Tuesday, October 31, 2006

"And if you don't do your homework, you will become our courageous men and women"

Putin seems to have gotten serious competition as far as making dumb jokes is concerned: John Kerry.

In a speech at the Pasadena City College in California, Kerry said: "Education, if you make the most of it, you study hard, you do your homework and you make an effort to be smart, you can do well. If you don't, you get stuck in Iraq."

Later he claimed that this was a) a botched joke and b) orchestrated by assorted right-wing nut jobs. Yeah, and the selfsame right-wing nutjobs shat in your pants, too. Please, senator, make up your mind.

Mind you, I do share some of the Senator Kerry's stereotypes about the educational attainment of what politicians normally call "our courageous men and women". However, I am just a right-wing nutjob with a blog, whereas Senator Kerry has tried to get elected to be, among other things, the Commander-in-Chief of those who do not study hard or do their homework.

Monday, October 30, 2006

The sick man

A lot of politicians suddenly get sick when they get caught doing something unseemly. There should be a name for this horrible disease. What should we call it? Getcaughtitis? Shithitthefan syndrome? Any suggestions?

Apparently this horrible affliction has already spread from the politicians to the religious leaders. (Of course we have seen the first signs of that during the Catholic pedophile priest scandal in the US a few years ago. All the pedophiles suddenly got sick. Go figure.)

Now the mufti got very sick too, which by an amazing coincidence happened during the meeting with the Muslim leaders that would have decided his future. The terrible disease made him postpone his plans for destroying the White House and ask for an indefinite leave of duties at the Lakemba mosque.

Sunday, October 29, 2006

The Australian circus continues

The Mufti & Co are still claiming that he was taken out of context. Here is the full text of the sermon as provided by The Australian.

He has lovely things to say about the disbelievers as well: "Those who disbelieve amongst the people of the Book and the polytheists, where will they go? Surfers Paradise? Gold Coast? Where? To the fire of hell. And not part-time, they'll be in it for eternity. What are these people? The most evil of God's creation on the face of earth. The issue is clear."

Australian politicians (being, as al-Hilali says, some of the most evil of God's creation on the face of earth) have already started asking the most ancient question in the world: "whose fault was that?".

Currently it appears that Paul Keating and Leo McLeay of the Labor party have lobbied to give al-Hilali a residence permit. Here are the details.

The whole thing is made even more embarassing by the fact that in 1984 the intelligence reports warning that al-Hilali had been linked to extremist groups in Egypt and could pose a threat to Australia were sent to the federal government and promptly ignored

While al-Hilali and some Muslim groups in Australia are busy explaining that the mufti has been taken out of context, totally misunderstood, did not mean it anyway, and was just using colorful oriental language beyond the understanding of the Western unbelievers, Abduljalil Sajid, one of the senior figures in the Muslim Council of Britain, said that he was absolutely right. But quoted out of context anyway.

All those respected religious scholars that keep getting quoted out of context all the time give me all kinds of mean thoughts, such as "they should be put back into context" and "their proper context is somewhere outside the civilized world".

NSW opposition leaders call for withdrawing government funds from the Lakemba mosque, but NSW Premier Morris Iemma has refused to do so, saying that a move like that would penalize the whole community for for the words of the leader.

Guess what, Mr. Iemma: this would be the whole fucking point. The community is in fact guilty and should be penalized for the actions of the leader. Note that we are not talking about the whole Muslim community of Australia or NSW here: we are talking about the actual parishioners of this particular mosque, people who go there and listen to his sermons. What exactly is the point of funding this activity with taxpayer money? What kind of people are those? Would you attend a church or a synagogue whose priest or rabbi were saying things like that? What would you think about the kind of people who would?

The weekend: first party, then hangover

The party yesterday was very nice - thanks, everyone!

It was quite painless too - I was a bit apprehensive in advance because of no door code and an unreliable toilet. But people helped me out with opening the downstairs door, and the toilet behaved itself, or if it didn't, this wasn't reported to me.

Some people brought lovely flowers, and I had no vase. Somehow I have a feeling that next year I am getting many vases. Now the flowers are standing in the blender glass and juice bottle.

Now I am a little hung over, and suffering from a severe chocolate cake overdoze.

Friday, October 27, 2006

Headline news

"Matti Vanhanen: North Korea has its own special kind of freedom."

"George Bush: We are not at war with Iraq. We are just teaching it to be more democratic."

"Vladimir Putin: We've been teaching our journalists our own special kind of freedom of speech, too!"

"A professor of Islamic studies: All Muslims have misunderstood Islam."

"Kim Jong-Il: Our great nation have made a great leap forward! We have succesfully tested a nuclear weapon inside a mountain. Next leap forward: luring the enemy into the damn mountain."

"New Jersey Supreme Court: The new chapter in American history: separate but equal."

"Fox News: Foley was a closet Democrat"

"The German Army: Alas poor Yorick..."

(For the humor-impaired: I made these up. If any of these people actually said any of these things, I do not accept any responsibility.)

"We ain't no delinquents, We're misunderstood. Deep down inside us there is good!"

I guess I was a bit too optimistic yesterday about Australia's most senior Muslim cleric and the response to him.

The Islamic Friendship Association of Australia defended the man, saying that all his good work in support of law and order (hmm, was that when he was encouraging Palestinian children to blow themselves up in Israel or was that when he supported the 9/11 terrorist acts?) is forgotten as soon as he makes one ambiguous comment. I don't think they really get it: his comment was quite unambiguous.

His daughter also supported him, although this is quite understandable.

"Leave him alone. He is a sick man," she said. Yeah, you can say that again.

"He was just teaching women to be modest."

Sure he was. After all, if I were to say to the cleric "stop issuing misogynistic statements or else I shove a cactus up your ass" it would be teaching him to behave himself, in a way, and an actual cactus would be even more efficient. Whether such words and actions on my part would be a) legal or b) acceptable for a religious leader to do or say is a totally different issue.

And I am sure that when he said that Jews control the world through sexual perversion, he was only trying to teach Jews to be modest. And when he said that Palestinian children should aspire to the martyrdom he was, of course, just trying to show them the quickest way to Paradise and those 72 virgins (although nowadays they say that due to the shortage of virgins you get only one, but she is 72 years old).

(As an aside, doesn't anyone find it strange that people who are the most active in encouraging Palestinian teenagers to blow themselves up in Israeli pizzerias tend to be 66-year-old men living in Australia, or at least 56-year-old women sitting in the Palestinian legislature?)

Al-Hilali has apologized for his comments (all together now: "taken out of context"). "I unreservedly apologise to any woman who is offended by my comments. I had only intended to protect women's honour," he said in a statement published in The Australian. Would that, incidentally, be the same "honour" as in "honor killings"?

When asked by the reporters whether he would stand down, he answered "after we clean the world of the White House first".

Teaching Americans modesty, or perhaps better architecture? OK, I am retracting my words about the cactus. This man will never learn.

The Australian Lebanese Muslim Association, which owns Hilaly's Lakemba Mosque, has suspended him from preaching for three months, but says no further action will be taken. Too little and too late, but better than nothing. Federal Sex Discrimination Commissioner Pru Goward is saying this is not enough.

One thing I would like to know: when 9/11 happened, and many times afterwards, we were told that the guys who do or support things like that have misunderstood and misinterpreted Islam. Did Australia's senior Muslim cleric misunderstand it too? Must be an awfully complicated religion.

Thursday, October 26, 2006

The wall

French Foreign Minister Phillippe Douste-Blazy (of the recent "Iran is a stabilizing force in the region") fame has recently said that he has changed his (previously negative) opinion of Israel's separation barrier after realizing that it works pretty well.

I am all for people changing their minds when new evidence becomes available, but I must admit that for a second I had a rather mean thought along the lines of "hey, the guy wants to have a separation barrier between Paris and certain suburbs and would like to learn from Israeli experience".

Meet Taj el-Din al-Hilali, Australia's most senior Muslim cleric

Taj el-Din al-Hilali, Australia's most senior Muslim cleric, has just compared uncovered women to uncovered meat..

"If you take out uncovered meat and place it outside... and the cats come and eat it... whose fault is it, the cats' or the uncovered meat?" he asked.

"If she was in her room, in her home, in her hijab, no problem would have occurred," he added.

OK, since he obviously failed to notice any of this in his 24 years in Australia, let's explain this to him very slowly: most women in Australia do not wear hijab, nor do they stay home all the time. If you are bothered by this fact, I am sure you will be more comfortable in some other country. For example Pakistan, where I am sure all the women are happy and safe due to the widespread wearing of hijab.

After a number of officials publicly expressed rather strong disapproval of the sermon, the cleric apologized to all women and said that his remarks were taken out of context. Here is a lovely selection of his other comments taken out of context. And here is a bit of the actual context.

Both officials and people are calling for the man's deportation. I am, for obvious reasons, a bit concerned about the idea of countries starting to deport their own naturalized citizens, but I can understand the feeling.

I think somebody should take a closer look at how the man got to be an Australian citizen to begin with. People should know their heroes.

Taj el-Din al-Hilali arrived in Australia in 1982 on a tourist visa, which he overstayed. Why anyone would give a tourist visa to a member of Muslim Brotherhood will forever be a mystery. People, if a place like Egypt is persecuting someone for Islamic extremism, chances are that the person is indeed an Islamic extremist.

They have repeatedly tried to deport him for inciting hatred, but failed. Inquiring minds want to know: how do you fail to deport a person? You grab the guy, who is not exactly hiding, and put him on a plane to whatever he is a citizen of (Egypt, in this case), or, if he is stateless, to wherever he came from. What's there to fail?

The quote from that period: "The Jews try to control the world through sex, then sexual perversion, then the promotion of espionage, treason, and economic hoarding." That was said while delivering a lecture to a group of Muslim students in the University of Sydney.

Jewish sexual wiles have obviously proved insufficent to get him deported, and in 1990 he was given a residence permit. The minister of Immigration at the time was Gerry Hand. A few years later al-Hilali has applied for and received the citizenship.

His achievements since then have included smuggling, driving uninsured and unregistred car, supporting suicide bombings in Israel (by children, no less), praising 9/11 as the work of God and calling Holocaust a Zionist lie. For the latter he finally for kicked out from Prime Minister's Muslim Community Reference Group.

Now it looks like he's finally done it with his rape comments, and even though he is unlikely to be kicked out of the country, with a little bit of luck he might be kicked out of every position of authority.

Wednesday, October 25, 2006

"One in five young residents of Turku believes in skin color differences between races"

Yesterday Helsingin Sanomat has mentioned a study that says that one in five young people in Turku believes in intelligence differences between races.

My first reaction was to wonder about the other four young people and their education, but then I figured that this is just not a topic that schools talk about or that a lot of people interested in on their own. Not to mention that whatever interest exists in it is not particularly encouraged.

The tone of the article is clearly disapproving ("...and their attitudes towards immigrants are in general not very good..."). Most of the comments on the article are similar to the comments on the race and intelligence issue I've seen and heard elsewhere: people keep saying that race does not exist, that intelligence cannot be measured, that IQ tests do not mean anything and that all the races are equally intelligent. I am not quite sure how they managed to find out that all the races have equal intelligence if the races don't exist and the intelligence cannot be measured, but that's probably just because I belong to the wrong race, or have the wrong kind of intelligence or whatever.

The fact that a difference in average intelligence between races exists is, well, a fact, and does not depend on whether or not the young generation of the city of Turku believes in it. (If you are offended by the conecpt of race, use "ethnic group". If you are offended by the concept of intelligence, use "IQ test performance". If you are offended by the concept of "average", you probably should not be discussing any topics where it is used to begin with. If you think that admitting the existence of such differences means that all black/white/yellow/blue people should or would be killed/enslaved/eaten, you have probably forgotten to take your medication, and that's regardless of whether or not you approve of such a course of action.)

In general I find it fairly disturbing that in so many people's minds racial equality (as in equality of people of different races before the law) seems to be so closely connected with proving that all races have equal abilities. I think racial equality should have more to do with not being judged on the basis on one's race.

I cannot offhand think of any situation where IQ would be important but would have to be estimated on the basis of the race. Usually the situations where people get sorted at least partially on the IQ basis (such as hiring and education) have a lot of other things to go on, such as resumes and test results.

The weekend

Been celebrating all weekend and will continue the next one. Had some most amazing creatures over, such as linguists and an African pygmy hedgehog. Drank too much, but at least managed not to eat too much cake.

An amazing discovery: pancakes made with corn flour actually taste of corn, and are yellow.

Reread Speaker for the Dead and was actively bothered by the fact that the characters (in a fairly high-technology society about 5000 A.D.) seem to have no cell phones, no laptops and no PGP. For some reason this did not bother me when I first read the book about 5 years ago. This is weird in any case: the cell phones already existed in 1986 when the book was written.

Friday, October 20, 2006

Mad Jad forgot his medication again

Iran's president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad has threatened Israel again, and all the countries that support it as well. Considering that this includes all of Europe his standards for what constitutes the support of Israel must be fairly lax.

I am sure that soon we are going to hear that this is just a fine example of typical Middle Eastern political discourse, that he cannot really mean it, that ayatollahs won't let him do it, that this is just a justifiable reaction to Olmert saying a couple of days ago that Iran will have a price to pay if it does not back down from its nuclear ambitions, and that it was a total mistake to form a new nation-state there as late as in the 1948 among all those ancient nation-states that date from 1920s.

So far Iran has been working on its nuclear program in spite of all the finger-waving from the UN, and repeatedly threatening Israel. UN dignitaries can of course afford to wait and see whether he really means it, because their headquarters are located in New York out of range of Iran's missiles. Israel's government obviously cannot, because you do not normally want to conduct experiments whose possible result is a nuke in one of your cities.

The question is: can Europe? How far do the newest Shahabs fly?

Putin's sense of humor strikes again

Putin envies Katsav's manly power. Hope is not going to actually try to compete with him.

35

Turned 35 today. Bugger. No matter what I do I just keep getting older.

OTOH, some day I might be 90 and look back at 35 and think: "I was so young then!"

Thursday, October 19, 2006

Differently able

Finnish Prime Minister Matti Vanhanen said that Russia has a different kind of democracy. Sort of reminds me of the time when my late professor of English history bought a book that said "for specially gifted children" for her little son, only to have him comment "mom, this is a book for retards".

Heh, and here I thought that only in the US the political correctness has reached the point where we call the disabled people "differently able", and even then not very often.

Speaking about the actual disabled people: Helsingin Sanomat has an article today saying that according to a study made by Invalidiliitto most people have problems relating to the motion-impaired people in a perfectly equal and neutral way. I am not sure why this should come as a surprise to anyone. Disability is just not a neutral thing. It is a bad thing. I don't see why we should have to relate in a neutral way to a condition most of us dread. Yes, we should strive to make it less dreadful by providing good access for the handicapped in the buildings, etc., but physical disability won't become a neutral thing until human bodies become totally irrelevant. I can certainly see the point in pretending to relate to it as a neutral thing in the presence of the handicapped people (it's probably boring to hear expressions of pity all the time, and they probably have other things to talk about and are generally annoyed by people calling attention to their disability, etc.). But can anyone tell me why we are supposed to pretend to relate to it in a neutral way when answering a questionnaire for a study about attitudes towards the motion-impaired?

"Holy shit! What's a Shiite?"

New York Times has published an article about the fact that many of our counterterrorism officials can't tell the difference between Sunni and Shia. (Here it is, but I think it requires registration.)

The journalist, Jeff Stein, has been visiting the officials with the question "Do you know the difference between a Sunni and a Shiite?” He did not really expect a theological analysis, he asked people things like whether Al-Qaeda or Hezbollah are Sunni or Shia. Some people answered his questions, but a lot didn't. He, of course, mentioned some (?) of the ones who failed by name in the article, but none of the ones who answered properly.

OK, the state of general education (hmm, can't come up with a proper English word for yleissivistys) in the US is unfortunately no news. Neither is the state of general education among our elected and unelected officials. What is news, however, is that NYT is finally saying that the differences between the Shia and the Sunni are more relevant to the subject of terrorism, than, say, the differences between the Militant Mennonites and the Aggressive Amish.

But we really should have some obligatory tests on the subject for our anti-terrorism officials.

Wednesday, October 18, 2006

"We are ready to fight for our independence! Please give generously!"

North Korea considers UN sanctions to be an act of war and is warning that it is ready to fight for its independence.

Independence is very nice, of course, but what exactly does it mean for a state that does not even have enough food to feed its citizens? I mean, isn't North Korea afraid that its neighbors will actually decide to grant it full independence and will stop feeding it?

"We are a fiercely independent nuclear state! Please send us 1 000 000 tons of rice or else we'll starve. Independently."

Boyfriends

Lately I have been occasionally thinking "maybe I should get myself a boyfriend", but then remembered that I have one already. This is probably a sad comment on our relationship. (In principle it could also be a sad comment on my memory but I don't think this is the case.)

So, maybe I should get myself another boyfriend. (No, this is not a call on my readers to submit resumes, I am just thinking.) Of course I only do open relationships and the two boyfriends would know about each other, but if all of them are as busy as Killeri I could probably have four at a time without any undue scheduling conflicts or them ever running into each other.

Maybe this is the way to go. Although with my luck I will probably find one who will want to spend all our time together, and then I'll get all annoyed and distant and will run away really fast.

Monday, October 16, 2006

Something is wrong in Sweden too...

I think at some point in the future the newspapers will switch to the headlines like "today no Swedish politicians got caught doing anything illegal". I am sure this headline will appear about the same time as "today no Muslims anywhere were outraged by anything", "freedom of speech has finally been achieved in Russia" and "George W. Bush has been admitted to Mensa".

Anyway, today a Swedish minister resigned, yesterday a Swedish minister resigned, and if they keep at it they will be all out of ministers in early November.

Not being a minister does not stop one from breaking the law, of course - Social Democrat Anna Sjödin has been recently convicted for assaulting a bouncer.

Finnish journalists (or rather STT) started asking Finnish ministers about what they have and have not done. Prime Minister Matti Vanhanen told the ministers that they should not have to answer these questions. I agree with that - I would not answer if I were them - but still find it funny that he felt the need to tell them so.

He thinks that people (even ministers) should be assumed to be law-abiding, which is what I am gonna answer the next time some official asks me about my tv tax.

Something is wrong in the Promised Land...

Israel's president Moshe Katsav decided not to attend the Knesset winter session opening ceremony due to numerous allegations of rape and sexual harassment aginst him. Hear those metal sounds, feel that wind? That's the 120 members of the Knesset taking their chastity belts off and sighing in relief.

See, people, that's where it leads when you have a figurehead president: he has enough time on his hands to try to fuck anything that moves, and not enough power to attract any volunteers. If Israelis had a real president he'd probably only accept blow jobs from willing young interns and would still have enough power left to redefine them as non-sex.

Israel's president is supposed to perform important moral and educational functions. I am sure "avoid being alone in a room with the president" is in fact a thing that the people around him need to be educated about. Israel's previous shining moral beacon, Ezer Weizman, resigned amid allegation of taking bribes.

How come the man is so frisky at 61 anyway? I am afraid manufacturers of Viagra have a lot to answer for.

Regardless of Katsav and his moral standing: why do so many countries have figurehead presidents? I mean, what's the point? At least figurehead royalty has some glamour about it, but what is the point of a figurehead president? Nobody even remembers who they are until they rape somebody. Hey, anyone here remember who is the president of Germany? Without looking it up on the Net?

Friday, October 13, 2006

Flu and (no) fever

Got some kind of a stupid flu: really sore throat, and hard to breathe while lying down (not hard to breathe in any medical emergency sense, just unpleasant enough to keep me awake all night). No other symptoms.

I find it weird that I almost never have a fever nowadays. Maybe once every several years. Didn't use to be that way - until 15 years ago or so I tended to have a low-grade fever with almost every flu. I think it's me who changed and not the flu viruses, because a lot of other people still seem to have a low-grade fever with almost every flu.

I wonder what causes changes like that. Not that I miss the fever, but when I was a kid and being above 37.3 meant being allowed to stay home instead of going to school, I would have been pissed off if I ran out of fevers.

Luckily I am an adult now and can stay home because of other flu symptoms just as well. In fact, what am I doing here at work today?

Belgium

I started wondering what happens when Belgium falls apart (IMO this is not a question of "if", but of course I might be wrong). Will both halves inherit a EU membership, and will they even want it? What are they gonna do about Brussels? Will the royal house remain with Wallonia or Flanders, or will they share? Can Wallonia balance its budget without Flanders?

I am also wondering whether this is currently the only separatist movement in the world where the ethnic majority wants to cecede from the ethnic minority. Can't think of any other example offhand.

Interesting how the kind of people who normally support every kind of separatist movements everywhere never speak out in support of this particular one. Might be just because the separatist movements that happen at the voting booths are not as exciting as the ones involving bombs and shooting.

In any case I hope both parts keep producing chocolate.

Wednesday, October 11, 2006

Nuclear treshhold

Many Americans of my age have told me stories about their fear of nuclear war when they were kids. This surprised me: I grew up in full confidence that it is not gonna happen, and so did everyone I knew. The Soviet propaganda occasionally tried to scare us with America's nuclear capability, but even then it was not as much "they might attack us" as "they would probably want to attack us if we were not as mighty as we are". And I don't think anyone believed even that.

I wonder if any Finns were afraid of a nuclear war?

My confidence has been seeping away for the last few years. I wanted to write a few thoughts about the nuclear treshhold, but this person has done it better.

In the news

We really do live in interesting times.

Russian schools are getting requests to compile lists of schoolchildren with Georgian names. This rings the bells in more ways than one. Russia is also applying pressure on Georgia in ways that would cause massive protests if it were some civilized country doing this.

Politkovskaya got murdered. Putin promised to find and punish the killers. Oh my God, why does this remind me so much of OJ all over again?

(For the record: I am not really sure that Putin did it. Could have been anyone among the high officials and officers that she dug up dirt on. Not that it takes much digging, mind you.)

North Korea tested a nuclear bomb, or pretended to. Less than one kiloton - hey, they have probably managed a better explosion with trains in Ryongchon. Although, what do you expect from a country that still hasn't mastered the highly technological skill of growing enough rice to feed the population? And now they are threatening the US, saying that full-scale sanctions (such as closing Kim Jong-Il's offshore bank accounts, I guess) will be interpreted as an act of war, and North Korea will retaliate. They will probably shoot a missile with a train attached. Or, as a friend of mine suggested, they will go and sit somewhere in the Middle East with a sign "Will bomb Great Satan for food". Speaking about that - let's stop sending them food. Let them eat their bomb or whatever.

Somalia and Ethiopia have started a war with each other, or according to some reports Somalia - or the Islamic fundamentalists who have power over most of the south - started war with Ethiopia. Since things don't usually happen very fast in that part of the world, the war has been declared but there has not been any real shooting action. Maybe it's better that way.

In the much brighter news: France has banned smoking in public places, to be implemented in phases in 2007-2008. Go France!

Now Putin already has a very good idea who killed Politkovskaya: the Russian emigrants. (Don't look at me, I am absolutely innocent.) Somehow, the stories from Russia nowadays resemble more and more the stories my grandparents used to tell me.

Göteborg riots in the news, and sarcasm

Heh. Just got censored on the Helsinki Sanomat web forum for the first time ever.

There was a smallish riot in Göteborg on Sunday night. There was a power outage and some "youths", as the media put it, have started rioting, breaking windows and throwing stones.

I rarely write anything there, but sometimes (maybe once in 1 or 2 months) it's hard to resist. When a couple of people in Hesari's web forum expressed surprise at what's wrong with the Swedish young people - our young people don't behave like that - I just had to suggest that it must be hunger, what with the Ramadan. Since I usually try to be polite in the public forums that do not happen to be my own blog, I did not even mention the obvious reason why such things occur less often in Finland than in Sweden. I also said that I am probably a bad person for making such guesses in the absence of hard evidence, but I am also probably right. (Hard evidence is still missing, but the location of the riots and comments of people who claim to be Göteborgians on various forums suggest that I probably am in fact right.)

Anyway, that got censored. This is quite fine with me - Hesari does not owe me a forum for my rude if probably correct guesses - but strange, because I have seen similar opinions expressed there before, and made me wonder whether different threads are moderated by diffrent individuals with vastly different standards. Apparently my message was not the only one censored out, because the whole thread deteriorated into an unbelievable sarcasmfest. (No, I don't really recommend following the link. Any five-seven messages from there are fun to read, but any more and you get a feeling like you are eating a bowlful of whole lemons.)

Sunday, October 08, 2006

DC, 19.09: the Library of Congress and the White House

The Library of Congress and the White House are places where you get in by appointment. The easiest way to get the tickets is writing to your elected representative's office. You can get into the Library of Congress on your own too, but then you are not gonna have a guy with a beard show you all the interesting details of the building and tell about their history.

The Library (the Jefferson building) is very beautiful and the guy with a beard is telling all the kinds of interesting things about it. At some point in some corner he points at writings on the ceiling and says that these express universal human values for all times and peoples. I find it amusing because they clearly express the values of European Enlightenment, which are in no way universal.

(And yes, I do prefer the Western values to any others and would consider it good if they were universal - but this is no reason to claim that they actually are.)

In any case I am very pleased with the library - both the main building and the collection are quite worthy of the National Library of the world's only superpower. The organization, well, reminds you of the fact that it is owned by the Federal government, but could be worse.

Any person who has an ID can get a library card and read books in the building, but only members of Congress can check books out of the building. We are told not to get the cards as souvenirs, only if we want to read something.

During our stay in DC we see Marine One all the time (it's like Air Force One but belongs to the Marine Corps and not the Air Force). I think any Marine Corps craft that is carrying the President is called Marine One, but the normal physical instance of Marine One is a big Sikorsky helicopter. I have no idea why presidential planes belong to the Air Force and helicopters to the Marine Corps, but in any case the First Helicopter seems to shake so much that the president is probably using the First Barf Bag all the time.

Our tickets to the White House are at 12, but they let us in earler. The security is much like in the library, except that you have to show an ID. A sleepy security guy takes our passports somewhere, comes back with them and clearly cannot remember whom he took them from. We wave to him, get them back and go through security. My belt seems to ring everywhere, and then I have to take it off, and then my pants are falling down. Annoying.

The White House tour is self-guided and they show you only a small part of it, of course. Feels like a small historical museum. Interesting but not very impressive.

We have lunch in a place called Ebbitt Grill right near the White house. It's overcrowded and mentioned in our guidebook, and such places are usually overrated, but this one is excellent. They don't have a place in a non-smoking section and convince us to sit in the smoking section claiming that nobody smokes, and indeed nobody does.

We decide to check out the nearest supermarket, which in on 11th street about 8 blocks to the north of our hotel. Around the 1000-block the neighborhood starts becoming vibrant and multicultural (in fact sleepy and Black), not in a ghetto-scary way though. The supermarket, when we find it, hint more at a Hispanic neighborhood and is rather poor. Benka says she has never seen such a poor supermarket in a Western country, but that's because she has never shopped in Hispanic food stores in Boston.

Later in the day we check out the modern art part of the Art Gallery. Its a lot less impressive than the older part, mostly because it has fewer paintings. They are getting ready for some big party right after the closing. I am considering stealing a glass of wine just for the thrill of it, but don't.

Friday, October 06, 2006

Thursday, October 05, 2006

DC, 18.09: Holocaust museum and Air and Space museum

All the museum visitors are searched, in all museums. Didn't use to be that way when my parents have last been here 16 years ago.

All kinds of anti-car barriers everywhere, and security cameras. Oska, who is in the security business, growls that the security does not seem to be sufficient.

In the morning we turn the TV on and see that some guy managed to break into the Capitol and that on this account the Capitol is closed not only for visitors but for the staff as well. In the evening he turns out to be some gangbanger on crack. I almost feel sorry for the fucker - imagine waking up from some crack hangover and finding out that you have attacked the US Capitol while high.

Holocaust museum is very good and covers a range of topics and times - from Hitler's rise to power to Jewish pogroms in Poland right after the defeat of Germany, and from Mengele's experiments to the problems Nazis had in inventing appropriate clothing symbols for a person who was gay, Jewish and Communist simultaneouly. The most interesting thing from my point of view is a screen which runs the history of Nazi anti-Jewish legislation: looks like they had some new anti-Jewish law every week, and some of them were quite absurd, like not allowing Jews to join Hitler Jugend.

"Hitler would probably be turning in his grave if he knew that in 2006 the fastest-growing Jewish community in the world would be in Germany," - I tell Benka. "You don't know what's gonna happen 50 years from now," - answers the old cynic. I am reminded of my great-uncle Yefim who believed that being friendly with infidels is a good thing but one should have a good horse in case things do not work out after all. He exchanged all his parents' property for a horse when things really weren't working out (as in, Germans were approaching their village in 1941) and rode away on it together with his parents, his sister and her two little sons, which would nowadays probably be considered animal abuse. I have always wondered what everyone involved would have said if they knew that one of those little boys would yet happily live in Germany many years later.

The Air and Space museum feels small because many items are huge. There is the lunar module on Apollo 11, lunar rocks, all kinds of airplanes including one whose wings seem to be backwards, one pedal-powered plane, a wide variety of astronaut food (looks almost as bad as KLM), space toilet, a little model of aircraft carrier and lots of other things. Including many countries' money from WWII times for some reason.

"Is Enola Gay somewhere here?" - I ask Benka when looking at the WWII airplanes. Two minutes later Oska comes into the room and asks "Where is our Enola Gay". Benka notes that we must be related.

We did not find Enola Gay, but later it turned out that it is in the same museum's other building across the river.

I still want Chinese food and we still don't see any. I suggest we go to the Chinatown. Oska says it is full of all kinds of evildoers (15 years ago Boston Chinatown used to have a number of drug dealers and a few sex shops of doubtful quality, and by association Oska thinks they are all like that) but we go there anyway. Evildoers are not in evidence, and neither is Chinese food, at least of the kind that my parents would consent to eat. The Chinatown is a small but lively area (but certainly not vibrant or multicultural in a scary way) full of nice and somewhat pricey restaurants none of which are Chinese. We settle on a lovely tapas place called La Tasca. The food and the sangria are great, but they add tips to the bill. Which is not immoral as such, but I believe that when you do that in a country where it is not normally done, you should warn your clientele in big friendly letters.

We hang out a bit more and look for a belt for Oska. His belt broke and his pants are falling down. A few times he hints that I should cede my own belt to him because he is older and my father, but I don't like my pants falling down either. We don't find a belt. He wants a beer from a convenience store as a consolation prize, but we don't find a beer. Or a convenience store, for that matter.

NYC-DC, 17.09

We leave early and drive into the great unknown to which I usually refer with the words "South of NY".

Verrazano bridge is huge. You are not allowed to take pictures on it on account of terrorists. A few years ago some wannabe Islamic terrorist was caught trying to saw one of its cables. The cables are about a meter in diameter, so the poor thing would still be sawing today if they hadn't caught him. Hope they gave him some sawing job in prison.

The landscape looks even more boring than New England, especially in New Jersey. Except for a couple of rivers there is not much to see until we arrive in DC.

Oska wants me to get his GPS device to work, but all my attempts to find Washington lead to a variety of towns by the same name in New England. Finally we establish that he forgot to load the map of anything to the south of NJ into the device.

DC is divided into 4 quarters: NE, NW, SE and SW. The Capitol is the origin of this coordinate system, so that NW, for example, means "northwest from the Capitol". The east-to-west streets have letters; the north-to-south, numbers. We are staying on the corner of 11 and E. There are also some streets in this city that have names, usually the names of various states.

The city is monumental. Very monumental, huge porticos and columns eveywhere. Somebody was trying for a new Rome, and not entirely without success. Now I understand why so many demonstrations are held here - not only because most politicians hang out here, but also because this is the one city with enough street space for a proper demonstration. The streets are huge, which probably looked stupid back when they were buit, but surely comes in handy with the current traffic. The city also seems to have a functioning public transportation system but we do not test it and just walk everywhere.

The museums close way too early (5pm-6:30pm), but we make it to the National Gallery of Art anyway. It turns out to be quite pleasant, big but not too big.

The Mall is a huge wide street with a lot of grass in the middle (the kind you walk on, not the kind you smoke). The strip of grass is so wide that it is a national park and has park rangers lurking around the edges. A few blocks of it are covered by tents to be used for an upcoming anti-cancer demonstration. You can see the Capitol on one end and the Washington monument on the other. Lots of planes are flying around very low - one of the airports is just across the river.

We want to see the Lincoln memorial, which is somewhere far behind the Washington monument. The Washington monument is a huge obelisk with a pointy top and two red eyes (warning lights for the airplanes, probably), which immediately makes me think of some giganic alien Ku Klux Klan member. The Lincoln memorial is a Greek temple-like building which for some reason reminds me of the Vittorio Emanuele II monument in Rome although it is not particularly close to it architecturally. Inside is a huge statue of Linclon, much bigger than I imagined from the movies.

In front of the memorial is the Reflecting Pool. It does not reflect anything any more than any other pools. Or maybe this is a pool meant for reflection? It's quite pretty, in any case.

The national WWII memorial is there too. There are pillars representing all states and territories. I am amused at my immediate urge to search for Massachusetts.

I want Chinese food but settle for some steak-and-whatever restaurant near our hotel. We finish early enough for me to go to the room and watch the Amazing Race season 10's first episode. It feels weird watching TV on TV, which I haven't done for years. I don't like it: the show keeps being interrupted by some stupid ads and the picture is much worse than on the monitor.

Wednesday, October 04, 2006

Helsinki-NYC, 16.09

KLM food is evil. All airline food is evil, but KLM's has become especially vile in the last few years. Don't know why, they used to be better than average. Why did they have to get so much worse after 9/11? I mean, security surely does not require awful food, does it? Or are they trying to scare the terrorists away with it?

Schiphol, on the other hand, is the most tolerable airport in Europe, foodwise and in every other way.

The security line for the NYC flight is unbelievable. An hour.

Flying is boring. KLM food is still evil. Somewhere below us the dear old country is crawling into the night Maine-first. The Eastern seabord looks like one big city from the plane, although it really isn't.

Finally the airport (JFK has much improved in the 18 years since my last visit), parents, hotel and food. And wine and tea.

Tuesday, October 03, 2006

Monday, October 02, 2006

I am back, and have seen all kinds on natural wonders

Gonna write about the vacation later, right now I just don't have enough brainpower to work and write and the same time (jet lag and hunger are a bad combination).

KLM has competelely run out of edible food, and Northwest is only marginally better, but the in-flight entertainment was amazing yesterday. Aurora borealis all over the sky all the way from Greenland to Iceland, and for a while after that. Green with little bits of red. Wow. I've seen it before but never that much of it. From now on I am always gonna try to get a window seat on the left side on all US-Europe flights. Maybe they'll show aurora borealis again.

Also saw a big thunderstorm from above. Looked sort of fake, like a special effect.

The third wonder of nature was a huge rain just as I got back to Finland. Anu came to the airport and we had to wade in almost ankle-deep water just to get to my place.