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


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?