Wednesday, September 27, 2006


Grr. I go away for a few days and one of my favorite blogs disappears.

It is quite disturbing. He used to write fairly sarcastic things many of which were out of line with the politically correct line of thinking (and sometimes quite wrong, but who isn't, sometimes?), and at some point concerned citizens became, well, concerned and alerted the Powers That Be.

Suddenly he started sounding like a Stepford wife, saying that he has realized that he has been mean and wrong, but has seen the light now, and that he is doing this completely of his free will in order to become a better person, without any pressure from anyone, and deleted his blog.

This is scary. It would have been less scary if he wrote "shit, can't write anymore, gonna get in trouble". I kind of feel bad about questioning Ilkka's sudden change of worldview and personality, but you gotta admit that a radical personality change right after one's boss suggests sensitivity training might lead onlookers to draw a number of cynical conclusions.

In any case, he does not want any free speech campaigning on his behalf, and we've got to respect his wishes. I've seen people urging him to fight, but fighting is exactly the kind of thing that is easy to cheer on but sometimes hard to do. But I'll really miss the damn blog.

Somehow a quote from Walter Williams comes to my mind: "You say, "Williams, how can you get away with such political incorrectness?" It's easy. I'm a tenured professor, and I have diversified sources of income -- plus, I don't have much longer in this world." Not having much longer in this world does not sound like a good idea, but I sincerely wish Ilkka tenure and diversified sources of income.

Saturday, September 16, 2006

Weirdos in the street

Lately there has been a lot of weirdos trying to talk to me in the street. I have no idea why. Usually the most severe weirdo season is early summer, but this week there has been a line of men trying to inform me that I have big tits.

Last night's weirdos:

1. "You have very strong hair. Reminds me of Samson and Delilah. Like, if somebody cuts your hair you are weak."

Great pickup line, moron.

I consider some of my standard psychotic responses along the lines of "why, I would still be strong enough to catch the guilty party, slash all the flesh off his face, dip the rest of it in acid and cut off all fingers one by one", but look at the guy, and he looks very small and sad and I don't quite have the heart. Usually saying things like that scares potential sex partners quite efficiently, but it has its risks: some are actually looking for a psychotic girlfriend and sometimes it leads to embarassing situations, like that Irish guy running after me in Amsterdam once and demanding that I beat him up or at least humiliate him properly.

He turns out to be an American. Me too. He thinks we should drink to such an incredible coincidence sometime, and gives me his email address. I rate my chances of ever contacting him as "highly unlikely" and don't give him mine. He asks whether I have issues with foreigners, or with men. I feel like explaining to him that any contact with strange men who meet me in the street and try to be my friends usually deteriorates into the tedios "please?" - "no" - "please?" - "no" so it's best not to waste time.

"Please? I have been here 3 years and I know very few people. You know how hard it is to meet Finnish people."
"Uhm, actually I don't. I meet Finnish people all the time."

He expresses doubt. I ask him whether or not he speaks Finnish. "Of course not!" "Uhm, maybe you'll have an easier time meeting them when you learn the language."

I almost feel like sending him the URL of the forum where foreigners complain to each other that Finnish is hard and Finns are hard to meet, but don't really feel like contacting him.

2. "Excuse me? Do you have a cigarette?"
"You have a very nice body."
"Thanks." (I really don't, but here it is a prettier euphemism for big tits.)
"I wanna try it."
"No way."
"I already have a boyfriend, and if I were looking for a new one it wouldn't be you." Not to mention that I wouldn't think of doing it with a man who has some use for a cigarette.
"Is this because I am black?"
The race card should be answered appropriately. "Yes, that too." (I don't really mind black guys but the race card should always be punished. Besides, it's fun to see people's jaws drop.)

All that weirdness within ten minutes. Huh.

Friday, September 15, 2006

Security risks

A couple of weeks ago a guy was not allowed to board a plane at NYC's JFK airport while wearing a t-shirt with an Arabic text ("we will not be silent"). They even bought him another t-shirt. Hey, if you get a new t-shirt every time you wear an Arabic t-shirt, where do I sign up?

A few days later another guy was not allowed to board a plane at the Birmingham airport in a t-shirt with a picture of pistols. Security risk, you know. He is gonna make pictures of gunshot wounds on other people's t-shirt with those gun pictures. Or something. Don't the security guards in Birmingham have some real work to do? Like, say, checking every woman for gel bras, which are forbidden there?

Air Canada Jazz, on the other hand, kicked out a guy who was already inside a plane. For praying in a rather conspicuous way. And he wasn't even a Muslim, he was a Hassidic Jew. But he was making other passengers nervous. (As an aside: where did they find a Hassidic Jew who spoke neither English nor French?)

Making other passengers nervous is not allowed? Hey, let's ban screaming babies! And airline food made of beans! Not to mention hijabs.

Anyone who follows my blog regularly knows that I don't underestimate the threat of Islamic terrorism and the need for security. Security, however, does not have to mean idiocy. If you really believe that antique pistols pictured on a t-shirt are a security threat to the point that they should not be allowed on a plane, it makes me wonder whether you are also checking people's luggage with a x-ray machine that is drawn on a wall somewhere.

Banning things just because they make people nervous is understandable but problematic. If you actually poll the passengers on what makes them the most nervous this will probably take you to square one on the ethnic profiling issue.

Banning realistic toy weapons is a good idea. Counting a gun's depiction on a t-shirt as a realistic toy weapon makes one wonder about your connection to reality. Texts in Arabic, objectionable or not, have rarely attacked anyone. The flight is not likely to last long enough for a passenger to convert others to Islam by showing them the Arabic text on the t-shirt. And good luck with getting the security employees to distinguish between Arabic, Farsi and Urdu by looking at it.

I have nothing against banning public prayer on a plane (very generous of me, seeing as I have no use for it), but in this case it should be written somewhere in big friendly letters. "No praying". As opposed to first letting somebody pray and then kicking them out of the plane.

Monday, September 11, 2006

Where were you back when...

Helsingin Sanomat's web forum has a thread now where people tell where they were on 9/11. Reading it made me think that one should always have an irc channel (or several) full of friends available when something big happens.

Well, technically I was asleep when It Happened. Woke up in my apartment in Brighton about nine in the morning, did whatever it is one normally does in the morning, pulled my pants on and opened the door to go to work. The phone rang. The caller ID showed the workplace of my friend Anya, but I decided not to answer it and to call her from work. So I ran to the bus slightly pondering the mystery of Anya being awake enough to dial a number before 10am.

In the building where I worked the combined receptionist/security guard named Felix was listening to a radio and waving his hands at me. Felix was a graduate student from Ghana who was writing a thesis on Islamic extremism. He used to tell me that if Islamic terrorists are not stopped/watched/hunted well enough they are going to blow up something big in the US, for example try WTC again like they did in 1993. I usually listened to all that in a politely incredulous way. On that day he was waving his hands frantically and screaming "See? See? I told you they were gonna blow up the World Trade Center and now they did it!"

"Felix," - I said, - "this is not funny. Especially at this hour in the morning." He started saying something but then my cell phone rang and I answered it.

"Have you heard what's happening?" - my mother screamed in my ear, - "they blew up the WTC!"

Suppressing the paranoid thought that my mother and Felix must be pulling my leg together in a coordinated way i realized that it must be true, and that the first implication of it must be that I owe the guy an apology.

"Shit," - I said, - "I am really sorry. You were right and I was wrong and I could not believe it at first and what's going on?"

Felix filled me in on the only details that came from the radio, which was that two passenger planes hijacked from Boston crashed into the two towers and that there probably are more hijacked planes. I thanked him and went to work. While I walked to the second floor the following thoughts came to my mind:

1. "Eek, tens of thousands of people probably died there!" (I did not realize yet that the towers did not fall immediately on impact.)
2. "Are we gonna nuke somebody?"
3. "I want us to nuke somebody! Please?"
4. "How is this gonna affect my plans to go to Finland for job interviews next week, and the outcome of said interviews?"
5. A dawning realization that no matter what my stated beliefs are, or how wrong I consider this to be, to me my plans to move to Finland by the end of the year are infinitely more valuable than lives of, say, one billion of strangers on the other end of the world, and if my plans could be fulfilled only by killing them all I wouldn't really mind it. Of course I would say that this is the wrong thing to do and even believe it, but I would still be glad that it is being done. Which means that either I am an unusually bad person, which is not a comforting thought, or the feeling is mutual and common, which is even less of a comforting thought. I was not used to this kind of cognitive dissonance back then.

At work nobody was working. The bosses were at the door, all ready to go find some bar with a TV, and the developers were reading and watching news on the net all the time. I called Anya and she told me that they were all sent home on account of terrorism (her workplace is right in between Boston's two tallest towers).

Rumors abounded and nobody was sure of anything. 3 hijacked planes? 4? 5? 7? Which planes? Where are they gonna fall? Anything falling into Boston? Was it a plane in Pentagon, or a car bomb? How did the fuckers hijack the planes anyway? Where the fuck are the family friends who live in NYC?

Reloading CNN took ages until they removed everything besides the terrorism coverage. Often the first news we got were through the net version of Helsingin Sanomat.

Irc provided a lot of comfort that day. Friends and news are both comforting in such moments. It provided some discomfort too, when I realized that one person was openly glad, but all in all it felt really good to share news and speculations with friends on the other side of the world.

How did people cope without irc?

When I was watching United 93 I realized that if 9/11 happened today there probably would have been people ircing from the planes, and sending hijackers' pictures, and god knows what. Not that it would have made a lot of difference...

Friday, September 08, 2006

No more smoke

From June 1, 2007 Finnish bars and restaurants will become smoke-free. The restaurants that have made structural changes in connection with the previous anti-smoking law a few years ago will get a two-year transition period, which is only fair.

I remember that only 5-6 years ago some people were saying that Europe would never have no-smoking-in-a-restaurant laws like the US. Now I'll get to laugh at them all the way from one bar to another.

I wonder who is next. France? Netherlands?

Wednesday, September 06, 2006

An unappetizing observation

If you drink enough tea and throw up often enough, the tea starts tasting exactly the same going up and going down.

One more interesting thing about vomiting: bulimics are often warned that vomiting will damage their teeth (I assume because of the acidity), but we never hear any such warnings issued to people who are eating or drinking acidic stuff. Is vomit on average more acidic than, say, carbonated beverages or citrus juices?

Tuesday, September 05, 2006

What does a flag mean to you?

To me a country's flag doesn't mean anything much. It's a symbol of a country, just like a company's logo. When i am in a country I expect to see a number of local flags, although the number varies rather widely with the country. In some places, for example the US or Norway, people display local flags a lot, in some countries much less.

I have never once imagined that displaying a local flag should be an affront to myself as a foreigner. In fact the whole idea was quite unfamiliar to me until this article.

In short: there are people in Turku, volunteers invited by one guy from the city council, patrolling the streets. They are dressed in blue-and-white vests with Finland's flag on their chests. Apparently some people find the flag suspicious, and there are comments like "no foreigner would dare ask them for help with these Finnish flags on their chests", "the attitude is clearly xenophobic", "this is provocative and racist".

What is so provocative and racist about displaying the local flag? Am I missing something, or is this some new trend, or did the paper just find some really weird people to interview?

Monday, September 04, 2006

Absurd Russia, part two

Somebody stole a water tower near Pskov.

How do you steal a water tower, how? And what do you do with it afterwards? Put it in your backyard? Sell it? To whom?

Riots in Kondopoga

Last weekend there were riots in the city of Kondopoga, Russian Karelia. Very big riots, considering that the city is only about 35000.

On Wednesday night there was a fight in a restaurant owned by Chechens between ethnic Chechens and ethnic Russians. It is unclear who started and who won, but in the end of the fight the Russians left. The Chechens asked for reinforcements, who arrived somewhat later with knives, pipes and similar weapons that properly belong in Lunch Money, found no trace of the original Russian adversaries, and attacked some Russians who had absolutely nothing to do with the original fight, since Russians are quite numerous in Russia anyway so you can always find some, and since one really shouldn't travel all the way to the restaurant for nothing.

Two men were killed. There were rumors of a third one who died later, but nobody is still quite sure.

The population was quite shell-shocked, the night was quiet, people were discussing things on the local web forum (in Russian, and half of the messages are censored for swearing, calls for violent crime, or both). The main gist of the conversation, both among the people calling for genocide and among the people who considered it a bad idea, was a total and probably well-founded belief that the authorities are not going to do anything useful in any way.

The next night - or was it Friday night - large groups of local Russians burned down the restaurant in question, as well as pretty much all other businesses owned by Chechens, as well as the businesses owned by people from Caucasus who were not in any way or form Chechen. The forum was full of people calling for deporting all Chechens from Russia back to Chechnya, although some undoubtedly disloyal citizens did point out that the problem with this approach, apart from the usual ethical and logistical problems associated with ethnic cleansing, is that Chechnya is in fact in Russia.

On Saturday there was a meeting of about 2000 people demanding kicking all the Chechens and preferably other Caucasians (in the sense of a person from Caucasus, obviously, and not in the sense of "white") out of town. It was a bit late since by that point all the people from Caucasus had already left town (the tendency to stay in town during ethnic riots has been culled from the gene pool in Russia a long time ago).

Eventually the enraged citizenry ran out of things to burn, whereupon the fearless leaders banned alcohol sales and sent in some OMON troops who arrested 100-something rioters and two Chechens or other Caucasians.

Observation 1: things easily get ugly when the population does not trust the authorities at all.

Observation 2: Russians currently have ample reason to hate Chechens, and the other way around, too, but from the times of my childhood I remember very well that a lot of Russians used to hate people from Caucasus for reasons totally unrelated to terrorism, religion of peace or crime. In fact I still have no idea what they hated them for. They spoke with funny accents, sold overpriced produce, tended to have more money than the Russians (or maybe just flashed it more) and harassed women in an annoying but usually nonviolent way, which does not quite explain the amount of hatred. Also, a lot of other people from Caucasus tended to hate Chechens.

Observation 3: my mother's friend Rita sometimes says "I would believe anything about Russia, even if you tell me that all the people there suddenly grew horns", and the more I read Russian news in general, the more I think of her.


Throwing up a lot of bright-red bits is a rather scary experience. At least until you remember having eaten six tomatoes.

Sunday, September 03, 2006


Blaah... Spent all the weekend at home sick. Went to a party but it was a mistake even though it was a very good party, and I had to leave early.

I hate flu, especially the nasty varieties thereof. I am actually doing quite OK as long as I am sitting down, drinking tea and eating pseudoephedrine, but doing all of the above continuously can interfere with sleeping a bit. Kind of hard to sleep when you have to be vertical, drink a liter of tea an hour, and the tea also has to come out somehow. Somebody should invent a vertical bed/toilet kind of thing, which should also include a kettle.