Monday, December 28, 2009

Security measures

I often feel sorry for TSA and the Homeland Security Department. When they are trying hard and nothing happens, everyone makes fun of them for so much futile effort. When they miss something, everyone is angry at them for that.

This time around they really sound a bit strange, because they are doing both of the above. Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab's father says he has warned many people, including the US embassy. TSA says they didn't have enough evidence to put him on the no-fly list. This have never stopped them before from putting babies and US Senators on that list, but fair enough - maybe they really improved their ways and don't put people on that list without proper evidence, what with being unable to fly being a rather major inconvenience.

We do, however, also have a list people who should be subjected to extra searches and extra questioning. Was he on this list? If not, why not?

The pantybomber was on the UK no-fly list, which is really the UK no-enter list (they are allowed to transit to UK airports but not to enter the country).

Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano said that "the system worked".

Excuse me? Worked? I feel so safe knowing that our system's necessary components include having bad detonators, inept terrorists, and brave Dutch filmmakers sitting in their immediate vicinity.

Happy end is not the same thing as "the system worked". Sometimes it just means the terrorists were not all that bright, and the bystanders happened to have a lot of courage and good reflexes.

Anyway, the new measures include having everyone sit in their seats for the last hour of the flight (AFAIK only in the US, but those things tend to spread around), and having all the luggage in the overhead bins during the same time. Yes, it does mean that you can't have a book, a mp3 player or a blanket. And no, I don't know why only the last hour, but best not to give them any ideas.

The new security measures have already born fruit: they arrested another Nigerian guy on another Amsterdam to Detroit flight, for failing to vacate the toilet when ordered. At first they suspected him of being a terrorist, but then it turned out that he was using the toilet for a much more mundane reason, undoubtedly after sampling a wide selection of Northwest or KLM food.

I am sure all the chronic diarrhea sufferers will thank the pantybomber as they sit in the planes clenching their buttocks and praying for the big white porcelain deliverance. At least they have something they can appropriately deposit on his grave. After he gets one.

Sunday, December 27, 2009

The news of the peaceful

A Nigerian man named Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab tried to blow up a Northwest Airlines flight going from Amsterdam to Detroit on Christmas day. He tried to repeat the feat of Richard Reid, and in fact had, failing to blow up the airplane and getting caught. Unlike Reid, who used shoes and failed the igniting part, Abdulmutallab actually managed to set a bomb in his lap on fire, and only the passengers' and crew vigilance and subsequent beating the living shit out of him saved the plane.

We still do not know whether he has grilled his nuts enough to make this officially eligible for a Darwin award submission, but this is not really essential for the gene pool, since his only potential sex partner from now on is likely to be Richard Reid. At least they have a lot in common, testicles or not.

There is a story making rounds in the press that the man is the son of Alhaji Umaru Mutallab, the recently retired chairman of the First Bank of Nigeria. Damn, the story is starting to sound like a Nigerian spam letter already.

God knows what poverty can drive people to.

Today I saw the term "joulurauhan uskonto" somewhere. Unfortunately I have no idea who to attribute it to.

The aviation authorities have responded by banning cabin luggage for the last hour of the flight (meaning that one hour before landing you put all your stuff in the overhead bin and just sit there for an hour without a book or a player, wishing a thousand painful deaths on Abdulmutallab). Oh well, we should probably be grateful be did not stick explosives up his ass.

In much more amusing news: Abdullah Tammi, the founder and the former chairman of the Islamic Party of Finland, resigned last week due to his taking stand against terrorism. He decided to found his own party, the Party of Socialist Peace.

I wish I could say something funny about this, but I really can't make it sound any funnier than it already does.

Monday, December 21, 2009

The end is nigh, and Denmark is running out of tarmac space, too

I think I was seven when I first read about buying and selling indulgences in a novel set in 16th-century Belgium. The idea struck me as rather dumb even then, at least from the point of view of the buyers.

Are we having some kind of neo-middle-ages now? Blasphemers are being burned at the stake, world leaders talk about impending end that is about to befall us for our sins and in general sound like apocalyptic madmen, and otherwise perfectly sensible people are buying carbon indulgences. Sold, no doubt, by people who are strongly and publicly concerned for the environment.

As I have said before, I am a simple woman who doesn't know much about climate science. No, I am not pretending to be a prole here, but of my two degrees one is in Linguistics and the other is in Computer Science, and none is in Meteorology or Climate Science. So probably I shouldn't be saying anything. On the other hand, these considerations about the lack of education don't seem to deter anyone else, starting with Rajendra Pachauri, the chair of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, an avid air traveler and an engineer.

(A mean-spirited Guardian commenter calculated Mr. Pachauri's travel miles for the period of Jan 07 - July 08 at 443243, based on his his public appearance schedule. Mr. Pachauri supports heavy aviation taxes, which IPCC will undoubtedly pay for him.)

There is some disturbing point about science and faith in here somewhere. We take our science on faith; we believe in whatever they tell us in secondary-school astronomy much the same way as some centuries ago people believed when they were told that the sun revolved around the earth. What makes the difference is the scientific method and the scientific consensus; how much faith are you ready to put in either of those after those emails from Climatic Research Unit of the University of East Anglia got published? Especially since the message is pretty much "the end is nigh, give us power and money"?

(A very disturbing off-topic aside: the reason we abhor the human sacrifices of the ancient cultures is that we know they didn't work; if they did, we'd be totally doing it all the time.)

Anyway, as I've said before, I might not know much about climate, but I sure know politics, religion and bullshit when I see it. I am sure I am the least environmentally conscious person in the Western world. I use energy-saving lamps because I happen to like them, public transportation because I live in a place where it is very good, and I wouldn't ever think of giving up anything I really wanted for the environment. But you know, I suspect that if I really cared, like all those politicians surely do, I'd at least consider some small sacrifices. Like, flying first-class in a commercial aircraft instead of taking my own private jet? Or maybe at least carpooling, or rather private-jet-pooling with some other dignitary coming from the same city?

But that's just me, and that's probably why they don't invite me to any summits. Prince Charles and Gordon Brown apparently felt it was unprincely or un-prime-ministerial to share the same private jet.

Just before the summit, the Copenhagen airport reported that it was expecting 140 extra private jets, and was unable to accomodate them all, so they'd have to be parked in other Danish airports and in Sweden. More than 1200 limos were ordered.

Is it just me, or does it seem to you that those people don't believe in the imminent apocalypse any more than I do?

Wish we knew the names of everyone who attended the global warming (sorry, it's climate change now) summit in private jets and then came home and told the peasants not to fly on vacation. People should know their heroes.

Sunday, December 20, 2009


In the process of moving from Haloscan to Blogspot comments. Please use the Blogspot ones.

Any good advice on importing Haloscan comments into Blogspot is welcome.

Friday, December 18, 2009

Open relationships and celebrities

The whole Tiger Woods scandal made me wonder:

Why do so few celebrities negotiate themselves an open relationship? OK, some of them might be in love with someone special who doesn't agree to it, but what's up with the rest?

I know that open relationships are not for everyone, of course. I also know that monogamy is so much of an assumption in our culture that even most of the people who'd prefer an open relationship probably do not raise the subject with their partners.

Somebody like Tiger Woods, however, has more than enough sexual market value to negotiate himself an open relationship should he want one. He didn't, however.

For a while I wondered whether an open relationship would be a scandal as such, and whether this is the reason it is so uncommon among the celebrities. Guess not. I had to turn to Wikipedia to see if there are any celebrity couples in open marriages (more recent than Sartre and de Beauvoir). Yes, there are. Very few. I don't remember any of them being any kind of public scandal.

So, what prevents the guys who want to have sex with a lot of women and have the means to do so from finding wives who'd let them do so without any scandal?

Thursday, December 17, 2009

The worst drinking game ever

A friend of my mom's, herself a Russian-born woman, once said "I'd believe anything they'd say about Russia, even if they say that nowadays bears eat people in the streets". The longer I live the more I realize how right she was.

I keep following the story of the Lame Horse nightclub that burned down in Perm almost two weeks ago. If the story were a movie, I would laugh at it as unrealistic.

Unfortunately it's not a movie, it's a horrible human tragedy. None of those people deserved to die there, not even the owner.

Inevitably, though, for the people who did know anyone involved the sense of tragedy slowly dissipates, and the whole thing starts resembling a drinking game. Drink once for every official who got fired afterwards, drink twice for every violation the club committed, drink three times for every person crimilally charged... Drink once for every firework whose instructions were not read because they were in Chinese, drink twice for every firework whose instructions were in Russian and said "for outdoor use only" that got used inside nevertheless.

The findings, so far (might change as the investigation proceeds):

- The club was on the first floor of an apartment building. The premises were owned by the Ministry of Defense, and rented out illegally.
- On the paper, the place was a cafe for 50 persons, with an area of 460 m² and huge windows. In reality it held 400 people on the most crowded nights (which the fire night luckily wasn't), had no windows to speak of and was 660 m². The extra 200 m² appeared and the windows disappeared when they moved and rebuilt the wall. Nobody admits having ever received any rent for the extra square footage, or metrage, and none of the inspectors noticed it.
- Emergency exits? We don't need any fucking emergency exits! We have those huge windows, just look at this paper! (OK, there was one unmarked extra exit that only the staff knew about.)
- The first fire inspection paper was signed in 2003 by a person who got fired from the position of a fire inspector in 2002.
- The ceiling was made of twigs and highly flammable polystyrene that was so poisonous that it took people a couple of breaths to pass out.
- The wiring was under the polystyrene, so the lights immediately went out. Emergency lights? What's that?
- Most employees were not officially working there.
- Come to think of it, the place didn't really exist, at least not as far as the tax office was concerned.
- The police who were investigating where the fireworks came from found 700 cubic meters of fireworks in a plastics factory in Chelyabinsk, where they were stored without any fire safety measures. They also believe that 120 tons of fireworks are being stored in a research center called "Geodesy" in a Moscow suburb, and that this is where the nightclub fireworks came from. They'd like to test this hypothesis, but the research center police is not letting them in. The research center in fact happens to be an artillery range and has nothing to do with any geodesy.

Stop it, I can't drink that much.

Monday, December 14, 2009

Evil Eclipse and voodoo programming

My Eclipse (currently run in Ubuntu Karmic, but the problems started earlier) has been having some nasty problems for a while now. Quite weird really, boxes were not responding to the OK button, new software sources were not being added, you could commit stuff to SVN but not tag it, etc.

Turns out it's due to changes in GTK+, and can be completely cured by saying export GDK_NATIVE_WINDOWS=true before starting Eclipse.

It just feels so much like learning a magic spell in a roleplaying game.

Friday, December 11, 2009

You know the world economy is in crisis when...

...even the terrorists can afford to discriminate.

Five Americans tried to join several terrorist groups in Pakistan, but were rejected by Jamaat-ud-Dawa and Jaish-e-Muhammed for being foreigners without sufficient references.

Sheesh. Where is this world going with such discrimination against foreign labor?

Anyway, now Ramy Zamzam, Umar Farooq, Waqar Khan, Ahmad Mini, and Aman Hassan Yemer (See? See? Not a single Muhammed! Take that, Mark Steyn!) have been arrested and are being questioned by the US security officials.

Could be worse, of course. You know that the economy is really fucked when they start demanding 10 years of experience from people applying to be suicide bombers.

Sunday, December 06, 2009

No, we don't have campfires indoors

There was a horrible fire in a nightclub in Perm. 112 people are dead, out of about 250 people present; considering the injuries of the survivors, the death toll is likely to rise.

There is a lot of soul-searching in the Russian forums right now. Russians are corrupt, and not particularly safety-minded, and well aware of it, but they are not sure what to do about it: they are not all corrupt, of course, not even the majority, but it only takes a few percent of the population to make it possible for everyone who wants to bribe a fire safety inspector to find a bribable one. A few more percent, and the honest people stop choosing the professions where a lot of people take bribes. One can resist giving bribes, but in many cases it's not an option.

I kind of wish I knew how much the fire inspectors got in this case. To begin with, the club was on the first floor of an apartment building. Its ceiling was quite low (2.5 meters or so) and made of straw and dry twigs. Behind the twigs they had a highly flammable sort of polystyrene and lots of electrical wiring. Just the place for the indoor fireworks. The fireworks turned out to be bigger and hotter than specified, the place had only one emergency exit, and it was unmarked, and all the light worked from the wiring in the ceiling, so as soon at it caught fire the lights went out. And of course there were no sprinklers or fire alarm.

Well, they promised that the evening would be unforgettable, and it sure was. :(

But enough of the Russian fire safety enforcement. Shit happens everywhere. 6 years ago there was a very similar fire in Rhode Island. There the fire inspectors were not bribed but happened to overlook the absence of sprinklers anyway. The company that delivered the insulation materials forgot to mention they were flammable, and the emergency exits were all there, but apparently during such situations people tend to run back where they came from. The survival percentage was much higher than in Perm, of course, but still, 100 people died.

What I really want to know is: considering that almost all the big nightclub fires around the world lately come from the indoor use of fireworks, what exactly possesses people to continue using them? How many people really want to see fireworks during an indoor show? Those events have sufficiently bad air as it is. The whole thing makes me feel like explaining to people "no, we don't have campfires indoors".

It just seems like such a fucking bad idea.

Happy Independence Day, Finland!

Good thing we got out of Russia when we did. Russia sucks.

Friday, December 04, 2009

And now for some statistics

Decided to check out the statistics on crime vs. race in the US cities. While doing so picked up some interesting trivia, and added more stuff to the table (nativity, language, education, median household income and poverty rate).

There are 34 cities with more than half a million population in the US. One of them, Chicago, still hasn't learned to calculate its crime rate, so I didn't include it.

I was not sure whether to count hispanics separately, as used to be traditional, or together with whatever race they actually are, so I did both, like the US Census Bureau. The population data come from the American Community Survey, which is a survey they do to complement the data between the censuses. For one city, Louisville, I had to make up the numbers of non-hispanic whites, because it wasn't available, but it was easy and correct to about one percentage point, because they don't really have almost any hispanics there.

The crime data are FBI's for 2007. The numbers are crime rates for 100000 people.

The table is sortable.

I'll write more comments later, but here are the first few:

- The first thing that surprised me was how few people claim to be of two or more races, in comparison with what you see in the streets. Except in Honolulu, where they don't seem to care.

- I'd known that there is a negative correlation between the number of hispanics and the violent crime rate, but I didn't realize it was that strong.

- The correlation between the percentage of people below the poverty line and violent crime is not nearly as strong as I expected.

- Some things are kind of obvious: the positive correlation between number of blacks and crime is well known, and the negative correlation between the number of immigrants and crime rates is understandable too: you come to the US, you wanna move somewhere nice, as opposed to Detroit. Some things are quite interesting, though: for example Louisville is much poorer than Boston, much blacker, and very much less educated, yet much safer. El Paso is a very poor, very hispanic and very safe city.

- It's interesting that the cities with a non-hispanic white majority tend towards the middle of the table when ranked by safety.

Tuesday, December 01, 2009

The true you

The previous post reminded me of Mr Halpern, one of our English teachers. He was a passionate man of the kind that want you to be your real self and do whatever you really want, and inform you exactly what it is.

Some of the teachers who are that way want you to agree with them, others want you to argue with them, and both types want you to pretend not to care what they want. He was just one of the really difficult ones who wanted different things on different days, and I am not much of a mind reader.

It's annoying enough when people try to raise your class consciousness, but at least most of them have the sense to do it in more general terms, for example talking about "most X" rather than "you". "Most women only wax their legs because of the society's pressure," that kind of thing. I have no idea whether or not this is the case, for all I know it might be. Personally, I kinda like waxed legs. Like them on men, too, even though the society seems to be failing with the pressure here.

None of that weaselly "most" stuff for our Mr Halpern. He was dealing in "everybody", "nobody" and "you". And simultaneously, mind, wanted me to be true me.

The true me did in fact know what she wanted to do, but it was illegal in the Commonwealth of Massachusetts and likely to result in suspension and bad grades, so I didn't. So I just sat there listening to how nobody really likes ice cream in cups (he believed that deep in their hearts everyone prefers cones and cups are just society's pressure) and counted days to the end of the semester.

Natural beauty, in the world of the differently sane

First of all, a disclaimer: this story has not been confirmed in any official way. It was told in an online community by a member in good standing who did not appear to be lying. But you never know. But what the hell, I just want to comment on it here, and who is to say I can't? It's too funny to be true, and too funny to be fake.

Anyway, the girl is a high school student in a small New England town. They had an English project: give up three hair styling products and makeup for a week, and write about it afterwards. Of course the three products have to be something you'd normally use, and the teacher insisted that they really should give them up.

Just for the record, I oppose such projects on general principle. School should not intrude on one's own life in such a way. If it's the text they want, they should be satisfied with a fictional account of giving up those products; if they want authenticity, the paper on "why I really didn't want to give up my styling products" should be just as good as "how I felt when I gave up my styling products for a week".

And then there is one more very obvious problem: not everyone has three styling products to give up. I fact I suspect most people don't, although the girl thinks otherwise. And the task specified that you can't give up showering, shampoo or conditioner, which leaves me - and the girl of this story - with exactly 0 styling products.

(Yes, there are boys in that class. They were allowed to give up shaving instead. Girls were allowed it to, but strongly discouraged from doing so because, according to the teacher, it's disgusting. The girl in question doesn't shave anyway.)

Now, common sense and teachers are not necessarily compatible, which I knew at that age but the girl definitely doesn't, and if it were me there instead of her, I would quietly write a paper about the whatever three products I managed to google or look up in a drugstore, how at first I felt uncomfortable without them but then I found the power of the beauty within, yadda, yadda, yadda. (Thanks, Mr. Halpern, for demanding spontaneity and sincerity and telling us what exactly our spontaneity and sincerity should be.) If the teacher were someone I were actually comfortable with, I would have handed him or her the bullshit paper and the authentic one too, which would have been something along the lines of "gave up shampoo and conditioner for a week; nobody noticed anything unusual, least of all myself".

The purpose of the exercise, after all, is to make the girls see that they don't need all that to be beautiful, and to teach them about the beauty of the natural body. (According to the teacher, that is.) Leaving aside the concept of beauty and the question of what styling products actually contribute to it, it seems rather obvious to me that the people who don't use the products anyway have already figured out that they can do without and don't need a project to make this message sink in.

The girl, however, turned out to be not nearly as cynical as I was at her age, and decided to tell the teacher that she does not use any styling products. It was all downhill from there:

- the teacher sent the girl for a mental evaluation,
- then she sent her to the school office for "improper hygiene",
- then she told the girl that she can have 50% of the points for the assignment of she gives up combing her hair, but that she'd like to see a "drastic change" (the girl is considering using hairspray to induce said drastic change),
- but she is gonna take some points off for lying, because she just doesn't really believe that the girl doesn't blow-dry her hair.

Now, if it just me, or is this teacher pretty much the last person in the world who should instruct anyone on the wonders of natural beauty?

The most amazing thing is that the girl (and apparently the teacher) lives about thirty miles from where I lived when I was in high school. Aliens truly do live among us.

Universal values

The Swiss have voted to ban construction of minarets. The Secretary General of the Organisation of The Islamic Conference, Ekmeleddin Ihsanoglu, said that the ban was "an unfortunate development that would tarnish the image of Switzerland as a country upholding respect for diversity, freedom of religion and human rights and also as a recent example of growing anti-Islamic incitements in Europe by the extremist, anti-immigrant, xenophobic, racist, scare-mongering ultra-right politicians who reign over common sense, wisdom and universal values".

Universal values? Universal fucking values? This is the organisation that, twenty years ago, figured that the Universal Declaration of Human Rights wasn't good enough, or Islamic enough, and produced a competing document, whose first article starts "All human beings form one family whose members are united by submission to God and descent from Adam," ends "the Islamic Shari'ah is the only source of reference for the explanation or clarification of any of the articles of this Declaration.", and has such pearls of wisdom as "everyone shall have the right to express his opinion freely in such manner as would not be contrary to the principles of the Shari'ah."

Guys, can you make up your mind as to whether we have any universal values or not?