Monday, June 30, 2008

Life: books and Tallinn

Been recovering from flu, working, and socializing. Finished my book catalog project (a list of all my books and DVDs in Tellico). Finished reading The Deer and the Cauldron. Been to Tallinn.

The Deer and the Cauldron is a most entertaining book, but it's huge and pretends to be a trilogy. It has three physical volumes, but only one story arc - books 1 and 2 end "in the middle of nowhere". Don't try to read it if you don't have all three books.

It's a wuxia novel that features a protagonist who is neither heroic nor any good in kung fu, and is set in the early Qing empire amid attempts at Ming restoration.

Tallinn was as pretty as ever, even though it started raining as soon as we decided to go back to the boat and were passing through a place where there was nowhere to hide.

Viking Express turned out to be a very pleasant boat.

Monday, June 23, 2008

Better now

Not dripping from any orifice for a change, although my throat is still sore. Spent all the Juhannus at home. On Sunday I was probably already in the condition to grill something, but nobody else was anymore.

In the meanwhile I found various pieces of hardware from all over my place, assembled a computer that needed assembling, installed a scanner that needed installing, used a vacuum cleaner (no, I am not dying, seriously, was just sort of bored) and sorted out Turkey and Paris pictures.

Last month in Paris I broke my long-term moratorium on buying music CDs, and bought Les Fatals Picards' latest CD, Public. Now I finally ripped it and am listening. I don't even remember when was the last time when I'd been so satisfied with a CD. I highly recommend it.

BTW: does anyone use actual CD players anymore, as opposed to ripping the CD and listening to it on you computer or mp3 player? The whole idea seems so quaint somehow.

Saturday, June 21, 2008

No rest for the wicked

As soon as I stop dripping from one end, I start dripping from the other. Sorry.

Dripping my ass. I am sneezing so hard I half-expect HS news to report a minor earthquake.

Being sick sucks. Taking a sick day one day before Juhannus is kind of suspicious and embarrassing too, even though I was quite visibly sick already on Wednesday afternoon.

Now all the normal people are somewhere grilling and I am home sneezing. Nice. Maybe I'll be in the condition to grill and party tomorrow, but I doubt it.

Had a fever, too, which for me is a monumental historical event. Ibuprofen helped, although it never helped before.

A Russian flu medicine:

Take a 0.5 liter cup. Put 3 tbsp of frozen raspberries and 2 tbsp of sugar in there. Add tea, leaving space for vodka. Add 6-7cl of vodka.

It might not really work, but after a few of those you really don't care anymore.

Wednesday, June 18, 2008

The first rule: don't ask

This is just so wrong:

A salon owner, Sarah Desrosiers, was looking for a junior stylist. She received dozens of applications, including one from Bushra Noah, a Muslim woman who wears a hijab. She did not want to hire a woman who wouldn't show her own hair at work, because she believes that a stylist's hair needs to be shown to "provide clients with a showcase of different looks", and she asked Bushra whether she would be willing to take her hijab off while at work. Bushra said no, and didn't get the job. Bushra sued.

In the end Sarah did not hire anyone for the position.

Bushra sued for £15,000, later increased to £34,000 to compensate for all the hate mail she received, although I am pretty sure Sarah didn't write it all. The court ruled that Bushra's claim of direct discrimination failed, but her claim for indirect discrimination had succeeded, and ordered Sarah to pay £4,000 for "injury to feelings".

Mind you, I think Bushra definitely has a point. Except in very specific cases (models, for example), I am very wary of businesses using employees as decoration, to the point where I at least might actively boycott a business for that. The idea of stylists' own hair serving as a necessary inspiration for a customer seems quite silly to me, and opens a rather nasty can of worms, such as the question of whether a bald person can and should be legitimately discriminated against while applying for hairdressing positions, or fired from a hairdressing job. IMO people do not specifically seek out hairdressers wearing hairstyles they themselves would like, and people seem to visit hairdressers of the opposite sex without complaining much about the lack of inspiration provided by their hairstyles.

Of course it might also be that after 15 years in the field Sarah knows something about it that I don't. Nevertheless, if there were a real discrimination case - if Bushra's resume were the best, and Sarah hired a less-qualified person because of the hijab issue, I would be all for Bushra.

The disturbing thing about the case is not that a hijab-wearing woman wants to work as a hairdresser, it's that people get convicted for discrimination on such flimsy evidence, and that Sarah, basically, got convicted only for trying to negotiate the issue.

Bushra was not the best applicant, the hijab was not her only problem, and nobody actually got hired for the position. She only knew that hijab was an issue at all because Sarah asked.

I don't know enough about British law to figure out whether the court or the lawmakers were to blame, but if you are a society trying to protect a minority group from discrimination, punishing prospective employers for trying negotiate potential minority-related issues with them is a somewhat counterproductive idea.

What Sarah and other salon owners learned from this experience is that either you don't invite Muslims to the interviews at all, which might be a fairly easy thing to do if you get dozens of resumes for one position, or you do invite them, but weed out everyone who remotely looks like they might want to wear a hijab, without ever actually asking about it. Yep, a great step for equality. Backwards.

Bushra "has given up her ambitions to become a hairdresser and is studying travel and tourism at Hammersmith and West London College while working part-time in a shop". No shit, after becoming Britain's hairdressing industry's most famous least desirable job applicant whose hurt feelings cost £4000. Muslims might be a protected group, but people who sue everything in sight sure aren't.

I wonder how much of the hate mail that Bushra got was from Muslims working or aspiring to work in the hairdressing industry in UK. "Way to go, sister! Now we can't get any interviews at all!"

Disqualified from human race?

Stories like these (this link really could cause you nightmares, think before you click) occasinally make me wonder whether I am wrong in my disapproval of death penalty.

Short summary: Robert Williams forced his way into a woman's apartment, raped and tortured her for 19 hours, threw bleach in her face, slashed her, made her swallow lots of Tylenol (she did, and it caused liver failure), tried to make her gouge her own eyes out with a knife (she didn't, try to kill herself instead, failed), then when she lost consciousness, tied her down, set her apartment on fire and left. She regained consciousness, melted her restraints on the fire, and escaped. He, being apparently way on the wrong side of the IQ bell curve, immediately used her ATM card in an ATM with a video camera, and was arrested a week later during a burglary in Queens.

It's not that I think that all rapists should be killed. I am sure that most rapist are just people like everyone else (uhm, not really) and that after a few years of prison most of them are capable of understanding that what they did was wrong, or in any case that the price/performance ratio of this kind of fun is rather poor.

It's when rape becomes one of the least serious crimes on the list that I start wondering whether they should be in fact disqualified from human race for shoving.

Let's see what else Mr. Williams has accomplished in his 31-year-old life. Apart from raping, torturing, mutilating and trying to kill that particular woman:

- in 1996 he shot a neighbor 4 times while trying to rob him of a chain. The neighbor survived, and so, unfortunately, did Williams. He got 8 years for the effort.

- during the 8 years in prison, he has assaulted other inmates and guards, and thrown shit at people. He committed 28 infractions and was denied parole 3 times. In the end the parole board had to let him out. They wrote in his file "as a candidate for your release at this time, your readiness is in doubt" when they released him.

- he was also tried for attempted murder as a juvenile. The outcome of this trial is sealed, and I am sure some people are wrongly accused, but somehow I doubt he was a just choir boy in the wrong place.

- he has committed unprovoked assault on somebody in a street a couple of years ago.

- he was arrested six days after the rape, at he scene of a burglary in Queens. Just passing by, I am sure.

This is not a post in favor of death penalty, but I think it's quite enough here to figure out that this guy is never going to become a real person. Not to the point of deserving be released, and not to the point of deserving any human contact. I just hope that when he is convicted, they put him in a single cell. Your average rapists and murderers don't deserve that for a roommate.

(Yes, I am aware that I am getting ahead of the events, and he is just a suspect so far. However, when a suspect has been identified by the victim, a neighbor and an ATM camera, and left some of his DNA on the scene, I think I am justified in making an educated guess on the outcome of the trial.)

WTF experience of the day (gross medical things)

Waking up, removing a shrimp tail stuck to my nose, getting up to make some tea, noticing blood dripping on the floor.

The few seconds spent waiting whether or not the blood will stop were not fun. It did stop, or at least slow.

They do warn you about bleeding after inserting a IUD, but they never say how much and how long is normal. Called the medical advice hotline, they told me to visit a doctor on Monday if I don't get better, or immediately if I get worse.

Monday, June 16, 2008

Where did all the Russian stores go?

Life has been nice and fairly peaceful lately. Went to two parties on Saturday, one friend's birthday (coffee, cake and Wii) and another friend's graduation party (a lot of fun in spite of lots of scary strangers). Saw a fight in Lepakkomies (an awful-looking bar in Sörnäinen). Catalogued most of my books (2.5 bookcases left).

BTW, does anyone know a nice Russian ISBN server? Nice as in one that actually answers, and has books in its database. I usually use all the Amazons and Helmet for other languages.

Also, does anyone know where did Eestin Herkut move to from Kolmas Linja? They had an ad about moving somewhere to Pasila in one of those free newspapers, and I promptly lost the newspaper, and googling didn't help any. And where did Kalinka go from Itäkeskus?

Yesterday went to the old Eestin Herkut, in hope that they have a sign on the door, but instead of the sign they had a new store there, also selling Estonian food. There was a middle-eastern-looking man in there, who said that the owner has changed.

I took the change with suspicion, but finding dulce de leche there totally endeared me to the middle-eastern guy and the rest of the new owners. (That's вареная сгущенка for the Russians; the best I can explain it to Finns is "kinuskia metallipurkissa".) Now let's also hope that the new owners order more ice cream. And while they are out of ice cream: where did the old store move to?

Wednesday, June 11, 2008

Kirbasova revisited: what use is she?

The Kirbasova affair keeps dragging on, and reading conversations about it on various web forums is not good for one's sanity, but gives cause for a variety of interesting observations.

1) So far I haven't seen anybody at all, be they for or against Kirbasova, claim that a mother is not an immediate relative. Could it be that in general Finnish people consider mothers to be immediate relatives? Who would have thought?

2) The people who think that Kirbasova should be sent back generally base it her uselessness for Finland's economy: that she is old, sick, helpless, will pay no taxes, use social services and in general be a net loss. This is all undoubtedly true, but the really interesting thing is that what these people are saying is in fact the direct opposite of what the authorities are saying: the authorities think she is not old, sick or helpless enough to be allowed to stay.

I have long maintained that immigrants must be useful (with the exception of refugees, who should just be law-abiding and try their best to be also useful). "Useful", however, is not measured just in terms of taxes. Finland, like all the other civilized countries, lets citizens and resident noncitizens bring their immediate family members. It is not, especially in case of Finnish citizens' family members, based on any financial use of them. They are useful because some Finn wants them here, and no other usefulness is necessary.

You can marry a foreigner, bring him or her here, and have him or her covered by the social safety net. Yeah, it's nicer from the point of view of the taxpayers if both you and them work and pay your taxes, but you can be unemployed and marry somebody unemployable. You can even be a sick old person and marry another sick old person. Even one who comes from a country that doesn't pay them a decent retirement pension. It is your right as a Finnish citizen.

In fact, if I happened to feel really charitable tonight (don't worry, I am not), I could ask for the old lady's hand in marriage, and they would let her stay. And I am not even a citizen.

The question is not whether Kirbasova can be useful to anybody financially. A Finn happens to want and need her, and that's all the use there needs to be. The question is whether Finns in general consider their parents to be immediate family members, and it seems that the answer is yes.

Yes, I realize that this argument can be reduced to the absurd, and some Finn can claim that he or she needs to move a whole little Sudanese village here for his or her personal happiness. No, I don't think this is a good idea. OTOH, I don't think it's absurd to give Finns the same right to bring their family members here as the other EU citizens living in Finland already have.

As for those who are afraid that all the immigrants' parents immediately move here and the state will have to support them: not gonna happen. To begin with, most of their living parents are probably already here. Inkerilaiset moved here in whole families, refugees and suchlike moved here in whole families, or were and are able to bring their families as refugees. Estonians are EU citizens and can bring their parents as they please. About 40% of foreigners come from the civilized countries, and if their parents move to Finland, their pensions will follow. Of the remaining immigrants, some percentage is young enough to have come with their parents to begin with, and some percentage is too old to have living parents.

Finland can't feed all the poor elderly of the world. Not even all the poor elderly who happen to have been persecuted political activists. Finland should, however, at least try to feed the parents of its citizens, even when said parents don't happen to be Finnish citizens themselves, and don't come from a country that pays them a decent pension. There isn't that many of them.

Why do people sleep together?

I've always wondered why so many couples like to sleep together, even if they could afford separate rooms and separate beds.

When you sleep together, you have only half the usual bed space. The bed gets too hot, the other party snores, farts, steals your blanket, steals your pillow, rolls right into the middle of the bed, pushing you out, and accuses you of doing all of the above in the morning. Or else you can't fall asleep properly for fear of doing all of the above to the other person. Or you wake up during the night and want to read in bed and have some tea, but can't do it because of the other person.

It's fun to have sex or simply hang out with a guy in bed, but usually when one of us starts to fall asleep, I want to be out of there and in another bed.

Don't get me wrong, I am not surprised that some people enjoy sleeping with each other. But why so many?

Monday, June 09, 2008

Privacy über alles

Went to get my X-rays today (for the overly curious: they are the X-rays of the 6th tooth on the right side of my lower jaw, to find out exactly what king of work that tooth will need). Had to fill a form, so that they can burn it on a CD and send it to the address provided in the form.

No, they can't send it by email. Privacy, you know.

I don't know whether that's their own rule, or a law, or some EU directive, but shouldn't I be able to waive my privacy under the circumstances, if I so choose? And shouldn't somebody teach the use of PGP to them?

The folks who were too privacy-conscious to use email had absolutely no problem with having me fill out the form and give them the mailing address without checking for any kind of ID, even though they don't know me from Adam. Or from Eve, anyway.

Now I really am worried about my privacy. God knows what kind of evildoers can get a copy of the X-ray of that tooth and somehow integrate it into a porn video and post it on Youporn.

Well, at least we know that we are not discriminating in favor of our own citizens...

Kirbasova's daughter turned out to be a Finnish citizen. Which means that her best bet at living with, and taking care of, her mother, is to move to Sweden and bring her mother there. Our lawmakers in their infinite wisdom wrote an Aliens act that makes it easier for any other EU-citizen (plus citizens of Iceland, Norway, Switzerland and Lichtenstein) to bring family members than for a Finnish citizen.

But that's not all: the Swedes have apparently done the same. So while it makes sense for Kirbasova's family to move to Sweden, the Swedes who happen to be in the same situation should all come here.

I've always known that the EU is all for the mobility of its citizens, but I didn't expect its member states to go about it quite that forcefully.

Saturday, June 07, 2008

All independent paralyzed elderly, unite!

The Finnish Immigration Service has decided to deport Maria Kirbasova, a half-paralyzed senior citizen who was one of the founding members of Soldiers' Mothers organization in Russia, and who was hoping to get to stay with her daughter.

Because, you know, a mother is not a family member. Not to mention that a half-paralyzed senior citizen dissident in Russia is in less danger than a young robber in Somalia.

I understand all the people making fun of the officials who say that in other cultures people have a different concept of what a family member is, and the concern about third-world people bringing all their extended family here, but IME Finnish people usually do consider their parents and children to be family. Even when said children turn 18.

(As an aside, the third-world people will bring their extended families anyway, mostly by using various refugee and quasi-refugee statuses. I should know - you wouldn't believe all the variety of distant relatives we managed to bring in the US. Completely legally, mind you. Not that I am complaining - we have been very grateful for the opportunity, and the people we brought have all become law-abiding citizens, and mostly highly tax-paying ones, too - but I could never understand why we got to bring even the kind of relatives none of us had ever seen before, such as my father's cousin's new husband, whereas the citizens have to wait years to bring their parents, children or siblings.)

But I digress. The law, and the Immigration Service's webpage say that Finnish and non-EU citizens get to bring their non-family relatives if those are totally dependent on them. If an elderly person who has rheumatism, is half-paralized, lives in a country where services for such elderly are not available and has no other children there does not qualify, then who does? Does one have to be dead or something?

Yes, I share the skepticism of some commenters about the daughter's ability to support the mother if her condition gets worse, but that's not the point here. You can't simultaneously make a law saying that only the sick and dependent old people get to come here, and simultaneously complain about their being, uhm, sick and dependent and old. Not unless you want to look really stupid, anyway. Not that this consideration has bothered our lawmakers, officials and courts much lately.

A really interesting detail that Hesari doesn't mention is that these are the rules for Finnish citizens and most non-EU citizens. The rules for the EU-citizens (excluding Finland), and citizens of Switzerland and Liechtenstein are different. They get to bring children up to the age of 21, as opposed to 18, and parents that they are taking care of (don't have to be totally dependent), and also their mother- and father-in-law.

Where is the sense in this? Some EU-regulation, sure, but couldn't they write the law so that Finland's own citizens wouldn't be treated any worse than EU citizens? Kirbasova's daughter, if she is a Finnish citizen, can probably freely move to Sweden, and bring her mother there. And if Swedish laws are just as perverse, their citizens who need to bring their parents can move here and bring them here. Yes, this would increase the mobility within the EU, but is there any common or even uncommon sense in this?