Wednesday, December 31, 2008

Monday, December 29, 2008

Here we go again...

Israel has run out of patience and is striking Gaza. Not surprising really. People do get a bit miffed after about 100 mortar shells and Qassam rockets fall on their country. (No, that's not during 2007 and 2008. That's during the Christmas Eve and Christmas day.)

As always in such moments, I am wondering what a normal country would do about something like that. For example, if Qassam rockets were continuously being shot into Finland from Estonia (yeah, I know they don't really have the range), at which point Vanhanen would stop apologizing and start doing simple electoral math, for example figuring out that most voters are located on this side of the border?

Thursday, December 18, 2008

The dicks and the League for Human Rights

Ihmisoikeusliitto (Finnish League for Human Rights) wants a law permitting boys' circumcision and making it available through the public health care system.

This is the League for Human Rights, not against them. Right? Let me check again. Right.

I would have thought that on the general scale of human rights the right to keep one's own body parts would rate fairly high, and the right to cut off somebody else's comparatively low, but I guess the League for Human Rights thinks otherwise. Silly me.

But first a bit about the facts:

1. The circumcision debates list all kinds of benefits and drawbacks to the procedure, but if you start to look at the studies you can see that they are all pretty inconclusive either way. The bottom line is, in the words of the American Medical Association, that "virtually all current policy statements from specialty societies and medical organizations do not recommend routine neonatal circumcision". I don't think the case should be argued on any medical merits.

2. In Finland there is no law concerning circumcision, and for a long time there was no legal precedent, either. Circumcision has been tolerated for as long as there has been a Jewish and a Muslim community, who traditionally did it among themselves without demanding anything from the public health care system, and circumcision became the subject of public discussion with the current Muslim immigration. The new immigrants understandably consider it their right to do what the established minorities have been doing for about 150 years, but often can't afford it on their own.

In 2008 the Supreme Court decided that religious circumcision is not a crime as long as it's done in a proper medical way.

But the court of course decides what the law is, not what it should be.

3. Most importantly, no country in the civilized world bans male circumcision, and our brave leaders don't want to be the first.

Back to Finnish League for Human Rights' statement.

The arguments for a law permitting and funding circumcision are ridiculous. The League for Human Rights says they don't believe that there would be any fewer circumcisions if the procedure is forbidden than there is now, and expresses concern that if circumcision is forbidden the people will turn to medically unsafe practitioners.

As a Jew, I find the implications very insulting. We are fairly law-abiding people, fairly well aware of various human rights concerns, and for the most part not very fanatically religious. Moreover, while I am most decidedly not a fan of Islam, I - unlike, apparently, the Finnish League for Human Rights - don't think that they are all criminal fanatics, either.

There is a precedent: circumcision wasn't outright forbidden in the ex-USSR, but it was made quite difficult. And guess what: most Jews there didn't do it.

For those who would circumcise their sons no matter what there are other ways to discourage dangerous methods without permitting the procedure. First of all, there is such thing as medically necessary circumcision, and I think at least some of those people will find a sympathetic doctor. Second, one way of dealing with it would be to make medically sound non-medical circumcision a fairly minor crime (battery, for example, or even minor battery) and make a medically unsound circumcision an aggravated battery, for which parents can actually go to prison.

Banning circumcision won't get rid of it completely. But if people who want to circumcise their sons will need to find a sympathetic doctor, or a sympathetic country, and possibly get a fine and/or a suspended sentence when caught, at least everyone who is in doubt or who is just doing it because it's a tradition will stop doing it. It's worth a try.

As to being the first: there used to be a time when it was legal almost everywhere to rape one's wife or to beat one's children. Finland wasn't the first country to ban those either, but doesn't it wish it were?

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

May he who has never done anything stupid throw the first shoe

Iraqi journalist Muntazar al-Zaidi has thrown both his shoes at George Bush, for which he was beaten up by security guards, and is facing up to seven years in jail for "offending the head of a foreign state."

Damn. Hope they don't give the same sentence for verbal offenses, or else the whole country is soon in jail.

All I can say is that if you start throwing shoes at idiots you'll run out of shoes a lot faster than you'll run out of idiots.

Saturday, December 13, 2008

"The evildoers shat in my pants!"

There was a joke in Russia: a general comes home from a party complaining about some lieutenant: "lieutenant X stole my slice of cake, broke my chair, took away the lady with whom I was talking..."

After the general has undressed his servant points out: "Sir, that bastard lieutenant X has also shat in your pants".

Accusing other people figuratively of shitting into one's own pants is a fairly common rhetorical device among politicians, but only Honorary Doctor of Laws (Moscow University, and many others) Robert Mugabe has managed to do it almost literally.

According to his information minister Sikhanyiso Ndlovu the cholera outbreak in Zimbabwe is "genocidal onslaught on the people of Zimbabwe by the British" and "a calculated, racist, terrorist attack on Zimbabwe".

In an unprecedented move Zimbabwean government even decided to start paying salary to doctors and nurses, even in hard currency, but they have rejected the lucrative offer of $200 and $60 a month respectively.

Thursday, December 11, 2008

Life

Haven't been writing much. Had a lot of work at work lately, and a lot of social life, been to a huge student organization party, a group birthday party and an Independence day party in a row. Also have totally forgotten what sleep is, and still have a bit of a flu.

Been playing with immigration-related statistics, too, and thinking too much on the current immigration topics. Probably will write on them soon though it would be fun to write about something else for a change.

Saturday, December 06, 2008

Thursday, December 04, 2008

Statistics

The conversation about immigration is everywhere nowadays, and a lot of people are yelling at each other without bothering to check the facts. I decided that some kind of a page that lists statistics sources would be in order, and started one. It's in Finnish, but some of the links it lists have an English version.

If anybody wants to build a bigger and better one, or put this in some sort of wiki, feel free. If anybody wants me to add something to it, feel free to email me, but I am not promising that it will happen fast.

No, I don't wanna know what her real name is

I have just deleted a comment where an anonymous commenter is threatening to reveal an anonymous blogger's real name. Any other comments of the similar kind will naturally be deleted as soon as I see them.

The commenter's IP address was 91.152.133.200, if this is useful to anyone.

Friday, November 28, 2008

Let's not frequently and wrongly associate, comrades!

The UN General Assembly has drafted a resolution on combating defamation of religions. The draft I have linked to has been drafted by such famous human rights luminaries as Belarus, Uganda and Venezuela; I am not sure whether it's their job to write all the drafts or whether the next draft will be written by Saudi Arabia and Afghanistan.

Anyway, the General Assembly "expresses deep concern in this respect that Islam is frequently and wrongly associated with human rights violations and terrorism". They probably also wanted to express grave concern, but then thought better about it and decided not to mention the graves, just in case.

I can totally understand them. I also often express deep concern that my scale shows me the numbers that frequently and wrongly associate me with being overweight. I have a suspicion that eating less chocolate is more likely to correct the problem than a General Assembly resolution, but then I've never had a General Assembly resolution about my scale, so who knows... While they are at it, they should also express deep concern that my mirror frequently and wrongly associates me with not being 20 anymore.

But just for today I'll try to be politically correct and not wrongly associate too much.

OK, in the news:

The Religion of Peace, or maybe some different, previously unknown religion, or maybe militant atheists, has arranged a demonstration for peace in Mumbai. The demonstration seems to have suffered from a massive demo effect. So far, 125 people have found eternal peace, and 327 have been peacefully injured. The targets have been a railway station, two hotels, two hospitals, a cafe, police headquarters and the local Chabad house. Chabad houses are the houses of a large Orthodox Jewish sect, Chabad Lubavicher, and I am sure this one was taken for a peaceful dialogue between religions.

Besides Jews, the demonstrators wanted to have a peaceful dialogue with American and British citizens, preferably in places where the police cannot interrupt it. Dialogue with Indians did not interest them just as much, and they mostly just showed them the way to eternal peace.

In other news, Afghan authorities have arrested 10 Taliban (nothing to do with religion) members who are alleged to have thrown acid on 11 schoolgirls and 4 teachers a couple of weeks ago in Kandahar. Taliban denied everything and thinks that it is probably unfair to stereotype them on the basis of all the previous attacks against girls' schools. Indeed, the article says "the central Taliban organization is not the only armed group capable of such an attack in Kandahar, as other extremist militias such as Hizb-i-Islami and the Haqqani network have been blamed for actions in the province". Since we should not associate them with Islam, I think they were extremist Amish and extremist Buddhists (who are still avenging those Buddhas that Taliban destroyed.

Via Jihad Watch:

Damn, I was being sarcastic, but it sounds like this guy is seriously saying it was the Jews.

Monday, November 24, 2008

"Eek, the evil-doers are taking our voters!"

Lately I've heard several people observe, mostly with regret, that immigration critics have managed to attract the people whose opinions on immigration are not very different from many multiculturalists' opinions. That's quite true. I haven't actually made scientific polls so maybe I shouldn't make strong statements based on what I see around me, but it certainly seems like most folks, both in pro-multiculturalism and anti-multuculturalism camps, are quite OK with immigrants as long as they don't commit crimes, don't make trouble, and don't overload the welfare system unduly.

Some of them, however, consider themselves multiculturalist, and some consider themselves anti-multiculturalist. And during the last 7 years or so, I've seen lots of people, myself included, move from the multiculturalist camp to the anti-multiculturalist camp, and none move the other way. (Yeah, I am sure at least one exists somewhere, I just haven't seen him/her.) This process is happening all over the Western world, the multiculturalist politicians and worried by the rise of xenophobia, and wondering what's wrong with the people.

Just a thought: if your constituents are starting to vote for your opponents, even though their views on the actual issue haven't changed all that much, maybe it's because you and yours have failed to deliver?

We wanted the world where people of different colors, religions and cultures could come to the West more or less easily and live and work here like everyone else. I am not speaking for all the anti-multiculturalists here, but I know I did, and I've known a lot of other people who did.

What we got instead is a staggering amount of integration problems all over Europe. We've got riots in Paris suburbs, bombs in London and Madrid, Danish cartoon riots, immigrants strongly overrepresented in crime statistics in Finland and in Sweden, a murdered filmmaker and some politicians in need of bodyguards in the Netherlands, death threats towards critics of Islam and towards young women who don't want to marry men of their parents' choosing, areas abandoned by indigenous populations and chefs suing their employers for asking them to handle sausages.

Yeah, we know that the people who vote for multiculturalist politicians are pretty much like us. But "you will know them by their fruits" applies here, just like everywhere else, and the fruits are sadly obvious to quite a lot of voters.

The fact is, some immigrant groups commit more crime - especially violent crime - than others. Even in Finland the people are starting to notice it, even though the immigrant population is quite small and the groups in question are a fairly small percentage of all immigrants. Some groups are disproportionally on public assistance. Some groups are more likely to engage in terrorism than others. People are concerned about all of the above, and all they get from multiculturalist politicians is "everything is gonna be ok", "we are not gonna repeat France's (Germany's, UK's, etc.) mistakes", "we need more immigrants" and "we need to spend more money on integration" (which, when said by people professionally involved with integration, also means "we need to pay me more salary").

There is such a thing as undesirable immigrants: robbers, rapists, terrorists, young people who spend years on welfare without bothering to find a job, etc. The way I see it, there are only two ways of reducing their numbers: either reducing the admissions of the groups to which they belong, or getting rid of individuals or punishing them once they turn out to be undesirable.

I don't see the politicians doing either. You can't stop taking refugees from a particular country, because it would be discrimination. You can't limit the immigration from at-risk countries to admit only the people with higher education, because it would be depriving a needy country from its property...I mean people. You can't kick refugees off welfare after a couple of years because "it's just Not Done" and "they will become criminals anyway after that", and you can's send the criminal ones back home or back to the refugee camp because it's not safe for them, and we are deeply committed to the occupational safety of armed robbers.

There are good and bad people everywhere, of course, and even with the best policies some immigrant may turn out to be a bad person, and shit happens, but there has been just too much of the shit happening. When you have one immigrant killing his daughter for failing to marry whoever he told her to, it's just one murdering asshole who should be treated like any other murdering asshole. When we have whole communities in the UK where taxi drivers and police officers help those families catch those daughters, it's a massive failure of policy. Which, in turn, makes people think that the guilty parties, along with their counterparts in other countries, should be voted out of office.

How did most European countries come to have rules against deporting criminal refugees, even though the Convention Relating to the Status of Refugees states very clearly that it is not intended to protect criminals? Whose bright idea was it to write - or sign - international treaties that prohibit returning people to a place where they can be executed, making in effect every criminal condemned or potentially condemned to death entitled to stay in, say, Norway? Whatever one's opinion on death penalty is, the refugee laws were written for the sake persecuted minorities, not for the sake of the founders of terrorist organizations. Whose fault is it that Omar Bakri Muhammed was allowed to preach terrorism in UK on taxpayers' money for 19 years? Whose idea was it to accommodate the aspects of immigrant cultures that go against our own, and who taught them to demand such accommodations?

It is a surprise that people are not very excited about humanitarian immigration when they realize that once you give a person asylum you can't kick them out even if they have been robbing people in the streets, founded terrorist organizations, or preached the destruction of the country that took them in?

Multiculturalists say "we are gonna learn from other countries' mistakes". Yes, we are, and we have, and we have started voting for the anti-multiculturalism candidates. Before the problems get out of hand, and not after.

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

Self-esteem and self-improvement

A recent discussion about transsexuals made me wonder about the gap between our desires and reality, and in which cases it is considered socially acceptable to correct reality, and in which cases it is considered more appropriate to correct one's desires.

I don't mean the blatantly obvious cases, such as that I would like to see one of my daycare teachers dead, but am not allowed to make that happen. I was thinking more along the lines of clear disapproval of cosmetic surgery that a lot of people express, vs. lack of same disapproval of cosmetic dentistry.

Pretty much every conversation about cosmetic surgery turns to lack of self-esteem (which in our culture has pretty much turned into an insult, usually having very little to do with the actual self-esteem of the person, or lack thereof) and evil cosmetic industry preying on people who are clearly too stupid to decide for themselves. I have never heard the same feelings expressed about dental braces (I realize that a lot of people have other reasons for those than cosmetic, but a lot of them are used to make teeth look more even) or tooth whitening.

I could never quite understand why a person who wants a perfectly straight nose is suffering from a low self-esteem, has been brainwashed by society who values women only for their looks (or by society who values people only for their looks, in case of a man), needs to learn to love and and accept herself/himself as he or she is, needs to understand something about the inner beauty, etc. A person who wants perfectly straight teeth, on the other hand, is just a person who wants to straighten his or her teeth.

BTW, isn't "low self-esteem" supposed to mean "evaluating self-worth, at least on some parameters, as lower than it objectively is"? Why are people who say that they are ugly automatically accused of having low self-esteem even when they are in fact ugly? Is it because failure to deride their self-esteem means that you agree with them?

Another interesting thing about alleged self-esteem and looks is that the words "low self-esteem" are used both about the people who are striving to improve their looks (they must clearly have low self-esteem since they are unable to love and accept themselves as they are, and must spend time and money on their looks) and the people who don't care much (they must clearly have low self-esteem since they don't consider themselves worthy of new and fashionable clothes, hairstyle or makeup).

Isn't it time to admit that the words "low self-esteem", at least when not used as some strictly defined psychological term, are just a simple insult that people use on their fellow citizens whose lifestyles they disapprove of?

Sunday, November 16, 2008

Hong Kong

Hong Kong was very hongkongish, as before. Skyscrapers, lights and people. It was so hot that at some point I started crying for the countless generations who lived and died there before the invention of air conditioning.

Next time I am going there, it's gonna be in winter. Not this winter, though.

Victoria Peak rules as usual. And Central. And Kowloon. And Causeway Bay. We also went to Macau, with, as usual, failed to rule.

I finally found out what a Saturday night in Mongkok looks like. It really is terrifying, even to a person used to crowds and big cities. Take New York's Times Square, double the number of people per square meter of area, and Mongkok is a much bigger area. I escaped to a book store with my tail between my legs.

In Kowloon there was a building that was still under construction but already had people living or working on the lower floors.

The biggest difference compared with Hong Kong of 3 years ago was the non-smoking everything. You can't smoke anywhere inside (in any public places I've seen, that is) and in most places outside. The few corners of the outside where one could smoke carried a sign "Smoking is not prohibited in this venue".

Friday, November 14, 2008

More about the little helicopter

I was somewhat annoyed that the people who sold me the damn thing had serious trouble believing that I was buying it for myself and not for some kid, even though I told them so.

I do realize that there are people who simply don't believe that adults can and do play. I generally dismiss them as potentially friendly aliens and leave it at that. But those salespeople were playing with helicopters themselves, and they sure didn't look like they were just doing their duty.

Whee! Little helicopter!

At 14 I was a very serious teenager, reading classics most of the time, and angsting all the rest of the time. I wonder how I would have reacted if somebody told me that at 37 I will spend a really fun evening chasing a toy helicopter around the apartment, naked, with an infrared joystick thing in one hand and a pear cognac liqueur in the other.

Thursday, November 13, 2008

Immigrants and minorities can't be as successful as the normal people, by definition?

How can it be otherwise if every successful minority or immigrant group is excluded from the definition of "minority" or "immigrant"?

Four years ago I I wrote about the growing use of the word "expat" to mean an immigrant from a civilized country. I found it silly then and I find it silly now, but apparently a lot of people find it useful to have two different words for desirable immigrants (the kind that they themselves are, or would be if they went to live abroad) and undesirable immigrants (for some people pretty much everyone else, for some people the immigrants of a different skin color, for some people the immigrants who don't work, etc.)

I am surprised that the desire to have two different words is so strong. I mean, I also find myself, or for example some random German doctor, a lot more desirable than an illiterate goatherd from Kurdistan, but not to the point where I would consider it beneath me to share the word "immigrant" with him.

The social need for two separate words is obviously strong enough that HS journalists write the words "real immigrants" to mean people who are not like Elisabeth Nauclér. Their two examples of real immigrants are both Somali, so I am not sure whether you need to be black, Muslim or Somali to quality.

If we really invent two different words in Finnish and start using them in public, it will of course cause endless hours of fun defining who is an immigrant and who is an expat, based on the place of birth, citizenship, race, ethnicity and reason for being in Finland. Are people from the industrialized non-white countries expats? And from non-industrialized white countries? What about semi-industrialized? What about non-white people from white countries? People who were born in the third world but are now citizens of first-world countries? A Turkish professor, as opposed to a Turkish kebab cook?

But that's not my problem, I'll gladly leave the definitions to the people who actually want two different words. The problem is that at this point we don't have two different words, so if you reserve the word "maahanmuuttaja" (immigrant) for the more colorful folks, you don't really have any word for the other group.

The other problem is that the word "immigrant" is used in the normal way (that is, to mean all the immigrants) in the official statistics, which causes the people who use the word "immigrant" selectively to misinterpret said statistics. Usually along the lines of "oh my God, this says that there are 132 632 foreigners living in Finland, how can we support 132 632 unemployed Somalis?", when in reality only 4831 of them are Somalis of any employment status.

It is natural that in the public discourse about immigration the "unreal immigrants" are invisible. They are mostly just regular folks living regular lives, who cannot be used to demonstrate how bad the immigrants are, or how bad the Finns are towards the immigrants, or how tolerant one is, and who have little use for the whole integration system. The result of this invisibility, however, is that people are never sure what and who they are talking about when they are discussing immigration-related statistics.

So maybe there is a point in having separate words, and separate statistics? Since Helsingin Sanomat obviously thinks so, I have a modest proposal: now that HS has established that we have one unreal immigrant and no real immigrants in Eduskunta, how about publishing some separate crime statistics for the real and the unreal immigrants?

And now for the real foreigners...

I've always known that for some people a black person is always less of a real American, or a real Finn, than a white person. I'd never expected to see this attitude in such an obvious way in Helsingin Sanomat.

The title of the article is "We'll still have to wait for a Finnish Obama". It starts "In Finland members of minorities still haven't achieved top places in politics". Now that's funny. IIRC the top of Finnish politics had for a long time been in the hands of the Swedish-speaking minority. Remember that guy named Mannerheim? I think the current government has three members of the same minority in it.

I don't think we've ever had a Jew or a Muslim in the government. This is, of course, totally shocking and unfair in a country that has traditionally had a Jewish minority of about a thousand people, and, until the recent times, a Muslim minority of about the same size. The highest a Jew has ever gotten in Finnish politics is being the chairman of the group of one of the biggest parties in the parliament. I am shocked.

But sarcasm aside, the HS article is really talking about immigrants. At this point, I am getting a bit angry on behalf of Obama.

Barack Obama is not an immigrant. He is a native-born US citizen. I can see that the article switches between the terms "immigrant" and "a person of immigrant background". I am sorry if this comes as a surprise to the journalists in HS, but we are talking about the United Fucking States of America here, and there is a lot of descendants of immigrants there. Like, pretty much all the country. Obama has made history as the first black US President, but as a son of an immigrant he is nothing new: we've had Woodrow Wilson and Chester Arthur, not to mention the early presidents, who, besides having been born before the USA was established, sometimes were born to the parents who'd just arrived from Europe, sometimes spoke Dutch as their first language, and in general did god knows what.

But the truly amazing quote is here: "Elisabeth Nauclér, who represents Ahvenanmaa, is an immigrant who moved here from Sweden, but there are no "real" MPs with an immigrant background in the Parliament."

Excuse me? Did I miss us annexing Sweden overnight? Are they talking specifically about the MPs who have an immigrant background but were themselves born in Finland, and if so, why did they forget Ben Zyskowicz, who is the son of a Polish father and has been in the Parliament for 29 years? Or do they maybe think that a person representing Ahvenanmaa is not a real MP?

Or are they using the term '"real" immigrant' to mean people who are not white? If they are saying that a white Finn who has immigrated from the West is less than a real immigrant, do they even understand that this implies that they think that a non-white Finn who has immigrated from the Third World is less than a real Finn?

Monday, November 10, 2008

Seoul

The road from the airport to Seoul resembles some parts of Arizona, in a good way. There are some sculptures on the way, unlike in Arizona. One of them, of which I unfortunately did not manage to take a picture, is especially baffling: if it's a penis, why does it have only one testicle, and if it's a missile, why does it have any testicles at all?

There are no women in high-heeled boots. When there are women in boots, they are carrying a Japanese-language map of Seoul.

I've always known that I can't easily tell the Chinese, the Koreans and the Japanese from each other individually, but I can do it in a big group. This is the first time I've seen so many Koreans together, though, and as a group they look a lot more different from the Chinese and the Japanese than the Chinese and the Japanese from each other. Unfortunately, and unlike in Japan and China, there are pretty much no good-looking men in Korea. Not that they are ugly; it's just that there are no good-looking ones. When you see a good-looking man in Seoul, he is also usually carrying a Japanese-language map of the city.

Myeong-dong in general and our Ibis hotel in particular are great. Unlike in Japan, , the toilet has instructions in English. The toilet bowl in Kyoto, and IIRC in Seoul as well, started making pissing sounds as soon as you sat on it. Very encouraging.

I had a pretty nice view from the window.

In Myeong-dong there is a cafe in every building, and in every self-respecting building there are at least two. They are much in the Japanese style, except that in Seoul the situation with non-smoking areas is much better. Either the whole place is non-smoking, or the smoking area is very well-separated.

The Koreans speak somewhat better English than the Japanese, and they are not shy to use it.

The city features shopping areas, cute skyscrapers, and lots and lots of street sculptures.

There are also a lot of street vendors selling mysterious foods. The least mysterious was a potato on a stick, fashioned into one spiral potato chip.

We spent the evening with an old Russian friend who's been living there for many years. He taught us to eat Korean barbeque.

There might be some American restaurant chain that is not present in Korea, but I can't think of any.

They write without using the Chinese characters nowadays. The only places where I've seen Chinese characters are museums and palaces, and there they are in brackets as an explanation. I think that as a writing system ditching the Chinese characters is a great improvement, but for my own purposes during this trip I sorely missed them. In Japan I got accustommed to being able to read a tiny little bit, even though I don't know the language, and it didn't seem like much (just basic things like "meat", "forbidden", "chicken" or "exit"), but I sure missed it in Korea where I couldn't.

The signs on the old gates and suchlike are written from right to left. When did they switch?

The palaces are pretty colorful. I like them.

Sunday, November 09, 2008

More about Japan

Kinkakuji is a very beautiful temple. It has a pond with fish, like many other temples. If you come to the pond and applaud the fish, they come to you and stick their faces out of the water.

I totally don't get the rock gardens. They are just, well, gravel and rock. If it didn't read somewhere that they are famous I would have just thought that somebody was too lazy to pulls out all the rocks. And yet people come to see the rock gardens, even though the regular non-rock gardens really rock. I guess Zen is not for me.

Talking about the gardens, Koko-en in Himeji is the mother of them all.

War crimes

A few weeks ago I was talking with some friends on IRC. We were discussing a hypothetical Russian invasion, and whether poisoned vodka would be an effective weapon against such. Being the kind of person who is interested in the legal distinctions between offering the enemy soldiers poisoned vodka and putting it somewhere where they'd steal it themselves, I raised the question of the laws of warfare, and what do the various Geneva conventions think about poisoning the enemy soldiers.

The unanimous answer was "who the fuck cares"?

I tried to mention the issue among some of my other friends, in different parts of the political spectrum. The answer - right, left and center - was "who the fuck cares". Mind you, these are all very nice people who generally condemn war crimes, or at least the war crimes committed by somebody else. It's just that the idea of the rule of law tends to pale in comparison with the idea of Russian tanks in Helsinki.

I can hardly condemn the feeling, especially since I share it. But next time somebody wonders "where do war criminals come from?" I just might try to search in a mirror.

I ain't dead...OK, not so sure about it

Got a supermegaflu. Haven't been writing or socializing much lately, because had to concentrate on breathing. Soon as I get it right, I'll try sleeping and maybe some brain activity.

Doctors are good for you, BTW. Mine has prescribed such a huge bag of drugs, it feels like it's Christmas. Or like what I think Christmas would feel if I celebrated it. Except that I have checked all the drugs and none of them have any recreational potential.

She also told me to drink fluids. I am quite sure rum toddy is a fluid.

Monday, November 03, 2008

On Japanese fashions

Japanese women love boots, and loved them also when I was there 3 years ago. Nowadays the clothes fashions have changed, though, and they wear them with tiny little shorts. The funniest I've seen was a girl with huge boots, tiny shorts, and a fur hat that belonged in a Hollywood movie about Russia in winter. It was +23 that day.

Joy and Mikko said that there is a short time in July when people don't wear boots.

But the most mysterious thing about Japanese fashion is their high heels. More than half of the women there wear high heels, and the vast majority of them have no idea how to walk on them. This is what's so mysterious: if you use high heels every day, wouldn't you eventually either learn to walk on them or give up? I've heard a few theories on the subject, but they all would apply to Russian women as well, but Russian women don't stagger on their heels in such numbers: they either learn or give up. The Japanese, amazingly, continue to stagger.

Sunday, November 02, 2008

The trip impressions: Japan

Tokyo is a very pleasant city. Lively, pretty and relaxing in a way. There is not a lot of impressive views or monuments, but I've never seen any part of it that wasn't one way or another pleasant. I especially like Ueno and Shinjuku.

Kyoto, on the other hand, has a lot of lovely temples and shrines and one lively and pretty shopping, dining and nightlife area, but is otherwise astonishingly ugly. Walking outside the pretty areas was not a pleasure for the eyes. My advice for all the visitors is to get a bus pass (500 yen a day) and just ride from one pretty area to the other.

Temples are pretty, but they get monotonous fast. If you only get to see one Buddhist temple in Japan, let it be Todaiji temple in Nara. It's really The Temple.

Shinto shrines are often painted bright orange. To ward off evil spirits, one tourist guide said. This probably also explains the Helsinki subway.

Nara conveniently has most of its tourist attractions in one fairly big park. Himeji also has its attractions, the castle and the Koko-en garden, right next to each other.

Nara also has deer, which are mostly cute but can be a nuisance. One tried to eat a cop's baton, got kicked by the same baton on the butt for its effort, came to me, demanded cookies, didn't get any, bit me on the stomach and tried to pull my shirt off. It's lucky it didn't end up as deer filet.

On the way back from Nara a man started talking to us on the train. In English. He told us that he is 75 and has never been abroad, so he figured now it's time to learn English and travel by himself, not with a group like everyone else.

Address system is weird but you get used to it, good maps are available, the subways and railways have all the essential information in English. This is where their English ends, though.

In some hotels and upscale restaurants some people speak some English, but for the most part nobody does, and they are afraid to use the little English that they do speak, too. I usually avoid trying to speak local language (except some polite words) when I speak it as little as Japanese, but in Japan every word of Japanese helps. Especially number words are very useful when trying to explain how many of something you want, because in many places "three" and three fingers held up was not enough.

Finding restaurants with a non-smoking section is a big problem. However, small eateries like kaiten-sushi places are usually totally non-smoking, chain cafes (the best coffee was in Pronto, BTW) usually have smoking and non-smoking areas, and nice restaurants will seat you away from smokers at a non-crowded time.

This nonwithstanding, there are whole streets and blocks where smoking is forbidden. They are patrolled by some anti-smoking police. Once I saw a man come to a non-smoking street with a cigarette. The cop chased him with a portable ashtray, caught him and confiscated the cigarette.

Maybe a thousand pictures is worth a million words?

Wednesday, October 29, 2008

The shit has hit the fan

The last couple of days were full of politicians' talk about how horrible it is that Perussuomalaiset won, and whose fault that was.

This, however, is pretty unbelievable:

Tuija Brax, the Minister of Justice, says that the ministry will start teaching chairpeople of the city councils to censor anti-immigration, anti-immigrant and anti-minority speech (in the council meetings, I assume, not in the city streets).

First of all, speech inciting against racial, ethnic and religious groups is already banned by the criminal law. The law bans all public speech of the "kill the X" kind, and also of the "all Y are disgusting smelly assholes" kind. I am not sure whether or not city councils are "public" in the sense meant by the law, but what I want to know is whether Brax thinks that a) the elected city council members will say things mentioned above, or b) the elected city council members will say things like "I think we should also collect crime statistics by the country of birth of the perpetrator", and that this should be censored.

In general there has been a lot of discussion about the horrible things that Some People (tm) say about immigrants in general or some ethnic or religious groups in particular. Usually the discussion has deteriorated into claiming that these things are not true, but IMO a more relevant question to the people who think that the new anti-multiculturalist council members and their opinions are horrible would be: what kind of negative things, in your opinion, can one say about an ethnic or religious group, assuming that those things are in fact statistically true? (For the purpose of this question assume that the facts are presented in a neutral way.)

Tuesday, October 28, 2008

"And no nukes, while you are at it"

I came back from a trip to Japan, South Korea, Hong Kong and Macau last week. A more detailed report is forthcoming, but one thing I noticed is the amount of interesting warnings, bans and advice. "Please see a doctor if you are sick", "Please drink water to avoid heat", no discharging missiles in the park and a lot of other stuff, etc.

The most mysterious, however, was this, in Tapgol park in Seoul. Why two pictures of people throwing trash? What do the head and the hand mean? Do they really mean "don't set fire to the buildings" in one of these? And what the hell is the fourth one from the left in the top row (a closeup)? My first guess was "don't measure chipmunks' temperature anally", as good an advice as any, but then my friends also came up with "don't abuse chipmunks in the butt with a sparkler", "don't give chipmunks pregnancy tests", and many other creative ideas. If any of my readers know any Korean, please shed some light on this mystery.

"Eek! Eek! People elected the wrong candidates!"

The municipal election is over. Congratulations to Jussi Halla-aho, and everyone else whom I wanted to win and who won.

It is probably a law of nature that after an election the winners loudly declare that The People Have Spoken, and the losers try to come up with polite ways of saying that the people were mistaken, brainwashed or simply damn stupid. This is especially the case when the winners happen to be elitist (appeal to the people who earn more than the journalists) or populist (appeal to the people whom journalists consider lower-class but who still earn more than the journalists).

The keyword, however, is "polite". Helsingin Sanomat's reaction at first was anything but. Then somebody more sensible woke up.

I understand HS's shock when Jussi Halla-aho, who is just a guy with a blog who criticizes the current immigration policies, gets 2916 votes, and Astrid Thors, the actual immigration minister, gets 2450. This is no reason to call him an opponent of immigrants (they fixed that later), or to wring hands and wonder what went wrong and what kind of bad things happened to people that they want to vote for Halla-aho. Maybe they should rather read his writings, he's been writing for a while now about the bad things that have been happening.

On a lighter and snarkier note: in all my years in Finland there has been only one person who refused to talk to me on account of me being a foreigner, and it certainly wasn't Jussi.

Wednesday, October 22, 2008

I am back

Survived the vacation, looking forward to getting some sleep.

Wednesday, October 08, 2008

I ain't dead

I ain't dead, or even studying the current crisis, just busy. Not gonna write anything sensible for a week or two.

About the current economy crisis: wow and ouch!

Wednesday, October 01, 2008

Goals for tonight

Goals for tonight: wash all the underwear and not get too drunk.

I know this sounds kind of pathetic, but I am actually in a pretty good mood.

Tuesday, September 30, 2008

Kosher, halal, and circumcision

The Muslim immigration to Europe brought with it quite a lot of concern of locals about both Jewish and Muslim traditions that have been around here for a very long time, but are now coming to the public attention again with a new force.

Many Muslims and Jews say that at least some of the people who raise these issues just don't like Muslims, Jews or both. This is undoubtedly so, but it doesn't mean that these are not real issues. It's just that the debate on them sounds rather strange nowadays.

First of all, I find it really strange that people on all sides of the debate often claim that ritual slaughter is barbaric. Or that it is humane. Ritual slaughter, just like regular slaughter, can be as barbaric or as humane as you make it.

At best, the ritual slaughter is cutting the animal's throat very fast with a sharp knife, with the result that the animal loses consciousness immediately. At worst, the animal does not lose consciousness immediately and is hoisted up by its hind legs to bleed out while conscious.

In spite of the popular misconceptions to the contrary kosher and halal slaughter are permitted in Finland, as long as it's done in a proper slaughterhouse and the animal is stunned right after the cut. There is nothing particularly barbaric about this method, unless you disapprove of eating meat in general.

There are some disagreements among both Jews and Muslims as to whether it's kosher/halal to stun the animal after the cut. And yes, some think that it's not, Jews more often than Muslims. Do we have to cater to them? The demand for any kind of kosher meat is so low in Finland that it is AFAIK not slaughtered in Finland anyway, and as for halal - well, stunning is permitted in Saudi Arabia, so wouldn't that be kosher (sorry) enough for the vast majority of Muslims? And IME Jews and Muslims are people like everyone else, in that in the absence of superkosher and superhalal they make do with what they have.

Has anyone besides Abdullah Tammi ever demanded unstunned kosher or halal meat in Finland? (That's not a rhetorical question.)

One point that is rarely raised: people who wish to follow very strict kosher and halal guidelines and don't believe in stunning don't need to become vegetarians or compromise their beliefs, of they are not so inclined. Fish does not require ritual slaughter in Judaism or Islam, and stunning birds after cutting their necks is not required by law in Finland.

In short, I think that Finland already has the right laws, as in Eläinsuojeluasetus 7.6.1996/396.

As to circumcision, the situation is complicated. There is no proper law, and treating it as battery is difficult since authorities have in effect permitted it ever since Jews and Muslims lived here, which is a fairly long time. It has become an issue only after the Muslim immigration of the 90s, which made it more common, raised demand for having it taxpayer-funded, and brought the issue of the female circumcision. A few thoughts on banning circumcision:

1. The people who discuss circumcision as is it were a medieval custom long forgotten in Europe and only brought here by recent Muslim immigration are of course very wrong. Circumcision has been around and permitted for a long, long time. I think that a child's right to bodily integrity is more important than freedom of religion, and that banning non-medical circumcision would be a great step forward, but that's exactly what it would be: a huge step forward. It should be treated as such. As in "we realize that is has been permitted pretty much all over the Western world all the time, but times change and we think it's time to ban it, and this is why...".

2. The people who think that it should be funded by taxpayers are making a step backward. It used to be funded by NHS in UK; when it stopped being so, the rates fell dramatically.

3. The problem of people not obeying the law and doing it anyway is real, and something needs to be done about it. OTOH, if it were illegal it would be a lot less common. My rather obvious suggestion would be to make it mildly punishable if done illegally but in proper medical conditions, and make the punishment a lot more severe for people who do it in a way that endangers the child's health. OTOH, the punishments for grievous bodily harm are ridiculously small in Finland in any case.

Anyway: I see how it is a matter of principle for many people, but IMO even laws that would make at least some people give up on this custom would be good.

Sunday, September 28, 2008

The less-radical younger generation

This seems almost too funny to be true. Remember Omar Bakri, the man that the newspapers usually politely call "firebrand cleric" because a newspaper can get in trouble for using a more descriptive term, for example "delusional Islamist sociopath"?

His daughter Yasmin turned out to be a pole dancer. Which, of course, totally doesn't have anything to do with the way they took her out of school at 16 for an arranged marriage.

One of Bakri's comments: "Islam has prevailed and you are defeated. The lowest people on earth are non-Muslims and that is why we have to put up with these fabrications and lies."

There is still some sense in the world...

...even in West Virginia.

The anti-farting charges were dropped.

Thursday, September 25, 2008

The land of the free and the home of the buttplug

Finland is only trying to figure out how to prevent horrible violence, but the USA is already ahead of everyone.

In West Virginia, a man has been charged with battery on a police officer. For farting.

'"The gas was very odorous and created contact of an insulting or provoking nature with Patrolman Parsons," the complaint alleged.'

The man was also accused of passing gas loudly, lifting his leg while doing so, moving his chair towards the officer before farting, and fanning the gas towards the officer. The evildoer admits to farting, but not the moving and the fanning, and is claiming an upset stomach.

OK, maybe all the jokes about West Virginians are true, in that many of them are children of cousins, siblings, sheep or parents who happen to be all of the above. And OK, I've been to some restaurants (none of them in West Virginia) after which the customers' farts can and rightfully should be banned by chemical weapon limitation treaties. But one thing I would like to know: are they gonna ban beans for being a sort of anti-police ammo?

Why is hating everyone OK?

I am sure I've written about it before, but why, again, is hating all people much more acceptable, both legally and socially, than hating some group?

I think a direct incitement to kill people is illegal in any case, but anything short of it is not. If you write something along the lines of "I hate all Asians, they are like a cancer spreading on our beautiful planet", or even "Asians totally suck and are worthless and smell bad" the police will be at your door pretty soon. Ditto for blacks, whites, or any race or ethnic group you can think of. But you can write such things about all those groups put together, and not only not get arrested, but not even necessarily considered a psychotic creep.

Isn't it time to rethink this, especially considering that - thank God for small favors - I don't remember anyone ever committing a murder of a group of Asians, whites, blacks or anyone else for racial or ethnic reasons in Finland, but we just had a second spree killing for misanthropic reasons within one year?

Tuesday, September 23, 2008

Let's ban, ban, ban something!

According to Tilastokeskus, 23 people died in 2006 from being shot during a manslaughter or by accident: 17 were victims of crimes, 4 were victims of accidents, and they are not sure about the remaining two.

During the same time, 41 people died in motorcycle accidents and 73 in boating accidents. There are 1620000 legal firearms in Finland, 737000 boats and 188 144 motorcycles plus 188 388 mopeds.

That's about 70435 legal firearms per one person killed by firearms, and since 57% of the firearms used in crimes are illegal firearms, 121713 legal firearms per one person killed by them. That's also 10096 boats per person killed by boating, and 9183 motorcycles and mopeds per person killed while riding one.

So, why do so many people demand a total ban on guns every time several people get killed, but I've never heard anyone seriously demand a ban on all, or even just recreational, boating and motorcycling?

Refugees and diversity

A number of blogs have been talking about immigration and refugees lately, especially on Uusi Suomi's list of election blogs.

In such discussions feelings run high, both sides sometimes use the kind of arguments that makes one feel ashamed for them, and most people seem to be a bit unclear on the concept of refugee.

Yesterday, however, I ran into one that made me inhale my tea. I don't remember which one of those conversation threads it was, but it went along the line of "how does taking refugees help the countries that they are coming from?"

I did a double-take. Say what? Why on Earth would you want to help them? Unless, of course, you are either the kind of person who defines "help" as "carpet bombing", or the kind of person who thinks that all the violent criminals just need help.

The current concept of refugee was created by 1951 United Nations Convention Relating to the Status of Refugees, and defines a refugee as a person who "owing to a well-founded fear of being persecuted for reasons of race, religion, nationality, membership of a particular social group, or political opinion, is outside the country of their nationality, and is unable to or, owing to such fear, is unwilling to avail him/herself of the protection of that country". Why a country generating such people should get any help, as opposed to a very hard kick in the nuts, is beyond my understanding.

I know that every time Holocaust or Nazis are mentioned in any political discourse, God (or is it Godwin) kills a kitten somewhere. Considering the date of the convention, however, a prototypical refugee they were thinking of was most probably a Jew trying to escape from Nazi Germany. Can you really imagine Americans, Russians, Swiss, Swedes, or any kind of furry little creatures from Alpha Centauri say "how does helping Jewish refugees help Germany?" No? Didn't think so.

Anyway, the whole idea was to take some minority groups or persons from where they are being persecuted by the majority or the powers that be, and move them to the places where they would fit in better.

Tens of millions of refugees were successfully resettled during the last century. Usually the successful resettlement involved people moving from a place where people were less like themselves to a place where people were more like themselves, either in ethnicity, religion, way of life or political opinions, or at least to a place where the locals were more accustomed to people like themselves. Jews and political dissidents from German-occupied Europe fled to pretty much anywhere that would take them, Germans who disagreed with Communism fled from East Germany to West Germany, Poles fled from the Ukraine to Poland, Finns fled from the Carelian Isthmus to the rest of Finland, Hindus and Sikhs fled from Pakistan to India and Muslims fled from India to Pakistan, Hindus fled from Bangladesh to India, Jews fled from Muslim and Communist countries to Israel and the US, people who disagreed with Communists fled from Communist counties to the West, people who disagreed with radical Shia Islam fled from Iran to the West, and pretty much everyone who could fled from the Khmer Rouge Cambodia to anywhere.

The whole idea of refugee resettlement is to reduce diversity in the world. If it's increasing the diversity, you are doing something wrong. And when I say "diversity", I don't mean the skin color, but the way of life.

This is not to say that countries should never take refugees that are different from the locals - the Bahai, for example, don't have a Bahai country to go to, and have successfully integrated, well, everywhere where they are not considered to be Islamic apostates.

In 1967 people fleeing wars were added to the definition of a refugee. This did have a point: after all bombs don't care whether you are a member of a majority or a minority and whether you have a good government or a bad one. But it also did create quite a lot of refugees, and, more problematically, quite a lot of refugees who are not looking forward to settling down in a country that's more appropriate for them, but want to stay somewhere until the war ends, without any wish to properly integrate in the new country. Some of the countries who accept them also sort of expect them to go home after the war, and support them for years without making any integration demands on them. Of course many of those wars turn out to be forever, and people who have lived for years on welfare usually have no intention to go back or to find a job. To complicate matters further, sometimes those wars really do end fast and the war refugees really do go home.

The problem, of course, is that while with the persecuted minorities you usually do know that they need a permanent new home, the war might last 2 months or 20 years. I don't think there is an easy solution to that.

I do however think that refugees should only be taken to places where they will more or less fit in. By that I mean people who prefer to live under the Western system to the West, people who prefer living under Sharia to the countries that have Sharia, people who prefer to live under Communism to Cuba and North Korea, etc.

Unfortunately there are always more refugees than resettlement places for them, and somebody always has to be left behind. For example, the people who would like to live under Sharia and simultaneously receive European-style social benefits can stay where they are and wait for such a country to appear. With Britain permitting Sharia courts nowadays they might even have a chance.

Thursday, September 18, 2008

Global attitudes report

Many news sources have quoted the Pew Research Center's global attitudes report yesterday. I am all for news sources reading long papers, picking out some interesting tidbits and digesting it for us, but why is it so rare for them to show some kind of link to the original source? Anyway, the full report is here.

The biggest news: negative attitudes towards Jews and Muslims on the increase almost everywhere.

My first thought, especially upon noticing that for example in Spain the dislike of Jews, Muslims and Christians is fairly high: what do they mean by the questions, and what do the respondents mean by the answers? More specifically, do they mean Christians as the people who truly believe in Jesus as the savior, the holy trinity, etc., or do they mean all the folks originally from a Christian family, most of whom express they Christianity only by celebrating Christmas? If somebody asked me how I feel about the religious group X, I would tend to assume the latter, but I am not sure they meant it, and even if they did, I am not sure it was understood that way.

In short: how large a percentage of the perceived anti-Jewish, anti-Muslim and anti-Christian attitudes in each country are just an expression of a general distaste for religion? And how much of the distaste is based on the perception that all/most members of the group are religious?

This reminds me: in Finland I've run several times into people who sort of assume that all the Jews are very religious and actually believe in something, and were a bit disapponted by me. As an ex-boyfriend of mine explained to one of them: "You know how you don't go to church on Sunday? Well, Jews are the people who don't go to a synagogue on Saturday instead."

Another interesting finding is that Muslims are becoming less and less fond of suicide bombings, with Lebanese people's support for suicide bombings falling from 74% in 2002 to 32% now, Pakistanis' from 33% to 5%, and Turks' from 13% to 3%.

Osama is also becoming less and less popular, from 20% to 2% in Lebanon. from 56% to 19% in Jordan. (The biggest decline in Jordan, from about 63% to about 23%, happened between 2005 and 2006. November 9, 2005, by a strange coincidence, happened to be the date of suicide bombings that killed 60 people and 3 suicide bombers in Amman.)

The only country where support for Bin Laden went up, from 44% to 58%, is Nigeria.

On antisemitism: in Western Europe the people under 50 disliked Jews less than the people over 50, in Poland and Russia the other way around.

In Spain, dislike for all three religions is very much up since 2005. Wonder why.

Wednesday, September 17, 2008

Banks paging Robin Hood

HS says that banks want to have a right to raise a mortgage's interest unilaterally. Not all the time, of course, but only when the bank is totally fucked.

Now that's an interesting idea. Do we, the customers, also get to reduce the interest when we don't have money? Or raise the interest on our bank accounts? "Hi, it's Vera, I am a bit broke, could you pay me a 50% interest on my account instead of whatever it is now?" Cool.

I ain't dead

Just have a very tiring flu. Some evil is living in my throat and keeping me awake at night. Tea and alcohol are exorcising it, but too slowly.

Sunday, September 07, 2008

Separate but equal

Helsinki has its own segregated swimming now, for Muslim women only. It's in Jakomäki swimming pool, swimming lessons for Muslim girls only Saturday 9-10:45, free swimming for Muslim women 11-14:30. Infidels need not apply.

Sometime last fall they had swimming hours for immigrant women. Now city of Helsinki Sports Department has it listed as Muslim-women hours.

Different Muslim cultures has different interpretation of Islamic modesty rules, but I'd appreciate pointers at what particular interpretation says that Muslim men can swim with infidels of both sexes, whereas Muslim women can swim in the company of each other, but not in the company of infidel women.

This, however, is not the point. There might be Muslim women who truly and deeply feel that they need their separate swimming time. Damn, I used to like having separate swimming time for myself and my fellow computer science students. We rented the pool for a evening from the student union now and then. The city sports facilities are also available for rent by private groups. This, however, is not Muslim Women's Swimming Club ry renting the place and inviting their members, or some Aisha and Fatima renting it and inviting their friends. This is the city of Helsinki practicing discrimination on the basis of religion.

The issue of sex-separated swimming facilities is pretty similar in my opinion, but for all it's worth, Yrjönkatu pool has separate hours for both men and women, and Muslim women can use it just like anyone else. The fact that some of them seem to resent sharing the pool with infidel women makes one wonder whether the issue is really Islam as such (I've been to a shower with a bunch of religious-looking Bedouin women in Negev, they didn't run away or go blind), or possibly the fact the the parents of some particular African cultures don't want to have to explain to their daughters why everybody else's pussy is different from their own. After all, if vulva and clitoris are unclean, no wonder they don't want to swim in a pool full of them.

A few people in the HS forum defended the policy on the basis of "it isn't hurting anyone" (except for everyone else who might like to use the place on Saturday?) and that it would be wrong to begrudge the Muslim women their separate swimming time, and what's the big deal as long as everyone gets to swim at some point.

Now where have I heard that before? Plessy v. Ferguson, 163 U.S. 537 (1896), a US Supreme Court decision upholding the doctrine of "separate but equal". I suppose a lot of people would say that a decision the US Supreme Court has made in 1896 should not be relevant in Finland in 2008. I agree. It hasn't even been relevant in the US since 1954.

Muslims have lived in Finland for more than a 100 years now, and somehow managed to survive without their own pool hours until now. A lot of them managed to swim with the opposite sex, or at least with the infidels of the same sex. The native-born Finnish Muslims seem to have no trouble whatsoever. The immigrants, or the native-born Finns who convert into the more restrictive forms of Islam, should understand that this society is not designed for them, and it's up to them to adapt to it.

Yes, having to always reserve the pool privately is quite inconvenient for the kind of Muslims who can't swim in the same pool with infidels. Right. It's supposed to be inconvenient for them. In case somebody did not get the memo, this society has not been designed for the convenience of the fundamentalist Muslims, but of mostly-secular mostly-Lutherans. Live with it.

And no, I don't even think that accommodating requests of immigrant groups is always a bad thing. I just don't think that "we don't want our women to swim with unclean infidels" is a request worthy of being accommodated.

Thursday, September 04, 2008

"We can't expect them to learn Finnish, now can we?"

The minister of Labor and the fearless leader of the Greens, Tarja Cronberg, took part in a press conference on security policy in Helsinki on Tuesday.

Quite predictably she thinks that the war in Georgia has no bearing on Finland's security situation, there are no reasons to join NATO or to raise defense spending, etc.

She also demanded that the status on the Russian minority should be secured in the Baltic countries and in Finland, and suggested that Yle should have more Russian-language programming for this purpose.

"Regardless of what happens in Russia and what Russia does, Finland should take care of its growing Russian minority," she said.

However, she said, securing the status of the Russian-speaking minority is not about the security policy. She just happened to mention it during the press conference on security policy for no reason at all.

Why, I am touched. Cronberg wishes to take care of my poor little Russian-speaking self. Medvedev and Putin also just want to protect and take care of my poor little Russian-speaking self, in their own way.

When I was very young and roamed the street of St. Petersburg with less regard for personal safety than is strictly advisable, I found one and only one 100% indicator of an impending rape attempt: if a strange man suddenly volunteered to protect me from bad guys, it always meant that he was about to attack me physically, and the unsolicited words "I'll walk you home, there are a lot of hooligans around, it's not safe on your own" coming from a strange man always made me look for whatever could be used as a weapon.

By a strange coincidence, I feel the same way about politicians.

Seriously, though: what does Cronberg think to achieve by increasing the amount of Russian programming on Yle? Apart from licking Putin's ass, that is.

Russian-speaking people in Finland either speak Finnish, in which case they can watch and listen to the Finnish programming, or should be learning Finnish, in which case they'd do better to learn Finnish than to listen to the Russian programming. Does anyone, even the fearless leader of the Greens, really think that integration of the new immigrants is helped by providing them with entertainment in their native language as opposed to, say, providing them with more Finnish-language classes?

In the time since my arrival to the US we went from one Russian-language newspaper to five TV channels. From all I've seen it really did not improve integration, although at least part of the cause-and-effect went the other way (the less-integrable people came later and created demand for the Russian channels).

Russian-speaking people in Finland already have Russian bookstores, lots of Russian books in the public libraries, and three Russian-language channels that can be ordered on cable TV. What many of them don't have is a good working knowledge of Finnish. A new Russian channel would hardly serve that purpose.

Tuesday, September 02, 2008

Movies and seats

Been to the movies yesterday. Kung Fu Panda, which was OK, and the new Indiana Jones, which I liked better.

Made me wonder about a few things, not related to these particular two movies:

1. Why do most people seem to dislike the front rows regardless of their actual location, the size of the screen, the angle, the height, etc.?

2. Am I the only person who orders the tickets "one ticket to the movie X, row Y please"? How come they never seem to hear or acknowledge my location request? The conversation usually continues: "is row Z OK"? "No, I would like row Y, please." Row Y invariably has more free space than row Z.

3. What the hell is wrong with the people who want to get up and watch the end credits? I can understand people wanting to get out as soon as the end credits start, although I disapprove of it because they get in the way of those of us watching the credits, but why the hell some of the people who want to watch the credits themselves seem to have a problem with the idea that somebody behind them might want to watch them too, and that they are not quite transparent?

4. What's the point of having places for senior citizens on public transport? If there are no senior citizens around, they don't need them, and if they are around, isn't it nice to offer them a seat even if it isn't a designated senior citizen seat? Are the designated seats just so that everyone knows who should be the first to give up their seats to the elderly?

Thursday, August 28, 2008

Wednesday, August 27, 2008

"What, you want services for your taxes?"

Vantaa is having problems with its budget.

Juhani Paajanen, the mayor of Vantaa, promises to take care of the children, the sick and the elderly. In the same article he says "people are now richer than before and pay a thousand euros for a trip for Thailand, but at home they are not ready to pay for their own health, and demand services from the city".

Here in one sentence is what is very often the problem with socialized services: as soon as the people have decided to pay for some service together and the Powers That Be have collected that money in taxes, the Powers That Be start imagining that the money belongs to them, and that anything they give back to the citizenry is largesse for which the citizens should be properly grateful, and which the citizens are certainly not entitled to.

Explaining slowly for Juhani Paajanen and the other differently intelligent politicians: these people who you are talking about have already invested quite a lot of money in their health, before they have ever paid for that trip to Thailand. It's called taxes. It happens to be 18.5% on their income in Vantaa. It should be in your budget, ready to be used for providing health care to the people. If it's not in your budget, you need to explain some things, you need to be explained some things, and the city probably needs another mayor. Preferably one who owns a calculator.

In principle I don't mind a system where private insurance provides coverage to everyone who will pay, and public health care only picks up those who cannot afford buying insurance. The people of Finland, however, for better or for worse, have chosen the public coverage for everyone, and complaining about the fact that they would also like to get it is not gonna win you any votes.

Monday, August 25, 2008

Protect our children from predators!

When I was a child, a lot of adults used to say things like "please don't hurry to grow up, it's so wonderful to be a child!"

I didn't quite understand what's so wonderful about it, and wondered whether the view of childhood as a wonderful time is some thing that only opens to you from the adult perspective, or a result of some severe long-term memory fault, such as old-age dementia.

I am 36 now, which is way older than many of those people were at the time, and I much say that the whole "childhood is wonderful" thing still hasn't opened to me. I mean, who wants to be small, weak, short, poor, ignorant and in most cases rather stupid, and have other people make all important and most unimportant decisions for them? (Oh well, I've known a few adults who did like others to make some decisions for them, but we've always used a safeword for that.)

My attempts to find out what exactly was so wonderful about childhood could be reduced to "don't have to think about anything", "don't have to do anything", "can sleep all you want" and "can play as much as you want". The first is very obviously untrue, a child is a very new person and has to think about all kinds of things all the time. Don't have to do anything? People keep telling you to do something all the time. Believe me, I would have noticed if this were not the case - the only reason I am not a world champion in laziness is that I was too lazy to show up for the contest. "Can sleep all you want?" When you are a child, they drag you to the daycare and to school in the middle of the fucking night. Proper sleep comes only after you get to choose your own classes and jobs, and is a poor substitute for coffee anyway. "Can play as much as you want?" Rrright. I can play as much as I want now, when I can afford nice toys, don't have homework, and don't have anyone telling me to go clean my room or to go get some of that sleep that children allegedly get anytime they want, and apparently anytime they don't want, too. Also, I can't fail to notice that the last line was mostly used in my childhood by the exact same people who have been loudly complaining about my playing since ever I was about 14.

Since most of those people are not in fact demented, I can only suppose that they want children to be children for a while longer because they find children cute and entertaining and are annoyed when they turn into adults with opinions, careers, sex lives, and god knows what else. This is an understandable feeling, but I don't think it should be encouraged in people. I really enjoy looking at cute male college freshmen in handcuffs, but I would feel a bit stupid writing in, say, HS forums that all cute college freshmen should be wearing them.

Anyway, childhood sucks and is full of various busybodies who keep telling you how to live your life. Not, mind you, that I really think that children should be allowed to do whatever they want. They are, after all, ignorant and stupid, and need to be taken care of to some extent, sometimes against their will.

Taking care of children against their will is, IMO, a necessary evil. I really don't think it should be a sport. And I have a very strong impression that it is indeed a sport, both for the kind of people who don't like to see children grow up, and the kind of people who just like to tell people how to live, get told to bugger off by all the adults on whom they try it, and then switch to children. The way I see it, children really are vulnerable to all kinds of assholes who enjoy telling others how to live, and it is our responsibility as adults to protect them from the moralizing dumbfucks who prey on them.

HS has an article about 10-12-year-olds waxing their bikini lines. Everyone is horrified, horrified!

Of what, pray tell? I could understand being horrified about parents forcing girls that age to undergo said procedure, but what can be possibly bad about the girls wanting it? Will their pussies fall off, maybe? Will the hair fail to grow back? (Believe me, it takes many, many rounds of diatermia to achieve that.) Will they change their mind and regret it before it grows back and want a proper full bush? (I suppose very few people have pubic hair long enough for that to be a long-term problem, and wouldn't this be a very good reason to forbid people with long hear hair from cutting it much shorter, at least if they happen to be children?) Will their friends laugh at them if their pubic hair doesn't stick out of their underwear?

The way I see it, the horrified citizens belong to the following three groups: the people who are horrified by the fact that a 10-12-year-old girl can think about things like that, as opposed to teddy bears; the people who are horrified that a 10-12-year-old girl can grow pubic hair to begin with (good luck with that crusade, folks); and the people who dislike the whole pubic hair removal thing to begin with, but failed to talk any adults out of it.

"Let children be children!" sounds the war cry, and almost always, like in this case, it means "force the children to be children, no matter how much they kick and scream and resist!". A 10-year-old is way too young to think about such things! She should be a child, and think of teddy bears or whatever. Right. I am sure that a 10-year-old with her pubic hair sticking out of her swimsuit because adults deemed her to young to remove it is totally thinking of teddy bears. I can even imagine in very vivid color where exactly she wants to shove them. After putting some spikes on them first.

The issue is quite familiar to me, in a way. In my childhood the girls in Russia did not use female swimsuits until they actually got some breasts. I got mine fairly young, and for some reason my family deemed me too young to have breasts or to use an adult swimsuit until the point when said breasts were a good size C. Spending quite a bit of time as a topless girl with tits at what were not, in fact, topless beaches, was quite an educational experience. The lessons I learned were a nose twist, a testicle twist, a chop to the base of the nose with the rib of your hand and the same to the base of the neck. If that's what you'd like to teach your innocent little girls, sensei Vera is at your service.

(I don't wax my own pussy, but keep it more or less shaved; anybody making a serious attempt to interfere with this process, either by demanding that it should be waxed of by demanding that it should be left unshaved, and trying to force the point, will be summarily raped to death with a shovel. And now that you've read this, remember that I wasn't any nicer when I was 10.)

Refugee admissions, Finland and the USA

Checked out Finland's state budget for the 2009, or at least the refugee part of it. It has numbers for the previous years; I think I'd better talk about 2007, because it has already happened and the numbers are real, not estimated.

In 2007 Finland has admitted 1793 refugees: 657 quota refugees, 373 family members of previously arrived refugees, and 763 asylum seekers who actually got the residence permit.

Finland has also received 1505 asylum seekers. (Those 763 are part of that number, but in fact it's sort of complicated, because some of them have surely arrived the previous year.) The cost of the asylum seeker admission was 30 816 087€, about 20476€ per person. More specifically, 15 168€ per person living in a refugee reception center (1209 people), 42 692€ per lone child (96 people), 58 586€ per locked-up person (36 people) and 5 970 per person living somewhere privately (774 people).

Refugee admission cost 40 111 000€. It's about 22 371€ per person if we count the asylum seekers, and 38 943€ if we don't. In general, the input was 65 256 545 euros and the output was 1793 refugees plus, I assume, 742 unsuccessful asylum seekers. That's 36395 euros per refugee.

It's hard to find any up-to-date data on refugee unemployment, but the only one I found talks about the refugees that moved to Finland in 1991-1994 and their unemployment rates in 1995-2000. The unemployment rate went down steadily, and in 2000 varied between about 40% for Bosnians and Vietnamese and about 60% for Iraqis.

The US keeps a lot more detailed statistics in the Office of Refugee Resettlement's reports to Congress

The latest one is from 2005. In fiscal year 2005 the US admitted 53 937 refugees, plus 15 061 Cuban and 8 Haitian entrants, for a total of 69 006 arrivals. It has received $484.7 million to resettle the whole bunch. That's $7024 per person, and that's the total money the federal government used on refugees.

Refugee unemployment rate, as calculated for the refugees who've been in the US for less than 5 years, was 6.8%. That in spite of the fact that 60% spoke no English on arrival.

I recommend that people who are really interested in refugee admissions problems read these statistics by themselves, but here are a few tidbits:

- In the US refugees are currently eligible for federal assistance for 8 months. States and private organizations may provide more, or not. The aged and disabled are naturally supported forever.

- The support for unaccompanied alien children cost $53 771 000. There were 627 of those, $85759 per child.

- ORR used quite a lot of partnerships with private agencies. There are so-called Matching Grant programs, where ORR provides 2/3 of the money, a private agency provides 1/3, and some goal is set for how big a percentage of the refugees should be self-sufficient in 120 days after arrival.

For example the HIAS Grant Matching Program, whose services we have used when we arrived to the US, has received $2 208 000 in 2005 to serve 1104 clients. It ultimately served 1136, and under the Grant Matching Program had to add $1 104 000 of its own private contribution. That's $2915 per person, with 57% of refugees being self-sufficient within 120 days of arrival. (Damn, I feel cheap now.)

- Unemployment rate for all refugees was 6.8% in 2005, in comparison with 5.1% for all the US population. For the ones who arrived in 2005 the unemployment rate in 2005 was 20%. Employment rate was 58% for refugees, 62.7% for the US population.

- Out of the refugees not looking for work, the most common reason (41%) was school. Only a couple percent believed they have no chance to find work. Of the people who have worked at all, 17% found a job in the first month, 42% within the first 3 months, 63% within six months, 81% within a year.

- 20.9% of refugees who came to the US in 2005 had never been to any school. 11.5% had a university degree. 26.2% had attended a university. 59.8% spoke no English. 13.3% were fluent in English.

- Of the total sample (all refugees who arrived in the previous 5 years). 20.2% owned a home, 78.4% rented a home, 68.5% lived on earnings, 9.0% lived on public assistance, and 17.9% lived on both. I have no idea what the remaining 4.6% lived on.

There are a lot of reasons for the price tag differences in the Finnish and the US refugee programs, most notably the fact that the Finnish program continues to support the refugees for the next three years, and also the fact that smaller programs tend to use more per person than bigger ones. Still, isn't it time to send some Finnish refugee officials to learn something from their US colleagues?

Sunday, August 24, 2008

The superpower

The events of the last few weeks reminded me of a moment in my school years in Russia.

Our geography teacher gave us a following speech:

"Many people complain that we don't have enough trousers. Trousers, however, are not important. They, like all the other textiles, are light industry. What's really important is the heavy industry, like iron and coal, so that we can produce enough tanks and win in Afghanistan."

This was, in fact, a bit surprising, because although the Powers That Be wholeheartedly shared this attitude to the heavy and light industry, open militarism was somewhat frowned up in The Most Peaceful Superpower. Not to mention all the talk about "winning" the event those official name was along the lines of "friendly help to the people of Afghanistan".

"I think trousers are a lot more useful than Afghanistan," said one kid who didn't have much sense of self-preservation. "Why did we invade Afghanistan anyway? Do they," he added hopefully, "maybe have trousers?"

The teacher resorted to yelling and didn't answer the question, of course. But later I realized that the war-ravaged Afghanistan of the Eighties most probably did have more trousers than our mighty superpower.

I hope it came in peace

A UFO has landed in my kitchen. It growls, it drinks water and eats coffee beans and farts into milk, and it teaches me to press buttons in a particular orders.

When I learn properly, it rewards me with a cappuccino. When I don't, it says "pshh".

Thursday, August 21, 2008

Something wrong in the refugee policies

The conversation about evil communities who don't want to take poor little refugees, I mean hardworking young refugees, continues in Aamulehti.

Very often, when I start writing about my own time as a refugee, I start sounding like a grumpy old lady who is talking about how she used to go to school very day, 50 km in the snow, uphill both ways. I don't mean to, I really don't. The thing is, even though our treatment as refugees was certainly not up to the Finnish standards, we did have it much easier. One can talk all one wants about the evils of not having an official integration program of one's own, and the horrors of not having the taxpayers support the refugees forever, but nine months after coming to the US as refugees my parents bought their very own townhouse. Those people who are waiting for years in Finland in refugees centers for a municipal apartment in some community that doesn't want them, what have they got?

I know that the USA tends to select refugees more carefully than Finland, and that they send back the really antisocial element, but I don't believe that the quality of the refugee material is all there is to it.

The pervasive attitude here, both among the people who are for taking refugees, people who are against taking refugees, and everyone in between, is that refugees shouldn't be expected to work. People tend to view them as temporary visitors despite all the overwhelming evidence to the contrary, and as entitled to support rather than responsible to support themselves. (Let's leave the senior citizens outside the scope of this posting.)

Imagine that you are twenty, maybe without any useful skills. Imagine that you have left the war behind in Iraq, come to a rich foreign country and gotten the residence permit. Yeah, the people there are weird and speak a weird language, yeah, most prospective employers want you to speak it too, yeah, everyone is a bit suspicious of you. Still, nobody is shooting at you, nobody is kicking you out of the country, and there is free education if you want to learn something useful and make yourself more employable. Would you like to a) have a real job and a place of your own, or b) study something and have a room in the student housing, or c) do nothing at all and live with several other guys in a room in a refugee center, waiting for a municipal apartment that might or might not come? There certainly are people who would answer 'c' all by themselves, but I strongly suspect that behind at least 3/4 of them there is a social worker who says "don't worry about anything, we'll take care of you".

When we came to the US, we saw a social worker once. She gave us a booklet about life in Boston, told us where to apply for the benefits for the elderly and health insurance, told us that the rest of us would be fed for 4 months by the refugee organization, in which time it would be nice to find a job, and for 18 months more by the state, in which time it would be necessary to find a job, gave us the address of the college that arranges free English courses, told us where the jobs are advertised, and wished us a nice life and welcome to America. Yes, the people who write about the plight of refugees for Turun Sanomat would have a heart attack and all flowers would fall off their hats (now that I think of it I should have warned them in the beginning of this entry), but the jobs were promptly found. And they were reasonably good jobs, too. And it was a recession at the time.

And no, we were not the coolest refugees ever. Everybody found jobs: engineers, manicurists, teachers, gas station attendants, doctors, an Afghani woman working in a kosher bakery, you name it. The flower-hat aunts might have a heart attack upon hearing about the harsh fate of refugees in the US, but the numbers talk for themselves: the refugees who came to Finland in the early nineties had the unemployment rates from 40% to 60% in 2000, but in the US refugees had an unemployment rate of 3.4% in 2000. The unemployment rate (in 2000) was 5.4% among those refugees who arrived in 2000.

Ogogondia

"Ogogondia was a huge, widely-sprawled state and was not considered a Great Dictatorship only for two reasons: 1) the political disorder in Ogogondia was directly proportional to its geographical size, whereas 2) the international prestige of Ogogondia was inversely proportional to it."

("Огогондия была огромным, широко раскинувшимся государством и Великой Диктаторией не считалась только по двум причинам: 1) Политический разброд в Огогондии был прямо пропорционален ее географическим размерам, в то время как 2) Международный престиж Огогондии был этим размерам обратно пропорционален.")


This is a quote from Vladlen Bahnov's book How the Sun Went Out, or the History of Thousand-Year Dictatorship of Ogogondia, Which Existed for 13 Years, 5 Months and 7 Days. (in Russian). For some reason this quote has come to my mind often lately.

Thursday, August 14, 2008

"Why don't you take proper care of these useful citizens?"

Turun Sanomat has lately published a few articles (here is one) about how the towns around Turku are not doing their share in admitting and taking care of refugees, and see them as a burden.

Some refugees even live in a refugee center for years before getting a place in some community.

We are talking about refugees here, not about asylum seekers who are waiting to have their applications processed. Turun Sanomat does not go into details of their status, as in refugee vs. residence permit for humanitarian reason, but unless either I or Turun Sanomat or both don't understand something, we are talking about the people who have already received some legal right to reside in Finland, and are free to move around as they please, like any other Finnish resident.

Jaana Väyrynen, a social worker in SPR's Turku refugee center, says that most of the refugees waiting for a place in some town are active people and speak Finnish, who don't need any special care, normal people with normal individual needs.

Just regular folks, people. Not any kind of burden on the community.

Maybe I don't understand something here, but if they are just regular folks who are not any kind of burden on the community, why are they waiting for those communities to provide them with a place to live? As opposed to, say, renting or buying an apartment like the rest of us do? You know, they rent apartments to people who have the money to pay the rent.

Not that I think refugees should never be any burden on their community. Some of them, for example, happen to be elderly, some happen to be handicapped, some happen to be very newly arrived, etc. But it does sound a bit silly when communities are pressured to resettle them there because they are allegedly not a burden to the community.

I have met a lot of refugees, both in the US and in Finland, who were just regular folks who placed no burden on their community whatsoever and could take care of themselves. I don't need to be convinced that they exist, I know it. I am just pretty sure that they are not among the people who are waiting for a placement in some community around Turku. Because people who can take care of themselves do not by definition need such a placement.

Mind you, some of those folks might be useful citizens in the future, and deserve our support, etc., etc. It's just weird to ask for support by claiming that these are the people who don't really need it.

The Iraqi guy whom they mentioned in one of the articles is a particularly unfortunate example. 24 years old, of which 3.5 have been spent in the refugee center. Maybe there is something to this story that either the guy himself or Turun Sanomat do not mention, but otherwise, WTF? During this time he could have either used his valuable skills (assuming he had any) to find a job and rent an apartment, or applied to some educational institution, and gotten himself a room in student apartment.

I knew an Iraqi refugee once. Unlike the guy in the example, he was in his late fifties. OK, it helped that he was in the US, and that he already spoke English, but within a couple of months of arriving into the country he did get himself a job in a supermarket. Somehow, I suspect that a 24-year-old who could not manage the same in 3.5 years is not very likely to become a productive citizen in a near future.

Wednesday, August 13, 2008

Disproportionate response

Two years ago Putin accused Israel of disproportional response to Hezbollah's abduction of its citizens. I wonder now whether by disproportional he meant "out of proportion to Israel's size"?

Tuesday, August 12, 2008

What do the following organizations have in common?

Arabikansojen ystävyysseura, Aseistakieltäytyjäliitto, Helsingin Sadankomitea, Helsingin yliopiston Sitoutumaton vasemmisto, Irakilaisten pakolaisten kv-federaation Suomen osasto, Irakin naisten yhdistys Suomessa, Irakin ja Iranin työväen kommunistisen puolueen Suomen osasto, Kommunistinen nuorisoliitto, Loviisan rauhanfoorumi, Lääkärin sosiaalinen vastuu, Maan ystävät, Naiset rauhan puolesta, Naisten kansainvälinen rauhan ja vapauden liitto - Suomen osasto, Pand - Taiteilijat rauhan puolesta, SKP, Sosialidemokraattiset nuoret, Sosialistiliitto, Suomen demokraattiset lakimiehet - DEMLA, Suomen kristillinen rauhanliike, Suomen rauhanliitto - YK-yhdistys ry, Suomen rauhanpuolustajat, Vasemmistonuoret, Vihreät nuoret ja opiskelijat.

I think that you can guess the answer to my question, but in case you haven't: these are the groups that have organized the big demonstration against the war in Iraq in Helsinki on 15.2.2003.

Today I have attended a demonstration against the war in Georgia. The groups that organized it were Suomi-Georgia Seura and Kokoomusnuoret. Every single group mentioned in the first paragraph of this post was absent.

I can totally understand the organization of Iraqi refugees not giving a shit about Georgia, but I have just looked through the webpages of all the organizations who have the word "peace" (rauha) in their names, and of all of them only Suomen rauhanpuolustajat even mention the Georgian war at all, in a rather ridiculous article.