6.12.2012

The National Day of Doom and Gloom

December 6 is Finland's Independence day. It's a weird occasion.

In most countries, the national day is a day of joy and celebration. Fireworks, parades, crowds, carnevals and more fireworks.





Not so here. Our Independence day is, year after year, mostly about remembering the war. Suffering of men and women at time of war. Every other day of the year is a think of the children! day, but this is the think of the veterans! day. And a day for candles. And more candles. I do candles too.

Besides candles, the main activity of people seems to be representational celebration: folks sit on a couch and watch TV where a parade of their representatives, bold and beautiful, or bald and pitiful, march to a reception at the presidential palace. There a few war veterans are interviewed on TV.

I don't ridicule the veterans. My father was one of them, his leg torn up by a hand grenade in close combat in the trenches of  Krivi in September 1942, and after a tour of military hospitals and being sent back to the front line, his elbow pierced by a bullet in Tali in June 1944. And even then, fight for every inch of our ground, keep the front where it is, at any cost, and then...peace. Pull back a hundred miles and give the ground to the Soviets.

OK, so there are reasons why the mood of occasion on our Independence day is doom and gloom.  A December day in Finland is not the best time and place for doing a carneval, parade or picnic. And it was a December day in 1918, when Finland did declare independence, and seceded from the  neighbouring Russia who was weak and chaotic after having been savaged by world war and internal turmoil. Then came a Red revolution in Finland. And a civil war. And a bitter defeat of the Reds, and the prison camps where the Whites avenged the real and perceived wrongs they had experienced, and put the surrendered Red soldiers and non-combatants of the losing side in prison camps where thousands were killed by hunger and disease. And then a quiet shame "what have we done?", and then a slow reconciliation as the tenant farmers - people like my grandparents - were granted right to redeem their farms from the manor-owners at a reasonable cost; this was called "liberation". Liberation to a freedom to work your ass off to get your daily bread.

And it is undoubtedly true that our real test of independence came during the Second World War, when the  - mostly - reconciled nation stayed united first under attack by the Soviets and then in attack in alignment with Nazi Germany. Even the poorest of our people knew that oppression under capitalism was preferable to the alternative: a promise of worker's paradise and a reality of shallow graves in faraway lands. Our people  knew that those graves were the actual offer by "international" socialism.  So we balanced between two mustached dictators who both had equally murderous intents, none better than the other. We made it; then came the Cold War and more dancing on the tight rope. A high price was paid for our independence. What's left of it?  EU federalism?

So now the main excitement of Independence Day seems to some dull interviews of people sipping a cocktail mix (Do you enjoy the athmosphere here? - Yes, lots of people here!), and a public debate over which version of the pessimistic "Unknown soldier" movies - 1955 version or 1985 version - is shown by the national broadcaster.  This year they decided to show both. After a hot debate over whether it is legal to broadcast a 1955 black-and-white movie at 2pm because think of the children. I'm really getting fed up with this think of the children and  let's remember the veterans. 

Maybe I'll just go and light another candle.

Thank heaven for the tax havens!

Helsingin Sanomat reports that Finnish pension funds have invested heavily in tax havens.

Thank goodness! I am actually relieved, because I've been concerned that the pension fund investors would be too much under political pressure and would put our money to places where the state can confiscate them to relieve short-term cash problems.

I very much like the idea that my pension money is in a tax haven, not taken over and given to countries and people who are living beyond their means and then complaining how poor they are and how it's the fault of those who borrowed them money.

Normal and abnormal

The editor-in-chief of YLE (our tax-funded state broadcaster) was attacked by a hobo at a railway stop in Vantaa.

The police said "this is just normal anti-social behaviour". It's somehow worth a headline in the media when a well-known  member of the elite is the target of a random attack. But why is it news?

When a random person is the target of a random attack, it's not news. If someone is killed, it's still barely news. Now this is news because the target of attack was a news maker.

Anyway, the hobo will keep doing what he does. Because it is "just normal anti-social behaviour". But what's then abnormal anti-social behaviour?

When the goat is guarding the cabbage patch

Greek refusal to face facts is stunning (pun intended):

Judges in the country's Supreme Court ruled that new cuts to their own pay contained in the draft bill were illegal. 

 Well, they would, wouldn't they? As the clerks in parliament would go to strike to prevent cuts to their own pay. Quis custodiet ipsos custodes?


18.10.2012

Refugees' right to participate in elections

A slightly weird twist regarding the right of refugees to participate in local elections:

Rahim Malalai, an Afghan-born doctor who fled her home country after being threatened to be killed (for daring to work as a doctor, which women couldn't do under the Taliban), was chosen by Finnish Refugee Council as the "Immigrant woman of the year". The purpose of this prize is "to support and advance the position of refugree women in the Finnish society". Rahim has been helping people in home country, in refugee camps, and recently she got certification for a  medical doctor in Finland.

Now Rahim wanted to stand in the local elections (they are every four years, and again this autumn). She's legally eligible. But the Refugee Council says that she mustn't; it is forbidden because she's the Immigrant woman of the year. Rahim has backed down (Suomenmaa).

Now, this is a bit obscure. Wouldn't it be natural that if you want to advance the position of refugee women, you would allow and possibly even encourage participation in politics?

In fact, that's what has happened. Many of the refugee women of the year have since stood in local elections, although not for Center party, which is socially somewhat more conservative than the party of choice of the previous women. And now the Refugree Council says that she's not allowed this year.

How come? I would say to Rahim: go ahead, stand in the elections. You are legally eligible. If they then want to strip you of the status of the immigrant woman of the year, let them do so. You've defied the Taliban before. You can also defy the Miss Refugee Finland rules.

Security Council membership

"Finland wants to become a temporary member of the UN Security Council", they say.

Who is this "Finland"? I don't want my country to be in the UN Security Council. It's somewhat debatable whether it's a good idea even to be a member of the UN, the whole organisation being such a bloated and corrupt beast, but the Security Council clearly is a club that is only useful for its permanent members who have a veto, and no one else.

Having temporary members as some sort of advisers is a thinly veiled attempt to whitewash a non-working structure devised over 60 years ago. The Security Council does not come up with anything useful in major conflicts where it would be needed, because one of the superpowers - USA, Russia and China - is typically involved in one way or the other. Elsewhere - such as in the conflict in Somalia - outsiders can act without the council's approval anyway.

No amount of Security Council approval has stopped USA-haters from calling the Afghanistan operation "illegal war". Therefore, even as an enabler to stop and suppress thoroughly horrible regimes the council is just useless.

So, what can a small country achieve by being a member of the council? It can set itself on a collision course with one of the superpowers. Or it can give blank votes and stay quiet. Who benefits of the membership? A few career diplomats in the Foreign Ministry. Who can suffer? All of us, by paying for it. All of us, by potentially getting inconveniently involved in the clashes of the great powers who are returning to a more and more Cold-War-like setup.

Fortunately, we won the vote and - along with Bhutan and Cambodia - can stay out of trouble.

29.8.2012

Those evil capitalists and their gains

Conventional media as well as bloggers and other net sources are full of lamentation about how the income inequality is growing, as a few rich people get capital gains (which grow) and those of us who need to make our living by working get less and less in wages and salaries (as they don't keep up with inflation). This message gets repeated over and over again. Examples in Finnish, in random order: Demari (2011), Kansan uutiset (2004), University of Tampere (2012), Taloussanomat (2002), Society for the Study of the Juche Idea (2010). People actually believe this, it's the standard narrative.

Now, how does this show up in statistics? The Cabinet Office has got numbers from Statistics Finland and the picture looks like this:


What do we see here? Over a period of 35 years between 1975 and 2010, the compensation of employees as a proportion of national income has fallen from about 65 % to about 60 %. Why? Because the proportion of taxes on production and imports has gone up by about 5 percentage points, from 10 % to 15%. The proportion of income from property and entrepreneurial income is about the same.

Of course, if we decide to cherry-pick our reference point and make it 1992 - and intentionally forget the immediately preceeding history - then we get a different picture. This is what many, many commentators do, particularly now, in 2012, which is 20 years after the biggest recession in our history.

1992 was the year of economic collapse, huge hardship for companies and public sector, and start of rapidly increasing unemployment due to a wave of crashes and bankrupcies. For a moment, employee compensation as a proportion of national income went up rapidly - simply because wages and salaries are less flexible than profits and capital gains. But what you don't see in the picture is that as the share of employee compensation went up strongly, the actual total compensation fell off a cliff, as did the tax revenue. You can conveniently see this in the number of people who needed/got social assistance:



Big surprise. You have a wave of companies making losses. Capital income plummeted first. Then came the bankrupcies and the amount of wages and salaries plummeted as well, because employment plummeted. And then people were poorer.

Wasn't that nice time? Don't we all - except the few evil capitalists - enjoy it if the proportion of employee compensation grows? No. I can tell you that 1992 wasn't a very good time for anyone, and the fact that employee compensation as a proportion of national income was growing did not give jobs or prosperity for the many of us who went through the uncertainty and economic hardship - and for the fewer, many of them failed entrepreneurs, who crashed completely and never recovered.

The breakdown of national income above shows that after 1993, the proportion of capital and entrepreneurial income went up. This was, in part, due to a capital gains tax reform which essentially cut the tax percentage dramatically, but at the same time removed lots of deductions that companies had been eligible to get. It removed tax loopholes and encouraged companies to declare profits, pay dividends, and be taxed.

What you don't, again, see in the above picture is that total amount of tax revenue went up dramatically. You can see it below.


Now, in 2011, we again can witness a phase where proportion of employee compensation goes up - and both total income and total tax revenue drop. Is this fun? No. The government is going hugely to debt.

The discussion seems to boil down to a point: is it better to have a smaller cake, as long as the majority of people - particularly those who were not involved in the baking process - get a larger proportion of it? Even if the total size of the slice they get is smaller? Is it important to "send messages" by having high nominal tax rates, and complex tax law with loopholes and special-interest-group deductions and subsidies, and live with a lower total tax revenue, as long as taxes are high in proportion to income?

This doesn't make sense to me. I think it is important that tax revenue can get us funding for public services. It is not important that tax revenues are as high a proportion of national income as possible. And right now, it's not the capitalist leeches that take the money of workers - it's the government.

And we should realise that employee compensation as proportion of national income is now at the same level as it was in the 1970's, the golden days of Urho Kekkonen and the welfare state as the baby-boomers wanted it to be.

14.7.2012

Olympic silliness and fish finger recycling

The London Olympic games have become quite a farce, ahead of the games. Not just the general security paranoia and fuss, but now the organising committee is saying that you may only link to their site if you're saying nice things about them:
a. Links to the Site. You may create your own link to the Site, provided that your link is in a text-only format. You may not use any link to the Site as a method of creating an unauthorised association between an organisation, business, goods or services and London 2012, and agree that no such link shall portray us or any other official London 2012 organisations (or our or their activities, products or services) in a false, misleading, derogatory or otherwise objectionable manner.
I wonder how anybody can be this clueless? Particularly, some lawyer who presumably reviews and approves these policies? How are you going to enforce it? I, for one, will here say some objectionable things. The LOCOG is ignorant, and to confirm that, I link to their site in a graphic format - their policy is from this place: (Y) 

Note that my intention is to portray Olympic sponsors, such as Coca-Cola, GE, P&G and Samsung, in a derogatory manner. They have voluntarily associated themselves with a bunch of greedy fools.

But perhaps the silliest thing in London is that McDonald's has a monopoly for selling fries. This would be understandable inside the venues, to prevent outside vendors from taking in unfair profits when McDonald's has entered a sponsorship deal with the organisers. But: even existing, established businesses in the neighbourhoods have been harrassed and intimidated. That's not in line with the Olympic spirit as I learned it - admittedly, some decades ago.

So, now restaurants have been banned from selling fries or chips, except if sold with fish.

I have been defending McDonald's against various stupid boycott campaigns, but this time I think it is reasonable that I'll actually quit eating at McDonald's (and more importantly, sponsoring my kids and their friends with lunches there), until another, even more stupid (probably leftist anti-corporate) campaign gets my attention so that I have to reverse.


Advice to London restaurants: if you really have to serve fish in order to sell chips in London, I suggest you take the same strategy as we had in my country back in the bad old days of more regulated alcohol policy. Those days, it was forbidden to sell beer in a restaurant most of the day, except with food.

To counter this silly requirement, restaurants had special sandwiches made to be delivered with beer. No one actually said it anywhere in writing, of course, but the idea was that beer is served with a sandwich (in a wrapper) so that the restaurant meets the legal requirement of only serving beer with food. You never ate this sandwich. It was returned with the empty beer glass, to be served with the next beer to next customer. At the end of the day, the recycled sandwiches were thrown away as pig food (alas, no longer possible due to EU regulations).

Of course, every now and then a stupid foreigner would come and eat the sandwich (and possibly even complain about poor quality). Then someone would have to explain that this is just a way to get around stupid regulators.

Now, you Englishmen, formerly free, can do the same. Just deliver a fish finger, wrapped in plastic, with every portion of chips. The happy customer can then return it to be used with the chips of the next customer.

This, or just serve Freedom Fries instead of chips.

28.6.2012

Welcome to the Brave New Welfare State

As always, Britain is a decade or two ahead of us in building a modern, multicultural welfare state. Here's tomorrow's guidance also for Finnish schoolchildren:

For health and safety reason, schoolchildren should not stand up to give sitting room for old or disabled people.

Way to go! This may not be what we think we are aiming for, but it is clearly what we're heading for.

2.5.2012

Climate diplomacy

What's "climate diplomacy"?

Apparently, something where you should have quotas for participation in meetings to discuss reducing emissions (and travel to these meetings by... plane, I presume?)

I'd say the first thing about these meetings is that you should arrange them as phone/video conferences. Not that there is much impact to the world, but this way the "climate diplomacy" wouldn't be quite so ridiculous.

A use case for pennies: development aid

In the U.S., there are more and more calls to abandon the penny, with some very convincing argumentation. Canada has decided to get rid of CAD cents. It has also already been done in some of €uro countries: Finland, for instance, rounds every purchase to 5 cents. 1 and 2 cent coins issued in other euro countries are valid currency, but you seldom see them, because you don't need them and because of their low value, they're just a nuissance.

New York Times tells that Zimbabwe has a different problem: after hyperinflation, the country abandoned the worthless Z$ (with banknotes running up to hundreds of trillions of Z$ in denomination) and is now using USD. But while it is relatively straightforward to start using U.S. paper money, there is a shortage of coins. They are expensive to ship, and even more expensive to make, so they just don't have any.

So, perhaps there is a use case for the smallest coins of U.S. money, after decommissioning them: ship them to Zimbabwe as development aid.

OK, it could be that people just scavenge them for copper, anyway, so as a development aid, U.S. should actually develop a new-technology penny that is cheap enough to make.

And it could be that if the Americans give money to Zimbabwe, someone will find it outrageous that this hazardous waste is dumped to Africa. After all, the reduced-cost pennies made in America after 1982 are made of zinc, with just a copper coating, and if a child swallows it, it could corrode in the stomach, become sharp and potentially dangerous for health.

Still, I'd say: perhaps Americans should give their pennies to Africans, literally.

5.4.2012

Why I have decided to start smoking

I never thought I would do this. I have decided to start to smoke tobacco.

I really hate the stuff. Most of the time, it just smells awful. Occasionally I may find a  tobacco smell that I like, but those times it is usually just a sniff that brings to my mind a memory of some nice moment, perhaps some Saturday afternoon in my childhood when my dad's friends or neighbours were visiting, drinking beer and telling stories. They used to roll their own, so it's usually  the smell of an open pack of loose tobacco that I find nice. Or perhaps it's just the Rizla paper. The other kinds of tobacco I just hate, particularly the smoke from little cigarillos.

Usually the smoke makes me cough. My aunt, a one-time prolific smoker, died of lung cancer, and I saw off her coff-in as she was no longer cough-ing. Ha ha, not so funny, I loved my aunt and I am sad that she is gone. My home has always been smoke-free. I find restaurants much more enjoyable now that they are not thick with stench.

But I can't stand our government any more. The increasing control and meddling in our lives just has to be met with a response. It's not just about smoking, it's about everything, the well over fifteen hundred new pieces of legislation that enter the book of codex each year, not to mention the countless diktats given out by the EU. But the final straw was observing the procedures of purchasing a pack of cigarettes at the grocery store. The tobacco is only available at the cashier, hidden, so that minors are not exposed to the attraction.

So here we are, at the queue. The fairly old man in front of me has lifted  his modest groceries on the conveyor belt and the cashier girl has scanned the bar codes, so they're almost ready and I lift my stuff on the belt. The man in front of me only wants one more thing: some tobacco.

- "A pack of red Marlboros", he asks. He wants his smoke. I have a cubic meter of groceries, I want to pay them at the counter and go home.

The girl at the counter hands the man an A4 sheet laminated in plastic, without saying anything.

- "What? Please, just a red Marlboro", asks the man and tries to hand back the sheet. "Same as last week."

- "You have to say the number. It's the new law", responds the girl.

- "What number?", asks the man.

- "A number on that list, please. I can only sell you tobacco if you say the number."

- "What? Why? That doesn't make sense."

- "Sorry, it doesn't but it's the law, you have to say the number. Just look it up."

- "I can't read this. I left my glasses home. What number is red Marlboro?"

- "Sorry, I cannot tell you. The Ministry of Social Affairs and Health has made this law. If I tell you, my boss will be fined and he'll be mad at me if I don't do as they say. We could lose our license."

- "So you can't tell me my number? I can't read this. Why couldn't you make the letters a little bigger on this list? I just want the pack of red Marlboro."

- "I asked the same, but my boss says they can't. It's in the law. It has to be this kind of text."

- "Are you serious?"

At this point, I step in, and help the man, as I am able to read this font, which the law 2010/1311 mandates has to be 14pt Helvetica, and may contain Finnish or Swedish languages - as if Marlboro is much different in any language: "It's number 16."

- "One pack of 16, please".

- "Thank you."

The girl pounds in the code 16, which she of course knew all the time. The machine whizzes and the red Marlboro appears from the transparent polycarbonate tube, and the girl hands it to the man. He pays for his stuff.

- "Here's your change. Thanks, and see you again!" says the girl.

- "I think not. This is silly. I'll go to Tallinn and buy the lot there from now on. Bye!"

And I think I will do the same. I just want to have a few packs of cigarettes around so that I can consider myself living in a protest against this absurd piece of legislation. As I said, I hate the smoke. I'll have a hard time smoking any of it and I won't be able to breathe in. But consider this, Pekka Puska: you just made me really want to be a smoker. I also want to buy some beer, distribute Coke and other brands of carbonated sugar water to minors, and I even feel an urge to consume large quantities of butter. They may not be so good for my health, but if I don't get any, I think my blood pressure is going so high my vessels are going to burst.

And I won't buy tobacco here. I feel it's my duty to take the cheap ferry to Tallinn, buy the tobacco there, and bring it to Finland, because it would be unethical to pay tax for this mockery. I think I also hear the call of duty that I also have to bring a twelve-pack of duty-free Koskenkorva. We have to fight this fascism.

Fellow smokers, I'm with you, even if I can't really breathe in that stuff.

Emergency lines and slaves of TV

Britain is ramping down the analog terrestrial TV networks, as digitalisation goes ahead.


The Telegraph reports that "thousands of households were forced to phone emergency help lines as they discovered they could not watch their set."


This Big Brother society in Britain is getting a bit funny. People are forced to call 999 (equivalent of 112 or 911) if they cannot watch their set! I wonder what kind of penalties are set for those who don't call?


Oh, you mean they weren't actually forced by anyone? They were just in such a distress if they cannot see their TV programs like they're used to that they have to call emergency services? And they are not smart enough to figure out that some other place, like a shop selling new TVs, would be a better place to call than the emergency centre that sends ambulances to people who are dying or the police to people who are being robbed or burgled? That it's not really an emergency even if you cannot watch Coronation Street just now?


A religion that worships that idol in one corner of the living room - or idol of huge wall-mounted flat screen - seems to make people unable to think themselves.

3.4.2012

Success as designed by a committee

A new grand committee has been assigned to design Finland's way into success in information and communications technology. I won't bother to describe who's in.

There's a saying that a camel is a horse designed by a committee, but I'm afraid that this committee is not going to come up with anything as sleek, practical and smooth-tempered as a camel. What it will come up with is a stack of paper with ink stains. Imported laser printer ink, to be precise.

When are you guys going to realise that 5-year-plans are not going to make it? That it's liberty and free enterprise that create new innovations, if anything? The role of the public sector is to provide infrastructure, and let people do things - if they have the incentives, they will get to work.

It seems the ideology in Finland is the same old socialism: if it moves, tax it. If it doesn't, subsidise it.

22.3.2012

Market economy invented in Greece!

A couple of years ago I wrote about a local currency project in Helsinki. People in Kumpula are exchanging work to credits called kumpenni. This is nice, but there's the little issue that if the scheme actually becomes in any way significant, it will be stamped down by tax authorities because those local exchange money units are still taxable income.

Now, with the financial collapse of the Hellenic state, a bit similar system is gaining ground in Greece, as Guardian reports about the local alternative currency system called tems. Apparently on a somewhat larger scale than the tiny bartering system in Helsinki.

What is funny here is that Guardian is usually very strongly againts tax evasion. Now it has no problem:

Tems has been up and running for barely 18 months, said Maria Choupis, one of its founder members. Prompted by ever more swingeing salary cuts and tax increases, she reckons there are now around 15 such networks active around Greece, and more planned. "They are as much social structures as economic ones," she said. "They foster intimacy and mutual support."

Fine. But I do have a problem. What about employment insurances, income tax, VAT, all those taxes that The Guardian would normally think are definitely due to be paid by the employer and employee, and if you don't pay, you're a baddie? (Unless you are Ken Livingstone, that is.)

I'm the guy in Finland, one of the least corrupted countries in the world. I'm supposed to pay my taxes. I'm actually supposed to pay higher VAT (24 %) soon, now that the government wants to balance its budgets - so that it can afford the bail-outs given to Greece - and pay a higher membership fee to the EU (which takes a proportion of the VAT intake). And I'm supposed to pay a hiked income tax.

The Greek government is getting guaranteed bail-out money from my government, while it provides an official non-profit status for this barter network:

The Greek parliament recently passed a law encouraging "alternative forms of entrepreneurship and local development", including exchange networks such as Volos's, giving them official non-profit status for tax purposes.

And The Guardian is actually admiring this  way of showing practical solidarity – of building relationships. This is mind-boggling.

6.3.2012

English language is weird

I mean, the English as used in England.

A Telegraph headline: Police refuse to say if shooting victim Anthony Grainger was armed. This was a suspected robber. Anywhere else - including ,astonishingly, Finland, Sweden etc - the headline would speak about "suspected robber", not "shooting victim".

The victimisation culture of serious criminals is really out of hand in Britain.

The police won't say if the man was armed. That is hardly surprising. Whatever the police says, if there is a tiniest error or debatable detail, it will be used against the officers in question and in justification for just about anything (including, but not limited to, arranging a riot, burning down a section of London, or emptying an electronics store of big screen TV's.

21.2.2012

Lumitöiden tekemisestä

Koska sähköpostinjakelu Espoon kaupungille pompahtaa takaisin merkinnällä "Local Policy Violation (state 14)", julkaisen tämän avoimena kirjeenä.


From: pjt@iki.fi
To: mauri.suurperko@espoo.fi
Subject: Lumityöt

Arvoisa liiketoimintajohtaja

Luin ällistyksellä kommenttejanne lumitöistä Uudessa Suomessa - "älkää tehkö lumitöitä". Että kaupunkilaisten tulee "käyttää joukkoliikennettä ja olla kärsivällisiä".

Me kaupunkilaiset joudumme käymään töissä. Usein emme voi käyttää joukkoliikennettä mm. siksi, että emme voi luottaa sen kulkemiseen. Erityisesti huonolla säällä, jolloin näitä kehotuksia päästellään, on parasta luottaa omaan autoonsa, koska juuri silloin raideliikenne puuroutuu.

Sunnuntaina 19.2. joukko autoja jäi jumiin Jänismetsäntielle. Oli satanut lunta. Tietä ei ollut aurattu.

On toki ymmärrettävää, että sunnuntaipäivänä täytyy pitää taukoa aurauksessa, jotta kuljettajat saavat levätä ja kalusto saadaan tielle taas maanantaiaamuna. Eikä se olisi ollut ongelma nytkään: viisitoista senttiä irtolunta ei ole mikään mahdoton määrä, ja tavallinen liikenne selviää siitä kyllä.

Mutta liikenne ei selvinnyt siitä, että aura ei ollut käynyt paikalla edellisen, viikontakaisen lumisateen jäljiltä. Eikä sitä edellisen. Voi olla, että teidän kirjanpidossanne ja raportoinnissanne tie on aurattu; omalta osaltani voin vain kertoa että tosiasiassa tiet olivat auraamatta ja olivat olleet viikkokausia. Kun tie on auraamatta, lumi tamppautuu raiteille, ja lopulta sitä on niin paksu kerros, että kun päälle tulee uutta lunta ja tiellä ajava auto putoaa pois raiteen päältä, ajoneuvo on pohjastaan lumen varassa, pyörät eivät yletä maahan, ja eteneminen pysähtyy. Liikenne kulkee silloin, kun kukaan ei tule vastaan, jolloin voi pitää yllä riittävää vauhtia, mutta jos joutuu vaikkapa väistämään toista autoa tai jalan kulkevaa lasta tai vanhusta, niin meno tyssää siihen.

Lausumanne, että kaupunkilaisten ei itse tulisi kolata teitä, on käsittämätön. Kiinni jumiutuneet autot olisivat olleet Jänismetsäntiellä maanantaiaamuun, ellemme olisi hankkineet lähitaloista väkeä, jolla oli lumilapioita, kolia, hiekoitussepeliä, laudanpätkiä ynnä muita tarvikkeita, joita tarvitaan autojen irroittamiseksi ja tamppautuneen lumen irti hakkaamiseksi ja pois lapioimiseksi. Tunnin ahkeroinnilla saimme suman purettua ja enimmät lumet lapioitua pois tukkeutuneelta risteysalueelta.

Ymmärrän toki, että kun Espoo rakentaa eteläosiinsa metroa, se joutuu keskittämään kunnallistekniikan resurssit tuolle työmaalle ja sen ympärille rakennettavalle uudelle uljaalle asutukselle. Tiet ja kadut muualla on jätettävä vähemmälle hoidolle. 

Ehdottaisin, että Espoon kaupunki varautuu hieman nykyistä vähemmän ilmaston lämpenemiseen ja hieman enemmän talveen. Eikä ainakaan kannata paheksua sitä että kaupunkilaiset hankkivat nelivetomaastureita - tämä muuten pätee vielä paremmin naapuriin Helsinkiin.

Todettakoon vielä, että maanantaina 20.2. aamulla aura oli käynyt naapurustossamme. Jalkakäytävät ovat tietenkin auraamatta vielä tiistainakin ja ajourille tamppaantuneen lumen poistamiseen tarvitaan tiekarhu, mutta nyt tielle ei jää jumiin, kunhan autossa on hyvät renkaat. Polkupyöräilijät kantakoot kulkupelinsä. Hiihtäjät pärjäävät hyvin. Potkukelkkailijoiden mahdollisuudet pilataan paikoitellen hiekalla. Rollaattorit pysyvät sisällä.

Ehdottaisin, että jatkossa rajoitatte lehdistölle antamanne lausunnot yhteen sanaan, joka sisältää kaiken tarvittavan, ja ärsyttää vähemmän: "anteeksi".

10.1.2012

Guggenheim for Helsinki?

Story by Telegraph.

As a Finn, I am not enthralled. Guggenheim wants license fees. Under this plan, they are guaranteed. By the taxpayer, who is giving a steady source of income for Guggenheim.

The studies alone have cost us a couple of million €. We're not the first one. There was to be another Guggenheim on lower Manhattan. There was to be Guggenheim Rio de Janeiro. For Guggenheim Guadalaraja, the city paid for plans and donated the plot, but it didn't come up. Guggenheim Hermitage Vilnius should be by now up and running but it is not.  Et cetera. Most of these projects have found that the original funding plans were unrealistic, as explained by Alaston kriitikko.

There was Guggenheim Hermitage Las Vegas - now, this plan had an an impressive combination of artistic heritage and money, and they actually built it, but it didn't fly; it was shut down in 2008.

Bilbao is quoted as a success story with so many tourists visiting the city, but I think that the sudden availability of £20 flights for the benefit of  British and other booze cruisers - brought to you by European flight deregulation which happened at the time - to go get some cheap wine is a better explanation than artistic ambitions. I don't say it wouldn't be a nice museum. I just don't trust the business case.

Now, if the funding structure for Guggenheim Helsinki would be built a bit differently, I would be all for it. Just make the contracts so that Guggenheim, not taxpayer, takes the risk. You're OK to use the current calculations for visitors and revenue. Just show them you're serious with them. If the planned numbers of visitors are reached, Guggenheim gets to keep 90 % of additional profits. That'll suit me.

If their numbers are to be trusted, they should have no problem accepting this. If they don't accept, that should tell us something: it could be that those who are behind this plan are keen to take risks, with other people's money, not their own.

6.1.2012

Cynically riding a dead girl

A hit-and-run drunk driver killed an 11-year-old girl  in Helsinki three days ago.

The story itself is familiar- though less common than what people think - from previous cases: man is drunk, goes driving, does gross DUI. Hits a girl at a zebra crossing on a dark evening, panics, drives away leaving the girl to die, feels bad, tells someone, goes to his workplace, drinks more, and gets arrested when the police find him.

Now, people are furious. This is pretty understandable, because the man's action was deplorable. I listened to the radio the following morning:

"They should lock him up for the REST OF HIS LIFE!"
"Drink drivers should NEVER get their license back!"
"Alco-lock must be made COMPULSORY in all cars!"
"The legal limit for drink driving must be made lower! ZERO!"
"Speed limits must be lowered!"
"This must never happen again! Anything must be done to prevent another case like this!"

And so on.

I'm very sorry for the girl and her family. I'm even a little bit frightened: I don't drive under influence, but accidents can happen, and if I had an accident - perfectly sober - the reaction could still be something similar.

What happened was dreadful. But these responses are silly. What troubles me is the  knee-jerk reactions, populism and cynical exploitation of a dead child. This may result in bad legislation and unwise decisions.

They should lock him up for the rest of his life!

In Finland, it is generally recognized that harsh punishment does not prevent crime. We don't have the death penalty, and even for pre-meditated murder - the most severe of crimes - the standard jail term is around 14 years. Why should DUI be more harshly punished than e.g. intentionally stabbing someone?

Yes, this man, who had a history of many drink driving offences, drove under influence and hit a small girl. But as far as we know, he didn't intend to kill the girl. It was an accident. He did take a risk that should be considered reckless behaviour. What made it worse was that after the accident, he drove away and left the girl to die. He should not have panicked, he should have stopped there, he should have tried to help the girl, he should have called an ambulance. He did not. This was bad, but it was far short of pre-meditated murder. In mitigating factors, it seems he had a troubled past but was now actually working, and had a clean record for long enough time to get his driving license back. In my opinion, he should get something that is close to the maximum penalty for gross unintentional homicide, which is six years, plus some additional time for the DUI. For that, because he is a "first-timer" (meaning he has not been inside during the past three years), he would do maybe 2 years in prison.

Now, in my opinion that is a ridiculously short sentence for what he did, but it is in line with other sentences given in this country. He should get justice, not more, not less, and this is what is considered justice in Finland. The system in this country believes that putting criminals in prison does not help. Why would we think that drink drivers are somehow more responsive to harsh punishment? I would think to the contrary.

There seems to be some kind of an emotional reaction that goes with certain kinds of crime - drink driving and sex crimes come to mind - but it's really very illogical. These are the kinds of crime where the criminal probably does less risk analysis before the act concerning the possible punishment if he is caught. I mean, who would do DUI if you were sober? If we were logical, we would rather first make the sentences tougher for crimes where there is more risk analysis beforehand, such as economic crimes, burglaries, the all-so-common organized bicycle theft racket, metal theft, drug trade, human trafficking and so on.

Driving under influence is bad but it is not that dangerous. Drink drivers kill about five outside victims each year. About 30 000 drink drivers are convicted per annum. How many are actually driving under influence? A conservative estimate is that the chances of getting caught are 1 to 200 (though it could be 1 to 2000). So, with this conservative estimate, there would be 6 million drink driving cases in a year, 30 000 caught, five people killed. It means that a drink driver's probability of actually killing someone is in the order of 1 ppm (part per million).

Really. A chance of one in a million. It's not a lot. It's not something that we should approve, but when you think of it, it is actually extremely rare that a drink driver kills someone. (It is slightly more common that a drink driver kills him- or herself, or other people travelling with him or her. This we could call poetic justice.)

Drink drivers should NEVER get their license back!

For any other types of crimes, you don't have punishment for the rest of your life. Even "life in prison" is  institutionalized with a process so that it actually means about 14 years in prison, perhaps less you behave well, and even notorious criminals like Juha Valjakkala will be released eventually despite constant escape attempts. There's always a term of some kind.

It would be extraordinary and an unusual punishment to ban driving for all life. Still, for repeat gross offenders, I wouldn't consider it too harsh to really make the loss of driving license permanent.

But this helps very little. You see, very many drink drivers don't have a license anyway. The one who killed the 11-year-old did, but this I would consider exceptional (and as a sentencing factor not against him). Pretty much every day you can read news about some reckless guy who runs away from the police at dangerous speeds, with five times the legal limit of alcohol in his blood. Most of the time, the guy does not have a driving license in the first place.

So what does it help to take away the license? You don't need a license to be able to drive. What would help? Perhaps amputation of the hands. But I have a better idea: mandatory antabus for those who have a severe alcohol problem.


Alco-lock must be made compulsory in all cars!

Another knee-jerk reaction. Whether the alco-locks work to stop drink drivers is dubious. What is certain is that there is a cost that would be carried by all drivers for the installation of device to all cars, and it is not small: in the order of 1000 € per car. No one else is going to pay for this. It won't be a factory-installed feature; Finland is just a too small market for that.

It would of course be very convenient for the state, because this mandatory gadget could only be installed by "official" importers, so it would act as a deterrent against the importing of used cars to Finland. The cozy relationship of "official" car importers and ministries would no longer be disturbed by those pests, citizens.

The state already takes about six times as much money from car owners than it puts into maintaining traffic infrastructure. The Finnish state is well-known to resort to illegal practices to extort tax money from drivers in the import taxes. This is well-planned fraud, by the government. The cost of alco-locks would be on top of this, and it would be out of proportion considering how much it would really have any  impact on road safety (we are talking about something like a thousand million euros, which would save many more lives if used better; drink drivers kill around five people each year in Finland, and a billion euros, if used on road safety, would save perhaps ten times as many).

A more significant impact of the alco-lock would be that your car doesn't start on a cold morning when you are supposed to go to work. They are known to malfunction, particularly in our climate. Perhaps not an issue if you get to work in a minister's limo, but for the rest of us this is an issue.

The legal limit for drink driving must be made lower!

Another illogical move. Our hit-and-run driver was already above the legal limit for gross DUI. With a lower limit, it would still be gross DUI, except that with the lower limit you would also convict people who are not really drunk. 0.02 % BAC does not impact the ability to drive a car. The driving ability may actually improve with blood alcohol content until 0.02 % or so. The driver performance only starts to weaken at 0.05 %, which is why the current limit is good.

Ministers also say that because DUI cases are increasing, the limit must be tightened. But why are the cases increasing? Two factors:

The so-called moped-cars have become more common, and under-18-year-olds drive them - and get caught. They are not supposed to get any alcohol from anywhere in the first place, so why go for the limit, when you actually should do something to the problem that minors drink?

Other drugs than alcohol are an increasing reason for DUI convictions. Now, lowering the alcohol limit when the actual drug is amphetamine or other illegal drugs is silly.

Speed limits must be lowered!

More illogical proposals. Our killer driver was probably not just drunk but also exceeding the existing speed limit. A lower limit would not have stopped him. The very next day, there was a guy running away from the police at 170 km/h. He did not care about the speed limit, and he would not have cared about a lower speed limit. He was also gross DUI. He also did not have a license. He was also under influence of illegal drugs. That's about five different severe breaches of law in one go, and a different speed limit would have made absolutely no difference.

What lowering the speed limits would do is make people more annoyed with the limits and lead us to think that it is okay to break the limits because they are not reasonable. The respect of law would be diminished, and that would be the main impact.

This must never happen again! Anything must be done to prevent another case like this!

It will happen again. People do get killed in traffic. If not hit by a car, then hit by a bus or a train or a kick-sled or just slip, fall, hit head on the ground. Humans err. What we can do is make the possibility of error smaller, make the traffic environment safer. The speed limits are already mostly low enough, or even too low. The drink driving limit is already at the right place, the BAC level where driver performance starts to be impacted negatively.

Having the alco-lock in cars of past offenders might be reasonable, as a part of the punishment. Stronger sentences would be good not only for drink drivers but all sorts of intentional, violent or economic crime. Especially multiple offenders who show no respect for any laws at all should be dealt with (like the 170 km/h police-runaway person mentioned above).

But we can't make the world a place where everything is perfectly safe. If we try, we'll just create a dystopia, a bad place to live.

Government ministers don't seem to care what really works and what does not. They'll be perfectly happy to exploit the public fury in order to get more government control, squeeze some more money from car owners, and shine up their public image. Cynical.