some time, the engineering talent in Finland will be using its time better than before (with the exception of those who were working on Maemo/MeeGo, I'm afraid - I think it should have been kept as a second strategy, because dependency on Microsoft has always been a death's kiss for vendors).

What disgusts me is the schadenfreude that some commentators express in public comments and in blogs, the kind were people say that it's so nice that some of those big earners lose their jobs. Indeed, the income distribution in Finland may become more flat because of lay-offs in Nokia, and the Green "welfare metrics" will improve, but I just abhor people who say that's a good thing. Some certified idiots blame this on political parties in Finland  - as if the product and web shop strategies of Nokia were the result of policies of Kokoomus or Keskusta. Scavengers.

A particularly ugly example of this political scavenging is Paavo Arhinmäki, who claims that Nokia did this move because it is so easy to lay off people in Finland and some generous packages like those in Germany are a birthright. What utter rubbish. Does he really think that it is more difficult to reduce staff in the US, where Microsoft does their OS development, or in China or in India? High-tech jobs aren't going to be preserved by making employers more hesitant to invest, hire and train. These jobs are to be preserved - and renewed - if they are productive; if they are perceived worth the cost to the shareholders. Why doesn't Arhinmäki just go hiding under the bed like Jutta Urpilainen - wisely- does regarding the current Nokia story? The world might not be a better place, but it would at least look cleaner. There are some well-meaning but utterly, and I mean utterly clueless proposals, like Jouko Skinnari's idea of a new state company acting as a sheltered employment center. That anyone who was even a child at the time of Valco has such ideas is beyond belief.

To all the former colleagues at Nokia I wish good luck and successful change. I should remind that these are not bad times - compared to what things were in 1991-1992. I wasn't a regular employee but a trainee, had a stream of fixed-term contracts, many times continuing to work even though a new contract wasn't even signed until weeks into the new contract period. The company was truly struggling for existence. And it renewed, and it rebounded, to an extent where it literally saved the Finnish economy after the collapse of early 1990's. Look at where the company is now: yes, there is a bit of a crises, but it is still the largest phone manufacturer in the world, and it can stay so if it just keeps going ahead.

Hooligans games and gentlemen's games

There's a saying that football is a gentleman's game played by hooligans, and rugby is a hooligans game played by gentlemen. One would expect that when football fans arrange a demonstration, things would get really bad.

But now Inspector Gadget reports that where "intellectuals", students, make a demonstration, the actual outcome is violence and destruction, and the whole place is a wreck with weeks' work of cleaning up. When the English Defence League - basically a really scary-looking bald-headed islamophobic bunch of football hooligans - arranges a demonstration, they can be kettled and policed and, surprise, now one is injured, no one is attacked, and the place is spotless the moment the demonstrators leave.

It's all about what you want to do. The police tactics in demonstrations do not cause violence; the demonstrators do - if they are violent.

Alas, the most impressive thing about this demonstration is how quiet the mainstream media like BBC is about it. Somehow it isn't news at all that thousands of hooligans go to a march and no one gets hurt.


A nomination

Every once in a while, you learn some funny things about the English. Like this one: members of the parliament cannot resign. Actually, in the history, MPs were sometimes elected against their will - presumably there were some occupational hazards and anyway it was financially not such an attractive job as nowadays.

OK, so when an MP has disgraced himself in the expenses scandal, how do the English get rid of him? They appoint him to the job of Crown Steward and Bailiff of the three Chiltern Hundreds of Stoke, Desborough and Burnham. This is a ceremonial position of profit. An MP accepting an office of profit under the Crown must give up his or her seat. An MP applies for the office to the Chancellor of the Exchequer, who usually then signs a warrant appointing the now former MP. And thus the MP has effectively resigned.



Marching for a goverment

Every day, you can read how people here and people there are marching against their government.

Beware, you might get what you ask for. And it's not always fun. Today, in Belgium, thousands of people have been marching for government. That is, marching for having a government. However much you oppose this government or that, in the end, you'll want to have one.


Putting down dogs and people

There's the death penalty in some U.S. states. However, performing executions by lethal injection has been difficult lately because of a rather absurd reason: lack of sodium thiopental, which is used in the process of killing the convict painlessly. Nobody seems to be willing to manufacture this drug, and thus it is now "effectively unobtainable" in the United States.

I consider it absurd because so far the human race has shown incredible ingenuity in the art killing other people. It's really quite amazing that a modern developed nation cannot find a good way to kill those it has decided to kill. At the same time, owners of dogs, cats and other pets shed tears as they perform the last service to the creature they love, and contract a veterinarian to put the animal to sleep forever.

But of course, what works with dogs will mostly work with people. According to CNN, the Oklahoma death row inmate John David Duty was executed with pentobarbital, drug often used to put down animals. His lawyers were protesting because the drug is "unproven in humans". Well, not any more. For once, we've had lots of animal testing. Would we need more human testing?

Myself, I'm for the death sentence for some crimes, but only with one approved execution method: lock the convict up in a prison until he or she dies.

The unpleasant fact about other ways of execution - however human and painless - is that they are too quick. It sometimes happens that a wrong man or woman is convicted. And once the execution is carried through, there's no way to undo it. But if the execution is performed by just keeping the person in prison, it is always possible to interrupt it if new evidence comes up.

Naturally, it  may happen that the person dies in between the wrong conviction and its revocation. But when you consider that many death row inmates probably have a longer life expectancy in death row than outside -  drug-related violence is a common reason for convictions, and incarceration reduces that risk; prison food is probably low cholesterol, low salt etc, in other words much healthier than what the convicts would otherwise be eating - this is a bearable risk. And remember, we have the same risk of miscarriages of justice with regular prison sentences as well. If you find a wrongful conviction, you can pay reparations, but you cannot give back time. And finally, the legal costs related to other types of execution seem to mount up so huge that the cost of a hundred years of prison meals is nothing.

The one question where I haven't quite made up my mind is whether people sentenced to death, and being executed for the next day or year or 100 years in prison, should be allowed to voluntarily choose a dose of a drug that gives them sleep. Right now I think not, both because it might be a too easy escape and because it might be a wrong escape.

Recruitment ad for the secret police?

According to The Guardian, PC Mark Kennedy had sexual relationships with a number of women in the environmental movement during the time he infiltrated the organizations, while working for the Public Order Intelligence Unit. He was "just not hippy in a way", for example because he ate meat, but he did have a pick-up truck and money, and he was very popular.

Hey, it sounds like this is actually a recruitment ad for the somewhat-secret police. Join the force, and become the spy who shagged hippie girls. Almost like James Bond, with a license to spill.