Wednesday, February 15, 2006

What can you tell about people's embassies?

I had a bit of spare time this morning and realised I'd never been to Kaivopuisto, so I wandered down. I also wandered down the street with all (lots of) the embassies on and I thought what an awesome reflection of a countries self-image. The US embassy is immense and extremely well guarded. I understand the security but seriously, what do they do in there? The US is a big country but they have very few citizens in Finland. It's a serious case of projecting power.

Second in the compensating for a small penis department is the British embassy, which is being extended. Far too large to serve any practical purpose. The Estonian embassy looks like you imagine the Finnish embassy would look. Small, discrete, clean lines. The funniest ones were the Italian and Brazilian embasies. They are identical and they look like dodgy apartments in the Costa del Sol. It's as if the governments just found an empty building where vagrants used to live and moved in.

posted by Finnsense @ 11:49 PM   1 comments
Banning Smoking

The Brits are banning smoking in public places. This is one issue that upsets pretty much everyone. Smokers and civil liberties nuts get furious about it and proclaim it the end of civilisation and the rise of the nanny state. Non-smokers and people who want to give up tend to rejoice at the idea they won't have to put up with smokey pubs and smokey clothes and they claim that in twenty years people will think it extraordinary that anyone smoked in pubs.

Finland's an odd place in this respect. On the one hand there are no formal bans on smoking but on the other, society as a whole seems to have decided not to smoke indoors voluntarily. There are rare exceptions but they are just that, very rare.

The liberty argument is a reasonable one. Theoretically, if it was up to landlords people could choose whether they wanted to go to a smokers pub or not. Now they don't have that choice. In my view the argument fails for the same reason most pure liberty arguments fail - it doesn't take into account social, cultural and human nature factors. It may be "formally" possible for people to avoid smokers pubs in the same way I am formally free to go to work dressed as a chicken, but the reality is it's not going to happen. It's not socially acceptable.

The dominant social ethos in our society is to accomodate the smokers. Smoking is still a bit cool and it's much easier to say "Do you mind if I smoke?" than "Do you mind not smoking?". In a mixed group you put up with the smoke, the smokers never put up with the craving. It's socially unthinkable. It is in cases like these that the difference between being formally unfree and practically unfree becomes all too obvious. The job of the government is to make us actually really free given all the constraints of society and culture and being human. To do so, requires changing the culture of smoking so that it is a luxury activity rather than a ubiquitous habit and so that it doesn't bother other people.

As for Jessica Wilson's comment that banning smoking is the end of civilisation, we obviously have a very different idea of what's civilised. (I should point out that her post may mean the opposite to what it seems to mean - if so it's awfully subtle so I think I can be forgiven for taking it the wrong way).

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